Yeah, the Yankees missed the boat on Thames, but they didn’t match up well during the offseason anyway

(Dylan Buell/Getty)
(Dylan Buell/Getty)

Barry Bonds has returned to Major League Baseball. Or at least an approximation of Barry Bonds has arrived. Eric Thames, the former Blue Jays outfield prospect, is currently hitting .370/.489/.904 (251 wRC+) with an MLB leading eleven home runs as a first baseman for the Brewers. Thames has always had power — he swatted 27 home runs in 130 Double-A games years ago — but now he’s paired it with Joey Votto level plate discipline. He doesn’t chase off the plate, and when pitchers throw a pitch in the zone, he crushes it. It’s very Bonds-esque.

Thames, as I’m sure you know, returned to MLB this past offseason after spending the previous three seasons with the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization. He washed out with the Blue Jays and Mariners years ago, hit .349/.451/.721 with 124 home runs in 390 games with the Dinos from 2014-16, then signed a three-year deal worth $16M with Milwaukee in November. They signed him very early in the offseason. (The Brewers cut Chris Carter to clear a 40-man roster spot for Thames.)

That $16M contract is looking like a massive bargain right now — for what it’s worth, FanGraphs values Thames’ production at $15.3M this month alone — even though we know Thames probably won’t keep up this pace all season. Or maybe he will. Who knows? Either way, there are 29 teams in baseball kicking themselves right now for not pursing Thames more aggressively during the offseason, including the Yankees, who originally drafted him in the 39th round of the 2007 draft. (He didn’t sign and went back to Pepperdine for his senior year.)

“We talked to his agent, but the financial considerations weren’t a match. It looks like (the Brewers) got a bargain. Good for them,” said Brian Cashman to George King recently, acknowledging the Yankees checked in on Thames this offseason. The Yankees went into the offseason planning to sign a designated hitter, and, well, they’re now paying Carter and Matt Holliday a combined $16.5M in 2017. Thames will make $16M total from 2017-19. D’oh!

Joel Sherman recently spoke to Adam Karon, Thames’ agent, who explained he went into this past offseason with very specific demands. From Sherman:

Karon established three criteria to sign his player back in the majors or else Thames would either enlist back in Korea or perhaps go to Japan: 1) a three-year contract; 2) contractual language that prevented him from being sent back to the minors (he has one option left); 3) no platoons.

Add those three small demands together and you get one big “he needs to play every single day” demand. Right now that sounds silly. Of course he’s going to play everyday! But back during the offseason, no one knew quite what to expect from Thames. After all, Byung-Ho Park put up Thames-level numbers in KBO, then came to MLB and found himself in Triple-A after three months. Park went unclaimed on waivers in Spring Training.

Knowing what they know now, of course the Yankees would have gone after Thames more aggressively, as would every team. They’d love to drop his military style plate discipline and Yankee Stadium friendly left-handed power into the middle of their lineup. A missed opportunity, this was. That all said, Karon’s demands indicate Thames and the Yankees were never really a match from the start, for two big reasons.

1. The Yankees want to get under the luxury tax threshold soon. As good as Thames has been, no one really knew what to expect when he came back from Korea. The Yankees are trying like crazy to get under the luxury tax in 2018 and any multi-year contract will make it more difficult. That’s why the Yankees focused on one-year deals with Holliday and Carter. Anything longer would make it harder to get under the luxury tax threshold next year.

That three-year, $16M deal Thames signed with the Brewers comes with a $5.33M average annual value — that’s his luxury tax “hit,” so to speak — which is little in baseball terms, but is real dollars. The Yankees would have had to outbid the Brewers — what if it would have taken, say, $9M a year to get Thames after a bidding war? — and they weren’t willing to do that. Not with so much uncertainty surrounding his potential impact. Thames was a mystery as recently as four weeks ago, and the Yankees didn’t want to tie up luxury tax space on an unknown.

2. The Yankees wanted to retain roster flexibility. The Yankees have a wonderful farm system with several high-end prospects close to the big leagues. Clint Frazier should arrive at some point this year and I don’t think it’s out of the question we’ll see Gleyber Torres at some point too. Others like Tyler Wade and Dustin Fowler are also knocking on the door, and the Yankees want to be able to give these kids a chance when the time comes.

