Here is tonight’s open thread. MLB Network is showing regional games at both 7pm ET and 10pm ET, plus the NBA and NHL playoffs are ongoing. Also, the NFL Draft starts tonight too (8pm ET on ESPN and NFLN). Remember, you’re not a true fan unless you boo your team’s pick. Talk about anything and everything here.
Josh Lowe | 3B/RHP
Lowe attends Pope High School in the Atlanta suburbs and is committed to Florida State. He played fall ball with the East Cobb Yankees last year, though they’re not affiliated with the New York Yankees. They’re a very prestigious prep travel team for Atlanta area players that happens to be named the Yankees. Brian McCann is a former East Cobb Yankee.
Lowe, 18, is the best two-way player in the draft, though he’s a better prospect as a position player than pitcher. He’s a left-handed hitter with tremendous raw power thanks to his bat speed, strong hands, and lower half leverage. Lowe is a big guy — he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 190 lbs. — with long arms and that leads to some swings and misses, though his swing is level and he knows the strike zone. He’s not a true all or nothing hitter. Although he’s a third baseman now, there’s some thought Lowe will end up in the outfield long-term because his hands are a bit clunky. He runs well, so center field is a possibility. If not, right field it is.
On the mound Lowe works in the 90-92 mph range and touches 94 regularly. His breaking ball is somewhere between a curveball and a slider, and his changeup is rudimentary as well. Lowe’s a good athlete with good body control, so he repeats his delivery fairly well. Here’s video of him on the mound:
Baseball America, MLB.com, and Keith Law (subs. req’d) rank Lowe as the 11th, 17th, and 18th best prospect in the 2016 draft class in their latest rankings, respectively. The Yankees hold the No. 18 pick. Lowe figures to begin his career as a position player — most two-way guys start as a position players because it’s easy to go from hitter to pitcher down the line than vice versa — and his power is a great carrying tool. Lefty pop is a Yankees trademark for sure. He’s right up their alley.
Three nights ago Nathan Eovaldi threw the best game by a Yankee this season. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and finished the night with two hits allowed in seven scoreless frames. Eovaldi has dazzled at times earlier this season, but it was always followed by the One Bad Inning. He avoided that bad inning Tuesday night.
“Uncomfortable swings. You can tell how good a guy is by the reaction of the hitters. They were swinging at pitches in the dirt. They were swinging at pitches over their heads,” said Mark Teixeira to Randy Miller after the game. “It’s just an uncomfortable at-bat. He’s throwing 97-98. When he needs to throw a strike on the corner, he does. But when he needs to put guys away with tough offspeed pitches in the dirt or high fastballs, he did that as well.”
Eovaldi’s raw stuff and potential are obvious. He’s one of the hardest throwing starters in baseball, and he’s developed a pretty nasty splitter over the last year or so. On Tuesday he mixed in a quality slider as well. Eovaldi’s impressive stuff has not yet translated to consistently impressive results, but every so often he has a game like Tuesday that reels you back in. Most of his starts are spent pitching around hits and trying to find a way to put guys away with two strikes.
Over the years we’ve learned things like strikeouts, walks, and home runs — stuff the pitcher can directly control — are more predictive than traditional stats like wins and ERA and WHIP. That’s DIPS Theory, something the Yankees buy into big time. They targeted Eovaldi because from 2012-14, he whittled his FIP down from 4.13 to 3.59 to 3.37. The team likes high strikeout rates and low walk rates, and the more velocity, the better. Intuitively that’s a no-brainer, but not every team emphasizes it as much as the Yankees.
As valuable as FIP (and xFIP and SIERA and all that) can be, there are exceptions to the rule. Guys like Bronson Arroyo and Mark Buehrle proved over hundreds and thousands of innings they can outperform their FIP. They did a better job preventing runs than their peripheral stats would lead you to believe. On the other side of the coin, guys like Ricky Nolasco and Edwin Jackson underperformed their FIP. They didn’t prevent runs as well as their strikeout, walk, and homer rates suggested they could.
The exceptions exist because pitchers do have some control over the quality of the contact they allow. Some pitchers, like Arroyo and Buehrle and Mariano Rivera, were able to consistently miss the barrel of the bat and generate weak contact. They did it through location, late movement, and general craftiness. The Nolascos and Jacksons of the pitching world struggle to miss the sweet spot.
