Yankeemetrics: It’s getting late early [April 25-27]

Nasty Nate (Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports Images)
Nasty Nate (Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports Images)

Near No-No Nate
Nathan Eovaldi‘s chance to make history fell just short on Monday night, but he still established a new level of pitching dominance for Yankee starters this season and helped the team start its road trip with a 3-1 win over the Rangers.

Eovaldi dominated the Rangers lineup, holding them hitless through six innings until Nomar Mazara led off the top of the seventh with a single. He finished with a stellar line of seven-plus innings, no runs, two hits, six strikeouts and one walk, becoming the lone Yankee starter to produce a scoreless outing in 2016. His Game Score of 77 also set a new benchmark for the rotation.

He consistently got ahead in the count, and while pitching with the advantage, was able to get hitters to chase his diving splitter out of the zone. The Rangers went 0-for-12 in at-bats ending in his split-fingered fastball; six of those outs were swinging strikeouts, and five were harmless grounders. His command of his slider was just as impressive: he threw 19 of them, 17 for strikes, and none resulted in a hit.

Although Eovaldi missed out on etching his name in the record books, he did put himself on a couple lists with some pretty good names. The last Yankee to throw at least seven shutout innings while giving up no more than two hits against the Rangers in Texas was Ron Guidry (1980). It was also his eighth straight game with at least six strikeouts, the longest streak by a Yankee right-hander since Roger Clemens in 2001.

From best to worst
One day after Eovaldi spun a gem, Luis Severino produced the exact opposite – a terrible performance in which he was pummeled by the Rangers’ bats and allowed twice as many runs (six) as innings pitched (three). Severino’s Game Score of 20 was the worst for any Yankee starter this season, and it was also the shortest outing for any pinstriped starter.

The Rangers ultimately cruised to a 10-1 victory, handing the Yankees their worst loss in Arlington since a 13-3 beating on August 21, 2001.

The most frustrating part was that numerous times the Yankees seemed thisclose to escaping an inning with no harm done, but were stung by several crushing two-out hits. Nine of the 10 runs allowed by the Yankees came with two outs, continuing a troubling trend for the team.

After Tuesday’s disaster, they had surrendered 49 two-out runs, by far the most of any AL team (the Tigers were second with 39), and the Yankees easily led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS allowed with two outs.

Dead Bats Society
Following their 3-2 loss on Wednesday night, there are few words left to describe the magnitude of the Yankees’ near-historic offensive struggles this season, so let’s just recap with some facts (because numbers never lie):

• Yankees have scored 72 runs, their fewest thru 20 games since 1990. And that season ended … um, not good.
• They’ve tallied two runs or fewer in 10 of 20 games, the most for any Yankee team this early into the season since 1966. Yuck.
• Yankees are the only major-league team this season that’s scored two-or-fewer runs in at least half of their games. Disgusting.
• They’ve scored three runs or fewer 15 times this season. Over the last 100 years, no other Yankee club has ever done that more times in the team’s first 20 games. Ugh.
• Since their game in Detroit was postponed on April 10, the Yankees have played 15 games and scored more than four runs just once. Gross.

On a more positive note, A-Rod returned from his oblique injury and produced his best game of the season, going 3-for-3 with a homer, double and single. It was his 543rd career double, tying Tony Gwynn for 32nd place all-time. Next up on the list is The Captain, Derek Jeter, with 544. A-Rod also scored his 1,000th run as a Yankee, the 12th player in franchise history to reach that milestone, and is one of nine players to total at least 1,000 runs and 1,000 RBIs in pinstripes. The other guys? Mattingly, Bernie, Jeter, Yogi, Mantle, DiMaggio, Ruth and Gehrig.

Thoughts on Thursday’s off-day

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Today is a well-timed off-day. Not for the Yankees. For my sanity. They’ll playing an awful brand of baseball right now. They just can’t score. Two runs or fewer nine times in the last 14 games? Good grief. Anyway, here are some thoughts.

1. At what point do we go from “the offense is struggling” to “the offense is bad?” Is there a certain number of games or anything like that? It takes a couple hundred at-bats for most key offensive stats to stabilize, but that’s for individual players, not teams. Point is, the offense has been pretty terrible since the end of the Detroit series — the Yankees are hitting .220/.289/.325 as a team with an average of 2.47 runs per game since then — and eventually you reach a point where it stops being a slump. I think the Yankees are better offensively than they have been the last two weeks or so. Much better. But with each passing game in which the bats look lethargic, a little more doubt creeps into my mind and I think maybe they just aren’t very good.

