Aaron Judge finishes second in 2017 AL MVP voting

(Elsa/Getty)
Greatness has arrived. (Elsa/Getty)

Alas, Aaron Judge did not become only the third player in history to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve was predictably named the 2017 AL Most Valuable Player by MLB and the BBWAA on Thursday night. Congrats to him. Judge finished second in the voting and Indians infielder Jose Ramirez finished third.

Earlier this week Judge was named the AL Rookie of the Year unanimously, which is the kinda thing that happens when you hit .284/.422/.627 (173 wRC+) with 52 homers. Judge is the second rookie ever to finish runner-up in the MVP voting, joining Mike Trout in 2012. Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) are still the only players to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season.

Altuve of course had a fantastic season, hitting .346/.410/.547 (160 wRC+) with 24 home runs and 32 stolen bases. The Baseball Reference version of WAR says he was the best player in baseball this season, AL or NL. The FanGraphs version of WAR says Judge was the best player in baseball. Hmmm. Ultimately, Altuve won because Judge went through that six-week slump after the All-Star break. That’s the difference right there.

At the same time, you could easily argue the Yankees would not have made the postseason without Judge. Would the Astros have made the postseason without Altuve? Yeah, probably. They won the AL West by 21 games. Same deal with Ramirez. The Indians won the AL Central by 17 games. So many MVP voters still consider the postseason situation when filling out their ballots, though not enough to give Judge the award this year.

Judge’s second place finish is the highest a Yankee has finished in the MVP voting since Mark Teixeira was the runner-up to Joe Mauer in 2009. Derek Jeter was third in the voting that year, and Robinson Cano finished third in the voting in 2011. The last Yankee to win the AL MVP award is Alex Rodriguez back in 2007.

The full voting results are available at the BBWAA’s site. Altuve received 27 of the 30 first place votes while Judge received two. Judge also received 27 second place votes and one third place vote. He was on all 30 ballots. In other MVP voting news, Didi Gregorius received one eighth and one tenth place vote, and Gary Sanchez received one tenth place vote. Pretty awesome. Congrats guys. What a fun season this was.

The Catcher of the Future becomes the Catcher of the Present [2017 Season Review]

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Because he packed a season’s worth of production into two months last year, it can be a little easy to forget the 2017 season was the first full MLB season of Gary Sanchez‘s career. He usurped Brian McCann as the starting catcher late last year and so convinced the Yankees he was ready for full-time catching duty that they traded McCann over the winter. They didn’t keep the veteran safety net.

Sanchez, who is three weeks away from his 25th birthday, left zero doubt he is not only the catcher of the present for the Yankees, but a centerpiece of their new core. He missed a month with a biceps injury early in 2017 and still hit .278/.345/.531 (130 wRC+) with 33 homers in 122 games. Thirty-three different catchers had at least 300 plate appearances this season. Here are Sanchez’s ranks:

  • AVG: .278 (7th)
  • OBP: .345 (9th)
  • SLG: .531 (2nd behind Kurt Suzuki (?!?))
  • wRC+: 130 (1st)
  • HR: 33 (1st)
  • XBH: 53 (1st)
  • fWAR: +4.4 (1st)
  • bWAR: +4.1 (1st)

At worst, Sanchez has established himself as the best power-hitting catcher in baseball. Only seven players have hit more homers than Sanchez since he was called up for good last August 3rd. That’s among all players, not only catchers. Sanchez missed a month and he’s still hit more homers (53) since last August 3rd than guys like Nolan Arenado (52), Edwin Encarnacion (51), and Kris Bryant (51). He beat Giancarlo Stanton in the first round of the Home Run Derby this year (in Miami)! And that bat drop.

gary-sanchez-bat-drop

At best, Sanchez has established himself as one of the two or three best all-around catchers in baseball. Yes, that includes defense. Buster Posey remains the gold standard among two-way catchers. Sanchez is much closer to challenging him for that title that a lot of people seem to realize. By this time next year, the crown could be he is. Let’s review Gary’s first full big league season.

You Can’t Spell Kraken Without Rake

Coming into the season, I was among those who thought Sanchez had no chance to continue last season’s pace, and he didn’t. Gary put up a .299/.376/.657 (171 wRC+) batting line with 20 homers in only 53 games last year. Doing that again seemed impossible. That isn’t to say I thought Sanchez would be bad. I just didn’t expect him to be that good again. And he wasn’t. But he was still great!

What impressed me most about Sanchez this year was how, in four of his five healthy months, he was dominant offensively. And I mean dominant. Not pretty good or a tick above average. Gary was a force pretty much all season aside from a July swoon. His month-by-month splits:

  • April: .150/.190/.300 (23 wRC+) in five games before the injury
  • May: .293/.398/.440 (130 wRC+)
  • June: .307/.390/.659 (175 wRC+)
  • July: .231/.273/.396 (69 wRC+)
  • August: .287/.347/.648 (157 wRC+)
  • September: .303/.354/.528 (134 wRC+)

At one point in August, when most catchers are starting to wear down a bit in the dog days of summer, Sanchez swatted nine homers in the span of 12 games, including the second longest home run in baseball in 2017, a 493-foot moonshoot at Comerica Park. He started 117 total games between catcher and DH and only 24 times did he fail to reach base.

High-leverage situations? Sanchez hit .390/.422/.561 (162 wRC+). Men in scoring position? He hit .281/.356/.477 (118 wRC+). Gary’s go-ahead two-run double in Game Four of the ALCS is on the short list of the biggest hits of the season. It certainly felt like the biggest at the time.

The only real knock against Sanchez offensively — well, aside from his total lack of baserunning value, which comes with the territory with catchers — is that he tends to get a little pull happy and expand the zone. There’s nothing wrong with being a pull hitter! Pulling the ball has such a stigma attached to it these days because of the shift. All batters hit the ball the hardest when the pull it. That’s okay.

Sanchez led all qualified hitters in pull rate (51.6%) this season — Carlos Santana (51.4%), Brian Dozier (50.4%), and Rougned Odor (50.3%) were the only other hitters with a pull rate over 50% in 2017 — and when he struggles, it’s almost always because he gets pull happy and starts chasing everything. His swing rate on pitches out of the zone gradually increased as the season progressed, even as pitchers threw him fewer pitches in the zone.

gary-sanchez-plate-discipline

On one hand, that seems bad. Pitchers threw fewer pitches in the zone as the season progressed and Sanchez chased more and more. On the other hand, Sanchez raked in August and September, so maybe it’s not that big a deal? Gary is certainly capable of going the other way. Look at the video of the ALCS Game Four double again. He split the right-center field gap. Sanchez also homered to right field in Game Four of the ALDS.

