Yankeemetrics: West Coast Nightmare Part II (June 15-18)

(AP)
(AP)

Well, that was awful … but Yankeemetrics still has Fighting Spirit and all the stats you need to know.

One Strike Away
The nightmare road trip, which started in Anaheim, continued as the Yankees headed north to Oakland and suffered a brutal 8-7 loss on Thursday night. It was a game of extreme highs and lows, a back-and-forth rollercoaster ride that ended in one of the most crushing defeats of the season so far.

The Yankees kept falling behind … but somehow staged four separate game-tying rallies and finally surged ahead in the top of the 10th … only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In the bottom of the 10th, Gio Gallegos surrendered a two-strike, two-out, bases-loaded RBI single that flipped the Yankees one-run advantage into another walk-off loss.

The details of this game were so chaotic and unprecedented, let’s run through it with bullet points:

  • It was the Yankees third walk-off loss to the A’s in the last six seasons (since 2012); no other non-AL East team has more than one walk-off win against the Yankees in that span.
  • It was their first walk-off loss to any team when they were one strike away from a win since April 15, 2007 against the A’s. Yikes, the Marco Scutaro game.
  • And finally … Before Thursday, the last (documented) time the Yankees had an extra-inning, walk-off loss, when leading with two outs and one strike away from a win, was June 4, 1988 against the Orioles. This game remains one of the most excruciating regular-season losses the Yankees have ever had, as they blew a two-run lead and lost on a rare three-base error in the 14th inning. Welp.

Back to Thursday night … Before the heart-breaking ending, the Yankees had taken the lead in the top of the 10th on a bases-loaded sac fly by Starlin Castro. Thankfully, Castro gives us our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Week:

This was the second time Castro had delivered a go-ahead sac fly in extras since joining the Yankees, also doing it against the Mets last August. Since sac flies were officially recorded in 1954, only three other players have hit multiple go-ahead, extra-inning sac flies in a Yankee uniform – Bernie Williams, Ruben Sierra and Horace Clarke.

(Getty)
(Getty)

No relief
It was deja vu all over again for the Yankees on Friday night as they lost another winnable game thanks to a late-inning meltdown by the depleted bullpen.

Four straight soul-crushing defeats, and in each of those four games a reliever has taken the loss. I scoured the Yankees’ boxscores and, in the last two decades, couldn’t find a four-game stretch where a relief pitcher took the loss in each contest. I was too depressed to research any further back.

Amidst the doom-and-gloom of this latest gut-punch loss was the shining star of Aaron Judge, who finished with two hits, two runs scored and three RBIs. He blasted his 23rd home run of the season, a three-RBI opposite field shot in the third inning.

The most amazing part of Judge’s power is that he is not just a pull-happy slugger. Check out this beautiful spray chart (LOL, the 495-foot home run that is literally off the chart):

aaron-judge-2

According to the hit location data at baseball-reference.com, after Friday night’s game, his homer distribution was nice and symmetrical: six to left, 11 to center and six to right. He was a ridiculous 17-for-27 (.630) and slugging 1.407 when putting the ball in play to right – both those marks were easily the best in baseball among players with at least 25 batted balls to the opposite field.

Judge also checked off another milestone on Friday, scoring his 60th run of the season. The list of other Yankees in the last eight decades to reach 60 runs in the team’s first 65 games is a short, but holy-cow good one: A-Rod (2007), Rickey Henderson (1986), Mickey Mantle (1956, ’57) and Joe DiMaggio (1941).

(AP)
(AP)

Terrible Tanaka, again
The road trip from hell continued on Saturday afternoon with the Yankees extending their season-high losing streak to five games after another disaster, dinger-filled performance by Masahiro Tanaka.

The home run derby started on Tanaka’s first pitch of the game, which Matt Joyce deposited into the right-centerfield seats. It was the third leadoff homer allowed by Tanaka this season, one shy of the Yankees single-season record set by Stan Bahnsen in 1970. The only other Yankees to give up three leadoff homers in a season are Hiroki Kuroda (2014) and Catfish Hunter (1976).

Unsurprisingly, this is the current batting line for hitters leading off a game against Tanaka: .571/.571/1.286 — eight hits in 14 at-bats, including three homers and a double. Oh, and this is what happens when opponents put the first pitch of a plate appearance in play against Tanaka: .478 batting average and 1.130 slugging percentage — 22 hits in 46 at-bats, including nine doubles and seven homers.

The A’s pummeled Tanaka for two more home runs, bringing his season total to 21, the most homers ever allowed by a Yankee pitcher at this point in the season (team’s 66th game).

The silver lining in Tanaka’s atrocious outing is that 10 of the 12 outs he got were via strikeouts, showing that he still has the nasty, elite stuff to dominate hitters at times. His 10 strikeouts were the most by any Yankee that pitched no more than four innings in a game.

But, of course, there were the dreaded mistake pitches that the A’s crushed for three homers. In the end, Tanaka produced one of the most bizarre pitching line in baseball history. Going back to 1913 (our limit for complete gamelogs), Tanaka is the only major-league pitcher to strike out 10 batters and surrender at least three homers in an outing of four innings or fewer. History!

(AP)
(AP)

Goodbye and good riddance to the west coast
The Yankees miserable seven-game road trip mercifully came to an end on Sunday, fittingly with another hideous loss. They finished up 1-6 in California, the first time they won one game or fewer on a road swing of at least seven games in more than two decades. They went 1-8 on a nine-game trip from May 23-31, 1995 through Anaheim, Oakland and Seattle.

That brutal stretch, however, was filled with a few highlights — notably the big-league debuts of a couple Yankee legends: Mariano Rivera on May 23, and Derek Jeter on May 29.

