Mailbag: Judge, Frazier, Ellsbury, Severino, One-Year Deals

Big mailbag this week. Eighteen questions and 17 answers. This might be our biggest mailbag ever. Lots and lots of people asked about the international bonus pool money trades and whether they mean the Yankees will go after Shohei Otani this offseason. I wrote about that earlier this week. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the mailbag email address.

Judge. (Elsa/Getty)
Judge. (Elsa/Getty)

Dan asks: If Judge’s slump persists, could he be in any danger of losing Rookie of the Year?

Nah. I don’t think the slump will last much longer — that doesn’t mean he’ll go back to hitting .329/.448/.691 (198 wRC+) again like he did in the first half, but he’ll be better than he’s been the last few weeks — but even if it did, he’s still done more than enough to win the award. Who is his primary competition anyway? The AL rookie fWAR leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge: +5.8 WAR
  2. Bradley Zimmer: +2.1 WAR
  3. Ben Gamel: +2.1 WAR
  4. Jordan Montgomery: +2.0 WAR
  5. Trey Mancini: +1.5 WAR

Zimmer has the most realistic chance to knock off Judge as the AL Rookie of the Year and this is basically the reverse Michael Fulmer-Gary Sanchez argument. Zimmer has only done it for half the year while Judge has been up all season. Also, Judge this year has been better than Fulmer last year, and Sanchez last year was better than Zimmer this year, so yeah.

As ugly as the slump has been, Judge has been “only” a -0.1 WAR player in the second half. There’s basically no way he can dip under +5 WAR for the season at this point, even if he continues to slump. His defense is too good. I’m sure some voters will find a reason not to vote for Judge — “He slumped when his team needed him the most in the second half,” sounds like a thing someone will say, nevermind the role Judge played in getting the Yankees to where they are in the first place — but he should still win the AL Rookie of the Year unanimously.

Artie asks: If the Yanks send Frazier down and recall him in September when rosters expand, can he still be on the post-season roster (provided they get there)? And if so, who does he bump from the roster? Joe loves having more pitchers than he needs so I would think the last spot would come down to Ellsbury and Frazier.

Brian asks: Do you think Ellsbury is left off the postseason roster?

Might as well lump these two together. Clint Frazier and every other player in the organization before 11:59pm ET on August 31st is eligible for the postseason roster, even if they haven’t played in the big leagues. Because Frazier has played in MLB, he can be added to the postseason roster nice and easy. A player who did not play in the big leagues prior to September 1st would have to be an injury replacement. The only stipulation there is that a position player has to replace a position player, and a pitcher has to replace a pitcher.

That last part is kinda tricky. The Yankees have Michael Pineda‘s spot to add a pitcher. So if, say, Domingo Acevedo comes up in September and throws fire in relief, and the Yankees want him on their postseason roster, they could use the Pineda injury to add him. The Yankees don’t have any injured position players who are expected to miss the rest of the season. They’re probably going to get a pinch-runner at some point, a Rico Noel/Eric Young Jr. type, but if that guy is not in MLB before September 1st, he can’t be on the postseason roster. (Unless someone gets hurt between now and then.)

As for getting Frazier and/or Jacoby Ellsbury on the postseason roster, that won’t be a problem. The pitching staff shrinks in the playoffs because you don’t really need your fifth starter or seventh reliever. The Yankees figure to cut down to ten pitchers in the postseason, or maybe eleven. That leaves room for Frazier, Ellsbury, and Aaron Hicks on the roster. Maybe the Yankees don’t need a Noel/EYJ type and will use Ellsbury as their pinch-runner?

Matt asks: If it were up to you, what four stats would you show when a player comes up to hit during a broadcast? As more advanced stats have pushed themselves to the mainstream, when could we see networks move on from the traditional AVG HR RBI OBP?

I am cool with keeping sabermetrics out of broadcast presentations. The Astros have things like WAR and wRC+ on their broadcast and that’s neat, but the vast majority of the people watching don’t care. I’d stick with the basics. Give me the full AVG/OBP/SLG slash line, homers, RBI, and steals. That works for me. At this point in time, I think less is more with sabermetrics on television. Let the announcers like David Cone talk about them once in a while, but I don’t think baseball should be forcing this stuff down the throats of casual fans. Those who want to learn about sabermetrics will seek the information out.

Dustin asks: Who do you think is more likely to be re-signed next year, Sabathia or Tanaka?

CC Sabathia by a mile. If Masahiro Tanaka opts out — I’d say it’s about 80/20 in favor of opting out at this point — I don’t think the Yankees will re-sign him. I don’t see them handing out any large $20M+ per year contracts this coming offseason because they want to get under the luxury tax threshold next year. The Yankees should be able to re-sign Sabathia to a one-year deal worth $12M or so. Tanaka is looking at what, five years and $100M? Maybe four years and $88M? I don’t see the Yankees going there. The Sonny Gray addition makes it that much easier to walk away too. The Yankees know they’re building around Gray and Luis Severino (and Montgomery) going forward.

Dan asks: What about Severino for Comeback Player of the Year? Maybe it’s more “development” than a true comeback but he went from having an historically bad 2016 to being a legit Cy Young candidate. That has to count for something, no? So whereas Berrios and Judge went from a horrendous 2016 debut to really good in 2017, Severino at least had a bit of elite success prior to his down year. Thoughts?

Nah. This isn’t a comeback. This is a young — Severino is only 23! — player breaking out. To me, the Comeback Player of the Year is someone who had a rough season either due to injury or poor performance, then bounced back to their previous level of production (or better). Severino made eleven starts in 2015. That’s not enough to establish a baseline for Comeback Player of the Year for me. Severino is just a young dude breaking out. The best Comeback Player of the Year candidate on the Yankees is, uh, Adam Warren? They don’t really have one. Michael Brantley stands out as the AL Comeback Player of the Year to me. He played only eleven games last year due to two shoulder surgeries, and is hitting .295/.357/.438 (110 wRC+) this year.

