Yankeemetrics: Bronx Bummer (May 11-14)

(AP)
(AP)

Game of Inches
Entering Thursday the Astros and Yankees were baseball’s two best teams, separated by just .001 in the win percentage column, so it was fitting that the first game of the series was decided on the final play, by mere inches.

Down two runs in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two men in scoring position, Gary Sanchez lined a single through the left side of the infield; Aaron Hicks scored easily from third base but Jacoby Ellsbury – racing home from second – was thrown out at the plate as the potential game-tying run.

Those types of rally-killing outs on the bases have been piling up for the Yankees this season. It was the sixth baserunning out at home plate by a Yankee this season, tying the Red Sox for the most in the AL through Thursday, and one shy of the major-league-leading Marlins.

Yet, the heart-wrenching nature of this play is actually quite rare: This was just the third time since 1930 that a game ended on a base hit with a Yankee being thrown out at home as the potential game-tying run.

The last time it happened was August 12, 1987 against the Royals when Wayne Tolleson was nailed at the plate trying to score from first on Roberto Kelly’s double to left field. Before that, you have to go back all the way to May 9, 1930 against the Tigers, when Tony Lazzeri was thrown out trying to score from second on Bill Dickey’s single.

Ellsbury was also involved in the Yankees only other run, when he got a catcher’s interference call with the bases loaded in the fifth inning. It was his 28th catcher’s interference, one shy of tying Pete Rose for the all-time MLB record. Of course, Rose is also the all-time record-holder in career plate appearances (15,890), while Ellsbury ranked 960th in that stat (5,084) through Thursday.

In yet another oddity, it was the first time in his career that Ellsbury got a catcher’s interference call with the bases loaded. And it had been more than two decades since any Yankee did that – the last one was by Pat Kelly in 1992 against the A’s.

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

Dead Bats Society
The Yankees offense went into a deep freeze on a chilly Friday night in the Bronx, barely avoiding a shutout in a listless 5-1 loss to the Astros. Didi Gregorius‘ RBI single with two outs in the ninth kept the Yankees as one of three teams (Twins, Nationals) that haven’t been blanked this season.

Brian McCann delivered the big blow for the Astros when he clubbed a three-run homer in the fourth inning to break a scoreless tie. It was his 47th homer at Yankee Stadium since 2014, the most home runs hit by any player at the Stadium in that span – and 12 more than the next guy on the list (Carlos Beltran, who also was sitting in the visiting dugout this weekend).

Lance McCullers dominated the Yankee lineup with a devastating mix of 95-mph fastballs and knee-buckling curves, holding them to zero runs on four hits over six innings while striking out seven and walking none. That seems good, eh? McCullers (23 years, 222 days) is the youngest pitcher ever to throw at least six scoreless, walk-free innings with seven-plus strikeouts in his first road appearance against the Yankees.

(AP)
(AP)

Comeback kings strike again
The Yankees kicked off Mother’s Day/Derek Jeter Night with a slump-busting, 11-6 come-from-behind win in the first game of Sunday’s double-header. It was their eighth victory when trailing by at least two runs, the second-most in baseball this season.

The first rally came in the fourth inning and was sparked by a couple longballs off the bats of Starlin Castro and Aaron Judge. Castro’s two-run homer knotted the score at 3-3, his fourth game-tying homer of the season, which matched Freddie Freeman for the most in the majors. Judge’s go-ahead, 441-foot solo blast to dead-center was his MLB-leading sixth home run of at least 430 feet in 2017, two more than any other player.

The second and decisive rally came in the seventh inning, when the Yankees erupted for six runs to erase a 6-4 deficit. The biggest blow was a tie-breaking, bases-loaded triple by Chase Headley. In the last 20 years, the only other Yankee with a go-ahead, bases-clearing triple in the seventh inning or later was Bernie Williams on June 21, 2005 against Tampa Bay.

(Getty)
(Getty)

#RE2PECT2JETER
The excited buzz and loud cheers lingering from the Stadium crowd following Derek Jeter’s number retirement ceremony were quickly silenced when George Springer stepped into the batter’s box and led off the game with a home run. That sparked a six-run first inning for Houston and paved the way for a deflating 10-7 loss by the Yankees.

Masahiro Tanaka was clobbered amid a chorus of boooooos, producing the worst start of his major-league career. He matched career-worsts in innings pitched (1 2/3) and homers allowed (4), while surrendering a career-high eight runs, and etching his name in the record books — for the wrong reason.

