Game 111: Score Runs This Isn’t Funny Anymore

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Okay, that series over the weekend was a nightmare. No positives to be taken from it. The offense was miserable, they had the off-day yesterday to clear their heads, and now it’s time to get back to scoring a boatload of runs. I mean, I’ll be happy with like four tonight, that could be enough to win, but I really want to see a crooked number. Big inning, everyone involved, the works. No runs is no fun.

Oh, and tonight is Luis Severino‘s second career start. Stupid offense kinda stole the spotlight away. Severino was good in his first start — he looked ridiculous at times and also looked like a 21-year-old rookie at times, that’s usually how it goes — but hopefully the first start jitters are out of the way so he can go out and shove against a depleted Indians lineup. They’ve traded some veteran bats in the last two weeks or so. Here is Cleveland’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. 3B Brendan Ryan
    RHP Luis Severino

It has been raining in New York most of the day but not in Cleveland. It’s just cloudy and humid there. No wet stuff in the forecast. Tonight’s game will begin at 7pm ET — the Yankees have no more games outside the Eastern Time Zone, you know — and you can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Michael Pineda (forearm) threw 25 pitches off a mound yesterday and had no problems. He’ll throw a full bullpen session Thursday … Chase Headley acknowledged his legs are a little banged up from foul balls and stuff. He is available tonight but they want to give him two days off.

Game 108: Bring on the Jays

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It has been three years since the Yankees played a series this important, no? I think that’s fair to say. That doesn’t mean this series is life or death — there are still 52 games to play after this, you know — but it is pretty damn important. Gotta keep the Blue Jays, who are playing their most important series in about 20 years, at bay. A six-game lead in the loss column is nice but not insurmountable.

Nathan Eovaldi is on the mound tonight and he is the Yankees’ most reliable starter right now. No, he doesn’t pitch deep into games, but he’s found a way to keep runs off the board and limit base-runners — 45 hits in his last 47 innings! — on a somewhat consistent basis. The Blue Jays have baseball’s best offense and they’ll be a tough little test for Eovaldi. Here is Toronto’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

Gosh it is a gorgeous day for baseball here in New York. Just a few clouds, nice blue sky, temperatures in the low-80s … pretty much perfect weather for baseball. Too bad it wasn’t a day game. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy!

Injury Updates: McCann (knee) is well enough to play today, obviously. He’s wearing a brace on his knee and will for another week or so … Michael Pineda (forearm) played catch at 90 feet both Wednesday and Thursday with no issues. Today was a scheduled off-day for him. He hopes to throw off a mound Monday.

Game 105: Back Home

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time since sweeping the Orioles a week and a half ago, the Yankees are back home in Yankee Stadium. It’s been a while. They’ve been way better at home (30-17, +47 run differential) than on the road (29-28, +13) and now settle in for a six-game homestand. Sixteen of their next 22 games are at home and 34 of final 58 games are in the Bronx. Hooray for that.

Masahiro Tanaka is on the mound tonight and let’s be real, he has hardly been ace-like this season. A 3.80 ERA (103 ERA+) and 4.01 FIP isn’t disastrous, especially since most of it stems from his propensity to give up solo homers, but it’s not what the Yankees or fans were expecting coming into the season. Tanaka’s had some moments of brilliance, just many. Let’s hope for one tonight. Here’s the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Brendan Ryan
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Nice day in New York. Hot but not humid with just a few clouds in the sky. Good night for a game. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Yankees vs. Red Sox always gets national billing no matter how out of the race one team may be.

Injury Updates: In case you missed it earlier, Dustin Ackley (back) was placed on the 15-day DL … Michael Pineda (forearm) will start a throwing program tomorrow. His return is not imminent though, Brian Cashman basically ruled him out until September while talking to reporters this afternoon.

Roster Updates: Caleb Cotham has been called up to replace Ackley on the roster … Luis Severino is not with the team because there’s no reason to activate him yet. Joe Girardi reiterated his is not a one and done; Severino’s in the rotation.

