The Majors’ deepest lineup is in the Bronx

(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

If there was one thing that defined the Yankees for the first three months of the season, it was inconsistency. Every three-game win streak seemed to be followed by a three-game losing streak, every surge in the standings muted by a subsequent slide back to the pack in the crowded AL East.

The erratic performance of the rotation was undoubtedly a huge reason why the Yankees struggled to build momentum in the early part of the season. The steadying force of their lockdown bullpen, though, helped to offset some of those problems with the starting staff. However, it could do little to counter another key roster issue that frequently stalled the team — a top-heavy lineup featuring four bright, shiny stars and five massive black holes.

Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira shouldered much of the offensive load from the one-through-four spots in the order during the first few months, while the bottom half of the order languished, providing little support to the Big Four. This imbalance did have one positive by-product — first-inning runs! — but the lack of length in the lineup also made it really difficult to manufacture any sort of rally when the Yankees’ starting pitcher inevitably coughed up that early lead. Through the end of June, the team had yet to come back and win a game after trailing by more than three runs.

Over the past few weeks, however, the bottom of the lineup has suddenly caught fire and started to pull its weight on offense. Since the All-Star break, the regular bottom-of-the-order hitters — Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, John Ryan Murphy, Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan — are each hitting at least .275 with OPS’s above .800.

bottom statsPerhaps the most important part of their offensive surge is that they’ve also become key run producers. In the second half of the season, the 7-8-9 hitters have combined for 39 of the team’s 114 RBIs (34 percent), a much higher rate than came from those same lineup slots in the first half of the season (21 percent). That’s led to some explosive innings and high-scoring games recently. They’ve scored 12-or-more runs four times in their last seven games, after doing that just four times in their first 92 games.

With this dramatic improvement from the bottom of the order, the Yankees now have arguably the deepest and most dangerous lineup one-through-nine in the majors. They have eight guys with at least 200 plate appearances and a park-adjusted OPS better than the league average, the most such players of any team in baseball. They also have an MLB-high seven guys with an offensive WAR of 1.5 or better, and not a single position player on the active roster has a negative total WAR.

A lopsided lineup that once was riddled with question marks and clogged by inconsistency at the bottom has been transformed into a balanced, machine-like offense capable of putting up crooked numbers on a daily basis. With few automatic outs in the lineup and more guys capable of providing an offensive spark, the Yankees should present a ton of problems for opposing pitching staffs over the final two months of the season. Now, about stabilizing that rotation …

Ready or not, Luis Severino gets a chance to help Yankees rotation


Later tonight, right-hander and top pitching prospect Luis Severino will join the rotation and make his big league debut against the Red Sox. The last time the Yankees had a pitching prospect of this caliber reach the show was the trio of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy back in 2007. Severino flew through the farm system and reached MLB fewer than six months after his 21st birthday.

The numbers are eye-popping: Severino has a 2.45 ERA (2.46 FIP) in 99.1 innings split between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton this year, with strong strikeout (24.8%) and walk (6.8%) rates. He led the minors with a 2.40 FIP last year and ranks ninth this year. As far as minor league performance goes, Severino has been overwhelmingly dominant and done everything you could want to see from a young pitcher. That doesn’t guarantee MLB success, of course, but he forced the issue.

“There’s risk in throwing some of the young guys in the Atlantic Ocean and saying, ‘Time to swim,’” said Brian Cashman to Chad Jennings last week. “But that’s also something we’re not afraid of in some guys’ cases. We do like this team, and we have benefited from the use of a lot of the young guys throughout this season. We still look forward to these guys hopefully contributing to us.”

The Yankees have developed a reputation for moving their prospects slowly through the system — I don’t agree with that at all, but that’s the reputation they have — though they were very aggressive with Severino. His 85.1 innings with Low-A Charleston are by far his most at any level. Severino threw only 63 innings at Double-A and 61.1 innings at Triple-A before being promoted. They’ve moved him up the ladder like a veteran college starter, not a kid who turned 21 in February.

Severino came into the season with a huge fastball but also come questions about the consistency of his secondary pitches and his delivery, and apparently he has answered those questions to the satisfaction of the Yankees. We’ll see. I also think there’s a “let’s get him up here before he blows out his arm” line of thinking in play as well. Not just with Severino, but all young pitchers. That’s contributed to his quick rise as well.

