4/21 to 4/23 Series Preview: Pittsburgh Pirates

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

It would be difficult to call the Yankees first homestand anything less than a riveting success, considering their 8-1 record, strong offense, and terrific all-around pitching. They’ll take the show back on the road for the next six games, beginning with a three-game set against the Pirates in what might just be the nicest ballpark in Major League Baseball.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees hosted the Pirates for three games back in May of 2014, and took two out of three. They played a double-header that weekend, too, as the Friday night game was postponed due to inclement weather. A few points of interest:

  • Carlos Beltran had been placed on the disabled list the night before the series began, so Zoilo Almonte started all three games – he went 2-for-9 with a home run.
  • Eight of the pitchers who appeared for the Yankees are no longer with the team; that number is seven for the Pirates.
  • In the second game of the double-header, the Yankees played thirteen position players and four pitchers – only two (Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury) are still with the team.
  • The Yankees as a team were a strong 5-for-13 with runners in scoring position in the series, and scored three runs with two outs.

Injury Report

The Pirates are one of two teams (the Cubs are the other) that do not have any players on the disabled list. That being said, they will be without CF Starling Marte until July 18 at the earliest, as the 28-year-old was suspended for 80 games after testing positive for an anabolic steroid. While Marte had been in a bit of a slump to start the season, this is nevertheless a huge loss as he averaged 4-plus fWAR over the last four seasons; it will be interesting to see how they handle his absence going forward (their top prospect, CF Austin Meadows, is just a phone call away at Triple-A).

IF Jung Ho has yet to make his 2017 debut, as he is currently awaiting an appeal of his drunk driving conviction in South Korea, and has been unable to get his work visa as a result. The hearing isn’t until May 25 either, so his timetable to return is complete up in the air.

Their Story So Far

Marte’s suspension immediately became the story of the Pirates season, as he had already been placed firmly in the spotlight for taking over center-field duties from face-of-the-franchise Andrew McCutchen. They were viewed as a long shot to return to the playoffs in 2017 to begin with, and losing Marte is a serious blow to an offense that is already struggling immensely (80 wRC+, 3.3 runs per game).

Well that, and Ivan Nova somehow sporting a 2.25 ERA and 2.90 FIP despite striking out just 3.60 per 9 thus far (small sample size or not, that’s at least a little funny).

The Lineup We Might See

Prior to his suspension, Marte hit first or second in every Pirates game. In the games that he has not led off, Clint Hurdle has deployed three different hitters – and that has been his modus operandi, given that McCutchen is the only hitter that has not been moved around the lineup, batting third in every game. With that in mind, the Yankees will probably see a lineup that looks something like this:

  1. Adam Frazier, RF
  2. Josh Harrison, 2B
  3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
  4. Gregory Polanco, LF
  5. David Freese, 3B
  6. Francisco Cervelli, C
  7. Josh Bell, 1B
  8. Jordy Mercer, SS

The Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Tyler Glasnow

Glasnow was a consensus top-25 prospect heading into 2017, and it isn’t difficult to see why. The 6’8″ righty struck out 31% of the batters he faced between Double-A and Triple-A last year, on the strength of a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a big breaking curveball that sits around 80 MPH. Both pitches have been graded as plus to plus-plus, and his change-up shows some promise, as well. As is to be expected from a gigantic pitcher with tremendous stuff, though, Glasnow has struggled with his mechanics and control, resulting in poor walk rates in the minors and even worse totals in the majors. If you look at his stuff, size, and numbers and think of Dellin Betances, I don’t think anyone would hold it against you.

Last Outing (vs. CHC on 4/15) – 5 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 2 BB, 7 K

Saturday (4:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Jameson Taillon

It almost feels like a miracle that Taillon is in the majors right now. The 25-year-old missed all of 2014 and 2015 as a result of Tommy John Surgery, complications from said surgery, and a hernia during recovery, and there were rumblings that his stuff would never fully recover. He earned a surprising call-up in June of last year, after making just ten starts in the minors, and proved that he belonged almost immediately. All told, he pitched to the following line as a rookie – 104 IP, 20.3 K%, 4.1 BB%, 52.4 GB%, 3.38 ERA, 3.71 FIP. That is a terrific line for most anyone, let alone a pitcher that barely touched a baseball the two previous seasons.

Taillon’s bread and butter is his two-seamer, which sits just under 95 MPH. He pounds the bottom of the strik.ezone with it, and commands it incredibly well. He also throws a mid-90s four-seamer, a low-80s curve, and a mid-80s change-up; that last pitch is inconsistent, which has led to some issues against left-handed hitters, who have hit .261/.306/.401 against Taillon.

Last Outing (vs. CHC on 4/16) – 7 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K

Sunday (1:35 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Ivan Nova

Nova has made 14 starts with the Pirates, and has posted borderline absurd numbers. In addition to his 2.87 ERA (144 ERA+), Nova has a minuscule 0.8% walk rate (and staggering 20 K/BB), as he has walked just 3 batters in 84.2 IP. As per PITCHf/x, his pitch selection hasn’t changed all that much overall (though he has thrown more fastballs overall this year, it’s only three starts), nor has his velocity – so we’ll just have to chalk this one up to Ray Searage’s black magic.

