Game 57: Finish the Sweep

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

The streaky 2015 Yankees are hot again, having won five straight and nine of their last 12 games overall. They swept the Royals a week and a half ago, swept the Mariners a few days ago, and today they have a chance to sweep the Angels. Those are three teams many people expected to contend coming into the season. The Yankees? Many counted them out.

Michael Pineda is not on the mound this afternoon. Instead, it’ll be CC Sabathia, who is starting on normal rest thanks to Thursday’s off-day. The Yankees are skipping Pineda’s start this weekend to control his workload. Regardless of who is on the mound, let’s hope the offense keeps up what they’ve been doing. They scored eight runs in each of the first two games of this series, the first time they’ve scored 8+ runs in consecutive games since September 2013, when they did it in three straight games. (They lost all three games!) Here is the Angels’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. LF Chris Young
  7. 2B Jose Pirela
  8. C John Ryan Murphy
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    LHP CC Sabathia

It’s a very lovely day in New York. Nice and sunny, not too hot … pretty much a perfect afternoon for baseball. This afternoon’s series finale will begin at 1:05pm ET, and you can watch live on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) continues to run sprints and stuff like that. He’s increasing the intensity a little each day … Gregorio Petit (hand) will begin a minor league rehab assignment Monday.

Chasing a Rebound

Even before they acquired him last season, Chase Headley was a player on the minds of Yankee fans for a long time. A switch hitter with power and patience, wallowing the Petco Pitcher’s Paradise, he seemed the perfect fit for the Yankees, even before considering his reputedly elite glove at third base. Many people, myself included, thought getting Headley at any point before free agency was something of a pipe dream. Like many other things I’ve said about baseball, I was quite clearly wrong about that.

When he joined the Yankees last season, Headley did about what was expected: provide good defense and get on base (12.9 BB%) and hit for a little bit of pop (.136). Mostly, he righted the ship at third base, which had been taking on an entire ocean of water in the absence of Alex Rodriguez. So far this year, through Friday, 6/5, Headley isn’t hitting all that great, and has had some hiccups in the field (along with a glut of spectacular plays, though). His line sits at .254/.305/.395, good for a .306 wOBA and a 93 wRC+. That’s not all that great to begin with, and it looks a little worse when compared to the average Major League third baseman , who’s wOBAing .318 and wRC+ing 102. It seems that we’ve been waiting for a big breakout from Headley and it seems like it hasn’t exactly arrived–at least at first glance. Looking a bit deeper, we’re smack in the middle of a month-long rebound from Headley.

From Opening Day through May 10, the day his OPS bottomed out at .633, Headley hit just .224/.280/.353, ‘good’ for a wOBA of just .295. His BABIP was a fairly low .274 and his ISO was just .129, both off from his career marks of .329 and .143 respectively. On May 11th, however, Headley started a hot streak that is ongoing. That day, he went 2-4 with a homer and four batted in to kick off a stretch that’s seen him hit .294/.337/.447, a .338 wOBA. His ISO in that stretch is .159, over his career average and over the average ISO for a 2015 third baseman (.155). As I’m fond of saying, there’s the ‘what,’ now let’s look for the ‘how.’ How did Headley start turning things around? Using the same date ranges as before (4/6-5/10 and 5/11-6/05), let’s jump into the batted-ball data that the ever-awesome Brooks Baseball provides for us.

In the early part of the season, Headley was getting eaten alive by fastballs, sinkers, and changeups. That’s a bad thing no matter what; it’s even worse when those are the three pitch types you see the most. He hit just .234; .167; and .167 against them respectively, with ISOs of .149; .000; and .056 respectively. Those marks are as ugly as his overall line was for that stretch of time. His BABIPs against those pitch types were also low: .278; .188; .231.  Since then, things have improved. From 5/11-6/05, Headley has reamed fastballs at a .393 clip with a .607 SLG (.214 ISO) and a .435 BABIP.  This marked improvement on ol’ number one has been sparked by a change in batted-ball type for Headley.

During this hot-stretch, Headley has gotten more grounders, line drives, and home runs (per fly balls/line drives) against fastballs than he did in April and early May. We know that grounders and line drives are way more likely than fly balls to be hits, so that helps explain the big uptick in average and BABIP. The increased home run totals speak for the jump in ISO. Similar things have happened against sinkers and changeups for Headley, too.

