With reinforcements on the way, it’s time to drop Aaron Judge in the lineup

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

There’s a weird dynamic in Yankeeland right now. The two most vilified players on the roster are the runaway Rookie of the Year favorite and the best young catcher in baseball. Gary Sanchez, who is hitting .270/.346/.519 (127 wRC+) with 23 home runs this season, has been catching grief for his league leading 12 passed balls. He was even benched for a game two weeks ago.

Aaron Judge, meanwhile, is hitting .282/.413/.593 (163 wRC+) with an AL leading 37 home runs this season, though it really has been a tale of two seasons for him. He hit .329/.448/.691 (197 wRC+) in the first half and has slumped down to .169/.329/.355 (80 wRC+) in 35 games since the All-Star break. Over the weekend Judge went 1-for-12 with five strikeouts in the three games against the Red Sox.

“I’m not getting the job done. I want to be there. I’m the three hitter, the middle of the order. I’ve got to be that guy for the team,” said Judge following yesterday’s game (video link). “I trust the guys behind me to get the job done, but as the three hitter, I want to be that guy in the position with runners on every single time. It’s a little disappointing not being able to get the job done but you can’t pout, you can’t cry. You’ve just got to keep working and move on.”

Not surprisingly, Joe Girardi was asked about moving Judge out of the third spot in the lineup prior to yesterday’s game. That’s usually what happens then the three hitter has struggled as much as Judge has the last few weeks. And, again not surprisingly, Girardi shot the idea down entirely. He’s always been a very patient manager who sticks with his guys, sometimes to a fault.

“He’s going to stay (in the third spot),” said Girardi prior to yesterday’s game (video link). “I’m not going to move him. He’s still dangerous. He’s still getting on a pretty high clip and he’s on in front of some other guys that are swinging the bat well so, yeah, he’s going to stay there … I think you fall into a roulette, if you’re just moving guys all over the place (based on hot and cold streaks) … We’re kinda going on what he’s done this year, and we’re letting him fight his way out of it.”

Girardi is patient and will stick with his guys, but not indefinitely. Just this weekend Aroldis Chapman was demoted out of the closer’s role. Literally one day after Girardi said he was sticking him with as a closer. It took four straight pretty terrible outings, but it happened. Jacoby Ellsbury has been riding the bench for weeks. Eventually Tyler Clippard was moved into low-leverage situations. Girardi will make changes when he feels they are necessary, and right now, he doesn’t feel a lineup change is necessary.

That said, I believe they’ve reached the point with Judge where it’s not best for the team to continue hitting him third. That’s the goal here, right? To put the team in the best position to win. This isn’t a one or two-week slump. He’s batted 155 times in the second half. That’s nearly 30% of his season plate appearances. I’m not saying Judge should bat ninth or be demoted to Triple-A or anything like that. But bump him down a bit below some presently better hitters? Sure. This lineup makes sense to me:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 1B Todd Frazier
  8. DH … uh … Tyler Austin? Jacoby Ellsbury?
  9. 2B Tyler Wade Ronald Torreyes

Nice and easy. Basically flip Sanchez and Judge in yesterday’s lineup. Sanchez is swinging very well of late and deserves more at-bats than Judge. Same with Gregorius. It wouldn’t be very difficult to argue Headley should hit ahead of Judge as well, though I’m not sure I’d bat Judge any lower than fifth given his power. He can still change a game with one swing and he could snap out of it at any time.

Girardi says he’s going to stick with Judge as the three hitter for the time being, so I don’t expect him to be moved down even though I think it should happen. The Yankees do, however, have several players nearing a return from the disabled list, and perhaps their returns will make Girardi more open to batting Judge lower in the lineup. The return of Starlin Castro and Greg Bird will give the Yankees more weapons and Girardi more lineup options. For example:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. 1B Chase Headley
  8. DH Greg Bird
  9. 3B Todd Frazier

See? Much deeper lineup. We really have no idea what Bird will give the Yankees once he returns because the guy’s missed close to two years, and the last time he was in the big leagues, he didn’t hit at all. You know how bad Judge has been since the All-Star break? Bird was even worse in April. So yeah, batting him down in the lineup and moving him up once he’s shows he’s capable of producing at a high clip works for me.

Anyway, the addition of Castro — I should mention I’m not too optimistic Matt Holliday will come back and be an impact hitter again, though I’m hoping to be completely wrong — gives the Yankees another quality bat, and another hitter to bolster the middle of the lineup. It’s one thing to stick with Judge as the three hitter when so many regulars are hurt. Once everyone is healthy though, it’s much easier to bump him down in the lineup.

