Six under-the-radar decisions that helped get the Yankees back to the postseason

Sir Didi. (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Sir Didi. (Adam Hunger/Getty)

In what was supposed to be a rebuilding transition season, the Yankees won 91 games and will play in the AL Wild Card Game tomorrow night. They remained in the hunt for the AL East title right up until the final weekend too. That’s pretty cool. Can’t say I saw this coming. This has been a fun six months, hasn’t it? Couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable season.

Getting to the postseason and possibly maybe hopefully winning the World Series is the result of many, literally hundreds of decisions over a period of several seasons. It doesn’t happen quick. Some of the decisions that got the Yankees back to the postseason this year are obvious. Draft Aaron Judge with the 32nd pick in 2013 instead of literally anyone else. Trade for Sonny Gray and David Robertson. Sign CC Sabathia. Those are the obvious moves.

Many times it’s the not-so-obvious decisions, the multitude of easy-to-look decisions that are the difference between contending and just being okay. Don’t think much of that lightly regarded prospect thrown into a trade? Well sometimes that guy turns into Chad Green. Those are the moves and decisions that separate the contenders from the pretenders. Here are six of those not-so-obvious decisions that played a role in getting the Yankees back to the postseason.

Giving Denbo the keys to the farm system

The Yankees were never going to get back to being a perennial contender without developing players from within. You can’t build a winner through free agency anymore. Baseball has changed. And aside from a Brett Gardner here and a Dellin Betances there, the Yankees hadn’t developed an impact player since Robinson Cano as recently as two years ago. Things had to change and they did change.

Four years ago Hal Steinbrenner ordered what was essentially an audit of the farm system. The Yankees weren’t producing players and the owner wanted to know why. Hal’s evaluation of the system led to substantial changes. Coaches and player development personnel were replaced, and the minor league complex in Tampa was renovated. The status quo was not working so the Yankees changed the way they went about developing players.

The single biggest change was the (forced) retirement of longtime vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman, who’d been running the farm system for 15 years. Brian Cashman tabbed Gary Denbo, who has done basically everything there is to do in baseball throughout his career, to replace Newman, and the difference has been staggering. The Yankees are not just producing MLB players, they’re producing stars.

How much credit does Denbo deserve for the farm system turnaround? It’s hard to say, exactly. Denbo did overhaul the minor league coaching staffs — even the beloved Tony Franklin, Double-A Trenton’s longtime manager, was moved into another role — and start Captain’s Camp, among many other things. The farm system went from frustratingly unproductive to pumping out quality big league players under his watch. More than the Yankees can roster, really.

I never thought the Yankees had a problem acquiring talent (aside from the Cito Culver and Dante Bichette Jr. picks). They had talent. But that talent was not developing into MLB players. That has changed since Denbo took over, and hey, maybe it’s all one giant coincidence. I don’t think that’s the case though. Denbo replacing Newman barely registered as a blip on the radar at the time, but in the grand scheme of things, it may have been the team’s most impactful move of the last five or six years.

Letting Severino pitch in relief

Sevy. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)
Sevy. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

The 2016 season couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start for Luis Severino. Rather than emerge as a homegrown ace, the then-22-year-old struggled big time early in the season and eventually went down with a triceps injury. He threw 35 innings with a 7.46 ERA (5.52 FIP) in seven starts before the injury, then once he got healthy, the Yankees sent him down to Triple-A Scranton.

In 13 games with the RailRiders, Severino had a 3.49 ERA (2.60 FIP) in 77.1 innings, and he was sent down for the express purpose of improving his command and improving his changeup. The Yankees did bring Severino back to the big leagues eventually, but not as a starter. As a reliever. In eleven relief appearances he threw 23.1 innings with a 0.39 ERA (2.29 FIP) and was overwhelmingly dominant. Naturally, the calls to keep Severino in the bullpen came, but the Yankees knew better and moved him back into the rotation this year.

This season Severino emerged as that homegrown ace and I don’t think that happens without his bullpen stint last season. While working in relief Severino learned how to get MLB hitters out, learned to trust his overpowering stuff, and built confidence, and it carried over this year. He looks like a reliever pitching as a starter this season. He has that same attack attack attack mentality and a better idea of how to get outs.

Development is rarely linear. So many players experience ups and downs along the way, and last season was a down year for Severino. It wasn’t a lost year though. You hope young players learn something when they struggle and Severino absolutely did. He doesn’t become the pitcher he is today without going through everything he went through last year. I know we’re all still scarred from the Joba Rules and all that, but in this case, a stint in the bullpen turned into a major positive for Severino and the Yankees.

Beltran picks the Astros

Over the winter the Yankees had a clear opening for a veteran middle of the order bat. Someone to support the youngsters and take all those designated hitter at-bats. The Yankees wanted to bring Carlos Beltran back for that role. He was Plan A. Instead, Beltran decided to take a one-year contract worth $16M with the Astros.

“They really made an offer early, faster than any other team,” said Beltran to Brian McTaggart after signing with Houston. “At the same time, I took a look at the roster, and having an opportunity to play against them last year with the Rangers, this team is very, very close to winning and winning for a long time. The fact they were aggressive and went out there and really showed big-time interest, it wasn’t that difficult to make to make a decision.”

With Beltran off the board, the Yankees shifted gears and turned their attention to Matt Holliday, the other big name veteran bat who could be had a one-year contract. The Yankees have Holliday a one-year deal worth $13M four days after Beltran signed with the Astros, and, well:

  • Holliday: .231/.316/.432 (97 wRC+) and 19 homers
  • Beltran: .231/.283/.383 (76 wRC+) and 14 homers

Holliday has crashed hard in the second half, hard enough that it’s fair to wonder whether he belongs on the postseason roster, but his first half was incredible. He hit .262/.366/.511 (132 wRC+) with 15 homers in 68 games before the All-Star break. Beltran’s best 68-game stretch this season was a .246/.301/.442 line (96 wRC+) with eleven homers from May 3rd through August 6th. Yeah.