Between the three-year contract and the fact he can’t be sent to the minors or platooned, Thames doesn’t offer much roster flexibility. He’d get a set lineup spot, good or bad, which meant less playing time available for the prospects whenever they arrived. As it stands, the Yankees are already looking for ways to get Aaron Hicks in the lineup more often, and it won’t be long before they’re looking for ways to get Tyler Austin at-bats too.

* * *

Keep in mind free agency is a two-way street. A rebuilding team — a true rebuilding team like the Brewers, not a “transitioning” team that is trying to contend like the Yankees — always made the most sense for Thames because they could afford to give him a long leash. Do I wish the Yankees had signed Thames? Of course! Now I do. Back during the offseason, I was totally cool with looking elsewhere for a short-term DH. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of committing multiple years to the DH, nevermind one with zero MLB success to his credit. Thames would look wonderful in the lineup right now. Back during the offseason though, the two sides didn’t seem to match up all that well. C’est la vie.

Mailbag: Judge, Bird, Sands, Nats, Vargas, Pirates, Severino

Got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week. Remember to use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us any questions through the week.

The Judge. (Presswire)
The Judge. (Presswire)

Dan asks: Aaron Judge‘s power tool was never higher than 60 on MLB.com. Do you think its that low? Also, do you think that with Judges Drago-esque strength, that as long as he maintains average contact rates, that he can hit 25 to 30 plus home runs?

I’ll answer the second question first: yes, definitely. Judge is more than capable of hitting 25+ or even 30+ home runs at his peak. That’s what he was projected to do as a prospect and we’re seeing him on that pace now. As for the first question, raw power and game power are different things, and I believe MLB.com ranks game power. Judge’s raw power, which is simply the ability to hit the ball hard and far, is clearly an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Anyone who can hit the ball on top of the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in center field in batting practice on the regular has 80 raw power.

Game power is different. Someone like, say, Hunter Renfroe may have 70 raw power, but because he struggles to make contact and isn’t very disciplined at the plate, it plays more like 50 power. That’s game power. The ability to use that raw power in games. When he was coming up, putting a 60 on Judge’s game power seemed reasonable to me. He is so huge and there were legitimate questions about his ability to control the strike zone against MLB caliber pitching. 80 game power is rare, but I’m sure you could find some scouts willing to drop a 70 game power on Judge right now.

Joe asks: Is Starlin Castro walking at a higher rate than usual? What was his walk total through this point in the season in years past? Could be a maturing approach?

Eh, yes and no. Castro drew two walks in the first 13 games of the season, then drew three in the next four, so I think there might be some recency bias at play here. Going into last night’s game Castro had a 6.3% walk rate, which is below the 8.7% league average and up from his 3.9% walk rate last year. His swing rate on pitches out of the zone sits at 37.1%, which is basically identical to last year (37.5%). Starlin’s career walk rate is 4.8% and my guess is when the season ends, he’ll be somewhere in that neighborhood again.

Dylan asks: Can Carter be optioned to AAA? Would that make sense? If they did that who would they call up — Refsnyder? Is there precedent for a FA signing (that got some real money like Carter) being sent down?

Chris Carter is out of options, meaning he can’t go to the minors without first passing through waivers. More importantly, he now has five full years of service time, allowing him to refuse any assignment to the minor leagues. So the answer is: no, Carter can’t be sent down. He’d refuse the assignment. I’m not sure who the Yankees would call up anyway. Rob Refsnyder is the only real alternative and the only thing he offers over Carter is versatility. Meh.

There is no real precedent for sending a free agent signing to the minors because of that five-year rule. They all refuse the assignment because the minors stink. A few years ago the Yankees asked Jason Giambi to go to Triple-A for a bit when he was struggling, but he declined. We’ve seen plenty of veteran players come from overseas and get sent to the minors (Kei Igawa, Yasiel Puig, Rusney Castillo, Byung-Ho Park, etc.), but not many true MLB free agents. By time they hit free agency, they have enough service time to refuse a Triple-A stint regardless of their options status.

Richard asks (short version): Now that CC is successfully reinventing himself by adding an effective cutter, I was thinking, why didn’t he do this when he still had his dominant velocity? Why don’t pitchers in general SERIOUSLY consider adding or refining another pitch while they’re young?

