One terrible inning dooms Gray, Yankees in 9-6 loss to Rays

A missed opportunity, this was. The Astros beat up on the Red Sox on Thursday night, but the Yankees couldn’t take advantage and trim the AL East deficit. They blew a three-run lead to the Rays and lost the series finale 9-6. Womp womp. One more Red Sox win or one more Yankees loss clinches the division title for Boston. Ain’t dead yet!

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Special Guests On The Toe-Night Show
For the 11th time this season, the Yankees hit back-to-back home runs Thursday night. And they did it to start the game. Brett Gardner sent Jacob Faria’s second pitch of the night into the second deck in right field for a leadoff homer, then Aaron Judge followed with a home run on Faria’s seventh pitch. That one was also hit into the second deck in right field. Can’t remember the last time a right-hander batter went right field second deck like that.

Because they both went deep, Gardner and Judge got be special guests on the Toe-Night Show, the mock press conference that has invaded post-dinger dugouts in the Bronx. Ronald Torreyes and his crew have a boom mic and everything these days (pic via @MearnsPSA):

aaron-judge-toe-night-show

This is good. I enjoy this. The back-to-back home runs gave the Yankees a quick 2-1 lead, and they continued to add on in the ensuing innings. Todd Frazier drove in Jacoby Ellsbury with a single in the second inning — Ellsbury singled and advanced on a passed ball earlier in the inning — to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead, then Greg Bird visited the short porch for a solo home run in the fourth. I’m pretty sure Bird thought he missed it. He sure didn’t react like it had a chance to get out.

Judge (eight games) and Bird (six games) have the two longest active extra-base hit streaks in baseball right now, and Judge’s is the longest by a Yankee since Johnny Damon had an extra-base hit in ten straight games in May 2009. Also, Gardner’s home run a) extended his career high to 21, and b) was only his second since July 28th. He had only one homer in his last 53 games going into Thursday night. Huh. I didn’t realize that.

The Fifth Inning Meltdown
Sonny Gray labored right from the get-go Thursday night — he couldn’t hit the mitt to save his life — yet he still managed to get through four innings with one run allowed. The one run was a Corey Dickerson solo homer into the second deck in right field in the first inning. That gave the Rays a quick 1-0 lead before Gardner and Judge answered with back-to-back homers in the bottom of the first.

The wheels fell off in the fifth inning and Gray finished with the following line: 4.2 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 5 BB, 2 K on 86 pitches. The six runs are the most Sonny’s allowed in his eleven starts as a Yankee, and the five walks are the second most he’s ever allowed. (He had a seven-walk start in 2015.) Anyway, let’s recap that fifth inning meltdown with an annotated play-by-play. ESPN’s redesign is just awful, but I’m going to power through it.

yankees-vs-rays-play-by-play1(1) That was an all-around ugly play. Gray spiked a breaking ball and it got away from Gary Sanchez, and on the play at the plate, Gray slid in on his knees and tried to apply the tag. It was not pretty. His glove bent back and he slid into the plate awkwardly. I know the competitive juices are flowing and all that, but geez, just let the run score in Game 159 when you’ve already clinched a postseason spot. No need to risk injury.

(2) The wild pitch was clearly on Gray. The passed ball was most definitely on Sanchez. It can sometimes be tough to tell who is to blame on passed pitches, but on these two, it was pretty clear. Sanchez let a breaking ball scoot through his legs, allowing the run to score. It had been a while since Gary had one of those. Twelve games, in fact. He does still lead the league with 16 passed balls now. I still love him.

(3) Between the Dickerson homer and the Wilson Ramos go-ahead two-run homer in the fifth, Gray has now allowed nine home runs in six starts and 35.2 innings this month. He allowed seven homers in his previous 20 starts and 121 innings. Six of the nine September homers have come at home, so Yankee Stadium has not been too kind to Sonny these last few weeks. He’s been off a little the last few times out, and when you’re off a little in this park, the ball tends to carry over the wall. Gray’ll figure it out soon. Kinda has to with the postseason approaching.

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

(4) I don’t really get why Jonathan Holder was the first one out of the bullpen in a one-run game, even in the fifth, especially with every game a must win to have a shot at the division title. Even with Dellin Betances and Chad Green unavailable, it seemed like a spot to go to Tommy Kahnle to escape the jam and keep the deficit at one, then let the September kids start an inning clean. Instead, Holder came in, hit a batter — I have no idea why the play-by-play says he came in after the hit batter, but that’s wrong, Holder his Daniel Robertson — and allowed a run-scoring single to former Yankees farmhand Cesar Puello. Three batters faced for Holder, zero outs.

(5) The third and final batter Holder faced was Peter Bourjos, he of the .224/.276/.388 (76 wRC+) batting line. Bourjos split the left-center field gap with a rocket two-run triple. Bad. Bad bad bad. I imagine Holder’s … uh … hold on a 40-man roster is pretty tenuous. Failing to retire a batter against the bottom of the lineup in a one-run game is no way to stick around. By the way, Bourjos against the Yankees in 2017: .290/.333/.613. Bourjos against everyone else in 2017: .211/.262/.342. I hate baseball sometimes.

(6) The seven runs are the most allowed by the Yankees in an inning this season. They’d allowed six runs in an inning on only two occasions. Is it weird that seems low to me? Not that I think the Yankees stink or anything, it just seems like every team would allow six or more runs in an inning a bunch of times in a season, not twice in 158 games. Eh, whatever. If you’re going to have your worst inning of the season, after you clinch is a good time to do it. The seven-run fifth turned a 4-1 lead into an 8-4 deficit.