2. The Yankees have another off-day Monday, and I’d like to see them use it to skip Luis Severino‘s next start. That would be his day to start on normal rest. It lines up perfectly. They could skip him and keep everyone else on turn without having to pull any strings. Severino is struggling right now and the off-day would give him and the Yankees an opportunity to get in an extra bullpen session — an extended bullpen session, if necessary — to work on things. And besides, the Yankees are going to have to watch Severino’s workload this season, and skipping this start is a way to do that. Monday’s a chance to give Severino a little breather and time to work on some things. Taking advantage of it seems like it would be a smart idea.

3. Eleven days from now Aroldis Chapman‘s suspension will end, and he’ll join the Yankees to make the bullpen even better. Of course, if the offense continues to sputter the way it has these last few weeks, the three guys at the end of the game won’t have many leads to protect. I don’t want to call it a flaw, because having a dominant bullpen is a wonderful thing, but it’s a bit of a quirk that the Yankees can only take advantage of their greatest strength when the rest of the roster does its job. When you get blown out like they did Tuesday night, those great relievers are a total non-factor. The offense and rotation are going to have to step it up the rest of the way to ensure the Yankees can take full advantage of that tremendous relief crew.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4. Since we’re on the subject of the bullpen, I want to say I’m a wee bit worried about Johnny Barbato‘s early season workload. Maybe worried is too strong a word, but it’s definitely not something to be overlooked. He started the season by throwing nine innings in the first 14 games — there was a week and a half stretch where he was pitching every other day — and right now Barbato is at 10.2 innings in 20 team games. He did throw 67.1 innings last year, but there’s a big difference between minor league innings and big league innings as a quasi-setup man. We saw it with Chasen Shreve last year. His workload wasn’t anything crazy on the surface, yet he was still out of gas come September. It’s as much mental fatigue as it was physical fatigue. Hopefully once Chapman returns Joe Girardi can scale back on Barbato’s usage a tad, just to avoid burnout late in the season.

5. I’ve said this before and it’s worth repeating: the Yankees have to be 100% honest with themselves at the trade deadline this year. If they’re out of the race or a long shot to make the postseason, they have to trade impending free agents like Chapman, Mark Teixeira, and Carlos Beltran and not try to fake contention. What qualifies as out of the race? That depends, really. Four games back with one team ahead of you is way different than four games back with four teams ahead of you. The Yankees are trying to get younger and become more flexible, and part of that plan should be unloading veteran players with expiring contracts when you’re fading out of the race. Shedding the salary after the season isn’t good enough.

Two runs still aren’t enough; Yankees drop series finale 3-2 to Rangers

You’re not going to believe this, but the Yankees struggled to score Wednesday night. I know. Crazy. Yet another lifeless night from the bats resulted in a 3-2 loss to the Rangers in the series finale. The Yankees won the first game and still managed to lose the series. Good job, good effort.

You get high-fives for participating now. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
You get high-fives for participating now. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Two Token Runs (Again)
For the ninth time in the last 14 games, the Yankees were held to two runs or fewer. Nine times in 14 games. That’s truly pathetic. The Yankees are playing garbage baseball right now. It’s the opposite of exciting. It’s boring as hell and I find myself spending more time clicking around MLB.tv than actually watching the Yankees whenever they bat. Five or six games is a slump. Fourteen? Nope.

The Yankees scored their first run in the second inning — they did hold a lead, believe it or not — when Starlin Castro came through with a two-out single to score the runner from third. The Yankees had men on first and second with no outs earlier in the inning, but Brian McCann banged into a first pitch double play to throw a wrench into things. They almost wasted another opportunity, but Castro took care of business.

The second run? An A-Bomb from A-Rod. Alex Rodriguez clobbered a Martin Perez changeup into the left field seats in the fourth inning. That knotted the game up at 2-2. Alex also snuck a ground ball double inside the first base bag in the sixth. That was the team’s final base-runner until the ninth inning. Ten of the last eleven and 15 of the last 18 men they sent to the plate made outs. Gross.

I suspect we’re going to hear a lot of talk about the Yankees struggling against left-handed pitchers Thursday — seven of the last nine starters they’ve faced have been lefties, and they have two more coming this weekend — but you know what? A Major League team needs to hit southpaws once in a while. There have been too many weak at-bats lately. In fact, 12 of the 34 men they sent to the plate saw no more than two pitches. Yuck. This offense is offensive.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Just Good Enough
After failing to complete five innings in his previous two starts, CC Sabathia gave the Yankees the bare minimum quality start Wednesday, holding the Rangers to three runs on five hits and three walks in six innings. That’s about as good as it can get for Sabathia these days. He struck out five and actually retired nine in a row at one point. That was probably his best stretch of the season.

