Betances commits to Dominican Republic for 2017 WBC

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Dellin Betances will indeed pitch in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, but not for Team USA. He told George King he has committed to pitch for the Dominican Republic instead. “Both teams want me to play (for them), but I made a commitment to the DR. That is where my family is from, and I want to make them proud,” said Dellin.

The Dominican Republic won the 2013 WBC and there’s no reason to think they won’t be among the top contenders next spring. Fernando Rodney was their closer and most heavily used reliever in 2013, throwing 7.1 innings in the tournament. Pedro Strop (6.2 innings), Santiago Casilla (5.0), and Kelvin Herrera (4.1) were also on the roster.

The WBC has pitch limits that really only apply to starters, not relievers. Still, no manager is going to push their players too hard. If anything, they’ll be overly cautious. Yankees first base coach Tony Pena will manage the Dominican Republic team, so Betances will have a familiar face looking over him. Pena knows how important Dellin is to the Yankees. He won’t overdo it.

Betances, 28, had a 3.08 ERA (1.78 FIP) with 126 strikeouts in 73 innings this past season. That is both outrageously good and Dellin’s worst season since breaking into the big leagues for good three years ago. Betances has worn down in September the last few years and throwing high-leverage innings in mid-March is not ideal, but what can you do?

Betances was the only Yankee on the preliminary 50-man roster Team USA filed last month. The final rosters aren’t due until January, and Team USA can still add players to their preliminary roster. They’re not obligated to select their final roster from that pool of 50 players or anything like that.

Didi Gregorius (Netherlands), Masahiro Tanaka (Japan), and Gary Sanchez (Dominican Republic) are the other prominent Yankees with a chance to be selected for the WBC. The Yankees can not prevent a player from playing in the WBC unless they’re coming back from a injury.

The 2017 WBC begins with pool play on March 6th. The Championship Game will be played on March 22nd at Dodger Stadium. Here’s the full WBC schedule.

A Down Season for Dellin Betances is a Great Season for Most Relievers [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s not often a team can have a reliever as dominant as Dellin Betances be the third best option in their bullpen. In fact, there’s a pretty good chance that never once happened in baseball history prior to this season. Coming into 2016, Betances was third on the Yankees’ bullpen depth chart behind Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. Wild.

Betances was the only one of those three to make it through the season with the Yankees, but I’m guessing had another team presented Brian Cashman with a massive offer at the trade deadline, Dellin would have been gone too. Instead, he remains with the Yankees and is coming off his worst full season in the big leagues. Of course, Betances was still one of the most dominant relievers in baseball.

The Same Ol’ Dellin (For Five Months)

When the season started, Betances was back in a familiar role: eighth inning guy. Chapman had to serve his 30-game suspension, which meant Miller closed and Betances set up. And on Opening Day, Dellin took the loss after allowing three unearned runs on one hit and two walks in two-thirds of an inning. It was his own error that opened the floodgates.

The Yankees actually played that game under protest. Joe Girardi argued Carlos Correa was in the baseline and impeded Betances’ throw, but that wasn’t going to hold up, so the protest was dropped after the game. The Astros won the game thanks to the error and Dellin was saddled with New York’s first loss of the new season. So it goes.

Following that game, Betances went on a two-month rampage. He took all his frustration out on opposing hitters. In his next 23 appearances following the error, Dellin struck out 45 (!) in 22.2 innings. He allowed five runs and walked only three. That’s a 54.2% strikeout rate and a 3.6% walk rate. At one point Betances struck out 21 of 29 batters faced in mid-April. I mean, geez.

Weirdly enough, that insane early-season stretch included a stretch of games in which Betances allowed a home run in three straight outings. He’d never done that before. It proved to be just a blip though; Dellin allowed zero home runs in his next 45 games and 45.2 innings. Betances finished the first half with a 2.66 ERA (1.17 FIP) with 45.1% strikeouts and 5.8% walks in 44 innings. That earned him his third straight All-Star Game selection. He’s the only reliever selected to each of the last three All-Star Games.

Dellin threw a scoreless seventh inning with a two-run lead in the Midsummer Classic, and it went strikeout (Corey Seager), single (Daniel Murphy), fly out (Paul Goldschmidt), strikeout (Nolan Arenado). Then, in his first seven outings after the All-Star Game, he allowed one run and struck out eleven in 6.1 innings. That took the Yankees to the trade deadline. Chapman and Miller were gone, so Betances took over as closer.

