Game 78: Win it for Dustin

This sucks so much. (David Banks/Getty)
This sucks so much. (David Banks/Getty)

Yesterday was, by a frickin’ mile, the toughest day of the season for the Yankees. Forget about the loss to the White Sox. The game is whatever. Dustin Fowler, in the first inning of his first MLB game, blew out the patella tendon in his right knee crashing into the side wall chasing a fly ball. His season is over. His day to remember turned into a day to forget. It’s awful.

I suppose the good news is Fowler is in good spirits. The Yankees got together this afternoon and FaceTimed with Fowler to let him know they’re thinking about him. Fowler said the surgery went well and he’s facing a six-month rehab, which means he should be ready for Spring Training. It won’t be easy, but Fowler is a no nonsense guy who will no doubt attack his rehab. Go out and win a ballgame for him. Here is the Astros’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. DH Aaron Judge
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. C Austin Romine
  7. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  8. RF Tyler Wade
  9. 1B Chris Carter
    RHP Michael Pineda

It is very hot and humid in Houston right now, so the Minute Maid Park roof will be closed. Thank goodness for air conditioning. Man’s greatest achievement. Tonight’s game will begin at 8:10pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: In addition to Fowler being placed on the 10-day DL — they’ll slide him over to the 60-day DL next time they need a 40-man spot — the Yankees also sent down Ronald Herrera. Miguel Andujar and Bryan Mitchell were called up.

Roster Update: Tyler Clippard is away from the Yankees. His grandmother passed away. Our condolences go out to him and his family. Clippard will rejoin the team tomorrow.

6/30 to 7/2 Series Preview: Houston Astros

(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

We are just ten days away from the beginning of the All-Star break, and it feels as though that time off cannot come quickly enough. Injuries, illnesses, and losses have pervaded the last several weeks for the Yankees, and that is only being exacerbated by this current sixteen games in sixteen days stretch. This weekend’s visit to Houston is their last road series of the first-half.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees dropped three of four to the Astros back in May (11th through 14th), which represented their first series loss since the first full weekend of the season. Both teams were playing brilliantly at the time, ranking in the top-five in all of baseball in most every relevant metric, but the Astros were the better team that weekend. Some points of interest:

  • Masahiro Tanaka had his worst start of the season (and possibly his career) in the final game of the series, pitching to the following line – 1.2 IP, 7 H, 8 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 4 home runs allowed.
  • Giovanny Gallegos made his big league debut in the series, pitching twice. He allowed a hit, a walk, and an unearned run in 3.1 IP, striking out 3.
  • Jacoby Ellsbury “drove in” a run by garnering a catcher’s interference call with the bases loaded in the first game. That’s fascinating, and kind of hilarious. He also got thrown out at home to end that game, which is less so.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more interesting stats.

Injury Report

Houston currently has three starting pitchers on the disabled list – ace Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, and Charlie Morton. There is a chance that Morton will return and start the last game of this series for the Astros, but the other two aren’t likely to be back until after the break.

Their Story So Far

The Astros are arguably the best team in baseball, as the holders of the best record (54-26) and the second-best run differential (+125, with the Dodgers leading the way at +141). They lead the majors with a 123 wRC+ (the Yankees are second at 114), and they’re top-five in both runs scored and runs allowed. They’re also 8-2 in their last 10.

While their pitching has been quite good, it’s difficult to look at this team and think about anything other than their offense. They’ve given 200-plus PA to nine players, and five of those players of a wRC+ of 130 or better; and just one – Carlos Beltran – has a wRC+ below 101. If you drop that down to 100-plus PA, you add two more hitters with an above-average wRC+, meaning that the Astros can roll out an above-average hitter at every position on any given night.

Check out The Crawfish Boxes for more news and notes on the Astros.

The Lineup We Might See

At least some of the success of the offense has to be credited to manager A.J. Hinch, who does a good job of utilizing platoons and keeping his players rested. Brian McCann is essentially a case study in this, as he has sat out nearly 30 games, avoiding back-to-backs and tough southpaws – and his 115 wRC+ would be his best since 2013. All that being said, this is the Astros’ most common lineup of late:

  1. George Springer, RF/CF
  2. Josh Reddick, LF/RF
  3. Jose Altuve, 2B
  4. Carlos Correa, SS
  5. Brian McCann, C
  6. Carlos Beltran, DH
  7. Marwin Gonzalez, 1B
  8. Alex Bregman, 3B
  9. Jake Marisnick, CF / or / Nori Aoki, LF

You can also expect to see healthy doses of Evan Gattis and Yuli Gurriel.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (8:10 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Lance McCullers Jr.

