Bullpen blows Montgomery’s gem, Yankees fall 6-2 to Royals

Blah, that was a crummy game. The Yankees took a 2-0 lead into the seventh Tuesday night and the bullpen turned it into a 6-2 loss to Royals. Annoying loss is annoying.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Full Monty
All things considered, this was the best start of Jordan Montgomery‘s young big league career. He held the Royals to one run on two hits and no walks in 6.2 innings, and the run came on Lorenzo Cain’s one-out homer in the seventh. Montgomery retired 12 straight batters prior to the Cain homer and 19 of the 20 first batters he faced. He was in total control.

Making Montgomery’s start more impressive is the fact he faced the Royals for the second time in a week. They touched him up for five runs in five innings last week. The Royals are the first team to face Montgomery twice in his MLB career, and they did it in the span of a week. He made the adjustment and got the free-swinging Royals to hit what seemed to be a never-ending string of popups. Three ground outs and eleven air outs, but only one or two of the fly balls were well struck. The Royals were off balance all night.

I thought Joe Girardi pulled Montgomery at exactly the right time. His pitch count was approaching 100 — he finished at 98 pitches, to be exact — and the last right-handed batter he faced (Cain) hit the ball a mile. Girardi stuck with Montgomery to get the left-on-left matchup against Eric Hosmer, who hit a line drive right at Starlin Castro at second base. The Royals were starting to make better contact and another righty with power (Salvador Perez) was due up when Girardi yanked his starter. Nice start for Montgomery. His best in pinstripes so far.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Bullpen Melts Down
The Yankees took a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning thanks to solo home runs by Aaron Hicks (fourth inning) and Chris Carter (fifth), both against Danny Duffy. Hicks homered into the right field short porch as a right-handed hitter. It was the first opposite field homer of his career as a righty. Carter pulled a long fly ball into the left field seats for the 2-0 lead. Back-to-back days with a dinger for the rhino.

The bullpen meltdown started immediately after Montgomery left the game. Adam Warren entered, gave up a little flare single to Perez just beyond the reach of Castro, then he caught way too much of the plate with a fastball …

adam-warren-jorge-bonifacio

… that Jorge Bonifacio drove into the short porch for a go-ahead two-run homer. In the span of four batters, the Yankees went from leading 2-0 to trailing 3-2. That’s pretty annoying. It’s easy to say Girardi should have left Montgomery in give how things played out, but I was fine with pulling him. Warren can’t be missing middle-middle like that.

Down a run with three offensive innings to go is manageable. Not great, but the game was far from over, especially in Yankee Stadium. Then Jonathan Holder and Chasen Shreve put the game out of reach in the eighth. Holder gave up a solo homer to Whit Merrifield and Shreve gave up a two-run shot to Mike Moustakas. Four homers in the span of eight batters to the worst offensive team in baseball. Oy vey.

The bullpen has been really good overall this season and meltdowns happen. What can you do? They were bound to screw up one of these days. The bigger problem is the recent lack of offense. The Yankees have scored nine runs total in their last three games and they haven’t scored a run on something other than a home run since the second inning of Sunday’s game. That was 24 innings ago. They’ll snap out of eventually, hopefully soon, but that doesn’t make me feel any better right now.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Leftovers
The Yankees did put a dozen runners on base (eight hits, four walks), though going 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position equals two runs on solo homers. Castro flew out loudly to end the fifth inning with the bases loaded, which was the biggest missed opportunity. Duffy is really good! It’s not like they were facing some crummy fifth starter. But still, the recent lack of runs is annoying.

Jacoby Ellsbury saw 12 pitches in five plate appearances as the leadoff man, which isn’t good. I mean, no one would care if he saw five pitches in five at-bats if he had five hits, but generally speaking you’d like your leadoff hitter to work the count a little more than that, you know? The difference between Brett Gardner and Ellsbury atop the lineup is noticeable.

Matt Holliday was the only Yankees with multiple hits. He had two singles. Hicks (homer, walk), Castro (single, walk), Carter (homer, walk), and Aaron Judge (single, walk) all reached base multiple times too. Every starter reached base at least once except for Didi Gregorius and Austin Romine.

And finally, the bullpen came into this game having allowed five home runs in 141.1 innings total this season. They then allowed three in the span of six batters. Baseball can be so stupid sometimes.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, go over to ESPN. MLB.com has the video highlights and we have a Bullpen Workload page. Here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Same two teams Wednesday night, in the third game of this four-game series. Luis Severino and Jason Hammel are the scheduled starting pitchers. Make sure you check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch that game, or any of the other four games remaining on the homestand live and in person.

