It’s not yet time for the Yankees to remove CC Sabathia from the rotation

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night, for the fourth time in his last four starts, CC Sabathia put the Yankees in a early hole, this time by allowing five runs in the second inning. The Reds strung together six singles and a walk that inning. Sabathia did settle down and retire 13 of the final 15 men he faced, but by then it was too late. The Yankees couldn’t come back, which they’d done the last two times Sabathia gave up early runs.

“For whatever reason, (the cutter) was leaking over the plate,” said Sabathia to Andrew Marchand after the game, which matches what my eyes told me. Sabathia couldn’t get the cutter all the way in on righties in that second inning, and they kept making him pay. “It seemed like he didn’t find his cutter until later on. Once he did, it got a lot easier,” added Joe Girardi following the game.

After three excellent starts to begin the season, Sabathia has become the biggest liability in the rotation these last few weeks. We’re talking 22 runs and 42 baserunners in 20.2 innings these last four starts. Yikes. This is reminiscent of the Sabathia we saw from 2013-15, before last season’s resurgence. And with the Yankees playing extremely well overall, it’s only natural to wonder whether Sabathia still belongs in the rotation. Heck, it would be fair to ask that even if they weren’t playing well.

First things first: the Yankees are not pulling Sabathia from the rotation anytime soon, so don’t get your hopes up. They’ve stuck with him through much worse than this and there’s no reason to think that will change. I get the argument that he’s an impending free agent and not part of the long-term future, so give a young player a chance, but I don’t think that means much right now. The Yankees have shown in the past Sabathia has a very long leash and I’m sure the same is true now.

Secondly, I don’t think pulling Sabathia from the rotation would be a smart idea anyway. At least not right now. Sabathia had a miserable eleven-start stretch in the middle of last season — he threw 65 innings with a 6.78 ERA (5.33 FIP) from June 22nd through August 27th last summer — before snapping out of it and finishing strong. Based on what I saw in his first three starts, I think he should be given a chance to work through this.

To put it another way, I’m not convinced this is an irreversible decline and not simply a slump. It happens! Masahiro Tanaka is going through it right now himself. Sabathia’s stuff has been fine outside that one start in Pittsburgh. Last night the cutter averaged 91.0 mph and he generated swings and misses with both his changeup (three on eleven swings) and slider (two on seven swings). The problem is location. Look at lat night’s pitch locations, via Baseball Savant (Trackman calls the cutter a four-seamer for whatever reason):

cc-sabathia-pitch-locations

Way too many pitches out over the plate. Sabathia used to be able to get away with that location earlier in his career. Now he can’t. He has to be on the edges and/or down. Middle-middle is a bad combination and that’s where Sabathia has left too many pitches the last four times out. I’d be more worried if Sabathia lost stuff. If his fastball was more 87-88 mph or something like that. The stuff is pretty much what it was last year. The location is not.

The Yankees do, of course, have options to replace Sabathia should they decide to go that way at some point. Adam Warren is not moving into the rotation, so forget about that. The Yankees still have Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Cessa available to start, and you know what? Odds are they’ll all get the ball at some point. The Yankees have been very fortunate so far. They’re one of seven teams to use only five starters so far. That won’t last forever. The other guys will be needed to start at some point.

Sabathia has been pretty terrible the last four times out, there’s no denying that, though his leash will be long and I think the Yankees are smart to stick with him right now. We can reevaluate things in a few weeks. I think it’s just a matter of correcting some location issues — and Sabathia seemed to do that after the second inning last night, I should add — to get him back to being the league average-ish starter he was last season. It’s still early in the season. Now’s the time for patience, not a drastic reaction to four starts.

Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, and the Yankees’ pitching staff

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Later today Gary Sanchez will begin a minor league rehab assignment with Triple-A Scranton, and, if all goes well the next few days, he could rejoin the Yankees in time for the start of their road trip Friday. Sanchez played four games and four innings before hurting his biceps taking a swing at Camden Yards. Fortunately it was nothing structural with his shoulder or elbow.

Losing Sanchez seemed devastating at the time. The Yankees started the season slowly, and while Sanchez had yet to really get going at the plate, taking away ostensibly their best hitter felt like a recipe for disaster. Instead, the Yankees have gone 14-5 since the Sanchez injury and have averaged 5.55 runs per game. Turns out all they had to do to start winning was lose a guy who hit 20 homers in one-third of a season last year. Who knew?

The Yankees have thrived without Sanchez thanks in large part to fill-in catcher Austin Romine. Romine was pushed into everyday duty for the first time in his big league career and he’s responded by hitting .315/.350/.463 (125 wRC+), including going 4-for-6 with two walks and no strikeouts with runners in scoring position. How about that? Romine has been a godsend these last few weeks. Can’t say enough about the job he’s done.

