After deep playoff run, the Yankees will again have to monitor pitcher workloads in 2018

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

At some point in the coming days, we’ll find out whether the Yankees need to add one starting pitcher this offseason, or two. The deadline for Masahiro Tanaka to opt-out of his contract is Saturday, and if he opts out, the Yankees will need to replace Tanaka and CC Sabathia. If he doesn’t opt out, the Yankees will only have to replace Sabathia. And they very well could replace Sabathia with Sabathia. Re-signing him seems like a definite possibility.

As things stand right now, the only thing we know for sure about the 2018 rotation is that it will include Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, and Jordan Montgomery. My guess is both Chad Green and Adam Warren will come to Spring Training stretched out as starters, though the smart money is on both going back to the bullpen. Luis Cessa and Domingo German will be around as depth, plus Chance Adams and maybe Justus Sheffield will debut at some point in 2018 as well.

This year the Yankees had to monitor the workloads of all their starting pitchers for different reasons. Severino and Montgomery are young pitchers gradually increasing their workloads. The Yankees have handled Tanaka with kid gloves since his 2014 elbow injury. Sabathia’s knee is an ongoing concern. Gray has had some injury problems in recent years as well, so giving him extra rest from time to time was a priority.

And, as things stand now, the Yankees are again going to have to monitor the workloads of their starters next season thanks to their deep postseason run. Severino and Montgomery threw more innings this season than ever before. By a lot too.

  • Severino: 209.1 total innings (previous career high: 161.2 innings in 2015)
  • Montgomery: 163.1 total innings (previous career high: 139.1 innings in 2016)

The Yankees were so concerned about Montgomery’s workload — big league innings are not the same as minor league innings because there’s more stress and intensity involved — that they went out and added Jaime Garcia so they could send Montgomery to Triple-A to control his innings there. Severino seemed to tire out a bit in the postseason. I thought he was noticeably fatigued in the fourth inning of ALCS Game Six.

This isn’t just about raw innings totals though. Montgomery and especially Severino pitched deeper into the year than ever before. The Yankees were one game away from the World Series! That means a shorter offseason recover. And this applies to the veterans too. Tanaka and Sabathia, should they come back, as well as Gray will miss out on a few extra weeks to rest this winter because of the postseason run.

The whole World Series hangover phenomenon is not new. Pitchers who pitch deep into the postseason and have shorter offseasons than usual have been coming back the next year and struggling for a long time now. That’s part of what made Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera so great. Those guys played seven-month seasons, not six-month seasons, because the Yankees were always in the playoffs. Yet they never broke down physically.

As much as we’d like them to turn out that way, the Yankees can’t proceed under the assumption Severino and Montgomery are essentially unbreakable like Pettitte and Rivera. This year they had to be careful with their workloads eclipsing their previous career highs. Next year they’ll have to worry about any lingering effects from those big workloads this year, and well as the shorter offseason that comes with going to Game Seven of the ALCS.

The Yankees know this, of course. Remember the Javy Vazquez trade? The second one? The Yankees made that trade because Sabathia, Pettitte, and A.J. Burnett worked hard in 2009 and pitched into November en route to the World Series championship. The Yankees wanted an innings eater to help lighten the load on the other guys. So they went out and got Vazquez, who at the time had just thrown 190+ innings for the tenth straight season to bolster the back of the rotation.

Now, the Vazquez trade didn’t work out in 2010. He stunk. But the idea was sound. Get another innings eater for the back of the rotation so it’s easier to pull Sabathia, Pettitte, and Burnett a little earlier than usual without overtaxing the bullpen following their long 2009 seasons. That’s where the Yankees are now. Their starters just threw a ton of innings and pitched deep into October, and there might be a carryover effect in 2018.

Perhaps the need to add rotation depth this winter isn’t as great as it was following 2009. The farm system is much richer now. Cessa, German, Adams, and Caleb Smith are basically MLB ready. Back in 2009, their best MLB ready pitching prospects were, uh, Ivan Nova? Zach McAllister? Good big leaguers! But the farm system was much thinner, and the Yankees didn’t have an Adams waiting, that top pitching prospect, or a Sheffield not far behind.

I’ve always been a pitching depth guy. Bring in as many viable starters as possible and don’t worry about where they all fit, because odds are you’ll need all of them at some point anyway. If the Yankees re-sign Sabathia, retain Tanaka, and bring in a veterans innings dude who pushes Montgomery to Triple-A to start 2018, I wouldn’t lose any sleep. Montgomery would be back in MLB before you know it. The long season and big workloads are something the Yankees have to be cognizant of next year, and that could mean making another Vazquez-esque trade.

MLBTR’s arbitration projections and a potential Didi Gregorius extension

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Over the next few weeks and months, the Yankees and every other team will tweak their roster in an effort to contend in 2018. Some teams are more serious about contention than others. The Yankees are ready to win, they showed it this year, and they’ll try to do it next season while getting under the $197M luxury tax threshold.

A few weeks ago Matt Swartz at MLB Trade Rumors posted his annual arbitration salary projections, and because the Yankees have a large arbitration class — nine players total, including several key contributors — their salaries will be a big factor in getting under the luxury tax threshold. These players are a bargain relative to what they’d get on the open market, though their salaries add up. Here are the arbitration projections:

Swartz’s model is pretty darn accurate overall. It has trouble with outlier players — Tim Lincecum damn near broke the thing when he went into his first arbitration year with two Cy Youngs — though it gets us in the ballpark and often much closer. Let’s dive into the projections a bit.

