Thoughts prior to the 2015 AL Wildcard Game

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Later tonight the Yankees will host the Astros in the 2015 AL wildcard game. The loser goes home, the winner goes to Kansas City to play the Royals in the ALDS. It’s Game Seven without all the fuss of Games One through Six. I’m excited and I want to puke at the same time. Here are some thoughts.

1. Talking about the baseball implications of CC Sabathia‘s decision to go to rehab is kinda uncomfortable but it is something that needs to be discussed. The Yankees have already had these talks, after all. Sabathia was going to be on the wildcard roster as an extra long reliever tonight — Brian Cashman all but confirmed it during his press conference yesterday — and now they don’t have anyone for that role. At least not anyone besides Adam Warren, who may be needed in middle relief. Michael Pineda just started Sunday and can’t pitch tonight. He won’t even be on the roster. I do expect Luis Severino and Ivan Nova to be on the roster as just in case arms, but a) I doubt Joe Girardi wants to use them, and b) they won’t be able to provide much length. Both started Saturday and today is their usual between-starts bullpen day (I think), so maybe the Yankees can get an inning or two out of them if necessary. In that case, if the game is tight and Girardi needs three outs before going to the usual late-inning relievers, maybe it’s best to let Severino air it out for an inning so Warren is available in extras. The hope was Sabathia wouldn’t have to pitch, but the fact he won’t even be on the roster now may change the bullpen dynamic.

2. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Chris Young will be in the starting lineup tonight. For starters, he has pretty great numbers against Dallas Keuchel — 6-for-20 (.300) with two doubles and a triple, though the two doubles came back in 2012, long before Keuchel broke out as an ace — and Girardi loves that stuff. He uses hitter/pitcher matchups all the time even though they aren’t the most predictive thing in the world. Eno Sarris had a more convincing reason why Young should be in the lineup: fly ball hitters tend to have a lot of success against ground ball pitchers. Young has one of the highest fly ball rates in baseball and Keuchel is the game’s most dominant ground ball pitcher. I think he’ll be in the lineup tonight and I think it’ll be Brett Gardner who finds himself on the bench. I’d rather see Jacoby Ellsbury on the bench — they’ve both been terrible in the second half, but at least Gardner’s at-bats are competitive, Ellsbury anecdotally makes a ton of weak contact early in the count — but there’s no way that happens. Gardner has sat in favor of young more often than Ellsbury this year and that’s what I think will happen tonight.

3. I’m not sure pitching on three days’ rest will be a big deal for Keuchel — I think the adrenaline of pitching in the postseason will more than compensate for any additional fatigue — but with any luck, he’ll tire out in the middle innings and force manager A.J. Hinch to go to the bullpen. A revived relief corps was a huge reason for Houston’s success this season, though that same bullpen struggled in September. They blew a lot of leads and let some winnable games slip away. That said, Hinch’s core relievers were fine in the final month:

Astros bullpen

All small sample sizes, obviously. Pat Neshek’s the only one who seems to have some real problems given his inability to miss bats or get ground balls. The other guys all had strong strikeout and walk rates — except for Will Harris, I guess, his strikeout and walk numbers were closer to average — and they weren’t getting clobbered with hard contact. I don’t want to make too much out of such a tiny number of innings. Houston’s bullpen had a mess September, yes, but the core relievers were mostly fine. Some bounces just didn’t go their way, hence the ugly ERAs.

4. So who’s ready for Postseason Carlos Beltran? By now you all know he has incredible career October numbers — those numbers: .333/.445/.683 (195 wRC+) with 16 homers in 51 games — and there is zero doubt in my mind his postseason success was a reason the Yankees targeted him two years ago. The only reason? Of course not. But definitely a reason. Can Beltran still do that stuff at age 38 — he “only” hit .268/.388/.464 (140 wRC+) in 17 postseason games with the 2013 Cardinals — after running around the outfield all summer? Gosh, I hope so. The offense has looked sluggish for weeks and the arrival of October Beltran would be one heck of a shot in the arm.

