Adjustments! Nathan Eovaldi’s splitter and the new-look Brendan Ryan

Eovaldi. (Presswire)
Eovaldi. (Presswire)

Baseball is a game of adjustments, and those who don’t adjust will find themselves out of the league before long. Hitters adjust to pitchers and vice versa. The cat and mouse game never ends. Here are two adjustment related tidbits I felt were worth passing along.

Forkball to Sporkball to Splitter

Since the disaster start in Miami, Nathan Eovaldi has been the most reliable pitcher in New York’s rotation, pitching to a 3.07 ERA (2.84 FIP) in seven starts and 41 innings. No, he doesn’t pitch deep into games at all, but on a rate basis Eovaldi has been pretty good. He has a 4.02 ERA (2.96 FIP) in his last 13 starts including the Miami disaster.

The Yankees have been working to help Eovaldi add the splitter since Spring Training, and he’s certainly been using it more and more as the season has progressed. Some call it a splitter, some call it a forkball, so I dubbed it a sporkball in our Midseason Review. As noted in that post, the sporkball randomly jumped like four miles an hour in velocity a few starts back:

Nathan Eovaldi sporkball velocityThat’s not normal! Pitchers usually do not just add that much velocity to one specific pitch from one start to the next. Something changed at some point along the line, and, according to Billy Witz, that something was the sporkball grip. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told Witz they started Eovaldi off with a forkball grip, with his fingers spread far apart so he could get comfortable with it. Once that happened, they narrowed the grip. Eovaldi’s now throwing a traditional splitter, hence the velocity spike. Forkballs tumble, splitters dive.

Game action grip photos are tough to come by, but here’s what I was able to dig up. The grip on the left is from April 15th in Baltimore and the grip on the right is from June 26th in Houston, the first game with the velocity spike.

Nathan Eovaldi grips

I dunno, see anything different? I appears Eovaldi’s fingertips are more on the seams in the June 26th photo. His fingertips are clearly on the white of the ball in the April 15th photo. Of course, that could just be the angle of the photo. Who knows.

Since that start against the Astros, when Eovaldi’s sporkball velocity first spiked, he’s thrown the pitch 27.8% of the time. The pitch’s swing-and-miss (15.5%) and ground ball (73.6%) rates have both been better than the MLB average for splitters as well (14.9% and 47.8%, respectively). It’s a relatively small sample, so don’t get too excited yet, but this split-finger pitch is clearly becoming a big part of Eovaldi’s arsenal. He didn’t even start throwing this thing until very late last year.

The Yankees keep saying Eovaldi is a work in progress and I know no one wants to hear that. It is true though. This splitter business shows it. At the outset of the season, Eovaldi was operating with a forkball grip just to get used to having his fingers so far part on the damn baseball. Once that happened, the team had him start throwing a traditional splitter, and now the pitch is a real weapon. Development takes time, yo.

Ryan. (Presswire)
Ryan. (Presswire)

Ryan’s Little But Noticeable Tweaks

About two weeks ago, the Yankees pulled the plug on the Rob Refsnyder experiment after only four games. Four games with the All-Star break mixed in. It was dumb and the Yankees hate their prospects and they’re costing themselves wins in a close race and oh by the way their second baseman are hitting a combined .345/.368/.582 (~142 wRC+) since Refsnyder was sent down. How about that.

The Yankees have used a Stephen Drew/Brendan Ryan platoon at second the last few weeks and both have hit well of late. Surprising! But I think Ryan has been more surprising. At least Drew was an above-average hitter back in 2013, which wasn’t that long ago. Ryan hasn’t even come close to approaching league average since 2009 with the Cardinals (98 wRC+). This year though, he is 12-for-39 (.308) with four doubles and two triples. He had four extra-base hits all of last season.

