Judging from the Start

All rise. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
All rise. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Aaron Judge, huh? Okay, guys, thanks for reading! Check back next week for…something else…and enjoy whatever show Judge’s gonna put on for the next week.

Despite Chase Headley‘s heroics and Starlin Castro‘s hot start, the hands-down, no doubt about it, bonafide best thing about the Yankees in April of 2017 has been Aaron Judge. He’s been an absolute monster, clocking massive homer after massive homer, displaying the power we all dreamed of and got flashes of during 2016. Additionally, he’s cut down on his strikeouts from a mind-boggling 44.2% last year to a still-high-but-manageable 25.4% this year. Part of that is due to a reduced chase rate and a reduced whiff rate.

In 2016, the league averaged an O-Swing% (swings on pitches out of the zone) of 30.6%; Judge came in at 34.9%. This year, the average has dropped (so far) to 30.1%; Judge clocks in with a wonderfully below average rate of 18.3%. And while his contact rate–74.8%–is still worse than average (77.1%), it’s a demonstrable improvement from last year’s tally of 59.7%.

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

It’s no surprise that a guy as big and strong as Judge will do damage when he makes contact and so far, that’s what he’s done. The improved contact rate is a big step forward in Judge reaching his full potential. He’s shown growth in both the “where” and the “what” of making contact–not just in one area–and that dual fact has been key for his hot start.

In 2016, there were 13 zones out of a possible 25 that saw Judge whiff on 50% or more of his swings. So far in 2017, he’s cut that number to just five zones. Additionally from 2016 to 2017, Judge has dropped the whiff rates on fastballs by about one percent, sinkers by about three percent, changeups by over 20 percent, sliders by about 14 percent, and curves by about ten percent.

We tend to be selfish as fans and we want results when we want them and no later. Of course, baseball doesn’t work like that and we must be careful not to get mad at the microwave for not heating up our burrito fast enough. But so far this year, we’ve gotten near instant gratification from Aaron Judge. He’s given us the improvement we all knew he’d need to make while keeping his prodigious power. The rest of the year has a long time to play out, but with things starting to stabilize, we may be in for a truly great year from a truly great talent.

DotF: Frazier homers, Gregorius continues rehab assignment

OF Blake Rutherford made SportsCenter’s top ten plays yesterday. He flipped over the wall making a catch in foul territory. The video is above. Hopefully that’s not the last time we see Rutherford on the top ten, eh?

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

  • SS Tyler Wade: 0-4, 1 BB — in a little 1-for-15 (.067) downswing
  • LF Clint Frazier: 2-3, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB — only his second multi-hit game of the season … hopefully we see more of this Clint Frazier going forward, this dude kicks butt
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 2-4 — 9-for-24 (.375) during his six-game hitting streak
  • 1B Rob Refsnyder: 1-3, 1 BB
  • DH Ji-Man Choi: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K
  • LHP Daniel Camarena: 6.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 7/3 GB/FB — 51 of 72 pitches were strikes (71%) … he’s up here to help fill one of the rotation spots vacated by RHP Johnny Barbato (traded) and LHP Dietrich Enns (injury), so he should get to stick around a while … Shane Hennigan says RHP J.R. Graham was sent to Double-A Trenton to clear a roster spot
  • RHP Ernesto Frieri: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — nine pitches, eight strikes

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Carter’s clutch homer helps Yanks to an 11-5 win over Pirates

Source: FanGraphs

Well that was a wild one, huh? Look at that win probability graph up there. The Yankees went from being no-hit in the fifth inning to having two five-run innings by the eighth. The end result was an 11-5 win over the Pirates in the middle game of the series. It’s Saturday, so I’m going to recap this game will bullet points:

