A-Rod’s clutch slam helps the Yankees to an 8-4 win over the Twins

Okay this is not from today but c’mon (Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Yankees had some ups and downs in this game but in the end, they prevailed. CC Sabathia, before unraveling in the seventh, showed more reasons why he should stay in the rotation, Greg Bird had his first RBI and multi-hit game and, of course, A-Rod‘s grand slam was a heck of a way for people to forget his ghastly slump before tonight’s game.

Oh, and the Yanks took yet another series from the Twins, so that’s that.

(Source: Getty)

Birdie’s first flight RBI

Neither team got much offense going until the bottom of fourth. With one out, Carlos Beltran hit a ground-rule double to left. Greg Bird, the next hitter, worked the count full against Mike Pelfrey and hit a single right by the 2B Brian Dozier to drive Beltran in – his first ML run batted in!

In the bottom sixth, Bird got another RISP opportunity – Brian McCann had reached base with one out with a walk and Beltran followed with a single. Twins manager Paul Molitor took out Pelfrey for LHP Ryan O’Rourke and, this time, Bird struck out. That strikeout had “ML experience pain” written all over it considering Bird was ahead 3-0 and allowed O’Rourke to come back and strike him out on a slider out of the zone.

In the bottom eighth, facing J.R. Graham, Bird hit a single to center to make it his first multi-hit ML game. Neat. There will be a lot more of these in the future I assume.

(Source: Getty)

CC is OK

Coming into the top of the fifth, Sabathia had a perfect game going on. I mean, for the first four innings, man, he was just immaculate. His fastball velocity has been up lately and it showed tonight – sitting around 91 to 93 mph and touching 94. His command of it, along with other pitches, was on as well. You don’t get through four perfect innings against a Major League lineup without good command and some stuff.

The first blemish of the start came in that frame, however. With one out, CC walked Trevor Plouffe, erasing the chance of another perfecto by a portly Yankee lefty against the Twins at Yankee Stadium (see: Wells, David). A batter later, Eduardo Escobar singled to break up the no-hitter and put the runner in scoring position. Kurt Suzuki followed it up with an RBI double to kill the shutout, but a good relay by the Yankee defense caught Escobar at the plate to keep the ballgame tied, 1-1.

The top of the seventh, however, was a different story. It just seemed like Sabathia ran out of gas – missing spots, sliders not biting as well, etc. Sabathia walked Joe Mauer to start the inning. The next hitter, Miguel Sano, cranked the first pitch, a 83 mph changeup, into the left field seats and it was a laser of a home run. 3-1 Twins. CC got Plouffe and Torii Hunter to fly out but allowed two consecutive singles to Escobar and Suzuki. Joe Girardi then took Sabathia out for Nick Rumbelow, who allowed another RBI single to get the fourth run charged to CC. Ah well – a strong start and meek finish.

If you had told me Sabathia was going to allow three runs before departing in the seventh with two outs, I would have taken it. In the end, he was tagged with four earned runs but he deserved a better fate. Tonight’s start actually raised Sabathia’s ERA (albeit from 5.23 to 5.24), which is a bit cruel but hey, it’s math (math is cruel, by the way).

Webster’s definition of “Pimping it” (Source: Getty)

Grand slam no. 25

Heading into the bottom of the seventh, the Twins had a 4-1 lead. Chase Headley led off the inning with a single and Brendan Ryan walked (on a very close ball call on a low fastball) to get something started against the Twins reliever Ryan O’Rourke. Jacoby Ellsbury flied out but Brett Gardner worked another Yankee walk to load the bases for… Alex Rodriguez.

Molitor took out O’Rourke for righty J.R. Graham to face A-Rod. As you may know, A-Rod was really struggling at the plate for awhile. Prior to that at-bat, he had been only 1-for-27, which is as cold as a gazpacho ready to be served in the middle of a hot day.

