Goal for 2017: Reduce Roundtrippers

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

Yankee pitchers over the last few years have been generally good at two things: limiting walks and striking batters out. If there are two skills you want pitchers to have, those two would be pretty good. Both skills combine to minimize runners on base and put little stress on the fielders and the pitchers themselves. In 2016, though, the third component of defense independent pitching–limiting home runs–was severely lacking.

Among the Major League leaders, the Yankees were, well, not leaders. Despite ranking only 13th in the league in FB% overall (so just about average), the only team worse in HR/FB% than the Yankees and their 15.5% mark was Cincinnati Reds and their 15.9% tally. In fact, the Yankees were the only AL team with a HR/FB% over 14%; the Twins clocked in at second worse in the AL at 13.9%. To state the obvious, when you’re near the 2016 Twins in some statistical category, you’re probably not doing a good job. To state the obvious yet again, this is something that needs to get better in 2017.

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

Luckily for the Yankees, the homer happiness may improve by subtraction alone next season. The biggest culprits in surrendering homers on fly balls were Ivan Nova (21.3%) and Nathan Eovaldi (18.7%), both of whom won’t be on the Yankees next year for one reason or another. Unfortunately, three fifths of their potential rotation for 2017 was dismal at keeping the ball in the yard in 2016.

Michael Pineda clocked in at 17% with Luis Severino and Luis Cessa tipping the scales at 16.4% and 19.5% respectively. Severino’s number is skewed slightly, as he didn’t give up a homer as a reliever; as a starter, his HR/FB% was 22.9% (!). Cessa’s numbers were a bit more balanced: 19.3% as a starter, 20% as a reliever.

Luis Cessa Corey Dickerson

In terms of pitches, the culprits for the homers for Pineda and Cessa are split between two. For Pineda, they’re the slider and the cutter; this is problematic because those are the pitches he throws most often. Cessa’s fastball and curveball are taking the brunt of punishment from hitters. Severino’s fastball is the root of all home run evil for him.

Whether it’s varying their selection, improving their location, or perhaps hiding these pitches better, all three righties need to do something to keep the ball in the park in 2017. Chances are, they’ll all be called on to do some heavy lifting for the Yankee pitching staff in 2017 and another year of giving homers left and right is not going to cut it. Like this past season, the margins between success and failure are going to be razor thin next year and the Yankees will need to stifle any hiccups in pitching performance or they could be looking at another year of mediocrity.

Yankeemetrics: The final series [Sept. 30-Oct. 2]

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Pineda Puzzle
One day after they were officially eliminated from the playoff race, the Yankees flopped in an ugly 8-1 loss on Friday night.

The offense was M.I.A. with just three singles, while going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. It was their 16th game without an extra-base hit, the most in the majors through Friday, and their AL-high 35th game scoring one run or fewer.

It was also their 11th game with three hits or fewer — no team in MLB had done that more this season through Friday — and the first time the Orioles held the Yankees to no more than three hits at Yankee Stadium since August 14, 2007.

Michael Pineda made his final start of 2016, and his Jekyll-and-Hyde performance (5 runs, 4⅓ innings, 5 strikeouts) against the Orioles was a fitting end to Pineda’s perplexing and season.

He finished with a career-best 207 strikeouts (that’s good!) and a career-worst 4.82 ERA (that’s bad!) while going 6-12 in 32 starts. His 4.82 ERA is the fifth-highest by any MLB pitcher ever with at least 200 strikeouts in a season, and his .333 win percentage is the second-lowest among that group.

And that’s not the worst of his puzzling, boom-or-bust campaign: Pineda allowed a whopping .784 OPS this year, the highest in major-league history for a guy that also struck out 200-or-more batters in a season.

austin low five
(Getty)

Party at Austin’s
The Yankees bounced back from their lackluster series-opening loss with a resounding 7-3 victory on Saturday, preventing the Orioles from clinching a playoff spot on the penultimate day of the season.

