6/25 to 6/28 Series Preview: Houston Astros

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2015 season is weird, man. The Astros are actually good now after spending the last half-decade as the worst team in baseball. Intentionally, I might add. Houston basically went through the baseball version of tanking. They hoarded draft picks and traded every last veteran for prospects. I guess it worked. For the first half of the season, anyway.

What Have The Astros Done Lately?

The Angels beat the Astros in 13 innings yesterday and Houston dropped two of three in the series overall. They’ve lost four of their last six games. The ‘Stros are still in first place in the AL West at 42-32 with a +47 run differential. That’s the second best record and third best run differential in the AL.

Offense & Defense

The Astros have an extreme offense. They lead MLB in home runs (107) and strikeout rate (24.9%), rank third in stolen bases (57), and bottom ten in both AVG (.241) and OBP (.308). It all adds up an average of 4.47 runs per game and a team 104 wRC+. The Yankees have scored 45% of their runs on homers. That’s a lot. The Astros? They’re at 48%. I guess no one told them they’ll never win anything hitting all these home runs, amirite? Anyway, the Astros are without IF Jed Lowrie (finger) and OF Jake Marisnick (hamstring), neither of whom is due back to this series.

Correa. (Presswire)
Correa. (Presswire)

Manager A.J. Hinch builds his lineup around OF George Springer (141 wRC+), or, rather, behind Springer because he’s been hitting leadoff. The recently called up SS Carlos Correa (146 wRC+ in limited time) bats second. OF Colby Rasmus (125 wRC+) has played well in a platoon role and OF Preston Tucker (109 wRC+) has also done well since being called up a few weeks ago. 1B Chris Carter (101 wRC+) has been league average-ish thanks to his power (12 HR), not his batting average (.198).

2B Jose Altuve (93 wRC+) has somewhat predictably been unable to repeat last year’s success — I’m not sure anyone is a true talent .341 hitter these days — but he’s still a solid and very aggressive hitter. He never walks (5.9%) or strikes out (10.0%). DH Evan Gattis (87 wRC+) mashes taters and does little else at the plate. C Jason Castro (89 wRC+) has been okay for a catcher and UTIL Luis Valbuena (103 wRC+) has 19 homers and a .201 AVG. I guess that makes him the rich man’s Stephen Drew. C Hank Conger (114 wRC+), IF Marwin Gonzalez (82 wRC+), and OF Domingo Santana (132 wRC+ in very limited time) fill out the bench with their small sample size stats.

Depending on your choice of metric, the Astros are either a great defensive team (UZR) or a poor defensive team (DRS). Defense stats, man. Springer and Rasmus are great in the outfield and both Altuve and Correa are strong on the middle infield. Altuve seems to have the Brett Gardner problem — the defensive stats hate him even though everything else says he’s really good. Carter is basically a DH at first base and Valbuena’s fine in the field. Castro and Conger are both top notch pitch-framers. You can run on Conger (6% caught steal rate!) but not Castro (38%).

Pitching Matchups

Thursday (8pm ET): RHP Adam Warren (vs. HOU) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (vs. NYY)
Over the last year and a half, the 27-year-old Keuchel has developed into a bonafide top of the rotation starter, pitching to 2.72 ERA (3.22 FIP) in his last 307.1 innings. He has a 2.35 ERA (3.25 FIP) in 15 starts and 107.1 innings this season, and he does it by being the most extreme ground ball pitcher in the majors. Keuchel owns 64.1% ground ball rate in 2015, one year after posting a 63.5% ground ball rate, which was MLB’s highest grounder rate by a qualified starter in four seasons. He doesn’t give up homers as you’d expect (0.59 HR/9), and both his strikeout (19.9%) and walk (7.2%) rates are league average-ish. Righties (.255 wOBA) have had a lot more success again him than lefties (.172 wOBA), relatively speaking. Keuchel gets all those grounders with three pitches: upper-80s two-seamer (75.4 GB% vs. 49.5 GB% MLB average), upper-70s slider (52.7 GB% vs. 43.9 GB% average), and an upper-70s changeup (59.6 GB% vs. 47.8 GB% average). He also throws an upper-80s four-seamer to keep hitters honest. Keuchel’s an elite ground ball pitcher. His success is not a fluke.

