Yankeemetrics: The curse is over (July 20-23)

(AP)
(AP)

Ace Sevy
Back in Pacfic time zone where their current collapse began more than a month ago, the Yankees took the first step towards pulling out of the tailspin with a 4-1 win over the Mariners on Thursday.

If there is one west coast locale where the Yankees might be able to right the ship, it would be Seattle. They entered this series 49-28 all-time at Safeco Field, the best record by any team in the history of the stadium. The Yankees had won six straight series at the park, their longest active road series win streak against an AL club, and hadn’t dropped a series there since 2011.

Luis Severino dazzled in the matchup with Felix Hernandez, outdueling the Mariners longtime ace with seven brilliant shutout innings. It was his seventh start of at least seven innings and no more than one run allowed this season. The only other guys in the majors that matched that number through Thursday were Max Scherzer (7) and Clayton Kershaw (10).

It was also his third scoreless start of at least seven innings, an impressive feat for the 23-year-old pitcher. In the last 50 years, the only other Yankee as young as Severino with three or more scoreless starts of seven-plus innings in a season was Dave Righetti in 1981.

He dominated with a blazing fastball that averaged 98.3 mph, per Statcast, his highest average fastball velocity in any start in his career. Severino also tied his career-high with 10 whiffs on his fastball, and his four-seamer swinging strike rate of 19.6 percent was his highest in any of his 41 major-league starts. As you can see in the chart below, he was bringing the high heat, with all 10 of those swinging fastball strikes coming on pitches above the letters:

severino-whiffs

The hitting hero of the night was Brett Gardner, who broke a scoreless tie in the sixth inning with a solo shot to right field. Gardner finished the night 1-for-3 vs. King Felix, and is now hitting .361 against him, the third-highest batting average among the 53 guys that have faced him at least 40 times. The two ahead of Gardner? Mike Trout (.367) and David Ortiz (.410).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Best birthday present ever
Baseball has its share of small-sample-size statistical quirks and one of the oddest is the fact that CC Sabathia entered Friday’s game 0-3 with a 6.99 ERA in five starts on his birthday.

The baseball gods, though, were in Sabathia’s favor on Friday night as he finally broke his birthday curse against the Mariners. He was in vintage form, grinding through five innings, allowing seven baserunners but yielding just one run. Let’s run through some notable #FunFacts in honor of CC’s sweet birthday victory:

  • first Yankee starter to earn a win on his birthday since Joe Cowley in 1984 against the Mariners
  • first Yankee starter to allow one run or fewer on his birthday since Ron Guidry in 1981
  • And, at age 37, Sabathia is the oldest Yankee pitcher to win on his birthday since a 37-year-old Red Ruffing in 1942

Aaron Judge delivered the best birthday present ever to Sabathia in the fifth inning, when he ended in his 10-game homerless drought in style by clobbering a monstrous homer into the last rows of the upper deck in left field.

It was hit so high, so far … that it broke Statcast, literally, as MLB’s sophisticated measurement system didn’t spit out any numbers for the distance or exit velocity. We do know that the pitch he clobbered was a 76.3 mph curveball, the slowest pitch he’s hit for a home run in his career.

So close, yet so far away
It was too good to be true. Riding an actual winning streak and with a chance to clinch a series win on Saturday night, the Yankees got stung with another frustrating loss in Seattle. They rallied twice — erasing 4-1 and 5-4 deficits to tie the game — but never were able to take the lead, and lost 6-5 in heart-breaking fashion on Nelson Cruz’s game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the 10th.

Let’s dig deeper into this recent stretch of excruciating late-inning close losses:

The Yankees fell to 9-19 in games decided by one run, the second-worst record in the Majors and tied for the second-most losses through Saturday. The only team worse in both stats is the Phillies at 11-26. Fifteen of those 19 losses have come on the road, and an unfathomable 14 of them have been against teams with a .500 record or worse — a number that leads all of MLB after Saturday’s slate.

And, of course, the one-run losses have really been piling up over the last two months. They’ve lost 14 of their last 16 games decided by a run dating back to May 29 — so, after some quick math, they were 7-5 in one-run games for the first two months of the season and are 2-14 over the last two months.

