Heathcott latest young player to come up big for Yankees in 2015

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

All things considered, last night’s win was the biggest of the season. The Yankees have been losing ground in the postseason race the last few weeks, so much so that the Rangers are as close to catching them for the first wildcard spot as the Yankees are to catching the Blue Jays in the AL East. They’re three games up on Texas and three games back of Toronto.

The Yankees were six outs away from being no-hit and one out away from an ugly 1-0 loss to last night. They instead rallied for a 4-1 win over the Rays, with the biggest blow coming from Slade Heathcott. He hit an opposite field (!) go-ahead three-run homer off Brad Boxberger in his first big league at-bat since May. It was huge. The Yankees need every win they can get right now.

Heathcott is just the latest young player to step up and help the Yankees this season. He’s not alone. Regulars like Didi Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi have played huge roles after a rocky first few weeks in pinstripes. Others like Luis Severino and Greg Bird were called up in the second half to become regulars. John Ryan Murphy‘s been on the bench all season. And then there are guys like Heathcott, whose time with the team has been brief.

A total of 17 different players have been called up to make their MLB debut with the Yankees this year, and those 17 rookie players have combined for 1.5 WAR. That’s pretty good considering we’re talking about 178 plate appearances and 112 mostly low-leverage innings. The total performance doesn’t knock your socks off, but there are some big individual moments mixed in there that were pretty incredible. Signature moments, if you will.

Heathcott, obviously, hit his huge homer last night. Bird had his two-homer game against the Twins and also that go-ahead homer against the Orioles last week. Mason Williams went deep in his first big league game and had a two-double game against the Marlins. How many stellar defense plays did Ramon Flores make before he was traded away? I remember him saving a few runs in Oakland, like this one.

Severino stands out on the pitching side, clearly. He’s been pretty awesome aside from last Friday’s clunker. Others like Nick Rumbelow and Branden Pinder have chewed up some innings and occasionally gotten big outs when pressed into high-leverage work, and now James Pazos seems to be getting a chance in those situations. Caleb Cotham picked up the win last night and Diego Moreno had that brilliant, bullpen-saving outing in Texas.

It’s not just about the rookies though. Like I said, Gregorius and Eovaldi have become rather big parts of the team, and both are only 25. Chasen Shreve was a trusted high-leverage reliever for much of the summer and he just turned 25 not too long ago as well. Gregorius, Eovaldi, Shreve, Bird, and Severino have played the largest roles among the Yankees’ crop of 25 and under players this season, though they’re far from the only one who’ve contributed.

Make no mistake, the Yankees are still a veteran team who are where they are because of guys like Alex Rodriguez, Brian McCann, Brett Gardner, and Carlos Beltran. The veteran dudes were always going to have to carry this team, and they have so far. The Yankees did make an effort to get younger this offseason, at least in moderation, and right now most of those moves have paid dividends. Heathcott’s homer last night was the latest example.

Calf issue not expected to impact Severino’s next start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

After getting roughed up by the Blue Jays on Friday night, Luis Severino walked around the clubhouse with his right calf wrapped, and seemed to indicate he hurt himself at home, away from the field. “There’s a little pain,” said Severino to Chad Jennings while adding the calf issue had no impact on his pitching.

It’s unclear how or what exactly happened — as Jennings noted, the “hurt at home” thing could have been the result of the language barrier — but it’s worth noting Severino caught a spike mid-delivery Friday night and slipped on the mound. Perhaps he poked himself in the calf with his cleat. Here’s the play:

“I’m still not sure what happened,” said Girardi to Jennings on Saturday. “He said he felt that it was bruised, it hurt to touch. It didn’t hurt to walk or anything. It might have been when he tripped. I’m going to have to watch the tape, that first inning when he tripped because it wasn’t a ground ball that hit him or anything so it’s gotta be in that first inning when he fell. Maybe he hit his spike on his leg and that’s what happened.”

