Game 153: A Good Night to Clinch

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Tonight is the first night this season the Yankees have a chance to clinch a postseason berth. The Yankees need some help though. Three things need to happen to clinch tonight:

  1. Yankees win (duh)
  2. Angels lose to Astros
  3. Rangers lose to Athletics

All three need to happen. Not one of three or two of three. All three. The Rangers have won four straight games to move into a tie with the Halos in the standings, which is why they’re involved in the postseason race now.

That all said, the Angels and Rangers are going to do whatever they’re going to do tonight. The Yankees have no say in that. All they can control is their own game against the Blue Jays in this, the first game of the final road series of the season. A win tonight means the Yankees will be able to clinch a postseason spot with a win tomorrow regardless of what the Angels and Rangers do. Here’s the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Matt Holliday
  7. 1B Chase Headley
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. LF Clint Frazier
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

The internet tells me it is nice and sunny in Toronto, so I imagine the Rogers Centre roof will be open. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:07pm ET and WPIX will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Brett Gardner is still a little sore after taking a pitch to the shoulder Wednesday, which is why he’s out of the lineup. Sounds like it’s more precautionary than he’s too hurt to actually play.

Rotation Update: The Yankees will start Jaime Garcia, not Jordan Montgomery on Sunday, the team announced. I’m sure that’s all part of their extra rest/line up the postseason rotation plan. As of right now, it sure looks like the Yankees have Luis Severino, Tanaka, and Sonny Gray lined up to start the first three postseason games in that order.

9/22 to 9/24 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees dropped two of three in Toronto back in August, falling to 60-53 in the process. It was a frustrating series that resulted in the team falling 4.5 games out of first (a season high to that point), and also led to both CC Sabathia and Clint Frazier hitting the disabled list. Some additional notes:

  • Sabathia tried to pitch through an achy right knee, but it didn’t work out. His fastball averaged just under 88 MPH, and he allowed 4 runs in 3 IP on a couple of two-run home runs to Josh Donaldson.
  • Garrett Cooper – remember him? – had a heck of a series. He went 8-for-12 with with 2 doubles and 4 RBI, and scorched the ball in all three games.
  • The Yankees offense broke out in a big way in the second game, an 11-5 win. They combined for 17 hits, including 3 home runs, and had at least one base-runner in seven innings. Every starter reached base at least once, too.
  • Game three was a frustrating #RISPfail affair, as the team went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, leaving 11 runners on-base in total. Ugh.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun (or not so fun) facts.

Injury Report

Aaron Sanchez, Devon Travis, and Troy Tulowitzki have all been ruled out for the season. All three have been injured more than once this season, with setbacks aplenty. Steve Pearce hasn’t played since September 8, but he’s still listed as day-to-day, and could conceivably be back for this series.

Their Story So Far

The Blue Jays secured a sub-.500 record with last night’s loss, and currently sit at 71-82. Their -98 run differential ranks 13th in the American League (23rd in the majors), and their 650 runs scored places them in the bottom-five of all of baseball. Their pitching staff has clung to average-ish for most of the season, but it hasn’t been nearly enough to make up for the horrific offense.

Jose Bautista’s season is Exhibit A in the case of explaining the Blue Jays year as a whole. He’s having the worst full-season of his career, despite staying healthy throughout, slashing .203/.309/.369 (80 wRC+) with the worst BB%, K%, and ISO of his Blue Jays career. The combination of his poor hitting and awful defense has him pegged at -1.8 bWAR in 148 games.

It’s also worth noting that Bautista’s numbers are mildly inflated due to his performance against the Yankees this year. He’s hitting .260/.362/.480 with 3 HR against the Yankees, and .198/.304/.358 against everyone else.

The Lineup We Might See

  1. Ezequiel Carrera, LF – .283/.355/.412, 8 HR, 9 SB
  2. Josh Donaldson, 3B – .264/.386/.546, 30 HR, 2 SB
  3. Justin Smoak, 1B – .275/.358/.544, 38 HR, 0 SB
  4. Jose Bautista, RF – .203/.309/.369, 22 HR, 6 SB
  5. Kendrys Morales, DH – .249/.306/.448, 27 HR, 0 SB
  6. Kevin Pillar, CF – .258/.303/.410, 16 HR, 14 SB
  7. Russell Martin, C – .222/.349/.382, 12 HR, 1 SB
  8. Darwin Barney, 2B – .237/.276/.329, 5 HR, 7 SB
  9. Richard Urena, SS – .224/.286/.345, 1 HR, 1 SB (16 games)

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:07 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Marco Estrada

Estrada might be the pitching version of Bautista this season, with his 95 ERA+ representing a tremendous drop-off from the 127 ERA+ he posted over his first two seasons in Toronto. He also has full-season worsts in H/9, BB%, and GB%.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on 9/16) – 8.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K

Saturday (4:07 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Joe Biagini

Biagini spent all of 2016 as a reliever, but was pressed into starting duty in May due to mounting injuries in Toronto. It was a role that he was accustomed to in the minors, but going from a one-inning reliever back to a full-time starter in the span of a couple of weeks can’t be too easy. He has unsurprisingly struggled as a starter, pitching to a 5.77 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 16 starts.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on 9/17) – 1.1 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 0 K

Sunday (1:07 EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Marcus Stroman

Stroman has been excellent this season, pitching to a 3.01 ERA (153 ERA+) in 191.1 IP. His 61.8 GB% leads the majors by nearly three percentage points, as batters beat sinker after sinker into the ground. The Yankees have done well against him this year, though, scoring 9 runs in 14 IP.

