Saturday Links: Bour, Trade Value, Conlon, Rasmussen

Bour. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Bour. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Later today the Yankees and Red Sox will continue their four games in three days series with the second game at Fenway Park. That’s a 4pm ET start. Until then, here are some links to check out.

Bour trade talks only “cursory”

According to Buster Olney, trade talks between the Yankees and Marlins about first baseman Justin Bour have only been “cursory, non-specific.” Olney says the Marlins have let teams know they’re open for business while Jon Heyman reports the club has no intention to trade its affordable core players. That sounds like posturing to me. They’re willing to trade them but say they won’t in an effort to build some leverage.

Bour, 29, is hitting .289/.367/.556 (136 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 77 games this season, plus he’s under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2020. He put on quite a show in the Home Run Derby before getting knocked out by Aaron Judge. On one hand, Bour would be an enormous first base upgrade for the Yankees, and he’d provide a DH option going forward should Greg Bird ever get healthy. On the other hand, something about trading prospects for a 29-year-old late bloomer at the bottom of the defensive spectrum doesn’t sit well with me.

Three Yankees make FanGraphs’ trade value series

Over the last week Dave Cameron has posted his annual trade value series, in which he ranks the top 50 players in baseball by trade value. It’s not just about performance. It’s about performance and years of team control, things like that. Bryce Harper is obviously excellent, though he doesn’t make the top 50 because he’ll be a free agent after next season. Anyway, three Yankees make the top 50, and they’re the young cornerstones of the franchise.

6. Aaron Judge
12. Gary Sanchez
35. Luis Severino

Judge is behind Carlos Correa, Mike Trout, Corey Seager, Kris Bryant, and Francisco Lindor in that order. I have no problems with that. Judge is awesome and he won’t be a free agent until after the 2022 season, though he’s only been this for half-a-season. Those other guys have done it for a full season, at least. Sanchez is the highest ranked catcher and Severino is the 12th ranked pitcher, which is pretty great. Last year there were no Yankees in the trade value series. Now there are three, including two in the top 12.

O’s fourth rounder now a free agent

Jack Conlon, a fourth round pick by the Orioles in this year’s draft, is now an unrestricted free agent, according to both Jim Callis and Hudson Belinsky. The O’s saw something they didn’t like in Conlon’s physical and declined to sign him. They didn’t even make him the minimum offer (40% of his slot value), which is why he’s now a free agent. MLB.com ranked the Texas high school right-hander as the 175th best prospect in the draft class. Here’s a piece of their scouting report:

Conlon can pitch at 92-95 mph with life on his fastball and back it up with an 81-84 mph slider on days when his mechanics are in sync. His changeup lags behind his other two pitches, though it has some fade and he shows some feel for it. He has a classic pitcher’s build at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds that bodes well for his durability. Conlon lacks consistency, however, because he has a rough delivery with effort and a head whack.

There haven’t been any reports connecting Conlon to the Yankees (or any other team), and they might never come. This might be one of those situations where we skip straight to the signing announcement. I’m certain the Yankees will look into signing Conlon because hey, it’s not often you can pick up a decent pitching prospect for nothing but cash, though the failed physical is an issue. The Orioles are notoriously tough with their physicals, so maybe it’s nothing. Then again, it could be a serious arm problem, so much so that spending money on him isn’t worth the increased risk.

Also, I should note the Rays did not sign Oregon State right-hander Drew Rasmussen, the 31st selection in this year’s draft, also because something popped up in his physical. There are conflicting reports out there about his current status. Some say he’s a free agent because the Rays didn’t make the minimum offer while others say the Rays did make the minimum offer, and Rasmussen will return to school for his senior season rather than become a free agent. Who knows.

2017 Second Half Preview: Recalibrating expectations for the Yankees (and Aaron Judge)

Be still my heart. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Be still my heart. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

The All-Star break is official over and the Yankees return to work tonight with the first of four against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. They’re playing four games in three days thanks to a doubleheader on Sunday. The second half ended miserably for the Yankees and they will have to turn it around really quickly — as in tonight — to avoid getting buried in the standings.

