Wednesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today, Alex Rodriguez jumped into third place on the all-time RBI list with 1,995. That’s pretty neat despite the inherent flaws with RBI. They’re like wins — you don’t rack up that many in your career without being pretty good. Anyway, A-Rod is in third place because RBI didn’t become an official stat until 1920, so MLB doesn’t acknowledge anything prior. In reality, A-Rod is tied for fifth all-time with Lou Gehrig, behind Hank Aaron (2,297), Babe Ruth (2,214), Cap Anson (2,075), and Barry Bonds (1,996). Those pre-1920 RBI did happen, after all. Still pretty cool either way.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. This afternoon’s game will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET, if you’re interested. MLB Network will air a regional game later tonight, plus there’s also NBA and NHL postseason action on as well. Talk about those games, A-Rod’s milestone, this afternoon’s win, or anything else right here.

2015 Draft: Garrett Whitley

Garrett Whitley | OF

Background
Whitley, 18, is a New York kid from Niskayuna, which is a few miles outside Albany. He popped up as a significant 2015 draft prospect last summer thanks to a series of strong showcase performances, and he will be the first baseball player ever drafted out of Niskayuna High School. Whitely is committed to Wake Forest.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-1 and 195 lbs., Whitley is a premium athlete and one of the most tooled up players in the draft class. His best tool is his speed, making him a weapon both on the bases and in center field, where he also has a strong arm. Whitley is a right-handed hitter with a ton of bat speed, which projects to above-average power down the road. His swing is far from textbook — part of that is a general lack of reps and refinement — but Whitley has a plan at the plate and, with a few tweaks, he should be able to hit for average and power down the road. Loads of natural ability.

Miscellany
Baseball America, Keith Law (subs. req’d), and Baseball America ranked Whitley as the 7th, 8th, and 17th best prospect in the draft class in their latest rankings, respectively. For what it’s worth, Law said the Yankees are in on Whitley in his most recent mock draft. There’s been talk about Whitley being the Mike Trout of this draft — the over-tooled, under-scouted prep outfielder from the Northeast — but that is so unrealistic and unfair. Whitley’s a very promising prospect though, and I get the sense he’ll be off the board by time the Yankees’ first pick (16th overall) comes around.

Sweep! A-Rod powers Yankees to 4-2 win over Royals

So, just as we all expected after that six-game losing streak, the Yankees have swept the Royals, who came into the series with baseball’s best record. New York took the series finale 4-2 on Wednesday afternoon. Things can turn around quick in this game, eh?

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Singles Are For The Weak
Two weeks ago Royals righty Chris Young shut the Yankees down using his trademark “mid-80s fastballs up the zone” approach. It works for him. Being 6-foot-10 has its advantages. The Yankees knew what was coming on Wednesday afternoon and capitalized, most notably when Brian McCann tomahawked one of those high mid-80s heaters — the pitch was seriously at his shoulders — into the right field second deck for a game-tying solo homer in the second. He hit it like he knew it was coming.

The big offensive blow came an inning later and it wasn’t on a high fastball. Brett Gardner yanked a double into the right field corner, Chase Headley took four pitches for a walk, then Alex Rodriguez hooked a hanging slider into the first row of the left field stands, just a few feet from the foul pole. It seemed like A-Rod was looking for the fastball, got a bad slider, and his reflexes kicked in. I thought it was a double off the wall off the bat but it carried out. Young came into the game with a 21.1% ground ball rate and a 0.26 HR/9. The Yankees helped even those out.

The Bombers didn’t score the rest of the game, and while that’s always sorta annoying, they didn’t need any more runs anyway. The pitching made it stand up. A-Rod and Carlos Beltran both had two hits — Beltran has baseball’s longest current hit streak at 15 games — while Gardner, Headley, Mark Teixeira, McCann, and Slade Heathcott had one knock apiece. Headley and McCann (two) drew the three walks.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Slightly Large Mike
He’s not back to being Big Mike yet, but Michael Pineda was better in this game than he had been in his last two. He did give up a solo homer and three rockets for outs in the first inning, and the Royals did put at least one man on base in every inning against but second, fourth, and partial seventh, but overall Pineda had some semblance of his slider and was able to pitch out of trouble. That wasn’t always the case the last two times out.

Pineda’s best work came in the fifth inning, when Paulo Orlando sliced a Beltran-aided double to right field with one out. It was a line drive Beltran appeared to misread — he broke in initially then had to retreat back — allowing it to sail over his head. Alcides Escobar slapped a single to right to put runners on the corners before a wild pitch allowed Escobar to move to second. The Royals had runners on second and third with one out and the middle of the order due up.

Rather than cave, Pineda battled and struck out Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain to strand the runners. He threw seven pitches to those two guys and got four swings and misses. Big Mike stuff. Pineda was able to work through 6.2 innings, holding Kansas City to just the solo homer and five other hits. He struck out eight and walked one, throwing 72 of 106 pitches for strikes (68%). That includes 16 swings and misses after getting 20 swings and misses in his previous two starts combined. Better! Not all the way back yet, but better.

