6/6 to 6/8 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

Bogaerts & Benintendi. (Rich Gagnon/Getty)
Bogaerts & Benintendi. (Rich Gagnon/Getty)

After a much-need day off, the Yankees are back to the AL East grindstone this evening. This is their third of four straight series against divisional opponents, and it will also determine who is in first place by the time the weekend rolls around. The Yankees are currently two games ahead of the Red Sox, with two games in hand.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees swept a two-game series in Boston on April 26-27; it was meant to be a three-game set, but the first game was rained-out (the first of three rainouts the Yankees have had thus far). Some notes:

  • Luis Severino was dominant in the first game, going 7 scoreless innings and striking out 6, while allowing just 3 hits and 2 walks. It was the longest scoreless outing of his career through that date (it was since surpassed, though, because he’s been awesome this year).
  • Aaron Judge celebrated his 25th birthday in that same game, and did so with a two-run home run and diving catch into the stands.
  • Pitching was the story in the second game, as well – Masahiro Tanaka tossed a complete game shutout, allowing 3 hits and no walks, striking out 3. It was a Maddux, as well, as he only needed 97 pitches. A two-to-one groundball to flyball ratio and 72% first-pitch strikes helped that effort quite a bit.
  • The Yankees and Red Sox combined for just twelve base-runners in that game, and all reached base via single.

Injury Report

The Red Sox are still injury-riddled, as has been the case since Opening Day. Brock Holt, Dustin Pedroia, Eduardo Rodriguez, Robbie Ross, Carson Smith, Tyler Thornburg, and Steven Wright are all on the disabled list, and none are expected to return during this series. Those last two are the worst cases by far, with Thornburg’s persistent shoulder injury leaving him with no clear timetable for return, and Wright being out for the year, having underwent season-ending knee surgery in May.

Their Story So Far

Boston was a .500 team as recently as May 21, on the heels of dropping three out of four to the lowly A’s. They’ve won 10 of 14 since then, outscoring their opponents 87 to 48 in that stretch. They’re currently 31-25 on the season, with a +38 run differential.

Injuries have been the story of their season, as one may suspect. The current disabled list only tells half the story – Jackie Bradley Jr., David Price (who didn’t pitch until May 29), and Pablo Sandoval spent time on the DL, too, and Xander Bogaerts, Sandy Leon, and Hanley Ramirez have dealt with nagging injuries for most of the year. We’ve yet to see this team at full-strength as a result.

For more specifics about the Red Sox, check out Over the Monster.

The Lineup We Might See

The Red Sox have settled into a mostly consistently lineup of late, though that’s largely due to Pedroia’s injury. Manager John Farrell has used the same one-through-six for three games in a row, and the bottom three is dependent upon who’s filling in for Pedroia and who’s catching for the day. We’ll probably see something like this:

  1. Mookie Betts, RF
  2. Andrew Benintendi, LF
  3. Xander Bogaerts, SS
  4. Mitch Moreland, 1B
  5. Hanley Ramirez, DH
  6. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
  7. Pablo Sandoval, 3B
  8. Christian Vazquez, C or Sandy Leon, C
  9. Deven Marrero, 2B

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Drew Pomeranz

It’s been something of a rough 2017 for Pomeranz, as the 28-year-old southpaw had a late start to the season due to a flexor strain, and left a start early in mid-May with triceps tightness. He only missed a start or two overall, but it has taken him awhile to right the ship. That being said, he currently sports an elite strikeout rate (11.3 K/9, 29.0 K%) and a solid walk rate (7.7%), and his 3.58 FIP/3.25 xFIP suggest that his 4.24 ERA (106 ERA+) should come back down.

Pomeranz is basically a two-pitch guy, as his low-90s four-seamer and big breaking curveball account for over 90% of his pitches. He throws a mid-80s cutter and a low-80s change-up every so often, but those are little more than show-me pitches.