The Yankees are currently 45-41 with a +98 run differential. Believe it or not, that’s the fourth best record and second best run differential in the AL. They are currently 3.5 games back of the Red Sox in the AL East and essentially tied with the Rays for the two wildcard spots. The Twins are one game back. We’ve spent the last few days reviewing the first half. Now it’s time to preview the second half. Come with me, won’t you?

Schedule Breakdown

Between rainouts and off-days and all that, the Yankees have only played 86 games this year, tied with the Mets for the fewest in baseball. That’s good because it gives them games on hand against their competitors — the Rays have played 90 games, for example — and bad because they have to squeeze in more games in the second half, which means fewer off-days and tired bodies. Here’s a real quick schedule breakout:

  • Home games remaining: 38
  • Road games remaining: 38
  • AL East games remaining: 36 (14 vs. Red Sox, 10 vs. Rays, six vs. Orioles, six vs. Blue Jays)
  • Interleague games remaining: 6 (two vs. Reds at Yankees Stadium, four vs. Mets home-and-home)

The Yankees close out the season with three games at home against the Blue Jays, who figure to be well out of the race and in “let’s get the season over with and go home” mode. Their second to last series is a three-gamer against the Rays at home. That has the potential to be pretty damn big given the current standings. The Yankees also play the Royals (one makeup game) and Twins (three games) within the final two weeks of the season and those teams could be in the wild card race too.

Can Judge Keep This Up?

The question on everyone’s mind. Can Aaron Judge keep this up? The guy is hitting .329/.448/.691 (197 wRC+) this season and no one does that. And the guys who do it don’t strike out 29.8% of the time. Judge is also rocking a .429 BABIP. That won’t last, right? Common sense says no. Exit velocity says why the hell not?

  1. Aaron Judge: 97.2 mph average exit velocity
  2. Miguel Sano: 94.9 mph

The gap between No. 1 and No. 2 is the same as the gap between No. 2 and No. 19. Judge hits the ball harder than anyone I’ve ever seen and that’s not hyperbole. Judge is a never before seen combination of hitting ability, athleticism, and brute strength. “He’s so quiet and simple that he looks like a contact hitter trapped in an ogre’s body,” said Charlie Blackmon to Bryan Hoch after the Home Run Derby.

Judge had a 201 OPS+ in the first half — OPS+ and wRC+ are essentially the same thing, the player’s overall offensive value, but they’re calculated differently — which is insane. Here are the last seven players to post a 200 OPS+ or better in the first half — that takes us back to the sicko Barry Bonds years — and what they did in the second half:

First Half Second Half Final Line
2015 Bryce Harper .339/.464/.704 (226 OPS+) .320/.457/.586 (184 OPS+) .330/.460/.649 (198 OPS+)
2013 Miguel Cabrera .365/.458/.674 (213 OPS+) .316/.411/.565 (174 OPS+) .348/.442/.636 (190 OPS+)
2013 Chris Davis .315/.392/.717 (202 OPS+) .245/.339/.515 (138 OPS+) .286/.370/.634 (168 OPS+)
2012 Joey Votto .348/.471/.617 (200 OPS+) .299/.483/.402 (151 OPS+) .337/.474/.567 (177 OPS+)
2011 Jose Bautista .334/.468/.702 (226 OPS+) .257/.419/.477 (147 OPS+) .302/.447/.608 (182 OPS+)
2009 Albert Pujols .332/.456/.723 (211 OPS+) .332/.427/.582 (167 OPS+) .327/.443/.658 (189 OPS+)
2005 Derrek Lee .378/.452/.733 (211 OPS+) .287/.380/.581 (155 OPS+) .335/.418/.662 (174 OPS+)

A few things about this. One, all seven of those players saw their performance slip in the second half. Harper came the closest to repeating a 200 OPS+ in the second half and he was 16 OPS+ points away. Two, all seven of those players were outrageously good in the second half. Their performance slipped, but they were still monsters. Hooray for starting with such a high baseline.

And three, most of the second half decline is tied up in power. Aside from Davis, the second half AVG and OBP numbers are good. The power numbers are really good too, but they are down. Not one of those players slugged .600 in the second half. No one even slugged .590. Cabrera lost 60 ISO points in the second half and that’s the smallest decline among those seven players. On average, those players lost 115 ISO points (!) in the second half. Holy moly.

