2017 Midseason Review: The Bullpen

(AP)
(AP)

The Yankees’ bullpen was supposed to be a strength in 2017 after it helped hold together the 2016 squad. Aroldis Chapman back, Dellin Betances still in middle relief and some intriguing young players.

And it looked like a continuation of 2016 early on. But things have quickly gone off the rails over the last month. Here’s a rundown of the top players in the Yankees’ pen so far this year.

Dellin Betances

Key Stat: 8.26 walks per nine innings

Betances has never been known for his pinpoint control, but he’s barely had an idea where the ball is going in recent weeks. Like many of the guys on the roster, reviewing Betances’ season is almost like reviewing two seasons.

Through the end of May, he was the Yankees’ best reliever as expected. In 17 1/3 innings, he struck out 32, walked nine, gave up eight hits and just one earned run. That’s an ERA of just 0.52. There’s a reason he just made his fourth straight All-Star appearance.

But his 11 innings since June began have been troubling. He’s walked 17 in 11 innings, allowing nine runs despite giving up just six hits (and still striking out 21). He blew multiple games (Toronto, Houston, Chicago come to mind).

He hasn’t looked anything like this since he first came up in 2011. Sure, he’s had walk issues (4.3 per nine in 2015), but this has been pretty absurd. 20.6 percent walk rate. He actually still has the same strikeout rate because his stuff is still there. Whether it’s been his nasty curve or his fastball, they’ve betrayed him at times. The Blue Jays game last week jumps to mind.

One issue that could have led to his lack of command has been his usage. From May 9 to May 21, he picked up just two outs. From June 3 to June 12, he pitched in just one game and got just one out. It’s nice to see a lesser workload for the big man who’s been overused at times in his career, but he needs to get into games more often. Part of his underuse was the injury to Chapman leading to Joe Girardi using Betances as a traditional closer.

Aroldis Chapman

Key Stat: 35 days on the disabled list

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Perhaps the worst nightmare of a team giving a reliever a five-year deal is them spending significant time on the DL with a shoulder injury. That fear was realized when Chapman went down with rotator cuff inflammation in May.

Chapman seemed off at start of the year. His velocity was down, although it wasn’t too worrisome at first. The big lefty usually doesn’t hit peak velocity until mid-season. Still, seeing him toy with his changeup more and throw *merely* in the high 90s was a caution flag. Beginning with his struggles against Boston on Apr. 26, he looked hittable. It came to a head when he blew a three-run lead during the Yankees’ 18-inning win in Chicago. He simply couldn’t put guys away, which may have been due to his lower velocity, down one mph across the board so far in 2017.

His stuff has looked good since he returned and his strikeouts are still there. His underlying stats (1.16 FIP, career worst strand rate) indicate that a second-half resurgence is likely. Yet this is certainly not what the Yankees imagined when they signed him to a long-term deal.

Let’s get to some of the weird stats. He has allowed zero home runs this year. He has a .426 BABIP but a 27.3 percent infield fly ball rate. His 2.09 GB-to-FB ratio is easily a career high (previous was 1.58 in 2016, never higher than 1.25 since 2011). Surely he’ll allow a home run at some point and some of the BABIP spike can be from more groundballs getting through, but it’s still a little different than the Chapman we expected.

Tyler Clippard

Key Stat: 12 meltdowns

Welp.

It hasn’t been a pretty last two months for Clippard. He started to fall apart right after I wrote that fans should appreciate the homegrown talent. Mike was very much on point saying that his lack of home runs would soon change (although I never thought otherwise), but it was tough to see things going quite this poorly, at least for me.

For two months, he was a seemingly reliable pitcher. There were some rough games, including a blown game against the Orioles in his second appearance. But he struck out batters at a career-best rate through two months and had limited walks and hard contact enough to earn high leverage spots. The red flags of his high strand rate (88.5 percent through May) and zero homers in May made it fairly obvious he wouldn’t maintain that level of effectiveness.

Still, it went south worst than expected. Way worse. One could have easily projected he’d give up more homers, but for him to completely fall apart was disheartening. Relievers are fungible and such is life.

From June 4 to July 7, he threw 11 1/3 innings, gave up 16 earned runs, walked 10 and surrendered five homers, culminating fittingly in a grand slam against the Brewers this weekend. That’s 7.9 walks and 4.0 homers per nine innings. His K-BB rate was 3.4 percent. Batters hit .298/.414/766 against him in that time. Before that, they hit a paltry .150/.244/.238.

At this point, one has to wonder whether he makes it through the season, let alone the month. His stuff seems to have had a little more life on it in recent games, but the results simply aren’t there and trotting him into high leverage situations right now is a costly mistake.

Adam Warren

Key Stat: 18.1 K-BB percentage

Warren has been one of the Yankees’ more reliable relievers this season and it’s started to earn him some spots ahead of Clippard since he returned from the DL last week. He missed 18 days with right shoulder inflammation, although it didn’t seem to be anything too serious. He’s jumped right back to form for the most part.