DotF: Torres makes Triple-A debut, Austin has big rehab game

A few quick notes before we get to the game action:

  • I missed this yesterday, but SS Thairo Estrada was included in Baseball Prospectus’ Monday Ten Pack (subs. req’d). “His defensive ability and versatility give him a floor as a utility player, and he is capable of hitting well enough to develop into a regular,” said the write-up.
  • The Yankees have signed RHP Kaleb Ort out of the independent Frontier League, reports Matt Eddy. The 25-year-old has reportedly been throwing “95-97 mph with an above average slider” this year. Sounds a little too good to be true. Ort has never pitched in affiliated ball before.
  • The Yankees have released RHP Miguel Sulbaran, according to Eddy. Sulbaran has not pitched since 2015 due to injury, and he was suspended 25 games earlier this year after testing positive for a drug of abuse. Sulbaran is the guy the Yankees got from the Twins for Eduardo Nunez.

Triple-A Scranton (6-3 loss to Columbus)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 E (throwing) — 24-for-74 (.324) with ten doubles in his last 17 games
  • RF Dustin Fowler: 0-4, 1 K
  • 3B Gleyber Torres: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 CS, 1 E (fielding) — nice Triple-A debut
  • LF Clint Frazier: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 K — 23-for-79 (.291) with seven doubles and five homers in his last 20 games
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K
  • CF Mason Williams: 0-4
  • RHP Luis Cessa: 5.2 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HB, 6/3 GB/FB — 72 of 102 pitches were strikes (71%) … he’s allowed 27 runs in his last 23.1 innings after allowing eleven runs in his first 29.1 innings
  • RHP Ben Heller: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — ten of 12 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 43: A Big Test for Montgomery

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

Seven starts into his big league career, Jordan Montgomery has pitched like, well, most rookie pitches. Sometimes he looks great, sometimes he walks too many. That’s usually how it goes. Tonight will be a pretty big test for Montgomery even though the Royals are the worst offensive team in baseball. Kansas City will be the first team to see the big left-hander a second time, and they’ll see him twice in the span of a week.

Last week the Royals roughed Montgomery up for five runs in five innings, so it’s up to him to make the adjustment to find success, not the other way around. The Royals are free swingers — they lead baseball in chase rate (33.0%) and overall swing rate (49.6%), so yeah, they’ll take their hacks — and hopefully Montgomery will figure out how to use that to his advantage now that he’s seen them once already. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. 1B Chris Carter
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

It has been cloudy and cool in New York all day today, and that will again be the case tonight. There’s no rain in the forecast though, and that’s the most important. Tonight’s game is set to begin a little after 7pm ET. YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Greg Bird (ankle) has increased the intensity of his running. He was supposed to hit off a tee and soft toss for the first time today. I have no reason to believe that didn’t happen.

HOPE Week: Today the Yankees held a track-and-field event to benefit the One Step Ahead Foundation, a non-profit organization “dedicated to giving children with physical disabilities positive experiences through sports to build confidence, courage, and friendship, increase self-esteem, and create a better sense of self-worth all while giving them a positive experience they will use throughout the rest of their lives.” Here are some photos.

2017 Draft: Adam Haseley

Adam Haseley | OF

Background
Haseley, 21, grew up outside Orlando, and went undrafted out of high school. After hitting only .275/.360/.407 during his freshman and sophomore seasons at Virginia, Haseley has broken out as a junior, and he currently owns a .400/.498/.688 batting line with 14 homers, ten steals, 40 walks, and only 19 strikeouts in 53 games. He also has a 2.51 ERA in 172 career innings on the mound, though his pro future is as a position player, not as a pitcher.

Scouting Report
A left-handed hitter and thrower, Haseley is an excellent opposite field hitter who can inside-out pitches to left field with ease. This year he’s shown more pull power than he had in the past, making him a more well-rounded threat at the plate. He also knows the strike zone and has above-average speed, making him an on-base and basestealing threat. His setup at the plate is unorthodox — Haseley hits from an extreme crouch with a fairly big leg kick — though it’s not bad, necessarily. Just different. In the field, Haseley shows the potential to stay in center field long-term thanks to his speed and reads, though there is some thought he’ll wind up in left field because his arm is average at best (despite his success on the mound). This is the rare college player with some untapped potential. Haseley, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 lbs., is just now figuring out how to pull the ball for power rather than settle for serving everything the other way for singles.

