Game 39: Back to Tampa

Can't sleep, mascot will eat me. (Presswire)
Can’t sleep, mascot will eat me. (Presswire)

Once again, the Yankees are back in Tampa, their home away from home. Spring Training was extra long this year because of the World Baseball Classic, then the Yankees started the season with a three-game set at Tropicana Field. Now they’re back again for a three-game weekend series. They just can’t escape this place.

Well, anyway, it’s time to win another series. It would have been nice to finish off the sweep of the Royals last night, but what can you do? Sometimes you get beat. The Yankees and Rays have already seen enough of each other this season — this is their third series already — so they’re familiar with each other. Just win the series, baby. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 1B Chris Carter
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Severino

The internet tells me the weather in St. Petersburg is awful. Temperatures in the 90s with humidity north of 80%, and rain. Lots of rain. Good thing they’re playing indoors tonight. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET. You can watch on WPIX. Enjoy the game.

Coaching Staff Update: Joe Girardi is away from the Yankees to attend his daughter’s high school graduation. Bench coach Rob Thomson will manage tonight.

5/19 to 5/21 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Jason Miller/Getty Images North America)
(Jason Miller/Getty Images North America)

Tampa Bay is stop number two in the Yankees’ twenty games in twenty days tour, and the second series of said stretch against sub-.500 teams. The Rays, interestingly enough, are coming off of an unforgiving twenty-in-twenty run of their own – yesterday was their first day off since April 27.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees hosted the Rays for a three-game series from April 10 through April 13, earning the sweep. It was their first series victory of the season, and it put them above .500 for the first time this year, as well. There are too many firsts to recount here, given that it was the third series of the year, but some interesting tidbits include:

  • Michael Pineda took a perfect game into the seventh in the home opener, retiring the first twenty batters he faced. He finished the day with 7.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, and 11 K.
  • The Yankees hit six home runs in the series – two apiece by Aarons Judge and Hicks, and one each from Chase Headley and Starlin Castro.
  • Jordan Montgomery made his big league debut in the second game, and pitched to the following line: 4.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 7 K.
  • Hicks hit both of his home runs in game three, and was responsible for all of the team’s runs in a 3-2 victory.
  • The Yankees starting pitchers (Pineda, Montgomery, and Luis Severino) combined to strikeout 29 batters in 19.1 IP.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more on this series.

Injury Report

The Rays currently have quite a bit of talent on the disabled list. Brad Boxberger, Xavier Cedeno, Matt Duffy, Tommy Hunter, Brad Miller (placed on the DL just yesterday, after being listed as day-to-day for most of the week), Wilson Ramos, and Shawn Tolleson are all on the DL, and none are expected to return this weekend. That accounts for their would-be (or should-be) starters at catcher, second, and short, as well as four relievers. That’s less than ideal.

Their Story So Far

Tampa Bay is currently 21-22 with a +17 run differential, and they wrapped-up that twenty-in-twenty stretch by taking two of three from the Indians. Despite their record, the Rays have the statistical profile of an above-average team; they’re fifth in the majors in wRC+, eleventh in adjusted ERA, fourteenth in adjusted FIP, and third in defensive runs saved. So what gives?

The Rays bullpen has already blown nine saves, and the team lost 7 of those 9 games. They’ve also been outscored 71 to 52 from the seventh inning forward. That ability to come back in the later innings can make a big difference on a team’s record, and the Rays have largely been unable to do so this year. Some of it is undoubtedly luck, but the injuries to four would-be bullpen pieces haven’t helped, either.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Kevin Cash has used thirty-one lineups this season, and has a propensity to ride the hot hand. Several players (notably Kevin Kiermaier, Brad Miller, and Logan Morrison) have moved up and down the lineup as their production dictates, and Cash also attempts to give players fairly regular rest. My best guess as to what the lineup will look like would be this:

  1. Corey Dickerson, DH
  2. Kevin Kiermaier, CF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Logan Morrison, 1B
  5. Steven Souza Jr., RF
  6. Colby Rasmus, LF
  7. Tim Beckham, SS
  8. Daniel Robertson, 2B
  9. Jesus Sucre or Derek Norris, C

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Erasmo Ramirez

Ramirez has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen throughout his major league career, accumulating 64 starts and 93 relief appearances in parts of six seasons. He’s been a roughly league-average pitcher in doing so, posting a 95 ERA+ in 485.1 IP. Surprisingly, Ramirez has been better as a starter, with superior marks in ERA, FIP, K%, K-BB%, and HR/9. He spent nearly all of 2016 in the bullpen, making just one start, and he opened this year as the long man. He made a spot start on April 20, though, and he has now (at least temporarily) replaced the demoted Blake Snell in the rotation.

