4/25 to 4/27 Series Preview: Texas Rangers

(Mike Stone/Getty)
(Mike Stone/Getty)

The Yankees really need to get out of the Bronx for a little while. They just went 3-6 (3-6!) on a nine-game homestand and looked pretty bad doing it. I don’t know if the change of scenery will help anything, but I can’t imagine it’ll hurt. The Yankees start a nine-game road trip with the first of three in Texas tonight.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Rangers, who snuck in and won the AL West in the final series of the season last year, are currently 10-9 with a +1 run differential in the early going. They were just swept by the White Sox in Chicago, so Rangers fans must be talking about the Rangers the same way Yankees fans are talking about the Yankees right now. They suck, they won’t contend, etc.

Offense & Defense

It always seems like the Rangers have a good offense, doesn’t it? They’re currently tenth in baseball in runs per game (4.44) despite being 17th in wRC+ (91). Texas is pretty banged up at the moment. They’re without their starting corner outfielders (Shin-Soo Choo, Josh Hamilton) and top two catchers (Robinson Chirinos, Chris Gimenez) due to injuries. None are expected back this weekend.

Nomar. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Nomar. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Manager Jeff Banister, who was named Manager of the Year as a rookie skipper last year, has a pretty set lineup. This isn’t a team that uses many platoons or mixes up the batting order on a daily basis. The team’s lineup generally looks like this:

  1. CF Delino DeShields Jr. (98 wRC+)
  2. RF Nomar Mazara (160 wRC+)
  3. 3B Adrian Beltre (143 wRC+)
  4. DH Prince Fielder (37 wRC+)
  5. LF Ian Desmond (73 wRC+)
  6. 1B Mitch Moreland (96 wRC+)
  7. SS Elvis Andrus (123 wRC+)
  8. 2B Rougned Odor (81 wRC+)
  9. C Bryan Holaday (40 wRC+)

Any changes day-to-day are usually subtle. Beltre and Fielder will be flip-flopped, or Desmond and Moreland will be flip-flopped, that sort of thing. UTIL Ryan Rua (43 wRC+) will see at-bats against lefties, usually in place of Moreland. IF Hanser Alberto (-35 wRC+) and C Brett Nicholas (75 wRC+) are the other bench players. The Rangers are currently carrying eight relievers and three bench players.

Defensively, the Rangers are a very interesting team. They have a 73.2 Defensive Efficiency Rating — that means they turn 73.2% of balls in play into outs — which is seventh best in baseball. Yet when you look at their runs saved visualization, it doesn’t look like they should be that good. From Sean Dolinar:

Rangers defense There’s a disconnect here. First of all, Choo is hurt and Mazara is playing right field, and that’s a big upgrade defensively. Secondly, the Rangers are quite good at shifting, which helps them on the infield. I also think Odor is a bit better than the numbers based on the eye test. There’s a lot of red on that infographic, but Texas seems to be better defensively than expected.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (8pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. TEX) vs. LHP Cesar Ramos (vs. NYY)
The Yankees are catching a break tonight. Cole Hamels, who is perpetually overlooked as one of the game’s great pitchers, was scheduled to start tonight’s series opener, but he has been scratched with a minor groin injury. He won’t start in the series at all. Ramos, the former Rays lefty, is coming up from Triple-A to make the spot start. The 31-year-old had a 3.18 ERA (3.55 FIP) in three Triple-A starts this year, though it’s worth noting he did not throw more than 4.1 innings or 79 pitches in any of his three games. That means he’ll throw six scoreless tonight, I’m sure. Out of the bullpen Ramos posted average strikeout, walk, and ground ball numbers all throughout his career, and he’s historically fared a bit better against lefties than righties. Ramos sits in the low-90s with his four-seamer and sinker — he didn’t throw any sinkers with the Angels last season for whatever reason — and backs them up with a mid-80s slider, mid-80s changeup, and low-70s curve. He’s always had the stuff to start, but never really did get an extended opportunity in a big league rotation.

