Masahiro Tanaka to skip next start with flexor mass strain

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

Masahiro Tanaka will not make his scheduled start Monday due to what Joe Girardi called a “slight slight slight” strain in his flexor mass, according to Erik Boland and Mark Feinsand. This is the same thing Andrew Miller had last year. The strain is not near the elbow ligament.

“I’m not worried at all, because I think the team was taking precautions. I don’t feel any pain or anything like that so I’m very confident that I should be able to comeback soon,” said Tanaka to Andrew Marchand. He’ll rest five days before throwing again.

The injury could explain Tanaka’s sudden bout of homeritis in the third inning last night, though he did settle down after that and pitch well the rest of the way. There was no indication he was hurt prior to this. Tanaka’s been pretty awesome all year, and especially of late. Stupid injuries.

The bad news is Tanaka, by far the Yankees’ best starter, had two starts left this season and now he’ll miss one. That won’t help their postseason chances. At the same time, Tanaka is way too important to the Yankees, so they have to play it safe with him. Their playoff odds are long as it is.

The Yankees are very short on rotation depth at the moment with Tanaka, Nathan Eovaldi, and Chad Green all injured. Girardi indicated they’ll go with a bullpen game Monday. They really don’t have much of a choice.

After losing a year to shoulder surgery, Mason Williams is making the most of his brief opportunity


Last month, after selling at the trade deadline, the Yankees committed to a youth movement and have been rewarded with a historically great stretch by Gary Sanchez. Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin have had their moments as well, ditto Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell. Sanchez is a rarity. Very few come up and have that much instant success. The other guys have had their ups and downs.

This youth movement really started last season, when Luis Severino and Greg Bird were called up in the second half. That happened after the Yankees cycled through several young outfielders in the wake of Jacoby Ellsbury‘s knee injury in May. Ellsbury got hurt, Slade Heathcott came up and played well, but then he got hurt. Ramon Flores came up, didn’t play all that well, then got sent down.

Mason Williams was the third young outfielder the Yankees used the replace Ellsbury, and like Heathcott, he had some success right away before getting hurt. Williams jammed his shoulder diving back into first base on a pickoff throw, and when rest and rehab didn’t work, he needed season-ending surgery. It sidelined him for a full calendar year. That’s rough. Williams had just come up and was playing well, then bam, down for a year.

The 25-year-old Williams spent most of this season in Triple-A after returning, and it was another outfielder injury that brought him back to the big leagues this month. Two injuries, really. First Aaron Hicks pulled his hamstring, then Judge strained his oblique. At that point the Yankees needed another outfielder, so while they wanted to leave Williams in Triple-A to get more at-bats, they had no choice but to call him up.

In seven games since coming back Williams has gone 7-for-18 (.389) at the plate — he should have had another hit, but Joe Kelly threw out his glove and snagged a would-be single with the bases loaded — while playing his typically strong defense. He’s 13-for-39 (.333) in 15 big league games so far, which is pretty great. Williams came back from shoulder surgery and didn’t miss a beat in Triple-A. Now he’s in the show and again producing.

Williams has always been supremely talented. There were some production and work ethic issues in Double-A a few years ago, but the proverbial light bulb went on last year, and he seemed to begin realizing his potential. Then the injury happened. Williams went from top prospect to suspect to reclamation project, all before his 25th birthday. Right now he’s in the process of reestablishing himself after the shoulder surgery.

It’s nice to see Williams having success again, and not just in his brief September cameo with the Yankees. In the minors too. He put up a .309/.327/.399 (106 wRC+) batting line in 47 minor league games after coming back from surgery this year. This success, along with his track record and raw tools, have me wondering two things.

1. What would have happened if he didn’t get hurt? This is a fun hypothetical. Say Williams never hurts his shoulder diving into first base last year. What happens? Does he continue to play well and force his way into the team’s plans? Williams could have made the Hicks trade unnecessary. It could have been him getting all those at-bats in right field when Alex Rodriguez was benched and Carlos Beltran was at DH earlier this year. There was an opportunity for playing time last year, and Williams lost out on it because of his injury. Sucks.

