Yankeemetrics: Riding the NYY rollercoaster (Aug. 18-20)

(AP)
(AP)

Deja vu all over again
Another night, another candidate for Worst Loss of The Season. The Yankees suffered their billionth gut-wrenching defeat on Friday night, obliterating any positive momentum they had built up coming off a four-game sweep of the Mets. After flipping an early three-run deficit into a three-run lead in the seventh, the bullpen imploded in epic fashion with nine outs to go, adding to the never-ending list of miserable Yankee late-inning collapses this season.

Let’s recap the gory details, bullet-point style:

  • 22nd blown save of the season, six more than they had in all of 2016. Through Friday’s games, no team in the majors had more blown saves than the Yankees (the Mariners also had 22). Going back to 1969 when saves became an official stat, only three other times in franchise history have they finished a season with more than 22 blown saves: 1997 (25), 1988 (24), 1986 (23).
  • 6th time they lost a game after leading by at least three runs, their most in any season since 2014 when they had eight.
  • 18th loss when out-hitting their opponent, the second-most in MLB behind the White Sox (25, LOL). Over the last 15 years, they’d never before suffered more than 15 such losses in a season.

Breaking news: the Yankees had plenty of chances to score, but couldn’t cash in, going 1-for-11 with RISP and stranding 14 guys. Chase Headley, Todd Frazier and Brett Gardner led the offensive charge by reaching base four times each. That’s good! So how rare is it for a team to lose when having at least three players be so productive? Glad you asked. Our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series …

It’s just the third time in the last 50 years that the Yankees lost a nine-inning game in which at least three guys were each on base four-or-more times. It also happened on September 22, 2000 against the Tigers and May 25, 1980 against the Blue Jays.

Tommy Kahnle and Chad Green were the obvious culprits in coughing up the three-run advantage in the seventh, but Aroldis Chapman‘s eighth-inning meltdown is more troubling (and eventually got him yanked from the closer role). He gave up two runs on two hits and a walk, extending his recent stretch of awful pitching. This is just the second time he’s allowed at least one run in four straight appearances; the other instance was early in his 2011 rookie campaign. And it’s the first time in his major-league career that he’s given up multiple runs in three straight outings.

(Getty)
(Getty)

One step forward …
One day after suffering the Worst Loss of the Year, it was hardly a surprise in this rollercoaster season that the Yankees notched their their Most Important Win of the Year on Saturday night at Fenway, holding on for a gutsy, much-needed 4-3 victory.

CC Sabathia has embodied the Fighting Spirit more than any other pinstriper this season, and this game proved it. Consider that he is:

  • 7-0 with a 1.46 ERA in eight starts following a Yankee loss this season, and the team won the only no-decision he got. That’s the best ERA in the majors (min. 7 starts), just ahead of a guy named Clayton Kershaw (1.54).
  • 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox this season. He is one of just three Yankees since 1950 to win their first three starts vs the Red Sox in a season while posting a sub-1.00 ERA in those outings; Scott Sanderson (1991) and Whitey Ford (1956) are the others.

Sabathia also reached a significant milestone, becoming the all-time American League leader in strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher. Congrats, CC.

Tyler Austin delivered one of the most stunning swings of the season when he crushed an 435-foot bomb over the Green Monster in his first career at-bat against Chris Sale to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. Is Austin the team’s new good luck charm? Six of his seven career home runs have either tied the game or given the Yankees the lead, and they are 7-0 in games when he homers.

Todd Frazier added a crucial insurance run with a sixth inning solo homer, following up on the two-run blast he hit in the series opener. That earned him a special place in the rivalry with this #FunFact: Frazier and fellow third baseman Graig Nettles (1973) are the only players to homer in each of their first two games as a Yankee at Fenway Park.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

… And one step backwards
What goes up, must come down, right? That pretty much sums up the 2017 Yankees. They dropped series finale against the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon, falling to an abysmal 5-14 in “rubber games” (third game of a three-game series where the teams split the first two).

That is by far the worst record and most losses in such games by any team in the majors this season. And, even more depressing is this stat: their .263 winning percentage in rubber games is on pace to be the worst by any AL team since the 2013 Astros … who finished with 111 total losses that year. Oy vei.

Much of the blame for this loss falls on the dead-silent Yankee bats, which produced their fewest hits (3) and runs (1) at Fenway Park since a 5-1 loss there on September 22, 2013. Not even a Brett Gardner home run could spark this lackluster offense — this was the first time the Yankees lost this season when Gardy went Yardy, falling to 16-1 in those games.

Gardner did reach the nice round number of 20 homers, giving us a chance to recognize his rare combination of power, patience and speed. Gardner is the eighth left-handed batter in franchise history with at least 20 homers, 15 steals and 60 walks in a season. The others on the list are decent: Babe Ruth (twice), Lou Gehrig (1931), Bobby Murcer (1970), Reggie Jackson (1977), Johnny Damon (2006), Bobby Abreu (2008) and Curtis Granderson (2011).

