Mailbag: Game 162, Warren, Michael, Headley, Avila, Judge

Got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week. Send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll get to as many as I can each week.

(Elsa/Getty)
Sevy. (Elsa/Getty)

Bill asks: Say game 162 the yanks have clinched a spot in the WC game but haven’t cliched home field and can’t win the division. Your option is Severino in 162 and then Gray/Tanaka in the WC or Monty in 162 and Sevy in WC game which would the Yanks do?

Man, that’s tough. The Yankees are a better team at home than on the road, but are they so much better that it makes up for the difference between Luis Severino and either Sonny Gray or Masahiro Tanaka? Gray and Tanaka are awesome! But they’re not Severino right now. Here are the home-road splits heading into last night’s game:

W-L Run. Diff Runs Scored per Game Runs Allowed per Game
at Home 40-27 +87 5.42 4.12
on Road 38-39 +68 5.10 4.22

Ignore the win-loss record for a second. The difference between the Yankees at home and the Yankees on the road is basically one extra run scored every three games. That’s the big picture way of looking at things. In an individual game, one fly ball into the short porch can change everything. The Yankees are built for Yankee Stadium — their starters get ground balls, their relievers miss bats, and their hitters sock dingers — and you’d like to have that advantage in the Wild Card Game.

At the same time, you have to put your best foot forward in that Wild Card Game, and Severino gives you the best chance to win. And hey, who’s to say the Yankees wouldn’t win Game 162 behind Jordan Montgomery? They’re playing the Blue Jays that day and the Blue Jays stink. They figure to have one foot in the batter’s box and one foot on the plane home for the offseason that afternoon.

Also, shouldn’t the wildcard opponent matter to some degree? If the Angels leap over the Twins in the standings, does anyone want the Yankees traveling all the way out to Anaheim for the wildcard game? That would bite. A trip to Minnesota wouldn’t be too bad. And there’s also the home gate factor to consider. Playing a postseason game at home equals millions in revenue. There’s no guarantee Severino will win the Wild Card Game, but playing that game at home guarantees straight cash, homey.

I’m not sure there’s a right answer here. There’s a good argument for both sides. I think I’d roll with Montgomery in Game 162 and make sure Severino is lined up for the winner-take-all Wild Card Game. I wouldn’t be uncomfortable with Gray or Tanaka in the Wild Card Game, but Severino gives you a better chance to win, and that game is a must-win. I think the Yankees would start Severino in Game 162 and go with Gray or Tanaka in the wildcard game though. I think they’d much rather be at home for that game.

Many asked: Why did the Yankees put Adam Warren on the 10-day DL? What’s the benefit with rosters expanded in September?

There is no benefit other than allowing the Yankees to bring a player back from the minors before his ten days are up, though they didn’t do that in Warren’s case. The Yankees put Mark Teixeira on the disabled list in September 2015 and didn’t call anyone up, before they knew his bone bruise was a season-ending fracture, and Brian Cashman said at the time it was essentially an administrative move. It logs it as an official injury with the league office and that’s about it. It’s a nothing move, assuming you know for the sure player won’t be back in fewer than ten days. In Warren’s case, he’s going to be shut down for at least two weeks, so that’s no problem.

Lou asks: What are your thoughts of some Monument Park honor for Gene Michael? As a builder of the 1990s dynasty, he is as much deserving as some of the recent additions and retired numbers.

Yes, absolutely, and it probably should’ve happened already. I think Stick is absolutely deserving of a plaque given everything he’s done with the Yankees. His front office accomplishments obviously headline things, though he also played and coached and managed. And scouted too. Michael was not the general manager when the Yankees won all those World Series in the late-1990s, though he helped build the core of the roster, and when you build a dynasty, you deserve to be recognized. Stick should’ve had a plaque a while ago, I believe.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Head. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Dan asks: Looking at next year, is it better to keep Headley as a 3B/1B option or trade him while his value is high?

Eh, as good as Chase Headley has been the last three months or so, I’m not sure his trade value is all that high. He’s a corner bat with limited power and a pricey (though not outrageously so) contract. Even if the Yankees pay it down so that Headley is, say, an $8M player next year, I don’t know how many bites they’ll get. Teams are probably going to look for someone better in the offseason. I think the Yankees would unload Headley in the heartbeat this winter if the opportunity presented itself. Keeping him wouldn’t be the end of the world. He’d be insurance for the kids (Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar) at third and insurance for Greg Bird at first base.

