Game Eight: Rubber Game

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The six-game turned five-game road trip ends tonight with the rubber game against the Blue Jays. A win to clinch the series victory would be awfully sweet. A 3-2 road trip is always better than a 2-3 road trip, especially when you get that last win over a division rival.

Nathan Eovaldi is on the mound and he did something in his last start he usually doesn’t do a whole lot: give up homers. He gave up two of them in five innings after allowing ten homers in 154.1 innings last year. Hopefully Eovaldi fares a little better tonight with the game inside and not in the freezing cold. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Starlin Castro
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It’s another really cold day in Toronto, so the Rogers Centre roof will be closed. First pitch is scheduled for 7:07pm ET. You can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: McCann (toe) is back in the lineup, obviously. He is wearing some sort of extra padding to protect his toe after taking that foul tip the other night.

King: Yankees renewed Betances at league minimum after he rejected contract offer

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to George King, the Yankees renewed Dellin Betances‘ contract at the league minimum this offseason after he rejected their initial offer. The team was more or less free to pay Betances whatever they want because he has fewer than three years of service time. Here’s more from King:

According to Betances, the Yankees offered him a contract for $540,000 this year. Betances said he didn’t sign it, on the advice of his representative, Jim Murray. He knew if he didn’t ink the contract, the Yankees could renew him at any number. And that’s what the club did: Betances is making $507,500 this season, which is what he made a year ago.

Betances and his agent turned down the raise on principle. He’ll still be well-paid this season — by normal people standards, not baseball player standards — and they’ve now let the Yankees know they weren’t happy with their initial offer. Both Jacob deGrom and Brad Boxberger rejected raises this past offseason as well, and both had their contracts renewed. Gerrit Cole complained about his small raise before begrudgingly accepting the offer.

Players with fewer than three years of service time have basically no negotiating leverage. Teams are free to pay them whatever they want, though most clubs have some sort of sliding scale based on service time and other accomplishments (awards, All-Star Games, etc.) to keep things fair and simple. A few years back Mike Trout was the highest paid player with fewer than three years of service time in history. He made $1M.

While I understand there may be concern the contract renewal will create bad blood between Betances and the Yankees, I don’t think that’s the case. It’s a business. This is the system that was collectively bargained. The Yankees had every right to new renew his contract the same way Betances had the right to reject an offer. Dellin’s a pro. He’s still going to go out and do his job.

Next offseason Betances will be eligible for salary arbitration for the first time, so he’s got a substantial raise coming his way. Jonathan Papelbon holds the record for first time arbitration-eligible relievers at $6.25M, but he was a closer, and saves pay big in arbitration. I don’t know what the record is for first time non-closers, but I imagine Dellin is in position to break it, especially if he goes to his third All-Star Game this summer.

Betances will not qualify for free agency until after the 2019 season, when he’ll be nearing his 32nd birthday. The Yankees have him for the rest of this year plus three more seasons, so he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. In all likelihood the team will get the best years of Dellin’s career before he hits the open market. What happens then? That’s something to worry about in 2019.

Thursday Links: Severino, Wearable Technology, Payroll

Sevy. (Presswire)
Sevy. (Presswire)

The Yankees and Blue Jays wrap up their three-game series with the rubber game in Toronto tonight. After that, the Yankees return home for a nine-game homestand against the Mariners, Athletics, and Rays. They’re seeing the M’s and A’s early this year, huh? Well, anyway, here are some stray links and notes.

Severino changes agents

According to Jerry Crasnick, young right-hander Luis Severino recently switched agents. He left the Beverly Hills Sports Council and is now represented by Paul Kinzer of REP1 Baseball. Kinzer is no small time agent. He represents Starlin Castro, Edwin Encarnacion, Geovany Soto, and Jhoulys Chacin, among others. Aramis Ramirez and Rafael Furcal were Kinzer clients during their playing days as well.

For what it’s worth, Kinzer clients do have a history of signing long-term extensions before reaching free agency. Both Castro and Encarnacion jumped at the security of a long-term deal early in their careers, for example. Severino did not receive a big signing bonus as an amateur ($225,000), so he could be open to signing an extension and locking in that big payday. What kind of contract would it take? That’s a topic worth it’s own post.