Aaron Judge was hardly the only Bomber to go cold on Saturday, yet because this is a stats article, we feel obligated to note that he struck out for the 37th game in a row. That ties the MLB all-time (spanning multiple seasons or single-season) record set by Expos pitcher Bill Stoneman in 1971-72.

It’s a contrived and dubious mark, but what is more concerning are a couple of his post-break splits. He is 4-for-28 (.143) with runners in scoring position since the break; he hit .305 with RISP before the break. Judge is also 1-for-32 (.031) vs left-handed pitchers since the break; he hit .345 vs lefties before the break.

Beyond those specific situations, Judge’s ability to make hard contact — his signature stat of the season — has simply cratered. In 35 games since the break, he has a hard-hit rate (per Fangraphs) of just 32 percent (it was 49 percent before the break), easily the least-powerful 35-game stretch of his career:

judge-hard-hit-chart

Yankeemetrics: Kings of New York (Aug. 14-17)

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Aarons and Gary Show
True to form, the Yankees bounced back from their latest Worst Loss of The Season with a late-inning rally to beat the Mets, 4-2, in the Subway Series opener.

If we know anything about this 2017 Yankees team, we know it’s a resilient one. It was their 17th comeback win when trailing by multiple runs this season; through Monday, only three teams (Twins, Astros, Angels) had more such wins than the Yankees.

Also true to form, the comeback was fueled by a burst of power. Aaron Judge tied the game in the sixth inning on an opposite-field solo shot; Aaron Hicks‘ blast to lead off the eighth was the game-winner; and Gary Sanchez added an insurance-run dinger later in the eighth inning.

For Sanchez, it was his 20th home run of the season, the second straight year he’s reached that milestone. Only four other catchers in major-league history produced multiple 20-homer campaigns before their age-25 season (while playing at least 75% of their games behind the dish): Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Brian McCann and Wilin Rosario.

Hicks’ homer was his 12th of the year – a new single-season career-best – and made him the answer to another #FunFact piece of Subway Series trivia. He joined Russell Martin (June 10, 2012) as the only Bronx Bombers to hit a go-ahead homer after the seventh inning against the Mets at Yankee Stadium.

Judge sparked the rally with his 36th homer of 2017 and the 40th of his career. (In a weird statisical quirk, Sanchez and Hicks’ home runs were also their 40th career bombs.) As we’ve noted before, Judge’s combination of patience and power – he had 96 walks to go along with his 40 homers – is unprecedented for a rookie:

Judge is the first player in baseball history to compile at least 40 homers and 75 walks within his first 140 big-league games.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Too close for comfort
The Yankees squeezed out another victory on Tuesday night, but this time the drama was self-induced. They survived another near-implosion in the ninth inning by Aroldis Chapman, winning 5-4 after Amed Rosario took Chapman deep in the final frame.

Chapman was his typical dominant self for the first month of the season (11 games, 0.87 ERA, 41% K), but since he blew the save on May 7 in the 18-inning marathon against the Cubs, he’s been mostly mediocre (25 games, 5.40 ERA, 29% K). This is arguably his least-dominant 25-game stretch since he first broke into the majors in 2011, in terms of strikeout rate:

chapman
Still, the Yankees built up enough of an advantage in the first eight innings for the win on Tuesday with another stellar outing by Sonny Gray and another shot of home-run power.

Gray was mostly fantastic, holding the Mets scoreless on four hits through six innings, before his only blemish, a homer by Dominic Smith in the seventh. His slider was filthy and nearly untouchable, netting him eight whiffs and five strikeouts. His ability to bury the pitch below the knees and gloveside was hugely important, as he got all eight of his swings-and-misses in that location:

sonny-gray

He extended his streak of at least six innings pitched and no more than two earned runs allowed to nine starts, the second-longest in the majors this season. Over the past decade, the only American League right-handers to have a streak as long as Gray’s were Felix Hernandez (16 in 2014) and Justin Verlander (9 in 2011).

Gary Sanchez drove in the first run of the game with an RBI single in the second, giving him the nice round number of 100 career RBIs. He is one of eight players in Yankee history to reach the century mark in RBIs this early into his career (141st game). It’s a group that includes four Hall of Famers – Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon, Yogi Berra – and three other franchise notables – George Selkirk, Bob Meusel, Charlie Keller.

Sanchez then gave the Yankees a seemingly comfortable 4-0 lead in the fifth inning with a towering moonshot into the left-center field bleachers, his 21st homer of the season and the 10th that went at least 425 feet. Among players with 15 or more dingers this season, Sanchez has the highest percentage of 425-foot-plus homers.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Clutch Didi, Monster Judge
The Subway Series shifted to Queens on Wednesday but the result was the same, another power-fueled win (plus a small dose of timely hitting) for the Yankees. It was their 14th win against the NL this season, the most Interleague victories they’ve ever had in a single year.

