Yankees top the Cardinals 4-3 for a five-game winning streak

Five straight wins! How about that? It seems like forever ago when the Yankees were 1-4 and many were prematurely calling for a lost year. While the young hitters were quiet tonight, the veteran bats stepped up to score runs and the bullpen stopped the Cardinals bats to preserve the first victory for Masahiro Tanaka this season.

You get two, we take three

Tanaka didn’t ease fans with his performance from the get-go. In the first inning, he allowed a 2-run homer to Matt Carpenter into the bleachers on a 94.5 mph fastball. Tanaka was supposed to locate it in the outside corner but he missed it all the way across to the inside corner. Maybe a little rust from an extra day’s rest? Anyways, after a shaky start, Tanaka later went on to have a solid outing.

Yankees got two right back in the bottom of that frame. After Brett Gardner got on base with a leadoff walk, Starlin Castro hit a two-run homer just above the right field fence. The Yankees added another run in the second with an Austin Romine (!) dinger to the right. Neither of the homers were hit all that far (385 ft from Castro and 364 ft from Romine) but hey, you play in Yankee Stadium, you play with the Yankee Stadium dimensions.

Tanaka Solid

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

After the two-run first, Tanaka went into a vintage groove. From the second to sixth inning, he was in absolute control, throwing five innings and allowing only one hit, a walk and striking out four. We saw Tanaka missing spots and unnecessarily overthrowing to get out of jams last time out. But during that five-inning stretch, he was in command, mixing pitches well, and flustering Cardinals hitters with his usual craft.

However, he left the game on a very tough spot. With 4-2 lead in the top of seventh, Tanaka gave up a run by allowing a double to Randal Grichuk with runners on first and second. As a result,Joe  Girardi replaced him with Tyler Clippard with runners on second and third with only one out. Fortunately for the Yankees, Clippard induced a shallow fly (not enough to score the runner from third) and a heart-attack inducing big flyout to Dustin Fowler to get out of the inning. Had Fowler pulled it a smidge more, we could be talking about a whole ‘nother ballgame. Whew.

Anyways, a start like this is definitely encouraging for a staff ace who struggled the first two appearances of the season. Tanaka’s offspeed pitches were definitely working today. Per Brooks Baseball, he got 3 whiffs from his fastball/sinker, another 3 from his slider and 6 from his splitter. After tonight’s outing, his ERA dropped to 8.36. Not the number you’d expect to see from your no. 1 starter but it’s a long season — he’ll be just fine.

Holding the lead (thankfully)

Set the Clipparbot to
Set the Clippardbot to “Joy” and “Relief” (Elsa/Getty)

New York extended the lead to 4-2 in the bottom of fifth thanks to a Cardinals defensive gaffe. Jacoby Ellsbury reached with a single and Chase Headley followed it up with a double to right. It seemed like Ellsbury was going to stop and stay put on the third base, but Kolten Wong’s throw to home went a bit off-line and went past Yadier Molina. Ellsbury saw it right away and sprinted home to score. Whoops. I’ll take it though. That run ended up being pretty big for the Yankees later on the game.

I talked about how Clippard just got out of the seventh inning jam he inherited, right? At the time, with the score at 4-3, I thought Girardi would bring in Dellin Betances to try to get strikeouts but Clippard is a good punchout pitcher in his own rights (10.29 K/9 IP last year, 12.46 prior to tonight). He struck out neither of the batters he faced but he got the job done.

Betances had an easier outing tonight than he did yesterday. He struck out the side while giving up a walk to Stephen Piscotty, which turned out to be harmless. Aroldis Chapman, however, pitching in his third consecutive game, had a hell of a time trying to get that save. After getting the first two outs easily (Molina strikeout, Jhonny Peralta fly out to right), he walked Grichuk after a full-count battle.

The Cardinals sent out pinch-hitter Jose Martinez for Kolten Wong’s spot. With one strike to go to end the game, Chapman threw a fastball inside that Martinez somehow squared up for a double to the left. Because Gardner played it well off the wall, the Cardinals held the runner up at third. If Martinez hit it towards the right field, St. Louis might have tied the game up. Instead, there were runners on second and third with two outs and Dexter Fowler came up to hit. Thankfully for the Yankees, Chapman induced a ground out to second to end the game. That made fans nervous for a bit but the Yankees won 4-3.

Also, note, I doubt Yankees will bring out Chapman tomorrow if they get into another save situation. Just a hunch.

Miscellaneous

Starlin Castro had a 2-for-4 night at the plate, raising his season batting line to .350/.366/.525. Totally sustainable, right? Probably not (but what do I know) but it’s good to see a guy like him getting some solid hits while the kids are struggling. Speaking of veteran bats, Ellsbury and Headley combined for a 4-for-7 night out of the no. 4 and 5 spots. Ellsbury hitting cleanup was a bit odd but hey, he got the job done tonight. It’ll also be a nice trivia someday.

Box score, WPA graph, standings

Here is tonight’s box score, WPA graph and standings.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees have a 1:05 pm EST matinee game tomorrow for the game two of the Cardinals series. CC Sabathia is gonna go up against one of the league’s finest young aces Carlos Martinez. Have a good Friday night, y’all.

