DotF: Luis Severino dominates in season debut

Some notes to start the night:

  • According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have released RHP Sam Agnew-Wieland, RHP Zach Nuding, LHP Rigoberto Arrebato, C Tyson Blaser, C Kale Sumner, C Jackson Valera, 1B Brady Steiger, OF Adam Kirsch, and OF Zach Wilson. Nuding’s the big name there. He 25-year-old throws very hard but had a 3.93 ERA (4.04 FIP) with an underwhelming 17.6 K% in 293 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A the last two years.
  • Double-A Trenton is on Keith Law’s list of the most talented minor league teams (subs. req’d). “The Yankees’ farm system has been hit by injuries and thinned by trades over the past two years, but there’s a strong collection of prospects at their Double-A affiliate in Trenton this spring, especially on offense,” said Law. He mentioned OF Aaron Judge, 1B Greg Bird, 3B Eric Jagielo, C Gary Sanchez, RHP Luis Severino, and RHP Johnny Barbato as the Thunder’s top prospects.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 loss to Rochester)

  • LF Slade Heathcott: 0-4, 1 K, 1 E (fielding)
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-3, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – off to a bit of a slow start, which he did at Double-A last year as well
  • DH Kyle Roller: 1-4, 3 K
  • RF Tyler Austin: 0-3, 1 K
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 3.2 IP 5 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 2 WP, 2/1 GB/FB – 52 of 87 pitches were strikes (60%) … that might be the most Bryan Mitchell line ever
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 4/0 GB/FB — 28 of 41 pitches were strikes (69%) … he’s allowed eleven balls in play this year: ten grounders and one fly ball
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 17 of 30 pitches were strikes (57%)
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 1 IP, zeroes, 3 K — 15 pitches, ten strikes … seven strikeouts in four innings so far

[Read more…]

Comeback falls short, Orioles hang on to beat Yankees 4-3

Sometimes you just get beat, and the Yankees got beat by the Orioles on Tuesday night. This was one of those boring “that’s baseball” games where the O’s got some timely hits, the Yanks didn’t, and that was that. Know what I mean?

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Results Matter
This felt like another one of those starts were CC Sabathia pitched better than the line score indicates. He allowed four runs on seven hits (five singles, one solo homer, one triple) and one walk in seven innings, striking out seven and getting ten ground ball outs compared to four in the air. The O’s scored one run each in the first (Adam Jones homer), third (Jones sac fly), fourth (Caleb Joseph single), and seventh (Everth Cabrera sac fly).

Sabathia threw a first pitch strike to 18 of 29 batters faced and 63 of his 91 total pitches were strikes, including eleven swings and misses. PitchFX says he averaged 89.5 mph with his fastball and mixed his pitches well: 16 four-seamers, 20 sinkers, 24 changeups, and 30 breaking balls. And aside from the Jones homer and Joseph’s triple into right-center field in the seventh, nothing seemed particularly hard hit. But, results matter, and four runs in seven innings wasn’t good enough to win.

Sabathia has 15 strikeouts (28.3%), one walk (1.9%), and a 67.6% ground ball rate through two starts. I feel like if he keeps doing exactly that, he’s going to be successful. It hasn’t happened yet though. Despite the loss I found this start encouraging. Sabathia was efficient and limited hard contact against a very righty heavy lineup. If he can keep doing that, at some point the four runs in seven innings will turn into two runs in seven innings, right? I hope so.

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Too Late
Man, it was hard to not notice the Yankees squaring Miguel Gonzalez up in the first and second innings. Chase Headley hit a ball to the warning track that Jones ran down, Carlos Beltran ripped a double off the very top of the right-center field wall, Chris Young drove a pitch into the right field corner for a double, and then Stephen Drew and Didi Gregorius combined to see 13 pitches (five fouls) in their at-bats. Gonzalez was fooling no one.

