Game 131: Tanaka Tuesday

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The last two games have thrown a wrench into the Yankees’ plans to get back into the postseason race, though at least tonight they have their best starter on the mound. And their best relievers are well-rested too. With any luck, the Yankees will only have to use two pitchers this evening. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. 1B Tyler Austin
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Now, the bad news: it’s been raining in Kansas City. The forecast says there will be scattered thunderstorms for most of the evening as well. It’s not supposed to dry up until 10pm ET or so. We might be in for a delay, but hopefully not. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 8:15pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Move: The Yankees have called up Chasen Shreve, the team announced. Kirby Yates was sent down to rookie Pulaski to make room on the roster. Pulaski’s season ends Thursday, so the Yankees will be able to call Yates back up Friday and circumvent the ten-day rule. Rosters expand Thursday.

Yankees acquire Tito Polo, Stephen Tarpley to complete Ivan Nova trade

Tarpley. (Bucs Dugout)
Tarpley. (Bucs Dugout)

The Ivan Nova trade is complete. The Yankees have acquired outfielder Tito Polo and left-hander Stephen Tarpley from the Pirates to complete the deal, both teams announced. Nova was sent to Pittsburgh for two players to be named later minutes before the August 1st trade deadline.

A few weeks ago Brian Cashman said the Yankees were getting two “legitimate” prospects from the Pirates, and that’s exactly what they received. MLB.com ranks Tarpley and Polo as the No. 17 and 27 prospects in Pittsburgh’s system, respectively. Both players were on the list of potential targets I pieced together a few weeks ago. Validation!

Tarpley, 23, was originally the Orioles’ third round pick in 2013. They traded him to the Pirates for Travis Snider last year. Tarpley has a 4.32 ERA (3.92 FIP) with a 20.9% strikeout rate and an 8.6% walk rate in exactly 100 innings for Pittsburgh’s High-A affiliate this season. Here’s a piece of his MLB.com scouting report:

He’ll run his fastball up to 94-95 mph at times and throws it with good sink to generate ground-ball outs. Tarpley has two breaking balls and likes to throw his curve more than his slider, though the Pirates feel the slider is better … He also has a good feel for his changeup, giving him a solid three-pitch mix he uses to pound the strike zone.

The 22-year-old Polo is hitting .289/.360/.451 (136 wRC+) with 16 homers and 37 steals in 109 total games between Low-A and High-A this season. The Pirates originally signed him out of Colombia back in 2012. Here’s a snippet of MLB.com’s scouting report on Polo:

Polo has shown a knack for making consistent hard contact from the right side of the plate and should continue to hit for a decent average. Though he is just 5-foot-9, he has surprising strength, and he started tapping into it more in 2016 … Polo runs very well, with his speed allowing him to be a base-stealing threat and cover a good amount of ground in the outfield … Polo plays with high energy, and that should allow him to maximize his tools. He may eventually profile best as a fourth outfielder, but one who can help a team win in a number of ways.

The Yankees didn’t get top prospects for Nova, but that was never going to happen anyway. A rental pitcher with a 4.99 ERA (4.98 FIP) in 191.1 innings since coming back from Tommy John surgery doesn’t have a ton of trade value. The Yankees did very well to get two actual prospects with a chance to help the big league team in some way, even if they’re only role players.

Both Tarpley and Polo will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, which is pretty much the only downside here. My guess is Tarpley will be added to the 40-man roster but Polo will not. It seems unlikely he’ll be able to stick on a big league roster all next season. A team might be able to hide Tarpley in the back of the bullpen as a long man or situational reliever though.

So, all told, the Yankees acquired 12 prospects and Adam Warren in exchange for Nova, Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman, and Andrew Miller. Three of the 12 are top 100 caliber prospects (Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield) and the rest are quality second and third tier pieces. Very nice deadline haul, I’d say.

The Yankees should remain patient with Aaron Judge, but he has to make some adjustments too

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

Last night, in his 14th big league game, Aaron Judge went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts before being lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. Judge started his career with seven hits — including two home runs — in his first 18 at-bats, which works out to a .389 batting average. Since then he’s gone 2-for-28 (.071) with 16 strikeouts, many of them on feeble swings.

