Yankees survive ninth inning meltdown, hang on for crazy 7-6 win over Blue Jays


Well, the Yankees definitely aren’t boring anymore. Tuesday night’s 7-6 win over the Blue Jays was, without question, the most intense and fun and stressful and exciting game of the season. It was the best game since the Carlos Beltran home run/Andrew Miller vs. Troy Tulowitzki game in Toronto last season, right? Has to be. This was playoff baseball. Goodness.

I seriously have no idea how to recap this game. I usually build these things as the game progresses, but it just wasn’t happening with this one. The game was too hectic. It was crazy. I’m going to try something a little different and annotate the WPA graph so that way we hit on everything. Sound good? Too bad if it doesn’t, we’re going with it anyway. Let’s get to it.

NYYvsTORwpa090616(1) Luis Cessa‘s fourth big league start was his biggest test so far. The Blue Jays can really hit, and Edwin Encarnacion made sure Cessa knew it in the very first inning. He missed his spot with a fastball (by a lot) and Encarnacion absolutely clobbered it into the second deck in left field. It left his bat at 114 mph, which is nuts. The Blue Jays took a quick 1-0 lead on that blast.

With a rookie pitcher, you worry a monster home run like that will scare them out of the strike zone or away from their fastball. Not Cessa. The Royals hit him around early in his last start, but he showed some composure and held Kansas City down long enough for the offense to come back. Cessa did the same in this one. He shook off Encarnacion’s home run and retired nine of the next 12 men he faced. Only two of those 12 batters hit the ball out of the infield.

(2) Brian McCann must have known I have a “Brian McCann hasn’t hit for much power lately” post in the hopper for Wednesday. I wrote the damn thing earlier on Tuesday and, sure enough, McCann goes and hits his third home run of the second half in the fourth inning to tie the game 1-1. It was only the second home run Aaron Sanchez has allowed since the All-Star break. That kid is mighty impressive, isn’t he? He missed up with a changeup and McCann promptly deposited it into the second deck.


(3) The defense both helped and hurt Cessa in the fifth inning. Mostly hurt. Kevin Pillar dunked a single into center to start the inning, and after a Justin Smoak fly out, Devon Travis beat out an infield single when Chase Headley failed to make the barehand play. YES was using the behind the plate angle, which is basically the worst thing ever, so I have no idea if Headley had time to use his glove. Doesn’t matter. Travis was safe the Blue Jays had two on with one out.

The next defensive miscue came on the very next pitch; Jose Bautista lifted a soft broken bat fly ball to left field that should have been caught, but Brett Gardner held up and allowed the ball to drop in for a run-scoring hit. He had to misread it off the broken bat. I can’t explain it otherwise. It looked like Gardner thought it was hit harder than it actually was. The ball dropped in a few steps in front of him and the Blue Jays took a 2-1 lead. The Yankees had just tied the game in the previous half inning. Blah.

Toronto only scored one run in the inning because Headley atoned for his barehand whiff with an outstanding diving stop on Josh Donaldson’s rocket down the line. It was ticketed for the corner and would have scored at least one run, if not two. Headley snared the hot shot and threw across the diamond for the out. One of the best defense plays of the season, bar none. Encarnacion flew out after that, so despite all the baserunners and bad defense, the Blue Jays were only able to score the one run that fifth inning.

That is a man who knows he just mashed a tater. (Presswire)

(4) It sure looks like Tyler Austin is getting locked in, huh? Austin hit a home run in his first MLB at-bat, then went into a 5-for-37 (.135) slump and found himself on the bench more often than not. He did come out with two doubles on Monday afternoon, and, more importantly, he had some quality at-bats. Austin was flailing a little bit before that. Monday he stayed controlled and did damage at the plate.

Before Austin played hero in the seventh, the struggling Aaron Judge extended the inning with a two-out single to center. He grounded out in his first at-bat of the night but it was actually a good at-bat. Sanchez jumped ahead in the count 0-2, Judge worked it full, fouled off another pitch, then rolled over on a sinker. Bad outcome, but it was his best at-bat in a long time. The single set Austin up for the go-ahead birthday home run. To the action footage:

What a bomb. I don’t remember the last time a right-handed hitter hit one into the right field bleachers. I told you Austin has oppo pop. Austin is the first Yankee to hit a home run on his birthday since Alex Rodriguez last year. He’s the first rookie to hit a birthday home run with the Yankees since Eduardo Nunez in 2011. Congrats, Tyler. Your 25th birthday was way better than mine.

