Game 14: Bounce Back

Some guy did a back flip before the first pitch last night. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Some guy did a back flip before the first pitch last night. (Leon Halip/Getty)

The Yankees dropped a very winnable game in last night’s series opener against the Tigers. Winnable because of CC Sabathia, mostly. You’re not going to beat this Detroit team scoring just one run most nights. Oh well, nothing they can do about it now. The Yankees just have to turn the page and try to get back on track tonight. They have won five of their last eight games, after all. Things are going okay.

Nathan Eovaldi is making his third start in pinstripes tonight and he’s looking to build on his last start, when he fanned nine in only five innings. Of course, three runs and eleven base-runners in five innings kinda stinks, so he needs to improve on that too. If Eovaldi keeps missing bats, the number of runs and base-runners should eventually come down. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Chris Young
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Stephen Drew
  9. 2B Gregorio PetitKyle Lobstein is pretty much exactly the kind of lefty I think Didi Gregorius should be left in the lineup to face, but I guess Joe Girardi disagrees

    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

The weather in Detroit tonight is a lot like last night: rainy, cold, and windy. It rained earlier this afternoon but is supposed to stop before game time. There might be some drizzle during the game though. First pitch is scheduled for 7:08pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: The Yankees have recalled Chasen Shreve and optioned Branden Pinder to Triple-A, the team announced. Shreve was sent down following the 19-inning game and his ten days in the minors are up. Welcome back, Chasen.

Yanks not planning to use sixth starter this turn through the rotation

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Despite talking for weeks about getting Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and the other starters extra rest whenever possible early in the season, the Yankees are not planning to use a sixth starter this turn through the rotation, Joe Girardi told reporters yesterday. Everyone will stay on turn and pitch on normal rest this week.

“Right now we have Tanaka pitching Thursday,’’ said Girardi to George King. “I didn’t plan it that way, it’s kind of the way it worked out. I think we will check on workloads and see how guys are doing … If a couple of our starters have difficult days, you might plug (a sixth starter) in before they pitch.’’

Tanaka threw 85 low-stress pitches in seven dominant innings Saturday afternoon. He was removed from the game after sitting in the dugout during a long seven-run inning for the offense, not because he was ineffective or his pitch count climbed too high. Tanaka hasn’t started on regular rest at all this year, either in the regular season or Spring Training.

Adam Warren (80 pitches), Michael Pineda (92 pitches), and Sabathia (98 pitches) didn’t crack 100 pitches in their most recent starts either. In fact, only once in 13 games has a Yankees starter thrown 100+ pitches this season. That was Nathan Eovaldi in his last start (101 pitches). Eovaldi is starting tonight with an extra day of rest thanks to last Thursday’s off-day.

Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell, and Kyle Davies seem like the most obvious sixth starter candidates at this point of the season. Whitley is scheduled to start for Triple-A Scranton tomorrow and is the only one of those three lined up to pitch before the big league rotation turns over, so he’s the only possible sixth starter candidate this week if the Yankees do choose to use one.

The Yankees are not off again until next Thursday, so following the upcoming turn through the rotation, both Tanaka and Pineda would also make their next starts on regular rest unless the team uses a sixth starter. That’s a full week away though. We’ll see what happens after the weekend.

Ramon Flores is forcing the issue, but the Yankees don’t have a spot for him

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This spring, all eyes were on prospects Rob Refsnyder, Aaron Judge, and Greg Bird when Grapefruit League play opened. They’re three of the Yankees’ very best prospects and all could be in the big leagues sooner rather than later, especially Refsnyder. All three of them had strong Spring Trainings as well, at least offensively. This was a good spring to prospect watch. That’s for sure.

While those three were doing their thing and others like Slade Heathcott, Luis Severino, and Jacob Lindgren were flashing their ability, outfielder Ramon Flores flew under the radar and had a productive spring. His overall Spring Training numbers weren’t great (.239/.314/.413 in 51 plate appearances) but he finished very strong, going 7-for-18 (.389) with two doubles and a homer in the final two weeks, when big leaguers were getting most of the playing time.