Aaron Judge shines, Montgomery impresses in 8-4 Yankees win over the Rays

This was a day game with a lot of action. We saw a rookie make his MLB debut, the Yankees scoring in bunches to come back from a 3-0 deficit, a scary collision and, well, New York coming up victorious in the end. With today’s win, New York already clinched the home opening series versus Tampa and improved to a 4-4 record.

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

The debut

Jordan Montgomery‘s first big league inning was a whirlwind. He struck out the first two hitters on eight pitches. He then walked Evan Longoria after getting ahead in the count 0-2 allowed a two-run homer to Rickie Weeks. Montgomery threw a fastball right down the middle and those tend to get crushed in the bigs. Welp, welcome to the big leagues, kid. He didn’t let that get to his head too much though.

After that frame, Montgomery turned in a solid outing: 4.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R (2 ER), 2 BB sounds pedestrian, but 7 strikeouts stand out, and so do 17 whiffs. Sure, the Rays lineup doesn’t scare too many people, but for a rookie making the first ever ML start, that’s pretty solid.

Neither broadcast had a radar gun most of the game due to technical difficulties, but according to Brooks Baseball, Montgomery topped out at 93.4 mph with his four-seamer. What is more impressive though, is the pitch’s average vertical movement of 11.92, which means that he has a nice “rise” to his fastball, as David Cone mentioned several times during the YES broadcast. It is physically impossible for fastball to actually “rise” during flight but it can stay on higher plane and confound hitter’s eye levels. FanGraphs has the average vertical movement for lefties at 9.4, for reference. Also, Montgomery generally did a good job at staying away from the meat of the plate with his command.

From Baseball Savant
From Baseball Savant

He was able to locate a lot of the pitches on the bottom part of the zone (or lower). Maybe a few hittable ones up the zone but it would be strange not to see that from a guy making his first MLB start, with adrenaline, etc.

There aren’t a lot of guys like Montgomery in the bigs – a tall lefty with very high arm slot that can throw any pitch at any count. He has definitely earned a more long-term trial in the Yankee rotation with today’s start. I think, if the ML coaching can add some jazz to his secondaries, he can become a more dominant starting LHP long-term. That’s just my outlook though.

Runs! 

After being shut out by Blake Snell for the first four innings, the Yankees had a big offensive chance in the fifth. Chase Headley singled and Aaron Judge followed it up with a walk. Kyle Higashioka hit a grounder that Tim Beckham couldn’t handle and bases were juiced for Pete Kozma. It seemed like the Yankees were going to waste an opportunity though – Kozma struck out and Jacoby Ellsbury popped out on the first pitch. Thankfully, Aaron Hicks worked a full-count walk to push in Headley to make it a 3-1 game.

Rays manager Kevin Cash brought in Jumbo Diaz to face Matt Holliday. Diaz uncorked a slider that Derek Norris couldn’t block and let it slip in between his legs, scoring Judge. 3-2 Rays. With bases loaded — after Holliday’s walk — and a righty pitcher up, Joe Girardi stuck with Chris Carter, who ended up popping out to end the threat. Should be noted that Greg Bird was available off the bench, but I guess Girardi felt more comfortable sticking with Carter there.

In the sixth, with Diaz still on mound, Starlin Castro and Headley both singled to get on base. Judge followed it up with a 116.5 mph rocket up the middle to tie it up, 3-3. Higashioka’s bunt ended up being a force out at second base, putting the Yanks in a one-out, runners in corners chance. Girardi opted to pinch-hit Kozma with Brett Gardner and the Rays put in LHP Xavier Cedeno to counter.

Be well, Brett (Al Bello/Getty Images)
Be well, Brett (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Gardner hit a comeback grounder to Cedeno but the lefty’s throw to first got Weeks to handle it on the baseline. Weeks, who hadn’t played much first base, got on Gardner’s way and they both collided very, very brutally. It was a scary sight. While the go-ahead run scored for New York on the play, both Gardner and Weeks were taken out of the game. Hope they are both alright. You hate to see injuries like that. Gardner’s injuries were described as a “bruised jaw and strained neck.” Yikes. Get well soon, Brett.

On a much more positive note, the Yankees managed to score more in that frame. Ellsbury singled to center to score Higashioka and Hicks’ RBI ground drove in Ronald Torreyes, who replaced Gardner. New York came away with a 6-3 lead out the bottom of sixth.

They weren’t done scoring though. In the bottom of seventh, the Rays had Erasmo Ramirez up on the mound. With two outs and Carter on first, Ramirez served up a two-seamer on the inside part of the plate to Aaron Judge. Judge, with his huge power, drove the baseball into Monument Park for a two-run homer (435 feet, to be exact). It didn’t look like Judge got all of the pitch either — he didn’t get his arms extended and looked maybe a little bit jammed. Nonetheless, he made a solid contact off the bat and the ball just simply traveled far enough and a bit more. After today’s game, Judge is hitting .308/.379/.692 in 29 PA’s. That’s a reason to be excited!

