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

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

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

Yankees, Mets had Walker deal

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

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

Baseball America’s best tools survey

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

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

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

Yankees top ZiPS bullpen projections

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

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

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

Yankees lagging in food safety rankings

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

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

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

Yankeemetrics: Gardy party rages on (July 27-30)

(AP)
(AP)

Brett Gardner, walk-off hero
You can add another chapter to the never-say-die tale of this rollercoaster season thanks to a thrilling and dramatic comeback win on Thursday night. After blowing a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning, the Comeback Kids rallied to tie the game in the ninth, setting the stage for the Gritty, Gutty Elder to win it on a blistering walk-off shot two frames later.

It was the Yankees fifth win this season when trailing at the start of the ninth frame, tied for the second-most such wins in the majors through Thursday, behind only the Dodgers (6). It’s a stunning reversal from last year’s team, which had only three wins of this kind during the entire season. And over the last 15 seasons, its the only time they’ve had five such wins before August 1. Hooray!

Brett Gardner sparked the stunning ninth inning rally with a lead-off triple and then scored the game-tying run on Gary Sanchez‘s two-out RBI single. El Gary’s grounder, which just barely sneaked through the infield, had a hit probability of only 19 percent, based on the combo of exit velocity (98.3 mph) and launch angle (-18 degrees) recorded by Statcast.

Aroldis Chapman held the Rays scoreless in the 10th and 11th innings as he needed just 19 pitches (16 strikes!) to mow down the six batters he faced. It was only the fourth time in his career he’s pitched at least two perfect innings, and the first time since September 2011 with the Reds.

Gardner then led off the bottom of the 11th with a solo shot to right field that quickly cleared the fences and gave the Yankees another wild-and-crazy 5-4 win. It was Gardner’s third career walk-off homer, making him one of just seven Yankees since 1930 to smash at least three walk-off home runs as an outfielder. He joins Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Tom Tresh, Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller and Yogi Berra in this legendary group.

As the hero of the night, he also earns our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: Gardner, who had moved to center in the ninth, became just the third Yankee centerfielder in the last 75 years to lead off an inning in extras with a walk-off homer. The others were two guys named Mickey — Rivers (1977) and Mantle (1959 and 1963).

And finally our favorite stat of the night:

Master Masahiro
No Comeback Mojo, No Fighting Spirit was needed on Friday as the Yankees jumped out to an early lead and continued to pummel the Rays with an unrelenting combo of power pitching and power hitting en route to a tidy 6-1 win.

Less than 24 hours after his shocking game-ending home run to beat the Rays, Brett Gardner wasted no time in delivering another huge offensive spark by drilling the third pitch he saw deep into the bullpen in centerfield. With that blast, G.G.B.G. became the third Yankee to follow-up a walk-off home run with a lead-off home run in the next game. Roberto Kelly in 1990 and Joe Gordon in 1940 also achieved the feat.

(AP)
(AP)

The two other flycatchers — Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier — provided the rest of the power punch, with Judge homering in the fourth and Frazier going deep in the fifth. It was the second time this year all three starting outfielders hit home runs (also on May 2). Over the last 25 years, the only other season the Yankees had two such games was 2000, and the guys that contributed in those two games were Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, David Justice and Ryan Thompson.

Chicks dig the longball, but the real star of Friday’s game was Masahiro Tanaka. The up-and-down right-hander was back in ace form, as he carved up the Rays lineup with his devastating slider/splitter combo — which generated 20 of his 21 whiffs! — in producing the most dominant performance of his career. He retired the first 17 batters he faced and finished with 14 strikeouts, no walks, two hits and one run allowed in eight brilliant innings.

That masterpiece earned Tanaka an exclusive niche in franchise history: he’s the first Yankee pitcher ever to strike out at least 14 guys and allow no more than two baserunners in a game.

Tanaka flashed this type of dominance earlier in the season, too, when he had 13 strikeouts against the A’s in May. With his second game of 13-plus strikeouts, he joined an impressive list of MLB pitchers this season to achieve that feat: Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and Clayton Kershaw.

Tanaka also is one of four Yankees in the last 50 years to have multiple 13-strikeout games in a season, along with CC Sabathia (2011), Roger Clemens (2002) and Mike Mussina (2001).

(AP)
(AP)

Deja vu all over again
Thanks to another heavy dose of Comeback Kids potion plus a shot of Brett Gardner Magic elixir, the Yankees kept their winning streak alive in dramatic fashion on Saturday afternoon.