Typical of this up-and-down Yankee season, the game featured a number of encouraging signs for the future while also re-affirming some potential concerns heading into 2017.

The bad news? Luis Severino continued his baffling string of disappointing pitching performances as a starter, giving up three runs on five hits before being pulled in the fourth inning. He ended up with a 8.50 ERA in 11 starts, the highest ERA as a starter by any pitcher in franchise history with at least 10 starts in a season.

If there’s a silver lining in Severino’s poor showing as a member of the rotation it’s this: the highest single-season starters’ ERA in MLB history (min. 10 starts) belongs to Roy Halladay, who posted a 11.13 ERA in 13 starts in 2000; three years later, he won the first of his two Cy Young Awards.

The good news? Two of the more unheralded Baby Bombers continued their unexpected trend of clutch hitting performances, with Tyler Austin and Austin Romine fueling the Yankees’ late-game offensive explosion and comeback bid.

Austin knotted the score at 3-3 in the seventh inning with his fifth homer of the season, and the 406-foot blast was eerily similar to each of the others he’s hit in the majors. All five of them have: been at Yankee Stadium, gone out to right-center or right field, and either tied the game or gave the Yankees a lead.

Four of his five longballs have also come in the seventh frame or later, giving him the most go-ahead and/or game-tying homers on the team this season through Saturday. Even more impressive is this feat: Austin is the only Yankee rookie in at least the last 75 years to hit four go-ahead and/or game-tying homers in the seventh inning or later.

Romine then capped off the Yankees rally with a tie-breaking, two-run single in the eighth inning, his 16th hit in 44 at-bats with runners in scoring position this year. His .364 batting average in that situation not only leads the team, but would be the best by any Yankee with that many at-bats in a decade, since Derek Jeter hit .381 with RISP in 2006.

Game 162
And so the 2016 season comes to an end, fittingly the same way it began, with a loss at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankee bats were shut down by the newest Yankee killer, Kevin Gausman, who dominated the Yankees this season with just five earned runs surrendered across 41 innings. Among pitchers to make at least five starts against the Yankees in a season, Gausman’s 1.09 ERA is the lowest since Brewers lefty Mike Caldwell’s 0.99 mark in 1978, when he three shutouts in five starts versus them.

Brian McCann‘s solo homer in the fourth inning was the Yankees lone source of offense for much of the afternoon, and it was a significant one for the catcher, his 20th of the year. He is the fourth catcher (who played at least 50 percent of their games at the position) in major-league history with double-digit 20-homer seasons, joining Mike Piazza, Johnny Bench, and Yogi Berra. It was also his ninth straight season with at least 20 homers; among catchers, only Yogi and Piazza ever had a streak like that.

 

tex goodbye

McCann joined his backstop teammate, Gary Sanchez, in the 20-homer club, making the Yankees just the third team in major-league history to have two guys, who played catcher in at least half their games, hit 20-plus homers in the same season. The other clubs to do this were the 1961 Yankees (Johnny Blanchard and Elston Howard) and 1965 Milwaukee Braves (Gene Oliver and Joe Torre).

Combined with Starlin Castro‘s 21 homers and Didi Gregorius‘ 20 homers, the Yankees are the first team in baseball history to get at least 20 homers from four different players, who each played more than half their games at either catcher or the middle infield (shortstop and second base) positions.

And finally, Mark Teixeira closed the book on his 14-season big-league career, walking off the field in the seventh inning to a standing ovation while tipping his cap to the hometown fans.

There are many stats and superlatives that define his legacy as a major-leaguer, but perhaps this one best captures his unprecedented combination of power and defense, which makes him such a unique and special player among his peers: Teixeira is the only first baseman to finish his career with at least five Gold Gloves (awarded since 1957) and at least 400 homers.

Yankeemetrics: The final countdown begins [Sept. 20-22]

(AP)
(AP)

Gary For President
Fueled by the heroics of Gary Sanchez and a dominant outing by the enigmatic Michael Pineda in the series opener on Tuesday night, the desperate Yankees kept their faint postseason hopes alive for at least one more day.

