Yankeemetrics: Feeling right at home in Queens (Sept. 11-13)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Let the good times roll …
Riding the momentum of a three-game win streak, the Yankees headed back to the Northeast to play a “road series” against the Rays at Citi Field due to Hurricane Irma. Despite spotting the Rays an early 1-0 lead, the Yankees were unfazed by the early deficit, and thanks to an explosive five-run fourth inning, cruised to a relatively easy 5-1 win on Monday. This game-script has actually become a familiar one for the 2017 Yankees (ranks through Monday):

  • 31st win when the opponent scores first, the most among AL teams and tied for the second-most in the majors.
  • Of course, it also helps that it was the 80th game this season in which they allowed the first runs of the game; only the Phillies and Athletics have more games.
  • 23rd time they scored at least five runs in an inning, tied with the Nationals and Astros for the most 5-or-more-run innings in MLB this season.

Todd Frazier turned a pitchers duel into a rout with a three-run homer in the fourth inning to give the Yankees a 5-1 advantage. The likelihood of him simply getting a hit in that situation – runners on first and second – was low: Frazier entered the game hitting .176 with men on base, the second-worst average in the majors (min. 150 at-bats).

The guy on first when Frazier went deep was Jacoby Ellsbury, who reached base via catcher’s interference for the 30th time in his career, breaking the major-league record for that obscure stat. The mark was previously set by Pete Rose, who got his 29 catcher’s interferences in a major-league-record 15,890 plate appearances; Ellsbury’s 30th came in his 5,308th plate appearance.

The unsung hero of the game was David Robertson, who took over for CC Sabathia with one out in the fifth and two men on base. He got out of the jam by striking out the next two batters and then held the Rays scoreless over next two frames. It was the first time in his career he pitched more than two innings and the earliest he entered a game since April 9, 2011.

How was D-Rob able to dominate the Rays? He peppered the edges of the strike zone with his signature cutter/curveball combo:

robertson

And got a few key outs with his devastating breaking ball (two strikeouts and two groundouts). Robertson’s curve is so nasty because of its ability to get whiffs and grounders at ridiculously high rates. More than 200 pitchers this year have thrown at least 100 curveballs, and only one other – Craig Kimbrel – can match Robertson’s 50 percent whiffs-per-swing rate and his 60 percent groundball rate with the pitch.

… and then see the good times come to a screeching halt
Buckle up, folks, this is going to be a bumpy and exasperating rollercoaster ride down the stretch in September. After enjoying a few days of offensive bliss, the Yankee bats crashed back down to earth on Tuesday. They were held to three hits – and didn’t get a runner past first base after the first inning – in a listless and boring 2-1 loss.

Yes, another one-run loss. It was their 25th of the season, which leads the American League and is also more than twice as many as they suffered last year (12). With a record of 15-25 (.375) in games decided by one run, they are still on pace for the fourth-worst winning percentage in those games in franchise history.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

They wasted another gem by Sonny Gray, who literally threw two bad pitches: his first one of the night, a 94 mph fastball up-and-away that Kevin Kiermaier deposited into the right-centerfield seats, and his 90th of the night, another elevated four-seamer that Adeiny Hechavarria clobbered for a tie-breaking solo homer in the eighth inning.

Kiermaier’s shot was the ninth leadoff homer allowed by the Yankees this season, which is one more than their pitchers gave up in 2015 and 2016 combined. For Gray, it was the first time in his career he surrendered a longball on the first pitch he threw in a game.

This lack of run support has become a recurring nightmare for Gray, who is 3-5 with a 2.66 ERA in eight starts with the team. In those five losses, they have scored a total of four runs. Tuesday’s heart-breaker was the fourth time as a Yankee that he got charged with a loss despite giving up no more than two earned runs. That’s the most such losses suffered by any starting pitcher in the majors since Gray made his first start in pinstripes on August 3. #KillTheWin

Gray certainly doesn’t deserve this fate, so let’s celebrate how terrific he’s been this season. It was his eighth consecutive road start allowing no more than two earned runs, the longest streak in the AL this season. The streak dates back more than three months, and during that stretch he’s posted a 1.99 ERA in those eight road starts, the best mark in the AL among guys with at least 35 innings pitched since June 1.

(AP)
(AP)

Survive and advance
Not even another massive RISPFAIL performance can stop the Fighting Spirit freight train that the Yankees have been riding this season. Despite leaving a small navy of runners on base and wasting a ton of scoring chances, the Yankees escaped with a 3-2 win on Wednesday to win their fourth straight series.