Call To The ‘Pen
Once Pineda was done, Joe Girardi mixed and matched with David Carpenter (two pitches, one single) and Justin Wilson (four pitches, fly out) to get the final out of the seventh. Carpenter can’t say Girardi isn’t giving him a chance to figure things out, that’s for sure. At some point the results have to come though. May’s almost over. I have to imagine Carpenter’s almost out of leash.

The eighth inning went to Dellin Betances, who walked a batter and then allowed the run to score on a stolen base, an infield single, and an error by Didi Gregorius. Kendrys Morales hit a soft chopper to second, Gregorius cut in front of Stephen Drew, and tried to backhand the ball to first base. Didn’t work. Morales was given a single and the runner scored on the error, so the run was unearned. Dellin still has that shiny 0.00 ERA. He struck out the side.

Andrew Miller came on for the ninth inning and retired the side with two ground balls and a line drive at Gregorius. Miller has “only” struck out five of the last 18 batters he’s faced, or 27.8%. His season strikeout rate plummeted from 45.3% to 41.5% during that time. Most guys see their season strikeout rate increase if they whiff five out of 18. Anyway, Miller nailed down his 14th save in 14 chances. It was his first save since May 8th, believe it or not.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Leftovers
Headley has had some trouble defensively this year, specifically botching routine plays, but he made two stellar plays in the first inning. First he robbed Escobar of a base hit by reeling in a hard-hit grounder, then he made a spectacular diving stop to rob Eric Hosmer. Headley was shaded towards short for the shift, dove back toward third base, then made the throw. Incredible play. Here’s the unembeddable video.

And finally, A-Rod’s homer gave him 1,995 RBI in his career, moving him into third place on the all-time list. (RBI became an official stat in 1920 and MLB doesn’t acknowledge anything prior.) He jumped over Lou Gehrig (1,993) and is behind only Hank Aaron (2,297) and Barry Bonds (1,996). A-Rod now has the most RBI in AL history. Nutso.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here’s the box score and the video highlights, as well as the updated standings. Also check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankee are done with the Royals and they’ll now head west for a seven-game road trip in the Pacific Time Zone. They open a four-game series with the Athletics on Thursday night. That’s a 10pm ET start. CC Sabathia and rookie righty Kendall Graveman will be the pitching matchup in the opener.

Bernie Williams hoping to stay in baseball in “some kind of advisory or coaching capacity”

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Two days ago the Yankees retired No. 51 in honor of Bernie Williams during a wonderful ceremony at Yankee Stadium. Bernie last played in 2006 but he never officially retired, at least not until signing his retirement papers last month. He joked on Sunday that he was hesitant to sign the papers because he may want to come back and play at some point.

Prior to the ceremony, Williams did talk more seriously about wanting to return to baseball in some capacity, perhaps as an instructor or coach. Here’s what he told Kevin Kernan:

“I could see myself one day down the road working in baseball in some kind of advisory or coaching capacity,’’ Williams said. “I think my experience being in the Yankee organization for 20 years, including those early years when we were not so successful on the field, and battling through my own struggles and working so hard to firmly establish myself and become a solid player in this league, to being a part of those championship teams and handling the expectations that winning the World Series was the only acceptable goal, I would be very willing to offer my insight and experience to younger players”

The Yankees have hired several former players to be special instructors over the years — George Steinbrenner used to give all his favorite players coaching jobs for life, it seemed — including Tino Martinez, Hideki Matsui, and Orlando Hernandez. You know others like Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, and Paul O’Neill have jobs waiting for them if interested. I’m sure the same is true with Bernie.

Williams, now 46, has been to Spring Training as a guest instructor a few times over the years. If nothing else, that shows the Yankees are open to having him work with players and have some firsthand knowledge of his ability as an instructor. Bernie loves his music though, so he might not want a full-time coaching position. Who knows, he might not even want to work for the Yankees. Perhaps he wants a new challenge or something. We’ll see.

Game 47: Big Mike for the Sweep

BIG MIKE IS HERE

Baseball is a weird game, man. The Yankees lost six straight and ten of eleven, and they looked as bad as possible doing so. This past weekend was just awful. And yet, the team with the best record in baseball comes into the Bronx, and the Yankees take the first two games of the three-game series rather convincingly. Outscored ’em 19-2 too. What a game.

This afternoon’s game is a chance to finish off the sweep and head out to the West Coast on a high note following such an ugly stretch of play. Michael Pineda will be on the mound and he hasn’t been all that good since his 16-strikeout game, and two starts ago this same Royals team roughed him up a bit. The Yankees are going to need Big Mike to be, well, Big Mike, so the sooner he gets straightened out, the better. Here is Kansas City’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 2B Stephen Drew
  8. CF Slade Heathcott
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Michael Pineda

It’s not the best weather day in New York — overcast and humid, it’s kinda gross — but there’s no rain in the forecast, so they’ll play. This afternoon’s game will begin a bit after 1pm ET and you can watch live on YES. Enjoy the game.

Can Michael Pineda rebound against the Royals?

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Michael Pineda was the model of consistency for the first 20 games of his pinstriped career. He never gave up more than three runs in consecutive outings, and he’d never had a “disaster” start where he allowed more runs than innings pitched (except for his pine tar-shortend game last year).

