The Yankees’ Five Shortest Home Runs of 2017

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

Thanks to a multitude of factors, 2017 was the year of the home run. There were more homers hit this season (6,105) than in any other season in baseball history, and the Yankees contributed to that greatly. They led baseball with 241 home runs, including 161 homers by players no older than 27. Hooray for the youth movement.

Last week we looked at the first longest Yankees homers of the season. Now it’s time to move to the other end of the spectrum and look at the shortest Yankees homers of the season. Yankee Stadium, as we all know, is the only ballpark that gives up hilariously short home runs. You never see cheap homers into the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park or around the Pesky Pole at Fenway Park. Only the short porch in Yankee Stadium. Crazy.

In all seriousness, the short porch leads to a lot of cheap home runs each season, and sometimes you can do nothing other than shake your head and laugh. My personal favorite are the balls that clear the wall after the hitter slams the bat and curses at himself because he thought he missed his pitch. In honor of the short porch and cheap home runs everywhere, here are the five shortest home runs hit by Yankees in 2017.

5. Ellsbury vs. Yovani Gallardo

The best stretch by a Yankee not named Aaron Judge this year came from Jacoby Ellsbury, who was out of his mind during a four-week stretch spanning late-August and early-September. Ellsbury didn’t have a good year overall, but that hot streak helped the Yankees win a lot of games. He came up big a few times.

On August 26th, one night after a tough extra innings loss, Ellsbury came through with a go-ahead three-run home run against Gallardo. He got the Yankees on the board with a run-scoring single earlier in the game. Here’s the dinger:

Gotta love that short porch. The Yankees were scuffling a bit at the time and runs were hard to come by, especially with Judge still mired in his slump. Ellsbury’s hot streak was well-timed, as was this home run. Distance: 336 feet.

4. Hicks vs. Danny Duffy

Know how Judge dominated the longest homers list? Aaron Hicks dominates the shortest homers list. Didn’t expect that! He hit three of the four shortest homers by a Yankee this year.

The longest of Hicksie’s three short homers came in a loss to the Royals. Duffy crushed the Yankees that day, holding them to two runs in seven innings. The two runs scored on solo homers by Hicks and Chris Carter. The Hicks dinger was an opposite field job into the short porch.

Hicks gave the Yankees the lead! And Carter added to that lead! Then the bullpen completely melted down. Adam Warren, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve combined to allow five runs and get four outs. Ouch. The regular late-inning guys must’ve not been available. Distance: 336 feet.

3. Hicks vs. Addison Reed

Shout out to Reed for showing up in both the longest homers and shortest homers posts. He allowed the fourth longest homer by a Yankee and also the third shortest homer by a Yankee this season.

This home run was, at the time, one of the biggest homers of the season. The Red Sox were in town and the Yankees had lost five of their previous eight games to fall 4.5 games back of Boston in the AL East. It was gut check time. The Yankees had to take a stand to stay in the division race. So of course they fell behind 2-0 in the first inning. Groan. Hanley Ramirez walloped a two-run homer against Jaime Garcia.

The BoSox stretched the lead to 3-0 by time the eighth inning rolled around. Brett Gardner started the eighth inning rally with a walk against Reed, then Hicks, in his second game back from his first oblique injury, got the Yankees on the board with a home run into the right field corner.

I’m not sure how Hicks kept that ball fair. It was a slider right in on his hands, and he was able to keep it just inside the foul pole. The homer got the Yankees to within 3-2, and they went on to add three more runs in the inning to take a 5-3 lead. Hicks then threw out Eduardo Nunez at third in the ninth to help the Yankees to one of their best come-from-behind wins of 2017. Distance: 335 feet. Hmmm. I have my doubts about that one. Looked shorter.

2. Hicks vs. Michel Ynoa

The season was still young and we were all very much in the “is Hicks good now?” mode. It was the 15th game of the season — it was the tenth game for Hicks, personally — and Hicks lined his fourth homer over the wall in right field. Well, no, not over. The ball hit the top of the fence and hopped over.

On one hand, Hicks crushed that ball and it was an extra-base hit off the bat. On the other hand, LOL at that homer. Distance: 335 feet. How? You’re losing me here, Statcast. For what it’s worth, Hit Tracker measured this one at 334 feet. Whatever. A silly homer either way.

1. Gregorius vs. Tony Cingrani

The shortest home run of the season was so short that it was only a few inches away from being robbed. Scott Schebler needed about nine more inches on his vertical to potentially reel this one in. Didi Gregorius provided two insurance runs with this blast, which he of course hooked into the short porch.

That home run was the fourth in three days for Sir Didi, and his sixth in the first 13 games coming out of the All-Star break. Distance: 332 feet. How that measured at 332 feet and the Hicks homer measured at 335 feet, I’ll never know.

The Yankees’ Five Biggest Hits of 2017

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

For the first time since 2012, the Yankees played in an actual postseason series this year. They beat the Twins in the AL Wild Card Game and came back from down 0-2 to beat the Indians in the ALDS — how cool was that? — before dropping Game 7 of the ALCS to the Astros. It was a fun season with a lot of big hits along the way.

