Yankeemetrics: Pitching, Power and Wins (May 22-24)

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

Bronx Bombers Born Again
The Yankees returned to the Bronx on Monday and kicked off their seven-game homestand with a sweet comeback win over the Royals, 4-2.

Michael Pineda continued to shed the enigma label that had defined his time in pinstripes leading up to this season with his eighth straight start of at least five innings pitched and no more than three earned runs allowed, easily the longest streak of his career. He didn’t have his dominant stuff, but executed well in tough spots as the Royals went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position against him.

That’s been one of the biggest keys to his resurgent campaign this year – remaining focused and poised while getting big outs when he needs them. Pineda has held batters to a .143/.162/.229 line with RISP in 2017, and most impressive is that .162 opponent on-base percentage, the lowest in the majors (min. 35 batters faced) through Monday.

Down 2-0 early, Brett Gardner ignited the Yankees rally with a third-inning solo homer, his ninth dinger of the season. All nine of those homers came in a span of 80 at-bats from April 29 through Monday, an at-bat per homer rate of 8.9 that should be familiar to Yankee fans: during Babe Ruth’s 60-homer campaign in 1927, he homered once every 9.0 at bats.

Another key moment in the game was the Yankees’ successful replay challenge prevented tying run from scoring in the seventh inning. That was their 14th challenge in 2017, and the 12th time they’ve had the call overturned. Thanks to our unsung hero of the season – coaching assistant Brett Weber – that “replay win percentage” of 85.7 was the best in the majors through Monday.

(AP)
(AP)

Magnificent Monty
The Royals handed the Yankees a rare loss on Tuesday night in the Bronx, one where the home team saw its normally lock-down bullpen implode in the late innings after an unprecedented outing by one of its young pitchers.

The Yankees wasted a historic gem by Jordan Montgomery, who was nearly perfect as he took a one-hit shutout and a 2-0 advantage into the seventh frame before giving up a solo homer to Lorenzo Cain. The bullpen then coughed up the lead and more, allowing five runs on four hits, including three home runs.

Let’s put all that craziness into context:

  • Before Tuesday’s meltdown, the Yankees were 15-0 when taking a multi-run lead into the seventh inning.
  • The bullpen entered the game with the fewest homers allowed (5) and the lowest homer rate (0.32 per nine innings) in the majors.
  • The final longball was surrendered by Chasen Shreve, who had not given up a single run, let alone a homer, in 2017. His 44 batters faced prior to Tuesday were the most of any pitcher in MLB that had yet to be scored on this season.
  • At the age of 24 years, 147 days, Montgomery became the youngest Yankee in franchise history to produce this impressive pitching line: at least six strikeouts, zero walks, no more than two hits allowed and six-or-more innings pitched.
(Getty)
(Getty)

Ace Sevy
Luis Severino made sure there would be no chance for another bullpen disaster on Wednesday as he delivered a dazzling performance with a 114-pitch, three-hit, eight-inning, scoreless gem in the Yankees 3-0 win.

It’s crazy but true: this was the first time the Yankees shut out the Royals since September 15, 2004 in Kansas City. They were the only AL team the Yankees hadn’t blanked in that span of nearly 13 years. Also crazy but true: it had been more than 16 (!) years since the Yankees shut out the Royals in the Bronx – the last time it happened was April 5, 2001. They were the only AL team the Yankees hadn’t yet held scoreless at the new Yankee Stadium.

Back to the highlight of the night … Severino’s ace-like domination of the Royals lineup. The 114 pitches were a career-high, and most impressively, he averaged 98 mph on his four-seamer in the seventh and eighth innings (!). He faced just one batter with a runner in scoring position all game, and nobody even reached third base against him.

One of the key at-bats came in the fourth with a man on first and two outs and the Yankees clinging to a 1-0 lead, when Severino struck out Eric Hosmer looking on a 3-2 changeup to end the inning. It was a perfectly placed pitch in the zone that completely fooled the Royals lefty:

hosmerseverinok2gif

Severino’s changeup has been a surprising weapon for him this season, as he’s allowed just two hits in 19 at-bats (.105) with four strikeouts ending in the pitch this season. While the pitch doesn’t generate a ton of whiffs, it’s super-effective at keeping hitters off-balance thanks to a 46 percent foul rate that is the second-highest among all major-league starters (min. 50 pitches). This command and confidence in his changeup has helped him hold lefties to a .600 OPS this season, a nice improvement from the .727 OPS he allowed to opposite-handed batters in his first two seasons.

How impressive was Severino’s masterpiece? Consider this fun nugget: Severino became first Yankee age 23 or younger to pitch at least eight scoreless innings and strike out seven-or-more batters in a game since a 23-year-old Dave Righetti on May 22, 1982 vs. the Twins.

