Aaron Judge, Matt Holliday, and two very different slumps

(Presswire)
What is going on with this fist bump. (Presswire)

Last night, as the Yankees beat the Tigers for their seventh win in the last eight games, rookie masher Aaron Judge clubbed his MLB leading 34th home run, breaking a tie with Giancarlo Stanton. Judge is having a monster rookie season overall, hitting .303/.429/.639 (179 wRC+) with those 34 homers in 101 games, though he hasn’t been all that good lately. He’s hitting only .169/.333/.373 (79 wRC+) with a 34.7% strikeout rate since the All-Star break.

Also last night, Matt Holliday went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, though he did draw an important walk that loaded the bases with no outs and led to the Yankees scoring four runs in the fourth. Holliday, like Judge, has struggled in the second half. He’s hitting .130/.164/.188 (-14 wRC+) with a 30.1% strikeout rate since the break. Yikes. Go back to June 12th and Holliday is hitting .133/.205/.248 (17 wRC+) in his last 28 games.

There’s no doubt both Judge and Holliday have struggled recently, and watching the games, my eyes tell me these are different types of slumps. Judge’s timing seems to be off ever so slightly. He’s flying open a bit and missing some pitches he should crush. His strikeout rate is up but he hasn’t expanded the zone too much. I mean, his walk rate since the All-Star break is 20.0%. That doesn’t happen when a hitter starts swinging at everything out of the zone. Here is his chase rate:

aaron-judge-chase-rate

This year Judge’s worst 15-game rolling average was a 33.9% chase rate two weeks ago. The MLB average is a 30.8%. Judge peaked at a not-so-high 33.9% chase rate and has brought it down since. His season average is a 26.0% chase rate, which is excellent. There are 164 hitters with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title this year and Judge has the 29th lowest chase rate despite being 6-foot-7 and having so much strike zone to cover.

Also, the quality of Judge’s contact has been pretty good during this slump. In the first half of the season 62.0% of Judge’s batted balls were either a line drive or a fly ball, and his average exit velocity was an MLB best 96.2 mph. Since the All-Star break, more than two-thirds of Judge’s batted balls (67.7%, to be exact) are either a line drive or a fly ball, and his average exit velocity is 94.7 mph, again the highest in MLB.

There are two big differences between first half Aaron Judge and second half Aaron Judge. One, he is striking out more often (29.8% vs. 34.7%) and that’s because his swings and misses on pitches in the zone have increased. In the first half he had an 82.8% contact rate on pitches in the zone. Since the All-Star break it’s 75.8%. The increased strikeouts are the result of swinging and missing more in the strike zone, not chasing out of the zone.

And two, not as many of those well-struck line drives and fly balls are falling in for base hits. I’m not saying Judge has hit into bad luck or anything like that. I’m just stating a fact. Judge’s line drives and fly balls are resulting in more outs than they did earlier this season. Here on the numbers on his line drives and fly balls:

  • First Half: .655 AVG and .530 BABIP (.896 xwOBA)
  • Second Half: .489 AVG and .303 BABIP (.777 xwOBA)
  • 2017 MLB Average: .469 AVG and .408 BABIP (.549 xwOBA)

(BABIP is lower than AVG because home runs don’t count against BABIP. They’re not a ball in play. The defense can’t make a play on homers.)

xwOBA is the new Statcast hotness expected wOBA, which is based on launch angle and exit velocity and things like that. Judge has been getting the ball airborne since the All-Star break — again, 62.0% line drives and fly balls in the first half and 67.7% in the second half — yet the hits aren’t falling in as often. That’s baseball. We aren’t talking about a huge sample here, remember. Judge has put 34 balls in play since the All-Star break.

All of this is a long way of saying Judge is just slightly off at the plate. He hasn’t expanded the zone too much in the second half and when he does make contact, he’s still hitting the ball hard and he’s still hitting it in the air. The biggest issue has been the misses on pitches in the zone. Something’s off mechanically. You can blame the Home Run Derby if you want. That seems pretty lazy to me. (Judge’s slump started before the All-Star break.) Whatever it is, Judge is pretty great at making adjustments, and I think it’s only a matter of time until he gets straightened out.

As for Holliday, the eye test tells me he simply isn’t hitting the ball very hard these days. He isn’t hitting it hard and he isn’t getting it off the ground. A graph is worth a thousand words:

matt-holliday-contact

Yeah. That’s not good. It’s not just less hard contact. It’s less hard contact and more balls on the ground. Holliday’s ugly 28-game stretch started on June 12th, the first game of the West Coast trip in Anaheim. From Opening Day through June 11th: .375 xwOBA on all batted balls. Since June 12th: .276 xwOBA. That’s going from Anthony Rizzo (.378 wOBA) to Billy Hamilton (.276 wOBA).

