Rotation shuffle confirms what we already knew: Luis Severino will start the Wild Card Game

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the weekend the Yankees shuffled their rotation under the guise of keeping CC Sabathia and his balky right knee off the turf in Toronto this coming weekend, and I’m sure there’s some truth to that. Sabathia aggravated the knee and had to go on the disabled list the last time he pitched at Rogers Centre. The last thing the Yankees want this late in the season is an injured pitcher.

“We are trying to keep CC off that turf, yes. Is his knee okay? Yes. Are there concerns always about his knee? Yes. It won’t change his amount of starts, but it will keep him off the turf,” said Joe Girardi when announcing the rotation change following Saturday’s win. “Right now we are (Jaime) Garcia, CC, and (Masahiro) Tanaka (against the Twins this week).”

The rotation shuffle does two things. One, it keeps Sabathia away from the turf in Toronto. And two, it means Luis Severino will not start this week against the Twins, the team closest to the Yankees in the wildcard race. No player on the Twins has ever faced Severino (seriously), so Minnesota would be going into the Wild Card Game blind, should they and the Yankees qualify. Reading scouting reports and watching video only helps so much. There’s no substitute for standing in the box.

I’ve seen a few people mention the rotation shuffle lines Severino up to start the Wild Card Game, but that’s not really the case. He was already lined up for the Wild Card Game and the shuffle changes nothing. Here’s how the rotation would’ve lined up before the shuffle and how it lines up now:

Old Rotation Plan Current Rotation Plan
9/17 vs. Orioles Sabathia Gray
9/18 to 9/20 vs. Twins Gray-Tanaka-Severino Garcia-Sabathia-Tanaka
9/21 off-day
9/22 to 9/24 @ Blue Jays Montgomery-Sabathia-Gray Severino-Montgomery-Gray
9/25 vs. Royals Tanaka Garcia
9/26 to 9/28 vs. Rays Severino-Garcia-Montgomery Sabathia-Tanaka-Severino
9/29 to 10/1 vs. Blue Jays Sabathia-Gray-Tanaka Montgomery-Gray-Garcia
10/2 off-day
10/3 Wild Card Game Severino (two extra days) or Gray (one extra day) Tanaka (one extra day) or Severino (normal rest)

I would bet against Garcia making that start in the makeup game against the Royals next Monday. Thursday’s off-day allows the Yankees to start everyone on extra rest next week anyway, and, more importantly, skipping Garcia lines Severino up to pitch the Wild Card Game with an extra day of rest. And it’s not just about the extra rest. That extra day is also an insurance policy in case there’s a rainout or something. If the Yankees do skip Garcia next Monday, the Game 162 start could go to Domingo German or Bryan Mitchell, assuming the game is meaningless. If it’s a must-win situation, you run Tanaka out there on normal rest.

Anyway, the Yankees were originally going to skip Garcia this turn through the rotation, which would’ve allowed them to start their three best pitchers against the Twins this week. They were ready in case the wildcard race was closer than it is and this series really meant something. Instead, the Yankees increased their lead over the Twins the last few days, so this series isn’t as important as it looked a week ago. It’s important! But the race isn’t as close as it was, and it gives the Yankees some flexibility.

“We’re planning on Tanaka for Wednesday, but I could change my mind,” said Girardi yesterday, hedging a bit and indicating Severino could indeed start against the Twins this week. I suppose that depends how tonight and tomorrow go, but, worst case scenario, the Yankees will be one game up on the Twins for the first wildcard spot and 3.5 games up on Angels the for a wildcard spot in general come Thursday morning.

Right now the Twins are the team the Yankees are mostly likely to face in the Wild Card Game — for all intents and purposes it’s down to the Twins and Angels because everyone else has fallen further back — so hiding Severino makes sense. Let them go into the Wild Card Game blind. At the same time, if things go wrong the next two days, the Yankees can still run Severino out there Wednesday to stop the bleeding. They have some flexibility.

Shuffling the rotation this week is as much as about Severino as it is Sabathia’s knee. He was already lined up to start the Wild Card Game, or at least close enough to being lined up that the Yankees could’ve made it happen at pretty much any point. Now the Yankees have a chance to make sure the Twins don’t see Severino before the Wild Card Game while still having the ability to throw him at Minnesota this week, if necessary. It was a small little move that could potentially yield big dividends.

