Game 44: Waiting For The Offense To Come Back

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Last night’s loss stunk, huh? Bullpen meltdowns are going to happen from time to time. Whatever. I’m more annoyed by the recent lack of offense. The Yankees have scored only 19 runs in their last six games, and only nine runs in their last three games. That’s not going to fly. The Yankees are still second in baseball in runs per game (5.53), so they have the ability to score runs. They’re just in a little bit of a funk right now.

Prior to this 19 runs in six games stretch, the Yankees scored at least seven runs in their four previous games, and one of those four games came against tonight’s opposing starter, Royals righty Jason Hammel. The Yankees scored five runs in six innings against Hammel last week. I could go for a repeat performance tonight. Runs are cool. I like runs. Here is the Royals’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 1B Chris Carter
    RHP Luis Severino

Not a bad weather day in New York. It was cloudy much of the day, and the same will be true tonight. Cloudy and cool. Tonight’s game will start at 7:05pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Greg Bird (ankle) continues to progress with his rehab. He is hitting, fielding grounders, running the bases, the whole nine. Joe Girardi said the tentative plan is to send Bird to Tampa on Sunday, have him play in one Extended Spring Training game, then begin a minor league rehab assignment with High-A Tampa. My guess is he’ll play a good amount of rehab games to make sure he gets all the way back on track after his miserable start to the season. We might not see Bird until the Yankees come back for their next homestand on June 6th … Aroldis Chapman (shoulder) will see a doctor for a checkup Friday, and if all goes well, he could begin a throwing program Saturday.

HOPE Week: Today the Yankees held an event at the Saturday Night Live studios to help benefit Comedy Kids, an organization started by two young boys who tell jokes to raise money for pediatric brain cancer research. Awesome stuff. Here’s a video.

2017 Draft: Brendon Little

Brendon Little | LHP

The 20-year-old Little grew up outside Philadelphia and was a 36th round pick out of high school by the Giants in 2015, though he didn’t sign. He got buried on a deep North Carolina pitching staff as a freshman last spring — Little threw four innings last year — so after pitching well in the Cape Cod League last summer, Little transferred to the State College of Florida. So far this spring he has a 2.53 ERA with 133 strikeouts and 33 walks in 85.1 innings. Because he’s now at a junior college, Little is draft-eligible again this spring.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-2 and 195 lbs., Little has good size and athleticism. His fastball sits 92-94 mph and he’s run it up as high as 97 mph this spring. Little’s breaking ball is a hard power curveball that misses plenty of bats. He also throws a changeup, but it lags far behind his other two pitches at the moment. His arm is loose and he generates his velocity with ease. Little does run into command issues at times, and there’s also some concern his short stride makes his stuff play down, pointing to a future in the bullpen.

In his latest rankings, Keith Law (sub. req’d) ranked Little as the 17th best prospect in the 2017 draft class. and Baseball America ranked him 35th and 36th, respectively. The Yankees hold the 16th overall pick. Lefties with good velocity and an out-pitch breaking ball are always in demand, though my guess is the Yankees would prefer to nab Little (or someone like him) with their second round pick, 54th overall, than their first rounder.

“The Judge’s Chambers” is awesome, so of course people are complaining about it

Uh oh, fans are having fun. (Elsa/Getty)
Uh oh, fans are having fun. (Elsa/Getty)

When the Yankees returned home from their road trip Monday, a new feature at Yankee Stadium awaited them. The team unveiled a new 18-seat cheering section for Aaron Judge in right field named, for obvious reasons, The Judge’s Chambers. His name is just so damn punnable. People have been showing up to games in robes and wigs the last few weeks. Now they have a dedicated section.

Personally, I love it. I am for anything that injects some life and excitement into the ballpark. My only complaint is The Judge’s Chambers is kinda hidden. It’s tucked under the second deck in right field. Maybe move it over a section or two so everyone can see it? Otherwise it’s a great idea. The Yankees give out robes and styrofoam gavels, and everyone has a grand old time.