In his first five weeks as closer, Betances went nine-for-ten in save chances — in the one blown save, he inherited a runner on third with one out in the eighth and allowed a game-tying sac fly — and struck out 21 in 12.1 innings. Typical Betances. On September 4th, he needed 12 pitches to strike out two and retire all four batters he faced. On September 5th, he needed ten pitches to fan two and retire all three batters he faced. That was the last time we saw a consistently effective Betances in 2016.

The Stumble to the Finish

Following that September 5th game, Dellin had a 2.05 ERA (1.43 FIP) with excellent strikeout (44.7%) and walk (7.8%) rates in 66 innings. It was a typical Betances year. It all started to fall apart on September 6th, in his third straight day of work. Betances allowed two runs on two hits and three walks — only 22 of his 40 pitches were strikes — in one-third of an inning against the Blue Jays. Blake Parker had to bail him out with an assist from Brett Gardner‘s leaping catch.

Three days later, Betances allowed a run on three hits in one inning of work. Five days after that, he allowed two unearned runs in an inning thanks in part to his own throwing error. (A Starlin Castro error opened the inning.) Dellin shot-putted a comebacker to the backstop. Yuck. Then, the following night, Betances served up the most devastating home run of the season, Hanley Ramirez’s postseason hopes crushing walk-off blast. I’m not even sure why I’m embedding this video but:

Welp. That was: bad. Worst game in a long, long time. And because that wasn’t bad enough, Betances allowed two runs on a hit and two walks ten days later. And the day after that, he allowed another two runs (one earned) on two walks while retiring zero batters. That’s 13 runs (ten earned) in the span of eight games and six innings. Dellin closed out his season by striking out the side with authority in Game 161, but by then the damage had been done. His September was dreadful.

The Sudden Loss of Control, Again

Following 136 games of total domination, Betances hit a wall in the final 26 games, and I thought he looked worse than he had at any point since arriving in the show for good back in 2014. The problem was control; Dellin walked eight in his final seven innings. This was the second straight year he was completely unable to locate late in the season too.

Dellin Betances walks1

Once is a blip, twice is a trend. I know Betances has a long history of control issues, so it’s not completely unexpected anytime he loses the strike zone, but when it happens so suddenly late in the season two years in a row, it’s hard to chalk it up to coincidence. Fatigue sure seems like a potential problem, especially since he looked visibly gassed on the mound. He had to put more effort into each pitch and that’s never good.

Now, Dellin’s workload has declined each of the last three years, at least in terms of total innings. He threw 90 innings in 2014. It was 84 innings last year and 73 innings this year. The problem is Betances has had to work harder with each passing year. He averaged 15.2 pitches per inning 2014, 16.3 pitches per inning in 2015, and 17.2 pitches per inning in 2016. Also, there’s the cumulative effect. All the innings add up year after year.

I have no idea whether fatigue is the root cause of Betances’ late season control problems the last two years. The circumstantial evidence points in that direction but we don’t really know. Whatever it is, it’s now happened two years in a row, and this year was much worse than last year. The Yankees want to win the World Series against some day. The sooner the better. If Dellin is running out gas in September, what happens in October?

The Unignorable Inability to Hold Runners

It’s become a bigger and bigger problem with each passing season. Two years ago runners went 12-for-15 stealing bases against Betances. Last year it was 17-for-21. This year it was 21-for-21. 21-for-21! Runners had 118 chances to steal against Dellin — that’s the number of runners on first or second with no runner ahead of them — and they went 21 times, or 17.8%. The MLB average is 5.5%.

This is a big problem. It’s not a fatal flaw the same way Jon Lester’s inability to hold runners isn’t a fatal flaw, but it is a big problem. Betances mostly pitches in the late innings of close games, when those extra 90 feet can be a pretty big deal. He doesn’t even had a pickoff move. If he does, I can’t ever remember seeing it. Betances varies his times to the plate and he has a slide step, but obviously they’re not enough. Runners are still going at will.