1. It’s time to consider a Gregorius extension. Didi has emerged as a true core player for the Yankees. He’s an above-average hitter and an above-average defender, and he’s a big part of the clubhouse culture. Gregorius can become a free agent following the 2019 season, and I think it’s time the Yankees start thinking about signing him long-term. He’s only 27 and quality in-their-prime shortstops are awfully hard to find.

The Jean Segura extension is a perfect benchmark for Gregorius. Segura signed his five-year, $70M deal earlier this year, two years prior to free agency at age 27, the exact same point of his career as Gregorius is right now. Look at the numbers:

Segura in year prior to extension: .319/.368/.499 (126 wRC+) and +5.0 WAR
Gregorius in year prior to extension: .287/.318/.478 (107 wRC+) and +3.9 WAR

Segura career: .280/.319/.396 (91 wRC+) and +8.6 WAR
Gregorius career:
.266/.313/.413 (94 wRC+) and +11.5 WAR

Segura had the better platform year prior to signing his extension, though Gregorius has the better body of work overall. That five-year extension worth $70M is the benchmark for Didi. The market has been set.

The problem with an extension is the luxury tax. If Gregorius gets the $9M arbitration projection, he counts as $9M against the luxury tax threshold. Give him the Segura extension, and he counts as $14M (the average annual value of the contract) against the luxury tax threshold, and saving $5M is a big deal. Then again, signing Didi now could equal tens of millions in savings later. An extension has to be a serious consideration.

2. Betances and the Yankees might be in for a messy hearing again. Had Betances won his arbitration hearing last year, he could’ve been looking at a $6.5M to $7M projection this offseason, and we might have been talking about him as a non-tender candidate right now. Instead, the Yankees won, and you can see how arbitration savings add up.

  • Dellin wins last year: $5M in 2017 + $6.5M guesstimate in 2018 = $11.5M total
  • Yankees win last year: $3M in 2017 + $4.4M projected in 2018 = $7.4M total

That $2M in savings last year turns into $4.1M in savings from 2017-18. Arbitration uses the prior year’s salary as a baseline for a raise, so any savings compound over the years. Last year’s arbitration hearing win over Betances may end up saving the Yankees close to $10M from 2017-19. That’s a big chunk of change.

Last year’s arbitration hearing was reportedly ugly, uglier than these things usually are, and team president Randy Levine only made things worse when he ripped Dellin in a conference call afterward. I have no idea whether there is still any bad blood between the two sides, but I suppose another hearing is possible this year.

And here’s the thing: Betances still has a really good case. All the walks this year won’t hurt him much in arbitration because the system isn’t built that way. Saves and strikeouts count. Dellin doesn’t have many saves, but he struck out 100 batters yet again this season, he finished with a sub-3.00 ERA (2.87 to be exact), and he went to his fourth straight All-Star Game. Those are all points in his favor. I’m not sure how this will play out. Whatever happens, hopefully it’s not as ugly as last year.

3. Shreve might stick around until Spring Training. The Yankees spent last offseason and pretty much the entire pre-deadline regular season looking for a reliable left-handed reliever, and they came up empty. I get the sense they’re going to spend the winter looking for a lefty again. For now, Shreve is the in-house option, and his $900,000 projected salary is nothing.

Keep in mind arbitration-eligible players are on non-guaranteed contracts. They can be released in Spring Training and only be paid 30 days or 45 days termination pay, depending when they get cut. The Yankees could sign Shreve, keep him around, see if they come up with a better lefty, and if they do, they could drop him for a fraction of his salary in camp. Harsh, but it happens every year around the league. It’s easy to think Shreve, who is out of minor league options, will be a 40-man roster casualty this winter. Don’t be surprised if he sticks around though.

4. Kratz is a goner. Obvious statement is obvious. The Yankees acquired Kratz to be the third catcher in September only because Kyle Higashioka was injured at the time. He’ll be the very first player dropped from the 40-man roster once space is needed, which will be later this month when the roster has to be set for the Rule 5 Draft. Kratz won’t even make it to the non-tender deadline. Such is the life of a journeyman. Hey, at least he got to hang around with the team during the postseason. He traveled with the club all through the ALDS and ALCS.

5. My estimates were pretty good, actually. A few weeks back I looked at the 2018 payroll situation with regards to the luxury tax. I estimated $25M to $30M for the arbitration eligible players, not including Kratz or Shreve, and Swartz’s model projects this group at $28.5M. Hey, I’m getting kinda good at this.

Add that $28.5M projection to the other contract commitments as per my post a few weeks ago, and we get $163.5M already on the books for next season. It’ll drop to $141.4M should Masahiro Tanaka opt out, which most RAB readers expect to happen. Point is, the Yankees will have about $35M under the $197M luxury tax threshold to play with this winter, assuming Tanaka sticks around. If he doesn’t, it’s closer to $60M. Having that much wiggle, to me, means the Yankees should get serious about signing Didi long-term.

