Tanaka and the Dingers 2017 Edition

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

Before stepping to the mound yesterday afternoon in Tampa, Masahiro Tanaka had already surrendered ten home runs to opposing hitters. Then he gave up three more. His HR/9 currently sits at an unconscionable 2.44 and his HR/FB% is absurdly high at 24.5%. Tanaka’s always been prone to giving up home runs, but they’re flying out at a ridiculously rapid rate in 2017. How?

The first culprit that jumps out is the fastball. Per Brooks, that pitch had a 50% HR/(FB + LD) rate going into yesterday’s game. That pitch accounts for the lowest percentage of Tanaka’s pitches this season, and he’s famously avoided throwing it recently, sticking more to a sinker, splitter, slider mix. But two of the homers he gave up yesterday–the ones to Corey Dickerson–were both on the four seam fastball. The other homer, from Longoria, came against a sinker.

Then, there’s the splitter. As always, this has been a generally effective pitch for Tanaka. Its whiff/swing% is over 30 and its grounder rate is pushing 70%. But on the flip side, its led to three homers against Tanaka and batters are hitting it to a .229 ISO, not counting yesterday’s start. Its HR/(FB+LD)% is up at 27.27. For his career, it’s predictably low at 7.3%.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The slider, conversely, has been right along with his career rates in its success this year. Basically, all the hard stuff Tanaka throws is being hit equally hard, leading to lots of homers, lots of runs, and lots of frustration. Taking a look at the ISO marks against the hard stuff, it’s clear that Tanaka’s command of those pitches is off.

A solution to this problem isn’t necessarily easy to find. It’d be wrong to suggest a pitcher with elbow issues in the past begin throwing more sliders, but we can’t just click our heels or cross our fingers and expect Tanaka’s command to be back to form.

It's not what you want (Source: Getty)
It’s not what you want (Source: Getty)

Time is likely the best answer since this is such an extreme exaggeration of one of the few issues Tanaka has had on the mound since joining the Yankees. Were this a year like 2016, this might be less worrisome. But given that the Yankees seem to be, well, actually pretty good this season, Tanaka performing like his normal self is imperative. 2017 was lined up to be a ‘house money’ type of year for the Yankees. If they did well, great! If not, hey, at least there’s a bunch of young, exciting guys. Luckily for us, the two things seem to be converging. Regardless of that, one thing was true heading into this year–as it has been the last few years–if anything good was going to happen to this team, it needed Tanaka to be its strongest pitcher. That hasn’t happened so far in 2017. And given the rest of the Yankee rotation, if Tanaka doesn’t get back to his regular levels, the charm of an unexpected playoff season may not last too long.

DotF: Tyler Austin begins rehab assignment with Trenton

Josh Norris was at last night’s Double-A Trenton game, and he posted video of SS Gleyber Torres‘ grand slam and 3B Miguel Andujar‘s home run. Here’s the link. Norris also wrote something on RHP Domingo Acevedo’s Double-A debut, so check that out too.

Triple-A Scranton (5-4 win over Rochester in eleven innings, walk-off style)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (missed catch)
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 1-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K — six homers in 37 games this year after hitting 12 homers in 132 games last year … getting out of Trenton is good news for a left-handed hitter
  • DH Clint Frazier: 1-5, 2 K
  • 1B Mike Ford: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB — 9-for-30 (.300) with two doubles and four homers since the promotion
  • LF Mason Williams: 0-4, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RF Mark Payton: 2-5, 1 RBI, 1 K — walk-off single … also threw a runner out at second
  • 2B Cito Culver: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 E (missed catch) — seven homers in 30 games!
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 5/4 GB/FB — 64 of 104 pitches were strikes (62%)
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 31 of 44 pitches were strikes (70%) … 32 strikeouts and zero walks in 22 innings this year … he’s 26, left-handed, and at Triple-A for the third straight full season … being a Rule 5 Draft pick this spring might have been his best chance to reach MLB at this point
  • RHP Ben Heller: 2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 4/0 GB/FB — 13 of 18 pitches were strikes (72%) … 28/7 K/BB in 21.1 innings

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Tanaka gets hammered again, Yankees fall 9-5 to Rays


Source: FanGraphs

Yeesh. The Yankees have played better ballgames. The pitching staff imploded again Saturday — the Yankees have allowed 37 runs in their last six games despite playing three of those games against the Royals, the worst hitting team in baseball — and the Yankees fell 9-5 to the Rays. The Yankees have suddenly lost seven of their last ten games. Annoying! It’s Saturday, so let’s give this game no one wants to remember the bullet point recap treatment:

