DotF: Rutherford and Garcia extend hitting streaks in wins

Triple-A Scranton is off until Thursday for the All-Star break. The All-Star Game is tonight and it is still ongoing as of this writing. Here’s the box score.

  • LHP Caleb Smith: 1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 14 of 22 pitches were strikes (64%) … ouch, rough All-Star Game appearance
  • OF Dustin Fowler was also selected to the All-Star Game but did not play because he is both in the big leagues and injured.

Double-A Trenton is also off until Thursday for the All-Star break. The All-Star Game was tonight (East 7, West 1).

  • SS Thairo Estrada: 1-3, 1 R, 2 BB — started and played the entire game
  • RF Zack Zehner: 2-3, 1 R, 2 RBI — came off the bench to win MVP honors
  • RHP Yefry Ramirez: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — eleven of 16 pitches were strikes (69%) … threw the second inning
  • LHP Nestor Cortes, 1B Mike Ford, and LHP Justus Sheffield were all selected to the All-Star rosters but did not play. Ford was recently promoted to Triple-A Scranton and Sheffield is out with an oblique injury. Cortes was available but simply didn’t pitch.

[Read more…]

Wednesday Night Open Thread

The All-Star festivities are over and now we have two baseball-less days to sit back and relax before the second half begins Friday. These next few weeks are going to be pretty interesting. I have no idea what to expect from the Yankees going forward. Anyway, make sure you check out David Waldstein’s profile on Danilo Valiente, the Yankees’ batting practice pitcher who threw to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez at the Home Run Derby. Valiente has a pretty neat backstory and the players love him. The profile is a few years old but I didn’t see it until the other day. Give it a read.

Here is an open thread for the night. There’s not a whole lot going on. The Triple-A All-Star Game will be on MLB Network at 9pm ET and that’s about it. (The game is on the West Coast.) LHP Caleb Smith will represent the Yankees. OF Dustin Fowler was also selected to the game before his injury. Talk about that game, the Valiente profile, or anything that isn’t religion or politics here.

2017 Midseason Review: The Bullpen

(AP)
(AP)

The Yankees’ bullpen was supposed to be a strength in 2017 after it helped hold together the 2016 squad. Aroldis Chapman back, Dellin Betances still in middle relief and some intriguing young players.

And it looked like a continuation of 2016 early on. But things have quickly gone off the rails over the last month. Here’s a rundown of the top players in the Yankees’ pen so far this year.

Dellin Betances

Key Stat: 8.26 walks per nine innings

Betances has never been known for his pinpoint control, but he’s barely had an idea where the ball is going in recent weeks. Like many of the guys on the roster, reviewing Betances’ season is almost like reviewing two seasons.

Through the end of May, he was the Yankees’ best reliever as expected. In 17 1/3 innings, he struck out 32, walked nine, gave up eight hits and just one earned run. That’s an ERA of just 0.52. There’s a reason he just made his fourth straight All-Star appearance.

But his 11 innings since June began have been troubling. He’s walked 17 in 11 innings, allowing nine runs despite giving up just six hits (and still striking out 21). He blew multiple games (Toronto, Houston, Chicago come to mind).

He hasn’t looked anything like this since he first came up in 2011. Sure, he’s had walk issues (4.3 per nine in 2015), but this has been pretty absurd. 20.6 percent walk rate. He actually still has the same strikeout rate because his stuff is still there. Whether it’s been his nasty curve or his fastball, they’ve betrayed him at times. The Blue Jays game last week jumps to mind.

One issue that could have led to his lack of command has been his usage. From May 9 to May 21, he picked up just two outs. From June 3 to June 12, he pitched in just one game and got just one out. It’s nice to see a lesser workload for the big man who’s been overused at times in his career, but he needs to get into games more often. Part of his underuse was the injury to Chapman leading to Joe Girardi using Betances as a traditional closer.

Aroldis Chapman

Key Stat: 35 days on the disabled list

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Perhaps the worst nightmare of a team giving a reliever a five-year deal is them spending significant time on the DL with a shoulder injury. That fear was realized when Chapman went down with rotator cuff inflammation in May.

Chapman seemed off at start of the year. His velocity was down, although it wasn’t too worrisome at first. The big lefty usually doesn’t hit peak velocity until mid-season. Still, seeing him toy with his changeup more and throw *merely* in the high 90s was a caution flag. Beginning with his struggles against Boston on Apr. 26, he looked hittable. It came to a head when he blew a three-run lead during the Yankees’ 18-inning win in Chicago. He simply couldn’t put guys away, which may have been due to his lower velocity, down one mph across the board so far in 2017.

His stuff has looked good since he returned and his strikeouts are still there. His underlying stats (1.16 FIP, career worst strand rate) indicate that a second-half resurgence is likely. Yet this is certainly not what the Yankees imagined when they signed him to a long-term deal.