Between Holliday’s first half production and his reported impact on Judge and other young players, the Yankees are pretty fortunate Beltran decided to return to Houston. They wound up with a slightly cheaper player who was more productive on the field and also an asset in the clubhouse (which Beltran certainly is as well).

Diamondbacks put their faith in Ahmed and Owings

Nearly three years ago, then-D’Backs general manager Dave Stewart decided he was going to dip into his team’s shortstop depth to bolster their rotation. The club had three young shortstops, none older than 24, so there was some surplus. Arizona could trade one young shortstop and still have two others on the roster. And that’s exactly what they did. The shortstops they kept: Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings. The shortstop they traded: Didi Gregorius.

  • Gregorius from 2015-17: .276/.313/.432 (98 wRC+) and +9.6 WAR
  • Ahmed from 2015-17: .228/.276/.351 (60 wRC+) and +1.9 WAR
  • Owings from: 2015-17: .255/.291/.387 (72 wRC+) and -0.5 WAR

To be fair, the D’Backs acquired Robbie Ray in the Gregorius trade, and Ray is pretty damn awesome. He threw 162 innings with a 2.89 ERA (3.72 FIP) and 32.8% strikeouts this season, and went to the All-Star Game. The trade worked out for them from the “get a young starter” perspective. The Yankees did not have a young starter to trade with the D’Backs directly, which is how the Tigers got involved. Then-Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski loved Shane Greene and served as an intermediary.

Gregorius is now a highly productive member of the Yankees because the D’Backs considered him expendable. That’s why he’s wearing pinstripes. They liked Owings and Ahmed more and identified them as their best chance to develop a shortstop of the future. “Didi has been one of the most talked-about players (in trades) for us. Looking at the possibilities for things we could do, it really came down to eventually, ‘How can we fill a need?'” said Stewart to Nick Piecoro after the trade. The D’Backs got their starter, so credit to them. That decision helped get the Yankees to where they are today.

Not making the easy move for the fifth starter’s spot

Monty. (Jamie Squire/Getty)
Monty. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

When Spring Training started, the Yankees had two open rotation spots. As it turned out, one was earmarked for Severino — didn’t I say that all offseason long? I did — leaving the fifth spot up to a good ol’ Grapefruit League competition. The fifth starter candidates: Green, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, and supposedly Adam Warren, though I never bought Warren as a rotation candidate. That group was the baseball equivalent of a shrug emoji.

Ultimately, none of the fifth starter candidates won the job. Jordan Montgomery shocked the world in camp, outpitched everyone, and won the job. The Yankees could’ve very easily gone with Cessa or Green or Mitchell, all of whom were already on the 40-man roster and had MLB experience, but no, they went with Montgomery. Johnny Barbato was the 40-man roster sacrificial lamb and Montgomery was the fifth starter.

What was expected to be a revolving door of fifth starters — when is it ever not a revolving door? — was instead steady and reliable production from Montgomery, especially in the first half. He finished the regular season with a 3.88 ERA (4.06 FIP) in 155.1 innings after pitching to a 3.65 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 91.1 first half innings. Montgomery led all rookie pitchers with +2.8 fWAR, all after coming into the season as a rotation afterthought.

There’s a pretty good chance Montgomery will not even be on the postseason roster, but make no mistake, he played a vital role in getting the Yankees back to October. He earned his spot in Spring Training and, truth be told, the only reason he had to be sent to Triple-A in the second half was to control his workload. Montgomery gave the Yankees what they’ve been seeking for years: a no nonsense starter to solidify the back of the rotation.

Going with Torreyes on the bench

It wasn’t that long ago that Rob Refsnyder was a pretty big deal around these parts. He put up very good numbers in the minors, and for the first few years of the post-Cano era, the Yankees had a revolving door at second base. The scouting reports said Refsnyder’s defense stunk, we all knew that, but wouldn’t the offense make up for it? After all, the Yankees were running guys like Brian Roberts and Stephen Drew out there.

The Yankees never believed in Refsnyder as much as the fans, so much so that when a bench spot was open last spring, they didn’t take him north. Refsnyder had a decent enough camp and was learning third base to increase his versatility. Instead, the Yankees decided to go with Ronald Torreyes, who had been in four different organizations in the previous ten months. They went with Torreyes because he could do what Refsnyder couldn’t: catch the ball.

Turns out, Torreyes had more to offer offensively as well. Refsnyder has never hit much in his various MLB stints — he authored a .170/.247/.216 (22 wRC+) batting line with the Yankees and Blue Jays this year — and he still doesn’t have a position. Torreyes, meanwhile, has settled in as a reliable utility infielder, one who filled in at shortstop and second base while Gregorius and Castro were injured earlier this year.

  • Torreyes while Didi was on DL: .308/.308/.431 in 19 games
  • Torreyes while Castro was on DL (two stints): .302/.321/.389 in 38 games

Does he draw walks? No. Does he hit for power? No. Does he even steal bases? No, not really (two all season). What Torreyes does do it get the bat on the ball (12.8%), and that prevents him from falling into deep and prolonged slumps. He’s a .300 hitter (well, .292 to be exact) and it is an empty .300, but .300 is .300, and we’re talking about a bench player. A bench player who can play all over the infield and start for a few weeks at a time if necessary.

Also, let’s not forget the off-the-field value Torreyes brings to the table. He’s a high-energy player who is universally beloved in the clubhouse. He’s a Grade-A glue guy and that is absolutely important. It’s a long season, man. Teams need players who can keep everyone loose and make it fun to go to the ballpark. Torreyes does that. He’s a solid utility player on the field and a great clubhouse guy behind the scenes.