Salvatore asks: Hello, 2 part question here. First part, do you think the Yankees chose to use Betances to close over Robertson as a way to increase value to possibly trade him during the offseason, by considering him a closer to jack up the price? Part 2, what do you think of possibly trading Dellin to a team in need of a closer (ex. Nationals, maybe Rangers) for multiple top prospects and in turn flipping those prospects with Yankees prospects for an Ace (Carlos Martinez, Chris Archer)

The first answer: No. I think Joe Girardi used Dellin Betances to close because at times like this, he’s always moved his relievers up one spot in the pecking order. Betances was the eighth inning guy, so he moved up to the ninth inning. That’s pretty much all there is to it. These days teams know better than to evaluate relievers through saves. At least the smart teams. I don’t think a handful of saves will change anything regarding trade value.

The second answer: I’m not opposed to trading anyone for the right package, whether it’s prospects or MLB players. I’m not sure how realistic getting Martinez (pretty much untouchable) or Archer (intra-division trade) is, but someone like that would obviously be a fine addition. The emergence of Chad Green and the return of David Robertson makes it easier to part with Betances, though I don’t think the Yankees would’ve have any trouble trading him even without those two guys. As long as they got quality pieces in return. The same is true now.

Douglas asks (short version): Is it just me or is Alex Avila potentially a good fit for next year’s roster? He’s a lefty swinger in a line-up that looks to be loaded with righties (Judge, Sanchez, Andujar, Torres, Castro), gets on-base at a decent clip (.389 OBP combined between Detroit and the Cubs this season, .351 for his career), potentially could fill in at first if Bird goes down for an extended period again.

The upcoming free agent class is pretty thin on catchers — when isn’t it? — so Avila is probably the best available backstop. Either him or Jonathan Lucroy, if you believe Lucroy can go back to being good at some point. (He’s been brutal this season.) Avila went into last night’s game hitting .270/.387/.464 (127 wRC+) with 14 home runs this season, making it by far his best offensive effort since his breakout 2011 season. He was one of those fly ball revolution guys earlier this year, though his fly ball rate has tailed off as the season has progressed:

alex-avila-fly-ballsDefensively, Avila grades out as an average thrower and blocker, and below-average pitch-framer. Even if you think he’ll revert back to the hitter he was from 2013-16 (95 wRC+), an average-ish all-around catcher makes for a good backup. Austin Romine seems like a good dude, but I have no idea what he brings to the table. Doesn’t hit, can’t throw, pitch-framing stats don’t like him. There’s more to life than blocking balls in the dirt.

The problem with Avila, and I think the problem the Yankees might have looking for a backup catcher the next ten years, is that he’s probably not going to want to sit behind Gary Sanchez. Who would? You’re not going to get much playing time as Sanchez’s backup. Avila’s been plenty good enough this season that he figures to find a starting job, or at least a platoon job somewhere this offseason. Yes, it makes sense to go after him, but this seems like an “Avila is a good fit for the Yankees but the Yankees are not a good fit for Avila” situation.

Paul asks: Chad Green and Dellin are both on pace for 100k from the bullpen. Has that ever been done before from 1 team?

Going into last night’s game Green had 99 strikeouts (42.1 K%) and Betances had 97 strikeouts (40.1 K%), so they should clear the century mark by the end of the Orioles series. Tommy Kahnle (86 strikeouts) and Robertson (84 strikeouts) both have a chance to get to 100 strikeouts as well, though most of theirs came with the White Sox. Anyway, here’s the full list of teams with two 100+ strikeout relievers:

  • 2015 Yankees: Betances (131) and Andrew Miller (100)
  • 2004 Angels: Francisco Rodriguez (123) and Scot Shields (109)
  • 1997 Orioles: Armando Benitez (106) and Arthur Rhodes (102)
  • 1989 Blue Jays: Duane Ward (122) and Tom Henke (116)
  • 1986 Blue Jays: Mark Eichhorn (166) and Henke (118)

Those two Blue Jays teams were back when relievers threw way more innings than they do now. Eichhorn threw 157 innings in 1986! Ward threw 114.2 innings in 1989. They don’t make relievers like that anymore. Aside from the Yankees, the Indians have the best shot at two 100+ strikeout relievers this season with Cody Allen (80) and Miller (79), and they’re probably too far away at this point. Doesn’t look like any other team will get there.

Rex asks: Do you think Judge took the same media relations college course as Jeter — in that he says a lot but reveals nothing much. I’m not being overly critical here but at times he’s seemingly almost goofing w the media by answering all questions by complimenting his teammates. Come on Judge, let us in!

The Yankees put their players through media training every year. Every team has media training, though the Yankees really kick it up a notch because of the whole New York thing. They essentially train players to not say anything controversial. Be respectful and say a lot of words without saying anything of substance, basically. Aaron Judge is unfailingly polite and always defers to his teammates. Judge goes 2-for-3 with two homers and a walk? Great team win. Really proud of the guys for battling. Every single time. On one hand, that’s a good attitude and it comes off well. On the other hand, it’s okay to have some personality! Judge definitely has the same “boring as hell publicly” trait as Derek Jeter. Nothing wrong with bat flipping a monster dinger now and then.

