Yankeemetrics: It’s getting late early [April 25-27]

Nasty Nate (Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports Images)
Nasty Nate (Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports Images)

Near No-No Nate
Nathan Eovaldi‘s chance to make history fell just short on Monday night, but he still established a new level of pitching dominance for Yankee starters this season and helped the team start its road trip with a 3-1 win over the Rangers.

Eovaldi dominated the Rangers lineup, holding them hitless through six innings until Nomar Mazara led off the top of the seventh with a single. He finished with a stellar line of seven-plus innings, no runs, two hits, six strikeouts and one walk, becoming the lone Yankee starter to produce a scoreless outing in 2016. His Game Score of 77 also set a new benchmark for the rotation.

He consistently got ahead in the count, and while pitching with the advantage, was able to get hitters to chase his diving splitter out of the zone. The Rangers went 0-for-12 in at-bats ending in his split-fingered fastball; six of those outs were swinging strikeouts, and five were harmless grounders. His command of his slider was just as impressive: he threw 19 of them, 17 for strikes, and none resulted in a hit.

Although Eovaldi missed out on etching his name in the record books, he did put himself on a couple lists with some pretty good names. The last Yankee to throw at least seven shutout innings while giving up no more than two hits against the Rangers in Texas was Ron Guidry (1980). It was also his eighth straight game with at least six strikeouts, the longest streak by a Yankee right-hander since Roger Clemens in 2001.

From best to worst
One day after Eovaldi spun a gem, Luis Severino produced the exact opposite – a terrible performance in which he was pummeled by the Rangers’ bats and allowed twice as many runs (six) as innings pitched (three). Severino’s Game Score of 20 was the worst for any Yankee starter this season, and it was also the shortest outing for any pinstriped starter.

The Rangers ultimately cruised to a 10-1 victory, handing the Yankees their worst loss in Arlington since a 13-3 beating on August 21, 2001.

The most frustrating part was that numerous times the Yankees seemed thisclose to escaping an inning with no harm done, but were stung by several crushing two-out hits. Nine of the 10 runs allowed by the Yankees came with two outs, continuing a troubling trend for the team.

After Tuesday’s disaster, they had surrendered 49 two-out runs, by far the most of any AL team (the Tigers were second with 39), and the Yankees easily led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS allowed with two outs.

Dead Bats Society
Following their 3-2 loss on Wednesday night, there are few words left to describe the magnitude of the Yankees’ near-historic offensive struggles this season, so let’s just recap with some facts (because numbers never lie):

• Yankees have scored 72 runs, their fewest thru 20 games since 1990. And that season ended … um, not good.
• They’ve tallied two runs or fewer in 10 of 20 games, the most for any Yankee team this early into the season since 1966. Yuck.
• Yankees are the only major-league team this season that’s scored two-or-fewer runs in at least half of their games. Disgusting.
• They’ve scored three runs or fewer 15 times this season. Over the last 100 years, no other Yankee club has ever done that more times in the team’s first 20 games. Ugh.
• Since their game in Detroit was postponed on April 10, the Yankees have played 15 games and scored more than four runs just once. Gross.

On a more positive note, A-Rod returned from his oblique injury and produced his best game of the season, going 3-for-3 with a homer, double and single. It was his 543rd career double, tying Tony Gwynn for 32nd place all-time. Next up on the list is The Captain, Derek Jeter, with 544. A-Rod also scored his 1,000th run as a Yankee, the 12th player in franchise history to reach that milestone, and is one of nine players to total at least 1,000 runs and 1,000 RBIs in pinstripes. The other guys? Mattingly, Bernie, Jeter, Yogi, Mantle, DiMaggio, Ruth and Gehrig.

Game 19: Trying To Get Severino On Track

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Want to hear something wild? The Yankees have won three of their last four games. Doesn’t feel like it, right? The offense still hasn’t snapped out of its funk, but the pitching has been much better of late, and the bullpen is making every lead stand up. Sometimes the pitching has the pick up the hitting and vice versa.