It’s not entirely unexpected that Judge is having trouble in his early days as a big leaguer. I mean, most players do, but Judge’s history — he struggled his first few weeks in Triple-A too — and the fact he’s so damn big suggested an adjustment period was coming, and it has. Not everyone can come up and be Gary Sanchez right away, unfortunately. Judge has some things to work on.

“It’s part of the maturing process,” said Joe Girardi to Brendan Kuty a few days. “As I said, with Aaron, it’s a big strike zone he has to cover. He doesn’t know how pitchers are going to approach him. I believe he’s going to make the right adjustments. We might see some strikeouts but I think he’s going to make the adjustments and be very productive.”

Brian Cashman said Judge would take over as the everyday right fielder when he was called up, and that has been the case. He’s started 13 of 15 games since being called up, and there’s no indication Girardi will start sitting him regularly anytime soon. That’s good. The Yankees should remain patient with Judge because he’s very talented and needs to play to continue his development.

At the same time, Judge has adjustments to make, and that’s something he has to do on his own. The hitting coaches can help him, but they’re only coaches, not miracle workers. Ultimately the onus falls on Judge to make the adjustments. It seems he is being really passive at the plate at the moment, like he’s waiting for the perfect pitch until he’s forced to protect with two strikes.

Here, via the incredible Baseball Savant, is every fastball Judge has taken for a called strike in his brief time with the Yankees:

Aaron Judge called strikes

There are some borderline calls that went against Judge there, no doubt, but there’s also more than a few fastballs right down the middle that he took for a strike. I know I’ve seen Judge take some pitches I thought he should have offered at. Various YES announcers (Paul O’Neill for sure) pointed this out as well. Judge has been letting some hittable pitches go by.

Now let’s look at Judge’s swing and contact rates. We are still talking about a small sample size here, so we shouldn’t take these numbers as an indication of what he’ll do going forward. This is just a record of what Judge has done in his 53 plate appearances so far. MLB averages are in parenthesis:

Zone Swing Rate: 55.1% (63.9%)
Out of Zone Swing Rate: 35.6% (30.5%)

Zone Contact Rate: 81.6% (86.5%)
Out of Zone Contact Rate: 48.9% (62.2%)

Judge’s contact rate on pitches both in and out of the strike zone are below the league average and that’s not all that surprising. He’s always been a guy who swings and misses and he probably always will be. The zone contact rate is the more important number there, and Judge is on par with guys like Kris Bryant (82.6%) and Mark Trumbo (81.4%), so he’s below-average, but not “he’ll never be productive at this rate” below-average.

The swing rates are more interesting, especially the zone swing rate. Judge is swinging at way fewer pitches in the strike zone than the average player. In fact, among the 152 hitters with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, only five have a lower zone swing rate than Judge: Matt Carpenter (54.3%), Curtis Granderson (52.8%), Martin Prado (52.4%), Ben Zobrist (52.3%), and Jayson Werth (51.7%).

Those are five pretty good hitters, so it’s possible to swing at this few pitches in the zone and still be productive, but three of those five are very high contact hitters. Granderson and Werth will swing and miss a bunch, though they make up for it with their power. (Or did in their primes.) That’s the type of hitter Judge will be. He’s not going to be a contact machine like Prado or Zobrist. His size won’t allow it.

These days we’re conditioning to think taking pitches and working the count is a priority each at-bat, and while it’s good to make the pitcher work, the ultimate goal is to get something good to hit. If that comes on the first or second pitch, so be it. Judge has been letting a few too many hittable pitches go by, either because he’s guessing wrong or wants to work the count or something else.

Whatever it is, there’s an adjustment that has to be made. The current passive version of Judge, the guy who seems to be down 0-2 in the count as soon as he gets in the batter’s box, is going to have a hard time being productive. The good news is Judge has shown the ability to make adjustments in the minors. Triple-A pitchers worked him over last year, so he altered his stance (bigger leg kick, lowered his hands) to compensate, and positive results followed.

“I’m just going to stick to my routine. It’s part of the game,” said Judge to Kuty, in typical boring YankeeSpeak. “You’re going to have the ups and downs, but try to stick to your routine. You’re going to have those days where you’re 0-for-4 and days where you’re 4-for-4. Can’t get too excited or too down. Stick to your routine and everything will work out.”