Judge. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)
Judge. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Tony asks: Maybe I am too apologetic to Gary (love those dingers!), but could part of his struggles with blocking balls in the dirt be related to the high-spin rate the Yankees value in their pitchers? It seems like we’re hearing that he’s in decent position but the ball still bounces away a few times. That, coupled with his willingness to continue to call breaking balls in the dirt with runners on, means that a flaw he needs to work on has become a cause for people to try to move him from behind the plate (not that I want that).

Oh, absolutely. The Yankees don’t have an easy pitching staff to catch. A few weeks ago Sanchez was charged with a passed ball when Aroldis Chapman missed on the other side of the plate with a 102 mph fastball in the dirt. I mean, come on. Catching all those Robertson breaking balls in the dirt can’t be easy. Catching Betances in general can’t be easy. Catching all those Tanaka splitters in the dirt can’t be easy. What about Gray, who varies the break on all his pitches and they look like they were thrown in a video game? This isn’t to excuse Sanchez, because his blocking absolutely needs to improve. But it’s important to have context. This isn’t the easiest pitching staff to catch overall.

Julian asks: If Judge finishes the season on the pace he had in the first half, does he go back to being the MVP front runner? Or is his struggles too much to overcome?

It’s too late to win MVP, I think. Judge is still third in the AL in both versions of WAR — he’s behind Jose Altuve and Mike Trout in fWAR, and Altuve and Andrelton Simmons in bWAR — though MVP is generally a performance-plus-narrative award, and the narrative is Judge has come up small down the stretch, when the Yankees needed him most. The fact the Yankees wouldn’t be anywhere near the postseason without his first half is the kind of thing that tends to get overlooked in these cases. Judge will almost certainly finish in the top ten of the MVP voting. Maybe even top five. Or even top three! I don’t think he’s going to win though. He’ll have to settle for being the Rookie of the Year, possibly unanimously (should be unanimous, anyway).

Michael asks (short version): Loved the Hosmer piece, I have a question regarding Greg Bird though. Unless he comes back from his back issue and goes on a 2015-esque hot streak, how can the Yankees possibly depend on him to be the full time 1st baseman next year?

I guess the same way they did this year, after he missed all of last season following shoulder surgery. They’ll absolutely have to bring in some kind of first base insurance. Or maybe Headley is that insurance now that he’s shown he can play the position? Either way, some sort of fallback plan needs to be in place, preferably someone better than Chris Carter. A fallback plan and a fallback plan for the fallback plan, ideally. I think the Yankees will — and should — give Bird next season to show whether he can stay healthy and produce. If he doesn’t, it’s probably time to move on. You can only wait so long after three straight years of injury and/or poor performance.

Michael asks: Whose season has surprised you more this year, Severino or Green?

Severino for sure. A good but not great starting pitcher prospect turning into a monster in relief isn’t all that surprising anymore. Happens a few times around the league each year. Archie Bradley did it this season for the Diamondbacks. The signs were there that Green could be a pretty good reliever. On the other hand, a young starter going from getting smacked around in MLB and spending time in Triple-A one year to being one of the top three starters in the league the next is pretty damn rare. I’m not sure even the most optimistic Severino fans saw this season coming. This is the best case scenario.

Judge goes deep twice in 13-5 blowout win over Orioles

Nothing like facing Orioles pitching to raise morale. The Yankees hammered the Orioles on Thursday night, in the first game of their four-game series. The final score was 13-5, and it was only that close because some September call-up relievers made a mess of things late.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Six Runs In The First
Going into Thursday’s game, the Yankees had scored 120 runs in 15 games against the Orioles this season. No team in baseball had scored more runs against any other team. Nineteen pitches into the game, O’s lefty Made Wiley had to be pulled and the Yankees were sitting on a 6-0 lead. It was the shortest start of Miley’s seven-year career. Six hits, six runs, one out. Yeesh.

The Yankees scored their first run real quick. Third pitch single by Jacoby Ellsbury, first pitch single by Aaron Judge, second pitch double into the left field corner by Gary Sanchez. Three hits and a run within six pitches. Matt Holliday plated another run with a fielder’s choice and Chase Headley lined a single the other way to drive in yet another run. Four hits and three runs within 12 pitches. Pretty great.

The big blow of that first inning was Todd Frazier‘s three-run home run to dead center field, which ended Miley’s start and gave the Yankees a 6-0 lead. I love those home runs to cap off a big inning. Stringing together four hits (and a fielder’s choice) to score three runs surely frustrated the hell out of Miley and the O’s. But man, those home runs that turn a good inning into a great inning are just the best. The entire bench gave Frazier a thumbs down …

thumbs-down

… because that’s a thing the Yankees do now. You can thank that guy who gave Frazier a thumbs down following his three-run home run at Citi Field the other day. The entire team is doing it now. The point into the dugout has been replaced by a thumbs down. I approve. Anyway, Frazier’s homer broke the inning open. Remember, home runs don’t kill rallies. They create an opportunity to start new rallies.