Tuesday (8pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (No vs. TEX) vs. RHP A.J. Griffin (vs. NYY)
Griffin, 28, is back in the big leagues after missing the entire 2014 and 2015 seasons due to Tommy John surgery and subsequent complications. He has a 3.18 ERA (4.60 FIP) in 17 innings across three starts this year, though his strikeout (16.7%), walk (11.1%), grounder (34.6%), and homer (1.06 HR/9) rates are all below-average. Lefties have hammered him early on too. Back in the day Griffin had an average strikeout rate with very low walk and grounder rates. After missing two years with arm problems, I’m not surprised his strikeout and walk numbers are out of whack early on. Through three starts this season Griffin is averaging 89 mph with his four-seamer and 85 mph with his cutter. His changeup is in the low-80s and his hilarious slow curveball still sits in the mid-to-high-60s. Look:

A.J. Griffin curve

Griffin throws the slow curve regularly too, roughly 16% of the time both this year and historically. It’s a different look, that’s for sure.

Wednesday (8pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. TEX) vs. LHP Martin Perez (vs. NYY)
Like Ivan Nova and Matt Moore, the 25-year-old Perez returned from Tommy John surgery in the middle of last season. He pitched better than those two (4.46 ERA and 3.40 FIP) following the surgery, though this year has not gone well (4.50 ERA and 5.11 FIP). Perez has more walks (13.1%) than strikeouts (11.1%) through four starts and 24 innings, and that’s always bad. His grounder (54.3%) and homer (0.75 HR/9) numbers are right in line with his career norms. Righties have hit him pretty well this year and throughout his career. Perez sits in the low-to-mid-90s range with his sinker, which he throws about twice as often as his straight four-seamer. A mid-80s slider and low-80s changeup are his go-to offspeed pitches. His overall numbers are not good this year, but Perez can be very tough to handle when his sinker is working.

Bullpen Status

The Rangers are currently without two of their better relievers right now. RHP Keone Kela just had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, and RHP Tanner Scheppers is out long-term following knee surgery. Well, Kela is one of their better relievers. Scheppers is more big name than big production. Here is Banister’s relief corps:

RHP Tony Barnette: 8.2 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 1 HR
LHP Alex Claudio: 2.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0 HR
LHP Jake Diekman: 5.1 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR
RHP Sam Dyson: 9 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 1 HR
RHP Phil Klein: 5.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 0 HR
RHP Nick Martinez: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 0 HR
RHP Shawn Tolleson: 7 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR
RHP Tom Wilhelmsen: 6 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 5 BB, 1 K, 4 HR

One of those guys is going to be sent down for Ramos today. Claudio is the obvious choice because he threw 31 pitches yesterday — he was the only reliever used Sunday — but the Yankees are so susceptible to left-handed pitching that I wonder if the Rangers will keep him around for the second and third game of the series and send down Martinez instead. We’ll see. (UPDATE: Martinez was send down for Ramos.)

Tolleson is the closer and don’t be fooled by the numbers. He had one horrible meltdown (five runs, no outs on April 6th) but has been very good otherwise. Wilhelmsen has had two huge meltdowns and has been fine the rest of the time. Dyson and Diekman are Banister’s go-to setup crew. Dyson has a crazy sinker (68.2% grounders) and Diekman is one of the hardest throwing lefties in baseball. He runs it up to 98-99 mph regularly.

Joe Girardi‘s bullpen is in good shape heading into the series, though neither Kirby Yates nor Nick Goody figure to be available tonight following their multi-inning outings yesterday. Our Bullpen Workload page has all you need to know about the Yankees’ recent reliever usage.

Yankeemetrics: Heroes and zeroes [April 22-24]

Walk-off wins are awesome. (Getty Images)
Walk-off wins are awesome. (Getty Images)

Stealing a win
The Yankees woke up from their nightmare and temporarily broke out of their massive slump on Friday night, beating the Rays 6-3 in the series opener. Yes, six runs is considered an offensive explosion these days.