Yankeemetrics: Sweet season, bitter ending (ALCS)

I want to thank everyone for being such great followers, fans and readers during this incredible season. It’s been a wild and crazy ride, and your loyal support has meant so much to me and the rest of the RAB crew. The Chase for 28 begins today. #Lovethisteam

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Trouble in Texas
Riding a huge wave of momentum following their epic comeback against the Indians, the Yankees flat-lined in the ALCS opener, losing 2-1 and digging themselves into an early series hole yet again. They were flummoxed by Dallas Keuchel, who also made a little history along the way:

  • He is the fourth pitcher to hold the Yankees without a run and strike out at least 10 guys in a postseason game, joining Cliff Lee (2010 ALCS), Randy Johnson (2001 World Series) and Pedro Martinez (1999 ALCS)
  • Combined with his 2015 Wild Card Game masterpiece (6 innings, 0 runs, 7 strikeouts), Keuchel is the first pitcher ever to strike out at least seven guys and allow no runs in back-to-back playoff starts against the Yankees

The Yankees wasted their one big scoring opportunity in the fifth inning when Aaron Judge laced a single into left field and Greg Bird was thrown out at home plate trying to score from second. We’ll let Bird explain the play in his own words: “I’m too slow,” Bird told reporters after the game. “Wish I was a little faster. That’s baseball.”

Hard to argue with that analysis. Bird is the second-slowest Yankee according to Statcast’s Sprint Speed metric, ahead of only Chase Headley. Bird tried to make up for his rally-killing blunder with a two-out solo homer in ninth that trimmed the deficit to 2-1. The 399-foot drive was notable because, with the Yankees down to their last out, he saved them from being blanked and produced our first Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series:

The last Yankee to hit a postseason homer with two outs in the ninth to prevent a shutout was … yeah, you guessed it … Scott Brosius in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series. Of course, Brosius also had Jorge Posada on second base at the time, and the outcome was much much different.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Deja vu in Texas
More heartbreak, more losses for the Yankees on Saturday as they dropped a second straight excruciating game by the score of 2-1, this time via Carlos Correa’s game-ending double, and put themselves in yet another 0-2 series hole.

It was their second walk-off loss in October, making this only the second postseason in franchise history they’ve dropped two games in walk-off fashion. The other year was 2004.

What makes the two-games-to-nil deficit so crushing – and historic – is the double-whammy effect of losing two close contests while getting outstanding pitching in both matchups. Only one other team in postseason history lost each of its first two games of any series by one run while giving up no more than two runs in each game. In the 1950 World Series, the Phillies lost by scores of 1-0 and 2-1 Games 1 and 2 to the Yankees, who eventually finished them off in a sweep.

They were dominated again by an Astros starter, as Justin Verlander tossed a masterful 13-strikeout complete game while giving up one run. Only four other pitchers have gone the distance while striking out at least 13 Yankees in the postseason: Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax (1963 World Series) and Bob Gibson (1964 World Series), plus Dodgers righthander Carl Erskine in the 1953 World Series.

Combined with Keuchel’s 10-strikeout gem in Game 1, they are the first set of teammates with back-to-back double-digit strikeout games against the Yankees in a playoff series.

One of the few Yankee highlights was Tommy Kahnle‘s brilliant and near-perfect two-inning performance. Coming off his ALDS Game 4 outing when he retired all six batters faced, Kahnle joined Mariano Rivera (1996, 2003) and Goose Gossage (1978) as the only Yankees with back-to-back postseason games of at least two hitless innings pitched.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Home sweet home
A return to the Bronx was the perfect elixir for the ice-cold Yankee bats, which broke out of their mini-slump in a 8-1 blowout Game 3 win. More importantly, the victory snapped a miserable seven-game losing streak in ALCS contests, which was the second-longest in MLB postseason history, and trailed only a 10-game slide by the Red Sox from 1988-1999.

Todd Frazier ignited the offensive outburst in the second inning when he golfed a 95-mph fastball at his shins into the right-field seats for his first career postseason homer. While it is remarkable that the homer left his bat at 100 mph and went an estimated 365 feet, the fact that it found the seats was nearly as shocking:

Per Statcast data, a batted ball with an exit velocity of 100 mph a and launch angle of 21 degrees produces a homer just six percent of the time. And per Hittrackeronline.net, given weather conditions of 70 degrees and no wind, the hit would have cleared the fences in only one ballpark.

So let’s give Frazier a nice #FunFact shout-out for that improbable blast: he is the first Yankee third baseman to homer with at least two men on base in a postseason game since … Scott Brosius’ three-run, go-ahead homer off Trevor Hoffman in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the 1998 World Series.

Aaron Judge capped off the offensive fireworks with a screaming liner over the left-field fence in the fourth inning that plated three runs to make it 8-0. The only other time the Yankees hit multiple three-run homers in a postseason game was when Lou Piniella and Graig Nettles each did it in Game 2 of the 1981 ALCS against the A’s.

Perhaps no player on the Yankees has personified their Fighting Spirit more than CC Sabathia, who delivered yet another vintage clutch performance. He tossed six shutout innings – amazingly, his first career scoreless postseason outing – and bolstered his season-long reputation as The Stopper: Sabathia improved to 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts following a Yankee loss in 2017.

At the age of 37, Sabathia has thrived by working the edges of the zone and generating tons of weak contact. Among starters (min. 300 batted balls), no pitcher had a lower opponent average exit velocity than Sabathia (83.9 mph) during the regular season and his soft-contact rate was the fifth-highest (min. 140 IP). He used that formula on Monday, too, with an average exit velocity allowed of 73.7 mph, the lowest by any starter in a postseason game since Statcast began tracking the data in 2015.

