Chasing the Pull

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

Things have not gone well for Chase Headley in 2016. This isn’t an argument; it’s plot summary for the season so far. As I write this, Headley’s line sits at .159/.296/.159 through 14 games and 54 plate appearances. He and Cardinals’ infielder Kolton Wong are the only two hitters in the Majors who are qualified for the batting title yet to find an extra-base hit this year. Unsurprisingly, Headley’s wOBA/wRC+ are in the tank at .229 and 40 respectively. While it’s still early and there’s plenty of time for Headley to rebound, there’s a continuing trend in his hitting that could be behind his lack of production.

Pulling the ball has gotten a bad rap in baseball of late, probably thanks to the emergence of the shift against hitters who tend to pull. Regardless o that, think of all the times you’ve heard an announcer call something “a good piece of hitting.” Chances are that ball has been shot back up the middle or taken to the opposite field, right? Both of those things are great, but rare is the time when someone will deign to call a pulled ball “a good piece of hitting.” For Headley, pulling the ball–or not doing so–has been at the heart of his production and the drop therein.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Chase’s production as a pull hitter has been dropping steadily since 2012. In that season, he had a .488/220 wOBA/wRC+ split on pulled pitches. As the years went on, those numbers declined to .433/185; .374/143; .359/127; .221/34. All of those–excepting 2016–have been productive. Those drops, though, are also reflected in his overall production; Headley’s season wOBA/wRC+ numbers have dropped each year since 2012 as well. There has also been a decline in power to his pull field from a high mark of .360 in 2012, followed by .277; .237; .206; .000.

Since Headley is a switch hitter, let’s break this down by left and right. As a left handed batter, hitting to right field, Headley has a career wOBA/wRC+ of .397/156. However, that split shows the same downward power/production trend that his overall pull numbers do as well. Scrolling down that page on FanGraphs, we can find his soft/medium/hard contact rates against lefties while pulling the ball. For his career, he hits 12.3/54.6/33.1. So far in 2016, those splits are 12.5/75/12.5. Finally, a glimmer of hope! His soft contact rate is right in line with his career number, but the other two are completely out of whack. Given the small sample of this season, there’s some hope that the hard contact rate climbs back up to where it should be, with production in tow.

If we look at Headley pulling the ball as a righty hitter, there are similar trends. Per FG, he actually has not hit the ball softly to left this season: 0.0/75.0/25.0 (soft/medium/hard). His career soft% to left as a righty is 12.3, just like his lefty number. Medium% and hard% come in at 55.9 and 31.7 respectively.

My original intent with looking into Headley’s numbers was to find something, anything, that we could hang onto as hope for a rebound. These numbers–along with the fact that his walk rate (16.7%) is above his career rate (10.0) and his strikeout rate (20.4) is below his career rate (22.4)–suggest that maybe something good is around the corner. As those percentages balance out and his hard contact rate moves towards his career averages, more hits–hopefully one or two of the extra-base variety–should come along for the ride.

Gardner’s walk-off sends Yankees to 3-2 win over Rays


A winning streak! Yes, it’s only two in a row, but my standards are low. Brett Gardner‘s walk-off dinger gave the Yankees a nice come from behind 3-2 win over the Rays on Saturday afternoon. They tried like hell to strand all the runners again, but Gardner wouldn’t let it happen. Good game. Would watch again.

I didn’t get to see much of the game again — I did see the bottom of the eighth and ninth after I remembered the FOX Sports Go app exists — so I can’t go into too much detail. The important points: Masahiro Tanaka was great, the bullpen was great, and the Rays did the Yankees a solid with some defensive miscues. Some quick thoughts:

1. The Yankees scored their first run on a wild pitch, but don’t ignore the walk and the single that set it up. Blake Snell was making his first career start and he had some jitters early, and the Yankees pounced. Yes, they stranded a runner, and yes one run isn’t a bit deal, but a run is a run. It was nice to get on the board quick.

2. Another strong outing by Tanaka. He did surrender the #obligatoryhomer, but it nearly soared foul, and it was only the second dinger he’s given up this season. Thanks to all those sinkers he’s throwing, his ground ball rate is a career high (by far) 56.7% through four starts. Tanaka is pretty awesome. It’s weird to me so many people seem to think otherwise.

3. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s 80 catcher interference tool came into play again. That loaded the bases in the seventh, and Gardner followed with a run-scoring infield single. He hit a rocket back up the middle that lefty Xavier Cedeno managed to knock down and keep on the infield. Even when the Yankees get a hit with runners in scoring position, it goes wrong. That should have been a two-run single to center. Instead they only got the one run.

4. Andrew Miller faced three batters and didn’t strike any of them out. What’s that about? Dellin Betances only struck out two batters in his scoreless inning too. Their combined season strikeout rate went from 21.0 K/9 and 63.6% to 19.6 K/9 and 60.7% in an afternoon. Lame.

5. Once upon a time, like three or four months ago, people wanted the Yankees to trade Gardner to add prospects and clear payroll. What a time to be alive. Gardy goes yardy:

Gardner went 3-for-5 on the afternoon and drove in two of the team’s three runs. He’s hitting .313./.441/.479 (171 wRC+) through 15 games. Brett can stay. Name him captain already.

6. An MRI showed Aaron Hicks has what the Yankees called “traumatic bursitis” in his shoulder, which sounds bad, but he’ll only be shut down 5-6 days before resuming baseball activities. The Yankees may stick him on the DL anyway so they don’t have to play shorthanded. Good news, all things considered.

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Don’t miss our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages either. The Yankees will look to finish the sweep (!) Sunday afternoon. It’ll be Michael Pineda against yet another lefty, this one Drew Smyly.

Source: FanGraphs

Minor League Update: I won’t have time for a full DotF write-up tonight. Here are the box scores.

Game 16: Start A Winning Streak


The Yankees finally scored some runs last night, breaking out of the ugly offensive slump that led them to seven losses in eight games. Something as simple as a bloop single or as extravagant as stealing home can be what breaks an offense out of its funk. Hopefully the runs comes in bunches going forward.

The pitching matchup strongly favors the Yankees this afternoon. They’re sending staff ace Masahiro Tanaka to the mound against rookie Blake Snell, who is a very good prospect, but is still a kid making his first big league start in Yankee Stadium. Snell has had some issues with walks throughout this career. Hopefully the Yankees make the kid pay for his first start jitters.

I’m not going to have time to add the lineups to the game thread this morning, so I’ll instead link you to the respective Twitter feeds for the Yankees and Rays. They’ll have the lineups posted. The internet tells me it is cloudy and a bit cool in the Bronx, though there’s no rain in the forecast, so that’s good. Today’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (shoulder) is still sore and has been sent for an MRI. Not ideal. He hurt himself attempting a diving catch last night … in case you missed it earlier, Branden Pinder does indeed have a torn UCL. He is currently deciding whether to have Tommy John surgery.

Update: Branden Pinder placed on 15-day DL with torn UCL


Saturday: Pinder does indeed have a torn UCL, reports Brendan Kuty. Yuck. Pinder has not yet decided whether to have Tommy John surgery, but yeah. Pretty much a formality at this point. Sucks.

Friday: The Yankees have placed right-hander Branden Pinder on the 15-day DL with a right elbow strain, the team announced. The move is retroactive to yesterday. Fellow righty Nick Goody was called up from Triple-A Scranton to fill the roster spot.

Pinder, 27, was the team’s main shuttle reliever last season and he figured to fill the same role this year. He’s appeared in one game with the Yankees so far, allowing two runs on three hits and a walk in one inning. Pinder started the season in Triple-A before being called up a last week.

The Yankees lost Nick Rumbelow to Tommy John surgery not too long ago, so they’re now down two of their main shuttle arms. A strain is, by definition, a tear in the ligament, though the Yankees did not say anything about the severity of Pinder’s injury. He may only need rest before returning to the mound.

Goody, 24, has been alarmingly home run prone in game action this year. Between Triple-A and Spring Training, he’s given up eight dingers in only 16.1 innings. Zoinks. Goody last pitched for the RailRiders on Wednesday, so he’s good to go tonight for an inning or two.

I wonder if the Goody call-up is only temporary. Luis Cessa, who was in the Opening Day bullpen, started and threw 57 pitches for Triple-A Scranton yesterday, so he’ll be out of commission for a few days. I wonder if the Yankees will call-up Cessa and send down Goody once he’s available. We’ll see.