Flores was one of the last cuts from big league camp and he went to Triple-A Scranton, where he hit for the cycle on Opening Day and had a two-homer game a week later. He has a .271/.340/.625 (188 wRC+) batting line with four homers in 53 plate appearances in the very early going, and has hit .251/.340/.473 (134 wRC+) with eleven homers in 324 Triple-A plate appearances overall since the start of last year. Flores would have played more with the RailRiders last summer had he not suffered a fluke ankle injury running the bases and missed more than two months.

Two years ago I aggressively ranked Flores as the fifth best prospect in New York’s system — Baseball America has never ranked him higher than 12th in the system (also prior to 2013), for what’s it worth — and said he is “a classic foul line-to-foul line hitter who will need to add some strength to turn his gap power into over-the-fence power down the road.” Well the over-the-fence power has started the arrive. Flores hit nine homers in only 68 total games last year after hitting six homers in 136 games in 2013 and seven homers in 132 games in 2014. And he’s already got four homers in eleven games this year. Development!

I consider Flores more of a high probability prospect than a high ceiling prospect, someone who is more likely to spend ten years in the league as a platoon left-handed hitting corner outfielder than someone who goes to a few All-Star Games at his peak. He’s a Seth Smith type, basically. That’s okay! That’s a very useful player and someone the Yankees should be happy to have only the phone call away in Triple-A. You need depth players like that. The cheaper and more homegrown they are, the better.

The problem is the Yankees have no real spot for Flores on the roster. Not now and probably not next year either. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are two of the best players on the team, and, like it or not, Carlos Beltran‘s contract and track record mean he’s going to have a very long leash. It’s not going to take one injury for Flores to get a chance with the Yankees, it’ll probably take two injuries because Chris Young and Garrett Jones are ready to step in if an outfielder gets hurt. It could happen, sure, but a lot needs to go wrong.

Right now Flores should be at the front of the line for a call-up, but there are other outfielders right behind him on the depth chart. Tyler Austin is also in Triple-A and has the advantage of batting right-handed, which the Yankees need more (both short and long-term) than another lefty like Flores. Judge is in Double-A and expected to be an impact player, not a role player like Flores. Jake Cave is also putting up numbers is Double-A and can legitimately play center field, unlike Flores. Heathcott and Mason Williams are trying to salvage their careers as well. Flores is at the front of the call-up line, but for how long?

These days we follow prospects from the day they sign their first pro contract, so it feels like Flores has been around forever, but he just turned 23 last month. He’s exactly one year younger than Refsnyder, who is considered the shiny new toy with two years and change of pro ball to his credit. Flores does have only 73 career games at Triple-A to his credit, so a few more weeks with the RailRiders wouldn’t be the end of the world, but, both short and long-term, it’s tough to see where Flores fits with the Yankees unless they do something unexpected like cut Beltran or trade Gardner. Flores is a quality player who doesn’t fit the current roster.

A trade is always possible but I’m not sure what the Yankees could get in return for someone like Flores, who’s cheap and figures to be productive but is unproven at the MLB level and doesn’t play a hard-to-fill position. The Tigers traded a similar player in Matt Joyce to the Rays for three years of Edwin Jackson during the 2008-09 offseason, but Joyce hit .252/.339/.493 (116 OPS+) with 12 homers in 92 big league games in 2008. He had some sort of MLB track record. Flores doesn’t and it’s hard to see how he’ll get much of a chance to prove himself in New York anytime soon.

“(Flores is) a guy who’s definitely on our radar. If something was to happen to one of our outfielders, I think he’d be a pretty strong candidate (to be called up),” said Joe Girardi to Ryan Hatch in Spring Training, and I totally believe it. Flores is the obvious call-up candidate if an outfielder hits the DL, but getting called up and actually playing are different things. Gardner and Ellsbury have to play, Young has earned some more playing time, and Beltran’s leash is long. In just about any other organization, Flores would be forcing his way onto the MLB roster right now. Instead, he’s stuck with the Yankees, where it’ll take multiple injuries or a surprising trade of a veteran to get a chance.

How A-Rod became the Yankees’ best hitter

Goodbye, baseball. (Photo credit: Kim Klement/Reuters)
Goodbye, baseball. (Photo credit: Kim Klement/Reuters)

There are few people who could have predicted Alex Rodriguez would be the leader or co-leader on the Yankees in batting average, on-base percentage, Wins Above Replacement, OPS, runs, RBI and homers – and arguably the team MVP – after the first two weeks of the season (yes, despite his 0-fer on Monday). Heck, six months ago it seemed like everyone was trying to figure out how the team could release him and recover part of the $61 million he’s still owed over the next three seasons.