Last Outing (vs. CHW on 5/31) – 7.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 8 K

Wednesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Rick Porcello

Porcello struggled in April, closing out the month with a 4.75 ERA/4.40 FIP. He has pitched better since the calendar flipped to May, but he still doesn’t look like the guy that won the Cy Young last year. As of this writing he has the lowest groundball rate of his career (37.9% against a previous low of 43.1%), and he’s allowing a 42.7% hard contact rate (a career-worst by 9.9 percentage points). That hard-hit percentage is the second-worst in the majors right now.

His pitch selection hasn’t changed all that much this year, as Porcello is still throwing his four-seamer, two-seamer, slider, curve, and change-up; his velocity is similar across the board, as well. That being said, his fastball and change-up have been hit hardest as per PITCHf/x, so there could be something going on with his mechanics.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 6/2) – 6.0 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 5 K

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. LHP David Price

An elbow injury in Spring Training kept Price out of action until last week, which was far and away his longest stint on the disabled list. He showed little rust in his first two starts, though, with his velocity being higher than it was last season on all of his offerings. There’s not much else I can tell you about Price that you aren’t already overwhelmingly familiar with, given that he’s thrown 1460 IP for AL East teams.

Price throws three fastballs (mid-90s four-seamer, low-90s two-seamer, high-80s cutter) and a mid-80s change-up, mixing all four pitches extremely well. He’ll throw a knuckle-curve once or twice a game to change a batter’s eye level, but he’s mostly a fastball/change-up guy.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 6/3) – 7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K

The Bullpen

Relief pitching has been a strength for the Red Sox, even with Smith and Thornburg sitting on the DL since Opening Day. Closer Craig Kimbrel is having what may be the best season of his career, with staggering strikeout (53.3%) and walk (4.4%) rates, and a sparkling 1.07 ERA (423 ERA+) in 25.1 IP. Set-up man Joe Kelly (1.48 ERA in 24.1 IP) and LOOGY Robby Scott (1.42 ERA in 12.2 IP) have been brilliant in their roles, and middle relievers Fernando Abad, Matt Barnes, and Heath Hembree have been effective, as well.

Thanks to Monday’s off day, the Red Sox bullpen is fairly well-rested.

Yankees Connection

As was the case last time these two met, Chris Young is the only former Yankee on this Red Sox team. Let’s remember the good times, shall we?

Who (Or What) To Watch?

The Yankees have owned David Price for the better part of his career – he has a 4.55 ERA in 221.1 IP against the Yankees, and a 3.01 ERA in 1462.1 IP against everyone else. That doesn’t make me excited to see him, given that he’s a legitimate ace – but it almost always adds an interesting narrative to the match-up at hand.

Why Chris Carter isn’t Randy Winn (but may suffer the same fate)

(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Chris Carter has had an objectively bad start to his Yankees career.

It was hard to imagine the team getting worse offensive production at 1B after Mark Teixeira‘s bad 2016, but we’re there anyway. Carter isn’t nearly the fielder Teixeira was (to be fair, neither is Greg Bird). But Carter was paid $3.5 million to mash and he’s hit just four home runs while producing a .180/.279/.333 batting line. He’s struck out 48 times in 129 plate appearances over 41 games.

Let’s be realistic: Carter has never been a strong batting average guy (career best is .239) and his 37.2 percent strikeout rate would be highest full season mark, but not much higher than his past numbers. However, his ISO is way down, going from .277 last year and .228 in 2015 to .153 so far this season.

The logical comparison for Carter right now would seem to be 2010 Randy Winn. Winn was a veteran brought in during the offseason after the 2009 title run and he would be cut by the Yankees on May 28, two weeks shy of his 36th birthday.

Carter could be in line for a similar mid-season axe. Greg Bird is on his way. Tyler Austin is in Triple A and could replace him whenever the team deems him ready. Rob Refsnyder, someone the Yankees have been allergic to giving at-bats to at times, has started over Carter multiple times in the past week. The writing is on the wall.

