Extra rest for Masahiro Tanaka shouldn’t be a priority the remainder of 2015

Can he play second between starts? (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Can he play second between starts? (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Following last night’s games, the Yankees are three games back of the Blue Jays in the AL East and 2.5 games up on the Astros for the first wildcard spot. They’re four games up on the Twins for a wildcard spot in general. The Yankees have only 18 games to play, so their postseason odds sit at a healthy 96.7% according to FanGraphs, but they haven’t clinched anything and they certainly aren’t out of the division race. Not with three more games to play against Toronto.

For much of the season the Yankees prioritized extra rest for their starters and it was understandable. Every single one of them had some kind of injury or workload concern aside from Nathan Eovaldi. Adam Warren was starting for the first time in three years and both Michael Pineda (shoulder) and CC Sabathia (knee) had lingering health concerns. So did Masahiro Tanaka, who missed just about the entire second half last year with a partially torn elbow ligament.

The Yankees were so diligent with Tanaka this year that just one of his first 15 starts came on normal rest. He had at least one extra day for the other 14. Tanaka has made 22 starts this year overall and only four have come on normal rest. No pitcher in baseball has more starts with extra rest in 2015. The combination of off-days and spot sixth starters have allowed the Yankees to give their ace extra rest way more often than not this year, which ostensibly has allowed his elbow to hold up and remain in one piece.

But now, with the season over in less than three weeks, the priority has shifted. Keeping Tanaka rested and healthy was the focus earlier in the season. Now? Now the focus has to be on winning and getting to the postseason, either as the division winner or as a wildcard team. And to do that the Yankees will need Tanaka on the mound as much as possible. He’s their only reliable starter at this point.

The stats say Tanaka is actually more effective on normal rest: he has a 2.88 ERA and 5.85 K/BB ratio in 12 big league starts on normal rest and a 3.30 ERA and 5.21 K/BB ratio in 23 starts with an extra day of rest. I don’t think the Yankees were concerned so much about Tanaka’s effectiveness on regular rest though. I think the concern was his health, first and foremost. That should change late in the season for the sake of getting to the postseason.

Tanaka started Sunday afternoon, and keeping him on a normal five-day schedule sets him up to start these days down the stretch:

Friday, Sept. 18th at Mets
Wednesday, Sept. 23rd at Blue Jays
Monday, Sept. 28th vs. Red Sox
Saturday, Oct. 3rd at Orioles

The AL wildcard game is scheduled for Tuesday, October 6th, which means Tanaka would not be lined up to pitch that day if he remains on a five-day schedule through the end of the regular season. That’s something that can be re-evaluated in the future as the Yankees get a clearer picture of their postseason situation, however.

The more immediate priority is that Blue Jays series next week. The Yankees have to start Tanaka in that series if they want to have any chance to win the division. He’s their best hope for a win. There are only two ways to start Tanaka in that series too. They could simply push his next start back a few days and have him skip the Mets series all together, or they could start him on normal rest against both the Mets and Blue Jays. That lines him up for the final game of the series in Toronto.

Given their place in the standings, pushing Tanaka’s next start back and having him start against the Blue Jays but not the Mets seems ridiculous. The Yankees need to pitch Tanaka more to get to the postseason. Not less. The “normal rest against the Mets and Blue Jays” plan makes too much sense. I’m sure the team doesn’t love the idea of Tanaka making three straight starts on normal rest — he started Sunday’s game on regular rest — but what are they supposed to do? Winning is the priority now.

That series in Toronto could easily decide the AL East. The Yankees could be buried in the standings or atop the division after those three games. Once the team gets through those three games, they can reassess their rotation plan, and decide whether they need to continue pushing Tanaka on regular rest to get to October, or take their foot off the gas and line him up for the wildcard game. The race should be clearer a week from now. For now, things are too tight to worry about getting Tanaka extra rest. Making these next two starts against the Mets and Blue Jays on regular rest seems like a no-brainer.

