I wish I could quit Starlin Castro

(Elsa/Getty Images North America)
(Elsa/Getty Images North America)

Starlin Castro is not a very good major league baseball player. This is something that precious few people would find shocking or inaccurate, and yet I feel the need to say it. His career 97 wRC+ is a bit above-average for a middle infielder, but, when combined with his subpar defense and middling to poor base-running it leads to an average of 1.8 fWAR per 150 games. If you squint, you can easily convince yourself that Castro is an average big leaguer – I just happen to take it a step further.

I was ecstatic when the Yankees dealt Adam Warren for Castro a year and a half ago. I saw a 25-year-old player that had shown flashes of greatness in his six seasons in the majors, and was just one season removed from a deserved All-Star appearance. And, given his age and overall contact-heavy approach, it wasn’t difficult to recall the 70s and 80s that scouts tossed on his hit tool back in 2010. He was a frustratingly inconsistent player, to be sure, but the talent was obvious, and he felt like the ideal ‘change of scenery’ type, given the new direction of the Cubs franchise and his status as the face of the failures of the previous several seasons.

This time last year, it seemed as though my optimistic outlook was paying off. Castro wrapped-up April batting .305/.345/.488, which was essentially his 2014 season with more power. Nothing screamed outlier, either, as his .324 BABIP was less than a handful of points higher than his career norm, his 5.7 BB% was in-line with his better seasons, as was his 12.6 K%, and his 15% HR/FB was explained by a few cheap home runs. And the power wasn’t what we were looking for anyway – it was always about Castro getting back to that .300 batting average range, and seeing what happened around it. Things were looking up.

And then he hit .244/.278/.370 for the next three months. His walk rate dropped by 1.7 percentage points, his strikeout rate jumped by nearly 8 percentage points, and his BABIP dropped down to .285. We watched Castro swing at everything between his shoulders and his ankles, and most anything that came within six inches of the strike zone. Is there hyperbole sprinkled in there? Yes, to some extent – but that’s what the Castro experience feels like. He rebounded in August and September, and that led to some positive buzz; but the damage was done.

Or so you’d think, as I’m finding myself gravitating right back into his corner.

As of this writing, Castro is batting .357/.400/.571, good for a 178 wRC+ – easily his best month in pinstripes, if not his career. It’s obviously unsustainable (note the .396 BABIP), but could we be seeing some tangible change? Maybe. Probably not … but maybe.

It all begins with his swing rates. As per FanGraphs, Castro is currently swinging at 32.5% of pitches outside of the strikezone (1.3 percentage points below his career norm), and 49.1% overall. Both are his lowest since 2014, and both are within striking distance of league-average; the aggressiveness is still there, but it has been toned down. For better or worse, however, we saw this last April, too:

(FanGraphs)
(FanGraphs)
(FanGraphs)
(FanGraphs)

Those charts are incredibly similar, and tell the same story – Castro loves to swing. And that includes swinging at pitches in on the hands, which may well be his kryptonite (announcers and fans have long lamented his propensity to be jammed inside). When everything’s working with his swing, he’ll pick up hits on those pitches; when it’s not, we see far too much weak contact.

What about the uptick in walks, though? Castro’s 6.7% walk rate would represent the high water mark of his career if it held, and it’s his best single month mark since July of 2014. That’s not great at face value, but it’s an improvement for the swing-happy second baseman. And there might just be something there, when you consider his swing percentages and his career-high 3.85 pitches per plate appearance.

That 3.85 P/PA mark is right around league-average, and represents a very real improvement from his 3.69 P/PA of 2016, and career rate of 3.68 P/PA. And that is something that we didn’t see last year, even in his hot April when he saw just 3.65 P/PA. While such a jump only represents an extra 130 or so pitches seen per season, it is nevertheless a positive indicator of a (potentially) more disciplined hitter.

There could also be something to Castro’s batted ball profile, as well. Castro is pulling the ball just 35.1% of the time, after sitting at or above 40% from 2014 through 2016. He’s also going the other way on 29.8% of batted balls, 3.8 percentage points above his career norm (and the second highest rate of his career). Given his average power, that’s a good way to take advantage of Yankee Stadium – especially when you factor in his continued uptick in flyballs and decrease in grounders.

