2016 Midseason Review: The Rotation

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

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

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

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

Masahiro Tanaka: An Ace On Extra Rest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Pineda: Proof Swings & Misses Aren’t Everything

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nathan Eovaldi: So Good, Then So, So Bad

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

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

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

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

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

Luis Severino: From Future Ace To Reclamation Project

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

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

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

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

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

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

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

CC Sabathia: Return of the Ace, Temporarily

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

CC Sabathia pitch selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yankeemetrics: South side flop [July 4-6]

(AP)
(AP)

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

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

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

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

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(AP)
(AP)

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

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

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

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

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

Olney: Yankees fielding offers for Miller, Chapman, others

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

According to Buster Olney (subs. req’d), the Yankees are currently fielding offers for Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, and other players. Executives with other clubs tell Olney the Yanks are prepared to discuss Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, and Nathan Eovaldi as well. I’m sure they’re willing to talk about others too.

“The clock is ticking,” said Brian Cashman on Olney’s podcast (transcription via MLBTR), “and the more that we stay in this mode that we’re currently in, I think it’s going to force us into some tough decisions that we didn’t want to be in. There’s some time on the clock, but it’s getting late, as people would say.”

One rival executive told Olney his team made an “aggressive” offer for one of New York’s end-game relievers and that the Yankees are seriously considering it. Who is that team and what is their offer? Good luck getting that information. My guess is the Yankees have received a ton of offers for their bullpen arms — and other players too — some more serious than others.

The good news for the Yankees is a number of contending clubs are dealing with major bullpen issues right now. We saw what the Rangers are working with last week. The Giants bullpen blew another lead last night, and the Marlins blew a 6-0 lead Monday even with Fernando Rodney in tow. The Nationals and Dodgers could use relief help. So could the Red Sox, but I can’t see a trade happening there.

Either way, the Yankees should be in sell mode and it would be wise to make everyone available, not just the impending free agents. I’m glad they’re listening on guys like McCann and Eovaldi, not that I expect them to actually be moved. There’s no point in halfway rebuilding. The Yankees have been toeing the line between rebuilding and contending too long. Either go all-in and sell or don’t bother, you know?

The Yankees won last night — it was one of their best all-around performances of the season, in fact — but are still only 41-42 with a -27 run differential on the season. They’re seven games back in the AL East and four games back of the second wildcard spot with six teams ahead of them. The Yankees have literally the worst record among AL playoff hopefuls. They’re four games back of a wildcard spot, then next up is the A’s at 9.5 games back.

Yankeemetrics: Riding the .500 roller coaster [June 27-30]

(Photo credit: Getty Images)
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Mother Nature 1, Yankees 0
In a season filled with crushing losses, embarrassing performances, horrible blown leads and frustrating games, Monday’s contest against the Rangers just might surpass them all. It will certainly go down in the record books as one of the most surreal games played at Yankee Stadium, and likely one of the most deflating defeats in recent years. Joe Girardi summed it in his postgame comments to reporters:

“It’s hard for me to understand what happened tonight, how it got to this point. But it did, and we lost.”

The two teams played through a rainstorm that got progressively worse during the night, until the umpires finally called for the tarp in the ninth inning with Aroldis Chapman on the mound to protect a 6-5 Yankees advantage.

chapman rain
(Getty)

When the delay finally ended 3 hours and 35 minutes later, the closer was on the bench and Kirby Yates was in to save the game.

Instead, he suffered an unprecedented meltdown on the mound, coughing up the lead as he hit three batters and surrendered three runs before getting the final out of the ninth.

Yates became the first pitcher in more than 100 years to hit at least three batters, pitch no more than one inning and get tagged with the loss. The last guy to do it was Earl Moore of the Buffalo Buffeds in a Federal League game on June 17, 1914 against the Indianapolis Hoosiers.

As unwatchable as the Yankees middle relief has been in the past few years, they’ve still maintained a lockdown back of the bullpen to close out games. So what happens when you’re forced to call upon that dicey non-Big 3 reliever to try and seal a win? You get an incredibly rare loss for the Yankees.

This was the first time the Yankees lost a game when taking a lead into the ninth inning since June 1, 2014 against the Twins. They had won 160 straight games in that situation, including a 34-0 mark this year and an 81-0 mark last season.

The Hangover
The best thing to be said about Tuesday’s lifeless 7-1 defeat was that it only took 2 hours and 37 minutes. Alas, here’s a few more words about the utterly forgettable loss.

CC Sabathia made one mistake in the first inning — a two-run homer to Adrian Beltre — but then retired 18 of 21 batters in the second through seventh innings. The large lefty unraveled in the eighth inning, however, as the first four guys reached base before he was pulled from the game.