Once again, I’m going to take my annual look at the five biggest hits of the Yankees season, though I’m going to use a different metric this time. Normally I use win probability added because that’s simple enough. This time around, I’m going use championship probability added, with is available at The Baseball Gauge. CPA is similar to WPA, though it looks at the big picture. Instead of “how much closer are we to winning the game because of this hit?” (WPA), it’s “how much closer are we to winning the World Series because of this hit?” (CPA). Easy, right?

Given the nature of CPA, the biggest hits of the year all came in the postseason. Winning one random game in May doesn’t improve your World Series hopes nearly as much as winning a postseason game in October. So anyway, let’s look at the five biggest hits of the season for the Yankees, shall we?

5. Judge vs. Giles in ALCS Game Four

Overall, the postseason was not kind to Aaron Judge. He hit .188/.316/.500 (114 wRC+) with a 47.4% strikeout rate in 13 postseason games, though he did provide some very big hits along the way. The biggest: his game-tying double in Game Four against the Astros. The Yankees were down 4-0 with nine outs to go in that game, and they won. The Fighting Spirit prevailed.

The comeback rally started with a Judge solo home run, which cut to deficit to 4-1. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but hey, a comeback has to start somewhere, right? The Yankees got to within one run with two run-scoring outs — Gary Sanchez had a sac fly in the seventh and Brett Gardner got a run home with a ground out in the eighth — and when Judge came to the plate against Ken Giles, the Yankees were down 4-3 with a runner on third and one out in the eighth inning.

Given his strikeout issues in October, it was easy to get discouraged when Judge fouled away a pitch to even the count 2-2. We were all waiting for the swing through the slider down-and-away. It never came. Giles did try to throw the slider down-and-away, but he left it up juuust enough for Judge to reach down and yank it to right field.

I thought it was a sacrifice fly off the bat. As strong as he is, I didn’t think Judge hit it hard enough to get it over the fence or even to the wall once he had to reach down for the slider like that. Somehow he managed to hammer it off the top of the all. Amazing. The double tied the game 4-4 and put the go-ahead run in scoring position. Two batters later, Sanchez split the right-center field gap for a go-ahead two-run double. So awesome. CPA of Judge’s double: +0.035.

4. Gardner vs. Allen in ALDS Game Five

Before Judge could be the hero in Game Four of the ALCS, the Yankees had to come back to beat the Indians in the ALDS. They won Game Three 1-0 thanks to Greg Bird‘s homer and Masahiro Tanaka‘s brilliance. They won Game Four 7-3 thanks to Luis Severino and a diverse offensive attack. Just forcing Game Five against a team as good as the Indians was quite the accomplishment.

The Yankees did not stop there. They jumped out to an early lead against Corey Kluber in Game Five, and when Gardner came to the plate in the ninth inning, his team was up 3-2. New York had runners on first and second with two outs and were looking for insurance. With the speedy Aaron Hicks at second, the Yankees did not need Gardner to find a gap. A single would suffice, and a single is what they got, but not until after Gardner battled Cody Allen for 12 — 12! — pitches. The glorious at-bat:

Here’s the crazy thing: that was Gardner’s second 12-pitch at-bat of the game. He battled Andrew Miller for 12 pitches in the fifth inning, though that at-bat ended in a strikeout. Can you imagine a left-handed hitter hanging in for a 12-pitch at-bat against Miller? Well, you don’t need to imagine. Gardner did it. And he did it against Allen as well, and drove in two huge insurance runs in the ninth inning of Game Five. CPA of Gardner’s single: +0.039.

3. Gregorius vs. Kluber in ALDS Game Five

Even after knocking him around in Game Two, having to face Kluber in Game Five of the ALDS was daunting. He’s probably going to win the Cy Young and he’s one of the three or four best pitchers in the world. No one wants to face that guy with the season on the line.

The Yankees jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead in Game Five thanks to a Didi Gregorius solo home run on a Kluber mistake. He missed his spot with a fastball by the full width of the plate. It was supposed to be away, and instead he left it up middle-in. Gregorius yanked it out to right for a first inning homer. And two innings later, Didi did it again. Kluber left a slider up, and Gregorius again hammered it to right field, this time for a two-run shot and a 3-0 lead.

I remember watching the game at home and feeling, for the first time in the series, that holy crap the Yankees might actually win this. Once they fell behind 0-2 in the series, I figured they were done. The Indians are so good. Then the Yankees won Game Three and I thought great, the season continues another day. Then the Yankees won Game Four and I though awesome, they’re really making them sweat. Then Gregorius hit his first homer. Hmmm. Then he hit his second. That’s when it really hit me. The comeback was on, truly. CPA of Didi’s second dinger: +0.042.

2. Headley vs. Musgrove in ALCS Game Four

Oh no oh no oh no oh yes oh yes oh yes! That describes this play in a nutshell. It was not a run-scoring hit, but it was an important hit as part of the comeback in Game Four of the ALCS. The Yankees were still down 4-2 at the time, and Todd Frazier opened the eighth inning with a single to left against Joe Musgrove. Pinch-hitter Chase Headley followed with what went into the record books as a single. It was so much more than that though.

