So last night was pretty awesome. The Yankees mounted that hugely important come-from-behind win against the White Sox, the Pirates clinched their first non-losing season since 1992, and … I guess that’s it. Still a pretty great night. Anyway, I have some thoughts, so I will share them with you:
1. Now that the swap is official, I really have no idea what to expect about of Phil Hughes as a reliever and David Huff as a starter. Huff has pitched well in long relief against some bad teams (Blue Jays twice and the White Sox once) and his track record as a starter is ugly, but at this point the Yankees have to give him a chance. There’s just no way they could justify running Hughes out there every five days if they are serious about winning. I do expect Huff’s leash to be short however, which is easy to do with a nice big September call-up filled bullpen. All it takes is five decent innings to be an upgrade at this point.
Hughes, meanwhile, has never not been awesome out of the bullpen, but he hasn’t done it regularly since 2009. He did have a nice showing as a reliever late in 2011, but that was only a handful of outings. The Yankees don’t need him to be great since David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Preston Claiborne have the right-handed setup thing locked down, but it would be awesome of Hughes got back to being dominant in relief. He still gets an above-average amount of swings and misses on his fastball as a starter (9.46% according to Brooks Baseball), so hopefully that jumps a notch in relief (it was 11.97% in 2009). Hughes could be a nice middle innings weapon, especially since he’s stretched out enough to go two full innings and wouldn’t have to worry about turning a lineup over.
2. In an Insider-only piece, Jared Cross used pitch-framing data to examine the MVP candidacies of Yadier Molina and Jonathan Lucroy yesterday. Molina is a legitimate MVP candidate even without the pitch-framing stuff in my opinion, but I digress. Here’s a table from Cross’ article:
That doesn’t includes yesterday’s games but I doubt it would change the data all that much anyway. Chris Stewart ranks fourth in the league with 17 runs saved via his pitch-framing — third on a per game basis, at least among those five players — which works out to roughly 1.8 WAR based on this year’s runs-to-WAR conversion factor. That’s an awful lot of value stemming from just catching pitches. FanGraphs had Stewart at 0.5 WAR yesterday, which includes everything but pitch-framing. So offense both at the plate and on the bases as well as catcher defense stuff like throwing out attempted base-stealers and blocking balls in the dirt. Add in the pitch-framing and he’s at 2.3 WAR for the year. I wish we had the pitch-framing numbers for the entire league to see where that ranks overall, but we usually have to wait until after the season for that.
A 2.3 WAR player is more or less league average … if you take the pitch-framing numbers at face value. There still a lot of work to be done in that area. I’m looking forward to seeing umpire-adjusted pitch-framing data, personally. Maybe Stewart’s even better than 1.8 WAR at framing, who knows? Stewart’s overall contribution has been okay, but he’s been so terrible at the plate lately (29 wRC+ since the All-Star break) that Austin Romine should get the majority of the playing time behind the plate. He’s supposed to be quite the pitch-framer himself, I hear. The Yankees showed they were serious about winning by replacing Hughes with Huff, and now they need to do it with Stewart and Romine.
3. Do you want to know what really, really sucks? There are only eight weeks left in Mariano Rivera‘s career at the absolute most. It hit me when he entered last night’s game that holy crap, this could be the last month of his career. We might only get to see him pitch another eight or ten times if the Yankees miss the postseason. That’s heartbreaking. Yankees fans have been through some sad goodbyes over the years — Don Mattingly, Paul O’Neill, Andy Pettitte (the first time), Jorge Posada, etc. — but those won’t be anything close to Rivera for me. He’s by far my all-time favorite Yankee and probably my all-time favorite player overall. (I had it real bad for Darryl Strawberry growing up as a kid and it only got worse when he came to the Yankees.) It’s cheesy and cliche and all that, but Mo is definitely the kind of player I’ll sit around and tell the grandkids about one day. The Yankees will find someone to replace him, someone to pitch the ninth inning and close games and maybe even throw the last pitch of four World Series, but there will never be another Mariano. He’s truly one of the kind.
Best win of the season? I know I’ve said that like ten times before, but this is definitely up there. Top five at least, probably top three. There’s no shame in getting shut down by Chris Sale, he might be the best pitcher in the league, but the Yankees can’t afford to get shut down by anyone at this point. They waited Sale out before jumping all over the White Sox bullpen for a huge and dramatic and hugely dramatic 6-4 win on Tuesday.
