Game 137: Closing In

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Here’s a fun fact: with a win tonight, the Yankees will trim their deficit in the AL East to 4.5 games. They haven’t been that close since the end of April. Heck, you could argue the Yankees have an easier road to the division title than they do a wildcard spot because they actually play the teams ahead of them in the AL East. Now I’m just talking crazy.

Anyway, the Yankees have won ten of their last 16 games despite the back-to-back shutouts in Baltimore over the weekend. A win tonight would clinch their first series win over the Blue Jays since last August, six series ago. That was the series with Carlos Beltran homer/Andrew Miller vs. Troy Tulowitzki game. As fun as games like that are, I could go for a more stress-free win tonight. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Brian McCann
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. 1B Tyler Austin
    RHP Luis Cessa

It has been overcast and cool in New York all day, and there’s rain in the forecast pretty much all night. It doesn’t look like there will be torrential downpour, just on-and-off showers. The Yankees haven’t had much luck with rain delays this year. Hopefully they don’t get hosed again tonight. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES.

Roster Moves: The Yankees have called up both Bryan Mitchell and James Pazos, the team announced. There are now 13 pitchers in the bullpen. Joe Girardi said the team is leaning towards starting Mitchell tomorrow.

Injury Updates: Aaron Hicks (hamstring) was placed on the 15-day DL yesterday, which is odd. There’s no need for the 15-day DL once rosters expand in September. Chad Jennings thinks it could be a way to send Hicks to the minors for rehab games, and really, that’s the only thing that makes sense. There’s no other benefit to the 15-day DL at this point … Chad Green (elbow) seemed to indicate the second opinion revealed good news. He’s going to have a dye contrast MRI at some point though.

Game 133: Control What You Can Control

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Let’s do some quick math. Right now the second wildcard spot has a .541 winning percentage, which works out to 88 wins across a full season. The Yankees need to go 19-11 the rest of the get to reach 88 wins. Their best 30-game stretch this season is 18-12 from July 9th through August 13th, so it’s not impossible for this group. Long shot? Yes. But not impossible.

Here’s where it gets complicated: the Tigers have tied the Orioles for the second wildcard spot, and the Yankees don’t play Detroit the rest of the season. They’re going to need help from the Indians and Royals and, sigh, the White Sox and Twins. The Yankees have a brutal schedule this month. The Tigers have it pretty easy. There’s nothing the Yankees can do about that though. They can only control what they can control, and that starts with tonight’s game against the Orioles. Here is the O’s lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. DH Brian McCann
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. RF Aaron Judge
    RHP Chad Green

It is cool, cloudy, and humid in Baltimore. Not exactly baseball weather, but it’ll do. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Aaron Hicks (hamstring) has a Grade II strain, Joe Girardi told reporters this afternoon. He hurt himself running out a ground ball last night. The Yankees won’t place Hicks on the disabled list because there’s no need with expanded rosters, but this is going to keep him out a few weeks. Crud.

Guest Post: Aaron Hicks in August

The following is a guest post from Carlo Macomber, who goes by CoryWadeDavis in the comments. He’s previous written guest posts about Masahiro Tanaka, Didi Gregorius, and Jacoby Ellsbury.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

From April through July, Aaron Hicks struggled mightily in his first season with the Yankees. There are no two ways about it. Hicks hit .187/.251/.287 (41 wRC+) in 232 relatively sporadic PAs. That is unacceptable for a Major League player, but, to the disappointment of most fans, the Yankees stuck with Hicks through all of his struggles.

The Yankees have been rewarded for their patience as Hicks hit .280/.330/.439 (107 wRC+) in 88 PAs during the month of August. By no coincidence, Hicks’ much improved hitting has matched up perfectly with the Carlos Beltran trade that has allowed him to play regularly. However, all players are constantly making adjustments at the plate, and surely Hicks is no different.

Unfortunately, Hicks suffered a hamstring injury on the last day of the month. Nevertheless, let’s look to see what other differences there have been this month for Aaron Hicks other than simply playing regularly, while of course keeping in mind that this is only a small sample size.

Unsurprisingly, Hicks hit the ball harder in August than he had the first four months of the season. His hard contact rate in August is at 30.3%, up from 25.6% from April-July. His soft contact rate also dropped to 13.6% from 20.2%. This is clearly good news, especially because it shows that Hicks’ improved batting line is not entirely BABIP driven. His BABIP has increased significantly, from .220 in April-July to .306 in August, but the latter number is not absurdly high and seems to be the result of Hicks making much better contact.