In April, he was mostly a long reliever despite being in short relief to end 2016. In seven appearances to start the year, he had six of at least four outs and four of seven-plus outs. He came in with the team ahead or behind, keeping games within reach or preventing any comebacks.

After Chapman’s injury, he moved into short relief as Girardi’s 7th-inning game. He had three blown leads but was competent, bringing a 2.23 ERA into his stint on the DL beginning June 16.

What has he had working for him? His strikeout and walk rates are both career bests. He’s utilized his slider more (up 12 percent) while decreasing the usage of his other offspeed stuff. While that doesn’t necessarily account for his better control, it could be the reason he’s struck out more batters.

There is a red flag: His 2.9 percent HR/FB rate. He’s bound to let some balls leave the yard in the second half. He has an increased groundball rate and GB/FB ratio, which could help explain part of that.

Since returning to the Yankees last July, he has a 2.59 ERA in 66 innings with batters slashing .191/.260/.298 against him. It’s been a nice welcome back.

Chad Green

Key Stat: 34.7 percent strikeout rate

Green. (Getty)
(Getty Images)

Since coming up for the first time in May, Green has been a revelation in relief. He’s mostly filled in with Warren’s old role of the multi-inning reliever, throwing 33 innings in 17 games, including one brief start.

Green displayed his potential last year in the rotation and was one of the last cuts in spring training‘s battle for the fifth starter role. He’s struck out batters at every level but his fastball-slider combo seemed best suited for relief (S/O against to Mike, who called it).

Perhaps his biggest flaw in 2016 was his performance against lefties, who posted a 1.014 OPS against the righty. He actually has a slight reverse split in 2017 in a small sample, giving up just four hits in 35 at-bats vs. LHBs. He’s introduced his cutter more at times but he’s also just relied more on his four-seamer, throwing it over 60 percent of the time the last two months.

His flyball has increased, but HR/FB way down from 25 percent to 9.4, much closer to league average. The 25 percent last year seemed like somewhat an outlier. Even a few more homers won’t spoil his 1.91 ERA too much

Overall, he’s blowing people away with mid/upper 90s fastball and his top notch slider, sporting a 5.25 K/BB ratio. He looks more and more like a late inning reliever and his ability to throw multiple innings increases his value moving forward.

Jonathan Holder

Key Stat: 5 meltdowns in 32 games

Holder earned a spot in the bullpen this spring after making a brief call-up in September. After pitching mostly in mop-up duty to start the year, he slowly inched his way into a few higher leverage spots, but he never rose too high in the bullpen pecking order. His best outings came in the Cubs series, when he earned a win in the first game before throwing three shutout innings in relief during the 18-inning affair.

As stated above, he had a few meltdowns. He was tossed into a one-run game against the Orioles Apr. 30 and handed the Orioles a 4-2 lead against the heart of the order. He allowed the Royals to blow a game open in May. And he received a blown save and a loss during the cursed West Coast trip.

In the minors, Holder made his name for his high strikeout rate. His 22.9 percent K rate in 2017 isn’t bad, but it’s not quite what he was doing in the minors. The team still seems high on the 24-year-old and he’s been solid this year. Not spectacular, but fine in low-leverage relief.

It’s easy to forget because he was sent down for a while and didn’t factor into many decisions, but he’s thrown the third-most relief innings for the Yankees behind Warren and Clippard. In the second half, he’ll surely get another chance to stick in the majors.

15 pitchers have seen time in relief for the Yankees this season. Not quite the shuttle of past years, though they’ve shuffled through multiple guys in recent weeks. Chasen Shreve has seemed to stick as the token lefty with Tommy Layne gone and he’s been … pretty average. Better than last year, but not near his dominant summer of 2015. I’m a believer in Bryan Mitchell and Domingo German as potential relievers, but they likely won’t see much time in the eight-man pen.

With Clippard’s struggles, the Yankees surely will be in the market for a reliever. For now, they’ll have to hope for better second halves from Chapman and Betances alongside continued success from Warren and Green.

Cano’s home run gives AL a 2-1 win in the 2017 All-Star Game

Those socks tho. (Presswire)
Those socks tho. (Presswire)

Once again, the American League has proven it is the superior and more enjoyable league. The AL won the 2017 All-Star Game at Marlins Park on Tuesday night thanks to Robinson Cano‘s tenth inning home run against Wade Davis. The final score was 2-1. Cano hit the homer and was named MVP. Andrew Miller got the save. Ex-Yankees all over the place.

With the win, the AL has tied up the all-time All-Star Game series at 43-43-2. Both leagues have scored exactly 361 runs too. Freaky. The AL has won each of the last five All-Star Games and 17 of the last 21 overall. Total dominance. Here’s video of the Cano home run:

Man do I miss watching that guy’s swing on a daily basis. I still have nothing but love for Robbie.

As for the Yankees, Aaron Judge started the game in right field and went 0-for-3 before being removed. He struck out against Max Scherzer, grounded out again Carlos Martinez, and flew out against Alex Wood. Judge didn’t have to make any tough plays in the field. He made it out in one piece and that’s all that matters.

