5/28 to 5/31 Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time this season, the Yankees will head west and play in the Pacific Time Zone. They open a seven-game trip with a four-game series against the Athletics in Oakland later tonight. The Yankees will make another West Coast trip at the end of June.

What Have The A’s Done Lately?

Let’s put it this way: this is not the A’s season. They just dropped two straight to the Tigers and lost two of three in the series. Before the two losses, they won three straight games for the first time this season. First time! Oakland has the league’s worst record (17-32) despite a not abysmal run differential (-5).

Offense & Defense

Overall, the Athletics are about a league average offensive club with a team 101 wRC+ and an average of 4.18 runs per game. They’re a little banging up offensively, with OF Coco Crisp (neck) and 1B Ike Davis (oblique) on the DL with long-term injuries. Crisp’s injury might be career-ending. 3B Brett Lawrie is also day-to-day with back tightness, though he did play yesterday.

I believe in Stephen Vogt. (Presswire)
I believe in Stephen Vogt. (Presswire)

The big names in manager Bob Melvin’s lineup are 2B Ben Zobrist (100 wRC+), DH Billy Butler (95 wRC+), and OF Josh Reddick (158 wRC+). Reddick’s been really good, Zobrist okay around a knee injury, and Butler a disappointment. Their best hitter is C Stephen Vogt (182 wRC+), a late-blooming 30-year-old the Rays gave up on last year. Vogt’s been the best hitting catcher in baseball so far this season. Go figure. SS Marcus Semien (124 wRC+) has been really good as well.

In addition to Lawrie (81 wRC+), the rest of the lineup includes OF Sam Fuld (61 wRC+) and OF Billy Burns (100 wRC+), two no-power speed guys. (Burns is very appropriately named.) 1B Max Muncy (116 wRC+) and 1B/OF Mark Canha (102 wRC+) are platooning at first base for the time being. C Josh Phegley (75 wRC+) will play against lefties and IF Andy Parrino (0-for-5) is the backup infielder. Reddick and Vogt are a force in the middle of the lineup. The rest of the offense … eh.

Regardless of metric, the A’s are one of the very worst defensive teams in baseball. They have both the most errors (50, ten more than anyone else!) and the lowest team UZR, so it’s no surprise they lead baseball with 30 unearned runs allowed. Reddick is excellent in right and Zobrist and Lawrie are strong at second and third, respectively, but that’s about it. Fuld and Burns can run a little but that hasn’t translated to great defense. Semien at short has been particularly ugly, which isn’t surprising because basically no one outside Oakland thought he could play short on an everyday basis. Put the ball in play and good things will happen against this defense.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday: LHP CC Sabathia (Career vs. OAK) vs. RHP Kendall Graveman (No vs. NYY)
Graveman, 24, came over in the Josh Donaldson trade and was my pick to win AL Rookie of the Year before the season. So, naturally, he has a 6.04 ERA (5.74 FIP) in five starts and 22.1 innings this year. Graveman was sent down to Triple-A for a few weeks but has since rejoined the team. He threw six shutout innings against the Rays last time out, which was his first start back from the minors. Graveman hasn’t missed many bats (12.2 K%) and he does walk people (10.3 BB%), which is usually a bad combination. His strong ground ball rate (49.4%) hasn’t helped him keep the ball in the park (1.21 HR/9). Lefties (.405 wOBA) have teed off against him too, moreso than righties (.328 wOBA). Graveman is a sinker pitcher, sitting right around 90 mph with the pitch. He’ll also throw a few upper-80s four-seamers and mid-80s cutters to keep hitters honest. Low-80s changeups and upper-70s curves are his two offspeed pitches. Graveman has thrown the sinker and cutter almost 80% of the time combined.

Friday: LHP Chris Capuano (Career vs. OAK) vs. RHP Sonny Gray (Career vs. NYY)
After a fine first full season as big leaguer last year, the 25-year-old Gray has taken a step towards ace-hood this year, pitching to a 1.77 ERA (2.60 FIP) in ten starts and 66 innings. His strikeout rate (23.6%) has ticked up, his walk rate has dropped (7.0%), and his ground ball rate (51.4%) has remained steady. Gray has been allergic to home runs (0.27 HR/9), but, even pitching his home games in Oakland, I don’t think that will last forever. He has a small platoon split — .245 vs .277 wOBA in favor of lefties — which has been true his entire career. 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. Gray’s really good. Climbing towards the game’s elite. It’s worth noting Gray left his last start with an ankle contusion after being hit by a comebacker, but he threw a bullpen session a few days ago and is fine.