He’s hitting fewer grounders on balls in play against sinkers now (57.14%) than before (62.50%), which plays against what pitchers aim to do when they throw sinkers. And though he still hasn’t left the yard on a sinker (0.00 HR/FB+LD on sinkers for the year), he’s been hitting a higher portion of them, 33.33% to 18.75% for line drives.

Of the changeups Headley put into play in the first part of the season, he pounded 92.31% of them into the ground, which plays right into what pitchers are hoping for when they throw a change. The other 7.69% were line drives. Those totals have been altered quite a bit in the May-June hot streak as he’s lowered the ground ball rate t0 33.33% and upped the line drive rate to 41.67%. The most impactful change, though, has been that of the changeups he’s put into play (25% rate total), 25% of them have gone for homers. He’s gone from being mastered by changeups to mastering them right out of the park.

The rebound we wanted from Headley in early May seems to have arrived and is continuing as I write this and as you read it. What he’s hitting during this stretch is probably the upper bound of what we can expect from him as a hitter and may be hard to sustain. However, this is what we envisioned when we saw Headley traded to the Bronx last summer, something that made us pretty happy. Hitting like this would make that aforementioned pipe dream a reality.

Warren, big first inning carry Yanks to 8-2 win over Angels

That was close to a perfect win. Score a whole bunch of runs early, get a quality outing from the starter, then let the bullpen finish it off without making things interesting. Just perfect. The Yankees did all of that in Saturday night’s 8-2 win over the Angels. New York has won five straight and nine of their last dozen games overall.

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

First Inning Offense
Coming into Saturday’s game, the Yankees led all of baseball with 51 first inning runs. It wasn’t close either — the Padres were a distant second with 42 runs. The Tigers (41) were the only other team with more than 38. The Yankees dominate the first inning and they did it again Saturday, scoring six runs and knocking the generally awesome Garrett Richards out of the game after two-thirds of an inning. Let’s recap the inning with annotated play-by-play:

Yankees Angels play by play1

(1) The first at-bat of the inning told us right away that home plate ump Alfonso Marquez was going to have a tight strike zone. At least two of those balls to Brett Gardner looked like strikes, and that was a common theme throughout the inning. Marquez squeezed, Richards had to come over the plate, and the Yankees made him pay. The zone was tight for both teams but the Yankees did a better job of capitalizing. Here’s the strike zone. Notice how nearly every borderline pitch was called a ball:

Yankees Angels strike zone(2) Chase Headley‘s single maybe possibly could have been a double play. It was a hot shot grounder second baseman Johnny Giavotella couldn’t handle, and it deflected off his glove and into shallow right field. It was a tough play, no doubt about it. With a little luck Giavotella could have had his glove up quicker, fielded the hopper, and gotten at least one out (if not two), changing the inning. That didn’t happen. The ball clanked off his glove and the Yankees were in business.

(3) Richards recorded one out among the first eight batters he faced, and that was a 400-foot fly ball to the center field warning track. I didn’t think it was gone off the bat — it looked like Mark Teixeira hit it juuust off the end of the bat — but it kept carrying and carrying before Mike Trout settled under it. That was the second hardest hit ball of the inning behind Brian McCann‘s two-run home run, which was another example of Richards getting squeezed, having to come over the plate, and the Yankees capitalizing.

(4) Low baseball IQ alert! Stephen Drew hit a soft chopper to first base, and for some reason Albert Pujols tried to catch Didi Gregorius wandering off second base rather than take the sure out at first in hopes of snuffing out the big inning. Pujols made the throw to Giavotella, Gregorius slid back in, and second base ump Tom Hallion called him out. The Yankees immediately challenged and the replays clearly showed that not only did Didi beat the tag, there wasn’t even a tag applied. Giavotella tagged his own leg, not Gregorius. The call was overturned, Didi was ruled safe, and the Yankees reloaded the bases on a boneheaded play by Pujols, arguably the greatest player of his generation and usually a pretty smart defender.

(5) I thought Gardner’s two-out, two-run single was a back-breaker. Four runs in the first inning is awesome! But if Gardner makes an out there, Richards probably stays in the game, the Angels stay within grand slam distance, and a really good first inning doesn’t make the jump to a great first inning. Tacking on those two extra runs rather than “settling” for the four-run frame was huge. Changed the complexion of the game completely.

