Yankeemetrics: Kings of New York (Aug. 14-17)

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Aarons and Gary Show
True to form, the Yankees bounced back from their latest Worst Loss of The Season with a late-inning rally to beat the Mets, 4-2, in the Subway Series opener.

If we know anything about this 2017 Yankees team, we know it’s a resilient one. It was their 17th comeback win when trailing by multiple runs this season; through Monday, only three teams (Twins, Astros, Angels) had more such wins than the Yankees.

Also true to form, the comeback was fueled by a burst of power. Aaron Judge tied the game in the sixth inning on an opposite-field solo shot; Aaron Hicks‘ blast to lead off the eighth was the game-winner; and Gary Sanchez added an insurance-run dinger later in the eighth inning.

For Sanchez, it was his 20th home run of the season, the second straight year he’s reached that milestone. Only four other catchers in major-league history produced multiple 20-homer campaigns before their age-25 season (while playing at least 75% of their games behind the dish): Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Brian McCann and Wilin Rosario.

Hicks’ homer was his 12th of the year – a new single-season career-best – and made him the answer to another #FunFact piece of Subway Series trivia. He joined Russell Martin (June 10, 2012) as the only Bronx Bombers to hit a go-ahead homer after the seventh inning against the Mets at Yankee Stadium.

Judge sparked the rally with his 36th homer of 2017 and the 40th of his career. (In a weird statisical quirk, Sanchez and Hicks’ home runs were also their 40th career bombs.) As we’ve noted before, Judge’s combination of patience and power – he had 96 walks to go along with his 40 homers – is unprecedented for a rookie:

Judge is the first player in baseball history to compile at least 40 homers and 75 walks within his first 140 big-league games.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Too close for comfort
The Yankees squeezed out another victory on Tuesday night, but this time the drama was self-induced. They survived another near-implosion in the ninth inning by Aroldis Chapman, winning 5-4 after Amed Rosario took Chapman deep in the final frame.

Chapman was his typical dominant self for the first month of the season (11 games, 0.87 ERA, 41% K), but since he blew the save on May 7 in the 18-inning marathon against the Cubs, he’s been mostly mediocre (25 games, 5.40 ERA, 29% K). This is arguably his least-dominant 25-game stretch since he first broke into the majors in 2011, in terms of strikeout rate:

chapman
Still, the Yankees built up enough of an advantage in the first eight innings for the win on Tuesday with another stellar outing by Sonny Gray and another shot of home-run power.

Gray was mostly fantastic, holding the Mets scoreless on four hits through six innings, before his only blemish, a homer by Dominic Smith in the seventh. His slider was filthy and nearly untouchable, netting him eight whiffs and five strikeouts. His ability to bury the pitch below the knees and gloveside was hugely important, as he got all eight of his swings-and-misses in that location:

sonny-gray

He extended his streak of at least six innings pitched and no more than two earned runs allowed to nine starts, the second-longest in the majors this season. Over the past decade, the only American League right-handers to have a streak as long as Gray’s were Felix Hernandez (16 in 2014) and Justin Verlander (9 in 2011).

Gary Sanchez drove in the first run of the game with an RBI single in the second, giving him the nice round number of 100 career RBIs. He is one of eight players in Yankee history to reach the century mark in RBIs this early into his career (141st game). It’s a group that includes four Hall of Famers – Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon, Yogi Berra – and three other franchise notables – George Selkirk, Bob Meusel, Charlie Keller.

Sanchez then gave the Yankees a seemingly comfortable 4-0 lead in the fifth inning with a towering moonshot into the left-center field bleachers, his 21st homer of the season and the 10th that went at least 425 feet. Among players with 15 or more dingers this season, Sanchez has the highest percentage of 425-foot-plus homers.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Clutch Didi, Monster Judge
The Subway Series shifted to Queens on Wednesday but the result was the same, another power-fueled win (plus a small dose of timely hitting) for the Yankees. It was their 14th win against the NL this season, the most Interleague victories they’ve ever had in a single year.

The crosstown rivals traded punches for much of the game until the Yankees finally broke through in the seventh inning with a rare clutch hit, when Didi Gregorius lined a two-out, bases-loaded double to score two runs for a 5-3 lead. That was the Yankees only hit in 10 at-bats with a runner in scoring position.

You could say that setup was tailor-made for Clutch Didi. Since joining the Yankees in 2015, he’s hitting .385 with the bases full, the best average among players with at least 35 at-bats in that situation over the last three seasons; and he’s 7-for-17 (.412) with the bases-loaded and two outs, the fourth-best average by any player in that span (min. 15 at-bats).