Last Outing (vs. KCR on 9/19) – 7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

It’s been a rough season for Toronto’s bullpen. They’ve blown 25 saves, tied for worst in the majors, and their 87 meltdowns finds them in the bottom-five. Closer Roberto Osuna has been a borderline disaster in the second-half, pitching to a 5.54 ERA and blowing seven saves, but his job is nevertheless secure (and it probably should be, given his resume and age).

Beyond Osuna, however, the bullpen has been more than passable these last two months. Dominic Leone, Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera, and Matt Dermody may not be a noteworthy group of names, but they’ve held down the fort in the middle and late innings quite well. Three of those four pitched last night, though, and all four have pitched multiple times this week.

Who (Or What) To Watch

This is quite likely to be Bautista’s last season with the Blue Jays, as they’re all but a lock to decline his mutual option for 2018. The Yankees will see him in Yankee Stadium next week, so this may not be a big deal for us; however, this is the Blue Jays last home series of the year, so we could see something special.

Looking ahead to the 2018 luxury tax payroll situation

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

Right now, everyone in Yankeeland is focused on locking down a postseason spot, and understandably so. They’re going to clinch a wildcard spot very soon and the AL East title isn’t completely out of reach. The Yankees have been to the postseason once in the last four seasons, and that was a wholly unsatisfying Wild Card Game shutout loss in 2015. No one wants to see that again.

In the front office though, Brian Cashman and his staff are surely already in 2018 planning mode. Yes, they’re focused on the postseason race too, but they never stop looking for ways to improve, and in mid-to-late September, that means looking ahead to the offseason. It’s a weird dynamic. There’s only so much the front office can do to help the 2017 Yankees at this point. The roster is built. Now it’s up to the players to perform.

Once we get into offseason mode and start thinking about how the Yankees will adjust and improve their roster for next season and beyond, the $197M luxury tax threshold is going to hang over every discussion, every move. Hal Steinbrenner has made it clear he wants to get under the threshold and 2018 is, by far, the best chance the Yankees have had to do it in quite some time. They hoped to do it in 2014, but missing the postseason in 2013 changed things.

So, with that in mind, I figured we might as well break down the current 2018 luxury tax payroll situation, just to see where the Yankees stand heading into the offseason. The short version: they should have a nice chunk of change to spend this winter. The long version: well, let’s get to that now. Here’s a 2018 payroll breakdown.

Guaranteed Contracts

Might as well start with the elephant in the room. Tanaka might opt-out of his contract. He also might not! My guess right now is he will opt-out. I’d say it’s 90/10 right now in favor of opting out or leveraging the opt-out into an extension, CC Sabathia style. For now, Tanaka is under contract next season, so you have to include him in any payroll projection. If he opts out, you adjust. Those seven contract above total $108.42M toward next year’s luxury tax payroll.

The Yankees are shedding Sabathia’s contract ($25M annually for luxury tax purposes) as well as Matt Holliday‘s pricey one-year commitment ($13M) after the season. The good news: that’s $38M freed up! The bad news: they have to replace Sabathia and Holliday somehow. Michael Pineda ($7.4M), Todd Frazier ($12M pro-rated), Jaime Garcia ($12M pro-rated), and Chris Carter ($3M) are among the smaller commitments coming off the books as well. All told, roughly $52M worth of veterans will be leaving the luxury tax payroll this offseason, not counting Tanaka.

Arbitration-Eligible Players

Erik Kratz will be arbitration-eligible for the third time this offseason as well, though he’s as good as gone. He’ll be among the first players (if not the first player) designated for assignment when time comes to clean up the 40-man roster. I suspect Shreve will be a 40-man casualty as well. He’s out of minor league options, and when a middling up-and-down reliever runs out of options, they tend to get cast aside for the next optionable up-and-down arm. Such is life.

Anyway, the Yankees have a pretty sizeable arbitration class. Gregorius could end up earning north of $8M next season while Gray should clear $6M. What’ll happen with Betances? He went to his fourth straight All-Star Game this year and, even with the walks this season, his track record puts him among the best relievers in the game. Also, he went 10-for-11 in saves while filling in for Chapman, and saves pay in arbitration. Even if Dellin were to go to arbitration and lose again, I think he’s looking at $5M or so next season.

Warren, Romine, and Kahnle won’t get huge raises given their roles and track records — Warren might get $3.5M or so, but the other guys won’t get much more than $1M — though I have no idea what’ll happen with Hicks. He was outstanding in the first half this year, then hurt and kinda crummy in the second half. Tough to value him. I’d say $3M seems like a possibility. Based on my guesstimates, the Yankees are looking at $25M to $30M in arbitration salaries next year, not counting Shreve. Add that to the guaranteed contracts and we’re at $138.42M total. Let’s call it $140M flat.

