Looking Ahead to the 2018 Roster

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

First of all, let’s take a moment to congratulate the Yankees on securing a playoff spot in 2017. This team was expected to maybe compete for the second wild card spot if everything broke their way, and now they’re on track to win 90 games. That’s fantastic. Much to what I’m sure is the chagrin of fans of other teams and organizations, the Yankees’ rebuild lasted about as long as it takes to microwave a burrito. For exceeding expectations and cementing their spot as one of the last standing after the marathon that is the baseball season, this team deserved every drop of beer and champagne last night. To see a team that was this fun achieve something so unexpected is a delight and I’m beyond ecstatic for the players.

Now, let’s look ahead for a bit, hopefully into a future that includes raising a 28th World Series banner. On Friday, Mike looked at the payroll and budget situation for 2018. Using his template, let’s examine the potential 2018 roster as it ‘stands’ now. Like Mike, I’m going to assume Masahiro Tanaka will opt out of his current deal, bad start Friday night and all.

In his post, Mike listed the players needing to be replaced as Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Todd Frazier, and Matt Holliday. Of those, Tanaka is obviously the hardest to replace. If he does go, that task may be impossible because no free agent starters are of his caliber. The rotation would be in an okay spot considering they’d be leading with Luis Severino and Sonny Gray. A bit of improvement from Jordan Montgomery makes him into a third starter. Between the minor league system and some small time deals on the (not so hot) free agent market could round out the rotation decently. Considering how much of a question the rotation was this time a year ago, the Yankees could afford to go in with one that isn’t great and ride the lineup and bullpen like they did for a lot of this year.

Of the pitchers they’re (probably) losing, Sabathia is more likely to return on a small contract, maybe with some innings incentives. He’s said he wants to pitch for a winning team, and the Yankees are likely to be one. Tapping him to anchor the back of the rotation means the Yankees could take some innings risks with others in the fourth spot between CC and Monty.

To replace The Todd and Arms Holliday, the Yankees may be able to kill two birds with one stone…in the person of Todd Frazier. As good as Holliday looked at the beginning of the year, he’s looked much less so lately and given their experience with him and Chris Carter this year, I think the team’ll look to be more flexible at DH. That is, they won’t opt for a strictly DH type; they don’t have one in house and unless Carlos Santana somehow leaves Cleveland (doubtful), an elite option doesn’t exist on the free agent market.

The best option, I think, is to re-sign Todd Frazier. I wasn’t wild about that idea when he was brought on, but having him on the team gives the Yankees insurance for both Greg Bird‘s health and Chase Headley‘s performance. Those three guys can rotate between third, first, and DH until someone really grabs the job by the horns. While Bird may be limited to first, Headley and Frazier can both play the corner infield spots and the combination of all three could lead to upwards of 100 walks and 60 homers in some combination; that would be well worth it.

It’s likely that the 2018 Yankees will look incredibly similar to the 2017 Yankees. A lack of turnover can be a bad thing–see the 2017 Mets–but this team doesn’t have many major holes to fill–outside of Tanaka–and there’s a solid base of talent in each facet of the roster. Things are looking up for next year. Now, let’s see how they take care of this year.

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

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday Links: Cave, McKinney, Gardner, Robertson, Top Tools

McKinney. (Times Leader)
McKinney. (Times Leader)

The Yankees and Orioles will continue their four-game series with the third game later this afternoon. That’s a 4pm ET start for whatever reason. Here’s some notes and links to check out in the meantime.

Yankees planning to add Cave, McKinney to 40-man

According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees plan to add outfielders Jake Cave and Billy McKinney to the 40-man roster this offseason. Unless they trade them first, of course. McKinney, who came over in last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade, will be Rule 5 Draft eligible this December. Cave is due to become a minor league free agent, so he’ll have to be added to the 40-man pretty much right after the World Series. McKinney doesn’t have to be added until late-November.