After the game Headley explained he was thinking double out of the box, but he hit the first base bag weird and slipped, which led to the stumble. The Astros had him dead to rights, but thankfully Carlos Correa decided to throw to first base rather than second. The throw to first gave Headley enough time to hustle to second base to beat the tag. A second baseman with longer arms probably gets the tag down in time. I’m not trying to be a jerk. Jose Altuve’s a ridiculously good player. But his size may have cost him the out there.

Anyway, that single — Headley officially hit a single and advanced to second on the throw — put runners on second and third with no outs in a 4-2. That’s why it registers so high in terms of CPA. It put the tying run in scoring position with no outs, with the Yankees having a chance to win the game to even the series 2-2. CPA of Headley’s single: +0.042.

1. Bird vs. Morton in ALCS Game Seven

A harsh reminder of how close the Yankees were to the World Series. Their biggest hit of the season in terms of CPA did not drive in a run. It did not even lead to a run being scored later in the inning. It set them up to potentially score the tying run in Game Seven of the ALCS.

The Yankees were down 1-0 in the fifth inning of Game Seven, and Charlie Morton was going through the lineup a second time. He’d allowed some hard contact in the previous inning, and in that fifth inning, Bird greeted him with a first pitch leadoff double into the right field corner. Just like that, the Yankees had the tying run in scoring position in Game Seven.

At +0.044 CPA, Bird’s double was the biggest hit of the season. It moved the Yankees closer to a World Series championship than any other hit this year. And yet, the double led to heartbreak. Later in the inning Bird was thrown out at home on a rather spectacular play by Alex Bregman and Brian McCann on Frazier’s little grounder.

Brutal. Not the decision to run, necessarily, just the play itself. It was quite deflating. The Yankees had runners on the corners with one out in a tie game, then bam, Bird was thrown out at home. Yuck. The single biggest hit of the season led to that.

* * *

CPA and WPA are an objective look at something that, frankly, is quite subjective. You know when a big hit happens because you feel it. There are factors and context stats don’t consider. It doesn’t know that, say, the shutdown closer is warming up in the bullpen so you better score now. Or that the staff ace is looming in Game Four so you better not lose Game Three and fall behind in the series 2-1, you know?

Subjectively, I thought the three biggest hits of the season were Didi’s three-run game-tying homer in the Wild Card Game, Bird’s home run off Miller in Game Three of the ALDS, and Sanchez’s go-ahead two-run double in Game Four of the ALCS. I go to a lot of games each year, and I went to Houston for Games Six and Seven of the ALCS for CBS, and the loudest I heard a ballpark in 2017 was Yankee Stadium after Sanchez hit the double. It was louder than Minute Maid Park after the Astros won Game Seven. It was incredible.

The Bird home run pretty much saved the season. The Yankees were down 0-2 in the ALDS and needed that win, and it was pretty clear neither side was going to put together a sustained rally in the game. Both clubs were into their ace relievers at that point too. Then Bird smacked his dinger and brought the house down. Good times, good times.

* * *

That concludes the postseason portion of our program. Now let’s look back at the biggest hits of he regular season, because hey, big regular season hits are cool too.

Biggest regular season hits by CPA

  1. May 5th: Brett Gardner go-ahead three-run homer vs. Cubs (+0.005 CPA) (video)
  2. July 8th: Clint Frazier walk-off three-run homer vs. Brewers (+0.005 CPA) (video)
  3. July 27th: Gary Sanchez game-tying single vs. Rays (+0.005 CPA) (video)

Six other regular season hits registered at +0.004 CPA. The Gardner homer against the Cubs stands out as the biggest hit of the regular season for me. The Frazer walk-off job was pretty great too. Remember that Sanchez hit? That was when Tim Beckham and Adeiny Hechavarria miscommunicated and let a weak grounder get through the infield. It should’ve been the final out of the game.

Biggest regular season hits by WPA

  1. May 5th: Brett Gardner go-ahead three-run homer vs. Cubs (+0.730 WPA)
  2. July 8th: Clint Frazier walk-off three-run homer vs. Brewers (+0.650 WPA)
  3. April 28th: Starlin Castro game-tying two-run homer vs. Orioles (+0.470 WPA) (video)
  4. April 30th: Didi Gregorius game-tying two-run single vs. Orioles (+0.460 WPA) (video)
  5. June 23th: Brett Gardner game-tying solo homer vs. Rangers (+0.460 WPA) (video)

CPA and WPA agree the Gardner homer against the Cubs and Clint’s walk-off dinger were the two biggest hits of the regular season. I’m cool with that. Makes sense to me. The Castro homer was fun. Between the big comeback and the whole dropping to one knee thing, it was one of the most satisfying and aesthetically pleasing homers of the season. I don’t remember the Gregorius single against the O’s at all. That was the game Bryan Mitchell played first base. I still can’t believe that happened.

The Yankees’ Five Longest Home Runs of 2017

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

If you’re a fan of home runs, boy was this the season for you. MLB teams combined to hit 6,105 home runs in 2017, by far the most in history. The previous record was 5,693 homers set back in 2000. The record was broken by 412 homers (!) and with 12 days to go in the regular season. That is insanity. MLB insists the ball is not juiced. I have a very hard time believing that.