Saturday was their fifth walk-off loss, one more than last year. All five have come since June 13, the most suffered by any team in that span. And three have been on the west coast, one each in Seattle, Anaheim and Oakland. Strange but true: this is just the second time ever they’ve lost walk-off games to each of them in the same season (it also happened in 2006).

Even in the depressing loss, Aaron Judge was still doing Aaron Judge things. He crushed a 396-foot home run to right field, showing off his ridiculous oppo-field power. Ridiculous is actually an understatement. After Saturday’s game, he was slugging 1.140 to the opposite field, easily the highest in baseball among qualified hitters. For reference, the league slugging percentage on balls hit to the opposite field is .474. Holy moly, what a beautiful hit spray chart:

aaron-judge-3

Streaks are meant to be broken
See yaaaaaaa …. The Yankees finally ended their torturous month-plus baseball nightmare and won their first series since June 9-11. They snapped a 10-series winless streak, their longest since August/September 1991, just weeks before Stump Merrill was fired.

And thankfully I don’t have to tweet this stat again:

Brett Gardner got the offensive fireworks started early with his third leadoff homer of the season, and you could almost smell a victory dance … entering Sunday, the Yankees were 13-0 when Gardy went yardy. Didi Gregorius added two solo dingers for his first career multi-homer game, putting the Yankees up 3-0.

#FunFact alert: Didi is the first Yankee shortstop to hit two or more homers against the Mariners.

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Mariners soon erased that lead, but the Comeback Kids struck again. Unlike Saturday, this time they were able to complete the rally. Clint Frazier‘s bases-loaded double in the sixth inning broke a 4-4 tie and made sure the Yankees plane ride back east would be a happy one.

That was Frazier’s second go-ahead hit in the sixth inning or later this season, or two more than Jacoby Ellsbury has in 2017. Following Sunday’s game, Frazier now has 11 extra-base hits in 61 at-bats this season, or just two fewer than Ellsbury has in 197 at-bats.

Thanks to his game-winning two-base hit, Frazier also earns our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: He has a double in three straight games, the youngest Yankee outfielder to do that since Mickey Mantle in 1953.

Scouting The Trade Market: Lance Lynn

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

The 2017 non-waiver trade deadline is exactly one week away, and already the Yankees have swung a pretty significant seven-player trade with the White Sox that, more than anything, added high-end depth to the bullpen. I know Todd Frazier is the biggest name, but that trade was about Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson. Adding those two has already paid dividends.

With the bullpen addressed, the single biggest item left on the shopping list is a starting pitcher. Michael Pineda is done for the season and Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa, and Caleb Smith have combined to start three of the last seven games. No one wants that to continue. Getting another starter is a top priority. You don’t make that trade with the ChiSox only to skimp on the rotation.

One rental starter who could possibly be available prior to the trade deadline is Cardinals righty Lance Lynn. St. Louis isn’t have a great season overall (47-51), though they’re only 4.5 games back in the NL Central, and I don’t think it’s in their DNA to throw in the towel and sell. Lynn being available is far from certain. It’ll probably take a bad week this week. Let’s see whether Lynn is the fit for the Yankees in case the Cardinals do decide trade him away.

Current Stuff

So far this season the 30-year-old Lynn has a 3.30 ERA (4.97 FIP) in 20 starts and 114.2 innings. His strikeout (21.5%) and walk (8.3%) rates are about average, though Lynn has always been fly ball prone (42.9% grounders), and these days that means lots of homers (1.65 HR/9). He’s either going to have to start keeping the ball in the park or continue stranding runners at an above-average 82.4% clip, otherwise that ERA is going up.

As a starter Lynn has always been Bartolo Colon-esque in that he lives and dies with his fastball. So far this season 92.2% of his pitches have been some type of fastball. Either a four-seamer, sinker, or cutter. Here is his pitch selection since moving into the rotation full-time in 2012, via Brooks Baseball:

lance-lynn-pitch-selection

So many fastballs. Sooo many fastballs. And hey, that’s fine. Throwing that many fastballs can work. It has for Lynn for years. He has good velocity (low-90s and touches 96), he can locate, and he mixes in enough changeups and curveballs to keep hitters honest.

