J.A. Happ’s last start began like a familiar tune. He surrendered two home runs in the first two innings, tacking on to the four he had already allowed in just over twelve frames to begin the year. Yet, Happ settled down and was able to reach the seventh inning without much issue. Maybe the struggling Red Sox were the reason he managed to soldier through after appearing to be on the ropes early on. Or, perhaps an in-game adjustment kept him alive.
It’s been well documented that Happ relies heavily on his fastball. He’s made a career of throwing his hard stuff about three quarters of the time. Although Happ has never lit up a radar gun, he’s been particularly successful with his four-seamer because of his command and the pitch’s high spin rate.
On Wednesday, Happ may have reached a breaking point with the four-seamer. To date, all six dingers the veteran has allowed have been against that pitch. It sure seems like that swayed him to make a change right away. Beginning in the second inning, Happ ramped up on his sinker and slider and eschewed the four-seamer.
For dramatic effect, take a look at the comparison of his four-seam and sinker usage by game since 2017:
It’s generally not a great idea to make sweeping conclusions about results over just a few innings, especially against a scuffling Boston team, but the data here is pretty convenient. Happ pitched much better once he ditched his trademark offering. That doesn’t make this approach a panacea for his early season woes, however. Really, the more important aspect of Happ’s game to analyze is his four-seamer. After all, it’s what made him a good pitcher in the first place. Does he really need to abandon it now?
The good news is that his spin rate is steady. He’s never been a hard thrower, rather, deception has always been the key for the pitch. Throwing high spin rate fastballs up in the zone generally makes for plenty of pop-ups and whiffs. He’s still targeting that section of the zone this season, similar to last year.
The not so good news is his pitch speed. It’s down a hair under one mile per hour compared to last year. Granted, it’s April, so there’s time to build that back up as the weather warms up. That being said, while Happ usually adds velocity as the season goes on, this year’s starting point is lower than ever before.
He may be able to approach the velocity he had at the very end of last year (which was already trending downward!), but approaching 93 MPH on the gun reliably seems out of the question.
Velocity may not be the name of the game for Happ, but losing a tick certainly can sap some of the offering’s effectiveness. Spin rate can only do so much, and ostensibly, is not as helpful when other pitch traits decline.
We already know that Happ’s slider and changeup are mediocre at best, so he’s not going to morph into the left-handed version of Masahiro Tanaka. But, if he can’t find his lost four-seam velocity, he may need to adapt like he did in his past outing against the Red Sox. Fortunately, he could learn a thing or two from his teammate, CC Sabathia, who’s made a living throwing sinkers and cutters over the last couple of years. Maybe Happ was serious when he asked this question to Sabathia:
CC Sabathia was holding his media session when a loud voice popped up from the back of the crowd.
“CC, J.A. Happ here, asking for a friend. How were you able to paint the corners in your first start back?”
(Happ was using a can of Red Bull as a microphone)
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) April 13, 2019
I can’t tell you if Happ can be successful as a sinkerballer going forward. It certainly worked over the course of a few innings, but perhaps that just caught the Red Sox off guard. Furthermore, there’s no assurance that he’s going to continue that approach his next time out. Even if he does, opponents should be better prepared for it. Either way, Happ is going to have to figure out one of two things: how to pitch with diminished four-seam velocity, or how to regain a mile per hour on it.
We have ten questions this week in the (gasp!) second-to-last RAB mailbag ever. It hasn’t really set in for me yet that RAB is closing up shop soon, probably because it’s still business as usual on my end. Maybe it’ll start to set in once I empty out the mailbag inbox one final time next week. Anyway, send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.
Many asked: Where do we go for our Yankees info and analysis after RAB shuts down???