It was the first time all season he threw a pitch in the eighth inning, and predictably, things didn’t go well as Sabathia was ultimately charged with six runs in seven innings. He has allowed 11 earned runs in his last two starts (11 1/3 innings), compared four earned runs allowed in his previous seven starts (44 innings).

It appears that Sabathia is experiencing some regression in his fly ball luck. Through his first 11 starts of the season he allowed two homers and had an incredibly low homer-to-flyball ratio of 3.1 percent. He’s now surrendered a homer in each of his last two starts, and while his fly ball rate remained unchanged, his homer-to-flyball ratio shot up to 14.3 percent in that span.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

The Miracle on 161st Street and River Avenue
Buried in the standings and left for dead by much of the New York media, the Yankees pulled off arguably the most stunning win of the season — and perhaps its biggest so far — on Wednesday night, staging an epic comeback for the ages to beat the Rangers 9-7.

Trailing by five runs with five outs to go and three runs with two outs to go, the Yankees capped off a furious ninth inning rally with a pair of dramatic home runs, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat and breathing life into a team on the brink of irrelevance.

The win came with a few notable milestones:

  • it was their largest comeback win of the season
  • it was their first win this season when trailing entering the ninth inning (and it came less than 48 hours after they lost their first game in two years when leading entering the ninth inning!)
  • it was the first time they erased a deficit of at least four runs in the ninth inning or later since Sept. 22, 2012 against Oakland
  • it was their third win when trailing by four or more runs in the seventh inning or later in the past two weeks, after having only two such wins in the previous three seasons combined

The two biggest blows came from the bats of Brian McCann, who tied the game with a towering three-run homer in the final frame, and Didi Gregorius, who won the game with his first career walk-off shot. If that sounds like a rare type of rally … you’d be correct.

It was the first time since at least 1930 that the Yankees hit a game-tying homer when trailing by at least three runs in the ninth inning and then ended the game with a walk-off homer.

McCann became just the fourth Yankee in the past 70 seasons with a game-tying homer when facing a deficit of at least three runs at Yankee Stadium. He joins the illustrious group of Shelley Duncan (Aug. 15, 2007), Tino Martinez (July 2, 1998), and Joe DiMaggio (July 31, 1937 and Aug. 29, 1940).

Didi also put himself in some nice company with his historic blast. Only four other Yankee shortstops have hit a walk-off homer in the past 85 seasons: Derek Jeter (April 5, 2005 and Game 4 of the 2001 World Series), Gene Michael (June 23, 1971), Mickey Mantle (July 22, 1954 in a game he started in center field and then moved to shortstop in the ninth inning) and Phil Rizzuto (April 23, 1941).

(Photo credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)
(Photo credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

Be Like Mike
What’s better than a walk-off win against the best team in the AL? How about two of them in a row. The Yankees beat the Rangers, 2-1, on Thursday afternoon thanks to a passed ball in the bottom of the ninth that scored Chase Headley from third base.

This was just the second time in the last 50 years that the Yankees enjoyed a walk-off win via a passed ball; the other game was April 27, 2012 versus the Tigers.

It was also their second straight victory in walk-off fashion (duh), third on this nine-game homestand (also June 22 vs. Rockies) and fourth of the season. The last time the Yankees had three walk-off wins in a span of fewer than 10 days was May 15-23, 2009, when they had back-to-back-to-back (!) walk-off wins against the Twins and one six days later against the Phillies.

The uplifting victory wouldn’t have been possible without another stellar performance from Michael Pineda, who finished with 12 strikeouts and one run allowed on two hits. It was the 13th time in last 100 years that a Yankee pitcher struck out at least 12 batters while giving up no more than two hits and one run — but only once before had that pitcher also not been credited with the win, like Pineda. On April 11, 1997, David Cone tossed seven scoreless innings and had 12 strikeouts against the A’s in a game the Yankees lost 3-1.

Pineda capped off an excellent June (2.75 ERA in six starts) with perhaps his two best outings of the season: a two-hit, one-run, eight-strikeout effort on June 25 against the Twins and Thursday’s two-hit, one-run, 12-strikeout masterpiece. He’s the third Yankee in the last century to strike out at least eight batters and allow no more than two hits in back-to-back starts, matching David Cone (1997) and Al Downing (1965).