Let’s get to some of the weird stats. He has allowed zero home runs this year. He has a .426 BABIP but a 27.3 percent infield fly ball rate. His 2.09 GB-to-FB ratio is easily a career high (previous was 1.58 in 2016, never higher than 1.25 since 2011). Surely he’ll allow a home run at some point and some of the BABIP spike can be from more groundballs getting through, but it’s still a little different than the Chapman we expected.

Tyler Clippard

Key Stat: 12 meltdowns

Welp.

It hasn’t been a pretty last two months for Clippard. He started to fall apart right after I wrote that fans should appreciate the homegrown talent. Mike was very much on point saying that his lack of home runs would soon change (although I never thought otherwise), but it was tough to see things going quite this poorly, at least for me.

For two months, he was a seemingly reliable pitcher. There were some rough games, including a blown game against the Orioles in his second appearance. But he struck out batters at a career-best rate through two months and had limited walks and hard contact enough to earn high leverage spots. The red flags of his high strand rate (88.5 percent through May) and zero homers in May made it fairly obvious he wouldn’t maintain that level of effectiveness.

Still, it went south worst than expected. Way worse. One could have easily projected he’d give up more homers, but for him to completely fall apart was disheartening. Relievers are fungible and such is life.

From June 4 to July 7, he threw 11 1/3 innings, gave up 16 earned runs, walked 10 and surrendered five homers, culminating fittingly in a grand slam against the Brewers this weekend. That’s 7.9 walks and 4.0 homers per nine innings. His K-BB rate was 3.4 percent. Batters hit .298/.414/766 against him in that time. Before that, they hit a paltry .150/.244/.238.

At this point, one has to wonder whether he makes it through the season, let alone the month. His stuff seems to have had a little more life on it in recent games, but the results simply aren’t there and trotting him into high leverage situations right now is a costly mistake.

Adam Warren

Key Stat: 18.1 K-BB percentage

Warren has been one of the Yankees’ more reliable relievers this season and it’s started to earn him some spots ahead of Clippard since he returned from the DL last week. He missed 18 days with right shoulder inflammation, although it didn’t seem to be anything too serious. He’s jumped right back to form for the most part.

In April, he was mostly a long reliever despite being in short relief to end 2016. In seven appearances to start the year, he had six of at least four outs and four of seven-plus outs. He came in with the team ahead or behind, keeping games within reach or preventing any comebacks.

After Chapman’s injury, he moved into short relief as Girardi’s 7th-inning game. He had three blown leads but was competent, bringing a 2.23 ERA into his stint on the DL beginning June 16.

What has he had working for him? His strikeout and walk rates are both career bests. He’s utilized his slider more (up 12 percent) while decreasing the usage of his other offspeed stuff. While that doesn’t necessarily account for his better control, it could be the reason he’s struck out more batters.

There is a red flag: His 2.9 percent HR/FB rate. He’s bound to let some balls leave the yard in the second half. He has an increased groundball rate and GB/FB ratio, which could help explain part of that.

Since returning to the Yankees last July, he has a 2.59 ERA in 66 innings with batters slashing .191/.260/.298 against him. It’s been a nice welcome back.

Chad Green

Key Stat: 34.7 percent strikeout rate

Green. (Getty)
(Getty Images)

Since coming up for the first time in May, Green has been a revelation in relief. He’s mostly filled in with Warren’s old role of the multi-inning reliever, throwing 33 innings in 17 games, including one brief start.

Green displayed his potential last year in the rotation and was one of the last cuts in spring training‘s battle for the fifth starter role. He’s struck out batters at every level but his fastball-slider combo seemed best suited for relief (S/O against to Mike, who called it).

Perhaps his biggest flaw in 2016 was his performance against lefties, who posted a 1.014 OPS against the righty. He actually has a slight reverse split in 2017 in a small sample, giving up just four hits in 35 at-bats vs. LHBs. He’s introduced his cutter more at times but he’s also just relied more on his four-seamer, throwing it over 60 percent of the time the last two months.

His flyball has increased, but HR/FB way down from 25 percent to 9.4, much closer to league average. The 25 percent last year seemed like somewhat an outlier. Even a few more homers won’t spoil his 1.91 ERA too much

Overall, he’s blowing people away with mid/upper 90s fastball and his top notch slider, sporting a 5.25 K/BB ratio. He looks more and more like a late inning reliever and his ability to throw multiple innings increases his value moving forward.

Jonathan Holder

Key Stat: 5 meltdowns in 32 games

Holder earned a spot in the bullpen this spring after making a brief call-up in September. After pitching mostly in mop-up duty to start the year, he slowly inched his way into a few higher leverage spots, but he never rose too high in the bullpen pecking order. His best outings came in the Cubs series, when he earned a win in the first game before throwing three shutout innings in relief during the 18-inning affair.

As stated above, he had a few meltdowns. He was tossed into a one-run game against the Orioles Apr. 30 and handed the Orioles a 4-2 lead against the heart of the order. He allowed the Royals to blow a game open in May. And he received a blown save and a loss during the cursed West Coast trip.

