Yankeemetrics: Fighting ’til the end [Sept. 23-26]

(Getty)
(Getty)

Zeroes
The Yankees late September collapse reached full throttle on Friday night with an ugly defeat, 9-0, to the Blue Jays in the series opener. It was their second-worst shutout loss ever in Toronto, behind only a 14-0 whitewashing on Sept. 4, 2001.

The loss also officially eliminated the Yankees from contention for the division crown, their fourth straight season without a title. Before this streak, they had never gone more than two seasons without winning the division since the leagues were split into three divisions in 1994.

Even more depressing is that they never spent a single day in first place in the AL East. The last season the Yankees failed to get to the top of the division standings was 1997, when the Orioles dominated from start-to-finish, spending a whopping 181 days as the front-runner (including off-days).

(AP)
(AP)

Zeroes again
The Yankees offensive slump reached near-historic proportions with another demoralizing loss on Saturday — their third scoreless game in a row dating back to the series finale in Tampa. Let’s recap the gory details of this awfulness with bullet points:

  • It’s the first time the Yankees have been shut out three games in a row since 1975 and just the sixth time in franchise history (also in 1968, 1960, 1929 and 1908).
  • They’ve been shut out 13 times overall this season, their most since 1990 (15).
  • 11 of those shutouts have come away from the Bronx, the second-most road shutout losses the Yankees have suffered in a season in the Live Ball Era (since 1920), behind only the 12 in 1973.
  • This was their sixth time being shut out in September, their most shutout losses in a single month since they were blanked seven times in July 1975. Last year the Yankees were shut out six times the entire season! And the clincher …

Five of those seven shutouts in September have come on the road. The last time the Yankees were shut out on the road five times in a single month was August 1905. Welp.

(AP)
(AP)

Runs? Yes. Win? No.
At least they finally made the scoreboard operator do some work, right? That’s pretty much the only positive to come out of another heart-breaking loss on Sunday. The Yankees snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, rallying in the top of the ninth to take the lead before coughing it up in the bottom of the inning, and ultimately walking off the turf as losers yet again.

Thanks to Didi Gregorius’ seventh inning homer, the Yankees avoided the ignominy of being shut out in four consecutive games for the first time in franchise history, and becoming the first AL team to do it since the 1964 Washington Senators. The home run ended our long national nightmare, a 33-inning scoreless streak that was the longest by any Yankee team since August 27-30, 1968.

Sure, the Yankees might have avoided one historical footnote by finally scoring some runs, but the loss still made headlines, statistically speaking. It was their eighth straight defeat in Toronto, their longest road losing streak ever against the Blue Jays.

They fell to 1-8 at the Rogers Centre in 2016, which is horrible, but it’s not even their most losses at one ballpark this season — they went 2-8 at Fenway Park. This is the third time in the last 75 years the Yankees have lost at least eight games at two different road stadiums: it also happened in 1959 at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and Boston’s Fenway Park, and in 1944 at Fenway and Detroit’s Briggs Stadium.

Michael Pineda turned in another solid performance, holding the Blue Jays to one run in 5 2/3 innings while lowering his September ERA to 2.66 in five starts. And with seven strikeouts, the 27-year-old right-hander surpassed the 200-strikeout mark this season, becoming the youngest Yankee to strike out at least 200 batters since a 26-year-old Melido Perez in 1992.

fight
(Getty)

End of the road
The Yankees escaped Toronto — and punctuated their final road trip of the season — with an emotional win in the series finale, surviving a roller coaster ninth inning to temporarily halt their free fall and postpone their inevitable march towards playoff elimination.

The math says the Yankees are still alive in the Hunt for October, and their hearts are telling them to keep fighting … literally.

Luis Severino started the game but barely had a chance to make an impact, facing just eight batters before getting ejected after the second benches-clearing brawl of the game in the second inning. He allowed an earned run in the first inning, bringing his total to 42 earned runs in 43 innings as a starter this season, an unsightly 8.79 ERA.