Leftovers
Rough game for Sanchez, physically. Gray spiked a curveball in the dirt in the second inning, and it came up and hit Sanchez in the neck, under his face mask. He was in obvious pain after that but did stay in the game. I have no idea why anyone ever catches. It looks terrible. Also, Sanchez took a Tommy Hunter fastball up high to the shoulder in the fifth inning. That one looked like it hurt. I imagine Gary will sit tomorrow in the day after after a night game. He could use it after this one. He got beat up pretty good.

Aaron Hicks pinch-hit in the ninth and smacked a home run. He’s now 3-for-5 with two homers and three walks in three games since coming back from the disabled list. And he robbed a grand slam. Ellsbury had two hits (both singles) while Gardner (homer), Judge (homer), Starlin Castro (single), Bird (homer), and Frazier (single) had one hit apiece. Gardner also drew two walks. He’s been on base 34 times in his last 19 games.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I really wish all the innings the Yankees gave Holder this year had gone to Ben Heller. I just don’t get it. Heller retired six of seven batters faced and allowed just a walk in 2.1 scoreless innings. He struck out two and has allowed one run in ten innings with the Yankees this year, and had a 2.88 ERA (3.09 FIP) with a 36.8% strikeout rate and a 9.4% walk rate in 56.1 Triple-A innings. /shrugs

And finally, Gardner and Judge combined for the first set of back-to-back homers to start a game for the Yankees since way back in April 2012, when Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson did it. The Rays, meanwhile, have allowed back-to-back homers to start a game three different times this season, including twice this month. That seems bad.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN has the box score and updated standings, MLB.com has the video highlights, and we have a Bullpen Workload page. Here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The final series of the regular season. Time flies, eh? The Blue Jays are coming to town for a three-game weekend set. Friday’s series opener is an afternoon game with a 1pm ET start. Day game after a night game with pretty much everything clinched? Something tells me we might be in for a Spring Training lineup Friday. Masahiro Tanaka and Joe Biagini are the scheduled starting pitchers.

Game 159: Trying for their 90th win

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Tonight, for the first time since back in 2012, the Yankees have a chance to win their 90th game of the season. Pretty crazy, isn’t it? So many people pegged this team for something like 82 wins, myself included. They’ve exceeded every expectation and they’re going to the postseason. Getting to 90 wins for the first time in five seasons would be pretty damn cool too.

Aside from winning 90 games, the Yankees still have a chance to win the AL East, though it’ll be tough. Any combination of Red Sox wins and Yankees losses totaling two the rest of the season clinches the division title for Boston. The Yankees have to win out and hope the BoSox loses at least three of four to the Astros this weekend. Just keep winning. Make the Red Sox sweat. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Judge
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. DH Chase Headley
  8. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  9. 3B Todd Frazier
    RHP Sonny Gray

It has been an absolutely gorgeous day in New York. Nice and sunny without a cloud in the sky, but also cool and breezy. Pretty much perfect. It’ll be a little chilly tonight, otherwise the weather is splendid. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and both YES and MLB Network will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks is fine. Just a planned off-day as he works his way back from the oblique issue. He is tentatively scheduled to play all three games against the Blue Jays this weekend … Adam Warren (back) will be activated off the disabled list tomorrow and will pitch (probably twice) in the series against Toronto to prep for the postseason.

Didi Gregorius embraced the air-ball revolution with great results

(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Last season, Didi Gregorius took an important step forward in his development.

After playing as primary an all-glove, no-bat player for the start of his career, he became a 20-homer hitter, blasting our expectations for him in one fell swoop. He made clear adjustments at the plate and was batting cleanup in the Yankees’ post-trade-deadline lineup fairly often.

Furthermore, he cut down on his strikeouts and became an above-average hitter against LHPs, sporting a .324/.361/.473 (125 wRC+) against them. Even though his power wasn’t quite there against lefties, he still found a way to poke balls the other way. He batted .263 on balls hit the other way against LHPs while pulling all four of his homers vs. southpaws.

This year, his reverse platoon has cratered. He’s batting just .194 on balls the other way against lefties, perhaps just a case of a few bloops not falling in. And overall, he’s just hitting .262/.298/.355 (72 wRC+) against them with a much smaller ISO.

And yet, Gregorius has taken off as a hitter, finally having the breakthrough against right-handed pitching he needed to make. Sure, baseball is in an elevated home run environment but his 25-homer season still deserves plenty of recognition, especially since he didn’t debut until April 30. Needless to say, not many people expected him to be the team’s normal cleanup hitter in a pennant race two years ago.

“I’m not so sure I envisioned him hitting fourth in a lineup,” Joe Girardi said. “Part of it is the way we’re constructed, the reason we do things. We envisioned that he was going to impact the baseball. We envisioned that he would hit some home runs. I don’t know if any of us put a number on it.

“What I’ve seen is just kinda what you see from a lot of players. They just continue to mature and get better and better, and understand who they are. Didi’s done a really good job of that. That’s why he is in the middle of the order hitting fourth.”

So how exactly has Gregorius turned himself into a 3.5+ win player with value not just from his glove but his powerful bat?

Like a lot of players, he’s embraced the air-ball revolution.

