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.

Game 92: Stay in Postseason Position

The last 30 games in picture form. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
The last 30 games in picture form. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Here is the very simple math: with a loss tonight, the Yankees will fall out of postseason position for the first time since April 13th, the day of the ninth game of the season. The Yankees are 9-21 in their last 30 games — that’s their worst 30-game stretch since going 8-22 in late-May/early-June of 1995 — and the Twins are a half-game back of the second wildcard spot. A loss tonight means the Twins will be a half-game up.

The Yankees are in the middle of a collapse. It would feel a heck of a lot worse if it were happening in September, but it’s a collapse. Over the last 30 games they’ve gone from four games up in the division to barely hanging on to the second wild card spot. Every day it seems something new goes wrong. One day it’s the offense. The next day the bullpen melts down. The day after that the starter gets rocked. This is as ugly a stretch of baseball as I can remember. Find a way to squeeze out a win tonight and go from there. Here is the Twins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. C Gary Sanchez
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. LF Clint Frazier
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. 1B Garrett Cooper
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Luis Cessa

It rained in Minneapolis for much of the afternoon, though it’s supposed to stop in time for the game. There is no more wet stuff coming tonight either, so once they get this one started, they should have no trouble finishing it. Tonight’s game will begin at 8:10pm ET and you can watch on WPIX locally and ESPN nationally. Try to enjoy the game.

Roster Move: Bryan Mitchell was sent down to get Cessa on the roster, the Yankees announced. I thought maybe they’d send down Caleb Smith instead, but nope. Smith remains. The middle innings lefty role is a land of opportunity right now.

Injury Updates: As expected, Michael Pineda (Tommy John surgery) and Greg Bird (ankle) had their surgeries today. Everything went fine. Bird released a statement saying he intends to play again this year. You can read it here.

Update: Michael Pineda will have Tommy John surgery

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

Monday: Pineda will indeed have Tommy John surgery, the Yankees announced. He was examined today by Reds team doctor Dr. Timothy Kremchek, who agreed with the initial diagnosis and recommended surgery. Pineda will go under the knife tomorrow. Kremchek will perform the procedure in Cincinnati.

Friday: The rotation situation just got a little more dire. Brian Cashman announced this morning that Michael Pineda has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and Tommy John surgery has been recommended. He is going for a second opinion, which every pitcher does in this situation. Either way, Pineda’s season figures to be over.

This is the second straight year the Yankees have lost a starting pitcher to a blown out elbow in the second half. Last year Nathan Eovaldi shredded his elbow in August and needed his second career Tommy John surgery. I suppose the silver lining here is the timing. The Yankees still have time to act before the trade deadline. They didn’t with Eovaldi.

Pineda, 28, started his Yankees career with a major injury (shoulder surgery) and seems likely to end it with another major injury (Tommy John surgery). He is due to become a free agent after the season and the timing of this injury is just terrible for him. It’s going to cost him millions. He’s looking at a short-term “rehab and prove yourself” deal now.

Since coming over from the Mariners, Pineda has thrown 509 innings with a 4.16 ERA (3.65 FIP) for the Yankees. That includes a 4.39 ERA (4.65 FIP) in 96.1 innings this season. The Yankees came out ahead in the trade because Jesus Montero was so awful for Seattle, though Pineda never did become the top of the rotation force they envisioned.

As for the rotation going forward, Cashman said Luis Cessa will make a start next week and Chance Adams is an option as well. I imagine pitching well in Sunday’s doubleheader would buy Bryan Mitchell another shot too. Pineda hasn’t been great, but losing pitching is never good. I feel terrible for the guy considering the timing too. We’ll always have those strike ’em outs, Big Mike.

Game 89: Let’s Play Two

(Rich Gagnon/Getty)
(Rich Gagnon/Getty)

Between yesterday’s 16-inning affair and today’s doubleheader, the Yankees and Red Sox are going to play (at least) 34 innings of baseball in about 34 hours this weekend. Pretty crazy that the All-Star break ended three days ago and the pitching staff is already overworked. Baseball can be a real jerk like that sometimes.

