The near inevitability of a six-man rotation in September

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Last week, after acquiring Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia at the trade deadline, the Yankees went with six starters for one turn through the rotation. That gave everyone a little extra rest, which I’m sure they all appreciated. It’s August and it’s hot, and the innings are starting to pile up. Any time you have a chance to give the starters a breather, you do it.

The Yankees sent Jordan Montgomery to Triple-A following Sunday’s game, which means the six-man rotation is no more. They said it was a one-time thing and they stuck to it. The Yankees are back to a five-man rotation for the foreseeable future. And I think it’s only temporary. Once September rolls around and rosters expand, I think it’s all but certain the Yankees will go to a full-time six man rotation. For two reasons, mostly.

1. The Yankees really value that extra rest. The overall league numbers say pitchers perform better with extra rest. Throughout MLB this season, pitchers have a 4.54 ERA (4.35 FIP) on normal rest. That drops to a 4.34 ERA (4.10 FIP) with an extra day of rest. That’s league-wide, however, and not every single pitcher responds well to short rest. For all the talk about Masahiro Tanaka pitching better with extra rest, it’s not really true:

Tanaka on normal rest (2017): 4.50 ERA and 3.55 FIP
Tanaka on extra rest (2017): 5.27 FIP and 4.97 FIP

Tanaka on normal rest (career): 3.53 ERA and 3.54 FIP
Tanaka on extra rest (career): 3.48 ERA and 3.89 FIP

At this point though, the “Tanaka pitches better with extra rest” myth has been repeated so much and for so long that I’ve given up hope people will realize it isn’t true. Score this a win for FAKE NEWS.

Anyway, forget about the numbers for a second. The Yankees have shown they value that extra day of rest with their actions. They’ve given their starters get that extra day whenever possible the last few seasons. There’s no reason to expect that will change now. And, really, it’s not about performance. It’s about health. Tanaka has a partially torn elbow ligament. CC Sabathia is 37 with a bad knee. Gray has had some injuries the last 18 months. Garcia’s injury history is ugly. That’s why they want to give them extra rest.

2. Montgomery and Severino are heading into uncharted workload territory. I’ve written about this already. The Yankees surely have some innings limit in mind for both guys — maybe that number is higher than you’d think given their career workloads to date, but the number exists — though that’s an overly simplistic way of looking at this. Long-term health is a concern, no doubt. But so is short-term effectiveness.

The Yankees are in the postseason race and they don’t want to run into a situation where Montgomery and especially Luis Severino hit a wall in September because they’re running out of gas. As young and as strong as these two guys are, neither has pitched a full MLB season yet. Pitching deep into September with more innings on your arm than ever before can be difficult. A six-man rotation and extra rest along the way would help mitigate the fatigue risk.

* * *

Using a six-man rotation now, with a 25-man roster, would be pretty difficult, which is why I think it’ll wait until rosters expand in September. Here’s what Joe Girardi told Randy Miller about a potential six-man rotation last week:

“In theory it sounds great, but now you (would) have six relievers and six starters,” Girardi said. “You get rid of one of your relievers that can give you distance, it puts you in a bind. If the commissioner would let me add another man on the roster and then you have 26, I’d really think about it … You’ve got to remember, too, that most pitchers are used to going on a five-man rotation. It might help one guy and screw up the other four. That’s a problem.”

Injuries and ineffectiveness have a way of changing plans in a hurry, but right now, I think the Yankees are planning to use a true six-man rotation once September rolls around and carrying an extra starting pitcher wouldn’t mean sacrificing a bench player or reliever.

As it stands, the Yankees have six big league caliber starting pitchers, and that’s really good. You’d rather than too many that not enough. The Yankees are going to use those six starters too. Montgomery might be in Triple-A now, but that’s only temporary. He’ll be back before you know it. Once rosters expand, using a six-man rotation makes an awful lot of sense given the physical and workload concerns in the rotation. It makes so much sense that I fully expect it to happen.

Yankeemetrics: Two up, two down in Cleveland (Aug. 3-6)

(AP)
(AP)

Sorry, Sonny
Thursday’s series opener in Cleveland — a sloppy and frustrating 5-1 loss — was definitely not the ideal way to welcome Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees franchise.

Four batters into the game and the Yankees had already committed three errors behind Gray and the Yankees were quickly in a 2-0 hole. Whoops. It was the first time the Yankees committed three errors in any inning since October 2, 2010 against the Red Sox.

For Gray, this was a recurring nightmare that he thought had ended when he left Oakland, which leads the league in errors. Instead, he now has 13 unearned runs allowed on his ledger, tied with Derek Holland for the most in the majors through Thursday.