Attempting to discern any real information from eighteen games and 75 plate appearances is something of a fool’s errand, and that oftentimes feels even more true with Starlin Castro. It is clear, though, that Castro has been a bit more disciplined this year, and that is contributing to his hot start. Moreover, prior successes (and scouting reports) tell us that the talent is there, and many of us have bought in, albeit to varying degrees. When talent and production meet in an age-27 season, the word ‘breakout’ comes to mind – but we’ve been fooled before.

Yankeemetrics: Rocky road trippin’ (April 21-23)

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Bad, the Ugly and the Awful
Last year the Yankees went 3-7 on their road Interleague slate, tied with the Twins for the worst record among AL teams … and the trend continued into 2017 after dropping the series opener in Pittsburgh, 6-3, on Friday night.

All the momentum and confidence built up from a strong 8-1 homestand came to a screeching halt thanks to a mix of bad pitching (see below), sloppy defense (two unearned runs) and a lack of clutch hitting (0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and 11 men left on base).

CC Sabathia was knocked around early, allowing a lead-off homer on the third pitch he threw and another longball in the second frame, putting the Yankees in 4-0 hole after two innings. Although he settled down and was able to gut through three more innings without allowing another run, he still was tagged for his worst outing of the season.

For whatever reason, Sabathia’s fastball (sinker/cutter) velocity was down significantly from his first three starts, averaging 88.2 mph compared to 90.6 in his first three starts combined …

brooksbaseball-chart-1

… and stuff-wise, each of his fastballs had much less “ride” on Friday, averaging just 7.1 (sinker) and 1.3 (cutter) inches of horizontal movement compared to 11.9 (sinker) and 3.7 (cutter) in his first three starts.

brooksbaseball-chart-2
Unsurprisingly, the Pirates crushed Sabathia’s diminished hard pitches, going 5-for-14 with two homers when putting his fastballs in play. In his first three starts, batters hit .244 and slugged .317 against Sabathia’s sinker/cutter combo.

The Pirates did their best to give the Yankees a chance to win, committing three errors, while the Yankees weren’t credited with an official RBI on any of their three runs scored. It was just the sixth time in franchise history they scored as many as three runs in a game with zero RBI. The last time it happened was May 2, 1989 in a 5-3 loss to the Royals.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Love these Komeback Kids
The Yankees got back in the win column with their sixth comeback win of the season, this time erasing a 3-0 deficit after five innings and cruising to an 11-5 victory.

Starlin Castro ignited the first rally with a three-run homer in the sixth inning that knotted the score at 3-3. It was his 25th longball with the Yankees and the 12th one that either tied the game or gave the Yankees the lead – that’s three more than any other Yankee over the last two seasons.

Ronald Torreyes then followed with a two-run double to give the Yankees their first lead, 5-3, in the sixth. Torreyes finished with four hits and two RBI, giving him 13 RBI through the team’s first 17 games. The only other Yankee shortstops with that many RBIs this early into the season were Derek Jeter (1999, 2006) and Frankie Crosetti (1936).

After the Pirates came back to tie the score, Chris Carter delivered his first True Yankee Moment®, belting a tie-breaking, pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning – his first time going deep in pinstripes. He is just the fourth Yankee pinch-hitter with a go-ahead homer in an Interleague game, joining Travis Hafner (2013 vs Arizona), Eric Chavez (2012 vs Mets) and Clay Bellinger (2000 vs Braves).

Aaron Judge then put the icing on the cake, connecting for yet another moonshot deep into the left field bleachers at PNC Park. Statcast measured the blast at career-high 457 feet with an exit velocity of 115.6 mph. Since his debut on Aug. 13, 2016, he has hit three homers traveling at least 445 feet. In that span (and through Saturday), only Justin Upton could match Judge in 445-plus foot homers.

It was the sixth time in 2017 that Judge ripped a ball with an exit velocity of at least 115 mph, making the leaderboard of 115-plus mph batted balls this season through Saturday … well, pretty ridiculous:

  • Aaron Judge: 6
  • Joey Gallo: 2
  • Rest of MLB: 9

Supernova’d
As good as the Yankees have been in the Bronx, they’ve been just as bad away from the friendly confines. After dropping the rubber game on Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Yankees fell to 0-3 in road series this season.

