7/22 to 7/24 Series Preview: San Francisco Giants

Bochy has an excellent manager's gait. (Bart Young/Getty)
Bochy has an excellent manager’s gait. (Bart Young/Getty)

The homestand concludes this weekend with a three-game series against the 2016 World Series champion Giants. Don’t even bother watching the rest of the season. It is an even year and the Giants got it locked down. Anyway, this is only the third time ever the Giants are coming to the Bronx as part of interleague play. They were here for three games back in 2002, when Barry Bonds did this …

… and they were here for three games back in 2013. Alex Rodriguez hit his record 24th career grand slam that series. The Yankees won two of three both times the Giants have played in Yankee Stadium during the interleague play era. This is the only time these two teams will meet this year. There’s no series in San Francisco later in the season.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Giants have not won a game in the second half. Five games, five losses. They were swept in three games by the Padres last weekend and they lost both games up in Boston earlier this week. San Francisco still has the second best record in all of baseball at 57-38. Only the Cubs (57-37) have been better. The Giants have a +58 run differential, a four-game lead in the NL West, and a 6.5-game lead on a postseason spot in general.

Offense & Defense

Everyone seems to push the idea that the Giants are an old school organization that wins with pitching and defense, but that’s not really the case. They’re one of the most analytically inclined teams in the game, and they’re averaging 4.64 runs per game with a team 104 wRC+. It’s a really strong offense, especially considering OF Hunter Pence (hamstring), 2B Joe Panik (concussion), and 3B Matt Duffy (Achilles) have all been out for several weeks.

Posey. (Harry How/Getty)
Posey. (Harry How/Getty)

Panik (101 wRC+) has been on a minor league rehab assignment and may be activated off the DL prior to tonight’s game. Manager Bruce Bochy usually bats Panik second behind CF Denard Span (92 wRC+). 1B Brandon Belt (142 wRC+), C Buster Posey (126 wRC+), and SS Brandon Crawford (112 wRC+) typically make up the 3-4-5 hitters. OF Jarrett Parker (124 wRC+) and OF Mac Williamson (117 wRC+) have been platooning in right with Pence out. LF Angel Pagan (109 wRC+) is the other regular.

The Giants have been played 3B Conor Gillaspie (88 wRC+) and ex-Yankee IF Ramiro Pena (143 wRC+) at third base during Duffy’s absence. IF Grant Green (103 wRC+) is the utility man and chances are either he or Pena are going to get dropped from the roster whenever Panik returns. Pena’s out-played Green — he also has nearly twice as many plate appearances — so he might stick. C Trevor Brown (101 wRC+) is the backup catcher and OF Gregor Blanco (88 wRC+) is the heavily used fourth outfielder. For what it’s worth, Posey has been the DH four times in San Francisco’s six AL park games to date. Parker was the DH the other two times.

Defensively, the Giants are very strong, especially up the middle with Crawford, Panik, and Span. Belt is solid at first and so is Pena when he’s in the lineup. Gillaspie and the Williamson/Parker platoon won’t kill them. Pagan’s no longer the defender he once was, but he’s still good enough. Posey has, incredibly, thrown out more basestealers (18) than he has allowed successful steals (16). Brown’s throw-out rate (23%) is well-below-average (29%).

Pitching Matchups

Friday (7:05pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. SF) vs. LHP Madison Bumgarner (vs. NYY)
The Yankees are catching zero breaks this weekend. Three games against the Giants and they’re going to see their top three starters. Bumgarner, who is still somehow only 26, has a 2.12 ERA (3.02 FIP) in 20 starts and 135.2 innings. He’s got great strikeout (28.8%) and walk (6.1%) numbers, but only average-ish grounder (40.9%) and homer (0.93 HR/9) rates. Bumgarner is really good at getting pop-ups and weak fly balls, and while his platoon split is fairly big, it’s not like righties hit him hard. He dominates lefties and only kinda sorta dominates righties. Bumgarner uses a lower arm slot to sling low-90s four-seamers and upper-80s cutters. His moneymaker is a big upper-70s curveball he can throw to both sides of the plate. He’ll also throw a few mid-80s changeups per start, but generally speaking, he’s a four-seamer/cutter/curveball pitcher. Bumgarner is an ace in every possible way. What a stud.

Also, it’s worth noting Bumgarner will not hit for himself tonight. Earlier this year the Giants made some history by passing on the DH and letting Bumgarner hit for himself during a game in Oakland. They were the first team in 40 years to decline the DH. Bochy told Hank Schulman earlier this week he plans to use a left-handed hitter at DH with Tanaka on the mound, not the righty hitting Bumgarner. That’s unfortunate for the Yanks. For all the talk about his bat, Bumgarner is hitting .154/.237/.308 (51 wRC+) this year and .179/.224/.301 (46 wRC+) in his career. Guess it doesn’t take much to get NL fans excited.