(5) Rosters may be expanded, but that doesn’t mean the bullpen can’t be worn down. Tyler Clippard has pitched three straight days and Dellin Betances pitched two straight, so when Cessa was pulled with one out in the sixth, Joe Girardi had to do some mixing and matching. The just recalled James Pazos didn’t get his batter out and gave way to Adam Warren, who got Smoak to ground into an inning-ending double play.

Warren stayed on to retire the side in the seventh, including Bautista and Donaldson, and he got the first two outs of the eighth too. The matching up started after Troy Tulowitzki singled with two outs in the eighth. Tommy Layne came in, walked pinch-hitter Melvin Upton, then gave way to Ben Heller. The Yankees were up 3-2 at the time, but the Blue Jays had two on, so Heller was in a pickle. He groove a fastball to Kevin freakin’ Pillar, who hammered a go-ahead two-run double to the wall in left. Blargh.

Girardi sure seems committed to using Heller in tight spots, and the rookie couldn’t get it done Tuesday. Betances was never going to come in for the four-out save after pitching Sunday and Monday, and with Clippard unavailable, Heller was probably Girardi’s best option. Either him or Chasen Shreve, who got the last out of the inning. It’s easy to say Heller shouldn’t have been in that spot given the outcome, but the alternative was Jonathan Holder or Kirby Yates or Nick Goody, so yeah. Not great. Bottom line: Heller can’t throw a pitch that poor. Even guys like Pillar will make you pay for grooved fastball. These are the big leagues.

(6) Earlier this season the Yankees would just roll over in a game like this. Blown lead in the eighth? Meh. Go get ’em tomorrow. Not these Yankees though. The kids don’t know any better and the veterans feed off that. The eighth inning rally started with, of all things, a Jacoby Ellsbury walk. Those done come around often. Jason Grilli was up there grunting fastballs, but he missed with four wide ones, so Ellsbury was on first.

Grilli pretty much owned Gary Sanchez for the first out of the inning. Struck him out on four pitches and had Sanchez looking silly. Once Sanchez struck out, I was waiting for Ellsbury to take off for second — there’s no reason to risk getting thrown out with Gary at the plate — but it never happened. Didn’t need to. The slumping Didi Gregorius hit a first pitch triple over Pillar’s head in left-center that scored Ellsbury to tie the game 4-4. I thought Pillar was going to catch it. He’s so good in the field. It sailed right over his head though. How about that?


For the life of me, I will never understand why Grilli threw Starlin Castro a two-strike fastball. He got him to chase two breaking balls out of the zone for a quick 0-2 count because that’s what Castro does, yet Grilli opted for the heater, and Starlin lifted it out to right field for the go-ahead sac fly. Grilli and Russell Martin got a little too cute there trying to set something up. They should know Castro will chase three straight pitches off the plate.

The sac fly gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead, and after McCann drew a five-pitch walk, Headley provided two insurance runs with a two-run home run into the short porch. Two insurance runs the Yankees would ultimately need. Headley more than made up for the missed barehand with the diving stop and the two-run home run. You done good, Chase.

(7) Three-run lead with Betances on the mound? No big deal. Even against the top of the Blue Jays lineup and while pitching the third straight day. Dellin had plenty of breathing room. Then eight of his first 12 pitches were balls and suddenly Encarnacion was up as the tying run. That was: bad. Encarnacion fouled off five pitches as part of a ten-pitch at-bat before beating out an infield single. A wild pitch moved Bautista and Donaldson up earlier in the inning, so a run scored to cut the lead to 7-5, and the tying run was on base.

