Mailbag: Tiebreakers, Rivera, Garcia, Judge, Ellsbury, Harvey

There are 12 questions in this week’s mailbag, the second to last mailbag of the regular season. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us all your questions.

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

Several asked: Can you explain the various postseason tiebreaker scenarios?

Yes. Yes I can. Technically there are still several tiebreaker scenarios relevant to the Yankees, though, realistically, only one matters. That’s tying with the Red Sox for the AL East title. Here are the miscellaneous tiebreakers:

  • Tie with the Twins for a wildcard spot. If they tie for the second wildcard spot, they’d play a tiebreaker game at Yankee Stadium because the Yankees won the season series. Loser goes home and winner gets the wildcard spot. If they finish in the two wildcard spots with identical regular season records, the Wild Card Game would be at Yankee Stadium because the Yankees won the season series.
  • Tie with the Angels for a wildcard spot. If they tie for the second wildcard spot, they’d play a tiebreaker game at Angel Stadium because the Angels won the season series. Loser goes home and winner gets the wildcard spot. If they finish in the two wildcard spots with identical regular season records, the Wild Card Game would be at Angel Stadium because the Angels won the season series.

As for the AL East, the Yankees and Red Sox would play a Game 163 tiebreaker if they tie for the division title. Even if they’re both assured of a postseason spot. There is a huge, huge difference between winning the division and being a wildcard team. That’s not something MLB will let be decided by head-to-head record. The Yankees and Red Sox would play a tiebreaker game at Yankee Stadium because the Yankees won the season series. Winner gets the AL East title and loser gets a wildcard spot. Easy, right? Right.

Brent asks (short version): Should quality starts stats be the new win stat? Like instead of holding pitchers to the old standard of like roughly 300 wins, which is pretty tough to do in today’s standards and probably no one will ever get it again. Would quality starts be a better way to categorize it?

A quality start in and of itself is not great to start with. Three earned runs in six innings is a 4.50 ERA. Maybe it should be no more than two earned runs in six innings? Not many guys are going to pitch to a 3.00 ERA all season, but the number of starts with no more than two earned runs allowed in six innings seems kinda useful. Here is this year’s leaderboard:

  1. Max Scherzer: 19
  2. Gio Gonzalez: 19
  3. Marcus Stroman: 19
  4. Clayton Kershaw: 18
  5. Chris Sale: 18
  6. Luis Severino and eight others tied with 17

I think the Hall of Fame voting body has been getting better the last few years, and I think they understand wins isn’t the best way to evaluate pitchers. I’m not sure how much better quality starts would work. Bottom line, there isn’t one good way to measure a pitcher’s Hall of Fame candidacy. Wins alone aren’t enough. Quality starts alone aren’t enough. WAR isn’t enough. ERA and innings aren’t enough. I think the voting body knows this, and in time, we’ll see wins become less and less of a factor in the Hall of Famer voting.

Andrew asks: What was Mariano Rivera‘s best season? Is it one of the seasons when the Yankees won the World Series? I would consider 2008 when his WHIP was .665 at age of 38, the first of five sub 1 WHIP years. Wasn’t Britton’s WHIP last year finally lower?

I think it was 1996, when he was a multi-inning setup man. Rivera’s 2008 was insane, Andrew is right about that. Among full-time relievers to throw at least 60 innings in a season, Koji Uehara actually has the lowest WHIP. He had a 0.565 WHIP in 2013. Rivera’s 2008 season is fifth all-time behind Koji, 1990 Dennis Eckersley (0.614), 2012 Craig Kimbrel (0.654), and 2017 Kimbrel (0.662). Here are Mo’s five best seasons by bWAR:

  1. 1996: 2.09 ERA (1.88 FIP) and 0.99 WHIP in 107.2 innings (+5.0 WAR)
  2. 2008: 1.40 ERA (2.03 FIP) and 0.67 WHIP in 70.2 innings (+4.3 WAR)
  3. 2004: 1.94 ERA (2.82 FIP) and 1.08 WHIP in 78.2 innings (+4.2 WAR)
  4. 2005: 1.38 ERA (2.15 FIP) and 0.87 WHIP in 78.1 innings (+4.0 WAR)
  5. 2006: 1.80 ERA (2.84 FIP) and 0.96 WHIP in 75 innings (+3.9 WAR)

Rivera was ridiculous from 2004-06, huh? Those were his age 34-36 seasons. He led all relievers with +12.1 WAR those seasons. B.J. Ryan was second at +9.4 WAR. Basically a three-win gap between Mo and the second best reliever. Crazy. I’m going with 1996 as Rivera’s best season, but 2008 isn’t a bad choice at all. What made Rivera great was not only the eye-popping stats. It was that he did it year after year for two decades. There are lots of one-year Riveras. Guys who have an insane individual season, like Zach Britton last year. When someone does it even ten years in a row, we can begin talking about the next Rivera. Right now, no one’s close.

Garcia. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Garcia. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Michael Cohen asks: Could you analyze the Jaime Garcia flip from the Twins perspective? How’d they make out on those two July trades?

The Twins could use Garcia right now, especially with the Angels right behind them in the wildcard race. Since the trade, four different pitchers have started a game as Minnesota’s fifth starter: Adalberto Mejia (three starts), Dillon Gee (three), Aaron Slegers (one), and Dietrich Enns (one). They’ve combined for a 7.13 ERA (6.30 FIP) in 35 innings. Yikes. (Enns allowed two runs in 2.1 innings in his start.)

Minnesota got Garcia from the Braves in what was essentially a salary dump. The prospect they traded, right-hander Huascar Ynoa, had a 5.26 ERA (4.38 FIP) in 51.1 rookie ball innings this season. MLB.com ranks Ynoa as the No. 29 prospect in Atlanta’s system. Enns allowed three runs in 11.2 Triple-A innings and four runs (three earned) in four MLB innings after the trade. He also missed time with a shoulder problem.