Last spring Refsnyder was the trendy pick for that bench spot. He’d done all he needed to do in the minors to earn a chance, at least offensively and at least in the eyes of the fans, and it seemed like he would get the call. Instead, the Yankees went with the relatively unknown Torreyes, and his more functional skill set. This season he started for long stretches of time while Gregorius and Castro were out, and his production during those stints as a starter helped get the Yankees back to October.

Diamondbacks return Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Jones to Yankees

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Diamondbacks have returned Rule 5 Draft pick Tyler Jones to the Yankees, both teams announced earlier today. That means Jones, a right-handed reliever, cleared waivers and was removed from the 40-man roster. The Yankees have assigned him to minor league camp.

Jones, 27, signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent last offseason. He had a 2.17 ERA (1.50 FIP) with 34.2% strikeouts and 5.6% walks in 45.2 Double-A innings last summer. This spring he allowed five runs (three earned) in 6.2 innings with Arizona. Jones fanned eight and walked none.

The D’Backs aren’t particularly deep in the bullpen and I thought Jones had a chance to stick as a middle reliever. Arizona would have had to carry him on their 25-man big league roster all season as a Rule 5 Draft pick, otherwise put him on waivers and offer him back to the Yankees, which is what happened.

The Yankees still have three other Rule 5 Draft picks out there: catcher Luis Torrens (Padres) and lefties Caleb Smith (Cubs) and Tyler Webb (Pirates). Webb has the best chance to stick with his new team, I believe. Torrens and Smith are almost certainly coming back at some point before Opening Day.

Scouting the Trade Market: Arizona Diamondbacks

Bradley. (Rich Gagnon/Getty)
Bradley. (Rich Gagnon/Getty)

After two pretty miserable years under Dave Stewart, the Diamondbacks cleaned out their front office at the end of the 2016 regular season and brought in longtime Red Sox executive Mike Hazen to run the show. Arizona went 69-93 this year, down from 79-83 in 2015 despite spending big to acquire Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller last offseason. Ouch.

The D-Backs are an interesting team because they do have some impressive talent. You can do a heck of a lot worse than building your lineup around Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, for example. The club also has some interesting young arms, and according to Ken Rosenthal, Hazen & Co. are expecting to field a lot of calls about those young pitchers this offseason.

The Yankees, like every other team, are perpetually in the market for rotation help. The younger the better. The three best starting pitchers in the organization at this very moment (Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda) can all become free agents after 2017. That’s sorta scary. Do any of Arizona’s young arms make sense for the Yankees? Let’s dive in.

RHP Archie Bradley

Background: Bradley, 24, was the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft, and prior to the 2014 season, Baseball America ranked him as the ninth best prospect in baseball. The right-hander has struggled in his fairly limited MLB time, pitching to a 5.18 ERA (4.27 FIP) with 20.8% strikeouts, 11.1% walks, 47.8% grounders, and 0.96 HR/9 in 177.1 total innings. That includes a 5.02 ERA (4.10 FIP) with similar peripherals in 141.2 innings in 2016.

Scouting Report (via Brooks Baseball): “His fourseam fastball has essentially average velo. His curve is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ curves, has a sharp downward bite, is slightly harder than usual and has primarily 12-6 movement. His change is slightly firmer than usual and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ changeups.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Bradley is a pure power pitcher — his four-seamer averaged 93.4 mph and topped out at 97.0 mph in 2017 — and the Yankees love power pitchers. He can miss bats and get grounders, which is a darn good recipe for long-term success. Bradley have five years of team control remaining, though depending on the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement, he could qualify as a Super Two if the cutoff drops a bit lower. Not a huge deal though.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? That 11.1% walk rate is no fluke. Bradley has a 12.3% walk rate in over 440 minor league innings, so throwing strikes is an issue. The kid averaged over 18 pitches per inning in 2016. That’s crazy high. Bradley’s changeup isn’t very effective either, which is why left-handed batters hit .315/.412/.523 (!) against him this year. Yikes. Also, he missed close to three months with shoulder tendinitis in 2015, but was fine in 2016. Strikeouts and grounders solve a lot of problems and Bradley can get them. The walks and inability to neutralize lefties are an ongoing concern though.

LHP Patrick Corbin

Background: The 27-year-old Corbin, a semi-local kid from up near Syracuse, was an All-Star with the D’Backs back in 2013 before blowing out his elbow in Spring Training 2014 and needing Tommy John surgery. His performance after returning last season was promising (3.60 ERA and 3.35 FIP in 85 innings), but the wheels came off this year, so much so that Arizona had to move him to the bullpen. Corbin had a 5.15 ERA (4.84 FIP) with 18.7% strikeouts, 9.4% walks, and 53.8% grounders in 155.2 innings covering 24 starts and 12 relief appearances in 2016.

Scouting Report (via Brooks): “His fourseam fastball generates a very high amount of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, has some natural sinking action and has slightly above average velo. His slider generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ sliders, is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sliders and has some two-plane movement. His sinker generates a very high amount of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sinkers and has slightly above average velo. His change is much firmer than usual.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? The Yankees love buy low opportunities and Corbin is exactly that. He was a deserving All-Star three years ago and it’s worth noting his stuff has bounced back well following surgery. Corbin’s velocity has held steady and he’s getting similar movement on his secondary pitches. A true four-pitch lefty with a history of missing bats and getting grounders is a mighty fine rotation piece. There’s a chance Corbin’s numbers will bounce back simply by getting away from Arizona’s league worst defense too.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? The Tommy John surgery is not nothing. Corbin had a major arm procedure two and a half years ago, and while he’s been healthy since, it is a red flag. Also, we can’t ignore the dreadful statistical performance too. The shoddy team defense didn’t cause his 1.39 HR/9 this year, for example. Corbin was an All-Star three years ago. Now he’s not close to that level. Is he fixable? Considering he’s only two years away from free agency, the Yankees might not have enough time to find out and reap the reward.