The Judge lineup demotion is intended to do two things. One, to give more productive hitters more at-bats. That’s simple enough, right? And two, to take some pressure off him. Judge does look like he’s pressing now, and that’s normal when a guy is in a slump. They all press and try to hit a five-run home run each at-bat. Maybe dropping him in the lineup won’t alleviate any of that pressure and Judge will still press. I don’t think that’s a good enough reason not to do it though.

Girardi doesn’t want to demote Judge in the lineup because he believes he’s going to turn it around and soon, and that’s great. A manager should have confidence in his guys. At the same time, Judge’s slump is going on six weeks now, and there comes a time when action is necessary. If Girardi wants to wait until Castro and Bird return and he has more lineup options, fine. Maintaining the status quo doesn’t seem like a viable option anymore, however. Judge hasn’t produced for too long now and it’s time to de-emphasize him in the lineup, and hopefully it’s only temporary.

Yankeemetrics: Riding the NYY rollercoaster (Aug. 18-20)

(AP)
(AP)

Deja vu all over again
Another night, another candidate for Worst Loss of The Season. The Yankees suffered their billionth gut-wrenching defeat on Friday night, obliterating any positive momentum they had built up coming off a four-game sweep of the Mets. After flipping an early three-run deficit into a three-run lead in the seventh, the bullpen imploded in epic fashion with nine outs to go, adding to the never-ending list of miserable Yankee late-inning collapses this season.

Let’s recap the gory details, bullet-point style:

  • 22nd blown save of the season, six more than they had in all of 2016. Through Friday’s games, no team in the majors had more blown saves than the Yankees (the Mariners also had 22). Going back to 1969 when saves became an official stat, only three other times in franchise history have they finished a season with more than 22 blown saves: 1997 (25), 1988 (24), 1986 (23).
  • 6th time they lost a game after leading by at least three runs, their most in any season since 2014 when they had eight.
  • 18th loss when out-hitting their opponent, the second-most in MLB behind the White Sox (25, LOL). Over the last 15 years, they’d never before suffered more than 15 such losses in a season.

Breaking news: the Yankees had plenty of chances to score, but couldn’t cash in, going 1-for-11 with RISP and stranding 14 guys. Chase Headley, Todd Frazier and Brett Gardner led the offensive charge by reaching base four times each. That’s good! So how rare is it for a team to lose when having at least three players be so productive? Glad you asked. Our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series …

It’s just the third time in the last 50 years that the Yankees lost a nine-inning game in which at least three guys were each on base four-or-more times. It also happened on September 22, 2000 against the Tigers and May 25, 1980 against the Blue Jays.

Tommy Kahnle and Chad Green were the obvious culprits in coughing up the three-run advantage in the seventh, but Aroldis Chapman‘s eighth-inning meltdown is more troubling (and eventually got him yanked from the closer role). He gave up two runs on two hits and a walk, extending his recent stretch of awful pitching. This is just the second time he’s allowed at least one run in four straight appearances; the other instance was early in his 2011 rookie campaign. And it’s the first time in his major-league career that he’s given up multiple runs in three straight outings.

(Getty)
(Getty)

One step forward …
One day after suffering the Worst Loss of the Year, it was hardly a surprise in this rollercoaster season that the Yankees notched their their Most Important Win of the Year on Saturday night at Fenway, holding on for a gutsy, much-needed 4-3 victory.

CC Sabathia has embodied the Fighting Spirit more than any other pinstriper this season, and this game proved it. Consider that he is:

  • 7-0 with a 1.46 ERA in eight starts following a Yankee loss this season, and the team won the only no-decision he got. That’s the best ERA in the majors (min. 7 starts), just ahead of a guy named Clayton Kershaw (1.54).
  • 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox this season. He is one of just three Yankees since 1950 to win their first three starts vs the Red Sox in a season while posting a sub-1.00 ERA in those outings; Scott Sanderson (1991) and Whitey Ford (1956) are the others.

Sabathia also reached a significant milestone, becoming the all-time American League leader in strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher. Congrats, CC.

Tyler Austin delivered one of the most stunning swings of the season when he crushed an 435-foot bomb over the Green Monster in his first career at-bat against Chris Sale to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. Is Austin the team’s new good luck charm? Six of his seven career home runs have either tied the game or given the Yankees the lead, and they are 7-0 in games when he homers.

Todd Frazier added a crucial insurance run with a sixth inning solo homer, following up on the two-run blast he hit in the series opener. That earned him a special place in the rivalry with this #FunFact: Frazier and fellow third baseman Graig Nettles (1973) are the only players to homer in each of their first two games as a Yankee at Fenway Park.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

… And one step backwards
What goes up, must come down, right? That pretty much sums up the 2017 Yankees. They dropped series finale against the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon, falling to an abysmal 5-14 in “rubber games” (third game of a three-game series where the teams split the first two).

