Saturday Links: Judge, Playoffs, Cave, Automatic Strike Zone

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox will continue their three-game weekend series later tonight at Fenway Park. That’s a 7pm ET start. Remember when they used to play baseball on Saturday afternoons? That was fun. Anyway, here are some links and notes to check out until first pitch.

Yankees not considering moving Judge to first base

According to David Lennon and Bob Klapisch, the Yankees have not considering moving Aaron Judge to first base to unclog the outfield logjam and potentially address first base long-term. Judge did play first base in high school, you know. He moved to the outfield in college because Fresno State already had a pretty good first baseman. Even if the Yankees were considering moving Judge, they wouldn’t do it midseason. They’d wait until Spring Training.

Two thoughts on this. One, Judge’s right field defense is way too good right now to move him. He’s an asset out there, particularly his throwing. Move him to first base and you’re wasting his arm. And two, I think it’s only a matter of time until Judge winds up at first base permanently. There’s a reason you don’t see many players that size running around the outfield. It’s tough on the knees and tough on the body. That doesn’t mean Judge will have to move to first base next year. But maybe in four or five years? Yeah, it’s possible. Right now though, it is not a consideration for the Yankees, and that is absolutely the right move in my opinion.

Hal says missing postseason would be a “failure”

It seems the Yankees have gone from “World Series or bust” to “transition year” to “postseason or bust” within the last 18 months or so. Earlier this week, Hal Steinbrenner said it would be a “failure” if the Yankees missed the playoffs this year. “If we don’t make the playoffs, it’s a failure … It’s been a tough last two months for the most part. But I think they’re coming out of it … (We’re) going to have a strong last five, six weeks,” said Hal to Anthony Castrovince.

The continued shift in expectations this year has been pretty fascinating. The Yankees sold at the trade deadline last year and, for the most part, I think people considered this a “step back before taking a step forward” year. Break in some young players, deal with the growing pains, then gear up for 2018. Instead, the young players hit the ground running and the Yankees got off to a great start. They’ve been a .500-ish team for three months now though. It went from “rebuilding year” to “let’s shock the world!” to “please just get a wildcard spot.” If the Yankees miss the postseason now, it’ll feel like a disappointment. Five months ago, it was kinda expected.

Four Yankees among most improved prospects

Cave. (AP)
Cave. (AP)

Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS system to find the position player and pitching prospects who have improved their stock the most this season. In a nutshell, he compared each player’s preseason projection to their current projection. He lists 18 prospects total and four are Yankees:

  • RHP Chance Adams: 5.32 ERA preseason to 4.35 ERA now
  • OF Jake Cave: .617 OPS preseason to .709 OPS now
  • 1B Garrett Cooper: .679 OPS preseason to .751 OPS now
  • RHP Domingo German: 5.70 ERA preseason to 4.88 ERA now

SS Gleyber Torres and OF Billy McKinney were among the honorable mentions. The Cave projection is most interesting to me because ZiPS basically says he made the jump from non-prospect to potential fourth outfielder this season. From the write-up:

Of the 1,400 projections for hitters run by ZiPS coming into 2017 (about 1,250 “official” ones and 150 for prospects at very low levels for which I have little confidence), only four players got a larger boost than Cave’s 92-point OPS boost: Ryan Zimmerman, Aaron Judge, Justin Smoak and Zack Cozart.

ZiPS still isn’t convinced Cave will be more than a fourth outfielder, but it’s damn hard to add 100 points of OPS to a projection in four months.

Huh. Cave will be a minor league free agent this offseason and I think it’s likely the Yankees will add him to the 40-man roster and make sure he doesn’t get away. He is going to be 25 in December, so he’s not super young, but hit .343/.387/.610 (176 wRC+) with 13 homers in 54 Triple-A games while playing center field, and you’re going to make yourself worth keeping around.

Electronic strike zone not on the horizon

No surprise here, but commissioner Rob Manfred told Anthony Castrovince the league is not close to implementing an electronic strike zone. The technology isn’t there yet, and even once it is available, Manfred is leery of moving away from human umpires. Balls and strikes are everything to umpires. I suspect they’ll fight an electronic strike zone tooth and nail when the time comes.

Personally, I don’t have much interest in an electronic strike zone. Yes, I would like the umpires to be better behind the plate, but I feel like an electronic zone would take more away from the game than it would provide. Consistency is boring. Also, I get the sense that shifting to an electronic strike zone would have some unintended consequences. We could see some pretty drastic shifts in pitcher (and therefore hitter) performance with an unambiguous zone.