Yet Didi’s heroics were buried in the highlight reel thanks to Aaron Judge being Aaron Judge, both the good and the bad version.

Judge set another major-league record on Wednesday, striking out for the 33 straight game, the longest single-season streak ever by a non-pitcher. In 1934, when Lou Gehrig led the majors with 49 homers, he struck out a total of 31 times (in 690 plate appearances). It’s a different game today, folks.

With the ugly, though, comes the awesome. Judge also broke the Internet when he crushed a massive home run into the third deck at Citi Field.

It was his eighth homer with an exit velocity of at least 115 mph – is that good? The rest of major-league baseball had combined for 13 through Wednesday, and no other player had more than three.

Plus, there’s this sweet list of the Top 5 Hardest-Hit Home Runs this season:

Name Speed Date
1. Aaron Judge 121.1 June 10
2. Aaron Judge 119.4 April 28
3. Aaron Judge 118.6 June 11
4. Aaron Judge 118.4 July 4
5. Aaron Judge 117.0 August 16

Sevy bounces back, Sanchez powers up
The Yankees survived yet another ninth-inning scare on Thursday night, and held on for the 7-5 win to complete their second-ever Subway Series sweep; in 2003, they won all six games against their intracity rival.

They nearly blew a 7-1 lead with three outs to go when Curtis Granderson hammered a grand slam into the rightfield seats. It was the fourth bases-loaded homer given up by Yankees pitchers this season, one more than they surrendered from 2014-16 combined. Granderson also joined Mike Piazza (June 2, 2000) and Carlos Delgado (June 27, 2008) as the only Mets to hit a grand slam against the Yankees.

Gary Sanchez drove in five of the Yankees seven runs, becoming the first Yankee with five RBIs in a game against the Mets since Alex Rodriguez on July 2, 2006. That seems fitting given that El Gary and A-Rod have become lunch buddies recently.

Severino rebounded from the worst start of his career and was back to his dominant self, giving up one unearned run over 6 1/3 innings while striking out nine. He upped his season whiff total to 175, the third-most strikeouts by a Yankee in his age-23 season or younger, and trailing only Lefty Gomez (176 in 1932) and Al Downing (217 in 1964).

It was also Severino’s 10th start of more than six innings pitched and one run or fewer allowed in 2017. Only two other MLB pitchers have done that this season: Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale.

Yankeemetrics: Nightmare north of the border (Aug. 8-10)

(AP)
(AP)

Where’s home plate?
The road trip continued with a trek north of the border, to a place that has been a house of horrors for the Yankees this decade. They entered the series in Toronto with a 27-41 record at the Rogers Centre since 2010, their worst winning percentage at an AL ballpark over the past eight years.

So, predictably, they dropped the first game on Tuesday, though the result had much more to do with their continued failure to cash in on scoring chances. They flooded the basepaths with 14 baserunners, but only two of them crossed the plate, the first time that’s happened in nearly a year, since last August 15 against … the Blue Jays.

Or maybe they lost because they failed to send a ball over the fences. The Yankees have just three wins when they don’t homer, the fewest in the majors this season, and after going homerless on Tuesday, their 3-20 record without a home run is the second-worst in baseball.

All of the damage by the Blue Jays came from Josh Donaldson, who belted two two-run homers off CC Sabathia in the first three innings. Sabathia later revealed that he was pitching with pain in his right knee, which was the likely cause of a troublesome drop in his fastball velocity.

(Brooksbaseball.net)
(Brooksbaseball.net)

He averaged 89 mph on his sinker and 88.4 mph on his cutter, both of which were his second-lowest marks on those pitches this season, ahead of only his start in Pittsburgh in April. The injury was likely the main reason for his struggles, though you have to wonder if the inevitable regression monster was lurking given these numbers entering the game:

Sabathia had a 2.29 ERA on the road, the best in the AL (min. 50 IP), and hadn’t allowed more than one earned run in each of his last six road outings before Tuesday. He also had held Donaldson without a homer in their previous 37 matchups, the most plate appearances Donaldson had in his career against a pitcher he had yet to take deep.

(AP)
(AP)

Dinger party
The Yankee bats returned with vengeance on Wednesday night, exploding for 11 runs and 17 hits, including eight for extra bases. It was the first time they reached each of those totals on the road in more than two years, since a 13-6 shellacking of the White Sox at Cellular Field on July 31, 2015.

Todd Frazier, Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius each went deep as the Yankees improved to 17-0 when hitting at least three homers, the best record in the majors. The only other team that’s unbeaten in three-homer games this season is the Red Sox (10-0).

