Are Holliday’s strikeouts a sign he’s selling out for power?

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Once the Yankees traded Brian McCann, it was clear they had two offseason priorities. They wanted another high-end reliever to replace Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, who were traded away at the deadline, and they wanted a big bat to plug into their designated hitter spot. The Yankees reportedly wanted another starting pitcher too, but that didn’t happen.

Rather than go for a big name DH like Edwin Encarnacion, the Yankees instead settled on Matt Holliday, who had never been a full-time DH before and had seen his offensive output, by wRC+, drop from 146 to 132 to 124 to 109 from 2013-16. Not a good sign for a 37-year-old! The Yankees took the plunge though, partly because Holliday would take a one-year contract, and partly because there were indications his underlying skills hadn’t slipped as much as his numbers indicate.

A little more than one-third of the way into the season, Holliday has been a central figure in an offense that leads baseball with an average of 5.72 runs scored per game. He’s hitting .270/.375/.516 (137 wRC+) overall, and his 14 home runs give him a chance to hit 30 for the first time since 2007. (Even during his best years with the Cardinals, Holliday was more of a 25-28 homer guy.) Home runs like his walk-off against the Orioles …

… show the ball still flies off Holliday’s bat. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen him hit a ball like that and think it’s a routine fly out off the end of the bat, only to watch it carry and carry and carry. He did it twice in the series in Toronto two weeks ago. Holliday hits the ball the other way with so much power. It’s no wonder why he’s been such a great hitter throughout his career.

Holliday is hitting better now that he has in years, especially for power, and in all likelihood there are several reasons for that. One, he now plays his home games in Yankee Stadium, a hitter’s ballpark. Two, he’s a full-time DH who doesn’t have to deal with the wear and tear of playing the field. At this point of the season, 67 games in, no one is 100% physically. Holliday is probably closest on the Yankees because he’s off his feet so much.

And three, there are some indications Holliday is a different hitter now than he was last year and really the last few years. The single biggest difference between Holliday right now and the Holliday of the past is the strikeouts. He has a 25.4% strikeout rate at the moment, by far the highest of his career. His previous career high was 19.6% as a rookie in 2004. His career average is 16.7% strikeouts. Look:

matt-holliday-strikeout-rate

Usually when a player on the wrong side of 35 sees his strikeout rate spike that like, it comes with a massive drop in production. That isn’t the case with Holliday. He’s been more productive this season than he has been in three or four years now. I don’t doubt that Holliday has lost some bat speed — he is 37, after all — but clearly he hasn’t lost so much that he is incapable of being an impact hitter.

Soon after Holliday signed with the Yankees, he said he wanted to do a better job getting the ball airborne. He hit way too many grounders last season. Exactly half his batted balls, in fact. So far this season Holliday’s ground ball rate has dropped to 45.1%, his lowest since 2010, and he’s also pulling the ball more often. His 39.2% pull rate is a career high and quite a bit above his career 35.1% pull rate.

More strikeouts plus more fly balls plus more balls pulled to left field? Could it be an indication Holliday is selling out for power this season? I think it’s a possibility. I should note that while a 39.2% pull rate is high for Holliday, it’s actually below the MLB average. The league average pull rate is 39.9% this year. We’ve seen some really pull happy hitters over the years, like Brian McCann (50.0% in 2016). Holliday isn’t pulling the ball that much.

What I think may be happening is Holliday is selling out for power selectively. In certain situations he’ll look for a pitch, really try to unload on it, and hope he connects. If he does, great! If not, well, better luck next time. Holliday may be selling out for power, but he hasn’t completely sacrificed his all-fields approach either. Like I said earlier, we’ve seen him really muscle some balls out to center and right-center. Here’s his spray chart, via Baseball Savant:

matt-holliday-sprau-chart1

If Holliday is selling out for power — and I don’t know that he is, it’s just a theory — he’s managed to do it in a way that doesn’t compromise his ability to take the ball the other way. McCann, for example, looked to pull just about every pitch because, as a left-handed hitter, he would be rewarded for doing so at Yankee Stadium. Holliday, as a righty, still has incentive to go the other way.

