Thoughts following the 2017 Wild Card Game

(Getty)
(Getty)

Hey, did I call a comeback win yesterday or what? I even called the Yankees coming back from an early Eddie Rosario two-run home run. Yeah the inning was wrong and the final score was wrong and all that, but I was close! Anyway, the Yankees won last night’s thrilling Wild Card Game and will now take on the Indians in the ALDS. That series starts Thursday. I have some thoughts on last night and things going forward.

1. Man, what a stinker by Luis Severino. I still love the kid, but damn. That was bad, Sevy. Bad bad bad. He was pretty clearly amped up. The sky high velocity and big time missed location tell us he was overthrowing. That kinda stuff can happen when you throw a 23-year-old kid into a pressure packed situation. That’s baseball. I didn’t like the boos though. I mean, I get it, but the Yankees aren’t in the postseason without Severino. No doubt about that. Hopefully Severino got those postseason jitters out of the way last night, learns from the whole experience, and is better for it moving forward. He learned from his struggles last season, remember. This isn’t a guy who struggles and lets it snowball. Severino has had a tough time and rebounded before. Now the Yankees need him to do it again.

2. Speaking of Severino, when does he pitch in the ALDS? He threw only 29 pitches last night. I don’t think the Yankees would bring him back for Game One tomorrow. That’s a little too quick of a turnaround. Could he start Game Two though? That’d be pretty huge, because then he could start Game Two and a potential Game Five on normal rest. Had he thrown a full start last night, Severino would’ve been out of action until Game Three of the ALDS, meaning he could only make one start in the series. Now there’s at least a chance he makes two. Maybe, instead of starting him in Game Two, the Yankees use Severino in relief in Game One? Joe Girardi said last night Chad Green and David Robertson probably won’t be available Thursday following their extended outings in the Wild Card Game. Severino could instead throw an inning or two out of the bullpen tomorrow, then start Game Three as scheduled. I dunno, they’d be jerking the kid around quite a bit. We’ll see. Starting Severino in Game Two seems like a possibility now though.

3. How locked in is Aaron Judge? He singled in the first inning last night, hit a two-run home run in the fourth, just missed another home run — he pulled it foul — before drawing a walk in the seventh, and crushed a loud fly ball to center field in the eighth. Judge was on everything. Even his two outs, a ground out in the second and the fly out in the eighth, were hard-hit. He finished the regular season strong — Judge hit .311/.463/.889 (233 wRC+) with 15 freaking home runs in September — and it sure looks like it carried over into the postseason. It is really, really impressive how he bounced back from that ugly six or seven week slump after the All-Star break. Judge doesn’t get enough credit for being such a smart natural hitter. That was always the book on him in the minors. He had good pure hitting ability but no one knew whether his body would allow that ability to shine. Well, it is shining, and holy crap is it fun. This guy is a superstar in every way. We saw it again last night.

(Getty)
(Getty)

4. Can we talk about Brett Gardner for a bit? What a ballplayer that guy is. The three-run first inning rally started with a Gardner walk, then he hit a solo homer in the second, then he singled in front of Judge’s two-run home run in the fourth. Plus he made that great running catch on Joe Mauer’s deep fly ball to end the sixth inning. Gardner went 2-for-4 with a walk, a homer, and three runs scored last night, and he saw 25 total pitches. And he made that catch. He hit .264/.350/.428 (109 wRC+) and went 20-20 while again playing great defense during the regular season, meaning he was yet again a +3 WAR player. The bullpen and the Didi Gregorius and Judge home runs are going to get all the attention and deservedly so. But Gardner had a huge impact on last night’s game, on both sides of the ball. Do not overlook his importance to the team. He’s a heart and soul player for the Yankees.

5. If there was any question as to whether Joe Girardi trusts Dellin Betances right now, it was answered emphatically last night. The Yankees rolled through Green and Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, and Betances never even warmed up in a winner-take-all game. That never would’ve happened from 2014-16. Heck, Chasen Shreve even warmed up last night. In the eighth inning! Dellin is that far out of the Circle of Trust™ right now. And he deserves to be. Betances finished the regular season with a 16.9% walk rate and 55 walks plus hit batsmen in 59.2 innings. Unacceptable. I hate using that word, but 55 free baserunners in 59.2 innings from a high-leverage reliever is unacceptable. If at all possible, Girardi should avoid Dellin in high-leverage situations. I have no trouble with how he handled things last night. The thing is, the Yankees are going to need Betances at some point this postseason, maybe tomorrow with Green and Robertson presumably unavailable. They can’t avoid him forever, and they can’t let him sit too long between appearances either. My guess is Betances will throw a bullpen session or simulated game during today’s workout to stay sharp, but nothing heavy enough that it’ll take him out of action tomorrow.

6. I’m curious to see what happens with the DH spot going forward. The Indians do not have any lefties in the rotation, so I have to think Matt Holliday will remain glued to the bench. He can’t face righties, especially righties with good velocity, and the Indians have plenty of those guys. Righties chewed him up in the second half. I don’t think Girardi wants to leave Chase Headley sitting around too long. The Indians have some very good individual baserunners (Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez), but overall, they are not an aggressive baserunning team and they don’t take the extra base a whole lot. Perhaps it’s not imperative to have Aaron Hicks and his arm in center field. So then Headley at DH and Jacoby Ellsbury in center field? I dunno. I’d rather keep Hicks in center and in the lineup, and let Headley and Ellsbury split time at DH. That’d be my ideal situation.

