Thursday Night Open Thread

The Cleveland Andrew Millers are going to the World Series! Cleveland beat the Blue Jays in Game Five of the ALCS yesterday to win the pennant. They await the winner of the Dodgers-Cubs series. Those two clubs will play Game Five of the NLCS tonight (8pm ET on FOX Sports 1). Kenta Maeda and Jon Lester are the scheduled starters. That series is tied at two games apiece, so Game Six is definitely happening Saturday. Hooray for that. Hopefully we get a Game Seven too.

Here is tonight’s open thread. In addition to the NLCS, you also have the Thursday night NFL game, the Devils, and some preseason basketball. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

(Today is the anniversary of Game Four of the 2009 ALCS, hence the video. Here’s the box score.)

Thursday Notes: Beltran, Blue Jays, IFAs, Qualifying Offer

(Vaughn Ridley/Getty)
(Vaughn Ridley/Getty)

There are, at most, ten more baseball games left this season. It could be as few as six. That stinks. The offseason is fun in it’s own way, but nothing is better than actual games. That’s why we all watch. Anyway, make sure you check out MLBTR’s Offseason Outlook: New York Yankees post. Nice little rundown of what could happen this winter. Here are some other news and notes.

Blue Jays had interest in Beltran

The Blue Jays had interest in Carlos Beltran prior to the trade deadline, reports Gerry Fraley. Toronto skipper John Gibbons confirmed the club considered a run at Beltran this summer. “Beltran was a guy we even talked about. We saw him over the years with the Yankees and what a great hitter he was, a clutch type performer,” said Gibbons prior to the start of the ALDS.

The Red Sox also reportedly tried to acquire Beltran prior to the deadline, and just like with Boston, it’s unclear whether the Yankees would have actually gone through with an intra-division trade with the Blue Jays. Toronto’s farm system is not nearly as good as the Red Sox’s, though I’m sure the two sides could have found a match if they really set their mind to it. The Blue Jays scored eight runs in the five-game ALCS — five of the eight came in Game Four — and they clearly needed another bat. Beltran would have been able to help. No doubt.

MLB pushing for international draft

To no surprise whatsoever, MLB is pushing for an international draft as part of Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations with MLBPA, reports Buster Olney. MLB has wanted an international draft for years now — it’s a way to keep costs down for owners, that’s the only goal here — but the union has yet to give in. I wonder if this will be the year though. Here are some more details from Olney:

Under the terms of MLB’s initial concept, the new international draft system would start in March of 2018, with a 10-round draft held over two days. As the new structure evolved, with terms grandfathered into the process, the minimum age for draft-eligible players would be 18 years old by 2021 … As part of baseball’s proposal, MLB would operate facilities in the Dominican Republic, where international draft prospects would be invited to live to develop their skills and education before becoming eligible.

Two things. One, those kids are going to have to wait two more years to get their payday, no matter how large or small it may be. That sucks. Right now they can sign at 16. Under this proposal they have to wait until they’re 18. And two, this is yet another incentive for teams to be bad. Bad clubs already get the largest draft bonus pools and protected picks. Now they’ll get access to the top international talent without worrying about other clubs offering more money.

This proposal — thankfully that’s all this is right now, a proposal — is great for the teams and owners. They’ll save money and also get two extra years to evaluate these kids before deciding whether to sign to them. It stinks for the players, who have to wait to get paid and risk having their skills erode before they can cash in. You have no idea how many kids sign at 16 only to then fill out physically and lose the electric athleticism that got them paid. An international draft is inevitable. Hopefully MLBPA doesn’t relent this CBA and we get a few more years of true free agency.

Qualifying offer system could change with CBA

The qualifying offer system may also be revamped with the new CBA, reports Joel Sherman. The QO isn’t going away, but the MLB and the MLBPA may make it so players can not receive the QO in consecutive years. That means the Orioles wouldn’t be able to get a draft pick for Matt Wieters this offseason since they gave him the QO last offseason, which he accepted. Something like that.

I can’t imagine MLB and MLBPA will ever completely severe ties between the draft and free agency — they don’t want rich teams to have access to the best free agents and first round talent — so this might be the next best thing. If this proposal goes through, you might see some more players sign one-year contracts so they can go back out on the market with no draft pick attached. I think most guys will look to grab the largest payday as soon as possible though. Being set for life financial is pretty cool, I hear.

