Yankeemetrics: How sweet it is, Bombers sweep Twinkies (Sept. 18-20)

(AP)
(AP)

Who needs clutch hitting?
In what was billed as a potential Wild Card game preview, the Yankees struck first with a narrow 2-1 win in the series opener over the Twins. They overcame another massive RISPFAIL (0-for-12 with runners in scoring position) thanks to justenough power at the plate and a (mostly) lock-down performance on the mound.

Aaron Judge continued the steady climb out of his post-break slump with a first-inning solo bomb. It was his 28th home run in the Bronx this year, moving him into a tie for fourth place on the franchise single-season list for homers hit at home. A few guys named Gehrig (30 in 1934), Maris (30 in 1961), and Ruth (29 in 1928) are ahead of him.

After the Twins tied it in the fifth, Todd Frazier delivered a game-winning bases-loaded sac fly in the sixth inning. Here’s a “betcha didn’t know” stat: that was the Yankees’ 52nd sacrifice fly of the season, the second-most in the majors behind the Astros. The last time they finished first or second in sac flies was 20 years ago (!) when they hit an MLB-best 70 in 1997.

Jaime Garcia pitched his finest game in pinstripes, allowing one unearned run on four hits while striking out nine, before getting pulled with two outs in the sixth. He remained winless as a Yankee, though, giving us an excuse for another #KillTheWin Yankeemetric:

Garcia is the third pitcher over the last 100 seasons to not get a win in his first seven starts with the Yankees – the others were Steve Trout in 1987 and Mike Kekich in 1969 – but his 3.86 ERA is by far the best among that trio (both those other guys had ERAs way above 5.00 during their streaks).

The Yankees nearly wasted Garcia’s gem as Dellin Betances‘ control problems re-surfaced in an ugly eighth inning, during which three of the four guys he faced reached base without a hit (two walks, hit-by-pitch). Adding in the wild pitch he threw, and Betances gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series.

Yes, it is very hard to cram all of that wildness into such a short outing. He is the first Yankee since at least 1912 to hit a guy, throw a wild pitch and issue multiple walks — while facing no more than four batters in a game.

Walks have always been a problem for Betances but he’s taken the hit-by-pitch issue to another level this year. It was the 10th time he hit a guy, becoming the first reliever in franchise history to plunk double-digit batters in a season. Betances had a total of nine hit-by-pitches in his major-league career before this year.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Don’t forget about the Elder Bombers
The Yankees continued to build momentum down the stretch with a 5-2 win on Tuesday, clinching their sixth straight series win. Over the last month, the only series they have lost was to the Indians (August 28-30) during their historic 22-game win streak.

The win also was their third in five games against the Twins in 2017, and with Wednesday’s finale being the only remaining matchup, the Yankees still haven’t lost a season series to the Twins since 2001. That is … good?

CC Sabathia battled through a shaky first inning, but recovered for one of his sharpest and most efficient starts of the season (77 pitches, six innings, two runs). Sabathia’s ability to come up huge in the most critical games has been well-documented here. And now we’ve got another “Big Game CC” stat to chew on: following Tuesday’s solid outing, he is 6-0 with a 1.25 ERA in seven starts against opponents with a .500 record or better this season. That’s the best record and lowest ERA in the majors among pitchers that have started at least five games against winning teams.

We’ve also got a Milestone Alert Yankeemetric for the big fella: his strikeout of Chris Gimenez to end the second inning was the 2,833rd of his career, moving him past Mickey Lolich for 18th place on the major-league all-time strikeout list, and third place among left-handers.

Most Strikeouts by LHP in MLB History
1. Randy Johnson – 4,875
2. Steve Carlton – 4,136
3. CC Sabathia – 2,836
4. Mickey Lolich – 2,832

Brett Gardner stuffed the stat sheet and provided the offensive spark at the top of the order, with three hits, two RBIs and a stolen base. The last Yankee leadoff batter to reach each of those totals in a game was Derek Jeter on July 9, 2011.