Jacoby Ellsbury may not have started the game, but he still delivered the most electrifying moment of the season so far, swiping home in the bottom of the fifth inning to even the score at 3-3. It was the first straight steal of home by a Yankee at Yankee Stadium since Gerald Williams on May 29, 1993 vs. the White Sox.

Ellsbury also sparked the offense with two hits and two RBI in three at-bats after taking over for the injured Aaron Hicks. He is the first Yankee in more than four decades — since Jerry Kenney in 1969 — to come off the bench and produce at least two hits, two RBI, a stolen base and a run scored in a game.

Let’s go streaking
Break out the champagne, folks … the Yankees finally put together a win streak with a dramatic walk-off victory on Saturday against Tampa Bay.

Brett Gardner was the hero, tying the game in the seventh inning with an RBI infield single and then earning himself a Gatorade shower with a two-out towering blast into the right field seats in the bottom of the ninth inning. It was his sixth career walk-off hit, the most by any Yankee since his debut in 2008.

Gardner also became just the third Yankee left-fielder in the last 85 seasons to hit a two-out, walk-off homer, joining Gary Thomasson (1978) and Charlie Keller (1941).

The Rays called up their top pitching prospect, Blake Snell, to start the game and the 23-year-old lefty put on quite a show in the Bronx. He worked five innings, allowing one run on two hits with six strikeouts and a walk. Mixing his mid-90s fastball with a knee-buckling curve plus a handful of changeups and sliders, Snell had a truly impressive and historic performance.

He is the only pitcher in the last 100 years to make his major-league debut against the Yankees and pitch at least five innings, allow no more than two hits while striking out at least six batters. The last guy to make his major-league debut against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium and give up one run or fewer with six-or-more strikeouts was Luis Tiant in 1964.

No sweep for you
All good things must come to an end. The Yankees dropped the series finale on Sunday, failed to complete the three-game sweep and fell back into last place in the AL East.

Their offensive struggles continued with just one run scored on six hits, the eighth time in 17 games this season they’ve been held to two runs or fewer. That’s tied for the most such games in the American League this season.

As much as you can blame the cold bats for the loss, the Yankees were never in this game thanks to a horrible outing by Michael Pineda. The Rays pummeled him in the first inning, belting out six consecutive two-out hits — two of which left the ballpark — to take a 5-0 lead.

Pineda gutted out another four frames and finished with one of the most bizarre pitching lines you’ll ever see: five innings, 10 hits, seven runs, nine strikeouts, four home runs, one walk. Yes, there’s some dominance in there (nine strikeouts), but also a bunch of poorly located fastballs/meatballs (four homers).

With that Hekyll-and-Jyde performance, Pineda became the first Yankee pitcher in the last 100 seasons to allow four-or-more home runs and strike out at least nine batters in a game. In the past 20 years, the only other Yankees to give up 10-plus hits and have nine-plus Ks in an outing of fewer than six innings pitched were Roger Clemens (2003) and David Cone (1998).

Overall, the Rays got 12 hits and struck out 16 times. Never before in franchise history had Yankees pitchers given up that many hits and recorded that many strikeouts in a nine-inning game.

Rays outfielder Steven Souza Jr. etched his name in the Yankee record books with a rare and nearly unprecedented display of power on his 27th birthday. He is just third player ever with a multi-homer game at Yankee Stadium (old or new) on his birthday, along with Justin Morneau (2009) and Bernie Williams (2003).

A-Rod and Hicks injuries create some short-term roster headaches for the Yankees


The just completed nine-game homestand did not go well for the Yankees. Not at all. They lost six times in the nine games, and, over the weekend, they lost both Alex Rodriguez and Aaron Hicks to injury. A-Rod hurt his oblique taking swings in the indoor batting cage between at-bats Sunday, and Hicks jammed his shoulder attempting a diving catch Friday.

The good news is neither A-Rod nor Hicks suffered a serious long-term injury. The MRI on A-Rod’s oblique came back negative, and he did travel with the team to Texas for their upcoming series with the Rangers. Hicks’ MRI showed “traumatic bursitis,” which sounds a lot worse than it really is. He received a cortisone shot and is only expected to miss a few days.