In his first two seasons with the Yankees, he had an average launch angle of 12 degrees. This season? 17.4 degrees. His fly-ball rate has increased from 34.1 percent in 2015 and 40.3 percent in 2016 to 43.9 percent in 2017, a career-high. His GB-to-FB ratio has gone from 1.31 in 2015 to 0.83 in 2017. He’s got a completely different hitting profile.

Furthermore, he’s pulling the ball more often. You’ll see in his plots below that he no longer has as many grounders to shortstop nor flyballs to left, and he has batted balls traveling further than before, primarily to the pull side.

2015-16 (Baseball Savant)
2015-16 (Baseball Savant)
2017 (Baseball Savant)
2017 (Baseball Savant)

His pull percentage had decreased in 2016 to 37.6 percent but is now up to 40.6 in 2017 and he’s going to the opposite field 7.3 percent less. He’s actually pulling the ball more than the MLB average, which may be a tailoring of his swing to Yankee Stadium.

didi-pull

He’s not hitting the ball demonstrably harder, still sporting an average exit velocity below 85 mph. However, you’ll notice that he’s hitting the ball harder on pitches inside and pitches higher in the zone.

(Baseball Savant)
2015-16 vs. 2017 (Baseball Savant)

That could help explain the significant increase in ISO for nearly the entire zone as well as the increase of balls in the air. If Didi adjusted to better hit higher and inside pitches at Yankee Stadium, it makes sense that he would thus have more flyballs and a higher power output. He’s also helped increase his balls in play by cutting his strikeout rate each year since 2014 and it’s helped with his steadily increasing ISO in New York.

2015-16 vs. 2017 (Baseball Savant)
2015-16 vs. 2017 (Baseball Savant)

Even if he hadn’t made this improvement at the plate, Gregorius likely would have been a solid Yankee for a while. His superior glove work that would be Gold Glove-worthy in the National League gets overshadowed some by Andrelton Simmons and others, but it’s still something that would have made him worth a long-term investment. Furthermore, we’ve seen more of his personality come out, endearing him to Yankees fans one tweet at a time.

Before the year, I wrote that this season was extremely important for him to at least maintain last year’s power output and overall production if he wanted to hold off Gleyber Torres and other Yankees prospects. But his production at the plate has taken the next step and that’s made Gregorius a long-term piece for the Yankees alongside Torres.

Thursday Links: Top High-A Prospects, Shohei Otani

Tate. (Presswire)
Tate. (Presswire)

The Yankees and Rays wrap up their three-game series later today — final night game of the regular season! — so, until then, here are some stray links and notes to check out.

Two Yankees among top High-A prospects

Baseball America (subs. req’d) continued this week with their analysis of the top 20 prospects in each minor league. They covered the High-A Florida State League today, with Blue Jays 3B Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Blue Jays SS Bo Bichette sitting in the top two spots. Two Yankees farmhands made the top 20:

  • 7) RHP Dillon Tate: “His fastball reaches 98 mph consistently, and unlike past seasons, he held his velocity, often getting up to 97 as late as the eighth inning of his last two starts. His fastball command, changeup and slider all have improved from 2016.”
  • 14) 2B Nick Solak: “(He) has fast hands, a feel for hitting and above-average speed. He’s put in the work to become an average defender … ‘He’s a baseball player who can really hit,’ one league manager said. ‘He’s a pain in the butt to have to play against; that’s a compliment.’

In the chat, John Manuel said RHP Taylor Widener has a chance to be “in the Adam Warren family of swing man,” which would be an amazing outcome for a 12th round pick. Widener successfully transitioned from college reliever to pro starter this year, though Manuel says it’s unfair to compare to him to RHP Chance Adams because Adams has more fastball. Still pretty cool that Widener raised his stock this year.

Anyway, glad to hear Tate is back to being the 2015 fourth overall pick version of himself after the Rangers tried to tweak his mechanics last year. Keith Law had a similar report recently too, so we’re getting a consensus here. OF Estevan Florial did not spend enough time with High-A Tampa this season to qualify for the top 20 list. Interestingly enough, neither Athletics SS Jorge Mateo nor Twins RHP Zack Littell made the top 20. I wonder if that was an oversight. I figured both would be locks, especially Mateo. Whatever.

Otani interviewing MLB agents

According to Jon Heyman, two-way superstar Shohei Otani has started interviewing prospective agents. This is another indication Otani is indeed preparing to make the jump to MLB, though it doesn’t confirm anything. He could just be doing his homework. Here’s more from Heyman:

Big-time agencies Wasserman (led by Joel Wolfe and Adam Katz), Octagon (headed by Alan Nero), The Legacy Agency and the Scott Boras Corporation are believed to be in the early mix and seen as among the favorites, as all have experience repping Japanese stars. Many groups declined comment or ignored messages regarding the process, but other big-time agencies with experiencing repping Japanese stars include Excel (Casey Close), CAA (Brodie Van Wagenen) and John Boggs.

Otani is basically interviewing the who’s who of player agents, and the Yankees have relationships with all of ’em. Brian Cashman and his staff have hammered out deals with Wasserman (Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui), Octagon (Hiroki Kuroda), Legacy (CC Sabathia), Boras (Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez), and Excel (Derek Jeter) plenty of times over the years. I wouldn’t say those relationships give the Yankees an advantage — every team has a relationship with every agent! — but they can’t hurt.

Otani will be exempt from new posting agreement

MLB and NPB are currently negotiating a new posting agreement — MLB is trying to knock down the cost of acquiring players from Japan again — and, according to Jim Allen, the next agreement will not apply to Otani. Should he come to MLB, it will be under the old posting agreement, meaning the Nippon Ham Fighters will set the release fee — it’ll surely be the max $20M — and whichever team signs Otani will pay it. That’s good. It means no delay in Otani’s posting as the two sides haggle over the posting system.

