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.

The Yankees and 2016’s major awards

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

We’re now less than two weeks away from the end of the regular season, meaning candidates for baseball’s major annual awards only have a handful of games remaining to state their cases. Outside of NL Rookie of the Year, which should go to Corey Seager easily, the other major awards in both leagues feature very tight races. Pretty fun.

The last Yankee to win a major award was Mariano Rivera, who was named 2013 AL Comeback Player of the Year after tearing his ACL in 2012. Prior to that you have to go back to Alex Rodriguez‘s 2007 MVP season. There is something of a Yankee bias in the awards voting; a Yankee usually needs to have a season far superior to everyone else to receive votes, a la A-Rod in 2007. If it’s close, the votes tend to go to the non-Yankee.

Anyway, as a reminder, the awards are all voted on following the end of the regular season but before the postseason. The playoffs have zero bearing on the major awards. They cover the regular season only. So, with that in mind, let’s preview the awards races and see where some Yankees may fit into the picture, if any.

Most Valuable Player

Is there an AL MVP favorite right now? I mean, of course it should be Mike Trout, but his teammates suck so he won’t win. For shame. I guess Mookie Betts is the favorite now almost by default. The other serious candidates (Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Jose Altuve) are on teams either fading in the standings or out of the postseason picture entirely. That matters in the voting for whatever reason.

The Yankees don’t have a legitimate MVP candidate this season. Their best all-around player has been Didi Gregorius, and sorry, he’s not MVP material. Gary Sanchez hasn’t been up long enough. Masahiro Tanaka? He’s the best and therefore most valuable player on the roster, though it takes an insane season for a pitcher to win MVP. You need to go 24-5 like Justin Verlander did in 2011. A no-doubt Cy Young season and more, basically.

Now, that doesn’t mean the Yankees will not have a player receive MVP votes. Hardly. Lots of weird stuff happens at the bottom of the ballot and I would not at all be surprised if Tanaka and/or Dellin Betances and/or someone else got a ninth or tenth place vote. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, and A-Rod received MVP votes last season, for example. Chances are at least one Yankee will get an MVP vote. No one on the roster will win though. Sorry.

Cy Young

Okay, now we’re talking. Tanaka is a legitimate Cy Young candidate along with Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Cole Hamels. Unlike the MVP ballot, which is ten spots deep, the Cy Young ballot is only five players deep, so it’s going to be tight. Here’s where Tanaka ranks in various stats among AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title:

Innings: 193.2 (seventh)
ERA: 2.97 (first! … Sale is second at 3.03)
FIP: 3.26 (second behind Kluber, 3.25)
WHIP: 1.06 (fifth)
Walk Rate: 4.4% (third)
Strikeout Rate: 20.5% (20th)
K/BB Ratio: 4.71 (seventh)
Ground Ball Rate: 48.6% (11th)
bWAR: 5.6 (second behind Kluber, 6.4)
fWAR: 5.1 (second behind Sale, 5.2)

Tanaka lags in strikeout rate, otherwise he’s top ten in pretty much every meaningful pitching statistic, including top three in more than a few. Of course, his 13-4 record isn’t very Cy Young worthy, and that’s going to hurt his case. I know Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young with a 13-12 record a few years ago, but that was because he was so much better than everyone else. His dominance was too great to ignore. As great as he’s been, Tanaka is not having that kind of season.

My guess right now is either Porcello or Kluber will win the Cy Young, likely Porcello because he’s up over 20 wins. Tanaka’s performance is on par with those two on a rate basis, and in many ways he’s been better. He’s by far the best Cy Young candidate the Yankees have had since CC Sabathia was in his heyday — Sabathia finished fourth, third, and fourth in the voting from 2009-11 — and I think Tanaka will finish in the top five of the voting, possibly even the top three.

Rookie of the Year

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

This is going to be interesting. Sanchez has had an unreal start to his career. He’s hitting .327/.399/.710 (190 wRC+) with 17 homers in 42 games as a full-time catcher, which is bonkers. It’s also only 42 games. If Sanchez plays every single game the rest of the season, he’ll finished with 54 games played. The fewest games ever played by a Rookie of the Year position player is 52, by Willie McCovey in 1959. Next fewest? Eighty-eighty by Ryan Howard.

