Thoughts following Monday’s off-day

(Stephen Lam/Getty)
(Stephen Lam/Getty)

The Yankees start up another 20 games in 20 days stretch today — it was supposed to be 19 games in 20 days, but the makeup game of the rainout in Detroit wiped away the off-day — and 12 of their next 13 games are against AL East rivals. Pretty important stretch of the season coming up, I’d say. Here are some thoughts.

1. Gosh the offense looks so much better when Jacoby Ellsbury is hitting, doesn’t it? He had a dynamite road trip and has gone 10-for-31 (.323) with four walks (.417 OBP) and four strikeouts in nine games since coming back from that little hip injury. Brett Gardner is running a .370 OBP on the season, and when he and Ellsbury are both getting on base at the top of the lineup, it changes the entire dynamic of the offense. Those two don’t steal bases like they once did, but they still draw attention and create some headaches for the defense. Ellsbury and Gardner are, without question in my opinion, the two most important players on the team offensively. When they’re going well, the Yankees tend to score a lot of runs.

2. Didi Gregorius has some pretty weird splits so far this season. He’s hitting .333/.368/.417 (119 wRC+) against lefties but only .232/.245/.354 (58 wRC+) against righties, which is basically the opposite of what he’s done his entire career. Some of this is definitely sample size noise — Didi has 102 plate appearances against righties and only 40 against lefties — though I do think it’s worth noting Gregorius hit .308/.368/.397 against southpaws in the second half last season. He’s struck out only 14.1% of the time against lefties since last year’s All-Star break too. My guess is that as the season progresses, his numbers against righties will improve while his numbers against lefties slip back a bit. I do think Didi has made legitimate improvement against southpaws since the start of the last season though. He looked hopeless against lefties early last year. Now he puts up a fight.

3. Good gravy does Mark Teixeira look awful at the plate right now. Especially from the left side. I thought he showed some signs of life in Arizona — Teixeira hit a few hard hit balls right at defenders for outs — but nope. Didn’t last and didn’t carry over into Oakland. Teixeira is hitting .159/.227/.203 (16 wRC+) in May and he hasn’t hit a home run since the seventh game of the season. Woof. The Yankees can’t take him out of the lineup for a few reasons though. One, he’s not going to snap out of his slump sitting on the bench. Two, his defense is way too valuable. His glove is a game-changer. Three, who replaces him? Dustin Ackley? Maybe once in a while, but not everyday. Alex Rodriguez‘s return today means the Yankees can drop Teixeira down in the lineup a little further and they should absolutely do that. He’s been dreadful. The rest of the offense has really picked him up the last two or three weeks.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

4. The last turn through the rotation was very good — four of the five starters allowed one run or less — and you can kinda talk yourself into believing the Yankees have four reliable starting pitchers at the moment. Masahiro Tanaka is very good even if some folks seem to want to pretend otherwise. Nathan Eovaldi has dominated of late, Ivan Nova has been rock solid since moving into the rotation, and CC Sabathia looks like a new pitcher with his new cutter (and new knee brace?). I can’t fully buy in just yet because Eovaldi is still so inconsistent and Sabathia’s knee is still a mess and Nova is still Nova, but I feel better about the rotation right now than I did a month ago. If nothing else, I feel like those four at least have a chance to give the Yankees a quality outing each time out. The non-Tanaka starters were pretty shaky in April. I don’t think that is the case anymore.

5. I’m actually a little surprised Luis Severino is going to start a minor league rehab assignment this weekend. (Well, that assumes today’s bullpen session goes a-okay.) I didn’t think it would happen that soon. I figured the Yankees would be ultra-conservative with Severino given his long-term importance to the franchise. I guess the triceps injury really was mild. Severino was shut down for a week, he threw on flat ground over the weekend, and today he’ll throw in the bullpen. I’m very curious to see what the Yankees do with him once healthy. Brian Cashman & Co. have said Severino is not guaranteed to step right back into the rotation once he’s ready to be activated. Does that mean Triple-A? Or would they use him as a true long man and let him work out his command issues in three or four-inning bursts out of the bullpen? That can be tough to pull off but it’s not a crazy idea.

6. You know who has been sneaky good this year? Nick Goody. Granted, it is only eleven innings, but in those eleven innings he has a 1.64 ERA (2.62 FIP) with 12 walks and one strikeout. He’s thrown multiple innings in four of his seven outings as well. I’m not saying Goody should suddenly be trusted in high-leverage spots. I’m just saying that for the sixth guy in the bullpen — Luis Cessa is the seventh guy right now, and, to be honest, I had completely forgotten he’s on the roster — he’s been really solid soaking up innings when necessary. This is the kind of performance the Yankees didn’t get from any of the shuttle relievers last year. Goody has a chance to stick — partly because most of the other shuttle guys are hurt — and he’s making the most of it. He’s carved out a spot in the bullpen.

