Saturday Links: Mateo, Instructs, Gurriel, Refsnyder

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees and Red Sox will continue their four-game series with the third game later this afternoon. Here are some bits of news and notes to hold you over.

Mateo among Law’s most disappointing prospects

After blazing start to the season with High-A Tampa, shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo hit a wall in June and never really recovered. He finished the year with a thoroughly disappointing .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) batting line despite setting a new career high with eight homers. Mateo went 36-for-51 (71%) in steal attempts one year after going 82-for-99 (83%).

It’s no surprise then that Mateo is one of eight top 100 prospects who took a step back this season, according to Keith Law (subs. req’d). “Getting suspended for two weeks for an unspecified violation of team rules was just the tip of the iceberg … multiple scouts have told me they haven’t seen Mateo make anywhere near enough hard contact,” said his write-up. “(The Yankees) seem to have soured a little on his makeup and have clearly superior shortstop options elsewhere in the system.”

The Yankees were ready to trade Mateo to the Padres for Craig Kimbrel at the trade deadline last year and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them shop him for pitching this offseason. They have a ton of shortstops in the farm system, including the superior Gleyber Torres, and Mateo still has enough top prospect shine to headline a package for a quality young pitcher. Right now I think there’s better than a 50/50 chance Mateo is traded this winter. We’ll see.

Instructional League roster released

Earlier this week Baseball America (no subs. req’d) posted the Yankees’ Instructional League roster. Instructs start later this month and run through mid-November. The roster looks the same as always. Some top prospects but mostly recent draftees and international signees, and players who missed time to injury. Blake Rutherford is apparently healthy enough for Instructs after missing the end of the season with a hamstring injury, so that’s cool.

Yesterday we heard James Kaprielian faced hitters for the first time since being shut down with an elbow injury way back in April. He’s not on the Instructional League roster but could always be added and get some innings there. The Yankees want Kaprielian to pitch in the Arizona Fall League and Instructs would be a natural stepping stone. Also, Greg Bird will face living pitching in Instructional League for the first time since shoulder surgery. He’s not on the roster but that might have to do with the fact he’s technically a rehabbing big leaguer, not a minor leaguer.

Gurriel holds showcase for MLB teams

Cuban infield prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr. held a workout for teams earlier this week in Panama City, reports Jesse Sanchez. There were 60 scouts in attendance and Gurriel did the usual: fielded ground balls, shagged fly balls, took batting practice, ran sprints, that sort of stuff. “I have been waiting for this moment and now it became a reality. This was my first step to the big leagues, God willing. I’m grateful for everyone who helped me get to this point,” he said.

Sanchez said scouts were impressed by Gurriel’s arm and physicality, though the consensus is he needs more at-bats against live pitching. I mean, duh. He hasn’t played in a competitive game in almost a year now. The expectation has always been that Gurriel will need to spend some time in the minors before helping a big league team, the same way his brother did. Yulieski, by the way, has hit .329/.350/.500 (129 wRC+) with three homers in his first 22 games with the Astros, so that’s going well.

Lourdes is not Yoan Moncada, but he’s pretty darn good. He’s working out for teams now even though he won’t sign until he turns 23 next month. Once he turns 23 he will no longer be subject to the league’s international spending restrictions, so teams can pay him whatever they want. The Yankees haven’t signed a big name Cuban player in a long time, not since Jose Contreras, so I really have no reason to think they’ll sign Gurriel. Maybe they’ll surprise me.

Refsnyder nominated for Marvin Miller award

Rob Refsnyder is the Yankees’ nominee for this year’s Marvin Miller Man of the Year award, the MLBPA announced earlier this week. The award is given annually to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement.” Fans can vote to select one finalist from each division. Here’s the ballot.

Refsnyder, who was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in California when he was three months old, has been helping raise money for a charity called A Kid’s Place, which helps Tampa area children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. Refsnyder designed and is selling a t-shirt through Athletes Brand, with all the proceeds this month going to the charity. Pretty awesome. Well done, Ref.