The Yankees faced McCullers on May 12, and he shut them down (6.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K) by mixing his mid-90s fastball, mid-80s curveball, and upper-80s change-up with gusto. He actually relied on his curve a bit less than usual, throwing it just 41.1% of the time, as opposed to his season norm of 46.1%. Whether or not that was a matter of that pitching being off for a night or a strategy remains to be seen.

McCullers has a 2.53 ERA (156 ERA+) on the season, with 10.7 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in 81.2 IP.

Last Outing (vs. SEA on 6/24) – 5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 8 K

Saturday (7:15 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Francis Martes

Martes entered the season as one of the best prospects in the game, peaking at number 15 on Baseball America’s top-100 list. His call-up, however, was based on need more so than performance, as he had struggled mightily in his first taste of Triple-A (5.29 ERA, 7.8 BB/9). He currently has a 5.51 ERA (73 ERA+) in four major league games, but he’s still only 21, and he’s a top prospect for a reason.

That reason largely being his stuff, which includes a mid-to-high 90s fastball, a low-90s change-up, and a mid-80s power curve. The fastball and curve are usually graded as plus-plus, but there have been some concerns about the movement on his fastball.

Last Outing (vs. SEA on 6/25) – 2.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 3 K

Sunday (2:10 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. TBA

As of Friday morning, the aforementioned Morton is expected to take the ball on Sunday. He has completed two rehab starts and he’s already with the team, though a final determination does not seem to have been made. The Yankees faced Morton back on May 14, plating four runs in 5.2 IP (albeit while striking out ten times). He hasn’t pitched since May 24 due to a lat strain, so, even with the rehab starts, rust could be a factor.

Last Outing (vs. DET on 5/24) – 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

The Astros bullpen leads the majors in both K/9 and K%, and ranks in the top-ten in both park-adjusted ERA and WPA. Their greatest strength lay in the 7th and 8th innings, as set-up men Chris Devenski (2.23 ERA, 12.3 K/9, 2.2 BB/9) and Will Harris (2.16 ERA, 10.5 K/9, 1.1 BB/9) have been dominant throughout the season. Closer Ken Giles has been more good than great at times, but he’s still a safe bet in the ninth. As is the case with the lineup, Hinch mixes and matches with his bullpen, with Michael Feliz, James Hoyt, and Luke Gregerson serving as solid options with defined roles.

It’s worth noting that the Astros bullpen has been leaned upon heavily this year, particularly with Keuchel, McHugh, and Morton out. Their starters oftentimes struggle to pitch through the sixth. Last night’s game was a good example of this, as they won 6-1, but still needed their bullpen for four innings as SP Brad Peacock needed 106 pitches to get through five.

Who (Or What) To Watch

If the Yankees can work the count early in the game, they may be able to get into the thinner portion of the Astros bullpen without necessarily teeing off on the starters. That might be the key to the team’s success this weekend, given that they’re going to have to go blow-for-blow with the only offense that outclasses the Bombers.

As was the case last time around, I’m always interested in watching a McCullers start. And this time we get to see Martes, as well, who has a similar overall profile.

Yankeemetrics: Invasion of the Baby Bombers (June 26-29)

(AP)
(AP)

Too close for comfort
The Yankees started their seven-game road swing with a win over the White Sox on Monday night, a game that nearly became an epic disaster thanks to this month’s recurring nightmare – The Bullpen Meltdown. The Yankees took a 6-1 lead into the ninth inning, but Chasen Shreve and Aroldis Chapman combined to surrender four runs before escaping with the 6-5 victory.

Getting back to the positives … Jordan Montgomery played the role of Streak Stopper with seven strong innings, eight strikeouts and one run allowed.

That performance capped off his best month in the big leagues, going 4-0 with a 2.59 ERA and 31 strikeouts over five June starts. He is just the sixth Yankee lefty under the age of 25 to put together a month with a sub-2.60 ERA and at least 30 strikeouts. The most recent guy to do it was Andy Pettitte in September 1996. The rest of the list: Dave Righetti (three times), Al Downing (August 1963), Whitey Ford (August 1953) and Lefty Gomez (twice).

Breaking news: Aaron Judge did not hit a homer in this game. But he was still a key offensive sparkplug with his 48th, 49th and 50th walks of the season. The only other Yankee age 25 or younger with at least 25 homers and 50 walks before the All-Star break (since 1933) was Mickey Mantle in 1956.

