Aaron Judge, Matt Holliday, and two very different slumps

(Presswire)
What is going on with this fist bump. (Presswire)

Last night, as the Yankees beat the Tigers for their seventh win in the last eight games, rookie masher Aaron Judge clubbed his MLB leading 34th home run, breaking a tie with Giancarlo Stanton. Judge is having a monster rookie season overall, hitting .303/.429/.639 (179 wRC+) with those 34 homers in 101 games, though he hasn’t been all that good lately. He’s hitting only .169/.333/.373 (79 wRC+) with a 34.7% strikeout rate since the All-Star break.

Also last night, Matt Holliday went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, though he did draw an important walk that loaded the bases with no outs and led to the Yankees scoring four runs in the fourth. Holliday, like Judge, has struggled in the second half. He’s hitting .130/.164/.188 (-14 wRC+) with a 30.1% strikeout rate since the break. Yikes. Go back to June 12th and Holliday is hitting .133/.205/.248 (17 wRC+) in his last 28 games.

There’s no doubt both Judge and Holliday have struggled recently, and watching the games, my eyes tell me these are different types of slumps. Judge’s timing seems to be off ever so slightly. He’s flying open a bit and missing some pitches he should crush. His strikeout rate is up but he hasn’t expanded the zone too much. I mean, his walk rate since the All-Star break is 20.0%. That doesn’t happen when a hitter starts swinging at everything out of the zone. Here is his chase rate:

aaron-judge-chase-rate

This year Judge’s worst 15-game rolling average was a 33.9% chase rate two weeks ago. The MLB average is a 30.8%. Judge peaked at a not-so-high 33.9% chase rate and has brought it down since. His season average is a 26.0% chase rate, which is excellent. There are 164 hitters with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title this year and Judge has the 29th lowest chase rate despite being 6-foot-7 and having so much strike zone to cover.

Also, the quality of Judge’s contact has been pretty good during this slump. In the first half of the season 62.0% of Judge’s batted balls were either a line drive or a fly ball, and his average exit velocity was an MLB best 96.2 mph. Since the All-Star break, more than two-thirds of Judge’s batted balls (67.7%, to be exact) are either a line drive or a fly ball, and his average exit velocity is 94.7 mph, again the highest in MLB.

There are two big differences between first half Aaron Judge and second half Aaron Judge. One, he is striking out more often (29.8% vs. 34.7%) and that’s because his swings and misses on pitches in the zone have increased. In the first half he had an 82.8% contact rate on pitches in the zone. Since the All-Star break it’s 75.8%. The increased strikeouts are the result of swinging and missing more in the strike zone, not chasing out of the zone.

And two, not as many of those well-struck line drives and fly balls are falling in for base hits. I’m not saying Judge has hit into bad luck or anything like that. I’m just stating a fact. Judge’s line drives and fly balls are resulting in more outs than they did earlier this season. Here on the numbers on his line drives and fly balls:

  • First Half: .655 AVG and .530 BABIP (.896 xwOBA)
  • Second Half: .489 AVG and .303 BABIP (.777 xwOBA)
  • 2017 MLB Average: .469 AVG and .408 BABIP (.549 xwOBA)

(BABIP is lower than AVG because home runs don’t count against BABIP. They’re not a ball in play. The defense can’t make a play on homers.)

xwOBA is the new Statcast hotness expected wOBA, which is based on launch angle and exit velocity and things like that. Judge has been getting the ball airborne since the All-Star break — again, 62.0% line drives and fly balls in the first half and 67.7% in the second half — yet the hits aren’t falling in as often. That’s baseball. We aren’t talking about a huge sample here, remember. Judge has put 34 balls in play since the All-Star break.

All of this is a long way of saying Judge is just slightly off at the plate. He hasn’t expanded the zone too much in the second half and when he does make contact, he’s still hitting the ball hard and he’s still hitting it in the air. The biggest issue has been the misses on pitches in the zone. Something’s off mechanically. You can blame the Home Run Derby if you want. That seems pretty lazy to me. (Judge’s slump started before the All-Star break.) Whatever it is, Judge is pretty great at making adjustments, and I think it’s only a matter of time until he gets straightened out.