Sure, it’s an incredibly small sample. The guy is also almost 40 years old while playing on two surgically-repaired hips, so he’s very likely not going to sustain this incredible pace.

But this scorching hot start is still very real, and nearly unprecedented even in the context of A-Rod‘s career. The last time he had this many homers, RBI and hits in the team’s first 13 games was 2007, the same year he won the AL MVP award.

We know that only a few years ago he was an elite third baseman and his natural hitting skills are off the charts, but these eye-popping numbers are still somewhat shocking for a player that was out of the game for a year and was pretty mediocre the last time we saw him in a baseball uniform.

So what has been the key to A-Rod’s early-season performance? And how much of it can he sustain going forward?

Going, going, going…gone!
One of the reasons to be optimistic about his numbers is the fact that he’s absolutely crushing the ball. We’re talking mammoth, tape-measure homers and really solid bat-to-ball contact — power that few could have predicted at the start of spring training.

His average batted ball distance of 246 feet leads all major league players and his average batted ball velocity of 99.3 mph is the second-highest in MLB (min. 5 at-bats). He also ranks among the top 20 of all players in hard-hit rate – the percentage of at-bats ending in a hard-hit ball, based on video review – according to ESPN’s stat guru Mark Simon.

A-Rod owns the longest home run hit by anybody this season – a 477-foot shot on Friday night – and is the only player with three “no doubt” homers, according to hittrackeronline.com. (A no-doubt homer means the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet and landed at least 50 feet past the fence.)

A-Rod home run chart

Can he handle the heat?
A key question heading into the season is whether A-Rod’s bat would be able to catch up to fastballs. Pitchers haven’t been shy about challenging A-Rod with the heater, and he’s done a good job so far answering his critics by going 6-for-15 with four homers and a double in at-bats ending in four-seamers.

Of the 11 four-seasm fastballs he’s put into play so far, only one has been a ground ball and four have been classified as line drives. Need more proof? No player has a higher slugging percentage or hit more homers against four-seam fastballs this season than Alex.

Patience is a virtue
Another encouraging sign is the strong place discipline numbers that Rodriguez is showing so far. His walk rate of 18 percent would be a career-high and swing rate at pitches out of the zone (26 percent) is better than the current league average. He clearly has done a good job of working counts and waiting for pitches in his sweetspot, while laying off pitches he can’t demolish.

If there’s one big weakness in his approach at the plate, though, it is his high whiff rate. His contact (63 percent) and strikeout percentages (31 percent) would both be career-worsts and are well-below-average. Pitchers have really exposed A-Rod’s propensity to swing and miss at off-speed and breaking pitches, especially down in the zone, as detailed in the heat map below:

ARod Whiffs per swing

While this lack of contact and tendency to chase soft stuff could be a concern going forward, it’s impact is probably lessened by his patience and good batting eye. As long as he can continue to get ahead in the count, take his walks and force pitchers to throw him hittable pitches, A-Rod should be able to keep up a high on-base percentage and give the Yankees a solid power bat on a consistent basis.

We know that A-Rod is probably not going to hit 40 homers and likely won’t finish with a near-.500 OBP at the end of the season. He is going to regress, but based on what he’s shown in these first few weeks, there is a good chance that he’ll be at least capable of providing above-average production for a team that could really use his power and patience in the lineup.

Silver Lining: CC Sabathia shows he still has something left in loss to Tigers

Changeup! (Presswire)
Changeup! (Presswire)

The Yankees dropped last night’s series opener to the Tigers in a pretty annoying way — they jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, didn’t build on it, then watched as Detroit used some less than well struck balls to rally for two runs in seventh. An annoying loss, no doubt, but it’s still just one loss. Before you know it that game will fade from memory and blend into the glob of baseball we forget each season.

The loss did come with a silver lining, however, and that of course was CC Sabathia‘s complete game performance. He allowed those two runs on seven singles and three walks, and it wasn’t until that seventh inning that the high-powered Tigers had a runner reach second base. Sabathia struck out five, threw 62 of 98 pitches for strikes (63%), got nine swings and misses, and 12 of the 21 balls put in play against the big lefty were on the ground. Solid performance all around.

