How the Yankees can beat Chris Archer

gardner rays
(Getty)

The offensive numbers for the Yankees over the past week are just plain ugly: seven games, 18 runs and a .214/.286/.328 slashline. And half of those runs came in one game! The only team in the majors that can probably be jealous of the Yankees’ bats right now is the Mets.

With a matchup against the Rays’ ace Chris Archer looming tonight, conventional wisdom would suggest the Yankees have little-to-no chance of ending their offensive slump.

Archer is having a fantastic breakout campaign, ranking among the league leaders in nearly every pitching statistic, from ERA (third) to FIP (second) to strikeouts (second) to WHIP (first). He’s also dominated the Yankees during his four major-league seasons, going 5-0 with a 2.01 ERA in seven starts, and hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any of those games. The list of players to start their career with a streak of at least seven unbeaten starts and three-or-fewer runs allowed against the Yankees is a very short one: Chris Archer. Yup, that’s it.

Fortunately, this Yankees team has defied logic and common sense all season. This bizarro version of the Bronx Bombers has already crushed such aces as David Price, Jacob deGrom, Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer — while, of course, getting dominated by the likes of Tom Koehler and Joe Kelly. (Yes, Dallas Keuchel recently made the Yankees look silly, but you can’t win ’em all, right?)

Although Archer is arguably among the top-3 pitchers in the AL right now, he has struggled at times this season. He’s allowed at least four runs in four games, including his most recent outing when the Red Sox scored five times and hit three home runs against him on June 28.

So you're telling me there's a chance. - Imgur

Unfortunately, the Yankees biggest advantage against Archer might have been getting Jacoby Ellsbury back in the lineup, who has crushed Archer in their previous matchups. But he’s still working to get his legs back into baseball shape, so instead the Yankees will turn to the scorching-hot Brett Gardner — who has also had a ton of success against Archer in the past — to lead the hit parade against the Rays’ ace on Friday night.

ellsbury gardner

No player in baseball has dominated Archer like Ellsbury. He owns the highest batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage against Archer by anyone that has faced him at least 10 times. Gardner’s 1.172 OPS is fourth among that group of batters, and he is the only player that has four extra-base hits against Archer.

The rest of the Yankees, however, have not fared as well, going a combined 9-for-63 (.143) against the Rays’ right-hander.

rest of team

The Yankees have already seen Archer once this season: on May 12 he held them to two runs on seven hits over seven innings. Nearly all that damage came in a 32-pitch first inning during which the Yankees scored two runs on four hits and a walk. Archer threw just 73 pitches over the next six frames and retired 16 of the final 19 batters.

Getting to Archer early appears to be the best game plan in trying to beat him. Nearly half of the runs he has allowed this season (14 of 33) have come in the first two innings, during which his ERA “jumps” to 3.18; after the second inning, he has a 1.92 ERA.

The Yankees also need to lay off his nasty slider, which he often throws with two strikes and buries below the knees. Opponents have hit just .163 against the pitch this season, and 93 of his 133 strikeouts have been with the breaking ball.

The Yankees were far too aggressive against the pitch in their matchup earlier this season, swinging at 24 of the 36 sliders he threw, most of which were in the dirt or unhittable (see the red dots in the image below). It was a boom-or-bust strategy for the Yankees in that game. They they whiffed on 13 (!) of those 24 swings, but got five hits on the seven sliders they were able to put into play.

archer vs yankees 5-12

It would be smart to try and jump on his heater, which he starts an at-bat with nearly 70 percent of the time. Opponents have hit .304 when putting a first-pitch fastball in play this season against Archer. If he does decide to go with a breaking ball or something off the plate initially, the Yankees need to be disciplined and lay off the pitch. Getting ahead early might be the second-best strategy against him. Archer has allowed a .754 OPS after a 1-0 count, which is only slightly better than the MLB average in those situations.

While there’s no guarantee you’ll have success, it’s better than the alternative — if you fall behind 0-1 against Archer, you’re gonna be in trouble. His OPS allowed after an 0-1 count this season is a ridiculous .362, the second-best mark among starters.

Archer has clearly established himself as one of the elite pitchers in the game and is a leading Cy Young contender, but that shouldn’t worry the Yankees tonight. They’ve already shown that they can beat the best arms in baseball, and have been a much better offensive team at home than on the road this season.

If they can execute a game plan similar to the one outlined above and take advantage of the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, there’s a good chance we’ll see the return of the real Bronx Bombers and be able to celebrate a much-needed win over a division rival.