Ivan Nova — in his first start against the Yankees since being traded away last summer — got some sweet revenge against his former team as he allowed one run in seven efficient innings. It was the ninth time in 15 starts (60%) with the Pirates that Nova gave up one earned or fewer; he did that in just 25 percent of his 118 starts with the Yankees.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Jordan Montgomery continued to show poise on the mound and a knack for pitching out of trouble in another impressive outing. Making his third career start, the 24-year-old rookie scattered seven hits across six innings, surrendering two runs. The Pirates had one hit in seven at-bats with runners in scoring against Montgomery, who has held batters to a .118 average (2-for-17) with a man on second and/or third in his three starts.

The Yankees had plenty of chances to win the game but repeatedly came up empty. Notably, they loaded the bases with one out in the ninth but Aaron Hicks struck out and then Pete Kozma grounded out to end the game.

This was not an ideal situation for Hicks: he is now 2-for-27 (.074) with the bases loaded in his career, the second-worst mark among active players (min. 25 at-bats). And Kozma is just a bad hitter: his .148 batting average overall since the start of 2015 is better than only two non-pitchers that have at least 100 at-bats in the last three seasons (Craig Gentry, .139 and Erik Kratz, .117).

Torreyes has given the Yanks exactly what they needed during Gregorius’ absence

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees have won nine of their last ten games, and perhaps the most amazing thing about this hot stretch is that they’ve done it without Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius, arguably their two best position players. Sanchez hurt his biceps taking a swing two Saturdays ago, the day before eight-game winning streak started. He resumed throwing and swinging Wednesday but is still a few weeks ago.

Gregorius, on the other hand, has not played at all during the regular season due to a shoulder strain suffered during the World Baseball Classic. The injury sucks, but what can you do? Gregorius resumed throwing last week and has gradually increased his workouts. He’s expected to play in his first official minor league rehab game later today. The Yankees could get Gregorius back sometime next week. Hooray for that.

While Gregorius has been sidelined, utility man Ronald Torreyes has filled in at shortstop admirably. He hasn’t been great — he’s hitting .239/.239/.391 (70 wRC+) in 46 plate appearances — but he hasn’t been a total disaster either. Torreyes has generally fielded the ball cleanly, plus he’s come up with some clutch hits. His two-run triple against the Orioles helped spark the comeback the led to the first win of the eight-game winning streak.

I was pretty excited when the Yankees acquired Torreyes last offseason — they traded for him, lost him on waivers, then claimed him back on waivers — but not because I thought he could be a future star or even a regular or anything like that. I thought he could be exactly what he has been for the Yankees: a solid high-energy bench player who could spot start for a few weeks and not kill you at the plate or in the field. Good bench players are tough to find.

That said, we’ve reached the point where Torreyes is starting to get exposed by playing everyday. He’s gone 5-for-26 (.192) in his last eight games and is averaging only 2.97 pitches per plate appearances during that time. Only three strikeouts is good! That’s what Torreyes does. He makes a lot of contact. But he’s not impacting the baseball much, and it’s starting to show up in his numbers. A few clutch hits have prevented him from being a total drain on the offense, so that’s cool.

Once Gregorius returns, the Yankees can slide Torreyes back into the reserve infielder role he fills so well, and enjoy an upgrade on both sides of the ball at shortstop. Didi has made steady progress in his two years with the Yankees. He was a better player in September 2015 than he was in April 2015, and he was a much better player in September 2016 than he was in April 2016. I’m looking forward to seeing where he takes his game this season.

This isn’t intended to be a knock on Torreyes, because he gave the Yankees exactly what they needed at shortstop while Gregorius was out: competence. He made all the plays he was supposed to make on defense and he chipped in some big hits. We’ve seen some bench players thrust into everyday duty by injuries in recent years who were overmatched. Jayson Nix. Chris Stewart. Brendan Ryan. Ben Francisco. So on and so forth.

That didn’t happen with Torreyes and he deserves major props for holding down a tough position as well as he has. The Yankees are a much better team with Gregorius in the lineup though, and now that he’s inching closer to a return, it’s exciting to think this team could be ever better going forward. Then when Sanchez returns? Oh boy.

Yankeemetrics: Whiteout in the Bronx (April 17-19)

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Judge and The Mick
The White Sox were the latest team to try and slow down the Yankees juggernaut, a feat that seemed improbable based on their recent struggles at the House That Jeter Built.

