Hicks is leaving the Yankees no choice, they have to play him every day

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Last night the Yankees opened their four-game series in Toronto with a convincing 12-2 win over the Blue Jays. They jumped on Marco Estrada early, scoring four runs in the top of the first, and they never let up. CC Sabathia took the big early lead and ran with it, like any good veteran starter would do. It was a fun game.

The hero on offense was not Gary Sanchez, who smashed two no-doubt home runs against Marco Estrada. It was nominal fourth outfielder Aaron Hicks. Hicks went 4-for-5 with three doubles, and he drove in six of the team’s 12 runs. The first double plated three of those four first inning runs, and it sounded like it was shot out of a cannon. Listen to this thing:

Loud contact all night for Hicks. All season, really. Thursday’s game upped his season batting line to .317/.437/.579 (173 wRC+) in 159 plate appearances. His eight home runs equal last season’s total in 202 fewer plate appearances. Hicks is also one of only six players to bat at least 150 times this season and have more walks (28) than strikeouts (27). The others: Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto, Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia, and Buster Posey. Brand names.

Last night Hicks finally picked up enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, and here’s where he currently ranks among the 173 qualified hitters:

  • AVG: .317 (18th)
  • OBP: .437 (5th)
  • SLG: .579 (13th)
  • wRC+: 173 (6th)
  • BB%: 17.6% (1st)

It’s not a stretch to say Hicks has been a top ten hitter in baseball this season. He is about 60 plate appearances behind most full-timers, which hurts his case, but the numbers don’t lie. When he’s played, he’s been a force. It’s hard to believe this is the same Hicks we saw last season, isn’t it?

Jacoby Ellsbury is currently out with a concussion, so last night was Hicks’ seventh straight start in center field. Prior to that he was playing fairly regularly, but not full-time. He started 31 of the team’s first 44 games before Ellsbury was placed on the disabled list. Rather than crash back to Earth and get exposed with regular time while filling in for Ellsbury, Hicks has continued to produce.

Given his all-around production — he plays good defense and runs the bases well, in addition to the big bat — Hicks is leaving the Yankees little choice but to play him every day even after Ellsbury returns, which could be as soon as this weekend. He’s playing too well to relegate to part-time duty, even if he starts something like four out of every seven games. That’s not enough. This is a talented 27-year-old player in the middle of a breakout season. That’s not someone you give limited playing time.

The problem with playing Hicks every day — and this is a “problem,” not a problem — is who do you sit? Certainly not Aaron Judge. Brett Gardner has been mashing of late too. Ellsbury? He’s got four years and $80-something million left on his contract. He’s not going to sit. And it’s not like he was playing poorly before the concussion either. The Yankees legitimately have four starting caliber outfielders on the roster. That’s exciting!

Once Ellsbury returns, the Yankees can ease him back into things and let him play every other day for a week or so. Something like that. Concussions are no joke. They’re a brain injury. Easing him back into things makes sense, and it allows the Yankees to play Hicks regularly. Once Ellsbury is a full go, I guess the Yankees have no choice but to rotate everyone, right? Something like this:

  • Day One: Hicks, Ellsbury, Judge
  • Day Two: Gardner, Hicks, Judge
  • Day Three: Gardner, Ellsbury, Hicks
  • Day Four: Gardner, Ellsbury, Judge

It sounds like a great idea, but it’s not easy to put into practice. Platoon matchups will screw things up — inevitably a Gardner-Ellsbury-whoever day will come up against a lefty starter — and also who wants Judge sitting out one-quarter of the games going forward? Who wants Hicks sitting out that many games too? Ugh, having too many good players is sooo annoying.

In all seriousness, Hicks is forcing the Yankees to keep him in the lineup as much as possible. I know he’s technically the fourth outfielder, but he sure as heck isn’t playing like one. He’s playing like an All-Star. Perhaps this will all work itself out in some way, either with a trade or an injury or whatever, but, for now, the Yankees and Joe Girardi have to find a way to get Hicks as much playing time as possible. He’s too good not to play every game, especially for a team in a division race.

