Game 83: No Easy A’s

A-Rod liked by headline pun. (Presswire)
A-Rod liked my headline pun. (Presswire)

The Yankees open a three-game series tonight with the Athletics, the deceptively good Athletics. Their record is ugly (38-47), yet they’ve outscored their opponents by 49 runs this year. Only four teams in the big leagues have a better run differential. Blame a shaky early-season bullpen and a hideous 6-21 record in one-run games. They don’t have TWTW, I guess.

Point is, the A’s are better than their record indicates. They’re 18-14 since June 1st and their rotation has the second best ERA (3.00) and fifth best FIP (3.37) in baseball. The Yankees dropped three of four in Oakland a few weeks ago, so we saw how good this team is firsthand. Last place? Yeah, that’s where they are in the standings. But the A’s don’t have last place talent. Here is Bob Melvin’s lineup and here is Joe Girardi‘s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Garrett Jones
  7. LF Chris Young
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It has been pretty gross in New York today. Hot as hell and really humid too. Sticky. There is some rain in the forecast for the late-afternoon/early-evening, but it doesn’t look like it’ll be enough to cause a postponement. Maybe a slight delay. We’ll see. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: In case you missed it, both Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) and Andrew Miller (forearm) will be activated off the 15-day DL tomorrow … Mason Williams (shoulder) has resumed baseball activities. Throwing, hitting, that sorta stuff.

Judge, Severino both make top 20 of Baseball America’s midseason top prospects update

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

One day after Baseball Prospectus published their midseason top 50 prospects list, Baseball America did the same today. Unlike BP, the BA list is free to read. You don’t need a subscription. Dodgers SS Corey Seager is ranked as the best prospect in the minors by Baseball America and is followed in order by Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito and Rangers 3B Joey Gallo.

The Yankees have two players on Baseball America’s midseason update and they both rank pretty high: OF Aaron Judge is 13th and RHP Luis Severino is 17th. Baseball Prospectus also had Judge ranked 13th, though they were a little lower on Severino. He ranked 28th. Severino and Judge ranked 35th and 53rd on Baseball America’s preseason top 100 prospects list, respectively, so both made big jumps.

In a separate piece (subs. req’d), SS Jorge Mateo was listed as one of “five risers who likely will make the next edition of the Top 100 Prospects list” even though they didn’t make today’s updated midseason top 50. Here’s a piece of the blurb on Mateo:

Mateo has the ingredients to be special. He’s got bat-to-ball skills, power enough to project double-digit home runs and blazing speed on the basepaths. He’s refining his technique in the field at low Class A Charleston, particularly as it pertains to ranging to his right for balls in the hole.

According to the top 50, Judge is currently the best outfield prospect in baseball, unless you count Gallo, a third baseman the Rangers have played in the outfield on occasion because of Adrian Beltre. Severino is the fifth best right-handed pitching prospect and sixth best pitching prospect overall. Neat.

The farm system has been hit hard by injuries this year — RHP Domingo German, RHP Austin DeCarr, RHP Ty Hensley, and C Luis Torrens are all out for the season; both LHP Jacob Lindgren and 3B Eric Jagielo got hurt in June; LHP Ian Clarkin is still MIA — but Judge and Severino have excelled, and 1B Greg Bird was just bumped up to Triple-A as well. It’s nice not having to say “they have talent, but it’s all in Single-A” for once.

Andrew Miller to be activated off DL on Wednesday

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Left-hander Andrew Miller will be activated off the 15-day DL on Wednesday, Joe Girardi told reporters this afternoon. He’s expected to step right back into the closer’s role as well. “That’s probably what I would do,” said Girardi. Jacoby Ellsbury is due to be activated tomorrow as well.

Miller, 30, has missed just about four weeks with flexor muscle strain in his forearm. Tests confirmed the injury was limited to his forearm muscle, and there was no damage to his ulnar collateral ligament. Miller threw a scoreless inning for Triple-A Scranton on Monday and told reporters today that he felt great.