(8) Betances was clearly not sharp in his third straight day of work, so much so that his first out was not recorded until his 27th pitch. Twenty-seventh! Woof. Betances struck out Martin for the first out, then walked pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro on seven pitches. The Yankees still led 7-5, but now the Blue Jays had the bases loaded and Dellin had thrown 34 (!) pitches to get one out. Egads. That’s bad.

Betances needed another six pitches to get Upton to hit a ground ball towards defensive replacement Mark Teixeira at first. It should have been the second out of the inning. Instead, Dellin took a little misstep at first and completely missed the bag. Upton was safe and another run scored. And the bases were still loaded. And there was still only one out. And Betances had thrown 40 pitches and was visibly fatigued. He was on fumes. The stakes were high and morale was low. The Yankees needed a hero.


(9) Girardi did the only thing he could do after the Upton infield single: he took out Betances. He had to. Dellin’s pitch count was through the roof — it wasn’t just 40 pitches, it was 40 high-stress pitches — and he was working for the third straight day. It was dangerous to push him any further.

So, with Betances worn out and Warren having already pitched and Clippard unavailable, in came Blake Parker for the save chance with the bases loaded. The Yankees started 2016 with Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller in their bullpen along with Betances, yet here was Blake Parker coming in to get the most important two outs of the season. Baseball, man.

Parker was able to strike out Pillar for the second out using almost exclusively non-fastballs. He dropped a first pitch curveball in for a strike, then got him to swing through a second pitch splitter for an 0-2 count. Pillar fouled off a high fastball, then Parker spiked a splitter that Sanchez was able to block with his body. Huge underrated play in the game. The pitch was nowhere close to the plate and Sanchez kept it in front of him to stop the tying run from scoring.

Pillar fouled off a splitter before getting locked up with a curveball for a called strike three. I have no idea what he was looking for, but it definitely wasn’t that. Pillar just froze. That was only the second out. Still one more to go with the bases loaded. Smoak was apparently paying attention during Pillar’s at-bat, because when Parker again tried to steal a first pitch strike with a curveball, Smoak gave it his A-swing and drove the ball out to deep left.

Off the bat, I thought it was a line drive at Gardner, and I was just hoping it was close enough for him to catch it. I’m getting really bad at reading balls off the bat, it seems. The ball carried all the way to the wall, and there was definitely an “oh gosh that’s going out” feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched Gardner race back to the wall. The game ended with one of the best catches of the season. Take it away, Brett:

I don’t know if that was the prettiest defensive play of the season — in fact, I know it’s not — but dammit, that was easily the biggest defensive play of the season. Saved the game and kept the Yankees close in the postseason race. Smoak hit that ball mighty hard, much harder than I thought, and Gardner was able to make the catch even though the ball rolled up his damn glove and had to be snow-coned. Here’s the slow motion replay:

Brett Gardner catch

I love and hate this team so much.

The Yankees only had seven hits as a team, but three were home runs and another was a triple, so it all worked out. Sanchez, Castro, and Judge had the singles. McCann, Austin, and Headley had the dingers. Gregorius had the triple. Ellsbury drew two walks while McCann and Austin drew one each. Austin looks really comfortable at the plate right now. Glad to see it.

Seven relievers combined to throw 113 pitches in 3.2 innings. That’s 10.3 pitches per out. Warren threw 44 in 2.1 innings and Betances threw 40 to get one out, so I reckon we won’t be seeing those two for a few days. Clippard will be the closer du jour for a little while. Not so fun fact: three of those seven relievers (Pazos, Layne, Heller) did not retire a batter. Argh.

The Yankees caught a break in the ninth inning. Encarnacion should have been awarded first base on a catcher’s interference call — the replay made it crystal clear — but the umpires missed it. It’s not a reviewable play either. That would have loaded the bases with no outs. Of course, Encarnacion singled in a run later in the at-bat, so it’s not like the non-call saved New York’s bacon.

The Yankees have finally (finally!) won a series against the Blue Jays. They’d lost six straight series to Toronto dating back to last year, and they’d also lost five straight home series to the Blue Jays dating back to 2014. It was not a pretty win and it was certainly not stress-free, but at least now that monkey is off their back.