Yankees continue to fall out of postseason race with 7-4 loss to Red Sox

Less than a week after winning seven straight games to climb back in the postseason race, the Yankees have managed to erase most of that progress these last few days. They dropped Friday’s game 7-4 to the Red Sox for their fifth loss in the last six games, and really, the game felt more lopsided than the score indicates. Those playoff dreams were fun, eh?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

A Shaky Start
Oh boy, things did not look good for Luis Cessa and the Yankees early on. In fact, Cessa failed to retire any of the first five batters he faced, though two (Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz) were thrown out trying to stretch singles into doubles. Base hits by Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez gave the Red Sox a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning. The Yankees were playing from behind all night.

To Cessa’s credit, he settled down after that rough first inning, during which he seemed to have no idea where his fastball was going. He retired 12 of 14 batters faced from the second through fifth innings, allowing only a solo homer to Hanley and a ground-rule double to Travis Shaw. Cessa needed only nine pitches to retire the side in order in both the third and fifth innings. After that first inning, he was pretty great.

We’ve seen that out of Cessa a few times so far, haven’t we? He had a rough first few innings in Kansas City before settling down. He also allowed a first inning run against the Blue Jays last time out before getting locked in. That’s pretty impressive. Cessa doesn’t let things snowball into a disaster outing. Three runs on six hits and no walks in five innings was the final damage. That’ll do, kid. I like what I’ve seen so far.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Off the Hook
For the second straight night, the Yankees had a bunch of chances to cash in runs, but were unable to take advantage. Right in the very first inning, Gary Sanchez smashed into a 5-4-3 double play after Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk. Then, in the second, a Didi Gregorius single and a Chase Headley double put runners on second and third with one out. Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira both flew out harmlessly to strand the runners.

A Mason Williams single and a Gardner walk put the Yankees in business in the third before Ellsbury lined out and Sanchez hit into another 5-4-3 double play. Sigh. The Yankees finally got on the board in the fifth, but not before nearly blowing that rally too. Following back-to-back singles by Teixeira and Williams, Gardner struck out and Ellsbury flew out for two quick outs.

The Yankees were facing another blown opportunity, and once Clay Buchholz jumped ahead in the count 0-2 on Sanchez, it was easy to assume the rally was over. Instead, Sanchez worked it the count back full, then launched a two-run double high off the Green Monster to cut the deficit to 3-2. I thought it was gone off the bat, but alas. Sanchez put a charge into it but just didn’t hit it high enough.

All told, the Yankees put ten runners on base in six innings against Buchholz, yet only plated the two runs. The only thing this team excels at is stranding runners, I swear. Early in the season I said not to worry about it, eventually the runs will come as long as the Yankees kept getting on base, but nope. They’ve been unable to hit with runners in scoring position or even get guys in with productive outs all year. Blah.

The Only When Losing Relievers
Joe Girardi went to his bullpen to start the sixth inning, and I assumed Cessa was nearing 90 pitches or so. That’s what it felt like, anyway. Needless to say, I was surprised to see Cessa was lifted after only 64 (!) pitches. Girardi said his fastball was starting to “leak” and he didn’t want him to face the middle of the order a third. Okay. I get that. Cessa’s still a kid and sending him out to face Ortiz, Mookie Betts, and Hanley a third time could equal trouble.

The problem: Girardi went to James Pazos (James Pazos!) to face Ortiz in a one-run game. I mean, what? Predictably, Pazos tried to muscle up and throw a fastball by Ortiz, and Ortiz promptly smashed it off the center field wall for a double. Pazos is lucky it stayed in the park. Girardi went to Jonathan Holder after that, and … you know what? Here, just look at the pitching lines:

NYYvsBOSbp091616

Ah yes, that’s the good stuff. Four relievers to get six outs and allow four runs in the process. The game slipped away from the Yankees in the sixth and seventh innings. Pretty much every bullpen move Girardi makes these days backfires. Bringing in Pazos to face Ortiz with a one-run deficit was a really questionable decision though, especially since Chasen Shreve came in later in the inning with a three-run deficit.

This game shows how wholly unprepared the Yankees were for this late-season run at a playoff spot. It really did come out of nowhere. The Yankees traded away Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller at the deadline, and while they replaced them adequately with Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren, the middle innings were never addressed. Those were a problem back in April and May. It’s not like this snuck up on anyone.