The offense only tells part of the story though. The Yankees sport a solid 3.51 ERA, which ranks fourth in all of baseball. (It was a 3.35 ERA prior to yesterday’s loss.) Since the Sanchez injury the pitching staff has a 3.38 ERA in 176 innings overall, including a 3.60 ERA in 140 innings with Romine behind the plate. Run prevention has been the surprise of the season so far. I don’t think anyone saw this coming.

“He’s done a really good job with our pitching staff. He’s very bright and he knows what he’s doing back there, and he understands how to call a game,” said Joe Girardi over the weekend when asked about Romine’s work behind the plate. “Sanchez is our No. 1 guy here, but Romine has played excellent. He could be a No. 1, too. I believe in the kid and he’s played really well.”

As Girardi said, Sanchez is the No. 1 catcher, and whenever he gets healthy he’ll step in behind the plate. He’s a cornerstone type of player. Sanchez showed us what he is capable of last year, and it’s basically what Aaron Judge is doing now, only as a catcher. Romine knows the deal — “All I want to do as a backup player that gets thrust into that kind of position is do well for the team and show them that you belong,” he said over the weekend — and will go back to being the backup when Sanchez returns.

With Sanchez’s return looming, it’s fair to wonder what it means for the pitching staff. The pitchers have performed very well with Romine behind the plate, and now the Yankees will be throwing a wrench into that. Here’s the thing though: evaluating a catcher’s impact on the pitching staff is tough. Nearly impossibly to isolate, at least right now. At the end of the day, it is still up to the pitcher to execute. Calling the best game in the world won’t help if Michael Pineda is still hanging two-strike sliders, you know?

Here are the facts. These are the numbers with Romine and Sanchez catching since the start of last season to give us the largest possible sample size:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% HR/9
with Romine 492.1 3.77 3.74 22.1% 7.4% 1.08
with Sanchez 353 4.39 4.29 23.1% 8.0% 1.48

In a relatively limited sample — the average starting catcher catches about 1,000 innings each season — New York’s pitchers have been quite a bit more effective with Romine behind the plate than Sanchez. Sanchez has a small edge in strikeout rate and that’s basically it. And he’s better at throwing out runners too, but that’s another matter for another time.

The difficult part is determining how much, exactly, the catcher is contributing to those numbers. Like I said before, you could call the best game in the world and whisper the sweetest nothings into the pitcher’s ear during mound visits, but, at the end of the day, the catcher isn’t throwing the pitch. All the catcher can do is offer suggestions and try to guide the pitcher one way or the other. He can’t make him execute.

One thing we know the catcher can do for his pitcher is turn borderline pitches into strikes with his receiving ability. As long as human umpires are calling balls and strikes, pitching-framing will be a real and valuable skill. We can quibble with the exact worth of pitch-framing all day. I don’t think anyone would argue it’s not a real thing though. We see it every day. Here are the pitch-framing numbers dating back to last season, via Baseball Prospectus:

  • Romine: -1.1 runs (-2.3 runs per 1,000 innings caught)
  • Sanchez: +1.7 runs (+4.8 runs per 1,000 innings caught)

The small sample size numbers tell us Sanchez has been better than Romine at presenting those borderline pitches in a way that leads to the umpire calling them a strike more often. I feel like the opposite is true based on the eye test. Sanchez seems to stab at the ball from time to time rather than receive it calmly and present it to the umpire. Maybe I’m wrong. Who knows? The numbers say I am.

That, right there, is pretty much the extent of how we can analyze a catcher’s impact on the pitcher. The personal relationships they build, they way they talk pitchers through things, we can’t quantify that. That doesn’t mean it has no value! It absolutely does, we just can’t measure it. A lot of what we’re hearing today boils down to “the Yankees are pitching well and Romine deserves credit,” because that’s how these things usual work. Backup catchers tend to have their defense and ability to work with pitchers talked up (Nichols Law), and Romine is no different.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Remember last season when Sanchez first came up? He was praised for going out to the mound and taking control of the game despite being a young catcher. Sanchez would go out there and set things straight with a veteran pitcher. People ate it up. But it seems no one stopped to think that maybe it wasn’t such a good thing. Maybe those mound visits meant Sanchez and the pitcher had a hard time getting on the same page, hence all the mound visits. We have no idea how well these guys work together because we’re not part of the conversation. The pitcher’s performance gets projected onto the catcher. That’s all.

This is what’s going to happen: At some point the Yankees are going to start to allow more runs because this is not a true talent 3.51 ERA pitching staff. They’re playing over their head a bit. The league is going to get another look at Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery soon, fatigue will set in, stuff like that. The Yankees had a 4.16 ERA last season and I do believe they’re better than that because Severino seems to be figuring some things out, and also because I think Montgomery is better than the back-end starters they used in 2016. That said, I’d be shocked if they finished the season with a 3.51 ERA. I’d sign up for that right now if possible.

