Yankeemetrics: Kings of Kansas City (May 16-18)

(AP)
(AP)

Vintage CC
The Yankees kicked off the most grueling stretch of this early season – 20 games in 20 days – with one of their most complete and thorough performances so far. Power, pitching and defense were all on display in a satisfying 7-1 win over the Royals on Tuesday night.

The power was supplied by Gary Sanchez and Chris Carter, who each went deep and combined to drive in five runs.

Sanchez broke a scoreless tie in the third inning with a booming 428-foot homer, putting the Yankees up 3-0. It was his 23rd career homer in just his 69th game at the big-league level. The only player in major-league history to hit more homers before his 70th career game is White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu (25).

Carter tacked on two more runs with a deep blast to center in the fourth inning, punctuating his breakout 3-for-4 night at the plate. The list of Yankee first baseman to have at least three hits, including a homer, at Kauffman Stadium is a fun one: Lyle Overbay (2013), Tino Martinez (1998, 1999), Don Mattingly (1993), Steve Balboni (1983) and Chris Chambliss (1979). Welcome to the club, Chris!

Sure, chicks dig the longball, but the best story of the game was the strong bounce-back outing by CC Sabathia. The lefty had an ugly 9.58 ERA in his previous four starts entering this series, but delivered a vintage performance with 6 2/3 scoreless and efficient innings.

Sabathia checked off a couple notable milestones in the victory. It was his:

  • 109th win as a Yankee, tying Spud Chandler and Fritz Peterson for 15th place on the franchise all-time list
  • 13th win at Kauffman Stadium, matching the most wins by a visiting pitcher at the ballpark. Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle and Bert Blyleven also have 13 wins there.

One of the key differences for Sabathia against the Royals was his ability to pitch inside to righties with his cutter. On the left, his cutter location to right-handed batters in his previous four starts from April 21-May 9; on the right, his cutter location to right-handed batters on Tuesday:

cc-cutter-rhb-combined

In his previous four starts, righties hit .346 and slugged .590 overall against Sabathia, including a .407 average and .741 (!) slugging percentage against his cutter. On Tuesday, the Royals right-handed batters went 3-for-16 overall and were 0-for-4 when putting a cutter in play against Sabathia.

(TNS)
(TNS)

Runs, runs, and more runs
Another night, another run-scoring bonanza for the Yankees. They pummeled the Royals on Wednesday, 11-7, their MLB-leading seventh game with more than 10 runs. That’s the same number of 11-plus-run games they had all of last year, and tied with the 1936 club for the second-most in franchise history through 37 team games.

Royals starter Jason Vargas entered the game with the lowest ERA in the league (1.01!), but was shelled early and often by the visitors – a result that shouldn’t have been surprising given his track record against the Bronx Bombers. After surrendering six runs in four innings, his ERA against the Yankees rose to 7.15, the highest by any active player with at least 35 innings pitched against them.

Aaron Hicks contributed to the offensive fireworks with two hits, including a three-run homer, and one walk. After Wednesday’s slate, he was one of 16 major-league players with at least 25 plate appearances and more walks (22) than strikeouts (17). The only other guy on the list with a higher slugging percentage than Hicks (.616) was Bryce Harper (.744).

Starlin Castro led the hit parade with two doubles and a single, his 18th multi-hit game of the season. Over the last 20 years, the only other Yankee to produce 18-or-more multi-hit games within the team’s first 37 contests was Alfonso Soriano, who did it in 2002 and 2003.

Throwback (to 2016) Thursday
The Yankees couldn’t complete the sweep of the last-place Royals, falling 5-1 on Thursday in a game where the offense was M.I.A. for much of the night. It would have been their first series sweep in Kansas City in nearly a decade (September 2007).

Didi Gregorius once again saved the Yankees from being shut out for the first time this season with a one-out RBI single in the ninth inning. They are still one of three teams that haven’t been blanked in 2017, along with the Nationals and Twins.

