Yankeemetrics: Fighting ’til the end [Sept. 23-26]

(Getty)
(Getty)

Zeroes
The Yankees late September collapse reached full throttle on Friday night with an ugly defeat, 9-0, to the Blue Jays in the series opener. It was their second-worst shutout loss ever in Toronto, behind only a 14-0 whitewashing on Sept. 4, 2001.

The loss also officially eliminated the Yankees from contention for the division crown, their fourth straight season without a title. Before this streak, they had never gone more than two seasons without winning the division since the leagues were split into three divisions in 1994.

Even more depressing is that they never spent a single day in first place in the AL East. The last season the Yankees failed to get to the top of the division standings was 1997, when the Orioles dominated from start-to-finish, spending a whopping 181 days as the front-runner (including off-days).

(AP)
(AP)

Zeroes again
The Yankees offensive slump reached near-historic proportions with another demoralizing loss on Saturday — their third scoreless game in a row dating back to the series finale in Tampa. Let’s recap the gory details of this awfulness with bullet points:

  • It’s the first time the Yankees have been shut out three games in a row since 1975 and just the sixth time in franchise history (also in 1968, 1960, 1929 and 1908).
  • They’ve been shut out 13 times overall this season, their most since 1990 (15).
  • 11 of those shutouts have come away from the Bronx, the second-most road shutout losses the Yankees have suffered in a season in the Live Ball Era (since 1920), behind only the 12 in 1973.
  • This was their sixth time being shut out in September, their most shutout losses in a single month since they were blanked seven times in July 1975. Last year the Yankees were shut out six times the entire season! And the clincher …

Five of those seven shutouts in September have come on the road. The last time the Yankees were shut out on the road five times in a single month was August 1905. Welp.

(AP)
(AP)

Runs? Yes. Win? No.
At least they finally made the scoreboard operator do some work, right? That’s pretty much the only positive to come out of another heart-breaking loss on Sunday. The Yankees snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, rallying in the top of the ninth to take the lead before coughing it up in the bottom of the inning, and ultimately walking off the turf as losers yet again.

Thanks to Didi Gregorius’ seventh inning homer, the Yankees avoided the ignominy of being shut out in four consecutive games for the first time in franchise history, and becoming the first AL team to do it since the 1964 Washington Senators. The home run ended our long national nightmare, a 33-inning scoreless streak that was the longest by any Yankee team since August 27-30, 1968.

Sure, the Yankees might have avoided one historical footnote by finally scoring some runs, but the loss still made headlines, statistically speaking. It was their eighth straight defeat in Toronto, their longest road losing streak ever against the Blue Jays.

They fell to 1-8 at the Rogers Centre in 2016, which is horrible, but it’s not even their most losses at one ballpark this season — they went 2-8 at Fenway Park. This is the third time in the last 75 years the Yankees have lost at least eight games at two different road stadiums: it also happened in 1959 at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and Boston’s Fenway Park, and in 1944 at Fenway and Detroit’s Briggs Stadium.

Michael Pineda turned in another solid performance, holding the Blue Jays to one run in 5 2/3 innings while lowering his September ERA to 2.66 in five starts. And with seven strikeouts, the 27-year-old right-hander surpassed the 200-strikeout mark this season, becoming the youngest Yankee to strike out at least 200 batters since a 26-year-old Melido Perez in 1992.

fight
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End of the road
The Yankees escaped Toronto — and punctuated their final road trip of the season — with an emotional win in the series finale, surviving a roller coaster ninth inning to temporarily halt their free fall and postpone their inevitable march towards playoff elimination.

The math says the Yankees are still alive in the Hunt for October, and their hearts are telling them to keep fighting … literally.

Luis Severino started the game but barely had a chance to make an impact, facing just eight batters before getting ejected after the second benches-clearing brawl of the game in the second inning. He allowed an earned run in the first inning, bringing his total to 42 earned runs in 43 innings as a starter this season, an unsightly 8.79 ERA.

That is on pace to be the highest ERA as a starter for any Yankee pitcher that made at least 10 starts in a season. The current franchise-worst mark is 7.89, set by Staten Island native Karl Drews in 1947.

Mark Teixeira kicked off the ninth inning comeback with a 416-foot solo homer — plus an epic bat flip — that tied the game at 3-3. It was his 205th longball as a Yankee, matching Dave Winfield for 13th place on the franchise list, and the 408th of his career, moving past Duke Snider for sole possession of 54th place on the MLB all-time list.