Joe Girardi went to The Binder early, yanking Jaime Garcia with two outs in the fifth inning after he’d only thrown 78 pitches and had allowed just one run at the time. This has become a signature call for Girardi this season — it was the 13th time a Yankee starter was removed before completing five innings, despite not giving up no more than two earned runs. That’s the most such starts by any AL team and tied with the Brewers for the MLB-high.

Yet you could hardly fault Girardi for an early hook with Garcia, given his massive splits when facing batters multiple times in a game (stats and ranks entering Wednesday):

  • 1st time through order: .542 OPS, ranked 15th out of 172 starters with at least 100 batters faced
  • 2nd time through order: .783 OPS, ranked 88th out of 171 starters with at least 100 batters faced
  • 3rd time through order: .989 OPS, ranked 114th out of 119 starters with at least 100 batters faced

[And it also helps when you have a Pitching Cyborg — aka Chad Green — with 99 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings and a 1.96 ERA ready to go in the bullpen]

Brett Gardner — living up to his G.G.B.G. nickname — was the rare Yankee who came through in the clutch, driving in two runs with a bases-loaded single in the second inning that would end up as the game-winning hit. He is now 11-for-21 (.524) with the bases loaded since the start of last season, the best mark among any AL player with at least 20 at-bats and the second-best in MLB behind Daniel Murphy.

Subtracting velocity has been key to Luis Severino’s improved changeup

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Regardless of what happens the rest of the year, this has been an overwhelmingly positive season for the Yankees and their youth movement. Both Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez emerged as bonafide middle of the order thumpers in their first full MLB seasons, and Luis Severino bounced back from a disappointing 2016 season to become a legitimate Cy Young candidate. He’s going to finish in the top five of the voting. Maybe top three.

What’s the difference between 2016 Severino and 2017 Severino? A lot of things, really. First and foremost, I think his command is so much better. Command is not something we can measure — walk rate is a control stat, not a command stat — it’s something we have to see. Based on my observations, Severino is doing a much better job locating on the edges of the plate, and just off the plate. He made a lot of middle-middle mistakes last year.

Second, confidence. Last season it appeared Severino got scared out of the strike zone at times, and a little fastball shy. And who could blame him? He was young and getting hit hard. This year he looks like a dominator on the mound. He’s oozing confidence and you can tell he knows he’s in command of the game. There is no doubt in my mind last year’s success out of the bullpen contributes to that. He took the bullpen mentality to the rotation.

And third, his changeup. Severino always had a quality changeup coming up through the minors. We saw it in 2015. Last year he didn’t have much success with the pitch, and as a result he basically stopped throwing it late in the year. Even when he moved back into the rotation. He’d throw one or two per start, maybe. Back in 2015 he threw 10-20 changeups per start. Last season he made eleven starts and threw double-digit changeups only five times.

This season Severino is again sitting the 10-20 changeup range, and he’s throwing more and more changeups as the season progresses. Heck, he threw 29 changeups in a game against the Red Sox back in July. That never would’ve happened last year. The thing that has caught my eye about Severino’s changeup, especially the last few weeks, is the velocity. Here is his changeup velocity by start with error bars showing the minimum and maximum velocities, via Brooks Baseball:

luis-severino-changeup

In 2015 and 2016, Severino’s changeup sat right around 90 mph and didn’t deviate too much from that velocity. His slowest changeup from 2015-16: 85.5 mph. His fastest changeup from 2015-16: 94 mph, and I’m pretty sure that’s a mistake. PitchFX must has classified a fastball with a little extra sink on it as a changeup. His second fastest changeup from 2015-16 was 91.7 mph, so yeah, that’s probably it.

For all intents and purposes, Severino’s changeup velocity range was 85 mph to 92 mph from 2015-16. This year, as you can see from the error bars in the graph, he’s thrown his changeup down around 80 mph in several starts, with a few in the 70s as well. Look at his last few starts in particular. Severino has been throwing his changeup anywhere from 80 mph to 90 mph. Heck, Severino threw a 79.0 mph changeup and a 90.1 mph changeup in the same at-bat Saturday. From Baseball Savant:

luis-severino-nomar-mazaraLast year I thought part of Severino’s problem was the lack of separation between his pitches. I’m pretty sure I wrote that somewhere, but I can’t seem to find it now. Whatever. (Update: Here it is!) Anyway, everything Severino threw was hard. It was all 90 mph and above, for the most part. Throwing hard is great, but big league hitters can time velocity if you give them enough time adjust, and when everything (fastball, slider, changeup) comes in around the same velocity, it’s that much easier to time.