Miscellany

  • Dead money ($5.5M): Portion of Brian McCann‘s salary
  • Eleven pre-arbitration-eligible players ($5.995M): $545,000 league minimum each
  • Remaining 40-man spots: $2M estimated
  • Player benefits: $12M estimated

The other big contract the Yankees are shedding after the season: Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees paid him $21M to hang out with Jennifer Lopez this year and he counted against the luxury tax at $27.5M. Woof. That $27.5M worth of dead money on the luxury tax payroll is gone. The Yankees are still paying part of McCann’s salary, but that’s it. No other payments to players no longer on the roster.

Unloading the Sabathia and A-Rod contracts is the biggest reason next year will be the best chance the Yankees have had to get under the luxury tax in quite some time. The second biggest reason? The pre-arbitration-eligible players. Homegrown All-Stars Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino will all make something close to the league minimum next year. It won’t be exactly the league minimum — the Yankees have a sliding salary scale based on service time with escalators for awards, etc. — but it’ll be relative peanuts. Among those three, Judge figures to get the largest 2018 salary for several reasons …

  1. He was the AL’s leading vote-getter for the All-Star Game.
  2. He’s probably going to lead the AL in home runs.
  3. He’s going to win Rookie of the Year, possibly unanimously.
  4. He’s going to finish in the top ten of the MVP voting. Maybe top five.

… but even then his salary will be in the six-figures. The largest pre-arbitration salary ever went to Kris Bryant this year. The Cubs gave him $1.05M. All he had to do was win Rookie of the Year one year, then MVP and the World Series the next. Mike Trout is the only other member of the $1M pre-arbitration club, so yeah. Point is, the Yankees have a great chance to get under the luxury tax threshold next year because their three best players will make something close to the league minimum. What a huge, huge advantage.

Beyond those three, there’s also Jordan Montgomery providing cheap rotation innings and Chad Green dominating out of the bullpen at little cost. And Ronald Torreyes serving as the cheap utility infielder. Now, here’s the thing: I said eleven pre-arbitration players, but that’s not correct. Seven guaranteed contracts plus seven arbitration-eligible players (not counting Shreve) gets us to 14 roster spots, so the Yankees need eleven guys to fill out the roster.

They’re not going to fill all eleven spots with pre-arbitration-eligible players, however. They’re probably going to sign a pitcher to replace Sabathia (or re-sign Sabathia himself) and probably add a veteran bat to replace Holliday and/or Frazier (or re-sign Frazier himself), plus who knows what else. Judge, Sanchez, Severino, Montgomery, and Green are pre-arbitration locks. Torreyes figures to still be around and there will probably be a few cheap bullpeners too (Ben Heller? Jonathan Holder?). Inevitably the Yankees will sign some veterans though.

Alright, so when we add all that together, the guaranteed contracts plus arbitration and pre-arbitration players plus the dead money plus the miscellaneous expenses (benefits, other 40-man guys) we get roughly $165M. The luxury tax threshold is $197M next year, so the Yankees are left with $32M or so to play with. It’ll be about $55M if Tanaka opts out, which I think will happen. That would be $55M to replace Tanaka, Sabathia, Holliday, and Frazier, plus other miscellaneous upgrades.

* * *

Because the Yankees appear to have $32M to spend this offseason — I say appear because this is all one giant estimate — even if Tanaka doesn’t opt-out, I wonder whether they’ll look to lock up some of their young players to long-term extensions. If a player does sign an extension, next year’s luxury tax hit becomes the average annual salary of the contract. So giving Sanchez, say, six years and $45M would give him a $7.5M luxury tax hit rather than his league minimum salary. That’s a pretty big deal.

At the same time, signing young players to multi-year extensions that buy out future arbitration and free agent years is generally great for business. There are always exceptions — some guys get hurt or just stop hitting and the contract becomes a dud, that’s baseball — but more often than not, teams are glad they signed their players. The sooner the better too. Salaries only go up the longer you wait. The Yankees have five obvious extension candidates and I’d rate them in this order, in terms of priority:

  1. Sanchez: You don’t let young catchers who hit like this get away. I don’t care how many passed balls he allows. Sign him and enjoy having the game’s top hitting catcher for the next decade.
  2. Gregorius: He’ll be a free agent following the 2019 season, and the only reason I don’t have him above Sanchez is all the young shortstops in the system. Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, etc. Still, a shortstop who is above-average on both sides of the ball and is as wonderful as Didi is off the field is worth keeping.
  3. Gray: Like Gregorius, Gray will be a free agent following the 2019 season. I am normally cool with going year-to-year with pitchers because of the injury risk, and I’d probably wait another year with Gray, but there is some urgency here. He’s not under control for that long.
  4. Judge: I have no idea how this dude will age because of his size. It’s such a unique profile. Also, the Yankees already have Judge under team control through his age 30 season, so they’re getting his prime. It’s not like he’s due to become a free agent at age 26 or something.
  5. Severino: Pitchers break, man. Severino is at the bottom because the Yankees have him through the 2022 season. He’s not hitting the open market anytime soon. Going year-to-year is fine with me. The Yankees did that with Chien-Ming Wang and saved millions when he broke down. They can afford to pay big arbitration raises, if necessary.

Steering clear of big money free agents — that doesn’t mean staying away from free agents entirely, just the super expensive ones — would give the Yankees enough payroll space to sign one or two of their young cornerstone players to a long-term contract, which will potentially save millions down the road. Short-term pain (higher luxury tax during pre-arbitration years) for long-term gain (below market salaries in the future). The Yankees signed Robinson Cano to an extension through his arbitration years and first few free agent years and didn’t regret it for a second.

