Here is tonight’s open thread. The Mets are playing tonight and there are both NHL and NBA playoff games on as well. Talk about any of those games right here.
Zack Collins | C
Collins, 21, is a Florida kid from the Miami area who now plays for the Hurricanes. He’s a career .321/.470/.591 hitter at Miami, including a .381/.552/.645 batting line with eleven homers, 62 walks, and 39 strikeouts in 51 games this spring. Collins turned down the Reds as the 27th round pick out of high school in 2013.
Collins is very much a bat first prospect. He’s a left-handed hitter with arguably the best approach in college baseball, one that not only allows him to get on base at a high rate, but also do damage against both righties and lefties. Collins has 20+ homer power in addition to the potential for hit for average, though there is some question whether pro pitchers will be able to beat him inside with fastballs. Right now he can fight those pitches off with metal bats. Behind the plate Collins has a barely average arm and he moves just okay with his 6-foot-3, 220 lb. frame. The Miami pitching staff is always loaded with pro prospects, so he has experience catching high-end stuff, but the fact there’s already talk about moving him to first base is not good. Collins is going to get drafted because of his bat, not his glove. Plain and simple.
In their most recent draft rankings, Baseball America ranked Collins as the 16th best draft prospect in the country, while Keith Law (subs. req’d) and MLB.com had him 18th and 20th, respectively. The Yankees pick 18th. Left-handed hitters with power and patience are a Yankee trademark, and for what it’s worth, the team has had some success developing iffy catchers into strong defenders. Francisco Cervelli and John Ryan Murphy developed into great defenders, Luis Torrens took the position quickly, and even Gary Sanchez has improved a lot over the years. Collins may not be salvageable behind the plate though. As long as the bat works out, he’ll be fine anywhere.
As for the Yankees, Callis has them selecting Vanderbilt RHP Jordan Sheffield with their first round pick, No. 18 overall. The Yankees were connected to Sheffield in Baseball America’s most recent mock draft as well. These mock drafts aren’t guesswork. They’re a reflection of what Callis and Baseball America (and Keith Law) are hearing. They’re informed speculation. Chances are the Yankees are indeed in on Sheffield. Here’s a piece of MLB.com’s scouting report:
Of all the pitching prospects in the 2016 Draft, Sheffield may have the best chance to develop three plus offerings. His fastball can sit at 94-96 mph and reach 98, and he has maintained his velocity in the late innings of his starts. Both Sheffield’s hard three-quarters breaking ball (which is more likely to become a slider than a curveball) and his circle changeup can be out pitches at times.
Within the write-up Callis seems to indicate the Yankees are targeting a high school arm first and foremost. We’ve heard them connected to California HS RHP Kevin Gowdy more than anyone these last few weeks — here’s my write-up on Gowdy — though he’s far from the only first round caliber prep arm. Last year the Yankees reportedly grabbed RHP James Kaprielian only after all the high school bats they wanted were off the board.
The 2016 draft begins two weeks from Thursday, so at this point teams have their boards pretty well established. They’re now getting their final looks at players and tweaking their preference lists, not overhauling them. It’ll take an injury to change things significantly at this point.
Since the start of last season, Statcast has opened our eyes to all sorts of cool stuff that we knew existed in baseball, but were unable to measure. Exit velocity, outfielder first step quickness, things like that. All this information is new and we’re still learning how to use it — at-bat by at-bat exit velocity updates are the worst thing on Twitter these days — but it’s all really neat and interesting.
One of these fun new Statcast tools is “perceived velocity,” which measures how fast a pitch “plays” when factoring in things like extension and release point. We’ve all seen pitchers with a 92 mph fastball who get hitters to react like it’s 95 mph, and vice versa. Here is the perceived velocity definition from MLB.com’s glossary:
Perceived Velocity is an attempt to quantify how fast a pitch appears to a hitter, by factoring the Velocity of the pitch and the release point of the pitcher. It takes Velocity one step further — because a 95 mph fastball will reach a hitter faster if the pitcher releases the ball seven feet in front of the rubber instead of six.
To attain Perceived Velocity, the average Major League “Extension” must first be obtained. Any pitcher who releases the ball from behind the average Extension will have a lower Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity. On the other hand, if a pitcher releases the ball from in front of the average Extension, he’ll have a higher Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity.