RHP Shelby Miller

Background: Gosh, Miller has been through an awful lot in his career so far. The 26-year-old was a top 2009 draft prospect who slipped to the 19th overall pick due to bonus demands, then went on to be ranked as a top 13 global prospect by Baseball America in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Miller’s rookie season in 2013 was good enough (3.06 ERA and 3.67 FIP) to earn a third place finish in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. His sophomore season was bad enough (3.74 ERA and 4.54 FIP) that the Cardinals soured on him and traded him for one year of Jason Heyward.

Miller was an All-Star with the Braves in 2015 (3.02 ERA and 3.45 FIP) before being traded to the D’Backs in that insane deal last offseason. He had a 6.15 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 101 total innings this season. His strikeout (15.2%), walk (9.1%), grounder (41.9%), and homer (1.25 HR/9) rates were all … not good. It’s hard to imagine a pitcher this young and this talented going from All-Star one year to arguably the worst pitcher in baseball the next without a major arm injury, but Miller managed to pull it off.

Scouting Report (via Brooks): “His fourseam fastball has essentially average velo. His cutter results in many more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ cutters and has some natural sink. His curve generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ curves. His change generates a very high amount of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ changeups, generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ changeups and is much firmer than usual. His sinker results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sinkers and has slightly above average velo.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Is there a bigger buy low candidate in baseball right now? Unless he hid an injury all season, Miller’s issues were all mechanical in 2016. And probably mental too. It’s hard to think his confidence didn’t take a hit while getting blasted every fifth day. Miller got into this weird mechanical funk in which he dropped so low in his delivery he would hit his hand on the mound during his follow through …

Shelby Miller

… which briefly sent him to the disabled list with a sprained finger. Miller legitimately throws five pitches, and at his best, he’s a weak contact guy who gets a lot of soft ground balls and lazy pop-ups. Fix the mechanics and rebuild his confidence — not easy to do in the offense happy AL East and Yankee Stadium — and you could have yourself a pretty good pitcher. As an added bonus, the D’Backs sent Miller to the minors juuust long enough this season to delay his free agency, so he comes with three years of control.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Obvious, right? Miller might not be fixable. His mechanics could be beyond repair and his confidence could be completely destroyed. I am no pitching coach, but what Shelby went through this season doesn’t strike me as a quick or easy fix. He’s a reclamation project now. No doubt about it. I’d dub this an “extremely high risk, kinda high reward” play.

LHP Robbie Ray

Background: Ray, 25, was a 12th round pick who developed into a solid pitching prospect. The Nationals traded him to the Tigers in the Doug Fister deal three years ago, then the Tigers traded him to Arizona as part of the three-team deal that brought Didi Gregorius to New York two years ago. In 2016, Ray had a 4.90 ERA (3.76 FIP) despite striking out 218 batters in 174.1 innings. His 28.1% strikeout rate is the 20th highest by a qualified left-handed starter in a single-season in MLB history. (Ten of the 19 ahead of him belong to Randy Johnson.) Sam Miller wrote about Ray’s statistically odd season (ton of strikeouts, ton of runs) not too long ago, and I recommend checking that out.

Scouting Report (via Brooks): “His fourseam fastball generates a high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, is blazing fast, results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, has slight armside run and has some added backspin. His sinker is blazing fast, generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ sinkers, has little sinking action compared to a true sinker and has slight armside run. His slider has primarily 12-6 movement, generates more whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ sliders, is much harder than usual, has less than expected depth and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sliders. His change is thrown extremely hard and is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ changeups.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? The appeal of an extremely hard-throwing lefty — Ray averaged 95.3 mph with his four-seamer and 94.5 mph with his sinker in 2016 — who can miss this many bats is pretty obvious, I’d say. Add in the fact he has quality secondary pitches in his slider and changeup and you’ve got a nice little rotation piece. Ray is four years away from free agency as well, so he’s a long-term buy. A southpaw who can miss bats is a welcome addition to a team that calls Yankee Stadium home.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There is more to life than throwing hard and striking out batters, as several members of the Yankees’ pitching staff have taught us (coughMichaelPinedacough). Ray’s walk (9.2%), grounder (45.2%), and homer (1.24 HR/9) rates left something to be desired this year, plus righties hit him pretty hard (.269/.350/.447). Ray fits the mold of a “great stuff, dubious command” pitcher, and the Yankees haven’t had a whole lot of success helping those guys figure out the command part.

RHP Taijuan Walker

Background: Walker, 24, still has some prospect shine remaining after be named a top 20 global prospect by Baseball America in 2012, 2013, and 2014. His MLB performance to date has been just okay overall (4.18 ERA and 4.30 FIP), and this past season he had a 4.22 ERA (4.99 FIP) with 20.8% strikeouts, 6.5% walks, 44.1% grounders, and 1.81 HR/9 in 134.1 innings. It seems the Mariners got sick of waiting for Walker to take the next step, so they sent him to Arizona in the Jean Segura deal last week.

Scouting Report (via Brooks): “His fourseam fastball has slightly above average velo and has some added backspin. His splitter is thrown extremely hard, results in many more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ splitters, has movement that suggests a lot of backspin and has slight armside fade. His curve generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ curves, has a sharp downward bite and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ curves. His cutter results in many more groundballs compared to other pitchers’ cutters.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Walker just turned 24 and it wasn’t that long ago that he was one of the top pitching prospects in the game, so there’s definitely still a chance things will click and he’ll reach his admittedly high ceiling. His value is down right now — example: he was just traded for Jean freaking Segura, who is only two years from free agency and has been terrible two of the last three years — so this is a chance to get a talented pitcher on the cheap. Walker misses bats and he uses three pitches regularly — the cutter is basically a show-me pitch — so the tools to remain in the rotation are there. He comes with four years of team control, all arbitration-eligible as a Super Two.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Two or three years ago Walker made a mechanical change and he hasn’t been the same guy since. I don’t know if he did it on his own or if the Mariners talked him into it, but he shortened his stride and finishes more upright now, which has taken some of the bite off his curveball and hinders his command. Walker has had some on-and-off shoulder injuries since the mechanical change as well — he’s actually coming off foot surgery at the moment, though that’s an unrelated injury — so that’s no good. This stride shortening thing isn’t necessarily a fatal flaw — Aaron Sanchez had the same issue, for example, and he got back on track last year — but it is something that needs fixing. Right now, Walker is a different pitcher than the guy who was atop all those prospect lists back in the day.