Naturally, some people don’t like the new ballpark feature. Many people, really. I’ve seen folks on Twitter and in the RAB comments say it’s too soon. It’s a distraction. So on and so forth. Billy Witz said it’ll become a punch line if Judge doesn’t keep hitting. Mike Mazzeo said the Yankees are “guilty of overhype.” Michael Kay said on his radio show he couldn’t imagine something like “Jete’s Seats” in 1996.

While I respect those guys and their opinions, man I couldn’t disagree more. The Judge’s Chambers is not about Aaron Judge or the Yankees. It’s about the fans and having fun. I know people like to think the Yankees hold themselves to a higher standard and wouldn’t stoop to such gimmicks, but come on. Have you seen the ballpark? It’s half-empty every night. Things have changed. It’s time for a new way of thinking.

These are the facts. One, The Judge’s Chambers is not a money grab because the Yankees are giving the 18 tickets to youth groups and other programs. Two, Judge is an extremely humble and down to Earth kid. (You should read this.) I couldn’t be any less concerned about this going to his head. And three, have you noticed how much fun the fans out there are having? YES showed a clip yesterday with a bunch of kids going nuts in The Judge’s Chambers. How is that bad?

What’s the worst case scenario here? Judge stops hitting and The Judge’s Chambers looks silly, so the Yankees remove it? I think the franchise will survive. It’s not like they wouldn’t hear constant reminders about Judge flaming out anyway. (See: Maas, Kevin.) Should they wait until Judge plays a full season? Okay. But why not wait two years? Or five? Or until he wins a World Series just to be safe? Why is any of that a better time than right now? We can always come up with a reason not to do something. Doing it is the hard part.

The Yankees are full speed ahead with their youth movement and Judge is at the center of that. He’s a great two-way player who represents the franchise well is an already very popular. The Yankees should foster that popularity and fan excitement. It helps improve the relationship between the team and the fans. The Yankees wouldn’t have had “Jete’s Seats” in 1996? Well, maybe they should have. This is baseball. It’s a game and it’s a fun. Don’t take it so seriously.

Why are the Yankees sticking with eight relievers?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

For the last 15 days, the Yankees have had eight men in their bullpen.

At first, it was out of necessity. The team was coming off an 18-inning marathon with the Cubs and had to play a two-game series starting the next day. Making a move to add a long reliever — in this case Chad Green — was a prudent move after everyone but Tommy Layne was used on that Sunday night/Monday morning vs. the Cubs.

But two days later, the team had an off-day. They had optioned Rob Refsnyder, the obvious 25th man, to make room for Green, so he wasn’t available for a call-up. However, the team still had/has Mason Williams ready to call-up and an open 40-man roster spot to utilize for an extra position player, should they see the need.

By this time, it’s obvious they don’t see the need. They’re fine with a three-man bench as it provides them the luxury of eight relievers. It’s likely they’ll go back to a four-man bench with Tyler Austin comes off the 60-day DL either later this month or in early June, but that would mean another week or so with this peculiar arrangement. And it truly is a luxury as they aren’t all necessary.

When you look at the composition of the bullpen right now, there are the guys that are being used consistently and with purpose; Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard, Adam Warren and Jonathan Holder each have their roles right now and are minimally influenced by another man in the bullpen. Chad Green has taken on Warren’s long-man-in-close-game role and has been quite solid in said role.

But beyond those five guys, there hasn’t been much to do. Tommy Layne and Chasen Shreve, the two lefties, have thrown just 4 1/3 and five innings, respectively, over a combined nine appearances. With few lefty-laden lineups with which to deal, there simply isn’t much work for the duo. They’ve pitched in the same game twice, mostly as mop-up guys.

Giovanny Gallegos was used in a similar fashion, taking mop-up innings and helping the team get by during the Astros doubleheader. He’s more of a 1-2 inning guy anyway, so the team called up Bryan Mitchell in his spot.

