Game 36: The Unforgiving Schedule Begins

(Brian Blanco/Getty Images North America)
(Brian Blanco/Getty Images North America)

The Yankees next day off is June 5, which means that they are entering a stretch in which they will play twenty games in twenty days. This was bound to happen at some point, given that they have had eight scheduled days off already (that, and the fact that the schedule gods are cruel) – but that doesn’t make it any less forgiving, particularly with the bullpen already being thinned by Aroldis Chapman heading to the disabled list.

Luckily, the first thirteen games of this stretch come against teams with a combined .440 winning percentage, and a run differential of -68. The Royals are first on the docket, and they’ll trot out this lineup against CC Sabathia. The Yankees lineup for this evening is:

  1. Brett Gardner, LF
  2. Gary Sanchez, C
  3. Matt Holliday, DH
  4. Starlin Castro, 2B
  5. Aaron Judge, RF
  6. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  7. Chase Headley, 3B
  8. Didi Gregorius, SS
  9. Chris Carter, 1B

The first pitch is scheduled for 8:15 PM EST, and the game will be on both YES and MLB Network.

2017 Draft: Trevor Rogers

Trevor Rogers | LHP

Background
The 19-year-old Rogers attends Carlsbad High School in New Mexico. So far this spring he has a 0.33 ERA with 134 strikeouts and 13 walks in 63.1 innings, and he’s hitting .394/.506/.788 with three homers in 89 plate appearances. It’s worth noting he’s not facing the best competition in southeastern New Mexico, though he has performed well in various summer showcase events. Rogers and former big leaguer Cody Ross are cousins.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-6 and 185 lbs., Rogers has the big and sturdy frame everyone looks for in a high school pitching prospect. His fastball sits mostly in the 89-92 mph range, though he has run it up as high as 95 mph in short bursts. The pitch also plays up a bit because he has a big stride and long arms, so he releases it closer to the plate than the average pitcher. Rogers has a hard breaking ball that is more of a true slider than a curveball, and when he’s at his best, the pitch is allergic to bats. Like most top high school pitchers, he hasn’t developed much of a changeup because he hasn’t needed it. Rogers is a really good athlete and his arm is loose. There’s not much effort in his delivery at all, though, like most young pitchers this tall, his mechanics can come and go.

Miscellany
The various scouting publications all agree Rogers is a first round talent. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranks him as the 18th best prospect in the 2017 draft class while MLB.com and Baseball America rank him 23rd and 28th, respectively. The Yankees hold the 16th overall pick. The biggest knock on Rogers is his age. He’s already 19 with an October birthday, making him one of the oldest prep prospects in the draft class. Last year Blake Rutherford slipped in the draft partly because he turned 19 in May, a few weeks before the draft. Rogers will turn 20 this fall. They don’t check IDs on the mound though, and athletic 6-foot-6 lefties with good velocity and a promising breaking ball sure are hard to pass up.

5/16 to 5/18 Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

Vargas. (Brian Davidson/Getty Images North America)
Vargas. (Brian Davidson/Getty Images North America)

The result of the Yankees having so many days off through the first six weeks of the season starts now, as they will not be off again until June 5. That’s twenty games in a row without a day off; luckily, they will not have to travel all that far in that stretch with this week’s trips to Kansas City and Tampa Bay representing the furthest journeys. Given the heavy workload handled by the bullpen this weekend, though, it seems all but certain that the team’s depth and Joe Girardi‘s hand will be tested as soon as this evening.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Kansas City for a three-game series to close out last August, winning two along the way. They were outscored by one run in the series as a whole, with both of their victories coming by one run, and taking extra innings to sort out. Some other interesting bits:

  • The Royals tested Gary Sanchez‘s arm throughout the series, and largely got the better of him. They stole eight bases, and were caught just twice. Sanchez threw out 10 of 21 would-be base-stealers against teams that weren’t the Royals last year.
  • Chasen Shreve was one of the heroes of the series, which feels strange to see on the screen. He came into the second game with the bases loaded and one out, and struck out Kendrys Morales swinging (on three pitches) before retiring Salvador Perez on a flyball. Shreve chipped in two scoreless innings in the third game, with three more swinging strikeouts (Cheslor Cuthbert, Eric Hosmer, and Perez were the victims this time around).
  • The Yankees game-winning runs were scored on a weak infield single by Jacoby Ellsbury and a sacrifice fly by Brian McCann, respectively.
  • Seven pitchers were used by the Yankees in game two and, in what seems almost impossible, all seven are still in the organization. And of those seven, only Ben Heller is not on the active roster.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more details about this series.

