Toe to the rescue! Tanaka tosses gem and Yankees walk-off with 2-1 win over Rangers

Boy did the Yankees need a win like that. I think we all did after these last 12 days. The Yankees turned the clock back to April and used good pitching, timely hitting, and (occasionally) good defense to earn a hard-fought 2-1 walk-off win over the Rangers on Friday night. They needed ten innings.

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

Master ‘Hiro
As bad as Masahiro Tanaka has been overall this season, there have been some flashes of brilliance, and we saw one Friday night. Eight shutout innings, three soft singles (one didn’t leave the infield), two walks, and nine strikeouts against a Rangers lineup that is more than capable of hitting the ball out of ballpark. At one point Tanaka retired 16 consecutive batters.

This start was not about Tanaka getting away with mistakes and lucking out when some balls were hit right at defenders. His defense definitely helped out — Ronald Torreyes made two very good plays at third base, including one to start an inning-ending double play in the second, and Didi Gregorius made a great play up the middle as well — but Tanaka was razor sharp. Best splitter and slider and he’s had in a while. Here are his pitch locations:

masahiro-tanaka-pitch-locationsNot many middle-middle pitches at all. You can count them on one hand. Tanaka stayed on the edges and down in the zone, something he’s struggled to do most of the season, mostly because neither his slider nor his splitter have had the same movement as last season.

Also, Tanaka elevated his fastball for strikeouts several times Friday night. Those green and red dots at the top of the strike zone were not mistakes. Gary Sanchez called for the high fastball with two strikes several times and Tanaka executed. (Most of the time.) We haven’t seen him elevate fastballs all that much over the years. I wonder if this is a new trick or just something they saw in the Texas scouting report.

We’ve seen Good Tanaka a few times this season. He had the shutout in Boston and the 13-strikeout game against the Athletics, plus he was pretty good two starts ago in Anaheim, but he’s been unable to get on any kind of roll. Hopefully this is the start of something big. Given his season to date, I need to see more before declaring Tanaka #cured. Still though, what a night. This man is something else when he’s on.

No Runs For Yu
Unfortunately, Yu Darvish was on top of his game as well. This was the first time Tanaka and Darvish had ever faced each other in MLB — they had four head-to-head matchups in Japan — and it lived up to the hype. Did it ever. Darvish carved the Yankees up with mid-90s fastballs and wicked mid-80s sliders and silly low-70s curveballs. He even threw Aaron Judge a 65 mph curveball at one point. He was better than Tanaka, really.

The Yankees did get a runner to second base in the first inning — Brett Gardner singled and stole second — but their only other baserunner against Darvish was Sanchez’s one-out single in the fifth inning. He was immediately erased on a double play. That was it. Two baserunners, both singles to center, in seven innings against Darvish. He struck out ten and threw only 88 pitches, and after the game manager Jeff Banister said he removed Darvish as a precaution because he felt “tightness.” Can’t really blame the offense for doing nothing in those seven innings. Darvish was lights out.

Yardy. (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Yardy. (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Battle of the Bullpens
Lately anything that involves the bullpen has been bad news for the Yankees, no matter who’s on the mound. Aroldis Chapman took over in the ninth inning and put the go-ahead run in scoring position with one out with a single (Elvis Andrus) and a hit batsman (Nomar Mazara). Chapman plunked Mazara in a 1-2 count. Two-strike hit-by-pitches are the worst.

The Mazara hit-by-pitch pushed Andrus to second base and he then stole third, which is pretty gutsy. Not many players would attempt that in that spot. Not with one out. Sanchez’s throw was high and wide and Torreyes did a great job lunging to make the catch and stop the ball from going into the outfield. He saved a run. Only temporarily, unfortunately. Chapman struck out Adrian Beltre with a 101.3 mph fastball in the dirt Sanchez couldn’t block.

aroldis-chapman-gary-sanchez-adrian-beltre

Yes, Sanchez has to block that. No, a 101.3 mph fastball in the dirt isn’t an easy pitch to the block, especially when you called for and were expecting the pitch on the outside corner. But still, Gary’s gotta get his body in front of that one. Andrus scooted home to break the scoreless tie. The steal of third base was pretty huge. Chapman got Rougned Odor to ground out to limit the damage to one.

