Yankeemetrics: Pitching, Power and Wins (May 22-24)


Bronx Bombers Born Again
The Yankees returned to the Bronx on Monday and kicked off their seven-game homestand with a sweet comeback win over the Royals, 4-2.

Michael Pineda continued to shed the enigma label that had defined his time in pinstripes leading up to this season with his eighth straight start of at least five innings pitched and no more than three earned runs allowed, easily the longest streak of his career. He didn’t have his dominant stuff, but executed well in tough spots as the Royals went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position against him.

That’s been one of the biggest keys to his resurgent campaign this year – remaining focused and poised while getting big outs when he needs them. Pineda has held batters to a .143/.162/.229 line with RISP in 2017, and most impressive is that .162 opponent on-base percentage, the lowest in the majors (min. 35 batters faced) through Monday.

Down 2-0 early, Brett Gardner ignited the Yankees rally with a third-inning solo homer, his ninth dinger of the season. All nine of those homers came in a span of 80 at-bats from April 29 through Monday, an at-bat per homer rate of 8.9 that should be familiar to Yankee fans: during Babe Ruth’s 60-homer campaign in 1927, he homered once every 9.0 at bats.

Another key moment in the game was the Yankees’ successful replay challenge prevented tying run from scoring in the seventh inning. That was their 14th challenge in 2017, and the 12th time they’ve had the call overturned. Thanks to our unsung hero of the season – coaching assistant Brett Weber – that “replay win percentage” of 85.7 was the best in the majors through Monday.


Magnificent Monty
The Royals handed the Yankees a rare loss on Tuesday night in the Bronx, one where the home team saw its normally lock-down bullpen implode in the late innings after an unprecedented outing by one of its young pitchers.

The Yankees wasted a historic gem by Jordan Montgomery, who was nearly perfect as he took a one-hit shutout and a 2-0 advantage into the seventh frame before giving up a solo homer to Lorenzo Cain. The bullpen then coughed up the lead and more, allowing five runs on four hits, including three home runs.

Let’s put all that craziness into context:

  • Before Tuesday’s meltdown, the Yankees were 15-0 when taking a multi-run lead into the seventh inning.
  • The bullpen entered the game with the fewest homers allowed (5) and the lowest homer rate (0.32 per nine innings) in the majors.
  • The final longball was surrendered by Chasen Shreve, who had not given up a single run, let alone a homer, in 2017. His 44 batters faced prior to Tuesday were the most of any pitcher in MLB that had yet to be scored on this season.
  • At the age of 24 years, 147 days, Montgomery became the youngest Yankee in franchise history to produce this impressive pitching line: at least six strikeouts, zero walks, no more than two hits allowed and six-or-more innings pitched.

Ace Sevy
Luis Severino made sure there would be no chance for another bullpen disaster on Wednesday as he delivered a dazzling performance with a 114-pitch, three-hit, eight-inning, scoreless gem in the Yankees 3-0 win.

It’s crazy but true: this was the first time the Yankees shut out the Royals since September 15, 2004 in Kansas City. They were the only AL team the Yankees hadn’t blanked in that span of nearly 13 years. Also crazy but true: it had been more than 16 (!) years since the Yankees shut out the Royals in the Bronx – the last time it happened was April 5, 2001. They were the only AL team the Yankees hadn’t yet held scoreless at the new Yankee Stadium.

Back to the highlight of the night … Severino’s ace-like domination of the Royals lineup. The 114 pitches were a career-high, and most impressively, he averaged 98 mph on his four-seamer in the seventh and eighth innings (!). He faced just one batter with a runner in scoring position all game, and nobody even reached third base against him.

One of the key at-bats came in the fourth with a man on first and two outs and the Yankees clinging to a 1-0 lead, when Severino struck out Eric Hosmer looking on a 3-2 changeup to end the inning. It was a perfectly placed pitch in the zone that completely fooled the Royals lefty:


Severino’s changeup has been a surprising weapon for him this season, as he’s allowed just two hits in 19 at-bats (.105) with four strikeouts ending in the pitch this season. While the pitch doesn’t generate a ton of whiffs, it’s super-effective at keeping hitters off-balance thanks to a 46 percent foul rate that is the second-highest among all major-league starters (min. 50 pitches). This command and confidence in his changeup has helped him hold lefties to a .600 OPS this season, a nice improvement from the .727 OPS he allowed to opposite-handed batters in his first two seasons.