In the minors, Holder made his name for his high strikeout rate. His 22.9 percent K rate in 2017 isn’t bad, but it’s not quite what he was doing in the minors. The team still seems high on the 24-year-old and he’s been solid this year. Not spectacular, but fine in low-leverage relief.

It’s easy to forget because he was sent down for a while and didn’t factor into many decisions, but he’s thrown the third-most relief innings for the Yankees behind Warren and Clippard. In the second half, he’ll surely get another chance to stick in the majors.

15 pitchers have seen time in relief for the Yankees this season. Not quite the shuttle of past years, though they’ve shuffled through multiple guys in recent weeks. Chasen Shreve has seemed to stick as the token lefty with Tommy Layne gone and he’s been … pretty average. Better than last year, but not near his dominant summer of 2015. I’m a believer in Bryan Mitchell and Domingo German as potential relievers, but they likely won’t see much time in the eight-man pen.

With Clippard’s struggles, the Yankees surely will be in the market for a reliever. For now, they’ll have to hope for better second halves from Chapman and Betances alongside continued success from Warren and Green.

Scouting the Trade Market: Miami Marlins relievers

Ramos. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Ramos. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Due to recent events, the bullpen is going to be a hot topic between now and the July 31st trade deadline. The Yankees have lost far too many games at the hands of the bullpen the last few weeks, and as long as they’re in the postseason race, they’re going to look for ways to improve the roster. They could call some youngsters up. They could also look outside the organization. Odds are they’ll do both.

The Marlins are far out of a postseason spot and expected to sell before the trade deadline, making them a potential trade partner. They shipped Adeiny Hechavarria to the Rays a week or two ago, so yeah, the Marlins are open for business. In fact, they’re said to be scouting the Yankees’ farm system. Miami figures to market some of their pricier bullpen pieces before the deadline, and perhaps one or two of them are a match for the Yankees. Let’s take a look.

RHP Kyle Barraclough

Background: The 27-year-old Barraclough went from the Cardinals to the Marlins in the Steve Cishek trade three years ago. So far this season he has a 3.54 ERA (3.89 FIP) with 24.5% strikeouts and 14.7% walks in 40.2 innings. In parts of three MLB seasons Barraclough has thrown 137.2 innings with an 3.01 ERA (2.87 FIP). He’s settled in as a setup man for the Marlins.

The Stuff: Barraclough is a two-pitch reliever with a mid-90s fastball and a hard upper-80s slider. He has pretty consistently thrown 55% fastballs and 45% sliders as a big leaguer. Pretty straightforward guy. Barraclough gets ahead with the heater and tries to put hitters away with the slider.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Barraclough misses a ton of bats. A ton. Last year only Dellin Betances (126) and Andrew Miller (123) had more strikeouts among full-time relievers than Barraclough (113). That career 32.0% strikeout rate is no accident. Barraclough’s slider is a legit put-away pitch, and relievers who can make hitters swing and miss are the backbone of any successful bullpen. The pitch is so good he has a small platoon split (career .275 wOBA vs. .258 wOBA in favor of lefties). Also, Barraclough won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, so he’d be a long-term buy. (At least as long-term as any 27-year-old slider happy reliever can be.)

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? With those strikeouts come a lot of walks. Barraclough’s career walk rate is 15.1% and it’s been high throughout his career, even in the minors, so this is just who he is. You can survive as a late-inning reliever with command issues (see: Betances, Dellin) though no one like free baserunners in the late innings of a close game. Also, Barraclough’s strikeout rate has dropped from 36.9% last year to 24.5% this year, which is a red flag. Lots of walks and fewer strikeouts generally isn’t a good combination.

RHP David Phelps

Background: Phelpsie! The Yankees traded Phelps to the Marlins three years ago, and initially he continued to do the swingman thing, then last season he moved into a full-time short relief role. The 30-year-old Phelps has a 3.68 ERA (3.53 FIP) with 26.4% strikeouts and 8.8% walks in 44 innings this year. In three years with the Marlins he has a 3.98 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 131 innings as a starter and a 3.06 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 111.2 innings as a reliever.

The Stuff: As a true one-inning short reliever, Phelps will average right around 95 mph with his two and four-seam fastballs and 91 mph with his cutter. He’s shelved his changeup entirely out of the bullpen and instead uses a low-80s curveball as his top secondary pitch. So it’s four distinct pitches out of the bullpen. A straight four-seamer, a running two-seamer, a cutter, and a curveball.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Phelps has found a home in short relief. He was okay as a swingman all those years, but when he can air it out for an inning or two at the time, Phelps can miss bats and be a weapon in the late innings. Plus he’d remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018. It doesn’t hurt that he’s played for the Yankees before, so he knows the ropes.  You always wonder how guys are going to react when they first come to New York and all that. There’s no such worries with Phelps.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There aren’t many reasons, really. Phelps still walks a few more guys than you like — how he got a reputation for being a strike-thrower with the Yankees, I’ll never know — and that’s about it. It is worth noting he’s not cheap. Phelps will earn $4.6M this season and probably something close to $7M next season, his final year of arbitration-eligibility before qualifying for free agency.

