Game Ten: Time for Tanaka to right the ship

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Through the first two turns through the rotation, Masahiro Tanaka has been the Yankees’ worst starting pitcher, and I didn’t expect to say that at any point this season. Tanaka’s last start wasn’t truly awful (5 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 5 K) but he still didn’t look quite like himself. His location was poor, and hey, Tanaka said he didn’t feel right mechanically all throughout Spring Training. We all just kinda brushed it off because he was dominating.

Tonight Tanaka and the Yankees will face the St. Louis Cardinals, who are making their first ever trip to the new Yankee Stadium. The last time they visited New York for an interleague series with 2003, when Tino Martinez returned to the Bronx for the first time since being let go as a free agent. This series is the return of, uh, Eric Fryer? Fryer, the Cardinals backup catcher, is the guy the Yankees got from the Brewers in the Chase Wright trade in 2009. The Yankees later sent Fryer to the Pirates for Eric Hinske at the deadline. So there’s your tie-in for the series. Here is the Cardinals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. CF Jacoby Ellsbury (OMG)
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Another gorgeous day here in New York. The weather has been great all week. It’ll be a bit cold tonight, though the sky will be clear. Pretty much perfect. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

4/14 to 4/16 Series Preview: St. Louis Cardinals

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America)

It still seems strange to host a National League team as early as April 14, but year-round interleague play has been the norm since the Houston Astros moved to the AL West in 2013. This won’t be quite so jarring, though, as the superior league’s rules will be in-play.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited the Cardinals back in May of 2014, winning two out of three against the defending National League champions. Hiroki Kuroda and Alfredo Aceves picked up the wins, and David Phelps took the loss. A few interesting notes:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury batted third in all three games (and went 5-for-12 with 2 walks, 3 runs, 3 stolen bases);
  • Eight pitchers took the ball for the Yankees, and only two (Dellin Betances and Adam Warren) are still in pinstripes;
  • The first game was an extra innings affair, in which Alfonso Soriano drove in what proved to be the game-winning run;
  • Brian Roberts went 5-for-13 with 2 doubles, a walk, and 3 runs scored in the series.

Injury Report

The Cardinals currently have four pitchers on the disabled list, none of which will pitch this series – Alex Reyes, John Gant, Tyler Lyons, and Zach Duke. Reyes, a consensus top-10 prospect, is the biggest loss on this list as he was expected to be a fixture in the team’s rotation this season (and for many seasons to come). He’ll miss the entirety of 2017 following Tommy John surgery.

Their Story So Far

St. Louis is currently 3-6, and have been outscored by 14 runs (34 runs scored, 48 allowed) thus far. They aren’t hitting (their 72 wRC+ ranks 28th in the Majors), and their bullpen has been downright atrocious, with a worst-in-baseball 7.86 ERA. And there was also this tomfoolery:

(Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

That isn’t a trick of the light or a Photoshop job – that’s a ball sticking to Yadier Molina’s chest protector. It was a short-lived scandal, as the league cleared Molina and the Cardinals of any wrongdoing relatively expeditiously, but that bit of comedy has been the highlight of their season.

The Lineup We Might See

Mike Matheny utilizes a few platoons, most notably at 2B (Kolten Wong vs. RHP, Jedd Gyorko vs. LHP) and in the corner OF spots (Matt Adams vs. RHP, Stephen Piscotty vs. LHP). They also give their players regular rest, which has led to them utilizing six different lineups in eight games (excluding the pitcher). Adding in a designated hitter throws a further wrinkle into guessing what we might see this weekend. Excuses aside, it will probably look something like this against Masahiro Tanaka on Friday and Michael Pineda on Sunday:

  1. Dexter Fowler, CF
  2. Aledmys Diaz, SS
  3. Matt Carpenter, 1B
  4. Matt Adams, DH
  5. Yadier Molina, C
  6. Jhonny Peralta, 3B
  7. Stephen Piscotty, RF
  8. Randal Grichuk, LF
  9. Kolten Wong, 2B

And something like this against CC Sabathia on Saturday:

  1. Fowler, CF
  2. Diaz, SS
  3. Carpenter, 1B
  4. Peralta, 3B
  5. Molina, C
  6. Piscotty, RF
  7. Jedd Gyorko, 2B
  8. Grichuk, LF
  9. Adams, DH

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Wacha

Wacha struggled mightily in 2016, posting career-worsts in K/9, K%, BB/9, HR/9, ERA, and FIP, and spending time on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. While he has yet to live-up to the hype set by his NLCS MVP award as a rookie (2 GS, 13.2 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 13 K), he has otherwise been a solid cog in the Cardinals rotation for four-plus seasons. His biggest issue may well be staying healthy, but he’s still only 25-years-old.

He’s primarily a fastball/change-up guy, with a low-to-mid 90s fastball, low-90s cutter, and mid-to-high 80s change-up accounting for 90 to 95% of his offerings.