Anyway, the Yankees contributed greatly to that record home run total this season. They smashed 241 home runs in 2017, the most in baseball. One-hundred-and-sixty-one, or almost exactly two-thirds of those 241 homers, were hit by players age 27 or younger. The Yankees play in a home run ballpark and in a division with other home run ballparks, plus they’re getting younger and more powerful. Fun!

As a big fan of dingers, I’ve been putting together these “five longest homers of the season” posts since way back in 2010. Those posts covered 35 different home runs from 2010-16. Exactly one (1) of those 35 would have appeared in this year’s top five longest homers list. The Yankees didn’t just hit a lot of home runs this season. They hit a lot of long home runs this season. Let’s break down the top five.

5. Judge vs. Marco Estrada

Get ready for an awful lot of Aaron Judge, folks. He is featured in this post prominently. New York’s fifth longest home run of the season was No. 46 of his record-breaking rookie season. It came in the first inning too. Judge hit Estrada’s fifth pitch of the game, an 89.1 mph fastball up in the zone, into the Rogers Centre second deck for a missile solo homer on September 22nd.

The ball very nearly hit the scoreboard ribbon above the second deck. It got out in a hurry too. That’s usually what happens when a baseball leaves your bat at 113.6 mph. This home run was the third in a stretch of seven homers in seven days for Judge. Distance: 469 feet.

4. Judge vs. Addison Reed

I remember this home run as the end of Judge’s ugly second half slump. He hit .176/.337/.340 (82 wRC+) in 199 plate appearances from the start of the second half through the start of this game, September 3rd against the Red Sox. And in his first three at-bats of this game, Judge went strikeout, strikeout, ground out. Yuck.

The Yankees took an early lead against Chris Sale in this game, and worked him hard too. He threw 109 pitches in only 4.1 innings. Yikes. The Yankees were in the process of breaking the game open in the sixth inning, and had already stretched their lead to 7-1 when Judge came to the plate against Addison Reed with a man on base. This home run came on another high fastball, though Reed (93.7 mph) throws quite a bit harder than Estrada.

This was around the time teams started pitching to Judge because he’d been struggling for so long. They didn’t give him much to hit in the first half. Then, as the strikeouts mounted in the second half, they began to feel more confident attacking Judge. There were two outs and a base open when he hit this homer off Reed. That situation would’ve equaled an automatic intentional walk in the first half. Instead, the Red Sox had Reed pitch to Judge, and he missed with a 1-1 fastball. Distance: 469 feet.

3. Judge vs. Marcus Stroman

I told you Judge would be featured prominently in this post. This is another September homer too. In fact, this was his 52nd and final regular season home run. It came on September 30th. Judge really locked it in during the season’s final month, following his slump.

As with the Stroman and Reed homers, this was another fastball up in the strike zone. The game was scoreless in the fourth inning when Marcus Stroman’s little 2-0 count 93.1 mph two-seamer ran right into Judge’s bat path. You almost can’t see the ball leaving his bat it got out so quick.

The exit velocity on that dinger: 118.3 mph. Good gravy. It was the eighth hardest hit ball and fourth longest home run in all of baseball this season. Judge hit the ball so hard Stroman couldn’t help but praise him after the game.

Judge is crushing dingers so far opposing pitchers have to praise him after the game. What a season. Distance: 484 feet.

By the way, remember when I said just one home run from 2010-16 would’ve made this list? It would’ve slotted in fourth behind this Judge blast. Alex Rodriguez swatted a 477 foot homer back in 2015. No other Yankees homer from 2010-16 topped even 460 feet. Pretty crazy.

2. Sanchez vs. Matt Boyd

Hey, it’s not Aaron Judge. It’s the Yankees other young slugger. Most teams hope to have one guy like this to build an offense around. The Yankees have two powerful 20-somethings with one full season under their belt.

Gary Sanchez went on a ridiculous home run tear in mid-August, hitting ten homers in the span of 15 days. The seventh of those ten homers came in Detroit on August 22nd, two days before the brawl game. Lefty Matt Boyd left an 80.4 mph cement mixer changeup up in the zone in the first inning, and Sanchez hit it to the concession stands beyond the left field bleachers. Look at this thing:

You know what’s crazy? Sanchez almost looked a little bit off balance when he hit that ball. Like he was out in front of the changeup a little bit. Somehow he still managed to hit the ball that far. The homer broke Statcast. We never did an exit velocity reading on that one. It was, however, the second longest home run of the season. In all of baseball, I mean. Not just for the Yankees. Distance: 493 feet.

1. Judge vs. Logan Verrett

Ho hum, another Judge homer. He hit baseball’s longest home run this season, two of baseball’s four longest homers this season, and five of the Yankees’ six longest homers this season.

The year’s longest home run came on June 11th, during the blowout series against the Orioles, in which the Yankees won all three games by the combined score of 38-8. It was the final game of the series, and the Yankees were up 7-3 in the sixth, so Baltimore’s spirit was already broken. Up-and-down arm Logan Verrett was soaking up innings in the eventual blowout, and he threw Judge the hangiest of hanging sliders. It was 84.7 mph and it just spun into nothing.