A.J. Ramos

Background: Ramos, 30, took over as Miami’s closer back in 2015. He has a 3.51 ERA (3.60 FIP) with 29.6% strikeouts and 12.7% walks in 33.1 innings this year, making this his worst season since breaking into the big leagues for good in 2013. His career numbers are much more impressive: 2.75 ERA (3.19 FIP) with 27.8% strikeouts and 12.6% walks in 321 innings.

The Stuff: Ramos is a three-pitch reliever with mid-90s fastball, a mid-80s changeup, and a low-80s slider. The slider is his go-to secondary pitch. Ramos will also cut and sink his fastball on occasion, and he even throws a curveball once in a while. He’s primarily a fastball-changeup-slider guy but there are more tools in the shed.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Among Miami’s relievers, Ramos has the longest track record of missing bats, and only veteran sidewinder Brad Ziegler has more experience in the late innings. He’s been pitching high-leverage innings for a few years now and he’s shown he can handle them thanks to three pretty good pitches and the ability to keep the ball away from the fat part of the bat. Also, Ramos will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018, so he’s not a rental.

Why Should The Stay Away? The walk rate (career 12.6%) and general lack of ground balls (career 39.5%) are pretty scary, even though Ramos has not been home run prone in his career to date (0.48 HR/9). Still, walks plus fly balls is a less than ideal combination in Yankee Stadium. Also, Ramos is making $6.55M this year and could pull down upwards of $9M next season through arbitration. That’s what 89 career saves (and counting) will do for you. That’s pretty darn expensive. It’s not crazy to think Ramos might be a non-tender candidate after the season, so maybe he is a rental after all.

RHP Junichi Tazawa

Background: The Marlins gave the 31-year-old Tazawa a two-year deal worth $12M this past offseason, and so far he has a 5.87 ERA (5.97 FIP) with 18.4% strikeouts and 11.2% walks in 23 innings. That one isn’t working out too well. He’s been relegated to mop up duty the last few weeks.

The Stuff: All things considered, Tazawa’s stuff is relatively unchanged from the last few years. He’s still low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and upper-80s with his splitter, and he also throws a mid-70s curve.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? History suggests Tazawa is not actually this bad. He dealt with a rib injury earlier this season and that certainly could have negatively affected his performance. Tazawa is a buy low bounceback candidate, basically. Just last year he had a 4.17 ERA (4.23 FIP) with 26.0% strikeouts and 6.7% walks. That’s … better. Plus he knows the AL East from his time with the Red Sox.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? A lot of reasons, really. For starters, his performance has been terrible this year, and we can’t ignore that. His strikeouts are down and his walks are up, and hitters are squaring him up more than they have in the past. There’s also $7M left on his contract for next season, so he’s not cheap (by middle reliever standards) either. There is something to be said for buying low on a guy. I think steering clear of a reliever with a 4.45 ERA in 131.1 innings over the last three years is a pretty good idea no matter what the peripherals and track record say, and that goes double for dudes with a decent chunk of change coming their way.

RHP Nick Wittgren

Background: Wittgren, 26, is probably the guy you’ve never heard of in the Marlins bullpen. He has a 3.62 ERA (3.31 FIP) with 26.3% strikeouts and 4.6% walks in 37.1 innings this year, and that’s after a 3.14 ERA (3.67 FIP) with 19.7% strikeouts and 4.7% walks in 51.2 innings last year. The Marlins have themselves a nice little cheap, homegrown middle reliever.

The Stuff: The right-handed Wittgren is low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and he backs it up with a mid-80s changeup and a breaking ball right around 80 mph that sometimes looks like a slider and sometimes looks like a curveball. He throws both secondary pitches pretty regularly, so he is a true-three pitch reliever.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? I dunno, Wittgren is reasonably effective and he’s young and cheap with minor league options remaining, which makes him a decent depth piece in my opinion. He’s also shown improvement from last year to this year, namely in his strikeout rate. I don’t think Wittgren will one day be a shutdown high-leverage reliever or anything like that. Can he get outs in the sixth inning though? Sure, and the Yankees need a guy like that.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? The biggest concern with Wittgren is his propensity to give up fly balls (career 36.5% grounders) and home runs (career 1.11 HR/9). He won’t beat himself with walks and he can miss enough bats to escape jams, so the home run risk is mitigated somewhat. Is another unspectacular reliever the solution to the Yankees’ bullpen woes? I mean, sure, it’s possible, but I don’t think Wittgren moves the needle a whole bunch.