Based on what we’ve seen the last few years, Eovaldi and rotation mate Michael Pineda fit into the Nolasco/Jackson category. They’ve underperformed their FIP because have a hard time managing contact:
Eovaldi: 4.22 ERA and 3.44 FIP in 179 innings from 2015-16
Pineda: 4.68 ERA and 3.61 FIP in 182.2 innings from 2015-16
Their strikeout and walk rates are great! But when they make a mistake, hitters square it up and drive the ball with authority. Pineda and Eovaldi don’t get weak contact. Not like Buehrle and Arroyo and other guys.
Here’s a plot of the 99 pitchers who have thrown at least 150 innings since the start of last season. You’ve got FIP on the x-axis and BABIP on the y-axis. BABIP tells us how often the ball falls in for a hit when hitters do make contact, so it covers all the at-bats that don’t end in a strikeout or walk (or homer). You can click the image for a larger view.
“Luck” has become such a crutch word in sabermetric writing — nowadays it’s “sequencing,” which is usually code for “I can’t explain this” — but there absolutely exists some element of plain ol’ luck in baseball. We’re talking about a round ball and a round bat and a big swath of grass. Sometimes weird stuff happens. That’s what makes it fun.
Pineda and Eovaldi, as you can see in the plot, find themselves among a group of pitchers who have posted low FIPs but high BABIPs since the start of the last season. They’re right next to A.J. Burnett, which is a tad disheartening. Those guys have the sexy strikeout and walk rates, but when hitters make contact, the hits are falling in. The true greats — Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, Zack Greinke, etc. — run low FIPs and low BABIPs.
No one in their right mind is asking or expecting Pineda and Eovaldi to be Kershaw or Arrieta. It would be cool if they were, but come on. What the Yankees do want, however, are those two to do a better job managing the contact they allow. Mistake pitches happen. It’s part of baseball. Not every mistake should be hit 500 feet though. That’s the problem. When they miss their spots, they pay for it and pay big.
Eovaldi and Pineda are classic examples of good control/bad command pitchers. They throw plenty of strikes, we can see that in their low walk rates (7.0% and 3.4% since 2015, respectively), but they are unable to consistently locate on the edges. They’re throwing strikes, and unfortunately sometimes those strikes are right down the middle. Look at the heat map of Pineda’s fastball location since last season, via Brooks Baseball:
Good grief. There should not be that much red down the middle Michael! Eovaldi has a similar problem. He can throw strikes, but far too often they’re in hittable locations, and the batters make them pay. There’s a very fine line between a pitch being squared up and a pitch being nubbed off the end of the bat for weak contact. Eovaldi and Pineda have shown they can’t miss the sweet spot consistently. We see it pretty much every five days.
Command is one of those things that can be taught but is very difficult to learn. And really, there’s more to managing contact than command. Movement and deception play a huge role as well. The very best pitchers have all three. Pineda and Eovaldi have live arms. They’re also missing that something that allows them to be truly great, the thing that makes their run prevention numbers match their peripheral stats. Nolasco, Jackson, Burnett, and others had the same problem.
Because they’re still young and have power stuff, Pineda and Eovaldi are going to continue to get chances and big contracts as long as they stay healthy. It’s good to throw in the upper-90s like Eovaldi and it’s good to have a wicked slider like Pineda. Until they are able to do a better job managing contact and missing the barrel, either through improved command or increased movement or whatever, they seem destined to be the kind of pitchers who always leave you wanting more.
Today is a well-timed off-day. Not for the Yankees. For my sanity. They’ll playing an awful brand of baseball right now. They just can’t score. Two runs or fewer nine times in the last 14 games? Good grief. Anyway, here are some thoughts.
1. At what point do we go from “the offense is struggling” to “the offense is bad?” Is there a certain number of games or anything like that? It takes a couple hundred at-bats for most key offensive stats to stabilize, but that’s for individual players, not teams. Point is, the offense has been pretty terrible since the end of the Detroit series — the Yankees are hitting .220/.289/.325 as a team with an average of 2.47 runs per game since then — and eventually you reach a point where it stops being a slump. I think the Yankees are better offensively than they have been the last two weeks or so. Much better. But with each passing game in which the bats look lethargic, a little more doubt creeps into my mind and I think maybe they just aren’t very good.
2. The Yankees have another off-day Monday, and I’d like to see them use it to skip Luis Severino‘s next start. That would be his day to start on normal rest. It lines up perfectly. They could skip him and keep everyone else on turn without having to pull any strings. Severino is struggling right now and the off-day would give him and the Yankees an opportunity to get in an extra bullpen session — an extended bullpen session, if necessary — to work on things. And besides, the Yankees are going to have to watch Severino’s workload this season, and skipping this start is a way to do that. Monday’s a chance to give Severino a little breather and time to work on some things. Taking advantage of it seems like it would be a smart idea.
