Yankeemetrics: Hot and cold in Houston (June 25-28)

These guys are en fuego. (AP)
These guys are en fuego. (AP)

Keuchel’d?
The Yankees finally ran into an ace they couldn’t beat on Thursday night. Dallas Keuchel threw a six-hit shutout against the Yankees, striking out 12 in a performance that Alex Rodriguez called “complete domination.”

Keuchel is the first pitcher with at least 12 strikeouts in a shutout against the Yankees since Chris Carpenter on Sept. 4, 2001, and the first lefty to do it since the Angels’ Chuck Finley on May 23, 1995 (a game better known as Mariano Rivera’s major-league debut!).

The Astros southpaw, who also went the distance in his first game against the Yankees last season, is the first pitcher to pitch a complete game in each of his first two appearances against the Yankees since Teddy Higuera did so for the Brewers in 1985.

Adam Warren gave up three runs (two earned) before being pulled with two outs in the sixth inning — yet of course he was a hard-luck loser again. Following the game, he had a 2.87 ERA in his five losses, the lowest ERA in games lost by any pitcher with at least four losses this season.

Forever Young
For the first couple hours of Friday’s game, it looked like one of the more remarkable streaks in baseball might come to an end. The Yankees had not been shut out in consecutive games since May 1999, the longest streak in MLB history, yet had just three hits and were being blanked by the Astros through six innings.

That is until … Chris Young happened. The Houston native drilled a three-run homer to erase a 2-0 deficit and the Yankees bullpen held the Astros scoreless to preserve the win. It was his third go-ahead homer in the seventh inning or later as a Yankee; since he joined the team last September, no other player on the team has more than one such homer.

Another guy from Texas, Nathan Eovaldi, had a sweet homecoming as he threw six innings of two-run ball to earn his career-high seventh win of the season. Eovaldi had all four of his pitches working and showed a ton of confidence in his splitter, which he threw 25 times and netted him seven outs while yielding just one hit.

Six is not enough
A 6-0 lead in the second inning with your ace on the mound? Sounds like a good time to go mow the lawn and wait for the recap and highlights in a couple hours, right? Wrong.

Masahiro Tanaka struggled for the second start in a row, coughing up six runs on seven hits — including three home runs — in five innings. He is joins Orlando Hernandez (2001) as the only Yankee pitchers to give up at least six runs and three homers in back-to-back games over the last 100 years.

Mark Teixeira saved the Yankees from their worst loss of the season with a two-run, tie-breaking double in the eighth inning. It was his first go-ahead RBI in the eighth inning or later in more than three years — since a double in the top of the 14th inning on June 16, 2012 against the Phillies.

Brian McCann gave the Yankees an early 4-0 lead with his 11th career grand slam. His 10 grand slams hit as a catcher (one came as a DH) are tied with Johnny Bench for the third-most in the last 75 seasons, trailing only Mike Piazza (14) and Gary Carter (11).

Big Mike is back
It might be hot down in Texas, but the Yankees bats were once freezing cold in Houston in Sunday’s 3-1 loss, as they were held to a season-low two hits by former Met Collin McHugh.

McHugh, who also struck out eight Yankees, is the third starter with at least eight strikeouts and two or fewer hits allowed against the Yankees this season, along with Anibal Sanchez (April 23) and Joe Kelly (April 11). Since at least 1914, this is the first time that three starting pitchers have done that to the Yankees in a single season.

Michael Pineda bounced back from the worst start of his career with a strong outing (8 IP, 3 R, 2 ER, 8 K, 0 BB) but took the loss despite going the distance. He’s the second Yankee with a complete game loss this season, joining CC Sabathia on April 20 against the Tigers. The only other major-league team to have two pitchers with a complete-game loss this season is the Indians.

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6/25 to 6/28 Series Preview: Houston Astros

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The 2015 season is weird, man. The Astros are actually good now after spending the last half-decade as the worst team in baseball. Intentionally, I might add. Houston basically went through the baseball version of tanking. They hoarded draft picks and traded every last veteran for prospects. I guess it worked. For the first half of the season, anyway.

What Have The Astros Done Lately?