First of all, thank you again to everyone who reached out since we announced RAB is shutting down. The thank yous have been overwhelming. Most of you also asked where you can get your Yankees fix going forward, but I’m not prepared to answer that right now because, honestly, I stopped reading most other blogs a few years ago, so I’m a bit out of touch. I’ve decided to put together what will amount to a “A Guide To Life After RAB” post, which sounds incredibly presumptuous, but it seems to be something people want. It’ll include other sites to check out, information on how to continue following the minors, where you can find everyone here going forward, things like that. That will probably be posted on April 29th, our final day. I don’t mean to ignore everyone asking where to go next. The guide will answer those questions soon enough.
Dan asks: Is part of the reason that you are wrapping up RAB that you are frustrated with the Yankees for not doing more to sign players Harper, Machado, and Corbin, as well as retaining players like Robertson?
It is not. I’ve have several people ask this and I promise you it is not. The decision to shut down RAB has nothing to do with the Yankees and we would’ve made the same decision even if they had signed Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and been 17-1 with 47 home runs through 18 games. This decision has been a long time coming and I actually did decide to shut RAB down last summer, weeks before Harper and Machado even became free agents, though I changed my mind after the season and tried to give it another go. That was a mistake and if I could do it all again, RAB would’ve closed up properly over the winter rather than a few weeks into the season. That’s my mistake.
Greg asks: If Miguel Andujar is not able to throw do you think the Yankees would try him at 1st before ending his season with surgery? Latest word is that his swing won’t make the injury worse, so why not get his bat into the lineup. Can’t be much worse than Voit defensively.
Good timing! Just Aaron Boone said yesterday the Yankees are discussing bringing Andujar back as a first baseman or DH if he can’t make the throws at third. “I don’t think we’re there yet,” Boone told James Wagner, indicating a final decision is not imminent. Supposedly the injury won’t hinder Andujar’s swing, only his arm, and remember, he would still have to make some throws at first base, plus he’d have to learn the position. I think Andujar at DH is more likely than Andujar at first base. Either way, it sounds like the Yankees will make sure Andujar can not play third base before considering other positions. It’s not third base or surgery. There’s a third option here. They are thinking about ways to get his bat into the lineup before sending him for surgery.
Erick asks: Anthony Seigler. Where and what’s up with our switch-hitter and switch-pitcher first rounder? Is he hurt?
Seigler suffered what was described as a minor quad injury in Spring Training, which prevented him from breaking camp with a full season affiliate. There have been no updates on him since, which is not unusual for Extended Spring Training, even for last year’s first round pick. Seigler is very advanced defensively for his age, but holding a 19-year-old catcher back in ExST is pretty standard practice. Even without the quad injury, he might’ve been in ExST to start the season anyway. Seigler could be perfectly healthy right now (and hopefully he is) and still be in ExST because the Yankees believe that is the best place for him developmentally. Seigler was hurt in Spring Training. I do not know if he is still hurt, and I don’t know that he would’ve been assigned to Low-A Charleston even if healthy.
Mickey asks: Does Chad Green still have a minor league option? And how much longer is his leash before you start considering Joe Harvey as a better option?
Green does have an option left. He used one in 2016 and one early in 2017, so he has one remaining. The Yankees could send him to Triple-A. I can’t see that happening though, even with the rocky start to the season. Maybe don’t use him in high-leverage spots, but Green deserves a leash longer than seven innings based on what he did the last two years. Besides, who do the Yankees call him to replace him? Stephen Tarpley? Jake Barrett? Jonathan Loaisiga? I’d be down with Loaisiga getting a look as a multi-inning reliever a la Green in 2017, just not at the expense of Green. I know he’s struggled in the early going, but I couldn’t imagine sending Green down and sticking with Harvey. Not yet.
Nico asks: Your Blake Swihart post got me thinking, what’s the point of being a switch hitter if your team platoons you to avoid your weaker side? Why not just try batting left-on-left? Can’t be worse, right? Have there been “switch hitters” who give up on it and are actually better after?