Dellin Betances threw the third inning for the AL and danced in and out of danger. His inning went single (Zack Cozart), strikeout (Charlie Blackmon), strikeout (Giancarlo Stanton), walk (Bryce Harper), walk (Buster Posey), ground out (Daniel Murphy). Luis Severino did not pitch in the game. He said he was slated to pitch the 11th had the game continued. Lame, but I guess he could use the rest.

It wasn’t until the sixth inning that Gary Sanchez came off the bench to replace Salvador Perez. He grounded out against Brad Hand and struck out against Kenley Jansen. (Future Yankee?) Yonder Alonso was on second base with one out in a 1-1 game that at-bat. Womp womp. Not a great day for the Yankees, but whatever. Who cares?

Here is the box score and video highlights. Now that the All-Star Game is over, every team in the league will have Wednesday and Thursday off. The Yankees begin the second half Friday night at Fenway Park for the first game of a four games in three days series with the Red Sox. Going right back into the fire, eh? Enjoy the rest of the All-Star break.

Yankeemetrics: Epic freefall reaches new low (July 3-5)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Return of The Ace
Is he back? That was the burning question in the Bronx after the Yankees returned home and notched a 6-3 win over the Blue Jays in the series opener, a game featured a third straight strong outing by Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka was brilliant, going seven innings while allowing one run with eight strikeouts – and no home runs. He has a 1.29 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 21 innings and a .495 OPS allowed over his last three starts; a massive improvement from his first 14 starts (6.34 ERA and .910 OPS allowed).

One of the biggest keys for Tanaka during this excellent stretch of back-to-back-to-back outings has been his ability to keep the ball on the ground and limit hard-hit balls. His groundball rate has jumped from 47 percent in the first two and a half months to 61 percent in his last three games, while his rate of hard contact has been cut from 35 percent to 19.6 percent.

When he was at his worst – during those first 14 starts – he allowed an average airball exit velocity of 93.8 mph, the worst mark through June 22 in the majors (min. 100 batted balls). He’s lowered that number by nearly 10 mph since June 23, to a stellar 84.2 mph that ranks fifth-best in MLB over the last two weeks (min. 15 batted balls).

Digging deeper, we can see that Tanaka has been much more precise with his off-speed stuff, locating his slider and splitter consistently at the knees and below the zone:

tanaka-first-14

The depth on those pitches is also significantly better, with his slider showing nearly an inch more downward movement and his splitter dropping a half-inch more over his last three starts. All of that has resulted in opponents slugging .146 in 40 at-bats ending in his splitter or slider over his last three starts, compared to .469 in his first 14 starts.

While Tanaka’s gem and return to ace form were the biggest stories of the game, let’s put the spotlight on another player that’s quietly produced one of the best all-around first-halves by any Yankee.

Brett Gardner hit his 15th double of the season, giving him these numbers as we near the mid-summer classic: 15 doubles, 15 homers, 10 steals, 56 runs and 35 walks – power, pop, speed, patience and scoring. The only other Yankee to reach each of those totals before the All-Star break (since 1933) is Rickey Henderson in 1986.

(AP)
(AP)

Yankee Doodle Dud
July 4th is a storied day in Yankees history – Lou Gehrig’s ‘Luckiest Man’ speech, George Steinbrenner‘s birthday, Dave Righetti’s no-hitter, John Sterling’s birthday – but this year there would be no indelible moments, no joyous celebration, no fireworks at Yankee Stadium. Instead, they followed up Monday’s encouraging win with another dull loss, 4-1, on Tuesday afternoon.

The last time the Yankees won back-to-back games was June 11-12, a string of 21 games during which they’ve gone 5-16. This is just the third time in the last two decades the Yankees have gone 20-or-more games without a win streak; the other droughts came in July/August 2013 (24 games) and August/September 2012 (25 games).

CC Sabathia, making his first start since a three-week stint on the disabled list, retired the first eight batters he faced but then didn’t get another out, getting pulled after giving up four runs in the inning. Those four earned runs allowed in the third frame matched the same number he had surrendered over a combined 36 1/3 innings in his previous six starts.

Aaron Judge saved the day from being a disaster when he homered in the fourth inning. Judge’s 28th longball of the season was a sizzling shot that went 456 feet and left his bat with an exit velocity of 118.4 mph. It was the fourth time he’s hit a homer that hard … and in related news, the rest of MLB has combined for ZERO home runs with an exit velocity of 118-plus mph this season.

Following the game, Chris Carter was designated for assignment for the second time in two weeks. If this is finally the end of the Chris Carter Experiment, he’ll have earned himself an inglorious place in the franchise record books: Carter would be the first Yankee ever to get at least 200 plate appearances in a season and finish with twice as many strikeouts (76) as hits (37).

(AP)
(AP)

Another collapse, send help
And the mind-numbing tailspin continues in the Bronx. The Yankees dropped the rubber game of the series, 7-6, suffering another crushing defeat in which they battled back from five runs down to take the lead only to have the bullpen self-destruct yet again.