The Angels beat the Astros in 13 innings yesterday and Houston dropped two of three in the series overall. They’ve lost four of their last six games. The ‘Stros are still in first place in the AL West at 42-32 with a +47 run differential. That’s the second best record and third best run differential in the AL.

Offense & Defense

The Astros have an extreme offense. They lead MLB in home runs (107) and strikeout rate (24.9%), rank third in stolen bases (57), and bottom ten in both AVG (.241) and OBP (.308). It all adds up an average of 4.47 runs per game and a team 104 wRC+. The Yankees have scored 45% of their runs on homers. That’s a lot. The Astros? They’re at 48%. I guess no one told them they’ll never win anything hitting all these home runs, amirite? Anyway, the Astros are without IF Jed Lowrie (finger) and OF Jake Marisnick (hamstring), neither of whom is due back to this series.

Correa. (Presswire)
Correa. (Presswire)

Manager A.J. Hinch builds his lineup around OF George Springer (141 wRC+), or, rather, behind Springer because he’s been hitting leadoff. The recently called up SS Carlos Correa (146 wRC+ in limited time) bats second. OF Colby Rasmus (125 wRC+) has played well in a platoon role and OF Preston Tucker (109 wRC+) has also done well since being called up a few weeks ago. 1B Chris Carter (101 wRC+) has been league average-ish thanks to his power (12 HR), not his batting average (.198).

2B Jose Altuve (93 wRC+) has somewhat predictably been unable to repeat last year’s success — I’m not sure anyone is a true talent .341 hitter these days — but he’s still a solid and very aggressive hitter. He never walks (5.9%) or strikes out (10.0%). DH Evan Gattis (87 wRC+) mashes taters and does little else at the plate. C Jason Castro (89 wRC+) has been okay for a catcher and UTIL Luis Valbuena (103 wRC+) has 19 homers and a .201 AVG. I guess that makes him the rich man’s Stephen Drew. C Hank Conger (114 wRC+), IF Marwin Gonzalez (82 wRC+), and OF Domingo Santana (132 wRC+ in very limited time) fill out the bench with their small sample size stats.

Depending on your choice of metric, the Astros are either a great defensive team (UZR) or a poor defensive team (DRS). Defense stats, man. Springer and Rasmus are great in the outfield and both Altuve and Correa are strong on the middle infield. Altuve seems to have the Brett Gardner problem — the defensive stats hate him even though everything else says he’s really good. Carter is basically a DH at first base and Valbuena’s fine in the field. Castro and Conger are both top notch pitch-framers. You can run on Conger (6% caught steal rate!) but not Castro (38%).

Pitching Matchups

Thursday (8pm ET): RHP Adam Warren (vs. HOU) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (vs. NYY)
Over the last year and a half, the 27-year-old Keuchel has developed into a bonafide top of the rotation starter, pitching to 2.72 ERA (3.22 FIP) in his last 307.1 innings. He has a 2.35 ERA (3.25 FIP) in 15 starts and 107.1 innings this season, and he does it by being the most extreme ground ball pitcher in the majors. Keuchel owns 64.1% ground ball rate in 2015, one year after posting a 63.5% ground ball rate, which was MLB’s highest grounder rate by a qualified starter in four seasons. He doesn’t give up homers as you’d expect (0.59 HR/9), and both his strikeout (19.9%) and walk (7.2%) rates are league average-ish. Righties (.255 wOBA) have had a lot more success again him than lefties (.172 wOBA), relatively speaking. Keuchel gets all those grounders with three pitches: upper-80s two-seamer (75.4 GB% vs. 49.5 GB% MLB average), upper-70s slider (52.7 GB% vs. 43.9 GB% average), and an upper-70s changeup (59.6 GB% vs. 47.8 GB% average). He also throws an upper-80s four-seamer to keep hitters honest. Keuchel’s an elite ground ball pitcher. His success is not a fluke.

