Wednesday Night Open Thread

Things got a little hairy this afternoon, but the Yankees held on to beat the Mariners and sweep the three-game series in Seattle. It was basically the perfect series too. Beat up on Felix Hernandez in the first game, ninth inning comeback in the second game, and a dominant return by Masahiro Tanaka in the third game. Tanaka looked as good as he’s looked at any point this season or last in his first start off the DL. I’m not sure what more we could have wanted to see from him. Tanaka was stellar. Glad he’s back.

Here is tonight’s open thread. This afternoon’s game will be replayed on YES at 7:30pm ET if you want to see Tanaka again. The Mets are playing later tonight and Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals will be on as well (8pm ET on NBCSN). Talk about those games or anything else here.

2015 Draft: D.J. Stewart

D.J. Stewart | OF

Background
The Yankees selected the 21-year-old Stewart out of a Florida high school in the 28th round of the 2012 draft, though he opted not to sign and instead followed through on his commitment to Florida State. Stewart hit .358/.469/.558 with 12 home runs, 78 walks, and 70 strikeouts in 113 games his freshman and sophomore years, and this spring he’s put up a .322/.509/.580 batting line with 13 homers, 69 walks, and 45 strikeouts in 62 games.

Scouting Report
Stewart is a big left-handed masher and he looks the part at 6-foot-0 and 230 lbs, though he is a decent athlete for his size. His offensive game is built on getting on base via his level swing and outstanding strike zone knowledge. Stewart works the count exceptionally well and consistently gets himself into hitter’s counts. His swing is geared more for hard contact than power — he hits from an extreme crouch and doesn’t get the ball airborne as much as you’d expect. Whatever team drafts him will surely try to straighten him up a bit and add a little uppercut to his swing to tap into his raw strength and power. Defensively, Stewart has good instincts and range despite a lack of speed, though his arm is weak and relegates him to left field. If he gets any bigger and slows down any more, he’ll probably have to move to first base.

Miscellany
Baseball America, MLB.com, and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Stewart as the 30th, 36th, and 70th best prospect in the 2015 draft class in their most recent rankings, respectively. Stewart’s performance has been off the charts — he also raked against top college pitching with wood bats in the Cape Cod League — and the Yankees drafted him once before, so they liked something about him once upon a time. He’s going to go a lot higher than the 28th round this time though. The Yankees pick 16th and 30th this year and Stewart figures to be available for the second of those two picks.

Game 54: Tanaka Returns

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

After 35 days on the shelf with wrist tendinitis and a minor forearm strain, Masahiro Tanaka makes his hopefully triumph return to the rotation this afternoon. The team insisted the injury was minor — Tanaka was reportedly upset he was placed on the DL — but the Yankees were understandably cautious with their high-priced ace. Tanaka made two Triple-A rehab starts and will be limited to about 80 pitches this afternoon.

That’s the big story on a micro level. On a macro level, the Yankees have a chance to finish off a sweep of the Mariners this afternoon thanks to last night’s thrilling come from behind extra innings win. The team has been scuffling overall the last few weeks but they’ve actually won six of their last nine games and are still somehow atop the AL East. Now they’re getting Tanaka back. Things are looking up. Here is Seattle’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Garrett Jones
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. LF Ramon Flores
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It’s another cool and cloudy day in Seattle, but there’s no rain in the forecast, so the Safeco Field roof should be open. This afternoon’s series finale will begin at 3:40pm ET, and you can watch live on YES. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: If you missed it earlier, David Carpenter was designated for assignment to clear a spot on the roster for Tanaka. I’m pleasantly surprised they didn’t simply send down Jacob Lindgren.

Injury Update: Carlos Beltran is still sore after fouling a pitch off his right foot last night. He can play today in an emergency though. Beltran went for x-rays after the game last night and they showed no fracture.

Yankees designate David Carpenter for assignment

So long, Carp. (Presswire)
So long, Carp. (Presswire)

The Yankees have designated David Carpenter for assignment, the team announced. The move clears a spot on the 25-man roster for Masahiro Tanaka, who was activated off the 15-day DL and will start today’s series finale with the Mariners. The Yankees now have one open 40-man roster spot, but will need it when either Brendan Ryan or Ivan Nova eventually come off the 60-day DL.