Friday (8pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Vincent Velasquez (No vs. NYY)
The Astros called up the 23-year-old Velasquez earlier this month and he has a 4.15 ERA (3.80 FIP) in three starts and 13 innings. His strikeout rate (29.3%) is great but Velasquez has walked way too many batters (17.2%) and not gotten any ground balls (22.6%). He’s been able to keep the ball in the park for the time being (0.69 HR/9). Either his home run rate or his ground ball rate will climb going forward. Rates that low coexist only in small sample size land. Velasquez is your classic power arm with a mid-90 four-seam fastball. He’s thrown his low-80s curveball more than his low-80s changeup in his brief MLB time, but scouting reports from his prospect days (you know, April and May) say the change is actually his second best pitch, not the curve.

Saturday (4pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. HOU) vs. LHP Brett Oberholtzer (vs. NYY)
Oberholtzer, 25, has been limited to six starts and 32 innings this season by a nagging blister problem. He has a 2.81 ERA (3.39 FIP) in his limited action with great ground ball (54.0%) and home run (0.28 HR/9) numbers but below-average strikeout (16.7%) and walk (9.4%) rates. Lefties (.344 wOBA) have hit him harder than righties (.301 wOBA), which has actually been the case his entire career, though not to that extreme. Oberholtzer operates with upper-80s two and four-seam fastballs, and his low-80s changeup is his primary secondary offering. He’ll also throw some low-80s sliders and upper-70s curveballs per start, but not many.

McHugh. (Presswire)
McHugh. (Presswire)

Sunday (2pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Collin McHugh (vs. NYY)
The Astros got great work out of McHugh last season (2.73 ERA and 3.11 FIP) but he’s crashed back to Earth this year (4.80 ERA and 4.21 FIP) because his strikeout (19.0%) and home run (1.25 HR/9) rates have both taken a step back. The 28-year-old still isn’t walking anyone (5.5%) and is getting an average amount of ground balls (44.4%), but his reverse platoon split (.359 vs. .321 wOBA in favor of righties) doesn’t match up with the rest of his career. McHugh has a four-seam fastball right around 90 mph and he uses it only 35% of the time or so. He leans heavily on his mid-80s slider and low-70s curveball, throwing them almost 60% of the time combined. Crazy. He’ll also throw a handful of low-80s changeups per start.

Bullpen Status
A big reason for Houston’s success this year is their greatly improved bullpen. This group has a 2.61 ERA (3.18 FIP) overall compared to a 4.80 ERA (4.11 FIP) last year and a 4.92 ERA (5.09 FIP) the year before that. Closer RHP Luke Gregerson (3.38 FIP) is set up by RHP Pat Neshek (3.36 FIP) and RHP Will Harris (3.05 FIP) most nights.

LHP Tony Sipp (2.99 FIP) is Hinch’s high-leverage lefty guy while LHP Joe Thatcher (1.85 FIP) is more of middle innings matchup guy. RHP Chad Qualls (4.44 FIP) and RHP Josh Fields (1.76 FIP) round out the bullpen. They don’t have a true long man at the moment, just a bunch of short relief guys. Also, literally everyone pitched in the 13-inning game yesterday, so the ‘pen won’t be very fresh tonight. Check out the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen with our Bullpen Workload page, then head over to Crawfish Boxes and Astros County for the latest and greatest on the ‘Stros.

Yankeemetrics: SuperNova saves the day (June 22-24)

The new ace? (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
The new ace? (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Don’t be like Mike
I’ll let Forrest Gump succinctly recap Monday night’s 11-8 loss to the Phillies: “[Baseball] is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

The Phillies entered the game with the very worst record in baseball, the fewest runs per game of any team, and they hadn’t won a road game since before Memorial Day. Nothing like a trip to the Bronx to cure all your problems! So, of course, they set season-highs in runs (11) and hits (18) as they crushed the Yankees in the series opener.