Game 101: So Long, Texas

"Yo, I heard they picked up this Ackley guy who used to be a second baseman." (Presswire)
“Yo, I heard they picked up this Ackley guy who used to be a second baseman.” (Presswire)

Some series go by quickly, some go by slowly, and for some reason this four-game set with the Rangers feels like it has been going on for two weeks. Maybe it’s just me. That crazy game two nights ago, the 21-5 game, took forever. Maybe that’s what it is. I feel like the Yankees are been in Texas for a month.

Anyway, the Yankees and Rangers finally wrap up this four-game series tonight and the Yankees have a streak on the line. They’ve won each of their last six series — the last series loss was in Anaheim last month — and tonight they have a chance to stretch it to seven. Winning a four-game series is tough, but they can do it tonight. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    LHP CC Sabathia

Last day in the heat. Temperatures have again been over 100 degrees all day in Arlington and they’ll be in the 90s when the game begins. First pitch is scheduled for 8:05pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Updates: In case you missed it earlier, Michael Pineda was placed on the 15-day DL with a Grade I flexor muscle strain in his forearm. It’s the same thing Andrew Miller had earlier this year. Pineda told reporters the MRI showed only inflammation and he’s not worried. He will be shut down 7-10 days before he can resume throwing … Ivan Nova (arm fatigue) threw a bullpen session today and is on track to make his next start.

Roster Moves: Pineda was placed on the DL and Caleb Cotham was optioned to Triple-A Scranton, the Yankees announced. Nick Goody and Bryan Mitchell were both called up in corresponding moves. Pineda’s DL stint allows them to bring Goody back before his ten-day window expires … Also, in case you missed it, the Yankees acquired Dustin Ackley in a three-player trade today. He won’t be in uniform tonight though. Joe Girardi said he’ll be a utility guy, not the starting second baseman.

Rotation Update: Nathan Eovaldi will start tomorrow and Nova will start Sunday, but Saturday’s starter is TBA, the Yankees say. I have to think Mitchell is an option. Esmil Rogers is scheduled to start that day for Triple-A Scranton, if you’re curious.

Update: Pineda heading to DL with Grade I forearm strain

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

2:59pm ET: It’s official. The Yankees have placed Pineda on the 15-day DL with a “right flexor forearm muscle strain,” the team announced. They did not give a timetable. Sabathia will be bumped up a day to start tonight. He’ll be on normal rest because of Tuesday’s spot starter.

2:37pm ET: Pineda is heading to the DL with a Grade I forearm muscle strain, reports Joel Sherman. It’s the same injury Andrew Miller had earlier this year. Miller missed a month but is a reliever who didn’t have to get stretched out. Between healing time and a minor league rehab assignment, Pineda could be out six to eight weeks. We’ll see. Sherman says Bryan Mitchell is being called up for long relief and Sabathia will start in place of Pineda tonight.

1:45pm ET: Well this is ominous. According to Marly Rivera, Michael Pineda has been scratched from tonight’s start with tightness in his forearm. Apparently Mike Francesa was first to report the news. No word on who will start tonight, but it could be CC Sabathia on normal rest. The Yankees have not yet officially announced anything.

Forearm tightness is usually code for an elbow injury. Pineda missed time with an elbow strain while in the minors back in 2009 but has had no trouble since as far as I can tell. He missed a bunch of time with shoulder trouble the last few years, but that’s it. His elbow has been sound.

Pineda, 26, has a 3.97 ERA (2.96 FIP) in 118 innings, by far the most innings he’s thrown since his rookie season in 2011. He tossed just 76.1 innings around a lat strain. Pineda’s control has been shaky at times this year, which is often a symptom of looming elbow trouble. He’s also a slider heavy pitcher, throwing it 33.5% of the time this season. Sliders are ostensibly bad for the elbow.

Even before Pineda’s injury, the Yankees needed pitching help to bolster a starting staff with a 4.32 ERA, ranking 21st in MLB. David Price and Johnny Cueto are off the board, Scott Kazmir too, but there are still quite a few arms available on the trade market, including Mike Leake and Yovani Gallardo. Either way, fingers crossed for Pineda. This is big picture scary.