Guys this size tend to get stereotyped as lumbering meathead sluggers who grip it and rip each pitch. That’s not really Judge. He’s a better pure hitter than he gets credit for and he has very good baseball aptitude. He’s shown the ability and willingness to make adjustments, which will serve him well going forward. When pitchers give him a pitch in the zone and a chance to extend his arms, Judge has to take it. He’s been passing on too many of those opportunities so far.

Olney: Yanks have been aggressive making waiver claims

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

According to Buster Olney (subs. req’d), the Yankees have been aggressively claiming players on trade waivers this month. Obviously none of those claims have led to a trade. Olney says the Orioles in particular are looking to add pieces, presumably pitching, but the Yankees have a higher waiver priority and keep blocking the O’s trade targets. That’s usually how it goes this month.

Quick trade waivers primer: every 40-man roster player has to go on waivers to be traded after the deadline. If the player is claimed, he can only be traded to the team that claims him (with 48 hours of the claim). If he goes unclaimed, he can be traded anywhere. Trade waivers are revocable, meaning you can pull the player back if he’s claimed. Everyone goes on waivers at some point. It’s a zero risk move. Anyway, I have two quick thoughts on this.

1. The Yankees are always aggressive with trade waivers. This is nothing new. The Yankees have always been aggressive when it comes to claiming players on trade waivers, dating back to when the Devil Rays unexpectedly dumped Jose Canseco on them in 2000. They made a ton of claims last year too, including David Robertson. At the time it seemed the Robertson claim had more to do with preventing him from going to the Blue Jays or Astros than trying to acquire him.

The Yankees have plenty of payroll flexibility, more than they seem willing to admit (which I guess makes sense, since it gives them leverage in trade and free agent talks), so they’re in position to be aggressive with claims. If someone gets dumped on them a la Canseco, they’re better able to absorb the contract than other teams. Even if the claims are only block moves, the Yankees have every reason to be aggressive.

2. There’s not much time left to make a trade. The deadline to acquire a player and have him be eligible for the postseason roster is 11:59pm ET tomorrow night. There’s no loophole around that one. It’s a hard deadline. Teams can still make trades in September — the Yankees acquired Brendan Ryan from the Mariners in September — but the player(s) won’t be postseason eligible, so September trades are very rare.

I don’t expect the Yankees to make a trade prior to tomorrow night’s deadline, though grabbing some pitching help wouldn’t be a bad idea. The rotation is pretty thin and the middle relief is a mess. This goes the other way too. The Yankees don’t have much time left to trade away a player, such as Brian McCann, who has already cleared trade waivers. Others like Brett Gardner and Michael Pineda could be of interest around the league.

* * *

Despite all the claims, the Yankees have not been very active on the waiver trade market in recent years. They dumped Matt Thornton on the Nationals two years ago, brought in Ryan three years ago, and added Chad Gaudin in 2009. That’s pretty much it. The waiver trade market is typically lots of hype and little action. There’s no reason to think this year will be different.

Poll: Did the Yanks wait too long to call up Gary Sanchez?

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Over the last three weeks, rookie catcher Gary Sanchez has been on a tear like nothing we’ve seen before. He’s hitting .398/.465/.864 (249 wRC+) with eleven home runs in 23 games this season, including that random 0-for-4 against Chris Sale in May. Sanchez reached eleven home runs faster than any other player in history. He needed only 22 games to hit that many.

The Yankees are scoring more runs right now than they have at any other point this season, and they continue to linger in the wildcard race, thanks largely to Sanchez. It’s amazing to think the team traded away their best hitter at the deadline (Carlos Beltran) and actually improved their offense, but it’s happened and it’s glorious. The Yankees are a million times more entertaining right now than they were earlier this year.

Sanchez, as you surely remember, competed for the backup catcher’s job in Spring Training, but he lost out to Austin Romine. Romine had a strong camp while Sanchez went 2-for-22 (.091) and looked like he was trying to hit a five-home run every time he stepped to the plate. That Sanchez had options remaining while Romine couldn’t be sent to the minors only made it easier for the Yankees to keep the “veteran” around.