Anyway, the Yankees are an Aroldis Chapman blown save away from winning the first two games of this series, but that cuts both ways. The Red Sox are a Craig Kimbrel blown save away from winning the first two. As poorly as the Yankees have played these last few weeks, these two teams always seem to be evenly matched when they meet. It’s weird but also kinda fun and puke inducing. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup for Game One:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. LF Clint Frazier
  7. C Austin Romine
  8. 1B Ji-Man Choi
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    LHP CC Sabathia

It is a lovely day for two games in Boston. Nice and sunny with temperatures right around 80. Not a bad day to spend 18 innings at the park. This afternoon’s game will begin shortly after 1pm ET. You’ll be able to watch on YES locally and TBS nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: As expected, the Yankees have reinforced the bullpen for today’s doubleheader. Bryan Mitchell is up as the 26th man, and both Domingo German and Caleb Smith have been called up as well. Jonathan Holder and Ben Heller have been sent down. Joe Girardi said they might make more moves between games depending how things go. Neither Holder nor Heller deserve to be sent down after last night’s performances, but that’s the way it goes with young relievers. Michael Pineda (elbow) was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot for Smith, who will be the 12th player to make his MLB debut with the Yankees this season whenever he gets into a game.

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: The Starting Rotation

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Coming into Spring Training and the 2017 season, the starting rotation was pretty clearly the biggest concern for the Yankees. They had three veterans to anchor the rotation in Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia, yet all three came with some questions. Tanaka’s elbow hangs over every pitch he throws, Sabathia is nearing the end of his career, and Pineda is, well, Pineda.

The final two rotation spots were wide open going into camp. I always though Luis Severino had a leg up on a spot — I definitely wrote that a few times — and sure enough, he landed one in Spring Training. The Yankees had four candidates for the fifth starter’s spot (Adam Warren, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green, Luis Cessa) and none of them won it. Jordan Montgomery snuck up and beat everyone out. Time to review the rotation.

Masahiro Tanaka: The Return of the Dingers

Last season Tanaka was, legitimately, one of the best starters in the league. He threw 199.2 innings with a 3.07 ERA (3.51 FIP) and strong strikeout (20.5%) and walk (4.5%) numbers. If you’re into WHIP, his 1.077 WHIP was fifth lowest among AL qualified starters. Tanaka was excellent.

This season Tanaka has been one of the worst starters in the league. There are 74 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title and Tanaka ranks 69th in ERA (5.47) and 59th in FIP (5.03). He’s also 71st in home run rate (2.03 HR/9), which is his biggest problem. Tanaka has not been able to keep the ball in the park, especially of late. We’re talking 20 homers in his last 13 starts, and that includes a three-start stretch with no homers.

Why is Tanaka allowing so many more homers? Well, the answer is kinda obvious. He’s been leaving too many pitches out over the plate, and because he’s not overpowering (and because balls are flying out of every park this year), Tanaka has paid dearly for his mistakes. The question is why is he making more mistakes? Why have more fastballs run back over the plate, and why haven’t his splitter and slider had the same bite for long stretches of time?

The Yankees and Tanaka are still looking for that answer. It looked like he found something these last few weeks, in which he fired 31.2 innings with a 2.56 ERA (3.21 FIP) across five starts. Then Tanaka got bombed Sunday, in the final game before the All-Star break. One step forward, one step back. Hopefully that game was just a blip and Tanaka goes back to dominating again like he did in four of his previous five starts. That would be swell.

Whatever is wrong with Tanaka — injury, bad mechanics, lack of confidence, etc. — it is the single biggest problem for the Yankees right now. Even moreso than the bullpen, I think. I think Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman will figure it out and be fine. Given how long Tanaka has struggled — basically since Opening Day — his struggles concern me more. It’s hard to imagine the Yankees getting to the postseason if Tanaka continues pitching like this.

