Bird’s approach and hard-hit tendencies stand out early in MLB career

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Even with last night’s 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, first base prospect Greg Bird has been very impressive in his short MLB cameo. He had the two-homer game Wednesday and has gone 6-for-21 (.286) with a double, two homers, and a .348 OBP so far. Losing Mark Teixeira to that bone bruise in his shin could have been very bad, even if only for a few days, but Bird has stepped in and helped the offense. It’s been awesome to watch.

“Miguel Cabrera had a slow clock, and really had an understanding of what he wanted to do, and I think Greg Bird has an understanding of who he is and what he wants to do,” said Joe Girardi to Kieran Darcy following the two-homer game Wednesday. “He’s got a slow heartbeat, and you can just see it. He doesn’t go out of his zone, he knows what he wants to do and has a plan, and he executed really well today.”

Bird had a reputation for being a very disciplined hitter as he came up through the system, and it shows in his career 14.9% walk rate in the minors. Being disciplined isn’t just about drawing walks, however. Walks are a byproduct of being disciplined; the goal is to get into a good hitter’s count first and foremost. Bird showed he’ll swing early in the count if he gets something to hit earlier this week with his first pitch double off Glen Perkins:

“I got ambushed by the first guy,” said Perkins to Mike Berardino after the game. Bird was leading off the inning against a new pitcher, a tough lefty he had never seen before, and taking a pitch to get a feel for the situation would have been easy to understand. Instead he jumped on the first pitch fastball, a very hittable pitch, and sparked the game-winning rally.

PitchFX data says Bird has swung at only 16.3% of pitches out of the zone so far, which is microscopic. The MLB average is 30.8%, and Carlos Santana has the lowest swing rate on outside pitches among qualified hitters at 19.1%. For what it’s worth, swing rates stabilize very quickly, though Bird’s swing rate on pitches out of the zone is unsustainably low. He’ll inevitably swing at more pitches out of the zone as he accumulates more plate appearances and that’s okay. That’s baseball.

Even to my untrained eye, that “slow clock” Girardi spoke about seems pretty obvious. Bird looks very comfortable and very in control at the plate. Lots of rookies come up and start hacking at everything because they so badly want to impress. It’s only natural. Bird has not done that at all. Look at his ninth inning walk last night. Lots of rookies would have come out of their shoes swinging at bad pitches trying to make something happen. Bird appears to be very relaxed at the plate and it shows in the strike zone plot of his swings (via FanGraphs):

Greg Bird swing heat map

In a nutshell, the brighter the red, the more often Bird has swung at pitches in that location in his brief MLB career. The brighter the blue, the less often he has swung at pitches in that location. Almost all of the red is out over the plate and almost all of the blue is outside the zone. It’s exactly what you want to see, though it rarely happens with a rookie.

In addition to his impressively disciplined approach, Bird has also stood out because he seems to hit the ball really, really hard. His average exit velocity is a healthy 93.2 mph, well above the 88.4 mph league average. Obviously Bird’s number comes in a very small sample, so take it with a grain of salt. Baseball Info Solutions data, which is recorded by human stringers, pegs his hard contact rate at 57.1%. The league average is 28.6%.

Bird has made lots of hard contact early on — I thought it was sorta funny that his first career hit was a dinky little ground ball with eyes after he watched some rockets find gloves in previous days — and the most impressive thing is that he’s consistently hitting the ball in the air. Just three of his 14 balls in play have been ground balls (21.4%). That’s it. This isn’t something new either. Here’s a snippet of Keith Law’s preseason scouting report (subs. req’d), when he ranked Bird as the 81st best prospect in baseball (emphasis mine):

Bird’s swing is very short to the ball, and he accelerates his hands quickly for hard contact to all fields, rarely putting the ball on the ground because he squares it up so frequently.

According to MLB Farm, Bird had a tiny 31.0% ground ball rate in the minors this year before being called up. Last year it was a 30.0% ground ball rate. That’s ridiculously low. The league average ground ball rate in the big leagues is 45.4%. It’s approximately 45% in the Triple-A International League, 44% in the Double-A Eastern League, and 47% in the High-A Florida State League. Bird has been way below the league average at each stop. He doesn’t hit the ball on the ground.

