Game 43: A Big Test for Montgomery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 Draft: Adam Haseley

Adam Haseley | OF

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

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

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

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

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Yankees have a bit of a strikeout problem right now

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

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

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

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

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

2017-nyy-strikeout-rate

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

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

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

aaron-judge-strikeout-rate

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

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

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

Thoughts following Gleyber Torres’ promotion to Triple-A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big flies and Big Mike lead Yankees to a 4-2 win over Royals

A two-game winning streak! It was a relatively stress-free win over the Royals on Monday. Good starting pitching, good hitting and good bullpen generally equal in a win and that’s pretty much what happened tonight.

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

Big Mike!

Tonight’s Michael Pineda was good, not perfect, but again, good. I’ll take a start like that any day. He got the obligatory HR out of the way in the third inning when he allowed one against Jorge Bonifacio on this meatball pitch.

bandicam-2017-05-23-08-45-29-004

Fastball right down the middle of the plate. Don’t need Statcast to tell you how bad a pitch that was. Pineda allowed another run in that inning. Whit Merrifield reached on an infield single and Alcides Escobar followed it up with an RBI double right down the left field line to make it 2-0 Royals. That was all the damage Pineda allowed tonight. From the third inning and on, he had at least one baserunner every frame but he got out of it on the fourth, fifth and sixth innings unscathed.

One of the reasons why Pineda was able to limit the damage was because of the whiffs. He struck out six total and generated a 34.9% whiff rate on his slider (15 total in 43 pitches). He also got 9 whiffs with his changeup (out of 14 thrown), which is also a pretty good sign. He’ll give up hard-hit balls once in awhile but he can make hitters look quite foolish. That’s the polarity of the Michael Pineda.

His final line: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K. His season ERA is down to 3.35. An interesting thing is that he’s allowed HR’s in a higher clip this year (1.84 HR/9 IP) than last year (1.38 HR/9 IP), yet he’s having a much better season. 23.4% of the fly balls he’s induced have turned into home runs (a bit less than one out of four), which is concerning. We’ll see if that number goes down or stays that way during the season though.

The home runs!

All four of the Yankee runs scored on home runs. I like. They did not hit Jason Vargas as hard as the last time they faced him (6 ER in 4 IP), but the damage was good enough to take a victory.

Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the third, Brett Gardner got the scoring started with a solo home run off Vargas. That is his 9th home run in the previous 92 plate appearances, which is good for a 9.78 % rate. Quite crazy to think that he’s hitting home runs lately with the same frequency as, let’s say, 1927 Babe Ruth. He’s also hitting .281/.373/.527 this season, which is great. For reference, Yoenis Cespedes hit .280/.354/540 last year. Gardy’s line is probably not sustainable but boy, it’s fun to see him hit all the dingers.

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

The Yankees cashed in two more in the fourth. With Aaron Judge on second, Didi Gregorius hit a home run into the right field seats to make it 3-2 Yankees. Dude showed promise with how good he could hit back in the Spring Training and the World Baseball Classic, and he’s not lost a beat. The shortstop is hitting .333/.365/.444 after today (121 wRC+). I’ll take that from him all season.

New York got an insurance run in the eighth with a Chris Carter solo home run off Seth Maness. Carter is having a very bad season (.209/.296/.360), but at least he has a respectable .151 ISO, which is still not his normal level but hey, it’s something. That home run gave the Yankees a 4-2 lead, which they’d hold on for good.

Leftovers

Adam Warren, the new seventh-inning guy, came in to relieve Pineda with one out and runner on first. He struck out Merrifield but threw a wild pitch to let Jorge Soler go to the second base. With two outs, Escobar hit a grounder towards the middle. Starlin Castro caught it and threw it to first but the runner was ruled safe. In the meantime, Soler ran towards home to score a tying run. Well, it was the tying run until the Yankees decided to challenge the call at first. It seemed like a very, very close play but the umpires made the decision to overturn it relatively quickly. The run was cancelled and Yankees held a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh.

Tyler Clippard threw a perfect 1-2-3 eighth and Dellin Betances held the Royals scoreless after allowing a leadoff single for his third save of the year. We all know that Clippard is a capable late-inning reliever but he’s having a great 2017 so far: 1.37 ERA/2.83 FIP is a number you’d expect from a top-flight set-up man or a closer. With Aroldis Chapman on the shelf, it’s been pretty vital that Clippard steps up, and he has. Dellin? He’s at 0.61 ERA/1.33 FIP with a 15.95 K/9 PI rate. Just destroying the competition right there.

Box score, standings and WPA graph

Here’s tonight’s box score, updated standings and WPA graph. The YES broadcasters were having fun with win probability towards the end. Michael Kay ended the game with a “Strike three, win probability 100 percent!” call.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees will play the Royals again tomorrow at YS3. It’ll be a repeat of the Danny Duffy – Jordan Montgomery matchup from this past Thursday.

DotF: Austin continues rehab, Andujar has big game in AA win

Some notes to start the day:

  • Double-A Trenton hitting coach Tom Slater broke down SS Gleyber Torres‘ swing frame-by-frame with Josh Norris, so make sure you check that out. Torres, as you know, was promoted to Triple-A Scranton yesterday.
  • RHP Yefrey Ramirez was named the Double-A Eastern League Pitcher of the Week. He allowed three runs on seven hits and four walks in 13 innings spread across two starts. Also struck out 15 batters. Nice week, Yefrey.

Triple-A Scranton had a scheduled off-day. Gleyber’s Triple-A debut will have to wait until tomorrow.

Double-A Trenton (6-1 win over Reading)

  • SS Thairo Estrada: 0-2, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 E (throwing) — with Torres in Triple-A, shortstop figures to be all his going forward
  • RF Tyler Austin: 1-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K — played five innings in his third rehab game … he played his first game at DH, his second game at first base, and his third game at right field, so they’re moving him around already
  • DH Jake Cave: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 3-3, 1 R, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 1 SB — 8-for-26 (.308) with three doubles and two homers in his last seven games
  • LF Billy McKinney: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB
  • CF Rashad Crawford: 2-4, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 1 CS
  • LHP Justus Sheffield: 6.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 9/3 GB/FB — 61 of 94 pitches were strikes (65%), plus he picked a runner off first … had allowed at least four runs in each of his last four starts, so good to see him bounce back well

High-A Tampa (4-3 win over Jupiter)

  • CF Jorge Mateo: 1-4, 2 K — he’s played center field in four of his last six games
  • SS Kyle Holder: 2-4, 2 R, 1 K, 1 SB — 9-for-20 (.450) during his little five-game hitting streak
  • 2B Nick Solak & RF Trey Amburgey: 0-4, 1 K
  • DH Chris Gittens: 2-4, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 2 K — 11-for-27 (.407) with four doubles and three homers in his last eight games
  • 3B Gosuke Katoh: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 K — his huge pro debut in the Gulf Coast League feels like a lifetime ago
  • RHP Taylor Widener: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 4/2 GB/FB — 51 of 75 pitches were strikes (68%) … 43/12 K/BB in 42.2 innings for the converted reliever … not quite Chance Adams-esque, but pretty good

Low-A Charleston was rained out. They’re going to make this game up as part of a doubleheader on June 10th.