Yankeemetrics: The fork in the road [July 15-17]

(AP)
(AP)

Different half, same Yankees
Four days of rest did little to change the narrative of the Yankees’ 2016 season. The faint glimmer of hope that flickered after the Yankees notched a huge pre-break series victory over the AL Central-leading Indians was quickly extinguished as the Yankees suffered another depressing defeat, 5-3, to the Red Sox on Friday night.

The loss dropped the Yankees to 44-45, the first time they’ve had a sub-.500 record at any point after the All-Star break since 1995. That season, after losing to Mariners on September 5, the Yankees fell to 60-61 but then went 19-4 down the stretch to capture the AL Wild Card.

It was a familiar Jekyll-and-Hyde performance for Michael Pineda, who has been maddeningly inconsistent this entire season. He flashed some electric stuff in the first few innings as he retired the first eight batters, including four via strikeouts, but then fell apart.

He was undone by a few poorly located fastballs that the Red Sox crushed, resulting in three homers and five runs surrendered in five innings. Opponents have slugged .648 against his cut fastball, the highest slugging percentage allowed on a fastball (four-seam, two-seam, cut) by any pitcher in the majors (min. 150 batted balls).

Carlos Beltran’s two-run single in the sixth inning helped the Yankees avoid a shutout and marked a historic milestone for the 39-year-old as he became the fourth switch-hitter to with 1,500 career RBI (Eddie Murray, Chipper Jones, Mickey Mantle).

The hit also put Beltran in a select group of prolific run-producers who also possessed the key speed tool. He is just the fifth player in major-league history with at least 300 stolen bases and 1,500 RBI joining Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays and Andre Dawson.

Sabathia sinking fast
Not even a matchup with the pitcher who owned the AL’s highest ERA (minimum five starts) could spark the Yankees anemic offense on Saturday afternoon.

Eduardo Rodriguez and his 8.59 ERA silenced the Yankee bats, who were held to two runs or fewer for the 35th time in 90 games this season in a 5-2 loss at the Stadium. That’s the Yankees’ most games of no more than two runs scored — at the 90-game mark — since the designated hitter rule was established in 1973.

sabathia long game 2
(Getty)

Despite his struggles this season, Rodriguez has a history of dominating the Yankees and now owns a 2.01 ERA in five career starts against them. He hasn’t given up more than two runs in each of those outings, the first Red Sox pitcher to post five straight starts with two runs or fewer against the Yankees in nearly five decades (Dave Morehead, 1965-68).

It was another ineffective outing by CC Sabathia, who continued his downward spiral with five runs allowed in five-plus innings. He’s now given up at least five runs in five straight starts, the first time he’s ever put together a streak like that in his career.

Opponents are crushing his sinker, slugging a ridiculous .633 off the pitch during this horrid five-game stretch, a 300-point increase from his first 11 starts of the season. The two-seamer has also lost its effectiveness as a weak-contact weapon for Sabathia: the pitch has a ground ball rate of just 28 percent in his last five outings compared to 49 percent in his first 11 games.

Feeling the heat in July
The Yankees avoided the sweep and kept the For Sale sign in the closet for at least another day as they beat the Red Sox, 3-1, on Sunday night. They overcame an early deficit to notch their 27th comeback win of the season — that’s a whopping 60 percent of their 45 total wins. Last year, only 46 percent (40 of 87) of their wins were of the come-from-behind variety.

Austin Romine plated the game-winning run with a two-out, tie-breaking RBI single in the fourth inning, but it was another masterful performance by Masahiro Tanaka that put the Yankees in position to end their post-break slump. Tanaka held the league’s most potent offense to just one run on three hits, striking out seven in six innings.

It’s hard to fathom where this team would be without Tanaka’s ace-like numbers this season:

  • He’s been consistently excellent at preventing runs: This was Tanaka’s 13th outing allowing two earned runs or fewer, tied with Chris Tillman and Aaron Sanchez for the most such starts among all AL pitchers this season.
  • He is at his best against the Yankees’ biggest rivals: Tanaka now has a 1.58 ERA in seven starts versus the AL East this season.
  • He is a streak-stopper: Tanaka improved to 4-1 with a 2.36 ERA in eight games following a Yankee loss this season.
  • He gives the team a chance to win every time: The Yankees are 14-5 in his starts and 31-41 when anyone else starts.

Tanaka’s been great.

2016 Midseason Review: The Rotation

Now that the All-Star break has arrived, it’s time to look back and review the first half of the season. We’ve already looked at the catchers, infielders, outfielders, and bench. Now it’s time to cover the rotation.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Coming into this 2016 season, the common refrain was “if the rotation pitches up to its potential, the Yankees are going to have a really great staff.” And you know what? That wasn’t crazy. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have shown the ability to dominate, ditto Nathan Eovaldi at times. Luis Severino‘s debut last season was very good, and although the last few years didn’t go well, CC Sabathia had a new brace going for him. Ivan Nova was the No. 6 guy.

Naturally, the rotation has not pitched up to its potential. It’s tough to get five guys to do that at the same time. Heck, it’s hard to get two guys to do that at the same time. With the exception of Severino, the four starters behind Tanaka all put together a three or four or five start stretch in which they dominated, but it hasn’t lasted. The rotation comes into the break with a 4.81 ERA and 4.33 FIP, which rank 22nd and 13th in MLB, respectively. Let’s review the starting staff.