The rirst pitch from Graham was a slider out of the zone. The second, however, was very different – a 95 mph fastball right down the middle that would look like a beach ball to any good power hitter. A-Rod didn’t miss any of it and he drove the pitch out the center field fence for a grand slam. 5-4 Yankees.

That… was special. I don’t know how else I’d explain that. Per FanGraphs WPA, the odds of New York winning were 24.7% before the slam and 78.7% after – I think that’s a good way to get my point across.

Insurance

The Yankee offense didn’t rest in the eighth versus the woeful Twins bullpen. Bird and Didi Gregorius singled to lead off the inning and Headley followed them off with an RBI double to drive both in for a 7-4 lead. I didn’t have a stopwatch with me but that sequence of events took place in a hurry – it took only seven total pitches to happen!

Brendan Ryan put a sac bunt down to move Headley to third and Ellsbury drove him in with an RBI single to right, 8-4. How about Jacoby? After a long slump, his bat has found its mojo again, as it seems. He went 2-for-5 tonight, bringing his average up to a respectable .276.

Box score, standings, highlight and WPA

Here’s tonight’s box score, updated standings, video highlights and WPA.


Source: FanGraphs

Tomorrow, the Yanks will look for a home sweep on a 1pm game. Nathan Eovaldi will take the mound against Ervin Santana. Only two games in but this homestand’s been pretty fun so far.

Oh, and here’s another A-Rod photo for a good look.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)

DotF: Refsnyder, Sanchez, Judge go hitless in Triple-A loss

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 loss to Lehigh Valley)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-3, 1 BB, 1 SB — going to be really interesting to see whether he gets added to the 40-man roster after the season … either way, he did a good job making it a tough decision
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4, 1 R, 1 K
  • LF Jose Pirela: 1-4, 1 K
  • C Gary Sanchez & RF Aaron Judge: both 0-4, 3 K
  • DH Slade Heathcott: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K
  • LHP Eric Wooten: 5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 Balk, 7/1 GB/FB — 54 of 83 pitches were strikes (65%), plus he picked a runner off first
  • RHP Branden Pinder: 2 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 15 of 23 pitches were strikes (65%)

[Read more…]

Game 118: Shorthanded

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

Boy, the Yankees are really shorthanded today. Mark Teixeira‘s injury leaves them with a three-man bench and the recent reliever workloads has them going into tonight’s game with maybe half a bullpen. If there was ever a night to score 20 runs, this would be it.

Anyway, the Yankees have quietly won four of their last five games, and two of those wins involved dramatic comebacks. Those are always fun. If you believe in momentum being a factor in sports, the Yankees certainly have it on their side. They have momentum but not a fully available roster. Here is the Twins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. 3B Brendan Ryan
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s a nice night for a day in New York. Clear sky, no threat of rain, and not as hot as yesterday either. This’ll do. Tonight’s game is set to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Teixeira (leg) went for more tests today and has a bad bone bruise. The good news is there is no break. It’s unclear how long he will be sidelined. Teixeira is arguably the team’s most indispensable player. Can’t replace his two-way impact … Chase Headley is out of the lineup because he “could use a day,” said Joe Girardi. Headley’s played more innings in the field than anyone else on the team this year … Dustin Ackley (back) has started baseball activities. Nothing major (he played catch) but it’s a start.

Schedule Update: The start time of the Yankees-Blue Jays game at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, September 12th has been moved up from 4pm ET to 1pm ET, MLB announced. I guess FOX flexed them into their timeslot.

Yankees place Mitchell on 7-day concussion DL, send down Cotham, add Capuano and Rumbelow

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

As expected, the Yankees made some moves this afternoon to bolster their bullpen following last night’s marathon. Bryan Mitchell was placed on the 7-day concussion DL and Caleb Cotham was sent down, the Yankees announced. Chris Capuano and Nick Rumbelow are up from Triple-A Scranton to replace them on the roster.