Righty Zack Littell, the main piece in the deal, had a 2.81 ERA (3.50 FIP) in 41.2 Double-A innings after the trade. All told, he had a 2.12 ERA (3.04 FIP) in 157 innings this year, and MLB.com currently ranks him as the No. 16 prospect in Minnesota’s system. He’ll be added to their 40-man roster this winter and I’m sure the plan is to have him join the rotation at some point next year, after some Triple-A time. Seems likely.

At the time of the trade, the Twins had lost 12 of their previous 17 games and were five games back of the second wildcard spot. Trading Garcia (and Brandon Kintzler) made sense. Then they got hot and climbed back into the race unexpectedly. Ultimately, they turned a fringy prospect (Ynoa) and about $4M into an up-and-down arm (Enns) and a potential back-end starter (Littell). The Twins could use Garcia right now given their fifth starter situation and the wildcard race, but the trade made sense for them at the time and still does.

Joel asks: Has anyone crunched the numbers on Judge’s numbers when Holliday is on the active roster (as opposed to the DL) and when he’s not? Seems like since Holliday came back, Judge came out of the slump he was in for a while. I know if there’s any correlation it’s coincidence, probably, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s at least a notable statistical anomaly.

It is kinda funny how Aaron Judge started turning things around pretty much right as Holliday came back, isn’t it? Holliday was healthy — well, he was on the active roster, but he sure didn’t look healthy — for the first few weeks of Judge’s second half slump though, so I’m not sure how much there is to it. Here are Judge’s numbers:

  • Holliday healthy (April 2nd to June 27th): .333/.447/.697 (198 wRC+)
  • Holliday on DL (June 28th to July 13th): .297/.458/.649 (185 wRC+)
  • Holliday healthy (July 14th to August 5th): .178/.330/.342 (73 wRC+)
  • Holliday on DL (August 6th to August 31st): .179/.360/.346 (96 wRC+)
  • Holliday healthy (September 1st to present): .262/.407/.705 (176 wRC+)

That works out to .293/.416/.630 (~169 wRC+) in 490 plate appearances while Holliday was healthy and .217/.392/.443 (~125 wRC+) in 148 plate appearances while Holliday was on the disabled list. I don’t think there’s much to this. The timing is just a coincidence. I think Judge’s injured right shoulder had more to do with his slump than anything. He doesn’t need Holliday around to be successful or anything like that. Is Holliday a good mentor? Sure. All the young players say so. But he’s not the key to a productive Judge.

Brian asks: Is the last 6 weeks or so the best Ellsbury has ever played as a Yankee?

Without looking up the numbers, I’d say yes. He was pretty good back in 2014 and early in 2015, though not this good. It would be far too time consuming to go through and slice up Ellsbury’s four years with the Yankees into six-week segments, so here are his five best months in pinstripes:

  1. September 2017: .429/.543/.625 (209 wRC+) in 72 plate appearances
  2. August 2014: .324/.366/.539 (150 wRC+) in 112 plate appearances
  3. May 2016: .320/.407/.493 (145 wRC+) in 89 plate appearances
  4. June 2014: .324/.390/.419 (133 wRC+) in 118 plate appearances
  5. April 2014: .312/.369/.452 (130 wRC+) in 103 plate appearances

In his four seasons as a Yankee, Ellsbury has ten months with a 100 wRC+ or better and 13 months with a sub-100 wRC+. He has seven months with a sub-70 wRC+. Ouch. So yeah, I think it’s safe to say this current hot streak is Ellsbury’s best stretch in pinstripes. He’s hitting .397/.494/.616 (192 wRC+) with more walks (13) than strikeouts (nine) in his last 24 games now.

Dan asks: If the Mets DFA Harvey, should the Yanks make a run at him? He has so much upside, and he’s been so successful before, he seems to me to be a guy to gamble on.

First things first: the Mets are not going to designate Matt Harvey for assignment. They’re not even going to non-tender him in the offseason. If anything, they’d tender him a contract and trade him. No way they let him go for nothing.

But, if for whatever reason the Mets do cut Harvey loose, yes, absolutely go after him. I think his terrible 2017 season — and it’s been really terrible (6.59 ERA and 6.16 FIP) — has more to do with injuries than a decline in skills. The guy had surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome last year and he missed a bunch of time with a stress reaction in his shoulder this year. Can we give him an offseason to get healthy and see what he looks like after that before kicking dirt on his grave? I enjoy a good LOLMETS as much as anyone, but Harvey is only 28 and he’s shown he can pitch at a very high level. In New York too. He was brilliant in Game Five of the 2015 World Series.

If the cost is basically nothing — and that’s the hypothetical presented in the question — absolutely bring Harvey aboard and hope he can rebound once fully healthy. Rolling the dice on a 28-year-old who has been a bonafide No. 1 starter in the not-too-distant past is forever cool with me.

Dave asks: Can you explain the pythag. record and how we should think about it? If I remember correctly, the Yankees have outperformed it the last several years, but this year they are lagging behind it pretty significantly. Is it a statistical anomaly or is there an identifiable reason? Does it have anything to do with Girardi’s managerial decisions?

The Yankees are 85-67 this season, though their +186 run differential says they should really be 94-58. Nine game difference! Good gravy. That’s what a 17-25 record in one-run games and the bullpen letting so many winnable games slip away earlier in the season will do to you. And yes, the Yankees have outperformed their run differential by quite a bit in recent years:

  • 2017: -9 wins from expected
  • 2016: +5 wins
  • 2015: -1
  • 2014: +7 wins
  • 2013: +6 wins

During the Joe Girardi era, the Yankees have outperformed their run differential by 12 wins over ten seasons, so it was 21 wins over nine seasons before this year. I honestly don’t think there is anything meaningful to this. I think the early season bullpen meltdowns and the Yankees’ propensity for blowout wins — they are 34-12 in games decided by at least five runs (thanks Orioles!) — are skewing the run differential. I think this is an anomaly season. Those one-run losses and bullpen meltdowns happened. Don’t get me wrong. I just don’t think this indicates some kind of fatal flaw in the roster and reason for concern going forward. Baseball can be weird sometimes. That’s all.