But Carter isn’t Winn. Not all that close. Even with the potential for the same fate and similar lack of production, the comparison stops right about there. Here’s why:

1. Winn was coming off a career-worst season: Winn was well below average the year before in San Francisco. Over his age 33 and 34 seasons with the Giants in 2007-08, Winn batted .303/.358/.436 while averaging 12 home runs and 20 stolen bases a year. Then he dipped significantly in 2009, mustering just a .262/.318/.353 mark. His strikeout rate crept up and his walk rate fell with his ISO. He still provided defensive value and 16 stolen bases, thus his 1.8 fWAR and 1.3 bWAR. But he was clearly aging and was becoming a negative in center field, although still able to play the corners.

Sure, Carter struck out 206 times in 2016, but he walked 76 times and, let’s not forget, led the National League in home runs. He’s always been a defensive negative, but he’s also never been a below-average hitter since he received anything resembling full-time work.

Therefore, taking the flyer on the aging Winn may have been foolish to begin with, but there was no reason to doubt Carter’s hitting ability. This year is the outlier with the lack of power.

(Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Al Bello/Getty Images)

2. Winn was brought in for cheap without a starting role in mind: The Yankees paid Winn just $1.1 million in 2010 to come in as their fourth outfielder. That was an $8.6 mil pay cut from 2009, when Winn was a starter. The team had Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher as regulars, and Winn wasn’t going to find himself in regular at-bats barring injury. None of those three were major injury risks. Perhaps Gardner was unseasoned, but the team clearly chose him over Melky Cabrera by trading Melky, so there had to be confidence in him starting his second full season.

Carter took a pay cut over what he could have gotten in arbitration, but he got about market value and $1 million more than last year. He was brought in for potentially many more at-bats and was Bird insurance. At worst, he was a platoon bat. But it was more likely that the team saw him as a major power boost with Bird potentially not being ready for the role. It wasn’t too hard to see him getting regular playing time … like he has.

The way to look at this is: It wasn’t hard to see Carter earning regular at-bats within a few weeks. Whether for Matt Holliday or for Bird, Carter getting into the lineup was easy to see. Winn was harder the see a consistent role other than a bench bat.

3. Winn had no clear replacements when he played himself off the roster and was clearly done: This is a big point. There was no one waiting in the wings to replace Winn. Winn had to put up incredibly poor numbers to be jettisoned. (His .213/.300/.295 line says it all). He not only put up bad numbers but also looked overpowered at the plate. He simply never adjusted to his backup role and was out of baseball after 162 more plate appearances with the Cardinals.

Carter has played poorly, but it’s hard to think that he’s done. Whether it’s the mechanics of his swing or something else entirely, Carter just seems off. His defense isn’t much different from normal. His batting hasn’t been good, but he also has done just enough that, in other circumstances, he could easily stay on as a bench piece. He’s only 30 years old and it’s hard to think he’s done. There’s a reason the Yankees have given him more of a chance than they ever gave Winn.

Carter could very well be more the type of player who the Yankees would cut and then we’d see him playing at his 2012-16 level for the second half (think LaTroy Hawkins in 2008). It’s as much his performance that would lead to an early exit from pinstripes as it is his replacements.

Winn ultimately had a -0.7 bWAR (-0.4 fWAR) and his replacements (Austin Kearns, Colin Curtis, Greg Golson and others) weren’t all that much better. He slightly rebounded in St. Louis in the second half but was still below average and was out of baseball after that season.

Carter isn’t done in baseball, far from it, even if the Yankees release him. But the presence of Bird and Austin, and the potential they bring to the table within the Yankees’ overall youth movement, make Carter expendable over the next few weeks despite having more potential to turn things around than Winn.