Intuitively, this makes perfect sense. It’s a long season and players get worn down, so fatigue is a factor. They’re not as strong in August and September as they are in April and May. Perhaps fatigue won’t be as much of a problem for Judge because he’s so damn big and strong. Then again, Harper and Davis and Lee are built like tanks and they slipped in the second half. It’s a long season and it takes a toll on the body. That’s baseball.

In all likelihood, no, Judge will maintain this pace all season. That doesn’t mean he’ll revert back to being the 2016 Aaron Judge either. I expect him to continue drawing a ton of walks — his 61 walks are third behind Matt Carpenter (63) and Votto (62) — and remain one of the top offensive forces in baseball even with the AVG and power numbers slipping a bit. Judge has an elite approach and knows how to make adjustments. I’m confident a second half collapse is not coming.

What About Innings Limits?

I wrote about this a week or two ago, so we don’t have to dwell on it too long. The Yankees, like every other team, has a workload limit in mind for their young starters. And they’re more sophisticated than simple innings limits. They monitor stressful pitches and easy pitches, things like that. The Yankees want to keep their top young pitchers healthy and productive, so they’re going to protect their arms. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery are the big names here because they’re in the big league rotation and pretty darn important to the team. Don’t sleep on Chance Adams though. His workload limit could come into play.

The Trade Deadline Is Looming

Future Yankee? (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Future Yankee? (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The July 31st trade deadline is now two weeks and three days away. Jose Quintana has already been traded. Brian Cashman likes to say the Yankees will declare themselves contenders or pretenders, and this team is somewhere right in the middle now. They were no doubt contenders earlier this year. Then they lost 18 of their last 25 games and are fading back into pretender status.

These next two weeks and change will determine how the Yankees act at the trade deadline. If they get hot between now and then, they could look to add some more established pieces. If they continue to slump, they could look to shed some veterans. And they could always do a little of both. Move out a veteran or two while adding a piece for now and the future. It’s not selling. It’s buying for the future.

My guess is the Yankees will end up doing a little of both. I believe Michael Pineda is most likely to get traded because a) he’ll be a free agent after the season, b) he’s not a qualifying offer candidate, and c) he’s not exactly irreplaceable. Matt Holliday is an impending free agent too, but he contributes a lot more on the field and all the young players rave about him in the clubhouse. Judge especially. That’s not nothing.

As for adding pieces, I think Cashman will employ a similar strategy to 2014, when he acquired small upgrades (Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, Martin Prado) at basically no cost. Nothing the Yankees miss, anyway. I don’t foresee the Yankees making a trade that costs them a significant prospect. Unlike last year, when it clear the Yankees should sell, things are a little more up in the air this year.

What Qualifies As A Successful Season?

The definition of success varies for each team. For a very long time, success for the Yankees was defined by a World Series championship. Did the Yankees win the World Series? If yes, it was a successful season. If not, it was a failure. Many still think like that, though things have very clearly changed. The Yankees took a step back last season and are now focused on getting younger. Getting younger and contending don’t always mix well.

This year the Yankees got off to such an great start that expectations were raised. I know mine where. I don’t know about you. The offense was putting up a ton of runs and the pitching staff was surprisingly strong. How could you not get excited? The Yankees have crashed hard these last few weeks though, which has been disappointing. It’s been disappointing because they got off to that great start, a great start they haven’t been able to sustain.

For me, a successful season first and foremost will be defined by the young players. Are the young players reaching the big leagues and thriving? So far the answer is a resounding yes. Judge is awesome, Severino is awesome, Gary Sanchez is awesome, Clint Frazier is now doing big things … it’s exciting! And that’s most important. The Yankees are trying to get younger and those young players are taking over. This recent collapse is on the veterans. Not the kids.

At the same time, I will absolutely be disappointed with another postseason-less year, especially after that great start. It’s possible to be excited about the young players and bummed out the Yankees aren’t playing in October again. That’s normal. We all watch because we want the Yankees to win. It’s very clear right now the Yankees are a team on the rise because of the young players. That doesn’t mean winning in the short-term has to take a back seat.

Cano’s home run gives AL a 2-1 win in the 2017 All-Star Game

Those socks tho. (Presswire)
Those socks tho. (Presswire)

Once again, the American League has proven it is the superior and more enjoyable league. The AL won the 2017 All-Star Game at Marlins Park on Tuesday night thanks to Robinson Cano‘s tenth inning home run against Wade Davis. The final score was 2-1. Cano hit the homer and was named MVP. Andrew Miller got the save. Ex-Yankees all over the place.