Miscellany
All three major scouting publications consider Haseley a top half of the first round talent. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranks him as the 11th best prospect in the draft class while Baseball America ranks him 13th and MLB.com ranks him 14th. The Yankees hold the 16th overall pick. The Yankees love their up-the-middle athletes and left-handed hitters with power potential, which describes Haseley perfectly. Top college performers have a way of getting drafted higher than expected, however, so he might not be on the board when the Yankees pick.

Aaron Hicks has been working out of first base, and hopefully the Yankees won’t need him there

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

All winter long, I and many others said there was no way the Yankees would get worse production from first base this year than what Mark Teixeira gave them last year. Teixeira hit .204/.292/.362 (76 wRC+) last season. And so far this season, Yankees first basemen are hitting .164/.276/.295 (59 wRC+), and that’s with Chris Carter hitting a home run last night. Welp. First base has been a sore spot.

Help is kinda sorta on the way. Bird swung a bat yesterday for the first time since landing on the disabled list, and Tyler Austin started a minor league rehab assignment over the weekend. That’s good. They’ll give the Yankees options. Will they improve the first base situation? Man I hope so. It’s hard to think they’ll make it worse once healthy, but who knows? No one thought Bird/Carter would be a downgrade from Teixeira, yet here we are.

In an effort to give themselves more options, the Yankees have had fourth outfielder Aaron Hicks work out at first base recently. Here’s what Joe Espada, the third base and infield coach, told Brendan Kuty:

“He’s athletic, and sometimes we get deep in games,” Espada said. “It gives (manager Joe Girardi) some flexibility. (Girardi) asked me to hit him some ground balls in the infield, just in case … If he learned it, yes, I think (he’d be an option there). During the season, it’s really hard to get him to learn it. But he’ll take some ground balls on his off days and see what he can do. He does have some athleticism but it takes time to learn.”

The Yankees put Rob Refsnyder through a first base crash course last season — literally one day of work! — before playing him at the position during a game, though that was out of necessity. Teixeira was banged up and they ran out of options. I doubt the Yankees want to do that again, and they haven’t. Hicks has been working out at first base and nothing more. He’s yet to play there in a game.

I get why the Yankees are having Hicks work out at first base, and there’s no reason not to try to increase the versatility of your players, but I hope they don’t decide to actually play him there in anything other than emergency. I am totally cool with sticking with Carter at first base until Bird and/or Austin returns. Carter has gone 7-for-29 with two homers since the end of the NL city road trip. That’s a .241/.333/.483 line in nine games. That’s Chris Carter.

First base has been a problem area for the Yankees since last season. They’re getting little production from a position in which the offensive bar is quite high. It’s actually kinda amazing they’re second only to the Nationals (5.72) in runs per game (5.62) without getting anything from first base. Giving Hicks work there is fine as long as he’s an emergency only option. Playing him there full-time shouldn’t be a consideration right now. The Yankees aren’t that desperate yet.

The Yankees have a bit of a strikeout problem right now

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Last night, for only the eighth time in 19 games this month, the Yankees did not strike out 10+ times on offense. They struck out eight times, to be exact, and it helped that they faced Royals southpaw Jason Vargas, a finesse pitcher not known for missing bats. The Yankees have 18 double-digit strikeout games this season, third most in baseball behind the Rays (32), Athletics (22), and Brewers (19).

Over the last few seasons the Yankees have been consistently better than average at avoiding strikeouts, believe it or not. From 2013-16 they had a 19.5% strikeout rate as a team, eighth lowest among the 30 MLB teams. Last season they had the fourth lowest strikeout rate in baseball at 19.6%. This year though, the Yankees currently own an 23.0% strikeout rate, fifth highest among the 30 clubs. The league average is 21.4%. Pretty big swing in the wrong direction.

It’s no secret why the Yankees are striking out more this season. Aaron Judge (29.2 K%) is in the lineup everyday. He’s been awesome! But he still strikes out a lot. Greg Bird (30.6 K%) struggled big time before getting hurt, and Chris Carter (37.8 K%) has since taken over at first base. Matt Holliday (30.5 K%) is also striking out more than ever before at age 37. Those are fairly extreme strikeout rates. Judge and Holliday are making up for it with their production. Bird and Carter … not so much.