MadBum. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
MadBum. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

Saturday (4:05pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. SF) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (vs. NYY)
Baseball is good work if you can get it. Last year Samardzija led the AL in hits, earned runs, and home runs allowed, and he still landed a five-year deal worth $90M over the winter. It’s good to throw hard, I guess. Samardzija, 31, has a 4.05 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 19 starts and 122.1 innings this year, and it’s worth noting he started very well but has crashed hard of late. Check it out:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
First 10 starts 71 2.54 2.99 22.3% 5.8% 46.7% 0.63
Last 9 starts 51.1 6.14 5.87 14.3% 6.7% 47.4% 2.10
Total 122.1 4.05 4.20 18.7% 6.2% 47.1% 1.25

I’m sure the Giants are looking forward to facing a weak opponent this weekend so Samardzija can get back on track. (I kid! Or do I?) Samardzija’s been really, really bad of late. Really bad. Lefties are hitting him a lot harder than righties too. Samardzija still sits in the mid-90s with his four-seamer and sinker, and a tick lower than that with his cutter. An upper-80s slider is his main secondary pitch, and he uses a mid-80 splitter as his changeup. Samardzija has been really bad for several weeks now, yet for some reason I don’t find that comforting.

Sunday (1:05pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. SF) vs. RHP Johnny Cueto (vs. NYY)
Remember when no team wanted to sign Cueto because they were worried about … things? I guess his subpar performance with the Royals last year, and the fact he missed a little time with an elbow issue in the first half. Well anyway, the 30-year-old Cueto now has a 2.64 ERA (2.89 FIP) in 19 starts and 136.1 innings this year. He started the All-Star Game last week and this will be his first start since. Cueto has excellent peripherals (22.1 K%, 5.0 BB%, 51.3 GB%, 0.53 HR/9) and a bit of a platoon split, though he’s overall very good against both righties and lefties. Generally speaking Cueto will work in the low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and mid-80s with his little cutter/slider thing. He also has a nasty mid-80s changeup. As you probably know, Cueto varies his delivery — he has four different deliveries, in fact — not just throughout the game, but within an at-bat, which makes things very uncomfortable for hitters. Between the fastball/changeup combo and various deliveries, Cueto is a master at disrupting the hitter’s timing.

Bullpen Status

The Giants carry eight relievers largely because their bullpen has been below-average (4.00 ERA and 4.01 FIP) and Bochy needs as many options as possible. That’s why they’ve been in the mix for Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman prior to the trade deadline. Here is Bochy’s bullpen:

Closer: RHP Santiago Casilla (3.38 ERA/3.41 FIP)
Setup: RHP Sergio Romo (1.35/3.75), LHP Javier Lopez (4.60/5.89), RHP Hunter Strickland (3.12/3.52)
Middle: RHP George Kontos (2.86/3.85), RHP Derek Law (2.65/2.00), LHP Josh Osich (4.13/5.90)
Long: RHP Albert Suarez (4.19/4.38)

Casilla has not been nearly as automatic as he has been in the past. He’s only 21-for-26 in save chances with several very big meltdowns, yet Bochy has stuck with him in the ninth inning. Bochy matches up with Romo and Lopez — Lopez is a classic left-on-left guy with a funky arm slot, mid-80s fastball, sweepy breaking ball, the whole nine — and will also use Strickland in setup spots as well. Strickland is the hard-throwing bat-misser.

The Giants had an off-day yesterday, so their bullpen is relatively fresh. Suarez threw three innings and 66 pitches Wednesday night, in one of those old school back and forth Fenway Park slugfests, so he’s probably not going to be available tonight. Maybe not tomorrow either. Our Bullpen Workload page will keep you up-to-date on the Yankees’ reliever availability.

Yankeemetrics: Many questions, no answers [July 18-21]

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

The winning formula
Inconsistency has been the theme of this year’s Yankees team, but they have been remarkably consistent in one thing: their winning formula. Combine solid starting pitching with justenough offense to get a slim lead thru six innings, and then unleash their high-powered, flame-throwing bullpen trio to seal the victory.

The plan worked to perfection on Monday night as the Yankees opened their series against the AL East-leading Orioles with a 2-1 win.

Alex Rodriguez sparked the lineup with a towering home run to left field in the second inning. It was just his second homer at Yankee Stadium this season. A-Rod entered the game with a .226 slugging percentage in home games, the second-worst in the majors among players with at least 100 plate appearances.

The blast was his 69th against the Orioles, breaking a tie with Harmon Killebrew for the fifth-most hit against the franchise. The four guys ahead of him are Babe Ruth (96), Lou Gehrig (92), Jimmie Foxx (87) and Ted Williams (80).

