Game 37: Battle of the Aces

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)

Who is the more unlikely “ace” between Michael Pineda and Jason Vargas? (It’s obviously Vargas, but bear with me.)

Pineda has already matched last season’s bWAR total in 134.1 fewer innings, and his 3.27 ERA is nearly a run and a half lower than the 4.60 mark he posted between 2015 and 2016. He’s in the top-ten in all of baseball in K%, BB%, and K-BB%, and he is first among Yankees starters in most every metric. It’s telling that his last start – a 6.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 7 K effort against the Astros – was viewed as something of a disappointment. This is something that we’ve long known that Pineda is capable of; he simply couldn’t put it together the previous two seasons.

And Vargas – he of the career 4.07 ERA and 97 ERA+ – leads the majors with a ludicrous 1.01 ERA (417 ERA+). He’s 34-years-old, and less than two years removed from Tommy John Surgery … and he’s allowed 0 or 1 run in 6 of his 7 starts. Vargas has done this with a fastball that sits right around 86 MPH, and a 39.7 GB%.

When the season began, nobody would have expected this match-up to be a potential pitcher’s duel – and yet here we are.

Here’s the Royals lineup for this evening. The Yankees will counter with:

  1. Brett Gardner, LF
  2. Gary Sanchez, C
  3. Matt Holliday, DH
  4. Starlin Castro, 2B
  5. Aaron Judge, RF
  6. Chase Headley, 3B
  7. Didi Gregorius, SS
  8. Aaron Hicks, CF
  9. Chris Carter, 1B

The first pitch is scheduled for 8:15 PM EST, and the game will be on YES.

Layne’s struggles make this Chasen Shreve’s best chance to stick with the Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

All offseason long, the Yankees were said to be seeking a left-handed reliever, which seemed a little odd considering Tommy Layne did a nice job for them down the stretch last year. By no means was Layne irreplaceable. It just seemed like there were bigger fish to fry, you know? The Yankees wound up passing on guys like Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins, and instead rolled the dice with Jon Niese and Joe Mantiply.

Thus far neither Niese nor Mantiply have pitched for the big league team, and Layne has been so shaky that he’s been relegated to mop-up duty. Only once in his last seven appearances has the score been separated by fewer than five runs. That’s how far down the depth chart he’s fallen. Layne was good late last year, but he is a 32-year-old journeyman, and those guys are as unpredictable as it gets. The Yankees were smart to look for more lefty relief help.

Layne’s early struggles have opened the door for Chasen Shreve to get left-on-left matchup work, and so far he’s been lights out. Lefties are 0-for-14 with four strikeouts and one unintentional walk against him. A small sample, of course, though lefty specialists only work in small samples. That’s the nature of the beast. Layne wasn’t working out — lefties are 6-for-16 (.375) against him — so Joe Girardi moved on Shreve. Makes sense, right? Right.

Two years ago Shreve looked like a potential long-term bullpen piece thanks to his nasty splitter, which allowed him to neutralize both lefties and righties. He served as a trustworthy middle innings option for the first four months of 2015 before crashing hard late in the season. I hoped it was just fatigue. Then Shreve allowed 19 runs, including eight homers, in 33 innings last year. He wound up spending most of the summer in Triple-A.

Is there any reason to believe 2017 Shreve will pitch more like early-2015 Shreve than 2016 Shreve? Eh, not really. It’s too early to say. He’s thrown only 9.2 innings with the Yankees this year, three of which game during the 18-inning game with the Cubs, so we haven’t seen him much. Shreve did dominate those few weeks he spent in Triple-A — 12 strikeouts and no walks in 6.1 innings — though that doesn’t mean much. It’s Triple-A.

More important than the small sample early season results are what lies ahead: another opportunity. Layne has pitched his way out of high-leverage spots, Niese is still in Tampa building arm strength, and Mantiply isn’t doing enough in Triple-A to earn an MLB chance. Like it or not, Shreve is Girardi’s best left-handed bullpen option now that Aroldis Chapman is on the disabled list. (Chapman wouldn’t be used in matchup situations anyway.)

These next few weeks might be Shreve’s last chance to stick with the Yankees and carve out a role in the bullpen going forward. He’s already burned his final minor league option this year, meaning when time comes to clear a roster spot next year, Shreve may find himself on the chopping block. He has to make himself valuable, not expendable. There’s no real competition right now. The left-on-left matchup job is his for the taking.