As poorly as the Yankees played in Oakland, it was certainly an unexpected sweep by the home team: Entering this weekend, the Yankees were the only AL team that had not been swept in a series, and the Athletics were the only AL team that had yet to sweep a series this season. ‘Ya know, Suzyn …’

The most excruciating part of this current free-fall is that the Yankees had a chance to win probably every game, and have only been outscored by a mere nine runs during their six-game losing streak. The last time they endured a six-game stretch of games with six losses and run differential of no worse than negative-9 was June 29-July 4, 1975.

Three of the four losses in this series, and four of the six on this trip, were by exactly one run, as the Yankees record in those games fell to 7-12. Those 12 losses match the same number the Yankees had last year, when they went 24-12 in one-run games. Hey, at least Aroldis Chapman threw a perfect eighth inning and averaged 101.3 mph on the seven four-seam fastballs he threw, according to brooksbaseball.net.

6/15 to 6/18 Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

Sonny Gray. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Sonny Gray. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

On Monday afternoon, one of the prevailing concerns about the series with the Angels was that it was a ‘trap series.’ The Yankees were red hot, but they’ve also struggled in Angel Stadium over the last few years – and the Angels have been surprisingly good since Mike Trout went down. A few days later the Yankees had dropped two of three and lost CC Sabathia to an injury. It was a disappointing series, to say the least, as seems to be the norm on these West Coast trips. Next up: the Oakland Athletics.

The Last Time They Met

The A’s visited the Bronx just three weeks ago (May 26-28), and the Yankees took two of three. All three games were relatively close, as the Yankees outscored the A’s by just two runs in total. Other points of interest:

  • Masahiro Tanaka tantalized us once more in the first game, pitching to the following line – 7.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 13 K. The key was his splitter, which was on-point for what may have been the only time this season. Thanks to some quirky rules, he took the loss despite not being responsible for the go-ahead run.
  • The Yankees won game two 3-2, in what was a frustrating game for the offense. They had just seven base-runners (only two of which reached base via hit), and had trouble squaring up the A’s pitchers all day. Luckily, one of those hits was a go-ahead two-run home run by Matt Holliday, and that was all they needed.
  • Game three was much more Yankees-like, as the bats came alive and they plated nine runs. Aaron Judge was 2-for-4 with the first grand slam of his career, Ronald Torreyes was 2-for-3 with a couple of runs scored, and Brett Gardner picked-up a couple of 2-our RBI in a 9-5 victory.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more detailed notes and statistics.

Injury Report

As was the case last time around, the A’s have some key players on the disabled list. RP Ryan Dull, SP Kendall Graveman, SS Marcus Semien, SP Andrew Triggs, and RP Ryan Dull are on the DL, and none will return in time for this series (Triggs started against the Yankees in the previous series). OF Matt Joyce had to leave yesterday’s game early following a collision, and he received three stitches to close a laceration on his chin. He’s listed as day-to-day.

Their Story So Far

The A’s have lost three in a row by a combined 13 runs, and are currently 27-38 with an AL-worst -77 run differential. They’re also 4-9 in June, having been outscored 92-64 since the calendar flipped. Their offense has gradually improved (and is about league-average once adjusted for the park), but their pitching has backslid tremendously.

Yonder Alonso is a big part of that offense, and he has yet to show signs of slowing down. He’s batting .303/.398/.635 with 16 home runs (174 wRC+) on the year, including a .370/.452/.630 slash line since these teams last met. Their offense as a whole has a 101 wRC+ this month, with 6 regulars sitting at 111 or better. Pitching was supposed to be their strength, but I’m sure that they’re more than happy with fielding a competitive lineup every night.

The Lineup We Might See

Bob Melvin has used more distinct batting orders than any other manager in the game this year, as he has a proclivity for platooning and riding the hot bat. The fact that the team has dealt with a slew of injuries doesn’t help, either. This is essentially the core lineup that he’s been building off of lately (keeping in mind that Jordan Montgomery is pitching tonight):

  1. Rajai Davis, CF
  2. Jed Lowrie, 2B
  3. Ryon Healy, DH
  4. Khris Davis, LF
  5. Yonder Alonso, 1B
  6. Chad Pinder, SS
  7. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
  8. Matt Joyce, RF
  9. Josh Phegley, C

With a RHP on the mound, Matt Joyce will bat higher in the lineup, and Stephen Vogt will start at catcher.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (10:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Sonny Gray

Two years ago, Gray looked like a legitimate top of the rotation starter. He was coming off of back-to-back 200-plus IP seasons with a combined 131 ERA+ and 8.9 bWAR, and he was turning 26 just before the start of the 2016 season. And then 2016 came, and he was hurt (just 22 starts) or ineffective (70 ERA+, -0.1 bWAR) throughout the season, and those injuries carried over to 2017. Gray has shown signs of his old self, though, as his strong strikeout (23.7%), walk (7.1%), and groundball (56.7%) belie his 4.37 ERA (94 ERA+).

Gray has found some velocity this season, and he now works in the mid-90s with his fastballs (four- and two-seamers). He also throws a low-80s slider, a low-80s curveball, and a change-up in the upper-80s. He throws all five pitches regularly, as well.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 6/10) – 6.0 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 10 K

Friday (9:35 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. LHP Sean Manaea

Manaea shut-down the Yankees three weeks ago (7 IP, 4 H,  R, 1 BB, 8 K), and has been going strong ever since. He now has a 3.67 ERA (112 ERA+) on the season, and his stuff has been improving as the weather warms up.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 6/10) – 7.o IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 5 K

Saturday (4:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Jesse Hahn

This is Hahn’s first healthy season in years, as the 27-year-old has dealt with a litany of arm-related injuries. He has been mostly effective throughout his major league career, with a 102 ERA+ and 3.0 bWAR in 277.0 IP, but that doesn’t look quite as good when it’s spread out over three-plus seasons. Interestingly enough, Hahn is the oldest member of the A’s rotation with Triggs on the DL.

Hahn is a three or four-pitch guy, depending upon the day. He throws a mid-90s two-seamer, a mid-70s curveball, and a mid-80s change-up regularly. He’ll also mix in a mid-80s slider, but that isn’t a given on most days.