Simon asks: Between 2013-2015, CC ran a FIP of 4.40 with an ERA of 4.81. Since 2016, he’s had an ERA of 3.87 with roughly the same FIP (4.38), driven mostly by a lower BABIP (.283). How useful is FIP anymore (and by extension fWAR for pitchers) if players like Sabathia have shown they actually can make changes to drastically lower their BABIP?

FIP is still useful — striking guys out while avoiding walks and homers are good skills to have! — though it has always been somewhat limited because pitchers do have some control over the contact they allow. We just couldn’t measure it before. Now we can. Some quick numbers on Sabathia:

  • 2013-15: 16.3% soft contact and 30.7% hard contact
  • 2016-17: 24.4% soft contact and 25.9% hard contact

Big difference, huh? Among the 89 pitchers to throw at least 400 innings from 2013-15, Sabathia ranked 73th in soft contact rate and 65th in hard contact rate. Among the 89 pitchers to throw at least 250 innings from 2016-17, he ranks first in soft contact rate and second in hard contact rate. Only Tanner Roark (25.5%) had allowed less hard contact. The drop in BABIP is not an accident or a fluke.

Does that make FIP useless? No. Again, there’s still a lot to be said for racking up strikeouts while limiting walks and homers. We just have to understand FIP’s limitations. Given his current profile as a weak contact king, Sabathia is probably always going to allow fewer runs than FIP suggests. Some guys, like Michael Pineda, are the opposite. They struggle to avoid hard contact despite shiny walk and strikeout rates. FIP (and, by extension, fWAR) is just one tool in the shed. It helps do the job but it can’t do the job by itself.

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Anonymous asks: Due to the interest in Shohei Ohtani and his ability to pitch and hit, is it probable that more young players go that route, and do you see the NL adopting the DH, if we see more of this type of player?

Doing one thing, hitting or pitching, is really hard. And lots of players do both through college. Being good at both at the pro level is extremely difficult. Will more kids try it? Eh, maybe. I’m inclined to think their best chance to reach (and stay in) the big leagues is to focus on one thing, and be the best hitter or pitcher you can be.

The Rays are trying to develop Brendan McKay, the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, as both a hitter and a pitcher. He did both at Louisville and was excellent: 2.23 ERA with 391/111 K/BB in 315 innings on the mound and .328/.430/.536 with 28 homers in 189 games as a position player. The stats from his pro debut:

  • As a hitter: .232/.349/.376 (123 wRC+) with four homers, 22.1 K%, and 14.1 BB% in 36 games
  • As a pitcher: 1.80 ERA (4.03 FIP) with 28.8 K% and 6.9 BB% in 20 innings

Because more and more teams are carrying eight relievers and three bench players, I think we’ll see more clubs try to develop true two-way players. And if Otani manages to do both successfully, teams will try that much harder to develop a two-way guy. But, like I said, doing one thing is really hard. Doing both at an MLB level seems damn near impossible to me.

Daniel asks: Chapman changed his fastball grip. Can you look at Chapman’s spin rate since he made this switch? SSS and all, but I imagine spin rate stabilizes very quickly.

Aroldis Chapman did indeed change his fastball grip recently. He told Brendan Kuty that Larry Rothschild got him to throw with more of a true four-seam grip rather than his previous grip, which was more like a cutter. Chapman credits the change for the renewed explosiveness on his fastball. The thing is, we don’t know when exactly Chapman made the change. It was recent, after his demotion out of the closer’s role. That’s about all we know. Here are his fastball spin rates and swing-and-miss rates per month:

  • April: 2,510 rpm spin rate (24.2% whiffs-per-swing)
  • May: 2,496 (44.1%) in 3.1 innings due to injury
  • June: 2,477 (17.8%) in 4.2 innings due to injury
  • July: 2,486 (22.7%)
  • August: 2,446 (16.1%)
  • September: 2,544 (39.7%)

Chapman’s spin rate and whiff rate are indeed up in September, though keep in mind he’s thrown only 96 fastballs so far this month, so it could be a sample size issue. Still, the improvement is encouraging. The MLB average fastball spin rate is 2,255 rpm this year, and, as I noted a few weeks ago, Chapman has been consistently far above the league average. Even when he was struggling this year. High spin rate correlates very well to swings and misses for a fastball.

Whatever the reason, new grip or otherwise, Chapman looks so much better right now that he did at pretty much any point prior to September. His velocity never really dropped, but the pitch lacked that explosiveness. Hitters kept fouling it off like it was nothing. Now he’s throwing it by hitters consistently and looks like the old Chapman. If the new grip is the reason for the improvement, great! If it’s something else, well, that’s great too. Chapman looks fixed and that’s the most important thing.

Rich asks: With Todd Frazier hitting free agency, I was wondering if Nick Castellanos might be a reasonable offseason target? Apparently he possesses decent exit velocity and the ability take advantage of the short porch in right field at YS3. If he seems like a decent candidate, what would he cost?

The Tigers committed to a rebuild at the trade deadline and I imagine the 25-year-old Castellanos will be on the trade block this winter. He’ll be a free agent following the 2019 season. Detroit finally came to their senses and moved Castellanos to the outfield last month — since becoming a regular in 2014, his -63 Defensive Runs Saved are second worst by any player at any position (Andrew McCutchen is worst at -64 DRS) — after acquiring third base prospect Jeimer Candelario at the trade deadline.