(6) This was already the fourth time this season the Yankees scored 5+ runs in the first inning. They did it twice last year, zero times the year before that, and twice the year before that. The other 29 teams have done it three times combined this season (!). This was also New York’s sixth inning of 5+ runs this season in general (first inning, second inning, whatever) compared to nine last year and eight the year before that. Hooray big innings!

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

Warren Report
It’ll get forgotten thanks to the big day by the offense, but Adam Warren turned in yet another very strong outing, holding the Angels to two runs in 6.2 innings. He threw a career high 105 pitches. After struggling to get through even five innings earlier this season, Warren has now completed at least 6.1 innings in each of his last five starts. He’s the first Yankee with five straight starts of 6.1+ innings since Masahiro Tanaka early last season. Who’d a thunk it?

Anyway, Warren retired the first nine batters he faced, then five of nine batters reached base the second time through the lineup. The Angels loaded the bases with an infield single and two walks in the fourth inning, so they were threatening to make it a game, but Warren was able to coax an inning-ending double play ball out of David Freese. The Halos then put the first two runners on in the fifth before Warren rebounded and limited the damage to one run on a sac fly. It was a long sac fly — Ramon Flores caught it at the wall — but it was just a sac fly.

Trout hit a solo home run in the sixth because that’s what Mike Trout does. What are you gonna do? The guy hits dingers. Luckily there was no one on base when it happened. Warren’s night ended when he walked Giavotella with two outs in the seventh — he actually had more walks (three) than strikeouts (two) on the night — but it didn’t come back to hurt. Justin Wilson retired Erick Aybar with one pitch to end the inning. Although Warren wasn’t as sharp on Saturday as he has been in recent weeks, this was his fifth straight quality outing nonetheless. Well done, Adam.

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
T’was a catch. (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Leftovers
The Yankees scored an insurance run in the second (Carlos Beltran singled in Teixeira) and another in the eighth (Teixeira walked with the bases loaded). The offense actually went kinda silent for a while — between Beltran’s single in the second and the start of the eighth inning, Angels pitchers retired 17 of 20 batters faced. The three base-runners were Gregorius (double) and A-Rod (walk, hit-by-pitch). Huh. Go figure.

Every starter reached base safely at least once other than Drew, though Drew reached on that weird Pujols play in the first. (It was scored a fielder’s choice.) Gardner (two singles, walk), A-Rod (three walks, hit-by-pitch), Teixeira (single, walk), McCann (homer, single), and Gregorius (single, double) all reached base multiple times. Gardner also stole a base because why not? The Yankees have been getting contributions from up and down the lineup during this five-game winning steak. Nice to see.

Unlike the series opener, the bullpen did not make things interesting in the late innings. Justin Wilson escaped the seventh, allowed a single in an otherwise uneventful eighth, and Chris Capuano retired the side in order in the ninth. Carlos Perez did work a 13-pitch at-bat before making the 27th out though. But see? It doesn’t have to be so hard with a huge late lead.

And finally, the Angels really had to tax their bullpen thanks to the short start by Richards. Cesar Ramos (20 pitches), Hector Santiago (45 pitches), Jose Alvarez (24 pitches), and Cam Bedrosian (40 pitches) all had to work quite a bit. That figures to play a role in the series finale Sunday.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score, video highlights, updated standings, Bullpen Workload page, and Announcer Standings page. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Angels will wrap up this series on Sunday afternoon. CC Sabathia, not Michael Pineda, will square off against fellow left-hander C.J. Wilson. Pineda is having his scheduled start skipped this week to control his workload. Head over to RAB Tickets if you want to catch that game or either of the other two remaining games on the homestand in person.

DotF: Sanchez homers again, Lail dominates in AA win

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Rochester)

  • CF Mason Williams: 1-4, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4, 1 K
  • 1B Kyle Roller: 0-4, 3 K
  • C Austin Romine: 1-3, 1 BB, 2 K
  • RF Ben Gamel: 1-4, 1 R, 1 3B, 2 K
  • RHP Kyle Davies: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 4/4 GB/FB — 59 of 99 pitches were strikes (60%)
  • LHP Matt Tracy: 1.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 24 of 39 pitches were strikes (62%) … with RHP Luis Severino now in the rotation, it looks like Tracy got bumped to the bullpen
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 21 of 32 pitches were strikes (66%) … 27.0 K% this year after 34.0 K% last year

[Read more…]

Game 56: Bounce Back From The Win

"That was a really tough win last night." (Rich Schultz/Getty)
“That was a really tough win last night.” (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Last night’s win was one of those wins that felt like a loss. That ninth inning was such a near-catastrophe that it almost feels like the Yankees need to bounce back today despite picking up the W. That’s messed up, man. Wins aren’t supposed to feel like that.

