Like McCarthy’s cutter, the Yanks brought back Clippard’s slider after trade with Diamondbacks

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Barring an improbable run to the postseason, the 2016 Yankees will be remembered for selling at the trade deadline, something they hadn’t done in nearly three decades. Three productive veterans and Ivan Nova were dealt for a total of 12 prospects and Adam Warren. There’s an entire generation of Yankees fans who don’t know anything but contention and win at all costs. This was a big change.

The Yankees also snuck in one buyer trade at the deadline, acquiring ex-Yankee Tyler Clippard from the Diamondbacks for Vicente Campos. It was kind of a weird move but an understandable one. The Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman trades left gaping holes in the back of the bullpen, so Clippard (and Warren) were brought in to lend Dellin Betances a hand. It’s not like they gave up much to get Clippard, after all. (Campos just suffered another major arm injury, which really sucks.)

In his one month and one week with the Yankees, Clippard has taken over as the team’s primary eighth inning guy, and has allowed just one earned run in 15 innings. His strikeout (26.2%), walk (9.8%), and ground ball (34.3%) rates with the Yankees are right in line with his career norms (26.9%, 10.0%, 28.3%). The only difference so far has been the lack of home runs; Clippard has a career 1.07 HR/9 (8.6 HR/FB%) and in his 15 innings in pinstripes he’s at 0.60 HR/9 (4.8 HR/FB%).

At some point Clippard will give up a dinger or two because that’s what he does. He’s a very unique pitcher. He thrives on getting weak contact, mostly in the form of pop-ups, and he does it primarily with deception. The guy is all arms and legs with his delivery. Even at his peak with the Nationals, Clippard would live in the 93-94 mph range and bump 96 mph on occasion. Nowadays he sits 91-92 mph and will top out at 94 mph. That’s what happens to 31-year-old workhorse relievers.

Last year, in an effort to combat velocity loss, Clippard started toying around with a slider while with the Athletics. He used it during his short stint with the Mets, but, after signing with the Diamondbacks in the offseason, the slider went in his pocket. It was very rarely used. Since returning to New York, Clippard has again started using that slider as a regular part of his arsenal (via Brooks Baseball):

Tyler Clippard slider curveball usage

Clippard has always been a fastball/changeup pitcher and he always will be. They’re by far his two best pitches. He changes speeds and eye levels with high fastballs and low changeups. A slower curveball used to be his third pitch, but since the start of last season, he’s shelved it in favor of this new slider. Well, except for his few months with the D’Backs, that is.

Why did Clippard put the slider in his pocket with Arizona? Who knows. They’re not exactly a brilliantly run organization over there. Remember, when the Yankees acquired Brandon McCarthy a few years ago, he said the D’Backs told him to stop throwing his cutter. New York let McCarthy throw the cutter and boom, his performance improved dramatically. Who knows why the D’Backs do what they do. They’re a mess over there.

Anyway, Clippard threw 27 sliders with the Yankees in August, one fewer than he threw in his four months with the D’Backs. He threw eight sliders in two appearances in Baltimore over the week, more than he threw in three of his four months with Arizona. This isn’t a new pitch. It’s an old pitch Clippard has reintroduced after not throwing it most of the year. Here’s one of the sliders he threw over the weekend:

Tyler Clippard slider

First things first: that’s a bad pitch! Clippard didn’t hang it over the plate, but he missed his spot by a mile and was fortunate to get a swing through. Backup sliders like that tend to be effective swing-and-miss pitches because hitters don’t expect them and the movement is very unnatural. Too bad no one can throw them consistently.

I posted the GIF of that slider specifically because the fine folks at MASN showed a slow motion replay after the strikeout, in which you can get a look at Clippard’s grip:

Tyler Clippard slider grip

That’s a slider grip. We can deduce that. It’s definitely not a changeup grip. PitchFX will misclassify pitches on occasion, and I was worried that maybe some of Clippard’s changeups were being misclassified as sliders, but no, that’s a slider. That’s not a changeup grip and we know it wasn’t a fastball based on the movement and velocity. It’s also not a curveball because his fingers are behind the baseball and not coming around. It’s a slider. It is. Trust me.

As you’d expect, Clippard has thrown most of his sliders to right-handed batters. They haven’t swung and missed at it much — only twice in fact, so that GIF above is one of the two — so I’m sure the Yankees and Clippard are hoping that will come. The good news is his hard contact rate against righties dropped from 33.3% with the D’Backs to 22.2% with the Yankees, though the sample is obviously small. That’s something the slider can help improve.