A some point the Yankees will begin to allow more runs, and when that happens, Sanchez is going to get the blame. The pitchers worked so great with Romine and now they have Sanchez and they’re just not on the same page! They can’t find the same dynamic. The Yankees should consider making Sanchez the designated hitter (or first baseman?) and starting Romine behind the plate because it’s best for the pitching staff. Prepare to hear all of it. It’s coming.

Romine very well might work better with the pitching staff and be the smart choice behind the plate from that point of view. Here’s the thing though: Sanchez is the future behind the plate. He’s a potential All-Star catcher and building block player for the Yankees going forward. The goal shouldn’t be putting Romine behind the plate because he works better with pitchers. The goal should be working with Sanchez and helping him get better at working with pitchers. That should be the priority going forward, and I think it will be.

The Yankees are off to a very nice start at 15-9, but, as they said all winter, they’re a team in transition. And part of that is helping Gary Sanchez develop into a better all-around catcher. Transitioning him from a bad defender into a good defender, so to speak. Romine has done a phenomenal job filling during Sanchez’s injury. He’s been awesome. But when Sanchez is healthy, he will rightfully take over as the starting catcher, even if it is not necessarily the best thing for the pitching staff in the short-term.

Defending putting Bryan Mitchell at first base

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Yankees nearly won in the ninth inning on Sunday thanks to a crazy ninth inning comeback capped off by a two-run single by Didi Gregorius, but Chris Carter struck out with the winning run on third.

And then things went from exciting to downright bizarre. Bryan Mitchell, who pitched the ninth inning, moved to first base and Aroldis Chapman came into pitch the 10th. Chapman replaced the DH, Matt Holliday, in the lineup, batting third, while Mitchell was inserted into the lineup in the place of Carter, batting eighth. If you’re interested in the mechanics of how the lineup move worked, here’s the relevant rule.

The move didn’t quite work out. Mitchell missed a pop up in foul territory, but the error didn’t lead to a run in the 10th. Neither did the lineup decision hurt the Yankees in the bottom of the inning with Greg Bird getting hit by a pitch in Holliday’s vacated No. 3 spot.

But after a long time in between pitching the top of the 9th and the top of the 11th, Mitchell came back in and gave up three runs en route to taking the loss. It was the first time since 1989 that a pitcher threw an inning, moved to first base and then moved back to the mound in the same game. Wacky? Yes. But the wrong move? No. Here’s why:

1. A rusty Mitchell is likely better than Tommy Layne: With Jordan Montgomery lasting 5+ innings, the Yankees had already used Jonathan Holder, Tyler Clippard and Dellin Betances before Mitchell came in for the ninth. Adam Warren threw 36 pitches over 2 2/3 on Saturday, so he was likely unavailable. That left Mitchell and Tommy Layne for the 11th.

Mitchell hasn’t been masterful this season, but he’s shown signs of becoming a competent middle reliever, particularly one who can get quality outs and go multiple innings. The best example was his two innings vs. the Pirates a week ago, when he work through two walks to throw two shutout innings. This is a 26-year-old pitcher with a mid-90s fastball, a plus curveball and a potential splitter. Even with his occasional control issues, there’s promise with Mitchell.

And yes, Mitchell was clobbered by the Orioles on Friday. But perhaps the best argument for Mitchell as a reliever was how he bounced back in the ninth yesterday. He even struck out Manny Machado after he tormented the Yankees all weekend.

If you want to go to Layne in the 11th, that means going with your LOOGY against a lineup constructed of only right-handed hitters. J.J. Hardy and Joey Rickard are 0 for 6 vs. Layne but Machado and Adam Jones are both 1 for 2 and both were locked in at the plate on Sunday. Layne holds lefties to a .515 OPS in his career while righties bat .282/.386/.449 off the southpaw.

So sending Layne out there, particularly with 9-1-2 coming up in the 11th, would likely end in defeat. Mitchell gives you more of a fighting chance and has the ability to last deep into games.

2. The move pushes need for position player/starter to 14th at the earliest: This was another option for the Yankees. Don’t want to keep using Mitchell or throw Layne in vs. the O’s? Fine, then you can put in a tired Warren, use a position player (Aaron Hicks?!?) or one of the starting pitchers, presumably Luis Severino, who is scheduled to start on Monday.

That seems silly and shortsighted. Let’s disregard a tired Warren. A position player is waiving the white flag. Why do that so early in extras? Going to Severino is risky in two regards. First, you risk losing tomorrow’s game because of your actions today. Luis Cessa would be on turn to pitch Monday and could be called up, but that’s less desirable than Severino on normal rest while on a roll. The second risk is injury to Severino. He didn’t go into Sunday expecting to pitch. Throwing your next day’s starter in doesn’t guarantee a win and can lead to some poor results.