Ellsbury and McCann help offense break out; Yankees take series opener 6-3 from Rays

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The steal of home that turned the season around! The offense finally snapped out of its funk Friday night, as Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury led the Yankees to a 6-3 win over the Rays in the series opener. After losing seven of their last eight, the Yankees have won one of their last one. Feels good. Love this team, you guys.

I unfortunately did not see much of this game at all. I saw the last two outs of the ninth inning. That’s about it. I did catch most of the game on the radio though, which was better than nothing. Figures the offense would break out and the Yankees would put together their best win of the season (to date!) on the night I couldn’t watch. So it goes. Here are some thoughts on what I heard but did not see:

1. Ivan Nova is the unsung hero. He came out of the bullpen with two on and two outs in the fifth inning — a wholly unfamiliar experience for the career starter — and he was able to escape the jam, then toss in two more scoreless innings. Nova gave the Yankees a chance to stay in the game. He was huge. Well done, Ivan.

2. Ellsbury picked a good time for his Signature Yankee Moment™, I’d say. The Yankees were dangerously close to stranding two more runners in scoring position when he made that mad dash for home. Here’s the play:

Stealing home down a run with two outs in the inning, a full count, and a left-handed hitter at the plate takes some gumption. Ellsbury is a true game-changer when he is at his best, and we haven’t really seen that version of Ellsbury since his knee injury last year. He came back on that play. Gutsy as hell.

3. Don’t forget McCann either. He hit the big two-run home run in the second inning after the Rays took the lead in the previous half-inning, then he drove in the go-ahead run with a nice single filleted to left in a two-strike count. Mark Teixeira and McCann have been slumping big time of late. The two went 5-for-7 (.714) with a walk Friday. Huge. And how about Tex creating a run with his legs in the ninth? Hey man, whatever it takes.

4. CC Sabathia was not very good. Three runs on nine hits and three walks in 4.2 innings — it could have easily been more if not for Nova’s bailout job in the fifth — is no bueno, but props to Joe Girardi for having a short leash. Hopefully Sabathia can get through the fifth inning a little more consistently going forward. Luckily for him and the Yankees, the bullpen did this:

Yankees Rays bullpen

That is the good stuff right there. Just wait until Aroldis Chapman comes back in two and a half weeks. When you have a lead and really need to stop a losing streak, it’s awfully comforting to know Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are back there for the eighth and ninth.

5. Aaron Hicks left the game with a sore shoulder after attempting a diving catch, and that’s unfortunate. No tests are scheduled or anything, but the Yankees are going to see a whole bunch of left-handed starters in the coming days, and this was an opportunity to get Hicks some playing time. Hopefully it’s nothing serious and he’ll be back out there tomorrow or the next day.

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Also check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. This was only one win, it doesn’t erase the mess of baseball we watched the last week, but it was very nice to see the offense break out. This is a win the Yankees can build on. Masahiro Tanaka and rookie Blake Snell will be the pitching matchup Saturday afternoon.

Source: FanGraphs

Minor League Update: I’ve got some family stuff going on tonight and this weekend, so I don’t have time for a full blown DotF. Sorry. Here are the box scores. Aaron Judge had two hits, Gary Sanchez had four hits, and Nick Swisher whacked his second homer with Triple-A Scranton. Vicente Campos and Dietrich Enns were the stars on the mound. Campos chucked eight scoreless innings and Enns fanned eleven in six one-hit innings.

Game 15: River Ave. Boos


Gosh the Yankees suck. They suck so hard. They’re the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked. I don’t even want to watch them right now. Well, that’s not true, I still want to watch, but I’m hate watching. I want to see them snap out of it, but, at the same time, I’m weirdly curious to see how much they further can descend into the suckiness. Know what I mean?

Alright, now that that’s out of my system, the Yankees really need a win tonight! They’ve lost seven of their last eight games and have looked pitiful doing it. Even the usually excellent bullpen got knocked around last night. Nothing is going right at the moment. The good news is you’re never really as bad as you look when you’re at your worst, and right now the Yankees are definitely at their worst. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. C Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. CF Aaron Hicks
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    LHP CC Sabathia

Now the bad news: there’s rain in the forecast tonight. Or maybe that’s actually good news given the way the Yankees are playing? There are scattered showers in the forecast from 8-11pm ET, so right in the window of the game. Hopefully the rain holds off. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin a little after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES. Try not to pull your hair out.