Last Outing (vs. TBR on 6/11) – 5.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 5 K

Sunday (4:05 PM EST): TBD (Chad Green?) vs. RHP Jharel Cotton

Cotton was viewed as a dark horse candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year heading into 2017, on the strength of a strong performance during a September call-up and a seemingly terrific fastball/change-up combination. He’ll need quite a bit of work to get to that level, though, as he has a 5.52 ERA (74 ERA+) through eleven starts, to go along with below-average peripherals. The 25-year-old has just three quality starts on the season, to boot.

Cotton’s bread and butter is ostensibly the coupling of his low-to-mid-90s fastball and mid-70s change-up. The discrepancy between those two offerings should keep hitters off-balance, but that simply hasn’t been the case so far. Cotton also throws a slider in the upper-80s and a curveball in the upper-70s.

Last Outing (vs. MIA on 6/13) – 5.0 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The A’s bullpen has the second-worst park-adjusted ERA in baseball, and it is only getting worse – the unit has a 7.16 ERA in 44.0 IP in June (which includes a 4.2 IP, 4 ER effort yesterday). Sean Doolittle just returned from an injury and Santiago Casilla seems to have righted the ship, but only four relievers have an ERA under 4.00 (and that includes Doolittle in just 8.2 IP). The rotation doesn’t help matters, either, as they routinely turn the ball over to the bullpen in the 6th inning or earlier.

It’s difficult to imagine the A’s bullpen as a whole being in good shape for this series, as it was needed for 7.2 IP between Tuesday and Wednesday. Fortunately for them, neither Doolittle nor Casilla has pitched since Saturday, so their best arms are ready to go.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Sonny Gray was the object of the Yankees desire at one point, and the A’s are almost always willing to shop their stars – so this could be an audition, of sorts, should Cashman and Co. seek to improve the team’s rotation sooner rather than later. With Jose Quintana struggling in Chicago, however, Gray may be both the best and the cheapest option on the market come the trade deadline.

Yankeemetrics: Smallball, longball down A’s (May 26-28)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Welcome back, Masa-Hero
Friday’s game may have been a 4-1 loss in the standings, but it was a victory in the minds and eyes of the Yankees and their fans thanks to the spectacular performance by Masahiro Tanaka.

Tanaka looked like an ace again as he mowed down Oakland’s lineup, dominating them with his devastating signature splitter/slider combo. He set career-highs in strikeouts (13) and swinging strikes (26), displaying the top-of-rotation stuff that had been missing in the first month and a half of the season.

The 26 swings-and-misses were the second-most by any Yankee pitcher in the past decade, one shy of the 27 that CC Sabathia got on June 7, 2012 against the Rays. Each of the 13 punchouts were via a strike-three whiff, matching Sabathia (June 30, 2012 vs. Brewers) for the most swinging strikeouts in a game by any Yankee pitcher over the last 10 years.

Eight of the 13 strikeouts came on his sharp, late-breaking slider, and the other five were on filthy splitters that dropped out of the zone:

masahiro-tanaka-13-k

The improved depth of his splitter was one of the biggest keys to Tanaka’s domination on Friday night. He threw 25 splitters and located those pitches an average of 1.82 feet below the middle of the strike zone. That was his lowest vertical location for the splitter in any game this season, netting him 10 whiffs and silly swings like this one from Ryon Healy in the seventh inning:

halfelectricfoal

So that was the good news from Friday night.

Unfortunately, there was some bad news too. The Yankee bats went cold once again and the bullpen suffered another inexplicable meltdown, allowing three runs plus an inherited runner to score. Tanaka’s final line of 7 1/3 innings, 13 strikeouts, no walks and one run made him not only a hard-luck loser, but also etched his name in the record books.

It was just the third time a Yankee pitcher struck out at least 13 batters in a game and got the loss. The other two were done by Roger Clemens: June 17, 1999 against the Rangers and May 28, 2000 against the Red Sox in an epic duel with Pedro Martinez.

Even more incredible is this #FunFact: Tanaka is the first pitcher in Yankee history to get the loss in a game where he had at least 13 strikeouts, no more than one run allowed and zero walks.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Two close for comfort
Thanks a third straight solid outing by CC Sabathia and justenough offense, the Yankees bounced back to win the middle game of this three-game series, 3-2.

This was only the second time in the last 60 seasons that the Yankees won a game in the Bronx with no more than two hits. It also happened on Sept. 9, 1988, when Claudell Washington hit a walk-off homer to beat the Tigers (the other hit was a Rickey Henderson triple in sixth inning).

The decisive blow on Saturday was delivered by Matt Holliday, who ended Jharel Cotton’s no-hit bid and broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning with one swing of the bat, crushing a two-run homer to left. It was his ninth homer of the season and team-best sixth dinger that either gave the Yankees a lead or tied the game.

Sabathia pitched into the seventh inning, allowing two runs while striking out a season-high nine batters. Four of the nine strikeouts — including three that were looking — came with his slider, which has routinely frozen hitters this season. He’s gotten called strikes on 23.2 percent of his sliders thrown, the fourth-best rate among starters (min. 100 pitches).

Dellin Betances was the end-of-game hero as he escaped a second-and-third, one-out jam in the eighth inning by striking out the next two batters, and then easily retired all three guys he faced in the ninth. The last Yankee to inherit at least two baserunners and get a perfect save of at least five outs? Mariano Rivera on April 23, 2008 vs. the White Sox.

(@Yankees)
(@Yankees)

Your Honor, the Grand Jury is in session
The Bronx Bombers returned to form on Sunday afternoon in 9-5, series-clinching win that pushed their AL East lead to a season-high three games. This is just the fourth time in the Wild Card era that the Yankees have entered play on Memorial Day in sole possession of first place in the division. The other three times it happened – 1996, 1998, 2001 – they made the World Series and won it twice.