5/22 to 5/25 Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America)
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America)

This feels all too familiar, doesn’t it? The schedule-makers have a strange sense of humor. Nevertheless, the Yankees will spend the next seven games at home, hosting the teams with the worst and second-worst run differentials in the American League in back-to-back series. Playing twenty games in twenty days is never ideal, but playing subpar teams makes it a bit more palatable.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees took two out of three from the Royals last week, reaching a season-high eleven games above .500 along the way. Some other points of interest include:

  • CC Sabathia showed signs of life in the first game, going 6.2 scoreless innings, and allowing just seven base-runners, while striking out four. He didn’t allow a runner to reach second until the 7th inning.
  • Jason Vargas allowed 6 ER in 4 IP in Wednesday’s start, increasing his ERA on the season from a video game-like 1.01 to a merely terrific 2.03.
  • The Yankees teased a comeback in the third game. They entered the ninth trailing 5-0, and the first two batters (Starlin Castro and Aaron Judge) reached base. Didi Gregorius drove in a run with one-out, but Kelvin Herrera settled down after that, retiring Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner with two on-base. The team went 2-for-14 with RISP overall.

You can check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fine details.

Injury Report

Ian Kennedy returned from the disabled list yesterday, and was promptly roughed-up by the Twins (2 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 1 K). Unfortunately for the Royals, he may be replaced on the DL by Nate Karns, who exited his start on Friday with forearm stiffness. An examination revealed a fluid build-up near his elbow, but no strain or other damage; he’s listed as day-to-day, but that doesn’t sound good.

Their Story So Far

Not much has changed for the Royals since last week’s series preview – they’re still last in the majors in runs scored, though the offense does appear to be trending in the right direction.

The Lineup We Might See

Ned Yost continues to mix and match with his lineups, with Alcides Escobar seemingly the only player locked into a particular spot. Much of that stems from poor performances from players like Alex Gordon, Brandon Moss, and Jorge Soler, as well as the newfound attempts to keep Mike Moustakas away from southpaws. They used three different lineups against the Yankees last week, and three different lineups against the Twins this past weekend, so it’s all conjecture at this point. I’ll hazard that this is the mean for what Yost will trot out this week:

  1. Alcides Escobar, SS
  2. Mike Moustakas, 3B
  3. Lorenzo Cain, CF
  4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  5. Salvador Perez, C
  6. Jorge Bonifacio, RF
  7. Brandon Moss, DH
  8. Whit Merrifield, 2B
  9. Alex Gordon, LF

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

The Yankees are facing the same three starters in the first three games of this series; you can check out my mini-profiles on Vargas, Duffy, and Hammel in last week’s series preview.

Monday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. LHP Jason Vargas

The Yankees played the role of regression to the mean the last time Vargas pitched, putting nine runners on-base and scoring six runs in the first four innings of the game. It will be interesting to see how Vargas bounces back, though I’m sure he’d rather not have to attempt to do so in Yankee Stadium against this lineup.

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Danny Duffy

Duffy completely shut down the Yankees last week, pitching to the following line: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 10 K. You could tell that he was on-point from the get-go, as he struck out the side in the top of the first – and all three struck out swinging. He only allowed three runners to reach second base, and two of those did so thanks to errors. Duffy has allowed no more than two runs in seven of his nine starts this year.

Wednesday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Jason Hammel

Thanks in part to the Yankees, Hammel has allowed 5 or more runs in three of his eight starts, including three of his last four. He has just two quality starts this year, and has generally looked like the sort of pitcher that would wait until February to sign.

Thursday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. TBA

This start will likely go to Nate Karns if he is not put on the disabled list. In the event that he cannot go, they will likely have to call someone up from the minors. Chris Young has made two spot starts out of the bullpen this year, but he went 5 innings out of the bullpen yesterday (79 pitches), and I’m not sure that he’d be able to go on short rest.

Karns has been the Royals fifth starter since Opening Day, and has been a roughly league-average pitcher so far (102 ERA+ in 45.1 IP). He has well above-average strikeout (27.1%) and walk (6.9%) rates and a propensity for groundballs (49.6%), but he has been homer prone, allowing 1.79 HR/9. Karns throws a low-90s four-seamer, a big-breaking curveball in the low-80s (his best pitch, and a true swing-and-miss offering), and a mid-80s change-up.

The Bullpen

The Royals played a double-header yesterday to make up for a rain-out on Saturday, and needed their bullpen for 10.1 IP. Chris Young absorbed five of those innings, and the remaining 5.1 IP went to six other pitchers. Saturday’s de facto off day helps a bit, but the bullpen was also utilized for 4.1 IP on Friday, so this isn’t a well-rested group on the whole – and they allowed 8 runs this weekend, to boot.

Closer Kelvin Herrera has struggled this year, and he currently sits on a 4.26 ERA (101 ERA+). The Yankees touched him up for a run on Thursday, and he blew the save on Friday, allowing two runs in the bottom of the ninth. He made yesterday’s save an adventure, as well, allowing two base-runners and some hard contact before gently closing the door. Mike Minor and Joakim Soria are the team’s only reliable relievers right now.