The Very Talented and Very Frustrating Michael Pineda [2016 Season Review]


It’s hard to believe Michael Pineda just completed his fifth season with the Yankees. It still feels like he just got here. Of course, Pineda didn’t actually pitch in two of those five seasons because of his shoulder surgery, but still. The trade was five years ago. Man, time flies. That was such a wild day, the day of the trade.

The Yankees hoped Pineda would emerge as an ace or something close to it by now. The idea was he would take over at the top of the rotation as CC Sabathia slipped with age, but it hasn’t happened. The shoulder surgery surely plays a role in that, but that’s not all. Pineda’s stuff actually came back very well following surgery. About as well as you could have reasonably expected. It hasn’t translated into consistent success on the field though.

When 207 Strikeouts Aren’t Enough

The good news: Michael Pineda led all qualified American League pitchers with 10.6 K/9 and was second with a 27.4% strikeout rate. Only Justin Verlander (28.1%) was better. Pineda fanned 207 batters in 2016, the 11th highest total in all of baseball and the most by a Yankee since Sabathia fanned 230 in 2011. It was the most by a Yankees’ right-hander since Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina struck out 214 and 213 in 2001, respectively.

Pineda’s most dominant performance of the season came on June 30th, when he held the Rangers to one run in six innings. He struck out 12 of the 23 batters he faced that afternoon because his slider was hellacious.

When Pineda is on, his slider is untouchable. The 207 strikeouts were not a fluke. Pineda absolutely has the ability to miss that many bats. He just doesn’t do much of anything else. Also, Pineda went six innings in that game against Texas, and that’s good for him. He completed seven innings twice in 32 starts this season. Pineda faced only ten batters in the seventh inning this season. Ten! That’s it. He did not throw a single pitch in the eighth inning all year.

Strikeouts do run up pitch counts and that somewhat explains Pineda’s inability to take the ball deep into the game. As does his 7.0% walk rate, which was more than double his 3.1% walk rate last year. Pineda started his Yankees career with 41 straight starts of two or fewer walks. He then had eight starts with at least three walks this past season. Is it possible he was scared out of the strike zone because he was so homer prone (1.38 HR/9)? Maybe!

All told, Pineda had a 4.82 ERA (3.80 FIP) while setting new career highs in starts (32) and innings (175.2) in 2016. His best stretch of the season came from June 2nd to August 16th, when he had a 3.58 ERA (3.29 FIP) in 14 starts and 83 innings. And yet, by September it was clear Joe Girardi had no confidence in Pineda. This was never more evident than on September 9th against the Rays. The Yankees were up 7-2 with two outs in the fifth and Pineda had thrown only 77 pitches, yet Girardi pulled him with men on the corners because he didn’t trust him to get out of the jam. Yeah. Says a lot.

Pineda was New York’s third best starter this season, though that shouldn’t be taken as praise. He was their third best starter by default. Nathan Eovaldi‘s elbow exploded and Luis Severino was awful as a starter. Kids like Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell didn’t throw a whole lot. Pineda was the team’s only starter not to miss a start this year, and he deserves credit for that, but he also rarely pitched deep into the games, and rarely pitched as well as his stuff suggests he should.

Problems with Two Strikes

It’s truly mind-boggling that Pineda struggled in the situation most advantageous to pitchers — two-strike counts! — as much as he did this season given the quality of his slider. You watched that video above (probably). His slider is electric. It really is. And yet, with two strikes:

Pineda: .187/.246/.286 with a 47.6% strikeout rate
MLB Average: .176/.246/.276 with a 41.1% strikeout rate

The strikeout rate is nice, but Pineda’s overall numbers in two-strike counts are far too close to the league average pitcher for a guy with his stuff. Chad Green, whose slider isn’t nearly as good as Pineda’s, held hitters to a .135/.192/.281 batting line with two strikes. Those are the kind of numbers you’re looking for from Pineda.

Anecdotally, it seems Pineda had a knack for hanging two-strike sliders this season. It was almost like he was trying to make the perfect pitch, let himself get out of sync, and left it out over the plate. Here are Pineda’s two-strike sliders this season, via Baseball Savant (click for a larger view):

Michael Pineda two-strike sliders

Lots and lots of two-strike sliders up in the zone and out over the plate. I mean, every pitcher is going to have some of those over the course of the season, everyone hangs a pitch now and then, but Pineda left way too many sliders in the wheelhouse. Last year he held hitters to a .202/.244/.349 batting line with 43.1% strikeout rate in two-strike counts, so this isn’t really a one-year blip. He had some issues in those spots last year too.