Jeter becomes a dad

And finally, Derek Jeter is now officially a father. Derek and Hannah welcomed their daughter, Bella Raine Jeter, into the world on Thursday, it was announced on The Players’ Tribune (of course). Congrats to them. Not a bad gene pool to come from, huh?

Game 120: Going for the Subway Sweep

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Subway Series has been pretty enjoyable so far this season, has it not? The games have been close and exciting, and of course the Yankees have won all three, so that’s fun. The Mets swept all four Subway Series games back in 2013, remember. Time to return the favor. Here is the Mets’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 3B Todd Frazier
  7. 1B Tyler Austin
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. RHP Luis Severino

Very nice weather in New York today, and it’ll continue tonight. The rain isn’t coming until early tomorrow morning. Tonight’s Subway Series finale will begin at 7:10pm ET, and you’ll be able to watch on YES and WPIX locally, and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the ballgame.

Injury Updates: Garrett Cooper was placed on the 10-day DL with left hamstring tendinitis, the Yankees announced. That’s why Austin is back and in the lineup … Aroldis Chapman (hamstring) threw a bullpen session today and everything went well. He won’t be available tonight. The hope is he’ll be available tomorrow … Matt Holliday (back) and Starlin Castro (hamstring) will both begin rehab assignments tomorrow. Castro is going to Triple-A Scranton and Holliday is going to High-A Tampa.

The Yankees have a poorly constructed bench, but there’s not much they can do it about it right now

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night the Yankees dropped a heartbreaker of a game to the Red Sox, mostly because Aroldis Chapman blew his fourth save in 19 chances this season. The Yankees turned a one-run lead over to their closer and he couldn’t make it stand up. Rafael Devers hit an insanely impressive home run to tie it, but still, this is a results business, and Chapman didn’t get the results.

The Yankees had a chance to win the game in the bottom of the ninth inning and geez, it was a mess of an inning, both in terms of execution and decision-making. For both teams, not just the Yankees. Red Sox manager John Farrell tried to make an illegal mound visit to change pitchers and had to be told to go back to the dugout. Can’t say I’ve ever seen that before.

A quick recap of the inning: Chase Headley walked, Ronald Torreyes bunted him over to second, pinch-hitter Jacoby Ellsbury grounded out, Brett Gardner struck out. Why didn’t Tyler Wade pinch-run for Headley? Who knows. Why didn’t Craig Kimbrel start the inning instead of coming in after the mess was made? Who cares. Why did the Yankees not have a better pinch-hitting option than Ellsbury? That’s the real question.

Right now the Yankees are carrying eight relievers and three bench players. Those three bench players for last night’s game: Wade, Ellsbury, Garrett Cooper. Wade never plays, Ellsbury has played so poorly this year he had to be demoted into the fourth outfielder’s role, and Cooper is a right-handed platoon first baseman who apparently doesn’t even start against left-handers anymore. (He didn’t start against lefties Saturday or Sunday.)

Usually Austin Romine is on the bench in place of Ellsbury or Cooper, though he was in the starting lineup for the fifth time in the last ten games last night (!), so Gary Sanchez was the DH. After Ellsbury pinch-hit for Romine in that ninth inning, the Yankees had to forfeit the DH to move Sanchez behind the plate. It didn’t matter — the pitcher’s spot never came up again — but still. Second time in three games the Yankees did that.

As it stands, the Yankees don’t have a whole lot of utility on the bench. Wade can pinch-run and play just about anywhere in a pinch, but clearly Girardi doesn’t trust him, so he never plays. Wade has played twice in the last eleven days, both times playing defense for a half-inning at the end of a blowout. The Yankees are fighting for a postseason spot and Girardi is going to stick with Torreyes at second, and he’s been fine. Great at times, bad at others, fine overall.

Wade doesn’t play. Cooper provides zero flexibility as a first base only guy. Ellsbury? Meh. He’s had his moments the last eight days or so, but generally speaking, he’s on the bench more often than not these days for a reason. The bench right now is not very good, and the worst part? There’s really nothing the Yankees can do about. There are three reasons for that.