Hahn. (Presswire)
Hahn. (Presswire)

Saturday: RHP Nathan Eovaldi (Career vs. OAK) vs. RHP Jesse Hahn (Career vs. NYY)
Hahn is well-traveled despite being only 25 years old. He was a sixth round pick by the Rays in 2010, then they traded him to the Padres in the Alex Torres/Brad Boxberger/Logan Forsythe deal during the 2013-14 offseason, then this past offseason the Padres shipped him to Oakland in the Derek Norris trade. Hahn has a 3.69 ERA (3.18 FIP) in nine starts and 53.2 innings for the A’s this year, and he’s done it mostly with few walks (5.3%) and lots of grounders (51.7%). He doesn’t strike anyone out (16.0%) and his homer rate (0.34 HR/9) is way low. Lefties (.331 wOBA) have hit him a lot harder than righties (.213 wOBA) this year. Hahn throws two fastballs but seems to prefer his low-90s two-seamer to his low-90s four-seamer. A big mid-70s curveball is his go-to breaking ball. He’ll also mid-80s changeups and sliders, but for the most part it’s the two fastballs and the curve.

Sunday: RHP Adam Warren (Career vs. OAK) vs. RHP Jesse Chavez (Career vs. NYY)
Chavez moved into the rotation when Graveman was sent down and he’s stayed there because a) Drew Pomeranz got hurt, and b) he’s been really good. The 31-year-old has a 2.44 ERA (2.83 FIP) in seven starts and four relief appearances with average strikeout (21.7%) and walk (7.3%) rates. Chavez doesn’t get grounders (38.7%), hasn’t given up homers (0.35 HR/9), and has been much more effective against righties (.211 wOBA) than lefties (.296 wOBA). That’s been true his entire career. Chavez is a bit of a kitchen sink guy, throwing five different pitches including four at least 15% 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’s the black sheep. That’s the fifth pitch he doesn’t use a ton.

Bullpen Status
Remember how I said the Athletics have an awful record despite a not so terrible run differential? That’s because the bullpen’s been horrible and blown a lot of late leads. In fact, Oakland is 2-15 (!) in one-run games. 2-15! That’s incredible. The bullpen as a whole has a 4.93 ERA (4.37 FIP), which is bad, though they did just get ex-closer LHP Sean Doolittle back off the DL. He missed the start of the season with a shoulder issue and made his first appearance of the season yesterday. He’s not yet closing; they’re easing him back into things.

Ex-Yankees RHP Tyler Clippard (4.38 FIP) has been he fill-in closer with RHP Evan Scribner (2.61 FIP) emerging as the regular setup man. RHP Dan Otero (4.26 FIP), who was a Yankee for about a minute back in 2013, is a workhorse middle reliever and LHP Fernando Abad (7.68 FIP) was Melvin’s only southpaw until Doolittle returned. RHP Fernando Rodriguez (2.32 FIP) and long man RHP Arnold Leon (4.77 FIP) fill out the rest of the bullpen. Scott Kazmir left yesterday’s start after three innings with a shoulder injury (ugh), so Melvin had to use Otero (50 pitches), Doolittle (14), Rodriguez (36), and Scribner (26). Their ‘pen isn’t too fresh. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen, then head over to Athletics Nation and BeaneBall for the latest and great on the A’s.

Thoughts prior to the start of the West Coast trip

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees wrapped up a pretty great three-game sweep of the Royals yesterday afternoon, and now they’re heading out to the West Coast for seven games. First they play four against the lowly Athletics, then they get Robbie Cano and the Mariners for three games. Here are some thoughts prior to the trip.

1. Man, the AL East is so bad. So, so bad. There is no great team. I’m not even sure there’s a team we can safely predict to win 85 games. That’s both good and bad. It’s good because the Yankees can lose ten out of eleven games but not get completely buried in the division, as we just saw. It seems like they’ll be able to hang around all season. At the same time, the weak division is bad because there’s going to be that much more competition for the division title. It’s a division deep with mediocrity. The Yankees won’t have to worry about just one or two other teams, they’ll have to worry about four. And I’m not sure a wildcard spot is a realistic fallback option either. Is the second best team in the AL East going to be better than the second best team in the AL Central or the AL West? I’m not sure. That’s essentially the bar they have to clear though. I think there’s a pretty good chance there will only be one AL East club in the postseason this year, and that’s the club that gets those 86 or 87 wins to grab the division.