There are reasons to think Severino will dominate and reasons to think he’ll struggle. There’s a Carlos Rodon for every Noah Syndergaard, an Eduardo Rodriguez for every Lance McCullers. Top pitching prospects come up and it’s a roll of the dice. They might pitch well, they might struggle. Chances are they’ll do both at different times. We can analyze the stats and read all the scouting reports. Until Severino gets on the mound tonight, there’s no way to know how he’ll react.

Either way, ready or not, the Yankees will turn to Severino tonight, partly because they don’t have much of a choice. They didn’t trade for any pitching help before the deadline last week and Michael Pineda just landed on the DL. Their other options were … Kyle Davies? Chris Capuano? Been there, done that. The Yankees are going with their top pitching prospect because he’s the best option. And for Severino, it’s an opportunity to show team was smart to move him through the minors so quickly.

A Tanaka quality start and late-inning offense bring down the Red Sox 13-3

A bit of a nail-biter into a laugher into a hurry: the Yankees offense exploded in the sixth and seventh to blow out the Red Sox for a 13-3 win. The Yankees greeted Henry Owens – making his ML debut – with a first-inning run but were shut out the next four innings. Meanwhile, Masahiro Tanaka allowed three runs in six innings, which is decent but eh, it could have been a better start. But in the end, not a lot of people were complaining about the game as the Yankees offense exploded once again to completely flatten the opposing pitching.

Welcome to the bigs, Henry!

The Yankees struck first against LHP Henry Owens. In the first, with runners on first and second, Mark Teixeira squeaked an RBI grounder single up the middle to give the Yanks a 1-0 lead. Yankee hitters made the rookie lefty work from the get go – Owens threw 34 pitches in that frame (17 strikes, 17 balls).

For the next four innings, however, the Yankees didn’t really come up with much. They only had one baserunner (Chase Headley single in the second) and struck out four. Owens has been one of Red Sox’s top prospects for awhile so he’s not really projected to be a AAAA scrub. Unless if the Red Sox plan a massive trade to bring in an impact player, I don’t see him parting away from them anytime soon.

(Source: Getty)

A quality start

Tanaka looked solid for the first four innings. His fastball topped out at 95, his secondary stuff had good depth in general and his command was, well, there. In that time span, he allowed only one baserunner (the bloop double to Mike Napoli in the second that really shouldn’t have happened) and struck out three. Pretty, pretty good.

In the fifth, Napoli doubled again, and it was a legit one – a line drive to left field with one out. Alejandro De Aza then snuck a bunt and Tanaka couldn’t handle it. With runners on corners and one out, Blake Swihart singled to tied the game and Jackie Bradley Jr. followed it up with a sac fly to give Boston a 2-1 lead.

In the seventh, with the Yankees then leading 4-2, Tanaka allowed a solo homer to Pablo Sandoval on the ninth pitch of at-bat. Dingers plaguing Tanaka again! Joe Girardi immediately pulled him out for Justin Wilson. Honestly, I thought Tanaka had a much better showing than in Texas last week and this was one of the better starts of his up-and-down 2015 season. If it weren’t for a botch bunt grounder in fifth, I feel his line would have looked better.

The highlight of his start, in my opinion, came in the sixth when he snagged a David Ortiz liner right above his head and doubled up Hanley Ramirez for a double play. Nifty.

Dingers! (Source: Getty)

Late runs

Entering the bottom sixth, Henry Owens was holding on his own against the Yankee offense, having allowed only a run in five solid innings. In the next two innings, New York would score twelve runs combined against him and the Red Sox bullpen. How’s that for a turnaround?

Anyways, bottom sixth, it took two hits (a Chris Young single and an A-Rod double) to knock Owens out of the game. John Farrell brought in Robbie Ross Jr. to face Mark Teixeira with no outs and runners on second and third. Tex lined a single to left to tie the game and Brian McCann followed it up with a double to center to put the Yanks ahead 3-2. Carlos Beltran grounded out to bring Teixeira in, 4-2.

All heck broke loose in the seventh. As you can tell by the notion of a “nine-run inning”, a lot of things took place so I’m just going to leave this right here.