Aaron Hicks then delivered the game-winning shot, a two-run blast to put the Yankees ahead 5-3, which earned him our obscure Yankeemetric of the Week: Hicks is the second Yankee right-fielder to hit a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning or later against the Blue Jays in Toronto; the other was some guy named Paul O’Neill, who had a similar clutch homer on Sept. 14, 1999.

A fearless and gutsy performance by Tommy Layne, who came into a bases-loaded, no-out situation and somehow got the final three outs, sealed the win for the never-say-die Yankees. It was his first save in pinstripes, making him the ninth different Yankee to record a save this season — a new single-season franchise record (since saves became official in 1969). The previous high was eight pitchers with at least one save, done by the 1979 and 1980 teams.

This Yankee team certainly has a flair for the dramatic, eh? It was the second game this season they hit game-tying and go-ahead homers in the ninth inning (also on June 29 versus the Rangers). You have to go back more than six decades — to August 24 and September 16, 1955 — to find the last time the Yankees had two such games like this in a single season.

Thoughts prior to the final homestand of the 2016 season

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

At some point soon, very possibly tonight, the Yankees will be officially eliminated from postseason contention. Their tragic number is a mere two. Last night’s dramatic win notwithstanding, the Yankees have tanked hard these last two weeks, ever since winning seven straight to climb to within one game of the second wildcard spot. I have some thoughts.

1. It’s pretty telling that as the Yankees were desperate for offense the last week or so, they were more willing to play Billy Butler at first base than Rob Refsnyder at second base, isn’t it? Starlin Castro has been out with his hamstring injury, so the playing time was available, yet those at-bats have gone to Ronald Torreyes and Donovan Solano. (Solano and Torreyes each started four of the last eight games at second.) Butler has started three games at first and already his defense has hurt the Yankees on two occasions. He wasn’t able to reel in CC Sabathia‘s wild throw in Boston on that would-be inning-ending double play, and he botched that routine ground ball last Friday in Toronto. Refsnyder hasn’t hit much lately, and we know he’s not good in the field, but it sure seems like the Yankees will go to great lengths to not give him extended playing time. His only real opportunities to play regularly were at second last year after Stephen Drew got hurt, at first this June after Mark Teixeira got hurt, and in right this month after Aaron Judge got hurt. Each time it was out of necessity, and both times this year the Yankees quickly turned to someone else. Perhaps the whole power-hitting thing will work out. Otherwise I don’t see how Refsnyder fits with the Yankees going forward.

2. I don’t understand playing Butler at first base over Tyler Austin either. I mean, yes, the Yankees were kinda sorta in the race a week ago, and Butler was hitting and Austin wasn’t hitting, but still. As soon as Butler, who should have zero future with the Yankees beyond this week, proved somewhat useful, the struggling young player went to the bench. Would something similar have happened if Gary Sanchez didn’t get off to such a hot start? Don’t get me wrong, I understand sitting a struggling player now and then, but Austin has been outright benched. He’s started one of the last ten games, during which the Yankees faced six left-handed starters. (Hilariously, Austin’s one start was against a righty.) Things very quickly went from “hey look, the young players are helping the Yankees get back into the race” in August to “ewww, Butler and Solano are trying to keep them alive” in September. For a team that is supposedly committed to a youth movement, the Yankees don’t seem very committed to it.

3. The last two points speak to the challenge the Yankees will face going forward: developing young players while trying to win. Those two things don’t always go hand in hand, and yes, the Yankees are absolutely going to try to win next season. There’s no reason to think Hal Steinbrenner won’t make the rounds this offseason talking about championship caliber rosters and expectations and all that. The odds are strongly in favor of the Yankees trying to win while they rebuild transition, and that can get messy if the kids don’t produce right away, which is often the case. Butler is playing over Austin and the young relievers have been pushed aside. Stuff like that can’t happen next year. The young players have to be the priority, even if it they don’t give the team the best chance to win in the short-term.

4. I noticed Luis Severino has started to vary the timing of his delivery slightly in his last two games. He’s added a little pause at the top of his left lift. To the RAB action news footage:

Luis Severino delivery

Severino hasn’t done that every pitch. It’s only been a handful of times in his last two games. Fewer than five. And as far as I can tell, there’s no real pattern. He doesn’t do it only in two-strike counts, or only when ahead in the count, or only when throwing fastballs, nothing like that. Pitchers changing the timing of their delivery seems to be a new fad around baseball. Johnny Cueto and his four deliveries get the most attention, though I’ve noticed a pretty drastic increase in quick pitches around the league the last year or two. Pitching is all about disrupting timing, and in this age with super advanced scouting reports, varying the timing of the delivery is a possible way for pitchers to gain an advantage. It adds an element of unpredictability. Severino is going to be suspended following last night’s ejection, it’s a certainty, so we might not see him again this season. This is something we’ll have to file away for next year to see if it continues.