Although the Yankees have scored at least one run in every game, there’s been some close calls. This was the fourth time that the Yankees had zero runs through eight innings (also on April 18, May 5 and May 12), and this was actually the second time in less than a week that Gregorius was the hero. His RBI single in the ninth inning on May 12 against the Astros was the Yankees only run of that game.

(AP)
(AP)

Jordan Montgomery allowed a career-high five runs in five innings, and the big blow was Mike Moustakas’ three-run homer on a first-pitch slider in the fifth inning. Entering this game, batters were 6-for-34 (.177) with one extra-base hit (double) when putting Montgomery’s slider in play.

Royals starter Danny Duffy was brilliant as he mowed down the Yankee lineup, retiring the first nine batters — six of them via strikeout — before Jacoby Ellsbury‘s bunt single leading off the fourth inning.

Duffy allowed just two more hits in seven scoreless innings while striking out 10. Duffy became the third Royals pitcher with double-digit strikeouts and no runs allowed against the Yankees, joining Tom Gordon (April 20, 1991) and Mark Gubicza (Aug. 17, 1986).

Trying to decipher Didi Gregorius’ post-victory tweets

Fun team is fun. (Presswire)
Fun team is fun. (Presswire)

Last night the Yankees did a number on Jason Vargas en route to an 11-7 win over the Royals. The Yankees extended their AL East lead to 1.5 games over the Orioles, and although that doesn’t mean a whole lot in May, it’s better than being 1.5 games back, isn’t it? Also, the Yankees boast the baseball’s best run differential at +63. That’s pretty cool.

Following last night’s win, Didi Gregorius fired off a celebratory tweet, as he does after just about every win. They all start with #StartSpreadingTheNews and end with WHAT A GAME too. Love it. Such a fun little tradition. Here is last night’s post-win tweet:

He’s got the #BigMike hashtag in there for Michael Pineda and … an old man emoji for Aaron Hicks? Hicks hit the three-run home run last night. The emoji has white eyebrows so yeah, it’s definitely an old man. What’s up with that? Is it because Hicks likes golf? That’s kind of an old man thing. Or maybe because he’s bald like the emoji? That’s it. It’s because Hicks is bald. Has to be.

Here is the tweet Didi sent out following Tuesday’s series-opening win over the Royals.

A squid for Gary Sanchez! Or is that an octopus? I think it’s a squid. Either way, Sanchez is the Kraken — he can thank Brian Cashman for that nickname — and the squid/octopus fits perfectly.

What about the rhino though? That’s Chris Carter. He hit the two-run home run Tuesday. Is Carter a rhino simply because he’s a big strong dude? Because he’s deceptively fast? Rhinos can run up to 34 mph, you know. The internet told me that. Is it because his eyesight is poor and he strikes out so much? Rhinos have bad eyesight too. That can’t be it. That’s too mean. I’m going to say Carter is a rhino because they’re both big and strong. Perhaps an ox emoji would have been better, but rhinos are cooler than oxen.

The Yankees came back for a win over the Astros in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader, and between games Gregorius broke out the ultra-rare five emoji tweet to celebrate.

Okay, the first two are kinda easy. The star is Starlin Castro. He hit a two-run game-tying home run. The Judge is, well, Aaron Judge. He hit a solo shot to give the Yankees the lead as part of back-to-back homers with Castro.

Now we move on to the clown, who is Brett Gardner. He’s hit the other solo home run. To further confirm the clown=Gardner dynamic, here is the tweet Gregorius sent out after Gardner’s ninth inning game-winning home run against the Cubs two weeks ago:

That was a fun game, wasn’t it?

Anyway, you know why Gardner is the clown? I’ll tell you why. Because he’s the biggest jokester on the team. He’s the dude who pranks everyone and keeps the team loose. You wouldn’t think Gardner is that guy, but he is. Next time you’re at Yankee Stadium, pay attention to the between-innings entertainment on the scoreboard. There’s one skit in which they ask a bunch of players who the funniest guy on the team is, and to a man, they say Gardner. That’s why he’s the clown.