So why has Holliday basically stopped hitting the ball hard? Two theories. One, he’s 37 and older hitters sometimes just stop hitting forever. We saw it with Alfonso Soriano three years ago, Alex Rodriguez two years ago, and Mark Teixeira one year ago. Or two, Holliday is still sick. Remember when he first came down with this mystery illness? It was out on that West Coast trip that started on June 12th. He first sat out a game in Oakland, in the second series on the trip, but who’s to say he hadn’t already been feeling it for a few days before that?

We’ve seen some older players go through miserable stretches in which they looked done — like done done — only to rebound later in the season. Raul Ibanez was pretty bad for most of the 2012 regular season before he started socking clutch dingers in September and October. Carlos Beltran looked completely washed in April and May in 2015 before turning it around and hitting like prime Beltran the rest of the season. Who’s to say Holliday can’t do the same?

With Judge, I see a hitter who is off a bit mechanically and missing hittable pitches. He hasn’t chased out of the zone too much, and when he puts the ball in play, it’s well-struck. With Holliday, I see a guy who flat out can’t hit the ball hard right now, and has a tough time hitting it in the air. That isn’t to say he’s broken forever. It doesn’t look very good right now though. These are two slumping hitters at different points of their careers slumping in different ways. One seems a tick off. The other makes you wonder if he’s done for good.

The Yankees have won seven of their last eight games while getting basically nothing from their three best first half hitters — Judge and Holliday have slumped, and Starlin Castro is on the disabled list — and that’s pretty impressive. The roster depth has picked those guys up. For the Yankees to win the AL East and make noise in the postseason though, they need Judge and Holliday (and Castro) to produce, so getting them to straighten things out is pretty damn important. I think Judge will figure it out soon enough. Holliday? I’m not so sure.

Thoughts following the 2017 trade deadline

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time in a long time, the Yankees were big buyers at the trade deadline this year. They traded several top prospects in deals that very clearly qualify as win now moves, and yet, they didn’t mortgage their future either. All told the Yankees added seven players (Garrett Cooper, Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, Sonny Gray, Tommy Kahnle, Ryan McBroom, David Robertson) and subtracted eleven players (Ian Clarkin, Tyler Clippard, Dietrich Enns, Dustin Fowler, James Kaprielian, Zack Littell, Jorge Mateo, Tito Polo, Rob Refsnyder, Blake Rutherford, Tyler Webb) in five separate trades. I have thoughts on all this, so let’s get to ’em.

1. We have to look at the trade deadline activity two ways: short-term and long-term. In the short-term, the Yankees added five veteran players to their big league roster these last few weeks (Frazier, Garcia, Gray, Kahnle, Robertson) and subtracted one (Clippard). Those guys represent huge upgrades. Frazier hasn’t been great by any means, but he is effectively replacing the revolving door at first base, and those guys were so bad. So, so bad. (Chase Headley has been far and away their best first baseman this year, so yeah.) The Yankees were able to hang around the postseason race even while getting nothing from first base and having a leaky bullpen. Now they’ve added a few wins worth of players for the second half. How many wins? That’s up for debate. Depends how you value relievers. I think these moves have a chance to add as many as five or six wins to the ledger the rest of the way, and given where the Yankees sit on the almighty win curve, adding five wins will have an enormous impact. Going from, say, 80 wins to 85 wins is no big deal. You’re not really in the postseason mix with 85 wins. Making the jump from 88 to 93 wins though? That’s huge. That pushes you from wild card contender to possible division winner. That’s where the Yankees are right now. There’s no way to look at these trades as anything other than massive upgrades in the short-term, for the 2017 Yankees.

2. As for the long-term outlook, the Yankees added one year of Robertson, two years of Gray, and three years of Kahnle beyond 2017. (Garcia and Frazier are rentals.) They managed to do that without compromising their big league core and without trading their very best prospects, most notably Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier, plus also Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield. (How was Estevan Florial not in this trade?) Out of all the prospects the Yankees traded, Fowler was the only one with a chance to have real staying power for the Yankees next season, and even that would have depended on his recovery from knee surgery. Kaprielian, Mateo, and Rutherford all would have needed more time in the minors. Mateo’s really the only one of those three who had even a chance to help the Yankees in 2018. Kaprielian has lost too much development time the last two years to fast track at this point. Others like Enns, Webb, and Polo aren’t really impact pieces. Last year the running gag was the Yankees didn’t sell, they bought for the future. And that’s true! This year they really bought for the future by adding big league players with years of team control. That they were able to do that without trading anyone off their big league roster or any of their top MLB ready or near MLB ready prospects is pretty awesome.