Masahiro Tanaka: An Ace On Extra Rest

Is there a more divisive pitcher on the Yankees than Tanaka? I don’t think so. Some see him as an ace, others see him as an overpaid mid-rotation guy. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Let’s start with some facts. Here’s where Tanaka ranks among the 96 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title this year:

Innings: 117 (14th)
ERA: 3.23 (24th)
ERA+: 133 (25th)
FIP: 3.31 (13th)
WHIP: 1.11 (20th)
BB%: 4.6% (7th)
K%: 19.5% (57th)
GB%: 50.0% (25th)
HR/9: 0.77 (20th)
fWAR: 3.0 (7th)
bWAR: 2.7 (18th)

Tanaka is top 25 in everything except strikeout rate and is top 20 in most categories as well. When it comes to keeping runs off the board, which is the whole point of pitching, Tanaka is far better than average. He’s done it this year by changing up his pitch selection and emphasizing his sinking two-seam fastball rather than his four-seamer, and the result is way more grounders and fewer homers allowed. That’s good! Homers were a problem last year.

The season the problem seems to be extra rest vs. normal rest. It’s always something, right? As I pointed out last week, Tanaka performed better on normal rest from 2014-15. This year the opposite is true. Again, let’s look at the facts.

IP ERA FIP WHIP K% BB% HR/9
Normal Rest 49 5.33 4.36 1.39 17.8% 4.7% 1.83
Extra Rest 68 1.72 2.47 0.91 20.9% 4.6% 0.26

That’s a huge difference! Huge. Unignorably huge. I know the 2014-15 stats say one thing, but the 2016 stats say another, and they’re more relevant. Tanaka is a different pitcher this year than the last two years simply by virtue of being older and having more wear and tear on his arm.

There’s also this: Tanaka had elbow surgery this offseason. Remember that? I kinda forgot about it. He had a bone spur taken out of his elbow and was brought along slowly in Spring Training. That could absolutely have an effect on Tanaka’s ability to pitch on normal rest. The guy’s anatomy and offseason routine changed.

John Flaherty has said Tanaka’s stuff looks much crisper with an extra day of rest during various YES broadcasts, and while true, that’s one of those things that applies to every pitcher. Is the difference in Tanaka’s stuff so great that it leads to that huge difference in performance? Apparently so. The facts are the facts. Tanaka pitched like an ace with extra rest and a dud on normal rest in the first half.

Overall, Tanaka was really good in the first half. He’s never not been really good with the Yankees. Tanaka made 18 starts in the first half and allowed two or fewer runs 12 times. He has nine starts of at least six innings and no more than two runs allowed. Only Aaron Sanchez (12) and Chris Tillman (ten) have more among AL starters. Tanaka’s a top tier starter in the league.

Second Half Outlook: The normal rest/extra rest numbers are too drastic to ignore. The guy has been two totally different pitchers depends on his rest. Will that be the case going forward? Not necessarily, but the Yankees should proceed as if it will be. They should try to get Tanaka — and their other starters, for that matter — an extra day whenever possible. Chad Green could help make this possible. Either way, Tanaka is the Yankees’ best pitcher and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue to be the case going forward.

Michael Pineda: Proof Swings & Misses Aren’t Everything

The last Yankee pitcher as frustrating as Pineda was A.J. Burnett, right? Both guys oh so clearly had the stuff to not only get results, but dominate. Instead, they were generally mediocre because of bad command and their propensity for mistake pitches. Pineda has this nasty slider in his arsenal …

Michael Pineda slider… and yet opponents are hitting .204/.256/.290 against him in two-strike counts this year. The league average is .177/.247/.278. Pineda has been worse than average across the board. Furthermore, opponents are hitting .200/.200/.300 against Pineda in 0-2 counts, the most pitcher friendly count there is. That works out to a 158 OPS+ (!) because the league average is .152/.160/.226. Groan.

Pineda was so bad to start the 2016 season that there was talk of sending him to the minors or moving him to the bullpen. He had a 6.92 ERA through his first ten starts and 53.1 innings. Opponents hit .322/.371/.581 against him during that time. That’s basically Manny Machado (.318/.375/.569). Pineda turned everyone into Manny Machado for 50-something innings. GROAN.

But, in his last seven starts and 42 innings, Pineda has a 3.43 ERA and a .205/.256/.346 opponent’s batting line. That’s much better! That’s closer to Freddy Galvis (.234/.263/.368) than Manny Machado. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild gave reporters a vague “we tweaked some things mechanically” answer when asked about Pineda’s improvement a few weeks ago, so while we don’t know what exactly changed, we know something did change.

Overall, Pineda has a 5.38 ERA (3.79 FIP) in 17 starts and 95.1 innings. His strikeout (27.2%) and walk (6.3%) rates are phenomenal! His 13.9% swing-and-miss rate is fifth highest in baseball behind Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, Max Scherzer, and Jose Fernandez. Basically the four best pitchers in baseball. And yet, Pineda gives up a ton of homers (1.42 HR/9) and more than a hit per inning. Blargh. That describes Pineda. Blargh. Just … blargh.

Second Half Outlook: If the Yankees do come to their senses and decide to sell, Pineda could be one of the pieces moved at the deadline. He’s under team control one more season before hitting free agency, so he could fetch a decent return even with his maddening inconsistency. If the Yankees keep Pineda, I have no idea what to expect performance-wise. He goes from dominating to getting smacked around in a moment’s notice, often right in the middle of a start.