Cave, 24, hit .305/.351/.542 (145 wRC+) with a career high 20 home runs this season. He reportedly made some swing changes in an effort to get the ball airborne more often, which explains the career high home run total, career low ground ball rate (43.1%), and career high strikeout rate (26.3%). The 23-year-old McKinney hit .277/.338/.483 (124 wRC+) with 16 homers this year. Both he and Cave split the season between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. I’m not sure either guy is a long-term piece for the Yankees, but you can’t lose them for nothing either, so on the 40-man they will reportedly go.

Several Yankees among Law’s best tools

Last month Keith Law published his rankings of the best tools in baseball (hitting, fielding, pitching). Best hit tool, best power, best fastball, so on and so forth. I always enjoy lists like this. Anyway, several Yankees pop up in the various categories, so let’s round ’em up:

  • Best Power: Aaron Judge (second to Joey Gallo)
  • Best Fastball: Aroldis Chapman (second to Chris Sale)
  • Best Splitter: Masahiro Tanaka (first)
  • Best Curveball: David Robertson (fourth behind Corey Kluber, Lance McCullers Jr., Aaron Nola)
  • Best Catcher Arm: Gary Sanchez (fourth behind Willson Contreras, Jorge Alfaro, Yadier Molina)
  • Best Outfield Arm: Aaron Hicks (second to Bryce Harper)

The only real surprise to me is no Luis Severino in the best fastball category. (The top five was Sale, Chapman, James Paxton, Joe Kelly, and Justin Verlander.) Nothing else seems out of place to me. Sorta bold prediction: Chad Green tops the best fastball list next year, unless the only criteria is velocity. Green’s fastball is ridiculous.

Gardner, Robertson nominated for awards

Within the last few weeks MLB and the MLBPA announced nominees for two prestigious awards. Brett Gardner is the Yankees’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award while Robertson has been nominated for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award. Both awards are decided by fan voting, which seems ridiculous, but whatever. Here is the Marvin Miller Man of the Year ballot. Voting for the Roberto Clemente Award doesn’t begin until October. Here are the nominees.

The Roberto Clemente Award is giving annually to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Curtis Granderson won the award last year and Derek Jeter won in 2009. As for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, that one goes to the player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement.” Granderson won that last year too. Mariano Rivera won it in 2013. Congrats to Gardner and Robertson. Just getting nominated for these awards is an honor.

MLB, NPB negotiating new posting agreement

Before Shohei Otani can come over to the big leagues, Major League Baseball and Nippon Pro Baseball must first agree to a new posting system. The release fee system, which brought Tanaka to MLB four years ago, had to be renewed each year, and earlier this year MLB requested a renegotiation. There’s technically no posting system in place right now, so there’s no official way for Otani to leave Japan for MLB.

Anyway, Jim Allen recently broke down the latest posting system proposals. In both proposals, the compensation paid to the player’s former NPB team would be a percentage of the money he receives from an MLB team. It’s basically 15% up to a maximum of $20M. So, for example, if the Yankee were to sign Otani for $2M, they’d pay the Nippon Ham Fighters a $300,000 release fee. Needless to say, NPB teams are not having it. Under the now expired system, the NPB team sets the release fee ($20M max) and the MLB tam pays it when they sign the player.

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

(AP)
(AP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(AP)
(AP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Getty)
(Getty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pros and cons of the upcoming six-man rotation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yankeemetrics: Stayin’ Alive (Aug. 31-Sept. 3)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Old Man Ace + Baby Bombers = Win
The Yankees kicked off the Most Important Series of the Season® with a 6-2 romp over the Red Sox on Thursday night.

While other pitchers on the team have better pure stuff than CC Sabathia, there isn’t a guy the Yankees would rather have on the mound trying to halt a three-game slide while facing their hated division rival:

  • Sabathia is now 8-0 with a 1.44 ERA in 10 starts following a Yankee loss this season. That’s the best ERA among all MLB pitchers with at least six such starts through Thursday.
  • He went 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox this season. That’s tied for the fifth-lowest single-season ERA by a Yankee against the Red Sox, among the nearly 200 guys that have made at least four starts vs them.
  • Only four other starters in franchise history won at least four games in a season versus Boston with an ERA as low as Sabathia’s: Spud Chandler (1943), Lefty Gomez (1934), Bob Shawkey (1923).
  • Sabathia has won five straight starts against the Red Sox dating back to September last year. Over the past 50 years, Mike Mussina (2001-02) and Sabathia are the lone Yankee pitchers to beat the Red Sox five starts in a row.