As for Holliday, the eye test tells me he simply isn’t hitting the ball very hard these days. He isn’t hitting it hard and he isn’t getting it off the ground. A graph is worth a thousand words:

matt-holliday-contact

Yeah. That’s not good. It’s not just less hard contact. It’s less hard contact and more balls on the ground. Holliday’s ugly 28-game stretch started on June 12th, the first game of the West Coast trip in Anaheim. From Opening Day through June 11th: .375 xwOBA on all batted balls. Since June 12th: .276 xwOBA. That’s going from Anthony Rizzo (.378 wOBA) to Billy Hamilton (.276 wOBA).

So why has Holliday basically stopped hitting the ball hard? Two theories. One, he’s 37 and older hitters sometimes just stop hitting forever. We saw it with Alfonso Soriano three years ago, Alex Rodriguez two years ago, and Mark Teixeira one year ago. Or two, Holliday is still sick. Remember when he first came down with this mystery illness? It was out on that West Coast trip that started on June 12th. He first sat out a game in Oakland, in the second series on the trip, but who’s to say he hadn’t already been feeling it for a few days before that?

We’ve seen some older players go through miserable stretches in which they looked done — like done done — only to rebound later in the season. Raul Ibanez was pretty bad for most of the 2012 regular season before he started socking clutch dingers in September and October. Carlos Beltran looked completely washed in April and May in 2015 before turning it around and hitting like prime Beltran the rest of the season. Who’s to say Holliday can’t do the same?

With Judge, I see a hitter who is off a bit mechanically and missing hittable pitches. He hasn’t chased out of the zone too much, and when he puts the ball in play, it’s well-struck. With Holliday, I see a guy who flat out can’t hit the ball hard right now, and has a tough time hitting it in the air. That isn’t to say he’s broken forever. It doesn’t look very good right now though. These are two slumping hitters at different points of their careers slumping in different ways. One seems a tick off. The other makes you wonder if he’s done for good.

The Yankees have won seven of their last eight games while getting basically nothing from their three best first half hitters — Judge and Holliday have slumped, and Starlin Castro is on the disabled list — and that’s pretty impressive. The roster depth has picked those guys up. For the Yankees to win the AL East and make noise in the postseason though, they need Judge and Holliday (and Castro) to produce, so getting them to straighten things out is pretty damn important. I think Judge will figure it out soon enough. Holliday? I’m not so sure.

The qualifying offer will be set at $18M this offseason, which doesn’t mean much to the Yankees

(Stephen Brashear/Getty)
(Stephen Brashear/Getty)

According to Buster Olney, teams have been informed the qualifying offer will be worth approximately $18M this offseason, possibly $18.1M. In that range. The qualifying offer is a one-year deal set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball. Make a free agent the qualifying offer, and you get a draft pick when he leaves. Simple as that.

For the Yankees this year, the qualifying offer is essentially meaningless. Not one of their impending free agents is a qualifying offer candidate. Here’s the list:

CC Sabathia
Matt Holliday
Todd Frazier (not eligible for the qualifying offer because he was traded at midseason)
Michael Pineda

That’s it. Pineda blew out his elbow earlier this month and needed Tommy John surgery, and since he’s going to spend just about all of next season rehabbing, there’s no reason to make him the qualifying offer. Right now Pineda is looking at a little one or two-year “rehab and prove yourself” contract a la Nathan Eovaldi last year. He’d accept the qualifying offer in a heartbeat. I’m not sure the Yankees would have made Pineda the qualifying offer even before his elbow game out.

The Yankees could very well have interest in retaining Sabathia beyond this season, though not at an $18M salary. Bartolo Colon signed a one-year deal worth $12.5M last winter. That’s probably Sabathia’s price range. Not $18M. Holliday is on a one-year deal worth $13M this year. Make him the qualifying offer and he’d take it. Frazier and any other rental the Yankees bring aboard isn’t eligible for the qualifying offer. All pretty simple, right? Right.

