Yankeemetrics: The curse is over (July 20-23)

(AP)
(AP)

Ace Sevy
Back in Pacfic time zone where their current collapse began more than a month ago, the Yankees took the first step towards pulling out of the tailspin with a 4-1 win over the Mariners on Thursday.

If there is one west coast locale where the Yankees might be able to right the ship, it would be Seattle. They entered this series 49-28 all-time at Safeco Field, the best record by any team in the history of the stadium. The Yankees had won six straight series at the park, their longest active road series win streak against an AL club, and hadn’t dropped a series there since 2011.

Luis Severino dazzled in the matchup with Felix Hernandez, outdueling the Mariners longtime ace with seven brilliant shutout innings. It was his seventh start of at least seven innings and no more than one run allowed this season. The only other guys in the majors that matched that number through Thursday were Max Scherzer (7) and Clayton Kershaw (10).

It was also his third scoreless start of at least seven innings, an impressive feat for the 23-year-old pitcher. In the last 50 years, the only other Yankee as young as Severino with three or more scoreless starts of seven-plus innings in a season was Dave Righetti in 1981.

He dominated with a blazing fastball that averaged 98.3 mph, per Statcast, his highest average fastball velocity in any start in his career. Severino also tied his career-high with 10 whiffs on his fastball, and his four-seamer swinging strike rate of 19.6 percent was his highest in any of his 41 major-league starts. As you can see in the chart below, he was bringing the high heat, with all 10 of those swinging fastball strikes coming on pitches above the letters:

severino-whiffs

The hitting hero of the night was Brett Gardner, who broke a scoreless tie in the sixth inning with a solo shot to right field. Gardner finished the night 1-for-3 vs. King Felix, and is now hitting .361 against him, the third-highest batting average among the 53 guys that have faced him at least 40 times. The two ahead of Gardner? Mike Trout (.367) and David Ortiz (.410).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Best birthday present ever
Baseball has its share of small-sample-size statistical quirks and one of the oddest is the fact that CC Sabathia entered Friday’s game 0-3 with a 6.99 ERA in five starts on his birthday.

The baseball gods, though, were in Sabathia’s favor on Friday night as he finally broke his birthday curse against the Mariners. He was in vintage form, grinding through five innings, allowing seven baserunners but yielding just one run. Let’s run through some notable #FunFacts in honor of CC’s sweet birthday victory:

  • first Yankee starter to earn a win on his birthday since Joe Cowley in 1984 against the Mariners
  • first Yankee starter to allow one run or fewer on his birthday since Ron Guidry in 1981
  • And, at age 37, Sabathia is the oldest Yankee pitcher to win on his birthday since a 37-year-old Red Ruffing in 1942

Aaron Judge delivered the best birthday present ever to Sabathia in the fifth inning, when he ended in his 10-game homerless drought in style by clobbering a monstrous homer into the last rows of the upper deck in left field.

It was hit so high, so far … that it broke Statcast, literally, as MLB’s sophisticated measurement system didn’t spit out any numbers for the distance or exit velocity. We do know that the pitch he clobbered was a 76.3 mph curveball, the slowest pitch he’s hit for a home run in his career.

So close, yet so far away
It was too good to be true. Riding an actual winning streak and with a chance to clinch a series win on Saturday night, the Yankees got stung with another frustrating loss in Seattle. They rallied twice — erasing 4-1 and 5-4 deficits to tie the game — but never were able to take the lead, and lost 6-5 in heart-breaking fashion on Nelson Cruz’s game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the 10th.

Let’s dig deeper into this recent stretch of excruciating late-inning close losses:

The Yankees fell to 9-19 in games decided by one run, the second-worst record in the Majors and tied for the second-most losses through Saturday. The only team worse in both stats is the Phillies at 11-26. Fifteen of those 19 losses have come on the road, and an unfathomable 14 of them have been against teams with a .500 record or worse — a number that leads all of MLB after Saturday’s slate.

And, of course, the one-run losses have really been piling up over the last two months. They’ve lost 14 of their last 16 games decided by a run dating back to May 29 — so, after some quick math, they were 7-5 in one-run games for the first two months of the season and are 2-14 over the last two months.

Saturday was their fifth walk-off loss, one more than last year. All five have come since June 13, the most suffered by any team in that span. And three have been on the west coast, one each in Seattle, Anaheim and Oakland. Strange but true: this is just the second time ever they’ve lost walk-off games to each of them in the same season (it also happened in 2006).

Even in the depressing loss, Aaron Judge was still doing Aaron Judge things. He crushed a 396-foot home run to right field, showing off his ridiculous oppo-field power. Ridiculous is actually an understatement. After Saturday’s game, he was slugging 1.140 to the opposite field, easily the highest in baseball among qualified hitters. For reference, the league slugging percentage on balls hit to the opposite field is .474. Holy moly, what a beautiful hit spray chart:

aaron-judge-3

Streaks are meant to be broken
See yaaaaaaa …. The Yankees finally ended their torturous month-plus baseball nightmare and won their first series since June 9-11. They snapped a 10-series winless streak, their longest since August/September 1991, just weeks before Stump Merrill was fired.

And thankfully I don’t have to tweet this stat again:

Brett Gardner got the offensive fireworks started early with his third leadoff homer of the season, and you could almost smell a victory dance … entering Sunday, the Yankees were 13-0 when Gardy went yardy. Didi Gregorius added two solo dingers for his first career multi-homer game, putting the Yankees up 3-0.

#FunFact alert: Didi is the first Yankee shortstop to hit two or more homers against the Mariners.

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Mariners soon erased that lead, but the Comeback Kids struck again. Unlike Saturday, this time they were able to complete the rally. Clint Frazier‘s bases-loaded double in the sixth inning broke a 4-4 tie and made sure the Yankees plane ride back east would be a happy one.

That was Frazier’s second go-ahead hit in the sixth inning or later this season, or two more than Jacoby Ellsbury has in 2017. Following Sunday’s game, Frazier now has 11 extra-base hits in 61 at-bats this season, or just two fewer than Ellsbury has in 197 at-bats.

Thanks to his game-winning two-base hit, Frazier also earns our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: He has a double in three straight games, the youngest Yankee outfielder to do that since Mickey Mantle in 1953.