2. Where does he fit going forward? The Yankees have a lot of outfielders right now. Brett Gardner and Ellsbury are the established veterans at the MLB level. Judge and Hicks are the young guys. Williams is next in line with others like Jake Cave and Clint Frazier right behind him on the depth chart. His only path to playing time right now is injury. Judge is out for the year and Joe Girardi has said he won’t push Hicks hard after his hamstring injury, so Williams will play these last eleven games.

But what about next year? Does Williams go to Triple-A again? I guess that wouldn’t be a bad thing. He’s only played 51 games at the level, plus he has an option for next year, so they might as well use it. Right now Williams is the fifth outfielder, the up-and-down guy. Maybe Gardner will get traded this offseason. Or maybe Hicks goes. Perhaps Judge won’t win the right field job next spring. Something like that is going to have to happen for Williams to continue getting a look at the MLB level. That or injury.

The problem for Williams isn’t that the Yankees have a lot of other outfielders, it’s that they have a lot of other outfielders just like him, specifically Gardner and Ellsbury. The speedy defense-first left-handed hitter. How many of the same player do you need? It would be cool to have an outfielder who can hit the ball out of the park, wouldn’t it? Maybe even two. Williams could be trade bait, Triple-A depth, the fourth outfielder … none of that would surprise me going forward.

For now, the most important thing is that Williams seems to have come back well from his shoulder surgery. His talent and athleticism are pretty obvious. The kid looks the part of an exciting young player. The question is whether the Yankees can make room for Williams in the near future, and if not, how does he get another opportunity? He’s playing well now and that’s great. Williams has shown the shoulder is sound, giving the Yankees yet another outfield candidate going forward.

Is Gary Sanchez’s bat too valuable to keep at catcher?

(Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty)
(Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty)

Two nights ago the Yankees snapped their five-game losing streak thanks to yet another clutch home run by Gary Sanchez. His three-run shot broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning. Then, last night, he added two more home runs to raise his season batting to .337/.410/.747 (203 wRC+). He’s hit 19 home runs in 43 games since being called up following the trade deadline. That is pretty, pretty good.

There is no question Sanchez has emerged as a cornerstone player for the Yankees. That was always the hope, but I don’t think anyone expected it to happen this quickly. Especially at catcher. Usually it takes those guys some time to find their bearings at the big league level just because there’s so much to take in defensively. They have to learn the pitching staff and the hitters around the league in addition to their offensive responsibilities.

By all accounts Sanchez has handled the defensive side of the game well. He seems to be a little passed ball/wild pitch prone, but that’s not all that unusual for a young catcher. There’s every reason to believe Sanchez can handle the defensive side of the position. My question is this: is Sanchez most valuable long-term at catcher? I mean, yes, of course he is. Catcher is the most difficult position to fill. But is his bat too valuable to tie to such a demanding position?

The idea behind taking Sanchez out from behind the plate — and just to be clear, I’m not endorsing this, I’m just asking the question for discussion purposes — is avoiding the wear-and-tear of catching and getting his bat in the lineup more often. Sanchez has been in the starting lineup for each of the last 35 games either as the catcher or DH, and that can’t last long-term. Like every other catcher, he’ll need regular days off to get through a 162-game season. A few things to consider:

1. This would not be unprecedented. The best example of moving a great hitter out from behind the plate is Bryce Harper. He was a catcher as an amateur, but as soon as he was drafted, the Nationals moved him to the outfield. Didn’t even give him a catch to catch in pro ball. They didn’t want to put Harper through the rigors of catching because his bat was going to be so valuable.

Harper’s the best example but he’s not the only example. Paul Konerko and Joey Votto were catchers. So were Josh Donaldson and Wil Myers. Neil Walker, Pablo Sandoval, Justin Morneau, Jayson Werth, Josh Willingham … they were all catchers at one point and not all of them were moved because they couldn’t handle it defensively. Walker, Myers, and Sandoval in particular were moved largely to get their bats in the lineup more often.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

2. It could help his offense. First and foremost, not getting beat up behind the plate can help Sanchez remain more productive deeper into the season, if not allow him to reach new offensive heights. Secondly, shedding the defensive responsibilities of catching and focusing on offense can help too. Donaldson is a pretty good example. His bat didn’t take off until he moved to third base.

