Game 152: Finish the Sweep

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

So the first two games of this important series against the Twins have gone well. The Yankees won both and are now a season high 17 games over .500. It’s the first time they’ve been 17 games over .500 since late in the 2015 season. Also, the Yankees are now six games up on the Twins for the first wildcard spot and 7.5 games up on the Angels for a wildcard spot in general. Pretty cool.

On the mound going for the sweep this afternoon is Luis Severino, who wasn’t going to make this start originally. The Yankees shifted gears a day or two ago. Why? Because hiding Severino from the Twins until the Wild Card Game is overrated — he’s faced lots of team multiple times this year and it hasn’t seemed to help anyone — and, more importantly, they want to be able to start him in Game 162 if the division is winnable. Focus on today though. Get the sweep and bury the Twins. Here is the Twins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

It is cloudy and windy yet again in New York today. Par for the course these days. Fortunately there is no rain in the forecast. At least nothing heavy. This afternoon’s series finale will begin at 1:05pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Afternoon game on ESPN? Huh. Anyway, enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (oblique) is heading to Tampa to get at-bats in Instructional League. That is the only place to get at-bats now aside from the big leagues. The hope is he’ll return sometime next week … Adam Warren (back) threw a bullpen session today. He’ll throw another in the coming days and, if deemed necessary, he’ll pitch in a simulated game after that.

The Yankees are reportedly “very interested” in Alex Cobb, but should they be?

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

This offseason the Yankees will have to replace at least one, and possibly two, starting pitchers. CC Sabathia is due to become a free agent and Masahiro Tanaka could opt-out of his contract. I think it’ll happen. Even if it doesn’t, the Yankees will still need to replace Sabathia. And hey, maybe they’ll just re-sign Sabathia. I’d be cool with it. Sabathia is still the man.

Inevitably, the Yankees will be connected to several free agent pitchers this offseason, including the top guys like Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. Even when the Yankees aren’t interested, agents say they are because it’s good for their clients, and the Yankees usually play ball because it means an opposing team will have to pay more. I would be surprised if the Yankees signed a top free agent this winter though. We’ll see.

Among the many mid-range free agents due to hit the market this offseason is Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, who we’ve seen plenty of times over the years. The splitter specialist has a 3.63 ERA (4.15 FIP) in 173.1 innings this season, his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Cobb, who turns 30 in two weeks, threw 309.2 innings with a 2.82 ERA (3.29 FIP) from 2013-14, before blowing out his elbow.

According to Nick Cafardo, the Yankees are among the teams “very interested” in Cobb. I had a feeling a “Yankees like Alex Cobb” report was coming at some point. On the surface, this makes sense. The Yankees need a starter, Cobb is AL battle tested, and he shouldn’t cost as much as Darvish or Arrieta (or Tanaka). Does that make him a good target though? Let’s look under the hood a bit.

1. His ground ball rate is trending down. During his peak years from 2013-14, Cobb ran a 56.0% ground ball rate, fourth highest among the 86 pitches to throw at least 300 innings those seasons. This year Cobb is down to a 47.7% ground ball rate, which isn’t awful, but it took a recent spike just to get it that high:

alex-cobb-grounders

Granted, we have to cut Cobb some slack here because this is his first full season following Tommy John surgery, but how much slack is appropriate? Losing close to ten percentage points off your ground ball rate following elbow reconstruction is not insignificant.

2. The splitter has stopped getting swings and misses. In addition to all the ground balls, Cobb also ran a healthy 22.5% strikeout rate from 2013-14, so he combined the best of both worlds. Strikeouts and grounders. His success was not a mirage. Cobb was a bat missing, ground ball generating machine from 2013-14.

This season Cobb’s strikeout rate is down to 17.3%, which ranks 50th among the 63 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. The swing-and-miss rate on his splitter tells you all you need to know:

alex-cobb-splitter-whiff-rate

Hmmm. That doesn’t look good. The splitter is Cobb’s go to pitch. Take that pitch away from him and he’s not the same guy. Imagine Tanaka without his splitter? Well, we don’t have to imagine, we saw it earlier this season. For whatever reason Tanaka’s splitter wasn’t behaving properly earlier this year, and he was throwing batting practice. Cobb hasn’t been that bad. But how much longer until he is that bad? Bottom line: his splitter has not been a quality swing-and-miss offering. That undeniably cuts into his effectiveness.

