The Yankees and the 2017 All-Star Game

Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)
Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)

Despite recent events, the Yankees have the second best record (39-30) and the second best run differential (+107) in the American League. Many expected this to be something of a rebuilding year, one of those “step back and regroup for next season” years. Instead, the Yankees got off to a great start and remain in the thick of the division race as we approach the season’s midway point.

The All-Star Game is less than three weeks away now — it snuck up this year, didn’t it? — and given their play to date, the Yankees will undoubtedly have multiple representatives in Miami next month. They won’t be one of those “one token All-Star” teams. The internet tells me the Yankees have sent multiple players to the All-Star Game every year since 1992, when Roberto Kelly was their lone representative.

The 2017 All-Star Game rosters will be announced either later next week or next weekend. That makes this as good a time as any to look at which Yankees could be selected to the Midsummer Classic. In fact, let’s rank the 25 players on the active roster in terms of their All-Star eligibility. Shall we? We shall. Let’s get to it.

1. Aaron Judge

Judge is a lock for the All-Star Game. He’s received more fan votes than any other AL player this far — his lead over second place Jose Altuve is roughly 500,000 votes — and is on track to start the game in right field. The Yankees have not had an All-Star Game starter since Derek Jeter got the farewell vote in 2014. Even if Judge were to fall out of the top three outfielders in fan voting, he would still be selected to the game. His AL ranks:

  • AVG: .331 (second)
  • OBP: .438 (first)
  • SLG: .694 (first)
  • wRC+: 195 (first)
  • HR: 24 (first)
  • RBI: 54 (second)
  • fWAR: +4.4 (first)
  • bWAR: +4.1 WAR (first)

Flawless victory. Fatality. See you in Miami, Aaron.

2. Dellin Betances

Remember Dellin? He’s this really great reliever who used to pitch for the Yankees once upon a time. Betances did actually pitch last night. It was his fifth appearance in the last 24 days. True story! Can you believe that? It’s friggin’ insane. Anyway, Dellin has allowed one earned run — on April 8th — in 22.2 innings this season. He’s struck out 43 and opponents are hitting .117/.261/.117 against him. I think Betances is going to his fourth straight All-Star Game. I do wonder whether the relatively light workload — Dellin ranks 162nd among all relievers in innings (!) — will work against him. I don’t think so though. Betances should be an All-Star again.

3. Luis Severino

This is awesome. Severino was so bad as a starter last season. So, so bad. And now he’s a legitimate All-Star candidate. He has a 2.99 ERA (3.23 FIP) through 13 starts and 81.1 innings, and he is among the AL top ten in WHIP (fifth), strikeouts (fifth), ERA+ (fifth), K/BB ratio (fifth), fWAR (fifth), ERA (sixth), FIP (seventh), and bWAR (eighth). Last season eight starters made the AL All-Star team and so far this season Severino has been one of the seven or eight best starting pitchers in the league. He’s not a lock, I don’t think. But he should receive strong consideration.

4. Aaron Hicks

Hicks should be an All-Star this year. The guy is hitting .301/.414/.543 (155 wRC+) overall and he’s fourth in the league in fWAR. I mean:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees: +4.5
  2. Mike Trout, Angels: +3.3
  3. Jose Altuve, Astros: +3.1
  4. Aaron Hicks, Yankees: +2.9

He’s also seventh among all AL players in bWAR. Hicks wasn’t even an everyday player to start the season! He’s been awesome and he should be an All-Star. My guess is Hicks gets snubbed and instead lands on the Final Vote ballot. Maybe he’ll make the roster outright with Trout injured. There are only six outfield spots on the roster though, and squeezing two Yankees into those six spots seems like a thing that won’t happen. Fingers crossed.

5. Matt Holliday

Man, how awesome has Holliday been this season? He’s hitting .275/.379/.536 (142 wRC+) with 15 home runs and it’s thanks to him that the Yankees lead all AL teams with a 138 wRC+ from their DHs. Nelson Cruz is currently leading the fan voting at DH with Holliday roughly 300,000 votes back in second place. Making up that gap seems unlkely with one week to go in the voting.

In recent years there have been two designated hitter spots on the All-Star Game roster, so it stands to reason that even if Cruz wins the fan voting, Holliday could still make it. It’ll be either him or Edwin Encarnacion, who has been insane the last six weeks or so. Now, that said, the All-Star Game rosters were trimmed from 34 players to 32 this year. With two fewer spots, will they not take a second DH? Hmmm.

6. Gary Sanchez

If Sanchez didn’t miss that month with that biceps injury, he’d be a shoo-in for the All-Star Game. The guy is hitting .296/.376/.554 (147 wRC+) with 12 home runs. Only Salvador Perez has gone deep more times among all catchers. He has 15 homers in 257 plate appearances. Gary has 12 in 178 plate appearances. Brian McCann and Alex Avila (?!?) are also having All-Star caliber seasons and neither missed a month with an injury. I think it’s down to Sanchez and Avila for the third spot. Perez is going to win the fan voting and McCann belongs too. He’s been great. A few more Sanchez dingers over the next week could decide this thing.