That is on pace to be the highest ERA as a starter for any Yankee pitcher that made at least 10 starts in a season. The current franchise-worst mark is 7.89, set by Staten Island native Karl Drews in 1947.

Mark Teixeira kicked off the ninth inning comeback with a 416-foot solo homer — plus an epic bat flip — that tied the game at 3-3. It was his 205th longball as a Yankee, matching Dave Winfield for 13th place on the franchise list, and the 408th of his career, moving past Duke Snider for sole possession of 54th place on the MLB all-time list.

Aaron Hicks then delivered the game-winning shot, a two-run blast to put the Yankees ahead 5-3, which earned him our obscure Yankeemetric of the Week: Hicks is the second Yankee right-fielder to hit a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning or later against the Blue Jays in Toronto; the other was some guy named Paul O’Neill, who had a similar clutch homer on Sept. 14, 1999.

A fearless and gutsy performance by Tommy Layne, who came into a bases-loaded, no-out situation and somehow got the final three outs, sealed the win for the never-say-die Yankees. It was his first save in pinstripes, making him the ninth different Yankee to record a save this season — a new single-season franchise record (since saves became official in 1969). The previous high was eight pitchers with at least one save, done by the 1979 and 1980 teams.

This Yankee team certainly has a flair for the dramatic, eh? It was the second game this season they hit game-tying and go-ahead homers in the ninth inning (also on June 29 versus the Rangers). You have to go back more than six decades — to August 24 and September 16, 1955 — to find the last time the Yankees had two such games like this in a single season.

Game 150: The Final Stretch

(Brian Blanco/European Press)
(Brian Blanco/European Press)

Thirteen games in 13 days. That’s all the Yankees have left this season barring a damn near historic run to the postseason. For them to have any shot at the playoffs, this series against the last place Rays is a must-sweep. One game a time though. Get a win tonight and snap the five-game losing streak. Let’s start there. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. RF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Billy Butler
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  8. 3B Donovan Solano
  9. CF Mason Williams
    RHP Michael Pineda

The internet tells me it’s cloudy and grossly humid in St. Petersburg, but it’ll be a cool 70-something degrees inside Tropicana Field. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Roster Move: As you can see from the lineup, Hicks (hamstring) was activated off the disabled list. He’d been out close to three weeks. No other move was required because rosters are expanded.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) is still sore but he said he’s hopeful he will play tomorrow. He’s available to pinch-hit tonight … Chase Headley (back) is not available at all. His back locked up on him in Boston. The Yankees play their next seven games on turf, so if Headley does return to the lineup this week, it might only be as the DH. We’ll see.

News: The Yankees announced they will honor Teixeira with a pregame ceremony prior to the final game of the season, on Sunday, October 2nd.

Cashman says young players have to earn roster spots in 2017 because of course they do

Bird. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Bird. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

To no surprise, Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees will not simply hand their top young players roster spots next season. They’ll have to earn it. “May the best man win,” said Cashman to Brendan Kuty recently when asked specifically about first base in the wake of Mark Teixeira‘s retirement.

At this point it’s safe to say that yes, Gary Sanchez has earned his place on the 2017 Yankees. Not exactly going out on a limb here. He’s the only young guy who has forced the issue this season though. First base and right field are another matter, ditto the pitching staff. And the bench too, I suppose. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s break it all down.

1. Competition is good! There seems to be this sense that when you’re a rebuilding transitioning team, the best thing to do is throw the kids out there and let them sink or swim. I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, there comes a point when you have to run a young player out there everyday to help him develop, but handing players jobs? Nah. That should be reserved for the best of the best.

Besides, competition between young players is good and healthy. They push each other to get better and it helps foster that “be the best player you can be” mentality. That’s a good thing. “We want a team full of good players. That’s how we’re going to win games,” said Greg Bird to Kuty. “And that’s us competing or other people competing with each other makes us all better, than that’s what we want.”