The stuff is essentially the same as when we last saw Nova in pinstripes – a couple of low-90s fastballs, a low-80s curve, a mid-80s change-up, and a rarely used mid-80s slider. It’s his suddenly stellar command that has made all the difference in the world.

The Bullpen

The Pirates bullpen looks quite different this season, as three of their top-five most utilized relievers in 2016 (Mark Melancon, Jared Hughes, and Neftali Feliz) are no longer with the team. Longtime Pirate Tony Watson has taken over as the closer, with Daniel Hudson and Felipe Rivero handling the seventh and eight innings. The group currently has a 4.47 ERA, but that is heavily skewed by Antonio Bastardo’s 20.25 ERA.

Yankees Connection

Would it be hyperbole to call the Pirates Brian Cashman‘s favorite trading partner? The two teams have completed five trades since 2012, when the Yankees sent A.J. Burnett packing in exchange for Exicardo Cayones and Diego Moreno. Most recently, Johnny Barbato was sent to Pittsburgh in exchange for cash or a player to be named later. Beyond that, we have:

  • Francisco Cervelli, now in his third season as the Pirates starting catcher;
  • Chris Stewart, now in his third season backing up Cervelli (and his fourth season with the team);
  • The aforementioned Nova;
  • Gerrit Cole, who was drafted by the Yankees in the first round of the 2008 draft, but chose to attend UCLA instead.

Who (Or What) to Watch

The prospect lover in me is stoked to see Tyler Glasnow on Friday night, and you should be, too. He’s wild at times, but his stuff is simply incredible, and he’s one of the few prospects/rookies with a semi-legitimate claim at a top-of-the-rotation ceiling. It isn’t always pretty – but he’ll pop the radar gun, and buckle some knees.

Torreyes has given the Yanks exactly what they needed during Gregorius’ absence

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees have won nine of their last ten games, and perhaps the most amazing thing about this hot stretch is that they’ve done it without Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius, arguably their two best position players. Sanchez hurt his biceps taking a swing two Saturdays ago, the day before eight-game winning streak started. He resumed throwing and swinging Wednesday but is still a few weeks ago.

Gregorius, on the other hand, has not played at all during the regular season due to a shoulder strain suffered during the World Baseball Classic. The injury sucks, but what can you do? Gregorius resumed throwing last week and has gradually increased his workouts. He’s expected to play in his first official minor league rehab game later today. The Yankees could get Gregorius back sometime next week. Hooray for that.

While Gregorius has been sidelined, utility man Ronald Torreyes has filled in at shortstop admirably. He hasn’t been great — he’s hitting .239/.239/.391 (70 wRC+) in 46 plate appearances — but he hasn’t been a total disaster either. Torreyes has generally fielded the ball cleanly, plus he’s come up with some clutch hits. His two-run triple against the Orioles helped spark the comeback the led to the first win of the eight-game winning streak.

I was pretty excited when the Yankees acquired Torreyes last offseason — they traded for him, lost him on waivers, then claimed him back on waivers — but not because I thought he could be a future star or even a regular or anything like that. I thought he could be exactly what he has been for the Yankees: a solid high-energy bench player who could spot start for a few weeks and not kill you at the plate or in the field. Good bench players are tough to find.

That said, we’ve reached the point where Torreyes is starting to get exposed by playing everyday. He’s gone 5-for-26 (.192) in his last eight games and is averaging only 2.97 pitches per plate appearances during that time. Only three strikeouts is good! That’s what Torreyes does. He makes a lot of contact. But he’s not impacting the baseball much, and it’s starting to show up in his numbers. A few clutch hits have prevented him from being a total drain on the offense, so that’s cool.

Once Gregorius returns, the Yankees can slide Torreyes back into the reserve infielder role he fills so well, and enjoy an upgrade on both sides of the ball at shortstop. Didi has made steady progress in his two years with the Yankees. He was a better player in September 2015 than he was in April 2015, and he was a much better player in September 2016 than he was in April 2016. I’m looking forward to seeing where he takes his game this season.

This isn’t intended to be a knock on Torreyes, because he gave the Yankees exactly what they needed at shortstop while Gregorius was out: competence. He made all the plays he was supposed to make on defense and he chipped in some big hits. We’ve seen some bench players thrust into everyday duty by injuries in recent years who were overmatched. Jayson Nix. Chris Stewart. Brendan Ryan. Ben Francisco. So on and so forth.

That didn’t happen with Torreyes and he deserves major props for holding down a tough position as well as he has. The Yankees are a much better team with Gregorius in the lineup though, and now that he’s inching closer to a return, it’s exciting to think this team could be ever better going forward. Then when Sanchez returns? Oh boy.

Mailbag: Buxton, Severino, Chapman, Giants, Lynn, Warren

There are 14 questions in this edition of the mailbag. It’s a long one. Either that or I’m typing slower these days, because this one took forever to put together. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is our email address.