Let’s update those ugly bullpen-implosion numbers from the last Yankeemetrics:

Stat Notes
16 Blown Saves – Through 83 games last year, they had only six (in three fewer save opportunities);
– The same total they had the entire 2016 season
17 One-Run Losses – Five more than all of last year;
– 11 of them since June 1, the most of any team in that span
11 losses when scoring at least five runs – The same number they had all of last year;
– Through 83 games in 2016, they had six such losses;
– 8 of them have come since June 1, the most in MLB

Chad Green ignited the meltdown when he coughed up the game-tying homer in the seventh, and then Dellin Betances put grease on the fire when he walked in the go-ahead run in the eighth.

Betances simply can’t find the strike zone now. His total lack of command has been really acute in his last four games, during which he has walked 10 of the 20 batters he’s faced and thrown only 41 of his 97 pitches for strikes.

Wednesday marked just the second time he’s ever walked four guys in an outing – the other instance was his first career big-league appearance on Sept. 22, 2011. Betances also joined Edwar Ramirez (July 20, 2007) as the only Yankees in the last quarter-century to give out at least four free passes and get one or fewer outs in a game.

For the season, he’s now at 8.56 walks per nine innings and a 21.1 percent walk rate, both of which would be the worst marks by any Yankee with at least 25 innings pitched since Ryne Duren in 1960 (9.0, 21.4%).

The beginning of the game was just as horrible to watch as the ending, with Michael Pineda getting shelled by the Toronto lineup. They crushed three homers off him, the second time in his last two home games he’s given up at least three dingers. The only other Yankee pitchers to allow at least three longballs in back-to-back games at Yankee Stadium were Kei Igawa (2007) and Red Ruffing (1941) – but neither of those two guys only pitched four innings or fewer in both games, like Pineda did.

The bullpen blowtorch erased what had been a rousing comeback, one that was sparked by Aaron Judge. The pinstriped cyborg drove in the first two runs of the game with his 29th home run of the season, matching Joe DiMaggio for the Yankee rookie record … with 79 games remaining on the schedule.

Perhaps more incredible is this stat, which illustrates his rare and legendary combination of power and patience: Three Yankees have compiled at least 200 total bases and 50-plus walks before the All-Star break – Judge, Mickey Mantle (1956) and Lou Gehrig (1936).

Yankeemetrics: The sinking pinstriped ship (June 30-July 2)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Sleep is overrated
The Yankees arrived in Houston early Friday morning, bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, but that didn’t stop them from putting together one of their most satisfying wins of the season against the best team in baseball.

The 13-4 rout also capped off one of the most bizarre months for any Yankees team in recent memory. They went 13-15 in June, the 20th best record in the majors last month. Not good. Yet they compiled a run differential of plus-56 that ranked second only to the Dodgers. Very good!

Two stats tell this perplexing story: The Yankees led MLB with nine wins by at least five runs, and tied for the MLB lead with nine losses by exactly one run. It was the first time the Yankees had nine wins by five-or-more runs in a single month since July 2010; and the first time in at least the 15 seasons they had nine one-run losses in a single month.

At the center of the offensive explosion was Brett Gardner, who went 3-for-5 — including his third career grand slam — and a career-high-tying six RBIs. He’s just the second Yankee leadoff batter to drive in six runs in a game, along with Hank Bauer on May 10, 1952 against the Red Sox. Gardner is also just the fifth Yankee to have multiple 6-RBI games as a leftfielder; this is a fun list: Alfonso Soriano, Bob Meusel, Charlie Keller and Babe Ruth.

Although Aaron Judge was hitless in four at-bats, he still notched his 29th and 30th walks of the month, etching his name in both the MLB and franchise record books. The ridiculous power and patience he showed in June was nearly unprecedented, especially for such a young player:

  • Judge is the fourth Yankee with at least 30 walks, 10 homers and five doubles in a calendar month. The rest of the names should be familiar by now: Mickey Mantle (June 1957), Lou Gehrig (twice) and Babe Ruth (seven times).
  • Among all major-leaguers age 25 or younger, only six others besides Judge walked at least 30 times and had at least 70 total bases in a month: Mantle (June 1957), Eddie Mathews (July 1954), Ted Williams (twice), Mel Ott (June 1929), Keller (August 1939) and The Babe (twice).
(AP)
(AP)

Deja vu all over again
Another series, another candidate for W.L.O.T.S. (Worst Loss Of The Season).

In what has become an all-too-familiar theme for this Yankees team, they followed up one of their most impressive wins of the season with one of their most brutal losses, and the bullpen flames were raging again on Saturday night. Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman self-destructed in the eighth inning, blowing a three-run lead as the Yankees suffered another horrible come-from-ahead loss, 7-6.

