Scouting the Trade Market: Pat Neshek

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

At the moment, the single biggest issue facing the 2017 Yankees is their bullpen, specifically the middle relief. Adam Warren is currently on the disabled list, and both Tyler Clippard and Jonathan Holder have been ineffective the last few weeks. Chad Green is the third option in the bullpen right now, and while I like Chad Green, the Yankees clearly need more help. The bullpen as is won’t cut it.

If the Yankees do decide to go outside the organization for bullpen help — they could also call up some of their starting pitching prospects and use them in relief — one veteran reliever who will undoubtedly be available at the trade deadline is Phillies setup man Pat Neshek. The Phillies are terrible and Neshek is an impending free agent. He’s getting traded at some point. No doubt about it. He’s not the sexiest name, no, but let’s see if he’s a fit for the Yankees.

Current Performance

Neshek is no spring chicken. He’ll be 37 in September and this is his 11th MLB season. He’s a known quantity. Here are his numbers the last three seasons.

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
2015 54.2 3.62 3.94 22.9% 5.4% 32.0% 1.32
2016 47 3.06 3.68 23.2% 6.0% 33.3% 1.15
2017 30.2 0.59 2.07 26.4% 3.6% 37.0% 0.29

Neshek was rock solid with the Astros from 2015-16, and he’s been out of this world with the Phillies this season. It’s pretty obvious what’s going on though, right? He’s stopped giving up home runs this season without getting significantly more ground balls. Hmm. Neshek went from 10.9% HR/FB rate from 2015-16 to a 3.0% HR/FB this year. HMMM.

This isn’t a new man. This is the same ol’ Pat Neshek who just so happens to be on a run of good fortune when it comes to keeping the ball in the park. There’s no reason to expect that to continue though. Not with the way balls are flying over the fence this season. The Phillies might want to consider trading him before the home run correction comes and sinks his trade value.

I think any team looking at Neshek as a trade target has to go into it expecting to get the 1.0+ HR/9 guy because that’s who he’s been his entire career. And if you get the 0.3 HR/9 and sub-1.00 ERA guy, great! Another Neshek issue is his platoon split. He’s got a funky low arm slot and lefties see the ball out of his hand rather well. Since the start of the 2015 season:

AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% HR/9
vs. RHB .197/.235/.322 .237 24.2% 4.2% 36.1% 0.93
vs. LHB .230/.295/.443 .306 22.9% 6.9% 28.8% 1.19

Neshek isn’t awful against lefties, though he is clearly better against righties, which isn’t surprising considering his arm slot. That .213 ISO allowed to lefties is scary, especially since he would be moving into Yankee Stadium should the Yankees pick him up. The Yankees would almost have his treat him as a true right-on-right matchup guy, not a full one-inning reliever.

One thing that’s worth noting is Neshek’s usage restrictions. Apparently he only likes to work one inning at a time, and would prefer not to enter in the middle of an inning, then warm back up for a second inning. Both Neshek and Phillies manager Pete Mackanin downplayed those usage restrictions, but as Corey Seidman wrote, they’re starting to become a bit of a headache. Huh.

Current Stuff

From that low arm slot come two pitches:  a low-90s two-seam fastball and a low-80s slider. Neshek also has a soft, almost cartoonish upper-60s changeup, but he rarely throws it. Everything this year looks like it has the last few years. Velocity, movement, whiff and ground ball rates, the works. Neshek’s stuff is he same as it ever was. Here’s the best recent compilation video I could dig up:

That funky delivery combined with two good pitches makes Neshek effective. It’s easy to see why he’s been death on right-handed batters too. It can’t be fun seeing the ball come out of that arm slot.

Injury History

Neshek had Tommy John surgery way back in 2008, plus he had a finger issue in May 2010. Otherwise he’s been completely healthy in his career. Kinda amazing a dude at that age and with that delivery can pitch for so long without any serious arm problems since Tommy John surgery nearly a decade ago.

Contract Status

Three years ago the Astros signed Neshek to a two-year deal worth $12.5M. This is the club option year of that contract. He’ll earn $6.5M total this season before becoming a free agent this winter. Not that he would receive one anyway, but Neshek wouldn’t be eligible for the qualifying offer after the season. Only players who remain with their team all season can receive the qualifying offer. This section was unnecessarily long.

