Yankeemetrics: Riding the NYY rollercoaster (Aug. 18-20)

(AP)
(AP)

Deja vu all over again
Another night, another candidate for Worst Loss of The Season. The Yankees suffered their billionth gut-wrenching defeat on Friday night, obliterating any positive momentum they had built up coming off a four-game sweep of the Mets. After flipping an early three-run deficit into a three-run lead in the seventh, the bullpen imploded in epic fashion with nine outs to go, adding to the never-ending list of miserable Yankee late-inning collapses this season.

Let’s recap the gory details, bullet-point style:

  • 22nd blown save of the season, six more than they had in all of 2016. Through Friday’s games, no team in the majors had more blown saves than the Yankees (the Mariners also had 22). Going back to 1969 when saves became an official stat, only three other times in franchise history have they finished a season with more than 22 blown saves: 1997 (25), 1988 (24), 1986 (23).
  • 6th time they lost a game after leading by at least three runs, their most in any season since 2014 when they had eight.
  • 18th loss when out-hitting their opponent, the second-most in MLB behind the White Sox (25, LOL). Over the last 15 years, they’d never before suffered more than 15 such losses in a season.

Breaking news: the Yankees had plenty of chances to score, but couldn’t cash in, going 1-for-11 with RISP and stranding 14 guys. Chase Headley, Todd Frazier and Brett Gardner led the offensive charge by reaching base four times each. That’s good! So how rare is it for a team to lose when having at least three players be so productive? Glad you asked. Our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series …

It’s just the third time in the last 50 years that the Yankees lost a nine-inning game in which at least three guys were each on base four-or-more times. It also happened on September 22, 2000 against the Tigers and May 25, 1980 against the Blue Jays.

Tommy Kahnle and Chad Green were the obvious culprits in coughing up the three-run advantage in the seventh, but Aroldis Chapman‘s eighth-inning meltdown is more troubling (and eventually got him yanked from the closer role). He gave up two runs on two hits and a walk, extending his recent stretch of awful pitching. This is just the second time he’s allowed at least one run in four straight appearances; the other instance was early in his 2011 rookie campaign. And it’s the first time in his major-league career that he’s given up multiple runs in three straight outings.

(Getty)
(Getty)

One step forward …
One day after suffering the Worst Loss of the Year, it was hardly a surprise in this rollercoaster season that the Yankees notched their their Most Important Win of the Year on Saturday night at Fenway, holding on for a gutsy, much-needed 4-3 victory.

CC Sabathia has embodied the Fighting Spirit more than any other pinstriper this season, and this game proved it. Consider that he is:

  • 7-0 with a 1.46 ERA in eight starts following a Yankee loss this season, and the team won the only no-decision he got. That’s the best ERA in the majors (min. 7 starts), just ahead of a guy named Clayton Kershaw (1.54).
  • 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox this season. He is one of just three Yankees since 1950 to win their first three starts vs the Red Sox in a season while posting a sub-1.00 ERA in those outings; Scott Sanderson (1991) and Whitey Ford (1956) are the others.

Sabathia also reached a significant milestone, becoming the all-time American League leader in strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher. Congrats, CC.

Tyler Austin delivered one of the most stunning swings of the season when he crushed an 435-foot bomb over the Green Monster in his first career at-bat against Chris Sale to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. Is Austin the team’s new good luck charm? Six of his seven career home runs have either tied the game or given the Yankees the lead, and they are 7-0 in games when he homers.

Todd Frazier added a crucial insurance run with a sixth inning solo homer, following up on the two-run blast he hit in the series opener. That earned him a special place in the rivalry with this #FunFact: Frazier and fellow third baseman Graig Nettles (1973) are the only players to homer in each of their first two games as a Yankee at Fenway Park.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

… And one step backwards
What goes up, must come down, right? That pretty much sums up the 2017 Yankees. They dropped the series finale against the Red Sox on Sunday afternoon, falling to an abysmal 5-14 in “rubber games” (third game of a three-game series where the teams split the first two).

That is by far the worst record and most losses in such games by any team in the majors this season. And, even more depressing is this stat: their .263 winning percentage in rubber games is on pace to be the worst by any AL team since the 2013 Astros … who finished with 111 total losses that year. Oy vei.

Much of the blame for this loss falls on the dead-silent Yankee bats, which produced their fewest hits (3) and runs (1) at Fenway Park since a 5-1 loss there on September 22, 2013. Not even a Brett Gardner home run could spark this lackluster offense — this was the first time the Yankees lost this season when Gardy went Yardy, falling to 16-1 in those games.