Yankees Connection

It’s still just Ian Kennedy, who the Yankees missed by a single day. Given the way he pitched yesterday, that seems unfortunate.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Eric Hosmer was struggling mightily a couple of weeks into the season, but he has been raking for quite some time now – he’s batting .408/.471/.592 with 3 HR and as many walks (10) as strikeouts in 87 plate appearances this month, including a 7-for-13 effort against the Twins over the weekend. He’s also a career .312/.372/.532 hitter in Yankee Stadium, with 3 HR in 77 AB. The Royals would love a big series for him, both for their record and for his potential trade value a couple of months from now.

Yankeemetrics: Kings of Kansas City (May 16-18)

(AP)
(AP)

Vintage CC
The Yankees kicked off the most grueling stretch of this early season – 20 games in 20 days – with one of their most complete and thorough performances so far. Power, pitching and defense were all on display in a satisfying 7-1 win over the Royals on Tuesday night.

The power was supplied by Gary Sanchez and Chris Carter, who each went deep and combined to drive in five runs.

Sanchez broke a scoreless tie in the third inning with a booming 428-foot homer, putting the Yankees up 3-0. It was his 23rd career homer in just his 69th game at the big-league level. The only player in major-league history to hit more homers before his 70th career game is White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu (25).

Carter tacked on two more runs with a deep blast to center in the fourth inning, punctuating his breakout 3-for-4 night at the plate. The list of Yankee first baseman to have at least three hits, including a homer, at Kauffman Stadium is a fun one: Lyle Overbay (2013), Tino Martinez (1998, 1999), Don Mattingly (1993), Steve Balboni (1983) and Chris Chambliss (1979). Welcome to the club, Chris!

Sure, chicks dig the longball, but the best story of the game was the strong bounce-back outing by CC Sabathia. The lefty had an ugly 9.58 ERA in his previous four starts entering this series, but delivered a vintage performance with 6 2/3 scoreless and efficient innings.

Sabathia checked off a couple notable milestones in the victory. It was his:

  • 109th win as a Yankee, tying Spud Chandler and Fritz Peterson for 15th place on the franchise all-time list
  • 13th win at Kauffman Stadium, matching the most wins by a visiting pitcher at the ballpark. Justin Verlander, Mark Buehrle and Bert Blyleven also have 13 wins there.

One of the key differences for Sabathia against the Royals was his ability to pitch inside to righties with his cutter. On the left, his cutter location to right-handed batters in his previous four starts from April 21-May 9; on the right, his cutter location to right-handed batters on Tuesday:

cc-cutter-rhb-combined

In his previous four starts, righties hit .346 and slugged .590 overall against Sabathia, including a .407 average and .741 (!) slugging percentage against his cutter. On Tuesday, the Royals right-handed batters went 3-for-16 overall and were 0-for-4 when putting a cutter in play against Sabathia.

(TNS)
(TNS)

Runs, runs, and more runs
Another night, another run-scoring bonanza for the Yankees. They pummeled the Royals on Wednesday, 11-7, their MLB-leading seventh game with more than 10 runs. That’s the same number of 11-plus-run games they had all of last year, and tied with the 1936 club for the second-most in franchise history through 37 team games.

Royals starter Jason Vargas entered the game with the lowest ERA in the league (1.01!), but was shelled early and often by the visitors – a result that shouldn’t have been surprising given his track record against the Bronx Bombers. After surrendering six runs in four innings, his ERA against the Yankees rose to 7.15, the highest by any active player with at least 35 innings pitched against them.

Aaron Hicks contributed to the offensive fireworks with two hits, including a three-run homer, and one walk. After Wednesday’s slate, he was one of 16 major-league players with at least 25 plate appearances and more walks (22) than strikeouts (17). The only other guy on the list with a higher slugging percentage than Hicks (.616) was Bryce Harper (.744).

Starlin Castro led the hit parade with two doubles and a single, his 18th multi-hit game of the season. Over the last 20 years, the only other Yankee to produce 18-or-more multi-hit games within the team’s first 37 contests was Alfonso Soriano, who did it in 2002 and 2003.

Throwback (to 2016) Thursday
The Yankees couldn’t complete the sweep of the last-place Royals, falling 5-1 on Thursday in a game where the offense was M.I.A. for much of the night. It would have been their first series sweep in Kansas City in nearly a decade (September 2007).

Didi Gregorius once again saved the Yankees from being shut out for the first time this season with a one-out RBI single in the ninth inning. They are still one of three teams that haven’t been blanked in 2017, along with the Nationals and Twins.

Although the Yankees have scored at least one run in every game, there’s been some close calls. This was the fourth time that the Yankees had zero runs through eight innings (also on April 18, May 5 and May 12), and this was actually the second time in less than a week that Gregorius was the hero. His RBI single in the ninth inning on May 12 against the Astros was the Yankees only run of that game.