Seven Strong From Tanaka
Kind of a weird ho hum start from Masahiro Tanaka. He needed only seven pitches to retire the side in the first inning, and never again did he take the mound with anything less than a five-run lead. Tanaka mostly did what a veteran pitcher does with a big lead, which is throw strikes, and that led to some hits. It also led to two solo homers, though I’m not going to sweat two solo homers in a blowout win.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tanaka’s final line: 7 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K on 102 pitches. His biggest jam — if you can even call it a jam considering the Yankees led 13-2 at the time — came in the seventh inning, when the Orioles put runners on second and third with one out. Tanaka escaped by striking out September call-ups Anthony Santander and Austin Hays. He generated a ridiculous 27 swinging strikes in this game. Here is this year’s single-game swing-and-miss leaderboard:

  1. Yu Darvish: 29 vs. Rays on July 21st
  2. Max Scherzer: 28 vs. Marlins on June 21st
  3. Masahiro Tanaka: 27 vs. Orioles on September 14th
  4. Jacob deGrom: 27 vs. Nats on April 27th
  5. Ervin Santana: 26 vs. Padres on August 2nd

Tanaka got roughed up by the Rangers last time out, and based on Thursday’s performance, that game against Texas was an outlier. Just a dud. Happens to everyone at some point. Tanaka now owns a 3.34 ERA (3.58 FIP) in his last 14 starts and 89 innings. Go Masahiro.

Insurance Runs From The Baby Bombers
Scoring six runs in the first inning is a wonderful thing. But with nine innings to go and the home run happy Orioles in the other dugout, tacking on insurance runs is never a bad idea. Judge provided three insurance runs with one swing in the fourth inning. He hit a missile out to right-center field that cleared the bullpen and landed in the first row of the bleachers. That’s five homers in the last ten games for Judge.

Two innings later, Judge provided three more insurance runs with another three-run home run. This one landed in the second deck in left field. You don’t see too many balls hit there. Statcast had that one at 448 feet. Judge went 3-for-4 in the game and is now 25-for-53 (.472) with eleven home runs in 16 games against the O’s this season. His second homer felt like a formality. Richard Rodriguez knew Judge had to hit a homer and Judge knew he had to hit a homer, so Rodriguez grooved him a first pitch fastball and Judge took an easy batting practice swing.

That home run was seething with obligation. Everyone was expecting it. Rodriguez had to allow a homer and Judge had to hit a homer. It’s just the way it had to be, so it was done. That’s now six homers in the last ten games for our large adult baseball son. The two three-run home runs gave the Yankees a 12-2 lead. Sanchez made it 13-2 with a solo home run to center fielder because hey, he’s pretty awesome too. Get used to seeing Judge and Gary going back-to-back. Won’t be the last time.

Leftovers
Thirteen runs on 14 hits and six walks for the Yankees, who struck out only six times. The 1-2-3 hitters went a combined 6-for-10 with a double, three home runs, and three walks. They scored eight runs and drove in eight as well. Every starter had a hit except Ronald Torreyes, who managed to go 0-for-4 in the blowout. Clint Frazier went 2-for-3 with a walk and looked real good. Ripped a double off the right-center field wall.

Tanaka allowed two runs in seven innings. Bryan Mitchell and Gio Gallegos allowed three runs in two innings. They kinda stink. Or at least they did Thursday. The good news is all the top relievers got a night off. They’ve all worked quite a bit of late. Erik Kratz came off the bench with a single, so he is hitting 1.000/1.000/1.500 in two at-bats as a Yankee. Greg Bird flew out in his pinch-hit at-bat. It was his first game action since Sunday.

And finally, it sure looked like Buck Showalter had home plate umpire Brian O’Nora check whether Tanaka was doctoring the ball in the first inning, after he struck out Tim Beckham. The O’s dugout got O’Nora’s attention, O’Nora called for the ball, he looked at it, then threw it back to Tanaka and gave the O’s dugout a nod. Hmmm. Buck has been needling the Yankees with nonsense like that for years. I assume that was more of the same.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Go to ESPN for the box score and updated standings, and MLB.com for the video highlights. FanGraphs has postseason odds and we have a Bullpen Workload page. Here’s the blowout probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
This four-game series is just getting started. The Yankees and Orioles will play the second game of this four-game set at Yankee Stadium on Friday night. Luis Severino and Gabriel Ynoa are the scheduled starting pitchers.