And finally, the Yankees are now 72-65 and a season-high seven games over .500. They’re 20-13 since they gave up on the season and traded away some of their best players at the deadline. Also, the Yankees are now only 4.5 games back of the AL East lead. They haven’t been that close since April 27th.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, go to ESPN. For the video highlights, go to MLB.com. We have Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages too. Here’s the un-annotated win probability graph, which does not accurately reflect how much I nearly puked:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Time to sweep these mofos. The rest of the AL East never bothered to bury the Yankees and now it’s time to make them sweat it out. Bryan Mitchell is scheduled to start Wednesday’s finale and make his 2016 debut after breaking his toe covering first base in Spring Training. Marcus Stroman will be on the bump for the Blue Jays. There are only 14 home games left this season, and RAB Tickets can get you in the door for all of them.

DotF: Gleyber Torres leads Tampa to Game One win

High-A Tampa (2-1 win over Dunedin in 13 innings) they lead the best-of-three series 1-0

  • 2B Jorge Mateo: 1-6, 1 RBI, 1 K, 2 SB — drove in the game’s first run with a fielder’s choice
  • 3B Thairo Estrada: 1-6, 1 R — his single started the go-ahead rally in the 13th inning
  • SS Gleyber Torres: 2-5, 2 2B, 1 BB, 1 K — doubled in Estrada for the go-ahead run
  • 1B Kevin Cornelius: 0-5, 1 BB, 4 K
  • CF Rashad Crawford: 2-5, 2 K, 1 SB
  • RHP Yefrey Ramirez: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 6/5 GB/FB — 55 of 87 pitches were strikes (73%) … look at Big Yef dominating in Game One
  • RHP Jordan Foley: 3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 27 of 42 pitches were strikes (64%) … a decent relief outing, I’d say
  • RHP Eduardo Rivera: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — eleven of 19 pitches were strikes
  • RHP Sean Carley: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — half of his 16 pitches were strikes
  • RHP Dillon McNamara: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — eight of 13 pitches were strikes … gets the save and caps off six hitless innings from the bullpen

Triple-A Scranton, Double-A Trenton, Low-A Charleston, and Short Season Staten Island all begin their first round postseason series tomorrow.

The season is over for Rookie Pulaski, Rookie GCL Yanks East, and Rookie GCL Yanks West. None of the three teams qualified for the postseason.

Game 137: Closing In

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

Here’s a fun fact: with a win tonight, the Yankees will trim their deficit in the AL East to 4.5 games. They haven’t been that close since the end of April. Heck, you could argue the Yankees have an easier road to the division title than they do a wildcard spot because they actually play the teams ahead of them in the AL East. Now I’m just talking crazy.

Anyway, the Yankees have won ten of their last 16 games despite the back-to-back shutouts in Baltimore over the weekend. A win tonight would clinch their first series win over the Blue Jays since last August, six series ago. That was the series with Carlos Beltran homer/Andrew Miller vs. Troy Tulowitzki game. As fun as games like that are, I could go for a more stress-free win tonight. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. 1B Tyler Austin
    RHP Luis Cessa

It has been overcast and cool in New York all day, and there’s rain in the forecast pretty much all night. It doesn’t look like there will be torrential downpour, just on-and-off showers. The Yankees haven’t had much luck with rain delays this year. Hopefully they don’t get hosed again tonight. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES.

Roster Moves: The Yankees have called up both Bryan Mitchell and James Pazos, the team announced. There are now 13 pitchers in the bullpen. Joe Girardi said the team is leaning towards starting Mitchell tomorrow.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (hamstring) was placed on the 15-day DL yesterday, which is odd. There’s no need for the 15-day DL once rosters expand in September. Chad Jennings thinks it could be a way to send Hicks to the minors for rehab games, and really, that’s the only thing that makes sense. There’s no other benefit to the 15-day DL at this point … Chad Green (elbow) seemed to indicate the second opinion revealed good news. He’s going to have a dye contrast MRI at some point though.

Tanaka is regaining his 2014 form as he gets further away from the elbow issues

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

Yesterday afternoon Masahiro Tanaka had the kind of start that usually isn’t associated with being an ace, but does show the difference between good pitchers and great pitchers. He held the high-powered Blue Jays to two runs in 6.1 innings despite clearly not having his best stuff. Tanaka wasn’t even on the mound when the second run scored. It was an inherited runner that a pair of rookie relievers couldn’t strand.