That is by far the worst record and most losses in such games by any team in the majors this season. And, even more depressing is this stat: their .263 winning percentage in rubber games is on pace to be the worst by any AL team since the 2013 Astros … who finished with 111 total losses that year. Oy vei.

Much of the blame for this loss falls on the dead-silent Yankee bats, which produced their fewest hits (3) and runs (1) at Fenway Park since a 5-1 loss there on September 22, 2013. Not even a Brett Gardner home run could spark this lackluster offense — this was the first time the Yankees lost this season when Gardy went Yardy, falling to 16-1 in those games.

Gardner did reach the nice round number of 20 homers, giving us a chance to recognize his rare combination of power, patience and speed. Gardner is the eighth left-handed batter in franchise history with at least 20 homers, 15 steals and 60 walks in a season. The others on the list are decent: Babe Ruth (twice), Lou Gehrig (1931), Bobby Murcer (1970), Reggie Jackson (1977), Johnny Damon (2006), Bobby Abreu (2008) and Curtis Granderson (2011).

Aaron Judge was hardly the only Bomber to go cold on Saturday, yet because this is a stats article, we feel obligated to note that he struck out for the 37th game in a row. That ties the MLB all-time (spanning multiple seasons or single-season) record set by Expos pitcher Bill Stoneman in 1971-72.

It’s a contrived and dubious mark, but what is more concerning are a couple of his post-break splits. He is 4-for-28 (.143) with runners in scoring position since the break; he hit .305 with RISP before the break. Judge is also 1-for-32 (.031) vs left-handed pitchers since the break; he hit .345 vs lefties before the break.

Beyond those specific situations, Judge’s ability to make hard contact — his signature stat of the season — has simply cratered. In 35 games since the break, he has a hard-hit rate (per Fangraphs) of just 32 percent (it was 49 percent before the break), easily the least-powerful 35-game stretch of his career:

judge-hard-hit-chart

Saturday Links: Judge, Playoffs, Cave, Automatic Strike Zone

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

The Yankees and Red Sox will continue their three-game weekend series later tonight at Fenway Park. That’s a 7pm ET start. Remember when they used to play baseball on Saturday afternoons? That was fun. Anyway, here are some links and notes to check out until first pitch.

Yankees not considering moving Judge to first base

According to David Lennon and Bob Klapisch, the Yankees have not considering moving Aaron Judge to first base to unclog the outfield logjam and potentially address first base long-term. Judge did play first base in high school, you know. He moved to the outfield in college because Fresno State already had a pretty good first baseman. Even if the Yankees were considering moving Judge, they wouldn’t do it midseason. They’d wait until Spring Training.

Two thoughts on this. One, Judge’s right field defense is way too good right now to move him. He’s an asset out there, particularly his throwing. Move him to first base and you’re wasting his arm. And two, I think it’s only a matter of time until Judge winds up at first base permanently. There’s a reason you don’t see many players that size running around the outfield. It’s tough on the knees and tough on the body. That doesn’t mean Judge will have to move to first base next year. But maybe in four or five years? Yeah, it’s possible. Right now though, it is not a consideration for the Yankees, and that is absolutely the right move in my opinion.

Hal says missing postseason would be a “failure”

It seems the Yankees have gone from “World Series or bust” to “transition year” to “postseason or bust” within the last 18 months or so. Earlier this week, Hal Steinbrenner said it would be a “failure” if the Yankees missed the playoffs this year. “If we don’t make the playoffs, it’s a failure … It’s been a tough last two months for the most part. But I think they’re coming out of it … (We’re) going to have a strong last five, six weeks,” said Hal to Anthony Castrovince.

The continued shift in expectations this year has been pretty fascinating. The Yankees sold at the trade deadline last year and, for the most part, I think people considered this a “step back before taking a step forward” year. Break in some young players, deal with the growing pains, then gear up for 2018. Instead, the young players hit the ground running and the Yankees got off to a great start. They’ve been a .500-ish team for three months now though. It went from “rebuilding year” to “let’s shock the world!” to “please just get a wildcard spot.” If the Yankees miss the postseason now, it’ll feel like a disappointment. Five months ago, it was kinda expected.

