The optimal bullpen usage for yet another winner-take-all

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

The Yankees will play on Wednesday just their sixth game of the postseason, yet it will be their second winner-take-all. Unlike the first one, this game will likely ride more on the starting pitchers with the performances of CC Sabathia and Corey Kluber looming large.

However, with the way Joe Girardi has managed his bullpen over the last eight days, we have seen a variety of different game options after the starter. In their last two wins, it’s been ‘Rely on the starter and then go to the big guns.’ The win over the Twins was the routine ‘Get 26 outs of top four relievers’ game. You know, basic stuff we see all the time.

And we’ve also gotten a taste of every reliever in this series outside of Jordan Montgomery, who will likely be the long man in late extra innings on Wednesday.

So with that in mind, here’s my take on the optimal use of the pen.

1. Make the same decision with CC as in Game 2: Girardi caught flak for many things after Game 2. Rightfully so. But pulling Sabathia early wasn’t as big a mistake. You only have to go back to the last Monday of the regular season for a game where Sabathia was left in a little too long and let the opposing team back in the game.

And this time, the Yankees have a more rested bullpen to get the final few innings, especially if Sabathia can get two times through the order. Once you’re into the fifth or the sixth, CC should probably be batter-to-batter except in the extremely unlikely case of a 6+ run lead.

2. If Chad Green warms up early, he needs to come in early: This one is simple and worked to a tee in the Wild Card Game. Girardi got Green hot in the first and then went to him and rode him into the third. With four days off, Green should be able to do something similar if the situation calls for it.

But if Green gets hot in those first few innings, he better come in or he likely goes to waste. Green warmed up in the second and third innings in Game 2 but didn’t come in until the sixth. That’s a good 80-plus minutes or so after sitting down. It’s no wonder he seemed off.

We saw the same thing with Alan Busenitz in the Wild Card Game. I know, I know, not nearly as reliable a reliever. But the Twins got him warm in both the first and second inning and he didn’t come in until there were bases loaded and two outs in the seventh. That’s a lot of downtime and it thus makes sense that he threw four straight balls to walk in a run.

So hopefully Girardi doesn’t repeat this mistake. It’s better off skipping Green if he warms while CC gets out of early trouble than having Green warm, throw a ton of warmup pitches over the course of a few innings and then sit, just to come in off of his game.

3. Ride Robertson, Kahnle and Chapman (duh): At this point, I have no idea what the Yankees can get out of these three, but they need to seize every last drop in Game 5. A Houston series or beyond is irrelevant right now.

Here are their lines through five games:

  • Robertson: 3 G, 5.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K, 87 pitches
  • Kahnle: 3 G, 5 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 6 K, 59 pitches
  • Chapman: 3 G, 4.2 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 9 K, 81 pitches

Kahnle’s thrown fewer pitches (and those numbers!) but also pitched most recently. Are two days off enough for full throttle Robertson and Chapman? You have to figure Chapman can get you at least three outs. Robertson, too. Between the three, they should be able to get the last four innings. Maybe five.

How do you tell who’s up for what? That’s gotta be a gut feel for Girardi, who needs to be willing to pull them too early rather than too late. You’ve still got Adam Warren, Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray after them if needed. But we should see at least Chapman at some point and probably all three of these big guns.

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

4. Avoid Betances: Dellin Betances can’t come into this game. He just can’t. It’s tough to see Betances struggling like this. His command just isn’t there and he needs to be at the very back of the bullpen. Probably behind Montgomery and Jaime Garcia. Would you feel comfortable with him in extras? Not ahead of Warren or one of the starters.

The Baseball America podcast brought up the question of whether he should even be on a possible ALCS roster and it’s unfortunate that it’s a valid question to raise. But until the ALCS roster is something worth discussing, Betances shouldn’t be pitching, even in a blowout.

5. Get by without the starters until extras: It’s really tempting to go with Tanaka after how he looked on Sunday. However, you never know how someone who hasn’t relieved will react to that situation. With the depth of this bullpen, the Yankees can survive without finding out what they can get from Tanaka or Gray (or Severino) until extra innings. If Sabathia struggles, Green and Warren are fine long men to get you to the fourth/fifth. Once you’re in extras, it’s all hands on deck in a pure scramble.

The Yanks rode their bullpen in the Wild Card Game, but they probably won’t be able to do it again in ALDS Game One

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

In the days leading up to last night’s Wild Card Game, we discussed the different ways the Yankees could approach their pitching staff in the winner-take-all affair. There were two approaches, basically. Start Luis Severino, the staff ace, or rely on all those power arms in a bullpen game. Overwhelmingly, RAB readers voted for Severino.

As it turned out, the Yankees did both. They started Severino, but because the Twins knocked him out one out into the game, Joe Girardi had to empty his bullpen. And the bullpen was magnificent. Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Aroldis Chapman combined to allow one run on five hits and three walks in 8.2 innings. They struck out 13. Incredible.

Aside from Chapman, who got the three outs in the ninth, the bullpen went above and beyond the usual call of duty. Green threw 41 pitches in two innings. Robertson threw a career high 52 pitches in a career high 3.1 innings. Kahnle threw 2.1 innings — that’s the second longest outing of his career — and 29 pitches. Girardi’s top three setup guys combined for 23 outs and 122 pitches. Again, incredible.

That performnce comes with a cost, however, as the Yankees won’t have a full strength bullpen heading into Game One of the ALDS against the Indians tomorrow. Kahnle managed to keep his pitch count low, so he should be in decent shape for Game One. Robertson will almost certainly be out of action though, and the same with Green, who typically received two days off following multi-inning appearances during the regular season.