The Yankees avoided the big flashy move over the winter, which would have been signing Encarnacion, and they opted for the most sensible move in signing Holliday to a one-year contract. And so far, it couldn’t be working out any better. Holliday has transitioned to DH seamlessly — lots of guys struggle with that after playing the field every day basically their entire lives — and he’s producing more than he has in years. And he seems to be a positive influence on the young players too.

As an older player, Holliday has inevitably had to make adjustments to remain successful, and it seems his latest adjustment may involve picking his spots to swing out of his shoes. If he swings and misses, so be it. That’s the trade off. That he’s been able to do that, pull the ball and get it in the air more often, without sacrificing his all-fields ability is pretty damn impressive. Yeah, Holliday may be striking out more than ever before, but the strikeouts have come with his best offensive season in years.

The Blue Jays and Red Sox have found a way to attack Aaron Judge, and now it’s up to him to adjust

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night the Yankees put a hurting on reigning AL Cy Young award winner Rick Porcello (lol), and they did it without getting anything from Aaron Judge. He went 0-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts, which dragged his season batting line down to a still incredible .321/.428/.668 (190 RC+). There ain’t much BABIP luck in there either. Judge tattoos the ball on the regular.

Over these last six games against the Blue Jays and Red Sox, Judge has gone 6-for-22 (.273) with eleven strikeouts, though he also has six walks and three extra-base hits (two doubles and a homer). He hasn’t been bad by any means. That is a lot of strikeouts though, and it seems the Blue Jays and Red Sox have found a way to attack Judge: with high fastballs.

Here, via Baseball Savant, are two strike zone heat maps. The heat map on the left shows the fastball location Judge saw in April and May. The heat map on the right is the fastball location he’s seen in June, which, conveniently, are these last six games against the Blue Jays and Red Sox (click to embiggen):

aaron-judge-fastballs

Not surprisingly, pitchers tried to attack Judge down and away earlier this season, even with heaters. He’s 6-foot-7 and they wanted him to reach as far as possible for the ball. Judge has shown he can handle that down-and-away pitch so far this season. How many times have we seen him flick that outside pitch to right field? More than a few.

These last two series though, against Toronto and Boston, two division rivals who figure to really dig in and study Judge, Judge has seem many more fastballs upstairs. That’s not easy to do! The guy is 6-foot-7. A high fastball to a normal hitter would be at the letters for Judge. You’ve got to go higher than high against him.

Judge has been getting hosed on low called strikes all season (the numbers confirm it) and now he has to worry about high pitches too. All those high fastballs from the Blue Jays and Red Sox have resulted in a lot of swings and misses from Judge lately. Here are the pitch locations of his swings and misses against fastballs these last six games:

aaron-judge-fastball-whiffs

Yep. They’re going upstairs against him and Judge has chased. Not to the point where he’s been completely neutralized — like I said, he is 6-for-22 with a homer these last six games — but enough to stop him from being the planet-eating monster he was in April and May. They’ve (mostly) kept him in the park and generated more empty swings. That’s a win for them. They’d love to stop Judge. They’ll settle for containing him.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. Maybe not the high fastballs specifically, but the fact opposing teams have found a way to keep Judge in check. The Blue Jays and Red Sox are going to see an awful lot of Judge going forward. They did their homework and hey, look at that, they both came up with the same plan. (Perhaps the Red Sox are copying the Blue Jays. Who knows.)

The league has started to adjust to Judge and now it’s up to Judge to adjust back. That’s baseball. And you know what? In his relatively brief big league career, Judge has already shown he can make adjustments. He looks like a completely different hitter now than he was last year. That’s not a fluke. That’s the result of hard work and baseball smarts. Now Judge will have to work to combat all these high fastballs.