Friday (8pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Vincent Velasquez (No vs. NYY)
The Astros called up the 23-year-old Velasquez earlier this month and he has a 4.15 ERA (3.80 FIP) in three starts and 13 innings. His strikeout rate (29.3%) is great but Velasquez has walked way too many batters (17.2%) and not gotten any ground balls (22.6%). He’s been able to keep the ball in the park for the time being (0.69 HR/9). Either his home run rate or his ground ball rate will climb going forward. Rates that low coexist only in small sample size land. Velasquez is your classic power arm with a mid-90 four-seam fastball. He’s thrown his low-80s curveball more than his low-80s changeup in his brief MLB time, but scouting reports from his prospect days (you know, April and May) say the change is actually his second best pitch, not the curve.

Saturday (4pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. HOU) vs. LHP Brett Oberholtzer (vs. NYY)
Oberholtzer, 25, has been limited to six starts and 32 innings this season by a nagging blister problem. He has a 2.81 ERA (3.39 FIP) in his limited action with great ground ball (54.0%) and home run (0.28 HR/9) numbers but below-average strikeout (16.7%) and walk (9.4%) rates. Lefties (.344 wOBA) have hit him harder than righties (.301 wOBA), which has actually been the case his entire career, though not to that extreme. Oberholtzer operates with upper-80s two and four-seam fastballs, and his low-80s changeup is his primary secondary offering. He’ll also throw some low-80s sliders and upper-70s curveballs per start, but not many.

McHugh. (Presswire)
McHugh. (Presswire)

Sunday (2pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Collin McHugh (vs. NYY)
The Astros got great work out of McHugh last season (2.73 ERA and 3.11 FIP) but he’s crashed back to Earth this year (4.80 ERA and 4.21 FIP) because his strikeout (19.0%) and home run (1.25 HR/9) rates have both taken a step back. The 28-year-old still isn’t walking anyone (5.5%) and is getting an average amount of ground balls (44.4%), but his reverse platoon split (.359 vs. .321 wOBA in favor of righties) doesn’t match up with the rest of his career. McHugh has a four-seam fastball right around 90 mph and he uses it only 35% of the time or so. He leans heavily on his mid-80s slider and low-70s curveball, throwing them almost 60% of the time combined. Crazy. He’ll also throw a handful of low-80s changeups per start.

Bullpen Status
A big reason for Houston’s success this year is their greatly improved bullpen. This group has a 2.61 ERA (3.18 FIP) overall compared to a 4.80 ERA (4.11 FIP) last year and a 4.92 ERA (5.09 FIP) the year before that. Closer RHP Luke Gregerson (3.38 FIP) is set up by RHP Pat Neshek (3.36 FIP) and RHP Will Harris (3.05 FIP) most nights.

LHP Tony Sipp (2.99 FIP) is Hinch’s high-leverage lefty guy while LHP Joe Thatcher (1.85 FIP) is more of middle innings matchup guy. RHP Chad Qualls (4.44 FIP) and RHP Josh Fields (1.76 FIP) round out the bullpen. They don’t have a true long man at the moment, just a bunch of short relief guys. Also, literally everyone pitched in the 13-inning game yesterday, so the ‘pen won’t be very fresh tonight. Check out the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen with our Bullpen Workload page, then head over to Crawfish Boxes and Astros County for the latest and greatest on the ‘Stros.

Report: FBI investigating Cardinals for hacking Astros database

Well this is something. According to Michael Schmidt, the FBI and Justice Department are investigating the Cardinals for hacking into the Astros’ proprietary database to steal information about their player evaluation and statistical analysis methods. You may remember that last year some trade information was leaked from Houston’s database.

Here’s more on the Cardinals story from Schmidt:

Investigators have uncovered evidence that Cardinals officials broke into a network of the Houston Astros that housed special databases the team had built, according to law enforcement officials. Internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports were compromised, the officials said.

The officials did not say which employees were the focus of the investigation or whether the team’s highest-ranking officials were aware of the hacking or authorized it. The investigation is being led by the F.B.I.’s Houston field office and has progressed to the point that subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for electronic correspondence.

Investigators believe Cardinals officials, concerned that Mr. Luhnow had taken their idea and proprietary baseball information to the Astros, examined a master list of passwords used by Mr. Luhnow and the other officials who had joined the Astros when they worked for the Cardinals. The Cardinals officials are believed to have used those passwords to gain access to the Astros’ network, law enforcement officials said.