  • Five & Fly: Not a great outing for Michael Pineda but not a terrible outing either. Three runs in five innings is … serviceable. Andrew McCutchen solo homer in the first, David Freese solo homer in the fourth, McCutchen sac fly in the fifth. That was the damage. Pineda did walk two, which is very un-Pineda-like — he walked one batter total in his first three starts — and he only threw 73 pitches before being lifted for a pinch-hitter. We saw some shades of Bad Pineda in this one — the McCutchen homer came on a hanging slider — but he did fine.
  • The Comeback: For four innings plus two outs, the Yankees couldn’t touch Jameson Taillon. No hits and only four balls hit out of the infield. Then six of the next eight batters he faced reached base. One of the outs was Pineda, so Taillon retired only one of the final seven real batters he faced. The big blow: Starlin Castro‘s game-tying three-run homer in the sixth. Starlin hit it like he knew what was coming. A Jacoby Ellsbury infield single and an Aaron Hicks walk set that up.
  • And The Yankees Take The Lead: Castro’s home run didn’t end Taillon’s afternoon. Aaron Judge‘s booming double off the wall did. Juan Nicasio came in, hit Greg Bird with a pitch, then allowed a soft single to Austin Romine to load the bases with one out. Ronald Torreyes, who I thought should have been removed for a pinch-hitter in that spot (good one, idiot), dunked a ball in front of John Jaso in right field. It scooted by him and two runs scored, giving the Yankees a 5-3 lead. Hooray for that. Torreyes was given a double on the play.
  • And The Bullpen Immediately Blows The Lead: The lead lasted two outs. Jonathan Holder came in for the sixth, got two quick outs, then allowed a double and a single to give the Pirates a run. Blah. Tyler Clippard then came in, hit Jose Osuna in a two-strike count, then allowed a two-strike single to Adam Frazier to tie the game. I have so little faith in Clippard in big spots it’s not even funny. At least he was able to strike out Josh Bell to strand two runners and escape that sixth inning with the score tied 5-5. Clippard went back out to start the seventh because assigned innings are very important, and thankfully Dellin Betances was able to bail him out.
  • All He Does Is Catch Touchdowns: An error opened the door. After two quick outs to start the eighth, Romine hit a grounder to short that Frazier bobbled, extending the inning. Torreyes followed with a single to put men on first and second. That brought up Betances’ spot since he was not double-switched into the game. Joe Girardi pinch-hit Chris Carter against the lefty Felipe Rivero, and Carter jumped on a first-pitch changeup for a long three-run home run into the back bullpen. It was only a matter of time until he ran into one. The Yankees made the Pirates pay big time for Frazier’s error. Carter’s blast gave them an 8-5 lead.
  • The Last Six Outs: Thankfully, the Yankees tacked on three insurance runs after the Carter homer. Ellsbury made it to third when McCutchen dropped a fly ball — the Pirates gave the Yankees five outs in that eighth inning — and he scored on a wild pitch. Back-to-back doubles by Hicks and Chase Headley gave the Yankees a 10-5 lead. Hooray. All after that Frazier error. Judge then put a ball into orbit for an 11-5 lead in the ninth. Here’s the video. Do not miss it. Bryan Mitchell and Aroldis Chapman got the last six outs without incident. Chapman hadn’t pitched since Monday. Needed the work.
  • Leftovers: Every starting position player had a hit except Bird, who did hit a ball to the wall in right field. It would have been out at Yankee Stadium … Torreyes had four hits and raised his batting average from .245 to .296 in one afternoon … Judge and Romine each had two hits. Hicks had a hit and two walks … the Yankees scored at least seven runs for the seventh time this season. No team has done it more.

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. The Yankees and Pirates will wrap up this three-game series Sunday afternoon. That’s a 1:35pm ET start. Jordan Montgomery and ex-Yankee Ivan Nova are the scheduled starting pitchers.

Game 17: Still no DH

(Justin K. Aller/Getty)
(Justin K. Aller/Getty)

Four days ago the Yankees lost to the White Sox to snap their eight-game winning streak. They rebounded the next day with a blowout win. Last night the Yankees dropped the series opener to the Pirates due in part to some sloppy defense. How will they rebound today? Hopefully with another blowout win. That’ll be tough with no designated hitter, but whatever. It’s doable.