5. The Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka to win a game just like this one, and I feel like he’s not getting nearly enough respect heading into tonight. Don’t get me wrong, Keuchel had a tremendous year and probably deserves the Cy Young award, but Tanaka’s no slouch either. He’s shown the ability to step up in big games — Tanaka was the only Yankees starter to put up a fight against the Blue Jays down the stretch, and he flat out dominated that offense (22 IP, 12 H, 3 R, 3 BB 20 K in three starts) — and that’s why the Yankees lined him up to start the wildcard game. The Astros offense had the second highest strikeout rate (22.9%) and the 11th highest chase rate on pitches out of the zone (31.3%) during the regular season. Tanaka, meanwhile, had the second highest chase rate this year at 38.6%. (Carlos Carrasco was first at 38.7%, so he and Tanaka were neck and neck.) He excels at getting hitters to expand the zone. Keuchel might dominate the Yankees because he’s left-handed and has a changeup, sure. But don’t forget that the pitcher who is better than just about anyone at getting hitters to chase out of the zone is about to face a bunch of hitters who tend to hack at pitches off the plate.

Judge, Bird among top Baseball America’s top 20 Eastern League prospects

Judge and Bird in the Arizona Fall League. (Presswire)
Judge and Bird in the Arizona Fall League. (Presswire)

Baseball America’s look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league continued earlier today with the Double-A Eastern League. As always, the list is free but the scouting reports are not. Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito claims the top spot and is followed by Phillies SS J.P. Crawford and Mets OF Michael Conforto.

The Yankees have two players on the stacked — seriously, Giolito and Crawford are the two best prospects in the minors right now — Eastern League list: OF Aaron Judge ranks 15th while 1B Greg Bird ranks 16th. RHP Luis Severino only threw 38 innings with Double-A Trenton and did not qualify for the list. Josh Norris did not take any Yankees questions in the subscriber-only chat, so there’s no other information there.

“Having such a big body means Judge has a big area for pitchers to attack, with a greater probability of finding holes to exploit. The book on Judge this year read: work him hard inside before finishing him off with soft stuff away,” said the write-up. “Even so, Judge’s power is undeniable, and he has the potential to make an impact in the near future … Nearly all who watch him say he’s more athletic than they’d estimate simply by looking at his body, and all praise his throwing arm as plus.”

Judge, 23, hit .284/.350/.516 (147 wRC+) with 12 homers, an 8.6% walk rate, and a 25.0% strikeout rate in 63 games with the Thunder before being promoted to Triple-A Scranton. The relatively low ranking seems like an overreaction to Judge’s strikeout issues in Triple-A more than anything, especially since the guy ranked one spot ahead of him (Phillies C Andrew Knapp) is older and had a similar strikeout rate (22.4%) while slugging .356. (Oops, read the wrong stat line.) Whatevs.

As for the 22-year-old Bird, the scouting report says he has “shown an approach at the plate advanced beyond his years, as well as enough power to stick as an everyday player at a corner position.” He also received credit for showing “smoother actions around the bag at first base” this summer, although his defense is still not considered a plus. We’ve seen it firsthand the last few weeks.

Bird put up a .258/.358/.445 (133 wRC+) line with six homers in 49 Double-A games before being promoted to Triple-A. He struck out in 14.2% of his plate appearances and walked 11.3% of the time. 3B Eric Jagielo and C Gary Sanchez both qualified for the top 20 — at least based on their playing time compared to Bird’s — but simply fell short of the list. OF Jake Cave and RHP Brady Lail were long shots for the top 20.

The next and final list of interest to Yankees fans it the Triple-A International League. That will be released later this week. Judge and Severino are right on the playing time bubble and might not qualify for the list. Bird and Sanchez will almost certainly fall short of qualifying. 2B Rob Refsnyder had plenty of playing time with the RailRiders and could be the only Yankees farmhand on the top 20. OF Ben Gamel and RHP Bryan Mitchell are long shot candidates.

Other league top 20s: Rookie Gulf Coast League, Rookie Appalachian League, Short Season NY-Penn League, Low-A South Atlantic League, High-A Florida State League

Monday Night Open Thread

Today was the calm before the postseason storm. Except it wasn’t calm. The CC Sabathia rehab news sure was an unexpected development. Hopefully Sabathia beats this thing. This isn’t like getting a tooth pulled. Sabathia couldn’t delay this until after the postseason or something like that. He wants to go to rehab today, so he goes today. He might not want to go tomorrow. Addiction is brutal.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Lions and Seahawks are the Monday Night Football game, and that’s about it. No hockey or basketball yet. Talk about that game or anything else right here.

Workout Day Notes: Eovaldi, Capuano, Shreve, Beltran

Today is an off-day around baseball, but both the Yankees and Astros held a workout at Yankee Stadium this afternoon. Needless to say, CC Sabathia checking into rehab was the big story. Everyone in the organization stood behind him, from Brian Cashman to Joe Girardi to his teammates. “We play for CC now,” said Alex Rodriguez.

