Aaron Judge hasn’t just improved his plate discipline this year, he’s improved his plate coverage too

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

What’s your favorite Aaron Judge home run so far this year? I’m partial to the ball he hit nearly to the flag poles against the White Sox (video) because I saw that one in person. His blast against the Pirates this weekend (video) is another good one. Can’t forget about the Spring Training home run off the scoreboard (video), right? It happened this year. It counts.

We’ve seen Judge hit some massive home runs already this season and I’m sure there are many more to come this year and in the future. I’m excited. The home runs are great and I have a hard time picking my favorite. Picking my favorite Judge base hit is a different story. That one is an easy call. It was his opposite field two-strike single with one out in the ninth inning Sunday. Here’s the contact point:

aaro-judge

That pitch isn’t a strike. That pitch isn’t close to being a strike. Judge was in protect mode with two strikes though, and Tony Watson did show him a fastball away earlier in the at-bat, so it was in the back of his mind. The Yankees were down one run at the time and we were all thinking about Judge putting a ball into orbit to tie the game. Instead, he got a generally unhittable pitch and took it the other way for a hit. (Here’s a GIF of the hit.)

As broadcasters will tell you over and over again, hits to the opposite field are a “nice piece of hitting,” and that two-strike single to right field Sunday certainly qualifies. It helps that Judge is 6-foot-7 with long arms and was able to reach that pitch, but the point is he recognized the pitch and reacted appropriately. He wasn’t sitting on an inside heater he could yank to left field or anything like that. Judge took what Watson gave him and did all he could do with it.

Hits like that one are the difference between 2016 Aaron Judge and 2017 Aaron Judge. As Matt detailed over the weekend, Judge has shown improved plate discipline in the early going and he’s cut down his strikeouts, which was a necessity after last season. Another thing Judge has improved is his plate coverage, which we saw in action on that opposite field single Sunday night. Here is his 2016 contact heat map, via FanGraphs:

aarn-judge-2016-heat-mapLast season Judge was completely hopeless against pitches away. His contact rates on pitches on the outer third of the plate were typically right around 50% or well below, which is terrible. I mean terrible. We’re talking about simple bat-to-ball here, not exit velocity or hard hit rate or anything like that. Just getting the bat on the ball. When the pitch was on the outer third of the plate (and beyond), Judge failed to make contact with more than half his swings. Woof.

(To be fair, I should point out Judge’s contact rate on pitches on the inner half last season was quite encouraging. Big guys like him are usually easily jammed because bringing those long arms in to handle pitches inside is not easy. Judge has always had a surprisingly compact swing — relatively speaking, of course — for a guy his size.)

Now here is Judge’s contact heat map for the 2017 season, again via FanGraphs:

aaron-judge-2017-heat-mapAh, much better. Judge is covering the outer half of the plate this year — this is a heat map, so the brighter the blue, the worse the contact rate, and there isn’t nearly as much bright blue on the outside part of the plate this year as last year — which addresses arguably his biggest weakness from a season ago. Last year pitchers buried him breaking balls or fastballs near the left-handed hitter’s batter box, like the fastball Watson tried to sneak by him Sunday.

Doing a better job covering the outer half is obviously a positive sign, as is the improved plate discipline. This, to me, is most important: Judge has been able to cover the outer half this year without sacrificing the inner half. He’s not focused so much on the outer half that he’s letting pitchers beat him inside. Judge is covering both sides of the plate now. That’s good! Plate coverage is a wonderful thing.

The season is still quite young and we’ll see whether this continues. Baseball is a game of adjustments and it’s only a matter of time until opposing teams come up with another way to attack Judge. They pitched him away, it worked, and now he’s made the adjustment. Judge doesn’t get enough credit for being as good a pure hitter as he is — it’s so easy to stereotype guys like him as meathead sluggers who swing out of their shoes — and we’re seeing it now with the way he’s covering the outer half.

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

(Getty)
(Getty)

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

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

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

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

brooksbaseball-chart-1

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

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

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

(Getty)
(Getty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

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

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

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

Judging from the Start

All rise. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
All rise. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Aaron Judge, huh? Okay, guys, thanks for reading! Check back next week for…something else…and enjoy whatever show Judge’s gonna put on for the next week.