That all said, the Yankees do have one qualifying offer candidate this year: Masahiro Tanaka. If he opts out after the season, the Yankees could and should make him the qualifying offer. Tanaka would be walking away from three years and $67M by opting out. He’s not going to accept a one-year deal worth $18M. And you know what? Even if he did take the qualifying offer for some weird reason, good! I’d take him back on a one-year deal in a heartbeat.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement changed the free agent compensation rules pretty dramatically. All first round picks are protected now, and what you give up to sign a qualified free agent and what you receive when you lose a qualified free agent are tied to your team’s payroll. Here’s the bucket the Yankees fall into this coming winter:

  • Sign a qualified free agent: Forfeit second and fifth highest draft picks, plus $1M in international bonus money.
  • Lose a qualified free agent: Receive a compensation draft pick after the fourth round.

It’s pretty straightforward for the Yankees because they’re going to pay luxury tax this year. Things are much more complicated for teams that do not pay luxury tax. That’s where the Yankees hope to be next season, under the luxury tax threshold. So, if Tanaka does opt-out and reject the qualifying offer, the Yankees would get a dinky draft pick after the fourth round. Not much, but better than nothing.

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

(AP)
(AP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(AP)
(AP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(AP)
(AP)

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

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

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

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

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

(Getty)
(Getty)

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

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

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

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

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

Game 87: The Start of the Second Half

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Welcome to the first day of the rest of the season. The All-Star break is over and we’re officially into the dog days of summer. The Yankees begin a four-game set with the Red Sox in Fenway Park tonight. Best case scenario is they leave this series with a half-game lead in the AL East. Worst case scenario is they leave 7.5 games back. A few too many things have been playing out to the worst case scenario for my liking lately.

The Yankees return from the All-Star break with a 45-41 record and a healthy +98 run differential, though they’re also 7-18 in their last 25 games, which is pretty darn awful. They haven’t won a series or back-to-back games or more than a month now. Hopefully everyone got their heads clear during the break and the second half serves as a fresh start. The Yankees could really use one. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 1B Garrett Cooper
  7. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

It is cloudy, cool, and humid in Boston this evening. There is rain in the forecast, though not until later tonight. It shouldn’t be a problem unless the game goes to extra innings or something. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:10pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: In case you missed it earlier, Michael Pineda has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and Tommy John surgery has been recommended. He will get a second opinion first … Greg Bird (ankle) has been diagnosed with inflammation in his os trigonum, which is essentially an extra bone in his ankle. He received another cortisone shot, and if that doesn’t work, he may need surgery. The surgery comes with a 6-8 week rehab timetable, meaning he could be back for September … Starlin Castro (hamstring) will play another minor league rehab game tonight, and could return as soon as tomorrow depending how he feels.

Roster Moves: Welcome back, Matt Holliday and Jordan Montgomery. Holliday (illness) was activated off the disabled list and Montgomery was called back up. He didn’t even miss a start … Pineda was placed on the 10-day DL, allowing the Montgomery to return before his ten days in the minors were up … Rob Refsnyder was sent down to clear a roster spot for Holliday … welcome to the big leagues, Garrett Cooper. He’s been added to the roster following yesterday’s trade. He essentially takes Tyler Webb‘s 25-man and 40-man roster spots. This will be Cooper’s MLB debut. Next time the Yankees need a 40-man spot, they’ll slide Pineda to the 60-day DL.

2017 Midseason Review: Holliday and the Rest of the Roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So far this season the Yankees have used 43 different players — 23 position players and 20 pitchers — which is the seventh most in baseball. The Mariners lead the way with 47 players and both the Indians and Diamondbacks have been lucky enough to use only 35 players. The Yankees used their fair share of shuttle arms in the first half, though position player injuries also forced them to dip into their farm system more than expected.