If that date sounds familiar …. yup, it was the Mr. 3000 game, when Jeter got his 3,000th hit against the Rays and produced one of the most iconic highlights in franchise history.

#TooManyHomers
The Bronx Bombers returned to their bread-and-butter winning strategy – explosive innings and dingers galore – in sweeping the Twins with a 11-3 win on Wednesday. It was their ninth sweep in 2017, nearly twice as many as they had last year (5).

If these teams do end up meeting for a one-game playoff in less than three weeks, the Yankees should like their chances based on recent history.

Their .721 winning percentage (44-17) in the regular season against the Twins since 2009 is the highest in any head-to-head matchup between any MLB teams (min. 25 games) over the past nine seasons. The Yankees’ domination extends to the postseason, too. They are 12-2 against the Twins in the playoffs – their best postseason record against any opponent (min. 10 games) in franchise history – and have won all four series played between the two clubs.

So … back to Wednesday’s game …. Not only did we get a ton of offensive fireworks to enjoy, but we also saw a bunch of rare, historical feats. Let’s dive into the stat madness!

(AP)
(AP)

Judge started the party with a two-run homer in the third inning, his 45th of the season. He is the second outfielder in baseball history with 45 homers and 115 walks in his age-25 season or younger. The other? Babe Ruth in 1920.

The homer also gave him 100 RBIs for the year (he added RBI No. 101 later in the game on a sac fly), and when combined with his triple-digit-plus walk and run-scoring numbers, Judge has put himself in some very impressive company. Judge is the …

  • Fifth Yankee age 25 or younger with at least 100 RBI, 100 runs and 100 walks: Mickey Mantle, Charlie Keller, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth are the others
  • Second rookie all-time to with more than 100 walks, runs and RBIs, joining Ted Williams (1939)
  • Only right-handed batter in Yankees history to have a 100-walk, 100-RBI, 100-run season

Gary Sanchez then went back-to-back with Judge in the third, belting a mammoth 439-foot blast deep into Monument Park. Fifteen of his 32 homers this season have gone at least 425 feet, the highest rate (47 percent) among all players with at least 20 homers.

The Yankees turned the game into a rout with a six-run fourth inning, sparked by Jacoby Ellsbury‘s one-out triple. Ellsbury wasn’t part of the homer-fest, but he still got on base four times via a single, double, triple and a walk – and that performance is worthy of a #FunFact. Over the last four decades, just two other Yankee centerfielders have produced a game with at least one single, double, triple and a walk: Bernie Williams (1998) and Dave Winfield (1984).

The biggest blow in the fourth inning was delivered by Didi Gregorius. His three-run shot to cap off the scoring made him the only shortstop in franchise history with 25 homers in a season, surpassing the 24 that Derek Jeter hit in 1999.

Thoughts on the final off-day of the regular season

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Today is the final off-day of the 2017 regular season. Pretty wild, huh? The Yankees have ten games remaining and, weirdly enough, only four of those ten are night games. Huh. One of those four is tomorrow, the opener of the final road series of the regular season. The Yankees are Toronto for three games this weekend. Anyway, I have some thoughts on stuff, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Overall, the second wildcard spot is a wonderful thing for baseball. More teams get to the postseason, the Wild Card Games themselves are a ratings bonanza, and more teams are in the hunt each season. The second wildcard spot is a great thing for the game. Now, that said, wow are the Yankees getting hosed this season, assuming they don’t overtake the Red Sox and win the AL East. The Astros, Indians, Red Sox, and Yankees have clearly established themselves as the four best teams in the AL. It’s inarguable. The Yankees have a shot to win 90 games — they’re on pace for 90.6 wins right now, and they play nothing but non-contenders from here on out — and their +186 run differential is second only to the Indians (+231) among the 30 teams. Look at this sorry excuse for a wildcard race:

al-wc-race-092117

Good grief. The Yankees stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a damn shame they’re going to end up playing that winner-take-all Wild Card Game after such a wildly successful and fun season. But, the rules are the rules, and that’s what you get when you lose four games when leading after eight innings and five others when leading after seven innings. Could be worse though. The 2015 Pirates won 98 games and had to face the sicko version of Jake Arrieta in the Wild Card Game.