Again, this was Gary’s first full big league season, the first time he went threw the league multiple times and the first time he had pitchers adjust to him and had to adjust back. His strikeout (22.9%) and walk (7.6%) rates certainly weren’t unwieldy. Sanchez is just a young hitter who has to learn when to stop being so pull happy. There’s nothing wrong with being a pull hitter and I wouldn’t try to change anything. What Gary is doing works, so keep doing it. As he gains experience and figures out how pitchers are attacking him, he’ll be even more dangerous.

Throwing & Framing

We all know Sanchez can hit. He’s a great hitter regardless of position and an elite hitter for a catcher. His defense is quite divisive, however. Everyone agrees he’s a great thrower, right? Right. Sanchez threw out 23 of 60 basestealers this season, or 38%. The league average is 27%. Remember when he threw out Brock Holt with a one-run lead in the ninth inning on August 19th? It was flawless.

Only Tucker Barnhart (44%), Yan Gomes (42%), and Martin Maldonado (39%) threw out basestealers at a higher rate than Sanchez among the 17 catchers with at least 800 innings caught this year. And it’s not only that Sanchez threw out a high percentage of basestealers this year. His arm is so good teams don’t even try running against him. The stolen base attempt leaderboard:

  1. Cardinals: 86 (Yadier Molina)
  2. Indians: 87 (Gomes)
  3. Yankees: 91 (Yo Soy Gary)

And that’s with Sanchez missing a month and Austin Romine‘s miserable throwing arm — Romine threw out only 10% (!) of basestealers in 2017 — filling in as the starter for a month. As long as Gary stays on the field, teams may attempt fewer steals against the Yankees next season than any other team. His arm is that good. Teams don’t even bother testing him much of the time.

There is more to catcher defense than throwing out basestealers, obviously. Sanchez was either comfortably above-average or comfortably below-average at pitch-framing this season, depending who you ask.

Hmmm. I trust Baseball Prospectus more only because I know more about their methodology, though I was surprised to see Sanchez rated so well at pitch-framing. He ranks 19th among all catchers. That isn’t to say I thought Sanchez was a bad framer. Bad framers stick out like a sore thumb. Those dudes are easy to spot. I thought Gary was closer to average based on the eye test, which is what you get when you average out Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner.

Let’s Talk About The Passed Balls

Now let’s get to the elephant in the room. Sanchez’s blocking was so bad at one point this season — Gary allowed five passed balls in a 12-game span in late-July/early-August — that the usually protective Joe Girardi called him out publicly. He never does that. Sanchez allowed a passed ball that let a run score in a loss to the Indians, and afterwards Girardi called him out.

“He needs to improve. Bottom line,” said Girardi after the game. “I don’t have a problem with his effort, but sometimes he shows his frustrations … He’s late getting down. That’s what I see sometimes, and it’s something we’ve been working on and we continue to work on. He’s capable of doing a better job.”

Not only did Girardi call Sanchez out, he benched him him for a few days, and he did it in such a way that got the message across without hurting the team. Gary sat the day after the passed ball, which was a day game after a night game, meaning he was probably going to sit anyway. The next day was an off-day, then the next day he was the DH. That’s three days away from catching but only one day out of the lineup, a day he was going to sit anyway.

Did the benching work? Only Sanchez can answer that. What we do know is that before the benching, Sanchez allowed 12 passed balls in 59 games, or one every 4.9 games. After the benching, he allowed four passed balls in 40 games, or one every ten games. Big improvement! I thought Gary’s best defensive stretch of the season came during the playoffs, particularly when he blocked the hell out of Masahiro Tanaka‘s splitters in Game Three of the ALDS.

Sanchez led all catchers with 16 passed balls — and he missed a month, remember — and his 53 wild pitches allowed were second most in baseball. I know wild pitches are, by definition, the pitcher’s fault, but an awful lot of passed balls and wild pitches are tough to define. It’s not clear whose fault it is. Surely some of those 53 wild pitches were on Sanchez. Either way, Gary let a lot of pitches get by him this year.

All told this season, 110 different players caught a game in the big leagues. Here is the bottom of the leaderboard of Baseball Prospectus’ catcher blocking metric:

106. Jonathan Lucroy: -2.3 runs
107. Mike Zunino: -2.6 runs
108. Gary Sanchez: -2.6 runs
109. James McCann: -2.8 runs
110. Wilson Ramos: -3.2 runs

Yep, bottom of the league. To be fair, the Yankees do not have the easiest pitching staff to catch. Sanchez (and Romine) had to contend with Tanaka’s splitters in the dirt, Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia throwing nothing straight, David Robertson spiking curveballs, Dellin Betances having no idea where the ball is going most of the time, so on and so forth. According to Statcast, only four teams threw a higher percentage of pitches in the dirt than the Yankees this year.

Now, that said, there were many blockable pitches along the way that Sanchez did not block. And given the nature of blocking pitches in the dirt, it’s so very easy to blame them on Gary being lazy, and I hate that. He gets called lazy because he’s from the Dominican Republic and that garbage stereotype exists in baseball. I hate questioning effort level and the only time I do it is when it is particularly egregious. Andruw Jones jogging after balls in the gap in 2012 is the best recent example I can come up with of a Yankee straight up dogging it.

Sanchez, more than anything, has to improve his blocking technique. He has to better anticipate pitches in the dirt, get down quicker, and get himself square to the ball. Gary can do it! I know he can. He’s already come a very long way defensively in his career. Catching is hard, man. Especially for young catchers. Almost all of them struggle when they first get to the big leagues. Most struggle at the plate. Sanchez has struggled behind it.

And you know what? Even if Sanchez never improves his blocking and is among the league leaders in passed balls year after year after year, under no circumstances should the Yankees move Gary out from behind the plate. He’s a great thrower and at least an adequate framer, and of course his bat is elite for the position. Move him to first base or DH and he’s merely above-average. At catcher, he’s a cornerstone type. Keep him there. Keep him there keep him there keep him there. Keep him there.