There are two posting system proposals on the table: a flat 15% of the player’s contract, or 15% up to $100M with a flat $20M fee for deals in excess of $100M. Under that arrangement, the (Ham) Fighters would receive less than $1M for Otani given the international hard cap. Allen says MLB’s international rules, which say players under 25 count against the hard cap and come with six years of control, effectively tell Japan’s best young players to come straight to MLB out of high school. Don’t bother playing in Japan because it’ll just delay your big payday. Junichi Tazawa did that. NPB teams aren’t thrilled, as you can imagine.

2017 Minor League Awards

The GCL Yanks East won their league title this year. (MiLB.com)
The GCL Yanks East won their league title this year. (MiLB.com)

The last 18 months or so have been a whirlwind down in the farm system. Last year the Yankees decided to sell at the trade deadline for the first time in nearly three decades, which gave them arguably the game’s best and deepest farm system coming into this season. All the scouting publications ranked New York’s system second best behind only the hard tanking Braves this spring.

This season, the Yankees started to turn that highly ranked farm system into MLB players. Aaron Judge graduated to the big leagues and broke the rookie home run record. Jordan Montgomery graduated to the big leagues and became a solid back-end starter. Chad Green graduated to big leagues and emerged as a lockdown reliever. Others like Clint Frazier, Miguel Andujar, Tyler Wade, and Domingo German made their MLB debuts as well.

Then there are the trades. The purpose of a farm system is to produce MLB players and trade chips, and the Yankees did both this year. Blake Rutherford, Ian Clarkin, and Tito Polo went to the White Sox for David Robertson, Todd Frazier, and Tommy Kahnle. Jorge Mateo, James Kaprielian, and Dustin Fowler went to the Athletics for Sonny Gray. Zack Littell and Dietrich Enns became Jaime Garcia. The farm system had a ton of big league impact in 2017.

Despite the graduations and trades, the Yankees still have a very strong farm system with one of the two or three best prospects in the game in Gleyber Torres. “(Farm system head) Gary Denbo has done a terrific job. They have the best minor league system, by far,” said one rival scout to Jon Heyman recently. The Yankees minor league affiliates went a combined 491-325 this year, far and away the best record among the 30 teams, and seven of their eight affiliates qualified for the postseason. Lots of prospects and lots of winning.

Now that the minor league postseason is over, it’s time to hand out some awards for the minor league season. As always, these awards are totally subjective and completely meaningless. I have no authority whatsoever. This is just my look back at the season and a recognition for those who played well. This isn’t any sort of top prospects list. It’s a best performers list regardless of prospect status. Got it? Good.

Here are my 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 awards posts. Ten years already. This is year eleven. Crazy. Time to dive into this season’s minor league awards.

Minor League Player of the Year: OF Estevan Florial
Not an easy call this year! Not at all. It came down to Florial and Andujar, both of whom had tremendous seasons. Ultimately, I went with Florial because while they had comparable offensive numbers, Florial did it as a 19-year-old in full season leagues. That to me is more impressive than a 22-year-old having a big season at Double-A and Triple-A. Andujar was essentially repeating Double-A for the first half of the season. Florial played a handful of Low-A (and High-A) games last year, but only a handful. Andujar was with Trenton for the second half last year. Again, both had amazing seasons! I think Florial’s was a little more impressive, despite the unsightly 31.1% strikeout rate. He hit .298/.372/.479 (145 wRC+) with 10.5% walks, 23 doubles, seven triples, 13 homers, and 23 steals in 31 attempts, which earned him a spot in the Futures Game and will land him in the various top 100 prospect lists next spring.

Florial. (Charleston RiverDogs)
Florial. (Charleston RiverDogs)

Minor League Pitcher of the Year: RHP Chance Adams
Adams was not quite as good this year as last year, though he was still the most consistently excellent pitcher in the farm system in 2017. He started the season back at Double-A before a quick promotion to Triple-A, and overall, he threw 150.1 innings with a 2.45 ERA (3.70 FIP) with 22.3% strikeouts and 9.6% walks. The walks are the only real negative. Adams led the farm system in innings and his 135 strikeouts were third most behind Brian Keller (157) and Domingo Acevedo (142). Among the 17 pitchers to throw at least 100 innings in the system this year, his 1.078 WHIP was second lowest behind Caleb Smith (1.063). I nearly went with Keller here, though a 23-year-old four-year college guy against Single-A kids isn’t really a fair fight. Adams would’ve carved up Low-A too.

Minor League Hitter of the Year: 3B Miguel Andujar
Florial is the Minor League Player of the Year and Andujar has to settle for being the Minor League Hitter of the Year. Not a bad consolation prize. Andujar authored a .315/.352/.498 (132 wRC+) batting line between Double-A and Triple-A and led the farm system in hits (151), doubles (36), and extra-base hits (54). He also struck out only 13.6% of the time against the best pitching he’s ever faced. Forty-seven players posted a 130 wRC+ or better in at least 500 minor league plate appearances this season, and among those 47, Andujar had the fifth lowest strikeout rate. And, as an added bonus, he went 3-for-4 with a double in his MLB debut. Quite a season for Andujar.