7. Starlin Castro

Altuve is going to start the All-Star Game at second base, as he should. Dustin Pedroia’s injury issues mean the backup spot could come down to Castro (128 wRC+), Jed Lowrie (126 wRC), or Robinson Cano (111 wRC+). I suppose Brian Dozier (106 wRC+) is in that mix too. Name value matters in the All-Star Game. Here’s an important factor: will Yonder Alonso make the All-Star team? If not, Lowrie figures to end up the A’s token All-Star, which will hurt Starlin’s chances of making the roster.

8. Didi Gregorius

Can you quietly hit .321/.342/.500 (120 wRC+)? Because Gregorius is doing it. He’s been so good since coming back from the disabled list. And that’s the problem. The disabled list. Gregorius missed a month with a shoulder issue. He was already facing an uphill battle with Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Francisco Lindor in the AL. Those three dudes are going to the All-Star Game and they might be the three AL All-Star shortstops for the next ten years. Didi has been great. He’s almost certainly going to get squeezed off the All-Star roster though.

9. Brett Gardner

Gardner has had a slow June, but he’s still hitting .259/.341/.471 (115 wRC+) overall, and his 13 home runs are eighth among AL outfielders. The problem is Gardner is only the third best Yankees outfielder this season, and there are only six outfield spots on the All-Star roster. Judge is getting one of them. And if they pick a second Yankees outfielder, it’ll be Hicks. No chance for Gardner, unless he’s an injury replacement or something, and even then it’s a long shot.

10-11. Michael Pineda, Jordan Montgomery

A good but not great season for Michael Pineda, this is. He has a 3.56 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 14 starts and 83.1 innings — hey wait a minute isn’t Pineda supposed to be a ERA > FIP guy? — which is solid, but not All-Star worthy. Montgomery is right there with him with a 3.74 ERA (3.87 FIP) in 13 starts and 74.2 innings. Imagine where the Yankees would be without these two. Nice seasons, not All-Stars.

12. Aroldis Chapman

Last season Chapman did not make the All-Star team because he missed a month serving his suspension. This season he will not make the All-Star team because he missed more than a month with a shoulder injury. Also, Chapman wasn’t exactly lights out before going on the disabled list. He allowed five runs and 18 baserunners in 12.2 innings before getting hurt. Aroldis has thrown 14.2 innings this season. 14.2! No All-Star Game for him.

13. Chase Headley

Great start! Okay-ish June. Terrible May. Headley is hitting .245/.335/.362 (87 wRC+) overall, and by wRC+, he ranks 21st among the 24 third basemen with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Better luck next year, Chase.

14-17. Tyler Clippard, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve

Non-Betances middle relievers have a really hard time making the All-Star Game. Green and Shreve have been the best of this foursome and they’ve thrown 23.1 and 19.2 innings, respectively.

18. Masahiro Tanaka

Woof. Tanaka has legitimately been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season. There are 81 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, and Tanaka ranks 69th in fWAR (+0.1), 74th in FIP (5.64), 79th in ERA (3.34), and 79th in bWAR (-0.8). Please be better, Masahiro.

19. Chris Carter

At least he kinda plays everyday? That counts for … something. Carter is hitting .201/.287/.384 (77 wRC+) overall and probably wouldn’t make a Triple-A All-Star Game at this point.

20-21. Austin Romine, Ronald Torreyes

Remember April? These guys were so great filling in for Sanchez and Torreyes. Romine is hitting .237/.258/.325 (50 wRC+) even after last night’s big game while Torreyes is at .296/.319/.374 (84 wRC+). The next backup catcher and utility infielder I see make the All-Star Game will be the first.

22-25. Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Rob Refsnyder, Mason Williams

If you had to bet a paycheck on one of these four guys making an All-Star Game at some point in their careers, who would you pick? I feel like German is the obvious choice here, though I remain a Cessa fan. Maybe Refsnyder will have a late career Jose Bautista breakout?

Others of Note

The Yankees have four regulars on the disabled list right now: Greg Bird, Jacoby Ellsbury, CC Sabathia, and Adam Warren. There is no firm timetable for any of them to return to the Yankees, as far as we know. Warren seems closest since he’s scheduled to resume throwing Friday.

Ellsbury was playing well before his concussion. Not All-Star well — he was still the team’s fourth most productive outfielder behind Judge, Hicks, and Gardner — but well. Sabathia was pretty awesome after his four-start disaster stretch in May. Good enough to be an All-Star? Maybe! He allowed six runs (four earned) in his six starts and 36.1 innings before the injury. Imagine he keept that up until the All-Star break. Alas.

* * *

I think the Yankees will have at least two All-Stars this year (Judge and Betances) and possibly as many as seven (Judge, Betances, Severino, Hicks, Holliday, Sanchez, Castro). Seven’s not going to happen though. Seven All-Stars is reserved for super teams. The Cubs had seven All-Stars last season and that’s only because the fans stuffed the ballot and voted in five starters. So yeah, seven isn’t happening.

