The big trade with the White Sox is having a huge impact so far this postseason

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

Later tonight, the Yankees will again play another elimination game as they meet the Indians in Game Five of the ALDS. The Yankees were down 0-2 in this series once upon a time. They won Games Three and Four at home to force tonight’s winner-take-all Game Five. I’m sure the Indians are feeling some pressure right now. The Yankees? No one expected them to win anyway. This is all gravy.

The Yankees are one win away from the ALCS for many reasons, including their starting pitching performances in Games Three and Four. Greg Bird has been especially productive so far this postseason, ditto Aroldis Chapman out of the bullpen. You don’t get to where the Yankees are right now by leaning or one or two guys. It takes a team effort to get here and the many folks have contributed to the team’s success.

Through five postseason games so far, one thing is pretty clear: the Yankees don’t get to Game Five of the ALDS without making that big trade with the White Sox in July. The trade that sent Tyler Clippard and three prospects, most notably 2016 first rounder Blake Rutherford, to Chicago’s south side for Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle. That was a pretty fun night. The news of the trade broke, and we all waited for the games to end so it could be made official. Remember that?

Immediately after the trade, Robertson rejoined the bullpen Circle of Trust™ and Frazier stepped in as the everyday third baseman, pushing Chase Headley to first. Kahnle never really had a set role during the regular season aside from the guy who pitches when the top relievers aren’t available for whatever reason. All three guys helped the Yankees get to the playoffs, and they’ve all contributed in the postseason, especially Robertson and Kahnle.

  • Frazier: Had three hits in ALDS Game Two and also opened the scoring with a double against Trevor Bauer in Game Four on Monday.
  • Kahnle: Five innings of no effs given relief. 15 up, 15 down. That includes 2.1 innings in the Wild Card Game and a two-inning save in ALDS Game Four.
  • Robertson: He’s allowed one run in 5.1 innings so far. Most notably, Robertson threw 3.1 innings of hero ball in the Wild Card Game last week.

When the Yankees acquired Robertson and Kahnle, they brought them in to supplement what was already a strong bullpen … on paper. Chapman struggled basically all year prior to September, and Dellin Betances hasn’t been able to stop walking people. Robertson and Kahnle went from luxury pieces — as if there is such a thing as too many good relievers — too essentials, Robertson in particular.

Frazier is, quite clearly, a flawed hitter. He hits for a low average and pops up a lot — those two things are very related — but he also draws walks and can hit for power, and he improved the third base defense as well. And, on top of that, Frazier has been a Grade-A clubhouse dude. He seems to genuinely love playing in New York and everyone with the team seems to love having him around. Frazier joined the Yankees and fit right in.

To me, the key to the White Sox trade was the fact the Yankees gave up basically nothing off their big league roster. Moving Clippard in the trade was essentially addition by subtraction because he was so bad. These were three immediate upgrades to the roster. Robertson replaced Clippard. Kahnle replaced Chasen Shreve, who was sent to Triple-A. Frazier replaced Ji-Man Choi, who was designated for assignment and eventually sent to Triple-A.

For all intents and purposes, the Yankees turned three revolving door roster spots into quality MLB players with this one trade. They also told the guys who were already here that hey, we believe in you, you’re good enough to win, and we’re going to get you the help we need. First base was a problem, so they got Frazier and moved Headley to first. The bullpen was a problem, so they got two high-strikeout arms. All without moving a player who was helping them win games.

Sure, Rutherford could rebound from his down season and become a future All-Star and No. 3 hitter. Ian Clarkin could develop into a mid-rotation starter and Tito Polo could stick in the league for a decade as a fourth outfielder. There’s always the risk that you’re trading away a quality player(s) and end up regretting up. Every trade is a calculated risk. The Yankees were willing risk Rutherford’s long-term potential for the immediate impact of Frazier, Kahnle, and Robertson, and there’s zero chance they regret it right now.

Keep in mind the big trade with the White Sox was not a pure rental deal. Frazier will be a free agent after the season, but Robertson is under contract next year and Kahnle is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2020. That was part of the appeal. The trade helps now and later. And right now, the three players acquired in the trade are having an impact in the postseason, especially Robertson and Kahnle. This deal is a major reason why the Yankees are one win away from the ALCS.

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.

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.

Saturday Links: Otani, Top Double-A Prospects, Robertson

Dingers. (Getty)
Dingers. (Getty)

The final road series of the 2017 regular season continues this afternoon with the middle game between the Yankees and Blue Jays in Toronto. That’s a 4pm ET start. Here are some links and notes to check out in the meantime.