How impressive was Severino’s masterpiece? Consider this fun nugget: Severino became first Yankee age 23 or younger to pitch at least eight scoreless innings and strike out seven-or-more batters in a game since a 23-year-old Dave Righetti on May 22, 1982 vs. the Twins.

Mailbag: Wade, Hand, Berrios, Greinke, Tanaka, Robertson

There are 13 questions and eleven answers in this week’s mailbag. Remember to use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us any questions. We get a lot of them each week, so don’t take it personally if yours doesn’t get picked. Keep trying.

Wade. (Presswire)

Many asked: Talk to me about Tyler Wade.

Lots of mailbag questions about Wade this week, for some reason. Kinda came out of nowhere. I guess that’s what happens when a 22-year-old is hitting .307/.380/.436 (133 wRC+) while playing six different positions at Triple-A. Anyway, I’m going to try to hit on all the popular questions, so let’s get to ’em.

Could he be the answer at third base? Possibly. Chase Headley is doing the reverse of last season. He was terrible last April and then pretty solid the rest of the season. This year he was great in April, and he’s been inexcusably bad since. I don’t think Headley is really this bad, but if he keeps it up, the Yankees will have to make a change. What could Wade give you right away? Eh, it might not be pretty. ZiPS pegs him as a true talent .224/.284/.315 big leaguer right now and I don’t think that’s terribly far off from what Wade will give you in his first taste of the show. That said, I wouldn’t surprised if Wade outperformed that projection because he’s a contact guy and a really smart hitter. I think I’d rather see the Yankees go outside the organization for short-term third base help (rental Todd Frazier?) than hand the keys to the hot corner over to Wade this summer.

What do the Yankees do with him and Torreyes? There’s room for both on a four-man bench. Wade would essentially take the Chris Carter spot. The Yankees would have a backup catcher (Austin Romine), a backup infielder (Ronald Torreyes), a backup outfielder (Aaron Hicks), and then what amounts to a flex spot. Having Wade and Torreyes on the bench would give Joe Girardi more flexibility to pinch-run and rest guys, things like that. I like Torreyes. I like him a lot! But if it ever comes down to Torreyes or Wade for a bench spot, give me Wade. The Yankees don’t have to make that decision yet though. Probably not until next year at the earliest.

Are you worried about all the errors? Nah. Wade has nine errors this season: seven at shortstop, and one each at second and third base. Minor league errors aren’t really indicative of anything. The fields aren’t in the best shape and there’s a lot of hometown scoring. And, of course, the players are learning. Every time you move up a level, the game moves a little faster. Wade has been in Triple-A a little less than two months now. He’s a really good athlete with good hands and good footwork. The tools are there for him to be a good defensive player. I wouldn’t sweat the errors one bit.

Where does he fit long-term? I think the Yankees are trying to turn Wade into their Ben Zobrist, their super utility guy who gets 500-something plate appearances while playing all around the field. It never seems to quite work out that way — even Zobrist spent most of his time at second base, and moved around only on occasion — but that’s the idea. Injuries happen. Wade could spend a month filling in at shortstop, then six weeks in left field, then bounce around a little bit. Something like that. The Yankees have moved Wade around pretty aggressively since the Arizona Fall League, and he’s handled it well. He’s made himself more valuable through versatility, and because of that versatility, he’s carved out a spot in the team’s long-term plans. He’ll fit somewhere. Wherever the Yankees need him.

A few asked: What about Brad Hand?

The Padres are terrible and Hand, a shutdown left-handed reliever, is arguably the most valuable trade chip remaining on their roster. Buster Olney reported a few days ago that San Diego is letting teams know they are open for business, and Hand is the primary piece they’re discussing. He’s available. There’s no doubt about that.

Hand, 27, spent a few years as a spot starter/long man with the Marlins before the Padres put him in short relief last season, where he’s thrived. Last year he had a 2.92 ERA (3.07 FIP) with 30.5% strikeouts and 9.9% walks in 89.1 innings. So far this year he’s at 1.73 ERA (2.84 FIP) with 32.7% strikeouts and 9.4% walks in 26 innings. Hand has always had a good slider, and his velocity has ticked up into the 93-95 mph range with the move to short relief.

