Yankeemetrics: Whiteout in the Bronx (April 17-19)

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Judge and The Mick
The White Sox were the latest team to try and slow down the Yankees juggernaut, a feat that seemed improbable based on their recent struggles at the House That Jeter Built.

The White Sox entered this series with a 7-20 record at the new Yankee Stadium, the second-worst win percentage (.259) by any American League team (only the Angels, 8-24, were worse). The Yankees made sure they didn’t improve that mark on Monday with a 7-4 win in the series opener.

Matt Holliday broke the game open with a monster three-run, 459-foot home run in the third inning. It was the fourth-longest homer by any Yankee in the Statcast era (since 2015), behind three homers by A-Rod in 2015. With an exit velocity of 113.9 mph, it was also the third-hardest hit homer in that span behind an A-Bomb in 2015 (116.5) and an Aaron Judge blast last year (115.2).

Judge joined the powerball party in the fifth inning, extending the lead to 7-0 with his fourth home run of the season. He’s just the second Yankee outfielder under the age of 25 to hit four homers within the team’s first 13 games. The other? Oh, just some guy named Mickey Mantle in 1956.

Jordan Montgomery picked up his first major-league win, showing the same toughness and poise he displayed last week during his debut, pitching out of jams in the first and sixth innings. Overall this season, he’s allowed just one hit in 10 at-bats (.100) and struck out four batters with runners in scoring position.

Adam Warren relieved Montgomery, and kept his Hidden Perfect Game intact until he walked Tyler Saladino with two outs, snapping a streak of 22 straight batters retired to start the season.

Warren is the only Yankee pitcher since at least 1913 to not allow a baserunner in any of his first four appearances, while retiring more than 10 batters during the streak (Warren set down 20 batters in a row during his first four games).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Eight is Enough
All good things must come to an end … Thanks to an anemic showing by the Yankee offense and an unexpected masterful performance by White Sox journeyman pitcher Miguel Gonzalez on Tuesday night, the Yankees lost their first game since April 8 and suffered their first home loss of the season.

The Yankees eight-game win streak was tied for their second-longest in April in franchise history, bettered only by a 10-gamer in 1987. And their 7-0 start at Yankee Stadium was just the sixth time they had won their first seven home games; the good news is that of the previous five seasons it happened (1943, 1949, 1951, 1987, 1998), four ended with the Yankees hoisting a World Series trophy.

Gonzalez held the Yankees to just four infield singles and one run in his 8 1/3 innings of work on a frosty night in the Bronx. How unlikely was this standout performance?

He had been winless in his previous 18 road starts entering the game, which was the longest active streak among major-league pitchers. And it had been over three decades since a White Sox pitcher allowed one-run-or-fewer and four-hits-or-fewer in an outing of more than eight innings at Yankee Stadium: Neil Allen was the last to do it, tossing a two-hit, no-strikeout (!) shutout in July 1986.

Luis Severino‘s final line (four runs allowed) underscored the dominance he showed in striking out 10 guys, including six with his devastating slider. Overall, the pitch has been a key weapon for him this season: of the 31 two-strike sliders he’s thrown, 13 have resulted in strikeouts, good for a 41.9 percent slider “putaway rate” that ranks second behind only Noah Syndergaard (43.5%) among starters.

Coupled with his 11-strikeout game in his previous start, Severino became the youngest Yankee with back-to-back double-digit strikeout games since lefty Al Downing in 1963. Even more impressive is this golden nugget:

At the age of 23 years and 57 days, Severino is the youngest pitcher in franchise history with at least 10 strikeouts and no walks in a game.

A new win streak
Death, taxes … and the Yankees beating the White Sox at Yankee Stadium. Three things you can pretty much count on these days. With their 9-1 victory in the rubber game on Wednesday night, the Yankees are now unbeaten (10-0-2) in their last 12 home series against the White Sox. The last time they lost a series in the Bronx to the Pale Hose was Aug. 8-10, 2005.

Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have ace-like stuff but still delivered his best performance of the season, limiting the White Sox to one run on six hits in seven innings. He’s now won six straight home starts dating back to last season, setting a record at the new Yankee Stadium. The last Yankee pitcher to win six starts in a row at home was Chien-Ming Wang in 2006.