At the moment Sanchez is first among all AL rookies in fWAR (+2.9) and is third in bWAR (+2.5). His primary competition: Michael Fulmer of the Tigers, the guy the Mets traded to Detroit along with Luis Cessa to get Yoenis Cespedes last year. Fulmer has a 3.03 ERA (3.89 FIP) in 148.2 innings. That works out to +2.5 fWAR and +4.7 bWAR. Fulmer’s been in the big leagues since April. Voters will have to figure out how to weigh 50-something games of Sanchez against a nearly a full season of Fulmer.

I’d love to see Sanchez win, but if I had a vote, it would go to Fulmer. The difference in playing time is too great. Sanchez is only going to play one-third of a season. One-third! He’s basically a rookie who had a hot start and time ran out before the league had a chance to adjust. At this point I expect Sanchez to receive some first place votes and I think he and Fulmer will finish one-two on the ballot in some order, with Tyler Naquin third. My money is on Fulmer winning right now.

Manager of the Year

Does Joe Girardi deserve Manager of the Year votes? If you believe the Yankees have no business being this close to the postseason race, then yes. If you watch every game and hang on every questionable move — questionable moves every manager makes, by the way — then no chance. Girardi’s had a pretty terrible year, strategically.

These days the Manager of the Year seems to go to the manager whose team most outperformed expectations, or improved the most from last season. This year that’s … Terry Francona? I guess John Farrell since the Red Sox were in last place a year ago. I really have no idea how the Manager of the Year voting will turn out. Girardi’s case is built on the Yankees selling and then getting hot for a few weeks in August and September. That will get him votes — Girardi has received Manager of the Year votes every season since 2009 — but probably ain’t enough to win.

Comeback Player of the Year

Gosh, who even are the Comeback Player of the Year candidates? Michael Saunders, I guess? Marcus Stroman probably would have won it with even an average season, but he hasn’t been able to do that. In recent years the Comeback Player of the Year has gone to players coming off major injury, like Matt Harvey and Prince Fielder last year. Chris Young (the pitcher) and Rivera are recent winners too. That could put Saunders in the lead.

With no obvious candidate, this is going to come down to the preference of the voters. Does Porcello deserve Comeback Player of the Year after his miserable 2015 season and average-ish career? Or is he just prime age player breaking out? Maybe Doug Fister should win. Or Robinson Cano. Or Chris Tillman. The Yankees’ best Comeback Player of the Year candidate is Sabathia, and as much as I love the big guy, he hasn’t been good enough to win the award. I’d bet on Saunders winning right now, though I have little confidence in that.

DotF: Parmelee’s homer gives RailRiders the 2016 Triple-A Championship

This is the last DotF of the 2016 regular season, folks. The Arizona Fall League and various winter leagues begin play in a few weeks, and those get weekly updates. Here are some notes before we get to tonight’s game:

  • RHP James Kaprielian (elbow) faced hitters again today, reports Brendan Kuty. They’re still hoping he can play in the AzFL. “I’m pretty happy and excited with the progression we’ve made,” said Kaprielian. “We’ve obviously taken our time with this and tried to deal with it smart. The Yankees have done a really good job with handling me and the process and I feel good with where I’m at.”
  • OF Blake Rutherford (hamstring) is healthy and participating in Instruction League, reports Kuty. “I’m 100%. Just going through some things, getting ready, getting my timing back. My leg feels real good,” he said. Rutherford also talked about some other stuff following his first few months as a pro ballplayer, so check it out.
  • Jim Callis ranked this year’s top 30 rookies based on future value. C Gary Sanchez placed tenth. “His power is for real, as is his arm strength, and he could become an All-Star after showing more maturity and receiving prowess the past two years,” said the write-up.
  • Both 1B Greg Bird and IF Tyler Wade were included in yesterday’s Monday Morning Ten Pack (no subs. req’d), which highlighted interesting players going to the AzFL. Bird is on his way back from shoulder surgery and Wade is going to spend some time in the outfield to increase his versatility.
  • The Dominican Winter League draft was held last week and Vince Lara-Cinisomo has the results. Several Yankees farmhands were picked, including RHP Domingo Acevedo and RHP Yefrey Ramirez. They’re still Yankees. Nothing’s changed there. It just means they have new winter ball teams. Like the time Gary Sanchez was traded for Pedro Ciriaco.

