Game 119: Home on the Road

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2017 Subway Series now shifts to Citi Field. The Yankees won the first two games at Yankee Stadium, and that’s always fun, but they need wins against everyone regardless of venue right now. The AL East title is within reach and roughly half the AL is trying to catch the Yankees for a wildcard spot. Beating the Mets and staying in postseason position is the best of both worlds.

Of course, the shift to Citi Field means no designated hitter the next two days, and that’s no fun. I take no pleasure in watching pitchers hit. What can you do? As long as no one gets hurt, I’ll live with it. Get a win tonight, clinch Subway Series bragging rights, and, more importantly, stay in a good place in the postseason races. Here is the Mets’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. SS Didi Gregorius
  5. C Gary Sanchez
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 1B Garrett Cooper
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. LHP Jaime Garcia

Little bit cloudy in New York today, otherwise it’s a good night for a ballgame. Tonight’s game is scheduled to begin at 7:10pm ET, and you’ll be able to watch on YES and SNY locally, and ESPN nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Aroldis Chapman (hamstring) is not available tonight, though he did play catch today and will apparently avoid the disabled list. Joe Girardi said Chapman remains his closer … CC Sabathia (knee) threw a 25-pitch bullpen session today as scheduled, and remains on track to be activated Saturday … Masahiro Tanaka (shoulder) played catch for the second straight day. He’s going to throw a bullpen session tomorrow and the plan right now is to have him rejoin the rotation next week, pretty much as soon as he’s eligible to be activated.

It’s time to give Chapman a temporary break from closing

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have a bit of a closer problem right now. Aroldis Chapman was able to close out last night’s game, though not before allowing a two-run home run to Amed Rosario. It was the third straight game in which Chapman has allowed a run. Already this year Chapman has allowed more runs than he did in any season from 2014-16, and that’s despite missing a month with an injury and there still being six weeks to go in the season.

The Yankees have had a closer problem pretty much all season, but things are really starting to come to a head now, with the postseason races heating up and every win being so crucial. They’re 4.5 games back in the AL East and can’t afford to fall any further behind, and they’re 3.5 games up on a wildcard spot with about seven teams breathing down their neck. Letting late leads slip away is a good way to blow a postseason spot, and Chapman has done this a few too many times this year.

The facts: Chapman has been more hittable this season and he isn’t missing as many bats as he once did. He still misses a lot of bats compared to the average pitcher, but his swing-and-miss rate is way down compared to the rest of his career. The Yankees didn’t give Chapman a record contract to be a bit better than average. They brought him in to be super elite and to lock down every late lead. Some numbers:

  • Strikeout Rate: 32.2% (career 41.6%)
  • Swing & Miss Rate: 12.4% (career 17.2%)
  • Opponent’s Batting Line: .229/.325/.336 (career .162/.267/.237)

Everything is down — well, up in the case of the opponent’s batting line, but you know what I mean — and it goes beyond those three stats as well. Chapman’s chase rate is down, so hitters aren’t expand the zone as often. His hard contact rate is up too, so when batters do get the bat on the ball, they’re hitting it fairly well. Here’s what really scares me:

aroldis-chapman-contact-rate

The ability to miss bats in the strike zone, the very essence of what has made Chapman so dominant in his career, has been fading. And this is all related, of course. Chapman’s strikeouts are down and his hard contact is up because hitters are making more contact on pitches over the plate. Why is that happening? I don’t know. We’ve tried to figure it out. Whatever it is, something’s not right. This clearly isn’t the same guy we saw last year.

I don’t want this to turn into another “what’s wrong with Chapman” discussion, so let’s get away from that and get down to the matter at hand: should Chapman remain the closer? I mean, no, because he is clearly not the best (or second best, or third best, or fourth best, or even fifth best at this point) reliever in the bullpen. I’m not sure anyone would argue otherwise. The following two statements are true:

  1. The Yankees have several better options to protect a small lead in the late innings right now. David Robertson is the easy replacement closer candidate, though Monday night, it was Robertson in the eighth and Dellin Betances in the ninth. Both guys are qualified to close.
  2. The Yankees need to get Chapman back on track. As deep as the bullpen is right now — seriously, they could let Robertson and Betances share closing duties, and still have Chad Green and Tommy Kahnle (and Adam Warren!) for all other situations — the Yankees are at their best when Chapman is Chapman.

Chapman said all the right things following the game last night. “My job is to be ready to pitch everyday. As far as where I pitch, that’s not up to me. If at some point they need to remove me from the closer’s position, I’m always going to be ready to pitch,” he said to Brendan Kuty. Does Chapman want to close? Of course. Everyone does. And that’s good. You want your players to be motivated.

