Game 31: Tanaka Tuesday

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

The Yankees may be starting to right the ship. They’ve won four of their last six games and they have the right guy on the mound to keep things going tonight: Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball so far this season, and he’s coming off that eight inning masterpiece against the Orioles. Hopefully his teammates provide a little more run support tonight. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Carlos Beltran
  5. 1B Dustin Ackley
  6. CF Aaron Hicks
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. RF Ben Gamel
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It has been cloudy and overcast all day in New York, though there is no rain in the forecast. There have been better nights for baseball. Tonight’s game is going to begin 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Mark Teixeira has neck spasms and is day-to-day. It’s been bothering him for a while, apparently … Jacoby Ellsbury (hip) has only done some light jogging and is not yet ready to run full sprints … Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) is “progressing,” per Joe Girardi.

2016 Draft: Cody Sedlock

Cody Sedlock | RHP

Background
Sedlock, 20, is from the small little town of Sherrard, Illinois — the internet tells me the population is 626 according to the 2013 Census — and he is currently in the University of Illinois rotation after spending his freshman and sophomore years in the bullpen. He has a 2.82 ERA with 97 strikeouts and 25 walks in 83 innings this spring. Sedlock broke out as a starter with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod League last fall. He struck out 26 in 29 innings.

Scouting Report
Out of the bullpen, the 6-foot-4 and 210 lb. Sedlock would routinely touch 96 mph, though he’s been mostly 91-93 mph as a starter this spring. He does hold his velocity deep into games, which always seems to be a challenge for reliever-to-starter conversion guys. Sedlock’s main secondary pitch is a low-80s slider that is a legitimate swing-and-miss offering on its best days. He also throws both a changeup and curveball. They’re underdeveloped at this point because he leaned on his heater and slider out of the bullpen. Sedlock has cleaned up his delivery with the Illini and now does a much better job throwing strikes and staying on line with the plate.

Miscellany
In their most recent rankings Keith Law (subs. req’d), MLB.com, and Baseball America had Sedlock as the 19th, 32nd, and 36th best prospect in the draft class, respectively. The Yankees hold the 18th overall pick. As a college starting pitcher, Sedlock is right up New York’s alley because they’re emphasizing quick to the majors players. Sedlock does need some work with his change and curve, but the tools are there for four pitches. His arm is also relatively fresh after spending two seasons in the bullpen.

Inability to get the ball airborne causing Teixeira’s power outage

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

For the majority of the season the Yankees have really struggled to score runs, and you can’t single out one guy as the culprit. It takes a total team effort to rank 24th out of the 30 clubs in runs per game (3.57) more than a month into the season. Starlin Castro has been the team’s only consistently productive hitter, I’d say.

A year ago the Yankees had one of highest scoring offenses in baseball overall, and one of the biggest reasons was regular cleanup hitter Mark Teixeira. He hit .255/.357/.548 (143 wRC+) with 31 home runs in 111 games before going down with a small fracture in his shin. Teixeira turned back the clock and was one of the game’s best power hitters.

That has not been the case this season. Far from it. Through 30 team games Teixeira is hitting .202/.325/.298 (82 wRC+) with only four extra base hits. (A double and three homers.) It has been 23 games and 94 plate appearances since his last home run. That is quite bad. Teixeira is not a complementary player. He’s a cornerstone piece of the offense and he isn’t helping much right now.

“It’s only natural that you want to help carry the team, but I’ve always been someone that’s done that,” said Teixeira to Dan Martin yesterday. “As a middle-of-the-order hitter, it’s kind of what you’re there for, to drive in runs. You can carry a team for weeks or months at a time. This is nothing new for me to deal with.”

It’s actually pretty easy to pinpoint why Teixeira has not hit for much power this season: he isn’t hitting the ball in the air. His 50.7% ground ball rate is easily the highest of his career. (Previous high: 42.8% in 2008.) That’s only the super short version though. Teixeira is a switch-hitter and that complicates things. Plus we want to know why he isn’t hitting the ball in the air, right?