On the mound, Michael Pineda struggled with his command (season-high three walks) but showed his toughness in limiting the A’s to three runs in six innings. It was his ninth straight start allowing three earned runs or fewer, one shy of the longest streak by an AL pitcher this season (both Michael Fulmer and Derek Holland have 10-start streaks).

Aaron Judge provided the power with his first career grand slam in the third inning to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 lead. He was the first Yankee right-fielder to go yard with the bases loaded against the A’s since Paul O’Neill on April 5, 1997. And the 25-year-old slugger is the youngest Yankee to hit a grand slam at Yankee Stadium since Nick Johnson (24 years old) on Aug. 8, 2003 vs. Mariners.

While it’s hard to believe that a rookie can keep up this pace – with 16 homers in the team’s first 47 games – let’s have some fun with numbers …

  • 1921 Babe Ruth through 47 team games: 16 homers (finished with 59)
  • 1927 Babe Ruth through 47 team games: 17 homers (finished with 60)
  • 1961 Roger Maris through 47 team games: 15 homers (finished with 61)

5/26 to 5/28 Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America)

Mother nature gave the Yankees a much-needed respite yesterday, splitting their twenty games in twenty days down the middle. Their series against the A’s now represents the first game in a ten-in-ten stretch, which is far less daunting.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visited Oakland for a four-game series this time last year (May 19 through May 22), and they walked (or flew) away with a sweep, outscoring the A’s 22 to 9 along the way. Some other points of interest:

  • The Yankees starters – Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, and Michael Pineda – pitched to the following combined line: 25 IP, 18 H, 4 BB, 21 K, 2.16 ERA.
  • It was the Yankees first road series win of the season, as they climbed out of the AL East basement for the first time since late April.
  • Carlos Beltran went 9-for-18 with 3 R, 5 2B, 1 HR, and 8 RBI in the series.
  • The beta version of Yonder Alonso went 1-for-10 in the series, with 3 strikeouts and no walks.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more in-depth information.

Injury Report

The A’s are a bit banged-up right now. Yonder Alonso is listed as day-to-day with a wrist contusion, and it remains up in the air as to whether he’ll play on Friday (though he is expected back this weekend) – he has been one of the best hitters in baseball this year, showing signs of the promise he showed as a top-fifty prospect half a decade ago. Shortstop Marcus Semien was placed on the 60-day DL at the end of April, due to a broken wrist that required surgery, and there have been rumblings that he could be out longer than that entails. And relievers Sean Doolittle, Bobby Wahl, and Ryan Dull are on the DL, and none are expected back for this series.

Their Story So Far

Oakland is currently 21-25 with a -42 run differential, which puts them right around where they were in 2015 and 2016. They are 23rd in baseball in runs allowed, 27th in runs scored, and 30th in defensive runs saved; in short, they are a subpar team in all facets of the game, and that may be putting it lightly. This is a team in transition, and it shows.

Their two biggest stories this season are the aforementioned Alonso, and perpetual trade rumor magnet Sonny Gray. The 30-year-old Alonso is batting .275/.379/.642 (174 wRC+) with a career-high 13 home runs, and he’s actually playing better as the young season wears on. And there are reasons to believe that this is real, at least to some extent. Gray has been effective, as well, albeit on the heels of missing the first month, and he appears to be recapturing his pre-2016 form. The Yankees will not see Gray this weekend, which is something of a shame – but you can be sure that Brian Cashman is following his progress closely.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Bob Melvin has used 43 lineups in 46 games, due to injuries and his utilization of platoon players. Khris Davis is the team’s regular clean-up hitter, but most every other spot seems to be shrouded in mystery until the lineup card is posted. As a result of this, I offer the equivalent of a shrug as to my guess at what Yankees pitchers will see over the next three days:

  1. Rajai Davis, CF
  2. Matt Joyce, RF
  3. Jed Lowrie, 2B
  4. Khris Davis, LF
  5. Yonder Alonso, 1B
  6. Ryon Healy, DH
  7. Stephen Vogt, C
  8. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
  9. Adam Rosales, SS

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Kendall Graveman

Graveman has proven himself to be a solid back of the rotation starter over the last two-plus seasons, pitching to a 98 ERA+ in just under 350 IP – and that makes him the prize of the Josh Donaldson deal to-date (that might be unfair to prospect Franklin Barreto, who is currently raking in Triple-A). He is held back by his well below-average strikeout rate (16.5% this year), but he keeps the ball on the ground (career 51.4% GB) and limits walks (6.6% BB). Pitching in Oakland helps, too, as his career ERA is over a run lower at home.

The 26-year-old is a true sinkerballer, as the pitch accounts for 76.1% of his offerings this year. He throws the sinker in the mid-90s, and it has a great deal of drop and spin. He mixes in the occasional four-seamer, change-up, and slider – but those are few and far between.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/19) – 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 5 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Sean Manaea

The 25-year-old Manaea entered 2016 as a consensus top-fifty prospect, and he backed that up with a solid rookie season. The southpaw tossed 144.2 IP of 3.86 ERA (104 ERA+) ball, good for 2.7 bWAR – and this despite having an ERA north of 7.00 on June 1. He has struggled a bit so far, posting a 5.24 ERA (75 ERA+) and 11.5 BB%, and he missed a couple of starts with a left shoulder strain. All that being said, he might have the highest ceiling of any A’s pitcher this side of Sonny Gray.

Manaea is a three-pitch pitcher, utilizing a low-90s four-seamer, mid-80s sinking change-up, and a low-80s slider. That slider is his strikeout pitch, and it currently has a 25.4% swinging strike rate.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/20) – 5.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 3 K

Sunday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Andrew Triggs

Triggs made his major league debut last year, as a 27-year-old pitching for his third organization in three years. He did reasonably well as an up-and-down long reliever and spot starter, posting a 4.31 ERA (93 ERA+) in twenty-four games (six starts). He earned a shot in the A’s rotation in spring training this year, and he has acquitted himself quite well thus far. To wit: 52.0 IP, 19.5 K%, 7.0 BB%, 51.0 GB%, 2.77 ERA (142 ERA+), 3.26 FIP. Much of his success is attributed to his borderline sidearm delivery, as Triggs hides the ball well and pounds the bottom of the strike zone.