This year Severino is achieving much greater velocity separation between his fastball and changeup. His average fastball is 97.7 mph. That’s ridiculous. It’s also the highest average fastball velocity among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title by nearly one full mile an hour. (Chad Kuhl is second at 96.9 mph. No, really.) Catching up to 97.7 mph is hard enough. Now imagine doing it when the pitcher could bust out a low-80s (or even upper-70s) changeup. That’s how aces are made. We’re talking about a 15-20 mph separation between the fastball and changeup. That’s enormous. The league average is 9.1 mph.

Severino’s success this season — there’s basically nothing that could happen the last two and a half weeks that would take him off Cy Young ballot at this point — is the result of many things. Improved command, more confidence, experience, natural growth, and an improved changeup. That pitch was a non-factor for him much of last season. This year it is a legitimate weapon, and it’s only his third pitch. The fastball-slider combination is damn near elite. Add in a changeup that is approaching Bugs Bunny status, and there’s every reason to believe this version of Severino is here to stay.

DotF: German dominates, Scranton evens championship series

Triple-A Scranton (4-0 win over Durham) the best-of-five International League Championship Series is now tied at a game apiece

  • CF Mason Williams: 1-5, 1 R, 1 K
  • 2B Donovan Solano: 2-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 BB — he’s been a beast all postseason
  • RF Billy McKinney: 0-4, 1 BB, 2 K
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 2-5, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • DH Garrett Cooper: 3-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI — got a hit against former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi, who threw an inning out of the bullpen this game … Eovaldi’s rehabbing from his second career Tommy John surgery
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 1-4
  • RHP Domingo German: 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 8 K, 1 WP, 9/3 GB/FB — 62 of 103 pitches were strikes (60%) … huge final start of the season for Domingo … I imagine he’ll get called up as soon as this series is over, though who knows whether he’ll actually pitch
  • RHP Nick Rumbelow: 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 1/0 GB/FB — eleven of 17 pitches were strikes

[Read more…]

Wednesday Night Open Thread

According to multiple reports out of Japan, two-way sensation Shohei Otani will be coming over to MLB this offseason. Those reports are unconfirmed, of course. Jim Allen, who I trust on the Otani beat more than anyone, only says Otani’s desire to come to MLB has not wavered. Kyodo News says the Nippon Ham Fighters and Otani will talk things over after the season. We’ll see. We went through several “he’s coming to MLB oh wait maybe not” cycles with Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka. No reason to think Otani will be any different.

Anyway, here is an open thread for the evening. The Mets are playing tonight and ESPN will have the Red Sox-Athletics (7pm ET) and Dodgers-Giants (10pm ET). Talk about those games, the ongoing Otani situation, this afternoon’s win, or anything else right here. Just not religion or politics. Get outta here with that.

Yankees get just enough offense, just enough outs from the bullpen in 3-2 win over Rays

Four straight series wins and eight wins in the last eleven games for the New York Baseball Yankees. Wednesday’s series finale with the Rays was quite the nail-biter, but, in the end, the Yankees managed a 3-2 victory in the rubber game. The magic number to clinch a postseason spot is now 13.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Three Early Runs Against Archer
Two starts ago Chris Archer threw eight pitches and exited the game with forearm tightness, which is never ever good news. An MRI came back clean and Archer hasn’t missed a start, but boy, he sure doesn’t look healthy. He allowed eight runs in three innings against the Red Sox last time out, and on Wednesday the Yankees tagged him for three runs on six hits and three walks. He threw 92 pitches in four innings plus one batter.

The Yankees scored all of their runs against Archer in the third inning, and the rally came together quick. Starlin Castro first pitch single to center, Jacoby Ellsbury fourth pitch single to right, Todd Frazier second pitch single to left. Three batters, three hits, seven pitches. The Frazier single was a grounder through the left side of the infield and Castro was able to score from second, giving New York a 1-0 lead.

The prolonged at-bats came after the Frazier single. Clint Frazier struck out for the first out of the inning, though it took Archer eight pitches. Austin Romine worked a six-pitch walk to load the bases. After the two long at-bats, Brett Gardner jumped on a second pitch changeup Archer left up in the zone, and he slapped it the other way for a two-run single. A well-placed ground ball, it was. That gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead.

Gardner’s single put runners on first and second with one out, and Archer had already thrown 23 pitches in the inning. Unfortunately Chase Headley hit into a bad luck inning-ending double play. Well, no, it wasn’t really bad luck. It was more about the Rays being well-prepared than the Yankees hitting into bad luck. Headley ripped a hard-hit ball back up the middle, right where shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria was stationed. So it goes.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Jaime’s Short Leash
For the fifth time in the last nine games, the starter did not complete five innings. And only once in those five games was the starter removed because he was getting hit around. That was Masahiro Tanaka against the Rangers over the weekend. In the other four starts Joe Girardi went to the bullpen early to protect a lead rather than let the starter go through the lineup a third time. That’s exactly what happened Wednesday afternoon.