Gardner did reach the nice round number of 20 homers, giving us a chance to recognize his rare combination of power, patience and speed. Gardner is the eighth left-handed batter in franchise history with at least 20 homers, 15 steals and 60 walks in a season. The others on the list are decent: Babe Ruth (twice), Lou Gehrig (1931), Bobby Murcer (1970), Reggie Jackson (1977), Johnny Damon (2006), Bobby Abreu (2008) and Curtis Granderson (2011).

Aaron Judge was hardly the only Bomber to go cold on Saturday, yet because this is a stats article, we feel obligated to note that he struck out for the 37th game in a row. That ties the MLB all-time (spanning multiple seasons or single-season) record set by Expos pitcher Bill Stoneman in 1971-72.

It’s a contrived and dubious mark, but what is more concerning are a couple of his post-break splits. He is 4-for-28 (.143) with runners in scoring position since the break; he hit .305 with RISP before the break. Judge is also 1-for-32 (.031) vs left-handed pitchers since the break; he hit .345 vs lefties before the break.

Beyond those specific situations, Judge’s ability to make hard contact — his signature stat of the season — has simply cratered. In 35 games since the break, he has a hard-hit rate (per Fangraphs) of just 34 percent (it was 49 percent before the break), easily the least-powerful 35-game stretch of his career:

judge-hard-hit-chart

Hicks’ and Frazier’s injuries show the Yankees can’t have too many outfielders

Hicks and Frazier (Elsa/Getty Images)
Hicks and Frazier (Elsa/Getty Images)

For a few weeks this summer, it seemed like the Yankees had a great problem on their hands: Too many outfielders.

Clint Frazier was lining extra-base hit after extra-base hit, Aaron Judge was, well, Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner was hitting home runs and Aaron Hicks was on his way back to the majors. That’s four guys for three spots, not to mention the presence of Jacoby Ellsbury, but with Ellsbury and Matt Holliday‘s respective struggles, playing time wouldn’t have been an issue.

With Frazier’s oblique injury, the Yankees’ outfield was cemented for the time being with Hicks, Gardner and Judge and a few too many Ellsbury starts. Oblique injuries take a while to heal, as evidenced by Hicks’ time away from the team, so the outfield overload is an issue the team can deal with when it actually comes to pass.

But the oblique injuries to Hicks and Frazier should be a warning to the front office not to deplete its outfield depth going into 2018.

It seems logical for the Yankees to pursue a trade for Ellsbury, who will have three years and about $68.5 million left on his deal after this season. The team would have to absorb some of that money and/or take back a bad contract, but it’d leave the Yankees with four outfielders for three spots. In theory, that can be an issue. But that’s only at the surface.

Yes, the team would have four men for three spots, but that’s assuming perfect health. Hicks has missed time with injuries each of the last two years. Frazier’s out now. Judge lost time in 2016 with a knee and oblique injury, respectively. While Gardner has placed at least 145 games each year since 2013, he’s been banged up plenty and the ability to give him days off in his age-34 season is important.

Performance-wise, there are concerns with each. Hicks and Judge each look like entirely different hitters from last season and how they can sustain their improvements will help define the 2018 OF. Gardner is getting older and has been off and on all season. Frazier is only 22 and didn’t exactly light the world on fire with a 92 wRC+ in 117 PAs.

That right there is enough of a reason to keep all four guys with concerns across the board, but the team will also have the ability to start all four plenty with the open DH role. Holliday is a free agent after this season and hasn’t hit his weight while dealing with injuries. He’ll be 38 come spring training next year and it looks unlikely he’ll be back in pinstripes.

The Yankees will surely seek out another veteran either via free agency or trade (Carlos Santana please!) that can take DH bats or act as Greg Bird/Gleyber Torres insurance. However, the team is also trying to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold next season so they can be even more competitive in the 2018-19 offseason. Adding a high priced veteran shouldn’t be in the cards, even if it means taking a chance on a cheaper option like Chris Carter was this year.

The counterargument to giving DH ABs to the four-man outfield (and Gary Sanchez, among others) would be the ability to flip one of the OFs at their peak value for another piece to the roster puzzle, whether a starter or infielder or otherwise. Only Gardner is close to free agency, but his one year of value is likely more valuable to the 2018 Yankees than the players he could get in return.

With Judge staying in place, that leaves Hicks and Frazier as potential trade chips. Maybe if the Yankees still had Dustin Fowler set to return for 2018 it would make sense to deal from this position of strength this winter. But the Yankees OF depth close to the majors is down to Jake Cave and Billy McKinney, neither of whom you can count on for significant contributions as rookies next year.