Problems with Two Outs

Because struggling in two-strike counts isn’t enough, Pineda had big time issues closing out innings this year as well. Look at this. Just look at it:

Zero Outs: .234/.284/.403 with a 26.8% strikeout rate
One Out: .231/.292/.370 with a 30.4% strikeout rate
Two Outs: .325/.383/.598 with a 25.3% strikeout rate

Good grief. That’s not good, Michael! Pineda had major issues finishing innings this season. He allowed 52 of his 98 runs with two outs this year, or 53.1%. The MLB average is 36.5%. I’m not sure how to look this up without manually scrolling through the play logs of each game, but it sure seemed like Pineda allowed a lot of rallies to start with two outs this year. He’d get two quick outs, then bam, baserunners and runs. So annoying.

Both Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Pineda loses “focus” from time to time, leading to the problems with two strikes and two outs. It’s certainly not a stuff issue, though I do think Pineda could stand to throw his changeup a little more often. It’s an execution issue. I think sometimes Pineda tries so hard to throw a perfect pitch, a nasty slider at the knees, and he screws up. I don’t think it’s that he isn’t trying enough. I think it’s that he tries too hard at times.

I have a theory why Pineda is more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe: everything moves in the same direction. He’s a cutter/slider pitcher, so his two main pitches move away from righties and in to lefties. If you’re a hitter, who know which way the ball is moving. You don’t know the velocity or location, but you know the way it’s moving. That takes one of the variables away.

It seems like Pineda would benefit from adding a pitch that moves the other way, in on righties and away from lefties, like a two-seamer. Even a straight four-seam fastball would help. Just something to keep hitters from expecting every pitch to sweep from right to left. Like I said though, this is just a theory. I could be completely wrong. It just seems like everything Pineda throws moves in the same direction. How could hitters not pick up on that?

Outlook for 2017


Next season is Pineda’s final year of team control, so he’ll be a free agent next winter. The Yankees have to figure out what they want to do with him pretty soon. If they want to keep him long-term, then it would be wise to explore a multi-year extension this offseason. If they don’t consider him a piece of the puzzle going forward, then they should explore the trade market. They should do both, really, and then figure out which makes the most sense.

Pineda is extremely frustrating because his natural talent is so obvious. The guy is 6-foot-7 and 260 lbs., he’s as strong as an ox, he has a 95 mph cutter, and he has a vicious slider that fools both righties and lefties. You can be born with worse skill sets. And yet, the results are mediocre at best. Right now, at this point of his career, Pineda falls into the A.J. Burnett category of pitchers with great stuff who leave you wanting more, yet you’re afraid to give up on him because he could figure it out any day now.

The Yankees’ Five Shortest Home Run of 2016

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Yesterday we looked at the longest home runs hit by the Yankees hit in 2016, and now it’s time to go to the other extreme. Now we’re going to look back at the shortest home runs. The most laughable wall-scrapers of the season. These are the homers that make you feel like the Yankees just stole a run because the ball would have been caught at most other ballparks.

Thanks to right field, Yankee Stadium is very conducive to hilariously short home runs. It cuts both ways though; the Yankees hit plenty of cheap home runs into the short porch, but they also give up a lot too. So anyway, let’s get to the team’s five shortest dingers of the 2016 season. Thanks again to Baseball Savant for making this post possible.

5. Castro vs. David Huff

True story: I got my Starlin Castro home runs mixed up and wrote up a capsule for entirely separate short home run against the Angels before realizing it was the wrong one. Oops.

Anyway, the fifth shortest home run of the season came against Huff, the ex-Yankee, who I had no idea was still active, let alone spent time in MLB this year. It was June 7th and the Yankees were home against the Angels. They’d lost eight of their last 13 games — the Yankees, not the Angels — and were struggling to score runs. Hard to believe, I know.

The Yankees did rally from behind to win the previous night’s game — Castro hit a home run in that game and that’s the one I originally wrote up (d’oh) — and because Huff is not so good, they were able to open a quick 5-0 lead in this game. Three in first, one in the second, and one in the third. The fifth shortest home run of the season was run No. 5. To the video:

The Yankees cruised to relatively easy 6-3 win that day. It was the second of five straight wins, which included that four-game sweep of the Halos at Yankee Stadium. Distance: 331 feet.