There is a discrepancy in reports as to what Triggs actually throws. Scouts speak of his upper-80s sinker (or two-seamer), mid-80s cutter, and low-80s slider; PITCHf/x, on the other hand, appears to see that cutter as a slider, and that slider as a curveball. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, as Triggs throws several different pitches from the sort of arm angle that can screw with the eye test and PITCHf/x.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/21) – 5.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 3 BB, 7 K

The Bullpen

The A’s bullpen is 26th in baseball in ERA+, with closer Santiago Casilla leading the way with a 4.67 ERA (86 ERA+). Set-up man Ryan Madson and lefty specialist Daniel Coulombe have been highly effective in their roles, but most everyone else is struggling or hurt (or both). They should be fairly well-rested, though, thanks to an off-day Thursday and a light workload on Wednesday.

Yankees Connection

Reliever John Axford pitched in the Yankees organization in 2007, tossing 63 IP with a 3.29 ERA over stops at Staten Island, Tampa, Charleston, and Scranton/Wilkes Barre. The Yankees released him after that season (his 6.4 BB/9 may’ve played a role in that), and he latched on with the Brewers. He’s carved out a decent career are a sometimes-closer, accumulating 144 saves over parts of nine seasons. Axford has also dabbled in some sweet facial hair.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Triggs’ delivery is unique among starting pitchers, coming as close to sidearm as one can get without being labeled as such, and that bears watching just so you can wonder how he can possibly succeed with such an awkward throwing motion. Alonso is worth checking out, too, so that you can decide for yourself how this guy had never reached double-digit home runs before.

Potential trade partners for Brett Gardner dwindling due to hot stove activity

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees right now are very much open to trading pricey veterans for prospects. They sold big time at the deadline and continued selling in the offseason by sending Brian McCann to the Astros for two Single-A pitching prospects. The Yankees have reportedly dangled Brett Gardner and Chase Headley in trade talks this winter, and I’m sure they’d love to move Jacoby Ellsbury too, but, you know.

Two teams that stood out as obvious suitors for Gardner addressed their outfield needs last week. The Nationals traded for Adam Eaton and the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler. Both clubs needed a defensively competent center fielder — Gardner plays left for the Yankees in deference to Ellsbury, but he could still handle center full-time, no problem — and a top of the order on-base guy. The Nats and Cards went in another direction.

Gardner is a good player, not a great one, and the two years and $23M left on his contract is not unreasonable. And besides, the Yankees have shown a willingness to eat money to facilitate trades. They did it with Carlos Beltran at the deadline and McCann a few weeks ago. Salary shouldn’t be a problem. The problem is finding a team that actually needs Gardner, a defense first outfielder with on-base skills. Here are the remaining potential trade partners I came up with.

Baltimore Orioles

Adam Jones needs some help. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)
Adam Jones needs some help. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Current Outfield: Adam Jones in center and Hyun-Soo Kim in left, with Joey Rickard and Rule 5 Draft picks Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez candidates for right. They also have the option of moving Chris Davis to right field and playing prospect Trey Mancini at first.

Why Would They Want Gardner? He’s a heck of a lot better than Rickard and the Rule 5 Draft kids — Santander has never played above High-A — and he’d give the O’s a legitimate leadoff hitter, something they really lack. Jones was their leadoff hitter most of this past season. Yeah. Also, the Orioles have an opening at DH, remember. They could put Gardner in left, Kim at DH (where he fits best), and stick with the kids in right.

So Are They A Fit? Yes with the caveat that they’re an AL East rival, and intradivision trades are rare. I don’t think that closes the door completely, it just makes it unlikely. For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman told Bryan Hoch he’d have no problem trading with the Orioles.

“If I can trade with the Red Sox and the Mets, I can trade with the Orioles. I can trade with anybody. If it’s in our best interest, whether it’s short- or long-term, it doesn’t matter what the other teams get. Does it make sense for us? If it happens to be them, I don’t really care.”

What do the O’s have to offer the Yankees for Gardner? Geez, beats me. Their farm system isn’t in great shape (here’s their MLB.com top 30 prospects list) and I doubt they’d be willing to give up pieces from their big league roster. I’m sure the Yankees could find some combination of minor leaguers to make it work though.

Cleveland Indians

Current Outfield: Tyler Naquin in center and Lonnie Chisenhall in right. Brandon Guyer and Abe Almonte are expected to hold down left field until Michael Brantley returns from shoulder surgery.

Why Would They Want Gardner? Not too many reasons at this point. The Indians seem focused on adding a big middle of the order bat to share first base and DH with Carlos Santana, and I suppose if those plans go awry, they could circle back and import Gardner to be part of a rotating DH system. He’d give them a more traditional leadoff hitter too. They used Santana at leadoff most of last season, which was somewhat a waste of his power because he batted with fewer men on base.

So Are They A Fit? Nah, I don’t think so. Naquin had a nightmare postseason but a very good regular season, good enough to finish third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting and earn a starting spot in 2017. They’ll ride it out with Almonte and Guyer until Brantley returns, which could be as soon as April.

Detroit Tigers

Current Outfield: Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez on the corners, with Anthony Gose and JaCoby Jones in the mix for center. Tyler Collins could get a crack at the job too, though he’s best in a corner.

Why Would They Want Gardner? Gardner is much better than the group of players vying for Detroit’s center field job at the moment. Of course, the Tigers traded away Cameron Maybin earlier this winter, and they seem to be scaling back on payroll a bit. Salary dumping Maybin only to turn around and acquire Gardner would be a bit weird, don’t you think?