Here are Teixeira’s ball in play splits dating back to the start of the 2014 season. I’d normally go back three full years, but wrist surgery limited Teixeira to only 15 games in 2013.

Mark Teixeira batted ballsEverything looks okay from the right side of the plate this season. Teixeira’s batted ball profile is generally in line with last year’s, which is what we want to see. He was pretty awesome last year. It goes without saying this is all coming from a small sample, but so far, so good as a right-handed hitter.

The left side is where Teixeira is having big problems. He’s still pulling the ball a ton, but he’s not making as much hard contact and he’s not hitting the ball in the air. More weak contact on the ground as a left-handed batter means more balls that get eaten up by the shift. It’s actually kinda surprising Teixeira’s batting average isn’t lower, to be honest.

Before we move forward it should be noted Teixeira’s plate discipline has been fine. More than fine, really. He has the 23rd lowest swing rate on pitches out of the zone in baseball (22.7%), and his overall contact rate (80.3%) is right in line with his career norm. Teixeira’s not expanding his zone and hacking at bad pitches. That’s not causing all those extra ground balls as a lefty hitter.

Teixeira said he was working to correct a timing issue near the very end of Spring Training, and it’s possible that timing issue is still, well, an issue. He does the most damage as a left-handed hitter when he can extend his arms and punish a pitch on the outer half. Here’s the pitch location of every ball Teixeira hit 100+ mph last season from the left side of the plate, per Baseball Savant:

Mark Teixeira 100 mph

That is some plate coverage, huh? The guy is a big time power hitter playing his home games in Yankee Stadium, so as pitcher you’d think the best place to go is away, but nope. That is Teixeira’s wheelhouse. It takes a long swing to get to those outside pitches, so if his timing is off even a tiny little bit, it can be the difference between loud contact and something off the end of the bat.

Of course, it’s possible Teixeira’s timing is off because he’s 36 and his bat is slowing. It’s not necessarily a mechanical issue. That said, even old players still hit home runs, and I feel like Teixeira going 94 plate appearances (!) without a dinger is indicative of a mechanical problem more than a “he’s old” problem. What about injury? What if he’s not using his lower half the way he normally does following the shin fracture? Teixeira is not hitting for power because he’s not hitting the ball in the air from the left side of the plate. Why is he not lifting the ball? That’s the mystery.

“There’s no reason I should be struggling like this,” added Teixeira. “It’s been a tough few weeks. I’ve just got to get the ball in the air. I’ve been hitting too many ground balls and soft line drives … My whole career has been about back-spinning the ball, hitting the ball in the air and home runs. I’m just not doing that right now.”

The Yankees obviously still want to climb back into the postseason race this summer, and they’ll need Teixeira to get back to mashing baseballs to do that. And even if they continue to lose, they want him to be productive so they at least have the option of exploring trading him. Who knows whether Teixeira will waive his no-trade clause. But if he doesn’t start hitting, it won’t matter. No one will want him.

The silver lining here is that unlike some of the team’s other veterans, specifically Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran, Teixeira can still contribute with his glove when he’s not hitting. He’s still a great defensive first baseman. That’s not enough though. Teixeira is still getting on base thanks to his walks, so he’s not totally useless at the plate, but the Yankees need him to start hitting the ball out of the park, and he needs to get the ball airborne for that to happen.

There’s a lot at stake with Nova’s return to the rotation

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night, Ivan Nova made his first start in place of the injured CC Sabathia, and it went … okay. Not great, not bad. He was serviceable. One run on six hits and a walk in 4.2 innings isn’t awful, especially since he was on a pitch limit. That’s about as good as you can expect from your sixth starter in his first start out of the bullpen.