With this latest dominant outing, Sabathia also extended his playoff run of stingy pitching in front of the hometown crowd. He has a 1.61 ERA in seven postseason starts at Yankee Stadium, with two earned runs or fewer in each of those games. The only other Yankee pitcher that can match his streak of seven straight postseason starts at home and no more than two earned runs allowed is Whitey Ford.

(AP)
(AP)

Bedlam in the Bronx
The Comeback Kings struck again on Tuesday night as this never-say-die, no-quit team staged yet another stunning late-game rally to beat the Astros 6-4 in a Game 4 thriller. Down 4-0 with nine outs to go? No problem!

This was the Yankees first postseason win in the Bronx when trailing by at least four runs since Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. They’ve also made a habit of overcoming big deficits in the postseason, regardless of venue. Since the start of 2009, their five playoff wins when trailing by at least three runs at any point in the game are the most of any team in that span.

The unbelievable comeback wouldn’t have been possible without a dazzling performance on the mound by Sonny Gray. He was charged with two runs (one earned) and held the Astros to one hit before hitting the showers in the sixth, yet he got stuck with a no-decision because the Yankee bats were lifeless through the first six frames. Gray has now thrown 21 1/3 innings in the playoffs over four starts and received exactly zero runs of support while in the game.

Let’s get back to the incredible rally, which was sparked by a solo homer from Aaron Judge in the seventh. He drilled a first-pitch curveball 427 feet into Monument Park, an impressive feat given his struggles against curves this postseason. Since the start of the Division Series and prior to the home run, Judge had seen 57 curveballs, and hit none of them in fair territory. This is how it broke down:

29 called balls
14 called strikes
14 swings
12 whiffs
2 fouls

Judge later added to his growing October Legend with a game-tying double – off a slider! – in the eighth inning. Let’s reward Judge with another #FunFact: He’s the second Yankee age 25 or younger to have consecutive playoff games with at least one homer and two RBI. The other is a fella named Lou Gehrig, who did it in the 1928 World Series.

Finally, Gary Sanchez went from Goat to Hero with one swing of the bat when he smoked a go-ahead double into the right-centerfield gap for a 6-4 lead. Before that clutch hit, Sanchez was 0-for-13 in the series and hitless in his last 18 at-bats, the longest drought without a hit of his major-league career.

El Gary earns our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series for his game-winning heroics. Only three other Yankees have hit a tie-breaking double in the eighth inning or later of a postseason game: Thurman Munson (1977 World Series Game 1), Tino Martinez (1996 ALCS Game 3) and Alex Rodriguez (2009 World Series Game 4).

(NJ.com)
(NJ.com)

Masterful Masahiro
The Yankees continued their magical October run in the Bronx with a drama-free 5-0 win over the Astros in Game 5.

They pummeled ex-Yankee-killer and former postseason ace Dallas Keuchel, who entered the game with the lowest career ERA (1.09) against the Yankees of any pitcher in baseball history (min. 50 IP) and the lowest postseason career ERA (1.69) of any active starter (min. 25 IP). He no longer holds those titles after getting battered on Wednesday by the unstoppable Bronx Bomber bats.

Gary Sanchez led the way with two run-scoring hits, an RBI single in the fifth and a solo blast in the seventh. That homer was his third of the postseason, as he matched two of his fellow Baby Bombers (Greg Bird and Aaron Judge) and Didi Gregorius for the team lead.

The Yankees are the first team in major-league history to have three players age 25 or younger hit at least three home runs in the same postseason. And this is the first postseason in Yankees history they’ve had four players – of any age – with three-plus homers.

Aaron Judge drilled a double down the left-field line in the third inning to score Brett Gardner for his team-leading 10th RBI of the playoffs. He joined a 25-year-old Manny Ramirez in 1997 as the youngest corner outfielders to drive in at least 10 runs within a postseason.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

The true superstar of the game was the Yankees latest ace on the mound, Masahiro Tanaka. He dialed up another gem, blanking the Astros over seven brilliant innings while scattering three hits and striking out eight. Combined with his nearly identical effort in Game 1 of the Division Series, Tanaka joined Roger Clemens (2000) as the only Yankees with multiple starts of at least seven scoreless innings and three hits or fewer allowed in the same postseason.

Tanaka has put together a stellar postseason resume with a 1.44 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in four career starts. Most impressively, he’s given up no more than two runs and no more than four hits in each of those games. The only other pitcher in baseball history that can match Tanaka’s dominance – two or fewer runs and four or fewer hits allowed – in each of his first four postseason starts was Blue Moon Odom for the Oakland A’s in 1972.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Bump in the road
The series headed south for the final two games and the Yankees found themselves in trouble again deep in the heart of Texas.

They lost 7-1 in Game 6, tied for their second-largest loss in a potential clinching game on the road …. and you probably want to forget the largest (a 15-2 blowout in Game 6 of 2001 World Series in Arizona). Making the loss even more miserable was the fact that the Astros were winless in their five previous playoff games at home when facing elimination.

The Astros bats exploded for seven runs on eight hits against the normally tough Yankees pitching staff, which had actually been on an incredible run dating back to the middle of the Division Series. They’d held the Indians and Astros to no more than six hits in eight straight games from ALDS Game 3 through ALCS Game 5, the longest such streak by any team in MLB postseason history.