The 27-year-old righty throws a trio of low-90s fastballs (mostly a two-seamer and a cutter, but he’ll sprinkle in a four-seamer), a mid-80s slider, and low-80s change-up. He pounds the bottom of the zone with all of his offerings, and he keeps the ball on the ground at a well above-average rate as a result (55.2% this year, 52.5% in 2016).

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/14) – 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K

Saturday (4:10 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Matt Andriese

Yankees fans may know Andriese best as the pitcher that gave up back-to-back home runs to Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin last summer, in what may have been the most memorable moment of their 2016 season. He has been a solid pitcher in parts of three seasons, though, pitching to a 98 ERA+ in 238.2 IP, including a 125 ERA+ through eight starts this season. He entered 2017 as a perceived placeholder for top prospect Jose De Leon, but he’s earning his keep thus far.

Andriese is basically a three-pitch guy, featuring a low-90s cutter, low-80s curve, and mid-80s change-up. He’ll mix in a four-seamer and a slider every so often, but those are relatively rare.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/14) – 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 5 K

Sunday (1:10 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Chris Archer

Archer has been viewed as an ace-in-waiting for half a decade now, and it isn’t difficult to see why. The 28-year-old boasts great stuff, strikes out hitters in bunches (career 25.1 K%), keeps the ball on the ground (career 46.3 GB%), and walks batters at a league-average rate (8.1 BB% for his career). He backslid a bit last year, though, posting a league-average ERA as his home run rate (1.34 per 9) soared and his velocity dipped. Archer did improve in the second half, and his velocity has recovered this season – but his walk, strikeout, and home run rates have trended in the wrong direction, and he has been more good than great on the whole.

His stuff isn’t really in question, though. Archer throws a mid-90s fastball with good movement, a wicked slider in the upper-80s, and a mid-80s change-up. About 90% of his offerings are fastballs and sliders, and the league may simply be adjusting to that approach. That may well be the difference between good starter and top of the rotation arm.

Last Outing (vs. CLE on 5/15) – 5 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 6 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

The Rays bullpen has been hit hard by injuries and poor performances. Scrap heap pick-up Jumbo Diaz and 27-year-old rookie Austin Pruitt have been pressed into duty for 35.2 IP as the team scrambles for depth, producing a 7.13 ERA, and the need for Ramirez in the rotation leaves the cupboards a bit more bare. Closer Alex Colome (2.37 ERA in 19.0 IP), set-up man Danny Farquhar (3.00 ERA in 18.0 IP), and old friend and middle reliever Chase Whitley (1.53 ERA in 17.2 IP) have done their job in keeping the bullpen afloat, but they’ve been leaned on heavily already.

As a group, the bullpen has a 4.02 ERA (99 ERA+), and the worst – by far – strikeout rate in baseball. The Rays’ 17.1% strikeout rate is 1.2 percentage points behind the next worst team, and significantly below the MLB-average of 23.1%. Allowing that many balls in play can be a real problem, particularly against more potent offenses.

Yankees Connection

The Yankees let Chase Whitley walk when he was recovering from Tommy John Surgery, and the Rays picked him up on the cheap. He made his way back to the majors last September, producing a 2.51 ERA in 14.1 IP. The Rays called him up in mid-April this year, and he has been a steadying presence in a mediocre bullpen since then.

Diego Moreno left the Yankees as a free agent after the 2016 season, and he’s also in the Rays bullpen right now. He was called up last week, and was hit hard in his first two outings (2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 2 K). He had a one-two-three inning his last time out, though.

And Nathan Eovaldi followed the Chase Whitley path over the winter; he’s on the Rays 60-day DL, and isn’t expected to be back in action until 2018.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Kevin Kiermaier has misplayed a few balls in the early goings of 2017, but he is nevertheless the best or second-best defensive outfielder in the game today. Watching him run down balls in center is worth the price of admission, if you’re into that sort of thing, as he has seemingly limitless range and a strong, accurate arm. He’s also been heating up with the bat in May, posting a 110 wRC+ in the first seventeen days of the month.

The patience of the Yankees lineup against the lack of strikeout ability in the Rays bullpen should be interesting, too.