Gray pitched well as the Yankee gloves failed behind him, showing his toughness in pitching out of jams and limiting the damage on the scoreboard. He finished with two earned runs allowed on four hits in six innings, and for that solid effort, gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series:

Gray is the first pitcher in nearly 60 years to post those numbers or better (at least 6 innings, 2 earned runs or fewer, 4 hits or fewer) in his debut with the Yankees — and lose. The last guy to be this unlucky was Duke Maas in 1958. Maas (no relation to Kevin, I think) was traded by the A’s to the Yankees in mid-June, and then made his pinstriped debut as the starter in a 1-0 loss to the Tigers on June 21.

The Yankees bats also provided little offensive support as they were dominated by Corey Kluber, who tossed an 11-strikeout, three-hit complete game while giving up one run. That was his fourth straight start with at least eight strikeouts and one earned run or fewer allowed against the Yankees, the longest such streak ever by any pitcher against the Yankees.

(AP)
(AP)

Bad News Bombers
It was deja vu all over again on Friday night for the Yankees, as the mistakes in the field piled up and their offense remained in a miserable slump, resulting in another disappointing loss.

The “star” of the defensive lowlights was Gary Sanchez, who had his 12th passed ball of the season, the most in the majors despite the fact that he missed nearly a month of games in April and early May. He also has 10 errors, the second-most among catchers through Friday.

While the Yankees could barely touch Kluber’s stuff on Thursday, they put plenty of runners on base against Trevor Bauer and the Indians bullpen, but repeatedly failed to cash in on those chances. For the 15th time this season, they outhit their opponent (11-8) but still lost; only the Blue Jays (16) and White Sox (21) had suffered more losses in games when out-hitting their opponents through Friday.

Jaime Garcia contributed to the miserable night with a mediocre outing. He coughed up six runs in 4⅔ innings and couldn’t find the strike zone (four walks, one wild pitch), earning himself this #NotFunFact:

He’s one of just seven players in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) to allow that many runs, not get out of the fifth inning and walk at least four batters in his Yankee debut. The most recent guy to do it was CC Sabathia on Opening Day 2009 … okay? And the others are Tim Redding (2005), Bob Wiesler (1951), Fred Sanford (1949) and Karl Drews (1946).

(AP)
(AP)

Chase “Hero” Headley
While the bats remained silent on Saturday, the defense was outstanding and the Yankees got a stellar effort from Jordan Montgomery to survive a 2-1 nail-biter in Cleveland.

It was perhaps one of the team’s most unlikely wins, given how dominant Danny Salazar and the rest of the Indians pitchers were against a feeble Yankee lineup. They struck out 15 times, were on base just nine times and scored only two runs. In the last 100 years, no Yankee team had ever won a game with that many strikeouts, fewer than 10 baserunners and no more than two runs scored … before Saturday.

Montgomery was terrific, allowing one run on three hits in five innings, and making a strong statement that he should be a key part of the rotation down the stretch (which is now a hot topic for us banter about after he was optioned to Triple-A following Sunday’s game). Although Monty rarely dazzles like a Severino or Pineda, he consistently puts up solid numbers and keeps the Yankees in the game while he’s on the mound.

Consider this stat: Saturday was the 16th time this season that he held the opponent to three runs or fewer. Only five other Yankee pitchers have done that within their first 21 career games: Dave Righetti, Doc Medich, Masahiro Tanaka, Mel Stottlemyre and Spec Shea.

Chase Headley rescued the Yankees from another depressing loss when he belted a tie-breaking home run in the top of the eighth inning. Headley, who has quietly been one of the best hitters in the league since the All-Star break deserves a #FunFact for his heroics on Saturday: He is just the third Yankee first baseman in the last four decades with a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later against the Indians – Jason Giambi (2005) and Don Mattingly (1984 and 1986) are the others.

(AP)
(AP)

#Sevy4MVP
Finally … the Bronx Bombers are back. The Yankees offense, which had been M.I.A. for the past week, exploded for eight runs on Sunday, more than they had scored in their previous five games combined. But it was the brilliant pitching of Luis Severino and a shutdown performance by the Yankee bullpen that truly shined in the 8-1 win.

It was the fourth game this year that the pitching staff allowed no more than three baserunners. The last time a Yankees team did that? 1929!