5. With six days left in the regular season, my feeling right now is Michael Fulmer will be named AL Rookie of the Year and Sanchez will finish second. I also think the chances of Sanchez winning right now are the best they’ve been since he was called up. That’s even after going 2-for-16 (.125) in Toronto over the weekend. Nineteen homers in 48 games is ridiculous. He could have hit 19 homers across a full season as a starting catcher and been the Rookie of the Year favorite. Only ten other rookie catchers in history have hit 19 homers in a season, and they all had at least 400 plate appearances. Sanchez has 209. At the same time, Fulmer currently leads the AL with a 2.95 ERA, and he’ll need to throw at least 6.1 innings in his final start of the season tomorrow night to qualify for the ERA title. I don’t think that’ll matter though. You can’t support Sanchez for Rookie of the Year and discredit Fulmer for not having enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. They’ve both had tremendous rookie seasons and would be very deserving of the award. My guess right now is Fulmer’s sustained excellence over close to a full season will trump Sanchez’s historically great two months, but it’ll be close.

6. For whatever reason I’ve been thinking about right-handed hitters with opposite field power a lot lately. I guess because Sanchez and Austin have poked a few into the short porch. Anyway, via Baseball Savant, here are the right-handed hitters — including switch-hitters hitting righty — with the most opposite field home runs at Yankee Stadium since Opening Day 2013, when the Yankees stopped having a good offense:

  1. Alex Rodriguez, Alfonso Soriano: 6
  2. Starlin Castro, Wil Myers, Mike Napoli, Mike Trout: 4
  3. Tyler Austin, Carlos Beltran, Evan Longoria: 3

Eleven other righties have hit multiple opposite field home runs at Yankee Stadium over the last four seasons and only one of those eleven was a Yankee: Sanchez. Others include guys like Logan Forsythe, Desmond Jennings, and Yasiel Puig, who doesn’t even play in the same division or league. I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this. I just wanted to see the leaderboard. The Yankees haven’t had many good righty hitters in recent years. A-Rod and Soriano were by far the best power hitters, and now Castro is in that mix. Otherwise we’re talking about Derek Jeter, Vernon Wells, Francisco Cervelli, guys like that. Not exactly power hitters. Twenty different right-handed hitters have hit multiple opposite field home runs at Yankee Stadium since 2013, and only six actually played for the Yankees. That isn’t necessarily bad — there are a lot more non-Yankees than Yankees, after all — but some more righties with right field pop would be a welcome addition to the lineup going forward. Hopefully Sanchez, Austin, Aaron Judge, and Clint Frazier can provide that.

7. As poorly as these last two weeks have gone, that run in August and early-September was a lot of fun, and they Yankees won’t be mathematically eliminated from the postseason race until the final week of the regular season. That’s way better than I expected back in April and May. The Yankees were bad in the first half and they reacted appropriately by selling at the deadline and calling up MLB ready young players in the second half. That it led to a little run was gravy. This team still has a lot of problems to address going forward, especially on the pitching side, and there’s no guarantee things will be better next season. At least now it appears the Yankees have a plan and are executing it. For a few years the plan seemed to be hang on for dear life and hope to luck into a postseason spot. We can see the future of the lineup taking shape (Sanchez, Judge, Castro, Frazier, Greg Bird, etc.) and almost all of the big money contracts coming off the books. If things go according to plan, the Yankees will soon have a lot of young players in the lineup with their best years ahead of them, and an awful lot of money to spend. That’s pretty exciting.

Yankees rally late, hang on for 7-5 win over Blue Jays after benches clear

This team still has a little magic left, huh? The Yankees brawled and bat-flipped their way to a dramatic 7-5 win over the Blue Jays in their final road game of the season Monday night. That was satisfying win. Very, very satisfying.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Too Big For Their Britches
The Blue Jays tried to play schoolyard bully Monday night. It all started in the second inning, after J.A. Happ threw at Chase Headley not once, but twice. That was in retaliation for Luis Severino, who has had crummy control pretty much all season, hitting Josh Donaldson in his elbow guard with a pitch. Severino walked two later in the inning, including Russell Martin with the bases loaded.