RHP Brad Ziegler

Background: Miami tried to strengthen their bullpen with Tazawa and Ziegler over the winter and it hasn’t worked. Ziegler received two years and $16M and has a 6.52 ERA (4.29 FIP) with 12.3% strikeouts and 9.4% walks in 29 innings. He is still getting a ton of ground balls (64.6%), which has always been the Ziegler trademark. He’s a funky sidewinder who keeps the ball on the ground.

The Stuff: From that funky arm slot comes a low-to-mid-80s sinker, a mid-70s changeup, and a low-70s slider. Ziegler is the rare submarine pitcher with a changeup. The velocity seems alarming but that’s who he is. Ziegler’s been a mid-80s sinker guy for years. The deception and arm angle make it work.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? As with Tazawa, Ziegler is a buy low bounceback candidate, though we don’t have to look back too far to see the last time Ziegler was very good. Just last season he had a 2.25 ERA (3.10 FIP) with 20.1% strikeouts, 9.0% walks, and 63.3% grounders in 68 innings for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox. Ziegler has been pitching in late-inning roles for a long time and he’s comfortable in any role. He’ll set up, close, middle relieve, whatever. Basically, any team looking at Ziegler is thinking his .382 BABIP won’t last and I want him on my roster when the correction comes. (Career .288 BABIP.)

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? At 37 years old (38 in October), it’s entirely possible Ziegler has reached the point of no return and this is who he is now. The BABIP is way up and the strikeouts are way down, from 20.1% last year to 12.3% this year — to be fair, he had a 13.7% strikeout rate with a 1.85 ERA (3.44 FIP) in 2015 — and his walk rate keeps trending up. Ziegler’s margin for error seems to be shrinking. And he’s got $9M coming to him next season, which isn’t great.

* * *

Given the way the Marlins operate, my guess is they would love to unload their pricey relievers (Ramos, Ziegler, Phelps, Tazawa) and keep the cheap guys in their pre-arbitration years (Barraclough, Wittgren). Well, I guess every team would like to do that, right? The Marlins aren’t so unique in that regard.

I am kinda sorta intrigued by Ziegler as a buy low candidate. Phelps and Ramos are the headliners here though. They’re performing well and they come with an extra year of team control, even if it will be on the expensive side. The Yankees have reportedly contacted the Marlins about both guys already and that in no way surprises me. They’re going to call on every available reliever between now and the trade deadline out of due diligence.

2017 Midseason Review: The Starting Rotation

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Coming into Spring Training and the 2017 season, the starting rotation was pretty clearly the biggest concern for the Yankees. They had three veterans to anchor the rotation in Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia, yet all three came with some questions. Tanaka’s elbow hangs over every pitch he throws, Sabathia is nearing the end of his career, and Pineda is, well, Pineda.

The final two rotation spots were wide open going into camp. I always though Luis Severino had a leg up on a spot — I definitely wrote that a few times — and sure enough, he landed one in Spring Training. The Yankees had four candidates for the fifth starter’s spot (Adam Warren, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green, Luis Cessa) and none of them won it. Jordan Montgomery snuck up and beat everyone out. Time to review the rotation.

Masahiro Tanaka: The Return of the Dingers

Last season Tanaka was, legitimately, one of the best starters in the league. He threw 199.2 innings with a 3.07 ERA (3.51 FIP) and strong strikeout (20.5%) and walk (4.5%) numbers. If you’re into WHIP, his 1.077 WHIP was fifth lowest among AL qualified starters. Tanaka was excellent.

This season Tanaka has been one of the worst starters in the league. There are 74 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title and Tanaka ranks 69th in ERA (5.47) and 59th in FIP (5.03). He’s also 71st in home run rate (2.03 HR/9), which is his biggest problem. Tanaka has not been able to keep the ball in the park, especially of late. We’re talking 20 homers in his last 13 starts, and that includes a three-start stretch with no homers.

Why is Tanaka allowing so many more homers? Well, the answer is kinda obvious. He’s been leaving too many pitches out over the plate, and because he’s not overpowering (and because balls are flying out of every park this year), Tanaka has paid dearly for his mistakes. The question is why is he making more mistakes? Why have more fastballs run back over the plate, and why haven’t his splitter and slider had the same bite for long stretches of time?

The Yankees and Tanaka are still looking for that answer. It looked like he found something these last few weeks, in which he fired 31.2 innings with a 2.56 ERA (3.21 FIP) across five starts. Then Tanaka got bombed Sunday, in the final game before the All-Star break. One step forward, one step back. Hopefully that game was just a blip and Tanaka goes back to dominating again like he did in four of his previous five starts. That would be swell.

Whatever is wrong with Tanaka — injury, bad mechanics, lack of confidence, etc. — it is the single biggest problem for the Yankees right now. Even moreso than the bullpen, I think. I think Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman will figure it out and be fine. Given how long Tanaka has struggled — basically since Opening Day — his struggles concern me more. It’s hard to imagine the Yankees getting to the postseason if Tanaka continues pitching like this.

