Sanchez and Hicks crush Blue Jays in 12-2 series opening win

Now that’s how you start a series. The Yankees rebounded from a disappointing series in Camden Yards to hammer the Blue Jays in the series opener at Rogers Centre on Thursday night. Bit of a statement game. Toronto had been playing well and were surely looking to gain a lot of ground in the standings this weekend. The Yankees put them in their place. The final score was 12-2 good guys.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

A Four-Run First
Remember the other day when I said I love getting a first inning run on the road? It’s so great. You force the other team to play catch-up before they even come to the plate. The Yankees did exactly that Thursday night, though instead of scoring one run, they scored four. Love it. A double by Brett Gardner and a single by new No. 3 hitter Aaron Judge scored the first run. Nice and quick.

After the Judge single, Matt Holliday picked up a one-bagger of his own, then Starlin Castro drew a walk to load the bases with one out. It looked like the Yankees were going to waste the opportunity after Didi Gregorius struck out and Aaron Hicks swung through a Marco Estrada changeup, but thankfully Hicks connected with the 1-1 pitch from Estrada for a booming bases-clearing double to right. It was LOUD. I thought it was way gone off the bat. Instead, it sailed over Jose Bautista’s head and went to the wall. Works for me. Seven batters into the game, the Yankees led 4-0.

You Can’t Spell Kraken Without Rake
The last week or so has been kinda weird for Gary Sanchez. He’s been a bit jumpy at the plate and it felt like he was slumping, yet he went 4-for-13 (.308) in Baltimore. There won’t be any talk about a slump now. Sanchez smacked two home runs against Estrada on Thursday, the first a solo shot and the second a two-run job. He made obscure Statcast history in the process:

Sanchez is now 4-for-8 with four home runs against Estrada in his career. The one time he faced him in this game and didn’t hit a home run, he hit a line drive right to center fielder Kevin Pillar. Some guys just throw your speed, you know? Sanchez now has six homers in 26 games this year. That’s a 37-homer pace across 162 games. Some slump, huh?

Another Strong Start For Sabathia
Nice 4-0 lead after the top of the first? A veteran pitcher knows what to do with that. CC Sabathia has been there, done that. His biggest jam came in the second inning, which Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak started with back-to-back singles. Two fly balls and a strikeout later, the inning was over. CC threw 23 pitches that inning and never more than 15 pitches in any of his other five complete innings.

After the Smoak single Sabathia retired 15 of the final 18 batters he faced, and one of the three baserunners was an infield single. It wasn’t until the seventh inning, when the Yankees were up 9-0, that Sabathia allowed a run. It was a Morales solo homer on a pitch that can best be described as a “we’re up 9-0 and the leadoff hitter in the seventh inning has a full count” fastball. A get-me-over I’m not walking you heater, you know? Even then it only barely cleared the wall.

The final line: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K. Sabathia threw 102 pitches and is sporting a 4.12 ERA (4.44 FIP) on the season. He’s allowed no more than two earned runs in seven of his eleven starts. Outside that miserable four-start stretch a few weeks ago — and it was truly awful (22 runs in 20.2 innings) — Sabathia has been rock solid this year. He’s given the Yankees exactly what they need. Pretty awesome the big man has figured out how to make it worth with reduced stuff.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Leftovers
The Yankees were nice enough to tack on insurance runs in the late innings. A Hicks double and a Chase Headley single drove in two runs in the seventh to stretch the lead to 9-0. Gregorius was nearly thrown out at the plate on the Hicks double, but replay confirmed he was safe. Then, in the ninth, Hicks doubled in two runs and Headley singled in another. Four runs in the first, one in the second, two in the fourth, two in the seventh, and three in the ninth.

Big night for Hicks, obviously. He went 4-for-5 with three doubles and drove in six of the team’s dozen runs. The second best Aaron is now hitting .317/.437/.579 (173 wRC+) on the season. That’ll do, Hicksie. That’ll do. The 1-2-3-4 hitters went a combined 8-for-20 (.400) with two homers, both by Sanchez. Castro and Chris Carter were the only starters without a hit, and they both drew walks.

Chad Green came out of the bullpen to replace Sabathia and took it the rest of the way. He allowed a solo home run to Ezequiel Carrera in the eighth inning and, well, who cares? Solo home runs in the eighth when you’re up 9-1 are no big deal. Just throw strikes and get outs. Green allowed that one run and two hits in his 2.2 innings of work. He struck out two. His fastball topped out at 97.6 mph.