At this point we still don’t know how much the slider has helped Clippard, if it’s helping at all. Adding another pitch seems like it can only help, but if it’s not that effective and you start getting beat on it, it’s a problem. Clippard is still a fastball/changeup pitcher and chances are he always will be. He’s in the wily veteran phase of his career, and slider is a surprise pitch. Something new to keep hitters guessing.

Brian McCann can help the Yankees overcome their recent power outage

Sep 6, 2016; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Brian McCann (34) hits a solo home run against the Toronto Blue Jays inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
(Presswire)

Last night the Yankees smacked three home runs en route to their thrilling 7-6 win over the Blue Jays. A team hitting three homers in a game isn’t all that unusual in and of itself, especially in Yankee Stadium, but this is a team that hit three home runs total in their previous eight games. Not coincidentally, the Yankees were only 4-4 in those eight games.

The three homers in those eight games belonged to Jacoby Ellsbury, who dropped one into the short porch Monday, and Aaron Judge and Starlin Castro. Judge and Castro went deep in Kansas City. Somehow the Yankees failed to hit a home run in three games against the Orioles pitching staff in Camden Yards over the weekend. They’ve actually gone five straight games without a homer at that ballpark dating back to June, so yeah.

Some of the reasons for the recent power outage are obvious. For starters, Gary Sanchez stopped being Babe Ruth and came back to Earth. That was bound to happen at some point. Also, the Yankees traded home run leader Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline — Beltran still leads the Yankees in dingers — and replaced him with Judge, who has popped three homers but mostly battled contact problems since being called up.

Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira have combined for 20 home runs this season after combining for 64 last season. Brian McCann, the team’s other veteran power source, has 17 dingers of his own, though last night’s blast was only his third of the second half. Three in 38 games and 153 plate appearances. McCann has only two doubles in the second half as well, which is why he’s slugging .294 since the All-Star break. Ouch.

McCann is not old like A-Rod and as far as we know he’s not beat up physically like Teixeira, who has been nursing neck and knee issues pretty much all season. He has changed roles though, shifting from catcher to DH when Sanchez arrived last month. Moving to DH full-time is a big adjustment for a veteran. A lot of them struggle with all the downtime, especially initially. It’s an entirely difference experience for a veteran player used to being in the field.

Remember, McCann has been a starting big league catcher since he was 21, so he’s used to being in on every single pitch. Now he goes 45 minutes between at-bats. There’s only so much video and batting cage work that can be done between at-bats to stay sharp too. “I’m getting used to it. When all you know is catching, it’s just a new routine. I’ve got to find a routine to work for me,” said McCann last month.

A quick glance at McCann’s first and second half splits don’t reveal too much. He’s not striking out more or hitting the ball in the air less. Nothing like that. Here are the numbers if you don’t believe me:

Brian McCann splits

Going from a 32.6% ground ball rate in the first half to a 36.3% ground ball rate in the second half is not meaningful. That’s just the normal ebb and flow of the season. McCann has a career 36.7% ground ball rate and so far this season he’s right in line with that number. A drastic increase in ground ball rate, say to 48% or so, would be a big red flag. That hasn’t happened.

The number that most caught my eye there is the 7.3 HR/FB% in the second half. That is tiny! McCann has a 13.4 HR/FB% in his three full seasons with the Yankees. That’s his true talent number. His average launch angle (18º vs. 20º) and average exit velocity (89.8 mph vs. 87.8 mph) have remained in the same ballpark from the first half to the second, so he’s still making similar contact. McCann laid into a pitch in Kansas City that looked gone off the bat …

Brian McCann fly ball

… before it got knocked down by the wind. That ball leaves the yard in Yankee Stadium or on a warm day at Kauffman Stadium. Stuff like that is how you go from a 15.9 HR/FB% in the first half to a 7.3 HR/FB% in the second half. I don’t want to call it bad luck, but this sure seems like one of those things that won’t last. Hopefully last night’s dinger is an indication the correction is coming.

For now, the Yankees are a little light on power unless Sanchez gets red hot again or Judge figures out how to stop striking out. Castro will sock a dinger every now and then, otherwise they’re stuck hoping Ellsbury or Brett Gardner or Didi Gregorius hook one into the short porch every once in the while. McCann is the team’s best left-handed power threat, and for the offense to be at its best the rest of the way, they need him to start hitting more balls out of the park more consistently.