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Bryon asks: If the team can’t find a way to move Ellsbury, is it possible the Yankees don’t sign someone to DH full time and start Judge, Gardner, Hicks and Frazier, among the 3 OF spots and DH with Ellsbury serving as the 4th OF?

Yeah I think it’s possible. I don’t think they’d sign another DH only player like Matt Holliday again. That’s for sure. They might someone who can actually play the field, likely first base or the corner outfield, with the idea of giving them DH at-bats at times. But a full-time DH? Nah. Even if the Yankees manage to unload Ellsbury, they’d still have to figure out how to get Frazier, Judge, Hicks, and Brett Gardner regular at-bats. And don’t forget Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar too. Those dudes are going to be a factor next year.

Gene asks: Rick Porcello has a legit shot at losing 20 games this year. Has a CY winner ever lost 20 games the year after winning the award? For that matter, has any CY winner ever lost 20 games in a season in his career, whether before or after winning the award?

Oh sure, plenty of Cy Young winners have lost 20 games at some point in their careers, especially back in the day when guys used to make 40-something starts a year. Steve Carlton went 27-10 and won the Cy Young in 1972, then went 13-20 in 1973. Porcello went 22-4 last year, and after last night’s win, he is 5-14 this year with about about ten starts to go. Losing 20 games is possible, though I’d bet against it.

(If you’re interested, here’s a list of 20-game losers. The last was Mike Maroth with the 2003 Tigers. That had to be the worst team of my lifetime.)

John asks: As a team the yankees seem to be a bad baserunning team. But Is it just me or is Gardner the best Yankee baserunner by a mile? He always seems to take the extra base and have a knack to know when to steal. Additionally Gary really is scary but doesn’t seem to be scary on the basepaths. I know he is slow but he seems lost on the bases at times. Do you have stats to show who are the best and worst yankee baserunners and how the yankees are compared to other teams?

Gardner is pretty easily the best baserunner on the Yankees and one of the best in baseball. I know he frustrates people because he doesn’t run first pitch every time he’s on the first base — that’s not realistic at all — but he’s a highly efficient basestealer (15-for-18 this year) and an extra-base taking monster. He’s taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) 54% of the time this year. That’s actually down from 56% last year and 58% the year before. The league average is 40%. Since 2015, Gardner is seventh among all players with +14.4 runs on the bases, per FanGraphs.

The Yankees as a team are middle of the pack when it comes to running the bases, closer to the top than the bottom. Some quick ranks:

  • Steals: 64 (9th in MLB)
  • SB Success Rate: 79% (2nd)
  • FanGraphs Baserunning: +2.1 runs (12th)
  • Baseball Prospectus Baserunning: +5.8 runs (6th)

Is Sanchez really that bad running the bases? I hadn’t noticed. He’s slow because he’s a catcher and pretty much every catcher is slow, but slow doesn’t automatically equal bad. Starlin Castro is far and away the worst baserunner on the Yankees. He makes a lot of boneheaded mistakes. Didi Gregorius can be an adventure too.

Zach asks: If the offer was on the table, would you have rather offered Torres or Frazier straight up for Sonny Gray, rather than 3 other top 10 prospects?

Keep Torres and Frazier for sure. Keep the elite talent — Gleyber is unquestionably elite in my opinion, Frazier is arguable, though he’s obviously very talented — and trade the merely very good talent. Especially when two of those three very good talents are recovering from major injuries. I know Torres is coming back from Tommy John surgery himself, though it’s to his non-throwing arm, and that’s not nearly as much of a long-term risk as a pitcher having Tommy John surgery or a center fielder have an open rupture of his patella tendon. Quality over quantity. Giving up Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo, and James Kaprielian hurts. Getting Gray was always going to hurt. But the Yankees managed to keep their very best prospects and that’s a good thing.

Timothy asks: If you could take back one of the players from the Gray trade and send a similarly-ranked, similar position prospect in his place, who would you swap?

That’s a tough question. Kaprielian’s had to many injury issues the last two years to swap out, I think. I’d probably keep Fowler over Mateo despite the knee injury. Fowler has performed everywhere he’s played and even if he slows down and has to move to a corner outfield spot full-time following the injury, I think he’ll do enough things to help his team win. Mateo has loud tools, though he hasn’t always performed, so I’m most skeptical of him going forward. I’d swap out Fowler for … I guess Tyler Wade? I’ve had them ranked similarly over the last year or so.

Pete asks: If the WC game was next week and the Yankees had their choice of pitcher to throw out there (ie rest/turn in the rotation isn’t an issue), who would it be?

Severino for sure. I don’t think going with any one of Severino, Gray, or Tanaka would be a bad move. They’re all capable as far as I’m concerned. Severino has pitched the best up to this point though, so he’s my choice. That said, the Yankees aren’t thinking wildcard. The AL East is winnable. The postseason preference list is this:

  1. Win the AL East with ease and set up your rotation for the ALDS.
  2. Win the AL East on the last day and not be able to set up your rotation for the ALDS.
  3. Win a wildcard spot with ease and line up your preferred pitcher for the Wild Card Game.
  4. Win a wildcard spot on the last day and not be able to line up your preferred pitcher for the Wild Card Game.

Back in 2015, Tanaka was an easy call to start the Wild Card Game in my opinion. Severino pitched well in eleven starts that year but it was eleven starts, and Tanaka had been better for longer. This year it’s a little more wide open and not because everyone stinks. Tanaka has turned things around and has been pitching much better. This Tanaka, this Severino, and Gray are all viable Wild Card Game options for me. I’d be happy starting any of them in the Wild Card Game or Game One of the ALDS.

Andujar. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Andujar. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Michael asks: Cashman did a great job with trades. Still, Yanks need another bat. Assuming (dangerous word) Yanks don’t pull a waiver deal, what about bringing up Andujar? Although not the preferred LH bat, he’s already on 40-man, can DH and play 3B, and with Todd F and Chase (gives Girardi plenty of flexibility without increasing payroll.