With the win, the AL has tied up the all-time All-Star Game series at 43-43-2. Both leagues have scored exactly 361 runs too. Freaky. The AL has won each of the last five All-Star Games and 17 of the last 21 overall. Total dominance. Here’s video of the Cano home run:

Man do I miss watching that guy’s swing on a daily basis. I still have nothing but love for Robbie.

As for the Yankees, Aaron Judge started the game in right field and went 0-for-3 before being removed. He struck out against Max Scherzer, grounded out again Carlos Martinez, and flew out against Alex Wood. Judge didn’t have to make any tough plays in the field. He made it out in one piece and that’s all that matters.

Dellin Betances threw the third inning for the AL and danced in and out of danger. His inning went single (Zack Cozart), strikeout (Charlie Blackmon), strikeout (Giancarlo Stanton), walk (Bryce Harper), walk (Buster Posey), ground out (Daniel Murphy). Luis Severino did not pitch in the game. He said he was slated to pitch the 11th had the game continued. Lame, but I guess he could use the rest.

It wasn’t until the sixth inning that Gary Sanchez came off the bench to replace Salvador Perez. He grounded out against Brad Hand and struck out against Kenley Jansen. (Future Yankee?) Yonder Alonso was on second base with one out in a 1-1 game that at-bat. Womp womp. Not a great day for the Yankees, but whatever. Who cares?

Here is the box score and video highlights. Now that the All-Star Game is over, every team in the league will have Wednesday and Thursday off. The Yankees begin the second half Friday night at Fenway Park for the first game of a four games in three days series with the Red Sox. Going right back into the fire, eh? Enjoy the rest of the All-Star break.

2017 Midseason Review: The Outfield

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Going into the spring, the Yankees had two spots claimed in the outfield and one up for grabs.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner were the veteran holdovers from last season while the pair of Aarons — Hicks and Judge — battled for right field. Both hit quite well in the spring, so the job went to the prospect with higher promise — and what promise it has been!

Perhaps the best way to look at this outfield is going month-to-month, as things changed … other than Aaron Judge‘s dominance.

April: Judge and Hicks emerge

As I’m sure everyone remembers, Judge was a monster in April. He smacked 10 home runs, batting .303/.411/.750 (198 wRC+) for the month. Somehow, that wasn’t his peak for the season. That slugging percentage should be a little higher because of that “triple” against the Cardinals. It actually took him five starts to hit a home run and he’s taken off from there.

Hicks, on the other hand, was the fourth outfielder, so he took a lot of pinch hitting duty early on. He hit two home runs vs. the Rays on Apr. 13 and proved effective in the 57 plate appearances he received. His .295/.429/614 (173 wRC+) slash line is his best for a month this year.

Gardner and Ellsbury each got off to slow starts, which allowed Hicks to get into the lineup more often. They combined for 11 stolen bases (and fielded their positions well, like both Aarons), but had 78 and 99 wRC+ respectively. Gardner was slowed by a collision at first base against Tampa Bay while Ellsbury met expectations while hitting a key grand slam against Baltimore.

Signature moments: I’ll nominate two: Judge’s birthday, when he homered and dove into the stands for a catch vs. Boston, and Hicks’ two-homer game against the Rays, when he provided all of the offense the Yanks needed.

May: Judge (and Gardner) surge

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The fair assumption was that Judge would cool off in May. His OPS did fall… but from 1.161 to 1.084. Another seven homers, just insane stuff. Hits first grand slam came late in the month and he followed with a Memorial Day homer next day. He actually hit for more average in May yet with a little less power.

Meanwhile, Gardner went on a power surge starting with a two-homer game vs. Toronto May 2, his first of two multi-homer games in the month. He had perhaps the most clutch homer of the season vs. the Cubs three days later. His nine homers for the month were more than he had all of 2016.

Hicks really hit his stride, earning some playing time over Ellsbury before Taco’s injury. Not quite as good as April overall, but he also proved his first month wasn’t a fluke. He had seven hits over the first two games of the Cubs series and 10 hits over a four-day span.