Four Yankees among most improved prospects

Cave. (AP)
Cave. (AP)

Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS system to find the position player and pitching prospects who have improved their stock the most this season. In a nutshell, he compared each player’s preseason projection to their current projection. He lists 18 prospects total and four are Yankees:

  • RHP Chance Adams: 5.32 ERA preseason to 4.35 ERA now
  • OF Jake Cave: .617 OPS preseason to .709 OPS now
  • 1B Garrett Cooper: .679 OPS preseason to .751 OPS now
  • RHP Domingo German: 5.70 ERA preseason to 4.88 ERA now

SS Gleyber Torres and OF Billy McKinney were among the honorable mentions. The Cave projection is most interesting to me because ZiPS basically says he made the jump from non-prospect to potential fourth outfielder this season. From the write-up:

Of the 1,400 projections for hitters run by ZiPS coming into 2017 (about 1,250 “official” ones and 150 for prospects at very low levels for which I have little confidence), only four players got a larger boost than Cave’s 92-point OPS boost: Ryan Zimmerman, Aaron Judge, Justin Smoak and Zack Cozart.

ZiPS still isn’t convinced Cave will be more than a fourth outfielder, but it’s damn hard to add 100 points of OPS to a projection in four months.

Huh. Cave will be a minor league free agent this offseason and I think it’s likely the Yankees will add him to the 40-man roster and make sure he doesn’t get away. He is going to be 25 in December, so he’s not super young, but hit .343/.387/.610 (176 wRC+) with 13 homers in 54 Triple-A games while playing center field, and you’re going to make yourself worth keeping around.

Electronic strike zone not on the horizon

No surprise here, but commissioner Rob Manfred told Anthony Castrovince the league is not close to implementing an electronic strike zone. The technology isn’t there yet, and even once it is available, Manfred is leery of moving away from human umpires. Balls and strikes are everything to umpires. I suspect they’ll fight an electronic strike zone tooth and nail when the time comes.

Personally, I don’t have much interest in an electronic strike zone. Yes, I would like the umpires to be better behind the plate, but I feel like an electronic zone would take more away from the game than it would provide. Consistency is boring. Also, I get the sense that shifting to an electronic strike zone would have some unintended consequences. We could see some pretty drastic shifts in pitcher (and therefore hitter) performance with an unambiguous zone.

Jeter becomes a dad

And finally, Derek Jeter is now officially a father. Derek and Hannah welcomed their daughter, Bella Raine Jeter, into the world on Thursday, it was announced on The Players’ Tribune (of course). Congrats to them. Not a bad gene pool to come from, huh?

Yankeemetrics: Kings of New York (Aug. 14-17)

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Aarons and Gary Show
True to form, the Yankees bounced back from their latest Worst Loss of The Season with a late-inning rally to beat the Mets, 4-2, in the Subway Series opener.

If we know anything about this 2017 Yankees team, we know it’s a resilient one. It was their 17th comeback win when trailing by multiple runs this season; through Monday, only three teams (Twins, Astros, Angels) had more such wins than the Yankees.

Also true to form, the comeback was fueled by a burst of power. Aaron Judge tied the game in the sixth inning on an opposite-field solo shot; Aaron Hicks‘ blast to lead off the eighth was the game-winner; and Gary Sanchez added an insurance-run dinger later in the eighth inning.

For Sanchez, it was his 20th home run of the season, the second straight year he’s reached that milestone. Only four other catchers in major-league history produced multiple 20-homer campaigns before their age-25 season (while playing at least 75% of their games behind the dish): Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Brian McCann and Wilin Rosario.

Hicks’ homer was his 12th of the year – a new single-season career-best – and made him the answer to another #FunFact piece of Subway Series trivia. He joined Russell Martin (June 10, 2012) as the only Bronx Bombers to hit a go-ahead homer after the seventh inning against the Mets at Yankee Stadium.

Judge sparked the rally with his 36th homer of 2017 and the 40th of his career. (In a weird statisical quirk, Sanchez and Hicks’ home runs were also their 40th career bombs.) As we’ve noted before, Judge’s combination of patience and power – he had 96 walks to go along with his 40 homers – is unprecedented for a rookie:

Judge is the first player in baseball history to compile at least 40 homers and 75 walks within his first 140 big-league games.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Too close for comfort
The Yankees squeezed out another victory on Tuesday night, but this time the drama was self-induced. They survived another near-implosion in the ninth inning by Aroldis Chapman, winning 5-4 after Amed Rosario took Chapman deep in the final frame.

Chapman was his typical dominant self for the first month of the season (11 games, 0.87 ERA, 41% K), but since he blew the save on May 7 in the 18-inning marathon against the Cubs, he’s been mostly mediocre (25 games, 5.40 ERA, 29% K). This is arguably his least-dominant 25-game stretch since he first broke into the majors in 2011, in terms of strikeout rate:

chapman
Still, the Yankees built up enough of an advantage in the first eight innings for the win on Tuesday with another stellar outing by Sonny Gray and another shot of home-run power.