The White Sox entered this series with a 7-20 record at the new Yankee Stadium, the second-worst win percentage (.259) by any American League team (only the Angels, 8-24, were worse). The Yankees made sure they didn’t improve that mark on Monday with a 7-4 win in the series opener.

Matt Holliday broke the game open with a monster three-run, 459-foot home run in the third inning. It was the fourth-longest homer by any Yankee in the Statcast era (since 2015), behind three homers by A-Rod in 2015. With an exit velocity of 113.9 mph, it was also the third-hardest hit homer in that span behind an A-Bomb in 2015 (116.5) and an Aaron Judge blast last year (115.2).

Judge joined the powerball party in the fifth inning, extending the lead to 7-0 with his fourth home run of the season. He’s just the second Yankee outfielder under the age of 25 to hit four homers within the team’s first 13 games. The other? Oh, just some guy named Mickey Mantle in 1956.

Jordan Montgomery picked up his first major-league win, showing the same toughness and poise he displayed last week during his debut, pitching out of jams in the first and sixth innings. Overall this season, he’s allowed just one hit in 10 at-bats (.100) and struck out four batters with runners in scoring position.

Adam Warren relieved Montgomery, and kept his Hidden Perfect Game intact until he walked Tyler Saladino with two outs, snapping a streak of 22 straight batters retired to start the season.

Warren is the only Yankee pitcher since at least 1913 to not allow a baserunner in any of his first four appearances, while retiring more than 10 batters during the streak (Warren set down 20 batters in a row during his first four games).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Eight is Enough
All good things must come to an end … Thanks to an anemic showing by the Yankee offense and an unexpected masterful performance by White Sox journeyman pitcher Miguel Gonzalez on Tuesday night, the Yankees lost their first game since April 8 and suffered their first home loss of the season.

The Yankees eight-game win streak was tied for their second-longest in April in franchise history, bettered only by a 10-gamer in 1987. And their 7-0 start at Yankee Stadium was just the sixth time they had won their first seven home games; the good news is that of the previous five seasons it happened (1943, 1949, 1951, 1987, 1998), four ended with the Yankees hoisting a World Series trophy.

Gonzalez held the Yankees to just four infield singles and one run in his 8 1/3 innings of work on a frosty night in the Bronx. How unlikely was this standout performance?

He had been winless in his previous 18 road starts entering the game, which was the longest active streak among major-league pitchers. And it had been over three decades since a White Sox pitcher allowed one-run-or-fewer and four-hits-or-fewer in an outing of more than eight innings at Yankee Stadium: Neil Allen was the last to do it, tossing a two-hit, no-strikeout (!) shutout in July 1986.

Luis Severino‘s final line (four runs allowed) underscored the dominance he showed in striking out 10 guys, including six with his devastating slider. Overall, the pitch has been a key weapon for him this season: of the 31 two-strike sliders he’s thrown, 13 have resulted in strikeouts, good for a 41.9 percent slider “putaway rate” that ranks second behind only Noah Syndergaard (43.5%) among starters.

Coupled with his 11-strikeout game in his previous start, Severino became the youngest Yankee with back-to-back double-digit strikeout games since lefty Al Downing in 1963. Even more impressive is this golden nugget:

At the age of 23 years and 57 days, Severino is the youngest pitcher in franchise history with at least 10 strikeouts and no walks in a game.

A new win streak
Death, taxes … and the Yankees beating the White Sox at Yankee Stadium. Three things you can pretty much count on these days. With their 9-1 victory in the rubber game on Wednesday night, the Yankees are now unbeaten (10-0-2) in their last 12 home series against the White Sox. The last time they lost a series in the Bronx to the Pale Hose was Aug. 8-10, 2005.

Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have ace-like stuff but still delivered his best performance of the season, limiting the White Sox to one run on six hits in seven innings. He’s now won six straight home starts dating back to last season, setting a record at the new Yankee Stadium. The last Yankee pitcher to win six starts in a row at home was Chien-Ming Wang in 2006.