Gary Sanchez capped off another stellar August by going 2-for-5, hammering a game-tying solo homer in the third and then delivering a game-winning RBI single in the fifth. He finished with 12 homers in the month, producing a slew of cool statistical nuggets:

  • Sanchez is the fifth player under age 25 in franchise history to hit a dozen homers in any calendar month, joining Don Mattingly (Sept. 1985), Mickey Mantle (three times), Joe DiMaggio (twice), and Lou Gehrig (June 1927).
  • The only Yankee right-handed batters in the last six decades with 12-or-more dingers in a month are Sanchez and Alex Rodriguez (August 2005, April 2007).
  • Sanchez and Yogi Berra (1952) are the only catchers in franchise history with a dozen homers in a calendar month.
  • He is one of six Yankees to reach 12 homers in August. You might have heard of the other guys: A-Rod (2005), Mantle (1955, ’56), DiMaggio (1939) and Babe Ruth (1929).

Combined with his awesome August last year, Sanchez now has a 1.133 OPS in 52 career games in the month. Here’s a list of MLB players with the highest career August OPS (min. 100 plate appearances) over the last 100 seasons:

Name OPS
Babe Ruth 1.134
Gary Sanchez 1.133
Lou Gehrig 1.111

Slipping away
One up, one down …. the Yankees rollercoaster season kept chugging along on Friday night as they followed up an encouraging win with another lackluster loss.

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Red Sox got only five hits off Sonny Gray, but three of the them went over the fence and resulted in all four of the runs Boston scored in the game. That snapped Gray’s streak of 11 straight starts with no more than two earned runs allowed, the longest in the majors this season.

That the streak ended because he got burned by the longball was stunning: Gray entered the game with the majors’ lowest home run rate allowed (0.71 per 9 IP) among pitchers with at least 120 innings. Also prior to Friday, the Red Sox had hit the fewest homers in the AL and ranked 29th in MLB in percentage of runs scored via home runs (34.7%).

Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi continued his assault on Yankee pitching with a solo homer. It was his fifth dinger at Yankee Stadium in 2017, joining Jim Rice (1983) as the only Red Sox players to hit five homers there in a single season. More impressive, the 23-year-old became the youngest visiting player ever to go deep five times in a season at either version of the storied ballpark.

(AP)
(AP)

Ace ‘Hiro
In full desperation mode and facing perhaps their most critical game of the season so far on Saturday, the Fighting Spirit kicked in and the Yankees pulled off their latest and greatest Biggest Win of the Season®.

Masahiro Tanaka‘s transformation from dud to stud over the last two-plus months has been remarkable. His seven-inning, five-hit, one-run gem against the Red Sox gave him a 2.77 ERA over his last 12 starts, a massive turnaround from the 6.34 ERA he posted through his first 14 starts of the season.

He dominated the Red Sox by pounding the bottom of the zone with a well-located mix of sharp sliders and splitters, generating a ton of weak contact and grounders. Per Fangraphs, half of the 22 balls in play against Tanaka were classified as “soft contact,” the highest rate in any of Tanaka’s 101 career starts. And Statcast tracked those batted balls with an average exit velocity of 78.8 mph, the lowest that Tanaka has allowed in the 81 starts he’s made in the Statcast era (since 2015). As you can see in the spray chart below, nearly everything the Red Sox hit was either in the infield or a weak fly ball:
masahiro-tanaka-9

Matt Holliday‘s overall numbers are well below his career standards, but he still has been a difference-maker in the lineup because of his ability to consistently deliver big, clutch hits. His tie-breaking, three-run homer in the sixth inning increased his slugging percentage with RISP to .671 this season, the fourth-best mark in the AL (min. 90 PA).