* * *

I really have no idea what to think about these young D’Backs pitchers. They all have talent, that much is obvious, and all but Corbin come with at least three years of control. These are, in theory, exactly the type of pitchers the Yankees are looking to acquire. At the same time, every single one is coming off a below-average season, even Ray with all his strikeouts. They all need to be fixed or helped in some way. They’re projects.

As always, it’s going to come down to the price. There’s always a point where it makes sense to roll the dice on a young project pitcher. Hazen has been at the helm for only a few weeks now, so he has no real attachment to these guys. Well, except maybe Walker because he traded for him, but otherwise these are not kids he drafted and developed. That connection is not there and it could make him more willing to trade them. We see that sort of thing all the time when a new GM takes over.

This free agent pitching class is so incredibly crummy that competition on the trade market figures to be fierce, so much so that even “broken” pitchers like Corbin and Miller will generate a ton of attention. The Yankees have plenty of prospects to trade. Finding a match won’t be hard. The real question is how much are they willing to give up, and how confident are they in their ability to fix one of these guys?

Yanks send Vicente Campos to D’Backs for Tyler Clippard

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

It’s not all about selling this trade deadline. Sunday morning the Yankees announced they have traded Double-A righty Vicente Campos to the Diamondbacks for ex-Yankee Tyler Clippard. It’s a straight one-for-one swap. Campos was on the 40-man roster, so the Yankees won’t have to make another move to clear room for Clippard.

The Yankees traded both Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller in the last week, so the Clippard pickup gives the team a veteran arm for the late innings. Joe Girardi confirmed Dellin Betances will take over as closer. Joel Sherman says the club plans to use Clippard in the seventh and others in the eighth. I assume Adam Warren will factor in there somehow.

Clippard, 31, has a 4.30 ERA (4.30 FIP!) in 37.2 innings for Arizona this season. His last three appearances have been ugly (2.1 IP, 4 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 2 HR), but he was pitching well before that (2.80 ERA and 3.59 FIP). Clearly though, this is not the Clippard of old. The guy who dominated with the Nationals is gone. Clippard’s on the decline and outs don’t come as easily as they once did.

As you know, the Yankees originally drafted and developed Clippard back in the day. He was their ninth round pick in 2003 and one of their better prospects before making his MLB debut in 2007. Clippard had a 6.33 ERA (6.68 FIP) in six starts and 27 innings for the Yankees that summer. He was traded to the Nats for Jonathan Albaladejo that offseason. Not Brian Cashman‘s finest moment.

The Yankees reportedly had some interest in Clippard over the winter but obviously did not sign him. He inked a two-year deal worth $12.25M with the D’Backs instead. The Yankees owe him the remainder of his $6.1M salary this season plus another $6.15M next season. He’s not a rental but his salary is hardly prohibitive. A little veteran middle relief depth is never a bad thing.

Campos, 24, was the other guy in the Jesus Montero/Michael Pineda trade. He has a 3.20 ERA (3.07 FIP) with a 21.3% strikeout rate and a 7.7% walk rate in 121 total innings this season. Campos was limited to only 166 total innings from 2012-15 due to ongoing elbow problems, including Tommy John surgery. He’s stayed healthy this year and the Yankees took advantage by flipping him for an MLB arm.

In a nutshell, the Yankees reshuffled some assets and turned an injury prone prospect into a declining reliever. Not exactly a ton of value changing hands here. The Yankees are selling, the Chapman and Miller trades are evidence of that, but they still need players to throw innings, and Clippard’s a capable of seventh inning guy. Unexciting? Yes. They ain’t all blockbusters.

Yankeemetrics: Near-disaster in the desert [May 16-18]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Not in Scranton anymore
Heading out on their first West Coast trip of the season, the timing was ripe for an extended hot streak: Not only were the Yankees coming off a solid homestand where they won seven of 10 games, but they were set to play the Diamondbacks, a team that they had an 11-4 record against in the regular season, their second-best win percentage versus any franchise.

All that momentum and optimism came to a screeching halt on Monday night as they were creamed by the D-backs, 12-2. The Yankees basically sent out their junior varsity pitching squad – none of the four arms that got into the game were on the 25-man roster at the beginning of the season – and paid the price.

Arizona put a small army on the basepaths – 24 guys, to be exact – and pounded the Yankee pitchers to the tune of six singles, six doubles, one triple and two homers. That’s the second-most baserunners the Yankees have ever surrendered in an Interleague game, and the nine extra-base hits allowed tied the team record for an Interleague game.

Chad Green had a forgettable “Welcome to the Show” moment, allowing six runs on eight hits in four-plus innings. He’s just the second Yankee in the last 50 seasons to lose his major-league debut while giving up at least six runs and eight hits. The other was Christian Parker on April 6, 2001; that was the only major-league appearance of Parker’s career.

Green wasn’t the only Yankee to get his first taste of big-league hitters on Monday night. Conor Mullee also pitched in his first MLB game and looked very much like a rookie. He walked three guys and hit another, allowing one run in an innings’ work without giving up a hit.

There is a silver lining to his wildness, though: the last Yankee pitcher with at least three walks and a hit by pitch in his major-league debut was Dellin Betances on September 20, 2011 against the Rays.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Tiny Mike
In what has become a recurring nightmare for the Yankees, Michael Pineda delivered yet another maddening – and wholly disappointing – performance on Tuesday. Sure, the 27-year-old flashed some great stuff (nine strikeouts in five innings), but he was also awful at times (nine hits and five runs allowed) and threw far too many hittable pitches in the strike zone.