Triple-A Scranton (3-1 win over El Paso) the Triple-A Championship is a one-game winner-take-all series, so Scranton has won their first Triple-A championship in franchise history … pretty cool … here’s some video from the game … they faced an El Paso (Padres) team that hit .295/.348/.466 during the regular season … the Pacific Coast League is wild, man

  • LF Mark Payton: 1-4, 1 R
  • CF Clint Frazier: 2-4, 1 R, 2 K — the game was on NBC Sports Net and I thought Frazier had the best at-bats of the night by anyone on either team … calm, confident, knows the zone … he looked like a big leaguer … he also gets three title rings this year: Eastern League (Double-A Akron won, the team he started the season with), International League (Scranton), and Triple-A (Scranton)
  • 1B Chris Parmelee: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI — got picked off second … his three-run homer gave the RailRiders a 3-0 lead three batters into the game … he was named the Championship Game MVP
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 0-3, 1 BB
  • CF Jake Cave: 2-4
  • DH Mike Ford: 0-3, 1 BB — got to make his Triple-A debut in the Triple-A Championship Game after being bumped up to replace Donovan Solano … he nearly hit a home run in his first at-bat, but the outfielder caught it up against the wall
  • SS Pete Kozma: 1-3
  • 3B Cito Culver: 0-3, 2 K
  • 2B Jonathan Diaz: 1-3
  • LHP Jordan Montgomery: 5 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 1/9 GB/FB — 52 of 70 pitches were strikes (74%) … very nice rebound from his rough outing in the International League Championship Series, when he didn’t make it out of the first
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 0/1 GB/FB — eight of eleven pitches were strikes (73%) … he came into a two on, no outs situation in the sixth and stranded the two runs, so that was big
  • LHP Phil Coke: 2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 17 of 21 pitches were strikes (81%) … Coke dominating in an important postseason game reminds me of his random Billy Wagner impression during the 2011 ALCS … blah
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 1 IP, zeroes, 1/1 GB/FB — all eight pitches were strikes

Double-A Trenton and High-A Tampa lost in the Championship Series. Low-A Charleston and Short Season Staten Island lost in the first round postseason. Rookie Pulaski, Rookie GCL Yanks East, and Rookie GCL Yanks West all failed to qualify for the postseason.

Yankees 5, Rays 3: Sanchez’s homer helps Yankees snap losing streak

A win! It’s been a while. Good to remember what one of those felt like. The Yankees snapped their five-game losing streak Tuesday night with a 5-3 win in the series opener against the Rays. A nice and tidy come from behind win, that was.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Best (And Worst) Of Pineda
This was a classic “I want to believe!” start by Michael Pineda. He had a nasty slider, one of his best of the season, which is why he struck out eleven batters in only 5.1 innings. Pineda also generated 19 swings and misses on 98 total pitches. His stuff looked filthy. And yet, he again could not limit the damage with two outs and two strikes. All season with this.

The third inning rally by the Rays came together quickly. Logan Forsythe sliced a single to right and Evan Longoria reached on a two-out infield single to put two men on base. Donovan Solano made a nice diving play on Longoria’s hard-hit grounder, but his throw pulled Mark Teixeira off the bag at first base. So it goes. Brad Miller made the Yankees pay with a two-run triple to the wall in center field. Two outs, two strikes. Of course.