Injury Report

Former Yankee Ian Kennedy is on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session this week. There is no set return date as of yet, but he isn’t expected to be out too long (he could be in-line to face the Yankees when these teams meet again, in fact). Middle reliever Scott Alexander is out, as well.

Their Story So Far

The Royals are last in the majors in runs scored by a comfortable margin, and are scoring just 3.2 runs per game. They are currently 8-18 when they allow two runs or more, and that’s with them having won six of their last seven games overall. It doesn’t help that Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar both sport an OPS under .500, and it seems less than ideal that one of those two has batted first in 24 of the Royals 37 games (including their last seven). Their lead-off hitters are batting .176/.216/.248 as a group, which is about 72% below league-average.

All that being said, they have shown signs of life of late. They won six of their seven games last week, scoring 37 runs in the process. Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez have been heating up, and Lorenzo Cain has been playing well all season. The aforementioned duo of Escobar and Gordon went a combined 8-for-48 with one extra-base hit, but every other Royals regular seems to be righting the ship.

The other half of their story mostly revolves around Jason Vargas and his ludicrous 1.01 ERA – I’ll talk about him more a bit later.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Ned Yost has been semi-responsive to the team’s offensive struggles, with five of the nine spots in the team’s lineup in constant flux. The Royals have used at least seven different players in the 6-through-9 spots (not including pitchers), and four lead-off hitters. That makes predicting their lineup a bit of a crapshoot, so here goes nothing:

  1. Alcides Escobar, SS
  2. Mike Moustakas, 3B
  3. Lorenzo Cain, CF
  4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  5. Salvador Perez, C
  6. Brandon Moss, DH
  7. Whit Merrifield, 2B
  8. Alex Gordon, LF
  9. Jorge Bonifacio or Jorge Soler, RF

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (8:15 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Jason Hammel

There was a stretch in the off-season where everyone was talking about the Cubs unceremoniously declining Hammel’s club option, and then Hammel waiting months upon months to be signed. There were several teams (and fans of teams) that were interested in his services, Yankees included, but he had to wait until February to sign on a dotted line. It was strange to see a pitcher coming off of a three-year stretch of slightly-above-average production on the market for so long, but his 5.97 ERA to-date and approaching 35th birthday make it a bit more understandable with the blessings of hindsight.

Hammel is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, working with a low-90s fastball (though he does use a four- and two-seam varieties) and a mid-80s slider. He’ll use a mid-70s curveball and mid-80s change-up to keep hitters honest, but 85% of his offerings will be a fastball or slider.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 5/10) – 7 IP, 13 H, 7 R, 1 BB, 6 K

Wednesday (8:15 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. LHP Jason Vargas

Vargas underwent Tommy John Surgery in the Summer of 2015, and missed the Royals miraculous run to the World Series. He returned for three starts last September, and looked great (12 IP, 8 H, 3 BB, 11 K, 2.25 ERA). Nobody thought much of it, given the sample size and the fact that he was a known commodity, and he was penciled right back into the back of the rotation. He has followed that up by being one of the five-best pitchers in baseball by both incarnations of WAR, and he currently sports a 1.01 ERA (410 ERA+!) through 7 starts (44.2 IP). There are plenty of signs that this is a fluke (2.0% HR/FB, 3.70 xFIP, 88.7 LOB%, etc.), but his 22.9 K% and 4.7 BB% suggest that he could at least be better than most of us would have expected.

The 34-year-old southpaw has never been known for his velocity, but he has slid down into Jamie Moyer territory following the surgery. His fastball is sitting around around 86 MPH, and he throws it about 50% of the time. He also uses a change-up in the upper-70s and a low-70s curveball, the former of which has been his bread and butter throughout his career. His curve is a relatively new addition, and it’s working out quite well for him so far.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 5/11) – 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K

Thursday (8:15 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Danny Duffy

The 28-year-old Duffy emerged as the Royals ace last season, after finally being moved to the rotation for good on May 15. He made 26 starts through the end of the season, putting together the following line: 161.2 IP, 3.56 ERA, 25.4 K%, 5.6 BB%, 1.13 WHIP. Duffy’s velocity did dip into the 93 MPH range after sitting around 96 in the bullpen, but that’s to be expected. And now, finally (seemingly) freed from bouncing between starting and relieving, he is sitting on a 3.38 ERA (3.32 FIP) through 8 starts.