Yankeemetrics: Kings of Kansas City (May 16-18)

(AP)
(AP)

Vintage CC
The Yankees kicked off the most grueling stretch of this early season – 20 games in 20 days – with one of their most complete and thorough performances so far. Power, pitching and defense were all on display in a satisfying 7-1 win over the Royals on Tuesday night.

The power was supplied by Gary Sanchez and Chris Carter, who each went deep and combined to drive in five runs.

Sanchez broke a scoreless tie in the third inning with a booming 428-foot homer, putting the Yankees up 3-0. It was his 23rd career homer in just his 69th game at the big-league level. The only player in major-league history to hit more homers before his 70th career game is White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu (25).

Carter tacked on two more runs with a deep blast to center in the fourth inning, punctuating his breakout 3-for-4 night at the plate. The list of Yankee first baseman to have at least three hits, including a homer, at Kauffman Stadium is a fun one: Lyle Overbay (2013), Tino Martinez (1998, 1999), Don Mattingly (1993), Steve Balboni (1983) and Chris Chambliss (1979). Welcome to the club, Chris!

Sure, chicks dig the longball, but the best story of the game was the strong bounce-back outing by CC Sabathia. The lefty had an ugly 9.58 ERA in his previous four starts entering this series, but delivered a vintage performance with 6 2/3 scoreless and efficient innings.

Sabathia checked off a couple notable milestones in the victory. It was his:

  • 109th win as a Yankee, tying Spud Chandler and Fritz Peterson for 15th place on the franchise all-time list
  • 13th win at Kauffman Stadium, matching the most wins by a visiting pitcher at the ballpark. Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle and Bert Blyleven also have 13 wins there.

One of the key differences for Sabathia against the Royals was his ability to pitch inside to righties with his cutter. On the left, his cutter location to right-handed batters in his previous four starts from April 21-May 9; on the right, his cutter location to right-handed batters on Tuesday:

cc-cutter-rhb-combined

In his previous four starts, righties hit .346 and slugged .590 overall against Sabathia, including a .407 average and .741 (!) slugging percentage against his cutter. On Tuesday, the Royals right-handed batters went 3-for-16 overall and were 0-for-4 when putting a cutter in play against Sabathia.

(TNS)
(TNS)

Runs, runs, and more runs
Another night, another run-scoring bonanza for the Yankees. They pummeled the Royals on Wednesday, 11-7, their MLB-leading seventh game with more than 10 runs. That’s the same number of 11-plus-run games they had all of last year, and tied with the 1936 club for the second-most in franchise history through 37 team games.

Royals starter Jason Vargas entered the game with the lowest ERA in the league (1.01!), but was shelled early and often by the visitors – a result that shouldn’t have been surprising given his track record against the Bronx Bombers. After surrendering six runs in four innings, his ERA against the Yankees rose to 7.15, the highest by any active player with at least 35 innings pitched against them.

Aaron Hicks contributed to the offensive fireworks with two hits, including a three-run homer, and one walk. After Wednesday’s slate, he was one of 16 major-league players with at least 25 plate appearances and more walks (22) than strikeouts (17). The only other guy on the list with a higher slugging percentage than Hicks (.616) was Bryce Harper (.744).

Starlin Castro led the hit parade with two doubles and a single, his 18th multi-hit game of the season. Over the last 20 years, the only other Yankee to produce 18-or-more multi-hit games within the team’s first 37 contests was Alfonso Soriano, who did it in 2002 and 2003.

Throwback (to 2016) Thursday
The Yankees couldn’t complete the sweep of the last-place Royals, falling 5-1 on Thursday in a game where the offense was M.I.A. for much of the night. It would have been their first series sweep in Kansas City in nearly a decade (September 2007).

Didi Gregorius once again saved the Yankees from being shut out for the first time this season with a one-out RBI single in the ninth inning. They are still one of three teams that haven’t been blanked in 2017, along with the Nationals and Twins.

Although the Yankees have scored at least one run in every game, there’s been some close calls. This was the fourth time that the Yankees had zero runs through eight innings (also on April 18, May 5 and May 12), and this was actually the second time in less than a week that Gregorius was the hero. His RBI single in the ninth inning on May 12 against the Astros was the Yankees only run of that game.

(AP)
(AP)

Jordan Montgomery allowed a career-high five runs in five innings, and the big blow was Mike Moustakas’ three-run homer on a first-pitch slider in the fifth inning. Entering this game, batters were 6-for-34 (.177) with one extra-base hit (double) when putting Montgomery’s slider in play.

Royals starter Danny Duffy was brilliant as he mowed down the Yankee lineup, retiring the first nine batters — six of them via strikeout — before Jacoby Ellsbury‘s bunt single leading off the fourth inning.