Because he made the adjustment from last year to this year, and has a history of making adjustments in the minors, I am completely confident Judge will figure out how to handle this sudden barrage of high fastballs. Hopefully he can make that adjustment soon, but if it takes some time, then it takes time. Baseball is hard. The Blue Jays and Red Sox have come up with a bit of a blueprint though. Want to slow Judge down? Go upstairs. It’s only a matter of time until other teams start doing it too.

The two Aarons and thinking about a new top of the lineup

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once upon a time, I was a lineup complainer. The lineup would be posted each day at 4pm-ish and I’d complain about it. So and so is hitting too low, this guy is hitting too high, why is bench player flavor of the week not playing, that sort of stuff. A few times a year the Yankees would play the “ideal” lineup. Otherwise it was the same story, day after day. The lineup stinks and I was Mad Online.

I’ve outgrown that, thankfully. Daily lineup complaints are no way to go through life. As long as Joe Girardi doesn’t do something crazy like bat his best hitter ninth (which he never does and would never do), whatever lineup he runs out there is fine with me. So this post shouldn’t construed as me complaining about the lineup. This is more of a rational discussion about the batting order nearly one-third of the way through the season.

For the most part, I think we can all agree on one thing regarding the lineup: Brett Gardner should lead off, and Chase Headley and Chris Carter should bat eighth and ninth, really in either order. I guess that’s three things. Anyway, that stuff is straight forward. Gardner is, yet again, one of the team’s best on-base players and count-workers. Headley and Carter have been terrible and should get the fewest at-bats. Simple, right? Right.

The few spots beyond Gardner are what I really want to discuss. This is my ideal top of the lineup right now, given the available personnel:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge

The three outfielders, left to right. Gary Sanchez has been hitting second most of the season and I am totally cool with that. It works for me. Sanchez has looked a little jumpy at the plate the last few days, but I’m not worried. Hitters go through their ups and downs. Sanchez is one of the team’s best hitters, so by all means, hit him second. Josh Donaldson and Kris Bryant won MVPs hitting second in recent years. Power hitters can hit there too.

That said, I like Hicks hitting second over Sanchez right now because, well, Hicks has been the better hitter this season. The better overall hitter and, more importantly, the better on-base threat. Hicks has a .426 OBP this year. Sanchez has a .356 OBP. That’s still good! But it’s not .426. Batting Hicks second means more runners on base for Judge, who has inarguably been the Yankees’ best hitter this season.

Judge started the season hitting lower in the lineup and understandably so, but he’s forced his way up, and now he is in entrenched as the No. 5 hitter. Moving Judge up even further to the No. 3 spot means more at-bats. More at-bats over the course of the season, and a better chance to get Judge that one extra at-bat in an individual game. Through 48 team games the No. 3 spot has 14 more plate appearances than the No. 5 spot for the Yankees. That’s 14 more times Judge would have come to the plate in the late innings. It’s not nothing!

We’re not splitting atoms here. Hicks (.426), Judge (.419), and Gardner (.363) have the three highest OBPs on the Yankees. They make fewer outs than anyone else. Judge is also one of the game’s top power threats. Batting Gardner and Hicks first and second is, by far, the best way to get men on base for Judge. Batting these three atop the lineup also means they get the most at-bats, therefore giving the Yankees more chances to score.

Going with Gardner-Hicks-Judge atop the lineup and Headley-Carter at the bottom leaves you Sanchez, Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, and Didi Gregorius for the 4-5-6-7 spots. What’s the best way to order them? I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer. I’d prefer hitting Sanchez fourth because I think he’s most likely to be an impact bat the rest of the season, but if you said the same thing about Castro or Holliday, I wouldn’t argue (much).

The important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is getting Judge more at-bats because because the guy is a monster, and the more he plays, the better the Yankees’ chances to win. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s concussion — Girardi said yesterday Ellsbury is still experiencing headaches, so he remains shut down indefinitely — ensures Hicks will be in the lineup everyday, and as long as he’s hitting like this, Hicks is the perfect No. 2 hitter. On-base ability, power, speed, switch-hitter, the whole nine. Perfect.