They erased three separate Rays leads before finally pulling out the thrilling victory in the bottom of the ninth inning for their fifth walk-off win of the season. Four of them have come since June 23, and in that five-week span through Saturday, only the Royals (5) had more walk-off wins than the Yankees.

G.G.B.G again showed off his flair for the dramatic with a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth. It was his eighth career walk-off hit in pinstripes, a number that is surpassed by only four other Yankees since 1930: Mickey Mantle (16), Graig Nettles (12), Yogi Berra (10), and Joe DiMaggio (9).

It was also the second time in three days that he wore the walk-off hero’s cape, making him the first Yankee with two walk-off hits in a three-day span since … Gardner did it August 9-11, 2013 against the Tigers. The last Yankee before Gardner to do this was Claudell Washington in September 1988.

Gardner, doing his best to prove that the clutch gene is a real thing, is the only Yankee since 1930 to do this — two walk-off hits in three days — twice in a career.

#RISPfail
There would be no sweep for the Yankees, who dropped the series finale on Sunday and saw their confidence-boosting six-game win streak snapped. They suffered another frustrating defeat, going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranding 10 batters in the 5-3 loss.

Jordan Montgomery was maddeningly ineffective as he fell behind early and often, allowing the Rays to tee off on him in favorable counts. He gave up up four runs and needed 71 pitches to navigate a career-low 2⅔ innings, the third time in six July starts he failed to get through five innings.

The problem was crystal clear: Monty threw first-pitch strikes to only six of 16 batters (37.5%), the lowest rate in any of his 20 career outings and the worst by a Yankee starter this season. Here’s what that type of inefficiency looks like … yuck:

chart-11

The lone statistical highlight was his five strikeouts, which gave him 104 for his career, a noteworthy achievement for the lefty. He is the sixth Yankee to strike out at least 100 batters in his first 20 big-league games, joining Masahiro Tanaka, Al Leiter, Orlando Hernandez, Dave Righetti and Al Downing.

Yankeemetrics: Bombers back in the Bronx (July 25-26)

(NJ Advance Media)
(NJ Advance Media)

Threes are wild
The Yankees had a successful homecoming on Tuesday as they kicked off a critical nine-game stretch in the Bronx with a win over the Reds.

Todd Frazier, wearing the traditional pinstripes for the first time, had perhaps the most unforgettable and unusual Yankee Stadium debut ever. In his first at-bat, he lined into a triple play — which would be quite memorable on its own — but turned into a statistical bonzai when Matt Holliday scored a run as Didi Gregorius got caught in a rundown for the third out.

Let’s run through some Triple Play #FunFacts:

  • Frazier was the 27th Yankee to hit into a triple play and the first since Russell Martin on September 27, 2011 against the Rays.
  • Before Tuesday, the last time the Yankees managed to win a game despite hitting into a triple play was May 29, 2000, when A’s infielder Randy Velarde turned the trick by himself, the only unassisted triple play ever recorded against the Yankees.
  • The play was scored 6-3-5-6 in the official boxscore, just the second triple play in MLB history with that sequence. The other was on June 6, 1970 by the Pirates against the Dodgers.
  • This was only the eighth time in the Live Ball era (since 1920) that a team scored on a triple play, and the first since the Mariners did it against the Twins on May 27, 2006; the Yankees had never scored on a triple play before Tuesday.
(Getty)
(Getty)

Didi redeemed himself after his triple play TOOTBLAN by driving in two runs, including his 15th home run of the season, five shy of the career-high he set last year. In the long and storied history of the franchise, Gregorius and Derek Jeter are the only shortstops with multiple 15-homer seasons.

Jordan Montgomery bounced back from his career-worst performance against the Twins last week to throw one of his best games as a major-leaguer. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and finished with this stellar pitching line: 6⅔ innings, one run, two hits, six strikeouts, one walk.

It was the second time Monty has pitched that deep into a game while giving up no more than two hits, as the 24-year-old became the youngest Yankee since Dave Righetti in 1981 with two such starts in a season.

Aroldis Chapman threw a scoreless ninth for his 12th save but he was hardly dominant, failing to record a strikeout for the sixth time this season. Four of those outings have come since the All-Star break, making this the first time in his career he’s had a two-week stretch with at least four zero-strikeout games.

(NY Post)
(NY Post)

Summer of Severino
In a throwback performance to the scoreboard-dominant days of April and May, the Yankees used their tried-and-true formula of brilliant starting pitching and pinstriped power to complete the mini-sweep of the Reds.