Last Outing (vs. CIN on 4/8) – 6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Carlos Martinez

When Martinez first made his way to the show in 2013, it was as a reliever. And, despite his fantastic stuff and track record, there was always talk that his ultimate fate would be in the bullpen, as many believed that his 6’0″, 190 pound frame could not hold up to the rigors of full season in the rotation. Fast forward to today, and that sounds foolish at best as he produced 6.7 fWAR in 375 IP between 2015 and 2016 (along with a shiny 3.02 ERA). He keeps the ball on the ground (54.2% GB for his career) and racks up strikeouts (22.6 K%), and he’s still just 25.

Martinez throws a four-seamer and two-seamer, both in the mid-90s, a hard curveball in the low-to-mid 80s, and a mid-to-high 80s change piece. He picks up most of his strikeouts with the curve, though he also gets plenty of whiffs (15.4% last year, 21.6% in 2015) on his change-up.

Last Outing (vs. CIN on 4/9) – 5.0 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 3 K

Sunday (8:05 PM EST): RHP Adam Wainwright

If it seems as if Wainwright has been around forever, it’s probably because he kind of has. The 35-year-old has been in the Cardinals organization since 2003, having been acquired from the Braves alongside Jason Marquis in exchange for J.D. Drew. He began to show his age last season, posting the worst ERA of his career (4.62) by nearly a full run, as well as his worst FIP. There have been some suggestions that it was due to the rust from a lost 2015 season, but his ERA (4.49 to 4.79) and FIP (3.43 to 4.56) were much better in the first half. With a few surgeries and 2500-plus professional innings under his belt, it wouldn’t be shocking if this is who Wainwright is now.

Wainwright still works with three fastballs – a low-90s four-seamer, a low-90s sinker, and a mid-80s cutter – and a big breaking curveball. His velocity hasn’t dropped all that much, either, and he was never a hard-thrower.

Last Outing (vs. WAS on 4/10) – 4.0 IP, 11 H, 6 R, 2 BB, 3 K

The Bullpen

As I said above, the bullpen has been terrible thus far. The Cardinals currently have five relievers with an ERA over 6.00, including the $30 MM man Brett Cecil (13.50), and closer Seung Hwan Oh (9.64). The group has combined to allow six home runs in just 26.1 IP, and a lack of control (13 BB and 5 HBP) has only made matters worse. Their bullpen was middle-of-the-pack last year, and many of the pieces remain the same (Oh, Kevin Siegrist, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Bowman, and Trevor Rosenthal), and Cecil has essentially replaced the injured Zach Duke. One has to imagine that they’ll turn it around soon enough – let’s just hope it’s not this weekend.

Who (Or What) to Watch

Aside from Molina’s chest protector, of course.

Matt Carpenter is a personal favorite, as a player who is constantly reinventing himself. He didn’t make his professional debut until he was 23, and he was essentially a non-prospect (even as he decimated minor league pitching) right up until his rookie year. All that he has done since then is post a 132 wRC+ in 3000-plus big league plate appearances. Carpenter also retooled his approach after the 2014 season, with a bit more aggression and a larger uppercut in his swing, resulting in significantly more power without losing much of anything. And, just for fun, he stopped swinging at the first pitch of the game in 2016, swinging at just 13.4% of the first pitch in his plate appearances overall.

From the Yankees perspective, it might be fun to see how Matt Holliday reacts to playing his old team for the first time; though, it would’ve been a better moment if the series was in St. Louis.

Gleyber, Chance and the Trenton Thunder’s home opener

(Steven Tydings/ River Ave. Blues)
(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

With the minor league season a week old, the Trenton Thunder finally came home Thursday night to open up the Arm & Hammer Park portion of their season.

If you’ve never been to the park, it’s a great experience, especially with a relatively packed crowd like last night. It’s a quintessential minor league experience with multiple mascots, a bat dog (!) and a chance to see future major leaguers up close for really cheap prices. That’s pretty ideal. Arm & Hammer Park is the place to be this spring/summer with how stacked the Yankees’ farm system is right now.

Here are my observations from Thursday’s game.

(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

1. Gleyber mania: All of the Yankees’ top prospects over the last 15 years have come through Trenton at some point. Robinson Cano, Jesus Montero, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, etc. They were all with the Double A Yankees at some point. Having been a teenaged autograph hawk back in the day, I remember the reception for each player at this level.

For his first game, the reception for Gleyber Torres may have been the most fanatical. The Thunder were prepared with having their people near the first base line, but fans were lined up a couple rows deep mostly for Torres. I saw more Torres Topps cards than I thought existed. He dealt with it well, signing and going about his business.

Andujar and Torres (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
Andujar and Torres (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

2. Gleyber a pro at the plate: Even though a 1-for-4 day wasn’t Torres’ best in Double A, he still put together an impressive night. He grounded out softly his first AB and was called out on a questionable third strike his second AB. Portland Sea Dogs lefty Jalen Beeks pounded him with strikes and didn’t face Torres after his command collapsed in the fourth inning.