What Will It Take?

The Phillies did well to pick Neshek up in a salary dump trade over the winter. They’re now poised to flip him for a prospect(s) even though veteran non-elite relievers due to become free agents usually don’t fetch much in a trade. Three recent deals stand out as benchmarks for a potential Neshek trade:

  • Joe Smith: Traded for a fringe top 30 organizational prospect (Jesus Castillo).
  • Joakim Soria: Traded for a top 15 organizational prospect (JaCoby Jones).
  • Brad Ziegler: Traded for two fringe top 30 organizational prospects (Jose Almonte and Luis Alejandro Basabe).

The Ziegler trade seems most relevant to me, and not only because he and Neshek use funky arm slots. Both Smith and Soria had some nagging injury issues the year they were traded, plus there were signs of decline in their game. Ziegler had no such issues. He was perfectly healthy and pitching as well as ever. The same applies to Neshek now.

Even after graduating several players to the big leagues the last few weeks, the Yankees have a deep farm system, and trading two fringy top 30 prospects for an immediate bullpen upgrade seems like a no-brainer. An equivalent package to the Ziegler deal would be something like, say, Trey Amburgey and Stephen Tarpley, or Abi Avelino and Erik Swanson. The Yankees have a ton of those dudes to peddle.

Will the Phillies get a better offer? Ken Rosenthal recently reported the Nationals have interest in Neshek, and they’re a World Series contender with major bullpen problems. Their desperation could get them to up the ante. Jim Salisbury says the Phillies have a standing offer for Neshek from an unknown team. We don’t know what that offer is, but the fact the Phillies haven’t accepted it yet tells us they think they can do better.

In a vacuum, it seems the cost to acquire Neshek should be pretty low. In the real world, other teams will be competing for him, including several World Series hopefuls who figure to put their best foot forward. That doesn’t mean it’ll eventually take a top prospect to acquire Neshek (or maybe it does). It could mean getting him for two lower level lottery tickets is a pipe dream, however.

So Is He A Fit?

Yes, definitely. Even with the platoon concerns and his apparent disinterest in going multiple innings. The Yankees don’t need Neshek to be a late-inning guy or a high-leverage guy. They need him to be better than Holder and Clippard are right now, and based on his track record, Neshek can do that. I have no illusions of him maintaining his current performance all year. The 2016 version of Neshek would be an upgrade for the Yankees.

Because the Phillies are so bad, this seems like something that could get done soon. Make a good offer and Philadelphia will probably take it rather than wait a few weeks and hope Neshek somehow ups his value. They could try to start a bidding war, and they might succeed, but how much more would they realistically get anyway? Neshek is no savior. He’s an affordable and useful piece for the middle innings, and the Yankees need all the bullpen help they can get at the moment. That’s it.

Miguel Andujar is reportedly coming to the big leagues, which could mean any of a number of things

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night, another one of the Yankees best young prospects made his MLB debut. Tyler Wade, who came up as an injury replacement for Starlin Castro, made his debut as a pinch-hitter and worked a walk that helped spark a go-ahead rally. It was a fun and exciting moment the bullpen quickly ruined with another meltdown. Sigh.

Wade is already the seventh player to make his MLB debut with the Yankees this year, joining Gio Gallegos, Domingo German, Ronald Herrera, Kyle Higashioka, Jordan Montgomery, and Tyler Webb. Number eight may be arriving tonight. Miguel Andujar is getting called up to the Yankees. Both Matt Kardos and the Dominican Prospect League are reporting it.

Andujar, 22, is hitting .312/.346/.491 (128 wRC+) with eight home runs in 74 total games this season. He was promoted to Triple-A Scranton last week, in the wake of the Gleyber Torres injury, and since then he’s gone 8-for-26 (.308) with a double and a homer in six games. I ranked him as the sixth best prospect in the system a few weeks ago. Andujar is pretty darn talented. And a third baseman too! The Yankees need one of those long-term.