Nathan Eovaldi: So Good, Then So, So Bad

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

True story: On the morning of May 30th, Eovaldi had a 3.71 ERA (3.59 FIP) through ten starts and 60.2 innings. His strikeout (22.9%), walk (6.0%), and grounder (54.3%) rates were all excellent. The high-octane fastball and new splitter had turned Eovaldi into a reliably above-average starter. It was awesome. He and Tanaka were one heck of a one-two punch for the first two months.

Now, on July 13th, Eovaldi has a 5.18 ERA (5.09 FIP) in 97.1 innings. His last six starts were so bad — 31 runs in 30.1 innings! — the Yankees had to send Eovaldi to the bullpen. It went south so quick. Those six starts were, by far, the worst stretch of Eovaldi’s career. This wasn’t a case of a career mediocre pitcher regressing to the mean. This was beyond that. Something went wrong and no one seems to know what.

The good news is Eovaldi’s healthy. He was so bad in those six starts that I thought he was hurt. The bad news is no one seems to know what’s wrong. At least an injury would explain the sudden drop in performance. Eovaldi’s location has deteriorated, that’s obvious, but why? That’s up to Rothschild to figure out. In the span of six starts, Eovaldi went from extension candidate to mop-up reliever. Baseball is so dumb sometimes.

Second Half Outlook: Joe Girardi and the Yankees insist they see Eovaldi as a starter long-term, so I guess that means he’s going to return to the rotation at some point. Since Chad Green got lit up in his last start and demoted to the minors the next day, Eovaldi could be back in the rotation as soon as, well, immediately. When the second half starts. If not, he figures to get a shot as a middle innings reliever, or traded at the deadline.

Luis Severino: From Future Ace To Reclamation Project

Ugh. This 2016 season has been pretty crummy overall, but Severino going from young stud starter to punch line is the crummiest thing about it. Severino posted a 7.46 ERA (5.55 FIP) in seven starts and 35 innings before coming down with a triceps injury. Only twice did he allowed fewer than four runs or not allow a homer. It was not pretty.

After the injury, the Yankees optioned Severino down to Triple-A, which was something no one expected to happen before the season. His performance has been much better in Triple-A (3.18 ERA and 2.78 FIP), and thank goodness, because the worst thing ever would be Severino getting lit up in the minors too. The Yankees don’t seem to be in much of a rush to bring him back, which is fine with me.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

What went wrong with Severino? More than anything, his command of his offspeed pitches was just awful. He couldn’t locate his slider or changeup consistently, so most of the time he was out there with a fastball and nothing else. That ain’t gonna work. Those command problems didn’t exist last year, or at least when they did, they didn’t last very long. I’m not going to say they came out of nowhere, but it’s not like there were obvious warning signs last year.

Also, I think fans set expectations a wee bit too high for Severino coming into the season. There was talk about him being the best pitcher on the staff and possibly starting Opening Day and things like that, all of which was way way way too premature. The kid had eleven starts in the show. Anything less than dominance was going to be a disappointment. Expectations have since been re-calibrated.

Make no mistake, for the Yankees to contend this season, they were going to need Severino to pitch at a high level. Instead, he was one of the worst pitchers in baseball before getting hurt, prompting the team to send him to Triple-A for more seasoning. Severino is basically catching up on all the development time the Yankees skipped the last few years by promoting him so aggressively. His season very quickly went from “help the team win” to salvage mode.

Second Half Outlook: There’s basically nothing Severino can do now to help the Yankees contend. It’s a little too late for that. The most important thing is getting his command issues sorted out so he’s ready to help them win next year, and if that means spending the rest of the year in Triple-A, so be it. Severino is too important to the franchise long-term to call him back up before he’s ready.

CC Sabathia: Return of the Ace, Temporarily

Hands down, the best story of this Yankees’ season to date is CC Sabathia’s early dominance. And yes, he was dominant. He pitched to a 2.20 ERA (3.33 FIP) through eleven starts and 65.1 innings — there was a two-week DL stint for a groin strain thrown in there — and he did it by shelving his four-seam fastball. Sabathia replaced it with a cutter …

CC Sabathia pitch selection

… that better allowed him to bust righties inside. Sabathia had toyed with a cutter before, but it never did stick. This year it did, and it was a tangible explanation for his improvement. So was the new knee brace he started wearing late last year, as well as his sobriety. How could being sober not help Sabathia on the field? Alcoholism is brutal.

Sabathia’s last four starts have not gone well (22 runs in 23 innings), though some regression was inevitable, especially when it came to home runs. He allowed two homers total in his first 65.1 innings, then allowed four in the 23 innings since. Even with these last four starts, Sabathia was the Yankees’ second best starter in the first half, and that’s definitely not something I expected coming into the season. What a pleasant surprise.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Second Half Outlook: Sabathia came into the break with a 3.77 ERA (3.82 FIP) in 15 starts and 88.1 innings, and I’m hopeful he can sustain that level of performance in the second half. That said, the last three years have not been pretty, so it would not be a surprise is Sabathia’s ERA kept rising. Either way, boy those first eleven starts sure were fun, weren’t they?

Ivan Nova: See? I Told You He’d Be Back In The Rotation

It’s easy to forget given how Sabathia pitched in the first half, but there was a rotation competition in Spring Training. Sabathia beat out Nova, who started the season in the bullpen before rejoining the starting staff after Severino got hurt. It was only a matter of time until Nova started again. No team gets through the season using only five starters.