Aaron Judge did Aaron Judge things once again, crushing a towering homer into to the left field bleachers in the fifth inning to give the Yankees a 8-1 lead. The absolute bomb went an estimated 448 feet and left his bat at 115.5 mph. His assault on the Statcast record books continues unabated:

  • The distance of 448 feet is a career-high for Judge, and is the third-longest homer at Yankee Stadium in the Statcast era (since 2015).
  • The exit velocity of 115.5 mph makes it the hardest-hit homer by any player at Yankee Stadium in the Statcast era.
  • Judge now has six batted balls with an exit velocity of at least 115 mph in pinstripes; since 2015, all other Yankees have combined to hit three batted balls with an exit velocity of 115-plus mph.

Austin Romine is taking advantage of the opportunity created by Gary Sanchez’s injury

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Ten days ago the Yankees suffered what could have very easily been a devastating injury. Starting catcher and offensive cornerstone Gary Sanchez hurt his biceps taking a swing and was later diagnosed with a strained brachialis muscle. It’ll sideline him at least four weeks. Sanchez started the season slowly, going 3-for-20 (.150) with a homer before the injury, but still. Losing your catcher and No. 2 hitter is rough.

Rather than collapse without Sanchez, the Yankees have won all eight games since the injury, including six of six with Austin Romine behind the plate. Romine has gone 7-for-21 (.333) with two doubles, a homer, four walks, and three strikeouts in the super early going this season. “The team is playing well, period. I’m not going to take credit. I’m trying to stay out of the way the best I can. We have a lot of people doing things right. I can’t sit here and take credit for anything,” he said to George King over the weekend.

Last season the 28-year-old Romine hit .242/.269/.382 (68 wRC+) with four homers in 176 plate appearances while backing up Brian McCann and later Sanchez, and geez, I don’t even remember the four homers. Did he really hit that many? Romine came into this season with 21 doubles and five home runs in 359 career big league plate appearances. Here is his 2013-16 spray chart, via FanGraphs:


Source: FanGraphs
Like most players — particularly bench players who don’t play a whole lot because they don’t offer much at the plate — the right-handed hitting Romine did most of his damage to the pull side from 2013-16. All five home runs were pulled to left field as were most doubles. That cluster of blue dots along the right field line are bloop doubles that fell in just fair. I distinctly remember a few of those.

This year, either intentionally or accidentally, Romine has taken an extreme opposite field approach and peppered right field. It’s happened so often that I have to think it’s intentional. He’s put 19 total balls in play so far this season and only three — three! — have been pulled to the left side of the field. Almost everything else has gone to right field. Not even back up the middle. To right field. Here is Romine’s spray chart thus far this season, via Baseball Savant:

austin-romine-2017-spray-chart

I wasn’t kidding when I said an extreme opposite field approach. Romine has hit nearly everything to the opposite field, and hey, when you’re a right-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium, it makes sense to go the other way. Romine has already been rewarded with one opposite field home run this year. He never came particularly close to hitting a short porch homer in previous years.

Clearly Romine is hitting the ball to right field more often this year than he has in the past, so now the question becomes: so what? I’m not sure, honestly. This could all be small sample size noise — again, Romine has put only 19 balls in play this year — or it could be an honest-to-goodness adjustment in an effort to help him be more productive at the plate. Trying to pull the ball all the time only worked so much. Now he’s incorporating the opposite field more often. Maybe? Possibly?

Romine said himself last season he knows he needs to hit not only to stick with the Yankees, but stick in the big leagues in general. Even defense-first catchers have to hit a little bit, you know? There was basically nothing Romine could do to stop Sanchez from taking over as the starting catcher, but now Kyle Higashioka, who is coming off a 21-homer season between Double-A and Triple-A, is breathing down his neck for the backup job. His roster spot is far from safe.

I should also note Romine has been behind the plate for this recent run of strong starts from the rotation. So far this year pitchers have a 3.00 ERA (2.92 FIP) in 57 innings with Romine compared to a 4.14 ERA (3.34 FIP) in 37 innings with Sanchez. How much credit does Romine deserve for that? Tough to say. I’ve always been a catcher impact skeptic, dating back to the days of Jose Molina being A.J. Burnett‘s personal catcher. Ultimately it’s up to the pitcher to execute, so the catcher can call the best game in the world and it might not matter. Either way, the pitching staff as performed well of late and the always reflects well on the catcher.