Triple-A bullpen can’t hold down the Rays in 6-3 loss

It’s probably not a good thing a bunch of September call-up relievers are deciding games in a postseason race late in the season, right? The Yankees lack of quality pitching depth came back to bite them Tuesday night, in their 6-3 loss to the Rays. They couldn’t take advantage of the Braves beating the Blue Jays. Drat.

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

One Run, Two Runs
One night after being no-hit into the eighth inning, the Yankees scored in the first inning Tuesday night, with Alex Rodriguez taking care of business. He swatted an opposite field solo home run off Jake Odorizzi. It was the kind of homer I wasn’t sure Alex would ever be able to hit again coming into the season. Rodriguez has six homers in his last eleven games and 32 on the season. The Summer of Al, baby.

The Yankees were trailing 2-1 (more on that in a bit) in the fourth inning when Greg Bird gave them a 3-2 lead with a two-run homer off Odorizzi. A-Rod walked earlier in the inning to set it up. Bird had a fantastic ten-pitch at-bat with four foul balls. Odorizzi kept pumping fastball after fastball, and eventually he made a mistake, leaving one out over the plate for Bird. He destroyed it. It hit halfway up that restaurant thing in center field at the Trop. Great at-bat, great result. Yankees up 3-2.

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

Adam the Starter
Adam Warren made his first start since late-May and it went … okay. He got dinked and dunked and blooped to death in the first inning. It was frustrating as hell. The Rays scored a run in the first on four singles (two bloops) and another run in the second on a double and an error. Mikie Mahtook, aka the new Sean Rodriguez, doubled to left field with one out in the second, then tried to steal third. Brian McCann‘s throw short-hopped Chase Headley at third and bounced away, allowing Mahtook to score. D’oh.

Warren finished the night with those two runs allowed on six hits in four innings. He struck out four, walked none, and threw 65 pitches. The Yankees had him on a 65-70 pitch limit in his first start back. Warren retired the final seven men he faced and looked pretty darn good once all those silly bloops stopped finding grass. Finding turf, I guess. Whatever. Just another effective Adam Warren outing. He’s been quite good no matter how the Yankees have used him the last few seasons.

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

Bullpen Shuttle
Of course, the short start meant Joe Girardi was going to have to dip deep into his bullpen, which is bad news these days. Everyone aside from Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller is shaky right now. First up was James Pazos, who got Kevin Kiermaier to line out, walked the unwalkable J.P. Arencibia, then allowed a single to the lefty John Jaso. Not a great outing. Not terrible — Jaso’s hit wasn’t a rocket or anything — but not good either.

Nick Rumbelow was summoned out of the bullpen to face Steven Souza Jr. and Evan Longoria with runners on the corners with one out, and he managed to strike out both with a barrage of breaking balls and changeups. He threw three straight changeups to Longoria and struck him out on three pitches. Wild. Then of course Rumbelow served up a monster go-ahead two-run home run to Nick Franklin (!) in the sixth. Gone off the bat. Zero doubt about it. That made it 4-3 Rays. Sigh.

Chasen Shreve and Branden Pinder did a nice job getting the next five outs before giving way to Bryan Mitchell in the bottom of the eighth. Mitchell’s inning went strikeout, single, single, fielder’s choice, single, walk. That’s not good. To be fair, Arencibia’s two-run single was a little flare Rico Noel nearly caught on a slide, but he couldn’t keep it in his glove. Still, Mitchell has not been nearly as good as he was earlier this season since taking the line drive to the face. Tampa stretched the lead to 6-3.

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

The Yankees did bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth! Dustin Ackley singled with two outs and Jacoby Ellsbury reached base on a James Loney error, but Brett Gardner flew out to left to end the game. Ellsbury could have easily been credited with a hit. It was a hard-hit grounder to Loney’s left that he just missed. Jacoby needs all the help he can get right now. The official scorer could have thrown him a bone.