I saw that and thought good things were coming. The Yankees were going to light Gonzalez up the second time through the order. Instead, he retired nine in a row until Jacoby Ellsbury poked a single just beyond the reach of the second baseman for a leadoff single in the sixth. Ellsbury took second on a wild pitch then scored on Mark Teixeira‘s double into the corner for New York’s first run, cutting the deficit to 3-1.

Gonzalez managed to complete seven innings after those ominous first two innings. Kevin Gausman was summoned to pitch the eighth and the Yankees had an easier time handling his mid-90s heat and filthy offspeed pitches than they did Gonzalez’s kitchen sink. Gregorius blooped a single, Headley singled, Beltran drove in Didi with a ground ball, and Teixeira drove in Headley with a double off Alejandro De Aza’s glove in left. They ruled it an error but it was a tough play, De Aza had to run a long way.

The tying run was stranded at second when Brian McCann grounded into the shift against closer Zach Britton. The ninth inning was a little weird. Joe Girardi lifted Garrett Jones for a pinch-hitter against the lefty Britton (good!) and sent Gregorio Petit up instead (bad!). Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez pinch-hit with two outs and the bases empty. I get saving A-Rod in case there was a man on base, but down a run, I say let the best hitter bat first so he can start the rally. Eh, whatever.

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Leftovers
The #obligatoryerrors (plural!) belonged to Sabathia and Gregorius, upping the team’s MLB leading error total to eleven. Sabathia’s error was tough — it was a little ground ball along the first base line in the second inning, and his flip to first hit the runner. He didn’t really have a good angle to make the toss. Didi simply bobbled the transfer on a routine ground ball in the sixth inning.

Chris Martin was the only reliever used and he was damn impressive, striking out Jones and Steve Pearce as part of a perfect inning. He got hit around every time out in Spring Training it seemed, yet here he is throwing mid-90s gas to both sides of the plate with a nasty breaking ball in the regular season. No one knows anything about baseball.

The top four hitters in the lineup went 4-for-16 (.250) and everyone else went 2-for-18 (.111). They went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position overall, with Beltran and McCann each going hitless in two at-bats in those situations. Gonzalez struck out ten, a new career high. Gross.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Also make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Where else are going to find how the Yankees’s win-loss record with both Michael Kay and Ken Singleton in the booth? Nowhere. That’s where. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Orioles wrap up this three-game series Wednesday night. It’ll be Nathan Eovaldi against Bud Norris. Winner wins the series.

Game Eight: A Chance For The First Series Win Of 2015

(AP)
(AP)

For the second time this season, the Yankees have a chance to win their first series of the year tonight. They dropped the rubber game with the Blue Jays last Thursday and have lost their first two series of 2015. Last night’s win means the Yankees will have not one, but two chances to win this series at Camden Yards, though I think we all want to see a win tonight and a shot at the sweep tomorrow.

Now, the bad news: it’s raining in Baltimore. Has been for most of the day. The forecast says it’s supposed to clear up later tonight and there’s a pretty good chance the game will begin in a delay. That’s a bummer. It doesn’t look like they will need to postpone the game, however. Just a delay. That’s better than no baseball. Here is the starting lineup for Joe Girardi‘s club:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. DH Garrett Jones
  7. LF Chris Young
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    LHP CC Sabathia

The Orioles are starting right-hander and, for at least a short time in 2012, Yankee killer Miguel Gonzalez. He had a 2.17 ERA in 20.2 innings against New York in 2012 (including postseason) but has a 4.22 ERA in 49 innings against the Yankees since. Here is the O’s lineup.

Like I said before, it’s been raining at Camden Yards all day and the game will probably begin in a delay. Whenever it does start, you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Update: Brett Gardner could return to lineup by Friday

Gardner with his wrist wrapped.
Gardner with his wrist wrapped.

Tuesday, 5:01pm: Gardner may be available to pinch-run or play defense tonight, Joe Girardi told reporters. He is still sore and not available to hit. Girardi said he hopes Gardner will be able to return to the lineup Friday, following the off-day.

Monday, 10:11pm: X-rays on Gardner’s wrist came back negative, the Yankees announced. Phew. No word on how long he will sidelined, however.