Personally, I don’t think the Yankees are going to sign anyone long-term until they get under the luxury tax threshold and reset their luxury tax rate, which is currently the maximum 50%. Once they do that, they’ll be in much better position to lock up their own players (Sanchez, Judge, Severino, etc.) and spend big for free agents (coughBryceHarpercough). The Yankees have some payroll space to play around with this offseason, though they won’t spend wildly like they did during the 2013-14 offseason. This is their best chance to get under the luxury tax threshold and they’re not going to miss it.

Mailbag: Tiebreakers, Rivera, Garcia, Judge, Ellsbury, Harvey

There are 12 questions in this week’s mailbag, the second to last mailbag of the regular season. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us all your questions.

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

Several asked: Can you explain the various postseason tiebreaker scenarios?

Yes. Yes I can. Technically there are still several tiebreaker scenarios relevant to the Yankees, though, realistically, only one matters. That’s tying with the Red Sox for the AL East title. Here are the miscellaneous tiebreakers:

  • Tie with the Twins for a wildcard spot. If they tie for the second wildcard spot, they’d play a tiebreaker game at Yankee Stadium because the Yankees won the season series. Loser goes home and winner gets the wildcard spot. If they finish in the two wildcard spots with identical regular season records, the Wild Card Game would be at Yankee Stadium because the Yankees won the season series.
  • Tie with the Angels for a wildcard spot. If they tie for the second wildcard spot, they’d play a tiebreaker game at Angel Stadium because the Angels won the season series. Loser goes home and winner gets the wildcard spot. If they finish in the two wildcard spots with identical regular season records, the Wild Card Game would be at Angel Stadium because the Angels won the season series.

As for the AL East, the Yankees and Red Sox would play a Game 163 tiebreaker if they tie for the division title. Even if they’re both assured of a postseason spot. There is a huge, huge difference between winning the division and being a wildcard team. That’s not something MLB will let be decided by head-to-head record. The Yankees and Red Sox would play a tiebreaker game at Yankee Stadium because the Yankees won the season series. Winner gets the AL East title and loser gets a wildcard spot. Easy, right? Right.

Brent asks (short version): Should quality starts stats be the new win stat? Like instead of holding pitchers to the old standard of like roughly 300 wins, which is pretty tough to do in today’s standards and probably no one will ever get it again. Would quality starts be a better way to categorize it?

A quality start in and of itself is not great to start with. Three earned runs in six innings is a 4.50 ERA. Maybe it should be no more than two earned runs in six innings? Not many guys are going to pitch to a 3.00 ERA all season, but the number of starts with no more than two earned runs allowed in six innings seems kinda useful. Here is this year’s leaderboard:

  1. Max Scherzer: 19
  2. Gio Gonzalez: 19
  3. Marcus Stroman: 19
  4. Clayton Kershaw: 18
  5. Chris Sale: 18
  6. Luis Severino and eight others tied with 17

I think the Hall of Fame voting body has been getting better the last few years, and I think they understand wins isn’t the best way to evaluate pitchers. I’m not sure how much better quality starts would work. Bottom line, there isn’t one good way to measure a pitcher’s Hall of Fame candidacy. Wins alone aren’t enough. Quality starts alone aren’t enough. WAR isn’t enough. ERA and innings aren’t enough. I think the voting body knows this, and in time, we’ll see wins become less and less of a factor in the Hall of Famer voting.

Andrew asks: What was Mariano Rivera‘s best season? Is it one of the seasons when the Yankees won the World Series? I would consider 2008 when his WHIP was .665 at age of 38, the first of five sub 1 WHIP years. Wasn’t Britton’s WHIP last year finally lower?

I think it was 1996, when he was a multi-inning setup man. Rivera’s 2008 was insane, Andrew is right about that. Among full-time relievers to throw at least 60 innings in a season, Koji Uehara actually has the lowest WHIP. He had a 0.565 WHIP in 2013. Rivera’s 2008 season is fifth all-time behind Koji, 1990 Dennis Eckersley (0.614), 2012 Craig Kimbrel (0.654), and 2017 Kimbrel (0.662). Here are Mo’s five best seasons by bWAR:

  1. 1996: 2.09 ERA (1.88 FIP) and 0.99 WHIP in 107.2 innings (+5.0 WAR)
  2. 2008: 1.40 ERA (2.03 FIP) and 0.67 WHIP in 70.2 innings (+4.3 WAR)
  3. 2004: 1.94 ERA (2.82 FIP) and 1.08 WHIP in 78.2 innings (+4.2 WAR)
  4. 2005: 1.38 ERA (2.15 FIP) and 0.87 WHIP in 78.1 innings (+4.0 WAR)
  5. 2006: 1.80 ERA (2.84 FIP) and 0.96 WHIP in 75 innings (+3.9 WAR)

Rivera was ridiculous from 2004-06, huh? Those were his age 34-36 seasons. He led all relievers with +12.1 WAR those seasons. B.J. Ryan was second at +9.4 WAR. Basically a three-win gap between Mo and the second best reliever. Crazy. I’m going with 1996 as Rivera’s best season, but 2008 isn’t a bad choice at all. What made Rivera great was not only the eye-popping stats. It was that he did it year after year for two decades. There are lots of one-year Riveras. Guys who have an insane individual season, like Zach Britton last year. When someone does it even ten years in a row, we can begin talking about the next Rivera. Right now, no one’s close.

