Decoding Didi

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

From the outside way back in 2014, blending in was probably a reasonable thing for fans to expect of Didi Gregorius. He was a fairly nondescript player at that point, having gone from the Reds to the Diamondbacks–hardly high-profile organizations–and he was taking over one of the game’s most important positions from a player that his new fan base had practically canonized. But in that time, Didi has stuck out and become a fan favorite. And in 2017, he’s having himself a career year. After going 2-5 with a double and a homer in last night’s drubbing of the Orioles, Didi is now hitting .325/.346/.497, good for a .357 wOBA and 125 wRC+, all career highs.

When a guy has a big jump in production like this, it’s natural to want to know why and how. Has his approach changed? Has he done something different? At first blush, things seem pretty similar to last year. 2017’s and 2016’s walk and strikeout rates are nearly the same for Didi–in the low 3’s for the former and around 14 for the latter. Maybe he’s hitting the ball harder or distributing his batted balls differently? Nope. Everything looks to be in line with last year and his career norms; in fact, his line drive rate is actually down a bit. To boot, per Statcast, Didi’s exit velocity this year is just a tick below 85 MPH. Where was it last year? Exactly 85 MPH. 2015? 84.8

There also doesn’t seem to be anything to telling in his basic plate discipline profile. He’s swinging more often, by a decent amount, but as evidenced above, he’s not necessarily hitting the ball any harder than he did last year or the year before that. But, he’s still getting more hits. And with that, we go to the last resort: BABIP.

As his exit velocity hints at, Didi has never been one to really sting the ball; that’s reflected in his career BABIP of just .293. Before this year, his career high was in 2015 when he BABIP’d .297. Last year, the mark was .290. This year, Didi’s just hitting ’em where they ain’t, racking up a BABIP of .344. That’d be high regardless, but it looks even more the outlier considering his career mark. There’s a chance we could see a dip in his numbers coming as that BABIP begins to correct itself down towards Sir Didi’s career norms. However, he can still remain productive, given that his HR/FB% is still near 10% , like it was last year.

Didi appears to have changed very little between last year–a previous career year–and this year. The only big change we can see is that big discrepancy in BABIP. Is this looking a gift horse in the mouth? Yeah, probably. But at the same time, a drop in production from Didi won’t sink this team; they’ve got–for the first time in a while–a steady supply of strong bats so that Gregorius doesn’t need to be a leader on offense. While it keeps up, though, it makes this team damn near unstoppable at the plate.

Winning streak hits four as Yankees hammer the O’s 16-3

Good game. Would watch again. The Yankees thoroughly demolished the Orioles on Saturday night. The game had been decided before the end of the second inning. The final score: 16-3. The Yankees have won four straight games and outscored their opponents 41-6 (41-6!) in the process. They are now 36-23 with a +104 run differential this season. That’s tied with the Astros for the best run differential in baseball. I enjoy the 2017 Yankees very much.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Over Early
We’ve seen an awful lot of Chris Tillman over the years — only David Price (33), James Shields (23), and Jon Lester (22) have more starts against the Yankees than Tillman (20) since 2010 — and this just isn’t the same guy anymore. He had a shoulder issue last season and missed the start of this season recovering, and there’s just no life on his pitches. There’s nothing behind his fastball, his curveball is loopy, his location is awful. It’s pretty bad.

Fortunately, Tillman pitches for the Orioles, not the Yankees, so all those lifeless fastballs and rolling curveballs contributed to a six-run first inning and a three-run second inning by the Bronx Bombers. Let’s recap that first inning with an annotated play-by-play, since there’s a whole lot going on.

yankees-vs-orioles-play-by-play-annotated(1) The most amazing thing about that six-run first inning? All the damage happened with two outs. Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks made two quick outs on seven pitches. Then seven straight Yankees reached base with two outs. Geez. Six runs has to be close to the most runs scored this season by any team in an inning in which the first two batters made outs, right? I have to think so.

(2) I’m pretty sure the ball was out of the park before Aaron Judge completed his follow through on the home run. It was a rocket down the left field line that stayed fair by a few feet. The exit velocity: 121.1 mph. 121.1 mph! It is the hardest hit base hit in baseball since Statcast was introduced on Opening Day 2015. That is insane. The home run was No. 20* of the season for Judge.

* Officially, it’s his 19th home run, but I still haven’t forgotten about that stupid triple.