Five hits for the offense, one day after having four hits. The Yankees had 17 hits in the three-game series against the Rays at Yankee Stadium ten days ago, so that’s 26 hits in their last five games against Tampa. Know how they’ve had all those line drives and hard-hit grounders get eaten up by defenders? It’s not bad luck. It’s good positioning. A-Rod, Bird, Ackley, McCann, and Carlos Beltran had the hits.

The combined bullpen damage: four runs on seven hits and three walks in four innings. The six relievers combined to strike out six. Middle relief is a really big problem right now, especially with Warren starting. Shreve and Justin Wilson seem to be out of gas and none of the Triple-A guys have emerged as a trusted arm. This staff right now feels like the bare minimum for contention.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights for the game, and here are the updated standings and postseason odds for the season. The magic number to clinch a postseason berth dropped the 15 because the Twins lost to the Tigers, so hooray for that. Here are our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages, and here’s the loss probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Rays will wrap up their season series Wednesday night. It’ll be Luis Severino and Chris Archer on the mound. The Yankees could use a win. Too many winnable games have ended up in the loss column of late.

DotF: Kaprielian’s great start not enough to extend Staten Island’s season

Short Season Staten Island (2-1 loss to West Virginia) West Virginia wins the best-of-three NY-Penn League Championship Series two games to none … this is the first time Staten Island has ever lost the Championship Series … they have six titles since joining the league in 1999

  • 2B Thairo Estrada: 1-4 — the Summer of Thairo has come to an end
  • LF Zack Zehner: 0-4, 4 K — woof
  • CF Trey Amburgey: 0-4, 1 K
  • 1B Ryan Krill: 1-4, 3 K
  • DH Junior Valera: 0-3, 1 BB, 2 K — the top five hitters in the lineup went a combined 3-for-43 (.070) with 18 strikeouts in the two games
  • RF Jhalan Jackson: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 K — his homer in the fifth was their only run of the night … got him back from a hamstring injury just time
  • 3B Drew Bridges: 0-3, 3 K
  • C Eduardo de Oleo: 2-3, 1 2B — singled leading off the eighth, then was lifted for pinch-runner Jeff Hendrix
  • SS Kyle Holder: 0-2, 1 K
  • RHP James Kaprielian: 6.1 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 6/3 GB/FB — 51 of 77 pitches were strikes (66%) … walked the first two batters of the game, then cruised the rest of the way … finishes the postseason with one run allowed on seven hits and two walks in 12.1 innings
  • LHP James Reeves: 0.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K — eleven of his 19 pitches were strikes (58%) … gave up a homer to the first batter he faced to blow the 1-0 lead
  • RHP Ethan Carnes: 0.1 IP, zeroes, 1 K — six pitches, four strikes … wiggled out of Reeves’ mess
  • LHP Jeff Degano: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 1/1 GB/FB — eleven pitches, ten strikes
  • RHP Josh Roeder: 1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 15 of 22 pitches were strikes (68%) … gave up a two-run homer in the top of the ninth

The season is over for Double-A Trenton, High-A Tampa, Low-A Charleston, and both Rookie GCL Yanks affiliates. None of them qualified for the postseason. Both Triple-A Scranton and Rookie Pulaski qualified for the playoffs but were eliminated in the first round.

Now that Staten Island’s season is over, DotF is done for the 2015 minor league season. The Arizona Fall League begins player on October 13th, though I usually don’t update those games daily. Winter ball updates are once a week. So thanks for reading this season. The winter ball updates are still a few weeks away.

Game 144: Warren’s Return to the Rotation


I woke up this morning still pumped up about last night’s win. That was a pretty awesome moment considering everything Slade Heathcott has been through all the years, between his injuries and alcoholism. The Yankees needed a big hit and the homegrown guy came through. So great. So, so great.

Today is another day though. The Yankee and Heathcott have to turn the page and focus on tonight, another important game — they’re all important games now — in both the AL East and wildcard races. Adam Warren is making his first start since late-June. He’s only scheduled to throw 60-65 pitches, which means we’re in for a lot of bullpen work tonight. That is … unsettling. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Adam Warren

Good thing Tropicana Field has a dome, because it’s been raining in St. Petersburg and will rain again later tonight. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: According to George King, A-Rod was diagnosed with a bone bruise in his left knee Tuesday after going for an MRI. He hurt himself on the slide into home plate Sunday afternoon. It can’t be too bad if Alex played yesterday and is in the lineup tonight.