For me, it’s starting to get to that point. Holliday has been so bad these last few weeks. So, so bad. He’s hitting .142/.208/.257 (19 wRC+) in 125 plate appearances since June 12th and that can’t on forever. A DH who doesn’t H isn’t even a zero. He’s a negative. Alex Rodriguez hit .190/.230/.267 (29 wRC+) in his final 126 plate appearances before being released last season. Alfonso Soriano hit .200/.209/.320 (39 wRC+) in his final 129 plate appearances before being released in 2014.

I’m not saying the Yankees should release Holliday. But they can’t keep running him out there every single day and wait for things to turn around. Both A-Rod and Soriano were already well into the “losing at-bats” phase of their slumps by this point. Earlier this year I was totally cool with keeping Andujar in Triple-A to work on his defense. Now that we’re later into the season and the postseason race is heating up, the Yankees have to put their best team on the field, and it wouldn’t take much for Andujar to be an upgrade over this version of Holliday. In all likelihood, the Yankees won’t call up Andujar and will wait for Hicks to return before taking at-bats away from Holliday.

Marc asks: You recently talked about Matt Holliday’s slump and him seemingly turning into Travis Hafner. Can you talk about the Yankees success (or lack thereof) of their most recent 1-year off-season free-agent contracts for hitters, say over the last 7 years or so? Feels like there has been a lot of futility in this type of contract…

According to the MLBTR Transaction Tracker, the Yankees have signed 12 position players to guaranteed one-year Major League contracts since the start of the 2010-11 offseason. That doesn’t include the one-year Derek Jeter extension in November 2013. Here are the results:

  • Chris Carter ($3.5M for 2017): -0.7 WAR and released at midseason.
  • Matt Holliday ($13M for 2017): +0.0 WAR and trending down at this point.
  • Stephen Drew ($5M for 2015): +0.4 WAR because he could field but not hit.
  • Chris Young ($2.5M for 2015): +1.2 WAR as arguably the best fourth outfielder in baseball.
  • Brian Roberts ($2M for 2014): +1.5 WAR and released at midseason.
  • Kelly Johnson ($3M for 2014): +0.7 WAR and traded for Drew at the deadline.
  • Travis Hafner ($2M for 2013): -0.1 WAR and hurt for much of the year.
  • Kevin Youkilis ($12M for 2013): -0.2 WAR and hurt pretty much all year.
  • Eric Chavez ($0.9M for 2012): +1.6 WAR as a great platoon bat in his second year in New York.
  • Andruw Jones ($2M for 2012): +0.3 WAR and especially bad in the second half.
  • Andruw Jones ($1.5M for 2011): +1.0 WAR as a really good platoon bat.
  • Russell Martin ($4M for 2011): +2.7 WAR after being non-tendered by the Dodgers.

Martin was kind of a weird case because he was still only 28 at the time, and the Dodgers non-tendered him over injury concerns, not production concerns. He remained under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2012, so it wasn’t a true one-and-done contract. The only clear “yes we’d do it again in an instant” hits to me are Martin, 2011 Andruw, Chavez, and Young. Roberts’ WAR was basically all defense and having seen him play, I didn’t really agree with him being that good in the field.

Keep in mind the vast majority of these signings were small one-year deals for reclamation project types or role players. Many of these guys were damaged goods to start with. Holliday and Youkilis are the only big money deals. (The Yankees signed Youkilis because they had basically nowhere else to turn after A-Rod went down with hip surgery.) Andruw, Chavez, Hafner, and Roberts were all nearing the end of their careers and trying to hang on. Johnson, Drew, and Carter were stopgaps.

That track record is spotty at best, though I guess that’s what you’re going to get with these players. If they were better or lower risk, they wouldn’t get one-year contract. The Yankees won’t and shouldn’t stop looking for depth players on one-year deals. Just have to hope they work out as well as guys like Chavez and Young did.

Update: I missed Raul Ibanez. He signed a $1.1M deal for 2012 and put up +0.5 WAR that year, though all those glorious clutch dingers made it worth it.

Nick asks: Do you think the trading of so much outfield depth means that Billy McKinney is a lock for the 40 man? And what about Rashad Crawford and Jake Cave?

Yes, no, maybe. Yes I think McKinney is getting added to the 40-man roster after the season. He’s a former first rounder who just might be figuring things out right now, and even if you don’t think he’s going to help you in 2018 because he might need another 400 at-bats in Triple-A, he’s worth keeping around to see what happens. Crawford has great tools and athleticism, but he’s not hitting at all. I can’t see him sticking as a Rule 5 Draft pick next year. Easy call to leave him exposed in my opinion.

Cave is the tough one because what’s changed this year? I don’t know. I know the stats, but is something fundamentally different about Cave as a player this year, or is he merely beating up on the competition his fourth year at Double-A and third year at Triple-A? Cave is going to be a minor league free agent after the season, and right now, my guess is the Yankees will add him to the 40-man roster and keep him around as their depth center fielder now that Fowler is gone and Mason Williams is likely to be gone after the season.

Mark asks: Pretend Headley was a first basemen all year. How does his offensive numbers compare to the rest of the leagues’ first basemen?

Pretty terrible overall. Chase Headley went into last night’s game hitting .272/.354/.393 (102 wRC+) with five home runs, which is basically league average overall. The problem is the average first baseman is hitting .260/.343/.480 (114 wRC+) this year and Headley is well below that. There are 27 first basemen with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title this year. Headley would be the 28th. Here are his hypothetical ranks among those 28 first basemen:

  • AVG: .272 (13th)
  • OBP: .354 (13th)
  • SLG: .393 (27th, ahead of only Joe Mauer and his .390 SLG)
  • wRC+: 102 (23rd)
  • HR: 5 (27th)
  • fWAR: +1.5 (15th)

Chase Headley: 102 wRC+. Miguel Cabrera: 101 wRC+. Yikes.