The Rangers scored their first run because of some fundamental mistakes by the Yankees. Ryan Rua led off the second inning with a single, then went first-to-third Rougned Odor’s single to center. Jacoby Ellsbury tried to throw Rua out at third for some reason — he was safe by a mile — allowing Odor to scamper to second. Ellsbury has to hit the cutoff man to keep the double play in order there.

Then, with one out, Hanser Alberto tapped a weak grounder back to Sabathia, who glanced at Rua before tossing over to first for the out. Two mistakes there. One, Sabathia did not look Rua back long enough, then he flipped a lollipop throw over to Mark Teixeira at first. As soon as CC turned around to throw to first, Rua took off for home and scored. The good news is McCann was able to get Odor at third on the play, but yeah. Bad fundies, guys. Ellsbury didn’t keep the double play in order and Sabathia played the weak grounder way too casually.

The other two runs Sabathia allowed were the result of walks. He walked the No. 9 hitter on four pitches to lead off the third inning, then allowed the run on Adrian Beltre’s two-out single. Sabathia walked Odor on five pitches with two outs in the sixth, then Elvis Andrus tripled him in on a ball Carlos Beltran couldn’t cut off in the gap. I know Beltran is not what he once was in the field, but geez, that looked like a makeable play. Just knock it down and keep Odor at third.

Well, anyway, I would happily take three runs in six innings from Sabathia all season long. As long as he keeps the Yankees remotely in the game and doesn’t burn out the bullpen, I’m happy. What more could you ask at this point?

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Leftovers
A-Rod returned to the lineup after spending a few days on the shelf with an oblique issue, and he went 3-for-3 with a double and a homer. He also drew a walk. Al’s batting line went from .145/.242/.273 (44 wRC+) to .190/.288/.379 (89 wRC+) in four plate appearances. Not too shabby.

The bullpen was good, as usual. Johnny Barbato got five outs and Chasen Shreve got one out, and they did not allow a base-runner. It would be nice if they could hand these guys a lead once in a while, you know? There’s too much “try to keep it close so the offense has a chance to come back” going on.

Castro had two hits while Beltran and McCann had one hit apiece. The top four spots in the lineup went a combined 1-for-15 (.067) and the wrap-around 8-9-1-2 portion of the lineup went 0-for-14. This is getting ridiculous. I look forward to hearing Joe Girardi say they were hitting the ball hard but weren’t getting breaks again.

And finally, A-Rod’s fourth inning homer was his 1,000th run as a Yankee and his 100th home run in what is now called Globe Life Park. It was also his 690th career dinger, so he’s ten away from 700. Does that qualify as a marketable milestone?

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head on over to ESPN for the box score and MLB.com for the video highlights. Here are the updated standings. Also make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. YES has used six different booth combinations in seven series so far. Here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees have an off-day tomorrow, then they begin a three-game series with the Red Sox on Friday. Masahiro Tanaka and Henry Owens is the scheduled pitching matchup for the series opener at Fenway Park.

DotF: Starting pitchers rule the day in the minors

The video above is the highlights from Double-A Trenton’s combined no-hitter last night. The performance earned RHP Ronald Herrera a spot in Baseball America’s daily prospect report, so make sure you check that out. It’s not behind the paywall. Also, Joel Sherman spoke to a scout who praised Herrera. Don’t miss that either.

Triple-A Scranton (2-0 loss to Lehigh Valley)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 CS — he’s been on base 19 times in the last nine games
  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-4, 2 K
  • DH Gary Sanchez, 1B Nick Swisher & 2B Rob Refsnyder: all 1-4 — Sanchez struck out once, Refsnyder twice … Refsnyder also committed a fielding error
  • LF Cesar Puello: 0-1, 1 K, 2 HBP — first game off the DL … he was out with a concussion after being hit in the back of the head with a swing … he explained to Brendan Kuty how it happened
  • RHP Chad Green: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 5/4 GB/FB — 71 of 105 pitches were strikes (68%) … his best start of the season so far
  • LHP James Pazos: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — nine of 12 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 20: Rubber Game

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

It doesn’t feel like it, but the Yankees are in position to win their second straight series tonight. They took two of three from the Rays over the weekend, and they won the first game of this series against the Rangers before dropping the second. Tonight is the rubber game. Getting the win and taking two of three would be mighty cool.