Yankeemetrics: Different city, same ending (July 17-19)

(AP)
(AP)

Stranded on second
The road trip continued westward to Minnesota, and the result was a familiar one. An inconsistent offense on Monday night led to another gut-wrenching close loss, 4-2, droppping the Yankees’ record in games decided by two or fewer runs to 14-23 this season. The only team worse in MLB? The Phillies.

The most frustrating part of the game was that they had six doubles – setting themselves up to drive in a bunch of runs – yet scored only twice. Only once before in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) had the Yankees finished a game with at least six extra-base hits and no more than two runs scored – an 8-2 loss on August 12, 1965 to the …. Minnesota Twins.

The game still had its highlights, however, with a few notable performances by our Baby Bombers. Clint Frazier legged out two ‘hustle’ doubles, giving him eight extra-base hits in his short 11-game career, the second Yankee ever to with that many hits for extra bases in his first 11 career games. The other? Someone named Joe DiMaggio.

One night after getting his first big-league hit, Garrett Cooper went 3-for-4 and drove in a run, earning our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: Over the last 100 seasons, he’s the only Yankee first baseman to have a three-hit game this early into his career (fourth game).

Caleb Smith pitched in his first major-league game, giving the Yankees the honor of being the first team this season to have 12 players make their MLB debut. Although he ended up allowing the game-winning runs, his performance was noteworthy: he’s the first Yankee since Jose Rijo in 1984 to make his debut as a reliever and strike out at least five guys in the game.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

One game, two wins
Tuesday was a win-win for Yankee fans on and off the field: the team beat the Twins 6-3 thanks to some rare clutching hitting, while the front office delivered some much-need bullpen and corner infield help via a blockbuster trade with the White Sox.

On the field, facing their ol’ buddy Bartolo Colon, the Yankees chased the 44-year-old in the fifth inning as they exploded for five runs to erase a 3-1 deficit. Here’s a #FunFact about Colon (with a shout-out to loyal Twitter follower and guest RAB writer @LFNJSinner): Colon has faced 500 different players in his career, and two of them were the two managers in the dugouts for this series – Joe Girardi (1-for-2 vs. Colon) and Paul Molitor (2-for-8 vs. Colon).

Let’s not forget amid this current collapse that this Yankees team doesn’t ever quit. It was their 14th comeback victory when trailing by at least two runs in the game; only the Diamondbacks and Astros (both with 15) had more such wins through Tuesday.

As for the big news off the field, the Yankees and White Sox completed their first major-league trade since they acquired Nick Swisher in exchange for Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez in November 2008.

By adding David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle (welcome back, guys!) on Tuesday, the Yankees once again appear to be building a dynamic super-pen filled with power flamethrowers to dominate the middle and late innings.

Entering Wednesday, there were 18 relievers in the American League that had pitched at least 20 innings and boasted a strikeout rate of at least 32 percent. Five (!) of them will be wearing pinstripes for the rest of the season – Tommy Kahnle (42.6%), Dellin Betances (42.5%), Chad Green (37.4%), David Robertson (35.6%), Aroldis Chapman (32.7%).

At first glance, Todd Frazier‘s 2017 slashline doesn’t seem to be very encouraging: .207/.328/.432 in 280 at-bats. But their might be some bad luck baked into those numbers. His BABIP of .214 was the second-lowest among qualified hitters at the time of the trade. That includes an unfathomable .144 BABIP in 40 home games.

Statcast metrics tell a similar story: Using the launch angle and exit velocity of his batted balls, you can get a better picture of a hitter’s quality of contact and his true skill, independent of ballpark, defense, etc. That can be expressed in a metric called expected weighted on-base average (wOBA), which is just like OBP but gives a player more credit for extra-base hits.

Based on that method, Frazier had a spread of 29 points between his expected wOBA and actual wOBA, the 10th-largest differential among the 175 players with at least 250 at-bats this season. To put that into perspective, his actual wOBA of .333 ranked 109th in that 175-player sample — the same as Yunel Escobar — while his expected wOBA of .362 ranked 35th — on par with guys like Cody Bellinger (.365) and Robinson Cano (.367).

After a slow start, Frazier also has been heating up recently. Since June 17, he has a wRC+ of 140 in 96 plate appearances – a mark that ranks in the 80th percentile among all players and is better than any other Yankee in that span (min. 75 PA).

Deja vu all over again
If the Yankees were truly going to pull out of their never-ending tailspin and actually win a series, a trip to Minnesota to face the Twins would seem to be the perfect way to jumpstart an extended run. Consider these stats entering this series:

  • 19-6 (.760) at Target Field, the highest winning percentage for any team at any stadium since at least 1913 (min. 15 games).
  • Had never lost a series at Target Field, which opened in 2010.
  • Won five straight series overall against the Twins, tied for their longest active series-win streak versus any AL team (also won five in a row against the Royals).
  • Oh, and the Twins have the worst home record in the AL.

Welp.

Historical success couldn’t help the Yankees, as they lost Wednesday afternoon and fell to 0-8-2 in their last 10 series since sweeping the Orioles at Yankee Stadium June 9-11. It was their first series loss against the Twins since 2014 and their first in Minnesota since 2008.

If not for the second inning, the Yankees might have had a chance to actually break out of their slump. All six of the Twins’ runs came in the second frame and all six also came with two outs, a rare two-out implosion by Jordan Montgomery. Over his previous eight starts combined, the lefty had allowed just five two-out runs and had held hitters to a .180/.255/.340 line with two outs.

The Yankee offense couldn’t bail out Montgomery, either, as their struggles with runners scoring positioned deepened (1-for-7), resulting in another disappointing loss. Even more depressing than their lack of clutch hitting is the recurring nightmare of failing to close out series:

The Yankees have now lost their last nine games in which they had a chance to clinch a series win, and have also dropped 10 consecutive series finales, including eight straight on the road. Overall, this was their 10th loss in a “rubber game” (third game of a three-game series in which the teams split the first two games), which leads all MLB teams this season.