Aaron Judge did Aaron Judge things once again, crushing a towering homer into to the left field bleachers in the fifth inning to give the Yankees a 8-1 lead. The absolute bomb went an estimated 448 feet and left his bat at 115.5 mph. His assault on the Statcast record books continues unabated:

  • The distance of 448 feet is a career-high for Judge, and is the third-longest homer at Yankee Stadium in the Statcast era (since 2015).
  • The exit velocity of 115.5 mph makes it the hardest-hit homer by any player at Yankee Stadium in the Statcast era.
  • Judge now has six batted balls with an exit velocity of at least 115 mph in pinstripes; since 2015, all other Yankees have combined to hit three batted balls with an exit velocity of 115-plus mph.

The starting rotation has been a strength during the Yankees’ seven-game winning streak

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Five games into the 2017 season, everything that could go wrong with the Yankees was going wrong. Their young hitters were struggling, the rotation was providing neither bulk innings nor quality innings, and their greatest strength (Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman) was rendered moot because the rest of the team wasn’t doing its job. The Yankees lost four of their first five games and looked every bit as bad as their 1-4 record suggested.

Fast forward a week, and the Yankees are now riding a seven-game winning streak heading into tonight’s series opener against the rebuilding White Sox. This winning streak started with a late-inning comeback win over the Orioles last Sunday, the kind of game you can easily build a “turning point!” narrative around, and has continued with back-to-back three-game sweeps of the Rays and Cardinals.

Winning seven straight games requires a team effort. The Yankees have not been carried offensively by one player. There seems to be a new hero every night. Aaron Judge hit home runs in three straight games at one point. Aaron Hicks had a two-homer game last week. Last night Greg Bird snapped out of his slump and got in on the fun too. The bullpen has been great as well, even on days Betances and Chapman were unavailable.

One constant during this seven-game winning streak has been strong starting pitching, and given how things played out in those first five games of the season, I didn’t think we’d be able to consider the rotation a strength so soon. The starters have pitched well and they’ve also pitched deep into games, lightening the workload on the bullpen. Here’s the rotation game log for the winning streak:

Date & Opponent Starter IP H R ER BB K HR
April 9th @ Orioles CC Sabathia 6 6 3 2 4 3 0
April 10th vs. Rays Michael Pineda 7.2 2 1 1 0 11 1
April 12th vs. Rays Jordan Montgomery 4.2 5 3 2 2 7 1
April 13th vs. Rays Luis Severino 7 5 2 2 1 11 1
April 14th vs. Cardinals Masahiro Tanaka 6.1 5 3 3 2 5 1
April 15th vs. Cardinals CC Sabathia 7.1 3 1 1 1 6 1
April 16th vs. Cardinals Michael Pineda 7 6 2 2 1 6 1
Totals 46 32 15 13 11 49 6

That’s a seven-game stretch with a 2.54 ERA and a 4.45 K/BB ratio for the starters. They also have a 0.93 WHIP, if WHIP is your thing. Furthermore, the Yankees have gotten at least six innings from their starter in all but one of those seven games, with the only exception being Montgomery’s big league debut. Joe Girardi said he was on a pitch count — Montgomery threw 89 pitches that day after throwing no more than 77 pitches in Spring Training or the minors — plus a kid making his MLB debut tends to have a short leash.

Pineda has been the pitching star during his seven-game winning streak. He retired the first 20 batters he faced in the home opener last Monday, and last night he gave the Yankees another seven strong innings. In a way, last night’s game was more impressive. Pineda had everything working in the home opener, and when that happens, he’s untouchable. Last night he ran into some trouble early, including allowing a two-out run in the second inning, but he settled down and pitched deep into the game. And when Yadier Molina took him deep to start the seventh inning, Pineda shook it off and retired the next three batters without incident. There was no unraveling this time.

“I didn’t think his slider was as sharp as the other day, but he found a way to get through seven innings,” said Girardi after the game. “His stuff got better after the second inning. Fastball and changeup was good. He gave up the one run with two outs, but then he settled down after that and threw a good game. It’s important because you want him to keep building and get some momentum, because he had a hard time doing that last year.”