Yankeemetrics: Bird hunting in the Bronx (Sept. 14-17)

(AP)
(AP)

Dingers and runs are awesome
What happens when you combine one of the five best homer-hitting teams (Yankees) with one of the five most homer-friendly ballparks (Yankee Stadium) and one of the five most homer-prone pitching staffs (Orioles)? You get the dinger-fueled blowout that happened on Thursday night in the Bronx.

The Yankees crushed four homers and pummeled the Orioles, 13-5. It was the fifth home game that the Yankees scored at least a dozen runs – and the opponent for all five of those has been the Orioles. This is the first time in the last 100 years of major-league baseball that any team has scored 12 or more runs in five home games against a single opponent within a season.

Aaron Judge led the offensive barrage – he went 3-for-4, scored three runs, belted two homers and piled up a career-best six RBIs – and unsurprisingly continued his assault on the record books:

  • The homers were his 10th and 11th against the Orioles, making him the first player on any team to hit 10 or more home runs against the Baltimore Orioles in a season (the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1954).
  • Going back to the days when they were known as the St. Louis Browns, the only other Yankees with 11-plus dingers against the franchise in a season are Joe DiMaggio (three times), Lou Gehrig (twice) and Babe Ruth (twice).
  • Judge is the first Yankee to hit at least 11 homers against any opponent since 1961, when Roger Maris had 13 against the White Sox and Mickey Mantle had 11 against the Senators.
  • The two home runs were also his 26th and 27th in the Bronx, setting the single-season record at the new Yankee Stadium, a mark previously held by Curtis Granderson in 2012.
  • Judge also now has 24 RBIs against the Orioles. Combined with his 11 longballs, he became the youngest player to reach both those totals against any team in a season since a 24-year-old Willie Mays hit 12 homers and drove in 29 runs versus the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955.
  • He scored his 110th run in the first inning, adding his name to this decent list of Yankees with at least 110 runs and 110 walks in a season: Ruth (10 times!), Mantle (six) and Gehrig (five).

Finally, lets cap it off with an #AaronJudgeFunFact: He is the youngest Yankee with at least three hits and six RBIs in a game since Yogi Berra on August 22, 1950 against the Tigers.

Gary Sanchez joined the home run derby in the sixth inning, going deep for the 31st time while setting the single-season franchise mark for homers by a player whose primary position was catcher. The 24-year-old also became the youngest backstop to hit more than 30 homers in a season since Mike Piazza for the Dodgers in 1993.

(AP)
(AP)

Eight is enough
Another home game against the Orioles, another blowout win. This one was a little tamer than Thursday’s explosive contest, as the Yankees won by only six runs (8-2) and had just three extra-base hits.

Didi Gregorius broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth inning with a 418-foot two-run blast, and added two sac flies, earning himself the coveted Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series award:

Only four other Yankees have hit a homer and multiple sac flies in a game (since sac flies first officially tracked in 1954) – Jorge Posada (2006), Jose Canseco (2000), Don Mattingly (1995), Bobby Murcer (1970).

The other stud in this game was, of course, Luis Severino, who cemented his Ace status with another fantastic performance. He went eight strong innings, giving up two runs on three hits while striking out seven. It was his 16th start this season with at least seven strikeouts and no more than two runs allowed, tied with Chris Sale and Corey Kluber for the most such games in the AL (through Friday’s slate).

The seven punchouts also pushed his season total to 218, becoming the youngest Yankee ever to reach that mark. He’s now tied for fifth on the franchise single-season strikeout list:

1. Ron Guidry (1978) – 248
2. Jack Chesbro (1904) – 239
3. CC Sabathia (2011) – 230
4. David Cone (1997) – 222
5. Luis Severino (2017) – 218
5. Melido Perez (1992) – 218

Holding a potent Orioles lineup to three hits and two runs is impressive on its own. But perhaps the most jaw-dropping part of his night was that he was pumping triple-digit gas in the late innings. Eight of the 23 pitches he threw in the seventh and eighth frames were clocked at 99 mph or faster. He’s now thrown 30 pitches of 99-plus mph after the sixth inning this season – which is more than twice as many (14) as the rest of all MLB starting pitchers combined!