More like Buston amirite?
More like Buston amirite? (Getty)

John asks: The Yankees have a few buy-low trade guys on their roster, what about Byron Buxton if he continues to struggle?

The Yankees do need to figure out the long-term center field situation at some point, and Buxton is a top of the line defensive center field, but my goodness, the kid just can’t hit. He’s hitting .082/.135/.122 (-35 wRC+) with a 46.2% strikeout rate in 52 plate appearances this year. That’s after hitting .225/.284/.430 (86 wRC+) with a 35.6% strikeout rate last year, and he needed an insane September (.287/.357/.653, 165 wRC+) to get his numbers there.

At the same time, Buxton turned only 23 in December, and the guy is an incredible athlete and a former tippy top prospect. The raw talent is there. Buxton seems to be struggling more with his approach than with a lack of ability. Here are all the fastballs Buxton has let go for called strikes this year, via Baseball Savant:

byron-buxton-fastballsMaybe swing at a couple of those? When you’re struggling to make contact and letting hittable fastballs go by for called strikes, that’s a problem. Perhaps Buxton is a Carlos Gomez type. That insane athlete with a ton of baseball talent who needs 2,000 or so big league plate appearances to figure it out. That’s kinda what the Twins have to hope, right? (To be fair, Buxton has just over 500 plate appearances in MLB.)

I am always open to buying low on talented young players. The questions with Buxton are: One, is he fixable? Two, are the Twins really going to sell low? Three, where does he fit? The Yankees have a full big league outfield right now with two very good outfield prospects in Triple-A (Clint Frazier, Dustin Fowler). And four, what does it cost? I’d never close the door on acquiring a player as talented at Buxton. It just seems like there are some issues to work through first.

Alex asks: Is Kaprielian even a prospect anymore? When/if he comes back in 2019, he’ll be 25 years old, presumably in single A, with fewer than 50 innings pitched over the previous 3 years, and already eligible for the Rule 5 draft. What are the odds he ever makes the majors?

Of course he’s still a prospect. James Kaprielian will be 24 when he gets back into games next season, and besides, they don’t check IDs on the mound. If you can pitch and get outs, they don’t care if you’re 22 or 32 or 42. Jacob deGrom made his MLB debut a month before his 26th birthday. Tanner Roark was two months shy of his 27th birthday. Steven Matz was a first round pick in 2009 and he didn’t throw his first professional pitch until 2012 because he got hurt so much, yet he was a top 100 prospect prior to both 2015 and 2016. Kyle Zimmer throws like ten innings a season and he’s still on top 100 lists every year.

Kaprielian needing Tommy John surgery sucks. It really does, especially since he missed most of the 2016 season as well. By time he gets back into games next year, he’ll have thrown 45 total innings from Opening Day 2016 through midseason 2018. That’s a lot of lost development time he won’t get back. As long as Kaprielian comes back strong and doesn’t lose too much stuff, he’ll still have the potential to help the Yankees at the MLB level, and that makes him a prospect. I’m not saying his prospect stock hasn’t taken a hit, because it clearly has. It’s still way too early to write Kaprielian off though. Let’s see what he looks like post-surgery first.

Frank asks: Keith Law seemed a little down on Luis Severino over the years stating that his short stride would be a hindrance to his pitching acumen. I know there is a stat that shows perceived velocity (by the batter) as opposed to actual velocity. Is Severino’s stride affecting that perceived velocity?

I’m not sure Law’s issue with Severino’s legs was his stride length. I think he was concerned Severino doesn’t use his legs enough in his delivery, putting a lot of stress on his arm. Masahiro Tanaka really gets down and uses his legs in his delivery. So does Dellin Betances. Severino doesn’t drive as much and that means a lot of his velocity comes from his arm. That doesn’t guarantee he’ll get hurt, but it’s not ideal. You’d like him to use his legs a little more.

Anyway, yes, we have stats on actual velocity and perceived velocity. Perceived velocity is how fast the pitch looks to the hitter when taking into account where the pitcher releases the ball. The closer he releases the ball to the plate, the faster it looks. Here are Severino’s numbers in his career so far, via Baseball Savant.

IP Actual FB velo Perceived FB velo Difference
2015 62.1 95.3 95.1 -0.2
2016 71 96.6 96.0 -0.6
2017 20 96.6 96.1 -0.5

Severino is listed at 6-foot-0, so he’s not a big guy by pitcher standards. Because his stride is relatively short, his fastball is playing about a half a mile an hour slower than what the radar gun tells you, which is not a big difference but is a difference nonetheless. Fortunately Severino has velocity to spare. It would be cool to see him use his lower half a little more, but I’m not sure how possible that is at this point. That seems like a pretty big mechanical change.

Antony asks: What are your thoughts on velocity separation on pitches? I was watching Luis Severino’s 2014 appearance during the 2014 Future Games and his slider was around 83-84 MPH while his fastball was sitting around 95+. His slider during his big league career seems to be significantly faster (88 mph+). Which would you prefer? I faster slider or slower slider? I can see an argument for both sides. A faster slider means less time to react, but a slower slider with the same arm slot would mean a bigger separation from the faster slider.