For the Yankees, however, giving up on Chapman as their closer four months into a reliever record five-year contract would be pretty embarrassing. Also embarrassing: missing the postseason for the fourth time in five years. That’s what’s at stake here. It’s one thing to ride it out with Derek Jeter hitting second in his final season just because he’s Derek Jeter. It’s another to stick with a struggling Chapman in close games because he’s so early into his mammoth contract.

The Yankees may have been thrown a bit of a lifeline last night when Chapman pulled up lame covering first on the final play of the game. He hurt his right hamstring, and while Chapman said it’s no big deal, the Yankees are going to send him for tests today. A minor hamstring injury would open the door for a quick reboot on the 10-day DL. Let someone else close for the time being and let Chapman work through some things during his side work without tying up a roster spot. That sort of thing.

Keep in mind the Yankees have resisted these phantom DL stints — this one might not a phantom DL stint given the hamstring, but you know what I mean, those “he’s not really hurt but we want him to step back and regroup” DL stints — for whatever reason. Masahiro Tanaka was arguably the worst pitcher in baseball in April and May and we all kept waiting for the phantom DL stint that never came. The Yankees stuck with him and hey, Tanaka turned it around.

Things are slightly different here because a struggling closer means blown leads and wins turning into losses. Closer is a high-profile role, and when that guy fails, it’s plastered on the front page the next morning. Blown saves are demoralizing. So maybe the Yankees, knowing they have a deep bullpen and better options available, would be more open to giving Chapman a little ten-day vacation in an effort to sort things out on the side. Assuming the hamstring injury is as minor as Chapman says it is, of course. Hopefully it is.

Ultimately, the Yankees are at their best when Chapman is dominating and closing games out in the ninth inning, freeing up Robertson and Betances and everyone else to handle the middle innings. Right now though, Chapman is a liability, and the Yankees don’t have the luxury of rolling the dice in close games. They need those wins to stay in the postseason race and Chapman is not the best man for the closer’s job at the moment. It couldn’t be any more clear.

“I haven’t (thought about making a change at closer) yet,” said Joe Girardi to Kuty following last night’s game. Obviously, I rethink everything everyday, but it’s quite quick after the game and I haven’t really thought about it … I still really believe in him. There are other guys in that bullpen who have had tough times this year and we didn’t abandon him. If you start doing that every time a player starts having a rough time, it can be risky.”

The priorities here are, in order, winning games and getting Chapman back on track. The latter will help you do the former, but the latter hasn’t happened yet. If the hamstring doesn’t land Chapman on the DL, a temporary demotion to lower leverage relief work is in order. This is not two or three rough outings. It’s been pretty much all season. The Yankees have to get Chapman right. Not cross their fingers and hope he protects late leads when better options are available. Until he gets back on track, someone else should handle the ninth inning.

Yankeemetrics: Bronx Bummer (Aug. 11-13)

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

It’s not over ’til …
Facing a late three-run deficit and their offense stuck in neutral, the Yankees seemed headed for another depressing loss in the Most Important Game of the Year. Then the Fighting Spirit kicked in and the Comeback Kids delivered another stunning rally to beat the Red Sox, 5-4, in the series opener.

How improbable was the victory? The Red Sox were 34-0 this season when leading by at least three runs at the start of the eighth inning before Friday. And the Yankees hadn’t beaten the Red Sox in a game when trailing by three-plus runs entering the eighth in nearly a decade, since a 8-7 win on September 14, 2007 at Fenway.

The comeback was ignited by Gritty Gutty Brett Gardner, who was hit by an Addison Reed slider to lead off the eighth. Reed hadn’t hit a batter since the second game of the 2014 season, and had faced more than 1,000 batters in that span before plunking Gardy.

Aaron Hicks then got the crowd into frenzy with a majestic two-run bomb that landed just over the short right field porch. Based on the combo of launch angle (41 degrees) and exit velocity (96.5 mph), that type of batted ball resulted in a hit just seven percent of the time this season.

Didi Gregorius followed with a game-tying opposite field single, a clutch hit that deserves a sweet #FunFact: Didi is the first Yankee shortstop with a game-tying hit in the seventh inning or later at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox in more than 50 years! The last guy to do that was Tony Kubek on June 17, 1964, in a game that the Yankees would eventually lose in the 12th inning.

Todd Frazier capped the rally with another RBI single to left field, earning his first True Yankee Moment. It was his 17th hit as Bronx Bomber, but the first one that gave the Yankees a lead … at any point in the game, regardless of inning.

