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Ask Pinstripe Alley 5/1/16: April struggles going forward; Girardi and Cashman; Sellers?

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Responding to questions about poor April precedents, Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman's job security, and a potential seller's market.

I hoped that the Yankees would win a couple games to ease the pain of answering some of the Ask Pinstripe Alley mailbag questions from Friday. They did not and now if they don't get rained out, they have to beat David Price tonight to avoid getting swept by the Red Sox and falling to 8-15. It's officially their worst April in 25 years and they are currently being outscored by the five-homer Braves (and every other team in baseball). This is fine.

At least tomorrow is an off-day. Onward into the abyss!

LancasterBomber asked: What (if any) correlation is there between the Yankees’ frightening lack of hitting with men on, the likelihood of that trend continuing across an entire season, and the final place in the standings for teams that DO sustain terrible RISP/runners on numbers?

The Yankees are currently hitting .189/.282/.314 in 197 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. It's delightful. I decided to approach this question from a slightly different angle. It's difficult to parse historical statistics by two splits at the same time (in this case, only April stats AND only numbers with runners in scoring position). Also, numbers with runners in scoring position aren't the most predictive measure.

One of the obvious reasons for their struggles in those situations is that they are simply scuffling at the plate in general, not just with runners in scoring position. A team with the fewest runs in baseball is logically going to problems with runners on, too. So I decided to compare the Yankees' overall April numbers with other disappointing Aprils in the past.

Using the Baseball-Reference Play Index, I ran a query for Aprils in Yankees history dating back to 1913 with an April sOPS+ (split OPS for April compared to the rest of the league that year) under 85 and at least 13 games since before adopting the 162-game schedule, Aprils often didn't have many games. Seven other Yankees teams fit the bill, so here is how they did in April and the entire season:

April
Year G BA OBP SLG OPS sOPS+
2016 22 .233 .304 .360 .663 84
1984 21 .241 .306 .346 .652 85
1979 21 .250 .309 .360 .669 85
1968 17 .186 .279 .264 .543 72
1966 14 .211 .288 .319 .607 80
1954 13 .218 .293 .366 .659 83
1938 13 .239 .337 .310 .647 78
1913 13 .210 .278 .260 .538 64
Full season
Year G BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ Increase
1984 162 .276 .339 .404 .743 109 24
1979 160 .266 .328 .406 .733 99 14
1968 164 .214 .292 .318 .609 89 17
1966 160 .235 .299 .374 .674 97 17
1954 155 .268 .348 .408 .756 110 27
1938 157 .274 .366 .446 .812 102 24
1913 153 .237 .320 .292 .612 79 15

All seven of those struggling teams rebounded in a big way for the rest of the season to increase their season OPS+ to a more respectable figure. Even clubs that did not do well at all in the standings, like in 1913 and 1966, saw vast improvements. The 1938 Yankees won 99 games and the World Series. The 1954 Yankees ended up with 103 victories and only missed out on an AL pennant because the Indians won a then-record 111 games.

That makes two tremendous clubs, two near-last place clubs, and three that were a handful of games over .500. So basically all opportunities are still out there, and the team will increase its offensive production. That will lead to more runners coming in from scoring position. The April lineup has put them in a hole, but it is not inescapable.

jsharks1981 asked: With this month’s performance as the only reference, are we buyers or sellers on the trade market? If sellers, who is on the block and what feasible return can be expected?

The answer to the first question is that it is way too soon to declare either way. The Astros are 7-17 and I'm skeptical that their misery will continue through July, too. Remember, the AL East is not a strong division this year. Even right now, the Yankees are only five and a half games behind the first-place Orioles. In a near-best case scenario, that can be made up within two weeks with a hot streak and a simultaneous Baltimore dry spell.

Frankly, I can only envision the Yankees being sellers if they are just completely out of the race in July like the 2014 Red Sox were when they traded Jon Lester. The Yankees and Red Sox are both teams that are almost always in win-now mode for their demanding fanbases, and it would take a truly repugnant first half to put them in that position. Boston was 13 games out of a possible playoff spot when they dealt Lester.

The Yankees haven't been in sellers in over a generation, so they would probably need to be at least nine games out to consider it. There's an argument to selling when even "closer" than that, but remember the #brand. This is a team that markets itself on always being in contention, and nobody ever wants to end up quitting too soon like the 1997 "White Flag" White Sox, who enraged their fans by selling despite only being about four games back. It would be a tough pill for Hal Steinbrenner to swallow to admit that his team isn't in the race at all. That's just a fact.

That being said, if they did decide to sell, Aroldis Chapman would be on top of the list since he was just a one-year rental anyway. Teams don't overpay for a couple months of a closer quite like they used to, but Chapman could still fetch some nice prospects. If the team is out of contention, they might be able to convince soon-to-be free agents Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira to waive their no-trade clauses to join the market, too. Provided that they are productive (which in this scenario where the Yankees are selling is no guarantee), other teams could use a good DH bat in Beltran and an all-around productive first baseman in Teixeira.

Brett Gardner's name always seems to come up in trade rumors too, so he and his affordable extension could be in the mix as well. Maybe Andrew Miller or Didi Gregorius could move too, but I doubt it. Almost everyone else falls under "mostly immovable for much worth" or "too important to future plans."

TheJRod2006 asks: If the Yankees completely bottom out and win 70-ish games, is that the end for Cashman and Girardi?
@Yankeesfan0504 asks: If the Yanks don't make the playoffs this year, do you think Girardi is gone?

Both of these questions kind of fall under the same category to me. I just don't buy that a season hovering around .500 or even a few games below would be enough for either Brian Cashman or Joe Girardi to receive the boot. Ownership really likes both of them, so it would take a dreadful season around 90 losses for it to be legitimately possible. Both Cashman and Girardi are only under contract through the end of the 2017 season, so it's not like management would have to eat multiple years to clean house.

Cashman and Girardi have both operated as lame ducks under soon-to-expire contracts before, so it's possible, almost likely, that they could do it again in 2017. However, a 90-loss season might make ownership reconsider possibilities going forward. The team would have only one legitimately competitive season in the previous four years (since even by Cashman's admission, the over-.500 2013 and 2014 campaigns were fluky).

The extensions both received after 2014 and 2013 respectively were given under the impression that they would improve going forward. With only one year to go for each, Steinbrenner could very well decide that after a big disappointment in 2016, it would be time to go in another direction.

As previously stated though, I think that even if they are in the vicinity of .500, they will be back in 2017 since that is close enough to decide that the balls just didn't bounce the right way for them all season long. It's possible that Girardi could ask after 2016 for an extension in that "hovering around .500" scenario though, since he might not want to be a lame duck entering the last season of a contract with little success. So they could have a decision to make at the managerial helm after 2016 anyway in that case. However, the smart money still says that they will both return in 2017.