  • Terrible Tanaka: Masahiro Tanaka has been so crappy this year you’d think he’s a Mets starter. He had another disaster start Saturday, allowing six runs on nine hits and three walks in three innings plus five batters, including three home runs. Tanaka has now allowed 16 runs and eight homers in his last 5.2 innings. Oy vey. His location was terrible again in this game and his pitches were flat. Look at the Evan Longoria homer. Flat. Look at the Jesus Sucre double. Flat. The ball just spins and does nothing. Cement mixers. I’m not sure what the Yankees do now. Skip his next start? That’s tough to do when you’re five games into a 20 games in 20 days stretch. Stick him in an MRI tube? Okay, I guess. Either way, Tanaka’s performance has officially crossed over from “annoying slow start” to “major cause for concern.” He has become a Big Problem.
  • Aaron & Gary: On the bright side, both Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez hit home runs, and that’s always fun. This was the second of hopefully many times both go deep in the same game. They also did it on August 14th last year, in Judge’s second MLB game. Judge smacked a solo shot in the second inning to tie the game 1-1. Sanchez hit a solo homer in the fifth to cut Tampa’s lead to 6-4. Between the dingers, Chase Headley had a clutch two-out, two-run double to tie the game 3-3 in the fourth. The game still felt winnable at that point. Then Tanaka and the bullpen barfed it away.
  • Out of Reach: The bottom of the fifth was probably the lowest point of the season since the 1-4 start. Tommy Layne and Gio Gallegos combined to allow three runs on three hits, two walks, and one hit batsman. They needed 41 pitches to do it. Also, both Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild were ejected for arguing balls and strikes. Girardi covered home plate with dirt and home plate ump Scott Barry didn’t even bother to clean it off. Sanchez had to do it. Pretty embarrassing all around.
  • Leftovers: Matt Andriese hit Judge in the sixth as retaliation for Layne hitting Corey Dickerson in the fifth. Dickerson hit two homers earlier in the game. I don’t think Layne hit Dickerson on purpose, I think he’s just not very good, but the Rays retaliated. Andriese was ejected and Judge was fine. So stupid … Sanchez took a brutal foul tip to the face mask in the sixth. It came up and hit him in the jaw. He stayed in the game, but yikes. Gary’s been on the wrong end of a few foul tips this road trip … Chasen Shreve (four outs) and Jonathan Holder (three outs) were the only pitchers not to get knocked around … the trainer came out to look at Shreve in the seventh after he shook his arm, but he threw some test pitches and stayed in the game … Sanchez (single, homer) and Judge (homer, double, hit-by-pitch) led the way offensively … 12 of the final 13 Yankees to bat made outs.

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Don’t miss our Bullpen Workload page either. The Yankees will try to avoid the sweep in the series finale Sunday afternoon. That’s a regular 1pm ET start. CC Sabathia and Chris Archer are the scheduled starters. I’m sure it’ll be fine. /sobs

Game 40: Getting Tanaka Back On Track

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

For the first time since getting crushed by the Astros last weekend, Masahiro Tanaka will be on the mound this afternoon, looking for a solution to his early season woes. There have been some flashes of 2016 Tanaka throughout the season so far, but flashes aren’t enough. The Yankees need him to pitch well pretty much every time out to stay in the AL East race.

Tanaka will have what is almost certainly the best possible lineup the Yankees could field behind him. We could quibble about the batting order and all that, but these nine names represent the best the Yankees have to offer right now. This is the A+ team, basically. Get a win today, then try to win the series tomorrow. Sounds like a plan. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. 1B Matt Holliday
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. DH Aaron Judge
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cloudy, hot, and humid in St. Petersburg and a cool 72-ish degrees inside Tropicana Field. This afternoon’s game will begin at 4:10pm ET. You can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Turns out Sanchez has a stiff neck, which is why the Yankees didn’t want to use him last night. Obviously he’s feeling better, because he’s in the lineup today. Sanchez took some foul tips to the face mask in Kansas City. I assume those contributed to his neck woes.

Saturday Links: Happ, Zimmer, Sanchez, Mock Drafts, Girardi

The Yankees and Rays will play the second game of their three-game series later this afternoon. Here are some links to check out until then.

Yankees passed on Happ, Jimenez, Zimmer

This is pretty fun and interesting. According to Joel Sherman, during trade talks last year, the Yankees and Cubs agreed that New York would receive either Gleyber Torres, Ian Happ, or Eloy Jimenez in the Aroldis Chapman trade. Also, during talks with the Indians about Andrew Miller, it was down to Clint Frazier or Bradley Zimmer. Both Happ and Zimmer were called up within the last week, and both have hit their first MLB home runs already.

Sherman says the Yankees passed on Jimenez because he was furthest away among the three Cubs prospects, and they passed on Happ because he’s not expected to be much of a defender. Torres had the best all-around ability. The Yankees went Frazier over Zimmer because he’s two years younger and has fewer exploitable holes in his swing. (Zimmer had a 30.7% strikeout rate between Double-A and Triple-A last year. Yikes!)