Frazier had by far his finest game as a Yankee, with three hits — a homer, double and single — three RBIs and four runs scored. Those two extra-base hits on Wednesday were the same number that he had in his previous 18 games (70 plate appearances) in pinstripes.

The Toddfather is just the fourth Yankee third baseman to drive in three or more runs and score four or more times in a game, joining A-Rod (six times), Scott Brosius (1999), Graig Nettles (1976) and Bobby Brown (1949).

The inclusion of Brown here gives us a chance for our Yankeemetric History Lesson of the Week. Brown, who later became a practicing cardiologist and spent a decade as the president of the American League (1984-94), has one incredible stat from his eight seasons with the Yankees:

A career .279/.367/.376 hitter, Brown was a monster in the postseason, hitting .439 in 41 at-bats in 17 World Series games. That’s the second-highest World Series batting average in baseball history by any player with at least 40 plate appearances, behind David Ortiz (.455).

Garrett Cooper was the other standout player on Wednesday, going 4-for-5 with two RBIs, and producing a bevy of #FunFacts for the 26-year-old rookie. He is the …

  • Seventh Yankee ever with a four-hit, multi-RBI game within his first 10 career games. This might be one of the most eclectic lists of players we’ve ever produced: D’Angelo Jimenez (1999), Shane Spencer (1998), Rusty Torres (1971), Elston Howard (1955), Jerry Coleman (1949) and Chicken Hawks (1921) — yes, a real person and one incredible statistical claim to fame.
  • Third Yankee first baseman with at least four hits against the Blue Jays, joining Mark Teixeira (2010) and Don Mattingly (six times).
  • Fourth rookie first baseman in the last 100-plus years to have a four-hit game, along with Joe Collins (1950), Bud Souchock (1946) and Lou Gehrig (twice).

And, of course, this would not be a Yankeemetrics post without Aaron Judge re-writing the record books. He took his 82nd walk of the season in the fifth inning, breaking the Yankee rookie record set by Charlie Keller in 1939. The major-league rookie record in the modern era (since 1900) is 107 walks by Ted Williams in 1939, a number that is certainly within reach over the next seven weeks.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Stranded in Canada
One night after an offensive explosion — which now seems like a blip during this miserable and extended slump — the Yankees flipped the script on Thursday and were blanked by the Blue Jays, 4-0. It was deja vu all over again, as they had plenty of chances to score (11 baserunners) but left a small navy of men on base because of their horrid clutch hitting (0-for-9 with runners in scoring position).

But maybe we should have predicted this frustrating loss, given their recent struggles to light up the scoreboard at the Rogers Centre. It was the Yankees 10th shutout loss in Toronto since 2011, easily their most at any road stadium over the last seven seasons. Second on the list? Camden Yards and Tropicana Field, with five at each place.

Sonny Gray was okay on a night he needed to be perfect, but he did hold the Blue Jays to three runs (two earned) in six innings, his eighth start in a row with at least six innings pitched and no more than two earned runs allowed. That’s the longest such streak by an AL pitcher this season and tied with Max Scherzer for the second-longest in the majors, behind Aaron Nola (9).

Two of those starts have been with the Yankees, and he’s lost both of them, as the Yankees have scored a total of zero runs in the 12 innings he’s been on the mound. His consolation prize is being the proud winner of our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: Gray is the second pitcher ever to begin his Yankee career with two losses despite pitching at least six innings and allowing two or fewer earned runs in each game, joining Harry Byrd in 1954.

Aaron Judge inched closer to yet another record, although this is one he’d like to avoid. When he took a called strike three in the fifth inning against Marco Estrada, it was his 27th straight game with a strikeout. That’s the second-longest single-season streak by a position player in MLB history, trailing only Adam Dunn’s 32-game streak to start the 2012 season.

Sabathia’s injury gives Yankees a chance to line up their best starters for the upcoming Red Sox series

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

This weekend the Yankees will play their most important series of the season (to date), as they’ll host the first place Red Sox for a three-game set at Yankee Stadium. At worst, the Yankees will be six games back in the AL East at the start of the series. At best they’ll be two games back. There’s still more than seven weeks to go in the regular season, but the remaining head-to-head games against Boston are more or less going to decide the division title.

The Red Sox have already announced that Chris Sale will start in every remaining series against the Yankees, which isn’t surprising. The Yankees are actually 2-0 when facing Sale this season. Masahiro Tanaka threw the shutout against Sale in April, then the Yankees won that long 16-inning marathon last month after Matt Holliday‘s game-tying home run against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth.