DotF: Adams and Carter struggle in postseason losses

A couple notes before we get to the games:

  • Baseball America posted the Yankees’ Instructional League roster, if you’re interested. As always, it is mostly lower level kids and recent draftees, as well as Arizona Fall League players who need to stay sharp the next few weeks. Instructs should be starting any day, if they haven’t already.
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d) posted a bunch of scouting notes on Yankees prospects. He reiterated RHP Dillon Tate was back to where he was at the time of the 2015 draft — which means he still needs to improve his command — and also praised RHP Jonathan Loaisiga. “He has quickly established himself as one of the system’s best starting pitching prospects. Loaisiga was 92-96 that evening with a power two-plane curveball at 80-84 and some feel for a changeup at 85-87 … I like his chances to remain a starter given the potential for three pitches and the way he repeats his delivery,” said Law of Johnny Lasagna.

Triple-A Scranton (6-2 loss to Durham) they trail the best-of-five International League Championship Series two games to one

  • CF Mason Williams: 1-5, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • 2B Donovan Solano: 2-5, 1 RBI — he’s been their best player all postseason
  • RF Billy McKinney: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K — 4-for-28 (.143) in the postseason and hitless in this series
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 0-4, 3 K
  • 1B Garrett Cooper: 2-3, 1 BB, 1 K — 13-for-40 (.325) in his last ten games overall
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K
  • RHP Chance Adams: 4 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 1/5 GB/FB — 47 of 80 pitches were strikes (59%) … shortest start of the season (that didn’t involve a rain delay)
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 1.1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB — ten of 14 pitches were strikes (71%)

[Read more…]

Game 146: Back in the Bronx

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Yankees have been home in New York for three days now, and tonight they return home to Yankee Stadium for the start of a seven-game homestand against two wildcard hopefuls. Three neutral site games at Citi Field was kinda neat — the circumstances were terrible, obviously — but it’s good to be back home. Home home. The Yankees have 17 games remaining this season and 14 will be in the Bronx. Hooray for that.

The Orioles are in town for four games this weekend and it is basically do or die time for them. They are seven games behind the Yankees and, more importantly, 4.5 games behind the Twins for the second wildcard spot. With five teams ahead of them. Sucks for them. The Yankees are still within striking distance of the Red Sox for the AL East crown. This weekend is a good chance to beat up on some bad pitching and gain ground. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 1B Chase Headley
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Todd Frazier
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. LF Clint Frazier
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cloudy and kinda sticky in New York right now. It rained on-and-off this afternoon and it is expected to do the same tonight. Doesn’t look like it’ll be anything heavy enough to delay the game, however. Hope not. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Greg Bird (back) is ready to play, though he is not in tonight’s lineup against left-hander Wade Miley. He is expected to play tomorrow … Aaron Hicks (oblique) has started working out but has yet to swing a bat. He’s been sick the last day or two and the Yankees have had him stay home … Adam Warren (back) remains shut down. The Yankees are hopeful he’ll be back before the end of the season.

9/14 to 9/17 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

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

After taking two of three at Citi Field, the Yankees return across town to face the Baltimore Orioles for the last time this season. The Yankees have won 9 of 15 from the O’s this season and need just one win in this four-game set to clinch the season series.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees and O’s haven’t played since … last week. On Sept. 4-7, the Bombers won their first series at Camden Yards in four years as they broke out the bats.

  • Chad Green got seven outs (4 Ks) in relief in the opener as the Yankees overcame a 3-0 deficit with seven straight runs. Aaron Judge walked four times while Starlin Castro had three hits, including a home run.
  • After a long rain delay, the Yankees slowly surrendered a 6-1 lead on a series of home runs. They came within one out of victory but Manny Machado slugged a two-run walk-off shot off a Dellin Betances curveball to seal the crushing defeat.
  • Sonny Gray held Baltimore to one unearned run in the finale while Judge, Castro, Chase Headley and Todd Frazier each homered in a 9-1 blowout victory over Kevin Gausman and co.

Since They Last Met

  • Once they were done with the Yankees, the Orioles traveled to Cleveland. Not great timing. They were promptly swept by the Indians, who picked up wins No. 16-18 during their current 21-game streak.
  • North of the border, the O’s took two more L’s in the first two games of the series with the Blue Jays, both by one run. They held a 2-1 lead into the ninth on Tuesday, but usually reliable Zach Britton blew the save and took the loss.
  • They finally picked up a much-needed win in the sixth game of their 10 game set. Gausman threw seven one-run innings before the bullpen hung on. Trey Mancini did some damage with an RBI triple.

Their Story Right Now

After ending their six-game losing streak, the Orioles are now 72-74, a good 4.5 back of the second wild card. They were just one game back eight days ago and now they’d have to pass five teams in 2.5 weeks to reach the postseason. Anything short of a sweep this weekend is likely not enough for them and even said sweep would only pull them to within 3.5 of the Yankees.

They still have plenty of power in the middle of their order (Machado, Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Trey Mancini) but their starting rotation most closely resembles Swiss cheese. Furthermore, Tim Beckham boarded the regression train this month, hitting just .184 since the calendar flipped from August.