Miscellaneous

All Rise (Al Bello/Getty Images)
All Rise (Al Bello/Getty Images)

The bullpen turned in another solid outing today. Bryan Mitchell, one of the starter candidates from the ST, relieved Montgomery and recorded four outs. After Mitchell, Tyler Clippard tossed a scoreless frame with two strikeouts. It looked like Yankees would go with Betances in the 8th but Judge’s homer bumped their lead for five runs, which prompted Girardi to put in Tommy Layne instead. Layne allowed a run in an inning’s work, which shaved Yankees’ lead to 8-4. Well, that’s how the score remained for good. Jonathan Holder came in to pitch the ninth but allowed two baserunners while getting an out, making it a save situation for Aroldis Chapman. Chapman got the remaining two outs to earn the first save of the season, and that’s all she wrote.

While the top of the lineup was a bit quiet today (combined 2-for-16 from Ellsbury, Hicks, Holliday and Carter), the no. 5 to 7 hitters – Castro, Headley and judge – played catalyst to Yankees’ comeback today. They combined for 6-for-11 day with three RBI’s (all coming from Judge, by the way).

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

Here’s box score and standings rrom ESPN and WPA graph from FanGraphs.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees will play a 7:05 pm EST game tomorrow for a series finale versus the Rays. Luis Severino will make his second start of the year versus Matt Andriese. If you want to check out the game, RAB Tickets got you.

Yankees can’t protect a four-run lead, drop the series opener 6-5 to the O’s

You can lose in many ways, and the way the Yankees lost tonight was quite frustrating. New York took a nice 5-1 lead — padded by homers by Matt Holliday and Gary Sanchez — and let the Orioles score five unanswered runs to lose this one 6-5. Their record fell to 1-3.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Taking the lead

The Yankees got the first inning started with a Brett Gardner single, a stolen base, and a Gary Sanchez walk. Greg Bird swung right through a 91 mph fastball right down the middle to strike out but Holiday sliced a single to right to bring Gardner in for a 1-0 lead. Jacoby Ellsbury followed it up with a strike out and Starlin Castro popped up to end the threat. Could’ve scored more there but a lead is a lead nonetheless.

The Orioles got a run back quite quickly. Luis Severino allowed a double to Seth Smith to start the bottom of first and an RBI-single to Adam Jones (which just went past Greg Bird’s reach). After Manny Machado struck out, Chris Davis followed it up with a hard grounder that was stopped by Castro but not quite fielded, making it runners on first and second with one out. The Yankees had a chance to end the frame with a double play but Chase Headley‘s throw to second hit Jones in the helmet. Not a banner inning for the Yankee defense — but with Severino striking out Wellington Castillo, they got out of it allowing only one run.

Holliday was in charge of another set of runs later on. With Gardner on third, Holliday absolutely squared up on a hanging splitter from Ubaldo Jimenez for a two-run home run. 3-1 Yankees. During the Yankees’ slow start, Holliday’s emergence has been a bright spot. After tonight, he’s hitting .308/.438/.615. Not expecting that to be sustainable but he’s hitting and seeing the ball very well, which is what all you could ask of him.

Top of the fifth, Gary Sanchez finally got to join in on the fun. With Gardner on second with a double, Jimenez hung another splitter up the zone and Sanchez ruthlessly punished him, driving the ball way into the deep part of the left field seats for a 5-1 Yankees lead. We’ve seen Sanchez hit some scorching grounders in the first few games of the season. This is what happened when he was able to elevate it for a long, long distance.

Severino: not quite there yet

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

I felt that Severino was cruising along until the bottom of fifth. Before allowing that three-run homer to Machado, he had allowed only one run in 4.2 IP while striking out five. His fastball averaged at 96.8 mph, which meant he was throwing pure gas pretty much the entire start. His fastball also had a nice 10.80 average vertical movement, which means that the fastball showed some nice rise. Not bad at all.

However, after allowing a single to Schoop and walking Jones, Sevy allowed a three-run home run to Machado to make it 5-4 Yankees. That was one major blemish of his start — could’ve been a much nicer-looking start at, let’s say, one run allowed in five innings. I don’t think he really missed his spot either. Sanchez barely moved his glove but Machado used his quick hands and power to drive it out of the park. He’s one gifted ballplayer.

Anyways, here’s his final line. Hopefully something better next time he’s up: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR.

Blowing the lead

After Jonathan Holder and Tommy Layne combined for a scoreless sixth, the Yankees put in Tyler Clippard to pitch the seventh inning, which seems to be the formula nowadays. He induced a grounder to third from Jonathan Schoop but Headley shanked the throw quite low and the ball went past Bird’s glove. Schoop moved to second and advanced to third on Hardy’s sac bunt.

With a 5-4 lead and a runner on third, New York had the infield in as Clippard faced Seth Smith. However, that didn’t matter as Smith smashed a fastball up over the right field fence to give Baltimore a 6-5 lead. Welp. Clippard is a good pitcher with a flyball tendency and that can happen once in awhile with guys like that.

Once they took the lead, the Orioles had their eighth-and-ninth inning reliever equations working perfectly – Brad Brach struck out the side  and Zach Britton did what Zach Britton usually does, which is getting saves with his ridiculous sinker. 6-5, the Orioles won and Yankees lost and that’s all she wrote.