While Sabathia’s announcement dominated the workout today, there is some other news and notes to pass along. Here’s the important stuff from today’s workout:

The wildcard game rosters do not have to be made official until 10am ET tomorrow. An official announcement should come around that time.

Thoughts following the end of the 2015 regular season


The regular season is over and for the first time in three years, the Yankees are going to the postseason. They finished 87-75 and clinched a wildcard berth. Under the old setup, the Yankees would be playing the Royals in the ALDS as the wildcard team. Under the current system, they have to play the Astros in the wildcard game first. Should be fun. Intense, nerve-wracking, nail-biting fun. Here are some end-of-season thoughts.

1. Alex Rodriguez returned to the Yankees this year and hit .250/.356/.486 (129 wRC+) with 33 home runs. That is pretty awesome. Much better than I expected coming into the season — I was hoping he’d be league average with 15 homers or so! — given his age, long layoff, and hip issues. A-Rod offered nothing tangible beyond his bat — no defense, no base-running, nothing — though he did seem to be a good clubhouse dude. Rodriguez has always gone out of his way to help young players and stuff. All in all, I don’t think A-Rod’s return could have gone any better this season. Yeah, it would have been nice if he were able to play the field once in a while, but I’m happy with a highly productive DH.

2. Greg Bird did a tremendous job filling at first base, especially as a 22-year-old kid thrust into an everyday job for a team in a postseason race, but the Yankees really missed Mark Teixeira down the stretch. They missed his bat against lefties — Bird started strong against southpaws but that didn’t last, so he went 5-for-31 (.161) against lefties in the final month of the season — and they missed his middle of the order presence. Having Teixeira in that cleanup spot allowed everyone else to slot into a more appropriate lineup spot. Brian McCann, for example. He spent a lot of time batting fourth after Teixeira went down after spending most of the season batting fifth. It doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but it was. Everything seemed to fall into place behind Teixeira. The Yankees lost a lot of thump (and defense!) when he went down.

3. Brett Gardner has always been a better first half player — he has a 115 wRC+ in the first half and an 88 wRC+ in the second half in his career — but his second half slide was extreme this year. He went from .302/.377/.484 (137 wRC+) prior to the All-Star break to .206/.300/.292 (67 wRC+) after the break this season. Huge drop off. The ultra-plugged in Jon Heyman reported last week the Yankees are concerned about how Gardner tends to wear down during the course of the season given his all-out style of play, and I’m not sure what the team can do about it going forward other than giving him more days off early in the season. Maybe start him five times a week instead of six or seven? The Yankees could tell Gardner to turn it down a notch, but that rarely works. It’s in his DNA to play all-out. Either way, Gardner’s massive second half slide took a big bite out of the offense. The lineup works so much better when he’s seemingly getting on base two or three times a night.

4. Gardner’s slump short-circuited the top of the lineup, but not nearly as much as Jacoby Ellsbury being a complete non-factor following his knee injury. He hit .324/.412/.372 (124 wRC+) in his first 170 plate appearances, got hurt, missed seven weeks, then hit .224/.269/.332 (61 wRC+) in 331 plate appearances after returning. The end result was a .257/.318/.345 (83 wRC+) season batting line with 24 (!) extra-base hits. Ichiro Suzuki hit .281/.314/.364 (85 wRC+) with the Yankees. That’s what the Yankees got out Ellsbury this year. Ichiro production. Awful. Given the five years and $110M left on his contract, the Yankees have to hope Ellsbury never fully recovered from the knee injury and that’s what dragged his production down, and that he’ll be ready for Spring Training. Because if he was fully healthy and he put up those numbers … yikes.


5. The decline of Chasen Shreve was a huge late-season blow to the bullpen. Shreve was excellent for most of the season, especially so when his role was expanded during Andrew Miller‘s month on the DL. His problems started in early-August and gradually got worse, so much so that Shreve was unusable come the end of the season. It really got out of hand. Shreve went into August with a 1.77 ERA (3.16 FIP) in 40.2 innings, including a 25.5% strikeout rate and a 13.2% walk rate. He allowed three homers and three of 23 inherited runners to score (13%). After August 1st, Shreve had a 6.11 ERA (8.96 FIP) with a 21.9% strikeout rate and an 18.8% walk rate in innings. He allowed seven homers and 12 of 20 inherited runners to score. Gosh. He really collapsed. Shreve’s confidence has to be shot and I can’t imagine the Yankees will carry him on the wildcard roster at this point. (I know I projected him to be on the wildcard roster last week, but I can’t see it now.) Losing Shreve in the middle innings really thinned out the bullpen down the stretch. It hurt.