2. Why are the Yankees are on pace to win 90.6 games with the second best run differential in baseball? Because they’ve obliterated the normal attrition rate associated with even top prospects. Aaron Judge might hit 50 home runs as a rookie. Gary Sanchez has 32 homers as a 24-year-old catcher despite missing a month. Luis Severino has performed like a legitimate ace. That’s not supposed to happen! When you have three prospects like that coming up through the system, you hope to hit big on one and thank the baseball gods if you hit on two. Hit huge on all three so quickly? Come on. That doesn’t happen. Young catchers usually need a few seasons to find their footing offensively. A 6-foot-7 hitter is supposed to need years to adjust to big league pitchers picking apart the holes in his swing before posting .400+ OBPs. Young starters who throw 100 mph for 100+ pitches aren’t supposed to stay healthy. The Yankees hit the prospect jackpot. Judge, Sanchez, and Severino all became impact players very quickly. The veterans have helped get the Yankees where they are. No doubt. But they’re all complementary players. The three homegrown All-Stars are the centerpieces of this soon-to-be officially postseason bound team.

3. Am I wrong in thinking the Yankees, if they manage to win the AL East or Wild Card Game, will be a very dangerous team in a short postseason series? I mean, any team can beat pretty much any other team in a short series in this game. That’s baseball. But the Yankees would be going into a short series with a rotation top three of Severino, Sonny Gray, and Masahiro Tanaka in whatever order, a lineup loaded with power and hitters known for working long at-bats, and a bullpen deep in bat-missing power arms. Remember, the postseason is a much different animal than the regular season. The fifth starter disappears and the fourth starter get marginalized in the postseason. (Also, CC Sabathia might be the best fourth starter on any postseason team in either league. For real.) Middle relievers? Hah. They’re used in emergencies and blowouts only. The high-leverage guys get all the work because there are so many built in off-days. The Yankees have shown they are a very good regular season team this year, and I think they have a chance to be a great postseason team. I love the way this roster is built for a short series. They look like a matchup nightmare for October.

4. That whole thing I just mentioned about the lineup being loaded with hitters known for long at-bats? The Yankees have really kicked it up a notch the last few weeks. It started with the Chris Sale game on ESPN, when the Yankees roughed him up for three homers in 4.1 innings. Some recent pitch counts against the Bombers:

  • Chris Sale: 109 pitches in 4.1 innings on September 3rd
  • Dylan Bundy: 98 innings in four innings on September 4th
  • Jeremy Hellickson: 64 pitches in 2.1 innings on September 5th
  • Kevin Gausman: 79 pitches in three innings on September 7th
  • Jake Odorizzi: 94 pitches in 3.2 innings on September 11th
  • Chris Archer: 92 pitches in four innings on September 13th
  • Jeremy Hellickson: 68 pitches in three innings on September 16th
  • Jose Berrios: 90 pitches in 3.1 innings on September 19th

That’s 694 pitches in 27.2 innings, or 25.1 pitches per inning. Ridiculous. The Yankees have really gotten in the habit of wearing starters down lately, and even though everyone coming out of the bullpen seems to throw 97-99 mph these days, making the starter throw a ton of pitches is never a bad strategy. The more pitches he throws, the more likely he is to make a mistake. Judge and Brett Gardner obviously lead the way when it comes to working the count — they’re two of the top 12 hitters in baseball in pitches per plate appearance — but adding Todd Frazier (Frazier is also top 12 in pitches per plate appearance) and getting both Greg Bird and Matt Holliday back from injury helps in that department as well. Heck, even Jacoby Ellsbury is running a career high 10.6% walk rate this season, including 14.6% in the second half. Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro are still going to swing at everything. That’s just who they are as hitters. Everyone else in the lineup is putting together long at-bats now. It’s great to see. That had been missing the last few years.