Manfred doesn’t expect any side deals with Otani

While speaking to Jim Hoehn earlier this week, commissioner Rob Manfred said he doesn’t expect teams to get away with any sort of side deal with Shohei Otani, should he come over to MLB this offseason. There’s been plenty of speculation that whichever team signs Otani could agree to a massive contract extension in advance, then sign him after some predetermined length of time. Here’s what Manfred said:

“With respect to the speculation about what clubs are going to do, in today’s basic agreement structure, there’s only so much that you can do in an effort to avoid the rules and I have an outstanding staff in New York,” Manfred said. “If you’re talking about doing something with a 14-year-old kid in the Dominican Republic that nobody’s ever heard of, you might get past us. Given the focus on Otani, not only by our office, but by the clubs as a group, I think that it’s very, very unlikely that a club is going to be able to avoid the rules and not be caught.”

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes language targeting potential international hard cap circumvention. Ben Badler has a breakdown. Among other things, teams can not agree to sign players to an MLB contract at a set point in the future, or give him non-monetary compensation. Masahiro Tanaka‘s contract, for example, included moving allowances and an interpreter and round trip flights between New York to Japan.

MLB wants to treat Otani like any other player, meaning when he inevitably signs a big extension, they want it to be in line with other players at that service time level. The largest contract ever given to a player with one year of service time is the seven-year, $58M deal the Braves gave Andrelton Simmons. That was five years ago, so inflation has to be considered. If Otani comes out and throws 170 innings with a 3.50 ERA and hits .280/.350/.450 in 400 plate appearances next year, how would MLB be able to argue he is not at least a $150M player?

Three Yankees among top Eastern League prospects

Baseball America (subs. req’d) continued their look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league this week with the Double-A Eastern League. Red Sox 3B Rafael Devers sits in the top spot. Three Yankees farmhands made the list, not including Athletics SS Jorge Mateo, who placed eighth on the list based on his time with Trenton before the trade. Here are the three Yankees:

  • 10) 3B Miguel Andujar: “Andujar has above-average raw power and should have the bat to profile at third base … His hands are soft enough and his arm is strong enough, but he has a tendency to lower his arm slot, which leads his throws astray.”
  • 11) LHP Justus Sheffield: “He couples his fastball with a slider and changeup that waver in their consistency but project as plus for some scouts … Some see him as a No. 2 starter, while others see a back-end starter or a potentially dominant reliever based on his shorter stature and durability questions.”
  • 12) RHP Domingo Acevedo: “Opposing managers marveled at the way Acevedo can place his fastball, which parks in the mid-90s and can touch as high as 98 mph …He tends to throw mostly fastballs, so the Yankees mandated he go offspeed in certain counts, even against his instincts.”

That Acevedo mandate is pretty interesting. It’s certainly not uncommon for teams to mandate pitchers throw, say, a certain number of changeups per start. But go offspeed in specific counts? That’s a new one. I wonder whether that shows up in the stats at all. Acevedo had a 2.38 ERA (3.19 FIP) in 79.1 innings for Trenton, but did he get predictable because he was throwing offspeed in certain counts? Hitters could’ve keyed in on that.

Anyway, Sheffield and Acevedo are the two highest rated pitchers on the list. Also, SS Gleyber Torres was not eligible for this list because he only played 32 games with Trenton before being promoted, otherwise I’m sure he would’ve ranked first or second. The conflicting scouting reports on Andujar are kinda funny. This report says his hands are “soft enough” while the Triple-A International League list said his “hard hands could be too much to overcome.” Hmmm.

Also, in the chat, Josh Norris said SS Thairo Estrada was very close to making the list. “Managers around the league paid him plenty of compliments for his ability to get on base and play solid defense at both second and shortstop (once Torres left for Scranton) as well as his leadership abilities on the field and work ethic behind the scenes,” said the write-up.

Robertson a Marvin Miller Man of the Year award finalist

MLBPA announced this week that David Robertson is the AL East finalist for this year’s Marvin Miller Man of the Year award. Eduardo Escobar, Mike Trout, Steven Matz, Anthony Rizzo, and Buster Posey are the finalists for the other divisions. Each team nominates a player and the six finalists were chosen through fan voting. The winner will be decided by a player vote. The Marvin Miller Man of the Year award goes to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community most inspire others to higher levels of achievement.” MLBPA makes a $50,000 donation to charity on the winner’s behalf. Mariano Rivera won the Marvin Miller Man of the Year award back in 2013, so Robertson is trying to follow in Mo’s footsteps (again).