Given the way things have been going lately, it was easy to think the game was over at that point. The offense went to sleep after the Judge home run Thursday night and Darvish shut them down for seven innings Friday night. Matt Bush is pretty darn good too. Fortunately he caught a little too much of the plate with a 2-1 fastball to Gardner, who yanked it into the short porch for a game-tying solo home run in the bottom of the ninth. No. 14 of the season for Gardner. How about that?

The Gardner blast gave us what we all wanted to see: more bullpen! Woof. Chad Green and Chasen Shreve (and Gregorius) conspired to load the bases in the top of the tenth without allowing a hit. Gregorius made an error on Carlos Gomez’s soft line drive — it took a short hop right in front of Didi, but still, a Major League shortstop should make that play — to give the Rangers a leadoff baserunner. The next four batters:

  • Jonathan Lucroy grounds out to third on first pitch (no chance at a double play)
  • Mike Napoli walks on eight pitches (Shreve then replaces Green)
  • Joey Gallo strikes out on six pitches
  • Shin-Soo Choo walks on five pitches

Including the Gomez at-bat, that’s 24 pitches to load the bases with two outs. And, naturally, Shreve fell behind in the count 3-1 to Andrus with the bases full. Not ideal! He tried to get him to fish for splitters, but Andrus wasn’t having it. He took the fastball down the middle for the 3-2 count — it was a good pitch to hit, but I don’t blame Andrus for taking here — fouled off the next fastball down the middle, then popped up the third to shallow right field. Inning over. Ex-friggin-hale. A scoreless inning felt like a miracle given the recent bullpen issues.

Joltin’ Toe
The game-winning rally in the bottom of the tenth was made possible by three of my favorite Yankees. Sanchez got it started with a one-out single back up the middle, then Gregorius set it all up with a big single to right-center field, allowing Sanchez to chug all the way to third. A fly ball wins it! And of course Chris Carter was due up, and of course he struck out. At least he had the decency to do it on four pitches rather than the minimum three.

Suddenly, the rally was on life support. Two outs, runners on the corners, Torreyes up against Bush, who was still pumping upper-90s heaters and nasty breaking balls. Bush left one of those upper-90s fastballs out over the plate and Toe slapped it back up the middle for the walk-off single. Beautiful little piece of hitting. Right back up the box. Torreyes knew he’d won the game right away:

ronald-torreyes

Smart move by Carter striking out rather than hitting into a double play, eh? The Yankees really need a new first baseman. Like yesterday. Anyway, Sanchez to Gregorius to Torreyes gave the Yankees a much-needed feel-good win. The last week and a half as been pretty terrible. Suddenly now everything feels like it’ll be a-okay.

Leftovers
Somehow the Yankees finished the night with seven hits despite getting only two in seven innings against Darvish. They sent ten men to the plate against Bush and five got hits. Five! Didn’t see that coming. Gardner and Sanchez each had two hits. Judge, Gregorius, and Torreyes had one each. No walks and 14 strikeouts, mostly because Darvish was so ridiculous.

Chapman, Green, and Shreve combined: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 HBP. I guess that qualifies as a good bullpen day these days? Chapman really labored. He threw 28 pitches and got only two swings and misses. His velocity was there though. He topped out at 102.2 mph. After the shoulder issue, I can’t help but keep on eye on the radar gun.

And finally, the no shutout streak remains alive! It was in serious jeopardy there. The Yankees and Nationals are the only teams in baseball yet to be shut out this season. I love it.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
The box score and updated standings are at ESPN and the video highlights are at MLB.com. Check out our Bullpen Workload page too. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The second game of this three-game series, assuming the rain holds off Saturday afternoon, which it looks like it will. Luis Cessa and Austin Bibens-Dirkx are the totally not made up scheduled starting pitchers. There are two games left on the homestand and RAB Tickets can get you into Yankee Stadium for both of them.

DotF: Florial goes deep again in Charleston’s win

Lots of Yankees made this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet: 2B Nick Solak (3rd), RHP Chance Adams (9th), OF Dustin Fowler (11th), and 3B Miguel Andujar (17th). Solak is hitting .310/.417/.448 (155 wRC+) with nearly as many walks (38) as strikeouts (43) overall. Gotta think a promotion to Double-A Trenton is coming soon. High-A isn’t much of a challenge for a guy who was a three-year starter at Louisville.