Mitchell can take you through at least the 12th if not the 13th or, stretching him a bit thin, the 14th. Layne is good for two innings if he doesn’t lose it for you after one. Utilizing both to the max is the best plan, even if it goes awry. A few more scoreless innings should have opened the door for the Yankees to win.

Your other option is to save Chapman for whenever Mitchell is done, but you have to go to your best options right away in extras. Saving Chapman while Mitchell struggles through the lineup would have been a flat-out wrong call by Girardi. And losing the DH to keep Mitchell in the game for later didn’t change the result on Sunday.

Screenshot
(Screenshot)

3. Move hurt lineup but not immediately and not in a way that affected the game: Inserting Mitchell in the lineup for a hitter, even one who is struggling like Carter, isn’t ideal. Putting Mitchell at first while bringing Chapman pokes two holes in your lineup at once and you can only plug up one (Bird pinch hitting).

However, putting Mitchell and Chapman into the lineup didn’t affect the game and wouldn’t have for a few innings. Bird easily pinch hit for Chapman and was hit by a pitch. Holliday would have been intentionally walked with runners on second and third and one out. Mitchell wasn’t going to bat until the 11th and you could pinch hit for him if you fell behind or allowed him to hit or bunt if you’re tied. You still have Ronald Torreyes, who’s provided better ABs than Carter this year.

4. Mitchell didn’t lose the game so much as the RISP-fail did: It really shouldn’t have come down to Mitchell pitching the 11th and beyond. Carter had his shot in the ninth. Castro and Judge blew their opportunity with the bases loaded in the 10th. The team went 3-for-13 with RISP and blew a lead with a rookie reliever in the sixth. That’s worth questioning. Meanwhile, there weren’t really better options than Mitchell in the 11th and it’s dubious as to whether Layne could have done any better. Simply put, the offense needed to come through more often on Sunday.

Watching Bryan Mitchell play first base was downright fun. Sure, he gave the team a heart attack and missed a pop-up before making up for it two batters later, but watching a guy grin ear-to-ear in the middle of an extra inning game is infectious. I enjoyed the heck out of Mitchell’s inning in the field.

And the decision was quite close to working out. The Cubs won after a similar decision last year. A bad J.J. Hardy throw on Starlin Castro‘s grounder or a hit from Castro/Aaron Judge would have given the Yankees a win and made this a memorable moment in a great winning streak. Quibbling with the choice to keep Mitchell in simply isn’t worth it because it likely didn’t change Sunday’s result.

How to handle Chris Sale’s dominance of the Yankees

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On Thursday, the Yankees get their first crack at Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale. However, there’s a fair amount of familiarity between Sale and the Yankees.

If you’re not familiar with the numbers, they’re gaudy, to say the least. In 53 1/3 innings against the Yankees, Sale has surrendered just 32 hits, 12 walks and 4 HBPs while striking out 61 batters and allowing just 13 runs (seven earned). That’s good for a 1.17 ERA and a WHIP of .820. Sale has the lowest ERA of any pitcher in MLB history with at least 50 innings against the Yankees (h/t to Katie).

Unfortunately for the Yankees and their fans, Sale is going to be tacking on a lot more innings to that total over the next three years. With team options, the Red Sox have Sale under contract through 2019 and there’s nothing saying they couldn’t bring him back on a longer contract when that’s up. We’re talking about a pitcher with five All-Star appearances in the five seasons he’s been a starter, and he hasn’t finished lower than sixth in the Cy Young voting. That’s a keeper.

So what does this mean for the Yankees? What can the Bombers do to counteract the way-too-early favorite for AL Cy Young? Here are a few things to know about facing Sale.

1. Lefties are practically useless against him: Sale is a beast but especially vs. lefties. He’s given up 114 home runs in his career and just eight were hit by left-handed batters. While RHBs have a .228/.283/.370 line against him, lefties are far worse at .202/.258/.268. No power and no average.

In his seven starts against the Yankees, Sale has faced few lefties. The Yankees started three against him in 2012 and in the six starts since, haven’t started more than two. Typically, it’s been the lefties you don’t take out of the lineup, the Robinson Canos of the world. You have to try and load up on the platoon advantage to neutralize Sale because his size and motion are so difficult to pick up for a LHB.

This is why you acquire Chris Carter and Matt Holliday. Not just for Sale of course. For any tough lefty. Sale, David Price, etc. Having a veteran with some savvy in the middle of the order can counteract Sale … as much as you truly can counteract Sale. When Sale took the mound vs. NYY last May, it led to a distinctive lineup with Aaron Hicks leading off, Brett Gardner batting seventh and no Jacoby Ellsbury. Sale threw a complete game, but the point still stands. Maximize your potential by platooning like crazy. You may see a lineup that goes something like this.

