Yankeemetrics: Different city, same ending (July 17-19)

(AP)
(AP)

Stranded on second
The road trip continued westward to Minnesota, and the result was a familiar one. An inconsistent offense on Monday night led to another gut-wrenching close loss, 4-2, droppping the Yankees’ record in games decided by two or fewer runs to 14-23 this season. The only team worse in MLB? The Phillies.

The most frustrating part of the game was that they had six doubles – setting themselves up to drive in a bunch of runs – yet scored only twice. Only once before in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) had the Yankees finished a game with at least six extra-base hits and no more than two runs scored – an 8-2 loss on August 12, 1965 to the …. Minnesota Twins.

The game still had its highlights, however, with a few notable performances by our Baby Bombers. Clint Frazier legged out two ‘hustle’ doubles, giving him eight extra-base hits in his short 11-game career, the second Yankee ever to with that many hits for extra bases in his first 11 career games. The other? Someone named Joe DiMaggio.

One night after getting his first big-league hit, Garrett Cooper went 3-for-4 and drove in a run, earning our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: Over the last 100 seasons, he’s the only Yankee first baseman to have a three-hit game this early into his career (fourth game).

Caleb Smith pitched in his first major-league game, giving the Yankees the honor of being the first team this season to have 12 players make their MLB debut. Although he ended up allowing the game-winning runs, his performance was noteworthy: he’s the first Yankee since Jose Rijo in 1984 to make his debut as a reliever and strike out at least five guys in the game.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

One game, two wins
Tuesday was a win-win for Yankee fans on and off the field: the team beat the Twins 6-3 thanks to some rare clutching hitting, while the front office delivered some much-need bullpen and corner infield help via a blockbuster trade with the White Sox.

On the field, facing their ol’ buddy Bartolo Colon, the Yankees chased the 44-year-old in the fifth inning as they exploded for five runs to erase a 3-1 deficit. Here’s a #FunFact about Colon (with a shout-out to loyal Twitter follower and guest RAB writer @LFNJSinner): Colon has faced 500 different players in his career, and two of them were the two managers in the dugouts for this series – Joe Girardi (1-for-2 vs. Colon) and Paul Molitor (2-for-8 vs. Colon).

Let’s not forget amid this current collapse that this Yankees team doesn’t ever quit. It was their 14th comeback victory when trailing by at least two runs in the game; only the Diamondbacks and Astros (both with 15) had more such wins through Tuesday.

As for the big news off the field, the Yankees and White Sox completed their first major-league trade since they acquired Nick Swisher in exchange for Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez in November 2008.

By adding David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle (welcome back, guys!) on Tuesday, the Yankees once again appear to be building a dynamic super-pen filled with power flamethrowers to dominate the middle and late innings.

Entering Wednesday, there were 18 relievers in the American League that had pitched at least 20 innings and boasted a strikeout rate of at least 32 percent. Five (!) of them will be wearing pinstripes for the rest of the season – Tommy Kahnle (42.6%), Dellin Betances (42.5%), Chad Green (37.4%), David Robertson (35.6%), Aroldis Chapman (32.7%).

At first glance, Todd Frazier‘s 2017 slashline doesn’t seem to be very encouraging: .207/.328/.432 in 280 at-bats. But their might be some bad luck baked into those numbers. His BABIP of .214 was the second-lowest among qualified hitters at the time of the trade. That includes an unfathomable .144 BABIP in 40 home games.

Statcast metrics tell a similar story: Using the launch angle and exit velocity of his batted balls, you can get a better picture of a hitter’s quality of contact and his true skill, independent of ballpark, defense, etc. That can be expressed in a metric called expected weighted on-base average (wOBA), which is just like OBP but gives a player more credit for extra-base hits.

Based on that method, Frazier had a spread of 29 points between his expected wOBA and actual wOBA, the 10th-largest differential among the 175 players with at least 250 at-bats this season. To put that into perspective, his actual wOBA of .333 ranked 109th in that 175-player sample — the same as Yunel Escobar — while his expected wOBA of .362 ranked 35th — on par with guys like Cody Bellinger (.365) and Robinson Cano (.367).