Along with hitting the ball harder, Hicks has also managed to hit the ball in the air with more frequency this month. Check out this batted ball data:

Months GB% LD% FB%
April-July 49.4% 15.7% 34.9%
August 35.4% 21.5% 43.1%

While the drop in GB% is certainly noticeable, Hicks’ August LD% is quite encouraging. If Hicks had a 21.5% LD% on the entire season, he would be nearly tied with Buster Posey and in the vicinity of players like Miguel Cabrera. Of course, this is not to say Hicks will ever be remotely close to Posey or Cabrera offensively, but it is certainly encouraging that he is capable of putting up a similar LD%, even in the small sample of a single month.

Also, as baseball fans know, players with elite speed can thrive with high ground-ball rates, the vast majority of players are better off hitting the ball in the air with frequency. Didi Gregorius, a player somewhat similar to Hicks in terms of speed, has managed to drop his GB% from 44.7% last year to 42% this season. This has, of course, coincided with Didi’s breakout offensive season. Hicks’ April-July GB% was simply too high for him to have sustainable, non-BABIP driven offensive success. While his August GB% may not be completely sustainable given where has was for much of the year, if he could maintain a ground-ball rate around Didi’s 2016 level, Hicks could notice more continued success in the future.

Now, let’s take a look to see how Hicks has done more damage offensively based on pitch selection. Because Hicks only had a small number of PAs from the right side of the plate in August, the following comparison is going to focus on Hicks’ PAs from the left side (against right-handed pitching). With that being said, the graphic below shows (from the catcher’s point of view) Hicks’ swing rate on four-seam fastballs against right-handed pitching from April through July.

Aaron Hicks1

Hicks was quite aggressive on fastballs just about anywhere in the zone as well as fastballs up and out of the zone for the first four months of the season. Being aggressive on fastballs in the zone is generally a positive, but considering that Hicks pulled the ball at a 46.4% clip during this time frame, he probably would be better off attacking pitches on the inner-half of the plate only. (For reference, Brian McCann pulls the ball 49.8% of the time so far this season.)

Additionally, while Hicks struggled mightily overall during this time, he did minimal damage on fastballs up and out of the zone, which is not particularly surprising given the location, but is quite poor considering how often he chased those pitches. Hicks struggled so much from April-July, that it would seem difficult to find one particular issue. His fastball selection, however, certainly stands out as contributing to his struggles. Now, let’s take a look at the same chart except with the time period being the entire month of August.

Aaron Hicks3

While keeping in mind that one month is obviously a smaller sample size than four, Hicks was much more successful at laying off fastballs up and out of the zone. Those types of fastballs can be challenging to do much damage with, so this stands out as a clear improvement for Hicks! Another noticeable difference between the two charts is that Hicks has also been more selective within the strike zone. While still swinging at some fastballs in the outer part of the zone, Hicks has taken more of them, while looking to attack fastballs on the inner-half of the plate. He has even been slightly more likely to swing at fastballs in and off the plate. Given his tendencies to pull the ball, Hicks has improved greatly in August by being more selective with fastballs and looking to attack ones located on the inner-half of the plate.

Of course, the sample size of pitches that meet these criteria is quite small, but Hicks has done quite a bit of damage in August on fastballs on the inner-half of the plate. The increased selectivity has been paying off, as Hicks was an above-average offensive player for the month of August. However, it is, of course, unknown whether Hicks can sustain this kind of success over a longer period of time. Perhaps, he simply had a good month. The increased hard contact rate, increased line drive rate, and better fastball pitch selection, among other improvements, do provide a little bit of evidence that Hicks may have made real gains in his development. His recent injury obviously creates another obstacle on his path to sustaining this success, but it is certainly fair to say the month of August provided hope for Aaron Hicks as a hitter.

Update: Hicks leaves game with right hamstring strain

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

12:10am: Hicks left the game with a right hamstring strain, the Yankees announced. That’s no good. Even if it’s a relatively minor strain, Hicks figures to miss some time. At least rosters expand soon.

11:08pm: Aaron Hicks left tonight’s game in the ninth inning with an apparent right leg injury. He busted it out of the box on a ground ball, put pulled up short of first base and favored his right leg. Could be a hamstring or a quad, but who knows. Aaron Judge took over in right field in the bottom of the ninth. Here’s video of the injury:

If there’s one thing the Yankees have, it’s outfield depth. Even after trading Ben Gamel earlier today. Judge is the everyday right fielder as it is — Hicks is more of the roving fourth outfielder — and the team has Mason Williams waiting in Triple-A. Rob Refsnyder can play some outfield too. Rosters expand tomorrow.