(3) The next three runs happened in a hurry. Seven total pitches. I didn’t expect Matt Holliday to score on Starlin Castro‘s double to left field, and Gary Sanchez was able to pick up the runners with a hard-hit single to left. Gary is really starting to feel it at the plate. You can see it. He’s on almost everything. Or maybe that’s just a product of facing post-injury Price and Tillman within the last few days. Either way, the single stretched the lead to 3-0.

(4) Can we talk about how good Didi Gregorius has been this season? He’s flying under the radar given everything else that has been going on. Gregorius came into this game hitting .322/.344/.473 (118 wRC+) on the season after coming back from the shoulder injury, and he smacked a first pitch two-run home run off Tillman to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead. That officially made it a big inning. Three runs is a good inning. Five runs is a big inning. My blog, my rules.

(5) But wait! The Yankees didn’t stop there. I love those extra tack-on runs after a home run “kills the rally” and caps off the big inning. Chase Headley walked and stole second without a throw, then scored on Chris Carter‘s hard-hit single. Carter’s been hitting the ball much better the last week or so. He hit about three balls right at the third baseman during the Red Sox series. Headley and Carter, the fan favorites, teamed up for that sixth run.

(6) Man, it must suck being the guy who makes two outs in a big inning, as Gardner did in the first. There’s always that one guy who doesn’t join the party, you know?

The six-run first inning was only the start for the offense. Castro turned it loose in a 3-0 count — Tillman had thrown eleven straight balls before that — for a three-run home run in the second inning, ending Tillman’s evening. That made it 9-0 Yankees. Then, in the fourth, Holliday lifted a three-run home run into the right field short porch off Stefan Crichton. Glad to see he was able to find work after Jurassic Park. The Holliday dinger gave the Yankees a 12-0 lead. They scored 12 runs before making their tenth out.

The Yankees added their 13th and 14th runs in the fifth inning on a Judge double to left field. A Gardner single and a Hicks double — the double was a pop-up that fell in after J.J. Hardy and Trey Mancini collided in shallow left field — set that one up. See? Gardner and Hicks got in on the act. Judge doubled three pitches after a hit-by-pitch wasn’t called. It grazed his sleeve as he moved out of the way. Replays showed it pretty clearly. No one noticed. The at-bat continued and Judge doubled in two more runs. This team, man.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Guy On The Mound Is Pretty Good Too
This game will be remembered for the offense and understandably so, but holy smokes, how about Luis Severino? Yet another dominant outing for the youngest player on the roster. He didn’t allow his first baserunner until walking Mark Trumbo to start the fifth inning, and he didn’t allow his first hit until Mancini served a single to right two batters later. Severino escaped that little jam — the Yankees were already up 12-0 at the time — with a strikeout and a weak tapper back to the mound.

Severino allowed four baserunners in seven innings of work. There was the Trumbo walk and Mancini single in the fifth. In the sixth, Ruben Tejada drew a walk and was immediately erased with a double play grounder. Chris Davis hung a run on Severino with a seventh inning solo home run into the visitor’s bullpen. Too bad he couldn’t escape with no runs allowed, but whatever. Two hits, two walks, one run, eight strikeouts in seven innings. That would be the story of the game if the offense hadn’t blown up.

On the season, Severino now has a 2.75 ERA (3.20 FIP) in 12 starts and 75.1 innings. He’s allowed no more than two runs in each of his last five starts, and in six of his last seven starts. His 4.67 K/BB ratio — that’s 84 strikeouts and 18 walks — is fourth highest in the AL and ninth highest among all pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Time to start the All-Star Game campaign. Sevy has been unreal this year.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Leftovers
Joe Girardi had a little fun with his late-inning replacements. Ronald Torreyes replaced Castro at second in the fifth inning and Rob Refsnyder replaced Gardner in the sixth. That’s the easy stuff. In the eighth, Sanchez moved to first base (!) and Austin Romine took over behind the plate. Carter moved from first base to right field (!!!) to give Judge a breather. No balls were hit Carter’s way. Sanchez had to receive some throws from other infielders, all routine.

I don’t even know where to start with the offense. First of all, Sanchez hit a two-run home run in the eighth to make it 16-2 Yankees. He’s now hitting 1.000/1.000/4.000 as a first baseman. Better keep him there long-term. Every starter had a hit and every starter reached base at least twice except Gardner. Only once, in the seventh inning, did the Yankees go down 1-2-3.