I really do like Happ, though I am totally cool with passing on him for Gleyber. The Yankees picked correctly in both cases, in my opinion. Torres is a budding superstar. Frazier has a much better chance to be an impact bat long-term too. Something tells me we’ll all have one eye on Happ and Jimenez and Zimmer over the next few years. Either way, the trade deadline last year truly was a franchise altering event. The Yankees are in much better shape long-term right now than they were 12 months ago.

Sanchez among top 25 under 25

A few days ago Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked the 25 best players in baseball under the age of 25. Not surprisingly, Bryce Harper claims the top spot. Manny Machado and Carlos Correa are second and third. Yeah. The Yankees have one player on the list: Gary Sanchez, who ranks 14th. He’s one spot behind Alex Bregman and one spot ahead of Dansby Swanson. Here’s the write-up:

Sanchez had a rookie season — well, half-season — for the ages last year, with 20 homers in 53 games, good enough to get him second in Rookie of the Year balloting and push the Yankees to trade Brian McCann and give Sanchez the starting job behind the plate. Sanchez has improved enough as a receiver to stay back there, though he is probably always going to be a bat-first, throw-second, glove-third kind of guy. I’m sure the Yankees will be fine with that.

Aaron Judge, who turned 25 last month, was not eligible for the list. I’m sure he would have made it had the list been players age 25 and under. The list is very position player heavy — Noah Syndergaard, Aaron Sanchez, Julio Urias, and Michael Fulmer are the only pitchers — and I’m guessing Luis Severino wasn’t particularly close to making it. That doesn’t surprise me. Sanchez is the only catcher in the top 25, and that is pretty darn cool.

Baseball America’s mock draft v3.0

Baseball America released their third mock draft of the year earlier this week, and now they have the Twins selecting Vanderbilt RHP Kyle Wright with the top pick. California HS RHP/SS Hunter Greene, the top prospect in the draft class, is projected to fall to the Padres with the third pick. The mock draft has the Yankees taking Alabama HS OF Bubba Thompson with their 16th pick. Here’s the write-up:

New York has been linked to preps this spring such as Huntington Beach first baseman Nick Pratto and Alabama prep outfielder Bubba Thompson, who’s likely to go in the 16-23 range. Pratto’s relatively modest spring offensively has pushed him down lists a bit.

The draft is a little more than four weeks now, so things are still pretty wide open. So far the Yankees have been connected to mostly high school players, though that doesn’t mean much. Last year they were mostly connected to high school arms and college bats before the draft, then bam, they went with a high school bat. Hopefully things get narrowed down a bit over the next month.

MLB.com’s mock draft v1.0

In other mock draft news, Jim Callis dropped his first full mock draft of the year last week. He has the Twins taking Louisville LHP/1B Brendan McKay first overall. It seems Minnesota has been connected to all the top prospects except Greene. Weird. Anyway, Callis has the Yankees taking California HS 1B Nick Pratto withe their first rounder.

One of the most rumored mid-round marriages is New York and Pratto, though this is more a floor than a ceiling for the best high school bat available. Burger and Canning are other potential targets.

Here’s my write-up on Pratto. Also, here’s my write-up on UCLA RHP Griffin Canning, who Callis connected to the Yankees as well. Burger is Missouri State 3B Jake Burger, who is one of the top power hitters in the draft. He’s probably going to end up at first base though, and it’s unclear if his less than picturesque swing will allow him to handle pro pitching. Meh. Doesn’t seem like the kind of player the Yankees usually target in the first round.

Girardi on new competition committee

Earlier this week MLB announced the relaunch of the competition committee, a 16-man committee that is “charged with studying all aspects of the game and advising the Commissioner and Club Owners on on-field matters.” They’re going to look for ways to make baseball better, basically. I guess automatic intentional walks and talking about pace of play constantly isn’t working as well as hoped.

Anyway, Joe Girardi is one of four current big league managers on the committee, along with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, and Orioles skipper Buck Showalter. Here is the press release with all the committee members. I do like that commissioner Rob Manfred is open to new ideas and seems genuinely interested in improving the game. I have no idea whether the new competition committee will result in any tangible improvements, but hey, at least they’re trying.

Yankees let one slip, lose to the Rays 5-4

This was very much a winnable game. Just annoying that the stars didn’t align and Yankees missed out late in the game. There are a lot of “what ifs” in the game of baseball and, boy, there were too many of those in this game. Yankees are now 24-15, and in a bit of a 4-6 funk the last 10 games.