Luis Severino: The Emerging Ace

Aside from Aaron Judge, who is on a completely different level than everyone else right now, there has been no better short and long-term development for the Yankees this season than Severino. He came up and pitched very well in the second half of 2015, struggled mightily as a starter in 2016, and now he’s pitching at a near ace level (3.54 ERA and 3.16 FIP) through 17 starts and 106.2 innings. His ranks among the 74 qualified starters:

  • Strikeout Rate: 28.4% (8th)
  • Walk Rate: 6.2% (17th)
  • K/BB ratio: 4.59 (8th)
  • Ground Ball Rate: 52.4% (8th)

Severino and Lance McCullers Jr. are the only pitchers who rank in the top ten in both strikeout rate and ground ball rate, and they’re both deserving All-Stars. By Game Score, the 23-year-old Severino — he spent most of the season as the youngest player on the roster before the recent Tyler Wade and Clint Frazier call-ups — is responsible for four of the nine best and five of the eleven best games pitched by a Yankee this season.

What has been different about Severino this year? A few things. For starters, he seems to be much more aggressive with his fastball. I really believe the stint in the bullpen last season taught Severino that yes, he can throw his heater by big league hitters, and that gave him the confidence to do it this year. He’s no longer trying to paint the corner. He’s just letting it fly and letting the pitch’s natural life and velocity do the rest. (At 97.5 mph, Severino has the highest average fastball velocity among all starters in 2017. Carlos Martinez is second at 96.8 mph.)

Two, Severino seems to have much more confidence in his changeup. He’s not necessarily throwing it more often — he threw the pitch 14.1% of the time in 2015, 9.4% of the time in 2016, and 11.4% of the time in 2017 — but he is throwing better quality changeups and he’s throwing it with more conviction. Last year Severino admitted he lost confidence in his changeup and he basically stopped throwing it by the end of the season. The changeup is still his third pitch, but Severino uses it and he now seems to trust it again.

And three, he’s locating his slider so much better this year. So, so much better. Last season he left way too many sliders up in the zone and hitters either fouled it off or put it in play rather than swing and miss. This year’s he’s burying the pitch down and getting those whiffs. That impressive — and elite! — combination of strikeouts and ground balls is no accident. Severino pairs a big fastball with a better located wipeout slider and an improved changeup.

I’m curious to see how the Yankees will handle Severino’s workload in the second half because he is on pace to throw 201 innings, and I can’t imagine they’ll let a 23-year-old kid throw 200+ innings. Or maybe they will. Who knows? My guess is the Yankees find a way to give Severino some extra rest between starts down the stretch. We’ll see. Whatever they do, the most important thing is that Severino looks like a top of the rotation starter, and gosh do the Yankees need one of those going forward.

CC Sabathia: The Veteran Innings Guy

Aside from a rough four-start stretch spanning late-April and early-May in which he allowed 22 runs in 20.2 innings, Sabathia has been steady and reliable for the Yankees this year. He reinvented himself as a cutter pitcher last year and he’s stuck with that approach this year. Sabathia in 2016: 3.91 ERA and 4.28 FIP. Sabathia in 2017: 3.81 ERA and 4.19 FIP. Yup.

Sabathia did miss three weeks with a hamstring injury and his first start back was pretty bad (four runs in 2.2 innings), and, in hindsight, the Yankees shoulda sent him out on a minor league rehab assignment rather than have him make one start — one start on a 75-80 pitch count, no less — before the All-Star break. Either way, Sabathia’s days as an ace are over, but so are his days as a below-average pitcher, which he was from 2013-15. The big man made some adjustments last year, they worked, he’s stuck with them, and they’re still working. That’s pretty much all there is to say about him. Go CC.

Michael Pineda: Same Ol’ Michael Pineda

Groan. Do we really have to review Pineda’s season? He’s the same guy he was last year and the year before that. The difference this year is that Pineda started very well and had more than a few folks, myself included, thinking he had turned the corner. But no, it was just one of his patented “did he figure it out???” streaks at the start of the season. To the monthly splits:

  • April: 3.14 ERA (3.25 FIP)
  • May: 3.48 ERA (4.76 FIP)
  • June: 5.35 ERA (4.69 FIP)
  • July: 15.00 ERA (16.48 FIP) in one start

Overall, Pineda has a 4.39 ERA (4.64 FIP) in 96.1 innings this year. He had a 4.60 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 336.1 innings the last two seasons. The biggest difference this year is the home runs, though that’s not unique to Pineda. Almost every pitcher in the league is allowing more homers this year. Pineda had a 1.28 HR/9 from 2015-16. It’s 1.87 HR/9 this year, hence the massive spike in FIP.

