Two runs still aren’t enough; Yankees drop series finale 3-2 to Rangers

You’re not going to believe this, but the Yankees struggled to score Wednesday night. I know. Crazy. Yet another lifeless night from the bats resulted in a 3-2 loss to the Rangers in the series finale. The Yankees won the first game and still managed to lose the series. Good job, good effort.

You get high-fives for participating now. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
You get high-fives for participating now. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Two Token Runs (Again)
For the ninth time in the last 14 games, the Yankees were held to two runs or fewer. Nine times in 14 games. That’s truly pathetic. The Yankees are playing garbage baseball right now. It’s the opposite of exciting. It’s boring as hell and I find myself spending more time clicking around MLB.tv than actually watching the Yankees whenever they bat. Five or six games is a slump. Fourteen? Nope.

The Yankees scored their first run in the second inning — they did hold a lead, believe it or not — when Starlin Castro came through with a two-out single to score the runner from third. The Yankees had men on first and second with no outs earlier in the inning, but Brian McCann banged into a first pitch double play to throw a wrench into things. They almost wasted another opportunity, but Castro took care of business.

The second run? An A-Bomb from A-Rod. Alex Rodriguez clobbered a Martin Perez changeup into the left field seats in the fourth inning. That knotted the game up at 2-2. Alex also snuck a ground ball double inside the first base bag in the sixth. That was the team’s final base-runner until the ninth inning. Ten of the last eleven and 15 of the last 18 men they sent to the plate made outs. Gross.

I suspect we’re going to hear a lot of talk about the Yankees struggling against left-handed pitchers Thursday — seven of the last nine starters they’ve faced have been lefties, and they have two more coming this weekend — but you know what? A Major League team needs to hit southpaws once in a while. There have been too many weak at-bats lately. In fact, 12 of the 34 men they sent to the plate saw no more than two pitches. Yuck. This offense is offensive.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Just Good Enough
After failing to complete five innings in his previous two starts, CC Sabathia gave the Yankees the bare minimum quality start Wednesday, holding the Rangers to three runs on five hits and three walks in six innings. That’s about as good as it can get for Sabathia these days. He struck out five and actually retired nine in a row at one point. That was probably his best stretch of the season.

The Rangers scored their first run because of some fundamental mistakes by the Yankees. Ryan Rua led off the second inning with a single, then went first-to-third Rougned Odor’s single to center. Jacoby Ellsbury tried to throw Rua out at third for some reason — he was safe by a mile — allowing Odor to scamper to second. Ellsbury has to hit the cutoff man to keep the double play in order there.

Then, with one out, Hanser Alberto tapped a weak grounder back to Sabathia, who glanced at Rua before tossing over to first for the out. Two mistakes there. One, Sabathia did not look Rua back long enough, then he flipped a lollipop throw over to Mark Teixeira at first. As soon as CC turned around to throw to first, Rua took off for home and scored. The good news is McCann was able to get Odor at third on the play, but yeah. Bad fundies, guys. Ellsbury didn’t keep the double play in order and Sabathia played the weak grounder way too casually.

The other two runs Sabathia allowed were the result of walks. He walked the No. 9 hitter on four pitches to lead off the third inning, then allowed the run on Adrian Beltre’s two-out single. Sabathia walked Odor on five pitches with two outs in the sixth, then Elvis Andrus tripled him in on a ball Carlos Beltran couldn’t cut off in the gap. I know Beltran is not what he once was in the field, but geez, that looked like a makeable play. Just knock it down and keep Odor at third.

Well, anyway, I would happily take three runs in six innings from Sabathia all season long. As long as he keeps the Yankees remotely in the game and doesn’t burn out the bullpen, I’m happy. What more could you ask at this point?

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Leftovers
A-Rod returned to the lineup after spending a few days on the shelf with an oblique issue, and he went 3-for-3 with a double and a homer. He also drew a walk. Al’s batting line went from .145/.242/.273 (44 wRC+) to .190/.288/.379 (89 wRC+) in four plate appearances. Not too shabby.