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

Take a 2-1 lead

The Yankees and Rays traded runs in the first. With one out, Jacoby Ellsbury singled and Matt Holliday doubled to put the runners in scoring position pretty quick into the game. starlin Castro followed it up with an RBI ground out to give New York a 1-0 lead. Aaron Judge singled to keep the pressure on Erasmo Ramirez, but Didi Gregorius struck out to end the inning.

Meanwhile, Luis Severino labored through the first. He faced six hitters and allowed a run on Logan Morrison RBI double. Not only was the strike zone was a little stingy, but also Severino himself was a bit off. Had that continued all night, it would have been a different game overall, but Severino found his groove starting in the second inning — he pitched four scoreless rest of the outing while striking out seven.

Acting manager Rob Thomson pulled Severino out after the fifth inning at 89 pitches … which was a curious decision. Severino went over 100 pitches five times this season prior to tonight. I feel like he could have at least gotten an out or two in the sixth. Anyways, I liked what I saw from him. It was a typical good Sevvy night — 11 whiffs from his slider (23.9% rate) and topping out at 99.9 mph per Brooks Baseball.

Losing It

After Severino finished, Jonathan Holder came into relief in the sixth. He struck out the first two hitters on six pitches, allowed a double to Daniel Robertson, but induced a ground out from Derek Norris to get out of the inning. An underrated part of 2017 so far has been Jonathan Holder quietly becoming a bullpen fixture. You can never have enough of good bullpen arms. However, that was the only bright spot for the ‘pen tonight.

Adam Warren came into the seventh and all hell broke loose. Here are the sequence of events that turned a 2-1 Yankees lead into a 4-2 Rays advantage:

1aa

Few notes here: the first three singles were a bit annoying because they were all grounders that could’ve been caught if the infielders were positioned a little differently. But that’s the way the baseball goes. The most annoying moment of the inning, though, by far, was the Chasen Shreve vs. Rickie Weeks matchup. Shreve nicked the inside corner of the strike zone on a 2-2 count and the HP umpire Quinn Wolcott did not ring Weeks up. That was a borderline pitch that could’ve gone either way, and we are talking a whole different game if the inning ended here. On the next pitch, Weeks hit a tricky-hop grounder that Ronald Torreyes couldn’t handle and resulted in a double. One of those games. Would Chase Headley have handled it? I don’t know.

But fear not, the Yankees have the Fighting Spirit. Brett  Gardner reached the base with a walk and Matt Holliday hit a 2-run homer to tie the game up 4-4 in the eighth. The Yankees tried to keep the rally going with a Castro single right after. However, Judge grounded into a double play to end the inning.

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

…. and they gave the lead right back. Tyler Clippard came into the bottom of the eighth to try to keep the game tied. He got Robertson strike out swinging, walked Norris, struck out Corey Dickerson, and walked Kevin Kiermaier to set up the inevitable Evan Longoria-the-hero moment for the Rays. If you’re familiar with how the Yankees fared against the Rays for the last several years, this was a deja-vu moment – Longoria hit a changeup into the left field for an RBI single and Tampa Bay took a 5-4 lead. I would’ve preferred Thomson bringing in Dellin Betances to face Longoria but Clippard is a pretty good pitcher himself. Hindsight is 20/20 but I was not complaining much about Thomson giving Clippard a chance to close the inning out.

Top of the ninth, with one of the best closers of the league pitching, Thomson let Chris Carter and Austin Romine try their luck and sat Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks sit on the bench. Brutal. The inning went as well as I had guessed and the Rays won 5-4.

Leftovers

Not often you see the Yankees lose when the top four hitters in the lineup reach on base twice or more each. Gardner, Ellsbury, Holliday, and Castro went 7-for-14 with 2 walks combined. The bottom part of the lineup went silent though. Gregorius, Carter, Romine, and Torreyes went 0-for-14 combined and that wasn’t enough for the Yankees tonight, at all.

Box score, standings and WPA Graph

Here’s tonight’s box score, updated standings and WPA graph. 


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees are back at it again at the Trop tomorrow. Masahiro Tanaka will face Matt Andriese. Is this the start that Tanaka finally turns it around? We’ll see.

DotF: Gleyber goes deep again in Trenton’s win

SS Jorge Mateo placed ninth on this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. Mateo went 11-for-25 (.440) with three home runs last week. He’s had a tough season overall, so hopefully this last week or so is an indication he’s turning things around and ready to go on an extended hot streak.

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 loss to Rochester)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 0-4
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B — 22-for-59 (.373) in his last 13 games
  • RF Rob Refsnyder: 0-4, 1 K — hitting streak ends at 18 games
  • LF Clint Frazier: 0-3, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB
  • RHP Chance Adams: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 9/6 GB/FB — 66 of 101 pitches were strikes (65%) … first start without a walk this season

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