Generally speaking, fly balls are turned into outs more often than ground balls — fly balls have a .073 BABIP this year while grounders are at .243 — but they also go for extra base hits more often. That makes sense intuitively and the numbers back it up: fly balls have a .287 ISO this year while ground balls are at .020. (The only ground balls that go for extra bases are those hit down the line.) We also know the harder you hit the ball, the more likely it is to go for a hit (line drives have a .615 BABIP and .393 ISO!), so Bird’s combination of hard contact and not hitting grounders is one hell of a recipe for doing damage.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Bird has been in the big leagues for a little more than a week now and that’s nothing. This could all be small sample size noise for all we know. The super early returns do match the scouting reports though, so that’s encouraging, and the combination of plate discipline and hitting the ball hard in the air sure is exciting. Most impressively, Bird looks like he belongs. He has looked very calm and in control at the plate. That’s stood out more than anything.

Mailbag: Ackley, Didi, Mateo, Tanaka, Bird, Sabathia, Judge

Got ten questions for you in the mailbag this week. The “For The Mailbag” form is gone and it’s never coming back. If you want to send us a question, email us at RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. There’s a reminder in the sidebar should you ever forget the email address, but that’s a pretty easy one, right?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Chip asks: Does it makes sense to move Dustin Ackley back to 2b this coming winter so that he can be ready to play there when Spring Training rolls around?

Sorry Chip, I had to shorten the question. Anyway, yes I do think it makes sense and I think the Yankees will have Ackley work out at second base over the winter and in Spring Training because why not? There’s nothing to lose. It’s not a new position, he’s just getting reacquainted with an old position, so in theory it shouldn’t be a huge undertaking to get back into the second base groove. Adding that little bit of versatility can only help.

Now, as for Ackley starting at second next year, I think that should be the Plan C or D, not Plan A. The Yankees have Rob Refsnyder, who is as close to big league ready as he’s going to get, and there are some are some quality second baseman set to become free agents after the season. Ben Zobrist, Howie Kendrick, Chase Utley, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Daniel Murphy are the most notable. Obviously some are more desirable than others. If the Yankees can’t get a good deal on a free agent and Refsnyder isn’t up to the task, then turn to Ackley at second. I wouldn’t make him Plan A. We’ve got more than 2,200 plate appearances telling us he’s a below-average player. Make him earn an everyday job.

David asks: If Didi Gregorius continues to play and improve what do you think the Yanks will do with the “untouchable” Jorge Mateo when he is ready for the Majors – 3rd base, 2nd base, or trade him?

I’m going to cop out and say “worry about this when the time comes.” Mateo is still in High-A, remember. What’s the best case scenario timetable for him? Start next year in High-A, move up to Double-A at midseason, then start 2017 in Triple-A and maybe get called up at midseason? That’s the best case. I think Mateo is more likely to have to wait until 2018 to be a big league option. Gregorius will be just one year away from free agency at that time. Mateo could be ready just in time to replace Didi before he leaves as a free agent. If Gregorius is still worth a regular lineup spot and Mateo is big league ready at some point in the next few years, celebrate. Having too many good young shortstops is a wonderful luxury.

Jhonny asks: Michael Pineda returns healthy. Now you have: Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, Luis Severino. Who’s going to the bullpen? It obviously should be CC, but that’s not going to happen. Thoughts?

No one. I expect the Yankees to use a six-man rotation once Pineda returns. Big Mike is making his second minor league rehab start tonight, so if he makes his next start in the big leagues next week, the Yankees will only have to go a few days with either a short bullpen or a short bench (a short bench, I bet) until rosters expand on September 1st. Then obviously once rosters expand, it’ll be much easier to stick with the six-man rotation full-time. The Yankees have gone to great lengths to give their rotation extra rest whenever possible this year and there’s no reason to think they’ll stop in September. They’ll actually have six healthy starters and expanded rosters will allow them to pull it off. Unless there’s an injury or Severino needs to be shut down for workload reasons, I would be surprised if they didn’t use a six-man rotation in September. Everything they’ve done this year points in that direction.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Jonathan asks: Do you think the decision to not have Masahiro Tanaka undergo surgery had anything to do with his opt-out clause in two years? Possibly to maximize Tanaka’s value before he opts out for a longer deal with another team? How much of a factor do you think the opt-out clause is influencing the Yankees medical decision with Masahiro?