7. Last but not least, I don’t want to hear anything about the new Yankee Stadium lacking energy after last night. That place was rockin’. The stands were shaking and the crowd was electric. The old Yankee Stadium has been romanticized into something it never was. It was never packed with a postseason atmosphere with regularity during the regular season. That game last night was as loud as any postseason game I’ve ever attended at the old ballpark. Turns out you just need a good and fun team to liven the place up.

Yankees 8, Twins 4: Bullpen carries the Yankees to the ALDS

Never doubt the Fighting Spirit. The Yankees are heading to the ALDS after rallying from a big early deficit in the AL Wild Card Game on Tuesday night, eventually earning an 8-4 win over the Twins. The bullpen, man. What an unbelievable job by those guys. We all knew they’d play a big role. Just didn’t expect it to be this big a role.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Sevy & Out
So that was pretty much the worst case scenario, right? Brian Dozier hit Luis Severino‘s fifth pitch of the night over the left field wall for a leadoff home run, and Eddie Rosario hit Severino’s 17th pitch of the night out to left field for a two-run home run and a quick 3-0 lead. That’s a good way to take the wind out of everyone’s sails, eh?

Severino lasted one (1) out in the Wild Card Game. Homer, foul out, walk, homer, single, double, showers. Brutal. To me, Severino looked to be overthrowing, probably because he was amped up. His first pitch was 100 mph and his location was terrible, and when velocity is up and location is bad, it usually means overthrowing. Getting one out from your starter in an eliminate game is suboptimal.

Oh Yes In-Didi
Fortunately, the Twins had Ervin Santana on the mound, and Big Erv does not like pitching in Yankee Stadium. He went into the Wild Card Game having allowed 25 runs and a .310/.379/.486 batting line against in 35 career innings at the ballpark. That’s a 6.43 ERA. Falling behind 3-0 early was daunting, but anyone who’s watched this Yankees team all year knows the game wasn’t over.

The Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the first with a tried and true formula: a walk, a bloop, and a blast. Brett Gardner worked the walk, Aaron Judge dunked the single in center, and Didi Gregorius brought the damn house down with a three-run home to right field. The home run was awesome, clearly. But how about Judge’s single? He reached way out to poke a slider back up the middle:

aaron-judge-ervin-santana1

Just like that, a 3-0 deficit became a 3-3 game. The Yankees were back in business. And in the second, they took a 4-3 lead when Gardner yanked a solo home run into the right field second deck. Santana buzzed him up and in a pitch earlier, so when Gardner hit the homer, he dropped his bat and stared Santana down. Can you imagine? Gardner is usually a no nonsense put your head down and run guy, and here is pimping homers. What a time to be alive.

The Yankees scored their fifth run in the third inning, when it looked like they were all set to strand Gary Sanchez following his leadoff double. Gregorius and Starlin Castro struck out, but Greg Bird picked them up with a single to right field. Sanchez chugged all the way around from second to score a run to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead. In the next inning, Gardner dunked a single to left and Judge smashed a two-run home run for a 7-4 lead.

The best part of the Judge homer? He actually showed some emotion. Check it out. Judge, as awesome as he is, is one boring dude. He puts his head down and runs, and never admires his homers. I get it, but it is boring. Nice to see the big guy show a little emotion. Judge celebrated that homer like a kid in Little League. It’s okay to have a little fun out there, especially when you sock dingers in the postseason.

That 7-4 lead held up until the seventh inning — we’ll get to the bullpen in a sec, don’t worry — when the Yankees tacked on another insurance run. They very nearly blew a bases loaded, no outs situation. A walk (Judge), a single plus an error (Sanchez), and an intentional walk (Gregorius) loaded the bases. A Castro pop-up and a Bird strikeout later, the Yankees had the bases loaded with two outs. Oy vey. Fortunately Aaron Hicks, whose arm never came into play, got the run home with a walk. His fourth bases loaded walk of the year. This one was on four pitches too. Hey, I’ll take it. That 7-4 lead became an 8-4 lead.

(Presswire)
Yes. (Presswire)

Greenie & Robbie, Earlier Than Expected
I figured Chad Green would be the first man out of the bullpen whenever Severino got into trouble. I just didn’t think he’d enter the game in the first inning. Good gravy. And, no joke, that first inning might’ve been the biggest moment in the game. The Yankees were down 3-0 and the Twins had runners on second and third with one out when Green entered the game. He struck out Byron Buxton and Jason Castro to escape the jam. Some numbers:

  • Green escapes jam with 3-0 deficit: 29.6% win probability
  • Green allows the two inherited runners to score: 15.3% win probability

Pretty huge swing there. A 3-0 deficit stinks, but is not insurmountable. A 5-0 deficit is much more deflating. Preventing the Twins from adding any runs there — anyone gonna talk about their failures with runners in scoring position or is that reserved for the Yankees? — was big. Real big. Green escaped that first inning jam, tossed a scoreless second inning, then started to run out of gas in the third. He loaded the bases with one out on a single and two walks. Not great.