Luis Severino tossed another brilliant gem, going seven strong innings while allowing only two runs (both unearned) with nine strikeouts, and added to his ace-like resume:

  • It was the fourth time this season he’s pitched at least seven innings, gave up zero earned runs and struck out at least six batters; the only other pitchers in baseball that have done that four times this season are Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and James Paxton.
  • And it was the eighth time he’s lasted at least seven innings and allowed zero or one earned runs — Scherzer (8 starts) and Clayton Kershaw (11 starts) are the only guys in MLB that can match Severino in that stat.
  • He’s now had three starts in a row of at least seven innings and no more than one earned run, becoming just the third AL pitcher with a streak like that this season. The others: Corey Kluber and Dallas Keuchel.

Severino was in peak-dominant form, generating 20 swings-and-misses, the second-most in any start in his career. He climbed the ladder with his fastball to get four of the whiffs, but mostly buried his changeup (5) and slider (11) below the knees to make the Reds look like little-leaguers at the plate.

chart-10

Six of his nine strikeouts came with his filthy hard slider, giving him 85 on the season with that pitch, the fourth-most in baseball behind Chris Archer, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer.

Clint Frazier continued to shine on the big-league stage, as he delivered two key run-scoring hits with men on first and second in the third and fifth innings. He’s now 6-for-14 and has 10 RBIs with runners in scoring position, nearly matching the output of Jacoby Ellsbury (7-for-40, 12 RBI) in those situations for the entire season.

Didi Gregorius’ scorching-hot bat provided more fireworks on Wednesday. He went deep in the seventh inning, extending his homer streak to a career-best three games, and also etched his name alongside some Yankee legends. Didi is just the fifth shortstop in franchise history to hit a home run in back-to-back-to-back games: Derek Jeter (twice in 2012), Tom Tresh (1962), Gil McDougald (1957) and Tony Lazzeri (1927) are the others.

Checking on Aroldis Chapman’s fastball spin rate

(Rich Gagnon/Getty)
(Rich Gagnon/Getty)

Friday night the Yankees had a win ripped away when Aroldis Chapman failed to retire even one of the five batters he faced, and blew his third save in 12 opportunities. A few of the nine saves he did nail down were a bit dicey as well. Chapman rebounded with scoreless innings Saturday and Sunday, though so far this season, he has not been the overwhelming force the Yankees thought they signed.

The single biggest difference between Chapman this year and the Chapman of the past has been a decline in swings and misses. Chapman threw 56 total pitches in his three appearances in Boston and generated one (1) swing and miss. He’s gotten eleven swings and misses in his last eight appearances and 148 pitches, or 7.4%. His career swing and miss rate is 17.3%. This year it’s 12.5%. The MLB average is 10.4%. Something has gone awry here.

The first thing we all thing about with Chapman is fastball velocity, and so far this year his velocity has been fine. His fastball is averaging 100.0 mph on the nose and he’s topped out at 103.3 mph. Last year he averaged 101.1 mph and the year before it was 100.4 mph. And yet, look at the rate of misses he’s generating per swing with his fastball. This is whiffs-per-swing, not whiffs-per-total pitches:

  • 2015: 41.0% (18.5% league average)
  • 2016: 32.8% (18.8% league average)
  • 2017: 25.1% (19.7% league average)

That’s not great. The league average keeps creeping up each year while Chapman’s whiffs-per-swing rate with his fastball is dropping noticeably. He’s down nearly 40% from 2015. Chapman isn’t missing bats like he once did and he knows it. He doesn’t know why though. “Actually, that’s a good question. I’m going to go back and try to see footage and why because I honestly don’t know why,” he said to Brendan Kuty over the weekend when asked about the lack of whiffs.

Since Chapman’s swing and misses are down significantly, I figured it would be worthwhile to check out his fastball spin rate. For fastballs, a high spin rate correlates well to swing and misses and a low spin rate correlates well to ground balls. You don’t really want to be average. You want to be high or low. Here, with an assist from Baseball Savant, is Chapman’s fastball spin rate by month since Statcast became a thing back in 2015:

aroldis-chapman-fastball-spin-rate-2015-17

Let’s start with the obvious: Chapman’s spin far has been well-above-average since Opening Day 2015. His worst spin rate month, June 2015, was still nearly 10% better than the league average. Chapman has a very high fastball spin rate and he usually generates a ton of swings and misses. That’s not a coincidence.

Now, compared to last year, Chapman’s fastball spin rate is definitely down. It declined every month from September 2016 through June 2017 before ticking back up this month. A spin rate decline is bad! At the same time, his fastball spin rate has declined back to where it was for much of 2015, when hitters missed with more than 40% of the swings they took against Chapman’s fastball. Hmmm.