Duffy allowed just two more hits in seven scoreless innings while striking out 10. Duffy became the third Royals pitcher with double-digit strikeouts and no runs allowed against the Yankees, joining Tom Gordon (April 20, 1991) and Mark Gubicza (Aug. 17, 1986).

Mailbag: Hosmer, Freeman, Outfield, Defense, Estrada, Netting

Big mailbag this week. Sixteen questions and 15 answers. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the email address for all mailbag related correspondence.

Hosmer. (Brian Davidson/Getty)
Hosmer. (Brian Davidson/Getty)

Joe asks: What would an Eric Hosmer deadline trade look like? Do you think it’s a potential fit?

The Royals are pretty terrible and Hosmer is one of their many impending free agents, along with fellow core players Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. Hosmer, 27, went into last night’s game hitting .295/.358/.409 (110 wRC+) with three home runs, and he’s really turned things round after a terrible start. He was hitting .225/.281/.292 (55 wRC+) on the morning of May 1st.

Hosmer has developed a reputation for being better than he actually is. I guess being a former top prospect and cleanup hitter for a World Series champion will do that. The fact of the matter is Hosmer hit .266/.328/.433 (101 wRC+) last season, and is a career .278/.336/.427 (107 wRC+) hitter in nearly 4,000 MLB plate appearances. That’s not awful, but it is below average for a first baseman.

As far as the Yankees are concerned, the question is whether Hosmer would be better than their in-house first base options, specifically Greg Bird and Chris Carter. I guess it depends on Bird’s health, really. I’d much rather stick with Bird than give up prospects for Hosmer. But, if Bird’s ankle issue lingers and the Royals decide to sell, maybe checking in on Hosmer wouldn’t be a terrible idea?

The thing is, I’m not willing to give up a whole lot for Hosmer. I do think he’s a better defender than the stats indicate, but he is a below average hitting first baseman, and that’s not all that valuable. If the Yankees could build a package around their second tier prospects, guys like Miguel Andujar and Domingo Acevedo, then sure, it might be worthwhile. I can’t imagine parting with Tyler Wade or Dustin Fowler for Hosmer though, nevermind Gleyber Torres or Clint Frazier.

Jason asks: Could you imagine a scenario in which the Yankees ownership gets antsy and decides to buy big in either July or this offseason and target Freddie Freeman? What would a package for him look like?

This question was sent in before Freeman took a pitch to the wrist the other day. He’ll be out ten weeks with a fracture. Hypothetically though, I don’t think trading for Freeman would be an “ownership gets antsy” move. I think everyone would be on board with that, including Brian Cashman and the rest of the front office. There are not many players I would give up Torres to acquire, but Freeman is one of them.

The facts: Freeman is only 27, he is signed affordably through 2021, and he’s hit .309/.411/.602 (162 wRC+) with 48 homers in 858 plate appearances since the start of last season despite playing nearly all of his home games in a pitcher’s ballpark. He is one of the best and most valuable players in baseball. There’s basically no chance the Braves are open to trading him — Freeman is their franchise player, the guy they’re building around — but if they decide to put him on the market, the Yankees should go all out to get him. He’s an MVP caliber producer.

Would the Braves be wrong to ask for Torres, Frazier, Bird, and Luis Severino? I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s enough, to be honest. Torres and Frazier are great looking prospects, but they’re still prospects. Bird hasn’t been healthy for a while now. Severino? Well, you have to give something to get something. Add Freeman to Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, and the Yankees are set with a monster middle of the lineup. Like I said though, the Braves aren’t trading him.

Freeman. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
Freeman. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Michael asks: Mike. Am I being irrational in wanting them to trade Fowler but not Frazier (or Torres for that matter) for a SP..?? As a CF Fowler may project as better in the long term, yet I’m fascinated by what Frazier is likely to become and want to keep him no matter.

Not at all. Fowler is getting more hype right now because he’s having an insane start to the season in Triple-A, but Frazier remains the better prospect with the higher long-term ceiling. I’m not opposed to trading either! I just wouldn’t give them away for a quick fix rental, you know? Trading Frazier or Fowler as part of a package to get a young pitcher with ceiling and long-term control is perfectly cool with me. If I had to pick, I would trade Fowler before Frazier despite their early season numbers. Frazier’s upside is too great to ignore.

Pete asks: I just read your post about the OF production and the 160 OPS+. What was the best Yankees OF of the past 25 years based on overall OPS+?