Never Say Die
Like I said, there’s no shame in getting shut down by Sale. I do think he’s the best pitcher in the AL and one of the four or five best in all of baseball. For 7.1 innings, he completely befuddled the Yankees with mid-90s fastballs and silly backdoor breaking balls to right-handers that were just unhittable. The Bombers only had five hits against the ChiSox southpaw and two of them came from the last two batters he faced. The last was a booming opposite field double by Robinson Cano, just the third extra-base hit Sale has allowed to a left-handed batter this year (all doubles). Holy crap.
Those back-to-back hits to end Sale’s night paved the way for the eighth inning rally. The Yankees came into the frame down three runs and had runners at second and third with one out when Alfonso Soriano laced a single to center in an 0-2 count to score both runs. They were the 38th and 39th runs Soriano has driven in in 36 games since rejoining the Yankees. Alex Rodriguez followed that with a full count single to center to put runners at the corners for pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson, who tied the game with a single to center against lefty specialist Donnie Veal to plate Soriano. The Grandyman laid off some real tough breaking balls down in the zone earlier in the at-bat.
It looked like the rally would be cut short when Mark Reynolds struck out for the second out — it was a tough eight-pitch at-bat, to his credit — but Eduardo Nunez picked him up by hooking a 1-1 fastball into the right field corner for a two-run double. I don’t even think the pitch was a strike; it looked to be off the plate both down and in. The only thing Nunez does exceptionally well is make contact, and that skill was on full display with his game-winning hit. It was only the team’s 12th biggest hit of the season by WPA (+.345), but WPA lacks context and can’t account for how big an impact a loss would have had on the team’s playoff chances. I don’t think the hit was a season-saver, but it was damn close.
New Routine, Same Result
If he had been facing any team other than the worst offensive team in the AL, Hiroki Kuroda would have gotten absolutely clobbered on Tuesday. The White Sox tagged him for four runs on seven hits and two walks in 6.1 innings, and several of their outs were hard hit as well. Perhaps the most damning number is ten. Chicago is the most impatient team in the league in terms of walk rate (6.7%) and pitches seen per plate appearance (3.74), but ten of the 28 batters they sent to the plate against Kuroda saw at least four pitches. He had a lot of trouble putting guys away.
Kuroda changed up his routine and skipped his between-starts bullpen in an effort to stay fresh — he was also pitching with an extra day of rest thanks to last Thursday’s off-day — but the results were the same. A lot of pitches leaking back out over the plate and a lot of damage. I’m guessing you wouldn’t feel any better if I told you this start actually represents the best of his last four starts, but it does. After carrying the team for pretty much the entire first half, the Yankees are winning in spite of Kuroda right now. Not because of him. He really needs to turn things around and soon.
Oh yeah, the Yankees scored their first run of the game when Vernon Wells stole home. You can see the video above (link in case the embed doesn’t work), but here’s the quick version: ChiSox catcher Josh Phegley threw down to second when Nunez attempted to steal with men on the corners. Wells took off as soon as the throw went to second and simply beat the return throw home. It’s a set play — the Yankees tried it a few weeks ago (I think in Texas against the Rangers?) and it didn’t work — and was a fantastic call considering the punchless Chris Stewart was at the plate with two outs. They wouldn’t have scored otherwise.
Six of New York’s nine hits came in the span of seven batters in that eighth inning. Derek Jeter and Nunez had two hits apiece, as did the Wells/Granderson right field spot. Brett Gardner went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and looked just awful at the plate, but he faced Sale all four times and gets a free pass from me. That dude is tough to hit, especially if you’re a lefty. Sale retired 17 of 20 at one point and stranded a leadoff double in the fifth. That was annoying.
Three relievers — Preston Claiborne, Boone Logan, and Mariano Rivera — combined to retire all eight men they faced following Kuroda. Just one of the final 15 White Sox to bat managed to reach base, and that was Alejandro De Aza’s seventh inning solo homer to knock Kuroda out of the game. He hit a ball just foul that had more than enough distance to leave the park earlier in the at-bat. Rivera reached 40 saves for the ninth time in his career, tying Trevor Hoffman for the most such seasons in baseball history.
According to Katie Sharp, this was the team’s eighth win at home when trailing entering the seventh inning, the most in baseball. Late-inning comebacks are awesome, but I’m hoping the Yankees don’t keep cutting things so close down the stretch.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Now that is a graph I can get behind. The box score and video highlights are available at MLB.com. FanGraphs has some other stats and the updated standings are at ESPN. The Yankees jumped over the Orioles and into third place in the AL East with the win. Depending on the outcome of the late game, they’ll either be two games (Rays lose) or three games (Rays win) back of the second wildcard spot in the loss column. Well within striking distance, which is pretty amazing when you consider where they were about a month ago. Cool Standings has their playoff chances at 18.7% at the moment.