“Greenie probably is going to need two days off. Robbie is probably going to need two days off,” said Girardi following last night’s game. “If you’re playing four games in five nights, it’s really difficult to (keep using your bullpen like this). You can do it probably two of the games of the (five), but you can’t do it back-to-back. And a lot of times you can — if you were to do it on Game Two, you probably can’t even do it on Game Three, even with the off-day in between.”

On one hand, the Yankees do have a pretty deep bullpen, so their “backup” setup men are Kahnle and Dellin Betances and Adam Warren. Yes, Betances has walked a ton of hitters this year and it’s hard to trust him, but when he’s your fourth (fifth?) best reliever, you’re doing okay. Even without Green and Robertson, the Yankees will have some quality bullpen arms available to bring the gap from starter to Chapman in Game One tomorrow.

On the other hand, Green and Robertson are the team’s best relievers, and the Yankees have their best chance to win when those two are available. No Green and no Robertson tomorrow reduces New York’s chances of winning. That’s just the way it goes. That isn’t to say Girardi was wrong to use them like he did yesterday. Of course not. That was necessary to win the winner-take-all game. This is just the consequences of not winning the division.

Bullpen usage tends to rely on the performance of the rest of the team. If the starter and the offense does their job, it’ll impact how the manager uses his relievers. That was the biggest reason the Yankees didn’t dominate even with the Chapman-Betances-Andrew Miller trio last year. The offense and the rotation didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, so those three didn’t have as many chances to impact the game.

So, the impact of not having Green or Robertson tomorrow can be mitigated by the offense and by the starter, whoever it ends up being. I think it’ll be Sonny Gray, but we’ll see. Point is, if the offense can score some runs against Trevor Bauer — not Corey Kluber! — and the starter can go reasonably deep into the game (more than one out, preferably), not having Green and Robertson won’t be as much of a factor as it could be.

The Yankees and Girardi did what they had to do to win the Wild Card Game last night, and because Severino checked out so early, that meant pushing the top relievers much further than usual. And there’s a domino effect to that. Green and Robertson won’t be available in Game One of the ALDS tomorrow. That’s life. Hopefully the starter and the offense can make it a moot point. And if not, it’ll be time for the rest of the bullpen to step up.

The Yankees and 2017’s major awards

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

For the first time in a very long time, the Yankees have legitimate candidates for each of baseball’s major awards this season. Even in 2009, the Yankees did not have a Rookie of the Year candidate. They had MVP (Mark Teixeira) and Cy Young (CC Sabathia) candidates, but not a Rookie of the Year candidate. Their best rookie that year, by WAR, was Brett Gardner, and he had only 284 plate appearances as the fourth outfielder.

In recent years the voting body seems to be doing a better job handing out the awards, which really just means the voting results closely match my hypothetical ballot. There is no right or wrong with this stuff. The voting criteria is intentionally vague, so it’s up to the individual voter to decide. It is what it is. So anyway, with the regular season winding down, let’s take a look at where the various Yankees place in this year’s award races.

Most Valuable Player

The first six or seven weeks after the All-Star break were not pretty, but a ferocious September has Aaron Judge right back in the thick of the MVP race. I see six serious AL MVP candidates right now: Judge, Jose Altuve, Corey Kluber, Jose Ramirez, Chris Sale, and Mike Trout. Trout missed too much time with his thumb injury to win. The voters are going to hold that against him. Kluber and Sale have to deal with the anti-pitcher bias the exists in MVP voting, and as good as Ramirez has been, Altuve and Judge have superior numbers. Considerably superior numbers, really.

MVP is not only a performance award. It’s a performance plus narrative award. Both the Astros and Yankees are going to the postseason, so that’s not going to sway the vote in Judge’s or Altuve’s favor. On one hand, you could argue the Yankees would’ve won the AL East if not for Judge’s slump. On the other, you could argue the Astros have such a huge lead in the AL West that they would’ve won even without Altuve. Hmmm.

Statistically, Judge has a slight edge overall, but obviously Altuve has been excellent as well. Let’s compare quickly:

  • AVG: Altuve (.347 to .284)
  • OBP: Judge (.421 to .413)
  • SLG: Judge (.622 to .552)
  • wRC+: Judge (171 to 161)
  • XBH: Judge (77 to 66)
  • HR: Judge (50 to 24)
  • SB: Altuve (32 to 9)
  • DRS: Judge (+10 to +3)
  • fWAR: Judge (+7.8 to +7.4)
  • bWAR: Altuve (+8.3 to +7.8)

Fun fact: that +7.8 fWAR leads all of baseball. Judge jumped over Sale (+7.7) this week. Altuve has hit for a much higher average — he’s only the fifth player in the last 70 years with 200+ hits in four straight seasons, joining Hall of Famers Kirby Puckett and Wade Boggs, future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, and, uh, Michael Young — and yet Judge still has him beat in on-base percentage. Judge strikes out a ton more (30.7% to 12.8%) but also walks a ton more too (18.6% to 9.0%). Altuve is a greater threat on the bases while Judge saves more runs in the field. Pretty amazing.

My favorite thing about this AL MVP debate is how it shows two very different players can be among the game’s best. Judge and Altuve couldn’t be any more different, both in terms of their physical size and the shape of their production. Judge is a monster power hitter while Altuve is a pint-sized contact machine. Will Altuve’s size give him an edge in the MVP race? Don’t doubt the voting body’s ability to come up with a “he overcame greater odds” narrative. There’s also the “Judge isn’t clutch!” storyline that has become a thing.