In came David Robertson, the eighth inning turned third inning guy. The Twins tied the game on a Buxton fielder’s choice — he’s so damn fast, there was no chance to turn the double play — but Roberston otherwise escaped the inning. Then he tossed a scoreless fourth inning. And a scoreless fifth inning. Then he went out for the sixth too. He’d thrown 31 pitches up to that point, and I was 100% cool with sending Robertson back out. Get as much out of him as you can.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

That sixth inning got a little messy because Robertson was visibly fatigued. He allowed a leadoff single to Zack Granite and two-out walk to Dozier. Joe Girardi came out to talk to Robertson in the middle of the inning, and apparently Robertson talked him into staying in the game, because he wasn’t lifted. The crowd enjoyed that. The walk ended Robertson’s outing. Career-high 3.1 innings on a career-high 51 pitches. Crazy.

So it’s the sixth inning and the Yankees had already used Severino, Green, and Robertson. Not great, but at least they had a three-run lead. Except Joe Mauer represented the tying run was at the plate, and he’s quite good. Girardi clearly does not trust Dellin Betances — he had Chasen Shreve warming before Dellin — so he handed the ball to Tommy Kahnle instead. I thought it would be CC Sabathia, but nope.

Kahnle escaped that sixth inning jam with some help from Gardner, who ran down Mauer’s deep drive in the left field corner. It was a heck of a lot closer to a game-tying home run than I thought it’d be. It chased Gardner to the wall. An out’s an out though. The Yankees were through six. Kahnle went back for the seventh and retired the side on 12 pitches. Girardi sent him back out for the eighth, and he retired the side on 15 pitches. It helped that Granite literally missed the first base bag on a would-be infield single.

What in tarnation. Granite hit a grounder that Bird had to field on the grass and flip to Kahnle, Kahnle dropped said flip and Granite, had he actually touched first base, would’ve been safe. Instead, he ran through the bag, Castro picked up the ball and tagged him out. Imagine if a Yankee had done that. Crazy. Twins need to work on those fundies in Spring Training last year, like actually stepping on first base.

Kahnle, who three days ago was yanked after allowing an infield single and a walk, went out and retired all seven batters he faced in 2.1 innings of no effs given relief. Amazing. Kahnle is going to go all 1996 David Weathers on us this postseason, you watch. Aroldis Chapman did the damn thing in the ninth — he did allow a single to Mauer, but whatever — to close this one out. The bullpen: 8.2 IP, 5 IP, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 13 K. Unreal. Absolutely unreal. Green to Robertson to Kahnle to Chapman. Just like we all drew it up.

The Wrath of Kahnle. (Presswire)
The Wrath of Kahnle. (Presswire)

Leftovers
Gardner, Judge, and Sanchez each had two hits. They went a combined 6-for-12 with two homers, a double, and two walks. Those guys drove in three runs and scored seven. The other six hitters in the lineup went a combined 3-for-21 (.143). Gregorius had the big three-run home run, Bird drove in a run with his single, and Hicks beat out an infield single. He also drew the bases loaded walk.

Pretty terrible game for Castro, who went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and also let a field-able ground ball get by him for a single in the sixth inning. Not great, Starlin. Jacoby Ellsbury and Todd Frazier both went 0-for-4 as well. Frazier did drive a ball to the wall in center field that Buxton reeled in. Buxton crashed into the wall and later left the game with an injury.

And finally, Sanchez took a brutal foul tip right to the biscuits in the sixth inning. It was bad, man. Real bad. I’m glad Gary has already had a kid because I’m not sure things down there are going to be working properly for a little while. Make sure you check out Robertson’s reaction to the foul tip. Priceless.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN has the box score and updated standings — not that we need them anymore — and MLB.com has the video highlights. Here’s our Bullpen Workload page and here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
An actual postseason series. The Yankees will face the Indians in the ALDS. Oh boy. The best-of-five series starts Thursday with Game One in Cleveland. Trevor Bauer, not Corey Kluber, will be on the mound in that game. The Yankees haven’t announced their Game One starter yet. I assume it’ll be Sonny Gray. Baseball is fun, yes?

2017 AL Wild Card Game Thread: Twins at Yankees

2017_wild_card_game_logoSo here we are. The Wild Card Game. The Yankees enjoyed a tremendously successful regular season, one in which they went 91-71 with the sport’s second best run differential (+198), but a few too many blown leads mean they’ll play for their season tonight. One tricky hop or one ball juuust fair inside the line can change everything. Baseball can be like that sometimes.

If nothing else, the Yankees are coming into the Wild Card Game hot. They went 20-9 with a +69 (nice) run differential in the season’s final month. The Twins, meanwhile, went 15-14 with a +42 run differential in the final month, and six of those 15 wins came against the ain’t even tryin’ Tigers. That’s … good for the Yankees? I dunno. I reckon it means nothing whatsoever tonight.