Breakout Player of the Year: OF Estevan Florial
Really easy call here. When you make the jump from interesting yet relatively unheralded short season prospect to the Futures Game and top 100 lists and my Minor League Player of the Year in the span of a season, you’re the obvious Breakout Player of the Year. Just an incredible all-around season for Florial. Jorge Guzman and Taylor Widener deserve an honorable mention here. Freicer Perez and Jonathan Loaisiga as well. The Yankees graduated several top prospects to the big leagues and traded away several others, yet they replenished the pipeline by helping more than a few guys take their game to the next level, none moreso than Florial

Comeback Player of the Year: RHP Domingo German
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. In his first full season back from Tommy John surgery, German threw 109.1 minor league innings around big league call-ups, during which he posted a 2.88 ERA (3.29 FIP) with 26.3% strikeouts and 7.1% walks. He was at his best late in the season, as he got further away from elbow reconstruction and actually got a chance to pitch rather than sit in the big league bullpen as the little used eighth reliever. Little Sunday pitched to a 2.34 ERA (2.84 FIP) in his final ten Triple-A starters after being sent down for good. Jake Cave and Billy McKinney deserve a mention for their strong comebacks seasons. In my opinion, German coming back from major surgery to do what he did is more Comeback Player of the Year worthy than a couple bats bouncing back from down seasons.

Bounceback Player of the Year (started slow, finished strong): SS Kyle Holder
Second straight Bounceback Player of the Year award for Holder. The defensive wiz played 104 total games this season, all with High-A Tampa. His first 52 games: .187/.232/.242 (37 wRC+) with seven extra base hits (four doubles, two triples, one homer), 16.0% strikeouts and 4.7% walks. He started the season in a 1-for-34 (.029) slump. Yikes. His last 52 games though: .351/.396/.452 (151 wRC+) with 15 extra base hits (12 doubles, three homers), 12.2% strikeouts, and 7.0% walks. The end result is a .271/.317/.350 (95 wRC+) batting line. Would be nice to see Holder put together a full productive season at some point rather than continue the “bad first half, great second half” trend.

Best Pro Debut: OF Steven Sensley
Plucked from Louisiana-Lafayette in the 12th round of this year’s draft, Sensley received a straight slot $125,000 bonus, then went on to hit .292/.370/.584 (157 wRC+) with 15 doubles and 13 homers in only 50 pro games. Although his season didn’t start until late-June, Sensley finished ninth in the farm system in homers and 22nd in extra-base hits. The Yankees started him in the Rookie Gulf Coast League, then bumped him up to Rookie Pulaski, then again to Low-A Charleston. Sensley kept forcing the issue. Outfielder Canaan Smith (4th round) and right-handers Trevor Stephan (3rd) and Glenn Otto (5th) get the honorable mentions here.

Most Disappointing Player of the Year: SS Wilkerman Garcia
Not many candidates to choose from — that’s a good thing! — so Wilkerman gets the nod almost by default. A shoulder issue early last year slowed Garcia’s season, during which he hit .198/.255/.284 (52 wRC+) in 54 rookie ball games after getting back on the field. This year the hope was Garcia would bounce back with a healthy shoulder and continue his rise up the prospect rankings. Instead, Wilkerman hit .222/.256/.296 (64 wRC+) with 26.0% strikeouts and 4.3% walks in 67 games with Short Season Staten Island. His big breakout 2015 season — Garcia hit .299/.414/.362 (140 wRC+) with more walks (25) than strikeouts (19) in 39 rookie ball games that year — feels like so long ago.

All-Minor League Teams

First Team Second Team Third Team
Catcher Donny Sands Gustavo Campero Jorge Saez
First Base Mike Ford Brandon Wagner Ji-Man Choi
Second Base Nick Solak Donovan Solano Billy Fleming
Shortstop Tyler Wade Gleyber Torres Thairo Estrada
Third Base Miguel Andujar Dermis Garcia Gosuke Katoh
Outfield Estevan Florial Isiah Gilliam Alex Palma
Outfield Clint Frazier Billy McKinney Jhalan Jackson
Outfield Jake Cave Steven Sensley Zack Zehner
Starting Pitcher Chance Adams Domingo German Caleb Smith
Starting Pitcher Brian Keller Freicer Perez Justus Sheffield
Starting Pitcher Domingo Acevedo Taylor Widener Jorge Guzman
Relief Pitcher Nestor Cortes Jose Mesa Jr. Anyelo Gomez
Relief Pitcher Ben Heller Cody Carroll Nick Rumbelow

Lifetime Achievement Award: IF Cito Culver
The Cito Culver story is well known by now. The Yankees selected Culver with their first round pick, the 32nd overall selection in the 2010 draft, even though he was considered more of a third or fourth round talent. Baseball America ranked him 168th (!) among their top 200 draft prospects that year. Lists are just lists, they don’t mean anything, but the pick sure led to some head-scratching.

Cito. (Scranton Times-Tribune)
Cito. (Scranton Times-Tribune)

Culver never did anything to justify his draft spot — he dropped out of my top 30 prospects list (and Baseball America’s as well) by the middle of 2013 — though he has remained in the organization and become a super utility player. “It was about the halfway point last year where we decided Cito was more of what we call an Infield 5 player, which means he can play shortstop, third base, second base,” said farm system head Gary Denbo to Chad Jennings last spring.

This season Culver, with Triple-A Scranton, played 46 games at shortstop, 25 at first base, 17 at third base, 12 at second base, and three in left field. Plus three others at designated hitter. Culver set a career high with 12 home runs this season, and while he faded in the second half, he did manage a .246/.317/.463 (114 wRC+) batting line before the All-Star break. In parts of eight pro seasons, Cito has played in 833 games and batted 3,453 times.