(EPA)
(EPA)

Rock bottom
We have a new contender for W.L.O.T.S. (Worst Loss Of The Season). Tuesday’s gut-wrenching loss established new levels of bullpen frustration and dreadfulness, as the Yankees snatched defeat from the jaws of defeat with an epic meltdown in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The Yankees entered the game as one of six teams this season without a loss when leading at the start of the ninth inning, and ended the game with their unfathomable 14th blown save of the season.

To put that into context, they had five (!) blown saves through 75 games last year – and nearly the same number of save opportunities: 28 in 2016 and 30 in 2017. So, yes, the state of the bullpen is as bad as the numbers say.

Dellin Betances got tagged with the loss and blown save, surrendering a walk-off single with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning. Before the game-losing hit, batters were 3-for-36 (.083) with the bases loaded against Betances in his career, the lowest mark among active pitchers that had faced at least 35 guys in that situation.

The most excruciating part of the loss is that the dumpster-fire relief corps ruined yet another Luis Severino gem. It was the sixth time this season that Severino was in line for the win but the game was blown by the bullpen. That’s the most such games for any pitcher in baseball through Tuesday’s slate.

Severino was dazzling and dominant, striking out 12 batters with no walks while giving up just one run in seven brilliant innings. At age 23 and 127 days, he became the youngest Yankee ever with at least 12 strikeouts and no walks in a game.

He is also one of just two pitchers this season to have 12 or more strikeouts, no walks, one or fewer earned runs allowed in a game, and not get the win. The other? His teammate, Masahiro Tanaka, on May 26 against the A’s. The Yankees are the first team in major-league history with two such games pitched in a single season. Welp.

Welcome to the bigs, Miggy
Less than 24 hours after suffering one of their most devastating losses of the season, the Yankees bounced back with one of their most enjoyable wins, a 12-3 romp in Chicago on Wednesday night.

The star of the show was 22-year-old Miguel Andujar, who re-wrote the record books with an unforgettable major-league debut. Let’s go through it plate appearance-by-plate appearance:

(AP)
(AP)
  • No. 1: two-RBI single. Youngest Yankee (22 years, 118 days) with an RBI in his major-league debut since a 21-year-old Deion Sanders in 1989.
  • No. 2: single. Youngest Yankee with a hit in each of his first two plate appearances of his MLB debut since Billy Martin did it in 1950.
  • No. 3: groundout. Booooooooooo.
  • No. 4: walk, stolen base. Joined Marv Throneberry (1955) as the only Yankees age 22 or younger with multiple hits, multiple RBIs and a steal in his first career game.
  • No. 5: two-RBI double. Became the first Yankee ever with four RBIs in a major-league debut, surpassing the previous record of three set by Martin in 1950 and Throneberry in 1955.

But that’s not all. We’ve got some bonus fun facts!

He is just the second major-league player since RBI became official in 1920 with at least three hits, four RBIs and steal in his first career game. The other was Roy Weatherly (Indians) in 1936.

And, finally, Andujar is the youngest Yankee with at least three hits, four RBIs and steal in any game since a 19-year-old Mickey Mantle on June 19, 1951 against the White Sox.

Aaron Judge also took his turn in the spotlight when he crushed his 27th homer of the season, a 115-mph laser over the left-field fence. It was his sixth home run of at least 115 mph this season, an astonishing number considering that:

  • every other player in baseball this season combined to hit just 10 such homers through Wednesday
  • no player in either 2015 or 2016 hit more than five such homers for the entire season

Before that homer, he walked in the fifth inning, extending his on-base streak to 30 games. Judge is just the third Yankee rookie since 1913 to reach base safely in 30 straight games, along with Truck Hannah (38 in 1918) – yes, a real person! – and Charlie Keller (40 in 1939).

Judge also finished the night with some nice round-number totals for the month of June: 30 runs, 10 homers and 25 walks. The most recent Yankee to reach those numbers in a single month was Mickey Mantle in July 1958. Besides Judge and Mantle, only two others in franchise history have ever put up those stats in a calendar month: Lou Gehrig (four times) and Babe Ruth (13 times, LOL).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Let’s forget this one and go to Houston…
The buzz at the start of Thursday’s game was yet another Baby Bomber coming-out party, the third in three games here in Chicago. This time it was outfielder Dustin Fowler, who became the ninth Yankee to make his big-league debut in 2017. That’s the third-most MLB debuts this early into the season (77 games) for any Yankee team since 1913 — the only years with more were 2015 (10) and 1944 (11).