“It was a good night for me. I faced the last batter and saw 81 pitches and I knew I was coming out,” said Nova to Dan Martin after the game. Joe Girardi added, “He did a tremendous job. I hated that I had to pull him out. I was hoping he would get a double play with the last batter to get the win, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

Sabathia beat out Nova for the fifth starter’s job in Spring Training and he’s been pretty good in the early going. The Yankees hope he can return following the minimum 15 days on the DL, but that’s no guarantee, so Nova is in the rotation for the foreseeable future. There’s quite a bit at stake here in the meantime.

  1. Wins. Duh. If Nova pitches poorly, the Yankees probably won’t win because the offense has been stinky. The team needs all the wins they can get right now.
  2. A Rotation Spot. Nova may be replacing Sabathia, but that does not necessarily mean he’ll automatically go back to the bullpen when CC is activated. Nova wants to make the Yankees think long and hard about sending Luis Severino to Triple-A.
  3. Trade Value. This is more relevant to the Yankees than Nova. The better Ivan pitches, the more the team could get for him in a trade at the deadline if it comes to that.
  4. Free Agent Stock. This is more relevant to Nova than the Yankees. Nova’s going to be a free agent after the season, so the better he pitches, the more he can demand on the open market.

This stint in the rotation, however long it may be, is a big opportunity for Nova. He has a lot to gain as an impending free agent. Ivan has to pitch well to keep his rotation spot and maximize his free agent stock. And, ironically, pitching well could land him in another uniform via trade come July.

Money is a great motivator, and by MLB player standards, Nova hasn’t made much of it in his career. His career earnings check in at a bit under $9M, so you know he’s hoping to land that huge payday after the season. Pitching well during this stint as Sabathia’s replacement is Nova’s first step in building free agent value.

The Yankees tried and failed to trade Nova over the winter and I think that’s a good thing. He wasn’t good last season and his trade value was at an all-time low. I think he is more valuable as a depth arm than anything he could have realistically fetch in a trade. They’re fortunate they have him now with Severino struggling and Bryan Mitchell hurt, and the possibility exists for him to increase his value. Moving Nova for the sake of moving him never did make much sense to me.

For now, Nova is in the rotation and he’s still getting stretched back out. The single most important thing at the moment is winning games. The Yankees dug themselves quite a hole and need Nova to do more than hold down the fort. They need him to thrive to help them make up ground. And if he does thrive, that’s opens a lot of doors, both in the rotation and in terms of trade and free agent value.

Stephen Strasburg’s extension and the Yankees

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg managed to agree to a contract extension in the middle of a start last night. While he was on the mound against the Tigers, news broke Strasburg and the Nats had a seven-year extension in place. The deal is worth $175M and includes opt-outs after the third and fourth years. The contract will be made official later today.

Massive contracts like this change the baseball landscape. Strasburg was on track to become a free agent after the season and pretty much every team with money to burn and a hole in their rotation was going to be interested. The Nationals opened their wallets and paid up. If nothing else, their fans now a least have some hope they will do the same with Bryce Harper in a few years. For now, here are some ways the Strasburg deal affects the Yankees.

Wow Does The Free Agent Pitching Class Stink

Strasburg was, by far, the best pitcher scheduled to become a free agent after the season. I wasn’t expecting the Yankees to make a run at him or any other big name free agent — that might not happen until they reset their luxury tax rate — but you can never truly rule this team out on free agents. What if they win 70 games and finish in last place? Would it surprise anyone if the Yankees respond by spending $400M in free agency? Nah.

The Yankees need pitching the same way every team needs pitching. With Strasburg off the board, here is a quick list of the best starters scheduled to become free agents after the season (full list):

Clay Buchholz
Andrew Cashner
Bartolo Colon
R.A. Dickey
Jeremy Hellickson
Rich Hill
Mat Latos

There are some options and opt-outs that can come into play (Gio Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Derek Holland, Edinson Volquez are the notables) but that’s the list. You really have to squint your eyes to find a difference maker in that group. I’m really surprised Strasburg and Scott Boras decided to forego free agent with that class. He might have gotten $200M on the open market.