Thoughts before the start of the six-game homestand

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

The Yankees had an off-day yesterday, and tonight they’ll begin a six-game homestand with the first of three against the Red Sox. The Orioles will then be in town this weekend. After that, the Yankees are heading out to the West Coast for the first time this season. It’s been a while and I have some thoughts on stuff, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Perspective time: The Yankees have played 54 games this year, exactly one-third of the season, and they’re 32-22 with a +70 run differential. I would have signed up for that in a damn heartbeat back in Spring Training. Furthermore, the Yankees have done that even though a) Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and Aroldis Chapman all missed a month with injuries, b) Masahiro Tanaka has legitimately been one of the worst starters in baseball, and c) first base has been an absolute black hole offensively. Pretty amazing the Yankees are where they are. Maybe they’re actually good? Not maybe. They are good. Even now, when they’re not winning as often as they did a few weeks ago, they haven’t completely cratered. They’ve been able to play .500 ball over the last few weeks. Even their slumps aren’t that bad. The Yankees have avoided those long rough patches that can sink a season. We’ll see how things go over the final 108 games of the season, but right now, it’s really tough not to feel good about this team going forward. The Yankees have some really fun and exciting pieces to build around for the first time in a long time.

2. One of those building blocks is Aaron Judge, who is hitting .324/.429/.681 (194 wRC+) with an MLB leading 18 home runs. I’ve always been a huge Judge believer and even I never expected this. PECOTA’s 90th percentile projection — the system’s most optimistic projection — coming into the season was .283/.380/.530 with 24 home runs. Judge would have to go hitless in his next 53 at-bats (!) to drag his slugging percentage down to .530. Mike Trout’s unfortunate injury means the AL MVP race is going to be wide open come the end of the season, and given the way he’s playing, Judge is going to be right in that mix. He went into last night’s games second in bWAR (behind Trout) and third in fWAR (behind Trout and, uh, Zack Cozart) in MLB, so yes, he has truly been one of the best players in baseball this season, rookie or veteran. My hunch is Carlos Correa, the best player on the best team in baseball, is going to benefit most in the MVP race from Trout’s injury. Judge will too though.

3. There are still 100-something games to go, though at this point, Judge is far and away the leading candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year. There’s no race right now. Judge would win unanimously if the voting were held today, which of course it isn’t. Andrew Benintendi was the popular preseason pick — he was my Rookie of the Year pick — but he’s hitting .269/.342/.413 (96 wRC+) and is under +1 WAR. The race right now is for Rookie of the Year runner-up, and you know what? It very well might be Jordan Montgomery. Here is the AL rookie fWAR leaderboard real quick:

  1. Aaron Judge: +3.0
  2. Mitch Haniger: +1.3
  3. Jordan Montgomery: +1.2
  4. Ben Gamel: +1.2
  5. Guillermo Heredia: +0.9

Two Yankees, two Mariners, and one Yankee-turned-Mariner. My point isn’t that Montgomery deserves to be the Rookie of the Year runner-up, just that the Yankees have two rookies on the roster providing good (Montgomery) to great (Judge) production. Last time that happened was when, 2005 with Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang? And that doesn’t include Sanchez, last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up, or Luis Severino, the youngest player on the 25-man roster.

4. Speaking of the rotation, the Yankees are one-third of the way through the season, and they’ve only used five starting pitchers so far. Montgomery, Severino, Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Michael Pineda. That’s it. The Cardinals and Braves are the only other teams to use no more than five starters this season. Seventeen teams, more than half the league, have used eight different starters already. The Yankees have played well overall this season, and they’ve also been blessed with good health, at least on the pitching side. Tanaka, weirdly enough, has been the only starter who has pitch poorly enough to make you think about replacing him, but his track record (and contract) all but assures that won’t happen. Will this continue all season? I seriously doubt it. Only one team this century, the 2003 Mariners, made it through an entire season with only five starters. If nothing else, the Yankees figure to use a spot sixth starter at some point to give their regular starters a rest. Point is, one of the reasons the Yankees are where they are is the fact their five best starting pitchers have stayed on the mound and made every start.