My official guess is four Yankees make the All-Star team: Judge, Betances, Severino, and Sanchez. Hicks gets hosed, Holliday loses out because they won’t carry two DHs with the smaller roster, and Castro gets squeezed out by other second basemen. The Yankees haven’t had four All-Stars since 2012, when Jeter, Sabathia, Cano, and Curtis Granderson made it. (Jeter, Cano, and Granderson were all voted in as starters.) Four All-Stars would be cool. Two seems like the absolute minimum for the 2017 Yankees.

The Yanks are reportedly looking for a third baseman because Chase Headley isn’t giving them much of a choice

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

At some point soon, perhaps tomorrow, the Yankees will get some help at first base. Their first basemen have hit a combined .162/.275/.288 (32 OPS+) so far this season, which is easily the worst production from the position in baseball. Thankfully both Tyler Austin and Greg Bird are on minor league rehab assignments, and Austin could be activated very soon. Bird shouldn’t be too far behind.

Third base is another matter. Everyone is healthy and the Yankees have still received a .223/.292/.330 (68 OPS+) batting line from the position. And that’s with Chase Headley‘s amazing April. He’s crashed hard these last six or seven weeks. It’s actually pretty amazing the Yankees are in first place with the second best run differential in the league despite getting so little from the corner infield positions.

Anyway, according to Nick Cafardo, the Yankees are in the market for a new third baseman. “The Yankees are shopping for a third baseman, according to major league sources,” says Cafardo’s one-sentence report. We’ve already heard the Yankees are grooming Gleyber Torres to take over at the hot corner this year, and now we’re hearing they’re looking for outside help. Let’s talk about this.

1. Does this pass the sniff test? The important question with every rumor. Yes, this one passes the sniff test. Headley has been terrible and it’s only logical that the Yankees would look for an upgrade, especially since they’re in contention. Maybe if they were having the down rebuilding year many expected, they wouldn’t worry about it too much and ride things out with Headley until Torres or whoever was ready. That isn’t the case though. Third base is a major weakness for a first place team, and that first place team is looking for help.

2. What are the conditions? Now, that all said, I don’t think the Yankees are going to go all out for third base help. They’re still identifying themselves as a team in transition with a focus on getting younger. Also, the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold soon (i.e. 2018) is still very much in place. That means these two statements are very likely true:

  1. The Yankees are not going to take on a sizeable multi-year contract.
  2. The Yankees aren’t going to trade any of their top prospects.

There are always exceptions — I don’t think they’d run away if, say, the Mariners made Kyle Seager available — though for the most part, I think those two statements are true. The Yankees are not going to trade their best prospects and they’re not going to jeopardize the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold. Other considerations like handedness (a lefty would help balance the lineup) and hitting style (high strikeout vs. high contact, etc.) are secondary.

3. So who’s available? Alright, let’s get down to business. The Yankees reportedly want a new third baseman, so would could be available? The best place to start is always with the last place teams since they’re most likely to sell, though I get the sense the Blue Jays won’t be open to trading Josh Donaldson to the Yankees. Here is a preliminary list of third base trade candidates, listed alphabetically:

  • Todd Frazier, White Sox: A solid defender and he’ll be a free agent after the season, which fits the luxury tax plan, but he’s also hitting .195/.306/.396 (88 wRC+). Name value > actual production.
  • David Freese, Pirates: Hitting .258/.361/.411 (109 wRC+) this year with his usual okay-ish defense. Freese is owed a reasonable $4.25M next year with a $6M option for 2019.
  • Jed Lowrie, Athletics: Lowrie, a switch-hitter, was a regular third baseman as recently as 2015, and he’s hitting .293/.360/.483 (132 wRC+). His contract includes a $6M option for 2018. Hmmm.
  • Mike Moustakas, Royals: Almost certainly the best third baseman likely to be available. He’s a rental, he’s hitting .255/.295/.510 (109 wRC+), and he can play the hell out of the hot corner.
  • Martin Prado, Marlins: Currently on the DL with a nagging hamstring issue that has limited him to only 17 games this year. Prado is owed $28.5M from 2018-19, which is a bit of a problem.
  • Trevor Plouffe, Athletics: Meh. Another rental, so that’s good, but Plouffe is hitting .216/.278/.351 (71 wRC+) and has been trending downward for a while now. Plus he’s a crummy defender.
  • Yangervis Solarte, Padres: Never Nervous Yangervis is hitting .250/.329/.353 (86 wRC+) while primarily playing second base this year. He’s due $4.125M next year with club options for 2019 ($5.5M) and 2020 ($8M).

So that’s the list for now. Things can and will change in the coming weeks as teams fall out of the race/get back into it, players get hurt, rookies emerge, that sort of thing. I’d say Freese and Prado are the least likely players on that list to be traded before the deadline.

The way I see it, Frazier is the big name, Moustakas is the best player, and Lowrie is the most sensible target. The Yankees might be able to pry Lowrie loose without trading one of their top ten prospects, and he wouldn’t threaten the luxury tax plan since this is the final guaranteed year on his contract. Both Ken Rosenthal and Susan Slusser say the A’s are likely to trade him. Hmmm indeed.

Moose tacos. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Moose tacos. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

4. Whither Headley? Okay, so the Yankees go out and get a new third baseman. What do they do with their old third baseman? Pretty much the only thing they can do. Turn him into a bench player. Headley would be a backup at first and third bases, and maybe a defensive replacement at the hot corner in the late innings, depending who the Yankees acquire. (Plouffe would need a defensive caddy, for example.)