Going into last night’s game Yankees outfielders were hitting .303/.407/.572 (157 OPS+) with 31 home runs in 520 plate appearances this season, so they have slipped a tiny little bit since that 160 OPS+ post. That was bound to happen. Even then, the Yankees still have far and away the most productive outfield in baseball. The Nationals are a distant second with a 148 OPS+.

Most of the best outfields in Yankees history are from way back in the day. The Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle teams. The most productive outfield in franchise history is the 1940 team (140 OPS+), which was led by DiMaggio. Next best is the 1961 team (135 OPS+), the year Mantle and Roger Maris raced to the single season home run record. Here are the best Yankees outfields over the last quarter-century:

  1. 1994: .317/.407/.497 (128 OPS+)
  2. 2011: .260/.360/.459 (119 OPS+)
  3. 1998: .299/.380/.482 (118 OPS+)
  4. 1997: .302/.380/.473 (117 OPS+)
  5. 1996: .291/.379/.482 (114 OPS+)

The peak Bernie Williams/Paul O’Neill teams dominate the list, unsurprisingly. The Yankees had some great outfields from 2009-12, though they weren’t close to the mid-to-late-1990s teams. I’m not sure the current outfield is good enough to best the 1994 outfield — that was a strike-shortened season, remember — though I do this year’s crew will go down as one of the most productive units in recent Yankees history.

Alessandro asks: Who is the 40th man on the roster right now? Is it finally Refsnyder? Or is it someone like Giovanny Gallegos/Mason Williams?

There actually is no 40th man on the 40-man roster right now. Well, no, that’s not true. There are 40 players, but Tyler Austin doesn’t count against the 40-man because he is on the 60-day DL. The Yankees have an open spot at the moment. Right now, my guess is Dietrich Enns is the last man on the 40-man roster. He’s an okay prospect at best and he’s currently out with a shoulder injury. Those dudes usually don’t stick around long. Refsnyder and Williams are the next men up on the position player side. If an infielder gets hurt, Refsnyder is coming up. If an outfielder gets hurt, Williams is coming up. I don’t think either is in danger of losing their 40-man spot right now. Enns is my guess. Tommy Layne might be next.

Charlie asks (short version): While we look great at the plate and pretty good in pitching (when I combine the performance of the starters and the bullpen), I’m wondering how the team ranks in terms of performance in the field. I know defensive stats are tough, but how are we doing?

Here are the defensive stats for the Yankees over the last three seasons (MLB ranks in parenthesis):

UZR DRS Defensive Efficiency
2015 -19.9 (27th) -38 (22nd) .700 (22nd)
2016 +5.0 (15th) +1 (14th) .708 (10th)
2017 -1.3 (15th) -2 (16th) .715 (12th)

Keep in mind UZR and DRS are counting stats, so the Yankees right now are on pace for -5.7 UZR and -9 DRS, which indicates the Yankees have been worse than last year. I suppose that makes sense. The Carlos Beltran to Judge upgrade is negated by the Mark Teixeira to Bird/Carter downgrade, plus Chase Headley‘s errors have annoyingly returned.

That said, UZR and DRS aren’t perfect. Far from it. On a team-wide scale, I prefer Defensive Efficiency, which is simply the percentage of batted balls the team turns into the outs. The Yankees have converted 71.5% of all balls in play into outs this year, up from 70.8% last year and 70.0% the year before. The MLB average is 70.9% this year. Simplistic? Sure, but I think this works best.

Jerome asks: If Gleyber asks for the number zero would the Yankees give it to him? What will it take for the Yankees to issue the #0 to someone?

I don’t think they ever would. The Yankees have never issued No. 0 (or No. 00, for that matter) and it just seems like one of those things they’d never do. Then again, I didn’t think we’d ever see a player wear No. 99 either, so what do I know? No. 0 is just weird though. I suppose eventually they will have no choice but to issue No. 0 because so many other numbers are retired, but we’ll all be long gone by time that happens. A player wearing No. 0 would be kinda cool — wouldn’t Ronald Torreyes be a fun No. 0? — but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for it to happen.

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

Bobby asks: As I read Steven’s piece on the potential for a Yankees-Astros rivalry, I thought about how the battles with Cleveland, Anaheim and Seattle in the past and how replicating those seem less plausible now that teams in the same league but different divisions only play two series per year. Do you support the unbalanced schedule and inter-league play or would you rather balance things out to see the A.L. central/west teams more often?