The Yankees have quite a bit of money coming off the books after the season and spending on a free agent starter to beef up the rotation seemed possible. Maybe not a huge money deal, but a little something, you know? Now that Strasburg is off the board, there’s going to be much more competition for the mid-range arms. Someone’s going to end up betting a lot of money on Buchholz and Cashner not being enigmas going forward.

The Trade Market: As Buyers

Because the free agent pitching market looks so weak, expect the trade circuit to be busy. No team has too much pitching, but some have more pitching than others, and a few of those clubs figure to cash in an extra arm as a trade chip. The Dodgers, Mets, Nationals, Braves, and Indians stand out as candidates to move a pitcher. Sonny Gray is going to be the big name. Jose Fernandez too. Expect to hear a lot of Gray and Fernandez rumors over the next, I dunno, eight months or so.

The Yankees have exactly one starter under control beyond next season (Luis Severino) assuming Masahiro Tanaka opts out, so they’ll be one of the many clubs looking for pitching this coming offseason. They always are. They were looking for pitching this past offseason, remember. Teams looking for an impact pitcher can’t turn to free agency with Strasburg signed. The Yankees will have more competition on the trade market, which seems to be their preferred way to acquire talent nowadays. Not great, Bob.

The Trade Market: As Sellers

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

On the other side of the coin, the Yankees will potentially be in position to take advantage of the seller’s trade market. Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda will be free agents after next season. The Yankees would be foolish not to see what those two could fetch in trades this offseason. Some team could look at Pineda, see a guy with ace ceiling, and pay big. Same with Eovaldi.

Pineda and Eovaldi are both reasonably young. They both have sexy peripherals, they both have big time stuff, and there’s a chance to get a draft pick when they do become free agents. That makes both very desirable in trades. If the Yankees do not plan to sign either long-term term, they owe it too themselves to put them out on the trade market and try to get a nice return this winter. It’s not necessarily about selling to rebuild. It’s about maximizing assets. Pitching will be at a premium.

The Tommy John Discount?

This past offseason Jordan Zimmermann became the first pitcher to sign a $100M+ deal after having Tommy John surgery. (Shin-Soo Choo was the first to do it overall.) Strasburg is the second, and he blew away Zimmermann’s deal. There is no doubt Tommy John surgery presents certain risks going forward, even for guys like Zimmermann and Strasburg, who have thrown hundreds of innings since having their elbows rebuilt.

Both Strasburg and Zimmermann signed deals that were probably smaller than most expected. Heck, I thought Strasburg and Boras were going to try to eclipse David Price’s pitching record $217M deal because he’s a few years younger and the market was less saturated. So many pitchers are having Tommy John surgery early in their careers that now these guys are hitting free agency in their late-20s and early-30s, their prime years. It’s not just the old workhorses getting new elbow ligaments.

The Strasburg and Zimmermann contracts could indicate there is some sort of discount applied to pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery. That’s relevant to the Yankees because Eovaldi and Ivan Nova are due to hit free agency soon, and both have the zipper. Is it possible elbow reconstruction means it would be cheaper to re-sign those two? Two data points like Strasburg and Zimmermann doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, really. It’s just an observation.

* * *

Like I said, I wasn’t expecting the Yankees to be a serious player for Strasburg after the season. His signing does change the pitching landscape though, both the free agent and trade market, and that will affect the Yankees. Fewer available quality starters means more competition, and it also may represent an opportunity to turn players like Pineda and Eovaldi into other assets.

Yankees swat five home runs, take series opener 6-3 from Royals

The Bronx Bombers are back! For one night, anyway. The Yankees hit five home runs en route to a 6-3 win over the Royals in Monday’s series opener. It was their first five-homer game of the season. I hope there are many more. The Yankees have won four of their last six games too. Are things turning around? I hope so.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Five & Fly
The Yankees went into Monday’s game next to last in the AL with 25 home runs. Only the Royals hit fewer. They had 23. After two innings and change against Chris Young, the Yankees jumped from 14th in the AL to ninth with 30 home runs. Young faced 14 batters and five (five!) took him deep. That’s … bad. Young is the first pitcher to allow five homers to the Yankees since Clay Buchholz back in 2012.