After a slow start, Frazier also has been heating up recently. Since June 17, he has a wRC+ of 140 in 96 plate appearances – a mark that ranks in the 80th percentile among all players and is better than any other Yankee in that span (min. 75 PA).

Deja vu all over again
If the Yankees were truly going to pull out of their never-ending tailspin and actually win a series, a trip to Minnesota to face the Twins would seem to be the perfect way to jumpstart an extended run. Consider these stats entering this series:

  • 19-6 (.760) at Target Field, the highest winning percentage for any team at any stadium since at least 1913 (min. 15 games).
  • Had never lost a series at Target Field, which opened in 2010.
  • Won five straight series overall against the Twins, tied for their longest active series-win streak versus any AL team (also won five in a row against the Royals).
  • Oh, and the Twins have the worst home record in the AL.

Welp.

Historical success couldn’t help the Yankees, as they lost Wednesday afternoon and fell to 0-8-2 in their last 10 series since sweeping the Orioles at Yankee Stadium June 9-11. It was their first series loss against the Twins since 2014 and their first in Minnesota since 2008.

If not for the second inning, the Yankees might have had a chance to actually break out of their slump. All six of the Twins’ runs came in the second frame and all six also came with two outs, a rare two-out implosion by Jordan Montgomery. Over his previous eight starts combined, the lefty had allowed just five two-out runs and had held hitters to a .180/.255/.340 line with two outs.

The Yankee offense couldn’t bail out Montgomery, either, as their struggles with runners scoring positioned deepened (1-for-7), resulting in another disappointing loss. Even more depressing than their lack of clutch hitting is the recurring nightmare of failing to close out series:

The Yankees have now lost their last nine games in which they had a chance to clinch a series win, and have also dropped 10 consecutive series finales, including eight straight on the road. Overall, this was their 10th loss in a “rubber game” (third game of a three-game series in which the teams split the first two games), which leads all MLB teams this season.

Yankeemetrics: Massive skid extends into break (July 7-9)

(AP)
(AP)

Groundhog Day in July
Another series, another bullpen failure, and the epic freefall continued with an embarrassing 9-4 loss on Friday night against the Brewers. The all-too-familiar late-inning implosion led to the Yankees 17th blown save, tying the Rangers for the most in MLB, and officially passing their total from last year. Yup, it’s July 10th.

Tyler Clippard once again was the conductor of this bullpen trainwreck, surrendering the game-losing runs in the seventh inning on a tie-breaking grand slam by Jesus Aguilar. Getting pummeled in key late-inning situations is nothing new for Clippard. Batters are slugging .711 against him in high-leverage plate appearances, the highest mark among major-league pitchers this season (min. 50 batters faced). And, for reference, Aaron Judge was slugging .701 after Friday’s game.

Clippard now has 11 Meltdowns – a metric at FanGraphs which basically answers the question of whether a relief pitcher hurt his team’s chance of winning a game. Those 11 Meltdowns are the most for any AL pitcher and tied with Blake Treinen (Nationals) and Brett Cecil (Cardinals) for the major-league lead.

And if the late-inning self-destruction wasn’t depressing enough, the Yankees also failed to take advantage of a sloppy five-error defensive performance by the Brewers.

You have to go back more than five years to find a team that lost a game despite their opponent committing five errors – the Giants against the Diamondbacks on April 8, 2012. And the last time the Yankees suffered such a mistake-filled loss was July 9, 1995 vs. the Rangers.

The one thing that salvaged this game from being another W.L.O.T.S. (Worst Loss of The Season) was – no surprise – another record-breaking performance by Aaron Judge. He hammered his 30th home run of the season in the fifth inning, becoming the first Yankee rookie ever to hit 30 homers. Forget the rookie qualification, Judge is only the third player in franchise history to hit 30-or-more homers before the All-Star break, joining Alex Rodriguez (30 in 2007) and Roger Maris (33 in 1961).

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Boom goes Frazier!
With the Yankees down 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth and staring at another soul-crushing defeat on Saturday afternoon, Clint Frazier came to the rescue and stunningly flipped a near-disaster loss into a rousing walk-off party, drilling a 97-mph fastball over the left field fences for the win.