2018 Outlook

Sanchez was outstanding this season. Yes, his blocking stunk, and no, he was not as good as he was during his 2016 cameo, but he was excellent overall. On the very short list of the best catchers in baseball, truly. There is no question the Yankees will go into next season with Sanchez as the starting catcher and a middle of the order hitter. He is the team’s best and most important hitter aside from Aaron Judge. I think he is their most indispensable player. The drop off from Sanchez to his replacement is greater than the drop off at any other position, I believe.

And here’s the thing: I think Sanchez is going to get better. I think there’s room for growth in his game, both offensively and defensively, and I think he’ll make those improvements as he gains experience. I expect Gary to become a better hitter once he understands what pitchers are trying to do to him and that getting so pull happy can be a detriment, and I think his blocking will improve too. Even with the blocking issues, Sanchez is a franchise catcher, and as good as he was in 2017, the talent is there for him to be even better. I believe it.

Yankeemetrics: Sweet season, bitter ending (ALCS)

I want to thank everyone for being such great followers, fans and readers during this incredible season. It’s been a wild and crazy ride, and your loyal support has meant so much to me and the rest of the RAB crew. The Chase for 28 begins today. #Lovethisteam

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Trouble in Texas
Riding a huge wave of momentum following their epic comeback against the Indians, the Yankees flat-lined in the ALCS opener, losing 2-1 and digging themselves into an early series hole yet again. They were flummoxed by Dallas Keuchel, who also made a little history along the way:

  • He is the fourth pitcher to hold the Yankees without a run and strike out at least 10 guys in a postseason game, joining Cliff Lee (2010 ALCS), Randy Johnson (2001 World Series) and Pedro Martinez (1999 ALCS)
  • Combined with his 2015 Wild Card Game masterpiece (6 innings, 0 runs, 7 strikeouts), Keuchel is the first pitcher ever to strike out at least seven guys and allow no runs in back-to-back playoff starts against the Yankees

The Yankees wasted their one big scoring opportunity in the fifth inning when Aaron Judge laced a single into left field and Greg Bird was thrown out at home plate trying to score from second. We’ll let Bird explain the play in his own words: “I’m too slow,” Bird told reporters after the game. “Wish I was a little faster. That’s baseball.”

Hard to argue with that analysis. Bird is the second-slowest Yankee according to Statcast’s Sprint Speed metric, ahead of only Chase Headley. Bird tried to make up for his rally-killing blunder with a two-out solo homer in ninth that trimmed the deficit to 2-1. The 399-foot drive was notable because, with the Yankees down to their last out, he saved them from being blanked and produced our first Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series:

The last Yankee to hit a postseason homer with two outs in the ninth to prevent a shutout was … yeah, you guessed it … Scott Brosius in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series. Of course, Brosius also had Jorge Posada on second base at the time, and the outcome was much much different.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Deja vu in Texas
More heartbreak, more losses for the Yankees on Saturday as they dropped a second straight excruciating game by the score of 2-1, this time via Carlos Correa’s game-ending double, and put themselves in yet another 0-2 series hole.

It was their second walk-off loss in October, making this only the second postseason in franchise history they’ve dropped two games in walk-off fashion. The other year was 2004.

What makes the two-games-to-nil deficit so crushing – and historic – is the double-whammy effect of losing two close contests while getting outstanding pitching in both matchups. Only one other team in postseason history lost each of its first two games of any series by one run while giving up no more than two runs in each game. In the 1950 World Series, the Phillies lost by scores of 1-0 and 2-1 Games 1 and 2 to the Yankees, who eventually finished them off in a sweep.

They were dominated again by an Astros starter, as Justin Verlander tossed a masterful 13-strikeout complete game while giving up one run. Only four other pitchers have gone the distance while striking out at least 13 Yankees in the postseason: Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax (1963 World Series) and Bob Gibson (1964 World Series), plus Dodgers righthander Carl Erskine in the 1953 World Series.

Combined with Keuchel’s 10-strikeout gem in Game 1, they are the first set of teammates with back-to-back double-digit strikeout games against the Yankees in a playoff series.

One of the few Yankee highlights was Tommy Kahnle‘s brilliant and near-perfect two-inning performance. Coming off his ALDS Game 4 outing when he retired all six batters faced, Kahnle joined Mariano Rivera (1996, 2003) and Goose Gossage (1978) as the only Yankees with back-to-back postseason games of at least two hitless innings pitched.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Home sweet home
A return to the Bronx was the perfect elixir for the ice-cold Yankee bats, which broke out of their mini-slump in a 8-1 blowout Game 3 win. More importantly, the victory snapped a miserable seven-game losing streak in ALCS contests, which was the second-longest in MLB postseason history, and trailed only a 10-game slide by the Red Sox from 1988-1999.

Todd Frazier ignited the offensive outburst in the second inning when he golfed a 95-mph fastball at his shins into the right-field seats for his first career postseason homer. While it is remarkable that the homer left his bat at 100 mph and went an estimated 365 feet, the fact that it found the seats was nearly as shocking:

Per Statcast data, a batted ball with an exit velocity of 100 mph a and launch angle of 21 degrees produces a homer just six percent of the time. And per Hittrackeronline.net, given weather conditions of 70 degrees and no wind, the hit would have cleared the fences in only one ballpark.

So let’s give Frazier a nice #FunFact shout-out for that improbable blast: he is the first Yankee third baseman to homer with at least two men on base in a postseason game since … Scott Brosius’ three-run, go-ahead homer off Trevor Hoffman in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the 1998 World Series.

Aaron Judge capped off the offensive fireworks with a screaming liner over the left-field fence in the fourth inning that plated three runs to make it 8-0. The only other time the Yankees hit multiple three-run homers in a postseason game was when Lou Piniella and Graig Nettles each did it in Game 2 of the 1981 ALCS against the A’s.

Perhaps no player on the Yankees has personified their Fighting Spirit more than CC Sabathia, who delivered yet another vintage clutch performance. He tossed six shutout innings – amazingly, his first career scoreless postseason outing – and bolstered his season-long reputation as The Stopper: Sabathia improved to 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts following a Yankee loss in 2017.