Mitchell (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
Mitchell (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

This seems like a poor use for Mitchell. Mitchell had been getting stretched out in Triple A and would be ready to call on as a spot starter. With the rotation’s struggles, that seems like it may be on the horizon, particularly with few off-days upcoming. And with an eight-man bullpen, an extra long reliever is superfluous. Green and Warren can both go multiple innings. Even if you say that Warren is now a one-inning reliever, the nominal ‘7th-inning guy’, you still have both Shreve and Layne sitting in the bullpen with little recent mileage most nights. They can take the long relief on any given night. With the current arrangement, Mitchell neither has a role nor a chance to develop further despite his ability to be either a solid back-end starter or quality reliever if given the opportunity.

The main reason to keep the eight-man bullpen going would be with the struggles in the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka has had a few short starts in a row, same with Luis Severino, while Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia have been the ones getting consistently through 6-7 their last few times out. The rotation has gone from 5.93 innings per start in April to 5.45 this month. This opens up about an inning every other game, yet that seems hardly enough to justify an extra reliever when the team was still barely using its last reliever when they had seven in April. If the innings trend continues to go down, both this season and in the future, an eight-man bullpen may become more of the norm to help spread innings among a taxed bullpen, but that isn’t the Yankees reality right now.

Eight relievers were fully necessary during the doubleheader, but the team was also allowed to call up an extra man for the roster. If the team wants another long reliever but needed an extra position player right now, they could either jettison Layne or option Shreve to call up Tyler Webb, who has been effective in Scranton since he was returned from his Rule 5 stint with the Pirates, and use Mitchell’s spot for a position player. Still, you run into the same issues with Webb that you did with Mitchell, as the team already has capable long men and at least one other lefty ready to go.

The question does need to be asked: Would the spot be better utilized for another position player? Ultimately, it seems like there hasn’t really been a role for an extra position player. Perhaps they should have had Kyle Higashioka up vs. Tampa last Friday with Gary Sanchez feeling off — thereby allowing them to pinch hit for Austin Romine in a big spot — but a roster spot for one at-bat, maybe a couple innings of defense, doesn’t seem like a better use than 4 1/3 innings.

So with the last 15 days, the Yankees have shown how little they utilize the 25th spot on their roster at the moment. With Greg Bird and Tyler Austin out and few ready-to-use and effective position players on the 40-man roster, the team seems more than content to get by the eighth reliever. Perhaps, this is a glimpse into the future of baseball yet, for now, it doesn’t seem like an efficient use of resources, although there may not be a better use within simple reach.

Let’s talk about Aaron Judge’s defense in right field


If the season ended today, Aaron Judge would finish in the top three of the AL MVP voting. Forget Rookie of the Year. I’m talking MVP. Judge is hitting .315/.419/.685 (195 wRC+) overall and he’s tied with Mike Trout for the MLB lead with 15 home runs. Do that for a first place team and you’re going to get plenty of MVP support. He’s been awesome thus far.

The home runs get all the attention and deservedly so, but Judge is not a one-dimensional player. It can be easy to stereotype him as a lumbering slugger given his size, though Judge is a good athlete and he helps the Yankees with his right field defense too. He’s a sneaky great athlete, and that athleticism was on full display Sunday:

That’s the catch of the season so far, right? For the Yankees, anyway. I’m having a tough time coming up with other memorable defensive plays. I’m sure they exist, but nothing is immediately coming to mind. If that ball falls in, the game is tied and Evan Longoria is on second base with no outs, giving the Yankees a 30.9% win probability. Instead, it was a double play, leaving the Yankees with a 68.4% win probability. Massive defensive play, that was.

The catch this weekend was not the first time we’ve seen Judge make a highlight reel catch. Remember when he flipped over the wall at Fenway Park? Or when he did this? Or this? Those aren’t easy plays! Judge made them look easy. His throwing arm is also a weapon. His throws look effortless and yet they carry and carry. Look:

Before the season Baseball America (subs. req’d) said Judge is a “slightly above-average runner underway and plays average defense in right field with a well above-average throwing arm.” UZR says he’s been about average in the field (+0.8 runs saved). Total Zone thinks he’s been a bit better (+5). DRS thinks Judge has been elite in the field. The outfield DRS leaderboard:

  1. Jarrod Dyson: +9
  2. Jason Heyward: +8
  3. Aaron Judge, Kevin Kiermaier, Guillermo Heredia: +7

Heyward has split time between center and right fields this season, so Judge is first among full-time right fielders. That’s pretty awesome. It’s difficult to say which defensive stat is right. UZR? DRS? Total Zone? The important thing is they all agree Judge has been a positive in the field. He’s saving the Yankees runs. Exactly how many is up for debate.