Mason Williams very nearly corralled Miller’s triple as he crashed into the wall, but the ball hit his glove and rolled away. The Yankees couldn’t complete two tough defensive plays — Solano on Longoria, Williams on Miller — and it cost them two runs. Blah. Aside from that, Pineda kept the Rays off the board the rest of the game. He allowed two runs on five hits and a walk in those 5.1 innings.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

We Are All Gary
The Yankees didn’t do a whole lot against Drew Smyly. They did threaten in the first inning thanks to an Aaron Hicks single and a Billy Butler double, but after that, Smyly retired 15 of the next 16 batters he faced. The one baserunner was a long Teixeira solo home run in the fourth. Cleared the stands, cleared the walkway, and landed in the little TV studio they have set up in left field. That cut the deficit to 2-1.

The sixth inning looked like a wasted opportunity. The Yankees loaded the bases with two outs on a walk (Gary Sanchez), a double (Butler), and an intentional walk (Teixeira), but Didi Gregorius flew out harmlessly to end the threat. Can’t say I expected Teixeira to ever get intentionally walked again, yet here we are. The seventh inning was when they finally broke through. Brett Gardner bounced a single through the infield to tie the game 2-2 after Ronald Torreyes and Williams singled to put men on the corners with one out.

Hicks struck out as the next batter, and during his at-bat Gardner stole second, meaning first base was open. For whatever reason the Rays decided to pitch to Sanchez — maybe because Butler, who was hitting behind him, had a pair of doubles earlier in the game? — and Brad Boxberger threw a cement mixer over the plate for what would have been strike one. Instead it was a three-run home run and a 5-2 Yankees lead. To the action footage:

Seventeen homers. Seventeen homers in 42 games. It’s September 20th. Sanchez hit his first homer on August 10th. That’s ridiculous. This 23-year-old kid has come up and performed at an MVP level against a bunch of pitchers he’s never faced before while handling all the responsibilities of catching. It makes no sense. This isn’t so supposed to happen. It’s happening though. It’s happening and it’s glorious.

Leftovers
Pretty easy night for the bullpen. Tyler Clippard allowed a run on a triple off the top of the wall in left field and a passed ball, but that’s it. Tommy Layne (one out), Luis Severino (four outs), Clippard (three outs), and Dellin Betances (three outs) all did their thing. Betances looked razor sharp. Not coincidentally, he was well-rested. This was his first outing since Hanley Ramirez broke all our hearts Thursday night.

Every player in the starting lineup had a hit except Solano. Butler and Torreyes each had two hits. Hicks, Sanchez (two), and Teixeira drew the walks. The 1-for-3 with a homer and two walks raised Sanchez’s batting line to .327/.399/.710 (190 wRC+). Pretty awesome. The Yankees went 2-for-9 (.222) with runners in scoring position. Did they really have that many at-bats in those spots? Huh.

And finally, the Orioles and Blue Jays came into Tuesday tied for the wild card spots, so with the Orioles on the verge of losing to the Red Sox, the Yankees will be three games back of a postseason spot with 12 to play. They’re going to sweep the Rays and I’m going to start believing again, aren’t I? Dammit.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN is the place to go for the box score and updated standings. MLB.com has the video highlights. Don’t miss our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the win probability graph. Nice to see the other team blow a multi-run lead for once.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Rays will continue this three-game series with the middle game Wednesday night. Splitter specialists Masahiro Tanaka and Alex Cobb will be on the mound.

Game 150: The Final Stretch

(Brian Blanco/European Press)
(Brian Blanco/European Press)

Thirteen games in 13 days. That’s all the Yankees have left this season barring a damn near historic run to the postseason. For them to have any shot at the playoffs, this series against the last place Rays is a must-sweep. One game a time though. Get a win tonight and snap the five-game losing streak. Let’s start there. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Billy Butler
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  8. 3B Donovan Solano
  9. CF Mason Williams
    RHP Michael Pineda

The internet tells me it’s cloudy and grossly humid in St. Petersburg, but it’ll be a cool 70-something degrees inside Tropicana Field. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Move: As you can see from the lineup, Hicks (hamstring) was activated off the disabled list. He’d been out close to three weeks. No other move was required because rosters are expanded.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) is still sore but he said he’s hopeful he will play tomorrow. He’s available to pinch-hit tonight … Chase Headley (back) is not available at all. His back locked up on him in Boston. The Yankees play their next seven games on turf, so if Headley does return to the lineup this week, it might only be as the DH. We’ll see.