Castellanos’ batted ball stats are drool worthy. Among the 99 hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances since 2014, he has the third lowest soft contact rate (11.3%) and 20th highest hard contact rate (35.7%). Hit the ball hard and good thing tend to happen. And, as Rich mentioned, Castellanos is a right-handed hitter who can hit the ball out to right field. His 2014-17 spray chart, via Baseball Savant:

nick-castellatos-2014-17-spray-chart

There’s some oppo pop in that bat. There’s some ability here. Castellanos is a former first round pick and he went into yesterday’s game hitting .271/.320/.490 (110 wRC+) with 24 homers. That’s something. The problem is he doesn’t have a position — the shift to the outfield has been adventurous so far — and he’s always been a bit of a free swinger (23.8% strikeouts and 6.3% walks). Can a player learn plate discipline in his mid-20s? Maybe!

What about getting Castellanos to be a most of the time designated hitter who also sees some action in right field and at first and third bases? I have no idea what it’ll cost to get him, though I’m guessing the Tigers want prospects, and the Yankees have plenty of those. I can’t imagine it’ll cost top prospects. Forget Gleyber Torres or Clint Frazier. I wouldn’t even trade Miguel Andujar or Tyler Wade for two years of Castellanos. I’m intrigued by Castellanos’ ability to hit the ball hard and to right field. The rest of the package kinda stinks. With Matt Holliday and Frazier set to become free agents, Castellanos could be a target to plug in the lineup.

Thursday Night Open Thread

So here we are. The final off-day of the regular season. The season seems to go by a little quicker with each passing year, doesn’t it? The Yankees still have ten games to play this season and they’re sitting pretty with a seven-game lead over the Twins for the top wildcard spot. They’re 8.5 games up on the Angels for a wildcard spot in general. Sure would be nice to catch the Red Sox though. The Yankees have gone 14-4 in their last 18 games and gained only 1.5 games on Boston. Sucks.

Anyway, here is an open thread for this Yankees baseball-less evening. FOX Sports 1 will have the Twins and Tigers, and MLB Network is showing a regional game. There’s also the weekly Thursday NFL game (Rams vs. 49ers). The Thursday game always stinks though, doesn’t it? Players don’t have enough time to recover after Sunday. Whatever. Talk about anything here that isn’t religion or politics. Have at it.

Better matchup for the Wild Card Game: Angels or Twins?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

With a week and a half left in the season, the Yankees appear set to host the American League Wild Card Game.

The team is still in hot pursuit of the division crown, but the Red Sox’s extra-inning escapes against the Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays in recent weeks have kept the Yankees from catching up.

Therefore, it’s time to look at the two likely potential opponents for the Wild Card Game: the Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins. The Yankees are 4-2 this season against the Twins and 2-4 against the Angels. While these are very different teams from past iterations of the Angels and Twins that the Yankees faced in the postseason, those records certainly mirror recent history between each franchise.

So which team is a better matchup for the Yankees in a one-game scenario? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons for each matchup.

Pros for facing the Twins

We’ve seen the case for why the Yankees would want to face the Twins this week. With Minnesota visiting Yankee Stadium, the Bombers were able to beat both of their top starters — Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios — while holding the Twins’ hot lineup at bay. Budding star Byron Buxton went 0 for 10 with a walk and was a non-factor in the series.

Perhaps the best reason to face the Twins is their bullpen. The Yankees got into the bullpen quickly against Berrios, who has significant home-road splits and therefore may not be the choice for a WCG. Rookie Trevor Hildenberger has been a revelation in recent weeks, but the rest of the bullpen is highly beatable. Matt Belisle is their closer and has converted just 7 of 12 save opportunities.

Their best reliever was Brandon Kintzler. He was traded at the deadline to the Nationals. That deal shows what the front office expected this team to do in the second half. Instead, they’re 28-20 since Aug. 1 and appear to be playing over their heads, although they’re 11-24 this season against the current AL playoff teams. The Angels are a more respectable 14-19.

They’ve had a lot of their success without slugger Miguel Sano. Sano struggled with injuries and is now on the 10-day DL with a stress fracture in his left shin, which likely has him out for the year. That should be a relief for Yankees fans: He’s the type of player that can turn a single game with his bat and is objectively Minnesota’s best hitter.

Cons for facing the Twins

There’s a lot to make the Twins a good matchup, but there’s also plenty of reasons to not to face them. A big reason to avoid them? Power. Even without Sano, the team has power up and down the lineup. They have five players with at least 15 home runs. They’ve hit the fourth most home runs in baseball since the All-Star break. And in the second half, they’re fourth with a 109 wRC+. They’re third in WAR thanks to a strong defensive unit.

Buxton epitomizes their resurgence. He returned from the disabled list on Aug. 1 and has batted .302/.348/.581 with 11 home runs and 21 total extra-base hits in 190 PAs. He’s still struck out 51 times, but he’s been a better hitter. What makes Buxton special is how he affects the game on both ends. He may be the best defensive center fielder in the game and he ranks at the top of the Statcast leaderboards for sprint speed.

In a WCG, the Twins could eschew their normal bullpen and simply use Santana followed by Berrios or vice versa, limiting the need for their parade of sub-par middle relievers. The Yankees can get to both, but they’ve each been special at times this year. Of any pitcher on the Angels and Twins, I would least want to face Berrios, who has a fastball-curveball combo that is unhittable when he’s rolling.

Pros for facing the Angels

Why would you want to face the Angels? Pitching, pitching, pitching. This team doesn’t have a clear starter for a one-game playoff, let alone a staff that you could see an easy path through nine innings. Three of their best starters — J.C. Ramirez, Matt Shoemaker and Alex Meyer — are out for the year. Their closer, Huston Street, threw four innings this year and is out for the season.