Jean Machi pitching for Boston BOS NYY
Castillo in right field. 3 4
Ellsbury safe at first on throwing error by shortstop Bogaerts. 3 4
Young walked, Ellsbury to second. 3 4
Rodriguez singled to center, Ellsbury scored, Young to second. 3 5
Breslow relieved Machí. 3 5
Teixeira struck out swinging. 3 5
McCann homered to right, Young and Rodriguez scored. 3 8
Beltrán doubled to deep right center. 3 8
Headley doubled to left, Beltrán scored. 3 9
Gregorius flied out to right. 3 9
Ryan walked. 3 9
Ellsbury singled to left, Headley scored, Ryan to third. 3 10
Ogando relieved Breslow. 3 10
Young homered to left, Ryan and Ellsbury scored. 3 13
Rodriguez walked. 3 13
Teixeira struck out swinging. 3 13
9 Runs, 6 Hits, 1 Errors

While most players were having fun, Teixeira became the one who struck out twice in a big inning. Bum!


In the second inning, Chris Young and Jacoby Ellsbury had a miscommunication on a Mike Napoli fly ball to deep left. Young should’ve gotten it but the ball dropped just shy of his glove. Fortunately for the Yankees, it was two outs and Napoli did not score but, come on.

Bottom seventh, Justin Wilson was working on Jackie Bradley Jr. with Rusney Castillo on first and two outs. On a 1-2 pitch, Castillo took off for second. McCann let Wilson’s 97 mph fastball roll behind him to allow Castillo to steal the base. And at that moment, Girardi didn’t waste any time taking Wilson out for Dellin Betances – which was quite unusual since it was a lefty pitcher facing lefty batter already. I guess Girardi wanted to go for the kill? Anyways, Betances ended up walking Bradley Jr. but struck out Brock Holt to get out of the mess.

Brandon Pinder hasn’t shown too much in terms of ML stats but man, I love that Yankees potentially have another future reliever that can throw in high-90’s. He’s had pretty solid strikeout and walk numbers in minors and he has a power stuff so I think he could be a solid arm that sticks around for awhile. We’ll see.

Box score, standings, highlights, WPA

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

Source: FanGraphs

Yankees are back at it tomorrow night in Bronx against the Red Sox. Luis Severino makes his ML debut and you may have heard of him. Looking forward to it!

DotF: Bird doubles, Sanchez homers in Scranton’s loss

Late Update: SS Tyler Wade was promoted to Double-A Trenton following tonight’s game, according to his representatives at Paragon Sports.

Random stat I came across earlier today: RHP Jonathan Holder and RHP Rookie Davis rank first and second in the minors with a 2.21 FIP and a 2.24 FIP, respectively. That’s among the 547 pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched. Luis Severino is ninth with a 2.46 FIP. He led the minors with a 2.40 FIP last year. How about that?

Triple-A Scranton (6-4 loss to Columbus)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 1-4, 1 R
  • LF Jose Pirela: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 2 K, 1 SB
  • 1B Greg Bird: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K — 8-for-21 (.381) in his last five games
  • C Gary Sanchez: 3-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K — what a great year he’s having … showing no mercy at the new level
  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-4, 2 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 E (throwing)
  • RHP Brady Lail: 4.1 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 6/2 GB/FB — 56 of 92 pitches were strikes (61%) … rough Triple-A debut but everyone gets a mulligan on their first start at a new level
  • LHP James Pazos: 2.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1/1 GB/FB — 26 of 32 pitches were strikes (81%)
  • RHP Nick Goody: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 2/0 GB/FB — 12 of 21 pitches were strikes (57%)

[Read more…]

Game 105: Back Home


For the first time since sweeping the Orioles a week and a half ago, the Yankees are back home in Yankee Stadium. It’s been a while. They’ve been way better at home (30-17, +47 run differential) than on the road (29-28, +13) and now settle in for a six-game homestand. Sixteen of their next 22 games are at home and 34 of final 58 games are in the Bronx. Hooray for that.