YES Update: FOX regional sports affiliates, including YES, can now be streamed on Sling TV. It’s $20 a month — there’s a free seven-day trial — so it’s not free, but it’s not too pricey either. You will be able to stream Yankees games on YES, even if you’re in-market and a currently dealing with the Comcast nonsense. Here’s the Sling TV link. This is the last time I’m posting this reminder, so if you know someone who may be interested, don’t forget to tell them.

4/22 to 4/24 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays


The Yankees wrap up this disaster of a homestand with three games against the Rays this weekend. Will runs be scored? Maybe! This is the first meeting of the season between the two AL East rivals.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Rays rallied from a 5-1 deficit to beat the Red Sox 12-8 yesterday. They’ve won four of their last five games overall, and they are 7-8 with a -5 run differential on the young season. Wee bit early to start worrying about records and run differentials though.

Offense & Defense

Dickerson. (Presswire)
Dickerson. (Presswire)

Does Tampa Bay ever have a good offense? They made a bunch of moves this offseason designed to generate runs, and the result is a team 92 wRC+ and an average of 3.47 runs per game. Last year they had a 100 wRC+ and scored 3.98 runs per game. Mission not accomplished. Still early though. Manager Kevin Cash’s team is healthy on the position player side. No one on the DL or even day-to-day.

As always, the Rays’ offense is built around 3B Evan Longoria (113 wRC+), who remains a force even though he is no longer the hitter he was early in his career. 2B Logan Forsythe (154 wRC+) has taken over as the leadoff hitter, and OF Corey Dickerson (149 wRC+), who came over from the Rockies in the Jake McGee trade, is the cleanup hitter. For some reason Cash has continued to bat 1B Logan Morrison (-57 wRC+) second ahead of Longoria. I do not understand.

OF Desmond Jennings (100 wRC+), OF Kevin Kiermaier (109 wRC+), and OF Steven Souza (134 wRC+) form the regular outfield from left to right. OF Brandon Guyer (223 wRC+) and 1B Steve Pearce (69 wRC+) will see platoon duty against lefties. SS Brad Miller (20 wRC+) is the regular shortstop and C Curt Casali (46 wRC+) and C Hank Conger (25 wRC+) have shared catching duties almost 50/50. IF Tim Beckham (-10 wRC+) joins Pearce, Guyer, and the other catcher on the bench.

The Rays sacrificed some defense in an effort to improve their offseason over the winter. Specifically, they replaced James Loney with Morrison/Pearce, Asdrubal Cabrera with Miller, and Rene Rivera with Conger. All three moves were defensive downgrades. Here is the team’s projected runs saved visualization, via Sean Dolinar:

Rays defenseKiermaier is the best defensive center fielder in baseball right now. Jennings is a center fielder playing left, and Longoria has always been good at the hot corner. Everyone else? Yuck. Miller is very error prone at short — he’s Eduardo Nunez level there — and everyone else is range challenged.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note Conger is the worst throwing catcher in baseball. He threw out one of 43 attempted base-stealers last year. One! That’s a 97.7% success rate for the runners. Conger is 0-for-9 throwing out runners this year already. If he starts behind the plate this weekend, the Yankees have to run wild. Force the issue and make him throw you out.

Pitching Matchups

Friday (7pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. TB) vs. LHP Matt Moore (vs. NYY)
Last year the 26-year-old Moore went through the same thing as Ivan Nova: he came back from Tommy John surgery at midseason and struggled the rest of the way. He had a 5.43 ERA (4.82 FIP) with the worst strikeout (16.6%) and home run (1.29 HR/9) numbers of his career in 63 innings. So far this year Moore has looked outstanding, pitching to a 2.95 ERA (2.99 FIP) in 18.1 innings across three starts. He has great strikeout (28.4%) and walk (4.1%) numbers with career average grounder (43.8%) and homer (0.98 HR/9) rates. Moore, who has historically been better against lefties than righties, works with a four-seam fastball that averages 93 mph and tops out around 97 mph. A hard low-80s curve and a power mid-80s changeup are his two secondary pitches. Three starts is three starts, but I’ve watched all of ’em and Moore has looked crazy sharp this year.