Obviously this is very bad for the Cardinals, who have been a model organization (on the field, anyway) for about two decades now. Schmidt says this is the first known case of corporate espionage involving sports teams, though rival companies hacking into each other’s databases is hardly uncommon. It’s usually done through a third party in a foreign country, however. Schmidt makes it sound like a bunch of Cardinals folks just tried a bunch of Luhnow’s old passwords from home.

Luhnow was a very successful yet polarizing scouting executive with the Cardinals before taking over as the Astros GM a few years ago. MLB has not yet handed down any discipline but it is surely coming. Firings, suspensions, heavy fines … I imagine everything is in play at this point, not to mention legal ramifications. No, this doesn’t involve the Yankees, but gosh, what a story.

A Haiku for the Rest of MLB [2015 Season Preview]

Does Donnie like Haikus? Of course. (Presswire)
Does Donnie like haikus? Of course. (Presswire)

Opening Day is now only three days away. We’ve spent the last four weeks previewing the Yankees and the upcoming season, and yesterday we broke down the rest of the AL East. Today we’re going to wrap up our 2015 Season Preview series with a quick preview of the other 25 teams in baseball. After all, the Yankees are going to have to try to beat those teams this season too.

If you’ve come here looking for a serious preview post, you’re not going to get it. It’s Friday afternoon, Opening Day is right around the corner, and this year’s preview series is over. Instead, we’re going to have some fun and preview those other 25 teams in Haiku form. I encourage you to tell me how much my haikus suck and to make some of your own — pro tip: use the Haiku Counter to make sure you have the right number of syllables — and leave ’em in the comments. Enjoy.

Atlanta Braves
Traded their best bats
For a whole bunch of pitchers
They know scoring’s down?

Arizona Diamondbacks
Is Nuno their ace?
The answer just might be yes
Payback for ’01!

Chicago Cubs
Bleachers aren’t ready?
No prob, Bryant won’t notice
He’s in Iowa

Chicago White Sox
D-Rob and Melky
Back together in ChiTown
Growing ugly beards

Cincinnati Reds
Good enough to win?
Nah, not in that division
Can we have Cueto?

Cleveland Indians
Brantley is awesome
Kluber is really great
World Series pick? Eh

Colorado Rockies
Troy’s still a Rockie
Kyle Kendrick, OD SP?
Wait for ski season

Detroit Tigers
Miggy, Price, V-Mart
Lots of stars and real big names
Bullpen still a mess

Houston Astros
I don’t understand
You won “process World Series?”
That doesn’t exist

Kansas City Royals
Pennant last season
Volquez is replacing Shields?
For real? Yeah, for real

Los Angeles Angels
They have that Trout guy
I wish the Yankees had him
It’s Teixeira’s fault!

Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw is the best
Donnie Baseball gets his ring?
If not, just blame Puig

Miami Marlins
Paid Giancarlo
They’re going for it again
When’s next fire sale?

Milwaukee Brewers
They all hate Ryan Braun
But not as much as A-Rod
This team is boring

Minnesota Twins
Phil’s still homer prone
Nunez’s helmet still falls off
Just like the old days

New York Mets
Take back New York, huh?
Orange and blue like the Knicks
But with fewer fans

Oakland Athletics
Ballpark is ugly
Beane traded everyone again
What’s a Stephen Vogt?

Philadelphia Phillies
Rebuild? Finally!
Cole will be traded real soon
Then skip to next year

Pittsburgh Pirates
Cervelli pumps fist
McCutchen cut his dreads
A World Series team?

St. Louis Cardinals
Contender again
Such a boringly good team
Gets boring haiku

San Diego Padres
Kemp, Upton, Myers, Shields
But what about Yangervis?
Solarte Partay!

San Francisco Giants
The World Series champs
But it’s an odd number year
So no repeat then

Seattle Mariners
You can have Robbie
You are still stuck with Jack Z.
Yankees win the trade

Texas Rangers
Could this be the year
That Elvis Andrus will hit?
Hah, made myself laugh

Washington Nationals
Awesome rotation!
Future Yankee Bryce Harper
Has nice ring to it

Heyman: Astros hire Trey Hillman away from Yankees

Via Jon Heyman: The Astros have hired Trey Hillman to be their new bench coach. Hillman returned to the Yankees last offseason and spent this year as a special assistant in the player development system. He was a coach in the minor league system from 1990-2001 and was considered a candidate to replace the retiring VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman, but Heyman says Hillman wanted to get back in uniform and on the field. Between Newman’s retirement and both Hillman and Gordon Blakeley leaving, there’s been a lot of change in the front office these last few weeks.