Even with the gradual decline this year, I don’t see a big red flag with Chapman’s fastball spin rate. I’d be really worried if it dropped lower than it had been at any point the last two seasons and change. His fastball spin rate is down from last year and right in line with 2015, and Chapman was great in 2015. He’s within range here. That’s a good thing. You want Chapman to be Chapman, right? Right.

So, with his spin rate looking okay, we’re still left wondering why Chapman’s swing and misses are down this year. Joe Girardi chalked it up to everyone throwing hard now and hitters being more comfortable against big velocity, which I suppose could be true, but Luis Severino hasn’t had any trouble getting hitters to swing through his upper-90s heat. Dellin Betances is still getting a ton of whiffs with his fastball. That doesn’t really pass the sniff test.

The way I see it, there are four possible explanations for Chapman’s relative lack of swings and misses this year. One, he’s in permanent decline. That’s always possible. Humans aren’t meant to throw this hard for this long. Two, it’s just a slump. Sometimes ground ball pitchers can’t get ground balls and sometimes strikeout pitchers can’t get strikeouts. It happens. Three, Chapman is still not all the way back from his shoulder injury. It took Andrew Miller about a month to get back to normal following his forearm issue in 2015, remember.

And four, Chapman is dealing with a World Series hangover. He threw a lot of intense innings last postseason — 15.2 innings across 13 appearances, to be exact — and because the Cubs went to Game Seven of the World Series, Chapman had a shorter offseason recover. Game Seven was November 2nd and pitchers and catchers reported on February 14th. That’s not much of a break at all.

I think (hope) Chapman is going through a World Series hangover this year. He’s wouldn’t be the only one. Basically the entire Cubs rotation is dealing with it. If it is a World Series hangover, hopefully Chapman gets a second wind soon, or is 100% good to go next year at the latest. This is year one of a five-year contract, after all. Getting this version of Chapman in year one is kinda scary.

Chapman’s swings and misses are undeniably down this year, though his fastball spin rate is within its usual range, so that’s not a huge issue. Something is off though. I don’t know what. Maybe it’s a slump, maybe it’s a World Series hangover, or maybe he really is in permanent decline. Considering Chapman is only 29 and is super athletic and well built, as long as he’s healthy, I think he’ll be fine. Eventually. I don’t know when, exactly.

Yankeemetrics: From heroes to zeroes (July 14-16)

(AP)
(AP)

Nightmare on Landsdowne Street
Another series opener, another late-inning implosion. One day into the post-break portion of the season and we already have a new nominee for Worst Loss of the Year.

The Yankees on Friday night were handed one of their most brutal and soul-crushing defeats of the season by their bitter rivals from Boston, losing on a walk-off walk when Aroldis Chapman completely unraveled in the ninth inning trying to protect a one-run lead.

You have to go back more than six decades to find the most recent time the Yankees suffered a walk-off loss via a bases-loaded walk against the Red Sox:

On August 7, 1956 Ted Williams drew a bases-loaded walk against Tommy Byrne in the bottom of the 11th in a 0-0 game. Williams was the first batter faced by Byrne, who had taken over after Don Larsen pitched 10 scoreless innings, but then had loaded the bases in the 11th inning via two errors and a walk. Of course, Larsen would go on to pitch a perfect game two months later and the Yankees would win the World Series.

And now your Yankeemetric History Lesson of the Series: The fact that Byrne was the loser in that 1956 game would hardly have been surprising to fans in the 1950s. He finished his career with a walk rate of 6.85 walks per nine innings, the highest in MLB history among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched.

With the Yankees adding to their growing list of bullpen meltdowns, let’s update our favorite chart:

Stat Notes
18 Blown Saves – Yeah, they had 16 all of last year;
– The most in MLB through Friday’s games (hooray!);
– 10 since June 12; three more than any other team in that span
18 One-Run Losses – Six more than they had all of last year;
– 10 of them since June 13, the most in the majors over the past month
4 Walk-off Losses – Matches the same number they had in all of 2016;
– At this point last year, they had only two such losses

Through Friday, the Yankees had converted just 17 of 35 save opportunities, an unfathomable save percentage of just 48.6 percent. Since saves became an official stat in 1969, the Yankees have never finished a season with a save conversion rate below 60 percent.

Chapman wore the goats’ horns on this night, in a game of unwelcome “firsts” for him. It was the first time he issued a game-ending walk, and the first time in his career he faced at least five batters and didn’t get an out.