And finally, congrats to Gardner for joining the 1,000-hit club. The longest tenured Yankee reached the milestone with a clean single back up the middle in the fourth inning. Gardner went from college walk-on to reaching 1,000 hits in the big leagues. He picked up a World Series ring and a $52M contract along the way. Pretty cool.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, head over to ESPN. MLB.com has the video highlights and we have a Bullpen Workload page. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Game two of this four-game series. Michael Pineda and Francisco Liriano are the scheduled starters Friday night. So basically the right-handed and left-handed versions of the same enigmatic pitcher.

DotF: Bird reaches base three times in first rehab game

Got some notes to pass along:

  • According to Randy Miller, the Yankees are grooming SS Gleyber Torres to take over at third base later this season. That isn’t a surprise. The writing has been on the wall since he started played third base and was quickly bumped up to Triple-A Scranton.
  • Welcome back, RHP Nick Rumbelow. He was activated off the Triple-A disabled list and sent down to Double-A Trenton, the team announced. Rumbelow had Tommy John surgery last April.
  • According to Matt Eddy, the Yankees have signed SS Luis Santos, who I assume is an international free agent and part of the 2016-17 signing class. Also, they’ve released RHP Kolton Mahoney.
  • Voting is open for the Triple-A International League All-Stars. Here’s the ballot. Lehigh Valley fans are voting like crazy. Their players are the leading vote-getters at six of the nine positions. Here’s the latest voting update.

Triple-A Scranton (6-3 loss to Columbus)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 R, 1 BB
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 1-5, 1 2B, 2 K — 14-for-35 (.400) with five doubles and two homers in his last eight games
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 3-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI — first home run of his rehab assignment … here’s video of the homer
  • LF Clint Frazier: 1-2, 2 BB — 12.1% walk rate and 20.6% walk rate … had a 6.5% walk rate and a 27.8% strikeout rate during his 25 games with the RailRiders last year
  • RF Mason Williams: 0-4
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 5/3 GB/FB — 63 of 104 pitches were strikes (61%)
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 2 IP, 0 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 1 WP, 4/2 GB/FB — 20 of 39 pitches were strikes (51%) … Triple-A debut for the fourth piece in the Andrew Miller trade

[Read more…]

Game 51: North of the Border

(Photo Credit: Flickr user James D. Schwartz via Creative Commons license)
(Photo Credit: Flickr user James D. Schwartz via Creative Commons license)

For the first time this season, the Yankees are in Toronto to take on the Blue Jays. They’d played in every other AL East ballpark prior to this. The Blue Jays started the season terribly, but they’re playing much better of late, and tonight is their first chance to even their record at .500 since the fourth game of the season. I don’t want that to happen.

Anyway, the Yankees dropped two of three in Baltimore earlier this week, in the first series of this four-series streak against division rivals. The offense has started to come back to life the last few days, so that’s cool. Hopefully it continues tonight. The more runs, the better. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

The internet tells me the weather is great in Toronto tonight, so the Rogers Centre roof might be open. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:07pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally.

2017 Draft: D.L. Hall

D.L. Hall | LHP

Background
The 18-year-old Hall split his prep career at Houston County High School and Valdosta High School in Southern Georgia. He’s committed to Florida State.

Scouting Report
Hall is primarily a two-pitch southpaw at the moment, sitting in the low-90s with his fastball and backing it up with a hard curveball right around 80 mph. PitchFX data from various summer showcase events at big league ballparks says his curve already has an above-average Major League spin rate. Hall also throws a changeup, but it is far and away his third pitch, which is typical of top high school arms. At 6-foot-0 and 195 lbs., Hall is not the biggest guy, but there is some belief he will add velocity as he gains consistency with his mechanics. He can spot his fastball well and his curveball is a true out pitch.

Miscellany
The various scouting publications all agree Hall is one of the top talents in the draft. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked him as the eighth best prospect in the draft class while both MLB.com and Baseball America ranked him 13th. The Yankees hold the 16th pick. For what it’s worth, Law recently said he’s heard the Yankees are “matched up” with Hall, whatever that means.

6/1 to 6/4 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America)

This is the second stop (of four) on the Yankees two week tour of the AL East. The returns from Baltimore were, speaking generously, underwhelming. And the red hot Blue Jays are next up on the docket.

