Building the 2017 Wild Card Game roster

Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Although the Yankees are still mathematically alive in the AL East race, odds are they will go to the postseason as a wildcard team, and odds are they will host the Twins at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have already punched their postseason ticket. Once the Red Sox clinch the AL East and the Twins clinch the second wildcard spot, everything will be set.

The Wild Card Game is, technically, its own postseason round. Teams set their 25-man Wild Card Game roster, then can make adjustments prior to the LDS. That leads to some unique roster construction. Why carry four or five starting pitchers for one game, for example? I’m a bit surprised MLB didn’t try eliminate that Wild Card Game roster rule. Or maybe they did try and were unsuccessful. Whatever.

Anyway, the Yankees carried 16 position players and nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. For real. Like I said, there are better ways to use those last few roster spots than carrying extra starting pitchers. The Yankees are not guaranteed to follow the 16 position players and nine pitchers blueprint again, but it does give us an idea what to expect in advance of the Wild Card Game next Tuesday.

So, with that Wild Card Game now six days away, I figured this would be a good time to try to piece together the 25-man roster the Yankees could use for that winner-take-all affair. Really stinks the Yankees are going to win 90-ish games then have to play in that Wild Card Game, huh? Oh well. Can’t do anything about it. Let’s take a look at the potential Wild Card Game roster.

The Locks

This is the easiest group, so we might as well start here. These are the 18 players we all know will be on the Wild Card Game roster as long as they’re healthy.

Pretty straightforward, right? Right. I’m as annoyed by Dellin’s walks as much as anyone, but they’re not leaving him off the Wild Card Game roster in favor of … Chasen Shreve? Jonathan Holder? Ben Heller? Gio Gallegos? Another starter? Yeah, no. These 18 dudes will be on the Wild Card Game roster.

Locks, If Healthy

Aaron Hicks (oblique) returned last night and Adam Warren (back) is expected back soon. At one point earlier this season it seemed Hicks would start the Wild Card Game, maybe even hit first or second, but not anymore. The injury and Jacoby Ellsbury’s late season resurgence put an end to that. He’ll be on the Wild Card Game roster as the fourth outfielder though, as long as he’s healthy. Warren will of course be on the roster as well. Again, as long as he’s healthy. Health is the only reason these two wouldn’t be on the Wild Card Game roster. They’re on, so add them to the locks and that’s already 20 players.

The Extra Starters

Like I said, the Yankees carried only nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. That’s typical. It’s one game, not a series, so there’s no need to carry all five starters. The Yankees figure to carry the scheduled starter (duh), a backup starter in case the scheduled starter is unable to go for whatever reason (hurt during warmups, sick before the game, etc.), and an extra starter should things go crazy in extra innings. Three starters seems like the right amount to me.

Severino is on track to start the Wild Card Game with one extra day of rest. That’s the easy part. Who backs him up? That will depend as much on the pitching schedule as anything. Whoever starts the final regular season game Sunday won’t be on the Wild Card Game roster Tuesday, for example. Right now, Sonny Gray lines up to pitch the day of the Wild Card Game on normal rest and Jordan Montgomery is on track to pitch that day with two extra days of rest. Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, meanwhile, would be on short rest that day.

Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Because of the schedule, Gray and Montgomery seem like the obvious candidates to be the backup starters behind Severino. I suppose Jaime Garcia could be in the mix given how he dominated the Twins last week, though I think that’s unlikely. The Yankees could always call an audible and change the rotation this week, but that would surprise me. They’ll have their best ready to go in Severino. Assuming Warren is healthy, Severino plus Gray and Montgomery gets the Yankees to nine pitchers and 22 players on the roster overall.

The Final Bench Spots

The 12 locks plus a hopefully healthy Hicks gets the Yankees to 13 position players, leaving three open spots should the Yankees again go the 16 position players plus nine pitchers route. Realistically, there are five candidates for those three roster spots: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Clint Frazier, Erik Kratz, and Tyler Wade. Garrett Cooper didn’t even get a September call-up, so I he’s not a postseason roster candidate. Ditto Kyle Higashioka.