Michael Pineda was clobbered and didn’t make it out of the fourth inning, posting perhaps the worst pitching line of his career: 3 1/3 IP, 11 hits, 8 runs, 0 strikeouts. The last Yankee pitcher to give up that many runs and hits without recording a strikeout in a game was a 45-year-old Tommy John on Aug. 28, 1988 against the Angels.

Pineda (and most of the Yankee pitchers) had a ton of trouble with Phillies rookie Maikel Franco, who went 4-for-5 with two homers and five RBIs. He is the first player ever to produce at least four hits and 5 RBIs in his debut at Yankee Stadium. The last player as young as Franco (22 years old) with that many hits and RBIs in a game against the Yankees was the Indians’ Pat Seerey in 1945.

A lot of runs
Again, I’ll use a quote — this time from Joe Girardi — to sum up yet another blowout loss to the worst team in baseball: “It’s not enjoyable to watch, and it’s not enjoyable to be a part of it. The last three days have been a struggle … it’s been a lot of runs.”

Yup, a lot of runs. For the just the second time in franchise history the Yankees allowed more than 10 runs and more than 10 hits in three straight games. The only other time it happened was June 20-22, 1912 against the Red Sox.

If Maikel Franco makes the All-Star team, he can probably thank the Yankees. For the second straight night, the Phillies rookie crushed the Yankee pitchers, going 2-for-3 with a homer and five RBIs. He is the first player ever to drive in at least five runs in back-to-back games against the Yankees.

Okay, so it’s official, Dellin Betances is a human being. The right-hander gave up four runs in the ninth inning and saw his ERA skyrocket from 0.26 to 1.25. It was his first loss in his 110th career game, dropping his record to 9-1.

The only other Yankee to win his first nine decisions in the major leagues was Whitey Ford in 1950. And only five other players to debut in the last 100 years appeared in more games before their first loss than Betances (the record is 152 games by Clay Rapada).

Another ace bites the dust
The Yankees couldn’t get a win against Sean O’Sullivan or Kevin Correia, but somehow they managed to beat one of the best pitchers in baseball, Cole Hamels, in the series finale on Wednesday afternoon. #weirdbaseball

Ivan Nova was super (sorry, bad pun) in his first major-league start in 14 months, allowing just three hits and no runs in 6 2/3 innings. He is just the third Yankee in the last 20 seasons to pitch at least 6 2/3 scoreless innings and allow no more than three hits in his season debut. The others are Orlando Hernandez in 2002 against the Rays and David Cone in 1996 against the Indians.

The Yankees banged out 10 runs on 15 hits, but none of them left the park, making it the first time the Yankees have scored double-digit runs without a homer at Yankee Stadium since a 13-11 loss to the Indians on May 29, 2010 (thank you, Joba Chamberlain).

Entering this week, the Yankees had a .500 or better regular season record against every major-league franchise, including a 12-12 mark against the Phillies. By dropping two of three games in this series, they are 13-14 against them — so the Phillies are now the only team the Yankees have a losing record against in the regular season all-time.

Thoughts heading into the series with the Astros

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees dropped two of three to the lowly Phillies earlier this week, though at least they were able to salvage the series with a win yesterday. Now they’re off to Houston for a four-game set with the Astros. The Astros are good now. That won’t be an easy series. Anyway, here are some thoughts.

1. This year’s Yankees seem to be the opposite of last year’s Yankees. Last year the Yankees couldn’t score but they always got competent pitching, even when starters were dropping like flies in the first half of the season. This year they always seem to be getting enough offense and the pitching is letting them down. It’s not just the run of poor starts earlier this week either. The middle of the bullpen has been shaky for much of the season and earlier this year Adam Warren was pitching like a reliever masquerading as a starter. I’d rather have an all-hit/no-pitching team than a no-hit/all-pitching team if I had to pick one — you can slug your way into the postseason, the mid-2000s Yankees did it every year, but pure pitching and defense clubs seem to have a harder time getting to October — but the Yankees were supposed to be a strong prevention team this year. That part of their game has been woefully inadequate of late. The offense has better way better than expected.