(AP)
(AP)

Jordan Montgomery allowed a career-high five runs in five innings, and the big blow was Mike Moustakas’ three-run homer on a first-pitch slider in the fifth inning. Entering this game, batters were 6-for-34 (.177) with one extra-base hit (double) when putting Montgomery’s slider in play.

Royals starter Danny Duffy was brilliant as he mowed down the Yankee lineup, retiring the first nine batters — six of them via strikeout — before Jacoby Ellsbury‘s bunt single leading off the fourth inning.

Duffy allowed just two more hits in seven scoreless innings while striking out 10. Duffy became the third Royals pitcher with double-digit strikeouts and no runs allowed against the Yankees, joining Tom Gordon (April 20, 1991) and Mark Gubicza (Aug. 17, 1986).

5/16 to 5/18 Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

Vargas. (Brian Davidson/Getty Images North America)
Vargas. (Brian Davidson/Getty Images North America)

The result of the Yankees having so many days off through the first six weeks of the season starts now, as they will not be off again until June 5. That’s twenty games in a row without a day off; luckily, they will not have to travel all that far in that stretch with this week’s trips to Kansas City and Tampa Bay representing the furthest journeys. Given the heavy workload handled by the bullpen this weekend, though, it seems all but certain that the team’s depth and Joe Girardi‘s hand will be tested as soon as this evening.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Kansas City for a three-game series to close out last August, winning two along the way. They were outscored by one run in the series as a whole, with both of their victories coming by one run, and taking extra innings to sort out. Some other interesting bits:

  • The Royals tested Gary Sanchez‘s arm throughout the series, and largely got the better of him. They stole eight bases, and were caught just twice. Sanchez threw out 10 of 21 would-be base-stealers against teams that weren’t the Royals last year.
  • Chasen Shreve was one of the heroes of the series, which feels strange to see on the screen. He came into the second game with the bases loaded and one out, and struck out Kendrys Morales swinging (on three pitches) before retiring Salvador Perez on a flyball. Shreve chipped in two scoreless innings in the third game, with three more swinging strikeouts (Cheslor Cuthbert, Eric Hosmer, and Perez were the victims this time around).
  • The Yankees game-winning runs were scored on a weak infield single by Jacoby Ellsbury and a sacrifice fly by Brian McCann, respectively.
  • Seven pitchers were used by the Yankees in game two and, in what seems almost impossible, all seven are still in the organization. And of those seven, only Ben Heller is not on the active roster.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more details about this series.

Injury Report

Former Yankee Ian Kennedy is on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, and is scheduled to throw a bullpen session this week. There is no set return date as of yet, but he isn’t expected to be out too long (he could be in-line to face the Yankees when these teams meet again, in fact). Middle reliever Scott Alexander is out, as well.

Their Story So Far

The Royals are last in the majors in runs scored by a comfortable margin, and are scoring just 3.2 runs per game. They are currently 8-18 when they allow two runs or more, and that’s with them having won six of their last seven games overall. It doesn’t help that Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar both sport an OPS under .500, and it seems less than ideal that one of those two has batted first in 24 of the Royals 37 games (including their last seven). Their lead-off hitters are batting .176/.216/.248 as a group, which is about 72% below league-average.

All that being said, they have shown signs of life of late. They won six of their seven games last week, scoring 37 runs in the process. Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez have been heating up, and Lorenzo Cain has been playing well all season. The aforementioned duo of Escobar and Gordon went a combined 8-for-48 with one extra-base hit, but every other Royals regular seems to be righting the ship.

The other half of their story mostly revolves around Jason Vargas and his ludicrous 1.01 ERA – I’ll talk about him more a bit later.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Ned Yost has been semi-responsive to the team’s offensive struggles, with five of the nine spots in the team’s lineup in constant flux. The Royals have used at least seven different players in the 6-through-9 spots (not including pitchers), and four lead-off hitters. That makes predicting their lineup a bit of a crapshoot, so here goes nothing:

  1. Alcides Escobar, SS
  2. Mike Moustakas, 3B
  3. Lorenzo Cain, CF
  4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  5. Salvador Perez, C
  6. Brandon Moss, DH
  7. Whit Merrifield, 2B
  8. Alex Gordon, LF
  9. Jorge Bonifacio or Jorge Soler, RF

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (8:15 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Jason Hammel

There was a stretch in the off-season where everyone was talking about the Cubs unceremoniously declining Hammel’s club option, and then Hammel waiting months upon months to be signed. There were several teams (and fans of teams) that were interested in his services, Yankees included, but he had to wait until February to sign on a dotted line. It was strange to see a pitcher coming off of a three-year stretch of slightly-above-average production on the market for so long, but his 5.97 ERA to-date and approaching 35th birthday make it a bit more understandable with the blessings of hindsight.