Even Taco hit better in May with a .288/.373/.442 (120 wRC+) line. Just one HR, but five doubles. Unfortunately, he got hurt catching a ball on May 24 and was out for over a month.

Signature moment: Easily Gardner vs. the Cubs. Down to the final strike, Gardner erased a 2-0 deficit with a game-winning three-run shot. That’s a very literal game changer.

June: How is Judge still doing this!?!

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Judge literally got on base every single game in June. That shouldn’t be possible. But it was. That 495-foot homer was absurd. He struck out 39 times, but walked 30(!). Another 10 home runs. Ho hum.

Like Ellsbury, Hicks got hurt making a catch and it threw a wrench into the outfield situation. He had slumped later in the month, but was still walking and getting on base. Ellsbury’s return was quickened by the loss of Hicks.

Gardner cooled off significantly (.239/.296/.389 for June). With his power falling off, he got back to stealing bases with five and continued to provide solid fielding in left and center.

Off the bench, the Yankees went to Mason Williams and Rob Refsnyder, the former who would be DFA’d. You surely remember the Dustin Fowler injury…

Signature moment: Is there any question? It’s Judge vs. the Orioles. A 495-foot homer is impressive in BP, let alone in game. And he followed it with a lightning fast shot to right-center.

July: Enter Clint Frazier

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Since returning at the end of June, Ellsbury is batting just .208/.321/.208. No power and a lot of weak grounders to second. Judge, of course, is still doing Judge things, though his on-base streak came to an end on July 1. He also won the Home Run Derby, which was cool. Gardner picked up just five hits (no HR) in 37 plate appearances.

The main bright spot in the eight games before the ASG was Clint Frazier. Frazier has been a revelation with his bat speed. He could force his way onto the roster post-Hicks return, although the outfield will be quite crowded if everyone stays healthy. Six of his seven hits have gone for extra bases and he’s slugging .875 through 24 at-bats. I like it!

Signature moment: Frazier’s walk-off vs. the Brewers. He fastball hunted against All-Star Corey Knebel and launched one to left for the win. Well done.

With Judge, Hicks, Ellsbury, Gardner and Frazier all starting quality outfielders, the Yankees have some of the most enviable outfield depth in baseball. That crew includes the MVP so far, a young player having a career year, a vet with a power resurgence and a 22-year-old just tapping into potential. It’s been a good 3 1/2 months for the Bombers OF and it should be a good overall season, too.

Aaron Judge wins 2017 Home Run Derby, all our hearts

If you don't know now you know. (Presswire)
If you don’t know now you know. (Presswire)

Monday night at Miami, Aaron Judge stole the show and won the 2017 Home Run Derby. He beat Justin Bour 23-22 in the first round, Cody Bellinger 13-12 in the second round, and Miguel Sano 11-10 in the third round. Judge was on another level. The last two rounds were actually anticlimactic.

The first round matchup with Bour was the highlight of the night. The hometown Marlin clubbed an incredible 22 home runs and had the crowd going nuts. Judge came back to hit 23 with time to spare. It was amazing. Bour had an amazing and fun round, and Judge knocked him right out.

In the second round Judge socked home runs measuring 504, 507, and 513 feet. He also hit one off the Marlins Park roof that didn’t count, so he really socked 24 against Bour. Judge also went opposite field into the second deck a few times, where the lefty power guys were hitting bombs. It was insane. Here’s some video:

Judge is the fourth Yankee to win the Home Run Derby, joining Tino Martinez (1999), Jason Giambi (2003), and Robinson Cano (2012). His 47 home runs are a Yankees record for the Home Run Derby. He could have topped Stanton’s record of 61 homers had they allowed him to hit until time expires. (As the higher seed, his round ended as soon as he topped his opponent’s total.)

As for Gary Sanchez, he knocked off Stanton in the first round 17-16 before losing to Sano in the second round 11-10. Sanchez seemed to run out of gas in the second round. Oh well. Nice try, Gary. Not bad for the second most awesome young Yankees slugger.

Yankeemetrics: Massive skid extends into break (July 7-9)

(AP)
(AP)

Groundhog Day in July
Another series, another bullpen failure, and the epic freefall continued with an embarrassing 9-4 loss on Friday night against the Brewers. The all-too-familiar late-inning implosion led to the Yankees 17th blown save, tying the Rangers for the most in MLB, and officially passing their total from last year. Yup, it’s July 10th.