So what, exactly, does today’s apparent call-up mean? It could mean any one of a number of things. Here is a list of potential explanations, from most likely to least likely:

  1. Matt Holliday is going on the disabled list with his mystery illness and Andujar is one of only three healthy position players on the 40-man roster and not in MLB (Jorge Mateo and Mason Williams are the others), making him the easy call-up option.
  2. Tyler Austin, not Holliday, is going on the disabled list. He’s been dealing with a nagging hamstring injury the last few days. Austin did play last night, however. He was the designated hitter.
  3. Chase Headley, not Holliday nor Austin, is going on the disabled list. He missed time with a back problem last week, which was bad enough to require an epidural. Headley has played third base the last three days though.
  4. Rob Refsnyder is being sent down because he doesn’t really bring anything to the table other than the ability to stand in different positions and make everyone hope the ball doesn’t get hit to him.
  5. The Yankees are sending down the eighth reliever (German?) to get back to a normal four-man bench, and Andujar’s righty bat will help against tonight’s opposing starter (lefty Carlos Rodon).
  6. The Yankees feel the team needs a shake up, so they’re calling up Andujar with the intention of playing him at third base. Headley either goes to the bench or first base.

The most boring answer is often the correct answer. Holliday has been out of the lineup the last three days, and even after going for tests yesterday, the Yankees said they still don’t know what’s wrong with him. Kinda scary! Joe Girardi said putting Holliday on the disabled list and sending him back to New York was a strong consideration. How much longer can you play with a three-man bench when one of the three can’t actually play?

So, with Holliday going down, Andujar is the easy call-up candidate since he’s already on the 40-man roster. The Yankees don’t want to shuffle the 40-man around for what might only be a short-term call-up. Holliday could be back as soon as next week. Andujar’s third base defense is still a little rough around the edges, meaning he could wind up at designated hitter most of the time, and maybe give Headley a breather at the hot corner once in a while.

Sound good? That’s what I think is happening. The Yankees have not yet announced the Andujar call-up, though we can follow the trail of breadcrumbs. Holliday is sick with who knows what, the Yankees need another bat for the time being, and Andujar is the best available without making a 40-man roster move. Simple explanation. I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as anyone, though this seems a little too straightforward.

The bullpen is far and away the Yankees’ biggest problem right now, and while calling up Andujar doesn’t fix the bullpen at all, it does get the Yankees closer to whole on the position player side. I don’t think this is anything more than a short-term injury fill-in. Once the Yankees get some players back, Andujar will return to Triple-A to continue his development. This is likely a band-aid move, not a potential long-term sitaution.

A calm, rational discussion about the Yankees’ dumpster fire of a bullpen

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In a season full of ugly bullpen meltdowns, the Yankees hit a new low last night. Three relievers combined to walk six of 13 batters faced, and another was hit by a pitch. Dellin Betances, working for the third straight day, couldn’t protected a one-run lead against the bottom of the lineup. Why was he working for the third straight day? Because he had to bail out Jonathan Holder with a five-run lead (!) Monday night.

Holder was sent down prior to yesterday’s game, though by then the damage had been done. Betances had to pitch Monday night and Holder himself has helped blow a few games these last few weeks. He’s not the only problem though. Hardly. He’s part of the problem. Not the problem. Here is the bullpen in June:

4.56 ERA
4.55 FIP
25.2 K%
12.3 BB%
1.29 HR/9

Can’t win like that. Can’t be done. Not with starters throwing fewer and fewer innings each passing season. Bullpens are far too important to get that performance for a month and come out unscathed. The Yankees were four games up in the AL East as recently as 16 days ago and now they’re one game back, and they’re lucky they’re still that close. June has been a terrible month for the Yankees overall and especially the relief crew.

So what do the Yankees do now? It’s easy to say they should designated this guy for assignment, send down that other guy, and call up those two prospects I really like. I wish it were that easy. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman surely wish it was as well. Want to get this bullpen on track? Here are some possibly fixes.

1. Eight is too many. The Yankees have been carrying eight relievers for weeks now and I think it’s that’s too many. Even with a seven-man bullpen, that last guy gets used maybe once a week. Domingo German was brought into the eighth inning of a two-run game last night after pitching once in the previous nine days. How could you expect a kid who has never been a reliever before to be sharp after that layoff?

Removing an arm from the bullpen seems counterintuitive when no one can protect a damn lead, but less is often more. Shorten the staff to your seven best arms and make sure they each get enough work to stay sharp and ready to go. There’s a fine line between regular work and overwork, but Girardi is generally pretty good at toeing that line. Pick your seven best arms and let them carry the load. Eighth relievers only get used in blowouts, and in situations they’re unqualified to pitch, like German last night.