Torres then got two ABs against the Sea Dogs’ bullpen, the first one being his best. He worked the count to 2-1 with a solid eye and then pounced on the fourth pitch. With Rashad Crawford trying to steal second, the second baseman covered the bag and Torres lined a ball right where he would have been. Just a solid piece of hitting. He grounded into a double play his last AB.

As for in the field, he wasn’t challenged much. He helped turn a DP in the eighth. That was about it for his fielding chances.

3. A tale of two Chance Adams: For four innings, Adams looked like Michael Pineda from Monday. He was getting ahead of hitters, pounding them with his 92-94 mph fastball and putting them away with either his slider or a second helping of fastball. He went to a full count and caught Red Sox’ top prospect Rafael Devers looking in an impressive at-bat.

Devers lined a ball up the middle to end Adams’ no-hit bid in the fifth inning and things came unraveled in the sixth. An infield hit and an error (more on each in a bit) set up the Sea Dogs and Adams simply didn’t look as comfortable in the stretch. He slowed down significantly after moving at a considerable pace in the first few innings. He walked his second batter of the evening, fought back with a strikeout, but then gave up a monster two-run double. He recovered to get another out and his night was done after 5 2/3.

Overall, not a bad outing. He really has some solid strikeout stuff and proved he can put away hitters, flashing his fastball, slider and changeup all night. He’s now 10-1 with a 1.89 ERA over 81 innings in Trenton and he may be ready for a new challenge.

4. Rafael Devers is a problem: With Andrew Benintendi in the majors, Devers is now atop the Red Sox’ prospect lists. He’s considered the top third base prospect in all of baseball by many outlets. He was No. 13 overall in Baseball Prospectus’ preseason list, No. 17 for MLB.com and No. 18 for Baseball America. Just two months older than Torres, he won’t turn 21 until October.

He put together four impressive plate appearances Thursday night. He worked a full count on Adams when Chance was cruising. He picked up the first hit of the game with a liner that nearly took over Adams’ head. With the bases loaded in the sixth, he clobbered an Adams’ pitch to deep centerfield. It would have been a three-run double if the runner from first didn’t slip rounding third.

Devers added another single in the eighth for good measure. The lefty with some strong power looked ready to go at the plate and showed it with his performance. His swings were strong. He struggled to field a ball to begin the Thunder’s five-run fourth (it went as a hit), but he’s a prospect known for his bat first.

Justus Sheffield signing (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
Justus Sheffield signing (Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

5. Best of the rest: Billy McKinney had a line drive triple to the right field gap and a walk. The triple was perhaps the most impressive hit for a Yankees’ prospect during the game. Princeton product Mike Ford had a deep double to right and catcher Jorge Saez had a homer that cleared the high left field wall in left.

Miguel Andujar had an infield single but struggled with the rest of the game. His error in the sixth led to Portland’s three-run inning that included two unearned runs. As Mike pointed out in DotF, that’s three errors in seven games so far. Yikes.

Portland shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin led off that sixth inning with an infield single. He was easily exploited at the plate most of the night, but his blazing speed gave him the single. For a lot of players, it would have been a routine ground out to second. He beat it out with what has to be at least 65/70-grade speed.

Yankeemetrics: Home Sweep Home (April 10-13)

(AP)
(AP)

#HugeMike
The Yankees 115th home opener nearly ended up as one of the most memorable in franchise history, as Michael Pineda flirted with a perfect game and gave fans much to cheer about on a gorgeous Monday afternoon at the ballpark.

Pineda is equal parts fantastic and frustrating, enigmatic and electric, dazzling and depressing. And just two starts into the 2017 season, he’s displayed both sides of his Jekyll-and-Hyde talent:

Less than a week after a miserable season-opening outing (3⅔ innings, 4 runs, 8 hits), Pineda was brilliant and dominated the same Rays lineup, retiring the first 20 batters he faced until Evan Longoria drilled a double into the left field corner with two outs in the seventh inning.

Armed with his wipeout slider, pinpoint command of his fastball and an effective changeup, Pineda whiffed 11 and allowed just two hits in 7⅔ innings. Pineda is the first Yankees pitcher to throw six perfect innings to start the team’s home opener, and also the first Yankees pitcher with double-digit strikeouts and no walks in the first home game of the season.

Before Pineda, the last Yankee in any game to pitch at least seven innings, get 11-plus strikeouts and allow no more than two baserunners was Mike Mussina in his epic near-perfecto against the Red Sox on Sept. 2, 2001.

Pineda was in complete control of nearly every at-bat, starting off 17 of the 25 batters with an 0-1 count, getting to 0-2 or 1-2 against 16 of those guys, and he got himself into a three-ball count just twice. A career-best nine of the 11 strikeouts came on his slider, which generated 11 whiffs on 20 swings.

pineda-k-vs-rays

Last year Pineda’s slider had a 46.2 percent swing-and-miss rate, fifth-best among starting pitchers (min. 500 pitches), and his 146 strikeouts with the slider ranked second behind Chris Archer (151).