Anyway, remember that +1.5 fWAR includes the third base positional adjustment, which Headley would lose at first base. The difference between first base and third base is +15 runs (!) per FanGraphs. Swap out the positional adjustment and keep everything else the same, and Headley is roughly a +0.5 WAR first baseman. Nope.

Justin asks: The Yanks have almost no left handed pop in their lineup this year which is very unusual. Seems the Rays gave up very little to land Lucas Duda. 1st base was a trade deadline priority for the Yanks. Why didn’t they offer a better package than the Rays to land him?

The Yankees tried. Joel Sherman says the Yankees made the Mets a comparable offer — I guess that means someone like Jonathan Holder or Ben Heller? — but the Mets didn’t want to send him across town. “The Mets just wouldn’t trade him to us,” said someone with the Yankees to Jon Heyman. I guess you could argue the Yankees should have just blown them away with an offer. Offer them Holder and Heller instead of one or the other, something like that. That doesn’t really make sense to me. There are comparable bats to Duda out there you won’t have to overpay to get. Had Duda not hit two home runs against the Yankees last weekend, I don’t think anyone would be sweating the non-trade. The Yankees tried, the Mets didn’t want to send him to their crosstown rival, and that’s that.

Stephen asks: Had Dustin Fowler not gotten hurt in Chicago when he was called up and he had been productive enough to keep Ells on the bench and in turn kept Frazier in AAA, do you think Frazier would have been included in Sonny Gray trade? Or do you think Fowler and Frazier would have been off limits?

I think both guys would have been off-limits. The Yankees said they were not going to trade their best close to MLB prospects and they didn’t. The only guy who fits the bill is Fowler, and he’s coming off a major injury. I don’t think he would have been traded had he been healthy. In all likelihood, a healthy Fowler likes means Fowler and Frazier are with the Yankees and Estevan Florial is with the A’s.

Indians 5, Yankees 1: Bad defense and good Corey Kluber spoil Sonny Gray’s debut

Remember back in April and May when the Yankees scored like six runs a night? That was fun. The offense remains completely dormant — at least they faced a legitimate ace Thursday night, unlike the last two days — and the Yankees lost the series opener 5-1 to the Indians. The Yankees have lost three straight and four of their last five. That happened quick.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Welcome to New York
Me at 9:30am: “The Yankees are a substantially better defensive team than the Athletics.” The Yankees at 7:00pm: Three errors within the first four batters of the game. Good job, guys. Way to make me look smart. The Yankees made Sonny Gray feel right at home with an A’s caliber defensive inning in the first. It should have been a 1-2-3 inning with three weak ground balls on seven pitches. It ended up being a two-run inning on 22 pitches. Those extra outs, man.

The first batter of the game, Bradley Zimmer, hit a routine ground ball to Chase Headley at first base. He bobbled it. Twice, actually. He had enough time to recover after the first bobble, but the second bobble allowed Zimmer to beat it out. The next batter, Francisco Lindor, hit a weak ground ball to second that Tyler Wade fielded cleanly and threw to first for the out. Hooray for that. The ball was hit too slowly and Zimmer is too fast to turn two, so just the one out.

Michael Brantley, the third batter of the inning, hit another weak ground ball to Wade, except this time Wade booted it. Gray started the game with three weak ground balls hit directly at infielders, and he was rewarded with runners on the corners and one out. Jose Ramirez then singled to right field to score Zimmer, and because Clint Frazier was trying to do way too much against his former team, he airmailed the throw into the dugout. Embedded Indian? Embedded Indian.

The airmailed throw allowed Brantley to score and Ramirez to advance to third base with one out. Three errors and one legitimate hit led to two runs and a runner on third with one out. Sigh. Fortunately Gray escaped that jam with a strikeout and a fly out, limiting the damage to two unearned runs. He settled down until the Indians put together a two-out rally in the sixth. Walk, single, double on a hanging slider. Womp womp.

Gray’s final line: 6 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 2 R, 3 BB, 6 K. He looked better than that. Fastballs in and out, sliders and curveballs for swing and misses, and a much better changeup than I expected. That two-out rally in the sixth stunk, though Gray showed some real nice poise and competitiveness by pitching out of jams in the first and fourth. Not sure what more you could’ve wanted to see from him. Hanging curves like the one in the sixth happen. Everything else was pretty damn good.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

One Run, Just To Remember What It Feels Like
Well, so much for the idea of this being a trap game. The Yankees got shut down by the reanimated corpses of Anibal Sanchez and Jordan Zimmermann the last two nights, though there would be no inexplicable offensive explosion against Corey Kluber. What can charitably be described as the “C” lineup managed one run on three hits and one walk against Cleveland’s ace during his complete game win. He struck out eleven.

By my subjective count, the Yankees hit five balls hard against Kluber. Two were hits. Frazier doubled into the right field corner in the fourth inning — that was New York’s first hit of the night — and Gary Sanchez hit a solo home run over the high wall just to the left field side of center field in the seventh. By then it was too little, too late, of course. And of course Frazier was stranded after that leadoff double. Sanchez struck out with him at third and Jacoby Ellsbury grounded out.

The Sanchez solo home run ended a 16-inning scoreless streak for the offense. The Yankees never once had as many two baserunners in an inning against Kluber, and aside from the Frazier double and Sanchez homer, no runner advanced as far as second base. Kluber is excellent, obviously. He can shut any team down at any time. But when it happens after getting dominated by Anibal and Zimmermann, it’s still annoying. The Yankees need another bat and they need it soon. The AL East race won’t wait for Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro to return.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
Shout out to Chasen Shreve for soaking up two innings out of the bullpen. He immediately negated the Sanchez solo home run by allowing a solo home run to Francisco Lindor the very next half-inning. In an 0-2 count, no less. I love love love Lindor, so I choose to attribute that home run to him being awesome rather than Shreve being bad. Shreve retired the other six batters he faced anyway.