Nova made six relief appearances before getting the opportunity to start again, and his first three starts were very good. He allowed three runs total in 16.1 innings while on a pitch count each time out. Things went south after those first three starts. Nova has a 6.34 ERA (5.17 FIP) in nine starts and 49.2 innings since. Check out his 2015 numbers and 2016 numbers:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
2015 94 5.07 4.87 15.3% 8.0% 49.0% 1.24
2016 80 5.18 4.88 17.6% 4.9% 55.7% 1.69

Pretty much the same guy. The idea Nova’s performance would improve has he got further away from Tommy John surgery was a sound one. We see guys do it all the time. It hasn’t happened though. Nova’s been pretty terrible the last nine times out, yet there doesn’t seem to be chatter about him being moved back to the bullpen. Those talks existed with Pineda and Eovaldi (and even Severino), but not yet Nova for some reason.

Second Half Outlook: Nova is going to be a free agent after the season, so there’s no long-term stake here. Both Eovaldi and Severino — and Chad Green, for that matter — have a chance to help the Yankees beyond this season, so whenever they’re deemed ready to rejoin the rotation, Nova should be removed. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees moved him at the deadline either.

Yankeemetrics: South side flop [July 4-6]

(AP)
(AP)

#RISPFAIL
The Yankees opened the second half of the schedule against the White Sox with a game that had a familiar tune: substandard starting pitching, lack of clutch hitting and a listless loss.

The Yankees had plenty of chances to make a dent in the scoreboard but their sputtering lineup went hitless in 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position. It was their worst 0-fer with a man on second and/or third since Sept. 12, 2012 against the Red Sox, a game they actually won 5-4; the last time they had such an awful day with RISP and lost was May 21, 2012 in a 6-0 loss to the Royals.

Starlin Castro was one of the few Yankees who actually provided some offensive fireworks with four hits in four at-bats, including two doubles, in his first game back in Chicago.

He’s the first Yankee second baseman to go 4-for-4 or better against the White Sox since Willie Randolph in 1976. With that perfect line, Castro upped his batting average at U.S. Cellular Field to .397 (25-for-63), the highest mark by any active player with at least 50 at-bats there.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Bronx hitmen
The Yankees flipped the script on Tuesday night with a lopsided 9-0 victory in the Windy City. They put together one of their most complete games of the season — a rare confluence of terrific starting pitching and explosive bats.

The last time the Yankees had at least 20 hits and allowed zero runs was an 11-0 win on August 11, 1997 against the Twins at the Metrodome. They’d never done it before in any game against the White Sox, a rivalry that dates back to the beginning of the franchise in 1903.

The team’s offensive breakout was encouraging, but the frustrations with men on base continued as the Yankees stranded 14 guys. The only other game in the last decade where they had 20 or more hits while leaving 14 or more men on base was September 13, 2009 in a 13-3 win over the Orioles.

And if it felt like they should have scored a bunch more runs based on their bloated hit total … you’d be correct. This was the first time in at least the last 100 years that the Yankees pounded out at least 20 hits in a nine-inning game but failed to score in double digits.

Masahiro Tanaka bounced back from his worst outing of the season, firing 7 2/3 scoreless innings for his sixth win of the season. With that ace-like performance, he lowered his road ERA this season to 1.14, the lowest among starting pitchers the majors through Tuesday. It was his ninth straight road start allowing no more than two runs, the longest such streak by any Yankee pitcher since at least 1913.

From heroes to zeroes
With a chance to get back to .500 and build some momentum heading into their final pre-break series, the Yankees laid an egg as they were blanked by the White Sox, 5-0, on Wednesday night. It was just the second time they’ve ever been shut out at the current version of Comiskey Park/U.S. Cellular Field (which opened in 1991); the other game was also a 5-0 loss on April 13, 1994.

With the loss, the Yankees fell to 5-11 at U.S. Cellular since 2012, their worst record at any AL ballpark in that span, and the second-worst record by any AL team at that stadium over the past five seasons (the Rangers are 4-11).

(AP)
(AP)

Looking to extend a solid run of six June starts during which he posted a 2.75 ERA with 49 strikeouts, Michael Pineda reverted back to his early-season form, giving up five runs across six innings. Four of the five runs were scored with two outs in the second frame, highlighting two of his biggest statistical bugaboos this season: early-game troubles and difficulties closing out innings.

He’s now allowed 17 runs in the first inning, and 17 runs in the second inning this season (compared to 25 runs in all other innings combined). The 34 total runs given up in the first and second frames are the second-most by any pitcher the majors, behind only James Shields (38). Pineda also now leads all MLB pitchers with 37 two-out runs allowed.

Pineda will enter the All-Star break with first-half statistics that are both dominant (113 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings) and dreadful (3-8 record, 5.38 ERA).

The Good: his strikeout rate of 10.69 per nine innings is the second-best in franchise history before the break (min. 60 innings), just a hair behind David Cone’s 10.72 in 1997. The Bad: he is the second Yankee pitcher to make more than 10 starts before the break and post an ERA of at least 5.30 with a win percentage of .273 or worse; the other, coincidentally (or not), was David Cone in 2000 (1-7, 6.40 ERA in 16 starts).

Putting it all together, his mix of strikeout excellence and awful run prevention is unprecedented in baseball history. Pineda’s 5.38 ERA is the highest by any pitcher heading into the All-Star break who also had a strikeout rate of at least 10 batters per nine innings and at least 75 innings pitched.

The Yankees and the 2016 All-Star Game

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Next Tuesday, MLB will announce the 2016 All-Star Game starters and reserves during a live ESPN broadcast. They’ll announce the entire roster — including the starting position players per the fan voting — with the exception of the final spot, which will be decided through the Final Vote ballot. You remember that, right? Of course you do.