Despite Chase Headley‘s heroics and Starlin Castro‘s hot start, the hands-down, no doubt about it, bonafide best thing about the Yankees in April of 2017 has been Aaron Judge. He’s been an absolute monster, clocking massive homer after massive homer, displaying the power we all dreamed of and got flashes of during 2016. Additionally, he’s cut down on his strikeouts from a mind-boggling 44.2% last year to a still-high-but-manageable 25.4% this year. Part of that is due to a reduced chase rate and a reduced whiff rate.

In 2016, the league averaged an O-Swing% (swings on pitches out of the zone) of 30.6%; Judge came in at 34.9%. This year, the average has dropped (so far) to 30.1%; Judge clocks in with a wonderfully below average rate of 18.3%. And while his contact rate–74.8%–is still worse than average (77.1%), it’s a demonstrable improvement from last year’s tally of 59.7%.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

It’s no surprise that a guy as big and strong as Judge will do damage when he makes contact and so far, that’s what he’s done. The improved contact rate is a big step forward in Judge reaching his full potential. He’s shown growth in both the “where” and the “what” of making contact–not just in one area–and that dual fact has been key for his hot start.

In 2016, there were 13 zones out of a possible 25 that saw Judge whiff on 50% or more of his swings. So far in 2017, he’s cut that number to just five zones. Additionally from 2016 to 2017, Judge has dropped the whiff rates on fastballs by about one percent, sinkers by about three percent, changeups by over 20 percent, sliders by about 14 percent, and curves by about ten percent.

We tend to be selfish as fans and we want results when we want them and no later. Of course, baseball doesn’t work like that and we must be careful not to get mad at the microwave for not heating up our burrito fast enough. But so far this year, we’ve gotten near instant gratification from Aaron Judge. He’s given us the improvement we all knew he’d need to make while keeping his prodigious power. The rest of the year has a long time to play out, but with things starting to stabilize, we may be in for a truly great year from a truly great talent.

Marketing the Yankees’ present with the past and the future

(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)
(Steven Tydings/River Ave. Blues)

With the New York Yankees brand, the past is always present. But should the future take precedent?

Early in this season, the Yankees’ marketing near the stadium has brought the team’s historic past to the forefront. After two seasons where the souvenir cups featured current players, the new cups contain a smattering of World Series logos. Ads at the subway stops near Yankee Stadium highlight the 27 championships. Furthermore, the team has begun selling stadium-exclusive hats corresponding to each World Series win with unique details for each era.

When you think about the Yankees’ brand over the years, this makes a lot of sense. The brand has always been built upon a winning atmosphere. With a ridiculous number of championships has come an overwhelming number of fans scattered across the country but concentrated especially in New York. There is little doubt which is the No. 1 baseball team in the hearts of most New Yorkers.

And diehard fans identify with this sense of winning. They even demand it. They come to the park both due to a connection to the past and an expectation the current product will live up to the established expectations. But the diehard fans make up the 25-30 thousand spectators that will come to the park rain or shine, win or lose, championship or no.

So at least part of any marketing campaign each season needs to be focused on how to bring in the casual fan. The one who could live with themselves if they don’t make it to Yankee Stadium each year, let alone every month or game. Beyond simply going to the stadium, these are the fans that may only follow and watch the team a little, paying extra attention if the team is winning.

Does an appeal to a past filled with winning work on these casual fans? This, after all, is what the brand already is, so you’re emphasizing what you already have and not extending the brand. That isn’t a bad thing. Extending a brand further can dilute it and the accentuation on championships makes plenty of sense from a marketing perspective. However, I don’t know if this brings that extra 10-20K to the stadium. This is because I am a Yankees and baseball junkie and far from a casual fan.

The way I tried thinking about this was from the perspective of a Yankee fan considering a trip to Citi Field. I am not a Mets fan by any means, but if I’m in the city and the Mets are the only game in town, I’ll certainly consider it. I don’t think an appeal to the Mets’ past would get me to the stadium, but they don’t have the same past as the Yankees, making this an unfair comparison. A general Mets advertisement would make me consider the ride to Citi Field when I otherwise wasn’t considering it, but I would need something more to get me there.