Hammel is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, working with a low-90s fastball (though he does use a four- and two-seam varieties) and a mid-80s slider. He’ll use a mid-70s curveball and mid-80s change-up to keep hitters honest, but 85% of his offerings will be a fastball or slider.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 5/10) – 7 IP, 13 H, 7 R, 1 BB, 6 K

Wednesday (8:15 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. LHP Jason Vargas

Vargas underwent Tommy John Surgery in the Summer of 2015, and missed the Royals miraculous run to the World Series. He returned for three starts last September, and looked great (12 IP, 8 H, 3 BB, 11 K, 2.25 ERA). Nobody thought much of it, given the sample size and the fact that he was a known commodity, and he was penciled right back into the back of the rotation. He has followed that up by being one of the five-best pitchers in baseball by both incarnations of WAR, and he currently sports a 1.01 ERA (410 ERA+!) through 7 starts (44.2 IP). There are plenty of signs that this is a fluke (2.0% HR/FB, 3.70 xFIP, 88.7 LOB%, etc.), but his 22.9 K% and 4.7 BB% suggest that he could at least be better than most of us would have expected.

The 34-year-old southpaw has never been known for his velocity, but he has slid down into Jamie Moyer territory following the surgery. His fastball is sitting around around 86 MPH, and he throws it about 50% of the time. He also uses a change-up in the upper-70s and a low-70s curveball, the former of which has been his bread and butter throughout his career. His curve is a relatively new addition, and it’s working out quite well for him so far.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 5/11) – 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 K

Thursday (8:15 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Danny Duffy

The 28-year-old Duffy emerged as the Royals ace last season, after finally being moved to the rotation for good on May 15. He made 26 starts through the end of the season, putting together the following line: 161.2 IP, 3.56 ERA, 25.4 K%, 5.6 BB%, 1.13 WHIP. Duffy’s velocity did dip into the 93 MPH range after sitting around 96 in the bullpen, but that’s to be expected. And now, finally (seemingly) freed from bouncing between starting and relieving, he is sitting on a 3.38 ERA (3.32 FIP) through 8 starts.

Duffy uses four pitches on most nights – a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a low-90s two-seamer, a low-80s breaking ball that might be best classified as a slurve, and a mid-80s change-up. It’s top-of-the-rotation stuff when he’s getting it over the plate, which he has done fairly regularly over the last calendar year.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 5/12) – 7 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

The Royals bullpen has been kind of bad this season. They were the standard-bearer for great relief corps for several seasons, peaking with a 2.72 ERA in 2015, but closer Kelvin Herrera is the last man standing from those dominant units. And Herrera hasn’t been his dominant self just yet, with a 3.38 ERA (5.20 FIP) and career-low 7.31 K/9. Mike Minor, Joakim Soria, and the injured Scott Alexander all have strong run prevention numbers, but the bullpen as a whole sports a 4.72 ERA and six blown saves. Travis Wood, Matt Strahm, and Peter Moylan have combined to throw 37.1 IP of 8.44 ERA ball, with nearly as many walks (27) as strikeouts (34).

It is worth noting that the Royals bullpen was worked hard this past weekend, especially on Sunday when they were called upon for 5.1 IP. Herrera also pitched in three-straight games, so he may need a bit more than Monday’s day off to recover.

Yankees Connection

Ian Kennedy is the lone Royals players with a connection to the Yankees organization, unless you want to count Jason Hammel and Travis Wood for popping up in rumors this off-season. Also, pitching coach Dave Eiland held the same role with the Yankees from 2008-10.

Who (Or What) To Watch

The Royals swing at more pitches than any other team in the game, with a 49.4% swing rate as per PITCHf/x. They’re second in swinging at pitches outside of the zone, and first on pitches in the zone by nearly two percentage points. Yankees pitchers might be salivating at those numbers, though, as the Royals are in the bottom-ten in contact percentage, and in the middle-of-the-pack in strikeouts and hard-hit balls. They’re an aggressive bunch, which leads to a great deal of feast-or-famine outings.

A ‘buy or sell’ storyline will follow the Royals throughout this season, as well, with Cain, Hosmer, Moustakas, Escobar, and Vargas all being in the final year of their contracts. If the Yankees ends up in a position to buy, this may be one of the first teams they try to match-up with.

2016 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Tuesday

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

The first day of the 2016 Winter Meetings came and went without a move for the Yankees. Two of their reported free agent targets, Rich Hill and Mark Melancon, signed with other teams. Now that Matt Holliday is on board as the DH, pitching is the top priority, and Brian Cashman is being open-minded. “From my perspective, I’m open-minded to anything. I think it’s in your best interest to always be that way,” said Cashman to Bryan Hoch.

On Monday we learned the Yankees are still pursuing both Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, though they won’t go all out to sign them. Chapman, by the way, wants a six-year deal. The Yankees are also in the hunt for Luis Valbuena and a left-handed middle reliever. We’re again going to keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back throughout the day for updates. All time stamps are Eastern Time.

