9/21 to 9/23 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays


Once again, it’s time for the biggest series of the season. It’s been the biggest series of the season the last three times the Yankees and Blue Jays met. They’ll play three games in Toronto this week, starting tonight. The Blue Jays have dominated the Yankees this season. They’re 11-5 against New York and have outscored them 73-48. That said, these clubs are an even 3-3 at Rogers Centre in 2015.

What Have The Blue Jays Done Lately?

Believe it or not, the Blue Jays lost their last series. The Red Sox did the Yankees a solid and took two of three in Toronto this weekend. The Blue Jays are 85-64 with +213 run differential overall. That’s the second best record in the AL and by far the best run differential in baseball. The Cardinals are a distance second at +113. A hundred run gap. Sheesh. The Yankees are 2.5 games back of Toronto in the AL East (two in the loss column).

Offense & Defense

By now you know the Blue Jays have a powerhouse offense. The best in baseball by a not small margin. They’re averaging 5.51 runs per game with a team 115 wRC+ this year, both the best marks in MLB, and that includes 5.57 runs per game and a team 125 wRC+ at home. It’s a great offense that’s even better at home. Toronto is currently without SS Troy Tulowitzki (shoulder), 2B Devon Travis (shoulder), OF Michael Saunders (knee), and IF Maicer Izturis (shoulder). None are due back this series.

Donaldson. (Presswire)
Donaldson. (Presswire)

Even without Tulowitzki, manager John Gibbons has three elite hitters in 3B Josh Donaldson (155 wRC+), OF Jose Bautista (146 wRC+), and 1B Edwin Encarnacion (148 wRC+). They have 39, 36, and 34 home runs, respectively. The Play Index tells me the last team to have three qualified hitters with at least 30 homers and a 145 OPS+ was the 2004 Cardinals (Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen). Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion are on pace to become the sixth such trio in history. Somehow the Yankees have never done it.

OF Ben Revere (96 wRC+), C Russell Martin (111 wRC+), OF Kevin Pillar (79 wRC+), and the first base platoon of 1B Justin Smoak (109 wRC+) and 1B/OF Chris Colabello (145 wRC+) is the supporting cast. IF Ryan Goins (84 wRC+) is playing short with Tulowitzki hurt and IF Cliff Pennington (53 wRC+) is at second. C Dioner Navarro (83 wRC+) is the backup catcher and OF Dalton Pompey is the designated September pinch-runner. C Josh Thole, IF Munenori Kawasaki, UTIL Matt Hague, OF Ezequiel Carrera, and IF Darwin Barney are the extra September players.

The Blue Jays are a very good defensive team even without Tulo. Their only below-average gloveman is whoever is playing first base on a given day. Martin, Donaldson, and Pillar are all elite at their positions while Goins, Bautista, and Pennington are above-average. Revere is average overall because he can’t throw at all. Arguably the worst outfield arm in the game. He does have range though. Toronto doesn’t get enough credit for being so well-rounded.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (7pm ET): RHP Adam Warren (vs. TOR) vs. LHP David Price (vs. NYY)
This is the fourth Yankees-Blue Jays series since the All-Star break, and, predictably, Price will pitch in all four. The 30-year-old southpaw has a 2.42 ERA (2.80 FIP) in 30 starts and 208.1 innings this season, making this the best year of his career. It’s even better than his Cy Young season back in 2012. His strikeout (25.9%), walk (5.4%), and homer (0.69 HR/9) rates are all great, and while his grounder rate (41.1%) is below-average, it doesn’t matter because he generates so much weak contact. Lefties (.289 wOBA) have actually hit Price harder than righties (.269 wOBA), which is a trend that started last year. Price is a pure power pitcher, living in the mid-90s with his two and four-seam fastballs, and a notch below that with his cutter. He also throws a nasty mid-80s changeup and a few upper-70s curves. Price locates everything very well. The best combination of power and command in the game. The Yankees have faced Price four times this season: eight runs in 2.1 innings in April, seven scoreless inning in early-August, three runs in 7.1 innings in mid-August, and two runs in five innings earlier this month.

Tuesday (7pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marco Estrada (vs. NYY)
Estrada, 32, has a 3.14 ERA (4.42 FIP) in 160.1 innings spread across 25 starts and six relief appearances this summer. He started the year as the long man before moving into the rotation. His walk rate (7.9%) is about average but everything else is below-average: 18.1 K%, 32.3 GB%, and 1.18 HR/9. Estrada has been very homer prone throughout his career (career 1.36 HR/9), and while he was able to keep the ball in the park earlier this season, he’s now allowed ten homers in his last eight starts. Thanks to his upper-80s changeup, Estrada has had more success against lefties (.273 wOBA) than righties (.289 wOBA) both this year and throughout his career. An upper-80s four-seam fastball sets up that changeup as well as his upper-70s curveball. Like Price, Estrada has started against the Yankees four times this year: five runs in 4.2 innings in May, 6.1 scoreless innings in early-August, two runs in six innings in mid-August, and four runs in five innings last week.