The two Aarons and thinking about a new top of the lineup

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once upon a time, I was a lineup complainer. The lineup would be posted each day at 4pm-ish and I’d complain about it. So and so is hitting too low, this guy is hitting too high, why is bench player flavor of the week not playing, that sort of stuff. A few times a year the Yankees would play the “ideal” lineup. Otherwise it was the same story, day after day. The lineup stinks and I was Mad Online.

I’ve outgrown that, thankfully. Daily lineup complaints are no way to go through life. As long as Joe Girardi doesn’t do something crazy like bat his best hitter ninth (which he never does and would never do), whatever lineup he runs out there is fine with me. So this post shouldn’t construed as me complaining about the lineup. This is more of a rational discussion about the batting order nearly one-third of the way through the season.

For the most part, I think we can all agree on one thing regarding the lineup: Brett Gardner should lead off, and Chase Headley and Chris Carter should bat eighth and ninth, really in either order. I guess that’s three things. Anyway, that stuff is straight forward. Gardner is, yet again, one of the team’s best on-base players and count-workers. Headley and Carter have been terrible and should get the fewest at-bats. Simple, right? Right.

The few spots beyond Gardner are what I really want to discuss. This is my ideal top of the lineup right now, given the available personnel:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge

The three outfielders, left to right. Gary Sanchez has been hitting second most of the season and I am totally cool with that. It works for me. Sanchez has looked a little jumpy at the plate the last few days, but I’m not worried. Hitters go through their ups and downs. Sanchez is one of the team’s best hitters, so by all means, hit him second. Josh Donaldson and Kris Bryant won MVPs hitting second in recent years. Power hitters can hit there too.

That said, I like Hicks hitting second over Sanchez right now because, well, Hicks has been the better hitter this season. The better overall hitter and, more importantly, the better on-base threat. Hicks has a .426 OBP this year. Sanchez has a .356 OBP. That’s still good! But it’s not .426. Batting Hicks second means more runners on base for Judge, who has inarguably been the Yankees’ best hitter this season.

Judge started the season hitting lower in the lineup and understandably so, but he’s forced his way up, and now he is in entrenched as the No. 5 hitter. Moving Judge up even further to the No. 3 spot means more at-bats. More at-bats over the course of the season, and a better chance to get Judge that one extra at-bat in an individual game. Through 48 team games the No. 3 spot has 14 more plate appearances than the No. 5 spot for the Yankees. That’s 14 more times Judge would have come to the plate in the late innings. It’s not nothing!

We’re not splitting atoms here. Hicks (.426), Judge (.419), and Gardner (.363) have the three highest OBPs on the Yankees. They make fewer outs than anyone else. Judge is also one of the game’s top power threats. Batting Gardner and Hicks first and second is, by far, the best way to get men on base for Judge. Batting these three atop the lineup also means they get the most at-bats, therefore giving the Yankees more chances to score.

Going with Gardner-Hicks-Judge atop the lineup and Headley-Carter at the bottom leaves you Sanchez, Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, and Didi Gregorius for the 4-5-6-7 spots. What’s the best way to order them? I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer. I’d prefer hitting Sanchez fourth because I think he’s most likely to be an impact bat the rest of the season, but if you said the same thing about Castro or Holliday, I wouldn’t argue (much).

The important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is getting Judge more at-bats because because the guy is a monster, and the more he plays, the better the Yankees’ chances to win. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s concussion — Girardi said yesterday Ellsbury is still experiencing headaches, so he remains shut down indefinitely — ensures Hicks will be in the lineup everyday, and as long as he’s hitting like this, Hicks is the perfect No. 2 hitter. On-base ability, power, speed, switch-hitter, the whole nine. Perfect.