At the age of 37, Sabathia has thrived by working the edges of the zone and generating tons of weak contact. Among starters (min. 300 batted balls), no pitcher had a lower opponent average exit velocity than Sabathia (83.9 mph) during the regular season and his soft-contact rate was the fifth-highest (min. 140 IP). He used that formula on Monday, too, with an average exit velocity allowed of 73.7 mph, the lowest by any starter in a postseason game since Statcast began tracking the data in 2015.

With this latest dominant outing, Sabathia also extended his playoff run of stingy pitching in front of the hometown crowd. He has a 1.61 ERA in seven postseason starts at Yankee Stadium, with two earned runs or fewer in each of those games. The only other Yankee pitcher that can match his streak of seven straight postseason starts at home and no more than two earned runs allowed is Whitey Ford.

(AP)
(AP)

Bedlam in the Bronx
The Comeback Kings struck again on Tuesday night as this never-say-die, no-quit team staged yet another stunning late-game rally to beat the Astros 6-4 in a Game 4 thriller. Down 4-0 with nine outs to go? No problem!

This was the Yankees first postseason win in the Bronx when trailing by at least four runs since Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. They’ve also made a habit of overcoming big deficits in the postseason, regardless of venue. Since the start of 2009, their five playoff wins when trailing by at least three runs at any point in the game are the most of any team in that span.

The unbelievable comeback wouldn’t have been possible without a dazzling performance on the mound by Sonny Gray. He was charged with two runs (one earned) and held the Astros to one hit before hitting the showers in the sixth, yet he got stuck with a no-decision because the Yankee bats were lifeless through the first six frames. Gray has now thrown 21 1/3 innings in the playoffs over four starts and received exactly zero runs of support while in the game.

Let’s get back to the incredible rally, which was sparked by a solo homer from Aaron Judge in the seventh. He drilled a first-pitch curveball 427 feet into Monument Park, an impressive feat given his struggles against curves this postseason. Since the start of the Division Series and prior to the home run, Judge had seen 57 curveballs, and hit none of them in fair territory. This is how it broke down:

29 called balls
14 called strikes
14 swings
12 whiffs
2 fouls

Judge later added to his growing October Legend with a game-tying double – off a slider! – in the eighth inning. Let’s reward Judge with another #FunFact: He’s the second Yankee age 25 or younger to have consecutive playoff games with at least one homer and two RBI. The other is a fella named Lou Gehrig, who did it in the 1928 World Series.

Finally, Gary Sanchez went from Goat to Hero with one swing of the bat when he smoked a go-ahead double into the right-centerfield gap for a 6-4 lead. Before that clutch hit, Sanchez was 0-for-13 in the series and hitless in his last 18 at-bats, the longest drought without a hit of his major-league career.

El Gary earns our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series for his game-winning heroics. Only three other Yankees have hit a tie-breaking double in the eighth inning or later of a postseason game: Thurman Munson (1977 World Series Game 1), Tino Martinez (1996 ALCS Game 3) and Alex Rodriguez (2009 World Series Game 4).

(NJ.com)
(NJ.com)

Masterful Masahiro
The Yankees continued their magical October run in the Bronx with a drama-free 5-0 win over the Astros in Game 5.

They pummeled ex-Yankee-killer and former postseason ace Dallas Keuchel, who entered the game with the lowest career ERA (1.09) against the Yankees of any pitcher in baseball history (min. 50 IP) and the lowest postseason career ERA (1.69) of any active starter (min. 25 IP). He no longer holds those titles after getting battered on Wednesday by the unstoppable Bronx Bomber bats.

Gary Sanchez led the way with two run-scoring hits, an RBI single in the fifth and a solo blast in the seventh. That homer was his third of the postseason, as he matched two of his fellow Baby Bombers (Greg Bird and Aaron Judge) and Didi Gregorius for the team lead.

The Yankees are the first team in major-league history to have three players age 25 or younger hit at least three home runs in the same postseason. And this is the first postseason in Yankees history they’ve had four players – of any age – with three-plus homers.

Aaron Judge drilled a double down the left-field line in the third inning to score Brett Gardner for his team-leading 10th RBI of the playoffs. He joined a 25-year-old Manny Ramirez in 1997 as the youngest corner outfielders to drive in at least 10 runs within a postseason.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

The true superstar of the game was the Yankees latest ace on the mound, Masahiro Tanaka. He dialed up another gem, blanking the Astros over seven brilliant innings while scattering three hits and striking out eight. Combined with his nearly identical effort in Game 1 of the Division Series, Tanaka joined Roger Clemens (2000) as the only Yankees with multiple starts of at least seven scoreless innings and three hits or fewer allowed in the same postseason.

Tanaka has put together a stellar postseason resume with a 1.44 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in four career starts. Most impressively, he’s given up no more than two runs and no more than four hits in each of those games. The only other pitcher in baseball history that can match Tanaka’s dominance – two or fewer runs and four or fewer hits allowed – in each of his first four postseason starts was Blue Moon Odom for the Oakland A’s in 1972.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Bump in the road
The series headed south for the final two games and the Yankees found themselves in trouble again deep in the heart of Texas.

They lost 7-1 in Game 6, tied for their second-largest loss in a potential clinching game on the road …. and you probably want to forget the largest (a 15-2 blowout in Game 6 of 2001 World Series in Arizona). Making the loss even more miserable was the fact that the Astros were winless in their five previous playoff games at home when facing elimination.

The Astros bats exploded for seven runs on eight hits against the normally tough Yankees pitching staff, which had actually been on an incredible run dating back to the middle of the Division Series. They’d held the Indians and Astros to no more than six hits in eight straight games from ALDS Game 3 through ALCS Game 5, the longest such streak by any team in MLB postseason history.

Still, they could have nearly pitched a perfect game and it wouldn’t have mattered given how dominant Justin Verlander was once again with his team on the brink of a long winter. He tossed seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts, racking up a bunch of notable feats:

  • First player in major-league history to pitch three consecutive scoreless starts of seven-plus innings with his team facing postseason elimination.
  • Third straight playoff start against the Yankees giving up no more than one run (dating back to 2012 ALCS Game 3), the only pitcher ever to have a streak like that against the Yankees in October.
  • Combined with his 13-strikeout performance in Game 2, he is the fourth pitcher to strike out at least 20 Yankees in a single postseason series. Bob Gibson (31, 1964 World Series), Curt Schilling (26, 2001 World Series) and Sandy Koufax (23, 1963 World Series) are the others.