But, on the bright side, the Yankees have won four in a row and eight of their last eleven games. They’re a streaky team these 2015 Yankees, and right now they’re on a hot streak. Adam Warren is on a hot streak as well, having run off four very good starts his last four times out. He’ll look to make it five straight tonight, and so will the Yankees. Here is the Anaheim’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. LF Ramon Flores
    RHP Adam Warren

It’s a little cloudy tonight but otherwise it’s a nice night for baseball in the Bronx. Tonight’s game will start at 7:15pm ET and can be seen nationally on FOX. Enjoy the broadcast!

Injury Updates: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) did some more light baseball activities today, running sprints and playing catch, that sorta stuff.

2015 Draft: Brady Aiken

Brady Aiken | LHP

Background
The 19-year-old Aiken was the first overall pick in the 2014 draft out of a San Diego high school, but his deal with the Astros fell apart when the team found some red flags in his elbow. The two sides reportedly agreed to a $6.5M bonus before the physical, then Aiken later rejected a reduced $5M bonus. Aiken opted to do a post-graduate year at IMG Academy in Florida rather than attend a four-year college, allowing him to re-enter the draft this year. Aiken blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery in April, and reportedly it was something more complicated than a routine ligament reconstruction.

Scouting Report
Aiken, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 210 lbs., looks the part of a first overall pick when healthy. He sat 92-94 and touched 97 before getting hurt, and it played up because Aiken could sink it and locate the pitch exceptionally well. A tight curveball is his go-to secondary pitch and was a legitimate put-away offering before his elbow gave out. Aiken also threw an advanced changeup that gave him the potential for three well-above-average pitches. A clean and repeatable delivery helped him command all three pitches, though the fact that he has such a smooth delivery and still blew out his elbow creates concerns about his future durability. Aiken has drawn big time praise for his makeup, especially after he took the Astros ordeal and Tommy John surgery in stride.

Miscellany
Baseball America, MLB.com, and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Aiken as the 22nd, 24th, and 27th best prospect in the draft in their latest rankings, respectively. Kiley McDaniel says Aiken’s camp has made his medical information available to teams, and while that isn’t uncommon, it is a little weird they’re making it available only by request and with special instructions. They’re trying to limit leaks, basically. The Yankees are reportedly steering clear of injured pitchers like Aiken, but they’re one of the few teams with an extra first round pick (16th and 30th overall) and the draft pool space ($7.885M) to make it work. Aiken’s talent is undeniable, but apparently his injury goes beyond routine Tommy John surgery, and that’s scary.

2015 Draft: Cornelius Randolph

Cornelius Randolph | SS

Background
Randolph, 18, attends Griffin High School not too far outside Atlanta. He is the school’s best baseball prospect since Tim Beckham, the first overall selection of the 2008 draft. Griffin dealt with a minor bout of biceps tendinitis this spring and is committed to Clemson.

Scouting Report
Simply put, the 6-foot-1, 190 lb. Randolph is a pure hitter with great bat speed, power potential, and strike zone awareness from the left side of the plate. An ultra-advanced approach makes him even more dangerous. Randolph rarely chases out of the zone and consistently puts himself in good hitter’s counts. His best tool is his arm strength — his arm wasn’t at its best this spring because of the biceps issue — which works well because he’s not going to stick at shortstop long-term. Cornelius has good hands but lacks the first step quickness and range for shortstop. There’s enough defensive ability there to believe he’ll become an above-average defender at third base in time.

Miscellany
Cornelius ranked as the 19th, 20th, and 29th best prospect in the draft class in the latest rankings by MLB.com, Baseball America, and Keith Law (subs. req’d). Depending on who you ask, the Yankees are looking for a bat with one of their two first round picks (16th and 30th), and Cornelius has one of the best offensive skill sets in the entire draft. He’s a lefty with power and patience, which is the profile you’ll find all throughout franchise history.