And for that performance, he also gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: He is the first Yankee pitcher – since saves were official tracked in 1969 – to face at least five guys and fail to get any of them out, while ‘earning’ both a loss and a blown save in the game.

(AP)
(AP)

What a relief
Three outs away from another depressing loss, the Yankees somehow rallied for a dramatic and exhausting 16-inning win over the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon/night. It was was just the fourth game at Fenway Park in the rivalry that went at least 16 innings (also in 1923, 1927, 1966) and the first one that the Yankees emerged as winners.

But for the Yankees, this wasn’t even their longest game of the season – yes, we all remember the 18-inning slog in Chicago a couple months ago. This is the first time in franchise history they’ve won multiple road games of 16-or-more innings in a single season.

Its easy to forget but this game featured two masterful starting pitching performances by Luis Severino and Chris Sale.

The Red Sox ace struck out 13 – the most ever by a Red Sox lefty against the Yankees. Add in the fact that he held the Yankees scoreless and gave up just three hits, and his performance becomes near-historically dominant: only three other pitchers in major-league history surrendered no earned runs and three hits or fewer while striking out at least 13 Yankees: Bartolo Colon (Sept. 18, 2000), Chuck Finley (May 23, 1995) and Jim Shaw (Sept. 4, 1914).

Severino nearly matched Sale with seven innings of one-run ball to keep the game close. It was his sixth game this season with at least seven innings pitched and no more than one run allowed, as the 23-year-old became the youngest Yankee pitcher to do that in a season since Andy Pettitte in 1995.

The game’s first hero was Matt Holliday, who led off the ninth inning with a dramatic solo homer off Craig Kimbrel to tie the game. He was the first Yankee to hit a game-tying homer in the ninth inning at Fenway Park since Roberto Kelly in 1991. How shocking was Holliday’s blast? Kimbrel entered the game a perfect 30-for-30 in save chances at Fenway Park in his career; and this season, right-handed batters were 0-for-37 against him in his home ballpark before Holliday went deep.

Didi Gregorius finally broke the 1-1 tie with a line-drive RBI single up the middle in the 16th inning. He etched his name in the record books forever as the first Yankee with a game-winning hit in the 16th inning or later at Fenway Park.

Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez drove in two more insurance runs to make the final score 4-1. It was just third time in franchise history that the Yankees won a game that went at least 16 innings by three or more runs. The other two: a 12-6 victory at Detroit on July 20, 1941 and a 11-6 win in Cleveland on May 18, 1976.

(AP)
(AP)

Do you believe in miracles?
Our loooooooooooong Yankeeland nightmare is finally over … after Sunday afternoon’s 3-0 win over the Red Sox, the Yankees won back-to-back games for the first time since June 11-12. The 27-game drought without a win streak was the team’s longest since August/September of 1991.

The fact that the Yankees snapped this tortuous stretch with a win over the Red Sox was hardly surprising – it was their sixth victory in eight games vs. their rival, and the third time they allowed no runs. In the long history of this rivalry, it is only the fourth time that the Yankees recorded three shutouts within the first eight matchups of the season. The other years: 1955, 1947 and 1908.

CC Sabathia was an absolute stud, scattering two hits across six shutout innings, while holding the Red Sox hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position. This was CC’s 17th career start at Fenway, and incredibly, the first time that he didn’t allow a run.

Combined with his eight scoreless frames against Boston at Yankee Stadium on June 7, Sabathia became the first Yankee since Ron Guidry in 1978 to pitch consecutive games of at least six scoreless innings against the Red Sox. And at the age of 36, he is the oldest Yankee to throw at least six innings, give up zero runs and no more than two hits in a game at Fenway Park.

Didi Gregorius followed up his late-inning heroics from Saturday with two more hits, including a solo homer that barely tucked inside Pesky’s Pole in right field. It went a projected distance of 295 feet, the shortest home run (excluding inside-the-parkers) recorded by Statcast in the last three seasons.

(Getty)
(Getty)

All good things must come to an end
The joy in Yankeeland lasted only a couple hours as the Yankees’ first win streak in more than a month was abruptly snapped in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader. Yet that was probably only the second-most depressing stat from this game.

The Red Sox handed the Yankees a taste of their own medicine, blanking them 3-0 and giving them their first shutout loss of 2017. This was the deepest that the Yankees had gone into the season scoring at least one run in every game since 1933. They were also the last remaining team in MLB that hadn’t been held scoreless, the first time they’ve achieved that feat since 2009 — a season that ended nicely.