Keep in mind the bullpen shuttle as we know it is kaput. We’re not seeing relievers called up and sent down on a near daily basis anymore. The bullpen moves that have been made have been made due to necessity (injury, extra innings, etc.). Shreve should get a chance to stick around the next few weeks and show whether he’s up for being the primary left-on-left reliever. And maybe he’s not. He’s had chances before, after all. Given the available options though, Shreve is worth another audition.

I don’t think a lefty specialist is all that important to start with — how many lefty hitters in the AL East really scare you? Chris Davis, Andrew Benintendi, and, uh, Corey Dickerson? — but the Yankees clearly value the role, and they spent the winter looking for an upgrade. They didn’t find one, and now Layne pitched his way out of the picture. Shreve is not the only in-house option, but he might be the best, and he now has a chance to grab the job outright.

Carter is starting to reward the Yankees for their patience

All he does is catch touchdowns and hit home runs. (Presswire)
All he does is catch touchdowns and hit home runs. (Presswire)

For the first month of the season, Chris Carter was an imperfect bench piece on a Yankees team focused on getting younger. Bringing in a 41-homer bat on the cheap made a world of sense, especially with Greg Bird coming off shoulder surgery, but early on Carter was a man without a role. He could pinch-hit and spot start. That’s it. His usefulness was very limited.

A nagging ankle issue landed Bird on the disabled earlier this month, which opened playing time for Carter. And in his first seven games (five starts) after Bird’s injury, Carter went 3-for-19 (.158) with nine strikeouts. He struggled so much that Joe Girardi elected to play Matt Holliday at first base three times, including in back-to-back games, even though he didn’t play the field once in Spring Training. Not one inning.

Fans turned on Carter long ago. About two weeks into the regular season, I’d day. Fans aren’t exactly known for their patience, after all. The Yankees weren’t going to cut bait so soon, however. Not with Bird and Tyler Austin on the disabled list. Playing 37-year-old Holliday at first base everyday wasn’t a viable solution either. At this point of his career the smart move is keeping him off his feet as much as possible.

“Carter is very streaky and hasn’t gotten hot yet,” said Brian Cashman to Dan Martin over the weekend. Since that comment, Carter has started to get hot. He reached base three times in Sunday’s doubleheader, going 2-for-6 with a double and a walk, then last night he went 3-for-4 with one of his trademark effortless home runs. Carter flicked his wrists and the ball carried out to right-center.

The home run was sandwiched between a ground ball single through the left side of the infield and a little line drive single poked the other way against the shift. No one will claim Carter is a great pure hitter. That was just a good optic, a single the other way. Carter is what he is. He’s a one-dimensional power hitter who is going to strike out. Everyone knows that. The problem was he didn’t show much power to offset the strikeouts the first six weeks of the season.

It’s difficult for most players to remain productive while receiving sporadic playing time, and when you’re contact challenged like Carter, it can be close to impossible. Those guys don’t have much margin for error to start with anyway. Take away at-bats and screw up their rhythm and forget it. They might … do exactly what Carter did the first few weeks of the season, which was not much at all.

Now Carter is getting a chance to play regularly as a result of Bird’s injury, and over the last few days, he’s beginning to contribute at the plate. Who knows. Maybe it’s only three good games and nothing more. That’s possible. These last few games could also be an indication Carter is starting to get locked in, and when he gets locked in, he tends to hit the ball out of the part with regularity. It would be cool if he started to do that.

Keep in mind the Yankees don’t need Carter to be a big part of the offense. He’s been hitting eighth and ninth lately. Anything he can give them from the bottom of the order will be a nice little bonus. Also keep in mind that Bird and Austin are still hurt, as is Triple-A first baseman Ji-Man Choi. He was recently placed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. The first base depth chart has been thinned out, so Carter’s job is safe for the foreseeable future.

For the time being, the Yankees have stuck with Carter, and he’s started to reward their faith the last few days. Hopefully it lasts. There are going to be strikeouts. They come with the territory. But if the ball starts flying out of the park a little more often, and some more ground balls find holes, the Yankees will be happy they stuck with Carter, especially while Bird is out. They gave him a chance to right the ship, and it seems like he is doing exactly that.

Sanchez and Carter power Yankees to 7-1 win over Royals

Good start to the road trip and good start to the 20 games in 20 days stretch. The Yankees received good hitting, good pitching, and even good defense in Tuesday night’s series opening 7-1 win over the Royals. More games like this, please.