Following yesterday’s game, Tanaka is now sitting on a 3.11 ERA (3.26 FIP) in 26 starts and 179.1 innings. The FanGraphs version of WAR says he’s been the best pitcher in the AL at +4.7 WAR. (Technically tied with Chris Sale, who’s thrown 14.1 more innings.) Baseball Reference says Tanaka has been the sixth best pitcher in the AL at +4.7 WAR. You don’t need WAR to tell you he’s been really, really good though.

Tanaka has never not been good for the Yankees. Last season he had a 3.51 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 154 innings, and while that is disappointing compared to his 2014 debut, it still made him an effective starter. The Yankees have won 13 of his last 15 starts and he is far and away the best pitcher in the rotation. It’s not even close. Tanaka might not win the Cy Young, but he should get votes. Heck, you could argue he deserves MVP votes too.

“As a professional baseball player, it’s better to have attention because that means you’re doing a good job,” said Tanaka to Chad Jennings yesterday. “I think the first year, it was more like, ‘who is this guy from Japan coming here? And how is he going to make it out there?’ I think there was a lot of curiosity and interest in that sense, but as a pitcher, you always want to do well, and that means you’re getting attention. So you want that attention because you want to do well.”

Although the overall numbers don’t exactly match, Tanaka has been able to regain his 2014 pre-injury form this season, especially recently. He missed time with the partially torn elbow ligament in 2014, then had wrist and hamstring issues in 2015, and over the winter he had a bone spur removed from his elbow. Tanaka’s dealt with more than a few physical problems, and those can obviously impact a pitcher’s ability to execute and effectiveness.

Here is Tanaka’s rolling five-start ERA and FIP since his debut in 2014, via FanGraphs. He started out swell, then his performance slipped as the injuries struck, and now he’s back to what I assume is 100% effectiveness.

Masahiro Tanaka rolling ERA-FIPThe biggest different between the pre-injury version of Tanaka and the current version of Tanaka is his strikeout rate. He struck out 26.6% of the batters he faced in 2014 before the elbow started barking. It’s 20.8% this year, which is still good, but not quite as good. Tanaka has been able to compensate for the missing strikeouts by keeping the ball in the park: 1.04 HR/9 (14.4 HR/FB%) vs. 0.85 HR/9 (10.4 HR/9%).

The performance has been very good this year and ultimately that’s the most important thing. A pitcher’s job is to keep runs off the board, first and foremost, and Tanaka has done that. He’s done it while changing his style almost month-to-month. You can call it evolving if you want, but he’s gone back to his original state a few times, so yeah. Check out his four-seamer fastball and sinker usage over the years, via Brooks Baseball:

Masahiro Tanaka pitch selectionEarlier this season Tanaka was throwing a ton of sinkers and it was easy to think he was doing that because of his home run problem last year. More sinkers equals more ground balls and fewer balls leaving the park, especially in Yankee Stadium. The sinker heavy approach hasn’t lasted. Tanaka cut back on his sinker at midseason and is now using the four-seamer more. Two years ago he cut back on the four-seamer at midseason and started throwing sinkers.

As cliche as it is, Tanaka is a pitcher and a not a thrower. He’s not going to blow hitters away with fastballs, though we have seen him reach back for a little extra something in big spots. Example:

Moments like that, when Tanaka reaches back and throws a fastball by a hitter, are very rare. He can do it if necessary, but his preferred method of attack is trickery. Tanaka throws a wide array of breaking balls and offspeed pitches, and he changes speeds very well. A splitter in the dirt is his trademark. The sliders on the corner and first pitch strike-stealing curveballs are important too.