The lineup almost seems to write itself from there. Gardner leads off, Hicks hits second, Judge hits third. Your two best on-base players and your most devastating hitter. Sanchez, Holliday, Castro, and Gregorius add quality lineup depth through the No. 7 spot too. I get why Girardi hits Sanchez second, Holliday third, and Castro fourth. I do. But nearly 50 games into the season, it’s the clear the more Aaron Judge hits with men on base, the better. The lineup should be built in such a way that maximizes those opportunities.

The Yankees have a bit of a strikeout problem right now

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Last night, for only the eighth time in 19 games this month, the Yankees did not strike out 10+ times on offense. They struck out eight times, to be exact, and it helped that they faced Royals southpaw Jason Vargas, a finesse pitcher not known for missing bats. The Yankees have 18 double-digit strikeout games this season, third most in baseball behind the Rays (32), Athletics (22), and Brewers (19).

Over the last few seasons the Yankees have been consistently better than average at avoiding strikeouts, believe it or not. From 2013-16 they had a 19.5% strikeout rate as a team, eighth lowest among the 30 MLB teams. Last season they had the fourth lowest strikeout rate in baseball at 19.6%. This year though, the Yankees currently own an 23.0% strikeout rate, fifth highest among the 30 clubs. The league average is 21.4%. Pretty big swing in the wrong direction.

It’s no secret why the Yankees are striking out more this season. Aaron Judge (29.2 K%) is in the lineup everyday. He’s been awesome! But he still strikes out a lot. Greg Bird (30.6 K%) struggled big time before getting hurt, and Chris Carter (37.8 K%) has since taken over at first base. Matt Holliday (30.5 K%) is also striking out more than ever before at age 37. Those are fairly extreme strikeout rates. Judge and Holliday are making up for it with their production. Bird and Carter … not so much.

More important than the team’s overall strikeout rate is their strikeout trend. The Yankees struck out 10+ times in a game only seven times in April. They’re up to eleven such games in April with eight days to go. Twice this month they’ve struck out 16+ plus times in a nine-inning game after doing it zero times from 2011-16. I made a graph:

2017-nyy-strikeout-rate

Not good! The Yankees have been striking out more and more as the season has progressed. It was painfully obvious Sunday, when the Yankees struck out 16 times against Chris Archer and various relievers. They had runners on second and third with no outs in the first inning, then strikeout strikeout strikeout, inning over. Annoying! And also a problem. A problem that is getting worse.

Now, the million dollar question: how do the Yankees fix the strikeout problem? They can only change the personnel so much. They could jettison Carter in favor of, uh, Rob Refsnyder? Tyler Austin is on the mend, though he’s no lock to strike out less. He struck out in 40.0% of his plate appearances during his MLB debut last year. Removing Carter is potentially part of a solution, not the solution. Their options to replace him aren’t exactly contact machines.

Judge and Holliday aren’t going anywhere, so the Yankees just have to live with their strikeouts. As good as Judge has been, his strikeout rate has been ticking up the last few weeks. He’s not striking out as much as last year, but his strikeouts have been on the rise:

aaron-judge-strikeout-rate

It could be that the Yankees have just run into a collective rough patch. Facing Danny Duffy — they’re going to see him again tonight, by the way — and Archer in the span of five days is not fun. The Yankees also saw Chris Sale earlier this month. But still, already five pitchers have 10+ strikeout games against the Yankees this year (Archer, Duffy, Sale, Charlie Morton, Carlos Martinez). All but the Martinez game are fairly recent. Last year only two pitchers had 10+ strikeouts against the Yankees (Rich Hill, Lance McCullers Jr.).

Strikeouts are up all around the league these days — MLB is currently on pace to set a record high strikeout rate for the 13th straight season — because pitchers are throwing harder, hitters are selling out for power, and all sorts of other reasons. It’s not a surprise the Yankees are striking out more, especially given their roster. It was too be expected. But the strikeouts have become rather extreme lately, and it’s costing them runs. Again, we saw it Sunday. Runners on second and third with no outs, yet none of the next three hitters could put the ball in play.