The bullpen was good, as usual. Johnny Barbato got five outs and Chasen Shreve got one out, and they did not allow a base-runner. It would be nice if they could hand these guys a lead once in a while, you know? There’s too much “try to keep it close so the offense has a chance to come back” going on.

Castro had two hits while Beltran and McCann had one hit apiece. The top four spots in the lineup went a combined 1-for-15 (.067) and the wrap-around 8-9-1-2 portion of the lineup went 0-for-14. This is getting ridiculous. I look forward to hearing Joe Girardi say they were hitting the ball hard but weren’t getting breaks again.

And finally, A-Rod’s fourth inning homer was his 1,000th run as a Yankee and his 100th home run in what is now called Globe Life Park. It was also his 690th career dinger, so he’s ten away from 700. Does that qualify as a marketable milestone?

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head on over to ESPN for the box score and MLB.com for the video highlights. Here are the updated standings. Also make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. YES has used six different booth combinations in seven series so far. Here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees have an off-day tomorrow, then they begin a three-game series with the Red Sox on Friday. Masahiro Tanaka and Henry Owens is the scheduled pitching matchup for the series opener at Fenway Park.

DotF: Starting pitchers rule the day in the minors

The video above is the highlights from Double-A Trenton’s combined no-hitter last night. The performance earned RHP Ronald Herrera a spot in Baseball America’s daily prospect report, so make sure you check that out. It’s not behind the paywall. Also, Joel Sherman spoke to a scout who praised Herrera. Don’t miss that either.

Triple-A Scranton (2-0 loss to Lehigh Valley)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 CS — he’s been on base 19 times in the last nine games
  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-4, 2 K
  • DH Gary Sanchez, 1B Nick Swisher & 2B Rob Refsnyder: all 1-4 — Sanchez struck out once, Refsnyder twice … Refsnyder also committed a fielding error
  • LF Cesar Puello: 0-1, 1 K, 2 HBP — first game off the DL … he was out with a concussion after being hit in the back of the head with a swing … he explained to Brendan Kuty how it happened
  • RHP Chad Green: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 5/4 GB/FB — 71 of 105 pitches were strikes (68%) … his best start of the season so far
  • LHP James Pazos: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — nine of 12 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 20: Rubber Game

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

It doesn’t feel like it, but the Yankees are in position to win their second straight series tonight. They took two of three from the Rays over the weekend, and they won the first game of this series against the Rangers before dropping the second. Tonight is the rubber game. Getting the win and taking two of three would be mighty cool.

The first order of business tonight: score some damn runs. The offense is not just bad right now, it’s boring. That’s the worst. Second order of business: get at least five innings from CC Sabathia. He’s fallen an out short of five innings in each of his last two starts. Third order of business: just win, baby. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 2B Starlin Castro
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    LHP CC Sabathia

Much better weather for the series finale tonight. It’s nice and sunny in the Dallas area, and there’s no wet stuff in the forecast as at all. Tonight’s game will start at 8:05pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (shoulder) is available to play tonight with no restrictions … Alex Rodriguez (oblique) is back in the lineup, obviously. With the off-day tomorrow, I’m surprised the Yankees didn’t give A-Rod one more day to make sure everything is back to normal.

Ban the shift? That’s a solution to a problem that might not even exist

The Dodgers used this shift back in 2014.
The Dodgers used this shift back in 2014.

Two nights ago Nathan Eovaldi lost a no-hitter in the seventh inning on a ground ball single to the shortstop position. The Yankees, as they often do, had an infield shift employed, so the shortstop was standing somewhere else. The ball scooted on through and the no-hit bid was over. So it goes.

Prior to last night’s game Joe Girardi was asked about the infield shift in general, and, to my surprise, he said he would like to get rid of them. Here’s what he said, via Dan Martin:

“It’s illegal defense, just like basketball,” he said. “Guard your man. Guard your spot. If I were commissioner, they’d be illegal. As long as it’s legal, I’m gonna play it.”