The Last Time They Met

This is the second time this year that the Yankees ended a month against the Orioles, and opened the following month against the Blue Jays. The Yankees hosted the Blue Jays for a three-game series in the beginning of May, winning two out of three. Some notes:

  • Aaron Judge tormented Toronto’s pitching staff, going 6-for-12 with 5 R, 3 HR, and 7 RBI. His OPS reached a season-high 1.251 by the end of the third game.
  • Luis Severino had his worst start of the season in the first game, pitching to the following line: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 3 K. He was hurt by shaky defense, though, as a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning yielded two runs.
  • Brett Gardner was slashing .205/.318/.329 with 2 HR (81 wRC+) heading into the series; by the time it was over he was batting .247/.354/.435 with 4 HR (117 wRC+).
  • The Yankees starting pitching was dreadful all-around. Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia combined to allow 15 ER in 16 IP, while striking out just 12 batters.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more interesting information.

Injury Report

Starter Aaron Sanchez is back on the disabled list with blister issues, and his timetable is up in the air. He was throwing a bit last week, but was shut down again on May 30. Outfielder Steve Pearce was put on the DL a couple of weeks ago with a strained calf, and he’s not expected back until late June or early July. Both were expected to play large roles for the team in 2017, but neither has been able to stay on the field.

Their Story So Far

The Blue Jays have dealt with a staggering amount of injuries in 2017. Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Pearce, Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and Francisco Liriano have all hit the disabled list at some point, as have bench players Anthony Alford and Darrell Ceciliani. The combination of extraordinarily bad luck with health and some under-performance has conspired to leave them below .500 and in last place in the AL East.

They showed signs of life in May, though, with an 18-10 record and a +29 run differential. Martin and Donaldson are now healthy and productive, and the 36-year-old Jose Bautista has made a complete about-face, and is now batting .251/.364/.460 (123 wRC+) with 10 HR. And, for what it’s worth, many Blue Jays fans will happily point out that Kendrys Morales is currently outhitting Edwin Encarnacion.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager John Gibbons has had to shuffle his lineup several times over due to injuries, with the bottom four spots in the lineup serving as a veritable carousel. Now that almost everyone is healthy, however, the Blue Jays have nearly returned to their ideal lineup. To wit:

  1. Kevin Pillar, CF
  2. Josh Donaldson, 3B
  3. Jose Bautista, RF
  4. Kendrys Morales, DH
  5. Justin Smoak, 1B
  6. Russell Martin, C
  7. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
  8. Devon Travis, 2B
  9. Ezequiel Carrera/Chris Coghlan, LF

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:07 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Marco Estrada

Estrada all but shut the Yankees down last month, allowing just seven base-runners and one run in 7 IP, while striking out 7. He’s currently tied for 9th in the majors in K-BB% with Luis Severino, and 10th in K% (just ahead of Severino, Lance McCullers, and Michael Pineda) … and he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher. And one of those pitches is an 89 MPH fastball. Estrada may be getting by on smoke and mirrors, but he’s been doing it for long enough that he has silenced most doubts.

Last Outing (vs. TEX on 5/27) – 6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K

Friday (7:07 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. LHP Francisco Liriano

There was a time when Liriano was one of the most desirable assets in the majors, and his name dominated Yankees trade rumors (or trade desires, at least). That feels like an eternity ago, though, as the 33-year-old has struggled mightily over the last year and change, posting 4.94 ERA/4.90 FIP since the beginning of 2016. He’s still racking up strikeouts, and his velocity is similar to his best days with the Pirates – but he’s walking more and more batters, and he’s simply more hittable now.

Liriano is still a three-pitch guy, utilizing a low-90s fastball, mid-80s slider, and mid-80s change-up. The slider is ostensibly his best pitch, but it’s been hit hard in 2017. This will be his first start since coming off of the DL.

Last Outing (vs. CLE on 5/10) – 2.0 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 3 BB, 0 K

Saturday (1:07 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Joe Biagini

Biagini was a Rule 5 pick last year, and he spent the entirety of the season in the bullpen. He found success there, but he had been a starter throughout his minor league career so there were rumblings that he’d get a chance in the rotation. Injuries to Sanchez and Liriano made that move a necessity, and he has been in the rotation since May 3. He has posted the following line through five starts: 23.1 IP, 21 H, 6 BB, 20 K, 3.86 ERA, 3.21 FIP. That’s not bad for someone forced into a larger role on a moment’s notice.