The Yankees are not going to have a starting position player in the All-Star Game for the second straight year, which is no surprise. Their biggest “star” is currently being benched against righties. The Yankees definitely have some players deserving of an All-Star Game nod though, and not just because the rules say every team needs a representative.

In my opinion the Yankees have six players worthy of serious consideration for the All-Star Game. That doesn’t mean all six will get in. In fact, I’d bet on the Yankees only getting one or two All-Stars this year. Three tops. There are only so many roster spots, plus it’s not often a fourth place team sends six players to the All-Star Game. Here are the candidates.

Carlos Beltran

The recent hamstring injury could really throw a wrench into Beltran’s All-Star candidacy. He’s second among all AL outfielders in SLG (.570) — he’s four points behind Mike Trout — and ranks fifth wRC+ (137). His 19 homers are tied for fifth among all AL players, not just outfielders. Beltran’s defense drags down his WAR, though that doesn’t really matter. The All-Star Game has not yet morphed into the Highest WAR Game, thankfully.

Generally speaking six or seven outfielders are named to each All-Star team each year. Beltran won’t be among the three starters voted in by the fans — the starters will probably end up being Trout, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. based on the recent voting updates — and Ian Desmond will certainly be on the bench, leaving the last two or three spots for some combination of Beltran, Mark Trumbo, George Springer, Michael Saunders, and Nelson Cruz. (There could be some others in that mix too.)

On merit, Beltran belongs in the All-Star Game. He has the big power numbers and his track record sure doesn’t hurt either. The question is the hamstring. Right now it’s being called a day-to-day injury, but Joe Girardi said it is “worrisome” that the hamstring was still sore yesterday. If this lingers and causes Beltran to miss more than a few days or even land on the DL, it could put an end to his All-Star chances.

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

Masahiro Tanaka

You know, Tanaka really doesn’t get enough credit for being on the best pitchers in the league. I’m pretty sure it’s the elbow. Tanaka was an All-Star in 2014, when he was one of the best pitchers in the league, then he hurt his elbow and seemed to disappear from the great pitchers conversation. Even a big chunk of Yankee fans underrate him. Among qualified AL pitchers, Tanaka ranks …

  • Seventh in bWAR (2.6)
  • Fourth in fWAR (2.6)
  • Sixth in innings (104.2)
  • 11th in ERA (3.35)
  • Fourth in FIP (3.31)
  • Fifth in WHIP (1.06)
  • Eighth in K/BB (4.32)

And yes, that includes last night’s dud. Those games happen to everyone. Tanaka has been one of ten best starters in the league, meaning he’s absolutely worthy of All-Star consideration. Is he is a shoe-in? No, but he’s in the conversation. Will Tanaka actually get onto the roster? There’s usually seven or eight starters on the roster, so he might be able to sneak in.

It’s worth noting Tanaka is scheduled to make two more starts before the All-Star break, including one on Saturday, July 9th. That’s the Saturday before the All-Star break. The Yankees are six games into a 17 games in 17 days stretch to close out the first half, and I wonder if they’ll insert a spot sixth starter at some point to give the rotation members an extra day. If they do, Tanaka would instead start Sunday, July 10th, thus ruling him ineligible to pitch in the All-Star Game.

CC Sabathia

I think the last two starts may have doomed Sabathia’s All-Star Game chances. Two starts ago he was sitting on a 2.20 ERA (3.31 FIP) in 65.1 innings, ranking second in the AL in ERA. He was top ten in WAR even after missing two weeks with the groin injury. It’s close to impossible to keep a pitcher with those numbers out of the All-Star Game.

After those last two starts — Sabathia was really good for the first seven innings Tuesday, but the eighth inning happened — Sabathia now has a 3.17 ERA (3.65 FIP) in 76.2 innings. That’s still really good! But it’s probably not All-Star Game good, not even in the AL. Sabathia doesn’t have enough innings to qualify for the ERA title — he’d rank seventh in ERA if he did — so his lack of innings relative to other All-Star candidates will hurt him, plus he doesn’t rank among the top ten pitchers in anything (except hit batsmen).

Sabathia is going to make one more start before the All-Star rosters are announced and two more starts before the actual All-Star Game. A few extra pitchers are added to the roster each year as injury replacements and replacements for guys who pitch the Sunday before the All-Star break, so maybe Sabathia sneaks in that way. After these last two starts, I don’t think Sabathia gets in. That shiny near-2.00 ERA was his best chance to be an All-Star, and that’s gone.

Andrew Miller & Dellin Betances

I am certain at least one of these two is going to the All-Star Game. It’s definitely possible both are going, though Betances has had a few hiccups throughout the year, which could keep him out. There are generally six or seven relievers on each All-Star roster, and I have a hard time believing there are seven relievers in the AL more deserving than Dellinthis year.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Miller should be a lock for his first career All-Star Game. He’s not a closer, but his numbers are outrageous regardless of role. Miller is second among all relievers with 63 strikeouts (Betances leads with 67) and he’s fifth in WAR, though I’ve long been a believer in WAR underrating high-leverage relievers. Either way, Miller absolutely has All-Star numbers this year. If he doesn’t go the Midsummer Classic this year, when will he?

As for Betances, I think his track record (two-time All-Star) is going to help him, and I get the sense players around the league know how good he is, which could help. A big chunk on the roster is determined by the player vote, remember. Guys like Zach Britton, Sam Dyson, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Will Harris, Alex Colome, Roberto Osuna, Brad Brach, and Craig Kimbrel are also going to be in the mix for the All-Star bullpen. That’s a lot of competition! Maybe Betances will wind up on the Final Vote ballot.