Happ threw at Headley twice. The first pitch missed behind his legs, and the second got him right in the hip. Home plate umpire Todd Tichenor finally realized what was happening and warned both benches. Joe Girardi came out of the dugout and argued Happ should have been ejected because hey, he threw at Headley twice, but no luck. Tichenor ejected Girardi and the benches cleared, albeit briefly. Even by baseball standards, that brawl was nothing.

That wasn’t the end of it. In the top of the second, Severino came out and stood up for his teammate. His first pitch of the inning was behind Justin Smoak’s legs, and his second was in Smoak’s calf. Tichenor ejected Severino after the second pitch, but by then all hell was breaking loose. Smoak started to walk about towards the mound and Severino basically told him to bring it on. Here’s the video:

CC Sabathia stormed out of his dugout on his one good knee and was right in the middle of the fracas locking up with Donaldson. You can’t see it in that clip, but YES showed another replay angle later in the game where Sabathia was basically laughing in Donaldson’s face. Possibly at his stupid haircut. Martin tried to get at Gary Sanchez, but other folks intervened.

So, after all of that, the Yankees were down their manager, their starter, their bench coach, and their pitching coaching. Robbie Thomson and Larry Rothschild were ejected in addition to Severino. Girardi had been tossed an inning earlier. No one on the Blue Jays was ejected, hilariously. With the manager, bench coach, and pitching coach all ejected, third base coach Joe Espada took over as acting manager. Bullpen coach Mike Harkey came in to act as pitching coach. And the game was still tied 1-1.

Bleier. (Presswire)
Bleier. (Presswire)

Bullpen on Parade
The Yankees scored a quick first inning run when Sanchez drove in Brett Gardner on a ground ball. Happ threw Gardner’s leadoff chopper away and the ball sailed down the line and into foul territory, allowing Gardner to get all the way to third. The Blue Jays tied the game in the bottom of the first when Severino walked Martin with the bases loaded. Groan.

Once Severino was ejected, Espada turned the game over to all the extra arms in the bullpen, and you know what? They did pretty damn good. Jonathan Holder, James Pazos, Kirby Yates, Richard Bleier, and Adam Warren held the Blue Jays to two runs in seven innings. Both runs were charged to Holder. What more could you want from those guys? Yates, Bleier, and Warren in particular were the game’s unsung heroes. They combined for five scoreless frames.

The bullpen gave the offense a chance to get back into the game. The Blue Jays held a 3-1 after seven innings, and the Yankees were able to get a run back in the top of the eighth. Gardner doubled and Jacoby Ellsbury drove him in with a single to cut the deficit to 3-2. The middle innings were not good. We all love the idea of a benches clearing brawl firing up the offense, but lol nope. The Yankees did a bunch of nothing against Happ until that eighth inning.

“I was just letting him know that he blew the save”
With his team leading by one run, Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons turned to setup man Jason Grilli in the ninth inning because closer Roberto Osuna was unavailable due to his recent workload. Headley, the first batter Grilli faced, hit a rocket down the first base line that Edwin Encarnacion went to his knees to play. They were playing no doubles defense and they took a double away from Headley. For shame.

The hard contact was a good sign though. On the very next pitch, Mark Teixeira hammered a get-me-over fastball out to right field for a game-tying solo home run. Teixeira enjoyed the hell out of that homer. Check out the stare down and the bat flip:

Mark Teixeira bat flip

“I was just letting him know that he blew the save,” said Teixeira after the game when asked about the bat flip. Awesome. Just awesome. Teixeira can be pretty bad ass when he wants too.

That home run only tied the game, however. The Yankees were going to have to muster another run if they wanted to win, and with the way things have been going of late, scoring another run was going to be a tall order. Luckily Grilli was still throwing batting practice. He gave up a single to Didi Gregorius, then hung the hell out of a breaking ball to Aaron Hicks, who hit the team’s second no-doubt homer of the inning. The two-run shot gave the Yankees a 5-3 lead.

Unlike Teixeira, who’s earned the right do pretty much whatever the hell he wants in this league, Hicks did not admire his homer or flip his bat. He simply dropped the bat to the ground, clapped loudly, and started his trot. To the action footage:

Aaron Hicks clap

Love it. The Yankees need a little more swagger. The Blue Jays got tough earlier in the game and tried to push the Yankees around, and although it took a few innings, the Yankees pushed right back with some demoralizing ninth inning home runs. They homered and they pimped the hell out of ’em too. I want more of this.