Thumbs down for what. (Abbie Parr/Getty)
Thumbs down for what. (Abbie Parr/Getty)

5. So we’ve seen the postseason lineup the last few days, right? Joe Girardi seems to have settled on this lineup during the recent 14-4 stretch:

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

I suspect we’d see both Holliday and Headley in the lineup against a really tough left-hander in the playoffs, though generally speaking, that’s been the lineup the last few days. And it’s working. No reason to change it, right? Judge is most certainly not a typical second place hitter, but given his sky high OBP and ability to give the Yankees a quick first inning run with a homer — he did exactly that against Ervin Santana on Monday night — I like him in that spot. And Judge can run too. I love Sanchez. He’s awesome. But Gary is slooow. Judge is a much better fit for the No. 2 spot now than Sanchez was earlier this year. Judge has stolen some bases and he’s taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) 46% of the time this year. The MLB average is 45%. That lineup works. When you’ve got Ellsbury hitting like he has in the seven spot and Frazier’s .366 OBP hitting eighth, you’re doing all right at doing all right.

6. The worst thing Sabathia could’ve done is make his dislike of bunts so public. I mean, it was no secret to us he hates bunts, but now the whole world knows it. He’s been bunted on several times in his starts since making those comments following a game with the Red Sox earlier this month, and I can’t imagine teams will stop bunting on him anytime soon. Heck, I’m surprised teams aren’t bunting on him more. I imagine they won’t be as kind come the postseason. It’s something the Yankees and Sabathia will have to be ready for, because it’s coming. Love CC. He’s the man. But being so vocal about hating bunts probably wasn’t the smartest move. He invited the entire league to bunt on him now.

7. Can the Yankees and every other team in the league please extend the netting at least to the end of the dugouts now? Pretty please? A little girl took a foul line drive to the face yesterday — Statcast says the ball left Frazier’s bat at 105.2 mph — and as of yesterday evening, it was unclear whether she would need surgery, her father told Billy Witz. Go read Dan Martin’s newser on the incident and look at the photos of this little girl being carried away by her grandfather with blood everywhere. It’s awful. It’s awful and it shouldn’t be happening. It wasn’t that long ago that MLB put up railings in front of the dugouts because the pros can’t react quick enough to defend themselves from foul balls and flying bats. How can you expect fans to do the same? Warnings are useless. “Pay attention!” is not a real solution, as anyone who has ever gone somewhere with another human being would know. Extend the netting or someone is going to die. It’s only a matter of time. Players are bigger and stronger than ever before, and the ball is flying faster than ever. Exit velocity is fun until it comes flying at you. The sight lines will be fine. Fans will still get their autographs and free baseballs. People will complain for like ten minutes and then they’ll get over it, like everything else. The Yankees have said they are considering extending the netting for too long now. It’s time to act. How the organization can justify putting protective netting over Monument Park during home games but not on top of the dugouts to protect fans is beyond me. If a kid taking a screamer to the face doesn’t get the Yankees to act, nothing will.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

What a series that was. The Yankees stomped the team trying to chase them down for the first wildcard spot and now have a seven-game lead over the Twins for homefield advantage in that Wild Card Game with ten games to play. I really hope this series was a Wild Card Game preview. Well, I hope the Yankees win the division, but if not, playing the Twins in the Wild Card Game ain’t too bad. Anyway, make sure you check out Jeff Sullivan’s piece on Luis Severino. He’s pretty awesome, today’s outing notwithstanding.

Here is an open thread for the night. ESPN will have games at 7pm ET (Red Sox vs. Orioles) and 10pm ET (Indians vs. Angels), both of which are relevant to the Yankees. They’re chasing the Red Sox, and an Angels loss means the magic number goes down again. Also, preseason hockey! Rangers vs. Devils tonight. I’ve been going through hockey withdrawals here. Talk about those games or anything else, as long as it’s not politics or religion. Thanks in advance.