Pineda’s gem wasn’t the only good news to come out of Monday’s win. The offense exploded for eight runs, thanks to the power bats of Aaron Judge, Chase Headley and Starlin Castro. While Judge’s homer was a majestic bomb that went 397 feet, Headley’s and Castro’s dingers barely cleared the fences. In fact, under normal conditions, their hits wouldn’t have been homers in any of the other 29 ballparks.

(Gettty)
(Gettty)

#AllRise for The Judge
As bad as the Yankees have fared against the Orioles at Camden Yards in recent years, they’ve been just as good at Yankee Stadium against another AL East foe, the Tampa Bay Rays. Following Wednesday’s 8-4 win, they’ve now won eight straight home series over the Rays, their longest such streak against any opponent at the current Yankee Stadium.

The pregame chatter focused on the debut 24-year-old Jordan Montgomery, who became the first Yankee southpaw to start in his major-league debut since Chase Wright and Kei Igawa in April 2007.

Montgomery was impressive out of the gate, striking out the the first two Rays that came to the plate. The last Yankee to make his big-league debut as a starter and strike out the first and second guys he faced was Mariano Rivera on May 23, 1995 vs the Angels.

Montgomery finished with seven strikeouts in 4⅔ innings, the most punchouts by a Yankee lefty in his first career MLB appearance since Al Leiter struck out eight in 1987.

No Gary Sanchez, no Greg Bird, no problem. The Yankees offense continued to roll thanks to the third slugger in the Baby Bomber trio, Aaron Judge, who had two hits and drove in three runs on Wednesday. Judge showed off his ridiculous power on both the hits:

  • The first one was a bullet line-drive RBI single that tied the game in the sixth inning and rocketed off his bat at 116.5 mph. It was the fastest base hit of 2017 by any player, and gave him four exit velocities of at least 115 mph this season – while the rest of MLB had combined for seven such balls in play through Wednesday’s games.
  • The second hit was a 437-foot homer that gave the Yankees an 8-3 cushion in the seventh inning. It was his third homer of the season, making him just the fourth Yankee under age 25 with at least three home runs in the team’s first eight games. The others are the list are not bad: Derek Jeter (1999), Bobby Murcer (1969) and Mickey Mantle (1956).
(Getty)
(Getty)

Three Times a Charm
The Yankees won their fourth straight game on Thursday night, wiping away the bad taste of that awful 1-4 start as they climbed above .500 (5-4) for the first time this season. The victory also gave them their first sweep of three-or-more games against the Rays at Yankee Stadium since September 2009.

And how can we forget that the Yankees first sweep last season didn’t come until May 22 (four-gamer in Oakland), and that their first three-game series sweep happened on September 7 against the Blue Jays.

Aaron Hicks was the night’s biggest hero at the plate, belting two home runs, including the game-winner that flipped a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was his third career go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later, and all three have come in pinstripes and against a division rival (Thursday vs. Rays; Sept. 26, 2016 at Toronto; May 6, 2016 vs. Red Sox).

The switch-hitter Hicks made sure that Luis Severino‘s stellar performance on the mound wouldn’t be wasted and helped the young Dominican earn his first win as a starter since Sept. 27, 2015 vs the White Sox. Severino flashed the electric stuff he showed during his rookie year, limiting the Rays to two runs while fanning a career-high 11 batters in seven strong innings, and etching his name in the franchise record books.

At 23 years and 52 days old, he’s the youngest Yankee right-hander in the last 100 years with more than 10 strikeouts in a game. The only others younger than Severino with 11-plus Ks in a game were all lefties: Al Leiter (1988), Dave Righetti (1981) and Al Downing (1963, 1964).

Mailbag: Pitcher Trade Targets, Otani, Pineda, YES, Barbato

I’ve got eleven questions in the mailbag this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us questions, comments, links, or whatever else throughout the week.

Grendall Kaveman. (Jason O. Watson/Getty)
Grendall Kaveman. (Jason O. Watson/Getty)

Daniel asks: If the Yankees manage to contend this season, and they are in the market for a young, controllable starting pitcher, who do you think would be a realistic trade target other than the often-mentioned Quintana?

This question comes up every few months and it’s always worth revisiting because the Yankees will never not need pitching. And with next year’s rotation so up in the air, I’m sure we’re going to talk plenty about potential pitching targets in the coming weeks and months. Here are three non-Quintana possible pitcher trade candidates.

LHP Brandon Finnegan, Reds: He probably walks too many guys for the Yankees liking (11.4 BB% in 2016), but a four-pitch lefty who has shown signs of missing bats and getting grounders is always someone worth looking at. Finnegan turned 24 today — he’s three and a half months younger than Jordan Montgomery — and he won’t be a free agent until after 2021. The big question is whether the Reds consider him a long-term building block, or someone expendable as part of the rebuild.