4. Teixeira vs. Carlos Villanueva

Milestone homer! Mark Teixeira‘s home run off Villanueva, an eighth inning solo shot on July 7th that stretched New York’s lead to 3-1, was the 400th dinger of his career. Teixeira became only the fifth switch-hitter in history to hit 400 home runs, joining Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, Chipper Jones, and Carlos Beltran. Here’s the video:

One inning later, Teixeira smashed a two-run home run to provided some insurance runs. That was the fourth longest home run hit by a Yankee this season. So, in consecutive innings, Teixeira hit the fourth shortest and fourth longest home runs of the season. Baseball.

Also, Teixeira gets +10 RAB Internet Points for hitting a short right field homer somewhere other than Yankee Stadium. Distance: 331 feet.

3. Austin vs. Matt Andriese

The fourth shortest and fourth longest homers of the season were hit in consecutive innings. The third shortest and third longest homers of the season were hit by consecutive batters.

The Yankees were playing the Rays at home on August 13th, the day they really went all-in on the second half youth movement. We said goodbye to Alex Rodriguez the night before and hello to Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge that day. In his first big league at-bat Austin showed off his opposite field approach and poked a home run down the right field line. Check it out:

Solid contact for sure, but yeah, that’s a double into the corner in most other ballparks. Maybe it even gets caught for an out. Hey, Austin can only hit in the ballpark that’s on the schedule that day. His home run gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead, and two pitches later, Judge cleared the windows of the damn restaurant in center field for a 2-0 lead. Distance: 331 feet.

2. Hicks vs. Ryan Garton

I remember every home run in the shortest/longest home runs posts except this one. Happens every year. Always forget one completely. Don’t remember this one happening at all.

The day before Austin and Judge went back-to-back, the Yankees were home against the Rays saying goodbye to A-Rod. The Yankees were up 5-3 in the seventh inning when Aaron Hicks stepped to the plate to start the inning against Garton. Unlike every other homer in this post, Hicks went to left field, not right. Check it out:

That was kind of an excuse me swing. A “will it stay fair or slice foul” ball, though it was fair by plenty. Just a weird looking play all around. The ball kept carrying and carrying. Hicks has some sneaky pop, you know. Distance: 329 feet.

1. McCann vs Kevin Gausman

The shortest home run the Yankees hit in 2016 was also the last home run the Yankees hit in 2016. It was Game 162, and it came against a guy the Yankees couldn’t touch all season. Gausman really dominated them all year. Pretty annoying, it was.

McCann’s home run led off the fourth inning with the Yankees already down 3-0. It wasn’t even that bad a pitch. It was an up-and-in fastball, and McCann was able to get his bat around quick enough to hook it into the short porch in right field.

Believe it or not, does not have video of this home run. I guess it was too inconsequential to post. I had to make a GIF instead:

Brian McCann home run

And that was that. The Yankees lost the meaningless game — meaningless to them, anyway, it clinched a wildcard spot for the Orioles — and didn’t hit another dinger in 2016. See you in 2017. Distance: 324 feet.

* * *

Statcast only goes back so far, but as best I can tell, McCann’s home run was the shortest by a Yankee since Teixeira hit a 321-foot bomb (!) off Roy Halladay in 2010. Here’s the video:

Also, there’s a freaky amount of overlap between the shortest and longest homers list, isn’t there? Two of the shortest and two of the longest are from the same game, and heck, look at the order. No. 5 on each list was Castro. No. 4 was Teixeira. No. 2 was Hicks. No. 1 was McCann. No. 3 on each list was part of the back-to-back homers by Austin and Judge. Weird. Weird weird weird.

Wednesday Open Thread

Another day with two baseball games, hence the early open thread. Hooray for that. This might be the last two-game day of the season. The only other possibility is Saturday, and that requires a Game Six in the NLCS and a Game Seven in the ALCS. Here is today’s schedule:

  • ALCS Game Five: Indians at Blue Jays (Merritt vs. Estrada), 4pm ET on TBS (Indians up 3-1)
  • NLCS Game Four: Cubs at Dodgers (Lackey vs. Urias), 8pm ET on FOX Sports 1 (Dodgers up 2-1)

In addition to the baseball games, the (hockey) Rangers are playing tonight and there’s some preseason basketball on as well. Discuss the LCS games or whatever else right here. Just no religion or politics. I know the debate is on tonight, but please, this ain’t the place for that. Thanks in advance.