Aroldis Chapman

The performance has been All-Star worthy, I’d say. Thirty-one strikeouts and four walks in 20 innings is pretty crazy. The problem is Chapman’s workload. The guy has thrown 20 innings because of his suspension. He’s 64th among all AL relievers innings, and he’s thrown literally half as many innings as most of the other All-Star worthy relievers. That lack of work is really going to hurt Chapman’s chances to go to the All-Star Game. He has the All-Star reputation and all that, but 20-something innings? Other guys have thrown way more innings and are more deserving. I can’t see Chapman getting in. He simply hasn’t pitched enough.

* * *

I suppose there’s a chance Brian McCann will sneak into the All-Star Game because AL catchers are so collectively terrible, but I feel like he’s been slumping a little too long to get in. (Last night’s game notwithstanding). Didi Gregorius has been awesome, but man, there are way too many good shortstop in the AL. Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts. There are your three AL All-Star shortstops from now through 2020. Sorry Didi. Not happening.

My not-so-bold prediction is the Yankees get two All-Stars this year: Beltran and Miller. Tanaka doesn’t make it and Betances falls victim to the bullpen numbers crunch. I think it’s much more likely Betances sneaks onto the roster than Tanaka, and I think it’s really unlikely Sabathia and Chapman make it to the All-Star Game at this point. Miller’s a lock. He’s been so outrageously good. Everyone else is a maybe, even Beltran because of the hamstring.

Yankeemetrics: When two out of three isn’t enough [June 24-26]

(AP)
(AP)

Chapman heating up
The Yankees continued their homestand with another win against their favorite punching bag (and the worst team in the AL), the Minnesota Twins. By taking five of their first seven matchups against the Twins this season, they’ve clinched their 15th straight non-losing season series versus them.

That’s the second-longest streak of its kind in the history of this rivalry, which dates back to 1903 when the Twins were known as the Washington Senators. Amazingly, from 1934-64, the Yankees went 31 straight years without losing a season series to the Senators; the only year they didn’t end up with an outright advantage was in 1943, when the teams split their 22 matchups.

Masahiro Tanaka wasn’t sharp, but he was still good enough to give the Yankees a chance to win, allowing three runs in six innings. Despite struggles with his overall command, his splitter was in peak form. “Haven’t had that good of a split for a while,” Tanaka told Chad Jennings of Lohud.com after the game.

The Twins whiffed on nine of their 17 (53 percent) swings against the pitch, his second-highest whiff rate on the splitter this season. The pitch also netted him seven outs, including four strikeouts, and the lone hit allowed off the pitch was a single in the sixth inning. The key was his ability to keep the splitter down in the zone – he located the pitch an average of 1.74 feet below the center of the strike zone, his lowest mark of the season.

Masahiro Tanaka (1)
Aroldis Chapman had perhaps his most electric performance of the season so far, striking out the side in the ninth inning on 11 pitches. The first 10 were fastballs at 100-plus mph, increasing in speed on each successive pitch, with the final four going over 103 mph. And then he dropped a 90 mph changeup for a called strike three on Kurt Suzuki to end the game. Ridiculous.

Through Friday’s games, there had been 77 pitches of at least 103 mph thrown in the regular season since 2008 (the start of the Pitch F/X era). Seventy-five of them came from the arm of Chapman; the other two were thrown by Neftali Feliz and Henry Rodriguez, both in 2010.

Bronx bunters
The Twins are the gift that keeps on giving for the Yankees, who beat Minnesota for the fifth time in six matchups this season.

It was an unusual win from a statistical perspective: the Yankees had 10 hits in the game, but all were singles. The only other time over the last nine seasons that they won a game at home with double-digit hits and no extra-bases hits was on July 6, 2013 vs. the Orioles.

arod dork
(Getty)

Tied 1-1 heading into the eighth inning, the Yankees staged a most improbable rally, one that began with an infield single by Alex Rodriguez and was capped off by Aaron Hicks scoring the go-ahead run when Starlin Castro reached on an error by Twins shortstop Eduardo Escobar. For Castro, it was his team-leading third go-ahead RBI in the seventh inning or later.

Castro might have been the hero, but it was Michael Pineda who stole the spotlight with his finest effort of the season. The right-hander surrendered one run on two hits while striking out eight batters with one walk in six innings.

It was his fifth start this season of at least eight strikeouts and one or fewer walks, the second-most in the AL behind Chris Sale (six). The rest of the Yankee pitchers this season combined for two such starts through Saturday.

Pineda struggled mightily during the first two months, and entered June with an MLB-worst 6.92 ERA, but has seemingly turned his season around since the beginning of the month. He now has 3.00 ERA with 37 strikeouts and five walks in his last five starts, and just 25 hits allowed in 30 innings.

His darting slider was a key weapon for him against the Twins, who went 0-for-10 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending with the pitch. It was the first time all season he didn’t allow a hit on his slider. He was able to bury the pitch in the dirt, inducing whiffs on half the swings against the pitch. It was the third time in five June starts he’s had a swing-and-miss rate of at least 50 percent with his slider, after doing so just three times in his first 10 starts.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Boooooooo-birds in the Bronx
With a chance to get to two games above .500 for the first time since April 12 and extend their win streak to four games, the Yankees instead flopped miserably, losing in near-historic fashion to the worst team in baseball.

The final tally for the Yankee pitching staff was eight hits, seven runs and six homers allowed. It was the most homers the Yankees have ever allowed in a game against the Twins/Senators franchise. The last time the Yankees surrendered a half-dozen longballs in a game against any team was Sept. 6, 2012 vs. the Orioles at Camden Yards and the last time it happened in the Bronx was May 7, 2009 against the Rays.