Judge with runners in scoring position: .255/.381/.621 (146 wRC+)
Altuve with runners in scoring position: .310/.400/.450 (129 wRC+)

Judge in high-leverage situations: .235/.345/.498 (95 wRC+)
Altuve in high-leverage situations: .318/.400/.477 (138 wRC+)

Ultimately, I do think Altuve is going to win MVP because he had a more consistent season from start to finish, which essentially means Judge’s second half slump will cost him, even with the big September. I suppose if the Yankees rally to steal the AL East these next few days, that could shift things in Judge’s favor, but nah. I think Altuve wins with Ramirez and Judge finishing second and third in either order.

Also, another fun fact: the Yankees have more than one player worthy of MVP votes. Gary Sanchez is hitting .280/.346/.537 (131 wRC+) with 33 homers despite missing a month, and he’s thrown out 38.3% batters of faced. There are ten spots on the MVP ballot and I expect Sanchez to get a handful of down ballot votes. Putting him in the top five would be tough, but the 5-10 range? Hell yeah he’ll get votes. Maybe Didi Gregorius too. And Luis Severino. There’s always some down ballot weirdness. Judge is a legitimate MVP candidate. Gary is going to get some votes too.

Cy Young

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

Pretty amazing that we’re talking about Severino as a Cy Young candidate, isn’t it? And not as a down ballot candidate who might get a few votes. A bonafide Cy Young candidate. Kluber and Sale are off in their own little stratosphere and they’re going to finish first and second in the Cy Young voting in either order. (Kluber’s probably going to win.) Severino is the best of the rest. Check out his ranks among the 57 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title:

  • IP: 193.1 (16th)
  • ERA: 2.98 (8th)
  • FIP: 3.07 (7th)
  • K%: 29.4% (6th)
  • BB%: 6.5% (16th)
  • K/BB: 4.51 (8th)
  • GB%: 50.6% (5th)
  • fWAR: +5.8 (4th)
  • bWAR: +5.5 (9th)

What a season for Sevy. He’s been so good overall. So, so good. The Cy Young ballot runs five players deep, not ten like the MVP, and I imagine Kluber and Sale will be first and second on every single ballot. That leaves the 3-5 spots for Severino, Justin Verlander, Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman, and Craig Kimbrel. Plus whoever else lands a stray vote (Jason Vargas has 17 wins!). My guess is Verlander sneaks ahead of Severino and finished third in the voting behind Kluber and Sale, and Severino finishes fourth.

Rookie of the Year

There is no mystery here. Judge is going to win Rookie of the Year and he should win unanimously. The whole “first ever rookie to hit 50 freaking home runs” thing clinched it, if there was any lingering doubt. There was that weird “Andrew Benintendi might steal Rookie of the Year!” narrative a few weeks back but lol to that. The AL rookie fWAR leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge: +7.8
  2. Jordan Montgomery: +2.6
  3. Matt Chapman: +2.3
  4. Mitch Haniger: +2.3
  5. Andrew Benintendi: +2.1

Yeah. Judge is going to win in a landslide. I fully expect Judge to get basically all the first place votes, Benintendi to get basically all the second place votes, then the third place votes — there are only three spots on the Rookie of the Year ballot — get split between Montgomery, Chapman, Haniger, Matt Olson, Bradley Zimmer, Scott Alexander, and a few others.

Chad Green, by the way, is not rookie eligible, otherwise it would’ve been interesting to see whether he grabbed some third place votes. Green threw only 45.2 innings last season — the rookie limit is 50 innings — but he does not qualify as a rookie this year due to service time. Womp womp.

Manager of the Year

Moreso than any other award, the Manager of the Year is a narrative award. How the heck do you evaluate a manager? They all make seemingly silly bullpen and lineup decisions. We don’t get to see their work behind the scenes in the clubhouse either. For all intents and purposes, the Manager of the Year is the “manager of the team that most exceeded expectations” award. That’s been the prevailing theme the last few seasons.

The Yankees, pretty clearly, have exceeded expectations this season. By a lot. Many pundits, myself included, as well as the various projection systems pegged the Yankees for something like 80-82 wins. Some a little higher, some a little lower. Basically no one had them winning 90-ish games with the second best run differential (+197) in baseball. By the “team that exceeded expectations” standard, Joe Girardi should get a ton of Manager of the Year votes.

Now, here’s the problem: the Twins exist. They lost 103 games last season! Now they’re going to the postseason as the second wildcard team. That’s an amazing turnaround. I fully expect Paul Molitor to win Manager of the Year because of that. I mean, how could you vote against him when the team accomplishes that? Girardi has received Manager of the Year votes every season since 2009 and I have no reason to believe that streak will end this year. I just think it’s unlikely he’ll beat out Molitor. Maybe Girardi will finish second in the voting?

Comeback Player of the Year

The Yankees do not have a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. Their best comeback player is, uh, Adam Warren? It’s probably him. Severino is just a young kid breaking out. He’s not a comeback player. I imagine Mike Moustakas is the Comeback Player of the Year favorite. He went from playing only 27 games last season due to a torn ACL to setting the franchise single-season home run record this year.