Are the Yankees a better team than the Twins? Almost certainly. Everything that happened in the regular season points in that direction. But in one individual game, the best and most talented team doesn’t always win. The team that executes best tends to win. So hope for that. Good execution allowing the more talented team to win. Here are the starting lineups for tonight’s game:

Minnesota Twins
1. 2B Brian Dozier
2. 1B Joe Mauer
3. SS Jorge Polanco
4. LF Eddie Rosario
5. 3B Eduardo Escobar
6. RF Max Kepler
7. CF Byron Buxton
8. C Jason Castro
9. DH Robbie Grossman
RHP Ervin Santana

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

The weather tonight? Pretty much perfect. Nice clear skies and no rain in the forecast. A good night for someone’s season to end. Tonight’s game will start at 8pm ET and ESPN will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game. No matter what happens, this season was fun as hell.

Umpire Review: 2017 American League Wild Card Game

The following is a guest post from Adam Moss, who goes by Roadgeek Adam in the comments. He’s previously written guest posts on Tim McClelland, Frankie Crosetti, the No. 26, Casey Stengel, Leo Durocher, Miller Huggins, Jerry Kenney, the Copacabana incident, Mark Koenig, Earle Combs, Urban Shocker, Michael Milosevich, and Snuffy Stirnweiss.

Marquez. (Presswire)
Marquez. (Presswire)

Just like in 2015, it is that time again. The New York Yankees are in the postseason (choose what you want to call it). I for one follow MLB and call it a postseason game. The team is playing the Minnesota Twins and since it is the postseason, my umpire reviews go from the comments section to the front page of RAB. During the season, there are four man crews. 92 umpires called games behind the plate this season. During the postseason, there are six umpires per game, which helps make tougher calls easier (or easier to blow, depending on your point of view.)  On Monday afternoon, Major League Baseball announced the assignments for the postseason, including our game. Let us look at who we have tonight.

Home Plate – Alfonso Marquez (No. 72)

Alfonso Marquez is our home plate umpire tonight. This is his 18th season in the majors and the first time calling a game in the Wild Card era. The native of Zacatecas, Mexico has three World Series assignments in his name (2006, 2011 and 2015). During the 2017 season, he amassed a 4.34 umpire’s ERA in 27 games behind the plate. This is 50th of the 92 umpires who have called at least one game. For those who have read my pieces, you know I invest in many different numbers when rating an umpire. Marquez has a 9 hits/9 average, which is basically a hit per inning with him behind the plate. Marquez has a 3.5 walks/9 average, which is absurdly high statistically. As a result, it stands to reason that his 7.2 strikeouts/9 average is understandable. We have a hitter’s umpire. Batters average a .263/.333/.442 line with Marquez behind the plate.

Strangely, we have not seen Marquez behind the plate this season. He was part of the series against the Angels at the Stadium in June and the Brewers at the Stadium in July. He never saw home plate.The Yankees do not have a checkered history with Marquez. Of his 57 ejections since his debut, only Kevin Long was ejected on July 1, 2014 for arguing balls and strikes. That was a game between the Rays and Yankees in which Hiroki Kuroda got no run support (shocking, I know). Marquez’s debut was on May 13, 1999 in the second game of a doubleheader between the Montreal Expos and the Colorado Rockies as part of Jerry Crawford’s crew.

First Base – Mike Winters (No. 33 – CC)

Mike Winters is the crew chief. I am going to use editorial privilege to say we should be glad we have Marquez and not Winters behind the plate. Winters has an aggravating strike zone and it is clearly obvious in the 2017 statistics. In 31 games behind the plate, the native of Carlsbad, California managed a 4.90 ERA (which was good enough for 5th of those who called at least 1 game; 4th for 2-plus because Dale Scott’s career is over after a concussion hit early in the season). His numbers are similar to Marquez, but with some higher numbers. Winters had 9.1 H/9, 3.2 BB/9 and 8 K/9 in those games, and hitters averaged 1.4 HR/9 innings. The batting line was .263/.324/.448, which is a tad less than Marquez.

Winters is the crew chief and one of the remaining umpires who started in the 1980s. His crew is notable for being considered the 4 Ms (Marty Foster, Mike Muchlinski and Mark Wegner is his fellow crew). Hired by the National League, Winters made his debut on July 9, 1988 at Dodger Stadium in a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Dodgers under the legend John McSherry’s crew. His MLB postseason record is long with 4 World Series (2002, 2006, 2010 and 2015), 5 LCS (1997, 2004, 2008, 2011 and 2012), 10 LDS (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2015) and most importantly two Wild Card games (2012 and 2016).

Winters is a hothead. There’s no denying his 103 ejections since his debut in 1988. Like Marquez, we have not seen Winters behind the plate and have not since June 12, 2016. He has two ejections historically against the Yankees, October 6, 2001 of Enrique Wilson for a called third strike and Joe Girardi on May 14, 2011 for arguing balls and strikes. Thankfully umpires are warned to not eject people unless absolutely positively necessary in the postseason.