I don’t think it’s a factor at all. Surgery is something you try to avoid and the doctors recommended going to rehab route, so that’s what they did. The doctors couldn’t care less about Tanaka’s opt-out situation. The opt-out is just an unfortunate little wrinkle in this whole saga. The Yankees want as much out of him as possible, but at the end of the day it is Tanaka’s choice, remember. The Yankees can’t make him have surgery any more than your employer can make you have surgery. It’s as simple as multiple world renowned doctors saying he doesn’t need his elbow cut open, so they didn’t cut him open. It’s a boring answer but that’s what happened.

Daniel asks: With the impending 40-man roster crunch, should the Yankees look to move 3-4 prospects in the offseason for an upgrade at positions of need (maybe 2nd or in the rotation)? It seems like it would make sense to deal from their depth at outfield, bullpen, and catcher.

I feel like we say this every season but it never happens. Trading three or four players for one or two players to simultaneously plug roster holes and clear 40-man roster spots sounds like a great idea, but you have to find another team willing to clog up their 40-man roster with fringy big league players, and that’s tough to do. The only time I can remember this happening was the Mark Melancon-Joel Hanrahan trade a few years ago. The Red Sox traded Melancon and three spare parts for Hanrahan and the no one knew he would be good version of Brock Holt. The Yankees should look to make a trade like this and if they can do it, great. They’re just really hard to pull off. Lots of my stuff for a little bit of your better stuff trades rarely happen.

Justin asks: Coming up the Yankees have a three game series a the Braves, and in September a three game series at the Mets. Can they afford to not have A-Rod in the lineup for those games especially with the division being as close as it is? Is it possible to see A-Rod go to 3B and Chase Headley to 2B during those series?

Possible? Sure, it’s always possible we see Alex Rodriguez at third. It’s just extremely unlikely at this point. The Yankees have been committed to keeping Alex at DH to keep him rested, and given his recent slump, I’m sure they’re looking forward to getting him off his feet for a few consecutive days. Also, there’s zero chance Headley plays second. He’s never played the position ever. Not even in college. Headley was at third, Stephen Drew was at second, and A-Rod was on the bench during the team’s NL park interleague series earlier this year and I’m sure that will be the case going forward.

Ruby asks: With Greg Bird looking like he truly belongs and Mark Teixeira having proven that he still has All-Star abilities, can you see the Yanks trading Teixeira over the winter?  What could the Yanks get in return for Teixeira?

Let’s pump the breaks a little on Bird. I love him as much as anyone, but he’s got a week’s worth of plate appearances under his belt, so I wouldn’t go trading Teixeira just yet. I’m not sure there’s anything Bird can do the rest of the way to convince me Teixeira is expendable. Besides, Teixeira has full no-trade protection thanks to his ten-and-five rights and has indicated he is unwilling to go anywhere else. I joked about trading him to the Pirates — they need a first baseman and a real cleanup hitter behind Andrew McCutchen — on Twitter the other day but that was just a joke during Bird’s two-homer game. I’m not sure how much value a very good yet expensive two-way player has on the market anyway. I feel like the Yankees would have to eat some money to facilitate a trade, and Teixeira has been too good this year to eat money to move him. A-Rod and Teixeira have stayed relatively healthy this year, but what about next year? It’s not hard to see a scenario in which Teixeira gets 120 games, Bird gets 100 games, and A-Rod gets 100 games in 2016.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Mike asks: In last night’s game CC was excellent, but I couldn’t help but feeling that that 7th inning was doomed to end badly. He’s struggled the third time through the order, but, paradoxically, he also leads the team in innings pitched. Does it make sense to pull CC earlier, even when he’s pitching well, before he makes a mistake – or do the Yankees really need him to eat those innings? Feels like a weird Catch 22.