1. Aaron Hicks, CF
2. Chase Headley, 3B
3. Matt Holliday, DH
4. Starlin Castro, 2B
5. Aaron Judge, RF
6. Chris Carter, 1B
7. Brett Gardner, LF
8. Austin Romine, C
9. Ronald Torreyes, SS

You have to sit one of Gardner or Ellsbury for Hicks here and moving the one lefty outfielder down the card makes sense, too. Last season’s lineup shows Joe Girardi is willing to do just that. He’s done some interesting things like put Yangervis Solarte in the five-hole as well. The lineups this season with Ellsbury batting fourth and so on have looked pretty peculiar, so Thursday’s lineup may just blend in.

2. Headley is key to hitting Sale: Headley has been much maligned at times during his stint in pinstripes, but boy can he hit Sale. He has the third highest OPS off Sale of any batter with at least 10 plate appearances. In 14 PAs vs. the 6-foot-5 southpaw, Headley is 5-for-13 with two home runs, a double and a walk.

Sale even helped Headley get back to being himself last season. After a horrible April and early May, Headley got his second extra-base hit of 2016 off Sale with this home run.

Girardi has put Headley near the top of the lineup card with Sale on the mound, both in 2015 and 2016. His first homer off Sale came back in 2014 during an interleague series between the White Sox and Padres.

The point being, Headley is really important here. I’m not sure I expected to be saying that, but here we are. Headley has similar numbers off the person I would say is Sale’s most logical current comparable, Madison Bumgarner. He has three home runs and 10 hits in 36 at-bats off Mad Bum. Go figure.

Only three other Yankees have multiple hits off Sale: Carter, Castro and Hicks. Hicks is 4-for-12 with a double, Carter is 2-for-13 with a double and a homer, and Castro is 2-for-11. Unsurprisingly, Carter has struck out seven times vs. Sale. Ellsbury and Gardner are a combined 1-for-16 with two walks, a hit-by-pitch and nine strikeouts. Welp.

3. Time for the Baby Bombers: I’m unsure if the Yankees were trying to be cruel last May, but they had Gary Sanchez make his first MLB start as the DH facing Sale. You will no doubt be shocked to learn he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout.

However, this is where having a few young, dynamic, right-handed bats comes in handy. Sanchez may be hurt right now, but he’ll get more opportunities off Sale during the next few seasons. Sanchez, Judge and even Clint Frazier or Gleyber Torres can give the Yankees an element few teams have vs. Sale: An all-righty top of the lineup that can withstand him. They’ll surely have some troubles off him like Sanchez last May, but they’re NYY’s best shot. These guys will get plenty familiar with Sale over the next few years.

As for Greg Bird, it makes sense to bench him for Carter in terms of trying to win that day’s game. However, starting Bird vs. Sale would be interesting for the long-term. Giving him some at-bats against him now could give Bird a chance against him in future meetings, plus Bird has hit lefties well in his early MLB career.

4. If he wasn’t on the Red Sox/facing the Yankees, Sale would be a lot of fun to watch: Sale’s mesmerizing. His herky-jerky motion is not something you’d teach any kid and that may be part of what makes it so effective. It’s different and it’s been nearly impossible to hit. He’s a consistent Cy Young contender for a reason and despite a motion many in baseball would label a concern, he’s remained pretty healthy, making at least 29 starts in four of the last five seasons.

And he’s quite simply fun to watch. He strikes out guys with ease, averaging 227 strikeouts a year since he moved into the rotation. How many pitchers do you see make hitters look like this?

sale-strikeout-gif

Or make Sanchez look like this?

sale-strikeout-sanchez

The Yankees are going to have to contend with Sale for a while and we may as well enjoy the ride. Pedro Martinez had some dazzling performances against the Yankees in the late 90s/early 2000s and beating him was a joyous occasion. It’d be nice to have a pitcher-against-the-Yankees rivalry like that going again and Sale is a prime candidate to make that happen. And even when he inevitably adds a win or two to his record vs. the Bombers, you’ll still be able to see one of the best of this generation take the mound.

Poll: Finding a role for Chad Green

(Times Leader)
(Times Leader)

Eighteen games into the 2017 season, the surprise story for the Yankees has been their rotation. The five starters have a combined for a 4.05 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 104.1 innings, and they’ve been especially good over the last two weeks or so. Luis Severino looks like the 2015 version of himself, not the 2016 version, and rookie Jordan Montgomery has acquitted himself well. Masahiro Tanaka has been New York’s worst starter thus far, weirdly. That won’t last all season.