6. I think I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating: the bullpen shuttle was a good idea given the plethora of bullpen arms in Triple-A, but constantly swapping guys out didn’t allow any of them emerge as reliable relievers. They were throwing two or three innings at a time, then being sent out for a fresh arm. Having a perpetually fresh reliever in the bullpen was great! The Yankees really needed it for much of the summer. None of those guys had an opportunity to get consistent big league work though, and by the end of the season Joe Girardi didn’t know who he could and couldn’t use. It was impossible to evaluate those guys based on a smattering of innings — among the shuttle relievers, Branden Pinder led the way with 27.2 innings and no one else had more than 15.2 innings — and as a result, we still don’t know anything about their ability as MLB relievers. We learned nothing about them in 2015.

7. There is no denying the Yankees had a very ugly finish to the season. They won one of their last seven games despite playing relative bottom-feeders, and they looked terrible in all phases of the game. The offense was inconsistent at best, the rotation was not good, the bullpen was very shaky, and even Girardi’s decisions constantly backfired. Even the good ones. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. They limped to the finish, no doubt about it, but how we feel about the team seems to change from one day to the next. We’d all feel pretty confident right now had the Yankees finished with the same 87-75 record, but instead started slowly before surging into a postseason spot in the second half. I wish they would have been able to hold onto that seven-game lead and win the division, but, all things considered, this was a pretty successful year for the Yankees. Not too many picked them to contend.

8. Late last night the Angels officially announced they have hired Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler to be their new GM. He had been considered the front-runner for weeks, so this was no surprise. Apparently the two teams just waited to make sure they weren’t going to face each other in the postseason before announcing the hire. Eppler is the second person in the last week to be named a GM after cutting his front office teeth with the Yankees — the Braves (finally) named assistant GM John Coppolella their GM a few days ago; he spent the 2002-06 seasons wearing a few different hats for the Yankees, including director of baseball operations — and the Yankees’ third significant front office loss in the last two years. Two years ago scout Bill Livesey left to become a special advisor with the Pirates, and last October scout Gordon Blakeley left for an assistant GM job with the Braves. Livesey and Blakeley were advisors as much as scouts. They were with the organization a long time and had trusted voices. Aside from bringing in Jim Hendry three years ago, the Yankees tend to promote from within to fill front office roles. They seem to grow their own assistant GMs and department heads. Eppler was Brian Cashman‘s right hand man and losing him is a blow to the front office, but at the same time, it wasn’t a surprise. It’s been clear for a while he would get a GM job at some point. I’m sure the Yankees have already planned for the shifting front office dynamics.

8a. Quick and related note: I’m looking forward to seeing which current and former Yankees farmhands Eppler targets now, either in trades or as minor league free agents. That always happens, someone takes over as a GM and brings over a lot of his former favorite players, and there’s no reason to think it won’t happen with Eppler and the Angels. The Halos have a bad farm system and major depth issues — they had Jo-Jo Reyes (!) in the bullpen this weekend — so I’m sure Eppler will bring in some ex-Yankees to plug holes.

9. Alright, so what was your favorite moment of the season? I think the best individual game of the season was August 14th in Toronto — that was the Carlos Beltran pinch-hit three-run homer game, the one that ended with the Miller-Troy Tulowitzki battle — but the best game and favorite moment are usually different things. A-Rod’s 3,000th hit was very cool, so was his 660th home run to tie Willie Mays for fourth place on the all-time list. Remember that? It was a pinch-hit game-winner over the Green Monster. The McCann walk-off homer through the fireworks on July 3rd was awesome. Stephen Drew‘s early-season grand slam against the Orioles? Michael Pineda‘s 16-strikeout game? I know I’m missing a bunch of obvious memorable moments. The first one that jumped to mind when I thought about my favorite moment of the season was A-Rod’s 3,000th hit, so I’ll go with that.

CC Sabathia checks into alcohol rehab center, will not be available for postseason

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Monday afternoon the Yankees announced CC Sabathia has checked himself into an alcohol rehab center and will not be available this postseason. Here’s the statement Sabathia released:

“Today I am checking myself into an alcohol rehabilitation center to receive the professional care and assistance needed to treat my disease.

“I love baseball and I love my teammates like brothers, and I am also fully aware that I am leaving at a time when we should all be coming together for one last push toward the World Series. It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, and I want to be a better man, father and player.

“I want to thank the New York Yankees organization for their encouragement and understanding. Their support gives me great strength and has allowed me to move forward with this decision with a clear mind.