The first order of business tonight: score some damn runs. The offense is not just bad right now, it’s boring. That’s the worst. Second order of business: get at least five innings from CC Sabathia. He’s fallen an out short of five innings in each of his last two starts. Third order of business: just win, baby. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 2B Starlin Castro
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    LHP CC Sabathia

Much better weather for the series finale tonight. It’s nice and sunny in the Dallas area, and there’s no wet stuff in the forecast as at all. Tonight’s game will start at 8:05pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (shoulder) is available to play tonight with no restrictions … Alex Rodriguez (oblique) is back in the lineup, obviously. With the off-day tomorrow, I’m surprised the Yankees didn’t give A-Rod one more day to make sure everything is back to normal.

Ban the shift? That’s a solution to a problem that might not even exist

The Dodgers used this shift back in 2014.
The Dodgers used this shift back in 2014.

Two nights ago Nathan Eovaldi lost a no-hitter in the seventh inning on a ground ball single to the shortstop position. The Yankees, as they often do, had an infield shift employed, so the shortstop was standing somewhere else. The ball scooted on through and the no-hit bid was over. So it goes.

Prior to last night’s game Joe Girardi was asked about the infield shift in general, and, to my surprise, he said he would like to get rid of them. Here’s what he said, via Dan Martin:

“It’s illegal defense, just like basketball,” he said. “Guard your man. Guard your spot. If I were commissioner, they’d be illegal. As long as it’s legal, I’m gonna play it.”

“I just think the field was built this way for a reason,” Girardi said. “Two on one side, two on the other.”

Girardi is entitled to his opinion and he’s certainly not the only person who would look to see shifts outlawed. I’m sure Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann would be in favor of them going away too. Lots and lots of left-handed batters have lost hits and batting average points and, by extension, dollars in their pocket because of the shift.

The rulebook says that with exception of the pitcher and catcher, defenders can position themselves anywhere in fair territory. Eliminating the shift would be a relatively easy fix. Second base creates a nice boundary, so MLB and the MLBPA could change the rules and force teams to play two infielders on each side of the bag. Boom. Problem solved.

I respectfully disagree with Girardi here. I’m not a fan of eliminating the shift. I’m not a fan of any rule change that would limit creativity within the game. Baseball, like everything else, is survival of the fittest. Players have to adapt to stay in the league and those who can’t get left behind. The game went through a seismic shift when breaking balls were first introduced because only a few players could hit them. After some time, hitters caught up.

Offense is down around the league these days for many reasons, and the shift is surely one of them. It is worth noting the league wide batting average on balls in play has not changed much over the years. The league has a .297 BABIP this year. It was .299 in 2015, .297 in 2010, .295 in 2005, and .300 in 2001. Since the strike in 1994, only once has the league BABIP fallen outside the .296-.303 range (.293 in 2012). The overall impact of the shift is overstated.

The shift has been around for years and yet it is still a relatively new phenomenon. Every team uses them to some extent, though a few holdouts have not fully bought in just yet. Teams haven’t yet had time to try to develop a generation of hitters to be shift beaters. The shift is still a baby. It’s still a little too early to be re-writing the rulebook for something that may fizzle out on its own in due time.

Creativity and innovation are good. I want teams to try to outsmart each other and come up with new ways to gain an advantage. It makes the game more competitive and more interesting, I think. We shouldn’t push aside something new because it goes against the way the game has been played for the last 150 years. Baseball is too old fashioned as it is. It could use some fresh ideas.

Scouting The Waiver Market: Cory Mazzoni

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The season is not even a month old, and already the Yankees have been hit pretty hard by the injury bug, particularly in the bullpen. Branden Pinder and Nick Rumbelow — the team’s two main shuttle relievers — are both out following Tommy John surgery, Bryan Mitchell broke his toe in Spring Training, and Jacob Lindgren is on the High-A Tampa DL. That’s half a bullpen on the shelf.

The Yankees still have enough relievers to keep themselves afloat — Luis Cessa, James Pazos, and Tyler Olson are still a phone call away — but the depth has been thinned out. There’s a reason they had to dip into an independent league to sign Phil Coke earlier this week. They needed the warm body. Yesterday afternoon, the Padres designated a potential bullpen shuttle candidate for assignment in right-hander Cory Mazzoni. Is he worth a waiver claim? Let’s look.