The tater mashers: Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, and then Beltran again. Gardner and Hicks went back-to-back in the third. (First back-to-back homers of the season for the Yanks.) All five home runs were solo shots, which is kinda lame, but hey, I’ll take it. Young is an extreme fly ball pitcher and his fastball averages 88 mph on a good day, so when he misses his spot, the ball tends to go a long way. The Yankees haven’t been hitting many home runs this year. It was fun to watch them do some yard work Monday.

Four and Two-Thirds & Fly
Ivan Nova probably cost himself a win in the fifth inning. Not because he pitched poorly, but because he made some defensive no-nos. First he fielded a chopper from Cheslor Cuthbert, then turned and rushed the throw, pulling Mark Teixeira off the bag. Replays showed Nova had a little more time than he probably realized. Also, Chase Headley was right there too and could have made the play without the difficult throw.

Then, later in the inning, Nova reached out with his barehand and slowed down a Jarrod Dyson chopper back up the middle. Had he let it go, it would have gone right to Didi Gregorius near second base for a possible double play, even with the speedy Dyson running. It would have been catch, step on the bag, throw. Bang bang bang. Gregorius did get the out at second but nothing more because Nova slowed the ball down.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

And finally, Nova missed first base on Alcides Escobar’s ground ball to Teixeira at first. The flip was perfect and Nova did make the catch, he just missed the bag. It happens, but man, Nova did himself no favors that inning defensively. The Yankees were up 5-1, and he was pulled with runners on the corners and two outs in the fifth inning because his pitch count hit 81, six more than Joe Girardi said Nova was scheduled to throw. One out short of a win. Sucks.

Most importantly, Nova’s first start in place of the injured CC Sabathia went well. One run on six hits and a walk in 4.2 innings is serviceable, especially since he was on a pitch limit. The run came on a long Alex Gordon homer. Nova wiggled out of trouble in the second and Phil Coke bailed him out in the fifth. Pretty much exactly what the Yankees needed from Nova. Don’t meltdown, basically.

Bullpen Machinations
Girardi managed his four-run lead like it was a one-run lead. Coke got Eric Hosmer to end the fifth — he fell behind in the count 3-0 before rebounding to get a fly out — then got the first out of the sixth. After Coke walked Gordon, Kirby Yates came in to finish off the inning. Dellin Betances was warming behind him much of that inning, just in case things got really hairy.

Rather than bring Betances into the seventh, Girardi managed to steal another inning’s worth of outs from Yates, who had some help from Gregorius and Teixeira. Didi and Tex made two great plays in that inning — both times Gregorius made the backhanded snag, fired to first, and Teixeira made the scoop — and Kirby retired all three batters he faced. Yates seems to be this year’s “who is this guy and why is he pitching effectively out of the bullpen?” guy.

The Yankees were able to tack on a sixth run in the seventh inning on two singles (Headley, Ronald Torreyes), a productive ground out (Gardner), and a sac fly (Hicks). That meant Chasen Shreve and not one of the big three relievers handled the eighth inning. On his first pitch, Shreve gave up another homer. Hosmer got him. That was the fifth dinger he’s allowed in his last 5.2 innings. So much for Chasen being fixed, huh?

Andrew Miller was on the bullpen mound warming up before Hosmer’s home run landed, it seemed. Shreve did get through the rest of the inning unscathed though, so Miller did nothing but warm up. Aroldis Chapman then made his Yankees debut in the ninth. The first batter he faced:

Aroldis Chapman Omar Infante

That’ll do. Chapman topped out at 102.1 mph and did actually allow a run. Paulo Orlando hit a booming double to center and Escobar drove him in with a single through Gregorius. Didi should have had that one. He played the hop weird. One inning, two hits, one run, two strikeouts. Good to get Chapman in there in a low-leverage spot for his first first game of the year.