Tanaka became the first pitcher in Yankees history to give up at least eight earned runs and four home runs in a game while pitching fewer than two innings.

Three of those home runs came in the first inning, putting the Yankees in a huge early hole that even the Comeback Kings couldn’t dig out of. Going back to 1950 (as far back as Baseball-Reference.com has mostly complete play-by-play data), the Astros are the only visiting team to hit three-or-more home runs in the first inning of a game at Yankee Stadium.

As horrible as this game ended up, we can still end this Yankeemetrics on high note by honoring The Captain with the ultimate #JeterFunFact.

Here’s the list of players in major-league history to compile at least 3,000 hits, 250 homers, 350 stolen bases and 1,300 RBIs in a career: Derek Sanderson Jeter.

Yankeemetrics: Bronx Bombers invade Wrigley (May 5-7)

Air Gardy. (Presswire)
Air Gardy. (Presswire)

It Ain’t Over ‘Til Its Over
The Comeback Kings struck again as the Yankees pulled off yet another stunning late-game come-from-behind victory on Friday afternoon against the Cubs.

Trailing 2-0 in the top of the ninth with two men on base and two outs, Brett Gardner drilled a 2-2 slider into the right field bleachers to give the Yankees the lead; Aroldis Chapman got the final three outs to secure the most improbable win.

How unlikely was this rally? The last time the Cubs lost a game in this scenario – protecting a two-or-more-run lead in the ninth – was nearly three years ago, on May 21, 2014 at Wrigley Field … against the Yankees.

Or maybe it wasn’t so unlikely, given the refuse-to-lose mojo of the 2017 Yankees. Entering Saturday’s slate, they were one of just three teams this season with multiple wins when trailing by at least two runs entering the ninth inning (Padres and Angels were the others).

Before Gardner went deep, he was a pathetic 3-for-20 (.150) with zero extra-base hits after the sixth inning, and hitless in five at-bats in the ninth inning this season.

Gardner’s home run was not just shocking, it was one for the record books. Only six other times since 1930 has a Yankee hit a go-ahead homer in the ninth inning with two outs and trailing by at least two runs. That list includes: Mark Teixeira (2016), Alex Rodriguez (2010), Don Mattingly (1985), Chris Chambliss (1976), Bobby Murcer (1969) and Bobby Richardson (1962).

A-Rod‘s three-run homer in the top of the ninth on Sept. 17, 2010 in Baltimore is the only other instance in the last quarter-century that a Yankee pulled off that feat when down to their final strike, like Gardner.

And, finally, this was the third time in the last 75 years that the Yankees were one out away from being shut out, and then hit a go-ahead home run. Incredibly, the hero in the two previous games was the same guy – Bobby Murcer – who erased a 1-0 deficit on June 14, 1980 in Oakland and a 2-0 deficit on August 5, 1969 against the Angels with ninth-inning, game-changing homers.

Hot hot Hicksy. (EPA)
Hot hot Hicksy. (EPA)

No comeback needed
One night after perhaps the most dramatic win of the season, the Yankees authored one of their least dramatic wins of the season, taking a 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning en route to an 11-6 victory on Saturday. The win gave them their fourth straight series victory, something they never did last year.

Sure, the Yankees and Cubs don’t match up often, but it’s still fun to note that the last time the Yankees scored 11-or-more runs against the Cubs was in Game 4 of the 1932 World Series, a 13-6 series-clinching win at Wrigley Field. The 3-4 hitters in that lineup were Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig; for Ruth, it was the last World Series game of his Hall-of-Fame career (h/t Mark Simon, friend of Yankeemetrics).

The offensive explosion on Saturday was led by the top of the order as Aaron Hicks and Starlin Castro combined to go 7-for-9 with five runs and six RBIs. Castro was 3-of-4, notching his AL-best 15th multi-hit game of the season. In the last 40 years, only two other Yankees produced that many multi-hit games within the team’s first 28 contests: Derek Jeter (2012) and Alfonso Soriano (2002, 2003).

Hicks’ performance was the statistical highlight of the night, as he went 4-of-5, including a homer, while driving in three runs and scoring three runs. The last Yankee center fielder to put up those numbers in any game – at least four hits, a home run, three RBIs, three runs – was Mickey Mantle on Aug. 6, 1961 against the Twins.

Yes, miracles do happen. (Getty)
Yes, miracles do happen. (Getty)

It’s over, finally
After way too many innings, way too many hours, way too many pitches, way too many strikeouts … the Yankees finished off the sweep of the Cubs on Sunday night (actually Monday morning).