Adding a pitch is hard! And if you’re peak CC Sabathia, a perennial Cy Young contender and 200+ inning workhorse dominating hitters with a fastball/slider/changeup mix, why risk getting beat on some crummy fourth pitch you’re tinkering with on the side? Pitchers mess around with grips and different pitches all the time. In Spring Training, when they throw on the side during the season, whenever. They don’t take those pitches into games because they aren’t comfortable throwing them in a competitive environment. Sabathia added the cutter once it became clear what he was doing before wasn’t going to work, and that’s a credit to him, because many pitchers later in their career can’t add another pitch and find success.

Bird. (Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

Dan asks: If Bird continues to struggle, and Tyler Austin is healthy, at what point do the Yankees option Bird and give Austin a shot?

We haven’t gotten an update on Austin in a month now, which doesn’t necessarily means his rehab has been slowed. It just means we haven’t heard anything. (The Yankees are fairly tight-lipped with injuries.) Based on the timetable provided at the time of his injury, Austin should start doing baseball related stuff fairly soon, if he hasn’t already. Then he has to go through minor league rehab games and all that. And because he got hurt so early in camp, Austin basically has to go through Spring Training. Point is, he’s not particularly close to returning.

Since Austin is at least a few weeks away, Greg Bird doesn’t have to worry about him coming to take his job yet. If Bird is still struggling when Austin is healthy, yes, the Yankees will have to consider making a change at first base. At that point we’ll be in May and Bird will be over 100 plate appearances. If he’s still not hitting then, that’s a real problem and the Yankees will have to consider alternatives, including Austin. Let’s see where Bird is once Austin is actually healthy and on the field with a few minor league games under his belt.

Brent asks: Donny Sands, is he a failed third basemen converted catcher or because we have a surplus of infielders they tried to add depth in other areas? Also, he seems to have struggled a bit with PB and people running all over him, not knocking him for it it’s a tough transition and hasn’t been too bad considering. How long is his leash as a catcher before they move him back to third or another position?

Failed third basemen don’t go behind the plate. They go to first base or maybe the corner outfield. The Yankees put Sands behind the plate because they feel he has the tools and aptitude to handle the position, and that’s where he would be most valuable to them long-term. They made the decision to put Sands behind the plate a while ago, possibly before they even drafted him (eighth round in 2015). It didn’t have anything to do with the infield depth. Catchers are harder to find than infielders, so if you have a kid who looks like he can catch long-term, give it a try. Sands has only been catching full-time since the 2015-16 offseason, so the passed ball issues and all that are due to a lack of experience. Not everyone takes to the position as quickly as Luis Torrens, a converted infielder who looked like he’d been catching his entire life as soon as he got back there.

Jackson asks: Even if the Yankees are contention at the trade deadline, with Washington’s problems in the bullpen, could you see NY trading Betances and/or Clippard for close-to-majors starting pitching in anticipation of next year? If the market for relievers is as tight as last year they could get multiple solid prospects.

I don’t think the market for relievers will be as robust as last year. Last year feels like a bit of an anomaly. If the Yankees do sell at the trade deadline — I think that’s a huge “if” — Dellin Betances would be their top trade chip. Betances or Masahiro Tanaka. Tyler Clippard? Eh. The Yankees got him for a Grade-C prospect last year and I see no reason to expect more at the deadline. He’s getting more home run prone with each passing year and getting outs isn’t quite as easy as it once was for him. I don’t think his trade value is all that high.

My guess is the Nationals end up acquiring David Robertson in a salary dump at some point. It makes too much sense. There’s an obvious need and the White Sox are already familiar with Washington’s farm system after the Adam Eaton trade and Chris Sale trade talks, so things could come together quickly. If the Yankees and Nationals do discuss Betances, I assume the Yankees will again focus on acquiring the best possible talent, not filling specific positions. If that leads them to close to MLB ready pitching, so be it.

P.J. asks: If the Royals become sellers and the Yankees buyers at the trade deadline what do you think of the Yankees going after Lefty SP Jason Vargas as a rental?