Statcast’s new catch probability drops batted balls into five buckets based on how often similar balls are turned into outs around the league. Here are Judge’s catch probability numbers:

  • One-Star Catches (caught 91-95% of the time): 100%
  • Two-Star Catches (76-90%): 100%
  • Three-Star Catches (51-75%): 100%
  • Four-Star Catches (26-50%): 50%
  • Five-Star Catches (0-25%): 0%

Batted balls that are turned into outs 51% to 95% of the time around the league have been turned into an out 100% of the time by Judge so far this season. The only thing he hasn’t done is make the super duper highlight reel plays, the ones very few outfielders can make. The Five-Star Catches. Eventually he’ll make one of those too. For now Judge is making all the defensive plays he’s supposed to make, and then some.

The last few seasons the Yankees have typically enjoyed strong outfield defense thanks mostly to Brett Gardner in left and Jacoby Ellsbury in center. Right field has been a problem. The Yankees lived with Carlos Beltran‘s glove out there because he brought offense. Now they’re getting the best of both worlds from right field. Judge is giving them offense and defense. He impacts games on both sides of the ball.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with all this other than to say Judge has been really good in the field this season. There’s much more to this guy than mammoth dingers. He’s a very good all-around player. Probably better than most non-Yankees fans given him credit for. Watching him every day though, we’ve been able to see exactly how good he is defensively, and that two-way play is a reason he’s a extremely super early MVP candidate.

Bullpen blows Montgomery’s gem, Yankees fall 6-2 to Royals

Blah, that was a crummy game. The Yankees took a 2-0 lead into the seventh Tuesday night and the bullpen turned it into a 6-2 loss to Royals. Annoying loss is annoying.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Full Monty
All things considered, this was the best start of Jordan Montgomery‘s young big league career. He held the Royals to one run on two hits and no walks in 6.2 innings, and the run came on Lorenzo Cain’s one-out homer in the seventh. Montgomery retired 12 straight batters prior to the Cain homer and 19 of the 20 first batters he faced. He was in total control.

Making Montgomery’s start more impressive is the fact he faced the Royals for the second time in a week. They touched him up for five runs in five innings last week. The Royals are the first team to face Montgomery twice in his MLB career, and they did it in the span of a week. He made the adjustment and got the free-swinging Royals to hit what seemed to be a never-ending string of popups. Three ground outs and eleven air outs, but only one or two of the fly balls were well struck. The Royals were off balance all night.

I thought Joe Girardi pulled Montgomery at exactly the right time. His pitch count was approaching 100 — he finished at 98 pitches, to be exact — and the last right-handed batter he faced (Cain) hit the ball a mile. Girardi stuck with Montgomery to get the left-on-left matchup against Eric Hosmer, who hit a line drive right at Starlin Castro at second base. The Royals were starting to make better contact and another righty with power (Salvador Perez) was due up when Girardi yanked his starter. Nice start for Montgomery. His best in pinstripes so far.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Bullpen Melts Down
The Yankees took a 2-0 lead into the seventh inning thanks to solo home runs by Aaron Hicks (fourth inning) and Chris Carter (fifth), both against Danny Duffy. Hicks homered into the right field short porch as a right-handed hitter. It was the first opposite field homer of his career as a righty. Carter pulled a long fly ball into the left field seats for the 2-0 lead. Back-to-back days with a dinger for the rhino.