Triple-A Scranton (9-2 win over Pawtucket)

  • 3B Tyler Wade: 1-3, 2 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 3 SB, 1 E (throwing) — tenth game at third base this season … 23-for-27 (85%) in steal attempts
  • RF Tyler Austin: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K — threw a runner out at the plate … 6-for-15 (.400) with two doubles and three home runs in his last four games
  • LF Clint Frazier: 1-5, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI — here’s video of the triple
  • SS Cito Culver: 2-3, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB — he’s hitting .250/.326/.487 this year, you know … eight homers is only one shy of his career high
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 6 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 6/3 GB/FB — 64 of 98 pitches were strikes (65%) … 77/21 K/BB in 78.2 innings for the Rule 5 Draft pick … he was in camp with the Cubs this year but couldn’t stick

[Read more…]

Game 71: Win a game this isn’t funny anymore

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Okay, I’m sick of this losing business. It’s been going on too long. Yeah, the Yankees won two days ago, but they let another winnable game slip away last night, and that’s been happening far too often the last two weeks. The Yankees have been beating themselves too much. Last night it was the errors. Last week it was the bullpen. Stop it, dudes. You’re better than this.

Anyway, Masahiro Tanaka is back on the mound tonight as the Yankees try to figure out why he’s pitching like Javy Vazquez and not the Masahiro Tanaka we saw from 2014-16. I’ll settle for “pitch well enough to win” tonight. Can Tanaka just do that, please? Man, I hope so. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

It is cloudy and humid in New York, which usually means rain. The heaviest stuff isn’t coming until early tomorrow morning. There are some showers on the way later tonight, though it doesn’t look like it’ll be anything heavy enough to delay the game. We’ll see. Tonight’s series opener will begin at 7:05pm ET and both YES and MLB Network will have the broadcast. Try to enjoy.

Injury Updates: Chase Headley (back) received an epidural and will be out a few days. Until then, Austin Romine is the backup infielder … Jacoby Ellsbury (concussion) passed the concussion protocol. He’s been taking batting practice and the Yankees are planning his rehab assignment … CC Sabathia (hamstring) threw a bullpen session today for the first time since going on the disabled list … Adam Warren (shoulder) will begin throwing tomorrow.

Update (6:51pm ET): The game will not start on time. Stupid rain. The new start time is TBA.

Update (8:05pm ET): The game is scheduled to begin at 8:40pm ET, so says the Yankees.

6/23 to 6/25 Series Preview: Texas Rangers

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Last Time They Met

The Rangers visited the Yankees this time last year, splitting a four-game series from June 27-30. Both of the Yankees wins came in walk-off fashion, with one coming by way of long ball, and the other as the result of a passed ball. Ain’t baseball grand? A few more notes:

  • Mark Teixeira went 3-for-5 with a home run in the first game, which ended up being the last three hit effort of his career. It would’ve been the game-winning home run had Kirby Yates not blown the lead two innings later.
  • Luis Cessa picked-up the first win of his MLB career in game three. He came in to relieve Masahiro Tanaka in the 7th, and pitched the last three innings of the game.
  • Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-4 in the final game of the series; it was the last multi-hit game of his career.
  • The sequence of events that led to the game four walk-off was: walk – sacrifice bunt – walk – fielder’s choice (runner’s advance to 2nd and 3rd) – passed ball. Jacoby Ellsbury was at the plate for the passed ball, so perhaps we should chalk it up to his catcher’s interference magic.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun with numbers.

Injury Report

While the quality is up for debate, there’s no arguing that the Rangers essentially have a pitching staff on the disabled list. Starters Cole Hamels, Andrew Cashner, A.J. Griffin, and Chi Chi Gonzalez, and relievers Tony Barnette, Jake Diekman, and Jeremy Jeffress are all out, and none are expected to return for this series.

