Still Cause for Concern

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

A little over a month ago, I wrote that things were looking bleak for (then) closer Aroldis Chapman. Since then, things haven’t exactly gone well. He’s lost that closer’s spot and, like he has for most of the season, he just hasn’t looked quite right at all. The return to normalcy for Chapman just hasn’t happened (yet?) and it’s still somewhat baffling as to why.

His fluky high swing and contact numbers are still fluky high and haven’t really corrected themselves. What stands out here is that Chapman is generating fewer swings but batters are making more contact than they ever have against him. For the second year in a row, well over half of his pitches (around 54% both times) have been in the zone. Previously, he sat around just 48-49% in the zone. With a pitcher like Chapman, who has incredible stuff, you’d assume living in the zone wouldn’t be too bad, especially since he had success last year. This year, though, as it seems to have been at every turn, that’s not the case.

Let’s take a look first at Chapman’s slider, a pitch he’s used slightly more often this year, though it’s had–for the first time–slightly negative value.

chapzone17sl

 

My first impression is that the slider isn’t getting as much bite as it used to. Ideally, a lefty throwing a slider wants the pitch down and away against lefties and bearing down and in against righties, which isn’t really happening. Those big red spots in the middle portions of the zone could hit at why Chapman’s slider hasn’t been as effective this year. Pitches in those areas, even sliders, are going to get hit. Last year’s heatmap for the slider shows a lot more action in that low, glove side zone where you want a slider as a lefty.

The slider location, though, is sill just one piece of the puzzle. Is there a mechanical issue? Is there a physical issue? Is there a confidence issue? It’s hard to tell this year. As Mike has pointed out frequently, moments of complete, Chapman-level dominance have been few and far between this year, and I can’t remember the last one offhand. I’m running out of ways to say this is all worrying so, I’ll just keep saying it that plainly: this is all worrying. Unless Chapman is hurt and not speaking up or is just supremely hungover from the World Series run with the Cubs last year, this is going to make the next four-plus years very difficult to watch. You never want to root for an injury, but at this point, we almost have to hope Chapman is at least a little hurt so this can have some sort of easy explanation.

But there’s the other easy explanation: maybe he’s just…done. Baseball is cruel enough sometimes that players–even ones as relatively young as Chapman–can just lose it in the blink of an eye. If that’s the case, Chapman and the Yankees are going to be walking in some dark woods together while this contract unfolds.

Yankees 6, Mariners 3: Pickles cuts up Seattle in Bird’s return


Source: FanGraphs

Nice bounceback win for the Yankees following that frustrating loss Friday night. The Yankees received some timely hits from Jacoby Ellsbury and great pitching from Sonny Gray, which is exactly why they brought him in. To halt losing streaks. Saturday afternoon’s final score was 6-3.

I only caught the last inning of Saturday’s game — not even, I caught the last four outs or so — so I can’t talk too intelligently about the game. Here are some assorted notes instead.

1. Pickles spears the Mariners. One run, three hits, one walk, seven innings. Nine strikeouts too. The good version of Gray is pretty excellent, is he not? I know it’s Carlos Ruiz, but I’m not going to sweat one solo homer across seven innings from any starter, especially in a game at Yankee Stadium. Through five starts Gray is sitting on a 2.70 ERA (3.46 FIP) in 30 innings with the Yankees. He has a 3.26 ERA (3.35 FIP) on the season overall. The Yankees got themselves a good one.

2. Ellsbury did a thing! Playing time has been hard to come by for Ellsbury the last few weeks — and that’s on him, if he’d played better earlier this season, he’d be playing more in the second half — though when he has played, he’s had a tendency to make some noise. On Saturday he drove in his team’s first run of the game with a single, and then drove in their second, third, and fourth runs with a three-run home run into the short porch. That was a two-out rally too. Two-out single by Greg Bird, two-out walk by Chase Headley, two-out three-run homer by Ellsbury. In a perfect world, Ellsbury would be 1996 Tim Raines the rest of the season, that high-end fourth outfielder who seems to do something every time he finds himself in the lineup.