In the recent past, that something extra has been the Mets’ pitching. I can say definitively that I went to Citi Field with the express purpose of seeing Matt Harvey in 2015. By that time, he was no longer a rookie or burgeoning star but a more established part of the team well into his third big league season.

But my trip to see Harvey made me think that maybe a marketing push around exciting young talent could work better than an appeal to nostalgia.

The Yankees don’t have the established talent of the Mets’ rotation right now or the flashy everyday veteran star of a Yoenis Cespedes. What they do have is some of the most exciting young position players who could potentially man the middle of the lineup for the next decade. For a baseball fan, that’s an exciting proposition. For a Yankee fan, even a casual one, that should be even more appealing, the chance to ostensibly get in on the ground floor of a new Yankee evolution.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

So a marketing push behind, let’s say, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Greg Bird could set you up for the future. The team already utilizes their breakout potential in some YES ads and it’s not like they’re absent from the Yankees’ marketing materials. However, if you further establish the star power of those young players, it can help you down the road if they’re everything they’re made up to be. It would create a connection with fans, including the non-consistent ballpark goers, that you can play off of for years. It could potentially be the same as connecting fans with Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter in 1996 and riding that all the way to 2014 and beyond.

But this can really backfire, too. I go back to the Harvey example. He was dreadful last year and that can create a bad taste in fan’s mouths. Or what about the ill-fated Dan & Dave Reebok commercials from before the 1992 Olympics. Relying on unestablished athletes can blow up in your face. What if the first baseman you’re advertising heavily starts the year 1 for 20? Or your catcher of the future injures his arm and is out for a month? Not many people are going to be excited about a cup or t-shirt of a player who appears to be a marginal talent.

So there are easy reasons not to go all-in on the youth movement. The risk is high despite the potential reward and the possible reality that youth talent may bring more casual fans to the park. Still, it’s not hard to imagine a near future with a slightly more than life-sized billboard of Aaron Judge dominating Time’s Square. With the dad jokes aside, the future of Yankees’ marketing seems to be on the current team, but the past may be the best present for now.

Yankeemetrics: Whiteout in the Bronx (April 17-19)

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Judge and The Mick
The White Sox were the latest team to try and slow down the Yankees juggernaut, a feat that seemed improbable based on their recent struggles at the House That Jeter Built.

The White Sox entered this series with a 7-20 record at the new Yankee Stadium, the second-worst win percentage (.259) by any American League team (only the Angels, 8-24, were worse). The Yankees made sure they didn’t improve that mark on Monday with a 7-4 win in the series opener.

Matt Holliday broke the game open with a monster three-run, 459-foot home run in the third inning. It was the fourth-longest homer by any Yankee in the Statcast era (since 2015), behind three homers by A-Rod in 2015. With an exit velocity of 113.9 mph, it was also the third-hardest hit homer in that span behind an A-Bomb in 2015 (116.5) and an Aaron Judge blast last year (115.2).

Judge joined the powerball party in the fifth inning, extending the lead to 7-0 with his fourth home run of the season. He’s just the second Yankee outfielder under the age of 25 to hit four homers within the team’s first 13 games. The other? Oh, just some guy named Mickey Mantle in 1956.

Jordan Montgomery picked up his first major-league win, showing the same toughness and poise he displayed last week during his debut, pitching out of jams in the first and sixth innings. Overall this season, he’s allowed just one hit in 10 at-bats (.100) and struck out four batters with runners in scoring position.

Adam Warren relieved Montgomery, and kept his Hidden Perfect Game intact until he walked Tyler Saladino with two outs, snapping a streak of 22 straight batters retired to start the season.

Warren is the only Yankee pitcher since at least 1913 to not allow a baserunner in any of his first four appearances, while retiring more than 10 batters during the streak (Warren set down 20 batters in a row during his first four games).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Eight is Enough
All good things must come to an end … Thanks to an anemic showing by the Yankee offense and an unexpected masterful performance by White Sox journeyman pitcher Miguel Gonzalez on Tuesday night, the Yankees lost their first game since April 8 and suffered their first home loss of the season.