Last season the Yankees showed they are willing to reduce a pricey veteran’s playing time when a better option emerges. Brian McCann lost playing time to Gary Sanchez. Mark Teixeira lost playing time to Tyler Austin. That said, pushing aside a veteran for an up-and-coming kid is different than pushing aside a veteran for another veteran picked up in a trade. I don’t think the Yankees will have any trouble doing that though. The Yankees are out there looking for third base help because Headley is forcing them to.

5. Whither Gleyber? I can see it now. The Yankees trade for a third baseman and everyone wonders why they didn’t just call up Torres. “The Yankees hate young players!” will be said by someone, somewhere, as Sanchez and Aaron Judge hit balls to the moon and Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery start two out of every five days. It’s inevitable. If the Yankees add a veteran, many folks will wonder why they blocked Torres. Take it to the bank.

In reality though, Torres is a 20-year-old who has played only 43 games above Single-A ball. He’s a very good 20-year-old! But he’s still a 20-year-old. And his first two weeks in Triple-A have produced an .194/.356/.222 (80 wRC+) batting line and four errors in eleven games. Trading for a veteran third baseman and keeping Torres in Triple-A would be a completely reasonable move that would in no way indicate the Yankees have soured on Gleyber or anything like that. The Yankees are reportedly grooming Torres to take over at third base, but only if he forces the issue. Right now, he’s not.

* * *

The longer the Yankees stay in the race and the longer Headley continues to do this, the louder the cries with be for a new third baseman, whether it’s Torres or a trade target or whoever. Now that we’re into June, trade discussions figure to heat up as the rebuilders resign themselves to, well, another year of rebuilding. My guess is the Yankees would prefer to go with Torres at third base later this year, so I think they’ll be patient, see how Gleyber adjusts to Triple-A, and let the third base trade market come to them over the next few weeks.

Chase Headley’s miserable slump shouldn’t change the plan for Gleyber Torres

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

After two days on the bench, Chase Headley returned to the starting lineup yesterday afternoon in the series opener against the Orioles. He went 1-for-2 with a walk and is now 21-for-121 (.174) with a 28.9% strikeout rate over his last 31 games, dating back to the series against the Cardinals. Calling this a miserable slump would be an understatement.

Headley, as you know, was excellent to start the season. He was a big reason why the Yankees won eight straight games in the middle of April. Since then though, it’s been all downhill. See?

chase-headley-wrc

Yeesh. Headley has struggled on both sides of the ball too. He had a stretch a few weeks ago in which he committed seven errors in the span of 13 games. Headley has straightened things out defensively the last two weeks or so, but not with the bat. Maybe yesterday’s game was a sign he’s turning things around. I’m not buying it yet.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the Yankees promoted top prospect Gleyber Torres to Triple-A last week, and he played his first three games at the level at third base. (As well as his last two at Double-A.) The Yankees have been working to increase Gleyber’s versatility this season and playing the hot corner is part of that.

Torres, who is going to spend this entire season at age 20, has gone 5-for-21 (.238) in six Triple-A games so far, and is hitting .275/.376/.472 (138 wRC+) overall in 2017. He’s doing pretty much everything you’d want a top prospect his age to do at the upper levels of the minors. Plus he’s doing it while playing relatively new positions in second and third bases.

Given Headley’s awfulness, it’s only natural to wonder when Torres will be called up to take over at third base. Why not now? He couldn’t be worse. Specious logic aside, it is only a matter of time until Gleyber replaces Headley, partly because Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro sure as heck aren’t going anywhere. Third base is the obvious spot for Torres, at least in the short-term.

Fans want Torres to replace Headley right now and I imagine it’s awfully tempting for the Yankees to make the change, especially since they’re surprisingly atop the AL East. It would be pretty easy to justify the move. It would be one thing to bench Headley in favor of, say, Ruben Tejada, a journeyman having a good year in Triple-A. Doing it for a top prospect like Torres is another.

That said, the Yankees have to keep the big picture in mind here, and I do believe they will. We’ve already gone through something like once already this season, right? Gregorius went down with a shoulder injury during the World Baseball Classic and everyone and their mother wanted Torres to play shortstop in the meantime, especially since he was tearing the cover off the ball in Spring Training.

Gleyber. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)
Gleyber. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)

The Yankees didn’t do that though. They had a development plan in place for Gleyber and they stuck to it. The same should be true now despite Headley’s terrible play. Headley being bad doesn’t make Torres more big league ready. (He is closer to MLB ready now than he was during the spring by virtue of playing Double-A and Triple-A games, of course.) The Yankees, despite being in first place, are still a team in transition, and Gleyber’s long-term development has to be the priority, not a quick fix at third base.

“I’m not looking at Gleyber right now on the Major League side,” said Brian Cashman to Dan Martin last week. “I’m just looking at Gleyber taking the next step at Triple-A. Just like when we were faced with, ‘Are you going to bring Gleyber up because Didi is down?’ The answer was, ‘No, we aren’t going to interrupt his player-development process.’ And currently he’s earned the right to go Triple-A.”