Mitchell, 24, was hit in the face by a line drive last night and suffered a small nasal fracture, which is probably good news. It could have been a lot worse. Mitchell will be monitored for concussion symptoms in the coming days. The 7-day concussion DL comes with all sorts of protocol — he has to pass a bunch of tests and be cleared by MLB’s doctors before he can return to action.

Cotham threw two innings and 44 pitches in relief of Mitchell last night and was an obvious choice to go down today. Capuano was designated for assignment Saturday, cleared waivers and accepted his outright assignment yesterday, and is back with the Yankees today. It’s his third stint with the team this year. Rumbelow is fresh — he threw 18 pitches Sunday and had three days off before that.

As our Bullpen Workload page shows, Joe Girardi‘s relief crew is going to be really shorthanded tonight. I have to think Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, and Chasen Shreve are all out of commission due to their recent workloads, leaving Capuano, Rumbelow, Andrew Miller, and maybe Justin Wilson behind CC Sabathia this evening.

A-Rod’s Slump: Second half fade or a blip on the radar?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the last 12 games, the Yankees are averaging just 2.83 runs scored — that includes last night’s eight-run outburst — which is down considerably from the pace they maintained in the first half of the season. The pitching staff has been great of late, they’re allowing just 3.33 runs per game during that 12-game stretch, but the lack of offense has led to a 5-7 record. A big part of the offensive problems is Alex Rodriguez‘s worst slump of the season.

“I felt like (expletive) today. I felt terrible,” said A-Rod to Brendan Kuty after going 0-for-3 with a walk and three strikeouts Sunday. “You know, you grind through it. Everyone is going to go through times like this. So it’s going to be good to have a change of scenery and get back home.”

A-Rod’s slump conveniently started right at the beginning of the month: he’s 7-for-53 (.132) with three doubles in August after ending July with a seven-game hitting streak, during which he went 11-for-27 (.407) with two doubles and four homers. This is also not the first time Alex has slumped his year — he went 5-for-37 (.135) during a ten-game span in April — but this slump is worth examining for more than a few reasons.

For starters, the Yankees have fallen in the standings the last two weeks or so primarily because of their offense. A-Rod, the No. 3 hitter, is a big reason why, and if he doesn’t start hitting soon, chances are the Yankees will continue to slide in the standings. Secondly, we’re deep into the season, and Alex is a 40-year-old with two surgically repaired hips who did not play last year. It’s not unreasonable to suggest he may be wearing down, though he did tell Kuty “I actually feel fine” when asked about fatigue the other day.

When Rodriguez first returned in Spring Training, what stood out most to me was his plate discipline and still excellent knowledge of the strike zone. There was no rust there. A-Rod swung at strikes and spit on pitches out of the zone. Over the weekend in Toronto and last night against the Twins, he did not do that. He swung at some bad pitches out of the zone and looked lost. Here are Alex’s swing tendencies this year:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact%
April thru July 25.2% 65.9% 53.8% 77.8%
August 22.7% 64.2% 56.7% 81.8%
AL Average 30.4% 63.9% 64.0% 87.3%

Okay, so that was a bit unexpected. I figured A-Rod’s swing rate on pitches out of the zone (O-Swing%) would be sky high during his August slump, but that’s not the case. He’s swung at fewer pitches out of the zone. We are talking about a small sample, however, so it’s entirely possible Alex was ultra-disciplined earlier in the month and has taken to hacking at everything the last few days, skewing the numbers.

A-Rod’s contact rates on pitches both in (Z-Contact%) and out (O-Contact%) of the strike zone have increased this month, so isn’t swinging and missing more often either. Rodriguez has always been a guy who’s swung and missed a bunch (he is fifth all-time in strikeouts, you know), so it wouldn’t have been a surprise if his slump featured more empty swings. That’s not the case, however.