Most switch-hitters are stronger from one side (their natural side), and focusing on the strong side is typically a last resort. A few years ago Aaron Hicks stopped switch-hitting with the Twins and Rod Carew talked him back into it. “Rod Carew actually called me and told me, what the heck am I doing giving up switch hitting? It’s a blessing, and that I should go back and work harder at it and learn from my mistakes,” Hicks said at the time.
Maybe I’m forgetting someone obvious, but I can’t think of anyone who dropped switch-hitting well into his big league career and had success from one side of the plate. It does happen quite a bit in the minors — Eduardo Nunez and Francisco Cervelli were switch-hitters very early in their pro careers — but it’s easier to work on something like that as a young player in a developmental situation than in the big leagues where wins are the priority. Remember, most switch-hitters have never seen a breaking ball that breaks away from them. It ain’t easy to pick up on the fly.
Cory asks: I’ve got a some questions about Clint. It seems like he’s finally getting his big opportunity this year. How would you grade his performance so far? What does his ceiling look like if everything falls into place this year and where does he rank among our hitters? If he keeps this up is it enough to push Gardner to the bench so he continues to get full time at bats if/when the regulars get healthy? What should his nickname be?
Clint Frazier’s been really good so far. I’m generally a harsh grader but I am comfortable giving him an “A” in his limited action thus far given how well he’s performed after missing so much time last year. I’ve said Frazier could be a right-handed Nick Swisher several times in the past, though that’s probably not a great comparison. Not many players walk as much as Swisher did (career 13.0%) and I think Frazier has a better chance to hit for average. At his peak, I could see Clint being a .280/.360/.500 type. I guess that makes him … Mitch Haniger? Defensively, Frazier is probably a -5 runs defender in left field, so the total package is something like +3 WAR or +4 WAR once he settles in, and that’s really good. And yes, of course Brett Gardner should go to the bench so Frazier can remain in the lineup once guys start getting healthy. Will the Yankees actually do it? I dunno. But that’s what they should do. I am terrible with nicknames so I don’t have a suggestion there. Clint doesn’t like Red Thunder. Nicknames have to be organic. Can’t force it. Give it time and something good will come along.
Sean asks: How mad are you in hindsight that the Yankees didn’t pony up the cash to sign Yoan Moncada? I’m not saying he arrived with how well he’s doing this year, but geez, it’s money, and the Yankees cheaped out on someone with such upside. And to the Red Sox too, ugh. Imagine him at second and Gleyber at ss, unreal.
The Moncada situation was the first real sign the Yankees were going to operate very differently going forward. For better or worse, they are no longer going to throw money around, even when young players with high upside are available. Getting out-bid for Moncada was infuriating. The Yankees had spent the year or so prior to that saying they were planning to emphasize youth, yet they were outbid for a player pretty much everyone in the industry considered a budding star. Moncada looks like he’s finally breaking out this year — I say “finally” but he’s still only 23 — and who knows how his career plays out had he signed with New York. His entire development path would have changed. The Yankees planning to emphasize youth, yet allowing themselves to be outbid for Moncada is a pretty good summation of the franchise right now. They talk the talk about doing whatever it takes to win, but their actions tell us that isn’t really the case. They want to win on their terms.
Jonathan asks: It seems everyone is gloom and doom. But after this two game sweep of the Red Sox, the Yankees at 8-9. Weren’t they 9-9 last year? At the end of the day, if Hicks, Stanton, Severino, Sanchez and Betances come back the Yankees should be fine. Am I wrong for being so chilled?
There are several reasons for the doom and gloom. The first is, obviously, the injuries. There are so many of them and several of them are long-term injuries. Is it really safe to expect guys like Aaron Hicks, Luis Severino, and Dellin Betances to come back and be impact players right away given the nature of their injuries? Secondly, the Yankees have played some crummy baseball these three weeks, and these games count in the standings. How could anyone not be discouraged after losing home series to the Orioles, Tigers, and White Sox? And third, the Yankees just had a giant fart noise of an offseason. They passed on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, passed on Patrick Corbin, and tried to piece things together with lower cost free agent signings, several of which aren’t looking so hot already (J.A. Happ, Zack Britton). When you’re a World Series contender and your best free agent signings are DJ LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino, well, you’ll have to forgive me for being underwhelmed. Jonathan’s not wrong for being chill through this rocky start. There’s no right way to be a fan. Personally though, I see a lot more negatives than positives right now. The injuries, the losses to bad teams, and the Yankees being apathetic toward building the best roster possible are hard to ignore.