Keep in mind the Yankees are moving Torres very quickly already. Prior to this season he’d never played above High Class-A. Thirty-two Double-A games later, he was in Triple-A. Not normal! Not for a 20-year-old, anyway. The Yankees clearly have Torres on an accelerated timetable, which means we could see him in the Bronx later this season. Players this talented have a way of shooting through the minors quicker than expected.

Two conditions have to be met when Torres is called up, in my opinion. One, the Yankees have to believe he’s truly ready for the big leagues and not simply being rushed to patch a hole at the hot corner. And two, he has to play everyday. They can’t call Gleyber up and play him once or twice a week. That would defeat the purpose. There is definitely something to be said for learning while on the big league bench, but Torres is too good to sit more often than not.

This is what I think will happen: the Yankees are going to stick with Headley for the time being, perhaps working in more Ronald Torreyes starts, to give Torres at least a month in Triple-A. That feels like the bare minimum. Keeping him there until the All-Star break wouldn’t be a bad idea. Then, in a few weeks, they’ll reevaluate things. See where Headley is at, see where Torres is at, and make a decision. Perhaps they won’t have to do anything! Who knows?

In my mind, everyone from Double-A on up is eligible for consideration in the big league if we have any needs,” said Cashman to Martin. “I check on what he’s doing everyday like I do all our prospects, but not how he’s going to fit on the big league club in the near-term. I’m not looking at that. Let him get baptized at Triple-A and let’s see how that treats him.”

Point is, the Yankees have to stick to their plan with Torres, whatever it is. Maybe their plan is to call him up in two weeks. I doubt it, but hey, stranger things have happened. The Yankees shouldn’t alter the development plan of their top prospect — arguably the best prospect in all of baseball, at that — because of a slumping big leaguer. Gleyber is going arrive at some point, likely later this year. Headley’s struggles shouldn’t dictate his timetable though.

The two Aarons and thinking about a new top of the lineup

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once upon a time, I was a lineup complainer. The lineup would be posted each day at 4pm-ish and I’d complain about it. So and so is hitting too low, this guy is hitting too high, why is bench player flavor of the week not playing, that sort of stuff. A few times a year the Yankees would play the “ideal” lineup. Otherwise it was the same story, day after day. The lineup stinks and I was Mad Online.

I’ve outgrown that, thankfully. Daily lineup complaints are no way to go through life. As long as Joe Girardi doesn’t do something crazy like bat his best hitter ninth (which he never does and would never do), whatever lineup he runs out there is fine with me. So this post shouldn’t construed as me complaining about the lineup. This is more of a rational discussion about the batting order nearly one-third of the way through the season.

For the most part, I think we can all agree on one thing regarding the lineup: Brett Gardner should lead off, and Chase Headley and Chris Carter should bat eighth and ninth, really in either order. I guess that’s three things. Anyway, that stuff is straight forward. Gardner is, yet again, one of the team’s best on-base players and count-workers. Headley and Carter have been terrible and should get the fewest at-bats. Simple, right? Right.

The few spots beyond Gardner are what I really want to discuss. This is my ideal top of the lineup right now, given the available personnel:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge

The three outfielders, left to right. Gary Sanchez has been hitting second most of the season and I am totally cool with that. It works for me. Sanchez has looked a little jumpy at the plate the last few days, but I’m not worried. Hitters go through their ups and downs. Sanchez is one of the team’s best hitters, so by all means, hit him second. Josh Donaldson and Kris Bryant won MVPs hitting second in recent years. Power hitters can hit there too.

That said, I like Hicks hitting second over Sanchez right now because, well, Hicks has been the better hitter this season. The better overall hitter and, more importantly, the better on-base threat. Hicks has a .426 OBP this year. Sanchez has a .356 OBP. That’s still good! But it’s not .426. Batting Hicks second means more runners on base for Judge, who has inarguably been the Yankees’ best hitter this season.

Judge started the season hitting lower in the lineup and understandably so, but he’s forced his way up, and now he is in entrenched as the No. 5 hitter. Moving Judge up even further to the No. 3 spot means more at-bats. More at-bats over the course of the season, and a better chance to get Judge that one extra at-bat in an individual game. Through 48 team games the No. 3 spot has 14 more plate appearances than the No. 5 spot for the Yankees. That’s 14 more times Judge would have come to the plate in the late innings. It’s not nothing!

We’re not splitting atoms here. Hicks (.426), Judge (.419), and Gardner (.363) have the three highest OBPs on the Yankees. They make fewer outs than anyone else. Judge is also one of the game’s top power threats. Batting Gardner and Hicks first and second is, by far, the best way to get men on base for Judge. Batting these three atop the lineup also means they get the most at-bats, therefore giving the Yankees more chances to score.

Going with Gardner-Hicks-Judge atop the lineup and Headley-Carter at the bottom leaves you Sanchez, Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, and Didi Gregorius for the 4-5-6-7 spots. What’s the best way to order them? I’m not sure there’s a wrong answer. I’d prefer hitting Sanchez fourth because I think he’s most likely to be an impact bat the rest of the season, but if you said the same thing about Castro or Holliday, I wouldn’t argue (much).