Saturday Links: Cave, McKinney, Gardner, Robertson, Top Tools

McKinney. (Times Leader)
McKinney. (Times Leader)

The Yankees and Orioles will continue their four-game series with the third game later this afternoon. That’s a 4pm ET start for whatever reason. Here’s some notes and links to check out in the meantime.

Yankees planning to add Cave, McKinney to 40-man

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees plan to add outfielders Jake Cave and Billy McKinney to the 40-man roster this offseason. Unless they trade them first, of course. McKinney, who came over in last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade, will be Rule 5 Draft eligible this December. Cave is due to become a minor league free agent, so he’ll have to be added to the 40-man pretty much right after the World Series. McKinney doesn’t have to be added until late-November.

Cave, 24, hit .305/.351/.542 (145 wRC+) with a career high 20 home runs this season. He reportedly made some swing changes in an effort to get the ball airborne more often, which explains the career high home run total, career low ground ball rate (43.1%), and career high strikeout rate (26.3%). The 23-year-old McKinney hit .277/.338/.483 (124 wRC+) with 16 homers this year. Both he and Cave split the season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. I’m not sure either guy is a long-term piece for the Yankees, but you can’t lose them for nothing either, so on the 40-man they will reportedly go.

Several Yankees among Law’s best tools

Last month Keith Law published his rankings of the best tools in baseball (hitting, fielding, pitching). Best hit tool, best power, best fastball, so on and so forth. I always enjoy lists like this. Anyway, several Yankees pop up in the various categories, so let’s round ’em up:

  • Best Power: Aaron Judge (second to Joey Gallo)
  • Best Fastball: Aroldis Chapman (second to Chris Sale)
  • Best Splitter: Masahiro Tanaka (first)
  • Best Curveball: David Robertson (fourth behind Corey Kluber, Lance McCullers Jr., Aaron Nola)
  • Best Catcher Arm: Gary Sanchez (fourth behind Willson Contreras, Jorge Alfaro, Yadier Molina)
  • Best Outfield Arm: Aaron Hicks (second to Bryce Harper)

The only real surprise to me is no Luis Severino in the best fastball category. (The top five was Sale, Chapman, James Paxton, Joe Kelly, and Justin Verlander.) Nothing else seems out of place to me. Sorta bold prediction: Chad Green tops the best fastball list next year, unless the only criteria is velocity. Green’s fastball is ridiculous.

Gardner, Robertson nominated for awards

Within the last few weeks MLB and the MLBPA announced nominees for two prestigious awards. Brett Gardner is the Yankees’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award while Robertson has been nominated for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award. Both awards are decided by fan voting, which seems ridiculous, but whatever. Here is the Marvin Miller Man of the Year ballot. Voting for the Roberto Clemente Award doesn’t begin until October. Here are the nominees.

The Roberto Clemente Award is giving annually to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Curtis Granderson won the award last year and Derek Jeter won in 2009. As for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, that one goes to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement.” Granderson won that last year too. Mariano Rivera won it in 2013. Congrats to Gardner and Robertson. Just getting nominated for these awards is an honor.

MLB, NPB negotiating new posting agreement

Before Shohei Otani can come over to the big leagues, Major League Baseball and Nippon Pro Baseball must first agree to a new posting system. The release fee system, which brought Tanaka to MLB four years ago, had to be renewed each year, and earlier this year MLB requested a renegotiation. There’s technically no posting system in place right now, so there’s no official way for Otani to leave Japan for MLB.

Anyway, Jim Allen recently broke down the latest posting system proposals. In both proposals, the compensation paid to the player’s former NPB team would be a percentage of the money he receives from an MLB team. It’s basically 15% up to a maximum of $20M. So, for example, if the Yankee were to sign Otani for $2M, they’d pay the Nippon Ham Fighters a $300,000 release fee. Needless to say, NPB teams are not having it. Under the now expired system, the NPB team sets the release fee ($20M max) and the MLB tam pays it when they sign the player.