MLB approves “wearable technology”

The rules committee has approved two forms of “wearable technology” for this season, reports Ronald Blum. Players are now allowed to wear the Motus Baseball Sleeve, which measures the stress on elbows, and the Zephyr Bioharness, which measures heart and breathing rates. Here’s more from Blum:

Data from the devices cannot be transmitted during games but must been downloaded afterward … Clubs may use the data only for internal purposes, and it will be shared with the player. It cannot be provided to broadcasters or used for commercial purposes. Players can decide whether or not to use the technology and determine who can receive the data.

MLB and the MLBPA still haven’t made an official announcement for whatever reason. The MLBPA has some concerns about privacy — “The next thing you know, the pitcher’s going to have a phone in his pocket taking selfies,” said Brett Gardner to Blum — and wearable technology will again be reviewed as part of the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement talks.

This all sounds pretty great to me, especially the sleeve that measures all the different stresses on a player’s elbow. Anything that can help detect and possibly prevent injuries is a-okay in my book. Then again, I’m not the one wearing this stuff, so what do I know. By the way, the rules committee also approved a pair of bat sensors that can be used during batting practice, but not games. They record bat speed, swing paths, all that good stuff.

Yankees have MLB’s top payroll*

The Yankees opened this season with baseball’s largest payroll at $223M, reports Bob Nightengale. The Dodgers are right behind them at $222M. There’s a catch though. This only covers the salaries of players on the active Opening Day roster. It doesn’t include money paid to players on other teams, of which the Yankees have very little. They’re paying $3M to Martin Prado. That’s it.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, are paying $18M to players not on their roster this season, including Matt Kemp, Mike Morse, and Hector Olivera. All things considered, Los Angeles still has baseball’s highest total payroll at roughly $254M. That’s down about $50M from last season. ($50M!) The Yankees are a distant second at $228M, and the Tigers an even distanter third at $200M. New York’s payroll is up $5M from last season and $10M from five years ago, give or take.

MLBTR’s Offseason in Review

I forgot to link to this earlier, but better late than never, I guess. MLBTR covered the Yankees as part of their annual Offseason In Review series two weeks ago. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a comprehensive review of the club’s offseason activity, as well as a look at the questions they still have a roster. Make sure you check it out. Tons of great information in there.

Barbato looks like a keeper, not a shuttle candidate, so far this season

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Coming into Spring Training, Johnny Barbato was an afterthought in the competition for an Opening Day bullpen spot. At least I thought so. The Yankees had a ton of bullpen candidates in camp, many of them with big league experience, and I figured they would get first dibs. Instead, Barbato out-pitched them all in camp, and won a spot on the roster.

Seven games into the season, Barbato already looks like a power reliever with some staying power, not someone who will spend his summer tracking mileage between Scranton and the Bronx. (Expense reports are such a pain.) His regular season numbers (3.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K) are great, but they’re also still meaningless because the sample is so small. Barbato’s stuff and ability to locate is what makes him look so promising.

“First pitch was 95-96 mph. Second pitch was a buckler and I usually don’t buckle on breaking balls. Next pitch ground ball to first. Three pitches. Not a fun at-bat,” said Chris Colabello to George King when asked about facing Barbato following Wednesday’s game. Barbato allowed a two-out walk in an otherwise clean inning that night, and because the Yankees scored in the next half-inning, he picked up his first career win. That’s always cool.

New York acquired Barbato from the Padres for Shawn Kelley last offseason. He was a pretty big deal as a prospect back in the day — San Diego gave Barbato a $1.4M bonus as a sixth rounder in 2010 — because of his live arm, but he never did pick up a changeup, so he had to move to relief. Here is Baseball America’s scouting report (no subs. req’d) following the trade:

He pitches with mid-90s velocity and verve, attacking hitters with a live fastball that sinks and runs as it nears the plate. He throws a true curveball in the high 70s that features extreme break through the zone, and he locates and mixes his two pitches well enough to boast a career strikeout rate of 9.2 per nine innings.