As injuries continue to mount in the rotation, Luis Cessa is emerging as a keeper for the Yankees

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

His performance is easy to overlook given the rest of the game, but young righty Luis Cessa turned in his fourth straight impressive start for the Yankees last night. The 24-year-old former shortstop held that ridiculously great Blue Jays’ lineup to two runs on six hits and two walks in 5.1 innings, and his defense totally sabotaged him on the second run.

Cessa came over in the Justin Wilson trade over the winter, and he actually started the season in the Opening Day bullpen. He’s spent most of the year starting in Triple-A though, which he needed to do at that point of his development. In four starts since replacing the injured Nathan Eovaldi, Cessa has allowed nine runs (eight earned) and 25 baserunners in 23.1 total innings. That’s a 3.09 ERA and 1.07 WHIP from the what, seventh starter? Eighth?

“I had a little mistake in the first inning to (Edwin) Encarnacion, but after that I stayed with the same plan we had before the game with Larry (Rothschild) and Gary (Sanchez) and a couple coaches, and just make the pitches,” said Cessa after last night’s start (video link). “After (the homer), just continue fighting. Staying on the same page with Gary is the most important thing and we did a really nice job I think.”

Cessa is not without his flaws. He’s allowed five home runs in his four starts and ten (!) in his 42 big league innings, so that’s is an obvious problem. Also, Cessa has struck out only 15 of 94 batters faced as a starter, or 17.0%, and you’d like to see that come up at some point. Overall though, Cessa has given the Yankees four nice starts and there are reasons to believe he can be part of the rotation going forward.

1. He seems to handle adversity well. Cessa was able to face a weak Angels lineup in his first big league start, and the next time put the offense but eight runs on the board against the Orioles in the first two innings. They gave him a lot of breathing room. The Yankees were able to ease Cessa into the rotation with a start against a bad team and then a ton of run support. Perfect.

The last two starts have been a bit more challenging. The Royals roughed Cessa up for four runs in the first three innings last week, including two home runs. The Yankees needed him to soak up more innings since the bullpen was taxed, and Cessa was able to settle down and retire 12 of the final 14 batters he faced to complete six full innings. Last night he gave up a monster first inning homer to Encarnacion and shook it right off.

Those are the kind of situations that can quickly unravel for a young pitcher. Giving up four runs in three innings to the defending World Series champs can spiral out of control quick. Giving up a second deck dinger to someone like Encarnacion can scare a pitcher out of the strike zone or away from the pitch that was hit out, in this case a fastball. That didn’t happen. Cessa settled down and pitched effectively the rest of the way both times. Pretty impressive.

2. He uses four pitches regularly. When the Yankees acquired Cessa, the scouting report said he threw a slider and a changeup in addition to his mid-90s fastball. We’ve seen that and more. Cessa also throws a curveball, and he throws all four of his pitches regularly too. Here is his pitch selection in his four starts:

  • Fastball: 46.4%
  • Slider: 29.2%
  • Curveball: 15.3%
  • Changeup: 9.2%

I think we’ll see more changeups going forward too. The Angels and Blue Jays both threw right-handed heavy lineups at Cessa, so he didn’t need his changeup a whole lot in two of his four starts. Once he starts facing lefties we might see the changeup a bit more.

Either way, Cessa has thrown those four pitches regularly in his four starts, and that’s a big plus. A lot of times a young pitcher comes up with a fastball and a breaking ball he trusts, and he’ll still be trying to figure out a changeup. Cessa has a deep repertoire already. That’s more than half the battle.

3. He can hold his velocity deep into games. Unless you’re a freak like Eovaldi, most pitchers lose velocity within a start as their pitch count creeps up. It’s just fatigue. It happens. The guys who go from, say, 94 mph to 90 mph have the most trouble. Cessa loses velocity like everyone else, yet in his four starts this year, he’s been able to hold mid-90s into the sixth inning. From Brooks Baseball:

Luis Cessa velocity

So far Cessa has averaged 95.6 mph in the first inning and 94.4 mph in the sixth inning in his four starts. (He’s pitched into the sixth inning in all four starts and last night was the first time he didn’t complete the sixth.) Losing roughly one mile an hour is not insignificant, though it’s not a drastic either. Sitting 94.4 mph in the sixth is plenty good enough to get outs. Cessa’s a young man and he’s very athletic — he was a shortstop, after all — so it’s not a surprise he’s strong and able to retain most of his velocity as his pitch count increases.