2. I think the only player on the roster who is falling short of expectations is Chase Headley. I guess Michael Pineda too, but I wouldn’t be completely shocked if he hovered around a 4.00 ERA going forward now that he’s venturing into uncharted workload territory following shoulder surgery. Headley has underperformed but everyone else on the roster is either meeting reasonable preseason expectations or approaching the best case scenario. So Headley is pretty much the only guy on the roster we can point to and say “the Yankees will be in better shape once he turns it around.” That’s actually a good thing. You don’t want to be waiting for multiple players to turn things around. That said, the Yankees have just one guy underperforming and they still aren’t good enough to pull away in the AL East. I think Headley will turn things around. Eventually. At some point. I think. Then what?

3. Speaking of Headley, errors are a poor way to evaluate defense, we know that, but geez man, 16 errors already? As best I can remember only one of those errors came on a non-routine play too — this one against the Blue Jays. The other 15 have come on routine or at least makeable plays. Headley is still making non-routine and occasionally spectacular plays at what I consider an above-average rate compared to other third basemen, but the sudden inability to make routine plays is getting frustrating. (We’re talking about 16 errors in roughly 200 total chances at third, so it’s basically one error every dozen chances or so.) It’s got to be a mental thing too, not a loss in skills, right? He’s still picking hot shot grounders with the best of ’em. The infield defense was supposed to be a strength, and now that Didi Gregorius has gotten more comfortable, Headley is the weak link in the field. Baseball is weird, man.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4. I’m not a fan of the whole “when this guy comes back from his injury it’ll be like making a trade!” line of thinking. When guys come back from injury, you’re right back where you started, not better off. Jacoby Ellsbury won’t be like a trade deadline pickup, he’ll just be making the team whole again. That said, I think Ivan Nova is a little different, because you can never really count on pitchers coming off a major injury to contribute, no matter how high the success rate for the surgery. Coming into the season I had the “anything he gives them this year is a bonus” mindset with Nova, and, based on what we saw yesterday, it sure looks like Ivan will be able to help this season. Yeah, it was just one start and that doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but he looks healthy and he was consistently pumping 93-95 mph. If he’d come out struggling to top 90 mph with no command, it would be a red flag. Nova looked like the pre-Tommy John surgery of himself and that’s a pitcher the Yankees didn’t have earlier this season. He is like a trade deadline pickup. Sorta.

5. Mark Teixeira‘s recent neck injury scares me, probably more than it should. He had three hits yesterday but it seems like the kind of injury we could wind up pointing back to in August and September saying “Teixeira was mashing until he hurt his neck.” Maybe the last few seasons have made me paranoid. That’s probably it. Teixeira’s been really good this year and the Yankees absolutely need him to continue being really good to contend. I’m not sure they’ll be able to hang in the race if his offense tanks like it did in the second half last year. Carlos Beltran has been much better of late and Alex Rodriguez has raked all year, but those guys are still injury risks. Adding a bat may not be a top priority at the trade deadline but I do consider it a need. Second base is the obvious spot to upgrade and Ben Zobrist is the top target for me. He fits the roster too well. (He fits every roster well.) Yeah, Stephen Drew mashes homers, but a .190 AVG and a .258 OBP is not acceptable for an everyday player. The Yankees should be actively seeking an upgrade.

6. Either it’s one hell of a coincidence or the Yankees have a pretty clear plan for Aaron Judge — he had 278 plate appearances with Low-A Charleston, 285 plate appearances with High-A Tampa, and 280 plate appearances with Double-A Trenton. Now he’s at Triple-A and will get about 280 plate appearances there the rest of the season. Give the brain trust a truth serum and I think they’d tell you they want Judge to be their everyday right fielder in 2016. How that happens … I don’t know. Beltran and A-Rod are still under contract next year. I guess the plan is wait until one gets hurt? A Brett Gardner trade is always possible but I find it very unlikely. He’s the best player on the team. (There, I said it.) Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Judge has to master Triple-A first before becoming an MLB option, and who knows what the roster will look like heading into Spring Training next year. I do think the team’s perfect world plan has Judge in right on Opening Day 2016 though.