  1. Injuries. Starlin Castro, Greg Bird, and Matt Holliday (and Clint Frazier) are all on the disabled list. Those guys, when healthy, would push Cooper, Wade, and the eighth reliever to Triple-A, and Torreyes and Romine to the bench more often than not. (At least in theory.)
  2. The pitching staff. The Yankees are without Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, and lately, getting length from the starter has been a tall order. Seven times in the last 17 games the starter failed to complete five innings. The Yankees need that eighth reliever given the state of the rotation.
  3. Lack of options. The Yankees have two healthy position players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues: Miguel Andujar and Tyler Austin. Austin is essentially a Cooper clone. Swap the two and nothing changes. The Yankees have clearly deemed Andujar not big league ready, and besides, he can only play third. Non-40-man options in Triple-A include, uh, Donovan Solano? Jake Cave? Billy McKinney? Not much there.

The Yankees could go out and make a waiver trade to bolster the bench — Neil Walker would’ve helped and I’m sure Jed Lowrie could be had — and I’m sure the Yankees are exploring every option. That said, it really feels like the Yankees are just trying to hang on and get by until the injured dudes return. Aaron Hicks came back late last week and both Castro and Bird are due to begin minor league rehab assignments this week. Holliday took batting practice yesterday. They’re coming.

For now, the Yankees can’t do much more than bide their time until the regulars get healthy or a sensible trade option becomes available. I’d bet on the former happening before the latter. Forfeiting the DH to pinch-hit for the backup catcher who starts way too often with less than ideal pinch-hitter options isn’t something that can last forever. The Yankees need to improve their bench, and the best way to do that is to get the regulars healthy.

Yankeemetrics: Nightmare north of the border (Aug. 8-10)

(AP)
(AP)

Where’s home plate?
The road trip continued with a trek north of the border, to a place that has been a house of horrors for the Yankees this decade. They entered the series in Toronto with a 27-41 record at the Rogers Centre since 2010, their worst winning percentage at an AL ballpark over the past eight years.

So, predictably, they dropped the first game on Tuesday, though the result had much more to do with their continued failure to cash in on scoring chances. They flooded the basepaths with 14 baserunners, but only two of them crossed the plate, the first time that’s happened in nearly a year, since last August 15 against … the Blue Jays.

Or maybe they lost because they failed to send a ball over the fences. The Yankees have just three wins when they don’t homer, the fewest in the majors this season, and after going homerless on Tuesday, their 3-20 record without a home run is the second-worst in baseball.

All of the damage by the Blue Jays came from Josh Donaldson, who belted two two-run homers off CC Sabathia in the first three innings. Sabathia later revealed that he was pitching with pain in his right knee, which was the likely cause of a troublesome drop in his fastball velocity.

(Brooksbaseball.net)
(Brooksbaseball.net)

He averaged 89 mph on his sinker and 88.4 mph on his cutter, both of which were his second-lowest marks on those pitches this season, ahead of only his start in Pittsburgh in April. The injury was likely the main reason for his struggles, though you have to wonder if the inevitable regression monster was lurking given these numbers entering the game:

Sabathia had a 2.29 ERA on the road, the best in the AL (min. 50 IP), and hadn’t allowed more than one earned run in each of his last six road outings before Tuesday. He also had held Donaldson without a homer in their previous 37 matchups, the most plate appearances Donaldson had in his career against a pitcher he had yet to take deep.

(AP)
(AP)

Dinger party
The Yankee bats returned with vengeance on Wednesday night, exploding for 11 runs and 17 hits, including eight for extra bases. It was the first time they reached each of those totals on the road in more than two years, since a 13-6 shellacking of the White Sox at Cellular Field on July 31, 2015.

Todd Frazier, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius each went deep as the Yankees improved to 17-0 when hitting at least three homers, the best record in the majors. The only other team that’s unbeaten in three-homer games this season is the Red Sox (10-0).

Frazier had by far his finest game as a Yankee, with three hits — a homer, double and single — three RBIs and four runs scored. Those two extra-base hits on Wednesday were the same number that he had in his previous 18 games (70 plate appearances) in pinstripes.

The Toddfather is just the fourth Yankee third baseman to drive in three or more runs and score four or more times in a game, joining A-Rod (six times), Scott Brosius (1999), Graig Nettles (1976) and Bobby Brown (1949).

The inclusion of Brown here gives us a chance for our Yankeemetric History Lesson of the Week. Brown, who later became a practicing cardiologist and spent a decade as the president of the American League (1984-94), has one incredible stat from his eight seasons with the Yankees:

A career .279/.367/.376 hitter, Brown was a monster in the postseason, hitting .439 in 41 at-bats in 17 World Series games. That’s the second-highest World Series batting average in baseball history by any player with at least 40 plate appearances, behind David Ortiz (.455).