More interesting is what’s happened when A-Rod has made contact during his slump. He’s struck out 15 times in 63 plate appearances this month, a 23.8% rate that is in line with his pre-August rate (21.1%). Alex has put 38 balls in play this month with only seven hits to show for it (.184 BABIP). I absolutely remember a few line drives finding gloves during the series in Cleveland and Toronto, but they were the exception, not the norm during this sump. The line drive outs stood out because they were so infrequent.

A low BABIP is not always bad luck. Rodriguez’s quality of contact has gone down during the slump. He simply hasn’t hit the ball as hard as he had the first four months of the season. Here are the numbers:

GB% FB% IFFB% Soft% Hard% Pull% Oppo%
April thru July 43.1% 36.9% 3.1% 10.4% 38.5% 46.2% 16.9%
August 47.4% 36.8% 28.6% 21.1% 23.7% 52.6% 10.5%
AL Average 44.5% 34.9% 10.0% 18.5% 28.2% 40.5% 24.7%

The infield pop-up rate jumps out at you. A-Rod rarely popped out earlier this season (league average is 11.1 IFFB%) but now nearly three out of every ten fly balls is going straight up in the air. (IFFB% is pop-ups per fly ball, not pop-ups per ball in play.) Pop-ups are BABIP killers. They’re as close to a sure out as you can get on a ball in play.

Rodriguez’s isn’t necessarily hitting more grounders or fly balls — a four percentage point increase in ground ball rate isn’t alarming, that’s the normal ebb and flow of baseball more than anything — but his hard and soft contact rates have gone in the wrong direction this month, further explaining the low BABIP. The harder you hit the ball, the more likely it is to fall in for a hit. The numbers haven shown that.

The decline in hard contact is just a symptom of the problem, however. There is something causing the lack in hard contact and figuring out what it is will take a miracle. Bad mechanics? Fatigue? Guessing wrong? We could come up with a million reasons. I’m no swing expert, so I couldn’t tell you is Rodriguez’s swing is out of whack. I can tell you opponents haven’t been pitching him any differently …

FB% SL% CB% CH%
April thru July 61.8% 18.4% 6.5% 9.6%
August 61.0% 12.1% 6.6% 9.8%
AL Average 63.6% 14.6% 7.5% 10.7%

… so it’s not like opponents have suddenly started burying him with breaking balls or throwing fastballs by him. (The lower slider rate coincides with an increase in knuckleball rate. A-Rod has seen 7.8% knuckleballs this month thanks to R.A. Dickey and Steven Wright. Good reminder we’re talking about a small sample here.) Alex has seen the same basic pitch mix during the slump as he did when he was raking earlier this year.

From the looks of things, it appears A-Rod’s slump may be a timing issue. He is not swinging at more pitches, but he is making more contact, and the contact he has made hasn’t been as hard as before. The huge spike in pop-up rate is a classic indicator that timing is an issue — those pop-ups are just a millisecond from being a fly ball or line drive. Rodriguez has always had a low pop-up rate. That it suddenly spiked like this suggests he’s juuust missing. The timing isn’t right.

That could be good news is bad news. Is A-Rod’s timing off simply because hitters tend to lose their timing at various points through a 162-game season? Or is he starting to get worn down and his bat is slowing as a result? I don’t know. Alex might not even know. That’s not a satisfying answer but it’s better than pretending I do know the answer when I really don’t. His approach has been fine, he’s not chasing stuff off the plate, so that’s encouraging. It would be much more worrisome if Rodriguez had started hacking at everything.

We’re in uncharted territory with A-Rod because of his age, his hips, his suspension … everything, really. We came into the season not knowing what to expect, he exceeded even the most optimistic of projections for the first four months of the year, and is now in his worst slump of the season. Regardless of whether this is a late season fade due to fatigue and age, or simply a normal slump, the offense has taken a big hit with Alex’s lack of production.