2. Get Betances to go back to the fastball. En route to blowing that game last night, Betances threw 21 pitches, and 13 of them were curveballs. Only six of the 13 were strikes too. Dellin has a great curveball! He’s also been leaning on it way too much lately. From Brooks Baseball:

dellin-betances-pitch-selection

This is something that goes back to last year. It’s not necessarily new. Throwing all those curveballs is fine when Betances can drop it in for strikes, but lately throwing it for strikes has been a problem, and he’s not adjusting. He’s been trying to force it in there anyway. Not good!

“I have to be able to rely on my fastball more. Probably got too breaking ball happy,” said Betances to Erik Boland following last night’s game, so he’s aware that all these curveballs can be a problem. Dellin has a great fastball. He was working for a third straight night last night and the pitch still averaged 97.5 mph and topped out at 98.2 mph.

Betances doesn’t have to shelve the curveball entirely. That would be silly. But I think he needs to start using his fastball more often — he’s at his best when he has close to a 50-50 mix a la 2014 and 2015 — because a) his heater is so good he’ll get swings and misses with it, and b) it’ll help keep hitters off the breaking ball.

3. Give Webb a shot. The Yankees have been trying to dig up a reliable left-handed middle reliever since last season and, for a while, Tommy Layne did the job. Chasen Shreve has been the guy last few weeks and he’s had his moments. He hasn’t been able to get back to where he was in the first half of 2014 and chances are he never will, though he has been better this season. Good, not great.

Webb is by no means a budding shutdown reliever — or maybe he is! — though the tools are there for him to contribute, and as something more than a left-on-left matchup guy too. He’s low-90s with the fastball and he throws both a slider and changeup regularly. It’s a starter’s repertoire in the bullpen. Webb throws strikes — he has a 34.1% strikeout rate and a 2.2% walk rate in Triple-A this year — and what more could you ask? Girardi would have killed for a reliever who could throw strikes last night.

Layne fizzled out and Shreve isn’t good enough to keep a middle relief spot uncontested. Webb did everything he had to do at Triple-A over the last four years, and the Pirates saw enough to give him a look in Spring Training as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Given the bullpen issues, the time to give the 26-year-old a chance is now. If it works, wonderful. If not, then you move on to the next guy. The Yankees have been there, done that with Layne and Shreve.

4. Consider Adams. I’m ready for the Yankees to stick Chance Adams, their top Triple-A pitching prospect, in the big league bullpen. I made this argument last week. Adams was a reliever in college and in his first partial season of pro ball, so he’s familiar with the role. He misses bats and he’s said to be a tough as nails competitor, and that’s never a bad thing. Adams has had success at Triple-A and there are plenty of reasons to believe he’s ready to help in some capacity.

Adams. (Presswire)
Adams. (Presswire)

I get that people are squeamish about putting a top starting pitcher prospect in the bullpen, but it’s really not that big a deal. Teams have been breaking in their young arms as relievers for decades. I know the Yankees seemed to botch things with Joba Chamberlain, but Luis Severino was in the bullpen last year, and look at him now. Severino doesn’t become the pitcher he is today without that stint in the bullpen last season. I absolutely believe that.

Putting Adams in the bullpen allows him to get his feet wet at the MLB level and learn how to get big leaguers out. That’s valuable experience! That will help a) the Yankees win games right now, and b) Adams succeed as a starter going forward. The Yankees could break him in as a reliever this year and consider him a rotation candidate next season. That is a perfectly reasonable development plan.

5. Be patient. Okay, this won’t be easy, but the Yankees have to remain patient and not completely tear things down because of a bad month. Overreacting is never good. The bullpen isn’t actually this bad. At least I don’t think it is. The relievers are in a collective funk right now. It happens. They can make some changes (Webb, Adams, etc.) though overall, they still need Betances and Aroldis Chapman to be their rocks, and Tyler Clippard to be not awful.