The 27-year-old is a true four-pitch pitcher. He throws a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a low-90s cutter, a mid-80s change-up, and a curveball in the upper 80s. Biagini’s cutter is his best pitch; he uses it to get whiffs and generate grounders (he has a 60.8 GB% on the year).

Last Outing (vs. TEX on 5/28) – 6.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 7 K

Sunday (1:07 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Marcus Stroman

The Yankees knocked Stroman around earlier this year, chasing him from the game after scoring 5 runs in just 3 innings. He’s been a big part of the Blue Jays turnaround since then, pitching into the sixth inning in all five starts and posting a 2.45 ERA in 29.1 IP. His underlying numbers aren’t all that different from last season, but he has been much better in terms of run prevention. Chalk it up to run sequencing, cluster luck, and contrasting fortunes with runners on-base.

Last Outing (vs. CIN on 5/29) – 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

Toronto had one of the worst bullpens in the majors the last time these teams met, with a 5.08 ERA and 8 blown saves in April. May was a completely different story, as their bullpen posted a 3.06 ERA and blew just two saves. With the exception of Jason Grilli (and his 6.35 ERA), everyone in the Blue Jays bullpen is pitching well right now, with closer Roberto Osuna and his 1.42 May ERA leading the way.

That being said, the bullpen has been leaned on fairly heavily the last few games. They were needed for 9 innings between Tuesday and Wednesday’s games, with Osuna and set-up man Joe Smith being called for on both days.

Yankees Connection

Russell Martin is currently batting .243/.387/.405 (123 wRC+) with 5 HR in 33 games. He missed two weeks with an injury earlier this month, but he’s been on a tear since returning. He’s also played third base five times already, as the team scraped by with Donaldson on the DL

Who (Or What) To Watch

The Yankees are facing a different Blue Jays team this time around; one that’s much closer to its 2016 incarnation. With an offense at almost full-strength and two of the team’s top starting pitchers taking a turn, this is sure to be a tough series. And that’s part of what has slowly made the Yankees-Blue Jays rivalry so good of late. I never really thought of the Blue Jays as a hateable team, but here we are.

It will be interesting to watch Biagini, as well. The ceilings of most Rule 5 picks are fairly low, so he’s more than delivered so far. If he can be a competent starter, then the Blue Jays will have come away with the biggest steal since Johan Santana.

Yankeemetrics: Camden Yards, House of Horrors (May 29-31)

(AP)
(AP)

The Full Monty
The Orioles entered this week on a seven-game losing streak and playing their worst baseball of the season. Yet they were probably happy to see the Yankees coming to town given their recent run of success in Baltimore against their division rival.

After the 3-2 loss on Memorial Day, the Yankees dropped to a miserable 8-23 at Camden Yards since 2014, the second-worst mark at the ballpark among all American League teams over the past four seasons; only the Indians (2-8) have been worse.

Jordan Montgomery struggled early, needing 34 pitches to navigate the first inning, and that inefficiency foreshadowed the rest of his labored performance. He consistently fell behind hitters and got into deep counts, reaching a full count on seven (!) of 23 batters. That’s the most full counts faced by any Yankee pitcher this season – and he did it while pitching only 4 1/3 innings.

The lone offensive highlight came from the bat of – no surprise – Aaron Judge, who sent a screaming line drive into the center field seats in the seventh inning. It was Judge’s 17th blast of the season as he moved into first place on the MLB home run leaderboard.

If he can maintain that top ranking, he’d join a select group of Yankee outfielders to win the major-league home run title: Roger Maris (1961), Mickey Mantle (1956), Joe DiMaggio (1937) and Babe Ruth (nine times … LOL).

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Bald Bombers
The Yankees got their offensive mojo back on Tuesday as they pounded out 14 hits and hammered the Orioles, 8-3. It was their 15th game scoring eight-or-more runs, the most in the AL and tied with the Rockies for the MLB lead entering Wednesday. The last season that the Yankees scored eight-plus runs this many times before their 50th game was 1998, a pretty good year if we remember correctly.

Four of the 14 hits left the ballpark, with Brett Gardner and Matt Holliday each going deep twice. Those were the 10th and 11th homers of the season for both guys, making the Yankees the first AL team this season to have three players reach double-digit homers.