Three hits for Judge, who was a triple shy of the cycle and is now hitting .332/.439/.678 (195 wRC+) on the season. Judge, Holliday, Castro, Sanchez, and Gregorius went a combined 13-for-20 (.650) with five doubles, five homers, three walks, and two strikeouts as the 3-4-5-6-7 hitters. Goodness. As a team, the Yankees hit .450/.522/.975 in this game.

Gio Gallegos and Tommy Layne mopped up the last two innings. Girardi got Severino out of there after only 89 pitches. No reason to push him in a game like this. Save those bullets for another day. Gallegos allowed a solo homer to Joey Rickard and Layne allowed a junky run. I blame Layne for the Yankees not being in sole possession of the best run differential in baseball right now.

And finally, Layne allowed his run in the ninth on a Caleb Joseph single. That broke a string of 45 consecutive hitless at-bats with runners in scoring position by Yankees pitchers. The 0-for-45 stretch is tied for the third longest since RISP numbers started being recorded in 1974.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, head over to ESPN. For the video highlights, go to MLB.com. We have a Bullpen Workload page. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The final game of the homestand before the Yankees head out west. Chad Green is starting that game, not Domingo German as previously reported. Girardi confirmed Green is getting the ball during his postgame press conference. German is coming up as the long man, however. Layne was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot. Anyway, Sunday’s game is a regular old 1pm ET start, thankfully.

DotF: Fowler and Andujar both go deep in wins

Triple-A Scranton (11-4 win over Lehigh Valley)

  • CF Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 RBI, 1 K — hitting streak is up to ten games
  • LF Dustin Fowler: 1-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 K — ten homers in 54 games this year … he hit 12 in 132 games last year
  • 1B Greg Bird: 2-5, 2 2B, 1 RBI — he is 9-for-30 (.300) with four doubles, seven walks, and two strikeouts in nine games
  • DH Tyler Austin: 2-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K
  • RF Clint Frazier: 1-3, 2 R, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 SB — nine walks and eight strikeouts in his last eleven games
  • 3B Gleyber Torres: 1-5, 2 K
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 1-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB
  • RHP Bryan Mitchell: 2.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 4/0 GB/FB — 36 of 56 pitches were strikes (64%)
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 28 of 43 pitches were strikes (65%) … 26/13 K/BB in 25.2 total innings this year
  • RHP Ben Heller: 1.2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 14 of 22 pitches were strikes (64%)

[Read more…]

Game 59: Severino Saturday

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have won their last three games and they’re 6-5 in the first eleven games of this 13-game stretch against AL East opponents. Yeah, it would have been nice to grab a few more wins this last week and a half, but today’s game is a chance to clinch a winning record during his 13-game streak, and that’s pretty cool. Win the series. Keep winning series and things will be a-okay, especially since the Yankees are already in first place.

This afternoon the Yankees will have their best starting pitcher on the mound, or, at the very least, their best in the first two months of the season. Luis Severino owns a 2.90 ERA (3.16 FIP) in eleven starts and he looks basically nothing like the pitcher we saw last year. It’s awesome. Severino has not just reverted back to his 2015 form. He’s gotten better. Go Sevy. Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. C Gary Sanchez
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. 1B Chris Carter
    RHP Luis Severino

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. It’s been sunny and warm all day and the sky will be clear tonight. Nice night for a ballgame. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:15pm ET and FOX will have the broadcast. Not YES. Enjoy the game.

Rotation Update: The Yankees still have not named a starting pitcher for tomorrow’s series finale, though Brendan Kuty reports it will be Domingo German. That’s pretty cool. He’s already on the the 40-man roster, and prior to this season, he’d ever pitched above High-A.

Injury Update: Aroldis Chapman (shoulder) threw 18 pitches in a simulated inning against minor leaguers at the complex in Tampa today. He struck out three and walked one. It was his first time facing hitters since going on the disabled list. He will pitch Tuesday for High-A Tampa and Friday for Double-A Trenton, then rejoin the Yankees in Oakland … Jacoby Ellsbury (concussion) won’t travel with the Yankees to the West Coast. He’s going to work out with Double-A Trenton, though he is not yet scheduled to play in any rehab games … There is still no firm timetable for Greg Bird (ankle) to rejoin the Yankees. They want him to continue getting at-bats.