Okay, going back to the original May 14th tweet, we’re left with a fist and a red angry face. That’s … Chase Headley? He had the bases clearing triple that game. Has to be him. I have no idea why Headley is a fist and an angry red face. He doesn’t strike me as a fighter or a guy who gets mad a lot. Could it be because he’s intense? We’ve seen Headley get pretty fired up at times, either after a big hit or a big play or whatever. Example:

chase-headley-catch

I’m at a loss for this one. Headley as fist plus angry red face is a #thingtowatch. A developing situation.

Let’s now go back to May 6th, the middle game of that three-game sweep at Wrigley Field.

Two-run homer by the star (Castro)? Check. Three-run homer by the bald guy (Hicks)? Also check. That leaves the baby emoji in baby bomber, a phrase usually reserved for hitters, but in this case it goes to a pitcher, Jordan Montgomery. He pitched that day. 24-year-old Jordan Montgomery, who is 6-foot-6 and 225 lbs., is the team baby. Didi has spoken.

Okay, we’ve got one more postgame tweet and two more player-specific emojis to cover. Here’s the tweet:

May 3rd was the final game in the series against the Blue Jays, when the Yankees came back in the seventh inning against Joe Biagini. Gregorius drove in the go-ahead run with an infield single that game. He doesn’t have an emoji for himself, as far as I can tell.

Anyway, Judge smashed a two-run home run against Marcus Stroman that game — I guess there’s no short guy who finished his degree while rehabbing a torn ACL emoji? — so we get the judge emoji. The fire to close out the game? Aroldis Chapman. That one is easy.

That leaves us with the big biceps and expressionless face, which is Matt Holliday. He hit the three-run homer. Have you seen Holliday’s arms? They’re the size of my thighs. Holliday could give Joe Girardi a run for his money in the big arms contest. Judge too, for that matter. Ditto Clint Frazier whenever he gets called up.

What about the face though? Is it because Holliday never smiles? Now that I think about it, I can’t remember ever seeing him smile. He’s always super serious. That’s okay. He’s the grizzled veteran who was brought in to show the kids how to win and all that. It’s a serious job. I just enjoy that Didi decided a boring face emoji is most appropriate for Holliday.

The Yankees are off to a great start this season and this team is, rather easily, the most likeable group of players the Yankees have had in a long time. The young players are a big part of that, and Didi himself is a young player. He’s only 27. This team is so very fun and easy to root for, and after each win, Gregorius marks the occasion with a tweet. It’s the best. Love this team, you guys.

A Funny Thing Happened

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

It wasn’t supposed to go like this. The Yankees were supposed to be more fun to watch this year with a trio of young, exciting hitters in the lineup and a high-upside starter in the rotation. Then the starting shortstop got hurt. Then one of the trio got hurt. Then one of the trio started off the year terribly. But a funny thing happened: the fun kept coming and the Yankees began…winning?

If we told you that the Yankees would literally miss Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez for pretty much the entire month of April and that Greg Bird would do, well, what Greg Bird has “done” in April, there’s no way you’d be able to guess that the Yankees would end the season’s first month with the league’s best record and run differential. Regardless, that’s the case and it is just downright awesome.

As many have said and written and noted, the last few years of watching the Yankees have, at times, felt like a chore. They were okay, but not really good. And while it was still baseball and thus fun to us, there was something missing. Something ineffable and indescribable that made the nightly ritual seem a bit a of a slog. Now, each night at 7, we have something to look forward to that will actually engage, energize, and excite us in ways we’re not really used to as Yankees fans.

Sure, we’re used to winning, used to being at the top–even if the team hasn’t been that of late–but seeing a young group lead the team is a distant memory for fans of my generation, who may have been just a touch too young to really get what was going on in the mid-late 90’s, despite enjoying all the winning.