Ryan went 3-for-6 with a double against the White Sox on Friday night — he also struck out against Adam LaRoche, but that’s besides the point — and after the game Joe Girardi told Chad Jennings that Ryan has “made a little bit of an adjustment with the hitting coaches and he’s swinging the bat good.” We hear about guys making tiny adjustments all the time but usually they aren’t noticeable. Ryan’s have been. Check it out:

Brendan Ryan

Ryan has almost an entirely new setup at the plate. His hands are lower and his stance is a bit more closed, specifically. Girardi called them “little” adjustments but they look like big adjustments. Who knows what they really mean though. Does this new setup mean Ryan is suddenly a legitimate lefty masher? Maybe! But I’ll bet against it for the time being. After all, he was awarded a double on this:

I’ve come to hate the word luck — yes, there will always be some element of luck involved in baseball, but not everything that can’t be easily explained is luck — though let’s not kid ourselves here, Ryan’s enjoyed some good fortune of late. That was a tailor made double play ball that went for a double because the infielder was doing … something. Who knows what.

Anyway, Ryan has been providing some nice unexpected impact against southpaws of late, and who knows if his recent mechanical changes at the plate have had anything to do that. It is at least somewhat interesting Ryan has already pulled more balls to left field for base hits this season than he did all of last season:

Brendan Ryan spray charts

Perhaps those mechanical changes are allowing Ryan to get the bat head out a little quicker and yank the ball to left field. Who knows? Ryan’s done way more at the plate than expected in an admittedly tiny amount of playing time. He’s also made some mechanical changes this year, so perhaps the changes and improved production are tied together. We’ve seen guys like Ben Zobrist, Jose Bautista, Justin Turner, and J.D. Martinez all make relatively small mechanical adjustments that led to big increases in production in recent years.

Either way, both Eovaldi and Ryan have made adjustments this year that may or may not be having a direct positive impact on their performance. Every player makes adjustments throughout the season, they’re necessary to succeed at this level, but it’s not often we hear about them. Eovaldi’s splitter in particular is interesting because the process of learning a new pitch — using a forkball grip to get comfortable before switching back to a splitter grip, for example — is so foreign to most of us, plus the split is clearly becoming a go-to offering for him.

8/4 to 8/6 Series Preview: Boston Red Sox

Home sweet home. The Yankees are back in the Bronx following that long ten-game road trip, and tonight they open a six-game homestand with the first of three against the Red Sox. The Yankees are 6-3 against the BoSox this year. Boston took two of three at Yankee Stadium in the second series of the season way back in April. Lots has changed since then.

What Have The Red Sox Done Lately?

Gosh, the Red Sox are bad. I mean really bad. They did take two of three from the Rays at home this past weekend, but otherwise they’ve lost 12 of 17 games since the All-Star break, including eight in a row at one point. The Sawx are 47-59 with a -65 run differential overall. They’re 13 games behind the Yankees in the AL East. Remember that series at Fenway Park right before the break? The Red Sox could have climbed to within 2.5 games of first place with a sweep. What a fall.

Offense & Defense

Overall, the Red Sox are averaging 4.21 runs per game with a team 95 wRC+, so their offense is nowhere close to what it was expected to be before the season. They are currently without OF Mookie Betts (concussion) and 2B Dustin Pedroia (hamstring), arguably their two best players. Neither is due to come off the DL this week. Also, 3B Pablo Sandoval (86 wRC+) is day-to-day after taking a pitch to the arm over the weekend.

Ortiz. (Presswire)
Ortiz. (Presswire)

The big name in manager John Farrell’s lineup is still DH David Ortiz (115 wRC+), who has been much better in recent weeks but is no longer the hitter he was the last few years. The same applies to 1B Mike Napoli (90 wRC+), who has always seemed to like hitting in the new Yankee Stadium. UTIL Brock Holt (109 wRC+) has done the opposite of Ortiz and Napoli — he started crazy hot and has cooled off. Boston’s most effective hitter right now is SS Xander Bogaerts (108 wRC+), who hits for average (.319) and not much else (3.9 BB% and .096 ISO).