Vargas missed most of 2015 and 2016 with Tommy John surgery, and through four starts this season, he has a 1.40 ERA (1.50 FIP) with 28.9% strikeouts and 2.1% walks in 25.2 innings. He’s been phenomenal. We also have about 1,200 innings telling us Vargas is not actually this good, so a crash back to Earth figures to be coming. Vargas had a 3.85 ERA (4.24 FIP) in 554.1 innings from 2012-15, so he was solid for a few years before the elbow gave out. General rule of thumb: don’t pay for outlier performance at the deadline.

The Royals are terrible — they recently scored no more than two runs in eight straight games — and they have a lot of core players set to become free agents after the season, including Vargas. If they’re out of the race in July, GM Dayton Moore will have no choice but to consider selling. A healthy and effective Vargas would be a decent trade chip. Thing is, I don’t think the Yankees will trade prospects for a rental. I mentioned this last week when someone asked about Lance Lynn. Unless Vargas or another rental starter comes really cheap, I think the Yankees will focus their efforts (and prospects) on acquiring a pitcher they can control long-term.

Vargas. (Presswire)
Vargas. (Presswire)

Jake asks: With the Pirates reportedly looking for outfield help, what would they need to offer the Yankees for Brett Gardner for Cashman to take them seriously?

Not happening. I get why this question was asked, but Brett Gardner isn’t a fit for the Pirates. They’re a small payroll team and they’re not going to take on a $12M a year outfielder. And, even if the Yankees agree to eat money to facilitate a trade, it’ll mean they’d want a qualify prospect in return. The Pirates aren’t giving up a prospect for a 33-year-old outfielder when they have Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco locked up long-term, and Austin Meadows sitting in Triple-A. Pittsburgh is trying to trade a veteran outfielder (Andrew McCutchen). Not bring another one in. The best trade partner for Gardner still appears to be the Giants.

David asks: If you could only keep 1, would it be Gleyber or Didi? I bet this is harder to answer than you anticipate.

It is a difficult question. Gleyber Torres is a top notch prospect and a potential superstar. Didi Gregorius is an above-average Major League shortstop, in my opinion. Do you take the new big screen television, or what’s in the mystery box? Could be a trip to Hawaii, could be a sack of potatoes. It’s the known quantity vs. upside potential. In these situations I almost always take the proven big leaguer. In this case, I’ll take Torres, because I do believe he’s a budding star who will one day be the centerpiece of the next great Yankees team. I don’t think this is an obvious choice at all though. Gregorius is a really good player and Gleyber is a 20-year-old with a handful of games above High-A. You could easily argue Didi is the right pick. I’d roll the dice with Torres. Go big or go home.

Eddie asks: I’m not saying he’ll achieve it, but what type of progression do we need to see from Sevy to have him be considered the team’s Ace next year? Also, does Tanaka have to be gone?

Don’t worry too much about the ace label and who is the No. 1 or No. 2 starter. Just get as many quality pitchers as possible. Does Luis Severino have the potential to be an ace? It sure looks like it based on his start to the season, though it is only four starts, remember. Let’s see what happens once the innings pile up and the league gets another look at him. It’s impossible not be excited by what he’s done so far.

I don’t expect the Yankees to spend big on a free agent pitcher this offseason because of the luxury tax situation — I think it’s less than 50/50 they re-sign Tanaka if he opts out — and if that is the case, Severino almost becomes the staff ace by default. That doesn’t automatically make him an ace caliber pitcher. When I think of an ace, I think of a top 15-20-ish pitcher in baseball. A guy who pitches deep into games consistently, dominates on his best days, and keeps his team in the game on his worst days. I’m excited with what I’ve seen from Severino so far. I still think we’re a long way from considering him an ace though.

Anonymous asks: Which team would win more games (assuming identical league average pitching): 9 peak Ozzie Smiths or 9 peak Jason Giambis.

