Game 15: Time to start a new winning streak

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

All good things must come to an end, and last night the Yankees saw their eight-game winning streak end with a bit of a whimper. They were bound to lose at some point. That’s fine. It happens. The important thing is making sure one loss doesn’t spiral into a losing streak. Beat the White Sox tonight, get the series win, then go out on the road and start another winning streak.

Tonight’s starter, Masahiro Tanaka, showed some signs of rounding back into form last time out, and it sure would be cool to see him get all the way back on track tonight. The rotation has been pretty excellent the last week and a half. Tanaka being Tanaka would make me a feel much better about the pitching staff going forward. I like what I’ve seen from Michael Pineda and Luis Severino of late, but I’m not buying in all the way just yet. Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

Pretty yucky weather in New York today. It’s cold, cloudy, and windy, and there’s a whole bunch of rain in the forecast. The internet says the heavy stuff won’t arrive until 9pm ET or so, but once it starts, it’s not supposed to stop until the middle of tomorrow morning. So play fast and make sure you have the lead after five innings tonight, fellas. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and you can watch on WPIX. First WPIX game of the season, right? I think so. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Gary Sanchez (biceps) played catch and swung a bat two-handed for the first time today. He made 25 tosses from 50-75 feet and also took 25 dry swings. Joe Girardi said Sanchez has been catching five or six inning simulated games from a pitching machine as well.

Aaron Judge is open to participating in the Home Run Derby and MLB should want him there

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

I don’t know about you, but Aaron Judge has very quickly become one of my favorite players on the Yankees. He’s so fun to watch because he’s such an extreme outlier. Baseball players aren’t supposed to be that big, and baseball players who are that big aren’t supposed to be such good athletes and runners. We’ve seen Judge save some runs in right field and beat out infield singles already this season.

And, of course, there are the home runs. They’re why everyone loves Judge. His four home runs have averaged a healthy 399 feet, and according to Statcast, Judge is responsible for five of the 14 hardest hit balls in baseball this season, including two of the top three. The ball just explodes off his bat. Judge has all the power you’d expect from a guy listed at 6-foot-7 and 275 pounds.

Given his early season exploits, folks are already starting to wonder whether Judge will participate in the Home Run Derby this summer. It makes sense, right? Put the big guy capable of hitting long home runs in the event dedicated to big guys hitting long home runs. Randy Miller asked Judge about the Home Run Derby earlier this week. Here’s his response:

“The Home Run Derby is awesome. It’s a fun event to watch and I’d probably do it if they asked me,” said Judge. “No (I’m not worried about screwing up my swing). I’ve been in them before and I just take my normal swing that I do in batting practice and hopefully it would all work out. I’d just go out there and have fun. I wouldn’t change anything. But it would be a fun thing to do.”

Judge’s batting practices are already the stuff of legend. YES has shown clips of Judge hitting balls over the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in center field and onto the concourse over the last week and a half. I saw him do that with my own eyes before the home opener and was amazed. But it’s normal for him. That’s just something does every day during batting practice. It’s incredible. There’s no doubt he’d be a fun Home Run Derby contestant.


Personally, I’m not worried at all about a potential Home Run Derby hangover effect. There have been several studies showing it isn’t real, like this one and this one. Pick eight players at random and inevitably one or two of them will perform worse in the second half than they did in the first. The same is true of guys who participate in the Home Run Derby. It’s just normal baseball being baseball stuff.

Anyway, I’m getting off track here. Judge indicated he’s open to participating in the Home Run Derby this summer and MLB should want him there. For a few reasons too. One, he’s a Yankee! The last Yankee to participate in the Home Run Derby was Robinson Cano in 2013. The Yankees are the most popular team in the sport and one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Put a Yankee in a Home Run Derby and he will attract viewers. No doubt about it.

Two, Judge is an exciting young up-and-coming player. MLB is trying like crazy to cultivate young fans and the single best way to attract new young fans is by showcasing your most exciting players. Judge is a freak and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Put him in the Home Run Derby and people who don’t know much about baseball are going to see him and not be able to take their eyes off him. Everything about him demands your attention.

(That’s also a reason for the Yankees to want Judge in the Home Run Derby. As MLB works to cultivate more young fans, the Yankees want as many of them as possible rooting for their team. Judge mashing dingers in the Home Run Derby would be a great “hey come root for the Yankees” sales pitch.)