Masahiro Tanaka is on the mound tonight and let’s be real, he has hardly been ace-like this season. A 3.80 ERA (103 ERA+) and 4.01 FIP isn’t disastrous, especially since most of it stems from his propensity to give up solo homers, but it’s not what the Yankees or fans were expecting coming into the season. Tanaka’s had some moments of brilliance, just many. Let’s hope for one tonight. Here’s the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Brendan Ryan
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Nice day in New York. Hot but not humid with just a few clouds in the sky. Good night for a game. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Yankees vs. Red Sox always gets national billing no matter how out of the race one team may be.

Injury Updates: In case you missed it earlier, Dustin Ackley (back) was placed on the 15-day DL … Michael Pineda (forearm) will start a throwing program tomorrow. His return is not imminent though, Brian Cashman basically ruled him out until September while talking to reporters this afternoon.

Roster Updates: Caleb Cotham has been called up to replace Ackley on the roster … Luis Severino is not with the team because there’s no reason to activate him yet. Joe Girardi reiterated his is not a one and done; Severino’s in the rotation.

Yankees place Dustin Ackley on 15-day DL; Mason Williams to have shoulder surgery

Williams. (Presswire)
Williams. (Presswire)

The Yankees have placed utility man Dustin Ackley on the 15-day DL with a right lumbar strain, the team announced. Also, Brian Cashman told reporters Mason Williams will have shoulder surgery on August 7th, effectively ending his season. Blah.

Cashman said an MRI showed a herniated disc in Ackley’s back. He received an epidural and will be out 20-30 days. The Yankees are hoping Ackley can avoid surgery, which would end his season. The injury happened at some point after the trade. “He was a hot potato without realizing he was hot. The hot potato fell on our lap,” said the GM.

Ackley, 27, has never had any sort of back trouble before and this is the first time he’s ever been on the DL. He’s gone 0-for-3 at the plate since being acquired from the Mariners for Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez last week. Ackley replaced Garrett Jones as the team’s fifth outfielder/backup first baseman.

Williams, meanwhile, has been out since mid-June with a right shoulder injury. He hurt himself diving back into first base on a pickoff play. Williams has been rehabbing his shoulder since the injury and has dealt with some setbacks, but the Yankees were optimistic he would avoid surgery. It won’t happen. That stinks.

The Yankees activated Slade Heathcott off the 60-day DL and optioned him to Triple-A on Friday, so he can’t be recalled until next Monday because of the ten-day rule. Rob Refsnyder, Tyler Austin, Jose Pirela, and Cole Figueroa are all on the 40-man and waiting in Triple-A. I wonder if the Yankees will just stick with a three-man bench and an eight-man bullpen for the time being.

Adjustments! Nathan Eovaldi’s splitter and the new-look Brendan Ryan

Eovaldi. (Presswire)
Eovaldi. (Presswire)

Baseball is a game of adjustments, and those who don’t adjust will find themselves out of the league before long. Hitters adjust to pitchers and vice versa. The cat and mouse game never ends. Here are two adjustment related tidbits I felt were worth passing along.

Forkball to Sporkball to Splitter

Since the disaster start in Miami, Nathan Eovaldi has been the most reliable pitcher in New York’s rotation, pitching to a 3.07 ERA (2.84 FIP) in seven starts and 41 innings. No, he doesn’t pitch deep into games at all, but on a rate basis Eovaldi has been pretty good. He has a 4.02 ERA (2.96 FIP) in his last 13 starts including the Miami disaster.

The Yankees have been working to help Eovaldi add the splitter since Spring Training, and he’s certainly been using it more and more as the season has progressed. Some call it a splitter, some call it a forkball, so I dubbed it a sporkball in our Midseason Review. As noted in that post, the sporkball randomly jumped like four miles an hour in velocity a few starts back:

Nathan Eovaldi sporkball velocityThat’s not normal! Pitchers usually do not just add that much velocity to one specific pitch from one start to the next. Something changed at some point along the line, and, according to Billy Witz, that something was the sporkball grip. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild told Witz they started Eovaldi off with a forkball grip, with his fingers spread far apart so he could get comfortable with it. Once that happened, they narrowed the grip. Eovaldi’s now throwing a traditional splitter, hence the velocity spike. Forkballs tumble, splitters dive.

Game action grip photos are tough to come by, but here’s what I was able to dig up. The grip on the left is from April 15th in Baltimore and the grip on the right is from June 26th in Houston, the first game with the velocity spike.