We’ve already covered most of those 43 players as part of our Midseason Review. Now it’s time to wrap things up and cover whoever has been left behind. Among them is one regular because I am bad at scheduling. Time to finish off the Midseason Review.

Matt Holliday: As Advertised

When the Yankees signed Holliday in November, he came billed as a good clubhouse guy and a professional hitter with some bounceback potential given his exit velocities and things like that. Nothing was guaranteed, of course. Holliday did turn 37 in January and he very easily could have been at the end of the line. The Yankees bet $13M on a rebound and so far he’s been worth every penny.

Holliday, as the team’s regular DH and occasional first baseman, is hitting .262/.366/.511 (132 wRC+) with 15 homers in 68 games so far, and he’s the No. 1 reason the Yankees have the most productive DH spot in the baseball.

  1. Yankees: 137 wRC+
  2. Mariners: 129 wRC+
  3. Indians: 127 wRC+

Oddly enough, Holliday’s strikeouts are way up this year. His 25.7% strikeout rate is on pace to shatter his previous career high (19.6% as a rookie in 2004). I think there’s a chance Holliday is selling out for power, which might partially explain the strikeouts. Holliday has also been pretty streaky. That’s alright though. He’s been productive more often than not, and day-to-day consistency in baseball is a myth anyway.

Beyond the on-field production, Holliday has also been a positive on all the young players the Yankees are incorporating into their lineup. Aaron Judge went out of his way to praise Holliday at the All-Star Game media day Monday. Here’s what Judge told Brendan Kuty about Holliday earlier this month:

“I just pick his brain on what he does,” Judge said he often asks Holliday. “‘What are you doing in a situation, with a certain pitcher? What are you doing with this guy? He’s a sinkerball pitcher, what do you try to do with those guys?’ I’ve picked up a couple little things.”

“He’s just really committed to his plan,” Judge said. “That’s one thing I’ve noticed. I’ll talk to him (in the early afternoon) and I’ll say, ‘Hey, what are you doing this game? What are you trying to do against this guy?’ Every single time I ask him, ‘What are you working on?’ He’ll say he’s trying to stick to his plan and drive the ball to right field. That’s why he’s so successful. He just sticks to it, no matter the situation.”

An illness, which was recently confirmed as Epstein-Barr, has had Holliday on the shelf since June 24th and holy cow did the Yankees miss his bat these last few weeks. He did play a pair of rehab games last weekend and is tentatively scheduled to rejoin the Yankees for the second half opener tomorrow. That’s huge. Holliday has been everything the Yankees could have expected and more.

The Extra Position Players

Among all the random position player call-ups the Yankees have made this year, whether it was an injury fill-in or a one-day audition, the leader in plate appearances is … catcher Kyle Higashioka. He served as the backup catcher in April when an injury forced Gary Sanchez to the 10-day DL and Austin Romine into the starter’s role. Higashioka went 0-for-18 and started only five games. If that changed your opinion of him, you’re thinking too hard.

Another April injury fill-in was veteran Pete Kozma, who served as the backup while Didi Gregorius was hurt and Ronald Torreyes started at shortstop. Kozma went 1-for-9 with the Yankees and had nothing resembling a signature moment. The Yankees lost him to the Rangers on waivers when Gregorius returned and Kozma is still on their bench because Jurickson Profar played his way down to Triple-A.

Last month the Yankees finally got sick of Chris Carter and finally called up Tyler Austin, who missed the start of the season after fracturing his ankle with a foul ball early in Spring Training. Austin mashed with Triple-A Scranton before the call-up, hitting .300/.366/.560 (151 wRC+). He came up, went 2-for-13 with a home run and six strikeouts at the plate, then landed on the 10-day DL with a fairly significant hamstring strain. The Yankees can’t have nice things at first base.

The final two position players both played only one game in the big leagues this year, for very different reasons. After Holliday landed on the disabled list, the Yankees called up third base prospect Miguel Andujar for a day, and he went 3-for-4 with a double in his MLB debut. He became the first player in franchise history to drive in four runs in his big league debut.