The Yankees didn’t want to call Clint Frazier up, but now they have no choice but to keep him around

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Three weeks ago the Yankees were hit with a rash of injuries that saw Aaron Hicks (oblique), Starlin Castro (hamstring), Matt Holliday (illness), and Tyler Austin (hamstring) all placed on the 10-day DL within a four-day span. Four days! As a result, the Yankees had to dip deep into their farm system for help, and at one point they had three position player prospects make their MLB debuts on three consecutive days.

First up with Miguel Andujar, who went 3-for-4 with a double in his debut and was sent down the next day to continue working on his defense. Then came Tyler Wade, who drew a walk in his first plate appearance to spark a go-ahead rally (before a bullpen meltdown). Up next was Dustin Fowler, who blew out his knee in the first inning of his first game crashing into a wall in foul territory. It was awful. I feel terrible for the kid.

It wasn’t until a few days later that the Yankees called up Clint Frazier, their top outfield prospect, and they did that only because they were essentially out of options. They’d already called up everyone who could have been called up. So it was Frazier’s turn, and in his first game he had a double and a home run. He’s since added two more home runs, including a walk-off blast against All-Star closer Corey Knebel the weekend before last.

When the Yankees first acquired Frazier last year Brian Cashman said he has “legendary” bat speed and holy smokes have we seen it these last few weeks. Watch the video above. Look at that swing. Sunday night he turned around a 98.5 mph fastball from Craig Kimbrel and ripped it 380 feet like it was nothing. It was a fly out because he hit it to the wrong part of the ballpark, but still. We’ve yet to see Frazier be overmatched by velocity. He’s been on everything.

So far the 22-year-old Frazier is hitting .308/.317/.718 (162 wRC+) in 41 plate appearances with the Yankees, and while he’s not getting on base a ton, his track record suggests the walks will come. Frazier has shown a lightening quick bat, fine range in the outfield, and sneaky good speed. Last night he turned two hard-hit singles into hustle doubles. It was awesome. The kid’s done a little of everything.

Before his call-up we heard a lot about Fowler being more big league ready than Frazier, and that very well may have been true. Frazier clearly was not the team’s first call-up choice following all those injuries. He wasn’t their first, second, or third choice. They went with Andujar, Wade, and Fowler before turning to Frazier, and even then it was only because there was no one else to call up. It sure seems like the Yankees would have preferred to keep him down a little longer.

Since coming up Frazier has made some slight adjustments at the plate and calmed down his lower half. He has funky hitting mechanics in which he thrusts forward and lifts his back leg off the ground. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Frank Thomas hit like that and he was a deserving first ballot Hall of Famer. Frazier was getting a little out of control though, and already he’s made an adjustment to tighten things up early in his MLB career.

“I wasn’t gathering my weight on my backside well,” said Frazier to Brendan Kuty recently. “I was coming off of it really quick and kind of lunging at the pitcher rather than sitting on the backside and swinging from my backside. A great guy to watch is Judge. He does a really good job of keeping his weight on his backside. That’s why he hits the ball the way he does. So I’ll take a note out of his book and apply it to mine.”

So far Frazier has given the Yankees a nice lift with timely home runs and extra-base hits — he has four singles and eight extra-base hits so far (three doubles, two triples, three homers) — plus he definitely brings a fun youthful energy to the team. The Yankees have struggled overall the last month or so, but they’re still fun. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez at-bats are must-see television, as are Luis Severino starts and Didi Gregorius defensive plays.

Frazier adds to that. He’s fun, he’s showing a ton of promise at the plate, and he’s helping in the field too. He’s also already made a key adjustment with his lower half. Frazier’s not a nobody. This isn’t some random minor leaguer coming up and having two good weeks. He’s a former fifth overall pick and highly ranked prospect. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen the tools that give him a chance to be an impact player down the line. Heck, he’s playing like one right now.

The Yankees didn’t want to call Frazier up when they did. I know this because they called up three other prospects before him. The opportunity came though and Frazier has impressed. The Yankees have a clogged up outfield as it is and I have no idea how they’ll squeeze Frazier in with Judge, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and a healthy Hicks when the time comes. All I know is Frazier is a big part of the future, and when a player with his talent has some success at the MLB level, the Yankees owe it to themselves to give him a longer look.

Yankeemetrics: From heroes to zeroes (July 14-16)

(AP)
(AP)

Nightmare on Landsdowne Street
Another series opener, another late-inning implosion. One day into the post-break portion of the season and we already have a new nominee for Worst Loss of the Year.

The Yankees on Friday night were handed one of their most brutal and soul-crushing defeats of the season by their bitter rivals from Boston, losing on a walk-off walk when Aroldis Chapman completely unraveled in the ninth inning trying to protect a one-run lead.

You have to go back more than six decades to find the most recent time the Yankees suffered a walk-off loss via a bases-loaded walk against the Red Sox:

On August 7, 1956 Ted Williams drew a bases-loaded walk against Tommy Byrne in the bottom of the 11th in a 0-0 game. Williams was the first batter faced by Byrne, who had taken over after Don Larsen pitched 10 scoreless innings, but then had loaded the bases in the 11th inning via two errors and a walk. Of course, Larsen would go on to pitch a perfect game two months later and the Yankees would win the World Series.

And now your Yankeemetric History Lesson of the Series: The fact that Byrne was the loser in that 1956 game would hardly have been surprising to fans in the 1950s. He finished his career with a walk rate of 6.85 walks per nine innings, the highest in MLB history among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched.

With the Yankees adding to their growing list of bullpen meltdowns, let’s update our favorite chart:

Stat Notes
18 Blown Saves – Yeah, they had 16 all of last year;
– The most in MLB through Friday’s games (hooray!);
– 10 since June 12; three more than any other team in that span
18 One-Run Losses – Six more than they had all of last year;
– 10 of them since June 13, the most in the majors over the past month
4 Walk-off Losses – Matches the same number they had in all of 2016;
– At this point last year, they had only two such losses

Through Friday, the Yankees had converted just 17 of 35 save opportunities, an unfathomable save percentage of just 48.6 percent. Since saves became an official stat in 1969, the Yankees have never finished a season with a save conversion rate below 60 percent.