“I just think the field was built this way for a reason,” Girardi said. “Two on one side, two on the other.”

Girardi is entitled to his opinion and he’s certainly not the only person who would look to see shifts outlawed. I’m sure Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann would be in favor of them going away too. Lots and lots of left-handed batters have lost hits and batting average points and, by extension, dollars in their pocket because of the shift.

The rulebook says that with exception of the pitcher and catcher, defenders can position themselves anywhere in fair territory. Eliminating the shift would be a relatively easy fix. Second base creates a nice boundary, so MLB and the MLBPA could change the rules and force teams to play two infielders on each side of the bag. Boom. Problem solved.

I respectfully disagree with Girardi here. I’m not a fan of eliminating the shift. I’m not a fan of any rule change that would limit creativity within the game. Baseball, like everything else, is survival of the fittest. Players have to adapt to stay in the league and those who can’t get left behind. The game went through a seismic shift when breaking balls were first introduced because only a few players could hit them. After some time, hitters caught up.

Offense is down around the league these days for many reasons, and the shift is surely one of them. It is worth noting the league wide batting average on balls in play has not changed much over the years. The league has a .297 BABIP this year. It was .299 in 2015, .297 in 2010, .295 in 2005, and .300 in 2001. Since the strike in 1994, only once has the league BABIP fallen outside the .296-.303 range (.293 in 2012). The overall impact of the shift is overstated.

The shift has been around for years and yet it is still a relatively new phenomenon. Every team uses them to some extent, though a few holdouts have not fully bought in just yet. Teams haven’t yet had time to try to develop a generation of hitters to be shift beaters. The shift is still a baby. It’s still a little too early to be re-writing the rulebook for something that may fizzle out on its own in due time.

Creativity and innovation are good. I want teams to try to outsmart each other and come up with new ways to gain an advantage. It makes the game more competitive and more interesting, I think. We shouldn’t push aside something new because it goes against the way the game has been played for the last 150 years. Baseball is too old fashioned as it is. It could use some fresh ideas.

Scouting The Waiver Market: Cory Mazzoni

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The season is not even a month old, and already the Yankees have been hit pretty hard by the injury bug, particularly in the bullpen. Branden Pinder and Nick Rumbelow — the team’s two main shuttle relievers — are both out following Tommy John surgery, Bryan Mitchell broke his toe in Spring Training, and Jacob Lindgren is on the High-A Tampa DL. That’s half a bullpen on the shelf.

The Yankees still have enough relievers to keep themselves afloat — Luis Cessa, James Pazos, and Tyler Olson are still a phone call away — but the depth has been thinned out. There’s a reason they had to dip into an independent league to sign Phil Coke earlier this week. They needed the warm body. Yesterday afternoon, the Padres designated a potential bullpen shuttle candidate for assignment in right-hander Cory Mazzoni. Is he worth a waiver claim? Let’s look.

The Performance

The Mets originally drafted Mazzoni in the second round of the 2011 draft out of North Carolina State. He climbed the ladder in their farm system before being traded to San Diego last spring for lefty Alex Torres. For what it’s worth, Baseball America ranked Mazzoni as one of the 16 best prospects in his team’s farm system every year from 2012-16.

Mazzoni, 26, made his big league debut with the Padres last year, and I almost don’t want to list the stats because they’re so bad. I guess I have to though. In 8.2 innings with San Diego, he allowed 22 runs (20 earned) on 23 hits and five walks. He fanned eight. Yes, 22 runs and 23 hits in 8.2 innings. Mazzoni was quite bad in his limited action last year. I guess the good news is he had a 3.97 ERA (1.95 FIP) in 34 Triple-A innings in 2015.