3. Both teams took on a lot of risk with this trade. Gray has had some injury problems over the last 18 months or so and he’s the only player the Yankees acquired. If his arm gives out, they’re left with nothing. The A’s picked up two prospects coming back from major injuries (Kaprielian and Fowler) and another who didn’t hit for basically a year and a half in High-A (Mateo). And I totally get it for the Athletics. They landed two high-end up-the-middle players and a pitcher who showed ace-caliber upside when healthy. Oakland can’t afford talent like that in free agency. The only way they get players like that is through the draft, through international free agency, and through trades. They shot for the moon with upside and took on the some increased risk to get players like this, because you know what? If Fowler and Kaprielian were healthy, the Athletics weren’t getting them in a trade. This trade has serious boom or bust potential for both teams. It’s going to take a while to judge this trade and boy, it has the potential to look real lopsided for someone.

4. I mentioned this after the White Sox trade and it bears repeating: the front office just sent a very loud and clear message through the clubhouse. We believe you’re good enough to win and we’re going to get you the help you need. That has to feel good. The Michael Pineda injury left a gaping hole in the rotation — I like Caleb Smith and Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell, but getting sub-five-inning starts every fifth day couldn’t last — so the Yankees went out and got two starting pitchers. They needed bullpen help so they got two relievers. They needed a first baseman so they got, well, a third baseman and moved their third baseman to first. That’s pretty great. Last year the Yankees sold and that let everyone in that clubhouse know the front office did not think they’re good enough to win. This year is the complete opposite. I’m sure the guys who were with the team last year especially appreciate it. Things turned around in a hurry.

5. The Yankees have six starters for five spots right now and Joe Girardi declined to reveal what they’re going to do with the rotation yesterday. The general belief seems to be that Jordan Montgomery‘s rough July will earn him a demotion to Triple-A. That’s probably what’ll happen. Putting Garcia in the bullpen is another option. Whatever happens, six viable starters for five spots is a luxury and I’m glad the Yankees brought in both Gray and Garcia. You know the Yankees are going to need all these guys to make starts at some point. All these guys and then some. We haven’t seen the last of Smith or Cessa or Mitchell. That’s baseball. The sport has a way of making pitching depth disappear. Also, keep in mind Montgomery and Luis Severino have some sort of innings limit this year. Brian Cashman confirmed it yesterday. He told Bryan Hoch we “can look at” their workloads and assume the team will have to back off at some point. Having six starters for five spots makes it easier for the Yankees to skip a Montgomery or Severino start now and then, or stash Montgomery in Triple-A for a few weeks and ease up on him that. (Severino’s not going down.) Three days ago the Yankees had four starters for five spots. Now they have six and it’s awesome. Managing Severino’s and Montgomery’s workloads will be much easier now. Those innings will now go to no-doubt big league caliber arms.

Garcia. (Presswire)
Garcia. (Presswire)

6. The Yankees haven’t made a meaningful August trade in a very long time — the last came back in 2009, when they picked up Chad Gaudin from the Padres (for cash) to take over as the fifth starter — though I get the feeling that may change this year. They could really use another bat. I know Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks are on the mend, but I’m talking about another bat even beyond them. Matt Holliday seems to be going full Travis Hafner (never go full Travis Hafner) and the elder Frazier hasn’t exactly torn the cover off the ball either. And how long do you want to rely on Headley staying red hot or Brett Gardner coming through with walk-offs? I was really hoping the Yankees would add a bat at the deadline and since they didn’t, I get the feeling they’re going to wish they did pretty soon. I could totally see a waiver trade going down at some point. A lefty hitter who can play a little first base would be ideal. Yonder Alonso and Jay Bruce immediately jump to mind, though others like John Jaso and Matt Adams could be options too. Alonso, Bruce, and Jaso might be pure salary dumps. Just take they money and who cares, we don’t need a prospect back. Point is, I think the Yankees will find themselves in the market for another hitter at some point soon even with Castro and Hicks inching closer to a return. They’re all-in already. Their recent trades confirmed it. So if they believe they need a bat, they’re going to go get one. They won’t rest on their laurels.

7. Let’s not overlook the $1.5M in international bonus money coming from the Athletics in the trade. That’s the third trade the Yankees have made for international money in recent weeks. They also picked up undisclosed sums from the Orioles in separate deals involving minor league righties Matt Wotherspoon and Yefry Ramirez. Jesse Sanchez says the Yankees now have $3.5M in international bonus money to play with, and as I mentioned in my recent July 2nd write-up, the Yankees have been connected to some of the best available prospects. Odds are they have deals lined up for this money. They didn’t acquire it just because. We’re going to hear about more international signings soon. The Yankees traded away three really talented players in the Gray trade, though the $1.5M in bonus money will go toward replenishing the system.