The crosstown rivals traded punches for much of the game until the Yankees finally broke through in the seventh inning with a rare clutch hit, when Didi Gregorius lined a two-out, bases-loaded double to score two runs for a 5-3 lead. That was the Yankees only hit in 10 at-bats with a runner in scoring position.

You could say that setup was tailor-made for Clutch Didi. Since joining the Yankees in 2015, he’s hitting .385 with the bases full, the best average among players with at least 35 at-bats in that situation over the last three seasons; and he’s 7-for-17 (.412) with the bases-loaded and two outs, the fourth-best average by any player in that span (min. 15 at-bats).

Yet Didi’s heroics were buried in the highlight reel thanks to Aaron Judge being Aaron Judge, both the good and the bad version.

Judge set another major-league record on Wednesday, striking out for the 33 straight game, the longest single-season streak ever by a non-pitcher. In 1934, when Lou Gehrig led the majors with 49 homers, he struck out a total of 31 times (in 690 plate appearances). It’s a different game today, folks.

With the ugly, though, comes the awesome. Judge also broke the Internet when he crushed a massive home run into the third deck at Citi Field.

It was his eighth homer with an exit velocity of at least 115 mph – is that good? The rest of major-league baseball had combined for 13 through Wednesday, and no other player had more than three.

Plus, there’s this sweet list of the Top 5 Hardest-Hit Home Runs this season:

Name Speed Date
1. Aaron Judge 121.1 June 10
2. Aaron Judge 119.4 April 28
3. Aaron Judge 118.6 June 11
4. Aaron Judge 118.4 July 4
5. Aaron Judge 117.0 August 16

Sevy bounces back, Sanchez powers up
The Yankees survived yet another ninth-inning scare on Thursday night, and held on for the 7-5 win to complete their second-ever Subway Series sweep; in 2003, they won all six games against their intracity rival.

They nearly blew a 7-1 lead with three outs to go when Curtis Granderson hammered a grand slam into the rightfield seats. It was the fourth bases-loaded homer given up by Yankees pitchers this season, one more than they surrendered from 2014-16 combined. Granderson also joined Mike Piazza (June 2, 2000) and Carlos Delgado (June 27, 2008) as the only Mets to hit a grand slam against the Yankees.

Gary Sanchez drove in five of the Yankees seven runs, becoming the first Yankee with five RBIs in a game against the Mets since Alex Rodriguez on July 2, 2006. That seems fitting given that El Gary and A-Rod have become lunch buddies recently.

Severino rebounded from the worst start of his career and was back to his dominant self, giving up one unearned run over 6 1/3 innings while striking out nine. He upped his season whiff total to 175, the third-most strikeouts by a Yankee in his age-23 season or younger, and trailing only Lefty Gomez (176 in 1932) and Al Downing (217 in 1964).

It was also Severino’s 10th start of more than six innings pitched and one run or fewer allowed in 2017. Only two other MLB pitchers have done that this season: Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale.

Joey Votto, the Yankees, and the reasons it won’t happen

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Over the last week or so, all the talk about streaks has involved Aaron Judge and strikeouts. Last night he struck out in the 33rd consecutive game, breaking Adam Dunn’s record for position players. Pitcher Bill Stoneman holds the overall record at 35 games. Judge is hitting .291/.420/.614 (170 wRC+) with an AL leading 37 home runs this year, so the strikeouts haven’t stopped him from being productive, but they are an eyesore.

Eight hundred miles away in Chicago, another record streak was on the line Wednesday night. Reds first baseman Joey Votto had reached base multiple times in each of his last 20 games, one short of the record held by Ted Williams. Votto went 1-for-4 against the Cubs and would’ve led off the tenth inning had the Reds not lost on a walk-off wild pitch, so his streak came to an end. Judge broke Dunn’s record last night. Williams’ will live on.

Votto’s streak, coincidentally enough, started against the Yankees. Remember when Luis Severino dominated the Reds at Yankee Stadium last month and Votto was the only player able to work a quality at-bat against him? That was the first game of his 20-game multiple times on base streak. During those 20 games Votto hit .424/.596/.712 (234 wRC+) with 26 walks and nine strikeouts. Overall this year he’s hitting .315/.447/.597 (165 wRC+) with 31 home runs and far more walks (98) than strikeouts (61).