This is the third time in the last two seasons that Pineda has put up such a confusing line of at least nine strikeouts, nine hits and five runs allowed. Since 2015, no other major-league pitcher has done it more than once.

And looking at the sample of all Yankee pitchers in the last 100 seasons, only two others had three such games in their entire careers (Ron Guidry, Lefty Gomez). Somehow Pineda has done this in a span of roughly one calendar year.

Pineda’s ERA rose to an unsightly 6.60 after this latest dud, and coupled with Severino’s 7.46 mark, the Yankees are now the only team in MLB this season with two pitchers that have thrown at least 30 innings and own an ERA over 6.50.

Finally, with two losses in the first two games of this three-game set in Arizona, the Yankees fell to 0-5-1 in series away from the Bronx. The last time they went winless in their first six road series of the season was 1991.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Nasty, Nasty, Nasty Nate
Deep breath in, exhale out. Repeat.

The Yankees avoided the dreaded sweep in Arizona with a bounceback 4-2 win on Wednesday night. They still haven’t been swept in a road Interleague series of three or more games since June 2007 at Colorado.

Nathan Eovaldi pitched an absolute gem, giving up a lead-off double to Jean Segura and then retiring the next 18 batters before being removed after six fantastic innings of work. It was statistically reminiscent of some of the best games ever pitched in franchise history.

The last Yankee to throw at least six innings and allow no more than one baserunner was Mike Mussina against the Red Sox on Sept. 2, 2001. Yes, that was Moose’s epic 13-strikeout, no-walk one-hitter, a.k.a The Carl Bleeping Everett Game.

And the only other Yankee to allow one or fewer baserunners in six innings pitched in Interleague play was David Cone against the Expos on July 18, 1999. Yup, his perfect game.

Brett Gardner gave the Yankees an early 2-0 lead with a first-inning homer to right field, his 20th go-ahead home run since the start of the 2014 season. That’s the second-most go-ahead homers by any Yankee in that span, behind only Brian McCann (22).

5/16 to 5/18 Series Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

Those uniforms make it look like their ankles are bleeding. (Presswire)
Those uniforms make it look like their ankles are bleeding. (Presswire)

It’s time for the first West Coast trip and the first interleague series of the season. This one is a seven gamer through Arizona and Oakland. The Yankees are visiting Chase Field for the first time since 2010 this week. Their starting pitchers for that 2010 series: A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Javier Vazquez. Seems like a lifetime ago. The Yankees have won two of three both times they’ve visited Arizona in the regular season. There’s also that whole 2001 World Series thing, but we don’t like to talk about that.

What Have They Done Lately?

The D’Backs have been pretty streaky lately. They have lost their last five games, but prior to that they won five straight, and prior to that they lost six straight and eight of nine. Arizona is 17-23 with a -19 run differential overall. After that busy offseason, they’re currently sitting in the NL West cellar.

Offense & Defense

Arizona’s offense has been about average so far in 2016. They’re scoring 4.38 runs per game — the NL average is 4.41 runs per game — with a team 97 wRC+ overall. (Their non-pitchers have a 103 wRC+.) Manager Chip Hale is without two of his best players: CF A.J. Pollock and RF David Peralta. Pollock has not played this year and is out long-term with a broken elbow. Peralta (96 wRC+) was just placed on the DL yesterday with a wrist issue. Peralta and especially Pollock are two of Arizona’s better players.

Goldy. (Jason O. Watson/Getty)
Goldy. (Jason O. Watson/Getty)

Their best hitter, of course, is 1B Paul Goldschmidt (117 wRC+), who is on the very short list of the best all-around players in the game. That 117 wRC+ is actually way down by his standards; Goldschmidt hit .309/.412/.556 (159 wRC+) from 2013-15. Beyond the big first baseman, the D’Backs have quality supporting pieces in 2B Jean Segura (123 wRC+), OF Yasmany Tomas (121 wRC+), 3B Jake Lamb (115 wRC+), and C Welington Castillo (123 wRC+). UTIL Brandon Drury (131 wRC+) has been pretty excellent as well.

SS Nick Ahmed (31 wRC+) is in the lineup for his glove, not his bat. UTIL Chris Owings (84 wRC+) is a middle infielder who has been playing center field. UTIL Chris Herrmann (128 wRC+) is the backup catcher who can also fill in at other places. OF Rickie Weeks Jr. (59 wRC+) — he added the Junior this season — and IF Phil Gosselin (72 wRC+) are the other bench players. The D’Backs called up veteran OF Michael Bourn just yesterday in the wake of the Peralta injury.

Both Goldschmidt and Ahmed are well-above-average defenders, and both Lamb and Segura are solid as well. The outfield is a mess right now though. Tomas is a straight up bad, Bourn’s legs are close to gone, and the other guys they’ve been sticking in the outfield (Drury, Owings) are playing out of position. Castillo’s good enough behind the plate. Not great, not terrible. Arizona’s infield defense is good. The outfield? Not so much.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (9:40pm ET): RHP Chad Green (No vs. ARI) vs. LHP Robbie Ray (vs. NYY)
Ray has a connection to the Yankees. He was one of the players the Tigers sent to the D’Backs as part of the three-team trade that brought Didi Gregorius to New York prior to last season. The 24-year-old southpaw owns a 4.84 ERA (4.38 FIP) in seven starts and 35.1 innings this year, and aside from his strikeout rate (24.6%), his peripherals are not so good: 11.4% walks, 40.2% grounders, and 1.27 HR/9. Righties have hit him a lot harder than lefties both this year and throughout his career. Ray throws really hard, especially for a lefty. He sits in the mid-90s with his four-seamer and sinker, and has run the four-seamer up as high as 97.7 mph this season. A mid-80s slider is his top secondary offering. He’ll also throw a few upper-80s changeups and low-80s curves per start. Ray is a power pitcher all the way.