3. Bird returns. Greg Bird is back! Hooray for that. I didn’t get to see any of his at-bats, so that stinks, but 1-for-2 with two walks and 22 pitches seen sure looks like the good version of Greg Bird to me. Statcast tells me he got the benefit of the doubt on few borderline calls …

greg-bird-mariners

… but who cares. Those will even out over the course of the season. Bird has military caliber discipline at the plate, so when he’s laying off those borderline pitches, that’s a good thing. You know he feels like himself at the plate. The Yankees went into Saturday’s game with 183 runs in the second half, ninth most in the AL and 16th most in MLB, so the offense really needs a shot in the arm. Hopefully Bird can provide that.

Also, what the heck was that send by third base coach Joe Espada on Ellsbury’s single to open to scoring? I watched the highlight and, uh, that’s bad. Bird is not fleet of foot, and this was literally his first game back from ankle surgery. I guess Espada was hoping Ben Gamel would make a poor throw? Otherwise I’m not sure what that send was about.

* * *

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. The Yankees and Mariners will wrap up this three-game series Sunday afternoon — that’s another 1pm ET start — when Masahiro Tanaka and Andrew Albers will be on the mound. That’s the kind of game a true division contender should win at this point of the season. Tanaka has been pretty great his last 12 starts (3.38 ERA and 3.65 FIP) and Albers was pitching in an independent league last year. Yeah.

Minor League Update: I’m out of town and don’t have time for a full DotF tonight. Here are the box scores. Most of the games today are night games, so they haven’t even started as of this writing.

Game 128: Welcome Back, Mr. Bird

(Fred Adams/Times Leaders)
Bird is back. (Fred Adams/Times Leaders)

Despite all of the hand-wringing over suspensions, injuries, losses, and poor performances, there is a strong sense of optimism for the Yankees this afternoon. The team is eking closer and closer to full health, as Starlin Castro returned to the lineup last night, and Greg Bird will make his first appearances in pinstripes in nearly four months. Matt Holliday is still out, but this afternoon’s lineup is the closest to full strength that we have seen in quite some time:

  1. Brett Gardner, LF
  2. Aaron Judge, RF
  3. Gary Sanchez, DH
  4. Didi Gregorius, SS
  5. Starlin Castro, 2B
  6. Greg Bird, 1B
  7. Chase Headley, 3B
  8. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  9. Austin Romine, C

Sonny Gray will get the start, and here’s the Mariners lineup that he’ll face.

For those of you who haven’t been following, Bird lit-up Triple-A in his eight-game rehab stint following ankle surgery, batting .375/.448/.833 with 2 2B and 3 HR in 29 PA. The reports surrounding his swing, running, and general conditioning have been glowing (at least as much as his gait can be praised), and it isn’t difficult to envision him solidifying the middle of the Yankees lineup all but immediately. It’s been a long road back for Bird, and I’ll be happy to see him this afternoon.

Today’s first pitch is scheduled for 1:05 PM, and the game will be broadcaste on the YES Network.

Yankees come together as a team after brawl with Tigers to lose 2-1 to Mariners


Source: FanGraphs

Well, if nothing else, maybe this will put an end to the ridiculous notion that Thursday’s brawls with the Tigers would spark the Yankees and get them to rally together. They lost Thursday’s game after the brawls and they lost Friday’s game too. The final score was 2-1. The Yankees looked completely helpless against the Mariners.

I alternated between watching Friday’s game on my phone and listening to the radio, plus I missed big chunks of it, so I can’t do a full recap. Instead, here are some notes and observations.

1. These baserunners are made for stranding. This game was lost when the Yankees left the bases loaded three times. Three freaking times. They did it in the third (Aaron Hicks and Gary Sanchez flew out), in the fourth (Todd Frazier struck out), and in the eighth (Frazier struck out). The Yankees went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position and it was a total team effort. Eight of the nine players in the lineup had an at-bat with runners in scoring position. Only Didi Gregorius did not. A medium deep fly ball scores a run in the third and fourth innings, when the Yankees had a man on third and less than two outs, and they couldn’t do it. Impressively terrible showing by the offense.

2. You don’t need 50 seconds to ask for that replay. How in the world does that Gregorius slide at third base not get challenged in the eighth inning? Didi made a terrible baserunning play. He broke from second base on a ground ball hit in front of him. It looked like he was thrown out at third, but replays showed he managed to avoid the tag with a fantastic slide. And yet, no challenge was made. Joe Girardi said after the game it took too long (50 seconds, to be exact) to get the thumbs up from replay guy Brett Weber, which is why the play was not challenged.