(AP)
(AP)

Victory with an exclamation point
The Yankees kept alive their dreams of an AL East title with an emphatic 9-2 win on Sunday night, cutting Boston’s division lead to 3 1/2 games with one month left in the season.

Chase Headley sparked the offensive explosion with a line-drive homer in the third inning. The wallscraper came on an 0-2 pitch from Chris Sale, making it one of the unlikeliest homers of the season. It was the 129th career homer allowed by Sale but just the fifth one that came on an 0-2 pitch. And it was just the third time in Headley’s career that he homered off an 0-2 pitch from a lefty, and the first since 2013.

The Yankees continued to pummel Sale in the next frame when Matt Holliday and Todd Frazier homered in consecutive at-bats to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. It was the first time ever that Sale has allowed back-to-back homers in a game. Each of the three longballs that Sale coughed up came in a two-strike count — a remarkable feat by the Yankees considering that entering Sunday, Sale had allowed a slugging percentage of .167, the second-lowest mark in the majors (min. 200 batters faced).

Aaron Judge joined the homer party when he crushed a 469-foot bomb to left-center in the sixth inning. It was his 38th home run of the season, matching Wally Berger (1930) and Frank Robinson (1956) for the second-most ever hit by a rookie in major-league history; the only player with more is Mark McGwire with 49 in 1987.

Luis Severino bolstered his own Cy Young case with another dominant gem, holding the Red Sox to one unearned run on two hits while striking out nine. It was his 14th start surrendering no more than one run, the most such games by any pitcher in MLB this year.

Sevy also reach a significant milestone when he whiffed Sandy Leon for the final out of the fifth inning. It was his 200th strikeout of 2017, as he joined Al Downing (1964) as the only pitchers in franchise history to strike out at least 200 batters in a season at age 23 or younger.

Yankeemetrics: Ending with a win, finally (Aug. 25-27)

(AP)
(AP)

Extra awful loss
The uniforms might have looked different, but the result was a familiar one for Yankee fans in the Bronx on Friday night – a frustrating and gut-wrenching 11-inning, 2-1 loss. While another late meltdown by the bullpen was the trigger point, the lack of clutch hitting and numerous wasted scoring opportunities gave the Yankees virtually no chance to win the game.

Let’s recap the ugliness:

  • It was their 22nd one-run loss of the season, the most in the American League through Friday, and 10(!) more than they had all of last season.
  • It was also their sixth extra-inning loss, twice as many as they suffered in 2016.
  • And it was the 22nd time the bullpen was charged with a loss, the third-highest total in the AL through Friday, behind the Rays and Rangers.

Aroldis Chapman‘s miserable season continued as he coughed up the game-winning homer to Yonder Alonso in the top of the 11th inning. Chapman wore the goat horns, and also gets stung with our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series:

He is the second Yankee ever to give up an extra-inning go-ahead homer at Yankee Stadium against the Mariners. The other one happened on June 14, 1978 when Leon Roberts took Sparky Lyle deep in the top of the 10th, a shot that was rendered meaningless when the Yankees rallied in the bottom of the frame to win the game.

Alonso is also the second left-handed batter this month to homer off the Cuban Missile. That is a mind-blogging fact considering Chapman had surrendered only one home run to a lefty in his career before Rafael Devers took him deep two weeks ago (Luke Scott was the other on June 26, 2011).

To sum it up: he allowed one homer to the first 418 lefty batters he faced in the majors, and since has allowed two homers to the last 12 lefty batters he’s faced in the majors.

With Alonso hammering a 100.1 mph pitch from Chapman into Monument Park, it’s becoming more and more likely that his blazing fastball is no longer a weapon of intimidation in the pitcher-hitter duel. Batters are squaring up on his triple-digit heater more often than ever. Look at these numbers for the 100-plus mph pitches he has thrown in this career.