Friday chat reminder

It’s Friday which means it’s chat day. The Yankees will start a pretty big series against the Rays tonight, so that’ll be fun. See everyone at 2pm ET, a tad earlier than usual.

Mailbag: Second Base, Sabathia, AL East, Mets, Eovaldi

Got a dozen questions for you in the mailbag this week. Use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us any questions throughout the week.

Prado. (Presswire)
Prado. (Presswire)

Soxhata asks: Other than Ben Zobrist, what 2nd baseman could be on the radar?

Zobrist is definitely the headliner at second base. He’s been outstanding the last few weeks and is hitting .266/.360/.456 (131 wRC+) overall with a 13.2 BB% and an 8.6 K%. Zobrist is probably a multi-win upgrade over Stephen Drew even in just half a season. Looking around the league, other second base candidates could include Emilio Bonifacio, Dustin Ackley, and Daniel Murphy. And Brandon Phillips too, but forget him. I’d list Martin Prado as a candidate too if he wasn’t on the DL with a shoulder injury and expected to miss several weeks. There aren’t many bad teams with decent second basemen, so the market’s limited.

Bonifacio has a -15 wRC+ (!) and has basically nothing to offer the Yankees other than speed off the bench. Ackley’s been terrible too (70 wRC+) but the Yankees have had interest in him for a while now. He hasn’t played second base regularly since 2013, however. Murphy is the opposite of Drew — an awful defender who is hitting a solid .285/.335/.420 (110 wRC+) overall. He’s a rental and I’m sure the Mets would move him at the deadline a) to get something in return because they won’t make him a qualifying offer after the season, and b) to save a few weeks of his $8M salary. I’m not sure if the two sides match up for a trade though. The Mets reportedly want to add offense, not subtract it. So yeah, after Zobrist, the second base market is really thin.

Mike H. asks: At the end of the season Ben Zobrist will be a free agent. What kind of deal can he expect given his weak offensive season so far? Would 2 years $20 million with an option for a third be sufficient?

Zobrist’s season hasn’t been weak, he just had a slow start around a knee injury in April. He turned 34 in May yet I still think his skill set — on-base ability, good defense, and versatility — will be in high demand when he becomes a free agent this offseason. I think three years is the starting point. Heck, Marco Scutaro got three years at age 37 with a similar skill set a few years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zobrist ends up with Chase Headley money (four years, $52M). Just about every team in the league would jump at two years and $20M for Zobrist this winter, including the Yankees.

Yuri asks: You’ve been advocating to move CC Sabathia to the bullpen. But, if he also performs badly as a reliever, what is left to do then?

Gosh, I don’t know what happens then. That’s one of those “we’ll deal with it when the time comes” situations. Sabathia has destroyed left-handed batters this season — they’re hitting .195/.205/.267 (.205 wOBA) with a 31.8 K% and no walks (!) against him this year — so at the very least there’s reason to think he could be a really good left-on-left matchup guy. He might even be able to handle righties better by airing it out one inning at a time in relief. I have no idea what the next step would be if Sabathia stinks in relief. Release him? Either way, we’re not going to find out because the Yankees are keeping him in the rotation.

Jack asks: Not exactly a Yankee question, but on June 29 you put up a “This Date in History” video featuring the 1947 Yankees’ 19-game win streak, and I loved it. Very well done. Does MLB do one of those every day? If so, do you know where I can find it?

Those videos are put together by YES, not MLB, so they’re Yankees-specific. As far as I know MLB doesn’t produce any sort of daily “this date in history” video. YES doesn’t have one for every single day, but they do pump out a few each month. Here’s the archive. Enjoy.

Oh Mets. (Presswire)
Oh Mets. (Presswire)

Zachariah asks: What do you make of the future of the Mets? Their starting rotation next year is looking potentially nasty, young, and affordable. If they can get a couple of bats, and the front office starts shelling out some bucks, they can make some noise for years to come.

The rotation really does look great, but man, the offense is terrible. Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda are having good years, and Murphy’s hitting whenever he’s not on the DL. That’s it. They’re playing too many Eric Campbell and Ruben Tejada types. I think they should trade one of their young arms for a young middle infielder. Go big too. Noah Syndergaard for Addison Russell. Jacob deGrom for Xander Bogaerts. Something like that.