The Yankees are sending young Luis Severino to the mound tonight, and Severino has struggled in three starts so far. He hasn’t been awful, just pretty mediocre, and I don’t think anyone came into the season expecting mediocrity from Luis. Command of his secondary pitches, particularly his slider, remains the main issue. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. DH Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. 1B Dustin Ackley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 3B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Severino

The weather in Arlington is pretty scary tonight. There are thunderstorm warnings and apparently tornado warnings as well, but the worst of it is not supposed to start until later tonight. Every time I checked the forecast today the worst stuff seemed to get pushed back an hour. It’s supposed to start raining and raining hard about three hours after first pitch, so we’ll see what happens. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin a little after 8pm ET. You can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Alex Rodriguez (oblique) is feeling better. He took swings in the batting cage yesterday and again today. It doesn’t sound like he’s a pinch-hitter option yet, however.

Game 18: Maybe They’ll Score Some Runs In Texas

How are they supposed to hit if they don't open their eyes? (Presswire)
How are they supposed to hit if they don’t open their eyes? (Presswire)

That nightmare of a nine-game homestand is finally over. Hard to believe I’m actually happy the Yankees are somewhere besides Yankee Stadium. That’s how bad the homestand was. The team is in Texas tonight for the first of three games against the Rangers, the defending AL West champs.

Needless to say, the offense needs to get its act together and soon. It looked like were on the right track Friday night, then they scored four runs total Saturday and Sunday. Not scoring runs stinks. There’s nothing less enjoyable than a struggling offense. It would be nice if they put up a ten-spot one of these days. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. RF Dustin Ackleyfirst career start in right field
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. C Austin Romine
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

It is sunny and warm in the Dallas area this evening. Temperatures are in the low-80s, so it’s not Texas hot just yet. Tonight’s series opener is going to begin at 8:05pm ET, and you can watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the game, folks.

Injury Update: Alex Rodriguez (oblique) took batting practice prior to today’s game. The Yankees did not make a roster move, so they have a two-man bench tonight (Brian McCann and Ronald Torreyes). This is fineAaron Hicks (shoulder) played catch and is feeling better, but there is no firm timetable for his return … Branden Pinder (elbow) will indeed have Tommy John surgery. The procedure is scheduled for tomorrow.

A-Rod and Hicks injuries create some short-term roster headaches for the Yankees

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The just completed nine-game homestand did not go well for the Yankees. Not at all. They lost six times in the nine games, and, over the weekend, they lost both Alex Rodriguez and Aaron Hicks to injury. A-Rod hurt his oblique taking swings in the indoor batting cage between at-bats Sunday, and Hicks jammed his shoulder attempting a diving catch Friday.

The good news is neither A-Rod nor Hicks suffered a serious long-term injury. The MRI on A-Rod’s oblique came back negative, and he did travel with the team to Texas for their upcoming series with the Rangers. Hicks’ MRI showed “traumatic bursitis,” which sounds a lot worse than it really is. He received a cortisone shot and is only expected to miss a few days.

That A-Rod and Hicks only suffered day-to-day injuries is good news. The bad news is the two simultaneous injuries create some roster headaches for the Yankees. They have 23 healthy players on their 25-man roster right now, which means only a two-man bench. Playing short for a few days while one player nurses an injury is one thing. Playing short two position players is very different.

“That would be pretty hard to do … Playing two short would be really difficult,” said Joe Girardi to Daniel Popper following yesterday’s game. The Yankees said they were not going to make an immediate roster move when they announced the results of A-Rod’s MRI last night, but the key word there is immediate. They could still make a move prior to tonight’s game and I expect they will.

What I think will happen and what I think should happen are different things. I think the Yankees will place Hicks on the DL and ride out A-Rod’s injury for a few days. I think the Yankees should place both Hicks and A-Rod on the DL to not only avoid playing short-handed, but also to give the two players as much time as necessary to get healthy. A DL stint means no temptation to bring them back early.