More important than the team’s overall strikeout rate is their strikeout trend. The Yankees struck out 10+ times in a game only seven times in April. They’re up to eleven such games in April with eight days to go. Twice this month they’ve struck out 16+ plus times in a nine-inning game after doing it zero times from 2011-16. I made a graph:

2017-nyy-strikeout-rate

Not good! The Yankees have been striking out more and more as the season has progressed. It was painfully obvious Sunday, when the Yankees struck out 16 times against Chris Archer and various relievers. They had runners on second and third with no outs in the first inning, then strikeout strikeout strikeout, inning over. Annoying! And also a problem. A problem that is getting worse.

Now, the million dollar question: how do the Yankees fix the strikeout problem? They can only change the personnel so much. They could jettison Carter in favor of, uh, Rob Refsnyder? Tyler Austin is on the mend, though he’s no lock to strike out less. He struck out in 40.0% of his plate appearances during his MLB debut last year. Removing Carter is potentially part of a solution, not the solution. Their options to replace him aren’t exactly contact machines.

Judge and Holliday aren’t going anywhere, so the Yankees just have to live with their strikeouts. As good as Judge has been, his strikeout rate has been ticking up the last few weeks. He’s not striking out as much as last year, but his strikeouts have been on the rise:

aaron-judge-strikeout-rate

It could be that the Yankees have just run into a collective rough patch. Facing Danny Duffy — they’re going to see him again tonight, by the way — and Archer in the span of five days is not fun. The Yankees also saw Chris Sale earlier this month. But still, already five pitchers have 10+ strikeout games against the Yankees this year (Archer, Duffy, Sale, Charlie Morton, Carlos Martinez). All but the Martinez game are fairly recent. Last year only two pitchers had 10+ strikeouts against the Yankees (Rich Hill, Lance McCullers Jr.).

Strikeouts are up all around the league these days — MLB is currently on pace to set a record high strikeout rate for the 13th straight season — because pitchers are throwing harder, hitters are selling out for power, and all sorts of other reasons. It’s not a surprise the Yankees are striking out more, especially given their roster. It was too be expected. But the strikeouts have become rather extreme lately, and it’s costing them runs. Again, we saw it Sunday. Runners on second and third with no outs, yet none of the next three hitters could put the ball in play.

Hopefully what we’re seeing right now is just a bunch of big strikeout games bunched together, and not an indication of what’s to come. Strikeouts are always bad. You tolerate them as long as they come with other stuff, like Judge’s power, but too many strikeouts will absolutely inhibit your ability to score runs. The Yankees have had trouble putting the ball in play at times this month. The sooner they snap out of it, the better.

Thoughts following Gleyber Torres’ promotion to Triple-A

(Justin K. Aller/Getty)
(Justin K. Aller/Getty)

Later tonight, top Yankees prospect Gleyber Torres is expected to play his first game with Triple-A Scranton. He was promoted from Double-A Trenton on Sunday. (The RailRiders were off yesterday.) I was planning to write something about the Torres promotion and what it all means, and it kinda morphed into a thoughts post, so here are some thoughts.

1. On a scale of 1-10, my level of surprise over the quick promotion is about a six. Surprised, sure, but not completely stunned. Torres is a special talent and those dudes have a way of moving up the ladder quicker than you’d expect. “More than ready. There was nothing left for him to do (in Double-A),” said one scout to Erik Boland. “Just a complete all-around hitter. Instincts far ahead of his years. There’s nothing he can’t do,” said another. Even Keith Law, who hates every Yankees prospect, says Torres is ready for Triple-A. Still, as of seven weeks ago Gleyber had never played above High Class-A. Now the Yankees — and everyone else, apparently — have deemed him ready for Triple-A. It’s not often a player this young makes nothing more than a pit stop at Double-A. The Yankees aren’t even going to let him go through the league twice. Rather than see how Torres adjusts once teams develop a book on him, they’re going to see how he adjusts to the best pitching he’s ever faced in his life at Triple-A.

2. Back in February I used MLB.com’s scouting grades to find prospects similar to Torres, and the vast majority were not nobodies. They were bonafide MLB stars. Not role players or solid regulars. Stars. Two of the most similar, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts, started their age 20 seasons at Double-A like Torres. Here is how their age 20 seasons played out:

  • Correa: 29 games in Double-A, 24 games in Triple-A, 99 games in MLB.
  • Bogaerts: 56 games in Double-A, 60 games in Triple-A, 18 games in MLB.

The Astros moved Correa very aggressively during his age 20 season and he wound up winning AL Rookie of the Year. The Red Sox moved Bogaerts a little more slowly, though he quickly took over as their starting third baseman in September and played the position throughout their run to the 2013 World Series. I don’t think that sort of timetable is out of the question for Torres. I could see him making his MLB debut later this season. Torres is a special talent, though this aggressive timetable is not unprecedented. Others like Correa and Bogaerts have done it in recent years, and they’ve thrived.