They needed Sabathia to eat innings the other night because the bullpen was taxed — Bryan Mitchell took the line drive to the face the night before. That was an outlier compared to the rest of the season. Sabathia has recorded an out in the seventh inning in just seven of his 23 starts this year — he started the seventh and did not record an out in one other occasion — and after years of being baseball’s preeminent workhorse, he’s averaged just 93.3 pitches per start this year. He’s thrown 100+ just five times. It used to be a surprise when Sabathia didn’t thrown 100+ pitches. The other night was a bit of a special case because the bullpen was taxed. Otherwise Joe Girardi has been quick to pull Sabathia this season because he does struggle the third time through the lineup, and I definitely expect that to be the case in September, when the bullpen will have all those extra bodies thanks to expanded rosters.

John asks: Drew hit a horrible .153 for the first two months of the season, but beginning June 1st his average has been more like .230-.240.  With Brendan Ryan also hitting above .240 and both able to play multiple positions well, do you figure that the team really isn’t looking for an alternative at 2B anymore?  Seems like .240 going forward is adequate, and I doubt anyone good and cheap is going to drop into Brian Cashman‘s lap.

At this point there is no decent second basemen left on the market, so even if the Yankees were still looking for one, the pickins are slim. Chase Utley is a Dodger and I’m not sure he would have been much of an upgrade anyway. The Marlins seem to be holding onto Martin Prado, and besides, he went into last night’s game hitting .269/.314/.348 (82 wRC+). That is pretty crummy. Right now the best option at second base is simply stand pat, stick with Drew against righties and maybe give some of Ryan’s platoon at-bats to Refsnyder in September. Once Zobrist came off the board, there were no realistically available second basemen who could be considered substantial upgrades.

Dylan asks: If Carlos Beltran continues to rake, and is the de facto starting RF next year, do the Yankees call up Aaron Judge to be the 4th outfielder off the bench? I know you always talk about the value to rookie catchers to come up as back-ups, but would the same hold true for OF?

Yeah I think Beltran will be the starting right field next season, at least at the start of the season. Judge is striking out a ton in Triple-A and can use more time at that level. I don’t think he would be a good option for fourth outfielder. Catcher is a different animal. Those guys have a lot more to worry about than hitting. I think there’s a lot of value in a young catcher sitting in on big league game plan meetings and catching the staff in the bullpen and what not. An outfielder doesn’t do any of that. I say let Judge start the year in Triple-A so he can play every single day. He needs at-bats more than anything.

Comeback falls short, Yankees drop opener 3-2 to Indians

Once again, the Yankees did not go down without a fight. A spirited ninth inning rally ultimately fell short and the Indians walked away with a 3-2 win in Thursday’s series opener. Can’t win ’em all.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Not Sharp Nova
Ivan Nova‘s night can be summed up by the fourth inning. He walked the No. 7 hitter on five pitches, gave up a single to the No. 8 hitter, then gave up a run-scoring single to the No. 9 hitter, all with two outs. That made it 3-0 Indians and tells you what kinda night it was for Nova. He was on the edge of escaping the inning but couldn’t make a pitch when he needed to make a pitch. Sometimes that happens.

All told, Nova allowed three runs on six hits and two walks in five innings. It certainly was not his sharpest outing, far from it, and this was just one of those nights, you know? Pitchers aren’t going to be on every time out, especially not when they are 16 months removed from Tommy John surgery. Nova threw 94 pitches, got just seven swings and misses, and allowed a Hughesian 21 foul balls. He benefited from some fine defense and averaged 4.27 pitches per batters faced, which … yikes. Not a good night for Nova. Not a disaster but not good either. Shake it off, try again in five days.

A Long Run
The Yankees scored their first run on a very long Alex Rodriguez home run Thursday night. It sounded like it was shot out of a cannon. Alex’s bat still makes that special sound when he connects. Statcast measured the home run at 426 feet and 107 mph off the bat. That feels low. A-Rod really crushed that pitch. Cleared the first section of seats and landed in the left field bleachers.

I'll remember Alex's dinger. (Presswire)
(Presswire)

The home run was their first run but not their only scoring chance against Josh Tomlin. The Yankees got a leadoff double in the third (Chase Headley) and had two on with one out in that inning (Stephen Drew walked), but both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner grounded out to end the threat. Drew drew a two-out four-pitch walk (!) in the fifth before Ellsbury grounded out. They didn’t get much else going against Tomlin at all.