Sevy, the undisputed ace of the 2017 staff, cemented his status as a no-doubt Cy Young contender with another lights-out performance: two hits, one run, nine strikeouts over 6⅔ dominant innings. I think this is a good list to be on:

He also became the first Yankee pitcher in more than 20 years to beat the Indians in Cleveland while holding them to no more than two hits. The last guy to do it? David Cone in the 1996 opener … and we know how that season ended.

Severino’s effort would have been another wasted gem in a deflating loss if not for the team’s offensive explosion in the sixth and seventh innings. The five-run sixth was sparked by the most unlikely source, a bases-loaded triple off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury. The struggling lefty entered the day hitting .163 with runners in scoring position, the sixth-lowest batting average among AL players (min. 50 PA).

The three-run seventh, on the other hand, was powered by a much more familiar name — Mr. Aaron Judge — who smoked a 94 mph fastball into the rightfield seats for his 35th homer of the season. And, of course, with that blast, Judge etched his name in the baseball record books once again: He is the only rookie outfielder in major-league history with at least 35 homers and 75 walks in a season.

Attitude Adjustment

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

If you’re reading this, chances are you know a little bit about me. For those of you who don’t, let me tell you that I’m a teacher (high school English) by trade. In my experience as a teacher, I’ve had to rely on one trait more than any: flexibility. It took me a long time to land a full time position, so I was ‘stuck’ doing long-term sub positions in southwestern Connecticut from April 2013 to February 2016. In that time, I taught grades 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12 in five different schools (one middle, four high) to different populations, from different courses/curricula, and in five different districts. To boot, most of the time, I was parachuting in after the start of the year and had to find my bearings on the fly. If not for flexibility, I’d’ve drowned. It might be time to exercise similar flexibility for the Yankees.

All year, I’ve been saying this is a ‘house money’ season for the Yankees. Given the roster, expectations weren’t high; a second wildcard spot seemed like the ceiling. Of course, early season hotness blew the doors right off of that. Despite some hiccuping in June, the Yankees went into the trade deadline like buyers and came away with a much improved Major League roster and, until recently, a first place position in the AL East. Now, they sit in the first wildcard seat, controlling their own destiny. And with many games left against the first place Red Sox, the division isn’t far out of reach.

According to the FanGraphs projection mode, the Yankees have a 69.4% chance of making the playoffs. Using the season-to-date mode, their playoff chances are even higher at 79.8%. If we flip over to the Baseball Prospectus playoff odds table, they’re at 81.8%. Coupling this with the Yankees’ deadline moves and the general feeling you get, it’d be hard to call missing the playoffs anything aside from a disappointment.

If we allow ourselves some dispassion for a minute, we can rationalize a missed playoff run. Aaron Judge will have had a killer season. Gary Sanchez, too. Clint Frazier came up and held his own. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery will have taken huge steps forward. Didi Gregorius, too. With Sonny Gray aboard, the rotation for 2018 feels a lot better than it did even a month ago. Those are all great things for the Yankees in 2017 and 2018, regardless of this year’s record.

But dispassionate analysis is for the offseason. Right now, we’re in the heat of things, quite literally as August marches on. I want this team to make the playoffs. This team can and should make the playoffs. They’ve worked hard and gone through some rough patches and ‘deserve’ to have that rewarded with a real shot at number 28. The rotation and bullpen are stacked for a playoff run and they could do some real damage in a short series, especially if the bats heat back up to support them.

Another important factor of teaching is holding students to high expectations, or at the very least, adjusting those expectations as they perform. The Yankees have performed above and beyond their original expectations for 2017 and it’s time to ask more of them. Play today. Win today. That’s it.

Yankeemetrics: Rain halts streaking Bombers (July 31-Aug. 2)

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Baby Bombers shine bright
Buoyed by a wave of optimism following the deadline-day trade for Sonny Gray, the Yankees extended their recent hot streak with a series-opening win over the Tigers on Monday night.

Luis Severino didn’t have his best stuff but still gutted through five tough innings and threw a career-high 116 pitches. He struck out eight while allowing only one run, despite putting multiple runners on base in three of his five frames.

He found himself in so many deep counts thanks to a career-high-tying 29 foul balls and the fact that he fell behind early and often, starting only 8-of-24 (33.3 percent) Rays he faced with a strike. That’s the lowest first-pitch strike rate for any Yankee pitcher that saw at least 20 batters since Ivan Nova (31.3 percent) on July 22, 2013 against the Rangers.

Despite his inefficient outing, Severino was able to limit the damage and notched his 10th game this season with at least six strikeouts and one run or fewer allowed.

Through Monday, that led all American League pitchers and was tied with Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw for the most such starts in the majors this year. Digging through the Yankee record books, the only pitcher to have more than 10 of those starts in a season is Ron Guidry, who had 13 in his Cy Young-winning 1978 campaign.