Leftovers
It’s been a while since the Yankees slapped the pinstripes on a cadaver and got a miracle month out of him, and Billy Butler sure seems like a good candidate, huh? He came off the bench to hit a long two-run home run in the ninth inning to make things kinda sorta interesting. The Yankees were able to get the tying run on deck. Yay? They’ll pay Butler about $50,000 this month and he’s already been worth every penny.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees had nine hits overall, including three out of the ninth spot in the lineup. Williams had two singles and Butler pinch-hit with the homer. Gardner, Sanchez, Gregorius, Headley, McCann, and Teixeira had the other hits. Gardner, Ellsbury, and Teixeira drew the walks. The Yankees went 1-for-11 (.091) with runners in scoring position. Life is pain.

And finally, the Orioles won and the Tigers lost, and the Mariners are getting hammered as I write this. I assume the Blue Jays will beat the lowly Angels. If they do, the Yankees and Tigers will be four games back of the O’s and Blue Jays for the second wildcard spot. Seattle will be three back. FanGraphs puts New York’s postseason odds at 3.8% at the moment. Yeah.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head over to ESPN for the box score, MLB.com for the video highlights, and ESPN for the updated standings. Make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages too. Here’s the all too familiar looking win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Unfortunately, the schedule says the Yankees and Red Sox have to play again Saturday afternoon. That’s a normal 1pm ET start. Bryan Mitchell and David Price are the scheduled starts. This is fine.

DotF: Payton and Frazier help Scranton to Governor’s Cup

(@swbrailriders)
(@swbrailriders)

Good news: RHP James Kaprielian (elbow) faced hitters today for the first time as part of his throwing program, according to his Twitter feed. He’s been out since April with a flexor tendon strain. The Yankees hoping Kaprielian will be able to pitch in the Arizona Fall League next month, and if he’s already facing hitters, that just might happen.

Triple-A Scranton (3-0 win over Gwinnett) they’ve won the best-of-five International League Championship Series in four games to claim the Governor’s Cup … Shane Hennigan has video of the final out … it’s their first IL title since 2008 … pretty amazing they still won a title after losing their four best hitters (Aaron Judge, Tyler Austin, Gary Sanchez, Rob Refsnyder), best starter (Chad Green), and best reliever (Jonathan Holder) to the MLB team … they’ll now play either Oklahoma City or El Paso in the winner-take-all Triple-A National Championship Game next Tuesday in Memphis

  • LF Mark Payton: 3-5, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 2 K — replaced Mason Williams and they didn’t miss a beat
  • RF Clint Frazier: 2-3, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — drove in the insurance run they never needed
  • 3B Donovan Solano: 0-4, 1 K, 1 E (throwing)
  • 1B Chris Parmelee: 0-3, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 CS
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 0-4, 2 K
  • CF Jake Cave: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB — he went 4-for-13 (.308) with a homer in the series and was named MVP
  • 2B Cito Culver: 0-2, 2 BB, 2 K
  • LHP Daniel Camarena: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 WP, 8/1 GB/FB — 60 of 87 pitches were strikes (69%) … that was his first start in almost two full weeks, but he wasn’t rusty at all
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 0.2 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — seven of nine pitches were strikes
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 20 of 26 pitches were strikes (77%)
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — seven of nine pitches were strikes … fitting he gets the final out … he’s been awesome all season

[Read more…]

Game 147: Desperate Times

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

The best and worst thing about baseball is that they play every damn day. Today, that’s a good thing. Last night’s loss was brutal, as bad as any regular season loss I can remember, but at least the Yankees have a chance to turn the page in the second game of the series tonight. A short memory is a good thing in this game.

Right now the second wildcard spot projects out to 89 wins, which means the Yankees need to go 12-4 the rest of the way just to tie. That is … rough. They’ve dropped four of five since the seven-game winning streak, and there were definitely some winnable games among those four losses. Those are the kind of losses the Yankees can’t afford now. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. DH Brian McCann
  8. 1B Mark Teixeira
  9. RF Mason Williams
    RHP Luis Cessa

It’s another cool and clear night in Boston. September baseball weather all the way. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on WPIX locally and MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy.

On Dellin Betances and his recent struggles

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Last night the Yankees suffered what was maybe their most heartbreaking regular season loss of the Joe Girardi era. I can’t remember another one that bad. The Yankees took a three-run lead into the ninth inning, and a little while later, the Red Sox walked off with a 7-5 win on Hanley Ramirez’s three-run home run. Brutal. It gets no worse than that.