Still, they could have nearly pitched a perfect game and it wouldn’t have mattered given how dominant Justin Verlander was once again with his team on the brink of a long winter. He tossed seven scoreless innings with eight strikeouts, racking up a bunch of notable feats:

  • First player in major-league history to pitch three consecutive scoreless starts of seven-plus innings with his team facing postseason elimination.
  • Third straight playoff start against the Yankees giving up no more than one run (dating back to 2012 ALCS Game 3), the only pitcher ever to have a streak like that against the Yankees in October.
  • Combined with his 13-strikeout performance in Game 2, he is the fourth pitcher to strike out at least 20 Yankees in a single postseason series. Bob Gibson (31, 1964 World Series), Curt Schilling (26, 2001 World Series) and Sandy Koufax (23, 1963 World Series) are the others.

Aaron Judge helped the Yankees avoid the embarrassment of getting blanked with a mammoth solo blast in the eight inning, his third homer in the ALCS and fourth of the postseason. His four total dingers set the rookie franchise record for a postseason, while he joined Alex Rodriguez (2009 ALCS) and Hank Bauer (1958 World Series) as the only Yankee right-handed batters to go deep at least three times in a single playoff series.

The game turned into a rout thanks to a rare implosion by David Robertson in the eighth inning. He faced four batters, who went homer-double-single-double before he was pulled. His final line – four runs, four hits, no outs – was ugly and historic: Robertson is the only Yankee ever to cough up at least four runs and four hits while recording zero outs in a postseason game.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

You can’t win them all …
The Yankees magical, rollercoaster season finally came to an end thanks to a 4-0 Game 7 loss on Saturday night in Houston. Their comeback mojo expired, the Fighting Spirit went dry and this never-say-die team was unable to survive another do-or-die game. Still, what the Yankees were trying to accomplish, defying all expectations to make the World Series under the toughest circumstances, would have been such an incredible and rare feat. Consider these odds:

  • Only two teams have ever defeated 100-win teams in both the Division Series and League Championship Series (2001 Yankees and 1998 Padres)
  • The Yankees were the fifth team to play the maximum number games in the LDS and LCS in the Wild Card era — only one of those five were able to win both series (2012 Giants)
  • Only two teams have ever comeback from multiple 0-2 series deficits in the same postseason (1981 Dodgers, 1985 Royals), and neither of those teams faced two 100-win teams, which was the unprecedented task facing the Yankees

Ultimately, the Yankees inexplicable road/home splits sealed their fate this postseason. Saturday’s blanking was the second time they were shut out in the playoffs — the other was Game 1 of the ALDS in Cleveland — making this the first postseason in franchise history they suffered two shutouts on the road. They were held to one run or fewer for the fourth straight road game, tied for the second-longest such streak in MLB postseason history, trailing only the Brooklyn Dodgers’ six-gamer from 1916-20.

The Yankees somehow finished 1-6 on the road while going a perfect 6-0 at home in the playoffs. They are the fourth team ever to complete a postseason with a 6-0 or better record at home. That’s good! The other three clubs (2008 Phillies, 1999 Yankees, 1987 Twins) each won the World Series. That’s … less than good.

Regardless of the bittersweet ending, this season was so so much better than good.

Sonny Gray must get his control back on track for the Yankees to have a chance in Game Four

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Last week, when the Yankees lined up their ALCS rotation, they opted to start trade deadline pickup Sonny Gray in Game Four even though he started Game One of the ALDS and could’ve started Game One of the ALCS. The Yankees had Gray throw an extended three-inning simulated game on Thursday to stay sharp, though he’s still going 12 days between postseason appearances.

There are a few reasons the Yankees lined up their ALCS rotation the way they did. One, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino are their two best pitchers — Severino because of the way he’s thrown all year, Tanaka because of the way he’s thrown lately — and they wanted them going up against Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander in Games One and Two. Two, the Yankees trust CC Sabathia in a Game Seven situation, so they lined him up for that start.

And three, Gray has simply not pitched all that well lately. His first eight starts in pinstripes went great, as he threw 50.2 innings with a 2.66 ERA (4.14 FIP). Gray’s final three regular season starts did not go well (7.36 ERA and 7.38 FIP), and in his ALDS start, he allowed three runs in 3.1 innings before getting the hook. The problem, again, was his control. Gray walked four and struck out two in that ALDS start. In his last four starts, and he has 14 walks and 12 strikeouts in 18 innings. Yikes.

For the 2017 season overall, Gray had an 8.4% walk rate, which was essentially league average (8.5%) and just a tick above his career rate (7.9%). As the season progressed though, his walk rate kept climbing.

sonny-gray-walk-rate

Hmmm. Why has Gray been walking more batters lately, particularly in his last four starts? That’s tough to answer from here, and it could be a combination of many things. His mechanics are out of whack. He’s hiding an injury. Giving up home runs at Yankee Stadium scared him out of the strike zone. He’s trying to be way too precise in an effort to impress his new teammates and coaching staff and fans. Who knows?