Showing off his “legendary bat speed,” Frazier made a serious dent in the Yankee record books:

  • Before Frazier, the last Yankee to hit a walk-off homer against the Brewers was Roberto Kelly on Sept. 18, 1991.
  • He is the youngest Yankee (22 years, 305 days) with a walk-off dinger since a 21-year-old Melky Cabrera on July 18, 2006 versus the Mariners.
  • Frazier is the first Yankee rookie to hit a walk-off homer that turned a deficit into a win since Bobby Murcer on Aug. 5, 1969 against the Angels.
  • And, he is the youngest Yankee ever to launch a walk-off home run with his team trailing.

frazier-walk-off-gif

Frazier’s historic game-winning hit capped off a three-hit, four-RBI day by the red-headed rookie:

First, his single in the bottom of the fifth inning broke up Brent Suter’s no-hit bid and also completed the “career cycle” – Frazier’s first three hits in the majors were a home run, triple and double. Then, his run-scoring triple in the seventh inning cut the Yankees deficit to 3-2, and made him the youngest Yankee with a triple in back-to-back games since a 22-year-old Don Mattingly on July 30-31, 1983.

Finally, let’s hand out our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series to Mr. Frazier: He is the first Yankee to be a double short of the cycle in a game since Derek Jeter on April 30, 2010, and the youngest to do that since Mickey Mantle on May 22, 1954.

As the late-game struggles have become a recurring nightmare in recent weeks, it’s easy to forget that we had anointed this team as the Comeback Kids during the first two months. Saturday was the third time the Yankees won a game in which they trailed entering the ninth inning, matching their entire total from all of last season.

Luis Severino struggled out of the gate when he put the Yankees in a 3-0 hole after giving up a three-run bomb in the first inning. Aside from that rocky start, the 23-year-old right-hander was brilliant in blanking the Brewers for six more frames. He finished with 10 strikeouts, the fourth time this year he’s struck out double-digit guys. Severino is the youngest Yankee ever with four 10-strikeout games this early into the season (game number 85).

Aaron Judge didn’t give us any home run heroics, but still added to his unprecedented statistical rookie season on Saturday with his 60th walk – highlighting his rare combo of patience, power and production. Judge is the first player in major-league history age-25-or-younger to pile up at least 30 homers, 60 walks and 95 hits before the All-Star break.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Bad Tanaka is back
There would be no inspiring comeback, no walk-off magic, no wild celebration in Sunday’s rubber game as the Yankees headed to the All-Star break on the heels of another disheartening loss. They ended the unofficial first half of the season with one of their worst extended slumps in the last quarter century, going 0-7-1 in their final eight series and losing 18 of their last 25 games.

The last time the Yankees went eight straight series without a series win — and lost at least seven of them — was August/September 1991. Before this season, they hadn’t endured a 25-game stretch that included at least 18 losses since May/June 1995. And then there’s this sobering fact … the last time the Yankees actually won a series (June 9-11), the Cleveland Cavaliers were still the reigning NBA champions.

The most frustrating part of the game was the Yankees endless string of bad clutch hitting, as they went 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position. It was their worst single-game performance in that situation (min. 15 at-bats) since a 1-for-17 effort on June 8, 2014 against the Royals.

Aside from the pathetic Yankee bats, the biggest culprit in Sunday’s loss was Masahiro Tanaka, who put the Yankees in an early 4-0 hole after the Brewers crushed two homers in the first two innings off him. That brought his dinger total to 23, one more than he coughed during the entire 2016 season.

While much has been made of his weird day/night splits (7-3, 3.10 ERA in night games; 0-5, 14.81 ERA in day games), the more troubling split is his performance versus teams with a .500 or better record compared to a losing record. He’s now 1-5 with a 10.87 ERA in six starts against winning teams, and 6-3 with a 3.66 ERA in 12 starts vs losing teams.

For the second straight day Clint Frazier did his best to rally the troops, belting a two-run opposite-field homer in the fourth inning to cut the Yankees deficit to one run. It was his third home run in seven career games, the fourth Yankee to go yard that many times within their first seven major-league contests. It’s quite an eclectic list: Shelley Duncan, Jesus Montero and Steve Whitaker are the others.