One thing Pineda does deserve credit for is his improved performance with two strikes. Remember all those annoying two-strike hits last season? Check it out:

  • 2016 with two strikes: .187/.246/.286 (104 OPS+)
  • 2017 with two strikes: .162/.212/.242 (71 OPS+)

I know a .187/.246/.286 batting line against seems great, but in two-strike counts, it was actually 4% worse than average last year. That shouldn’t happen to a guy with Pineda’s slider. This year he’s been much better with two strikes. He’s gone from 4% below-average to 29% above-average. And, to be fair, last season is the outlier for Pineda. He has a career 42 OPS+ allowed in two-strike counts. Usually he excels in those spots. Last season he didn’t for whatever reason.

In all likelihood Pineda is entering his final few months as a Yankee, and maybe even his final few weeks. If the team continues to fall in the standings, they could ship Pineda to a pitching needy contender at the trade deadline. He’s a free agent after the season and he’s not a qualifying offer candidate. Not when the potential return is a pick after the fourth round. Not worth the risk. Pineda started this season pretty well. But with each passing start, it’s becoming more and more clear he’s the same guy he’s always been.

Jordan Montgomery: The Reliable Rookie

I thought it was inevitable we would see Montgomery in the big leagues at some point this season. He came into 2017 as New York’s best big league ready pitching prospect and by a pretty decent margin. I just didn’t think he’d win a rotation spot out of Spring Training. Montgomery outpitched everyone else in camp, the Yankees decided he was their best option, and he’s been a rotation mainstay ever since.

Through 16 big league starts the 24-year-old Montgomery has a 3.65 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 91.1 innings. He’s completed six innings in eight of those 16 starts and at least five innings in 13 of those 16 starts. Joe Girardi has had a quick hook with the rookie at times, which is fine. For the most part Montgomery has been a consistent source of quality innings. Three things stand out about his first half.

1. His lack of ground balls is starting to catch up to him. Montgomery is a big man (6-foot-6) with an extreme over-the-top arm angle, and because of that, he can have a tough time getting his pitches down at the knees and below the strike zone. The result has been a 41.6% ground ball rate, which ranks 50th among those 74 qualified starters. And lately, more and more of those fly balls are turning into home runs:

jordan-montgomery-home-run-rate

Home runs are being hit at a higher rate than at any other point in baseball history and Montgomery’s home ballpark is homer happy Yankee Stadium. Given how fly ball prone he’s been so far this season, it was only a matter of time until the home runs came. Hopefully more grounders will follow.

2. He’s great at getting hitters to chase out of the zone. Montgomery is a polished young pitcher with a five-pitch arsenal. He’s got both a straight four-seamer and a sinker, plus a slider, a changeup, and a curveball. His least used pitch is his slider. He’s thrown it 13.0% of the time this year, which is pretty darn often for a fifth pitch. Because of his deep arsenal, Montgomery has excelled at getting hitters to swing out of the zone. Here is the chase rate leaderboard:

  1. Masahiro Tanaka: 39.8%
  2. Zack Greinke: 38.6%
  3. Jordan Montgomery: 38.3%
  4. Chris Sale: 38.3%
  5. Clayton Kershaw: 37.6%

Max Scherzer (37.2%) is sixth. McCullers (36.9%) is seventh. Corey Kluber (36.8%) is eighth. The top of the chase rate leaderboard is basically the seven best pitchers in baseball and Jordan Montgomery. Getting hitters to expand the zone is a very valuable skill. Swings on pitches out of the strike zone often result in swings and misses or weak contact. You don’t see those pitches squared up very often. That chase rate ability is a big reason why Montgomery has had so much success early in his MLB career.

3. Montgomery is not afraid to pitch inside. Especially to righties, which he needs to do to have success. He’s not going to blow anyone away with the sheer quality of his stuff. Here’s a heat map of his fastball and slider locations against right-handed batters, via Baseball Savant:

jordan-montgomery-heat-mapYep. Montgomery lives on the inner half of the plate with those pitches against righties. He uses them to set up changeups and curveballs away, and he’s been successful doing that. Montgomery has held righties to a .249/.307/.403 (.306 wOBA) batting line. He’s not dominating them by any means, but he is holding his own, and that’s important as a starting pitcher. Pitching inside allows him to have that success.

Montgomery right now looks very much like a long-term keeper. He’s poised and he seems fearless on the mound, even when things are going haywire. Add in the fact he throws five pitches regularly and has pretty good command, and the ingredients are there to stick in the rotation going forward. The Yankees needed to find some starting pitchers this year and they’ve found one in Montgomery.

* * *

Tanaka, Severino, Sabathia, Pineda, and Montgomery have combined to start 82 of 86 games for the Yankees this season. Cessa started three and Green started one while Sabathia was sidelined with his hamstring injury. Otherwise the Yankees have been pretty fortunate injury-wise. That’s not to say the good health will continue all year, but it happened in the first half, and that’s all that matters right now.