RHP Kendall Graveman, Athletics: Graveman was part of the Josh Donaldson trade and he’s emerged as a solid starter while throwing basically the same pitch in the same spot over and over. If you’re going to throw only one pitch as a starter, sinkers at a knees is the way to go. Graveman is 26 and he won’t be a free agent until after 2020, but the A’s have a history of trading their best players once they start to get expensive through arbitration, and Graveman will be arbitration-eligible for the first time after the season.

RHP Vince Velasquez, Phillies: Supposedly the 24-year-old Velasquez has fallen out of favor with the front office a little bit, and his name popped up in trade rumors over the winter, so I guess he could be available. He throws hard and misses bats (27.6 K% in 2017) and the Yankees love that, but a lack of grounders (34.8 GB% in 2016) and an ugly injury history — Velasquez had biceps and shoulder woes last year, plus other arm issues in the minors — are red flags. Velasquez is under team control through 2021.

The Rockies seem to have more young starters than rotation spots, though they need as much pitching as they can get in Coors Field, so I bet they’ll hang onto it all. As always, pitchers on rebuilding clubs like the Brewers (Jimmy Nelson?) and Padres (uh, nevermind) can’t be ruled out either. Who knows who will be made available down the line? The Yankees love their prospects, though I expect them to cast a wide net for pitching. They’ll check in on anyone and everyone.

Eric asks: Hi – isn’t the debate over whether NYC is a Yankee or Mets town tiresome? I think both teams have a solid base and the floating fans go where there is more excitement at the moment.

Yes. It seems to be driven entirely by the media and Mets fans, specifically the 7 Line Army. Whatever floats their boat, I guess. The Mets are finally good again and the Yankees have hit a lull, so if there was ever a time to argue New York is a Mets town, this is it. At the end of the day, the Yankees are the most recognizable brand in sports, and it’ll be basically impossible for the Mets to match their popularity, either now or in the future.

David asks (short version): Like you, I find it hard to believe Otani will come to MLB this offseason and forego tens of millions of dollars. But let’s assume he does, can you speculate on how it plays out? I would think there’s no official announcement until the NPB season is over; will MLB teams trust back-channel info and sit out the Intl signing season to save pool dollars?

With Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish, we were left wondering whether they’d be posted right up until they were actually posted. We only saw rumors they could come over, nothing definitive. There was plenty of “their team might wait because they don’t think they’ll get enough money now” talk going around. Things might be different with Shohei Otani given the international hard cap, and teams kinda have to hope it is. They’ll need advance notice so they can plan their July 2nd activity. Otherwise they basically have to guess.

Because the hard cap makes this a level playing field financially — teams still have to pay the $20M release fee, and every single one of them can afford it, don’t believe otherwise — this becomes more of an old fashioned sell job. You’ll have to sell Otani on the team and the ability the win, the ballpark, the city, the fans, the whole nine. (And promise to let him hit?) My guess right now is Otani will not come over this offseason and will instead announce he is coming over next year. That gives MLB teams a chance to plan ahead, and it’ll also put the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals, Astros, Nationals, and others back in the mix. (Those teams are limited to $300,000 bonuses this year due to prior spending penalties.)

Big Mike's big ovation. (Al Bello/Getty)
Big Mike‘s big ovation. (Al Bello/Getty)

Mike asks: During the home opener, a stat was fed to the booth: Pineda was throwing 20% changeups this time vs. 4% usually. 1) This was certainly not Austin Romine‘s idea, was it? 2) Does it strike you as a possible magic bullet?

I’ll answer the second question first: no. I don’t believe there’s a magic fix for Michael Pineda or any pitcher for that matter. I think Monday was just Pineda having a great day. Nothing more. I’ve seen enough of this guy to know better than to read too much into one start. If he does it again, and again after that, and again a few more times after that, I’ll start to buy into it. For now, it was just a good day for Pineda.

As for the first question, it’s possible the changeups were Romine’s idea, though neither he nor Pineda said anything about increased usage of his changeup after Monday’s game. Romine caught Pineda six times last season and he had a 3.82 ERA in 35.1 innings. With Gary Sanchez and Brian McCann, Pineda had a 5.00 ERA. Here is last year’s pitch selection by catcher:

IP Fastballs Sliders Changeups
McCann
84 52.4% 39.3% 8.3%
Romine 35.1 51.9% 41.0% 7.1%
Sanchez 56.1 51.2% 43.3% 5.5%

Romine did call for the changeup more often than Sanchez, but not by much. We’re talking roughly three extra changeups every two starts. That doesn’t mean Romine won’t push the changeup on Pineda this year, of course. Pitching plans and approaches change. Like I said earlier, I’ve watched this guy pitch enough to know it’s not wise to think something clicked because he had a great start. He’s done this before. I need to see more before buying in even a little.