Chapman wore the goats’ horns on this night, in a game of unwelcome “firsts” for him. It was the first time he issued a game-ending walk, and the first time in his career he faced at least five batters and didn’t get an out.

And for that performance, he also gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: He is the first Yankee pitcher – since saves were official tracked in 1969 – to face at least five guys and fail to get any of them out, while ‘earning’ both a loss and a blown save in the game.

(AP)
(AP)

What a relief
Three outs away from another depressing loss, the Yankees somehow rallied for a dramatic and exhausting 16-inning win over the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon/night. It was was just the fourth game at Fenway Park in the rivalry that went at least 16 innings (also in 1923, 1927, 1966) and the first one that the Yankees emerged as winners.

But for the Yankees, this wasn’t even their longest game of the season – yes, we all remember the 18-inning slog in Chicago a couple months ago. This is the first time in franchise history they’ve won multiple road games of 16-or-more innings in a single season.

Its easy to forget but this game featured two masterful starting pitching performances by Luis Severino and Chris Sale.

The Red Sox ace struck out 13 – the most ever by a Red Sox lefty against the Yankees. Add in the fact that he held the Yankees scoreless and gave up just three hits, and his performance becomes near-historically dominant: only three other pitchers in major-league history surrendered no earned runs and three hits or fewer while striking out at least 13 Yankees: Bartolo Colon (Sept. 18, 2000), Chuck Finley (May 23, 1995) and Jim Shaw (Sept. 4, 1914).

Severino nearly matched Sale with seven innings of one-run ball to keep the game close. It was his sixth game this season with at least seven innings pitched and no more than one run allowed, as the 23-year-old became the youngest Yankee pitcher to do that in a season since Andy Pettitte in 1995.

The game’s first hero was Matt Holliday, who led off the ninth inning with a dramatic solo homer off Craig Kimbrel to tie the game. He was the first Yankee to hit a game-tying homer in the ninth inning at Fenway Park since Roberto Kelly in 1991. How shocking was Holliday’s blast? Kimbrel entered the game a perfect 30-for-30 in save chances at Fenway Park in his career; and this season, right-handed batters were 0-for-37 against him in his home ballpark before Holliday went deep.

Didi Gregorius finally broke the 1-1 tie with a line-drive RBI single up the middle in the 16th inning. He etched his name in the record books forever as the first Yankee with a game-winning hit in the 16th inning or later at Fenway Park.

Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez drove in two more insurance runs to make the final score 4-1. It was just third time in franchise history that the Yankees won a game that went at least 16 innings by three or more runs. The other two: a 12-6 victory at Detroit on July 20, 1941 and a 11-6 win in Cleveland on May 18, 1976.

(AP)
(AP)

Do you believe in miracles?
Our loooooooooooong Yankeeland nightmare is finally over … after Sunday afternoon’s 3-0 win over the Red Sox, the Yankees won back-to-back games for the first time since June 11-12. The 27-game drought without a win streak was the team’s longest since August/September of 1991.

The fact that the Yankees snapped this tortuous stretch with a win over the Red Sox was hardly surprising – it was their sixth victory in eight games vs. their rival, and the third time they allowed no runs. In the long history of this rivalry, it is only the fourth time that the Yankees recorded three shutouts within the first eight matchups of the season. The other years: 1955, 1947 and 1908.

CC Sabathia was an absolute stud, scattering two hits across six shutout innings, while holding the Red Sox hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position. This was CC’s 17th career start at Fenway, and incredibly, the first time that he didn’t allow a run.

Combined with his eight scoreless frames against Boston at Yankee Stadium on June 7, Sabathia became the first Yankee since Ron Guidry in 1978 to pitch consecutive games of at least six scoreless innings against the Red Sox. And at the age of 36, he is the oldest Yankee to throw at least six innings, give up zero runs and no more than two hits in a game at Fenway Park.

Didi Gregorius followed up his late-inning heroics from Saturday with two more hits, including a solo homer that barely tucked inside Pesky’s Pole in right field. It went a projected distance of 295 feet, the shortest home run (excluding inside-the-parkers) recorded by Statcast in the last three seasons.

(Getty)
(Getty)

All good things must come to an end
The joy in Yankeeland lasted only a couple hours as the Yankees’ first win streak in more than a month was abruptly snapped in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader. Yet that was probably only the second-most depressing stat from this game.

The Red Sox handed the Yankees a taste of their own medicine, blanking them 3-0 and giving them their first shutout loss of 2017. This was the deepest that the Yankees had gone into the season scoring at least one run in every game since 1933. They were also the last remaining team in MLB that hadn’t been held scoreless, the first time they’ve achieved that feat since 2009 — a season that ended nicely.

Going from the mildly distressing stat to the somewhat eclectic stat … this is just the third time in the history of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry that the teams traded shutouts in a doubleheader; they also did it on May 6, 1945 and September 7, 1903.

Aaron Judge nearly saved the no-shutout streak but was robbed of a home run thanks to a superhuman catch by Jackie Bradley Jr. in the eighth inning, and finished the night hitless in four at-bats. That snapped his streak of 42 straight starts reaching base safely, which matched the longest such streak for a Yankee rookie, a mark set by Charlie Keller in 1939.

Despite the highs of the 16-inning win on Saturday and their 3-0 win in the first game of the twin bill, the Yankees still only managed a split of the four-game set. They’re now 0-7-2 in their last nine series, their longest winless series streak since August/September 1991.

2017 Second Half Preview: Recalibrating expectations for the Yankees (and Aaron Judge)

Be still my heart. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Be still my heart. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

The All-Star break is official over and the Yankees return to work tonight with the first of four against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. They’re playing four games in three days thanks to a doubleheader on Sunday. The second half ended miserably for the Yankees and they will have to turn it around really quickly — as in tonight — to avoid getting buried in the standings.

The Yankees are currently 45-41 with a +98 run differential. Believe it or not, that’s the fourth best record and second best run differential in the AL. They are currently 3.5 games back of the Red Sox in the AL East and essentially tied with the Rays for the two wildcard spots. The Twins are one game back. We’ve spent the last few days reviewing the first half. Now it’s time to preview the second half. Come with me, won’t you?