7a. I suppose there’s also a chance that $1.5M in bonus money — or the $3.5M that Sanchez says the Yankees still have to spend — could go to Shohei Otani after the season, though I’m still not convinced Otani is coming over to MLB. Too many teams have maxed out their bonus pools already. Maybe he really doesn’t care about the money and is willing to come over for a fraction of his actual worth. I’ll believe it when I see it. My guess is the $3.5M in bonus money the Yankees still have to spend is going to the available Latin American amateurs they’ve been connected to the last few weeks. We’ll see.

8. Yesterday’s moves, meaning the Gray trade and the Yefry trade, opened up one 40-man spot total. Gray essentially slides into Mateo’s spot. Fowler was also on the 40-man, though he’s hurt and on the 60-day disabled list, so he wasn’t actually counting against the 40-man. Ramirez was on the 40-man and now he’s gone, so that’s the open spot. The Yankees aren’t going to use that spot until they need it, though the larger point here is the Yankees are opening up 40-man spots for the offseason. Clarkin, Littell, and Polo all would have been Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season and I’m not sure they were going to be protected. Finding space wasn’t going to be easy. Others like Yefry, Enns, Refsnyder, and Webb were at risk of losing their 40-man spots to other players. Rather than potentially losing those guys for nothing, the Yankees traded them for an actual return. With a trade as significant as the Sonny Gray deal, the 40-man roster isn’t a huge consideration. You go out and get that dude even if means having to designate someone else for assignment. With smaller deals with Jaime Garcia and international bonus money and all that, the 40-man roster absolutely is a consideration. Forty-man roster management is important and the Yankees unclogged things a bit at the trade deadline. That’s not nothing.

9. I’m not normally one to toot my own horn, but I’m going to do it now. As part of my half-baked offseason plan, I suggested the Yankees trade for … Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia. How about that? For Garcia, I suggested sending Gardner to the Cardinals. Good one, idiot. The Gray trade though? I was sending Severino, Mateo, Fowler, and Refsnyder to the A’s. The Severino part sounds silly now given what he’s become, and it is, but he was pretty terrible last year and his stock was unquestionably down. My proposal had stock down Severino and the real trade had injured Kaprielian. How far apart are stock down Severino and injured Kaprelian in value? Not too much, I don’t think. That’s the long way of me saying my silly trade proposal was in the ballpark! See? Every so often I come up with an idea that isn’t completely ridiculous. I feel validated.

10. One final point: the Yankees are in first place right now and were in position to buy at the trade deadline because of their young players. The veterans have helped along the way, no doubt, but the Yankees had three homegrown All-Stars age 25 or younger this year in Severino, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez. They didn’t trade for those dudes. Homegrown all the way. The Yankees have won seven of their last eight games and nine of their last eleven games, and have you noticed the batting order?

2. Clint Frazier
3. Aaron Judge
4. Gary Sanchez

The future is now. The Yankees went from sellers at the trade deadline last year to buyers at the trade deadline this year because their young players have stepped up and had an impact early in their careers. Right now, this is Judge’s and Sanchez’s and Severino’s team. Frazier’s working his way into that conversation and pretty soon others like Torres, Adams, Sheffield, Miguel Andujar, and Tyler Wade are going to get similar chances as well. The Yankees traded away nine prospects in these various deals and still have Torres, Andujar, Adams, and Sheffield in the minors. Pretty cool. When the Yankees decided to sell last year, I thought it was a necessary step, and I figured it would take maybe two or three years for them to reap the rewards. Instead, 12 months later, the Yankees are in first place and have even more really good and really fun young players set to arrive within before next year’s trade deadline. What an exciting time to be a Yankees fan.

Yankees celebrate Sonny Gray trade with 7-3 win over Tigers

A new season has begun. The front office went out these last few weeks and added some help, most notably Sonny Gray prior to Monday’s trade deadline, and now the Yankees are in full blown “let’s win this damn division” mode. The Yankee started this new go-for-it season with a 7-3 win over a Tigers team that seems to be caught between going for it and rebuilding. That’s a bad place to be. The Yankees have won seven of their last eight games and nine of their last eleven games.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Turning A Gift In To Four Runs
Reigning AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer is a really, really good pitcher, and he carved the Yankees up for the first three innings Monday night. He was running his two-seamer off the plate inside to lefties and outside to righties, and getting it to dart back toward the plate to catch the corner. Plus he had a nasty slider working too. Fulmer needed only 33 pitches to get through the first three innings.