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Runs and dingers are awesome, Part II
The whipping of the O’s in the Bronx continued on Saturday with a 9-3 rout, and the victory also clinched their 25th consecutive winning season. That’s the second-longest streak in MLB history (Yankees had a winning record for 39 straight seasons from 1926-64), and nearly three times as long as the next-best active streak (Cardinals, 9)

Thanks to the nine-run outburst, the Yankees reached 150-run mark against the Orioles in their 18 matchups through Saturday. Why is that significant? It is the …

  • Most runs scored by any team against another team during the Expansion Era (since 1961).
  • Yankees ninth consecutive game with at least six runs against the O’s; since 1913, their only other longer six-plus-run scoring streak against any team was a 12-game stretch vs. the Indians in 1930.
  • Yankees sixth home game in a row scoring eight or more runs against the Orioles, their longest such streak against any opponent at Yankee Stadium (old or new).

Didi Gregorius opened the slugfest with a three-run shot in the third inning, his second straight game he homered with two men on base. He joined Frankie Crossetti (1932) as the only Yankee shortstops in the Live Ball era (since 1920) to hit a three-run homer in back-to-back games. [He added another homer in Sunday’s finale, bringing his total to 24 this season, and tying Derek Jeter (1999) for the most by a shortstop in franchise history.]

(Getty)
(Getty)

All good things … must come to an end
You knew the Yankees recent trend of bashing baseballs and breaking scoreboards was unsustainable (see Regression to the Mean), and that it came in a game started by Sonny Gray was hardly surprising (see Lowest Run Support among Yankee Starters).

But the fact that the Yankees were finally cooled off by Ubaldo Jimenez — and his 6.75 ERA — in Sunday’s 6-4 loss was shocking. The Yankees entered the game 12-3 when facing an opposing starter with an ERA over 6.00, the second-best such record in the majors behind the Dodgers (9-2). So, of course, Jimenez held the Yankees to one run over five innings while striking out 10. More #WeirdBaseball? Ubaldo joined Matt Moore (Sept. 22, 2011) as the only pitchers in the last 100 years with double-digit strikeouts in an outing of five or fewer innings against the Yankees.

But wait, there’s even more!

You also couldn’t have predicted their ridiculous scoring spree to be snapped by any Orioles pitcher, given how much the Yankees had pounded the entire O’s pitching staff this season and especially in the Bronx. First, the ridiculous totals from the 19-game season series and the 10 home games vs the Orioles:

Games Runs HR BA OBP Slug Pct.
Overall 19 154 46 .313 .406 .575
Home 10 102 32 .337 .425 .671

If you’re curious, Babe Ruth owns a slugging percentage of .690 and homered once every 11.7 at-bats in his career — which looks alot like the .671 slugging and 11.3 at-bat-per-homer rate that the Yankees put up against the Orioles in the Bronx this season. And now for the historical perspective on those numbers:

  • 154 runs overall are the most by the Yankees vs any team in a season series since 1956, when they scored 158 in 22 games against the A’s.
  • 46 homers overall are the most by any team against any single opponent in the Expansion Era, and are the second-most hit by the Yankees against a single team in franchise history (48 in 1956 against the A’s).
  • .575 slugging percentage overall is their second-highest in a season against any team in the last 100 years (min. 7 games), trailing the .578 mark vs. the Rangers in 1998.
  • 102 runs at home are the third-most Yankees have scored at Yankee Stadium (old or new) against an opponent (104 vs Browns in 1949, 108 vs White Sox in 1931).
  • 32 homers at home are the most hit by the Yankees against a single team within a season at either Yankee Stadium.

Attractive Opposites

World Series Phillies Yankees Baseball

I’ve said often that the 2009 World Series winning Yankee team is my favorite of all the championship teams. I was finally old enough to appreciate a World Series win and I watched nearly every inning of that season. Additionally, I was (way too) active on this site and met a lot of great people through it. Every night was a new, fun, exciting experience on the road to dominance and an eventual championship. On its face, the 2017 version of the Yankees has very little to do with that team.