Hand turned 27 in March and he’s under team control through 2019 as an arbitration-eligible player, so he’s on the right side of 30 and he’s not a rental. Seems like a pretty good trade target, no? I think so. Especially since he dominates lefties (.211 wOBA since Opening Day 2016) and more than holds his own against righties (.283 wOBA). He’s a full inning reliever who happens to be left-handed.

I’m curious to see how the Padres value Hand. Do they market him as Andrew Miller without the hype? You could make the argument Hand is the closest thing to Miller in baseball right now with Aroldis Chapman and Zach Britton hurt. He’s been that good. I have a hard time thinking the Padres will settle for one good prospect and an interesting secondary piece here. They’re going to ask for the moon, which is what I would do.

That said, are teams going to be willing to pay big for a guy who was on waivers just last season? (The Padres plucked him Hand waivers from Miami at the end of Spring Training last year.) It only takes one team to take the plunge of course. There is no shortage of contenders in need of another dominant bullpen arm. My guess is the Yankees will resist trading notable prospects for a bullpen arm, even one as good as Hand. They’ll look for the next Brad Hand. The guy available for cheap who could benefit from a move into short relief.

Frank asks: Yankees are looking for controllable pitchers. Can the yankees do anything to pry berrios from minny? hes young, has insane stuff, and a free agent after 2023. I know my trade proposals suck, but is gleyber straight up enough?

The Yankees have the pieces to put together a legitimate trade offer for any player in baseball. If the Angels put Mike Trout on the market, the Yankees could make as strong an offer as any other team. The question isn’t whether the Yankees can get Jose Berrios, but whether the Twins want to give him up, and my guess is no. They’re rebuilding and he is, by frickin’ far, their most promising young starter.

Berrios is a former top prospect — Baseball America ranked him as the 28th best prospect in baseball prior to last season — who was historically bad last year. Not just bad bad, I mean bad for the ages. He had an 8.02 ERA (6.20 FIP) in 14 starts and 58.1 innings. Here is the full list of rookie starters pitchers with an 8.00+ ERA in 50+ innings throughout baseball history:

  1. Jose Berrios, 2016 Twins

That’s it. He was awful last year. Berrios started this season in Triple-A and he’s been very good since coming up earlier this month, allowing four runs total in three starts and 21.2 innings. Three of those four runs came on solo home runs Wednesday afternoon against the Orioles. Good to see him rebound. Has he been good enough to forget about last season? Eh, little too early to say that. Props to the kid for getting back on track and not letting last year snowball though.

Berrios will turn 23 on Saturday and he is pretty much exactly the type of player I’m talking about when I say I’m open to trading someone like Clint Frazier or Dustin Fowler for a young arm. No chance I’m trading Gleyber Torres for him though. Give me the elite position player prospect over the very good pitching prospect eight days a week and twice on Sunday. I’m wouldn’t even trade Frazier for Berrios straight up. Surely there’s a middle ground somewhere, though the Twins have to make Berrios available first, and I don’t see that happening.

Scott asks: How about a bad contract swap of Ellsbury for Zach Greinke? With the exception of the last year of Greinke’s contract, the difference between the two is around 10 million, and Greinke would be much more useful to the Yanks than Ellsbury is right?

The difference between the two is $10M per year. Greinke is owed $172.5M from 2017-2021. Jacoby Ellsbury is owed $89.5M from 2017-20. Greinke has been awesome this year (2.82 ERA and 3.18 FIP in 67 innings) and I love him, he’s a modern day Mike Mussina between his pitching style and grumpiness, but the Diamondbacks can keep that contract. On paper, it makes sense for the Yankees because they need high-end pitching and to clear an outfield spot for younger players, but goodness, taking on nearly $100M in additional contract obligations? No thanks. And how much longer will he be a high-end starter anyway? The time to get Greinke was five years ago, when he hit free agency as a 29-year-old still in his prime. Taking on a 33-year-old pitcher, even a great one, with over $170M remaining on his contract is asking for bad news.

Michael asks: Do you think we’ll eventually see Judge move to 1B a la Pujols and Miggy? Feel like it could clear up a potential OF log jam (especially if Harper is ever added to the mix), limit wear and tear on Judge’s body, and ultimately, provide a ton of value at an offensive position. Like the actor who played Ron Washington in Moneyball said, “(1B) is incredibly hard,” but I bet Judge could pull it off!