The Yankees sent Andujar down to the minors the next day because they didn’t have regular at-bats to give him and there’s no point in making the kid sit on the bench. Andujar is really breaking out in the minors this year — he’s hitting .302/.336/.476 (121 wRC+) between Double-A and Triple-A — but he needs to work on his third base defense, so that’s what he’s doing. I’m glad the Yankees have resisted the temptation to move him to first to plug a short-term hole.

The other one-game position player in the first half was outfielder Dustin Fowler who gave us, hands down, the saddest moment of the season. In the first inning of his first big league game, Fowler crashed into the side wall in foul territory chasing a pop-up, which ruptured his right patella. It was an open rupture, meaning it broke through the skin. Yikes. Fowler had emergency surgery that night and is done for the season.

Fowler came up to replace Andujar after hitting .293/.329/.542 (137 wRC+) down in Triple-A Scranton. The Yankees called him up before Clint Frazier. They like him that much. Fowler’s injury is so sad. I feel terrible for the kid. The good news is he is expected to make a full recovery in time for Spring Training. Plus he’s on the big league disabled list collecting service time and big league pay, so his bank account is doing better. But still, you know Fowler wants to play. What a terrible and sad moment.

The Extra Pitchers

For the first two months or so of the season, the Yankees did away with the bullpen shuttle. The days of calling up a new reliever every day to make sure Joe Girardi had a fresh arm in the bullpen were over. The Yankees stuck with their guys. Then the bullpen melted down and started blowing leads left and right, and the Yankees started shuttling guys in and out regularly. Such is life. The shuttle returned last month.

The one shuttle reliever who made the Opening Day roster is Bryan Mitchell. Back-to-back rough outings (seven runs in 2.2 innings) earned him a demotion to Triple-A at the end of April. He came back up briefly at the end of May and again at the end of June. So far this season Mitchell has a 5.06 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 16 big leagues innings and a 3.60 ERA (2.27 FIP) in 35 Triple-A innings. He’ll be back at some point in the second half, I’m sure of it. Mitchell’s time to carve out a long-term role with the Yankees is running out though.

Luis Cessa, who was in the running for an Opening Day rotation spot, has made three starts and three relief appearances for the Yankees this year. The three starts came when CC Sabathia was on the disabled list and they did not go well (eleven runs in 13.2 innings). The three relief appearances were better (two runs in eleven innings). The end result is a 4.18 ERA (4.50 FIP) in 23.2 innings. I like Cessa — I seem to the be the only one who likes Cessa — and hope we see more of him going forward.

Four shuttle relievers have made their MLB debut this season: Gio Gallegos, Domingo German, Ronald Herrera, and Tyler Webb. They’ve combined for the the following line: 31 IP, 32 H, 20 R, 18 ER, 16 BB, 30 K. Replacement Level ‘R Us. German showed the most potential among those four. By far, I think. He also returned from Tommy John surgery a little more than a year ago and needs to pitch, not sit in the big league bullpen as the eight reliever. He’s in Triple-A where he belongs. Also, Ben Heller spent a day with the Yankees. He faced three batters: grounder, walk, walk-off single off his butt. He does have a 2.68 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 37 Triple-A innings though.

* * *

The Yankees have used 43 players this season and over the last four years they’ve averaged 56 players per season, so recent history suggests we’re going to see several new faces in the second half. New faces from outside the organization or the farm system. Probably a little of both.

Selling Points

brian-cashman-deadline
(Getty)

What a difference a month makes, huh? Through June and early July, the Yankees have suffered both injuries and insults–mostly in the form of bullpen meltdowns–on their way out of first place in the AL East. Still, they’re in playoff position as they lead in the wildcard spot, which is of comfort; they are also within striking distance of the now first place Red Sox with plenty of baseball left to play. In a vacuum, this team would be in buy-like-crazy mode, especially given the problems its had at first base all year and the bullpen recently, not to mention the rotation. Like always, though, there isn’t a vacuum and there’s a big mitigating factor at play.