Aaron Judge provided the power in this win, smacking a 400-foot home run in the fifth inning to give the Yankees a 5-1 lead. It was his 34th homer and 75th RBI of the season — and when combined with his league-leading 76 walks — he joined Al Rosen (1950) as the only players in major-league history to reach each of those totals in his rookie year … and there’s still two months left in the season.

Clint Frazier was the other Baby Bomber that had a starring role, as he continued his extra-base binge with an RBI triple in the seventh inning. That gave him three triples, six doubles and four home runs for the season – a nearly unprecedented combination of hustle, power and hitting ability for a guy that is one month into his big-league career.

Ding, ding … we have our Obscure (yet cool) Yankeemetric of the Series: The only other Yankee to compile at least three homers, three triples and three doubles before playing in his 25th game was Joe DiMaggio in 1936.

(AP)
(AP)

So close, yet so far away
What if I told you … the Yankees would dig themselves into an early hole after their starting pitcher suffered a bout of gopheritis, then stage a furious late-game rally fueled by their own dinger-happy players, but fall just short and lose by a run. Sounds familiar, eh?

Well, that was the game story again on Tuesday night as the Yankees fell to 11-20 in one-run games, the worst mark in the American League. The only team with a worse record in the majors is the Phillies, who are also the only team with more one-run losses than the Yankees through Tuesday.

It is the first time since 1990 (ugh) that they’ve had at least 20 one-run losses in their first 105 games of the season. While they aren’t on pace to break the franchise record of 38 one-run losses – which was set by the 1966 team – their current winning percentage of .355 in one-run games would be the second-worst in franchise history, ahead of only that 1966 club (.283).

CC Sabathia was hammered in the first three innings for four runs on four hits, including two homers, but then settled down and held the Tigers scoreless in his final three frames. His early-inning struggles are nothing new, he has a 4.70 ERA in the first three innings, nearly two runs higher than his ERA for the rest of the game (2.76).

Clint Frazier had a chance to earn his second True Yankee Moment when he came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two runners on base but popped up for the final out in the 4-3 loss. He had his first 0-for-5 game, and shockingly, failed to come through in the clutch.

He went hitless in three at-bats with runners in scoring position, including that ninth inning letdown, which was a stunning reversal from his performance in those situations prior to this game. Frazier was 8-for-20 (.400) with RISP, and 5-for-9 (.556) with the go-ahead runner on base in his brief big-league career before Tuesday.

(AP)
(AP)

Nothing sunny about this loss
A rain storm in the Bronx wiped away the Yankees latest burst of momentum, as they were shut out 2-0 in the series finale, snapping their three-series win streak. With four-plus hours of delays and countless failed at-bats in key scoring situations, this was one of the most infuriating games of the season.

Adding to the frustration meter was the fact that Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann began the day with a 5.69 ERA, the second-highest in the majors among qualified pitchers. Of course, Zimmermann dominating the Yankees shouldn’t have been surprising. After throwing seven scoreless innings on Wednesday, he lowered his ERA in four career starts against them to 1.33, the third-best mark by any pitcher that has started more than three games versus the Yankees. The only guys ahead of him on that list are Jorge De La Rosa (0.77!) and Chris Sale (1.17).

Making this loss even worse is this sobering note: it was the first time the Yankees were shut out in a regular-season game at home by the Tigers since the second game of a doubleheader on August 10, 1991. In that span of more than 25 years between regular-season shutouts, the two teams matched up in the Bronx 113 times.

Or how about the fact that they had more hits than the Tigers and still lost the game? Alas, this is a recurring nightmare with your 2017 New York Yankees. It was their 14th loss this season when out-hitting their opponent, the fourth-most such losses in MLB.

Actually, this might be the ultimate gut-punch stat: It’s not surprising that the Yankees would struggle against a mediocre team such as the Tigers. They are now 30-31 against teams with a losing record (23rd-best in MLB), and 27-18 versus teams with a .500 record or better (3rd-best in MLB).

The lone statistical highlight for the Yankees was Dellin Betances tossing an “Immaculate Inning” (nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts) in the eighth. Behold, the beauty of strikeout perfection:

chart-12

He is the sixth pitcher in franchise history to strike out the side on nine pitches, joining Brandon McCarthy (2014), Ivan Nova (2013), A.J. Burnett (2009), Ron Guidry (1984) and Al Downing (1967). Betances’ feat might actually be the craziest stat from this game: remember, he owns the highest walk rate among all major-league pitchers that have thrown at least 30 innings this season.