Sanchez delivered the biggest blow in the seventh inning, when he pounced on a first-pitch slider and hammered it 437 feet over the left-center field wall for a tie-breaking, three-run homer that put the Yankees ahead 5-2. It was the 17th time he’s gone deep in his big-league career, and the first time (of many, hopefully) he’s homered to give the Yankees a lead in the seventh inning or later.

Sanchez wasn’t the only star of the game, of course, as Pineda pitched a gem and made sure the Yankees had a chance to record their 42nd comeback win of the season. He had absolutely filthy stuff, striking out 11 of the 22 batters he faced, including 10 of them swinging.

Pineda increased his strikeout total to 195, and a whopping 175 of them (89.7 percent) are of the swinging variety. Among all pitchers with at least 125 Ks this season, Pineda has the highest percentage of swinging strikeouts in the majors.

Pineda was yanked by Joe Girardi after Brad Miller singled with one out in the sixth inning, producing this Yankeemetric that perhaps best defines his tantalizing — and frustrating — talent: Pineda’s 11 strikeouts against the Rays are the most ever by a Yankee pitcher in an outing of of 5 1/3 innings or fewer.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

LOL, Gary Sanchez
This is Gary Sanchez’s world, and we’re just living in it. Yup, the Sanch-ino (Thanks John Sterling!) did it again.

Sanchez continued to re-write baseball history at an incredible and frenetic pace, going deep twice while driving in a career-high five runs in the 11-5 win. He truly is must-see television as fans have a chance to witness something every time he comes to the plate.

On Wednesday, Sanchez clobbered his 18th and 19th home runs, becoming the fastest player ever to reach those marks. No other major-leaguer had even hit 19 homers in their first 50 career games (Wally Berger had the previous record with 19 in 51 games), and Sanchez compiled that number in a mere 45 games.

He made his mark on the franchise record books, too, becoming the first rookie in Yankees history to homer in four straight games. This was also the third time he’d hit two homers in a game, making the 23-year-old Sanchez the youngest Yankee with three multi-homer games in a season since Bobby Murcer in 1969.

There are so many ways to quantify his ridiculous home run pace and put his Superman-like slugging into perspective. Here’s another one (all data per Statcast):

Through Wednesday, one of every 6.5 balls that he put into play turned into a home run, and roughly one of every 18 pitches he swung at went over the fences! Both of those rates were by far the best among all players with at least 10 homers this season. #YoSoyGary

It’s a good thing that Sanchez is a human highlight reel, or else this game would have been decided by Masahiro Tanaka’s inexplicable four-homer meltdown in the third inning. Although he settled down after that blip, Tanaka still joined this illustrious list of Yankees to give up a quartet of longballs in a single inning: Chase Wright (2007), Randy Johnson (2005), Scott Sanderson (1992) and Catfish Hunter (1977).

(AP)
(AP)

“We need to win 11 out of 10
That quote above is from Brett Gardner following the Yankees 2-0 loss to the Rays on Thursday night, and pretty much sums up the daunting task ahead of the Yankees in the final week of the season. Do you believe in miracles? Because that’s what it might take for this team to avoid making tee times for October.

For the 417th time this season (approximately) the Yankees failed to close out a series sweep, getting blanked by the Rays as their near-impossible trek towards a postseason berth became even more improbable.

The Yankees and Rays played six series this season; in four of them the Yankees had a chance to win every game in the series, and four times they lost the final game to come up empty in the sweep opportunity. #Sigh

The Yankees season-long problem of coming up empty in scoring situations reared its ugly head once again, with the Yankees going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position while stranding 11 baserunners. This is the 17th time this year they’ve left at least 11 men on base in a game; last year, it happened only 12 times.

This was also their 73rd loss of the season, meaning the Yankees will fail to win 90 games for fourth year in a row. That’s their longest stretch of sub-90-win campaigns (excluding strike-shortened seasons) since the dark days of the late 1980s and 90s, when they didn’t reach the magical 90-win mark from 1987-1993.