For now, Romine’s new opposite field approach is a #thingtowatch. He’s going to play a lot while Sanchez is on the disabled list — Joe Girardi made it clear Romine will be the starter and Higashioka the backup, so playing time won’t be split evenly — so we’ll get a chance to see whether this is real. For Romine, this is a huge opportunity. It’s his first time playing everyday at the MLB level, so this is his chance to show the Yankees he’s worth keeping around and other teams he’s worth acquiring and giving an expanded role.

Hicks is forcing the Yankees to give him more playing time

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

The season is very young. The Yankees have played 13 games and won nine of them, and in those 13 games fourth outfielder Aaron Hicks is hitting .269/.429/.654 (196 wRC+) with three home runs in 35 plate appearances. That includes a two home-run game against the Rays last week. Hicks has also drawn eight walks against only three strikeouts. He’s been pretty great so far. No doubt about it.

As you know, Hicks had a miserable debut season in pinstripes a year ago, though clearly the Yankees never stopped believing in his talent. Switch-hitters with some power and speed are nice players to have. The Yankees gave Hicks a legitimate opportunity to win the right field job in Spring Training, and while he got beat out by Aaron Judge, Hicks played well and gave the Yankees something to think about. It wasn’t an easy decision.

“I saw the disappointment in his face,” said Joe Girardi last week. “It wasn’t easy because I thought he had a pretty good Spring Training too. And I just said, ‘Your opportunities are going to come and you’ve just got to make sure that you’re ready.’ I give him a lot of credit because I thought he turned the page really quickly. That’s not easy to do. He’s played extremely well.”

As poorly as he played last season overall, Hicks did finish fairly well, hitting .271/.333/.424 (105 wRC+) with five home runs in 129 plate appearances after Carlos Beltran was traded away at the deadline. The regular playing time seemed to help Hicks, who prior to last season had never been a bench player. Going from playing everyday to playing once or twice a week can be really tough. Not many players can make that adjustment seamlessly.

“I think he kind of figured it out as he went along last year,” added Girardi when asked about using Hicks as a part-time player last season. “We’ve tried to play him multiple days in a row (this year) so it’s a little more comfortable than playing sparingly … We’ll get in a little bit of a rotation and spell guys and make sure he’s getting his at-bats because I think he can be really productive.”

The Yankees are indeed making sure Hicks is getting his at-bats. He has 35 plate appearances through the first 13 team games this year. Last season Hicks didn’t receive his 35th plate appearance until May 4th, in the club’s 26th game. Some minor injuries have helped — Brett Gardner missed a game after his collision with Rickie Weeks, and Matt Holliday missed two games with a back issue — but Girardi seems to be making sure Hicks plays fairly regularly.

And, given his production to date, Hicks is forcing the Yankees and Girardi to consider giving him even more playing time going forward. No, he’s not going to hit like this all summer, but he showed signs of life late last season and he’s doing it again now. Did I mention he’s also only 27? And is a switch-hitter who draws walks and hits for power and offers some speed on the bases? That’s kind of a big deal. Hicks has natural ability. His talent is obvious.

Late last year the Yankees and Girardi had no problem sitting established veterans for younger players. Brian McCann lost playing time to Gary Sanchez and Mark Teixeira lost playing time to Tyler Austin, most notably. They’ll have to do something similar to get Hicks in the lineup, because right now Judge should not be losing playing time to anyone. A day off here and there, sure, but he’s a future core player and his playing time is a priority.

That leaves Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, both of whom will turn 34 later this year and don’t really fit into the Yankees’ long-term plans. At least not as key contributors. We should also include Holliday here. He is 37 and on a one-year contract. For Hicks to get more playing time going forward, it’ll come at the expense of those three. Perhaps the Yankees will find a trade partner for Gardner (or Ellsbury!) at some point, but until then, there will have to be some sort of outfield rotation.

Point is, the Yankees have a 27-year-old former first round pick — who switch-hits! and draws walks! and hits for power! and runs well! — who may or may not be coming into his own as a player. Hicks finished well last year, played well in Spring Training, and has started strong this year. Given the plan to get younger and more athletic, finding out whether Hicks is really starting to put it together should absolutely should be a priority. Girardi will have to be a little creative to make sure he gets Hicks into the lineup regularly going forward.