His stuff was especially nasty when he got into two-strike counts, as he induced a swing-and-miss on strike three for all 12 of his punch outs. Pineda is just the fourth pitcher in baseball this season to record 12 swinging strikeouts in a game, along with Clayton Kershaw (12 on June 10), Vince Velasquez (13 on April 14) and Max Scherzer (14 on May 11). No other Yankee pitcher has done that in a game since at least 2008 (the Pitch f/x era).

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

(AP)
(AP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

arod dork
(Getty)

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

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

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

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

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

(Getty)
(Getty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post: The Curious Case of Pineda’s Increasing Strikeout Totals and Declining Results

The following is a guest post from a longtime reader who goes by A Rare Ellsbury Fan in the comments. He’s a high school freshman and wishes to stay anonymous. AREF wrote about the perpetually enigmatic Michael Pineda.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

For the first three (somewhat) healthy seasons of Michael Pineda’s Yankee career, the Yankees and fans have been left wanting more. Before the 2014 season, the only expectation on the shoulders of Michael Pineda was for him to finally put on the pinstripes and take the mound. After a dazzling 2011 rookie campaign in which he earned an All-Star selection with the Seattle Mariners, Pineda missed the entire 2012 and 2013 seasons with various arm and shoulder injuries. Since he finally got back on the mound in 2014, we have witnessed some very different shades of the man we affectionately (sometimes) refer to as “Big Mike.”

Unusual Dominance

The 2014 season was by far Pineda’s best in pinstripes and also statistically the best of his career, in an injury and suspension riddled sample size, admittedly. The big right-hander pitched to a 1.89 ERA (2.71 FIP) and allowed only 56 hits in 76.1 third innings. He kept balls in the park at an astounding rate (0.59 HR/9) while peculiarly inducing the most fly balls of his Yankees career (42.3%) and the lowest strikeout rate of his career (20.3%).

The first thing that jumps into my mind when I see these numbers is the luck factor. While there are many pitchers who make a living on weak fly balls, that has never really been Pineda’s MO besides that season. Also, in a homer prone ballpark in Yankee Stadium, the increase in fly balls should mean an increase in home runs, a far cry from the minuscule homer rate that he actually gave up in 2014.

Is it possible that Pineda was just generating weaker contact in 2014? Sure, and that likely contributed to some to it. Is it also possible that Pineda was a little fortunate that more fly balls weren’t leaving the park? That’s a likely possibility too. One thing that we do know, however, is that something doesn’t quite add up here.

First Signs of Trouble

After a strangely successful first half of the 2015 season, in which Pineda allowed 115 hits in 106.1 innings pitched to go along with a solid 3.64 ERA, the first real signs of trouble for Big Mike came in the second half of 2015. In that half, it seems as if Pineda’s string of good luck finally came to a screeching halt. Pineda maintained a similar hit to IP ratio (61 in 54.1 IP), but his ERA ballooned to a dreadful 5.80.

Overall, Pineda finished with a 4.37 ERA (3.34 FIP) with 156 strikeouts and 176 hits allowed across 160.2 IP, the most since his aforementioned 2011 All-Star season. You may have noticed the increased strikeout rate (8.74 K/9) which jumped nearly 2 more batters a game from his highly successful 2014 season. He also was elite at limiting walks (1.18 BB/9).

The obvious conclusion here in the much discussed issue of Pineda not throwing enough “quality” strikes, meaning hitting the corners, bottom, and top of the zone, while not leaving pitches over the middle of the plate. This most likely played a part in the amount of hits given up, as well as the fact that he pitched nearly 100 more innings in 2015 than he did in 2014. Assuredly, with all that behind him, Pineda was primed for a bounce back 2016 season.

An Unexpected Step Back

The 2016 season to date has been a very, very bad one for Big Mike. Again, his strikeout rate is higher than It was last season (24.4% vs. 23.4%), but with it has come another inflated pitching line. So far, Pineda has a 5.88 ERA (4.04 FIP) with 90 hits against him in only 72 innings, all while opponents have hit .299 against him.

It’s not just the stats either. Pineda has looked lost on the bump, with body language indicating frustration.Any consistency that he once had with his slider, which is a devastating wipeout pitch at its best, is gone. Every time he throws one, you cringe and hope that it isn’t hit 450 feet for another homer. This is the worst we’ve seen from Pineda during his tenure with the Yankees, and it has not been pretty.

Overall, Michael Pineda is the biggest wild card on the Yankees staff. On some days he looks like a true front of the rotation pitcher, and on other days he looks like he belongs in AAA. With his free agency fast approaching, and his rotation mate Nathan Eovaldi having shown major strides the second half of last season and into this year, this is a critical time for Michael Pineda to get his act together.