And one more milestone for A-Rod: that homer was also his 1,578th hit in a Yankee uniform, passing Wally Pipp for 17th place on the franchise all-time hits list.

Aroldis Chapman’s blazing fastball was in peak form as he closed out the game for his 19th save. Per Statcast, his 1-2 pitch to J.J. Hardy reached 105.1 mph, matching the fastest pitch ever recorded by Statcast dating back to 2008. Chapman also threw a pitch that went that fast on Sept. 24, 2010 to Tony Gwynn, Jr.

Chapman hit 104 mph on three other pitches in the inning, and Ryan Flaherty actually put one of those heaters in play … barely. Chapman’s 0-2 fastball to him was clocked at 104.9 mph and broke his bat, resulting in an easy grounder for the final out of the game. That was the fastest pitch put in play by a batter in the Statcast era (since 2008).

(Getty)
(Getty)

#TeamBuy
A funny thing happened on the way to the Trade Deadline … the Yankees decided to build some momentum and hold off the cries to SELL!!! for another day as they routed the Orioles, 7-1.

Starlin Castro has hardly been a consistent run producer during his debut campaign in pinstripes, but he’s definitely come up huge at times this season. His two-run blast in the second inning gave the Yankees an early 2-0 lead they wouldn’t relinquish in this must-win game.

It was his 11th homer of the season (matching his total from last year) and his sixth that gave the Yankees a lead. That’s the most go-ahead homers of any Yankee this season.

Jacoby Ellsbury made sure the fans in the Bronx would witness history on Tuesday night when he reached base via catcher’s interference for the ninth time this season, breaking the major-league record set by Roberto Kelly in 1992. The number becomes even more ridiculous when you consider that every other player in the American League has combined for six catcher’s interferences this season.

Huge Mike
The Yankees continued their desperate push toward contender status with another victory and another dominant performance from their pitching staff on Wednesday night. It was their fourth straight win overall and the fourth game in a row they allowed no more than one run and no more than five hits.

This is the first time since 1932 that the Yankees have put together a four-game win streak at home, giving up one run or fewer and five hits or fewer in each game.

pineda
(Getty)

The Yankees took an early 1-0 lead thanks a leadoff triple by Brett Gardner and a Carlos Beltran sac fly in the bottom of the first. That snapped a franchise-record 23-game scoreless streak in the first inning dating back nearly a month. Remember, this is a team that last year led the majors with 125 runs scored in the first frame.

Carlos Beltran capped off the scoring, too, with a solo homer in the eighth inning to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead. It was his 20th homer, making him just the second switch hitter to hit 20 home runs in his age-39 season or older. Eddie Murray reached that milestone in both 1995 and 1996, at age 39 and 40.

Michael Pineda spun a gem as he pitched six scoreless innings for his first win since June 7. He featured a nasty, sharp slider that baffled the Orioles lineup, netting him a whopping 18 whiffs and six of his eight punch outs. The 18 swings-and-misses are the most that any pitcher has gotten with a slider in any game this season, one more than Clayton Kershaw had against the Blue Jays on May 7.

Back to losing
The Yankees had their confidence-boosting four-game win streak snapped on Thursday afternoon, failing to complete the sweep thanks to a listless 4-1 loss. Their all-too-familiar anemic offense mustered just one run on five hits, the 20th time in 95 games that they’ve been held to no more than a single run. The only other AL team with 20 games of zero or one run scored this season is the last-place Tampa Bay Rays.

CC Sabathia had little to celebrate on his 36th birthday as his downward spiral deepened with another discouraging outing (four runs, seven hits, 6 2/3 innings). He’s now given up at least seven hits and four runs in each of his last six starts, the first time in his career he put together a six-game streak with that many hits and runs allowed in each game.

Coincidental or not, the large lefty has historically struggled on his birthday as a major-leaguer. He’s now 0-3 with a 6.99 ERA in five starts on July 21 and his team has lost all five games.

Mailbag: Buying, Nova, White Sox, Pineda, Betances, Enns

Got a dozen questions for you in this week’s mailbag. Remember to use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything. We got a lot of submissions each week and I can only pick so many (the ones I know the answers to!), so don’t be discouraged if yours doesn’t get picked.

Reddick. (And Khris Davis.) (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Reddick. (And Khris Davis.) (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Charles asks: We’ve heard so much about being sellers at the deadline, but theoretically who would you target specifically if they were to get back into the Wild Card/Division hunt?