2015 Midseason Review: The Risky, High-Upside Rotation

Boy, the rotation was such a big concern coming into the season. We were talking about every scrap heap starter imaginable in Spring Training — Felix Doubront, Jacob Turner, Randall Delgado, Erasmo Ramirez, yikes — as if they would be some kind of upgrade. The Yankees never did add another starter in camp, and while the staff as a whole has been just okay (4.24 ERA and 3.75 FIP), they’ve stayed relatively healthy and have the potential to be much better in the second half. Nathan Eovaldi is both frustrating and evolving. The rest of the rotation? Let’s review.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Elbow Holding Up, Pitches Left Up

Needless to say, Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow was the single biggest injury risk the Yankees had heading into the 2015 season. He’s their ace, he was one of the ten best pitchers in baseball before getting hurt last year, and now the partially torn ligament in his elbow is like a storm cloud looming over every pitch. You can’t help but let it linger in the back of your mind.

So far this season Tanaka’s elbow has stayed in one piece — he spent a month on the DL with wrist tendinitis and a minor forearm strain, and of course forearm strains are synonymous with elbow problems — but his performance has been uneven. He’s had some truly great starts and some truly awful ones as well. The end result is a 3.63 ERA (3.60 FIP) with strikeout (24.9%), walk (4.8%), and ground ball (47.6%) rates right in line with last year (26.0%, 3.9%, and 46.6%, respectively).

Tanaka’s start-to-start performance has been much more unpredictable, however. Last year he had an average Game Score of 63.4 with a standard deviation of 13.3. This year it’s an average of 56.3 with a standard deviation of 18.7, which means Tanaka’s starts this season are deviating from his average Game Score by a larger margin. So when he’s good, he’s really good, but when he’s been bad, he’s been really bad. Tanaka has some terrible starts earlier this season, no doubt about it.

The common thread whenever Tanaka has a subpar start seems to be his location, particularly leaving pitches up in the zone. Not so much his fastball, but his slider and splitter. Tanaka’s split-piece is world class, that thing is devastating, but if it’s left up in the zone rather than buried in the dirt, it’s basically a batting practice fastball. It’s no surprise then that Tanaka’s home run rate has climbed from 0.99 HR/9 (14.0 HR/FB%) last year to 1.34 HR/9 (15.4 HR/FB%) this year.

No, Tanaka has not been as good as he was last season before the injury, but overall he’s been solid for the Yankees this year and at times spectacular. The Yankees want to see more of the spectacular Tanaka in the second half and they’re going to need him to get to the postseason. So far his elbow is holding up — his velocity is fine and his swing-and-miss rate is still top notch — and that ace ability exists. More start-to-start consistency and fewer grooved pitches are the key going forward.

(Presswire)
That’s quite the wingspan. (Presswire)

Large Michael

Okay, so I knew Michael Pineda had been pretty awesome in the first half, but holy smokes, I didn’t realize how good his rates are: 25.2% strikeouts, 3.0% walks, 50.3% grounders. That is insane. Among the 97 qualified starters that is the 14th best strikeout rate, the fourth best walk rate, and the 22nd best ground ball rate. Holy smokes. Only Max Scherzer (10.71) has a better K/BB ratio than Pineda (8.54). Gosh.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, we have to talk about Pineda’s good but not great 3.64 ERA (109 ERA+) and those 115 hits he’s allowed in 106.1 innings. The peripherals are fan-friggin-tastic, but there’s a disconnect here. The 1.01-run gap between Pineda’s ERA and FIP is the fifth largest gap among qualified starters and by far the largest among pitchers with a sub-4.00 ERA. When Pineda is on, he does things like this …

… but when he’s off, he can’t command his slider and runs short on weapons. Pineda’s slider is absurd when it’s on. It’s an unhittable pitch. But when he doesn’t have it working, Pineda almost becomes a one-pitch pitcher because his changeup, while improved, isn’t a consistent weapon yet. His low-to-mid-90s fastball is really good, it’s just less good when hitters don’t have to honor the slider.