Yankeemetrics: We’re Going Streaking (April 14-16)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Comeback kids
Behind the improved pitching of Masahiro Tanaka, and the power of Starlin Castro and Austin Romine, the Yankees opened their 2017 Interleague slate on Friday night with a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Cardinals. This was the Redbirds first visit to the new Yankee Stadium, making the Padres the only team that hasn’t visited the Bronx since 2009.

Masahiro Tanaka entered this matchup having allowed just one run in 21 innings (0.43 ERA) over three Interleague starts at Yankee Stadium. That was the lowest ERA in the majors by any pitcher with two career home Interleague starts … until the third batter of the game, Matt Carpenter, crushed a two-run homer to give the Cardinals an early 2-0 lead.

He settled down after that rocky first frame, retiring 10 straight at one point, before faltering again in the seventh. Tanaka has now given up 13 runs in three outings this season – a number he didn’t reach until May 10 last year in his seventh start of the 2016 campaign.

Castro quickly evened the scored with a two-run blast in the bottom of the first. It was Castro’s 11th game-tying or go-ahead homer in pinstripes, two more than every other Yankee since the start of last season.

Romine then delivered the eventual game-winner, a solo homer in the bottom of the second to put them ahead 3-2. It was the first time in his career he went deep to give the Yankees a lead.

(AP)
(AP)

Sabathia > Father Time
CC Sabathia produced a vintage performance in Saturday’s 3-2 Yankee victory, throwing 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball, while picking up his his 225th career win on Jackie Robinson Day. That moved him past Hall-of-Famers Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter for sole possession of 66th place on MLB’s all-time wins list.

Sabathia also lowered his ERA to 1.47, the third-lowest of his career through his first three starts of a season; the only better marks were in 2011 (1.45) and 2005 (0.92).

The Yankees needed Sabathia’s masterpiece because their offense remained stuck in neutral for much of the game. They went 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position, left 12 men on base and tied a franchise record with 17 strikeouts (done three times previously). Somehow, the Yankees are now 2-1-1 all-time when striking out 17 times in a game.

Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez was both utterly dominant and laughably wild at times on Saturday afternoon, finishing with one of the most bizarre pitching lines you’ll ever see: 11 strikeouts, eight walks, four hits, three runs allowed.

He’s the first pitcher to walk at least eight guys and fan at least 11 batters since Randy Johnson in 1993, and the first to do that against the Yankees since Bob Feller in 1937.

Even more ridiculous is that he did this all in just 5 1/3 innings. Martinez is the only pitcher in major-league history to have 11-or-more strikeouts and eight-or-more walks in a game and not make it out of the sixth inning.

Seventh Heaven
The Yankees completed the sweep of the Cardinals on Sunday with a convincing 9-3 win, extending their win streak to an MLB-best seven games. They now have two sweeps in two home series this season, after notching just three sweeps in 26 home series in 2016.

The victory also pushes their Yankee Stadium record to 6-0, the second time in the Wild Card era (since 1995) they’ve won their first six games at home. It also happened in 1998, a season that ended … yeah, pretty sweet.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Greg Bird broke out of his brutal season-opening slump in style, as he reached base in all four plate appearances with a home run, double, single and a walk (hey, a triple short of the cycle!).

Prior to his second-inning homer, Bird was hitless in his previous 20 at-bats, and had just one hit and a whopping 13 strikeouts in 30 trips to the plate this season. Entering Sunday, his batting average (.038), slugging percentage (.077) and OPS (.244) were each the worst among the 237 MLB players with at least 30 plate appearances this season.

Bird’s homer was his first since Oct. 1, 2015, making him the 10th different Yankee in 2017 to go yard. That’s tied with the Tigers, Rays and Brewers for the most players with at least one homer this season.

Chase Headley continued to swing a hot bat, pushing his batting average above .400 and notching his seventh multi-hit performance of the year. He’s the first Yankee third baseman since Bobby Murcer in 1969 to have seven multi-hit games this early into the season (first 12 team games), and joins Derek Jeter (2010, 2012) as the only Yankees at any position to do it in the last decade.

Michael Pineda followed up his near-perfecto with another excellent outing, showing a hint of the consistency that has so far eluded him during his Jekyll-and-Hyde career in pinstripes. It was just the second time as a Yankee that he pitched at least seven innings and surrendered no more than two runs in back-to-back games (also May 5-10, 2015).