Donaldson, who moved to third because the Athletics had no one to play the position after Scott Sizemore tore up his knee in Spring Training 2012, has said moving out from behind the plate helped his offensive game. Without having to worry about working with pitchers and studying hitter scouting reports and all that, he was able to work on his offense. Extra swings in the cage, more time studying pitchers on video, all that stuff. That could really help.

3. Where would he play? This is the big question. First base and DH seem like the only possibilities. I love the guy, but Sanchez is not the same kind of athlete as Harper and Donaldson. He’s more Morneau and Konerko, if you catch my drift. That’s fine though. The Yankees have a long-term opening at first base at the moment. We’re hoping Greg Bird can fill it, but who knows coming off shoulder surgery. Even then, DH is still a possibility for Sanchez.

Should the Yankees move him, Sanchez would have to learn first base on the fly. There’s no sending him down to work on things now. Not at this point. That may not be much of a problem though. Sanchez could serve as the DH four times a week and play first the other two or three days. Ease him into it, you know? Having a guy learn a new position on the fly like that can be tough, but the Yankees wouldn’t have another option.

4. They’d still be set behind the plate. The Yankees could move Sanchez to another position and still have a quality catcher thanks to Brian McCann. Even at this point of his career, McCann’s a good hitter for the position, and he’s a more than capable starter. Austin Romine would be able to stick around as the backup as well, or, if you prefer, the Yankees could give Kyle Higashioka a try. Point is, Sanchez isn’t the only starting catcher on the roster. The Bombers have another quality backstop in McCann.

* * *

The history of the Yankees is loaded with great hitting catchers. You can go back to Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra. Elston Howard. Thurman Munson. Jorge Posada. Sanchez looks very much like the next in a long line of great Yankees catchers, and man, having a great hitting catcher is such an advantage. The average catcher is hitting .241/.310/.389 (86 wRC+) this year. Compare that to what Sanchez can do.

I don’t think the Yankees will move Sanchez out from behind the plate and I don’t want them to either. He’s an asset defensively. Maybe if he were a better athlete and a move to the outfield or third base — golly, imagine his arm at third — was a legitimate possibility, it would be worth considering. But if the only alternative is first base or DH, then don’t bother. Enjoy the great hitting catcher and don’t worry about saving the wear-and-tear.

Two more Sanchez homers help the Yankees to an 11-5 win over the Rays

Two wins in a row! Hooray for that. It’s been a while since the Yankees have done that. Last week was not so good, as I’m sure you remember. The Yankees hammered the Rays on Wednesday night for an 11-5 win. They’re now 79-72 and they continue to hang around in the postseason race.

Seven hits between these two. (Presswire)
Seven hits between these two. (Presswire)

Seven Early Runs
This one looked like a laugher after only one inning. It was obvious early Alex Cobb didn’t have it, even though the Yankees didn’t exactly knock him around the park. Their three-run first inning was the result of four soft-ish ground ball singles and a walk. Gary Sanchez, Brian McCann, and Ronald Torreyes singled in the runs. All on seeing eye grounders. Usually the Yankees are on the wrong end of a rally like that.

The second inning was more of the same, at least at first. Donovan Solano and Brett Gardner picked up two more ground ball singles, then Sanchez did what Sanchez does, and that’s hit the ball out of the ballpark. His 18th homer of the season was a three-run shot down the left field line. Cobb made a mistake and left a changeup up in the zone, and a changeup up in the zone is basically a batting practice fastball. The Yankees were up 6-0 before Cobb recorded his fifth out.

McCann and Mark Teixeira singled and doubled after the Sanchez walk, respectively, ending Cobb’s night. Didi Gregorius got the team’s seventh run in with a sacrifice fly against reliever Steve Geltz. The final line on Cobb: seven runs on nine hits and a walk in 1.1 innings. Egads. Not all of those hits were rockets, but still. He was fooling no one. The Yankees had no trouble getting the bat on the ball and the hits kept falling in.