Nathan Eovaldi grips

I dunno, see anything different? I appears Eovaldi’s fingertips are more on the seams in the June 26th photo. His fingertips are clearly on the white of the ball in the April 15th photo. Of course, that could just be the angle of the photo. Who knows.

Since that start against the Astros, when Eovaldi’s sporkball velocity first spiked, he’s thrown the pitch 27.8% of the time. The pitch’s swing-and-miss (15.5%) and ground ball (73.6%) rates have both been better than the MLB average for splitters as well (14.9% and 47.8%, respectively). It’s a relatively small sample, so don’t get too excited yet, but this split-finger pitch is clearly becoming a big part of Eovaldi’s arsenal. He didn’t even start throwing this thing until very late last year.

The Yankees keep saying Eovaldi is a work in progress and I know no one wants to hear that. It is true though. This splitter business shows it. At the outset of the season, Eovaldi was operating with a forkball grip just to get used to having his fingers so far part on the damn baseball. Once that happened, the team had him start throwing a traditional splitter, and now the pitch is a real weapon. Development takes time, yo.

Ryan. (Presswire)
Ryan. (Presswire)

Ryan’s Little But Noticeable Tweaks

About two weeks ago, the Yankees pulled the plug on the Rob Refsnyder experiment after only four games. Four games with the All-Star break mixed in. It was dumb and the Yankees hate their prospects and they’re costing themselves wins in a close race and oh by the way their second baseman are hitting a combined .345/.368/.582 (~142 wRC+) since Refsnyder was sent down. How about that.

The Yankees have used a Stephen Drew/Brendan Ryan platoon at second the last few weeks and both have hit well of late. Surprising! But I think Ryan has been more surprising. At least Drew was an above-average hitter back in 2013, which wasn’t that long ago. Ryan hasn’t even come close to approaching league average since 2009 with the Cardinals (98 wRC+). This year though, he is 12-for-39 (.308) with four doubles and two triples. He had four extra-base hits all of last season.

Ryan went 3-for-6 with a double against the White Sox on Friday night — he also struck out against Adam LaRoche, but that’s besides the point — and after the game Joe Girardi told Chad Jennings that Ryan has “made a little bit of an adjustment with the hitting coaches and he’s swinging the bat good.” We hear about guys making tiny adjustments all the time but usually they aren’t noticeable. Ryan’s have been. Check it out:

Brendan Ryan

Ryan has almost an entirely new setup at the plate. His hands are lower and his stance is a bit more closed, specifically. Girardi called them “little” adjustments but they look like big adjustments. Who knows what they really mean though. Does this new setup mean Ryan is suddenly a legitimate lefty masher? Maybe! But I’ll bet against it for the time being. After all, he was awarded a double on this:

I’ve come to hate the word luck — yes, there will always be some element of luck involved in baseball, but not everything that can’t be easily explained is luck — though let’s not kid ourselves here, Ryan’s enjoyed some good fortune of late. That was a tailor made double play ball that went for a double because the infielder was doing … something. Who knows what.

Anyway, Ryan has been providing some nice unexpected impact against southpaws of late, and who knows if his recent mechanical changes at the plate have had anything to do that. It is at least somewhat interesting Ryan has already pulled more balls to left field for base hits this season than he did all of last season:

Brendan Ryan spray charts

Perhaps those mechanical changes are allowing Ryan to get the bat head out a little quicker and yank the ball to left field. Who knows? Ryan’s done way more at the plate than expected in an admittedly tiny amount of playing time. He’s also made some mechanical changes this year, so perhaps the changes and improved production are tied together. We’ve seen guys like Ben Zobrist, Jose Bautista, Justin Turner, and J.D. Martinez all make relatively small mechanical adjustments that led to big increases in production in recent years.

Either way, both Eovaldi and Ryan have made adjustments this year that may or may not be having a direct positive impact on their performance. Every player makes adjustments throughout the season, they’re necessary to succeed at this level, but it’s not often we hear about them. Eovaldi’s splitter in particular is interesting because the process of learning a new pitch — using a forkball grip to get comfortable before switching back to a splitter grip, for example — is so foreign to most of us, plus the split is clearly becoming a go-to offering for him.