Aaron Judge helped the Yankees avoid the embarrassment of getting blanked with a mammoth solo blast in the eight inning, his third homer in the ALCS and fourth of the postseason. His four total dingers set the rookie franchise record for a postseason, while he joined Alex Rodriguez (2009 ALCS) and Hank Bauer (1958 World Series) as the only Yankee right-handed batters to go deep at least three times in a single playoff series.

The game turned into a rout thanks to a rare implosion by David Robertson in the eighth inning. He faced four batters, who went homer-double-single-double before he was pulled. His final line – four runs, four hits, no outs – was ugly and historic: Robertson is the only Yankee ever to cough up at least four runs and four hits while recording zero outs in a postseason game.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

You can’t win them all …
The Yankees magical, rollercoaster season finally came to an end thanks to a 4-0 Game 7 loss on Saturday night in Houston. Their comeback mojo expired, the Fighting Spirit went dry and this never-say-die team was unable to survive another do-or-die game. Still, what the Yankees were trying to accomplish, defying all expectations to make the World Series under the toughest circumstances, would have been such an incredible and rare feat. Consider these odds:

  • Only two teams have ever defeated 100-win teams in both the Division Series and League Championship Series (2001 Yankees and 1998 Padres)
  • The Yankees were the fifth team to play the maximum number games in the LDS and LCS in the Wild Card era — only one of those five were able to win both series (2012 Giants)
  • Only two teams have ever comeback from multiple 0-2 series deficits in the same postseason (1981 Dodgers, 1985 Royals), and neither of those teams faced two 100-win teams, which was the unprecedented task facing the Yankees

Ultimately, the Yankees inexplicable road/home splits sealed their fate this postseason. Saturday’s blanking was the second time they were shut out in the playoffs — the other was Game 1 of the ALDS in Cleveland — making this the first postseason in franchise history they suffered two shutouts on the road. They were held to one run or fewer for the fourth straight road game, tied for the second-longest such streak in MLB postseason history, trailing only the Brooklyn Dodgers’ six-gamer from 1916-20.

The Yankees somehow finished 1-6 on the road while going a perfect 6-0 at home in the playoffs. They are the fourth team ever to complete a postseason with a 6-0 or better record at home. That’s good! The other three clubs (2008 Phillies, 1999 Yankees, 1987 Twins) each won the World Series. That’s … less than good.

Regardless of the bittersweet ending, this season was so so much better than good.

Glow and Grow

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Before we begin, a sincere thanks to you, dear readers, for following along during the season and the playoffs. We all appreciate your day in, day out support and couldn’t do any of this without you. Please continue to read, share, and support the–frankly–great work that goes on here. Yankees Only. 

Reflection and feedback are key to our growth in anything we do. Whether we’re students or professionals in whatever field, we don’t move forward unless we take stock of what’s happened, how it happened, why it happened, and what to do next. When the Yankee organization goes through this process, they’ll have plenty to be happy about.

I said it all year. You said it all year. Everyone said it all year. This was not supposed to be ‘the year’ for the Yankees. This was supposed to be a year in which they won 85 games if everything clicked right. Everything clicked way right and they won 91 games and took one of the two best teams in the AL to seven games in the ALCS. Despite the repetition, I don’t think this can be said enough. What the Yankees did this year is nothing short of shocking in the best possible way.

They led the league in homers. They were second in runs. Top three in AVG/OBP/SLG. Their pitchers were third in ERA and fourth in strikeouts.

Aaron Judge? An MVP type season. Gary Sanchez? A 24 year old catcher with 30 homer power and the ability to throw out nearly 40% of base stealers. Luis Severino? A Cy Young caliber season. Chad Green? The next Dellin Betances. Greg Bird? A great playoff run to inspire hope for 2018. Clint Frazier? Forced his arrival early and showed flashes of brilliance in his cup of coffee.

What was the worst thing that happened to this team? Michael Pineda‘s injury? As sad as it was to see Big Mike go down, they didn’t miss him. Matt Holliday‘s second half of doom? It didn’t sink the team. Chris Carter? Total disaster, but they recovered.

2017, in so many ways, was glowing for the Yankees. They do have things to improve, mainly Dellin Betances remembering he’s Dellin damn Betances and fixing whatever ailed him for the last month or so of the season. They have to figure out their third base situation and the outfield logjam.

For this team, there is room to grow. For this team, the future is bright. We got an unexpectedly great taste this year, and hopefully, this is just the appetizer. While baseball will break your heart more often than not, this team looks to be set up for long-term success.

The World Series or bust mentality has certainly gone away in the last few years, and that’s a good thing. Despite that, expectations were the lowest for this team than they had been in years. Not only did the Yankees beat those expectations, they shattered them. If anyone–friend, family, foe–tells you that this year was a disappointment, a failure, laugh at that person. This was probably the most fun season the Yankees have had since 2009 and there should be many more just like around the corner.

Yankeemetrics: Kings of the Comeback (Wild Card & ALDS)

(AP)
(AP)

Wild, wild win
From a nightmare start to a very happy ending, the Yankees used their relentless power bats to overcome a debacle on the mound in a crazy Wild Card Game victory. With the win, the Yankees snapped a five-game postseason losing streak, which was tied for the second-longest in franchise history.

Luis Severino produced one of the worst playoff starts ever, becoming the third starter in franchise history to give up three or more runs while getting pulled before recording two outs in a postseason game. The others were Art Ditmar in the 1960 World Series and Bob Turley in the 1958 World Series.

Down 3-0 before even swinging a bat and your ace is in the showers? No big deal for this Yankees team: they had the second-most wins when their opponent scored first during the regular season (36). Yet still, this victory was nearly unprecedented in major-league history. Only once before had a team won a postseason game in which their starter lasted 1/3 of an inning and allowed at least three earned runs – the Pirates in Game 7 of the 1925 World Series against the Washington Senators.

The game quickly became a battle of the bullpens and the relief crew responded with a historic performance. Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman allowed just one run while striking out 13, the most strikeouts ever by a bullpen in a winner-take-all playoff contest.