  • 9:30am: Despite their needs, it’s entirely possible the Yankees will not acquire a starting pitcher this offseason. “I think it’s less likely that we wind up with a starter. It’s a tough market to be finding one,” said Cashman. [Pete Caldera]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees have checked in on Royals closer Wade Davis and been in contact with former Royals closer Greg Holland. They’re in on many free agent relievers aside from Chapman and Jansen. [Jon Heyman, Brendan Kuty]
  • 9:30am: Cashman ruled out a run at Edwin Encarnacion, which should not be a surprise in any way. “Right now there’s not a fit because of our current setup,” said the GM. [Erik Boland]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees have fielded a “number of different concepts” involving Brett Gardner, though Cashman said none were compelling enough to complete a trade. [Hoch]
  • 10:26am: Among the other relievers the Yankees have reached out to this offseason are Brad Ziegler, Koji Uehara, and Mike Dunn. Dunn is a former Yankees prospect. [George King, Joel Sherman]
  • 10:28am: The Yankees are “intent” on avoiding huge contracts for players over 30. No surprise there. They’ve been operating that way for two offseasons now. [Heyman]
  • 11:32am: The Yankees “prepared to give” Chapman a five-year deal worth $80M. Chapman is their primary target (duh) and Jansen is the backup plan. [Heyman]
  • 12:13pm: Take this one with a grain of salt: the Yankees are reportedly “close to a deal” to acquire Gio Gonzalez for two prospects and possibly a third piece, according to Rich Mancuso. The deal is contingent on the Nationals getting Chris Sale, a la the Starlin Castro trade and Ben Zobrist last year. The Yankees have had interest in Gio in the past. This rumor does pass the sniff test, though I’d like to see some familiar names corroborate the report before fully buying in.
  • 12:41pm: For what it’s worth, Mark Feinsand says there’s no truth to the Gio rumor. Jayson Stark says the Nationals would make him available following a Sale trade, however.
  • 12:54pm: Jack Curry shot down the Gio rumor as well. Carry on.
  • 1:14pm: Chris Sale has been traded to the … Red Sox. Not the Nationals. Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, and two others are going to Chicago’s south side. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 4:58pm: The Yankees have made contract offers to both Chapman and Jansen. “It’d be nice if somebody picks us at some point. If not, we’ll adjust,” said Cashman. [Hoch, Caldera]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Yankeemetrics: The Great Escape [Aug. 29-31]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Too little, too late
The Yankees fleeting playoff hopes hit a speed bump on Monday night as their late-inning comeback fell short in Kansas City, losing 8-5 to Royals.

Following another confounding outing by Michael Pineda and another middle-relief implosion, the Yankees found themselves down seven runs after the seventh inning, and despite battling back to twice getting the tying run at the plate, they couldn’t get the decisive hit.

After a four-run rally in the eighth pulled the Yankees within three runs, Mark Teixeira grounded out to end the inning with a man on first and second. That predictable #RISPFAIL dropped his batting average with runners in scoring position and two outs to .100 (4-for-40), the third-lowest among all players with at least 40 at-bats this season.

Starlin Castro also had a chance to be the hero in the ninth inning when came up with two outs and two men on. Kelvin Herrera threw him three straight curves; Castro took the first two for strikes then whiffed on the third one in the dirt for the final out. Castro’s line on curveballs this season fell to 6-for-52 (.115), the second-lowest batting average against the pitch in MLB (min. 50 at-bats).

In what has become an all-too-familiar tale for a Pineda start, the enigmatic right-hander showed flashes of dominance but ultimately the results in the box score were disappointing. He got rocked early, giving up three runs on five hits in the first inning, then retired 15 (!) straight batters in the second through sixth innings, before being removed in the seventh after giving up singles to the first two men he faced (who both eventually scored).

Pineda’s struggles in the opening frame are nothing new; after Monday’s disaster, he was tied for the most first-inning hits allowed and the second-most first-inning earned runs allowed, and his 7.62 first-inning ERA was the second-highest in the majors (min. 20 starts).

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Just call him Chasen Houdini
The Yankees pulled off one of their most stunning and nerve-wracking wins of the season on Tuesday, edging out the Royals, 5-4, for a ginormous victory against one of the teams they’re chasing in the wild card race.

They were celebrating at the end of the game thanks to a clutch hit in extra innings by the oft-maligned Jacoby Ellsbury, and a remarkable Houdini act to seal the win by improbable closer Chasen Shreve.

Ellsbury drove in the game-winning run in the 10th with a two-out, bases-loaded infield hit. He improved to 6-for-11 (.545) with 12 RBI with the bases loaded this season, tied with Mike Trout for the best batting average in MLB (min. 10 at-bats).

Shreve notched his first career save after escaping a bases-loaded, one out jam in the bottom of the 10th by fanning Kendrys Morales on three pitches and then getting Salvador Perez to fly out to center.