Also, keep in mind Lynn is not throwing one fastball over and over. It’s three different fastballs. A straight four-seamer, a sinker, and a cutter. One stays true, one dives down, and another cuts in. Hitters see a lot of fastballs, though they don’t know which direction they’re heading. It’s not like Lynn is throwing four-seamer after four-seamer, you know?

Here’s a pretty good example of how Lynn uses those three different fastballs. The hitters do not look comfortable because those heaters are moving in all different directions.

Lynn missed the entire 2016 season with Tommy John surgery and he’s come back this year showing basically the same stuff. His velocity is down about half-a-mile an hour from 2015, though it’s not uncommon for a pitcher his age to loss a little something off their fastball over a two-year span, elbow reconstruction or otherwise. Lynn’s stuff is fine. He’s unconventional because he throws so many fastballs, but it works.

Injury History

Like I said, Lynn missed last season with Tommy John surgery. He also missed two months with an oblique strain way back in 2011, which is no big deal. Lynn averaged 189 innings a year from 2012-15 and maxed out at 203.2 innings in 2014, so before his elbow gave out, he was a workhorse. Acquiring a pitcher so soon after Tommy John surgery is inherently risky. There’s no reason to believe Lynn is riskier than any other pitcher in his first full year back from elbow reconstruction.

What Would It Take?

The Cardinals bought out Lynn’s arbitration years with a three-year extension worth $22M back in January 2015. This is the final guaranteed year on the contract — he’s making $7.5M this season — and Lynn will be a free agent after the season. He’s a rental.

I do think the Cardinals would make Lynn the qualifying offer after the season. Getting him back on an expensive one-year deal isn’t the worst thing in the world, and besides, Lynn would probably decline it. He could secure more total dollars on a multi-year deal, though the point is the Cardinals are in position to demand a greater return than the draft pick they’d receive after the season.

Last week I ran through other recent rental starter trades, and based on the benchmarks, the Cardinals shouldn’t have any trouble getting two good prospects for Lynn. Not top prospects like Gleyber Torres or Clint Frazier, but good prospects. Someone from the Tyler Wade/Chance Adams/Dillon Tate pool. That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. Guys like Lynn don’t come that cheap.

Does He Make Sense?

Aside from Yu Darvish, Lynn is probably the best rental available at the trade deadline, assuming he is actually made available at some point. The Cardinals could rip off a bunch of wins this week and decide to keep Lynn and go for it. That’s probably what they’d prefer to do. Also, keep in mind the Cardinals traded lefty Marco Gonzales last week, so they’re down one layer of rotation depth. They might not want to trade even more pitching.

Two things to consider here. One, the Yankees probably really like Lynn’s postseason experience and the fact he was part of the World Series winning team with the Cardinals in 2011. And two, the Yankees don’t rely on the fastball, as Tom Verducci recently wrote. Would they acquire a pitcher who lives and dies with his heater when their team philosophy is to pitch backwards? Perhaps the different look wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Anyway, yes, Lynn makes sense for the Yankees because they have a rotation opening and he’s better than the Mitchells and Cessas and Smiths of the world. They have plenty of prospects to trade, so it’s not like the trade would cripple their farm system. The biggest issue here is outside the Yankees’ control: will the Cardinals sell? I don’t think they want too, and they can justify keeping Lynn given their place in the standings.

Fan Confidence Poll: July 24th, 2017

Record Last Week: 4-3 (29 RS, 25 RA)
Season Record: 51-46 (517 RS, 413 RA, 58-39 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, vs. Reds (two games, Thurs. and Weds.), vs. Rays (four games, Thurs. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
View Results

DotF: Stephan dominates in Staten Island’s win

Triple-A Scranton (5-3 loss to Charlotte)

  • CF Mason Williams & RF Mark Payton: both 1-4, 1 R, 1 K — Williams was hit by a pitch
  • DH Jake Cave: 3-4 — 18-for-33 (.545) during his nine-game hitting streak
  • LF Billy McKinney: 1-4, 1 2B — 7-for-30 (.233) in his last eight games, though four of the seven hits are doubles
  • RHP Brady Lail: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 4/7 GB/FB — 55 of 88 pitches were strikes (63%)
  • RHP Jonathan Holder: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K — ten pitches, nine strikes, plus he picked a runner off first

[Read more…]

