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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are their lines through five games:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building the 2017 Wild Card Game roster

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

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

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

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

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

The Locks

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

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

Locks, If Healthy

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

The Extra Starters

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

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

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

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

The Final Bench Spots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

Clinch homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game

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

Try to get Betances straightened out

(Presswire)
Dellin. (Presswire)

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

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

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

Let Green pitch back-to-back days

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

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

Keep running Bird out there

(Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

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

Let Sanchez catch Montgomery

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

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

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

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

Play Hicks as much as humanly possible

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

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

Make sure Warren gets all the way back

Warren. (Presswire)
Warren. (Presswire)

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

Test Wade as a pinch-runner

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

Win at least three more games

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

Yankees have little choice but to demote Dellin Betances and hope he figures things out in lower leverage spots

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

In what has been an ongoing theme all season, the Yankees have a problem in their bullpen. They’ve never had everyone clicking at once. Not even for a game or two, it seems. There’s always been that one guy who is out of sorts. It was Tyler Clippard for a while, then Adam Warren, then Dellin Betances, then Aroldis Chapman. On and on. All season long there’s been someone struggling.

The problem right now is, again, Betances, who faced four batters last night and recorded one out, on a gift bunt. He hit a batter and walked the other two. Overall, Betances now has a 17.3% walk rate this season — that’s 43 walks to 249 batters faced in 56.2 innings — and he’s also hit ten batters. Ten! He hit eight batters total from 2014-16. Only nine pitchers have hit more batters than Betances this season and they’re all starters.

“(Sunday) he located extremely well and I thought it was a game that got him back on track. Today it kinda reared its ugly head again. We’ll keep trying to figure it out,” said Joe Girardi following last night’s game and Dellin’s latest rough outing. “I haven’t really made any decisions (about roles). We just came off a pretty emotional game and a big win. We’ve got to get him straightened out because he’s really important to us moving forward.”

Here’s the thing to understand about Betances: it’s not command. Command is painting the corners and dotting the knees. He’s never had good command, even when he’s been great. Betances has had basic strike-throwing problems pretty much all season. We’re talking simple “throw the ball over the plate” stuff. Dellin’s stuff is good enough that he can get outs and swings and misses in the strike zone. Just getting the ball over the plate is the problem right now.

Girardi can be loyal to a fault at times, though he has demoted relievers when their performance warranted such a demotion this season. Clippard eventually stopped seeing high-leverage work. Chapman lost the closer’s job for a while. And now it’s time to move Betances out of a late-inning role until he straightens things out. I mean, last night was Game 150 of the season. The time for patience is over. It’s time to take away some responsibility and try to get him right in lower leverage spots.

The Yankees are fortunate right now to have a) a fairly sizeable lead in the wildcard race, and b) a pretty deep bullpen. Chapman seems to be back on track, meaning David Robertson can set up and Chad Green can still do his multi-inning fireman thing. Tommy Kahnle has been better of late too, so there’s your fourth option. Imagine being able to demote your four-time All-Star setup man and still have those guys to lean on? Pretty cool.

Can the Yankees get Betances on track? I mean, maybe. It could click tomorrow. It’s difficult to predict things with Dellin, who has a long history of losing the strike zone and finding it again. Until he finds it though — and he might not find it, that’s the problem — Girardi and the Yankees should not, you know, use him in one-run games against the team chasing you in the standings like last night. Let someone else handle those big spots for the time being.

There are 12 games and 13 days remaining the regular season. That’s all. There’s not much time for Dellin to hopefully figure things out, but the Yankees have to hope he does, because they’re a better team when he’s dominating. With any luck, they’ll clinch a postseason spot soon, giving them the luxury of using Betances in any situation without concern for the standings. A few meaningless game to close out the regular season would be nice.

Until that happens though, Betances’ control problems are too great to ignore, and he shouldn’t see high-leverage work at all. Chapman was demoted from his familiar closer’s role a few weeks ago because it was the best thing for the team, and now it’s time to demote Betances from his familiar eighth inning role because it’s the best thing for the team. The best thing for the team and the best thing for Dellin too.

Yankeemetrics: Breaking the Camden Yards Curse (Sept. 4-7)

(AP)
(AP)

No sleep, no problem
Fresh off an inspiring series win over the Red Sox, the Yankees started the first leg of their grueling nine-game, three-city road trip under less-than-ideal conditions. Not only did they arrive in Baltimore in the wee hours of Monday morning for an afternoon game, but the Charm City has been a nightmare locale for them in recent years. They entered this series 9-24 on the road vs. the Orioles since the start of the 2014 season, easily their worst road mark against any AL team over the past four seasons.

Yet, despite their sleep deprivation and terrible record at Camden Yards, the Yankees stayed hot and got a critical win against one of the teams chasing them in the crazy AL wild card race. It was another come-from-behind victory as they trailed 3-0 after two innings, then rallied with seven unanswered runs in the middle innings en route to the 7-4 final.