This success–however tempered by the last five weeks or so–is unexpected. 2017 was not the year the Yankees were supposed to compete for anything more than a shot at the second wildcard. Now, the playoffs seem a real possibility. While that’s great for obvious reasons, it does somewhat betray the long term plan the organization had going into this year. Once again, the team will have to strike the delicate balance that defines the Yankees: win now AND later. They’re finally set up to do the latter more than the former, but they’ve also managed to do the former.

How the Yankees could buy is obvious. By all accounts, their farm system is–at worst–top five in the league. Even with Gleyber Torres injured, they have a blend of depth and upside in the minors that is (likely) the envy of many around baseball. Should they choose to, the Yankees could deal from a position of strength and depth by upgrading the major league roster at the expense of the minor league one.

But what happens if the Yankees continue to slip? It’s not likely as they’ll soon have players like Starlin Castro and Matt Holliday rejoining them from the disabled list, but let’s play what if. What if the Yankees find themselves in a position to sell again? Ask this a month ago–which was unthinkable at the time, really–and things would’ve seemed a lot better. Despite that, the Yankees do have some valuable pieces they could auction off.

The cons of trading all of these players are obvious–the Yankees need them for the stretch run. Each may have his own reasons, too, but that’s the overarching one.

First up are those two who’ll be returning: Matt Holliday and Starlin Castro. Both have obvious value as bats in any lineup, especially contending ones. Holliday, though, would likely be limited to AL teams. As for Castro, many might recognize this as the absolute top of his market–despite the injury–and avoid paying said cost.

Tyler Clippard would be next, but he completely demolished his own value over the last month plus, pitching like someone who hardly belongs in the big leagues.

Then there’s the real wildcard, Masahiro Tanaka. While he was shaky to start the year, that’s clearly atypical of him; he’s proven his mettle and worth over the last three plus seasons and on talent alone, he’s probably the Yankees’ best Major League trade piece not named Judge, Sanchez, or Frazier. But with his opt out, his trade value is diminished. No one likes uncertainty.

In all likelihood, the Yankees will not be sellers at this deadline. They’re going to be close and they’re going to owe it to their players to give an honest shot at things, even if this is ahead of schedule. If they’re lucky, they can maybe pull off the best of both worlds: improve the major league team by dealing prospects and selling off a major league piece to help replenish the minor league depth. That’s probably a pipe dream, but this season has sort of been one itself, hasn’t it?

Game 84: The Final Series of the First Half

Maybe the Yankees can find a win up there. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Maybe the Yankees can find a win up there. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

A fun fact: the Yankees have won the first game in each of their last four series. A not-so-fun fact: the Yankees have failed to win each of those four series. Yuck. This weekend’s interleague series with the Brewers is the final series before the All-Star break, and given how poorly things have gone these last few weeks, you know the Yankees want to do well this weekend and head into the break feeling good about things. That’s what I’m hoping.

The first place Brewers (!) are visiting the Bronx for the first time since May 2011. Milwaukee is 0-10 in their last ten games at Yankee Stadium and 1-14 in their last 15 games. Their last win in the Bronx came back in July 1997. Ken Rogers started that game for the Yankees. It’s been a while. Of course, that means nothing. What happened in 2011 and 1997 or any other year as no bearing on what happens tonight, in 2017. Just win, please. Here is the Brewers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Gary Sanchez
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. LF Clint Frazier
  7. 1B Ji-Man Choi
  8. C Austin Romine
  9. 2B Tyler Wade
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

The morning rain has cleared out and it’s turned into a nice day here in New York. Blue sky and some clouds. Not a bad night for a ballgame. Tonight’s series opener will begin at 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: Both Starlin Castro (hamstring) and Matt Holliday (illness) will not rejoin the Yankees this weekend. They’re going to play in minor league rehab games before returning, and both could be back in time for the first series after the All-Star break.

All-Star Update: Earlier today MLB announced a series of All-Star replacements and, no, Gregorius is not replacing the injured Castro on the AL roster. Castro’s spot is going to … Robbie Cano. Baseball is a flat circle.