Hopefully what we’re seeing right now is just a bunch of big strikeout games bunched together, and not an indication of what’s to come. Strikeouts are always bad. You tolerate them as long as they come with other stuff, like Judge’s power, but too many strikeouts will absolutely inhibit your ability to score runs. The Yankees have had trouble putting the ball in play at times this month. The sooner they snap out of it, the better.

Blowouts in bulk a sign young Yankees are for real

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

There’s nothing like a comeback win.

Whether you’re down to your final out vs. the defending champs or down eight to a division rival, those are the games you remember. These are the ones that stick with you a few seasons later. Those, and the games that go on so long that they feel like 2-3 games.

But there’s value, perhaps even more value, in a good old fashioned blowout. However, beyond the 20-run games or the 10-RBI evenings, these will barely be distinguishable by September. You’ll think to yourself, ‘How did the Yankees take two of three from the White Sox? Didn’t Aaron Judge hit a long home run?’ or ‘How’d the Yankees get runs for Michael Pineda on opening day?’ Maybe the details from one of these easy victories comes to mind but others slip into the 162-game oblivion.

Still, when viewing the season as a whole from further out, the blowouts stand out a lot. We knew going into the season the Yankees could win close games with their bullpen. Andrew Miller was gone but Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren stack up well with any team’s finishers. That was evident going into the season.

But last season, with a killer bullpen, the Yankees won almost exclusively close games until Gary Sanchez came on the scene. The reasons were two-fold: The starting rotation was unable to shut down opposing lineups — even weak ones — and the aging lineup didn’t have the oomph of 2015, instead decomposing before our eyes. Thinking back to April and May of last season doesn’t bring bad memories as much as it brings muddied memories: That’s how boring the Yankees were then, even in wins.

So that’s where the most year-over-year improvement comes. The Yankees’ starters are taking advantage of bad lineups and going deep into games. There’s no three-game sweep at the hands of the Athletics or losing two of three to the lowly Mariners. Comparing to this season, the Cardinals and White Sox series were the type in which the Yankees absolutely would have lost two of three. There would have been general moans and groans about Matt Carpenter or Melky Cabrera owning the Yankees and the team would have slipped towards .500.

But the other way this team is different is the lineup. It’s the main reason the team is 9-1 in games decided by five or more runs after going 17-22 in those same games a year ago. Either the team is never out of it (see the Orioles game) or they never let the opposing team into the contest. Aaron Judge gets most of the credit nationally but it has truly been everyone. Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, yes, even Jacoby Ellsbury, large contract and all.

There are assorted sayings about how great teams not only beat bad teams, but blow them out. You can make the playoffs winning one-run games galore like the 2016 Texas Rangers, but the teams that tend to win it all are the ones that knock teams out early like last season’s Cubs. The Yankees have been doing that aplenty this year, showing off a circular lineup and non-stop rotation, just as they did last night. They’re landing that first punch and are 13-3 (.821 winning percentage) when scoring first as opposed to 46-27 (.644) in 2016.

Even good teams need to be able to put together blowouts to hand rest to their key relievers. The Cubs played 13 innings with the Phillies on Thursday and then had to sweat a close game against the Yankees Friday, a large part of the reason they ultimately lost. After 18 innings against the Cubs Sunday, scoring three runs before Masahiro Tanaka even threw a pitch on Monday allowed an exhausted team to relax and not rely on an even more exhausted bullpen. It follows a trend as the Bombers are scoring first in 53 percent of their games vs. 45 percent last season.

This ultimately may not last. It could be that the team has everyone hot at the same time and those same players will take a step back at the same time. Or maybe this rotation can’t sustain its success.

But then again, Sanchez is just getting going.¬† We haven’t seen the best of Didi Gregorius and Greg Bird. Or even Tanaka. If they play like fans expected this spring, there really could be a second gear to this young team. Or at least a maintaining of this early cruise control. If the team was winning exclusively close games, it’d be much easier to chalk this start up as a fluke that would come crashing to earth.