Gray was mostly fantastic, holding the Mets scoreless on four hits through six innings, before his only blemish, a homer by Dominic Smith in the seventh. His slider was filthy and nearly untouchable, netting him eight whiffs and five strikeouts. His ability to bury the pitch below the knees and gloveside was hugely important, as he got all eight of his swings-and-misses in that location:

sonny-gray

He extended his streak of at least six innings pitched and no more than two earned runs allowed to nine starts, the second-longest in the majors this season. Over the past decade, the only American League right-handers to have a streak as long as Gray’s were Felix Hernandez (16 in 2014) and Justin Verlander (9 in 2011).

Gary Sanchez drove in the first run of the game with an RBI single in the second, giving him the nice round number of 100 career RBIs. He is one of eight players in Yankee history to reach the century mark in RBIs this early into his career (141st game). It’s a group that includes four Hall of Famers – Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon, Yogi Berra – and three other franchise notables – George Selkirk, Bob Meusel, Charlie Keller.

Sanchez then gave the Yankees a seemingly comfortable 4-0 lead in the fifth inning with a towering moonshot into the left-center field bleachers, his 21st homer of the season and the 10th that went at least 425 feet. Among players with 15 or more dingers this season, Sanchez has the highest percentage of 425-foot-plus homers.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Clutch Didi, Monster Judge
The Subway Series shifted to Queens on Wednesday but the result was the same, another power-fueled win (plus a small dose of timely hitting) for the Yankees. It was their 14th win against the NL this season, the most Interleague victories they’ve ever had in a single year.

The crosstown rivals traded punches for much of the game until the Yankees finally broke through in the seventh inning with a rare clutch hit, when Didi Gregorius lined a two-out, bases-loaded double to score two runs for a 5-3 lead. That was the Yankees only hit in 10 at-bats with a runner in scoring position.

You could say that setup was tailor-made for Clutch Didi. Since joining the Yankees in 2015, he’s hitting .385 with the bases full, the best average among players with at least 35 at-bats in that situation over the last three seasons; and he’s 7-for-17 (.412) with the bases-loaded and two outs, the fourth-best average by any player in that span (min. 15 at-bats).

Yet Didi’s heroics were buried in the highlight reel thanks to Aaron Judge being Aaron Judge, both the good and the bad version.

Judge set another major-league record on Wednesday, striking out for the 33 straight game, the longest single-season streak ever by a non-pitcher. In 1934, when Lou Gehrig led the majors with 49 homers, he struck out a total of 31 times (in 690 plate appearances). It’s a different game today, folks.

With the ugly, though, comes the awesome. Judge also broke the Internet when he crushed a massive home run into the third deck at Citi Field.

It was his eighth homer with an exit velocity of at least 115 mph – is that good? The rest of major-league baseball had combined for 13 through Wednesday, and no other player had more than three.

Plus, there’s this sweet list of the Top 5 Hardest-Hit Home Runs this season:

Name Speed Date
1. Aaron Judge 121.1 June 10
2. Aaron Judge 119.4 April 28
3. Aaron Judge 118.6 June 11
4. Aaron Judge 118.4 July 4
5. Aaron Judge 117.0 August 16

Sevy bounces back, Sanchez powers up
The Yankees survived yet another ninth-inning scare on Thursday night, and held on for the 7-5 win to complete their second-ever Subway Series sweep; in 2003, they won all six games against their intracity rival.

They nearly blew a 7-1 lead with three outs to go when Curtis Granderson hammered a grand slam into the rightfield seats. It was the fourth bases-loaded homer given up by Yankees pitchers this season, one more than they surrendered from 2014-16 combined. Granderson also joined Mike Piazza (June 2, 2000) and Carlos Delgado (June 27, 2008) as the only Mets to hit a grand slam against the Yankees.

Gary Sanchez drove in five of the Yankees seven runs, becoming the first Yankee with five RBIs in a game against the Mets since Alex Rodriguez on July 2, 2006. That seems fitting given that El Gary and A-Rod have become lunch buddies recently.

Severino rebounded from the worst start of his career and was back to his dominant self, giving up one unearned run over 6 1/3 innings while striking out nine. He upped his season whiff total to 175, the third-most strikeouts by a Yankee in his age-23 season or younger, and trailing only Lefty Gomez (176 in 1932) and Al Downing (217 in 1964).

It was also Severino’s 10th start of more than six innings pitched and one run or fewer allowed in 2017. Only two other MLB pitchers have done that this season: Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale.

Hicks’ and Frazier’s injuries show the Yankees can’t have too many outfielders

Hicks and Frazier (Elsa/Getty Images)
Hicks and Frazier (Elsa/Getty Images)

For a few weeks this summer, it seemed like the Yankees had a great problem on their hands: Too many outfielders.