Fighting Spirit
Unlike the last two years, these 2015 Yankees never seem to go down quietly. They had the three come-from-behind wins over the Twins, and, in the ninth inning of this game, they put the tying run at third base and winning run at second after coming into the frame down 3-1. The inning started with an A-Rod single and an A-Rod stolen base — another steal! he still has time to go 30/30, you know — then Carlos Beltran drove him in with a one-out single through the shift.

Following Beltran’s single, Greg Bird walked on five balls — home play ump Dan Iassogna called a 3-0 autostrike on a pitch down, whatevs — and Headley advanced the runners with a grounder to first. Carlos Santana maybe had a chance at the game-ending 3-6-3 double play, but he bobbled the ball and had to settle for just the out at first. That brought up Didi Gregorius, who slapped a 1-1 pitch to left for a routine fly ball and the final out. Yankee Stadium had a pretty loud “Di-Di! Di-Di!” chant going. It was pretty cool. The place would have exploded had he gotten a hit there. Alas.

(Presswire)
Remember when Almonte was a second baseman in the GCL? Good times. (Presswire)

Leftovers
Adam Warren chucked 31 pitches in two innings, allowing one hit to the unstoppable Jason Kipnis. Kipnis had three hits, all line drive to the opposite field. Brian McCann threw Kipnis out trying to steal second and Gregorius gets a mention for a fantastic tag — the throw pulled him to the second base side of the bag, and he was able to make the catch and swipe tag Kipnis on the way by, all in one motion. T’was pretty.

Joe Girardi waved the white flag and brought in Chris Capuano to pitch the final two innings. Capuano allowed two base-runners in the eighth, escaped the jam with the help of an Ellsbury sliding catch, then tossed a perfect ninth against the bottom of the order. Any time you can steal some outs with Capuano to rest the other relievers, it’s a plus.

Drew reached base three times! Too bad the Yankees couldn’t take advantage. He has now reached base 12 times this month, but who’s counting? A-Rod’s homer, A-Rod’s single, Headley’s double, Beltran’s single, and Drew’s generously scored infield single — it was a hard-hit grounder Kipnis bobbled — were the team’s only hits.

I only remember three hard hit balls going for outs — ex-Yankees farmhand Abe Almonte made a spectacular jumping catch at the wall to rob Gardner of extra bases, and both Beltran and Bird hit line drives at the right fielder. They weren’t getting robbed or anything. So it goes. Baseball, man.

Iassogna’s wide outside corner to lefty batters didn’t exactly help matters, but let’s not blame him for the Yankees not scoring enough runs. It’s just an observation. Girardi was ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the ninth inning. Third ejection of the year for Joe.

And finally, the Yankees are now 1-3 against the Indians this year, which bites. They’re 13-13 against last place teams this season. Hope that doesn’t come back to bite ’em at some point.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights for the game and here are the updated standings and postseason odds for the season. Also please check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. By my unofficial count, this is the 40th series of the season for the Yankees, and YES has used 16 different booth combinations. Anyway, here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
This series is just getting started. The Yankees and Indians will play game two of this four-game set Friday night. Masahiro Tanaka and Carlos Carrasco will be the pitching matchup. That should be a fun one. There are still six games left on this homestand — there’s another ten-game homestand right around the corner too, you know — so if you want to catch any of the games live at Yankee Stadium, RAB Tickets can get you in the door.

DotF: De La Rosa dominates in Pulaski’s win

C Miguel Flames and 3B Nelson Gomez, two of the Yankees top international signings last year, got some love in the Helium Watch section of this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet Prequel. They’re both playing the Dominican Summer League, but apparently they’re tearing the cover off the ball.

Triple-A Scranton was rained out. The game will be made up as part of a doubleheader next Thursday.