JoMo. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
JoMo. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

5. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s concussion and ongoing headaches are pretty scary. He suffered damage to his brain, that’s what a concussion is, and we’ve seen more than a few players have their careers derailed by concussions. Mike Matheny had to retire due to ongoing concussions. Justin Morneau was never really the same after getting kneed in the head a few years ago. One of the reasons both Joe Mauer and Jorge Posada had to stop catching was a string of concussions. Matheny, Mauer, and Posada were all catchers who took years of foul tips to the face mask, but still. Concussions can do serious damage and the Yankees have to be safe and careful with Ellsbury. Forgot about the “Aaron Hicks is awesome and he can play center field everyday in the meantime” thing. This is about protecting a player and his career and his quality of life. Yeah, I’m glad Hicks is getting a chance to play everyday, but I didn’t want him to get his chance like this. Hopefully Ellsbury comes out of this okay.

6. I’m actually a little happy Gleyber Torres struggled a bit in his first two weeks in Triple-A. Happy probably isn’t the right world. I think it’s a net positive though. Gleyber hasn’t failed much, if at all, in his career to date. In the grand scheme of things, it’s beneficial he’s facing some adversity and learning how to make adjustments. That’s not something you want a player to experience for the first time in the big leagues, though sometimes it’s unavoidable. (Severino never struggled until he got to MLB.) The fact Torres is still taking his walks despite having a tough time at the plate is an indication he’s sticking with his approach, and that’s what you want to see. When a player starts getting away from what makes him successful, that’s when you get a little worried. Gleyber admitted to D.J. Eberle the other day that he’s a little overwhelmed at the moment, and I appreciate the honesty. Baseball will humble you in a heartbeat. Seeing a top prospect struggle for any length of time is no fun, but in the long run, these rough few weeks with the RailRiders will help make Torres a better player.

7. Even though the starters aside from Tanaka have pitched well overall this season, the Yankees are still carrying eight relievers, which is such a waste of a roster spot. Chad Green is the seventh reliever in the bullpen, not even the eighth, and he’s pitched twice in the last 13 games. Tommy Layne has made three appearances and thrown 14 pitches (!) in the last 14 games. I get there’s always concern about extra innings or a short start or whatever, but whenever that happens, the Yankees have the bodies to get through it. They can then adjust their pitching staff accordingly the next day. I feel like that roster spot, the eighth reliever spot, could be better used on another bench player, especially with the corner infield spots being black holes. Greg Bird is coming back soon, so perhaps he’ll replace the eighth reliever. Ultimately, we’re talking about the 25th man on the 25-man roster here, and whoever that is won’t play a whole lot. It still feels like the Yankees are really overdoing it on arms right now when there are glaring needs at first and third bases.

DotF: Torres hits first Triple-A homer in Scranton’s win

I don’t think I’ve updated the standings once this season, so let’s do that today. First, here are the day’s notes:

  • In case you missed it earlier, 1B Tyler Austin was activated off the 60-day disabled list and optioned to Triple-A Scranton. Kinda surprised. My boring take: The Yankees know what they’re doing. Crazy, I know.
  • OF Mark Payton has rejoined Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. He was squeezed down to Double-A Trenton recently. Jason Gurka being released and Ruben Tejada being traded opened up roster spots for Austin and Payton. (Austin didn’t count against the roster on rehab.)
  • Welcome to MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list, OF Dustin Fowler. Rockies RHP Jeff Hoffman graduated to the big leagues with yesterday’s start, so Fowler slid onto the list at No. 100 to replace Hoffman. The Yankees now have eight players on MLB.com’s top 100.

Triple-A Scranton (6-3 win over Rochester) they are 32-22 and in second place in the North Division, 4.5 games back of Lehigh Valley