The Reinvention of CC Sabathia [2016 Season Review]


The end of CC Sabathia‘s contract has not been pretty and I’m not sure any of us are surprised. The Yankees went into the contract — and the contract extension following 2011, at that — knowing they were paying for the great years up front and would have to live with the ugly years at the back-end. Sabathia pitched very well from 2009-12 before all the wear and tear began to take their toll.

We’ve spent the last few years hoping. Hoping Sabathia would figure out how to pitch with diminished stuff and hoping he’d regain some effectiveness. He didn’t have to be an ace anymore. But league average would have been nice. Heck, it would have been an upgrade. Sabathia had a 4.81 ERA (4.40 FIP) in 424.1 innings from 2013-15, after all. We came into this season hoping again. This time, those hopes and prayers didn’t go for naught.

The Spring Competition

The Yankees hold competitions in Spring Training every year and most of them are rigged. Some are legitimate, but they’re usually for bench or bullpen spots. Rarely do the Yankees leave a rotation spot or a regular lineup spot up for grabs in camp. That’s why it was a little tough to believe them when they said Sabathia would have to compete for a rotation spot in camp. It was Sabathia vs. Ivan Nova.

Early during Grapefruit League play, Nova thoroughly out-pitched Sabathia. He allowed two runs in his first three spring starts and nine innings. Sabathia allowed ten runs in 7.1 innings in his first three starts. The Yankees insisted it was a true competition, and Nova was in the lead. Then he allowed ten runs in his next two starts and nine innings while Sabathia finished well, and that was that.

Even if this was a true competition, I’m sure the Yankees wanted Sabathia to win. They wanted nothing more than to see Sabathia grab a rotation spot and run with it. They were paying him a ton of money for things he’s done in the past, and they badly hoped he would contribute something this year. Sabathia finished the spring strong while Nova hit a bump in the road, so the veteran southpaw got the job.

“There was a lot of discussion,” said Joe Girardi at the end of camp. “A lot of it came down to CC’s September last year. He’s been there so many times. As I said, the decision that sometimes you make in April is not necessarily what happens in May. And I gotta tell you: it was really hard and it was not a decision that we were trying to prolong or not try to inform the players.”

Re-Emergence of the Ace

The Yankees did indeed slot Sabathia in as their fifth starter to open the regular season, and his first start was … okay. Not great, not terrible. Just okay. He allowed three runs on four hits and four walks in six innings against the Tigers. By fifth starter standards, that was okay. The rest of April was not. Sabathia allowed 12 runs on 25 hits and eleven walks in his first four starts and 21.1 innings. He struck out 15. That’s a 5.06 ERA (4.04 FIP).

The calls to remove Sabathia from the rotation — if not outright release him in the final guaranteed year of his contract — grew louder with each passing start. The problem was Michael Pineda and Luis Severino. They were much worse than Sabathia — Pineda had a 6.33 ERA (5.29 FIP) in April, Severino a 6.86 ERA (3.71 FIP) — so he was, at best (worst?), third in line to be removed from the rotation.

It’s a good thing the Yankees didn’t remove Sabathia from the rotation following his dreadful April, because over the next month and a half, he was an absolute monster. I’m talking six runs allowed (four earned) total in his next seven starts and 44 innings. He allowed zero earned runs in four of those seven starts. Sabathia’s best start came June 10th, when he chucked seven scoreless against the Tigers.

Following the dreadful April, Sabathia was sitting on a 2.20 ERA (3.30 FIP) through eleven starts and 65.1 innings on June 21st. There was All-Star Game talk, Comeback Player of the Year talk, Cy Young talk, all of that stuff. Sabathia emerged as the Yankees’ second best starter in the season’s first three months or so. He wasn’t the CC of old, but he chewed up innings and was very effective. It was awesome. Just awesome.

The Step Back to Reality

The regression monster came for Sabathia in late-June. All that success in May and early June was built around an unsustainably low home run rate. Sabathia had a 0.28 HR/9 (3.1 HR/FB%) in those first eleven starts and 65.1 innings and there was no chance that would last. Not in Yankee Stadium and not with the ball suddenly flying out of the park this year.