Another Eventful Ninth Inning
Dellin Betances is officially broken. Probably not permanently, but Betances has a history of letting his mechanics fall out of whack, and that’s happening right now. He took over in the ninth inning with a four-run lead — the Yankees tacked on two more runs after the Hicks homer on a double (Donovan Solano), a walk (Gardner), a single (Ellsbury), and a sac fly (Sanchez) — and immediately loaded the bases with no outs.

That rally was built like most rallies against Betances. He walked the leadoff man, made an error on a push bunt, and walked another batter. Nothing hard hit and a bunch of uncomfortable batters keeping the bat on their shoulders. Ineffectively wild, I’d say. Betances threw eleven pitches and only three were strikes. That is: bad. Dellin has to go back to lab and get his delivery back in sync. As long as he’s healthy, I think he’ll be just fine.

Well anyway, the bases weren’t just loaded with no outs, they were loaded for Donaldson and Encarnacion. Who do you call on in that situation? The lefty specialist, of course. Tommy Layne came in and had to get three outs before allowing four runs. Sounds easy, except the tying run was already at the plate and two right-handed hitters with 78 homers between then were due up. No problem, right?

Layne first got Donaldson to fly out harmlessly to right field — the runner on third, Smoak, never even thought about going home on Hicks’ arm — but he walked Encarnacion to force in a run. Now the tying run was on base. You know what? Getting through those two guys allowing just one run seems like a good outcome in that situation. Both of those dudes could have tied the game with one swing.

Pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro was up next — Jose Bautista was lifted for a defensive replacement earlier — and he lifted a weak fly ball to right that dropped just in front of a sliding Hicks to score a run. Should have been caught. I’m not sure what happened there. Either way, the score was now 7-5 and the bases were still loaded with one out. And, naturally, Layne fell behind Martin in the count 3-1. That’s when he made this heroic play:

Tommy Layne

What an unbelievable play. Layne scooped the weak tapper back in front of the plate, got around Sanchez, then dove to get the force out at home, all in one motion. That little weak tapper had trouble written all over it. Visions of Layne and Sanchez colliding, or a throw to first sailing into right field flashed before my eyes. It looked bad. Instead, Layne got the out, incredibly.

That left the bases loaded with two outs, and it brought Troy Tulowitzki to the plate. Last year we watched Tulo and Andrew Miller lock up in an epic 12-pitch battle with the game on the line. Layne is no Andrew Miller, but it was the same situation. Game on the line and Tulo at the plate. Layne jumped ahead in the count 0-2, then got Tulowitzki to swing at a pitch down here (via Brooks Baseball) …

Tommy Layne Troy Tulowitzki

… and lift a fly ball into foul territory down the left field line. Gardner hustled over — I mean really hustled, he was running full speed — and made a great sliding catch to end the game near the wall. Second time this year Gardner made a great game-ending catch to avoid disaster against the Blue Jays while a generic white guy reliever was on the mound trying to bail out Betances. Thank goodness they don’t play Toronto anymore. What a hectic ninth inning, both the top and bottom.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Leftovers
The Yankees somehow had eleven hits, which seems wrong. Gardner had three while Ellsbury and Teixeira had two each. Headley, Gregorius, Hicks, and Solano had one each. The Yankees drew only two walks (Gardner and Ellsbury) but they also struck out only two three times (Sanchez, Brian McCann, Teixeira). They sent 40 batters to the plate and 35 put the ball in the play. That’s pretty good.

Welcome back, Starlin Castro. He returned from his hamstring injury to pinch-hit for Ronald Torreyes in the eighth. Castro hit a long fly ball to right field that would have been a home run in Yankee Stadium. Solano then took over at second base in the next inning. Castro has only been cleared to hit so far. No fielding.

After all the ejections, Harkey went to the dugout to serve as the pitching coach, and Tyler Clippard took over as bullpen coach. I guess because he’s the most veteran player out there? All he had to do was pick up the phone and wave his hat when the reliever was ready. Pretty funny.

Speaking of the ejections, Severino is definitely getting suspended. Throwing at a guy (twice) after benches have been warned doesn’t go unpunished. MLB could hand down a quick six-game suspension tomorrow and end his season. We’ll see. A suspension is definitely coming though.

And finally, the Orioles had an off-day and the Tigers lost, so the O’s have a two-game lead over Detroit for the second wildcard spot. The Yankees are five games back with six to play. Their tragic number is two. Ain’t dead yet!