Prior to being designated for assignment, Mazzoni had appeared in one Triple-A game, allowing an unearned run on a hit and a walk in 1.1 innings. Not much to look at there. Clearly you have to be willing to look past Mazzoni’s numbers with the Padres last year to have any interest.

The Stuff

The Mets drafted Mazzoni as a starting pitcher and he remained in that role for a few years before moving into the bullpen full-time. According to PitchFX, he averaged 95.6 mph with his four-seam fastball last year and topped out at 97.3 mph. He also has an upper-80s splitter/changeup hybrid and a mid-80s slider, but he doesn’t throw the split-change a whole lot in relief. He’s a fastball/slider reliever.

There are no worthwhile highlight videos of Mazzoni on MLB.com or YouTube, so here’s a GIF of his slider instead. His fastball looks like every other fastball you’ve ever seen in your life.

Cory Mazzoni slider

The swing-and-miss rates on Mazzoni’s fastball and slider were awful last season (4.0 % and 9.5%, respectively), but then again everything he did in the big leagues last year was awful. MLB.com ranked Mazzoni as the No. 17 prospect in San Diego’s system before the season, and here’s a snippet of their scouting report:

As is the case with most pitchers, the right-hander had his stuff tick up in the (bullpen), sitting at 92-95 mph and touching 97 with his fastball, and throwing his slider with more power and sharper bite … Though he has good velocity, Mazzoni doesn’t generate many whiffs with his heater. He does induce plenty of groundballs though, which highlights his potential as a swingman or middle reliever … he’ll have to refine his command to hold down a permanent role in a big league bullpen.

Mazzoni’s ground ball rate was an even 50.0% in his limited big league time last year, for what it’s worth. We’ve read that scouting report about a million times before. Fastball/slider right-hander who needs to refine his command and has a chance to be a middle reliever? Those guys are everywhere.

Injury History

Injuries are one of the reasons Mazzoni moved into the bullpen full-time. Here’s a quick recap of his injury history:

2015: Shoulder strain ended his season in July.
2014: Missed close to three months with a shoulder strain.
2013: Missed a month with elbow inflammation, then the final two months with a torn meniscus in his knee.

Now here’s the kicker: Mazzoni was the 7-day DL in Triple-A when he was designated for assignment yesterday. I have no idea why though. I can’t find anything anywhere. Regardless, Mazzoni has had a bunch of arm problems in recent years, including some scary shoulder strains.

Contract & Options Status

This is the easy stuff. Mazzoni has only 56 days of service time, so he has all six years of team control remaining. The Mets added him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft back in November 2014, so he burned his first option last year and his second this year. Mazzoni has one minor league option year remaining.

Wrapping Up

Mazzoni is quintessential middle relief fodder at this point. He’s a fastball/slider guy with command questions and an injury history. They grow those guys on a farm upstate, I hear. The Padres dropped Mazzoni from the 40-man roster, so he’s freely available. If you can get him on waivers, great. If not, then no hard feelings.

The way I see it, the Yankees have already lost a lot of bullpen depth to injury, forcing them to turn to the Phil Cokes of the world. It’s still only April too. They need to restock the cupboard a bit and they have more than enough 40-man roster space. Aroldis Chapman‘s suspension clears one spot and the Yankees have several 60-day DL candidates as well. They could easily claim Mazzoni and stash him in Triple-A.

This is certainly no “must make” move. Mazzoni’s not some kind of hidden gem. He’s more Kirby Yates than Johnny Barbato, if you know what I mean. The Yankees have had some success with scrap heap arms like this, so as long as Mazzoni’s healthy (a big if), I think he’s worth a waiver claim and a spot in the Triple-A Scranton bullpen.

Headley must start hitting the ball in the air more often to get out of his slump

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Last night the Yankees played their 19th game of the season, moving their record to 8-11. They’re now 11.7% of the way through their schedule, so while it’s still early, it’s not that early anymore. Outlier performances are being corrected and stats are starting to look a little more normal. No one is hitting .400+ with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title anymore. That sort of thing.