The lineup almost seems to write itself from there. Gardner leads off, Hicks hits second, Judge hits third. Your two best on-base players and your most devastating hitter. Sanchez, Holliday, Castro, and Gregorius add quality lineup depth through the No. 7 spot too. I get why Girardi hits Sanchez second, Holliday third, and Castro fourth. I do. But nearly 50 games into the season, it’s the clear the more Aaron Judge hits with men on base, the better. The lineup should be built in such a way that maximizes those opportunities.

Aaron Hicks has been working out of first base, and hopefully the Yankees won’t need him there

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

All winter long, I and many others said there was no way the Yankees would get worse production from first base this year than what Mark Teixeira gave them last year. Teixeira hit .204/.292/.362 (76 wRC+) last season. And so far this season, Yankees first basemen are hitting .164/.276/.295 (59 wRC+), and that’s with Chris Carter hitting a home run last night. Welp. First base has been a sore spot.

Help is kinda sorta on the way. Bird swung a bat yesterday for the first time since landing on the disabled list, and Tyler Austin started a minor league rehab assignment over the weekend. That’s good. They’ll give the Yankees options. Will they improve the first base situation? Man I hope so. It’s hard to think they’ll make it worse once healthy, but who knows? No one thought Bird/Carter would be a downgrade from Teixeira, yet here we are.

In an effort to give themselves more options, the Yankees have had fourth outfielder Aaron Hicks work out at first base recently. Here’s what Joe Espada, the third base and infield coach, told Brendan Kuty:

“He’s athletic, and sometimes we get deep in games,” Espada said. “It gives (manager Joe Girardi) some flexibility. (Girardi) asked me to hit him some ground balls in the infield, just in case … If he learned it, yes, I think (he’d be an option there). During the season, it’s really hard to get him to learn it. But he’ll take some ground balls on his off days and see what he can do. He does have some athleticism but it takes time to learn.”

The Yankees put Rob Refsnyder through a first base crash course last season — literally one day of work! — before playing him at the position during a game, though that was out of necessity. Teixeira was banged up and they ran out of options. I doubt the Yankees want to do that again, and they haven’t. Hicks has been working out at first base and nothing more. He’s yet to play there in a game.

I get why the Yankees are having Hicks work out at first base, and there’s no reason not to try to increase the versatility of your players, but I hope they don’t decide to actually play him there in anything other than emergency. I am totally cool with sticking with Carter at first base until Bird and/or Austin returns. Carter has gone 7-for-29 with two homers since the end of the NL city road trip. That’s a .241/.333/.483 line in nine games. That’s Chris Carter.

First base has been a problem area for the Yankees since last season. They’re getting little production from a position in which the offensive bar is quite high. It’s actually kinda amazing they’re second only to the Nationals (5.72) in runs per game (5.62) without getting anything from first base. Giving Hicks work there is fine as long as he’s an emergency only option. Playing him there full-time shouldn’t be a consideration right now. The Yankees aren’t that desperate yet.

Yankeemetrics: Kings of Kansas City (May 16-18)

(AP)
(AP)

Vintage CC
The Yankees kicked off the most grueling stretch of this early season – 20 games in 20 days – with one of their most complete and thorough performances so far. Power, pitching and defense were all on display in a satisfying 7-1 win over the Royals on Tuesday night.

The power was supplied by Gary Sanchez and Chris Carter, who each went deep and combined to drive in five runs.

Sanchez broke a scoreless tie in the third inning with a booming 428-foot homer, putting the Yankees up 3-0. It was his 23rd career homer in just his 69th game at the big-league level. The only player in major-league history to hit more homers before his 70th career game is White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu (25).

Carter tacked on two more runs with a deep blast to center in the fourth inning, punctuating his breakout 3-for-4 night at the plate. The list of Yankee first baseman to have at least three hits, including a homer, at Kauffman Stadium is a fun one: Lyle Overbay (2013), Tino Martinez (1998, 1999), Don Mattingly (1993), Steve Balboni (1983) and Chris Chambliss (1979). Welcome to the club, Chris!