Amazingly enough, Tanaka has been the Yankees worst starting pitcher in the super early going this year. I didn’t expect to write that at any point this season. His three starts have gotten progressively better — at one point in his last start he retired 17 of 19 batters — but he still looks a little off. Tanaka’s location has not been nearly as good as it usually is so far this year, particularly with his fastball. Check it out, via Brooks Baseball:

masahiro-tanaka-fastball-location

You can click the image for a larger view, which is probably a good idea. Anyway, that is 2016 on the left and 2017 on the right, and we’re looking at Tanaka’s fastball location from the catcher’s point of view. Last year Tanaka lived down in the zone and to his arm side with his heater. This year he’s over the plate and up in the zone more often, and he’s paid dearly for some missed locations already.

Tanaka said all throughout Spring Training he wasn’t right mechanically and I don’t know about you, but I kinda brushed it off because he was dominating. Obviously that was a mistake. I know we’re conditioned to think “Tanaka isn’t pitching well oh no is his elbow hurt?” nowadays — isn’t it awful? man it’s awful — but there’s no reason to think he’s hurt. He’s throwing as hard as he usually does and he’s still going out there every fifth day. Sometimes pitchers fall out of whack mechanically and their location suffers. Tanaka is so darn good that I think it’s only a matter of time until he gets back on track. We saw signs of it in his last start.

Point is, when Tanaka is your worst starting pitcher, even for a 12-game stretch early in the season, that means you must be getting some pretty good work from your other starters. And the Yankees have. Sabathia has been awesome so far, Pineda’s last two outings were impressive, Montgomery showed some positive signs in his start, and Luis Severino has looked far better this year than he did any time as a starter last year. Severino’s improvement and development is incredibly important to the Yankees long-term. He’s part of the new young core.

For now, the starting pitchers are on a roll and have more or less carried the Yankees through this seven-game winning streak. We know it won’t last forever. At some point someone will have a dud start, or the Yankees will need a sixth starter, something like that. That’s baseball. The rotation was an easily identifiable weak spot coming into the season, though right now, there are indications this unit can be a strength, or at least not a glaring weakness.

Yankeemetrics: We’re Going Streaking (April 14-16)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Comeback kids
Behind the improved pitching of Masahiro Tanaka, and the power of Starlin Castro and Austin Romine, the Yankees opened their 2017 Interleague slate on Friday night with a 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Cardinals. This was the Redbirds first visit to the new Yankee Stadium, making the Padres the only team that hasn’t visited the Bronx since 2009.

Masahiro Tanaka entered this matchup having allowed just one run in 21 innings (0.43 ERA) over three Interleague starts at Yankee Stadium. That was the lowest ERA in the majors by any pitcher with two career home Interleague starts … until the third batter of the game, Matt Carpenter, crushed a two-run homer to give the Cardinals an early 2-0 lead.

He settled down after that rocky first frame, retiring 10 straight at one point, before faltering again in the seventh. Tanaka has now given up 13 runs in three outings this season – a number he didn’t reach until May 10 last year in his seventh start of the 2016 campaign.

Castro quickly evened the scored with a two-run blast in the bottom of the first. It was Castro’s 11th game-tying or go-ahead homer in pinstripes, two more than every other Yankee since the start of last season.

Romine then delivered the eventual game-winner, a solo homer in the bottom of the second to put them ahead 3-2. It was the first time in his career he went deep to give the Yankees a lead.

(AP)
(AP)

Sabathia > Father Time
CC Sabathia produced a vintage performance in Saturday’s 3-2 Yankee victory, throwing 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball, while picking up his his 225th career win on Jackie Robinson Day. That moved him past Hall-of-Famers Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter for sole possession of 66th place on MLB’s all-time wins list.

Sabathia also lowered his ERA to 1.47, the third-lowest of his career through his first three starts of a season; the only better marks were in 2011 (1.45) and 2005 (0.92).

The Yankees needed Sabathia’s masterpiece because their offense remained stuck in neutral for much of the game. They went 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position, left 12 men on base and tied a franchise record with 17 strikeouts (done three times previously). Somehow, the Yankees are now 2-1-1 all-time when striking out 17 times in a game.

Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez was both utterly dominant and laughably wild at times on Saturday afternoon, finishing with one of the most bizarre pitching lines you’ll ever see: 11 strikeouts, eight walks, four hits, three runs allowed.

He’s the first pitcher to walk at least eight guys and fan at least 11 batters since Randy Johnson in 1993, and the first to do that against the Yankees since Bob Feller in 1937.

Even more ridiculous is that he did this all in just 5 1/3 innings. Martinez is the only pitcher in major-league history to have 11-or-more strikeouts and eight-or-more walks in a game and not make it out of the sixth inning.

Seventh Heaven
The Yankees completed the sweep of the Cardinals on Sunday with a convincing 9-3 win, extending their win streak to an MLB-best seven games. They now have two sweeps in two home series this season, after notching just three sweeps in 26 home series in 2016.

The victory also pushes their Yankee Stadium record to 6-0, the second time in the Wild Card era (since 1995) they’ve won their first six games at home. It also happened in 1998, a season that ended … yeah, pretty sweet.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Greg Bird broke out of his brutal season-opening slump in style, as he reached base in all four plate appearances with a home run, double, single and a walk (hey, a triple short of the cycle!).

Prior to his second-inning homer, Bird was hitless in his previous 20 at-bats, and had just one hit and a whopping 13 strikeouts in 30 trips to the plate this season. Entering Sunday, his batting average (.038), slugging percentage (.077) and OPS (.244) were each the worst among the 237 MLB players with at least 30 plate appearances this season.

Bird’s homer was his first since Oct. 1, 2015, making him the 10th different Yankee in 2017 to go yard. That’s tied with the Tigers, Rays and Brewers for the most players with at least one homer this season.

Chase Headley continued to swing a hot bat, pushing his batting average above .400 and notching his seventh multi-hit performance of the year. He’s the first Yankee third baseman since Bobby Murcer in 1969 to have seven multi-hit games this early into the season (first 12 team games), and joins Derek Jeter (2010, 2012) as the only Yankees at any position to do it in the last decade.

Michael Pineda followed up his near-perfecto with another excellent outing, showing a hint of the consistency that has so far eluded him during his Jekyll-and-Hyde career in pinstripes. It was just the second time as a Yankee that he pitched at least seven innings and surrendered no more than two runs in back-to-back games (also May 5-10, 2015).

Yankeemetrics: Baltimore Chopped (April 7-9)

Get well soon, El Gary. (Getty Images)
Get well soon, El Gary. (Getty Images)

Leads are for wimps
The season-opening road trip headed north to Camden Yards, a house of horrors recently for this Yankees team. They entered the weekend with a 7-20 record at the ballpark since 2014, the second-worst mark by any AL team in that span, and were 1-8 in nine series openers there over the previous three seasons.

Make that 7-21 and 1-9 in road series openers against the Orioles after Friday night’s 6-5 loss.

Luis Severino got a no-decision, extending his winless streak to 13 starts dating back to his final start of 2015. Over the last 15 seasons, that’s tied with Phil Hughes (2013) for the most consecutive starts without a win by any Yankee pitcher.

The big blow came off the bat of Manny Machado, who drilled a 96-mph fastball for a three-run homer into the left field bleachers to cut the Yankees lead to 5-4 in the fifth inning.

Of the 21 homers Severino has allowed in the majors, more than half (14) have come on pitches 95 mph or faster. Since the start of last season, opponents have slugged .522 on his 95-plus mph four-seam fastballs, the fourth-highest mark among major-league pitchers in that span (min. 75 at-bats).

Gary Sanchez broke out of his early slump with a 2-for-3 effort that included a monster 426-foot home run in the top of the fifth. Since August 1 of last season, Sanchez has four homers of at least 425 feet, and the rest of the Yankees have combined for three such bombs.

It was his 21st career homer in his 59th career game – the second-most homers for any player in major-league history before their 60th game. Boston Braves outfielder Wally Berger had 22 homers in his first 59 games in 1930.

Brett Gardner sparked the offense with three hits, three runs scored and two stolen bases. He’s the first Yankee to reach those totals since … Gardner did it six years ago (July 17, 2011) vs Toronto. The only other Yankees to have multiple games with at least three hits, three runs and two stolen bases in their career are Rickey Henderson (3), Snuffy Stirnweiss (2) and Chuck Knoblauch (2).