Unlike his first two starts, when his velocity gradually faded as the game progressed (first start, second start), Sabathia held his velocity all night last night despite the cold, windy, rainy conditions. He hit 90.7 mph in the first at-bat of the game and 91.7 mph in the last. There was no drop-off. Here’s the velocity graph via Brooks Baseball:

CC Sabathia Tigers velocity

Most pitchers lose a little something in the later innings, it’s normal, but for a guy who’s lost noticeable fastball oomph with age, sustaining velocity all night was a very encouraging sign for Sabathia. His margin for error is relatively small as it is, and if he’s able to avoid having that margin for error get even smaller when his pitch count climbs north of, say, 70 pitches, the more effective he’ll be overall.

I thought Tigers manager Brad Ausmus did Sabathia a bit of a favor by loading his lineup with right-handed hitters — all nine players in his lineup were righties — because it allowed him to stick with the same approach all night: fastballs to both sides of the plate and changeups down and away. He threw only eleven sliders out of 98 pitches (11%) after throwing 28% sliders in his first two starts. The lack of a lefty hitter allowed Sabathia to get in a rhythm and stick with one approach all night.

That’s a luxury Sabathia won’t have every start but teams do still stack their lineups with righties again him — only six of the 53 batters he faced in his first two starts were lefties, and even last season only 31 of 209 batters faced were lefties (15%). Sabathia’s changeup is super important because he always faces a ton of right-handed batters and last night was an opportunity to really dig in and work on that pitch, which was an issue in his first two starts (opponents hit .308 against it).

Coming into the season, we really had no idea what to expect from Sabathia following knee surgery and 257 pretty ugly innings from 2012-13 (4.87 ERA and 4.22 FIP). His three starts have gotten progressively better — five runs in 5.2 innings, four runs in seven innings, two runs in eight innings — and there are other positive signs as well, including the way he held his velocity and used his changeup last night. The loss stunk, that’s baseball, but the Sabathia we saw last night can be an effective pitcher. CC is trending in the right direction earlier this season, for sure.

DotF: Wade, Snyder, and Davis lead Tampa to blowout win

Both RHP David Palladino and LHP Fred Lewis have been placed on the DL, according to Matt Eddy. Not sure what’s wrong with either.

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Lehigh Valley in 15 innings, walk-off style) 15 innings!

  • CF Slade Heathcott: 0-6, 1 BB, 2 K
  • DH Ramon Flores: 2-6, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K — keeps mashing
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 3-7, 1 2B, 1 K — gets his average up to .262
  • 1B Kyle Roller: 1-1, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB
  • RF Tyler Austin: 1-7, 3 K — got picked off first
  • C Austin Romine: 0-6, 1 BB, 1 K
  • SS Nick Noonan: 1-5, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — walk-off single
  • RHP Jaron Long: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 5/5 GB/FB — 56 of 96 pitches were strikes (58%)
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 14 of 20 pitches were strikes (70%)
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 18 of 28 pitches were strikes (64%) … ten strikeouts and three walks in 8.1 innings and one of the walks was intentional
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 3/2 GB/FB – 25 of 31 pitches were strikes (81%) … efficient!
  • RHP Danny Burawa: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 2/0 GB/FB — nine pitches, five strikes

[Read more…]

CC pitches a big one but offense can’t support him as the Yanks fall 2-1 in Detroit

Well, that was disappointing. I was hoping that Yankees would either hold on to a 1-0 lead or score more insurance runs. But the Tigers scored two in the bottom of seventh and held on to that lead. The offense couldn’t show up and the winning streak got cut short at three. For shame.

(Source: Getty)

I CC-you, Sabathia

The hefty lefty didn’t necessarily have a great first two starts, but, as many mentioned, he had the peripherals that suggested he’s pitching better than his ERA suggested.

Tonight, Sabathia delivered easily the best outing of the young 2015 season. He tossed eight innings, allowed two runs (only one ER), seven hits, three walks and struck out five. He kept inducing ground balls (50% GB rate) and his season rate remains a high 61.4 %. Even though his fastball was around 89~91 miles per hour range, CC dominated the hot Tigers lineup (lead AL in wRC+ prior to tonight’s game with 136) and did what he could do to deserve a win.