That is complete and total crap. Eighth inning of a tie game, and you’re talking about a bang-bang play that would’ve put the go-ahead run at third base with one out. That’s an insta-challenge. I’ve been harping on these for a while. On plays that important and that just close, just challenge it. Who cares about the team’s challenge success rate? Have them look at it. The difference of that play:

  • Successful challenge (runners on the corners, one out): 77.1% win probability
  • No challenge (runner on first, two outs): 57.8% win probability

The Yankees did end up needing their challenge in the 11th inning to overturn the egregiously bad out call on Brett Gardner‘s stolen base, though the game could’ve been over long before that. Maybe the Yankees waste that opportunity anyway given how poorly they performed with men in scoring position. Probably would have. But man, letting that play go unchallenged is awful. Just awful. A bang-bang play in which the go-ahead run was thrown out at third base in the eighth inning is one of these situations where waiting even 30 seconds for the replay guy to chime in should not happen. Use those challenges. You don’t get bonus points for a high success rate.

3. Chapman is a disaster. An unmitigated disaster. After allowing one home run to a left-handed batter in his first six-plus seasons as a big leaguer, Aroldis Chapman has now done it twice in the last month. This time Yonder Alonso turned around a 100 mph fastball like he knew it was coming for the game-winning home run. And he probably did know it was coming because Chapman throws fastball after fastball after fastball. Thirteen fastballs and one slider Friday. Fourteen pitches and zero swings and misses. Chapman was booed off the mound, which is funny, because Hal Steinbrenner said one of the reasons the Yankees signed him was how pumped up fans were when he entered the games last year. Sound logic.

4. Sabathia is still a boss. On the bright side, CC Sabathia is still the man. Seven innings of one run ball. Five hits, one walk, six strikeouts. Only 94 pitches too. Sabathia allowed a solo homer to Mike Zunino and that’s it. The big man passed Mike Mussina for sole possession of 19th place on the all-time strikeout list Friday night. Awesome. Sabathia is forever cool with me. Damn shame the Yankees wasted this outing.

* * *

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. The Yankees and Mariners will continue this series Saturday afternoon. That’s a regular 1pm ET start. Hooray for baseball on Saturday afternoons. Sonny Gray and Yovani Gallardo are the scheduled starting pitchers.

Minor League Update: I don’t have time for a full DotF tonight and I won’t all weekend, so here’s the box scores and here’s the short version: 3B Miguel Andujar had a single and a walk, LF Billy McKinney had a single and a double, RHP Domingo German struck out eight in 6.1 innings of one-run ball, LHP Stephen Tarpley allowed his first run of the season, SS Kyle Holder had four hits, RHP Freicer Perez allowed one hit and one run in six innings, RHP Trevor Stephan struck out six in 2.2 innings, and LHP Justus Sheffield tossed two scoreless innings in his first rehab game back from the oblique injury.

Game 127: Back to Business

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

After handily winning back-to-back games against a lackluster Tigers squad, the Yankees let themselves get sidetracked by retaliation and brawls in a loss on Thursday afternoon. It was ugly. It was disappointing. To borrow a phrase from Joe Girardi, it’s not what you want.

So now it’s time for the Bombers to get back to business, shaking off a horrid getaway day and embracing the light side of the force. It is Star Wars day after all!

The Yankees start a 10-game homestand tonight, beginning with a three-game set against the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners are just four games back of the Yankees and are in the thick of the Wild Card chase. There are only big games remaining, just to varying degrees of importance.

Here is the Mariners’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup, featuring the return of their starting second baseman:

    1. LF Brett Gardner
    2. CF Aaron Hicks
    3. Gary Sanchez
    4. RF Aaron Judge
    5. SS Didi Gregorius
    6. 2B Starlin Castro
    7. DH Tyler Austin
    8. 1B Chase Headley
    9. 3B Todd Frazier
      LHP CC Sabathia

This will be the first time the Yankees have ever worn nicknames on the back of their uniforms with baseball’s first ever Players Weekend. Should be fun to see A-A-Ron and Kraken bat back-to-back.