Adam Warren is expected back from the disabled list next week and he’ll going to help as long as his shoulder stays healthy. That’s tricky, but Warren has never not been solid for the Yankees. Also, Chad Green seems to be coming into his own as a reliever, so within a few weeks he could really find his footing and take off as a dominant bullpen arm. Making tweaks at this point makes sense. There’s also something to be said for trusting the guys in the bullpen to sort things out soon. We know these guys can be reliable because they were just a few weeks ago.

* * *

The Yankees are 11-14 overall in June — they’ve outscored their opponents by 39 runs this month, underscoring the general stupidity of baseball — and the bullpen is a big reason why. It’s not the only reason. Definitely not. But it is the reason that is most smacking us in the face. The offense has vanished for long stretches of time and the starters haven’t been great either. Don’t get me started on the baserunning either. Goodness. Those outs on the bases added up.

The bullpen situation, however, is not getting better. It’s getting worse. Just when you think they can’t sink to a new low, they go out and do what they did last night. The Yankees aren’t going anywhere with the bullpen performing like this. Changing some personnel, changing some roles, and changing some pitch selection could go a long way to getting things straightened out. And, if it doesn’t, the Yankees will have no choice but to really shake things up and go outside the organization for help.

White Sox 4, Yankees 3: The Bullpen Hates Us All

Boy, the Yankees stink right now. I mean really, really stink. The bullpen especially. Quick 1-2-3 innings are a thing of the past. The Yankees were one out away from a win Tuesday night, yet it turned into a 4-3 walk-off loss to the White Sox. Baseball is so stupid.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Death by Bullpen
What the hell happened to the bullpen? Everyone is going belly up at the same time. The Yankees managed to take a 3-1 lead into the eighth inning (more on that later) and three relievers faced 13 batters, and allowed eight to reach base. Seven didn’t have to take the bat off their shoulders. Seven! At least make them work for it dudes. The bullpen situation has become untenable.

Not everyone was available due to recent workloads, which meant the first guy out of the bullpen was Domingo German. He threw ten pitches. Two were strikes. Back-to-back walks sent German to the showers and brought Tyler Clippard into the game, who is pretty much the last guy anyone wants to see on the mound in a close game. His first four pitches? Balls. Walked the bases loaded with no outs. Inexcusable!

To Clippard’s credit, he escaped that jam while allowing just one run, which is close to the best case scenario there. He struck out Jose Abreu, got Avisail Garcia to fly out to shallow right, walked Todd Frazier to force in a run (argh), and struck out Matt Davidson to end the inning. After all that, the Yankees had a 3-2 lead! Considering the way the inning started, getting out with a lead was amazing.

In the ninth, the Yankees had the situation they would sign for every day of the week: Dellin Betances on the mound with a one-run lead. A quick ground out got the inning started. Then Betances lost the plate, something he has done far more frequently this year than he has in the past. A walk (Kevan Smith), a walk (Alen Hanson), and a hit batsman (Yolmer Sanchez) loaded the bases. Six of the first ten batters the bullpen faced drew walks. The 11th was hit by a pitch.

The death blow came with two outs, when Abreu pulled a ground ball single through the left side of the infield to score both the game-winning and go-ahead runs. Brett Gardner‘s throw from left field was good, but there was no way he was going to get the speedy Hanson at the plate. The final line on the bullpen: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 6 BB, 2 K, 1 HB. German and Clippard were bad, but bottom line, Betances has to protect a one-run lead against the bottom of lineup, even if he is pitching for the third straight day. Please shoot this bullpen into the sun.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Kids Shall Lead Them
For the first seven innings the Yankees couldn’t do much of anything against Jose Quintana and, weirdly, Anthony Swarzak. On two occasions they had a walk followed immediately by a first pitch double play. Is that not the most annoying thing in baseball? It wasn’t until Didi Gregorius beat out a squibber to third with two outs in the fourth that the Yankees had a hit, and that was the only time they had two runners on base simultaneously until the eighth.

The go-ahead rally started with a Tyler Wade walk. How about that? In his first big league at-bat — he pinch-hit for Rob Refsnyder — Wade worked a walk against former Yankees farmhand Tommy Kahnle. Jacoby Ellsbury then beat out an infield single to put runners on first and second. Two batters later, Aaron Judge shot a hard-hit grounder back up the middle to score Wade and knot things up 1-1. Gary Sanchez, the next batter, split the right-center field gap to score both Ellsbury and Judge, giving the Yankees a 3-1 lead. Hooray homegrown Yankees! They’re cool.