Miscellaneous

You know how Sanchez wasn’t getting much BABIP love earlier this season? He got some back tonight. As mentioned, Sanchez smacked a huge home run in the fifth inning and later, he also hit a bloop single. A bloop single! That BABIP number is regressing to the norm as we speak.

Meanwhile, Greg Bird continued to struggle. He struck out thrice in four at-bats, dropping his season average to .063. Again, not too worried about him. It’s only been four games into the season. That kind of slump can happen to any good hitters in random four-game stretch during a season.

Brett Gardner swung one hot bat tonight. He had three hits — one of them double — and two stolen bases as well. Matt Holliday went 2-for-2 with a homer and two walks. Ellsbury and Castro — the no. 5 and 6 hitters of lineup — combined for 3-for-8. The offensive stats would’ve seemed much more positive than they do now had the Yankees secured the lead for a win.

Box score, WPA graph and standings

Get your box score and standings from ESPN, and WPA graph from Fangraphs.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees are at it again at the Camden Yards tomorrow at 4:30 pm. Tanaka will look for redemption from his poor opening day start while the Orioles will send Kevin Gausman.

Yankees fall to the Rays 4-1, lose their first series of the year

Well, the Yankees dropped the first series played in the 2017 season. On a bright side, the last time Yankees had a season opener in the Trop, they got swept (2012) so, uh, improvement? It was not an ideal series but they got plenty more games to go. Their losing formula tonight was simple: Michael Pineda got knocked around and the bats went silent.

Michael Pineda, like a deja vu

Mike Pineda allowed 27 homers last year, which was a 1.38 HR/9 rate. It’s not exactly dreadful but you want to see many fewer gopher balls from the starter.  He started this season the way he left off. Three pitches in, Pineda left a fastball up against Corey Dickerson, and he drove the ball over the left-center wall. 1-0 Rays. At least it wasn’t after two outs, right?… alright that’s not really a consolation.

Brian Blanco/Getty Images
Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Pineda got into another jam in the second inning. After allowing a leadoff single to Steven Souza, he allowed a loud single to Logan Morrison – it was a flyball that hit the third catwalk and was automatically called a single. Aaron Judge could’ve caught it if not for that (I think). Stupid Tropicana Field. Anyways, Pineda struck out Tim Beckham for the first out of the inning. They got the second out on a force out at the home plate. However, with two outs and runners on second and third, Derek Norris hit a single to bring both of them in. 3-1 Rays. Starlin Castro got a little glove on it, but the ball was hit too hard.

Big Mike had a nice bounceback inning in the 3rd. However, naturally, he got into another jam in the fourth. Pineda’s final line: 3.2 IP, 8 H, 4 R (3 ER), 0 BB and 6 K’s, good for a 7.36 ERA and a 0.99 xFIP. That is the quintessential frustrating Big Mike numbers right there. He also got a decent amount of whiffs, getting 13 overall (8 of them from his slider). He got hit hard many times yet he struck out Evan Longoria twice. Enigma!

It’s only Pineda’s first start of the year. With his talent and the upcoming free agency, I’m sure he knows that he should be better than what he showcased tonight.

Cobb got’em cold

Brian Blanco/Getty Images
Brian Blanco/Getty Images

After giving up a 1-0 lead, the Yankees answered right back. Jacoby Ellsbury, leading off the second inning, hit a 91 mph fastball middle-in into the right field seats for a solo homer.

Well, that ended up being the only run the Yankees scored all game. Alex Cobb, who made a comeback last year from Tommy John surgery, had an ugly 8.59 ERA in 22.0 IP in 2016. However, the dude is talented. Prior to the surgery, he had a solid 2014 season in which he marked a 2.87 ERA in 166.1 IP. 2017 may well become Cobb’s comeback year. Not a lot of shame in getting shut down by him. Yankee hitters got flummoxed by his offspeed pitches (changeup and curve generated 12 whiffs combined). New York also went 0-for-9 in RISP chances, including 0-for-4 combined from Greg Bird and Aaron Judge. You have bad games like this. It happens.

Ellsbury got a base hit off of Rays closer Alex Colome to try to start a ninth-inning rally. However, Castro promptly grounded out into a double play to immediately kill the momentum. Chase Headley hit a single to reach the base but Judge flew out to end the game.

Bullpen warriors 

Another game, another scoreless outing by the Yankee bullpen. Tonight, they went 4.1 IP scoreless thanks to Tommy Layne, Adam Warren and Chasen Shreve. That’s a major silver lining from this game, if you ask me. However, if the starters don’t get it together and Joe Girardi has to run the bullpen like this frequently… it could turn ugly.

Anyways, focusing on what happened today: Adam Warren, how about that guy? He’s looked pretty awesome as a “guy to burn some innings out of the bullpen when the team is losing.” It’s not the sexiest job but it’s pretty vital to the team. Tonight, he threw 2.1 perfect innings while striking out four. He generated 8 whiffs in 32 pitches (so, hitters swung and missed on one out of every four pitches he threw), which is great. I don’t think I was ever enamored with the idea of having Warren in the rotation but he’s a blast to watch in certain bullpen roles. I’m a fan.

Miscellaneous

Gary Sanchez and Bird are combined 2-for-26 to start the season. It’s not what you want but in the grand scheme of things, it’s just one series. Just so happens that it’s also the very first of the year, which means that that’s all the numbers we have to see in evaluating their (very, very young) 2017 season. They’ll be fine.