3. Eleven days from now Aroldis Chapman‘s suspension will end, and he’ll join the Yankees to make the bullpen even better. Of course, if the offense continues to sputter the way it has these last few weeks, the three guys at the end of the game won’t have many leads to protect. I don’t want to call it a flaw, because having a dominant bullpen is a wonderful thing, but it’s a bit of a quirk that the Yankees can only take advantage of their greatest strength when the rest of the roster does its job. When you get blown out like they did Tuesday night, those great relievers are a total non-factor. The offense and rotation are going to have to step it up the rest of the way to ensure the Yankees can take full advantage of that tremendous relief crew.
4. Since we’re on the subject of the bullpen, I want to say I’m a wee bit worried about Johnny Barbato‘s early season workload. Maybe worried is too strong a word, but it’s definitely not something to be overlooked. He started the season by throwing nine innings in the first 14 games — there was a week and a half stretch where he was pitching every other day — and right now Barbato is at 10.2 innings in 20 team games. He did throw 67.1 innings last year, but there’s a big difference between minor league innings and big league innings as a quasi-setup man. We saw it with Chasen Shreve last year. His workload wasn’t anything crazy on the surface, yet he was still out of gas come September. It’s as much mental fatigue as it was physical fatigue. Hopefully once Chapman returns Joe Girardi can scale back on Barbato’s usage a tad, just to avoid burnout late in the season.
5. I’ve said this before and it’s worth repeating: the Yankees have to be 100% honest with themselves at the trade deadline this year. If they’re out of the race or a long shot to make the postseason, they have to trade impending free agents like Chapman, Mark Teixeira, and Carlos Beltran and not try to fake contention. What qualifies as out of the race? That depends, really. Four games back with one team ahead of you is way different than four games back with four teams ahead of you. The Yankees are trying to get younger and become more flexible, and part of that plan should be unloading veteran players with expiring contracts when you’re fading out of the race. Shedding the salary after the season isn’t good enough.
You’re not going to believe this, but the Yankees struggled to score Wednesday night. I know. Crazy. Yet another lifeless night from the bats resulted in a 3-2 loss to the Rangers in the series finale. The Yankees won the first game and still managed to lose the series. Good job, good effort.
Two Token Runs (Again)
For the ninth time in the last 14 games, the Yankees were held to two runs or fewer. Nine times in 14 games. That’s truly pathetic. The Yankees are playing garbage baseball right now. It’s the opposite of exciting. It’s boring as hell and I find myself spending more time clicking around MLB.tv than actually watching the Yankees whenever they bat. Five or six games is a slump. Fourteen? Nope.
The Yankees scored their first run in the second inning — they did hold a lead, believe it or not — when Starlin Castro came through with a two-out single to score the runner from third. The Yankees had men on first and second with no outs earlier in the inning, but Brian McCann banged into a first pitch double play to throw a wrench into things. They almost wasted another opportunity, but Castro took care of business.
The second run? An A-Bomb from A-Rod. Alex Rodriguez clobbered a Martin Perez changeup into the left field seats in the fourth inning. That knotted the game up at 2-2. Alex also snuck a ground ball double inside the first base bag in the sixth. That was the team’s final base-runner until the ninth inning. Ten of the last eleven and 15 of the last 18 men they sent to the plate made outs. Gross.
I suspect we’re going to hear a lot of talk about the Yankees struggling against left-handed pitchers Thursday — seven of the last nine starters they’ve faced have been lefties, and they have two more coming this weekend — but you know what? A Major League team needs to hit southpaws once in a while. There have been too many weak at-bats lately. In fact, 12 of the 34 men they sent to the plate saw no more than two pitches. Yuck. This offense is offensive.
Just Good Enough
After failing to complete five innings in his previous two starts, CC Sabathia gave the Yankees the bare minimum quality start Wednesday, holding the Rangers to three runs on five hits and three walks in six innings. That’s about as good as it can get for Sabathia these days. He struck out five and actually retired nine in a row at one point. That was probably his best stretch of the season.
The Rangers scored their first run because of some fundamental mistakes by the Yankees. Ryan Rua led off the second inning with a single, then went first-to-third Rougned Odor’s single to center. Jacoby Ellsbury tried to throw Rua out at third for some reason — he was safe by a mile — allowing Odor to scamper to second. Ellsbury has to hit the cutoff man to keep the double play in order there.