For Gardner, it was his third game with at least two homers this season – which somehow gave him the most multi-homer games among all AL players through Tuesday. He also became just the third player in franchise history to have three or more multi-homer games while hitting out of the leadoff spot, joining Alfonso Soriano (2002) and Bobby Bonds (1975).

Holliday’s two-homer night was less surprising but still put his name on a fun list of Yankee designated hitters to hit two-plus homers in at Camden Yards: Gary Sheffield (2005), Jason Giambi (2002) and Darryl Strawberry (1996) are the others.

Gardner and Holliday were the first Yankee teammates to homer twice in the same game since … May 2 when Gardner and Judge each went deep twice against the Blue Jays. Over the last 60 years, there’s been just one other season in which the Yankees had two games where two players hit multiple homers: 2005.

Luis Severino continued to make his case as the early-season ace of the staff, lowering his ERA to 2.93. He scattered seven singles over 6 1/3 innings, and most of those hits were weak grounders that never left the dirt or somehow found holes through the infield. The average exit velocity on batted balls against Severino was 82.4 mph, the lowest mark for any start in his career. As you can see in this batted ball spray chart from Tuesday’s start, there’s a ton of blue (low exit velocity) and barely any red (high exit velocity):

luis-severino-1

Following his gem against the Orioles, Severino has five starts with no more than one earned run allowed while striking out at least six batters. The only other pitchers in the majors to have five such starts (through Tuesday) were Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Ervin Santana and Dallas Keuchel.

Deja Vu, Terrible Tanaka
Camden Yards, once known as Yankee Stadium South, has officially become a House of Horrors for the team up north. The Yankees have lost 11 straight series at the ballpark after getting blown out by the O’s on Wednesday night. That’s the second-longest road series losing skid against any opponent in franchise history, behind only a 12-series streak at Oakland from 1985-91.

How long has it been since the Yankees celebrated a series win in the Charm City? The last time Yankees won a series at Camden Yards, Mariano Rivera was the winning pitcher in the series-clinching game on September 12, 2013.

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Orioles broke the game open with a four-run third inning, though Masahiro Tanaka did reach a milestone in that ugly frame. He whiffed Manny Machado on a slider for the second out, the 500th career strikeout of his career. Tanaka is the fifth Yankee to reach 500 Ks within his first four major-league seasons, a group that includes Andy Pettitte, Lefty Gomez, Orlando Hernandez and Mel Stottlemyre.

That was the lone highlight for Tanaka, who got shelled for seven runs on nine hits before exiting in the sixth inning. It was the third time in 11 starts this season he allowed at least seven earned runs; in his first three major-league campaigns, spanning 75 starts, he never gave up more than six earned runs in any outing.

This awful performance capped a miserable month of May for Tanaka: six starts, 8.42 ERA, 11 HR, 48 hits, 31 innings pitched. The most glaring number from that mess is the 11 homers, which ties the most ever by a Yankee pitcher in a calendar month. The good news is that the guy he matched is named Ron Guidry (September 1985). The bad news is that he allowed 11 freaking home runs in 31 innings. Welp.

The Yankees and their uncanny ability to get opposing hitters to chase out of the zone

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Last night, five days after manhandling the Athletics, Masahiro Tanaka got hit hard for the third time in his last four starts. He was behind everyone, and when he left a pitch out over the plate, the Orioles made him pay. We’ve seen a lot of that from Tanaka this season. His location wasn’t there and he didn’t have a finish pitch.

The O’s don’t have the most patient lineup in baseball. They have the fifth highest chase rate (31.7%) and the ninth highest swing rate (46.6%) in baseball, so they’re going to take their hacks. And yet, Tanaka could not get them to expand the zone and chase off the plate. From Baseball Savant:

masahiro-tanaka-oriolesNot many swings out of the strike zone there, especially on pitches down and away to righties. (The O’s had eight righties in the lineup tonight.) Luis Severino did a good job getting the Orioles to chase Tuesday, both with his slider and changeup. They’re a lineup prone to expanding the zone and chasing off the plate. It’s what they do.