After this season, we’ll forget the Yankees scoring 10 runs on Rookie Davis and the Reds. Yet that’s precisely the type of game the Yankees lost last season or at least make hard on themselves, perhaps further compromising the bullpen for the next night. Again, the close ones, the comebacks, that’s what sticks with you. But the blowouts may be the signal that this young team means business.

Introducing the Yankees’ All-Revenge team

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Plenty of players throughout baseball, but particularly in the American League East, develop the reputation as Yankee killers. Certain guys just play especially well when opposite the pinstripes. Howie Kendrick with the Angels comes to mind. So does the mysterious contributions of Pedro Ciriaco with the Red Sox.

But there is a special breed of Yankee killer: The former Yankee turned Yankee killer. The group I call the All-Revenge team. The guys who the Yankees let go, trade or otherwise give up on and have turned into a thorn in their sides, a few meetings a year.

So I unveil the All-Revenge lineup, former Yankees who have turned their former employers into a most despised adversary. (Note: I chose to use only active players and focused on players who have performed well vs. NYY since leaving the team).

C: Russell Martin

Why does Martin make the team? Martin is perhaps the most obvious thanks to the 2015 division race. He left the Yankees after the team chose to let him walk and instead go with Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli as his immediate replacements. When Martin came back to the AL in 2015 and was in a race with the Yankees, he was ready to pounce.

Over the course of 16 games (13 starts) in 2015, he hit .300/.362/.660 vs. NYY, hitting five home runs with a whopping 18 RBI. Particularly stinging was a two-homer game in September followed up by a go-ahead walk in the 11th inning the next day. He followed that up with four homers, nine RBI and a much more modest .207/.319/.431 line in 2016. He also tried to fight Gary Sanchez last September and extract his pound of flesh from the Yankees. The Bombers held him in check this series, but he’s been a menace in the past.

Signature game: The two-home run game vs. the Yankees on Sept. 11, 2015 was a masterpiece for Martin. He singled home a run to knock Luis Severino out of the game, hit a solo home run off Andrew Bailey and then hit a two-run shot off Chasen Shreve that all but finished off the Yankees. Honorable mention goes to his two-homer game last Aug. 16, which included a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning off Adam Warren. I’ll take the first one because of the division race implications.

1B: Steve Pearce

Why does Pearce make the team? Pearce has played for every team in the AL East except the Red Sox and he has more home runs against the Yankees (10) than any other team except the Rays (10). Pearce has a solid .293/.397/.579 line vs. the Yankees, a tOPS+ of 152, which indicates he’s much better against the Yankees than vs. other teams.

The Yankees gave Pearce just 30 PA in 2012, and he’s had 148 PA to pay them back over the last four years, picking up 34 hits, 14 of which have gone for extra bases. Five of his 25 career HBP are from Yankees pitching. He does special damage at Yankee Stadium with seven home runs with a .338/.419/.692 mark.

Signature game: Pearce has a plentiful number of performances for this list. He had a go-ahead homer off Adam Warren in an Orioles win on Sept. 9, 2015. He almost single-handedly beat the Yankees with a three-hit game last Aug. 28 with a home run and two-run single off CC Sabathia and Warren, respectively. (Man, Warren’s getting beat down in these games). His four-hit, two-homer game Tuesday would be a surefire winner if the Jays had won.

But his most clutch anti-Yankee moment came Sept. 14, 2014, again with the Orioles. With the O’s trailing 2-1 in the ninth inning at Camden Yards on Sunday Night Baseball, Pearce lined a game-tying double off David Robertson. He’d come home to score on a walk-off double from All-Revenge team honorable mention Kelly Johnson.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

2B: Robinson Cano

Why does Cano make the team? Cano leads the rest of the All-Revenge team infield, which has had less experience facing the Yankees, having done so only in the last three seasons. However, Cano did quick work to get onto this list. He’s batting .324/.377/.479 vs. his former squad and has three home runs. His batting average jumps up to .363 when you take out his 3-for-16 struggles against Masahiro Tanaka

Signature game: His highest Win Probability Added in his first two seasons with the Mariners came against the Yankees. He had two two-run homers against Michael Pineda on July 18, 2015, knocking in all four runs during the Mariners’ 4-3 win over the Yankees. Both home runs came with the game tied and one-upped his former squad.