Zev asks: Did the Yankees potentially lose an entire year of service time for Jordan Montgomery by pitching him on the 12th instead of the 16th?

Yes, actually. That’s assuming he spends the rest of the season in the big leagues, which I don’t think is a safe bet given the way the Yankees shuttle pitchers in and out. In the world of baseball 172 days equals a full year of service, though the regular season actually runs 183 days each year, so you have to keep a player down 12 days to ensure they finish the season with 171 days of service time, thus delaying free agency. (Most teams wait a few extra days to be safe and also be less obvious about it.)

The Yankees called Montgomery up on April 12th, the 11th day of the season, so he was kept down for ten days. Two more days in Triple-A this season will push Montgomery’s free agency back from the 2022-23 offseason to the 2023-24 offseason. That is a lifetime away in pitcher years. My guess is Montgomery will end up spending those two extra days in Triple-A at some point, probably much more than that, but I wouldn’t worry about it. He’s ready, let him pitch. I’m not going to sweat a non-top pitching prospect’s service time.

Update: The new Collective Bargaining Agreement stretched the season to 187 days. They added some extra off-days at the MLBPA’s request. I forgot about that. So that means prospects have to be kept down 16 days to delay free agency, not 12. Not a huge difference, but a difference nonetheless.

Arjun asks: How much do you think minor league versus major league scouting reports affect performance of pitchers who get promoted? I would assume that scouting reports are far more detailed and poured over at the major league level. Is there a lot of adjusting for pitchers to understand how to use those scouting reports to their advantage?

Scouting reports in the minors are pretty detailed. Not as detailed as they are in MLB simply because there’s more data available about big leaguers, but clubs get in-depth reports in the minors. I absolutely think having better scouting reports helps young pitchers in the big leagues, but keep in mind this cuts both ways — the hitters have better scouting reports on the pitchers too. And, ultimately, the pitcher still has to execute. You can have the best and most detailed scouting reports in the world, but if you hang a slider, it won’t matter.

Mickey asks: Have you noticed a change to the center field camera from last season to this season? It seems to be more center than in years’ past. Possibly due to the renovations at Yankee Stadium?

I was hoping we’d get a true center field camera this season now that the center field area has been renovated, but alas, it did not happen. The main YES camera angle is still offset a tad. Here is this year’s camera angle and last year’s:

yes-camera-2016-vs-2017

It looks a little closer to true center field, but not quite all away. That’s about as close as they can get it anyway. They’d have to get the camera higher up to avoid having the pitcher blocking the plate with a dead center angle, and if they do that, the camera guy is going to be in front of the center field scoreboard. I guess I’ll just be envious of all the teams with true center field cameras.

Kevin asks (short version): With today’s news that Barbato was released to make room for Jordan Montgomery, it got me thinking about the Jose Quintana decision. I can see he was released on November 2, 2011 with a number of other players. Does that mean he was not included on the 40 man roster for Rule 5? Is it possible to look at who the Yankees kept instead of him?

The Yankees did not release Quintana. He became a minor league free agent. Typically a player needs to play six years before qualifying for minor league free agency, but if he gets released before that, he can become a minor league free agent after every season going forward. That’s what happened with Quintana. He originally signed with the Mets, spent a few years in their farm system, then got released after failing a drug test and getting suspended. The Yankees scooped him up and he spent parts of four seasons in the farm system.

Quintana became a minor league free agent following the 2011 season, a few weeks before his 23rd birthday. The Yankees added five players to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft that offseason: David Phelps, D.J. Mitchell, Zoilo Almonte, David Adams, and Corban Joseph. All five were top 30 prospects at the time. Brandon Laird was also on the 40-man roster that winter. Who knows whether Quintana would become what he is today had he remained with the Yankees — probably not since joining the White Sox changed his entire career path — but the Yankees goofed letting him go. Plain and simple. No one bats 1.000 in this game.

Mike asks: At what point do statistics become significant? Obviously the answer is “it depends” but when can we start to take success (or struggles) seriously?

It depends on the stat. Some stabilize and become reliable more quickly than others. Off the top of my head, strikeout rate is the fastest one, for both pitchers and hitters. That stabilizes pretty quickly. The FanGraphs Glossary has a good breakdown of reliable sample sizes for different stats. I’d love to see similar info for PitchFX stats like whiff rate for individual pitches, etc. One day, maybe. It’s possible to acknowledge a player is having a great start (Aaron Judge) or bad start (Greg Bird) after only a few games without saying “this is who he is now.” Ideally, I’d wait until the end of April before digging deeper.

Barbato. (Presswire)
Barbato. (Presswire)

Brent asks: Was dfa ing barbato the best choice? Seemed like he might have upside as a reliever and were starting a project converting him to a starter? Would refsnyder or someone else be a better option and will we permanently lose barbato?