Regardless of what happened, the injury is not expected to have any impact on Severino’s next start. The 21-year-old is lined up to start Wednesday night’s series finale against the Rays at the moment, though the Yankees might try to squeeze in a sixth starter at some point or something. Who knows. Severino has a 3.35 ERA (4.63 FIP) in 37.2 innings across seven starts for the Yankees this year even after getting smacked around by the Blue Jays last week.

The Yankees are already without Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) for the rest of the regular season, plus they want to give Masahiro Tanaka extra rest whenever possible, so losing Severino for even one start with a calf problem would be bad news. Heck, even pushing him back a few days would create a headache Wednesday night. Thankfully the calf issue is minor and won’t affect Severino’s pitching schedule.

Smart workload management has Severino in position to help the Yankees down the stretch

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Almost immediately after the trade deadline passed, Brian Cashman announced the Yankees were calling up top pitching prospect Luis Severino to bolster their rotation. He’s been better than I think anyone could have reasonably expected too: 2.04 ERA (3.96 FIP) in six starts and 35.1 innings. That’s pretty awesome, especially by “21-year-old kid thrust into a postseason race” standards.

Severino’s performance has been remarkable for a 21-year-old, but being 21 comes with some caveats, specifically workload limitations. The days of Brien Taylor throwing 161.1 innings one year out of high school are long gone. Teams do not let pitchers as young as Severino throw a lot of lot of innings. That’s just the way it is nowadays. And yet, when Severino was called up, Cashman said he had no restrictions.

“There’s nothing that’s going to hold him back now,” said the GM to Ryan Hatch after announcing Severino was joining the rotation. “We prepared for this, and hopefully we have a chance to have him max out, because that will mean he’s pitching deep into games.”

So far this season Severino has thrown 134.2 innings between the minors and the big leagues. That surprised me. I thought the number would be much higher, closer to 150 or even 160. It’s not though, and that’s because the Yankees did an excellent job rationing Severino’s innings earlier this year. As Cashman said, they prepared for this, meaning a late-season call-up.

Severino started the season with Double-A Trenton — easy to forget that now, huh? — and was bumped up to Triple-A Scranton in late-May. In his eight Double-A starts, he threw more than five innings just once, and that was a six-inning outing in which he threw 97 pitches. Severino averaged 4.75 innings and 75.5 pitches per start with the Thunder earlier this year. That’s it.

After being promoted to Triple-A, Severino threw ten starts before being summoned to MLB, and in those ten starts he averaged 6.11 innings and 97.1 pitches. They turned him loose just a bit — Severino completed six full innings four times in those ten Triple-A starts — because it was time to stretch him out. The Yankees had to let Severino build his pitch count and attempt to go through a lineup three times. That’s part of development.

All told, Severino made 19 minor league starts before being called up this year. He averaged 5.23 innings and 82.9 pitches in those 19 starts. Severino topped 100 pitches once (103 on June 16th) and 95+ pitches four times. I remember wondering why the Yankees were being so conservative with Severino in April and May by cutting his starts off after five innings so regularly, and now we know why. They were preparing him for a call-up.

Severino set a career high with 113 innings this season, which appeared to put him in line to throw 150 or so innings this season. That was speculation, not a hard number. Severino came up with 99.1 innings on his arm, and with the end of the regular season a little less than four weeks away, he’s at 134.2 innings. He’s going to wind up finishing the season at 155-160 innings or so, close enough to that 150-inning mark I and a few others speculated was his limit.

Now, innings are not the best way to measure workload. We all know that by now. A hundred pitches in five innings is not the same as 75 pitches in five innings. Innings is just a umbrella term at this point. The Yankees have a lot of experience managing workloads — the Joba Rules, while not carried out out in the best possible way, were well-intentioned — and I’m certain they’re not just counting innings. The Yankees are too analytical to stop there. They’re going deeper than that.

The Mets just had a messy, public spat with Matt Harvey and agent Scott Boras over Harvey’s workload. The Pirates are skipping Gerrit Cole’s start later this week. The Cardinals skipped Michael Wacha’s start last week. All these contenders are trying to control the workload of their young horses, and yet the Yankees are in position to turn Severino loose because of what they did earlier this season. They did it backwards — they limited his work early in the season and he’s ready to go in September.