Brett Gardner went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts to end his 14-game hitting streak. He had probably the best at-bats against Kluber. Gardner saw 19 total pitches in his four at-bats. No one else saw more than 14. In fact, here are the pitches seen for the game:

  1. Brett Gardner: 19
  2. Clint Frazier: 14
  3. Didi Gregorius: 8
  4. Gary Sanchez: 13
  5. Jacoby Ellsbury: 14
  6. Chase Headley: 11
  7. Ronald Torreyes: 8
  8. Austin Romine: 12
  9. Tyler Wade: 7

I know it’s Corey Kluber, but geez. Work the count a little guys. Been a little too much free swinging these last few days.

Gregorius went 0-for-4 but it was a loud 0-for-4. He had a gap shot run down by Zimmer, a line drive snared by Carlos Santana at first, and a hard-hit grounder reeled in by Ramirez at third. Remember when I said the Yankees hit five balls hard against Kluber? Gregorius had three of them. The Frazier double and Sanchez homer were the others.

And finally, the three-error first inning was the Yankees’ first three-error inning since Game 161 in 2010. Lance Berkman, A.J. Burnett, and Francisco Cervelli did the honors in the fourth that night. Berkman and Burnett managed to make their errors on the same play.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, go to ESPN. For the video highlights, go to MLB.com. If you’re interested in postseason odds, go to FanGraphs. Here’s our Bullpen Workload page and here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
This four-game series is just getting started. Jaime Garcia will make his Yankees debut Friday night, in the second game of the series. He’ll be opposed by Trevor Bauer. Perhaps the Yankees will score more than one run.

DotF: Hicks doubles and walks in second rehab game

Some links to check out before we get to what might be the largest DotF (12 games!) in DotF history:

  • MLB.com released their post-trade deadline farm system rankings. Even after all the trades and graduations, the Yankees rank third. “They still may have the deepest (farm system), with an abundance of infielders (led by Gleyber Torres, Tyler Wade, Miguel Andujar) and a seemingly endless supply of power arms (Chance Adams, Domingo Acevedo, Albert Abreu, Jorge Guzman, Freicer Perez, Matt Sauer and on and on and on),” says the write-up.
  • Baseball America (subs. req’d) also released their updated farm system rankings. The Yankees rank seventh overall and are included in the “Elite Farm Systems” section, so that’s cool. “Even after trading to help bullpen and rotation, Yankees are still loaded,” says the write-up.

Triple-A Scranton (4-2 loss to Buffalo)

  • CF Mason Williams: 0-4
  • DH Aaron Hicks: 1-3, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB, 1 SB — hurry up Hicksie, the offense needs you … the fact he stole a base indicates he’s feeling pretty good physically … you don’t do that if you’re still a little tentative after the injury
  • LF Jake Cave: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI — hitting streak is up to 18 games
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 0-2 — played five innings as scheduled in his first rehab game
  • RF Billy McKinney: 2-4, 2 K
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 5 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 2 K, 2 WP, 4/4 GB/FB — 54 of 85 pitches were strikes (64%) … first start since being sent down
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3/1 GB/FB — 25 of 39 pitches were strikes (64%)
  • RHP Gio Gallegos: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1 HB, 0/2 GB/FB — eight of 14 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Game 107: Gray Day

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees will (finally) get a look at their newest starting pitcher tonight. Sonny Gray is making his Yankees debut in tonight’s series opener against the Indians, and unless he can drive in a runner from third base with no outs, he’s going to have pitch pretty darn well to have a shot to win given the way the offense is going right now. I’m sure Gray is feeling some jitters. I’m excited.

Also, we can’t forget this series is something of a homecoming for Clint Frazier. The Indians made him the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft and he never did get a chance to play in Cleveland thanks to last year’s trade. This will be his first game against the club that drafted him. I’m sure he’s looking forward to it. That natural “I’ll show you what you’re missing out on” feeling comes into play. Here is the Indians’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Clint Frazier
  3. SS Didi Gregorius
  4. DH Gary Sanchez
  5. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  6. 1B Chase Headley
  7. 3B Ronald Torreyes
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. 2B Tyler Wade
    RHP Sonny Gray

Not the best baseball weather in Cleveland tonight. It rained pretty much all afternoon, though it’s supposed to stop basically right now, so once they get the field in order, they’ll be good to go. It won’t rain again until the early morning hours tomorrow. Tonight’s series opener will begin at 7:10pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

8-3 to 8-6 Series Preview: Cleveland Indians

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Yankees’ RISP-fail-filled series with Detroit is over and so ends a 6-3 homestand. Now they’ll face the defending American League champion Indians, who lead the AL Central and seem poised to repeat with the division crown. They’re coming off two losses to the Red Sox and a Wednesday rainout, which will be made up later this month.

The Last Time They Met

This is their first meeting this season, so their last meeting came around this time last year, when the Yankees took 2 of 3 at Yankee Stadium on Aug. 5-7. With the series win, the Bombers moved above .500 and stayed there for the rest of the season. It’s when we first saw them reach that second gear post-trade deadline.

  • A few hours prior to the series opener Mark Teixeira announced he would retire following the season. Then, a few hours prior to the series finale, the Yankees announced Alex Rodriguez would be released the following week.
  • In the opener, the Yankees broke out for 13 runs against Josh Tomlin and co. Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks hit home runs while Gary Sanchez got the first two RBI of his career, one on his first double and one on a walk. He also gunned down two baserunners.
  •  Corey Kluber held the Yanks to two runs (one earned) in eight innings and Andrew Miller picked up the save a week after the Yankees traded him.
  • In the finale, Masahiro Tanaka threw six innings of one-run ball while Dellin Betances picked up a four-out save in a 3-2 win. Didi Gregorius had a solo homer and Teixeira doubled in a run to give the Yankees an early 3-0 lead.

For more information, check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post.

Injury Report

Second baseman Jason Kipnis (hamstring) is currently rehabbing in Double A and is expected to return during this series. Former Yankees Andrew Miller (patella tendinitis, 10-day DL) and Boone Logan (strained left lat, 60-day DL) are both out for this series. Tomlin (hamstring) is also out.

OF Lonnie Chisenhall is on the disabled list and has yet to make a rehab appearance.