Gold Gloves

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Sanchez won’t win the Gold Glove at catcher because of the passed balls, even with his above-average framing and throwing numbers. That means the Yankees only have three Gold Glove candidates: Judge, Gregorius, and Gardner. First base and third base turned over at midseason, and center field was a bit of a revolving door. Second base? No. Sorry, Starlin Castro. But no. Some numbers for the hell of it:

  • Gardner: +13 DRS (1st among all left fielders)
  • Gregorius: +0 DRS (39th among all shortstops, and lol)
  • Judge: +10 DRS (4th among all right fielders)

Gregorius won’t win the Gold Glove because Andrelton Simmons and Francisco Lindor exist. Judge won’t win the Gold Glove because Mookie Betts exists. Gardner might win the Gold Glove in left field though. He won it last year, and Alex Gordon, his longtime competition for the award, has faded big time the last two years. It’ll come down to Gardner, Benintendi, Eddie Rosario, and Justin Upton. Gardner’s got a good shot for his second straight Gold Glove, I think.

* * *

Keep in mind these are regular season awards. The ballots are due following the end of the regular season but before the start of the postseason. Judge is definitely going to become the first Yankee to win Rookie of the Year since Derek Jeter in 1996. That much is obvious. He has a chance — I wouldn’t call it a great one, but a chance — to win MVP as well, which would be the first for the Yankees since Alex Rodriguez in 2007. Sabathia finished in the top four of the Cy Young voting three straight years from 2009-11, and Severino could finish that high in the voting this year.

Just the fact we’re talking about Judge as an MVP candidate — in addition to being the runaway Rookie of the Year favorite — and Severino as a Cy Young candidate is pretty awesome. Coming into the season, I think we were all hoping they’d shake off last season’s disappointing big league stints and begin to establish themselves as building blocks going forward. They did that and more. Best case scenario seasons for both of them. Really. Winning any kind of award, or just finishing high up in the voting, would be the cherry on top of an already amazing season.

Building the 2017 Wild Card Game roster

Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Although the Yankees are still mathematically alive in the AL East race, odds are they will go to the postseason as a wildcard team, and odds are they will host the Twins at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have already punched their postseason ticket. Once the Red Sox clinch the AL East and the Twins clinch the second wildcard spot, everything will be set.

The Wild Card Game is, technically, its own postseason round. Teams set their 25-man Wild Card Game roster, then can make adjustments prior to the LDS. That leads to some unique roster construction. Why carry four or five starting pitchers for one game, for example? I’m a bit surprised MLB didn’t try eliminate that Wild Card Game roster rule. Or maybe they did try and were unsuccessful. Whatever.

Anyway, the Yankees carried 16 position players and nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. For real. Like I said, there are better ways to use those last few roster spots than carrying extra starting pitchers. The Yankees are not guaranteed to follow the 16 position players and nine pitchers blueprint again, but it does give us an idea what to expect in advance of the Wild Card Game next Tuesday.

So, with that Wild Card Game now six days away, I figured this would be a good time to try to piece together the 25-man roster the Yankees could use for that winner-take-all affair. Really stinks the Yankees are going to win 90-ish games then have to play in that Wild Card Game, huh? Oh well. Can’t do anything about it. Let’s take a look at the potential Wild Card Game roster.

The Locks

This is the easiest group, so we might as well start here. These are the 18 players we all know will be on the Wild Card Game roster as long as they’re healthy.

Pretty straightforward, right? Right. I’m as annoyed by Dellin’s walks as much as anyone, but they’re not leaving him off the Wild Card Game roster in favor of … Chasen Shreve? Jonathan Holder? Ben Heller? Gio Gallegos? Another starter? Yeah, no. These 18 dudes will be on the Wild Card Game roster.

Locks, If Healthy

Aaron Hicks (oblique) returned last night and Adam Warren (back) is expected back soon. At one point earlier this season it seemed Hicks would start the Wild Card Game, maybe even hit first or second, but not anymore. The injury and Jacoby Ellsbury’s late season resurgence put an end to that. He’ll be on the Wild Card Game roster as the fourth outfielder though, as long as he’s healthy. Warren will of course be on the roster as well. Again, as long as he’s healthy. Health is the only reason these two wouldn’t be on the Wild Card Game roster. They’re on, so add them to the locks and that’s already 20 players.

The Extra Starters

Like I said, the Yankees carried only nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. That’s typical. It’s one game, not a series, so there’s no need to carry all five starters. The Yankees figure to carry the scheduled starter (duh), a backup starter in case the scheduled starter is unable to go for whatever reason (hurt during warmups, sick before the game, etc.), and an extra starter should things go crazy in extra innings. Three starters seems like the right amount to me.

Severino is on track to start the Wild Card Game with one extra day of rest. That’s the easy part. Who backs him up? That will depend as much on the pitching schedule as anything. Whoever starts the final regular season game Sunday won’t be on the Wild Card Game roster Tuesday, for example. Right now, Sonny Gray lines up to pitch the day of the Wild Card Game on normal rest and Jordan Montgomery is on track to pitch that day with two extra days of rest. Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, meanwhile, would be on short rest that day.

Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Because of the schedule, Gray and Montgomery seem like the obvious candidates to be the backup starters behind Severino. I suppose Jaime Garcia could be in the mix given how he dominated the Twins last week, though I think that’s unlikely. The Yankees could always call an audible and change the rotation this week, but that would surprise me. They’ll have their best ready to go in Severino. Assuming Warren is healthy, Severino plus Gray and Montgomery gets the Yankees to nine pitchers and 22 players on the roster overall.

The Final Bench Spots

The 12 locks plus a hopefully healthy Hicks gets the Yankees to 13 position players, leaving three open spots should the Yankees again go the 16 position players plus nine pitchers route. Realistically, there are five candidates for those three roster spots: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Clint Frazier, Erik Kratz, and Tyler Wade. Garrett Cooper didn’t even get a September call-up, so I he’s not a postseason roster candidate. Ditto Kyle Higashioka.