That A-Rod and Hicks only suffered day-to-day injuries is good news. The bad news is the two simultaneous injuries create some roster headaches for the Yankees. They have 23 healthy players on their 25-man roster right now, which means only a two-man bench. Playing short for a few days while one player nurses an injury is one thing. Playing short two position players is very different.

“That would be pretty hard to do … Playing two short would be really difficult,” said Joe Girardi to Daniel Popper following yesterday’s game. The Yankees said they were not going to make an immediate roster move when they announced the results of A-Rod’s MRI last night, but the key word there is immediate. They could still make a move prior to tonight’s game and I expect they will.

What I think will happen and what I think should happen are different things. I think the Yankees will place Hicks on the DL and ride out A-Rod’s injury for a few days. I think the Yankees should place both Hicks and A-Rod on the DL to not only avoid playing short-handed, but also to give the two players as much time as necessary to get healthy. A DL stint means no temptation to bring them back early.

Remember, oblique injuries are very tricky and very easy to re-aggravate. Plus A-Rod is 40 now, and 40-year-olds tend to take longer to heal that 25-year-olds. I can’t help but feel like something the Yankees believe will keep Alex out for, say, four or five days will end up sidelining him for nine or ten days. Same with Hicks to a lesser extent. He won’t be back until the end of the week at the earliest based on the five or six day timetable the team threw out there.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees have 40-man roster flexibility — they have one open spot thanks to Aroldis Chapman‘s suspension, plus two 60-day DL candidates (Greg Bird, Bryan Mitchell) and likely a third (Branden Pinder) — and a bunch of call-up options in Triple-A. A right-handed hitter(s) who can play a little outfield would be ideal, though not completely necessary. Here are the main candidates:

1. Nick Swisher. Swisher has raked in his short time with Triple-A Scranton (175 wRC+), which is good to see, but be careful not to read too much into a 12-year veteran mashing Triple-A pitching. He’s healthy and that’s good. Swisher also stunk the last two years and his knees are shot, so he’s basically a first baseman and DH at this point. (He hasn’t played the outfield at all with Scranton.) Also, Swisher can’t be sent back down when Hicks and A-Rod are healthy.

2. Ben Gamel. Gamel is a left-handed hitter and the Yankees already have three of those in the outfield if you include Dustin Ackley. He has hit this year though (118 wRC+), and he’s far better suited to play right field than Ackley. In a perfect world Carlos Beltran will slide into the DH spot full-time while A-Rod is on the shelf. Gamel may be the best option in terms of expected performance on both sides of the ball.

3. Aaron Judge. Well, if the Yankees want a right-handed batter, Judge would fit the bill. He’s played well in the early going (125 wRC+) despite some strikeout issues (30.9%). The Yankees have been going young whenever possible lately, and Judge would be a better fit than Gamel because he is a righty. That said, he’s not on the 40-man roster, and sending him back down when Hicks and A-Rod return would burn his first minor league option year. Also, Judge simply might need more time in Triple-A. That strikeout rate is no bueno. You’d hate to rush a guy this talented before he’s ready.

4. Lane Adams. The Yankees claimed Adams off waivers this winter specifically because he’s a right-handed hitting outfielder, something they lacked at the upper levels. He started the year in Double-A before moving up to Triple-A when Cesar Puello got hurt, and so far he hasn’t stood out with the bat (78 wRC+). Adams is the best defender among the team’s outfield options, which is not nothing. It’s unknown how much any of these guys will contribute with the bat right now. Adams could help the most in the field.

5. Rob Refsnyder? Once upon a time Refsnyder was a right fielder, though he has played only nine games at the position since 2013. The Yankees had him work out exclusively at second and third base in Spring Training and Triple-A. That said, he’s a right-handed hitter, and he did some damage against lefties late last year. The Yankees could use the help against southpaws. Would they stick Refsnyder in right field for a few days until Hicks returns? My guess is no, but it is an option.