Anyway, here are the tentative pitching matchups for this weekend’s series against the Red Sox. Teams usually don’t make their starters official until the day before the start of a new series, though this is how it lines up at the moment:

That TBA was CC Sabathia, who left last night’s start with right knee pain and seems destined to land on the disabled list. Both Sabathia and Joe Girardi admitted there’s a lot of concern. Sabathia was in a lot of pain and his knee has been pretty messed up for a few years now. It’ll be surprise if he doesn’t wind up on the disabled list, really. Hopefully the upcoming tests bring good news.

As for the Red Sox series, noticeably absent from the pitching matchups are Tanaka and Sonny Gray. Tanaka is scheduled to start tonight and Gray tomorrow night, so they’ll miss the Red Sox series. Those two plus Severino are the Yankees’ three best starters at the moment. I don’t think anyone will disagree with me there. In the most important series of the season (to date), you want them on the mound.

The thing is, the Yankees could have easily lined up their rotation to ensure Tanaka and Gray (and Severino) would face the Red Sox this weekend. Yesterday’s off-day and last week’s six-man rotation would have made it possible with no headache at all. No one starting on short rest, no call-up spot sixth starter, nothing like that. Here’s how the Yankees could have lined the rotation up:

  • Tuesday @ Blue Jays: Tanaka on normal rest after Monday’s off-day
  • Wednesday @ Blue Jays: Sabathia on extra rest
  • Thursday @ Blue Jays: Garcia on normal rest after Monday’s off-day
  • Friday vs. Red Sox: Gray on extra rest
  • Saturday vs. Red Sox: Severino with an extra day of rest after Monday’s off-day
  • Sunday vs. Red Sox: Tanaka on normal rest

In a nutshell, the Yankees would have used Monday’s off-day to flip Tanaka and Sabathia, and Garcia and Gray. That would’ve lined up Gray, Severino, and Tanaka for the Red Sox series in that order. Instead, the Yankees are currently scheduled to start Garcia this weekend even though the Boston’s offense performs better against lefties (100 wRC+) than righties (92 wRC+).

The Sabathia injury changes things, assuming he’s unable to make his next start and doesn’t make a miraculous overnight recovery. The Yankees are going to have to plug someone into the rotation to take his spot. Jordan Montgomery is the obvious answer, but you know what? It might not be him. The Yankees could decide to keep him in Triple-A and continue on with his limited workload plan. Other rotation options include Bryan Mitchell, who pitched well in long relief last night, and either Luis Cessa or Caleb Smith. And I suppose Chance Adams, but I don’t see that happening.

Someone has to replace Sabathia, but that someone doesn’t necessarily have to start the same day Sabathia would have started. Sabathia’s replacement, whoever it is, could start tomorrow against the Blue Jays, which would push Gray back to Friday and into the Red Sox series. Mitchell and Smith pitched last night, which means Cessa and Montgomery are the only options for tomorrow’s start. (Adams doesn’t line up either.) Instead of Garcia-Severino-TBA this weekend it would be Gray-Garcia-Severino. Much better, I’d say.

One thing to keep in mind is these two teams will play again next weekend. Three games at Yankee Stadium this weekend and three games at Fenway Park next weekend, with four games against the Mets in-between. Whatever the Yankees do to the rotation this weekend will impact how things line up next weekend. For example:

Stay on turn Use spot starter tomorrow
Thursday at Blue Jays
Gray TBA
Friday vs. Red Sox
Garcia Gray
Saturday vs. Red Sox
Severino Garcia
Sunday vs. Red Sox TBA Severino
Mon. to Thurs. vs. Mets Tanaka-Gray-Garcia-Severino TBA-Tanaka-Gray-Garcia
Friday at Fenway Park TBA Severino
Saturday at Fenway Park Tanaka TBA
Sunday at Fenway Park Gray Tanaka

The column on the right looks much better, no? The Yankees would be getting two Severino starts against the Red Sox rather than two starts from whoever ends up being the TBA. There’s no way to line up Gray, Tanaka, and Severino for both Red Sox series with doing something really crazy like using multiple spot starters, and no. Just no. Two starts from Severino and one each from the other four guys is greatly preferable to two starts from TBA and one each from everyone else.

This is one of those things that makes too much sense not to happen. I hope it is. I was a bit surprised the Yankees didn’t flip-flop Sabathia and Tanaka this week — again, starting Tanaka last night and Sabathia tonight would have allowed Tanaka to face the Red Sox this weekend and next, rather than just next weekend — so who knows. Maybe the Yankees don’t care that much about optimizing their rotation for the two series against Boston and will remain on turn. I hope that’s not the case.