4. He’ll pitch inside regularly. I’m not sure how we can quantify this, but anecdotally, Cessa seems very willing to pitch inside, especially to righties. It was especially noticeable in his start against the Angels. He had no problem coming inside to set up the pitch outside and get hitters to move their feet. Cessa wasn’t trying to hit anyone. He was just taking control of the plate. It’s refreshing to see. The Yankees collectively do not seem to do enough of that as a team.

* * *

The Yankees have lost both Eovaldi and Chad Green to elbow injuries in recent weeks, plus they traded Ivan Nova, so they’ve had little choice but to give Cessa a starting spot. They’re running out of arms. He’s made the most of his opportunity so far, and he’s starting to look like a possible answer to the team’s search for controllable young pitching. Cessa won’t solve their depth issues by himself, no one will, but he does seem to have the ingredients necessary to be a big league starter. Even if he’s the fourth or fifth guy on the staff, that’s still pretty darn valuable.

Yankees survive ninth inning meltdown, hang on for crazy 7-6 win over Blue Jays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Well, the Yankees definitely aren’t boring anymore. Tuesday night’s 7-6 win over the Blue Jays was, without question, the most intense and fun and stressful and exciting game of the season. It was the best game since the Carlos Beltran home run/Andrew Miller vs. Troy Tulowitzki game in Toronto last season, right? Has to be. This was playoff baseball. Goodness.

I seriously have no idea how to recap this game. I usually build these things as the game progresses, but it just wasn’t happening with this one. The game was too hectic. It was crazy. I’m going to try something a little different and annotate the WPA graph so that way we hit on everything. Sound good? Too bad if it doesn’t, we’re going with it anyway. Let’s get to it.

NYYvsTORwpa090616(1) Luis Cessa‘s fourth big league start was his biggest test so far. The Blue Jays can really hit, and Edwin Encarnacion made sure Cessa knew it in the very first inning. He missed his spot with a fastball (by a lot) and Encarnacion absolutely clobbered it into the second deck in left field. It left his bat at 114 mph, which is nuts. The Blue Jays took a quick 1-0 lead on that blast.

With a rookie pitcher, you worry a monster home run like that will scare them out of the strike zone or away from their fastball. Not Cessa. The Royals hit him around early in his last start, but he showed some composure and held Kansas City down long enough for the offense to come back. Cessa did the same in this one. He shook off Encarnacion’s home run and retired nine of the next 12 men he faced. Only two of those 12 batters hit the ball out of the infield.

(2) Brian McCann must have known I have a “Brian McCann hasn’t hit for much power lately” post in the hopper for Wednesday. I wrote the damn thing earlier on Tuesday and, sure enough, McCann goes and hits his third home run of the second half in the fourth inning to tie the game 1-1. It was only the second home run Aaron Sanchez has allowed since the All-Star break. That kid is mighty impressive, isn’t he? He missed up with a changeup and McCann promptly deposited it into the second deck.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

(3) The defense both helped and hurt Cessa in the fifth inning. Mostly hurt. Kevin Pillar dunked a single into center to start the inning, and after a Justin Smoak fly out, Devon Travis beat out an infield single when Chase Headley failed to make the barehand play. YES was using the behind the plate angle, which is basically the worst thing ever, so I have no idea if Headley had time to use his glove. Doesn’t matter. Travis was safe the Blue Jays had two on with one out.

The next defensive miscue came on the very next pitch; Jose Bautista lifted a soft broken bat fly ball to left field that should have been caught, but Brett Gardner held up and allowed the ball to drop in for a run-scoring hit. He had to misread it off the broken bat. I can’t explain it otherwise. It looked like Gardner thought it was hit harder than it actually was. The ball dropped in a few steps in front of him and the Blue Jays took a 2-1 lead. The Yankees had just tied the game in the previous half inning. Blah.

Toronto only scored one run in the inning because Headley atoned for his barehand whiff with an outstanding diving stop on Josh Donaldson’s rocket down the line. It was ticketed for the corner and would have scored at least one run, if not two. Headley snared the hot shot and threw across the diamond for the out. One of the best defense plays of the season, bar none. Encarnacion flew out after that, so despite all the baserunners and bad defense, the Blue Jays were only able to score the one run that fifth inning.