It marked their first sweep of the defending World Series champs since July 14-16, 2006 against the White Sox, and the first time they’ve done that on the road since July 29-31, 2003 in Anaheim against the Angels.

The 18-inning affair was the longest game in Interleague history, longest game ever on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball (which began in 1990), and the longest in the majors this season.

It is the sixth time in franchise history the Yankees won a game of at least 18 innings and the first time since September 11, 1988 vs. the Tigers. The only other time they won a game this long on the road was a 22-inning marathon on June 24, 1962 in Detroit.

With the game going 18 innings, you’d think there would be a few more records set … and you would be correct.

  • The Yankee batters struck out 22 times, breaking the previous single-game franchise record of 17. And the Yankee pitchers struck out 26 Cubs, also obliterating the previous single-game franchise record of 19. Hooray!
  • The 26 strikeouts by Yankee pitchers matched a major-league record, set by the 1971 A’s vs. the Angels and the 2004 Angels vs. the Brewers.
  • This is the first game in MLB history where both teams each whiffed at least 21 times.
  • The 48 combined strikeouts by both teams is also a new single-game major-league record.
  • Yankees are the first team in major-league history to have four players (Castro, Didi Gregorius, Austin Romine, Chase Headley) go 0-for-7 or worse at the plate. Yes, they still won the game.

So how did we get there?

Luis Severino delivered an absolute gem, allowing one run in seven stellar innings. Twenty of his 21 outs came either groundballs (11) or strikeouts (9), and the one out he got in the air was a liner by Cubs starter Jon Lester. His final pitching line (4 hits, 1 walk, 9 strikeouts, 1 run, 7 innings) gives us our #FunFact Yankeemetric of the Week:

Only one other visiting pitcher as young Severino (23 years, 76 days) struck out at least nine batters, gave up no more than one run and allowed five or fewer baserunners in a game at Wrigley Field: Reds right-hander Jim Maloney, who delivered two such outings on August 21, 1962 and July 23, 1963.

Aaron Judge broke out of his mini-slump and gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the seventh with a tie-breaking RBI triple. It was the first go-ahead triple by any Yankee in nearly four years, when Travis Hafner hit one on April 27, 2013 to break a 4-4 tie in the seventh against the Blue Jays. Of course it was Pronk, just as we all predicted.

Aroldis Chapman came on in the ninth to protect a three-run lead, but eventually blew the save when he hit Anthony Rizzo with the bases loaded to even the score at 4-4. Chapman is the only Yankee pitcher since at least 1930 to give up the game-tying run in the ninth inning via a bases-loaded hit by pitch.

Finally, Castro reached on a fielder’s choice groundout, scoring Aaron Hicks from third. So the guy who went 0-for-8 was the hero of the night with the game-winning RBI.

Game 28: A Big Test for Montgomery

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

I can’t imagine many pitchers have made starts at Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field within the first five games of their MLB career, yet Jordan Montgomery will join the club tonight. This will be Montgomery’s biggest challenge as a big leaguer. He’ll face the defending World Series champion Cubs and their great lineup on the road in an intimidating classic ballpark. Can’t simulate outings like this in the minors.

Anyway, the Yankees stunned the Cubs yesterday afternoon with their latest come-from-behind win. It would be cool to get a lead and not play from behind tonight, you know? Comeback wins are fun! But I could use an easy win one of these days. Jump out to an early lead and protect it the rest of the way. That sort of thing. Just win the series though. That’s the most important thing. Do that and everything will take care of itself. Here is the Cubs’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. 2B Starlin Castro
  4. RF Aaron Judge
  5. C Gary Sanchez
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 1B Chris Carter
  9. LHP Jordan Montgomery

It has been sunny in Chicago all day and it’ll be clear tonight. Very cold though. Temperatures in the 40s, but at least there isn’t as much wind as yesterday. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:15pm ET and you can watch on regular old FOX. Not FOX Sports 1. There is no YES broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury (elbow) is still receiving treatment and hopes to play tomorrow. Right now throwing is the problem more than anything. I assume he’s available to pinch-hit and run today.

Game 27: Gary Returns

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Twenty-six days after an ill-fated swing in Baltimore, the Yankees welcome back arguably their best hitter today. Gary Sanchez is back in the lineup following nearly four weeks on the disabled list with a biceps issue. He completed his minor league rehab assignment yesterday — Sanchez went 3-for-8 (.375) with a double and a homer in three rehab games — and is in the starting lineup today.