Of course, plans change, and the Tigers are looking at a more winnable AL Central right now. The Twins stink, the White Sox are selling, and the Royals might have to sell at the deadline since basically their entire core will hit free agency next winter. The Tigers won 86 games in 2016 despite going 4-14 (4-14!) against the Indians. What are the odds of that happening again? Small. Gardner would improve their chances in a much more winnable division.

So Are They A Fit? Maybe! I think the Yankees would have to eat money to make a trade happen, which I doubt would be a deal-breaker. If the Yankees ate money to trade Beltran and McCann, I’m sure they’d do the same for Gardner.

Oakland Athletics

Jake Smolinski was the A's everyday center fielder in the second half. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)
Jake Smolinski was the A’s everyday center fielder in the second half. For reals. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)

Current Outfield: Some combination of Khris Davis, Matt Joyce, Brett Eibner, and Jake Smolinski. Did you know Khris Davis hit 42 home runs in 2016? True story.

Why Would They Want Gardner? The A’s are in the market for a center fielder this offseason, it’s been reported everywhere, and they’ve most recently been connected to Jarrod Dyson of the Royals. Gardner is a very similar player (lefty hitting leadoff type with speed and defense) who happens to be much more expensive. But again, if the Yankees are willing to eat money, his contract may not be an obstacle.

So Are They A Fit? Maybe. The Athletics are a weird team that seems to be stuck between going for it and rebuilding. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they traded for an outfielder making $23M over the next two years despite losing at least 93 games the last two seasons. They’re weird like that.

San Francisco Giants

Current Outfield: Denard Span in center and Hunter Pence in right, with Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker slated to platoon in left. Gorkys Hernandez has a leg up on a bench job.

Why Would They Want Gardner? Left field is wide open. Williamson and Parker did an okay job as platoon partners while Pence was on the disabled list this summer — they hit a combined .230/.338/.402 with eleven homers in 278 plate appearances in 2016, but also struck out 28.5% of the time — though neither is a long-term building block. Williamson is the young one at 26. Parker turns 28 in three weeks.

Gardner would, at a minimum, give the Giants an above-average defender for that spacious left field at AT&T Park. In also guessing he’d outproduce a Williamson/Parker platoon at the plate over a full 162-game season. The Mark Melancon signing pushed San Francisco over the luxury tax threshold and they don’t want to go much higher, so Gardner’s contract could be an issue. Then again, the Giants are built to win right now, while Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are still in their primes, and left field is a sore spot.

So Are They A Fit? Yes, definitely. The Giants have enough prospects to cobble together a trade package (here is their MLB.com top 30 prospects list) and the Yankees could eat money to make things work on San Francisco’s end with regards to the luxury tax. The Giants are a fit. A great fit. No doubt.

Seattle Mariners

Current Outfield: Leonys Martin in the middle with some combination of Seth Smith, Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, Mitch Haniger, and possibly even Danny Valencia in the corners.

Why Would They Want Gardner? As an alternative to that hodgepodge of platoon veterans and mid-range prospects slated for the corners. The Mariners are trying to win right now. I mean, they should be. Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz aren’t going to be this productive forever, so anything Seattle can do to improve their short-term chances qualifies as a good move in my book. Gardner represents an upgrade.

So Are They A Fit? Yes in theory, no in reality. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has said his team is too left-handed at the moment, which Gardner would only exacerbate. Also, they seem committed to playing those kids in the outfield. So while there is a fit on paper here, I don’t see it happening.

Texas Rangers

Mystery Rangers outfielder. (Rick Yeatts/Getty)
Mystery Rangers outfielder. (Rick Yeatts/Getty)

Current Outfield: Carlos Gomez in center, Shin-Soo Choo in right, and Nomar Mazara in left. Delino DeShields Jr. and Ryan Rua are the depth options.

Why Would They Want Gardner? The Rangers have no first baseman or designated hitter at the moment. Adding Gardner would allow them to slide Mazara over to right field, his natural position, and put Choo at DH full-time, which is where he belongs at this point. Texas has money and prospects to trade, plus an obvious opening for Gardner in the lineup and on the field.

So Are They A Fit? Yes. Whether the Rangers are willing to make a trade is another matter. They may prefer to hang on to their prospects and address those first base and DH openings through free agency. There are still plenty of those players available.

Toronto Blue Jays

Current Outfield: lol

Why Would They Want Gardner? Kevin Pillar is still the center fielder. That much is clear. But after losing out on Fowler, the Blue Jays have Melvin Upton, Steve Pearce, Ezequiel Carrera, and Dalton Pompey penciled in as their corner outfielders. That might be the worst outfield unit in baseball. Gardner would give them a legitimate left fielder and leadoff hitter, allowing them to slide Devon Travis lower in the order, in a run producing spot. That would be a big help considering they effectively replaced Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista with Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce. I’m sure that’ll work out fine.

So Are They A Fit? Yes in the same way the Orioles are a fit. The Blue Jays could use Gardner, for sure, but to get him, they’d have to swing a rare intradivision trade. It’s not impossible. Just really tough to do. There’s a reason you don’t see them often. Everyone’s afraid of losing a trade to a division rival.

Yankeemetrics: How sweep it is [May 19-22]

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Supernova sinks the A’s
Given the massive hole the Yankees had dug themselves into during the first month of the season, and coupled with their recent struggles in the Bay Area, this weekend’s trip to Oakland was foreboding.

Entering the series, the Yankees were 2-8 at the Oakland Coliseum since 2013, their worst road record against any AL team in that span. They’d lost four straight series in Oakland, their longest such streak since dropping 12 series in a row at the ballpark from 1985-91.

Not ideal. The Yankees buried that trend from the get-go with a much-needed win in the series opener on Thursday night.