A Dozen For Sevy
Also cool: Luis Severino. He struck out a career high 12 in seven innings, allowing just one run on six hits and no walks. The run he allowed was kinda dumb too. Smith jam-shotted a leadoff single the other way to right, then two batters later Sanchez found a hole with a single to right field. Chicago had runners on first and second with one out and when Abreu reached out and poked a quality 2-0 fastball …

luis-severino-jose-abreu

… inside the first base bag and down the right field line for a run-scoring double. Bah. Good pitch. Abreu got enough wood on it and it stayed fair. Baseball is so stupid sometimes. Especially of late.

That was the only run Severino allowed. He struck out the last three batters he faced and was overpowering. He retired the final nine batters he faced and 12 of the final 14 batters he faced following the Abreu single. Severino has been great all season and he was great again Tuesday night. Wins are stupid, but the bullpen has now blow six potential wins for Severino. He can’t do it all himself.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
Welcome to the big leagues, Tyler Wade. He drew that walk in his first at-bat to spark the go-ahead rally. He also played an inning in left field — after he was called up to play second base, naturally — and struck out in his second at-bat, though it was a tough eight-pitch at-bat. Kid’s gonna be a hell of a ballplayer. Can’t wait to see more.

Judge and Gregorius each had two hits while Ellsbury, Sanchez, and first baseman Austin Romine had one each. Judge, Sanchez, Wade, Tyler Austin, and Ronald Torreyes drew walks. The Yankees went 3-for-8 (.375) with runners in scoring position, which is easily my least favorite stat in baseball, yet I still pass it along because I hate myself.

Did I mention the bullpen has been dog poop? Good grief. The last two nights: 3.2 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 8 BB, 4 K, 1 HB. They’ve hit DEFCON 1. Something has to give here. They can’t keep running out the same guys and expecting different results. At some point Brian Cashman and the front office have to make changes. This ain’t working.

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


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
This four-game series continues Wednesday night with the third game. Masahiro Tanaka and Carlos Rodon are the scheduled starting pitchers. Rodon will be making his first start of the year. He’s been out with a biceps issue.

DotF: Littell dominates, Mateo makes AA debut in Trenton win

A few quick notes to get us started:

  • As expected, SS Jorge Mateo was moved up from High-A Tampa to Double-A Trenton, and IF Abi Avelino was moved up from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A Scranton. Also, IF Angel Aguilar has been moved up from Low-A Charleston to High-A Tampa as well, the team announced. That’s all one big chain reaction to Starlin Castro getting hurt and SS Tyler Wade being called up to MLB.
  • RHP Clarke Schmidt, this year’s first round pick, told Matthew Martell his Tommy John surgery rehab is going well. He expects to begin throwing in roughly two months. Schmidt had surgery in May. “They said the time frame should be about September for me to start throwing again. Right now, it’s just slight mobility work and easing back into it. The progressions have come quickly, so I can tell everything’s going well so far,” he said.
  • I missed this yesterday, but RHP Domingo Acevedo was included in Baseball Prospectus’ Monday Morning Ten Pack (subs. req’d) “(Saying) there’s a ton of violence in the delivery feels almost kind. There’s bad head movement, a ton of torque, and a severe fall-off at the end. I just don’t think it’s repeatable thirty or more times a year for 100 pitches. I do think he could be a heck of a reliever letting it fly for an inning or two,” said the write-up.

Triple-A Scranton‘s game was suspended due to rain with one out in the top of the second. It’ll be completed tomorrow. Stinks a RHP Chance Adams start was washed away. OF Dustin Fowler did hit a home run before the rain came. Here’s the video. Here’s the box score. I’ll update the stats when they finish the game tomorrow.