Perceived velocity seems pretty important, right? More important than actual velocity, I think. Since the start of last season the league average fastball velocity is 92.5 mph while the league average perceived velocity is 92.1 mph. That’s not a negligible difference. There’s much more to it than the raw radar gun reading.
So, with an assist from Baseball Savant, let’s look over the Yankees’ pitching staff and compare average fastball velocities to perceived fastball velocities. These are numbers since the start of last season to give us the largest sample possible.
|Average Velocity||Perceived Velocity||“Gain”|
There are some pretty big differences between average velocity and perceived velocity in the rotation. Sabathia is a big man with a long stride, so it makes sense his fastball plays up and appears faster than what the radar gun tells you. He’s releasing the ball that much closer to home plate. Of course, a 90.93 mph perceived velocity is still well below the league average, but that’s what Sabathia has to work with at this point of his career.
On the other end of the spectrum is Nova, who is unable to gain any extra velocity through extension despite being 6-foot-4. His fastball looks a full mile an hour slower to the hitter than what the radar gun says. The ability to see the ball well out of Nova’s hand has always been a knock against him. He doesn’t have much deception in his delivery and the perceived velocity data suggests he lacks extension too. That’s why Nova’s always been more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe.
The same is true of Eovaldi, though he brings much more raw velocity to the table than Nova and most other starting pitchers. Eovaldi is not as tall as most of his rotation mates (6-foot-2) so his stride isn’t as long, which costs him some perceived velocity. He’s the poster child for pitchers with big fastballs and small results. His new splitter has really made a big difference because it gives hitters something else to think about. Before they could zero in on the fastball.
I have nothing to back this up, but the 0.78 mph difference between Tanaka’s average fastball and perceived fastball seems to matter less to him than it would other pitchers. Tanaka is basically a splitter/slider pitcher with a show-me fastball. Nova and Eovaldi rely on their fastballs much more heavily because their secondary pitches aren’t as good. I don’t mean that as a knock. Most pitchers rely on their heater. Tanaka’s an outlier. The lack of perceived velocity could help explain why he’s so homer prone though.
|Average Velocity||Perceived Velocity||“Gain”|
These five guys have been the constants in the bullpen this season. The other two spots — sometimes it has been three other spots — have been used as shuttle spots to cycle arms in and out as necessary.
The big three all gain some velocity through their release points because they’re all so damn tall. I’m actually sort of surprised the difference between Betances’ average fastball velocity and perceived fastball velocity is so small, relatively speaking. He has such a massively long stride …
… that you’d think his fastball would play up. Then again, it’s not where your leg lands, it’s where you release the ball. Miller has those long lanky arms and he seems to sling his pitches towards the batter, and those long limbs and funky angles make his already speedy fastball seem ever faster. Same with Chapman. Good grief. His fastball somehow looks faster to the hitter than the radar gun reading. That can’t be fun.
Yates is pretty interesting. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and he has that compact little delivery, so his fastball looks much slower to the hitter than what the radar gun tells us. That said, Yates is not a reliever who tries to throw the ball by hitters. His key to his success is his slider, which he throws nearly 40% of the time. The fastball may play down according to perceived velocity, but he’s not trying to get guys out with the heater anyway. It’s all about the slider with Kirby.
|Average Velocity||Perceived Velocity||“Gain”|
These are the so-called shuttle pitchers, some of whom haven’t pitched in the big leagues at all this season due to injury. The samples are all very small — Mitchell leads the group with 298 fastballs thrown since the start of last year, and in some cases (Green, Pazos, Cessa, Lindgren) we’re looking at 60 or fewer fastballs — so these numbers are FYI only. There’s something to look at that, not something that should be taken seriously right now.
The numbers are on the extremes are pretty fascinating. Statcast says Pinder’s fastball has played more than two full miles an hour faster than what the radar gun says. Barbato is the opposite. His fastball plays down nearly two miles an hour. Pinder is listed at 6-foot-4 and Barbato at 6-foot-1, so there’s a big height difference, but look at their strides too (you can click the image for a larger view):
I know this is amateur hour with the photos, sorry. In my defense, it’s really tough to find photos of up and down relievers who have thrown a combined 41.2 innings in the big leagues.
Anyway, you can still kinda see the differences in their strides with those two photos. Both are about to release the ball, yet Pinder is so much closer to the plate that his back foot is already disconnected from the rubber. Look at the angles of their legs too. Barbato is standing a bit more upright, which means he’s not striding as far forward.
