Game 12: Big Mike and the A’s

BIG MIKE IS HERE

Maybe it’s just me, but mid-homestand off-days are a little weird. They just feel out of place, you know? The Yankees were off yesterday and they continue their nine-game homestand tonight with the first of three against the Athletics. The four-game losing streak came to an end Sunday. It would be nice to see the Yankees start a winning streak tonight.

Just as important as a win is Michael Pineda, tonight’s starter. The rotation work has been hit or miss so far, as have Big Mike‘s first two starts. He’s flashed brilliance like he always has, yet the results still don’t match the stuff consistently. The Yankees really need their starters to settle in and start giving them quality innings in bulk. Here is the A’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. CF Aaron Hicks
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Michael Pineda

Good gravy is the weather perfect. Impossible to be better. The sky is blue and the sun is out (for now), and it’s nice and comfortable in the low-70s. Great night to be at the ballpark. This evening’s game will start at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game, folks.

YES Update: FOX regional sports affiliates, including YES, can now be streamed on Sling TV. It’s $20 a month — there’s a free seven-day trial — so it’s not free, but it’s not too pricey either. You will be able to stream Yankees games on YES, even if you’re in-market and a currently dealing with the Comcast nonsense. Here’s the Sling TV link.

2016 Draft: Reggie Lawson

Reggie Lawson | RHP

Background
Lawson, who turns 19 in August, attends Victor Valley High School in Victorville, which is not too far outside Los Angeles. So far this spring he has allowed six runs on nine hits and 12 walks in 18 innings while striking out 19. Last summer Lawson impressed on the showcase circuit, and he dominated out of the bullpen for Team USA’s 18-and-under squad last fall. He’s committed to Arizona State.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-4 and 190 lbs., Lawson is a classic projection high school right-hander. His spent most of his junior year topping out at 90 mph, but, by the end of the summer, his fastball was hitting 92-93 mph regularly and topping out at 95. He’s held that velocity this spring. Lawson’s breaking ball is a low-to-mid-70s curveball, and his changeup at this point is close to nonexistent. There are some concerns about his delivery, specifically the way he has shortened his stride, which has hindered his location and taken some of the snap away from his curve. Apparently that is considered fixable.

Miscellany
In their most recent rankings, both Keith Law (subs. req’d) and Baseball America ranked Lawson as the 26th best prospect in the 2016 draft. MLB.com had him 37th. The Yankees hold the 18th overall pick this year and scouting director Damon Oppenheimer sure loves his Southern California players, but Lawson is probably going to have to show a little more this spring to play his way into consideration for the middle of the first round. He was so good last summer that it is definitely possible. Right now Lawson looks more like a late-first round prospect.

4/19 to 4/21 Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The homestand continues this week with a three-game series against the Athletics. This is the first time the A’s have visited the Bronx in April since 2009. The Yankees are getting a bunch of home series against West Coast teams out of the way early, huh?

What Have They Done Lately?

Coming into the season, the Athletics were the one AL team that I thought had no chance to contend. They’ve gone 6-7 and have been outscored by six runs in the super early going. Oakland just wrapped up a six-game homestand, and they lost the first four games before rallying to win the last two. Yesterday was an off-day as they flew East.

Offense & Defense

Reddick. (Presswire)
Reddick. (Presswire)

Runs have been very hard to come by so far this season. The A’s are averaging only 2.85 runs per game with a team 77 wRC+, so they’ve been really struggling offensively. In fact, they’ve scored three or fewer runs in nine of their 13 games. Good gravy. Manager Bob Melvin has two injured players: IF Eric Sogard (knee) and OF Sam Fuld (shoulder). They’re both going to be out a while.

As always, the A’s have a lineup that is very heavy on platoons. The only constants are OF Josh Reddick (134 wRC+), 3B Danny Valencia (89 wRC+), and SS Marcus Semien (155 wRC+). Reddick and Valencia hit third and fourth, and after starting the season as the No. 9 hitter, Semien has seen some time in the two-hole of late. OF Billy Burns (96 wRC+) and OF Coco Crisp (61 wRC+) are sharing time in center field and at the leadoff spot.