At this point it’s obvious Tanaka was smart not to have Tommy John surgery in 2014. (Can’t believe the doctors knew more than fans and reporters, you guys.) It’s a serious procedure you try to avoid. Tanaka has avoided the knife but has dealt with some other injuries, most notably the bone spur surgery. And as good as he was last year, he wasn’t as good as he was in 2014 or as good as he’s been this year. The injuries took their toll. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

“I’m not overly satisfied with the overall way of pitching, how I’m pitching this year,” said Tanaka to Jennings. “I think if I compare it with my first year — the first year, I didn’t know anything. I just was grinding it out every game because I didn’t know much about what it was like to spend a full season here. But this year I feel like I’m more in control of myself compared to the first year. In that sense, I feel sort of a sense of maybe satisfaction compared to the first year.”

The Yankees will face a bit of a conundrum with Tanaka next season, because if he stays healthy and effective, he’s going to opt-out of his contract, and pitchers of this caliber are hard to replace. For now, Tanaka is over his injury problems and pitching like the high-end starter the Yankees paid him to be. He was at his very best early in 2014, before the elbow injury. Right now he’s pitching better than he has at any point since then.

September is a chance for Jonathan Holder and Ben Heller to carve out roles with the 2017 Yankees

Heller. (Presswire)
Heller. (Presswire)

Both Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder had their lives change quite a bit over the last six weeks. Holder got off relatively easy. He was promoted to Triple-A in late-July and called up to the big leagues in September. Heller? He went from Double-A to Triple-A, then was traded, then got called up to the show for the first time. That’s a lot to process in a short period of time.

Heller and Holder are with the Yankees right now and they didn’t receive courtesy call-ups. Both were added to the 40-man roster earlier than necessary — Holder was added a year prior to Rule 5 Draft eligibility, Heller only a few weeks early — and Joe Girardi has used both to get some pretty important outs in their early days as Yankees. Look at the situations they’ve been brought into so far:

Start the eighth up eleven (MLB debut)
Start the eighth down three against Manny Machado, Mark Trumbo, and Chris Davis
Start the tenth up one against Raul Mondesi, Jarrod Dyson, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer
Start the 12th tied against Mondesi, Dyson, Cain
Inherit bases loaded with two outs against Edwin Encarnacion, up four

Start the sixth down eight (MLB debut)
Inherit man on first with one out against Devon Travis, Jose Bautista, and Josh Donaldson, up four

Both Heller and Holder were able to make their big league debuts in low-leverage spots. Ask any manager and I’m sure they’d tell they prefer to have a rookie reliever make his debut in a stress-free blowout. These days the late-innings have been so hyped up that they seem to have a mind of their own.

Since their debuts though, Holder and especially Heller have been thrown into the fire. Holder was asked to go through the top of the one of the best lineups in baseball with a man on base in a four-run game yesterday. Heller was given a save opportunity on the road against the defending World Series champs in his third career appearance. Yesterday he had to face Encarnacion with the bases loaded. I mean, geez. Talk about baptism by fire.

That stuff was all born out of necessity. The Yankees were essentially out of relievers when Heller came in for the save opportunity against the Royals. Yesterday the regular end-game relievers were a bit taxed. Girardi used Heller and Holder in those spots because he had no other choice, really. Going forward I’m sure he’d like to be able to pick his spots a little better and make life easy on the kids.

Regardless of their usage, this month represents a huge opportunity for both Heller and Holder, who have a chance to solidify spots in the 2017 bullpen. Well, maybe we shouldn’t go that far. No one is going to win a 2017 roster spot in September 2016. These two have a chance to move to the front of the line, I should say. That’s better. Holder and Heller want to make a positive impression on the coaching staff and front office this month.

Would it be easier to do that in lower leverage innings? Ostensibly yes. But pitching well in higher leverage spots would help even more. Neither has done that yet, though it’s still early. Also, the results don’t even have to be great. The Yankees are going to evaluate players based on their raw stuff, their composure, and their aggressiveness. A few singles falling in shouldn’t change any opinions.

The Yankees have had some major middle innings problems this season, and the Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman trades haven’t helped. On days Luis Severino isn’t available, Heller and Holder figure to be Girardi’s go-to bridge relievers, so they’re going to pitch. These two aren’t going to sit in the bullpen and throw, like, two innings in September. They were brought up to help, and if they do that, they’ll set themselves up for more prominent roles next year.