Jaime Garcia danced in and out of danger in the first and second innings — he allowed three hits in those two innings, two of which did not leave the infield — but got the ground balls to escape trouble. Kevin Kiermaier jumped on a 2-0 fastball leading off the third for a solo home run, getting the Rays to within 3-1, for the only run Garcia allowed. He retired eight of the next nine batters he faced, with only a Hechavarria walk mixed in.

Garcia’s afternoon came to an end with two outs in the fifth, when Lucas Duda dunked a little half-swing single along the third base line. He wasn’t trying to beat the shift. It just happened. Garcia didn’t throw a bad pitch. Duda just reached out with a defensive half-swing in a two-strike count, and the ball landed maybe a foot fair. Pretty stupid, but baseball is known to be stupid from time to time. With the Yankees up 3-1 and Evan Longoria coming to the plate for the third time, Girardi went to the bullpen.

Clearly, Garcia was not happy about getting pulled. He didn’t look at Girardi when he handed him the ball and the two had a conversation in the dugout afterwards. Joe didn’t chew him out or anything. It was one of those “here’s my thinking here, this is why I took you out” talks. Similar to the talk Girardi had with CC Sabathia the other night, when he was yanked early. Garcia’s final line: 4.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 78 pitches. Not too shabby for a sixth (fifth?) starter.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

To The Bullpen
By his standards, Chad Green had a rough outing Sunday in Texas. He allowed a run on four hits and a walk in 2.1 innings, throwing 47 pitches. The Green Monster returned Wednesday with a dominant, yet relatively short, outing. Four up, four down, three strikeouts. Only 21 pitches. Green got Longoria to fly out after taking over for Garcia, then struck out the side in the sixth. He’s up to 99 strikeouts in 64.1 innings (1.96 ERA and 1.67 FIP).

Tommy Kahnle took over in the seventh — Green has worked a lot over the last week and I’m guessing Girardi didn’t want to push him any further — and tossed up a zero thanks to a snazzy double play by Headley. He scooped a hard-hit grounder, stepped on first base, and fired to second to get the speedy Mallex Smith. Things got interesting in the eighth inning. Dellin Betances struck out Duda, allowed a single to Longoria, and struck out Logan Morrison. And that was it. Girardi came to get him and went to Aroldis Chapman for the four-out save.

Why go the Chapman? I assume because Girardi saw Steven Souza is 3-for-9 with a homer against Betances and 0-for-3 against Chapman, though that kinda ignores Souza’s ability to murder fastballs and Chapman being a fastball pitcher. (And all three of Souza’s hits against Betances came in 2015.) I suppose the good news is Chapman walked him on five pitches rather than give up a game-tying home run. Hechavarria, who tormented the Yankees all series despite being terrible, then came through with a two-strike single to score Longoria to get the Rays to within 3-2.

Chapman was able to strike out pinch-hitter Wilson Ramos to end the eighth inning, stranding runners at the corners, but he needed 16 pitches to do it, and there was still another inning to go. I dunno. Taking out Betances seemed completely unnecessary, but whatever. Chapman, naturally, walked the leadoff man in the ninth. It was Casali’s third at-bat of the year after hitting .263/.351/.347 (99 wRC+) in fourth year at Triple-A. Good stuff.

Following that leadoff walk, it sure looked like Chapman got mad. Either at himself or life in general. He came roaring back to punch out Brad Miller, Kiermaier, and Duda on 12 total pitches. The lineup played right into his hands there. He got to face back-to-back-to-back left-handed hitters. It all worked out. The bullpen — and inning after inning of RISPFAIL — made it interesting, but a win is a win is a win.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
The Yankees had three opportunities to blow this game open. They loaded the bases with two outs in the third, but Young Frazier struck out. They loaded the bases again with one out in the eighth, but Young Frazier and Romine both struck out. No idea why Romine was allowed to hit there. The Yankees also had runners on the corners with no outs in the ninth, then went strikeout (Gary Sanchez), pop-up (Didi Gregorius), pop-up (Castro). Cool cool.

Small but impactful thing that doesn’t show up in the box score: Gardner made three — three! — excellent plays getting the ball back to the infield quickly after a base hit to left, holding the runner to a single instead of a double. That Headley double play in the seventh? Set up by Gardner holding Smith to a single. Three times Gardner prevented a runner from getting into scoring position in a close game. Huge.