That matches up with what we’ve seen from Barbato early this season and in Spring Training, right? The fastball is lively and his curveball has some very nice bend to it. (Here’s the GIF.) And he has verve. Verve is always good. The scouting report refers to Barbato as a two-pitch pitcher, however. There is no mention of his slider, a slider we’ve seen this year. To the action footage:

Johnny Barbato SL

I do enjoy the little bunny hop following the release. Nice touch. I guess that’s the verve the scouting report was talking about.

Anyway, that’s a slider. Fight me if you think otherwise. I guess maybe it could be a cutter, but it’s no mid-90s four-seamer and it for sure is not a 70-something mile an hour curveball. That’s a pitch that is unaccounted for in the scouting reports. (There’s no mention of the slider in Baseball America’s write-ups over the years.)

That pitch also did not exist until this year according to PitchFX, albeit in limited looks. The Padres hold Spring Training in Arizona, and several Cactus League ballparks are outfitted with PitchFX. Barbato also pitched in the Arizona Fall League a few years back. Here is the very limited PitchFX data we have on Johnny Boombatz, via Brooks Baseball:

Johnny Barbato pitch selectionSee? The slider has come out of nowhere. It’s very possible Barbato was throwing it in the minors last year, but I can’t find any record of it. This appears to be a new pitch Barbato has added at some point since the trade, and that’s pretty cool. The Yankees are known to teach cutters — David Robertson is the best example, but others like Ian Clarkin and Manny Banuelos added the pitch as well — so it wouldn’t be unprecedented if Barbato added a similar pitch since the trade.

Right now Barbato is coming out of the bullpen with a mid-90s four-seamer, his trademark upper-70s curveball, and this new cutter/slider (slutter?) thing at 88-89 mph or so. He throws all three pitches regularly — he’s thrown 21.0% curves and 22.6% slutters so far — and his swing-and-miss rate is a healthy 15.7% in the super duper early going. Joe Girardi seems to trust Barbato too; he brought him into the sixth inning of a tie game against the Blue Jays on Wednesday. The first batter he faced was Troy Tulowitzki.

Last season the Yankees shuttled young relievers in and out of the bullpen every time a fresh arm was needed. And, for the most part, none of the shuttle relievers did anything to distinguish themselves. It’s a tough job, I get that, but no one came out throwing fire and left you wanting to see more. They came up, threw a few innings, then were sent back out and no one really cared. None of those guys did enough to impress the brain trust and stick around.

Barbato has already stood out in a way none of the shuttle relievers did last season. He took advantage of an opportunity in Spring Training and he’s carried that performance over into the regular season. He’s throwing strikes — it’s not uncommon for even the most polished minor leagues to lose the zone a bit early in their MLB careers — and missing bats. It’s early, but so far Barbato looks like someone who should stick around and not ride the shuttle.

Even at age 40, it’s too early to worry about A-Rod’s slow start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Following last night’s 0-fer, Alex Rodriguez is now 3-for-22 (.136) on the young season. He did hit a home run against the Tigers over the weekend, though he’s also struck out eight times. A-Rod was pretty great last season. But when a 40-year-old with two surgically repaired hips starts slow, there’s going to be concern it’s more than a slump. That’s just the way it is.

The very first thing I look at when an older player slumps is the quality of his at-bats. A few years back, when Derek Jeter was nearing the finish line, he was clearly cheating fastball and jumping on anything near the hitting zone early in the count. Same with Ichiro Suzuki. The quality of their at-bats suffered because their reaction time wasn’t the same, so they had to speed up their bats and sit on the heater. They were at a disadvantage.

Anecdotally, A-Rod’s at-bats have seemed fine so far this season. It’s tough to explain what exactly constitutes a “quality at-bat,” but you know one when you see it. Hitters swing at strikes, spit on pitcher’s pitchers, that sort of thing. Here are some numbers to help put some of this into context:

2015 Walk Rate: 13.5%
2016 Walk Rate: 15.4% (11.1% career, 8.7% MLB average)

2015 Chase Rate: 25.1%
2016 Chase Rate: 27.7% (25.7% career, 29.9% MLB average)

I’ve felt Rodriguez has been doing a good job laying off pitches out of the zone this first week and a half of the season, and it’s good to see the numbers confirm what my eyes are telling me. His plate discipline numbers are right in line with last year and his career averages. He’s not jumping at the plate and chasing out of the zone.

