Bad hitting, bad pitching, bad fielding: Yankees lose 7-3 to Indians

Source: FanGraphs

The Yankees are now 13-14 against last place teams this season. Thank goodness for that 8-4 record against the Red Sox, huh? This team really knows how to play down to the competition. The Yankees looked bad in all phases of the game Friday night, losing 7-3 to the Indians. It’s Friday night, so let’s recap with bullet points:

  • Almost Out Of The Inning: Masahiro Tanaka allowed four runs (three earned) in six innings and it could have easily been two runs in six innings. He got the soft ground ball to end the fifth with runners on the corners, but Brendan Ryan bobbled it, and the run scored. Very routine play that gets made like 999 times out of a 1,000. This was the one. Joe Girardi also sent Tanaka back out for the seventh, watched him put the leadoff runner on, then yanked him. Batter-to-batter is easily my least favorite managerial move. The bullpen allowed the runner to score. Tanaka wasn’t great by any means, but he didn’t much help from the rest of the team either.
  • Just Short: The Yankees scored just one run against the dominant Carlos Carrasco — he joined Dallas Keuchel as the only pitchers to strike out 11+ Yankees this year — and that run came with two outs in the fourth. Carlos Beltran doubled and Greg Bird singled him in. Nice and easy. The Yankees rallied against the bullpen in the eighth, getting two run on three singles (Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Alex Rodriguez) and an error (Jose Ramirez). That got them to within 4-3. A walk loaded the bases with two outs, bringing Stephen Drew to the plate. Shockingly, the guy with a .263 OBP made an out. It would have been a letdown had it not been so predictable.
  • Blown Open: Not a great night for the usually reliable bullpen. Chasen Shreve allowed Tanaka’s inherited runner to score on a Michael Brantley single, then Justin Wilson allowed three runs on four hits in the top of the ninth. The inning would have ended with just one run on the board had Drew been able to complete the 5-4-3 double play, but alas. Wilson’s been awesome. A bad inning was bound to happen at some point.
  • Leftovers: Gardner had two hits while Headley, A-Rod, Beltran, Bird, pinch-hitter Jacoby Ellsbury, and Drew had one hit each … Ellsbury and Gardner drew walks, and Gardner stole a base … Brian McCann is clearly favoring his left leg, the one he hurt a few weeks ago, because he’s changed his batting stance drastically (video) … and finally, Ramirez, the Indians nine-hole hitter, went 3-for-3 with a walk. He’s hitting .455 against the Yankees this year and .184 against everyone else.

Here are the box score, video highlights, updated standings, and postseason odds. Also check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. The Yankees have already lost the season series to the Indians but will try to salvage this four-game series starting Saturday afternoon. It’ll be Luis Severino and Danny Salazar on the bump. Oh, and by the way, it’s Jorge Posada day! No. 20 will be retired in a pre-game ceremony. Fun fun fun.

DotF: Pineda goes 4.2 innings in second rehab start

SS Hyo-Jun Park placed 20th on this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. “He’s rangy and instinctive and has a fantastic eye for the strike zone. He’s a line-drive hitter with pop enough to jerk one out of the park every now and again,” said the write-up.

Triple-A Scranton (3-2 win over Rochester in 14 innings, walk-off style)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-6, 3 K
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-5, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • RF Jose Pirela: 2-5, 1 BB
  • C Gary Sanchez: 1-6, 1 RBI, 1 K — in a 6-for-43 (.140) slump
  • DH Aaron Judge: 0-6, 2 K — really limping to the finish line this year
  • LF Slade Heathcott: 2-4, 2 K — left the game after running the bases in the ninth for an unknown reason
  • 1B Austin Romine: 1-3, 1 RBI, 1 CS — walk-off single
  • RHP Michael Pineda: 4.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 6/1 GB/FB — 45 of 62 pitches were strikes (73%) … he was scheduled to throw 65 pitches or so in his second rehab start … Pineda told Billy Witz he felt good and declared “Big Mike is back”
  • RHP Caleb Cotham: 1.1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 3/0 GB/FB — eleven of 18 pitches were strikes (61%)
  • RHP Chris Martin: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K — 13 of 20 pitches were strikes (65%) … first outing in a month … Martin told Witz he developed a staph infection from a bug bite in his hand, and it spread to his elbow … yikes
  • RHP Nick Goody: 2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 18 of 32 pitches were strikes (56%)
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 25 of 44 pitches were strikes (57%)
  • LHP James Pazos: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 2/1 GB/FB – 18 of 28 pitches were strikes (64%)

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Game 121: Three-Fourths

Tonight marks the three-quarters point of the season. Well, kinda. I guess the true three-quarters point would be the middle of the fifth inning of tomorrow’s game, but 121 games is close enough for me. The days are starting to get a little shorter, there weather was crisp this morning … it’s starting to feel a little bit like fall, which means time is running out on the 2015 season. These next few weeks should be pretty intense.