Carpenter, 29, had a 4.82 ERA (5.31 FIP) in 18.2 innings and has been untrustworthy pretty much all season. His strikeout rate has also dropped from 25.9% last year with the Braves to 13.4% this year. Joe Girardi gave Carpenter plenty of chances to work through his problems recently — he’s appeared in nine of the last 17 games — but it’s not working. He gave up the go-ahead run in the sixth inning last night, which may have been the final straw.

The Yankees acquired Carpenter along with Chasen Shreve in the Manny Banuelos trade this past offseason. Carpenter is out of minor league options, which is why the Yankees couldn’t simply send him to Triple-A to work on things. They now have ten days to trade, release, or waive him, and my guess is they will be able to work out a minor trade with some team. Carpenter will probably go somewhere else and have a 2.00 ERA the rest of the year. Relievers are weird like that.

With Carpenter gone, the Yankees now have five lefties in the bullpen: Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson, Jacob Lindgren, Chris Capuano, and Shreve. Dellin Betances and Esmil Rogers are the only righties. That’s not a big deal though. All five of those lefties can get righties out, if not dominate them. The Yankees could have easily demoted Lindgren, but they opted for the best talent over maintain depth.

Inside the matchup: Tanaka vs. Nelson Cruz

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Welcome back to the rotation, Masahiro Tanaka. Congratulations, your prize is a one-on-one battle with the best power hitter in the American League — Mr. Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners.

The 34-year-old Cruz leads the AL in both homers and slugging percentage, and is showing no mercy when he makes contact. According to data at Baseball Savant, Cruz has the longest homer in the majors this season — a 483-foot moonshot off Wandy Rodriguez on April 29 — and the second-hardest hit ball of any player — a walk-off single against the Rangers on April 19 that left his bat at an exit velocity of 119 mph.

Cruz is one of the most dangerous hitters in the league right now, a threat to crush the ball over the fence or send a screaming line drive to the outfield corner on any pitch, and can change the outcome of a game with one swing of the bat.

The good news for Tanaka is that this won’t be his first time pitching against the Mariners slugger. He faced the Orioles twice last season, saw Cruz a combined six times and retired him in all six plate appearances — three strikeouts, two fly outs and one ground out.

Let’s go inside the matchup to see how Tanaka was able to neutralize Cruz last season, and try to figure out how he should approach him during this afternoon’s game. [Sure, these are all super-small sample sizes, but let’s have some fun instead of worrying about the health of Tanaka’s arm.]

Tanaka did a good job of keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate, peppering the bottom outside corner with sliders, while mixing in a handful of high fastballs and a few sinkers in on the hands of Cruz.

cruz vs tanaka

The down-and-away slider was Tanaka’s key put-away pitch in the matchup, netting him four of the six outs against Cruz, including all three strikeouts on pitches at or below the knees.

That strategy was a bit unusual for Tanaka last year, who was more likely to go to his splitter in two-strike counts against righties (39 percent of the time) than his slider (31 percent). However, it was a smart game plan against Cruz, who last year really struggled with sliders from same-sided pitchers. He whiffed on nearly half of his swings against sliders and struck out a whopping 42 times on the pitch (second-most in the AL).

Another interesting trend is that Tanaka wasn’t afraid to “pitch backwards,” throwing his offspeed pitches early and often in the count. He started three of the six at-bats with sliders and kept Cruz off-balance by throwing him more off-speed pitches (11) than fastballs (9) in the six at-bats.

Tanaka is one of four pitchers that has faced Cruz at least six times since the start of last season and gotten him out every time. Can he shut down one of the game’s best sluggers again this year?

Like many power hitters, Cruz’s sweetspot is on the middle-to-inner third of the zone and off the inside corner of the plate, where he’s hit 14 of his 18 homers this season. Hey Tanaka, try to avoid that area, please:

cruz hrs

If Tanaka can get into a favorable count, throwing him a slider down and away — similar to last year — is probably a good idea. Cruz has whiffed on nearly 40 percent of his swings against sliders from right-handed pitchers this year, and he’s done little damage when making contact. He’s hit just one homer off a slider from a righty and more than half of those pitches that he’s put in play have been grounders. Tanaka’s slider had been nasty in his last two starts, getting whiffs on 56 percent of the swings against the pitch, including three strikeouts.