And three, the power. At the end of the day, the Home Run Derby is a “hit ball far” competition with some bells and whistles. In a batting practice setting, which is essentially what the Home Run Derby is, few offer as much power as Judge. He’s going to hit the ball a mile and that’s what people want to see. MLB has brought non-All-Stars to the Home Run Derby in recent years just to ensure they showcase their top power hitters. (Giancarlo Stanton won the Home Run Derby last year but was not an All-Star. Todd Frazier also participated in the event as a non-All-Star.)

Judge has some Home Run Derby experience — he won the 2012 College Home Run Derby while at Fresno State — and while doing it at the MLB level is a heck of a lot different than doing it at the college level, he has some sort of Home Run Derby experience. It won’t be completely new to him. MLB (and the Yankees) have a lot to gain by putting Judge in their Home Run Derby and it is absolutely something they should consider when the time comes. An event like this is made for guys like him.

No, Chase Headley won’t be this good all year, but there are some promising signs in his game

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Something weird happened last night. Chase Headley was not in the starting lineup. That in and of itself isn’t weird. Joe Girardi is pretty good at making sure his regulars get enough rest. What was weird was the reaction. Fans were upset! In our comments, on Twitter, and probably on a bunch of other social media sites I don’t even know exist. Upset about Headley being out of the lineup! What a time to be alive.

Fans were upset for a good reason, of course. Headley has been a monster hit season. He is hitting .409/.519/.614 (227 wRC+) with two home runs, three stolen bases, ten walks, and nine strikeouts through the team’s first 14 games. No, he won’t do that all season, but hot damn, Headley has been a beast early on. It’s the complete opposite of last year, when he was beyond useless in April. Remember that? How could you forget.

“I started extremely poorly, and that contributed to the team starting bad,” said Headley to Zach Braziller earlier this week. “I knew I couldn’t start the way I started last year. You can’t just take a month and two weeks out of the season, and say, ‘Oh, I had a (good) season with the exception of this month and a half.’ It counts … It’s a small sample size, but I feel like I’m playing the way I’m capable of. I feel like I’m swinging at the pitches I want to, and that’s always a good place to start.”

Headley is not really as good as he’s been so far this year nor is he really as bad as he was last April. The truth is somewhere in the middle, and the question is where. Hopefully closer to this year than last April. Here are a few notable early season trends within Headley’s game that help explain why he’s been so productive these first two weeks and change of the new season.

1. He’s going the other way an awful lot. In the very first game of the season Headley beat the shift three times against the Rays. Once with a bunt and twice with ground balls directed the other way. We haven’t seen Headley beat the shift quite that obviously since then — I’m talking about those well-placed rollers where the defense is normally positioned — but he has continued to use all fields. Here’s the batted ball direction breakdown:

chase-headley-batted-balls

That covers both sides of the plate, though it essentially represents Headley’s numbers as a left-handed hitter. Only eight of his 54 plate appearances have come as a righty so far, and in those eight plate appearances he’s put six balls in play. So yeah, for all intents and purposes, those are Headley’s numbers from the left side of the plate.

As you can see, he’s going the other way substantially more than he has in the past. We’re talking nearly twice as often as he did from 2014-15. And the important thing here is not just the number of balls he’s hitting the other way. Look how many he’s pulling too. Headley has nearly an even split. He’s going the other way as often as he pulls the ball. That makes him tougher to defend.

2. He’s not hitting the ball on the ground. When Headley was going through his brutal April last year, he was beating the ball into the ground, and that is no way to hit. Especially when you’re not a good runner. Fly balls and line drives not only go for hits more often than ground balls — the league BABIP on fly balls and liners is .388 this year compared to only .240 on grounders — they also go for extra-base more often. The next ground ball I see go for a home run will be the first.

So far this season only 32.4% of Headley’s balls in play have been on the ground. That is tiny. That’s Kris Bryant (31.0%) and Nolan Arenado (31.9%) territory. Slugger territory. Headley’s ground ball rate was 44.2% last year and it is 44.4% for his career. He is well below that now. Between this and the first point, Headley is hitting the ball in the air to all fields in the super early going this year. Of course more hits are going to fall in when you do that.