Unfortunately, Fowler’s showcase ended in heart-breaking fashion as he suffered a ruptured patella tendon on the very first play he was involved in, crashing into the wall in right field trying to catch a foul ball in the first inning, before he even got an official major-league at-bat. Awful, just awful.

As for the rest of the game … the Yankees lost 4-3, their 15th one-run defeat of the season and three more than they had in all of 2016.

So that we don’t have to end this on a depressing note, let’s finish it off with an Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series, featuring our human highlight film, Aaron Judge.

He was walked three times, including once intentionally with the bases empty in the seventh inning. Judge became the third Yankee in the Divisional Era (since 1969) to be walked intentionally with nobody on base, joining Jason Giambi on July 7, 2003 against the Red Sox, and Reggie Jackson on August 29, 1980 against the Mariners.

At age 25, he’s the youngest Yankee ever — or at least since intentional walks became an official stat in 1955 — to get the “Barry Bonds treatment.” That last player as young as Judge on any team to get an intentional free pass with the bases empty was a 24-year-old Prince Fielder in 2008 against the Cubs.

Mailbag: Fulmer, Frazier, Gray, Franco, Hicks, Belt, Judge

We’ve got 13 questions in this week’s mailbag. An awful lot of “when are the Yankees calling up Tyler Wade/Miguel Andujar/Dustin Fowler?!?” questions were rendered moot the last few days. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send your questions.

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

Rhett asks: Tigers are almost 10 games under .500 and have a depleted farm system. What about Michael Fulmer, should they tear it down and rebuild? I like everything but the high stress delivery, looks like an elbow blowout waiting to happen. Frazier, Sheff, Mateo get it done??

Going into yesterday’s game the Tigers had the second worst record in the AL at 34-43, and there are rumblings they will sell at the trade deadline. They did sell two years ago, remember, when they traded David Price and Yoenis Cespedes at the deadline. They could do it again this year.

Looking at their roster, there are only two players who make sense for the Yankees: Fulmer and Justin Wilson. Justin Verlander and especially Miguel Cabrera are owed way too much money. Those two are great players! Miggy is a first ballot Hall of Famer. But I have zero interest in paying $184M for his age 35-40 seasons (!). Hard pass.

Anyway, the 24-year-old Fulmer had a 3.19 ERA (2.94 FIP) in 101.2 innings this season after throwing 159 innings with a 3.06 ERA (3.76 FIP) en route to being named AL Rookie of the Year last season. Here’s a quick year-to-year comparison:

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2016 3.06 3.76 20.4% 6.5% 49.1% 0.91 .295 .276
2017 3.19 2.94 18.9% 5.8% 50.3% 0.35 .280 .263

Just about everything is the same except the home run rate, and chances are that’ll climb pretty soon given the way balls are flying out of the park these days. Otherwise Fulmer handles both lefties and righties well, he keeps his walks down, and his ground ball rate is solid. He’s not a huge strikeout guy but everything else checks out.

Thanks to the timing of his call-up last year, the Tigers delayed Fulmer’s free agency a year until the 2022-23 offseason. Acquire him at the deadline and you’re getting five and a half years of this guy. Fulmer did miss a start with shoulder bursitis earlier this year, though he’s come back fine since, and that won’t be enough to drop his price.

My guess is the Tigers will keep Fulmer and build around him going forward, but gosh, if they put him on the market, they could demand a ton. And they’d get a ton too. Teams would line up to get him. Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, and Jorge Mateo doesn’t seem like enough. Frazier, Sheffield, Fowler (they need a long-term center fielder bad), and Chance Adams for Fulmer? I don’t think it would be an unreasonable ask.

Brent asks: Is Clint Frazier underperforming? He struggled last year, and this year he’s definitely getting his HR’s but his obp is a bit low along with BA. According to his prospect potential, so far, is this underperforming? And what is his MLB potential?

Nah, not at all. He went into last night’s game hitting .257/.344/.478 (122 wRC+) with 12 homers in 72 games as a 22-year-old in Triple-A. Frazier went from a 27.9% strikeout rate and a 5.4% walk rate in Triple-A last year to a 21.7% strikeout rate and 11.5% walk rate this year. The power is there and Frazier is doing a better job controlling the strike zone. It would be cool if he were hitting .310 with a .400 OBP, but that’s not that important. The bat speed is there, the power is there, and the plate discipline is improving. That’s exactly what I wanted to see this year.