On the mound for that ninth inning meltdown was, of course, Dellin Betances. He’s the closer and the guy Girardi wants pitching in a big spot. It was Dellin’s third straight day of work — Girardi tried to stay away from him by going to Tommy Layne and Blake Parker in the ninth, but nope — and he was clearly out of whack, which has been the case for much of September. I have some thoughts on all of this.

1. Yes, he has what it takes to be a closer. This is as predictable as it gets. Betances has struggled the last few times out which of course leads to folks saying he doesn’t have what it takes to be a closer. Doesn’t have the mental fortitude. Can’t handle the pressure. Blah blah blah. Nevermind that he’s been throwing high-stakes innings for nearly three full seasons now and has been one of the two or three best relievers on the planet.

Here’s a quick leaderboard showing WPA/LI. That’s win probability added over leverage index, which essentially tells us who is most helping their team win in the most crucial situations. Here’s the WPA/LI leaderboard for relievers over the last three seasons:

  1. Zach Britton: +6.00
  2. Dellin Betances: +5.89
  3. Wade Davis: +5.39
  4. Andrew Miller: +5.34
  5. Mark Melancon: +5.08

Basically the five best relievers in baseball, right? Or five of the seven best with Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. Point is, getting huge outs is nothing new to Betances. He’s gotten big outs in extremely high-leverage spots before. Struggling these last few times out doesn’t suddenly mean Betances is not fit to be closer. He dominated in the ninth inning last month, and when he filled in for the injured Andrew Miller last year.

2. Yes, his inability to hold runners is a real problem. Although they were scored defensive indifference, the Red Sox stole three bases against Betances last night. Instantly, too. He came in and Chris Young immediately stole second. Then after Betances walked Dustin Pedroia, Pedroia and Young immediately pulled off a double steal. Wednesday afternoon Corey Seager stole second immediately after reaching on an error.

Runners are now 19-for-19 in steal attempts against Dellin this season, and that doesn’t include those three defensive indifferences last night. This is a real problem. Every single and every walk can’t turn into an uncontested double, especially since Betances is always pitching in close games where one run is so meaningful. This is a very real weakness. A fatal one? No. Batters have a .273 OBP against Dellin this season, so there aren’t many guys on base to start with. But it is a problem.

This is clearly something the Yankees and Betances will have to work on in Spring Training next year. It can’t be open season on stolen bases when he’s on the mound, even with Gary Sanchez and his rocket arm behind the plate. Those extra 90-feet are too valuable in the late innings. I don’t know the best way to solve this (varied timing, slide step, etc.) but it can’t go unaddressed. Betances has to at least give the catcher a chance back there.

3. His problems throwing to bases are being overblown a bit. Wednesday afternoon Betances allowed the Dodgers to score an insurance run because he fielded a weak tapper back to the mound and shot-putted it to the backstop. It was ugly. Look at this:

Dellin Betances

Yikes. That has taken on a life of its own in the last 48 hours and become a big “Betances can’t throw to the bases” storyline. Last night YES showed a montage of his throwing failures this year and it was three plays. One play on Opening Day, one where he nearly threw away a 1-6-3 double play ball (but didn’t), and that play against the Dodgers. When you have to go all the way back to Opening Day to find the last time his throwing caused a problem, it’s probably not as big of an issue as its made out to be.

Now, that said, I understand the concern hitters may try to bunt and force him to field the ball, but Betances is not exactly the easiest guy to bunt against. I’ll take my chances with hitters squaring around. Trying to bunt against Dellin is going to lead to a lot of foul balls and easy strikes. Like the stolen base problem, this is something Betances and the Yankees should work on, but this story seems to have taken on a life of its own. The real problem isn’t as great as the perceived problem.

4. Once again, fatigue seems to be an issue. This is the second straight season in which Betances looks visibly fatigued in September. The high-end velocity might be there — Betances topped out at 100.6 mph last night — but he can’t locate anything and his breaking ball lacks its usual bite. Working back-to-back-to-back days three times in the last five weeks after doing it once from Opening Day 2014 through July 2016 probably has something to do it.