Beyond the current top five, the Yankees also have some pitching depth stashed away for emergencies. Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell are in the bullpen and could be candidates to start at some point, if necessary. In Triple-A the Yankees have Chad Green and Luis Cessa, both of whom had stints in the rotation last season and handled themselves relatively well. Others like Daniel Camarena and Chance Adams could be options at some point too.

Early on the Yankees lined both Montgomery and Green up for the fifth starter’s spot simply to make sure they had two pitchers ready to go. They planned to wait until April 16th to use the fifth starter, but that didn’t happen. The Yankees decided to use their fifth starter, Montgomery, earlier to make sure everyone else in the rotation got an extra day of rest. I see no reason to regret that decision. The rotation has been pretty good lately.

While Montgomery has held down the fifth spot, Green has been sitting in the minors as a depth arm, taking the ball every fifth day. He has a 2.05 ERA (1.90 FIP) with 31.8% strikeouts and 4.6% walks in 22 innings spread across four outings. This is nothing new for him, of course. Last season Green threw 94.2 Triple-A innings with a 1.52 ERA (2.17 FIP) and great strikeout (27.4%) and walk (5.8%) rates. He dominates at that level.

What we don’t know is whether Green can dominate — or even pitch at the league average rate — at the MLB level. Green will turn 26 next month, so he’s not a young kid, and when you’ve got a pitcher that age throwing that well in Triple-A, you’d hate to waste those bullets, so to speak. Why let him manhandle the minors when he could help you win at the big league level, you know? The Yankees have three options with Green.

Keep him in Triple-A

There’s nothing wrong with stashing Green in Triple-A for the time being. It stinks for him because he wants to be in the big leagues, but it makes sense for the Yankees, who will inevitably need a sixth starter at some point. They’d surely like to have Green (and Cessa) all ready to go when time comes.

Also, keep in mind the single biggest reason Green is in Triple-A is his changeup, or lack thereof. He’s worked to add a changeup (or a splitter) throughout his pro career and hasn’t had much luck. Last season big league lefties hit .287/.351/.663 (.421 wOBA) against him because he had nothing to disrupt their timing. His Triple-A numbers are great, but until the Yankees see progress with his changeup, they might not want to call Green up. Keep him in Scranton and tell him to throw 30 changeups a start until he’s needed in the Bronx.

Put him in the MLB rotation

The Yankees did this for a while last season because they had no other choice, basically. They lost Nathan Eovaldi to injury and Ivan Nova was traded away, and they needed starters. Green had a 5.94 ERA (6.09 FIP) in eight starts and 36.1 innings. That’s terrible, but last year is last year and this year is this year. Green has some MLB experience now and could use that experience to have more success his second try at the show. Happens all the time.

The question with this option is who does Green replace? No one in the current big league rotation deserves to be demoted. I suppose you could argue Green should replace CC Sabathia. Sabathia will be 37 in July and he’s an impending free agent with no real long-term future in pinstripes. The Yankees might bring him back on perpetual one-year contracts Andy Pettitte style, but that’s far from a guarantee. Green, on the other hand, is 25 and could have a long-term role here. The Yankees are in the middle movement, right? Go with the kid!

That’s not going to happen, of course. Sabathia pitched well enough last year and has pitched well so far this year, and let’s not kid ourselves, his $25M salary buys him some rope. If Green were to join the rotation for any reason other than trade or injury, it would almost certainly come at the expense of Montgomery, the low man on the rotation totem pole.

Put him in the MLB bullpen

Tyler Clippard and all his fly balls still make me nervous, but how good has the bullpen been so far? They collectively have a 1.39 ERA (2.10 FIP) in 51.2 innings. Very nice. There’s always room for improvement though, and Green has a big fastball — he averaged 94.4 mph with his heater as a starter in 2016 — and a promising slider. Let him air it out in short relief and very good things may happen. (I predicted they will!)

Making room in the bullpen would be pretty easy. Jonathan Holder, who is very clearly a favorite of the Yankees, has managed to put ten men on base in 5.1 innings despite not walking anyone. Impressive. Sending him down to Triple-A to clear room for Green is an easy move. The Yankees could also send Mitchell to Triple-A to stretch him back out to start as well. That’s an option too.

Point is, Green chances of success as a starter aren’t great right now because he doesn’t have a changeup. He does have a great fastball though — hitters swung and missed at his fastball 16.2% of the time last year, which is nuts (that’s basically triple the MLB average) — not to mention a useful slider. Green truly has the potential to overpower hitters as a reliever, and there’s no such thing as having too many of those guys in your bullpen.