Over the last 25 seasons, the only other Yankee pitcher to strike out a guy with the bases loaded while protecting a lead in extras was — unsurprisingly — Mariano Rivera. The G.O.A.T got Mark Reynolds to swing through strike three for the final out of a 6-5, 10-inning win in Arizona on June 23, 2010.

Lost in the drama of the final frame was another solid outing by Masahiro Tanaka, who was removed following the rain delay after throwing five innings of two-run ball with four strikeouts and no walks. He finished the month of August with a nearly flawless strikeout-to-walk ratio of 38-to-1 (!), with the lone walk coming on Aug. 24 against the Mariners.

Tanaka is the first Yankee pitcher since at least 1913 to complete a month with at least 35 strikeouts and no more than one walk. In fact, just three other major-league pitchers in that 104-season span have struck out 38 or more guys and walked one or fewer in a calendar month: Cliff Lee (54 K, 1 BB in Sept. 2013), Hisashi Iwakuma (39 K, 1 BB in July 2014) and Javier Vazquez (39 K, 0 BB in May 2005).

Trading an out for a win
It was deja vu for the Yankees on Wednesday as they enjoyed free baseball for a second straight night and again notched a huge win in extras. It marked the first time the Yankees have ever won back-to-back extra-inning games versus the Royals, and the first time they’ve done that versus any team since Sept. 21-22, 2012 against the A’s.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

With the win, the Yankees are now 22-9 in games decided by one run, the second-best record in MLB behind the Rangers (30-8!) this year. Their .710 winning percentage in one-run games would be the highest single-season mark in franchise history; the current record is held by the 1963 team, which went 36-17 (.679).

This time they rallied from a four-run deficit and finally took the lead in the top of the 13th when Brian McCann delivered a sac fly to left field, scoring Didi Gregorius to make it 5-4. It was the latest go-ahead sac fly by a Yankee since Bernie Williams lofted a walk-off fly out in the 13th inning against the Red Sox on May 3, 1995.

McCann’s heroics wouldn’t have been possible without an incredible performance by the bullpen. It was truly a team effort as six relievers combined for seven scoreless and hitless innings. This was the first time ever that the Yankees won a game where they used six different relievers who each got at least one out and allowed no hits.

How did we get this far into Yankeemetrics without mentioning Mr. Gary Sanchez? Let’s fix that. Despite going 1-for-5 on Wednesday, Sanchez still finished August with a .389 batting average and .832 slugging percentage in 24 games.

Over the past 100 years, two players in their age-23 seasons or younger have hit at least .375 and slugged over .825 in any calendar month (min. 100 plate appearances): Gary Sanchez and Joe DiMaggio in July 1937.

8/29 to 8/31 Series Preview: Kansas City Royals

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This rather huge 12-game stretch continues this week with three games in Kansas City. The Yankees took two of three from both the Mariners and Orioles last week, two teams they are trying to catch in the wildcard race. The Royals are in that mix as well. The Yankees and Royals played four games in Yankee Stadium back in May. New York won three.

What Have They Done Lately?

Good gravy are the Royals hot. They walloped the Red Sox last night and have won 17 of their last 21 games. That’s the kind of run the Yankees have been unable to put together this season. Kansas City is 68-62 with a -18 run differential overall this year. The Yankees are 67-62 with a -9 run differential. These two clubs are separated by a half-game in the standings and obviously zero games in the loss column. Huge series. Huge.

Offense & Defense

Despite last night’s ten-run outburst (lol Red Sox pitching, lol), runs have been hard to come by for manager Ned Yost and his players. The defending World Series champions are averaging only 3.92 runs per game with a team 88 wRC+ this season. That ain’t good. Kansas City currently has only one injured position player, but it’s an important one: 3B Mike Moustakas (109 wRC+). He’s done for the season with a torn ACL suffered in a collision in June. Brutal.

Cain. (Jamie Squire/Getty)
Cain. (Jamie Squire/Getty)

Yost is known for setting his lineup and sticking to it, even when the team slumps. It was only recently that he dropped the wholly unproductive SS Alcides Escobar (65 wRC+) from leadoff to the bottom of the lineup. Nowadays OF Paulo Orlando (96 wRC+) and OF Jarrod Dyson (74 wRC+) platoon in the leadoff spot, and are followed in order by 3B Cheslor Cuthbert (103 wRC+), RF Lorenzo Cain (96 wRC+), 1B Eric Hosmer (104 wRC+), DH Kendrys Morales (96 wRC+), C Salvador Perez (97 wRC+), and LF Alex Gordon (92 wRC+). Those are the 1-7 hitters. Yost rarely deviates.