At this point, there’s little doubt Votto is not only one of the best hitters in baseball — managers, coaches, and scouts named him the best hitter in the NL in Baseball America’s recent best tools survey (subs. req’d) — but also one of the best hitters of his generation. He’s one of the best hitters of the last half-century, really. Here is the career wRC+ leaderboard since the mound was lowered in 1969 (min. 3,000 plate appearances):

  1. Barry Bonds: 173 wRC+
  2. Mike Trout: 170 wRC+
  3. Joey Votto: 158 wRC+
  4. Mark McGwire: 157 wRC+
  5. Frank Thomas: 154 wRC+

No, Votto has not yet entered his decline phase yet, so that number will come down in the future, but it goes to show just how great he’s been in his career so far. At a time when strikeouts are rapidly increasing because pitchers are throwing harder and relievers are getting more and more specialized, Votto decided it would be best if he stopped striking out, so he did:

joey-votto-strikeouts

Votto is a hitting savant. He hits for average, he hits for power, and he gets on base, all at elite clips. He hits righties, lefties, fastballs, breaking balls, to left field, to right field, he chokes up, whatever. Votto is a brilliant offensive force and he is absolutely perfect for the Yankees. I mean, he’s perfect for every team, but especially the Yankees. They have openings at first base and DH going forward, and he’d balance their righty leaning lineup.

As always, there’s more to the story than simply taking a player and plopping him into your lineup. Put Votto in New York’s lineup right now and they go from postseason hopeful to no-doubt contender pretty quickly. He’s the kind of player who could change the balance of power in a division race. The Yankees adding Votto is a dream scenario and there are three reasons it won’t happen.

1. He’s entering his mid-30s. As great as he is and has been, Votto will turn 34 next month and at some point his skills will begin to erode. It happens to everyone and it’s unavoidable. Votto is undeniably great now. How great will he be in two years? We’ve seen more than a few truly great players go from productive one year to basically out of baseball the next. Votto is as smart as any hitter in the game and he keeps himself in great shape. That doesn’t mean he’ll be productive forever.

2. His contract is massive. Votto is owed $150M from 2018-23, his age 34-39 seasons, then there’s a $7M buyout of his $20M club option for 2024. Paying a hitter of this caliber $25M a year is a bit of a bargain these days — Miguel Cabrera will make $30M annually from ages 34-39, for example, and who knows how much Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign for next offseason — though that’s still a ton of money for a player that late in his career. You’re going to be paying premium dollars for a player who is going to spend most of the remainder of his contract over 35.

3. Votto doesn’t want to leave Cincinnati. Even with the Reds rebuilding and a few years away from contention, Votto has said, repeatedly, he doesn’t want to leave. And he has a no-trade clause, so he controls his own destiny. “I don’t think of myself as anything but a Cincinnati Red. That’s one of the really cool things about having a no-trade clause, being one of the rare players that has that, I get to stay a Cincinnati Red,” he said to C. Trent Rosecrans last year. (For what it’s worth, Joel Sherman says Votto has already cleared trade waivers.)

* * *

Anonymous comments from a gutless “Yankee insider” aside, the Yankees seem to love Greg Bird and are intent on giving him every opportunity to be their long-term first baseman. Hopefully he’ll be back within a week or so. If not, they’ll try again next year. Dumping Bird to replace him with a soon-to-be 34-year-old first baseman making huge dollars, even one as great as Votto, is an old Yankees move. It doesn’t fit with the youth movement at all. There’s always DH, but we’ve seen what it’s like to have an older player on a huge contract tying up the DH spot. It’s not pretty.

That all said, a guy can dream. Basically no other player in baseball combines this level of natural talent with ultra-high baseball smarts and a non-stop desire to get better. Votto also genuinely loves baseball and has fun messing around with fans, so he brings some personality to the table too. That’s a plus in my book.

Votto should’ve been a Yankee back in the day and the baseball fan in me wishes he could be a Yankee today for many reasons. It’s not going to happen though. Not given his age, his contract, and what the Yankees are trying to do as far as building around young players. Who knows, maybe in a year or two trading for Votto as the final “get us over the hump” piece will make sense. It doesn’t right now though. Votto’s greatness and New York’s timetable don’t really match up at the moment.

Greg Bird is inching closer to a return, and the Yankees hope he gives them a lift in 2017 like he did in 2015

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Later tonight Greg Bird will play his first minor league rehab game since last month’s surgery to remove a superfluous bone from his right ankle. The ankle injury had sidelined him since early-May and, in all likelihood, it contributed his ugly start to the season. It’s hard to hit when your ankle is hurting. You need a strong base underneath you to drive the ball.

Given how much time he’s missed, chances are Bird’s rehab assignment will be a little longer than usual. This won’t be two or three games then bam, he’s back with the Yankees. The Yankees start an eight-game road trip tonight — the first two games are at Citi Field, so it’s essentially a six-game road trip — and my guess is they’re targeting the start of the next homestand (next Friday) as Bird’s return date. We’ll see.

“Three weeks ago, I was in a boot and on crutches. I’m just really excited to get back to playing,” said Bird to Bryan Hoch yesterday. “Everything’s been going great. It’ll be nice to play. It’s great just working out and taking BP, but even in the spring, it gets repetitive. You want to play … I’m ready. I’m right where I need to be and I’m ready to go. It’ll be nice to get some at-bats and see live pitching. As simple as it sounds, I’m just excited to play and that’s a good thing — and ready to play.”