Garrett Cooper was the other standout player on Wednesday, going 4-for-5 with two RBIs, and producing a bevy of #FunFacts for the 26-year-old rookie. He is the …

  • Seventh Yankee ever with a four-hit, multi-RBI game within his first 10 career games. This might be one of the most eclectic lists of players we’ve ever produced: D’Angelo Jimenez (1999), Shane Spencer (1998), Rusty Torres (1971), Elston Howard (1955), Jerry Coleman (1949) and Chicken Hawks (1921) — yes, a real person and one incredible statistical claim to fame.
  • Third Yankee first baseman with at least four hits against the Blue Jays, joining Mark Teixeira (2010) and Don Mattingly (six times).
  • Fourth rookie first baseman in the last 100-plus years to have a four-hit game, along with Joe Collins (1950), Bud Souchock (1946) and Lou Gehrig (twice).

And, of course, this would not be a Yankeemetrics post without Aaron Judge re-writing the record books. He took his 82nd walk of the season in the fifth inning, breaking the Yankee rookie record set by Charlie Keller in 1939. The major-league rookie record in the modern era (since 1900) is 107 walks by Ted Williams in 1939, a number that is certainly within reach over the next seven weeks.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Stranded in Canada
One night after an offensive explosion — which now seems like a blip during this miserable and extended slump — the Yankees flipped the script on Thursday and were blanked by the Blue Jays, 4-0. It was deja vu all over again, as they had plenty of chances to score (11 baserunners) but left a small navy of men on base because of their horrid clutch hitting (0-for-9 with runners in scoring position).

But maybe we should have predicted this frustrating loss, given their recent struggles to light up the scoreboard at the Rogers Centre. It was the Yankees 10th shutout loss in Toronto since 2011, easily their most at any road stadium over the last seven seasons. Second on the list? Camden Yards and Tropicana Field, with five at each place.

Sonny Gray was okay on a night he needed to be perfect, but he did hold the Blue Jays to three runs (two earned) in six innings, his eighth start in a row with at least six innings pitched and no more than two earned runs allowed. That’s the longest such streak by an AL pitcher this season and tied with Max Scherzer for the second-longest in the majors, behind Aaron Nola (9).

Two of those starts have been with the Yankees, and he’s lost both of them, as the Yankees have scored a total of zero runs in the 12 innings he’s been on the mound. His consolation prize is being the proud winner of our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: Gray is the second pitcher ever to begin his Yankee career with two losses despite pitching at least six innings and allowing two or fewer earned runs in each game, joining Harry Byrd in 1954.

Aaron Judge inched closer to yet another record, although this is one he’d like to avoid. When he took a called strike three in the fifth inning against Marco Estrada, it was his 27th straight game with a strikeout. That’s the second-longest single-season streak by a position player in MLB history, trailing only Adam Dunn’s 32-game streak to start the 2012 season.

As the Yankees wait for players to get healthy, Garrett Cooper is earning a longer look

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Last night, during their win over the Blue Jays, the Yankees received a much-needed breakout from their offense. They scored eleven runs last night after scoring 15 runs total in their previous six games, and their 17 hits were one short of their season high. No, they didn’t face the best pitching, but who cares? The Yankees needed a night like that against any pitching.

Four of those 17 hits belonged to rookie first baseman Garrett Cooper, who wasn’t even supposed to be in the starting lineup. Joe Girardi uses Cooper as a platoon bat against left-handed pitchers, but when Clint Frazier felt something in his oblique during batting practice, he was scratched from the lineup and Cooper was inserted. A 4-for-5 effort with a double followed.

Cooper became the first Yankees rookie since Joe Collins in 1950 to record four hits in a game, and that came one day after a two-hit game. He was the only Yankee to put up much of a fight against J.A. Happ on Tuesday. Cooper is 12-for-33 (.364) during his brief big league career, and while he’s only walked once, I think his approach has been sound, especially the last two days. He hasn’t been hacking wildly at pitches out of the zone.

Last night’s outburst notwithstanding, the Yankees have had a real hard time generating offense the last week and a half — they needed Abe Almonte to misplay Jacoby Ellsbury‘s bases loaded line drive to get the big hit Sunday — and with Cooper starting to show signs of life, Joe Girardi should keep him in the lineup, even against righties. That’s obvious, right? He’s having some success and building confidence now, so keep running him out there.