I haven’t thought too much about this, to be honest. The Yankees definitely need another bat — they really need like two or three bats, but one step at a time — and they could use another starter as well. Theoretically, the Yankees could make one trade with the Athletics to satisfy their major needs at the deadline. The three A’s I’d target:

  • Josh Reddick: Hitting .301/.380/.445 (123 wRC+) with six homers and nearly as many walks (27) as strikeouts (29) in 59 games around a broken thumb. (He got hurt sliding into second in a game against the Yankees back in May.) Reddick’s an excellent defensive right fielder too.
  • Danny Valencia: Hitting .298/.349/.478 (124 wRC+) with 12 homers in 72 games. He’s a brutal defensive third baseman but he can play first. Despite his productive season, the A’s have started cutting Valencia’s playing time to get a look at younger players. Susan Slusser says they may end up designating him for assignment because there’s so little trade interest.
  • Rich Hill: Hill missed a month earlier this season with a groin strain, and he had to leave his last start after only five pitches with a blister. The nagging injuries stink, but Hill has a 2.25 ERA (2.54 FIP) with a ridiculous 28.9% strikeout rate in 14 starts and 76 innings. He’s pitched like an ace since resurfacing with the Red Sox last year. Hill would be a worthy rotation addition, assuming he gets over the blister soon.

Of course, this plan would require the Yankees to basically release Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, and that would surprise me. Yeah, I suppose it’s possible, but it would surprise me. Carlos Beltran slides to DH full-time, Reddick takes over in right, and Valencia takes over at first. Hill replaces … someone in the rotation. Ivan Nova or Nathan Eovaldi, probably.

Reddick and Hill are impending free agents and will almost certainly be traded before the deadline. Valencia would remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player next year, but it sounds like no one really wants him. Either way, these are three available players who would fill immediate needs for the Yankees. I love A-Rod and Teixeira, but replacing them with Reddick and Valencia down the stretch would be a massive upgrade.

What would it take to get these three? Beats me. The A’s have made some terrible trades recently (Josh Donaldson, Drew Pomeranz, etc.), so perhaps not as much as we think. They’ve had interest in Rob Refsnyder before, and their trades always seem to be more quantity than quality. Maybe they’d take something ridiculous like Refsnyder, Chad Green, Aaron Hicks, and Wilkerman Garcia. Laugh if you want, but this is the same team that traded Donaldson for Brett Lawrie and stuff.

Aside from the Oakland three, others players the Yankee could target in a hypothetical “buyers” scenario include Jay Bruce and Andrew Cashner. Maybe Carlos Gonzalez, though he’s under contract at big money next year. Offense is a must. The Yankees have been one of the worst hitting teams in the AL this year, and they’re not going anywhere without another bat. You can only win so much when you struggle to score four runs a night in Yankee Stadium.

Nicholas asks: would there even be a little market for Nova? He’s not good-but it is a sellers market for starters. He has no future with the team- they have to try to trade him.

Oh yeah, I definitely think so. There’s always a market for pitching, and Nova figures to come cheap. Another team would surely be willing to scoop him up as a fifth starter/depth starter type. Last deadline Joe Blanton and Mat Latos were traded. Tommy Milone and Felix Doubront were dealt at the deadline the year before. There’s always a market for these cheap back-end starter types. The Yankees won’t get anything exciting for Nova, but they’ll get something, and that’s better than getting nothing when he leaves as a free agent after the season.

Bill asks: I read recently that the White Sox are looking for center field help. Is there a match with the Yankees and Brett Gardner as the center piece of any deal heading to the White Sox?

Yeah I think it’s possible. There are two questions that have to be answered to make a deal work. One, do ChiSox want another lefty leadoff hitting outfielder when they already have Adam Eaton? They may want a bigger bat. And two, does Chicago have enough pieces to make it work for the Yankees? No veteran outfielders with two and a half guaranteed years left on their contracts like Gardner have been traded in recent years, so we don’t have a good trade package benchmark.

Here is MLB.com’s top 30 White Sox prospects list. Their system isn’t necessarily bad, though they do lack depth beyond the top few guys. I assume righty Carson Fulmer is off-limits, and righty Spencer Adams may be as well. Would the Yankees be wrong to ask for two prospects for Gardner? Say, righty Jordan Stephens and infielder Jake Peter? That seems a little light for a productive player like Gardner. My trade proposal sucks. I do think the White Sox could have interest in Gardner though, for sure. It’s just a matter of finding a match.

Mark asks: The new stadium is beautiful, but the lack of majestic upper decker shots makes it feel lackluster. Has anyone actually hit an upper deck shot in the new stadium? Do we have to endure 100 years of no upper deck homers?