As for his long-term potential, I’ve been using Nick Swisher as a baseline, though Swisher had the advantage of being a switch-hitter. Swisher hit .258/.365/.471 (122 wRC+) and averaged 27 homers and +3.5 WAR a year from ages 25-31, and that includes his disaster season with the White Sox. I get the sense more than a few people won’t be thrilled to hear Frazier has Swisher upside, but Swisher was really freaking good for a long time. Plus, Frazier has insane bat speed and a much better chance to hit for a high average than Swisher did, so it’s not like Swisher is the ceiling here.

Damian asks: Am I crazy for not wanting Sonny Gray? His numbers dip hard the 2nd and 3rd time through the order. His ERA jumps from 5.24 the 2nd time through, and all the way to 5.94 on the 3rd pass… He feels like a guy destined to be a relief pitcher (albeit maybe an excellent one), not a top of the line starter…

No, I don’t think that’s unreasonable at all. I am a big Sonny Gray fan, have been for a while and I’ve said it many times before. Right now I just have so little confidence in him staying healthy that I’d rather not see the Yankees give up some of their best prospects to acquire him. Gray has had ongoing lat and forearm issues since last season. He’s a great pitcher when healthy. Great and tough as nails. The kinda guy I want on the mound with the season on the line. But he hasn’t been healthy since 2015.

Franco. (Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
Franco. (Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

John asks: How about Maikel Franco as a change of scenery if the Phils are interested in moving him?

Nick Cafardo says the struggling Franco is “more than available” in trade talks, and he’s probably worth a full post at some point. A few things about Franco. One, he’s still only 24 and is under team control through 2021. Two, he’s getting worse each year:

  • 2015: .280/.343/.497 (129 wRC+) with 14 homers in 80 games
  • 2016: .255/.306/.427 (92 wRC+) with 25 homers in 152 games
  • 2017: .222/.281/.376 (70 wRC+) with ten homers through 73 games

Three, Franco has a ton of natural power and he combines it with a better than average strikeout rate (14.1% this year and 16.1% career), and not many players can do that. And four, he is an absolutely brutal defensive third baseman. He should be playing first base like yesterday.

Like I said, Franco is worth the deeper dive outside a mailbag setting at some point, but yes, I’m interested in him as potential buy low/change of scenery player. For sure. Even if you have to stick him at first base or DH full-time, I’ll take a chance on the offensive potential. The power and contact ability give Franco a chance to be a monster.

Matthews asks: I realize he’s now going to be on the DL,the it’s unlikely while trying to get under the luxury tax and the team has plenty if young OF prospects but should they consider approaching Hicks about an extension? What would one potentially look like?

It never hurts to kick the tires, though I doubt the Yankees will seriously considered it. They have a ton of young outfielders knocking the door, so much so that trading Brett Gardner (or Jacoby Ellsbury) won’t clear up enough roster space. I also think the Yankees want to see more from Aaron Hicks before diving into contract talks. Is this the real him? Maybe! But why not wait a little while to find out?

Hicks will be a free agent following the 2019 season, so if the Yankees were to approach him about an extension this offseason, they’d be doing so when he’s two years away from free agency. Here are some other players who signed extensions two years before hitting the open market:

  • Jean Segura: Five years, $70M with a club option.
  • Brandon Belt: Six years, $79M with no option year.
  • Salvador Perez: Five years, $52.5M with no option year.
  • Brandon Crawford: Six years, $75M with no option year.

Don’t think one great year can get you paid? Segura was awful from 2014-15, then parlayed a great 2016 into a big contract.

I’m not comfortable committing upwards of $10M per season to Hicks yet. Maybe they could get him for, say, four years and $32M? He might jump at the guaranteed money, though that seems unlikely. Hicks has been unbelievable this season. Even after his little slump between the Achilles and oblique injuries, he’s hitting .290/.398/.515 (144 wRC+) with +3 WAR. Extension talks are still a bit premature, I think.

Rich asks: Here’s a fun one: After another great outing, Jordan Montgomery deserves a catchy nickname. J-Mont? Monty Python and the Holy Arm? Air Jordan?

Gumby works, doesn’t it? That was his college nickname and it’s his Twitter handle (@Gumbynation34). Here’s Montgomery explaining the nickname to Steve Serby:

Q: What is “Gumby”?
A: (Laugh) That was my nickname in college.

Q: Why?
A: I was so long, kind of uncoordinated … showed up first day of summer practice, and one of the fifth-year seniors turned around, asked me what my name is: “I’m gonna call you Gumby from now on,” and it stuck. I hated it at first, but lately everyone calls me it. Just kind of learned to go with it.

Seems to me Mr. Montgomery has a nickname already. Forced nicknames are the worst. Especially when they’re recycled nicknames like players adopting their own version of A-Rod. Gumby came along organically and it fits. I say we stick with it.