Yankees 11, Twins 3: Score all the runs


Source: FanGraphs

Won the game and swept the series. After falling behind 3-0, the Yankee bats scored 11 unanswered points to take this one Wednesday afternoon. Luis Severino wasn’t his usual self so, of course, the bullpen and the lineup picked him up. Wouldn’t it be neat if New York played Minnesota all the time? Anyways, it was a matinee game so let’s do it bullet-point style.

  • 46 pitches: Remember when this was the start that Sevy was supposed to skip? I kind of figured that he wouldn’t really go a long distance today because 1) he’s a young starter who’s upped the innings pitched from last year, and 2) the Yankees probably want to save some bullets for October. Turned out that he didn’t go past three innings today, for better or worse. He really labored in the top of the third. With one out, Kennys Vargas hit a soft infield single to shortstop and Jason Castro followed it up with a line drive single to put runners on corners. Brian Dozier worked a full-count walk to make the bases loaded and up came Joe Mauer, who is not really someone you want to face in situations like this. Mauer really, really worked Severino to a 13-pitch at bat until finally getting an RBI single to the right field. Jorge Polanco followed it up with another single through the right side for a 2-RBI single. 3-0 Twins. He retired the next two hitters but, by then, Sevy had thrown a 46-pitch inning. It’s one thing to have thrown 71 pitches but it’s another when you threw more than half of it without taking a break in the dugout in between. The Yankees decided to go to bullpen starting the fourth.
  • Tying it up: But fear not, here comes the Young Yankee Hitting Machine. In the bottom of the third, Greg Bird got on base with a double and Aaron Judge followed it up by hitting an opposite two-run shot. It was one of those homers that made the small Yankee Stadium tiny. Dude hits home runs like he’s playing pinball. Gary Sanchez, not to be outdone, hit a solo homer into Monument Park to tie the game at 3-3. That was quick. But hold on, the fun was far, far from done.
  • Let the runs pile in: After Chasen Shreve threw a clean fourth, the Yankee bats really brought it in the bottom of the frame. After Matt Holliday fouled out, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a triple into the left center because he’s friggin’ Jacoby Ellsbury. Todd Frazier followed it up with a walk and Bird brought Ellsbury in with his second double of the day (and knocked Bartolo Colon out of the game, who may or may not have thrown his last pitch at the Yankee Stadium. We’ll see). Brett Gardner’s RBI single against the new pitcher Tyler Duffey brought in Frazier and made it 5-3 Yankees. Judge struck out but Sanchez singled to right to tack on another run and Didi Gregorius hit a three-run homer into the second deck to make it a 9-3 rout. The Yankee rally continued on in the fifth. The former Yankees 2008 50th round pick (no, really) Nik Turley took the mound for the Twins and, well, it didn’t go well for him:

bandicam-2017-09-21-06-18-27-317

  • Extend the netting: There was a huge scare in the fourth inning when a Frazier liner hit a young girl in the mouth, briefly interrupting the game. While Joe Girardi said after the game that the young girl is “doing OK”, it was a very, very scary moment where you did not know whether the carelessness of the team and the league cost a precious life. Every player on the field looked very shaken while the medics were looking after her and I bet that they would choose in a heartbeat to install a netting across the infield to protect the fans. Not to get too voiced here but there’s a proverb “fixing the barn door after your cow escaped” in Korea and I really hope this will not apply to this situation. After a foul ball from Judge struck a fan in the stands few months ago, the team said they are “seriously exploring” he idea of extending the netting but haven’t taken an action. That’s ridiculous. There’s one thing to “obstruct” fans’ view but it becomes a much graver thing when the non-athletes have to go out of the way from a 105 mph liners.
  • Leftovers: Guess who came a home run shy of the cycle? Ellsbury. He had a 3-for-4 day with a walk. In his last at-bat in the bottom of the eighth, Ellsbury was clearly swinging for the fence but had to settle for a flyout in the center. Bum! Judge stayed on-brand by having a 1-for-3 day with a home run, a walk and a strikeout. Sanchez and Bird each had a 3-for-4 day and that’s just music to my ears. Clint Frazier also had a triple in his pinch-hit AB for Gardner, making it his 17th extra-base hit of his 30 total. On the bullpen side, Shreve had an almost-perfect 3 IP outing, allowing only a walk while striking out three. Ben Heller tossed a scoreless inning and Domingo German finished the game up with a 2 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 4 K outing. Neat all around.