3. He doesn’t swing out of the zone. Headley has always had a pretty good eye. He walked in 9.6% of his plate appearances last year, and he had several seasons with a walk rate north of 10% back with the Padres. Headley knows the strike zone, and his year he’s taken his plate discipline to another level. Look at his chase rate on pitches out of the zone:

2014: 25.8%
2015: 25.1%
2016: 25.8%
2017: 18.1%

That 25.8% chase rate last year? That’s really good. The MLB average was 30.6% and Headley was several percentage points below that. Now he’s all the way down at 18.4%. Right now 194 players have enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title and Headley’s chase rate is fifth lowest. He’s been one of the most discipline hitters in baseball.

Keep in mind this is not just about drawing walks. Walks are overrated. Okay, maybe not, but people focus on them too much. The entire point of working the count is to get a hittable pitch. Laying off pitches out of the zone helps get the count in Headley’s favor, which better allows him to do damage. Also, chasing fewer pitches out of the zone means fewer balls in play on those pitches, and putting a pitch out of the zone in play usually results in weak contact.

* * *

Inevitably Headley will cool down at some point and not because Girardi gave him the night off last night. Something tells me he’s not really a true talent .485 BABIP hitter. Just a hunch. He’ll cool off and go back to being Chase Headley and everyone will resume complaining about the days he is in the lineup, not the days he’s on the bench.

In all seriousness, Headley is showing some promising early trends — using all fields, getting the ball in the air, not chasing out of the zone, etc. — and those things will help him be a productive hitter going forward. His performance is a bit on the extreme side right now. His ground ball and chase rates are so incredibly low that they have nowhere to go but up. But, if Headley can maintain these trends to some degree, he’ll help the Yankees more at the plate this year than he has the previous two seasons.

Luis Severino is showing why the Yankees were smart to stick with him as a starter

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The pitching line does not do Luis Severino justice. Last night he was charged with four runs in eight innings, though it was one run through six innings before the White Sox rallied for three runs in the seventh. Those three runs came after Pete Kozma booted what appeared to be an easy double play ball. At the very least, Kozma should have gotten one out. Instead, he got none.

Severino should not get a pass for allowing the three-run home run to Avisail Garcia because, my goodness, it was a horrible pitch. He left a cement mixer slider here:

luis-severino-avisail-garcia

Dude. You can’t leave a hanging slider there. Severino made a terrible pitch and he paid the price. That home run was basically the difference in the game. A 1-0 deficit in the late innings is a heck of a lot different than a 4-0 deficit.

That home run pitch to Garcia was also Severino’s only terrible pitch of the night, or at least that’s how it seemed. He struck out ten in eight innings and also generated ten ground ball outs. Severino faced 28 batters total and only five (five!) hit the ball out of the infield. He did a nice job holding down an admittedly weak White Sox lineup aside from the Garcia dinger.

Three starts into 2017, Severino has a mediocre 4.05 ERA in 20 innings, but the underlying stats are more important. In those 20 innings Severino has 27 strikeouts and only two walks, as well as a 50.0% ground ball rate. That’ll play, young man. Keep in mind this is the same pitcher who had an 18.8% strikeout rate and a 6.6% walk rate as a starter last year. Those numbers are 35.5% and 2.6% this year, respectively.

Now, I don’t think anyone expects Severino to maintain those strikeout and walk rates because basically no pitcher does that — Clayton Kershaw came close last season! (31.6 K% and 2.0 BB%) — but the fact he’s missing bats, limiting walks, and getting grounders early on is very encouraging. Severino really does look like a completely different pitcher. The guy we saw in 2016 is gone.

There are two big differences between the Severino we’ve seen so far this year and the Severino we saw last year. One, his changeup. He’s actually using it! He threw 12 changeups last night and eleven changeups in the start before that. (I’d tell you know many he threw in his first start if Trackman had, you know, recorded the data.) That’s on par with what he did in 2015. About a dozen changeup per game. Last year he lost confidence in the pitch and threw 12 total in his final four starts.

And two, his confidence. That’s not something we can quantify. It’s something we have to observe. Severino is throwing with conviction this year and he’s aggressively attacking hitters. He’s not nibbling and not shaking off the catcher. He’s getting the ball and throwing it. It’s almost like Severino has taken his reliever mentality from last season out to the mound as a starter this year. That’s how he looks. Like an amped up reliever as a starter.

Considering how bad Severino was as a starter last season and how great he was as a reliever, I totally understand why many folks wanted to keep him in the bullpen. I get it. I do. A kid struggles as a starter, shows lights out stuff in relief, and it’s tempting to just keep him there because hey, bullpens are important too. Why mess with success? Pair him with Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman and turn it into a six-inning game. Surely Adam Warren could be a competent fifth starter while Severino dominates in relief, right?