Yankees 6, Mariners 4: Bullpen comes up big in come-from-behind win

A series win! The Yankees finally got that monkey off their back Sunday afternoon. They rallied from behind for a 6-4 win in the road trip finale over the Mariners. The Yankees managed to go 6-5 on this eleven-game, ten-day trip across three time zones. Thank goodness that one is over with.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Three Solo Dingers
It took the Yankees two pitches to take the lead Sunday afternoon. Yovani Gallardo’s first pitch to Brett Gardner in the first inning was a fastball in the dirt, and his second was a center cut fastball deposited into the right field seats for a leadoff home run. The home run was Gardner’s third leadoff dinger of the season and ninth of his career. It was also his career high tying 17th home run. There are 65 games remaining this season.

Gallardo was not done serving up the long ball. Didi Gregorius touched him up for a solo home run in the second and again in the fourth. Two Didi dingers! This was the first two-homer game of Gregorius’ career. The last Yankee shortstop with a two-homer game? Derek Jeter, of course. In 2011. Last one before that? Jeter again, in 2010. Last one before that? Cody Ransom! Ransom had two homers in Game 160 in 2008. Three solo homers equaled a 3-0 lead.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Smith Unravels
For the second time in as many big league appearances, Caleb Smith impressed early before unraveling once the lineup turned over. First time through the order he retired eight of nine Mariners faced, with Kyle Seager’s one-out double in the second the only blemish. Smith needed only 32 pitches to go through the first three innings. Eleven pitches in the first, eleven pitches in the second, and ten pitches in the third. Beautiful.

Then, one the lineup turned over, Smith retired only three of eight batters faced. He didn’t even get to face the ninth hitter. Two soft singles and a walk loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth inning, and I thought that was going to be it for Smith. The Yankees hadn’t won a series in forever, the bullpen is loaded, there’s an off-day Monday, and Smith let things get away from him in his previous outing after the lineup turned over. All the signs were pointing to a pitching change.

Joe Girardi didn’t agree. He stuck with Smith and hey, he struck out Seager and popped up Mitch Haniger, so he put himself in position to escape the jam. Instead, Ben Gamel managed to pull a soft first pitch jam shot into shallow right field for a two-run single. The pitch was right in on his hands:

caleb-smith-ben-gamel

Not sure how that pitch didn’t shatter Gamel’s bat. The two-run single cut the lead to 3-2. Two pitches later Guillermo Heredia gave the Mariners a 4-3 lead with a double to left field. Smith very nearly escaped that jam. He got two outs and really busted Gamel inside. Instead of escaping, four runs were on the board. Life is pain.

The Comeback
The Yankees regained the lead with a three-run sixth inning against former Yankees lefty James Pazos. After the way Gamel tortured them all series, Pazos stepped up and did the Embedded Yankee thing Sunday. Thanks for that, James. All the damage came with one out too. Gregorius started the inning with a ground out, then the next six men the Yankees sent to the plate reached base.

The rally started with back-to-back walks by Chase Headley and Todd Frazier, and an opposite field single by pinch-hitter Ronald Torreyes — Torreyes hit for Tyler Wade to get the right-on-left matchup against Pazos — loaded the bases with one out. Hooray for that. Gardner tied the game with an opposite field single off Gamel’s glove in left field. The way this series has been going, I figured Gamel would’ve caught that. Gardner’s single came in an 0-2 count too. Nice.

With the score tied 4-4, Mariners skipper Scott Servais brought in the right-handed Tony Zych, and Clint Frazier responded with a two-run double along the left field line. Like Gamel in the fourth inning, Frazier managed to get enough wood on a pitch in on his hands. He legendary-bat-speeded it into a go-ahead double. This kid is so much fun, isn’t he? The Gardner single and Frazier double turned a 4-3 deficit into a 6-4 lead.

He's not going back to Scranton. (Presswire)
He’s not going back to Scranton. (Presswire)

The New Bullpen
Unsung hero Sunday: Chad Green. He replaced Smith, struck out Carlos Ruiz to strand two runners in the fourth, then tossed perfect fifth and sixth innings as well. Green struck out three of the seven batters he faced and gave the offense a chance to get back in the game. He restored order. That was big. It’s pretty nice to be able to use Green early in the game now, in key situations like that, isn’t it?