I have no idea what will happen with Johnny Barbato next, though optionable relievers with a history of missing bats tend to get scooped up on waivers. My guess is we see a trade involving cash or a player to be named later in the coming days. I figured Barbato would be a 40-man roster casualty soon — not getting a September call-up last year was pretty telling — and I’m actually surprised he lasted this long. I thought he would go over the winter.

The Yankees have four healthy position players on the 40-man roster and not in MLB right now: Miguel Andujar, Jorge Mateo, Rob Refsnyder, and Mason Williams. Andujar and Mateo aren’t call-up candidates yet, so Refsnyder is the infield depth and Williams is the outfield depth. That’s it. The Yankees have enough pitcher call-up candidates (Luis Cessa, Dietrich Enns, Gio Gallegos, Chad Green, Chasen Shreve, etc.) but only one infielder. Cut Refsnyder, then you’ll have to cut someone else to call-up an infielder should someone get hurt. Simply put, it’s much easier for the Yankees to replace Barbato than Refsnyder.

Dan asks: When a minor leaguer gets Tommy John surgery, at what point do we consider him being “back” in the minors versus making rehab starts in the minors? To put it another way if Kaprelian starts a game next June in low-A is he “rehabbing” or is he back? It’s not like he has to build up arm strength to help out the big league team. They could theoretically have him pitching no more than 3 innings at a time for several months next year.

Eh, it’s hard to say, and I’m not sure it’s all that important either. Chances are the Yankees will have James Kaprielian make his first few appearances in Extended Spring Training, so once he pops back up with one of the minor league affiliates, that’s when you’ll know the team believes he’s ready for more intense competition. Those first few starts are going to be rehab starts no matter what. I’m not sure there will be a moment we can say Kaprielian is “back” the way Ivan Nova came back from Tommy John when he returned to the MLB team. Hopefully he gets through his rehab well and comes back a better pitcher. That’s all I’m worried about.

Sweep! Severino dominates, Hicks goes deep twice in 3-2 win over Rays

Sweep! The Yankees picked up their fourth straight win Thursday night, this one a 3-2 victory over the Rays. They came back from what many seemed to believe was an insurmountable one-run deficit based on what I saw in our comments and on Twitter. Fighting Spirit! The Yankees have won their first three home games for the first time since 2006. Also, their +12 run differential is second best in the AL as of this writing. Neato.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

A-A-Bombs From A-A-Ron
Aaron Hicks has been a Yankee for one season and two weeks, and in that time, he’s shown three 80 tools on the 20-80 scouting scale. First, his throwing arm. It’s a rocket. Two, his walk-up music. Tonight he walked up to Return of the Mack all four at-bats. Last year he used Dead Prez. And three, he has a way of shutting people up. It’s a very Stephen Drew-ish quality, I’d say.

Don’t get me wrong, Hicks has been terrible for much of his time in pinstripes and he’s earned the criticism, yet every time it begins to pile up, he goes out and does some big things. On Thursday night against the Rays, those big things were a pair of home runs. One from each side of the plate. He opened the scoring with a first inning solo homer against righty Matt Andriese, and he turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead with a seventh inning two-run shot against left Xavier Cedeno. Both homers came in 1-1 counts and they were crushed. Gone off the bat.

The second home run was obviously the big one, though there isn’t really an interesting story to it. Cedeno just hung the hell out of a breaking ball and Hicks clobbered it, which is exactly what he should have done. Just a terrible pitch all around. Hicks is the first Yankees to go deep from both sides of the plate in one game since (who else?) Mark Teixeira. Teixeira last did it in July 2015. Hicks was only in the lineup because Brett Gardner is still banged up following that nasty collision yesterday, and he came through. Nice work, A-A-Ron.

Of course, the Yankees needed that seventh inning home run to take the lead because they blew some opportunities earlier in the game. In the third inning they had runners on first and second with one out, but Starlin Castro went down on strikes. In the fourth they had runners at second and third with two outs, but Ronald Torreyes lined out. There was some baserunning silliness in that fourth inning too. Chase Headley was held up at third on Austin Romine‘s double even though Steven Souza’s throw was way up the line, then Headley failed to score on a wild pitch.

Watching the game live, I thought the hold at third on the double was smart. Souza got to the ball quickly and threw it in. By time it was clear the throw was well off the mark, Headley was already retreating to third base. Andriese backed up the play well too. The wild pitch though? Yeesh. Headley should have scored on that. The Yankees also wasted a leadoff double in the sixth, and a leadoff walk/wild pitch combo in the eighth. Groan. They went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position but won away, because dingers. Dingers dingers dingers.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Seven Strong From Sevy
That was, by a not small margin, Luis Severino‘s best start since 2015. I thought it was a mistake to send him back out for the sixth inning to face the middle of the lineup a third time, but Severino responded with three strikeouts sandwiched around a harmless single. Shows what I know. He then went out for the seventh inning and added two more strikeouts plus a pop-up. His eleven strikeouts are a new career high.

