Being optimistic about Sabathia’s next start

CC Sabathia1
For better or for worse, CC Sabathia is going to be a member of the Yankees starting staff for the rest of the season. There are plenty of reasons why the large lefty shouldn’t be taking the ball every fifth or sixth day — a quick scan of the pitching leaderboards is a good place to start. But the reality is Joe Girardi has insisted Sabathia remain in the rotation despite his obvious struggles, and Brian Cashman confirmed they haven’t had any conversations about changing Sabathia’s role.

Sabathia is not even close to the dominant ace he once was and it is clear that he is working with diminished stuff every time he takes the mound. Yet as he showed in his most recent start last week against the Red Sox, Sabathia still has the competitiveness and pitching savvy of a former Cy Young winner who is capable of delivering a gem on any given night.

There were a lot of positives that emerged from that excellent outing against Boston: he shut down the Red Sox bats — both lefties and righties — giving up three hits and one run in six innings; he dialed up the heat, averaging a season-best 93 mph on his four-seamer and sinker; he kept the ball on the ground, recording his second-highest ground ball rate of the season (69 percent); he was effective in putting away hitters, allowing just one hit and a walk while netting 13 outs in two-strike counts; he avoided the “disaster” inning, getting two huge strikeouts with runners on base when he ran into trouble in the fifth. Should we officially call this the CC Shimmy?

(MLB.com)
(MLB.com)

As strong as he looked last Thursday, it is silly to think that Sabathia can be that effective every time his number comes up in the rotation. We’re not here to declare that “he’s fixed” or that “he’s back.” But the vintage performance seems to indicate that Sabathia might have regained some of his confidence on the mound, and provides him with some much-needed momentum as he makes his next start tonight against the Indians.

With that optimistic perspective in hand, here’s five stats that favor Sabathia putting together another effective outing in Cleveland tonight:

• Sabathia was drafted by the Indians in the first round of the 1998 draft and spent the first six-plus seasons of his career with the Tribe, but has shown the ability to raise his game when facing his former team. He’s 4-1 with a 2.94 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 49 innings against the Indians, his second-best ERA and second-best record against any AL squad.

• The Indians have been pretty awful overall this year, and their struggles against lefties really stand out. They are just 13-24 in games started by southpaws, the third-worst record in the majors, and their .678 OPS against lefty starters ranks 26th in baseball. They are also missing their best hitter, Jason Kipnis, who was placed on the disabled list last week.

• Sabathia, of course, has been terrific versus same-sided hitters, holding lefties to a .189/.216/.297 line. That platoon split should give Sabathia an advantage against the Indians lineup which (with Kipnis on the shelf) is now led by the left-handed Michael Brantley, who has a sub-.700 OPS against lefty starters and has also struggled against Sabathia in their previous matchups (1-for-11, six strikeouts).

• Although his fastball remains very hittable, Sabathia’s nasty slider has returned to form in the past month and a half. Since the start of July, batters are just 2-for-21 (.095) in at-bats ending in a slider, and he’s gotten whiffs on more than 30 percent of those swings against the pitch in that span. In the first three months of the season, batters hit .298 and slugged .500 against his slider, which yielded a whopping 11 extra-base hits during April, May and June. It’s been his go-to pitch with two strikes against lefties — as Robinson Cano found out on July 19 against Sabathia:

(MLB.com)
(MLB.com)

• The longball has been one of Sabathia’s biggest bugaboos this season — his rate of 1.76 homers per nine innings leads the AL — but that problem might not be a huge concern against the Indians, who have hit the third-fewest homers in the league.

*******************

None of this is going to guarantee a win or even a quality start by Sabathia. But these statistical advantages, combined with the renewed spirit, pitching smarts and fiery attitude he showed in his last start, do provide a glimmer of hope and optimism that Sabathia can deliver another solid performance tonight against the Indians.

Despite rough first two innings, Luis Severino shows signs of progress in second start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s easy to forget now because of how the game played out, but last night Luis Severino tossed six impressive innings in his second big league start. It wasn’t impressive because he dominated. Quite the opposite, in fact. He got knocked around early — six of the first ten batters he faced reached base — but Severino rebounded, made some adjustments, and finished strong.

Severino retired ten of his final eleven batters and used only 52 pitches to record his final 12 outs after needing 45 pitches to get his first six outs. Like I said, the start of the game was pretty rough. Severino was missing his spots big time and generally looked like a young 21-year-old pitcher who was in over his head. You know what I mean, that deer in the headlights look. Happens all the time.