And if you want to win a championship, you need both depth and talent. Keeping the outfield together minus Ellsbury for 2018 is the best way to go about building a contender. If they need to acquire controllable starters via trade, they have plenty of prospects still in the minors to deal. But the current outfield is worth keeping together for another season.

With Aaron Hicks on the mend, the Yankees will soon have to make some roster and playing time decisions

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

Later tonight nominal fourth outfielder Aaron Hicks will start a minor league rehab assignment with Triple-A Scranton. He’s been sidelined since June 26th with a right oblique strain. Oblique injuries are really tricky. They’re very easy to reaggravate. And because Hicks is a switch-hitter, he and the Yankees had to be extra careful during his recovery and rehab.

Prior to the injury the 27-year-old Hicks was enjoying a breakout season, a breakout season that had him in the All-Star Game conversation. He hit .290/.398/.515 (145 wRC+) with ten homers and nearly as many walks (15.3%) as strikeouts (17.4%) before getting hurt. Among the 281 players with at least 200 plate appearances this season, Hicks ranks 14th in OBP and 19th in wRC+. He was awesome.

Since Hicks got hurt, a whole lot has changed. The Yankees lost for the seventh time in nine games to blow their division lead the day Hicks got hurt. Now the Yankees have won seven of their last nine games to climb back in the AL East race. They’re still only a half-game back following last night’s loss. Also, Jacoby Ellsbury returned from the disabled list and has since been relegated to fourth outfielder duty, both by his play and Clint Frazier‘s play.

Simply put, when Hicks got hurt, the Yankees were trending down and it was not pretty. Now, with Hicks nearing a return, the Yankees are winning games and they’ve added several new players to the roster. Frazier came up from the system and all the trades brought in Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, Sonny Gray, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle. Hicks is returning to a much better and more formidable team.

Because he’s missed more than a month and because he’s a switch-hitter with two swings to hone, my guess is Hicks will need more than one or two rehab games. The plan might be to have him rejoin the team next Friday at the start of the next homestand. That would give him eight days worth of minor league games. Hopefully that’s enough. We’ll see. Whenever Hicks is ready to come back, the Yankees will have to make some roster decisions.

Opening A Roster Spot

If Clint goes down, we riot. (Elsa/Getty)
If Clint goes down, we riot. (Elsa/Getty)

At the moment the Yankees are carrying a three-man bench with a backup catcher (Austin Romine), a backup infielder (Tyler Wade), and a backup outfielder (Ellsbury). They’re also carrying six starters and seven relievers, and for at least one turn through the rotation, the Yankees will use all six starters. They say they’re going back to a five-man rotation after that. Does that mean Jordan Montgomery to Triple-A? Garcia to the bullpen? Both are possible.

The easiest way to open a roster spot for Hicks would be sending down that 13th pitcher (whoever it is) and getting back to a normal four-man bench. As much as you may want them to, the Yankees are absolutely not going to release Ellsbury this year. At the very least, the Yankees are going to wait until the offseason to see whether they can unload him in a salary dump trade first. Saving even $4M or $5M a year on his contract is better than nothing.

The other option, which Brian Cashman has floated, is sending down Frazier. Man, if that happens, I will be Mad Online. I can’t see it happening at this point. Frazier has been productive and the Yankees are in it to win it now. You don’t go out and trade all those prospects only to turn around and send down Frazier, who has had an impact in his short time as a big leaguer. That’s not putting the best roster on the field.

Remember, once upon a time the Nationals said they were calling up Bryce Harper only temporarily. Then he hit the snot out of the ball for a few weeks and they had to keep him around. Frazier is not Harper, but he is really good, and he is forcing the team’s hand here. He’s done enough to stick. The Yankees may have planned to send Frazier down when Hicks is ready, but plans have to be flexible. Plans change.

Now, that all said, one thing to keep in mind here is that September isn’t far away. Assuming Hicks returns for the start of the homestand next Friday — again, that’s just my assumption, not something the Yankees have confirmed — the Yankees could send Frazier down for three weeks, then bring him right back when rosters expand on September 1st. Reevaluate the roster situation at that time to figure out the best outfield alignment. It’s an option. I hate it, but it’s an option.

So, as things standing right now, the best way to get Hicks back onto the roster is to send down that 13th pitcher, likely either Montgomery or Chasen Shreve. No one else is going down. The other options are release Ellsbury (nope) or send down Frazier (please no). An injury could change things — Matt Holliday back on the disabled list with his mystery illness? — but right now, I’d say it’s drop the 13th pitcher or bust for Hicks.

Finding Playing Time

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

This interests me much more than opening a roster spot. Hicks was out of this world before the injury, and because of that, he belongs in the lineup once he gets healthy. So does Frazier. So does Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge. I know Judge has slumped since the All-Star break, but does anyone actually want him out of the lineup? No way. He could snap out of it at any moment. No one busts out of a slump sitting on the bench.