Duffy uses four pitches on most nights – a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a low-90s two-seamer, a low-80s breaking ball that might be best classified as a slurve, and a mid-80s change-up. It’s top-of-the-rotation stuff when he’s getting it over the plate, which he has done fairly regularly over the last calendar year.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 5/12) – 7 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

The Royals bullpen has been kind of bad this season. They were the standard-bearer for great relief corps for several seasons, peaking with a 2.72 ERA in 2015, but closer Kelvin Herrera is the last man standing from those dominant units. And Herrera hasn’t been his dominant self just yet, with a 3.38 ERA (5.20 FIP) and career-low 7.31 K/9. Mike Minor, Joakim Soria, and the injured Scott Alexander all have strong run prevention numbers, but the bullpen as a whole sports a 4.72 ERA and six blown saves. Travis Wood, Matt Strahm, and Peter Moylan have combined to throw 37.1 IP of 8.44 ERA ball, with nearly as many walks (27) as strikeouts (34).

It is worth noting that the Royals bullpen was worked hard this past weekend, especially on Sunday when they were called upon for 5.1 IP. Herrera also pitched in three-straight games, so he may need a bit more than Monday’s day off to recover.

Yankees Connection

Ian Kennedy is the lone Royals players with a connection to the Yankees organization, unless you want to count Jason Hammel and Travis Wood for popping up in rumors this off-season. Also, pitching coach Dave Eiland held the same role with the Yankees from 2008-10.

Who (Or What) To Watch

The Royals swing at more pitches than any other team in the game, with a 49.4% swing rate as per PITCHf/x. They’re second in swinging at pitches outside of the zone, and first on pitches in the zone by nearly two percentage points. Yankees pitchers might be salivating at those numbers, though, as the Royals are in the bottom-ten in contact percentage, and in the middle-of-the-pack in strikeouts and hard-hit balls. They’re an aggressive bunch, which leads to a great deal of feast-or-famine outings.

A ‘buy or sell’ storyline will follow the Royals throughout this season, as well, with Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas, Escobar, and Vargas all being in the final year of their contracts. If the Yankees ends up in a position to buy, this may be one of the first teams they try to match-up with.

An appreciation for the unconventionally successful Tyler Clippard

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

Many relievers live off intimidating opposing hitters. Aroldis Chapman comes at you with 100+ mph and a changeup that hits 90. Dellin Betances can touch 100 and has a curveball that can’t be touched when he’s on. Former Yankee Andrew Miller comes at you with his 6-foot-7 frame and tosses his signature slider with a fair dose of imposing fastballs.

Tyler Clippard doesn’t really fit that category. But that hasn’t stopped the Yankees now-setup man from not only carving out a solid career, but continuing to excel at 32.

Thoughts of doom crept in when Clippard was traded to the Yankees at last year’s deadline. A flyball pitcher at Yankee Stadium? A guy seemingly on the downside of his career having a sub-par season? Yikes. The idea that he would replace Miller seemed laughable. For me personally, I had most recently seen Clippard struggle in the 2015 postseason for the Mets, leaving an impression that was at least somewhat misleading.

But his 3+ months back in pinstripes have been fine. Actually, better than fine. He’s thrown 40 2/3 innings over 46 appearances, allowing just nine earned runs while striking out 47 batters. That’s good for a 1.99 ERA and 10.4 K per nine. His ERA had steadily climbed since his 2014 All-Star appearance and he was typically worse in the second half, so his resurgence has been surprising and that much more rewarding and exciting. This is a homegrown talent returning to the Bronx and thriving, even if it’s been less than a full year’s worth of work.

And it doesn’t hurt to have a goofy guy who seems to be genuinely nice getting big outs for you, adding to the overall Clippard experience.

He goes out there with a top-notch changeup and a fastball with some “rising” action, a quality slider and splitter, and all of this plays up in part thanks to his quirky motion. It’s not something to teach your kids, but you can’t say it doesn’t work.

Don’t get me wrong, he can terrify you with some of his appearances. We’re still talking about a flyball pitcher in a park that plays very small. He’s typically off to fast starts (2.50 and 2.14 ERA in first two months, respectively for his career) before the summer air aids a few more flyballs in their pursuit of becoming home runs in June and July. His 2016 return was all rosy in August until hiccups came in September.