For the Yankees, starts like last night’s are uncommon. Their pitching staff collectively excels at getting hitters to chase pitches out of the strike zone. No team in baseball is better at it, in fact. Here’s the chase rate leaderboard:

  1. Yankees: 34.1%
  2. Dodgers: 33.1%
  3. Astros: 32.3%

Pretty big gap between the Yankees and the Dodgers. This isn’t some fluky small sample size noise either. Well, it might be, but look at last season’s chase rate leaderboard:

  1. Yankees: 33.5%
  2. Astros: 32.1%
  3. Mariners: 32.0%

Again, there’s a huge gap between the Yankees and everyone else. The gap between No. 1 and No. 2 is the same as the gap between No. 2 and No. 14. From 2014-16, New York’s pitchers generated baseball’s highest chase rate at 32.6%. The Nationals were a distant second at 31.9%. The MLB average was 30.5% those years. The Yankees were well above that.

On an individual level, it’s no surprise the Yankees dominate the top of the chase rate leaderboard this year. Michael Pineda (40.3%), Jordan Montgomery (36.8%), and Tanaka (37.0%) have three of the five highest chase rates among qualified starters, alongside the great Zack Greinke (40.8%) and, uh, Clayton Richard (37.5%). Last season’s chase rate leaders:

  1. Michael Pineda: 37.8%
  2. Masahiro Tanaka: 37.6%
  3. Noah Syndergaard: 37.2%

Corey Kluber was a distant fourth at 35.4%. Go back to 2015 and Tanaka would have had the second highest chase rate in baseball at 36.6%, behind only Carlos Carrasco (38.7%), but he fell six innings short of qualifying for the ERA title.

Things are a little different among New York’s relievers this season when it comes to getting chases out of the zone — Jonathan Holder (41.6%) is third among all relievers and the only Yankee among the top 30 relievers in chase rate — though those guys haven’t thrown many innings. The starters have much more influence over the overall team chase rate.

Intuitively, getting hitters to chase out of the zone is a good thing. When they’re offering at pitches out of the strike zone, they’re usually either swinging and missing, or either getting jammed or hitting the ball of the end of the bat, resulting in weak contact. To wit:

  • 2017 swings on pitches in the zone: .301 AVG and .519 SLG
  • 2017 swings on pitches out of the zone: .177 AVG and .245 SLG

There is a pretty clear advantage to getting hitters to swing out of the strike zone. Every once in a while you’ll see a hard-hit ball on a pitch out of the zone, but it doesn’t happen often. When it does, you usually tip your cap to the hitter. Sometimes you get got.

It makes sense that Pineda and Tanaka would be near the top of the chase rate leaderboard given who they are as pitchers. For all his faults, Pineda has a nasty slider, and he gets hitters to chase it out of the strike zone. Those sexy strikeout and walk rates aren’t an accident. Tanaka, when at his best, excels at keeping hitters off balance and getting them to expand the zone, mostly with his splitter but also his slider. He usually doesn’t beat guys in the strike zone. He beats them on the edges.

Montgomery is new to the mix this season and it’s still a little too early to say anything definitive about him as a pitcher. He’s more Tanaka than Pineda in that he relies on a deep arsenal and messing with the hitter’s timing rather than blowing them away, though we don’t know if his sky high chase rate is the real him yet. Could be general baseball randomness. Pineda and Tanaka, on the other hand, have long track records with this stuff.

So the question begs to be asked: why have the Yankees consistently posted an elite chase rate in recent years? One possible answer is this is all one big coincidence and there’s nothing really to it. Can’t rule that out. I don’t that’s it though. Do something once and it’s a fluke. Do it year after year, like the Yankees leading the league in chase rate, and it’s a trend. Again, the Yankees have baseball’s highest chase rate since 2014. That covers thousands and thousands of innings.

Why do the Yankees consistently post elite chase rates? I think it’s by design. They value swings on pitches not over the plate, so they design their pitching staff accordingly, and they create their daily game plans to get those swings out of the zone. That seems much easier said than done, like everything else. To make hitters chase, you need to make your balls look like strikes, and it takes a certain level of talent to have the movement and command to do that consistently.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. I just find it fascinating the Yankees have been able to lead the league in getting chases out of the zone for several years now. This almost certainly isn’t a fluke. It’s intentional. And there’s an obvious benefit to getting swings out of the zone too, especially since the Yankees play in an unforgiving ballpark and in an unforgiving division with other unforgiving ballparks. Being able to get swings on pitcher’s pitches is a nifty little skill the Yankees seem to have perfected.