The important thing, as far as I’m concerned, is getting Judge more at-bats because because the guy is a monster, and the more he plays, the better the Yankees’ chances to win. Jacoby Ellsbury‘s concussion — Girardi said yesterday Ellsbury is still experiencing headaches, so he remains shut down indefinitely — ensures Hicks will be in the lineup everyday, and as long as he’s hitting like this, Hicks is the perfect No. 2 hitter. On-base ability, power, speed, switch-hitter, the whole nine. Perfect.

The lineup almost seems to write itself from there. Gardner leads off, Hicks hits second, Judge hits third. Your two best on-base players and your most devastating hitter. Sanchez, Holliday, Castro, and Gregorius add quality lineup depth through the No. 7 spot too. I get why Girardi hits Sanchez second, Holliday third, and Castro fourth. I do. But nearly 50 games into the season, it’s the clear the more Aaron Judge hits with men on base, the better. The lineup should be built in such a way that maximizes those opportunities.

Grounded for the Month of May

(Norm Hall/Getty)
(Norm Hall/Getty)

On Friday night, with the game tied at 0, Chase Headley came to the plate with one out and two runners on–first and second. To say that my faith in Headley was low would be a bit of an understatement. Tragically for Masahiro Tanaka and the rest of the Yankees, Headley proved my lack of faith right by grounding into a double play, ending the inning. He didn’t even have the common freakin’ courtesy to just strike out or hit into the infield fly rule. Until now, I didn’t quite realize just how indicative of his descent into dumpster fire at the plate that play was.

We all know Headley started out the year on fire, tearing up the league, topping leaderboards for a few weeks in April. Since then, though, it’s been a steady decline to where he sits right now: a career low 82 wRC+ thanks to a .292 wOBA and a .228/.299/.367 batting line. Consider, folks, that he ended April with a .388 wOBA and a 148 wRC+; that’s one hell of a drop. And as his performance has dropped, so have the balls he’s been hitting, quite literally.

Per FanGraphs, Headley was quite adept at hitting the ball in the air for the first month of the season. In April, he sported a robust line drive percentage of 30.2% and hit fly balls 33.3% of the time. He generally avoided weak contact, evidenced by his low 4.8% infield fly ball rate. That script has flipped for the month of May.

Gone is the high line drive rate, down to 21.7%. Gone is the low ground ball rate, up to 54.3%. Gone is the high fly ball rate, down to 23.9%. Gone is the low IFFB rate, up to 18.4%. Thanks to TexasLeaguers, we can see the results of these drastic changes.

Here’s Headley’s April spray chart. Nine outs in the field, ten if we count that one behind the plate.

headleyapril

Now May:

headleymay

17 in the infield, including the foul balls. Also, there’s a huge cluster in right field that wasn’t really there during April, indicating that Headley’s hitting his grounders–at least as a lefty batter–right into the shift.

A trip–well, two trips to Brooks will show us just what’s going on here. In April, Chase was getting pretty decent lift on pretty much everything. Now in May, something is making him play right into the pitcher’s hands. Like they’d want him to, he’s hitting almost 56% grounders on sinkers, almost 77% (!) on change ups, 75% on curves and 100% on cutters.

The other alarming note on Brooks is the big uptick in whiffs/swing on fastballs, going from 13% and change to almost 23%; from April to May, Headley’s strikeout rate has climbed from about 20% to about 35%. Not so coincidentally, Headley’s walk rate has plummeted; he’s walked just once in May–and has been hit by one pitch. Also not so coincidentally, Headley’s been chasing the ball more in May than he did in April. The league average o-swing rate is a touch over 29%. While he’s been under that for the year, May has seen a spike. In April, there are four locations on the chart showing Headley swung at balls at a higher-than-league-average pace. Fast forward to May and the number goes up to eight.

Beating the ball into the ground–especially in this day and age of the fly ball–and chasing balls out of the zone are not a good combination for success. So, Chase, if you’re reading this, get on that, huh? I like you, I really do, but it’s getting hard to watch at this point.

Yankeemetrics: Bronx Bummer (May 11-14)

(AP)
(AP)

Game of Inches
Entering Thursday the Astros and Yankees were baseball’s two best teams, separated by just .001 in the win percentage column, so it was fitting that the first game of the series was decided on the final play, by mere inches.

Down two runs in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two men in scoring position, Gary Sanchez lined a single through the left side of the infield; Aaron Hicks scored easily from third base but Jacoby Ellsbury – racing home from second – was thrown out at the plate as the potential game-tying run.

Those types of rally-killing outs on the bases have been piling up for the Yankees this season. It was the sixth baserunning out at home plate by a Yankee this season, tying the Red Sox for the most in the AL through Thursday, and one shy of the major-league-leading Marlins.

Yet, the heart-wrenching nature of this play is actually quite rare: This was just the third time since 1930 that a game ended on a base hit with a Yankee being thrown out at home as the potential game-tying run.

The last time it happened was August 12, 1987 against the Royals when Wayne Tolleson was nailed at the plate trying to score from first on Roberto Kelly’s double to left field. Before that, you have to go back all the way to May 9, 1930 against the Tigers, when Tony Lazzeri was thrown out trying to score from second on Bill Dickey’s single.