Going from the mildly distressing stat to the somewhat eclectic stat … this is just the third time in the history of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry that the teams traded shutouts in a doubleheader; they also did it on May 6, 1945 and September 7, 1903.

Aaron Judge nearly saved the no-shutout streak but was robbed of a home run thanks to a superhuman catch by Jackie Bradley Jr. in the eighth inning, and finished the night hitless in four at-bats. That snapped his streak of 42 straight starts reaching base safely, which matched the longest such streak for a Yankee rookie, a mark set by Charlie Keller in 1939.

Despite the highs of the 16-inning win on Saturday and their 3-0 win in the first game of the twin bill, the Yankees still only managed a split of the four-game set. They’re now 0-7-2 in their last nine series, their longest winless series streak since August/September 1991.

Cause for Concern

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

Ever since 2013, expectations for the Yankees have been ratcheted down in preseason discussion. Their roster construction from then on limited their outlook to wildcard contenders rather than division favorites, as they’d been for the 15-20 years before then, excepting 2008 (a brief digression: The ’08 Yankees won 89 games despite getting 30 starts from the combination of Darrel Rasner and Sidney Ponson; that’s incredible).

While spectacular–or even good–results were hard to count on, one thing was pretty sure: the Yankees would have a good bullpen. It helps when your relief corps is led by Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman over the last 20 or so years, but after that, whether it was Joe Girardi pushing the right buttons, the team cycling through and replacing options quickly and efficiently, some combination of those things, or bullpen fairy dust, the Yankees always did well in relief. This year, things have not followed that pattern.

Before the All Star Break, Betances and Tyler Clippard had well-publicized meltdowns. It seemed just about every reliever was taking his turn in coughing up winnable games for the Bombers during their futile June and early July. Things came to a head on Friday night in Boston when Chapman blew a save in grand fashion, walking in the winning run after experiencing some combination of bad luck and bad performance, a bit of a microcosm of his season.

From certain angles, things look good for Chapman. He hasn’t allowed a home run all year. His K/9 is in line with his career norm. He’s got a 1.66 FIP. Then there’s the weird stuff. His ERA is sky high (for him) at 3.74. His strikeout percentage is down to 34.3 (which is still good!), way off from the 42.1% mark he’s had for his career; he hasn’t been under 40% since 2011. His strand rate–normally around 80%–is at 67.7%. His BABIP is .415, which seems insane for a guy who throws that hard (and has a career BABIP of .290).

That strand rate seems odd to me, so I checked out his splits with runners on and it turns out his K% is “only” 30%. It hasn’t been that low since 2011. Batters are hitting .277 against him when they’ve never hit over .186 in those situations. He also seems to be allowing much more hard contact and much less soft contact in those situations. That and the BABIP suggest a lot of flukiness in the runs he’s given up–excluding, of course, that awful walk to Andrew Benintendi on Friday night.

The underlying data, though, suggest some reasons to be concerned. Let’s start with velocity, which is an odd place to start considering how hard Chapman throws. This year, he’s hucking fastballs at a ridiculous 100.08 MPH on average; that’s absurd. Human beings shouldn’t be able to do that. What’s crazy is that it’s actually down a full MPH from the 101.08 mark he averaged in 2016. There are explanations–playoff hangover, time on the DL this year–but any time you see a drop like that, it’s a bit iffy. The tables also show that Chapman is getting slightly less horizontal movement on his slider this year than he was last year; Friday, he threw only fastballs in his outing, which seemed odd. More odd was that of 23 pitches, Chapman got just one swing and miss.

2017 has seen big drops in whiff/swing rate on Chapman’s pitches over where they were in 2016 and that is scary for any pitcher, especially one who’s going to be in big leverage spots. This helps explain the above trouble with runners on, too; if guys aren’t whiffing, they’re making more contact and they’re gonna get more hits and they’re gonna score more runs, etc. Indeed, Chapman’s contact rates are up, and have been trending in the wrong direction for a few years now. The only ‘comfort’ is that the jumps this year are so extreme that they should even out towards his career norms at some point (right?).

The first year of Chapman’s five year deal has been fraught with a lot of things, including frustration that the deal is even a thing. Now, there’s been a mix of injury, worse-than-normal performance, and a little bit of negative flukiness. There’s nothing we can do as fans but sit and wait for an adjustment. It’s in the hands of Chapman and the staff to make that adjustment. If there isn’t one to be made, though, and this is a sign of things to come, this may be a long, long five years.