Gamel is the easy move because he’s already on the 40-man roster and is playing the best on both sides of the ball right now. Swisher is the “old Yankees” move in that he’s a veteran who would be getting priority over younger players. Adams is the boring option, Judge is the bold option, and Refsnyder is the out of the box option. If the Yankees do stick someone (Hicks) on the DL, I think Gamel would get the call. I’m wrong all the time though.

Neither A-Rod nor Hicks have been hitting all that much in the early going, so it’s possible whoever gets called up will actually improve the team in the short-term. Still, the Yankees want to get those two going, and they’re at their best when those two guys are playing up to their potential. A-Rod and Hicks won’t be able to snap out of their funks while injured. There’s nothing the team can do about that though. They just have to hope they can return soon.

Point is, having A-Rod and Hicks hurt at the same time really creates some problems. The injuries remove two right-handed bats from a team struggling against lefties (74 wRC+) and they could be left playing shorthanded for a few days. These are only day-to-day injuries, but the fact both happened at the same time gives the Yankees little choice but to stick someone on the DL for the time being.

Fan Confidence Poll: April 25th, 2016

Record Last Week: 2-4 (17 RS, 25 RA)
Season Record: 7-10 (66 RS, 78 RA, 7-10 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: @ Rangers (three games, Mon. to Weds.), Thurs. OFF, @ Red Sox (three games, Fri. to Sun.)

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

DotF: Swisher & Lane have big games in Scranton’s loss

Very sad news to pass along: IF Sandy Acevedo was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic last night, the Yankees announced. He was only 18. The Yankees signed him as an international free agent last year. Our condolences go out to Acevedo’s family and friends.

Here’s some minor league news and notes I have lying around from the weekend:

  • LHP Jacob Lindgren has been placed on the High-A DL with an elbow injury, reports Dan Martin. No word on the nature of the injury. He had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow in the middle of last season. The injury could (and hopefully does) explain Lindgren’s bouts of extreme wildness this year.
  • RHP James Kaprielian was No. 8 on this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. Erik Boland spoke to a scout recently who said Kaprielian has been “consistently” hitting 99 mph this year. That seems too good to be true. Clearly Kaprielian’s velocity is up since the draft, but now he’s regularly pumping 99? Sounds a little fishy.
  • The new site 20-80 Baseball has a pair of firsthand scouting reports on OF Ben Gamel and OF Aaron Judge from a recent Triple-A Scranton series. “All in all, he appears to be a guy with potential five average tools across the board that can do a little bit of everything; despite no plus tool,” said the report on Gamel.

Triple-A Scranton (7-4 loss to Syracuse)

  • 2B Donovan Solano: 2-4, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 1 K
  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-4
  • DH Nick Swisher: 3-4, 1 R — if he were with any other team, I’m pretty sure no one would be clamoring to call him up because of two good weeks in Triple-A after two awful years in MLB
  • C Gary Sanchez & 3B Rob Refsnyder: both 0-3, 1 BB — Refsnyder committed a throwing error
  • CF Lane Adams: 3-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI
  • RHP Tyler Cloyd: 4 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 2/7 GB/FB — 51 of 92 pitches were strikes (55.4%)
  • LHP Richard Bleier: 4 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 7/1 GB/FB — 39 of 64 pitches were strikes (61%) … started the season on the DL, then was miraculously stretched out and ready to go (despite zero rehab outings) when the RailRiders needed an arm … smells like a phantom DL stint to me

[Read more…]

Update: MRI on A-Rod’s oblique comes back negative


6:27pm: The MRI on A-Rod‘s oblique came back negative, the Yankees announced. I assume that means he doesn’t have any kind of strain that will require a DL stint. The Yankees say no immediate roster move will be made, and Alex will travel with the team to Texas. They love him down there, you know.

3:42pm: Alex Rodriguez left this afternoon’s game with an oblique injury, reports Jack Curry. The Yankees have since confirmed the news. A-Rod tweaked his side while taking swings in the batting cage between at-bats. There’s no word on the severity just yet, though the Yankees say he’s heading for an MRI.