Yankeemetrics: Bombers back in the Bronx (July 25-26)

(NJ Advance Media)
(NJ Advance Media)

Threes are wild
The Yankees had a successful homecoming on Tuesday as they kicked off a critical nine-game stretch in the Bronx with a win over the Reds.

Todd Frazier, wearing the traditional pinstripes for the first time, had perhaps the most unforgettable and unusual Yankee Stadium debut ever. In his first at-bat, he lined into a triple play — which would be quite memorable on its own — but turned into a statistical bonzai when Matt Holliday scored a run as Didi Gregorius got caught in a rundown for the third out.

Let’s run through some Triple Play #FunFacts:

  • Frazier was the 27th Yankee to hit into a triple play and the first since Russell Martin on September 27, 2011 against the Rays.
  • Before Tuesday, the last time the Yankees managed to win a game despite hitting into a triple play was May 29, 2000, when A’s infielder Randy Velarde turned the trick by himself, the only unassisted triple play ever recorded against the Yankees.
  • The play was scored 6-3-5-6 in the official boxscore, just the second triple play in MLB history with that sequence. The other was on June 6, 1970 by the Pirates against the Dodgers.
  • This was only the eighth time in the Live Ball era (since 1920) that a team scored on a triple play, and the first since the Mariners did it against the Twins on May 27, 2006; the Yankees had never scored on a triple play before Tuesday.
(Getty)
(Getty)

Didi redeemed himself after his triple play TOOTBLAN by driving in two runs, including his 15th home run of the season, five shy of the career-high he set last year. In the long and storied history of the franchise, Gregorius and Derek Jeter are the only shortstops with multiple 15-homer seasons.

Jordan Montgomery bounced back from his career-worst performance against the Twins last week to throw one of his best games as a major-leaguer. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and finished with this stellar pitching line: 6⅔ innings, one run, two hits, six strikeouts, one walk.

It was the second time Monty has pitched that deep into a game while giving up no more than two hits, as the 24-year-old became the youngest Yankee since Dave Righetti in 1981 with two such starts in a season.

Aroldis Chapman threw a scoreless ninth for his 12th save but he was hardly dominant, failing to record a strikeout for the sixth time this season. Four of those outings have come since the All-Star break, making this the first time in his career he’s had a two-week stretch with at least four zero-strikeout games.

(NY Post)
(NY Post)

Summer of Severino
In a throwback performance to the scoreboard-dominant days of April and May, the Yankees used their tried-and-true formula of brilliant starting pitching and pinstriped power to complete the mini-sweep of the Reds.

Luis Severino tossed another brilliant gem, going seven strong innings while allowing only two runs (both unearned) with nine strikeouts, and added to his ace-like resume:

  • It was the fourth time this season he’s pitched at least seven innings, gave up zero earned runs and struck out at least six batters; the only other pitchers in baseball that have done that four times this season are Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and James Paxton.
  • And it was the eighth time he’s lasted at least seven innings and allowed zero or one earned runs — Scherzer (8 starts) and Clayton Kershaw (11 starts) are the only guys in MLB that can match Severino in that stat.
  • He’s now had three starts in a row of at least seven innings and no more than one earned run, becoming just the third AL pitcher with a streak like that this season. The others: Corey Kluber and Dallas Keuchel.

Severino was in peak-dominant form, generating 20 swings-and-misses, the second-most in any start in his career. He climbed the ladder with his fastball to get four of the whiffs, but mostly buried his changeup (5) and slider (11) below the knees to make the Reds look like little-leaguers at the plate.

chart-10

Six of his nine strikeouts came with his filthy hard slider, giving him 85 on the season with that pitch, the fourth-most in baseball behind Chris Archer, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer.

Clint Frazier continued to shine on the big-league stage, as he delivered two key run-scoring hits with men on first and second in the third and fifth innings. He’s now 6-for-14 and has 10 RBIs with runners in scoring position, nearly matching the output of Jacoby Ellsbury (7-for-40, 12 RBI) in those situations for the entire season.

Didi Gregorius’ scorching-hot bat provided more fireworks on Wednesday. He went deep in the seventh inning, extending his homer streak to a career-best three games, and also etched his name alongside some Yankee legends. Didi is just the fifth shortstop in franchise history to hit a home run in back-to-back-to-back games: Derek Jeter (twice in 2012), Tom Tresh (1962), Gil McDougald (1957) and Tony Lazzeri (1927) are the others.