7. What do you think of the new strobe lights at Yankee Stadium when a Yankee hits a home run? You can see them as Carlos Beltran rounds the bases in this video:

I applaud the Yankees for trying to do something to inject some life into the Stadium, especially after their slow start to the season, but I’m not sure I’m a fan of the strobe lights. The first time I saw them in person I found them distracting and I wanted to look away. Not great. Maybe I’m just old with bad eyes. Maybe they’ll grow on me. I guess I need to see them after a huge walk-off home run or something like that to fully appreciate it. But for a regular ol’ home run, I could do without the strobe lights.

DotF: Holder extends hitting streak in Charleston’s win

Chad Jennings spoke to farm system head Gary Denbo about a bunch of minor league pitchers and position players, so make sure you check that out. Here are some other notes to pass along:

  • IF Billy Fleming has been promoted to Double-A Trenton and IF Thairo Estrada has been moved up to High-A Tampa, the Tampa Yankees announced. With Estrada joining Tampa, it leads me to believe SS Jorge Mateo won’t be there much longer. Estrada, Mateo, 3B Miguel Andujar, and IF Abi Avelino are all at that level now.
  • The Yankees have released OF Jared Mitchell and signed LHP Zak Wasserman out of the independent Frontier League, reports Matt Eddy. Mitchell’s a former first rounder who fizzled out and the Yankees picked up as a minor league free agent over the winter. Wasserman, 25, was a position player at Louisville before converting to the mound in indy ball a few years ago.
  • Following his strong outing last night, RHP Vicente Campos made an appearance in today’s Prospect Report, so check that out. It’s not behind the paywall. Also, LHP Nestor Cortes was named the Low-A South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week. Congrats to him.

Triple-A Scranton had a scheduled off-day.

Double-A Trenton (7-6 win over New Hampshire)

  • CF Dustin Fowler: 0-5, 2 K
  • LF Mark Payton: 1-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
  • DH Tyler Austin: 2-2, 2 R, 1 RBI, 3 BB, 1 SB — got picked off first … he had three walks total in his previous eleven games
  • 2B Billy Fleming: 1-3,1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — he was up here for a few games last season, so this is not his Double-A debut
  • SS Cito Culver: 2-4, 1 R — his excellent month of May continues
  • RHP Cale Coshow: 4 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 5 BB, 3 K, 6/1 GB/FB — 51 of 91 pitches were strikes (56%) … 32/27 K/BB in 49 innings this year after 97/28 K/BB in 114 innings last year

[Read more…]

Monday Night Open Thread

I know the Yankees have won five straight and 12 of their last 17 games, but today is a much-needed off-day, I’d say. The Yankees just wrapped up a 20 games in 20 days stretch, and they start another one tomorrow because the makeup game of the rainout in Detroit wiped out an off-day. Enjoy the time away from the Yankees while it lasts.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Mets are playing tonight and there are both NHL and NBA playoff games on as well. Talk about any of those games right here.

2016 Draft: Zack Collins

Zack Collins | C

Background
Collins, 21, is a Florida kid from the Miami area who now plays for the Hurricanes. He’s a career .321/.470/.591 hitter at Miami, including a .381/.552/.645 batting line with eleven homers, 62 walks, and 39 strikeouts in 51 games this spring. Collins turned down the Reds as the 27th round pick out of high school in 2013.

Scouting Report
Collins is very much a bat first prospect. He’s a left-handed hitter with arguably the best approach in college baseball, one that not only allows him to get on base at a high rate, but also do damage against both righties and lefties. Collins has 20+ homer power in addition to the potential for hit for average, though there is some question whether pro pitchers will be able to beat him inside with fastballs. Right now he can fight those pitches off with metal bats. Behind the plate Collins has a barely average arm and he moves just okay with his 6-foot-3, 220 lb. frame. The Miami pitching staff is always loaded with pro prospects, so he has experience catching high-end stuff, but the fact there’s already talk about moving him to first base is not good. Collins is going to get drafted because of his bat, not his glove. Plain and simple.

Miscellany
In their most recent draft rankings, Baseball America ranked Collins as the 16th best draft prospect in the country, while Keith Law (subs. req’d) and MLB.com had him 18th and 20th, respectively. The Yankees pick 18th. Left-handed hitters with power and patience are a Yankee trademark, and for what it’s worth, the team has had some success developing iffy catchers into strong defenders. Francisco Cervelli and John Ryan Murphy developed into great defenders, Luis Torrens took the position quickly, and even Gary Sanchez has improved a lot over the years. Collins may not be salvageable behind the plate though. As long as the bat works out, he’ll be fine anywhere.