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head over to ESPN for the box score and updated standings, and MLB.com for the video highlights. We have Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages too. Here’s a win probability graph that finally craters in the Yankees’ favor for once:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
No more road games this season. They’re all done. The Yankees are heading back to the Bronx for a season-ending six-game homestand. First up: the Red Sox. Luis Cessa and David Price are the scheduled starters for Tuesday night’s opener. RAB Tickets can get you in the door for that game, or any of the other five games left this season.

Game 156: The Final Road Game

(Vaughn Ridley/Getty)
(Vaughn Ridley/Getty)

After six months of red-eye flights and swanky hotels, the Yankees are playing their final road game of the 2016 season tonight. They’re an awful 35-45 on the road, which is their worst record away from Yankee Stadium since going 35-46 in 1992. Things aren’t so bad at home. The Yankees are 44-31 with a +21 run differential in the Bronx.

Anyway, Luis Severino returns to the rotation tonight because someone had to replace the injured Masahiro Tanaka, and the Yankees consider him the best man for the job. Severino hasn’t thrown more than 52 pitches in a game in a month now, and his changeup remains non-existent, so we’ll see how this goes. Good thing there are 13 pitchers in the bullpen tonight. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Billy Butler
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. 1B Mark Teixeira
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. RF Aaron Hicks
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Severino

I have been informed by the internet that it is a cold and rainy day in Toronto, so chances are the Rogers’ Centre roof will be closed. Tonight’s road schedule finale will begin at 7:07pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy the game.

Roster Move: The Yankees have outrighted J.R. Graham off the 40-man roster, the team announced. He is still with the organization, and I’m pretty sure Graham isn’t eligible for minor league free agency this offseason, so he’ll be back next year too.

Yanks add James Kaprielian to Arizona Fall League roster

(MLB.com)
(MLB.com)

Right-hander James Kaprielian has been added to the Scottsdale Scorpions roster, according to the Arizona Fall League transactions page. The Yankees had one open pitching spot and were reportedly hoping to use it on Kaprielian, who has missed almost the entire season with an flexor tendon strain.

“I’m pretty happy and excited with the progression we’ve made,” he said to Brendan Kuty last week. “We’ve obviously taken our time with this and tried to deal with it smart. The Yankees have done a really good job with handling me and the process and I feel good with where I’m at.”

Kaprielian, 22, threw a two-inning simulated game last Tuesday and was scheduled throw again yesterday, according to Erik Boland. The plan was to have him make an Instructional League start this week if yesterday’s throwing session went as planned. The fact Kaprielian has been added to the AzFL roster indicates everything is going well. The Yankees wouldn’t add him to the roster if there any doubt about his health.

The Yankees selected Kaprielian with their first round pick (16th overall) in last year’s draft. He experienced a pretty significant velocity spike last year, going from 88-91 mph as a sophomore at UCLA to 92-93 mph by the end of his junior year, then 94-96 mph by the end of his first pro season. Kaprielian was reportedly up to 97-99 mph this spring. Unfortunately, big velocity spikes are followed by elbow woes more often than not, it seems.

In three starts with High-A Tampa this season Kaprielian had a 1.50 ERA (2.03 FIP) in 18 innings. He was dominant, as expected. Coming into the season the hope was Kaprielian would tear through High-A and Double-A, reach Triple-A in the second half, and possibly make his MLB debut in September. Obviously those plans had to be put on hold by the injury. The good news is he’s healthy now and going to the AzFL.

Kaprielian will join Greg Bird (shoulder surgery) as rehabbing Yankees in the AzFL. Tyler Wade, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Josh Roeder, J.P. Feyereisen, and Dillon Tate are going as well. Yankees’ prospects will be on a team with Angels, Giants, Phillies, and Mets prospects. The AzFL season begins October 11th.

Heyman: Yankees wanted Panik in trade talks with Giants

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees asked the Giants for second baseman Joe Panik during trade talks prior to the August 1st deadline. San Francisco was said to have interest in both Andrew Miller and Michael Pineda, and I assume Aroldis Chapman as well. The Yankees reportedly did not view them as a good trade partner given their thin farm system though. Heyman indicates the Bombers wanted Panik for Miller.

Panik, 25, is a semi-local kid from Hopewell Junction in Upstate New York. He went to St. John’s. He’s hitting a weak .240/.317/.380 (89 wRC+) with a career high ten home runs in 505 plate appearances around a concussion this season. Last year he hit .312/.378/.455 (136 wRC) around a back injury. Panik was called up midway through the 2014 season and was the Giants’ starting second baseman during their most recent World Series run. There’s a lot to digest here, so let’s break it down.