I haven’t seen every game played in the new Yankee Stadium, but I have seen most of them, and the only upper deck shot I can remember was hit by Russell Branyan (duh) off Javy Vazquez (also duh). You can see it at the 0:37 mark of this video:

I seem to remember someone — I think it was Raul Ibanez when he was a Yankee — hitting a homer into the suite level, but I can’t find the video. Branyan showed that upper deck shots are not impossible at the new Yankee Stadium, but they are going to be incredibly rare. That’s the only one I know of in the park’s seven and a half seasons of existence.

Update I: Commenter Dr. Martin van Nostrand points out Brandon Allen hit a home run into the upper deck off Bartolo Colon back in 2011. Here’s the video. There’s a bonus Hideki Matsui on the A’s cameo:

Update II: Found that Ibanez homer into the suite level I was talking about. You can see it at the 1:33 mark of this video:

Jeff asks: If any, what are the differences between Rookie ball and Short Season ball (both technically and skill-level)?

The game itself is the same. It’s not like there are different rules or anything like that. The key difference is the level of competition. Rookie ball is generally for kids new to pro baseball who are very raw and need a lot of instruction. We’re talking teenagers fresh out of the high school and recent international signings. The travel is generally easier too. In the Gulf Coast League they bus out, play a game, and return home later that day. The GCL and Arizona League are the two true rookie ball complex leagues. The level of competition is low and travel is Spring Training-esque.

The other short season leagues, like the Appalachian League (Pulaski) and NY-Penn League (Staten Island), are for players who are a little more advanced, like recent college draftees or young players with a year or two or rookie ball under their belt. They also play a traditional schedule with three and four-game series, long bus rides and road trips, things like that. The Appy League is technically rookie ball while the NYPL is technically Single-A. As far as the Yankees go, the GCL is the lowest level of domestic baseball in the system. Pulaski is a notch above that and Staten Island is about two notches above that.

Anonymous asks: Michael Pineda‘s cutter. Why doesn’t he ever throw it in on the hands of lefties? Can we start a petition to have Mo teach him that tactic?

For starters, it’s very hard to do. Most pitchers have trouble locating precisely to the glove side and Pineda is no exception. Mariano Rivera was able to do it consistently and that’s why he’s going to the Hall of Fame. I agree Pineda (and Eovaldi) need to do a better job pitching inside — I’m not saying they have to hit guys, just stop them from looking out over the plate all the time — but it’s also not easy. If it was, everyone would do it.

Travis asks: Is there a way to see the ground ball percentage for minor league pitchers? If so, can you rank the top 5 or 10 best ground ball pitchers in the Yankees system? I’m sure Will Carter is up there somewhere.

As far as I know, there’s nowhere to find easily sortable minor league ground ball rates. When I cite grounder rates in DotF, I go to the player’s page on MLB Farm and do the quick math myself based on the batted ball totals. Here’s Carter’s page. He has 126 grounders with 40 line drives, 25 fly balls, and one pop-up. That equals a 65.6% ground ball rate (126 ÷ (126+40+25+1)).

For all ground ball rates in the system, you can go to MLB Farm’s team pitching stats page, import the data into Excel, then run the numbers yourself. The only problem is player stats are listed by level, so there’s a Vicente Campos in High-A and a Vicente Campos in Double-A, for example. I did the gory math and combined everything that needed to be combined. Here’s the top five grounder rates in the system this year (min. 50 IP):

  1. RHP Will Carter: 65.6%
  2. RHP Kyle Haynes: 57.6%
  3. RHP Cale Coshow: 56.7%
  4. RHP Cody Carroll: 54.7%
  5. LHP Ian Clarkin: 52.8%

Not a surprise to see Carter at the top and by a large margin. I have no idea what he looks like as a starter, but I saw him throwing 97 mph sinkers out of the bullpen with Staten Island last year. Nice arm for a 14th round pick. Some other notables: RHP Domingo Acevedo (47.2%), RHP Luis Severino (45.7%), RHP Chance Adams (42.9%), RHP Vicente Campos (40.9%), and LHP Dietrich Enns (38.5%).

Among pitchers to throw at least 50 innings this year, the lowest grounder rate in the system belongs to RHP Eric Ruth. He’s at 34.4%. One thing to keep in mind is minor league grounder rates are not very predictive. Most top pitching prospects will post sky high ground ball rates — Phil Hughes was over 60% in his minor league days, for example — because they’re so good and they overwhelm so many hitters. You also have to remember many pitchers are working on things and doing stuff they wouldn’t normally do, like, say, throw 25 changeups per start. I wouldn’t say these numbers are useless, but don’t obsess over them either. Campos won’t necessarily be a 40% grounder guy at the next level.

Paul asks: Hypothetical- let’s say Betances stays a set-up man for his career, but has a lengthy career doing what he’s doing now. Let’s give him 12 total years of this. Total domination, all-star appearances, but basically no saves. Does he get into the HOF?