Sure, chicks dig the longball, but the best story of the game was the strong bounce-back outing by CC Sabathia. The lefty had an ugly 9.58 ERA in his previous four starts entering this series, but delivered a vintage performance with 6 2/3 scoreless and efficient innings.

Sabathia checked off a couple notable milestones in the victory. It was his:

  • 109th win as a Yankee, tying Spud Chandler and Fritz Peterson for 15th place on the franchise all-time list
  • 13th win at Kauffman Stadium, matching the most wins by a visiting pitcher at the ballpark. Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle and Bert Blyleven also have 13 wins there.

One of the key differences for Sabathia against the Royals was his ability to pitch inside to righties with his cutter. On the left, his cutter location to right-handed batters in his previous four starts from April 21-May 9; on the right, his cutter location to right-handed batters on Tuesday:

cc-cutter-rhb-combined

In his previous four starts, righties hit .346 and slugged .590 overall against Sabathia, including a .407 average and .741 (!) slugging percentage against his cutter. On Tuesday, the Royals right-handed batters went 3-for-16 overall and were 0-for-4 when putting a cutter in play against Sabathia.

(TNS)
(TNS)

Runs, runs, and more runs
Another night, another run-scoring bonanza for the Yankees. They pummeled the Royals on Wednesday, 11-7, their MLB-leading seventh game with more than 10 runs. That’s the same number of 11-plus-run games they had all of last year, and tied with the 1936 club for the second-most in franchise history through 37 team games.

Royals starter Jason Vargas entered the game with the lowest ERA in the league (1.01!), but was shelled early and often by the visitors – a result that shouldn’t have been surprising given his track record against the Bronx Bombers. After surrendering six runs in four innings, his ERA against the Yankees rose to 7.15, the highest by any active player with at least 35 innings pitched against them.

Aaron Hicks contributed to the offensive fireworks with two hits, including a three-run homer, and one walk. After Wednesday’s slate, he was one of 16 major-league players with at least 25 plate appearances and more walks (22) than strikeouts (17). The only other guy on the list with a higher slugging percentage than Hicks (.616) was Bryce Harper (.744).

Starlin Castro led the hit parade with two doubles and a single, his 18th multi-hit game of the season. Over the last 20 years, the only other Yankee to produce 18-or-more multi-hit games within the team’s first 37 contests was Alfonso Soriano, who did it in 2002 and 2003.

Throwback (to 2016) Thursday
The Yankees couldn’t complete the sweep of the last-place Royals, falling 5-1 on Thursday in a game where the offense was M.I.A. for much of the night. It would have been their first series sweep in Kansas City in nearly a decade (September 2007).

Didi Gregorius once again saved the Yankees from being shut out for the first time this season with a one-out RBI single in the ninth inning. They are still one of three teams that haven’t been blanked in 2017, along with the Nationals and Twins.

Although the Yankees have scored at least one run in every game, there’s been some close calls. This was the fourth time that the Yankees had zero runs through eight innings (also on April 18, May 5 and May 12), and this was actually the second time in less than a week that Gregorius was the hero. His RBI single in the ninth inning on May 12 against the Astros was the Yankees only run of that game.

(AP)
(AP)

Jordan Montgomery allowed a career-high five runs in five innings, and the big blow was Mike Moustakas’ three-run homer on a first-pitch slider in the fifth inning. Entering this game, batters were 6-for-34 (.177) with one extra-base hit (double) when putting Montgomery’s slider in play.

Royals starter Danny Duffy was brilliant as he mowed down the Yankee lineup, retiring the first nine batters — six of them via strikeout — before Jacoby Ellsbury‘s bunt single leading off the fourth inning.

Duffy allowed just two more hits in seven scoreless innings while striking out 10. Duffy became the third Royals pitcher with double-digit strikeouts and no runs allowed against the Yankees, joining Tom Gordon (April 20, 1991) and Mark Gubicza (Aug. 17, 1986).