Here are today’s box score and updated standings from ESPN, video highlights from MLB.com and WPA chart from Fangraphs. The Yankees have a break tomorrow and will head up north to face the Blue Jays for the final road trip of the regular season. Masahiro Tanaka is penciled in to start against Marco Estrada for the Friday series opener.

Minors Notes: Top Triple-A & Breakout Prospects, Rodriguez

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The 2017 minor league season is officially over. Durham beat Memphis in the Triple-A Championship Game at PNC Field in Scranton last night. The Triple-A Championship Game rotates sites each year like an All-Star Game, and it just so happened to be played in Scranton this year. Too bad the RailRiders didn’t make it. Anyway, here are some minor league notes to check out.

Three Yankees among top International League prospects

Earlier this week Baseball America started their annual series looking at the top 20 prospects in each minor league. They covered the Triple-A International League (subs. req’d) yesterday, with Braves OF Ronald Acuna claiming the top spot. Three Yankees made the list (four if you count OF Dustin Fowler, who was traded away but makes the list at No. 17 due to his time with Scranton):

  • 9) RHP Chance Adams: “One evaluator said that between Adams’ four offerings, he has a chance for three above-average pitches with above-average control … He drew comparisons with Bud Norris and Jordan Zimmermann.”
  • 15) 3B Miguel Andujar: “Andujar drew rave reviews from managers and scouts for his uncanny ability to barrel baseballs with authority as well as his energetic nature on the field … He has a plus arm, quick-twitch actions and a strong work ethic at third base, but below-average footwork and hard hands could be too much to overcome.”
  • 16) OF Clint Frazier: “(Some) evaluators think he always will pair home runs with strikeouts and low batting averages because of a limiting, rigid swing. With sufficient pitch recognition, though, he can be an impact power hitter.”

Hmmm. I’m pretty sure I’m the biggest Andujar fan out there, but even I wouldn’t rank him above Frazier on a prospect list. Frazier seems like one of those prospects people look for reasons not to like. The kid has insane bat speed, the ball explodes off his bat, he works the count well, and he’s fine in either corner outfield spot. What’s the problem here? Anyway, in the chat Carlos Collazo said SS Gleyber Torres would’ve ranked in the top three had he not gotten hurt and fallen short of the playing time minimum. SS Tyler Wade was a consideration for the list as well.

McKinney to begin working out at first base

OF Billy McKinney, who will be added to the 40-man roster after the season, is going to begin working out at first base in Instructional League, reports Robert Pimpsner. Sounds like an assignment to the Arizona Fall League in possible as well, though the Yankees already have a first baseman going to the desert (1B Chris Gittens) and their position player spots are full. Someone could get be getting pulled though. We’ll see.

McKinney, 23, came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade and hit .277/.338/.483 (124 wRC+) with a career high 16 home runs in 124 games between Double-A and Triple-A this summer. He’s a bat first prospect — his defense in the corner outfield is not great — so it makes sense to increase his versatility and get him time at first base. We still don’t know whether Greg Bird can stay healthy and/or produce consistently. Given the team’s outfield glut, getting McKinney familiar with first base seems like a no-brainer.

Loaisiga, Widener among top 2018 breakout candidates


The crew at Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d) posted a list of ten breakout candidates for the 2018 season, and two of the ten are Yankees: RHP Jonathan Loaisiga and RHP Taylor Widener. Keith Law had good things to say about Loaisiga last week. Widener was a reliever in the college before the Yankees moved him into the rotation, Chance Adams style. A quick recap of the write-ups:

  • Loaisiga: “(He) features a potentially plus fastball-curveball combination with the ability to throw either pitch for strikes in any count. The fastball consistently hovers around 95 (t97) with late movement … expect him to start shooting up prospect lists.”
  • Widener: “Widener was in the low-to-mid-90s with the fastball, topping out at 96, and it was moving around pretty good … Widener commanded it like a good Double-A starting prospect, not a guy making his first Double-A appearance … Widener projects as an interesting mid-rotation prospect at the upside, with a more likely outcome as a good reliever.”