There’s no right answer here. It works differently for every pitcher. Severino is without question throwing his secondary stuff harder now than he did a few years ago, when he was more low-80s with the slider and changeup. Now they’re closer to 90 mph. Here is that Futures Game performance Antony mentioned:

Looks like a totally different guy, huh? The slider is more sweepy than it is now. For Severino, I think the harder slider may work best. His slider has pretty sharp break when thrown properly, and he still has close to a 10 mph separation between the two pitches. (Trackman has his average fastball at 96.8 mph and average slider at 87.2 mph in the super early going.)

For a guy like CC Sabathia, who needs to finesse hitters and show them a wider range of velocities to keep them off balance, separation between pitches is more important. For Severino, who is throwing so hard and has such lively stuff, he can survive with a smaller velocity separation. It would be cool if he threw a 96 mph fastball and a 76 mph slider that looks like a fastball out of his hand, but that’s not really possible.

Mike asks (short version): If my understanding is correct, the Yankees will need to add Kaprielian to the 40-man roster following next season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Could you possibly see MLB changing the Rule 5 draft rules in the future to grant an extra year before protection for pitchers that undergo Tommy John (or any other injuries that cause significant time to be missed)?

Kaprielian will be Rule 5 Draft eligible following next season, so a few months after he comes back from elbow reconstruction. The Yankees won’t have much time to evaluate him before deciding whether to put him on the 40-man roster. My guess right now, 20 months before this decision has to be made, is yes, the Yankees will add Kaprielian to the 40-man despite all the missed time. He’s very talented and you’d hate to lose him to some rebuilding team willing to stash him in their bullpen all summer.

As for the rule change, it’s an interesting idea that I think would be beneficial for both players and MLB long-term. At the same time, the Rule 5 Draft exists as a way to get players to the big leagues as quickly as possible, and I don’t think MLBPA will agree to push back eligibility for a year, even for injured players. They actually pushed eligibility back one year in 2007. Under the old rules, Kaprielian would have been Rule 5 Draft eligible after this season. That extra year took a lot of the fun out of the Rule 5 Draft. Teams had one fewer year to evaluate players, which meant some more exciting prospects for available. I think giving injured players that extra year would be a good idea. I just don’t see MLBPA agreeing to it.

Anonymous asks: If Michael Pineda continues to pitch the way he has in his past two starts, is a candidate for the QO?

Yes, definitely, if he keeps this up, which is a massive “if.” I’m hopeful Pineda is starting to figure some things out and will become a consistently reliable starting pitcher. I need to see much more than two starts to really buy in though. Pineda hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt. The next blowup is still possibly only five days away.

Keep in mind the qualifying offer will be north of $18M this offseason, and because the Yankees will pay luxury tax this season, they can only a receive a compensation draft pick after the fourth round. They’d have to be very comfortable risking the $18M for that dinky draft pick. In the grand scheme of things, an expensive one-year deal for Pineda wouldn’t be bad at all. But the luxury tax is a factor here. Let’s revisit this in a few months and see where Pineda and the Yankees are at.

Dan asks: Since Chapman has a third pitch, a changeup, are you or were you ever of the opinion that he should be a starter?

I thought Aroldis Chapman should have been a starter way back when the Reds first signed him in January 2010. That ship sailed a long time ago though. Chapman was a starter in Cuba and he did start during the 2009 World Baseball Classic, which is when he really jumped into the limelight. This lanky 21-year-old left-hander showed up to the WBC throwing an effortless 95-98 mph and people went nuts.

Chapman started his career with the Reds as a starter in the minors, but he had some serious control problems (40 walks in 65.2 innings in 2010) so they stuck him in the bullpen to simplify things. The next year, 2011, Chapman came down with a shoulder issue after Cincinnati tried him again as a starter, and that was that. He hasn’t started a game since.

One of the great what ifs in recent baseball history is Chapman as a starter. Would he throw 105 mph as a starter? No, probably not. But could he sit 98-100 mph from the left side? Maybe! Chapman has had issues throwing strikes (12.3 BB% from 2011-15) which probably doesn’t bode well for his chances to succeed in the rotation. At the same time, who knows? Maybe it clicks one day like it did with Randy Johnson. I get why the Reds put Chapman in the bullpen at the time. I can’t help but wonder what he would be doing as a starter though.

Adam asks: Hey Mike. I live in SF and hate the Giants and their fans. However, we match up perfectly with them and their lack of OF options. What are some trade possibilities for the two teams? Gardner, Hicks and even Frazier.

So far this season Giants left fielders are hitting .115/.184/.202 (8 wRC+) with -1.0 fWAR. Woof. They were planning on a Mac Williamson/Jarrett Parker platoon, and now both are hurt. They’ve been playing Aaron Hill — former second baseman Aaron Hill! –and journeyman Chris Marrero in left field lately. The Giants recently signed Melvin Upton too. Brutal, brutal production from a corner position.