Extreme plate discipline is fueling Aaron Hicks’ great start

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

They had to wait a year longer than hoped, but the Yankees are now reaping the benefits of an Aaron Hicks breakout season. The former first round pick and top prospect has finally turned his high-end tools and athleticism into big time baseball production at age 27. Hicks went deep last night and owns a .326/.464/.616 (195 wRC+) batting line this year. Unlike last season, it’s really hard to keep him out of the lineup.

The book on Hicks coming up through the minors was that he had very good knowledge of the strike zone — he owns a career 14.4% walk rate in over 2,600 minor league plate appearances — but would often be too passive, meaning he’d let hittable pitches go by. That’s not an uncommon problem, though getting a player to be more aggressive is not always easy. It’s in their DNA to want to wait for the perfect pitch.

Last season Hicks showed strong plate discipline with the Yankees, even when he was struggling. His 18.8% strikeout rate and 8.3% walk rate were both better than the league averages, and his 23.1% chase rate was far below the 30.6% league average. Hicks rarely expanded the zone. The problem was that when he did swing, nothing really happened. Hicks played his best when he was in the lineup regularly, but he didn’t play well enough to get regular at-bats. It was a tough spot.

This season Hicks has started well and he’s forcing Joe Girardi to give him at-bats, which is a good thing. The Yankees have four starting caliber outfielders on the roster right now, three of whom could legitimately handle center field defensively full-time, if necessary. How many other teams can say that? One reason Hicks is breaking out is his plate discipline, which has become extreme. He simply doesn’t chase out of the zone. Here is the chase rate leaderboard among players with at least 100 plate appearances this season:

  1. Aaron Hicks: 13.7%
  2. Eric Thames & Robbie Grossman: 18.1%

The gap between No. 1 and No. 2 is the same as the gap between No. 2 and No. 18, who, coincidentally enough, is Chase Headley. It’s worth noting Hicks has the second lowest swing rate overall, on pitches both in and out of the zone. He’s at 33.0%. The lowest swing rate? Brett Gardner at 32.8%. Matt Carpenter is third at 34.0%.

Here is the pitch location map of all the swings Hicks has taken this year, via Baseball Savant:

aaron-hicks-swing-locationsNot many swings on pitches outside the strike zone at all. Heck, most of the pitches out of the zone that Hicks did offer at were borderline pitches, the kind that could have been called either way had he laid off. There’s fewer than a dozen pitches well out of the zone that generated a swing in that plot. If you want Hicks to swing, you have to come in the strike zone. He won’t get himself out by chasing off the plate.

What this extreme level of plate discipline does is get Hicks into better hitter’s counts. Hicks has 111 plate appearances this season and in 43 of them he’s seen a 2-0 or 3-1 count, or 39%. The MLB average is 23%. Hicks is nearly double that. And in hitter’s counts, Hicks is hitting .450/.744/.800 this year. That’s a 218 OPS+, on par with elite sluggers like Freddie Freeman (216 OPS+) and Kris Bryant (206 OPS+) when they’re ahead in the count.

Hicks has been so good at laying off pitches out of the strike zone this year that it almost can’t continue. Among players with at least 400 plate appearances, the lowest single season chase rate during the PitchFX era (2008-present) is 13.5% by 2010 Daric Barton. Marco Scutaro had a 14.0% chase rate in 2009. No one else is below 16.0%. Maybe Hicks can maintain his 13.7% chase rate. That’d be cool. Chances are it’ll climb though. In fact, it already has. From FanGraphs:

aaron-hicks-chase-rate

The fact Hicks has a history of strong plate discipline, including a 23.1% chase rate last year and a 21.3% chase rate for his career, suggests this isn’t a complete fluke, however. It’s not like Starlin Castro has suddenly turned into Joey Votto, you know? Hicks has always had plate discipline, and this year he’s cranked it up another notch. As a result, he’s seeing better counts, and doing more damage.