So I guess Johnny Lasagna being a prospect is a thing now? He originally signed with the Giants out of Nicaragua back in 2013, but they released him a year later after some injury issues. The Yankees picked him up, he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery last year, and came back looking good this year. Loaisiga turns 23 in November, and he’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 165 lbs., plus he has an injury history, so there are some things working against him. Still, the Yankees picked him up off the scrap heap, and now he’s being written up as a breakout prospect. Pretty cool.

Rodriguez is “99%” sure he’s retiring

C Eddy Rodriguez, who spent the last three seasons with Triple-A Scranton (and part of one season with Double-A Trenton) is “99%” sure he’s retiring, reports D.J. Eberle. For much of this year Rodriguez was third on the catcher depth chart while C Kyle Higashioka was hurt, though he never did get a call-up. His one MLB cameo came with the Padres in 2012. He took Johnny Cueto deep in his first at-bat.

Rodriguez, who defected from Cuba with his family when he was a kid, is still only 31 years old. He’s not much of a hitter — he hit .189/.240/.308 (51 wRC+) in 446 plate appearances with the RailRiders the last two years — but he’s long been regarded as a great defender and clubhouse guy. Rodriguez wouldn’t reveal his post-playing days plan to Eberle, but he seems like the kind of guy we’ll see on a Yankees minor league coaching staff/instructor list in the near future. Either way, the Yankees need a new veteran good guy backup catcher for Scranton next year.

Game 152: Finish the Sweep

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

So the first two games of this important series against the Twins have gone well. The Yankees won both and are now a season high 17 games over .500. It’s the first time they’ve been 17 games over .500 since late in the 2015 season. Also, the Yankees are now six games up on the Twins for the first wildcard spot and 7.5 games up on the Angels for a wildcard spot in general. Pretty cool.

On the mound going for the sweep this afternoon is Luis Severino, who wasn’t going to make this start originally. The Yankees shifted gears a day or two ago. Why? Because hiding Severino from the Twins until the Wild Card Game is overrated — he’s faced lots of team multiple times this year and it hasn’t seemed to help anyone — and, more importantly, they want to be able to start him in Game 162 if the division is winnable. Focus on today though. Get the sweep and bury the Twins. Here is the Twins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Matt Holliday
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. 1B Greg Bird
    RHP Luis Severino

It is cloudy and windy yet again in New York today. Par for the course these days. Fortunately there is no rain in the forecast. At least nothing heavy. This afternoon’s series finale will begin at 1:05pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Afternoon game on ESPN? Huh. Anyway, enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (oblique) is heading to Tampa to get at-bats in Instructional League. That is the only place to get at-bats now aside from the big leagues. The hope is he’ll return sometime next week … Adam Warren (back) threw a bullpen session today. He’ll throw another in the coming days and, if deemed necessary, he’ll pitch in a simulated game after that.

The Yankees are reportedly “very interested” in Alex Cobb, but should they be?

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

This offseason the Yankees will have to replace at least one, and possibly two, starting pitchers. CC Sabathia is due to become a free agent and Masahiro Tanaka could opt-out of his contract. I think it’ll happen. Even if it doesn’t, the Yankees will still need to replace Sabathia. And hey, maybe they’ll just re-sign Sabathia. I’d be cool with it. Sabathia is still the man.

Inevitably, the Yankees will be connected to several free agent pitchers this offseason, including the top guys like Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. Even when the Yankees aren’t interested, agents say they are because it’s good for their clients, and the Yankees usually play ball because it means an opposing team will have to pay more. I would be surprised if the Yankees signed a top free agent this winter though. We’ll see.

Among the many mid-range free agents due to hit the market this offseason is Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, who we’ve seen plenty of times over the years. The splitter specialist has a 3.63 ERA (4.15 FIP) in 173.1 innings this season, his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Cobb, who turns 30 in two weeks, threw 309.2 innings with a 2.82 ERA (3.29 FIP) from 2013-14, before blowing out his elbow.