DotF: Refsnyder reaches base five times; Fowler has big day in Tampa’s doubleheader

Photo day for the RailRiders. Can you find Judge? (@swbrailriders)
Photo day for the RailRiders. Can you find Judge? (@swbrailriders)

Triple-A Scranton (8-1 win over Louisville)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 3-6, 2 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-1, 1 R, 3 BB, 1 HBP, 2 SB — 10/14 K/BB in his last 26 games
  • DH Aaron Judge: 0-3, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K
  • LF Ramon Flores: 1-4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB
  • RF Tyler Austin: 2-3, 2 R, 2 BB, 1 K
  • RHP Jordan Foley: 4 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 5/3 GB/FB — 47 of 78 pitches were strikes (60%) … pretty great spot start for the kid who’s been in Low-A all season
  • RHP Joel De La Cruz: 4 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 8/1 GB/FB — 30 of 44 pitches were strikes (68%) … can’t do a better job of long relief than that
  • LHP James Pazos: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0/1 GB/FB — eleven pitches, six strikes

[Read more…]

Wednesday Night Open Thread

I kinda had a feeling the Yankees would score a ton of runs against Cole Hamels this afternoon. I mean, it’s not like the offense has been struggling, the pitching was clearly to blame during those last three losses, and it just seems like these Yankees have a knack for hitting great pitchers. Hamels, Jacob deGrom, Felix Hernandez, David Price … the Yankees roughed them all up this year. That’s always fun.

Here is tonight’s open thread as the Yankees head to Houston. The Mets are playing and ESPN2 is showing the Cubs and Dodgers later. Also, the decisive Game Three of the College World Series is on as well (8pm ET on ESPN). Vanderbilt is trying to repeat as nationals champs and Virginia is trying to get revenge for losing to Vandy in last year’s finals. Talk about those games, this afternoon’s win, or anything else here.

Yanks send Branden Pinder and Diego Moreno to Triple-A

Pinder. (Presswire)
Pinder. (Presswire)

Following this afternoon’s win over the Phillies, the Yankees sent right-handers Branden Pinder and Diego Moreno to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. Stephen Drew will be activated off the paternity list to fill one spot. The other? That’s unclear at the moment.

Pinder, 26, has allowed three runs in 10.2 innings across multiple big league stints this year. Moreno, 27, allowed two runs in an inning today and threw a scoreless inning in his only other outing. Those two have been part of the bullpen revolving door the last few weeks.

The Yankees were carrying eight relievers and are now down to six with Chris Capuano and Bryan Mitchell capable of going multiple innings. (Mitchell gets to stay, interestingly.) Danny Burawa, Chris Martin, and Jose Ramirez are all on the 40-man roster but can’t be called back up yet because of the ten-day rule.

Joe Girardi has indicated the Yankees may carry a six-man bullpen while using a six-man rotation these next few days, so perhaps a position player is coming up. It can’t be Ramon Flores because of the ten-day rule. Maybe Gregorio Petit? I guess we’ll find out tomorrow. Intrigue!

Yankees pound Hamels in Nova’s return, take series finale 10-2 from Phillies

Just as we all expected, the Yankees lost games started by Kevin Correia and Sean O’Sullivan this series and won the game started by Cole Hamels. New York was able to avoid getting swept by the Phillies on Wednesday afternoon with a 10-2 blowout win. That’s more like it. The Yankees went 5-3 and averaged 7.5 runs per game during the eight-game homestand.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Return of SuperNova
After the first two games of this series, I would have been happy if Ivan Nova simply hadn’t gotten clobbered in his return from Tommy John surgery on Wednesday afternoon. A winnable start was the goal and he sure gave the team that. Nova held the Phillies to three hits and two walks in 6.2 scoreless innings in his first start back from elbow reconstruction. He struck out just one and got way more outs in the air (14) than on the ground (five), which is atypical for him. But, first start back, and there was definitely some rust.