So who do the Angels turn to for a winner-take-all game? Parker Bridwell?? Bridwell is 8-2 with a 3.71 ERA through 102 innings, but his peripherals indicate he isn’t that good. He also has a 4.69 ERA over his last nine starts. Bridwell did hold the Yankees to three runs in 8 2/3 innings in two June outings, but he allowed nine hits and walked five to just four strikeouts.

Yusmeiro Petit has been the key cog in their bullpen and could throw multiple innings in a one-game playoff. Former Yankee Blake Parker has been solid this season with elevated strikeout numbers. But if the Yankees face anyone else in that bullpen, they should feast.

In the lineup, Albert Pujols still bats in the middle of the lineup despite batting just .242/.287/.392 (79 wRC+) and is an enormous negative on the basepaths. Teams have begun using extreme shifts to limit him further. The more he bats in the middle of the order, the worse things go for the Angels.

Cons for facing the Angels

Mike Trout? Mike Trout!!!! Why would you want to face Mike Trout in a one-game playoff?!?!

Having a stud starting pitcher is the best weapon for a one-game playoff (Luis Severino!). Outside of that, having a once-in-a-generation type talent that can dominate with his bat and glove is paramount. Trout is that. It’s like having a right-handed hitting Mickey Mantle for a one-game playoff. I’m not going to reel off his stats because Trout’s name should be synonymous with otherworldly success at this point in his career.

Unlike recent seasons, there is actually offensive talent around Trout. The Angels acquired Justin Upton at the August waiver deadline and he’s been mashing for three weeks in Anaheim. You’ll still want to avoid Trout beating you, but Upton makes you think twice before pitching around him.

Andrelton Simmons, the best fielding shortstop in baseball, has also turned back into an above-average hitter with power and helped turn one of the Yankees-Angels games earlier this season with a home run. The presence of Simmons extends their lineup, as does Brandon Phillips and the power of C.J. Cron and Luis Valbuena. It’s not exactly murderer’s row, but it’s more than the nothingburger the Angels had flanking Trout since their 2014 playoff appearance.

Ultimately, the Yankees should win a one-game playoff if they get there. They have the best lineup, the best starting pitcher — perhaps the top four starting pitchers — and the best bullpen of any wild-card contender. However, anything can happen in a one-game playoff.

My take? While Twins look to be a more complete roster, I’d rather not face Mike Trout and co. in a one-game playoff. It’s kind of irrational because one player can’t beat you unless you let him. And in a five- or seven-game series, I feel like the better overall roster is a bigger advantage. Yet in a one-game series, having the best player on either side could be magnified, particularly if that player can do what Trout does.

Which team is a better Wild Card Game matchup?
View Results

Yankeemetrics: How sweet it is, Bombers sweep Twinkies (Sept. 18-20)

(AP)
(AP)

Who needs clutch hitting?
In what was billed as a potential Wild Card game preview, the Yankees struck first with a narrow 2-1 win in the series opener over the Twins. They overcame another massive RISPFAIL (0-for-12 with runners in scoring position) thanks to justenough power at the plate and a (mostly) lock-down performance on the mound.

Aaron Judge continued the steady climb out of his post-break slump with a first-inning solo bomb. It was his 28th home run in the Bronx this year, moving him into a tie for fourth place on the franchise single-season list for homers hit at home. A few guys named Gehrig (30 in 1934), Maris (30 in 1961), and Ruth (29 in 1928) are ahead of him.

After the Twins tied it in the fifth, Todd Frazier delivered a game-winning bases-loaded sac fly in the sixth inning. Here’s a “betcha didn’t know” stat: that was the Yankees’ 52nd sacrifice fly of the season, the second-most in the majors behind the Astros. The last time they finished first or second in sac flies was 20 years ago (!) when they hit an MLB-best 70 in 1997.

Jaime Garcia pitched his finest game in pinstripes, allowing one unearned run on four hits while striking out nine, before getting pulled with two outs in the sixth. He remained winless as a Yankee, though, giving us an excuse for another #KillTheWin Yankeemetric:

Garcia is the third pitcher over the last 100 seasons to not get a win in his first seven starts with the Yankees – the others were Steve Trout in 1987 and Mike Kekich in 1969 – but his 3.86 ERA is by far the best among that trio (both those other guys had ERAs way above 5.00 during their streaks).

The Yankees nearly wasted Garcia’s gem as Dellin Betances‘ control problems re-surfaced in an ugly eighth inning, during which three of the four guys he faced reached base without a hit (two walks, hit-by-pitch). Adding in the wild pitch he threw, and Betances gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series.

Yes, it is very hard to cram all of that wildness into such a short outing. He is the first Yankee since at least 1912 to hit a guy, throw a wild pitch and issue multiple walks — while facing no more than four batters in a game.

Walks have always been a problem for Betances but he’s taken the hit-by-pitch issue to another level this year. It was the 10th time he hit a guy, becoming the first reliever in franchise history to plunk double-digit batters in a season. Betances had a total of nine hit-by-pitches in his major-league career before this year.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Don’t forget about the Elder Bombers
The Yankees continued to build momentum down the stretch with a 5-2 win on Tuesday, clinching their sixth straight series win. Over the last month, the only series they have lost was to the Indians (August 28-30) during their historic 22-game win streak.

The win also was their third in five games against the Twins in 2017, and with Wednesday’s finale being the only remaining matchup, the Yankees still haven’t lost a season series to the Twins since 2001. That is … good?

CC Sabathia battled through a shaky first inning, but recovered for one of his sharpest and most efficient starts of the season (77 pitches, six innings, two runs). Sabathia’s ability to come up huge in the most critical games has been well-documented here. And now we’ve got another “Big Game CC” stat to chew on: following Tuesday’s solid outing, he is 6-0 with a 1.25 ERA in seven starts against opponents with a .500 record or better this season. That’s the best record and lowest ERA in the majors among pitchers that have started at least five games against winning teams.