Now here’s the thing: Dellin is never going to be good at holding runners. Tall right-handed pitchers rarely are. Base-stealers have an 87.2% success rate against 6-foot-10 Chris Young, for example. At least tall lefties like CC Sabathia and Randy Johnson had the advantage of staring the runner down at first base. Betances, with that high leg kick and slow delivery to the plate, doesn’t give his catcher a chance. Even with Gary Sanchez‘s rocket arm behind the plate, runners still went 6-for-6 against Dellin.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Betances doesn’t have to develop an Andy Pettitte pickoff move (or a Nathan Eovaldi pickoff move!). But he has to develop a pickoff move. Something he can put in the back of the runner’s mind. Even if it’s only a lob over to first, it’s better than nothing. Betances is so insanely good that he’s been one of the two or three most dominant relievers in baseball without holding runners the last three years. This is a flaw teams are going to take advantage more and more in the future though, so it’s something he has to work on.

Outlook for 2017

The idea Betances can’t handle the pressure of being the closer would hold water if, you know, he hadn’t completely dominated in his first five weeks on the job. Also, he’s been throwing high-leverage innings for the Yankees for three years now. The guy has excelled in pressure situations since 2014. He’s shown us he can do it. If you don’t think he can handle the ninth inning, then there’s nothing I can tell you to change your mind.

Anyway, as it stands right now, Dellin is the Yankees’ closer. There’s a pretty good chance that will change this offseason because the Yankees are in big on the top free agent relievers, including Chapman. And you know what? Signing Chapman or Kenley Jansen to close would make the Yankees a lot better. I mean, duh. Those guys are great. It wouldn’t make them better because Dellin can’t close, but because he can slide back into that dynamic setup role where he has been such a weapon the last few years.

By many measures, the 2016 season was Betances’ worst since arriving for good three years ago despite a career high strikeout rate (42.1%) and a career high ground ball rate (53.9%). He had a career high ERA (3.08) and a career high WHIP (1.12). Hitters put up a .201/.279/.299 batting line against Dellin this year. That’s outrageously good! But it was .157/.266/.244 a year ago and .149/.218/.224 two years ago. This is not a positive trend!

Betances is still excellent and the Yankees are lucky to have him in their bullpen. I think they have to seriously consider lightening his workload next year — that doesn’t mean he can’t ever go multiple innings, just that he can’t do it as often — perhaps getting it down into the 60-65 innings range. A normal short reliever workload. Also, working on controlling the running game is a must. Betances is still great despite those flaws. He’s just not quite as overwhelming as he was two years.

Sherman: Dellin Betances on preliminary Team USA roster for 2017 World Baseball Classic

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

According to Joel Sherman, Dellin Betances is among the 50 players on the preliminary 2017 World Baseball Classic roster submitted by Team USA last month. Andrew Miller is on the preliminary roster as well, though Betances is the only Yankee.

The preliminary roster is just that: preliminary. Players can still back out and be added. Neither Mike Trout nor Bryce Harper are on the preliminary roster because they’re unwilling to commit to the event at this point in time, says Sherman. The rosters do not have to be finalized until January.

Betances is, by far, the Yankees best candidate for Team USA. Who else could they send? Brian McCann behind the plate? That’s it. Masahiro Tanaka (Japan), Didi Gregorius (Netherlands), and Gary Sanchez (Dominican Republic) are among the Yankees who would can land on other WBC rosters.

I’m fairly certain teams do not have any control over their players participating in the WBC unless they’re coming off some sort of injury. Betances finished the year health, so it’s essentially up to him whether he wants to play. The Yankees can’t stop him. The WBC begins March 7th and continues through the 22nd.

Over the last three years Dellin has pitched to a 1.93 ERA (1.97 FIP) in 247 innings with a ridiculous 392 strikeouts. Miller is second among in relievers in strikeouts over the last three seasons. He has 326. It is in no way a surprise to see Betances on the Team USA roster.

MLBTR’s projected 2017 arbitration salaries and the Dellin Betances outlier

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

With the 2016 season now complete, we can begin to look forward to the offseason and the 2017 Yankees, and this winter a lot of attention will be paid to arbitration-eligible players. The Yankees have a lot of them. Nine, in fact. Some of them are pretty important parts of the team too.

Yesterday Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors published his annual arbitration salary projections for next season. Swartz’s model is pretty darn accurate and it gets more and more precise with each passing season. The numbers might not be exact, but they’re usually in the ballpark. Here’s what Swartz’s model projects for the Yankees’ nine arbitration-eligible players.