Ownership needs to allow GM Sandy Alderson to spend more money just so he can add better depth players. They’re never active on waivers (six claims in four and a half years under Alderson!) and they brought four players to camp on minor league contracts. That’s not enough! The pitching is great, but unless they do something drastic to improve the offense (spend money or trade some pitching) and improve organizational depth, they’re going to be stuck spinning their wheels and are at risk of wasting the primes of those great young arms. It starts with the Wilpons. A New York team should never ever ever have a bottom third payroll.

Mike asks: Going in to this year, all we heard about was how bad the AL East is. If the season ended today, both wildcards would come from the AL East. So is the AL East better than we thought? Or is the league just really mediocre? Or both?

(This was sent in a few days ago. The AL East would not have both wildcard spots as of today.)

The AL East is about what I expected — a bunch of closely matched good but flawed teams — and I think the division’s awfulness was overstated earlier this season. I’m guilty of that. There is no great team in the division and I think that maybe clouded everyone’s judgment. The Blue Jays, Orioles, and Yankees are doing what everyone thought the Red Sox would do — score a ton of runs and pitch juuust well enough to contend — and the Rays are getting unreal work on the mound. The AL East is the only division with four .500 or better teams and the only one without a sub-.455 team. So the division lacks a great club, a clear World Series contender, but it sure looks like the most competitive division in the game. The AL East race is wide open. The last few months are going to be a blast.

Dan asks: What top 5 players do you think are most overrated and underrated?

I think we’re at the point where Brett Gardner has to be considered one of the most underrated players in baseball, right? His 142 wRC+ is tied with Andrew McCutchen (!) for seventh best among all outfielders. My guess is a lot of people don’t realize how good Gardner really is at this point. Off the top of my head, four other underrated players are A.J. Pollock, Joe Panik, Lance Lynn, and Yasmani Grandal. I also feel like Paul Goldschmidt is underrated even though he’s one of the two or three best hitters in the world right now. As for overrated … I’ll go with Phillips, Jeff Samardzija, Elvis Andrus, Chris Tillman, and Dexter Fowler. Good players! Not as good as their reputations though.

Jonathan asks: Is there a comparison between Nathan Eovaldi and Phil Hughes at the same age? Both righties with great fastballs, command, poor secondary stuff, and results that don’t live up to their talent level?

I understand why people make that comparison but I don’t think it fits well. Eovaldi throws way harder and gets a lot more grounders than Hughes ever did, for example. Here’s the side-by-side comparison of their ages 24-25 seasons (2010-11 for Hughes).

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA FBv
Hughes 251.0 4.66 4.35 18.1% 8.0% 34.8% 1.22 .303 .337 92.1
Eovaldi 287.1 4.42 3.49 16.5% 5.5% 46.2% 0.69 .302 .352 95.6

Hughes had a better strikeout rate and more success against lefties, otherwise everything else is advantage Eovaldi, including health. (Hughes was limited to 71.2 innings in 2011 due to shoulder fatigue.) I also think Eovaldi has taken to the splitter way better than Hughes ever took a changeup, though that split is still very much a work in progress. What are the three things you want pitchers to do? Get strikeouts, limit walks, keep the ball on the ground. Eovaldi is quite a bit better at two of the three than Hughes was at the same age. That doesn’t mean Eovaldi will ever live up his ability, I just don’t think the comparison to Hughes fits beyond both guys frustrating fans.

Correa. (Presswire)
Correa. (Presswire)

Rob from North Dakota asks: In the first inning of Sunday’s game the Astros missed a double play when both Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, shifted the left side of 2nd base, went for the ball. That got me wondering. With all the shifting going on, are double plays down?

No, actually. MLB teams are turning a double play in 11% of double play opportunities this year, meaning a runner on first with less than two outs. The league average has been right in the 10-11% range every year since 2000, so well before shifts became widespread. The Yankees have turned a double play 10% of the time this year, up from 8% last year. They were all over the map from 2000-13, falling anywhere from 8-13%. I’m guessing that’s common — the league average double play turned rate stays the same but individual teams fluctuate year to year. Teams usually don’t shift much — or at least not as extremely — in double play situations, so it makes sense the rate of double plays being turned hasn’t changed much over the years. The Astros are super aggressive though, hence Sunday’s play.

Tamir asks: If you had caught A-Rod‘s 3,000th hit what would you have asked for?

A bunch Legends Seats tickets and maybe some memorabilia, stuff like that. Asking for a big wad of cash seems kinda tacky. I’d use a few of the tickets and sell the rest, probably. Same with the memorabilia. Save some, sell the rest. I’m not a big collector and I’d rather just have the money to spend on whatever I want. Does that make me less of a fan? Oh well.