Schedule Breakdown

Between rainouts and off-days and all that, the Yankees have only played 86 games this year, tied with the Mets for the fewest in baseball. That’s good because it gives them games on hand against their competitors — the Rays have played 90 games, for example — and bad because they have to squeeze in more games in the second half, which means fewer off-days and tired bodies. Here’s a real quick schedule breakout:

  • Home games remaining: 38
  • Road games remaining: 38
  • AL East games remaining: 36 (14 vs. Red Sox, 10 vs. Rays, six vs. Orioles, six vs. Blue Jays)
  • Interleague games remaining: 6 (two vs. Reds at Yankees Stadium, four vs. Mets home-and-home)

The Yankees close out the season with three games at home against the Blue Jays, who figure to be well out of the race and in “let’s get the season over with and go home” mode. Their second to last series is a three-gamer against the Rays at home. That has the potential to be pretty damn big given the current standings. The Yankees also play the Royals (one makeup game) and Twins (three games) within the final two weeks of the season and those teams could be in the wild card race too.

Can Judge Keep This Up?

The question on everyone’s mind. Can Aaron Judge keep this up? The guy is hitting .329/.448/.691 (197 wRC+) this season and no one does that. And the guys who do it don’t strike out 29.8% of the time. Judge is also rocking a .429 BABIP. That won’t last, right? Common sense says no. Exit velocity says why the hell not?

  1. Aaron Judge: 97.2 mph average exit velocity
  2. Miguel Sano: 94.9 mph

The gap between No. 1 and No. 2 is the same as the gap between No. 2 and No. 19. Judge hits the ball harder than anyone I’ve ever seen and that’s not hyperbole. Judge is a never before seen combination of hitting ability, athleticism, and brute strength. “He’s so quiet and simple that he looks like a contact hitter trapped in an ogre’s body,” said Charlie Blackmon to Bryan Hoch after the Home Run Derby.

Judge had a 201 OPS+ in the first half — OPS+ and wRC+ are essentially the same thing, the player’s overall offensive value, but they’re calculated differently — which is insane. Here are the last seven players to post a 200 OPS+ or better in the first half — that takes us back to the sicko Barry Bonds years — and what they did in the second half:

First Half Second Half Final Line
2015 Bryce Harper .339/.464/.704 (226 OPS+) .320/.457/.586 (184 OPS+) .330/.460/.649 (198 OPS+)
2013 Miguel Cabrera .365/.458/.674 (213 OPS+) .316/.411/.565 (174 OPS+) .348/.442/.636 (190 OPS+)
2013 Chris Davis .315/.392/.717 (202 OPS+) .245/.339/.515 (138 OPS+) .286/.370/.634 (168 OPS+)
2012 Joey Votto .348/.471/.617 (200 OPS+) .299/.483/.402 (151 OPS+) .337/.474/.567 (177 OPS+)
2011 Jose Bautista .334/.468/.702 (226 OPS+) .257/.419/.477 (147 OPS+) .302/.447/.608 (182 OPS+)
2009 Albert Pujols .332/.456/.723 (211 OPS+) .332/.427/.582 (167 OPS+) .327/.443/.658 (189 OPS+)
2005 Derrek Lee .378/.452/.733 (211 OPS+) .287/.380/.581 (155 OPS+) .335/.418/.662 (174 OPS+)

A few things about this. One, all seven of those players saw their performance slip in the second half. Harper came the closest to repeating a 200 OPS+ in the second half and he was 16 OPS+ points away. Two, all seven of those players were outrageously good in the second half. Their performance slipped, but they were still monsters. Hooray for starting with such a high baseline.

And three, most of the second half decline is tied up in power. Aside from Davis, the second half AVG and OBP numbers are good. The power numbers are really good too, but they are down. Not one of those players slugged .600 in the second half. No one even slugged .590. Cabrera lost 60 ISO points in the second half and that’s the smallest decline among those seven players. On average, those players lost 115 ISO points (!) in the second half. Holy moly.

Intuitively, this makes perfect sense. It’s a long season and players get worn down, so fatigue is a factor. They’re not as strong in August and September as they are in April and May. Perhaps fatigue won’t be as much of a problem for Judge because he’s so damn big and strong. Then again, Harper and Davis and Lee are built like tanks and they slipped in the second half. It’s a long season and it takes a toll on the body. That’s baseball.

In all likelihood, no, Judge will maintain this pace all season. That doesn’t mean he’ll revert back to being the 2016 Aaron Judge either. I expect him to continue drawing a ton of walks — his 61 walks are third behind Matt Carpenter (63) and Votto (62) — and remain one of the top offensive forces in baseball even with the AVG and power numbers slipping a bit. Judge has an elite approach and knows how to make adjustments. I’m confident a second half collapse is not coming.

What About Innings Limits?

I wrote about this a week or two ago, so we don’t have to dwell on it too long. The Yankees, like every other team, has a workload limit in mind for their young starters. And they’re more sophisticated than simple innings limits. They monitor stressful pitches and easy pitches, things like that. The Yankees want to keep their top young pitchers healthy and productive, so they’re going to protect their arms. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery are the big names here because they’re in the big league rotation and pretty darn important to the team. Don’t sleep on Chance Adams though. His workload limit could come into play.

The Trade Deadline Is Looming

Future Yankee? (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Future Yankee? (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The July 31st trade deadline is now two weeks and three days away. Jose Quintana has already been traded. Brian Cashman likes to say the Yankees will declare themselves contenders or pretenders, and this team is somewhere right in the middle now. They were no doubt contenders earlier this year. Then they lost 18 of their last 25 games and are fading back into pretender status.

These next two weeks and change will determine how the Yankees act at the trade deadline. If they get hot between now and then, they could look to add some more established pieces. If they continue to slump, they could look to shed some veterans. And they could always do a little of both. Move out a veteran or two while adding a piece for now and the future. It’s not selling. It’s buying for the future.

My guess is the Yankees will end up doing a little of both. I believe Michael Pineda is most likely to get traded because a) he’ll be a free agent after the season, b) he’s not a qualifying offer candidate, and c) he’s not exactly irreplaceable. Matt Holliday is an impending free agent too, but he contributes a lot more on the field and all the young players rave about him in the clubhouse. Judge especially. That’s not nothing.

