Yankeemetrics: Rounding third, heading home (Sept. 25-28)

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

The Dinger King
The Yankees returned to the Bronx on Monday and kicked off the final week of the season with a sweet 11-3 rout of the Royals. They improved to 17-0 in games decided by at least eight runs, a typical blowout for this year’s club. The Yankees have the most wins by that margin in the majors, and are the only team that hasn’t suffered a loss by eight or more runs.

Aaron Judge stole the statistical spotlight as he enjoyed a record-breaking day at the Stadium. He clubbed his 49th and 50th homers of the season, not only becoming MLB’s all-time rookie home run king, but also etching his name alongside a bunch of franchise legends and some of baseball’s most iconic players. Let’s recap a few of his other incredible feats:

  • Fifth player in franchise history to hit 50-plus homers, a group that includes A-Rod (2007), Roger Maris (1961), Mickey Mantle (twice) and Babe Ruth (four times)
  • Joined Mantle (1956) and Ruth (1920) as the only Yankees with seven multi-homer games in a season at age 25 or younger
  • With his 12th and 13th homers in September, he became the youngest Yankee to go deep 13 times in a calendar month since a 25-year-old Maris had 14 in June 1960.
  • Coming off his two-homer effort on Sunday, Judge became the first rookie in franchise history with back-to-back multi-homer games
  • He also got his 120th walk, making him just the second player in major-league history to hit 50 homers and walk 120 times in a season before the age of 26. The other? That Ruth dude in 1920.
(AP)
(AP)

While Judge hogged the headlines, a couple other Baby Bombers helped turn this game into a rout with both Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez adding to their 2017 homer totals. It was the first time in the majors that Judge, Sanchez and Bird each went yard in the same game.

And let’s not forget about the old guy on the mound, CC “The Stopper” Sabathia. After cruising through six scoreless innings, he coughed up a couple homers in the seventh but still finished with a win and a bare-minimum quality start. More impressively, he’s now 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 11 games following a Yankee loss, the best record and lowest ERA of any MLB pitcher with at least seven such starts this season.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Another win, another clinching
After beating the Rays on Tuesday, the Yankees locked down homefield advantage for the Wild Card game next week. Aaron Hicks was activated from the disabled list in the morning, inserted into the starting lineup and made an immediate impact with a spectacular grand-slam-saving catch in the first inning. Even Hicks was amazed by the jaw-dropping home run robbery:

(MLB.com)
(MLB.com)

Aaron Judge didn’t homer but still contributed with an RBI double and scored his 125th run of the season. He joined Ted Williams (1939) and Joe DiMaggio (1936) as the only players in MLB history with at least 100 RBIs and 125 runs in their rookie campaigns.

Gary Sanchez also reached a nice round number, notching his 90th RBI of the year on a bloop single in the eighth. He’s the youngest American League catcher (primary position) to drive in at least 90 runs in a season since a 24-year-old Yogi Berra in 1949.

On the mound, Jordan Montgomery delivered his second straight gem, holding the Rays to one run over six solid innings. After allowing seven homers in his first eight home starts, he’s kept the ball in the park in each of his last six home starts dating back to July. How impressive that? The only Yankee with a longer single-season streak of homerless starts at the current Yankee Stadium is CC Sabathia in 2011. And through Wednesday, he was the only pitcher in the majors that had pitched at least 30 innings at home since the All-Star break and hadn’t given up a longball in his own stadium.

(USA Today)
(USA Today)

#TooManyHomers
A late-September Home Run Derby broke out in the Bronx on Wednesday as the Yankees enjoyed a 6-1 win backed by three homers and another masterful performance by Luis Severino. It improved their record to 18-7 this month, their most September wins since they went 19-9 in 2009 en route to … World Series title No. 27.

Amidst the offensive fireworks, the star of the game was the team’s 23-year-old ace. Severino rebounded from a poor start against the Twins last week to produce another typical dominant outing – nine strikeouts and one run allowed in six sharp innings – in the final performance of his historic 2017 campaign.

It was the 16th time this year he surrendered no more than one run, the most such starts in the majors, and the most by any Yankee since Mike Mussina also had 16 in 2001. He’s also youngest AL pitcher with 16 starts of one run or fewer in a season since Vida Blue in 1971, and the youngest right-hander in either league to reach that mark since a 21-year-old Dwight Gooden in 1985.

The nine strikeouts gave him 230, matching CC Sabathia (2011) for the third-highest single-season total in franchise history; the two guys ahead of him are Ron Guidry (248 in 1978) and Hall-of-Famer Jack Chesbro (239 in 1904). Oh, and Chesbro’s 1904 season is mind-boggling in the context of today’s pitching environment: he threw 454 innings while setting modern-era records in games started (51), wins (41) and complete games (48)!

Severino also lowered his ERA to 2.98, becoming the first Yankee to qualify for the ERA title with a sub-3.00 ERA since David Cone and Andy Pettitte in 1997, and the youngest to do it since Dave Righetti in 1981. Combined with his 230 strikeouts, and Sevvy is in some pretty elite company:

The last American League pitcher with 230 or more strikeouts and an ERA below 3.00 in his age-23 season or younger was Roger Clemens in 1986, the year he captured his first Cy Young award and the league MVP.

(AP)
(AP)

#NotEnoughHomers
The Yankees road to October hit a speedbump with a deflating 9-6 loss in the series finale. Let’s recap this rollercoaster-like game with a Yankeemetrics-style of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The Ugly
Handed a 4-1 lead, Sonny Gray imploded in the fifth inning, surrendering five runs in the frame (six overall) before getting pulled with two outs. It was definitely not the way he wanted to cap off his regular season in the Bronx. Following the disaster outing, his final three starts at Yankee Stadium look like this: 15 2/3 innings, 15 runs, 17 hits, six homers.

The Bad:
Normally a dinger party equals a Yankee win, but somehow the Bronx Bombers managed to snatch defeat from a near-certain victory. Prior to Thursday, they were 13-0 when hitting at least four homers in a game this season, the second-best record in MLB. The last game they lost despite going deep four times was August 22, 2016 at Seattle, and their last such defeat at Yankee Stadium was more than two years ago on June 23, 2015 versus the Phillies.

The Good:
The offense got off to a fast start when Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge opened the game with back-to-back homers, the first Yankee duo to do that since Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter on April 16, 2012 against the Twins. Greg Bird invited himself to the power party with a fourth-inning solo blast, his eighth homer and 23rd RBI in 26 games since coming off the DL. By the way, that’s a 162-game pace of 49 homers and 143 RBIs.

And with his first-inning blast, Judge continued his destruction of the record books:

  • 32nd longball at The Stadium this year, tying Babe Ruth — who hit 32 at the Polo Grounds in 1921 — for the most homers hit at home in a season in franchise history.
  • 14th homer this month, the first Yankee to go deep 14 times in September since Ruth set the major-league record for September home runs with 17 in 1927.
  • The only other right-handed batters to wear pinstripes and hit 14 homers in any calendar month were A-Rod (April 2007) and Joe DiMaggio (twice).
  • 8th straight game with extra-base hit, the longest streak by Yankee rookie in the last 100 years

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.