Judge hit the ball to the very last row of the left field bleachers, near the retired numbers. This one broke Statcast too. We don’t have an exit velocity measurement, which is disappointing. The nonstop flood of exit velocity updates on Twitter is pretty annoying, but for monster homers like this one, yeah I’d like to see it. What an absurd home run. It was the longest non-Coors Field homer in baseball since Kris Bryant hit one 495 feet back in September 2015. Distance: 495 feet.

* * *

Sanchez and Judge have a monopoly on the longest Yankees homers this season and I get the feeling it’s going to stay that way for a few years. Those two plus Greg Bird figure to hit plenty of long dingers in the coming years. So, for the sake of variety, here are the Yankees’ five longest homers hit by players other than Judge and Sanchez this season.

  1. April 17th: Matt Holliday vs. Derek Holland (459 feet) (video)
  2. July 5th: Ji-Man Choi vs. Marco Estrada (457 feet) (video)
  3. July 28th: Clint Frazier vs. Austin Pruitt (455 feet) (video)
  4. June 10th: Starlin Castro vs. Chris Tillman (452 feet) (video)
  5. May 3rd: Matt Holliday vs. Marcus Stroman (446 feet) (video)

Shout out to Estrada and Stroman for appearing in this post twice. I remember being surprised Holliday still had that kind of power when he hit that home run against Holland. Who knew he could still hit a ball 460-ish feet at age 37? Also, that May 3rd homer was No. 300 for Holliday in his career.

And how about Choi? He wasn’t with the Yankees long, but he did manage to hit a very long dinger while in pinstripes. Frazier’s legendary bat speed was on full display with that July 28th homer. I’m looking forward to a full season of the Clint experience in 2018.

The Yankees and swinging away in 3-0 counts

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

Once upon a time I was a hardcore “make the pitcher work” guy. And I still am, but to a lesser degree. There are obvious benefits to running up the opposing starter’s pitch count and getting to the bullpen as early as possible, even these days when everyone coming out of the bullpen seems to throw 97 with a wicked slider. The more pitches you see in an at-bat, the more likely the pitcher is to make a mistake.

Over the years though, I’ve started to gradually shift away from the “work the count all the time” mentality, and now I’m a pretty big fan of swinging early in the count and ambushing first or second pitch fastballs. Especially against great pitchers who don’t give you many pitches to hit in general. Selective aggressive is a good way to describe it. Work the count, sure, but if you get something to hit early, give it your “A” swing.

Part of selective aggressive is the 3-0 green light, which usually comes from the bench. The manager or hitting coach will decide who should swing away in a 3-0 count. When to swing away is pretty important too. Down a run or two late? Forget it. Take the 3-0 pitch because you need baserunners. Up a few runs? That’s a good time to swing away and try to tack on runs.

The Yankees as a team hit .545 with two home runs in 3-0 counts this year. The same guy hit both homers: Starlin Castro. He hit one against Dylan Covey in April, which I do not remember at all, and he hit the other against Chris Tillman in June. That one I do remember. It was during that ridiculous series against the Orioles in Yankee Stadium, when the Yankees swept the O’s and outscored them 38-8 in the three games.

Look at that cookie. That’s a 91 mph get-me-over fastball right down the heart of the plate. Tillman might as well have put it on a tee. That’s exactly the kind of pitch you’re hunting when you get the green light on 3-0. You hope the pitcher assumes you’re taking all the way and he gives you a meatball.

Now, the Yankees hit .545 in 3-0 counts this season and that sounds wonderful, but this is an extremely small sample size. The Yankees put eleven balls in play in 3-0 counts in 2017. That’s all. They had 135 plate appearances end on a 3-0 pitch in 2017: 6-for-11 (.545) with two homers, four singles, one hit-by-pitch, and 123 walks. That doesn’t mean they only swung eleven times in a 3-0 count, however. Sometimes you swing-and-miss in a 3-0 count, or foul it off. It happens.

Having watched an embarrassing amount of Yankees baseball over the years, it seemed to me the Yankees turned it loose in 3-0 counts a little more often this season than in previous years. So I decided to look it up. Why not? Here are the team’s 3-0 swing rates over the last few years.

NYY 3-0 swing rate MLB rank MLB average Hitting Coaches
2017 9.3% 10th 9.4% Alan Cockrell & Marcus Thames
2016 5.6% 26th 8.7% Cockrell & Thames
2015 6.2% 21st 7.9% Jeff Pentland & Cockrell
2014 6.9% 21st 8.3% Kevin Long

See? I wasn’t crazy. The Yankees did swing more often in 3-0 counts this season. And that’s all swings, just to be clear. Balls in play, swings and misses, foul balls … if they offered at a 3-0 pitch, it’s included in the data regardless of outcome. The Yankees definitely did swing more often in 3-0 counts this season. But was it worth it?

  • 2017: 134 OPS+ in 3-0 counts (8th in MLB)
  • 2016: 0 OPS+ (30th)
  • 2015: 108 OPS+ (14th)
  • 2014: 112 OPS+ (11th)

So … kinda? Yeah, I guess it was worth it, but again, we’re talking super small sample sizes here. The way I see it, swinging more often in 3-0 counts might not make much difference across a full 162-game season, but in an individual game, it could make a huge difference. Good or bad. You could hit that homer to break the game open or pop it up and kill a potentially big inning.