8/19-8/21 Series Preview: Houston Astros

No George Springer this week. (Presswire)
No George Springer this week. (Presswire)

After a six-game turned five-game because of a rainout road trip, the Yankees are back home in the Bronx for a six-game homestand. They’re going to face two really bad teams and winning four of the six is the bare minimum at this point if they want to get back in the postseason race. The Astros are in town for three games starting tonight. The Yankees lost two of three in Houston way back in April, the very first series of the season.

What Have They Done Lately?

Like the Yankees, the Astros were off on Monday. They split a four-game series with the Red Sox up in Fenway Park over the weekend and have lost eight of their last 13 games overall. Houston is 52-73 with a -91 run differential in 2014, both the third worst marks in baseball. To their credit, Houston has already won more games this year than they did last year (51-111).

Offense

Manager Bo Porter’s club averages 4.01 runs per game with a team 97 wRC+, so they’re just a touch below-averageoffensively. Better than the Yankees (3.94 and 92, respectively), anyway. The Astros are currently without OF George Springer (125 wRC+) and OF Alex Presley (82 wRC+) due to quad and oblique injuries, and neither will return this series. Bummed we won’t see Springer. UTIL Jesus Guzman (56 wRC+) is out with a back problem but could be activated off the disabled list sometime this week.

Altuve. (Getty)
Altuve. (Getty)

The Houston lineup revolves around 2B Jose Altuve (131 wRC+), who leads the league in average (.339) and steals (46). His reputation outweighed his production the last few years — I’m convinced it’s because he’s really short, similar to how Melky Cabrera was overrated while with the Yankees because he had a cool name — but he is definitely performing like a true star right now. 1B/OF Chris Carter (127 wRC+) strikes out a ton (30.4%) but he has ten homers and a 186 wRC+ over the last 30 days. OF Dexter Fowler (129 wRC+) just came off the disabled list a week ago. Altuve, Carter, and Fowler are the stars of the show with Springer injured.

The rest of Porter’s lineup includes former first rounders C Jason Castro (94 wRC+) and 3B Matt Dominguez (72 wRC+). Castro has had a disappointing follow up to last summer’s breakout year. OF Robbie Grossman (94 wRC+) and OF Jake Marisnick (53 wRC+) both see time in the outfield and 1B Jon Singleton (87 wRC+) plays first. He signed a five-year, $10M extension before ever playing in a MLB game. I bet the lefty swinger takes advantage of the short porch at least once this week. IF Gregorio Petit (100 wRC+ in very limited time) and IF Marwin Gonzalez (96 wRC+) share time at shortstop. 1B/OF Marc Krauss (78 wRC+) and C Carlos Corporan (88 wRC+) fill out the bench.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday: LHP Chris Capuano (vs. HOU) vs. LHP Brett Oberholtzer (vs. NYY)

Oberholtzer, 25, has gone down to Triple-A a few times this year despite a solid 3.87 ERA (3.68 FIP) in 17 starts and 104.2 innings at the MLB level. He excels at limiting walks (1.89 BB/9 and 5.0 BB%) and does keep the ball in the park (0.77 HR/9 and 5.9 HR/FB%), but both his strikeout (5.68 K/9 and 14.9 K%) and ground ball (37.0%) numbers are unimpressive. Righties (.326 wOBA) have hit him a bit harder than lefties (.300 wOBA), and he’s been more successful on the road (.305 wOBA) than at home (.330 wOBA). Oberholtzer is a classic finesse southpaw, sitting right around 90 mph with his fastball while throwing both his changeup and curveball in the low-80s. He held the Yankees to three runs in 5.2 innings back in April.