Even now, more than six weeks into the season, it’s still difficult to tell what is real improvement (or decline) and what is general baseball randomness. I want to believe the Hicks breakout is real and I think it is, but I don’t know that it is. The underlying data, specifically his complete unwillingness to expand the zone and history of plate discipline, suggest this could be real. For now, the hot start has happened, and Hicks has helped the Yankees win an awful lot of games early on. Good things happen when you swing at strikes and lay off balls.

Yankeemetrics: Bronx Bombers invade Wrigley (May 5-7)

Air Gardy. (Presswire)
Air Gardy. (Presswire)

It Ain’t Over ‘Til Its Over
The Comeback Kings struck again as the Yankees pulled off yet another stunning late-game come-from-behind victory on Friday afternoon against the Cubs.

Trailing 2-0 in the top of the ninth with two men on base and two outs, Brett Gardner drilled a 2-2 slider into the right field bleachers to give the Yankees the lead; Aroldis Chapman got the final three outs to secure the most improbable win.

How unlikely was this rally? The last time the Cubs lost a game in this scenario – protecting a two-or-more-run lead in the ninth – was nearly three years ago, on May 21, 2014 at Wrigley Field … against the Yankees.

Or maybe it wasn’t so unlikely, given the refuse-to-lose mojo of the 2017 Yankees. Entering Saturday’s slate, they were one of just three teams this season with multiple wins when trailing by at least two runs entering the ninth inning (Padres and Angels were the others).

Before Gardner went deep, he was a pathetic 3-for-20 (.150) with zero extra-base hits after the sixth inning, and hitless in five at-bats in the ninth inning this season.

Gardner’s home run was not just shocking, it was one for the record books. Only six other times since 1930 has a Yankee hit a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning with two outs and trailing by at least two runs. That list includes: Mark Teixeira (2016), Alex Rodriguez (2010), Don Mattingly (1985), Chris Chambliss (1976), Bobby Murcer (1969) and Bobby Richardson (1962).

A-Rod‘s three-run homer in the top of the ninth on Sept. 17, 2010 in Baltimore is the only other instance in the last quarter-century that a Yankee pulled off that feat when down to their final strike, like Gardner.

And, finally, this was the third time in the last 75 years that the Yankees were one out away from being shut out, and then hit a go-ahead home run. Incredibly, the hero in the two previous games was the same guy – Bobby Murcer – who erased a 1-0 deficit on June 14, 1980 in Oakland and a 2-0 deficit on August 5, 1969 against the Angels with ninth-inning, game-changing homers.

Hot hot Hicksy. (EPA)
Hot hot Hicksy. (EPA)

No comeback needed
One night after perhaps the most dramatic win of the season, the Yankees authored one of their least dramatic wins of the season, taking a 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning en route to an 11-6 victory on Saturday. The win gave them their fourth straight series victory, something they never did last year.

Sure, the Yankees and Cubs don’t match up often, but it’s still fun to note that the last time the Yankees scored 11-or-more runs against the Cubs was in Game 4 of the 1932 World Series, a 13-6 series-clinching win at Wrigley Field. The 3-4 hitters in that lineup were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig; for Ruth, it was the last World Series game of his Hall-of-Fame career (h/t Mark Simon, friend of Yankeemetrics).

The offensive explosion on Saturday was led by the top of the order as Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro combined to go 7-for-9 with five runs and six RBIs. Castro was 3-of-4, notching his AL-best 15th multi-hit game of the season. In the last 40 years, only two other Yankees produced that many multi-hit games within the team’s first 28 contests: Derek Jeter (2012) and Alfonso Soriano (2002, 2003).

Hicks’ performance was the statistical highlight of the night, as he went 4-of-5, including a homer, while driving in three runs and scoring three runs. The last Yankee center fielder to put up those numbers in any game – at least four hits, a home run, three RBIs, three runs – was Mickey Mantle on Aug. 6, 1961 against the Twins.