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Given what we know about baseball and about this specific team, there’s going to be an instinct inside of us to wait for the shoe to drop. That shoe is probably going to drop soon–despite how it’s gone, it’s hard to imagine this team keeping this up all year–but we should remember to live in the moment for this team. Let’s keep enjoying the hell out of every Judge home run. Let’s keep getting pumped for every Severino strikeout. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for Greg Bird and welcome back Gary and Didi.

Speaking of Gary and Didi, I want to end this on something I noticed during yesterday’s game. After Judge’s home run, he was sitting atop the bench, flanked on his right by Sanchez and on his left by Didi. They were talking, presumably about the homer or the game, and just…laughing. This belies my ‘stay in the moment’ sentiment, but I could go for about ten more years of those three guys laughing and buddying it up in the dugout after big homers and big outs. That moment encapsulated the feeling of this season so far: fun. Who knows what’s coming today and after as we turn the calendar to May, but this April ride has been absolutely fantastic. Indeed, a funny thing happened on the way to a rebuild.

 

Game 21: Didi’s Return

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are getting closer to being whole. Didi Gregorius, who has not played at all this season thanks to a shoulder strain suffered during the World Baseball Classic, returns tonight and is in the starting lineup. Hooray. I’ve missed Didi. Let’s not forget Ronald Torreyes though. Dude stepped in and hit .308/.308/.431 (106 wRC+) as the starting shortstop while Gregorius was out. He was pretty rad.

Anyway, the Yankees are back home for a quick little six-game homestand, and this weekend they’ll play the Orioles, the team they’re chasing for first place in the AL East. Hey, it’s never too early to start thinking about the division title, right? The Yankees have won 12 of their last 15 games. If you’re not going to look at their current situation in terms of the postseason race, when will you? Here is the Orioles’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. RF Aaron Judge
  8. 1B Greg Bird
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP CC Sabathia

Perfect baseball weather in New York today. Not a cloud in the sky and the temperature was in the 80s pretty much all afternoon. It’ll be a little cooler tonight though. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: As expected, Pete Kozma was designated for assignment to clear a roster spot for Gregorius. That leaves the Yankees with an open 40-man roster spot, which will likely go to Tyler Austin whenever he’s activated off the 60-day disabled list.

Game 20: Sale vs. Tanaka

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

The Yankees have alternated wins and losses since the eight-game winning streak was snapped last week, and if they’re going to put together their first set of back-to-back wins since the streak, they’ll need to beat the best tonight. Chris Sale, Boston’s prized offseason pickup, will face the Yankees for the first time as a Red Sox this evening. He’s been phenomenal in the early going, as usual. This’ll be tough.

On the bright side, the Yankees will counter Boston’s ace with their ace tonight, at least in theory. Masahiro Tanaka has gotten progressively better each time out this season, though he doesn’t seem to be all the way back to his 2016 form just yet. The Yankees will need Tanaka to be on top of his game tonight against Sale. It’s the old Pedro Martinez approach. Match zeroes with Sale then beat the bullpen. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Aaron Hicks
  3. 3B Chase Headley
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. 1B Chris Carter
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Better weather tonight than last night in Boston. It’s still cold and cloudy, but it shouldn’t be foggy or wet. Tonight’s game will begin shortly after 7pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Didi Gregorius (shoulder) will be activated off the disabled list tomorrow. Hooray for that … Gary Sanchez (biceps) will begin a minor league rehab assignment next week, likely with Triple-A Scranton next Tuesday, Brian Cashman said. Hooray for that too. Hoorays all around.

Game 19: Measuring Stick?

(Justin K. Aller/Getty)
(Justin K. Aller/Getty)

The Yankees are off to a nice little 11-7 start to the season — their +30 run differential is still the best in baseball — and they’ve done it while getting basically nothing from Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and Didi Gregorius. I’m excited to see this team at full strength. I don’t know if they’re good enough to make the postseason, but at least they’re far more interesting to watch nowadays.