The Yankees finally broke through in the fourth and the they had some help. Aaron Judge drew a leadoff walk, then Gary Sanchez hit a tailor-made 4-3 double play ball back up the middle, but Ian Kinsler led the ball sneak under his glove and roll into shallow center field. Rather than getting two outs on the play, the Tigers got none. Run expectancy with the bases empty and two outs: 0.10 runs. Run expectancy with runners on first and second and no outs: 1.44. Pretty big swing.

The Kinsler error was followed hard-fought Matt Holliday walk to load the bases — he fouled away two two-strike pitches as part of an eight-pitch at-bat — which set up Chase Headley and Todd Frazier to be the heroes. Headley jumped all over a first pitch heater for a right-center field gap shot double to score two runs. Headley’s been so good the last few weeks. Frazier lined a single to right to score another two runs for a 4-1 lead. That error really came back to bite the Tigers. Hooray for the Yankees for taking advantage.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Severino Grinds Out Five
Last season, when Luis Severino had a bad start, he’d give up five or six runs in maybe four innings. His bad starts were really bad. This year, when Severino has a bad start, he still figures out a way to get through five innings of one-run ball. That’s what great pitchers do. Even their bad starts are still pretty good. Severino needed 116 pitches to allow one run on four hits and three walks in those five innings Monday night. He struck out eight.

The Tigers scored their run against Severino in the fourth inning and they needed some defensive help. Mikie Mahtook pulled a single to left field that Clint Frazier let slip under glove, allowing Mahtook to reached second on the error. The next batter, James McCann, defensive-swung a fastball into the right field corner that was juuust out of the reach of a diving Aaron Judge. Judge is a big dude. His dives cover a lot of ground.

Severino almost did not make it out of the fifth inning. He walked Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos back-to-back with two outs, then ran the count full against Victor Martinez. His 116th and final pitch of the night was a 97.7 mph fastball for a swing and miss and strike three. That’s noteworthy because Severino’s velocity was down early in the game. From Baseball Savant:

luis-severino-velocity

Severino’s fastball was mostly 94-96 mph in the first inning, which is good velocity for most pitchers, but is down for Severino, who went into Monday’s start with the highest average fastball velocity among all qualified starters in baseball (97.6 mph). I think we all got a little scared when Joe Girardi and trainer Steve Donohue visited the mound in the first inning too. I know I did.

Fortunately, Severino stayed in the game and was throwing his usual upper-90s gas a few innings later. Sometimes it takes guys a little while to get up to speed. He seemed to be favoring his left leg anyway. Whatever it was, it was a non-factor aside from that first inning. Severino labored a bit and had some really long counts — only eight of the 24 batters he faced saw a first pitch strike, and 12 of the 24 saw at least five pitches — hence the elevated pitch count. If this is a bad Severino start now, I’ll take it.

Insurance Runs
One thing the Yankees have done well this season, at least outside that miserable month, has been tack on insurance runs. They added three in this game. Judge swatted a solo home run in the fifth — Fulmer left a 2-0 fastball up in the zone and Judge hammered it — though the Tigers answered right back with a run against Tommy Kahnle in the sixth. He hit a batter, allowed an infield single, then allowed a two-out single to score the run. Drat.

The Yankees added two more runs in the seventh inning courtesy of the Tigers acting tough and drilling Jacoby Ellsbury as retaliation for Mahtook getting hit twice. Severino hit him in the back and Kahnle hit him in the head. Not intentionally, of course. Ellsbury got hit, took his base, stole second, then scored on Clint Frazier’s hilarious triple into the left-center field gap. The ball landed just beyond the infield dirt and rolled all the way to the warning track it was hit so hard. Ridiculous.

Love these dudes. (Elsa/Getty)
Love these dudes. (Elsa/Getty)

Scoring a run after a retaliatory hit-by-pitch is always a blast. I mean, I get why the Tigers did it. Mahtook had been hit twice and the perpetually wild Dellin Betances came inside on Cabrera a few times — not intentionally, that’s just Dellin not knowing where the ball was going — and Miggy chewed out his teammates in the dugout. Fulmer did what he had to do and beaned Ellsbury in the butt. A Gary Sanchez sac fly drove in Frazier for a 7-2 lead.