That’s $32.8M worth of arbitration salaries next year, which works out to a $14.6M raise over what those nine players earned this past season. As a reminder, players need three years of service time (3.000) to qualify for arbitration in most cases. Some, like Gregorius and Layne, are arbitration-eligible four times as a Super Two. The Super Two cutout this year is approximately 2.127, according to Steve Adams. That doesn’t really affect the Yankees. Anyway, here are some thoughts on the projected arbitration salaries.

1. The Betances projection seems light. The arbitration process is pretty archaic. Old school stats like ERA and saves — especially saves — matter most. Betances has been a setup man for the majority of his career, so he doesn’t have those big money making saves totals, which is going to hurt his arbitration case. We all know Dellin has been one of the two or three best relievers in baseball since Opening Day 2014 though.

Swartz’s model has trouble with elite players with unprecedented resumes. Tim Lincecum damn near broke the thing when he went into arbitration with two Cy Youngs a few years ago. Betances leads all relievers in innings and strikeouts over the last three seasons by a lot. He struck out 392 batters from 2014-16. Next most by a reliever? Andrew Miller with 326. Yeah. Look at the five highest strikeout totals by a reliever the last three years:

  1. 2014 Betances: 135
  2. 2015 Betances: 131
  3. 2016 Betances: 126
  4. 2016 Miller: 123
  5. 2015 Aroldis Chapman: 115

Yeah. Betances is also a three-time All-Star. Do you know how many other relievers have been to the All-Star Game each of the last three years? None. Not one. Dellin’s the only one. The All-Star Game selections plus the bulk inning and strikeout totals mean Betances is going into arbitration with far more earning potential than most setup men. He could break Swartz’s model, so to speak.

As best I can tell, the record salary for a first year arbitration-eligible reliever is $6.25M by Jonathan Papelbon back in the day. The lack of saves will probably prevent Betances from breaking Papelbon’s record, though I do think he’s going to wind up with a salary closer to Papelbon’s than the projected salary above. Dellin isn’t a normal reliever and projecting his arbitration salary with a one size fits all model probably won’t work.

2. Eovaldi and Ackley are goners. Swartz’s model projects no raise for Ackley. He made $3.2M this year and the model has him making $3.2M next year. That’s what happens when you barely play and barely hit before suffering a season-ending injury. Given the salary and the lack of production, Ackley is a prime non-tender candidate this offseason. The Yankees might release him after the World Series to clear 40-man roster space rather than wait until the December 2nd tender deadline.

As for Eovaldi, the model projects a $1.9M raise, though that’s pretty irrelevant. He recently underwent major elbow surgery, including his second Tommy John surgery, so he’s going to miss the entire 2017 season. There’s no sense in paying Eovaldi that much money to not pitch next season, especially when he’ll be a free agent next winter. The business side of baseball can be cruel. Eovaldi is hurt and soon he’s going to be unemployed too. The Yankees will non-tender him. Brian Cashman all but confirmed it.

A non-tender wouldn’t necessarily mean Eovaldi’s career in pinstripes is over. The Yankees could re-sign him to a smaller contract with an eye on 2018. They’ve done that before, sign injured pitchers to a two-year deal and rehab them in year one. Think Jon Lieber and Andrew Bailey and David Aardsma. The second Tommy John surgery is much riskier than the first, but with pitching so in demand, it’s probably worth exploring a two-year deal with Eovaldi. Just not at the projected salary.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

3. Extension time for Gregorius? Gregorius made $2.425M this past season and projects to make $5.1M next season, which is a $2.675M raise. His salary projects to more than double. Didi will be in his second of four arbitration years as a Super Two next year, so if we apply similar raises going forward, we get $7.775M in 2017 and $10.45M in 2018. That’s a real quick and dirty way of estimating his earning potential the next three years.

That rough estimate puts Gregorius at $23.325M from 2016-18 before he hits free agency. Is it worth it to explore a long-term extension this offseason? It is if you think his power breakout this past season was real, and there are reasons to believe it is. Gregorius is only 26, remember. He’s entering what should be the best years of his career. A four-year deal that guarantees him $35M or so seems worthwhile for the Yankees. We’re talking about a prime age player at a premium position.