* * *

My guess is the Yankees will keep Green in Triple-A for the time being. Things with the pitching staff are going well right now and hey, why fix what isn’t broken? Eventually the Yankees will need another arm, and when they do, Green will be among the first considered. I want to know what you would do with Green, however. What’s the best course of action with this soon-to-be 26-year-old right-hander?

What should the Yankees do with Chad Green?
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Luis Severino is showing why the Yankees were smart to stick with him as a starter

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The pitching line does not do Luis Severino justice. Last night he was charged with four runs in eight innings, though it was one run through six innings before the White Sox rallied for three runs in the seventh. Those three runs came after Pete Kozma booted what appeared to be an easy double play ball. At the very least, Kozma should have gotten one out. Instead, he got none.

Severino should not get a pass for allowing the three-run home run to Avisail Garcia because, my goodness, it was a horrible pitch. He left a cement mixer slider here:

luis-severino-avisail-garcia

Dude. You can’t leave a hanging slider there. Severino made a terrible pitch and he paid the price. That home run was basically the difference in the game. A 1-0 deficit in the late innings is a heck of a lot different than a 4-0 deficit.

That home run pitch to Garcia was also Severino’s only terrible pitch of the night, or at least that’s how it seemed. He struck out ten in eight innings and also generated ten ground ball outs. Severino faced 28 batters total and only five (five!) hit the ball out of the infield. He did a nice job holding down an admittedly weak White Sox lineup aside from the Garcia dinger.

Three starts into 2017, Severino has a mediocre 4.05 ERA in 20 innings, but the underlying stats are more important. In those 20 innings Severino has 27 strikeouts and only two walks, as well as a 50.0% ground ball rate. That’ll play, young man. Keep in mind this is the same pitcher who had an 18.8% strikeout rate and a 6.6% walk rate as a starter last year. Those numbers are 35.5% and 2.6% this year, respectively.

Now, I don’t think anyone expects Severino to maintain those strikeout and walk rates because basically no pitcher does that — Clayton Kershaw came close last season! (31.6 K% and 2.0 BB%) — but the fact he’s missing bats, limiting walks, and getting grounders early on is very encouraging. Severino really does look like a completely different pitcher. The guy we saw in 2016 is gone.

There are two big differences between the Severino we’ve seen so far this year and the Severino we saw last year. One, his changeup. He’s actually using it! He threw 12 changeups last night and eleven changeups in the start before that. (I’d tell you know many he threw in his first start if Trackman had, you know, recorded the data.) That’s on par with what he did in 2015. About a dozen changeup per game. Last year he lost confidence in the pitch and threw 12 total in his final four starts.

And two, his confidence. That’s not something we can quantify. It’s something we have to observe. Severino is throwing with conviction this year and he’s aggressively attacking hitters. He’s not nibbling and not shaking off the catcher. He’s getting the ball and throwing it. It’s almost like Severino has taken his reliever mentality from last season out to the mound as a starter this year. That’s how he looks. Like an amped up reliever as a starter.

Considering how bad Severino was as a starter last season and how great he was as a reliever, I totally understand why many folks wanted to keep him in the bullpen. I get it. I do. A kid struggles as a starter, shows lights out stuff in relief, and it’s tempting to just keep him there because hey, bullpens are important too. Why mess with success? Pair him with Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman and turn it into a six-inning game. Surely Adam Warren could be a competent fifth starter while Severino dominates in relief, right?

The Yankees never stopped believing in Severino as a starter though, and it certainly doesn’t hurt his case that the team is short on established arms under contractual control beyond this season. They need starters long-term and Severino, who turned only 23 in February, has by far the highest upside among the club’s young arms. Guys like Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa and Chad Green have shown promise, but not as much as Severino. Not close, really.

Three starts into the season, which is obviously a tiny little sample size, Severino looks like a very different pitcher than the guy we saw last year. He looks like the guy we saw in 2015. Better in some ways, really. This level of overall aggressive plus confidence in his changeup are two things that were desperately missing last year. Severino has gotten off to a great start this season and he’s justifying the club’s faith in him as a starting pitcher. Now it’s time to build on this start going forward.

The starting rotation has been a strength during the Yankees’ seven-game winning streak

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Five games into the 2017 season, everything that could go wrong with the Yankees was going wrong. Their young hitters were struggling, the rotation was providing neither bulk innings nor quality innings, and their greatest strength (Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman) was rendered moot because the rest of the team wasn’t doing its job. The Yankees lost four of their first five games and looked every bit as bad as their 1-4 record suggested.

Fast forward a week, and the Yankees are now riding a seven-game winning streak heading into tonight’s series opener against the rebuilding White Sox. This winning streak started with a late-inning comeback win over the Orioles last Sunday, the kind of game you can easily build a “turning point!” narrative around, and has continued with back-to-back three-game sweeps of the Rays and Cardinals.