2016 Draft: MLB.com Mock Draft v2.0

Late last week Jim Callis posted MLB.com’s second mock draft of the season. He and Jonathan Mayo seem to be alternating weeks. Anyway, Callis has the Phillies taking Florida LHP A.J. Puk with the top pick. That appears to be the most likely outcome at the moment. Figuring out what happens after the Phillies take Puk is where it gets interesting.

As for the Yankees, Callis has them selecting Vanderbilt RHP Jordan Sheffield with their first round pick, No. 18 overall. The Yankees were connected to Sheffield in Baseball America’s most recent mock draft as well. These mock drafts aren’t guesswork. They’re a reflection of what Callis and Baseball America (and Keith Law) are hearing. They’re informed speculation. Chances are the Yankees are indeed in on Sheffield. Here’s a piece of MLB.com’s scouting report:

Of all the pitching prospects in the 2016 Draft, Sheffield may have the best chance to develop three plus offerings. His fastball can sit at 94-96 mph and reach 98, and he has maintained his velocity in the late innings of his starts. Both Sheffield’s hard three-quarters breaking ball (which is more likely to become a slider than a curveball) and his circle changeup can be out pitches at times.

Within the write-up Callis seems to indicate the Yankees are targeting a high school arm first and foremost. We’ve heard them connected to California HS RHP Kevin Gowdy more than anyone these last few weeks — here’s my write-up on Gowdy — though he’s far from the only first round caliber prep arm. Last year the Yankees reportedly grabbed RHP James Kaprielian only after all the high school bats they wanted were off the board.

The 2016 draft begins two weeks from Thursday, so at this point teams have their boards pretty well established. They’re now getting their final looks at players and tweaking their preference lists, not overhauling them. It’ll take an injury to change things significantly at this point.

The Yankees and the difference between actual velocity and perceived velocity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since the start of last season, Statcast has opened our eyes to all sorts of cool stuff that we knew existed in baseball, but were unable to measure. Exit velocity, outfielder first step quickness, things like that. All this information is new and we’re still learning how to use it — at-bat by at-bat exit velocity updates are the worst thing on Twitter these days — but it’s all really neat and interesting.

One of these fun new Statcast tools is “perceived velocity,” which measures how fast a pitch “plays” when factoring in things like extension and release point. We’ve all seen pitchers with a 92 mph fastball who get hitters to react like it’s 95 mph, and vice versa. Here is the perceived velocity definition from MLB.com’s glossary:

Perceived Velocity is an attempt to quantify how fast a pitch appears to a hitter, by factoring the Velocity of the pitch and the release point of the pitcher. It takes Velocity one step further — because a 95 mph fastball will reach a hitter faster if the pitcher releases the ball seven feet in front of the rubber instead of six.

To attain Perceived Velocity, the average Major League “Extension” must first be obtained. Any pitcher who releases the ball from behind the average Extension will have a lower Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity. On the other hand, if a pitcher releases the ball from in front of the average Extension, he’ll have a higher Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity.

Perceived velocity seems pretty important, right? More important than actual velocity, I think. Since the start of last season the league average fastball velocity is 92.5 mph while the league average perceived velocity is 92.1 mph. That’s not a negligible difference. There’s much more to it than the raw radar gun reading.

So, with an assist from Baseball Savant, let’s look over the Yankees’ pitching staff and compare average fastball velocities to perceived fastball velocities. These are numbers since the start of last season to give us the largest sample possible.

The Starters

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
CC Sabathia 89.96 90.93 +0.97
Michael Pineda 93.42 93.65 +0.23
Luis Severino 95.83 95.47 -0.36
Masahiro Tanaka 91.81 91.03 -0.78
Nathan Eovaldi 97.29 96.43 -0.86
Ivan Nova 93.31 92.32 -0.99

There are some pretty big differences between average velocity and perceived velocity in the rotation. Sabathia is a big man with a long stride, so it makes sense his fastball plays up and appears faster than what the radar gun tells you. He’s releasing the ball that much closer to home plate. Of course, a 90.93 mph perceived velocity is still well below the league average, but that’s what Sabathia has to work with at this point of his career.

On the other end of the spectrum is Nova, who is unable to gain any extra velocity through extension despite being 6-foot-4. His fastball looks a full mile an hour slower to the hitter than what the radar gun says. The ability to see the ball well out of Nova’s hand has always been a knock against him. He doesn’t have much deception in his delivery and the perceived velocity data suggests he lacks extension too. That’s why Nova’s always been more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe.