Robertson’s epic outing deserves a couple #FunFacts. He’s the first Yankee reliever to throw at least 3 1/3 scoreless innings and strike out five guys in the playoffs since Mariano Rivera in Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS, and just the third reliever in major-league postseason history do that in a winner-take-all game. The other two? Pedro Martinez (1999 ALDS) and Walter Johnson (1924 World Series).

Aaron Judge put an exclamation point on the comeback with a two-run laser shot into the leftfield seats that gave the Yankees a 7-4 cushion in the fourth. Adding to his ever-growing legendary rookie campaign, he became the youngest player in franchise history to go deep in his first career postseason game. Judge also became the second-youngest Yankee to homer in a sudden-death playoff win; the other dude was a 20-year-old Mickey Mantle in Game 7 of the 1952 World Series. #NotClutch

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

Overmatched in Cleveland
The Yankees offense was a complete no-show in Game 1 of the Division Series as they were dominated from start to finish by the AL’s best team. Not only were they blanked, 4-0, but they had only three hits, the seventh postseason game all-time that the Yankees were shut out on three hits or fewer.

Adding in the 14 strikeouts, and the Yankees entered the MLB record books – in the worst possible way. This was the fifth time in major-league playoff history that a team scored zero runs, had no more than three hits and struck out at least 14 times. The Yankees are the owners of two of the five games: Thursday night and 2010 ALCS Game 3 vs Rangers. Welp.

Trevor Bauer used his nasty fastball-curve combo to throw one of the most dominant playoff pitching performances ever against this franchise. Bauer, Pedro Martinez (1999 ALCS Game 3) and Cliff Lee (2010 ALCS Game 3) are the only starters to allow no runs and two hits or fewer while striking out at least eight Yankees in a postseason game.

While the Yankees bats went M.I.A., Sonny Gray was a mess on the mound. He really struggled with his command, issuing four walks, hitting a batter and throwing a wild pitch. Only one other Yankee pitcher crammed all that into a single playoff appearance: Jack McDowell in the 1995 ALDS.

Even worse, Gray gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series with this #NotFunFact: only one other starter in major-league postseason history walked four guys, hit a guy and tossed a wild pitch while pitching fewer than four innings: Ramon Ortiz (Angels) in the 2002 ALDS … against the Yankees.

(Getty)
(Getty)

No challenge, no win
Speechless.

The Yankees have suffered plenty of heart-breaking and frustrating losses this season, yet somehow Game 2 managed to top them all, zooming to first place in the W.L.O.T.S. (Worst Loss of the Season) standings. How improbable was this loss?

  • The five-run blown lead was tied for their second-largest in the postseason; the last time they gagged a five-run lead in the playoffs was the 2002 ALDS (Game 3) against the Angels. And it was the first time ever the Indians erased a deficit of five-plus runs to win a playoff game.
  • Scoring eight runs, fueled by three homers, should have been enough offense to win this game. Before Friday’s loss, the Yankees were 14-0 all-time in the postseason when scoring at least eight runs and going deep three times in a game.
  • It was just the second time the Yankees lost a postseason game on the road in the 13th inning or later. It’s probably best to not mention the other one (Game 5 of 2004 ALCS vs. the Red Sox). Sorry.

And still, sometimes, baseball is predictable. This was the third extra-inning playoff contest between these two teams — and the Yankees have now lost all three.

Obviously the major pivot point of the game was the non-challenge by Joe Girardi in the sixth inning. Before we get to the numbers, Girardi’s non-challenge was clearly an inexcusable mistake given the circumstances. Anyways, here’s a couple stats related to the at-bat.

First, Chad Green had faced 190 left-handed batters in his career entering Game 2, and had hit exactly one of them (Chris Davis last year). And Francisco Lindor’s grand slam was the first extra-base hit that Green had allowed with the bases loaded in his career. Second, the Yankees challenged six hit-by-pitch calls in the regular season, which was the most of any team (they ranked 13th in total challenges with 42). And overall, the Yankees 75 percent success rate on all challenged plays this season was the best in the majors.

Now that The Ugly chapter of this game has been written, let’s finish off with The Good. Remember, the Yankees pummeled the likely AL Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, for six runs and seven hits. Gary Sanchez kick-started the offense with a two-run homer in the first inning. The 24-year-old is the youngest Yankee catcher to homer in a postseason (a 22-year-old Yogi Berra homered in the 1947 World Series as a pinch-hitter).

Aaron Hicks then sent Kluber to the showers with a three-run bomb in the third inning that put the Yankees ahead 6-3. That gave us a nice #FunFact: he joined Bernie Williams and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankee centerfielders to hit a tie-breaking, multi-run homer in the playoffs.

Finally, Greg Bird extended the lead to 8-3 with a towering shot to rightfield in the fifth. Bird and Sanchez became the second set of Yankee teammates under age 25 to homer in a postseason game. Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller also did it in Game 3 of the 1939 World Series.

(Getty)
(Getty)

It ain’t over ’til …
The Yankees staved off elimination with a dramatic 1-0 win in Game 3 on Sunday night, showing off their Fighting Spirit once again in this rollercoaster, never-say-die season.

It was the sixth 1-0 win in franchise postseason history and the third in a potential elimination game (also 2001 ALDS Game 3 and 1962 World Series Game 7). Their only other 1-0 playoff win in the Bronx was in Game 1 of the 1949 World Series against the Dodgers.

In contrast to the rest of this run-happy postseason, Game 3 was a classic – and unprecedented – pitchers duel. It was the first postseason game in major-league history where each starter allowed zero runs, no more than three hits and had at least five strikeouts.

Masahiro Tanaka delivered an ace-like performance for the Yankees, carving up the Indians lineup with his nasty, dive-bombing splitter and late-breaking slider. Considering the magnitude of the game, Tanaka’s gem becomes even more impressive and historic. A worthy #FunFact for our ‘Hiro: he is the first Yankee pitcher ever to toss at least seven scoreless innings, strike out seven-or-more guys and give up three hits or fewer in a potential postseason elimination contest.

Aroldis Chapman also came through in the clutch with a white-knuckle, five-out save to seal the win. Since saves became official in 1969, the only other pitcher in baseball history to record a save of at least five outs in a 1-0 win with his team facing postseason elimination was Mariano Rivera in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS.