The walks themselves aren’t the only problem. Gray has been falling behind in the count a lot as well lately, which puts hitters on the advantage. During these last four starts Gray has faced 86 batters, and by my count, 21 saw a hitter friendly 2-0 or 3-1 count, and more than a few of those 21 saw a 2-0 count and a 3-1 count in the same at-bat. Gray went to a 2-0 or 3-1 count on 17.0% of batters faced during the regular season. The MLB average is 17.1%. Over these last four starts, Gray is at 24.4%.

From watching him pitch over the years — not just with the Yankees, but with the A’s as well — Gray is the type of pitcher who doesn’t need to hit his spots perfectly to get good results. He has good velocity and everything he throws moves, helping him avoid the barrel. Gray can aim for a quadrant of the strike zone, let it rip, and let his natural movement do the work. Being precise with all that movement can be difficult.

Whatever the cause of these walks and recent control problems, this much is clear: the Astros won’t let those free baserunners go unpunished. Well, that’s not necessarily true. The Yankees did walk eight batters in Game Three last night and only one scored. (For real.) I just wouldn’t count on that happening again, giving the Astros so many free passes and escaping unscathed. As good as New York’s pitching has been in the ALCS, Houston’s lineup feels like a sleeping giant.

Now, this isn’t to say Gray should just fire it in there middle-middle to avoid walks, because that’ll create a completely different set of problems. But continuing to fall behind in the count and either walking people or going 2-0 and 3-1 is a recipe for trouble. We’ve seen it in Gray’s last four starts and the stakes are a lot higher now. To keep the Astros in check, Sonny has to attack and stay in the strike zone, something he’s done throughout his career, just not lately.

Tanaka, Severino, Sabathia will start Games 1-3 of ALCS

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Earlier this evening, the Yankees announced Masahiro Tanaka will start Game One of the ALCS tomorrow night in Houston. He will be followed, in order, by Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, and Sonny Gray.

Here are the pitching matchups for ALCS:

  • Game One: Tanaka vs. Dallas Keuchel
  • Game Two: Severino vs. Justin Verlander
  • Game Three: Sabathia vs. TBA
  • Games Four: Gray vs. TBA

Both Tanaka and Severino will be on normal rest for their first ALCS starts. The Yankees trusted Sabathia with their ALDS Game Five start and, if the ALCS goes seven games, he’d get the ball in Game Seven as well. Gray has had some walk problems lately, so it’s not too much of a surprise the Yankees are pushing him back.

I thought maybe the Yankees would try to push Tanaka back to Game Three so he could pitch at home given his big home-road splits, but I’m glad they didn’t. Does Tanaka give you the best chance to win Game One given the available options (Tanaka, Gray, or Severino on short rest)? Yes, he does. Then start him.

As for Gray, his Game Four start will come 12 days after starting Game One of the ALDS. Joe Girardi said Gray will throw a three-inning simulated game today to stay sharp, and it’ll also allow him to work on anything. That means he won’t be available in relief in Games One or Two, however. Gray can’t go 12 days between throwing though. The simulated game is a must.

The Tanaka vs. Keuchel game is of course a rematch of the 2015 Wild Card Game. That one didn’t go so well for the Yankees. Not because of Tanaka specifically — he allowed two runs in five innings in that game, which isn’t terrible — just in general. The 2017 Yankees are better than the 2015 Yankees, thankfully.

Yankeemetrics: Kings of the Comeback (Wild Card & ALDS)

(AP)
(AP)

Wild, wild win
From a nightmare start to a very happy ending, the Yankees used their relentless power bats to overcome a debacle on the mound in a crazy Wild Card Game victory. With the win, the Yankees snapped a five-game postseason losing streak, which was tied for the second-longest in franchise history.

Luis Severino produced one of the worst playoff starts ever, becoming the third starter in franchise history to give up three or more runs while getting pulled before recording two outs in a postseason game. The others were Art Ditmar in the 1960 World Series and Bob Turley in the 1958 World Series.

Down 3-0 before even swinging a bat and your ace is in the showers? No big deal for this Yankees team: they had the second-most wins when their opponent scored first during the regular season (36). Yet still, this victory was nearly unprecedented in major-league history. Only once before had a team won a postseason game in which their starter lasted 1/3 of an inning and allowed at least three earned runs – the Pirates in Game 7 of the 1925 World Series against the Washington Senators.

The game quickly became a battle of the bullpens and the relief crew responded with a historic performance. Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman allowed just one run while striking out 13, the most strikeouts ever by a bullpen in a winner-take-all playoff contest.

Robertson’s epic outing deserves a couple #FunFacts. He’s the first Yankee reliever to throw at least 3 1/3 scoreless innings and strike out five guys in the playoffs since Mariano Rivera in Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS, and just the third reliever in major-league postseason history do that in a winner-take-all game. The other two? Pedro Martinez (1999 ALDS) and Walter Johnson (1924 World Series).

Aaron Judge put an exclamation point on the comeback with a two-run laser shot into the leftfield seats that gave the Yankees a 7-4 cushion in the fourth. Adding to his ever-growing legendary rookie campaign, he became the youngest player in franchise history to go deep in his first career postseason game. Judge also became the second-youngest Yankee to homer in a sudden-death playoff win; the other dude was a 20-year-old Mickey Mantle in Game 7 of the 1952 World Series. #NotClutch

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

Overmatched in Cleveland
The Yankees offense was a complete no-show in Game 1 of the Division Series as they were dominated from start to finish by the AL’s best team. Not only were they blanked, 4-0, but they had only three hits, the seventh postseason game all-time that the Yankees were shut out on three hits or fewer.