We were indoctrinated early in 2017 about his potential pitfalls when he earned a loss against the Orioles with a two-run homer allowed to Seth Smith. And don’t act like you weren’t biting your nails on the edge of your seat during his save against the Cardinals. Perhaps the best example of how the Clippard experience can frustrate is the Adam Jones catch from March’s World Baseball Classic. Clippard’s “Oh my” reaction was all of us in that moment.

But he also turns it on at times. He changed the complexion of the 18-inning win vs. the Cubs, ending the 9th inning rally before striking out the side in the 10th. Watch the video below: He utilizes his entire arsenal to create three punchouts.

Compared to most team’s “7th inning guy”, Clippard is light years ahead. Some teams would even kill for him to be their setup man.

Which, coincidentally, is where he’ll be for the next month, taking the 8th with Betances closing. We were spoiled last year with No Runs DMC. Miller is gone and Chapman is hurt, although the Yankees hope he’ll be back in a month or so. However, Clippard is adept. He’s certainly a non-traditional back-end reliever with below-average velocity, but he’s out here with career-best strikeout and walk rates in 2017.

The Tyler Clippard renaissance will only last so long. He has a .161 BABIP and a 98 percent strand rate. His home runs per fly ball are actually up vs. last season, but his 1.17 ERA isn’t going to hold and it would be foolish to expect it. He’s going to blow at least a game or two, but, then again, so does every reliever.

But Clippard is a pitcher worth enjoying for what he is. Clippard is an above-average reliever who won’t overpower or intimidate, but he’s beat expectations and he’s doing it in a Yankees uniform, coming full circle. If that’s not something to sit back and appreciate, then I don’t know what is. I suggest enjoying the ride.

The rotation has become a liability for the Yankees, but not the way everyone expected

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Two days ago the Yankees managed to split a doubleheader with the Astros even though their starting pitchers threw four innings total. Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka combined for the following line: 4 IP, 13 H, 11 R, 11 ER, 4 BB, 5 K. Goodness. The Astros did most of that damage against Tanaka in the night game, but Severino didn’t pitch well in the afternoon game either.

Those two duds, combined with CC Sabathia‘s recent crash, have left the Yankees with a 4.62 ERA (4.30 FIP) overall from their starting pitchers. They are averaging a healthy 5.72 innings per start — the AL average is 5.65 innings per start — which surprised me. We saw a lot of short starts early in the season and over the weekend. Overall though, the results haven’t been great. The rotation has been shaky, especially of late.

Coming into the season the rotation stood out as potential weakness, mostly because the back of the rotation was unsettled. The Yankees held a Spring Training competition for the fourth and fifth starter’s spots, plus CC Sabathia (age) and Michael Pineda (inconsistency) remained rolls of the dice. An abundance of options mitigated the risk somewhat, but still. There was a lot of uncertainty.

The one saving grace was supposed to be Tanaka, who was splendid last season and very nearly won the AL ERA title. He was supposed to be the ace. The rock. The guy Joe Girardi could send out there every fifth day and know he’d get a quality outing. That hasn’t been the case so far. Aside from the complete game shutout against the Red Sox, Tanaka has been mediocre at best and flat out bad at worst.

“I have to kind of look at some stuff and sort of analyze what I did,” said Tanaka to Brendan Kuty following Sunday’s disaster start. “There’s times like this during the season and you just have to battle through it. But they took some really good swings on some of my pitches and they were flat … I think the mechanical flaw we’ve been talking about earlier in this season, I think that has been fixed. I think it’s something different.”

Weirdly enough, when you look at the numbers, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with Tanaka. His underlying performance looks awfully similar to last year in the super early going. Look:

K% BB% LD% GB% FB% Soft% Hard% Chase Rate%
2015 20.5% 4.5% 20.7% 48.2% 31.0% 18.5% 32.4% 37.6%
2016 17.7% 6.1% 17.0% 51.0% 32.0% 18.2% 31.1% 35.8%

The strikeout rate is down and the walk rate is up, but not so much so that it leads you to believe there’s something more than general early season randomness at play here. The batted ball data is nearly identical. Lots of grounders, lots of soft contact, a league average amount of hard contact. And Tanaka is again among the league leaders in chase rate. He’s had no problem getting hitters to go after pitches out of the zone. The velocity is fine too. From Brooks Baseball:

masahiro-tanaka-velocity

And yet, Tanaka is very clearly not performing like he did last season. He may be getting the same kind of contact and a lot of swings on pitches out of the zone, but the results are very different. Anecdotally, it seems Tanaka’s location hasn’t been nearly as good as it has been in the past, and when he makes a mistake, he pays for it dearly. It’s not often he makes a mistake pitch and gets away with it these days.