Yankeemetrics: Feeling right at home in Queens (Sept. 11-13)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Let the good times roll …
Riding the momentum of a three-game win streak, the Yankees headed back to the Northeast to play a “road series” against the Rays at Citi Field due to Hurricane Irma. Despite spotting the Rays an early 1-0 lead, the Yankees were unfazed by the early deficit, and thanks to an explosive five-run fourth inning, cruised to a relatively easy 5-1 win on Monday. This game-script has actually become a familiar one for the 2017 Yankees (ranks through Monday):

  • 31st win when the opponent scores first, the most among AL teams and tied for the second-most in the majors.
  • Of course, it also helps that it was the 80th game this season in which they allowed the first runs of the game; only the Phillies and Athletics have more games.
  • 23rd time they scored at least five runs in an inning, tied with the Nationals and Astros for the most 5-or-more-run innings in MLB this season.

Todd Frazier turned a pitchers duel into a rout with a three-run homer in the fourth inning to give the Yankees a 5-1 advantage. The likelihood of him simply getting a hit in that situation – runners on first and second – was low: Frazier entered the game hitting .176 with men on base, the second-worst average in the majors (min. 150 at-bats).

The guy on first when Frazier went deep was Jacoby Ellsbury, who reached base via catcher’s interference for the 30th time in his career, breaking the major-league record for that obscure stat. The mark was previously set by Pete Rose, who got his 29 catcher’s interferences in a major-league-record 15,890 plate appearances; Ellsbury’s 30th came in his 5,308th plate appearance.

The unsung hero of the game was David Robertson, who took over for CC Sabathia with one out in the fifth and two men on base. He got out of the jam by striking out the next two batters and then held the Rays scoreless over next two frames. It was the first time in his career he pitched more than two innings and the earliest he entered a game since April 9, 2011.

How was D-Rob able to dominate the Rays? He peppered the edges of the strike zone with his signature cutter/curveball combo:

robertson

And got a few key outs with his devastating breaking ball (two strikeouts and two groundouts). Robertson’s curve is so nasty because of its ability to get whiffs and grounders at ridiculously high rates. More than 200 pitchers this year have thrown at least 100 curveballs, and only one other – Craig Kimbrel – can match Robertson’s 50 percent whiffs-per-swing rate and his 60 percent groundball rate with the pitch.

… and then see the good times come to a screeching halt
Buckle up, folks, this is going to be a bumpy and exasperating rollercoaster ride down the stretch in September. After enjoying a few days of offensive bliss, the Yankee bats crashed back down to earth on Tuesday. They were held to three hits – and didn’t get a runner past first base after the first inning – in a listless and boring 2-1 loss.

Yes, another one-run loss. It was their 25th of the season, which leads the American League and is also more than twice as many as they suffered last year (12). With a record of 15-25 (.375) in games decided by one run, they are still on pace for the fourth-worst winning percentage in those games in franchise history.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

They wasted another gem by Sonny Gray, who literally threw two bad pitches: his first one of the night, a 94 mph fastball up-and-away that Kevin Kiermaier deposited into the right-centerfield seats, and his 90th of the night, another elevated four-seamer that Adeiny Hechavarria clobbered for a tie-breaking solo homer in the eighth inning.

Kiermaier’s shot was the ninth leadoff homer allowed by the Yankees this season, which is one more than their pitchers gave up in 2015 and 2016 combined. For Gray, it was the first time in his career he surrendered a longball on the first pitch he threw in a game.

This lack of run support has become a recurring nightmare for Gray, who is 3-5 with a 2.66 ERA in eight starts with the team. In those five losses, they have scored a total of four runs. Tuesday’s heart-breaker was the fourth time as a Yankee that he got charged with a loss despite giving up no more than two earned runs. That’s the most such losses suffered by any starting pitcher in the majors since Gray made his first start in pinstripes on August 3. #KillTheWin

Gray certainly doesn’t deserve this fate, so let’s celebrate how terrific he’s been this season. It was his eighth consecutive road start allowing no more than two earned runs, the longest streak in the AL this season. The streak dates back more than three months, and during that stretch he’s posted a 1.99 ERA in those eight road starts, the best mark in the AL among guys with at least 35 innings pitched since June 1.

(AP)
(AP)

Survive and advance
Not even another massive RISPFAIL performance can stop the Fighting Spirit freight train that the Yankees have been riding this season. Despite leaving a small navy of runners on base and wasting a ton of scoring chances, the Yankees escaped with a 3-2 win on Wednesday to win their fourth straight series.