3B: Yangervis Solarte

Why does Solarte make the team? The No. 1 reason Solarte is here? There aren’t many third basemen to work with. Thanks to Alex Rodriguez for holding down the position for so long. Solarte still made a big impact in his three games vs. the Yankees last July. Six hits in 10 at-bats with two walks, a home run and two doubles. Batting .600 with a 1.767 OPS against a team, even in one series, still has merit.

Signature game: Even though the Padres lost, 6-3, Solarte had one of his four career four-hit games last July 3, scoring two runs and hitting a solo shot. Solarte turns 30 this July, so there’s a solid chance he gets more games to get further revenge for the Yankees trading him.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

SS: Eduardo Nunez

Why does Nunez make the team? Again, a lack of shortstops. But Nunez has still performed well. 15 hits in 48 at-bats vs. the Yankees. Only two extra-base hits, but one went for a home run. All of his 14 games against the Yankees were with the Twins, and now he’s playing a bevy of positions for the Giants.

Signature game: Nunez had a clutch double off the bench in 2014 but it came with the Twins already leading and Matt Daley in the game. He also had a two-hit game with a home run last June. But his top anti-Yankee moment came in a game where he went 1 for 4 with a walk in 2015. On Aug. 17, his one hit was lined off Bryan Mitchell‘s face, ending the rookie’s night early and turning the game into a bullpen affair. I get wanting revenge, but that was ugly!

Getting reacquainted (Getty Images)
Getting reacquainted (Getty Images)

OF: Melky Cabrera

Why does Cabrera make the team? If Martin isn’t the captain of the All-Revenge squad, Melky would do just fine in the role. He’s batting .302/.350/.527 in 198 plate appearances against his former club. He’s actually played more seasons out of NY (8) than with the Yankees (5) at this point. In 2014 alone, he faced the Yankees 15 times, had hits in all but two games and racked up six multi-hit games.

Signature game: Cabrera’s first ever series against the Yankees came in 2011 with the Royals and he helped KC win the series in the clincher on May 12 with a two-hit night. Both his hits went for extra bases, including an RBI double (before getting picked off second) and a home run off Ivan Nova in a 11-5 Royals win.

OF: Curtis Granderson

Why does Granderson make the team? Granderson is the one player on this list with experience playing vs. the Yankees both before and after coming to the Bronx. He had four HR and 15 extra-base hits vs. the Yankees during his Tigers days (not including the ’06 playoffs). He’s 12 for 46 with four home runs and eight walks since joining the Mets.

Signature game: In his second game vs. the Yankees since moving crosstown, Granderson came through big time. He went 2 for 3 with two walks, a home run, three RBI and two runs scored. This game (May 13, 2014) was highlighted by both Vidal Nuno and Zack Wheeler exiting early and Daisuke Matsuzaka outdueling Alfredo Aceves in the battle of the bullpens. 2014 was a weird time.

P.S. If I was willing to include pre-Yankee days, this is the obvious winner.

OF: Austin Jackson

Why does Jackson make the team? Capping off the list is a player who never actually played for the Yankees. Jackson was a top prospect but was traded for the man above him on this team, never giving him a chance to don the pinstripes. In 158 plate appearances over 37 games against his ex-organization, he has a respectable .289/.361/.444 batting line with nine doubles, two triples and three home runs. Not to mention five stolen bases. In classic Jackson fashion though, he does have 48 strikeouts.