Whatever it is, Tanaka is not pitching up to expectations, and that is absolutely not part of the plan. The Yankees came into the season expecting him to be their ace, their one reliable starter. Everyone else figured to be hit-or-miss for whatever reason. Age, young pitcher jitters, Pineda-ism, whatever. Instead, Pineda has been New York’s most reliable starter so far this season, and Tanaka has been arguably the worst. Who saw that coming?

As long as he’s not hurt, I do think Tanaka will get himself back on track, hopefully sooner rather than later. That doesn’t excuse his performance to date though. It’s happened and it’s hurt the Yankees. It’s actually sort of remarkable he’s exited all but two of his starts (Opening Day and Sunday) with a lead despite a 5.80 ERA (5.34 FIP). He can thank the offense for that, of course.

The Yankees are fortunate Severino seems to be figuring some things out, Sunday’s start notwithstanding, and that Jordan Montgomery has been able to step right into the rotation and produce. They’ve helped prop up the rotation as Sabathia has struggled and Tanaka has gone through his worst stretch with the Yankees. The rotation right now has become a liability. That Tanaka is the biggest reason is the most surprising part.

DotF: Rutherford, Gilliam extend hitting streaks in Low-A win

Here are the day’s notes:

  • 1B Tyler Austin (foot) faced hitters in live batting practice for the first time today, according to his Twitter feed. He’s been out since fouling a ball off his foot very early in Spring Training. Farm system head Gary Denbo recently said Austin could begin a minor league rehab assignment later this week, as long as things go well the next few days.
  • 1B Ji-Man Choi (hamstring) and LHP Daniel Camarena (shoulder) are likely to miss a few weeks, Triple-A Scranton manager Al Pedrique told Shane Hennigan. With Austin, Choi, and 1B Greg Bird all injured, I wouldn’t expect 1B Chris Carter to be cut loose anytime soon.
  • UTIL Rob Refsnyder was sent back to Triple-A Scranton following last night’s game, the Yankees announced. He was up as the 26th man for the doubleheader. By rule, he had to be sent back down immediately after the game.
  • OF Isiah Gilliam was named the Low-A South Atlantic League Offensive Player of the Week. He went 11-for-23 (.478) with four doubles and two homers last week.

Triple-A Scranton (8-4 win over Pawtucket in 12 innings, walk-off style)

  • 2B Tyler Wade: 2-4, 3 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 BB — second homer of the season and second homer in the last three days
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 4-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 1 BB — tied the game with a two-out double in the ninth … had a chance to finish the cycle with a walk-off home run in the 11th — imagine doing that twice in the span of a month? — but they intentionally walked him … he’s up to .308/.353/.566 on the season
  • LF Clint Frazier: 0-5, 1 BB, 1 K — snapped the bat over his knee after the strikeout (here’s a GIF)
  • RF Mason Williams: 3-5, 1 R, 1 RBI
  • C Eddy Rodriguez: 2-5, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 K — walk-off grand slam!
  • 2B Abi Avelino: 0-5, 1 K
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 6/2 GB/FB — 62 of 96 pitches were strikes (65%)
  • RHP Ernesto Frieri: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 , 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 30 of 42 pitches were strikes (71%) … good Frieri showed up tonight

[Read more…]

Monday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have yet another off-day today. Good grief. It seems like the Yankees have had an off-day after every series this year. Enjoy it, I guess. Starting tomorrow, the Yankees begin a stretch of 20 games in 20 days and 33 games in 34 days. After today, there’s only three off-days between now and the All-Star break. Whole lotta Yankee baseball coming your way the next few weeks.

Here is an open thread for the evening. The failing New York Mets are on the West Coast and don’t play until later tonight. ESPN will show the Astros and Marlins, MLB Network will have a regional game later on, and there is NBA and NHL playoff action as well. Talk about those games, the Derek Jeter ceremony, or anything else here as long as it’s not politics or religion.