2. There’s a wide range of outcomes at first base. A year ago at this time we were all thrilled about the future at first base, the same way we’re thrilled about the future at catcher right now. Bird burst onto the scene and played very well down the stretch last season. He wasn’t Sanchez, but he was pretty awesome. The Yankees really missed Bird this year. He would have helped at first base and DH big time.

Bird’s shoulder injury has created some questions about next season. How healthy will he be? How quickly will he be back at full strength? Will he ever get back to full strength? Bird told Kuty his shoulder feels great — “It’s stronger than what it was and it’s structurally sound now,” he said — and he’ll soon face live pitching in Instructional League and the Arizona Fall League, but until he gets out there everyday, we just can’t know what he’s capable of. This was a major injury.

With any luck, Bird will come back and pick up right where he left off last season, giving the Yankees a no-doubt answer at first base. There’s a chance he may need time at Triple-A to shake off the rust, however, in which case Tyler Austin becomes Plan A at first base. I guess? Austin or Rob Refsnyder. Maybe Brian McCann or Austin Romine? First base could be really good or really bad next season. Bird could rake or the Yankees could end up cycling through players all year in an effort to find a solution.

Judge. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Judge. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

3. Right field seems wide open. Give the Yankees a truth serum and I’m guessing they’d tell you they want Aaron Judge to take the right field job in Spring Training and run with it. Of their in-house options, he has the best chance to become a middle of the order bat one day. “He will have to earn his way on to next year’s roster. There are no absolutes. Without question, he’ll be better for the experience,” said Cashman to Andrew Marchand.

Judge struggled to make contact this season and he’s losing reps now due to the oblique injury, which stinks. That’s valuable development time, even if it is only three weeks. His primary competition figures to be Austin, Refsnyder, Aaron Hicks, and Mason Williams. And you know what? The right field job could fall on two players via platoon or some kind of time share. It would be awesome if Judge won the job. I feel like anything could happen in right field though. Hicks everyday, a Williams/Austin platoon, whatever.

4. A veteran backup plan feels like a must. The Yankees have brought in a veteran bench player to cover first base and right field the last two years, and it didn’t work either time. Garrett Jones didn’t hit last year and Dustin Ackley blew out his shoulder this year. Neither played all that much either because the Yankees had pricey veterans in the lineup. It was a smart use of a roster spot that didn’t work out.

Since the Yankees are poised to go young at first base and in right field next year, bringing in a veteran backup plan for depth again makes sense, and this time at-bats should be easier to come by. Veterans like Teixeira and Carlos Beltran get the benefit of the doubt and stay in the lineup no matter what. A struggling kid could see a little more time in the bench just to get a mental break now and then.

We can sort through potential candidates for this role in the offseason — I’ll be beating the Steve Pearce drum this winter, so get ready for it (yes I know he’s having elbow surgery) — though it’s worth noting the Yankees have some options for this role themselves. Perfect world scenario is what, Bird at first and Judge in right with Austin and/or Refsnyder backing up both positions? I guess so, but a little veteran depth to protect against a Bird setback/Judge whiff-fest would be nice.

5. Severino shouldn’t be guaranteed anything. Competition for a rotation spot or a few bullpen spots is nothing new. I can’t remember the last time the Yankees didn’t have some pitching spots up for grabs in camp. I’m sure that’ll be true next year as well. Chad Green, Luis Cessa, and Bryan Mitchell could all wind up competing for the fifth starter’s job, for example. That would be ideal, really.

Luis Severino presents an interesting case. He got hammered as a starter this season in two separate stints, but he’s also dominated out of the bullpen. The Yankees insist they don’t want to give up on him as a starter because he’s still so young and I believe them. But, because he was so bad a starter this season and lost feel for his changeup, Severino shouldn’t come to camp with a rotation spot locked up like he did this year. He should have to earn it like everyone else.