Luis Severino: The Emerging Ace

Aside from Aaron Judge, who is on a completely different level than everyone else right now, there has been no better short and long-term development for the Yankees this season than Severino. He came up and pitched very well in the second half of 2015, struggled mightily as a starter in 2016, and now he’s pitching at a near ace level (3.54 ERA and 3.16 FIP) through 17 starts and 106.2 innings. His ranks among the 74 qualified starters:

  • Strikeout Rate: 28.4% (8th)
  • Walk Rate: 6.2% (17th)
  • K/BB ratio: 4.59 (8th)
  • Ground Ball Rate: 52.4% (8th)

Severino and Lance McCullers Jr. are the only pitchers who rank in the top ten in both strikeout rate and ground ball rate, and they’re both deserving All-Stars. By Game Score, the 23-year-old Severino — he spent most of the season as the youngest player on the roster before the recent Tyler Wade and Clint Frazier call-ups — is responsible for four of the nine best and five of the eleven best games pitched by a Yankee this season.

What has been different about Severino this year? A few things. For starters, he seems to be much more aggressive with his fastball. I really believe the stint in the bullpen last season taught Severino that yes, he can throw his heater by big league hitters, and that gave him the confidence to do it this year. He’s no longer trying to paint the corner. He’s just letting it fly and letting the pitch’s natural life and velocity do the rest. (At 97.5 mph, Severino has the highest average fastball velocity among all starters in 2017. Carlos Martinez is second at 96.8 mph.)

Two, Severino seems to have much more confidence in his changeup. He’s not necessarily throwing it more often — he threw the pitch 14.1% of the time in 2015, 9.4% of the time in 2016, and 11.4% of the time in 2017 — but he is throwing better quality changeups and he’s throwing it with more conviction. Last year Severino admitted he lost confidence in his changeup and he basically stopped throwing it by the end of the season. The changeup is still his third pitch, but Severino uses it and he now seems to trust it again.

And three, he’s locating his slider so much better this year. So, so much better. Last season he left way too many sliders up in the zone and hitters either fouled it off or put it in play rather than swing and miss. This year’s he’s burying the pitch down and getting those whiffs. That impressive — and elite! — combination of strikeouts and ground balls is no accident. Severino pairs a big fastball with a better located wipeout slider and an improved changeup.

I’m curious to see how the Yankees will handle Severino’s workload in the second half because he is on pace to throw 201 innings, and I can’t imagine they’ll let a 23-year-old kid throw 200+ innings. Or maybe they will. Who knows? My guess is the Yankees find a way to give Severino some extra rest between starts down the stretch. We’ll see. Whatever they do, the most important thing is that Severino looks like a top of the rotation starter, and gosh do the Yankees need one of those going forward.

CC Sabathia: The Veteran Innings Guy

Aside from a rough four-start stretch spanning late-April and early-May in which he allowed 22 runs in 20.2 innings, Sabathia has been steady and reliable for the Yankees this year. He reinvented himself as a cutter pitcher last year and he’s stuck with that approach this year. Sabathia in 2016: 3.91 ERA and 4.28 FIP. Sabathia in 2017: 3.81 ERA and 4.19 FIP. Yup.

Sabathia did miss three weeks with a hamstring injury and his first start back was pretty bad (four runs in 2.2 innings), and, in hindsight, the Yankees shoulda sent him out on a minor league rehab assignment rather than have him make one start — one start on a 75-80 pitch count, no less — before the All-Star break. Either way, Sabathia’s days as an ace are over, but so are his days as a below-average pitcher, which he was from 2013-15. The big man made some adjustments last year, they worked, he’s stuck with them, and they’re still working. That’s pretty much all there is to say about him. Go CC.

Michael Pineda: Same Ol’ Michael Pineda

Groan. Do we really have to review Pineda’s season? He’s the same guy he was last year and the year before that. The difference this year is that Pineda started very well and had more than a few folks, myself included, thinking he had turned the corner. But no, it was just one of his patented “did he figure it out???” streaks at the start of the season. To the monthly splits:

  • April: 3.14 ERA (3.25 FIP)
  • May: 3.48 ERA (4.76 FIP)
  • June: 5.35 ERA (4.69 FIP)
  • July: 15.00 ERA (16.48 FIP) in one start

Overall, Pineda has a 4.39 ERA (4.64 FIP) in 96.1 innings this year. He had a 4.60 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 336.1 innings the last two seasons. The biggest difference this year is the home runs, though that’s not unique to Pineda. Almost every pitcher in the league is allowing more homers this year. Pineda had a 1.28 HR/9 from 2015-16. It’s 1.87 HR/9 this year, hence the massive spike in FIP.