I do think it’s a possibility. Not right now because Aaron Judge is a really good defensive right fielder, but a few years down the line. Running around the outfield day after day while being 6-foot-7 and 282 lbs. can’t be good for the knees, you know? Add that to the normal “he’s lost a step” that happens to every player and yeah, a permanent move to first base could be in the cards at some point. When? I have no idea. Judge will answer that for us with his defensive play and health. Could be two years away. Could be ten. I don’t think it will happen soon enough to clear up the current outfield logjam, however. That’s something the Yankees need to address basically right now.

George asks: Even if Tanaka turns it around at this point (pitches to his normal low 3.00 ERA), he’s probably already cost himself dearly in free agency right?

James asks: After his start to the year I find myself thinking, how bad a year (excluding an injury) does Tanaka have to have to not opt out of his contract?

Eugene asks: If Tanaka’s troubles are mechanical rather than physical, is there any way a rough season for him could be a minor blessing? If he doesn’t opt out and returns to form, that has to be a win.

Might as well lump these three questions together. It’s too early to worry about the opt-out and what Masahiro Tanaka is costing himself in free agency and all that. He has 20-something starts remaining. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. If Tanaka pitches like himself the rest of the way, I think he’ll opt out and pretty easily clear the three years and $67M left on his contract. Jeff Samardzija led the league in hits, home runs, and earned runs two years ago and still got five years and $90M. Teams are desperate for pitching.

And as Eugene suggested, there’s a scenario in which Tanaka not opting out works great for the Yankees. Unless you think Tanaka will now be this bad forever, keeping him for his age 29-31 seasons at $67M total is pretty damn great. Getting a top flight pitcher at that sort of commitment for peak-ish years is damn near impossible. You usually have to give up a ton prospects to get that guy in a trade. This is all a long way off right now. The Yankees have to figure out what’s wrong with Tanaka and get him right. The opt-out decision is still six months away.

Robertson. (Presswire)

Dan asks: If the White Sox were willing to eat some of the contract, would you be in favor of pursuing David Robertson?

Sure. Robertson is having a great season so far (2.65 ERA and 2.04 FIP in 17 innings) and there’s no such thing as too many good relievers. Bob Nightengale reported the White Sox and Nationals came really close to a Robertson trade right before Spring Training. From Nightengale:

The Nationals, according to executives with direct knowledge of the deal, were to send 19-year-old left-hander Jesus Luzardo and minor league infielder Drew Ward to the White Sox for Robertson, with the White Sox eating about half of the $25 million remaining in his contract. But the deal got hung up over money.

The Nationals would have gotten Robertson at roughly $6M per year through 2018 and given up their No. 10 (Luzardo) and No. 12 (Ward) prospects, per MLB.com. The Yankees have a deep farm system, so their No. 10 (Albert Abreu) and No. 12 (Jordan Montgomery) prospects according to MLB.com sure as heck aren’t equal to Washington’s. A more appropriate trade equivalent is probably something like Dillon Tate and Hoy Jun Park. Or Domingo Acevedo and Nick Solak. My guess is the Yankees would say no to that, even with the ChiSox eating half of the money left on Robertson’s deal. I’d probably be fine with it. Prospects are a renewable resource.

Paul asks: I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but what’s the better defensive alignment: Didi at SS and Gleyber at 3B or vice versa? I’m assuming the former.

I have no idea. We haven’t seen any reports on how Torres is adjusting to the hot corner yet. And how would Didi Gregorius handle third base? He’s played ten innings at the position in his professional career. My guess is Gregorius at short and Gleyber at third would be the better alignment because Didi is so good at short. Torres is good too! But I think Gregorius is better, so keep him at the tougher position.

John asks: Do you think the new character of the team (more young and hungry players, less overpriced has-beens) will have any influence over how individual players do in the end-of-season award voting? There’s been a bias in the past, but (not to get ahead of ourselves) will Castro show up better in MVP voting because he’s on an “underdog”?

Interesting. I hadn’t thought about that. There has been something of a bias against Yankees in awards voting for a long time now. It takes an incredible season far beyond what everyone else is doing for a Yankee to win a major award, a la Alex Rodriguez in 2007. They still get plenty of votes — CC Sabathia finished top four in the Cy Young voting every year from 2009-11, for example — but Yankees always seem to be underrepresented.