Rather than let is snowball into a disaster outing, Severino was able to settle down and get through six innings having allowed just the two runs. He struck out only two but did get ten ground ball outs, which is probably the next best best thing. (Well, infield pop-ups are the next best thing, but Luis didn’t get any of those.) It was a grind, the kind of start every pitcher will go through a few times each year, and Severino handled it well.

“I thought he did a pretty good job,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings after the game. “He seemed to settle down pretty good after the first two innings. He gave up a lot of hits and got in a lot of long counts and then he seemed to settle down and shut them down for the next four innings. He kept us in the game.”

In his first big league start last week, Severino lived on the outer half to righties/inner half to lefties against the Red Sox. That appeared to be his comfort zone, especially with the fastball. That’s where he went to get the count back in his favor and set up his slider. Here’s his fastball heat map from last week’s start (via Baseball Savant):

Luis Severino vs. Red Sox

Severino lived on that side of the plate, outside to righties and inside to lefties. It worked just fine, he did allow just two runs in five innings, but Severino was fairly predictable. The Red Sox were essentially able to eliminate one half of the plate and I’m guessing that contributed to their 23 foul balls against Severino. That’s a Hughesian total.

Had Severino been throwing 91-92 mph instead of 96-97 mph, chances are some of those fouls would have been put in play, and who knows what happens then. Severino had a lot of long counts — he averaged 5.22 pitches per batter — and those fouls were a big reason why. He got a little predictable with his heater location. It wasn’t the end of the world, it was just a thing that happened.

Last night against the Indians, Severino allowed a much more normal 13 foul balls out of 97 total pitches. He also averaged only 3.73 pitches per batter. Severino was way more economical and, perhaps not coincidentally, he did a better job of using his fastball on both sides of the plate. Here’s the heat map of last night’s fastballs (via Baseball Savant):

Luis Severino vs. Indians

A few too many over the heart of the plate — Severino’s location issues in the early innings didn’t result in pitches out of the zone, but pitches down the middle — but Severino did a better job of using both sides of the plate. It doesn’t sound like a big deal but it is. Hitters had to respect both the inner half and outer half. It makes life a bit tougher.

It’s worth noting Brian McCann was behind the plate last night after John Ryan Murphy caught Severino’s first start last week. Perhaps throwing to the veteran catcher made Severino more comfortable pitching both in and out. Or maybe felt he shouldn’t shake off as often. Who knows? At the end of the day it’s still up to the pitcher to execute the pitcher, but the catcher does play a role.

The Yankees lost last night’s game and it was a heart-breaker, but the silver lining was clearly Severino’s outing. He started slow, shook it off, and finished strong. That’s good to see. I wouldn’t say it’s more impressive than going out and dominating, but it is impressive in a different way. Those games where you have to figure things out on the fly are often the separators between good pitchers and great pitchers.

Going forward, it’ll be interesting to see whether Severino continues to pitch to both sides of the plate or again falls in love with the outer half to righties/inside half to lefties again, especially when he’s in a jam. That’s when pitchers tend to go back to their comfort zone. Severino’s first two starts have been pretty cool and we’re still very much learning about his style, but I find the fact he didn’t continue to stick to one half of the plate encouraging.

Miller blows first save, Yankees drop fourth straight in 5-4 extra innings loss to Indians

So that was the worst loss of the season. The Yankees got the big hit, handed a lead to their bullpen … and still lost. The Indians walked off with a 5-4 win in 16 stupid innings Tuesday night. The Yanks have lost four straight and eight of their last 12 games. Hard to think they’ll be in first place much longer.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Six Strong
The first two innings of this game were pretty scary. Luis Severino looked very much like a 21-year-old rookie in over his head, and by that I mean missing his spots (by a lot) and falling behind in the count. Six of the first ten batters he faced reached base — Didi Gregorius helped him out by starting a spectacular 6-4-3 double play in the second — and at one point Severino threw first pitch balls to six straight batters. It wasn’t pretty. He needed 45 pitches to get his first six outs.

Then, in the fourth inning, Severino seemed to settle down and get on a nice little roll. He retired ten of the final eleven batters he faced and looked better all around. Severino did a better job locating and keeping hitters off balance — it seemed like he used his changeup much more often the second and third time through the lineup — and generated a lot of weak contact. The beginning of the game was not good at all. Severino was all over the place, but he recovered nicely, and that’s good to see from a kid making his second start.