As it stands the Yankees have four outfielders who deserve to play everyday (Hicks, Frazier, Gardner, Judge) and a fifth outfielder on the 29th richest contract in baseball history. I’m glad the Yankees and Joe Girardi have reduced Ellsbury’s playing time. It needed to happen. Now they’re looking at the possibility of completely burying Ellsbury on the bench as the seldom used fifth outfielder. The right move? Sure. An awkward situation? Yup.

Four outfielders who deserve to play means the return of the outfield rotation, I assume. Gardner will sit against lefties and I guess Frazier and Judge will take turns sitting against tough righties. Hicks will get days off here and there as well. All four of those guys should play as much as possible, and it’s up to Girardi to make it work. Ellsbury will have to be limited to pinch-runner and spot start duty. There’s really no other way to use him.

The wildcard here is the DH spot. Holliday has been pretty terrible for weeks now. If he continues to be terrible, it’s entirely possible the Yankees will scale back on his playing time, freeing up DH at-bats for the four regular outfielders and Ellsbury. “We continue to talk about it … (He) has had some good at-bats, but he really hasn’t gotten back on track. I think he will but it hasn’t happened yet,” said Girardi to George King when asked about Holliday’s slump recently.

The best case scenario is having too many good players. The Yankees don’t want to sit Holliday to open DH at-bats for other players. They want Holliday to mash, Hicks to mash, and Judge and Frazier and Gardner to mash. And they want Ellsbury to mash too. The more good players, the better. Take the depth and the production and enjoy it while it lasts. Realistically, that won’t happen. It’s very rare that everyone is hitting at the same time. That’s baseball.

Once Hicks returns, the Yankees will have to go back to the four-man outfield rotation, and maybe make it a five-man outfield/DH rotation should Holliday not get back on track. There’s really no other way to do it. None of the three current outfielders deserve to be taken out of the lineup, yet Hicks played too well before his injury to go to the bench. The Yankees have to play him to see whether that was for real. Early season Hicks was the best non-Judge hitter on the team, remember.

* * *

For now, Hicks’ return is at least a few days away and maybe more than a week away. Tonight will only be his first rehab game after more than a month on the shelf. A lot could change between now and the time Hicks is ready to be activated. Someone could get hurt, Frazier could play his way down to Triple-A, someone could get traded … who knows? Hopefully the Yankees have to make some tough decisions when Hicks returns. That’ll mean everyone is playing well and no one deserves to lose playing time or a roster spot.

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: The curse is over (July 20-23)

(AP)
(AP)

Ace Sevy
Back in Pacfic time zone where their current collapse began more than a month ago, the Yankees took the first step towards pulling out of the tailspin with a 4-1 win over the Mariners on Thursday.

If there is one west coast locale where the Yankees might be able to right the ship, it would be Seattle. They entered this series 49-28 all-time at Safeco Field, the best record by any team in the history of the stadium. The Yankees had won six straight series at the park, their longest active road series win streak against an AL club, and hadn’t dropped a series there since 2011.

Luis Severino dazzled in the matchup with Felix Hernandez, outdueling the Mariners longtime ace with seven brilliant shutout innings. It was his seventh start of at least seven innings and no more than one run allowed this season. The only other guys in the majors that matched that number through Thursday were Max Scherzer (7) and Clayton Kershaw (10).

It was also his third scoreless start of at least seven innings, an impressive feat for the 23-year-old pitcher. In the last 50 years, the only other Yankee as young as Severino with three or more scoreless starts of seven-plus innings in a season was Dave Righetti in 1981.

He dominated with a blazing fastball that averaged 98.3 mph, per Statcast, his highest average fastball velocity in any start in his career. Severino also tied his career-high with 10 whiffs on his fastball, and his four-seamer swinging strike rate of 19.6 percent was his highest in any of his 41 major-league starts. As you can see in the chart below, he was bringing the high heat, with all 10 of those swinging fastball strikes coming on pitches above the letters:

severino-whiffs

The hitting hero of the night was Brett Gardner, who broke a scoreless tie in the sixth inning with a solo shot to right field. Gardner finished the night 1-for-3 vs. King Felix, and is now hitting .361 against him, the third-highest batting average among the 53 guys that have faced him at least 40 times. The two ahead of Gardner? Mike Trout (.367) and David Ortiz (.410).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Best birthday present ever
Baseball has its share of small-sample-size statistical quirks and one of the oddest is the fact that CC Sabathia entered Friday’s game 0-3 with a 6.99 ERA in five starts on his birthday.