One Bad Inning, To The Extreme
For the first time in his MLB career, Masahiro Tanaka allowed four home runs in a game Wednesday night. All four came in one inning too. The third inning. That’s no good. At least they were all solo shots. Bobby Wilson, Evan Longoria, Brad Miller, and Corey Dickerson did the honors. Longoria, Miller, and Dickerson hit them back-to-back-to-back. That was … unexpected. Look at the pitch locations, via Brooks Baseball:

Masahiro Tanaka home runs

Two of the four were on pitches up in the zone, one was a golf shot on a pitch below the zone, and the other was down. All four homers came on offspeed pitches. That all happened after Tanaka walked Alexei Ramirez and Jaff Decker back-to-back with two outs in the second. His location was not good. That meant walks in the second inning and dingers in the third. I guess I should note all four homers barely cleared the wall, I’m talking first row, but still, a homer is a homer.

Anyway, because he’s such a damn stud, Tanaka settled down and retired ten of the final 12 batters he faced to complete six full innings. Joe Girardi had relievers warming in the fifth and sixth, so he was ready to pull Tanaka at the first sign of danger, but it never came. The four homers didn’t phase him. The one bad inning was just that. One bad inning. It didn’t snowball into a disaster start.

The end result: 6 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 5 K. Tanaka had allowed four runs total in his previous three starts and six runs total in his previous six starts. August 13th against the Rays at Yankee Stadium was the last time Tanaka allowed four runs in a start. It was only the ninth time in 31 starts that he allowed four runs in an outing. That is: good. Even with the four dingers, Tanaka still leads the AL With a 3.07 ERA. His Cy Young chances took a hit, no doubt, but he’s still in the race.


The Late Innings
The four homers turned a comfortable 7-0 lead into an annoyingly small 7-4 lead. Blah. Sanchez took matters into his own hands in the sixth inning and clubbed yet another home run, this one a solo blast to left-center field. I don’t even know what to say. That’s 19 homers (!) in 45 career games, a new big league record. The previous fastest to 19 homers was 51 games by Wally Berger with the 1930 Boston Braves.

Sanchez’s second homer stretched the lead to 8-4, and after Miller took Adam Warren deep for a solo homer in the eighth, the Yankees tacked on three more runs in the ninth. Mason Williams had a run-scoring single and Solano smacked a two-run dinger. How about that? The two teams combined for eight homers on the night. The wind must have been blowing out at the Trop. Warren (four outs), Tommy Layne (one out), Tyler Clippard (one out), and Jonathan Holder (three outs) did the damn thing out of the bullpen.

McCann went 4-for-5 and was only the second most productive catcher in the lineup. Sanchez went 3-for-5 with two homers and a walk to raise his batting line to .337/.410/.747 (203 wRC+). The walk was his 19th of the season, which means a) he has more walks than Gregorius (18), and b) he has a healthy 10.1% walk rate. I’ve been really impressed by Sanchez’s plate discipline. Pitchers have tried to get him to chase off the plate, but no dice.

Everyone in the starting lineup had a hit except Jacoby Ellsbury, who drew a walk following his two-game absence with a knee injury. Gardner and Williams each had two hits and Solano had three. The wrap-around 8-9-1 portion of the lineup went a combined 7-for-16 (.438) and scored five runs. The Yankees had 17 hits overall, their fourth highest total of the season. Their season high is 20 against the White Sox back in July.

And finally, the Astros and Mariners won while the Blue Jays and Orioles lost. The Tigers are stuck in a lengthy rain delay as of this writing. The Yankees are 2.5 games back of the O’s for the second wildcard spot and two back in the loss column. There are four teams ahead of the in the standings with eleven to play. Still a chance.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, go to ESPN. has the video highlights. Don’t miss our Bullpen workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the stress-free win probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees will look to finish the sweep when these two clubs play their season series finale Thursday night. Luis Cessa and Blake Snell are the scheduled starters.