Wednesday: RHP Michael Pineda (vs. HOU) vs. RHP Scott Feldman (vs. NYY)

The Astros finally decided to spend some money this past offseason, and most of it went to the 31-year-old Feldman. He got three years and $30M. Feldman has a 4.45 ERA (4.40 FIP) in 22 starts and 129.1 innings this year — he missed time with a biceps injury — even though his walk (2.78 BB/9 and 7.1 BB%), homer (0.84 HR/9 and 8.4 HR/FB%), and ground ball (44.7%) rates are more or less in line with his career norms. His strikeout rate (4.94 K/9 and 12.6 K%) is way down though, plus he has minimal platoon and home/road splits. Feldman is primarily a low-90s sinker/upper-80s cutter/mid-70s curveball pitcher, though he will throw the occasional mid-80s splitter that serves as his changeup. The Yankees did not score in 6.2 innings against the right-hander on Opening Day.

(Brian Garfinkel/Getty)
(Brian Garfinkel/Getty)

Thursday: RHP Brandon McCarthy (vs. HOU) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (vs. NYY)

Keuchel, 26, has broken out in a huge way this season, pitching to a 3.11 ERA (3.31 FIP) in 23 starts and 156.1 innings. His strikeout (6.91 K/9 and 18.8 K%), walk (2.30 BB/9 and 6.3 BB%), and homer (0.58 HR/9 and 10.6 HR/FB%) rates are lower than the league averages, and his 61.8% ground ball rate is the highest in baseball by roughly five percentage points. Also, as Mark Simon notes, Keuchel has the tenth lowest hard-hit ball rate in baseball, so he’s getting a ton of weak contact on the ground. That’s a great way to keep runs off the board. Righties (.311 wOBA) are a bit more successful than lefties (.286 wOBA), though he does not have a significant home/road split at all. Keuchel gets all those weak grounders with upper-80s two and four-seam fastballs, plus he’ll mix in some mid-80s cutters. An upper-70s slider is his top secondary pitch and he’ll also throw a handful of upper-70s changeups per start. He’s basically a two-seamer/slider pitcher who will show a four-seamer and changeup. The Yankees did not see Keuchel when these two teams met in April.

Bullpen Status

The Astros spent some money on relievers this year, and ex-Yankee RHP Chad Qualls (3.11 FIP) has taken over as closer. RHP Jesse Crain has not pitched at all in 2014 due to continued arm problems and RHP Matt Albers has missed most of the season with a shoulder issue. Veterans LHP Tony Sipp (2.87 FIP) and ex-Yankee RHP Jose Veras (4.92 FIP) are Qualls’ primary setup men, though RHP Josh Fields (2.17 FIP) will see important innings as well.

The rest of Porter’s bullpen includes RHP Jake Buchanan (4.36 FIP), LHP Kevin Chapman (7.88 FIP in very limited time), LHP Darin Downs (3.29 FIP), and RHP Mike Foltynewicz (5.26 FIP in very limited time). Foltynewicz is a top prospect who was called up not too long ago and he throws very, very hard. Like every other team these days (it seems), the Astros are carrying eight relievers at the moment. Both of these teams were off Monday, so the bullpens are as fresh as it gets in mid-August. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for details on Joe Girardi‘s bullpen, then check out Astros County and Crawfish Boxes for the latest and greatest on the Astros.

Update: The Astros activated Guzman off the disabled list and sent Downs to Triple-A, the team announced. There you go.

Yankees offered to eat $4.5M of Ichiro’s salary in trade with Astros

According to information allegedly leaked from the Astros’ proprietary “Ground Control” database, the Yankees offered to eat $4.5M of Ichiro Suzuki‘s $6.5M salary in order to facilitate a trade with Houston at some point before the season. They also called to ask about a trade involving Chris Stewart before sending him to the Pirates. The leaked info was posted on Anonbin and dug up by Deadspin.

We heard the Yankees were willing to eat salary to move Ichiro all winter, so this isn’t a surprise. Now we just know exactly how much. More importantly, holy crap someone leaked a bunch of trade chatter from a team’s internal database. It reads like a fantasy league message board too — we’ll trade our okay veteran for your top prospect, stuff like that. Here’s the link again. Make sure you check it out. This kind of leak should never ever ever happen.