Yes, miracles do happen. (Getty)
Yes, miracles do happen. (Getty)

It’s over, finally
After way too many innings, way too many hours, way too many pitches, way too many strikeouts … the Yankees finished off the sweep of the Cubs on Sunday night (actually Monday morning).

It marked their first sweep of the defending World Series champs since July 14-16, 2006 against the White Sox, and the first time they’ve done that on the road since July 29-31, 2003 in Anaheim against the Angels.

The 18-inning affair was the longest game in Interleague history, longest game ever on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball (which began in 1990), and the longest in the majors this season.

It is the sixth time in franchise history the Yankees won a game of at least 18 innings and the first time since September 11, 1988 vs. the Tigers. The only other time they won a game this long on the road was a 22-inning marathon on June 24, 1962 in Detroit.

With the game going 18 innings, you’d think there would be a few more records set … and you would be correct.

  • The Yankee batters struck out 22 times, breaking the previous single-game franchise record of 17. And the Yankee pitchers struck out 26 Cubs, also obliterating the previous single-game franchise record of 19. Hooray!
  • The 26 strikeouts by Yankee pitchers matched a major-league record, set by the 1971 A’s vs. the Angels and the 2004 Angels vs. the Brewers.
  • This is the first game in MLB history where both teams each whiffed at least 21 times.
  • The 48 combined strikeouts by both teams is also a new single-game major-league record.
  • Yankees are the first team in major-league history to have four players (Castro, Didi Gregorius, Austin Romine, Chase Headley) go 0-for-7 or worse at the plate. Yes, they still won the game.

So how did we get there?

Luis Severino delivered an absolute gem, allowing one run in seven stellar innings. Twenty of his 21 outs came either groundballs (11) or strikeouts (9), and the one out he got in the air was a liner by Cubs starter Jon Lester. His final pitching line (4 hits, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts, 1 run, 7 innings) gives us our #FunFact Yankeemetric of the Week:

Only one other visiting pitcher as young Severino (23 years, 76 days) struck out at least nine batters, gave up no more than one run and allowed five or fewer baserunners in a game at Wrigley Field: Reds right-hander Jim Maloney, who delivered two such outings on August 21, 1962 and July 23, 1963.

Aaron Judge broke out of his mini-slump and gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the seventh with a tie-breaking RBI triple. It was the first go-ahead triple by any Yankee in nearly four years, when Travis Hafner hit one on April 27, 2013 to break a 4-4 tie in the seventh against the Blue Jays. Of course it was Pronk, just as we all predicted.

Aroldis Chapman came on in the ninth to protect a three-run lead, but eventually blew the save when he hit Anthony Rizzo with the bases loaded to even the score at 4-4. Chapman is the only Yankee pitcher since at least 1930 to give up the game-tying run in the ninth inning via a bases-loaded hit by pitch.

Finally, Castro reached on a fielder’s choice groundout, scoring Aaron Hicks from third. So the guy who went 0-for-8 was the hero of the night with the game-winning RBI.

Yankeemetrics: Rocky road trippin’ (April 21-23)

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Bad, the Ugly and the Awful
Last year the Yankees went 3-7 on their road Interleague slate, tied with the Twins for the worst record among AL teams … and the trend continued into 2017 after dropping the series opener in Pittsburgh, 6-3, on Friday night.

All the momentum and confidence built up from a strong 8-1 homestand came to a screeching halt thanks to a mix of bad pitching (see below), sloppy defense (two unearned runs) and a lack of clutch hitting (0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and 11 men left on base).

CC Sabathia was knocked around early, allowing a lead-off homer on the third pitch he threw and another longball in the second frame, putting the Yankees in 4-0 hole after two innings. Although he settled down and was able to gut through three more innings without allowing another run, he still was tagged for his worst outing of the season.