Believe it or not, the rotation ranks tenth in ERA (4.26) and eighth in FIP (4.21) among the 30 teams, which surprised me. It still feels like there’s room for improvement, mostly with Tanaka but also with Pineda given his recent performance. The Yankees now have two rotation building blocks in Severino and Montgomery whereas four months ago they had none, and Sabathia sure looks like a new pitcher too. I still expect the Yankees to be in on just about every high-end starter at the trade deadline because hey, there’s no such thing as too much pitching. The current rotation has been good enough to get the Yankees to the All-Star break in postseason position.

Cano’s home run gives AL a 2-1 win in the 2017 All-Star Game

Those socks tho. (Presswire)
Those socks tho. (Presswire)

Once again, the American League has proven it is the superior and more enjoyable league. The AL won the 2017 All-Star Game at Marlins Park on Tuesday night thanks to Robinson Cano‘s tenth inning home run against Wade Davis. The final score was 2-1. Cano hit the homer and was named MVP. Andrew Miller got the save. Ex-Yankees all over the place.

With the win, the AL has tied up the all-time All-Star Game series at 43-43-2. Both leagues have scored exactly 361 runs too. Freaky. The AL has won each of the last five All-Star Games and 17 of the last 21 overall. Total dominance. Here’s video of the Cano home run:

Man do I miss watching that guy’s swing on a daily basis. I still have nothing but love for Robbie.

As for the Yankees, Aaron Judge started the game in right field and went 0-for-3 before being removed. He struck out against Max Scherzer, grounded out again Carlos Martinez, and flew out against Alex Wood. Judge didn’t have to make any tough plays in the field. He made it out in one piece and that’s all that matters.

Dellin Betances threw the third inning for the AL and danced in and out of danger. His inning went single (Zack Cozart), strikeout (Charlie Blackmon), strikeout (Giancarlo Stanton), walk (Bryce Harper), walk (Buster Posey), ground out (Daniel Murphy). Luis Severino did not pitch in the game. He said he was slated to pitch the 11th had the game continued. Lame, but I guess he could use the rest.

It wasn’t until the sixth inning that Gary Sanchez came off the bench to replace Salvador Perez. He grounded out against Brad Hand and struck out against Kenley Jansen. (Future Yankee?) Yonder Alonso was on second base with one out in a 1-1 game that at-bat. Womp womp. Not a great day for the Yankees, but whatever. Who cares?

Here is the box score and video highlights. Now that the All-Star Game is over, every team in the league will have Wednesday and Thursday off. The Yankees begin the second half Friday night at Fenway Park for the first game of a four games in three days series with the Red Sox. Going right back into the fire, eh? Enjoy the rest of the All-Star break.

DotF: Stephan pitches well in Staten Island’s win

Let’s start with some notes:

  • So long, Chris Carter. He’s been released, the Yankees announced. I thought they would try to outright him to Triple-A Scranton again considering the first base depth chart is so thin, but I guess not.
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d) wrote about RHP Domingo Acevedo’s rough Futures Game performance. “His delivery is so uncoordinated and unrepeatable that I find it hard to believe he’ll ever see even fringe-average command,” write Law. Acevedo gave up three runs and rockets to the first five batters he faced Sunday.
  • Meanwhile, Ken Davidoff spoke to Acevedo about his Futures Game performance. “Today I wasn’t as sharp as I’ve been. You can learn from these experiences,” he said. Interestingly, Acevedo said he spoke to Aroldis Chapman about his mental approach to pitching back in Spring Training.
  • RHP Brody Koerner and RHP Gilmael Troya were named the Pitchers of the Week for the Double-A Eastern League and Rookie Appalachian League, respectively. Koerner threw 13.1 scoreless innings in two Double-A starts, his first two starts at the level. He has a heavy mid-90s sinker and iffy secondary stuff.

Both Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton are off until Thursday for the All-Star break. Their All-Star Games are tomorrow. LHP Caleb Smith will represent the RailRiders while LHP Nestor Cortes, LHP Nestor Cortes, SS Thairo Estrada, RHP Yefry Ramirez, and OF Zack Zehner will represent the Thunder. Dustin Fowler (injury), LHP Justus Sheffield (injury), and 1B Mike Ford (promotion) were all selected to the All-Star Game but won’t participate for various reasons.

High-A Tampa, Low-A Charleston, and Rookie Pulaski all had scheduled off-days. Most minor league teams have an off-day today so they don’t interfere with the MLB All-Star Game.

Short Season Staten Island Game One (3-1 win over Vermont in seven innings) makeup of their June 29th rainout

  • 2B Oswaldo Cabrera: 2-3, 1 R
  • SS Wilkerman Garcia: 1-3 — got picked off first
  • CF Dom Thompson-Williams: 2-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 CS — 12-for-29 (.414) in his last nine games
  • 3B Nelson Gomez: 0-3 — the $2.25M bonus baby is down to .091/.226/.159 in 15 games
  • RHP Trevor Stephan: 3 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1/2 GB/FB — 36 of 45 pitches were strikes (80%) … 7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K so far for this year’s third rounder

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