The end result was two runs allowed on five hits and one walk in seven innings. The only real negative is that Severino got beat by the bottom of the lineup. A walk and an infield single in the second inning set up No. 9 hitter Jesus Sucre to drive in Tampa’s first run with a single. Then, in the fifth, Severino missed his spot badly with a 2-2 pitch and gave up a solo homer to No. 8 hitter Peter Bourjos. Look where Romine wanted the pitch and where it ended up:

luis-severino-peter-bourjos

Eh, not great Luis. Giving up two-strike dingers to dudes like Peter Bourjos is less than ideal. Severino still needs to work on limiting those mistakes because he missed his spot quite a bit in this game, especially in the early innings, but the sheer quality of his stuff allowed him to get away with it.

The Trackman system, which remains hit or miss, says Severino threw a whopping 28 changeups out of 104 total pitches in this game, and based on what I saw, that seems right. He threw it a ton. (It helped that the Rays had five lefties in their starting lineup.) Severino has a good changeup! We saw it in 2015. He lost confidence in it last year though and basically stopped throwing it. Now that he’s using it again, hitters can’t sit fastball/slider, and, well, you saw the results tonight. Very encouraging start to the year for Severino.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Leftovers
Dellin Betances made a mess of things in the eighth inning. He walked Sucre and allowed a single to Corey Dickerson to put runners on the corners with no outs, then he kicked it into overdrive. Strikeout of Kevin Kiermaier, strikeout of Evan Longoria, weak tapper up the line by Brad Miller. Inning over, runners stranded. Betances brought the pain after the first two batter reached. He was untouchable. Aroldis Chapman did was Aroldis Chapman does in the ninth.

The Yankees continue to get nice production from the bottom of the lineup. Romine had two hits, including a loud double off the right field wall that wasn’t too far from sneaking over for a cheap Yankee Stadium homer. Torreyes had a hit as well. Romine and Torreyes went 3-for-8 as the No. 8 and 9 hitters. Hicks had the two homers and both Castro and Headley had hits.

Greg Bird returned to the lineup and he still looks completely lost. He was late on several of Andriese’s 92 mph fastballs. It was not pretty. Bird went 0-for-4 with 3 strikeouts — he is 0-for-12 with eight strikeouts in his last three games — though at least the one time he did make contact, it was hard. He lined out to left field. Hopefully he snaps out of it soon. It’s only been 22 plate appearances with an injury and an illness mixed in.

Congrats to Aaron Judge. He is now the answer to a trivia question. In the ninth inning he became the first Yankee to be intentionally walked using the new automatic intentional walk rule. He stepped in the box, Rays manager Kevin Cash gave signal, and Judge went to first. It was … weird. Look away for a moment and you missed it. Judge then got picked off first with a snap throw from the catcher. Womp womp.

And finally, Castro won (lost?) the “last regular to draw a walk” race. He beat Jacoby Ellsbury by a few innings. Ellsbury drew his first walk of the season — it was only his second three-ball count of the season! — in the fifth inning. Castro drew his first walk in the eighth. (I should note Torreyes hasn’t walked yet, but he’s only a temporary regular. I still consider him a bench player.)

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head on over to ESPN for the box score and MLB.com for the video highlights. ESPN also has the standings, but it’s a little too early to check those every night. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
An interleague series! First of the year. The St. Louis Cardinals are coming to town for three games this weekend. This will be their first visit to the new Yankee Stadium and only their second visit to New York as part of interleague play. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Wacha are the schedule starters for Friday night’s series opener. Wacha-Tanaka rolls off the tongue nicely. Anyway, RAB Tickets can get you in the door for that game, or any other game this season.

DotF: Adams finally allows a hit in Trenton’s win

In case you missed it earlier, RHP James Kaprielian will indeed undergo Tommy John surgery. That stinks. He’ll have the procedure next Tuesday. See you next summer, Kap.

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Lehigh Valley, walk-off style)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 R
  • DH Clint Frazier: 0-4, 1 RBI
  • RF Rob Refsnyder: 2-3, 1 R, 2 RBI — had been 1-for-16 (.063) coming into this game
  • CF Mason Williams: 2-4, 1 2B — two two-hit games and four no-hit games on the young season
  • 1B Ji-Man Choi: 2-3, 1 RBI — walk-off sac fly
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 5 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 4/2 GB/FB — 44 of 64 pitches were strikes (69%) … second career Triple-A appearance … he’s making the spot start because Johnny Barbato was lined up to pitch today, but he’s currently in DFA limbo
  • LHP Joe Mantiply: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1/3 GB/FB — 23 of 33 pitches were strikes (70%) … the Yankees stretch just about everyone out to multiple innings in the minors, even the left-on-left matchup guys
  • LHP Chasen Shreve: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — ten of 16 pitches were strikes (63%)

[Read more…]