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Yankees Mailbag: Injuries, coaching staff, Mike Ford

The answers to this week’s Yankees mailbag have arrived.

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Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Hello, everyone, we have a big mailbag today. There are six questions, but some answers are noticeably longer than usual. If I didn’t get to yours, don’t feel bad and submit again. A lot of the topics this week were evergreen, so I may approach them later in the offseason. As always, leave your submissions in our weekly mailbag call or by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Jackfre asks: I enjoyed this season and was disappointed by the early playoff loss. What drives me nuts, however, is the constant, relentless injuries. Did any other team have the same injury pattern? These are fit, young men. What is the conditioning program for the Yankees? How is it to be modified to enable these fine young men to stay on the field and win? Muscle mass is fine but I think range of motion, flexibility is key, especially with the muscular injuries they endured. Keep your best on the field…and WIN!

The Yankees had a nightmare season when it came to injuries. That much was clear from the path Steve Donohue wore into the ground at Yankee Stadium with every player he removed from a game. The numbers, courtesy of Spotrac, paint an even bleaker picture.

Injured Players: 30
Cumulative days on the IL: 2,674
Dollars on the IL: $84,779,405

It goes without saying that the Bombers finished with the worst totals in each category. The distance between them and the second worst teams, however, is striking. For injured players, they bested the Pirates by three. Days on the injured list? New York stood ahead of San Diego by 591. In financial terms, the Bombers finished with $34,696,265 more on the injured list than the Mets. The Yankees weren’t just the worst in the league with injuries, they were the worst by a major margin.

The most concerning aspect of the team’s injury report, in my mind, is the number of lower body muscle injuries. Those should be the most preventable, and the Yankees had eight instances of them (calf, hamstring, groin). One could make the case for obliques, but eh, the violent nature of swinging a bat makes that type of injury a workplace hazard. The same goes for joint injuries, like a pitcher with a bad elbow or shoulder. The muscle strains, though, they cannot continue to happen.

At a press conference last week, Brian Cashman said he is going through the team’s medical and training processes, but wouldn’t commit to any decisions.

“Our focus and concerns on how our processes played out this year and the numerous injuries that we had,” he said to Dan Martin. “The failed rehabs that we had in some cases… Our area of focus is going to be in the area that might have been preventable, clearly, and the determination being is, are they preventable? Are these something that we’re missing? Is there something that in our process that is faulty?”

I normally would dismiss criticisms of the training staff as fans complaining without all the available evidence, but something has to change here. They cannot keep whatever program they have right now. There was some bad luck involved in 2019, but those numbers scream bad process, too.

Many have asked: Who should the Yankees hire to be the new pitching coach?

The Yankees are conducting an exhaustive search to fill their pitching coach opening. Earlier this week reports surfaced that the team interviewed two NCAA coaches, Chris Fetter (University of Michigan) and Matt Hobbs (University of Arkansas). They’re not limiting themselves to candidates with MLB experience.

It’s clear that the Yankees value individuals with analytical minds and strong interpersonal communication skills. Their coaching staff has skewed younger, but I think that’s a byproduct of the previous traits, not a characteristic on its own. That they’re interviewing college baseball coaches says they have an open mind about the situation, and that’s appreciated. My hunch says they won’t hire a big name, like David Cone or Pedro Martinez, but I have no insider information there.

John asks: What about Marcus Thames, batting coach? There has to be a better batting coach out there.

I’ve seen a lot of people dunk on Marcus Thames this week, and I don’t get it. The Yankees had a poor showing at the plate in the ALCS, but they had a phenomenal regular season. In fact, their 117 wRC+ finished second only to the Astros (125 wRC+). Several players had career years under his guidance, with Cameron Maybin and DJ LeMahieu offering him credit for their success. Thames is doing a fine job; don’t let a small sample size take away from the team’s excellent offense.

SJComic asks: Any chance the Yankees move away from the Tyler Wade experiment and go with a new spare utility infielder? Maybe Thairo Estrada, who did a nice job up here, or someone else?

Am I the only one who thought Tyler Wade did a fine job this season? He wasn’t spectacular, but his bat showed some life, especially in September. He hit .297/.366/.486 on the month with a home run (126 wRC+). If he can hit even to an average level, he’s a nifty little player—versatile and speedy. Now he’s out of options, so maybe the team tries to move him in a trade. At just 24 years old, though, I’d say he’s worth a longer look, especially with a 26-man roster coming.

Cary asks: Rosters are going to be expanding to 26 players. How will this benefit the Yankees? What can they do with the extra roster spot? Seems like this is going to be bad for baseball; we’re going to get one more situational reliever added to every single major-league roster, thereby dragging the games out even longer than they currently are. Am I wrong about this?

Speaking of a 26-man roster, the Yankees are totally going to use the spot on an extra reliever, aren’t they? It’s either that or a spare infielder (Miguel Andujar and Gio Urshela on the same roster?), but I’d say right now it’s 60-40 in favor of a reliever. The Yankees showed their hand in the postseason when they carried 13 pitchers.

The organization loves, loves, loves having a deep bullpen, and I’m not exactly thrilled with that approach. The constant pitching changes brought things to a screeching halt. They also disrupted the rhythm of the game. From an aesthetic point of view, the games were cumbersome. I hope they use the extra spot on a position player, but don’t hold your breath.

Editor’s Note: Team’s are allowed the maximum of 13 pitchers with the 26-man roster. Expect the Yankees to keep the pitching staff that size all year.

Laura asks: Why did the Yankees leave their hottest hitter—of course I refer to Mike Ford—off their postseason roster?

True, Ford was the Yankees’ best hitter in September, slashing .353/.436/.706 with three home runs (197 wRC+). The team, however, made their roster decisions based on a player’s entire body of work. Luke Voit and Edwin Encarnacion represented more of sure things than Ford; their track records of success were considerably longer. A hot streak in September shouldn’t sway them.

That said, a case for Ford should have been made as Voit played compromised by injury in the second half. He wasn’t a healthy player, and accordingly, he shouldn’t have been on the ALDS roster ahead of Ford. When it came to the ALCS, the team prioritized pitching, but did they need to carry both Tyler Lyons and CC Sabathia? Ford could have fit alongside Encarnacion, or as an injury replacement for Giancarlo Stanton, I suppose.