I think Austin is on the postseason roster for sure. He’d give Joe Girardi a right-handed power bat on bench and, just as importantly, a backup first baseman should Bird (or Headley) get lifted for a pinch-runner. You don’t want to give up the DH or have to play Holliday at first base in the Wild Card Game. Austin’s righty power and ability to play first base (and right field in a pinch) seems pretty clearly worth a Wild Card Game roster spot in my opinion. Easy call.

Wade, even though he basically never plays, strikes me as someone who has a leg up on a Wild Card Game roster spot as well. He’d give the Yankees coverage all around the infield and can play left field in a pinch as well. Also, he can run. Crazy fast. Maybe the Yankees don’t consider him a designated pinch-runner option — they didn’t acquire that player this September — but still, the situation could present itself, and Wade is the closest thing the Yankees have to a true burner available. I think he’s on the roster as the 24th or 25th player.

Frazier’s roster fate could be tied to Hicks. If Hicks re-injures the oblique or simply can’t get going these next few days, Frazier would be the obvious candidate to serve as the fourth outfielder in the Wild Card Game. I love Frazier, but I’m really hoping Hicksie is on that Wild Card Game roster. He’s such a weapon when right. The Yankees could always carry Hicks and Frazier, in which case Frazier’s role would be extra righty bat, fifth outfielder, and potential pinch-runner. Frazier is low key fast as hell. That could come in handy at some point during a close game.

The Yankees don’t trust Andujar’s defense at third base right now — they’ve made that clear given how little he’s played there so far — and he can’t play any other positions, so he doesn’t have much to offer in the Wild Card Game. He’d be an extra righty bat and emergency third baseman. That’s it. Kratz? Don’t be surprised if he’s on the roster. The Yankees carried three catchers in the 2015 Wild Card Game — Sanchez, who had two September at-bats in 2015, was on the Wild Card Game roster that year — and they could do so again, just for an emergency. You know we’re in for at least one Wild Card Game roster surprise, right? Right.

If Hicks and Warren are healthy enough to make the Wild Card Game roster, and it sure looks like that’ll be the case, I think those final three position player spots wind up going to Austin, Kratz, and Wade. Austin hits, Wade fields and can run, and Kratz is there for peace of mind. Here’s a recap of the 25-man roster we’ve talked out in this post:

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Starters Relievers
Sanchez Bird Austin Severino (SP) Betances
Romine Castro Ellsbury Gray Chapman
Kratz Frazier Gardner Montgomery Green
Gregorius Hicks Kahnle
DH Headley Judge Robertson
Holliday Torreyes  Wade Warren

Austin and Wade are more utility players than true outfielders, but I stuck them in the outfield section for easy table building purposes. The Twins are going to start a right-hander no matter what in the Wild Card Game — the only lefty in their rotation is up-and-down depth guy Adalberto Mejia, and he sure as heck isn’t starting that game — so I imagine Bird will be in the starting lineup and Holliday will not. Holliday has been pretty terrible against righties lately.

The Yankees, of course, don’t want to use their 25-man roster in the Wild Card Game. They’d like to stick with their nine starting position players and three, maybe four pitchers, tops. That would be the ideal Wild Card Game scenario. The rules say you have to carry a 25-man roster though, and you knows, maybe those 23rd and 24th and 25th players on the roster end up being a factor. No one plans for it to happen that way, but baseball can be weird sometimes.

Nine goals for the final week of the regular season now that the Yankees have clinched a postseason spot

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the weekend the Yankees clinched a postseason spot — heck of a rebuilding transitioning year, eh? — and pretty soon they’ll lock down homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game. The magic number to do that is one because the Yankees hold the tiebreaker over the Twins. The Yankees are mathematically alive in the AL East race, but forget that. Wild Card Game it is.

Because the Yankees clinched with a week to spare in the regular season, they have the luxury of using these last few regular season games to prepare for the postseason. Line up the rotation, rest the regulars, give those bumps and bruises a chance to heal … that kinda stuff. The obvious stuff every team hopes they get a chance to do before playing in October.

“I think the physical part of it is really important for our players so that they are strong going into the playoffs, and they’re not beat up and they feel rested. That’s really important,” said Joe Girardi yesterday. “There’s a balance there because you want everyone to feel confident and feel good about where they are going into the playoffs … Going into the playoffs, you want guys to feel confident and feel that they’re right where they want to be.”

Resting players and lining up the postseason rotation — right now Luis Severino is lined up to start the Wild Card Game and Sonny Gray is lined up to start Game One of the ALDS, so that part is done already — are the obvious big picture goals this week. What else do the Yankees need to accomplish before their season is on the line in the Wild Card Game one week from today? Here are nine other goals for the Yankees this week, in no particular order.

Clinch homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game

A formality with the magic number sitting at one, yes, but the Yankees have to actually do it at some point. They can’t go into cruise control just yet. Clinch homefield advantage and do it soon. The sooner the better. Lock into the top Wild Card spot and be done with it. That’s not something you want to let linger, you know?

Try to get Betances straightened out

(Presswire)
Dellin. (Presswire)

I gotta say, I was pretty surprised to see Dellin Betances go five days between appearances last week. It’s not like Girardi didn’t have chances to use him. The Yankees won by eight runs Wednesday and lost by seven runs Friday. Want to get Dellin straightened out in low-leverage spots? Well, there were two low-leverage spots, and Betances was nowhere to be found. Hmmm.