2017 Midseason Review: The Bullpen

(AP)
(AP)

The Yankees’ bullpen was supposed to be a strength in 2017 after it helped hold together the 2016 squad. Aroldis Chapman back, Dellin Betances still in middle relief and some intriguing young players.

And it looked like a continuation of 2016 early on. But things have quickly gone off the rails over the last month. Here’s a rundown of the top players in the Yankees’ pen so far this year.

Dellin Betances

Key Stat: 8.26 walks per nine innings

Betances has never been known for his pinpoint control, but he’s barely had an idea where the ball is going in recent weeks. Like many of the guys on the roster, reviewing Betances’ season is almost like reviewing two seasons.

Through the end of May, he was the Yankees’ best reliever as expected. In 17 1/3 innings, he struck out 32, walked nine, gave up eight hits and just one earned run. That’s an ERA of just 0.52. There’s a reason he just made his fourth straight All-Star appearance.

But his 11 innings since June began have been troubling. He’s walked 17 in 11 innings, allowing nine runs despite giving up just six hits (and still striking out 21). He blew multiple games (Toronto, Houston, Chicago come to mind).

He hasn’t looked anything like this since he first came up in 2011. Sure, he’s had walk issues (4.3 per nine in 2015), but this has been pretty absurd. 20.6 percent walk rate. He actually still has the same strikeout rate because his stuff is still there. Whether it’s been his nasty curve or his fastball, they’ve betrayed him at times. The Blue Jays game last week jumps to mind.

One issue that could have led to his lack of command has been his usage. From May 9 to May 21, he picked up just two outs. From June 3 to June 12, he pitched in just one game and got just one out. It’s nice to see a lesser workload for the big man who’s been overused at times in his career, but he needs to get into games more often. Part of his underuse was the injury to Chapman leading to Joe Girardi using Betances as a traditional closer.

Aroldis Chapman

Key Stat: 35 days on the disabled list

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Perhaps the worst nightmare of a team giving a reliever a five-year deal is them spending significant time on the DL with a shoulder injury. That fear was realized when Chapman went down with rotator cuff inflammation in May.

Chapman seemed off at start of the year. His velocity was down, although it wasn’t too worrisome at first. The big lefty usually doesn’t hit peak velocity until mid-season. Still, seeing him toy with his changeup more and throw *merely* in the high 90s was a caution flag. Beginning with his struggles against Boston on Apr. 26, he looked hittable. It came to a head when he blew a three-run lead during the Yankees’ 18-inning win in Chicago. He simply couldn’t put guys away, which may have been due to his lower velocity, down one mph across the board so far in 2017.

His stuff has looked good since he returned and his strikeouts are still there. His underlying stats (1.16 FIP, career worst strand rate) indicate that a second-half resurgence is likely. Yet this is certainly not what the Yankees imagined when they signed him to a long-term deal.

Let’s get to some of the weird stats. He has allowed zero home runs this year. He has a .426 BABIP but a 27.3 percent infield fly ball rate. His 2.09 GB-to-FB ratio is easily a career high (previous was 1.58 in 2016, never higher than 1.25 since 2011). Surely he’ll allow a home run at some point and some of the BABIP spike can be from more groundballs getting through, but it’s still a little different than the Chapman we expected.

Tyler Clippard

Key Stat: 12 meltdowns

Welp.

It hasn’t been a pretty last two months for Clippard. He started to fall apart right after I wrote that fans should appreciate the homegrown talent. Mike was very much on point saying that his lack of home runs would soon change (although I never thought otherwise), but it was tough to see things going quite this poorly, at least for me.

For two months, he was a seemingly reliable pitcher. There were some rough games, including a blown game against the Orioles in his second appearance. But he struck out batters at a career-best rate through two months and had limited walks and hard contact enough to earn high leverage spots. The red flags of his high strand rate (88.5 percent through May) and zero homers in May made it fairly obvious he wouldn’t maintain that level of effectiveness.

Still, it went south worst than expected. Way worse. One could have easily projected he’d give up more homers, but for him to completely fall apart was disheartening. Relievers are fungible and such is life.

From June 4 to July 7, he threw 11 1/3 innings, gave up 16 earned runs, walked 10 and surrendered five homers, culminating fittingly in a grand slam against the Brewers this weekend. That’s 7.9 walks and 4.0 homers per nine innings. His K-BB rate was 3.4 percent. Batters hit .298/.414/766 against him in that time. Before that, they hit a paltry .150/.244/.238.