As best I can tell, Culver is the longest tenured player in the organization who has yet to play in the big leagues. He hasn’t even been added to the 40-man roster yet. Last winter Culver became a minor league free agent and decided to re-sign with the Yankees despite (likely) knowing they would continue to use him as a utility man. Cito never did reward the Yankees for the high draft slot and $954,000 bonus, though he has stuck around for the better part of the decade as an organizational role player, and those are the players the Lifetime Achievement Award is intended to honor.

The Yankees and 2017’s major awards

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

For the first time in a very long time, the Yankees have legitimate candidates for each of baseball’s major awards this season. Even in 2009, the Yankees did not have a Rookie of the Year candidate. They had MVP (Mark Teixeira) and Cy Young (CC Sabathia) candidates, but not a Rookie of the Year candidate. Their best rookie that year, by WAR, was Brett Gardner, and he had only 284 plate appearances as the fourth outfielder.

In recent years the voting body seems to be doing a better job handing out the awards, which really just means the voting results closely match my hypothetical ballot. There is no right or wrong with this stuff. The voting criteria is intentionally vague, so it’s up to the individual voter to decide. It is what it is. So anyway, with the regular season winding down, let’s take a look at where the various Yankees place in this year’s award races.

Most Valuable Player

The first six or seven weeks after the All-Star break were not pretty, but a ferocious September has Aaron Judge right back in the thick of the MVP race. I see six serious AL MVP candidates right now: Judge, Jose Altuve, Corey Kluber, Jose Ramirez, Chris Sale, and Mike Trout. Trout missed too much time with his thumb injury to win. The voters are going to hold that against him. Kluber and Sale have to deal with the anti-pitcher bias the exists in MVP voting, and as good as Ramirez has been, Altuve and Judge have superior numbers. Considerably superior numbers, really.

MVP is not only a performance award. It’s a performance plus narrative award. Both the Astros and Yankees are going to the postseason, so that’s not going to sway the vote in Judge’s or Altuve’s favor. On one hand, you could argue the Yankees would’ve won the AL East if not for Judge’s slump. On the other, you could argue the Astros have such a huge lead in the AL West that they would’ve won even without Altuve. Hmmm.

Statistically, Judge has a slight edge overall, but obviously Altuve has been excellent as well. Let’s compare quickly:

  • AVG: Altuve (.347 to .284)
  • OBP: Judge (.421 to .413)
  • SLG: Judge (.622 to .552)
  • wRC+: Judge (171 to 161)
  • XBH: Judge (77 to 66)
  • HR: Judge (50 to 24)
  • SB: Altuve (32 to 9)
  • DRS: Judge (+10 to +3)
  • fWAR: Judge (+7.8 to +7.4)
  • bWAR: Altuve (+8.3 to +7.8)

Fun fact: that +7.8 fWAR leads all of baseball. Judge jumped over Sale (+7.7) this week. Altuve has hit for a much higher average — he’s only the fifth player in the last 70 years with 200+ hits in four straight seasons, joining Hall of Famers Kirby Puckett and Wade Boggs, future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, and, uh, Michael Young — and yet Judge still has him beat in on-base percentage. Judge strikes out a ton more (30.7% to 12.8%) but also walks a ton more too (18.6% to 9.0%). Altuve is a greater threat on the bases while Judge saves more runs in the field. Pretty amazing.

My favorite thing about this AL MVP debate is how it shows two very different players can be among the game’s best. Judge and Altuve couldn’t be any more different, both in terms of their physical size and the shape of their production. Judge is a monster power hitter while Altuve is a pint-sized contact machine. Will Altuve’s size give him an edge in the MVP race? Don’t doubt the voting body’s ability to come up with a “he overcame greater odds” narrative. There’s also the “Judge isn’t clutch!” storyline that has become a thing.

Judge with runners in scoring position: .255/.381/.621 (146 wRC+)
Altuve with runners in scoring position: .310/.400/.450 (129 wRC+)

Judge in high-leverage situations: .235/.345/.498 (95 wRC+)
Altuve in high-leverage situations: .318/.400/.477 (138 wRC+)

Ultimately, I do think Altuve is going to win MVP because he had a more consistent season from start to finish, which essentially means Judge’s second half slump will cost him, even with the big September. I suppose if the Yankees rally to steal the AL East these next few days, that could shift things in Judge’s favor, but nah. I think Altuve wins with Ramirez and Judge finishing second and third in either order.

Also, another fun fact: the Yankees have more than one player worthy of MVP votes. Gary Sanchez is hitting .280/.346/.537 (131 wRC+) with 33 homers despite missing a month, and he’s thrown out 38.3% batters of faced. There are ten spots on the MVP ballot and I expect Sanchez to get a handful of down ballot votes. Putting him in the top five would be tough, but the 5-10 range? Hell yeah he’ll get votes. Maybe Didi Gregorius too. And Luis Severino. There’s always some down ballot weirdness. Judge is a legitimate MVP candidate. Gary is going to get some votes too.