Obviously the Yankees had the advantage of starting Severino in the minors. It’s much easy to cap a young pitcher’s starts at five innings down there. Harvey and Cole and Wacha have been in the big leagues since Opening Day. You can’t control someone’s workload as easily at this level. The Yankees were in a fortunate position with Severino and took advantage. Next season they’ll have to figure out how to control his innings at the MLB level, which is tough. There’s no right way to do it.

For now, the Yankees have Severino in their rotation with no restrictions, and that’s good because they really need him. The rotation has been thinned out by injury. Does he truly have no restrictions this year? Of course not. They wouldn’t let him throw 200+ innings or something like that. The Yankees don’t have to worry about that though. They smartly manipulated Severino’s innings while he was in the minors and that has put him in position to help down the stretch.

“That’s why we played with the innings the way we did this season. We all sat down numerous times this winter and then again in Spring Training and mapped out this scenario,” added Cashman. “If he performed up to his capabilities, we felt he would pitch for us from August on at some point. And here we are.”

The Speed of the Game

It’s Friday night and I’m standing in left-center at Teufel Field. It’s the bottom of the first inning and there are runners on first and second with one out and the fourth hitter for the opposing team is at the plate with a 1-1 count (thank you, speed up rules). Our pitcher sets on the mound, rears his arm back, and arcs the ball towards home plate. The batter swings and sends a sinking line drive in my direction, slightly to my left. Eyes squinted in the less-than-idea lighting, I sprint towards the ball charging forward, sliding at the last second, securing the second out before popping up and trying (and failing) to double up the runner at second. This play could’ve happened at least three times in the amount of time it took me to write this and for you to read it. The game is fast, and that’s just slow-pitch softball. On Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, I got even more education on the speed of the game.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time, I sat in the Legends seats–Section 14B, Row 2. As someone who played ball growing up and has watched and attended countless games, viewed from all over various in-stadium locations, I certainly knew how quick the game could be, but being so close hammered the point home (rudely at times, like Abraham Almonte’s screaming foul liner that buzzed our collective tower).  From Didi Gregorius‘s speed to the velocity of the pitches delivered by Luis Severino, Danny Salazar, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller, “fast” was the best way to describe yesterday.

With regards to that ‘micro-level’ speed, sitting so close to the action only furthered my appreciation for just how incredibly difficult baseball can be. The way hitters can react quickly enough to not just hit the ball, but hit it with authority, driving it all over the place, never ceases to amaze me. The way infielders can react to sharp ground balls and calmly field them is a near marvel; that they can seemingly flick their wrists and throw the ball harder than I could overhand is another feat that leaves me speechless. Because the players aren’t zooming around the field like they would be in basketball, hockey, soccer, or football, we don’t necessarily think of baseball as a speed sport, but it is unavoidably so.

On the ‘macro-level’ of speed, there was the pregame ceremony for Jorge Posada. As I watched him receive his plaques and gifts, I couldn’t believe almost four calendar years have passed since Jorge suited up for the Yankees. While his former teammates lined the infield grass, I remembered playing Wiffle Ball with friends in my front yard, imitating the batting stances of the men I was looking at–Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams, Posada himself… Obviously, many years have passed since then, but the memory didn’t–and still doesn’t–seem all that distant. Like the thrown and batted balls, like the lighting-fast pitches, the memories of players passed reminds us that the game moves quickly no matter how you look at it. We could all do well to slow down and appreciate it, from the tiny bursts of speed on the basepaths, to the (hopefully) magnificent careers blossoming in front of us.

Saturday Links: Postseason Schedule, Tulowitzki, Patches, Prospects, Online Streaming

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees and Indians continue their four-game series later this afternoon. Here are a few links worth checking out while you wait for first pitch.