One thing Pineda does deserve credit for is his improved performance with two strikes. Remember all those annoying two-strike hits last season? Check it out:

  • 2016 with two strikes: .187/.246/.286 (104 OPS+)
  • 2017 with two strikes: .162/.212/.242 (71 OPS+)

I know a .187/.246/.286 batting line against seems great, but in two-strike counts, it was actually 4% worse than average last year. That shouldn’t happen to a guy with Pineda’s slider. This year he’s been much better with two strikes. He’s gone from 4% below-average to 29% above-average. And, to be fair, last season is the outlier for Pineda. He has a career 42 OPS+ allowed in two-strike counts. Usually he excels in those spots. Last season he didn’t for whatever reason.

In all likelihood Pineda is entering his final few months as a Yankee, and maybe even his final few weeks. If the team continues to fall in the standings, they could ship Pineda to a pitching needy contender at the trade deadline. He’s a free agent after the season and he’s not a qualifying offer candidate. Not when the potential return is a pick after the fourth round. Not worth the risk. Pineda started this season pretty well. But with each passing start, it’s becoming more and more clear he’s the same guy he’s always been.

Jordan Montgomery: The Reliable Rookie

I thought it was inevitable we would see Montgomery in the big leagues at some point this season. He came into 2017 as New York’s best big league ready pitching prospect and by a pretty decent margin. I just didn’t think he’d win a rotation spot out of Spring Training. Montgomery outpitched everyone else in camp, the Yankees decided he was their best option, and he’s been a rotation mainstay ever since.

Through 16 big league starts the 24-year-old Montgomery has a 3.65 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 91.1 innings. He’s completed six innings in eight of those 16 starts and at least five innings in 13 of those 16 starts. Joe Girardi has had a quick hook with the rookie at times, which is fine. For the most part Montgomery has been a consistent source of quality innings. Three things stand out about his first half.

1. His lack of ground balls is starting to catch up to him. Montgomery is a big man (6-foot-6) with an extreme over-the-top arm angle, and because of that, he can have a tough time getting his pitches down at the knees and below the strike zone. The result has been a 41.6% ground ball rate, which ranks 50th among those 74 qualified starters. And lately, more and more of those fly balls are turning into home runs:

jordan-montgomery-home-run-rate

Home runs are being hit at a higher rate than at any other point in baseball history and Montgomery’s home ballpark is homer happy Yankee Stadium. Given how fly ball prone he’s been so far this season, it was only a matter of time until the home runs came. Hopefully more grounders will follow.

2. He’s great at getting hitters to chase out of the zone. Montgomery is a polished young pitcher with a five-pitch arsenal. He’s got both a straight four-seamer and a sinker, plus a slider, a changeup, and a curveball. His least used pitch is his slider. He’s thrown it 13.0% of the time this year, which is pretty darn often for a fifth pitch. Because of his deep arsenal, Montgomery has excelled at getting hitters to swing out of the zone. Here is the chase rate leaderboard:

  1. Masahiro Tanaka: 39.8%
  2. Zack Greinke: 38.6%
  3. Jordan Montgomery: 38.3%
  4. Chris Sale: 38.3%
  5. Clayton Kershaw: 37.6%

Max Scherzer (37.2%) is sixth. McCullers (36.9%) is seventh. Corey Kluber (36.8%) is eighth. The top of the chase rate leaderboard is basically the seven best pitchers in baseball and Jordan Montgomery. Getting hitters to expand the zone is a very valuable skill. Swings on pitches out of the strike zone often result in swings and misses or weak contact. You don’t see those pitches squared up very often. That chase rate ability is a big reason why Montgomery has had so much success early in his MLB career.