Their Story So Far

The Indians are 57-48 with a +95 run differential and they are 1.5 games up on the Royals. They were tepid buyers at the trade deadline, acquiring Blue Jays reliever Joe Smith while passing on bigger names like Yu Darvish and Zach Britton.

This is an all-around good team with very few holes. They’re fifth in wRC+, fourth in BB%, second in K%, and fifth in OPS. They control the strike zone very well. Their pitching staff has the second highest WAR in baseball behind the Dodgers and are best in K-BB%. The Indians’ bullpen is still one of the best in baseball despite Miller’s absence for the time being and should be a menace again come October.

Lineup We Might See

As with his unconventional bullpen maneuverings, manager Terry Francona tends to mix up the lineup depending on matchup. SS Francisco Lindor (109 wRC+), 2B/3B Jose Ramirez (146 wRC+), DH Edwin Encarnacion (126 wRC+), 1B Carlos Santana (109 wRC+) and CF Bradley Zimmer (114 wRC+) are the top players you’ll likely see regardless of matchup. LF Michael Brantley (111 wRC+) is a top AL Comeback Player of the Year candidate.

Here’s what their lineup tends to look like vs. RHPs without Kipnis (and here’s an example vs. LHPs)

  1. CF Bradley Zimmer
  2. SS Francisco Lindor
  3. LF Michael Brantley
  4. DH Edwin Encarnacion
  5. 3B Jose Ramirez
  6. 1B Carlos Santana
  7. RF Austin Jackson
  8. C Yan Gomes
  9. 2B Erik Gonzalez

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray(!) vs. RHP Corey Kluber
While fans will be tuned in to see Gray don the road greys for the first time, they’ll also see the 2014 AL Cy Young winner. Kluber has been his dominant self, flashing his phenomenal two-seam sinker, slider and cutter with devastating results. The movement on his fastballs and slidee=rs are unreal. He’s struck out at least 10 in nine of his last 11 starts and has K’d 38 in his last three games alone.

He pitches deep into games (6.74 innings per start) and has few, if any, weaknesses. He’s given up four homers over his last three starts, but he typically keeps the ball on the ground when he isn’t striking batters out.

Last Outing (at CHW on Jul. 29) – 6.1 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 12 K

Friday (7:10 PM EST): LHP Jaime Garcia vs. RHP Trevor Bauer
Bauer was supposed to start on Wednesday against Boston before the rainout, so he’ll take on the other new Yankee Friday evening. The 26-year-old righty is a fastball-curveball guy, mixing in a few other pitches but sticking to that combo when things get rough. His fastball sits in the mid-90s while his curveball averages 79 mph. He tends to be hurt by his lack of control and a few too many homers, which plays into his 5.25 ERA.

Last Outing (vs. LAA on Jul. 27) – 8.0 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K

Saturday (7:10 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. TBD
Friday’s starter was initially supposed to be Danny Salazar while Saturday was scheduled to be Mike Clevinger. Salazar, a RHP, was dominant in two starts since returning from the DL two weeks ago, allowing just four hits and two runs over 13 innings while striking out 16.

Following his career path, he’s given up a tad too many homers and can struggle with walks, but he makes up for it with a lot of strikeouts. Throws mid-90s heat with his four-seamer and sinker while playing off of it with his changeup.

Sunday (1:10 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. TBD
Assuming Salazar goes Saturday, Sunday will either be Clevinger or RHP Carlos Carrasco. If you want to oversimplify things, both are four-pitch starters with mid-to-high 3.00 ERAs that strikeout more than a batter an inning. Carrasco has much more of a track record, pitching to an ERA of 3.89 or below for at least 125 innings every season since 2014.

The Bullpen

The Indians will miss Miller this series, but they still have an efficient group waiting in the wings. They are tied with the fewest meltdowns in baseball this year (38), are fifth in Win Probability Added, third in K-BB% and are second only to the Dodgers in ERA.

Francona will mix up roles, but Cody Allen is the closer while Shaw will likely be his primary set-up man with Miller out. Nick Goody, Dan Otero and Joe Smith are all solid middle relievers, as is Zach McAllister, who often pitches more than one inning. Tyler Olson is the lone lefty and can pitch multiple innings while Adam Plutko has two MLB games to his name, both in 2016.

Yankees Connection

This may be the team with the most Yankees connections.

Olson threw all of one game last year in pinstripes. Goody made 34 appearances in pinstripes before he was dealt for a PTBNL this winter. McAllister and Jackson are both former Yankees prospects that they dealt to the AL Central.

And that’s just the active roster. Miller is the obvious one (Be honest: We all wanted to see Miller vs. Clint Frazier for #WhoWonTheTrade purposes). Logan is on the 60-day DL and in order to place him on the 60-day, the team claimed … Diego Moreno, the Yankee reliever they received from Pittsburgh for A.J. Burnett.

Who (Or What) to Watch?

The initial pitching matchup is dang near perfect. Gray vs. Kluber is the best way to test out Sonny in his Yankee debut. Garcia gets going a day later. At some point this weekend, Salazar and maybe Carrasco will take the hill, so it will be quite the challenge for the Bombers.

And this could be a preview of October. With the Astros way ahead of everyone, it’s likely the AL Central and AL East champs will face in the ALDS, so there’s a non-zero chance of Yankees-Indians this fall. Games like this could be key to determining home field for that series, or if either team even makes it there.

As a side note, I’m personally excited to see Zimmer play. While he tends to strikeout a fair amount, he does basically everything else well. In another year without Aaron Judge, he’d be a Rookie of the Year candidate.

Yankeemetrics: Rain halts streaking Bombers (July 31-Aug. 2)

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Baby Bombers shine bright
Buoyed by a wave of optimism following the deadline-day trade for Sonny Gray, the Yankees extended their recent hot streak with a series-opening win over the Tigers on Monday night.

Luis Severino didn’t have his best stuff but still gutted through five tough innings and threw a career-high 116 pitches. He struck out eight while allowing only one run, despite putting multiple runners on base in three of his five frames.