Here are some of the gory details behind the Yankees recent string of late-inning meltdowns:

Stat Notes
15 Blown Saves – 10(!) more than they had at this point in the season last year (in just four more save opportunities);
– Yeah, they had 16 all of last year
16 One-Run Losses – Four more than they had through 79 games last year;
– 10 of them have come since June 1, tied with the Phillies for the most in that span
5 losses when leading by at least three runs – Matches the same number they had in all of 2016;
– At this point last year, they had one such loss
10 losses with at least five runs scored – One fewer than they had all of last year;
– Through 79 games in 2016, had six such losses;
– 7 of the 10 losses have come since June 1, the most in MLB

Dellin Betances was the biggest culprit in the eighth inning, getting only two outs while allowing three stolen bases, four earned runs, three walks and a homer. Yikes.

betances-long-gm2-apHe is just the third Yankee pitcher to allow at least three stolen bases in an outing of fewer than one inning pitched, and he’s the only one of those three to also allow an earned run.

But its the rest of his ugly pitching line that earns Betances of our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series:

He’s just the second Yankee ever to give up at least four earned runs, walk at least three guys, allow a homer while facing no more than six batters. The other was Hank Johnson on June 17, 1925 against the Tigers, a 19-1 loss that included a 13-run sixth-inning implosion by Yankee pitchers.

The story of the game should have been about the historic and dazzling major-league debut of Clint Frazier, who went 2-for-3 with a double and homer. His six total bases were the most by a Yankee his first career game over the last 100 years, and he also became the first player in franchise history to hit a home run and a double in his big-league debt.

Perhaps even more impressive … at 22 years and 298 days old, he was the youngest Yankee rightfielder with a homer and a double in any game since Mickey Mantle on May 30, 1952.

Didi Gregorius also took his turn in the spotlight, crushing his first career grand slam. The only other Yankee shortstops in the last three decades with a grand slam were Starlin Castro (August 5 last year) and Derek Jeter (June 18, 2005).

(AP)
(AP)

At least they scored a run
The Yankees early-summer slide deepened with another listless defeat on Sunday afternoon, as the bats went cold and the arms were lit up by the Astros powerful lineup in an 8-1 loss. They’ve now gone winless in six straight series, their longest such streak since an eight-series winless streak spanning July and August of 2013.

Luis Severino had one of his worst performances of the season, getting tattooed for nine hits — six doubles, a homer and two singles — and six runs in 5⅓ innings pitched. Yet he still flashed dominance with his fastball-slider combo, striking out a quarter of the batters he faced (7 of 28).

That pitching line gives us an unfortunate statistical connection for Severino …. The only other Yankee in the last 100 seasons to pitch fewer than six innings while surrendering at least seven extra-base hits and getting at least seven strikeouts in a game was Michael Pineda on April 24, 2016 against the Rays. #SmallSevy

The only other notable number to come out of this game was One — the number of runs they scored in the ninth inning to avoid being shutout for the first time this season. This is the sixth time in franchise history they’ve gone at least 80 games into the season without being blanked and the first time since 1988.

The franchise record? That would be held by the 1932 team, which scored at least one run in every game that season. In related news, the 1932 Yankees went 107-47 and swept the Cubs in the World Series. Oh, and a man named Babe Ruth hit a sorta famous home run in Game 3 of that series:

Judge and Sanchez among five Yankees selected to the 2017 All-Star Game

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are sending five players to the 2017 All-Star Game in Miami next week. Sunday night the two All-Star rosters were announced and Dellin Betances, Starlin Castro, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino will be there representing the Yankees. The Yankees haven’t had as many as five All-Stars since they had eight in 2011. Here are the full rosters.

Judge will start this year’s All-Star Game after receiving more fan votes (4,488,702) than any other AL player. He’ll be the first Yankee to start the Midsummer Classic since Derek Jeter in 2014, his farewell season. Only Bryce Harper (4,630,306) received more fan votes among all players. Judge has also been invited to the Home Run Derby, though he’s yet to announce whether he will participate.

It goes without saying Judge is very worthy of starting the All-Star Game. He’s been a monster. Judge is currently hitting .327/.448/.687 with an MLB best 27 home runs this season, and he leads the league in runs, total bases, RBI, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, and both versions of WAR. He is, quite simply, having one of the greatest rookie seasons in baseball history. Love that guy.

Some fun facts about Judge’s All-Star Game selection:

  • He’s the sixth position player drafted by the Yankees to become an All-Star. He joins Jeter, Brett Gardner, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson, and Jorge Posada. (The draft has been around since 1965. Bernie Williams was signed as an international free agent, not drafted.)
  • He received more votes than any other player on the players’ ballot. His peers gave him more All-Star Game love than any other player. I bet that means more to Judge than the fan voting.
  • He’s the first AL rookie to be voted an All-Star Game starter since Hideki Matsui in 2003. Matsui was a veteran from Japan though, not a true rookie.

Both Betances and Castro were selected to the All-Star Game for the fourth time in their careers. Betances has made it each of the last four years. Betances, Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer are the only pitchers who can make that claim. Castro was an All-Star with the Cubs in 2011, 2012, and 2014. Judge, Sanchez, and Severino are first time All-Stars. Sanchez has also been invited to the Home Run Derby, though, like Judge, he’s yet to decide whether to accept the invite.