Ivan Nova was a model of efficiency on the mound, firing 62 pitches in six innings while giving up just one run on four hits. His sinker was in peak form, averaging its most horizontal movement and second-best downward movement of the season. The A’s went 2-for-14 when putting a two-seamer in play, as he pounded the bottom of the strike zone with the pitch.

Nova is now 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in three starts this season and hasn’t allowed more than one run in any of those outings. The last Yankee to be unbeaten through his first three starts while giving up one run or fewer in each game was Kevin Brown in 2004.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Welcome back, Large Lefty
Breaking news: The Yankees finally put together a win streak of more than two games after beating the A’s, 8-3, on Friday night. The Astros are now the only team in baseball that hasn’t won at least three games in a row this season.

There were plenty of heroes for the Yankees, starting with their new (old) ace, Carsten Charles Sabathia. Pitching for the first time since going on the DL two weeks ago, Sabathia spun another gem with one run allowed and eight strikeouts in six strong innings. He’s now won back-to-back games, surrendering no more than one run in each outing, for the first time since 2011.

Sabathia wasn’t the only veteran that turned back the clock on Friday night. Thirty-nine-year-old Carlos Beltran went 3-for-5 with three doubles and three RBI to lead the Yankees’ latest offensive outburst.

Beltran is the oldest player in franchise history with three doubles in a game, and just the fifth guy in major-league history age 39 or older to hit three doubles and drive in three runs in a game. The four others are David Ortiz (2015), Tony Perez (1985), Pete Rose (1980), and Joe Judge (1933).

#TANAK
The Yankees continued their winning ways with a 5-1 victory on Saturday that gave them their first road series win of 2016, ending a streak of six straight winless series away from the Bronx. That was their longest such drought to begin a season since 1991.

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

Thanks to a Blue Jays loss in Minnesota, the Yankees also climbed out of the basement in the AL East for the first time since April 23. That was their longest stretch in last place since spending the final four months of the 1990 season at the bottom of the division.

Masahiro Tanaka continued the Yankees’ recent stretch of terrific starting pitching as he went seven innings and allowed one run for his second win of the season. He’s now 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA in three career games against the A’s, and has allowed one earned run or fewer in each of those outings.

The only other Yankee since 1980 to win three straight starts versus the A’s without giving up more than an earned run in each game was Andy Pettitte (1997-2000).

Broom Broom
The Yankees capped off this successful West Coast swing with a 5-4 win, completing their first four-game sweep in Oakland since July 1979. They also avoided losing their fourth straight season series against the A’s, something that hadn’t happened in this rivalry since they dropped seven season series in a row to the Philadelphia A’s from 1908-14.

Consider the amazing turnaround that the Bombers have engineered in the past week. When the Yankees started this road trip, they were:

  • Without a win streak of more than two games … Done.
  • Without a road series win … Done.
  • Without a series sweep … Done.

And stuck in last place in the AL East … not anymore. With the win on Sunday, they’re now in third place, their highest rank in the standings since April 17.

Two players that had struggled mightily this season were surprise key contributors to the win. Michael Pineda, riding the longest losing streak of his career (0-5 in prior seven starts), tossed a quality start for his first victory since April 6. His 6.60 ERA entering Sunday was the highest among qualifiers in the AL and second-highest in the majors.

Mark Teixeira brought a .133 batting average against righties into this game, the worst among 286 players with at least 50 plate appearances versus right-handed pitchers this season. Also, he’d yet to record an RBI in his 48 at-bats with two outs this season, the most two-out at-bats without an RBI by any player.

So, of course, he delivered the game-tying hit in the sixth inning via a two-out RBI single off righty Jesse Hahn.

“Well, Suzyn, you know, you just can’t predict baseball!”

5/19 to 5/22 Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

See? The Coliseum wasn't so bad before Mount Davis. (Baseball Feelings)
The Coliseum was pretty nice before Mount Davis. (Baseball Feelings)

The road trip continues with four games in Oakland. These days the ballpark is called the Oakland Coliseum. Overstock.com opted out of their naming rights deal in April. Regardless of what they’re calling the stadium, playing in Oakland has been a nightmare for the Yankees in recent years. They’re 2-8 at the Coliseum since 2013. Woof. The A’s swept three games at Yankee Stadium last month.

What Have They Done Lately?

Oakland just swept three games from the Rangers at home, and they’ve won their last four games overall. Prior to that they lost ten of 13. The A’s are 19-22 with -39 run differential overall. Only the Twins (-67!) have a worst run differential in the AL. Somehow they’re in third place in the AL West.

Offense & Defense

Thanks in part to their spacious ballpark, the A’s are averaging only 4.00 runs per game with a team 92 wRC+ this season. Pop-ups that land in the seats in other parks are outs in the Coliseum because of all that foul territory. There’s a reason the A’s have never had a batting champ since they moved to Oakland. Anyway, the Athletics have a ton of position players on the DL: 1B/OF Mark Canha (hip), IF Jed Lowrie (shin), OF Sam Fuld (shoulder), C Josh Phegley (knee), and IF Eric Sogard (knee). None are coming back this series.

Jump shot to celebrate a walk-off? A+ (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Jump shot to celebrate a walk-off? A+ (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Manager Bob Melvin builds his lineup around three players: RF Josh Reddick (129 wRC+), 3B Danny Valencia (180 wRC+), and LF Khris Davis (115 wRC+). Davis, who looked lost at the plate when these two clubs last met, has 12 homers in his last 25 games. Valencia has hit six homers in his last six games. Those three guys typically hit 3-4-5 with OF/DH Coco Crisp (91 wRC+) and CF Billy Burns (73 wRC+) batting first and second. That middle of the lineup is a dangerous group, no doubt about it.