1. I really like the idea of targeting Panik. It goes without saying a quality young middle infielder is a very valuable asset. Beyond that, I like going after Panik because he’s exactly the kid of offensive player the Yankees don’t have. He’s an extreme contact hitter — his 9.1% strikeout rate is the lowest in baseball — who also draws a healthy amount of walks (9.7%), so his plate discipline is a big plus. Panik is also an all-fields hitter (2016 spray chart via Baseball Savant) …

Joe Panik spray chart

… with a very small platoon split. It’s almost negligible, really. He’s a career .279/.345/.414 (112 wRC+) hitter against righties and a career .289/.343/.376 (104 wRC+) hitter against lefties. Less power, but the average and on-base ability there. Add in above average defense and strong baserunning, and you’ve got a very nice all-around player. Not a star, but a solid player who fits the classic two-hole hitter profile perfectly.

The Yankees have spent the last few years targeting dead pull lefty hitters who can take advantage of the short porch and I totally understand why, but it hasn’t really worked. It’s led to a very one-dimensional and easy-to-defend offense. Targeting some (note: not only) players like Panik should be a goal going forward. Batting average over power, plus a willingness to take a walk. Let any power boost from the short porch come naturally.

(The Yankees kinda tried this when the signed Jacoby Ellsbury, though Ellsbury was already over 30 and didn’t walk nearly as much as Panik. Prime-aged players, please and thank you.)

2. Whither Castro? Panik was drafted as a shortstop but he’s a pure second baseman now, and the Yankees already have a second baseman in Starlin Castro. How would the two have co-existed? There are a lot of ways to solve this problem (trade, platoon, etc.) and I think the long-term plan would have been Panik at second and Castro at third. I don’t think this means the Yankees are ready to move on from Starlin. Not at all.

Remember, the Yankees originally planned to have Castro play some third base this season. That plan got put on hold because he needed more work at second than I think they realized — he only moved there late last season, after all — so they had him focus on that position in Spring Training. With a full season at second under his belt, Castro would ostensibly be better able to work out at third next year. He wouldn’t need the reps at second.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Starlin’s developing power — his 21 homers are five more than his previous career high, though a lot of that is Yankee Stadium (15 at home, six on the road) — allows him to profile better at third, and I think he’d be a better defender there than at second. He seems to get himself in trouble when he has time to make a play. I think the idea behind getting Panik was moving Castro to third long-term.

What happens with Chase Headley in that scenario? An offseason trade seems obvious — they made him available at the deadline, remember — though keeping him as a backup plan at third (and first?) wouldn’t have been a terrible idea. This is one of those “get a good player and figure it out later” situations. Same goes with playing time in the second half. The Yankees figured to be out of the race. Just get the talent and sort it all out once necessary.

3. Was it a one-for-one trade, or something bigger? Long before the trade deadline I was hoping the Yankees would get one truly top prospect for Chapman, and one top prospect plus a few decent secondary pieces for Miller. The Yankees got much more than that. The bullpen market has been insane over the last ten months or so, starting with the Ken Giles trade over the winter. Teams are paying top dollar for elite relievers.

So, with that in mind, was the offer Miller-for-Panik straight up? Or Miller for Panik plus stuff? Or Miller plus stuff for Panik? Or maybe something even bigger than that. It’s two and a half years of an elite reliever and four and a half years of a good middle infielder. My guess is talks never advanced all that far, so the exact framework was never discussed. Something like this:

“Hi, we’d like Andrew Miller.”

“Okay, but your system kinda stinks, so we want Joe Panik in return.”

“Not surprising. Lots of team have asked about him. We can’t do that though. We’ll get Will Smith from the Brewers instead.”

“So wanna get jiggy wit it?”

“Stop it, Brian.”

“In West Philadelphia born and raised…

/click

Getting Panik straight up for Miller would have been pretty darn good, I think. Then again, I never thought the Yankees would get two top 100 prospects and more for Miller, so what do I know. Somehow nothing would have surprised me, not a straight one-for-one deal and not one side kicking in more. This would have been a complicated one.

4. The Giants did trade a starting infielder. The idea of a team trading their starting second baseman for a reliever in the middle of a postseason race seems crazy, but remember, the Giants did trade their starting third baseman. Matt Duffy went to the Rays in the Matt Moore trade. San Francisco picked up Eduardo Nunez a few days earlier and was able to plug him in at third. They could have traded Panik, kept Duffy, and used Nunez at second.