I assume either Nick Rumbelow or Bryan Mitchell will go to Triple-A to clear a roster spot for Miller. I’d rather see Mitchell stick around but it’s not a huge deal either way. Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve really stepped up while Miller was out, plus Adam Warren returned to the bullpen, so the late-inning relief crew suddenly looks real deep.

7/7 to 7/9 Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s the last series at Yankee Stadium before the All-Star break. The Athletics are on the East Coast and will be in the Bronx for three games starting tonight. The Yankees dropped three of four against the A’s out in Oakland back in May. That was not a fun series.

What Have The A’s Done Lately?

The A’s had an off-day yesterday and split a four-game set with the Mariners over the weekend. They went 4-6 on their just completed ten-game homestand. Oakland has one of the worst records in the league at 38-47, but they’ve been much better since June 1st (18-14) and do have a stellar +49 run differential. That 38-47 record is deceiving.

Offense & Defense

At 4.38 runs per game with a team 103 wRC+, the A’s are a tick better than the average MLB offense. They’re relatively healthy too. OF Coco Crisp is out with a career-threatening neck injury and UTIL Tyler Ladendorf is out following ankle surgery, but that’s it. The rest of the roster is healthy. Crisp’s injury sucks though. Hate to see a guy’s career end due to an injury.

Future Yankee Ben Zobrist. (Presswire)
Future Yankee Ben Zobrist. (Presswire)

Manager Bob Melvin has three excellent everyday players in C Stephen Vogt (145 wRC+), OF Josh Reddick (130 wRC+), and 2B Ben Zobrist (127 wRC+). Reddick has made some major approach adjustments and now his strikeout (10.6%) and walk (8.3%) rates are nearly identical. Also, if the A’s just want to leave Zobrist behind in New York when the series is over, that would be great.

OF Billy Burns (122 wRC+) is appropriately named because he’s super fast, and 3B Brett Lawrie (113 wRC+) is finally starting to live up to the hype. Maybe. Possibly. Probably not. SS Marcus Semien (99 wRC+) and DH Billy Butler (92 wRC+) are the other every players. C Josh Phegley (155 wRC+ vs. LHP) and 1B Ike Davis (120 wRC+ vs. RHP) are Melvin’s two top platoon weapons. 1B/OF Mark Canha (102 wRC+), OF Sam Fuld (75 wRC+), and IF Eric Sogard (69 wRC+) are also on the bench.

Depending on your choice of defensive metric, the A’s are either great defensively (+8 DRS) or terrible defensively (-23.9 UZR). Reddick, Fuld, Burns, Zobrist, and Lawrie are very good in the field while Semien is error prone. Canha and Davis are fine. Vogt and Phegley have combined to throw out more than one-third of attempted base-stealers and StatCorner says they’re average and above-average pitch-framers, respectively.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (7pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. OAK) vs. RHP Sonny Gray (vs. NYY)
Gray, 25, recently dealt with a bout of salmonella, which caused him to miss one start and have another pushed back. He’s good to go tonight though. Womp womp. Gray has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this year, posting a 2.09 ERA (2.67 FIP) in 16 starts and 107.2 innings. Good strikeout rate (22.9%), great walk rate (6.1%), great ground ball rate (54.2%), great home run rate (0.42 HR/9), great success against righties (.228 wOBA), great success against lefties (.251 wOBA). Just all around great. Gray throws both two and four-seamers in the mid-90s and he uses them both equally. A hammer low-80s curveball is his out pitch, but he also throws mid-80s sliders and a handful of mid-80s changeups per start. The Yankees scored two runs in eight innings against Gray back in May. Hopefully the recent illness and long layoff means he’s off his game tonight.