Also, A-Rod is still hitting the ball hard. Wednesday night is a pretty good example of how the batting line can be deceiving right now. Rod went 0-for-4 but hit the ball hard three times: twice to the right fielder and once to the second baseman. Good contact but he hit it to the wrong spot. It happens. That’s baseball.

Baseball Info Solutions has A-Rod’s hard contact rate at 28.6% right now, which almost exactly matches the league average (28.7%). His soft contact rate is 0.0%. Literally zero. BIS says Alex has yet to make weak contact in 2016. Statcast has his average exit velocity at 95.9 mph. Last year it was 92.1 mph. His line drive and fly ball rates are 35.7% and 42.9%, so he’s getting the ball in the air too. I’m going to put this in the very simplest of terms: Alex hit ball good. That’s as basic as you’re going to get. His contact has been loud so far.

Of course it’s still early in the season and all of this can change in an instant. Right now we’re just looking for scary signs. Some sort of evidence Rodriguez’s game is slipping. And, really, you don’t have to look too hard to find it: his contact rate is 68.8% on pitches in the zone and 62.0% overall. Last year it was 77.7% and 70.2%, respectively. The league averages are 85.0% and 76.8%. That’s the red flag to watch.

Alex is a DH and a DH only at this point, so if he doesn’t hit, he’s pretty useless. Unlike last year, when he came out of the gate on fire, he’s started a bit slow this season. If Joe Girardi wants to drop A-Rod in the order — flipping him and Carlos Beltran seems like the obvious move — I say go for it. It’s an easy enough move to make and I can’t imagine anyone would have a problem with that. He dropped him in the order late last year, remember.

Otherwise I think it’s too early to worry about Alex. His contact rate is down, but he’s swinging at the pitches he’s supposed to swing at, and his contact has been solid. I’d be more concerned if A-Rod wasn’t driving the ball and wasn’t showing any kind of feel for the strike zone. Beltran was a disaster last April and the Yankees were rewarded for their patience with him. They’d be smart to remain patient with A-Rod now.

Yankees drop the second game of the series 7-2 to Happ’s arm and Jays’ bats

Like it’s always been said, any game with this Toronto Blue Jays team is never going to be easy. After winning a fun one yesterday, the Yankees went down rather haplessly tonight 7-2. On a positive note: Michael Pineda looked much better tonight and, well, Ronald Torreyes kept hitting. It was largely unspectacular, let’s go with that.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Big Mike

Unlike against the Astros, Pineda had his slider working tonight. Especially early on, he really had it going, showing a very sharp downward movement that made it near impossible for hitters to catch up.

For instance:

 

That doesn’t mean his outing went all too well though. In the second, the Jays drew first blood. With two outs with Russell Martin at first, Pineda uncorked a fastball right down the middle to Ryan Goins that got clobbered to right-center for an RBI double. 1-0 Toronto.

Ryan Goins struck again in the fifth. Pineda walked Justin Smoak to start the inning. Goins saw the first pitch fastball and drove it towards the left field fence for a double. With runners on second and third, Torreyes bounced a throw to first on a Kevin Pillar grounder and Mark Teixeira couldn’t handle it: an E-6 and a 2-1 Jays lead. With runners on first and third, Josh Donaldson grounded into the double play to make it two outs but a runner came home for a 3-1 Toronto lead anyways.

His final line – 6.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R (2 ER) 3 BB, 6 K – is not his best nor worst line but I’ll say this: he gave Yankees a chance to win today. Unfortunately, their bats did not come up potent against J.A. Happ tonight.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

The Few Activities of Yankee Bats

J.A. Happ wasn’t spectacular – he allowed ten baserunners in six innings pitched – but he did the job. He induced two double plays, struck out four (including A-Rod twice), did not give up big hits with RISP, etc. It remains to be seen if his late-season performance boost with the Pirates is fluke or not (7-2 with 1.85 ERA) but if his adjustments hold true long-term, the Jays have themselves a nice starter. 