Severino is in the bullpen right now because he gives the Yankees the best chance to win. That’s all there is to it. He hasn’t thrown his changeup much in relief — seven of his 200 pitches this month have been changeups, so yeah — and that’s kind of a problem. His development as a starting pitcher should be the priority in 2017. If that means more time in Triple-A, so be it. Severino shouldn’t be handed a spot just because. That would be a mistake.

Refsnyder and Williams are the Yankees’ best options in the wake of the Judge injury

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Last night the Yankees won the second game of their three-game series with the Dodgers, but they also lost an everyday player to injury. Right fielder Aaron Judge tweaked his right oblique taking a swing, and although he stayed in to finish the at-bat, he was pulled from the game after the inning was over. Judge will go for an MRI today to determine the severity of the injury.

“It’s possible (he’s done for the season),” said Joe Girardi following last night’s game. “It’s his right rib cage. He’ll have an MRI. We won’t see him for a while … I just told him, ‘You’re out.’ I called him over and he didn’t really argue. We’ve got to get this checked out and see where you’re at.”

Judge’s first month or so in the big leagues has been a mixed bag. He’s hitting .179/.263/.345 (61 wRC+) overall with a 44.2% strikeout rate, so for the most part his at-bats have been unproductive. At the same time, every once in a while Judge will do this …

… and remind you exactly why he’s been so highly touted the last few seasons. That’s not even the longest home run Judge has hit in his short time as a big leaguer. He hit one over the windows of the restaurant in center field last month. Between the power and the strikeouts, it’s amazing Judge ever sees a fastball. It really is.

Anyway, the injury means the Yankees are down not only their starting right fielder in Judge, but also their backup right fielder. Aaron Hicks is still out of action with a Grade II hamstring, remember. At the moment the Yankees have only three healthy true outfielders on the active roster: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Eric Young Jr. That’s it. (I won’t blame you if you forgot about EYJ. I did too.)

Even if the MRI today reveals good news, chances are the Yankees will be without Judge for at least a few days. Oblique strains usually don’t heal overnight. Also, they’re very easy to reaggravate, and Judge isn’t a nobody. The Yankees are going to play it very safe with him. The last thing they want is him to suffer a setback that throws his offseason workouts out of whack. Here are the team’s options with Judge sidelined.

Short-Term Fix

Girardi all but confirmed Rob Refsnyder will step in as the every right fielder for the time being. They really have no other choice. “That’s what I’ll go with now and obviously I’ve got to talk to (Brian Cashman) to see if we’re going to make a move here,” said the manager last night. The only other option is Tyler Austin, who is the most-of-the-time first baseman, so Refsnyder it is.

In sporadic playing time this year Refsnyder has a .268/.342/.333 (81 wRC+) batting line in 159 plate appearances. That’s … unique. He’s drawing walks (10.1%) and making contact (13.2% strikeouts), but he’s also hit for zero power. Refsnyder’s yet to hit a home run and he has only nine doubles too. He works a quality at-bat almost every time up and that’s great. Some extra-base pop would be cool though.

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

Hopefully the doubles and homers come now that Refsnyder will get a chance to play everyday. His defense is not great in right field — maybe this will press Young into defensive replacement duty in tight games? — but again, the Yankees are pretty much out of options. Based on the guys they have on the active roster, Refsnyder is the best right field solution.

Returning Soon?

Grade II hamstring strains can be pretty serious and they tend to lead to prolonged absences, but Hicks is already back performing baseball activities. He got hurt on August 31st and he’s already started running in the outfield and taking batting practice. Hicks is going to Tampa later today to ramp up his rehab, and it sounds as though the goal is to activate him off the DL when the Yankees arrive for their series with the Rays next week.

As crappy a year as he’s had, getting Hicks back as soon as next week would be pretty huge. At the very least, he could replace Refsnyder for defense in the late innings. Best case scenario is Hicks picks up where he left off in August — he hit .280/.330/.439 (106 wRC+) in fairly regular playing time last month — and takes over right field everyday. A little friendly competition between Refsnyder and Hicks would be good for both, I think. Either way, there’s a chance Hicks will return as soon as next week. That would be pretty awesome.