Second Base – Eric Cooper (No. 56)

If Cooper’s name sounds familiar, he was the home plate umpire for the 2015 American League Wild Card Game. To give you an idea of things, here is what I wrote in 2015:

The Des Moines, Iowa native, Eric Cooper, is our home plate umpire for tonight’s game. Cooper, who was with the crew run by Gary Cederstrom (Crew Q), called home plate for 17 games in the 2015 season, logging a 3.79 umpire’s ERA and a 1.20 umpire’s WHIP. The former is good enough for 46th of the 89 umpires in Major League Baseball this year. Hitters with Cooper behind the plate have had 8.1 hits per 9 innings, a 2.7 walk per 9 innings, and 7.8 strikeouts per 9 innings rate, numbers that would lead you to believe he is a hitter’s umpire. However, his tendency is to have a large strike zone and it shows. Cooper has called three no-hitters, including Hideo Nomo’s 2001 over the Orioles and both of Mark Buerhle’s in 2007 and 2009. Hitters are hitting a mere .241/.296/.401 with Cooper behind the plate and only a 1.04 HR per 9 innings, which also corresponds well to the size of the zone.

So, here are those numbers in 2017: Cooper had a 4.47 umpires’ ERA behind the plate in 27 games with a 1.32 WHIP. He has a 8.9 H/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 8.7 K/9 line which should handle the idea that he is still an average umpire. It is within reason that his numbers are affected by the dubiously-juiced baseball. Batters had a line of .257/.317/.434. Everything reads average.

That day, I called him “Car Wreck” because of the famous moment when he got his first MLB World Series assignment:

Finally, the “Car Wreck” nickname comes from Cooper’s World Series assignment last year, when Joe Torre called from New York to tell Cooper he would be umpiring the Fall Classic. He and his wife were in West Des Moines coming back from a showing of Gone Girl, and he nearly wrecked his car in amazement with his wife in it. They ended up switching positions in the car after the call. He ended up calling one of his fellow veteran umpires, and one of my favorites, the great Tim McClelland about the decision, who told him to “soak it all in.”

As noted in the previous review, he has never ejected a Yankees member. He has had 4 more ejections since the last season, and none are of Yankees. For more information, just read my post from 2015, it tells you everything.

Third Base – Lance Barksdale (No. 23)

The last time we saw Lance Barksdale, it was during the series at Citi Field with the Tampa Bay Rays. Serving as the third member of Ted Barrett’s crew, Barksdale was one of three members of that crew who lost their luggage. Everyone that series were required to use another umpires’ coats, shirts, etc. for the purpose of wearing something. The native of Brookhaven, Mississippi (known as Robert Lance Barksdale), is a pitchers’ umpire. His lines are normal in that area (8.5 H/9 and 8.6 K/9) except in walks per 9, in which he averages a high 3.6. Hitters have a .247/.324/.410 batting line with Barksdale behind the plate.

Barksdale and the Yankees have no history. Barksdale, who made his MLB debut on May 29, 2000 at Dodger Stadium in a game versus the Mets with Terry Craft’s crew, has never ejected a New York Yankee on any occasion. He has 39 career ejections, managing to go the entire 2016 season without swinging his arm. Most importantly, this is his 2nd go-around at the Wild Card rodeo. He called right field in the 2013 National League Wild Card Game. He also has three Division Series to his name (2014, 2015 and 2016).

Left Field – Hal “Tripp” Gibson III (No. 73)

The first of the two postseason rookies, Hal Gibson III (known as Tripp Gibson) is calling the game in left field. The Mayfield, Kentucky native gets his first postseason appearance under this crew. He is one of the recent promotions to full-time status in the last two years due to a rash of retirements. In 28 games behind the plate, Gibson has a 4.63 ERA with a 1.33 WHIP. His numbers reek of hitter’s umpire in everything except batting average. With Gibson behind the plate, batters average 8.9 H/9, 3.2 BB/9 and 8.4 K/9. The strange discrepancy is in his average of line which is .254/.322/.426.  The latter two make sense. The .254 batting average is average between hitters and pitchers ump. Because of the other numbers, I would say a hitter’s umpire is a good description.

Being relatively new, the Yankees do not have much experience with him. The Yankees last saw Gibson in the last Red Sox series. Since his debut on July 8, 2013 between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks at Chase Field, he has all of 10 ejections, including three this season (Don Cooper on May 16; Andy Green on August 6; Jeff Banister on August 13). Three is not a career high, as he tossed five players/coaches in the 2015 season, his 2nd season of at least 120 games. There is not much to do in left field as an umpire. Hopefully he refrains from any flagrantly wrong infield fly calls.

Right Field – John Tumpane (No. 74)

The other postseason rookie is one we also saw last at the series in Citi Field against the Rays. John Tumpane, who I call “Tumpy,” was the one who had donate his clothing for his fellow crew (Ted Barrett, Angel Hernandez and Lance Barksdale) to wear. As a result, all the umpires that series wore #74 on their arm. It has been a very up and down season for the 34-year old native of Evergreen Park, Illinois. Tumpane has a stringent strike zone and it reads in the statistics. Hitters average of all 8.1 H/9, 3.5 BB/9 (!), and 8.3 K/9. Borderline strikes are not his thing. Hitters had a .239/.313/.391 line. All of this culminated in a 3.83 ERA, good for 81st of the 92 umpires. As a result, he has had a busy season with the right-arm with players and managers. He has 6 ejections this season (a career high), leaving him 18 reports since his debut on August 2, 2010. None of are the Yankees, but he is on record as the last to eject Bartolo Colon, something no one had done in 11 years.