The greater issue is the cumulative effect of all the innings Betances has thrown the last few years. He’s thrown 70 innings this season and is on pace for 77.2 innings. That’s down from 84 last year and 90 the year before that. The single-season workload only matters so much though. There is wear-and-tear on his arm from those 90 innings in 2014 and 84 innings in 2015. Betances has thrown 244 innings the last three years, 20.1 more than any other reliever.

It’s not just the raw innings totals either. Girardi can be a bit panicky at times and get Betances up at the slightly hint of danger. Four-run lead in the eighth or ninth? Dellin gets up. We’ve seen it countless times the last few years. Those warm-up pitchers count. They’re pitches being thrown. Add in all the warm-ups and the fact those 244 innings from 2014-16 were almost all high-leverage innings, and it’s no wonder he’s getting worn down despite being 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds.

Betances’ days as a super-reliever who’d come in and get five or six high-leverage outs at a time may be over. Going forward, it may be best for the Yankees to consider him a true one-inning reliever, a guy who throws 65-ish innings a season rather than closer to 80. It sucks and it takes away from Dellin’s value a bit, but keeping him healthy and effective long-term has to be a priority.

* * *

Betances is literally the last player on the roster I’m worried about. His recent slump sucks and is very poorly timed — did you expect the Yankees to be playing meaningful games in mid-September after the way they started the season? of course not — but I don’t see it as being anything more than “he’s running on fumes and is in a slump.” I trust him implicitly as the closer and just wish he’d start holding runners better.

If the Yankees miss the postseason, it won’t be because Betances blew some games this week. It’ll be because Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez completely no-showed this season, and because the rotation has been mostly crap behind Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees are still in the race largely because Betances has been so awesome this season at protecting leads. The last week or so doesn’t change that.

Yankees have not yet spoken to Eovaldi about future with the team

(Tasos Katopodis/Getty)
(Tasos Katopodis/Getty)

A little more than one month ago, right-hander Nathan Eovaldi made what could very well be the final start of his Yankees career. Eovaldi tore his flexor tendon and ulnar collateral ligament during a start against the Red Sox on August 10th, and soon thereafter underwent surgery to repair both. He’s going to miss all of next season.

“It’s been a slow (rehab) process,” said Eovaldi to Fred Kerber. “I’ve been doing everything I’ve been told … My arm’s just getting better, healthy again. We’re looking at 2018. But you can never tell with rehabs. If you get setback, it could be a while. If everything goes good, you could be ahead of schedule and then you’re in control.”

The timing of the injury ensures the Yankees will non-tender Eovaldi this offseason. He’s due to become a free agent after next year, and there’s no sense in paying him $7M+ to rehab in 2017 only to lose him to free agency after the season. The business side of the game can be cruel. Eovaldi’s going to be injured and unemployed in a few weeks.

The Yankees have a history of signing injured pitchers and patiently nursing them back to health (Jon Lieber, David Aardsma, Matt Daley, Andrew Bailey, etc.), and it stands to reason they could look to do the same with Eovaldi. If that’s the plan, they’ve yet to speak to him about it.

“Nothing yet,” said Eovaldi to Brendan Kuty when asked whether the team has spoken to him about his future. “It’s kind of out of my control. There’s nothing I can do about it. My main goal is just to focus on recovery and getting healthy, whenever it is.”

The going rate for an injured pitcher these days seems to be a two-year contract in the $8M range. Kris Medlen signed a two-year deal worth $8.5M with the Royals last year, when he was rehabbing from his second Tommy John surgery. Mike Minor inked a two-year, $7.25M off shoulder surgery this past offseason, also with the Royals.

Neither the Medlen nor the Minor deal has paid off for the Royals, so while they set the market for Eovaldi, they’re also cautionary tales. The second Tommy John procedure is much riskier than the first, and given the torn flexor tendon, it wouldn’t be too surprising if Eovaldi’s rehab carries over into early 2018 as well. This is a big deal.

Between the Yankees having gobs of money and the expectation that pitching will be hard to come by the next year or two, bringing Eovaldi back on a two-year deal makes sense for the Yankees. They can afford to take the risk. Even if Eovaldi has to move to the bullpen full-time, it’d be worth it. I’d be surprised if the team didn’t at least explore re-signing him after the season.