Ellsbury was also involved in the Yankees only other run, when he got a catcher’s interference call with the bases loaded in the fifth inning. It was his 28th catcher’s interference, one shy of tying Pete Rose for the all-time MLB record. Of course, Rose is also the all-time record-holder in career plate appearances (15,890), while Ellsbury ranked 960th in that stat (5,084) through Thursday.

In yet another oddity, it was the first time in his career that Ellsbury got a catcher’s interference call with the bases loaded. And it had been more than two decades since any Yankee did that – the last one was by Pat Kelly in 1992 against the A’s.

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

Dead Bats Society
The Yankees offense went into a deep freeze on a chilly Friday night in the Bronx, barely avoiding a shutout in a listless 5-1 loss to the Astros. Didi Gregorius‘ RBI single with two outs in the ninth kept the Yankees as one of three teams (Twins, Nationals) that haven’t been blanked this season.

Brian McCann delivered the big blow for the Astros when he clubbed a three-run homer in the fourth inning to break a scoreless tie. It was his 47th homer at Yankee Stadium since 2014, the most home runs hit by any player at the Stadium in that span – and 12 more than the next guy on the list (Carlos Beltran, who also was sitting in the visiting dugout this weekend).

Lance McCullers dominated the Yankee lineup with a devastating mix of 95-mph fastballs and knee-buckling curves, holding them to zero runs on four hits over six innings while striking out seven and walking none. That seems good, eh? McCullers (23 years, 222 days) is the youngest pitcher ever to throw at least six scoreless, walk-free innings with seven-plus strikeouts in his first road appearance against the Yankees.

(AP)
(AP)

Comeback kings strike again
The Yankees kicked off Mother’s Day/Derek Jeter Night with a slump-busting, 11-6 come-from-behind win in the first game of Sunday’s double-header. It was their eighth victory when trailing by at least two runs, the second-most in baseball this season.

The first rally came in the fourth inning and was sparked by a couple longballs off the bats of Starlin Castro and Aaron Judge. Castro’s two-run homer knotted the score at 3-3, his fourth game-tying homer of the season, which matched Freddie Freeman for the most in the majors. Judge’s go-ahead, 441-foot solo blast to dead-center was his MLB-leading sixth home run of at least 430 feet in 2017, two more than any other player.

The second and decisive rally came in the seventh inning, when the Yankees erupted for six runs to erase a 6-4 deficit. The biggest blow was a tie-breaking, bases-loaded triple by Chase Headley. In the last 20 years, the only other Yankee with a go-ahead, bases-clearing triple in the seventh inning or later was Bernie Williams on June 21, 2005 against Tampa Bay.

(Getty)
(Getty)

#RE2PECT2JETER
The excited buzz and loud cheers lingering from the Stadium crowd following Derek Jeter’s number retirement ceremony were quickly silenced when George Springer stepped into the batter’s box and led off the game with a home run. That sparked a six-run first inning for Houston and paved the way for a deflating 10-7 loss by the Yankees.

Masahiro Tanaka was clobbered amid a chorus of boooooos, producing the worst start of his major-league career. He matched career-worsts in innings pitched (1 2/3) and homers allowed (4), while surrendering a career-high eight runs, and etching his name in the record books — for the wrong reason.

Tanaka became the first pitcher in Yankees history to give up at least eight earned runs and four home runs in a game while pitching fewer than two innings.

Three of those home runs came in the first inning, putting the Yankees in a huge early hole that even the Comeback Kings couldn’t dig out of. Going back to 1950 (as far back as Baseball-Reference.com has mostly complete play-by-play data), the Astros are the only visiting team to hit three-or-more home runs in the first inning of a game at Yankee Stadium.

As horrible as this game ended up, we can still end this Yankeemetrics on high note by honoring The Captain with the ultimate #JeterFunFact.

Here’s the list of players in major-league history to compile at least 3,000 hits, 250 homers, 350 stolen bases and 1,300 RBIs in a career: Derek Sanderson Jeter.

How to handle Chris Sale’s dominance of the Yankees

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On Thursday, the Yankees get their first crack at Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale. However, there’s a fair amount of familiarity between Sale and the Yankees.

If you’re not familiar with the numbers, they’re gaudy, to say the least. In 53 1/3 innings against the Yankees, Sale has surrendered just 32 hits, 12 walks and 4 HBPs while striking out 61 batters and allowing just 13 runs (seven earned). That’s good for a 1.17 ERA and a WHIP of .820. Sale has the lowest ERA of any pitcher in MLB history with at least 50 innings against the Yankees (h/t to Katie).

Unfortunately for the Yankees and their fans, Sale is going to be tacking on a lot more innings to that total over the next three years. With team options, the Red Sox have Sale under contract through 2019 and there’s nothing saying they couldn’t bring him back on a longer contract when that’s up. We’re talking about a pitcher with five All-Star appearances in the five seasons he’s been a starter, and he hasn’t finished lower than sixth in the Cy Young voting. That’s a keeper.

So what does this mean for the Yankees? What can the Bombers do to counteract the way-too-early favorite for AL Cy Young? Here are a few things to know about facing Sale.