Estrada. (Presswire)
Estrada. (Presswire)

Wednesday (7pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. TOR) vs. RHP Marcus Stroman (vs. NYY)
A torn ACL suffered during a fielding drill in Spring Training was supposed to end Stroman’s season, but his rehab went exceptionally well, and he was able to rejoin the rotation a week and a half ago. The 24-year-old has allowed four runs on ten hits and three walks in 12 innings so far, striking out five with a 68.4% ground ball rate. He had a 3.65 ERA (2.84 FIP) in 130.2 innings last year, his big league debut. Stroman throws six pitches regularly, led by his low-to-mid-90s two and four-seam fastballs. He also throws a low-90s cutter and sliders, curveballs, and changeups in the mid-80s. Stroman uses all of ’em. He’s quite unpredictable. The Yankees saw him in his first start off the DL last week, and scored three runs in five innings.

Bullpen Status
Thanks to some trade deadline pickups and roster shuffling, Gibbons now has a strong and deep bullpen at his disposal. Rookie RHP Roberto Osuna (2.38 ERA/2.91 FIP) is closing with ex-starter RHP Aaron Sanchez (3.27/4.77) and LHP Brett Cecil (2.77/2.71) handling setup duties. RHP Mark Lowe (1.53/2.15) will also see some high-leverage work from time-to-time.

RHP Drew Hutchison (5.33/4.25) was moved to the bullpen after Stroman rejoined the rotation. He joins RHP LaTroy Hawkins (2.57/3.15), RHP Liam Hendriks (2.52/1.99), LHP Aaron Loup (4.76/3.80), and RHP Bo Schultz (3.46/4.78) in the middle innings. RHP Steve Delabar, LHP Jeff Francis, RHP Chad Jenkins, and RHP Ryan Tepera are the extra September arms. Hendriks, Cecil, Lowe, and Hawkins all pitched yesterday.

Our Bullpen Workload page can keep you updated on the status of Joe Girardi‘s heavily used bullpen. Andrew Stoeten’s site is the place to go for Blue Jays news and analysis, though the language is not exactly family friendly. Consider yourself forewarned.

Yankeemetrics: Kings of New York (Sept. 18-20)

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Queens Bombers
On Friday night the Yankees decided to go with a lineup that was missing their top-3 power bats and run producers (combined 86 homers and 249 RBI entering Friday) — Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira — to try and beat a Mets team that leads the NL in homers and runs scored in the second half of the season. The result was a three-homer barrage by the Mets and a 5-1 loss for the Yankees in the Subway Series opener at Citi Field. Sigh.

They wasted another solid outing by Masahiro Tanaka, who was pitching on regular rest for the second start in a row. After allowing two runs in six innings, he now has a 2.56 ERA in five starts on four days rest this season (and a 3.61 ERA in 18 starts on five-plus days rest).

Round number alert! This was Greg Bird’s 30th major-league game, and with seven homers and 21 RBI, he’s just the second player in franchise history to reach each of those totals within his first 30 career games. The other? Mr. Shane Spencer, who had 10 home runs and 29 RBI through 30 MLB games.

How do ya like them apples?
The Bronx Bombers reclaimed their nickname in Saturday’s 5-0 win, with all five runs scored on homers by Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann. Not only did those home runs help the Yankees win the game, but they also linked Beltran and McCann together with pretty good Hall of Fame backstops.

Beltran’s three-run shot in the first inning was his 389th career home run, tying Johnny Bench for 61st on all-time list. McCann extended the lead five frames later with a two-run blast, his 17th career home run against the Mets. The only catchers with more homers against the Mets are Gary Carter (24), Bench (23) and Javy Lopez (19).

Michael Pineda was pitching on extended (six days) rest, a situation that has caused a ton of problems for him in the past. He had no trouble in this game, though, throwing 5 1/3 scoreless innings. Before getting this win, Pineda was 0-6 with a 5.16 ERA in nine starts on six-plus days rest in a Yankee uniform.

There were a couple notable oddities in this game that probably would only happen in a September matchup. One was that the Yankees somehow used four second baseman: starter Dustin Ackley, Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan and Rob Refsnyder. The only other time in the last 100 seasons that the Yankees used that many second baseman in a nine-inning game was June 22, 1978 in a 4-2 win over the Tigers.