Cy Young

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Pretty amazing that we’re talking about Severino as a Cy Young candidate, isn’t it? And not as a down ballot candidate who might get a few votes. A bonafide Cy Young candidate. Kluber and Sale are off in their own little stratosphere and they’re going to finish first and second in the Cy Young voting in either order. (Kluber’s probably going to win.) Severino is the best of the rest. Check out his ranks among the 57 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title:

  • IP: 193.1 (16th)
  • ERA: 2.98 (8th)
  • FIP: 3.07 (7th)
  • K%: 29.4% (6th)
  • BB%: 6.5% (16th)
  • K/BB: 4.51 (8th)
  • GB%: 50.6% (5th)
  • fWAR: +5.8 (4th)
  • bWAR: +5.5 (9th)

What a season for Sevy. He’s been so good overall. So, so good. The Cy Young ballot runs five players deep, not ten like the MVP, and I imagine Kluber and Sale will be first and second on every single ballot. That leaves the 3-5 spots for Severino, Justin Verlander, Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman, and Craig Kimbrel. Plus whoever else lands a stray vote (Jason Vargas has 17 wins!). My guess is Verlander sneaks ahead of Severino and finished third in the voting behind Kluber and Sale, and Severino finishes fourth.

Rookie of the Year

There is no mystery here. Judge is going to win Rookie of the Year and he should win unanimously. The whole “first ever rookie to hit 50 freaking home runs” thing clinched it, if there was any lingering doubt. There was that weird “Andrew Benintendi might steal Rookie of the Year!” narrative a few weeks back but lol to that. The AL rookie fWAR leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge: +7.8
  2. Jordan Montgomery: +2.6
  3. Matt Chapman: +2.3
  4. Mitch Haniger: +2.3
  5. Andrew Benintendi: +2.1

Yeah. Judge is going to win in a landslide. I fully expect Judge to get basically all the first place votes, Benintendi to get basically all the second place votes, then the third place votes — there are only three spots on the Rookie of the Year ballot — get split between Montgomery, Chapman, Haniger, Matt Olson, Bradley Zimmer, Scott Alexander, and a few others.

Chad Green, by the way, is not rookie eligible, otherwise it would’ve been interesting to see whether he grabbed some third place votes. Green threw only 45.2 innings last season — the rookie limit is 50 innings — but he does not qualify as a rookie this year due to service time. Womp womp.

Manager of the Year

Moreso than any other award, the Manager of the Year is a narrative award. How the heck do you evaluate a manager? They all make seemingly silly bullpen and lineup decisions. We don’t get to see their work behind the scenes in the clubhouse either. For all intents and purposes, the Manager of the Year is the “manager of the team that most exceeded expectations” award. That’s been the prevailing theme the last few seasons.

The Yankees, pretty clearly, have exceeded expectations this season. By a lot. Many pundits, myself included, as well as the various projection systems pegged the Yankees for something like 80-82 wins. Some a little higher, some a little lower. Basically no one had them winning 90-ish games with the second best run differential (+197) in baseball. By the “team that exceeded expectations” standard, Joe Girardi should get a ton of Manager of the Year votes.

Now, here’s the problem: the Twins exist. They lost 103 games last season! Now they’re going to the postseason as the second wildcard team. That’s an amazing turnaround. I fully expect Paul Molitor to win Manager of the Year because of that. I mean, how could you vote against him when the team accomplishes that? Girardi has received Manager of the Year votes every season since 2009 and I have no reason to believe that streak will end this year. I just think it’s unlikely he’ll beat out Molitor. Maybe Girardi will finish second in the voting?

Comeback Player of the Year

The Yankees do not have a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. Their best comeback player is, uh, Adam Warren? It’s probably him. Severino is just a young kid breaking out. He’s not a comeback player. I imagine Mike Moustakas is the Comeback Player of the Year favorite. He went from playing only 27 games last season due to a torn ACL to setting the franchise single-season home run record this year.

Gold Gloves

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

Sanchez won’t win the Gold Glove at catcher because of the passed balls, even with his above-average framing and throwing numbers. That means the Yankees only have three Gold Glove candidates: Judge, Gregorius, and Gardner. First base and third base turned over at midseason, and center field was a bit of a revolving door. Second base? No. Sorry, Starlin Castro. But no. Some numbers for the hell of it:

  • Gardner: +13 DRS (1st among all left fielders)
  • Gregorius: +0 DRS (39th among all shortstops, and lol)
  • Judge: +10 DRS (4th among all right fielders)

Gregorius won’t win the Gold Glove because Andrelton Simmons and Francisco Lindor exist. Judge won’t win the Gold Glove because Mookie Betts exists. Gardner might win the Gold Glove in left field though. He won it last year, and Alex Gordon, his longtime competition for the award, has faded big time the last two years. It’ll come down to Gardner, Benintendi, Eddie Rosario, and Justin Upton. Gardner’s got a good shot for his second straight Gold Glove, I think.

* * *

Keep in mind these are regular season awards. The ballots are due following the end of the regular season but before the start of the postseason. Judge is definitely going to become the first Yankee to win Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter in 1996. That much is obvious. He has a chance — I wouldn’t call it a great one, but a chance — to win MVP as well, which would be the first for the Yankees since Alex Rodriguez in 2007. Sabathia finished in the top four of the Cy Young voting three straight years from 2009-11, and Severino could finish that high in the voting this year.

Just the fact we’re talking about Judge as an MVP candidate — in addition to being the runaway Rookie of the Year favorite — and Severino as a Cy Young candidate is pretty awesome. Coming into the season, I think we were all hoping they’d shake off last season’s disappointing big league stints and begin to establish themselves as building blocks going forward. They did that and more. Best case scenario seasons for both of them. Really. Winning any kind of award, or just finishing high up in the voting, would be the cherry on top of an already amazing season.