I would greatly prefer a balanced schedule with no interleague play. It would add more drama and intrigue to the World Series because there’s no chance the two pennant winners will have played during the regular season — the Yankees dropped two of three to the Phillies during the 2009 regular season — and also the balanced schedule would make things much more fair. Could you imagine the Yankees if they had, say, the Nationals’ schedule? The Nats are going to play 57 games, more than one-third of their schedule, against the crummy Braves, Phillies, and Marlins. A balanced schedule would make things more fair for everyone, especially since the postseason seeding is determined by regular season record. Interleague play is never going away because it’s too popular among casual fans and there’s too much money to be made, and the unbalanced schedule is more about travel than anything. I don’t see these things going away anytime soon.

Jim asks: I was a little surprised the Yankees held back former top international signee Dermis Garcia based on the power he showed last year (13 Hrs in 194 ABs) for extended spring training. Seems like move was based on his contact issues the first few years stateside. Might it be to rebuilt or tweak his swing to produce better contact? The Yankee minor league philosophy has been leave them alone initially before making changes.

On a scale of 1-10, I’m about a three with my level of surprise for Garcia being held back in Extended Spring Training. I thought he would start the season with Low-A Charleston, but holding back a 19-year-old kid who had a 34.3% strikeout rate in rookie ball last year is not stunning, regardless of his power output. The Yankees felt Dermis required more seasoning and instruction than full season ball allows, so they kept him in ExST. Not a huge deal or terribly surprising, as far as I’m concerned.

John asks: Do the Yankees have a better bullpen now than in 2016? Do you agree? Disagree? Why? Obviously without Andrew Miller who is arguably the best reliever in all of baseball it’s a tough argument to make, but on some level it does make sense due to the depth.

I do think the 2017 bullpen is better than the 2016 bullpen, at least when Aroldis Chapman is healthy. The Chapman-Dellin Betances-Andrew Miller trio is unmatched. Those guys were devastating for the short time they were together. Chapman-Betances-Tyler Clippard is a pretty great end-game trio too, but Clippard is not Miller, so this year’s late-game relievers aren’t as good as last year’s.

The key difference between the 2016 bullpen and the 2017 bullpen is depth. Adam Warren and Jonathan Holder, the fourth and fifth relievers in this year’s bullpen, are far better than the guys who held those roles last year. Do you remember who they were? It was Kirby Yates and Anthony Swarzak. Yeah. Really though, they were shuttle spots with others like Chasen Shreve, Nick Goody, and Richard Bleier. Either way, give me Warren and Holder over those guys any day of the week. No Miller stinks. He’s awesome. But the Yankees have a much deeper relief crew right now than they did a year ago.

Billy asks: MLBTR had a phenomenal in-depth look at the 1992 expansion draft. Using the same rules, who do you think would be the 15 protected players in the Yankees’ organization right now?

An expansion draft would be pretty fun to cover as a baseball writer dude. I’m jealous of all the NHL folks who get to analyze the expansion draft this summer. Anyway, here are the 1992 expansion draft rules:

  1. Teams could protect only 15 players in the entire organization for the first round.
  2. Players with no-trade clauses (either contractual or 10-and-5 rights) had to be protected.
  3. After the first and second rounds, AL teams could protect an additional four players.
  4. Players selected in the 1991 and 1992 drafts did not have to be protected.
  5. International free agents signed at 18 or younger from 1990-92 also didn’t have to be protected.

So let’s assume there will be an expansion draft after this season, meaning 2014-16 international free agents and 2015 and 2016 draftees do not have to be protected. Here is my protection list for the Yankees:

Teams can only lose one player per round, and I assume the Yankees would lose one of those pitchers in the first round. Probably Sheffield since he’s the best prospect of the bunch. It’s not often you can grab a top 100 caliber prospect in an expansion draft. Perhaps the expansion team would pop Hicks, though he doesn’t come with a ton of team control (free agent after 2019).

Keep in mind notable prospects like Chance Adams, James Kaprielian, Blake Rutherford, and the entire 2014-15 international signing class are not eligible for the expansion draft. They were all acquired too recently. Also, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will become free agents after the season, so they don’t have to be protected. The notable players left unprotected include Tyler Austin, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Jonathan Holder, Rob Refsnyder, and Adam Warren.

Simon asks: I’ve noticed that various folks have called Dellin Betances’ breaking ball as a curve, knuckle curve, slider. To me it looks like a curve. Can we determine once and for all what breaking pitch he actually throws?