Winning seven straight games requires a team effort. The Yankees have not been carried offensively by one player. There seems to be a new hero every night. Aaron Judge hit home runs in three straight games at one point. Aaron Hicks had a two-homer game last week. Last night Greg Bird snapped out of his slump and got in on the fun too. The bullpen has been great as well, even on days Betances and Chapman were unavailable.

One constant during this seven-game winning streak has been strong starting pitching, and given how things played out in those first five games of the season, I didn’t think we’d be able to consider the rotation a strength so soon. The starters have pitched well and they’ve also pitched deep into games, lightening the workload on the bullpen. Here’s the rotation game log for the winning streak:

Date & Opponent Starter IP H R ER BB K HR
April 9th @ Orioles CC Sabathia 6 6 3 2 4 3 0
April 10th vs. Rays Michael Pineda 7.2 2 1 1 0 11 1
April 12th vs. Rays Jordan Montgomery 4.2 5 3 2 2 7 1
April 13th vs. Rays Luis Severino 7 5 2 2 1 11 1
April 14th vs. Cardinals Masahiro Tanaka 6.1 5 3 3 2 5 1
April 15th vs. Cardinals CC Sabathia 7.1 3 1 1 1 6 1
April 16th vs. Cardinals Michael Pineda 7 6 2 2 1 6 1
Totals 46 32 15 13 11 49 6

That’s a seven-game stretch with a 2.54 ERA and a 4.45 K/BB ratio for the starters. They also have a 0.93 WHIP, if WHIP is your thing. Furthermore, the Yankees have gotten at least six innings from their starter in all but one of those seven games, with the only exception being Montgomery’s big league debut. Joe Girardi said he was on a pitch count — Montgomery threw 89 pitches that day after throwing no more than 77 pitches in Spring Training or the minors — plus a kid making his MLB debut tends to have a short leash.

Pineda has been the pitching star during his seven-game winning streak. He retired the first 20 batters he faced in the home opener last Monday, and last night he gave the Yankees another seven strong innings. In a way, last night’s game was more impressive. Pineda had everything working in the home opener, and when that happens, he’s untouchable. Last night he ran into some trouble early, including allowing a two-out run in the second inning, but he settled down and pitched deep into the game. And when Yadier Molina took him deep to start the seventh inning, Pineda shook it off and retired the next three batters without incident. There was no unraveling this time.

“I didn’t think his slider was as sharp as the other day, but he found a way to get through seven innings,” said Girardi after the game. “His stuff got better after the second inning. Fastball and changeup was good. He gave up the one run with two outs, but then he settled down after that and threw a good game. It’s important because you want him to keep building and get some momentum, because he had a hard time doing that last year.”

Amazingly enough, Tanaka has been the Yankees worst starting pitcher in the super early going this year. I didn’t expect to write that at any point this season. His three starts have gotten progressively better — at one point in his last start he retired 17 of 19 batters — but he still looks a little off. Tanaka’s location has not been nearly as good as it usually is so far this year, particularly with his fastball. Check it out, via Brooks Baseball:

masahiro-tanaka-fastball-location

You can click the image for a larger view, which is probably a good idea. Anyway, that is 2016 on the left and 2017 on the right, and we’re looking at Tanaka’s fastball location from the catcher’s point of view. Last year Tanaka lived down in the zone and to his arm side with his heater. This year he’s over the plate and up in the zone more often, and he’s paid dearly for some missed locations already.

Tanaka said all throughout Spring Training he wasn’t right mechanically and I don’t know about you, but I kinda brushed it off because he was dominating. Obviously that was a mistake. I know we’re conditioned to think “Tanaka isn’t pitching well oh no is his elbow hurt?” nowadays — isn’t it awful? man it’s awful — but there’s no reason to think he’s hurt. He’s throwing as hard as he usually does and he’s still going out there every fifth day. Sometimes pitchers fall out of whack mechanically and their location suffers. Tanaka is so darn good that I think it’s only a matter of time until he gets back on track. We saw signs of it in his last start.

Point is, when Tanaka is your worst starting pitcher, even for a 12-game stretch early in the season, that means you must be getting some pretty good work from your other starters. And the Yankees have. Sabathia has been awesome so far, Pineda’s last two outings were impressive, Montgomery showed some positive signs in his start, and Luis Severino has looked far better this year than he did any time as a starter last year. Severino’s improvement and development is incredibly important to the Yankees long-term. He’s part of the new young core.

For now, the starting pitchers are on a roll and have more or less carried the Yankees through this seven-game winning streak. We know it won’t last forever. At some point someone will have a dud start, or the Yankees will need a sixth starter, something like that. That’s baseball. The rotation was an easily identifiable weak spot coming into the season, though right now, there are indications this unit can be a strength, or at least not a glaring weakness.