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

You know, I think it would be possible, though I think it would have to be 12 years of this Dellin Betances plus another few years just to compile strikeouts and innings and all that. A 12-year-career is awfully short for a Hall of Famer. Billy Wagner played 14 full seasons and was basically the left-handed Betances — he threw 15-20 fewer innings per year but also had all those saves — and he received only 10.5% of the vote last year, his first on the Hall of Fame ballot. It seems voters are more aware of the importance of bullpens, and if Wagner’s voting percentage increases steadily in his final nine years on the ballot, it could be a good sign for Betances.

Dellin is basically going to have to be the Mariano Rivera of setup man to make the Hall of Fame, and by that I mean be consistently excellent. There were always three or four closers each year who were statistically similar (or better!) than Rivera, but Mo did it year after year after year. He’s going to the Hall of Fame because of his dominance and longevity. There will be setup men who pitch as well as Betances each year, but if he keeps doing this for a decade, I think he’ll get Hall of Fame support. Dellin won’t be Hall of Fame eligible for at least another 12 years, which gives the voting body a lot of time to warm up to setup relievers.

Nick asks: Over the past several weeks, many organizations have been sending high ranking scouts and officials, in person, to watch mainly the back end arms of the bullpen. Why with all of the advantages of today’s technology do teams continue to send these sorts of professionals to watch what could probably be more efficiently broken down via digital video, etc.?

Oh they do video scouting too, for sure. I’ve seen folks ask people like Keith Law and the Baseball America crew this question in their chats, the answer is always “there are things you can see in person that you just can’t pick up as well in video.” What things, exactly? I have no idea. I’m no scout. I totally buy there being nuances that you can see up close and in person that you can’t pick up in video though, especially from behind home plate.

Nick asks: It has been a frustration of mine for a while that the team very rarely provides updates on injuries to players in the Minors (Judge, Kaprielian, Lindgren to give a few current examples). Is this team policy or is it simply that the beat reporters aren’t that interested and so aren’t asking for updates?

This isn’t unique to the Yankees. Most teams are tight lipped with minor league injuries — in yesterday’s Scouting the Market: Cubs post I mentioned pitching prospect Dylan Cease is currently hurt and no one knows what’s wrong with him — and believe me, they’d love to remain keep MLB injuries secret too, but the Collective Bargaining Agreement says all injuries must be disclosed. Yes, it’s very frustrating to be kept in the dark all the time, but the clubs have no obligation to disclose minor league injuries, so they don’t. I don’t blame them. The less medical information that is out there, the better.

Nate asks: Watching the All-Star game one of the broadcasters said that Daniel Murphy credits Kevin Long with his offensive improvements. He is not the first player to openly credit KLong with helping them. With the dismal offensive output of our beloved Yankees, do you think they made a mistake by letting him go? I think I remember reading here that KLong was the necessary scapegoat. In KLong’s last year with the Yankees the offense was pretty bad. Was his approach to coaching more/less/equally impactful to that of any other batting coach?

Yes I thought it was a mistake and I’m pretty sure I wrote that when Long was fired. It was an obvious scapegoat firing. The Yankees had just missed the postseason for the second straight year, so someone had to take the fall, and the hitting coach made sense because the offense stunk. Turns out giving 1,600+ plate appearances — more than 25% of the team’s total! — to the reanimated corpses of Derek Jeter (76 OPS+), Ichiro Suzuki (89 OPS+), Brian Roberts (86 OPS+), and Alfonso Soriano (71 OPS+) in 2014 was bad for the offense. Who knew?

“Kevin is an exceptional hitting coach. He did a tremendous job. The players trust him,” said Brian Cashman after Long was fired, which was weird. Long has a history of getting hitters, especially lefties, to not just reach their power potential, but exceed it. He did it with Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano here, and with Daniel Murphy with the Mets. Long was blamed for turning Teixeira and Brian McCann and whoever else into dead pull hitters when that’s who they were all along. It’s impossible to quantify hitting coach impact, but the players swore by Long and there are several examples of players he made by through subtle adjustments.

Williams: Would Kyle Hendricks be a good best case scenario projection for Dietrich Enns? I just refuse to believe Enns’ numbers can’t translate. Hendricks has a similar repertoire, had success in the minors and relies on weak contact.

That would be the absolute best case scenario. I really underrated Hendricks. He has a 2.27 ERA (3.33 FIP) this year and a 3.13 ERA (3.34 FIP) in 371.1 career big league innings, so this dude is really good. Hendricks might have true 80 command on the 20-80 scouting scale — it’s at least a 70 command — which allows his 86-88 mph sinker play up. It also helps that he has a great changeup and plays in front of a great defense.