Amazingly, rather than fall apart without Sanchez, the Yankees went 16-5 while he was on the disabled list. They’re also averaging 5.69 runs per game, easily the most in the AL. (The Mariners are second at 4.90.) Big ups to Austin Romine. He was pretty awesome during Sanchez’s absence. Romine didn’t just help keep the Yankees afloat, he helped them thrive. His contributions will not be forgotten. Here is the Cubs’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. RF Aaron Judge
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 1B Chris Carter
  9. RHP Michael Pineda

It’s a good thing this series is in Chicago, because it is cold and raining in New York. It is merely just cold at Wrigley Field. Also, the wind is blowing in big time, so it’ll take a shot to hit a ball out of the park this afternoon. (Aaron Judge accepts that challenge.) Today’s game will begin at 2:20pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury (elbow) is feeling better, though he is not available for this afternoon’s game. He’s still receiving treatment and did hit in the batting cage today. Ellsbury could be ready to play as soon as tomorrow, however.

Roster Note: Joe Girardi said he plans to play Matt Holliday at first base at some point during this five-game road trip through NL cities. He doesn’t want him sitting on the bench all five games. I had a feeling this was coming.

Roster Move: As expected, Kyle Higashioka was sent down to Triple-A Scranton to clear a roster spot for Sanchez. He’ll be back at some point. September as an expanded roster call-up at the latest.

Game 25: Win it for Bird

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees lost their talented young first baseman earlier today, as Greg Bird went on the 10-day disabled list with a bone bruise in his right ankle. This is the same issue he’s been dealing with since fouling a pitch off the ankle at the end of Spring Training. It sucks, but hopefully this DL stint turns into a positive. This’ll give Bird a chance to get healthy and hopefully get back on track at the plate.

As for tonight’s game, the Yankees have lost consecutive games for the first time since losing three straight from April 5th through the 8th. Those were the third, fourth, and fifth games of the season. It’s been a while since the Yankees had anything resembling a losing streak. Thankfully, they have the right man on the mound tonight to stop this losing nonsense. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

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

It’s a lovely day here in New York. Windy as hell — the wind is blowing out at Yankee Stadium, so we could see some dingers tonight — but it’s cool with only a few clouds in the sky. Very pleasant evening. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: As expected, Luis Cessa was send down earlier today, the Yankees announced. Chasen Shreve has been called back up. Cessa threw 55 pitches in 3.1 innings yesterday, so it’s no surprise he was sent down for a fresh arm … Rob Refsnyder was called up to take Bird’s roster spot.

Injury Updates: In addition to Bird, the Yankees will be without Jacoby Ellsbury for a few days. He went for an MRI today and has been diagnosed with a bruised nerve in his left elbow. It happened when he crashed into the wall making that catch last night. The Yankees will see how he feels the next few days before deciding whether to put him on the disabled list before the road trip.

Is Jacoby Ellsbury’s early production for real?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Eight games into the season, you’re bound to see a few eye-popping stats. Aaron Judge‘s 1.072 OPS comes to mind. Adam Warren‘s six perfect innings or Chase Headley‘s .393 average also fit that description.

A little less eye-popping but nonetheless surprising has been the solid start for Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees’ starting center fielder has been beset with criticism over the last few seasons while he hasn’t lived up to the contract. Even stripping away the contract, Ellsbury hasn’t been quite up to expectations with league average (or worse) seasons as he approaches his mid-30s.

So his .321/.345/.500 (144 wRC+) batting line definitely stands out when it comes to the Yankees’ early producers. This, after all, comes after a .263/.330/.374 season and with many projection systems expecting more of the same. Quite simply, a guy entering his age 33 season isn’t supposed to have a resurgence like this.

Then there’s the obvious question: Is this a resurgence or simply a small sample? That’s the quandary I want to tackle.

There are some basic reasons to expect that it’s a small sample size lying to our faces. First, he has a 0.0% walk rate and a .333 BABIP. The walk rate isn’t going to stay that way, but it shows he may just be putting the ball in play more. It also underlines how early we are in the season. The BABIP, compared to .296 in 2014, .301 in 2015 and .295 and 2016, is a little high and may regress soon. His average is buoyed by a few infield hits and he has an infield hit percentage more than double his career rate. He has also seen a rise in his soft contact percentage.

