A few days ago, the Yankees posted a sign outside their spring training facility's clubhouse entrance that drew plenty of online ink. Because it's the middle of February and genuine baseball news remains at a slow winter trickle despite the start of training camps, plenty of outlets decided to heat their takes in the Take-rowave and click "publish" with feverish aplomb.
The Yankees had "embarrassed" themselves, and their antiquated motivational techniques were somehow an affront to the experienced players and useless for such an old and broken-down roster. Those takes were poorly founded.
Closer to the truth is that the Yankees are trying different things this spring training, perhaps in an attempt to see what works before wins become valuable. Though their first attempt, the actually pretty stupid motivational sign, was poorly perceived by media, their next two attempts to switch things up have been well received by the actual players in the organization.
Yankees strength and conditioning coach Matt Krause, one of the organization's fourteen specialists in that area, has brought a new angle to the concept of lower body development within baseball: a hill with grass on it. According to Anthony McCarron of the Daily News, Krause originally developed the idea while working at the University of Central Florida and later applied it on the professional level during his time with the Cincinnati Reds.
The hill peaks at around 10 feet high on a 30 yard incline and has drawn rave reviews from pitchers in particular. Dellin Betances hypothesized that the hill could help increase velocity and Joe Girardi praised Michael Pineda's work on the hill, which could potentially bode well for his health in 2016. Girardi likened the program to all-time great running back Walter Payton's conditioning regimen, which heavily involved hill training, and seemed hopeful the change could help some of the older Yankees, such as CC Sabathia.
In addition to geometric differences the Yankees have also made somnological adjustments to their early spring routine. The organization has asked its players to avoid the ballpark until around 11 a.m. Traditional spring training schedules typically begin at or prior to 9 a.m., so the adjustment is not exactly minor, though it is based in sound science and reasoning. After dabbling with the "sleep-in" technique during spring training 2015, the Yankees have gone right back to it with greater determination this season.
Besides the obvious benefit of allowing relocating players from California or Japan to adjust more gradually to their new Floridian time zone, the Yankees have found credence in sleep scientists' assertions that practicing closer to game time (typically 7 p.m. during the summer) aids in habituating the players' bodies to their upcoming schedule. Returning teammates Nathan Eovaldi and Sabathia have offered positive reviews while new addition Vinnie Pestano welcomed the unusual policy. Andrew Miller noted that it helps to increase alertness.
It seems clear the Yankees are proactively seeking new methods to help augment a potentially monotonous spring training routine. Between their polarizing foray into CrossFit-esque motivation and their newfound conditioning techniques that seem basic on the surface but come from solid science, the organization continues to find new ways to gain small advantages over other clubs.
Rather than signaling a decline in the glimmering tradition of the New York Yankees, these changes indicate a willingness to adapt to a changing game. Keep an eye out for more tweaks and more blazing takes.