I think that bias stems from the belief the Yankees are supposed to be good and have such a big advantage due to their payroll. The Yankees definitely have a huge payroll advantage, but are they supposed to be good now? I don’t think many folks pegged them as anything more than a possible wildcard team this year. They’re overachieving! It’s a weird feeling. Maybe that could sway the voters to put Yankees higher on their ballots, though I’m going to need to see it to believe it.

Alessandro asks: Looking around the league, there are plenty of teams that need bullpen help. We have an upcoming 40 man crunch, would this be the trade deadline to start doing 2 for 1 deals with relievers (Tyler Webb, etc) to clear some of that up?

Two things about this. One, I have no issue with keeping all the pitching. I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Guys like Webb and Ernesto Frieri and Gio Gallegos aren’t great, but they’re usable depth arms. And two, these guys don’t have a ton of trade value anyway. You’re not going to package two or three together and get one nice piece out of it. Webb was on waivers at the end of Spring Training as part of the Rule 5 Draft return process, and no one grabbed him. Frieri was unsigned until March. These guys don’t have a huge impact on the 40-man roster situation. They’re pretty replaceable.

Julian asks: Should the Yankees consider dumping Layne for Tyler Webb? Layne isn’t getting the job done and Webb seems to be tearing up AAA this month, getting both lefties and righties out.

Yeah, I think so. Tommy Layne‘s leash shouldn’t be long. He’s a career journeyman, and if you cut him loose and he has success elsewhere, who cares? Not a huge loss. Webb has been phenomenal for Triple-A Scranton this season, pitching to a 3.27 ERA (0.98 FIP) with 33 strikeouts and no walks in 22 innings. He’ll turn 27 in July and this is his third full season at Triple-A. There’s a glaring need for a lefty in the big league bullpen. If they’re not going to try Webb now, they probably never will. I’d make the change. Chances are it wouldn’t amount to much of anything anyway, so I wouldn’t sweat it.

DotF: Mateo has huge day in Tampa’s doubleheader sweep

RHP Brady Lail has rejoined Triple-A Scranton, reports Matt Kardos. The RailRiders have been short a starting pitcher since RHP Bryan Mitchell was called back up a few days ago. Lail solves that problem. RHP Colten Brewer was sent to Double-A Trenton to clear a roster spot for Lail.

Triple-A Scranton was rained out. No word on a makeup date. They were supposed to face a rehabbing Corey Kluber tonight. Too bad. Would have been fun to see how the kids handled him.

Double-A Trenton (7-2 win over Reading)

  • SS Thairo Estrada: 1-5
  • CF Rashad Crawford: 1-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — played seven innings in his fifth rehab game
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-1, 1 RBI
  • RF Billy McKinney: 0-3, 1 RBI — 7-for-42 (.167) in his last 13 games
  • 2B Abi Avelino: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 E (throwing)
  • LHP Nestor Cortes: 4.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 1/6 GB/FB — 54 of 84 pitches were strikes (64%)
  • RHP Colten Brewer: 2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 3/1 GB/FB – 15 of 22 pitches were strikes (68%)

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

The Yankees were rained out today, but not even rain can stop HOPE Week. Today the Yankees held an event at Yankee Stadium to benefit A Moment of Magic, an organization dedicated to helping sick children by “restoring the magic of believing at a time when a child needs to ‘just be a kid’ and reminding them to be brave, strong, and fearless.” Several players and Brian Cashman dressed up as superheroes for the kids. Here are all the photos. Click through to see Masahiro Tanaka as a Ninja Turtle, Luis Severino as Iron Man, CC Sabathia as Superman, Michael Pineda as Wolverine, Jordan Montgomery as Captain America, and Cashman as Spiderman. Awesome stuff.

Here is an open thread for this suddenly Yankees baseball-less night. MLB Network is showing regional games at both 7pm ET and 10 pm ET, plus there are NBA and NHL playoff games on too. (Game Seven in the NHL!). Talk about those games, HOPE Week, or anything else here. Just not religion or politics. Get that outta here.