Tyler Clippard once again was the conductor of this bullpen trainwreck, surrendering the game-losing runs in the seventh inning on a tie-breaking grand slam by Jesus Aguilar. Getting pummeled in key late-inning situations is nothing new for Clippard. Batters are slugging .711 against him in high-leverage plate appearances, the highest mark among major-league pitchers this season (min. 50 batters faced). And, for reference, Aaron Judge was slugging .701 after Friday’s game.

Clippard now has 11 Meltdowns – a metric at FanGraphs which basically answers the question of whether a relief pitcher hurt his team’s chance of winning a game. Those 11 Meltdowns are the most for any AL pitcher and tied with Blake Treinen (Nationals) and Brett Cecil (Cardinals) for the major-league lead.

And if the late-inning self-destruction wasn’t depressing enough, the Yankees also failed to take advantage of a sloppy five-error defensive performance by the Brewers.

You have to go back more than five years to find a team that lost a game despite their opponent committing five errors – the Giants against the Diamondbacks on April 8, 2012. And the last time the Yankees suffered such a mistake-filled loss was July 9, 1995 vs. the Rangers.

The one thing that salvaged this game from being another W.L.O.T.S. (Worst Loss of The Season) was – no surprise – another record-breaking performance by Aaron Judge. He hammered his 30th home run of the season in the fifth inning, becoming the first Yankee rookie ever to hit 30 homers. Forget the rookie qualification, Judge is only the third player in franchise history to hit 30-or-more homers before the All-Star break, joining Alex Rodriguez (30 in 2007) and Roger Maris (33 in 1961).

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Boom goes Frazier!
With the Yankees down 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth and staring at another soul-crushing defeat on Saturday afternoon, Clint Frazier came to the rescue and stunningly flipped a near-disaster loss into a rousing walk-off party, drilling a 97-mph fastball over the left field fences for the win.

Showing off his “legendary bat speed,” Frazier made a serious dent in the Yankee record books:

  • Before Frazier, the last Yankee to hit a walk-off homer against the Brewers was Roberto Kelly on Sept. 18, 1991.
  • He is the youngest Yankee (22 years, 305 days) with a walk-off dinger since a 21-year-old Melky Cabrera on July 18, 2006 versus the Mariners.
  • Frazier is the first Yankee rookie to hit a walk-off homer that turned a deficit into a win since Bobby Murcer on Aug. 5, 1969 against the Angels.
  • And, he is the youngest Yankee ever to launch a walk-off home run with his team trailing.

frazier-walk-off-gif

Frazier’s historic game-winning hit capped off a three-hit, four-RBI day by the red-headed rookie:

First, his single in the bottom of the fifth inning broke up Brent Suter’s no-hit bid and also completed the “career cycle” – Frazier’s first three hits in the majors were a home run, triple and double. Then, his run-scoring triple in the seventh inning cut the Yankees deficit to 3-2, and made him the youngest Yankee with a triple in back-to-back games since a 22-year-old Don Mattingly on July 30-31, 1983.

Finally, let’s hand out our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series to Mr. Frazier: He is the first Yankee to be a double short of the cycle in a game since Derek Jeter on April 30, 2010, and the youngest to do that since Mickey Mantle on May 22, 1954.

As the late-game struggles have become a recurring nightmare in recent weeks, it’s easy to forget that we had anointed this team as the Comeback Kids during the first two months. Saturday was the third time the Yankees won a game in which they trailed entering the ninth inning, matching their entire total from all of last season.

Luis Severino struggled out of the gate when he put the Yankees in a 3-0 hole after giving up a three-run bomb in the first inning. Aside from that rocky start, the 23-year-old right-hander was brilliant in blanking the Brewers for six more frames. He finished with 10 strikeouts, the fourth time this year he’s struck out double-digit guys. Severino is the youngest Yankee ever with four 10-strikeout games this early into the season (game number 85).