Hick is having an awful season overall, but he’s been much better of late, hitting .291/.333/.456 (112 wRC+) in August. The Yankees need all the offense they can get these days, so losing Hicks is not insignificant. The team has not yet released an update, so stay tuned.

The Yankee offense has come to life in August, and it’s not all Gary Sanchez

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon the Yankees were shut out by the Orioles and Kevin Gausman, which, unfortunately, has been all too common this season. They have no answer for Gausman at all. The young right-hander has made four starts against the Yankees this season and he’s held them to three runs in 27.2 innings. That’s a 0.98 ERA. He has a 4.41 ERA against all other teams. Sigh.

Thankfully, games like that, in which the offense no-shows, have been rare this month. Very rare, in fact. Yesterday’s loss snapped the Yankees’ five-game streak of scoring at least five runs, the team’s longest such streak in three years. The Yankees scored 14 runs Friday night and another 13 runs Saturday. They scored 10+ runs six times in the first 126 games of the season, then did it back-to-back days this weekend.

Even with yesterday’s shutout loss, the Yankees have scored 133 runs in August, making it their highest scoring month of the season. There’s still three more games to play before September arrives too. Here is the Yankees’ month-by-month runs scored ranks among the 30 MLB clubs:

April: 74 (30th)
May: 119 (22nd)
June: 129 (13th)
July: 97 (23rd)
August: 133 (4th)

Not surprisingly, power has played a big role in the Yankees’ sudden run-scoring ability. They’ve hit 40 homers so far this month, ten more than any other month this season. (They hit 30 in both May and June.) Obviously the arrival of Gary Sanchez has played a huge role in the improved offense. He’s hitting .425/.489/.938 (274 wRC+) with eleven homers in 21 games this season since being recalled after the trade deadline.

Sanchez is not the only reason the offense has been much improved this month though. Remember, the Yankees traded away Carlos Beltran at the deadline, and he was their best hitter for much of the season. It’s not like they simply added Sanchez on top of what they already had. Several players have improved their performance this month as well. Three others in particular have mashed in August:

April to July August
Starlin Castro .256/.292/.395 (81 wRC+) .309/.337/.557 (135 wRC+)
Aaron Hicks .187/.251/.287 (41 wRC+)  .307/.342/.480 (121 wRC+)
Mark Teixeira .192/.269/.322 (58 wRC+)  .254/.359/.433 (116 wRC+)

That doesn’t include the red hot Ronald Torreyes, who has gone 14-for-26 (.538) with six doubles, a homer, a walk, and no strikeouts over the last week. He’s exactly the kind of high-contact hitter who can go on an insane BABIP-fueled run like this. Torreyes replaced Chase Headley at third for a few games while Headley nursed an Achilles injury, and he’s stayed in the lineup because he’s been so hot.

There are reasons to believe this is all legit too. Castro has always been a second half hitter; he has a career 86 wRC+ in the first half and 105 in the second half. Hicks is playing everyday again, something he wasn’t able to do for much of the first half. I know no one wants to hear it, but I truly believe the regular at-bats help get him on track. Teixeira? Well, he couldn’t possibly be that bad all season, right? I hope so. We have to hope and pray a little more with Teixeira than we do Castro and Hicks.

It hasn’t all been good news this month. That’s just the way it goes. Brett Gardner (78 wRC+) and Jacoby Ellsbury (85 wRC+) haven’t been great in August, which is kind of a problem because they hit first and second — directly in front of the molten hot Sanchez — most games. Brian McCann (77 wRC+) hasn’t done much either, and call-ups Aaron Judge (85 wRC+) and Tyler Austin (-11 wRC+) have cooled off following their big MLB debuts. You can’t really expect the kids to carry the offense though. Sanchez is the exception, not the rule.

Still, the point is the Yankees have multiple hitters locked in right now. Most of the season they were able to rely on Beltran and maybe one other hitter at any given time. Didi Gregorius was hot for a while. Then it was McCann. Then Headley. Then whoever. The offense never seemed to fire on all cylinders, and truth be told, it still doesn’t feel that way. At least now there’s more than one or two guys carrying to load. Sanchez has been getting the kind of help Beltran never received.