Lineup We Might See

On Monday, Wellington Castillo had his second groin injury of the year, taking a foul ball to his nether regions. He was taken to the hospital and Caleb Joseph has started the last two games behind the plate. It’s unclear whether Castillo will be back this weekend.

1. Tim Beckham, SS – (.285/.332/.466)
2. Manny Machado, 3B – (.269/.323/.496)
3. Jonathan Schoop, 2B – (.302/.346/.527)
4. Adam Jones, CF – (.283/.319/.471)
5. Trey Mancini, LF – (.291/.338/.500)
6. Chris Davis, 1B – (.217/.311/.429)
7. Mark Trumbo, DH – (.241/.295/.412)
8. Seth Smith, RF – (.259/.340/.439)
9. Caleb Joseph, C – (.263/.295/.425)

The lineup has remained relatively steady in recent games with Davis and Trumbo flipping spots while Seth Smith and Joey Rickard have each played the outfield. We could see Pedro Alvarez, who made his season debut vs. the Yankees last week.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Wade Miley

Miley is on pace to add some unwanted black ink to his Baseball Reference page this year as he leads all of baseball with 84 walks issued. Derek Holland is the closest pitcher to him with 75, but he was cut by the White Sox.

Seven of those walks came in his first start of the year against the Yankees. While he lasted just 10 innings over two starts vs. NYY, he held them to two runs with some timely outs. He comes into play Thursday with a 4.96 ERA over 29 starts.

Last Outing (at CLE on Sept. 8) – 5.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 4 K

Friday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Gabriel Ynoa

Just 24 years old, Ynoa made his first start for the Orioles on Saturday in Cleveland. The Orioles acquired him from the Mets in February and he’s been up and down this season. He threw two shutout innings in relief against the Yankees on Labor Day. He utilizes a mid-90s fastball/sinker and a mid-80s slider as his primary offerings.

Last Outing (at CLE on Sept. 9) – 4.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 2 K

Saturday (4:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson

Hellickson was a puzzling deadline acquisition for the Orioles and he’s done little to add value since joining the O’s. Likely he was just a fresh arm to throw into the mix for a dreadful rotation. The right-hander has a career-low strikeout rate and is allowing nearly two home runs per nine innings. He’s allowed 10 in the 42 2/3 innings he’s thrown for the O’s.

While he didn’t give up a homer to the Yankees on Sept. 5, he did walk four and give up five runs en route to an early hook after seven outs.

Last Outing (at CLE on Sept. 5) – 6.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 1 K

Sunday (1:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. TBA

Both Dylan Bundy and Ubaldo Jimenez will be able to make this start, so it’s unclear to which right-hander Buck Showalter will turn. Jimenez pitched one inning of relief last week against the Yankees, but he’s been exclusively a starter otherwise since mid-June. Emblematic of his 6.75 ERA, he’s allowed five or more runs 12 times this season.

Bundy has been much better (4.03 ERA in his first full season as a starter in the majors) but the Yankees got to him early for the first time on Labor Day. They tagged him for five runs and put nine men on base in his four innings of work.

The Bullpen

Britton recovered from his blown save Tuesday to shut down the Blue Jays Wednesday. That means he’s likely unavailable Thursday. The All-Star closer sports a 3.09 ERA in his injury-shortened season after his 0.54 mark in 2016.

Darren O’Day, Brad Brach and Mychal Givens are the primary setup men right now with O’Day fulfilling that duty yesterday. Righty Miguel Castro has seen plenty of work, but he’s allowed runs in each of his last three outings. Rookie RHP Jimmy Yacabonis and former Yankee Richard Bleier have each had four appearances this month and are middle relief options From there, it’s a free-for-all. Expect plenty of pitching changes with Showalter and his lower tier rotation.

Who (Or What) to Watch?

The Orioles season has spiraled out of control since the Yankees went to Camden Yards on Labor Day, so it’d only be fitting if the Bombers put the finishing touches on the O’s. If the Yanks are going to make up ground on Boston, they need to take advantage of a team they’ve consistently beaten at Yankee Stadium this season.

In terms of the play itself, Aaron Judge hits Baltimore especially well. He’s hit an absurd .449/.603/1.082 in 68 PAs against the O’s, launching nine home runs and walking 19 times to just 14 strikeouts. Baltimore had zero interest in giving him pitches to hit last week, so we’ll see if they avoid him once again over the four-game set.