2. The backup infielder’s spot continues to be an eyesore. Jose Pirela, one of those “he’s gonna hit!” guys, isn’t hitting thus far — he’s 6-for-30 (.200) with no walks and seven strikeouts — and his defense has been pretty bad as well. No, that’s not much playing time, but he’s a 25-year-old bench player whose supposed to be a bat first guy. When someone like that doesn’t hit, they get replaced quickly. Gregorio Petit (hand) doesn’t seem to be close to returning and I suppose the Yankees could move Stephen Drew to the bench and install Rob Refsnyder as the everyday second baseman, but they seem hesitant to do that. The middle infield has been very unproductive in general, in part because the Yankees haven’t found a competent right-handed platoon bat to start against lefties. Maybe Pirela can be that guy. But if he doesn’t start hitting soon, I don’t expect the Yankees to show much patience.

3. I really wish we had a quality game-calling statistic for catchers. Harry Pavlidis and some others recently made an attempt at creating such a stat, but it’s still in the developmental stages, and we don’t have a leaderboard yet. It’s obvious calling a game is important the same way framing pitches is important, though we don’t know how much. And remember, a catcher can call the greatest game in the history of game-calling, but it’s still up to the pitcher to execute. Anyway, I’m talking about this because John Ryan Murphy seems to be really, really good at calling a game and working with pitchers, at least anecdotally. He was behind the plate for Adam Warren‘s gem the other night, for CC Sabathia‘s strong start in Kansas City, and for Chase Whitley‘s masterpiece in Toronto a few weeks ago. (Murphy was also at catcher when the Rangers wrecked Sabathia over the weekend, so it goes both ways.) Murphy’s drawn a ton of praise for his work behind the plate over the years and I’m sure that extends to his game-calling. I just wish we had a way to measure it. (For what it’s worth, Brandon McCarthy though Francisco Cervelli was a great game-caller.)

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4. Speaking of Warren, his last three starts have been really good (19.2 IP, 13 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 5 BB, 14 K) and his last start was his best of the season. He seems to be getting stronger and more comfortable as a starter as the season progresses, and although his value in the bullpen is obvious, don’t the Yankees have to see this rotation thing through? Perhaps Warren really can be a cheap and effective option for the back of the rotation. That’s pretty valuable and something the Yankees would benefit from greatly going forward. Of course, it also could be a good three-start stretch, nothing more, so we’ll see. Warren is definitely trending in the right direction though. Masahiro Tanaka is on the mend and Ivan Nova isn’t too far behind, so the Yankees have some rotation help on the way, and Warren’s bullpen success makes it easy to move him back into a relief role when space is needed. Hopefully he makes that decision a little harder the next few weeks.

5. We are now more than one-quarter and slightly less than one-third of the way through the season, and Alex Rodriguez is hitting .276/.374/.566 (158 wRC+) with eleven homers in 179 plate appearances. He hasn’t really missed any time to injury either. (His hamstring acted up a few weeks ago but it was nothing major.) Is this not the best case scenario? I am certain every single one of us would have signed up for that performance on the spot had we been told A-Rod would do that in Spring Training. He isn’t running well and he can’t play the field, which sucks, but at the plate he looks close to the A-Rod of old. Alex hasn’t topped even a 125 wRC+ since 2009. He’s gone from a total question mark to indispensable. The focus now is figuring out a way to keep him healthy and on the field as much as possible. The Yankees would be sunk if A-Rod goes down for an extended period of time. When was the last time we could say that?

DotF: Tanaka allows three runs in three innings in second Triple-A rehab start

The Yankees have demoted 2B Gosuke Katoh from Low-A Charleston to Extended Spring Training, according to the league transactions log. Katoh had a huge pro debut in the rookie Gulf Coast League after being the team’s second round pick in 2013, but he hit .222/.345/.326 (96 wRC+) with a 30.5 K% with the River Dogs last year and dropped down to .161/.264/.202 (44 wRC+) with a 33.6 K% this year.

Triple-A Scranton (9-6 win over Pawtucket)

  • CF Mason Williams: 1-5, 1 BB, 1 K
  • LF Ben Gamel: 3-5, 1 R, 1 3B — 21-for-57 (.368) in his last 14 games
  • DH Ramon Flores: 1-3, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K
  • C Austin Romine: 4-5, 3 R — 15-for-46 (.326) in his last 12 games
  • RF Tyler Austin: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K — threw a runner out at second
  • RHP Masahiro Tanaka: 3 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 44 of 62 pitches were strikes (71%) … apparently he had some sort of issue with the mound, but whatever … the most important thing is that he was able to up his pitch count (he was scheduled for 65 pitches) and felt fine … I have to think Tanaka will make another rehab start after this, maybe two to get all the way stretched out
  • RHP Kyle Davies: 5 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 3/2 GB/FB — 59 of 83 pitches were strikes (71%)
  • RHP Branden Pinder: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 11 of 16 pitches were strikes (69%)