The grip never lies. Here is a screen grab of Betances throwing his breaking ball from FanGraphs:

dellin-betances-grip

That’s a knuckle curveball grip. Mike Mussina used to throw that pitch too. Betances himself calls it a curveball, not a slider. The grip says it all though. His knuckle is on the ball, therefore it’s a knuckle curve. It’s a very hard knuckle curve — the pitch is averaging 83.7 mph this season — but it’s a knuckle curve nonetheless.

Brent asks: Thairo Estrada has been performing pretty well for a few years and as of late has been on fire. He’s young and seems to be very well rounded. Is he emerging as maybe a top 5 prospect in the Yankees system? With some guys graduating and his good play.

Bob asks: I get why the Yankees are exploring using Tyler Wade all over the field. Why aren’t they doing the same thing with Thairo Estrada? He has played 3b and 2b in addition to his natural ss position so why not the outfield as well?

Going to lump these two questions together. I love Estrada as much as anyone, but no, I don’t see him as a top five prospect in this system. His offensive ceiling is too limited by his lack of power. Perhaps he’ll grow into some more pop and outperform expectations. That would be cool. I do love me some Thairo though. That dude can flat out play.

As for the outfield, I think it is a very real possibility. Estrada is a natural shortstop who has played a ton of second and third base in deference to higher ranked prospects (Torres and Mateo, most notably), and the outfield could be next. Keep in mind the Yankees didn’t have Wade play the outfield until after he mastered Double-A. They could do the same with Thairo. Wait until it’s crystal clear he’s an MLB option with no clear path to playing time on the infield.

Anonymous asks: Since it looks like SD has no intention of returning Torrens, do you think they would be amenable to a trade that will allow them to send him back to the minors for seasoning instead of eating an entire year of development? What do you think the Yankees could ask for and what do you think SD would agree to surrender to make this happen?

Generally speaking, teams don’t give up a whole lot to acquire players already in their organization. The Padres already have Luis Torrens, and while I’m sure they’d love to send him to the minors for regular at-bats, I don’t think they’d part with even a decent prospect to make it happen. Last year the Padres traded cash to the Mariners to keep Jabari Blash, a Rule 5 draft pick. Torrens is better than Blash, but still, San Diego already has him. Why give up something worthwhile to acquire him again? Maybe the Yankees could get a Grade-C prospect, someone from the back end of their top 30 prospects list, but that’s probably it. The Padres have little reason to pursue a trade unless they determine there’s absolutely no way to keep Torrens on the MLB roster much longer.

Dan asks: In wake of Aaron Judges and Gary Sanchez’s high exit velocity, should the Yankees reconsider putting up extended netting down the foul lines? Do you think there is an increased risk of injury as players start hitting the ball harder? Could they do so on their own, or do they need permission from MLB?

Teams are free to do it on their own, and I am all for extended netting. Players are so big and strong these days, and everything on the field is happening faster than ever before. A woman sitting behind the dugout got hit by a flying bat earlier this year and the game was delayed nearly ten minutes while she received medical attention.

“Pay attention and watch the game!” is not a realistic solution, and “fans won’t be able to get autographs” is not an acceptable reason to keep the netting as is. The netting extends all the way around, from foul pole to foul pole in Korea. There’s no reason MLB can’t do the same. Given the way things are going now, it’s only a matter of time until a fan gets killed by a foul ball. The longer MLB waits to extend the netting, the more likely it is to happen. They need to be proactive when it comes to safety. Not reactive.

Yankees avoid a shutout, but lose to the Royals 5-1

After two easy wins to start off the series, the Royals returned the favor by beating the Yankees 5-1. Eh, I’ll still take a series win. The Yankees are still in the first place with a 24-14 record with a 1.5-game lead over the Orioles.

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Falling behind

The scoring started for the Royals in the second inning. With one out and two runners on base, Jordan Montgomery generated a grounder to third. Timing-wise, it should have been an easy double play. However, Starlin Castro’s throw to Chris Carter bounced in front of the first baseman and Carter couldn’t handle it. Instead of ending the inning, the Royals followed it up by taking a 1-0 lead with a Whit Merrifield RBI single. Drew Butera followed it up with another RBI single to make it 2-0 Kansas City.

The Royals did more damage in the fifth. Merrifield reached with a bunt single and two hitters later, Montgomery walked Alcides Escobar to put two runners on base. Escobar almost never walks (that was his fifth of the season) and Montgomery paid for it against Mike Moustakas. The Royals’ Moose hit a three-run home run to give Kansas City a 5-0 lead. Welp. Montgomery finished the frame but that was the last one for him tonight.