The Mystery that is Michael Pineda

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty

Last night the Yankees snapped their five-game losing streak thanks largely to yet another Gary Sanchez homer. His three-run blast in the seventh inning gave the Yankees a 5-2 lead. It was his 17th (17th!) home run in 42 games since being called up. Pretty incredible. Without him the Yankees would not be even remotely close to a wildcard spot right now.

Before Sanchez played hero, Michael Pineda gave the team 5.1 strong innings, during which he struck out eleven and generated 19 swings and misses. Pineda also allowed two runs on five hits, and of course the big blow came with two strikes and two outs. Brad Miller’s two-run triple came on a slider too far up in the zone …

Michael Pineda Brad Miller

… which is the kind of mistake pitch Pineda has thrown all season. Going into last night’s start opponents were hitting .193/.248/.287 against Pineda with two strikes this year. That sounds really good! Except the MLB average is .176/.246/.279. That’s the average pitcher. Someone with a ferocious slider like Pineda should beat those numbers pretty easily.

Following last night’s game, Pineda is sitting on a 4.89 ERA (3.62 FIP) in 30 starts and 165.2 innings. He’s on pace to have one of the worst 200-strikeout seasons in baseball history. Seriously. Pineda has 195 strikeouts right now, and with two starts to go, he should get over 200 easily. Here’s the list of pitchers to strike out 200 batters with a 4.80+ ERA and a 3.60+ FIP:

1999 Pedro Astacio: 5.04 ERA and 4.57 FIP with 210 strikeouts
1996 Mike Mussina: 4.81 ERA and 4.04 FIP with 204 strikeouts
1986 Mark Langston: 4.85 ERA and 3.95 FIP with 245 strikeouts
1938 Bobo Newsom: 5.08 ERA and 4.53 FIP with 226 strikeouts (in 329.2 innings!)

Moose! How about that? I never would have guessed Mussina had a season like that. Anyway, those are four pretty good pitchers. Mussina was excellent and so was Langston for a long time. Newsom went to a bunch of All-Star Games back in the day. Astacio is the worst pitcher of the bunch, but hey, he played 15 years in the big leagues.

The thing is, this doesn’t feel like a blip for Pineda. That 1996 season was out of the ordinary for Mussina. Ditto 1986 for Langston. Pineda has been pitching like this since his 16-strikeout game last year. I don’t know if the 16 strikeouts have anything to do with it — did he push too hard and hurt himself or change his mechanics? — or if it’s just a coincidence, but that’s how far this goes back. This isn’t new.

Why does Pineda struggle so much despite a quality fastball/slider combination, good extension thanks to his 6-foot-7 frame, and good control? There’s no shortage of theories. The three most common:

  1. He loses focus. When a guy gets beat with two strikes and/or two outs all the time, it’s easy to think he loses focus and doesn’t execute. On the other hand, it could be he’s trying too hard and makes mistakes because he’s trying to be perfect. Point, it’s possible this is a mental thing.
  2. His command stinks. Command and control are different. Control is basic strike-throwing ability. Getting the ball over the plate. Pineda can do that. Command is dotting the corners and living out of the middle of the zone. Pineda can’t do that. He’s a classic good control/bad command pitcher.
  3. He lacks a third pitch. Pineda has a changeup. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. He just rarely throws it. Pineda threw four changeups out of 98 pitches last night. He’s thrown 7.8% changeups this year. Hitters know that when push comes to shove, they’re getting a fastball or a slider. The changeup is not even on their mind.

When it comes to stuff like this, I always assume the problem is not one specific thing. Throwing twice as many changeups going forward probably won’t fix everything, you know? It’s not that easy. Chances are Pineda’s results don’t match his stuff because he doesn’t throw enough changeups and his command stinks and he loses focus and a bunch of other stuff too.