The Yankees will go for the sweep on Wednesday night, when CC Sabathia gets the ball against rookie right-hander Erik Johnson. The September call-up will be making his big league debut. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch the series finale live. Based on this game, there are plenty of seats still available.
Double-A Trenton‘s regular season is over. They open their best-of-five first round playoff series with Binghamton tomorrow night. It’ll be RHP Bryan Mitchell vs. RHP Noah Syndergaard in Game One.
Short Season Staten Island Game One (6-2 win over Vermont) completion of yesterday’s game, which was suspended due to rain with one out in the top of the fourth
- CF Brandon Thomas: 1-4, 1 BB, 1 K
- LF Michael O’Neill: 0-5, 2 K — 90 strikeouts are the 13th most in the system even though he didn’t even drafted until June
- 3B Eric Jagielo: 2-5, 2 R, 1 K
- RF Yeicok Calderon: 2-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 K — Yeicokshot!
- SS Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 RBI – first hit in four games at this level
- LHP Conner Kendrick: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 5/0 GB/FB — started the game yesterday
Left-hander David Huff will start against the Red Sox on Saturday, Joe Girardi announced. Phil Hughes is moving to the bullpen and could be available as soon as tomorrow. Clearly the right move based on this morning’s poll. · (58) ·
For the first time this year, there was an autumn chill in the New York air this morning. It’s playoff baseball type of weather and perfectly fitting given the Yankees situation. These are their playoffs right now, with three games in the standings to make up in the final 25 games of the season. Tonight they’ll have to contend with left-hander Chris Sale, arguably the best pitcher in the American League. They say momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher, and if that’s true, the White Sox are set up well to rebound from yesterday’s blowout loss. This is the type of tough pitcher the Yankees will have to beat and tough game they’ll have to win to make it to the real postseason next month. Here’s the lineup Joe Girardi is running out there against Sale:
- CF Brett Gardner
- DH Derek Jeter
- 2B Robinson Cano
- LF Alfonso Soriano
- 3B Alex Rodriguez
- RF Vernon Wells
- 1B Mark Reynolds
- SS Eduardo Nunez
- C Chris Stewart
And on the mound is right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who skipped his usual between-starts bullpen in what I assume is an effort to stay fresh down the stretch. He did the same thing last year. Kuroda has allowed 32 base-runners and 19 runs in his last three starts and 16.2 innings. He needs to turn it around if the Yankees want to have a chance in this thing.
It has been cool and overcast all day in New York, but there’s no rain in the forecast and that’s all that matters. No one wants to play a doubleheader or, even worse, give up an off-day to make up a game at this time of year. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and can be seen on YES. Enjoy.
In honor of Mariano Rivera‘s final weeks with the Yankees, we’ve teamed up with Bleacher Creature king Bald Vinny for a series of t-shirt giveaways this month. As you probably know, Bald Vinny leads the roll call from the right field bleachers every home game and sells his original t-shirts outside Yankee Stadium. His entire product line is available online at Section203.com.
Starting this Friday and continuing with each of the next three Fridays, we’ll be giving away one of Bald Vinny’s original Mo-themed shirts through a Twitter contest. It’s very simple. All you have to do is follow both @RiverAveBlues and @BaldVinny on Twitter, then be the 42nd person to retweet the official giveaway tweet. There will be remainders galore before the actual giveaway goes live each Friday afternoon. You have to follow both RAB and Bald Vinny on Twitter to be eligible to win, no exceptions. People affiliated with RAB and Bald Vinny are not eligible to win and repeat winners are not allowed either.
We’re giving away two different shirts as part of the giveaway: two G.O.A.T. shirts and two T-42 shirts in whatever size the winner needs. We’ll start with the G.O.A.T. shirt this coming Friday and alternate each week. If you don’t want to wait for the giveaways, you can head over to Bald Vinny’s store and use the discount code RAB20 to receive 20% off your next purchase. Good luck.
Like April, September is a fun month if you want to dream. Guys get off to hot starts in April and we hope it’s a sign he’s breaking out when no, usually it’s not. Just a small sample size thing. September is fun in a different way because prospects are involved and everyone loves prospects. Their potential is limitless and every single one will be the next great Yankee. At least that’s what we hope. Very rarely are we actually right though. It’s the nature of the beast.
Shane Spencer, who whacked eight homers in 14 September games in 1998, remains the patron saint of September call-ups. Very, very rarely does someone come up when rosters expand and actually have an impact like that. Few get the opportunity, really. They have to produce right away to get a long enough look to make a difference. Spencer was a one of a kind, just like the entire 1998 team.