There could be a time where the Yankees will need to choose between one of the two to extend long term, and at this point, it certainly seems to be leaning in Eovaldi’s direction. If Pineda can find his put-away slider again, it will not only pay major dividends for him, but it will make an already solid Yankees rotation even better. With this offense, we all know they need it.

Yankeemetrics: Welcome back to .500 [June 6-9]

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Call it a comeback
For the first two-thirds of Monday’s series opener against the Angels, it looked like the game would follow a familiar script: yet another strong effort by the starting pitcher wasted because of a lack of run support …

… And then suddenly everything changed in the span of three pitches. Brian McCann and Starlin Castro hit back-to-back homers in the seventh inning, tying the game at 2-2. Carlos Beltran capped the comeback with a three-run shot in the eighth inning that gave the Yankees one of their most stirring wins of the season.

Beltran flashed rare opposite field power with that blast. It was his 67th homer as a right-handed batter over the last 10 seasons, but just the third time in that span that he’s sent the ball over the right field fence.

Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have his best stuff but he grinded through seven innings and held the Angels to two runs. It was his 10th start allowing two earned runs or fewer this season, the most among AL pitchers through Monday. The last Yankee to post double-digit starts with two earned runs or fewer allowed — this early into the season (57th team game) — was Ron Guidry during his Cy Young-winning campaign of 1978.

Carlos in charge
It is a question that has been asked many times this season: Where would the Yankees be without Carlos Beltran in the middle of their lineup? They most definitely would not have two wins in the first two games of this series.

For the second night in a row, Beltran hit a game-changing homer to help the Yankees beat the Angels, and this one was most notable because it was also his 1,000th career extra-base hit. We know that Beltran in his prime possessed that rare combo of power, patience and speed. And there’s proof in the numbers, too:

Beltran is just the seventh player in major-league history to compile at least 1,000 extra-base hits, 1,000 walks and 300 stolen bases. The others on that list are Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Tris Speaker and Craig Biggio.

Two weeks ago, Michael Pineda‘s spot in the rotation was seemingly in jeopardy. But after Tuesday’s promising seven-inning, three-run performance, there is a glimmer of hope that maybe he’s finally turned the corner.

Thanks to a lower arm slot that has added depth to his slider, Pineda has a 61 percent whiffs-per-swing rate on the pitch in his two June starts (up from 42 percent in April and May), and has given up just three singles – while netting 10 strikeouts – among the 71 sliders he’s thrown this month.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

C-Parm, the newest True Yankee®
The Angels were once the Yankees’ kryptonite — the were the only American League team that had a winning record against them during the Joe Torre era — but since then have become their punching bag, especially in the Bronx.

With Tuesday’s win, the Yankees improved to 23-8 against the Angels at the new Yankee Stadium, their best record against any AL squad at the ballpark.

The Yankees also continued to beat up on the Angels pitching staff on Wednesday night, belting out nine extra-base hits and 17 hits overall en route to a 12-6 win.

The nine extra-base hits tied the most they’ve ever hit against the Angels (also in 1997), and was the Yankees most in a home game against any team in nearly five years. That last happened in the second game of a doubleheader against the Orioles on July 30, 2011, a 17-3 rout that included six doubles, a triple and two homers.

Chris Parmelee, making his first start in pinstripes, wasted no time in getting started on his campaign for a plaque in Monument Park. He went 3-for-5, hitting two homers and a double, while driving in three runs.

In the last 100 seasons, the only other player to hit at least two homers in his first start with the Yankees was Roger Maris. Acquired from the Royals in December 1959, Maris had four hits — two homers, a double and a single — and four RBIs in a 8-4 win over the Red Sox on Opening Day in 1960.

Broom, broom
Remember when the Yankees couldn’t even win three games in a row? With their 6-3 victory on Thursday night, they now have two four-game sweeps on their ledger this season. Amazing facts, I tell ya.

This was their first four-game sweep of the Angels since July 21-24, 1994, and the victory was also their ninth in a row against them in the Bronx. That’s the Yankees second-longest home win streak in this rivalry, behind only an 11-gamer spanning the 1961-62 seasons.

Something that is not shocking … Carlos Beltran was once again in the middle of another Yankees offensive outburst. His tie-breaking RBI double in the fifth inning was his fourth go-ahead hit in this series, and team-leading 15th go-ahead RBI of the season — nearly twice as many as any other Yankee has in 2016 (Starlin Castro and A-Rod are second with eight).

He’s also now driven in at least two runs in each of his last four games, matching the longest multi-RBI streak of his career, a mark he set in the 2006 season with the Mets. The last Yankee with two-or-more RBIs in four straight games was Mark Teixeira in 2010.