Double-A Trenton (7-3 loss to Bowie)

  • CF Mark Payton: 0-4, 1 K
  • RF Tyler Austin: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K — alternating one-hit games with no-hit games for about a week now
  • SS Tyler Wade: 0-4, 1 E (throwing) — Double-A is hard
  • RHP Taylor Garrison: 3 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 3/2 GB/FB — 38 of 58 pitches were strikes (66%)
  • RHP Rookie Davis: 4.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 4/5 GB/FB — 54 of 93 pitches were strikes (58%) … unusual he came out of the bullpen, but Garrison’s coming off an injury, so they probably wanted him to warm up at his own pace and not in the middle of a game

[Read more…]

Game 120: Ivan and the Indians

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The ten-game homestand is off to a pretty swell start. The Yankees just swept the Twins, coming from behind in all three games, and they’ve stretched their lead in the AL East back to two full games. (Three in the loss column!) There’s a lot of season left, but gosh, I would have signed up for being two games up on August 20th back in Spring Training in a heartbeat.

Ivan Nova will be on the mound tonight and although the raw results in his last two starts haven’t been great (seven runs in 12.1 innings), I feel like he’s finally starting to settle into a groove following Tommy John surgery. That last start in Toronto was pretty gutsy. That seems to be a common trait among the starters, these dudes really battle when they don’t have their best stuff. Hopefully tonight goes a little more smoothly. Here is the Indians’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Ivan Nova

It has been a lovely day in New York. Warm but not hot with a nice little breeze, bright blue sky with a few poofy clouds. The sky looks like a Bob Ross painting. I guess that would make them happy little clouds then, right? Not poofy? Anyway, tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Mark Teixeira (leg) is doing better but he is still not available off the bench. He hasn’t started any baseball activities yet but should fairly soon … Bryan Mitchell (face) could start some physical activity soon. Nothing major yet, just some cardio work, but that’s a good sign.

8/20 to 8/23 Series Preview: Cleveland Indians

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The ten-game homestand continues with a four-game weekend series against the Indians. The Yankees were just in Cleveland last week, when they lost two of three to the Tribe. That was when the Yankees were really struggling to score runs, however. Hopefully things will go a little better this time around.

What Have The Indians Done Lately?

Cleveland lost two of three in Fenway Park earlier this week. They’re 55-64 with a -26 run differential this season, and that has them in last place in the AL Central and well out of the postseason race. The Indians have been a huge disappointment this season. Uuuuge.

Offense & Defense

At 4.00 runs per games with a team 98 wRC+, the Indians are a below-average offensively club this season. And remember, most of that offense came before they traded away David Murphy, Brandon Moss, Nick Swisher, and Michael Bourn. They’ve been disappointing in many ways. Their only injured position player is IF Chris Johnson. He just landed on the DL with a hand issue. That bites. Johnson seemed to kill rally after rally in Cleveland last week.

Lindor. (Presswire)
Lindor. (Presswire)

The biggest difference between the Indians the Yankees saw last week and the Indians the Yankees will see this week is 2B Jason Kipnis (142 wRC+). He was on the DL with shoulder inflammation when these two teams played a week ago but was just activated Tuesday. Kipnis has been the Tribe’s best player this year. OF Michael Brantley (139 wRC+) always seem to kill the Yankees and 1B Carlos Santana (107 wRC+) is still quite productive. SS Francisco Lindor (99 wRC+) has been both slightly below-average overall and on fire of late — he’s got a 130 wRC+ over the last 30 days.

C Yan Gomes (77 wRC+) and IF Jose Ramirez (54 wRC+) are having poor years, though Ramirez did tear up the Yankees last week. They couldn’t get him out. 3B Giovanny Urshela (85 wRC+) plays third everyday and the quartet of UTIL Ryan Raburn (131 wRC+), UTIL Lonnie Chisenhall (85 wRC+), UTIL Jerry Sands (91 wRC+), and former Yankees farmhand OF Abe Almonte (122 wRC+) rotate around Brantley in the outfield. IF Mike Aviles (67 wRC+) is the backup infielder and C Roberto Perez (106 wRC+) is the backup catcher.