31 Innings
The Yankees went 31 innings without scoring a run before Stephen Drew swatted one of his trademark “keep me on the roster another few weeks” solo home runs leading off the sixth inning. 31 innings! The last run the Yankees scored prior to Drew’s homer was Mark Teixeira‘s solo homer in the second inning of Friday’s game. Remember that? When they had to review it to make sure it actually went over the wall? Yeah, it had been a while. That one run felt like a minor miracle. It cut the deficit in half and brought the Yankees to within 2-1.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tied … Then Tied
The score remained 2-1 into the eighth inning, when Carlos Beltran knotted things up with a line drive solo home run to right field. It hit the top of the wall and just scooted over, though who the hell cares at this point. The Yankees are desperate for runs and that was a run. A big one that tied the game. Beltran had the best at-bats of the night against Carlos Carrasco by a mile. No one else was close. He really battled.

To extra innings they went. (Brett Gardner walked with one out in the ninth and was thrown out stealing in his first stolen base attempt in two months. Good idea to run! Didn’t work out though.) Indians righty Bryan Shaw came out of the bullpen in the tenth and was quite wild. He walked Brian McCann with one out, fell behind Beltran 3-0 before giving up a single, then fell behind Drew 2-0 with the bases loaded. Gregorius had served a single to load things up between Beltran and Drew.

Drew, surprisingly, did not pop-up. He instead hit a ground ball to first base and the force out was made at the plate. Now the bases were loaded with two outs. Brendan Ryan was lifted for pinch-hitter Chase Headley, who promptly worked a 3-0 count. At that point Shaw had thrown only ten of his 22 pitches for strikes. Headley took the 3-0 pitch for a strike, swung through the 3-1 pitch to run the count full, then ripped a two-run single to right. It was glorious. He’s hitting .317 with runners in scoring position, you know.

Two-run lead in the bottom of the tenth means a win, right? Wrong. Andrew Miller picked a bad time for his first blown save of the season. The Indians didn’t exactly smack him around — the two-run rally started with a leadoff infield single — but two runs is two runs. Michael Brantley doubled to left to put runners at second and third with no outs, Carlos Santana plated a run with a sac fly, then Yan Gomes singled to center to knot things up. Miller has now allowed seven runs in 12.2 innings since coming back from the DL. Yuck.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Let’s Burn Out The Bullpen
You could kinda see it coming. As soon as the Indians tied things up in the tenth, it was only a matter of time until they walked off with the win, but the Yankees delayed things long enough to burn out their bullpen. Bryan Mitchell was a damn hero, striking out five in three scoreless innings while pitching out of some big jams. His reward? Likely a trip to Triple-A Scranton for a fresh arm tomorrow. Baseball can be so dumb sometimes.

The offense, of course, couldn’t be bothered to do anything in extra innings. Not even work the count. The last 14 batters they sent to the plate made outs and those 14 guys saw 34 total pitches. That’s 2.43 pitches per plate appearance. Those 14 batters hit four balls out of the infield. Embarrassing. Total breakdown in their approach. There were an awful lot of defeated swings those innings. Lots of “let’s get this over with” at-bats. Gross. What a mess.

The Indians finally won in the 16th inning on Brantley’s oh so predictable walk-off single. The Yankees haven’t been able to get him out since about 2012. Branden Pinder took the loss in his second inning of work, but, aside from Miller, no pitcher on the staff deserves blame in this one. What more do you want from them? The Yankees have allowed 15 runs in their last 43 defensive innings (3.14 runs per nine innings) and are 0-4 in those games.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
The top of the order is killing the Yankees right now. It’s brutal. Jacoby Ellsbury went 0-for-7, Gardner went 0-for-6, A-Rod went 1-for-6, and Teixeira went 0-6. That’s 1-for-25 combined with two walks and nine strikeouts for the one through four hitters. Awful. Just awful. Ellsbury hasn’t hit a ball out of the infield in his last 17 plate appearances. Just slap a No. 14 jersey on him at this point.

Gregorius, meanwhile, went 3-for-6 and is the club’s best player on the both sides of the ball right now. How crazy is that? Beltran went 2-for-4, Drew had his homer, and Headley his two-run single. Chris Young and John Ryan Murphy came off the bench — Young pinch-ran for McCann in the tenth and Murphy took over behind the plate — and went 0-for-4 combined.

The bullpen aside from Miller was splendid. Chasen Shreve, Dellin Betances, Justin Wilson, and Adam Warren all threw scoreless innings. I’m not sure why Warren only threw one inning, but then again I haven’t understood anything about his usage this year, so lol whatevs. Mitchell threw his three scoreless and Pinder threw a scoreless 15th before losing in the 16th.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights for the game and here are the updated standings and postseason odds for the season. Also please check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. They’re cool. Here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Same two teams Tuesday night, in the middle game of this three game series. CC Sabathia will start against his former team for the eight time in his career. Hard-throwing Danny Salazar will be on the bump for the Indians.