As for adding pieces, I think Cashman will employ a similar strategy to 2014, when he acquired small upgrades (Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, Martin Prado) at basically no cost. Nothing the Yankees miss, anyway. I don’t foresee the Yankees making a trade that costs them a significant prospect. Unlike last year, when it clear the Yankees should sell, things are a little more up in the air this year.

What Qualifies As A Successful Season?

The definition of success varies for each team. For a very long time, success for the Yankees was defined by a World Series championship. Did the Yankees win the World Series? If yes, it was a successful season. If not, it was a failure. Many still think like that, though things have very clearly changed. The Yankees took a step back last season and are now focused on getting younger. Getting younger and contending don’t always mix well.

This year the Yankees got off to such an great start that expectations were raised. I know mine where. I don’t know about you. The offense was putting up a ton of runs and the pitching staff was surprisingly strong. How could you not get excited? The Yankees have crashed hard these last few weeks though, which has been disappointing. It’s been disappointing because they got off to that great start, a great start they haven’t been able to sustain.

For me, a successful season first and foremost will be defined by the young players. Are the young players reaching the big leagues and thriving? So far the answer is a resounding yes. Judge is awesome, Severino is awesome, Gary Sanchez is awesome, Clint Frazier is now doing big things … it’s exciting! And that’s most important. The Yankees are trying to get younger and those young players are taking over. This recent collapse is on the veterans. Not the kids.

At the same time, I will absolutely be disappointed with another postseason-less year, especially after that great start. It’s possible to be excited about the young players and bummed out the Yankees aren’t playing in October again. That’s normal. We all watch because we want the Yankees to win. It’s very clear right now the Yankees are a team on the rise because of the young players. That doesn’t mean winning in the short-term has to take a back seat.

2017 Midseason Review: Holliday and the Rest of the Roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So far this season the Yankees have used 43 different players — 23 position players and 20 pitchers — which is the seventh most in baseball. The Mariners lead the way with 47 players and both the Indians and Diamondbacks have been lucky enough to use only 35 players. The Yankees used their fair share of shuttle arms in the first half, though position player injuries also forced them to dip into their farm system more than expected.

We’ve already covered most of those 43 players as part of our Midseason Review. Now it’s time to wrap things up and cover whoever has been left behind. Among them is one regular because I am bad at scheduling. Time to finish off the Midseason Review.

Matt Holliday: As Advertised

When the Yankees signed Holliday in November, he came billed as a good clubhouse guy and a professional hitter with some bounceback potential given his exit velocities and things like that. Nothing was guaranteed, of course. Holliday did turn 37 in January and he very easily could have been at the end of the line. The Yankees bet $13M on a rebound and so far he’s been worth every penny.

Holliday, as the team’s regular DH and occasional first baseman, is hitting .262/.366/.511 (132 wRC+) with 15 homers in 68 games so far, and he’s the No. 1 reason the Yankees have the most productive DH spot in the baseball.

  1. Yankees: 137 wRC+
  2. Mariners: 129 wRC+
  3. Indians: 127 wRC+

Oddly enough, Holliday’s strikeouts are way up this year. His 25.7% strikeout rate is on pace to shatter his previous career high (19.6% as a rookie in 2004). I think there’s a chance Holliday is selling out for power, which might partially explain the strikeouts. Holliday has also been pretty streaky. That’s alright though. He’s been productive more often than not, and day-to-day consistency in baseball is a myth anyway.

Beyond the on-field production, Holliday has also been a positive on all the young players the Yankees are incorporating into their lineup. Aaron Judge went out of his way to praise Holliday at the All-Star Game media day Monday. Here’s what Judge told Brendan Kuty about Holliday earlier this month:

“I just pick his brain on what he does,” Judge said he often asks Holliday. “‘What are you doing in a situation, with a certain pitcher? What are you doing with this guy? He’s a sinkerball pitcher, what do you try to do with those guys?’ I’ve picked up a couple little things.”

“He’s just really committed to his plan,” Judge said. “That’s one thing I’ve noticed. I’ll talk to him (in the early afternoon) and I’ll say, ‘Hey, what are you doing this game? What are you trying to do against this guy?’ Every single time I ask him, ‘What are you working on?’ He’ll say he’s trying to stick to his plan and drive the ball to right field. That’s why he’s so successful. He just sticks to it, no matter the situation.”

An illness, which was recently confirmed as Epstein-Barr, has had Holliday on the shelf since June 24th and holy cow did the Yankees miss his bat these last few weeks. He did play a pair of rehab games last weekend and is tentatively scheduled to rejoin the Yankees for the second half opener tomorrow. That’s huge. Holliday has been everything the Yankees could have expected and more.

The Extra Position Players

Among all the random position player call-ups the Yankees have made this year, whether it was an injury fill-in or a one-day audition, the leader in plate appearances is … catcher Kyle Higashioka. He served as the backup catcher in April when an injury forced Gary Sanchez to the 10-day DL and Austin Romine into the starter’s role. Higashioka went 0-for-18 and started only five games. If that changed your opinion of him, you’re thinking too hard.

Another April injury fill-in was veteran Pete Kozma, who served as the backup while Didi Gregorius was hurt and Ronald Torreyes started at shortstop. Kozma went 1-for-9 with the Yankees and had nothing resembling a signature moment. The Yankees lost him to the Rangers on waivers when Gregorius returned and Kozma is still on their bench because Jurickson Profar played his way down to Triple-A.

Last month the Yankees finally got sick of Chris Carter and finally called up Tyler Austin, who missed the start of the season after fracturing his ankle with a foul ball early in Spring Training. Austin mashed with Triple-A Scranton before the call-up, hitting .300/.366/.560 (151 wRC+). He came up, went 2-for-13 with a home run and six strikeouts at the plate, then landed on the 10-day DL with a fairly significant hamstring strain. The Yankees can’t have nice things at first base.

The final two position players both played only one game in the big leagues this year, for very different reasons. After Holliday landed on the disabled list, the Yankees called up third base prospect Miguel Andujar for a day, and he went 3-for-4 with a double in his MLB debut. He became the first player in franchise history to drive in four runs in his big league debut.