Game 151: Tanaka’s Cy Young Push

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

The Yankees are involved in three races right now. The wildcard race is the main one, though their odds are long. Another is the Rookie of the Year race. Gary Sanchez keeps swatting dingers, so he’s forced his way into the Rookie of the Year conversation despite not being called up until after the trade deadline. I don’t know if Sanchez will win, but he’s in the mix. Unignorable.

The third race is the Cy Young race. Masahiro Tanaka is firmly in the discussion at this point. He’s not the favorite — is anyone the favorite right now? I don’t think so — but when you lead the league in ERA and are top two in FIP and both versions of WAR, yeah, you’re a Cy Young contender. Including tonight, Tanaka has three starts left this season, and those three starts could very well decide whether he gets the Cy Young. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Brian McCann
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  8. RF Mason Williams
  9. 2B Donovan Solano
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It’s hot and humid outside in St. Petersburg but cool and comfortable inside Tropicana Field. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Chase Headley (back) is feeling better and took batting practice today. He could be available to pinch-hit. Headley had an MRI during the off-day Monday that showing nothing worrisome … Ellsbury (knee) is back in the lineup, obviously.

2016 Minor League Awards


What a wild year for the farm system. Thanks to their trade deadline dealings, the Yankees both added (through trades) and subtracted (through call-ups) some serious talent from the minor league system this year. The Yankees are calling it a transition, not a rebuild, but either way the message is clear: the team is going young now. The kids are getting a chance to play.

New York’s eight (eight!) domestic minor league affiliates went a combined 447-363 (.553) this season, the third best record in the minors — only the Phillies (.595) and Mariners (.581) were better — and their third consecutive winning season. The 2013 season is the only time the system had a combined losing record in the last 35 years. Each of the top five affiliates went to the postseason and Triple-A Scranton won the Triple-A Championship Game. Pretty cool.

Now that the 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. That make sense? Good.

Here are my 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 awards posts. It blows my mind I’ve been doing this ten years already. Where does all the time go? Anyway, let’s dig into this season’s minor league awards.

Adams. (YouTube screen grab)
Adams. (YouTube screen grab)

Minor League Player of the Year: RHP Chance Adams
The transition from the bullpen to the rotation could not have worked any better for the 22-year-old Adams, who was the Yankees’ fifth round pick in the 2015 draft. He pitched to a 2.33 ERA (2.96 FIP) with a 29.1% strikeout rate and a 7.9% walk rate in 127.1 innings at High-A and Double-A this year. Only 15 of the 549 pitchers to throw at least 100 innings in the minors this season had a lower ERA — Adams allowed zero or one run in 17 of his 24 starts — and he never slowed down either; he struck out ten in 4.1 innings in his final start. Adams also led the farm system in strikeouts (144) despite being only seventh in innings. No player in the system was as consistently excellent as Adams this summer, and that’s why he’s my Minor League Player of the Year.

Minor League Pitcher of the Year: LHP Jordan Montgomery
It’s remarkable how many great pitching performances there were in the system this year. Remember how I mentioned only 15 pitchers had a better ERA than Adams this year? Well, three of the 15 were Yankees, including LHP Nestor Cortes, who led all the minors with a 1.73 ERA. Montgomery, who finished 11th in the minors with a 2.13 ERA, gets Pitcher of the Year honors over Cortes and LHP Dietrich Enns (fourth in ERA) because he threw more innings and missed more bats. Montgomery split the season between Double-A and Triple-A and he finished second in the system in both innings (139.1) and strikeouts (134), and his 2.86 FIP was 25th best in the minors among those 549 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. This was a very close race. Ultimately, I went with Montgomery because he spent the entire season in the rotation; Cortes and Enns both spent time in the bullpen. (Adams isn’t eligible for this award as the Minor League Player of the Year.)

Minor League Hitter of the Year: 1B/OF Tyler Austin
Every year when writing this post, without fail, I come across a player who had a far better season than I realized. I knew Austin had a tremendous bounceback year. He didn’t get called up to the big leagues because the Yankees had nothing better to do. But a .294/.392/.524 (161 wRC+) batting line with 34 doubles and 17 homers in 107 games? Hot damn. A total of 771 players had at least 400 plate appearances in the minors this year. Austin ranked seventh in 161 wRC+. That’s incredible. What a monster season for our 2012 Minor League Player of the Year.