Postseason schedule announced

MLB announced the 2015 postseason scheduled this week. Unlike the last two years, I can post this information and not feel like I am wasting a bunch of time. The full schedule can be found right here. Here are the dates potentially relevant to the Yankees:

  • Tiebreaker Game: Monday, October 5th (if necessary to determine division winner, second wildcard spot, etc.)
  • AL Wildcard Game: Tuesday, October 6th
  • ALDS: Thursday, October 8th through Wednesday, October 14th (best of five)
  • ALCS: Friday, October 16th through Saturday, October 24th (best of seven)
  • World Series: Tuesday, October 27th through Wednesday, November 4th (best of seven)

As always, the best-of-three LDS round includes off-days between Games Two and Three and between Games Four and Five. The best-of-seven LCS round and World Series have off-days between Games Two and Three and between Games Five and Six. The World Series will bleed into November unless there is a four-game sweep. There hasn’t been a World Series game in November since 2010. The Yankees won the 2009 World Series on November 4th, as you surely remember.

Cashman preferred Tulowitzki to Jeter

Here’s a fun anecdote. According to Sports Illustrated, Brian Cashman told Derek Jeter he would rather have Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop while in contract talks during the 2010-11 offseason. Here’s the full blurb:

“Who would you rather have playing shortstop this year than me?” Jeter asked Cashman.

“Do you really want me to answer that?” Cashman replied. Jeter told him to go ahead, and he listed Tulowitzki, then the Rockies’ shortstop who was in the midst of his first All-Star campaign. “We’re not paying extra money for popularity,” he added, “We’re paying for performance.”

Jeter was 36 at the time and coming off the worst season of his career. He and the Yankees eventually agreed to a new three-year contract with $51M, though reportedly ownership stepped in to wrap things up. SI has a profile of Cashman in this week’s issue that has yet to make its way online.

Hey, as far as I’m concerned, Cashman did nothing wrong. He asked Jeter if wanted an answer, Jeter said yes, and Cashman gave him an honest answer. There needed to be a bad guy in those contract negotiations just to give the Yankees some sort of leverage. They couldn’t go in there kissing Jeter’s behind and willing to pay anything. I would have rather had Tulo instead of Jeter too.

FanGraphs’ midseason prospect update

Over at FanGraphs, Kiley McDaniel posted an updated look at the top prospects in baseball. Dodgers 3B Corey Seager sits in the top spot and is followed by Twins OF Byron Buxton and Phillies SS J.P. Crawford. The Yankee shave three players among McDaniel’s top 26 prospects: RHP Luis Severino (9th), OF Aaron Judge (22nd), and SS Jorge Mateo (25th). I doubt you’ll see Mateo ranked that highly anywhere else this year or heading into next year. McDaniel seems to really believe in him.

Posada & Pettitte Day patches

Later today, the Yankees will honor Jorge Posada by retiring his No. 20. Then tomorrow they’ll do the same for Andy Pettitte and retire No. 46. Both are very deserving in my opinion. It blows my mind anyone would try to argue otherwise. Anyway, in honor of their special days, the Yankees will wear Posada and Pettitte patches on their hats. Here they are:

Jorge Posada Andy Pettitte patch

The Pettitte patch is A+ work. Posada … I’ll give it a C. Good idea, not the best execution. Pettitte’s stare was kinda his trademark and it makes for a good patch. Posada doesn’t have that signature pose or image or whatever. (Maybe it’s this?) Still pretty cool. I’m really looking forward to seeing the ceremonies the next two days.

MLB, MLBPA announce new domestic violence policy

MLB and the MLBPA announced their new domestic violence policy yesterday. The press release is right here (PDF link). It covers domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. In a nutshell, the Commissioner’s Office will investigate, the player will be placed on leave for up to seven days, and commissioner Rob Manfred can impose any discipline he chooses. There is no minimum or maximum suspension, and discipline is not dependent on whether there are charges or a conviction. After the Ray Rice situation and everything else going on in the NFL, MLB and the MLBPA did a good job getting an agreement worked out. Manfred has the ability to be heavy-handed from the start.