Garcia. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Garcia. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Michael Cohen asks: Could you analyze the Jaime Garcia flip from the Twins perspective? How’d they make out on those two July trades?

The Twins could use Garcia right now, especially with the Angels right behind them in the wildcard race. Since the trade, four different pitchers have started a game as Minnesota’s fifth starter: Adalberto Mejia (three starts), Dillon Gee (three), Aaron Slegers (one), and Dietrich Enns (one). They’ve combined for a 7.13 ERA (6.30 FIP) in 35 innings. Yikes. (Enns allowed two runs in 2.1 innings in his start.)

Minnesota got Garcia from the Braves in what was essentially a salary dump. The prospect they traded, right-hander Huascar Ynoa, had a 5.26 ERA (4.38 FIP) in 51.1 rookie ball innings this season. MLB.com ranks Ynoa as the No. 29 prospect in Atlanta’s system. Enns allowed three runs in 11.2 Triple-A innings and four runs (three earned) in four MLB innings after the trade. He also missed time with a shoulder problem.

Righty Zack Littell, the main piece in the deal, had a 2.81 ERA (3.50 FIP) in 41.2 Double-A innings after the trade. All told, he had a 2.12 ERA (3.04 FIP) in 157 innings this year, and MLB.com currently ranks him as the No. 16 prospect in Minnesota’s system. He’ll be added to their 40-man roster this winter and I’m sure the plan is to have him join the rotation at some point next year, after some Triple-A time. Seems likely.

At the time of the trade, the Twins had lost 12 of their previous 17 games and were five games back of the second wildcard spot. Trading Garcia (and Brandon Kintzler) made sense. Then they got hot and climbed back into the race unexpectedly. Ultimately, they turned a fringy prospect (Ynoa) and about $4M into an up-and-down arm (Enns) and a potential back-end starter (Littell). The Twins could use Garcia right now given their fifth starter situation and the wildcard race, but the trade made sense for them at the time and still does.

Joel asks: Has anyone crunched the numbers on Judge’s numbers when Holliday is on the active roster (as opposed to the DL) and when he’s not? Seems like since Holliday came back, Judge came out of the slump he was in for a while. I know if there’s any correlation it’s coincidence, probably, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s at least a notable statistical anomaly.

It is kinda funny how Aaron Judge started turning things around pretty much right as Holliday came back, isn’t it? Holliday was healthy — well, he was on the active roster, but he sure didn’t look healthy — for the first few weeks of Judge’s second half slump though, so I’m not sure how much there is to it. Here are Judge’s numbers:

  • Holliday healthy (April 2nd to June 27th): .333/.447/.697 (198 wRC+)
  • Holliday on DL (June 28th to July 13th): .297/.458/.649 (185 wRC+)
  • Holliday healthy (July 14th to August 5th): .178/.330/.342 (73 wRC+)
  • Holliday on DL (August 6th to August 31st): .179/.360/.346 (96 wRC+)
  • Holliday healthy (September 1st to present): .262/.407/.705 (176 wRC+)

That works out to .293/.416/.630 (~169 wRC+) in 490 plate appearances while Holliday was healthy and .217/.392/.443 (~125 wRC+) in 148 plate appearances while Holliday was on the disabled list. I don’t think there’s much to this. The timing is just a coincidence. I think Judge’s injured right shoulder had more to do with his slump than anything. He doesn’t need Holliday around to be successful or anything like that. Is Holliday a good mentor? Sure. All the young players say so. But he’s not the key to a productive Judge.

Brian asks: Is the last 6 weeks or so the best Ellsbury has ever played as a Yankee?

Without looking up the numbers, I’d say yes. He was pretty good back in 2014 and early in 2015, though not this good. It would be far too time consuming to go through and slice up Ellsbury’s four years with the Yankees into six-week segments, so here are his five best months in pinstripes:

  1. September 2017: .429/.543/.625 (209 wRC+) in 72 plate appearances
  2. August 2014: .324/.366/.539 (150 wRC+) in 112 plate appearances
  3. May 2016: .320/.407/.493 (145 wRC+) in 89 plate appearances
  4. June 2014: .324/.390/.419 (133 wRC+) in 118 plate appearances
  5. April 2014: .312/.369/.452 (130 wRC+) in 103 plate appearances

In his four seasons as a Yankee, Ellsbury has ten months with a 100 wRC+ or better and 13 months with a sub-100 wRC+. He has seven months with a sub-70 wRC+. Ouch. So yeah, I think it’s safe to say this current hot streak is Ellsbury’s best stretch in pinstripes. He’s hitting .397/.494/.616 (192 wRC+) with more walks (13) than strikeouts (nine) in his last 24 games now.

Dan asks: If the Mets DFA Harvey, should the Yanks make a run at him? He has so much upside, and he’s been so successful before, he seems to me to be a guy to gamble on.

First things first: the Mets are not going to designate Matt Harvey for assignment. They’re not even going to non-tender him in the offseason. If anything, they’d tender him a contract and trade him. No way they let him go for nothing.