When Tanaka wants to throw a fastball in this matchup, he’d be smart to go to his four-seamer instead of his sinker. Cruz is slugging roughly 300 points higher against sinkers (.778) than four-seam fastballs (.471) from right-handers this year, and he’s twice as likely to whiff against a four-seamer than a sinker from a righty.

That pitch selection should favor Tanaka, who has decreased his sinker usage since his first two starts (when it got crushed), and starting throwing more four-seamers in his last two starts (with good results). Overall, Tanaka’s four-seamer has been a much better fastball option for him than his sinker this season:

Tanaka stats v2

That’s right, Tanaka has thrown 73 four-seam fastballs in 2015 and the only player to get a hit off the pitch was Russell Martin with a single in the season opener. It’s been an nice pitch for him so far, and Tanaka should feel comfortable challenging Cruz with well-located four-seamers this afternoon.

Tanaka vs. Cruz will be among the most anticipated matchups of the game, and could easily be one of the most pivotal, too. If Tanaka can use his four-seamer and slider effectively, and follow a similar game plan as he’s done in the past against Cruz, there is a good chance he’ll be able to win the battle with the Mariners slugger once again.

A-Rod showing the value of having a great full-time DH rather than a DH rotation

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the last few seasons Joe Girardi and the Yankees have employed the rotating DH strategy. Rather than have one set DH, they rotated their regular position players into the spot every so often to give them “half days off,” as Girardi calls them. This has caught on around the league too — David Ortiz and Billy Butler have been baseball’s only pure DHs the last few years.

This year the Yankees are unable to employ a rotating DH. Alex Rodriguez is closing in on his 40th birthday and he has two surgically repaired hips, so at this point of his career playing the field regularly just isn’t happening. Girardi has installed A-Rod as the team’s full-time DH almost because he has no other choice. Alex is too productive to sit yet too frail to play the field.

So far this season A-Rod has been arguably the most productive DH in baseball, especially since Nelson Cruz has played more right field (33 games) than DH (19 games). Here are the most productive DHs so far this year among players with at least 100 plate appearances at the position, via Baseball Reference:

Rk Player PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1 Prince Fielder 189 23 64 9 0 9 32 10 23 .368 .418 .575 .993 165
2 Alex Rodriguez 190 28 47 9 1 11 27 23 41 .292 .384 .565 .949 152
3 Jose Bautista 126 18 29 12 1 3 20 22 20 .287 .405 .515 .920 147
4 Jimmy Paredes 141 23 43 9 2 6 22 8 34 .323 .362 .556 .918 143
5 Kendrys Morales 202 32 56 16 0 6 37 15 30 .304 .361 .489 .851 127
6 Evan Gattis 190 23 42 9 2 11 34 8 47 .233 .263 .489 .752 97
7 David Ortiz 189 14 38 9 0 6 18 20 25 .228 .307 .389 .696 87
8 Billy Butler 221 22 54 9 0 4 26 14 34 .267 .317 .371 .688 86
9 Adam LaRoche 148 12 25 5 0 1 11 23 45 .203 .338 .268 .606 67
10 Victor Martinez 127 9 24 3 0 1 15 14 11 .222 .315 .278 .593 63

First of all, that’s it, just ten players have batted at least 100 times as a DH this year. Only six have batted more than 150 times as a DH, so yeah, the full-time DH is a dying breed. Teams love that rotating DH concept.

A-Rod has been baseball’s second most productive DH this season behind only Prince Fielder — Fielder has only played ten games at first base this year — in terms of OPS+, and he is tied for the DH lead in home runs. Only five full-time-ish DHs have a better than league average OPS+, and one of them is Jose Bautista, a right fielder who only played DH because a shoulder injury limited his throwing for a few weeks. So it’s really just four DHs with a better than average OPS+.

In theory, DH is a pretty easy job because all the player has to do is hit. There’s minimal defense work, leaving plenty of time to watch video, review scouting reports, hit in the cage, the whole nine. But it’s really not that easy, especially for players used to playing everyday. Jason Giambi is a great example of a player who was always less productive at DH because he didn’t know what to do with all the downtime. He’s far from alone. Going from playing everyday to being a DH is a tough adjustment.

A few years ago MGL found that, like pinch-hitters, there’s a “penalty” while serving as the DH. Players generally do not hit perform as well at DH as they do when playing the field, the same way players are less effective when coming off the bench to pinch-hit. The penalty is around 5%, and while that doesn’t seem like much, remember that’s only the average. Some players suffer an even bigger drop. Being a DH is hard! Sitting around between at-bats is not natural.