Sabathia allowed one home run on June 22nd, one on June 28th, two on July 4th, then nine total from July 9th through August 17th. A picture graph is worth a thousand words:

CC Sabathia home run rateYup. The home runs came and they came in bunches. From June 22nd through August 17th, a two-month stretch of games, Sabathia pitched to a 6.78 ERA (5.33 FIP) in eleven starts and 65 innings. He also allowed 13 home runs, which works out to a 1.80 HR/9 (18.8 HR/FB%). Remember that 2.20 ERA (3.30 FIP) on June 21st? It ballooned to 4.49 ERA (4.31 FIP) by August 17th. That was not fun.

The Strong Finish

Given the last few years, it was easy to think Sabathia’s strong start to the season was basically a low home run rate fluke. He didn’t pitch well at all from 2013-15, and what we saw from late-June through mid-August was more of the same. Those eleven good starts to open 2016 were the outlier. Sabathia had come back to Earth and would limp to the finish line as he had the previous three years.

That didn’t happen though. Sabathia finished the season quite strong. He allowed no more than one earned run in five of his final eight starts and pitched to a 2.37 ERA (4.20 FIP) overall. The ball was still leaving the yard (1.28 HR/9 and 17.1 HR/FB%) but that was going to happen given his home ballpark. The Yankees were fighting for their postseason lives and Sabathia gave them some huge outings, like when he threw seven shutout innings in Toronto on September 25th.

Of course, the Yankees lost that game because the offense never scored, but you can’t blame that on Sabathia. His season can be divided into three parts: eleven good starts, eleven bad starts, then eight good starts. That’s … pretty good? I’ll take what I am arbitrarily classifying as 22 good starts out of 30 total starts from late-career Sabathia any day of the week.

All told, Sabathia finished the 2016 season with a 3.91 ERA (4.28 FIP) in those 30 starts and 179.2 innings. That’s his lowest ERA since 2012 and his lowest FIP since 2013. He did it with an average strikeout rate (19.8%) and a good ground ball rate (50.1%), which is a pretty good recipe for success. Sabathia did walk a few too many (8.5%) and his home run rate finished at 1.10 HR/9 (12.6 HR/FB%), which is pretty normal.

I don’t think many will disagree with me when I say Sabathia’s rebound and spurts of excellence were one of the best parts of the 2016 season. This dude pitched his heart out for the Yankees for a lot of years, even when he wasn’t doing so well. There was never any question about his desire to win and commitment to the team. It was tough to watch him struggle these last few years, and it was awesome to see him have success again. How could you not love this guy?

The New CC Sabathia


This past season, we did not see the same Sabathia we saw from 2009-15. He made some changes over the last year, some of them rather significant, and they could explain his newfound success. Three stand out.

1. The new knee brace. Sabathia’s right knee is a wreck. He’s said it’s bone-on-bone at this point because all those years of his massive 6-foot-6, 300 lb. frame coming down on the knee, his landing knee, have taken their toll. Sabathia has had multiple surgeries, and for most of last season he pitched with a sleeve on his knee. It wasn’t much at all. He used it because it was comfortable.

Late last season Sabathia switched to a clunkier knee brace that provided more stability. His performance improved immediately and he continued to wear it this season. Everything in baseball starts from the ground up, even pitching. Pitching with a compromised lower half ain’t easy. Sabathia can now land more comfortably with the knee brace, and of course that’s going to help his performance. Imagine pitching through pain in your landing knee all the time.

2. The new cutter. This is a pretty big deal. Right-handed hitters absolutely annihilated Sabathia last season. They had a .304/.363/.502 (.370 wOBA) batting line against him. That’s close to MVP caliber. Sabathia needed something to neutralize righties, and his solution was a cutter. A cutter he actually threw. He’s messed around with the pitch in the past, but this year he stuck to it.

CC Sabathia pitch selection

Sabathia effectively replaced his straight four-seam fastball with a cutter. That little cutting action is often the difference between getting squared up and missing the barrel. Sabathia busted righties inside with the cutter all season, and the result was a .258/.325/.400 (.316 wOBA) batting line against. That’s not great, but it sure is a heck of a lot better than what he did against righties last season.