The big story here is that four homegrown Yankees are All-Stars, and three of them are no older than 25. Even Castro, the non-homegrown All-Star, is still only 27. I wonder how long it’s been since the Yankees had five under-30 All-Stars? Has to have been a while, right? Judge, Sanchez, and Severino did not need to be selected to the All-Star Game to be validated as cornerstone Yankees, but it sure is cool they made it.

In addition to the five All-Stars, Didi Gregorius is on the Final Vote ballot. He’s up against Elvis Andrus, Xander Bogaerts, Logan Morrison, and Mike Moustakas. Royals fans are probably going to stuff the hell out of the Final Vote ballot like they do every All-Star ballot, but we’ve gotta try to get Gregorius there. He’s fun and he’s awesome. Fans all around the world need to experience the joy of Sir Didi. Here’s the ballot. Go vote a few hundred times.

As for snubs, I’d say Aaron Hicks and Matt Holliday deserved serious All-Star Game consideration, but they’re both currently on the disabled list. That surely worked against them. So did the numbers crunch. The All-Star Game rosters were trimmed from 34 players to 32 players this year. Either way, five (potentially six) All-Stars is pretty awesome. More than I expected.

Yankeemetrics: Invasion of the Baby Bombers (June 26-29)

(AP)
(AP)

Too close for comfort
The Yankees started their seven-game road swing with a win over the White Sox on Monday night, a game that nearly became an epic disaster thanks to this month’s recurring nightmare – The Bullpen Meltdown. The Yankees took a 6-1 lead into the ninth inning, but Chasen Shreve and Aroldis Chapman combined to surrender four runs before escaping with the 6-5 victory.

Getting back to the positives … Jordan Montgomery played the role of Streak Stopper with seven strong innings, eight strikeouts and one run allowed.

That performance capped off his best month in the big leagues, going 4-0 with a 2.59 ERA and 31 strikeouts over five June starts. He is just the sixth Yankee lefty under the age of 25 to put together a month with a sub-2.60 ERA and at least 30 strikeouts. The most recent guy to do it was Andy Pettitte in September 1996. The rest of the list: Dave Righetti (three times), Al Downing (August 1963), Whitey Ford (August 1953) and Lefty Gomez (twice).

Breaking news: Aaron Judge did not hit a homer in this game. But he was still a key offensive sparkplug with his 48th, 49th and 50th walks of the season. The only other Yankee age 25 or younger with at least 25 homers and 50 walks before the All-Star break (since 1933) was Mickey Mantle in 1956.

(EPA)
(EPA)

Rock bottom
We have a new contender for W.L.O.T.S. (Worst Loss Of The Season). Tuesday’s gut-wrenching loss established new levels of bullpen frustration and dreadfulness, as the Yankees snatched defeat from the jaws of defeat with an epic meltdown in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The Yankees entered the game as one of six teams this season without a loss when leading at the start of the ninth inning, and ended the game with their unfathomable 14th blown save of the season.

To put that into context, they had five (!) blown saves through 75 games last year – and nearly the same number of save opportunities: 28 in 2016 and 30 in 2017. So, yes, the state of the bullpen is as bad as the numbers say.

Dellin Betances got tagged with the loss and blown save, surrendering a walk-off single with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning. Before the game-losing hit, batters were 3-for-36 (.083) with the bases loaded against Betances in his career, the lowest mark among active pitchers that had faced at least 35 guys in that situation.

The most excruciating part of the loss is that the dumpster-fire relief corps ruined yet another Luis Severino gem. It was the sixth time this season that Severino was in line for the win but the game was blown by the bullpen. That’s the most such games for any pitcher in baseball through Tuesday’s slate.

Severino was dazzling and dominant, striking out 12 batters with no walks while giving up just one run in seven brilliant innings. At age 23 and 127 days, he became the youngest Yankee ever with at least 12 strikeouts and no walks in a game.

He is also one of just two pitchers this season to have 12 or more strikeouts, no walks, one or fewer earned runs allowed in a game, and not get the win. The other? His teammate, Masahiro Tanaka, on May 26 against the A’s. The Yankees are the first team in major-league history with two such games pitched in a single season. Welp.

Welcome to the bigs, Miggy
Less than 24 hours after suffering one of their most devastating losses of the season, the Yankees bounced back with one of their most enjoyable wins, a 12-3 romp in Chicago on Wednesday night.

The star of the show was 22-year-old Miguel Andujar, who re-wrote the record books with an unforgettable major-league debut. Let’s go through it plate appearance-by-plate appearance:

(AP)
(AP)
  • No. 1: two-RBI single. Youngest Yankee (22 years, 118 days) with an RBI in his major-league debut since a 21-year-old Deion Sanders in 1989.
  • No. 2: single. Youngest Yankee with a hit in each of his first two plate appearances of his MLB debut since Billy Martin did it in 1950.
  • No. 3: groundout. Booooooooooo.
  • No. 4: walk, stolen base. Joined Marv Throneberry (1955) as the only Yankees age 22 or younger with multiple hits, multiple RBIs and a steal in his first career game.
  • No. 5: two-RBI double. Became the first Yankee ever with four RBIs in a major-league debut, surpassing the previous record of three set by Martin in 1950 and Throneberry in 1955.