The 2009 team was built and focused around veterans. There were the ‘holdovers’ like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, and Robinson Cano. The team brought in Nick Swisher, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeria. That team was expected to win and to win big. And that’s what they did. Including the playoffs, they won 114 games en route to World Series number 27. The 2017 team, on the other hand, was built around young players and the hope that maybe if everything broke right, they could fight for the second Wild Card spot. Obviously, things have gone better than that and this year has been, probably, the most enjoyable year of my Yankee fandom since 2009.

Every night, this team is fun to watch. Of course, there have been frustrating moments of offensive and bullpen related frustrations, but those pale in comparison to how great it feels to watch young players playing great on a nightly basis. From Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge knocking dingers, leading their respective positions in offense, to Didi Gregorius‘s further offensive development and stellar throwing arm, to Luis Severino and Chad Green reaching heights that seemed well beyond anything we could think of, to Clint Frazier making an unexpected debut, young players have fueled the good times in 2017.

2009 featured walk off after walk off and it was amazing. I’ll not soon forget he A-Rod walk off against the Red Sox or walk off weekend against the Twins or all the playoff heroics of A-Rod and others. That sense of drama hasn’t quite been there more than a few times in 2017, but the wins have been satisfying nonetheless.

We’ve talked a lot about expectations this year and how the lack thereof has made this a stress free year of rooting. A different feeling than the expectations-laden one in 2009 for sure. But, at the end of the rooting day, there is a sense of calm I’ve felt regarding both squads. In 2009, I always knew the team would come through. I knew they’d get the big hit. I knew they’d win even when it looked like they wouldn’t. There was a level of comfort knowing just how damn good they were, knowing that they were the best. Even as expectations now rise for the 2017 team–anything less than a DS appearance would be disappointing at this point–there’s a comfort level in knowing that they blew past what we should have expected long ago.

Baseball is supposed to be fun, whether you’re playing or watching. Since 2012, the fun times for the Yankees have been few and far between, with plenty of frustration flung in there. 2017 hasn’t been that at all. 2009 seemed predestined for a championship and I’ve got no idea what 2017 will really do, but the ride has been fun as all hell and I hope it goes on for a long time and ends with a big parade.

Subtracting velocity has been key to Luis Severino’s improved changeup

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Regardless of what happens the rest of the year, this has been an overwhelmingly positive season for the Yankees and their youth movement. Both Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez emerged as bonafide middle of the order thumpers in their first full MLB seasons, and Luis Severino bounced back from a disappointing 2016 season to become a legitimate Cy Young candidate. He’s going to finish in the top five of the voting. Maybe top three.

What’s the difference between 2016 Severino and 2017 Severino? A lot of things, really. First and foremost, I think his command is so much better. Command is not something we can measure — walk rate is a control stat, not a command stat — it’s something we have to see. Based on my observations, Severino is doing a much better job locating on the edges of the plate, and just off the plate. He made a lot of middle-middle mistakes last year.

Second, confidence. Last season it appeared Severino got scared out of the strike zone at times, and a little fastball shy. And who could blame him? He was young and getting hit hard. This year he looks like a dominator on the mound. He’s oozing confidence and you can tell he knows he’s in command of the game. There is no doubt in my mind last year’s success out of the bullpen contributes to that. He took the bullpen mentality to the rotation.

And third, his changeup. Severino always had a quality changeup coming up through the minors. We saw it in 2015. Last year he didn’t have much success with the pitch, and as a result he basically stopped throwing it late in the year. Even when he moved back into the rotation. He’d throw one or two per start, maybe. Back in 2015 he threw 10-20 changeups per start. Last season he made eleven starts and threw double-digit changeups only five times.

This season Severino is again sitting the 10-20 changeup range, and he’s throwing more and more changeups as the season progresses. Heck, he threw 29 changeups in a game against the Red Sox back in July. That never would’ve happened last year. The thing that has caught my eye about Severino’s changeup, especially the last few weeks, is the velocity. Here is his changeup velocity by start with error bars showing the minimum and maximum velocities, via Brooks Baseball:

luis-severino-changeup

In 2015 and 2016, Severino’s changeup sat right around 90 mph and didn’t deviate too much from that velocity. His slowest changeup from 2015-16: 85.5 mph. His fastest changeup from 2015-16: 94 mph, and I’m pretty sure that’s a mistake. PitchFX must has classified a fastball with a little extra sink on it as a changeup. His second fastest changeup from 2015-16 was 91.7 mph, so yeah, that’s probably it.