The 3-0 green light is one tool in the shed. It’s something teams can employ strategically depending on the game situation and the personnel. It wouldn’t make sense to let Ronald Torreyes or Austin Romine swing away 3-0. Someone like Castro or Gary Sanchez or Aaron Judge could do major damage with a 3-0 green light, however. And because the Yankees have so many count workers — the Yankees saw the fifth most 3-0 counts in baseball in 2017 — they’re going to see a lot of 3-0 counts. Giving everyone the take sign would be silly.

Working the count and prolonging at-bats will forever be a good strategy, as will taking walks. Those are never bad. Walks alone won’t win you games though. There is such a thing as being too passive at the plate — Brett Gardner is definitely guilty of this at times — and there’s value in being unpredictable. Swinging at a few more 3-0 pitches can equal more walks as pitchers become more careful. The 3-0 green light may not turn an average offense into a powerhouse, but it something that can help, and the Yankees used it more often in 2017 than in previous years.

After brutal ALDS, Aaron Judge could benefit from being more aggressive in the ALCS

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Thanks to their historic comeback from an 0-2 deficit in the ALDS, the Yankees are heading to the ALCS to the face the Astros. It’s only the eighth time in 59 total opportunities that a team came back to win the LDS after losing the first two games. And the Yankees did it against the best team in the American League. A satisfying series, it was.

Two things stand out about the ALDS comeback. One, the Yankees could’ve won that series 4-1. They had a five-run lead in Game Two, and it slipped away in part due to Joe Girardi‘s non-challenge. The Indians had not lost three straight games since July — they’d lost just four of their final previous 39 games as well — then the Yankees went out and beat them in three straight. Hot damn.

And two, the Yankees won the series and completed the comeback even though Aaron Judge, their best player and a legitimate MVP candidate, was pretty much a non-factor all series. He went 1-for-20 with 16 (!) strikeouts in the five games. The one hit was a big one, it was that two-run double against Trevor Bauer in Game Four, but still. The Indians did an incredible job keeping Judge in check.

“I haven’t been doing my job there at the top of the order, and my teammates came up big for me this series. Now it’s time to regroup and get ready for the (ALCS),” said Judge to Bryan Hoch and Dan Martin following last night’s win. “It’s not tough for me. I’ve been through this before. Everyone has. Guys were able to pick me up when I wasn’t able to get the job done.”

On one hand, the Yankees managed to win the series despite Judge’s performance, which is evidence of how good and deep they are. On the other hand, they probably can’t count on that happening again. The Yankees need Judge to contribute. Not necessarily monster homers every at-bat, though I’d take them. Quality at-bats, base hits, walks … something more than strikeouts.

Judge, to his credit, did work the count in the ALDS. He didn’t go up there, flail at three pitches for the strikeout, then head back to the dugout. He saw 138 pitches in his 24 plate appearances in the series, or 5.75 pitches per plate appearance. That’s ridiculous. We also saw a Judge take a lot of called strikes in the ALDS. Here are the pitch locations and pitch types of Judge’s called strikes in the series, via Baseball Savant:

aaron-judge-alds-called-strikes

First things first, yes, Judge did get hosed on some called strikes both down below the zone and off the edges of the plate. The called strike three on the strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play last night was particularly bad. Umpires are going to make bad calls sometimes. It happens. With Judge, it seems to happen down at the knees more than anywhere. Umps haven’t adjusted to a 6-foot-7 hitter’s strike zone, I guess.

“He’s been a little more emotional … I think sometimes young kids are afraid to say something. But I definitely wouldn’t have a problem with it,” said Girardi to Mike Mazzeo when asked whether Judge should argue balls and strikes more often. “He’s extremely respectful. But I don’t necessarily think arguing for yourself is being disrespectful if you do it in the right way. It could hurt him, too. It could go the other way, too. So it’s a fine line. You really don’t know.”

And secondly, there are more than a few hittable pitches on that plot. Breaking balls that stayed up and fastballs over the plate and in the bottom half of the strike zone. They’re not meatballs, but they were pitches he might’ve been able to do something with. Judge crushed pitches basically everywhere during the regular season. Up, down, inside, on the outer half, you name it here. Here is his regular season isolated power zone profile, via Baseball Savant:

aaron-judge-2017-iso

Those pitches down in the zone and over the middle of the plate — not the pitches down and away — Judge can handle those. He did all through the regular season. The Indians did a tremendous job keeping Judge off balance in the ALDS — by Game Two it was clear he was going to see a steady diet of breaking balls — but there definitely appeared to be some instances in which Judge let a hittable pitch go by.

The best way to avoid strikeouts? Don’t get into two-strike counts. And after an ALDS that featured lots of deep counts and also some passivity, the best way for Judge to get back on track could be being more aggressive at the plate, and jumping on those early count pitches in the zone. That isn’t to say he should be reckless and swing at everything over the plate, but look for something hittable early rather than waiting for the perfect pitch, and trying to work a long at-bat. Jump on ’em early, you know?