The Yankees beat up on some bad Orioles pitching Friday and Saturday night, which skews their August numbers a tad. They’re averaging 4.61 runs per game this month if you remove those two blowouts, which is still their second highest scoring month this year after June (4.78). Friday’s and Saturday’s games happened though. They count. Earlier this year the Yankees rarely beat up on bad pitching. They just did it on back-to-back days.

No one expects Sanchez to stay this hot the rest of the season. It’s pretty much impossible. Hopefully as he cools down others like Gardner and Ellsbury and McCann heat back up and create a deeper, more balanced lineup. Scoring runs can still be a struggle for the Yankees, we saw it yesterday, but they’ve done a much better job offensively of late. They’ll have to keep up this pace to continue climbing back into the postseason race.

Yankeemetrics: Birth of the Baby Bombers [Aug. 12-14]

(Getty)
(Getty)

Saying Bye-Rod
The Yankees made sure that Mr. Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez’s farewell game in pinstripes would be a memorable and winning one, as they sent the controversial slugger off into the sunset with an exhilarating comeback victory on Friday night against the Rays.

A-Rod’s final game with the Yankees (and perhaps his career) marks the final act of one of the most confounding and polarizing, yet also brilliantly talented, players in the history of this sport. Earlier this week we detailed a few of his many baseball superlatives; now here are two more numbers that put his complicated and fascinating tenure with the Yankee franchise into perspective.

(AP)
(AP)

Rodriguez enters the pinstripe record books with a batting line of .283/.378/.523 across 12 seasons in the Bronx. Among the hundreds of players that have compiled at least 200 plate appearances with the Yankees, only four others have reached each of those thresholds in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage: Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

Although A-Rod has frequently been chastised for his purported lack of clutch hitting in the playoffs, there is this stat to consider: A-Rod had four career game-tying or go-ahead hits in the ninth inning or later in the postseason, the most among all players in major-league history.

With the adrenaline pumping, A-Rod kicked off his last game in style, sending a 96 mph fastball from Chris Archer into right-center field for a first-inning RBI double. It was his first hit on pitch of more than 95 mph since June 7, a single off Angels reliever Cam Bedrosian.

Dellin Betances struck out the side in the ninth inning, recording his 100th, 101st and 102nd strikeouts of the season. This is the third year in a row he’s racked up at least 100 strikeouts, becoming the third reliever in American League history with back-to-back-to-back 100-K campaigns. The others are Dick Radatz (1962-65) and Duane Ward (1989-92), who both put together four-season streaks of at least 100 Ks.

(Getty)
(Getty)

New Kids in the Bronx
These are certainly not your father’s Yankees anymore. On Day One of the post-Alex Rodriguez Era, it was clear that the franchise’s much-hyped youth movement is in full swing.

The team called up highly-touted prospects Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge before Saturday’s afternoon contest and Joe Girardi immediately wrote their names on the lineup card, Judge in right field and Austin at first base. They were the first Yankee teammates to make their big-league debuts as starters in the same game since John Ellis and Jim Lyttle on May 17, 1969 against the Angels.

The two Baby Bombers wasted little time in earning their True Yankee pinstripes. Batting seventh and eighth, the duo electrified the Yankee Stadium crowd early with back-to-back solo homers in the second inning, fueling an offensive explosion that resulted in a fun-to-watch and rousing 8-4 win.

With those two blasts, Austin and Judge completed a stunning and unprecedented feat, becoming the first teammates in baseball history to each homer in their MLB debut in the same game. Before they went deep, only three other Yankees had ever homered in their first career at-bats in the bigs: Andy Phillips in 2004, Marcus Thames in 2002 (on the first pitch from Randy Johnson!) and John Miller in 1966.

Austin added a stolen base to his historic debut, becoming the first AL player to homer and steal in his first major-league game since Bert Campaneris (Kansas City A’s) in 1964; he is the only Yankee to accomplish the feat since at least 1913.

Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius soon joined the home run party on this hot and humid day, sending the ball over the fence in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings, respectively.

That gave the Yankees five players age 26 or younger with a longball, the first time in franchise history they’ve had that many under-27 guys go deep in the same game. Only three other teams have ever done this in the regular season over the past century: the 2016 Cubs, 2013 Astros and 1996 Brewers (the Cubs also did in Game 3 of the NLDS last year).

Even more impressively, each of the five youngsters also added another hit, making the Yankees the only MLB team in last 100 years to have five different players under the age of 27 with at least two hits and a homer in the same game.