Remember, oblique injuries are very tricky and very easy to re-aggravate. Plus A-Rod is 40 now, and 40-year-olds tend to take longer to heal that 25-year-olds. I can’t help but feel like something the Yankees believe will keep Alex out for, say, four or five days will end up sidelining him for nine or ten days. Same with Hicks to a lesser extent. He won’t be back until the end of the week at the earliest based on the five or six day timetable the team threw out there.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees have 40-man roster flexibility — they have one open spot thanks to Aroldis Chapman‘s suspension, plus two 60-day DL candidates (Greg Bird, Bryan Mitchell) and likely a third (Branden Pinder) — and a bunch of call-up options in Triple-A. A right-handed hitter(s) who can play a little outfield would be ideal, though not completely necessary. Here are the main candidates:

1. Nick Swisher. Swisher has raked in his short time with Triple-A Scranton (175 wRC+), which is good to see, but be careful not to read too much into a 12-year veteran mashing Triple-A pitching. He’s healthy and that’s good. Swisher also stunk the last two years and his knees are shot, so he’s basically a first baseman and DH at this point. (He hasn’t played the outfield at all with Scranton.) Also, Swisher can’t be sent back down when Hicks and A-Rod are healthy.

2. Ben Gamel. Gamel is a left-handed hitter and the Yankees already have three of those in the outfield if you include Dustin Ackley. He has hit this year though (118 wRC+), and he’s far better suited to play right field than Ackley. In a perfect world Carlos Beltran will slide into the DH spot full-time while A-Rod is on the shelf. Gamel may be the best option in terms of expected performance on both sides of the ball.

3. Aaron Judge. Well, if the Yankees want a right-handed batter, Judge would fit the bill. He’s played well in the early going (125 wRC+) despite some strikeout issues (30.9%). The Yankees have been going young whenever possible lately, and Judge would be a better fit than Gamel because he is a righty. That said, he’s not on the 40-man roster, and sending him back down when Hicks and A-Rod return would burn his first minor league option year. Also, Judge simply might need more time in Triple-A. That strikeout rate is no bueno. You’d hate to rush a guy this talented before he’s ready.

4. Lane Adams. The Yankees claimed Adams off waivers this winter specifically because he’s a right-handed hitting outfielder, something they lacked at the upper levels. He started the year in Double-A before moving up to Triple-A when Cesar Puello got hurt, and so far he hasn’t stood out with the bat (78 wRC+). Adams is the best defender among the team’s outfield options, which is not nothing. It’s unknown how much any of these guys will contribute with the bat right now. Adams could help the most in the field.

5. Rob Refsnyder? Once upon a time Refsnyder was a right fielder, though he has played only nine games at the position since 2013. The Yankees had him work out exclusively at second and third base in Spring Training and Triple-A. That said, he’s a right-handed hitter, and he did some damage against lefties late last year. The Yankees could use the help against southpaws. Would they stick Refsnyder in right field for a few days until Hicks returns? My guess is no, but it is an option.

Gamel is the easy move because he’s already on the 40-man roster and is playing the best on both sides of the ball right now. Swisher is the “old Yankees” move in that he’s a veteran who would be getting priority over younger players. Adams is the boring option, Judge is the bold option, and Refsnyder is the out of the box option. If the Yankees do stick someone (Hicks) on the DL, I think Gamel would get the call. I’m wrong all the time though.

Neither A-Rod nor Hicks have been hitting all that much in the early going, so it’s possible whoever gets called up will actually improve the team in the short-term. Still, the Yankees want to get those two going, and they’re at their best when those two guys are playing up to their potential. A-Rod and Hicks won’t be able to snap out of their funks while injured. There’s nothing the team can do about that though. They just have to hope they can return soon.

Point is, having A-Rod and Hicks hurt at the same time really creates some problems. The injuries remove two right-handed bats from a team struggling against lefties (74 wRC+) and they could be left playing shorthanded for a few days. These are only day-to-day injuries, but the fact both happened at the same time gives the Yankees little choice but to stick someone on the DL for the time being.