The Yankees sent Andujar down to the minors the next day because they didn’t have regular at-bats to give him and there’s no point in making the kid sit on the bench. Andujar is really breaking out in the minors this year — he’s hitting .302/.336/.476 (121 wRC+) between Double-A and Triple-A — but he needs to work on his third base defense, so that’s what he’s doing. I’m glad the Yankees have resisted the temptation to move him to first to plug a short-term hole.

The other one-game position player in the first half was outfielder Dustin Fowler who gave us, hands down, the saddest moment of the season. In the first inning of his first big league game, Fowler crashed into the side wall in foul territory chasing a pop-up, which ruptured his right patella. It was an open rupture, meaning it broke through the skin. Yikes. Fowler had emergency surgery that night and is done for the season.

Fowler came up to replace Andujar after hitting .293/.329/.542 (137 wRC+) down in Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees called him up before Clint Frazier. They like him that much. Fowler’s injury is so sad. I feel terrible for the kid. The good news is he is expected to make a full recovery in time for Spring Training. Plus he’s on the big league disabled list collecting service time and big league pay, so his bank account is doing better. But still, you know Fowler wants to play. What a terrible and sad moment.

The Extra Pitchers

For the first two months or so of the season, the Yankees did away with the bullpen shuttle. The days of calling up a new reliever every day to make sure Joe Girardi had a fresh arm in the bullpen were over. The Yankees stuck with their guys. Then the bullpen melted down and started blowing leads left and right, and the Yankees started shuttling guys in and out regularly. Such is life. The shuttle returned last month.

The one shuttle reliever who made the Opening Day roster is Bryan Mitchell. Back-to-back rough outings (seven runs in 2.2 innings) earned him a demotion to Triple-A at the end of April. He came back up briefly at the end of May and again at the end of June. So far this season Mitchell has a 5.06 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 16 big leagues innings and a 3.60 ERA (2.27 FIP) in 35 Triple-A innings. He’ll be back at some point in the second half, I’m sure of it. Mitchell’s time to carve out a long-term role with the Yankees is running out though.

Luis Cessa, who was in the running for an Opening Day rotation spot, has made three starts and three relief appearances for the Yankees this year. The three starts came when CC Sabathia was on the disabled list and they did not go well (eleven runs in 13.2 innings). The three relief appearances were better (two runs in eleven innings). The end result is a 4.18 ERA (4.50 FIP) in 23.2 innings. I like Cessa — I seem to the be the only one who likes Cessa — and hope we see more of him going forward.

Four shuttle relievers have made their MLB debut this season: Gio Gallegos, Domingo German, Ronald Herrera, and Tyler Webb. They’ve combined for the the following line: 31 IP, 32 H, 20 R, 18 ER, 16 BB, 30 K. Replacement Level ‘R Us. German showed the most potential among those four. By far, I think. He also returned from Tommy John surgery a little more than a year ago and needs to pitch, not sit in the big league bullpen as the eight reliever. He’s in Triple-A where he belongs. Also, Ben Heller spent a day with the Yankees. He faced three batters: grounder, walk, walk-off single off his butt. He does have a 2.68 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 37 Triple-A innings though.

* * *

The Yankees have used 43 players this season and over the last four years they’ve averaged 56 players per season, so recent history suggests we’re going to see several new faces in the second half. New faces from outside the organization or the farm system. Probably a little of both.

2017 Midseason Review: The Bullpen

(AP)
(AP)

The Yankees’ bullpen was supposed to be a strength in 2017 after it helped hold together the 2016 squad. Aroldis Chapman back, Dellin Betances still in middle relief and some intriguing young players.

And it looked like a continuation of 2016 early on. But things have quickly gone off the rails over the last month. Here’s a rundown of the top players in the Yankees’ pen so far this year.

Dellin Betances

Key Stat: 8.26 walks per nine innings

Betances has never been known for his pinpoint control, but he’s barely had an idea where the ball is going in recent weeks. Like many of the guys on the roster, reviewing Betances’ season is almost like reviewing two seasons.

Through the end of May, he was the Yankees’ best reliever as expected. In 17 1/3 innings, he struck out 32, walked nine, gave up eight hits and just one earned run. That’s an ERA of just 0.52. There’s a reason he just made his fourth straight All-Star appearance.

But his 11 innings since June began have been troubling. He’s walked 17 in 11 innings, allowing nine runs despite giving up just six hits (and still striking out 21). He blew multiple games (Toronto, Houston, Chicago come to mind).

He hasn’t looked anything like this since he first came up in 2011. Sure, he’s had walk issues (4.3 per nine in 2015), but this has been pretty absurd. 20.6 percent walk rate. He actually still has the same strikeout rate because his stuff is still there. Whether it’s been his nasty curve or his fastball, they’ve betrayed him at times. The Blue Jays game last week jumps to mind.

One issue that could have led to his lack of command has been his usage. From May 9 to May 21, he picked up just two outs. From June 3 to June 12, he pitched in just one game and got just one out. It’s nice to see a lesser workload for the big man who’s been overused at times in his career, but he needs to get into games more often. Part of his underuse was the injury to Chapman leading to Joe Girardi using Betances as a traditional closer.

Aroldis Chapman

Key Stat: 35 days on the disabled list

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Perhaps the worst nightmare of a team giving a reliever a five-year deal is them spending significant time on the DL with a shoulder injury. That fear was realized when Chapman went down with rotator cuff inflammation in May.

Chapman seemed off at start of the year. His velocity was down, although it wasn’t too worrisome at first. The big lefty usually doesn’t hit peak velocity until mid-season. Still, seeing him toy with his changeup more and throw *merely* in the high 90s was a caution flag. Beginning with his struggles against Boston on Apr. 26, he looked hittable. It came to a head when he blew a three-run lead during the Yankees’ 18-inning win in Chicago. He simply couldn’t put guys away, which may have been due to his lower velocity, down one mph across the board so far in 2017.

His stuff has looked good since he returned and his strikeouts are still there. His underlying stats (1.16 FIP, career worst strand rate) indicate that a second-half resurgence is likely. Yet this is certainly not what the Yankees imagined when they signed him to a long-term deal.