Given his immense production, it’s only natural to wonder whether the Yankees should have called Sanchez up sooner, either by giving him the backup job on Opening Day or calling him up a few weeks into the season. Remember, Sanchez needed to spend 35 days in the minors to delay free agency, and boy oh boy are the Yankees glad they did that right now. Let’s build a case for both sides of this argument, calling him up sooner and later.

The Case For Calling Him Up Sooner

Let’s start with the obvious: calling Sanchez up sooner means getting more plate appearances out of him, which improves the offense. The bat has never really been a question here. No one expected him to hit like this right away, but this is a full-time catcher who hit .286/.342/.478 in 106 career Triple-A games. Sanchez can mash and it’s been obvious for a while.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

The Yankees struggled to score runs for much of the season, mostly because their middle of the order veterans (Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez) didn’t produce. Once the team decided to pull the plug on A-Rod, they gave his at-bats to Aaron Hicks and Rob Refsnyder, which didn’t do much better. All of those at-bats could have instead gone to Sanchez. Imagine Sanchez and Carlos Beltran in the same lineup.

Right now the Yankees are 3.5 games out of a postseason spot and the difference between, say, 100 extra plate appearances of Sanchez and 100 plate appearances of the A-Rod/Hicks/Refsnyder trio could be as much as a win. Maybe two. Simply put, calling Sanchez up sooner would have likely given the Yankees a better chance to make the postseason. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that at all.

The Case For Calling Him Up When They Did

Player development is not linear. Sanchez played 71 Triple-A this season — he would have played more had he not missed a few weeks with a thumb fracture caused by a foul tip — and those games were a learning experience. He worked with the coaches and faced experienced pitchers every single day. All those games had developmental value.

Moreso than any other position, I think catchers can learn a lot just by sitting on the bench as a big league backup. They may not get many at-bats, but they can still sit in on scouting report meetings, catch bullpens, and do all of that stuff. Catching is hard, man. There’s so much prep work that goes on behind the scenes. It’s incredible how much these guys prepare for each game.

Sanchez could have learned a lot backing up Brian McCann earlier this season. That said, given his work in progress defense, being in Triple-A allowed him to play everyday while still putting in all that behind the scenes work. Defensive and offensive development are not mutual exclusive, especially not with catchers. There’s a reason so many catchers are late-bloomers offensively. They have to get comfortable behind the plate first, and those extra few weeks in Triple-A allowed Sanchez to do that.

* * *

I don’t think there’s any way we could reasonably say Sanchez would have performed exactly like he is right now had the Yankees called him up in, say, May. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have been able to help the offense, however. This question is ripe for a poll, so let’s get to it.

Did the Yankees wait too long to call up Sanchez?

Comeback falls short, Yankees drop opener 8-5 to Royals

The march back into the wildcard race has hit a speed bump. The Yankees dropped their second straight winnable game Monday night, this one 8-5 to the Royals. It’s not good when the last guys on your roster are deciding the most important games of the season.

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

There Are No Runs, Only Zuul
Can the Yankees go back to playing the Orioles again? They scored 27 runs Friday and Saturday, then scored one run in the next 16 innings. Dillon Gee, who went into Monday’s game with a 5.62 ERA (5.14 FIP) as a starter this season, held the Yankees to one stupid little run in six innings. Back-to-back two-out doubles by Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro created that run in the fourth inning. Nothing too exciting.

All told, the Yankees put five runners on base in six innings against Gee, and all five came with two outs. The Yankees went 0-for-12 with zero or one out against Gee. Tough to score when your rally starts with two outs. They did get a leadoff single against reliever Brian Flynn in the seventh inning, but the runner (Brian McCann) never advanced. The next three batters made quick outs. So it goes.

So Perfectly Pineda
This start had a little bit of everything from Michael Pineda. Backbreaking two-out hits with two strikes? Yup. The Royals built their three-run first inning with five singles, including three with two strikes and three with two outs. Utter dominance? Of course. Pineda retired 15 straight batters from the second through sixth innings. Left in too long? Yes, though that’s a Joe Girardi thing.