If the name John Tumpane sounds familiar, Tumpane made headlines while in Pittsburgh. Before calling a game behind home plate at PNC Park, he took a midday run and lunch from their hotel. While crossing the Roberto Clemente Bridge (the one visible in most scenes at PNC Park), he passed a woman climbing over the side of the bridge and looking down at the river. He grabbed the woman to prevent her from jumping and after some struggle, a passerby helped keep her down until emergency services arrived. Tumpane told her she would do so much better if she stayed alive. In justice, he worked the plate that night as the Pirates took down the Tampa Bay Rays. A hero at the right time when needed.

That said, tonight, hopefully he will be a non-issue.

Conclusion

A lot of the complaining in the last year has been about the idea of having a robot umpire behind the plate calling balls and strikes. It is a well-known fact on RAB that I do not support robot umpires and prefer the human aspect of the game (for the most part). That said, the only strike zone that matters tomorrow is Marquez’s. I just included the numbers of the others like I do on Disqus when I write these reviews. I will be watching and hope you all enjoy knowing about our home plate umpires. If we do beat the Twins, I will write the next piece on Wednesday.

Hicks, not Ellsbury, starting in center field in Wild Card Game

Both the Yankees and Twins announced their starting lineups for tonight’s winner-take-all Wild Card Game earlier this afternoon. The winner moves on to play the Indians in the ALDS while the loser goes home. Don’t lose. Losing would stink.

Anyway, here are the starting lineups:

al-wc-game-lineups

Thankfully Aaron Hicks, not Jacoby Ellsbury, is in center field tonight. The Twins have an excellent running game and they’d run wild on Ellsbury’s arm. Hicks has a better chance to prevent them from taking that extra base.

Pretty standard lineup, otherwise. Chase Headley and Matt Holliday are both on the bench serving as pinch-hitter options, though I’m not sure who they’d pinch-hit for, exactly. Maybe Greg Bird against a tough lefty? Hopefully it doesn’t come to that and this lineup takes care of business.

Scouting the Wild Card Game: Ervin Santana

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

In just a few hours the Yankees will once again face veteran right-hander Ervin Santana in a postseason game. He will start tonight’s Wild Card Game for the Twins. Santana faced the Yankees in both the 2005 and 2009 postseasons with the Angels, allowing six runs (four earned) in eleven total innings. Weirdly enough, he’s never started against the Yankees in the playoffs. He’s made five relief appearances.

Santana had a marvelous regular season — he’s probably going to get some down ballot Cy Young votes — in which he threw 211.1 innings with a 3.28 ERA (4.46 FIP) and average-ish strikeout (19.3%), walk (7.1%), and ground ball (41.2%) rates. That includes one start against the Yankees. Santana allowed two runs in 5.2 innings at Yankee Stadium two weeks ago. These days Santana is more of a contact manager who gets a lot of weak fly balls than a strikeout pitcher, hence his .245 BABIP in 2017.

The Twins announced last week Santana would start the Wild Card Game, so even though the Yankees were still alive in the AL East race as late as Game 161, they’ve been preparing for Santana for quite a while now. Scouting reports, video, the whole nine. Santana has been around a while, but like everyone else, he’s changed over time. The 2017 version of Santana is not necessarily the same guy we’ve watched the last ten years. Here’s a look at Minnesota’s starter.

History Against The Yankees

Although he has faced the Yankees franchise plenty of times over the years, Santana doesn’t have a ton of experience against the current crop of Yankees because they’re so young. Jacoby Ellsbury leads the way with 40 career plate appearances against Santana. Brett Gardner has 34 and Todd Frazier has 27. No one else has more than 18.

All told, players on New York’s roster have hit a combined .272/.316/.481 with ten doubles and eight homers in 176 plate appearances against Santana. That includes data dating all the way back to 2006, when 26-year-old Matt Holliday went 1-for-3 with a double against 23-year-old Ervin Santana. Not sure that history is relevant now. Here’s how the current Yankees have fared against Santana since the start of the 2015 season, via Baseball Reference:

Name PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
Todd Frazier 22 17 3 0 0 2 3 4 6 .176 .318 .529 .848
Jacoby Ellsbury 13 10 3 0 0 0 0 2 1 .300 .417 .300 .717
Brett Gardner 13 13 6 1 0 0 0 0 1 .462 .462 .538 1.000
Didi Gregorius 11 11 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
Chase Headley 11 10 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 .300 .364 .400 .764
Starlin Castro 8 8 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 .125 .125 .125 .250
Greg Bird 5 5 2 0 0 2 4 0 1 .400 .400 1.600 2.000
Aaron Judge 3 3 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 .333 .333 1.333 1.667
Gary Sanchez 3 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000
Total 89 80 19 2 0 5 8 6 12 .238 .295 .450 .745

Head-to-head stats are a weird thing. I absolutely believe a hitter can “own” a certain pitcher and vice versa, but the head-to-head stats don’t always reflect that because they’re usually very small sample sizes spread out over several years. Does Santana “own” Castro because Castro is 1-for-8 against him the last three years? Maybe! But I’m not sure the 1-for-8 is reflective of the matchup or just regular baseball noise.