Digging into Andrew Miller’s post-DL issues

(Patrick
(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Andrew Miller tossed a clean, 1-2-3 inning and got the win in Monday night’s walk-off victory over the Twins — probably his best effort since coming off the disabled list — yet his performance over the past month has been anything but perfect. Sure, one solid outing is encouraging, but looking at the whole body of his post-DL work reveals a few troublesome trends for the lefty.

When Miller went on the disabled list June 11 with a forearm injury, he was in the midst of an incredible season as the Yankees’ closer, invoking comparisons to Mariano Rivera at his peak. Unhittable, dominant, video game-like … All those words described Miller, and they weren’t used as hyperboles.

He was 17-for-17 in save chances and had allowed just three runs and eight hits in 26 1/3 innings. Miller didn’t give up his first run until the 40th game of the season on May 19 and it was another two weeks before he gave up multiple hits in an outing. He struck out more than 40 percent of the batters he faced in those first two months, and made countless hitters look silly chasing a nasty slider in the dirt or swinging through a 96-mph fastball up in the zone.

After a month on the shelf, Miller returned to action July 8 against the A’s but hardly looked like the nearly untouchable reliever we saw before the injury. He gave up a single and a home run to the second and third batters he faced in the ninth inning, before finally getting Ben Zobrist to ground out with the tying run on second base to seal the 5-4 win.

It soon became clear that first shaky outing was not just a result of him being rusty after an extended stint on the DL as his struggles continued the rest of the month and into August. In 16 games since coming back, he’s allowed eight runs and 14 hits in 15 2/3 innings.

Miller overall2

When asked about his recent struggles, Miller acknowledged he was scuffling but offered little explanation for the dip in his performance.

“I am certainly having some tough innings lately,” Miller told the New York Post. “All of it is not explainable … It’s going to happen. If you expect otherwise you are naïve.”

Miller is correct, it’s nearly impossible for any player not to experience a few bumps in the road over the course of a 162-game season. But the stark contrast in his performance before and after going on the disabled list is hard to ignore, regardless of the small sample size. Let’s take a deeper dive into the numbers to see if we can figure out what might be the cause of Miller’s sharp decline.

******************

The good news is that his pitches look pretty similar since coming off the DL compared to his first two months. His fastball is rising a tiny bit less now but the velocity is virtually unchanged, he’s still getting good depth with his slider, and his release points on both pitches are nearly the same as before the injury.

Another positive sign is that despite giving up more runs and hits since coming off the DL, batters aren’t crushing his pitches and he’s actually doing a better job of inducing weak contact recently. His hard-hit rate has decreased (from 33 percent to 27 percent) and his soft-hit rate has increased (from 17 percent to 30 percent) in the past month, while the exit velocity on those batted balls has also fallen slightly (from 86 mph to 84 mph).

Although the lower hard-contact rate is promising, it hides a more troubling trend of Miller allowing a lot more contact overall since his injury. Batters have been much more aggressive in swinging at pitches both inside and outside the strike zone, and at the same time, have also been more successful in putting those pitches into play.

Miller contact2

He’s still getting good results with his slider — .158 batting average allowed and 48.5 percent whiff rate — but his four-seam fastball has been much less effective and pretty awful by his standards.

Miller fastball2

What used to be a really uncomfortable at-bat for most hitters — trying to get wood on Miller’s unhittable fastball-slider combo — has become a much easier matchup now. He’s been able to consistently bury his slider below the knees, but he’s leaving more fastballs in the heart of the zone during the past month (see the big red blob in the middle, that’s not good).

Miller pre

Perhaps lacking confidence in the pitch, he’s relying on the heater less and less in recent outings, and that trend was never more evident than against the Blue Jays last weekend.

He threw just eight fastballs — two for strikes — and the one hit he allowed came off a four-seamer located dead-center in the middle of the plate. Of the 20 sliders he threw, he got five whiffs and both his strikeouts, without yielding a single ball in play off the pitch.