(Presswire)
That is a man who knows he just mashed a tater. (Presswire)

(4) It sure looks like Tyler Austin is getting locked in, huh? Austin hit a home run in his first MLB at-bat, then went into a 5-for-37 (.135) slump and found himself on the bench more often than not. He did come out with two doubles on Monday afternoon, and, more importantly, he had some quality at-bats. Austin was flailing a little bit before that. Monday he stayed controlled and did damage at the plate.

Before Austin played hero in the seventh, the struggling Aaron Judge extended the inning with a two-out single to center. He grounded out in his first at-bat of the night but it was actually a good at-bat. Sanchez jumped ahead in the count 0-2, Judge worked it full, fouled off another pitch, then rolled over on a sinker. Bad outcome, but it was his best at-bat in a long time. The single set Austin up for the go-ahead birthday home run. To the action footage:

What a bomb. I don’t remember the last time a right-handed hitter hit one into the right field bleachers. I told you Austin has oppo pop. Austin is the first Yankee to hit a home run on his birthday since Alex Rodriguez last year. He’s the first rookie to hit a birthday home run with the Yankees since Eduardo Nunez in 2011. Congrats, Tyler. Your 25th birthday was way better than mine.

(5) Rosters may be expanded, but that doesn’t mean the bullpen can’t be worn down. Tyler Clippard has pitched three straight days and Dellin Betances pitched two straight, so when Cessa was pulled with one out in the sixth, Joe Girardi had to do some mixing and matching. The just recalled James Pazos didn’t get his batter out and gave way to Adam Warren, who got Smoak to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Warren stayed on to retire the side in the seventh, including Bautista and Donaldson, and he got the first two outs of the eighth too. The matching up started after Troy Tulowitzki singled with two outs in the eighth. Tommy Layne came in, walked pinch-hitter Melvin Upton, then gave way to Ben Heller. The Yankees were up 3-2 at the time, but the Blue Jays had two on, so Heller was in a pickle. He groove a fastball to Kevin freakin’ Pillar, who hammered a go-ahead two-run double to the wall in left. Blargh.

Girardi sure seems committed to using Heller in tight spots, and the rookie couldn’t get it done Tuesday. Betances was never going to come in for the four-out save after pitching Sunday and Monday, and with Clippard unavailable, Heller was probably Girardi’s best option. Either him or Chasen Shreve, who got the last out of the inning. It’s easy to say Heller shouldn’t have been in that spot given the outcome, but the alternative was Jonathan Holder or Kirby Yates or Nick Goody, so yeah. Not great. Bottom line: Heller can’t throw a pitch that poor. Even guys like Pillar will make you pay for grooved fastball. These are the big leagues.

(6) Earlier this season the Yankees would just roll over in a game like this. Blown lead in the eighth? Meh. Go get ’em tomorrow. Not these Yankees though. The kids don’t know any better and the veterans feed off that. The eighth inning rally started with, of all things, a Jacoby Ellsbury walk. Those done come around often. Jason Grilli was up there grunting fastballs, but he missed with four wide ones, so Ellsbury was on first.

Grilli pretty much owned Gary Sanchez for the first out of the inning. Struck him out on four pitches and had Sanchez looking silly. Once Sanchez struck out, I was waiting for Ellsbury to take off for second — there’s no reason to risk getting thrown out with Gary at the plate — but it never happened. Didn’t need to. The slumping Didi Gregorius hit a first pitch triple over Pillar’s head in left-center that scored Ellsbury to tie the game 4-4. I thought Pillar was going to catch it. He’s so good in the field. It sailed right over his head though. How about that?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the life of me, I will never understand why Grilli threw Starlin Castro a two-strike fastball. He got him to chase two breaking balls out of the zone for a quick 0-2 count because that’s what Castro does, yet Grilli opted for the heater, and Starlin lifted it out to right field for the go-ahead sac fly. Grilli and Russell Martin got a little too cute there trying to set something up. They should know Castro will chase three straight pitches off the plate.

The sac fly gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead, and after McCann drew a five-pitch walk, Headley provided two insurance runs with a two-run home run into the short porch. Two insurance runs the Yankees would ultimately need. Headley more than made up for the missed barehand with the diving stop and the two-run home run. You done good, Chase.

(7) Three-run lead with Betances on the mound? No big deal. Even against the top of the Blue Jays lineup and while pitching the third straight day. Dellin had plenty of breathing room. Then eight of his first 12 pitches were balls and suddenly Encarnacion was up as the tying run. That was: bad. Encarnacion fouled off five pitches as part of a ten-pitch at-bat before beating out an infield single. A wild pitch moved Bautista and Donaldson up earlier in the inning, so a run scored to cut the lead to 7-5, and the tying run was on base.