Double-A Trenton (10-4 win over Richmond)

  • SS Jorge Mateo: 2-5, 1 R, 3 K, 1 CS — both hits were infield singles … nice little Double-A debut
  • 2B Thairo Estrada: 2-5, 1 R, 1 SB
  • CF Rashad Crawford: 1-4, 2 R, 2 RBI
  • LF Zack Zehner: 3-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 SB — the 2015 18th round pick is quietly hitting .292/.386/.412 this year
  • RHP Zack Littell: 6 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 BB, 10 K, 2 WP, 4/3 GB/FB — 59 of 97 pitches were strikes (61%) … ten strikeouts in seven innings of one-run (unearned) ball in his first Double-A start, now ten strikeouts in six shutout innings in his second Double-A start
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 24 of 38 pitches were strikes (63%) … first runs allowed in eight appearances since coming back from Tommy John surgery

[Read more…]

Game 75: Win it for Starlin

(Matt Hazlett/Getty)
(Matt Hazlett/Getty)

The Yankees are down yet another player. Starlin Castro was indeed placed on the 10-day disabled list with a right hamstring strain today. He left last night’s game with the injury. Castro joins Aaron Hicks (oblique), CC Sabathia (hamstring), Adam Warren (shoulder), and Greg Bird (ankle) on the shelf. Also, Matt Holliday is still out with his mystery illness/allergic reaction.

The show must go on though. Every team deals with injuries and no one feels bad for the Yankees. The Yankees did get back in the win column last night, though not before the bullpen made things unnecessarily interesting. I could really go for a blowout win. When’s the last time the Yankees had one of those? The bloodbath series against the Orioles, I guess. Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. DH Tyler Austin
  7. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  8. 1B Austin Romine
  9. LF Rob Refsnyder
    RHP Luis Severino

It’s a bit cloudy in Chicago and on the cool side. There’s no rain in the forecast though, and that’s the most important thing. This evening’s game will begin at 8:10pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Castro has a Grade I strain. There’s no word on an exact timetable, but those usually take 2-3 weeks. Sometimes even less … Holliday went for tests but still doesn’t feel right. If it lingers another day or two, he could be placed on the disabled list … Austin’s hamstring is sore, which is why he’s the designated hitter tonight.

Roster Moves: In addition to placing Castro on the disabled list, the Yankees also sent down Jonathan Holder, and called up both Tyler Wade and Tyler Webb. The Yankees already had an open 40-man roster spot for Wade, so no other move was required. Technically Webb replaces Castro on the roster since the injury allows the Yankees to get around the ten-day rule. Wade is replacing Holder. The active roster is now 16% Tylers.

A check in on Masahiro Tanaka’s spin rates

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

Overall, this has been a trying season for Masahiro Tanaka. Given all the success he had in Japan and in his first three seasons with the Yankees, this has to be the most difficult season of his career. This is the first time he’s really struggled. I don’t mean for one or two starts. For an extended period or time. The All-Star break is only two weeks away, and he’s sitting on a 5.74 ERA (5.27 FIP) in 84.2 innings. Yuck.

Last time out Tanaka was excellent, striking out nine in eight shutout innings against the Rangers. He allowed three singles and two walks. That’s all. We’ve seen some flashes of brilliance from Tanaka this year, so we know it’s still in there. We just haven’t seen it consistently. Hopefully that start against Texas was a sign of things to come. Given how the season has played out, it’s way too early to say Tanaka has turned the corner.

Anecdotally, it seems Tanaka’s problems stem from his splitter and slider, his two go-to pitches. He’s not overpowering by any means. He succeeds by keeping hitters off balance with the splitter and slider. This year, for whatever reason, those two pitches haven’t behaved properly. Sometimes they do! And when they do, Tanaka has a start like he did against the Rangers. When they don’t, it’s a Home Run Derby.

For the most part, whenever Tanaka has allowed home runs this year, they’ve come on pitches that didn’t do what they were supposed to do. That usually how it works, right? Rather than dive out of the zone, those pitches stay up and get hammered. Here are the pitch locations of the 21 (!) home runs Tanaka has allowed in 2017, via Baseball Savant:

masahiro-tanaka-home-run-locations

Five of those 21 home runs have come on splitters and four have come on sliders, and, as you can see in the plot, those pitches were left up. There’s no bad luck here. We haven’t seen someone go down and golf a diving splitter into the short porch or something like that. No, when Tanaka has been taken deep, it’s been a bomb on a pitch sitting middle-middle.

Since Tanaka has had trouble getting his splitter and slider to do what they’re supposed to do for much of the season, I figured it would be a good idea to look at the spin rate of each pitch. Spin rate is similar to velocity in that it’s not everything there is to pitching. It’s one tool in the shed. Spin rate could, possibly, shed some light on why the slider and splitter aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do. So let’s get to it, shall we?