The Yankees eight-game win streak was tied for their second-longest in April in franchise history, bettered only by a 10-gamer in 1987. And their 7-0 start at Yankee Stadium was just the sixth time they had won their first seven home games; the good news is that of the previous five seasons it happened (1943, 1949, 1951, 1987, 1998), four ended with the Yankees hoisting a World Series trophy.

Gonzalez held the Yankees to just four infield singles and one run in his 8 1/3 innings of work on a frosty night in the Bronx. How unlikely was this standout performance?

He had been winless in his previous 18 road starts entering the game, which was the longest active streak among major-league pitchers. And it had been over three decades since a White Sox pitcher allowed one-run-or-fewer and four-hits-or-fewer in an outing of more than eight innings at Yankee Stadium: Neil Allen was the last to do it, tossing a two-hit, no-strikeout (!) shutout in July 1986.

Luis Severino‘s final line (four runs allowed) underscored the dominance he showed in striking out 10 guys, including six with his devastating slider. Overall, the pitch has been a key weapon for him this season: of the 31 two-strike sliders he’s thrown, 13 have resulted in strikeouts, good for a 41.9 percent slider “putaway rate” that ranks second behind only Noah Syndergaard (43.5%) among starters.

Coupled with his 11-strikeout game in his previous start, Severino became the youngest Yankee with back-to-back double-digit strikeout games since lefty Al Downing in 1963. Even more impressive is this golden nugget:

At the age of 23 years and 57 days, Severino is the youngest pitcher in franchise history with at least 10 strikeouts and no walks in a game.

A new win streak
Death, taxes … and the Yankees beating the White Sox at Yankee Stadium. Three things you can pretty much count on these days. With their 9-1 victory in the rubber game on Wednesday night, the Yankees are now unbeaten (10-0-2) in their last 12 home series against the White Sox. The last time they lost a series in the Bronx to the Pale Hose was Aug. 8-10, 2005.

Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have ace-like stuff but still delivered his best performance of the season, limiting the White Sox to one run on six hits in seven innings. He’s now won six straight home starts dating back to last season, setting a record at the new Yankee Stadium. The last Yankee pitcher to win six starts in a row at home was Chien-Ming Wang in 2006.

Aaron Judge did Aaron Judge things once again, crushing a towering homer into to the left field bleachers in the fifth inning to give the Yankees a 8-1 lead. The absolute bomb went an estimated 448 feet and left his bat at 115.5 mph. His assault on the Statcast record books continues unabated:

  • The distance of 448 feet is a career-high for Judge, and is the third-longest homer at Yankee Stadium in the Statcast era (since 2015).
  • The exit velocity of 115.5 mph makes it the hardest-hit homer by any player at Yankee Stadium in the Statcast era.
  • Judge now has six batted balls with an exit velocity of at least 115 mph in pinstripes; since 2015, all other Yankees have combined to hit three batted balls with an exit velocity of 115-plus mph.

Aaron Judge is open to participating in the Home Run Derby and MLB should want him there

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

I don’t know about you, but Aaron Judge has very quickly become one of my favorite players on the Yankees. He’s so fun to watch because he’s such an extreme outlier. Baseball players aren’t supposed to be that big, and baseball players who are that big aren’t supposed to be such good athletes and runners. We’ve seen Judge save some runs in right field and beat out infield singles already this season.

And, of course, there are the home runs. They’re why everyone loves Judge. His four home runs have averaged a healthy 399 feet, and according to Statcast, Judge is responsible for five of the 14 hardest hit balls in baseball this season, including two of the top three. The ball just explodes off his bat. Judge has all the power you’d expect from a guy listed at 6-foot-7 and 275 pounds.

Given his early season exploits, folks are already starting to wonder whether Judge will participate in the Home Run Derby this summer. It makes sense, right? Put the big guy capable of hitting long home runs in the event dedicated to big guys hitting long home runs. Randy Miller asked Judge about the Home Run Derby earlier this week. Here’s his response:

“The Home Run Derby is awesome. It’s a fun event to watch and I’d probably do it if they asked me,” said Judge. “No (I’m not worried about screwing up my swing). I’ve been in them before and I just take my normal swing that I do in batting practice and hopefully it would all work out. I’d just go out there and have fun. I wouldn’t change anything. But it would be a fun thing to do.”