For all intents and purposes, Severino’s changeup velocity range was 85 mph to 92 mph from 2015-16. This year, as you can see from the error bars in the graph, he’s thrown his changeup down around 80 mph in several starts, with a few in the 70s as well. Look at his last few starts in particular. Severino has been throwing his changeup anywhere from 80 mph to 90 mph. Heck, Severino threw a 79.0 mph changeup and a 90.1 mph changeup in the same at-bat Saturday. From Baseball Savant:

luis-severino-nomar-mazaraLast year I thought part of Severino’s problem was the lack of separation between his pitches. I’m pretty sure I wrote that somewhere, but I can’t seem to find it now. Whatever. (Update: Here it is!) Anyway, everything Severino threw was hard. It was all 90 mph and above, for the most part. Throwing hard is great, but big league hitters can time velocity if you give them enough time adjust, and when everything (fastball, slider, changeup) comes in around the same velocity, it’s that much easier to time.

This year Severino is achieving much greater velocity separation between his fastball and changeup. His average fastball is 97.7 mph. That’s ridiculous. It’s also the highest average fastball velocity among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title by nearly one full mile an hour. (Chad Kuhl is second at 96.9 mph. No, really.) Catching up to 97.7 mph is hard enough. Now imagine doing it when the pitcher could bust out a low-80s (or even upper-70s) changeup. That’s how aces are made. We’re talking about a 15-20 mph separation between the fastball and changeup. That’s enormous. The league average is 9.1 mph.

Severino’s success this season — there’s basically nothing that could happen the last two and a half weeks that would take him off Cy Young ballot at this point — is the result of many things. Improved command, more confidence, experience, natural growth, and an improved changeup. That pitch was a non-factor for him much of last season. This year it is a legitimate weapon, and it’s only his third pitch. The fastball-slider combination is damn near elite. Add in a changeup that is approaching Bugs Bunny status, and there’s every reason to believe this version of Severino is here to stay.

Yankeemetrics: Bronx Bombers invade Texas (Sept. 8-10)

(AP)
(AP)

Terrible Tanaka
If you were to bottle up the Yankees 2017 season and play it out over the course of a nine-inning game, you probably would end up with what happened on Friday night. The 11-5 loss perfectly captured this rollercoaster campaign.

A quick recap: the Yankees offense burst of the gate with five runs on eight hits in the first four innings, jumping out to a 5-1 lead, but then were totally blanked the rest of the game, with zero hits and zero runs in the final five frames. The pitching staff suffered its own collapse, too, allowing the Rangers to score 10 unanswered runs and cruise to the blowout win.

While this loss might not be as heart-breaking as others, it still ranks as one of the most embarrassing and contributes to this depressing stat: The Yankees now have five losses in games they had a lead of at least four runs, their most since 2006 (when they had six of them). It’s also one more such loss than they tallied in the 2015 and 2016 seasons combined.

After more than two months of the Good Tanaka churning out solid outings – he entered the game with a 2.77 ERA over his previous 12 starts – the Terrible Tanaka took the mound in Arlington and was pummeled. He coughed up seven runs on eight hits before getting pulled in the fifth inning. Yet in typical Jekyll-and-Hyde mode, Tanaka also flashed dominance as seven of the 12 outs he recorded were strikeouts.

The first big blow was a towering blast by Nomar Mazara in the second inning, the 30th longball Tanaka has given up the year. He is the ninth pitcher in franchise history to reach that mark, but none of the others averaged at least a strikeout per inning like Tanaka is doing this season. [/shrug]

The frequency of these disaster Tanaka starts underscores how much of an outlier the 2017 season is for the four-year veteran:

  • Fourth start with at least seven runs allowed, which matches the same number he had over 75 starts from 2014-16.
  • Seventh start that he failed to complete five innings; that’s four(!) more than he had in his first three seasons combined

As we pile on the mess that Tanaka produced Friday, its only fitting we give him our Obscure Yankeemetric: He is the first Yankee ever to allow at least seven earned runs, eight-plus hits and throw two wild pitches in a game while facing no more than 20 batters.