Warren’s return to the rotation thins out the bullpen even further


Later tonight, Adam Warren will return to the rotation to help the Yankees following Nathan Eovaldi‘s regular season-ending bout of elbow inflammation. He’s only going to throw something like 60-65 pitches because he’s not fully stretched out, though that’s not really a problem because the Yankees are carrying 13 relievers these days. It’ll take two or three starts to get Warren all the way stretched out.

Warren was pitching quite well when the Yankees stuck him in the bullpen earlier this summer and he followed that by pitching well in relief too. He had a 3.59 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 14 starts and a 2.51 ERA (2.77 FIP) in 25 relief appearances. Warren’s been in the league full-time for three seasons now. He’s proven himself as a rock solid Major League caliber pitcher who can fill almost any role. That’s a mighty valuable piece.

That doesn’t make losing Eovaldi any less significant considering how well he pitched the last three months. Warren is a capable fill-in starter, though the Yankees will really feel Eovaldi’s loss in the bullpen. That 13-man bullpen includes only three relievers Joe Girardi actually seems to trust. Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are two of the three, of course, and Justin Wilson is the third. Chasen Shreve‘s recent struggles mean he probably won’t see a high-leverage inning anytime soon.

Warren was, essentially, the fourth member of the Circle of the Trustâ„¢. His usage has been a little weird at times this season, but when push comes to shove, I’m guessing Girardi wants Warren on the mound ahead of anyone other than Miller, Betances, and Wilson. Nine of Warren’s last 15 appearances have come in games separated by no more than two runs. Girardi started using him in more important situations over the last month or so.

Losing Warren now creates a pretty substantial hole in the bullpen. Miller, Betances, and Wilson can’t pitch every night, leaving Shreve as the fourth option almost by default. That’s not good given the way he’s pitching right now. Girardi used Caleb Cotham to get relatively big outs the last two days — he pitched down one in the eighth with an insurance run at third last night, and he faced Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista in the ninth inning Sunday — so maybe he is being auditioned. Same with James Pazos, who also pitched in the ninth inning Sunday.

The Yankees do have former All-Star closer Andrew Bailey in the bullpen, and while he could be someone who sees more important innings, he hasn’t pitched well since being called up. He’s faced 14 batters with the Yankees and allowed three walks, two singles, and one home run. Opponents have swung and missed five times at his 63 pitches. Yeah, he’s a former All-Star, but Bailey’s last All-Star Game was also Ty Wigginton’s only All-Star Game. It’s been a while.

Bailey is coming back from major shoulder surgery and physically isn’t the guy he was earlier in his career. His shoulder have been compromised to some extent. It’s unrealistic to expect him to return from a torn shoulder capsule and start handling late-inning work again. Girardi could try it, and hey, maybe it’ll work over the final 19 games of the season. Weird stuff happens in small samples. It would be a surprise though. More than likely, youngsters like Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Bryan Mitchell, Cotham, and Pazos will have to step up.

Make no mistake, in these huge games down the stretch, Girardi is going to lean on Miller and Betances more than usual. Same with Wilson to a lesser extent. He’s gone to great lengths this season to rest those guys so they can be as fresh as possible for the stretch run. The late innings are fine. Getting the ball from the starter to Betances and Miller is where things can get hectic, and that’s where Warren will be missed the most.

With Teixeira out, Yankees need Jacoby Ellsbury to snap out of post-DL slump


During the four-game series against the Blue Jays this weekend, it was hard not to notice the utter lack of impact from Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees leadoff hitter went 1-for-19 (.053) with a walk in the four games — Ellsbury went 0-for-4 last night and is currently mired in an 0-for-21 slump — and generated nothing from atop the lineup. It’s a minor miracle the Yankees have scored 26 runs in the last five games with Ellsbury hitting like that.