Mr. 2,000. (Getty Images)
Mr. 2,000. (Getty Images)

Another painful loss
It was deja vu for the Yankees on Saturday afternoon, as they once again built an early multi-run lead, coughed it up in the middle innings, resulting in yet another frustrating one-run loss. It also clinched yet another losing road series to the Orioles, the 10th consecutive set they’ve lost at Camden Yards.

How long has it been since they actually won a series in Baltimore? When they clinched their last series win there on Sept. 11, 2013, Mariano Rivera posted the 651st save of his career and Andy Pettitte tossed a quality start; Curtis Granderson, A-Rod and Robinson Cano each homered in the 5-4 victory.

For the third time in the last five seasons, the Yankees are 1-4 through five games. They are the only MLB team to start 1-4 or worse three times since 2013.

Masahiro Tanaka looked solid through the first four innings before unraveling in the fifth. He really struggled with his command, hitting a guy and walking two others while giving up two runs. Adam Warren relieved him in the sixth inning, making it the fifth time in five games that the team’s starter didn’t go more than five innings.

This is just the second time in the last 100 years that no Yankee starting pitcher recorded an out in the sixth inning in the first five games of the season. It also happened in 2007, with a rotation of Carl Pavano, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Darrell Rasner.

Milestone Alert! Matt Holliday provided one of the few highlights, notching his 2,000th hit with a single in the first inning. He joined Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera as the only active players with at least 2,000 hits and a .500-or-better career slugging percentage.

Rally Time
The Yankees flipped the script in the final game of the series as they avoided the sweep with a much-needed comeback win. On Sunday they fell behind early, rallied late and left Baltimore with a 7-3 victory.

And the Yankees take the lead! (AP)
And the Yankees take the lead! (AP)

Starlin Castro delivered the game-winning hit with a tie-breaking RBI single in the ninth inning. Since the start of last year, Castro has seven go-ahead RBIs in the seventh inning or later — that’s two more than any other Yankee over the last two seasons.

Before Castro’s heroics, Aaron Judge tied it up with a solo blast leading off the eighth inning. He’s the third Yankee with a game-tying home run in the eighth inning or later at Camden Yards, joining the legendary duo of Travis Hafner (2013) and Roberto Kelly (1992).

The Orioles pitchers couldn’t find the strike zone all afternoon — issuing 11 walks, including seven by starter Wade Miley — and Holliday took advantage. He walked five times, tying a franchise single-game record. It had been done nine times prior to Sunday, with the two most recent being Mark Teixeira in 2009 and Roger Maris in 1962.

Besides Holliday, two other Yankees drew five free passes in five plate appearances and didn’t score a run: Hersh Martin in 1944 and Lou Gehrig in 1935. #FunFact: Martin and Holliday both went to high school in Oklahoma, and Martin attended Oklahoma State University in Holliday’s hometown of Stillwater.

Miley was effectively wild, giving up seven walks, one hit and zero runs in five innings. It had been more than 80 years since a pitcher had that many walks, allowed no more than one hit and held the Yankees scoreless — Washington Senators lefty Earl Whitehall achieved the feat on May 30, 1934. The No. 3 and 4 hitters in that lineup were Gehrig and Babe Ruth, who both went 0-for-2 and drew two walks each.

Saturday Links: Tanaka, Extensions, Jeter, Torreyes

Can he DH? (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Can he play a little outfield? (Brian Blanco/Getty)

The Yankees and Orioles continue their three-game series with the middle game later this afternoon. Until then, here are some bits of news and notes to check out.

Yankees shoot down Tanaka opt-out report

The Yankees have shot down a report that said they would not pursue Masahiro Tanaka should he exercise his opt-out clause after the season. “It ain’t on my radar screen right now — an entire season to play. Secondly, anyone that knows me knows that I don’t get emotional or personal about business. Any decision then will be made on a solid analysis of all the relevant data, per usual,” said Hal Steinbrenner to George King. Brian Cashman and Randy Levine rejected the report too.