(AP)
(AP)

Super Sevy
As they’ve done all summer, the Yankees bounced back from one of their most horrible losses with one of their most inspiring wins of the season. Fueled by a late offensive surge and backed by a dominant pitching performance from their young ace, the Yankees won 3-1 with the lone Rangers run coming on their only hit of the gamein the fifth inning. It was their fourth game this season allowing no more than two hits, their most such games in a season since 1998.

The offense was M.I.A for the first seven innings as the Yankees seemed headed for another boring loss, until they finally put together a rally in the eighth and ninth innings. Tyler Austin played the unlikely hero role as his bases-loaded RBI single in the top of the ninth broke a 1-1 tie.

Despite limited playing time, has proved he can deliver in the clutch. Austin has a 1.599 OPS in “Late and Close Situations” (at-bats in the seventh inning or later with batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck) since getting called up to the bigs last year, the highest among all players over the last two seasons (min. 15 PA).

While the bats were in a deep slumber for much of the game, Luis Severino kept the game close with perhaps his most outstanding performance of the season. He allowed one hit and struck out 10 over seven masterful innings, adding to his Cy Young resume and legacy as one of the best young pitchers ever to wear the pinstripes. Lets go bullet-point style to recap his awesomeness:

  • Second Yankee to give up one or fewer hits in an outing of at least seven innings against the Rangers, joining Catfish Hunter, who threw a one-hit shutout on May 31, 1975 in Texas.
  • 15th start with no more than one run allowed, the most of any pitcher in the majors this season.
  • The 23-year-old is the youngest pitcher in franchise history to have 15 one-or-zero-run starts in a season, and the first Yankee of any age to do it since Mike Mussina in 2001.
  • Sevy is the second-youngest Yankee to give up no more than one hit while striking out at least 10 batters in a game; the youngest was a 22-year-old Al Downing, who threw a 10-strikeout, 1-hit shutout against the White Sox on July 2, 1963.

Severino has pitched brilliantly in the second half of the season (2.07 ERA since the break), and befitting of his incredible toughness and grit, has done his best work on the road over the past two months: 5-0 with a 0.89 ERA and 48 strikeouts in six starts away from the Bronx since July 15. He has pitched more than six innings and allowed one earned run or fewer in each of those outings, the longest such streak of road games in a single season by any Yankee pitcher. Ever.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Two many homers
When the Yankees bats are healthy, happy and clicking on all cylinders (facing a below-average pitching staff helps too) you get an offensive explosion like Sunday’s 16-7 rout of the Rangers.

They bashed their way to victory, with two of the the Baby Bombers — Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge — each going deep twice while etching their names in the record books multiple times. The last time that two Yankees as young as Sanchez and Judge had matching two-homer performances in the same game was September 23, 1973 against the Indians (Ron Blomberg and Otto Velez!).

Sanchez sparked the offensive fireworks with a first-inning laser shot to left field, and went deep again in the eighth, a 461-foot mammoth shot, for his 29th and 30th homers this year. His 30 homers match the single-season franchise record for a player whose primary position was catcher, set by Jorge Posada (2003) and Yogi Berra (1956, 1952). Sanchez is the youngest Yankee to reach the 30-homer milestone in a season since a 24-year-old Don Mattingly in 1985.

Those two bombs were also his 49th and 50th career homers (in his 161st big-league game), as he joined Mark McGwire and Rudy York as the lone players in MLB history to reach 50 dingers before their 162nd major-league game. And it was his seventh career multi-dinger game, a feat that only McGwire reached this early into his MLB career.

Together with Aaron Judge, they became the second set of Yankees age 25 or younger to hit 30-plus homers in the same season — Joe DiMaggio and Joe Gordon also did it in 1940.

Judge had a record-breaking afternoon, too, drawing his 107th walk of the season in the second inning, which set the modern era (since 1900) rookie mark. Two frames later he hit a solo dinger to center, his 40th home run of the season.

With that blast Judge joined a group of franchise legends to hit 40 homers in their age-25 season or younger: Mickey Mantle (1956), Joe DiMaggio (1937), Lou Gehrig (1927) and Babe Ruth (1920). Judge added his 41st home run in the sixth inning, a gigantic 463-foot blast that made him and Sanchez the only pair of teammates to each crush a 460-foot-plus home run in the same game this season.