Leftovers
Another longish night for the bullpen. The Yankees got no length from Jordan Montgomery or Caleb Smith over the weekend, then had to ask the bullpen for four more innings Monday night. Kahnle allowed his run, then Jonathan Holder was charged with a run in the ninth. He loaded the bases on two soft singles and a hit batsmen, and Aroldis Chapman allowed the run on a fielder’s choice. The bullpen: 4 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 K. Those guys could really use back-to-back eight inning starts, you know?

Three-hit night for Headley, who came into the game hitting .357/.410/.500 (147 wRC+) since the All-Star break. He’s up to .274/.356/.395 (103 wRC+) on the season overall despite that massive slump. No power at all. I mean, geez. But a .356 OBP? Sign me the hell up. One hit apiece for Judge, Tyler Wade, and the Fraziers. Judge drew two walks and Holliday drew one. Even with his recent slump, Judge is still hitting .303/.429/.639 (179 wRC+). What a year for him.

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


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Tigers will continue this three-game series Tuesday night, as the dust from the trade deadline continues to settle. CC Sabathia and Anibal Sanchez are the scheduled starting pitchers for the penultimate game on the homestand. RAB Tickets can get you in the door to that game or Wednesday’s game.

DotF: Dermis Garcia homers again in Pulaski’s win

Here are the day’s notes:

  • Baseball America (no subs. req’d) posted their trade analyses of the Jaime Garcia trade and Sonny Gray trade. It has their latest scouting reports on OF Dustin Fowler, LHP Dietrich Enns, RHP James Kaprielian, RHP Zack Littell, and SS/OF Jorge Mateo, if you’re interested in such things.
  • MLB.com updated their top 30 Yankees prospects list now that Fowler, Kaprielian, and Mateo have been traded away. RHP Luis Medina, OF Everson Pereira, and RHP Gio Gallegos all jumped into the top 30. Not sure about putting the teenagers in there, but okay.
  • The Yankees made another trade today in addition to the Gray trade. They acquired more international bonus money from the Orioles for RHP Yefry Ramirez. Turning a minor league Rule 5 Draft pick into a tradeable commodity was a neat move.
  • OF Billy McKinney was named the Triple-A International League Offensive Player of the Week while RHP Brian Keller was named the High-A Florida State League Pitcher of the Week. McKinney went 11-for-25 (.400) with two doubles, two triples, and two homers last week.
  • Remember that random “RHP Dillon McNamara to the Giants” trade a few weeks ago? The Yankees received cash in that deal, reports Matt Eddy. No surprise there. Fringe bullpen prospects aren’t exactly in high demand.
  • And finally, make sure you check out Josh Norris’ feature on OF Estevan Florial, who was not traded today. That surprised me a bit. Anyway, make sure you check it out. Really great stuff.

Both Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton had scheduled off-days.

High-A Tampa (1-0 loss to Daytona, walk-off style)

  • SS Kyle Holder & 2B Nick Solak: both 0-3 — Solak drew two walks and stole two bases
  • LF Trey Amburgey: 1-4, 1 BB
  • RHP Dillon Tate: 7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 8/3 GB/FB — 76 of 109 pitches were strikes (70%) … 2.68 ERA with 44/14 K/BB in 50.1 innings since coming back from his shoulder issue

[Read more…]

Game 104: Trade Deadline Day

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

I wanted to open this with some sort of joke about the Yankees making a big splash by dealing Yefry Ramirez to the Orioles for international bonus pool money, but I’m simply too excited to bury the lede. The Yankees went all-in on the 2017 season today, acquiring the 27-year-old Sonny Gray in exchange for James Kaprielian, Dustin Fowler, and Jorge Mateo. And saying “all-in on 2017” is a bit of lede burying in and of itself, as Gray is under team control through 2019, meaning he’ll be in pinstripes for the next two-plus years. This was a move made with an eye towards the future, even as it improves today’s roster.

There’s a great deal to say about the deal itself, and more is sure to be said in the coming days, but these factors are what made me buy into Gray completely:  he has no real platoon splits (.659 OPS vs. RHP, .637 vs. LHP), he isn’t one of those guys that benefited significantly from playing in Oakland (3.50 ERA at home, 3.33 ERA on the road), and he’s a big-time groundball pitcher (54.4% for his career, 56.7% this year). You can quibble about him being a “true ace,” but there’s no denying that Gray has been an absolute stud when healthy.

Tonight’s match-up seems almost secondary to the trade deadline splash, but Luis Severino is taking the mound, and he’s always a treat to watch. Here’s the Yankees lineup:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Clint Frazier, LF
  3. Aaron Judge, RF
  4. Gary Sanchez, C
  5. Matt Holliday, DH
  6. Chase Headley, 1B
  7. Todd Frazier, 3B
  8. Ronald Torreyes, SS
  9. Tyler Wade, 2B

And here is the Tigers lineup.