News: The Yankees announced they will honor Teixeira with a pregame ceremony prior to the final game of the season, on Sunday, October 2nd.

9/20 to 9/22 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Dome sweet dome. (Presswire)
Dome sweet dome. (Presswire)

Ugh, the Yankees are playing again? The last week hasn’t been all that pretty. I’m not sure I want to sit through any more heartbreaking losses. On the bright side, the Yankees are in Tampa to play the last place Rays this week, not in Boston to play the first place Red Sox. The Bombers are 9-7 against the Don’t Call Me Devil Rays this season, though they’re only 2-4 at Tropicana Field. That includes the three-game sweep in late-July that pushed ownership to sell at the trade deadline.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Rays have been playing spoiler lately. They took two of three from the Blue Jays last week and split four games with the Orioles in Camden Yards over the weekend. Overall, Tampa Bay is 64-85 with a -22 run differential this season. Believe it or not, they were 31-32 at one point. They’ve gone 33-53 since. Needless to say, this is a must sweep for the Yankees to have any shot at the postseason.

Offense & Defense

Last week the Rays set a new franchise single-season home run record. They’ve gone deep 205 times this year, breaking the old record of 199 set back in 2009. Despite that, they’re still averaging a below-average 4.24 runs per game with a team 100 wRC+. (The Yankees are at 4.21 and 92, respectively.) Since we last saw them, the Rays lost 1B Logan Morrison (wrist) and OF Steven Souza (hip) to season-ending surgery. Morrison hurt his wrist on a swing against the Yankees, as you may remember. SS Matt Duffy (Achilles) is done for the year too.

Longoria. (Cliff McBride/Getty)
Longoria. (Cliff McBride/Getty)

Manager Kevin Cash has a set top of the lineup nowadays: 2B Logan Forsythe (122 wRC+) leads off and is followed by CF Kevin Kiermaier (107 wRC+), 3B Evan Longoria (127 wRC+), and 1B Brad Miller (110 wRC+) in that order. Those four drive Tampa’s offense. When they get shut down, they don’t score. UTIL Nick Franklin (119 wRC+) and DH Corey Dickerson (98 wRC+) have been hitting fifth and sixth, respectively, in the wake of the Morrison and Souza injuries.

SS Alexei Ramirez (64 wRC+) is a stopgap and 1B Richie Shaffer (94 wRC+) has taken over at first base with Morrison hurt. C Bobby Wilson (88 wRC+), C Luke Maile (60 wRC+), and C Curt Casali (49 wRC+) have been rotating behind the plate in September. OF Jaff Decker (2 wRC+) and OF Mikie Mahtook (25 wRC+) are the Rays’ only extra players right now. They’re only carrying one extra bench player (a third catcher) even though rosters have expanded. I wonder if they’ll call someone else up following the recent injuries.

The Rays are more or less punting defense these days, though Kiermaier is excellent in center and Forsythe, Ramirez, and Longoria are all good to great on the infield. The corner outfield spots and first base are a problem. The three catchers are all cut from the all-glove/no-bat cloth. Kinda weird to see a Tampa team that isn’t fantastic defensively, isn’t it?

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday (7:10pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TB) vs. LHP Drew Smyly (vs. NYY)
Smyly, 27, was the centerpiece of the David Price trade a few years ago, and he has a 4.98 ERA (4.53 FIP) in 28 starts and 164.1 innings this season, so that’s not working out as hoped. His strikeout (23.0%) and walk (6.7%) rates are very good, though his home run (1.70 HR/9) and ground ball (30.9%) numbers are really scary. That’s bad. His platoon split is tiny thanks to his mid-80s cutter and mid-70s curveball. Smyly does a good job keeping righties off balance with the cutter. His four-seam fastball sits right around 90 mph and he doesn’t have a changeup. The Yankees have faced Smyly twice this season. They scored one run in seven innings in April and two runs in six innings in July. I remember neither of those games.