Bill asks: what would it take to get Belt from SF? He’s having a down year with the average but the power and walks are still there and SF will has to be in sell mode at this point.

Belt, who turned 29 in April, is owed $17.2M a year from 2018-21, which is on the pricey side but not outrageous. He’s hitting .228/.341/.442 (111 wRC+) with 14 home runs this year, which represents a down year for him and would equal a massive upgrade for the Yankees at first base. From 2013-16, Belt hit .277/.364/.474 (135 wRC+) with 64 home runs and +14 WAR in an extreme pitcher’s park even though he was limited to only 61 games in 2014 (a hit-by-pitch broke his thumb).

The Giants are abysmal. Far worse than I expected. They currently have baseball’s second worst record (only the Phillies are worse) so I imagine they’ll be open to moving pieces at the trade deadline. The Giants strike me as a team that will retool and try to win against next year though, not tear it all down and start a rebuild. Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are still in their primes, after all. How does trading Belt help that retooling process? It doesn’t, really. Would the Giants take Greg Bird and a good prospect like, say, Fowler? Both guys would be able to step right into their big league lineup next year. (In theory, given Bird’s injuries.)

Jason asks: Chance Adams is the guy knocking on the door but Caleb Smith, a lefty, has made 14 starts in 2017, at SWB, and has allowed two earned runs or less twelve times, including back-to-back gems (13 IP, 0 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 13 K) to lower his ERA to 2.84. Is he a realistic option in the MLB pen, or even in the rotation?

The 25-year-old smith was a 14th round pick in 2013 and the Cubs gave him a look as a Rule 5 Draft pick in Spring Training. So far this year he has a 2.20 ERA (3.32 FIP) with 24.5% strikeouts and 7.0% walks in 82 Triple-A innings, which is obviously excellent. Smith is a three-pitch guy with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and both a changeup and slider in the low-80s. Here is the only half-decent video I can find of the guy:

Smith has good velocity from the left side — I figured he would get popped in the Rule 5 Draft for exactly that reason — though neither his slider nor his changeup is a legitimate put-away pitch, which holds him back. He’s probably best suited for bullpen duty — he was was a reliever with Double-A Trenton for most of 2016 — as a fastball heavy lefty, a la Sean Doolittle. Smith very well might be next up on the lefty reliever depth chart now that Tyler Webb is in the big leagues.

Dan asks: If Judge just stopped playing for the rest of the year, would he still win AL rookie of the year? The season isn’t even at the halfway point, but from 2010 to now the only AL rookies worth more fWAR than what he has now were Abreu in 2014 (5.3) and Trout in 2012 (10.3). That’s insane.

I think so. We’ve seen guys win Rookie of the Year after getting called up at midseason. Why would winning the award playing only the first half rather than the second half be any different? There is no rookie in the AL (or all of MLB, for that matter) coming close to what Aaron Judge is doing. He reached +5 WAR before any other position player reached +4 WAR. That’s nuts. (As of yesterday Judge was at +5.1 fWAR and Paul Goldschmidt was second at +3.8 fWAR.)

Dan asks: Thoughts on picking up Miguel Montero to be back up catcher? The Yanks could use the offense. But, they probably wouldn’t cut Romine for him.

Nah. I don’t doubt that Montero is a better hitter than Austin Romine, but he’s faded big time behind the plate — runners have gone 90-for-98 (92%) stealing bases against him since the start of last season, and it ain’t all Jake Arrieta’s fault — plus his stints with two teams came to ugly and bitter ends. The guy’s a bit of a jerk. He can still hit a little — Montero was hitting .286/.366/.439 (112 wRC+) in part-time duty before getting designated for assignment the other day — but I don’t trust him behind the plate and I don’t trust him in the clubhouse. Montero’s not worth the headache, and obviously the Cubs agree.

Alessandro asks: This is a little out there, but if Bird remains out for an extended period of time, could the Yankees bring in another catcher to serve as backup to Sanchez, and keeping putting Romine out there at first?

Eh, I don’t see Romine at first base as a viable solution. He’s looked good over there defensively the last few days, but the guy is still hitting .236/.281/.323 (58 wRC+) overall, and that’s terrible. Maybe his numbers will tick up with regular playing time, though I don’t think Romine’s offensive potential is high enough to play him at first base long-term. The Yankees really need a full-time first baseman. I don’t like all this talk about having players change positions. Just get a real first baseman.