UTIL Chris Coghlan (32 wRC+) has been sharing time at second base with IF Jed Lowrie (51 wRC+) and in left field with OF Khris Davis (21 wRC+). 1B Yonder Alonso (-21 wRC+) and 1B/OF Mark Canha (6 wRC+) are platooning at first, then you have DH Billy Butler (22 wRC+) soaking up at-bats. That was such a weird signing. Backup C Josh Phegley (154 wRC+) starts against lefties, so we probably won’t see him this series since CC Sabathia is not scheduled to start.

The A’s have an awful lot of underperforming players in the early going — again, they’re averaging 2.85 runs per game! — and I sure hope they don’t break out this series. Defensively, Melvin’s team is shaky pretty much everywhere but right field, where Reddick is a true stud with a rocket arm. Here is their runs saved projection visualization, via Sean Dolinar:

Athletics defenseIt’s weird, years ago the A’s were ahead of everyone when it came to the obsession with defense. They were the first team that was willing to accept a bad bat as long as it came with a good glove at positions that were traditionally offense-heavy, like left field and first base. These seem to have abandoned that. Weird.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (7pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. OAK) vs. LHP Eric Surkamp (vs. NYY)
Remember back when the Yankees seemed to get shut down by every finesse lefty they had never seen before? That was a long time ago. Surkamp, 28, was once a pretty good prospect with the Giants, but injuries have derailed him the last few years. He has 66 total big league innings under his belt, including nine innings in two starts this year. Surkamp has allowed four runs on nine hits and five walks while striking out only three in those nine innings. He’s gotten a grounder on only 28.6% of balls in play too. Not a whole lot of data to look at. Surkamp, in typical crafty lefty fashion, works with an 88-91 mph four-seamer and a mid-80s cutter. An upper-70s curve is his main non-fastball, though he’s also thrown some low-80s changeups this year as well. Surkamp is in the rotation because fifth starter Felix Doubront blew out his elbow earlier this month and needed Tommy John surgery, and also because Henderson Alvarez is still working his way back from shoulder surgery.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Wednesday (7pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. OAK) vs. RHP Kendall Graveman (vs. NYY)
The 25-year-old Graveman came over from the Blue Jays in that ridiculous Josh Donaldson trade two offseasons ago. It looked lopsided at the time and looks even worse now. Graveman is a serviceable big league pitcher, one who owns a 3.90 ERA (4.42 FIP) in 131.2 innings, almost all of which came last year. He’s a ground ball (51.8%) and low walk guy (7.3%). Graveman doesn’t miss many bats (15.6%) and he can be homer prone (1.09 HR/9), but he has had close to no platoon split during those 131.2 innings. He’s essentially a low-90s sinker/upper-80s cutter/upper-70s curveball pitcher, which is an unusual combination. Very A’s like, I’d say. Graveman will throw a few mid-80s changeups per start, and he has a straight low-90s four-seamer for get-me-over pitches. His two starts this season have been solid: two runs in 5.1 innings against the White Sox, one run in six innings against the Angels.

Thursday (7pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (vs. OAK) vs. LHP Rich Hill (vs. NYY)
Hill turned four dominant starts (1.55 ERA and 2.27 FIP!) with the Red Sox late last year into a one-year, $6M contract with the A’s. Good for him. The 36-year-old has a 4.15 ERA (3.26 FIP) in 13 innings across three starts this year, and he’s managed a 30.7% strikeout rate with a 52.9% grounder rate. His walk rate (8.1%) is about average. All throughout his career, even back in the day with the Cubs, Hill was always way more effective against lefties than righties. His pitching style is very unique. He throws his mid-70s curveball roughly 50% of the time, so more often than his low-90s four-seam fastball. Hill will drop down and throw his curve almost sidearm at times (GIF via Karl de Vries) …

Rich Hill curveball

… and last year he led all pitchers in curveball zone percentage, so he throws it for strikes. That pitch is his bread and butter. Hill will mix in a few mid-80s changeups as well, but really, he’s a curveball pitcher who throws some fastballs on occasion. Unusual. Not bad necessarily, just unusual.