The original report sounded like the Yankees trying to negotiate through the media and it didn’t really pass the sniff test. Why make a free agent decision in April? If Tanaka opts out, it will be because he stayed healthy and had a very good 2017 season, in which case he’d be in high demand. Why close the door on that guy in April? There’s also this: If the Yankees truly do not intend to pursue Tanaka after he opts out, they should trade him as soon as possible. Can’t let him go for nothing but a dinky draft pick.

Yankees not yet thinking about extensions for young players

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees are not yet considering long-term contract extensions for young players like Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez. “It’s a bit premature,” said Cashman. One of the reasons? The luxury tax. Signing any pre-arbitration player to an extension now means their luxury tax number would be equal to the average annual value of the contract. Sanchez and Bird will both make six figures in 2018, which will help the Yankees immensely with the luxury tax situation. They’re desperately trying to get under the threshold.

“It can be an issue. I am not saying we have confronted the issue with Hal, but that would be a hurdle to get past. I am not saying it is unsurpassable, but that is my best guess,” said Cashman. Interestingly enough, Cashman also seemed to indicate the Yankees are more open to discussing an extension with Didi Gregorius. Gregorius can be a free agent after the 2019 season. Bird has to wait until after 2021 and Sanchez (and Aaron Judge) until after 2022. I wrote about this early this week. Signing these guys now could save millions down the road, but it would also make it more difficult to get under the luxury tax threshold next year.

Jeter involved in bidding for Marlins

(Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Since retiring, Derek Jeter has become a husband and he will soon become a father. Now he wants to own a baseball team. According to Charlie Gasparino, Brian Schwartz, and Tim Healey, Jeter is involved with a group led by longtime investment banker Gregory Fleming that is bidding for the Miami Marlins. Two other ownership groups are in the running too. MLB has to be kept in the loop during the process and the league is aware of Jeter’s involvement.

“There are many groups who are interested. We field offers often. The difference now is those offers are being looked at very seriously,” said Marlins president David Samson. Owner Jeffrey Loria reportedly had a handshake agreement in place to sell the team for $1.6 billion a few weeks ago, but that fell apart. Jeter has made it no secret he would one day like to own a team, and getting involved as the face of an ownership a la Magic Johnson and the Dodgers would seem to make the most sense.

Torreyes is keeping No. 74

I thought this was a fun little story. Ronald Torreyes gave up his No. 17 to Matt Holliday this year — Holliday wore No. 5 with the Rockies and Athletics, and No. 7 with the Cardinals, and those numbers weren’t going to happen with the Yankees — and, in exchange, Holliday bought him a new suit, according to Dan Martin. Torreyes then picked No. 74 because that’s the number the Yankees gave him when he joined the organization last year.

“Last year, 74 was the number they gave me when I arrived for Spring Training. This year, I used it again and had good results with it (in the spring), so I decided to keep it,” said Torreyes to Martin. That’s pretty neat. Better than the time the Yankees ripped No. 29 away from Francisco Cervelli and gave it to Rafael Soriano. I enjoy seeing young guys in the lineup with uncommon numbers like 74 and 99. Gives them a little personalty.

Yankeemetrics: Play Ball! (April 2-5)

It's not what you want (Source: Getty)
It’s not what you want (Source: Getty)

Baseball is a Marathon, not a Sprint
The ‘good’ news after the Yankees Opening Day debacle is that there was only one way to go after such a depressing game – up – since you probably could not have scripted a much more disastrous start to the 2017 season.

The bad news after the Yankees Opening Day debacle was that I had to write the first sentence of this post … and the next sentence: for the first time in team history, they’ve dropped six straight Opening Day contests.

Despite the unsightly outcome, there were some notable positive nuggets to report as the team took the field on Sunday afternoon:

  • For the first time in more than eight decades – since 1932, to be exact – the Yankees had four players under the age of 25 in the Opening Day lineup (Ronald Torreyes, Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge). The quartet back in the ’30s included a couple Hall-of-Famers: Lefty Gomez, Bill Dickey, Frankie Crosetti and Ben Chapman.
  • The 24-year-old Bird was the franchise’s youngest Opening Day first baseman since Don Mattingly in 1986.
  • Sanchez joined Derek Jeter (1998-99) as the only under-25 Yankees to hit second on Opening Day over the last 40 seasons.
  • Judge (who turns 25 at the end of the month) was the youngest Opening Day corner outfielder for the Yankees since a 23-year-old Hensley Meulens in 1991.