Cloudy skies are on tap in the Bronx as the Yankees take the field for the 7:05pm ET start. The game will be broadcast on WPIX 11 locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game!

Roster move: To make room for Castro on the roster, Tyler Wade was optioned to Triple A.

Sanchez suspended four games, Romine two games following brawl with Tigers

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

As expected, MLB has handed down several suspensions and fines following Thursday’s brawl(s) with the Tigers. Here’s a recap of the discipline, as announced by MLB this afternoon:

  • Miguel Cabrera: Seven-game suspension for “inciting the first bench-clearing incident and fighting.”
  • Alex Wilson: Four-game suspension for “intentionally throwing a pitch at Todd Frazier” after warnings had been issued.
  • Gary Sanchez: Four-game suspension for “fighting, including throwing punches.”
  • Austin Romine: Two-game suspension for “fighting, including throwing punches.”
  • Brad Ausmus: One-game suspension for “the intentional actions of Wilson.”

Joe Girardi, Rob Thomson, Tommy Kahnle, Brett Gardner, Garrett Cooper, Clint Frazier, and Jose Iglesias all received fines but were not suspended. Cooper and Frazier were fined for entering the field of play while on the disabled list. I’m kinda surprised Dellin Betances escaped without any discipline, even if he didn’t hit James McCann on purpose. Same with Michael Fulmer, who started the whole thing by hitting Sanchez.

I imagine Sanchez and/or Romine are going to appeal their suspension. I mean, they kinda have to, otherwise the Yankees won’t have any catchers tonight. Sanchez will definitely appeal because he (and the Yankees) want to get that suspension knocked down as much as possible. The more Gary is on the field, the better. Every game without him hurts the team’s chances at the postseason.

Kyle Higashioka is currently on the Triple-A Scranton disabled list, so the Yankees don’t have a obvious third catcher to call-up for the time being. They’ll have to add someone (Eddy Rodriguez, most likely) to the 40-man roster. The Yankees do have an open 40-man spot, though that’ll go to Greg Bird when he returns. Also, suspended players can’t be replaced on the roster. Teams have to play short.

All things considered, I think the Yankees got off pretty light here. I thought Sanchez was heading for six or seven games given the sucker punches. Rougned Odor got eight games (reduced to seven on appeal) for punching Jose Bautista when he was squared up. Sanchez threw punches at defenseless Cabrera. Whatever. Forget this pointless nonsense, be happy no one got hurt, and move on.

Update: Not surprisingly, Sanchez and Romine both said they will appeal their suspensions. Ken Rosenthal hears the appeals may not be heard until after rosters expand on September 1st, which would make it a million times easier to deal with losing a catcher(s). Also, Jack Curry hears Sanchez was only suspended four games because Cabrera instigated the brawl. Gary on reacted, basically.

8/25 to 8/27 Series Preview: Seattle Mariners

Cruz and Seager. (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Cruz and Seager. (Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited the Mariners for a four-game set just last month, taking three of four. In doing so they won their first series in over a month, snapping a six week stretch of bad baseball and reminding us just how fun this team could be. Some notes:

  • David Robertson made his Yankees re-debut in the second game of the series, pitching a scoreless seventh inning. He struck out the side on just 13 pitches, with all three strikeouts ending on whiffs. Seeing Robertson back in pinstripes is one of my personal high points of the season.
  • You might remember that second game a bit better as “that time that Aaron Judge broke Statcast.”
  • Didi Gregorius had a heck of a series, going 8-for-15 with a double, two home runs, and two walks. And those two walks represent just under 12% of his total on the season.
  • Brett Gardner hit his 17th home run in the final game of the series, tying his career-high … in his 92nd game of the season. He has added three more since.

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

Injury Report

When these teams last met, the Mariners were getting healthy for the first time this year. A month later, and they’re back to being banged-up, with Jarrod Dyson, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Evan Scribner, Drew Smyly, Ryan Weber, and Tony Zych all on the disabled list; none are likely to be back for this series, and Smyly is done for the season, thanks to Tommy John surgery.

It’s also possible that Robinson Cano may not be available this weekend. He left Wednesday’s game after hitting a double (and passing Babe Ruth on the all-time list) with hamstring tightness, and underwent an MRI on Thursday. The Mariners have yet to make any announcement regarding his health or availability as of this writing.