(MLB.com)
(MLB.com)

That epic 12-pitch strikeout of Troy Tulowitzki to end the game last Friday night showed that Miller still possesses one of the nastiest sliders in the game, and hasn’t lost any of his competitiveness on the mound or his ability to execute in clutch situations.

One month of appearances — fewer than 16 innings pitched — is admittedly a small sample size to make any definitive judgments on his future performance, and there is every reason to believe that Miller can turn it around and pitch better down the stretch (see Monday’s solid outing). But if he can’t locate his fastball and is unable to lower his bloated contact rate, he’s going to find himself in trouble more often than not. And we’re probably going to see more white-knuckle saves (along with some meltdowns) and fewer of those dominant pre-injury outings over the final two months of the season.

Rotation depth stretched pretty thin following Mitchell’s injury

(Presswire)
Man down. (Presswire)

Early in last night’s win, the Yankees lost right-hander Bryan Mitchell to a small nasal fracture after he was hit in the face by a line drive in the second inning. It was a really scary moment and all things considered, Mitchell escaped with minor damage. He’ll be monitored for concussion symptoms the next few days but otherwise there is no significant facial fracture or eye damage. It could have been really, really bad.

“You’re sick. Sick to your stomach, praying for the best,” said Brian McCann to reporters after the game. “You’re just hoping for the best outcome. When I went out there, I was like ‘Are you alright?’ and he said ‘I’m alright, I just need to get off the field.’ So it was good that he was responsive.”

The injury was a total fluke. Mitchell had a split second to react and there was nothing anyone could have done about it. That’s one of the more brutal aspects of baseball. Mitchell started the game because the Yankees wanted to give their other starters extra rest. He’d been sitting in the bullpen has the long reliever for a few weeks now. Mitchell figured to be first in line whenever the team wanted to use a spot starter again going forward as well.

In the short-term, the Yankees will need to replace Mitchell as the long man. Chad Jennings reported last night that Chris Capuano has cleared waivers and accepted his outright assignment to Triple-A, though I bet he doesn’t make it to Scranton. I expect to see Capuano in the bullpen tonight. No, Capuano is not very good, but he can throw multiple innings and is by far the best candidate for the long man job right now. It makes sense to bring him back.

More importantly, the Yankees are now down their sixth starter, and, at this very moment, they only have five healthy Major League caliber starters. They have some warm bodies in Triple-A who could soak up innings if need be (Kyle Davies, for example), but as far as actual big league caliber players, there are only five such healthy starters in the organization right now. Mitchell’s hurt and so is Michael Pineda.

Being down to five starters is sorta scary, but the good news is the Yankees won’t have to ride this out too much longer. Big Mike is on a minor league rehab assignment and it seems likely he will make at least one more rehab start before rejoining the rotation. Pineda himself said he feels he needs another start just to build his pitch count a bit more — he threw 42 pitches in his first rehab start Sunday — and get a better feel for his changeup and slider.

In addition to Pineda’s return, rosters expand two weeks from today, so the Yankees will be able to call up plenty of extra pitchers to give Joe Girardi as many options as possible. They’ve been cycling through relievers all season and I’m guessing they’ll call all of those guys up on September 1st. Not after the Triple-A postseason or anything like that, the first day they’re eligible. The big league team is the priority.

So with Pineda returning and rosters set to expand, the Yankees only need their current rotation to hold down the fort for another two weeks. (I fully expect them to use a six-man rotation in September with Pineda joining the current starting five.) No, adding a bunch of relievers on September 1st doesn’t replace a lost starter like Mitchell, but innings are innings, and they’ll have plenty of bodies available.

The Yankees opted to stick with their internal rotation options rather than make a trade at the deadline, and hey, Luis Severino has made them look pretty smart so far. Mitchell’s injury was a total fluke, though it really stretches the club’s rotation depth nonethless. They need Pineda back soon and need to get by these next two weeks until rosters expand. Another rotation loss would be very tough to overcome at this point.