On the other hand, Chase Headley is pretty hot to start this season. He’s 7-for-11 so far with two extra base hits (a double and a homer). I don’t think he’ll have an All-Star worthy season but it’d be good to have a solid-hitting Headley all season — just a wishful thought.

Another guy off to a hot start? Jacoby Ellsbury. He went 3-for-4 tonight, bringing his average up to .455. It’s way too early to read into this but I recall the hitting coach Alan Cockrell wanting Ellsbury to move his hitting point up front. It is something to follow and see as the season goes on. Would be a cool thing if that adjustment makes Ellsbury’s contract someone bearable for 2017.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings

Here’s a box score from ESPN, video highlights from MLB.com and WPA graph from Fangraphs. If you watched this game, you probably have the idea of what the graph looks like.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees get another off-day tomorrow prior to their weekend series in Baltimore. If you’re going to Camden Yards to see any games this weekend, I’m jealous of you.

Didi Gregorius is ready to help all the young shortstops in the Yankees’ farm system

(Sung Min Kim/River Avenue Blues)
(Sung Min Kim/River Ave. Blues)

A bit after the Netherlands-Israel World Baseball Classic match at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, a group of Taiwanese reporters flocked towards the Netherlands dugout as Didi Gregorius stepped outside of the dugout. As one of the reporters finished an interview, she giddily asked Gregorius for a selfie because she “wants to prove that she actually talked to him.” Gregorius easily obliged. He (and I) probably knew that the reporter probably wanted one with him regardless because he is Didi Gregorius, a young and rising figure who plays for the famed New York Yankees.

Gregorius spent the past week in Seoul as a member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands team for the 2017 World Baseball Classic. After one of the exhibition matches, Gregorius and several teammates went out and he posted on his Instagram stories a selfie of themselves at a shopping mall.

“I was just walking around,” he said. “You gotta experience everything when you’re in a different country. I’ve never been (in Korea) so you gotta walk around and see what they got.”

The Korean baseball fans — and many others who traveled to see the games in Seoul — however, got to see what Gregorius has to offer. Gregorius, after hitting a home run in his first Spring Training at-bat this year, did not seem to lose his power stroke in Pool A play of the World Baseball Classic. In three games and twelve at-bats, he has hit for a 1.083 OPS, hitting three doubles and knocking in three. One of the doubles, which came in the bottom of eighth in the game against Taiwan, tied the game up at five and Netherlands went on to walk-off in the ninth to clinch the second round trip to Tokyo.

Gregorius also barely missed a home run earlier in the game, as the ball hit the wall just a few feet shy of being in the seats. It might as well as been a home run in many other ballparks, as the Gocheok Sky Dome is rated below-average for home run rates. Last night, in the Tokyo Dome, Gregorius clobbered a big home run for the Netherlands:

However, Gregorius never looks for home runs when he steps into the box. He is aware of last year’s power surge and the expectations that came with it. But when asked if he changed his offseason training regimen to increase power, he immediately shook his head and gave a firm response.

“If I hit a home run, I hit a home run,” Gregorius said. “But I’m just trying to drive the ball, try to hit it gap to gap — left field line, right field line — I’m a line drive hitter. If they go out, they go out, but nothing’s going to change.”

Indeed Didi is a line drive hitter. He’s always had a line drive swing that Yankee scouts loved even when his bat did not play out for the Diamondbacks in 2014 (.226/.290/.363 in 299 PA). After hitting for a .276/.304/.447 line with 20 home runs with 70 RBI in 2016 while still displaying slick fielding ability, he’s established himself as one of the most fun AL shortstops to watch.

With the Team Netherlands, Didi is teammates with another young AL shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, whom Gregorius acknowledges is a better hitter “if you look at the numbers.” While they play for rival teams in the regular season, Gregorius and Bogaerts feel natural playing for a same squad.

“It does not feel weird to play with (Bogaerts) because I played with him when we were young,” Gregorius said. “It’s just fun because all people (on the team) are from back home representing Netherlands and Curacao. When we’re working together, we are a team. When we’re playing each other, we don’t know each other (laugh).”

Sure, the Red Sox may have a better-hitting shortstop right now, but the Yankees have some great shortstop talent in the minors that could impact the big league team in a few years. There’s of course Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo. Deeper down, there are Tyler Wade, Wilkerman Garcia, Kyle Holder, Hoy Jun Park, etc., all of whom signed as shortstops but could very well change positions in near future.

Despite the many shortstop talents in the system, Gregorius is not worried about his long-term outlook with the Yankees.

“I’m going to play my game,” Gregorius put it succinctly. “They are playing their game too. I cannot judge people on what they do and I cannot worry about it.”

Even if any of the younger talents land in the majors, Gregorius is planning to be an embracing “veteran.” “When we are on the team, we play together so there’s no competition between each other,” he said. “Why do I have look out for something that’s not even there right now? (To them) I’m a so-called veteran so they come to me and I pass along what A-Rod and all those guys taught me. I hope every young guy goes a long way because you want them to be successful.”