Besides the result, I think tonight’s performance also affirmed that CC’s new ground ball-happy approach can get him nice outings. Sure, we all miss the old overpowering Sabathia but when you don’t have the heat anymore, but baseball doesn’t adjust to you – you have to adjust to baseball. I remember Mike Mussina saw his effectiveness decline after his average fastball velocity went down from 88.6 mph in 2006 to 87.1 mph in 2007. Then in 2008, he managed to turn in his first-ever 20-win season “…observers noticed him pitching down and in more effectively, changing speeds like a master.”  If CC can have that kind of renaissance for the remaining portion of contract, sign me up.

Anyways, good game, CC. But life ain’t a box of chocolate, nor a bed of roses…

The 7th Inning Wretch 

CC. was chugging along up to the seventh inning. In fact, he could have gotten out of it unscathed. Rajai Davis led off with a base hit but CC got the next two big hitters – Kinsler and Cabrera – out.

With two outs and the runner on first, the Yanks decided to intentionally walk Victor Martinez. Even though Martinez was 0-for-2 at the time, he tattooed the ball in each previous at-bats – Gardner robbed him of an XBH in the second inning and Ellsbury did the same in the fifth. Also, he’s got a pedigree of, you know, being a dangerous hitter so they decided to pitch to the next hitter, J.D. Martinez.

Now, I thought it was interesting that Yanks chose to pitch to J.D. rather than Victor. I assume it was based a lot on how CC fared against them. As I mentioned, Victor hit the ball hard twice against Sabathia while J.D. struck out and, well, lined out to center. I guess it came down to that New York felt more comfortable having Sabathia pitch to J.D..

On the third pitch of the at-bat, Martinez hit a hard liner towards Didi Gregorius and it deflected off the shortstop’s glove and trickled down slowly to left field, allowing Davis to score. Ugh. That just adds to Didi’s “replacing the Jeets” saga, doesn’t it? I know, I really wish Didi would’ve been able to handle that but again, that was a very hard-hit ball – the bottom line is that Yanks got the short end of the BABIP dragon’s favor. That could have gone either way. Hopefully Didi makes that play in the future.

The next hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, squeaked a grounder through the middle to drive in another run. CC did his job inducing a grounder but it just didn’t go to his ideal way. J.D. Martinez was caught in a rundown between second and third base for the final out of the inning but the damage has been done – the Tigers took a 2-1 lead and the score didn’t change again.

WOOSH (Source: Getty)

Offense Comes Up Short

I don’t feel like making another pun so I’m going with an uncreative section title here but… it’s true. Tigers’ starting pitcher, Alfredo Simon, is no scrub honestly. I know ERA is not a perfect stat but since 2012, in 358.1 IP, the man has a 3.11 ERA (121 ERA+). But with Sabathia delivering his best start in long while, I really wish the offense had given more support.

Leading off the second inning, Mark Teixeira hit a diving 84 miles per hour splitter for a solo homer. He had to reach way down to drive it and, honestly, on the first glance, I didn’t know it was going to be anywhere close to the seats. It’s also his first left-handed homer of the season so that’s that. Tex hitting a homer like that makes me feel that his power’s come back but… that was pretty much the only bright spot in offense.

After the Tex homer, Simon held the Yankees scoreless. Yanks weren’t particularly successful in driving the ball as they grounded out a whopping 11 times and only McCann managed for another XBH with a second-inning double.

Oh and this one hurt. In the eighth inning with one out, Gregorius, who hasn’t had the best time with his bat, hit a single to knock Simon out of the game. Detroit brought in the former Yankee prodigy pitcher Joba Chamberlain to face Jacoby Ellsbury. The speedy center fielder grounded into a rally-killing double play to end the threat. Womp.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

Here’s the boxscore and updated standings. And, of course, the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Oh, and if there’s any more positive from tonight’s game, the bullpen arms got to rest thanks to CC’s complete game. Everyone should be ready to go tomorrow. Hope Nathan Eovaldi can go longer than five innings this time though.

Up Next

Tomorrow the Yanks are back at it again at the same time, same place. Two young pitchers – Nathan Eovaldi and Kyle Lobstein – will be facing off. Better luck tomorrow, start a new win streak, etc.