Nitpick Time
Allow me to nitpick, because it’s what I do best. Why warm up Betances and not bring him in? Girardi had Dellin ready to go in case Yates ran into trouble in the sixth and seventh, which he didn’t. Then, when Shreve gave up the homer, it was Miller who warmed up, not Betances. Why not just go to Betances since he was already warmed up and avoid getting both hot?

Pitchers will tell you warming up and not pitching is almost like appearing in the game. It’s not nothing. Dellin and Miller didn’t pitch, but they kinda did, you know? The Yankees had a four-run lead (and temporarily a five-run lead), yet six of the seven relievers either warmed up or pitched. Overkill. Girardi was like a kid on Christmas morning. He didn’t know which toy to play with.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Leftovers
The offense went pretty silent after Young left the game. The Yankees did add that sixth run in the seventh, but they still had only three hits and one walk in their final 5.1 offensive innings. They managed to score six runs while having only two at-bats with runners in scoring position. Hooray dingers! Everyone in the starting lineup had a hit except Texeira and Gregorius. At least they played some mean defense.

Speaking of warming up and not pitching, Chien-Ming Wang was getting hot in the Kansas City in the bullpen in the eighth inning. He didn’t enter the game, unfortunately. Hopefully he pitches at some point in the series, preferably in a blowout loss. Wanger deserves a nice big ovation at Yankee Stadium.

And finally, congrats to Ben Gamel for picking up his first big league hit in his first at-bat. It was a soft ground ball single through the left side of the infield. It hit off Escobar’s glove and scooted away. Line drive in the box score, my man.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Go to ESPN for the box score and updated standings, then go to MLB.com for the video highlights. We have Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages that may be of some help. Here’s the ol’ win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Royals will play the second game of this four-game series Tuesday night. Masahiro Tanaka and Kris Medlen are the scheduled starting pitchers. RAB Tickets can get you in the door for that game or any other home game this season.

DotF: Judge homers again, Refsnyder extends hit streak in Scranton win

Some notes:

  • RHP Domingo Acevedo has been placed on the Low-A Charleston DL with a lower body injury, reports Josh Norris. At least it’s not his arm. Acevedo has a 2.43 ERA (2.35 FIP) with 37 strikeouts and only five walks in 33.1 innings this season.
  • Both C Gary Sanchez and SS Jorge Mateo were including in MLB.com’s Prospect Team of the Week. Those two went a combined 23-for-45 (.511) with three doubles, two triples, and five home runs in ten games last week. That is: good.
  • LHP Nestor Cortes was including in Baseball America’s daily prospect report today, so check that out. It’s not behind the paywall. Cortes has been one of the best pitchers in the system statistically since being a 36th round pick in 2013.
  • OF Carlos Vidal, OF Mark Payton, and RHP Brody Koerner were all placed on the High-A Tampa DL, per Nick Flammia. RHP Travis Hissong and OF Cesar Diaz were moved up to fill roster spots.
  • The Yankees have signed RHP Jean Peralta, reports Matt Eddy. I can’t find any information about him, and usually that means he is an amateur player signed as an international free agent.

Triple-A Scranton (6-0 win over Pawtucket)

  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI — fifth homer in his last nine games
  • C Gary Sanchez: 1-4, 1 K
  • DH Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K — hitting streak is up to 13 games
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • 1B Nick Swisher: 2-4 — first multi-hit game in 15 days
  • RHP Chad Green: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 2 WP, 6/2 GB/FB — 69 of 103 pitches were strikes (67%) … 24.3% strikeout rate in Triple-A this year after a 20.9% strikeout rate in Double-A last year
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 2 IP, zeroes, 4 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 16 of 21 pitches were strikes (76%)

[Read more…]