The Yankees dropped last night’s series opener against the Indians and, until that ninth inning rally, it was the most nondescript game of the year. Nothing interesting happened whatsoever. What can you do. Can’t win ’em all. The Yankees have still won six of their last eight games and that’s a pretty good pace. I’ll take more of that going forward. Here is the Cleveland lineup and here is the New York lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 1B Greg Bird
  7. LF Chris Young
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. SS Brendan Ryan
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Very nice day in New York today. Blue sky, nice breeze, and a few clouds. Good day for a game. Tonight’s contest will begin just after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Mark Teixeira (leg) is getting better but is unlikely to play this weekend … Bryan Mitchell (face) played catch today … Dustin Ackley (back) went through fielding drills and could begin a minor league rehab assignment next week … Jacoby Ellsbury and Didi Gregorius are fine. Just getting the night off during this long stretch of games.

TiqIQ: Yankees Prepare For Series Opposite Astros; Tickets Remain Very Affordable For Jacoby Ellsbury Bobblehead

A week ago, the New York Yankees lost their stronghold on the AL East. Now, they’ve got it back. That touch-and-go status atop one of the most competitive divisions in all of baseball will probably stick around, too, since the surging Toronto Blue Jays are just 1.5 games back and remain one of the hottest, not to mention most dangerous, teams in the American League.

Toronto isn’t the only team giving the Yanks a run for their money inside the division, which is all the more reason for New York to piece together a hot run without looking back. Thanks to a recent run of their own, the Baltimore Orioles are also just five games out of first, and even the Tampa Bay Rays were just 6.5 games out earlier in the week. Suffice to say, the home stretch is bound to be a wild one for the Bronx Bombers, making New York Yankees tickets an extremely hot item as the season soon enters its final month.

On top of their division title and playoff prospects, New York is force-feeding fans value on a regular basis at Yankee Stadium, and that should only continue with Jacoby Ellsbury Bobblehead Night when the Houston Astros come into town on Monday, August 24. When these two contenders collide, there will certainly be playoff implications, making it all the more of a tremendous bargain when this series-opening showdown gets underway. After all, Major League teams only give out a select number of bobbleheads commemorating their best and most celebrated players, and the Ellsbury offering happens to be one of the last of the season provided by the Yankees.

The first 18,000 guests get their hands on a Jacoby Ellsbury bobblehead, and then get to enjoy two powerful teams battle. Both Houston and New York have scored a healthy number of runs this season, and with Yankee Stadium being the perfect stage for an offensive explosion, the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Correa, and Jose Altuve could break out in a big way. The man of the night, Ellsbury, is also more than capable of churning out his own significant production, and may be extra tempted to do so on the night he is being honored with his first-ever bobblehead as a member of the Yankees.

Regardless of how the game goes down, fans from both sides are in for a major value, with Yankees tickets for game one of this three-game series averaging out at just $88.83 on TiqIQ. If that wasn’t good enough, fans can hit the cheap seats starting at $20 on and if they arrive to Yankee Stadium early enough, they’ll also get the desired Yankees collectible giveaway. Without question, it’s one of the best deals going down at Yankee Stadium left in the slate, and is certainly the game worth catching before August comes to a conclusion.

With the season starting to wind down, the Yankees need every win they can get to make sure they can stave off the pesky Jays and Orioles in the AL East. And while they do it, fans can continue to take advantage of the great promotional items being distributed at Yankee Stadium.

RAB on CBS: More aggressive approach helps Gardner become an All-Star

With an assist from Alex Gordon’s groin injury, Brett Gardner was selected to his first All-Star Game last month. He was the only player in the AL with at least ten home runs and 15 stolen bases at the break.

Gardner has been one of the most productive Yankees since he became a full-time player in 2010, back when he was a speedy leadoff type. He still is that speedy leadoff type, but over the last few years Gardner has added more power to his game. He set a career high with eight home runs in 2013, more than doubled it with 17 last year, and he’s hit eleven so far this year.

Despite being a hitter who always sees a ton of pitches and works deep counts, 14 of Gardner’s 36 home runs since 2013 have come on the first or second pitch of the at-bat, and all 14 of those have come on fastballs. He hit just one homer within the first two pitches of the at-bat prior to 2013. Simply put, Gardner started ambushing more fastballs early in the count, leading to the increased power production.

Thanks to the wonders of BBWAA membership, I spoke to Gardner about his newfound aggressiveness and power spike, and while he downplayed the new approach, he did acknowledge making an effort to be more aggressive early in the count. He changed the scouting report, basically. Gardner no longer wanted to be known as a guy who will sit back and take hittable fastballs early in the count.

You can read about Gardner’s newfound aggressiveness at CBS’s Eye on Baseball. You are forewarned: there is an autoplay video in the post. Not my call. Sorry.