1B Yonder Alonso (72 wRC+) and DH Billy Butler (48 wRC+) have been platooning at first base since Canha’s injury — yes, they’ve actually been playing Butler in the field — while IF Chris Coghlan (57 wRC+) and UTIL Tyler Ladendorf (-84 wRC+) are handling second base duties. The Yankees once drafted Ladendorf, you know. Thirty-fourth round back in 2006. Anyway, SS Marcus Semien (118 wRC+) and C Stephen Vogt (75 wRC+) are the regular shortstop and catcher, respectively. C Matt McBride and IF Max Muncy are the other bench players. Those two were just called up this week.

Overall, the A’s have a really weak team defense. In fact, they rank last in UZR (-18.2) and next to last in DRS (-22) so far this season. Take that for what it’s worth because it’s only May 19th. Reddick is an outstanding defender in right with a great arm, so don’t hit it his way. Burns can also go get it in center. The A’s are below average pretty much everywhere else on the field though, especially now that Crisp’s range has been sapped with age and Butler is playing the field.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday (10:05pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. OAK) vs. RHP Kendall Graveman (vs. NYY)
Graveman, 24, came over from the Blue Jays in the Josh Donaldson trade and he has been as close to replacement level as it gets with the A’s. So far this season he has a 5.84 ERA (6.33 FIP) in seven starts and 37 innings. Both his strikeout (17.0%) and walk (8.5%) numbers are decent at best, and Graveman has managed to be extremely home run prone (2.43 HR/9) despite an above-average ground ball rate (51.2%). Righties have actually hit him harder than lefties. Graveman is essentially a low-90s sinker/upper-80s cutter/upper-70s curveball pitcher, plus he will throw a few mid-80s changeups per start. Unusual pitch mix. He held the Yankees to one run in 6.1 innings in the Bronx last month, back when the Yankees couldn’t score more than two runs in a game to save their lives.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Friday (9:35pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. OAK) vs. RHP Sonny Gray (vs. NYY)
Last season Sonny Gray was a deserving All-Star who finished third in the AL Cy Young voting. This year he has 5.84 ERA (5.15 FIP) in eight starts and 44.2 innings. Egads. Jeff Sullivan noted Gray’s breaking ball has not been good this year, and, for what it’s worth, Gray told Jane Lee he thinks he picked up a mechanical flaw and made an adjustment in his previous start. We’ll see. So far this year he’s getting an average-ish number of strikeouts (18.9%) and a ton of ground balls (54.3%), but he’s walking too many (10.0%) and allowing a ton of dingers (1.61 HR/9). Gray has been a FIP beater in his relatively young career — 3.13 ERA and 3.51 FIP in 535.2 innings — because he gets a ton of infield pop-ups and weak ground balls. He’s historically had no platoon split at all. Gray uses low-to-mid-90s four-seamers and sinkers to set up his bread-and-butter low-80s curve. He’ll also throw some upper-80s changeups and mid-80s sliders. The Yankees did not see the 26-year-old Gray during the series in New York last month.

Saturday (4:05pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. OAK) vs. LHP Sean Manaea (No vs. NYY)
Manaea, 24, came over from the Royals in the Ben Zobrist trade last year. Baseball America ranked him as the 48th best prospect in baseball coming into the season, and once his service time was sufficiently manipulated, the A’s called him up. Manaea has a 7.91 ERA (5.54 FIP) through four starts and 19.1 innings. Few walks (6.9%) and an average number of grounders (45.5%) are positives, but few strikeouts (14.9%) and a ton of dingers (1.86 HR/9) are negatives. In a super small sample righties have hammered Manaea while he’s dominated lefties. Manaea has three pitches: mid-90s four-seamer, upper-70s slider, and mid-80s changeup. He’s got a funky delivery and that slider is his go-to pitch:

Sean Manaea slider

Manaea’s chopped off all his hair since that game in the GIF by the way. Like so many young pitchers still finding their way in the big leagues, Manaea has good stuff but is also prone to losing the plate and working himself into trouble. He was just called up three weeks ago, so the Yankees didn’t see him when these two teams met in Yankee Stadium earlier this season.

Sunday (4:05pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. OAK) vs. RHP Jesse Hahn (vs. NYY)
This game was supposed to be the A’s debut of right-hander Henderson Alvarez, who the team signed as a free agent over the winter while he rehabbed from shoulder surgery. Those plans have been scrapped because Alvarez came down with shoulder soreness following his last rehab start. Apparently the soreness is severe enough that he’s going to see Dr. Andrews. Yikes. That sucks. Big Hendo is one of the most entertaining pitchers in baseball.

So, with Alvarez down, Hahn jumps into the rotation. The 26-year-old has thrown 18.2 innings in three spot starts this season, allowing eight runs (seven earned) on 21 hits and seven walks. He’s struck out only six with a 57.6% grounder rate. Last season he had a 3.35 ERA (3.51 FIP) in 96.2 innings before coming down with a forearm problem. Hahn has very sharp stuff, with a mid-90s heater setting up his upper-80s changeup and trademark upper-70s curveball. The question is health. Hahn has a long and scary injury history. The Yankees didn’t see him last month when the A’s were in New York.

Bullpen Status

Last season the A’s went 19-35 (!) in one-run games in part due to a leaky bullpen. They overhauled the relief crew over the winter with some trades and free agent signings, which has given Melvin way more options in the late innings. He no longer has to hold his breath once the starter comes out of the game. Here’s his bullpen:

Closer: RHP Ryan Madson (1.93 ERA/3.59 FIP)
Setup: LHP Sean Doolittle (3.31/3.97) and RHP John Axford (3.18/3.87)
LOOGY: LHP Marc Rzepczynski (4.05/4.01)
Middle: RHP Ryan Dull (3.48/4.03) and RHP Andrew Triggs (3.38/2.48)
Long: RHP Fernandez Rodriguez (1.54/2.64)

Oakland’s bullpen is pretty well rested. Rodriguez threw 19 pitches and Triggs threw eight pitches yesterday. Madson and Doolittle threw 17 and 16 pitches on Wednesday, respectively. That’s all. For the status of the Joe Girardi‘s bullpen, head on over to our Bullpen Workload page.