At the same time, the Yankees have a ton of shortstops in the minors, namely Tyler Wade in Double-A plus both Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo in High-A. I wouldn’t worry about that though. Gregorius is a talented young player at a hard to fill position and those guys are worth locking up. If there’s a logjam at shortstop when Wade and Torres and Mateo and whoever are ready, great! That’s a good problem.

4. Big Mike‘s big salary. Being a starting pitcher is pretty good when arbitration time arrives. Even mediocre starters like Pineda get hefty raises. He made $4.3M this past season and projects for $7.8M next year, so we’re talking about a $3.5M raise. That’s despite a 6-12 record and a 4.82 ERA (90 ERA+) in 175.2 innings. That stuff matters in arbitration.

Pineda’s raise has more to do with his 207 strikeouts and AL leading 10.6 K/9. And really, $7.8M is still below market value for a pitcher of Pineda’s caliber. Guys like him will run you $10M to $12M or so in free agency. Probably more these days. It would be worth asking Pineda and his representatives what it would take to get an extension done this offseason, simply because the upcoming free agent pitching classes are so weak.

5. The remain projections are fair. The projections for Warren ($2.3M), Hicks ($1.4M), Layne ($1.2M), and Romine ($900,000) seem just about right. Not high enough to consider a non-tender and not low enough to see it as a bargain. That could change in a year, but right now, they’re fair. Weirdly enough, it wouldn’t surprise me if all four of those guys are on the 2017 Opening Day roster and it wouldn’t surprise me if all four are jettisoned in the offseason. I feel like we’re in for some surprises this winter.

Fixing Dellin Betances is a process that should start now, not next season

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

After five excellent months, Dellin Betances has hit a wall in September and hit it hard. He’s allowed 13 runs in 8.1 innings this month while also putting 19 guys on base. Two nights ago Dellin faced three batters and didn’t retire any of them before giving way to Tommy Layne. Opponents have hit .282/.404/.385 against Betances in September. Bad. Bad bad bad.

The biggest problem with Betances, as it often is, are the walks and an overall lack of control. He’s walked eight in 8.1 innings this month after walking 20 batters in his first 63.2 innings of the season. The other night Dellin threw three strikes out of eleven total pitches, and he wasn’t exactly missing just off the plate. It wasn’t a bunch of borderline calls going against him. From Brooks Baseball:

Dellin Betances Blue Jays

“Honestly, right now I just feel like my mechanics are off,” said Betances to Chad Jennings following’s Monday game. “I’m yanking a lot of pitches and falling behind; that’s what’s hurting me. I’ve said it all along. Earlier in the year, I wasn’t walking guys. Later part of this year, I’ve been walking a lot of guys and that’s what’s been hurting me.”

Control problems — extreme control problems at that — are nothing new for Betances, who flamed out as a starter in the minors because he couldn’t throw strikes. I don’t mean paint the corners. Basic get the ball over the plate stuff. Dellin walked 69 batters in 74.2 innings as Triple-A starter in 2012, then another 16 in 24 innings in 2013 before being moved to the bullpen full-time.

Why have Betances’ mechanics fallen out of whack? There are a million possible reasons. It could be fatigue. Maybe it’s because he’s 6-foot-8 with long limbs and isn’t the most athletic guy in the world. Or maybe he’s a mental wreck because the pressure of closing for the New York Yankees is just too much to take. I highly doubt it that’s last one, Dellin’s been getting huge outs for the Yankees for three years now, but you never know.

Whatever it is — my guess is it’s a combination of fatigue and being prone to mechanical lapses — this is something the Yankees and Betances have to figure out, and that process should start right now. Not next year. I understand wanting to shut him down for the season, I totally get it, but as long as he’s healthy, he should pitch and work on getting himself right. There are five games left this season. There’s no reason he can’t pitch in two or three of them.

“No, I don’t think (shutting him down is) a good thing to do. I think he needs to get out on some good notes,” said Joe Girardi to Brendan Kuty following Monday’s game. “I think he’s a little frustrated. But we’ll get that ironed out. He’s been through this before. I know I’ve said that, but he’s been through this. We’ll get it ironed out. We’ll give him a day off and we’ll get him back out there. ”

Now, if Betances goes to the Yankees and says he’s running on fumes, then yeah, shut him down. Pitching is inherently risky. Pitching while fatigued is even riskier. The Yankees want to get Betances right but they’re not going to risk injury in the process. If he’s dealing with nothing more than normal late-September fatigue, then fine, let him pitch. Learning to be effective when less than 100% is part of being a big leaguer.