Clint Frazier was lining extra-base hit after extra-base hit, Aaron Judge was, well, Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner was hitting home runs and Aaron Hicks was on his way back to the majors. That’s four guys for three spots, not to mention the presence of Jacoby Ellsbury, but with Ellsbury and Matt Holliday‘s respective struggles, playing time wouldn’t have been an issue.

With Frazier’s oblique injury, the Yankees’ outfield was cemented for the time being with Hicks, Gardner and Judge and a few too many Ellsbury starts. Oblique injuries take a while to heal, as evidenced by Hicks’ time away from the team, so the outfield overload is an issue the team can deal with when it actually comes to pass.

But the oblique injuries to Hicks and Frazier should be a warning to the front office not to deplete its outfield depth going into 2018.

It seems logical for the Yankees to pursue a trade for Ellsbury, who will have three years and about $68.5 million left on his deal after this season. The team would have to absorb some of that money and/or take back a bad contract, but it’d leave the Yankees with four outfielders for three spots. In theory, that can be an issue. But that’s only at the surface.

Yes, the team would have four men for three spots, but that’s assuming perfect health. Hicks has missed time with injuries each of the last two years. Frazier’s out now. Judge lost time in 2016 with a knee and oblique injury, respectively. While Gardner has placed at least 145 games each year since 2013, he’s been banged up plenty and the ability to give him days off in his age-34 season is important.

Performance-wise, there are concerns with each. Hicks and Judge each look like entirely different hitters from last season and how they can sustain their improvements will help define the 2018 OF. Gardner is getting older and has been off and on all season. Frazier is only 22 and didn’t exactly light the world on fire with a 92 wRC+ in 117 PAs.

That right there is enough of a reason to keep all four guys with concerns across the board, but the team will also have the ability to start all four plenty with the open DH role. Holliday is a free agent after this season and hasn’t hit his weight while dealing with injuries. He’ll be 38 come spring training next year and it looks unlikely he’ll be back in pinstripes.

The Yankees will surely seek out another veteran either via free agency or trade (Carlos Santana please!) that can take DH bats or act as Greg Bird/Gleyber Torres insurance. However, the team is also trying to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold next season so they can be even more competitive in the 2018-19 offseason. Adding a high priced veteran shouldn’t be in the cards, even if it means taking a chance on a cheaper option like Chris Carter was this year.

The counterargument to giving DH ABs to the four-man outfield (and Gary Sanchez, among others) would be the ability to flip one of the OFs at their peak value for another piece to the roster puzzle, whether a starter or infielder or otherwise. Only Gardner is close to free agency, but his one year of value is likely more valuable to the 2018 Yankees than the players he could get in return.

With Judge staying in place, that leaves Hicks and Frazier as potential trade chips. Maybe if the Yankees still had Dustin Fowler set to return for 2018 it would make sense to deal from this position of strength this winter. But the Yankees OF depth close to the majors is down to Jake Cave and Billy McKinney, neither of whom you can count on for significant contributions as rookies next year.

And if you want to win a championship, you need both depth and talent. Keeping the outfield together minus Ellsbury for 2018 is the best way to go about building a contender. If they need to acquire controllable starters via trade, they have plenty of prospects still in the minors to deal. But the current outfield is worth keeping together for another season.

Yankeemetrics: Bronx Bummer (Aug. 11-13)

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

It’s not over ’til …
Facing a late three-run deficit and their offense stuck in neutral, the Yankees seemed headed for another depressing loss in the Most Important Game of the Year. Then the Fighting Spirit kicked in and the Comeback Kids delivered another stunning rally to beat the Red Sox, 5-4, in the series opener.

How improbable was the victory? The Red Sox were 34-0 this season when leading by at least three runs at the start of the eighth inning before Friday. And the Yankees hadn’t beaten the Red Sox in a game when trailing by three-plus runs entering the eighth in nearly a decade, since a 8-7 win on September 14, 2007 at Fenway.

The comeback was ignited by Gritty Gutty Brett Gardner, who was hit by an Addison Reed slider to lead off the eighth. Reed hadn’t hit a batter since the second game of the 2014 season, and had faced more than 1,000 batters in that span before plunking Gardy.

Aaron Hicks then got the crowd into frenzy with a majestic two-run bomb that landed just over the short right field porch. Based on the combo of launch angle (41 degrees) and exit velocity (96.5 mph), that type of batted ball resulted in a hit just seven percent of the time this season.

Didi Gregorius followed with a game-tying opposite field single, a clutch hit that deserves a sweet #FunFact: Didi is the first Yankee shortstop with a game-tying hit in the seventh inning or later at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox in more than 50 years! The last guy to do that was Tony Kubek on June 17, 1964, in a game that the Yankees would eventually lose in the 12th inning.