  • 3B Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 R, 1 RBI
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 1-3, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K
  • SS Gleyber Torres: 3-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 BB — his first Triple-A homer was a three-run go-ahead shot … has been 3-for-22 (.136) in his last seven games
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 1-4, 1 2B, 3 K
  • RF Clint Frazier: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K — in a little 5-for-27 (.185) slump
  • LF Mason Williams: 0-4
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 4/2 GB/FB — 29 of 44 pitches were strikes (66%) … I guess they’re going to get him stretched back out while he’s down here
  • RHP Domingo German: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, 1 WP, 6/3 GB/FB — 62 of 94 pitches were strikes (66%) … 65/17 K/BB in 59.1 innings for Big Germ
  • RHP Ben Heller: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB — eight of eleven pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Monday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have an off-day today and this one comes at a good time, I think. That was a tough road trip through Baltimore and Toronto, so today gives them team a chance to reboot before six games against the Red Sox and Orioles. Winning two of three each of these next two series would be swell. In the meantime, check out Dan Martin’s feature on Brett Weber, the man who tells Joe Girardi whether to challenge a call on the field. Thanks to Weber, the Yankees have baseball’s highest success rate (75.2%) on getting calls overturned since the current replay system was put in place in 2014.

Anyway, here is an open thread for the evening. The baseball schedule is light tonight, but MLB Network is showing a regional game at 7pm ET, and ESPN will have the Dodgers and Nationals at 10pm ET. Also, Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals is on as well. Go Preds. Talk about those things, the Weber article, or anything else here that isn’t religion or politics.

2017 Draft: Jeren Kendall

Jeren Kendall | OF

Background
Three years ago the now 21-year-old Kendall was a potential top three rounds talent who slipped to the Red Sox in the 30th round because he was dead set on attending Vanderbilt. In his three years with the Commodores, Kendall is a career .309/.390/.558 hitter with 32 homers and 65 steals in 178 games. That includes a .306/.380/.570 line with 15 homers and 18 steals in 56 games this spring.

Scouting Report
Thanks to a wide array of high-end tools, Kendall came into this year as a serious candidate to go first overall. He’s an outstanding runner who uses his speed to steal bases and run down balls in center field. Kendall also has a strong throwing arm. His bat speed and power potential from the left side of the plate are both very exciting, plus he has a disciplined approach at the plate. It’s a true five-tool package. The big concern with Kendall is the abundance of swing-and-miss in his game. He’s struck out in 24.1% of his plate appearances with Vanderbilt, including 25.0% this spring. That is simply way too much for a top college hitter. There is legitimate worry Kendall will require a complete swing overhaul before he can reach his considerable offense ceiling against advanced pro pitching. The tools are very loud. Kendall has star potential. But he’s also quite risky.

Miscellany
After coming into the spring as a potential No. 1 pick, Kendall has slipped in the various draft rankings these last few weeks. That said, he still ranks quite highly. MLB.com ranks him as the sixth overall prospect in this year’s draft class while Keith Law (subs. req’d) has him tenth and Baseball America has him 17th. The Yankees pick 16th. If you’re looking for a top talent who could potentially fall, this is the guy. He won’t fall due to bonus concerns through. If Kendall falls, it’ll be because teams aren’t convinced he’ll hit at the next level.

2017 Draft: Hans Crouse

Hans Crouse | RHP

Background
The 18-year-old Crouse attends Dana Hills High School in Orange County. So far this spring he has a 0.88 ERA with 99 strikeouts and 17 walks in 63.1 innings. He’s committed to Southern California.

Scouting Report
Crouse has some of the best raw stuff in the entire draft class. He sits 94-96 mph with his fastball and ran it up as high as 97 mph during a showcase event earlier this year. His breaking ball is more of a slurve than a true slider or a true curve, and he throws it anywhere from 78-84 mph. Crouse, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 190 lbs., is still working to refine his changeup, though he is comfortable throwing it. The biggest concern here is a high-effort delivery, which has many thinking Crouse’s future lies in the bullpen. Also, for what it’s worth, Crouse is a really excitable high energy kid who makes it very clear with his mannerisms on the field that he loves playing baseball.

Miscellany
The various scouting reports see Crouse as a late first round/early second round talent. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked him the highest in his last draft rankings. He had Crouse 22nd. MLB.com had him 31st and Baseball America had him 37th. The Yankees have the 16th pick. It’s worth noting the Yankees tend to go for polished prep arms early in the draft. They save the big hard-throwing projects for the later rounds.