Yankeemetrics: The curse is over (July 20-23)

(AP)
(AP)

Ace Sevy
Back in Pacfic time zone where their current collapse began more than a month ago, the Yankees took the first step towards pulling out of the tailspin with a 4-1 win over the Mariners on Thursday.

If there is one west coast locale where the Yankees might be able to right the ship, it would be Seattle. They entered this series 49-28 all-time at Safeco Field, the best record by any team in the history of the stadium. The Yankees had won six straight series at the park, their longest active road series win streak against an AL club, and hadn’t dropped a series there since 2011.

Luis Severino dazzled in the matchup with Felix Hernandez, outdueling the Mariners longtime ace with seven brilliant shutout innings. It was his seventh start of at least seven innings and no more than one run allowed this season. The only other guys in the majors that matched that number through Thursday were Max Scherzer (7) and Clayton Kershaw (10).

It was also his third scoreless start of at least seven innings, an impressive feat for the 23-year-old pitcher. In the last 50 years, the only other Yankee as young as Severino with three or more scoreless starts of seven-plus innings in a season was Dave Righetti in 1981.

He dominated with a blazing fastball that averaged 98.3 mph, per Statcast, his highest average fastball velocity in any start in his career. Severino also tied his career-high with 10 whiffs on his fastball, and his four-seamer swinging strike rate of 19.6 percent was his highest in any of his 41 major-league starts. As you can see in the chart below, he was bringing the high heat, with all 10 of those swinging fastball strikes coming on pitches above the letters:

severino-whiffs

The hitting hero of the night was Brett Gardner, who broke a scoreless tie in the sixth inning with a solo shot to right field. Gardner finished the night 1-for-3 vs. King Felix, and is now hitting .361 against him, the third-highest batting average among the 53 guys that have faced him at least 40 times. The two ahead of Gardner? Mike Trout (.367) and David Ortiz (.410).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Best birthday present ever
Baseball has its share of small-sample-size statistical quirks and one of the oddest is the fact that CC Sabathia entered Friday’s game 0-3 with a 6.99 ERA in five starts on his birthday.

The baseball gods, though, were in Sabathia’s favor on Friday night as he finally broke his birthday curse against the Mariners. He was in vintage form, grinding through five innings, allowing seven baserunners but yielding just one run. Let’s run through some notable #FunFacts in honor of CC’s sweet birthday victory:

  • first Yankee starter to earn a win on his birthday since Joe Cowley in 1984 against the Mariners
  • first Yankee starter to allow one run or fewer on his birthday since Ron Guidry in 1981
  • And, at age 37, Sabathia is the oldest Yankee pitcher to win on his birthday since a 37-year-old Red Ruffing in 1942

Aaron Judge delivered the best birthday present ever to Sabathia in the fifth inning, when he ended in his 10-game homerless drought in style by clobbering a monstrous homer into the last rows of the upper deck in left field.

It was hit so high, so far … that it broke Statcast, literally, as MLB’s sophisticated measurement system didn’t spit out any numbers for the distance or exit velocity. We do know that the pitch he clobbered was a 76.3 mph curveball, the slowest pitch he’s hit for a home run in his career.

So close, yet so far away
It was too good to be true. Riding an actual winning streak and with a chance to clinch a series win on Saturday night, the Yankees got stung with another frustrating loss in Seattle. They rallied twice — erasing 4-1 and 5-4 deficits to tie the game — but never were able to take the lead, and lost 6-5 in heart-breaking fashion on Nelson Cruz’s game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the 10th.

Let’s dig deeper into this recent stretch of excruciating late-inning close losses:

The Yankees fell to 9-19 in games decided by one run, the second-worst record in the Majors and tied for the second-most losses through Saturday. The only team worse in both stats is the Phillies at 11-26. Fifteen of those 19 losses have come on the road, and an unfathomable 14 of them have been against teams with a .500 record or worse — a number that leads all of MLB after Saturday’s slate.

And, of course, the one-run losses have really been piling up over the last two months. They’ve lost 14 of their last 16 games decided by a run dating back to May 29 — so, after some quick math, they were 7-5 in one-run games for the first two months of the season and are 2-14 over the last two months.

Saturday was their fifth walk-off loss, one more than last year. All five have come since June 13, the most suffered by any team in that span. And three have been on the west coast, one each in Seattle, Anaheim and Oakland. Strange but true: this is just the second time ever they’ve lost walk-off games to each of them in the same season (it also happened in 2006).