Despite holding a 5-0 lead, Joe Girardi decided to use six relievers to get the final 11 outs because, in the words of the wise manager, “this is a game you can’t afford to give away.” Anyways, it made for a record-breaking afternoon. This is the first time in franchise history the Yankees used seven pitchers in a shutout win. And the 5-0 score is the largest shutout win by any major-league team in the last 100 years that used seven pitchers in the game. September baseball, gotta love it.

New York’s Ace
The Yankees made a statement on Sunday night with their 11-2 blowout victory over the Mets, clinching a series win in what probably was the most meaningful regular-season matchup between the two New York clubs. The nine-run win matches the Yankees’ biggest ever on the road against the Mets and the 11 runs are the most they’ve ever scored in the Queens.

If not for a thing called “innings limits,” the Yankees might never have won this game. Matt Harvey dominated the Yankees, striking out seven and allowing just one hit in five scoreless innings. He is the only Mets pitcher to pitch at least five innings and give up no more than one hit in a game against the Yankees.

With that near-perfect performance, he now has a 1.25 ERA with 24 strikeouts in three Subway Series starts. The only other active pitchers with an ERA that low and that many strikeouts against the Yankees are Chris Sale and Dallas Keuchel.

CC Sabathia was masterful in limiting the Mets to just one run on five hits in six innings pitched. He’s allowed no more than one earned run in each of his last three starts since coming off the DL, the first time he’s had a streak like that since a five-start run from June 25-July 16, 2011.

Dustin Ackley and Greg Bird had two of the biggest swings of the night, each hitting three-run homers once Harvey had departed. Those were the Yankees’ major-league-best 44th and 45th home runs with at least two men on base this season; next on the list is the Blue Jays … with 27.

Fan Confidence Poll: September 21st, 2015

Record Last Week: 4-2 (27 RS, 15 RA)
Season Record: 82-66 (720 RS, 630 RA, 84-64 pythag. record) 2.5 GB in ALE, 4.0 games up on WC spot
Opponents This Week: @ Blue Jays (three games, Mon. to Weds.), vs. White Sox (four games, Thurs. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Yankees take the Subway Series with a 11-2 win behind CC’s arm and big bats


This game didn’t start well – CC Sabathia labored through the entire first inning while Matt Harvey mowed down Yankee hitters. There’s a reason why you don’t stop watching after the first few innings though – the Yankee offense took advantage of non-Harvey Mets pitchers later in the game to make this win look very, very easy. The guys from Bronx took two out of three in the enemy territory to win the Subway Series before they head up north for a crucial series versus the Blue Jays.

It’s a Sunday night. I had a long day of watching sports (attending the Redskins game, watching more NFL and MLB games and this) so let’s do this 11-2 win bullet point style.

– CC is good again?: The Mets took a quick 1-0 lead in the first only after first two hitters – both Ruben Tejada and David Wright hit a double each (on 0-2 counts, go figure). By then all of us were wondering if we were in for a long night of CC struggling and bullpen laboring. Well, CC did have to work a lot to get out of the first inning without any more damage – he loaded the bases with two outs with a pair of walks but induced a Michael Cuddyer pop out to escape.

For the rest of the night, Sabathia was brilliant. He only allowed three more hits in five innings while striking out five more. Thanks to the offense imploding post-Harvey, CC earned his first win since July 8, which, in my opinion, is a long time ago (a lot of things happened to me in that time period). After being a thorn on the side for the Yankee rotation until early August, Sabathia is making a strong case to be a playoff starter now, who would’ve thought?

– The top of sixth: So you probably know about this Matt Harvey pitch count deal. Well, Harvey was just dealing tonight, allowing only one hit in five scoreless innings. Starting in the sixth, though, Terry Collins took Harvey out and put in Hansel Robles as the first reliever. Jacoby Ellsbury reached second to lead off on an infield single and Daniel Murphy’s throwing error. Brett Gardner followed it up with a fielder’s choice grounder that Wright botched. That was not a pretty sight for Mets fans and it got worse for them. Carlos Beltran, whom they booed mercilessly all this weekend, hit a go-ahead double to put the Yanks on top, 2-1. Three batters later, with two outs and two on, Dustin Ackley homered to right to make it 5-1. Dustin Ackley! The man has been on fire as a Yankee (1.057 OPS in 22 AB prior to tonight’s game). I doubt he keeps that up but it would be nice if a change of scenery/being coached by new people in new org somehow tapped that former second overall pick potential. Only time will tell but it’s awesome to see Brian Cashman‘s sole deadline acquisition pay off pretty neatly.