Each of the six homers was hit by a different player, making this just the second time that six guys have gone deep in a game against the Yankees. The only other team to do it was the Indians on April 18, 2009 (R.I.P. Chien-Ming Wang and Anthony Claggett).

Nathan Eovaldi had allowed just one run through five innings before he imploded in the sixth frame, giving up three consecutive two-out homers. He’s the first Yankee pitcher to allow back-to-back-to-back homers since Chase Wright coughed up four in a row against the Red Sox on April 22, 2007.

Sunday’s outing ended a nightmare June for the enigmatic righty. In five starts this month, Eovaldi posted a 8.65 ERA as opponents hit .338/.388/.696 with 10 homers against him. The 10 homers were the most allowed by a Yankee pitcher in any calendar month since Jack McDowell also gave up 10 in June of 1995.

As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, Tyler Duffey took a perfect game into the sixth inning and finished with a shiny pitching line of eight innings, two hits, no walks and eight strikeouts. He’s the first pitcher to go at least eight innings and allow two or fewer baserunners against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium since Pedro Martinez’s epic 17-strikeout, 1-hitter on Sept. 10, 1999.

Yankeemetrics: The terrible Twinkies [June 16-19]

(Getty)
(Getty)

Sabathia heating up
There haven’t been many enjoyable things to watch with this year’s Yankees team, but one of them undoubtedly is the masterful, turn-back-the-clock season of CC Sabathia.

He continued his brilliance on Thursday, working out of several jams to pitch six innings of one-run ball in the Yankees’ 4-1 win over the Twins. He put 10 guys on base but stranded nine of them, consistently generating weak ground ball outs to end rallies and finish off innings. His ground ball rate of 70.6 percent was his highest in a start this season.

Sabathia also dialed up the heat on his pitches and seemed to get stronger as the game wore on. His cutter (91.5 mph), sinker (93.3 mph) and slider (82.4 mph) each had their highest average velocities in a game this season, and he maintained that velocity as he approached 100-plus pitches late into his outing.

The large lefty now has a 0.82 ERA in his last seven starts, the lowest among all pitchers with at least 30 innings since the start of May through Thursday. Sure, that’s an arbitrary endpoint, but consider this: Clayton Kershaw’s best ERA over a seven-start span this year is 0.81 and his best seven-game mark last year was 0.82.

Didi Gregorius provided the margin of victory with a tie-breaking three-run homer in the seventh inning off lefty specialist Fernando Abad. The Twins reliever entered the game having allowed only three hits in 30 at-bats against lefty hitters this season, and had yet to surrender a longball to anyone. Didi, of course, entered the game with the best batting average among left-handed batters against left-handed pitchers in MLB this season — and won the strength-versus-strength battle.

The blast was also his second three-run homer in three games, which gives us this #funfact: Didi is the first Yankee shortstop to hit multiple three-run home runs in a three-game span since Roy Smalley, who hit two of them in a game against the Royals on Sept. 5, 1982.

Tanaka time
There’s nothing like a trip to the Twin Cities to cure those losing-streak blues. The Yankees continued to pound a bad Twins team on Friday night, winning 8-2 thanks a balanced offense that scored early and often to support a stellar performance by Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka bounced back from a rough start last week against the Tigers, throwing eight innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts and no walks. It was his 11th game allowing two earned runs or fewer, the most such starts among all American League pitchers through Friday’s slate.

The outing also marked his fifth straight start on the road with at least six innings pitched and no more than one earned run allowed. Only one other pitcher in franchise history has fashioned a streak like that in a single season: Whitey Ford, who did it in 1950, 1963 and 1964.

(AP)
(AP)

Comeback kids
Down 4-0 heading into the eighth inning, Saturday’s game seemed destined to end in another frustrating loss. But then the Twins remembered who they were (a very bad baseball team), the Yankees remembered where they were playing (Target Field; aka Yankee Stadium Midwest), and their bats came alive to spark another late-inning rally. In the end, the Bronx Bombers had their first win this season when trailing after seven innings.

Alex Rodriguez — who was riding a season-high 11-game homerless streak entering this game — cut the deficit in half with a two-run blast in the seventh inning. That hit gave him 5,795 career total bases, passing Babe Ruth (5,793) for sixth place on the all-time MLB list.

Carlos Beltran then tied the game with an opposite-field homer in the eighth inning off Kevin Jepsen. His 18 homers are the most by any Yankee age 38 or older this early into the season, one more than Babe Ruth had through 68 team games in 1933.

Jacoby Ellsbury capped the comeback win with a bases-loaded RBI single in the next frame. It was the first time since joining the Yankees three seasons ago that he delivered a go-ahead hit in the ninth inning.

Aroldis Chapman made things interesting in the ninth inning as he tried to close out the game. He surrendered back-to-back two-out homers to Eduardo Escobar and Kurt Suzuki, which sliced the lead to 7-6, before he eventually got the save. Suzuki’s shot came off a 102 mph fastball, the fastest pitch ever hit for a home run by any player in the Pitch F/X era (since 2008).

(AP)
(AP)

Sweep-less in Minneapolis
As much as the Yankees have dominated the Twins in Minneapolis recently, they couldn’t complete the four-game sweep this weekend, blowing an early lead and losing 7-4 on Sunday afternoon.