I think Austin is on the postseason roster for sure. He’d give Joe Girardi a right-handed power bat on bench and, just as importantly, a backup first baseman should Bird (or Headley) get lifted for a pinch-runner. You don’t want to give up the DH or have to play Holliday at first base in the Wild Card Game. Austin’s righty power and ability to play first base (and right field in a pinch) seems pretty clearly worth a Wild Card Game roster spot in my opinion. Easy call.

Wade, even though he basically never plays, strikes me as someone who has a leg up on a Wild Card Game roster spot as well. He’d give the Yankees coverage all around the infield and can play left field in a pinch as well. Also, he can run. Crazy fast. Maybe the Yankees don’t consider him a designated pinch-runner option — they didn’t acquire that player this September — but still, the situation could present itself, and Wade is the closest thing the Yankees have to a true burner available. I think he’s on the roster as the 24th or 25th player.

Frazier’s roster fate could be tied to Hicks. If Hicks re-injures the oblique or simply can’t get going these next few days, Frazier would be the obvious candidate to serve as the fourth outfielder in the Wild Card Game. I love Frazier, but I’m really hoping Hicksie is on that Wild Card Game roster. He’s such a weapon when right. The Yankees could always carry Hicks and Frazier, in which case Frazier’s role would be extra righty bat, fifth outfielder, and potential pinch-runner. Frazier is low key fast as hell. That could come in handy at some point during a close game.

The Yankees don’t trust Andujar’s defense at third base right now — they’ve made that clear given how little he’s played there so far — and he can’t play any other positions, so he doesn’t have much to offer in the Wild Card Game. He’d be an extra righty bat and emergency third baseman. That’s it. Kratz? Don’t be surprised if he’s on the roster. The Yankees carried three catchers in the 2015 Wild Card Game — Sanchez, who had two September at-bats in 2015, was on the Wild Card Game roster that year — and they could do so again, just for an emergency. You know we’re in for at least one Wild Card Game roster surprise, right? Right.

If Hicks and Warren are healthy enough to make the Wild Card Game roster, and it sure looks like that’ll be the case, I think those final three position player spots wind up going to Austin, Kratz, and Wade. Austin hits, Wade fields and can run, and Kratz is there for peace of mind. Here’s a recap of the 25-man roster we’ve talked out in this post:

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Starters Relievers
Sanchez Bird Austin Severino (SP) Betances
Romine Castro Ellsbury Gray Chapman
Kratz Frazier Gardner Montgomery Green
Gregorius Hicks Kahnle
DH Headley Judge Robertson
Holliday Torreyes  Wade Warren

Austin and Wade are more utility players than true outfielders, but I stuck them in the outfield section for easy table building purposes. The Twins are going to start a right-hander no matter what in the Wild Card Game — the only lefty in their rotation is up-and-down depth guy Adalberto Mejia, and he sure as heck isn’t starting that game — so I imagine Bird will be in the starting lineup and Holliday will not. Holliday has been pretty terrible against righties lately.

The Yankees, of course, don’t want to use their 25-man roster in the Wild Card Game. They’d like to stick with their nine starting position players and three, maybe four pitchers, tops. That would be the ideal Wild Card Game scenario. The rules say you have to carry a 25-man roster though, and you knows, maybe those 23rd and 24th and 25th players on the roster end up being a factor. No one plans for it to happen that way, but baseball can be weird sometimes.

Yankeemetrics: How sweet it is, Bombers sweep Twinkies (Sept. 18-20)

(AP)
(AP)

Who needs clutch hitting?
In what was billed as a potential Wild Card game preview, the Yankees struck first with a narrow 2-1 win in the series opener over the Twins. They overcame another massive RISPFAIL (0-for-12 with runners in scoring position) thanks to justenough power at the plate and a (mostly) lock-down performance on the mound.

Aaron Judge continued the steady climb out of his post-break slump with a first-inning solo bomb. It was his 28th home run in the Bronx this year, moving him into a tie for fourth place on the franchise single-season list for homers hit at home. A few guys named Gehrig (30 in 1934), Maris (30 in 1961), and Ruth (29 in 1928) are ahead of him.

After the Twins tied it in the fifth, Todd Frazier delivered a game-winning bases-loaded sac fly in the sixth inning. Here’s a “betcha didn’t know” stat: that was the Yankees’ 52nd sacrifice fly of the season, the second-most in the majors behind the Astros. The last time they finished first or second in sac flies was 20 years ago (!) when they hit an MLB-best 70 in 1997.