2017 Draft: Bubba Thompson

Bubba Thompson | OF

Thompson, 18, attends McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Mobile, Alabama, where he plays both baseball and football. He’s a good quarterback recruit who received Division I scholarship offers for both sports, though he committed to attend Alabama, where he’ll play baseball only. Odds are it won’t matter. Thompson is expected to turn pro after being drafted.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-2 and 180 lbs. Thompson is one of the top athletes in the 2017 draft class, and his best tools right now all come on the defensive side of the ball. He’s a rangy center fielder thanks to his top of the line speed, and he also has a strong throwing arm. A long-term center fielder, he is. No doubt about. Thompson is a right-handed hitter with bat speed and bat-to-ball skills, and he’s shown promising power potential this spring. He has the potential to go 20-20 with very good center field defense down the line. Despite splitting his time between two sports, Thompson is not as raw as you’d expect. The kid has legitimate five-tool ability.

The various scouting publications all agree Thompson is a first round talent. Baseball America ranks him as the 18th best prospect in the draft class while MLB.com and Keith Law (subs. req’d) rank him 24th and 25th, respectively. The Yankees hold the 16th overall pick. The biggest knock on Thompson is his age. He’s 18 with a June birthday, so he’s older than most high school prospects. (He’ll be roughly the same age on draft day as Blake Rutherford last year, who slipped out of the top ten in part due to his age.) The Yankees love their toolsy up-the-middle athletes and Thompson certainly fits the mold. For what it’s worth, Baseball America linked the Yankees to Thompson in their most recent mock draft.

Finding a second gear after a sizzling first act

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

There are always certain phases of the major league season. The highs and lows, the streaks and skids, fluctuating from month to month and week to week.

Unlike last season, the Yankees began 2017 on fire. The start seemed reminiscent of 2010, when the team got off to a roaring start coming off a championship. The funny thing about that 2010 team is they didn’t soar to a division title. They struggled. They blew their early division lead, gained it back and then lost it in the final weeks of the season, settling for a wild card.

I don’t mean to make a straight side-by-side comparison between the 2010 Yankees and the current squad, but the lesson is important: There are going to be lulls in the season and the team can’t let up, allowing a division rival to sneak ahead. This year, the Yankees likely won’t be overcome by a pesky Rays squad, but the Orioles and Red Sox are enough to handle.

And in April, the Yankees handled them well enough. They split their six games with the O’s and took both contests with the Sox. Considering they had to face AL Cy Young favorite Chris Sale and started 0-2 against the O’s, that’s a strong result.

It was all part of a magical month where everything seemed to go right. Aaron Judge, Starlin Castro, Chase Headley, among others, put up surprising numbers en route to a 15-8 record. The only thing perhaps more eye-catching was the rotation, which consistently worked deep into games despite most assuming it would be a liability going into the season.

That’s the catch: It wasn’t supposed to go that way. One would have assumed coming out of the spring that if the team caught fire early, it’d be on the backs of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and a knockout bullpen alongside Masahiro Tanaka as the ace. Well, Sanchez and Bird got hurt. Tanaka was off on Opening Day and despite a 5-3 record, hasn’t looked quite right since. The bullpen was quite good, perhaps even better than expected, but it was overshadowed and not asked to perform many herculean tasks.

And now that we’re late in May, phase two is well underway. The team is 6-8 in their last 14 dating back to May 8 and have seen some stinkers out of the rotation. Castro and Judge have looked more Earth-bound recently and Headley has crash landed. Early expectations have proved more prescient with the bullpen carrying a bigger load, Tuesday’s blown lead notwithstanding. Sanchez has taken off and so has Brett Gardner, who seems to have found the hitting stroke that earned him an All-Star appearance just a few seasons to go.

Despite this sub-par stretch, the Yankees still hold a 2.5 game lead in the division over the Orioles, 3.5 on the Red Sox. That lead is actually their largest this season.

But the team has an upcoming stretch that could help define them. After this homestand with the Royals and Athletics wraps up, they play 13 straight games in division, including six with the O’s and three with the Red Sox, all condensed into two weeks. You’re not going to win the division with a good two weeks, nor are you going to lose it with a lousy fortnight.

(David Banks/Getty Images)
(David Banks/Getty Images)

Yet this is the time when the Yankees need to begin figuring out who they are long-term, finding that second gear that can help carry them throughout the summer. The 11 wins by five or more runs have been nice and so have the standout starts from guys like Luis Severino and Michael Pineda, who would have castoffs this offseason if certain sections of the fan base had their way. But is this young crew really going to dominate all season? Is this team actually arrived ahead of schedule and not just showing glimpses of 2018 and beyond?