Yankeemetrics: Feeling right at home in Queens (Sept. 11-13)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Let the good times roll …
Riding the momentum of a three-game win streak, the Yankees headed back to the Northeast to play a “road series” against the Rays at Citi Field due to Hurricane Irma. Despite spotting the Rays an early 1-0 lead, the Yankees were unfazed by the early deficit, and thanks to an explosive five-run fourth inning, cruised to a relatively easy 5-1 win on Monday. This game-script has actually become a familiar one for the 2017 Yankees (ranks through Monday):

  • 31st win when the opponent scores first, the most among AL teams and tied for the second-most in the majors.
  • Of course, it also helps that it was the 80th game this season in which they allowed the first runs of the game; only the Phillies and Athletics have more games.
  • 23rd time they scored at least five runs in an inning, tied with the Nationals and Astros for the most 5-or-more-run innings in MLB this season.

Todd Frazier turned a pitchers duel into a rout with a three-run homer in the fourth inning to give the Yankees a 5-1 advantage. The likelihood of him simply getting a hit in that situation – runners on first and second – was low: Frazier entered the game hitting .176 with men on base, the second-worst average in the majors (min. 150 at-bats).

The guy on first when Frazier went deep was Jacoby Ellsbury, who reached base via catcher’s interference for the 30th time in his career, breaking the major-league record for that obscure stat. The mark was previously set by Pete Rose, who got his 29 catcher’s interferences in a major-league-record 15,890 plate appearances; Ellsbury’s 30th came in his 5,308th plate appearance.

The unsung hero of the game was David Robertson, who took over for CC Sabathia with one out in the fifth and two men on base. He got out of the jam by striking out the next two batters and then held the Rays scoreless over next two frames. It was the first time in his career he pitched more than two innings and the earliest he entered a game since April 9, 2011.

How was D-Rob able to dominate the Rays? He peppered the edges of the strike zone with his signature cutter/curveball combo:

robertson

And got a few key outs with his devastating breaking ball (two strikeouts and two groundouts). Robertson’s curve is so nasty because of its ability to get whiffs and grounders at ridiculously high rates. More than 200 pitchers this year have thrown at least 100 curveballs, and only one other – Craig Kimbrel – can match Robertson’s 50 percent whiffs-per-swing rate and his 60 percent groundball rate with the pitch.

… and then see the good times come to a screeching halt
Buckle up, folks, this is going to be a bumpy and exasperating rollercoaster ride down the stretch in September. After enjoying a few days of offensive bliss, the Yankee bats crashed back down to earth on Tuesday. They were held to three hits – and didn’t get a runner past first base after the first inning – in a listless and boring 2-1 loss.

Yes, another one-run loss. It was their 25th of the season, which leads the American League and is also more than twice as many as they suffered last year (12). With a record of 15-25 (.375) in games decided by one run, they are still on pace for the fourth-worst winning percentage in those games in franchise history.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

They wasted another gem by Sonny Gray, who literally threw two bad pitches: his first one of the night, a 94 mph fastball up-and-away that Kevin Kiermaier deposited into the right-centerfield seats, and his 90th of the night, another elevated four-seamer that Adeiny Hechavarria clobbered for a tie-breaking solo homer in the eighth inning.

Kiermaier’s shot was the ninth leadoff homer allowed by the Yankees this season, which is one more than their pitchers gave up in 2015 and 2016 combined. For Gray, it was the first time in his career he surrendered a longball on the first pitch he threw in a game.

This lack of run support has become a recurring nightmare for Gray, who is 3-5 with a 2.66 ERA in eight starts with the team. In those five losses, they have scored a total of four runs. Tuesday’s heart-breaker was the fourth time as a Yankee that he got charged with a loss despite giving up no more than two earned runs. That’s the most such losses suffered by any starting pitcher in the majors since Gray made his first start in pinstripes on August 3. #KillTheWin

Gray certainly doesn’t deserve this fate, so let’s celebrate how terrific he’s been this season. It was his eighth consecutive road start allowing no more than two earned runs, the longest streak in the AL this season. The streak dates back more than three months, and during that stretch he’s posted a 1.99 ERA in those eight road starts, the best mark in the AL among guys with at least 35 innings pitched since June 1.

(AP)
(AP)

Survive and advance
Not even another massive RISPFAIL performance can stop the Fighting Spirit freight train that the Yankees have been riding this season. Despite leaving a small navy of runners on base and wasting a ton of scoring chances, the Yankees escaped with a 3-2 win on Wednesday to win their fourth straight series.

Joe Girardi went to The Binder early, yanking Jaime Garcia with two outs in the fifth inning after he’d only thrown 78 pitches and had allowed just one run at the time. This has become a signature call for Girardi this season — it was the 13th time a Yankee starter was removed before completing five innings, despite not giving up no more than two earned runs. That’s the most such starts by any AL team and tied with the Brewers for the MLB-high.