(8) Betances was clearly not sharp in his third straight day of work, so much so that his first out was not recorded until his 27th pitch. Twenty-seventh! Woof. Betances struck out Martin for the first out, then walked pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro on seven pitches. The Yankees still led 7-5, but now the Blue Jays had the bases loaded and Dellin had thrown 34 (!) pitches to get one out. Egads. That’s bad.

Betances needed another six pitches to get Upton to hit a ground ball towards defensive replacement Mark Teixeira at first. It should have been the second out of the inning. Instead, Dellin took a little misstep at first and completely missed the bag. Upton was safe and another run scored. And the bases were still loaded. And there was still only one out. And Betances had thrown 40 pitches and was visibly fatigued. He was on fumes. The stakes were high and morale was low. The Yankees needed a hero.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

(9) Girardi did the only thing he could do after the Upton infield single: he took out Betances. He had to. Dellin’s pitch count was through the roof — it wasn’t just 40 pitches, it was 40 high-stress pitches — and he was working for the third straight day. It was dangerous to push him any further.

So, with Betances worn out and Warren having already pitched and Clippard unavailable, in came Blake Parker for the save chance with the bases loaded. The Yankees started 2016 with Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller in their bullpen along with Betances, yet here was Blake Parker coming in to get the most important two outs of the season. Baseball, man.

Parker was able to strike out Pillar for the second out using almost exclusively non-fastballs. He dropped a first pitch curveball in for a strike, then got him to swing through a second pitch splitter for an 0-2 count. Pillar fouled off a high fastball, then Parker spiked a splitter that Sanchez was able to block with his body. Huge underrated play in the game. The pitch was nowhere close to the plate and Sanchez kept it in front of him to stop the tying run from scoring.

Pillar fouled off a splitter before getting locked up with a curveball for a called strike three. I have no idea what he was looking for, but it definitely wasn’t that. Pillar just froze. That was only the second out. Still one more to go with the bases loaded. Smoak was apparently paying attention during Pillar’s at-bat, because when Parker again tried to steal a first pitch strike with a curveball, Smoak gave it his A-swing and drove the ball out to deep left.

Off the bat, I thought it was a line drive at Gardner, and I was just hoping it was close enough for him to catch it. I’m getting really bad at reading balls off the bat, it seems. The ball carried all the way to the wall, and there was definitely an “oh gosh that’s going out” feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched Gardner race back to the wall. The game ended with one of the best catches of the season. Take it away, Brett:

I don’t know if that was the prettiest defensive play of the season — in fact, I know it’s not — but dammit, that was easily the biggest defensive play of the season. Saved the game and kept the Yankees close in the postseason race. Smoak hit that ball mighty hard, much harder than I thought, and Gardner was able to make the catch even though the ball rolled up his damn glove and had to be snow-coned. Here’s the slow motion replay:

Brett Gardner catch

I love and hate this team so much.

Leftovers
The Yankees only had seven hits as a team, but three were home runs and another was a triple, so it all worked out. Sanchez, Castro, and Judge had the singles. McCann, Austin, and Headley had the dingers. Gregorius had the triple. Ellsbury drew two walks while McCann and Austin drew one each. Austin looks really comfortable at the plate right now. Glad to see it.

Seven relievers combined to throw 113 pitches in 3.2 innings. That’s 10.3 pitches per out. Warren threw 44 in 2.1 innings and Betances threw 40 to get one out, so I reckon we won’t be seeing those two for a few days. Clippard will be the closer du jour for a little while. Not so fun fact: three of those seven relievers (Pazos, Layne, Heller) did not retire a batter. Argh.

The Yankees caught a break in the ninth inning. Encarnacion should have been awarded first base on a catcher’s interference call — the replay made it crystal clear — but the umpires missed it. It’s not a reviewable play either. That would have loaded the bases with no outs. Of course, Encarnacion singled in a run later in the at-bat, so it’s not like the non-call saved New York’s bacon.

The Yankees have finally (finally!) won a series against the Blue Jays. They’d lost six straight series to Toronto dating back to last year, and they’d also lost five straight home series to the Blue Jays dating back to 2014. It was not a pretty win and it was certainly not stress-free, but at least now that monkey is off their back.

And finally, the Yankees are now 72-65 and a season-high seven games over .500. They’re 20-13 since they gave up on the season and traded away some of their best players at the deadline. Also, the Yankees are now only 4.5 games back of the AL East lead. They haven’t been that close since April 27th.