But, if for whatever reason the Mets do cut Harvey loose, yes, absolutely go after him. I think his terrible 2017 season — and it’s been really terrible (6.59 ERA and 6.16 FIP) — has more to do with injuries than a decline in skills. The guy had surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome last year and he missed a bunch of time with a stress reaction in his shoulder this year. Can we give him an offseason to get healthy and see what he looks like after that before kicking dirt on his grave? I enjoy a good LOLMETS as much as anyone, but Harvey is only 28 and he’s shown he can pitch at a very high level. In New York too. He was brilliant in Game Five of the 2015 World Series.

If the cost is basically nothing — and that’s the hypothetical presented in the question — absolutely bring Harvey aboard and hope he can rebound once fully healthy. Rolling the dice on a 28-year-old who has been a bonafide No. 1 starter in the not-too-distant past is forever cool with me.

Dave asks: Can you explain the pythag. record and how we should think about it? If I remember correctly, the Yankees have outperformed it the last several years, but this year they are lagging behind it pretty significantly. Is it a statistical anomaly or is there an identifiable reason? Does it have anything to do with Girardi’s managerial decisions?

The Yankees are 85-67 this season, though their +186 run differential says they should really be 94-58. Nine game difference! Good gravy. That’s what a 17-25 record in one-run games and the bullpen letting so many winnable games slip away earlier in the season will do to you. And yes, the Yankees have outperformed their run differential by quite a bit in recent years:

  • 2017: -9 wins from expected
  • 2016: +5 wins
  • 2015: -1
  • 2014: +7 wins
  • 2013: +6 wins

During the Joe Girardi era, the Yankees have outperformed their run differential by 12 wins over ten seasons, so it was 21 wins over nine seasons before this year. I honestly don’t think there is anything meaningful to this. I think the early season bullpen meltdowns and the Yankees’ propensity for blowout wins — they are 34-12 in games decided by at least five runs (thanks Orioles!) — are skewing the run differential. I think this is an anomaly season. Those one-run losses and bullpen meltdowns happened. Don’t get me wrong. I just don’t think this indicates some kind of fatal flaw in the roster and reason for concern going forward. Baseball can be weird sometimes. That’s all.

Simon asks: Between 2013-2015, CC ran a FIP of 4.40 with an ERA of 4.81. Since 2016, he’s had an ERA of 3.87 with roughly the same FIP (4.38), driven mostly by a lower BABIP (.283). How useful is FIP anymore (and by extension fWAR for pitchers) if players like Sabathia have shown they actually can make changes to drastically lower their BABIP?

FIP is still useful — striking guys out while avoiding walks and homers are good skills to have! — though it has always been somewhat limited because pitchers do have some control over the contact they allow. We just couldn’t measure it before. Now we can. Some quick numbers on Sabathia:

  • 2013-15: 16.3% soft contact and 30.7% hard contact
  • 2016-17: 24.4% soft contact and 25.9% hard contact

Big difference, huh? Among the 89 pitchers to throw at least 400 innings from 2013-15, Sabathia ranked 73th in soft contact rate and 65th in hard contact rate. Among the 89 pitchers to throw at least 250 innings from 2016-17, he ranks first in soft contact rate and second in hard contact rate. Only Tanner Roark (25.5%) had allowed less hard contact. The drop in BABIP is not an accident or a fluke.

Does that make FIP useless? No. Again, there’s still a lot to be said for racking up strikeouts while limiting walks and homers. We just have to understand FIP’s limitations. Given his current profile as a weak contact king, Sabathia is probably always going to allow fewer runs than FIP suggests. Some guys, like Michael Pineda, are the opposite. They struggle to avoid hard contact despite shiny walk and strikeout rates. FIP (and, by extension, fWAR) is just one tool in the shed. It helps do the job but it can’t do the job by itself.

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Anonymous asks: Due to the interest in Shohei Ohtani and his ability to pitch and hit, is it probable that more young players go that route, and do you see the NL adopting the DH, if we see more of this type of player?

Doing one thing, hitting or pitching, is really hard. And lots of players do both through college. Being good at both at the pro level is extremely difficult. Will more kids try it? Eh, maybe. I’m inclined to think their best chance to reach (and stay in) the big leagues is to focus on one thing, and be the best hitter or pitcher you can be.

The Rays are trying to develop Brendan McKay, the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, as both a hitter and a pitcher. He did both at Louisville and was excellent: 2.23 ERA with 391/111 K/BB in 315 innings on the mound and .328/.430/.536 with 28 homers in 189 games as a position player. The stats from his pro debut:

  • As a hitter: .232/.349/.376 (123 wRC+) with four homers, 22.1 K%, and 14.1 BB% in 36 games
  • As a pitcher: 1.80 ERA (4.03 FIP) with 28.8 K% and 6.9 BB% in 20 innings

Because more and more teams are carrying eight relievers and three bench players, I think we’ll see more clubs try to develop true two-way players. And if Otani manages to do both successfully, teams will try that much harder to develop a two-way guy. But, like I said, doing one thing is really hard. Doing both at an MLB level seems damn near impossible to me.

Daniel asks: Chapman changed his fastball grip. Can you look at Chapman’s spin rate since he made this switch? SSS and all, but I imagine spin rate stabilizes very quickly.