The Yankees never stopped believing in Severino as a starter though, and it certainly doesn’t hurt his case that the team is short on established arms under contractual control beyond this season. They need starters long-term and Severino, who turned only 23 in February, has by far the highest upside among the club’s young arms. Guys like Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa and Chad Green have shown promise, but not as much as Severino. Not close, really.

Three starts into the season, which is obviously a tiny little sample size, Severino looks like a very different pitcher than the guy we saw last year. He looks like the guy we saw in 2015. Better in some ways, really. This level of overall aggressive plus confidence in his changeup are two things that were desperately missing last year. Severino has gotten off to a great start this season and he’s justifying the club’s faith in him as a starting pitcher. Now it’s time to build on this start going forward.

The Yankee offense gets quieted by Miguel Gonzalez in a 4-1 loss to the White Sox

After winning eight in a row, the Yankees almost got shut out by Miguel Gonzalez. They made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth, but one run definitely wasn’t enough. The Yankees lost 4-1 on Tuesday to snap the eight-game winning streak. Oh well. Time to start another winning streak.

Gonzalez is not impressed with the Yankees lineup (Elsa/Getty)
Gonzalez is not impressed with the Yankees lineup (Elsa/Getty)

A series of unfortunate events

Luis Severino got off to a really good start for the first eight hitters, taking care of them on 30 pitches total with four strikeouts. The first bit of damage was done by their No. 9 hitter Leury Garcia, who squared up a 96 mph fastball and deposited it over the right-center wall. 1-0 White Sox. Look amazing against the first eight guys and get hurt by the ninth hitter, go figure.

Meanwhile, the Yankees offense was getting perfect gamed by… Miguel Gonzalez. For the first four innings, other than a loud fly out by Brett Gardner, there weren’t many ball hit with an authority. You might remember Gonzalez as an underwhelming SP for the Orioles who was actually released by them in the beginning of the 2016 season. Ever since joining the White Sox though, he added the Don Cooper specialty — cut fastball — and has served as a useful back-end rotation guy for them. Last year, he had 3.73 ERA in 24 games (23 GS) and earned 2.7 fWAR.

The Yankees broke the perfecto in the fifth with a Starlin Castro infield single. And, of course, Aaron Judge followed it up with a GIDP. Gonzalez is a guy who lives off of late movement in his pitches and that seemed to absolutely befuddle the Yankee hitters tonight. In the sixth, Austin Romine led off with yet another softly-hit infield single. However, Ronald Torreyes and Pete Kozma both popped out on the first pitch and Gardner struck out to quickly end that.

Severino got into a bit of jam in the seventh. He allowed a single to Tim Anderson and Melky Cabrera reached on a Kozma error — the grounder that normally would’ve been a GIDP went through the wickets. While Jose Abreu made the matters easier by popping out on the bunt, Avisail Garcia hit a hanging breaking ball up the zone into the left field bullpen for a 4-0 Sox lead. We can play the “what if” game here — if Kozma makes that play and turns it into a double play, Severino could’ve been out of the inning unscathed. However, it’s also not a great thing to hang a breaking ball up to a hitter as hot as Avisail Garcia. Players make mistakes. It’s just unfortunate.

In the bottom seventh, Jacoby Ellsbury reached on a bunt single to get something going. However, Matt Holliday hit a grounder right on the screws to SS Tim Anderson for a quick double play. That might’ve been the hardest ball hit by the Yankees tonight and it impacted the offense quite negatively. It’s just one of those games.

Sevy

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

While the offense seemed powerless tonight, Severino brought tons of it. Tonight, he went 8 innings while walking none and striking out 10. From a guy who just turned 23, you can’t ask too much more than that. On the negative side, he did allow two homers. One of them was from Leury Garcia, who hit a decent pitch close to the outside corner. Another was from red-hot Avisail Garcia, who drilled a hanging breaking ball. That’s the kind of mistake you hope to see less from Severino.

But to be fair, Severino had his slider working well tonight. He got 8 whiffs out of it for a 22.2% rate, which is great (an average whiff rate is around 11%). He also got 8 whiffs from his fastball, which topped out at 98.8 mph per Brooks Baseball. The YES Network gun had his fastball up to 98 mph on the last pitch of the outing, which is something.