Either way, Betances is a total mess right now, and to me it seems to be mechanical more than anything. He’s just out of sorts and needs to get himself back on track. It’s not the first time he’s gone through this — it’s the first time he’s done at the MLB level, but not in his life — and chances are it won’t be the last. He’s worked his way out of it before. Betances knows how this works.

I don’t see shutting down a struggling player as a way to deal with the problem. That’s avoiding the problem. As long as Dellin is healthy, get him out there on the mound and use these last five game as an opportunity to work on things and hopefully get him back on track.

Yankeemetrics: Fighting ’til the end [Sept. 23-26]

(Getty)
(Getty)

Zeroes
The Yankees late September collapse reached full throttle on Friday night with an ugly defeat, 9-0, to the Blue Jays in the series opener. It was their second-worst shutout loss ever in Toronto, behind only a 14-0 whitewashing on Sept. 4, 2001.

The loss also officially eliminated the Yankees from contention for the division crown, their fourth straight season without a title. Before this streak, they had never gone more than two seasons without winning the division since the leagues were split into three divisions in 1994.

Even more depressing is that they never spent a single day in first place in the AL East. The last season the Yankees failed to get to the top of the division standings was 1997, when the Orioles dominated from start-to-finish, spending a whopping 181 days as the front-runner (including off-days).

(AP)
(AP)

Zeroes again
The Yankees offensive slump reached near-historic proportions with another demoralizing loss on Saturday — their third scoreless game in a row dating back to the series finale in Tampa. Let’s recap the gory details of this awfulness with bullet points:

  • It’s the first time the Yankees have been shut out three games in a row since 1975 and just the sixth time in franchise history (also in 1968, 1960, 1929 and 1908).
  • They’ve been shut out 13 times overall this season, their most since 1990 (15).
  • 11 of those shutouts have come away from the Bronx, the second-most road shutout losses the Yankees have suffered in a season in the Live Ball Era (since 1920), behind only the 12 in 1973.
  • This was their sixth time being shut out in September, their most shutout losses in a single month since they were blanked seven times in July 1975. Last year the Yankees were shut out six times the entire season! And the clincher …

Five of those seven shutouts in September have come on the road. The last time the Yankees were shut out on the road five times in a single month was August 1905. Welp.

(AP)
(AP)

Runs? Yes. Win? No.
At least they finally made the scoreboard operator do some work, right? That’s pretty much the only positive to come out of another heart-breaking loss on Sunday. The Yankees snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, rallying in the top of the ninth to take the lead before coughing it up in the bottom of the inning, and ultimately walking off the turf as losers yet again.

Thanks to Didi Gregorius’ seventh inning homer, the Yankees avoided the ignominy of being shut out in four consecutive games for the first time in franchise history, and becoming the first AL team to do it since the 1964 Washington Senators. The home run ended our long national nightmare, a 33-inning scoreless streak that was the longest by any Yankee team since August 27-30, 1968.

Sure, the Yankees might have avoided one historical footnote by finally scoring some runs, but the loss still made headlines, statistically speaking. It was their eighth straight defeat in Toronto, their longest road losing streak ever against the Blue Jays.

They fell to 1-8 at the Rogers Centre in 2016, which is horrible, but it’s not even their most losses at one ballpark this season — they went 2-8 at Fenway Park. This is the third time in the last 75 years the Yankees have lost at least eight games at two different road stadiums: it also happened in 1959 at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium and Boston’s Fenway Park, and in 1944 at Fenway and Detroit’s Briggs Stadium.

Michael Pineda turned in another solid performance, holding the Blue Jays to one run in 5 2/3 innings while lowering his September ERA to 2.66 in five starts. And with seven strikeouts, the 27-year-old right-hander surpassed the 200-strikeout mark this season, becoming the youngest Yankee to strike out at least 200 batters since a 26-year-old Melido Perez in 1992.

fight
(Getty)

End of the road
The Yankees escaped Toronto — and punctuated their final road trip of the season — with an emotional win in the series finale, surviving a roller coaster ninth inning to temporarily halt their free fall and postpone their inevitable march towards playoff elimination.

The math says the Yankees are still alive in the Hunt for October, and their hearts are telling them to keep fighting … literally.