Todd Frazier capped the rally with another RBI single to left field, earning his first True Yankee Moment. It was his 17th hit as Bronx Bomber, but the first one that gave the Yankees a lead … at any point in the game, regardless of inning.

Of course, because this was a Yankees-Red Sox game, there had to be more drama. Aroldis Chapman provided it when he walked the bases loaded with no outs in the ninth, but got of the jam thanks to a spectacular throw by Aaron Hicks, who gunned down Eduardo Nunez at third base for a game-saving double play. It was the Red Sox 16th baserunning out at third base and 64th overall, both of which lead the majors this season.

Chapman’s white-knuckle outing to seal the win also gives us our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: He’s the first Yankee ever to get a save despite walking at least three batters and allowing a run, while pitching no more than one inning.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Baseball is cruel
In less than 24 hours, the Yankees went from experiencing one of their most exhilarating wins of the season, to one of their ugliest losses in 2017. The 10-5 rout was a lesson in regression to the mean, as several statistical trends for both teams came to a screeching halt in this game.

  • The Yankees suffered their first loss this season when hitting at least three homers, falling to 17-1 in those games. They were one of two teams that hadn’t lost when going deep three-plus times, leaving the Red Sox (10-0) as the lone team in that group.
  • Yankee pitchers had held the Red Sox to a .047 (.3-for-64) batting average with runners in scoring position over their first 10 matchups this season; the Red Sox surpassed that hit total in one game on Saturday, going 4-for-11.
  • Luis Severino, who started the day with the best ERA in the majors since the All-Star break (0.83) and had allowed a total of five runs in those five second-half starts, got pummeled for twice as many runs (10) in 4 2/3 innings of work. He also had given up just one run combined his two previous starts versus the Red Sox this season.

Those career-high 10 runs allowed made Severino the first pinstriper since Andy Hawkins on June 5, 1989 to cough up double-digit runs in fewer than five innings pitched at Yankee Stadium. That 1989 game might be the franchise’s most embarrassing loss, one that included six errors, a whopping 13(!) unearned runs allowed by the home team, and very very unhappy crowd in the Bronx.

Even more bad news:

(On a slightly more positive note, the last Yankee to allow 10 or more runs versus the Red Sox, regardless of innings pitched, was Hall of Famer Red Ruffing in 1939.)

Most of the damage was done by Boston’s 23-year-old rookie outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who crushed two three-run homers off Severino. He became the first Red Sox player since Jimmie Foxx in 1938 to hit multiple three-run bombs against the Yankees. Benintendi also is the youngest Red Sox ever with six RBI against the Yankees, and the youngest on any team to hit multiple homers and drive in at least six runs against the Yankees since Cleveland’s Pat Seerey in 1945.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Nightmare on River Avenue
In what has become an all-too-familiar and frustrating story for this Yankees team, they suffered yet another soul-crushing loss on Sunday night, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Once again, the bullpen imploded, flushing a 2-1 lead in the ninth and then losing the game in the 10th. Here’s the gory details of the meltdown:

  • 20th blown save, the second-most in MLB, and four more than they had all of last season.
  • Third loss when taking a lead into the ninth inning, their most in a season since 2013 — and two of those three have come against the Red Sox (hard to forget July 14, eh?).
  • 21st loss by one run, the most in the AL and third-most in MLB. Oh, and they had only 12 one-run losses last year.

The biggest goat horns were worn by Aroldis Chapman, who gave up the game-tying homer in the ninth to Rafael Devers. Devers’ blast is a perfect example of #YouCantPredictBaseball. The lefty swinger clobbered a 102.8 mph fastball into the seats, the fastest pitch ever hit for a homer in the PitchFX era (since 2008). Prior to Sunday, Chapman had faced 418 left-handed batters in his regular-season career and given up exactly one home run — to Luke Scott on June 26, 2011, the first homer surrendered by Chapman in his major-league career. Those 418 lefty hitters were by far the most faced by any pitcher in the last 50 years that had given up one or zero homers to lefties.

Before the late-inning sadness, this game was a classic pitchers duel. Jordan Montgomery matched Red Sox ace Chris Sale with another impressive outing, holding the Red Sox to one run on two hits while pitching into the sixth inning. It was his second straight game allowing one or fewer runs and no more than three hits, the youngest Yankee southpaw to have back-to-back starts like that since a 22-year-old Al Leiter in 1988.

Sale continued his dominance over the Bronx Bombers with another gem, striking out 12 and giving up just one run in seven innings. It was the third time in a row he’s struck out at least 10 Yankees, the first pitcher to do that since Pedro Martinez in 2001. And it was his second straight game with 12-plus strikeouts and no more than one earned run allowed, joining Indians lefty Sam McDowell as the only pitchers in MLB history to do that in back-to-back games against the Yankees.