Bullpen Status

The bullpen was a total disaster for the A’s last season. Their 4.63 ERA and 4.36 FIP were the third and fourth worst in baseball, respectively. Only a bunch of rebuilding clubs got worse relief work. So, in an effort to improve the bullpen, the A’s signed RHP Ryan Madson (three years, $22M) and RHP John Axford (two years, $10M), and traded stalwart swingman Jesse Chavez to the Blue Jays for setup man RHP Liam Hendriks. Here is the relief crew to date:

RHP Ryan Madson: 7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 0 HR
LHP Sean Doolittle: 5.2 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 3 HR
RHP Liam Hendriks: 6 IP, 13 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 0 HR
RHP John Axford: 7.2 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 0 HR
RHP Ryan Dull: 7.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 0 HR (!!!)
RHP Fernandez Rodriguez: 8 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 0 HR
LHP Marc Rzepczynski: 4.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 0 HR

Doolittle started the season as the closer, but then he started giving up dingers in bunches, so Madson has since stepped into the ninth inning. Hendriks and Dull have reversed roles with their performances; Dull’s seeing late-inning work and Hendriks is getting low-leverage innings. Rzepczynski is the left-on-left matchup guy.

Like I said, the A’s had an off-day yesterday, so their bullpen is coming in fresh. The Yankees were off yesterday too, so Joe Girardi‘s bullpen is in good shape. You should check out our Bullpen Workload page anyway.

What the heck is going on with Jacoby Ellsbury’s defense?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2016 season is only eleven games old, but we’ve already seen several defensive miscues by center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury, who has played every inning of every game so far, has specifically made four misplays that stand out in the early going. Mistakes happen. That’s baseball. But four mistakes in eleven games? That’s unusual.

Ellsbury’s four misplays have all led to runs, which is partly bad luck — not every miscue should result in runs, Yankees — and partly a result of outfielder misplays often leading to extra bases, making it that much easier to score. Let’s look at these four miscues and try to figure out exactly what the hell happened, and whether it was simply one of those things or a sign of declining skills.

Play No. 1: J.D. Martinez single in Detroit

They say the toughest play for an outfielder is the line drive hit right at you, and that line drive was hit pretty much right at Ellsbury. He knew off the bat he had to retreat, so he had the correct jump, but the ball was closer to left field than he seemed to realize, so it feel in for a base hit.

“It kind of just died out,” said Ellsbury to Erik Boland after the game. “It just went straight down. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to recover on it. I got a great jump on it.”

It appears Ellsbury simply misread this ball in terms of its location left to right. He got the right jump and broke back, but he was about ten feet too far to the right. The fact that this was a line drive hit at him makes me think the ball knuckled unexpectedly. Ellsbury was there, but not there there. Know what I mean?

Play No. 2: Jose Bautista double in Toronto

This one Ellsbury clearly misread off the bat. His first step was in! Look:

Jose Bautista Jacoby Ellsbury

Ellsbury took a few steps in, then had to stop and retreat to right-center field. Those few wasted steps coming in put him behind the play and allowed Bautista’s double to drop in. Ellsbury almost caught it because he’s still really fast, but ultimately he couldn’t recover from that bad first step.

Also, look where the Yankees had Ellsbury positioned. He was shaded heavily towards left field for Bautista, who is an extreme pull hitter. Check out his 2014-15 spray chart, via Baseball Savant:

Jose Bautista spray chart

So yeah, Bautista is a big time pull hitter. The Yankees had Ellsbury positioned in the right place — he should be shading him towards left field — but Bautista had to go and be good at baseball and hit the ball to right-center. That didn’t help matters. Bottom line though, Ellsbury’s first step was in when it should have been back. That cost him a chance to make the play. This one is on Jake.

Play No. 3: Robinson Cano‘s single on Saturday

The speedy Ketel Marte managed to score all the way from first on that play, which just can’t happen. Marte and Mariners third base coach Manny Acta deserve credit for their aggressiveness and willingness to push the envelope, so let’s not take anything away from them. They caught Ellsbury napping. Look at his reaction:

Jacoby Ellsbury Ketel Marte

It sure looks like Ellsbury assumed Marte was going to stop at third base. He was caught off guard. While this play sucked and you hate to see players take seemingly routine plays for granted, I have a hard time dinging Ellsbury too much for this one. Marte and Acta were very aggressive. They were aggressively aggressive.

“It was the first time I think I’ve given up a single and the guy scored from first. First time for everything,” said CC Sabathia, who gave up the hit, to George King after the game.

As best I can tell, only 12 runners scored from first on a single last season. This is something that happens like 99.99% of the time. Ellsbury got caught off guard not because he’s lazy or anything like that, but because this is a play that basically never happens. Marte and Acta deserve more credit than Ellsbury deserves blame, I think.