And finally there’s this little historical nugget that sums up Judge’s unprecedented combo of patience and power: He is the first Yankee right-handed batter ever to hit 40 homers and walk 100 times in a season.

Thoughts Before the Stretch Run Starts

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Before we begin, I’m sure that many of you reading this may be in or from Florida or have relatives/friends there. If that’s the case, I speak for everyone here when I say that we hope you’re safe and they’re safe.

CY-Verino

I know Luis Severino isn’t going to win the Cy Young Award. And given how Chris Sale and Corey Kluber have pitched this year, he probably doesn’t deserve to win it. But dammit if I’m not rooting for those two to crash and burn this month so Severino has a chance to grab it. We’ve talked a lot about things going as well as possible for Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez–and I wrote about it regarding Severino last week–but we might be able to argue that things have gone even better for Luis considering what happened last year. He’s stepped up for the Yankees time and time again this year, including yesterday, and he’s gone a long way towards making me feel better about the rotation next year, which was looking shaky.

Pleasantly Frustrating

This was supposed to be a process year, a developmental year. Then the Yankees started winning and that mindset of mine changed. The Yankees are incredibly likely to win the wild card and host the play-in game for the second time in three years and that’s a lot better than we could’ve hoped for in February and March. But it’s also frustrating as hell because the Yankees are clearly better than any of the teams they’d face in that game. Their starters are better than any starter they will face. In the end, that may not matter. One bad game could derail things. That’s not to say this season would be any sort of failure if the Yankees don’t make it to the Division Series. Would it be disappointing? Definitely. But considering the expectations at the beginning of the year, this season has largely been a success.

The teasing thing is that this is a team built well for a series-style playoff run: a solid rotation of Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, and CC Sabathia. A dominant bullpen. A lineup capable of explosion. All of that is dangerous in October, especially the pitching, but they may not even get there. Times like this make me long for the old Wild Card system or something radically new and different.

My pipe dream is a balanced schedule with no divisions within the AL and NL, so the top 4 teams from each league make it. That will never ever happen, but a guy can dream, no?

Anyway, it was nice last year to have a relatively stress-free season (especially in my first year as a parent), but that competitive baseball, the idea of the playoffs, it’s something I definitely missed. Sure, this isn’t like 2009-12 when you knew the Yankees were racking up division wins and what not, but it feels good to have some form of baseball to look forward to in the fall. Remind me I said this when I’m rocking back and forth like Leo Mazzone during the Wild Card game.

The pros and cons of the upcoming six-man rotation

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

At the moment the Yankees have six viable big league starting pitchers for five rotation spots, which is pretty amazing considering the state of the rotation coming into the season. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia formed a solid yet fragile front three. The last two spots were very much up in the air. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery grabbed them and ran.

The Sonny Gray traded added another high-end arm and, if nothing else, the Jaime Garcia trade added depth. So, even after losing Pineda to Tommy John surgery, the Yankees are still six deep with starting pitchers in the season’s final month. And following tomorrow’s off-day, the Yankees plan to use all six starting pitchers. They’re going to a six-man rotation.

“You have a guy like (Severino) getting into an (innings total) he really hasn’t much passed. Sometimes it might help a Tanaka and it might help a CC so that is why we are doing it,” said Joe Girardi to George King and Pete Caldera last week. “… Some is the physical part of it, and we feel they might perform at a higher level on a sixth day.”

The Yankees will play 13 games in 13 days following tomorrow’s off-day, so they’ll be able to go two full turns through the six-man rotation. It’s September and rosters have expanded, so carrying six starting pitchers is no problem. Rolling with six starters and either a six-man bullpen (nope) or a three-man bench (yep) from April through August is where it gets tricky. That’s not the case now.

The six-man rotation comes with pros and cons like everything else. Or, really, it’s one big pro and one big con. The pro: giving pitchers rest late in the season. Severino’s and Montgomery’s workloads are an obvious concern — Severino (169.1 innings) and Montgomery (142.2 innings) have both already eclipsed their previous career high workloads — and something the Yankees need to monitor. They have to protect those young arms.