3. Hitters are making much more hard contact. Not surprisingly, Cobb is allowing more hard contact this season, and that’s never good. When your trademark pitch isn’t working, it affects everything. Cobb’s fastball isn’t as effective as usual because hitters don’t have to worry so much about the split. Anyway, here’s his hard contact rate:

alex-cobb-hard-contact

Yeah. That’s not good. Fewer strikeouts plus fewer ground balls plus more hard contact is not a good combination. That’s why Cobb has gone from a 2.82 ERA pre-Tommy John surgery to a (not bad!) 3.63 ERA post-Tommy John surgery. There are enough red flags here to be skeptical of Cobb going forward.

* * *

It is so very easy to look at a potential trade or free agent target and come with reasons not to pursue him. I know I am guilty of it. All the time. So, for the sake of looking at both sides, what are some of the reasons to pursue Cobb as a free agent this offseason? First of all, if a 3.63 ERA (4.15 FIP) and not missing a start constitutes a down season, you’re pretty darn good. Two, Cobb has shown he can succeed in the tough AL East. That’s cool.

And three — and this might be the biggest reason to buy into Cobb long-term — it’s not unreasonable to think his performance will improve as he gets further away from Tommy John surgery. This is his first full season back. He’s shaking off the rust. Cobb’s not old — again, he’ll turn 30 in two weeks — so there should still be a few years of peak or near-peak performance coming. He’s essentially a high-end bounceback candidate.

I am curious to see how Cobb’s market shakes out this offseason. I get the sense he’s going to be a very popular player with basically every contender in the mix. Want him? You’re going to have to outbid the Cubs, the Red Sox, the Nationals, the Cardinals, the Angels, the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks … every contender is going to show interest in this guy. Even though Cobb comes with some very real red flags, there are also reasons to be optimistic. I’m not 100% sold on him as a free agent target at the moment, but this offseason, he’ll be very in demand, and the Yankees figure to be among his suitors.

Yankees 5, Twins 2: Sabathia tosses six solid, bats score runs here and there

Good game. Would watch again. Old man CC Sabathia held his own and the bullpen did their thing. The bats did not take advantage of a lot of the RISP advantages, but they scored enough runs to get the game win and the series win. Because the Red Sox won yet another extra innings game at Baltimore, the AL East deficit remains at 3. Oh well. Anyways, let’s recap this thing.

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

The only two runs allowed

The Twins got the bases loaded awful quick in the first inning – in four pitches, to be precise. Brian Dozier singled on the first pitch to get it going and Joe Mauer *and* Jorge Polanco both bunted for a single. Not gonna lie, that’s a hell of a strategy. Whether it angers Sabathia or not, I don’t know why more teams don’t do it. However, Eduardo Escobar quickly grounded into an easy 6-4-3 double play to do CC a favor. Sure, they scored a run but it also raised the out count from zero to two. Also it was very early on in the game and you could count on the Yankee bats to make up for it (they did).

Flash forward to the top of the third, with the game tied at 1-1, Sabathia allowed a leadoff homer to Max Kepler. He tried to sneak a slider into the zone but it hung like it was placed on a tee. Kepler, who came into the game with a .375 OPS (!) against lefties this season, did not miss any of it. In the tale of unlikely outcome, that was also the first home run that Sabathia allowed to lefties all year. Stuff like this happens. From there though, CC went on a roll, retiring the next ten hitters in a row until Dozier singled in the top of the sixth. Sabathia ended up pitching six full innings while allowing two runs while striking out five – while needing only 77 pitches (51 strikes). I’ll take this outing from him any day. After tonight’s win, Sabathia improved to a 12-5 record with 3.81 ERA.

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

Runs despite RISPFails

Jose Berrios is a pretty damn good young pitcher. He faced the Yankees once prior to today and got a win on a 1-ER, 6.1 IP outing. However tonight, the Yankee bats made him work. In only 3.1 IP of work, the young righty threw 90 pitches and walked four. That’s a heck of a thing to do against a starter who carried a 2.78 BB/9 IP into the game. Because of the early departure, the Twins had to tap deep into their bullpen for rest of the game and ended up using seven relievers. Gotta love expanded rosters.

The Yankees, even when they did not score, kept stacking up baserunners and increasing pitch counts. In the bottom of the first, they had an Aaron Judge single and Didi Gregorius walk to put two runners on but failed to score. The next inning, however, they did. Starlin Castro drew a walk to lead it off. While both Jacoby Ellsbury popped out and Todd Frazier flied out to alleviate the situation for Berrios, Greg Bird worked a walk and Brett Gardner came to rescue by hitting an RBI double to the left center. Judge followed it up with a big fly ball that he just missed and was caught by the CF Byron Buxton. Could have been a more exciting inning but he just got under the ball. Oh well.