Jaime Garcia pitched his finest game in pinstripes, allowing one unearned run on four hits while striking out nine, before getting pulled with two outs in the sixth. He remained winless as a Yankee, though, giving us an excuse for another #KillTheWin Yankeemetric:

Garcia is the third pitcher over the last 100 seasons to not get a win in his first seven starts with the Yankees – the others were Steve Trout in 1987 and Mike Kekich in 1969 – but his 3.86 ERA is by far the best among that trio (both those other guys had ERAs way above 5.00 during their streaks).

The Yankees nearly wasted Garcia’s gem as Dellin Betances‘ control problems re-surfaced in an ugly eighth inning, during which three of the four guys he faced reached base without a hit (two walks, hit-by-pitch). Adding in the wild pitch he threw, and Betances gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series.

Yes, it is very hard to cram all of that wildness into such a short outing. He is the first Yankee since at least 1912 to hit a guy, throw a wild pitch and issue multiple walks — while facing no more than four batters in a game.

Walks have always been a problem for Betances but he’s taken the hit-by-pitch issue to another level this year. It was the 10th time he hit a guy, becoming the first reliever in franchise history to plunk double-digit batters in a season. Betances had a total of nine hit-by-pitches in his major-league career before this year.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Don’t forget about the Elder Bombers
The Yankees continued to build momentum down the stretch with a 5-2 win on Tuesday, clinching their sixth straight series win. Over the last month, the only series they have lost was to the Indians (August 28-30) during their historic 22-game win streak.

The win also was their third in five games against the Twins in 2017, and with Wednesday’s finale being the only remaining matchup, the Yankees still haven’t lost a season series to the Twins since 2001. That is … good?

CC Sabathia battled through a shaky first inning, but recovered for one of his sharpest and most efficient starts of the season (77 pitches, six innings, two runs). Sabathia’s ability to come up huge in the most critical games has been well-documented here. And now we’ve got another “Big Game CC” stat to chew on: following Tuesday’s solid outing, he is 6-0 with a 1.25 ERA in seven starts against opponents with a .500 record or better this season. That’s the best record and lowest ERA in the majors among pitchers that have started at least five games against winning teams.

We’ve also got a Milestone Alert Yankeemetric for the big fella: his strikeout of Chris Gimenez to end the second inning was the 2,833rd of his career, moving him past Mickey Lolich for 18th place on the major-league all-time strikeout list, and third place among left-handers.

Most Strikeouts by LHP in MLB History
1. Randy Johnson – 4,875
2. Steve Carlton – 4,136
3. CC Sabathia – 2,836
4. Mickey Lolich – 2,832

Brett Gardner stuffed the stat sheet and provided the offensive spark at the top of the order, with three hits, two RBIs and a stolen base. The last Yankee leadoff batter to reach each of those totals in a game was Derek Jeter on July 9, 2011.

If that date sounds familiar …. yup, it was the Mr. 3000 game, when Jeter got his 3,000th hit against the Rays and produced one of the most iconic highlights in franchise history.

#TooManyHomers
The Bronx Bombers returned to their bread-and-butter winning strategy – explosive innings and dingers galore – in sweeping the Twins with a 11-3 win on Wednesday. It was their ninth sweep in 2017, nearly twice as many as they had last year (5).

If these teams do end up meeting for a one-game playoff in less than three weeks, the Yankees should like their chances based on recent history.

Their .721 winning percentage (44-17) in the regular season against the Twins since 2009 is the highest in any head-to-head matchup between any MLB teams (min. 25 games) over the past nine seasons. The Yankees’ domination extends to the postseason, too. They are 12-2 against the Twins in the playoffs – their best postseason record against any opponent (min. 10 games) in franchise history – and have won all four series played between the two clubs.

So … back to Wednesday’s game …. Not only did we get a ton of offensive fireworks to enjoy, but we also saw a bunch of rare, historical feats. Let’s dive into the stat madness!

(AP)
(AP)

Judge started the party with a two-run homer in the third inning, his 45th of the season. He is the second outfielder in baseball history with 45 homers and 115 walks in his age-25 season or younger. The other? Babe Ruth in 1920.