Fortunately for Judge, he no longer has to face the Indians pitching staff. The Astros have a great staff too! But they don’t have Corey Kluber’s slider, or Trevor Bauer’s curveball, or Carlos Carrasco’s slider, or Andrew Miller‘s slider, or Cody Allen’s curveball. Those are nasty, nasty pitches. Justin Verlander’s curveball is obviously great, as in Ken Giles’ slider, otherwise the Astros can’t bury Judge with elite breaking balls. That’s not their staff.

That doesn’t mean they won’t attack Judge’s weaknesses, of course. They’re still going to throw him breaking balls because breaking balls are harder to hit than fastballs, and anything you can do to limit how often this guy makes contact is a plus. Judge is still a threat to hit a ball off the scoreboard at any moment. Other teams don’t feel comfortable with him in the box. Judge had a rough ALDS and the Yankees won anyway. To have their best chance to beat the Astros, the Yankees will need Judge to do more at the plate, and the best way to do it may be swinging early in the count.

“He was going up against some amazing pitching,” said Brian Cashman to Hoch last night. “Turn the page and now focus on Houston. Reggie (Jackson) always talked about, ‘If you have the bat in your hand, you can change the story.’ Thankfully, he’ll have the bat in his hand for another series. He’s one of the reasons we got this far, but it takes a village. Other people were able to pick it up and find a way to carry us through.”

The Twins probably won’t pitch to Aaron Judge, so others need to carry the Yankees in the Wild Card Game

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

I think the most impressive thing about Aaron Judge‘s rookie season is the way he rebounded from a deep slump not once, but twice. Sure, the massive dingers were cool — no one loves dingers like I do — but the league tested Judge and he passed with flying colors. He adjusted following his MLB debut last year and he adjusted again following his midseason slump. It was quite impressive for a rookie.

Judge finished the 2017 regular season with a .284/.422/.627 (172 wRC+) batting line and a rookie record 52 home runs, and in September he authored a .311/.463/.889 (223 wRC+) batting line with 15 homers. He was a force as the Yankees pushed for a postseason spot and hung around the AL East race far longer than anyone expected. Judge will win Rookie of the Year. It should be unanimous. Will he win MVP? Eh, maybe. The fact he is in the conversation is pretty cool.

Tomorrow night the season will be on the line in the Wild Card Game, and of course the Yankees are hoping Judge helps them to a victory. He’s the centerpiece of their offense and he’s almost certainly going to bat second, nice and high up in the order. Here’s the thing though: the Twins won’t let Judge beat them. I assume that’s their plan going into the Wild Card Game. Don’t give Judge anything to hit.

When the Twins visited Yankee Stadium two weeks ago, they did pitch to Judge, and he burned them over and over and over again. Judge went 4-for-11 (.364) with two homers, two sac flies, one walk, and two strikeouts in the three-game sweep. The Twins pitched to him in every single situation:

  • Bases empty: 3-for-3 with two singles and a homer
  • Men on with first base occupied: 0-for-2 with a sac fly
  • Men on with first base open: 1-6 with a homer, a walk, and a sac fly

Perhaps the Twins will take their chances and hope Judge saves all his hits for when the bases are empty tomorrow night. Something tells me that will not be the case. In a close game, they’re probably going to take the bat right out of his hands because he can change the game with one swing. That’s what I would want the Twins to do if I were a Twins fans, anyway. This isn’t a normal hitter here. Judge might get the Barry Bonds treatment.

What does this mean? This means it’ll be up to the other guys in the lineup to lead the charge offensively, because Judge might not even get a chance to have an impact. Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius, the guys hitting behind Judge, will have to make the Twins pay for pitching around him. The No. 9 hitter and Brett Gardner will have to get on base to force the Twins to pitch to Judge. Clog those bases and make pitching around Judge a non-option.

Fortunately the Yankees have a deep lineup, one in which Todd Frazier and Jacoby Ellsbury figure to hit in the bottom third tomorrow night. Frazier hits for a low average, sure, but he can get on base and hit for power. Ellsbury makes an awful lot of contact and can create havoc with his legs. From 2013-15, guys like that were hitting much higher in the lineup for the Yankees. Now they’re hitting eighth and ninth. The lineup depth is there to supplement Judge.

With any luck, the Yankees will back the Twins into a corner and force them to pitch to Judge several times. Runners on first and second with no outs, or men on the corners with one out, that sort of thing. Otherwise I just can’t see him getting much to hit — other than mistakes, of course — and Judge is more than disciplined enough to take those walks. Getting on base is good! But it would also be nice to see Judge get some chances to swing the bat.

Can the Yankees win without Judge contributing offensively? Of course. They did it a bunch of times this season. It sure does make life easier when he contributes though, and the Twins are very aware of this. Maybe Minnesota will trust their game plan and go after Judge all night, like they did two weeks ago. That’d be cool. I’d welcome that. I trust Judge to do damage. If they don’t pitch to him, it’ll be up to everyone else to carry the load offensively, and the Yankees have the firepower to do exactly that.

With reinforcements on the way, it’s time to drop Aaron Judge in the lineup

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

There’s a weird dynamic in Yankeeland right now. The two most vilified players on the roster are the runaway Rookie of the Year favorite and the best young catcher in baseball. Gary Sanchez, who is hitting .270/.346/.519 (127 wRC+) with 23 home runs this season, has been catching grief for his league leading 12 passed balls. He was even benched for a game two weeks ago.