The four veteran guys could probably use the rest too. Tanaka just spent ten days on the disabled list with what was essentially a dead arm, plus there’s the whole partially torn elbow ligament thing. Sabathia had a knee flare-up recently. Gray has had some injury issues the last 18 months and Garcia’s injury history is as ugly as it gets. All four of those guys could benefit from a little extra rest now and then. Everyone could.

As for the downside of the six-man rotation, the Yankees would potentially be taking starts away from their best pitchers and giving them to their worst. The postseason races, both the AL East and wildcards, are awfully close. Taking even one start away from Tanaka or Severino and giving it to Montgomery or Garcia hurts the team’s postseason chances, at least in theory. (Montgomery or Severino could always come out and throw a gem, I suppose.)

Generally speaking, starters perform better with extra rest, which would maybe mitigate some of that “getting fewer starts from your best pitchers” thing. Here are the numbers quick:

  • MLB average on normal rest: 4.55 ERA (4.35 FIP)
  • MLB average with an extra day of rest: 4.38 ERA (4.32 FIP)

There is such a thing as too much rest — the MLB average with two or more extra days of rest is 4.51 ERA (4.48 FIP) — and that’s something Girardi acknowledged. “I don’t want guys having seven days (between starts),” he said. The numbers suggest an extra day of rest could improve performance, but those are league averages culled from thousands of innings and hundreds of pitchers. Anything could happen in one individual game, or a handful of individual games in this case.

For the Yankees, using a six-man rotation seems more about controlling Severino’s and Montgomery’s workloads, and giving the four veterans with injury histories a little breather late in the season. The Yankees could always call an audible depending on the postseason races. If things get too tight, they could scrap the six-man rotation and go with their five best. Here’s the possible rotation:

  • Wednesday, Sept. 6th at Orioles: Gray (on normal rest)
  • Thursday, Sept. 7th: off-day
  • Friday, Sept. 8th at Rangers: Tanaka (on one extra day of rest thanks to off-day)
  • Saturday, Sept. 9th at Rangers: Severino (on one extra day of rest thanks to off-day)
  • Sunday, Sept. 10th at Rangers: Garcia (on five extra days of rest)
  • Monday, Sept. 11th at Rays: Sabathia (on one extra day of rest thanks to off-day)
  • Tuesday, Sept. 12th at Rays: Gray (on one extra day of rest thanks to off-day)
  • Wednesday, Sept. 13th at Rays: Montgomery (on four extra days of rest)
  • Thursday, Sept. 14th to Sunday, Sept. 17th vs. Orioles: Tanaka, Severino, Garcia, Sabathia all with one extra day of rest
  • Monday, Sept. 18th to Wednesday, Sept. 20th vs. Twins: Gray, Montgomery, Tanaka all with one extra day of rest
  • Thursday, Sept. 21st: off-day

The Yankees have, essentially, skipped one Garcia start already when Montgomery got the ball Monday. That doesn’t mean he’ll sit around for nine days and do nothing between starts. He’s a veteran guy and knows what he needs to do to stay sharp. I’m sure he’ll throw extended bullpens and all that between starts.

Clearly, the Yankees are more concerned about Montgomery’s workload than the raw innings totals would lead you to believe. Only once in his last eight outings has he thrown more than 85 pitches. That was 92 pitches against the Indians last week. Five times in those eight outings he threw fewer than 80 pitches. The Yankees are trying to keep his workload down and that’s why I think they’ll essentially skip his next start.

A rainout tonight would throw a wrench into things, though the rotation outline above allows for some flexibility. That Twins series could end up being awfully important. If the wildcard race is tight, the Yankees could easily skip Montgomery entirely that series, and go with Tanaka and Severino on regular rest instead. We’ll see. Every so often I sketch out these possible rotation plans and they’re never right. Injuries and playoff races have a way of changing things.

For now, we know Girardi said the Yankees will use a six-man rotation following tomorrow’s off-day, which makes sense given the workload and injury concerns that exist. Extra rest this late in the season is good. But, at the same time, getting fewer starts from your top pitchers in the middle of a postseason race is not ideal. The Yankees very well might have to change their rotation plans if the race gets tighter in the coming days.