Breakout Player of the Year: RHP Chance Adams
Adams began the season as a guy with two reliable pitches, maybe three, and he finished it as a four-pitch starter who could pound the zone with everything. Usually when a prospect has a huge season like that, you’ll read a few scouting reports throughout the summer that downplay the statistical success and keep expectations in check. That didn’t happen with Adams. Every single scouting report was glowing. In fact, it seemed like scouts were more and more impressed with him as the season progressed. He was an interesting relief prospect a year ago this time. Now Adams is a bonafide starting pitching prospect not far from the big leagues who should receive top 100 consideration next spring.

Best Pro Debut: 2B Nick Solak
First rounder OF Blake Rutherford had an incredible pro debut, hitting .351/.415/.570 (171 wRC+) down in rookie ball, but he was limited to only 130 plate appearances because he signed late and suffered a hamstring injury in August. Solak, on the other hand, put up a .321/.412/.421 (155 wRC+) batting line with three homers and eight steals while batting 279 times in short season ball. The difference in playing time is too great to ignore. Solak had nearly as many walks (30) as strikeouts (39), and he had 25 multi-hit games against only nine multi-strikeout games. After spending three years at a major college program (Louisville), this year’s second round pick hardly missed a beat after transitioning to pro ball. Solak was outstanding.

Comeback Player of the Year: 1B/OF Tyler Austin
How could it be anyone else? A year ago Austin hit .240/.315/.343 (92 wRC+) during the regular season and was demoted from Triple-A to Double-A. The Yankees then designated for him assignment in September to clear 40-man roster space for another player, and he went unclaimed on waivers. No one grabbed him. Austin recently called that the “best thing that ever happened” because it put his career into perspective and showed him he needs to work harder to earn his way up the ladder. He did that and then some this season.

Bounceback Player of the Year (started slow, finished strong): SS Kyle Holder
The Yankees took Holder with their supplemental first round pick last year, the compensation pick for losing David Robertson, and because he’s a defense-first shortstop, he was quickly branded as the next Brendan Ryan. Why? Because people like to be miserable, I guess. Holder didn’t exactly prove doubters wrong during the first half of the season at Low-A either. He played 88 games this season around an injury, and in the first 44 games he hit an empty .274/.303/.327 (81 wRC+). In his last 44 games, Holder hit .304/.340/.364 (104 wRC+). That includes a .357/.396/.449 (145 wRC+) batting line in 23 games after coming off the DL. All told, Holder hit .290/.323/.347 (93 wRC+) in 374 plate appearances this year, which doesn’t jump out at you, but it’s promising given his defense and bat-to-ball skills (14.2% strikeouts). Holder started poorly and really finished strong. Nice rebound at midseason.

Most Disappointing Player of the Year: SS Jorge Mateo
Gosh, it was all so promising in Spring Training, wasn’t it? Mateo, who was coming off a big 2015 season in which he hit .278/.345/.392 (114 wRC+) with 82 steals as a 20-year-old Low-A and High-A, hit rockets all over the field during Grapefruit League play and dazzled with his speed. Remember this?

Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff. Mateo was poised for a huge breakout season, and for a while he was having it. He hit .299/.364/.485 (146 wRC+) with five home runs and 17 steals in 48 games through May, but it fell apart after that and he never really recorded. Mateo hit .240/.255/.283 (56 wRC+) in his final 323 plate appearances of the season, and in early-July he was suspended two weeks for an undisclosed violation of team policy. Rough. Rather than break out as one of the game’s elite prospects, Mateo hit .254/.306/.379 (99 wRC+) with only 36 steals this season. Unfortunately, it’s an easy call for this year’s Most Disappointing Player.