Like Tanaka, Pineda has had his fair share of brilliant starts and duds this year, though Pineda’s duds were bunched together — he had a 6.10 ERA (4.09 FIP) in the seven starts immediately following the 16-strikeout game. Big Mike had a 2.68 ERA (1.89 FIP) in six starts before the 16-strikeout game and he had a 1.25 ERA (1.74 FIP) in his last three starts before the break. So it was seven really bad starts sandwiched between two excellent stretches. Maybe he overextended himself during the 16-strikeout game and it threw him out of whack a bit.

Either way, the biggest concern with Pineda going forward is his workload. He’s on pace for 195 innings after throwing 76.1 innings last year, 40.2 innings the year before, and none the year before that due to shoulder surgery. The Yankees already skipped one of his starts and they will inevitably do it again in the second half. They have no choice. His right arm is too special and it already broke once. They can’t push it again. Like Tanaka, Pineda has ace upside at his best, though the Yankees will have to rein in his excellence in the second half to keep him healthy.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

End Of The Line

Believe it or not, I picked CC Sabathia to win the AL Comeback Player of the Year before the season. That was pure homerism, me foolishly thinking he would get back on track — not necessarily be an ace again, but serviceable — following knee surgery, but nope. It hasn’t happened. Quite the opposite in fact.

Sabathia’s late-career decline has continued this season with a 5.47 ERA (4.52 FIP) in 100.1 innings. He isn’t walking anyone (4.6%), so that’s good, but he’s giving up a ton of homers (1.70 HR/9) and getting annihilated by right-handed batters (.325/.367/.565 and .397 wOBA). His dominance of left-handed batters (.189/.198/.258 and .198 wOBA) would be more useful if he faced more than 91 of ’em in the first half.

It feels like every Sabathia start plays out the same way: a good first inning that gives you hope he’ll have a good start, a three or four-run second inning that knocks you back to reality, then zeroes the rest of the night that leave you wondering why the One Bad Inning can never be avoided. That’s the Sabathia formula in 2015. It feels like it happens every time out.

The Yankees have already made it known Sabathia will not be losing his rotation spot anytime soon, obviously because of his contract. That’s fine, they’re not the only team giving an undeserving player a lot of playing time because of money, but the Yankees are making life harder on themselves by leaving CC in the rotation. He has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2015, there’s no slicing and dicing the numbers to make it look better, and getting to the postseason will be tougher because of him.

Too Good To Start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

When the Yankees pulled Adam Warren from the rotation a few weeks ago, he was leading the starters with a 3.59 ERA and had just started to look comfortable in that role. April wasn’t all that good for Warren, who looked very much like a reliever masquerading as a starter, but he got into a groove in the middle of May and was the team’s most reliable starter for a good stretch of time.

Warren lost his starting job through no fault of his own. He pitched well, but the Yankees had a need for a right-handed reliever after David Carpenter flopped and Warren has had success out of the bullpen, plus the team was unwilling to remove Sabathia from the rotation when Ivan Nova returned from Tommy John surgery. Warren did not deserve to move to the bullpen but man, life isn’t fair.

I’m not sure the 14-start stint told us much about Warren we didn’t already know. He threw five pitches regularly, which is something he did even in relief, so it’s not like we had to see if he had the weapons to go through a lineup multiple times. Warren did show he could hold his velocity deep into games, so I guess that’s something we learned:

Adam Warren velocity by inning

His strikeout (16.0%) and ground ball (44.6%) rates as a starter this year certainly weren’t as good as they were as a reliever last year (23.5% and 45.4%, respectively), which isn’t surprising. Every pitcher sees their performance tick up on a rate basis when they move into a short relief role. Warren’s no different. He wasn’t an ace, far from it, but he was a perfectly competent Major League starting pitcher.