Just like regular old velocity, perceived velocity alone is not the key to pitching, but it is definitely part of the equation. Those extra miles an hour — or, to be more precise, the appearance of those extra miles an hour — disrupt timing and give hitters less time to react. Mike Fast once showed a difference of one mile an hour of velocity equates to roughly one-quarter of a run of ERA.
Perceived velocity still doesn’t tell us why Eovaldi’s fastball is less effective than Miller’s, for example. Eovaldi’s heater has Miller’s beat in terms of both average and perceived velocity. I do find it interesting someone as tall as Sabathia can “add” a mile per hour to his heater with his size while a short pitcher like Yates “losses” a mile an hour. Intuitively it all makes sense. It’s just cool to be able to put some numbers on it now.
Supernova sinks the A’s
Given the massive hole the Yankees had dug themselves into during the first month of the season, and coupled with their recent struggles in the Bay Area, this weekend’s trip to Oakland was foreboding.
Entering the series, the Yankees were 2-8 at the Oakland Coliseum since 2013, their worst road record against any AL team in that span. They’d lost four straight series in Oakland, their longest such streak since dropping 12 series in a row at the ballpark from 1985-91.
Not ideal. The Yankees buried that trend from the get-go with a much-needed win in the series opener on Thursday night.
Ivan Nova was a model of efficiency on the mound, firing 62 pitches in six innings while giving up just one run on four hits. His sinker was in peak form, averaging its most horizontal movement and second-best downward movement of the season. The A’s went 2-for-14 when putting a two-seamer in play, as he pounded the bottom of the strike zone with the pitch.
Nova is now 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in three starts this season and hasn’t allowed more than one run in any of those outings. The last Yankee to be unbeaten through his first three starts while giving up one run or fewer in each game was Kevin Brown in 2004.
Welcome back, Large Lefty
Breaking news: The Yankees finally put together a win streak of more than two games after beating the A’s, 8-3, on Friday night. The Astros are now the only team in baseball that hasn’t won at least three games in a row this season.
There were plenty of heroes for the Yankees, starting with their new (old) ace, Carsten Charles Sabathia. Pitching for the first time since going on the DL two weeks ago, Sabathia spun another gem with one run allowed and eight strikeouts in six strong innings. He’s now won back-to-back games, surrendering no more than one run in each outing, for the first time since 2011.
Sabathia wasn’t the only veteran that turned back the clock on Friday night. Thirty-nine-year-old Carlos Beltran went 3-for-5 with three doubles and three RBI to lead the Yankees’ latest offensive outburst.
Beltran is the oldest player in franchise history with three doubles in a game, and just the fifth guy in major-league history age 39 or older to hit three doubles and drive in three runs in a game. The four others are David Ortiz (2015), Tony Perez (1985), Pete Rose (1980), and Joe Judge (1933).
The Yankees continued their winning ways with a 5-1 victory on Saturday that gave them their first road series win of 2016, ending a streak of six straight winless series away from the Bronx. That was their longest such drought to begin a season since 1991.
Thanks to a Blue Jays loss in Minnesota, the Yankees also climbed out of the basement in the AL East for the first time since April 23. That was their longest stretch in last place since spending the final four months of the 1990 season at the bottom of the division.
Masahiro Tanaka continued the Yankees’ recent stretch of terrific starting pitching as he went seven innings and allowed one run for his second win of the season. He’s now 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA in three career games against the A’s, and has allowed one earned run or fewer in each of those outings.
The only other Yankee since 1980 to win three straight starts versus the A’s without giving up more than an earned run in each game was Andy Pettitte (1997-2000).
The Yankees capped off this successful West Coast swing with a 5-4 win, completing their first four-game sweep in Oakland since July 1979. They also avoided losing their fourth straight season series against the A’s, something that hadn’t happened in this rivalry since they dropped seven season series in a row to the Philadelphia A’s from 1908-14.
Consider the amazing turnaround that the Bombers have engineered in the past week. When the Yankees started this road trip, they were:
- Without a win streak of more than two games … Done.
- Without a road series win … Done.
- Without a series sweep … Done.
And stuck in last place in the AL East … not anymore. With the win on Sunday, they’re now in third place, their highest rank in the standings since April 17.
Two players that had struggled mightily this season were surprise key contributors to the win. Michael Pineda, riding the longest losing streak of his career (0-5 in prior seven starts), tossed a quality start for his first victory since April 6. His 6.60 ERA entering Sunday was the highest among qualifiers in the AL and second-highest in the majors.