At this point Ellsbury’s slump is not just a little bump in the road. He did perform well during the ten-game homestand before this last one that just ended (.351 in nine games starts) and did beat up on some bad Braves pitching in Atlanta, but otherwise his bat has never really come around since returning from the DL. Ellsbury is hitting .210/.251/.328 (55 wRC+) in 258 plate appearances since returning in early-July, dragging his overall season numbers down to .254/.315/.345 (83 wRC+).

This is getting to the point where it’s more than a slump. A slump is a bad week or two. Maybe a bad month on occasion. Those happen to everyone. Ellsbury is over 250 plate appearances since returning from his knee injury now, and his offensive production has been replacement level. When he started slow immediately after coming off the DL, okay, it was understandable. But now, more than two months later? Now it’s time to be legitimately concerned.

“He’s just not squaring the ball up,” said Joe Girardi to Ryan Hatch when asked about Ellsbury’s slump Sunday, which doesn’t tell us much. We know he’s not squaring the ball up, we see it during the games and the batted ball data backs it up. Ellsbury’s soft contact rate has continually climbed since he returned in July and he’s hitting both more ground balls and more pop-ups.

Jacoby Ellsbury batted ball1

Weakly hit ground balls and pop-ups are BABIP killers. Those are the types of balls in play that rarely go for hits, which explains Ellsbury’s .235 average on balls in play since coming off the DL. He had a .379 BABIP before getting hurt and has a career .319 BABIP. Ellsbury is nowhere close to that now, and unless he starts hitting the ball with more authority, there’s no reason to expect a rebound.

The real question is why. Why isn’t he squaring the ball up? Ellsbury was a leadoff monster before getting hurt, remember. He was hitting .332/.408/.368 (123 wRC+) when he landed on the DL in mid-May. I’ve been one of the harshest critics of Ellsbury’s contract, I think it’s a disaster in the making, but I also don’t think he’s suddenly a true talent 83 wRC+ hitter either. He’s not as good as he was before the injury and he’s not as bad as he has been after. The truth is somewhere in the middle based on his history.

The injury could be certainly be a factor here. Actually, the injuries could be a factor. Plural. Ellsbury went on the DL with a right knee problem, and he also missed a few days with a right hip issue about three weeks ago. He slid for a ball in the outfield and hurt himself somehow. His hip swelled up and Girardi sat him for a few days. Leg injuries are no good for any player. Hitting starts from the ground up. Without a solid base underneath you, you won’t be able to drive the ball.

Here are two screen grabs showing the same thing at different points of the season. The screen grab on the left is from early-May, one of the final home games before Ellsbury’s knee injury. The screen grab on the right is from Saturday night. They both show the moment Ellsbury’s front foot touches down as part of his leg kick.

Jacoby Ellsbury foot

The pitch on the left has traveled a lot deeper by time Ellsbury’s foot touches down. The pitch on the right is barely out of the pitcher’s hand. Could it be the knee and hip injuries have resulted in a timing problem? Ellsbury is getting his front foot down too early now, so his weight transfer and stuff is all out of whack, leading to softer contact. (He’s been rolling over on everything and hitting grounders to the right side of late.) That sounds … plausible? I dunno. We’re playing amateur hitting coach here.

For what it’s worth, Girardi dismissed the idea Ellsbury is playing hurt, telling Brendan Kuty that Ellsbury “feels pretty good. He’s been just a little bit off.” Every player is banged up at this point of the season and it may be Ellsbury is more banged up than most given his knee and hip issues. It’s entirely possible he’s playing hurt and the team just isn’t letting on. I mean, it’s hard to think Ellsbury is playing this poorly and is 100% healthy. That would be scary. At last playing hurt would explain things.

Even if he’s not hurting right now, it could be the knee and/or hip issues have messed up Ellsbury’s mechanics. That stuff happens without the player even realizing it sometimes. They subconsciously try to protect the injured area. Thing is, we don’t even know if this is the problem. We’re searching for answers. I’m sure Ellsbury and hitting coaches Jeff Pentland and Alan Cockrell are as well. “He’s doing everything he can to get back on track,” added Girardi.