Two innings later, with the Twins leading 2-1, the Yankees made another rally to get ahead. Ellsbury’s double and Bird’s walk made it two runners on with one out. Gardner, who came up clutch the previous time up, did it once again by squaring an RBI single to tie the game and knock Berrios out of the game. Paul Molitor put in Alan Busenitz to face Judge. The righty uncorked a wild pitch that advanced both runners to the scoring position and Judge hit another big fly ball that did not quite reach to the seats – but good enough for a go-ahead sac fly. 3-2 Yankees.

The Yankees added on another in the bottom of the fifth. Facing the former Mets great Dillon Gee, the Yankees loaded the bases with a Chase Headley HBP, a Castro single and a Frazier walk. With Bird coming up with bases loaded and two outs, Molitor put in the lefty Buddy Boshers (what a great name) to face him. Bird hit a grounder to the 1B Mauer… who could not handle it. Mauer is usually sure-handed at first base and he just happened to have made an error in that crucial spot. A one-run game became a two-run one and that’s a big deal when you’re facing the Yankee bullpen. New York added one more in the bottom of the sixth. Judge and Gary Sanchez hit back-to-back singles against Ryan Pressly. Gregorius lined out to second sharply and Headley struck out to make it two outs pretty quick. However, Castro hit a single right past the second baseman Dozier to give the Yankees a 5-2 lead. The score would stay that way for good.

Lost in all that scoring is that they did leave a whopping 14 runners left stranded this game. It would have been much more annoying had the Yankee pitcher allowed a couple more runs, but you know what, once they took that 3-2 lead, they did not look back.

Leftovers

Told you that the bullpen did their job, right? After Sabathia’s 6 innings Chad Green, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman took care of an inning each to close it out tidily. Green did not have his best outing – allowing a walk and a hit while striking out no one – but, as they say, he got the job done. That was only the fifth time this season that Green pitched without a strikeout. Au contraire, D-Rob was lights out, striking out the side in a perfect frame. Chapman, coming off of a five-out save from last night, got the fastball up to 103 mph and struck out one en route to his 20th save of the season. Chapman has been very good in September, allowing 0 runs while striking out 13 in 8 innings. Need him to keep that going while Dellin figures it out.

Judge had a rare strikeout-less game. He went 2-for-4 with a sac fly. It was something a bit different especially considering that the two hits were singles. Speaking of hits, both Gardner and Castro had three hits each and three RBI’s combined.

Box score, video highlights, updated standings and WPA

Here are tonight’s box score and updated standings from ESPN, video highlights from MLB.com and WPA from Fangraphs.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees will look to sweep the Twins tomorrow in an afternoon game at the Bronx. Luis Severino will be on the mound against the 2011 Yankee great Bartolo Colon.

Game 151: Beat the Twins, again

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

You know, I incorrectly labeled yesterday’s game thread Game 149 instead of Game 150, and either no one noticed or no one bothered to tell me so I could correct it. Not sure what’s worse, to be honest.

Anyway, the Yankees and Twins are back at this evening, with the second game of their three-game series. The Yankees won the opener last night, giving them a five-game lead over Minnesota for the top wildcard spot. The race isn’t over, but a five-game lead with 12 games to play? I like the Yankees’ chances. Here is the Twins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

It’s raining sideways in New York. Lots of rain and lots of wind. The rain is supposed to slow down a bit before first pitch, though it’s not supposed to stop completely for another hour or two. We might be starting in a delay. Yuck. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the game.

Rotation Update: Luis Severino, not Masahiro Tanaka, will start tomorrow’s series finale. This gives the Yankees the option of starting Severino three times before the end of the regular season, which could come in handy if they’re in position to win the division. Make sense.

Update (6:50pm ET): The game will indeed start in a rain delay. No word on a start time yet.

Update (7:36pm ET): The field is being de-tarped and the Yankees say the game will start at 8:10pm ET.

Chase Headley has been a difference-maker for the Yankees in the second half

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

These last 18 months have been a pretty hectic ride for third baseman turned first baseman Chase Headley. Headley, as I’m sure you remember, got off to that dreadful start last season before kicking it into gear in May. This year he started great in April, slumped horribly in May, and has been very good since.

Here, to really drive home the point, is Headley’s production since the start of last season:

chase-headley-2016-17-wrc

The peaks are high and the valleys are very deep. I mean, Headley hit .150/.268/.150 (22 wRC+) last April and .165/.211/.235 (14 wRC+) this May. Brutal. Legitimately one of the worst hitters in baseball (if not the worst) both months. Fans seem to have a very love-hate relationship with Headley based on his production. Well, maybe it’s more like tolerate-hate than love-hate. Whatever.