Pitch Selection

Tonight’s starting pitchers are pretty similar. Both Santana and Luis Severino are fastball-slider pitchers who use a changeup as their third pitch, though Severino has considerably more velocity on the fastball and slider. (Fun Fact: Current Yankees international scouting director Donny Rowland signed both Santana and Severino as amateurs out of the Dominican Republic.) Santana was a straight fastball-slider guy for a very long time. It wasn’t until fairly recently that the changeup became a legitimate weapon for him.

Here, via Brooks Baseball, is Santana’s pitch selection against right-handed and left-handed batters this season:

ervin-santana-pitch-selection

Santana throws lots of fastballs and sliders to all hitters, regardless of handedness, though the changeup he will use basically only against lefties. That’s pretty typical. Severino does the same thing. When Santana gets ahead in the count, he’s really going to lean on his slider. When he falls behind, he tends to use a fastball to get back in the count.

Now, that said, teams and players have a way of changing the scouting report in the postseason. Pitchers will lean more heavily on their best pitch — Santana’s slider, in this case — in an effort to get outs. We could definitely see Santana spin more breaking balls tonight, even when behind in the count. That is his best chance for getting a swing and a miss and his best chance for getting an out in general.

Enough words, let’s get to some video. Here is every pitch from Santana’s four-hit shutout of the oh so terrible Giants on June 9th of this season:

As you can see in the video, Santana is going to live on that outside corner against righties. Fastballs and sliders, away away away all game. It’s not just that one game against the Giants either. Here is Santana’s fastball and slider location heat map against right-handed batters this season, via Baseball Savant:

ervin-santana-vs-rhp-heat-map

Like I said, away away away to righties. Maybe Santana will change things up in the Wild Card Game and make an effort to bust righties inside more often, though it sure seems like pounding that outside corner is his comfort zone. Judge, Sanchez, Castro, Frazier … zero in on that outside corner.

Platoon Splits

That changeup has been enough of a weapon for Santana that he’s had a reverse split the last two years. Righties hit him better than lefties now. Huh. That wasn’t always the case, of course. Santana once had a pretty significant platoon split. Now it’s reversed, or at the very least even. Here are his last three years:

vs. RHP vs. LHP
2015 .243/.297/.355 (.286 wOBA), 21.7 K%, 5.9 BB% .256/.338/.446 (.346 wOBA), 14.4 K%, 9.8 BB%
2016 .241/.293/.404 (.299 wOBA), 22.7 K%, 6.3 BB% .246/.310/.357 (.293 wOBA), 17.1 K%, 7.9 BB%
2017 .231/.308/.397 (.305 wOBA), 22.4 K%, 13.9 BB% .213/.260/.386 (.275 wOBA), 15.6 K%, 5.4 BB%

On one hand, the lack of a platoon split means the Yankees can’t stack their lineup with lefties and take aim for the short porch. I mean, they could, but it wouldn’t create a clear advantage against this pitcher. On the other hand, Santana’s lack of a split means the Yankees could simply play their nine best players, and not fret over ideal matchups. Santana is effective against both righties and lefties, so just play your best. Simple, right?

Can The Yankees Run On Him?

Kinda. Santana used to have big time problems controlling the running game — runners went 122-for-149 (82%) in stolen base attempts against him from 2007-12 — though he has done a better job later in his career. Runners went 11-for-13 (85%) stealing bases against Santana this year and 23-for-27 (85%) over the last three years. Still a high likelihood of success, but not nearly as many chances.

Of course, the catcher plays a big part in this as well, and Jason Castro threw out only 15 of 57 (26%) attempted basestealers this season. That includes one of 12 with Santana on the mound. The Yankees ran wild on Joe Biagini and Raffy Lopez the other day. They probably won’t be able to do the same in the Wild Card Game tonight, but, if they pick their spots — the Yankees did steal two bases against Santana and Castro two weeks ago, for what it’s worth — the Yankees should be able to swipe some bags tonight. The opportunity for stolen bases exists.

* * *

Ervin Santana is not Dallas Keuchel circa 2015, that bonafide ace who shut the Yankees down in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game, but he is a very good Major League pitcher, and they figure to have their hands full tonight. Probably the biggest thing to take away here is that when a righty is at the plate, Santana is going to the outside corner. That’s his spot. That won’t help Yankees hitters discern a fastball from a slider, but having a pretty good idea where the pitch will be located takes one variable out of the equation.

The Yankees need their arms to neutralize the Twins’ legs in the Wild Card Game

Eyes on the target! (Elsa/Getty)
Eyes on the target! (Elsa/Getty)

Tonight’s AL Wild Card Game features two up-and-coming teams built around impressive young cores. The Yankees have Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. The Twins have Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Jose Berrios. The Yankees have Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia as veteran support. The Twins have Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana. There are interesting parallels between the two teams.