9:55pm: Brett Gardner left tonight’s game against the Orioles in the seventh inning with a stiff right wrist, the Yankees announced. He is going for an x-ray. Stephen Drew pinch-hit for Gardner and hit a go-ahead grand slam.

Gardner, 31, was hit by a pitch around the wrist area earlier in the game — he was hit in a similar spot over the weekend too, if I’m remembering correctly — but it’s unclear if that’s related. Gardner had debridement surgery on the wrist in July 2012 and hasn’t had any issues since.

Needless to say, losing Gardner for any length of time would be pretty bad. He’s no worse than their third best player right now. I imagine a Garrett Jones/Chris Young platoon would replace him if necessary. Let’s hope if doesn’t come to that. Stay tuned for any updates.

Slot bonus values for 2015 draft and 2015-16 international signing period

This year it'll be Rob Manfred at the podium. (Getty)
Rob Manfred will be at the podium this year. (Getty)

Last summer the Yankees made up for their lack of high draft picks with an unprecedented international spending spree that saw them hand out more than $17M in bonuses along, according to Ben Badler. This summer they will have to do the opposite and make up for a lack of international spending ability with their two first round draft picks, Nos. 16 and 30 overall. (No. 30 is the compensation pick for David Robertson.)

So, with both the draft and the 2015-16 international signing period slowly but steadily approaching, let’s look at the team’s draft pool situations for both. Here is a breakdown of the overall pool situations and all important slot values.

2015 Amateur Draft

A few weeks ago we heard the Yankees will have a $7.885M bonus pool for the top ten rounds of the 2015 draft. That’s the sixth largest pool in baseball thanks to Robertson pick. Four of the five teams with larger bonus pools are the teams with the top four picks (Astros, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Rockies) and the fifth is the Braves, who have an extra pick for Ervin Santana plus two Competitive Balance Picks.

The bonus pool applies to the top ten rounds — any money over $100,000 given to a player drafted after the tenth round counts against the pool as well — and teams can pay one pick an overslot bonus and save money by paying another underslot. If a team fails to sign a player, they lose the bonus money associated with that pick, which is pretty significant. Here are New York’s slot values according to Baseball America:

2015 Draft Slots

The bonus pools have gone up considerably this year, roughly 9%, so New York has three seven-figure slots. That’s pretty cool. That 16th overall pick is the Yankees’ highest pick since they selected RHP Matt Drews out of a Florida high school in 1993. This will also be the first time the team has two of the top 30 picks since 1978, when they had three of the top 30 picks.

The Yankees will have the option this year of going big and signing one top talent to a huge overslot bonus (Brady Aiken? Mike Matuella?) and signing cheaper players elsewhere, or they could spread the money around and select several solid but not top prospects. Both are viable strategies and it depends on how the draft shakes out as much as anything. There might not be an Aiken or Matuella available for that 16th pick.

Last year scouting director Damon Oppenheimer told Chad Jennings the Yankees lean towards college players these days because “we’re getting some college guys up there a little quicker and through the system a little quicker,” and this draft is loaded with college pitching. Really pitching in general, high school and college. The consensus is there is a lack of quality bats this year. But it’s only April. A lot will change between now and June.

2015-2016 International Signing Period

Because of the penalties associated with last summer’s spending spree, the Yankees can not sign an international amateur to a bonus larger than $300,000 during the 2015-16 signing period. (And 2016-17 as well.) They do still have a regular sized bonus pool, however. Back in February we heard New York has a $2.2628M pool for the upcoming signing period.

Each team gets a $700,000 bonus base plus four slot values for international free agency. Those four slots are tradeable — clubs can’t just trade X amount of international dollars, they have to trade the individual slots — however a team can only acquire 50% of its original draft pool. So the Yankees could only acquire another $1.1314M, for example. Here are New York’s individual international bonus slots, via Baseball America:

  • Slot No.18: $687,300
  • Slot No. 48: $414,700
  • Slot No. 78: $218,100
  • Slot No. 108: $180,700

Because the Yankees are limited to $300,000 bonuses, it would make sense to trade one or two of those bonus slots this year. Then again, that money doesn’t have a ton of value. The Marlins acquired a 25-year-old bullpen prospect (Matt Ramsey) for over $1M in international money over the winter, for example. Think of it as trading bonus slots Nos. 18 and 48 for another Branden Pinder.