OF Hanley Ramirez (105 wRC+) is now joined by OF Jackie Bradley Jr. (14 wRC+ in limited time) and OF Rusney Castillo (71 wRC+ in limited time) in the outfield thanks to the Betts injury and the Shane Victorino trade. C Blake Swihart (66 wRC+) and C Ryan Hanigan (90 wRC+) are the catching tandem. The bench features IF Josh Rutledge (16 wRC+ in extremely limited time), UTIL Travis Shaw (214 wRC+ in extremely limited time), and OF Alejandro De Aza (132 wRC+).

The Red Sox defense isn’t particularly strong. Bradley is excellent in center, Castillo and De Aza are good in the corners, and Bogaerts and Holt are reliable on the middle infield. Sandoval and Hanley have been disasters. Ramirez is probably the worst defensive outfielder I have ever seen, and Sandoval’s mobility seems to be gone. Napoli is fine at first. Swihart and Hanigan have both been average-ish at throwing out runners. StatCorner says Hanigan is an above-average pitch-framer, Swihart about average. Hit it to Hanley.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (7pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. BOS) vs. LHP Henry Owens (MLB Debut)
This start was supposed to go to Rick Porcello, who is having a miserable season (5.81 ERA and 4.66 FIP). He was just placed on the DL with a triceps issue over the weekend, however. Owens, 23, will make his big league debut tonight instead. He has a 3.16 ERA (3.68 FIP) in 122.1 Triple-A innings this season with a good strikeout rate (20.6%) and a few too many walks (11.2%). It’s worth noting Owens has a 40.7% ground ball rate in Triple-A, which is unusually low for a top pitching prospect. (Phil Hughes had a 60%+ grounder rate in the minors, for example.) Baseball America ranked Owens as the 44th best prospect in baseball before the season and said he works in the 89-92 mph range with his fastball, backing it up with a great changeup and an improving curveball. Owens walks a fine line — he has to get ahead with his average fastball to set up that changeup, but his fastball command is not great. The Yankees could find themselves in lots of hitter’s counts tonight if they’re patient and Owens shows some first start jitters.

Wednesday (7pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (MLB Debut!) vs. RHP Steven Wright (vs. NYY)
Woooo Severino! The Yankees will call up their top pitching prospect to make his big league debut tomorrow night. That’ll be fun. Wright, on the other hand, is a 30-year-old knuckleballer with a 4.53 ERA (5.23 FIP) in 59.2 innings covering seven starts and seven relief appearances this year. Like most knuckleballers, he has a low strikeout rate (15.2%), a low ground ball rate (43.0%), and a sky high home run rate (1.66 HR/9). His walk rate (7.8%) is pretty good considering the entire point of throwing a knuckleball is creating unpredictable break. Wright’s platoon split is relatively small (.338 vs. .315 wOBA in favor of righties) and he throws his knuckler in the low-70s. He throws the pitch over 90% of the time. The rest of the time he throws the requisite show-me low-80s fastball. The Yankees did see Wright earlier this year — he allowed two runs in five innings in that 19-inning game way back in April.

Wright's fingertip ball. (Presswire)
Wright’s fingertip ball. (Presswire)

Thursday (7pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. BOS) vs. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (vs. NYY)
Rodriguez, 22, has a 4.34 ERA (4.14 FIP) in 12 starts and 66.1 innings since being called up a few weeks ago, which is a nice little reminder Severino isn’t guaranteed to dominate right away just because he has great minor league numbers. Rodriguez has very average peripherals (20.1 K%, 8.6 BB%, 42.1 GB%, 1.09 HR/9) and has been more effective against righties (.294 wOBA) than lefties (.329 wOBA). He’s a three-pitch pitcher, using his mid-90s four-seamer a ton, more than 70% of the time. Mid-80s changeups and sliders are Rodriguez’s other two offerings. The Yankees saw the young southpaw right before the All-Star break, scoring two runs in 6.2 innings.