“I’m obviously throwing different pitches,” said Sabathia in August. “I throw the cutter, I throw the two-seamer. So, yeah, I’m a different pitcher than I was three, four years ago. It’s obviously helped that I’m healthy. I have more choices. I can use my changeup, I can throw the backdoor slider, my cutter, obviously. I’m more well-equipped with what I have now.”

3. His sobriety. At the very end of last season Sabathia left the Yankees and checked himself into rehab. Little did we know he had been battling alcoholism for years. Sabathia finally decided to do something about it and that’s great. Far too many people are afraid to ask for help. Sabathia did it despite the inevitable scrutiny that comes with being a Yankee, and yes, he was absolutely scrutinized.

It’s impossible to know how much Sabathia’s sobriety affected his on-field performance, but I have a hard time believing the impact is negligible. He’s in a better place mentally and emotionally, and physically too. How is that not going to translate on the field in some way? I don’t think Sabathia’s sobriety explains his newfound effectiveness entirely — the cutter and knee brace are important too — but I definitely believe it’s a factor.

Outlook for 2017

Sabathia stayed healthy this season — well, aside from a little groin issue in May — so his $25M option for next season vested. He’ll be back next year, and you know what? That’s not a bad thing. Expensive, sure, but this version of Sabathia provides some nice rotation stability. The Yankees need some of that. Given the weak free agent class, having the big lefty back in 2017 will be nice. So Hal Steinbrenner’s wallet will be a little lighter. Boohoo.

Right after the season Sabathia had a “routine” cleanup procedure on his troublesome right knee that was planned weeks in advance. Everything went well and he’s expected to be ready in plenty of time for Spring Training. The new cutter and knee brace (and sobriety) give me reason believe Sabathia can again be effective next season. There are tangible explanations why he pitched well this summer. That’s better than the wishcasting we did last the few years, that’s for sure.

The Yankees’ Five Longest Home Runs of 2016

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

For whatever reason, baseballs flew out of the ballpark at a near record pace this past season. An average of 1.155 homers per game were hit in 2016, up from 1.010 last year and 0.861 just two years ago. In fact, 2016 was the second most homer happy season on record. Only in 2000 were more homers hit per game (1.171). My guess is the ball is juiced, but who knows.

Anyway, the Yankees certainly benefited from the home run spike as a team. They hit 183 home runs in 2016, which is down from last year (212), but way up from both 2014 (147) and 2013 (144). Also, the Yankees hit the ball farther on average this season too. Every team did, which lends some credence to the juiced ball theory. Giancarlo Stanton hit a 504-foot home run this summer, for example. It was the longest in baseball since 2009.

As we do every year, it’s time to look back at the five longest home runs hit by the Yankees this season. There are some meaningful and milestone blasts in here too. These aren’t five garbage time shots against random Triple-A arms. Pretty nice mix this season. Shout out to Baseball Savant for making this post possible. Let’s get to it.

5. Castro vs. Jason Motte

New York’s fifth longest home run of the season was a walk-off. How about that? I told you there were some meaningful dingers in this post. The Yankees and Rockies played a wild back-and-forth game at Yankee Stadium on June 22nd. Look at the win probability graph:

Source: FanGraphs

The Yankees scored four runs in the second inning on a Chase Headley grand slam of all things. The Rockies then rallied to score two in the third, three in the fourth, and three more in the fifth. CC Sabathia and Anthony Swarzak were responsible for that. So, after falling behind 8-4, the Yankees then put up another four-spot in the seventh inning to tie the game. Carlos Beltran‘s three-run dinger was the big blow, but a run-scoring single by Didi Gregorius is what tied the game.

The score remained 8-8 until the bottom of the ninth inning, when Starlin Castro waited all of two pitches to win the game. He clobbered a walk-off home run into the second deck in left field against Jason Motte. To the action footage:

The Yankees had lost two straight and six of their previous nine games, so they were reeling. Taking a 4-0 lead early in the game and then blowing it really stunk. Castro sent everyone home happy and helped spark a three-game winning streak. Distance: 443 feet.

4. Teixeira vs. Kevin Quackenbush

I thought this was Mark Teixeira‘s 400th career home run. Alas, it was No. 401. Teixeira hit his 400th home run earlier in the game, against Padres righty Carlos Villanueva. Unfortunately, No. 401 wasn’t all that dramatic. It was a tack-on blast in the ninth inning of a game the Yankees were already leading 4-1. Here is Teixeira’s long two-run blast (0:54 mark):

On the bright side, I did get to say Quackenbush, so it’s not a total loss. Teixeira’s home run was the Yankees’ fourth longest of the 2016 season. Distance: 444 feet.