The Yankees are currently without Aaron Hicks, who is nursing a shoulder injury and received a cortisone shot yesterday. Obliques can be very tricky and easy to re-aggravate. If A-Rod is going to be down for a few days, the Yankees are going to have to put someone on the DL and make a call-up. Can’t play with a 23-man roster.

Dustin Ackley doesn’t have much right field experience at all, so while putting him in right and Carlos Beltran at DH is possible, it might not be the best move with both Hicks and A-Rod out. Nick Swisher and Ben Gamel seem like the primary call-up candidates, though I’d be surprised if it’s Swisher, especially if both Hicks and A-Rod are due back soon.

Rodriguez, 40, came into Sunday’s game 7-for-53 (.132) on the season. He ripped a double off the wall this afternoon and had a home run knocked down by the wind yesterday. The Yankees won’t miss his bat in the short-term, but he’s not going to get out of his funk sitting on the DL either. Hopefully he comes back soon.

Tampa bats turn in a slugfest in an 8-1 Yankee loss

Elsa/Getty Images

Pleasant weather didn’t mean a pleasant game for the Yankees. This was not fun to watch. The Rays had one of their best starters dealing while their bats barraged the Yanks’ arms, particularly Michael Pineda. The Yankees still won the series but not a lot of people will want to look back to this game. It’s the weekend so we’re going to do this gamer in bullet points.

  • That first inning: After getting two quick outs, Pineda gave up two big hits to surrender a 2-0 lead. With one strike away from getting out of the inning, Pineda allowed a big double to center to Evan Longoria and a first-pitch homer to Corey Dickerson. Oh the Rays weren’t done here. Former Yankee Steve Pearce hit a single to follow up and Brad Miller lined an RBI double to drive him in. 3-0. You thought they were done, right? Steve Souza Jr. crushed a fastball right down the middle for a two-run homer. 5-0. Well, they would make it six hits in a row with a Kevin Kiermaier double. Thankfully, Curt Casali popped out to end the inning. What a weird one.
  • The rest of Pineda’s outing: It went better than the first inning but “better” is a bit of a loose term here. In the next four innings, he did allow only two runs but they were two solo bombs by Steve Pearce (leading off the third) and Steven Souza (two homers for the birthday boy). Impressively however, Pineda struck out 8 batters in that span, making it 9 punch outs in five total innings. His swing-and-miss stuff was there but his gut-wrenchingly bad strike zone command was as well. His final line: 5 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 9 K’s and 4 HR’s. Peak Mike right there.
  • The only one: New York scored their only run of the day in the fourth. Brett Gardner got hit by the pitch leading off and advanced to second on fielder’s choice out. A-Rod hit a booming double that missed being a 2-run homer by inches. His hit made it 6-1, which is better than 6-0 (I have no idea how else to sugarcoat it).  
  • The Glasgow Smyly: The Yankees had two innings with two runners on base against Smyly (fifth and sixth) and failed to score on both. They were 1-for-7 in RISP situations overall. Brian McCann went up to bat three times and struck out in all of them. A-Rod, who drove in the Yanks’ lone run of the day, had to be lifted in the sixth with a tweaked oblique. Don’t know how serious that is right now but it was one of those days for New York. If I could splurge on field level seats for a Yankee game, I would be so glad that it wasn’t today.
  • Leftovers: Kirby Yates was the best Yankee player today. He pitched two scoreless innings against his former team, striking out four and allowing only two baserunners (hit and a HBP). Good for him that he’s found his spot in the Yankee roster, doing all the dirty, non-glamorous relief work that someone needs to take on.
  • Box score, WPA, highlights and standings: If you do dare to look back at today’s game, here’s today’s box score, updated standings, WPA and video highlights.

The Yankees will start a 9-game road trip against the Rangers, Red Sox and Orioles tomorrow. Tomorrow’s game against Texas will be a 8 pm one and it will be on ESPN and YES. Enjoy the rest of the beautiful Sunday.

Source: FanGraphs