Judge’s batting practices are already the stuff of legend. YES has shown clips of Judge hitting balls over the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar in center field and onto the concourse over the last week and a half. I saw him do that with my own eyes before the home opener and was amazed. But it’s normal for him. That’s just something does every day during batting practice. It’s incredible. There’s no doubt he’d be a fun Home Run Derby contestant.


Personally, I’m not worried at all about a potential Home Run Derby hangover effect. There have been several studies showing it isn’t real, like this one and this one. Pick eight players at random and inevitably one or two of them will perform worse in the second half than they did in the first. The same is true of guys who participate in the Home Run Derby. It’s just normal baseball being baseball stuff.

Anyway, I’m getting off track here. Judge indicated he’s open to participating in the Home Run Derby this summer and MLB should want him there. For a few reasons too. One, he’s a Yankee! The last Yankee to participate in the Home Run Derby was Robinson Cano in 2013. The Yankees are the most popular team in the sport and one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Put a Yankee in a Home Run Derby and he will attract viewers. No doubt about it.

Two, Judge is an exciting young up-and-coming player. MLB is trying like crazy to cultivate young fans and the single best way to attract new young fans is by showcasing your most exciting players. Judge is a freak and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Put him in the Home Run Derby and people who don’t know much about baseball are going to see him and not be able to take their eyes off him. Everything about him demands your attention.

(That’s also a reason for the Yankees to want Judge in the Home Run Derby. As MLB works to cultivate more young fans, the Yankees want as many of them as possible rooting for their team. Judge mashing dingers in the Home Run Derby would be a great “hey come root for the Yankees” sales pitch.)

And three, the power. At the end of the day, the Home Run Derby is a “hit ball far” competition with some bells and whistles. In a batting practice setting, which is essentially what the Home Run Derby is, few offer as much power as Judge. He’s going to hit the ball a mile and that’s what people want to see. MLB has brought non-All-Stars to the Home Run Derby in recent years just to ensure they showcase their top power hitters. (Giancarlo Stanton won the Home Run Derby last year but was not an All-Star. Todd Frazier also participated in the event as a non-All-Star.)

Judge has some Home Run Derby experience — he won the 2012 College Home Run Derby while at Fresno State — and while doing it at the MLB level is a heck of a lot different than doing it at the college level, he has some sort of Home Run Derby experience. It won’t be completely new to him. MLB (and the Yankees) have a lot to gain by putting Judge in their Home Run Derby and it is absolutely something they should consider when the time comes. An event like this is made for guys like him.

Yankeemetrics: Home Sweep Home (April 10-13)

(AP)
(AP)

#HugeMike
The Yankees 115th home opener nearly ended up as one of the most memorable in franchise history, as Michael Pineda flirted with a perfect game and gave fans much to cheer about on a gorgeous Monday afternoon at the ballpark.

Pineda is equal parts fantastic and frustrating, enigmatic and electric, dazzling and depressing. And just two starts into the 2017 season, he’s displayed both sides of his Jekyll-and-Hyde talent:

Less than a week after a miserable season-opening outing (3⅔ innings, 4 runs, 8 hits), Pineda was brilliant and dominated the same Rays lineup, retiring the first 20 batters he faced until Evan Longoria drilled a double into the left field corner with two outs in the seventh inning.

Armed with his wipeout slider, pinpoint command of his fastball and an effective changeup, Pineda whiffed 11 and allowed just two hits in 7⅔ innings. Pineda is the first Yankees pitcher to throw six perfect innings to start the team’s home opener, and also the first Yankees pitcher with double-digit strikeouts and no walks in the first home game of the season.

Before Pineda, the last Yankee in any game to pitch at least seven innings, get 11-plus strikeouts and allow no more than two baserunners was Mike Mussina in his epic near-perfecto against the Red Sox on Sept. 2, 2001.