The Yankees entered the final game of this series with a 19-5 record in the regular season at Target Field (and 2-0 in the postseason), a mark that was notable in several ways. It was the:

  • highest win percentage at Target Field by any AL team
  • highest win percentage at any stadium by any team since 2010 (when Target Field opened)
  • highest win percentage for the Yankees at any park over the last 100 seasons (min. 20 games)

The loss was even more improbable given the opposing starter, Ervin Santana, who had a 7.71 ERA in his previous five outings this season and who hadn’t beaten the Yankees since August 1, 2008. His streak of 11 straight starts without a win against New York was the longest active winless streak versus the team by any starting pitcher.

Brian McCann broke out of his hitting slump in style, crushing two homers deep into the right-field seats and beyond; according to Statcast, they traveled 421 and 450 feet. Since 2008 (as far back as Statcast has batted ball distance), the only other Yankee with two homers of at least 420 feet in the same game was A-Rod on July 25 last season, also at Target Field against the Twins.

Yankeemetrics: Welcome back to under .500 [June 10-12]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Vintage CC
They say that Father Time is undefeated … but right now CC Sabathia is giving him a heck of a battle. Sabathia wrote yet another chapter in his amazing renaissance season, shutting down the Tigers with seven scoreless innings in the Yankees 4-0 win on Friday night.

Sabathia dropped his ERA to 2.28, the lowest it’s been through the first 10 starts of any season in his career. The big lefty ended April with a mediocre 5.06 ERA, but has been brilliant since the calendar turned to May. In 38 innings over six starts since then, he’s allowed just 23 hits — only four of them for extra bases — and has a hard-to-believe 0.71 ERA.

Through Friday, that was the best ERA by any pitcher since May 1 (min. 30 innings), just ahead of Madison Bumgarner (0.96) and Clayton Kershaw (0.99). It also marks the best six-start stretch — in terms of ERA — for Sabathia during his entire career. His previous best was 0.76 from June 25 to July 21, 2011.

Sabathia isn’t blowing away hitters with high-90s fastballs anymore, but rather he’s using his cutter and sinker effectively to generate a ton of weak contact.

He got two more pop ups on Friday, increasing his rate of infield fly balls to a major-league-best 19.0 percent. His soft-contact rate of 38.1 percent against the Tigers was his second-highest single-game mark this year, and he now ranks second among AL starters in that metric (25.4 percent). And thanks to such a dominant outing on Friday, his average exit velocity allowed on batted balls fell to 85.6 mph, also the second-lowest by any AL starter entering the weekend.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Goodbye, win streak …
On paper, Saturday’s game seemed like a matchup heavily in the Yankees favor: They were 18-6 vs. the Tigers at the new Yankee Stadium, tied for their best record there against any AL team. Detroit’s Justin Verlander had struggled mightily at this ballpark during his career, going 0-4 with a 4.93 ERA in eight starts (including the postseason). That was his most starts without a win for any stadium he’s pitched at in the majors.

The Tigers and Verlander defied those numbers, Ian Kinsler had a historic day at the plate, and the Yankees five-game win streak was snapped. Verlander shut down the middle of the order with a mix of four-seamers, cutters, changeups and curves — the Yankees’ No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters were a combined 0-for-11 with one walk — and Kinsler provided the scoring punch with a three-run homer and a two-run double.

He became just the third visiting leadoff hitter in the last 50 seasons to have at least five RBIs at Yankee Stadium (old or new). The most recent was Johnny Damon in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, and the other was the Orioles’ Brady Anderson in 1992.

Verlander cooled off the scorching-hot bat of Carlos Beltran, who went 0-for-4 and grounded into a double play against the former Cy Young winner. Beltran is now 1-for-16 (.063) with five strikeouts against Verlander in his career, his worst batting average against any pitcher he’s faced at least 15 times.

Masahiro Tanaka, who came into the game with a 1.33 ERA in his previous four outings, was tagged for five runs on six hits, including two homers. The first of those longballs came after he had gotten two quick strikes on Nick Castellanos in the second inning. It was the first time in his career that Tanaka had allowed a home run on an 0-2 count. Castellanos also had never hit a homer on an 0-2 count before taking Tanaka deep.

First time for everything
Seven times the Tigers had come to the new Yankee Stadium in the regular season, and seven times they left with more losses than wins during the series. They ended that drought with a 4-1 win on Sunday, taking two of three from the Yankees in the Bronx.

Not only had the Yankees never lost a regular-season series to the Tigers at this ballpark, but they’d never even lost back-to-back games against them there … until Sunday. The Tigers were the only AL team that had never beaten the Yankees twice in a row during the regular season at the new Yankee Stadium.

For the second day in a row, a Tigers starter dominated the Yankees lineup. Rookie Michael Fulmer tossed six scoreless innings, allowing only a pair of doubles by Austin Romine and Aaron Hicks. The last opposing pitcher age 23 or younger to go at least six innings without allowing a run and no more than two hits in the Bronx was the Twins’ Scott Erickson, who threw a two-hit shutout at the old Yankee Stadium on June 24, 1991.

Mister “Box of Chocolates” — aka Michael Pineda — continued to do his best to shed that label of inconsistency with another strong performance this month. For the first time this season, he’s put together three straight starts without allowing more than three runs in each outing. Baby steps, Big Mike, baby steps.

His slider continues to be a dominant swing-and-miss weapon for him, with the Tigers whiffing on 14 of their 32 swings (44 percent) against the pitch. During this mini-three-game hot streak in June, batters have swung at 73 of his sliders and come up empty 39 times — a ridiculous whiff rate of 53 percent.