He found himself in so many deep counts thanks to a career-high-tying 29 foul balls and the fact that he fell behind early and often, starting only 8-of-24 (33.3 percent) Rays he faced with a strike. That’s the lowest first-pitch strike rate for any Yankee pitcher that saw at least 20 batters since Ivan Nova (31.3 percent) on July 22, 2013 against the Rangers.

Despite his inefficient outing, Severino was able to limit the damage and notched his 10th game this season with at least six strikeouts and one run or fewer allowed.

Through Monday, that led all American League pitchers and was tied with Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw for the most such starts in the majors this year. Digging through the Yankee record books, the only pitcher to have more than 10 of those starts in a season is Ron Guidry, who had 13 in his Cy Young-winning 1978 campaign.

Aaron Judge provided the power in this win, smacking a 400-foot home run in the fifth inning to give the Yankees a 5-1 lead. It was his 34th homer and 75th RBI of the season — and when combined with his league-leading 76 walks — he joined Al Rosen (1950) as the only players in major-league history to reach each of those totals in his rookie year … and there’s still two months left in the season.

Clint Frazier was the other Baby Bomber that had a starring role, as he continued his extra-base binge with an RBI triple in the seventh inning. That gave him three triples, six doubles and four home runs for the season – a nearly unprecedented combination of hustle, power and hitting ability for a guy that is one month into his big-league career.

Ding, ding … we have our Obscure (yet cool) Yankeemetric of the Series: The only other Yankee to compile at least three homers, three triples and three doubles before playing in his 25th game was Joe DiMaggio in 1936.

(AP)
(AP)

So close, yet so far away
What if I told you … the Yankees would dig themselves into an early hole after their starting pitcher suffered a bout of gopheritis, then stage a furious late-game rally fueled by their own dinger-happy players, but fall just short and lose by a run. Sounds familiar, eh?

Well, that was the game story again on Tuesday night as the Yankees fell to 11-20 in one-run games, the worst mark in the American League. The only team with a worse record in the majors is the Phillies, who are also the only team with more one-run losses than the Yankees through Tuesday.

It is the first time since 1990 (ugh) that they’ve had at least 20 one-run losses in their first 105 games of the season. While they aren’t on pace to break the franchise record of 38 one-run losses – which was set by the 1966 team – their current winning percentage of .355 in one-run games would be the second-worst in franchise history, ahead of only that 1966 club (.283).

CC Sabathia was hammered in the first three innings for four runs on four hits, including two homers, but then settled down and held the Tigers scoreless in his final three frames. His early-inning struggles are nothing new, he has a 4.70 ERA in the first three innings, nearly two runs higher than his ERA for the rest of the game (2.76).

Clint Frazier had a chance to earn his second True Yankee Moment when he came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two runners on base but popped up for the final out in the 4-3 loss. He had his first 0-for-5 game, and shockingly, failed to come through in the clutch.

He went hitless in three at-bats with runners in scoring position, including that ninth inning letdown, which was a stunning reversal from his performance in those situations prior to this game. Frazier was 8-for-20 (.400) with RISP, and 5-for-9 (.556) with the go-ahead runner on base in his brief big-league career before Tuesday.

(AP)
(AP)

Nothing sunny about this loss
A rain storm in the Bronx wiped away the Yankees latest burst of momentum, as they were shut out 2-0 in the series finale, snapping their three-series win streak. With four-plus hours of delays and countless failed at-bats in key scoring situations, this was one of the most infuriating games of the season.

Adding to the frustration meter was the fact that Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann began the day with a 5.69 ERA, the second-highest in the majors among qualified pitchers. Of course, Zimmermann dominating the Yankees shouldn’t have been surprising. After throwing seven scoreless innings on Wednesday, he lowered his ERA in four career starts against them to 1.33, the third-best mark by any pitcher that has started more than three games versus the Yankees. The only guys ahead of him on that list are Jorge De La Rosa (0.77!) and Chris Sale (1.17).

Making this loss even worse is this sobering note: it was the first time the Yankees were shut out in a regular-season game at home by the Tigers since the second game of a doubleheader on August 10, 1991. In that span of more than 25 years between regular-season shutouts, the two teams matched up in the Bronx 113 times.

Or how about the fact that they had more hits than the Tigers and still lost the game? Alas, this is a recurring nightmare with your 2017 New York Yankees. It was their 14th loss this season when out-hitting their opponent, the fourth-most such losses in MLB.

Actually, this might be the ultimate gut-punch stat: It’s not surprising that the Yankees would struggle against a mediocre team such as the Tigers. They are now 30-31 against teams with a losing record (23rd-best in MLB), and 27-18 versus teams with a .500 record or better (3rd-best in MLB).

The lone statistical highlight for the Yankees was Dellin Betances tossing an “Immaculate Inning” (nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts) in the eighth. Behold, the beauty of strikeout perfection:

chart-12

He is the sixth pitcher in franchise history to strike out the side on nine pitches, joining Brandon McCarthy (2014), Ivan Nova (2013), A.J. Burnett (2009), Ron Guidry (1984) and Al Downing (1967). Betances’ feat might actually be the craziest stat from this game: remember, he owns the highest walk rate among all major-league pitchers that have thrown at least 30 innings this season.

Sonny Gray and the move from Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium

(@Yankees)
(@Yankees)

Later tonight right-hander Sonny Gray will make his first start with the Yankees after coming over from the Athletics prior to Monday’s trade deadline. He’ll face the same Indians team he held scoreless over six innings just three weeks ago. I’m sure Gray will feel some “first start with his new team” butterflies and all that, but one start is just one start. As long there are (many) more good starts than bad starts, the Yankees will be happy.

Gray is making the move from Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium, which is going from one extreme on the ballpark spectrum to the other. Oakland Coliseum is pitcher friendly thanks to the spacious outfield, the tall outfield walls, and all that foul territory. Yankee Stadium is pretty much the exact opposite. Short porch, not much foul territory, so on and so forth. Gray’s moving from a big time pitcher’s park to a big time hitter’s park.