Their Story So Far

The Rangers are currently 36-36 with a +22 run differential, and they’ve won 10 of their last 15. They’ve dealt with a litany of injuries this year, with their current disabled list only representing a portion of that – Adrian Beltre missed 50-plus games with injuries, Carlos Gomez missed 20-plus games, Tyson Ross didn’t pitch until June 16, and Jonathan Lucroy has been dealing with nagging injuries all season. Their ability to hover around .500 so far is impressive, all things considered, and they should improve when (if?) they get healthy.

Surprisingly, the Rangers offense (25th in baseball in wRC+) has been a larger issue than their pitching (13th in park-adjusted ERA). The worst offenders have been Lucroy (78 wRC+), Mike Napoli (77 wRC+), and Rougned Odor (63 wRC+), all of whom were expected to be solid contributors in the lineup.

You can read more about the Rangers over at Lone Star Ball.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Jeff Banister has been tinkering with the lineup quite a bit over the last month or so, with injuries and underperformance all but forcing his hand. The first, second, and fourth spots in the lineup have been veritable revolving doors, and that’s less than ideal when your team is expected to have a potent offense. Nevertheless, the Yankees will probably see something like this over the weekend:

  1. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
  2. Elvis Andrus, SS
  3. Nomar Mazara, LF
  4. Adrian Beltre, DH/3B
  5. Rougned Odor, 2B
  6. Carlos Gomez, CF
  7. Joey Gallo, 3B/DH
  8. Mike Napoli, 1B
  9. Jonathan Lucroy, C

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Yu Darvish

Even with injuries that cost him all of 2015 and much of 2014 and 2016, we should be discussing Darvish as one of the greatest Japanese imports in MLB history. He has 18.1 bWAR through his fifth season (4.4 bWAR per 180 IP), which puts him just three bWAR behind Hideo Nomo and Hiroki Kuroda in significantly fewer innings, and he’s still just 30-years-old. He’s also a free agent after this season.

Darvish is something of a two-pitch pitcher, with most everything being either a fastball (be it a mid-90s four-seamer, mid-90s two-seamer, or high-80s cutter) or a slider. He’ll throw the occasional curveball or change-up, but that’s not an every-game occurrence.

Last Outing (vs. SEA on 6/18) – 5.0 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 6 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Cessa vs. RHP Austin Bibens-Dirkx

Yes, that’s his real name. Bibens-Dirkx spent the first eleven seasons of his professional career in the minors, pitching in five organizations along the way (as well as in the Mexican League and independent ball). The Rangers signed him to a minor league deal last off-season, and he made his big league debut on May 17, three weeks shy of his 32nd birthday.

Bibens-Dirkx is a borderline junk-baller, with a pair of 90ish MPH fastballs, a mid-80s slider, a mid-80s change-up, and an upper-70s curve. His offspeed pitches have graded extremely well as per PITCHf/x, albeit in just 29.2 IP.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 6/19) – 5.0 IP, 5 R, 1 BB, 5 K

Sunday (2:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Nick Martinez

Martinez’s path to pitching has been interesting, as well. He was drafted out of Fordham in 2011, having spent most of his time there as an infielder (and occasional reliever). The Rangers converted him to starting in his first professional season, and he’s done well-enough since (96 ERA+ and 2.1 bWAR in 364.1 MLB IP). He lack a strikeout pitch, which limits his ceiling, but he has improved his control and groundball rates over time.

Martinez throws three low-90s fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter), a curve in the upper-80s, and a mid-80s change-up. It’s not premium stuff, but he throws all of his pitches for strikes.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 6/20) – 6.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 2 K

The Bullpen

The Rangers have already used fifteen different relievers this season. It’s not surprising, then, that the group has a 4.45 ERA and more blown saves (13) than saves (11); those save and blown save numbers are both second-worst in the majors. Those numbers are at least a bit misleading, though, as Sam Dyson (now on the Giants) was 0-for-4 in save opportunities, and had a 10.80 ERA in 16.2 IP. The remaining relievers – notably closer Matt Bush, set-up man Keone Kela, Jose Leclerc, and Alex Claudio – have been solid or better.

Texas’ bullpen has been stretched somewhat over the last week, including being called upon for six innings on Tuesday. Bush and Kela rested yesterday, though.