All-Minor League Teams

First Team Second Team Third Team
Catcher Kyle Higashioka Gary Sanchez Luis Torrens
First Base Tyler Austin Chris Gittens Kevin Cornelius
Second Base Nick Solak Thairo Estrada Abi Avelino
Shortstop Tyler Wade Jorge Mateo Hoy Jun Park
Third Base Donovan Solano Miguel Andujar Dermis Garcia
Outfield Dustin Fowler Cesar Puello Jeff Hendrix
Outfield Ben Gamel Mason Williams Timmy Robinson
Outfield Aaron Judge Blake Rutherford Mark Payton
Starting Pitcher Chance Adams Chad Green Yefrey Ramirez
Starting Pitcher Jordan Montgomery Josh Rogers Domingo Acevedo
Starting Pitcher Dietrich Enns Nestor Cortes Daniel Camarena
Relief Pitcher Gio Gallegos Jordan Foley Taylor Widener
Relief Pitcher Jonathan Holder Travis Hissong Andrew Schwaab

Lifetime Achievement Award: RHP Conor Mullee
It has been a very long and very difficult journey for Mullee, who finally reached the big leagues this season at age 28. He’s had three major elbow surgeries during his minor league career: Tommy John surgery in 2011, avulsion fracture surgery in 2012, and another avulsion fracture surgery in 2013. Basically, after Tommy John surgery, the new ligament did not graft to the bone properly, so it had to be attached elsewhere. And then the same thing happened again. Now there’s a screw in his elbow.

The Yankees drafted Mullee out of St. Peter’s in Jersey City in the 24th round of the 2010 draft. He had a 1.64 ERA (2.59 FIP) with a 22.7% strikeout rate and a 6.8% walk rate in 22 relief innings in rookie ball after turning pro, before the injuries set in. Mullee threw only five (five!) innings from 2011-13 due to the elbow issues, but he returned in 2014 and pitched well: 1.38 ERA (3.09 FIP) in 38.2 innings. Another solid season followed in 2015: 2.73 ERA (2.88 FIP) in a career high 58.2 innings.

Mullee opened this season in Double-A and was quickly promoted to Triple-A. A very strong start to the season (1.42 ERA and 2.02 FIP) earned him his first call-up in mid-May, and on May 16th in Arizona, Mullee made his MLB debut. It didn’t go well (1 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K), but that’s okay. He’d made it. Mullee went up and down a few more times and finished the season with a 1.19 ERA (2.25 FIP) in 37.2 minor league innings, plus that one run allowed in three big league innings.

Mullee. (Presswire)

“It’s amazing,” said Mullee to Chad Jennings following his first call-up in May. “Coming back, I just wanted to play again and hopefully stay healthy and see what happens. I couldn’t have ever really dreamed to be here today, but I’m definitely happy to be here.”

Unfortunately, Mullee’s elbow betrayed him again in August, and he needed ulnar nerve decompression surgery, whatever that is. On the bright side, he was with the Yankees when he got hurt, so he earned big league pay and accrued service time while on the DL. Forty-three days of service time entitles the player to a $34,000 a year pension, and Mullee reached that. Good for him.

Over the last seven years Mullee has faced some serious adversity, including three major elbow surgeries before he even got out of rookie ball, but he stuck with it and was rewarded with a call-up this season. That’s pretty awesome. Mullee’s story is one of perseverance in a game that chews up and spits out arms year after year.

The Mystery that is Michael Pineda

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty

Last night the Yankees snapped their five-game losing streak thanks largely to yet another Gary Sanchez homer. His three-run blast in the seventh inning gave the Yankees a 5-2 lead. It was his 17th (17th!) home run in 42 games since being called up. Pretty incredible. Without him the Yankees would not be even remotely close to a wildcard spot right now.

Before Sanchez played hero, Michael Pineda gave the team 5.1 strong innings, during which he struck out eleven and generated 19 swings and misses. Pineda also allowed two runs on five hits, and of course the big blow came with two strikes and two outs. Brad Miller’s two-run triple came on a slider too far up in the zone …

Michael Pineda Brad Miller

… which is the kind of mistake pitch Pineda has thrown all season. Going into last night’s start opponents were hitting .193/.248/.287 against Pineda with two strikes this year. That sounds really good! Except the MLB average is .176/.246/.279. That’s the average pitcher. Someone with a ferocious slider like Pineda should beat those numbers pretty easily.