Enns is not a true soft-tosser — he’s mostly 88-92 mph with both a slider and changeup — but he doesn’t have Hendricks’ command or out-pitch changeup. Very few do. It’s not unheard of for players to jump a grade or two in command in their mid-to-late-20s — Cliff Lee did it and became an ace — but it’s not something you can count on either. I think Enns could maybe be a servicable swingman type for a few years. Not many can do what Hendricks does though. It’s a very unique profile.

DotF: Adams dominates again in Trenton’s blowout win

The day’s notes:

  • OF Aaron Judge (knee) is feeling better and he took some swings in the batting cage today, reports Shane Hennigan. He hopes to resume full-fledged baseball workouts soon. There is no firm timetable for Judge’s return though. The Yankees are playing it safe.
  • Both RHP Brady Lail and RHP Jonathan Holder were bumped up from Double-A Trenton to Triple-A Scranton, so says Hennigan. Lail is back with the RailRiders and is taking Chad Green‘s rotation spot. Holder is in Triple-A for the first time.
  • I forgot to mention this yesterday, but Baseball America posted their midseason top ten Yankees prospects list. The whole thing is behind the paywall though. I will say this: it’s very similar to their preseason top ten, only with 3B Miguel Andujar and LHP Ian Clarkin replacing the traded Rookie Davis and the since graduated Rob Refsnyder. There are no 2016 drafts in these lists, otherwise OF Blake Rutherford would have made it too.

Triple-A Scranton (8-4 loss to Durham)

  • DH Mason Williams: 0-5, 1 K
  • CF Ben Gamel: 0-4, 2 K
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 1-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K — 15-for-40 (.375) in his last eleven games
  • RF Cesar Puello: 0-2, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SB , 1 HBP — that’s his 13th (!) hit-by-pitch of the season, far and away the most in the system (a bunch of guys are tied for second with seven) … Puello’s a hit-by-pitch magnet; he was hit by 119 pitches in 560 games from 2009-14 while with the Mets … that’s 34.4 per 162 games
  • LF Jake Cave: 1-2, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 1 SB — 9-for-24 (.375) during his little seven-game hitting streak
  • RHP Luis Cessa: 6 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 4/3 GB/FB — 63 of 99 pitches were strikes … he allowed three homers, and Shane Hennigan says two were on changeups, a pitch Cessa is still working to develop
  • RHP Jonathan Holder: 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 2/2 GB/FB — 24 of 35 pitches were strikes (69%) … 68/7 K/BB in 47 innings at three levels this year
  • RHP Kirby Yates: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 0/2 GB/FB — seven of 12 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

Earlier today my main man Jon Heyman reported the Yankees have “discussed” whether they should release Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez in the second half, assuming they sell at the deadline. My guess is that conversation went something like this:

Baseball Ops Person: “We should release Tex and Alex to free up playing time for kids.”
Cashman: “Agreed. We need to start thinking about the future. Hal, Randy?”
Hal and Levine in unison: “lol no gtfo”

In all seriousness, releasing Teixeira and A-Rod should happen if the Yankees do decide to sell buy for the future. I, of course, expect absolutely none of this happen. Pro tip: Expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. MLB Network will air some regional games tonight, and that’s pretty much it. Light schedule today. Talk about those games, this afternoon’s loss, releasing Teixeira and A-Rod, or anything else right here.

Yankees can’t finish sweep, fall 4-1 to O’s in series finale

The four-game winning streak is over. The Yankees failed to improve to three games over .500 for the first time this season (!) thanks to Thursday afternoon’s 4-1 loss to the Orioles. They still won the series three games to one though. Based on the way this season is going, the Yanks will now lose something like five of six after getting their heads over .500.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

An Early Deficit
Carlos Beltran has been the Yankees’ best hitter this season by a mile, but I think most would agree Didi Gregorius has been their best all-around player. That first inning was not one of his best, however. He couldn’t make a play on Jonathan Schoop’s one-out infield single — it wasn’t a routine play but it looked makeable, especially with Didi’s arm — which put the wheels in motion for the two-run rally.

Manny Machado punched a single to right as the next batter, then, with two outs and the very strikeout-able Chris Davis at the plate, CC Sabathia couldn’t put him away in a two-strike count and wound up walking him. The pitch selection was a little odd, I thought. Here are the pitch locations:

CC Sabathia Chris Davis

Pitch No. 3 was the only slider. Everything else was a sinker. Sabathia doesn’t have the slider from hell he once did, but he and Brian McCann never even tried to get Davis to chase a breaking ball with two strikes. They fed him almost all sinkers — including three straight with two strikes — and Sabathia walked him to load the bases with two outs. Weird.