The same is true of Eovaldi, though he brings much more raw velocity to the table than Nova and most other starting pitchers. Eovaldi is not as tall as most of his rotation mates (6-foot-2) so his stride isn’t as long, which costs him some perceived velocity. He’s the poster child for pitchers with big fastballs and small results. His new splitter has really made a big difference because it gives hitters something else to think about. Before they could zero in on the fastball.

I have nothing to back this up, but the 0.78 mph difference between Tanaka’s average fastball and perceived fastball seems to matter less to him than it would other pitchers. Tanaka is basically a splitter/slider pitcher with a show-me fastball. Nova and Eovaldi rely on their fastballs much more heavily because their secondary pitches aren’t as good. I don’t mean that as a knock. Most pitchers rely on their heater. Tanaka’s an outlier. The lack of perceived velocity could help explain why he’s so homer prone though.

The Relievers

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Andrew Miller 94.60 95.41 +0.81
Aroldis Chapman 99.92 100.32 +0.40
Dellin Betances 97.49 97.65 +0.16
Chasen Shreve 91.85 91.28 -0.57
Kirby Yates 93.16 92.05 -1.11

These five guys have been the constants in the bullpen this season. The other two spots — sometimes it has been three other spots — have been used as shuttle spots to cycle arms in and out as necessary.

The big three all gain some velocity through their release points because they’re all so damn tall. I’m actually sort of surprised the difference between Betances’ average fastball velocity and perceived fastball velocity is so small, relatively speaking. He has such a massively long stride …

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

… that you’d think his fastball would play up. Then again, it’s not where your leg lands, it’s where you release the ball. Miller has those long lanky arms and he seems to sling his pitches towards the batter, and those long limbs and funky angles make his already speedy fastball seem ever faster. Same with Chapman. Good grief. His fastball somehow looks faster to the hitter than the radar gun reading. That can’t be fun.

Yates is pretty interesting. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and he has that compact little delivery, so his fastball looks much slower to the hitter than what the radar gun tells us. That said, Yates is not a reliever who tries to throw the ball by hitters. His key to his success is his slider, which he throws nearly 40% of the time. The fastball may play down according to perceived velocity, but he’s not trying to get guys out with the heater anyway. It’s all about the slider with Kirby.

Miscellaneous Arms

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Branden Pinder 92.25 94.35 +2.10
Bryan Mitchell 95.67 96.57 +0.90
Chad Green 94.43 95.32 +0.89
Nick Rumbelow 93.60 93.90 +0.30
Nick Goody 91.54 91.54 +0.00
James Pazos 94.16 93.59 -0.57
Jacob Lindgren 89.78 89.20 -0.58
Luis Cessa 92.53 91.62 -0.91
Johnny Barbato 95.28 93.54 -1.74

These are the so-called shuttle pitchers, some of whom haven’t pitched in the big leagues at all this season due to injury. The samples are all very small — Mitchell leads the group with 298 fastballs thrown since the start of last year, and in some cases (Green, Pazos, Cessa, Lindgren) we’re looking at 60 or fewer fastballs — so these numbers are FYI only. There’s something to look at that, not something that should be taken seriously right now.

The numbers are on the extremes are pretty fascinating. Statcast says Pinder’s fastball has played more than two full miles an hour faster than what the radar gun says. Barbato is the opposite. His fastball plays down nearly two miles an hour. Pinder is listed at 6-foot-4 and Barbato at 6-foot-1, so there’s a big height difference, but look at their strides too (you can click the image for a larger view):

Barbato (left) via Getty, Pinder (right) via Presswire
Barbato (left) via Getty; Pinder (right) via Presswire

I know this is amateur hour with the photos, sorry. In my defense, it’s really tough to find photos of up and down relievers who have thrown a combined 41.2 innings in the big leagues.

Anyway, you can still kinda see the differences in their strides with those two photos. Both are about to release the ball, yet Pinder is so much closer to the plate that his back foot is already disconnected from the rubber. Look at the angles of their legs too. Barbato is standing a bit more upright, which means he’s not striding as far forward.

Just like regular old velocity, perceived velocity alone is not the key to pitching, but it is definitely part of the equation. Those extra miles an hour — or, to be more precise, the appearance of those extra miles an hour — disrupt timing and give hitters less time to react. Mike Fast once showed a difference of one mile an hour of velocity equates to roughly one-quarter of a run of ERA.