Yet you could hardly fault Girardi for an early hook with Garcia, given his massive splits when facing batters multiple times in a game (stats and ranks entering Wednesday):

  • 1st time through order: .542 OPS, ranked 15th out of 172 starters with at least 100 batters faced
  • 2nd time through order: .783 OPS, ranked 88th out of 171 starters with at least 100 batters faced
  • 3rd time through order: .989 OPS, ranked 114th out of 119 starters with at least 100 batters faced

[And it also helps when you have a Pitching Cyborg — aka Chad Green — with 99 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings and a 1.96 ERA ready to go in the bullpen]

Brett Gardner — living up to his G.G.B.G. nickname — was the rare Yankee who came through in the clutch, driving in two runs with a bases-loaded single in the second inning that would end up as the game-winning hit. He is now 11-for-21 (.524) with the bases loaded since the start of last season, the best mark among any AL player with at least 20 at-bats and the second-best in MLB behind Daniel Murphy.

Subtracting velocity has been key to Luis Severino’s improved changeup

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Regardless of what happens the rest of the year, this has been an overwhelmingly positive season for the Yankees and their youth movement. Both Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez emerged as bonafide middle of the order thumpers in their first full MLB seasons, and Luis Severino bounced back from a disappointing 2016 season to become a legitimate Cy Young candidate. He’s going to finish in the top five of the voting. Maybe top three.

What’s the difference between 2016 Severino and 2017 Severino? A lot of things, really. First and foremost, I think his command is so much better. Command is not something we can measure — walk rate is a control stat, not a command stat — it’s something we have to see. Based on my observations, Severino is doing a much better job locating on the edges of the plate, and just off the plate. He made a lot of middle-middle mistakes last year.

Second, confidence. Last season it appeared Severino got scared out of the strike zone at times, and a little fastball shy. And who could blame him? He was young and getting hit hard. This year he looks like a dominator on the mound. He’s oozing confidence and you can tell he knows he’s in command of the game. There is no doubt in my mind last year’s success out of the bullpen contributes to that. He took the bullpen mentality to the rotation.

And third, his changeup. Severino always had a quality changeup coming up through the minors. We saw it in 2015. Last year he didn’t have much success with the pitch, and as a result he basically stopped throwing it late in the year. Even when he moved back into the rotation. He’d throw one or two per start, maybe. Back in 2015 he threw 10-20 changeups per start. Last season he made eleven starts and threw double-digit changeups only five times.

This season Severino is again sitting the 10-20 changeup range, and he’s throwing more and more changeups as the season progresses. Heck, he threw 29 changeups in a game against the Red Sox back in July. That never would’ve happened last year. The thing that has caught my eye about Severino’s changeup, especially the last few weeks, is the velocity. Here is his changeup velocity by start with error bars showing the minimum and maximum velocities, via Brooks Baseball:

luis-severino-changeup

In 2015 and 2016, Severino’s changeup sat right around 90 mph and didn’t deviate too much from that velocity. His slowest changeup from 2015-16: 85.5 mph. His fastest changeup from 2015-16: 94 mph, and I’m pretty sure that’s a mistake. PitchFX must has classified a fastball with a little extra sink on it as a changeup. His second fastest changeup from 2015-16 was 91.7 mph, so yeah, that’s probably it.

For all intents and purposes, Severino’s changeup velocity range was 85 mph to 92 mph from 2015-16. This year, as you can see from the error bars in the graph, he’s thrown his changeup down around 80 mph in several starts, with a few in the 70s as well. Look at his last few starts in particular. Severino has been throwing his changeup anywhere from 80 mph to 90 mph. Heck, Severino threw a 79.0 mph changeup and a 90.1 mph changeup in the same at-bat Saturday. From Baseball Savant:

luis-severino-nomar-mazaraLast year I thought part of Severino’s problem was the lack of separation between his pitches. I’m pretty sure I wrote that somewhere, but I can’t seem to find it now. Whatever. (Update: Here it is!) Anyway, everything Severino threw was hard. It was all 90 mph and above, for the most part. Throwing hard is great, but big league hitters can time velocity if you give them enough time adjust, and when everything (fastball, slider, changeup) comes in around the same velocity, it’s that much easier to time.

This year Severino is achieving much greater velocity separation between his fastball and changeup. His average fastball is 97.7 mph. That’s ridiculous. It’s also the highest average fastball velocity among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title by nearly one full mile an hour. (Chad Kuhl is second at 96.9 mph. No, really.) Catching up to 97.7 mph is hard enough. Now imagine doing it when the pitcher could bust out a low-80s (or even upper-70s) changeup. That’s how aces are made. We’re talking about a 15-20 mph separation between the fastball and changeup. That’s enormous. The league average is 9.1 mph.

Severino’s success this season — there’s basically nothing that could happen the last two and a half weeks that would take him off Cy Young ballot at this point — is the result of many things. Improved command, more confidence, experience, natural growth, and an improved changeup. That pitch was a non-factor for him much of last season. This year it is a legitimate weapon, and it’s only his third pitch. The fastball-slider combination is damn near elite. Add in a changeup that is approaching Bugs Bunny status, and there’s every reason to believe this version of Severino is here to stay.