Steve asks: Let’s say Bird misses all of 2017. What do the Yankees do this winter? They can’t pencil Bird in for 1B next year, can they? Do they hedge their bets with another Carter-like signing? Find a DH that can fake 1B if needed? Thanks.

If Bird misses the rest of the season, I don’t see how the Yankees could count on him to be the starter next year. They’d have to go out and get someone to be the starter, and if Bird forces the issue, great! Maybe Tyler Austin will do enough this year to claim the starting job and he solves everything. That seems unlikely given his “high grade” hamstring strain. Odds are the Yankees are going to have to bring in a first baseman next year. Missing essentially your entire age 23 and 24 seasons like Bird may do is bad, bad news. That’s an awful lot of development time he’s not getting back.

Jason asks: Some of us middle-aged Yankees fans were talking about the latest Judge exploits and wondering: is this the best half-season of any Yankee since we have been watching (say 1975, possible competitors include Mattingly (1986), Arod, perhaps Giambi)? Thanks.

If you go back and look at the best half-seasons in Yankee history, it’s basically all Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, with a little Mickey Mantle mixed in as well. I’m going to go back 50 years, to 1967. Here are the best half-seasons by a Yankees, by OPS+:

First Half Second Half
Aaron Judge (204 OPS+ in 2017) Bobby Murcer (189 OPS+ in 1972)
Bobby Murcer (198 OPS+ in 1971) Don Mattingly (185 OPS+ in 1986)
Dave Winfield (187 OPS+ in 1988) Don Mattingly (184 OPS+ in 1985)
Paul O’Neill (186 OPS+ in 1994) Reggie Jackson (184 OPS+ in 1980)
Alex Rodriguez (184 OPS+ in 2007 Alex Rodriguez (184 OPS+ in 2005)

The All-Star break is only nine days away! Judge is putting the finishing touches on the best-half season by a Yankee in the last half-century. That is insane. The last Yankees with a 204 OPS+ in either the first or second half was Mantle in 1961.

  • Mantle in the first half of 1961: .320/.450/.691 (208 OPS+)
  • Mantle in the second half of 1961: .314/.446/.682 (209 OPS+)

lol.

As for Judge, what he’s doing is beyond “he’s having a great start to his rookie season” stuff. We’re in “he’s having an all-time great season for a player with any number of years of experience” territory. I get why lots of people jumped ship after his ugly debut last season, but man, but dude is among the elite of the elite when it comes to hitting know-how and making adjustments. That he’s 6-foot-7 and 282 lbs. of brute strength makes him that much more dangerous.

Yankees lose Fowler, lose series finale 4-3 to White Sox

After waiting out a two hour and 50 minute rain delay, the Yankees dropped Thursday night’s series finale to the White Sox by the score of 4-3. The game itself feels insignificant though. Dustin Fowler, in his first Major League inning, suffered a ruptured right patella tendon and will miss the rest of the season following emergency surgery. The injury happened when his knee hit an electrical box along the wall in foul territory. This sucks so much.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Two Earned, Two Unearned
The Yankees got off to a quick start Thursday night. They scored a run within the first ten pitches of the game. Brett Gardner beat out an infield single, Aaron Judge drew a walk, then Jose Abreu committed an error and allowed Gardner to score. Didi Gregorius hit a chopper to first, and Abreu attempted to start the 3-6-3 double play, but the throw hit Judge in the shoulder and deflected away. Gardner scored all the way from second.

Fowler suffered his injury in the bottom half of the first inning, which forced Rob Refsnyder into right field. Refsnyder grounded out to short to start the top of the second, then, in the bottom half, he made a backbreaking error that got the White Sox on the board. The ChiSox scored their first run because this ball was not caught …

rob-refsnyder

… for what would have been the final out of the inning. Joe Girardi‘s face after Refsnyder dropped that ball said it all. It was part exasperation and part death stare. Refsnyder dropped the ball, a run scored on the play, then the next batter dunked a bloop in front of Gardner to score the runner who reached on Refsnyder’s drop. Instead of the final out, two runs were on the board.

The leadoff walk came back to bite Luis Cessa in that second inning, and it did again in the fourth. A leadoff walk and a one-out hit-by-pitch started that rally. Cessa missed badly with a first pitch fastball to Willy Garcia, who hammered it to left field for a two-run double. Cessa’s night came to an end with two outs in the fifth, after the White Sox loaded the bases on a double, a walk, and an infield single. Chasen Shreve escaped that jam. Cessa’s final line: 4.2 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 1 K. Not great, Luis.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Not Enough Offense
The Yankees are without four regular position players due to injury and it’s really starting to show on offense, Wednesday night’s outburst notwithstanding. They managed only three runs (two earned) against the reanimated corpse of James Shields, who was behind almost every hitter and generated only four swings and misses among his 81 total pitches. The White Sox played some nice defense behind him, but still.