Anyway, Pineda finished the night with five runs allowed on seven hits in six innings plus two batters. He struck out eight and walked none, so don’t worry, his single-game FIP is totally cool. We’ve seen enough of Pineda to know this is who he is. He’s incredibly frustrating with a knack for being unable to pitch out of jams, yet he’ll show you just enough flashes of brilliance to keep you interested. Maybe he’ll get better one day. Probably not.

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Too Little, Too Late
For the second time in as many days, the last-ish guy in the bullpen allowed a game to be put out of reach. Pineda allowed back-to-back singles to start the seventh, then was replaced by Blake Parker with the Royals up 3-1. Parker gave up a three-run home run to Alcides friggin’ Escobar to give Kansas City a 6-1 lead. Three more singles and a walk stretched the Royals’ lead to 8-1.

Why is the last guy in the bullpen pitching with a two-run deficit? Beats me. Adam Warren pitched both Saturday and Sunday, but Tyler Clippard and Dellin Betances have each pitched twice in the last seven days. Couldn’t use Clippard there to keep the game close? Seems like the smart thing to do given the standings and the team’s proximity to the second wildcard spot, but nope. Chances are Clippard and Betances will pitch no matter what Tuesday because they need the work.

Naturally, the Yankees rallied in the eight and ninth innings to make things interesting, but they came up just short. They actually brought the tying run to the plate. Twice! A catcher’s inference (Jacoby Ellsbury, of course), a walk (Aaron Hicks), and a hit-by-pitch (Gary Sanchez) loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth. The Royals gifted the Yankees a rally. Gregorius drove in two with a double, then Castro (sac fly) and Chase Headley (infield single) plated two more.

Headley’s single cut the deficit to 8-5 and put the tying run on deck. Pinch-hitter Brett Gardner, who replaced Aaron Judge, drew a four-pitch walk. Mark Teixeira, who pinch-hit for Tyler Austin, then had a chance to tie the game with one swing. He instead swung at ball four from Kelvin Herrera (via Brooks Baseball) …

Mark Teixeira strike zone plot

… and grounded out to second to end the inning. The Yankees again brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth with back-to-back two outs singles by Sanchez and Gregorius, but Castro struck out on a pitch in the dirt. Non-competitive at-bat. Alas. At least the O’Neill Theory is in effect for Tuesday. Would have been cool to see a good reliever in that seventh inning instead of a guy picked up off the scrap heap a few weeks ago.

Leftovers
Girardi was ejected during that eighth inning rally for arguing balls and strikes. He was chirping at home plate umpire Brian O’Nora pretty much all game, then after the score got out of hand, he let off some steam. It was a pretty tame tirade, all things considered. No hat throwing, no dirt kicking, nothing like that. But Girardi did fire up the offense that inning. (Nope.)

Gregorius had three hits and Austin busted out of his slump with two. Judge went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and still looks way too passive at the plate. Like he’s waiting for the first pitch every single time. Sanchez, Castro, McCann, and Headley had hits as well. Ellsbury, Hicks, and Gardner drew the walks. The Yankees went 3-for-8 (.375) with runners in scoring position.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Go to ESPN for the box score, then MLB.com for the video highlights, then ESPN for the updated standings, then RAB for our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the ol’ win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Same two teams Tuesday night, in the middle game of this three-game series. Masahiro Tanaka and Edinson Volquez are the scheduled starter for that one, assuming the rain holds off.

DotF: Bichette homers twice in Trenton’s win

The video above is RHP Jonathan Holder striking out eleven straight batters as part of his four-inning save yesterday. J.J. Cooper wrote about Holder’s incredible performance. Here are the day’s notes:

Triple-A Scranton (6-2 loss to Rochester)

  • CF Mason Williams: 0-4, 1 K
  • RF Cesar Puello: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 R — 22-for-58 (.379) in 16 games since being sent down
  • LF Jake Cave: 1-3, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 0-2, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RHP Brady Lail: 2.2 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 2/4 GB/FB — 47 of 91 pitches were strikes (52%) … he has a 5.09 ERA in 122.1 career Triple-A innings
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 2.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 24 of 43 pitches were strikes (56%)
  • LHP James Pazos: 1.2 IP, zeroes, 5 K — 19 of 26 pitches were strikes (73%) … 44/20 K/BB in 29.1 innings
  • RHP Nick Goody: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K — 15 of 23 pitches were strikes (52%)

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