The Performance

The Mets originally drafted Mazzoni in the second round of the 2011 draft out of North Carolina State. He climbed the ladder in their farm system before being traded to San Diego last spring for lefty Alex Torres. For what it’s worth, Baseball America ranked Mazzoni as one of the 16 best prospects in his team’s farm system every year from 2012-16.

Mazzoni, 26, made his big league debut with the Padres last year, and I almost don’t want to list the stats because they’re so bad. I guess I have to though. In 8.2 innings with San Diego, he allowed 22 runs (20 earned) on 23 hits and five walks. He fanned eight. Yes, 22 runs and 23 hits in 8.2 innings. Mazzoni was quite bad in his limited action last year. I guess the good news is he had a 3.97 ERA (1.95 FIP) in 34 Triple-A innings in 2015.

Prior to being designated for assignment, Mazzoni had appeared in one Triple-A game, allowing an unearned run on a hit and a walk in 1.1 innings. Not much to look at there. Clearly you have to be willing to look past Mazzoni’s numbers with the Padres last year to have any interest.

The Stuff

The Mets drafted Mazzoni as a starting pitcher and he remained in that role for a few years before moving into the bullpen full-time. According to PitchFX, he averaged 95.6 mph with his four-seam fastball last year and topped out at 97.3 mph. He also has an upper-80s splitter/changeup hybrid and a mid-80s slider, but he doesn’t throw the split-change a whole lot in relief. He’s a fastball/slider reliever.

There are no worthwhile highlight videos of Mazzoni on MLB.com or YouTube, so here’s a GIF of his slider instead. His fastball looks like every other fastball you’ve ever seen in your life.

Cory Mazzoni slider

The swing-and-miss rates on Mazzoni’s fastball and slider were awful last season (4.0 % and 9.5%, respectively), but then again everything he did in the big leagues last year was awful. MLB.com ranked Mazzoni as the No. 17 prospect in San Diego’s system before the season, and here’s a snippet of their scouting report:

As is the case with most pitchers, the right-hander had his stuff tick up in the (bullpen), sitting at 92-95 mph and touching 97 with his fastball, and throwing his slider with more power and sharper bite … Though he has good velocity, Mazzoni doesn’t generate many whiffs with his heater. He does induce plenty of groundballs though, which highlights his potential as a swingman or middle reliever … he’ll have to refine his command to hold down a permanent role in a big league bullpen.

Mazzoni’s ground ball rate was an even 50.0% in his limited big league time last year, for what it’s worth. We’ve read that scouting report about a million times before. Fastball/slider right-hander who needs to refine his command and has a chance to be a middle reliever? Those guys are everywhere.

Injury History

Injuries are one of the reasons Mazzoni moved into the bullpen full-time. Here’s a quick recap of his injury history:

2015: Shoulder strain ended his season in July.
2014: Missed close to three months with a shoulder strain.
2013: Missed a month with elbow inflammation, then the final two months with a torn meniscus in his knee.

Now here’s the kicker: Mazzoni was the 7-day DL in Triple-A when he was designated for assignment yesterday. I have no idea why though. I can’t find anything anywhere. Regardless, Mazzoni has had a bunch of arm problems in recent years, including some scary shoulder strains.

Contract & Options Status

This is the easy stuff. Mazzoni has only 56 days of service time, so he has all six years of team control remaining. The Mets added him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft back in November 2014, so he burned his first option last year and his second this year. Mazzoni has one minor league option year remaining.

Wrapping Up

Mazzoni is quintessential middle relief fodder at this point. He’s a fastball/slider guy with command questions and an injury history. They grow those guys on a farm upstate, I hear. The Padres dropped Mazzoni from the 40-man roster, so he’s freely available. If you can get him on waivers, great. If not, then no hard feelings.

The way I see it, the Yankees have already lost a lot of bullpen depth to injury, forcing them to turn to the Phil Cokes of the world. It’s still only April too. They need to restock the cupboard a bit and they have more than enough 40-man roster space. Aroldis Chapman‘s suspension clears one spot and the Yankees have several 60-day DL candidates as well. They could easily claim Mazzoni and stash him in Triple-A.

This is certainly no “must make” move. Mazzoni’s not some kind of hidden gem. He’s more Kirby Yates than Johnny Barbato, if you know what I mean. The Yankees have had some success with scrap heap arms like this, so as long as Mazzoni’s healthy (a big if), I think he’s worth a waiver claim and a spot in the Triple-A Scranton bullpen.