Anyway, I have no idea where I’m going with this. I was just watching Pineda last night and again wondering how a guy with those underlying skills — two pitchers in baseball have a 25+ K%, 45+ GB%, and a sub-7 BB%: Pineda and Noah Syndergaard (thanks Katie!) — can manage to be below-average at preventing runs for over 300 innings now. It’s hard to believe.

Pineda’s upcoming free agency really complicates things. The Yankees have, at most, another 32-34 starts to determine whether he should be considered part of the future. Ideally the decision would be made this offseason so the Yankees could trade Pineda if he’s not part of the future. That’s better than losing him for a draft pick, or maybe nothing. In reality, the club may want more time to evaluate him.

Two years ago when Pineda returned from shoulder surgery, he looked like someone who had a chance to pitch near the front of the rotation for a few years. He was that good in limited time in 2014. Pineda took a step back last year, and an even bigger step back this year, and that ain’t good. Not at his age and not with his stuff. Pineda is a classic enigma, and the Yankees don’t have much time left to solve this mystery. They’ll have to make a decision about his future relatively soon.

The Yankees are running out of starting pitching at the worst possible time

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the third time in the last five games, the Yankees’ starting pitcher failed to complete five innings last night. The Dodgers contact-bombed Bryan Mitchell — he got only three swings and misses out of 47 pitches — for eight hits and six runs (two earned) in only 2.1 innings. That came three days after Michael Pineda couldn’t finish five innings with a five-run lead and four days after CC Sabathia struggled to complete four innings.

The rotation outside Masahiro Tanaka has been a problem most of the season. The staff doesn’t have a 4.58 ERA (4.37 FIP) by accident. Not 143 games into the season. Remove Tanaka from the mix and all the other starters have a 5.04 ERA (4.58 FIP) in 626.1 innings. That’s 626.1 innings of meh. Sabathia and some others had their moments earlier this season, but, by and large, the rotation has been a liability, not a strength.

Rosters have expanded and the Yankees are carrying 13 relievers, so they have enough arms to soak up whatever innings need to be soaked up. Of course, no manager actually wants to use his September call-up relievers, at least not this often, including Joe Girardi. Every manager wants their starter to hand the ball off to their usual late-inning relievers. The Yankees haven’t been able to do that much lately, and there’s no help coming for two reasons.

1. There’s no one left to call up in Triple-A. The Yankees have more or less exhausted their rotation depth at this point. Nathan Eovaldi and Chad Green getting hurt after Ivan Nova was traded really thinned out the team’s depth. Joe Girardi admitted yesterday they originally planned to give Bryan Mitchell more time in Triple-A in the wake of his toe injury, but there was a need in the rotation due to Green’s injury, so they called him up.

The next best rotation option at this point is probably Richard Bleier, or maybe Phil Coke, who has done a nice job in the Triple-A Scranton rotation of late. Dietrich Enns is bumping up against his innings limit and has already been moved to the bullpen. Adding Jordan Montgomery to the 40-man roster a year earlier than necessary so he can make something like three starts late in the season is crappy roster management. Bleier or Coke it is, and that’s not reassuring at all.

De La Rosa. (Justin Edmonds/Getty)
De La Rosa. (Justin Edmonds/Getty)

2. There’s not much of a trade market either. The Yankees and every other team can still make trades through the trade waivers process, though whoever they acquire won’t be eligible for the postseason roster. That’s fine. They goal right now is to get to the postseason, that’s it. Right now cobbling together a postseason rotation is a problem the Yankees would be happy to deal with.

What does the starting pitcher trade market look like in September? Bleak. I’m guessing the only pitchers available are impending free agents on bad teams. That means players like Jorge De La Rosa, Andrew Cashner, and Jhoulys Chacin. Normally I’d say just stick with Luis Cessa and Mitchell, but you know what? If all it costs is a fringe prospect or cash, give me one of those guys as an extra starter for the postseason push. I’d rather have him and not need him than need him and not have him, you know?