Aaron Judge didn’t give us any home run heroics, but still added to his unprecedented statistical rookie season on Saturday with his 60th walk – highlighting his rare combo of patience, power and production. Judge is the first player in major-league history age-25-or-younger to pile up at least 30 homers, 60 walks and 95 hits before the All-Star break.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Bad Tanaka is back
There would be no inspiring comeback, no walk-off magic, no wild celebration in Sunday’s rubber game as the Yankees headed to the All-Star break on the heels of another disheartening loss. They ended the unofficial first half of the season with one of their worst extended slumps in the last quarter century, going 0-7-1 in their final eight series and losing 18 of their last 25 games.

The last time the Yankees went eight straight series without a series win — and lost at least seven of them — was August/September 1991. Before this season, they hadn’t endured a 25-game stretch that included at least 18 losses since May/June 1995. And then there’s this sobering fact … the last time the Yankees actually won a series (June 9-11), the Cleveland Cavaliers were still the reigning NBA champions.

The most frustrating part of the game was the Yankees endless string of bad clutch hitting, as they went 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position. It was their worst single-game performance in that situation (min. 15 at-bats) since a 1-for-17 effort on June 8, 2014 against the Royals.

Aside from the pathetic Yankee bats, the biggest culprit in Sunday’s loss was Masahiro Tanaka, who put the Yankees in an early 4-0 hole after the Brewers crushed two homers in the first two innings off him. That brought his dinger total to 23, one more than he coughed during the entire 2016 season.

While much has been made of his weird day/night splits (7-3, 3.10 ERA in night games; 0-5, 14.81 ERA in day games), the more troubling split is his performance versus teams with a .500 or better record compared to a losing record. He’s now 1-5 with a 10.87 ERA in six starts against winning teams, and 6-3 with a 3.66 ERA in 12 starts vs losing teams.

For the second straight day Clint Frazier did his best to rally the troops, belting a two-run opposite-field homer in the fourth inning to cut the Yankees deficit to one run. It was his third home run in seven career games, the fourth Yankee to go yard that many times within their first seven major-league contests. It’s quite an eclectic list: Shelley Duncan, Jesus Montero and Steve Whitaker are the others.

Aaron Judge went 1-for-4 with a walk and heads to the All-Star festivities with an unreal batting line of .329/.448/.691. Since the first Mid-Summer Classic in 1933, Judge is the only Yankee right-handed batter to enter the break with at least a .320 batting average, .440 on-base percentage and .690 slugging percentage (min. 200 at-bats).

Yankeemetrics: Epic freefall reaches new low (July 3-5)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Return of The Ace
Is he back? That was the burning question in the Bronx after the Yankees returned home and notched a 6-3 win over the Blue Jays in the series opener, a game featured a third straight strong outing by Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka was brilliant, going seven innings while allowing one run with eight strikeouts – and no home runs. He has a 1.29 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 21 innings and a .495 OPS allowed over his last three starts; a massive improvement from his first 14 starts (6.34 ERA and .910 OPS allowed).

One of the biggest keys for Tanaka during this excellent stretch of back-to-back-to-back outings has been his ability to keep the ball on the ground and limit hard-hit balls. His groundball rate has jumped from 47 percent in the first two and a half months to 61 percent in his last three games, while his rate of hard contact has been cut from 35 percent to 19.6 percent.

When he was at his worst – during those first 14 starts – he allowed an average airball exit velocity of 93.8 mph, the worst mark through June 22 in the majors (min. 100 batted balls). He’s lowered that number by nearly 10 mph since June 23, to a stellar 84.2 mph that ranks fifth-best in MLB over the last two weeks (min. 15 batted balls).

Digging deeper, we can see that Tanaka has been much more precise with his off-speed stuff, locating his slider and splitter consistently at the knees and below the zone:

tanaka-first-14

The depth on those pitches is also significantly better, with his slider showing nearly an inch more downward movement and his splitter dropping a half-inch more over his last three starts. All of that has resulted in opponents slugging .146 in 40 at-bats ending in his splitter or slider over his last three starts, compared to .469 in his first 14 starts.

While Tanaka’s gem and return to ace form were the biggest stories of the game, let’s put the spotlight on another player that’s quietly produced one of the best all-around first-halves by any Yankee.

Brett Gardner hit his 15th double of the season, giving him these numbers as we near the mid-summer classic: 15 doubles, 15 homers, 10 steals, 56 runs and 35 walks – power, pop, speed, patience and scoring. The only other Yankee to reach each of those totals before the All-Star break (since 1933) is Rickey Henderson in 1986.