For whatever reason, Sabathia’s fastball (sinker/cutter) velocity was down significantly from his first three starts, averaging 88.2 mph compared to 90.6 in his first three starts combined …

brooksbaseball-chart-1

… and stuff-wise, each of his fastballs had much less “ride” on Friday, averaging just 7.1 (sinker) and 1.3 (cutter) inches of horizontal movement compared to 11.9 (sinker) and 3.7 (cutter) in his first three starts.

brooksbaseball-chart-2
Unsurprisingly, the Pirates crushed Sabathia’s diminished hard pitches, going 5-for-14 with two homers when putting his fastballs in play. In his first three starts, batters hit .244 and slugged .317 against Sabathia’s sinker/cutter combo.

The Pirates did their best to give the Yankees a chance to win, committing three errors, while the Yankees weren’t credited with an official RBI on any of their three runs scored. It was just the sixth time in franchise history they scored as many as three runs in a game with zero RBI. The last time it happened was May 2, 1989 in a 5-3 loss to the Royals.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Love these Komeback Kids
The Yankees got back in the win column with their sixth comeback win of the season, this time erasing a 3-0 deficit after five innings and cruising to an 11-5 victory.

Starlin Castro ignited the first rally with a three-run homer in the sixth inning that knotted the score at 3-3. It was his 25th longball with the Yankees and the 12th one that either tied the game or gave the Yankees the lead – that’s three more than any other Yankee over the last two seasons.

Ronald Torreyes then followed with a two-run double to give the Yankees their first lead, 5-3, in the sixth. Torreyes finished with four hits and two RBI, giving him 13 RBI through the team’s first 17 games. The only other Yankee shortstops with that many RBIs this early into the season were Derek Jeter (1999, 2006) and Frankie Crosetti (1936).

After the Pirates came back to tie the score, Chris Carter delivered his first True Yankee Moment®, belting a tie-breaking, pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning – his first time going deep in pinstripes. He is just the fourth Yankee pinch-hitter with a go-ahead homer in an Interleague game, joining Travis Hafner (2013 vs Arizona), Eric Chavez (2012 vs Mets) and Clay Bellinger (2000 vs Braves).

Aaron Judge then put the icing on the cake, connecting for yet another moonshot deep into the left field bleachers at PNC Park. Statcast measured the blast at career-high 457 feet with an exit velocity of 115.6 mph. Since his debut on Aug. 13, 2016, he has hit three homers traveling at least 445 feet. In that span (and through Saturday), only Justin Upton could match Judge in 445-plus foot homers.

It was the sixth time in 2017 that Judge ripped a ball with an exit velocity of at least 115 mph, making the leaderboard of 115-plus mph batted balls this season through Saturday … well, pretty ridiculous:

  • Aaron Judge: 6
  • Joey Gallo: 2
  • Rest of MLB: 9

Supernova’d
As good as the Yankees have been in the Bronx, they’ve been just as bad away from the friendly confines. After dropping the rubber game on Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Yankees fell to 0-3 in road series this season.

Ivan Nova — in his first start against the Yankees since being traded away last summer — got some sweet revenge against his former team as he allowed one run in seven efficient innings. It was the ninth time in 15 starts (60%) with the Pirates that Nova gave up one earned or fewer; he did that in just 25 percent of his 118 starts with the Yankees.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Jordan Montgomery continued to show poise on the mound and a knack for pitching out of trouble in another impressive outing. Making his third career start, the 24-year-old rookie scattered seven hits across six innings, surrendering two runs. The Pirates had one hit in seven at-bats with runners in scoring against Montgomery, who has held batters to a .118 average (2-for-17) with a man on second and/or third in his three starts.

The Yankees had plenty of chances to win the game but repeatedly came up empty. Notably, they loaded the bases with one out in the ninth but Aaron Hicks struck out and then Pete Kozma grounded out to end the game.

This was not an ideal situation for Hicks: he is now 2-for-27 (.074) with the bases loaded in his career, the second-worst mark among active players (min. 25 at-bats). And Kozma is just a bad hitter: his .148 batting average overall since the start of 2015 is better than only two non-pitchers that have at least 100 at-bats in the last three seasons (Craig Gentry, .139 and Erik Kratz, .117).