3. Sorting out the playing time at Triple-A Scranton won’t be an issue. Generally speaking Torres has been playing three games at shortstop, two games at second base, and two games at third base each week, and I expect that to continue going forward. “He is a shortstop learning second and third. This is the best way to prepare him to provide protection in case we need him in the majors,” said Brian Cashman to Joel Sherman. Tyler Wade has been playing all over the field as well — he’s played every position other than pitcher, catcher, and first base this season — so squeezing him and Torres into the same lineup will be a piece of cake. Rob Refsnyder will probably end up seeing more time in right field and at first base (and at designated hitter) to accommodate the extra infielder. If anyone loses playing time, it’ll be Ruben Tejada, the veteran journeyman on a minor league contract. Not a young player with the potential to be something more than a spare part for the Yankees going forward. The ability to move Torres and Wade around means they can coexist easily. If the Yankees had kept both at shortstop full-time, well, then that would be a problem, but that’s not the case.

4. Speaking of the RailRiders, holy cow is their lineup fun now. I mean, it was fun before, but now it’s really fun. This is the batting order Scranton manager Al Pedrique will probably run out there going forward:

  1. Tyler Wade
  2. Gleyber Torres
  3. Dustin Fowler
  4. Clint Frazier
  5. Mike Ford
  6. Rob Refsnyder
  7. Mason Williams
  8. Kyle Higashioka
  9. Ruben Tejada

Goodness. The guys will rotate positions, but those are the names. (Mark Payton will play a bunch too, likely rotating with the outfielders and at designated hitter.) Torres and Frazier are two of the top 30 prospects in baseball, and both Fowler (FanGraphs) and Wade (Baseball Prospectus) managed to sneak onto the back of some top 100 lists this spring. Usually it’s exciting if a minor league affiliate has two guys like that on the roster. Scranton now has four, and it’s extra exciting because they’re at the highest level of the minors. They’re knocking on the door of the big leagues. Without question, the RailRiders are one of the most talent-packed teams in the minors. (Just for laughs, compare Scranton’s lineup to the Orioles’ Triple-A lineup. Chance Sisco is the only legit prospect the O’s have at Triple-A. Yeesh.)

5. As it stands, third base is really the only place to play Torres should the Yankees call him up at some point later this season. They’re not going to call him up only to use him twice a week as a bench player. If he gets called up, he’s going to play. Starlin Castro has been the team’s best non-Aaron Judge hitter so far this season, so he’s not sitting. Didi Gregorius has played well since returning from his shoulder injury, so he’s not going to sit either. That leaves third base, where Chase Headley has crashed back to Earth, burned up in the atmosphere, hit every tree branch on the way down, and landed in a pile of dog poop since his insane start to the season. I don’t think Headley is truly this bad, nor do I think he’s really as good as he was earlier this year. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Still, he’s the obvious candidate to lose playing time to Gleyber. The Yankees showed last season they’re willing to sit well-paid veterans in favor of young prospects. Brian McCann, who was more productive than Headley and had more years and more dollars left on his contract as well, lost his catching job to Gary Sanchez. Mark Teixeira‘s playing time was reduced to make room for Tyler Austin. Headley losing playing time to Torres would not surprise me at all. Aside from occasional spot starts at short and second, third base is the only spot to get Gleyber in the lineup regularly. Castro’s and Didi’s (and Headley’s) performances have made this an easy decision for the Yankees.

6. One argument against calling up Torres later this season, even if he is tearing up Triple-A, is service time. Call him up at any point this year and Gleyber will become a free agent during the 2023-24 offseason. Wait until the middle of next April and his free agency gets pushed back to the 2024-25 offseason. We’re talking about gaining control of his age 27 season here, a peak season. I don’t think that’s a good enough reason not to call Torres up this year, but it is something to consider. If the Yankees stay in the race and they consider Torres an upgrade over Headley, they absolutely should call him up and put the best team in the field. I am 100% in favor of that. But, if they fall out of the race and don’t have much to play for down the stretch, perhaps waiting until next April to call Torres up to gain that extra year of team control might be a smart move. Then again, the Yankees have probably done enough already this year to ensure they’ll be in the postseason hunt just about all season. It would take a colossal collapse to be out of the race come August. Manipulating service time and getting that extra year of control makes sense for any team. If Gleyber is ready though, I say call him up. It’s not like the Yankees wouldn’t be able to afford to keep him down the line anyway.