As I said last week, the Indians are a below-average defensive club, especially now that Kipnis has returned and will take playing time away from Ramirez. Lindor and Urshela are great on the left side of the infield and Almonte is strong in center, but otherwise every other regular on the roster is a below-average defender. Cleveland is one of the worst defensive clubs in baseball. They were the worst before calling up Lindor and Urshela.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday (7pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. CLE) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (vs. NYY)
Boy do the Yankees catch a break this series. Four-game set with the Indians and they’re missing reigning Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, who started last night. Missed him in Cleveland last week too. Pretty great. Tomlin, 30, has missed most of the season with shoulder trouble and has made just one start since returning, holding the Twins to two runs in 6.1 innings. He had a 4.76 ERA (4.01 FIP) in 104 innings last season, with a good strikeout rate (21.1%), a great walk rate (3.1%), and well-below-average grounder (37.5%) and homer (1.56 HR/9) numbers. When healthy, Tomlin operates with an upper-80s four-seamer and mid-80s cutter — PitchFX says his velocity in his first start off the DL was in line with last year — which set up his mid-70s curveball. He’s rarely thrown his low-80s changeup since the start of last season.

Friday (7pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. CLE) vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco (vs. NYY)
The Yankees will miss Kluber again but they will get stuck facing Carrasco one more time. The 28-year-old has a 3.63 ERA (2.88 FIP) in 24 starts and 151.1 innings this year with phenomenal peripherals: 27.1 K%, 5.2 BB%, 50.8 GB%, and 0.83 HR/9. That’s as good as it gets. Righties (.300 wOBA) have had more success against him than lefties (.264 wOBA) both this year and last year, so the reverse split is probably not a fluke. Carrasco sits in the mid-90s with both his two and four-seam fastball and in the upper-80s with both his changeup and slider. Carrasco also throws a low-80s curveball on occasion. He throws everything hard. The Yankees scored two runs (on solo homers) in eight innings against Carrasco last week. Tough assignment.

Salazar. (Presswire)
Salazar. (Presswire)

Saturday (1pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (vs. CLE) vs. RHP Danny Salazar (vs. NYY)
Salazar, 25, is another hard-throwing Indians pitcher. He’s pitched to a 3.15 ERA (3.56 FIP) in 22 starts and 139.2 innings in 2015, and he’s done a better job neutralizing righties (.274 wOBA) than lefties (.291 wOBA). Salazar has a great strikeout rate (27.7%), a below-average homer rate (1.16 HR/9), and average-ish walk (7.3%) and grounder (44.5%) numbers. His four-seamer sits mid-90s and will touch 98-99, and his changeup is a mid-80s offering. Salazar also throws a mid-80s slider but not often, less than 10% of the time this season. The Yankees scored just one run in 7.1 innings against Salazar in the series last week.

Sunday (1pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. CLE) vs. RHP Trevor Bauer (vs. NYY)
I’m pretty sure Bauer is the most enigmatic pitcher in baseball. He’s an extreme great stuff/bad results guy. He has a 4.62 ERA (4.58 FIP) in 24 starts and 142.1 innings this year, and he’s allowed at least five runs in five of his last seven starts. Bauer, 24, has a slightly above-average strikeout rate (22.9%) but below-average walk (9.6%), grounder (38.2%), and homer (1.45 HR/9) rates. Lefties (.337 wOBA) have done more damage against him that righties (.306 wOBA). Bauer throws low-to-mid-90s two and four-seamers, upper-80s cutters, mid-80s changeups, low-80s sliders, and upper-70s curveballs. He favors the four-seamer over the two-seamer but has thrown all six pitches at least 9% of the time in 2015. The Yankees punished Bauer for six runs in 3.1 innings last week.

Bullpen Status
Francona’s club is down to a normal seven-man bullpen. Closer RHP Cody Allen (3.94 ERA/2.08 FIP) has been much better the last few weeks after a really rough start to the season. Former Yankees farmhand RHP Zach McAllister (3.09/2.76) has settled in as Allen’s primary setup man, and RHP Bryan Shaw (2.68/4.32) also sees some late-inning work. LHP Kyle Crockett (2.61/4.46 in limited time) is the lone southpaw.

RHP Austin Adams (3.96/3.63), RHP Jeff Manship (1.23/2.79), and RHP Ryan Webb (2.45/3.72) fill out the rest of the bullpen. Aside from Manship, all of these guys throw hard. The Indians love their power arms. Crockett has pitched the last two days and both Shaw and McAllister pitched yesterday, by the way. Our Bullpen Workload page can keep you updated on the tired Yankees’ bullpen. Check out Let’s Go Tribe and The DiaTribe for the latest on the Indians.