In the top of fifth, Torreyes led off with a double past third base. Austin Romine hit a single to center that put the runners on first and third with no out. Jacoby Ellsbury popped out innocuously to third but Aaron Hicks hit an RBI ground out to drive a run in, 1-1. A run engineered by Torreyes and Romine, how about that? 

The Yankees got a run back in the eighth against the former Yankee draftee Drew Storen (34th rounder in 2007). With one out, Teixeira hit a fastball right down the middle to the right field foul pole to make it 3-2.

And well, those were all the scoring activities they had. The Bombers hit 1-for-7 in RISP situations tonight, leading to seven runners left on base in total. That’s not what you want. There are nights where you score sixteen runs and there are those where you go away quiet like this. It’s baseball.

Digging the Hole

Right after the Yankees scored a run in the top of eighth, they allowed much more. Joe Girardi turned to Ivan Nova for the bottom of eighth. Nova, on his previous appearance, threw for a pretty solid four-inning save. Tonight, nothing went right for him.

On the first pitch, he allowed a double to Donaldson. A wild pitch advanced the reigning AL MVP to third but it didn’t matter – Jose Bautista snared a double to drive him in. Nova retired Edwin Encarnacion on a ground out but Troy Tulowitzki singled to right to bring Bautista home. Michael Saunders banged a double off the left field wall to put two runners in the scoring position and both of them came in with a Russell Martin sac fly and Ryan Goins RBI single. When it was all said and done: a four-run inning and a 7-2 Jays lead.

On the next frame, former Yankee farmhand Pat Venditte came in and threw a three-up-three-down frame to end the game.

Leftovers

How about Ronald Torreyes? As Michael Kay said “He’s a hitting machine!” Tonight, he went for 2-for-4, bringing his season average to .667 with an OPS of 1.667. I can’t say I’m confident that he’ll keep it going but he’s making a nice case for a long-term roster spot.

A bullpen arm who pitched tonight not named Ivan Nova – Kirby Yates – threw a solid scoreless inning tonight. Yates came in the bottom of seventh, threw 14 pitches and struck out two. He was the only Yankee pitcher tonight that retired Ryan Goins (went 3-for-4 with 2 RBI’s tonight) when he struck out the Jays second baseman on three pitches, therefore earning a temporary superhero status.

Box Score, WPA, Highlights and Updated Standing

Here are tonight’s box score, updated standings, WPA and video highlights. 


Source: FanGraphs


The series tied at 1-1, so you know what that means. Tomorrow’s game will be a rubber match between the Yankees and Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. Nathan Eovaldi will take the mound against Marcus Stroman. It should be a fun one.

DotF: Scranton ekes out a win behind Haynes, Pinder

In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees’ minor league deal with 1B/OF Nick Swisher is now official. He’s expected to be in the Triple-A Scranton lineup tomorrow.

Triple-A Scranton (1-0 win over Pawtucket)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K — 6-for-13 (.462) with two doubles and a triple in his last three games
  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-4, 2 K — first hitless game of the year … we’re still waiting for his first strikeout-less game of the year … he has ten strikeouts in 28 plate appearances so far (35.7%), which is obviously way too many … still early though
  • LF Slade Heathcott: 0-3, 1 BB, 2 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 3 K
  • DH Cesar Puello: 0-1, 1 BB, 1 K, 2 HBP — guessing he’s about to lose some playing time to Swisher
  • RHP Kyle Haynes: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 9/4 GB/FB — 58 of 88 pitches were strikes (66%) … the Yankees got him in the Chris Stewart trade with the Pirates a few years ago … I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take a trip or two on the shuttle this summer
  • RHP Branden Pinder: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 0/3 GB/FB — 32 of 48 pitches were strikes (67%) … eight strikeouts and no walks in five innings so far this year … this was his 12th outing of at least three innings in 159 career minor league appearances

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