The Yankees have plenty of outfielders to offer the Giants. Want a proven veteran who will save a lot of runs in spacious AT&T Park? There’s Brett Gardner. Want to roll the dice on a talented switch-hitter? There’s Aaron Hicks. Would you rather go young and look to build for the future? Clint Frazier and Fowler are there. Reclamation project? Take a chance on Mason Williams. The Yankees match up well as trade partners for the Giants. Is the opposite true?

San Francisco’s farm system isn’t great and I imagine they’ll keep top prospects Tyler Beede, Bryan Reynolds, and Christian Arroyo. Those guys are probably off-limits. Here is MLB.com’s top 30 Giants prospects list. Joan Gregorio, their No. 8 prospect, has Yankees written all over him, no? A 6-foot-7 righty with good velocity and a promising slider? Yeah. Righty Chris Stratton is a busted former first rounder. A Stratton-for-Williams change of scenery trade would be interesting.

Michael asks: How does the fan interference rule work re: umpire discretion? We saw Judge awarded a triple, but could someone like Jorge Mateo hypothetically have been awarded an inside-the-park home run?

Aaron Judge has five home runs and one triple that went over the fence this year, so it’s really six homers. Here’s that over-the-fence triple from Sunday night:

On that particular play, it was up to the field umpires to place Judge at a base. They called it fan interference, and because the replay crew at MLB’s office didn’t see enough evidence to overturn the call, they had no say in placing the runner. The field umpires determined Judge would have reached third base on the play. Props to him for hustling. And yes, they could have awarded a faster runner an inside-the-park homer if they felt he was going to make it without the fan interference, but I wouldn’t count on that ever happening.

It’s not often you see players awarded a triple on plays like this. The umpires usually put the player at second base and that’s that. Umps can also award home plate if the runner leaves first base on a ground rule double, but they never ever ever do. I hate that so much. Especially with two outs and the runner going on contact. How many times do we see the ball hop over the fence when the runner is already at third? It seems like these guys make the same calls over and over to avoid being second guessed. At least they gave Judge a triple Sunday. I can’t imagine he’ll get too many of those.

Rich asks: I’m a little concerned about Clippard’s workload to start the season. It seems as though he has pitched in all but three or four games with many high stress innings. What’s Clippard’s workload going to end up looking like this year and is there any concern about over using him so early into the season?

This question was sent in a few days ago. Clippard pitched seven times in the first eleven games of the season — add in off-days and he pitched seven times in the first 15 days of the season — but he had this week off. He didn’t pitch once against the White Sox. Clippard’s last appearance was that cardiac save against the Cardinals last Saturday. So it’s been a while since he’s gotten into a game. He might pitch tonight just to get work.

Clippard has always been a workhorse. He averaged 77.4 innings a year from 2010-15 before throwing only 63 last year, which is basically a normal reliever’s workload. Clippard threw 527.1 innings from 2010-16, easily the most among all relievers. Brad Ziegler was a distant second with 463. I think his early season workload was an anomaly. The Yankees played a bunch of close games in a short period of time. That’s all. Joe Girardi is really good about resting his relievers and I’m sure he’ll be careful with Clippard, even though he’ll be a free agent after the season and the Yankees have no long-term attachment to him. They still want him fresh and productive in August and September.

Steve asks: If lets say everything continues as is and the Yankees are buyers and Cardinals have a down season, what do you think of Lance Lynn as a short term pickup options. By the summer should be far away from the TJ surgery to be fully effective again hopefully. Also, wouldn’t cost anything too exorbitant and free agent at the end of the year so no long term money tied up.

Interesting target! Lynn will turn 30 next month and he’s going to be a free agent after the season, so he’s a pure rental. So far this season he has a 3.12 ERA (5.04 FIP) in 17.1 innings and three starts. He missed all of last season following Tommy John surgery, so he’s shaking some rust off right now. From 2012-15, his four full seasons as a starter, Lynn had a 3.38 ERA (3.39 FIP) and averaged 189 innings per season. His ground ball (43.3%) and walk (8.7%) rates weren’t great though. (He had a 22.6% strikeout rate.)

The most important thing right now is that Lynn’s stuff has returned following Tommy John surgery. His fastball is still in the low-to-mid-90s and his slider has its usual bite. Here’s video of his last outing:

The Cardinals looked pretty bad when we saw them last weekend, and if they’re out of the race at the trade deadline, it would make sense to at least listen to offers for Lynn given his impending free agency. Two years ago the Giants traded a borderline top 100 prospect (Keury Mella) and fringe big league player (Adam Duvall) to acquire rental Mike Leake. (Duvall went up and down a few years before breaking out as a 33-homer guy in 2016.) Is that a reasonable trade benchmark for Lynn?

If so, would the Yankees equivalent be … Fowler and Rob Refsnyder? Or Chance Adams and Tyler Austin? If that’s the cost, I’m guessing the Yankees will pass. They seem dedicated to the youth movement, and while I can’t imagine someone like Refsnyder or Austin standing in the way of a trade, dealing Fowler or Adams for a rental ain’t happening. If the Yankees do make a trade for a starter this year, I suspect it’ll be for someone they can control behind this season.