Through those 19 team games, Chase Headley has been one of the worst hitters in baseball and the worst hitter in the Yankees’ everyday lineup. He is hitting .157/.290/.157 (36 wRC+) in 62 plate appearances, which places him 191st out of the 196 qualified hitters in wRC+. Those 62 plate appearances are the most by any player with zero extra-base hits. (Kolton Wong is the only other player over 50 plate appearances with zero extra-base hits.)

“I haven’t had a problem with his at-bats … He’s taking his walks. He’s been patient. I don’t think he’s really left the zone a whole lot. He’s just not getting a lot of hits, and that will change. If you’re putting up good at-bats, things are going to change. So for him, they’ll start to turnaround,” said Joe Girardi to Brendan Kuty last week, and he’s right in the sense that Headley has been patient. His 16.1% walk rate is 16th highest among those 196 qualified hitters.

The walks are the only thing saving Headley at the plate right now. When he has actually swung the bat, very little has happened. His 25.6% hard contact rate is well below the 30.1% league average, and five of his eight hits have been ground balls through the infield. That’s bad. Headley’s plate discipline has been fine. He’s swinging at the right pitches and all that. But when he makes contact, nothing is happening.

“For me, just trying to find something that allows me to get into the air a little bit,” said Headley to Kuty. “I’ve hit a lot of balls hard this year that, if you hit balls on the ground, there’s a lot more of a chance they’re going to catch them. So for me to be who I think I can be, I need to get the ball in the air. (I’m) just working on some things to try to do that mechanically, put myself in a good position to stay behind the ball a little bit and hopefully that will happen.”

Headley is right in that he needs to get the ball in the air to be productive, that is true of everyone, but his overall 43.6% ground ball rate is right in line with his career average (44.6%). That said, Headley is a switch-hitter and that complicates things. He has two different swings and that means twice as much stuff can go wrong. Here are some real quick ball-in-play splits:

GB% as RHB Hard% as RHB GB% as LHB Hard% as LHB
2013 41.0% 41.0% 48.1% 32.1%
2014 37.1% 41.6% 42.2% 33.0%
2015 47.3% 26.7% 40.7% 28.4%
2016 21.1% 26.3% 65.0% (!) 25.0%

It goes without saying the sample size for 2016 is still very small. Headley has had 32 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers and 30 against lefties, so yeah. In that very limited sample Headley has hit a ton of fly balls against lefties and a ton of ground balls against righties. That’s … interesting. His hard contact rate is similar, but the ball has come off his bat in different directions from each side of the plate.

Headley’s numbers are better as a lefty (84 wRC+) than as a righty (-15 wRC+) so far, but I’m not going to put too much stock into that at this point. More importantly, if Headley keeps hitting 65.0% grounders as a left-handed batter, he’s not going to do much better than an 84 wRC+. He’s got to get the ball in the air at some point, especially in Yankee Stadium. And at the same time, if he keeps lifting the ball as a righty, that -15 wRC+ will come up eventually.

Through 19 games it appears Headley has corrected whatever issues he had defensively last season. His throws has been fine — he made one error but that’s no big deal, most players have made an error at this point — and he’s shown off good range too. Defense was always a huge part of Headley’s value and now he has that back. Even though he’s not hitting, he can contribute in the field and save runs.

Now Headley has to figure out how to get his bat back on track, and he has to do it soon, because the Yankees have zero alternatives at third base. Ronald Torreyes is the type of player who will get exposed quickly with regular playing time, Rob Refsnyder isn’t hitting in Triple-A (46 wRC+), and none of the other minor league infielders (Pete Kozma, Donovan Solano, etc.) are appealing. It’s too early to start thinking trade too.

Like it or not, the Yankees are stuck with Headley for the time being. I’ve been saying I think his offense will be fine, mostly because I can’t imagine his .205 BABIP will last all year, but at some point Headley has to, you know, hit. April is coming to an end soon. It’s time to get it going. Headley has to start getting the ball in the air more often as a left-handed hitter. That’s priority No. 1 right now. Do that and things will start to fall into place.