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 Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages too. Here’s the un-annotated win probability graph, which does not accurately reflect how much I nearly puked:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Time to sweep these mofos. The rest of the AL East never bothered to bury the Yankees and now it’s time to make them sweat it out. Bryan Mitchell is scheduled to start Wednesday’s finale and make his 2016 debut after breaking his toe covering first base in Spring Training. Marcus Stroman will be on the bump for the Blue Jays. There are only 14 home games left this season, and RAB Tickets can get you in the door for all of them.

DotF: Gleyber Torres leads Tampa to Game One win

High-A Tampa (2-1 win over Dunedin in 13 innings) they lead the best-of-three series 1-0

  • 2B Jorge Mateo: 1-6, 1 RBI, 1 K, 2 SB — drove in the game’s first run with a fielder’s choice
  • 3B Thairo Estrada: 1-6, 1 R — his single started the go-ahead rally in the 13th inning
  • SS Gleyber Torres: 2-5, 2 2B, 1 BB, 1 K — doubled in Estrada for the go-ahead run
  • 1B Kevin Cornelius: 0-5, 1 BB, 4 K
  • CF Rashad Crawford: 2-5, 2 K, 1 SB
  • RHP Yefrey Ramirez: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 6/5 GB/FB — 55 of 87 pitches were strikes (73%) … look at Big Yef dominating in Game One
  • RHP Jordan Foley: 3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 27 of 42 pitches were strikes (64%) … a decent relief outing, I’d say
  • RHP Eduardo Rivera: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — eleven of 19 pitches were strikes
  • RHP Sean Carley: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — half of his 16 pitches were strikes
  • RHP Dillon McNamara: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — eight of 13 pitches were strikes … gets the save and caps off six hitless innings from the bullpen

Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, Low-A Charleston, and Short Season Staten Island all begin their first round postseason series tomorrow.

The season is over for Rookie Pulaski, Rookie GCL Yanks East, and Rookie GCL Yanks West. None of the three teams qualified for the postseason.

Game 137: Closing In

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Here’s a fun fact: with a win tonight, the Yankees will trim their deficit in the AL East to 4.5 games. They haven’t been that close since the end of April. Heck, you could argue the Yankees have an easier road to the division title than they do a wildcard spot because they actually play the teams ahead of them in the AL East. Now I’m just talking crazy.

Anyway, the Yankees have won ten of their last 16 games despite the back-to-back shutouts in Baltimore over the weekend. A win tonight would clinch their first series win over the Blue Jays since last August, six series ago. That was the series with Carlos Beltran homer/Andrew Miller vs. Troy Tulowitzki game. As fun as games like that are, I could go for a more stress-free win tonight. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. 1B Tyler Austin
    RHP Luis Cessa

It has been overcast and cool in New York all day, and there’s rain in the forecast pretty much all night. It doesn’t look like there will be torrential downpour, just on-and-off showers. The Yankees haven’t had much luck with rain delays this year. Hopefully they don’t get hosed again tonight. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES.

Roster Moves: The Yankees have called up both Bryan Mitchell and James Pazos, the team announced. There are now 13 pitchers in the bullpen. Joe Girardi said the team is leaning towards starting Mitchell tomorrow.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (hamstring) was placed on the 15-day DL yesterday, which is odd. There’s no need for the 15-day DL once rosters expand in September. Chad Jennings thinks it could be a way to send Hicks to the minors for rehab games, and really, that’s the only thing that makes sense. There’s no other benefit to the 15-day DL at this point … Chad Green (elbow) seemed to indicate the second opinion revealed good news. He’s going to have a dye contrast MRI at some point though.

Tanaka is regaining his 2014 form as he gets further away from the elbow issues

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon Masahiro Tanaka had the kind of start that usually isn’t associated with being an ace, but does show the difference between good pitchers and great pitchers. He held the high-powered Blue Jays to two runs in 6.1 innings despite clearly not having his best stuff. Tanaka wasn’t even on the mound when the second run scored. It was an inherited runner that a pair of rookie relievers couldn’t strand.

Following yesterday’s game, Tanaka is now sitting on a 3.11 ERA (3.26 FIP) in 26 starts and 179.1 innings. The FanGraphs version of WAR says he’s been the best pitcher in the AL at +4.7 WAR. (Technically tied with Chris Sale, who’s thrown 14.1 more innings.) Baseball Reference says Tanaka has been the sixth best pitcher in the AL at +4.7 WAR. You don’t need WAR to tell you he’s been really, really good though.