The homer also gave him 100 RBIs for the year (he added RBI No. 101 later in the game on a sac fly), and when combined with his triple-digit-plus walk and run-scoring numbers, Judge has put himself in some very impressive company. Judge is the …

  • Fifth Yankee age 25 or younger with at least 100 RBI, 100 runs and 100 walks: Mickey Mantle, Charlie Keller, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth are the others
  • Second rookie all-time to with more than 100 walks, runs and RBIs, joining Ted Williams (1939)
  • Only right-handed batter in Yankees history to have a 100-walk, 100-RBI, 100-run season

Gary Sanchez then went back-to-back with Judge in the third, belting a mammoth 439-foot blast deep into Monument Park. Fifteen of his 32 homers this season have gone at least 425 feet, the highest rate (47 percent) among all players with at least 20 homers.

The Yankees turned the game into a rout with a six-run fourth inning, sparked by Jacoby Ellsbury‘s one-out triple. Ellsbury wasn’t part of the homer-fest, but he still got on base four times via a single, double, triple and a walk – and that performance is worthy of a #FunFact. Over the last four decades, just two other Yankee centerfielders have produced a game with at least one single, double, triple and a walk: Bernie Williams (1998) and Dave Winfield (1984).

The biggest blow in the fourth inning was delivered by Didi Gregorius. His three-run shot to cap off the scoring made him the only shortstop in franchise history with 25 homers in a season, surpassing the 24 that Derek Jeter hit in 1999.

Yankeemetrics: Feeling right at home in Queens (Sept. 11-13)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Let the good times roll …
Riding the momentum of a three-game win streak, the Yankees headed back to the Northeast to play a “road series” against the Rays at Citi Field due to Hurricane Irma. Despite spotting the Rays an early 1-0 lead, the Yankees were unfazed by the early deficit, and thanks to an explosive five-run fourth inning, cruised to a relatively easy 5-1 win on Monday. This game-script has actually become a familiar one for the 2017 Yankees (ranks through Monday):

  • 31st win when the opponent scores first, the most among AL teams and tied for the second-most in the majors.
  • Of course, it also helps that it was the 80th game this season in which they allowed the first runs of the game; only the Phillies and Athletics have more games.
  • 23rd time they scored at least five runs in an inning, tied with the Nationals and Astros for the most 5-or-more-run innings in MLB this season.

Todd Frazier turned a pitchers duel into a rout with a three-run homer in the fourth inning to give the Yankees a 5-1 advantage. The likelihood of him simply getting a hit in that situation – runners on first and second – was low: Frazier entered the game hitting .176 with men on base, the second-worst average in the majors (min. 150 at-bats).

The guy on first when Frazier went deep was Jacoby Ellsbury, who reached base via catcher’s interference for the 30th time in his career, breaking the major-league record for that obscure stat. The mark was previously set by Pete Rose, who got his 29 catcher’s interferences in a major-league-record 15,890 plate appearances; Ellsbury’s 30th came in his 5,308th plate appearance.

The unsung hero of the game was David Robertson, who took over for CC Sabathia with one out in the fifth and two men on base. He got out of the jam by striking out the next two batters and then held the Rays scoreless over next two frames. It was the first time in his career he pitched more than two innings and the earliest he entered a game since April 9, 2011.

How was D-Rob able to dominate the Rays? He peppered the edges of the strike zone with his signature cutter/curveball combo:

robertson

And got a few key outs with his devastating breaking ball (two strikeouts and two groundouts). Robertson’s curve is so nasty because of its ability to get whiffs and grounders at ridiculously high rates. More than 200 pitchers this year have thrown at least 100 curveballs, and only one other – Craig Kimbrel – can match Robertson’s 50 percent whiffs-per-swing rate and his 60 percent groundball rate with the pitch.

… and then see the good times come to a screeching halt
Buckle up, folks, this is going to be a bumpy and exasperating rollercoaster ride down the stretch in September. After enjoying a few days of offensive bliss, the Yankee bats crashed back down to earth on Tuesday. They were held to three hits – and didn’t get a runner past first base after the first inning – in a listless and boring 2-1 loss.