Simon asks: Who has been the better versatile pitcher type for the Yankees? Adam Warren or Ramiro Mendoza?

Warren is sort of the modern day Mendoza, though Mendoza was more of a true swingman. He averaged eleven starts a season from 1996-2000. Warren has made 20 starts total in parts of six seasons with the Yankees. Let’s compare the numbers quick. (These cover Mendoza’s first stint in pinstripes only, not his ill-fated 2005 return.)

G GS IP ERA ERA+ FIP bWAR
Mendoza 277 57 698.2 4.08 112 3.97 +11.5
Warren 181 20 328.2 3.31 122 3.68 +4.9

Warren was better on a rate basis in terms of ERA and FIP — ERA+ adjusts for the state of the league (Mendoza pitched in a much more offensive era) and Warren still has him beat — but Mendoza endured much heavier workloads. Warren has thrown 80+ innings in a season only once as a big leaguer (131.1 in 2015). Mendoza averaged 110.8 innings per year from 1997-2001. Also, Mendoza has four World Series rings, though championships are a team accomplishment, not an individual accomplishment. Warren would have four rings with those 1996-2000 rosters too.

Because he threw so many more innings and was more of a true swingman, I’ll say Mendoza was the better Swiss Army Reliever for the Yankees. Warren’s really good though! He’s reliable, he bounces back well after throwing back-to-back days or multiple innings or whatever, and Girardi can use him in any role. Warren is one of those guys who should always be a Yankees. He just fits.

Jim asks: Was just curious what the innings limit on Jordan Montgomery for this season? Will that mean a move to the bullpen later in the season?

The Yankees seem to be pretty flexible with their innings limits. They play it by ear more than set the limit at, say, 30 innings more than last season. Severino went from 113 innings in 2014 to 161.2 innings in 2015, and hey, maybe that’s why he struggled in 2016. It was too much of an increase. Anyway, here are Montgomery’s innings totals:

2013: 79 (college)
2014: 119 (college and pro ball)
2015: 134.1 (minors)
2016: 152 (minors)

That’s a very nice, steady progression. It’s not unrealistic to think the Yankees could pencil Montgomery in for 180 or so innings this year. MLB innings are more intense than minor league innings, so they’ll keep an eye on him, but yeah, his innings are built up well. I don’t think we’ll see Montgomery move to the bullpen later in the season. Not for workload related reasons, anyway.

Don asks: My request is simple, yet honest: Please consider doing a post on the history of RAB. While I know the site was founded by you, Ben and Joe, my understanding is limited beyond that. Is this something you’d consider? Regardless of your decision, this is a great opportunity for me to just say thanks for the years of amazing content. Selfishly, I hope you guys do this for another ten years.

The history of RAB probably isn’t interesting enough for a full post. Ben, Joe, and I were all blogging about the Yankees in separate places back in 2006 and early 2007. Here’s my old site. Here’s Joe’s. They’re so bad I’m embarrassed to link to them, but whatever. I was finishing up school at the time and was basically counting down the days until graduation, so I decided to start writing about the Yankees as a hobby. Nothing more.

I believe it was Ben who first had the idea to combine forces, so to speak. Instead of writing about the Yankees separately, why not do it together at one spot? I was the third wheel. Ben and Joe decided to start RAB — which was still nameless at the time — then asked me to come along for the ride. It took us a few months to find our bearings and figure out the best way to move forward. A set schedule was better than posting at random times each day. Game threads turned out to be pretty cool too. We didn’t have those once upon a time.

The three of us came into this with small readership bases (and I do mean small) already established, so we had an audience right away. Back at my old site I’d get about 15 hits a day. Not 15,000. 15. I’d say the 2008 season is when RAB really took off. The beat writers covering the team at the time (Pete Abraham, Mark Feinsand, etc.) were very kind to us and promoted our work. Then, during the 2008-09 offseason when the Yankees started signing every free agent, RAB really hit its stride. People wanted to read about the Yankees and there we were.

The rest is basically history. Ben, Joe, and I went into this as college kids and now we’re all in our 30s and responsible adults. We’ve had many others contribute to the site along the way and we also brought Jay aboard to help with the technical stuff, which is so far over my head it’s not even funny. None of us ever thought RAB would grow into what it is. I think we all kinda figured it would be a funny hobby for a little while until we found better things to do.

DotF: McKinney’s big game helps Trenton to a win

Triple-A Scranton (9-1 loss to Louisville)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 0-4, 2 E (fielding, throwing)
  • LF Clint Frazier & 1B Rob Refsnyder: both 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K
  • CF Dustin Fowler & RF Mason Williams: both 1-4 — Fowler committed a fielding error while Williams got picked off third … without knowing exactly what happened, I’d say getting picked off third is worse than making an error
  • RHP Luis Cessa: 4 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 0 K, 9/1 GB/FB — 61 of 90 pitches were strikes (68%) … hooray ground balls, but no strikeouts?
  • RHP Ben Heller: 2 IP, zeroes, 2 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 17 of 28 pitches were strikes (61%)

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

Heads up: Brian Cashman is taking part in a panel discussion at the St. George Theatre in Staten Island on Wednesday, May 17th. Staten Island Yankees manager Julio Mosquera will be among the others on the panel. Here are the full details. A general admission ticket is only $25 and you’ll get a chance to ask questions during the Q&A and take part in a silent auction for some cool memorabilia. I’ve never been the St. George Theatre but it’s a very short walk from the Staten Island Ferry, so it’s easy to get to.