[Read more…]

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today, Alex Rodriguez jumped into third place on the all-time RBI list with 1,995. That’s pretty neat despite the inherent flaws with RBI. They’re like wins — you don’t rack up that many in your career without being pretty good. Anyway, A-Rod is in third place because RBI didn’t become an official stat until 1920, so MLB doesn’t acknowledge anything prior. In reality, A-Rod is tied for fifth all-time with Lou Gehrig, behind Hank Aaron (2,297), Babe Ruth (2,214), Cap Anson (2,075), and Barry Bonds (1,996). Those pre-1920 RBI did happen, after all. Still pretty cool either way.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. This afternoon’s game will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET, if you’re interested. MLB Network will air a regional game later tonight, plus there’s also NBA and NHL postseason action on as well. Talk about those games, A-Rod’s milestone, this afternoon’s win, or anything else right here.

2015 Draft: Garrett Whitley

Garrett Whitley | OF

Background
Whitley, 18, is a New York kid from Niskayuna, which is a few miles outside Albany. He popped up as a significant 2015 draft prospect last summer thanks to a series of strong showcase performances, and he will be the first baseball player ever drafted out of Niskayuna High School. Whitely is committed to Wake Forest.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-1 and 195 lbs., Whitley is a premium athlete and one of the most tooled up players in the draft class. His best tool is his speed, making him a weapon both on the bases and in center field, where he also has a strong arm. Whitley is a right-handed hitter with a ton of bat speed, which projects to above-average power down the road. His swing is far from textbook — part of that is a general lack of reps and refinement — but Whitley has a plan at the plate and, with a few tweaks, he should be able to hit for average and power down the road. Loads of natural ability.

Miscellany
Baseball America, Keith Law (subs. req’d), and Baseball America ranked Whitley as the 7th, 8th, and 17th best prospect in the draft class in their latest rankings, respectively. For what it’s worth, Law said the Yankees are in on Whitley in his most recent mock draft. There’s been talk about Whitley being the Mike Trout of this draft — the over-tooled, under-scouted prep outfielder from the Northeast — but that is so unrealistic and unfair. Whitley’s a very promising prospect though, and I get the sense he’ll be off the board by time the Yankees’ first pick (16th overall) comes around.

Sweep! A-Rod powers Yankees to 4-2 win over Royals

So, just as we all expected after that six-game losing streak, the Yankees have swept the Royals, who came into the series with baseball’s best record. New York took the series finale 4-2 on Wednesday afternoon. Things can turn around quick in this game, eh?

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Singles Are For The Weak
Two weeks ago Royals righty Chris Young shut the Yankees down using his trademark “mid-80s fastballs up the zone” approach. It works for him. Being 6-foot-10 has its advantages. The Yankees knew what was coming on Wednesday afternoon and capitalized, most notably when Brian McCann tomahawked one of those high mid-80s heaters — the pitch was seriously at his shoulders — into the right field second deck for a game-tying solo homer in the second. He hit it like he knew it was coming.

The big offensive blow came an inning later and it wasn’t on a high fastball. Brett Gardner yanked a double into the right field corner, Chase Headley took four pitches for a walk, then Alex Rodriguez hooked a hanging slider into the first row of the left field stands, just a few feet from the foul pole. It seemed like A-Rod was looking for the fastball, got a bad slider, and his reflexes kicked in. I thought it was a double off the wall off the bat but it carried out. Young came into the game with a 21.1% ground ball rate and a 0.26 HR/9. The Yankees helped even those out.

The Bombers didn’t score the rest of the game, and while that’s always sorta annoying, they didn’t need any more runs anyway. The pitching made it stand up. A-Rod and Carlos Beltran both had two hits — Beltran has baseball’s longest current hit streak at 15 games — while Gardner, Headley, Mark Teixeira, McCann, and Slade Heathcott had one knock apiece. Headley and McCann (two) drew the three walks.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Slightly Large Mike
He’s not back to being Big Mike yet, but Michael Pineda was better in this game than he had been in his last two. He did give up a solo homer and three rockets for outs in the first inning, and the Royals did put at least one man on base in every inning against but second, fourth, and partial seventh, but overall Pineda had some semblance of his slider and was able to pitch out of trouble. That wasn’t always the case the last two times out.