Yo Soy Dinger. (Presswire)
Yo Soy Dinger. (Presswire)

Power At The Top Of The Lineup, Power At The Bottom Of The Lineup
You could tell early on it was only a matter of time until the Yankees got to Royals starter Jason Hammel. The four batters they sent to the plate in the first inning all hit rockets in the air, though three were caught for outs. A few more hard-hit balls followed in the second inning. Hammel threw 30 pitches in the first two innings and the Yankees didn’t swing and miss once.

In the third, those hard-hit balls started to turn into results. Chris Carter started the inning with a ground ball single through the left side of the infield, then Brett Gardner worked a six-pitch walk to put men on first and second with no outs. The two baserunners turned into a 3-0 lead on Gary Sanchez‘s third home run of the season, a long fly ball to dead center field. It was Gary’s second home run since coming back from the biceps injury. Hooray Gary.

The Yankees struck for two more runs in the fourth inning, and it was a two-out rally. Didi Gregorius fouled off four two-strike pitches before slapping a single with two outs, setting up Carter for a towering two-run home run to left-center field. Effortless power, man. The guy flicks his wrists and the ball just carries. Homers by Sanchez, the No. 2 hitter, and Carter, the No. 9 hitter, gave the Yankees a 5-0 lead against the worst offensive team in baseball.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Almost Seven Strong For CC
Nice bounceback for CC Sabathia. It helped that the Royals, thanks to team-wide willingness to expand the zone (AL worst 32.7% chase rate), were a good matchup for late-career Sabathia. Hey, I’ll take it. Sabathia’s last four starts were pretty terrible, and if took an impatient team for him to turn in an effective start, that’s okay with me. It wasn’t until the seventh inning that the Royals got a runner to second base, and that was an Eric Hosmer hustle double.

Prior to that seventh inning, Sabathia limited Kansas City to three singles and a walk in six scoreless innings, and one of those singles turned into an out when Jorge Soler was throwing out trying to stretch it into a double. Sabathia needed only 62 innings in those six innings too. He had a seven-pitch inning (fourth), two eight-pitch innings (first and sixth), and a ten-pitch inning (fifth). Sabathia was on cruise control. Nice and easy.

The seventh inning rally that ended Sabathia’s night was kinda stupid. Hosmer turned a single into a hustle double to start the frame, Soler took a borderline full count pitch for ball four with two outs, then Alex Gordon beat out an infield single to load the bases. Chase Headley made a nice play going back on the ball, but with his momentum taking him into the outfield, he had little chance to throw Gordon out at first. Bases loaded, two outs.

Tyler Clippard replaced Sabathia after the Gordon infield single and struck out someone named Whit Merrifield to end the threat. Sabathia’s final line: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 4 K on 85 pitches. It seemed like he still had something left in the tank when he was removed too, but with the bases loaded and the lefty mashing Merrifield due up, Joe Girardi didn’t want to mess around. Good outing for Sabathia. We were all hoping to see a start like this.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
The Yankees tacked on insurance runs in the seventh inning (Jacoby Ellsbury single) and eighth inning (Matt Holliday fielder’s choice). Holliday hit a rocket with the bases loaded and one out, but the annoyingly good at defense Mike Moustakas made a great stab and was able to throw to second. Holliday narrowly beat out the return throw to avoid the inning-ending double play.

Clippard stayed in to pitch the eighth and tossed up a zero. Jonathan Holder got the ninth inning and it went strikeout, single, walk, infield single, fielder’s choice (run scores), pop-up. Meh. Holder’s been pretty good overall. He picked a good time to have a less than clean inning. The Yankees needed an easy bullpen game like this after Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka combined to throw four (!) innings in Sunday’s doubleheader.

The Yankees did not strike out at all until the top of the ninth, when Al Alburquerque struck out the side. Go figure. Every starter had a hit except Gardner (walk) and Holliday (RBI fielder’s choice). Sanchez, Starlin Castro, Aaron Judge, and Gregorius each had two hits. Carter had three. Nice night up and down the lineup.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head over to ESPN for the box score and updated standings, and MLB.com for the video highlights. Make sure you don’t miss our Bullpen Workload page either. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Same two teams Wednesday night, in the middle game of this three-game series. Michael Pineda and Jason Vargas, who is off to an insane start, are the scheduled starting pitchers.