3. Montgomery is not afraid to pitch inside. Especially to righties, which he needs to do to have success. He’s not going to blow anyone away with the sheer quality of his stuff. Here’s a heat map of his fastball and slider locations against right-handed batters, via Baseball Savant:

jordan-montgomery-heat-mapYep. Montgomery lives on the inner half of the plate with those pitches against righties. He uses them to set up changeups and curveballs away, and he’s been successful doing that. Montgomery has held righties to a .249/.307/.403 (.306 wOBA) batting line. He’s not dominating them by any means, but he is holding his own, and that’s important as a starting pitcher. Pitching inside allows him to have that success.

Montgomery right now looks very much like a long-term keeper. He’s poised and he seems fearless on the mound, even when things are going haywire. Add in the fact he throws five pitches regularly and has pretty good command, and the ingredients are there to stick in the rotation going forward. The Yankees needed to find some starting pitchers this year and they’ve found one in Montgomery.

* * *

Tanaka, Severino, Sabathia, Pineda, and Montgomery have combined to start 82 of 86 games for the Yankees this season. Cessa started three and Green started one while Sabathia was sidelined with his hamstring injury. Otherwise the Yankees have been pretty fortunate injury-wise. That’s not to say the good health will continue all year, but it happened in the first half, and that’s all that matters right now.

Believe it or not, the rotation ranks tenth in ERA (4.26) and eighth in FIP (4.21) among the 30 teams, which surprised me. It still feels like there’s room for improvement, mostly with Tanaka but also with Pineda given his recent performance. The Yankees now have two rotation building blocks in Severino and Montgomery whereas four months ago they had none, and Sabathia sure looks like a new pitcher too. I still expect the Yankees to be in on just about every high-end starter at the trade deadline because hey, there’s no such thing as too much pitching. The current rotation has been good enough to get the Yankees to the All-Star break in postseason position.

Yankeemetrics: Epic freefall reaches new low (July 3-5)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Return of The Ace
Is he back? That was the burning question in the Bronx after the Yankees returned home and notched a 6-3 win over the Blue Jays in the series opener, a game featured a third straight strong outing by Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka was brilliant, going seven innings while allowing one run with eight strikeouts – and no home runs. He has a 1.29 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 21 innings and a .495 OPS allowed over his last three starts; a massive improvement from his first 14 starts (6.34 ERA and .910 OPS allowed).

One of the biggest keys for Tanaka during this excellent stretch of back-to-back-to-back outings has been his ability to keep the ball on the ground and limit hard-hit balls. His groundball rate has jumped from 47 percent in the first two and a half months to 61 percent in his last three games, while his rate of hard contact has been cut from 35 percent to 19.6 percent.

When he was at his worst – during those first 14 starts – he allowed an average airball exit velocity of 93.8 mph, the worst mark through June 22 in the majors (min. 100 batted balls). He’s lowered that number by nearly 10 mph since June 23, to a stellar 84.2 mph that ranks fifth-best in MLB over the last two weeks (min. 15 batted balls).

Digging deeper, we can see that Tanaka has been much more precise with his off-speed stuff, locating his slider and splitter consistently at the knees and below the zone:

tanaka-first-14

The depth on those pitches is also significantly better, with his slider showing nearly an inch more downward movement and his splitter dropping a half-inch more over his last three starts. All of that has resulted in opponents slugging .146 in 40 at-bats ending in his splitter or slider over his last three starts, compared to .469 in his first 14 starts.

While Tanaka’s gem and return to ace form were the biggest stories of the game, let’s put the spotlight on another player that’s quietly produced one of the best all-around first-halves by any Yankee.

Brett Gardner hit his 15th double of the season, giving him these numbers as we near the mid-summer classic: 15 doubles, 15 homers, 10 steals, 56 runs and 35 walks – power, pop, speed, patience and scoring. The only other Yankee to reach each of those totals before the All-Star break (since 1933) is Rickey Henderson in 1986.