Even in the depressing loss, Aaron Judge was still doing Aaron Judge things. He crushed a 396-foot home run to right field, showing off his ridiculous oppo-field power. Ridiculous is actually an understatement. After Saturday’s game, he was slugging 1.140 to the opposite field, easily the highest in baseball among qualified hitters. For reference, the league slugging percentage on balls hit to the opposite field is .474. Holy moly, what a beautiful hit spray chart:

aaron-judge-3

Streaks are meant to be broken
See yaaaaaaa …. The Yankees finally ended their torturous month-plus baseball nightmare and won their first series since June 9-11. They snapped a 10-series winless streak, their longest since August/September 1991, just weeks before Stump Merrill was fired.

And thankfully I don’t have to tweet this stat again:

Brett Gardner got the offensive fireworks started early with his third leadoff homer of the season, and you could almost smell a victory dance … entering Sunday, the Yankees were 13-0 when Gardy went yardy. Didi Gregorius added two solo dingers for his first career multi-homer game, putting the Yankees up 3-0.

#FunFact alert: Didi is the first Yankee shortstop to hit two or more homers against the Mariners.

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Mariners soon erased that lead, but the Comeback Kids struck again. Unlike Saturday, this time they were able to complete the rally. Clint Frazier‘s bases-loaded double in the sixth inning broke a 4-4 tie and made sure the Yankees plane ride back east would be a happy one.

That was Frazier’s second go-ahead hit in the sixth inning or later this season, or two more than Jacoby Ellsbury has in 2017. Following Sunday’s game, Frazier now has 11 extra-base hits in 61 at-bats this season, or just two fewer than Ellsbury has in 197 at-bats.

Thanks to his game-winning two-base hit, Frazier also earns our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: He has a double in three straight games, the youngest Yankee outfielder to do that since Mickey Mantle in 1953.

Yankeemetrics: From heroes to zeroes (July 14-16)

(AP)
(AP)

Nightmare on Landsdowne Street
Another series opener, another late-inning implosion. One day into the post-break portion of the season and we already have a new nominee for Worst Loss of the Year.

The Yankees on Friday night were handed one of their most brutal and soul-crushing defeats of the season by their bitter rivals from Boston, losing on a walk-off walk when Aroldis Chapman completely unraveled in the ninth inning trying to protect a one-run lead.

You have to go back more than six decades to find the most recent time the Yankees suffered a walk-off loss via a bases-loaded walk against the Red Sox:

On August 7, 1956 Ted Williams drew a bases-loaded walk against Tommy Byrne in the bottom of the 11th in a 0-0 game. Williams was the first batter faced by Byrne, who had taken over after Don Larsen pitched 10 scoreless innings, but then had loaded the bases in the 11th inning via two errors and a walk. Of course, Larsen would go on to pitch a perfect game two months later and the Yankees would win the World Series.

And now your Yankeemetric History Lesson of the Series: The fact that Byrne was the loser in that 1956 game would hardly have been surprising to fans in the 1950s. He finished his career with a walk rate of 6.85 walks per nine innings, the highest in MLB history among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched.

With the Yankees adding to their growing list of bullpen meltdowns, let’s update our favorite chart:

Stat Notes
18 Blown Saves – Yeah, they had 16 all of last year;
– The most in MLB through Friday’s games (hooray!);
– 10 since June 12; three more than any other team in that span
18 One-Run Losses – Six more than they had all of last year;
– 10 of them since June 13, the most in the majors over the past month
4 Walk-off Losses – Matches the same number they had in all of 2016;
– At this point last year, they had only two such losses

Through Friday, the Yankees had converted just 17 of 35 save opportunities, an unfathomable save percentage of just 48.6 percent. Since saves became an official stat in 1969, the Yankees have never finished a season with a save conversion rate below 60 percent.

Chapman wore the goats’ horns on this night, in a game of unwelcome “firsts” for him. It was the first time he issued a game-ending walk, and the first time in his career he faced at least five batters and didn’t get an out.

And for that performance, he also gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: He is the first Yankee pitcher – since saves were official tracked in 1969 – to face at least five guys and fail to get any of them out, while ‘earning’ both a loss and a blown save in the game.

(AP)
(AP)

What a relief
Three outs away from another depressing loss, the Yankees somehow rallied for a dramatic and exhausting 16-inning win over the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon/night. It was was just the fourth game at Fenway Park in the rivalry that went at least 16 innings (also in 1923, 1927, 1966) and the first one that the Yankees emerged as winners.

But for the Yankees, this wasn’t even their longest game of the season – yes, we all remember the 18-inning slog in Chicago a couple months ago. This is the first time in franchise history they’ve won multiple road games of 16-or-more innings in a single season.