Wednesday (7:10pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TB) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (vs. NYY)
Three starts into his return from Tommy John surgery, the 28-year-old Cobb has a 3.06 ERA (3.93 FIP) in 17.2 total innings. His has start was his best; he held the Blue Jays to one run and two hits in 6.2 innings. Cobb has 12 strikeouts and four walks in those 17.2 innings, plus a very good ground ball rate (55.6%). Lefties have had much more success against him than righties so far. Cobb’s sinker has sat right around 90 mph in his three starts while his splitter has sat in the mid-80s. He also has a hard low-80s curveball. Everything is down 2-3 mph across the board. That can be scary coming off elbow reconstruction, though Cobb could still be building arm strength. The Yankees scored four runs (three earned) in six innings against the veteran righty last week.

Snell. (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Snell. (Patrick Smith/Getty)

Thursday (7:10pm ET): RHP Luis Cessa (vs. TB) vs. LHP Blake Snell (vs. NYY)
Poor Blake Snell. I watched his last two starts, which included one against the Yankees, and the kid looks completely out of gas. I guess that’s not a surprise. He’s thrown a career high 144.1 innings. Snell has a 3.87 ERA (3.51 FIP) in 17 starts and 81.1 innings with the big league team. Good strikeout rate (23.9%), good homer rate (0.55 HR/9), bad walk rate (12.7%), bad ground ball rate (36.8%). His platoon split is pretty significant, so Joe Girardi should fill the lineup with righties. Snell sits in the mid-90s with his heater, and his array of offspeed pitches includes a mid-80s changeup, a low-80s slider, and an upper-70s curveball. The Yankees have seen the 23-year-old southpaw three times this year and they’ve had progressively more success each time: one run in five innings in April, two runs in 5.1 innings in July, and three runs in 2.2 innings last week. They forced Snell to throw 88 pitches in those 2.2 innings.

Bullpen Status

The Rays may not be carrying many bench players, but they sure have loaded up the bullpen. Cash has 13 relievers at his disposal at the moment. Here is his bullpen:

Closer: RHP Alex Colome (1.93 ERA/3.80 FIP)
Setup: RHP Brad Boxberger (3.72/5.21), LHP Xavier Cedeno (3.70/2.63)
Middle: RHP Danny Farquhar (3.16/4.86), RHP Kevin Jepsen (), LHP Enny Romero (5.74/4.42)
Long: RHP Erasmo Ramirez (3.71/4.77)
Extra: LHP Dana Eveland, RHP Eddie Gamboa, RHP Ryan Garton, RHP Steve Geltz, LHP Justin Marks, RHP Chase Whitley

Not the most intimidating bullpen, I’d say. Colome is very good in the ninth and Boxberger and Cedeno have their moments, but that’s a relief corps you can’t wait to get into. The Rays had an off-day yesterday like the Yankees, so those 13 guys are as fresh as they’re going to get. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Girardi’s relief crew.

Cashman says young players have to earn roster spots in 2017 because of course they do

Bird. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Bird. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

To no surprise, Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees will not simply hand their top young players roster spots next season. They’ll have to earn it. “May the best man win,” said Cashman to Brendan Kuty recently when asked specifically about first base in the wake of Mark Teixeira‘s retirement.

At this point it’s safe to say that yes, Gary Sanchez has earned his place on the 2017 Yankees. Not exactly going out on a limb here. He’s the only young guy who has forced the issue this season though. First base and right field are another matter, ditto the pitching staff. And the bench too, I suppose. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s break it all down.

1. Competition is good! There seems to be this sense that when you’re a rebuilding transitioning team, the best thing to do is throw the kids out there and let them sink or swim. I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, there comes a point when you have to run a young player out there everyday to help him develop, but handing players jobs? Nah. That should be reserved for the best of the best.

Besides, competition between young players is good and healthy. They push each other to get better and it helps foster that “be the best player you can be” mentality. That’s a good thing. “We want a team full of good players. That’s how we’re going to win games,” said Greg Bird to Kuty. “And that’s us competing or other people competing with each other makes us all better, than that’s what we want.”