Luis Severino started the game but barely had a chance to make an impact, facing just eight batters before getting ejected after the second benches-clearing brawl of the game in the second inning. He allowed an earned run in the first inning, bringing his total to 42 earned runs in 43 innings as a starter this season, an unsightly 8.79 ERA.

That is on pace to be the highest ERA as a starter for any Yankee pitcher that made at least 10 starts in a season. The current franchise-worst mark is 7.89, set by Staten Island native Karl Drews in 1947.

Mark Teixeira kicked off the ninth inning comeback with a 416-foot solo homer — plus an epic bat flip — that tied the game at 3-3. It was his 205th longball as a Yankee, matching Dave Winfield for 13th place on the franchise list, and the 408th of his career, moving past Duke Snider for sole possession of 54th place on the MLB all-time list.

Aaron Hicks then delivered the game-winning shot, a two-run blast to put the Yankees ahead 5-3, which earned him our obscure Yankeemetric of the Week: Hicks is the second Yankee right-fielder to hit a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning or later against the Blue Jays in Toronto; the other was some guy named Paul O’Neill, who had a similar clutch homer on Sept. 14, 1999.

A fearless and gutsy performance by Tommy Layne, who came into a bases-loaded, no-out situation and somehow got the final three outs, sealed the win for the never-say-die Yankees. It was his first save in pinstripes, making him the ninth different Yankee to record a save this season — a new single-season franchise record (since saves became official in 1969). The previous high was eight pitchers with at least one save, done by the 1979 and 1980 teams.

This Yankee team certainly has a flair for the dramatic, eh? It was the second game this season they hit game-tying and go-ahead homers in the ninth inning (also on June 29 versus the Rangers). You have to go back more than six decades — to August 24 and September 16, 1955 — to find the last time the Yankees had two such games like this in a single season.

The Yankees and 2016’s major awards

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

We’re now less than two weeks away from the end of the regular season, meaning candidates for baseball’s major annual awards only have a handful of games remaining to state their cases. Outside of NL Rookie of the Year, which should go to Corey Seager easily, the other major awards in both leagues feature very tight races. Pretty fun.

The last Yankee to win a major award was Mariano Rivera, who was named 2013 AL Comeback Player of the Year after tearing his ACL in 2012. Prior to that you have to go back to Alex Rodriguez‘s 2007 MVP season. There is something of a Yankee bias in the awards voting; a Yankee usually needs to have a season far superior to everyone else to receive votes, a la A-Rod in 2007. If it’s close, the votes tend to go to the non-Yankee.

Anyway, as a reminder, the awards are all voted on following the end of the regular season but before the postseason. The playoffs have zero bearing on the major awards. They cover the regular season only. So, with that in mind, let’s preview the awards races and see where some Yankees may fit into the picture, if any.

Most Valuable Player

Is there an AL MVP favorite right now? I mean, of course it should be Mike Trout, but his teammates suck so he won’t win. For shame. I guess Mookie Betts is the favorite now almost by default. The other serious candidates (Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Jose Altuve) are on teams either fading in the standings or out of the postseason picture entirely. That matters in the voting for whatever reason.

The Yankees don’t have a legitimate MVP candidate this season. Their best all-around player has been Didi Gregorius, and sorry, he’s not MVP material. Gary Sanchez hasn’t been up long enough. Masahiro Tanaka? He’s the best and therefore most valuable player on the roster, though it takes an insane season for a pitcher to win MVP. You need to go 24-5 like Justin Verlander did in 2011. A no-doubt Cy Young season and more, basically.

Now, that doesn’t mean the Yankees will not have a player receive MVP votes. Hardly. Lots of weird stuff happens at the bottom of the ballot and I would not at all be surprised if Tanaka and/or Dellin Betances and/or someone else got a ninth or tenth place vote. Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, and A-Rod received MVP votes last season, for example. Chances are at least one Yankee will get an MVP vote. No one on the roster will win though. Sorry.