Green, meanwhile, is scheduled to make his Major League debut tonight. He came over from the Tigers in the Justin Wilson trade and is filling in for the injured Luis Severino. My guess is Green will be sent down following tonight’s game for either an extra reliever or another bench player (depends on the state of the bullpen). The Yankees have a short bench right now and that’s not ideal in an NL ballpark. CC Sabathia is coming back Friday and will assume this rotation spot. This is very much a spot start for Green.

Greinke. (Daniel Shirey/Getty)
Greinke. (Daniel Shirey/Getty)

Tuesday (9:40pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. ARI) vs. RHP Zack Greinke (vs. NYY)
The D’Backs gave Greinke a six-year contract worth $206.5M over the winter and they can’t be too thrilled with the super early returns. Greinke, 32, has a 5.26 ERA (3.61 FIP) in eight starts and 49.2 innings, mostly because he’s giving up a lot more home runs (1.09 HR/9) than usual. His strikeout (20.2%) and walk (5.5%) rates are fine, ditto his ground ball rate (47.2%). Lefties have historically had more success against Greinke than righties, but not by much. At his best, Greinke is an artist on the mound, painting the corners and locating with precision. No one in the game has better command, at least when Greinke is pitching like Greinke. His four-seamer and seldom used sinker sit around 92 mph, and he backs them up with upper-80s changeups and mid-80s sliders. He’ll also throw a few slow curves per start that will range anywhere from 65-75 mph. I’m basically ignoring Greinke’s stats right now. I still see him as one of the best pitchers in the world. He reminds me so much of Mike Mussina.

Wednesday (9:40pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. ARI) vs. RHP Shelby Miller (vs. NYY)
I’m totally cool with trading prospects for established big leaguers, but wow did the D’Backs give up a ton for Miller. Like an absurd amount. It looks even worse now that Shelby has a 6.94 ERA (6.85 FIP) in eight starts and 35 innings. He’s been fighting a weird mechanical issue that has been causing him to hit his hand on the mound during his follow through. It’s a little tough to see in this GIF, but some dirt kicks up from the mound when Miller’s hand hits:

Shelby Miller

Weird, right? He’s actually had to leave a few starts because his hand was cut up from the mound. Miller and Arizona’s pitching coaches have been working hard to get him to finish more upright all season. So far this season Shelby has more walks (14.2%) than strikeouts (13.6%), and he’s been both fly ball (39.3%) and homer (2.06 HR/9) prone. All throughout his career he’s been much more effective against righties than lefties. Miller, 25, is averaging 93 mph with his fastball and 89 mph with his cutter. His changeup lives in the mid-80s and his curveball in the upper-70s.

Bullpen Status

The back-end of Arizona’s bullpen is a microcosm of relievers today. Their three big late-inning arms are a failed starter, a guy with a history of arm problems, and a guy who started throwing submarine as a last resort to save his career. Relievers come in all shapes and sizes. Here is their current eight-man bullpen:

RHP Jake Barrett: 14 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 11 K, 1 HR (0 pitches Sun., 0 pitches Sat.)
LHP Andrew Chafin: 13 IP, 12 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 7 BB, 16 K, 0 HR (0 pitches Sun., 0 pitches Sat.)
RHP Tyler Clippard: 16.1 IP, 17 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 16 K, 2 HR (3 pitches Sun., 0 pitches Sat.)
LHP Zac Curtis: 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 0 HR (0 pitches Sun., 3 pitches Sat.)
RHP Randall Delgado: 21 IP, 26 H, 14 R, 14 ER, 8 BB, 19 K, 2 HR (0 pitches Sun., 0 pitches Sat.)
RHP Daniel Hudson: 17.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 11 K, 0 HR (10 pitches Sun., 24 pitches Sat.)
RHP Evan Marshall: 9.2 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 0 HR (0 pitches Sun., 20 pitches Sat.)
RHP Brad Ziegler: 16.1 IP, 19 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 8 BB, 10 K, 0 HR (12 pitches Sun., 0 pitches Sat.)

Marshall is a pretty incredible story. In Triple-A last August he took a line drive to the head and suffered a skull fracture. He needed surgery to relieve pressure on his brain. Marshall was able to work his way back and be a full participant in Spring Training. Incredible, isn’t it? Now here he is in the big leagues. Good for him.

Ziegler (submariner) is the closer and Clippard (failed starter) and Hudson (arm problems) are his setup men. Ziegler’s thing is ground balls (60.4%). Curtis was called up all the way from High-A a few weeks ago and he’s a left-on-left matchup guy. Delgado is the long man and everyone else slots in to the middle innings somewhere. Head on over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s relievers. The big three end-game guys probably won’t be available tonight.

Beltran’s milestone homer helps Yankees to 7-5 win over White Sox

The Yankees dug themselves a bit of a hole early this season, and if they’re going to turn things around, they were going to have to have a great homestand. They did exactly that. The Yankees beat the White Sox by the score of 7-5 on Sunday afternoon. They took two of three from the Red Sox, three of four from the Royals, and now two of three from the White Sox. Couldn’t ask for a better homestand. The Yanks have won eight of their last 12 games overall.

<3 (Elsa/Getty)

Take The Lead, Then Re-Take The Lead
Boy did this game drag. Neither starting pitcher was particularly sharp, so there were a lot of long at-bats and long innings early on. The score was 4-3 White Sox going into the bottom of the sixth, which is when the Yankees first rallied to take the lead. It all started with an error too. Brett Lawrie pulled Jose Abreu off the bag with a throw, allowing Jacoby Ellsbury to reach with one out.