DotF: Judge homers, Refsnyder triples in Scranton’s win

Triple-A Scranton (5-2 win over Pawtucket)

  • LF Ben Gamel: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 3B, 1 K — four of his last six hits have gone for extra bases (two doubles, a triple, and a homer)
  • DH Greg Bird & C Gary Sanchez: both 1-4, 1 R — Sanchez struck out twice and picked a runner off first with a snap throw
  • RF Aaron Judge: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K — 17 homers in 99 games this year after 17 homers in 131 games last year
  • CF Slade Heathcott: 1-4, 1 K
  • 3B Jose Pirela: 0-2, 2 R, 2 BB — five walks and one strikeout in his last six games
  • 1B Austin Romine: 0-2, 1 BB — first base!
  • RHP Kyle Haynes: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 8/2 GB/FB — 57 of 97 pitches were strikes (59%)
  • LHP James Pazos: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1/2 GB/FB — eleven of 19 pitches were strikes (58%)
  • RHP Nick Goody: 0.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K — only six of 16 pitches were strikes (38%) … bad night, it happens
  • RHP Andrew Bailey: 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 19 of 28 pitches were strikes (68%) … gotta think we’ll see him in September once rosters expand

[Read more…]

Game 111: Score Runs This Isn’t Funny Anymore

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Okay, that series over the weekend was a nightmare. No positives to be taken from it. The offense was miserable, they had the off-day yesterday to clear their heads, and now it’s time to get back to scoring a boatload of runs. I mean, I’ll be happy with like four tonight, that could be enough to win, but I really want to see a crooked number. Big inning, everyone involved, the works. No runs is no fun.

Oh, and tonight is Luis Severino‘s second career start. Stupid offense kinda stole the spotlight away. Severino was good in his first start — he looked ridiculous at times and also looked like a 21-year-old rookie at times, that’s usually how it goes — but hopefully the first start jitters are out of the way so he can go out and shove against a depleted Indians lineup. They’ve traded some veteran bats in the last two weeks or so. Here is Cleveland’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. 3B Brendan Ryan
    RHP Luis Severino

It has been raining in New York most of the day but not in Cleveland. It’s just cloudy and humid there. No wet stuff in the forecast. Tonight’s game will begin at 7pm ET — the Yankees have no more games outside the Eastern Time Zone, you know — and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Michael Pineda (forearm) threw 25 pitches off a mound yesterday and had no problems. He’ll throw a full bullpen session Thursday … Chase Headley acknowledged his legs are a little banged up from foul balls and stuff. He is available tonight but they want to give him two days off.

Reports: Yankees scouted Chase Utley on Monday

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Jim Salisbury, the Yankees had a scout on hand to watch Chase Utley last night. He went 1-for-3 with a single, a strikeout, and a sac fly against the Diamondbacks. Jon Morosi reports the Phillies placed Utley on revocable trade waivers Sunday, which means his waiver period expires today. Once he clears, he can be traded to any team … kinda.

Utley, 36, is hitting a weak .190/.262/.294 (49 wRC+) with four homers, a 12.9% strikeout rate, and an 8.0% walk rate in 69 games this year. Stephen Drew, for comparison, is hitting .192/.261/.378 (74 wRC+) with 13 home runs, a 16.3% strikeout rate, and an 8.3% walk rate. Utley missed six weeks with an ankle injury and has gone 5-for-13 (.385) in four games since coming off the DL.

At this point, Utley is only appealing because he is not Drew, and that’s not really a good reason to go out and get him. I haven’t seen much of Utley this season but I’m guessing Drew is the better defender at second base. Utley had that ankle problem this year and he’s had a ton of knee injuries in recent years. Between that and his age, his mobility can’t be what it once was, right?

The Giants (Joe Panik is injured) and Cubs (Starlin Castro has been benched and Addison Russell is now playing short) also scouted Utley on Monday, says Salisbury. The Dodgers also figure to have some interest now that both Howie Kendrick and Justin Turner are on the DL. Utley has five-and-ten rights, so he can pick his destination, which includes possibly staying with the Phillies. That’s the kinda part I mentioned earlier.