Sunday Links: Walker, Best Tools, Bullpen, Food Safety

Random photo is random. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Random photo is random. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox will wrap up their three-game weekend series with the ESPN Sunday Night Game later today. The game should end sometime Monday morning. Anyway, here are some bits of news and notes to check out.

Yankees, Mets had Walker deal

More Yankees-Mets trade deadline drama. According to Mike Puma, the Yankees and Mets agreed to a Neil Walker trade prior to the trade deadline, but the Yankees backed out due to medical concerns. Puma says the Mets believe the Yankees used the medical concerns as an excuse to back out after finishing the Sonny Gray trade. Hmmm. Walker returned from a partially torn hamstring a few days before the trade deadline and had back surgery late last year.

Walker, 31, was traded to the Brewers last night and is hitting .264/.339/.442 (107 wRC+) with ten home runs in 299 plate appearances this season. Although he’s primarily a second baseman, the Mets also used Walker at first and third bases. He’s an impending free agent and the Yankees would have presumably used Walker at second base until Starlin Castro returned, then shifted him into a utility role. Eh, whatever. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little sick of this Yankees-Mets drama.

Baseball America’s best tools survey

One of my favorite features of the year is Baseball America’s annual best tools survey. They poll managers and coaches and scouts about the best tools and players in their leagues, from MLB all the way down to Low-A. Here’s where the various Yankees ranked:

Bell, the longtime big leaguer, is in his first season managing High-A Tampa after spending 2013 as the Pirates hitting coach and 2014-15 as the Reds bench coach. I’m curious to see what the Yankees do with him going forward. If Bell is a highly regarded managerial prospect as the survey suggests, either the Yankees are going to have to move him up the ladder, or they’ll lose him to an organization that will move him up.

Also, must be a down year for relievers in the Sally League, huh? Lane, who has since been promoted to High-A Tampa, is a 23-year-old former tenth round pick, and a sinker/slider lefty with middling velocity and a low arm slot. A classic left-on-left matchup profile. He’s got really good numbers this year, throwing 57 innings with a 1.26 ERA (2.26 FIP) and strong strikeout (27.1%) and walk (6.7%) rates. Not sure he’s much of a prospect though.

Yankees top ZiPS bullpen projections

Not surprisingly, the Yankees sit atop the ZiPS bullpen projections for the rest of the season, so says Dan Szymborski. Projections don’t really mean anything, of course. They’re not predictions. They’re more like an estimate of talent level. Anyway, here’s what ZiPS has to say about New York’s new-look bullpen:

Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman was already one of the best, if not THE best, one-two relief punch in baseball. Now you add in David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, the latter possibly the most underappreciated player acquired this deadline. Even Adam Warren has been lights-out, with a 1.97 ERA/2.69 FIP. Not to mention the team’s remaining big acquisition: Adding the complete absence of Tyler Clippard.

The bullpen before the Robertson/Kahnle trade: 3.39 ERA (3.33 FIP). The bullpen since the Robertson/Kahnle trade: 2.09 ERA (2.64 FIP). That 3.39 ERA (3.33 FIP) before the trade is a little deceiving too, because Jonathan Holder and especially Clippard had become wholly unreliable. They started the season well before crashing hard. The Yankees needed to fix their bullpen at the trade deadline, and they did exactly that. Too bad the starters are all getting hurt and the offense has since gone in the tank.

Yankees lagging in food safety rankings

Earlier this week Tanner Walters, using public inspection records, compiled ballpark food safety rankings. How clean are the facilities, is everything stored properly, so on and so forth. Yankee Stadium ranks 21st among the 28 parks in the rankings (data wasn’t available for Progressive Field or Comerica Park), and ranking 21st among 28 teams seems not good? From Walters:

Yankee Stadium led the league with critical violations (62% of its stands), and an infestation of flies highlighted the inspections from late July in the Bronx. Inspectors handed out citations at over a dozen food entities around the ballpark for observation of flies and improper vermin-proofing. The city doesn’t give detailed observations in its reports, but nearly a quarter of the stadium’s violations came from improper maintenance for non-food surfaces. Last year, even without a fly problem, Yankee Stadium would have finished in the same spot in our rankings. The ballpark had fewer overall violations but more that were critical, mostly from the restaurants and suites.

Kinda gross! Even with recent improvements, the concessions at Yankee Stadium lag big time in quality and selection behind the rest of the league — the concessions at Citi Field are so much better it’s not even funny, and it’s not just Shake Shack — and apparently they’re lacking in cleanliness and proper food safety too. Yuck.