Yankees Connection

Get excited, folks, as Yankees legends Ernesto Frieri and Pete Kozma will be making their way to the Bronx for the next three games.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Adrian Beltre is healthy, hitting, and just forty hits shy of 3,000. I’ve always enjoyed watching him play, and I’m excited to (hopefully) see him reach that milestone later this year. And I still feel like few people realize just how close he is to that level of immortality.

Joey Gallo is no Aaron Judge, but he’s currently fifth on the exit velocity leaderboard. He’s a three-true outcomes hitter, with nearly 56% of his PA resulting in a home run (19 jacks), walk (11.0%), or strikeout (37.3%), and when he manages to make contact the ball really flies off of his bat. He’s still only 23-years-old and this is his first extended look in the majors, so there’s definitely room for improvement.

Yankeemetrics: Bronx (bullpen) is burning [June 20-22]

(Getty)
(Getty)

Please deactivate Clip-bot
The Yankees returned to the friendly confines on Tuesday night but the story was virtually the same as the previous six games: they got themselves into an early hole thanks to some shaky starting pitching, then rallied to tie the score with a couple Baby Bombs, but a bullpen meltdown ultimately sealed their fate, resulting in another loss.

Their losing streak reached seven games, just the third time in the last two decades the Yankees have suffered that many consecutive defeats within a season – the other seven-game losing streaks came in 2000 (ended nicely!) and 2007 (ended pretty good).

What made this loss even more disheartening is that the odds were in the Yankees favor entering Tuesday’s game:

  • They had won nine straight in the Bronx against the Angels, tied for the second-longest win streak vs. any opponent at the new Yankee Stadium, and the second-longest home win streak against the Angels in the history of the rivalry.
  • The Yankees were 24-8 vs. the Angels at the current Yankee Stadium, their best record against an American League team at the ballpark
  • They had the AL’s best home record (22-9), and led the league in runs per game, batting average, home runs per game and pretty much every offensive statistic at home.

But then Tyler Clippard torched whatever good vibes the Yankees had built up, and the Yankees were losers, again. He entered with the game tied in the seventh – faced four batters, allowed three extra-base hits and three runs, got one long flyout — and exited to a chorus of boos.

Clippard was tagged with his fourth loss of the season, and only Masahiro Tanaka had more among Yankee pitchers after Tuesday’s disaster. Even worse, he suffered his 10th meltdown of the season, the most among AL pitchers through Tuesday. And his slugging percentage allowed in high-leverage situations increased to .737, per baseball-reference.com. Yeah, and Aaron Judge is “only” slugging .702 this season.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Back to business
Our long Bronx nightmare finally came to an end on Wednesday night as the Yankees snapped their seven-game losing streak with a 8-4 win over the Angels.

They avoided what would have been their first eight-game slide since 1995. If you think that’s a long drought … you’d be correct! Every other major-league franchise has suffered at least three losing streaks of eight-or-more games since the start of the 1996 season. And the Yankees have zero.

Jordan Montgomery delivered yet another impressive and gutsy performance (two runs on five hits in 5 2/3 innings), and it was his curveball that really stood out as a legit weapon for him against the Angels.

He threw 32 curves, per Brooksbaseball.net, and the Angels were 0-for-7 with four strikeouts in at-bats that ended with a curveball. Opponents are now hitting .155 against the pitch this season, the ninth-lowest average among starters (min. 200 curves). Montgomery also netted eight curveball whiffs on 14 swings (53.3%), increasing his swing-and-miss rate with the pitch to 42.7 percent, another top-10 mark for him among starters that have thrown at least 200 curves this season. Pretty good for a rookie, eh?

While Montgomery kept the Yankees in the game on the mound, the hero of the night at the plate was Matt Holliday, who broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth inning with a solo shot to right-center. It was a milestone hit for Holliday, too, his 1,200th career RBI.

This lets us reflect on his all-around greatness – his ability to hit for power, drive in runs, get on base – among left-fielders, the position he played for much of 14-year career. He is one of just four players in major-league history that played at least two-thirds of their games in left, and accumulated at least 1,200 RBI, 300 homers, 450 doubles and 700 walks.

The others: Ted Williams, Luis Gonzalez and Barry Bonds.