Other RAB on CBS posts: Eovaldi shuts down the running game

Bird’s approach and hard-hit tendencies stand out early in MLB career

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Even with last night’s 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, first base prospect Greg Bird has been very impressive in his short MLB cameo. He had the two-homer game Wednesday and has gone 6-for-21 (.286) with a double, two homers, and a .348 OBP so far. Losing Mark Teixeira to that bone bruise in his shin could have been very bad, even if only for a few days, but Bird has stepped in and helped the offense. It’s been awesome to watch.

“Miguel Cabrera had a slow clock, and really had an understanding of what he wanted to do, and I think Greg Bird has an understanding of who he is and what he wants to do,” said Joe Girardi to Kieran Darcy following the two-homer game Wednesday. “He’s got a slow heartbeat, and you can just see it. He doesn’t go out of his zone, he knows what he wants to do and has a plan, and he executed really well today.”

Bird had a reputation for being a very disciplined hitter as he came up through the system, and it shows in his career 14.9% walk rate in the minors. Being disciplined isn’t just about drawing walks, however. Walks are a byproduct of being disciplined; the goal is to get into a good hitter’s count first and foremost. Bird showed he’ll swing early in the count if he gets something to hit earlier this week with his first pitch double off Glen Perkins:

“I got ambushed by the first guy,” said Perkins to Mike Berardino after the game. Bird was leading off the inning against a new pitcher, a tough lefty he had never seen before, and taking a pitch to get a feel for the situation would have been easy to understand. Instead he jumped on the first pitch fastball, a very hittable pitch, and sparked the game-winning rally.

PitchFX data says Bird has swung at only 16.3% of pitches out of the zone so far, which is microscopic. The MLB average is 30.8%, and Carlos Santana has the lowest swing rate on outside pitches among qualified hitters at 19.1%. For what it’s worth, swing rates stabilize very quickly, though Bird’s swing rate on pitches out of the zone is unsustainably low. He’ll inevitably swing at more pitches out of the zone as he accumulates more plate appearances and that’s okay. That’s baseball.

Even to my untrained eye, that “slow clock” Girardi spoke about seems pretty obvious. Bird looks very comfortable and very in control at the plate. Lots of rookies come up and start hacking at everything because they so badly want to impress. It’s only natural. Bird has not done that at all. Look at his ninth inning walk last night. Lots of rookies would have come out of their shoes swinging at bad pitches trying to make something happen. Bird appears to be very relaxed at the plate and it shows in the strike zone plot of his swings (via FanGraphs):

Greg Bird swing heat map

In a nutshell, the brighter the red, the more often Bird has swung at pitches in that location in his brief MLB career. The brighter the blue, the less often he has swung at pitches in that location. Almost all of the red is out over the plate and almost all of the blue is outside the zone. It’s exactly what you want to see, though it rarely happens with a rookie.

In addition to his impressively disciplined approach, Bird has also stood out because he seems to hit the ball really, really hard. His average exit velocity is a healthy 93.2 mph, well above the 88.4 mph league average. Obviously Bird’s number comes in a very small sample, so take it with a grain of salt. Baseball Info Solutions data, which is recorded by human stringers, pegs his hard contact rate at 57.1%. The league average is 28.6%.

Bird has made lots of hard contact early on — I thought it was sorta funny that his first career hit was a dinky little ground ball with eyes after he watched some rockets find gloves in previous days — and the most impressive thing is that he’s consistently hitting the ball in the air. Just three of his 14 balls in play have been ground balls (21.4%). That’s it. This isn’t something new either. Here’s a snippet of Keith Law’s preseason scouting report (subs. req’d), when he ranked Bird as the 81st best prospect in baseball (emphasis mine):

Bird’s swing is very short to the ball, and he accelerates his hands quickly for hard contact to all fields, rarely putting the ball on the ground because he squares it up so frequently.

According to MLB Farm, Bird had a tiny 31.0% ground ball rate in the minors this year before being called up. Last year it was a 30.0% ground ball rate. That’s ridiculously low. The league average ground ball rate in the big leagues is 45.4%. It’s approximately 45% in the Triple-A International League, 44% in the Double-A Eastern League, and 47% in the High-A Florida State League. Bird has been way below the league average at each stop. He doesn’t hit the ball on the ground.

Generally speaking, fly balls are turned into outs more often than ground balls — fly balls have a .073 BABIP this year while grounders are at .243 — but they also go for extra base hits more often. That makes sense intuitively and the numbers back it up: fly balls have a .287 ISO this year while ground balls are at .020. (The only ground balls that go for extra bases are those hit down the line.) We also know the harder you hit the ball, the more likely it is to go for a hit (line drives have a .615 BABIP and .393 ISO!), so Bird’s combination of hard contact and not hitting grounders is one hell of a recipe for doing damage.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Bird has been in the big leagues for a little more than a week now and that’s nothing. This could all be small sample size noise for all we know. The super early returns do match the scouting reports though, so that’s encouraging, and the combination of plate discipline and hitting the ball hard in the air sure is exciting. Most impressively, Bird looks like he belongs. He has looked very calm and in control at the plate. That’s stood out more than anything.