But that’s not all. We’ve got some bonus fun facts!

He is just the second major-league player since RBI became official in 1920 with at least three hits, four RBIs and steal in his first career game. The other was Roy Weatherly (Indians) in 1936.

And, finally, Andujar is the youngest Yankee with at least three hits, four RBIs and steal in any game since a 19-year-old Mickey Mantle on June 19, 1951 against the White Sox.

Aaron Judge also took his turn in the spotlight when he crushed his 27th homer of the season, a 115-mph laser over the left-field fence. It was his sixth home run of at least 115 mph this season, an astonishing number considering that:

  • every other player in baseball this season combined to hit just 10 such homers through Wednesday
  • no player in either 2015 or 2016 hit more than five such homers for the entire season

Before that homer, he walked in the fifth inning, extending his on-base streak to 30 games. Judge is just the third Yankee rookie since 1913 to reach base safely in 30 straight games, along with Truck Hannah (38 in 1918) – yes, a real person! – and Charlie Keller (40 in 1939).

Judge also finished the night with some nice round-number totals for the month of June: 30 runs, 10 homers and 25 walks. The most recent Yankee to reach those numbers in a single month was Mickey Mantle in July 1958. Besides Judge and Mantle, only two others in franchise history have ever put up those stats in a calendar month: Lou Gehrig (four times) and Babe Ruth (13 times, LOL).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Let’s forget this one and go to Houston…
The buzz at the start of Thursday’s game was yet another Baby Bomber coming-out party, the third in three games here in Chicago. This time it was outfielder Dustin Fowler, who became the ninth Yankee to make his big-league debut in 2017. That’s the third-most MLB debuts this early into the season (77 games) for any Yankee team since 1913 — the only years with more were 2015 (10) and 1944 (11).

Unfortunately, Fowler’s showcase ended in heart-breaking fashion as he suffered a ruptured patella tendon on the very first play he was involved in, crashing into the wall in right field trying to catch a foul ball in the first inning, before he even got an official major-league at-bat. Awful, just awful.

As for the rest of the game … the Yankees lost 4-3, their 15th one-run defeat of the season and three more than they had in all of 2016.

So that we don’t have to end this on a depressing note, let’s finish it off with an Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series, featuring our human highlight film, Aaron Judge.

He was walked three times, including once intentionally with the bases empty in the seventh inning. Judge became the third Yankee in the Divisional Era (since 1969) to be walked intentionally with nobody on base, joining Jason Giambi on July 7, 2003 against the Red Sox, and Reggie Jackson on August 29, 1980 against the Mariners.

At age 25, he’s the youngest Yankee ever — or at least since intentional walks became an official stat in 1955 — to get the “Barry Bonds treatment.” That last player as young as Judge on any team to get an intentional free pass with the bases empty was a 24-year-old Prince Fielder in 2008 against the Cubs.

A calm, rational discussion about the Yankees’ dumpster fire of a bullpen

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In a season full of ugly bullpen meltdowns, the Yankees hit a new low last night. Three relievers combined to walk six of 13 batters faced, and another was hit by a pitch. Dellin Betances, working for the third straight day, couldn’t protected a one-run lead against the bottom of the lineup. Why was he working for the third straight day? Because he had to bail out Jonathan Holder with a five-run lead (!) Monday night.

Holder was sent down prior to yesterday’s game, though by then the damage had been done. Betances had to pitch Monday night and Holder himself has helped blow a few games these last few weeks. He’s not the only problem though. Hardly. He’s part of the problem. Not the problem. Here is the bullpen in June:

4.56 ERA
4.55 FIP
25.2 K%
12.3 BB%
1.29 HR/9

Can’t win like that. Can’t be done. Not with starters throwing fewer and fewer innings each passing season. Bullpens are far too important to get that performance for a month and come out unscathed. The Yankees were four games up in the AL East as recently as 16 days ago and now they’re one game back, and they’re lucky they’re still that close. June has been a terrible month for the Yankees overall and especially the relief crew.

So what do the Yankees do now? It’s easy to say they should designated this guy for assignment, send down that other guy, and call up those two prospects I really like. I wish it were that easy. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman surely wish it was as well. Want to get this bullpen on track? Here are some possibly fixes.

1. Eight is too many. The Yankees have been carrying eight relievers for weeks now and I think it’s that’s too many. Even with a seven-man bullpen, that last guy gets used maybe once a week. Domingo German was brought into the eighth inning of a two-run game last night after pitching once in the previous nine days. How could you expect a kid who has never been a reliever before to be sharp after that layoff?

Removing an arm from the bullpen seems counterintuitive when no one can protect a damn lead, but less is often more. Shorten the staff to your seven best arms and make sure they each get enough work to stay sharp and ready to go. There’s a fine line between regular work and overwork, but Girardi is generally pretty good at toeing that line. Pick your seven best arms and let them carry the load. Eighth relievers only get used in blowouts, and in situations they’re unqualified to pitch, like German last night.