Aaron Judge and the balance between development and trying to win


The first few weeks of the Aaron Judge era have been … interesting. Interesting’s a good word. Judge hit a ball over the windows of the center field restaurant in his first at-bat, and he went deep the next day as well. We’ve also seen him rob a near home run without even leaving his feet. He just reached up and caught it. And, of course, we’ve seen strikeouts. Lots and lots of strikeouts.

Through 20 big league games Judge is hitting .169/.249/.338 (54 wRC+) with three homers and 35 strikeouts in 73 plate appearances. That’s a 47.9% strikeout rate. Judge went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts yesterday and is now in a 2-for-25 (.080) skid with 18 strikeouts. Yikes. Last week I said Judge should to be more aggressive on fastballs in the zone, and since then his at-bats have only looked worse and worse.

As ugly as Judge’s strikeouts have been, a stretch like this is hardly unprecedented. Trevor Story struck out 34 times in his first 20 games earlier this season. Giancarlo Stanton struck out 33 times in his first 20 games too. Heck, Stanton went 1-for-21 (.048) with 17 strikeouts during a six-game span earlier this year. Strikeout heavy batters are prone to ugly slumps like this, and Judge is indeed strikeout prone. Always has been, probably always will be.

Because Judge is doing this at the start of his career, it raises all sorts of questions. When Stanton falls into a slump and starts striking out a bunch, he gets the benefit of the doubt because he’s an established player. We’ve seen him snap out of similar slumps in the past. Story’s strikeouts earlier this year were completely glossed over because he was hitting a home run every other at-bat, it seemed. Everyone focused on the dingers.

Neither of that applies to Judge. He’s not established and he’s not hitting home runs regularly. Is he striking out so much because he’s overmatched by big league pitching? Is he being too aggressive? Too passive? Could it really just be a slump? Judge had a pretty nasty slump in Triple-A back in May, remember, plus he struck out a ton when he first got to Triple-A last year. It’s not like he’s never done this before. He’s just never done it in MLB.

The Yankees are in charge of overseeing Judge and helping them through these early-career struggles. And by the Yankees I mean Joe Girardi, the coaching staff, and even the other players. Everyone. It’s a team, not a group of individuals. There’s some level of responsibility up and down the organization. The club has to balance what’s best for Judge and what’s best for the Yankees overall, and those aren’t necessarily the same things.

“I think he’s handled it pretty well,” said Girardi to Chad Jennings yesterday when asked about Judge’s strikeouts. “He’s going through a tough time and mechanically, I think he’s a little bit off. We’re trying to get him back on track. We got to help him get through it, that’s all. We got to help him fight through it. We know he was the ability and we believe he can do it.”

The Yankees are, improbably, still hanging around the wildcard race. They’re 3.5 games back with 26 games to go, which makes this Judge stuff all the more difficult. If the Yankees were, say, 15 games out and cruising to 90 losses, they could let him play as much as they want. But with a postseason spot not completely out of reach, they have to find a balance between Judge’s development and putting the best team on the field.

Right now it doesn’t seem the best possible lineup includes Judge. His defense is an asset — he made two very nice plays yesterday, one on a dive forward and another at the wall — but enough to overcome all the contact-less at-bats? I don’t think so. The Aaron Hicks injury leaves the Yankees short an outfielder, though they still have Rob Refsnyder, Tyler Austin, and Eric Young Jr. available. Mason Williams figures to be along soon enough too.


At this point scaling back on Judge’s playing time has to be under consideration, even though he’s a young player and young players generally need all the at-bats they can get. Sometimes it makes sense to give them a breather though. I’m not saying sit Judge indefinitely. Not at all. But maybe let Girardi pick his spots with the kid the rest of the way. There are two big factors to consider here.

1. Confidence. Judge is human. A massive human who wields a baseball bat like a toothpick, but a human nonetheless. His confidence has to be down right now. You’d never know it by talking to him — Judge is definitely a gentle giant, he’s stoic and relentlessly positive — but it’s only natural. Fail at something this much and I think anyone would be a little down on themselves.