Utley will be a free agent after the season and he’s incredibly popular in Philadelphia, so the Phillies would probably have to get something decent in return to move him. It’s not worth dumping him just to shed salary. Think back to the Ichiro Suzuki trade — he was clearly in decline, but he had marquee value, so the Mariners were able to get two pieces for him. Not great pieces, mind you, but more than what the Angels got for Vernon Wells, for example.

I’m not sure there’s much of a reason to pursue Utley assuming he clears waivers, which might not happen. I could see the Giants putting in a claim to keep him from going home to the rival Dodgers, if nothing else. (And if the Phillies dump Utley on the Giants, so be it. They need a second baseman and have had success with guys like him.) Drew’s very bad and I’m in full blown “anybody but Drew” mode at this point, but, looking at this rationally, it’s hard to see Utley as an upgrade.

Update: Ken Rosenthal says Utley did indeed clear waivers. So he can be traded to any team now, pending his approval.

End of offensive slump has to start at the top of the lineup

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By know you know the numbers. The Yankees were held to one run during their three-game series against the Blue Jays — that run was scored on a cheap Yankee Stadium homer too — leading to back-to-back shutouts on Saturday and Sunday. They were held to three singles in each of those two games. It was ugly. The offense scored 90 runs in ten games and then four runs in their next five games. Baseball, man.

The slump won’t last forever, we all know that, but the Yankees need it to end sooner rather than later to hold off the Blue Jays. The entire team stunk at the plate over the weekend, you can’t really point your finger at one or two culprits, but it’s clear who the Yankees need to get going the most: Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. We saw it earlier this year. Those two are game-changers atop the lineup.

The numbers are not pretty. Ellsbury went 0-for-12 with a walk in the series against the Blue Jays while Gardner went 2-for-8 (.250) with a walk. (Gardner sat in favor of Chris Young against David Price.) You’re usually not going to score many runs when the top two hitters in your lineup combine to reach base four times in a three-game series. The numbers since the All-Star break aren’t much better.

Ellsbury: .170/.216/.330 (43 wRC+) with 22.2 K% and 5.1 BB% in 99 plate appearances
Gardner: .206/.329/.265 (74 wRC+) with 20.2 K% and 13.1 BB% in 84 plate appearances

That’s a combined 183 plate appearances of gross from the two table-setters in the second half. Ellsbury and Gardner haven’t even attempted a stolen base since the break — that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is notable — and even with Gardner’s nice walk rate, No. 3 hitter Alex Rodriguez has batted with a runner on base in just 34 of his 92 plate appearances in the second half, or 37%. It was 167 of 348 in the first half (48%). The AL average this year is 42%.

Gardner has a history of performing better in the first half — he’s a career .283/.360/.421 (116 wRC+) hitter before the All-Star break and .242/.332/.359 (91 wRC+) after — though his second half performance this year is more of slump than a “this guy really sucks in the second half” thing. The chances of him hitting .206 with a .265 SLG the rest of the way are pretty damn small. Yes, he is a better hitter in the first half, and no, his performance these last few weeks is not his true talent level.

Ellsbury’s second half performance is a little more concerning just because he’s hasn’t really hit since coming back from his knee injury. It’s more of a “he hasn’t hit since coming off the DL” thing as opposed to a “he hasn’t hit in the second half” thing. The All-Star break is a convenient reference point but it is pretty arbitrary. Coming back from an injury isn’t really arbitrary. We’re talk about a player being physically compromised. Gardner’s been bad since the All-Star break. Ellsbury’s been bad since coming off the DL. There’s a difference.

It’s impossible to know whether the knee injury is having an impact on Ellsbury right now. It could just be a slump! Who knows? Ellsbury is not necessarily injury prone, but he does have a history of getting hurt and staying hurt longer than expected. Perhaps the knee injury is lingering and hurting him at the plate. It might even be a mental thing. The knee is healthy but he’s changed his hitting mechanics to protect it. Something like that. It happens all the time, often subconsciously.

If the knee is behind Ellsbury’s slump, well that could be either good or bad depending on how you want to look at it. It would be good in the sense that he has not lost any skills and will eventually get over the injury. We know what to point to. It would be bad in the sense that, uh, when will get over it? Injuries have a way of explaining things and making them more scary at the same time, especially a leg injury for a speed guy.

Regardless of whether Ellsbury’s knee is causing his current slump, he and Gardner have not produced in the second half, and that’s something that needs to change for the offense to get back on track. The Yankees dominated offensively for a few weeks earlier this season because those two guys were on base every other inning, it seemed. The sooner they get back on track — even just one of them getting on track would help — the sooner the offense gets back to normal.