* * *

Point is, there are no impact pitchers to be found on the trade market. Not on the trade market and likely not in the farm system either. The Yankees’ very best arms are in the big leagues right now. That’s good from a “this is the best possible team they have” perspective and bad from a “this is the best possible team they have?” perspective. You know what I mean.

With less than three weeks left in the regular season, what you see if what you’re going to get with the Yankees. If they’re going to do the improbable a qualify for the playoffs, Cessa and Mitchell and late-career Sabathia and the mystery that is Pineda are going to be the guys who get them there. Like it or not, those four plus Tanaka are the five best starting pitchers in the organization at the moment.

The end of Didi’s slump and four others things that must happen for the Yankees to make the postseason

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Against all odds, the Yankees remain in the postseason race with less than three weeks to go in the regular season. They lost yesterday, but prior to that they won seven straight and 13 of their previous 17 games. The Yankees are two games back of the second wildcard spot and FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at 13.5%. They were 2.3% eight days ago.

As well as the Yankees have played recently, with seemingly a different player stepping up each night, they’re going to need to be even better over the final 20 games to sneak into the postseason. The schedule only gets more difficult from here on out. New York’s best chance to make the playoffs involves continuing their current play and getting some more from a few players on the roster. Here are five things I think need to happen to maximize the team’s postseason chances.

Gregorius snaps out of his slump

Didi Gregorius has been, rather easily, the Yankees’ best all-around position player this season. His 17 home runs are nearly double his previous career high (nine last year), and he’s still making a lot of contact and playing strong defense. I was skeptical when the Yankees acquired Didi because I didn’t believe in his bat. Boy was I wrong.

As good as Gregorius has been this season, he’s been slumping hard this month, going 3-for-34 (.088) with eight strikeouts and zero unintentional walks in September. Slumps happen, but with Didi it seems like fatigue might be a factor as well. His bat looks a little slow, and even in the field there’s been some moments when his first step wasn’t as quick as usual.

A day off could do Gregorius some good — the Yankees are ten games into a 17 games in 17 days stretch — though it is tough to get him out of the lineup given what he does defensively. We all love Ronald Torreyes, but he’s no Didi. No one is expecting Gregorius to hit five homers in a ten-game span like he did in late-June/early-July. The Yankees do need more offense from him than they’ve been getting this month, however.

Gardner and Ellsbury stay hot

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

Overall, both Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have had disappointing seasons atop the lineup for the Yankees. Gardner’s power has disappeared, and up until recently, Ellsbury wasn’t getting on base all that much. Disappointing middle of the order veterans like Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez are the main reason the Yankees have had a below-average offense this year. The two guys at the top of the lineup aren’t without fault though.

Not coincidentally, the team’s recent strong play coincides with both Ellsbury and Gardner getting hot. Ellsbury has gone 9-for-27 (.333) with two homers, four walks, and only one strikeout during this recent 7-1 stretch while Gardner is 10-for-26 (.385). Their combined on-base percentage is .417. During the 13-5 stretch, Ellsbury has hit .311/.394/.541 and Gardner has hit .317/.386/.350.

Gardner’s power still hasn’t resurfaced, but he has been hitting for average and getting on base the last three weeks. Ditto Ellsbury. The Yankees look like an entirely different team when these two are hot at the same time. We’ve seen it at various points the last three seasons. Gardner and Ellsbury continuing to set the table like they have been the last few weeks is essential to getting the Yankees into the postseason.

Betances and Clippard be automatic

At this point Joe Girardi‘s bullpen pecking order is clear: Dellin Betances is the closer (duh) and Tyler Clippard is the eighth inning guy. For a little while after the trade deadline Clippard was the seventh inning guy, but he and Adam Warren have flipped spots, which is for the best. Warren is better able to go multiple innings, which means Girardi won’t hesitate to use him to put out fires in the sixth inning, if necessary.