Anonymous asks: Hi Mike. The other day you mentioned Urshela took Ellsbury’s locker and that it is a “prime piece of real estate” in the clubhouse. Ellsbury hasn’t played since 2017 but he still had a good locker, so I assume they are assigned based on seniority? What’s the locker situation like?
Yes, locker assignments are generally based on service time and tenure with the team, so the guys who have been around the longest have the best lockers. They usually get an empty locker next to them for extra space as well. That is standard throughout baseball and it applies to the road clubhouses as well. When the Red Sox were in town this week Dustin Pedroia, Chris Sale, and David Price had the prime lockers. When the Tigers were in town two weeks ago it was Miguel Cabrera and Jordan Zimmermann.
The Yankee Stadium home clubhouse is gigantic and there are some columns in the middle of the room that kinda split it into two halves. The front left side is the young position players, the back left side is the more veteran position players, the back right side is mostly starting pitchers, and the front right side is the relievers. Some other quick locker notes:
- Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia are the longest tenured Yankees and they have the two lockers at the back of the clubhouse. Carlos Beltran had Gardner’s locker previously. Derek Jeter had CC’s.
- Giancarlo Stanton is in the corner next to Gardner and I’m pretty certain he’s in Alex Rodriguez’s old locker. Dellin Betances is in the corner next to Sabathia. Masahiro Tanaka and Austin Romine have good spots at the end of their row of lockers. Romine took Gardner’s old locker when Gardner took Beltran’s.
- Aaron Judge is in the middle of the row of young position players on the front left side. No special locker treatment for him yet (or Gary Sanchez, for that matter). The lockers at the very front of the clubhouse go to the shuttle players (Joe Harvey, Mike Ford, etc.).
It’s kinda interesting how certain lockers have a personality, so to speak. For example, the Yankees have what amounts to a veteran setup man locker that has gone from David Robertson to Andrew Miller to Tyler Clippard back to Robertson to now Zack Britton. But yeah, locker assignments are largely based on service time and tenure with the team, and the Yankees have so many lockers that injured guys like Ellsbury (and Jordan Montgomery) keep their spots even when they’re away from the team for long stretches of time.
For the second time this season, the Yankees followed up a thrilling series sweep with a collective thud. The dinger-filled sweep in Baltimore was followed by blown leads in Houston. The exciting two-game sweep against the Red Sox? The Yankees followed that by getting four-hit by the Royals. They dropped Thursday night’s series opener 6-1. The Yankees are 3-7 against the Orioles, Tigers, White Sox, and Royals at home this season. Great stuff.
Literally Homer Bailey
Seriously? I don’t care that Homer Bailey has a new splitter, and I don’t care that he threw seven shutout innings against the Indians last time out. When a crummy team comes to your home run happy ballpark and starts a guy with a 6.19 ERA since Opening Day 2015, and he shuts you down for six innings, it can’t be chalked up to “it happens.” Not when the Yankees are playing the way they have early this season.
Then again, what are we supposed to expect when Brett Gardner is still getting more at-bats than anyone else on the team, DJ LeMahieu is in full blown BABIP regression mode (now 2-for-20 in his last five games), and the bottom third of the order is Mike Ford, Austin Romine, and Tyler Wade? The Yankees aren’t exactly running a powerhouse lineup out there these days. Clint Frazier went from fun story to integral part of the offense in a hurry.