But there has also been some improvement in there, whether or not it’s sustainable. In this small sample, his hard contact rate and line drive percentage both increased. At least one of those infield hits was a line drive off the pitcher and likely would have gotten through the infield without a deflection. Here’s a look at his spray chart. Most of his hard hit balls have been pulled, but there are a few liners elsewhere.

jacoby-ellsbury-1

Pitchers have pitched Ellsbury on the outside part of the plate more often than last year and the few times he’s gotten balls low and inside, he’s produced solid exit velocity. His exit velocity as a whole is essentially the same after 24 batted balls as it was after 415 such results in 2016.

But it’s extremely important to note that he hasn’t had a single catcher’s interference yet this season. This could actually be the most critical sign. Ellsbury worked with hitting coach Alan Cockrell to get more out in front with his swing after last season, moving his contact point forward as to avoid flirting with his own MLB record for CIs.

And therefore, we may have a tangible reason for this jump in performance.

The bulk of Ellsbury’s damage has come against Alex Cobb, the Rays righty who was much more effective against lefties when he wielded his changeup consistently pre-Tommy John surgery. Below are gifs of Ellsbury swings against Cobb, one last September that ended in a pop up to left field and one from opening day at Yankee Stadium this year which produced an RBI double.

2015
2016

2016
2017

These ABs take place against the same pitcher at the same stadium with approximately the same location on the final pitch. Ellsbury is in the same spot in the box with a similar set-up and stride in his lower half. The only thing that may be different, other than the result, is the swing path. It looks pretty similar, but I’m also not certain that Cockrell and Ellsbury’s adjustment is going to be that demonstrative. It may be quite subtle yet still still able to help Ellsbury pull the ball with a line drive rather than rather than being late to the ball and popping out.

And yes, I realize he popped out with the bases loaded yesterday. That was not a good at-bat, but it also came against a lefty and we haven’t yet seen whether Ellsbury has overcome his platoon struggles.

Still, his early performance lends credence to the idea that he may have found something with his swing. It’ll take a lot more data to see for sure, but if there is anything real in Ellsbury’s improvement, it could be a significant boost for the Yankees with his contract running through 2020, not to mention it would be a major feather in the cap of Cockrell. At the very least, his strong production displays that he can still be a productive player at times, even if 2011 near-MVP Ellsbury is long gone.

The Gary-less Lineup

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

If you haven’t heard by now–though the collective worried gasp of Yankee fans everywhere yesterday afternoon probably gave it away–Gary Sanchez is injured, and will be going on the 10-day disabled list with a right biceps issue.

This leaves the Yankees with a gaping hole at what is the most important defensive position on the field–where Sanchez has shown great skill–and arguably the most important position in the lineup; slotting Sanchez in second made sense and was a big show of confidence in him by Joe Girardi and the coaching staff. Now, that’s for naught–at least for the next ten days. So, what can the Yankees do in Sanchez’s lineup absence?

My first thought was one I suggested previously, using DH Matt Holliday as the second hitter thanks to his combination of skills. However, without Sanchez to be in the clean up spot–and no one yet reliable enough to take his place–I don’t think that idea works. Holliday should stick at fourth, which is just as important as the second spot. But, since the route they’ll likely take is sticking Jacoby Ellsbury–who’s off to a good start–back into the second slot, giving the Yankees a more traditional look at the top of the lineup, that would mean three lefties–Gardner, Ellsbury, and Greg Bird stacked together, and that could lead to matchup problems late in games. So, I assume Girardi will split the lefties and have Holliday bat third with Bird cleaning up.

The team can go one of two ways with the fifth spot. The first way is to bump Chase Headley up a spot, rewarding him for a hot start. I’d be totally fine with that. The other would be to give the spot to Aaron Judge. This could show faith in him, challenge him, and give him an opportunity to hit behind better players, increasing the likelihood of him batting with men on base. That second option probably isn’t going to happen, but I think that’s the one I’d like, if only to keep up the ‘give the kids a shot’ theme that this season is likely to have.

Best hi-five ever (Source: AP)
Best hi-five ever (Source: AP)

So, the combination of the most likely scenario/what I’d want to see would look like this:

  1. Gardner, LF
  2. Ellsbury, CF
  3. Holliday, DH
  4. Bird, 1B
  5. Judge, RF
  6. Castro, 2B
  7. Headley, 3B
  8. Romine, C
  9. Torreyes, SS

You could flip Castro and Headley if you like, and I might do the same. But the main takeaway here is that without Sanchez, this lineup seems a whole lot shorter and a whole lot thinner than it did just 24 hours ago. Losing a big bat at a premium position always hurts, and that goes double when a backup quality player–Torreyes–is already in the every day lineup. Get well soon, Gary; the lineup needs you.