J.J. Hardy followed with a hard-hit ground ball to shortstop, which Gregorius failed to knock down, allowing the ball to scoot into the outfield for a two-run single. Again, not a routine play, but one a big league shortstop should make. At the very least, Gregorius has to knock it down and keep it on the infield so only one run scores. Look:

Didi Gregorius misplay

Yeah, not the best inning for Gregorius. Sabathia certainly deserves a share of the blame for allowing the single to Machado and (especially) walking Davis with two strikes and two outs, but Didi’s inability to reel in Schoop’s ground ball and the misplay on Hardy’s grounder led directly to the quick 2-0 first inning deficit.

A Getaway Day on Offense
Not the best day for the offense. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury opened the first inning with a single and a walk, respectively, but a Beltran double play short-circuited that rally, so this was another game with no first inning runs. The Yankees have score one (1) first inning run in the last calendar month. That was the run they scored Wednesday night, after Gardner’s leadoff triple. Remember when they led MLB in first inning runs last year? Good times.

Anyway, the Yankees did get on the board in the second inning thanks to an excuse me double by Gregorius. He poked a ground ball down the third base line and just out of Machado’s reach. Alex Rodriguez‘s fly ball moved Didi to third, then Starlin Castro brought him home with a line drive single to left to cut the deficit to 2-1. Chris Tillman settled down after that and retired 16 of the final 17 batters he faced following Castro’s single. Only two of those 17 managed to hit the ball out of the infield.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The O’s Pull Away
To Sabathia’s credit, he settled down after that rough first inning. He retired 15 of 17 batters from the second through sixth inning, and one of those two baserunners came on Sabathia’s own throwing error. He got the weak grounder and had the play at first, he just pulled Mark Teixeira off the bag with the throw. So it goes. Sabathia stranded the runner anyway, so no harm, no foul.

CC started the seventh inning with only 83 pitches, and after getting a quick first out, Caleb Joseph and Julio Borbon singled to put men on first and second. Joe Girardi opted to stick with Sabathia and let him face the top of the lineup a fourth time. Home plate ump Mark Carlson rang Nolan Reimold up on what I thought was a borderline strike three for the second out, though Sabathia was unable to complete the Houdini act. Schoop followed with a two-run double to right to make it 4-1 O’s.

I don’t understand letting Sabathia face Schoop (or Reimold, for that matter) a fourth time, especially since Girardi just spent the last few days saying the Yankees are playing their most important July games in years. Dellin Betances has worked a lot of late, but Andrew Miller had two days off, and that was a spot for your best available reliever. I dunno. Just seems weird to talk about these games being so important, yet manage with such little urgency. I guess Girardi is on #TeamSell.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Leftovers
Sabathia finished with four runs allowed on seven hits and one walk in 6.2 innings. That’s now six straight starts with at least four runs allowed — Sabathia has done that only one other time, way back in 2002 — ballooning his ERA from 2.20 to 4.04. Sabathia was pretty good this game though. Gregorius didn’t give him much help in the first and then it came apart late, but for the most part he gave the offense a chance to get back in the game.

Castro had by far the best day of anyone on the Yankees. He not only drove in their only run, he also made several stellar plays in the field, including one spinning throw on a ball he had to range far to his left to retrieve. This was Starlin’s best game on defense in pinstripes. Gardner, Ellsbury, Gregorius, and Ronald Torreyes had the team’s other four hits. Gardner and McCann drew the only walks. The Yankees had two baserunners after the second inning: harmless two-out singles by Torreyes and Gardner in the fifth and eighth, respectively.

Chad Green came out of the bullpen to replace Sabathia, which officially closes the door on him starting Friday to give Masahiro Tanaka an extra day of rest. I don’t really understand that. Starting Green would have allowed Tanaka to make his next two starts with extra rest. Seems weird not to do it. Green threw 2.1 scoreless innings of relief in this game instead. /shrugs

And finally, Chase Headley returned after missing Wednesday’s game and the first few innings of this game due to personal reasons. He pinch-hit for Torreyes in the eighth inning. Headley told reporters his four-year-old son had a minor operation over the All-Star break, but there were some complications and he needed a second emergency surgery Wednesday. Yikes. Hope everything is okay now.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN has the box score and updated standings, and MLB.com has the video highlights. Make sure you check out Castro’s three defensive gems. He had a great day in the field. FanGraphs puts the team’s postseason odds at 11.0% as of this writing. The Yankees have won seven of their last eleven games and they still lost half-a-game in the wildcard race. Their situation is indeed dire. We have Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
This four-game set with the Orioles is finally over. The Giants are coming to the Bronx next for a three-game weekend interleague series. Friday night’s pitching matchup is a good one: Tanaka vs. Madison Bumgarner. RAB Tickets can get you in the door for that game as well as the other two remaining games on the homestand.