For whatever reason Joe Girardi decided to flip Dellin Betances and David Robertson on Sunday. Betances pitched the seventh and Robertson pitched the eighth. Not sure what that was about, though it doesn’t really matter. Three up, three down for both guys. Aroldis Chapman sandwiched a pickoff between an infield single off his leg and a double off the wall. He then got the last two outs for his 11th save. The bullpen: 5.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K. That’ll do.

Leftovers
The 3-4-5 hitters (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Matt Holliday): 0-for-12 with three walks and four strikeouts. Judge had two walks and Holliday had one. The other six hitters in the lineup: 10-for-24 (.417) with four doubles and three homers. Sometimes the other guys have to carry you. Gardner, Gregorius, and Headley each had two hits. Headley also had two walks. He is hitting for zero power, but he’s been getting on base a bunch lately.

And finally, the series win is New York’s first since the massacre series against the Orioles from June 9th through 11th. They outscored the O’s 38-8 in that series. The Yankees were 0-8-2 in their last ten series. The last time they went at least ten series without a win? Back in 1991. What a terrible season that was. This one is much better.

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


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are heading home for the first time in more than two weeks. They have an off-day Monday, then will welcome the Reds to the Bronx for a quick little two-game series. Rookies Jordan Montgomery and Luis Castillo will be on the mound in Tuesday night’s opener. That game is start of a nine-game homestand. RAB Tickets can get you in the door for any and all nine games.

Game 97: End of the Road Trip

(Lindsey Wasson/Getty)
(Lindsey Wasson/Getty)

This eleven-game, ten-day road trip through three times zones finally comes to an end this afternoon. The Yankees have a chance to close it out with a series win too. They haven’t won a series in more than a month now. Since massacring the Orioles that weekend at Yankee Stadium. It’s been far, far too long.

On the bump this afternoon is left-hander Caleb Smith, who will be making his first big league start. The Yankees opted to start Smith over Luis Cessa this afternoon for whatever reason. With an off-day tomorrow and a chance to a) win a damn series, and b) clinch a winning road trip, I imagine it’ll be all hands on deck out of the bullpen. Here is the Mariners’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. LF Clint Frazier
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. DH Matt Holliday
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 1B Chase Headley
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. 2B Tyler Wade
    LHP Caleb Smith

You’re not going to believe this, but it’s cool and cloudy in Seattle today. Today’s series finale will begin at 4:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Ji-Man Choi has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A, the team announced. I figured that would happen. Choi will remain with the Yankees as a non-40-man roster player.

Yankees trade Rob Refsnyder to Blue Jays for Ryan McBroom

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Rob Refsnyder era is over. The Yankees have traded Refsnyder to the Blue Jays for minor league first baseman Ryan McBroom, the team announced today. Refsnyder had been designated for assignment last week, when the Yankees needed 40-man roster space following the big trade with the White Sox.

McBroom, 25, is hitting .243/.321/.402 (98 wRC+) with 12 home runs in 96 Double-A games this year. He is a rare right-handed hitter and left-handed thrower. MLB.com ranked McBroom as the 30th best prospect in Toronto’s farm system before the trade. Here’s a snippet of their scouting report:

(He) does have some encouraging tools, such as above-average raw power that he generates with a strong, lofty right-handed swing. He’s an aggressive hitter with a knack for making hard contact, though there is some concern that upper-level pitchers will exploit his swing-and-miss tendencies. McBroom’s bottom-of-the-scale speed limits him to first base, but he has a chance to become an average defender there.

As a first-base-only prospect whose value comes solely from his bat, McBroom will be forced to hit his way to the Major Leagues. While he’s unlikely to ever serve as an everyday player, McBroom hits southpaws well enough to profile in a platoon role.

Not much to see here. Refsnyder didn’t have a whole lot of trade value given his MLB performance to date, lack of defensive value, lack of power, and the fact he’d already been designated for assignment. I thought the Yankees would go for a lower level lottery ticket arm like they did in the Nick Goody trade and Johnny Barbato trade. Instead, they brought in another right-handed hitting first baseman.

Prepare yourselves, Refsnyder will get a big hit against the Yankees at some point, and someone will make a “why can’t the Yankees get players like that?” joke. It will be no more clever than the first nine million times we’ve heard it.