Following last night’s game, Pineda is sitting on a 4.89 ERA (3.62 FIP) in 30 starts and 165.2 innings. He’s on pace to have one of the worst 200-strikeout seasons in baseball history. Seriously. Pineda has 195 strikeouts right now, and with two starts to go, he should get over 200 easily. Here’s the list of pitchers to strike out 200 batters with a 4.80+ ERA and a 3.60+ FIP:

1999 Pedro Astacio: 5.04 ERA and 4.57 FIP with 210 strikeouts
1996 Mike Mussina: 4.81 ERA and 4.04 FIP with 204 strikeouts
1986 Mark Langston: 4.85 ERA and 3.95 FIP with 245 strikeouts
1938 Bobo Newsom: 5.08 ERA and 4.53 FIP with 226 strikeouts (in 329.2 innings!)

Moose! How about that? I never would have guessed Mussina had a season like that. Anyway, those are four pretty good pitchers. Mussina was excellent and so was Langston for a long time. Newsom went to a bunch of All-Star Games back in the day. Astacio is the worst pitcher of the bunch, but hey, he played 15 years in the big leagues.

The thing is, this doesn’t feel like a blip for Pineda. That 1996 season was out of the ordinary for Mussina. Ditto 1986 for Langston. Pineda has been pitching like this since his 16-strikeout game last year. I don’t know if the 16 strikeouts have anything to do with it — did he push too hard and hurt himself or change his mechanics? — or if it’s just a coincidence, but that’s how far this goes back. This isn’t new.

Why does Pineda struggle so much despite a quality fastball/slider combination, good extension thanks to his 6-foot-7 frame, and good control? There’s no shortage of theories. The three most common:

  1. He loses focus. When a guy gets beat with two strikes and/or two outs all the time, it’s easy to think he loses focus and doesn’t execute. On the other hand, it could be he’s trying too hard and makes mistakes because he’s trying to be perfect. Point, it’s possible this is a mental thing.
  2. His command stinks. Command and control are different. Control is basic strike-throwing ability. Getting the ball over the plate. Pineda can do that. Command is dotting the corners and living out of the middle of the zone. Pineda can’t do that. He’s a classic good control/bad command pitcher.
  3. He lacks a third pitch. Pineda has a changeup. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. He just rarely throws it. Pineda threw four changeups out of 98 pitches last night. He’s thrown 7.8% changeups this year. Hitters know that when push comes to shove, they’re getting a fastball or a slider. The changeup is not even on their mind.

When it comes to stuff like this, I always assume the problem is not one specific thing. Throwing twice as many changeups going forward probably won’t fix everything, you know? It’s not that easy. Chances are Pineda’s results don’t match his stuff because he doesn’t throw enough changeups and his command stinks and he loses focus and a bunch of other stuff too.

Anyway, I have no idea where I’m going with this. I was just watching Pineda last night and again wondering how a guy with those underlying skills — two pitchers in baseball have a 25+ K%, 45+ GB%, and a sub-7 BB%: Pineda and Noah Syndergaard (thanks Katie!) — can manage to be below-average at preventing runs for over 300 innings now. It’s hard to believe.

Pineda’s upcoming free agency really complicates things. The Yankees have, at most, another 32-34 starts to determine whether he should be considered part of the future. Ideally the decision would be made this offseason so the Yankees could trade Pineda if he’s not part of the future. That’s better than losing him for a draft pick, or maybe nothing. In reality, the club may want more time to evaluate him.

Two years ago when Pineda returned from shoulder surgery, he looked like someone who had a chance to pitch near the front of the rotation for a few years. He was that good in limited time in 2014. Pineda took a step back last year, and an even bigger step back this year, and that ain’t good. Not at his age and not with his stuff. Pineda is a classic enigma, and the Yankees don’t have much time left to solve this mystery. They’ll have to make a decision about his future relatively soon.