The Yankees have done an excellent job of finding quality international prospects on the cheap over the last few years. Jorge Mateo ($250,000) and Luis Severino ($220,000) both signed for $300,000 or less in recent years, as did fellow top 30 prospects Abi Avelino ($300,000), Angel Aguilar ($60,000), and Thairo Estrada ($49,000). That $2.2628M bonus pool equals seven full $300,000 bonuses. The Yankees have shown they can turn relative small bonuses into quality prospects.

Re-inventing CC Sabathia as a ground ball pitcher

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

CC Sabathia did pretty much everything that you’d expect from a frontline starting pitcher in his season debut last Thursday against Toronto. He struck out a third of the batters he faced, walked nobody, didn’t allow a homer, and induced ground balls or popups on nearly every ball that was put into play. Sabathia also got batters to chase almost half of the pitches he threw out of the zone, and the Blue Jays whiffed on nearly 15 percent of the pitches he threw. Sounds like an ace!

In fact, if you look at the outcomes that a pitcher has control over, Sabathia produced one of the best games of his 16-season career. His FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching) for the game was 0.18, the second-best mark out of the 424 games he’s pitched with the Indians, Brewers and Yankees.

Despite those impressive results, he ultimately ended up with a crooked pitching line (5 R, 8 H, 5 2/3 IP) because of two issues that have plagued him over the last two seasons – a high BABIP and inability to pitch out of trouble. Half of the 16 balls put into play went for hits, and he stranded just three of the players that reached base against him. There is little doubt that Sabathia stills needs to iron out those problems if he’s going to bounce back from the worst two-year stretch of his career.

However, there was one very encouraging trend from his season debut that is worth watching for tonight when the large lefty takes the mound against the Orioles in his second start of 2015.

Even during the low points of Sabathia’s struggles in 2013-14, he still maintained strong strikeout and walk rates. So the fact that he had eight strikeouts and no walks last Thursday was not surprising.

Rather, the most impressive number from his outing against the Blue Jays was 75.0 – the percentage of balls in play that were grounders. That was the third-highest groundball rate he’s induced in any game of his career, and his best mark since joining the Yankees. As you can see in the heat map below, he was really effective in pounding the bottom of the strike zone with his sinker.

Sabathia vs Blue Jays pitch location

Perhaps realizing that he can no longer dominate hitters with a blazing four-seamer, Sabathia relied on his two-seam fastball more than ever before against the Blue Jays. Forty-five percent of the pitches he threw were sinkers, his highest two-seam usage rate in a game since Pitch F/X tracking began in 2007. He also threw just six four-seamers, his fewest in any game over that same time period.

Although the sinker averaged only 89 mph, it had impressive horizontal movement (11 inches) and he located it well (53 percent below the knees). The pitch was just not a ground ball machine either; he got three strikeouts with the sinking fastball and batters whiffed on more than 20 percent of their swings against it.

One key result of his increased sinker usage was the weak contact that he induced throughout his outing. According to ESPN Stats & Information’s Mark Simon, he gave up only one hard-hit ball (as classified by video review) to the 24 batters he faced last Thursday. Just two of the 16 balls in play were line drives, and in addition to his 12 ground balls, Sabathia also generated an infield popup.

By keeping the ball down and getting grounders, Sabathia successfully avoided one of his biggest problems over the past two seasons – the home run ball. From 2013-14, he allowed 1.33 homers per nine innings, the sixth-highest rate among pitchers with at least 250 innings in that span.