Gregorius, of course, was once in their shoes before. Breaking into the bigs in 2012, it took him until 2015 to be a solid regular and the work ethic that scouts raved about and guidance from older players took his play to the next level in 2016. Prior to that though, he has had to go back and forth between Triple-A and MLB in the both Reds and Diamondbacks systems. He is aware of the challenges of having to transition as an ML player and has the right intentions – guide them through the most crucial part of their career.

Not only Gregorius cares about the younger players, but also he has looked out for the fans during Pool A play of the World Baseball Classic. After Netherlands defeated Taiwan in a dramatic walk-off affair, he walked over to the Royal Diamond seats (the seats directly behind the home plate and by the dugouts in Gocheok) to sign each autographs for each fan and take selfies while his teammates had gone into the clubhouse to celebrate the win.

In each instance I have been around him, Gregorius is upbeat, smiling, not saying “no” to fans and generally being positive to whatever is in his sight. His positive attitude rings in his answer when asked what his 2017 goal is.

“Win a ring. That’s it,” he said. “We got a lot of talent and a lot of young guys coming up so wait for the season.”

The Other Guys: The 4th and 5th Starter Candidates

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
Severino. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Barring any late offseason moves, here are the names we know for sure we’ll see in the Yankee rotation in 2017:

  1. Masahiro Tanaka
  2. Michael Pineda
  3. C.C. Sabathia

That’s it. Having only three sure thing starters doesn’t seem like a way to go about competing for the division title. (Yeah, it is supposed to be a rebuilding year but they still go out on the field to win, y’know?) Brian Cashman is very much aware. The smart money says he has inquired around the league for starting pitching and looked at FA options as well.

However, he has been careful. In a January 20 press conference, Cashman remarked he did not pull the trigger on opportunities that would have been “costly to the franchise.” My guess is a lot of teams have been asking for names like Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, James Kaprielian, Clint Frazier, etc. As much as they would like to accumulate as many wins as possible, this is not really a period to “go for it all.” The Red Sox, however, are in position to do so. They just had a very dominant regular season and pushed to become an even better team by trading for Chris Sale.

Here are the names that I think will get starting opportunities for the Yankees this season: Luis Severino, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, Chance Adams, Jordan Montgomery, and Dietrich Enns. Let’s lay out the pecking order of those seven names.

1. Luis Severino

It’s an easy choice. Despite being youngest of the four pitchers with ML experience, Severino has logged the most ML innings in the list. He also was the highest-regarded pitcher as a prospect, ranking no. 35 in Baseball America’s top 100 list in 2015.

After tearing through minors and having a good ML stint in 2015, Severino struggled throughout 2016, marking a 5.83 ERA in 71.0 IP. He was very ineffective as a starter, allowing a .976 OPS against in 11 starts. That would’ve ranked fifth among all hitters, by the way (behind Joey Votto and ahead of Freddie Freeman). The Yanks put him in the bullpen for the most of the second half and he dominated, allowing only .367 OPS against (.105/.209/.158 slash line).

Many wondered whether Severino is destined to be a bullpen arm. Not only did the 2016 results indicate such but also several experts aren’t big fans of his build and delivery. However, Sevy is still very young. He will get his shot to prove himself as a rotation arm. It’s notable that Severino has spent some time with Pedro Martinez this offseason to correct that flaws that haunted him last year (per Brendan Kuty of NJ.com).

“My fastball was all the way over here,” Severino told NJ Advance Media, showing wider-than-normal release point.

“But my changeup was over here,” he said, his arm dropping even lower. “My slider was over here and then sometimes over here.”

A new focus where he lets go of the ball and an effort to transform his body have Severino believing he’ll fulfill the potential the Yankees saw during his fast rise in 2015, the 22-year-old said Saturday.

Given that Severino’s biggest problems have to do with fastball command, tweaking his release point with one of the best ever shouldn’t hurt. Pedro also was a wizard with the changeup and other secondary pitches back in his day, so one would hope that Severino was able to soak up as much wisdom as possible. I’m no pitching coach but it seems like Sevy has been aware of his own flaws and looked to find solutions. He’s got a real good arm and he’s going through struggles that young pitchers in ML normally experience. It’s a roll of the dice on what he will become, so for now, we just have to #TrustTheProcess.

If Sevy still ends up becoming a good bullpen arm long-term, that is still a pretty successful outcome (given on how hard it is to succeed in MLB). However, I’d like to see the Yankees try him out as a starter while youth is very much on his side.

2. Luis Cessa

Cessa. (Mike Carlson/Getty)
Cessa. (Mike Carlson/Getty)

This would have been trickier to decide had Chad Green not suffered an arm injury to close out 2016. After a few cup of coffee earlier in the season, Cessa was called up to MLB for good in August, making nine starts with mixed results.

As a starter, Cessa had a 4.01 ERA in 51.2 IP. He showed pretty nice control by only walking eight, but he allowed 11 home runs during that span. He’s not a ground ball guy and he’s pitching at YS3. He’s bound to be tagged for some HR in 2017 as well, unless he changes his approach dramatically. For now, he’s got nice velocity on a fastball that, well, he should probably stop throwing to the upper part of the zone.