The Yankees had ten hits total, including two each by Gardner, Sanchez, Castro, and Ellsbury. Headley and Old Frazier had the others. Old Frazier drew two walks while Ellsbury and Romine drew one each. The Yankees went 2-for-14 (.143) with runners in scoring position and all nine batters in the lineup had at least one at-bat in those spots. Only Gardner and Old Frazier got hits. Whatever. Do better tomorrow.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN has the box score and updated standings, MLB.com has the video highlights, and FanGraphs has the postseason odds. Here’s our Bullpen Workload page and here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The neutral site road series in Queens is over and the Yankees now return to the Bronx for a seven-game homestand. Masahiro Tanaka and Wade Miley are the scheduled starters for Thursday night’s series opener with the Orioles. That’s a four-game series and, for all intents and purposes, it’s the last chance for the O’s to get back in the wildcard race. Another series loss and they’re basically done.

Yanks have yet to offer Cashman, Girardi, Denbo, or coaching staff contract extensions

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Not much of a surprise here, but according to George King, the Yankees have yet to make contract extension offers to their front office and coaching staffs. General manager Brian Cashman, vice president of player development Gary Denbo, vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring, manager Joe Girardi, and the entire coaching staff are unsigned beyond this season. I’m sure a bunch of others too.

The Yankees have, historically, waited until contracts expire before negotiating new deals. That used to apply to players as well, though the team came to their senses with that a few years ago and are now at least open to the idea of extending a player before free agency. The last few times Cashman and Girardi have been up for new deals, they became free agents and then worked out new contracts.

Denbo, who has helped turn the farm system into a player development machine, is reportedly under consideration for a position with the Marlins. He and Derek Jeter are very close — Denbo managed Jeter in the minors back in the day and was his big league hitting coach in 2001 — and it makes sense that Jeter would look to bring in someone he knows and trusts to run the team he’s about to purchase.

There were rumors circulating last month that the Yankees offered Denbo a big five-year contract extension — five-year contracts are pretty rare in the front office world, from what I understand — though King says that is not the case. The Yankees haven’t made him or anyone else an offer. Interestingly enough, Jeter’s purchase of the Marlins may take a while as the league reviews financial information. From Charlie Gasparino and Brian Schwartz:

“The owners told (Bruce) Sherman that the Jeter bid will get what amounts to a proctology exam,” said one baseball executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity and has direct knowledge of the owners meeting. “And they indicated that exam could take a long time.”

Front office and coaching staff contracts typically expire October 31st or at the end of the World Series. If the Marlins sale takes a while, it could give the Yankees a leg up on re-signing Denbo, who I can’t imagine will want to wait around for the Marlins sale to go final and leave his future uncertain. The Yankees could lock him up before Jeter fully controls the Marlins, which doesn’t sound imminent.

Of course, the Marlins could always approach the Yankees about Denbo after the sale goes final. Teams interview personnel under contract with other teams all the time. With permission, of course. The Yankees could deny that permission — they denied the Diamondbacks permission to interview scouting director Damon Oppenheimer back in 2010 — though most teams don’t when it involves a big upward promotion. Denbo could always push for having permission to interview elsewhere put into his contract. We’ll see.

For now, neither Denbo nor Cashman nor Girardi nor anyone on the coaching staff is under contract beyond this season. No one has a contract offer in hand either. I wonder if this will lead to some coaching staff changes? I guess it depends on Girardi. If he returns, which I think is likely, chances are his coaching staff will remain mostly intact. If Girardi leaves, all bets are off.

Game 145: End of the Road Trip

(Steven Ryan/Getty)
(Steven Ryan/Getty)

Although the nine-game road trip technically ends today, the Yankees have been sleeping in their own beds since Sunday night. They’ve split the first two games of this neutral site series at Citi Field with the Rays. Last night’s loss was a bummer. Sonny Gray was awesome and an extremely winnable game slipped away. Blah.

This afternoon the Yankees have a chance to clinch their fourth consecutive series win. They haven’t won four straight series since early-April/late-May. The last series in that four-series winning streak was the sweep at Wrigley Field. Been a while. Win the rubber game today then, uh, head home? Seven-game homestand coming up. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 1B Chase Headley
  3. DH Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. 3B Todd Frazier
  8. RF Clint Frazier
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP Jaime Garcia

It is cloudy and humid in New York this afternoon, which usually means rain is on the way. There’s not much in the forecast. Maybe a quick shower at some point, but probably nothing heavy enough to delay the game. Hope not, anyway. Today’s series finale will begin a little after 1pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network out-of-market. Enjoy.