The Yankees are a potentially dominant postseason team because their bullpen is so deep with power arms, so they figure to have the advantage in the late innings pretty much every night. Betances is a big part of that bullpen, and the Yankees need him to be at his best in October. Dellin’s not going to right the ship by sitting in the bullpen. Heck, the longer the sits, the worse he gets. He has to get enough work this week to try to figure things out.

“I think best case scenario is we’ll be able to get Dellin in three — maybe four — games this week if we can to get him going,” said Girardi. “If you feel like he’s going and you don’t need to push him as hard, you can do that too. He’s important to us. Much like (Aroldis Chapman) — Chappy had a little period where he was struggling, and we got him going. We need to do the same with Dellin.”

Let Green pitch back-to-back days

With Betances still having control problems, Chad Green has taken over as the third option in the bullpen behind Chapman and David Robertson. You could argue Green is the best option out of the bullpen, though that’s a waste of time. They’re all pretty great. Girardi clearly trusts Green and he’s going to see plenty of high-leverage work in the postseason. Lately Girardi has been using him as a one-inning setup man, which is kinda new.

Anyway, because he’s done the multi-inning reliever thing pretty much all season, Green hasn’t pitched back-to-back days much. Just once, in fact. He threw 14 pitches in a perfect inning on July 22nd, then threw 37 pitches in 2.1 perfect innings the next day. Green hasn’t pitched back-to-back days since. Should the Yankees advance to the ALDS, they’re probably going to need to use Green back-to-back at some point, and you don’t want that to be a new experience. Get his feet wet. Use him two straight days at some point this week so he knows what’s up.

Keep running Bird out there

(Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

For the first time all season, Greg Bird really looks comfortable at the plate. He’s gone 6-for-14 (.429) with three doubles and two home runs in his last four games — he was 5-for-40 (.125) in his first 14 games this month — and you want him to keep building on that. I know this is the time to rest players and all that, but it shouldn’t be for Bird. He was out too long earlier this season. Play him every game the rest of the way — against righties and lefties — and let him continue to find his stroke. Bird can be a impact hitter and provide a big time boost to the lineup.

Let Sanchez catch Montgomery

For whatever reason Austin Romine has become Jordan Montgomery‘s personal catcher. Romine has caught Montgomery’s last ten starts now, and I guess this is why:

  • Montgomery with Romine: 3.78 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 102.1 innings
  • Montgomery with Sanchez: 5.19 ERA (4.35 FIP) in 26 innings

That’s all well and good, but here’s the thing: Romine can’t play in the postseason. He just can’t. Girardi twice started Jose Molina in the World Series so he could catch A.J. Burnett, but Romine is no Molina. Molina was at least a great defensive catcher, plus he’d occasionally run into a fastball for a double. Romine does neither of those things. (Plus Burnett was much more important to the 2009 Yankees than Montgomery is to the 2017 Yankees.)

As things stand, Montgomery will not be in the postseason rotation. He might not even be in the postseason bullpen. But! If the Yankees need a replacement starter due to injury at some point, Montgomery figures to get the call over Jaime Garcia, and he and Gary Sanchez need to be on the same page. The postseason is no time for personal catchers, especially with your fifth starter. Montgomery is starting tonight and could start Game 162 as well. Let Sanchez catch him so they can get reacquainted. You don’t want them paired up for the first time in three months in a postseason game.

Play Hicks as much as humanly possible

Earlier today the Yankees activated Aaron Hicks off the disabled list, so he will be in uniform tonight. And now that Hicks is back, the Yankees should play him as much as possible. Basically every game from here on out. Even if Hicks is slated to be a bench player in the postseason, it wouldn’t take much to push him into regular duty and the Yankees should want him ready in case that happens. He’s missed a lot of time and needs the at-bats.

Girardi said yesterday the Yankees plan to give the regular outfielders a rest this week — they’ve played a ton the last month or so — and that creates the perfect opportunity for Hicks. Play him every game, move him around the outfield as needed, give the regulars rest. Heck, bat Hicks first or second too, so he could maybe get that one extra at-bat each game. Every little bit helps. We saw Hicks be an impact player earlier this year. After the long layoff, giving him as much playing time as possible to help get him back to being that impact player is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.

Make sure Warren gets all the way back

Warren. (Presswire)
Warren. (Presswire)

As with Hicks, the Yankees will get Adam Warren back from injury this week, and they need to make sure he’s on track prior to the postseason. Warren, who hasn’t missed nearly as much time as Hicks in the second half, will throw a simulated game today, and figures to be activated as soon as tomorrow if that goes well. The big name late-inning guys get all the attention, but Warren is a really important part of the bullpen as the Swiss Army knife reliever who can get one out in the tight spot or throw two innings in the middle of the game or fill-in as the setup man for a day. He’s an underappreciated weapon for Girardi and the Yankees want to make sure Warren is ready to go come October.

Test Wade as a pinch-runner

With Jacoby Ellsbury playing his way back into the starting lineup and the Yankees not bringing in an Eric Young Jr. or Rico Noel type to pinch-run this month, Tyler Wade is the obvious designated pinch-runner candidate for the postseason. And maybe the Yankees decide they don’t need that guy. Even if they don’t, it would be smart to give Wade a bunch of pinch-running opportunities this week. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but coming off the bench cold and stealing a base in a big spot is not easy. Wade’s been an everyday player pretty much his entire life. Getting him prepared for a potential pinch-runner role makes sense even if the Yankees aren’t planning to carry him on the postseason roster. One injury could land him on the postseason bench.