The Yankees scored their lone run Thursday night in the most boring way imaginable. Aaron Judge beat out an infield single when shortstop Adalberto Mondesi fumbled the ball and bounced the throw, Luke Voit snuck a 68.8 mph exit velocity ground ball back through the middle to set up the first and third situation, and Gleyber Torres lifted a sacrifice fly to center field. Had me on the edge of seat.
Aside from that rally, the Yankees had their best chance to score against Bailey in the second inning. Frazier wound up at second base when Jorge Soler and Billy Hamilton knocked into each other and let Clint’s pop-up drop in. Ford flew out in his first MLB at-bat, Romine flew out on the first pitch, and Wade grounded out on the first pitch. After Frazier’s popup-turned-double, 23 of the final 28 Yankees to bat made outs. For real.
Six Innings From Domingo
Kind of a weird start for Domingo German. He was very good at times — legitimately dominant — yet he paid for every mistake. Judge’s dive fell short in the first inning, turning Mondesi’s soft single into a double, then German left a fastball up to Alex Gordon, and it wound up in right field for a double and a 1-0 first inning lead. Judge is typically a very good defender. Not often he misses a dive and allows an extra base like that.
In the second inning German hung the hell out of a breaking ball to Soler, and it turned into a rare Yankee Stadium left field cheapie. Usually the cheapies go to right field. How cheap was it? Statcast says similar batted balls (based on exit velocity, launch angle, and trajectory) go for a base hit only 6% of the time. That one carried into the seats. Soler’s reaction says it all:
Two innings later German gave up another solo homer, that one on a fastball that was up juuust enough. Ryan O’Hearn muscled it out to left-center field. There was no frustrated reaction after O’Hearn’s swing. Judge made a mistake diving for that ball in the first inning, German made mistake pitches to Soler and O’Hearn, and it turned into three runs. No breaks at all. Every mistake hurt.
German’s final line: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 2 HR on 88 pitches. Remember when he walked five batters in five innings in his first start? He has 16 strikeouts and two walks in 14 innings since. That’ll work. German generated 19 swings and misses Thursday, one fewer than James Paxton did in his masterpiece the other night. The Yankees couldn’t possibly ask their sixth starter to give them more than German has in the early going this year.
Tack-On Runs Allowed
There was a lot of bad in the top of the top of the seventh inning, when a 3-1 deficit became a 5-1 deficit. First of all, why is Jonathan Holder being brought into a winnable game? He’s stunk this year and the bullpen’s well-rested. Secondly, Holder allowed singles to the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters to put two men on base with one outs. You’d think he’d eventually have a clean outing out of random chance, but nope. Even if it was a bad decision to bring him in, the guy’s gotta get outs at some point.
And third, why was Holder left in to face Whit Merrifield? I mean, I know the answer to that. It was to get the right-on-right matchup. Zack Britton was warming in the bullpen, yet the ineffective Holder stayed in, and allowed a ground-rule double to pot an insurance run. Only then did Britton come in, and he gave up a sacrifice fly to score another insurance run. That entire mess of an inning felt avoidable. Bad managing, bad pitching.
As for Chad Green, he still isn’t right despite throwing a scoreless inning. The two excuse-me singles against the shift are no big deal. It happens. The problem was not being able to put away Lucas Duda and Martin Maldonado. Duda fouled away six two-strike pitches before striking out to end his 12-pitch at-bat. Maldonado battled for seven pitches before popping up. The outs aren’t coming easy for Green at all this year. He used to blow guys away with two strikes.
Joe Harvey pitched the top of the ninth and allowed his first run as a big leaguer. He committed the cardinal sin of walking Hamilton as the leadoff hitter. A stolen base, a ground out, and a sacrifice fly followed. Put together a list of reasons the Yankees lost this game, and Harvey doesn’t crack the top 20.
Like I said in the intro, the Yankees had four hits on the night. Fortunately two came consecutively to help score a run. Those were Judge’s infield single and Voit’s weak ground ball single. Frazier had two singles and Voit, Ford, and Wade walked. I was hoping RAB would shut down before the “Gio Urshela, Strategic Pinch-Hitter” era arrived, but no luck. He struck out on three pitches for Wade in the eighth.