Anyway, since breaking out of that ugly May slump a few weeks back, Headley has been one of the most productive and most consistent Yankees at the plate. He’s hitting .307/.383/.454 (123 wRC+) since June 1st, a span of 364 plate appearances. Does he hit for power? Goodness no. Headley has nine homers in those 364 plate appearances despite the ball being juiced and his home ballpark being Yankee Stadium.

The lack of power is an obvious flaw in Headley’s game. He has hit for average and done an excellent job getting on base since June 1st, and that is pretty darn important. You can live with a lack of power when a guy is hitting over .300 and getting on base a ton. Also, within that overall improvement has been a considerable uptick in production against left-handed pitchers. To wit:

  • First half vs. LHP: .195/.222/.287 (29 wRC+) with 3.3% walks and 28.9% strikeouts
  • Second half vs. LHP: .362/.406/.621 (169 wRC+) with 7.8% walks and 10.9% strikeouts

Two totally different players. Of course Headley is not really as good against lefties as he has been the last few weeks, nor is he really as bad against lefties as he was the first half of the season. The truth is in the middle somewhere. Consistency would be nice, but you know what? Headley’s been great against southpaws for weeks now and it’s helped the Yankees win a lot of games. Better late than never.

Here’s the thing that really stands out about Headley’s second half performance: he’s done all this while moving to first base almost seamlessly. And maybe the move to first base and offensive uptick are connected. Headley could feel more comfortable at first base and it’s helping at the plate? I suppose so, except the hot streak started in early June and Headley didn’t shift to first until the Todd Frazier trade in mid-July.

Either way, Headley shifted to first base and took to the position very well. He had some experience there (58 total innings prior to 2017), so it wasn’t completely new to him, but he’d never played the position full-time. Headley’s inexperience still rears its ugly head at times — he’ll often range too far to his right for a ground ball when he should let the second baseman field it — but, generally speaking, he’s fared well over there. He’s been, by far, the team’s best first baseman this year. (That is both a compliment to Headley and an indictment of the other first basemen.)

The Yankees have dealt with a number of injuries (Matt Holliday, Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks) and underperformers (Aaron Judge, Castro and Holliday when healthy) in the second half, yet they’ve avoided a collapse in the standings — at 38-26, the Yankees have the AL’s second best record since the All-Star break, behind only the Indians (46-17) — thanks in part to Headley. He’s been an impact hitter for more than three months now, and he’s helped shore up a major weakness with the transition to first base. Getting this kind of performance from Headley is one of the reasons the Yankees are set to return to the postseason.

Todd Frazier wants to re-sign with the Yankees and he’s open to changing positions to make it happen

Ozakar's side (Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees won for the 12th time in their last 16 games last night — they blew a four-run lead and a five-run lead in two of the losses, which is annoying — and did so thanks in part to Todd Frazier, who drove in the game-inning run with a sixth inning sac fly. Not the sexiest play, but it helped win the game.

In his nine weeks as a Yankee, Frazier is hitting .226/.371/.439 (118 wRC+) with  ten home runs in 55 games, and that is pretty much exactly who he is as a hitter. He hits for a low average, but he gets on base a bunch and will sock dingers. His OBP is actually inflated a bit by hit-by-pitches. Frazier has been hit by (a team leading!) ten pitches with the Yankees already. He was hit by four with the White Sox this year and eleven total from 2015-16. Huh.

So far Frazier has done pretty much exactly what the Yankees hoped he’d do after the trade. He’s been an offensive upgrade over the hodgepodge of first basemen and a defensive upgrade as well. And he seems to have fit in well in the clubhouse, which is no surprise given his reputation. Frazier seems to genuinely love playing in New York, so much so that he’s indicated a willingness to change positions to stay in pinstripes.

“It’s a pleasure coming in here everyday,”said Frazier to Brendan Kuty recently. “I would love to have this challenge and I would love to play for this city for the rest of my life. I think it would be awesome … I could still play other positions. I know I can. I did it for the first three years with the Reds. I did rather well out there. I’m not afraid to change positions.”

Frazier did play several positions earlier in his career. He was drafted as a shortstop and eventually moved to second in the minors, then third. He played a handful of games in left field for the Reds back in the day and plenty more in the minors. Can he play those positions now, at age 31 (32 in February), when he’s been a full-time third baseman for the last five years? Eh, maybe. I don’t think it’s a given though.