“I just feel like, if I stick to what I’m doing, everything is going to work out,” said Judge to Jennings yesterday. “There’s a little learning curve wherever you go, at every level. You just try to make that adjustment as quick as you can. For some people, it takes a little long. For some people, a little shorter. Just try to make that adjustment.”

I’m not a big believer in confidence potentially derailing a player’s development — if a guy’s confidence crashes that hard, he probably wasn’t going to make it anyway — but it’s not something that can be ignored either. You want Judge in the right frame of mind so he can make whatever adjustments he has to make. He’s not going to tell you his confidence is down, so it’s up to Girardi to look for signs (body language, etc.) and take action.

2. Opposing pitcher. This is kind of a big deal. The Yankees are facing Cy Young candidate Aaron Sanchez and his filthy mid-90s sinker that runs all over the place tonight. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to sit Judge against Sanchez. That seems like a bad matchup. But Alex Cobb and Matt Andriese this weekend? Turn him loose. Give Judge a chance to get comfortable against pitchers who aren’t going to blow him away, then take it from there. Hope he experiences some success and builds on that, you know?

If you’re drawing conclusions about Judge’s career and potential based on these first 20 games, just stop. It doesn’t work like that. This goes both ways too. Judge isn’t a bust because he struck out a bunch these last few weeks and Gary Sanchez isn’t a Hall of Famer because he won AL Player of the Month in his first month as an everyday player. Judge’s and Sanchez’s long-term potential didn’t change in August. Only the perception of it did.

Judge’s adjustment period has been more difficult than I think anyone expected. His at-bats are getting cringe-worthy, and when there’s a two-strike count, you almost want to look away. The Yankees have to come up with a plan to get Judge through this slump while also putting the team in the best chance to win these last few weeks, and while that won’t be easy, it will be crucial. Judge is of great importance to the Yankees long-term.

DotF: Frazier and Andujar homer on final day of the minor league regular season

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Syracuse in ten innings, walk-off style) they finished the regular season at 91-52, tying the franchise record for wins … no other Triple-A team won more than 85 games this season … their best-of-five first round series with Lehigh Valley (Phillies) begins Wednesday … LHP Jordan Montgomery, LHP Phil Coke, and RHP Bryan Mitchell are starting the first three games according to Chad Jennings

  • CF Mason Williams: 0-4 — he hit .298/.315/.380 in 43 games after shoulder surgery, so the power was a little light, but everything else was typical Williams
  • DH Clint Frazier: 1-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 3 K — smacked a dinger in his first game back from the hamstring injury (here’s video) … he finishes the season with a .263/.335/.447 batting line, 27 doubles, 16 homers, and 13 steals in 119 total games … he hit .228/.278/.396 in 25 Triple-A games after coming over in the Andrew Miller trade
  • 3B Donovan Solano: 2-4, 2 2B, 1 BB, 1 K — minor league signee hit .319/.346/.436 with 33 doubles, seven homers, and an International League leading 163 hits
  • 1B Chris Parmelee: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RF Cesar Puello: 1-5, 1 RBI — walk-off single to end the season … the former top Mets prospect hit .283/.413/.404 with five homers and 18 steals in 78 games … nice little signing by the Yankees
  • LF Jake Cave: 0-4, 1 R — hit .268/.330/.427 with a career high eight homers in 116 total games this year after failing to make the Reds as a Rule 5 Draft pick in Spring Training
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K — finishes his breakout season with a .276/.337/.511 batting line and a career high (by far) 21 homers in 102 total games
  • SS-1B Cito Culver: 1-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — the Summer of Cito ends with a .254/.315/.349 line in 117 total games
  • LHP Richard Bleier: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 10/2 GB/FB — 50 of 77 pitches were strikes (71%)
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 2.1 IP, zeroes, 3 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 18 of 27 pitches were strikes (67%) … the 25-year-old finishes the season with a 1.27 ERA and a 106/17 K/BB in 78 total innings
  • RHP J.R. Graham: 2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 WP, 1/0 GB/FB — 23 of 33 pitches were strikes (70%) … the Yankees got him from the Twins in cash deal in mid-May and he’s somehow remained on the 40-man roster every since … maybe the most amazing part of the season

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