You can catch tonight’s game on YES, with the first pitch scheduled for 7:05 PM EST.

Roster Update: The Yankees sent down Luis Cessa following yesterday’s game and called up Jonathan Holder prior to today’s game. Neither Jaime Garcia nor Sonny Gray have reported yet, so the Yankees don’t need to clear roster space for them. Gray’s first start will come later this week, and no decision about Garcia’s role has been made yet.

Yankees acquire Sonny Gray from A’s for three prospects

(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty)
(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty)

The Yankees have landed their young controllable starting pitcher. Prior to Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline, the Yankees acquired Sonny Gray and $1.5M in international bonus money from the Athletics for prospects James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo, and Dustin Fowler. Both teams have announced the trade, so it’s a done deal. Officially official.

The trade comes after days of rumors, which is uncharacteristic for the Yankees. They tend to keep these things quiet. The big David Robertson/Tommy Kahnle/Todd Frazier trade with the White Sox came out of nowhere two weeks ago. The Yankees and A’s haggled over the prospects, and according to Jon Heyman, Kaprielian was the deciding piece. Once the Yankees agreed to include him, the deal was done.

Gray, 27, has pitched to a 3.43 ERA (3.24 FIP) in 16 starts and 97 innings so far this season. Here’s my Scouting The Market post. He is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2019, and as a ground ball heavy right-hander with big time competitiveness, Gray fits what the Yankees need pretty well. Keep the ball on the ground and you’ll do well in Yankee Stadium and the other hitter friendly AL East parks.

Coming into the season I ranked Kaprielian, Mateo, and Fowler as the Nos. 5, 7, and 12 prospects in the farm system, respectively. All have seen their stock slip since then, however. Kaprielian blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. Mateo continued to struggle with High-A Tampa before being promoted to Double-A Trenton and going on a hot streak. Fowler blew out his knee earlier this month.

This trade boils down to this: three risky prospects for one risky starting pitcher (and international bonus money). Gray is healthy right now, though he has had some injury problems over the last 18 months or so. Fowler and Kaprielian are currently rehabbing from major surgeries and Mateo’s performance hasn’t always matched up with his loud tools. The A’s are banking on upside here. This is very much a boom or bust trade.

The Gray trade combined with the previous Robertson, Kahnle, Frazier, and Jaime Garcia trades make this the busiest deadline in quite some time for the Yankees. They were busy in 2014 (Martin Prado, Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, Stephen Drew), though those moves did not come close to this magnitude. The Yankees are going for it, both now in 2017 and going forward. It’s awfully exciting.

7/31 to 8/2 Series Preview: Detroit Tigers

(Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
(Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

I started writing this series preview this morning, about eight hours before the trade deadline, in the hopes that these two teams wouldn’t look entirely different before this hit the front page. That’s likely a fool’s errand, though, as most major deals on deadline day are announced with mere moments to spare, and this is scheduled to publish at 2 PM EST. And these two teams are expected to be active today, albeit on opposite ends of the buy-or-sell spectrum.

The Last Time They Met

The Tigers visited New York last June, from the 10th through the 12th. They took 2 of 3 that time around, dropping the Yankees to 31-32 on the season. And through that point that was the norm for the Yankees, as they spent the majority of the first half within two games of .500. Here are some notes from that series:

  • CC Sabathia, Dellin Betances, and Anthony Swarzak combined to pitch a gem in the first game of the series, a 4-0 Yankees win. They allowed eight baserunners (6 hits, 2 walks) and struck out 7 in 9 innings.
  • Former Yankee Shane Greene came in in relief in the 7th inning in games two and three … and he was relieved in the 8th inning by former Yankee Justin Wilson both times.
  • Four of the six Yankees relievers that pitched in this series (Swarzak, Kirby Yates, Nick Goody, Richard Bleier) are no longer in the organization.

For more information, check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post.

Injury Report

LHP Daniel Norris and OF Alex Presley are both on the disabled list, and neither is expected to return for this series.

Their Story So Far

The Tigers are 47-56 with a -24 run differential, and are currently eight games out of the Wild Card race. They announced that they would be sellers back on July 18, when they sent J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks in exchange for prospects, and they dealt Justin Wilson and Alex Avila to the Cubs just last night. Rumors around Justin Verlander and Ian Kinsler have been swirling for a few weeks, as well, but there doesn’t seem to be anything in the works as of this morning.