Bullpen Status
I was surprised to see the Red Sox hold on to closer RHP Koji Uehara (2.33 ERA/2.33 FIP) at the trade deadline, but I guess no one is eager to pick up a 40-year-old reliever owed $9M next year. RHP Junichi Tazawa (2.93/2.41) is Uehara’s primary setup man and has had a rough few weeks of late. At this point LHP Craig Breslow (3.24/5.12) is Farrell’s go-to matchup southpaw.

The rest of Boston’s bullpen includes RHP Alexi Ogando (3.88/5.33), RHP Robbie Ross (3.98/4.07), RHP Ryan Cook (10.38/3.77 in very limited time), and noted farter RHP Jean Machi (5.20/4.49). The Red Sox had an off-day yesterday, so their bullpen is as fresh as can be in early-August. The Yankees were off yesterday as well, but check out our Bullpen Workload page anyway. Then head over to Over The Monster for the latest and greatest on the BoSox.

(Video via @iamjoonlee)

Yankees place trust in Mitchell and Severino to bolster rotation

Mitchell. (David Banks/Getty)
Mitchell. (David Banks/Getty)

Tomorrow, top pitching prospect Luis Severino will join the rotation and make his big league debut with the Yankees. I wouldn’t call it a long-awaited debut — Severino zoomed through the minors and wasn’t much more than an “intriguing arm” at this point two years ago — but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. The Yankees haven’t had a pitching prospect of this caliber make his debut since Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy in 2007.

Severino is getting a chance to help the Yankees because the team didn’t acquire any pitching depth at the trade deadline, and he’s the next best option. Bryan Mitchell made a spot start Saturday for the same reason. Severino is replacing the injured Michael Pineda in the rotation, and I would bank on Mitchell making another few starts before the end of the season. The Yankees play 16 games in 16 days starting next week, and I’m sure they’ll use a spot sixth starter at some point.

“Some of the offers that were coming our way, I’ll be honest, whether it played out this way or not, I’d rather try relying on the Mitchells and Severinos than bring in somebody that’s got more experience but maybe less ability with more money attached to it,” said Brian Cashman to Chad Jennings following the trade deadline last week. “Although (money)’s not necessarily an issue for us, in the assessments, it’s like, you know what, I’d rather go this route with these kids than go do that.”

Those are some pretty strong words! Cashman basically said they project Mitchell and Severino to have more impact down the stretch than whoever they were discussing at the deadline, at least in terms of cost (prospects plus salary) relative to production. Considering Mitchell and Severino are relative unknowns — yeah, we know the numbers and the scouting reports, but we have no idea what they’ll do taking a regular rotation turn in the bigs — the team is showing a ton of faith in them.

The Yankees have turned to their young players to fill needs all season, whether it was outfielders or especially bullpen help, and that will continue in the second half with Severino and Mitchell. That’s fun! It’s also kinda scary because they’re basically the last line of rotation depth. The Yankees could stick Adam Warren back in the rotation if necessary, and Chris Capuano is sitting in Triple-A, but that’s about it. Unless you want to see Kyle Davies.

The good news is the Yankees do have a nice lead in the AL East — they’re 5.5 games up in the division and FanGraphs says their postseason odds are well over 90% — and rosters expand four weeks from today, so the pitching depth issue (which may not be an issue at all!) won’t last much longer. Get through these next four weeks with Mitchell and Severino, then add a bunch of extra arms on September 1st. That seems like the plan.

The Yankees don’t necessarily need impact from Mitchell and Severino, though I’m sure they’d take it. Mitchell showed some seriously nasty stuff on Friday night, so it’s easy to dream on him, but you can’t expect him to carry the staff. Same with Severino. Rotation stalwarts like Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova, Nathan Eovaldi, and healthy Pineda will be counted on for impact. Mitchell and Severino just need to hold their own and provide innings. Don’t Chase Wright it, basically.