Yes, another one-run loss. It was their 25th of the season, which leads the American League and is also more than twice as many as they suffered last year (12). With a record of 15-25 (.375) in games decided by one run, they are still on pace for the fourth-worst winning percentage in those games in franchise history.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

They wasted another gem by Sonny Gray, who literally threw two bad pitches: his first one of the night, a 94 mph fastball up-and-away that Kevin Kiermaier deposited into the right-centerfield seats, and his 90th of the night, another elevated four-seamer that Adeiny Hechavarria clobbered for a tie-breaking solo homer in the eighth inning.

Kiermaier’s shot was the ninth leadoff homer allowed by the Yankees this season, which is one more than their pitchers gave up in 2015 and 2016 combined. For Gray, it was the first time in his career he surrendered a longball on the first pitch he threw in a game.

This lack of run support has become a recurring nightmare for Gray, who is 3-5 with a 2.66 ERA in eight starts with the team. In those five losses, they have scored a total of four runs. Tuesday’s heart-breaker was the fourth time as a Yankee that he got charged with a loss despite giving up no more than two earned runs. That’s the most such losses suffered by any starting pitcher in the majors since Gray made his first start in pinstripes on August 3. #KillTheWin

Gray certainly doesn’t deserve this fate, so let’s celebrate how terrific he’s been this season. It was his eighth consecutive road start allowing no more than two earned runs, the longest streak in the AL this season. The streak dates back more than three months, and during that stretch he’s posted a 1.99 ERA in those eight road starts, the best mark in the AL among guys with at least 35 innings pitched since June 1.

(AP)
(AP)

Survive and advance
Not even another massive RISPFAIL performance can stop the Fighting Spirit freight train that the Yankees have been riding this season. Despite leaving a small navy of runners on base and wasting a ton of scoring chances, the Yankees escaped with a 3-2 win on Wednesday to win their fourth straight series.

Joe Girardi went to The Binder early, yanking Jaime Garcia with two outs in the fifth inning after he’d only thrown 78 pitches and had allowed just one run at the time. This has become a signature call for Girardi this season — it was the 13th time a Yankee starter was removed before completing five innings, despite not giving up no more than two earned runs. That’s the most such starts by any AL team and tied with the Brewers for the MLB-high.

Yet you could hardly fault Girardi for an early hook with Garcia, given his massive splits when facing batters multiple times in a game (stats and ranks entering Wednesday):

  • 1st time through order: .542 OPS, ranked 15th out of 172 starters with at least 100 batters faced
  • 2nd time through order: .783 OPS, ranked 88th out of 171 starters with at least 100 batters faced
  • 3rd time through order: .989 OPS, ranked 114th out of 119 starters with at least 100 batters faced

[And it also helps when you have a Pitching Cyborg — aka Chad Green — with 99 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings and a 1.96 ERA ready to go in the bullpen]

Brett Gardner — living up to his G.G.B.G. nickname — was the rare Yankee who came through in the clutch, driving in two runs with a bases-loaded single in the second inning that would end up as the game-winning hit. He is now 11-for-21 (.524) with the bases loaded since the start of last season, the best mark among any AL player with at least 20 at-bats and the second-best in MLB behind Daniel Murphy.

The Yankees’ late-season pinch runner is already on the roster

Wade (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Wade (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Most seasons, the Yankees would have had to look to the outside for that pinch running help down the stretch. But this year, they’ll only have to look a little further down their 40-man roster.

As you may remember, the Yankees tend to acquire a pinch runner every year around the end of August. That allows them to add the player in time to be eligible for the postseason while adding some small value in September.

There are plenty of past examples. Eric Young Jr. fulfilled the role last year. Rico Noel the year before. The one that sticks in my mind is Freddy Guzman during the 2009 World Series run. These players are easy to forget and wouldn’t be a useful part of a 25-man roster from April to August, yet they earn their spot once the roster expands in September or becomes more position player friendly in the postseason.

The thing is, the Yankees didn’t acquire anyone at the August waiver deadline this season.

That could mean one of two things. One possibility is that they can’t afford to take someone off the 40-man roster for someone in such a minute role. They’ll be able to put the extra relievers to good use and they already gave Erik Kratz a 40-man spot on Friday.