Update: MRI on A-Rod’s oblique comes back negative

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

6:27pm: The MRI on A-Rod‘s oblique came back negative, the Yankees announced. I assume that means he doesn’t have any kind of strain that will require a DL stint. The Yankees say no immediate roster move will be made, and Alex will travel with the team to Texas. They love him down there, you know.

3:42pm: Alex Rodriguez left this afternoon’s game with an oblique injury, reports Jack Curry. The Yankees have since confirmed the news. A-Rod tweaked his side while taking swings in the batting cage between at-bats. There’s no word on the severity just yet, though the Yankees say he’s heading for an MRI.

The Yankees are currently without Aaron Hicks, who is nursing a shoulder injury and received a cortisone shot yesterday. Obliques can be very tricky and easy to re-aggravate. If A-Rod is going to be down for a few days, the Yankees are going to have to put someone on the DL and make a call-up. Can’t play with a 23-man roster.

Dustin Ackley doesn’t have much right field experience at all, so while putting him in right and Carlos Beltran at DH is possible, it might not be the best move with both Hicks and A-Rod out. Nick Swisher and Ben Gamel seem like the primary call-up candidates, though I’d be surprised if it’s Swisher, especially if both Hicks and A-Rod are due back soon.

Rodriguez, 40, came into Sunday’s game 7-for-53 (.132) on the season. He ripped a double off the wall this afternoon and had a home run knocked down by the wind yesterday. The Yankees won’t miss his bat in the short-term, but he’s not going to get out of his funk sitting on the DL either. Hopefully he comes back soon.

Yankeemetrics: #RISPFAIL [April 15-17]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

It’s not what you want, Part I
The good news is that the Yankees created a ton of scoring chances on Friday night. The bad news is that they failed miserably in cashing in on those opportunities – and the result was a frustrating 7-1 loss to the Mariners in the series opener.

The Yankees put 13 guys on base overall and just one of them touched home plate – a solo homer by Brett Gardner in the first inning. It marked the first time they left 12-or-more men on base and scored only one run in a game since May 29, 2012 against the Angels.

They had at least one baserunner in seven of the nine innings and multiple guys on in the fourth, fifth and sixth frames. Yet, they couldn’t come up with the Big Hit ® as they went hitless in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Jacoby Ellsbury was the only Yankee starter that didn’t reach base, going 0-for-5 with two strikeouts. It was his 15th game in pinstripes with at least five at bats and zero hits, the most such games of any player on the team since his debut in 2014.

It’s not what you want, Part II
Another day, another three-plus hours of futility at the plate for the Yankees, who left a small navy of runners on base and lost 3-2 to the Mariners on Saturday afternoon.

They somehow managed to set a new level of offensive ineptitude for 2016, surpassing Friday’s debacle by going hitless in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position again and this time stranding a whopping 14 baserunners.

It’s the first time in more than three decades that the Yankees have lost back-to-back nine-inning games while leaving at least 12 runners on base in each contest. The last time it happened was June 5-6, 1984 against the Red Sox.

Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the last major-league team to go 0-for-12 or worse with RISP in consecutive games was the Orioles in 1993.

CC Sabathia made his 200th start with the Yankees but it was a forgettable one. He was pulled in the fifth inning after allowing three runs on seven hits and with his pitch count at 95. Still, the milestone is a significant one for Sabathia, who also surpassed the 200-start mark with the Indians.

He is just the sixth pitcher in major-league history – and the second lefty – to have at least 200 starts and 1,000 strikeouts with two different franchises. The others in this club are Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson (the lone southpaw), Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan and Jim Bunning.

Carlos Beltran did his best to spark the Yankees offense, driving in two runs while going 4-for-5 with two doubles and a homer. At the age of 38 and 358 days, he is the oldest player in franchise history to have a four-hit game that included at least three extra-base hits. He surpassed Babe Ruth, who was 38 years and 175 days old when he went 4-of-5 with two doubles and a triple against the Senators in 1933.

Do you believe in miracles?
Yes!