At this point, one has to wonder whether he makes it through the season, let alone the month. His stuff seems to have had a little more life on it in recent games, but the results simply aren’t there and trotting him into high leverage situations right now is a costly mistake.

Adam Warren

Key Stat: 18.1 K-BB percentage

Warren has been one of the Yankees’ more reliable relievers this season and it’s started to earn him some spots ahead of Clippard since he returned from the DL last week. He missed 18 days with right shoulder inflammation, although it didn’t seem to be anything too serious. He’s jumped right back to form for the most part.

In April, he was mostly a long reliever despite being in short relief to end 2016. In seven appearances to start the year, he had six of at least four outs and four of seven-plus outs. He came in with the team ahead or behind, keeping games within reach or preventing any comebacks.

After Chapman’s injury, he moved into short relief as Girardi’s 7th-inning game. He had three blown leads but was competent, bringing a 2.23 ERA into his stint on the DL beginning June 16.

What has he had working for him? His strikeout and walk rates are both career bests. He’s utilized his slider more (up 12 percent) while decreasing the usage of his other offspeed stuff. While that doesn’t necessarily account for his better control, it could be the reason he’s struck out more batters.

There is a red flag: His 2.9 percent HR/FB rate. He’s bound to let some balls leave the yard in the second half. He has an increased groundball rate and GB/FB ratio, which could help explain part of that.

Since returning to the Yankees last July, he has a 2.59 ERA in 66 innings with batters slashing .191/.260/.298 against him. It’s been a nice welcome back.

Chad Green

Key Stat: 34.7 percent strikeout rate

Green. (Getty)
(Getty Images)

Since coming up for the first time in May, Green has been a revelation in relief. He’s mostly filled in with Warren’s old role of the multi-inning reliever, throwing 33 innings in 17 games, including one brief start.

Green displayed his potential last year in the rotation and was one of the last cuts in spring training‘s battle for the fifth starter role. He’s struck out batters at every level but his fastball-slider combo seemed best suited for relief (S/O against to Mike, who called it).

Perhaps his biggest flaw in 2016 was his performance against lefties, who posted a 1.014 OPS against the righty. He actually has a slight reverse split in 2017 in a small sample, giving up just four hits in 35 at-bats vs. LHBs. He’s introduced his cutter more at times but he’s also just relied more on his four-seamer, throwing it over 60 percent of the time the last two months.

His flyball has increased, but HR/FB way down from 25 percent to 9.4, much closer to league average. The 25 percent last year seemed like somewhat an outlier. Even a few more homers won’t spoil his 1.91 ERA too much

Overall, he’s blowing people away with mid/upper 90s fastball and his top notch slider, sporting a 5.25 K/BB ratio. He looks more and more like a late inning reliever and his ability to throw multiple innings increases his value moving forward.

Jonathan Holder

Key Stat: 5 meltdowns in 32 games

Holder earned a spot in the bullpen this spring after making a brief call-up in September. After pitching mostly in mop-up duty to start the year, he slowly inched his way into a few higher leverage spots, but he never rose too high in the bullpen pecking order. His best outings came in the Cubs series, when he earned a win in the first game before throwing three shutout innings in relief during the 18-inning affair.

As stated above, he had a few meltdowns. He was tossed into a one-run game against the Orioles Apr. 30 and handed the Orioles a 4-2 lead against the heart of the order. He allowed the Royals to blow a game open in May. And he received a blown save and a loss during the cursed West Coast trip.

In the minors, Holder made his name for his high strikeout rate. His 22.9 percent K rate in 2017 isn’t bad, but it’s not quite what he was doing in the minors. The team still seems high on the 24-year-old and he’s been solid this year. Not spectacular, but fine in low-leverage relief.

It’s easy to forget because he was sent down for a while and didn’t factor into many decisions, but he’s thrown the third-most relief innings for the Yankees behind Warren and Clippard. In the second half, he’ll surely get another chance to stick in the majors.

15 pitchers have seen time in relief for the Yankees this season. Not quite the shuttle of past years, though they’ve shuffled through multiple guys in recent weeks. Chasen Shreve has seemed to stick as the token lefty with Tommy Layne gone and he’s been … pretty average. Better than last year, but not near his dominant summer of 2015. I’m a believer in Bryan Mitchell and Domingo German as potential relievers, but they likely won’t see much time in the eight-man pen.

With Clippard’s struggles, the Yankees surely will be in the market for a reliever. For now, they’ll have to hope for better second halves from Chapman and Betances alongside continued success from Warren and Green.