But the more likely explanation is that they have their pinch runner on the roster already. Two in fact.

Therefore, Tyler Wade is likely the Yankees’ late season pinch runner.

Wade was added to the active roster on Monday. He hit extremely poorly in his first cup of coffee with a .135/.211/.212 (10 wRC+) line. Yikes. And with Ronald Torreyes/Starlin Castro/Didi Gregorius ahead of him up the middle and plenty of depth on the corners, he won’t be seeing a start unless everything goes wrong or there are meaningless games at the end of the month.

He’s a fine defensive replacement, particularly because he can play almost anywhere, and he should be able to hit as he adjusts (second for International League batting title), but for now, he can just show off his blazing speed. He’s a 75 percent base stealer in his minor league career and has stolen 27 in 32 attempts (87 percent) this year. He’s third in the International League with 26 steals while swiping one base against the Astros two months ago.

He hasn’t had enough opportunities in the majors to place on Statcast’s sprint speed leaderboard, but suffice to say, he’s an above-average runner.

Jacoby Ellsbury, of course would have been the perfect pinch runner for October, but that’s not going to happen after Aaron Hicks‘ injury. Like it or not, he’s going to be playing center field an awful lot, even after Clint Frazier returns from injury. That’s just the way it is. Joe Girardi trusts him enough to give him those starts and Hicks’ oblique injury makes Ellsbury starting a potential playoff game a likely possibility.

Ellsbury had already been quite useful as a pinch runner this season. In seven pinch running appearances, he’s stolen four bases and been caught once. He even helped the Yankees tie up a game in the ninth inning with a clutch steal before scoring on a single vs. the Mariners in July.

Even though he’s looked overmatched at the plate and has lost a step, he’s still an efficient base stealer and that alone means he’s worth the roster spot down the stretch. His 28.1 ft/s sprint speed is over 1 ft/s above average. He’s not a 70-base stealer anymore, but he can still be a menace on the basepaths. Therefore, it’s a shame he’ll be in the lineup instead of lying in wait on the bench.

Ellsbury (Elsa/Getty)
Ellsbury (Elsa/Getty)

Before Saturday, Wade may not have even been a likely member of the playoff roster. He has the positional flexibility to make the 25-man roster, but Girardi certainly wouldn’t want him at the plate. Can you blame him? The first opportunity for the 22-year-old was uninspiring.

But Hicks’ injury bumps Ellsbury up from inch runner to everyday player. Wade was already essentially a lock for the Wild Card Game roster where you have room for 16-17 position players, but now he’s the best pinch running option for the ALDS and beyond. This assumes there will be room for a pinch runner, which there should be if the Yankees

This assumes there will be room for a pinch runner on the ALDS roster, which there should be if the Yankees carry 11 pitchers as would be expected if the Yankees get that far.

Wade is a much more dynamic player than just a pinch runner and you shouldn’t let 57 poor PAs in his first try at the majors define him. He has potential to be a solid everyday shortstop or a Ben Zobrist-type if he hits his ceiling.

But for 2017, the best way the 22-year-old can make an impact down the stretch will be solely with his legs.

Jacoby Ellsbury is hot at exactly the right time for the Yankees

(David Maxwell/Getty)
(David Maxwell/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon the Yankees won their third straight game and for the fourth time in their last five games, and they’re now 29-22 with a +42 run differential in the second half this season. True story. I know it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, but the Yankees have collectively played well since the All-Star break. It’s kept them in the AL East race and atop the wildcard standings.

Starlin Castro and the bullpen led the way in yesterday’s win, though the resurgent Jacoby Ellsbury played a big role as well, going 1-for-2 with two walks. He drove in the game-tying run with a single and also came around to score an insurance run later in the game. That comes after a big game against the Red Sox and Chris Sale, in which Ellsbury went 3-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base, and saw 22 pitches in four plate appearances.

The overall numbers are still not great. Ellsbury is hitting .254/.335/.394 (95 wRC+) in 318 plate appearances this year which, when combined with his defense, makes him maybe a league average player. He missed time with a concussion and was also benched in favor of Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier (and I suppose Brett Gardner) for long stretches of time. And it wasn’t undeserved. Ellsbury has not played well most of the season.