It’s easy to forget Warren only made the rotation because Chris Capuano got hurt in Spring Training. He was the sixth starter — if the Yankees are to be believed, he was competing for the sixth starter’s job with Esmil Rogers, which, lol — who got a rotation spot thanks to injury. Capuano’s quad gave Warren an opportunity and he took advantage. He showed he can start in the big leagues. His move to the bullpen says more about the team’s decision-making than it does Warren’s performance.

Unlocking the mystery of Michael Pineda

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

Along with the shiny ERA (1.89) and ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio (8.4), perhaps the most impressive part of Michael Pineda’s 2014 campaign was his consistency from start-to-start.

Game Score is a metric devised by Bill James that provides a quick-and-dirty evaluation of a pitcher’s start. Every pitcher begins a game with 50 points and then gets points added/subtracted based on innings pitched, strikeouts, walks, hits and runs allowed. 50 is average, anything above 90 is awesome, and anything below 10 is horrible.

Last year, Pineda posted an above-average Game Score in 11 of his 13 starts — the exceptions were the pine tar game in April and his September 11 start against the Rays when he allowed 10 hits and four runs in 7 1/3 innings (Game Score of 44).

Pineda’s 2015 season couldn’t be any more different. While he’s shown flashes of brilliance — the 16-strikeout gem against the Orioles, the one-hit masterpiece against the Marlins — he’s also had his share of clunkers. Six of his 14 starts have produced a Game Score under 50, including a career-worst Game Score of 5 in his most recent start on June 22. He’s basically been either a stud or a dud this season, and can go from elite to enigma in the blink of an eye.

Strap in, because this roller coaster ride is not for those with weak stomachs:

Pineda GmScr

The peaks and valley have become even more extreme in his last seven starts, which have resulted in the following game scores, starting with his May 15 outing against the Royals: 29, 37, 65, 57, 23, 75, 5. Yikes.

How can we explain this bizarre Jekyll-and-Hyde sequence from a pitcher that last year resembled a metronome (when healthy)?

A scout recently told John Harper of the New York Daily News that one reason for the huge disparity in Pineda’s performance lies in the inconsistent execution of his signature slider:

“His height creates an angle on the slider that hitters don’t usually see and when it has a sharp break they don’t hit it. But when he doesn’t have the tight spin and the sharp break, it hangs in the strike zone and it’s getting hit.”

This is what Prince Fielder can do with a hanging slider from Pineda:

ezgif.com-crop (2)

But Lorenzo Cain had no chance on this nasty slider from Pineda:

ezgif.com-crop (3)

Pineda’s last two starts have been a microcosm of his season. On June 17 against the Marlins he was at his absolute best, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Five days later against the Phillies, he pitched the worst game of his career.

Just as the scout noted, his slider was much flatter against the Phillies compared to his previous start, averaging nearly an inch less vertical movement and three-quarters of an inch less horizontal movement. Against the Marlins, his slider netted Pineda nine outs — including six strikeouts — with no hits allowed; the Phillies put six of his sliders in play and got three hits off the pitch.

But it wasn’t just a sloppy slider that doomed Pineda against the Phillies. Similar to his other disaster starts this season, he struggled to hit his spots with his cutter and batters pounded the poorly located pitches.

As you can see in the images below, he did a good job of avoiding the middle of the zone vs. the Marlins (on the top). But he threw far too many cutters (dark red dots) over the heart of the plate vs. the Phillies (on the bottom), who got seven hits and made just four outs against the pitch.

Pineda vs Marlins

pineda vs Phillies

When Pineda is at his best, he’s got a sharp slider and devastating cutter that makes him nearly unhittable. But at his worst, he’s forced to navigate lineups with flat sliders and batting-practice cut fastballs — a pitching arsenal that becomes crushable even against the worst offensive team in the majors. Although this inability to execute his pitches probably doesn’t completely explain Pineda’s inconsistency this season, it’s something that can’t be ignored.

Once tabbed as the future ace of the Yankees pitching staff, Pineda is now a mystery with the potential to either dominate or detonate when he steps on the mound. The question remains: can he find the consistent approach necessary to make him a true top-of-the-rotation starter?