Its easy to forget but this game featured two masterful starting pitching performances by Luis Severino and Chris Sale.

The Red Sox ace struck out 13 – the most ever by a Red Sox lefty against the Yankees. Add in the fact that he held the Yankees scoreless and gave up just three hits, and his performance becomes near-historically dominant: only three other pitchers in major-league history surrendered no earned runs and three hits or fewer while striking out at least 13 Yankees: Bartolo Colon (Sept. 18, 2000), Chuck Finley (May 23, 1995) and Jim Shaw (Sept. 4, 1914).

Severino nearly matched Sale with seven innings of one-run ball to keep the game close. It was his sixth game this season with at least seven innings pitched and no more than one run allowed, as the 23-year-old became the youngest Yankee pitcher to do that in a season since Andy Pettitte in 1995.

The game’s first hero was Matt Holliday, who led off the ninth inning with a dramatic solo homer off Craig Kimbrel to tie the game. He was the first Yankee to hit a game-tying homer in the ninth inning at Fenway Park since Roberto Kelly in 1991. How shocking was Holliday’s blast? Kimbrel entered the game a perfect 30-for-30 in save chances at Fenway Park in his career; and this season, right-handed batters were 0-for-37 against him in his home ballpark before Holliday went deep.

Didi Gregorius finally broke the 1-1 tie with a line-drive RBI single up the middle in the 16th inning. He etched his name in the record books forever as the first Yankee with a game-winning hit in the 16th inning or later at Fenway Park.

Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez drove in two more insurance runs to make the final score 4-1. It was just third time in franchise history that the Yankees won a game that went at least 16 innings by three or more runs. The other two: a 12-6 victory at Detroit on July 20, 1941 and a 11-6 win in Cleveland on May 18, 1976.

(AP)
(AP)

Do you believe in miracles?
Our loooooooooooong Yankeeland nightmare is finally over … after Sunday afternoon’s 3-0 win over the Red Sox, the Yankees won back-to-back games for the first time since June 11-12. The 27-game drought without a win streak was the team’s longest since August/September of 1991.

The fact that the Yankees snapped this tortuous stretch with a win over the Red Sox was hardly surprising – it was their sixth victory in eight games vs. their rival, and the third time they allowed no runs. In the long history of this rivalry, it is only the fourth time that the Yankees recorded three shutouts within the first eight matchups of the season. The other years: 1955, 1947 and 1908.

CC Sabathia was an absolute stud, scattering two hits across six shutout innings, while holding the Red Sox hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position. This was CC’s 17th career start at Fenway, and incredibly, the first time that he didn’t allow a run.

Combined with his eight scoreless frames against Boston at Yankee Stadium on June 7, Sabathia became the first Yankee since Ron Guidry in 1978 to pitch consecutive games of at least six scoreless innings against the Red Sox. And at the age of 36, he is the oldest Yankee to throw at least six innings, give up zero runs and no more than two hits in a game at Fenway Park.

Didi Gregorius followed up his late-inning heroics from Saturday with two more hits, including a solo homer that barely tucked inside Pesky’s Pole in right field. It went a projected distance of 295 feet, the shortest home run (excluding inside-the-parkers) recorded by Statcast in the last three seasons.

(Getty)
(Getty)

All good things must come to an end
The joy in Yankeeland lasted only a couple hours as the Yankees’ first win streak in more than a month was abruptly snapped in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader. Yet that was probably only the second-most depressing stat from this game.

The Red Sox handed the Yankees a taste of their own medicine, blanking them 3-0 and giving them their first shutout loss of 2017. This was the deepest that the Yankees had gone into the season scoring at least one run in every game since 1933. They were also the last remaining team in MLB that hadn’t been held scoreless, the first time they’ve achieved that feat since 2009 — a season that ended nicely.

Going from the mildly distressing stat to the somewhat eclectic stat … this is just the third time in the history of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry that the teams traded shutouts in a doubleheader; they also did it on May 6, 1945 and September 7, 1903.

Aaron Judge nearly saved the no-shutout streak but was robbed of a home run thanks to a superhuman catch by Jackie Bradley Jr. in the eighth inning, and finished the night hitless in four at-bats. That snapped his streak of 42 straight starts reaching base safely, which matched the longest such streak for a Yankee rookie, a mark set by Charlie Keller in 1939.

Despite the highs of the 16-inning win on Saturday and their 3-0 win in the first game of the twin bill, the Yankees still only managed a split of the four-game set. They’re now 0-7-2 in their last nine series, their longest winless series streak since August/September 1991.