The Yankees have had a few notable call-ups in recent years, notable in terms of production and not necessarily their name. Guys who performed well in their limited opportunity. Let’s take a look at how they helped the club.
2011: Jesus Montero
Despite getting subpar DH production all season, the Yankees waited until September to call up their top prospect. Montero, then just 21, hit .328/.406/.590 (167 wRC+) with four homers in 69 plate appearances that month, giving the lineup a shot in the arm. He actually made the postseason roster that year and singled in his only two October trips to the plate. Those 71 total plate appearances are all Montero has contributed to the Yankees to date given the amazingly unproductive trade with the Mariners the following offseason.
2010: Greg Golson
Golson was actually up with the Yankees for a few games earlier in the 2010 season, but he got the majority of his playing time as a pinch-runner/defensive specialist in September. He only received 18 plate appearances that month, but Golson will always be remembered for his game-ending throw to cut Carl Crawford down at third base in an important series against the Rays. The Yankees actually carried Golson on their playoff roster and regularly used him as a late-inning defensive replacement. He didn’t make an impact with his bat, he did it with his glove and (especially) his arm.
2008: Phil Coke
Prior to the 2008 season, Coke was nothing more than a fringe prospect who was in danger of being released should a roster spot be needed. He pitched well with Double-A Trenton that summer (3.01 FIP) and forced the Yankees to add him to the 40-man roster in September. Coke very quickly emerged as a bullpen force for Joe Girardi, pitching to a 0.61 ERA (1.63 FIP) in 14.2 innings while holding same-side hitters to a .227 wOBA. He didn’t make the playoff roster because there was no playoff roster to make in 2008, but Coke came to Spring Training the next year with a bullpen spot that was his to lose.
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The Yankees have had some veteran players come up late in the season and make an impact — 2006 Brian Bruney and even 2008 Cody Ransom come to mind — but they weren’t September call-ups. They were brought up a few weeks earlier to patch holes created by injuries. As far as actual call-ups go, those three guys above are the only ones who made any sort of difference in the last decade or so. Montero was the golden child and the plan was to give him regular playing time right out of the chute, but Golson and especially Coke had to earn it. When they performed well, they earned a longer look.
I think New York has one call-up with a chance to play his way into something of a regular role both this month and potentially next year: Cesar Cabral. He made an impressive big league debut yesterday, most notably striking out both lefties he faced on six total pitches in a scoreless innings. It’ll be rather easy for Girardi to find spots to use Cabral in the coming weeks. Dellin Betances has too many quality right-handed relievers ahead of him — at best, he’s behind David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Preston Claiborne on the righty setup depth chart — to think he’ll get a real shot this month. David Adams got a look earlier this year and Brett Marshall probably won’t pitch much, plus J.R. Murphy figures to play third fiddle to Austin Romine and Chris Stewart as long as the Yankees are in the race.
September call-ups are more about adding bodies to soak up innings and at-bats in blowouts or in case of injury. Few players are actually called up and given an opportunity to legitimately help the club. The Monteros are few and far between. As long as the Yankees remain in the hunt for a playoff spot — they come into today three games back of the Rays for the second wildcard spot in the loss column with a 11.0% chance to make the postseason according to Baseball Prospectus — expect them to ride their regular players as long as possible. As usual, the call-ups are just along for the ride.
Via Chad Jennings: Hiroki Kuroda skipped his usual between-starts bullpen session on Saturday. “Sometimes guys just skip their bullpens,” said Joe Girardi, which is actually true. This is noteworthy, however, because Kuroda stopped throwing bullpens between his starts all together last September due to fatigue. He modified his offseason routine in an effort to stay fresh later into the season.
Kuroda, 38, has been outstanding overall this season, pitching to a 2.89 ERA and 3.50 FIP in 171.1 innings across 27 starts. He was brutal in August though, with a 5.12 ERA and 4.04 FIP in five starts and 31.2 innings. Fatigue set in late last year and Kuroda’s performance similarly slipped down the stretch — he did bounce back and was outstanding in the postseason — so it’s fair to wonder if he’s going through the same thing now. The Yankees will have a very hard time making a serious run at a wildcard spot if Kuroda is anything less than an ace, so hopefully this is just a bump in the road and little rest does the trick. · (5) ·
For the third time in the last two weeks or so, left-hander David Huff came out of the bullpen to give the Yankees a quality long relief appearance yesterday. He’s been so effective — one run on six hits and five walks with ten strikeouts in 14 innings across three extended outings — the team should consider putting him in the rotation over the generally ineffective Phil Hughes. Like seriously consider it. Not think about it for two seconds and maintain the status quo.