2. Get Betances to go back to the fastball. En route to blowing that game last night, Betances threw 21 pitches, and 13 of them were curveballs. Only six of the 13 were strikes too. Dellin has a great curveball! He’s also been leaning on it way too much lately. From Brooks Baseball:

dellin-betances-pitch-selection

This is something that goes back to last year. It’s not necessarily new. Throwing all those curveballs is fine when Betances can drop it in for strikes, but lately throwing it for strikes has been a problem, and he’s not adjusting. He’s been trying to force it in there anyway. Not good!

“I have to be able to rely on my fastball more. Probably got too breaking ball happy,” said Betances to Erik Boland following last night’s game, so he’s aware that all these curveballs can be a problem. Dellin has a great fastball. He was working for a third straight night last night and the pitch still averaged 97.5 mph and topped out at 98.2 mph.

Betances doesn’t have to shelve the curveball entirely. That would be silly. But I think he needs to start using his fastball more often — he’s at his best when he has close to a 50-50 mix a la 2014 and 2015 — because a) his heater is so good he’ll get swings and misses with it, and b) it’ll help keep hitters off the breaking ball.

3. Give Webb a shot. The Yankees have been trying to dig up a reliable left-handed middle reliever since last season and, for a while, Tommy Layne did the job. Chasen Shreve has been the guy last few weeks and he’s had his moments. He hasn’t been able to get back to where he was in the first half of 2014 and chances are he never will, though he has been better this season. Good, not great.

Webb is by no means a budding shutdown reliever — or maybe he is! — though the tools are there for him to contribute, and as something more than a left-on-left matchup guy too. He’s low-90s with the fastball and he throws both a slider and changeup regularly. It’s a starter’s repertoire in the bullpen. Webb throws strikes — he has a 34.1% strikeout rate and a 2.2% walk rate in Triple-A this year — and what more could you ask? Girardi would have killed for a reliever who could throw strikes last night.

Layne fizzled out and Shreve isn’t good enough to keep a middle relief spot uncontested. Webb did everything he had to do at Triple-A over the last four years, and the Pirates saw enough to give him a look in Spring Training as a Rule 5 Draft pick. Given the bullpen issues, the time to give the 26-year-old a chance is now. If it works, wonderful. If not, then you move on to the next guy. The Yankees have been there, done that with Layne and Shreve.

4. Consider Adams. I’m ready for the Yankees to stick Chance Adams, their top Triple-A pitching prospect, in the big league bullpen. I made this argument last week. Adams was a reliever in college and in his first partial season of pro ball, so he’s familiar with the role. He misses bats and he’s said to be a tough as nails competitor, and that’s never a bad thing. Adams has had success at Triple-A and there are plenty of reasons to believe he’s ready to help in some capacity.

Adams. (Presswire)
Adams. (Presswire)

I get that people are squeamish about putting a top starting pitcher prospect in the bullpen, but it’s really not that big a deal. Teams have been breaking in their young arms as relievers for decades. I know the Yankees seemed to botch things with Joba Chamberlain, but Luis Severino was in the bullpen last year, and look at him now. Severino doesn’t become the pitcher he is today without that stint in the bullpen last season. I absolutely believe that.

Putting Adams in the bullpen allows him to get his feet wet at the MLB level and learn how to get big leaguers out. That’s valuable experience! That will help a) the Yankees win games right now, and b) Adams succeed as a starter going forward. The Yankees could break him in as a reliever this year and consider him a rotation candidate next season. That is a perfectly reasonable development plan.

5. Be patient. Okay, this won’t be easy, but the Yankees have to remain patient and not completely tear things down because of a bad month. Overreacting is never good. The bullpen isn’t actually this bad. At least I don’t think it is. The relievers are in a collective funk right now. It happens. They can make some changes (Webb, Adams, etc.) though overall, they still need Betances and Aroldis Chapman to be their rocks, and Tyler Clippard to be not awful.

Adam Warren is expected back from the disabled list next week and he’ll going to help as long as his shoulder stays healthy. That’s tricky, but Warren has never not been solid for the Yankees. Also, Chad Green seems to be coming into his own as a reliever, so within a few weeks he could really find his footing and take off as a dominant bullpen arm. Making tweaks at this point makes sense. There’s also something to be said for trusting the guys in the bullpen to sort things out soon. We know these guys can be reliable because they were just a few weeks ago.

* * *

The Yankees are 11-14 overall in June — they’ve outscored their opponents by 39 runs this month, underscoring the general stupidity of baseball — and the bullpen is a big reason why. It’s not the only reason. Definitely not. But it is the reason that is most smacking us in the face. The offense has vanished for long stretches of time and the starters haven’t been great either. Don’t get me started on the baserunning either. Goodness. Those outs on the bases added up.

The bullpen situation, however, is not getting better. It’s getting worse. Just when you think they can’t sink to a new low, they go out and do what they did last night. The Yankees aren’t going anywhere with the bullpen performing like this. Changing some personnel, changing some roles, and changing some pitch selection could go a long way to getting things straightened out. And, if it doesn’t, the Yankees will have no choice but to really shake things up and go outside the organization for help.