Aroldis Chapman did indeed change his fastball grip recently. He told Brendan Kuty that Larry Rothschild got him to throw with more of a true four-seam grip rather than his previous grip, which was more like a cutter. Chapman credits the change for the renewed explosiveness on his fastball. The thing is, we don’t know when exactly Chapman made the change. It was recent, after his demotion out of the closer’s role. That’s about all we know. Here are his fastball spin rates and swing-and-miss rates per month:

  • April: 2,510 rpm spin rate (24.2% whiffs-per-swing)
  • May: 2,496 (44.1%) in 3.1 innings due to injury
  • June: 2,477 (17.8%) in 4.2 innings due to injury
  • July: 2,486 (22.7%)
  • August: 2,446 (16.1%)
  • September: 2,544 (39.7%)

Chapman’s spin rate and whiff rate are indeed up in September, though keep in mind he’s thrown only 96 fastballs so far this month, so it could be a sample size issue. Still, the improvement is encouraging. The MLB average fastball spin rate is 2,255 rpm this year, and, as I noted a few weeks ago, Chapman has been consistently far above the league average. Even when he was struggling this year. High spin rate correlates very well to swings and misses for a fastball.

Whatever the reason, new grip or otherwise, Chapman looks so much better right now that he did at pretty much any point prior to September. His velocity never really dropped, but the pitch lacked that explosiveness. Hitters kept fouling it off like it was nothing. Now he’s throwing it by hitters consistently and looks like the old Chapman. If the new grip is the reason for the improvement, great! If it’s something else, well, that’s great too. Chapman looks fixed and that’s the most important thing.

Rich asks: With Todd Frazier hitting free agency, I was wondering if Nick Castellanos might be a reasonable offseason target? Apparently he possesses decent exit velocity and the ability take advantage of the short porch in right field at YS3. If he seems like a decent candidate, what would he cost?

The Tigers committed to a rebuild at the trade deadline and I imagine the 25-year-old Castellanos will be on the trade block this winter. He’ll be a free agent following the 2019 season. Detroit finally came to their senses and moved Castellanos to the outfield last month — since becoming a regular in 2014, his -63 Defensive Runs Saved are second worst by any player at any position (Andrew McCutchen is worst at -64 DRS) — after acquiring third base prospect Jeimer Candelario at the trade deadline.

Castellanos’ batted ball stats are drool worthy. Among the 99 hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances since 2014, he has the third lowest soft contact rate (11.3%) and 20th highest hard contact rate (35.7%). Hit the ball hard and good thing tend to happen. And, as Rich mentioned, Castellanos is a right-handed hitter who can hit the ball out to right field. His 2014-17 spray chart, via Baseball Savant:

nick-castellatos-2014-17-spray-chart

There’s some oppo pop in that bat. There’s some ability here. Castellanos is a former first round pick and he went into yesterday’s game hitting .271/.320/.490 (110 wRC+) with 24 homers. That’s something. The problem is he doesn’t have a position — the shift to the outfield has been adventurous so far — and he’s always been a bit of a free swinger (23.8% strikeouts and 6.3% walks). Can a player learn plate discipline in his mid-20s? Maybe!

What about getting Castellanos to be a most of the time designated hitter who also sees some action in right field and at first and third bases? I have no idea what it’ll cost to get him, though I’m guessing the Tigers want prospects, and the Yankees have plenty of those. I can’t imagine it’ll cost top prospects. Forget Gleyber Torres or Clint Frazier. I wouldn’t even trade Miguel Andujar or Tyler Wade for two years of Castellanos. I’m intrigued by Castellanos’ ability to hit the ball hard and to right field. The rest of the package kinda stinks. With Matt Holliday and Frazier set to become free agents, Castellanos could be a target to plug in the lineup.

Thursday Night Open Thread

So here we are. The final off-day of the regular season. The season seems to go by a little quicker with each passing year, doesn’t it? The Yankees still have ten games to play this season and they’re sitting pretty with a seven-game lead over the Twins for the top wildcard spot. They’re 8.5 games up on the Angels for a wildcard spot in general. Sure would be nice to catch the Red Sox though. The Yankees have gone 14-4 in their last 18 games and gained only 1.5 games on Boston. Sucks.

Anyway, here is an open thread for this Yankees baseball-less evening. FOX Sports 1 will have the Twins and Tigers, and MLB Network is showing a regional game. There’s also the weekly Thursday NFL game (Rams vs. 49ers). The Thursday game always stinks though, doesn’t it? Players don’t have enough time to recover after Sunday. Whatever. Talk about anything here that isn’t religion or politics. Have at it.

Better matchup for the Wild Card Game: Angels or Twins?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

With a week and a half left in the season, the Yankees appear set to host the American League Wild Card Game.

The team is still in hot pursuit of the division crown, but the Red Sox’s extra-inning escapes against the Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays in recent weeks have kept the Yankees from catching up.

Therefore, it’s time to look at the two likely potential opponents for the Wild Card Game: the Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins. The Yankees are 4-2 this season against the Twins and 2-4 against the Angels. While these are very different teams from past iterations of the Angels and Twins that the Yankees faced in the postseason, those records certainly mirror recent history between each franchise.

So which team is a better matchup for the Yankees in a one-game scenario? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons for each matchup.