According to Nick Cafardo, the Yankees are among the teams “very interested” in Cobb. I had a feeling a “Yankees like Alex Cobb” report was coming at some point. On the surface, this makes sense. The Yankees need a starter, Cobb is AL battle tested, and he shouldn’t cost as much as Darvish or Arrieta (or Tanaka). Does that make him a good target though? Let’s look under the hood a bit.

1. His ground ball rate is trending down. During his peak years from 2013-14, Cobb ran a 56.0% ground ball rate, fourth highest among the 86 pitches to throw at least 300 innings those seasons. This year Cobb is down to a 47.7% ground ball rate, which isn’t awful, but it took a recent spike just to get it that high:

alex-cobb-grounders

Granted, we have to cut Cobb some slack here because this is his first full season following Tommy John surgery, but how much slack is appropriate? Losing close to ten percentage points off your ground ball rate following elbow reconstruction is not insignificant.

2. The splitter has stopped getting swings and misses. In addition to all the ground balls, Cobb also ran a healthy 22.5% strikeout rate from 2013-14, so he combined the best of both worlds. Strikeouts and grounders. His success was not a mirage. Cobb was a bat missing, ground ball generating machine from 2013-14.

This season Cobb’s strikeout rate is down to 17.3%, which ranks 50th among the 63 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. The swing-and-miss rate on his splitter tells you all you need to know:

alex-cobb-splitter-whiff-rate

Hmmm. That doesn’t look good. The splitter is Cobb’s go to pitch. Take that pitch away from him and he’s not the same guy. Imagine Tanaka without his splitter? Well, we don’t have to imagine, we saw it earlier this season. For whatever reason Tanaka’s splitter wasn’t behaving properly earlier this year, and he was throwing batting practice. Cobb hasn’t been that bad. But how much longer until he is that bad? Bottom line: his splitter has not been a quality swing-and-miss offering. That undeniably cuts into his effectiveness.

3. Hitters are making much more hard contact. Not surprisingly, Cobb is allowing more hard contact this season, and that’s never good. When your trademark pitch isn’t working, it affects everything. Cobb’s fastball isn’t as effective as usual because hitters don’t have to worry so much about the split. Anyway, here’s his hard contact rate:

alex-cobb-hard-contact

Yeah. That’s not good. Fewer strikeouts plus fewer ground balls plus more hard contact is not a good combination. That’s why Cobb has gone from a 2.82 ERA pre-Tommy John surgery to a (not bad!) 3.63 ERA post-Tommy John surgery. There are enough red flags here to be skeptical of Cobb going forward.

* * *

It is so very easy to look at a potential trade or free agent target and come with reasons not to pursue him. I know I am guilty of it. All the time. So, for the sake of looking at both sides, what are some of the reasons to pursue Cobb as a free agent this offseason? First of all, if a 3.63 ERA (4.15 FIP) and not missing a start constitutes a down season, you’re pretty darn good. Two, Cobb has shown he can succeed in the tough AL East. That’s cool.

And three — and this might be the biggest reason to buy into Cobb long-term — it’s not unreasonable to think his performance will improve as he gets further away from Tommy John surgery. This is his first full season back. He’s shaking off the rust. Cobb’s not old — again, he’ll turn 30 in two weeks — so there should still be a few years of peak or near-peak performance coming. He’s essentially a high-end bounceback candidate.

I am curious to see how Cobb’s market shakes out this offseason. I get the sense he’s going to be a very popular player with basically every contender in the mix. Want him? You’re going to have to outbid the Cubs, the Red Sox, the Nationals, the Cardinals, the Angels, the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks … every contender is going to show interest in this guy. Even though Cobb comes with some very real red flags, there are also reasons to be optimistic. I’m not 100% sold on him as a free agent target at the moment, but this offseason, he’ll be very in demand, and the Yankees figure to be among his suitors.