(AP)
(AP)

Yankee Doodle Dud
July 4th is a storied day in Yankees history – Lou Gehrig’s ‘Luckiest Man’ speech, George Steinbrenner‘s birthday, Dave Righetti’s no-hitter, John Sterling’s birthday – but this year there would be no indelible moments, no joyous celebration, no fireworks at Yankee Stadium. Instead, they followed up Monday’s encouraging win with another dull loss, 4-1, on Tuesday afternoon.

The last time the Yankees won back-to-back games was June 11-12, a string of 21 games during which they’ve gone 5-16. This is just the third time in the last two decades the Yankees have gone 20-or-more games without a win streak; the other droughts came in July/August 2013 (24 games) and August/September 2012 (25 games).

CC Sabathia, making his first start since a three-week stint on the disabled list, retired the first eight batters he faced but then didn’t get another out, getting pulled after giving up four runs in the inning. Those four earned runs allowed in the third frame matched the same number he had surrendered over a combined 36 1/3 innings in his previous six starts.

Aaron Judge saved the day from being a disaster when he homered in the fourth inning. Judge’s 28th longball of the season was a sizzling shot that went 456 feet and left his bat with an exit velocity of 118.4 mph. It was the fourth time he’s hit a homer that hard … and in related news, the rest of MLB has combined for ZERO home runs with an exit velocity of 118-plus mph this season.

Following the game, Chris Carter was designated for assignment for the second time in two weeks. If this is finally the end of the Chris Carter Experiment, he’ll have earned himself an inglorious place in the franchise record books: Carter would be the first Yankee ever to get at least 200 plate appearances in a season and finish with twice as many strikeouts (76) as hits (37).

(AP)
(AP)

Another collapse, send help
And the mind-numbing tailspin continues in the Bronx. The Yankees dropped the rubber game of the series, 7-6, suffering another crushing defeat in which they battled back from five runs down to take the lead only to have the bullpen self-destruct yet again.

Let’s update those ugly bullpen-implosion numbers from the last Yankeemetrics:

Stat Notes
16 Blown Saves – Through 83 games last year, they had only six (in three fewer save opportunities);
– The same total they had the entire 2016 season
17 One-Run Losses – Five more than all of last year;
– 11 of them since June 1, the most of any team in that span
11 losses when scoring at least five runs – The same number they had all of last year;
– Through 83 games in 2016, they had six such losses;
– 8 of them have come since June 1, the most in MLB

Chad Green ignited the meltdown when he coughed up the game-tying homer in the seventh, and then Dellin Betances put grease on the fire when he walked in the go-ahead run in the eighth.

Betances simply can’t find the strike zone now. His total lack of command has been really acute in his last four games, during which he has walked 10 of the 20 batters he’s faced and thrown only 41 of his 97 pitches for strikes.

Wednesday marked just the second time he’s ever walked four guys in an outing – the other instance was his first career big-league appearance on Sept. 22, 2011. Betances also joined Edwar Ramirez (July 20, 2007) as the only Yankees in the last quarter-century to give out at least four free passes and get one or fewer outs in a game.

For the season, he’s now at 8.56 walks per nine innings and a 21.1 percent walk rate, both of which would be the worst marks by any Yankee with at least 25 innings pitched since Ryne Duren in 1960 (9.0, 21.4%).

The beginning of the game was just as horrible to watch as the ending, with Michael Pineda getting shelled by the Toronto lineup. They crushed three homers off him, the second time in his last two home games he’s given up at least three dingers. The only other Yankee pitchers to allow at least three longballs in back-to-back games at Yankee Stadium were Kei Igawa (2007) and Red Ruffing (1941) – but neither of those two guys only pitched four innings or fewer in both games, like Pineda did.

The bullpen blowtorch erased what had been a rousing comeback, one that was sparked by Aaron Judge. The pinstriped cyborg drove in the first two runs of the game with his 29th home run of the season, matching Joe DiMaggio for the Yankee rookie record … with 79 games remaining on the schedule.

Perhaps more incredible is this stat, which illustrates his rare and legendary combination of power and patience: Three Yankees have compiled at least 200 total bases and 50-plus walks before the All-Star break – Judge, Mickey Mantle (1956) and Lou Gehrig (1936).