The Yankees seem to play nothing but close games these days — eight of their last 13 wins have come by no more than three runs and seven have come by no more than two runs — and that doesn’t figure to change, which means Betances and Clippard are going to have to be perfect in the last two innings, meaning protect every lead. The Yankees can’t afford to led late leads slip away and the two righties are the last line of defense out of the bullpen. When they’re handed a lead, it has to hold up.

Pineda becomes a reliable second starter

Right now the Yankees have a bonafide ace in Masahiro Tanaka and four other guys in the rotation who don’t make you feel all that comfortable. Maybe comfortable isn’t the right word. They’re just unpredictable from start to start. CC Sabathia is in the twilight of his career, Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa are just kids, and Michael Pineda is one of the most enigmatic pitchers in all of baseball.

Pineda is also one of the most talented pitchers in baseball — it’s good to be 6-foot-7 with a mid-90s cutter and a wipeout slider — and I think he has the best chance to emerge as a second reliable starter these last three weeks. The problem is Pineda has given Girardi no real reason to trust him. We all saw Girardi pull Pineda one out short of qualifying for the win with a five-run lead the other night.

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

As bad as the offense has been for long stretches of time this season, it seems more likely the rotation will be the Yankees’ downfall these final few weeks. Ivan Nova‘s been traded and both Nathan Eovaldi and Chad Green got hurt, meaning the Yankees have no choice but to rely on two rookies and a fading Sabathia. Pineda is young and he’s in what should be the prime of his career. He’s the club’s best hope for second solid starter.

One of the kids contributes from the bottom of the lineup

The Yankees committed to their youth movement last month and the kids have really improved the team, not only on the field, but in the dugout. The Yankees seem more energetic than they have been in years. It’s fun to watch. Gary Sanchez has been a monster who is rightfully hitting in the middle of the lineup. Tyler Austin and Aaron Judge, two other rookies, have had a tougher go of it. Here are their MLB numbers:

Austin: .224/.274/.414 (81 wRC+), 3 HR, 6.5 BB%, 35.5 K% in 62 plate appearances
Judge: .177/.258/.316 (53 wRC+), 3 HR, 9.0 BB%, 43.8 K% in 89 plate appearances

Both have shown signs of coming around of late, especially Austin, but the fact remains both have been negatives at the plate since being called up. (Judge has at least improved the right field defense.) If the Yankees were well out of the race like many expected them to be this month, running both kids out there everyday would be no big deal. The experience is the most important thing.

The Yankees need impact to get the postseason though, and it would be a huge help if either Austin or Judge started to figure things out and contribute from the bottom of the lineup. It would be cool if both did it, but let’s not get greedy. One of the two getting locked in would lengthen the lineup and make the offense that much dangerous. The kids are a big reason the Yankees are remotely close to a playoff spot right now, and if they’re going to sneak into the postseason, rookies like Austin and Judge will have to be a driving force.

Yankeemetrics: The Great Escape [Aug. 29-31]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Too little, too late
The Yankees fleeting playoff hopes hit a speed bump on Monday night as their late-inning comeback fell short in Kansas City, losing 8-5 to Royals.

Following another confounding outing by Michael Pineda and another middle-relief implosion, the Yankees found themselves down seven runs after the seventh inning, and despite battling back to twice getting the tying run at the plate, they couldn’t get the decisive hit.

After a four-run rally in the eighth pulled the Yankees within three runs, Mark Teixeira grounded out to end the inning with a man on first and second. That predictable #RISPFAIL dropped his batting average with runners in scoring position and two outs to .100 (4-for-40), the third-lowest among all players with at least 40 at-bats this season.

Starlin Castro also had a chance to be the hero in the ninth inning when came up with two outs and two men on. Kelvin Herrera threw him three straight curves; Castro took the first two for strikes then whiffed on the third one in the dirt for the final out. Castro’s line on curveballs this season fell to 6-for-52 (.115), the second-lowest batting average against the pitch in MLB (min. 50 at-bats).