Play 4: Nori Aoki triple on Sunday

This play is much different than I remembered when I wrote Sunday’s game recap. Ellsbury was in a full sprint and attempted the dive, and just missed. Looking at it again, I don’t think he could have pulled up to play the ball on the hop. His options were a) attempt a diving catch, or b) retreat into the gap to chase after the rolling ball, in which case it’s at least a double and maybe still a triple.

Also, let’s once again look at where the Yankees had Ellsbury positioned:

Jacoby Ellsbury Nori Aoki

The Yankees again had Ellsbury shaded towards left field. Why? Because Aoki is an extreme opposite field hitter. Here is his spray chart for the 2014-15 seasons, via Baseball Savant:

Nori Aoki spray chart

The Yankees had Ellsbury positioned in the proper spot for the opposite field left-handed hitter, but Aoki hooked it to the right side of center field. So it goes.

“It’s a triple for him anyway,” said Ellsbury to Chad Jennings after the game. “So you just try to cut the ball off and if you’re not going to catch it, try to block it.”

Now that I’ve had more time to watch this play, this isn’t really a defensive miscue on Ellsbury’s part. That ball was ticketed for extra-bases anyway. Ellsbury could have played it conservatively and retreated to the wall, or he could have played it aggressively and tried to make the catch. He did the latter and it didn’t work out.

* * *

Looking over these four defensive plays, I see two legitimate miscues (Bautista and Martinez), one aggressive play gone wrong (Aoki), and one surprise play that I’m not sure any center fielder would have expected (Cano/Marte). You can blame Ellsbury for two plays for sure, maybe three.

Ellsbury has not hit much in the early going and he didn’t hit at all last year after coming back from his knee injury, but he still provided value with his glove. He’s had two notable misreads in the early going and two other plays that have made his usually strong defense look rough. Bunching the four plays together in eleven games hasn’t helped matters either.

Unless injury is involved, nothing you see in eleven games should change your opinion about a player too much. Ellsbury is 32, so a defensive decline would not be unprecedented, but it’s far too early to say that with any certainty. His defense has not been good so far. Right now I still think it’s a blip more than something more serious.

Thoughts following Monday’s off-day

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Counting the Opening Day rainout, the Yankees enjoyed their fourth off-day in the span of two weeks yesterday. They only have two off-days in the next five weeks though, so the day in, day out grind is about to begin. Here are some thoughts.

1. I’m not sure anyone on the roster needed a good start to the season more than Jacoby Ellsbury. Yeah, you could argue it was Brett Gardner after his second half swoon, or Mark Teixeira after his broken leg, or Starlin Castro since he’s new to the team, but I think it was Ellsbury. He didn’t hit at all following his knee injury last season, and the Yankees owe him roughly $110M through 2020, so the team needs him bounce back strong this season. It’s imperative if they want to contend. Instead, Ellsbury has owns a .213/.260/.298 (56 wRC+) batting line and has made a number of notable misplays in the field. It’s still super early in the season — the Yankees have played 6.8% of their schedule — but yeesh. Anytime you feel like getting it going, Ells.

2. The propagation of runner in scoring position stats is easily my least favorite recent baseball trend. RISP success fluctuates wildly from game to game, series to series, month to month, and year to year — the 2013 Cardinals hit .330 with RISP and the 2014 Cardinals hit .254 with RISP even though they had the same damn team — and it has zero predictive value. Everyone thinks their team sucks with runners in scoring position. Know why? Because baseball is a game of failure, and the league right now is hitting .248 with runners in scoring position overall, which means fans are annoying more than 75% of the time. (No one seems to care about walks with RISP.) The Yankees did a terrible job with RISP against the Mariners. It was hideous. But it doesn’t mean much of anything. The constant updates (0-for-1, 0-for-2, 0-for-3, etc.) are the worst. There’s so much more going on.

3. Good gravy how awesome have Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller been? They’ve struck out 27 of 41 batters this year, or 65.9%, which is ridiculous. Major League hitters are the best ballplayers in the world. Even the guys we complain about all the time. The ones who aren’t very good relative to their peers. They’re still in, like, the 99.9999th percentile of humans athletically. Big league hitters are so good, and yet Betances and Miller completely overwhelm them. Did you see Sunday’s game? That was not a fair fight. Those Mariners hitters had no chance at all. Mariano Rivera was dominant in a unique way. He was all about precision and avoiding the barrel of the bat. (The career soft contact rate leaderboard is a personal favorite.) Betances and Miller just overpower hitters. It’s unreal. This is so fun. Just wait until Aroldis Chapman returns three weeks from yesterday.