Under-performance has been the Tigers greatest issue this season, as Miguel Cabrera (152 wRC+ to 103), Ian Kinsler (123 to 93), Nick Castellanos (119 to 96), and Victor Martinez (120 to 90) have all regressed heavily as opposed to last season; and Justin Verlander (136 ERA+ to 101) and Daniel Norris (123 to 82) have done the same on the pitching side of the game. It’s difficult to win games when the heart of your order and the top of your rotation struggles so tremendously.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Brad Ausmus has been fairly consistent with his lineups, with the greatest discrepancies being caused by injuries, a catcher platoon (which no longer exists, thanks to the Avila deal), and the Martinez trade. Barring another trade, we’ll probably see something like this:

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Mikie Mahtook, CF
  3. Justin Upton, OF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  6. Victor Martinez, DH
  7. James McCann, C
  8. Andrew Romine, RF
  9. Jose Iglesias, SS

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Michael Fulmer

For better or worse, most Yankees fan know Fulmer best as the pitcher that stole the AL Rookie of the Year from Gary Sanchez last year. Many expected him to see a dip in his production this season, due to the wide gulf between his ERA (3.06) and FIP (3.76), as well as his second-half drop-off (he had a 4.76 ERA in September), but that hasn’t really happened. His ERA has risen from 3.06 to 3.35 this year, but it’s still good for a 129 ERA+ – which ranks 10th in the American League.

Fulmer is a four-pitch guy, with a mid-90s four-seam fastball, a mid-90s sinker, a high-80s slider, and a high-80s change-up. He doesn’t get many strikeouts (6.4 K/9), but he keeps the ball on the ground (50.0 GB%).

Last Outing (vs. KC on 7/25) – 8.0 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 6 K

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez

Sanchez was a solid starting pitcher from 2006 through 2014, pitching to a 3.53 ERA (117 ERA+) in 1177.0 IP. He missed parts of several seasons with injuries, but he was reliable when he was on the field. Since then, however, he has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball, with a 5.55 ERA (74 ERA+) over the last three seasons. He’s bounced between the rotation and the bullpen these last to seasons, and the Tigers are likely counting down the days until the end of the season, when they can buy him out of his team option for 2018.

The 33-year-old Sanchez is a five-pitch pitcher, with a low-90s fastball, low-90s sinker, mid-80s slider, low-80s change-up, and high-80s curveball. None of those offerings is particularly effective, though.

Last Outing (vs. KC on 7/26) – 3.2 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 4 K

Wednesday (1:5 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann

Two years ago, the Tigers signed Zimmermann to a five-year deal worth $110 MM. It wasn’t an entirely unreasonable deal, as he had averaged 203 IP of 3.13 ERA ball from 2012 through 2015, and he wouldn’t turn 30 until May of 2016. It hasn’t worked out, as Zimmermann has posted a 5.29 ERA (80) ERA+ in his time in Detroit, while also missing time with injuries.

Zimmermann has five pitches in his repertoire, but he focuses on three for nearly 95% of his offerings – a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a mid-to-high 80s slider, and a low-80s curve. He’ll also through a sinker and change-up, but those are more show-me pitches.

Last Outing (vs. KC on 7/28) – 7.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 2 K

The Bullpen

The Tigers are ostensibly closer-less right now, as Justin Wilson was filling that role most recently. He wrested that gig from Francisco Rodriguez, who was released in June, signed by the Nationals, and then released again. That’s not great news for a bullpen that has the worst ERA and FIP in baseball.

The expectation is that Shane Greene (2.74 ERA in 46.0 IP) will inherit the role for now, and recent call-up Joe Jimenez (12.46 ERA in 4.1 IP) will be groomed for it going forward. Alex Wilson (4.25 ERA in 42.1 IP), Daniel Stumpf (2.25 ERA in 20.0 IP), Chad Bell (6.10 ERA in 31.0 IP), Bruce Rondon (12.41 ERA in 12.1 IP), and Drew VerHagen (6.75 ERA in 4.0 IP) round out the group.

Yankees Connection

Shane Greene pitched well for the Yankees in 2014 (78.2 IP, 102 ERA+), but he is most memorable for being dealt for Didi Gregorius in December of that year. He was mostly bad for the Tigers in 2015 and 2016 (144.0 IP, 63 ERA+), but he seems to have found his niche as a short reliever this year.

Utility player Andrew Romine is the older brother of Austin Romine, and arguably the more successful of the two. He has a 67 wRC+ in 1070 MLB PA, and has spent most of the last four years on big-league rosters.

Who (Or What) To Watch

I’m looking forward to Sanchez and Fulmer squaring-off, which, depending on the Yankees batting order and ability to hit, will happen in the first or second inning. We could also see Gregorius vs. Greene, but that’s far less exciting.