Pineda’s best work came in the fifth inning, when Paulo Orlando sliced a Beltran-aided double to right field with one out. It was a line drive Beltran appeared to misread — he broke in initially then had to retreat back — allowing it to sail over his head. Alcides Escobar slapped a single to right to put runners on the corners before a wild pitch allowed Escobar to move to second. The Royals had runners on second and third with one out and the middle of the order due up.

Rather than cave, Pineda battled and struck out Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain to strand the runners. He threw seven pitches to those two guys and got four swings and misses. Big Mike stuff. Pineda was able to work through 6.2 innings, holding Kansas City to just the solo homer and five other hits. He struck out eight and walked one, throwing 72 of 106 pitches for strikes (68%). That includes 16 swings and misses after getting 20 swings and misses in his previous two starts combined. Better! Not all the way back yet, but better.

Call To The ‘Pen
Once Pineda was done, Joe Girardi mixed and matched with David Carpenter (two pitches, one single) and Justin Wilson (four pitches, fly out) to get the final out of the seventh. Carpenter can’t say Girardi isn’t giving him a chance to figure things out, that’s for sure. At some point the results have to come though. May’s almost over. I have to imagine Carpenter’s almost out of leash.

The eighth inning went to Dellin Betances, who walked a batter and then allowed the run to score on a stolen base, an infield single, and an error by Didi Gregorius. Kendrys Morales hit a soft chopper to second, Gregorius cut in front of Stephen Drew, and tried to backhand the ball to first base. Didn’t work. Morales was given a single and the runner scored on the error, so the run was unearned. Dellin still has that shiny 0.00 ERA. He struck out the side.

Andrew Miller came on for the ninth inning and retired the side with two ground balls and a line drive at Gregorius. Miller has “only” struck out five of the last 18 batters he’s faced, or 27.8%. His season strikeout rate plummeted from 45.3% to 41.5% during that time. Most guys see their season strikeout rate increase if they whiff five out of 18. Anyway, Miller nailed down his 14th save in 14 chances. It was his first save since May 8th, believe it or not.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Leftovers
Headley has had some trouble defensively this year, specifically botching routine plays, but he made two stellar plays in the first inning. First he robbed Escobar of a base hit by reeling in a hard-hit grounder, then he made a spectacular diving stop to rob Eric Hosmer. Headley was shaded towards short for the shift, dove back toward third base, then made the throw. Incredible play. Here’s the unembeddable video.

And finally, A-Rod’s homer gave him 1,995 RBI in his career, moving him into third place on the all-time list. (RBI became an official stat in 1920 and MLB doesn’t acknowledge anything prior.) He jumped over Lou Gehrig (1,993) and is behind only Hank Aaron (2,297) and Barry Bonds (1,996). A-Rod now has the most RBI in AL history. Nutso.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here’s the box score and the video highlights, as well as the updated standings. Also check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankee are done with the Royals and they’ll now head west for a seven-game road trip in the Pacific Time Zone. They open a four-game series with the Athletics on Thursday night. That’s a 10pm ET start. CC Sabathia and rookie righty Kendall Graveman will be the pitching matchup in the opener.

Bernie Williams hoping to stay in baseball in “some kind of advisory or coaching capacity”

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Two days ago the Yankees retired No. 51 in honor of Bernie Williams during a wonderful ceremony at Yankee Stadium. Bernie last played in 2006 but he never officially retired, at least not until signing his retirement papers last month. He joked on Sunday that he was hesitant to sign the papers because he may want to come back and play at some point.

Prior to the ceremony, Williams did talk more seriously about wanting to return to baseball in some capacity, perhaps as an instructor or coach. Here’s what he told Kevin Kernan:

“I could see myself one day down the road working in baseball in some kind of advisory or coaching capacity,’’ Williams said. “I think my experience being in the Yankee organization for 20 years, including those early years when we were not so successful on the field, and battling through my own struggles and working so hard to firmly establish myself and become a solid player in this league, to being a part of those championship teams and handling the expectations that winning the World Series was the only acceptable goal, I would be very willing to offer my insight and experience to younger players”

The Yankees have hired several former players to be special instructors over the years — George Steinbrenner used to give all his favorite players coaching jobs for life, it seemed — including Tino Martinez, Hideki Matsui, and Orlando Hernandez. You know others like Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, and Paul O’Neill have jobs waiting for them if interested. I’m sure the same is true with Bernie.

Williams, now 46, has been to Spring Training as a guest instructor a few times over the years. If nothing else, that shows the Yankees are open to having him work with players and have some firsthand knowledge of his ability as an instructor. Bernie loves his music though, so he might not want a full-time coaching position. Who knows, he might not even want to work for the Yankees. Perhaps he wants a new challenge or something. We’ll see.