4. The rest of the bullpen has been pretty good too. There were some questions about the middle relief, remember, but Johnny Barbato has been awesome and Chasen Shreve has bounced back well. Ivan Nova got rocked for that one inning in Toronto and Tyler Olson had a few forgettable innings over the weekend, and that’s about it as far as meltdowns go. Trading away Justin Wilson and Adam Warren created some very real holes — especially since Chapman was going to be out of action for a still undetermined length of time when the trade went down — and that was kinda scary. None of the shuttle relievers impressed in camp either. And yet, Shreve’s been great and Barbato has emerged as a weapon. The Yankees seem to be pretty good at this bullpen building thing, huh?

5. The first two turns (plus one start) through the rotation have not gone too well. To wit:

Rotation

That’s the five starters, and I’ll let you try to guess who is the proud owner of each of those sets of numbers. Point is, the rotation has generally been not very good. There have been some flashes of excellence — Nathan Eovaldi was dominant before hanging a splitter to Josh Donaldson, CC Sabathia was solid in Detroit, etc. — but that means nothing. The Yankees need to start seeing some sustained success out of their starting five. Quality starts are pretty dumb — what’s so good about a 4.50 ERA? — but it would be cool if the starters ran off a string of, like, eight of them in a row right now.

6. I’m in the minority, but I’m not too worried about Chase Headley. I don’t expect him to hit for much power, even in tiny Yankee Stadium, though he’s always taken his walks (seven walks and six strikeouts so far) and eventually his .190 BABIP will go back to normal. Especially since his soft contact rate (14.3%) has returned to his career average (14.8%) after last year’s spike (17.4%). Longtime RAB readers, especially those who frequent the chats, know I’ve been on Headley for years. Since his prospect days. His throwing seems to be back to normal, and I think he’ll settle in around .260/.330/.380 when it’s all said and done. That’s something like a 90-95 wRC+ these days. Not great, but not the end of the world either. I have a hard time thinking the No. 7 hitter is going to sink the season.

DotF: Swisher homers; Cave and Fowler have big games in Trenton’s win

Some notes:

  • LHP Tyler Olson has officially reported to Triple-A Scranton, so LHP Daniel Camarena was sent down to Double-A Trenton, reports Shane Hennigan. RHP Ronald Herrera, who is still only 20, remains with the RailRiders.
  • Following yesterday’s dominant outing, RHP Domingo Acevedo earned a mention in Baseball America’s daily prospect report. It’s not behind the paywall, so head over to check it out.
  • 1B Mike Ford was placed on the High-A Tampa DL with a wrist injury, the team announced. He was hurt in yesterday’s game.
  • UPDATE: SS Kyle Holder was placed on the Low-A Charleston DL with an unknown injury, the club announced.

Triple-A Scranton (9-6 loss to Buffalo)

  • LF Ben Gamel: 3-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB — 11-for-28 (.393) in his last seven games
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — threw a runner out at third
  • C Gary Sanchez: 0-5
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 1-5, 1 R, 3 K, 1 SB — he’s in a 4-for-33 (.121) slump with 18 strikeouts
  • 1B Nick Swisher: 2-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K — first homer in four games with the RailRiders
  • RHP Kyle Haynes: 5 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 6/3 GB/FB — 54 of 95 pitches were strikes (57%)
  • LHP James Pazos: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 27 of 44 pitches were strikes (61%)
  • RHP Diego Moreno: 0.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 K — 18 of 25 pitches were strikes (72%)

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Monday Night Open Thread

The Yankees sure have had a lotta off-days so far this season, haven’t they? I guess the two rainouts are making it seem worse than it really is. Anyway, make sure you check out Steve Serby’s Q&A with new second baseman Starlin Castro. They talked about his goals, his upbringing, all sorts of stuff.

Here is your open thread for the night. The Mets are playing and ESPN is showing the Cubs and Cardinals at 8pm ET. The NHL and NBA playoffs continue as well. You folks know how these open thread things work, so have at it.