Right now though, Ellsbury is in the middle of a hot streak that has seen him go 11-for-26 (.423) with two doubles, one triple, one homer, three walks, and only one strikeout in his last nine games. He’s started seven of the last ten games and the Yankees have needed him to. Hicks is back on the disabled list and Aaron Judge needed to sit out a few days last week, either for a mental break or to let his shoulder heal or both.

There’s never a bad time for a hot streak, but Ellsbury’s comes at an especially good time because Hicks and Frazier are both hurt, and because Judge still hasn’t completely snapped out of his second half slump. Judge has looked a bit better the last two days, and that’s encouraging, though it’s not nearly enough to declare him fixed. The fourth outfielder is Tyler Wade right now, so yeah. Ellsbury is going to play and play a lot.

The easy narrative here is getting demoted to the bottom of the order and later benched has lit a fire under Ellsbury. He’s playing with a big chip on his shoulder and taking it out on the baseball. And it absolutely could be true. Ellsbury, to his credit, took the lineup demotion and later the benching like a total pro. He never complained publicly and he did whatever the Yankees asked, including pinch-run late in several close games.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Ellsbury wasn’t irked by the demotion, of course. He should be upset. You want a player to be upset when he’s removed from the lineup for performance reasons. Ellsbury, like every other player, is a competitor and he wants to be in the lineup every single day. Now he’s back in the lineup and performing well. We’ve seen Ellsbury get hot in the past. When he gets hot, he gets really hot and can carry a team.

Frazier will begin a minor league rehab assignment tomorrow and the Yankees hope Hicks can begin swinging a bat within ten days, so help is on the way and that’s good. Until they return, Ellsbury is going to play, and the Yankees need him to produce because they’re trying to chase down the Red Sox in the AL East and trying to fend off basically half the AL in the wildcard race. The Yankees are, for all intents and purposes, playing playoff games right now.

Ellsbury is not going to validate his entire seven-year control in this final month. That is the wrong way to look at it. He could help make up for what has generally been an underwhelming season to date, however, and help push the Yankees into the postseason. Ellsbury has talent. That’s part of what makes his play so frustrating. He can be so much better than he has been. Ellsbury is clicking right now though, and it’s not a moment too late for the Yankees.

Yankeemetrics: Ending with a win, finally (Aug. 25-27)

(AP)
(AP)

Extra awful loss
The uniforms might have looked different, but the result was a familiar one for Yankee fans in the Bronx on Friday night – a frustrating and gut-wrenching 11-inning, 2-1 loss. While another late meltdown by the bullpen was the trigger point, the lack of clutch hitting and numerous wasted scoring opportunities gave the Yankees virtually no chance to win the game.

Let’s recap the ugliness:

  • It was their 22nd one-run loss of the season, the most in the American League through Friday, and 10(!) more than they had all of last season.
  • It was also their sixth extra-inning loss, twice as many as they suffered in 2016.
  • And it was the 22nd time the bullpen was charged with a loss, the third-highest total in the AL through Friday, behind the Rays and Rangers.

Aroldis Chapman‘s miserable season continued as he coughed up the game-winning homer to Yonder Alonso in the top of the 11th inning. Chapman wore the goat horns, and also gets stung with our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series:

He is the second Yankee ever to give up an extra-inning go-ahead homer at Yankee Stadium against the Mariners. The other one happened on June 14, 1978 when Leon Roberts took Sparky Lyle deep in the top of the 10th, a shot that was rendered meaningless when the Yankees rallied in the bottom of the frame to win the game.

Alonso is also the second left-handed batter this month to homer off the Cuban Missile. That is a mind-blogging fact considering Chapman had surrendered only one home run to a lefty in his career before Rafael Devers took him deep two weeks ago (Luke Scott was the other on June 26, 2011).

To sum it up: he allowed one homer to the first 418 lefty batters he faced in the majors, and since has allowed two homers to the last 12 lefty batters he’s faced in the majors.

With Alonso hammering a 100.1 mph pitch from Chapman into Monument Park, it’s becoming more and more likely that his blazing fastball is no longer a weapon of intimidation in the pitcher-hitter duel. Batters are squaring up on his triple-digit heater more often than ever. Look at these numbers for the 100-plus mph pitches he has thrown in this career.