Holliday wasn’t the only Yankee that entered the record books on Wednesday night – though Tyler Clippard did so in the ugliest way possible. He was inserted in the ninth inning for mop-up duty, and then immediately gave up a booming double to the first batter he faced, and a two-run homer to the next guy, before Joe Girardi mercifully pulled him from the game without getting an out.

Combined with his dreadful outing less than 24 hours earlier (see above), Clippard became the first pitcher in Yankee history to allow at least two earned runs and two extra-base hits in back-to-back appearances of one-third of an inning or fewer.

(AP)
(AP)

No lead is safe
Deja vu was the theme of Thursday night’s brutal loss as the Yankees once again found themselves in an early hole, then quickly rallied to take the lead, only to have the bullpen (and some sloppy defense) set fire to that mid-game optimism, resulting in another disgusting defeat.

It was their sixth loss this season when entering the seventh inning with a lead, matching the same number of losses they had in that situation as all of last year. They also got charged with their 13th blown save of the season, one shy of the Tigers for the most in the majors. At this point last year (game number 70), the Yankees had just four blown saves. And it was the third time this year they lost a game after leading by four or more runs. Yup, you guessed it, that’s the same number of such losses they suffered the entire 2016 season.

The difference on Thursday was that Dellin Betances hopped on the Struggle Bus, coughing up two runs on two hits (single and double). In his first 24 appearances of the season combined, he had surrendered only two runs (one earned) and had yet to give up an extra-base hit.

The night actually started on a high note when Aaron Judge crushed his 25th homer of the season in the second inning to straightaway center and deep into Monument Park, giving the Yankees a 5-1 cushion. It was his MLB-leading 15th longball with an exit velocity of at least 110 mph; last year’s leaders in 110-plus mph home runs (Nelson Cruz, Giancarlo Stanton) had 14 … for the entire season.

Of course, he’s not just obliterating the Statcast leaderboards, he’s making a mockery of the Yankee and major-league record books too.

  • His 25 homers are just four shy of the Yankee rookie record set by Joe DiMaggio in 1936.
  • He’s just the fifth Yankee age 25 or younger to hit 25-or-more homers before the All-Star break (since the game was first played in 1933). The others you might have heard of: Mickey Mantle (1956) and Roger Maris (1960).
  • Judge is the second Yankee right-handed batter to reach 25 home runs before the All-Star break, joining a fella named Alex Rodriguez in 2007

And, finally, Judge is the only MLB rookie outfielder ever to hit at least 25 homers before the All-Star break. #AllRise

Mailbag: Vogt, Moran, Bird, Adams, Judge, Betances, Shreve

I’ve been busy the last few days, so I didn’t have much time for mailbaggin’. Only eight questions this week. These things used to only be three or four questions, you know. Now eight qualifies as small. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. Send questions there.

Vogt. (Lindsey Wasson/Getty)
Vogt. (Lindsey Wasson/Getty)

Mike asks: Do you believe in Stephen Vogt?

I believe in Stephen Vogt. The Athletics designated Vogt for assignment yesterday as part of their renewed emphasis on youth. Vogt is gone, Trevor Plouffe is gone, and I imagine it’s only a matter of time until Jed Lowrie, Yonder Alonso, and Rajai Davis are gone too. The A’s are going young.

Vogt, 32, was hitting .217/.287/.357 (73 wRC+) with four homers in 174 plate appearances this year — Chris Carter went into last night’s game hitting .201/.287/.384 (77 wRC+) — after being an All-Star in 2015 and 2016. His production has dropped from a 116 wRC+ in 2015 to a 93 wRC+ in 2016 to a 73 wRC+ in 2017. That is: bad. And yet, there is this:

  • Vogt is a career .260/.320/.428 (106 wRC+) hitter against righties.
  • He’s a left-handed hitter who can take advantage of the short porch. Example: this homer.
  • He can play first base, fake the outfield, and be an emergency third catcher.
  • Vogt is an A+ clubhouse dude. He’s awesome. Example: his NBA referee impression.
  • If he gets released, Vogt can be signed for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.