DotF: Torres and Ford hit home runs in wins

C Eddy Rodriguez smacked a walk-off grand slam for Triple-A Scranton last night, and the video is embedded above. Walk-off grand slams are pretty damn cool. Here are some notes:

  • C Francisco Diaz was added to the Triple-A Scranton roster and IF Abi Avelino was sent down to Double-A Trenton, according to Shane Hennigan. C Kyle Higashioka is a little banged up. Not bad enough to go on the disabled list, but bad enough to bring in a third catcher for a few days.
  • The Yankees have signed SS Starlin Paulino, reports Matt Eddy. He’s an international free agent who counts against the 2016-17 signing period. I can’t find any information on the kid, but now you know he exists.

Triple-A Scranton (7-2 win over Pawtucket)

  • RF Tyler Wade: 0-3, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K — first game in right field this year … he’s now played every position this season other than pitcher, catcher, and first base
  • DH Dustin Fowler: 0-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 2 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 E (throwing)
  • 1B Mike Ford: 2-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 1 HBP — 5-for-13 (.385) with two doubles and a homer in three games since the promotion
  • CF Mason Williams: 2-4, 1 R, 1 K, 2 SB — 19-for-60 (.317) in his last 14 games
  • LF Mark Payton: 1-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 CS — 17-for-45 (.378) in his last 15 games
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 3.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 1 HB, 3/3 GB/FB — 41 of 59 pitches were strikes (69%)
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 3.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 4/0 GB/FB — 33 of 47 pitches were strikes (70%) … 27 strikeouts and no walks in 19 innings this year

[Read more…]

Game 36: The Unforgiving Schedule Begins

(Brian Blanco/Getty Images North America)
(Brian Blanco/Getty Images North America)

The Yankees next day off is June 5, which means that they are entering a stretch in which they will play twenty games in twenty days. This was bound to happen at some point, given that they have had eight scheduled days off already (that, and the fact that the schedule gods are cruel) – but that doesn’t make it any less forgiving, particularly with the bullpen already being thinned by Aroldis Chapman heading to the disabled list.

Luckily, the first thirteen games of this stretch come against teams with a combined .440 winning percentage, and a run differential of -68. The Royals are first on the docket, and they’ll trot out this lineup against CC Sabathia. The Yankees lineup for this evening is:

  1. Brett Gardner, LF
  2. Gary Sanchez, C
  3. Matt Holliday, DH
  4. Starlin Castro, 2B
  5. Aaron Judge, RF
  6. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  7. Chase Headley, 3B
  8. Didi Gregorius, SS
  9. Chris Carter, 1B

The first pitch is scheduled for 8:15 PM EST, and the game will be on both YES and MLB Network.

2017 Draft: Trevor Rogers

Trevor Rogers | LHP

Background
The 19-year-old Rogers attends Carlsbad High School in New Mexico. So far this spring he has a 0.33 ERA with 134 strikeouts and 13 walks in 63.1 innings, and he’s hitting .394/.506/.788 with three homers in 89 plate appearances. It’s worth noting he’s not facing the best competition in southeastern New Mexico, though he has performed well in various summer showcase events. Rogers and former big leaguer Cody Ross are cousins.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-6 and 185 lbs., Rogers has the big and sturdy frame everyone looks for in a high school pitching prospect. His fastball sits mostly in the 89-92 mph range, though he has run it up as high as 95 mph in short bursts. The pitch also plays up a bit because he has a big stride and long arms, so he releases it closer to the plate than the average pitcher. Rogers has a hard breaking ball that is more of a true slider than a curveball, and when he’s at his best, the pitch is allergic to bats. Like most top high school pitchers, he hasn’t developed much of a changeup because he hasn’t needed it. Rogers is a really good athlete and his arm is loose. There’s not much effort in his delivery at all, though, like most young pitchers this tall, his mechanics can come and go.

Miscellany
The various scouting publications all agree Rogers is a first round talent. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranks him as the 18th best prospect in the 2017 draft class while MLB.com and Baseball America rank him 23rd and 28th, respectively. The Yankees hold the 16th overall pick. The biggest knock on Rogers is his age. He’s already 19 with an October birthday, making him one of the oldest prep prospects in the draft class. Last year Blake Rutherford slipped in the draft partly because he turned 19 in May, a few weeks before the draft. Rogers will turn 20 this fall. They don’t check IDs on the mound though, and athletic 6-foot-6 lefties with good velocity and a promising breaking ball sure are hard to pass up.