2. There’s a wide range of outcomes at first base. A year ago at this time we were all thrilled about the future at first base, the same way we’re thrilled about the future at catcher right now. Bird burst onto the scene and played very well down the stretch last season. He wasn’t Sanchez, but he was pretty awesome. The Yankees really missed Bird this year. He would have helped at first base and DH big time.

Bird’s shoulder injury has created some questions about next season. How healthy will he be? How quickly will he be back at full strength? Will he ever get back to full strength? Bird told Kuty his shoulder feels great — “It’s stronger than what it was and it’s structurally sound now,” he said — and he’ll soon face live pitching in Instructional League and the Arizona Fall League, but until he gets out there everyday, we just can’t know what he’s capable of. This was a major injury.

With any luck, Bird will come back and pick up right where he left off last season, giving the Yankees a no-doubt answer at first base. There’s a chance he may need time at Triple-A to shake off the rust, however, in which case Tyler Austin becomes Plan A at first base. I guess? Austin or Rob Refsnyder. Maybe Brian McCann or Austin Romine? First base could be really good or really bad next season. Bird could rake or the Yankees could end up cycling through players all year in an effort to find a solution.

Judge. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Judge. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

3. Right field seems wide open. Give the Yankees a truth serum and I’m guessing they’d tell you they want Aaron Judge to take the right field job in Spring Training and run with it. Of their in-house options, he has the best chance to become a middle of the order bat one day. “He will have to earn his way on to next year’s roster. There are no absolutes. Without question, he’ll be better for the experience,” said Cashman to Andrew Marchand.

Judge struggled to make contact this season and he’s losing reps now due to the oblique injury, which stinks. That’s valuable development time, even if it is only three weeks. His primary competition figures to be Austin, Refsnyder, Aaron Hicks, and Mason Williams. And you know what? The right field job could fall on two players via platoon or some kind of time share. It would be awesome if Judge won the job. I feel like anything could happen in right field though. Hicks everyday, a Williams/Austin platoon, whatever.

4. A veteran backup plan feels like a must. The Yankees have brought in a veteran bench player to cover first base and right field the last two years, and it didn’t work either time. Garrett Jones didn’t hit last year and Dustin Ackley blew out his shoulder this year. Neither played all that much either because the Yankees had pricey veterans in the lineup. It was a smart use of a roster spot that didn’t work out.

Since the Yankees are poised to go young at first base and in right field next year, bringing in a veteran backup plan for depth again makes sense, and this time at-bats should be easier to come by. Veterans like Teixeira and Carlos Beltran get the benefit of the doubt and stay in the lineup no matter what. A struggling kid could see a little more time in the bench just to get a mental break now and then.

We can sort through potential candidates for this role in the offseason — I’ll be beating the Steve Pearce drum this winter, so get ready for it (yes I know he’s having elbow surgery) — though it’s worth noting the Yankees have some options for this role themselves. Perfect world scenario is what, Bird at first and Judge in right with Austin and/or Refsnyder backing up both positions? I guess so, but a little veteran depth to protect against a Bird setback/Judge whiff-fest would be nice.

5. Severino shouldn’t be guaranteed anything. Competition for a rotation spot or a few bullpen spots is nothing new. I can’t remember the last time the Yankees didn’t have some pitching spots up for grabs in camp. I’m sure that’ll be true next year as well. Chad Green, Luis Cessa, and Bryan Mitchell could all wind up competing for the fifth starter’s job, for example. That would be ideal, really.

Luis Severino presents an interesting case. He got hammered as a starter this season in two separate stints, but he’s also dominated out of the bullpen. The Yankees insist they don’t want to give up on him as a starter because he’s still so young and I believe them. But, because he was so bad a starter this season and lost feel for his changeup, Severino shouldn’t come to camp with a rotation spot locked up like he did this year. He should have to earn it like everyone else.

Severino is in the bullpen right now because he gives the Yankees the best chance to win. That’s all there is to it. He hasn’t thrown his changeup much in relief — seven of his 200 pitches this month have been changeups, so yeah — and that’s kind of a problem. His development as a starting pitcher should be the priority in 2017. If that means more time in Triple-A, so be it. Severino shouldn’t be handed a spot just because. That would be a mistake.