Of course, because this was a Yankees-Red Sox game, there had to be more drama. Aroldis Chapman provided it when he walked the bases loaded with no outs in the ninth, but got of the jam thanks to a spectacular throw by Aaron Hicks, who gunned down Eduardo Nunez at third base for a game-saving double play. It was the Red Sox 16th baserunning out at third base and 64th overall, both of which lead the majors this season.

Chapman’s white-knuckle outing to seal the win also gives us our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: He’s the first Yankee ever to get a save despite walking at least three batters and allowing a run, while pitching no more than one inning.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Baseball is cruel
In less than 24 hours, the Yankees went from experiencing one of their most exhilarating wins of the season, to one of their ugliest losses in 2017. The 10-5 rout was a lesson in regression to the mean, as several statistical trends for both teams came to a screeching halt in this game.

  • The Yankees suffered their first loss this season when hitting at least three homers, falling to 17-1 in those games. They were one of two teams that hadn’t lost when going deep three-plus times, leaving the Red Sox (10-0) as the lone team in that group.
  • Yankee pitchers had held the Red Sox to a .047 (.3-for-64) batting average with runners in scoring position over their first 10 matchups this season; the Red Sox surpassed that hit total in one game on Saturday, going 4-for-11.
  • Luis Severino, who started the day with the best ERA in the majors since the All-Star break (0.83) and had allowed a total of five runs in those five second-half starts, got pummeled for twice as many runs (10) in 4 2/3 innings of work. He also had given up just one run combined his two previous starts versus the Red Sox this season.

Those career-high 10 runs allowed made Severino the first pinstriper since Andy Hawkins on June 5, 1989 to cough up double-digit runs in fewer than five innings pitched at Yankee Stadium. That 1989 game might be the franchise’s most embarrassing loss, one that included six errors, a whopping 13(!) unearned runs allowed by the home team, and very very unhappy crowd in the Bronx.

Even more bad news:

(On a slightly more positive note, the last Yankee to allow 10 or more runs versus the Red Sox, regardless of innings pitched, was Hall of Famer Red Ruffing in 1939.)

Most of the damage was done by Boston’s 23-year-old rookie outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who crushed two three-run homers off Severino. He became the first Red Sox player since Jimmie Foxx in 1938 to hit multiple three-run bombs against the Yankees. Benintendi also is the youngest Red Sox ever with six RBI against the Yankees, and the youngest on any team to hit multiple homers and drive in at least six runs against the Yankees since Cleveland’s Pat Seerey in 1945.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Nightmare on River Avenue
In what has become an all-too-familiar and frustrating story for this Yankees team, they suffered yet another soul-crushing loss on Sunday night, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Once again, the bullpen imploded, flushing a 2-1 lead in the ninth and then losing the game in the 10th. Here’s the gory details of the meltdown:

  • 20th blown save, the second-most in MLB, and four more than they had all of last season.
  • Third loss when taking a lead into the ninth inning, their most in a season since 2013 — and two of those three have come against the Red Sox (hard to forget July 14, eh?).
  • 21st loss by one run, the most in the AL and third-most in MLB. Oh, and they had only 12 one-run losses last year.

The biggest goat horns were worn by Aroldis Chapman, who gave up the game-tying homer in the ninth to Rafael Devers. Devers’ blast is a perfect example of #YouCantPredictBaseball. The lefty swinger clobbered a 102.8 mph fastball into the seats, the fastest pitch ever hit for a homer in the PitchFX era (since 2008). Prior to Sunday, Chapman had faced 418 left-handed batters in his regular-season career and given up exactly one home run — to Luke Scott on June 26, 2011, the first homer surrendered by Chapman in his major-league career. Those 418 lefty hitters were by far the most faced by any pitcher in the last 50 years that had given up one or zero homers to lefties.

Before the late-inning sadness, this game was a classic pitchers duel. Jordan Montgomery matched Red Sox ace Chris Sale with another impressive outing, holding the Red Sox to one run on two hits while pitching into the sixth inning. It was his second straight game allowing one or fewer runs and no more than three hits, the youngest Yankee southpaw to have back-to-back starts like that since a 22-year-old Al Leiter in 1988.

Sale continued his dominance over the Bronx Bombers with another gem, striking out 12 and giving up just one run in seven innings. It was the third time in a row he’s struck out at least 10 Yankees, the first pitcher to do that since Pedro Martinez in 2001. And it was his second straight game with 12-plus strikeouts and no more than one earned run allowed, joining Indians lefty Sam McDowell as the only pitchers in MLB history to do that in back-to-back games against the Yankees.

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.