Anyway, the point is the Yankees have played well the last two weeks or so, and losses happen. Making sure a loss is just a loss and not the start of the losing streak is pretty damn important if the Yankees, who currently have the fifth best postseason odds in the AL, are going to sneak into the playoffs. Just keep winning series. Keep winning series and good things will happen. Here is the Pirates’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. 3B Chase Headley
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. C Austin Romine
  8. SS Ronald Torreyes
  9. RHP Michael Pineda

Not a great weather day in Pittsburgh. It’s cold and cloudy, and there might be some on and off rain throughout the game. Today’s game will begin at 4:05pm ET and you can watch on WPIX. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Gary Sanchez (biceps) continues to make progress with his rehab. He made 25 throws from 60 feet and another 25 from 90 feet today. Sanchez was also scheduled to hit off a tee for the first time at some point today. He’s been taking dry swings. Now he’ll hit an actual baseball.

Saturday Links: Top 50 Prospects, Cabrera, Forbes, Uniforms

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

The Yankees and Pirates will resume their three-game series with the middle game later this afternoon. Until then, here are a few bits of news and notes to check out.

Three Yankees on Law’s updated top 50 prospects list

I missed this last week, but Keith Law (subs. req’d) posted an updated list of the top 50 prospects in baseball. This isn’t a re-ranking. It’s more of an update to Law’s preseason top 100 to reflect prospects who have either graduated to MLB or will soon. Here are the Yankees in the updated top 50 list:

2. SS Gleyber Torres (No. 4 preseason)
16. OF Blake Rutherford (No. 22 preseason)
20. OF Clint Frazier (No. 27 preseason)

Torres is behind only Mets SS Amed Rosario. He was also behind Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi and Braves SS Dansby Swanson on the preseason list, but those two have since graduated to the big leagues, which is why Gleyber has moved up two spots.

OF Aaron Judge ranked 44th preseason but recently graduated to MLB, so he’s no longer a prospect. RHP James Kaprielian went from 28th before the season to out of the top 50 in the update, presumably due to his continued elbow problems. LHP Justus Sheffield was 88th preseason and did not jump into the top 50. So, in the eyes of at least one prospect ranker, the Yankees currently have three of baseball’s 20 best prospects in their farm system. And Judge and Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird and Luis Severino at the MLB level. Hooray.

Cabrera among top DSL prospects

Ben Badler (subs. req’d) recently put together a list of the top 20 prospects who spent time in the Dominican Summer League last year. The players are listed alphabetically. Not ranked. The Yankees had one player in the top 20: SS Oswaldo Cabrera. He tore up the DSL in 26 games last year before the Yankees brought him stateside. Here’s a piece of Badler’s scouting report:

He’s a true all-fields hitter with a sound swing and natural hitter’s actions in the box. When he swings, he doesn’t miss much, with innate feel for the barrel and good plate coverage with a chance to develop into a plus hitter. Cabrera isn’t that big and will probably always have a hit-over-power profile … He should be able to stick at shortstop.

Badler also notes Cabrera, who signed for $100,000 in 2015, made a slight adjustment after signing that has paid big dividends. He backed up a bit in the batter’s box, giving him more time to react and allowing him to use his hands more efficiently. The just turned 18-year-old Cabrera is off a slow start with Low-A Charleston — he’s the youngest player in the South Atlantic League by several months — but he hit .345/.396/.523 (193 wRC+) in 52 rookie balls games last year. A spot in the organizational top 30 prospects list awaits.

MLB unveils 2017 special event uniforms

Earlier this month MLB unveiled their special event uniforms for the 2017 season. These cover Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and the All-Star Game. Rather than wear the special uniforms only on the day of the event, this year players will wear them the entire holiday weekend. Everything will then be auctioned off for charity. Here are the Yankees special event hats and jerseys, via Chris Creamer:


That stars and stripes hat for the Fourth of July is pretty awesome. These special event caps usually don’t do anything for me, but I dig that one. Also, during the All-Star Game this year, each player will wear a patch on their sleeve that includes the number of All-Star Games they’ve been selected to in their careers. That’s pretty cool.

Yankees are still the most valuable franchise in MLB

Surprise surprise, the Yankees remain the most valuable franchise in baseball, according to Forbes. By a lot, too. The Yankees are worth an estimated $3.7 billion. The Dodgers are a distant second at $2.75 billion. Yeah. This is the 20th consecutive year the Yankees have ranked as baseball’s most valuable franchise. They generated an MLB best $526M in revenue in 2016 despite a 10% drop in attendance the last few years.