Their Story So Far

The Mariners are currently 65-63, which is good enough to leave them just a game back of the second Wild Card spot. Their -12 run differential suggests that they’ve overachieved a bit, but it’s nevertheless indicative that they’re basically a .500 team. They’ve won six of their last eight, however, and own a 16-12 record since dropping the series to the Yankees.

This is a fairly mediocre team across the board, checking in at 9th in the majors in defensive efficiency, 14th in runs scored, and 18th in runs allowed, and a top-heavy roster. Nelson Cruz is raking as usual (147 wRC+) and James Paxton was in the midst of a breakout season before getting hurt (153 ERA+), but the rest of the team has been largely disappointing. That isn’t to say that solid performers like Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, Robinson Cano, and others have been bad – but injuries and under-performance tell a more accurate story of the majority of the team.

If you’re interested in reading more about the Mariners, check out Lookout Landing.

The Lineup We Might See

The recent acquisition of Yonder Alonso has led to the Mariners shaking up the lineup quite a bit over the last two weeks, as have injuries and returns from injuries. Manager Scott Servais seems content to roll with something like this, though (assuming that Cano is available):

  1. Jean Segura, SS
  2. Yonder Alonso, 1B
  3. Robinson Cano, 2B
  4. Nelson Cruz, DH
  5. Kyle Seager, 3B
  6. Mitch Haniger, RF
  7. Ben Gamel, LF
  8. Guillermo Heredia, CF
  9. Mike Zunino, C

Guillermo Heredia is banged-up, as well. If he ends up sitting, we’ll see Haniger or Gamel move to center, and Danny Valencia man a corner OF spot.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Ariel Miranda

Miranda started for the Mariners in their lone victory against the Yankees last month, pitching to the following line: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K. He has been hard in each of his five subsequent starts, allowing 9 home runs and a 6.84 ERA in 26.1 IP. He has a 4.78 ERA (89 ERA+) on the season, and is tied for the major league lead in home runs allowed, with 31.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 8/19) – 5.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 5 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Yovani Gallardo

It may seem impossible, but Gallardo is only 31-years-old. He made his big league debut as a 21-year-old back in 2007, and this is already his ninth season with 20-plus games started. He hasn’t been effective in a couple of years, though, pitching to a 5.58 ERA (76 ER+) since the beginning of last year, and he no longer strikes batters out (6.6 K/9 this year).

Gallardo is a five-pitch pitcher, featuring a low-90s four-seamer, a low-90s sinker, an upper-80s slider, a mid-80s change-up, and a low-80s curveball. There was a time when his slider was a devastating pitch, but he’s hittable across the board these days.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 8/20) – 6.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 6 K

Sunday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Andrew Albers

The Mariners swung a deal for Albers two weeks ago, acquiring him from the Braves for cash considerations. He’s a couple of months older than Gallardo, but he’s only thrown 89.2 IP at the highest level. He was drafted in 2008, but spent 2010 in the independent Canadian-American Association, 2014 in the Korean Baseball Organization, and parts of other seasons out of baseball altogether. It’s an interesting story that reminds of how difficult it is to make it to the show.

Albers is a prototypical crafty lefty, working with a fastball in the upper-80s, a sinker in the mid-to-upper 80s, an upper-70s change-up, an upper-70s slider, and a low-70s curve.

Last Outing (vs. ATL on 8/21) – 5.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 3 K

The Bullpen

Closer Edwin Diaz has had a disappointing season, with his walk, strikeout, home run, and groundball rates trending heavily in the wrong direction from his dynamite rookie season. He currently has a 3.58 ERA (120 ERA+) in 55.1 IP, and 29 saves in 33 opportunities. Diaz hasn’t been bad by any stretch, but he’s been a serious disappointment.

Nick Vincent and new acquisition (and former Yankee) David Phelps handle the set-up duties, and both have been excellent this season. LOOGY Marc Rzepczynski has been solid in his limited role, too, as has yet another former Yankee, James Pazos. It’s a solid-average bullpen as a whole.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Starlin Castro and Greg Bird hit back-to-back home runs for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last night, and that should be a harbinger of things to come for the Yankees. Starlin Castro is expected to be activated for tonight’s game and, with the strong likelihood of a Gary Sanchez suspension looming, their presence will be much appreciated.