Fun question! My initial reaction is the Ozzies would be better because, at his peak, Smith was a league average-ish hitter. Giambi at his peak was never close to an average defender. The Ozzies are full of better athletes and would save a ton of runs in the field. Opposing teams might have like a .450 BABIP against the Giambis because they’d be so immobile in the field. Here is each player’s best seven-year stretch:

  • Ozzie Smith (1985-91): .278/.360/.350 (99 OPS+) and +40.8 WAR (6.2 WAR per 162 games)
  • Jason Giambi (1999-2005): .298/.436/.571 (164 OPS+) and +39.2 WAR (6.4 WAR per 162 games)

Close! At least in terms of bWAR per 162 games. That said, Giambi may have been a +6 WAR player at his peak at first base, but put him at shortstop and he might be a +3 WAR player because his defense would be so bad. Maybe even +2 WAR. Ozzie’s bat would be light at the corner spots, though I think he’d handle it better defensively. I think the Ozzies (average offense, average pitching, elite defense) would win more games than the Giambis (elite offense, average pitching, miserable defense).

Yankees 3, Red Sox 0: Tanaka bests Sale in battle of the aces

Oh baby! Was that a fun game or what? Rain turned this three-game series into a two-game series, and the Yankees won both games while holding the Red Sox to one run total. Thursday night’s win saw Masahiro Tanaka outpitch Chris Sale, which is a very fun thing I hope to see many more times. The final score was 3-0 good guys.

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Masterful Masahiro
All the talk coming into this game was about the great Chris Sale. And he is great! He was great again Thursday night too. But Masahiro Tanaka was better. He mowed through the Red Sox to finish the complete game shutout on a mere 97 pitches. He’s the first pitcher to shut out the Red Sox on fewer than 100 pitches since James Shields in 2008, and he’s the first Yankee to throw a complete game shutout at Fenway Park since Mike Mussina in 2002.

Weirdly enough, Tanaka started Thursday’s game by failing behind in the count to Dustin Pedroia, the leadoff hitter, 3-0. Tanaka hadn’t looked quite like himself in his first four starts, mostly because he was missing location and falling behind in the count a bunch, and three pitches into the game, it looked like we were in for more of the same. Instead, Tanaka got Pedroia to ground out, and only twice the rest of the game did he go to a three-ball count. He walked no one. Only three hits allowed two.

The key to Tanaka’s success? Pitching at the knees. Look at this pitch location chart, via Baseball Savant:

masahiro-tanaka-pitch-location

Tanaka lived in the bottom third of the strike zone pretty much all night. He was throwing fastballs, both straight four-seamers and running sinkers, for strikes at the bottom corner of the zone, then getting the Red Sox to swing over top of the splitter. The result: three strikeouts and 16 ground ball outs, including a pair of double play balls.

All told Tanaka faced 29 batters and only nine hit the ball out of the infield. He retired the final 14 batters he faced (on 39 pitches!), and the Red Sox had only one runner make it as far as second base. That’s all. Hanley Ramirez singled in the second inning and moved to second on Mitch Moreland’s ground ball. He was stranded there. The Red Sox never had a runner make it to third base. Incredible.

Tanaka is the first Yankee to throw a Maddux — that’s what the cool kids call a complete game shutout on fewer than 100 pitches — since David Wells back in 2003. Can’t say enough about the job Tanaka did Thursday. He completely stole the spotlight from Sale. Glad to see you back, Masahiro. We missed you during those first four starts.

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Building A Run
The final score was 3-0, but that was only because the Yankees tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the ninth inning. The score was 1-0 for most of the game, making Tanaka’s night more impressive. He didn’t have much margin for error at all.

The Yankees scored their first run in the fourth inning and they built it the old fashioned way. Aaron Hicks started the inning with a single to right, then moved to second on Chase Headley‘s soft ground ball. A passed ball — catcher Sandy Leon was clearly crossed up behind the plate — allowed Hicks to move to third with one out. The BoSox brought the infield in, so Matt Holliday had to get the ball airborne. A ground ball wasn’t going to cut it.

Holliday came into the game in a 2-for-27 (.074) slump and Rick Porcello threw fastballs by him all night Wednesday, so I don’t blame you if you weren’t confident he’d get the run in. I’ll admit I wasn’t. Rather than strand Hicks at third, Holliday put together New York’s best at-bat of the young season, a ten-pitch battle that saw him foul off four two-strike pitches before lifting a sacrifice fly to left field. Here’s the strike zone plot for the at-bat, via Brooks Baseball:

matt-holliday-chris-sale

What a battle. Sale had nasty stuff early in the game — he struck out seven of the first ten Yankees he faced — so it’s not like Holliday was out there fouling off 89 mph waste pitches. Sale was pumping mid-90s heaters and nasty backdoor sliders. Holliday was able to stay alive long enough until Sale hung one of those sliders out over the plate. Great at-bat. Great at-bat. (Oh, and by the way, the Yankees capitalized on another mistake, the passed ball. Yup.)