Should the Yankees move Ellsbury down in the order? After over 250 plate appearances of this, I say yeah, but that’s not going to happen. “If every time a guy was going through a tough spot and you start moving him around and moving him down, you’d be juggling the lineup every day,” said Girardi. The Yankees won’t drop Ellsbury in the lineup in year two of his seven-year contract. This is a team that bumped Adam Warren from the rotation in favor of CC Sabathia (and Ivan Nova), after all.

The Ellsbury we’re seeing right now is not the real Ellsbury. He’s a much better player than what he’s shown the last few days and also since coming off the DL. At this point the Yankees have to focus as much on staying in a wildcard spot as they do winning the division, and it’ll be hard to do either of those things these last three weeks with Ellsbury hitting so poorly. His season numbers are what they are. There’s not enough time to pretty them up. The best he can do is get on track and help the Yankees from here on out.

“He’s extremely important to our lineup,” added Girardi. “A lot of times, when guys go through tough periods, the game has a way of equaling its way out and it would be great if it did it over the next 20 games.”

Heathcott latest young player to come up big for Yankees in 2015


All things considered, last night’s win was the biggest of the season. The Yankees have been losing ground in the postseason race the last few weeks, so much so that the Rangers are as close to catching them for the first wildcard spot as the Yankees are to catching the Blue Jays in the AL East. They’re three games up on Texas and three games back of Toronto.

The Yankees were six outs away from being no-hit and one out away from an ugly 1-0 loss to last night. They instead rallied for a 4-1 win over the Rays, with the biggest blow coming from Slade Heathcott. He hit an opposite field (!) go-ahead three-run homer off Brad Boxberger in his first big league at-bat since May. It was huge. The Yankees need every win they can get right now.

Heathcott is just the latest young player to step up and help the Yankees this season. He’s not alone. Regulars like Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi have played huge roles after a rocky first few weeks in pinstripes. Others like Luis Severino and Greg Bird were called up in the second half to become regulars. John Ryan Murphy‘s been on the bench all season. And then there are guys like Heathcott, whose time with the team has been brief.

A total of 17 different players have been called up to make their MLB debut with the Yankees this year, and those 17 rookie players have combined for 1.5 WAR. That’s pretty good considering we’re talking about 178 plate appearances and 112 mostly low-leverage innings. The total performance doesn’t knock your socks off, but there are some big individual moments mixed in there that were pretty incredible. Signature moments, if you will.

Heathcott, obviously, hit his huge homer last night. Bird had his two-homer game against the Twins and also that go-ahead homer against the Orioles last week. Mason Williams went deep in his first big league game and had a two-double game against the Marlins. How many stellar defense plays did Ramon Flores make before he was traded away? I remember him saving a few runs in Oakland, like this one.

Severino stands out on the pitching side, clearly. He’s been pretty awesome aside from last Friday’s clunker. Others like Nick Rumbelow and Branden Pinder have chewed up some innings and occasionally gotten big outs when pressed into high-leverage work, and now James Pazos seems to be getting a chance in those situations. Caleb Cotham picked up the win last night and Diego Moreno had that brilliant, bullpen-saving outing in Texas.

It’s not just about the rookies though. Like I said, Gregorius and Eovaldi have become rather big parts of the team, and both are only 25. Chasen Shreve was a trusted high-leverage reliever for much of the summer and he just turned 25 not too long ago as well. Gregorius, Eovaldi, Shreve, Bird, and Severino have played the largest roles among the Yankees’ crop of 25 and under players this season, though they’re far from the only one who’ve contributed.

Make no mistake, the Yankees are still a veteran team who are where they are because of guys like Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran. The veteran dudes were always going to have to carry this team, and they have so far. The Yankees did make an effort to get younger this offseason, at least in moderation, and right now most of those moves have paid dividends. Heathcott’s homer last night was the latest example.