Some online streaming to start next season

According to John Ourand and Eric Fisher, MLB and FOX have agreed to a deal making games available for in-market online streaming. There’s a catch: it only covers FOX affiliates. So Yankees fans in New York won’t be able to watch YES online just yet. FOX holds local broadcast rights to 15 teams, so this does cover half the league. That’s a start.

Part of the hold up with other broadcast networks is MLB’s requirement that MLBAM’s operation be in control to ensure the video security and quality, as well as a 4% rights fee. It’ll end up costing regional networks like YES and SNY a couple million bucks to make games available online in-market, say Ourand and Fisher. Hopefully the other networks hammer out a deal soon. It’s 2015. I’d like to be able to watch the Yankees on something other than my TV.

Update: Turns out the Yankees are covered by the FOX streaming deal. How about that? FOX owns a big stake in YES, remember. They bought in a few years ago.

Saturday Links: A-Rod, Best Tools, 810 River Ave., CLEAR

(Tom Pennington/Getty)
(Tom Pennington/Getty)

The Yankees and Blue Jays resume their three-game series early this afternoon. Until then, check out these stray links and news items to help you pass the time.

Pre-game ceremony for A-Rod‘s 3,000th hit

This is rich. The Yankees will hold a special on-field pre-game ceremony for Alex Rodriguez‘s 3,000th career hit later this season, the team announced. It’ll be held Sunday, September 13th, before the team’s 1pm ET game against the Blue Jays. They ask you to be in your seats by 12:30pm ET. So just a few weeks after refusing to pay A-Rod his $6M home run milestone bonus because they claimed it was unmarketable, the Yankees are honoring Alex for his 3,000th hit. Guess they’re hoping for a late-season attendance bump.

MLB.com’s farm system rankings

Jim Callis posted his updated ranking of the top ten farm systems this week, and the Yankees placed tenth. I’m not sure where Callis had the Yankees coming into the season, but most other publications had them in the 18-25 range. “New York has position prospects at every spot on the diamond, including speedy shortstop Jorge Mateo (No. 99), sweet-swinging second baseman Robert Refsnyder and slugging catcher Gary Sanchez,” wrote Callis. I don’t know if the Yankees truly have a top ten system yet — this is just one person’s rankings, of course — but the system is clearly on the rise, even if Severino graduates to the big leagues before the end of the season.

Baseball America’s Best Tools

Baseball America published their annual Best Tools survey this week, in which they poll managers, coaches, scouts … basically everyone about the best players and best tools in their individual leagues. Several Yankees players and prospects appeared throughout the survey, so here’s a quick rundown:

All of the surveys are free, you don’t need a subscription, so click the links and you can read through each category and each league. Obviously this is all very subjective — I can’t imagine there are many Yankee fans who consider Gardner the best bunter in the AL — but I’ve always found it interesting and fun to see who coaches and scouts feel have the best skills.

(6sqft)
(6sqft)

New apartment tower being built next old Yankee Stadium site

According to Ondel Hylton, a new 17-story apartment building is being built on River Ave. between 157th and 158th Streets, on the old Ball Park Lanes site. (The bowling alley closed years ago.) The 134-unit building at 810 River Ave. is right across the street from the old Yankee Stadium site and is a few blocks away from the new Stadium. The neighborhood was re-zoned for buildings up to 30 stories back in 2009, and this is the first new high-rise going up in the area. Construction started in May.

CLEAR comes to Yankee Stadium

As you know, MLB mandated all 30 ballparks must have metal detectors at the entrances this season, which is a total pain. Couldn’t be any less convenient and, frankly, it doesn’t make me feel any safer. (Not that I’ve ever felt unsafe at a game, but that’s besides the point.) The Yankees recently partnered up with CLEAR to expedite the process, the team announced. It’s the same biometrics technology they use at airports for TSA pre-check. You can sign up at Gate 4, and, if approved, you’ll be able to simply scan your finger at a designated fast access lane and skip the whole metal detector process. Yankee Stadium is the third stadium with CLEAR technology, joining AT&T Park and Coors Field. So if you’ve ever wanted that airport experience at a ball park, this is your lucky day!