And finally, Voit’s first inning single extended his MLB leading on-base streak to 29 games. It is the longest by a Yankee since Judge’s 32-gamer in 2017. Voit’s streak is the longest by a Yankee other than Judge since Derek Jeter had a 36-gamer spanning 2012 and 2013.
Game two of this four-game series. CC Sabathia is making the second start of his final season in that one. Jake Junis will be on the mound for the Royals. I imagine he’ll hear it from the crowd after (unintentionally) breaking Judge’s wrist last year. That is a normal 7:05pm ET start. No more 6:35pm ET games for a while.
Got two links to pass along:
- J.J. Cooper examined offense levels in Triple-A so far this season following the introduction of the MLB ball. Not surprisingly, home runs are up in the early going. Way up. Homers are up 135% from last season and we haven’t even gotten to the warm summer months yet.
- Randy Miller spoke to Double-A Trenton manager Pat Osborne about several of his players. “The ball jumps out of Albert’s hand. He’s got a chance to be a very high-end starting pitcher. We’ve got to get him out of the gates and start attacking from pitch one,” Osborn said of RHP Albert Abreu.
The Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders had a scheduled off-day. LHP Gio Gonzalez is scheduled to make one final start tomorrow before Saturday’s opt-out date, though Conor Foley notes it’s supposed to rain all day, which might complicate things. We’ll see.
Double-A Trenton Thunder (3-1 win over Portland)
- SS Kyle Holder: 1-4, 1 BB, 1 SB
- 2B Brandon Wagner: 0-3, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HBP — in a 4-for-25 (.160) skid
- LF Rashad Crawford: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 CS
- RHP Albert Abreu: 4 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 2 K, 5/2 GB/FB — 43 of 85 pitches were strikes (51%) … 6/6 K/BB in eight innings
- RHP Domingo Acevedo: 2 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 18 of 25 pitches were strikes (72%) … 10/1 K/BB in nine innings as a full-time reliever
One bad team leaves town and another one comes in. The Yankees wrapped up their fun little two-game sweep of the Red Sox last night, and tonight they welcome the Royals to the Bronx for the start of a four-game series. As fun as the Red Sox series was, the Yankees have to turn the page quickly and focus on tonight’s game and opponent.
“To come through in a spot like that, that felt good. All around, we played a (great) game,” Brett Gardner said following last night’s win. “… Dealing with injuries and roster moves it’s been a challenge. Those guys will be back. Until then we will keep plugging along.”
The Royals are, as expected, pretty bad. They’re 6-12 with a -13 run differential, and their starting pitcher tonight owns a 6.19 ERA (5.05 FIP) in 248.2 innings since 2015 (!). The Yankees did not take care of business against the Orioles, Tigers, or White Sox at home. Time to build off the Red Sox sweep tonight. Here are today’s lineups:
New York Yankees
1. CF Brett Gardner
2. RF Aaron Judge
3. 1B Luke Voit
4. SS Gleyber Torres
5. 3B DJ LeMahieu
6. LF Clint Frazier
7. DH Mike Ford
8. C Austin Romine
9. 2B Tyler Wade
RHP Domingo German
Kansas City Royals
1. 2B Whit Merrifield
2. SS Adalberto Mondesi
3. LF Alex Gordon
4. 3B Hunter Dozier
5. 1B Ryan O’Hearn
6. RF Jorge Soler
7. DH Lucas Duda
8. C Martin Maldonado
9. CF Billy Hamilton
RHP Homer Bailey
It is a bit cloudy and cool in the Bronx this evening. Also weirdly humid. Tonight’s game is another 6:35pm ET start and the YES Network will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.