“We’ll augment the roster with a lot of these power arms that we have in the system,” said Cashman. They’ve done it all season with the bullpen — eight different relievers have made their MLB debut with the Yankees already this season — and now they’re taking the next step and doing it with the rotation. I’m sure resisting the urge to get a more established arm at the deadline was tough, but the Yankees showed a lot of faith in Mitchell and Severino by not making a move. Now it’s up to those two to capitalize on the opportunity and show the team they made the right call.

DotF: Hendrix extends hitting streak in Staten Island’s win

IF Abi Avelino was named the High-A Florida State League Offensive Player of the Week, so congrats to him. Also, Chad Jennings posted a bunch of minor league notes earlier today, so make sure you go check ’em all out. Here are the important injury updates:

  • LHP Ian Clarkin (elbow inflammation) is currently on a throwing program “with no complaints,” according to assistant GM Billy Eppler. So now we know Clarkin is throwing with unknown intensity and frequency. Hooray? The left-hander hasn’t pitched at all in 2015 and it seems unlikely he will get into any games before the minor league season ends in a few weeks.
  • 3B Eric Jagielo (knee) had arthroscopic surgery last week and will resume baseball activities in eight weeks, so his season is effectively over. Maybe Jagielo can get healthy in time to play in the Arizona Fall League. The season usually begins in early-October.
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren (elbow) is “progressing well” following surgery to remove bone chips. He’s scheduled to begin a throwing program next week and the expectation is he will pitch again this season. Also, OF Mason Williams (shoulder) is still rehabbing and will be re-evaluated this week.
  • And finally, RHP Brady Lail has been promoted to Triple-A Scranton and RHP Rookie Davis has been promoted to Double-A Trenton, report Matt Kardos and Josh Norris. We probably see a few more guys promoted for final few weeks of the season as well.

Low-A Charleston (5-4 loss to Hagerstown, walk-off style)

  • SS Jorge Mateo: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K, 1 E (fielding)
  • CF Austin Aune: 0-4, 3 K
  • RF Alex Palma: 0-4, 1 K — threw a runner out at second
  • RHP Chance Adams: 3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 29/7 K/BB in 21.1 innings for this year’s fifth rounder

[Read more…]

Monday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have a well-deserved off-day today following that long ten-game, three-city road trip. They have 34 home games and 24 road games remaining, and three of those road games are in Citi Field, so no travel required. Their longest flight from here on out is New York to Tampa, and that’s not bad at all. The most grueling travel is out of the way. That’s always good. Also, the 7-8-9 hitters hit .388/.408/.628 in 132 total plate appearances during the ten-game road trip. Just thought I’d pass that along.

Here is tonight’s open thread. Again, the Yankees have an off-day, but ESPN is showing the Cubs and Pirates, plus the suddenly fun Mets are playing is well. New York is pretty cool when both the Yankees and Mets are good. Talk about those games or anything else right here. Have at it.

Severino and Judge among MLB.com’s midseason top 100 prospects

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last week, the crew at MLB.com released their midseason top 100 prospects update, which includes 2015 draftees and has since been updated to reflect all the players who were traded at the deadline. Twins OF Byron Buxton, who is currently on the MLB DL but is still prospect eligible, holds the top spot. Dodgers SS Corey Seager and Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito round out the top three.

The Yankees have two players on the top 100 and they both rank pretty high: RHP Luis Severino is No. 16 and OF Aaron Judge is No. 21. Severino will be called up to make his MLB debut tomorrow, as you already know. SS Jorge Mateo, who figures to climb into the various top 100 lists next spring, did not make this iteration of MLB.com’s top 100 list. Neither did 1B Greg Bird or any other Yankees farmhand. Severino and Judge, that’s all.