The Holliday sac fly gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead and they nursed that lead until the ninth inning, when the first four men they sent to the plate had singles. Hicks got it started with a single back up the middle, his second hit of the game. His batting line is currently sitting at .324/.458/.703 (218 wRC+) through 48 plate appearances. Amazing. Holliday drove in the first insurance run with a single to left and Starlin Castro plated the second, also with a single to left. Tanaka was dealing, but those two insurance runs were much appreciated.

Love this team, you guys. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)
Love this team, you guys. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Leftovers
More on Holliday: he went 2-for-3 with two singles and the sac fly, making this his best game in a couple weeks now. Both singles and the sac fly were hard hit too. The first single, in the seventh inning, smashed off the Green Monster and Holliday was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double. Not his best decision, especially leading off the inning. He was out by a mile. Still, good to see him swing the bat well, especially against such a great pitcher.

The Yankees had nine hits total, all singles, including two each by Hicks, Holliday, Castro, and Ronald Torreyes. Torreyes is definitely the player who annoys the crap out of fans of the other team, right? Right. The 2-3-4-5 hitters went a combined 7-for-15 (.467) while the rest of the lineup went 2-for-16 (.125), and both hits were by Torreyes. Sometimes you mash dingers, sometimes you have to string together singles.

Know who had a nice game defensively? Tanaka. He made a nice play fielding Pedroia’s comebacker to start the game, and he also did a nice job hustling over to cover first base several times on ground balls to the right side of the infield. That is an underappreciated part of Tanaka’s game. The man can really field his position.

And finally, although the bullpen wasn’t used, it is worth noting Aroldis Chapman did warm up in the ninth. He was getting ready in case Tanaka ran into trouble. So, even after throwing 33 high-stress pitches Wednesday, Chapman was available Thursday. If he’s hurt, this is a funny way of showing it.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head on over to ESPN for the box score and updated standings, and MLB.com for the video highlights. Don’t miss our Bullpen Workload page either. Now here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are heading back home for a six-game homestand. The first place Orioles will be in town for a three-game weekend series. Would be cool to go into Monday in first place, wouldn’t it? CC Sabathia and Kevin Gausman are the scheduled starters for Friday night’s opener. RAB Tickets can get you in the door for that game or any other game on the homestand.

DotF: Culver homers twice in Scranton’s win

A couple notes before we get to tonight’s games:

  • IF Donovan Solano was placed on the Triple-A Scranton disabled list with a calf injury, reports Shane Hennigan. IF Billy Fleming is up from Double-A Trenton to fill the roster spot. That’s notable because the Thunder now have an open infield roster spot, which figures to go to a certain top prospect expected to come off the disabled list any day now.
  • RHP Luis Cessa has been dealing with lower back tightness the last few days, according to Hennigan. It can’t be that bad because Cessa threw 88 pitches in 6.2 reasonably effective innings last night. The Yankees are usually cautious to the extreme with their pitchers. This really must be something minor for Cessa to pitch through it.
  • OF Jeff Hendrix has been activated off the High-A Tampa disabled list, according to Nick Flammia. I’m not sure what was wrong with him, but Hendrix has not played at all this season. Must have gotten hurt during Spring Training. OF Austin Aune was sent to Extended Spring Training to open a roster spot.
  • Matt Eddy has an interesting post looking at park factors using the 20-80 scouting scale. Aside from High-A Tampa, the Yankees have pitcher’s parks in the farm system. It’s important to keep that in mind when looking over the stat lines.