As brilliant as Tanaka and Chapman were, the Yankees couldn’t have won the game without the heroics of Greg Bird and his solo homer in the seventh off Andrew Miller. Two other Yankees have gone deep in the seventh inning or later of a postseason contest to break a 0-0 tie — Tommy Henrich in the 1949 World Series (Game 1) and Charlie Keller in the 1939 World Series (Game 4).

Finally, another #FunFact for the Birdman: he is the first player in major-league history to snap a 0-0 tie with a homer in the seventh inning or later and his team on the brink of being eliminated from the playoffs.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Stayin’ Alive
The never-say-die Yankees forced a winner-take-all Game 5 with a convincing 7-3 win at the Stadium on Monday night. The Yankees broke out of their mini-offensive slump with seven runs and were helped out by a sloppy Indians defense that led to six of them being unearned. This was just the second postseason game where a Yankee opponent allowed six or more unearned runs; the other was in Game 2 of the 1960 World Series against the Pirates.

Gary Sanchez added an insurance run in the sixth inning with a solo drive to right-center for his second homer of the postseason. Power-hitting young catchers shining in October is special; only four other backstops under age 25 have hit multiple homers in a single playoffs: Johnny Bench (1970, ’72), Javy Lopez (1995), Brian McCann (2005) and Yadier Molina (2006).

While the offensive fireworks were cool, the star of this game was Luis Severino. He bounced back from his disastrous Wild Card game outing with seven superb and gutty innings. Sevy is the second-youngest Yankee with nine strikeouts in any postseason game (trailing 22-year-old Dave Righetti in the 1981 ALDS). And he is only the fourth pitcher – of any age – in franchise history to win a potential elimination game while striking out at least nine guys. CC Sabathia (2012 ALDS Game 5), Bob Turley (1958 World Series Game 5) and Vic Raschi (1952 World Series Game 6) are the others.

(Getty)
(Getty)

#LoveThisTeam
The Yankees are Kings of the Improbable Comeback, winning Game 5 to become the 10th team in baseball history to overcome a two-games-to-zero deficit in a best-of-five series. Combined with their similar rally in the 2001 ALDS against the A’s, they joined the Red Sox as the only franchises to achieve this incredible feat twice.

Making this amazing victory even more impressive is that it came against a 102-win Indians club that was the AL’s best in the regular season. The Yankees are now 9-2 in postseason series against 100-plus-win teams, and their only losses were to the Reds in the 1976 World Series and the Cardinals in the 1942 World Series.

They’ve been at their best with their backs against the wall this entire season and especially in the playoffs, improving to 4-0 in potential elimination games and 2-0 in winner-take-all games in this postseason. It is the first time in franchise history they’ve won four games when facing elimination in a single postseason, and the first time they’ve won multiple winner-take-all games in a single postseason.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Didi Gregorius had a performance for the ages, lighting up the scoreboard early and often, with a solo homer in the opening frame and then going deep again in the third inning. He joined Jason Giambi (2003 ALCS Game 7) and Yogi Berra (1956 World Series Game 7) as the only Yankees with multiple homers in a winner-take-all postseason game. And … he’s the first shortstop in franchise history to go yard twice in any playoff game.

While Didi provided the power, Brett Gardner brought the grit. He won a grueling 12-pitch battle with Cody Allen in the ninth inning, lacing an RBI single into right field to give the Yankees a three-run cushion with three outs to go. Remarkably, it was the longest at-bat of his career that G.G.B.G. ended with a hit.

CC Sabathia was lights-out through four innings before getting into trouble in the fifth, but still finished with nine strikeouts. That matched his career postseason high that he set in the deciding Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS. Sabathia is just the fourth pitcher in major-league history to whiff at least nine guys in a winner-take-all game twice in his career. The others? Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling and Justin Verlander.

Aroldis Chapman sealed the win with two near-perfect innings and entered the record books with this remarkable #FunFact: He is the first pitcher in postseason history to save a winner-take-all game by throwing at least two hitless innings and striking out four or more guys.

************
We will see you Friday night!

Saturday Links: Otani, Denbo, Judge, Sanchez, YES Network

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

The Yankees and Indians have an off-day today as the ALDS shifts from Cleveland to New York. The best-of-five series will resume with Game Three tomorrow night. Here are some links to check out in the meantime.

Otani dazzles in possible final start in Japan

Shohei Otani, who may or may not come to MLB this offseason, made what could be his final start for the Nippon Ham Fighters earlier this week. He struck out ten in a two-hit shutout of the Orix Buffaloes, and Jason Coskrey says dozens of MLB scouts attended the game. Otani finished the season with a 3.20 ERA in 25.1 innings and a .340/.413/.557 batting line in 63 games. He missed time with quad and ankle problems, hence the limited time on the mound.

Joel Sherman says the Yankees are “known to be extremely interested” in Otani, who, if he does come over this year, will come over under the old posting rules. That means the (Ham) Fighters will set a $20M release fee. MLB and NPB are currently renegotiating the posting agreement for other players going forward. The Yankees have roughly $2M in international bonus money to offer Otani based on my estimates, though if he comes over this year, it won’t be for top dollar. Basically no team has much international money to offer. Otani will go wherever he thinks is the best fit based on his own personal preferences. Good luck predicting that.

Denbo expected to join Marlins

Folks in baseball expect Yankees vice president of player development Gary Denbo to join Derek Jeter and the Marlins this offseason, reports Jon Heyman. Marlins general manager Mike Hill is expected to remain on, with Denbo coming over to head up their player development department, the same department he runs for the Yankees now. Denbo’s contract is up after the season, so he’s free to come and go as he chooses.

Jeter and Denbo are very close and go back a long away, and I figured Jeter would try to poach him once we found out he was buying the Marlins. Denbo has done a phenomenal job turning around the farm system and the Yankees will miss him, assuming they can’t convince him to stay. Who will take over the farm system? I have no idea. The Yankees will find someone. I’m curious to see which Yankees farmhands the Marlins try to acquire going forward. You know Denbo has some personal favorites in the system.

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

Judge had most popular jersey in 2017

The most popular player jersey this season, according to sales on MLB.com, belongs to Aaron Judge. Here is the press release. The average age of the top 20 players in jersey sales is 27, so that’s fun. Here’s the top five:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees
  2. Kris Bryant, Cubs
  3. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  4. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  5. Bryce Harper, Nationals

Also in the top 20 jersey sales: Gary Sanchez. He ranked 15th in jersey sales overall and sixth among AL players, behind Judge, Mike Trout, Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, and Jose Altuve. Only two pitchers in the top 20, which is kinda weird. Kershaw is fourth and Noah Syndergaard is 19th. The people love dingers, I guess.