Until May 15 (5 1/3 IP, 5 R, 10 H, 1 K) and May 22 (6 IP, 7 R, 8 H, 4 K) happened.

It’s definitely not time to press the panic button after just two poor starts, but this (extremely) mini-slump is somewhat noteworthy because it’s the first time Pineda has struggled in back-to-back outings since joining the Yankees.

With Pineda facing the Royals again this afternoon — the same lineup that clobbered him less than two weeks ago — let’s take a look inside the numbers to see what’s gone wrong for the right-hander in his last two turns, and how he can get back on track against the best team in baseball on Wednesday.

*******

Here’s a quick overview of his first seven starts this season compared to his last two:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% HR
Last 2 11 1/3 7.15 4.82 9.3% 1.9% 2
First 7 46 1/3 2.72 1.91 29.5% 1.6% 3

The most shocking number in the table above is the huge drop in his strikeout rate. Sure, that 30 percent figure is skewed a bit by the 16-strikeout game. But the fact that he’s had his two lowest strikeout totals of the season in his last two games is really hard to ignore.

Predictably, batters are making more contact against Pineda in his past two games (83 percent) compared to his first seven (77 percent), but that doesn’t completely explain the lack of whiffs. Almost all of the increase in that contact rate is on pitches outside the zone — the pitches that he normally uses to get strikeouts.

Contact % O-Swing % O-Contact % Z-Contact %
Last 2 82.9% 34.8% 71.0% 87.5%
First 7 76.5% 32.3% 56.9% 86.5%

So while Pineda is still generating above-average swing rates on those out-of-zone offerings, hitters haven’t been fooled by his stuff and he’s not missing as many bats with those pitches.

Over his last two games, his signature slider has hardly been the wipeout pitch that made Pineda such a dominant force on the mound to start the season. He’s lost about an inch of horizontal movement on his slider, making it easier for hitters to square up on the pitch. After getting batters to whiff on 19 percent of his sliders in his first seven games, that rate has plummeted to just nine percent since then.

pineda whiffs animate

Another concern related to this lack of strikeouts is his inability to finish off hitters when ahead. Pineda is actually getting into more favorable counts now, but he hasn’t been able to execute those put-away pitches.

Opponents are 5-for-8 against him in pitchers’ counts over the last two games, a situation that the Royals really took advantage of when they crushed Pineda on May 15. The game was decided in the sixth inning as Pineda allowed two doubles and a triple to three of the first four batters he faced — unsurprisingly, each of those extra-base hits came on a 1-2 pitch from the right-hander.

The other obvious problem for Pineda recently is that he’s simply been more hittable, and he’s given up nearly as many runs in his last two outings (12) as in his first seven (14). Let’s break it down, good-bad-ugly style:

• The good: he’s still generating ground balls at the exact same rate (53 percent);
• The bad: he’s traded a few fly balls for line drives;
• The ugly: he’s really struggled when pitching from stretch:

After limiting batters to a .230 average with runners on base in his first seven starts, they are 8-for-20 (.400) over the last two games. Even worse, Pineda has stranded just 43 percent of baserunners during this mini-slump, a drop of more than 30 percentage points from the first month of the season (78 percent). Not being able to get that big strikeout in those key scoring situations has really hurt him recently.

******

While there are some reasons to be optimistic that Pineda will be able to rebound today against the Royals — he’s still getting a ton of grounders, showing excellent control and limiting walks — he will definitely be challenged by Kansas City’s high-contact lineup and powerful lefty bats.

Pineda, who held opposite-handed batters to a .200 average in his first seven outings, has been hit hard by lefties in his last two starts. They are a combined 10-for-24, and he’s allowed identical 5-for-12 lines against both the Royals (May 15) and Rangers (May 22).

If Pineda can’t contain the Royals’ quartet of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon and Kendrys Morales — three lefties and a switch-hitter — it could be another long afternoon for the Yankees and their budding staff ace.

DotF: Severino strikes out nine in five innings for Trenton

LHP Jordan Montgomery was named the Low-A South Atlanta League Pitcher of the Week, so congrats to him.

Triple-A Scranton (4-3 win over Pawtucket)

  • CF Mason Williams: 2-4, 1 R, 2 2B
  • RF Ramon Flores: 1-5, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-4, 1 BB, 2 K — he’s actually in a 2-for-25 (.080) slump
  • 1B Kyle Roller: 2-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 BB, 1 K
  • C Austin Romine: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
  • DH Tyler Austin: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB
  • LF Ben Gamel: 1-4, 1 RBI, 2 K
  • RHP Joel De La Cruz: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 10/0 GB/FB — 53 of 86 pitches were strikes (62%) … well, not letting them hit the ball in the air works
  • RHP Danny Burawa: 0.1 P, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1/0 GB/FB — 18 of 29 pitches were strikes (62%)
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K — seven of nine pitches were strikes … he’s been working shorter outings of late, seems like they’re grooming him for left-on-left work
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 3/2 GB/FB — 14 of 26 pitches were strikes (54%) … only three strikeouts in his last seven innings, which is weird

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