Whenever he does return — after weeks of questions, it sure seems Bird will indeed return at some point this year — the Yankees are going to stick Bird right back into the starting lineup. There’s no doubt about it. The DH spot is open thanks to Matt Holliday‘s injury, but even if Holliday is back by then, the Yankees have shown they’ll sit veterans for young players. Jacoby Ellsbury is (mostly) riding the bench right now for that reason.

It’s unclear what, exactly, Bird will give the Yankees when he returns simply because he’s missed so much time. Not just this year but last year as well. Including Spring Training, Bird has 263 plate appearances since the start of last season. That’s not much at all. A week long minor league rehab stint might be enough to shake off all the rust. Bird was unreal in Spring Training, so that impact bat is still in there. Hopefully it shows up sooner rather than later.

Now, that all said, the Yankees have an obvious need for another left-handed power bat. Their lineup is right-handed heavy and at times the other team has been able to exploit that with power right-handed arms. Here’s where New York’s left-handed hitters rank among the 30 teams this season:

  • PA: 1,849 (17th)
  • AVG: .259 (14th)
  • OBP: .340 (6th)
  • SLG: .427 (14th)
  • wRC+: 105 (11th)
  • HR: 60 (14th)

That’s not awful in the grand scheme of things. But middle of the pack in slugging and home runs? In Yankee Stadium? Oy vey. Like I said, the Yankees could really use another left-handed power bat for the middle of the lineup and Bird has the potential to provide it, assuming last year’s shoulder surgery and this year’s ankle surgery don’t hamper him too much right out of the gate.

Essentially, what the Yankees need from Bird in 2017 is what he gave them in 2015. Come up, join the lineup, and contribute right away. That’s asking a lot! Maybe too much given the injuries. Then again, the Yankees asked Bird to do it as a rookie with no MLB experience two years ago, and he responded with a .261/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) batting line and eleven homers in 46 games. Bird and Carlos Beltran were the team’s best hitters down the stretch.

The 2015 Yankees and 2017 Yankees have one thing in common. They were both in first place at the trade deadline before quickly slipping in the standings, mostly due to a sputtering offense. The similarities pretty much end there. The 2015 Yankees were old. Didi Gregorius was their only regular under 30 and he had yet to find himself as a hitter. The 2017 Yankees are build around 20-somethings Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Hicks, healthy Starlin Castro, and the hey I can hit version of Didi.

That right there is the biggest difference between 2015 and 2017. That 2015 season felt like the last chance to win with that aging core before things collapsed. This season the Yankees are a team on the rise and it feels like they’re about to get started on a run of perennial contention. Of course the Yankees want to make the postseason this year, though it feels like there is less urgency to do so. They won’t risk the future for the present.

Remember, when the Yankees called Bird up in 2015, it was to give Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira rest a few days a week. Those two were fading and the Yankees wanted to get them off their feet down the stretch, so Bird was given a chance. Then Teixeira got hurt and suddenly Bird was thrust into a starting role. This year Bird came into the season as the starting first baseman. He hit third on Opening Day! He wasn’t some out of nowhere success story.

Given his ongoing injury problems, I wouldn’t blame you for being skeptical about Bird’s ability to contribute down the stretch. I am myself. It feels like any time he’s poised to step in and become a big factor for the Yankees, he gets hurt. It sucks, but it is what it is. The Yankees have stayed in the race without Bird all season, and they’ve done that while getting some of the worst first base production in baseball. When Chase Headley has been, by frickin’ far, your best first baseman, it’s a problem.

Bird is going to begin his rehab assignment tonight and it seems he will have a chance to repeat what he did in 2015, meaning arrive late in the season to provide the Yankees a nice offensive lift. The circumstances are different given Bird’s injuries and the state of the Yankees in general, but that part remains the same. It would’ve been pretty great to have a healthy Bird from Opening Day. Getting a healthy Bird down the stretch in August and September is the next best thing.

Hicks’ and Frazier’s injuries show the Yankees can’t have too many outfielders

Hicks and Frazier (Elsa/Getty Images)
Hicks and Frazier (Elsa/Getty Images)

For a few weeks this summer, it seemed like the Yankees had a great problem on their hands: Too many outfielders.

Clint Frazier was lining extra-base hit after extra-base hit, Aaron Judge was, well, Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner was hitting home runs and Aaron Hicks was on his way back to the majors. That’s four guys for three spots, not to mention the presence of Jacoby Ellsbury, but with Ellsbury and Matt Holliday‘s respective struggles, playing time wouldn’t have been an issue.

With Frazier’s oblique injury, the Yankees’ outfield was cemented for the time being with Hicks, Gardner and Judge and a few too many Ellsbury starts. Oblique injuries take a while to heal, as evidenced by Hicks’ time away from the team, so the outfield overload is an issue the team can deal with when it actually comes to pass.

But the oblique injuries to Hicks and Frazier should be a warning to the front office not to deplete its outfield depth going into 2018.