Wednesday (7pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. OAK) vs. LHP Scott Kazmir (vs. NYY)
Audition? Kazmir is an impending free agent and figures to be traded before the deadline, and the Yankees have been connected to other rental arms like Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and Jeff Samardzija, so I assume they’re in on Kazmir as well. The 31-year-old southpaw has a 2.56 ERA (3.24 FIP) in 16 starts and 98.1 innings with good to great peripherals across the board: 23.0 K%, 8.3 BB%, 46.0 GB%, and 0.64 HR/9. Righties (.279 wOBA) have had more relative success against him than lefties (.252 wOBA). Kazmir has reinvented himself since his arm injuries and is no longer the mid-90s fastball/wipeout slider guy was with the (Devil) Rays. He still throws the four-seamer and slider, but now operates mostly with a low-90s two-seamer and mid-80s changeup. It’s cliche as hell, but Kazmir is a pitcher now after being a thrower earlier in his career. The Yankees didn’t face him during the four-game series in Oakland earlier this year.

Chavez. (Presswire)
Chavez. (Presswire)

Thursday (1pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. OAK) vs. RHP Jesse Chavez (vs. NYY)
Chavez, 31, moved into the rotation a few weeks ago and has been excellent, pitching to a 3.20 ERA (3.09 FIP) in 95.2 innings spread across 14 starts and four relief appearances. His strikeout rate is just average (20.7%) while his walk (5.9%), ground ball (41.8%), and home run (0.66 HR/9) numbers are lower than the MLB average. Lefties (.317 wOBA) have a lot more success against Chavez than righties (.251 wOBA). Chavez is a bit of a kitchen sink guy, throwing five different pitches including four at least 16% of the time. He’s got low-90s two and four-seamers, an upper-80s cutter, a mid-80s changeup, and an upper-70s curveball. The curve is the fifth pitch he uses fewer than 5% of the time. Chavez struck out six in eight scoreless innings against the Yankees in May.

Bullpen Status
Like the Yankees, the A’s were off yesterday, so their bullpen is as fresh as it’s going to get in early-July. Ex-Yankees farmhand RHP Tyler Clippard (3.78 FIP) is closing with LHP Drew Pomeranz (3.98 FIP) and RHP Edward Mujica (4.94 FIP) serving as the setup men du jour. LHP Eric O’Flaherty (4.52 FIP) recently came off the DL and will face tough lefties.

LHP Fernando Abad (5.62 FIP), RHP Evan Scribner (4.06 FIP), and RHP Fernandez Rodriguez (1.75 FIP) are the rest of the regular relievers. RHP Chris Bassitt (4.35 FIP) is the 13th arm and he started in place of Gray the last two times out. He started Sunday and will either be sent down for a fresh arm today or out of action the next two games. Head over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen and Athletics Nations and BeaneBall for the latest on the A’s.

A-Rod’s All-Star Game snub and the Greater Good

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For whatever reason MLB dragged the 2015 All-Star Game rosters announcement across two nights this year, with the starters announced Sunday and the rest of the rosters announced Monday. As expected, no Yankees were selected to start the game for the first time since 1998. All the fan voting updates made it clear that was going to happen.

The reserves announcement on Monday was a little more interesting because the Yankees had five players who were, at the very least, borderline All-Star Game candidates. Dellin Betances and Mark Teixeira were selected for the game, and Brett Gardner is one of five players on the Final Vote ballot (go vote!), but Brian McCann was not one of the two extra catchers selected. So it goes.

The other snub was Alex Rodriguez, who, on merit, belongs in Cincinnati for the All-Star Game. He’s hitting .284/.390/.513 (149 wRC+) with 16 home runs so far this year, and every single other healthy qualified hitter with at least an .890 OPS or a 142 wRC+ was selected to the Midsummer Classic. Not A-Rod though. The players didn’t vote him in and AL manager Ned Yost cited the desire for flexibility, as if he was building a roster for a postseason series and not a one-game exhibition. From Brendan Kuty:

“We talked about A-Rod a lot,” Yost said. “You look back at this five-man vote and we have three infielders, two outfielders, and we felt that it was important that we don’t — we have Brock Holt that can play anywhere in the infield, but any other position we have a starter and a backup. In the outfield we have three starters and three backups. So I just felt very strongly that if we could get another infielder or another outfielder out of that five-man vote it would help us. That’s what went in that decision.”