– More runs!: Yankees scored another in seventh thanks to a bases-loaded walk to Chase Headley by Eric O’Flaherty. In the top of eighth, facing Carlos Torres and Tim Stauffer, they tacked on five more. Ellsbury drove in Rico Noel (pinch-running for A-Rod) to make it 7-1. Torres struck Gardner out but walked Beltran before getting yanked for Stauffer. Brian McCann followed it up with an RBI single for a 8-1 lead and Greg Bird hit a dinger to left-center to make it 11-1. Holy cow, did anyone imagine this kind of outburst when the lineup was being shut down by Harvey? Chris Capuano would allow a run in the next frame to shorten the lead to 11-2 but that was pretty much it.

Here’s tonight’s box score, updated standings, video highlights and WPA.

Source: FanGraphs

So that series win was a plus to any Yankee fan’s night, right? Well, they are about to face the Blue Jays for the next four days – we’ll see how we feel after that series.

Game 148: CC in the Subway Series


Barring a World Series matchup, the 2015 Subway Series ends tonight, and the Yankees have already clinched at least a tie of the season series. They won two of three in Yankee Stadium back in April and have split the first two games of this series in Citi Field. Of course, the focus is on getting to the postseason right now, not specifically beating the Mets. They just happen to be the Yankees’ opponent this weekend.

CC Sabathia will be on the mound tonight and his first two starts off the DL have been encouraging. He allowed one unearned run in 4.2 innings in his first start back and tossed 6.2 shutout innings last time out. Sabathia has stepped up these last two starts when the Yankees really needed him. With a win tonight, the Yankees will go to Toronto just two games back in the loss column. That’s a big pretty big deal. Just win, baby. Here is the Mets’ lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 1B Greg Bird
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 2B Dustin Ackley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. LHP CC Sabathia

Very nice night for a ballgame in New York. Clear skies and on the cool side. It definitely has a postseason feel to it. Tonight’s game will begin at 8pm ET and you can watch on ESPN. Enjoy.

Injury Update: In case you missed it earlier, Masahiro Tanaka will miss his next start with a Grade I right hamstring strain. The hope is he will miss only one start.

Rotation Update: Adam Warren, Luis Severino, and Ivan Nova will start the next three games up in Toronto in that order.

Masahiro Tanaka to miss Wednesday’s start with Grade I hamstring strain

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

Well this is bad news. Masahiro Tanaka will miss Wednesday’s start against the Blue Jays with a Grade I right hamstring strain, the Yankees announced this afternoon. Tanaka hurt himself running the bases Friday. Stupid NL rules. Ivan Nova will start in Tanaka’s place Wednesday.

Joe Girardi said the hope is Tanaka will miss just one start due to the hamstring issue. Of course, that one start might be the most important game of the season. Tanaka is pretty much the only Yankees starter who has been able to hold down the Blue Jays offense, and depending on how the next few days play out, first base could be on the line Wednesday.

Apparently the injury happened when Tanaka ran down to first base in the second inning Friday. He laid down a sacrifice bunt and the force out was made at second. Tanaka had to run from first to second on Brett Gardner’s single later in the inning, then had to run to first on a ground out in his second at-bat. He threw five innings after the injury supposedly happened.

There was no indication Tanaka was hurt — he was lifted for a pinch-hitter despite throwing 82 pitches because the Yankees were down in the seventh and needed offense — so this injury really came out of nowhere. A Grade I strain is least severe by definition, which is the good news, I guess. Tanaka told reporters he wants to pitch Wednesday, but the Yankees are playing it safe.

Still, losing Tanaka is very bad news, even if it is only one start. Nova has not pitched well this season — the Blue Jays hammered him last time out, as I’m sure you remember — but the Yankees have no other alternatives. Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) is also hurt and Adam Warren’s back in the rotation. It’s either Nova or Chris Capuano at this point. Sigh.

Tanaka and the Dingers


Over the course of the 2015 season, it’s hard to argue that anyone other than Masahiro Tanaka has been the Yankee best and most consistent starter. Sure, we could argue that CC Sabathia‘s been more consistent, but I’m trying to keep things positive here. Should the Yankees be “forced” to play in the Wild Card play-in game for entry into the ALDS, we can only hope that Tanaka is lined up to start that game; why there’d be any question about this is definitely beyond me. But despite Tanaka’s general goodness at delivering pitches, there’s been a noticeable wrinkle in his game this year: the dinger.