Injury Updates: Miguel Andujar (shoulder) took batting practice this afternoon and swung pretty hard. Here’s video. Doesn’t look like he held back much, if at all. Andujar also increased his throwing distance and intensity. Here’s video … Gary Sanchez (calf) took batting practice and ran the bases. Here’s video. Gary said he hopes to be activated when eligible Saturday … Didi Gregorius (Tommy John surgery) has stretched out his throwing to 120 feet. “He’s been doing really well. It’s gone as planned the whole way,” Aaron Boone said to Bryan Hoch … Troy Tulowitzki (calf) took batting practice this afternoon in addition to some running and fielding work. He hopes to rejoin the Yankees at some point next week.
After two games with the Red Sox, the Yankees close out their homestand with four games against the last-place Royals.
Their Story So Far
Kansas City is just four years removed from winning the World Series, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the roster. On the 25-man roster, only Alex Gordon remains. The Royals’ record, 6-12 coming into Thursday’s action, reflects the overhaul as the team goes into another rebuild.
Their offense has been right near league average with a 99 wRC+ while leading baseball with 20 stolen bases. Their pitching staff is more of a problem. The Royals’ 5.34 collective ERA is tied for 24th in all of baseball while the bullpen has a 6.37 ERA, third-worst in MLB.
Catcher Salvador Perez is out for the season with Tommy John surgery while pitchers Trevor Oaks and Jesse Hahn are on the 60-day IL with hip and elbow issues, respectively.
On the 10-day IL, starter Danny Duffy is working his way back from left shoulder tightness and is making a rehab start this weekend. Reliever Brian Flynn is out with left elbow soreness.
Players Spotlight: Alex Gordon and Whit Merrifield
If you’ve heard one thing about the Royals this season, it was likely about Merrifield surpassing 30 games with his hitting streak dating back to last season. However, there’s more to Whit than just hitting. He’s able to play all over the field. He hits for average, not too much power, and steals a lot of bases. He led the American League in steals each of the past two seasons. He’s everything you want in a leadoff hitter.
Meanwhile, Gordon has had a late-career resurgence starting with the last two months of 2018. He still struggles against same-sided pitchers, but he’s hitting .339 with a 1.008 OPS to begin the season, hitting three homers after just 22 over the last two seasons. In his final year under contract, Gordon would be valuable even if his bat was falling flat; Gordon is a wizard in the field, having won six Gold Gloves in left field, including the last two years.
- Whit Merrifield, 2B (.320/.350/.493, 123 wRC+)
- Adalberto Mondesi, SS (.254/.289/.507, 106 wRC+)
- Alex Gordon, LF (.339/.427/.581, 172 wRC+)
- Hunter Dozier, 3B (.298/.388/.596, 160 wRC+)
- Ryan O’Hearn, 1B (.163/.339/.306, 83 wRC+)
- Jorge Soler, RF (.221/.284/.471, 99 wRC+)
- Lucas Duda, DH (.200/.359/.433, 111 wRC+)
- Martin Maldonado, C (.174/.269/.239, 43 wRC+)
- Billy Hamilton, CF (.213/.283/.213, 39 wRC+)
The team has some positional flexibility with Dozier and Duda able to man first base and Merrifield able to play middle infield or all around the outfield. Chris Owings is a utility player while backup catcher Cam Gallagher and pinch runner/outfielder Terrance Gore man the bench.
Thursday (6:35 PM ET): RHP Domingo German vs. RHP Homer Bailey
Bailey seems like he’s been around forever, but he’s just 32 years old, having spent much of the last four seasons on the disabled list. From 2015-18, he started just 46 games for the Reds, going 9-27 with a 6.25 ERA in 231 2/3 innings.
The veteran righty has been able to avoid the IL this season, but the results haven’t changed. He brings a 5.29 ERA into this series with three home runs in 17 innings. His strikeout rate has been surprisingly prolific, fanning 21 in those 17 frames after just 75 strikeouts over 106 1/3 innings last season.
He still works with a 93 mph heater while going offspeed about half the time with his mid-80s splitter his key secondary offering. He’ll also mix in a slow curve and a hard slider.