It was yet another ho-hum start for Jordan Montgomery (5 IP, 5 ER, 3 BB, 4 K). There’s a lot to like about him – a young, tall lefty who can throw multiple pitches in any count – but he won’t get to the next level if he doesn’t cut down on walks (4.12 BB/9 IP after tonight). After tonight, Montgomery has a 4.81 ERA/3.93 FIP. Struggles like this is expected of a rookie starter. We’ll see how he learns from his mistakes though.

Shutdown by the Duffman

Simply said, Danny Duffy was overpowering. Dude was a good power pitcher in 2016, striking out 9.42 hitters per 9 IP, but injuries and fatigue made it a bit of an enigmatic season. He’s one of those guys that if he can stay healthy for a full season, he’d be considered one of the top starters of the league. Well, he looked like one tonight against the Yankees.

In 7 innings, Duffy struck out 10 Yankees hitters while allowing only 2 hits. I don’t have the data handy for the best SP performance against the Yankees lineup this year but this has got to be one of the tops. Duffy’s killer pitch was his slider, which he got a whopping 13 whiffs per Brooks Baseball. He generated three whiffs total on other pitches so yeah, that slider really set the tone for his dominance tonight.

The Yankee bats did try to rally though. Jacoby Ellsbury reached on a bunt base hit to lead off the fourth and two batters later, Matt Holliday walked to put the runner on scoring position. However, Castro struck out swinging and Aaron Judge flew out to end that threat quite quickly. They had another good chance in the 5th. Duffy started the inning by allowing a base hit to Chase Headley and walking Didi Gregorius. However, Aaron Hicks swung at the first pitch slider to ground into the double play to kill the tension almost immediately. Yeesh. One of those nights.

Leftovers

Chad Green impressed again in his long relief appearance. He came in relief after Montgomery’s 5 IP outing and struck out 6 in three scoreless innings. Not bad. He now has 11 strikeouts and 1 walk in 7.2 IP so far in the MLB with a 0.00 ERA. Green is pitching like a guy who wants a bigger role and I wonder what the management thinks of it. He did have a 4.73 ERA in the Triple-A before getting called up so there’s also that to take into the factor but he’s also seen flashes of success in his ML stint last year. He’s an interesting case. I personally think he should get a shot at the rotation at some point but can’t say when would be a good time.

The Yankees were 2-for-14 in RISP tonight. Not great. A pair of outfielders – Aaron Judge and Jacoby Ellsbury – had a 2-for-4 night so that’s a silver lining. Gregorius, who drove in the sole Yankee run, was 1-for-3 with a walk. If you haven’t noticed, Didi is having a good season, hitting .320/.358/.413 after tonight.

Box score, standings, WPA graph

Here’s tonight’s box score, updated standings and WPA graph.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees start a three-game series at the Trop tomorrow. Luis Severino will be up against Erasmo Ramirez.

DotF: Frazier, Torres, Andujar, McKinney all go deep in wins

SS Gleyber Torres was pulled from last night’s game for not running out a double, Brian Cashman confirmed to Mike Mazzeo. Torres said he thought the ball was going to go foul. “He didn’t do it on purpose, but the manager had the discretion to pull him if he felt it was warranted, so he did,” said Cashman, who added he considers the incident to be in the past.

Triple-A Scranton (11-10 win over Pawtucket in 11 innings, walk-off style)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 2-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 K, 2 E (both fielding) — he’s up to .322/.398/.452 this season, and he’s played six different positions too
  • CF Mason Williams: 1-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 2-5, 2 R, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 SB — hitting streak is up to 18 games
  • DH Mike Ford: 1-5, 2 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB — 7-for-22 (.318) with two doubles and three homers in five games since the promotion
  • LF Clint Frazier: 3-6, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 K — walk-off double (here’s video) … he’s hitting .261/.348/.493 with 16 singles and 20 extra-base hits this season, and he’s yet to face a pitcher younger than him
  • RHP Domingo German: 6.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 2 HB, 7/4 GB/FB — 57 of 97 pitches were strikes (59%) … Triple-A debut after throwing only 33 innings in Double-A and 23.2 innings in High-A
  • RHP Colten Brewer: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1 HB, 3/0 GB/FB — 19 of 31 pitches were strikes (61%)
  • RHP Ernesto Frieri: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K — 15 of 22 pitches were strikes (68%) … inherited a bases loaded, no outs situation from Brewer in the ninth, and gave up a game-tying grand slam

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