Aaron Judge went 1-for-4 with a walk and heads to the All-Star festivities with an unreal batting line of .329/.448/.691. Since the first Mid-Summer Classic in 1933, Judge is the only Yankee right-handed batter to enter the break with at least a .320 batting average, .440 on-base percentage and .690 slugging percentage (min. 200 at-bats).

Yanks dominate Baseball America’s and Baseball Prospectus’ top prospects lists

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

The final preseason top 100 prospects lists have arrived. Baseball America released their annual top 100 prospects list last Friday, which is free to read. You do need a subscription to check out the scouting reports, however. Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi claims the top spot, with White Sox 2B Yoan Moncada and Braves SS Dansby Swanson rounding out the top three.

Seven Yankees farmhands made Baseball America’s top 100 list. Here are the seven:

5. SS Gleyber Torres
39. OF Clint Frazier
45. OF Blake Rutherford
85. SS Jorge Mateo
87. RHP James Kaprielian
90. OF Aaron Judge
91. LHP Justus Sheffield

Torres went from No. 41 last year to No. 5 this year. Kaprielian did not make the top 100 last year, missed most of the 2016 season with a flexor strain, and now ranks as the 87th best prospect in baseball. He must have been awfully impressive in his 45 innings.

Baseball America’s top 100 list came out last week. Then, earlier today, Baseball Prospectus published their annual top 101 prospects list. That one is free to read as well. Cardinals RHP Alex Reyes, not Benintendi sits in the top spot. Benintendi was No. 1 on every other top 100 list this year. Swanson and Benintendi are Nos. 2 and 3.

The Yankees had a whopping nine players make Baseball Prospectus’ top 101 list. The nine:

15. Torres
16. Frazier
43. Mateo
49. Rutherford
52. Sheffield
58. Kaprielian
63. Judge
82. RHP Albert Abreu
101. SS Tyler Wade

Neither Abreu nor Wade made any of the other top 100 lists this year. I didn’t expect Wade to come close to one of these lists, really. I thought I was the high man on him. Apparently not. Also, RHP Chance Adams did not make any of the top 100 lists this spring. I thought he’d sneak on to the back end of one. Alas.

Anyway, I said all I have to say about top 100 lists when Keith Law and MLB.com released theirs, so I don’t have anything to add now. Just pleasantly surprised to see Wade grab the last spot on the Baseball Prospectus list. Now that the four major publications have posted their lists, we can average out the rankings:

BA BP Law MLB Average Rank
Torres 5 15 4 3 6.8
Frazier 39 16 27 24 26.5
Rutherford 45 49 22 37 38.3
Kaprielian 87 58 28 58 57.8
Judge 90 63 44 45 60.5
Sheffield 91 52 88 79 77.5
Mateo 85 43 NR 47 81.3
Abreu NR 82 NR NR 133.0
Wade NR 101 NR NR 137.8

The guys who did not rank on a particular list (NR) went in to my quick little spreadsheet as a 150 for calculation purposes. So Mateo’s composite ranking of 81.3 is the result of averaging 85, 43, 47, and 150. Got it? Good. This applied to Mateo because he didn’t make Law’s list, and Abreu and Wade because they only made Baseball Prospectus’ list.

The top six guys in the table made all four top 100 lists. Based on the rankings, the Yankees have one bonafide top ten prospect in Torres — Baseball Prospectus is the low man on him and they’re dragging his composite ranking down — plus two other top 40 prospects (Frazier, Rutherford) and two other top 60-ish prospects (Kaprielian, Judge). That’s pretty great.

Among those top six guys, Judge is the only safe bet to graduate to the big leagues this year. Forty-six more at-bats and he’ll no longer be prospect eligible. Others like Frazier and Kaprielian could reach the big leagues this summer, though it seems unlikely either will spend enough time in New York to lose prospect eligibility. Moreso in Kaprielian’s case given last year’s injury.

Point is, most Yankees prospects who appeared in the various top 100 lists this year figure to remain prospect eligible next year, and again appear in the top 100 lists. That’s the hope, anyway. Hopefully no one’s stock drops. Add in a possible breakout from someone like, say, 3B Miguel Andujar or 3B Dermis Garcia, plus the team’s 2017 first round pick (16th overall), and the Yankees could have another eight or nine top 100 prospects next year, and by then most will be MLB ready. Fun fun fun.