We’ve also got a Milestone Alert Yankeemetric for the big fella: his strikeout of Chris Gimenez to end the second inning was the 2,833rd of his career, moving him past Mickey Lolich for 18th place on the major-league all-time strikeout list, and third place among left-handers.

Most Strikeouts by LHP in MLB History
1. Randy Johnson – 4,875
2. Steve Carlton – 4,136
3. CC Sabathia – 2,836
4. Mickey Lolich – 2,832

Brett Gardner stuffed the stat sheet and provided the offensive spark at the top of the order, with three hits, two RBIs and a stolen base. The last Yankee leadoff batter to reach each of those totals in a game was Derek Jeter on July 9, 2011.

If that date sounds familiar …. yup, it was the Mr. 3000 game, when Jeter got his 3,000th hit against the Rays and produced one of the most iconic highlights in franchise history.

#TooManyHomers
The Bronx Bombers returned to their bread-and-butter winning strategy – explosive innings and dingers galore – in sweeping the Twins with a 11-3 win on Wednesday. It was their ninth sweep in 2017, nearly twice as many as they had last year (5).

If these teams do end up meeting for a one-game playoff in less than three weeks, the Yankees should like their chances based on recent history.

Their .721 winning percentage (44-17) in the regular season against the Twins since 2009 is the highest in any head-to-head matchup between any MLB teams (min. 25 games) over the past nine seasons. The Yankees’ domination extends to the postseason, too. They are 12-2 against the Twins in the playoffs – their best postseason record against any opponent (min. 10 games) in franchise history – and have won all four series played between the two clubs.

So … back to Wednesday’s game …. Not only did we get a ton of offensive fireworks to enjoy, but we also saw a bunch of rare, historical feats. Let’s dive into the stat madness!

(AP)
(AP)

Judge started the party with a two-run homer in the third inning, his 45th of the season. He is the second outfielder in baseball history with 45 homers and 115 walks in his age-25 season or younger. The other? Babe Ruth in 1920.

The homer also gave him 100 RBIs for the year (he added RBI No. 101 later in the game on a sac fly), and when combined with his triple-digit-plus walk and run-scoring numbers, Judge has put himself in some very impressive company. Judge is the …

  • Fifth Yankee age 25 or younger with at least 100 RBI, 100 runs and 100 walks: Mickey Mantle, Charlie Keller, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth are the others
  • Second rookie all-time to with more than 100 walks, runs and RBIs, joining Ted Williams (1939)
  • Only right-handed batter in Yankees history to have a 100-walk, 100-RBI, 100-run season

Gary Sanchez then went back-to-back with Judge in the third, belting a mammoth 439-foot blast deep into Monument Park. Fifteen of his 32 homers this season have gone at least 425 feet, the highest rate (47 percent) among all players with at least 20 homers.

The Yankees turned the game into a rout with a six-run fourth inning, sparked by Jacoby Ellsbury‘s one-out triple. Ellsbury wasn’t part of the homer-fest, but he still got on base four times via a single, double, triple and a walk – and that performance is worthy of a #FunFact. Over the last four decades, just two other Yankee centerfielders have produced a game with at least one single, double, triple and a walk: Bernie Williams (1998) and Dave Winfield (1984).

The biggest blow in the fourth inning was delivered by Didi Gregorius. His three-run shot to cap off the scoring made him the only shortstop in franchise history with 25 homers in a season, surpassing the 24 that Derek Jeter hit in 1999.

Thoughts on the final off-day of the regular season

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Today is the final off-day of the 2017 regular season. Pretty wild, huh? The Yankees have ten games remaining and, weirdly enough, only four of those ten are night games. Huh. One of those four is tomorrow, the opener of the final road series of the regular season. The Yankees are Toronto for three games this weekend. Anyway, I have some thoughts on stuff, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Overall, the second wildcard spot is a wonderful thing for baseball. More teams get to the postseason, the Wild Card Games themselves are a ratings bonanza, and more teams are in the hunt each season. The second wildcard spot is a great thing for the game. Now, that said, wow are the Yankees getting hosed this season, assuming they don’t overtake the Red Sox and win the AL East. The Astros, Indians, Red Sox, and Yankees have clearly established themselves as the four best teams in the AL. It’s inarguable. The Yankees have a shot to win 90 games — they’re on pace for 90.6 wins right now, and they play nothing but non-contenders from here on out — and their +186 run differential is second only to the Indians (+231) among the 30 teams. Look at this sorry excuse for a wildcard race:

al-wc-race-092117

Good grief. The Yankees stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a damn shame they’re going to end up playing that winner-take-all Wild Card Game after such a wildly successful and fun season. But, the rules are the rules, and that’s what you get when you lose four games when leading after eight innings and five others when leading after seven innings. Could be worse though. The 2015 Pirates won 98 games and had to face the sicko version of Jake Arrieta in the Wild Card Game.

2. Why are the Yankees are on pace to win 90.6 games with the second best run differential in baseball? Because they’ve obliterated the normal attrition rate associated with even top prospects. Aaron Judge might hit 50 home runs as a rookie. Gary Sanchez has 32 homers as a 24-year-old catcher despite missing a month. Luis Severino has performed like a legitimate ace. That’s not supposed to happen! When you have three prospects like that coming up through the system, you hope to hit big on one and thank the baseball gods if you hit on two. Hit huge on all three so quickly? Come on. That doesn’t happen. Young catchers usually need a few seasons to find their footing offensively. A 6-foot-7 hitter is supposed to need years to adjust to big league pitchers picking apart the holes in his swing before posting .400+ OBPs. Young starters who throw 100 mph for 100+ pitches aren’t supposed to stay healthy. The Yankees hit the prospect jackpot. Judge, Sanchez, and Severino all became impact players very quickly. The veterans have helped get the Yankees where they are. No doubt. But they’re all complementary players. The three homegrown All-Stars are the centerpieces of this soon-to-be officially postseason bound team.