Signature game: Flash back to mid-August 2013, when Jackson was center fielder for the AL Central-winning Tigers. He led off an Aug. 10 game vs. Phil Hughes with a triple and scored, then later hit a solo dinger in the top of the fifth, helping knock Hughes out of the game. The Tigers would go on to win 9-3 after Jackson drew a walk and scored later in the game.

Disagree with a player making the team? Have someone else in mind? Or suggestions about current pitchers who have made good on their sweet sweet revenge against the Yankees? Let me know. The All-Revenge team can change series to series with one or two standout performances or with a trade. But for now, this is the lineup that prevails.

The Yankees are doing more of the “little things” offensively this season

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

It’s not often three runs are enough to beat the Red Sox at Fenway Park, but the Yankees managed to pull it off last night, thanks largely to Luis Severino‘s brilliance. He tossed seven shutout innings and got enough offensive support from Aaron Judge (two-run homer) and Greg Bird (run-scoring single). The kids. They’re all right. Glad to see Bird contribute a bit. He needed that hit.

The three-run effort dropped New York’s season average to a still healthy 5.00 runs scored per game. Their team 119 wRC+ remains the best in baseball. This is after averaging 4.20 runs per game with a team 92 wRC+ in 2016. The offense has been so much better early on and Judge has played a big role in that. So too have veterans like Starlin Castro and Chase Headley. They’re off to monster starts.

The Yankees have only played 19 games, so there’s plenty of season remaining, but already we’ve seen this year’s offense do some things we didn’t see much of last summer. And I’m not just talking about Judge’s massive home runs either. Consider:

2016 Walk Rate: 7.8%
2017 Walk Rate: 10.9%

2016 Infield Hits: 5.5%
2017 Infield Hits: 10.1%

Through 19 games we’ve seen a much more patient team, and I don’t think anyone will disagree. It’s not just the walks either. Last season the Yankees averaged 3.83 pitches per plate appearance. This year that number is 3.97 pitches per plate appearance. I know that doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but it is on a team-wide level, so it adds up. The Yankees are grinding out longer at-bats.

The infield hit rate thing is a bit of an anomaly — the highest single-season infield hit rate since batted ball data started being recorded in 2002 is 8.7% by the 2007 Mariners — and it will come down as the season progresses, though I also think it’s reasonable to believe the 2017 Yankees are better equipped to beat out those infield¬† hits than the 2016 Yankees. Why? Because there’s no more Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Carlos Beltran. Love those guys! But they were slow. So, so slow.

So far we’ve seen the Yankees be more patient at the plate and grind out at-bats, and also beat out some more infield hits. They also seem to be better at capitalizing on their opponent’s mistakes. Just last night Xander Bogaerts made a throwing error on a routine ground ball, allowing Castro to reach base. Judge, the next batter, sent a ball into the bullpen for a two-run homer. Perfect. Just perfect. That’s how you want to follow up a botched play.

“Capitalizing on your opponent’s mistakes” is not really something we can quantify. At least not fully. The Yankees have already scored eleven unearned runs this season — including one last night thanks to the Bogaerts error — after scoring only 33 last season, 17th most in MLB, so they’re well ahead of last year’s pace. Not all mistakes are errors, however. Sometimes it’s throwing to the wrong base, or not paying attention to a runner, that sort of thing.

We saw an example of this in addition to the Bogaerts error last night. Judge turned an 0-2 count into a walk in the sixth inning — yay plate discipline! — then was able to advance to second base on Rick Porcello’s wild pitch. That extra 90 feet allowed Judge to score on Bird’s single to left field. Bogaerts gave the Yankees a baserunner with an error and Porcello gave them an extra base with a wild pitch. The Yankees took advantage both times.

I have no idea whether any of this will last. The infield singles almost certainly won’t, but tough at-bats and capitalizing on mistakes? That’s something we’d all love to see continue. Good offenses typically do those things. The Yankees have some power on the way in Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez, plus hopefully a rebounding Bird (and Matt Holliday), so maybe they won’t need all these little things to succeed. Either way, it’s happened already, and it has helped the Yankees get off to this nice 12-7 start.