1. Lefties are practically useless against him: Sale is a beast but especially vs. lefties. He’s given up 114 home runs in his career and just eight were hit by left-handed batters. While RHBs have a .228/.283/.370 line against him, lefties are far worse at .202/.258/.268. No power and no average.

In his seven starts against the Yankees, Sale has faced few lefties. The Yankees started three against him in 2012 and in the six starts since, haven’t started more than two. Typically, it’s been the lefties you don’t take out of the lineup, the Robinson Canos of the world. You have to try and load up on the platoon advantage to neutralize Sale because his size and motion are so difficult to pick up for a LHB.

This is why you acquire Chris Carter and Matt Holliday. Not just for Sale of course. For any tough lefty. Sale, David Price, etc. Having a veteran with some savvy in the middle of the order can counteract Sale … as much as you truly can counteract Sale. When Sale took the mound vs. NYY last May, it led to a distinctive lineup with Aaron Hicks leading off, Brett Gardner batting seventh and no Jacoby Ellsbury. Sale threw a complete game, but the point still stands. Maximize your potential by platooning like crazy. You may see a lineup that goes something like this.

1. Aaron Hicks, CF
2. Chase Headley, 3B
3. Matt Holliday, DH
4. Starlin Castro, 2B
5. Aaron Judge, RF
6. Chris Carter, 1B
7. Brett Gardner, LF
8. Austin Romine, C
9. Ronald Torreyes, SS

You have to sit one of Gardner or Ellsbury for Hicks here and moving the one lefty outfielder down the card makes sense, too. Last season’s lineup shows Joe Girardi is willing to do just that. He’s done some interesting things like put Yangervis Solarte in the five-hole as well. The lineups this season with Ellsbury batting fourth and so on have looked pretty peculiar, so Thursday’s lineup may just blend in.

2. Headley is key to hitting Sale: Headley has been much maligned at times during his stint in pinstripes, but boy can he hit Sale. He has the third highest OPS off Sale of any batter with at least 10 plate appearances. In 14 PAs vs. the 6-foot-5 southpaw, Headley is 5-for-13 with two home runs, a double and a walk.

Sale even helped Headley get back to being himself last season. After a horrible April and early May, Headley got his second extra-base hit of 2016 off Sale with this home run.

Girardi has put Headley near the top of the lineup card with Sale on the mound, both in 2015 and 2016. His first homer off Sale came back in 2014 during an interleague series between the White Sox and Padres.

The point being, Headley is really important here. I’m not sure I expected to be saying that, but here we are. Headley has similar numbers off the person I would say is Sale’s most logical current comparable, Madison Bumgarner. He has three home runs and 10 hits in 36 at-bats off Mad Bum. Go figure.

Only three other Yankees have multiple hits off Sale: Carter, Castro and Hicks. Hicks is 4-for-12 with a double, Carter is 2-for-13 with a double and a homer, and Castro is 2-for-11. Unsurprisingly, Carter has struck out seven times vs. Sale. Ellsbury and Gardner are a combined 1-for-16 with two walks, a hit-by-pitch and nine strikeouts. Welp.

3. Time for the Baby Bombers: I’m unsure if the Yankees were trying to be cruel last May, but they had Gary Sanchez make his first MLB start as the DH facing Sale. You will no doubt be shocked to learn he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout.

However, this is where having a few young, dynamic, right-handed bats comes in handy. Sanchez may be hurt right now, but he’ll get more opportunities off Sale during the next few seasons. Sanchez, Judge and even Clint Frazier or Gleyber Torres can give the Yankees an element few teams have vs. Sale: An all-righty top of the lineup that can withstand him. They’ll surely have some troubles off him like Sanchez last May, but they’re NYY’s best shot. These guys will get plenty familiar with Sale over the next few years.

As for Greg Bird, it makes sense to bench him for Carter in terms of trying to win that day’s game. However, starting Bird vs. Sale would be interesting for the long-term. Giving him some at-bats against him now could give Bird a chance against him in future meetings, plus Bird has hit lefties well in his early MLB career.

4. If he wasn’t on the Red Sox/facing the Yankees, Sale would be a lot of fun to watch: Sale’s mesmerizing. His herky-jerky motion is not something you’d teach any kid and that may be part of what makes it so effective. It’s different and it’s been nearly impossible to hit. He’s a consistent Cy Young contender for a reason and despite a motion many in baseball would label a concern, he’s remained pretty healthy, making at least 29 starts in four of the last five seasons.

And he’s quite simply fun to watch. He strikes out guys with ease, averaging 227 strikeouts a year since he moved into the rotation. How many pitchers do you see make hitters look like this?

sale-strikeout-gif

Or make Sanchez look like this?

sale-strikeout-sanchez

The Yankees are going to have to contend with Sale for a while and we may as well enjoy the ride. Pedro Martinez had some dazzling performances against the Yankees in the late 90s/early 2000s and beating him was a joyous occasion. It’d be nice to have a pitcher-against-the-Yankees rivalry like that going again and Sale is a prime candidate to make that happen. And even when he inevitably adds a win or two to his record vs. the Bombers, you’ll still be able to see one of the best of this generation take the mound.