Despite rough start, it’s still too early to send Severino to Triple-A

(Rick Yeatts/Getty)
(Rick Yeatts/Getty)

With a Game Score of 20, Luis Severino had the worst start of his relatively brief big league career last night. The Rangers tagged him for six runs on seven hits and two walks (one intentional) in only three innings of work. He struck out one and got only four swings and misses out of 74 pitches. It was not good. Texas really did a number on him.

Following that disaster Severino is sitting on a 6.86 ERA (3.66 FIP) with 32 hits allowed in 19.2 innings on the season. The good news is he’s only walked three batters, and one of those was intentional, but he’s also struck out only 12. A 13.5% strikeout rate is really bad. Only seven pitchers have a lower strikeout rate, and they’re guys like Mike Pelfrey (9.1%) and broken Doug Fister (11.2%).

The story last night was the same as Severino’s first three starts: his location was terrible. David Cone had a really great breakdown of Severino’s mistakes on the YES broadcast, showing how he missed the target on some of the hits he allowed. He didn’t miss by a few inches. Severino was missing by the width of the plate and up in the zone. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw with location that poor.

“I thought he was up with his fastball. It seemed like the fastballs that they hit were between the thigh and the waist, and he had a hard time throwing his offspeed for strikes,” said Joe Girardi after the game (video link). “It kind of put him in a tough situation, and they definitely took advantage of it.”

Severino barely resembles the pitcher he was late last season even though the PitchFX data says his fastball is still sitting 97 mph with sliders and changeups around 90 mph. The hitters are telling you all you need to know. They’re squaring him up consistently and the strikeouts are much harder to come by. That’s concerning. This is a 22-year-old kid who increased his workload by 48.2 innings last year, remember. There could be a hangover effect.

It would be very easy and, frankly, justifiable for the Yankees to send Severino to Triple-A for some tune-up work after these four starts. They have a ready made rotation replacement in Ivan Nova and Severino has some very clear flaws to correct. He seems incapable of getting his slider down in the zone, and his fastball location has generally been crap. A trip to Triple-A lets him work on that stuff in a place where results don’t matter.

I think it’s a little too early to take that step though. For starters, Severino hasn’t gotten rocked every time out. One start ago he tossed six innings of two run ball, remember. Secondly, I’m a big believer in failure as a learning tool. Severino never struggled in the minors. The guy zoomed up the ladder because he dominated minor league hitters. Severino can lean on his fastball and have a lot of success with ol’ No. 1 and nothing else down there.

The minors were not much of a challenge for Severino. He is being challenged at the MLB level now and the hitters are telling him he has to adjust. That’s the name of the game. Make the adjustments and correct your flaws or you won’t be around long. By all accounts Severino is a hard worker and a kid with tremendous poise, so that’s not an issue. He just needs to fine-tune his game like so many other 22-year-olds.

“I’m sure it’s tough right now cause he’s probably never struggled until (he got to) this level,” added Girardi. “But that’s part of it, too. You have to fight in this game. This game is not easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Everyone gets knocked down in this game, and you have to get back up and you have to go to work.”

Yes, there is absolutely a point when Severino’s struggles will become too much and a trip to the minors is necessary. That’s true for every young player. I don’t think Severino is at that point yet. His stuff is firm and not he’s walking anyone, so this isn’t a kid who has been scared out of the strike zone and is getting himself into trouble by nibbling. Once that starts happening, you have to begin to worry about his confidence.

Severino’s start to the new season has been very disappointing. I can’t imagine anyone feels otherwise. Four starts is only four starts though. Severino didn’t go from MLB ready to Triple-A caliber in three weeks. His location must improve. It’s imperative. For now, the Yankees should let him work through his issues at the big league level. If the same problems persist in a few weeks, the team can reassess and see if a change needs to be made then.