Triple-A Scranton (10-5 win over Louisville)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 2-4, 1 BB, 1 SB
  • LF Clint Frazier: 1-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 3 K — threw a runner out at third … two homers, seven doubles, six singles
  • RF Dustin Fowler: 1-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • 1B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 K, 1 HBP
  • CF Mason Williams: 1-3, 1 K — threw a runner out at third
  • 3B Cito Culver: 3-4, 3 R, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 E (both throwing) — fourth career two-homer game, if you can believe that … this is his first multi-homer game since 2013
  • RHP Chad Green: 3.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 5/1 GB/FB — 51 of 79 pitches were strikes (65%) … in our poll the other day the majority of voters said they would keep Green in Triple-A for the time being
  • LHP Joe Mantiply: 3.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 4/1 GB/FB — 30 of 45 pitches were strikes (67%)
  • LHP Chasen Shreve: 1 IP, zeroes, 3 K — eleven of 16 pitches were strikes … 10/0 K/BB in 5.1 innings down here
  • RHP Ben Heller: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — eleven of 14 pitches were strikes … nice rebound from his disaster outing the other day

[Read more…]

Game 20: Sale vs. Tanaka

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

The Yankees have alternated wins and losses since the eight-game winning streak was snapped last week, and if they’re going to put together their first set of back-to-back wins since the streak, they’ll need to beat the best tonight. Chris Sale, Boston’s prized offseason pickup, will face the Yankees for the first time as a Red Sox this evening. He’s been phenomenal in the early going, as usual. This’ll be tough.

On the bright side, the Yankees will counter Boston’s ace with their ace tonight, at least in theory. Masahiro Tanaka has gotten progressively better each time out this season, though he doesn’t seem to be all the way back to his 2016 form just yet. The Yankees will need Tanaka to be on top of his game tonight against Sale. It’s the old Pedro Martinez approach. Match zeroes with Sale then beat the bullpen. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. 3B Chase Headley
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. 1B Chris Carter
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Better weather tonight than last night in Boston. It’s still cold and cloudy, but it shouldn’t be foggy or wet. Tonight’s game will begin shortly after 7pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Didi Gregorius (shoulder) will be activated off the disabled list tomorrow. Hooray for that … Gary Sanchez (biceps) will begin a minor league rehab assignment next week, likely with Triple-A Scranton next Tuesday, Brian Cashman said. Hooray for that too. Hoorays all around.

How to handle Chris Sale’s dominance of the Yankees

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On Thursday, the Yankees get their first crack at Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale. However, there’s a fair amount of familiarity between Sale and the Yankees.

If you’re not familiar with the numbers, they’re gaudy, to say the least. In 53 1/3 innings against the Yankees, Sale has surrendered just 32 hits, 12 walks and 4 HBPs while striking out 61 batters and allowing just 13 runs (seven earned). That’s good for a 1.17 ERA and a WHIP of .820. Sale has the lowest ERA of any pitcher in MLB history with at least 50 innings against the Yankees (h/t to Katie).

Unfortunately for the Yankees and their fans, Sale is going to be tacking on a lot more innings to that total over the next three years. With team options, the Red Sox have Sale under contract through 2019 and there’s nothing saying they couldn’t bring him back on a longer contract when that’s up. We’re talking about a pitcher with five All-Star appearances in the five seasons he’s been a starter, and he hasn’t finished lower than sixth in the Cy Young voting. That’s a keeper.

So what does this mean for the Yankees? What can the Bombers do to counteract the way-too-early favorite for AL Cy Young? Here are a few things to know about facing Sale.

1. Lefties are practically useless against him: Sale is a beast but especially vs. lefties. He’s given up 114 home runs in his career and just eight were hit by left-handed batters. While RHBs have a .228/.283/.370 line against him, lefties are far worse at .202/.258/.268. No power and no average.

In his seven starts against the Yankees, Sale has faced few lefties. The Yankees started three against him in 2012 and in the six starts since, haven’t started more than two. Typically, it’s been the lefties you don’t take out of the lineup, the Robinson Canos of the world. You have to try and load up on the platoon advantage to neutralize Sale because his size and motion are so difficult to pick up for a LHB.

This is why you acquire Chris Carter and Matt Holliday. Not just for Sale of course. For any tough lefty. Sale, David Price, etc. Having a veteran with some savvy in the middle of the order can counteract Sale … as much as you truly can counteract Sale. When Sale took the mound vs. NYY last May, it led to a distinctive lineup with Aaron Hicks leading off, Brett Gardner batting seventh and no Jacoby Ellsbury. Sale threw a complete game, but the point still stands. Maximize your potential by platooning like crazy. You may see a lineup that goes something like this.