Pineda was in complete control of nearly every at-bat, starting off 17 of the 25 batters with an 0-1 count, getting to 0-2 or 1-2 against 16 of those guys, and he got himself into a three-ball count just twice. A career-best nine of the 11 strikeouts came on his slider, which generated 11 whiffs on 20 swings.

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Last year Pineda’s slider had a 46.2 percent swing-and-miss rate, fifth-best among starting pitchers (min. 500 pitches), and his 146 strikeouts with the slider ranked second behind Chris Archer (151).

Pineda’s gem wasn’t the only good news to come out of Monday’s win. The offense exploded for eight runs, thanks to the power bats of Aaron Judge, Chase Headley and Starlin Castro. While Judge’s homer was a majestic bomb that went 397 feet, Headley’s and Castro’s dingers barely cleared the fences. In fact, under normal conditions, their hits wouldn’t have been homers in any of the other 29 ballparks.

(Gettty)
(Gettty)

#AllRise for The Judge
As bad as the Yankees have fared against the Orioles at Camden Yards in recent years, they’ve been just as good at Yankee Stadium against another AL East foe, the Tampa Bay Rays. Following Wednesday’s 8-4 win, they’ve now won eight straight home series over the Rays, their longest such streak against any opponent at the current Yankee Stadium.

The pregame chatter focused on the debut 24-year-old Jordan Montgomery, who became the first Yankee southpaw to start in his major-league debut since Chase Wright and Kei Igawa in April 2007.

Montgomery was impressive out of the gate, striking out the the first two Rays that came to the plate. The last Yankee to make his big-league debut as a starter and strike out the first and second guys he faced was Mariano Rivera on May 23, 1995 vs the Angels.

Montgomery finished with seven strikeouts in 4⅔ innings, the most punchouts by a Yankee lefty in his first career MLB appearance since Al Leiter struck out eight in 1987.

No Gary Sanchez, no Greg Bird, no problem. The Yankees offense continued to roll thanks to the third slugger in the Baby Bomber trio, Aaron Judge, who had two hits and drove in three runs on Wednesday. Judge showed off his ridiculous power on both the hits:

  • The first one was a bullet line-drive RBI single that tied the game in the sixth inning and rocketed off his bat at 116.5 mph. It was the fastest base hit of 2017 by any player, and gave him four exit velocities of at least 115 mph this season – while the rest of MLB had combined for seven such balls in play through Wednesday’s games.
  • The second hit was a 437-foot homer that gave the Yankees an 8-3 cushion in the seventh inning. It was his third homer of the season, making him just the fourth Yankee under age 25 with at least three home runs in the team’s first eight games. The others are the list are not bad: Derek Jeter (1999), Bobby Murcer (1969) and Mickey Mantle (1956).
(Getty)
(Getty)

Three Times a Charm
The Yankees won their fourth straight game on Thursday night, wiping away the bad taste of that awful 1-4 start as they climbed above .500 (5-4) for the first time this season. The victory also gave them their first sweep of three-or-more games against the Rays at Yankee Stadium since September 2009.

And how can we forget that the Yankees first sweep last season didn’t come until May 22 (four-gamer in Oakland), and that their first three-game series sweep happened on September 7 against the Blue Jays.

Aaron Hicks was the night’s biggest hero at the plate, belting two home runs, including the game-winner that flipped a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was his third career go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later, and all three have come in pinstripes and against a division rival (Thursday vs. Rays; Sept. 26, 2016 at Toronto; May 6, 2016 vs. Red Sox).

The switch-hitter Hicks made sure that Luis Severino‘s stellar performance on the mound wouldn’t be wasted and helped the young Dominican earn his first win as a starter since Sept. 27, 2015 vs the White Sox. Severino flashed the electric stuff he showed during his rookie year, limiting the Rays to two runs while fanning a career-high 11 batters in seven strong innings, and etching his name in the franchise record books.

At 23 years and 52 days old, he’s the youngest Yankee right-hander in the last 100 years with more than 10 strikeouts in a game. The only others younger than Severino with 11-plus Ks in a game were all lefties: Al Leiter (1988), Dave Righetti (1981) and Al Downing (1963, 1964).