So far Gray has made just one career start at Yankee Stadium, back in 2015 when the held the Yankees to three runs in seven innings. If you’re using that to forecast how Gray will perform going forward, stop. It’s meaningless. It’s one start. One start against a lineup …

sonny-gray-lineup

… Gray will never face again. That one start tells us nothing useful. There’s not a pitcher alive who wouldn’t see their numbers get worse moving from Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium. They are very different ballparks and very different run-scoring environments. You have to adjust your expectations accordingly knowing how hitter friendly Yankee Stadium can be.

Now, that all said, there are reasons to believe Gray is built to succeed in Yankee Stadium. First and foremost, Gray is a ground ball pitcher, and the next ground ball I see hit over the short porch will be the first. Among the 99 pitchers who have thrown at least 90 innings this year, Grays ranks seventh with a 56.7% ground ball rate. Since the start of the 2014 season, he’s fifth with a 54.6% ground ball rate. Ground balls are good.

Get that many ground balls over that long a period of time and it’s not a fluke. What makes Gray’s consistently above-average ground ball rate impressive is that he doesn’t do it with one pitch. Many great ground ball pitchers have that heavy sinker they use to pound the bottom of the zone. Gray gets ground balls with multiple pitches. Here are his 2017 numbers:

  • Four-Seam Fastball: 63.3% grounders (37.8% league average)
  • Two-Seam Fastball: 62.1% grounders (51.5% league average)
  • Slider: 51.4% grounders (44.8% league average)
  • Changeup: 45.5% grounders (49.5% league average)
  • Curveball: 32.1% grounders (47.7% league average)

The two fastballs and the slider have been comfortably above-average ground ball pitches. The changeup, his least used offering (6.5% in 2017), is a tick below-average. The curveball has been well-below-average at getting ground balls this season, though that’s an outlier. Gray’s curveball had a 46.5% ground ball rate last year. It was 52.3% the year before that and 53.5% the year before that.

Even if Gray’s curveball is permanently broken as a ground ball pitch — batters have put his curveball in play only 25 times this season, so I’m betting it’s sample size noise — he still takes three above-average ground ball pitches to the mound on any given day, plus a fourth that is average-ish. He’s not someone who, when he needs a ground ball, has to throw his two-seamer. Or has to throw his slider. He has more than one option.

Secondly, Gray is really good against left-handed batters. A righty who can’t keep lefties in check is going to have a really hard time in the Bronx. His numbers against lefties:

BF AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% HR/9 Hard%
2014 489 .219/.300/.339 .289 20.7% 9.6% 58.0% 0.76 25.2%
2015 425 .208/.275/.303 .260 21.9% 8.0% 56.3% 0.68 26.7%
2016 256 .280/.329/.427 .325 19.1% 6.3% 51.6% 0.91 28.6%
2017 191 .220/.277/.335 .269 23.0% 7.3% 57.4% 0.58 26.3%

Gray was injured and bad all around last season, against both righties and lefties. When healthy from 2014-15 and in 2017, he’s been very good against left-handed batters, especially at keeping the ball on the ground and limiting hard contact. (The MLB average is a 32.1% hard contact rate.) Preventing lefties from getting the ball airborne is imperative in Yankee Stadium.

As you’d expect, Gray uses his slider more against righties and his changeup more against lefties, otherwise his fastball and curveball usage is the same against all hitters. That curveball is the difference-maker. It’s a high-quality pitch Gray can throw for strikes or bury in the dirt for swings and misses, and he throws it at any time. Many starters are fastball-breaking ball against same-side hitters and fastball-changeup against guys on the other side of the plate. Gray is fastball-cuveball-slider against righties and fastball-curveball-changeup against lefties.

Another reason Gray won’t suffer too much from the move from the Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium? He doesn’t rely on pop-ups. There’s sooo much foul territory in Oakland. Balls that land behind the dugouts in many ballparks are caught for outs at the Coliseum. Those cheap outs have allowed dudes like Tommy Milone and Jesse Chavez to function as viable starters for the A’s, but nowhere else. Here is Gray’s pop-up spray chart overlaid on Yankee Stadium, via Baseball Savant:

sonny-gray-pop-ups

That covers 2014-17, so that’s 641 innings worth of pop-ups there. You can count on one hand the number that were outs at Oakland Coliseum but would have been in the seats elsewhere. Will Gray lose some easy foul pop-up outs given the smaller foul territory at Yankee Stadium? Of course. But he wasn’t relying on them for success anyway. He’s a ground ball/strikeout guy. Not a pop-up guy.

One last thing to keep in mind — and this is not ballpark specific — is the Yankees are a substantially better defensive team than the Athletics. Remember how much the A’s kicked the ball around during the two series with the Yankees? The A’s might be the worst defensive team in baseball this season.

A’s DRS: -50 (30th among all MLB teams)
A’s UZR: -42.0 (30th)
A’s Defensive Efficiency: 0.706 (14th)

Yankees DRS: -5 (16th)
Yankees UZR: +4.9 (11th)
Yankees Defensive Efficiency: 0.711 (6th)

Gray’s ability to get ground balls with multiple pitches and use those pitches to neutralize left-handed batters are why it appears he is well-suited for Yankee Stadium despite being a short (5-foot-10) right-handed pitcher. He’s very unique in that regard. Not many pitchers that size can get ground balls. That the Yankees are a far superior defensive team to the A’s is icing on the cake. More of those grounders will be turned into outs.

As far as pitching well in New York and the AL East, I’m not concerned about Gray at all. He has a lot of weapons and he’s extremely competitive. The only concern I have with Gray is his health. As long as his arm stays in one piece, I think he’s going to be very effective for the Yankees, and I don’t think it’ll take long for him to become a fan favorite. Moving from Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium will hurt his performance because it would hurt anyone’s performance. Gray has the tools to minimize the ballpark related damage, however.