Cy Young

Okay, now we’re talking. Tanaka is a legitimate Cy Young candidate along with Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Cole Hamels. Unlike the MVP ballot, which is ten spots deep, the Cy Young ballot is only five players deep, so it’s going to be tight. Here’s where Tanaka ranks in various stats among AL pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title:

Innings: 193.2 (seventh)
ERA: 2.97 (first! … Sale is second at 3.03)
FIP: 3.26 (second behind Kluber, 3.25)
WHIP: 1.06 (fifth)
Walk Rate: 4.4% (third)
Strikeout Rate: 20.5% (20th)
K/BB Ratio: 4.71 (seventh)
Ground Ball Rate: 48.6% (11th)
bWAR: 5.6 (second behind Kluber, 6.4)
fWAR: 5.1 (second behind Sale, 5.2)

Tanaka lags in strikeout rate, otherwise he’s top ten in pretty much every meaningful pitching statistic, including top three in more than a few. Of course, his 13-4 record isn’t very Cy Young worthy, and that’s going to hurt his case. I know Felix Hernandez won the Cy Young with a 13-12 record a few years ago, but that was because he was so much better than everyone else. His dominance was too great to ignore. As great as he’s been, Tanaka is not having that kind of season.

My guess right now is either Porcello or Kluber will win the Cy Young, likely Porcello because he’s up over 20 wins. Tanaka’s performance is on par with those two on a rate basis, and in many ways he’s been better. He’s by far the best Cy Young candidate the Yankees have had since CC Sabathia was in his heyday — Sabathia finished fourth, third, and fourth in the voting from 2009-11 — and I think Tanaka will finish in the top five of the voting, possibly even the top three.

Rookie of the Year

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

This is going to be interesting. Sanchez has had an unreal start to his career. He’s hitting .327/.399/.710 (190 wRC+) with 17 homers in 42 games as a full-time catcher, which is bonkers. It’s also only 42 games. If Sanchez plays every single game the rest of the season, he’ll finished with 54 games played. The fewest games ever played by a Rookie of the Year position player is 52, by Willie McCovey in 1959. Next fewest? Eighty-eighty by Ryan Howard.

At the moment Sanchez is first among all AL rookies in fWAR (+2.9) and is third in bWAR (+2.5). His primary competition: Michael Fulmer of the Tigers, the guy the Mets traded to Detroit along with Luis Cessa to get Yoenis Cespedes last year. Fulmer has a 3.03 ERA (3.89 FIP) in 148.2 innings. That works out to +2.5 fWAR and +4.7 bWAR. Fulmer’s been in the big leagues since April. Voters will have to figure out how to weigh 50-something games of Sanchez against a nearly a full season of Fulmer.

I’d love to see Sanchez win, but if I had a vote, it would go to Fulmer. The difference in playing time is too great. Sanchez is only going to play one-third of a season. One-third! He’s basically a rookie who had a hot start and time ran out before the league had a chance to adjust. At this point I expect Sanchez to receive some first place votes and I think he and Fulmer will finish one-two on the ballot in some order, with Tyler Naquin third. My money is on Fulmer winning right now.

Manager of the Year

Does Joe Girardi deserve Manager of the Year votes? If you believe the Yankees have no business being this close to the postseason race, then yes. If you watch every game and hang on every questionable move — questionable moves every manager makes, by the way — then no chance. Girardi’s had a pretty terrible year, strategically.

These days the Manager of the Year seems to go to the manager whose team most outperformed expectations, or improved the most from last season. This year that’s … Terry Francona? I guess John Farrell since the Red Sox were in last place a year ago. I really have no idea how the Manager of the Year voting will turn out. Girardi’s case is built on the Yankees selling and then getting hot for a few weeks in August and September. That will get him votes — Girardi has received Manager of the Year votes every season since 2009 — but probably ain’t enough to win.

Comeback Player of the Year

Gosh, who even are the Comeback Player of the Year candidates? Michael Saunders, I guess? Marcus Stroman probably would have won it with even an average season, but he hasn’t been able to do that. In recent years the Comeback Player of the Year has gone to players coming off major injury, like Matt Harvey and Prince Fielder last year. Chris Young (the pitcher) and Rivera are recent winners too. That could put Saunders in the lead.

With no obvious candidate, this is going to come down to the preference of the voters. Does Porcello deserve Comeback Player of the Year after his miserable 2015 season and average-ish career? Or is he just prime age player breaking out? Maybe Doug Fister should win. Or Robinson Cano. Or Chris Tillman. The Yankees’ best Comeback Player of the Year candidate is Sabathia, and as much as I love the big guy, he hasn’t been good enough to win the award. I’d bet on Saunders winning right now, though I have little confidence in that.