3. Am I wrong in thinking the Yankees, if they manage to win the AL East or Wild Card Game, will be a very dangerous team in a short postseason series? I mean, any team can beat pretty much any other team in a short series in this game. That’s baseball. But the Yankees would be going into a short series with a rotation top three of Severino, Sonny Gray, and Masahiro Tanaka in whatever order, a lineup loaded with power and hitters known for working long at-bats, and a bullpen deep in bat-missing power arms. Remember, the postseason is a much different animal than the regular season. The fifth starter disappears and the fourth starter get marginalized in the postseason. (Also, CC Sabathia might be the best fourth starter on any postseason team in either league. For real.) Middle relievers? Hah. They’re used in emergencies and blowouts only. The high-leverage guys get all the work because there are so many built in off-days. The Yankees have shown they are a very good regular season team this year, and I think they have a chance to be a great postseason team. I love the way this roster is built for a short series. They look like a matchup nightmare for October.

4. That whole thing I just mentioned about the lineup being loaded with hitters known for long at-bats? The Yankees have really kicked it up a notch the last few weeks. It started with the Chris Sale game on ESPN, when the Yankees roughed him up for three homers in 4.1 innings. Some recent pitch counts against the Bombers:

  • Chris Sale: 109 pitches in 4.1 innings on September 3rd
  • Dylan Bundy: 98 innings in four innings on September 4th
  • Jeremy Hellickson: 64 pitches in 2.1 innings on September 5th
  • Kevin Gausman: 79 pitches in three innings on September 7th
  • Jake Odorizzi: 94 pitches in 3.2 innings on September 11th
  • Chris Archer: 92 pitches in four innings on September 13th
  • Jeremy Hellickson: 68 pitches in three innings on September 16th
  • Jose Berrios: 90 pitches in 3.1 innings on September 19th

That’s 694 pitches in 27.2 innings, or 25.1 pitches per inning. Ridiculous. The Yankees have really gotten in the habit of wearing starters down lately, and even though everyone coming out of the bullpen seems to throw 97-99 mph these days, making the starter throw a ton of pitches is never a bad strategy. The more pitches he throws, the more likely he is to make a mistake. Judge and Brett Gardner obviously lead the way when it comes to working the count — they’re two of the top 12 hitters in baseball in pitches per plate appearance — but adding Todd Frazier (Frazier is also top 12 in pitches per plate appearance) and getting both Greg Bird and Matt Holliday back from injury helps in that department as well. Heck, even Jacoby Ellsbury is running a career high 10.6% walk rate this season, including 14.6% in the second half. Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro are still going to swing at everything. That’s just who they are as hitters. Everyone else in the lineup is putting together long at-bats now. It’s great to see. That had been missing the last few years.

Thumbs down for what. (Abbie Parr/Getty)
Thumbs down for what. (Abbie Parr/Getty)

5. So we’ve seen the postseason lineup the last few days, right? Joe Girardi seems to have settled on this lineup during the recent 14-4 stretch:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Matt Holliday or Chase Headley
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. 1B Greg Bird

I suspect we’d see both Holliday and Headley in the lineup against a really tough left-hander in the playoffs, though generally speaking, that’s been the lineup the last few days. And it’s working. No reason to change it, right? Judge is most certainly not a typical second place hitter, but given his sky high OBP and ability to give the Yankees a quick first inning run with a homer — he did exactly that against Ervin Santana on Monday night — I like him in that spot. And Judge can run too. I love Sanchez. He’s awesome. But Gary is slooow. Judge is a much better fit for the No. 2 spot now than Sanchez was earlier this year. Judge has stolen some bases and he’s taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) 46% of the time this year. The MLB average is 45%. That lineup works. When you’ve got Ellsbury hitting like he has in the seven spot and Frazier’s .366 OBP hitting eighth, you’re doing all right at doing all right.

6. The worst thing Sabathia could’ve done is make his dislike of bunts so public. I mean, it was no secret to us he hates bunts, but now the whole world knows it. He’s been bunted on several times in his starts since making those comments following a game with the Red Sox earlier this month, and I can’t imagine teams will stop bunting on him anytime soon. Heck, I’m surprised teams aren’t bunting on him more. I imagine they won’t be as kind come the postseason. It’s something the Yankees and Sabathia will have to be ready for, because it’s coming. Love CC. He’s the man. But being so vocal about hating bunts probably wasn’t the smartest move. He invited the entire league to bunt on him now.

7. Can the Yankees and every other team in the league please extend the netting at least to the end of the dugouts now? Pretty please? A little girl took a foul line drive to the face yesterday — Statcast says the ball left Frazier’s bat at 105.2 mph — and as of yesterday evening, it was unclear whether she would need surgery, her father told Billy Witz. Go read Dan Martin’s newser on the incident and look at the photos of this little girl being carried away by her grandfather with blood everywhere. It’s awful. It’s awful and it shouldn’t be happening. It wasn’t that long ago that MLB put up railings in front of the dugouts because the pros can’t react quick enough to defend themselves from foul balls and flying bats. How can you expect fans to do the same? Warnings are useless. “Pay attention!” is not a real solution, as anyone who has ever gone somewhere with another human being would know. Extend the netting or someone is going to die. It’s only a matter of time. Players are bigger and stronger than ever before, and the ball is flying faster than ever. Exit velocity is fun until it comes flying at you. The sight lines will be fine. Fans will still get their autographs and free baseballs. People will complain for like ten minutes and then they’ll get over it, like everything else. The Yankees have said they are considering extending the netting for too long now. It’s time to act. How the organization can justify putting protective netting over Monument Park during home games but not on top of the dugouts to protect fans is beyond me. If a kid taking a screamer to the face doesn’t get the Yankees to act, nothing will.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

What a series that was. The Yankees stomped the team trying to chase them down for the first wildcard spot and now have a seven-game lead over the Twins for homefield advantage in that Wild Card Game with ten games to play. I really hope this series was a Wild Card Game preview. Well, I hope the Yankees win the division, but if not, playing the Twins in the Wild Card Game ain’t too bad. Anyway, make sure you check out Jeff Sullivan’s piece on Luis Severino. He’s pretty awesome, today’s outing notwithstanding.