Adding in the 14 strikeouts, and the Yankees entered the MLB record books – in the worst possible way. This was the fifth time in major-league playoff history that a team scored zero runs, had no more than three hits and struck out at least 14 times. The Yankees are the owners of two of the five games: Thursday night and 2010 ALCS Game 3 vs Rangers. Welp.

Trevor Bauer used his nasty fastball-curve combo to throw one of the most dominant playoff pitching performances ever against this franchise. Bauer, Pedro Martinez (1999 ALCS Game 3) and Cliff Lee (2010 ALCS Game 3) are the only starters to allow no runs and two hits or fewer while striking out at least eight Yankees in a postseason game.

While the Yankees bats went M.I.A., Sonny Gray was a mess on the mound. He really struggled with his command, issuing four walks, hitting a batter and throwing a wild pitch. Only one other Yankee pitcher crammed all that into a single playoff appearance: Jack McDowell in the 1995 ALDS.

Even worse, Gray gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series with this #NotFunFact: only one other starter in major-league postseason history walked four guys, hit a guy and tossed a wild pitch while pitching fewer than four innings: Ramon Ortiz (Angels) in the 2002 ALDS … against the Yankees.

(Getty)
(Getty)

No challenge, no win
Speechless.

The Yankees have suffered plenty of heart-breaking and frustrating losses this season, yet somehow Game 2 managed to top them all, zooming to first place in the W.L.O.T.S. (Worst Loss of the Season) standings. How improbable was this loss?

  • The five-run blown lead was tied for their second-largest in the postseason; the last time they gagged a five-run lead in the playoffs was the 2002 ALDS (Game 3) against the Angels. And it was the first time ever the Indians erased a deficit of five-plus runs to win a playoff game.
  • Scoring eight runs, fueled by three homers, should have been enough offense to win this game. Before Friday’s loss, the Yankees were 14-0 all-time in the postseason when scoring at least eight runs and going deep three times in a game.
  • It was just the second time the Yankees lost a postseason game on the road in the 13th inning or later. It’s probably best to not mention the other one (Game 5 of 2004 ALCS vs. the Red Sox). Sorry.

And still, sometimes, baseball is predictable. This was the third extra-inning playoff contest between these two teams — and the Yankees have now lost all three.

Obviously the major pivot point of the game was the non-challenge by Joe Girardi in the sixth inning. Before we get to the numbers, Girardi’s non-challenge was clearly an inexcusable mistake given the circumstances. Anyways, here’s a couple stats related to the at-bat.

First, Chad Green had faced 190 left-handed batters in his career entering Game 2, and had hit exactly one of them (Chris Davis last year). And Francisco Lindor’s grand slam was the first extra-base hit that Green had allowed with the bases loaded in his career. Second, the Yankees challenged six hit-by-pitch calls in the regular season, which was the most of any team (they ranked 13th in total challenges with 42). And overall, the Yankees 75 percent success rate on all challenged plays this season was the best in the majors.

Now that The Ugly chapter of this game has been written, let’s finish off with The Good. Remember, the Yankees pummeled the likely AL Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, for six runs and seven hits. Gary Sanchez kick-started the offense with a two-run homer in the first inning. The 24-year-old is the youngest Yankee catcher to homer in a postseason (a 22-year-old Yogi Berra homered in the 1947 World Series as a pinch-hitter).

Aaron Hicks then sent Kluber to the showers with a three-run bomb in the third inning that put the Yankees ahead 6-3. That gave us a nice #FunFact: he joined Bernie Williams and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankee centerfielders to hit a tie-breaking, multi-run homer in the playoffs.

Finally, Greg Bird extended the lead to 8-3 with a towering shot to rightfield in the fifth. Bird and Sanchez became the second set of Yankee teammates under age 25 to homer in a postseason game. Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller also did it in Game 3 of the 1939 World Series.

(Getty)
(Getty)

It ain’t over ’til …
The Yankees staved off elimination with a dramatic 1-0 win in Game 3 on Sunday night, showing off their Fighting Spirit once again in this rollercoaster, never-say-die season.

It was the sixth 1-0 win in franchise postseason history and the third in a potential elimination game (also 2001 ALDS Game 3 and 1962 World Series Game 7). Their only other 1-0 playoff win in the Bronx was in Game 1 of the 1949 World Series against the Dodgers.

In contrast to the rest of this run-happy postseason, Game 3 was a classic – and unprecedented – pitchers duel. It was the first postseason game in major-league history where each starter allowed zero runs, no more than three hits and had at least five strikeouts.

Masahiro Tanaka delivered an ace-like performance for the Yankees, carving up the Indians lineup with his nasty, dive-bombing splitter and late-breaking slider. Considering the magnitude of the game, Tanaka’s gem becomes even more impressive and historic. A worthy #FunFact for our ‘Hiro: he is the first Yankee pitcher ever to toss at least seven scoreless innings, strike out seven-or-more guys and give up three hits or fewer in a potential postseason elimination contest.

Aroldis Chapman also came through in the clutch with a white-knuckle, five-out save to seal the win. Since saves became official in 1969, the only other pitcher in baseball history to record a save of at least five outs in a 1-0 win with his team facing postseason elimination was Mariano Rivera in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS.