Aaron Judge, meanwhile, is hitting .282/.413/.593 (163 wRC+) with an AL leading 37 home runs this season, though it really has been a tale of two seasons for him. He hit .329/.448/.691 (197 wRC+) in the first half and has slumped down to .169/.329/.355 (80 wRC+) in 35 games since the All-Star break. Over the weekend Judge went 1-for-12 with five strikeouts in the three games against the Red Sox.

“I’m not getting the job done. I want to be there. I’m the three hitter, the middle of the order. I’ve got to be that guy for the team,” said Judge following yesterday’s game (video link). “I trust the guys behind me to get the job done, but as the three hitter, I want to be that guy in the position with runners on every single time. It’s a little disappointing not being able to get the job done but you can’t pout, you can’t cry. You’ve just got to keep working and move on.”

Not surprisingly, Joe Girardi was asked about moving Judge out of the third spot in the lineup prior to yesterday’s game. That’s usually what happens then the three hitter has struggled as much as Judge has the last few weeks. And, again not surprisingly, Girardi shot the idea down entirely. He’s always been a very patient manager who sticks with his guys, sometimes to a fault.

“He’s going to stay (in the third spot),” said Girardi prior to yesterday’s game (video link). “I’m not going to move him. He’s still dangerous. He’s still getting on a pretty high clip and he’s on in front of some other guys that are swinging the bat well so, yeah, he’s going to stay there … I think you fall into a roulette, if you’re just moving guys all over the place (based on hot and cold streaks) … We’re kinda going on what he’s done this year, and we’re letting him fight his way out of it.”

Girardi is patient and will stick with his guys, but not indefinitely. Just this weekend Aroldis Chapman was demoted out of the closer’s role. Literally one day after Girardi said he was sticking him with as a closer. It took four straight pretty terrible outings, but it happened. Jacoby Ellsbury has been riding the bench for weeks. Eventually Tyler Clippard was moved into low-leverage situations. Girardi will make changes when he feels they are necessary, and right now, he doesn’t feel a lineup change is necessary.

That said, I believe they’ve reached the point with Judge where it’s not best for the team to continue hitting him third. That’s the goal here, right? To put the team in the best position to win. This isn’t a one or two-week slump. He’s batted 155 times in the second half. That’s nearly 30% of his season plate appearances. I’m not saying Judge should bat ninth or be demoted to Triple-A or anything like that. But bump him down a bit below some presently better hitters? Sure. This lineup makes sense to me:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 1B Todd Frazier
  8. DH … uh … Tyler Austin? Jacoby Ellsbury?
  9. 2B Tyler Wade Ronald Torreyes

Nice and easy. Basically flip Sanchez and Judge in yesterday’s lineup. Sanchez is swinging very well of late and deserves more at-bats than Judge. Same with Gregorius. It wouldn’t be very difficult to argue Headley should hit ahead of Judge as well, though I’m not sure I’d bat Judge any lower than fifth given his power. He can still change a game with one swing and he could snap out of it at any time.

Girardi says he’s going to stick with Judge as the three hitter for the time being, so I don’t expect him to be moved down even though I think it should happen. The Yankees do, however, have several players nearing a return from the disabled list, and perhaps their returns will make Girardi more open to batting Judge lower in the lineup. The return of Starlin Castro and Greg Bird will give the Yankees more weapons and Girardi more lineup options. For example:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. 1B Chase Headley
  8. DH Greg Bird
  9. 3B Todd Frazier

See? Much deeper lineup. We really have no idea what Bird will give the Yankees once he returns because the guy’s missed close to two years, and the last time he was in the big leagues, he didn’t hit at all. You know how bad Judge has been since the All-Star break? Bird was even worse in April. So yeah, batting him down in the lineup and moving him up once he’s shows he’s capable of producing at a high clip works for me.

Anyway, the addition of Castro — I should mention I’m not too optimistic Matt Holliday will come back and be an impact hitter again, though I’m hoping to be completely wrong — gives the Yankees another quality bat, and another hitter to bolster the middle of the lineup. It’s one thing to stick with Judge as the three hitter when so many regulars are hurt. Once everyone is healthy though, it’s much easier to bump him down in the lineup.

The Judge lineup demotion is intended to do two things. One, to give more productive hitters more at-bats. That’s simple enough, right? And two, to take some pressure off him. Judge does look like he’s pressing now, and that’s normal when a guy is in a slump. They all press and try to hit a five-run home run each at-bat. Maybe dropping him in the lineup won’t alleviate any of that pressure and Judge will still press. I don’t think that’s a good enough reason not to do it though.

Girardi doesn’t want to demote Judge in the lineup because he believes he’s going to turn it around and soon, and that’s great. A manager should have confidence in his guys. At the same time, Judge’s slump is going on six weeks now, and there comes a time when action is necessary. If Girardi wants to wait until Castro and Bird return and he has more lineup options, fine. Maintaining the status quo doesn’t seem like a viable option anymore, however. Judge hasn’t produced for too long now and it’s time to de-emphasize him in the lineup, and hopefully it’s only temporary.