3. Judge vs. Matt Andriese

Now this is what I’m talking about. August 13th was one of the most important days of the season. The Yankees officially released Alex Rodriguez that day, after his farewell ceremony the night before, and the move helped clear a spot for Aaron Judge. The club’s top prospect drove all night from Rochester to the Bronx and was in the starting lineup for the 1pm ET game.

Judge wasted little time showing fans why he is so highly regarded. Two pitches after Tyler Austin, who was also called up that day, poked a line drive home run into the short porch in his first career at-bat, Judge launched a missile to dead center field for a solo home run in his first big league at-bat. Here’s the video:

Good gravy that was hammered. Austin and Judge became the first teammates in history to hit home runs in their MLB debuts in the same game, and they did it back-to-back. Incredible. What a fun afternoon. Judge’s home run cleared the windows of the restaurant in center field entirely. He hit it over the damn windows. I mean, look:

Aaron Judge home run

That was so fun, wasn’t it? The A-Rod farewell game the night before was pretty awesome, then the Yankees quickly turned the page and we all got a glimpse of the future. Alex was gone but Judge (and Austin) had arrived. Definitely a fun afternoon. One of the best of the season. Distance: 446 feet.

2. Hicks vs. Rick Porcello

Judge’s home run is actually tied for the second longest hit by a Yankee this season. Don’t ask my why I listed it first. I guess because it’s chronological. Or reverse chronological. Whatever.

Anyway, the Yankees were absolutely reeling on May 6th. They went into that night’s game against the Red Sox having lost 15 of their previous 20 games (!), and the day before they were walked off by the Orioles. Morale was low. The Yankees looked like one of the worst teams in baseball.

Naturally, the Yankees fell behind quickly in this May 6th game. Michael Pineda allowed a two-run home run to David Ortiz in the first inning. Of course he did. The Yankees rallied though, scoring one run in the bottom of the first on Brian McCann‘s double, and another in the bottom of the second on Dustin Ackley‘s single. Dustin Ackley! Good for him.

The game did not devolve into a slugfest, oddly. Both Pineda and Porcello settled down and the score remained 2-2 into the seventh inning. Heading into that seventh inning Porcello had retired seven straight and 12 of the last 13 batters he faced, so he was cruising. Then he left a changeup up to Aaron Hicks, and this happened:

Hicks had done absolutely nothing as a Yankee up to that point. He’d gone 0-for-1 in the game prior to the home run and was hitting .091/.143/.091 on the season. It was bad. Bad bad bad. Hicks came through big in that spot with his long home run over the bullpen and into the right field bleachers. The Yankees won the game and seven of their next ten. Distance: 446 feet.

1. McCann vs. Brandon Kintzler

How about this for a buzzkill: the Yankees’ longest home run of the season came in a loss! To a Twins team that lost 103 total games in 2016! No other team lost more than 94 games this year, you know. Bummer. The Yankees won the other four games featured in this post. Just not this one.

The Yankees did lead this June 19th game early. A McCann home run — not the one we’re going to focus on — and an A-Rod single built a 2-0 lead through four innings. Then Nathan Eovaldi and the bullpen puked all over it. The Twins scored one run in the fifth, four in the sixth, one in the seventh, and then one in the eighth for good measure. Blargh.

When McCann came to the plate against Kintzler to lead off the ninth inning, the Yankees trailed 7-3 and their chances of winning were down to 1.4%. His job was to get on base and maybe start a rally. He did one better. McCann laid into a 2-1 fastball and hit the team’s longest home run of the season. Look at this damn thing. It almost left Target Field (0:23 mark):

The Yankees did nothing after that home run, so the distance didn’t exactly inspire them to make a ninth inning comeback. That’s a shame. It was still an impressively long home run. No one in pinstripes hit a ball farther in 2016. Distance: 450 feet.

* * *

So, among those five home runs, we had one walk-off, one game-winner, and one career first. Pretty, pretty good. Only two other Yankees hit a baseball 440+ feet this season, by the way. Austin Romine launched a 442-foot dinger against someone named Chad Girodo on May 25th (video), and A-Rod clocked a 440-foot bomb off Chris Archer two days later (video). Austin Romine, eh? Didn’t see that coming.