Didi Gregorius sparked the comeback with a two-run blast in the fourth inning, his 20th homer of the season, which matches his career-high set last year. Even more impressively, Didi became the first shortstop in franchise history with back-to-back 20-homer seasons. He’s also put himself in the conversation as one of today’s elite shortstop sluggers too: the only other major-league shortstop to hit 20-plus dingers in both 2016 and 2017 is the Astros’ Carlos Correa.

Starlin Castro capped off the rally with a tie-breaking two-run shot in the fifth inning, his 13th home run this year, but the first one he’s hit that gave the Yankees a lead. It was also the fourth straight game he’s homered against the Orioles, the longest homer streak by a Yankee against them since Yogi Berra did it in 1955.

Aaron Judge didn’t participate in this home run derby but he did have a productive afternoon, getting on base five times in five plate appearances via a career-best four walks and a single. The four walks pushed him past the century mark for the season and etched his name in the record books alongside some franchise legends.

Four Yankees have hit at least 35 homers and walked 100 times in their age-25 season or younger: Aaron Judge, Mickey Mantle (1955, ’56), Lou Gehrig (1927) and Babe Ruth (1920).

Judge’s flawless performance at the plate also earned him our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series (and one of the most unique “lists” we’ve produced here). He is the fourth Yankee in the last 100 years to have four walks and a hit in a road game against the Orioles. The others: Paul O’Neill (1996), Snuffy Stirnweiss (1947) and Lou Gehrig (1932)!

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Nightmare in Charm City
It had been nearly two weeks since our latest update to the Worst Loss of the Season standings, so perhaps Tuesday’s gut-wrenching and stunning defeat was inevitable …. though that still doesn’t eliminate the frustration of yet another bullpen implosion and miserable loss.

One out away from nailing down the Yankees fourth straight win, Dellin Betances served up a hanging curveball to Manny Machado, who quickly deposited the pitch into the centerfield seats, flipping a 6-5 lead into a shocking 7-6 loss. Entering the game, opponents had slugged .127 when putting his curveball in play this season, the second-lowest mark among pitchers that had thrown at least 300 curves.

Now let’s get the straightforward gory losing details out of the way, before we dive into the #FunFact minutiae (all ranks through Tuesday’s games):

  • 23rd blown save, tied for the third-most in baseball. The only seasons in franchise history the Yankees had more were 1988 (24) and 1997 (25).
  • 24th one-run loss, the most in the American League – and twice(!) as many as they suffered last year. Yup, regression to the mean sucks.
  • Fourth loss when taking a lead into the ninth inning; that’s the same number that they piled up in the previous three seasons (2014-16) combined.

Despite their dreadful recent history of failure at Camden Yards, their latest loss here was somehow unprecedented for the Yankees in this city. It was the first time they ever lost on a two-out walk-off home run in Baltimore, and the first time ever that the Yankees lost via a game-ending homer in Baltimore when leading at the time of the blast.

If you’ve felt that this season has been one of the most excruciating ever to be a Yankee fan – with too many of those “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” games – here’s the stat that might explain it:

Tuesday’s mess was the third time this year the Yankees suffered a shocking loss on a game-ending hit when they were one out away from victory. This is the first time since at least 1930 (as far back as we can search this stat on baseball-reference.com) that the Yankees have suffered three such losses in a season.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Holy cow, they did it!
The Nightmare in Charm City has finally ended — and in typical Bronx Bomber style. Powered by four home runs, the Yankees routed the Orioles, 9-1, in Thursday’s rubber game, snapping their streak of 11 straight series lost in Baltimore. It was their second-longest road series losing streak against any opponent in team history, behind a 12-series one in Oakland from 1985-91.

How long had it been since they tasted victory there? The last time the Yankees took a series at Camden Yards, the date was on September 12, 2013, the winning pitcher in the series-clinching win was Mariano Rivera, and the winning run in that game was scored by Brendan Ryan on a wild pitch in the top of the ninth inning.

The Yankees continued their assault on Orioles pitching in 2017 (like most other teams this season), averaging a whopping 8.0 runs per game with 36 homers and a .573 slugging percentage in 15 games — each of those are their best single-season marks against the franchise since it moved to Baltimore in 1954.

Aaron Judge ignited the dinger-fueled fireworks with a majestic two-run bomb to deep right-center, his 39th of the season. That moved him into sole possession of second place on MLB’s all-time rookie home run leaderboard, trailing Mark McGwire’s 49-homer campaign in 1987. The blast also extended his personal annihilation of the O’s pitching staff: in 15 games this year, he is hitting .449 (22-for-49) with nine homers and 18 RBIs against them.