Let’s get to some of the weird stats. He has allowed zero home runs this year. He has a .426 BABIP but a 27.3 percent infield fly ball rate. His 2.09 GB-to-FB ratio is easily a career high (previous was 1.58 in 2016, never higher than 1.25 since 2011). Surely he’ll allow a home run at some point and some of the BABIP spike can be from more groundballs getting through, but it’s still a little different than the Chapman we expected.

Tyler Clippard

Key Stat: 12 meltdowns

Welp.

It hasn’t been a pretty last two months for Clippard. He started to fall apart right after I wrote that fans should appreciate the homegrown talent. Mike was very much on point saying that his lack of home runs would soon change (although I never thought otherwise), but it was tough to see things going quite this poorly, at least for me.

For two months, he was a seemingly reliable pitcher. There were some rough games, including a blown game against the Orioles in his second appearance. But he struck out batters at a career-best rate through two months and had limited walks and hard contact enough to earn high leverage spots. The red flags of his high strand rate (88.5 percent through May) and zero homers in May made it fairly obvious he wouldn’t maintain that level of effectiveness.

Still, it went south worst than expected. Way worse. One could have easily projected he’d give up more homers, but for him to completely fall apart was disheartening. Relievers are fungible and such is life.

From June 4 to July 7, he threw 11 1/3 innings, gave up 16 earned runs, walked 10 and surrendered five homers, culminating fittingly in a grand slam against the Brewers this weekend. That’s 7.9 walks and 4.0 homers per nine innings. His K-BB rate was 3.4 percent. Batters hit .298/.414/766 against him in that time. Before that, they hit a paltry .150/.244/.238.

At this point, one has to wonder whether he makes it through the season, let alone the month. His stuff seems to have had a little more life on it in recent games, but the results simply aren’t there and trotting him into high leverage situations right now is a costly mistake.

Adam Warren

Key Stat: 18.1 K-BB percentage

Warren has been one of the Yankees’ more reliable relievers this season and it’s started to earn him some spots ahead of Clippard since he returned from the DL last week. He missed 18 days with right shoulder inflammation, although it didn’t seem to be anything too serious. He’s jumped right back to form for the most part.

In April, he was mostly a long reliever despite being in short relief to end 2016. In seven appearances to start the year, he had six of at least four outs and four of seven-plus outs. He came in with the team ahead or behind, keeping games within reach or preventing any comebacks.

After Chapman’s injury, he moved into short relief as Girardi’s 7th-inning game. He had three blown leads but was competent, bringing a 2.23 ERA into his stint on the DL beginning June 16.

What has he had working for him? His strikeout and walk rates are both career bests. He’s utilized his slider more (up 12 percent) while decreasing the usage of his other offspeed stuff. While that doesn’t necessarily account for his better control, it could be the reason he’s struck out more batters.

There is a red flag: His 2.9 percent HR/FB rate. He’s bound to let some balls leave the yard in the second half. He has an increased groundball rate and GB/FB ratio, which could help explain part of that.

Since returning to the Yankees last July, he has a 2.59 ERA in 66 innings with batters slashing .191/.260/.298 against him. It’s been a nice welcome back.

Chad Green

Key Stat: 34.7 percent strikeout rate

Green. (Getty)
(Getty Images)

Since coming up for the first time in May, Green has been a revelation in relief. He’s mostly filled in with Warren’s old role of the multi-inning reliever, throwing 33 innings in 17 games, including one brief start.

Green displayed his potential last year in the rotation and was one of the last cuts in spring training‘s battle for the fifth starter role. He’s struck out batters at every level but his fastball-slider combo seemed best suited for relief (S/O against to Mike, who called it).

Perhaps his biggest flaw in 2016 was his performance against lefties, who posted a 1.014 OPS against the righty. He actually has a slight reverse split in 2017 in a small sample, giving up just four hits in 35 at-bats vs. LHBs. He’s introduced his cutter more at times but he’s also just relied more on his four-seamer, throwing it over 60 percent of the time the last two months.

His flyball has increased, but HR/FB way down from 25 percent to 9.4, much closer to league average. The 25 percent last year seemed like somewhat an outlier. Even a few more homers won’t spoil his 1.91 ERA too much

Overall, he’s blowing people away with mid/upper 90s fastball and his top notch slider, sporting a 5.25 K/BB ratio. He looks more and more like a late inning reliever and his ability to throw multiple innings increases his value moving forward.

Jonathan Holder

Key Stat: 5 meltdowns in 32 games

Holder earned a spot in the bullpen this spring after making a brief call-up in September. After pitching mostly in mop-up duty to start the year, he slowly inched his way into a few higher leverage spots, but he never rose too high in the bullpen pecking order. His best outings came in the Cubs series, when he earned a win in the first game before throwing three shutout innings in relief during the 18-inning affair.

As stated above, he had a few meltdowns. He was tossed into a one-run game against the Orioles Apr. 30 and handed the Orioles a 4-2 lead against the heart of the order. He allowed the Royals to blow a game open in May. And he received a blown save and a loss during the cursed West Coast trip.

In the minors, Holder made his name for his high strikeout rate. His 22.9 percent K rate in 2017 isn’t bad, but it’s not quite what he was doing in the minors. The team still seems high on the 24-year-old and he’s been solid this year. Not spectacular, but fine in low-leverage relief.

It’s easy to forget because he was sent down for a while and didn’t factor into many decisions, but he’s thrown the third-most relief innings for the Yankees behind Warren and Clippard. In the second half, he’ll surely get another chance to stick in the majors.

15 pitchers have seen time in relief for the Yankees this season. Not quite the shuttle of past years, though they’ve shuffled through multiple guys in recent weeks. Chasen Shreve has seemed to stick as the token lefty with Tommy Layne gone and he’s been … pretty average. Better than last year, but not near his dominant summer of 2015. I’m a believer in Bryan Mitchell and Domingo German as potential relievers, but they likely won’t see much time in the eight-man pen.

With Clippard’s struggles, the Yankees surely will be in the market for a reliever. For now, they’ll have to hope for better second halves from Chapman and Betances alongside continued success from Warren and Green.