It seems logical for the Yankees to pursue a trade for Ellsbury, who will have three years and about $68.5 million left on his deal after this season. The team would have to absorb some of that money and/or take back a bad contract, but it’d leave the Yankees with four outfielders for three spots. In theory, that can be an issue. But that’s only at the surface.

Yes, the team would have four men for three spots, but that’s assuming perfect health. Hicks has missed time with injuries each of the last two years. Frazier’s out now. Judge lost time in 2016 with a knee and oblique injury, respectively. While Gardner has placed at least 145 games each year since 2013, he’s been banged up plenty and the ability to give him days off in his age-34 season is important.

Performance-wise, there are concerns with each. Hicks and Judge each look like entirely different hitters from last season and how they can sustain their improvements will help define the 2018 OF. Gardner is getting older and has been off and on all season. Frazier is only 22 and didn’t exactly light the world on fire with a 92 wRC+ in 117 PAs.

That right there is enough of a reason to keep all four guys with concerns across the board, but the team will also have the ability to start all four plenty with the open DH role. Holliday is a free agent after this season and hasn’t hit his weight while dealing with injuries. He’ll be 38 come spring training next year and it looks unlikely he’ll be back in pinstripes.

The Yankees will surely seek out another veteran either via free agency or trade (Carlos Santana please!) that can take DH bats or act as Greg Bird/Gleyber Torres insurance. However, the team is also trying to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold next season so they can be even more competitive in the 2018-19 offseason. Adding a high priced veteran shouldn’t be in the cards, even if it means taking a chance on a cheaper option like Chris Carter was this year.

The counterargument to giving DH ABs to the four-man outfield (and Gary Sanchez, among others) would be the ability to flip one of the OFs at their peak value for another piece to the roster puzzle, whether a starter or infielder or otherwise. Only Gardner is close to free agency, but his one year of value is likely more valuable to the 2018 Yankees than the players he could get in return.

With Judge staying in place, that leaves Hicks and Frazier as potential trade chips. Maybe if the Yankees still had Dustin Fowler set to return for 2018 it would make sense to deal from this position of strength this winter. But the Yankees OF depth close to the majors is down to Jake Cave and Billy McKinney, neither of whom you can count on for significant contributions as rookies next year.

And if you want to win a championship, you need both depth and talent. Keeping the outfield together minus Ellsbury for 2018 is the best way to go about building a contender. If they need to acquire controllable starters via trade, they have plenty of prospects still in the minors to deal. But the current outfield is worth keeping together for another season.

Yankeemetrics: Bronx Bummer (Aug. 11-13)

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

It’s not over ’til …
Facing a late three-run deficit and their offense stuck in neutral, the Yankees seemed headed for another depressing loss in the Most Important Game of the Year. Then the Fighting Spirit kicked in and the Comeback Kids delivered another stunning rally to beat the Red Sox, 5-4, in the series opener.

How improbable was the victory? The Red Sox were 34-0 this season when leading by at least three runs at the start of the eighth inning before Friday. And the Yankees hadn’t beaten the Red Sox in a game when trailing by three-plus runs entering the eighth in nearly a decade, since a 8-7 win on September 14, 2007 at Fenway.

The comeback was ignited by Gritty Gutty Brett Gardner, who was hit by an Addison Reed slider to lead off the eighth. Reed hadn’t hit a batter since the second game of the 2014 season, and had faced more than 1,000 batters in that span before plunking Gardy.

Aaron Hicks then got the crowd into frenzy with a majestic two-run bomb that landed just over the short right field porch. Based on the combo of launch angle (41 degrees) and exit velocity (96.5 mph), that type of batted ball resulted in a hit just seven percent of the time this season.

Didi Gregorius followed with a game-tying opposite field single, a clutch hit that deserves a sweet #FunFact: Didi is the first Yankee shortstop with a game-tying hit in the seventh inning or later at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox in more than 50 years! The last guy to do that was Tony Kubek on June 17, 1964, in a game that the Yankees would eventually lose in the 12th inning.

Todd Frazier capped the rally with another RBI single to left field, earning his first True Yankee Moment. It was his 17th hit as Bronx Bomber, but the first one that gave the Yankees a lead … at any point in the game, regardless of inning.

Of course, because this was a Yankees-Red Sox game, there had to be more drama. Aroldis Chapman provided it when he walked the bases loaded with no outs in the ninth, but got of the jam thanks to a spectacular throw by Aaron Hicks, who gunned down Eduardo Nunez at third base for a game-saving double play. It was the Red Sox 16th baserunning out at third base and 64th overall, both of which lead the majors this season.

Chapman’s white-knuckle outing to seal the win also gives us our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: He’s the first Yankee ever to get a save despite walking at least three batters and allowing a run, while pitching no more than one inning.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Baseball is cruel
In less than 24 hours, the Yankees went from experiencing one of their most exhilarating wins of the season, to one of their ugliest losses in 2017. The 10-5 rout was a lesson in regression to the mean, as several statistical trends for both teams came to a screeching halt in this game.