Win at least three more games

In the grand scheme of things, there is nothing important about this. Heck, once they clinch the top wildcard spot, you could argue the Yankees should lose as much possible to improve their draft position! I won’t do it, but I’m sure someone out there is thinking it. Anyway, I want the Yankees to win at least three more games because damn, a 90-win season sure would be sweet. Lots of people, myself included, pegged this team for 82-84 wins. Somewhere in that neighborhood. Plenty of pundits were picking them to finish under-.500 for the first time in an eternity. It’s not happening. Seeing the Yankees join the 90-win club for the first time since 2012 sure would be a nice cherry on top of an otherwise wildly successful rebuilding season.

Poll: The best way to use Chad Green

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Sunday afternoon ace fireman Chad Green allowed one run on four hits and threw 47 pitches in 2.1 innings against the Rangers. That’s a poor outing by his standards. Throwing 2.1 innings and 47 pitches is not unusual for Green — it was his 11th appearance of at least 2.1 innings and ninth of at least 40 pitches — but doing so with a seven-run lead is. He entered with a seven-run lead and exited with an eight-run lead.

That happened three days after Green entered a game against the Orioles with the Yankees leading by seven. Once again, they were up by seven when he entered and up by eight when he exited. That’s … unusual. Green has been truly outstanding this season (2.00 ERA and 1.73 FIP) and using him in blowout games is suboptimal. Teams bring up hordes of September call-up relievers to mop up games like that.

Of course, context is necessary. In Thursday’s game against the Orioles, Green entered the sixth inning with an 8-1 lead, yes, but also with two on and two outs. One swing of the bat makes it an 8-4 game. And on Sunday, he entered the fourth inning with 9-1 lead and two on with two outs, so one swing could’ve made it a 9-4 game. Overkill to use Green like that? Yeah, maybe. But the Yankees also let a four-run lead and five-run lead slip away last week, so you can understand Joe Girardi‘s desire to snuff out those rallies.

Green’s usage Sunday left him unavailable for last night’s series opener against the Rays and probably for tonight’s game as well. Maybe even tomorrow’s game too. He threw six innings and 104 pitches across three appearances last week. Green could probably use a little breather. David Robertson bailed the Yankees out in the middle innings last night. Hopefully a situation doesn’t arise tonight where Green is needed in a close game but not available because he threw so many pitches with huge leads the last two times out.

There are only 19 games remaining this season and one of Girardi’s balancing acts the rest of the way will be maximizing Green’s usage. No, he doesn’t want to keep using him with seven-run leads like his last two outings. He’d prefer to use Green in close games and let the mop up guys mop up. What’s the best way to use Green going forward? These are some different options.

Multi-Inning Setup Guy

This is essentially what Green has done most of the season, save these last few outings. Green would enter a close game, fire two or three innings, and hand the ball off the late-inning guys while giving the offense a chance to add runs. He would then be unavailable for a few days, but that’s life. The upside here is multiple innings of dominance that allow the Yankees to take control of a close game. The downside is Green can only do this once every few days. The days of a multi-inning setup guy throwing 100+ innings like Mariano Rivera in 1996 are pretty much over.

Traditional Short Reliever

(Rick Yeatts/Getty)
(Rick Yeatts/Getty)

This is so very tempting anytime a young reliever has instant success. Bottle him up and assign him an inning, and move on. Instead of letting Green continue to do the multi-inning thing every few days, the Yankees could shorten his outings and use him as a traditional setup man, say as their seventh or eighth inning guy. The upside here is Green will be available for more games. He won’t necessarily need two or three days off after each appearance.

The downside is no longer having that dominant multi-innings presence out in the bullpen, so when the starter goes four or five innings — that seems to be happening more and more frequently, by the way — the Yankees would be stuck cobbling together the rest of the game with five or six relievers. And hey, maybe that’s no big deal with expanded rosters. Then again, if Girardi trusted the call-ups, he wouldn’t have used Green with a seven-run lead the last two times out.

Also, we have no idea how Green will handle pitching back-to-back days, which is something short relievers are asked to do quite often. He’s done it once this season. Green threw 14 pitches in a perfect inning against the Mariners on July 22nd, then came back to throw 37 pitches in 2.1 perfect innings the next day. So maybe back-to-back days won’t be a problem? I dunno. There is definitely some merit to the “he’ll be available to impact more games as a one-inning reliever” idea.

Montgomery’s Caddy

In each of his last two starts, and in three of his last four starts overall, the first guy out of the bullpen to replace Jordan Montgomery was Green. Montgomery’s starts are mighty short these days — he hasn’t gone six innings since July 25th and he hasn’t complete five innings in any of his last three starts — either by design (workload control) or by performance (getting hit hard). Green has picked up the slack.

The downside here is obvious. Saving Green specifically for the days Montgomery pitches means he won’t be used as often the other days. The upside? Well, it better allows the Yankees to control Montgomery’s (and Green’s?) workload, I suppose, and it also theoretically improves their chances of winning on the days he starts. Montgomery to Green might be the team’s best hope for six solid innings every five days.

* * *

Keep in mind the season is winding down. The marathon is over. Now we’re in sprint mode now. The best way to use Green right now, over the final 19 games of the season as the Yankees try to secure a postseason berth, may be different than the best way to use him over the first 143 games of the season. I know how I want the Yankees to use Green. Now it’s time for you all to vote.