Mark Teixeira brought a .133 batting average against righties into this game, the worst among 286 players with at least 50 plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers this season. Also, he’d yet to record an RBI in his 48 at-bats with two outs this season, the most two-out at-bats without an RBI by any player.
So, of course, he delivered the game-tying hit in the sixth inning via a two-out RBI single off righty Jesse Hahn.
“Well, Suzyn, you know, you just can’t predict baseball!”
Record Last Week: 5-2 (31 RS, 28 RA)
Season Record: 21-22 (168 RS, 187 RA, 19-24 pythag. record)
Opponents This Week: Mon. OFF, vs. Blue Jays (three games, Tues. to Thurs.), @ Rays (three games, Fri. to Sun.)
Top stories from last week:
- The week started with three games in Arizona. The Diamondbacks blew the Yankees out 12-2 in the first game, then Michael Pineda got roughed up (again) in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss. Nathan Eovaldi and the bullpen led the Yankees to a 4-2 win in the series finale.
- The Yankees traveled to Oakland next, and they took the series opener 4-1. An 8-3 win followed the next day as CC Sabathia returned from the DL. The Yankees won Saturday’s game 5-1 and they finished the sweep with yesterday’s 5-4 win.
- Injury Updates: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) is expected to be activated off the DL tomorrow. James Kaprielian (elbow) is expected to return to the mound in 4-6 weeks. Ty Hensley needs a second Tommy John surgery.
- The Yankees signed Neal Cotts to a minor league deal and designated Phil Coke for assignment. Among the players called up and send down last week include James Pazos, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Rob Refsnyder, and Conor Mullee.
- Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel would be “super happy” to play for the Yankees. Hal Steinbrenner said he is “not even thinking about” the possibility of selling at the trade deadline.
- The strike zone and intentional walk may be changing next season.
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.
A sweep! And a five-game winning streak! They’re both firsts for the Yankees this season. They finished the four-game sweep of the Athletics with a 5-4 win Sunday afternoon. The Yankees have won 12 of their last 17 games to climb back to within one game of .500 overall. Baby steps.
Bombs off Hahn Hahn Solos (h/t @jacksonh450)
Coming into this game the Yankees ranked 12th among the 15 AL teams with 40 home runs. I didn’t realize they were that low. I know they haven’t been hitting a ton of dingers, so I didn’t expect them to sit near the top, but 12th out of 15? Yikes. So, naturally, the Yankees scored their first two runs Sunday afternoon with the long ball. Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury hit solo shots off Jesse Hahn.
The two home runs were about as different as outside-the-park homers can be. McCann ripped a line drive to right field that just barely cleared the wall. We’re talking a matter of inches here. A little less hang time and it smacks off the top of the wall for a double. Ellsbury’s homer was a true bomb. It was a high fly ball that carried out to right-center field. We’re used to seeing McCann hit the high fly balls and Ellsbury hit the liners. They switched it up Sunday.
Progress by Pineda
After a miserable outing in Arizona chock full of mistake pitches and hanging sliders, Michael Pineda rebounded with a bare minimum quality start (six innings, three runs) against the A’s on Sunday. It certainly wasn’t the cleanest outing — the A’s had six hits and a walk against Pineda, including three doubles — but three runs in six innings is an improvement over what the Yankees have been getting from their nominal No. 2 starter most of the season.
Billy Burns used his legs to create a run in the first inning — single, stole second, stole third, scored on a grounder — and the Athletics did string together some two-out hits (of course) to take a 3-2 lead in the fifth. Pineda allowed a single to Jake Smolinski with one out in that fifth inning, then Burns followed with a two-out single and Stephen Vogt dunked a two-run double into the left field corner. It wasn’t a terribly located pitch …
… Vogt was able to just reach out and poke it into the corner. Pineda still made some two-strike mistake pitches throughout the afternoon — Burns hit a two-strike hanger for this first inning single, for example — but not nearly as many he made against the Diamondbacks last week. He was awful that night. Pineda did much better job burying his slider down with two strikes against an admittedly weak A’s lineup. They were without Josh Reddick and Khris Davis, two of their three best hitters.