In what has become an all-too-familiar tale for a Pineda start, the enigmatic right-hander showed flashes of dominance but ultimately the results in the box score were disappointing. He got rocked early, giving up three runs on five hits in the first inning, then retired 15 (!) straight batters in the second through sixth innings, before being removed in the seventh after giving up singles to the first two men he faced (who both eventually scored).

Pineda’s struggles in the opening frame are nothing new; after Monday’s disaster, he was tied for the most first-inning hits allowed and the second-most first-inning earned runs allowed, and his 7.62 first-inning ERA was the second-highest in the majors (min. 20 starts).

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Just call him Chasen Houdini
The Yankees pulled off one of their most stunning and nerve-wracking wins of the season on Tuesday, edging out the Royals, 5-4, for a ginormous victory against one of the teams they’re chasing in the wild card race.

They were celebrating at the end of the game thanks to a clutch hit in extra innings by the oft-maligned Jacoby Ellsbury, and a remarkable Houdini act to seal the win by improbable closer Chasen Shreve.

Ellsbury drove in the game-winning run in the 10th with a two-out, bases-loaded infield hit. He improved to 6-for-11 (.545) with 12 RBI with the bases loaded this season, tied with Mike Trout for the best batting average in MLB (min. 10 at-bats).

Shreve notched his first career save after escaping a bases-loaded, one out jam in the bottom of the 10th by fanning Kendrys Morales on three pitches and then getting Salvador Perez to fly out to center.

Over the last 25 seasons, the only other Yankee pitcher to strike out a guy with the bases loaded while protecting a lead in extras was — unsurprisingly — Mariano Rivera. The G.O.A.T got Mark Reynolds to swing through strike three for the final out of a 6-5, 10-inning win in Arizona on June 23, 2010.

Lost in the drama of the final frame was another solid outing by Masahiro Tanaka, who was removed following the rain delay after throwing five innings of two-run ball with four strikeouts and no walks. He finished the month of August with a nearly flawless strikeout-to-walk ratio of 38-to-1 (!), with the lone walk coming on Aug. 24 against the Mariners.

Tanaka is the first Yankee pitcher since at least 1913 to complete a month with at least 35 strikeouts and no more than one walk. In fact, just three other major-league pitchers in that 104-season span have struck out 38 or more guys and walked one or fewer in a calendar month: Cliff Lee (54 K, 1 BB in Sept. 2013), Hisashi Iwakuma (39 K, 1 BB in July 2014) and Javier Vazquez (39 K, 0 BB in May 2005).

Trading an out for a win
It was deja vu for the Yankees on Wednesday as they enjoyed free baseball for a second straight night and again notched a huge win in extras. It marked the first time the Yankees have ever won back-to-back extra-inning games versus the Royals, and the first time they’ve done that versus any team since Sept. 21-22, 2012 against the A’s.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

With the win, the Yankees are now 22-9 in games decided by one run, the second-best record in MLB behind the Rangers (30-8!) this year. Their .710 winning percentage in one-run games would be the highest single-season mark in franchise history; the current record is held by the 1963 team, which went 36-17 (.679).

This time they rallied from a four-run deficit and finally took the lead in the top of the 13th when Brian McCann delivered a sac fly to left field, scoring Didi Gregorius to make it 5-4. It was the latest go-ahead sac fly by a Yankee since Bernie Williams lofted a walk-off fly out in the 13th inning against the Red Sox on May 3, 1995.

McCann’s heroics wouldn’t have been possible without an incredible performance by the bullpen. It was truly a team effort as six relievers combined for seven scoreless and hitless innings. This was the first time ever that the Yankees won a game where they used six different relievers who each got at least one out and allowed no hits.

How did we get this far into Yankeemetrics without mentioning Mr. Gary Sanchez? Let’s fix that. Despite going 1-for-5 on Wednesday, Sanchez still finished August with a .389 batting average and .832 slugging percentage in 24 games.

Over the past 100 years, two players in their age-23 seasons or younger have hit at least .375 and slugged over .825 in any calendar month (min. 100 plate appearances): Gary Sanchez and Joe DiMaggio in July 1937.