(AP)
(AP)

Yankee Doodle Dud
July 4th is a storied day in Yankees history – Lou Gehrig’s ‘Luckiest Man’ speech, George Steinbrenner‘s birthday, Dave Righetti’s no-hitter, John Sterling’s birthday – but this year there would be no indelible moments, no joyous celebration, no fireworks at Yankee Stadium. Instead, they followed up Monday’s encouraging win with another dull loss, 4-1, on Tuesday afternoon.

The last time the Yankees won back-to-back games was June 11-12, a string of 21 games during which they’ve gone 5-16. This is just the third time in the last two decades the Yankees have gone 20-or-more games without a win streak; the other droughts came in July/August 2013 (24 games) and August/September 2012 (25 games).

CC Sabathia, making his first start since a three-week stint on the disabled list, retired the first eight batters he faced but then didn’t get another out, getting pulled after giving up four runs in the inning. Those four earned runs allowed in the third frame matched the same number he had surrendered over a combined 36 1/3 innings in his previous six starts.

Aaron Judge saved the day from being a disaster when he homered in the fourth inning. Judge’s 28th longball of the season was a sizzling shot that went 456 feet and left his bat with an exit velocity of 118.4 mph. It was the fourth time he’s hit a homer that hard … and in related news, the rest of MLB has combined for ZERO home runs with an exit velocity of 118-plus mph this season.

Following the game, Chris Carter was designated for assignment for the second time in two weeks. If this is finally the end of the Chris Carter Experiment, he’ll have earned himself an inglorious place in the franchise record books: Carter would be the first Yankee ever to get at least 200 plate appearances in a season and finish with twice as many strikeouts (76) as hits (37).

(AP)
(AP)

Another collapse, send help
And the mind-numbing tailspin continues in the Bronx. The Yankees dropped the rubber game of the series, 7-6, suffering another crushing defeat in which they battled back from five runs down to take the lead only to have the bullpen self-destruct yet again.

Let’s update those ugly bullpen-implosion numbers from the last Yankeemetrics:

Stat Notes
16 Blown Saves – Through 83 games last year, they had only six (in three fewer save opportunities);
– The same total they had the entire 2016 season
17 One-Run Losses – Five more than all of last year;
– 11 of them since June 1, the most of any team in that span
11 losses when scoring at least five runs – The same number they had all of last year;
– Through 83 games in 2016, they had six such losses;
– 8 of them have come since June 1, the most in MLB

Chad Green ignited the meltdown when he coughed up the game-tying homer in the seventh, and then Dellin Betances put grease on the fire when he walked in the go-ahead run in the eighth.

Betances simply can’t find the strike zone now. His total lack of command has been really acute in his last four games, during which he has walked 10 of the 20 batters he’s faced and thrown only 41 of his 97 pitches for strikes.

Wednesday marked just the second time he’s ever walked four guys in an outing – the other instance was his first career big-league appearance on Sept. 22, 2011. Betances also joined Edwar Ramirez (July 20, 2007) as the only Yankees in the last quarter-century to give out at least four free passes and get one or fewer outs in a game.

For the season, he’s now at 8.56 walks per nine innings and a 21.1 percent walk rate, both of which would be the worst marks by any Yankee with at least 25 innings pitched since Ryne Duren in 1960 (9.0, 21.4%).

The beginning of the game was just as horrible to watch as the ending, with Michael Pineda getting shelled by the Toronto lineup. They crushed three homers off him, the second time in his last two home games he’s given up at least three dingers. The only other Yankee pitchers to allow at least three longballs in back-to-back games at Yankee Stadium were Kei Igawa (2007) and Red Ruffing (1941) – but neither of those two guys only pitched four innings or fewer in both games, like Pineda did.

The bullpen blowtorch erased what had been a rousing comeback, one that was sparked by Aaron Judge. The pinstriped cyborg drove in the first two runs of the game with his 29th home run of the season, matching Joe DiMaggio for the Yankee rookie record … with 79 games remaining on the schedule.

Perhaps more incredible is this stat, which illustrates his rare and legendary combination of power and patience: Three Yankees have compiled at least 200 total bases and 50-plus walks before the All-Star break – Judge, Mickey Mantle (1956) and Lou Gehrig (1936).