IF Raul Mondesi Jr. (36 wRC+) and IF Christian Colon (58 wRC+) share time at second and hit ninth. Escobar hits eighth. Also on the bench are speedster OF Billy Burns (50 wRC+) and backup C Drew Butera (102 wRC+). Those two don’t play a whole lot. Perez is workhorse behind the plate. He’s started 105 of the team’s 130 games this season. Only Yadier Molina has started more games at catcher in 2016. He’s started 114. That’s nuts.

Defensively, the Royals are the best in the business. They’re so good that Dyson and Orlando recently pushed Cain to right field full-time. Cain would be the everyday center fielder on pretty much any other team. Gordon is excellent in left, as are Escobar at short, Hosmer at first, and Perez behind the plate. Cuthbert isn’t Moustakas at the hot corner, but he’s good. Ditto the two guys at second. Kansas City is going to catch the ball. It’s what they do.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (8:15pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. KC) vs. RHP Dillon Gee (vs. NYY)
Gee, the former Met, jumped into Kansas City’s rotation full-time a few weeks back, after big Chris Young pitched his way into the bullpen. The 30-year-old has a 4.55 ERA (5.06 FIP) in 99 innings across eleven starts and 15 relief appearances, and it’s worth noting he’s been way more effective as a reliever (3.05 ERA and 4.94 FIP) than as a starter (5.62 ERA and 5.14 FIP). Gee has very unimpressive underlying stats (18.3 K%, 6.9 BB%, 43.2 GB%, 1.73 HR/9) and he’s been more effective against righties than lefties. As a starter Gee will sit right around 90 mph with his sinker, and he throws the three standard issue secondary pitches: mid-80s changeup, mid-80s slider, and upper-70s curveball. He uses all of them regularly too. True four-pitch guy. The Yankees did face Gee when these two teams met in May. He limited them to one run in 5.1 innings of long relief.

Tuesday (8:15pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. KC) vs. RHP Edinson Volquez (vs. NYY)
The 33-year-old Volquez has had himself a respectable career. Twelve years in the show with a 4.36 ERA (4.26 FIP), a World Series ring, and over $23M in contracts? You could do worse. Volquez has a 4.88 ERA (4.37 FIP) in 27 starts and 156.2 innings this season with a good grounder rate (53.0%) and middling strikeout (16.5%), walk (8.1%), and homer (1.03 HR/9) numbers. His platoon split is small because his low-to-mid-80s changeup is pretty nasty. Volquez still lives in the mid-90s with his sinker, and his hard power curveball averages right around 80 mph. When he’s on, Volquez has really nasty stuff. He can be dominant if he wakes up on the right side of the bed. The Yankees did not see the veteran righty earlier this year.

IPK. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
IPK. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

Wednesday (8:15pm ET): RHP Luis Cessa (No vs. KC) vs. RHP Ian Kennedy (vs. NYY)
The reason the Royals are stuck trying to hang around in the wildcard race the year after winning the World Series is the rotation. It’s been pretty rough overall (4.54 ERA And 4.82 FIP). Kennedy, now 31, has been solid this season with a 3.57 ERA (4.68 FIP) in 26 starts and 153.2 innings. His strikeout (24.0%) and walk (7.5%) rates are right where they always are, but he’s been far more fly ball (33.3%) and home run (1.64 HR/9) prone than in the past. IPK’s platoon split is small. Kennedy used to be one of those guys who would mess around with six pitches, but at this point of his career he’s scaled it back to four: low-90s four-seamer, upper-80s cutter, low-80s changeup, upper-70s curveball. The Yankees scored seven runs in 6.1 innings against their 2006 first round pick back in May.

Bullpen Status

A few weeks ago the Royals lost all-world closer Wade Davis to a flexor tendon strain, and he only recently began facing hitters as part of his rehab work. He’ll rejoin the team after rosters expand in September, but not this series. Here is the relief crew Yost has at his disposal:

Closer: RHP Kelvin Herrera (1.84 ERA/2.11 FIP)
Setup: RHP Joakim Soria (3.67/4.36)
Middle: LHP Brian Flynn (2.66/3.19), RHP Peter Moylan (3.62/3.61), LHP Matt Strahm (0.68/1.05)
Long: RHP Chris Young (5.74/6.29), RHP Chien-Ming Wang (4.38/4.65)

Strahm’s the secret weapon. He was called up straight from Double-A after Davis got hurt, and so far he’s struck out 20 batters in 13.1 innings. Strahm has pitched like Davis, basically. He’s starting to take setup innings from Soria, who is still solid, but is no longer the pitcher he was a few years ago. That second Tommy John surgery is a doozy.

Strahm (45 pitches), Moylan (12 pitches), and Soria (28 pitches) all pitched last night. Wanger threw three innings and 44 pitches in mop-up duty Saturday night, so he might not be available tonight or tomorrow. They have to be careful with his shoulder. Hopefully we get to see him pitch at some point this series though, preferably with the Royals down big. Nothin’ but love for CMW. Check out our Bullpen Status for the status of Joe Girardi‘s relievers.