It’s no surprise the players didn’t vote Alex into the All-Star Game — he’s not exactly popular outside the Yankees clubhouse after his performance-enhancing drug issues and the fact that he, you know, sued the MLBPA last year, so I get it. Yost picked seven players for the roster according to Andy McCullough and opted for five pitchers plus Holt (token Red Sox player) and Russell Martin (third catcher), so he would have had to pick Alex over a pitcher.

Either way, Rodriguez is not going to the All-Star Game and that feels like a loss for everyone, including A-Rod himself. He said he hoped to be picked. MLB is going to miss the ratings boost because people watch this guy — his fans watch to see him mash taters and his haters watch to see him fail — and the AL team will miss having a huge right-handed bat off the bench late in the game. And spare me the PED moralization, Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta were voted in as starters by the fans.

It’s disappointing Alex won’t be in the All-Star Game this year, he deserves to be there based on his performance, but it’s also for the best in the grand scheme of things. Remember, we are talking about a player with two surgically repaired hips (and a surgically repaired knee) who turns 40 later this month. Rodriguez is a full-time DH now yet he still admitted regular days off help him stay fresh. It shows in the numbers too: Alex is hitting .392/.517/.725 in games immediately following a day off and .259/.362/.464 in all other games this season.

“I never welcome days off. I love to play. But it worked pretty well for me in (during the two interleague games in Washington). After those two days off, I swung the bat pretty well at home,” said A-Rod to Wally Matthews a few weeks ago. Rodriguez has played a ton of baseball over the years — he averaged 153 games per season from 1996-2007! — and there’s a lot of wear on his body. That’s baseball. All those games catch up to you and extra rest is needed later in your career. That’s where A-Rod is right now. In need of extra rest. Not more games and travel.

The Yankees are currently atop the AL East but that doesn’t really matter at this point. The division is so tight they could be in fourth place and still be only two games out. A-Rod has gone from a total unknown in Spring Training to a core player this season. He’s at the center of the offense and the Yankees will need him to continue to produce like he has in the first half to have a shot at returning to the postseason. So yeah, Alex not being selected for the All-Star Game is a bummer. But those four days off his feet next week are the best thing for him and the Yankees.

Appreciating Chasen Shreve and his nasty splitter

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

When the Yankees acquired Chasen Shreve this offseason, he was widely considered just another young, controllable power arm to provide depth possibly in the big leagues or at Triple-A. He wasn’t on either the Braves or the Yankees top-10 prospect lists this winter, and even after he won a spot in the bullpen out of spring training, it was expected he’d be just a mop-up guy behind the other more established relievers on the team.

Few people could have predicted Shreve’s breakout campaign and the elite numbers he’s put up in the first three months: 1.87 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and .165 batting average allowed in 33 2/3 innings.

Perhaps the most impressive part of his season is the work Shreve has done in the game’s most important and pressure-filled moments. He has faced 36 batters with runners in scoring position and allowed a total of four singles in those plate appearances. Of the 28 batters he’s matched up with in high-leverage situations, just three have gotten hits, each of them singles. He has inherited 17 runners when the score has been within three runs, and let just two of those guys score. There’s not much more you could ask for in a guy that has gradually risen in the bullpen pecking order and taken on the critical “fireman” role recently.

How could such an unheralded prospect with only a dozen major-league innings under his belt entering this season become such a valuable and trusted member of the Yankees bullpen?

The key has been the development of a nasty split-fingered fastball to complement his four-seamer and slider. It has allowed him shut down batters from both sides of the plate — righties have a .441 OPS against him — and made him into a go-to reliever regardless of the situation.