  • The Yankees suffered their first loss this season when hitting at least three homers, falling to 17-1 in those games. They were one of two teams that hadn’t lost when going deep three-plus times, leaving the Red Sox (10-0) as the lone team in that group.
  • Yankee pitchers had held the Red Sox to a .047 (.3-for-64) batting average with runners in scoring position over their first 10 matchups this season; the Red Sox surpassed that hit total in one game on Saturday, going 4-for-11.
  • Luis Severino, who started the day with the best ERA in the majors since the All-Star break (0.83) and had allowed a total of five runs in those five second-half starts, got pummeled for twice as many runs (10) in 4 2/3 innings of work. He also had given up just one run combined his two previous starts versus the Red Sox this season.

Those career-high 10 runs allowed made Severino the first pinstriper since Andy Hawkins on June 5, 1989 to cough up double-digit runs in fewer than five innings pitched at Yankee Stadium. That 1989 game might be the franchise’s most embarrassing loss, one that included six errors, a whopping 13(!) unearned runs allowed by the home team, and very very unhappy crowd in the Bronx.

Even more bad news:

(On a slightly more positive note, the last Yankee to allow 10 or more runs versus the Red Sox, regardless of innings pitched, was Hall of Famer Red Ruffing in 1939.)

Most of the damage was done by Boston’s 23-year-old rookie outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who crushed two three-run homers off Severino. He became the first Red Sox player since Jimmie Foxx in 1938 to hit multiple three-run bombs against the Yankees. Benintendi also is the youngest Red Sox ever with six RBI against the Yankees, and the youngest on any team to hit multiple homers and drive in at least six runs against the Yankees since Cleveland’s Pat Seerey in 1945.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Nightmare on River Avenue
In what has become an all-too-familiar and frustrating story for this Yankees team, they suffered yet another soul-crushing loss on Sunday night, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Once again, the bullpen imploded, flushing a 2-1 lead in the ninth and then losing the game in the 10th. Here’s the gory details of the meltdown:

  • 20th blown save, the second-most in MLB, and four more than they had all of last season.
  • Third loss when taking a lead into the ninth inning, their most in a season since 2013 — and two of those three have come against the Red Sox (hard to forget July 14, eh?).
  • 21st loss by one run, the most in the AL and third-most in MLB. Oh, and they had only 12 one-run losses last year.

The biggest goat horns were worn by Aroldis Chapman, who gave up the game-tying homer in the ninth to Rafael Devers. Devers’ blast is a perfect example of #YouCantPredictBaseball. The lefty swinger clobbered a 102.8 mph fastball into the seats, the fastest pitch ever hit for a homer in the PitchFX era (since 2008). Prior to Sunday, Chapman had faced 418 left-handed batters in his regular-season career and given up exactly one home run — to Luke Scott on June 26, 2011, the first homer surrendered by Chapman in his major-league career. Those 418 lefty hitters were by far the most faced by any pitcher in the last 50 years that had given up one or zero homers to lefties.

Before the late-inning sadness, this game was a classic pitchers duel. Jordan Montgomery matched Red Sox ace Chris Sale with another impressive outing, holding the Red Sox to one run on two hits while pitching into the sixth inning. It was his second straight game allowing one or fewer runs and no more than three hits, the youngest Yankee southpaw to have back-to-back starts like that since a 22-year-old Al Leiter in 1988.

Sale continued his dominance over the Bronx Bombers with another gem, striking out 12 and giving up just one run in seven innings. It was the third time in a row he’s struck out at least 10 Yankees, the first pitcher to do that since Pedro Martinez in 2001. And it was his second straight game with 12-plus strikeouts and no more than one earned run allowed, joining Indians lefty Sam McDowell as the only pitchers in MLB history to do that in back-to-back games against the Yankees.

Yankeemetrics: Nightmare north of the border (Aug. 8-10)

(AP)
(AP)

Where’s home plate?
The road trip continued with a trek north of the border, to a place that has been a house of horrors for the Yankees this decade. They entered the series in Toronto with a 27-41 record at the Rogers Centre since 2010, their worst winning percentage at an AL ballpark over the past eight years.

So, predictably, they dropped the first game on Tuesday, though the result had much more to do with their continued failure to cash in on scoring chances. They flooded the basepaths with 14 baserunners, but only two of them crossed the plate, the first time that’s happened in nearly a year, since last August 15 against … the Blue Jays.

Or maybe they lost because they failed to send a ball over the fences. The Yankees have just three wins when they don’t homer, the fewest in the majors this season, and after going homerless on Tuesday, their 3-20 record without a home run is the second-worst in baseball.

All of the damage by the Blue Jays came from Josh Donaldson, who belted two two-run homers off CC Sabathia in the first three innings. Sabathia later revealed that he was pitching with pain in his right knee, which was the likely cause of a troublesome drop in his fastball velocity.