The bullpen meltdown started immediately after Montgomery left the game. Adam Warren entered, gave up a little flare single to Perez just beyond the reach of Castro, then he caught way too much of the plate with a fastball …


… that Jorge Bonifacio drove into the short porch for a go-ahead two-run homer. In the span of four batters, the Yankees went from leading 2-0 to trailing 3-2. That’s pretty annoying. It’s easy to say Girardi should have left Montgomery in give how things played out, but I was fine with pulling him. Warren can’t be missing middle-middle like that.

Down a run with three offensive innings to go is manageable. Not great, but the game was far from over, especially in Yankee Stadium. Then Jonathan Holder and Chasen Shreve put the game out of reach in the eighth. Holder gave up a solo homer to Whit Merrifield and Shreve gave up a two-run shot to Mike Moustakas. Four homers in the span of eight batters to the worst offensive team in baseball. Oy vey.

The bullpen has been really good overall this season and meltdowns happen. What can you do? They were bound to screw up one of these days. The bigger problem is the recent lack of offense. The Yankees have scored nine runs total in their last three games and they haven’t scored a run on something other than a home run since the second inning of Sunday’s game. That was 24 innings ago. They’ll snap out of eventually, hopefully soon, but that doesn’t make me feel any better right now.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees did put a dozen runners on base (eight hits, four walks), though going 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position equals two runs on solo homers. Castro flew out loudly to end the fifth inning with the bases loaded, which was the biggest missed opportunity. Duffy is really good! It’s not like they were facing some crummy fifth starter. But still, the recent lack of runs is annoying.

Jacoby Ellsbury saw 12 pitches in five plate appearances as the leadoff man, which isn’t good. I mean, no one would care if he saw five pitches in five at-bats if he had five hits, but generally speaking you’d like your leadoff hitter to work the count a little more than that, you know? The difference between Brett Gardner and Ellsbury atop the lineup is noticeable.

Matt Holliday was the only Yankees with multiple hits. He had two singles. Hicks (homer, walk), Castro (single, walk), Carter (homer, walk), and Aaron Judge (single, walk) all reached base multiple times too. Every starter reached base at least once except for Didi Gregorius and Austin Romine.

And finally, the bullpen came into this game having allowed five home runs in 141.1 innings total this season. They then allowed three in the span of six batters. Baseball can be so stupid sometimes.

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

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Same two teams Wednesday night, in the third game of this four-game series. Luis Severino and Jason Hammel are the scheduled starting pitchers. Make sure you check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch that game, or any of the other four games remaining on the homestand live and in person.

DotF: Torres makes Triple-A debut, Austin has big rehab game

A few quick notes before we get to the game action:

  • I missed this yesterday, but SS Thairo Estrada was included in Baseball Prospectus’ Monday Ten Pack (subs. req’d). “His defensive ability and versatility give him a floor as a utility player, and he is capable of hitting well enough to develop into a regular,” said the write-up.
  • The Yankees have signed RHP Kaleb Ort out of the independent Frontier League, reports Matt Eddy. The 25-year-old has reportedly been throwing “95-97 mph with an above average slider” this year. Sounds a little too good to be true. Ort has never pitched in affiliated ball before.
  • The Yankees have released RHP Miguel Sulbaran, according to Eddy. Sulbaran has not pitched since 2015 due to injury, and he was suspended 25 games earlier this year after testing positive for a drug of abuse. Sulbaran is the guy the Yankees got from the Twins for Eduardo Nunez.

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

  • SS Tyler Wade: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 E (throwing) — 24-for-74 (.324) with ten doubles in his last 17 games
  • RF Dustin Fowler: 0-4, 1 K
  • 3B Gleyber Torres: 1-3, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 CS, 1 E (fielding) — nice Triple-A debut
  • LF Clint Frazier: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 K — 23-for-79 (.291) with seven doubles and five homers in his last 20 games
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 2B, 1 K
  • CF Mason Williams: 0-4
  • RHP Luis Cessa: 5.2 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HB, 6/3 GB/FB — 72 of 102 pitches were strikes (71%) … he’s allowed 27 runs in his last 23.1 innings after allowing eleven runs in his first 29.1 innings
  • RHP Ben Heller: 1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/1 GB/FB — ten of 12 pitches were strikes

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