Severino and the Aarons power Yankees to 6-1 win over Rays

Another day, another win. The Yankees are playing some pretty good baseball right now. They picked up a 6-1 win over the Rays on Wednesday night and have now won 18 of their last 24 games. The Yankees are a season high 20 games over .500 and their next win will be their 90th. That seems good. The Red Sox won, so their magic number to clinch the AL East is down to two. Not much the Yankees can do that about. Just keep winning and make the BoSox earn it.

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Sevy’s Final Tune-Up
In his final start of the regular season, Luis Severino looked very much like a pitcher going through the motions and getting his work in. It wasn’t a Spring Training outing, but I’d say Severino was throwing with maybe 80% intensity. He did ramp it up at times, most notably when he struck out Corey Dickerson to end the fourth with runners on second and third, but mostly he was on cruise control. Free and easy, just staying sharp in advance of the postseason.

Severino made one mistake Wednesday night. Well, no, two mistakes. He got away with a hanging slider to the formerly good at baseball Evan Longoria in the sixth inning (Longoria pulled it foul). The one big mistake was a hanging two-strike slider to Adeiny Hechavarria in the fifth inning, which Hechavarria parked in the left field seats for a solo home run. He’s pretty annoying, huh? Hechavarria did the number on the Yankees during the Citi Field series too.

The final regular season start for Severino: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K on 91 pitches. Considering this was a postseason tune-up start, that is the baseball equivalent of messing around and getting a triple double. Severino finishes the season with a 2.98 ERA and 230 strikeouts. He’s the first Yankee starter with a sub-3.00 ERA since Andy Pettitte (2.88 ERA) and David Cone (2.82 ERA) both did it in 1997. As for the strikeouts, here is the franchise’s single-season strikeout leaderboard:

  1. 1978 Ron Guidry: 248
  2. 1904 Jack Chesbro: 239 (in 454.2 innings!)
  3. 2011 CC Sabathia & 2017 Severino: 230

Yup. Our little baby pitching boy is all grown up. Heck of a season for Severino. With all due respect to what Masahiro Tanaka did last year, Severino had the best pitched season by a Yankees since Sabathia in 2011, and maybe even further back than that. In all likelihood, the season will be on the line in the Wild Card Game the next time Sevy toes the slab, and I couldn’t be more confident in him.

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Bombs Away
For the first four innings, the Yankees did a whole bunch of nothing against Matt Andriese. Brett Gardner started the game with a double and was stranded at second. Chase Headley beat out an infield single with two outs in the second and was stranded. Aaron Judge worked a two-out walk in the third and did not move. Starlin Castro was safe at first on a Longoria error with one out in the fourth and did not advance another base.

It wasn’t until the fifth inning, after Hechavarria’s home run, that the offense kicked it into gear. Jacoby Ellsbury worked a seven-pitch walk to start the inning and Aaron Hicks followed with a ground ball single to put runners on corners with no outs. Gardner hit a bad luck line drive at Hechavarria for the first out — Hechavarria is sooo annoying — which brought Judge to the plate. He’s unclutch, I hear.

The Yankees have already clinched home field advantage in the Wild Card Game, so the pressure is off and Judge lined an unclutch two-run double into the left field corner to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Can you believe this guy? So unclutch. Andriese got to two strikes on Judge, which is where you want to be, but his fifth breaking ball of the seven-pitch at-bat was up just enough for Judge to drive it down the line. So very unclutch.

That two-run double gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the fifth. They broke it open in the sixth. Back-to-back solo homers for Castro and Greg Bird, and two-run home run for Hicks. Just like that, a 2-1 lead became a 6-1 lead. The best part? The Yankees are now holding fake press conferences in the dugout whenever someone hits a home run. Here’s Castro being interviewed by his teammates:

They call it the Toe-night Show. For real. This team is really good and also really fun. There’s something to be said for being professional and acting like you’ve been there before and all that, but the Yankees took it to the extreme for a few years. It gets boring after a while. The Yankees finally have some personality, you know? They’re good, they’re young, and they’re very fun. Love this team, you guys. Love ’em more than you’ve ever loved another team. They’re special.

Leftovers
Chad Green had to bail Chasen Shreve out of a two on, two out jam in the sixth inning, otherwise it was a nice easy night for the bullpen. Dellin Betances went ground out, strikeout, pop out in the eighth. Nine of his 13 pitches were strikes. He’s looked much better his last few times out. I’m not saying Betances is fixed yet or even that he will be fixed soon, but at least he’s temporarily stopped walking everyone.

How about Hicksie? He went 2-for-3 with a home run before being removed from the game Wednesday night — that’s all part of the plan as he works his way back from the oblique injury — and is 2-for-4 with the homer, three walks, and one strikeout in two games back. And he robbed a grand slam. Not a bad two days for him. Gardner and Headley each had two hits in this game as well. The Yankees had nine hits total and six went for extra bases.

And finally, the strikeout was No. 100 on the season for Betances. He and Green are the sixth pair of teammates with 100+ strikeouts in relief in baseball history. Betances is now the ninth reliever in history with four 100+ strikeout seasons. Pretty cool.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, head over to ESPN. MLB.com has the video highlights. Here’s our Bullpen Workload page and here is the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Rays will wrap-up this three-game series Thursday night. Only four more games remaining this season. Regular season, anyway. Sonny Gray and Jacob Faria, not Alex Cobb, are the scheduled starters. The Rays decided to shut Cobb down for the season.