Tanaka has never not been good for the Yankees. Last season he had a 3.51 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 154 innings, and while that is disappointing compared to his 2014 debut, it still made him an effective starter. The Yankees have won 13 of his last 15 starts and he is far and away the best pitcher in the rotation. It’s not even close. Tanaka might not win the Cy Young, but he should get votes. Heck, you could argue he deserves MVP votes too.

“As a professional baseball player, it’s better to have attention because that means you’re doing a good job,” said Tanaka to Chad Jennings yesterday. “I think the first year, it was more like, ‘who is this guy from Japan coming here? And how is he going to make it out there?’ I think there was a lot of curiosity and interest in that sense, but as a pitcher, you always want to do well, and that means you’re getting attention. So you want that attention because you want to do well.”

Although the overall numbers don’t exactly match, Tanaka has been able to regain his 2014 pre-injury form this season, especially recently. He missed time with the partially torn elbow ligament in 2014, then had wrist and hamstring issues in 2015, and over the winter he had a bone spur removed from his elbow. Tanaka’s dealt with more than a few physical problems, and those can obviously impact a pitcher’s ability to execute and effectiveness.

Here is Tanaka’s rolling five-start ERA and FIP since his debut in 2014, via FanGraphs. He started out swell, then his performance slipped as the injuries struck, and now he’s back to what I assume is 100% effectiveness.

Masahiro Tanaka rolling ERA-FIPThe biggest different between the pre-injury version of Tanaka and the current version of Tanaka is his strikeout rate. He struck out 26.6% of the batters he faced in 2014 before the elbow started barking. It’s 20.8% this year, which is still good, but not quite as good. Tanaka has been able to compensate for the missing strikeouts by keeping the ball in the park: 1.04 HR/9 (14.4 HR/FB%) vs. 0.85 HR/9 (10.4 HR/9%).

The performance has been very good this year and ultimately that’s the most important thing. A pitcher’s job is to keep runs off the board, first and foremost, and Tanaka has done that. He’s done it while changing his style almost month-to-month. You can call it evolving if you want, but he’s gone back to his original state a few times, so yeah. Check out his four-seamer fastball and sinker usage over the years, via Brooks Baseball:

Masahiro Tanaka pitch selectionEarlier this season Tanaka was throwing a ton of sinkers and it was easy to think he was doing that because of his home run problem last year. More sinkers equals more ground balls and fewer balls leaving the park, especially in Yankee Stadium. The sinker heavy approach hasn’t lasted. Tanaka cut back on his sinker at midseason and is now using the four-seamer more. Two years ago he cut back on the four-seamer at midseason and started throwing sinkers.

As cliche as it is, Tanaka is a pitcher and a not a thrower. He’s not going to blow hitters away with fastballs, though we have seen him reach back for a little extra something in big spots. Example:

Moments like that, when Tanaka reaches back and throws a fastball by a hitter, are very rare. He can do it if necessary, but his preferred method of attack is trickery. Tanaka throws a wide array of breaking balls and offspeed pitches, and he changes speeds very well. A splitter in the dirt is his trademark. The sliders on the corner and first pitch strike-stealing curveballs are important too.

At this point it’s obvious Tanaka was smart not to have Tommy John surgery in 2014. (Can’t believe the doctors knew more than fans and reporters, you guys.) It’s a serious procedure you try to avoid. Tanaka has avoided the knife but has dealt with some other injuries, most notably the bone spur surgery. And as good as he was last year, he wasn’t as good as he was in 2014 or as good as he’s been this year. The injuries took their toll. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

“I’m not overly satisfied with the overall way of pitching, how I’m pitching this year,” said Tanaka to Jennings. “I think if I compare it with my first year — the first year, I didn’t know anything. I just was grinding it out every game because I didn’t know much about what it was like to spend a full season here. But this year I feel like I’m more in control of myself compared to the first year. In that sense, I feel sort of a sense of maybe satisfaction compared to the first year.”

The Yankees will face a bit of a conundrum with Tanaka next season, because if he stays healthy and effective, he’s going to opt-out of his contract, and pitchers of this caliber are hard to replace. For now, Tanaka is over his injury problems and pitching like the high-end starter the Yankees paid him to be. He was at his very best early in 2014, before the elbow injury. Right now he’s pitching better than he has at any point since then.