The baseball gods, though, were in Sabathia’s favor on Friday night as he finally broke his birthday curse against the Mariners. He was in vintage form, grinding through five innings, allowing seven baserunners but yielding just one run. Let’s run through some notable #FunFacts in honor of CC’s sweet birthday victory:

  • first Yankee starter to earn a win on his birthday since Joe Cowley in 1984 against the Mariners
  • first Yankee starter to allow one run or fewer on his birthday since Ron Guidry in 1981
  • And, at age 37, Sabathia is the oldest Yankee pitcher to win on his birthday since a 37-year-old Red Ruffing in 1942

Aaron Judge delivered the best birthday present ever to Sabathia in the fifth inning, when he ended in his 10-game homerless drought in style by clobbering a monstrous homer into the last rows of the upper deck in left field.

It was hit so high, so far … that it broke Statcast, literally, as MLB’s sophisticated measurement system didn’t spit out any numbers for the distance or exit velocity. We do know that the pitch he clobbered was a 76.3 mph curveball, the slowest pitch he’s hit for a home run in his career.

So close, yet so far away
It was too good to be true. Riding an actual winning streak and with a chance to clinch a series win on Saturday night, the Yankees got stung with another frustrating loss in Seattle. They rallied twice — erasing 4-1 and 5-4 deficits to tie the game — but never were able to take the lead, and lost 6-5 in heart-breaking fashion on Nelson Cruz’s game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the 10th.

Let’s dig deeper into this recent stretch of excruciating late-inning close losses:

The Yankees fell to 9-19 in games decided by one run, the second-worst record in the Majors and tied for the second-most losses through Saturday. The only team worse in both stats is the Phillies at 11-26. Fifteen of those 19 losses have come on the road, and an unfathomable 14 of them have been against teams with a .500 record or worse — a number that leads all of MLB after Saturday’s slate.

And, of course, the one-run losses have really been piling up over the last two months. They’ve lost 14 of their last 16 games decided by a run dating back to May 29 — so, after some quick math, they were 7-5 in one-run games for the first two months of the season and are 2-14 over the last two months.

Saturday was their fifth walk-off loss, one more than last year. All five have come since June 13, the most suffered by any team in that span. And three have been on the west coast, one each in Seattle, Anaheim and Oakland. Strange but true: this is just the second time ever they’ve lost walk-off games to each of them in the same season (it also happened in 2006).

Even in the depressing loss, Aaron Judge was still doing Aaron Judge things. He crushed a 396-foot home run to right field, showing off his ridiculous oppo-field power. Ridiculous is actually an understatement. After Saturday’s game, he was slugging 1.140 to the opposite field, easily the highest in baseball among qualified hitters. For reference, the league slugging percentage on balls hit to the opposite field is .474. Holy moly, what a beautiful hit spray chart:

aaron-judge-3

Streaks are meant to be broken
See yaaaaaaa …. The Yankees finally ended their torturous month-plus baseball nightmare and won their first series since June 9-11. They snapped a 10-series winless streak, their longest since August/September 1991, just weeks before Stump Merrill was fired.

And thankfully I don’t have to tweet this stat again:

Brett Gardner got the offensive fireworks started early with his third leadoff homer of the season, and you could almost smell a victory dance … entering Sunday, the Yankees were 13-0 when Gardy went yardy. Didi Gregorius added two solo dingers for his first career multi-homer game, putting the Yankees up 3-0.

#FunFact alert: Didi is the first Yankee shortstop to hit two or more homers against the Mariners.

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Mariners soon erased that lead, but the Comeback Kids struck again. Unlike Saturday, this time they were able to complete the rally. Clint Frazier‘s bases-loaded double in the sixth inning broke a 4-4 tie and made sure the Yankees plane ride back east would be a happy one.

That was Frazier’s second go-ahead hit in the sixth inning or later this season, or two more than Jacoby Ellsbury has in 2017. Following Sunday’s game, Frazier now has 11 extra-base hits in 61 at-bats this season, or just two fewer than Ellsbury has in 197 at-bats.

Thanks to his game-winning two-base hit, Frazier also earns our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: He has a double in three straight games, the youngest Yankee outfielder to do that since Mickey Mantle in 1953.

2017 Midseason Review: The Outfield

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

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

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

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

April: Judge and Hicks emerge

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

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

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

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

May: Judge (and Gardner) surge

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

June: How is Judge still doing this!?!

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

July: Enter Clint Frazier

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

(Getty)
(Getty)

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

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

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

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

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

tanaka-first-14

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

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

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

(AP)
(AP)

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

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

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

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

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

(AP)
(AP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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