Anyway, here is an open thread for the rest of the night. The Yankees have an off-day today, sadly. I’m disappointed I won’t get to watch Aaron Judge mash baseballs. The Mets are playing tonight and MLB Network is showing some regional games as well. There’s also a bunch of NBA and NHL playoff action on, including Game Five for the (hockey) Rangers. The series is tied two games apiece. Kind of a big one tonight. Talk about anything and everything here, just not religion or politics.

Marketing the Yankees’ present with the past and the future

(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

With the New York Yankees brand, the past is always present. But should the future take precedent?

Early in this season, the Yankees’ marketing near the stadium has brought the team’s historic past to the forefront. After two seasons where the souvenir cups featured current players, the new cups contain a smattering of World Series logos. Ads at the subway stops near Yankee Stadium highlight the 27 championships. Furthermore, the team has begun selling stadium-exclusive hats corresponding to each World Series win with unique details for each era.

When you think about the Yankees’ brand over the years, this makes a lot of sense. The brand has always been built upon a winning atmosphere. With a ridiculous number of championships has come an overwhelming number of fans scattered across the country but concentrated especially in New York. There is little doubt which is the No. 1 baseball team in the hearts of most New Yorkers.

And diehard fans identify with this sense of winning. They even demand it. They come to the park both due to a connection to the past and an expectation the current product will live up to the established expectations. But the diehard fans make up the 25-30 thousand spectators that will come to the park rain or shine, win or lose, championship or no.

So at least part of any marketing campaign each season needs to be focused on how to bring in the casual fan. The one who could live with themselves if they don’t make it to Yankee Stadium each year, let alone every month or game. Beyond simply going to the stadium, these are the fans that may only follow and watch the team a little, paying extra attention if the team is winning.

Does an appeal to a past filled with winning work on these casual fans? This, after all, is what the brand already is, so you’re emphasizing what you already have and not extending the brand. That isn’t a bad thing. Extending a brand further can dilute it and the accentuation on championships makes plenty of sense from a marketing perspective. However, I don’t know if this brings that extra 10-20K to the stadium. This is because I am a Yankees and baseball junkie and far from a casual fan.

The way I tried thinking about this was from the perspective of a Yankee fan considering a trip to Citi Field. I am not a Mets fan by any means, but if I’m in the city and the Mets are the only game in town, I’ll certainly consider it. I don’t think an appeal to the Mets’ past would get me to the stadium, but they don’t have the same past as the Yankees, making this an unfair comparison. A general Mets advertisement would make me consider the ride to Citi Field when I otherwise wasn’t considering it, but I would need something more to get me there.

In the recent past, that something extra has been the Mets’ pitching. I can say definitively that I went to Citi Field with the express purpose of seeing Matt Harvey in 2015. By that time, he was no longer a rookie or burgeoning star but a more established part of the team well into his third big league season.

But my trip to see Harvey made me think that maybe a marketing push around exciting young talent could work better than an appeal to nostalgia.

The Yankees don’t have the established talent of the Mets’ rotation right now or the flashy everyday veteran star of a Yoenis Cespedes. What they do have is some of the most exciting young position players who could potentially man the middle of the lineup for the next decade. For a baseball fan, that’s an exciting proposition. For a Yankee fan, even a casual one, that should be even more appealing, the chance to ostensibly get in on the ground floor of a new Yankee evolution.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

So a marketing push behind, let’s say, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Greg Bird could set you up for the future. The team already utilizes their breakout potential in some YES ads and it’s not like they’re absent from the Yankees’ marketing materials. However, if you further establish the star power of those young players, it can help you down the road if they’re everything they’re made up to be. It would create a connection with fans, including the non-consistent ballpark goers, that you can play off of for years. It could potentially be the same as connecting fans with Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter in 1996 and riding that all the way to 2014 and beyond.

But this can really backfire, too. I go back to the Harvey example. He was dreadful last year and that can create a bad taste in fan’s mouths. Or what about the ill-fated Dan & Dave Reebok commercials from before the 1992 Olympics. Relying on unestablished athletes can blow up in your face. What if the first baseman you’re advertising heavily starts the year 1 for 20? Or your catcher of the future injures his arm and is out for a month? Not many people are going to be excited about a cup or t-shirt of a player who appears to be a marginal talent.

So there are easy reasons not to go all-in on the youth movement. The risk is high despite the potential reward and the possible reality that youth talent may bring more casual fans to the park. Still, it’s not hard to imagine a near future with a slightly more than life-sized billboard of Aaron Judge dominating Time’s Square. With the dad jokes aside, the future of Yankees’ marketing seems to be on the current team, but the past may be the best present for now.