There were definitely signs of progress from Pineda on Sunday. He did not let innings snowball — the fourth and sixth were his only 1-2-3 innings, so the A’s had some chances — and he was able pitch out of some big jams as well. Pineda stranded two in the second and pitched around a leadoff double in the third. Progress. Pineda has to build on this next time out. This was a good step forward.
When the Yankees were playing poorly last month, it seemed like every time they managed to score a run or two, they would give it right back the next half-inning. On Sunday, they were the team that answered back immediately. They scored in the next half-inning both times the A’s took the lead.
McCann’s solo homer in the top of the second answered the run Burns manufactured in the bottom of the first. Then, after the A’s took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth, the Yankees scored two in the top of the sixth to take a 4-3 lead. Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran started the rally with back-to-back one-out singles. McCann struck out for the second out, so it looked like the Yankees would squander the opportunity, but it didn’t happen.
Mark Teixeira has been mired in what I assume is the worst slump of his career these last few weeks, so of the course the big spot found him, and of course he was behind in the count one ball and two strikes in the blink of an eye. When you’re struggling like Teixeira, it seems like every at-bat starts with two strikes. Teixeira did come through with an infield single of all things to extend the inning.
The infield single went to shallow right field, where the second baseman was stationed as part of the shift. Teixeira not only managed to beat out the long throw, Gardner also chugged all the way around from second to score on the play. There were two outs and he didn’t stop running, so he slid in safe ahead of the tag to tie the game. Hooray baserunning. Starlin Castro followed with a more traditional single to left field to score Beltran for the 4-3 lead.
Protect the Lead
One-run lead with the big three relievers all rested and ready to go? That’s how Joe Girardi and the Yankees draw it up every single the day. The only thing standing in the way of the formula Sunday was the sixth inning. The Yankees had to navigate that inning first to get to those end-game arms. The sixth can be pretty tricky sometimes.
Pineda went back out for the sixth with both Chasen Shreve and Kirby Yates warming in the bullpen, which leads me to believe Girardi was going batter to batter with his starter. Love it. My favorite move. Thankfully Pineda made Shreve and Yates moot with a quick 1-2-3 sixth inning. He fanned one, got a ground ball, and then a pop-up on the infield. Perfect.
The Yankees were able to plate an insurance run they would ultimately need in the top of the seventh — Aaron Hicks singled and Beltran doubled him in — to give the bullpen a 5-3 lead. Dellin Betances struck out two in a perfect seventh before the eighth inning got mighty interesting. Didi Gregorius and Castro made back-to-back errors — Didi rushed a tough transfer and Castro straight up whiffed on a potential double play grounder — to give the A’s runners on the corners with no outs.
Oakland had the tying run at first base with the middle of the order due up thanks to the errors. Andrew Miller put away the dangerous Danny Valencia with a back foot slider for strike three and the first out. Pinch-hitter Billy Butler grounded out to third for the second out, which scored a run. Davis came off the bench to pinch-hit and he grounded out to end the inning. The errors didn’t come back to completely bite the Yankees but it did cost them a run. Standard five-out inning for Miller.
Aroldis Chapman saved his sixth game in six tries with a quick 1-2-3 ninth inning. He struck out one. Betances, Miller, and Chapman this season: 46 innings, 82 strikeouts, five walks. Most of that is Dellin and Miller, obviously, but still. Bonkers.
Beltran went 2-for-4 with a double Sunday to cap off a monster series against the A’s. He went 9-for-18 with five doubles, a homer, and eight runs driven in during the four games. Everyone in Sunday’s starting lineup had a hit except Chase Headley, who was hit by a pitch to extend his on-base streak to 13 games. That’s the longest such streak by a Yankee so far this season.
Teixeira’s homer drought has reached 33 games and 137 plate appearances. That is by far the longest such streak of his career. The previous “record” was 23 games and 113 plate appearances back in 2009. Teixeira doesn’t look particularly close to snapping his homer drought at the moment, unfortunately. Sunday’s infield single notwithstanding, he looks lost from the left side of the plate. At least he can still play the hell out of first base.
Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, head on over to ESPN. MLB.com has the video highlights. Here are our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages, and here’s the win probability graph:
The West Coast trip is over and the Yankees are on their way home for a quick three-game homestand before heading back out on a ten-game road trip. Monday is an off-day, then the Blue Jays will be in the Bronx for three games. Nathan Eovaldi and R.A. Dickey is the scheduled pitching matchup for Tuesday night’s opener. RAB Tickets can get you in the door if you want to catch any of those three games.