In addition to the overall top 100, MLB.com also posted updated top 30 prospects lists for each of the 30 clubs. I’m not going to list the entire Yankees top 30 here, you can click the link to see it for yourself. Severino, Judge, Mateo, and Bird predictably sit in the top four spots. First round pick RHP James Kaprielian slots in at No. 5. C Gary Sanchez is still getting no respect, I tell ya. He’s No. 7. Here are some other names who stick out in the top 30:

  • SS Hyo-Jun Park, No. 19: The write-up calls him a “legitimate shortstop” with “plus speed and defensive skills.” Park has a 103 wRC+ with Rookie Pulaski this summer and is the highest ranked prospect from last summer’s massive international class.
  • LHP Jordan Montgomery, No. 27: Last year’s fourth rounder is now “throwing a little bit harder in pro ball than he did in college” and regularly sitting in the low-90s. Montgomery has carved up the low minors (3.08 ERA and 2.71 FIP) and is a four-pitch guy with command, making him a safe bet to contribute at the MLB level.
  • RHP Cale Coshow, No. 28: Coshow’s having an excellent year (2.02 ERA and 2.44 FIP in 75.2 innings between Low-A and High-A) and the write-up says he has “worked with a 95-97 mph fastball that reached triple digits and flashed a wipeout slider.”

As with all MLB.com’s lists, the scouting reports and everything are completely free. That’s both the top 100 and the team top 30 lists. The scouting reports also include 20-80 scouting scale grades and links to video wherever possible. Pretty awesome resource, so make sure you check it out.

King: Yankees declined Gary Sanchez for Cameron Maybin overtures from Braves

Maybin. (Presswire)
Maybin. (Presswire)

According to George King, the Yankees “turned down overtures” from the Braves regarding a deal that would have sent catcher prospect Gary Sanchez to Atlanta for outfielder Cameron Maybin before the trade deadline last week. The Yankees made their top prospects off limits in trade talks but it’s unclear whether Sanchez was included in that group alongside Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and others.

First of all, Sanchez for Maybin doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Yankees. Maybin, 28, is having a nice year, hitting .280/.332/.380 (100 wRC+) with eight home runs and 17 steals to go along with strong center field defense, but where does he play? The Yankees are locked into their three starting outfielders and they already have a quality right-handed hitting fourth outfielder in Chris Young, who’s been awesome.

I suppose the Yankees could have picked up Maybin and then looked to flip Brett Gardner for a pitcher or whatever, but that seems like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Maybin doesn’t fit the 2015 Yankees at all, and paying him $8M to be the fourth outfielder next season — and then another $1M to buy out his $9M option for 2017 — just doesn’t make sense from a baseball standpoint. I don’t see how that trade helps.

As for Sanchez, he is in the middle of a big year offensively, hitting .266/.333/.489 (136 wRC+) with 17 doubles and 15 homers in 309 plate appearances with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. Lots of people seemed to get Sanchez fatigue waiting for a season like this. He is still only 22 though, plus he’s never actually been bad, and the bat is often the last thing to come around for catcher prospects because they spend so much time focusing on defense.

Now, that said, I do think the Yankees were willing to trade Sanchez at the deadline and will be willing to do so again this offseason. Just not for someone like Maybin though. The Yankees prioritize defense behind the plate and Sanchez simply doesn’t offer it, plus Brian McCann is signed for another few seasons and John Ryan Murphy has been crazy impressive this summer. Catcher isn’t a pressing need. That all makes Sanchez a prime trade chip.

I could see the Yankees moving Sanchez this winter as part of a package for a high-end player with a year or two left on his contract or a younger, less established guy with multiple years of team control remaining. Not someone who would only be a spare part like Maybin. Sanchez has rebuilt his prospect stock in the eyes of some this year but I don’t think it ever took a hit. He’s taken a step forward this year and is having the big offensive season lots of people have been waiting to see. If nothing else, Sanchez has boosted his trade stock.