Brett Gardner’s RBI double in the third inning, which scored Jacoby Ellsbury from second base, snapped an ugly 0-for-30 streak with runners in scoring position by the Yankees that dated back to the Blue Jays series (Of course, that was their only hit in 11 at-bats with RISP during the game. But one hit is progress!)

The Yankees also broke their four-game losing streak, avoided the dreaded sweep against the Mariners, and had their best offensive output (four runs) since April 9 in Detroit.

A-Rod also joined the streak-breaking party in the second inning when he smoked the first pitch he saw into the left field stands for career homer No. 689. That ended a 19 at-bat hitless streak, which was two shy of the longest in his career (2002 and 2007). He entered the game with a .100 batting average this year, his worst mark through eight games played in any season during his career.

The Yankees got seven strong innings from Masahiro Tanaka, who is now 4-0 with a 2.70 ERA in four starts against Seattle. He kept the Mariners lineup off-balance all afternoon with his nasty splitter, which netted him five of his six strikeouts and 14 swinging strikes, the most he’s ever had in a game with that pitch. Thanks to his sinker-heavy approach, Tanaka generated a ton of soft contact and his 12 ground ball outs also were a career-high.

Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller sealed the win with another pair of ridiculously dominant performances as they each struck out the side in the eighth and ninth innings on 26 total pitches. The pair has recorded 33 outs this season, and 27 of them have been strikeouts.

Of the last 15 batters that Betances has retired, 14 have been via strike three. He’s now had four outings in a row with at least three strikeouts and no more than 1⅓ innings pitched. Betances is the only pitcher in major-league history to put together a streak like that — and it’s not even the first time he’s done it. He had a similar stretch May 26-June 1 last year.

The April Heat Afflicting Alex

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

While we were fortunate to get a mostly mild winter here in the northeast, spring–let alone summer–has been slow to fully reveal itself, with temperatures hovering in the 50’s, bringing plenty of those damned April showers. Despite that, things have been rather hot for Alex Rodriguez in the batter’s box. No, that doesn’t mean he’s been hitting well. Rather, he’s been getting blown away by the heat, as Mark Simon noted over at ESPN. Ironically enough, this comes on the heels of an article at FiveThirtyEight.com positing that older hitters aren’t adversely affected by rising velocity. For at least one hitter this year, that general trend doesn’t apply.

Generally, I agree with Mike that it’s (probably) too early too worry about Rodriguez and his struggles; still, it’s worth looking into his performance this year, especially considering Rodriguez fared well against fastballs in 2015. Last season, Rodriguez slugged .725 against fastballs, good for a .409 ISO per Brooks. In the early going this year, things are quite the opposite: low average, low slugging, .000 ISO. Arguably more important than those results, though, is the ‘process’ with which Rodriguez is going through with old number one.

In 2015, Rodriguez had a relatively low 23.55% whiff/swing rate against fastballs. 2016, however, has been a different story, with a 50% whiff/swing rate on heaters. That swinging-and-missing has led to a 31.4% strikeout rate for Rodriguez, which is not only ugly, but would be a career high. Luckily, he’s only had 35 plate appearances in eight games this season, and strikeout rates don’t quite stabilize until 60 PA, per FanGraphs. There’s time to turn things around–it’s only April 17–but there is still cause for concern.

(BrooksBaseball.net)
(BrooksBaseball.net)

The above image is A-Rod‘s whiff/swing chart against fastballs for this year so far. Take a look at that middle-middle box in the strike zone. Whether they were challenge pitches or mistakes, Rodriguez has seen three fastballs that have been, quite literally, right down the middle; he’s whiffed three times on three swings on those pitches. Last season, he only whiffed seven total times on pitches in that location.

Short story even shorter, Alex is struggling to catch up to fastballs right now. Maybe it’s just early. Maybe it’s just a slump. Maybe it isn’t. Given his age, it’s right to be a little fearful, especially since this comes after he struggled against breaking pitches last season. There is plenty of time to right the ship and when a player is as talented as Rodriguez is, it’s wise to bet on him. But the end of the line comes for everyone and Rodriguez’s is fast approaching. This fastball-based negative trend is one to keep an eye on going forward.