Things quickly spiraled out of control after the first pitch, however, as Masahiro Tanaka delivered one of the worst Opening Day performances by any pitcher in franchise history.

Tanaka became the only Yankee ever to allow at least seven earned runs and get fewer than 10 outs on Opening Day. And his 2? innings tied Ron Guidry (1983) and Mel Stottlemyre (1973) for the fewest by a Yankee Opening Day starter in the last 100 years.

Along with poor fastball command, Tanaka’s splitter wasn’t fooling the Rays. Though he did get a respectable five whiffs and had good location on the 15 splits he threw, burying the pitch at the bottom of the zone …
masahiro-tanaka-2

… the Rays did damage on the five splitters they put in play, crushing two singles, a deep sac fly and a homer off the pitch.

While Tanaka got clobbered on the mound, there were a couple encouraging results from the bats on Sunday.

Sanchez might have gone 0-for-5 but his first-inning groundout was a rocket, with an exit velocity of 115.7 mph. It was the second-hardest hit ball recorded by Statcast (since 2015) for any Yankee, behind only an A-Rod homer on May 1, 2015 measured at 116.5 mph off the bat.

Starlin Castro did something that Robinson Cano never achieved in pinstripes – a three-hit Opening Day performance (the most recent Yankee second baseman to do it was Tony Womack in 2005) – while Chase Headley joined A-Rod (2006) and Wade Boggs (1994) as the only Yankee third baseman in the last 90 seasons to have three hits on Opening Day.

Best hi-five ever (Source: AP)
Best hi-five ever (Source: AP)

Second time’s a charm
The Yankees bounced back from their Game 1 disaster with an impressive blanking of the Rays on Tuesday. The 5-0 win was just the second time in the last quarter-century that the Yanks pitched a shutout in either their first or second game (also 2002), and was the team’s largest shutout win this early into the season since they beat the Twins 8-0 in the 1988 opener. Last year’s first shutout didn’t come until May 4.

The offense was ignited by a most unlikely source, when the (listed) 5-foot-8 Ronald Torreyes – who had one homer in 161 at-bats in his first two seasons in the majors – drilled a two-run shot to left center field to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. He’s got a long ways to go to catch the franchise leader in homers by a player that short – of course, it’s Yogi Berra (5-foot-7) with 358 career bombs.

CC Sabathia put together one of his best season-opening performances, scattering three hits and two walks across five shutout innings. The only other time he didn’t allow a run in his first start was back in 2004 against the Twins.

It had been 15 years since a Yankee starter threw five-or-more scoreless innings in either the team’s first or second game: In 2003, both Roger Clemens (6 innings) and Andy Pettitte (7 innings) held the Blue Jays without a run in the first two games of the season.

Sabathia also notched a significant milestone with his 224th career win, tying Hall-of-Famers Jim Bunning and Catfish Hunter for 66th on MLB’s all-time wins list.

Little Mike, No Offense
Thanks to another frustrating outing by Michael Pineda and a lackluster effort by the offense, the Yankees lost 4-1 in the rubber game of this three-game set. This is the fifth time in the last six years the team has dropped its opening series of the season.

(Source: Getty)
(Source: Getty)

Michael Pineda didn’t make it out of the fourth inning, producing an all-too-familiar statline. The good: six strikeouts, no walks; The bad: eight hits, four runs. Sometimes you can predict baseball.

Three of the four runs he surrendered came with two outs, continuing yet another perplexing trend from 2016 — his inability to finish off innings. Last year Pineda allowed the most two-out hits (80) and second-most two-out runs (52) in the majors … and seems to be on track to repeat that performance in 2017.

Not only did Pineda extend his personal winless streak to a career-worst 11 starts dating back to early August of last year, he’s gone eight starts in a row without a win against Tampa Bay, the longest such streak by any Yankee. Among all pitchers, only Jeff Suppan (10 straight from 1999-03) and Sidney Ponson (9 straight from 2000-02) have recorded longer winless streaks versus the Rays.