The Yankees gotten nothing from first base this year. Stephen Vogt has been very bad this year! Can he better in Yankee Stadium while limited to platoon duty? Maybe! Now that Aaron Hicks is healthy, the Yankees don’t need Mason Williams on the bench. Sending down Williams for Vogt and giving him a chance at first base could be an upgrade. Probably not, but maybe so.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t think the A’s will release Vogt, and he definitely won’t elect free agency because he has fewer than five years of service time, meaning he’d forfeit the remainder of his $2.965M salary by electing free agency, and that’s not happening. The A’s will outright him to Triple-A and stash him as depth. I wouldn’t trade anything to get him nor would I take on the salary via waivers. If the A’s do release Vogt, sure, see if he’ll come to New York. If they don’t release him, then forget it.

Colin asks: Colin Moran, top college bat, high draft pick, local kid. The Astros are all locked up in the infield (although with Gleyber going to 3rd maybe the Yankees are now). He’s 25 and seemingly figuring it out, would it be possible to pry someone like that away on the cheap side?

Eh, I’m not sure he’s figuring it out as much as he is repeating Triple-A. Moran, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft, is hitting .279/.340/.541 (122 wRC+) with 16 homers, 17.6% strikeouts, and 8.2% walks in 57 Triple-A games this year. He’s a left-handed hitter known more for his level swing than his power. MLB.com ranks him as the 23rd best prospect in the Astros’ system. Here’s a piece of their scouting report:

Known for his pure left-handed swing and his ability to barrel balls easily while controlling the strike zone … His approach and relatively flat stroke yield below-average power, however, and he’s not the walk machine he was in college at North Carolina. Moran contributes little value beyond his bat, so he’ll have to boost his projection to become a big league regular … He has the hands and solid arm to play the hot corner, though Moran lacks range there. He’s a well below-average runner whose only other defensive option is first base.

The ‘Stros have Alex Bregman at third base and Yulieski Gurriel at first — plus A.J. Reed is waiting in Triple-A — so there’s no real spot for Moran going forward. He has a minor league option remaining for next season, so I suppose the Astros could stash him in Triple-A for another year as a depth option. They don’t have to move him anytime soon.

The Yankees don’t have a clear cut long-term third baseman. Gleyber Torres is awesome, though his recent Tommy John surgery throws a wrench into things. If nothing else, it delays his arrival. I am a big Miguel Andujar fan, but prospects are suspects until they prove otherwise. Could the Yankees get Moran for a similar busted former top prospect like, say, Mason Williams? It would be worth it given the uncertainty surrounding third base. Moran is by no means a “must acquire” though.

Jake asks: Given Bird’s setback and the likely probability that Detroit will sell, Alex Avila seems like a good fit. He’s on a prove-it contract that expires at the end of this year, he’s played first in the past, and he’s slashing well (including getting on base at a career-best .432 clip). Is he worth the risk?

Interesting! Avila has played 35 games at first base the last two seasons, so it’s not completely new to him, plus you could always stick him behind the plate. Avila is hitting .314/.437/.587 (172 wRC+) with ten homers on the season, easily his best year at the plate, because he’s doing the “hit more fly balls” thing (like Yonder Alonso):

alex-avila-batted-balls

If Greg Bird continues to have injury issues, Avila would be a nifty little pickup. He’d slide right into Bird’s roster spot as the left-handed hitting first baseman (slash catcher), and he’d give the Yankees a nice platoon option against righties. Plus, left-handed hitter and the short porch! Those two things always mix well. I wonder whether the Yankees could get him for someone like Ben Heller or Jonathan Holder. I can’t imagine Avila has much trade value despite his great start. Getting him for an extraneous reliever (the Tigers are in perpetual need of bullpen help) would work.

Bobby asks (short version): Given that the Yankees drafted numerous players at the bottom of the draft who are early round talents, is there any chance that the Yankees would decide to go crazy and sign all of them to multi-million dollar bonuses? They would have to forfeit their first round pick in the next two drafts and pay 100% tax on the overage.

No team has ever exceeded their bonus pool to the point where they forfeit future draft picks and I don’t see that happening anytime soon. It is an interesting idea though. In the late rounds this year, the Yankees drafted one bonafide first round talent (Alabama HS RHP Tanner Burns) and two players who could be first round picks next year with healthy 2018 college seasons (Stanford RHP Tristan Beck and Louisville RHP Riley Thompson). Beck is a potential top ten pick next year.