Saturday (1pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TB) vs. TBA
I have no idea who the Rays are going to start tomorrow. At this time yesterday it was likely to be right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, but then the 25-year-old came out of the bullpen against the Red Sox and threw 21 pitches in 1.1 innings. He threw an inning in relief Tuesday night too. I mean, I suppose he could still start tomorrow, but I doubt it would be a full 100-pitch effort. Ramirez has a 1.29 ERA (2.67 FIP) in 14 innings so far, with 12 strikeouts, one walk, one homer, and a 50.0% ground ball rate. At his best he’s a low walk/high ground ball guy who gets close to a league average number of strike threes. Thanks to a nasty low-80s changeup, Erasmo has had a reverse split throughout his career. He’s better against lefties than righties. A low-90s sinker and mid-80s slider are his other two pitches. Ramirez can really frustrate hitters by changing speeds, and he has pretty good career numbers against the Yankees. If Ramirez doesn’t start, my guess is righty Matt Andriese would come up from Triple-A.

Update: The Rays are calling up top pitching prospect Blake Snell to start Saturday, according to Marc Topkin. It will be the 23-year-old left-hander’s big league debut. ranked Snell as the No. 12 prospect in baseball prior to Spring Training. Here’s a snippet of their free scouting report:

Snell sits at 92-94 mph with his fastball but can run it up to 96, and the pitch consistently plays up because of its exceptional late life. His slider is a second plus offering, thrown with sharp tilt that helps him miss plenty of bats, and his command of the pitch improved markedly in 2015. Snell’s changeup is still a work in progress, but it shows plus potential because he throws it with fastball-like arm speed and can dip it out of the zone … Snell trimmed his walk rate considerably last season but still possesses below-average control.

Snell had a 1.41 ERA (2.71 FIP) with a 31.3% strikeout rate and a 10.2% walk rate in 134 innings at three minor league levels last year. So far this year he’s allowed four runs on 15 hits and seven walks in 14.2 Triple-A innings. He’s struck out 21. With Snell starting in place of Ramirez, the Yankees are now scheduled to see four straight left-handed starters, and five southpaws in their next six games.

Ace Whitley sighting. (Presswire)
Ace Whitley sighting! (Presswire)

Sunday (1pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TB) vs. LHP Drew Smyly (vs. NYY)
Do you think Rays fans say Smyly should’ve had the surgery the same way Yankees fans say Tanaka should’ve had the surgery? Smyly, 26, opted for rehab over surgery after being diagnosed with a tear in his labrum last year, and here is he with a 2.91 ERA (2.91 FIP) through three starts and 21.2 innings. His strikeout (34.2%) and walk (5.1%) rates are fantastic in the early going. The grounder (35.4%) and homer (1.25 HR/9) numbers … not so much. Like most lefties, he’s better against left-handed batters than righties. His average velocity early this year (92.2 mph) is actually better than what it was last year (91.2 mph) before the labrum injury. Smyly also throws mid-80s cutters, low-80s changeups, and upper-70s curveballs.

Bullpen Status

The Rays and Red Sox played one of those wild back and forth games at Fenway Park yesterday, so the BoSox did the Yankees a solid and forced Cash to dip deep into this bullpen. He used six relievers to get five innings worth of outs. Here is the club’s bullpen:

  • LHP Xavier Cedeno: 5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 0 HR (23 pitches Thurs., 0 Weds.)
  • RHP Alex Colome: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 0 HR (5 pitches Thurs., 0 Weds.)
  • LHP Dana Eveland: 4.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 0 HR (10 pitches Thurs., 13 Weds.)
  • RHP Danny Farquhar: 5.1 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 2 HR (12 pitches Thurs., 12 Weds.)
  • RHP Steve Geltz: 4.1 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2 HR (0 pitches Thurs., 20 Weds.)
  • LHP Enny Romero: 6 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 0 HR (20 pitches Thurs., 0 Weds.)
  • RHP Ryan Webb: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR (0 pitches Thurs., 16 Weds.)

The Rays traded McGee over the winter and RHP Brad Boxberger is on the DL after having core muscle surgery in Spring Training, so Colome is filling in at closer right now. Cedeno is Cash’s go-to left-on-left matchup guy, and Farquhar is the primary setup man. Geltz has yucky numbers but will get high-leverage innings.

Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have had the last two nights off, and I’m guessing if the Yankees are even remotely close to a win tonight, Joe Girardi will lean on them heavily. We might see Dellin for five outs. The rest of the bullpen is kinda taxed, though Nova is available to go long if necessary. Our Bullpen Workload page has the details.