2017 Draft: Pavin Smith

Pavin Smith | 1B

Background
Smith, 21, was selected by the Rockies in the 32nd round of the 2014 draft out of high school, though he didn’t sign and instead followed through on his commitment to Virginia. He’s a career .325/.402/.514 hitter with 28 home runs in 187 games with the Cavaliers. This spring Smith hit .342/.427/.570 with more home runs (13) than strikeouts (12).

Scouting Report
With a 6-foot-2 and 210 lb. frame, Smith is a bat-first prospect with above-average hit and power tools. He’s a left-handed hitter who can drive the ball to all fields and has the innate ability to get the fat part of the bat on the ball. He knows the strike zone and consistently gets himself into hitter’s counts. Defensively, Smith is good around the first base bag and he has a good arm. He’s a good athlete who has played some outfield in the past, though he’s expected to remain at first base long-term, where he has more than enough bat for the position and solid glovework.

Miscellany
MLB.com (8th), Keith Law (12th), and Baseball America (15th) all rank Smith as a top half of the first round talent, though it should be noted he has been slipping to the back-half of the first round in recent mock drafts for whatever reason. The Yankees hold the 16th overall pick. High-end college performers always have a way of coming off the board early, so my gut feeling is Smith gets drafted before the Yankees pick despite what the mock drafts say. If not, he’d be a real coup at No. 16.

2017 Draft: Logan Warmoth

Logan Warmoth | SS

Background
The 21-year-old Warmoth was not drafted out of an Orlando high school in 2014, yet he managed to take over as North Carolina’s starting shortstop as a freshman. He’s a career .310/.378/.453 hitter with the Tar Heels, which includes a .336/.404/.554 line with nine home runs and 18 steals in 63 games this spring. Warmoth hit .270/.330/.450 in the Cape Cod League last year, which is a strong showing with wood bats against elite college pitching.

Scouting Report
Warmoth is a divisive prospect. Those who like him see a line drive right-handed swing and the ability to square up all kinds of pitching. Those who aren’t quite as sold see a guy without one standout tool, just a bunch of average tools. Warmoth has some power and speed, and he has good range and hands in the field. More than a few folks think he’s destined for second base long-term. Everything plays up a bit because Warmoth knows the game well and has great baseball instincts. See him on a good day, and he’ll look like an above-average hitting shortstop. See him on a bad day, and he’ll look like an average hitting second baseman.

Miscellany
The scouting publications are pretty split on Warmoth, though they all agree he’s a first round talent. Keith Law (subs. req’d) is the high man and ranks him as the seventh best prospect in the 2017 draft class. Baseball America ranks him 19th and MLB.com rank him 27th. The Yankees hold the 16th pick. Warmoth is, by far, the best college middle infielder in the draft class, which leads me to believe he’s going to drafted pretty high, possibly before the Yankees pick.

2017 Draft: Evan White

Evan White | 1B

Background
The 21-year-old White was not drafted out of an Ohio high school back in 2014. He is a career .354/.413/.522 hitter with 16 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 157 career games at Kentucky, which includes a .368/.450/.627 batting line and nine homers in 51 games this spring.

Scouting Report
White has a very unique profile. He’s a right-handed hitter and a left-handed thrower, and at the plate he stands out more for his pure hitting ability than his power. The opposite is usually true for most first base prospects. His bat speed and level swing allow him to spray the ball from foul pole and foul pole, and there’s some thought that once he gets into a pro training program and adds muscle to his lanky 6-foot-3, 177 lb. fame, the ball will start carrying over the fence more often. White is a very good athlete and runner, so much so that some believe he could move to center field in pro ball. His hands and footwork around the first base bag are Gold Glove caliber. When you think about a first base prospect, the first thing that comes to mind is a brute masher with power. That’s not White. He’s very well-rounded with the biggest current shortcoming being over-the-fence power.

Miscellany
White has been among the most notable risers in the draft class this spring. He’s been climbing draft boards steadily. Baseball America ranks him as the 12th best prospect in the draft class while MLB.com ranks him 18th and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranks him 33rd. The Yankees hold the 16th overall pick. College bats are always in demand and I get the sense White will be off the board before the Yankees get a chance to pick. If not, betting on his pure hitting ability and athleticism would be a pretty interesting move for the Yankees, especially if they think he can handle center field.