He joined Graig Nettles — who went deep 10 times against the Indians in 1974 — as the only Yankees in the Divisional Era (since 1969) with at least nine homers in a single season against one opponent. The list of Yankees to hit nine or more longballs in a season against the Orioles/Browns franchise is a good one, too: Judge, Tommy Henrich (1941), Joe DiMaggio (four times), Lou Gehrig (twice) and Babe Ruth (three times).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Links: Walker, Best Tools, Bullpen, Food Safety

Random photo is random. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Random photo is random. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox will wrap up their three-game weekend series with the ESPN Sunday Night Game later today. The game should end sometime Monday morning. Anyway, here are some bits of news and notes to check out.

Yankees, Mets had Walker deal

More Yankees-Mets trade deadline drama. According to Mike Puma, the Yankees and Mets agreed to a Neil Walker trade prior to the trade deadline, but the Yankees backed out due to medical concerns. Puma says the Mets believe the Yankees used the medical concerns as an excuse to back out after finishing the Sonny Gray trade. Hmmm. Walker returned from a partially torn hamstring a few days before the trade deadline and had back surgery late last year.

Walker, 31, was traded to the Brewers last night and is hitting .264/.339/.442 (107 wRC+) with ten home runs in 299 plate appearances this season. Although he’s primarily a second baseman, the Mets also used Walker at first and third bases. He’s an impending free agent and the Yankees would have presumably used Walker at second base until Starlin Castro returned, then shifted him into a utility role. Eh, whatever. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little sick of this Yankees-Mets drama.

Baseball America’s best tools survey

One of my favorite features of the year is Baseball America’s annual best tools survey. They poll managers and coaches and scouts about the best tools and players in their leagues, from MLB all the way down to Low-A. Here’s where the various Yankees ranked:

Bell, the longtime big leaguer, is in his first season managing High-A Tampa after spending 2013 as the Pirates hitting coach and 2014-15 as the Reds bench coach. I’m curious to see what the Yankees do with him going forward. If Bell is a highly regarded managerial prospect as the survey suggests, either the Yankees are going to have to move him up the ladder, or they’ll lose him to an organization that will move him up.

Also, must be a down year for relievers in the Sally League, huh? Lane, who has since been promoted to High-A Tampa, is a 23-year-old former tenth round pick, and a sinker/slider lefty with middling velocity and a low arm slot. A classic left-on-left matchup profile. He’s got really good numbers this year, throwing 57 innings with a 1.26 ERA (2.26 FIP) and strong strikeout (27.1%) and walk (6.7%) rates. Not sure he’s much of a prospect though.

Yankees top ZiPS bullpen projections

Not surprisingly, the Yankees sit atop the ZiPS bullpen projections for the rest of the season, so says Dan Szymborski. Projections don’t really mean anything, of course. They’re not predictions. They’re more like an estimate of talent level. Anyway, here’s what ZiPS has to say about New York’s new-look bullpen:

Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman was already one of the best, if not THE best, one-two relief punch in baseball. Now you add in David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, the latter possibly the most underappreciated player acquired this deadline. Even Adam Warren has been lights-out, with a 1.97 ERA/2.69 FIP. Not to mention the team’s remaining big acquisition: Adding the complete absence of Tyler Clippard.

The bullpen before the Robertson/Kahnle trade: 3.39 ERA (3.33 FIP). The bullpen since the Robertson/Kahnle trade: 2.09 ERA (2.64 FIP). That 3.39 ERA (3.33 FIP) before the trade is a little deceiving too, because Jonathan Holder and especially Clippard had become wholly unreliable. They started the season well before crashing hard. The Yankees needed to fix their bullpen at the trade deadline, and they did exactly that. Too bad the starters are all getting hurt and the offense has since gone in the tank.

Yankees lagging in food safety rankings

Earlier this week Tanner Walters, using public inspection records, compiled ballpark food safety rankings. How clean are the facilities, is everything stored properly, so on and so forth. Yankee Stadium ranks 21st among the 28 parks in the rankings (data wasn’t available for Progressive Field or Comerica Park), and ranking 21st among 28 teams seems not good? From Walters:

Yankee Stadium led the league with critical violations (62% of its stands), and an infestation of flies highlighted the inspections from late July in the Bronx. Inspectors handed out citations at over a dozen food entities around the ballpark for observation of flies and improper vermin-proofing. The city doesn’t give detailed observations in its reports, but nearly a quarter of the stadium’s violations came from improper maintenance for non-food surfaces. Last year, even without a fly problem, Yankee Stadium would have finished in the same spot in our rankings. The ballpark had fewer overall violations but more that were critical, mostly from the restaurants and suites.

Kinda gross! Even with recent improvements, the concessions at Yankee Stadium lag big time in quality and selection behind the rest of the league — the concessions at Citi Field are so much better it’s not even funny, and it’s not just Shake Shack — and apparently they’re lacking in cleanliness and proper food safety too. Yuck.