Despite rough first two innings, Luis Severino shows signs of progress in second start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It’s easy to forget now because of how the game played out, but last night Luis Severino tossed six impressive innings in his second big league start. It wasn’t impressive because he dominated. Quite the opposite, in fact. He got knocked around early — six of the first ten batters he faced reached base — but Severino rebounded, made some adjustments, and finished strong.

Severino retired ten of his final eleven batters and used only 52 pitches to record his final 12 outs after needing 45 pitches to get his first six outs. Like I said, the start of the game was pretty rough. Severino was missing his spots big time and generally looked like a young 21-year-old pitcher who was in over his head. You know what I mean, that deer in the headlights look. Happens all the time.

Rather than let is snowball into a disaster outing, Severino was able to settle down and get through six innings having allowed just the two runs. He struck out only two but did get ten ground ball outs, which is probably the next best best thing. (Well, infield pop-ups are the next best thing, but Luis didn’t get any of those.) It was a grind, the kind of start every pitcher will go through a few times each year, and Severino handled it well.

“I thought he did a pretty good job,” said Joe Girardi to Chad Jennings after the game. “He seemed to settle down pretty good after the first two innings. He gave up a lot of hits and got in a lot of long counts and then he seemed to settle down and shut them down for the next four innings. He kept us in the game.”

In his first big league start last week, Severino lived on the outer half to righties/inner half to lefties against the Red Sox. That appeared to be his comfort zone, especially with the fastball. That’s where he went to get the count back in his favor and set up his slider. Here’s his fastball heat map from last week’s start (via Baseball Savant):

Luis Severino vs. Red Sox

Severino lived on that side of the plate, outside to righties and inside to lefties. It worked just fine, he did allow just two runs in five innings, but Severino was fairly predictable. The Red Sox were essentially able to eliminate one half of the plate and I’m guessing that contributed to their 23 foul balls against Severino. That’s a Hughesian total.

Had Severino been throwing 91-92 mph instead of 96-97 mph, chances are some of those fouls would have been put in play, and who knows what happens then. Severino had a lot of long counts — he averaged 5.22 pitches per batter — and those fouls were a big reason why. He got a little predictable with his heater location. It wasn’t the end of the world, it was just a thing that happened.

Last night against the Indians, Severino allowed a much more normal 13 foul balls out of 97 total pitches. He also averaged only 3.73 pitches per batter. Severino was way more economical and, perhaps not coincidentally, he did a better job of using his fastball on both sides of the plate. Here’s the heat map of last night’s fastballs (via Baseball Savant):

Luis Severino vs. Indians

A few too many over the heart of the plate — Severino’s location issues in the early innings didn’t result in pitches out of the zone, but pitches down the middle — but Severino did a better job of using both sides of the plate. It doesn’t sound like a big deal but it is. Hitters had to respect both the inner half and outer half. It makes life a bit tougher.

It’s worth noting Brian McCann was behind the plate last night after John Ryan Murphy caught Severino’s first start last week. Perhaps throwing to the veteran catcher made Severino more comfortable pitching both in and out. Or maybe felt he shouldn’t shake off as often. Who knows? At the end of the day it’s still up to the pitcher to execute the pitcher, but the catcher does play a role.

The Yankees lost last night’s game and it was a heart-breaker, but the silver lining was clearly Severino’s outing. He started slow, shook it off, and finished strong. That’s good to see. I wouldn’t say it’s more impressive than going out and dominating, but it is impressive in a different way. Those games where you have to figure things out on the fly are often the separators between good pitchers and great pitchers.

Going forward, it’ll be interesting to see whether Severino continues to pitch to both sides of the plate or again falls in love with the outer half to righties/inside half to lefties again, especially when he’s in a jam. That’s when pitchers tend to go back to their comfort zone. Severino’s first two starts have been pretty cool and we’re still very much learning about his style, but I find the fact he didn’t continue to stick to one half of the plate encouraging.