With two outs and two strikes, Carlos Beltran came through with a clutch two-run home run to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead. It just so happened to be his 400th career homer too. Beltran is the fourth switch-hitter in history to reach 400 dingers, joining Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray, and Chipper Jones. He’s also only the fifth player with 400 homers and 300 steals. Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, and Andre Dawson are also members of that club. Good company, huh?

Beltran’s homer gave the Yankees a lead that proved to be short-lived. Dellin Betances allowed a stupid BABIP fueled run in the very next half inning. Abreu and Todd Frazier pulled soft ground balls through the left side to put runners on first and second with no outs, then Melky Cabrera slapped a double the other way that was fair by maybe a foot. Probably less:

Melky Cabrera Dellin Betances

Bah. Baseball can be so stupid sometimes. The double tied the game 5-5 and set the White Sox up for a potentially big inning. The Yankees were in trouble.

The “save” in this game came in that seventh inning, if you ask me. The ChiSox had runners on second and third with no outs following Melky’s double, yet Dellin rebounded to escape the jam with a ground ball — the infield was in, so Frazier had to hold at third — and two strikeouts. Chicago could have conceivably scored two runs with outs that inning if some grounders or fly balls were well-placed. Betances stranded ’em. Well done.

The Yankees took the lead again the next half-inning. It all happened with two outs too. Didi Gregorius worked a two-out walk against Matt Albers, then pinch-hitter Chase Headley (!) came off the bench to rip a first pitch fastball into the right-center field gap for a run-scoring double. How about that? Headley went from having zero extra-base hits to having three in the last four games. Good times.

Headley’s double gave New York a 6-5 lead and later Brian McCann made it 7-5 with a solo home run against Nate Jones in the eighth. Andrew Miller struck out two in a perfect eighth and Aroldis Chapman struck out zero (wtf!?) in a perfect ninth. The White Sox did not have a base-runner following Melky’s game-tying double in the seventh. Some timely hitting and clutch bullpen work led to this win.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Tanaka Labors
For the second straight start, Masahiro Tanaka struggled on Sunday, though these struggles were different than the last time out. In his last start he got beat with the long ball. On Sunday the the White Sox strung together a bunch of hits and capitalized on some walks. Adam Eaton did hit a solo home run. The other three runs scored on singles with a combined exit velocity of about 150 mph.

Tanaka walked back-to-back hitters with one out in the second, then Avisail Garcia singled a run in with a ground ball through the left side of the infield. Following a pair of bloop singles in the fourth, Eaton laid down a squeeze bunt to score a run — he was thrown out at first on the play — and Austin Jackson followed with a bloop single to center. That whole inning was annoying. Three bloops and a squeeze bunt. Blah.

(Also, shout out to Eaton for the squeeze bunt. He went deep in his previous at-bat and the White Sox had runners on the corners with one out and the top of the order up. And Tanaka was very hittable. Playing for the big inning is for suckers.)

Aside from Eaton’s homer, the hardest hit balls against Tanaka did not score a run. Melky and Garcia were stranded after ripping doubles, and Frazier was stranded after whacking a hard hit grounder back up the middle. Starlin Castro did get to the ball, but he rushed the throw and wound up bobbling the transfer. Tanaka finished with four runs allowed on a season high eight hits and three walks. He fanned seven.

More than anything Tanaka struggled to get his splitter in the right spot. It was generally down — the splitter Eaton hit for a homer was decidedly not down — but too far down and in the dirt. Tanaka made it easy for the ChiSox to take the pitch Sunday. He threw 25 splitters and got only nine swings (36%) and four swings and misses (16%). Tanaka came into the game averaging 55% swings against the splitter and 24% whiffs.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Early Runs
The pitching line on Miguel Gonzalez would lead you believe the Yankees scored way more than three runs against him. He allowed five hits and five walks in only 4.2 innings. Gonzalez fanned one batter. The Yankees let him off the hook a few times, most notably leaving the bases loaded in the third. At least Castro beat out an infield single and Dustin Ackley drew a bases loaded walk with two outs to score two runs earlier that inning.

The Yankees scored their first run in a matter of four pitches in the first inning. Ellsbury reached on an infield single, Brett Gardner singled to put runners on the corners, then Beltran plated Ellsbury with a sacrifice fly. Ellsbury saw two pitches and the other two hacked at the first pitch they saw from Gonzalez. Hey, it worked, right? The Castro infield hit and Ackley walk drove in the team’s second and third runs of the afternoon.

Leftovers
Gregorius made what was probably the team’s best defensive play of the season in the sixth inning. It was certainly the most heads up and most athletic defensive play we’ve seen by a Yankee in 2016. Didi came off second base and had to jump to catch McCann’s throw on a steal attempt, but he still managed to reach down and apply the tag on Tyler Saladino while in midair. Check it out:

For the fourth time this season, Ellsbury reached on a catcher’s interference. There are 126 games to go, so the single season record is well within reach. What is the record, you ask? That would be eight by Roberto Kelly, who did it with the 1992 Yankees. Maybe if Ellsbury breaks the record the Yankees can trade him for the next Paul O’Neill?

Gardner had three hits and a walk on the afternoon. In fact, the top five hitters in the lineup went a combined 8-for-19 (.421) with three walks, a hit-by-pitch, a double, two homers, two steals, six runs scored, four runs driven in, and one strikeout. That will work just fine, thank you very much.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and up to the minute standings, head over to ESPN. MLB.com is the place to go for the video highlights. Also don’t forget about our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are heading to the lesser coast for a seven-game road trip through Arizona and Oakland. They’ll play the first of three against the Diamondbacks on Monday night. That’s a 9:40pm ET start. Chad Green will make his Major League debut and start that game, the Yankees announced this afternoon. They’re going to start him now rather than wait for Luis Severino‘s next turn to come up to use the spot starter. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi get an extra day of rest this way. Lefty Robbie Ray will be on the bump for the D’Backs.