Here is are his fastball zone percentages last year. This is how often he threw a fastball in these spots:

luis-cessa1

And here is how the hitters slugged against the pitch in those locations:

luis-cessa2

As you can see, Cessa located (or mis-located) his fastball to the upper part of the zone quite frequently. That’s also where hitters put up a 1.294 SLG%. Not ideal. That’s the classic “good control but bad command” problem. He can keep it in the zone but not be precise about it.

A good thing about Cessa is that he’s a young guy. Not Sevy-level young but young enough to learn a few tricks and improve his game. He’s not really a guy with a clear “out pitch,” but his slider has a potential, generating a 64% ground ball rate. If he wants to stick to rotation long-term, this season will be very telling. Cessa is probably not as valued as Severino, so he’ll have to show consistency and improvement to lock up a spot. But because he was able to finish the season healthy and gave a relatively solid showing, I believe he is just slightly ahead of Green in this list.

3. Chad Green

When it comes to excitement level, Green up there among the top candidates. Along with Cessa, he arrived to the Yankees system as a decent-looking high-minor arm. In 2016, he pitched lights out in Triple-A, marking at 1.52 ERA in 16 starts. He also struck out hitters at a 9.51 K/9 rate while limiting walks (2.00 BB/9) and home runs allowed (0.29 HR/9). Performances like that get noticed and he made his ML debut back in May. It wouldn’t be until July till he got to stay in the bigs consistently though.

Green put up a 4.73 ERA in 45.2 IP with eight starts and four relief appearances. His season ended in early September when he was diagnosed with a strained flexor tendon and sprained UCL in his throwing arm. Injuries like that tend to be a precursor to (gulp) Tommy John Surgery. Uh-oh. The last update on Green said that he is hoping to avoid going under the knife and be back healthy.

My guess is that Yankees will take precautions with Green and limit his innings total for 2017. They will give him shots at the rotation though. He has shown in 2016 that he can be electrifying. He can really strike out hitters (10.25 K/9) and has shown some exciting performances, such as this 6 IP, 0 R, 11 K gem against the powerful Blue Jays. However, just like Cessa, gopher balls have been Green’s kryptonite. He allowed a 2.36 HR/9 in those 45.2 IP, which is terrible. An encouraging thing is that he never allowed a HR/9 rate higher than 1.00 in a full season of minors. The bad thing is, well, he’s in MLB now. He’s gotta find a way to figure it out up there.

Some pitchers never solve YS3 and go on to flourish with other organizations (A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes come to mind). There is also Masahiro Tanaka, who adapted his style to induce weaker contact and grounders. Green has enough upside that Yankees will wait and see how he can progress as a MLB pitcher.

4. Bryan Mitchell

If Cessa and Green saw their stock tick upwards, it was the opposite for Mitchell. After getting a brief trial in 2015, Mitchell locked up a spot on the 2016 Opening Day roster … and then he sprained his toe while covering first base during a ST game, resulting in a Grade 3 turf toe that cost him four months. Welp.

Mitchell did get to pitch in MLB in 2016. He made his return in September and made five starts — two each against the Blue Jays and Red Sox and one against the Dodgers. That’s a tough welcome back to the big league roster. Mitchell held on his own, allowing 9 ER in 25.0 IP for a 3.24 ERA while striking out 11 and walking 12. The peripherals aren’t great but his stuff was back. Take a look at this nasty hard curve that got David Ortiz whiffing.

bryan-mitchell-david-ortiz1

At this moment, Mitchell’s rotation candidacy is dicy because he didn’t pitch as much last year as the guys I put ahead of him on this list. I do think, however, that it is possible for him to notch a rotation spot if he blows the coach staff away in Spring Training. He looked pretty good last spring and he could’ve entrenched himself in MLB had he not gotten injured.

I think Mitchell has a chance for a rotation spot but I’m not sure how well he’ll have to do to win one over Severino, Cessa, or Green. I think the likely scenario is the Yankees give him a long relief job and a chance to impress if there is an injury or one of the starters underachieve. Mitchell was drafted by the Yankees during Mark Teixeira‘s first year with the team, just to give you an idea how long he’s been with the organization.

5. Jordan Montgomery/Dietrich Enns

Mike profiled Montgomery just a few days ago. He wasn’t the most exciting draft pick but he worked himself into being more intriguing lately. Getting near MLB is a big accomplishment itself. Developing more velocity and putting great numbers up in his first look at Triple-A (0.97 ERA in six starts and 37.0 IP) are icing on the cake. Montgomery is not a top tier prospect but there are reasons to be excited.

Enns, on the other hand, has taken every opportunity he could and built himself into a legitimate call-up candidate. A 19th rounder out of Central Michigan University in 2012, he didn’t arrive with eye-popping stuff, and most pitchers with his resume end up becoming organizational fodder. However, his rise through the system has been nearly flawless. The only major blemish was the Tommy John surgery he had back in 2014, but he was even stronger after, posting a 0.61 ERA in 58.2 IP at two levels (Rookie & High-A) in 2015 and a 1.73 ERA in 135.0 IP at two more levels (Double-A & Triple-A) in 2016. Yowza. However, because he’s not young (turning 26 in May) and he’s considered as junkballer, he’s got long odds to overcome to settle a rotation spot in MLB long-term.

