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

[Read more…]

Ellsbury and Tanaka lead Yanks to 5-3 win over Blue Jays

Source: FanGraphs

For only the fourth time in 14 tries since last season’s trade deadline, the Yankees managed to beat the Blue Jays in Yankee Stadium. Wins against Toronto have been tough to come by for more than a calendar year now. The final score was 5-3 on Monday afternoon. It’s Labor Day, so let’s recap with bullet points:

  • Ellsburied: One day after riding the bench in what Joe Girardi called the most important game of the season, Jacoby Ellsbury came out and swatted a two-run home run in the first inning Monday. He then singled in the team’s third run of the day two innings later. Ellsbury went 3-for-4 and drove in three of the Yankees’ five runs. Nice way to respond after sitting out Sunday.
  • Tanaka Grinds: I thought Masahiro Tanaka looked too strong in the first inning. He was on extra rest and he only threw 71 pitches last time out because of the rain delay, so maybe that was it. His two-seamer was running all over the place, so much so that he couldn’t locate it consistently. The Blue Jays jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead on a double and a single in the first, but Tanaka was able to settle down, limit the damage, and retire 18 of the next 23 batters he faced. He allowed two runs on seven hits and three walks in 6.1 innings. It wasn’t easy, but Tanaka was able to take the ball into the seventh.
  • Insurance Runs: The Yankees led 3-1 after Ellsbury’s run-scoring single in the third, and while a two-run lead is nice, it’s hardly comfortable against the Blue Jays. Thankfully Tyler Austin came through with a two-out, two-run double off the wall in the fourth inning. That stretched the lead to 5-1. Toronto can score runs in a hurry, so the game was hardly over, but at least now the Yankees had some breathing room.
  • Survive the Bullpen: Bringing Jonathan Holder into the game to face the middle of the Blue Jays’ lineup in his second MLB appearance was not Girardi’s finest move. Holder walked Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson to load the bases in the seventh, then Ben Heller came in and gave up the two-run single to Edwin Encarnacion to cut the lead to 5-3. Maybe go with the experienced guys over the kids against hitters that good next time, Joe. Tyler Clippard and Dellin Betances closed the door in the eighth and ninth after it got interesting.
  • Leftovers: Austin seems to be coming around. He went 2-for-3 with two doubles … Aaron Judge, meanwhile, went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. This is getting painful. At least he robbed a near homer without jumping … Didi Gregorius went 0-fot-4 with two strikeouts and has been slumping for a week or two now … Brett Gardner and Starlin Castro had one hit each while Chase Headley and Austin Romine each drew a walk … the Orioles won, so the Yankees remain 3.5 games back of the second wildcard spot.

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Also make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. The Yankees and Blue Jays continue this three-game series with the middle game Tuesday night. Luis Cessa and Aaron Sanchez are the scheduled starters. There are only 15 home games left this season, so head over to RAB Tickets if you want catch any of them live.