It’s not quite that simple, of course. Duffy was on the DL at the time, so the Giants weren’t actually subtracting him from their lineup when they made the trade. Also, trading Panik and keeping Duffy would have meant finding another way to solve the rotation problem. Trading Panik for Miller and Duffy for Moore seems like a non-option. How could a contender trade half their starting infield, especially when both guys are young?

The Giants were obviously not completely opposed to trading a building block infielder to address their roster needs. The Duffy trade shows that. The fact talks with the Yankees about Panik didn’t go very far suggests they’re much higher on him going forward, which makes sense. Duffy’s power outburst last season was really unexpected, plus top prospect Christian Arroyo is likely headed for third base long-term. They have Duffy’s replacement already.

With San Francisco’s farm system short on high-end talent, the Yankees were smart to ask for a big league player in Miller talks, and Panik was the guy to target. The Brandons (Belt and Crawford) are going nowhere and there’s reason to believe Duffy isn’t quite as good as he was last year. Panik’s concussion explains his down year, but the fact he’s shown more power this year with maintaining his elite strike zone control is a promising sign. This would have been a fascinating deal.

Finding Success

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

One way or another, the 2016 season is going to end in a week’s time. Chances are, the Yankees will be packing up their lockers and heading to their respective corners of vacation, golf, and other recreational activities as their counterparts on other teams bask in the stressful glow of October baseball. There was a time when we’d consider such a happening an unwavering failure for the Bombers. But from this endpoint, it’s hard to look back and consider 2016 anything other than an unmitigated success for our boys in pinstripes.

Coming into this season, the Yankees were a flawed and fairly incomplete team, relying on continued high-level performances from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira to anchor the offense; they were also expecting Luis Severino to build off of a positive end to 2015 and emerge as a force in the rotation to back up Masahiro Tanaka. If all of that happened, they were looking at the playoffs, even if in the form of the Wild Card game once again.

Literally none of those things happened. A-Rod didn’t even last the full season; Tex announced his retirement and has looked like a shell of himself most of the time; and Severino looked more like 2008 Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy than 2015 Luis Severino. But, a funny thing happened on the way to a playoff-less season: the Yankees found success in other avenues.

Masahiro Tanaka
(Getty)

Masahiro Tanaka has had a fantastic season and is a contender for the AL Cy Young Award. He came into the year as the Yankees’ rotation rock and lasted the entire way as such. As his pitching went, generally, so did the Yankees; he was the one reliable starter they had and he was as good as gold.

While he wasn’t up to his career standard — and likely never will be again — CC Sabathia had a bounceback year, posting (to date) a 104 ERA+, a far better showing than 2013-15’s marks of 84, 73, and 86. Watching him find success again was a pleasure, given all he’s meant to the Yankees since 2009.

When it was clear that 2016 wasn’t likely to end in much more than a lack of playoffs, the Yankees found success on the trade market. However much it hurt to watch a guy as good — in more ways than pitching — as Andrew Miller leave the club — with Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran departing as well — the restocking and rearming the Yankee farm system went through in the summer was more than worth it. By shedding those players, the Yankees help set themselves up for success in 2017 and beyond.

This year's rookie hazing theme: Baby Bombers! (@Yankees)
(@Yankees)

Of course, nothing did that quite as much as the successes of the Baby Bombers, led by Gary Sanchez‘s remarkable display of power. While his performance in 2016 was more sustained, Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green all had flashes of brilliance that give promise to 2017. Sanchez’s spark gave the Yankees a surprise run towards the second wild card that will probably fall just short, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun to watch. How often does a team sell at the deadline, then compete for the playoffs anyway?

This all begs the question of what a successful 2017 will look like for the Yankees. From a team and competition standpoint, it’s hard to see things looking much different than this year. The team going into 2017 is likely to be flawed enough — especially in the rotation — that a shot at the playoffs is all that could be expected.

Individually speaking, there is plenty to look forward to. Continued excellence from Gary Sanchez is obviously one of those things. We should, however, temper our expectations. While he’ll likely finish this partial season with 20 or more homers, we must remember that if he hits “only” that many in a full season next year, it’s still a great thing for a young catcher.

For Aaron Judge, success will be ironing out the hole in his swing and winning the right field job out of Spring Training.

For the young pitchers — Severino and Cessa, in particular — success will be finding a role. Both can do that by improving their secondary pitches to the point where turning over a lineup is a probability, not just a possibility. The more success they have in this endeavor, the more success the Yankees will have as a team.