Exceeding your bonus pool by 15% or more means forfeiting your next two first round picks and paying a 100% tax on the overage. If the Yankees were to give those three players first round money, say $2.5M to $3M each, they’d be way over their $6.91M bonus pool. Let’s call it $3M each. That means paying $9M in bonus, $9M in tax, and giving up their first round picks in 2018 and 2019. But! You are adding three first round caliber talents to the organization right now. I think this is seriously worth considering when you’re talking about signing more than two such players. Doing it for one doesn’t make sense. But three? It’s not a bad idea. I don’t see the Yankees doing it though.

Michael asks: With the hole at first base who would you acquire? Any thoughts on Matt Adams? He’s cheap and controllable beyond this year.

I’ve never been a big Adams guy but he has been raking since getting traded to the Braves: .294/.346/.647 (148 wRC+) with eleven homers in 30 games prior to last night. Unless you think he’s a new player for some reason — and there’s nothing in the underlying numbers to suggest this is something more than a hot streak — Adams is the same guy he was with the Cardinals a few weeks ago. Atlanta gave up a non-top 30 organizational prospect to get him (Juan Yepez) and that’s all I’d give up to get him now. I’m not paying a bigger price because he had a month long hot streak with the Braves that will in no way benefit me. If the Yankees can get Adams for a non-top 30 guy, say Abi Avelino or Chris Gittens, do it. That’s about my limit here.

Henry asks: without seeing the numbers the eyeball test is telling me that Judges K rate has been climbing. It seems like he is maybe a little frustrated by the lack of good pitches in the zone and hes swinging more at the low and away out of the zone. It also looks that he might be sitting fastball a bit too much as im seeing him take a lot of loopy curves down the middle. do the numbers and your opinion back this up?

Aaron Judge‘s strikeout rate spiked in May and has stayed at the same level since. He was running a 29.8% strikeout rate heading into last night’s game. Here’s the graph:

aaron-judge-strikeout-rate

Twenty-eight of Judge’s 87 strikeouts this season have been looking, or 32.2%. The MLB average is 23.3%. I’m guessing all those low strikes he keeps getting called against him has something to do with that. It does seem like Judge has been caught looking a little more often the last few weeks — I could be completely wrong — and maybe that means he’s caught in between a bit. He’s looking fastball but gets a breaking ball, and vice versa. That sorta thing. Judge is striking out a lot, but man, whatever he’s doing, it’s working. Keep doing it.

Michael asks: Is DiDi’s very low walk rate concerning to you? There have been 208 players with 190+ PA and DiDi is ranked 204th with a BB% of just 3.1.

Nah. I wish Didi Gregorius would walk more, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. This is who he is. He’s a free swinger. And it works for him! Didi makes plenty of contact and he can hit the ball over the fence. I’d just let him be. Swinging is in his DNA so let him do it. If Gregorius wasn’t producing or if the Yankees had six or seven hitters like this in the lineup, it would be a problem. But he’s been hitting and, by and large, the Yankees have a patient lineup. One (or two, really, counting Starlin Castro) free swinger ain’t the end of the world.

Daniel asks: I don’t have video evidence, but it seems to me that Betances has seriously closed off his stance on the mound. What do you think? With Shreve doing the same, does two make a trend?

Both Dellin Betances and Chasen Shreve have closed their deliveries this year. Here’s what I mean:

dellin-betances-chasen-shreve-2016-vs-2017

One of the ex-pitcher YES Network broadcasters spoke about this a few weeks ago. I think it was David Cone. He said closing up like that — Betances and Shreve are practically showing their number to the hitter now — helps the pitcher stop from flying open out front. They stay back better and can more easily maintain their balance through their delivery. That’s what the broadcaster (again, Cone, I think) said, so take their word for it.

Shreve is throwing harder this season. His average fastball is 92.9 mph, up from 92.2 mph the last two years, and his max velocity has jumped from 94.8 mph to 95.7 mph. Basically one full mile-an-hour. That’s not nothing. I have no idea whether the slight velocity jump is due to closing up his delivery, but I suppose it could be related. The fact two pitchers on the same staff have done this now, closed up their delivery, leads me to believe it’s not a coincidence. The coaching staff encouraged this. And hey, given the way Betances and Shreve have pitched this year, it seems it be working.