A-Rod seems to having figured out how to be an effective DH, however. He’d never worked as a DH for an extended period of time before this season — his career high for starts at DH was only 16 back in 2013 — but he’s been able to make the adjustment this year and remain productive. There’s been no drop off in production. Quite the opposite, in fact. Alex is hitting far better than I think even the most optimistic fans expected coming into the season.

As unsexy as it is, DH is a position, and a tough position at that. The list of players who can sit around between at-bats day after day and still rake is very short. Rodriguez has figured out a way to be one of the most productive DHs in baseball, and that’s a big advantage for the Yankees, especially since they got a combined .209/.283/.340 (62 OPS+) batting line from their DH spot from 2013-14. (I checked that three times!)

The DH is there for one reason and one reason only, to provide offense, but the Yankees got minimal offense from the position the last few years. Most teams around the league aren’t getting much production from the position either because they keep rotating players in and out, and most players see their numbers take a hit as the DH. This year the Yankees have the luxury of a great full-time DH in A-Rod, who is living up to the H part of DH game after game.

Drew and Jones play hero in come from behind 5-3 extra innings win over Mariners


Source: FanGraphs

Holy moly. This was one strike away from being one of the most frustrating losses of the season … but instead it is one of the best wins of the year. Maybe the best. The Yankees rallied to tie the Mariners in the ninth inning then got a clutch three-run home run from Garrett Jones (off a lefty!) in the 11th inning for the 5-3 win. Look at that damn WPA graph. It was worth staying up for that. Let’s recap the West Coast night game with bullet points:

  • Rally To Tie: Of course it all came down to Stephen Drew. Fernando Rodney was on to protect a 2-1 lead in the ninth, but a walk (Chase Headley) and a single (Brian McCann) put runners on the corners with two outs. We were all waiting for the inevitable game-ending pop-up when Drew surprised us all and lined a two-strike double into the right field corner to tie the game. How about that? Drew singled in extra innings as well. It was only his sixth multi-hit game of the season. I don’t even care right now. What a huge hit.
  • Extra Innings Fun: Let’s see, the Yankees blew a bases loaded, one out rally in the tenth when Carlos Beltran banged into a 4-6-3 double play. Justin Wilson made a tremendous diving catch on Rickie Weeks’ bunt in the bottom of the tenth, and turned it into a rare 1-4 double play. And then Jones hit that insanely clutch three-run home run off Joe Beimel with two outs in the 11th. It was a bad pitch in a 2-0 count, the kind of pitch he is supposed to hammer, and he did just that. Seriously, who saw that coming? Drew and Jones, the heroes. Baseball.
  • Death By Bullpen: Once again, David Carpenter was brought into a high-leverage situation, and, once again, he did not get the job done. Carpenter inherited a first-and-third, two outs situation from CC Sabathia in the sixth, and allowed the go-ahead single to Austin Jackson in a two-strike count. He’s now allowed four of nine inherited runners to score this year. Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren, Dellin Betances, and Wilson did the job with a scoreless inning each before Andrew Miller picked up the save. He allowed a run and had Nelson Cruz at the plate representing the go-ahead run … but he struck him out to end the game. You weren’t nervous right? Of course not.
  • Leftovers: Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon and catcher Mike Zunino were ejected in the third because they disagreed with some check swing calls. McClendon went on a great multi-umpire tirade. Here’s the videoMark Teixeira drove in the team’s first run with a third inning double … Kyle Seager tried to bunt home a run with two outs in the fifth and holy moly was Sabathia pissed after he made the play for the out. Guess he didn’t like Seager challenging his mobility. Sabathia did apologize for the outburst after the game … Didi Gregorius tripped going first-to-third on a single in the seventh, and was thrown out before he could scamper back to second. Didi literally can not get out of his own way … Gardner, Jones, Didi, and Drew all had two hits. Of course they did … Beltran fouled a ball off his foot in the tenth and x-rays came back negative.

Here are the box score, video highlights, updated standings, Bullpen Workload page, and Announcer Standings page. The Yankees will go for the sweep in the series finale on Wednesday afternoon (3:40pm ET start) when Masahiro Tanaka returns to the rotation. Hooray for that. Taijuan Walker will be on the bump for the Fightin’ Canos.