Anyway, rain turned this three-game series at Fenway Park into a two-game series, and because this is Yankees-Red Sox, everything is overblown. I’ve seen this series called a measuring stick for the Yankees. These two games against the AL East favorite will tell us whether they’re for real or not! I mean, no? One series doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but still, it sure would be nice to pick up a pair of wins in Boston. One game at a time though. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. RF Aaron Judgehow about a couple homers to celebrate his 25th birthday?
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. SS Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Severino

The weather still isn’t great in Beantown. It was raining on and off all day, though it looks as though there will be a big enough window to get the game in. It’ll be cold and cloudy in the meantime. This evening’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET. You can watch on YES locally and ESPN nationally. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Didi Gregorius (shoulder) is on track to return this coming weekend, Joe Girardi said. He could be back in the lineup as soon as Friday. I’m guessing the Yankees want to see how he makes it through his rehab games tonight and tomorrow before making any decisions … Gary Sanchez (biceps) is throwing from a distance of 120 feet and has started hitting in the batting cage, so his rehab is coming along well.

Torreyes has given the Yanks exactly what they needed during Gregorius’ absence

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees have won nine of their last ten games, and perhaps the most amazing thing about this hot stretch is that they’ve done it without Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius, arguably their two best position players. Sanchez hurt his biceps taking a swing two Saturdays ago, the day before eight-game winning streak started. He resumed throwing and swinging Wednesday but is still a few weeks ago.

Gregorius, on the other hand, has not played at all during the regular season due to a shoulder strain suffered during the World Baseball Classic. The injury sucks, but what can you do? Gregorius resumed throwing last week and has gradually increased his workouts. He’s expected to play in his first official minor league rehab game later today. The Yankees could get Gregorius back sometime next week. Hooray for that.

While Gregorius has been sidelined, utility man Ronald Torreyes has filled in at shortstop admirably. He hasn’t been great — he’s hitting .239/.239/.391 (70 wRC+) in 46 plate appearances — but he hasn’t been a total disaster either. Torreyes has generally fielded the ball cleanly, plus he’s come up with some clutch hits. His two-run triple against the Orioles helped spark the comeback the led to the first win of the eight-game winning streak.

I was pretty excited when the Yankees acquired Torreyes last offseason — they traded for him, lost him on waivers, then claimed him back on waivers — but not because I thought he could be a future star or even a regular or anything like that. I thought he could be exactly what he has been for the Yankees: a solid high-energy bench player who could spot start for a few weeks and not kill you at the plate or in the field. Good bench players are tough to find.

That said, we’ve reached the point where Torreyes is starting to get exposed by playing everyday. He’s gone 5-for-26 (.192) in his last eight games and is averaging only 2.97 pitches per plate appearances during that time. Only three strikeouts is good! That’s what Torreyes does. He makes a lot of contact. But he’s not impacting the baseball much, and it’s starting to show up in his numbers. A few clutch hits have prevented him from being a total drain on the offense, so that’s cool.

Once Gregorius returns, the Yankees can slide Torreyes back into the reserve infielder role he fills so well, and enjoy an upgrade on both sides of the ball at shortstop. Didi has made steady progress in his two years with the Yankees. He was a better player in September 2015 than he was in April 2015, and he was a much better player in September 2016 than he was in April 2016. I’m looking forward to seeing where he takes his game this season.

This isn’t intended to be a knock on Torreyes, because he gave the Yankees exactly what they needed at shortstop while Gregorius was out: competence. He made all the plays he was supposed to make on defense and he chipped in some big hits. We’ve seen some bench players thrust into everyday duty by injuries in recent years who were overmatched. Jayson Nix. Chris Stewart. Brendan Ryan. Ben Francisco. So on and so forth.

That didn’t happen with Torreyes and he deserves major props for holding down a tough position as well as he has. The Yankees are a much better team with Gregorius in the lineup though, and now that he’s inching closer to a return, it’s exciting to think this team could be ever better going forward. Then when Sanchez returns? Oh boy.