Cooper is a first base only guy, which complicates things, but the DH spot is open with Matt Holliday on the disabled list. That pretty much takes care of that. Chase Headley has slotted in at DH the last two nights, and he could always play first or third on any given night, allowing Cooper or Todd Frazier to get the proverbial half a day off at DH. It would be nice if Cooper could play another position. That’s not possible, so first base and DH it is.

I’m not the biggest Garrett Cooper fan in the world — a 26-year right-handed hitting first base only guy who never hit double-digit homers until playing in Colorado Springs doesn’t excite me much — but my opinion doesn’t matter. The Yankees aren’t really in position to be picky right now. He’s had good at-bats and good swings the last two nights, and the Yankees need as much offense as they can get, so Cooper should keep playing until the reinforcements arrive.

Game 110: Severino Sunday

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As crummy as the Yankees — the offense in particular — have looked over the last six days, it’s pretty amazing they come into today’s series finale with a chance to split a four-game series against the defending AL champs. I’m not sure scoring two runs and hanging on for dear life is a sustainable strategy, but it worked last night. Maybe it’ll work again today. I’d prefer a stress-free blowout win. Those are cool.

The six-man rotation comes to an end this afternoon, at least in theory, as Luis Severino makes his first start since that five-inning, 116-pitch grind against the Tigers on Monday. Hopefully he’s feeling good after the extra day of rest. Severino’s numbers are out of this world this year: 2.98 ERA (2.91 FIP) with 28.2% strikeouts, 6.5% walks, and 51.5% grounders. Man. Go get ’em Sevy. Here is the Indians’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. DH Brett Gardner
  2. LF Clint Frazier
  3. SS Didi Gregorius
  4. RF Aaron Judge
  5. 1B Chase Headley
  6. 3B Todd Frazier
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. C Austin Romine
    RHP Luis Severino

Another cool and cloudy day in Cleveland. Not exactly a picturesque day for baseball, but it’ll do. This afternoon’s series finale will begin at 1:10pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy.

Roster Move: Matt Holliday was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a left lumbar strain, the Yankees announced. Not sure how long he’ll be sidelined, but given the way he’s been hitting, the Yankees aren’t losing much. Garrett Cooper was called up from Triple-A Scranton to fill the roster spot. How unexciting.

Injury Update: Greg Bird (ankle) is going to hit in the cage today, and the plan to take full batting practice and begin fielding/baserunning drills next week.

Game 105: Win Another Series

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

The post-trade deadline Yankees opened their post-trade deadline schedule with another win last night, their seventh in the last eight games. Remember when the Yankees couldn’t buy a series win? They’ve now won three straight series and have a chance to win their fourth straight tonight. Things turned around in a hurry.

With the trade deadline in the rear-view mirror, we’ve entered the dog days of summer, the daily grind of getting through August before the races really heat up in September. That doesn’t make these games any less important, of course. Every game you win in August is one less game you have to win in September. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. LF Clint Frazier
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. DH Matt Holliday
  7. 1B Chase Headley
  8. 3B Todd Frazier
  9. 2B Tyler Wade
    LHP CC Sabathia

Nice warm day in New York today. A bit cloudy now but no rain or anything to worry about. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and YES will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Greg Bird (ankle) is progressing well following surgery and he had his stitches taken out today. The hope is he’ll begin baseball activities in the near future … Aaron Hicks (oblique) and Tyler Austin (hamstring) will begin minor league rehab assignments with Triple-A Scranton tomorrow … Starlin Castro (hamstring) has not started running yet, in case you missed it earlier.

Roster Moves: The Yankees sent down Jonathan Holder and Garrett Cooper following last night’s game, the team announced. That cleared roster space for Jaime Garcia and Sonny Gray, who joined the team today. If you’re into uniform numbers, Garcia will wear No. 34 and Gray will wear No. 55. Both wore No. 54 with their former teams, though that’s Aroldis Chapman‘s number.

Rotation Update: The Yankees will use a six-man rotation this week. Sabathia starts tonight, Masahiro Tanaka starts tomorrow, Gray starts Thursday, Garcia starts Friday, Jordan Montgomery starts Saturday, and Luis Severino starts Sunday. They plan to go back to a five-man rotation after that. It’s possible Garcia and Gray could be flip-flopped. Depends whether Gray’s plane lands in time today for him to do his between-starts work.