(Brooksbaseball.net)
(Brooksbaseball.net)

He averaged 89 mph on his sinker and 88.4 mph on his cutter, both of which were his second-lowest marks on those pitches this season, ahead of only his start in Pittsburgh in April. The injury was likely the main reason for his struggles, though you have to wonder if the inevitable regression monster was lurking given these numbers entering the game:

Sabathia had a 2.29 ERA on the road, the best in the AL (min. 50 IP), and hadn’t allowed more than one earned run in each of his last six road outings before Tuesday. He also had held Donaldson without a homer in their previous 37 matchups, the most plate appearances Donaldson had in his career against a pitcher he had yet to take deep.

(AP)
(AP)

Dinger party
The Yankee bats returned with vengeance on Wednesday night, exploding for 11 runs and 17 hits, including eight for extra bases. It was the first time they reached each of those totals on the road in more than two years, since a 13-6 shellacking of the White Sox at Cellular Field on July 31, 2015.

Todd Frazier, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius each went deep as the Yankees improved to 17-0 when hitting at least three homers, the best record in the majors. The only other team that’s unbeaten in three-homer games this season is the Red Sox (10-0).

Frazier had by far his finest game as a Yankee, with three hits — a homer, double and single — three RBIs and four runs scored. Those two extra-base hits on Wednesday were the same number that he had in his previous 18 games (70 plate appearances) in pinstripes.

The Toddfather is just the fourth Yankee third baseman to drive in three or more runs and score four or more times in a game, joining A-Rod (six times), Scott Brosius (1999), Graig Nettles (1976) and Bobby Brown (1949).

The inclusion of Brown here gives us a chance for our Yankeemetric History Lesson of the Week. Brown, who later became a practicing cardiologist and spent a decade as the president of the American League (1984-94), has one incredible stat from his eight seasons with the Yankees:

A career .279/.367/.376 hitter, Brown was a monster in the postseason, hitting .439 in 41 at-bats in 17 World Series games. That’s the second-highest World Series batting average in baseball history by any player with at least 40 plate appearances, behind David Ortiz (.455).

Garrett Cooper was the other standout player on Wednesday, going 4-for-5 with two RBIs, and producing a bevy of #FunFacts for the 26-year-old rookie. He is the …

  • Seventh Yankee ever with a four-hit, multi-RBI game within his first 10 career games. This might be one of the most eclectic lists of players we’ve ever produced: D’Angelo Jimenez (1999), Shane Spencer (1998), Rusty Torres (1971), Elston Howard (1955), Jerry Coleman (1949) and Chicken Hawks (1921) — yes, a real person and one incredible statistical claim to fame.
  • Third Yankee first baseman with at least four hits against the Blue Jays, joining Mark Teixeira (2010) and Don Mattingly (six times).
  • Fourth rookie first baseman in the last 100-plus years to have a four-hit game, along with Joe Collins (1950), Bud Souchock (1946) and Lou Gehrig (twice).

And, of course, this would not be a Yankeemetrics post without Aaron Judge re-writing the record books. He took his 82nd walk of the season in the fifth inning, breaking the Yankee rookie record set by Charlie Keller in 1939. The major-league rookie record in the modern era (since 1900) is 107 walks by Ted Williams in 1939, a number that is certainly within reach over the next seven weeks.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Stranded in Canada
One night after an offensive explosion — which now seems like a blip during this miserable and extended slump — the Yankees flipped the script on Thursday and were blanked by the Blue Jays, 4-0. It was deja vu all over again, as they had plenty of chances to score (11 baserunners) but left a small navy of men on base because of their horrid clutch hitting (0-for-9 with runners in scoring position).

But maybe we should have predicted this frustrating loss, given their recent struggles to light up the scoreboard at the Rogers Centre. It was the Yankees 10th shutout loss in Toronto since 2011, easily their most at any road stadium over the last seven seasons. Second on the list? Camden Yards and Tropicana Field, with five at each place.

Sonny Gray was okay on a night he needed to be perfect, but he did hold the Blue Jays to three runs (two earned) in six innings, his eighth start in a row with at least six innings pitched and no more than two earned runs allowed. That’s the longest such streak by an AL pitcher this season and tied with Max Scherzer for the second-longest in the majors, behind Aaron Nola (9).

Two of those starts have been with the Yankees, and he’s lost both of them, as the Yankees have scored a total of zero runs in the 12 innings he’s been on the mound. His consolation prize is being the proud winner of our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: Gray is the second pitcher ever to begin his Yankee career with two losses despite pitching at least six innings and allowing two or fewer earned runs in each game, joining Harry Byrd in 1954.

Aaron Judge inched closer to yet another record, although this is one he’d like to avoid. When he took a called strike three in the fifth inning against Marco Estrada, it was his 27th straight game with a strikeout. That’s the second-longest single-season streak by a position player in MLB history, trailing only Adam Dunn’s 32-game streak to start the 2012 season.