1. Aaron Hicks, CF
2. Chase Headley, 3B
3. Matt Holliday, DH
4. Starlin Castro, 2B
5. Aaron Judge, RF
6. Chris Carter, 1B
7. Brett Gardner, LF
8. Austin Romine, C
9. Ronald Torreyes, SS

You have to sit one of Gardner or Ellsbury for Hicks here and moving the one lefty outfielder down the card makes sense, too. Last season’s lineup shows Joe Girardi is willing to do just that. He’s done some interesting things like put Yangervis Solarte in the five-hole as well. The lineups this season with Ellsbury batting fourth and so on have looked pretty peculiar, so Thursday’s lineup may just blend in.

2. Headley is key to hitting Sale: Headley has been much maligned at times during his stint in pinstripes, but boy can he hit Sale. He has the third highest OPS off Sale of any batter with at least 10 plate appearances. In 14 PAs vs. the 6-foot-5 southpaw, Headley is 5-for-13 with two home runs, a double and a walk.

Sale even helped Headley get back to being himself last season. After a horrible April and early May, Headley got his second extra-base hit of 2016 off Sale with this home run.

Girardi has put Headley near the top of the lineup card with Sale on the mound, both in 2015 and 2016. His first homer off Sale came back in 2014 during an interleague series between the White Sox and Padres.

The point being, Headley is really important here. I’m not sure I expected to be saying that, but here we are. Headley has similar numbers off the person I would say is Sale’s most logical current comparable, Madison Bumgarner. He has three home runs and 10 hits in 36 at-bats off Mad Bum. Go figure.

Only three other Yankees have multiple hits off Sale: Carter, Castro and Hicks. Hicks is 4-for-12 with a double, Carter is 2-for-13 with a double and a homer, and Castro is 2-for-11. Unsurprisingly, Carter has struck out seven times vs. Sale. Ellsbury and Gardner are a combined 1-for-16 with two walks, a hit-by-pitch and nine strikeouts. Welp.

3. Time for the Baby Bombers: I’m unsure if the Yankees were trying to be cruel last May, but they had Gary Sanchez make his first MLB start as the DH facing Sale. You will no doubt be shocked to learn he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout.

However, this is where having a few young, dynamic, right-handed bats comes in handy. Sanchez may be hurt right now, but he’ll get more opportunities off Sale during the next few seasons. Sanchez, Judge and even Clint Frazier or Gleyber Torres can give the Yankees an element few teams have vs. Sale: An all-righty top of the lineup that can withstand him. They’ll surely have some troubles off him like Sanchez last May, but they’re NYY’s best shot. These guys will get plenty familiar with Sale over the next few years.

As for Greg Bird, it makes sense to bench him for Carter in terms of trying to win that day’s game. However, starting Bird vs. Sale would be interesting for the long-term. Giving him some at-bats against him now could give Bird a chance against him in future meetings, plus Bird has hit lefties well in his early MLB career.

4. If he wasn’t on the Red Sox/facing the Yankees, Sale would be a lot of fun to watch: Sale’s mesmerizing. His herky-jerky motion is not something you’d teach any kid and that may be part of what makes it so effective. It’s different and it’s been nearly impossible to hit. He’s a consistent Cy Young contender for a reason and despite a motion many in baseball would label a concern, he’s remained pretty healthy, making at least 29 starts in four of the last five seasons.

And he’s quite simply fun to watch. He strikes out guys with ease, averaging 227 strikeouts a year since he moved into the rotation. How many pitchers do you see make hitters look like this?

sale-strikeout-gif

Or make Sanchez look like this?

sale-strikeout-sanchez

The Yankees are going to have to contend with Sale for a while and we may as well enjoy the ride. Pedro Martinez had some dazzling performances against the Yankees in the late 90s/early 2000s and beating him was a joyous occasion. It’d be nice to have a pitcher-against-the-Yankees rivalry like that going again and Sale is a prime candidate to make that happen. And even when he inevitably adds a win or two to his record vs. the Bombers, you’ll still be able to see one of the best of this generation take the mound.