As brilliant as Tanaka and Chapman were, the Yankees couldn’t have won the game without the heroics of Greg Bird and his solo homer in the seventh off Andrew Miller. Two other Yankees have gone deep in the seventh inning or later of a postseason contest to break a 0-0 tie — Tommy Henrich in the 1949 World Series (Game 1) and Charlie Keller in the 1939 World Series (Game 4).

Finally, another #FunFact for the Birdman: he is the first player in major-league history to snap a 0-0 tie with a homer in the seventh inning or later and his team on the brink of being eliminated from the playoffs.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Stayin’ Alive
The never-say-die Yankees forced a winner-take-all Game 5 with a convincing 7-3 win at the Stadium on Monday night. The Yankees broke out of their mini-offensive slump with seven runs and were helped out by a sloppy Indians defense that led to six of them being unearned. This was just the second postseason game where a Yankee opponent allowed six or more unearned runs; the other was in Game 2 of the 1960 World Series against the Pirates.

Gary Sanchez added an insurance run in the sixth inning with a solo drive to right-center for his second homer of the postseason. Power-hitting young catchers shining in October is special; only four other backstops under age 25 have hit multiple homers in a single playoffs: Johnny Bench (1970, ’72), Javy Lopez (1995), Brian McCann (2005) and Yadier Molina (2006).

While the offensive fireworks were cool, the star of this game was Luis Severino. He bounced back from his disastrous Wild Card game outing with seven superb and gutty innings. Sevy is the second-youngest Yankee with nine strikeouts in any postseason game (trailing 22-year-old Dave Righetti in the 1981 ALDS). And he is only the fourth pitcher – of any age – in franchise history to win a potential elimination game while striking out at least nine guys. CC Sabathia (2012 ALDS Game 5), Bob Turley (1958 World Series Game 5) and Vic Raschi (1952 World Series Game 6) are the others.

(Getty)
(Getty)

#LoveThisTeam
The Yankees are Kings of the Improbable Comeback, winning Game 5 to become the 10th team in baseball history to overcome a two-games-to-zero deficit in a best-of-five series. Combined with their similar rally in the 2001 ALDS against the A’s, they joined the Red Sox as the only franchises to achieve this incredible feat twice.

Making this amazing victory even more impressive is that it came against a 102-win Indians club that was the AL’s best in the regular season. The Yankees are now 9-2 in postseason series against 100-plus-win teams, and their only losses were to the Reds in the 1976 World Series and the Cardinals in the 1942 World Series.

They’ve been at their best with their backs against the wall this entire season and especially in the playoffs, improving to 4-0 in potential elimination games and 2-0 in winner-take-all games in this postseason. It is the first time in franchise history they’ve won four games when facing elimination in a single postseason, and the first time they’ve won multiple winner-take-all games in a single postseason.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Didi Gregorius had a performance for the ages, lighting up the scoreboard early and often, with a solo homer in the opening frame and then going deep again in the third inning. He joined Jason Giambi (2003 ALCS Game 7) and Yogi Berra (1956 World Series Game 7) as the only Yankees with multiple homers in a winner-take-all postseason game. And … he’s the first shortstop in franchise history to go yard twice in any playoff game.

While Didi provided the power, Brett Gardner brought the grit. He won a grueling 12-pitch battle with Cody Allen in the ninth inning, lacing an RBI single into right field to give the Yankees a three-run cushion with three outs to go. Remarkably, it was the longest at-bat of his career that G.G.B.G. ended with a hit.

CC Sabathia was lights-out through four innings before getting into trouble in the fifth, but still finished with nine strikeouts. That matched his career postseason high that he set in the deciding Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS. Sabathia is just the fourth pitcher in major-league history to whiff at least nine guys in a winner-take-all game twice in his career. The others? Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling and Justin Verlander.

Aroldis Chapman sealed the win with two near-perfect innings and entered the record books with this remarkable #FunFact: He is the first pitcher in postseason history to save a winner-take-all game by throwing at least two hitless innings and striking out four or more guys.

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We will see you Friday night!

Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia will start first two games of ALDS

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

Following tonight’s optional workout at Progressive Field, Joe Girardi announced Sonny Gray and CC Sabathia will start Game One and Game Two of the ALDS, in that order. They did not announce the rotation beyond that.

Not much of a surprise Gray is starting Game One. He’d been lined up for that game for a little while now. Sabathia starting Game Two over Masahiro Tanaka seems to be based on home-road splits (and overall performance).

Sabathia at home: 4.20 ERA (4.54 FIP)
Sabathia on the road: 3.18 ERA (4.33 FIP)

Tanaka at home: 3.22 ERA (3.45 FIP)
Tanaka on the road: 6.48 ERA (5.35 FIP)

Luis Severino threw only 29 pitches in last night’s dud outing, and my guess is the Yankees did not announce their rotation beyond Game Two because they are considering using him in relief in Game One. If they need him in Game One — their bullpen will be short tomorrow — he won’t start until Game Four. If he isn’t need in Game One, then he’ll go in Game Three. We’ll see.

Gray will be opposed by Trevor Bauer, not Corey Kluber, in Game One. Sabathia will face Kluber in Game Two. That’ll be all sorts of fun. Current Indians ace vs. former Indians ace.

Update (8:47pm ET): Girardi announced Tanaka will start Game Three and Severino will start Game Four. Severino is not a bullpen option in Game One, apparently. Hmmm.