Perceived velocity still doesn’t tell us why Eovaldi’s fastball is less effective than Miller’s, for example. Eovaldi’s heater has Miller’s beat in terms of both average and perceived velocity. I do find it interesting someone as tall as Sabathia can “add” a mile per hour to his heater with his size while a short pitcher like Yates “losses” a mile an hour. Intuitively it all makes sense. It’s just cool to be able to put some numbers on it now.

Yankeemetrics: How sweep it is [May 19-22]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Supernova sinks the A’s
Given the massive hole the Yankees had dug themselves into during the first month of the season, and coupled with their recent struggles in the Bay Area, this weekend’s trip to Oakland was foreboding.

Entering the series, the Yankees were 2-8 at the Oakland Coliseum since 2013, their worst road record against any AL team in that span. They’d lost four straight series in Oakland, their longest such streak since dropping 12 series in a row at the ballpark from 1985-91.

Not ideal. The Yankees buried that trend from the get-go with a much-needed win in the series opener on Thursday night.

Ivan Nova was a model of efficiency on the mound, firing 62 pitches in six innings while giving up just one run on four hits. His sinker was in peak form, averaging its most horizontal movement and second-best downward movement of the season. The A’s went 2-for-14 when putting a two-seamer in play, as he pounded the bottom of the strike zone with the pitch.

Nova is now 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in three starts this season and hasn’t allowed more than one run in any of those outings. The last Yankee to be unbeaten through his first three starts while giving up one run or fewer in each game was Kevin Brown in 2004.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Welcome back, Large Lefty
Breaking news: The Yankees finally put together a win streak of more than two games after beating the A’s, 8-3, on Friday night. The Astros are now the only team in baseball that hasn’t won at least three games in a row this season.

There were plenty of heroes for the Yankees, starting with their new (old) ace, Carsten Charles Sabathia. Pitching for the first time since going on the DL two weeks ago, Sabathia spun another gem with one run allowed and eight strikeouts in six strong innings. He’s now won back-to-back games, surrendering no more than one run in each outing, for the first time since 2011.

Sabathia wasn’t the only veteran that turned back the clock on Friday night. Thirty-nine-year-old Carlos Beltran went 3-for-5 with three doubles and three RBI to lead the Yankees’ latest offensive outburst.

Beltran is the oldest player in franchise history with three doubles in a game, and just the fifth guy in major-league history age 39 or older to hit three doubles and drive in three runs in a game. The four others are David Ortiz (2015), Tony Perez (1985), Pete Rose (1980), and Joe Judge (1933).

#TANAK
The Yankees continued their winning ways with a 5-1 victory on Saturday that gave them their first road series win of 2016, ending a streak of six straight winless series away from the Bronx. That was their longest such drought to begin a season since 1991.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Thanks to a Blue Jays loss in Minnesota, the Yankees also climbed out of the basement in the AL East for the first time since April 23. That was their longest stretch in last place since spending the final four months of the 1990 season at the bottom of the division.

Masahiro Tanaka continued the Yankees’ recent stretch of terrific starting pitching as he went seven innings and allowed one run for his second win of the season. He’s now 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA in three career games against the A’s, and has allowed one earned run or fewer in each of those outings.

The only other Yankee since 1980 to win three straight starts versus the A’s without giving up more than an earned run in each game was Andy Pettitte (1997-2000).

Broom Broom
The Yankees capped off this successful West Coast swing with a 5-4 win, completing their first four-game sweep in Oakland since July 1979. They also avoided losing their fourth straight season series against the A’s, something that hadn’t happened in this rivalry since they dropped seven season series in a row to the Philadelphia A’s from 1908-14.

Consider the amazing turnaround that the Bombers have engineered in the past week. When the Yankees started this road trip, they were:

  • Without a win streak of more than two games … Done.
  • Without a road series win … Done.
  • Without a series sweep … Done.

And stuck in last place in the AL East … not anymore. With the win on Sunday, they’re now in third place, their highest rank in the standings since April 17.

Two players that had struggled mightily this season were surprise key contributors to the win. Michael Pineda, riding the longest losing streak of his career (0-5 in prior seven starts), tossed a quality start for his first victory since April 6. His 6.60 ERA entering Sunday was the highest among qualifiers in the AL and second-highest in the majors.

Mark Teixeira brought a .133 batting average against righties into this game, the worst among 286 players with at least 50 plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers this season. Also, he’d yet to record an RBI in his 48 at-bats with two outs this season, the most two-out at-bats without an RBI by any player.

So, of course, he delivered the game-tying hit in the sixth inning via a two-out RBI single off righty Jesse Hahn.

“Well, Suzyn, you know, you just can’t predict baseball!”