YankeeB asks: If they miss the postseason by a game or two and CC doesn’t miss a start, who takes the fall, Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman, both or neither?

Man that would be a disaster. Imagine if they miss the postseason by a game or two after letting Sabathia throw 170+ of these innings? I feel like reducing the role of a player of Sabathia’s caliber has come from above. Girardi can’t just make the decision and stick him in the bullpen. It has to come from Cashman or even from the ownership level. Would missing the postseason by a small margin while letting Sabathia stay in the rotation be a fireable offense? I don’t know. It would be a damn shame if things played out that way though. If I have to pick someone, I’ll say Girardi gets the axe before Cashman.

Marc asks: Steven Matz for Gardner: who says no and why?

The Mets. Gardner’s awesome and on a team friendly contract, but he’s also going to turn 32 in August, so there aren’t many (if any) peak years left there. Matz is a very good pitching prospect with a really scary injury history — he had Tommy John surgery in May 2010 and didn’t get back on a mound until June 2012 due to setbacks and complications — and I do think the Mets would trade him for that reason, but not for a veteran guy like Gardner. I could see them trading Matz for a young shortstop. Russell or someone like that. But another veteran outfielder with Granderson and Michael Cuddyer on the books? Nah. I don’t know if the Yankees would trade Gardner for Matz — the front office loves Gardner — but I’m sure they’d consider it. They wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t.

DotF: Ellsbury sits out rehab game again; Bird goes deep in Trenton’s blowout win

Some notes:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) did not play for High-A Tampa tonight as planned. Brian Cashman told Erik Boland everything is “all good” and they’re just bringing Ellsbury along slowly, so I guess that means more rehab and not a return to the Yankees tomorrow.
  • 3B Eric Jagielo does not need surgery for the “loose bodies” in his knee, according to Nick Peruffo. He’ll head to Tampa for rehab and the doctors think he might be able to play later this season. Hooray for getting good injury news for once.
  • The Yankees have signed OF Rico Noel and assigned him to Triple-A Scranton, reports Matt Eddy. The 26-year-old hit .242/.333/.288 in 33 games for the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate this year before being released. This is a “all our outfielders are getting hurt and we need a warm body” signing.
  • 1B Kyle Roller and C Austin Romine were selected for the Triple-A International League All-Star Team, so congrats to them. Here’s the full roster.

Triple-A Scranton (14-2 win over Pawtucket)

  • CF-RF Ben Gamel: 1-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB — sixth inning grand slam put this one out of reach
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-4, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K — he was taken out of the game in the late innings, but I assume it was to get him off his feet in the blowout
  • LF Ramon Flores: 1-5, 1 K
  • C Austin Romine: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B — just keeps mashing
  • RHP Luis Severino: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4/5 GB/FB — 57 of 83 pitches were strikes (69%) … over/under on the date of his MLB debut is set at August 15th … what do you think?
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 21 of 30 pitches were strikes (70%) … 41/20 K/BB in 35 minor league innings this year

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have an off-day today after returning home from their seven-game road trip. While in Anaheim, Alex Rodriguez met with ex-Marine Roy McDaniel, his son Deven, and his son’s best friend Charlie after they came to the game specifically to see him. “Ever since he made his debut in Seattle two decades ago, he has been one of my favorite players,” said McDaniel to Grayson Alexander. Alex spoke to McDaniel and the two boys, and signed all sorts of stuff for them too. Fan friendly guy, that A-Rod.

This is your open thread for this Yankees baseball-less night. MLB Network is showing a bunch of regional games tonight and chances are us New Yorkers will get the Nationals and Braves. Ex-Yankees farmhand Manny Banuelos is making his big league debut against Max Scherzer. So talk about that game, A-Rod being history’s greatest monster, or anything else right here.

Heyman: First rounder RHP James Kaprielian expected to sign for $3M or so

(Don Liebig/UCALA)
(Don Liebig/UCLA)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are still negotiating with first round pick UCLA RHP James Kaprielian, and he is expected to receive a bonus in the $3M range. Slot money for the 16th overall pick is just over $2.44M. The signing deadline is two weeks from tomorrow and I have no reason to think Kaprielian won’t sign. Special assistant Jim Hendry is reportedly leading negotiations.