How should the Yankees use Chad Green the rest of the season?
Total Votes: 2682 Started: September 12, 2017 Back to Vote Screen

The Yankees lack a reliable lefty specialist, but they probably don’t need one either

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Since the start of this past offseason, the Yankees have reportedly been looking for a reliable left-on-left reliever. They looked for one all winter and again before the trade deadline, but came up empty. Tommy Layne (remember him?) started the season in that role before pitching his way off the roster. The Yankees haven’t had a true lefty specialist since.

Chasen Shreve has spent the bulk of the summer on the big league roster and he’s not really a lefty specialist, and Joe Girardi doesn’t use him like one. Shreve has been throwing one or two innings in lopsided games for a few weeks now. He’s essentially a short relief mop-up man, not a matchup guy. This is why:

  • Righties against Shreve (career): .208/.301/.412 (.307 wOBA)
  • Lefties against Shreve (career): .248/.336/.428 (.329 wOBA)

Shreve is a fastball-splitter pitcher. He lacks that quality breaking ball he can sweep across the plate to get left-handed hitters to chase, hence his career-long reverse split. Shreve doesn’t have the tools to be a left-on-left matchup guy. Asking him to do that would be to ignore his skill set and focus only on handedness.

The Yankees have two other left-handed relievers on the roster right now: Aroldis Chapman and Caleb Smith. Smith is a long man who has the same problem as Shreve as a fastball-changeup pitcher. He doesn’t have that put-away breaking ball. Chapman has lost his closer’s job and would be the most overqualified lefty specialist in history based on his career accomplishments. The Yankees are trying to get him back on track so he can pitch full innings in close games, not match up in the middle innings.

I suppose the Yankees could always make a rare September trade for a lefty reliever — they did make a September trade for Brendan Ryan in 2013, after Derek Jeter got hurt — but I doubt that’ll happen. Besides, that player wouldn’t be eligible for the postseason roster anyway. He could help in September but not October. The Yankees do not have a reliable left-on-left reliever right now — even Chapman has had some issues with lefties lately — and, truth be told, they really don’t need one, because:

(vs. LHB) AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% HR/9
Dellin Betances .116/.269/.151 .216 46.2% 11.5% 55.3% 0.00
Chad Green .143/.200/.286 .211 50.7% 6.7% 18.8% 0.87
David Robertson .171/.240/.284 .228 37.5% 8.3% 52.9% 1.09
Adam Warren .211/.268/.293 .237 24.4% 7.3% 45.5% 0.47

Aside from Tommy Kahnle, who hasn’t had much success against lefties this year (.318 wOBA), the Yankees top right-handed relievers are all very effective against lefties. Betances and Robertson have been better against lefties than righties this year, at least in terms of wOBA, and both Green and Warren have been great against opposite hand batters too. I know Green’s shockingly low 18.8% ground ball rate against lefties is a little scary, but I’ll live with it when it comes with a 50.7% strikeout rate. He doesn’t get squared up often anyway.

The Yankees aren’t desperate for a left-on-left matchup reliever right now because they have four righties who can get out lefties. And here’s the important part: Girardi seems to understand that. Girardi leaves all those guys in to throw full innings, often more in the cases of Green and Warren. He doesn’t get cute trying to match up with a lefty. He didn’t do it when they had Layne and he’s not doing it now. That’s good. Stick with your best arms rather than try to force something for the sake of handedness.

Looking ahead to the postseason — the Yankees have to get there first, of course — potential opponents do have some quality left-handed hitters. The Indians have Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley, at least when they’re healthy. The Astros have Brian McCann. The Red Sox have Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mitch Moreland. The Twins have Joe Mauer, Max Kepler, and Eddie Rosario. The Orioles have Chris Davis and Seth Smith. The Angels have Kole Calhoun. So on and so forth.

Potential postseason opponents have strong lefties in their lineup, so it would’ve been nice to add a quality left-handed specialist at some point. It’s a little too late though, and besides, in the late innings of a close game, who do you want facing Brantley or Benintendi or Davis, some lefty specialist or Robertson or Betances or Green? Exactly. Give me the high-end righties over the matchup lefties. That’s what we’re going to see down the stretch and that’s why I don’t think the lack of a reliable lefty specialist is that big a deal.

Now, here’s the x-factor: Jaime Garcia. Even though he had his last start skipped, he’s going to end up starting against at some point during the regular season. It’s hard to see how he fits into a potential postseason rotation barring injury though. He has that killer breaking ball to neutralize lefties and could be a potential left-on-left matchup option. The numbers:

  • Righties against Garcia (2017): .263/.347/.441 (.335 wOBA) with 16.0 K% and 11.3 BB%
  • Lefties against Garcia (2017): .242/.277/.379 (.282 wOBA) with 26.3 K% and 3.9 BB%

Jordan Montgomery‘s numbers against lefties aren’t so great (.319 wOBA), plus he’s never pitched out of the bullpen before, which is why I don’t think he’s much of a lefty reliever candidate. Garcia has some bullpen experience — he relieved a bunch as a rookie and made two bullpen appearances last season — and besides, unlike Montgomery, the Yankees presumably aren’t worried about his long-term development. Garcia very well might be the team’s best option for a left-on-left matchup reliever in the postseason, should they decide they absolutely need one.

At this point in time, the Yankees do not have an obvious lefty specialist in their bullpen, and it’s really no big deal considering how effective their top righties are against lefties. A lefty specialist is one of those things teams would like to have but don’t absolutely need. Neither the Cubs nor the Indians had a lefty specialist last year. They just had really good relievers. That’s where the Yankees are. Who needs a lefty specialist when Robertson, Betances, Green, or Warren (or Chapman) could be getting those outs instead?