One of the reasons his splitter has been such a dominant pitch is its extreme downward movement. The splitter disappears down out of the zone as it approaches the plate, generating a ton of stupid-looking whiffs and even more worm-burning grounders. Among the 30 guys who have thrown at least 100 splitters this year, only four have gotten more drop on those pitches than Shreve.

Remember this strikeout to escape a bases-loaded jam against the Angels last month? Erick Aybar is still having nightmares…

ezgif.com-crop (4)

Because of that diving action, he’s able to consistently locate his splitter below the knees, where batters have virtually no chance of getting any good wood on the pitch. He’s thrown a ridiculous 90 percent (135 of 152) of his splitters in the lower third of the zone or below this season. Here’s what that looks like, in heatmap-form:

Chasen Shreve

Another reason for the success he’s had this season is the 9-mph separation he’s now getting between his splitter and four-seam fastball, after ramping up the velocity on his heater last season when he debuted with the Braves. The improvement in his fastball has made his splitter so much more effective, because the two pitches are basically indistinguishable at their release points, but couldn’t look more different to the batter when they cross the plate.

Let the numbers speak for themselves:

shreve splitter

To say the pitch is unhittable would hardly be an understatement. He has thrown 152 split-fingered fastballs and just one of those pitches resulted in a hit: on April 10, Hanley Ramirez lined a hanging first-pitch splitter to left field for a single. That’s it. Among pitchers that have thrown 100-or-more splitters this season. none have allowed a lower batting average (.029) or slugging percentage (.029) than Mr. Shreve.

Not only is the pitch unhittable, but it’s also nearly untouchable. Batters have come up empty on more than half their swings against the pitch, and his whiff percentage of 53 percent is the highest among anybody that’s thrown at least 10 splitters this year.

When they do manage to put it into play, it’s gone nowhere: one line drive, one fly ball, three infield pop-ups, and 12 grounders. He has the highest pop-up rate, lowest line drive rate, second-lowest fly ball rate and fourth-highest ground ball rate on split-fingered fastballs in the majors this season (min. 100 pitches).

Is that good? Um … yes.

When Andrew Miller returns from the disabled list, the Yankees will have arguably the deepest bullpen in the league, capable of shutting down any lineup in baseball. And the one of the most important pieces of the puzzle — the glue that holds the ‘pen together, the bridge to Betances/Miller — just might be Mr. Chasen Shreve.

From low-leverage reliever to critical bullpen arm in just a few months’ time, he is now fully enshrined in Girardi’s Circle of Trust™. It’s hard to imagine the Yankees would be in first place on July 7 without the lanky southpaw from Las Vegas and his filthy split-fingered fastball.

DotF: Miller throws scoreless inning in Triple-A rehab game

Got some notes to pass along:

  • RHP Luis Severino was named to Baseball America’s All-Prospect Team for June. “While Severino hasn’t put away Triple-A batters with two strikes as prolifically as he had at lower levels, the 21-year-old righty has maintained strong control of his pitches, while not allowing a home run through his first seven starts at Scranton,” said the write-up.
  • Matt Eddy reports the Yankees have LHP Cameron Pongs (Long Beach State) and C Manny Argomaniz (Fresno State) as undrafted free agents and RHP Mike Schaub out of an independent league.

Triple-A Scranton (6-2 loss to Buffalo)

  • LF Ben Gamel: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-4, 1 K
  • 1B Greg Bird: 1-4, 1 2B, 2 K — first Triple-A extra-base hit
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — six homers in 78 games … he had nine homers through 78 games last year
  • C Austin Romine: 1-4
  • RHP Jaron Long: 4 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 5/3 GB/FB — 42 of 69 pitches were strikes (61%)
  • LHP Andrew Miller: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — nine pitches, eight strikes … depending how he feels tomorrow, he could be activated off the DL without making another rehab appearance
  • RHP Chris Martin: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 WP, 4/0 GB/FB — 24 of 42 pitches were strikes (57%)
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 23 of 35 pitches were strikes (66%)

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