“I haven’t made any decisions about changing the rotation,” said Joe Girardi to Brian Heyman after yesterday’s win, which isn’t surprising because the Yankees rarely announce a rotation change after a game. That’s something they tend to announce the next day after sleeping on it and talking to everyone involved. Starters only pitch once every five days, so there’s no reason to rush into a decision like that.
The 29-year-old Huff is pretty much a known commodity at this point. He spent parts of three seasons in the Indians’ rotation and pitched to a 5.50 ERA and 4.93 FIP in 258.2 innings. That’s awful. Actually worse than Hughes has been this year. That said, Huff has pitched pretty well of late and sometimes that’s enough of a reason to make a change. Replacing the guy who has been pitching poorly with the guy who has been pitching well isn’t crazy idea, especially when both have track records of being below-average pitchers. Maybe the other guys throws the month of his life. Who knows?
Given the weirdness of yesterday’s game with the rain delay and everything, I see the Yankees having three options with Hughes, Huff, and the rotation. Let’s break ‘em down before we vote on which is best.
Option One: Do Nothing
The easiest option and one that always exists. The Yankees could simply leave Hughes in the rotation and start him Saturday against the Red Sox as scheduled. Huff remains in the bullpen and that’s that. Nothing changes. It’s boring and probably a bad idea, but it is a justifiable option given Huff’s career performance as a starter.
Option Two: Replace Hughes with Huff
The second option is pretty straight forward. Take Hughes out of the rotation and replace him with Huff. Simple. Phil joins the middle relief crew — he’s never not been awesome in the bullpen, which would hopefully continue — and Huff gets the ball every five days with a short leash. He was stretched out as a starter with Triple-A Scranton, but it has been a while and he was pretty clearly starting to run out of gas around 55 pitches yesterday (he threw 62 total). That could be because he threw eight pitches on Sunday.
The Yankees won’t get a full 100+ pitches out of Huff, at least not right away, but it’s not like Hughes was giving them much length anyway. He failed to complete five innings of work in four of his last six starts prior to yesterday’s rain-shortened outing. Either way, Girardi & Co. would have to plan to use their bullpen heavily whenever this rotation spot comes up. Thank goodness for September call-ups.
Option Three: Start Hughes on Wednesday
People like the word creative, so let’s call this the creative solution. Because he only threw 20 low-stress pitches before the rain yesterday, the Yankees could start Hughes tomorrow and have his rotation spot avoid the upcoming four-game Red Sox series. The long-term concerns are nil — Phil is almost certainly a goner after the season — and with expanded rosters, there are plenty of extra arms to soak up whatever innings are leftover. Hughes might not be able to give the team a full 100-pitch start on what amounts to one day of rest, but it’s not like he was pitching deep into games anyway.
By starting Hughes against the White Sox on Wednesday, they would push CC Sabathia back to Thursday and let him start against Boston with an extra day of rest. Sabathia has not been good against the Red Sox this year (or anyone else for that matter), but I don’t think I’m alone in saying I’d rather see him out there against Boston than Hughes or Huff. Having the worst starter face a last place team instead of a first place team is the best case scenario.
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Long relievers are like backup quarterbacks in the sense that it always seems like the guy on the bench could do a better job. In reality, there’s usually a very good reason they’re on the bench, or, in this case, the bullpen. Huff’s track record says he would really stink in the rotation, but so does Hughes’. The Yankees are picking between two grenades and hoping they get the one that hasn’t had the pin pulled.
What should the Yankees do with their fifth starter's spot?
Triple-A Scranton (13-3 loss to Rochester) their season is over … they finished in fifth place in the North Division at 68-76 and did not qualify for the postseason
- 1B Brent Lillibridge: 2-4 — I wonder if they’ll clear a 40-man roster spot for him now
- 3B Ronnie Mustelier: 1-4, 2 RBI — finished his injury-filled season at .272/.319/.397 with seven homers in 374 plate appearances
- RHP Caleb Cotham: 0.2 IP, 8 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 1 HB, 1/1 GB/FB — 24 of 44 pitches were strikes (55%) … that’s an unfortunate way to end the season
- RHP Matt Daley: 2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 0/2 GB/FB — 23 of 34 pitches were strikes (68%) … 31-year-old from Queens finished the year with a 74/10 K/BB in 53.1 innings after missing most of 2011 and all of 2012 following shoulder surgery
- RHP R.J. Baker: 3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 4/3 GB/FB — 20 of 33 pitches were strikes (61%) … because this season wasn’t bad enough, the third string catcher threw three innings out of the bullpen in the final game of the year