YES Network ratings up 57%

Not surprisingly, the YES Network’s rating were up a whopping 57% this season, the network announced yesterday. This season’s ratings were the best in five years. Primetime game broadcasts on YES had higher ratings than the primetime schedules of all other cable networks in New York, plus ratings for non-game broadcasts (pregame and postgame shows, etc.) were up as well. Ratings outside the city also increased substantially. Turns out if you put a very good and very fun team on the field, people will watch. Who woulda thunk it?

The Yankees need their arms to neutralize the Twins’ legs in the Wild Card Game

Eyes on the target! (Elsa/Getty)
Eyes on the target! (Elsa/Getty)

Tonight’s AL Wild Card Game features two up-and-coming teams built around impressive young cores. The Yankees have Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. The Twins have Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Jose Berrios. The Yankees have Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia as veteran support. The Twins have Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana. There are interesting parallels between the two teams.

Beyond the roster composition, the Yankees and Twins have something else in common: they’re both very good baserunning teams. Among the best in the game. You may not believe it after watching the Yankees run into outs all summer, but I assure you, every team does that. The Yankees added a lot of value on the bases this season. Some stats:

Yankees Twins
FanGraphs BsR +10.6 runs (5th in MLB) +14.2 runs (1st in MLB)
SB Total 90 (12th) 95 (9th)
SB% 80% (1st) 77% (4th)
Extra Base% 39% (16th) 42% (7th)

I have to think at least part of the difference in their extra base taken rates — that’s going first-to-third on a single, scoring from first on a double, etc. — is a result of their home ballparks. Yankee Stadium is pretty small and it’s not always possible to go first-to-third on a single to right because the right fielder is that much closer to the infield. Target Field is massive. There’s more room to cover and that gives the runner a little extra time on the bases.

As for stolen bases, the Twins are led by Buxton, who went a ridiculous 29-for-30 in stealing bases this year. And the one time he was caught stealing, Buxton made it to the bag safely, but was tagged out when he overslid.

Both Dozier (16-for-23) and Jorge Polanco (13-for-18) had double-digit steals as well. Buxton took the extra base a whopping 71% of the time this season, the highest mark among all MLB regulars, while Eddie Rosario (58%), Eduardo Escobar (50%), and Dozier (44%) were all comfortably above the 40% league average.

The Twins use their speed to take the extra base. That’s what they do. The best way for the Yankees to combat Minnesota’s speed is by not allowing anyone to reach base. Simple, right? In the likely and unfortunate event the Twins do get some men on base tonight, it’ll be up to the throwing arms to limit those extra bases, specifically Sanchez behind the plate and the three outfielders.

Severino & Sanchez

We know Sanchez has a ridiculously powerful arm, one that allowed him to throw out 23 of 60 attempted basestealers this season, which is a well-above-average 38%. The league average is 27%. How good is Sanchez’s arm? Runners attempted only 91 steals against the Yankees this season, third fewest in baseball behind the Cardinals (Yadier Molina) and Indians. That’s with Austin Romine, who can’t throw at all, starting for basically all of April.

Severino, tonight’s starter, allowed four stolen bases in six attempts this season. That’s it. The guy threw 193.1 innings and six runners attempted to steal. Six! Between Sanchez’s arm and Severino’s nifty little pickoff move — he has that funky sidearm motion that really speeds up his delivery to first base — the Yankees appear to be well-suited to control the running game tonight. It’ll be strength against strength. Fun!

The Outfielders

For the first time in a long time, the Yankees have some pretty great outfield arms on the roster. Aaron Judge has a very strong arm and Aaron Hicks has one of the strongest outfield arms in the game. Maybe the strongest. Brett Gardner has a solid arm as well. Jacoby Ellsbury? His arm is bad. It just is. His arm is terrible and it has cost the Yankees plenty of runs over the years. Here are some outfield throwing numbers:

Opportunities Hold % Throw Out %
Gardner in LF 135 65.2% (63.2% MLB average) 3.0% (1.6% MLB average)
Ellsbury in CF 88 36.4% (44.9%) 1.1% (1.9%)
Judge in RF 140 54.3% (47.7%) 1.4% (2.1%)
Hicks in LF 14 50.0% 0.0%
Hicks in CF 61 45.9% 0.0%
Hicks in RF 11 63.6% 0.0%

Hicks did have three outfield assists this season, though none came on a runner trying to advance an extra base on another player’s base hit. He twice threw a runner out trying to stretch a single into a double, plus this happened:

Anyway, both Gardner and Judge were better than the league average at preventing runners from taking the extra base. Judge was considerably above-average, but again, I think the small right field at Yankee Stadium has at least something to do with that. He’s closer to the infield than most other players at the position. Judge clearly has a very strong arm though.

In center field, opposing teams ran wild on Ellsbury. His hold rate was far below the league average for center fielders. That’s not surprising, right? Because of this, I think the Yankees have to seriously consider starting Hicks in center field tonight. Even if you ignore the hold rates for a second, Hicks has a much better arm than Ellsbury — the Twins should know that better than anyone after drafting and developing Hicksie — and he’s better equipped to control Minnesota’s high-end running game.

Keep in mind we’re not talking about a small difference in outfield arms here. We’re talking about one of the best outfield arms and one of the worst outfield arms, against a team that is very aggressive on the bases. Given the winner-take-all nature of the Wild Card Game, the Yankees have to put their best team on the field, and the best team has Hicks and his arm in center field over Ellsbury. Let Ellsbury be the DH.

* * *

The Twins went 40-34 in the second half and, believe it or not, they led the AL with 412 runs scored. The Indians (397) were second and the Yankees (381) were third. The running game is a huge part of Minnesota’s offensive attack and the Yankees have to be prepared for that tonight. Sanchez and Severino are about as good a stolen base neutralizing battery as there is. Judge’s and Gardner’s arms are assets in the outfield. Ellsbury’s? No way. Hicks’ is though, and the Yankees need to seriously consider playing him in center field tonight to help take away the Twins’ ground game.