Year Pitches Slug pct Home runs Whiff rate
2017 253 .324 2 15%
2010-16 2,330 .150 3 22%

The Yankees wasted a gem from CC Sabathia, who was brilliant in his second start since coming off the DL, going seven innings and allowing just one run. Sabathia’s late-career resurgence is reminiscent of another Yankee legend who had a couple strong seasons after reaching the midpoint of his 30s, Mike Mussina. And so it was fitting that the two pitchers had a cool statistical convergence on Friday night:

When Sabathia took the mound at the start of the game, it was his 249th start as a Yankee, breaking a tie with Mussina for sole possession of 11th place on the franchise’s all-time games started list. And when Sabathia struck out Kyle Seager in the sixth inning, it was his 2,814th strikeout, passing Mussina for 19th place on the Major-League all-time strikeout list.

(AP)
(AP)

Sonny skies all day
The crushing losses have been piling up, but the resiliency of this team hasn’t waned. That toughness was on display again this weekend when the Yankees bounced back from Friday’s devastating loss to beat the Mariners 6-3 on Saturday. They’ve now won seven of their last 10 games following a one-run loss, dating back to the last week of June.

Sonny Gray delivered his finest performance as Yankee, striking out nine and allowing just one run in seven stellar innings. He’s pitched at least five innings and allowed no more than two earned runs in each of his first five starts with the Bombers, becoming the first pitcher to begin his Yankee tenure with a streak like that since Tommy John in 1979.

This excellent stretch extends even further back to his final month in Oakland too; Saturday was his 11th consecutive start giving up fewer than three earned runs, the longest streak by any pitcher in the majors this season. In that span – since June 25 – he’s compiled an ERA of 1.95, the lowest by any American League pitcher (min. 30 IP) over the last two months.

Gray dominated with his two breaking pitches, as the Mariners swung at 18 curves/sliders and whiffed on 11 of them, including five for strike three. But perhaps more impressive was how he repeatedly froze batters with his two-seamer. He got a career-best 15 called strikes among the 54 two-seam fastballs he threw, and most of those takes were in the heart of the zone (orange dots below):

sonny-gray2

While Gray shined on the mound, Jacoby Ellsbury had a rare starring role as the offensive spark plug, with an RBI single and a tie-breaking three-run dinger. Ellsbury’s blast was a Yankee Stadium special, just barely clearing the short porch in right field. According to ESPN’s Hit Tracker (and based on calculations if the ball had been hit in ideal weather conditions of 70 degrees and no wind), Yankee Stadium is the only ballpark it would have been a home run.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Sloppy Seattle, Magnificent Masa
The Yankees’ inability to close out series had become a recurring nightmare … until the Bad News Mariners showed up to Yankee Stadium. Entering this weekend, the Yankees had dropped their previous 11 rubber games — a streak that reached back to early June — and were 5-14 in rubber games overall this season, easily the worst record and most losses of any team. On Sunday afternoon the Yankees took advantage of a historically sloppy Seattle defense to snap that inexplicable streak, en route to a 10-1 victory.

They raced out to an early 6-1 lead thanks to five Mariners errors in the first inning, the most errors committed by one team in a single inning since the Cubs on July 2, 1977 against the Cardinals. If you’re curious, the modern record (since 1900) for the most errors committed in one inning is seven, by the Cleveland Naps against the Chicago White Sox on September 20, 1905.

Thanks to all those free outs, a cavalcade of hits, and some timely at-bats (6 hits with runners in scoring position), the Yankees were able to win without the benefit a homer — an extremely rare win for this power-happy team. It was just their fourth win this season in a game they didn’t go deep, which is now tied with the Tigers for the fewest such wins in the majors.

Masahiro Tanaka made sure the Yankees offensive outburst wouldn’t be wasted as he shut down the Mariners lineup after a shaky first inning. He struck out 10 in seven innings, allowed one run, and has now quietly posted a 2.92 ERA over his last 11 outings. This was also his 100th career start, and with those 10 strikeouts, Tanaka became the first pitcher in franchise history to reach 600 strikeouts in his first 100 major-league games.

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.