Amazingly, the average MLB franchise is now worth $1.54 billion, up a whopping 19% from last year. Incredible. The league can thank new television contracts and the rapid growth of the MLB Advanced Media juggernaut for that. The Yankees were worth an estimated $3.4 billion last year. Back in 2010 they were worth a comparatively tiny $1.6 billion. The franchise could very well triple in value before the decade is over. Owning an MLB team is good work if you can get it.

Bad pitching, bad defense send Yankees to 6-3 loss to Pirates

Source: FanGraphs

Blah, that was a clunker of a series opener. A little of this (bad pitching), a little of that (bad defense), and a little of everything in between (0-for-7 with runners in scoring position) sent the Yankees to a 6-3 loss to the Pirates in Friday night’s series opener. Have I mentioned I hate watching pitchers hit? Because I hate watching pitchers hit. It’s Friday night, so let’s recap with bullet points:

  • CC’s Dud: It was clear right away CC Sabathia was not sharp. He allowed a first inning leadoff homer to Jordy Mercer and then a two-run shot to Josh Bell in the second inning. Sabathia’s velocity was down a bit — he was more 87-88 mph than 90-91 mph like he’d been in his previous starts — and he was missing his spots consistently. He did grind it out and give the Yankees five innings, but at the end of the day, falling behind 4-0 after two innings was too much to overcome.
  • A Near Comeback: The Yankees have Fighting Spirit, so they didn’t go quietly after falling behind 4-0. Chase Headley drove in Brett Gardner from first with a double in the third inning, then Greg Bird drove in two runs with a ground ball that snuck under Josh Harrison’s glove in the fifth. Harrison, the second baseman, was in shallow right field for the shift. Aaron Judge chugged all the way around from first to score on the play. The big man can really run. Judge is sneaky fast. That brought the Yankees to within 4-3, but alas, three runs were not enough to win on this night.
  • Late-Inning Mistakes: The Pirates tacked on two insurance runs in the seventh thanks in part to a brutal Starlin Castro error. He Luis Castillo’d a pop-up. It was bad. Tommy Layne then walked the only man he faced — lefties have a .417 OBP against him this year, which doesn’t bode well for his job security — and Jonathan Holder allowed a run-scoring single. Two things. One, why not just leave Adam Warren in after the dropped pop-up? He’s perfectly capable of getting lefties out. And two, why is Tyler Clippard pitching down three in the eighth instead of Holder when the game was closer in the seventh? Bullpen roles, man.
  • Leftovers: The Yankees did bring the tying run to the plate with two outs in the eight and ninth innings, but Matt Holliday struck out out and Judge grounded out. Darn. Had the right guys at the plate at the right times. Just didn’t work out … the Yankees had ten hits total, including two by Castro and three by Jacoby Ellsbury … Bird went 0-for-4 and yanked two foul balls about 430 feet each. Just a little too quick, Greg — in case you missed it earlier, Didi Gregorius started his minor league rehab assignment tonight. He’s inching closer to a return.

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Also check out our Bullpen Workload page. The Yankees and Pirates will resume this series Saturday afternoon. That’s a 4pm ET start. Michael Pineda and Jameson Taillon are the scheduled starters.

DotF: Gregorius begins rehab assignment in Tampa’s loss

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

  • 2B Tyler Wade: 1-3, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 2 K — he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the fifth inning
  • DH Clint Frazer: 0-3, 1 HBP — off to a 9-for-46 (.196) start, so so much for forcing an early season call-up
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 1-4, 2 K
  • RF Rob Refsnyder: 1-3, 1 BB
  • LF Mason Williams: 0-4, 3 K — off to a 7-for-44 (.159) start … can’t help but wonder how much longer he’ll be around … can’t imagine his 40-man roster spot is all that safe
  • RHP Chad Green: 6 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, 6/1 GB/FB — 66 of 98 pitches were strikes (67%) … 28/4 K/BB in 22 minor league innings so far this year … we know he can get Triple-A hitters out … now we have to see if he can get big leaguers out consistently
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 19 of 29 pitches were strikes (66%)

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