Beyond the roster composition, the Yankees and Twins have something else in common: they’re both very good baserunning teams. Among the best in the game. You may not believe it after watching the Yankees run into outs all summer, but I assure you, every team does that. The Yankees added a lot of value on the bases this season. Some stats:

Yankees Twins
FanGraphs BsR +10.6 runs (5th in MLB) +14.2 runs (1st in MLB)
SB Total 90 (12th) 95 (9th)
SB% 80% (1st) 77% (4th)
Extra Base% 39% (16th) 42% (7th)

I have to think at least part of the difference in their extra base taken rates — that’s going first-to-third on a single, scoring from first on a double, etc. — is a result of their home ballparks. Yankee Stadium is pretty small and it’s not always possible to go first-to-third on a single to right because the right fielder is that much closer to the infield. Target Field is massive. There’s more room to cover and that gives the runner a little extra time on the bases.

As for stolen bases, the Twins are led by Buxton, who went a ridiculous 29-for-30 in stealing bases this year. And the one time he was caught stealing, Buxton made it to the bag safely, but was tagged out when he overslid.

Both Dozier (16-for-23) and Jorge Polanco (13-for-18) had double-digit steals as well. Buxton took the extra base a whopping 71% of the time this season, the highest mark among all MLB regulars, while Eddie Rosario (58%), Eduardo Escobar (50%), and Dozier (44%) were all comfortably above the 40% league average.

The Twins use their speed to take the extra base. That’s what they do. The best way for the Yankees to combat Minnesota’s speed is by not allowing anyone to reach base. Simple, right? In the likely and unfortunate event the Twins do get some men on base tonight, it’ll be up to the throwing arms to limit those extra bases, specifically Sanchez behind the plate and the three outfielders.

Severino & Sanchez

We know Sanchez has a ridiculously powerful arm, one that allowed him to throw out 23 of 60 attempted basestealers this season, which is a well-above-average 38%. The league average is 27%. How good is Sanchez’s arm? Runners attempted only 91 steals against the Yankees this season, third fewest in baseball behind the Cardinals (Yadier Molina) and Indians. That’s with Austin Romine, who can’t throw at all, starting for basically all of April.

Severino, tonight’s starter, allowed four stolen bases in six attempts this season. That’s it. The guy threw 193.1 innings and six runners attempted to steal. Six! Between Sanchez’s arm and Severino’s nifty little pickoff move — he has that funky sidearm motion that really speeds up his delivery to first base — the Yankees appear to be well-suited to control the running game tonight. It’ll be strength against strength. Fun!

The Outfielders

For the first time in a long time, the Yankees have some pretty great outfield arms on the roster. Aaron Judge has a very strong arm and Aaron Hicks has one of the strongest outfield arms in the game. Maybe the strongest. Brett Gardner has a solid arm as well. Jacoby Ellsbury? His arm is bad. It just is. His arm is terrible and it has cost the Yankees plenty of runs over the years. Here are some outfield throwing numbers:

Opportunities Hold % Throw Out %
Gardner in LF 135 65.2% (63.2% MLB average) 3.0% (1.6% MLB average)
Ellsbury in CF 88 36.4% (44.9%) 1.1% (1.9%)
Judge in RF 140 54.3% (47.7%) 1.4% (2.1%)
Hicks in LF 14 50.0% 0.0%
Hicks in CF 61 45.9% 0.0%
Hicks in RF 11 63.6% 0.0%

Hicks did have three outfield assists this season, though none came on a runner trying to advance an extra base on another player’s base hit. He twice threw a runner out trying to stretch a single into a double, plus this happened:

Anyway, both Gardner and Judge were better than the league average at preventing runners from taking the extra base. Judge was considerably above-average, but again, I think the small right field at Yankee Stadium has at least something to do with that. He’s closer to the infield than most other players at the position. Judge clearly has a very strong arm though.

In center field, opposing teams ran wild on Ellsbury. His hold rate was far below the league average for center fielders. That’s not surprising, right? Because of this, I think the Yankees have to seriously consider starting Hicks in center field tonight. Even if you ignore the hold rates for a second, Hicks has a much better arm than Ellsbury — the Twins should know that better than anyone after drafting and developing Hicksie — and he’s better equipped to control Minnesota’s high-end running game.

Keep in mind we’re not talking about a small difference in outfield arms here. We’re talking about one of the best outfield arms and one of the worst outfield arms, against a team that is very aggressive on the bases. Given the winner-take-all nature of the Wild Card Game, the Yankees have to put their best team on the field, and the best team has Hicks and his arm in center field over Ellsbury. Let Ellsbury be the DH.

* * *

The Twins went 40-34 in the second half and, believe it or not, they led the AL with 412 runs scored. The Indians (397) were second and the Yankees (381) were third. The running game is a huge part of Minnesota’s offensive attack and the Yankees have to be prepared for that tonight. Sanchez and Severino are about as good a stolen base neutralizing battery as there is. Judge’s and Gardner’s arms are assets in the outfield. Ellsbury’s? No way. Hicks’ is though, and the Yankees need to seriously consider playing him in center field tonight to help take away the Twins’ ground game.