Clint Frazier and Brett Gardner are 4-for-7 with a walk against Bailey. German has only faced Maldonado, who he struck out in 2017.
This matchup comes in with an unfortunate narrative already baked in: Junis is the pitcher who hit Aaron Judge in the wrist last summer and caused him to miss more than a month of games. The HBP didn’t appear intentional, yet Junis got death threats for injuring the Yankee slugger.
On the mound, he’s been a bit unlucky this season. The right-hander has pitched to a 3.55 FIP but has a 6.14 ERA. His strikeout rate has improved in each of his three MLB seasons — he’s at 24.5 percent through four starts — while his walk rate has hovered around six percent.
Junis faced the Yankees twice last season, beating them in Kansas City before getting pounded for seven runs in the Bronx. The big blow in the New York start was a grand slam by Didi Gregorius. Get well soon, Didi!
Fillmyer has been thrust into the Royals’ rotation with Duffy on the mend and will be making his third start of the season Saturday. He struggled against the upstart Mariners in his first appearance before settling down with an OK start (three runs, one walk, two Ks in five innings) against the White Sox.
The young right-hander works off a low-90s fastball and sinker with 20 percent sliders, 13 percent curves and 14 percent changeups. Statcast doesn’t rate him well as he’s allowed a bottom third percentile exit velocity (93.6 mph) in his eight innings and has a low strikeout and hard hit rate. Let’s see a larger sample before making definitive judgment.
Fillmyer is a local product. He is from Roebling, N.J. and attended Mercer County Community College, not too far from the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate Trenton Thunder.
Sunday (1:05 PM ET) James Paxton (vs. Royals) vs. Jorge Lopez (Never faced Yankee batters)
Lopez is a product of the Royals’ rebuild, coming over in the Mike Moustakas trade in July. The 26-year-old starter actually debuted in the Majors for Milwaukee in 2015 but didn’t get an extended opportunity to start until after the traded.
Like seemingly everyone in baseball, he’s struck out more batters this season while being prone to the long ball. Extremely prone. He’s allowed six homers in 23 innings. The White Sox produced five of the those homers across his two starts against the Southsiders. Still, he produced a career-high 10 strikeouts in his last outing in Chicago.
Lopez has a fastball averaging 93 mph (down one mph from last season) and turns to that and his sinker about half of the time, filling in the gaps mostly with his low-80s curveball.
Though there are many, if you want to pinpoint one weakness on the roster, it’s the bullpen. Kansas City leads baseball in losses where the team held the lead, though the Yankees aren’t far behind. Their starters outside Brad Keller, who the Yankees miss, have been middling to bad and the bullpen hasn’t been much better.
Kansas City’s eight-man bullpen has a clear division with four veterans and four youngsters. Right-handers Wily Peralta and Brad Boxberger are relievers with late-inning bona fides while Ian Kennedy has transitioned from the rotation to the bullpen. Left-hander Jake Diekman can work as a matchup lefty or get RHBs out. Of those pitchers, Kennedy has had the best start to the season while Peralta and Boxberger have ERAs above 7.00.
On the young side, right-handers Glenn Sparkman and Jake Newberry have had poor starts in limited innings while second-year righty Scott Barlow has been a pleasant surprise with a 2.57 ERA over seven innings. Lefty Richard Lovelady debuted earlier this April and has a 16.20 ERA in 1 2/3 innings.
Keys for the weekend
Take Three of Four (or More)
The Royals have the second-worst record in the American League (Boston is worse) and they’ve played like it. The Yankees need to keep winning series, home or away, against inferior competition if they want to make up their early deficit to Tampa Bay.
Kansas City can run. Merrifield led baseball in stolen bases last season while Hamilton has 264 stolen bases over the last five seasons. Off the bench, Gore has been known for his pinch-running prowess. With pitchers like Adam Ottavino not known for holding runners, KC could feast this weekend.