Yankeemetrics: Whiteout in the Bronx (April 17-19)

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Judge and The Mick
The White Sox were the latest team to try and slow down the Yankees juggernaut, a feat that seemed improbable based on their recent struggles at the House That Jeter Built.

The White Sox entered this series with a 7-20 record at the new Yankee Stadium, the second-worst win percentage (.259) by any American League team (only the Angels, 8-24, were worse). The Yankees made sure they didn’t improve that mark on Monday with a 7-4 win in the series opener.

Matt Holliday broke the game open with a monster three-run, 459-foot home run in the third inning. It was the fourth-longest homer by any Yankee in the Statcast era (since 2015), behind three homers by A-Rod in 2015. With an exit velocity of 113.9 mph, it was also the third-hardest hit homer in that span behind an A-Bomb in 2015 (116.5) and an Aaron Judge blast last year (115.2).

Judge joined the powerball party in the fifth inning, extending the lead to 7-0 with his fourth home run of the season. He’s just the second Yankee outfielder under the age of 25 to hit four homers within the team’s first 13 games. The other? Oh, just some guy named Mickey Mantle in 1956.

Jordan Montgomery picked up his first major-league win, showing the same toughness and poise he displayed last week during his debut, pitching out of jams in the first and sixth innings. Overall this season, he’s allowed just one hit in 10 at-bats (.100) and struck out four batters with runners in scoring position.

Adam Warren relieved Montgomery, and kept his Hidden Perfect Game intact until he walked Tyler Saladino with two outs, snapping a streak of 22 straight batters retired to start the season.

Warren is the only Yankee pitcher since at least 1913 to not allow a baserunner in any of his first four appearances, while retiring more than 10 batters during the streak (Warren set down 20 batters in a row during his first four games).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Eight is Enough
All good things must come to an end … Thanks to an anemic showing by the Yankee offense and an unexpected masterful performance by White Sox journeyman pitcher Miguel Gonzalez on Tuesday night, the Yankees lost their first game since April 8 and suffered their first home loss of the season.

The Yankees eight-game win streak was tied for their second-longest in April in franchise history, bettered only by a 10-gamer in 1987. And their 7-0 start at Yankee Stadium was just the sixth time they had won their first seven home games; the good news is that of the previous five seasons it happened (1943, 1949, 1951, 1987, 1998), four ended with the Yankees hoisting a World Series trophy.

Gonzalez held the Yankees to just four infield singles and one run in his 8 1/3 innings of work on a frosty night in the Bronx. How unlikely was this standout performance?

He had been winless in his previous 18 road starts entering the game, which was the longest active streak among major-league pitchers. And it had been over three decades since a White Sox pitcher allowed one-run-or-fewer and four-hits-or-fewer in an outing of more than eight innings at Yankee Stadium: Neil Allen was the last to do it, tossing a two-hit, no-strikeout (!) shutout in July 1986.

Luis Severino‘s final line (four runs allowed) underscored the dominance he showed in striking out 10 guys, including six with his devastating slider. Overall, the pitch has been a key weapon for him this season: of the 31 two-strike sliders he’s thrown, 13 have resulted in strikeouts, good for a 41.9 percent slider “putaway rate” that ranks second behind only Noah Syndergaard (43.5%) among starters.

Coupled with his 11-strikeout game in his previous start, Severino became the youngest Yankee with back-to-back double-digit strikeout games since lefty Al Downing in 1963. Even more impressive is this golden nugget:

At the age of 23 years and 57 days, Severino is the youngest pitcher in franchise history with at least 10 strikeouts and no walks in a game.

A new win streak
Death, taxes … and the Yankees beating the White Sox at Yankee Stadium. Three things you can pretty much count on these days. With their 9-1 victory in the rubber game on Wednesday night, the Yankees are now unbeaten (10-0-2) in their last 12 home series against the White Sox. The last time they lost a series in the Bronx to the Pale Hose was Aug. 8-10, 2005.

Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have ace-like stuff but still delivered his best performance of the season, limiting the White Sox to one run on six hits in seven innings. He’s now won six straight home starts dating back to last season, setting a record at the new Yankee Stadium. The last Yankee pitcher to win six starts in a row at home was Chien-Ming Wang in 2006.

Aaron Judge did Aaron Judge things once again, crushing a towering homer into to the left field bleachers in the fifth inning to give the Yankees a 8-1 lead. The absolute bomb went an estimated 448 feet and left his bat at 115.5 mph. His assault on the Statcast record books continues unabated:

  • The distance of 448 feet is a career-high for Judge, and is the third-longest homer at Yankee Stadium in the Statcast era (since 2015).
  • The exit velocity of 115.5 mph makes it the hardest-hit homer by any player at Yankee Stadium in the Statcast era.
  • Judge now has six batted balls with an exit velocity of at least 115 mph in pinstripes; since 2015, all other Yankees have combined to hit three batted balls with an exit velocity of 115-plus mph.