The lone offensive highlight came from the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury, who took Alex Cobb deep in the second inning to knot the score at 1-1. It was his 33rd homer since coming to the Bronx in 2014, but just the second one that’s tied up a game.

Opening Week Overreaction: Tanaka’s First Start

(Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
(Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

We are now a bit more than forty-eight hours removed from the worst start of Masahiro Tanaka‘s stateside career. That distinction is not necessarily hyperbole, mind you, as it represents his lowest Game Score (11) in pinstripes, as well as the most earned runs (7) he has allowed in a single game. Prior to Sunday’s outing, that ignominious title went to his September 27, 2014 start against the Red Sox, when he pitched to the following line: 1.2 IP, 7 H, 7 R (5 ER), 2 BB, 2 K, 17 Game Score. That was in Fenway Park (a much more hitter-friendly park), albeit against what amounted to their second-string lineup. I leave it up to you to determine which was worse.

Prior to delving into the details of his Opening Day start, allow this to serve as a disclaimer – this is a sample size of one game. As much as I’d love to dial up the snark and drudge up memories of the defunct “What’s Wrong With Mariano Week” tradition, it’s simply too early to do that. If he struggles his next time out, however…

All that being said, the first place to look is velocity. We know that many (if not most) pitchers gain velocity as the weather begins to warm up, and muscles, tendons, and ligaments are loosened back into game shape. It should never come as a surprise when a pitcher’s fastball is lacking a bit of pep in the early goings as a result. In this case:

tanaka-opening-day-velo

His fourseamer, sinker, and cutter sat in the 90 to 92 MPH range, his splitter was just under 88 MPH, his curve sat at about 79 MPH, and his slider was a tick over 84 MPH. Let’s compare that to 2016:

tanaka-2016-velo

It’s not all that different. In fact, the velocity on every pitch but his curveball was up on Sunday, as compared to his 2016 season as a whole. And it’s worth noting that his fourseamer averaged 90.25 MPH and 90.72 MPH in his first two starts last season, too.

If velocity wasn’t an issue, perhaps it was pitch selection. Take a look at Tanaka’s mix from Sunday:

tanaka-opening-day-pitch-selection

And compare it to 2016:

tanaka-2016-pitch-selection

Painting in broad stokes, Tanaka’s pitch selection has been all over the place. It’s even more glaring on a start-to-start basis, which makes it difficult to glean much of anything from it. This may be a simple matter of Tanaka going with whatever feels the best on any given day, which isn’t terribly surprising for a pitcher with such a diverse repertoire.

It’s also interesting to note that Tanaka picked up whiffs on 17.9% of his pitches, per FanGraphs, which is well above his career norm of 11.8%. On a more granular level, BrooksBaseball has a whiff rate of 15.35% of his fourseamer, 9.09% on his sinker, and 33.33% on his splitter on Sunday (his three most-utilized pitches); those numbers last year were 5.45%, 4.69%, and 17.62%, respectively.

What about his location?

(FanGraphs)
(FanGraphs)

The majority of his pitches were thrown on the edges of the strikezone (if not outside), so it isn’t as if he was grooving everything down the middle. That didn’t stop the Rays from hitting him hard, though, as his 53.8% hard contact percentage allowed was more than 20 percentage points above his career norm.

If there is an explanation for this, aside from small sample size bad luck, it may well be that the horizontal movement on his pitches was far removed from the norm:

tanaka-horizonal-movement

The differences are fairly dramatic across the board (and this is true on a start-by-start level, too), which may have resulted in pitches drifting into the sweet spot of the bat more often than pure location would show us. Or it may have meant that Tanaka’s mechanics were a bit off, leading him to tip his pitches. Or it could mean that he was experimenting with new grips. Or it could mean that BrooksBaseball is way off. The possible explanations are essentially endless.

In the end, it simply boils down to a bad start (a shocker, I know). He didn’t leave too many pitches over the middle, but those that he did were hammered – Logan Morrison’s home run came on a pitch right down the middle, for example, and Evan Longoria’s bomb was off of a splitter that caught way too much of the corner. These things happen. That is a small comfort, to be sure, but silver linings abound, with his velocity and movement appearing to be quite strong.

Here’s hoping he puts it back together next time out.