Here is an open thread for the night. ESPN will have games at 7pm ET (Red Sox vs. Orioles) and 10pm ET (Indians vs. Angels), both of which are relevant to the Yankees. They’re chasing the Red Sox, and an Angels loss means the magic number goes down again. Also, preseason hockey! Rangers vs. Devils tonight. I’ve been going through hockey withdrawals here. Talk about those games or anything else, as long as it’s not politics or religion. Thanks in advance.

Yankees 11, Twins 3: Score all the runs


Source: FanGraphs

Won the game and swept the series. After falling behind 3-0, the Yankee bats scored 11 unanswered points to take this one Wednesday afternoon. Luis Severino wasn’t his usual self so, of course, the bullpen and the lineup picked him up. Wouldn’t it be neat if New York played Minnesota all the time? Anyways, it was a matinee game so let’s do it bullet-point style.

  • 46 pitches: Remember when this was the start that Sevy was supposed to skip? I kind of figured that he wouldn’t really go a long distance today because 1) he’s a young starter who’s upped the innings pitched from last year, and 2) the Yankees probably want to save some bullets for October. Turned out that he didn’t go past three innings today, for better or worse. He really labored in the top of the third. With one out, Kennys Vargas hit a soft infield single to shortstop and Jason Castro followed it up with a line drive single to put runners on corners. Brian Dozier worked a full-count walk to make the bases loaded and up came Joe Mauer, who is not really someone you want to face in situations like this. Mauer really, really worked Severino to a 13-pitch at bat until finally getting an RBI single to the right field. Jorge Polanco followed it up with another single through the right side for a 2-RBI single. 3-0 Twins. He retired the next two hitters but, by then, Sevy had thrown a 46-pitch inning. It’s one thing to have thrown 71 pitches but it’s another when you threw more than half of it without taking a break in the dugout in between. The Yankees decided to go to bullpen starting the fourth.
  • Tying it up: But fear not, here comes the Young Yankee Hitting Machine. In the bottom of the third, Greg Bird got on base with a double and Aaron Judge followed it up by hitting an opposite two-run shot. It was one of those homers that made the small Yankee Stadium tiny. Dude hits home runs like he’s playing pinball. Gary Sanchez, not to be outdone, hit a solo homer into Monument Park to tie the game at 3-3. That was quick. But hold on, the fun was far, far from done.
  • Let the runs pile in: After Chasen Shreve threw a clean fourth, the Yankee bats really brought it in the bottom of the frame. After Matt Holliday fouled out, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a triple into the left center because he’s friggin’ Jacoby Ellsbury. Todd Frazier followed it up with a walk and Bird brought Ellsbury in with his second double of the day (and knocked Bartolo Colon out of the game, who may or may not have thrown his last pitch at the Yankee Stadium. We’ll see). Brett Gardner’s RBI single against the new pitcher Tyler Duffey brought in Frazier and made it 5-3 Yankees. Judge struck out but Sanchez singled to right to tack on another run and Didi Gregorius hit a three-run homer into the second deck to make it a 9-3 rout. The Yankee rally continued on in the fifth. The former Yankees 2008 50th round pick (no, really) Nik Turley took the mound for the Twins and, well, it didn’t go well for him:

bandicam-2017-09-21-06-18-27-317

  • Extend the netting: There was a huge scare in the fourth inning when a Frazier liner hit a young girl in the mouth, briefly interrupting the game. While Joe Girardi said after the game that the young girl is “doing OK”, it was a very, very scary moment where you did not know whether the carelessness of the team and the league cost a precious life. Every player on the field looked very shaken while the medics were looking after her and I bet that they would choose in a heartbeat to install a netting across the infield to protect the fans. Not to get too voiced here but there’s a proverb “fixing the barn door after your cow escaped” in Korea and I really hope this will not apply to this situation. After a foul ball from Judge struck a fan in the stands few months ago, the team said they are “seriously exploring” he idea of extending the netting but haven’t taken an action. That’s ridiculous. There’s one thing to “obstruct” fans’ view but it becomes a much graver thing when the non-athletes have to go out of the way from a 105 mph liners.
  • Leftovers: Guess who came a home run shy of the cycle? Ellsbury. He had a 3-for-4 day with a walk. In his last at-bat in the bottom of the eighth, Ellsbury was clearly swinging for the fence but had to settle for a flyout in the center. Bum! Judge stayed on-brand by having a 1-for-3 day with a home run, a walk and a strikeout. Sanchez and Bird each had a 3-for-4 day and that’s just music to my ears. Clint Frazier also had a triple in his pinch-hit AB for Gardner, making it his 17th extra-base hit of his 30 total. On the bullpen side, Shreve had an almost-perfect 3 IP outing, allowing only a walk while striking out three. Ben Heller tossed a scoreless inning and Domingo German finished the game up with a 2 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 4 K outing. Neat all around.

Here are today’s box score and updated standings from ESPN, video highlights from MLB.com and WPA chart from Fangraphs. The Yankees have a break tomorrow and will head up north to face the Blue Jays for the final road trip of the regular season. Masahiro Tanaka is penciled in to start against Marco Estrada for the Friday series opener.