On the year, Tanaka has given up 24 home runs, ninth most in the AL. Shockingly enough, Phil Hughes leads the AL with 29 homers surrendered (though he shares that “distinction” with Anibal Sanchez); Sabathia and his 27 homers are good for fifth. Giving up that many homers is a problem in and of itself, but it’s compounded by the fact that Tanaka’s 17.0 HR/FB% is the worst in the AL among qualified starters (Sabathia is second worst at 16.6). In 2014, homers were also Tanaka’s one-bad-thing; he gave up just 15, but that was in a relatively short amount of time. His HR/FB% last year was better than this year’s at 14.0%, but still high; in fact, it also ‘led’ the AL, clearing the second place finisher (Hisashi Iwakuma, 13.2%) by almost a full point. Given that Tanaka uses a splitter as his main out-pitch, this data makes a bit of sense. His ground ball rates of 46.6 and 47.3% are fairly high, so it’s rare when Tanaka does give up fly balls. The problem is that when he does, they seem to travel a long, long way. While 2014 and 2015 were relatively similar with regards to the long-ball and TANAK, there is one rather striking difference: the way lefties are ripping round-trippers off of the righty.

In 2014, Tanaka gave up a larger percentage of his HR/FB to right handed batters: 15.4% against them and “just” 12.7% against lefties. This year, that trend has reversed itself drastically: 13.6% against RHB (still not good!) and 22.6% (!!!) against lefties. For a microcosm of this issue, we need to look no further into the past than his last start against the Mets on Friday night.

That night, Tanaka threw just three bad pitches. One of them was a double down the right field line by Lucas Duda that eventually led to nothing for the Mets. The other two, however, represented the only runs Tanaka gave up (click to embiggen all images):

Tanaka vs. Duda (BrooksBaseball.Net)
Tanaka vs. Duda (BrooksBaseball.Net)
Tanaka vs. Murphy (BrooksBaseball.Net)
Tanaka vs. Murphy (BrooksBaseball.Net)

The first image is the home run Tanaka gave up to aforementioned Duda. The second is the one he gave up to Daniel Murphy, which put the Mets ahead for good. Both pitches are right in the middle of the plate and the lefties were able to hook them into (deep) right field both times. Both pitches, in fact, are almost in the exact same location, with Murphy’s just a touch closer to the plate. Generally, though, they’re in the same portion of the strikezone. If those pictures were broken down into a 3×3 strike zone grid, they’d be in the same box. So two different hitters, ones whose only real similarity is that they hit from the same side of the plate, hit basically the same-located pitch over the fence. This couldn’t be a coincidence, could it? Well, if it were, you’d be reading something else here. It turns out that this location has been a trouble spot for Tanaka. Take a look at the strike zone grids below that represent the left-handed batters’ collective ISO against Tanaka, broken down by strike zone location. 2014 is first, followed by 2015.

ISO v. Tanaka by location, 2014 (BrooksBaseball.Net)
LHB ISO v. Tanaka by location, 2014 (BrooksBaseball.Net)
ISO vs. Tanaka by location, 2015 (BrooksBaseball.Net)
LHB ISO vs. Tanaka by location, 2015 (BrooksBaseball.Net)

Take a look at the box where the two homers from Friday night would sit. In 2014, lefties tagged Tanaka to the tune of a .350 ISO in that spot. As if that wasn’t high enough, this year, batters are crushing pitches in that location: .682 (!!!). That’s the what, but what’s the why? Like the HR/FB% issue, we can likely point to Tanaka’s repertoire as the “culprit” for this.

Tanaka gets most of his swings and misses on his slider and his splitter; his Whiff/Swing percentages on those pitches are 33.33 and 33.89 respectively.  Against LHB, those numbers are even higher: 37.29% and 35.24%. So, why the big time homer numbers against lefties? And why the big time power in that outside location? Think of the action of each one of those pitches. It’s possible that some (attempted) backdoor sliders are getting just too much of that outside corner and lefties are mashing them. The same could be said for splitters looking to drop out of the zone that hang just a bit too much. Taking a look at the outcomes of each pitch against lefties, we can see that the slider and splitter have relatively low HR/(FB+LD) marks at 12.5 each and that the fastball has been the biggest victim (30.77). The curveball (20.00) has also been sent over the fence more than the slider and splitter. While those numbers aren’t broken down by location, they’re also pitches that a righty will try to place on the outside to a lefty. It seems, then, that when Tanaka is trying to locate those pitches in that middle/away box, he’s not getting the movement on his breaking pitches that he wants, nor is he getting the command on his fastball. That combination generally leads to bad things and that’s certainly been the case for Tanaka and his homers in 2015.