Then, with one out, Hanser Alberto tapped a weak grounder back to Sabathia, who glanced at Rua before tossing over to first for the out. Two mistakes there. One, Sabathia did not look Rua back long enough, then he flipped a lollipop throw over to Mark Teixeira at first. As soon as CC turned around to throw to first, Rua took off for home and scored. The good news is McCann was able to get Odor at third on the play, but yeah. Bad fundies, guys. Ellsbury didn’t keep the double play in order and Sabathia played the weak grounder way too casually.
The other two runs Sabathia allowed were the result of walks. He walked the No. 9 hitter on four pitches to lead off the third inning, then allowed the run on Adrian Beltre’s two-out single. Sabathia walked Odor on five pitches with two outs in the sixth, then Elvis Andrus tripled him in on a ball Carlos Beltran couldn’t cut off in the gap. I know Beltran is not what he once was in the field, but geez, that looked like a makeable play. Just knock it down and keep Odor at third.
Well, anyway, I would happily take three runs in six innings from Sabathia all season long. As long as he keeps the Yankees remotely in the game and doesn’t burn out the bullpen, I’m happy. What more could you ask at this point?
A-Rod returned to the lineup after spending a few days on the shelf with an oblique issue, and he went 3-for-3 with a double and a homer. He also drew a walk. Al’s batting line went from .145/.242/.273 (44 wRC+) to .190/.288/.379 (89 wRC+) in four plate appearances. Not too shabby.
The bullpen was good, as usual. Johnny Barbato got five outs and Chasen Shreve got one out, and they did not allow a base-runner. It would be nice if they could hand these guys a lead once in a while, you know? There’s too much “try to keep it close so the offense has a chance to come back” going on.
Castro had two hits while Beltran and McCann had one hit apiece. The top four spots in the lineup went a combined 1-for-15 (.067) and the wrap-around 8-9-1-2 portion of the lineup went 0-for-14. This is getting ridiculous. I look forward to hearing Joe Girardi say they were hitting the ball hard but weren’t getting breaks again.
And finally, A-Rod’s fourth inning homer was his 1,000th run as a Yankee and his 100th home run in what is now called Globe Life Park. It was also his 690th career dinger, so he’s ten away from 700. Does that qualify as a marketable milestone?
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head on over to ESPN for the box score and MLB.com for the video highlights. Here are the updated standings. Also make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. YES has used six different booth combinations in seven series so far. Here’s the loss probability graph:
The Yankees have an off-day tomorrow, then they begin a three-game series with the Red Sox on Friday. Masahiro Tanaka and Henry Owens is the scheduled pitching matchup for the series opener at Fenway Park.
Triple-A Scranton (2-0 loss to Lehigh Valley)
- CF Ben Gamel: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 CS — he’s been on base 19 times in the last nine games
- RF Aaron Judge: 0-4, 2 K
- DH Gary Sanchez, 1B Nick Swisher & 2B Rob Refsnyder: all 1-4 — Sanchez struck out once, Refsnyder twice … Refsnyder also committed a fielding error
- LF Cesar Puello: 0-1, 1 K, 2 HBP — first game off the DL … he was out with a concussion after being hit in the back of the head with a swing … he explained to Brendan Kuty how it happened
- RHP Chad Green: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 5/4 GB/FB — 71 of 105 pitches were strikes (68%) … his best start of the season so far
- LHP James Pazos: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — nine of 12 pitches were strikes
It doesn’t feel like it, but the Yankees are in position to win their second straight series tonight. They took two of three from the Rays over the weekend, and they won the first game of this series against the Rangers before dropping the second. Tonight is the rubber game. Getting the win and taking two of three would be mighty cool.
The first order of business tonight: score some damn runs. The offense is not just bad right now, it’s boring. That’s the worst. Second order of business: get at least five innings from CC Sabathia. He’s fallen an out short of five innings in each of his last two starts. Third order of business: just win, baby. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:
- CF Jacoby Ellsbury
- LF Brett Gardner
- RF Carlos Beltran
- 1B Mark Teixeira
- DH Alex Rodriguez
- C Brian McCann
- 2B Starlin Castro
- 3B Chase Headley
- SS Ronald Torreyes
LHP CC Sabathia
Much better weather for the series finale tonight. It’s nice and sunny in the Dallas area, and there’s no wet stuff in the forecast as at all. Tonight’s game will start at 8:05pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.
Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (shoulder) is available to play tonight with no restrictions … Alex Rodriguez (oblique) is back in the lineup, obviously. With the off-day tomorrow, I’m surprised the Yankees didn’t give A-Rod one more day to make sure everything is back to normal.