Tonight’s outing brought his season ERA up to 4.05 ERA. What I like though, is that he has 27 strikeouts and 2 walks in 20 IP. I’m curious to see how he would do against a Red Sox-caliber lineup. There are a lot of positives to take from what Sevy has shown so far in 2017. Keep him in the rotation.

The ninth inning

It seemed like Yankees were well on their to getting Maddux’d by Gonzalez in the ninth. After allowing a single to pinch-hitting Chase Headley, the righty got Chris Carter to fly out. However, after walking Brett Gardner on four pitches, the White Sox pulled Gonzalez out and put David Robertson in to close it out.

Robertson walked Jacoby Ellsbury to load the bases, making this game a bit more interesting with the tying run coming up to the plate. However, he channeled his 2011 Houdini act to strike out Matt Holliday to get the second out. Next up was Starlin Castro, who actually managed to draw a walk to push one across to avoid a shutout for New York. Unfortunately, that was all for the Yankees, as Judge grounded out to short to end the game. 4-1 White Sox.

Box score, WP graph and standings

Here’s tonight’s box score and updated standings from ESPN and WPA graph from Fangraphs.


Source: FanGraphs


Wouldn’t you love to see another winning streak start? Well, the Yankees are back at it again against tomorrow at 7:05 pm EST. Masahiro Tanaka will be on the mound versus Dylan Covey.

DotF: Gleyber Torres hurts biceps, Clint Frazier goes deep

Here are the notes for the day:

  • SS Gleyber Torres was scratched from tonight’s game with biceps tendinitis, according to Joe Girardi. He’ll likely go for an MRI. Torres first felt some tightness in his shoulder during batting practice today. A little tendinitis is no big deal, so hopefully that’s all it is. He probably got hurt petting Rookie and Derby too much. Understandable.
  • J.J. Cooper put together a list of five prospects who are already making a case for a promotion. RHP Chance Adams is one of them. “Adams’ control could continue to use some refinement, and he only had a half-season in Double-A last year, but the call to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre should come before too long,” said the write-up.
  • The Yankees have signed LHP Nestor Oronel, according to Matt Eddy. The Pirates released him last month. Oronel, 21, had a 5.53 ERA (5.96 FIP) with 18.1% strikeouts and 7.0% walks in 42.1 rookie ball innings last year. The combination of age and handedness leads to me believe the Yankees possibly see him as something more than roster filler.
  • And finally, RHP James Kaprielian had his Tommy John surgery today as scheduled. Everything went well, the Yankees say. The long rehab road begins now.

Triple-A Scranton (6-4 win over Louisville)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 3-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 SB — had been in a little 3-for-15 (.200) rut
  • LF Clint Frazier: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI — first dinger of the season
  • RF Dustin Fowler: 2-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 CS — 4-for-8 in his last two games, so he’s starting to come around
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4, 1 R, 2 K, 1 HBP
  • 3B Donovan Solano: 2-5, 1 R, 2 2B, 1 RBI
  • CF Mason Williams: 1-5, 2 K
  • RHP Brady Lail: 5 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 3/6 GB/FB — 54 of 87 pitches were strikes (62%)
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 0/3 GB/FB — 30 pitches, 20 strikes
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 19 of 29 pitches were strikes (66%)
  • LHP Chasen Shreve: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — nine of 15 pitches were strikes … he comes down here and dominates

[Read more…]

Game 14: Severino’s turn to keep the winning streak alive

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The winning streak sits at eight games, and tonight the Yankees will turn to the youngest player on their 25-man roster to try to extend it to nine. It’s easy to forget Luis Severino is still so young, isn’t it? He turned only 23 in February. The second youngest player on the 25-man roster is Jonathan Holder. He’s eight and a half months older than Severino. Crazy.

Anyway, Severino has looked pretty good in his first two starts this season. Certainly better than he looked at any point last year. It’s hard to overstate his importance to the Yankees going forward. They have little in the way of established pitching under contractual control beyond this season, and Severino has by far the highest upside among their healthy pitchers. Hopefully he continues to make strides tonight. Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. C Austin Romine
  8. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  9. SS Pete Kozma
    RHP Luis Severino

It is on the chilly side in New York this evening, but at least the sky is clear. Typical April baseball weather. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Didi Gregorius (shoulder) took simulated at-bats today and he is scheduled to begin a minor league rehab assignment with High-A Tampa on Friday … Gary Sanchez (biceps) is swinging a bat using his left hand only. He is expected to begin throwing this week, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.