Joe Girardi went to The Binder early, yanking Jaime Garcia with two outs in the fifth inning after he’d only thrown 78 pitches and had allowed just one run at the time. This has become a signature call for Girardi this season — it was the 13th time a Yankee starter was removed before completing five innings, despite not giving up no more than two earned runs. That’s the most such starts by any AL team and tied with the Brewers for the MLB-high.

Yet you could hardly fault Girardi for an early hook with Garcia, given his massive splits when facing batters multiple times in a game (stats and ranks entering Wednesday):

  • 1st time through order: .542 OPS, ranked 15th out of 172 starters with at least 100 batters faced
  • 2nd time through order: .783 OPS, ranked 88th out of 171 starters with at least 100 batters faced
  • 3rd time through order: .989 OPS, ranked 114th out of 119 starters with at least 100 batters faced

[And it also helps when you have a Pitching Cyborg — aka Chad Green — with 99 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings and a 1.96 ERA ready to go in the bullpen]

Brett Gardner — living up to his G.G.B.G. nickname — was the rare Yankee who came through in the clutch, driving in two runs with a bases-loaded single in the second inning that would end up as the game-winning hit. He is now 11-for-21 (.524) with the bases loaded since the start of last season, the best mark among any AL player with at least 20 at-bats and the second-best in MLB behind Daniel Murphy.

David Robertson has quickly become the Yankees’ best and most indispensable reliever

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees ran into a bit of a predicament last night. CC Sabathia labored through the first four innings against the Rays — he allowed only one run, but he had to work hard for just about every out — and Tampa was again threatening in the fifth. They had two on with one out, and the middle of the order due up. The Yankees were up 5-1 at the time, so with one swing of the bat, it could’ve been 5-4.

Normally, that’s a Chad Green situation. He’s been the middle innings monster all season, often throwing multiple innings when the starter’s outing is cut short. It was a classic Green situation. The problem: Green was not available. He threw 2.1 innings and 47 pitches Sunday. So, Joe Girardi did the next best thing. He went to David Robertson. And he stuck with him. Nine up, eight down, 2.2 scoreless innings to get through the seventh.

The role of Green was played by Robertson last night. Green is the guy we’re used to seeing enter in the middle of the game, fire off 2.2 scoreless innings, then hand things over to the late-innings guys. Robertson is usually the one-and-done reliever. He pitches the seventh or the eighth or the ninth, and that’s usually it. But, with Green unavailable, he went out and threw those 2.2 innings. Needed only 36 pitches too.

“That was his last hitter. I had (Dellin Betances) ready to come in. It was his last hitter. He kept his pitch count down and we felt comfortable running him back out there,” said Girardi of Robertson’s lengthy performance following last night’s game (video link). “I think he’s really adopted the attitude that ‘I’m a real team player and I’ll do whatever you want.’ He said that from Day One … Let’s win. Whatever you need to do, do it.”

It has now been eight weeks since the Yankees re-acquired Robertson, and in those eight weeks he’s thrown 26.2 innings with a 1.35 ERA (2.36 FIP) and stellar strikeout (35.6%) and walk (7.7%) numbers. After the trade Robertson told Girardi to use him whenever and not worry about a set role, and the manager has obliged. Robertson has appeared in 22 games with New York. Here’s when he’s entered:

  • Fifth Inning: One game (last night)
  • Sixth Inning: Two games
  • Seventh Inning: Six games
  • Eight Inning: Eight games
  • Ninth Inning: Four games
  • Extra Innings: One game

“I look at the spot in the fifth inning when I came in as being the same as coming in in the eighth inning. That was point where we needed to stop their momentum,” said Robertson following last night’s game (video link). “I don’t care when I pitch. I’ll do whatever it takes to get us back to the playoffs and give us a chance to get another ring.”

Since returning to the Yankees, Robertson has been the team’s best reliever. Well, second best behind Green, I’d say, but Green seems to be in his own little world of awesomeness. Robertson has been the best among the team’s regular late-inning guys. Betances has had walk trouble all year, and it has been extreme at times. Aroldis Chapman has had his ups and and downs too. Tommy Kahnle has disappointed and Adam Warren is hurt. Robertson has been steady and reliable.

Acquiring Robertson was never a luxury — remember how bad the bullpen was at the time of the trade? — though he’s become even more of a necessity than I think even the Yankees expected. Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery are no longer locks for five innings, nevermind six, and Green isn’t available for days at a time given his multi-inning role. It’s been Robertson who has stepped in to fill in the gaps, and do whatever the team needs. Sometimes it’s get three outs, and sometimes, like last night, it’s been get eight outs.