Judge, jury and … homers!
The Yankees emotional ceremony-filled weekend ended with a thud on Sunday afternoon. They were creamed by the Rays, 12-3, snapping their four-game win streak and pushing them further back in the wild card race.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Luis Severino got hammered for seven runs in 3 2/3 innings, falling to 0-8 with a 8.58 ERA as a starter this season. That is the longest losing streak as a starter to begin a season by a Yankee since Fred Talbot lost his first eight starting decisions in 1968.

Even more depressing, the Yankees have still yet to win a game with Severino on the mound as the starting pitcher. Over last 100 years, this is the only time that the Yankees have lost the first nine games of a season started by a pitcher.

His fastball command was inconsistent and his changeup again was non-existent, though his slider was nasty at times, as he racked up seven strikeouts.

That bizarro performance produced a crazy pitching line that no major-league pitcher had recorded in nearly a decade. The last guy to allow at least seven earned runs and strike out at least seven batters in an outing of fewer than four innings pitched was Kenny Rogers in 2008 for the Tigers.

The lone highlights of the game were provided by the bats of the newly-christened Baby Bombers as Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez both homered in the loss. Judge became just the second player in franchise history to go deep in each of his first two major-league games, joining the immortal Joe Lefebvre (1980).

Sanchez’s two-run shot left his bat at 102 mph; he now has an average exit velocity of 91.6 mph this season, the highest among all Yankees with at least 10 batted balls in play.

Saturday Links: Chapman, Beltran, Best Tools, A-Rod

(Greg Fiume/Getty)
(Greg Fiume/Getty)

The Yankees and Indians will continue their three-game series later this afternoon, assuming the weather cooperates. Here are some stray links to help you pass the time until first pitch.

Chapman, Beltran open to re-signing with Yankees

After being traded last week, impending free agents Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran told reporters they would be open to re-signing with the Yankees after the season. “I would love to come back again,” said Chapman to Mark Feinsand while Beltran simply told Jared Diamond he would “gladly” return to the Yankees if the opportunity presents itself.

As good as he has been this year, I don’t love the idea of bringing Beltran back next season, even on a cheap-ish one-year deal to DH. There are lots of young position players in Triple-A Scranton waiting for an opportunity. Chapman’s a different story because he’s still right smack in the prime of his career, and there’s always room for another high-end reliever in the bullpen.

I feel like it’s inevitable the Yankees will sign a top reliever this offseason, and I’d prefer Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon to Chapman. I just have no interest in rooting for the guy following the domestic violence stuff. You’re welcome to feel differently. Anyway, it’s no surprise Chapman and Beltran are open to coming back. Why would any impending free agent rule out the Yankees?

Baseball America’s best tools survey

One of my favorite features each season is Baseball America’s best tools survey. They poll managers and coaches about the players in their leagues, then put all the results together. Here are the Yankees at each level. The links go to each article and they’re not behind the paywall.

Chapman (best fastball) and Andrew Miller (best slider, second best reliever) both made appearances in the survey as well. Sanchez being voted as the best defensive catcher in the International League is pretty darn interesting. I’m not sure if that’s because he’s made a lot of improvement, or because it’s just a weak year for IL catchers. I choose to believe the former. Go Gary!

No plans to release A-Rod

To the surprise of no one, Brian Cashman said the Yankees have no plans to release Alex Rodriguez during a recent radio interview (via George King). If the Yankees had any plans to release A-Rod, I think they would have done so already. Here’s what Cashman said:

“It’s not an easy circumstance, but there are no plans right now to do anything but give some reps to other people and see where it takes us, and if matchups or injuries hit, you might see him back out there,’’ Cashman told ESPN Radio. “First and foremost, you just have to admit it’s not easy to go ahead and eat — meaning release — that kind of money. It’s not something you come to a quick decision on … There’s a very large financial commitment through next year on a player of Alex’s caliber that was productive as [recently] as last year. Now, he’s being put in a position where sporadic play to try to get it going makes it more difficult. It’s fair to ask why and it’s fair to understand why it’s not a quick, rash decision, especially with September around the corner.”

Rosters expand in three weeks and five days, and I expect the Yankees to just ride this out with Rodriguez until then. They could release him in the offseason, but right now my guess is they hang on to him through the winter, then evaluate him in Spring Training. If he hits, they can give him a shot. If he stinks, they’ll cut him loose. And if he gets hurt, they’ll collect insurance on his contract.