The team’s diverse set of skills in the lineup serves them well if sustained success is indeed in the cards. If, let’s say, Matt Holliday and Judge going into month-long slumps, the team can rely on hitters like Gardner or Didi Gregorius to carry them in a different way, not needing to pound home runs game-by-game.

It doesn’t hurt to have that sturdy backbone of a bullpen, which may end up as the defining positive for this team. Even with Aroldis Chapman out, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard and co. are a force that can hold down most leads. With a few quality long relievers, the team can withstand a few 4-5 inning outings and keep the team within striking distance.

Or maybe the rotation with a rejuvenated Tanaka can lead the way. With Jordan Montgomery and CC Sabathia as strong back-end starters, perhaps Tanaka, Severino and Pineda can carry the team every five days and enable more winning streaks.

So that second gear doesn’t necessarily have to look all that different from the first one. It can be a continuation. But in order for the Yankees to sustain their early success, they’ll need to figure out just what makes this team special and utilize those defining characteristics in the crucial weeks ahead.

Jordan Montgomery’s Adjustment

(Elsa/Getty Images North America)
(Elsa/Getty Images North America)

The Yankees season has largely been a story of adjustments. Or, perhaps, the greatest questions regarding the roster have revolved around adjustments: how would the league adjust to Gary Sanchez? Could Aaron Judge adjust to the majors? Could Luis Severino re-adjust to being a starting pitcher? How would Dellin Betances adjust to his career as an astronaut? And so on. For the most part, these questions have yielded positive answers, small sample sizes be damned (and dissipating at a rapid pace, to boot).

Heading into Tuesday night, we wondered how Jordan Montgomery would adjust to facing the Royals for the second time in six days. It was the first time that a major league lineup would see Montgomery twice, and it had an added layer of seeing how he would fare follow the worst start of his young career (5 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 4 K). The Royals are a bad offensive team – the worst in baseball on the season – but they have been heating up, and Montgomery is still a rookie. It may well have been the biggest test this side of his debut this season.

By now you know that Montgomery responded with a gem of a performance, pitching to the following line: 6.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 6 K. The lone blemish on that line was a solo shot by Lorenzo Cain in the 7th inning, the result of a 93 MPH that caught too much of the plate. It was nevertheless his best start to-date, and he outpitched Royals ace Danny Duffy. All of this raises a question, though – what changed in the last week?

The short answer is pitch selection and pitch location. Let’s look into Montgomery’s offerings on May 18:

(Brooks Baseball)
(Brooks Baseball)

Montgomery threw 83 pitches the first time he faced the Royals, and just over half of those (42) were some variety of fastball. He picked up just seven whiffs on the day, largely due to the fact that he threw just 11 sliders. As per PITCHf/x, his slider is worth 2.55 runs per 100 thrown and has a 22.1% swinging strike rate, which makes it his best pitch by a fairly comfortable margin. With that in mind, take a look at Tuesday night’s start:

(Brooks Baseball)
(Brooks Baseball)

This time around, 41 of his 98 pitches were fastballs, and he threw more than twice as many sliders (which led to twice as many swings and misses). Montgomery threw fifteen more pitches this time around, and essentially all of them were sliders. It was a completely different mix of pitches, and it helped to keep the Royals off-balance; and the results were excellent.

It wasn’t just a matter of throwing more sliders, though. Montgomery was also far more successful in keeping the ball around the edges, as well as in the bottom-third of the strike-zone.



In the first outing, Montgomery was, to oversimplify, throwing the ball down the middle or outside of the zone. And, given that most the pitches he threw were fastballs or change-ups, it’s no surprise that he was hit, and hit hard.


Montgomery threw a few too many pitches near the heart of the plate both times around, but he was clearly living on the edges far more often on Tuesday night. He was also pounding right-handed hitters down-and-in (and lefties down-and-away), and it worked quite well. The majority of his pitches move, and he has shown the ability to locate most of them well-enough, so the latter plot is exactly what you’d expect to see when Montgomery is on his game.

The usual “it’s only one game” caveat applies here, yet it is encouraging to see Montgomery make such a significant adjustment from one game to the next. He went with what has worked best for him this season, and held the Royals to 1 run in 6.2 IP. On most nights, that would be a winning effort – but I digress. One of the most often cited pluses on Montgomery’s scouting report was his pitchability, and that was on full display for at least one night.