“As difficult as this decision is to share publicly, I don’t want to run and hide.  But for now please respect my family’s need for privacy as we work through this challenge together.

“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids — and others who may have become fans of mine over the years — to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.

“I am looking forward to being out on the field with my team next season playing the game that brings me so much happiness.”

It takes an awful lot of courage for Sabathia to come out and admit this publicly. It’s not an easy thing to do. Sabathia could have easily taken an unspecified leave of absence but he admitted his problem. Good for him and his family. There is no wrong time to get help. You know that if someone you love has ever battled addiction.

“It wasn’t a phone call I was expecting,” said Brian Cashman at a press conference this afternoon. “I applaud CC for his courage. He is not alone in this … What CC’s dealing with is a life issue. It’s bigger than the game we have tomorrow night.”

What does this mean for the postseason? I’m not sure. It’s uncomfortable to think about that right now. Sabathia’s problem is much bigger than baseball and I’m glad he’s getting the help he needs.

Yankeemetrics: Stumbling to the finish line (Oct. 3-4)

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)
(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Double Trouble
The Yankees had two chances to clinch homefield advantage in Saturday’s doubleheader against the Orioles … and two losses later, they had wasted both of them.

Ivan Nova started the opener and capped off his disappointing campaign with another dud. Following the game, Nova summed up his season with one word: “Bad.” Yup, that pretty much describes this: 6-11 , 5.07 ERA, 63 strikeouts, 33 walks.

He is the third Yankee starter in the last 20 years to finish a season with a win percentage below. 400, an ERA above 5.00 and a strikeout-to-walk ratio below 2.0, joining Darrell Rasner (2008) and David Cone (2000). Neither of those guys pitched another inning for the Yankees after those seasons.

Nova wasn’t the only Yankee pitcher who struggled in the afternoon. Chasen Shreve’s nightmare, late-season meltdown somehow reached a new low in the first game, too. Brought in to get the final out of the sixth inning, he allowed four of the five batters he faced to reach base and four Orioles crossed the plate while he was on the mound (two inherited runners plus two of his own).

This was the fourth straight appearance that he gave up at least one hit and then was pulled after getting no more than one out. No other Yankee pitcher has put together a streak like that in the last 100 years.

The end result of the second game was the same as the first one, but don’t blame Luis Severino. The 21-year-old delivered a good-but-not-great outing in his final start of the regular season and put the finishing touches on a historic rookie campaign.

His 2.89 ERA is the third-lowest in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) by any Yankee pitcher to make at least 10 starts in his age-21 season or younger, and his WHIP of 1.20 is the second-lowest. The two guys ahead of him in ERA are Whitey Ford (2.81 in 1950) and Bill Stafford (2.68 in 1961), and Stafford is (1.16) the only with a better WHIP than Severino (1.20).

Dellin Betances coughed up the winning run with his ninth wild pitch of the season in the eighth inning. His nine wild pitches are the second-most in a season by Yankee pitcher who didn’t start any games, behind Sparky Lyle’s 10 in 1977.

It was also the first earned run he’d allowed on the road since August 27, 2014. His streak of 38 consecutive road appearances without giving up an earned run was one shy of the longest by any major-league pitcher, a record shared by Javier Lopez (2013-14) and Pedro Feliciano (2006-07).

The end, finally
The Yankees finished the regular season just like they started it … with a loss. And going back further, remember when the Yankees lost six of their first nine games to begin the season — well, they lost six of their final nine game to end the season, too. Deja vu all over again.

It was just the third time in the last 20 seasons the Yankees were swept in their final series of the season: in 2000 they lost their last seven games and 2011 they ended the season on a four-game losing streak.

The loss also was their tenth in 19 games vs. the Orioles this season, the second year in a row they lost the season series with Baltimore. It’s the first time they’ve lost consecutive season series against the O’s since losing three in a row from 1980-82.

So, the Yankees finished the season with 87 wins, their third straight season with fewer than 90 wins. The last time they had a streak like this was a seven-season stretch during the darkest days of the franchise in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The only other time they qualified for the playoffs (excluding strike seasons) with fewer than 90 wins was in 2000 (87 wins). So maybe a glimmer of optimism?

Looking ahead to Tuesday’s do-or-die playoff game, the Yankees are the Wild Card team for the fifth time in team history, but the first time since the new format began in 2012. The Yankees have advanced past the ALDS round just once in their previous four appearances as the Wild Card — in 2010 when they lost the ALCS to the Rangers. They’ve never reached the World Series as a Wild Card team.