Pros for facing the Twins

We’ve seen the case for why the Yankees would want to face the Twins this week. With Minnesota visiting Yankee Stadium, the Bombers were able to beat both of their top starters — Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios — while holding the Twins’ hot lineup at bay. Budding star Byron Buxton went 0 for 10 with a walk and was a non-factor in the series.

Perhaps the best reason to face the Twins is their bullpen. The Yankees got into the bullpen quickly against Berrios, who has significant home-road splits and therefore may not be the choice for a WCG. Rookie Trevor Hildenberger has been a revelation in recent weeks, but the rest of the bullpen is highly beatable. Matt Belisle is their closer and has converted just 7 of 12 save opportunities.

Their best reliever was Brandon Kintzler. He was traded at the deadline to the Nationals. That deal shows what the front office expected this team to do in the second half. Instead, they’re 28-20 since Aug. 1 and appear to be playing over their heads, although they’re 11-24 this season against the current AL playoff teams. The Angels are a more respectable 14-19.

They’ve had a lot of their success without slugger Miguel Sano. Sano struggled with injuries and is now on the 10-day DL with a stress fracture in his left shin, which likely has him out for the year. That should be a relief for Yankees fans: He’s the type of player that can turn a single game with his bat and is objectively Minnesota’s best hitter.

Cons for facing the Twins

There’s a lot to make the Twins a good matchup, but there’s also plenty of reasons to not to face them. A big reason to avoid them? Power. Even without Sano, the team has power up and down the lineup. They have five players with at least 15 home runs. They’ve hit the fourth most home runs in baseball since the All-Star break. And in the second half, they’re fourth with a 109 wRC+. They’re third in WAR thanks to a strong defensive unit.

Buxton epitomizes their resurgence. He returned from the disabled list on Aug. 1 and has batted .302/.348/.581 with 11 home runs and 21 total extra-base hits in 190 PAs. He’s still struck out 51 times, but he’s been a better hitter. What makes Buxton special is how he affects the game on both ends. He may be the best defensive center fielder in the game and he ranks at the top of the Statcast leaderboards for sprint speed.

In a WCG, the Twins could eschew their normal bullpen and simply use Santana followed by Berrios or vice versa, limiting the need for their parade of sub-par middle relievers. The Yankees can get to both, but they’ve each been special at times this year. Of any pitcher on the Angels and Twins, I would least want to face Berrios, who has a fastball-curveball combo that is unhittable when he’s rolling.

Pros for facing the Angels

Why would you want to face the Angels? Pitching, pitching, pitching. This team doesn’t have a clear starter for a one-game playoff, let alone a staff that you could see an easy path through nine innings. Three of their best starters — J.C. Ramirez, Matt Shoemaker and Alex Meyer — are out for the year. Their closer, Huston Street, threw four innings this year and is out for the season.

So who do the Angels turn to for a winner-take-all game? Parker Bridwell?? Bridwell is 8-2 with a 3.71 ERA through 102 innings, but his peripherals indicate he isn’t that good. He also has a 4.69 ERA over his last nine starts. Bridwell did hold the Yankees to three runs in 8 2/3 innings in two June outings, but he allowed nine hits and walked five to just four strikeouts.

Yusmeiro Petit has been the key cog in their bullpen and could throw multiple innings in a one-game playoff. Former Yankee Blake Parker has been solid this season with elevated strikeout numbers. But if the Yankees face anyone else in that bullpen, they should feast.

In the lineup, Albert Pujols still bats in the middle of the lineup despite batting just .242/.287/.392 (79 wRC+) and is an enormous negative on the basepaths. Teams have begun using extreme shifts to limit him further. The more he bats in the middle of the order, the worse things go for the Angels.

Cons for facing the Angels

Mike Trout? Mike Trout!!!! Why would you want to face Mike Trout in a one-game playoff?!?!

Having a stud starting pitcher is the best weapon for a one-game playoff (Luis Severino!). Outside of that, having a once-in-a-generation type talent that can dominate with his bat and glove is paramount. Trout is that. It’s like having a right-handed hitting Mickey Mantle for a one-game playoff. I’m not going to reel off his stats because Trout’s name should be synonymous with otherworldly success at this point in his career.

Unlike recent seasons, there is actually offensive talent around Trout. The Angels acquired Justin Upton at the August waiver deadline and he’s been mashing for three weeks in Anaheim. You’ll still want to avoid Trout beating you, but Upton makes you think twice before pitching around him.

Andrelton Simmons, the best fielding shortstop in baseball, has also turned back into an above-average hitter with power and helped turn one of the Yankees-Angels games earlier this season with a home run. The presence of Simmons extends their lineup, as does Brandon Phillips and the power of C.J. Cron and Luis Valbuena. It’s not exactly murderer’s row, but it’s more than the nothingburger the Angels had flanking Trout since their 2014 playoff appearance.

Ultimately, the Yankees should win a one-game playoff if they get there. They have the best lineup, the best starting pitcher — perhaps the top four starting pitchers — and the best bullpen of any wild-card contender. However, anything can happen in a one-game playoff.

My take? While Twins look to be a more complete roster, I’d rather not face Mike Trout and co. in a one-game playoff. It’s kind of irrational because one player can’t beat you unless you let him. And in a five- or seven-game series, I feel like the better overall roster is a bigger advantage. Yet in a one-game series, having the best player on either side could be magnified, particularly if that player can do what Trout does.

Which team is a better Wild Card Game matchup?
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