The Call-Up Candidate

The Yankees have one outfielder on the 40-man roster who is not in the big leagues right now: Mason Williams. Williams returned from shoulder surgery at midseason and hit .317/.335/.410 (112 wRC+) in 46 regular season minor league games, almost all at Triple-A. Typical Mason Williams, basically. At least when he’s going good. Williams has carried that performance over into the postseason with the RailRiders too.

Girardi acknowledged a Williams call-up was possible last night — “It’s going to be really difficult (with a short bench) … There’s outfielders down there that we’re going to have to talk about because we’re short,” he said — and given where the Yankees are in the postseason race, everything has to be on the table at this point. They surely want Williams to get as many at-bats as possible following shoulder surgery, but playing with a short bench in a postseason race makes no sense.

(Scranton Times-Tribune)
(Scranton Times-Tribune)

Remember, the Yankees originally planned to give Bryan Mitchell one more Triple-A start to iron things out earlier this month, but as soon as Chad Green got hurt, they called Mitchell up because he was the best option. The same applies to Williams. Would they like him to get more at-bats with the RailRiders? Surely. Judge’s injury has forced their hand though, and with a playoff spot within reach, having the best team possible has to be the priority.

Scranton’s season will end no later than Saturday — it can end as soon as tomorrow — and I’m guessing Williams won’t make it that far. He’ll be up before then, perhaps later today. The RailRiders would be pretty screwed during the International League Championship Series, but the big league team is the always the priority. Chances are we’ll see Mason very soon.

The Long Shots

The three other outfielders with Triple-A Scranton are not on the 40-man roster: Clint Frazier, Cesar Puello, and Jake Cave. I can’t see them calling Frazier up a year before he’s Rule 5 Draft eligible. That would be a big time panic move. Puello and Cave are a different story because cutting them loose in the offseason wouldn’t be a big deal. If the Yankees do decide to give Williams more at-bats in Triple-A following surgery, Puello or Cave could get the call instead. This section is called “The Long Shots” for a reason though. I don’t see this happening. Puello, Cave, and Frazier are all options available to the Yankees. They’re not that desperate yet though.

* * *

The Judge injury isn’t devastating — he wasn’t hitting much outside the occasional dinger — but it further thins out the Yankees’ outfield. Refsnyder is a short-term solution and Hicks might be back next week, which would be cool. My guess is we’ll see Williams sooner rather than later too. There’s a clear need and he can be useful, even if he’s only a defensive replacement for the time being. The Yankees may not want to use Refsnyder in right or call up Williams before the end of the Triple-A season, but they’re short on outfielders at the moment, and those two are their best immediate options with Judge and Hicks out.

Game 143: The Random Mid-September Interleague Series

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

One of the many joys of modern baseball is the random interleague series in the middle of the September postseason push. The Dodgers are in town for three games this week and that’s pretty cool. Unfortunately it also means the Yankees won’t be playing head-to-head games against one of the teams they’re chasing in the standings. They’ll need help to gain ground tonight.

Bryan Mitchell will make second his big league start of the season tonight, and the first went very well. He held the high-powered Blue Jays scoreless over five innings. Toronto also had eight right-handed batters in their lineup that day. The Dodgers have six lefties and one switch-hitter in the lineup tonight. Pretty big difference. Here is the Dodgers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

Absolutely gorgeous night for baseball here in New York. Nice and cool with a slight breeze, and only a few clouds in the sky. Autumnal. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Didi Gregorius is “really beat up” and could sit tomorrow too, said Joe Girardi. All the recent hit-by-pitches and foul balls off his legs are taking their toll. Gregorius is available tonight if necessary … Aaron Hicks (hamstring) has resumed running and hitting in the cage. He’s going to head to Tampa at the end of the homestand to ramp up his rehab work, and he could be activated off the DL next week.

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.