Following that gift run in the first inning, the Yankees got on the board again in the fourth thanks to a Jacoby Ellsbury leadoff walk and a Ronald Torreyes two-out single. Torreyes was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double, which was the 1,000,000th bad baserunning play by the Yankees this season, so he wins a prize. Austin Romine slapped a one-out single that inning, so had Torreyes stopped at first base, it would have been runners on the corners for Gardner. Alas.

The third run against Shields came in the sixth. Ellsbury smashed a leadoff triple off the center field wall — Adam Engel nearly ran it down and it was going to be Mad Online if he caught it — and Romine got him in with a ground ball. But not before Refsnyder struck out on three pitches. He’s a zero-tool player at this point. It’s impressive, really. No redeeming qualities at all. Remember when everyone wanted him to play second everyday a few years ago? Yeesh.

The Yankees last best chance to score came in the eighth inning. Gary Sanchez led off with a single but was erased on Ellsbury’s fielder’s choice. Ellsbury was able to steal second with two outs, though Romine struck out to end the inning. Anthony freaking Swarzak blew him away. David Robertson closed it out in the ninth inning. Seven hits (five singles) and four walks. Three runs. One of which was defense-aided. Everyone get healthy soon please.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
Good night for the bullpen! Shreve got one out to escape Cessa’s mess in the fifth, then Ronald Herrera, Tyler Clippard, and Tyler Webb followed with a scoreless inning each. Their combined line: 3.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K. The one hit was an infield single literally off Herrera’s calf. Why can’t the bullpen have games like this when the Yankees lead? Every game is a nail-biter when they’re trying to protect a lead, it seems.

Those seven hits by the offense includes the Ellsbury triple and singles by Gardner (two), Sanchez, Romine, Torreyes, and Tyler Wade. Wade hit a ball to the wall against Robertson in the ninth that I thought looked pretty good off the bat. Alas. It was just short of the game-tying home run. The Yankees did get Judge to the plate with the tying run on the base in the ninth, so that’s cool. Robertson struck him out to end the game though. Better luck next time.

By the way, Judge is officially getting the Bonds treatment now. He was intentionally walked with the bases empty and two outs in the seventh inning. The White Sox were up 4-3 at the time, so they put the tying run on base intentionally. Gregorius grounded out on the first pitch, so it worked! Didi has been great this year, but squeezing him between Judge and Sanchez was not Girardi’s finest decision. Anyway, Judge is the fifth Yankee to be intentionally walked with the bases empty and the fourth who wasn’t hitting in front of the pitcher. Pretty crazy.

And finally, Judge’s on-base streak has hit 31 games, the second longest in baseball this season. (Zack Cozart had a 32-gamer a few weeks ago.) That’s the longest by a Yankee since Derek Jeter had a 36-game on-base streak in 2012. Judge went 0-for-2 with three walks in this game, and one of the outs was a robbed home run by Melky Cabrera. In addition to all sorts of other things, Judge now leads MLB with 56 walks. He has one more than Matt Carpenter and Joey Votto.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, go to ESPN. For the video highlights, go to MLB.com. We have a Bullpen Workload page. Here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
This four-game series in Chicago is finally over. The Yankees are heading to Houston next for a three-game weekend set with the first place Astros. Michael Pineda vs. Lance McCullers Jr. is the scheduled pitching matchup for Friday night’s series opener.

Update: Fowler exits game with ruptured patella tendon

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

12:08pm ET: Fowler suffered an open rupture of the right patella tendon, the Yankees announced. He’s having surgery tonight and his season is over. Brutal. Absolutely brutal. I feel awful for the kid. At least he’ll collect big league pay while on the disabled list.

11:24pm ET: Dustin Fowler exited tonight’s game, his MLB debut, in the first inning after crashing into the side wall in foul territory. He was chasing after a fly ball and hit the wall at close to full speed. Fowler tried to walk it off, but he crumbled to the ground and had to be carted off the field. They were looking at his right knee. Sigh. Here’s the video.

The Yankees called Fowler up earlier today to serve as an extra left-handed bat during these ten games prior to the All-Star break, during which they’re tentatively scheduled to face nine right-handed starters. This was the first inning of his big league career. He hadn’t even had an at-bat yet. He was due to lead off the next inning. The Yankees haven’t announced an update on Fowler, so stay tuned.