Give the Yankees a truth serum, and I’m sure they’d tell you they want Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres (and Miguel Andujar!) to grab full-time roster spots at some point next season. Maybe not on Opening Day, but at some point in 2018. That’s the next phase of the youth movement. Frazier and Matt Holliday are both impending free agents, so the Yankees have two lineup spots opening up. Signing at least one stopgap veteran seems like a given.

The x-factor here is first base. I like Greg Bird. Seems like a good dude. But he’s some major problems staying on the field the last two seasons. The fact of the matter is Bird has not been a productive MLB player in two years now, since his 2015 debut, and I’m not sure there’s anything he could realistically do the rest of this season to alleviate any concerns going into next year. He’s going to be a question mark. Again.

A stopgap veteran who can play multiple positions, provide some first base insurance, and be gently pushed aside when the kids are ready strikes me as an offseason priority. Frazier could be that guy, depending how the Yankees feel about his ability to play first base and left field. And what will it cost to sign him? That’s the big question. I suspect some team is going to offer a multi-year deal to play third base full-time, and I don’t see the Yankees matching that.

For now, Frazier has brought stability to the lineup and defense, and he’s come up with some big hits (and sac flies) along the way too. We’ve seen other rental players parlay strong late season performances into new contracts (coughIchirocough), so it’s not crazy to suggest Frazier could do the same. His potential contract and the youth movement do complicate things slightly.

Yankees have little choice but to demote Dellin Betances and hope he figures things out in lower leverage spots

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

In what has been an ongoing theme all season, the Yankees have a problem in their bullpen. They’ve never had everyone clicking at once. Not even for a game or two, it seems. There’s always been that one guy who is out of sorts. It was Tyler Clippard for a while, then Adam Warren, then Dellin Betances, then Aroldis Chapman. On and on. All season long there’s been someone struggling.

The problem right now is, again, Betances, who faced four batters last night and recorded one out, on a gift bunt. He hit a batter and walked the other two. Overall, Betances now has a 17.3% walk rate this season — that’s 43 walks to 249 batters faced in 56.2 innings — and he’s also hit ten batters. Ten! He hit eight batters total from 2014-16. Only nine pitchers have hit more batters than Betances this season and they’re all starters.

“(Sunday) he located extremely well and I thought it was a game that got him back on track. Today it kinda reared its ugly head again. We’ll keep trying to figure it out,” said Joe Girardi following last night’s game and Dellin’s latest rough outing. “I haven’t really made any decisions (about roles). We just came off a pretty emotional game and a big win. We’ve got to get him straightened out because he’s really important to us moving forward.”

Here’s the thing to understand about Betances: it’s not command. Command is painting the corners and dotting the knees. He’s never had good command, even when he’s been great. Betances has had basic strike-throwing problems pretty much all season. We’re talking simple “throw the ball over the plate” stuff. Dellin’s stuff is good enough that he can get outs and swings and misses in the strike zone. Just getting the ball over the plate is the problem right now.

Girardi can be loyal to a fault at times, though he has demoted relievers when their performance warranted such a demotion this season. Clippard eventually stopped seeing high-leverage work. Chapman lost the closer’s job for a while. And now it’s time to move Betances out of a late-inning role until he straightens things out. I mean, last night was Game 150 of the season. The time for patience is over. It’s time to take away some responsibility and try to get him right in lower leverage spots.

The Yankees are fortunate right now to have a) a fairly sizeable lead in the wildcard race, and b) a pretty deep bullpen. Chapman seems to be back on track, meaning David Robertson can set up and Chad Green can still do his multi-inning fireman thing. Tommy Kahnle has been better of late too, so there’s your fourth option. Imagine being able to demote your four-time All-Star setup man and still have those guys to lean on? Pretty cool.

Can the Yankees get Betances on track? I mean, maybe. It could click tomorrow. It’s difficult to predict things with Dellin, who has a long history of losing the strike zone and finding it again. Until he finds it though — and he might not find it, that’s the problem — Girardi and the Yankees should not, you know, use him in one-run games against the team chasing you in the standings like last night. Let someone else handle those big spots for the time being.

There are 12 games and 13 days remaining the regular season. That’s all. There’s not much time for Dellin to hopefully figure things out, but the Yankees have to hope he does, because they’re a better team when he’s dominating. With any luck, they’ll clinch a postseason spot soon, giving them the luxury of using Betances in any situation without concern for the standings. A few meaningless game to close out the regular season would be nice.

Until that happens though, Betances’ control problems are too great to ignore, and he shouldn’t see high-leverage work at all. Chapman was demoted from his familiar closer’s role a few weeks ago because it was the best thing for the team, and now it’s time to demote Betances from his familiar eighth inning role because it’s the best thing for the team. The best thing for the team and the best thing for Dellin too.