Kaprielian is a Scott Boras client and Boras has a tendency to go right up to the deadline with his top players so he can milk every last penny out of the team’s draft pool. And would you look at that, our 2015 Draft Pool Tracker shows the Yankees have approximately $3M left to spend on draft picks before getting hit with penalties for exceeding their bonus pool. Coincidence Kaprielian is expected to sign for $3M or so? Nope.

The Yankees signed 20th rounder 1B Isiah Gilliam to an overslot $550,000 bonus earlier this week, so 31 of their 41 draft picks are locked up. New Jersey LHP Andrew Miller (34th round) and Florida HS SS Deacon Liput (39th) are their only remaining overslot candidates and both figure to head to school. That was always the case. The Yankees signed all of their non-Kaprielian picks in the top ten rounds, so here’s no draft pool wiggle room.

Kaprielian, 21, had a 2.02 ERA with 114 strikeouts and 33 walks in 106.2 innings this season. Everything you need to know about him is right here.

Massive home/road offensive split defining the season so far for the Yankees

"Alright guys, three runs, great game!" (Presswire)
“Alright guys, three runs, great game!” (Presswire)

The Yankees went 3-4 on their seven-game road trip despite scoring only 18 runs in the seven games, with half those runs coming on Saturday. They scored zero or one run in each of the four losses, though Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh deserve credit for excellent performances. They overmatched the Yankees. C.J. Wilson and Andrew Heaney? Eh, not so much.

Not surprisingly, the Yankees are averaging more runs per game at home (5.77) than on the road (3.77). A lot more. I ridiculous amount more. They’ve scored 36 more runs at home in nine fewer games. Geez. Easy to understand why they’re 21-14 (+38 run differential) at home and 21-23 (-16 run differential) on the road in 2015. Just about every offense is better at home — MLB average is 4.22 runs per game at home and 4.02 on the road — but the Yankees have taken it to the extreme this season. Here are the team’s raw offensive numbers:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ BB% K% PA/HR PA/XBH BABIP
Home 1,395 .282/.350/.496 130 8.5% 18.2% 22.5 10.3 .306
Road 1,666 .235/.302/.371 88 8.1% 19.0% 39.7 14.5 .269

The Yankees are Kris Bryant at home and Michael Cuddyer on the road. This recent road trip was an extreme example of their offensive struggles away from the Bronx but it’s not confirmation bias either — the Yankees are substantially more productive at home. They’re a much more dangerous team playing in Yankee Stadium. Their three highest run totals and six of their nine highest run totals have come in the Bronx this year, unsurprisingly.

It’s easy to understand why the Yankees are more productive at home, right? Yankee Stadium is a hitter friendly park and the Yankees have tailored their lineup for the short right field porch — Brian McCann, Garrett Jones, and Stephen Drew are all left-handed pull hitters who were brought in after everyone knew how the park played (Mark Teixeira signed before the park opened), and Carlos Beltran is way more effective batting lefty than righty. Has been for years. Brett Gardner learned how to pull the ball for power in recent years as well, and even Didi Gregorius has benefited from the short porch.

The largest home/road splits belong to McCann (195 wRC+/62 wRC+), Gardner (179/107), Drew (101/44), and Alex Rodriguez (182/113). A-Rod‘s the outlier as a right-handed hitter. The home/road splits make sense for the other guys. Rodriguez is hitting for power both at home (.256 ISO) and on the road (.201 ISO), and his walk rates are high (13.7% and 12.0%), yet he has a .393 BABIP at home (146 PA) and a .248 BABIP on the road (166 PA). The sample sizes aren’t big though, and I suspect his home production will take a step back and is road production will improve as the season progresses.

There are other factors in play here that are tough to quantify, if not outright impossible. For example: traveling sucks. The Yankees have played 44 road games this season, the second most in baseball, and their 35 home games are the third fewest. Thirty-four of their 57 games since May 1st have been on the road. Yeah, they’re pro athletes and they make gobs of money, but maybe they’re just worn out from the travel. How do you quantify a good night’s sleep? I don’t know, but the Yankees are trying.

I’m not sure how or if the Yankees can improve their road production. I don’t think they can force the issue and try to be something they’re not — sac bunts, hit-and-runs, those sorts of things. They don’t have many players capable of doing that stuff. This is a team of wallbangers. I’d like to think this lineup is better than a true talent 88 wRC+ offense on the road, especially once Jacoby Ellsbury returns, but this recent road trip was a reminder of how tough it can be for the Yankees to score runs when the threat of a short porch homer doesn’t always exist.