Was this a deliberate strategy by Sabathia? Will he continue to ditch his four-seam fastball and instead go to his sinker to generate quick outs? Perhaps the most intriguing question is this one: Can Sabathia re-invent himself as a ground ball pitcher as he ages and enters the twilight of his career? If the answer is yes, the Yankees may have found themselves a solid mid-rotation pitcher for the next few years.

Despite brutal first week, Yankees have to remain patient with Didi Gregorius

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

To say the first seven games of the Didi Gregorius era haven’t gone well would be a pretty big understatement. Didi is only 3-for-23 (.119) at the plate and he’s been an adventure both in the field and on the bases, particularly the latter. He’s made some straight up boneheaded plays, like trying to steal third on Opening Day or getting caught making too wide a turn at first base on a single in the middle of last week.

Gregorius has not yet been charged with an error this season but he’s had some issues defensively. He didn’t throw home on Daniel Nava’s bases clearing double Saturday — no, it wouldn’t have made a difference in the game, but still — and he botched a potential double play Sunday because he couldn’t get the ball out of his glove. Yeah, that stuff happens, but when you’re already in the crosshairs because of your bat and base-running, you better at least make the plays you’re supposed to make.

Soon after that botched double play, some in the Yankees Stadium crowd started chanting “Der-ek Je-ter!” as if that was going to change anything. Gregorius heard them — “I just laugh, there’s nothing I can do. Just got to play the game. That’s all I can do. I want to do better, like (Jeter),” he said to Zack Braziller after the game — and it reminded me of the last time a new player was brought in from outside the organization to replace a retired icon.

Two decades ago the Yankees replaced Don Mattingly with Tino Martinez, and, like Gregorius, Tino got off to a brutal start in pinstripes. Especially at the plate, which is kind of a big deal since first basemen are in the lineup to provide offense first and foremost. Martinez started the 1996 season in a 3-for-34 (.088) slump, including 0-for-16 at Yankee Stadium, and was booed like he was wearing a Red Sox jersey. It wasn’t just because he was not hitting, it was also because he had the audacity to be picked to replace a legend*.

* I definitely remember Joe Girardi catching a lot of hell early that season as well. Fans were chanting “Stan-ley! Stan-ley!” after his at-bats because they wanted Mike Stanley back.

Gregorius is sorta going through what Martinez went through in 1996, though the circumstances are different. Tino was a veteran player who hit .293/.369/.551 (135 OPS+) with 31 homers in his final season with the Mariners. Didi is a young player not yet established at the MLB level who has struggled in all phases of the game. It would be one thing if he simply wasn’t hitting. I don’t think many people were expecting big offensive numbers from Gregorius this year. It’s become a bigger issue because of the base-running and defensive brain farts.

As painful as Didi’s struggles have been this first week, the single most important thing the Yankees can do is have patience with him, and I expect them to just that. They need to help Gregorius get through this — and by they I mean everyone, the coaches, his teammates, the whole nine — and get comfortable on the field. Maybe getting away from Yankee Stadium during this ten-game road trip will help. I’m sure that first week replacing Jeter at home was a bit overwhelming. How could it not be?

Everyone wants young players but no one wants the growing pains. Gregorius is a young player still trying to find his way in the big leagues, and now he has to do it in New York while replacing an icon. Comparatively, Tino had it easy in 1996. He was a veteran player who could point to the back of his baseball card when he stumbled out of the gate. Gregorius can’t do that. New York is a great place to play if you thrive, but man, if you struggle early in your first season with the Yankees, it can be very tough to win people over.

“He’s struggling, but I’m not worried about him. The concern I have is if he starts worrying about himself. He’s in a new city and he has to impress. There’s nothing much you can do for him except keep encouraging him and talking to him,” said the manager about his new player to Claire Smith, except that wasn’t Girardi talking about Gregorius. That was Joe Torre talking about Tino in 1996 and it applies to Gregorius today. The Yankees have to keep encouraging him and help him through this tough start. To change the way they feel about him or treat him after seven games, not matter how bad, would be a big mistake. As ugly as it has been, this is part of Didi’s development.