Montgomery has a higher ceiling but Enns has a better minor league track record. Both of them spent some time in Scranton last season and excelled there. They probably will have to do it again to get a look in the MLB this year. As much as the fans and I would like to see the rotation remain stable throughout the season, I’d be pretty interested to see either of them make a start for the Yankees. While neither is likely to make the roster out of the camp this year, if they keep dominating in Triple-A, you better believe that the front office will want to try’em out.

6. Chance Adams

Not a lot of people expected Adams to elevate through the system so quickly, but here we are. The 5th rounder out of Dallas Baptist University in the 2015 draft did nothing but impress. He’s one of my favorite stories in the Yankee farm system. Dude went from a college reliever to a starting pitching prospect and put up great numbers while pitching with mid-90’s heat. Many teams would’ve signed up for this outcome with their first round pick.

Ceiling-wise, Adams might be the highest in the list after Severino. His fastball, his minor league track record and his sudden ascension really make him an intriguing story all-around. I’m guessing Adams opens 2017 in Scranton. Unless he has a setback, he will probably make a ML debut sometime during the 2017 season. The question is, when? Unless he puts an unprecedented level of performance, he is likely behind Montgomery/Enns in the pecking order. He doesn’t turn 23 until August, so youth is definitely in Adams’ side, which leads me to believe that Yanks can take a little time with him.

Headley embraces new challenges while his Yankee status is anything but guaranteed

by Sung Min Kim/River Avenue Blues
(Sung Min Kim/RAB)

Chase Headley showed up to Yankee Stadium yesterday with a beard, as if he had been traded away to another team awhile ago. However, he still remains a member of the New York Yankees. He will shave his face clean before showing up to the Spring Training next month.

When it’s all said and done, it’s unlikely fans will remember Headley as a part of the great Yankee lore. As we know, he is an average hitter with solid glove and, well, that doesn’t exactly sell a lot of jerseys. The club also owes him $26 million for the next two years.

Therefore, it wasn’t a surprise when the Yankees looked to trade Headley during this offseason. At yesterday’s press conference, Brian Cashman sounded off when asked about Headley’s future with the organization.

“I can’t predict that. I expect him to be here as a starter at the third base,” Cashman said while adding he shopped Headley around this winter, but couldn’t find a return that he liked. There weren’t many replacement options at third available either.

Headley admitted he saw heard the trade rumors, though he didn’t pay attention to them.

“I’ve dealt with that for a lot of my Major League career,” he said. “I don’t act like I’m angry about it … I understand that those are certainly business decisions that are made and me worrying about that isn’t going to change one thing one way or another.”

But still, to Cashman, Headley is a valuable commodity.

“Tell you what, in New York, when you struggle, everyone lets you know about it,” said Cashman. “It’s tough to pull yourself out of it, so he showed some serious mental confidence to continue to stay focused and (bounce back). He showed some toughness and I really respect that. I’m looking forward to a bigger year this year because I think he’s even better for that kind of experience.”

Two and half seasons into being a Yankee, the fans have an idea what to expect from their starting third baseman: a reliable glove and a decent-but-forgettable bat. In these past two seasons, Headley registered a 92 wRC+ each, which means he was a bit below average in runs created metrics. It’s safe to say we are not getting the guy who led the NL in RBI in 2012 anytime soon.

Entering the third year of the four-year, $52 million contract, Headley seems determined to set the tone this coming season by diagnosing one of the things that went wrong with him last year: that brutal 9-for-60 start in April.

“Trying to get a couple hits in April would be great,” he said. “There was a mechanical thing from the left side of the plate and once I got corrected, I started to swing a bat a little bit better … Hopefully I’ll be a mechanically better.”

The encouraging part of that statement is that Headley hit for a .265/.338/.418 line the rest of the season after April. Not the sexiest numbers, but they look better than the .252/.315/.405 line that the entire team averaged in 2016.

The discouraging part is that Headley is not getting any younger. The 2017 season will be his age 32 season, and we shouldn’t expect some kind of renaissance with his bat. If anything, the fans can be realistically optimistic by hoping he avoids a slow start and puts up slash line similar to what he did after the dreadful April last season.

However, as long as he is the member of the 2017 Yankees, Headley has a bigger off-the-field aspect to look forward to: being a more vocal clubhouse leader amidst the Yankee youth movement.

“I am looking forward to getting know (the younger players) and, hopefully, offering them help that I can to help them to this level and to help (the Yankees) to be successful,” Headley said. “I am excited about having the opportunity to have a little bit more leadership in the clubhouse … I’m excited to be able to be more vocal and speak my mind a little bit more.”

I don’t know if the Yankees will win a division title while Headley is under his current contract. This year is looking like a rebuilding year. The 2018 season could feature some exciting young talent on the ML roster, but I don’t think the Yankees will really compete until 2019, when they will possibly have added one of big 2018-19 free agents (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Clayton Kershaw, if he ops out, just to name a few) and fuse them with the talented youngsters.

If the Yankees manage to find a young big league ready third baseman, Headley will probably not be the starter going forward. However, because there are games to be played and valuable youngsters to be taught, Headley is a perfectly fine team asset for now, and I think it is in the team’s best interest to play him and hope for the best possible performance.