The Splitter

Let’s get a few things out of the way first. One, spin rate is expressed in revolutions per minute even though it takes less than half-a-second for a pitch to reach the plate. Two, spin rate data only goes back to 2015, so that’s as far back as I went. I’d like to compare Tanaka’s pre- and post-partially torn elbow ligament spin rates, but alas. Can’t be done. And three, I looked at the spin rates on a month-by-month basis. Start-by-start is extreme overkill. Here are Tanaka’s splitter spin rates:

masahiro-tanaka-splitter-spin-rate

The spin rate on Tanaka’s splitter is down noticeably from last season, when he was one of the top pitchers in the American League. Spin rate is complicated though. More spin (and less spin) means different things for different pitches. High spin on a fastball correlates well to swings and misses while a low spin rate correlates well to ground balls, for example.

For a splitter, a low spin rate is actually better. A lower spin rate equals more tumbling action, and that leads to both more grounders and swings and misses. The higher the spin on a splitter, the more it acts like a true fastball. In theory, spin rate says Tanaka’s splitter this year should be getting more grounders and whiffs than last year because it has less spin, and:

  • 2016: 33.2% whiffs per swing and 65.1% grounders per ball in play
  • 2017: 41.5% whiffs per swing and 63.8% grounders per ball in play

Well look at that. Tanaka’s swing and miss rate on his splitter is up 8.3 percentage points from last year. That’s pretty significant. Going from 33.2% whiffs to 41.5% whiffs is huge. (The MLB average on splitters is 34.4%.) The ground ball rate is down 1.3 percentage points, which is relatively tiny. For all intents and purposes, the grounder rate has held steady since last year while the swing and miss rate has gone up quite a bit.

Okay, so what the hell does that mean? I’m not sure, exactly. But! This is actually good news, right? Or maybe it would be better to say this is not bad news. I’d be worried if Tanaka’s splitter spin rate jumped a bunch this year. That would indicate far more “straight” splitters, or hangers. On a macro-level, the splitter is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. On a micro-level, some individual splitters are not, and those are the ones getting hit a long way. Those are the mistake pitches.

The Slider

masahiro-tanaka-slider-spin-rate

Kinda interesting the league average slider spin rate keeps climbing, isn’t it? High slider spin rate correlates very well to swing and misses, though there’s basically no correlation with ground ball rate. A high spin slider gets as many grounders as a low spin slider. Weird.

Anyway, it sure looks like teams have really started emphasizing slider spin the last few seasons, and Tanaka’s slider spin rate has climbed along with the league average. It’s gotten better and better with each passing month so far this season. Not coincidentally:

  • April: 26.8% whiffs per swing
  • May: 44.9% whiffs per swing
  • June: 45.9% whiffs per swing

As Tanaka’s slider spin rate has gone up, hitters have come up empty with more of their swings against the pitch. The MLB average swing and miss rate on sliders is 34.9% this year, and Tanaka has been well above that in April and May. It’s probably not a coincidence then that Tanaka’s four highest strikeout totals this season have come within his last six starts.

Tanaka’s slider spin rate this season is good news. It’s getting better and the pitch is missing more bats. Similar to the splitter and a high spin rate, I’d be worried if Tanaka’s spin rate on his slider was way down. Overall, it’s been great. It’s those one or two (or three or four) mistake pitches per start that have cost him dearly. Limiting those is the key going forward, which is something we probably already knew, huh? Yeah.

* * *

All things considered, the spin rates on Tanaka’s splitter and slider are right where they should be so far this season. That’s good! That’s at least an indication he’s not broken for good. I never really through that was the case though. If it were, Tanaka wouldn’t throw these random great starts every once in a while. This leads me to believe his problems are mechanical, which is what he’s said since Spring Training. Funny how that works.

With Tanaka, he can never be a normal pitcher and just struggle. Every time he has a bad game or a bad stretch of games or hell, even throws a bad pitch, it’s because of the elbow. Always the elbow. That’s lazy though. We’re better than that. If Tanaka’s elbow were acting up, he wouldn’t be able to spin the baseball the way he normally does, and right now the overall spin rates on his slider and splitter show no red flags.