Early on in the first inning Nova did get away with some mistakes — he left some fastballs middle-middle — but the Phillies couldn’t do anything with them. I guess that’s the difference between throwing 93-95 mph like Nova and 88-90 like CC Sabathia on Tuesday. Nova got much better as the game progressed and he leaned on his sinker/curveball combination (not so much his changeup) just like he did in his pre-Tommy John surgery days. He was on a 95-100 pitch limit and threw 92 pitches (51 strikes), and it did seem like he started to run out of gas near the end there.

After all that, the Yankees have to be thrilled with Nova’s return. Not just the results — they really needed a strong start after those last three games though — but how he looked. His sinker was moving and when he missed, he generally missed down below the zone after the first inning. He was able to throw his curveball for strikes and while his command was spotty — Nova didn’t hit catcher John Ryan’s Murphy glove a whole lot — his control was fine. He was around the zone. Really encouraging outing. Welcome back, Ivan.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Return of the Phillies
For the first time in the series, the Phillies actually played like the worst team in baseball. The Yankees scored their first two runs in the second inning and both scored when third baseman Andres Blanco threw the ball away trying to get the force at the plate. Chris Young singled, John Ryan Murphy walked, Didi Gregorius beat out a sac bunt attempt to load the bases with no outs, and Jose Pirela‘s grounder led to the error. Blanco’s throw scooted away from catcher Carlos Ruiz and two runners scored.

The next three runs came in the fourth inning, again because the Phillies played like the worst team in the game. Gregorius led the inning off with a sun-aided double — it was a routine infield pop-up infielders Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis failed to catch — and Cole Hamels walked Pirela on four pitches. Unexpected! Brett Gardner slapped a single to center to score Gregorius, then Chase Headley hit a soft chopper over second base that Blanco muffed, allowing Pirela to score. It looked like Blanco was expecting the ball to hit the base, but it never did and it went for a double. Mark Teixeira followed with a legit single to right to score Headley.

The Yankees did a really nice job against Hamels, forcing him to throw 102 pitches in five innings. He allowed those five runs on eight hits, three walks, and a hit batsman while striking out only three. The third inning was his only 1-2-3 inning. Hamels had to throw 69 of those 102 pitches from the stretch. These Yankees have a knack for hitting aces — Hamels joins David Price, Jacob deGrom, Gio Gonzalez, Felix Hernandez, Jered Weaver, and Garrett Richards as pitchers who allowed five or more runs in six or fewer innings against New York this season, among others.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
The Yankees kept piling on runs after Hamels was out of the game. One run in the sixth, another four in the seventh. Always appreciated. Bryan Mitchell retired all four men he faced and Diego Moreno allowed two runs in a messy ninth to blow the shutout. Nice of Nova and the offense to take the pressure off the bullpen.

Everyone in the starting lineup had a hit except Carlos Beltran, who went 0-for-5. Headley (single, double), Alex Rodriguez (two singles), Teixeira (three singles), Young (two singles), Gregorius (single, double), and Pirela (single, double) all had multiple hits. Murphy had a single and a walk. The Yankees had 14+ hits for the 12th time this year. They had 14+ hits nine times last year and eight times the year before.

The Yankees scored ten runs in this game despite not hitting a home run. They hadn’t scored more than five runs in game without a homer this season. They went 7-for-21 (.333) with runners in scoring position. When was the last time a team had 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position in a nine-inning game? I have no idea how to look that up.

Joe Girardi was ejected in the third inning for barking about a bad call on a check swing. He came out of the dugout and got his money’s worth after being tossed. Nova struck out Maikel Franco to end the inning on the next pitch. It was Girardi’s second ejection of the season.

And finally, Hamels plunked A-Rod in the thigh with two outs in the first inning and home plate ump Brian O’Nora warned both benches immediately. That seemed silly, but I guess it went back to Franco being hit by a pitch Tuesday night. Either that or umpires were told to be quick to act whenever A-Rod gets hit this year.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the links to the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. We also have Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Now here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The homestand is over and the Yankees are now heading to Houston for a four-game series with the first place Astros. Adam Warren and ‘Stros ace Dallas Keuchel will be the pitching matchup in Thursday night’s series opener.