Year Pitches Slug pct Home runs Whiff rate
2017 253 .324 2 15%
2010-16 2,330 .150 3 22%

The Yankees wasted a gem from CC Sabathia, who was brilliant in his second start since coming off the DL, going seven innings and allowing just one run. Sabathia’s late-career resurgence is reminiscent of another Yankee legend who had a couple strong seasons after reaching the midpoint of his 30s, Mike Mussina. And so it was fitting that the two pitchers had a cool statistical convergence on Friday night:

When Sabathia took the mound at the start of the game, it was his 249th start as a Yankee, breaking a tie with Mussina for sole possession of 11th place on the franchise’s all-time games started list. And when Sabathia struck out Kyle Seager in the sixth inning, it was his 2,814th strikeout, passing Mussina for 19th place on the Major-League all-time strikeout list.

(AP)
(AP)

Sonny skies all day
The crushing losses have been piling up, but the resiliency of this team hasn’t waned. That toughness was on display again this weekend when the Yankees bounced back from Friday’s devastating loss to beat the Mariners 6-3 on Saturday. They’ve now won seven of their last 10 games following a one-run loss, dating back to the last week of June.

Sonny Gray delivered his finest performance as Yankee, striking out nine and allowing just one run in seven stellar innings. He’s pitched at least five innings and allowed no more than two earned runs in each of his first five starts with the Bombers, becoming the first pitcher to begin his Yankee tenure with a streak like that since Tommy John in 1979.

This excellent stretch extends even further back to his final month in Oakland too; Saturday was his 11th consecutive start giving up fewer than three earned runs, the longest streak by any pitcher in the majors this season. In that span – since June 25 – he’s compiled an ERA of 1.95, the lowest by any American League pitcher (min. 30 IP) over the last two months.

Gray dominated with his two breaking pitches, as the Mariners swung at 18 curves/sliders and whiffed on 11 of them, including five for strike three. But perhaps more impressive was how he repeatedly froze batters with his two-seamer. He got a career-best 15 called strikes among the 54 two-seam fastballs he threw, and most of those takes were in the heart of the zone (orange dots below):

sonny-gray2

While Gray shined on the mound, Jacoby Ellsbury had a rare starring role as the offensive spark plug, with an RBI single and a tie-breaking three-run dinger. Ellsbury’s blast was a Yankee Stadium special, just barely clearing the short porch in right field. According to ESPN’s Hit Tracker (and based on calculations if the ball had been hit in ideal weather conditions of 70 degrees and no wind), Yankee Stadium is the only ballpark it would have been a home run.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Sloppy Seattle, Magnificent Masa
The Yankees’ inability to close out series had become a recurring nightmare … until the Bad News Mariners showed up to Yankee Stadium. Entering this weekend, the Yankees had dropped their previous 11 rubber games — a streak that reached back to early June — and were 5-14 in rubber games overall this season, easily the worst record and most losses of any team. On Sunday afternoon the Yankees took advantage of a historically sloppy Seattle defense to snap that inexplicable streak, en route to a 10-1 victory.

They raced out to an early 6-1 lead thanks to five Mariners errors in the first inning, the most errors committed by one team in a single inning since the Cubs on July 2, 1977 against the Cardinals. If you’re curious, the modern record (since 1900) for the most errors committed in one inning is seven, by the Cleveland Naps against the Chicago White Sox on September 20, 1905.

Thanks to all those free outs, a cavalcade of hits, and some timely at-bats (6 hits with runners in scoring position), the Yankees were able to win without the benefit a homer — an extremely rare win for this power-happy team. It was just their fourth win this season in a game they didn’t go deep, which is now tied with the Tigers for the fewest such wins in the majors.

Masahiro Tanaka made sure the Yankees offensive outburst wouldn’t be wasted as he shut down the Mariners lineup after a shaky first inning. He struck out 10 in seven innings, allowed one run, and has now quietly posted a 2.92 ERA over his last 11 outings. This was also his 100th career start, and with those 10 strikeouts, Tanaka became the first pitcher in franchise history to reach 600 strikeouts in his first 100 major-league games.