The Sabathia injury stinks. It really does. Sabathia looked genuinely upset and concerned about his future following the game last night, and that absolutely sucks. CC is forever cool in my book. The one thing the injury does is give the Yankees another chance to rearrange their rotation and make sure Gray faces the Red Sox this weekend, and Severino faces them this weekend and next. They had a chance to line up their ideal rotation with Monday’s off-day and didn’t take it. Now they get a second chance.

Sabathia going on the disabled list means either Montgomery or Cessa could come back up before spending the requisite ten days in the minors to make that spot start tomorrow, pushing Gray back. That’s how this is all made possible. The disabled list stint is needed to bypass the ten-day rule. The Yankees are four games back with 51 games to play, so they can’t afford to fall too much further behind Boston. The Yankees should do whatever they can to make sure their best pitchers start as many of those remaining ten head-to-head games against the Red Sox as possible.

The near inevitability of a six-man rotation in September

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

Last week, after acquiring Sonny Gray and Jaime Garcia at the trade deadline, the Yankees went with six starters for one turn through the rotation. That gave everyone a little extra rest, which I’m sure they all appreciated. It’s August and it’s hot, and the innings are starting to pile up. Any time you have a chance to give the starters a breather, you do it.

The Yankees sent Jordan Montgomery to Triple-A following Sunday’s game, which means the six-man rotation is no more. They said it was a one-time thing and they stuck to it. The Yankees are back to a five-man rotation for the foreseeable future. And I think it’s only temporary. Once September rolls around and rosters expand, I think it’s all but certain the Yankees will go to a full-time six man rotation. For two reasons, mostly.

1. The Yankees really value that extra rest. The overall league numbers say pitchers perform better with extra rest. Throughout MLB this season, pitchers have a 4.54 ERA (4.35 FIP) on normal rest. That drops to a 4.34 ERA (4.10 FIP) with an extra day of rest. That’s league-wide, however, and not every single pitcher responds well to short rest. For all the talk about Masahiro Tanaka pitching better with extra rest, it’s not really true:

Tanaka on normal rest (2017): 4.50 ERA and 3.55 FIP
Tanaka on extra rest (2017): 5.27 FIP and 4.97 FIP

Tanaka on normal rest (career): 3.53 ERA and 3.54 FIP
Tanaka on extra rest (career): 3.48 ERA and 3.89 FIP

At this point though, the “Tanaka pitches better with extra rest” myth has been repeated so much and for so long that I’ve given up hope people will realize it isn’t true. Score this a win for FAKE NEWS.

Anyway, forget about the numbers for a second. The Yankees have shown they value that extra day of rest with their actions. They’ve given their starters get that extra day whenever possible the last few seasons. There’s no reason to expect that will change now. And, really, it’s not about performance. It’s about health. Tanaka has a partially torn elbow ligament. CC Sabathia is 37 with a bad knee. Gray has had some injuries the last 18 months. Garcia’s injury history is ugly. That’s why they want to give them extra rest.

2. Montgomery and Severino are heading into uncharted workload territory. I’ve written about this already. The Yankees surely have some innings limit in mind for both guys — maybe that number is higher than you’d think given their career workloads to date, but the number exists — though that’s an overly simplistic way of looking at this. Long-term health is a concern, no doubt. But so is short-term effectiveness.

The Yankees are in the postseason race and they don’t want to run into a situation where Montgomery and especially Luis Severino hit a wall in September because they’re running out of gas. As young and as strong as these two guys are, neither has pitched a full MLB season yet. Pitching deep into September with more innings on your arm than ever before can be difficult. A six-man rotation and extra rest along the way would help mitigate the fatigue risk.

* * *

Using a six-man rotation now, with a 25-man roster, would be pretty difficult, which is why I think it’ll wait until rosters expand in September. Here’s what Joe Girardi told Randy Miller about a potential six-man rotation last week:

“In theory it sounds great, but now you (would) have six relievers and six starters,” Girardi said. “You get rid of one of your relievers that can give you distance, it puts you in a bind. If the commissioner would let me add another man on the roster and then you have 26, I’d really think about it … You’ve got to remember, too, that most pitchers are used to going on a five-man rotation. It might help one guy and screw up the other four. That’s a problem.”

Injuries and ineffectiveness have a way of changing plans in a hurry, but right now, I think the Yankees are planning to use a true six-man rotation once September rolls around and carrying an extra starting pitcher wouldn’t mean sacrificing a bench player or reliever.

As it stands, the Yankees have six big league caliber starting pitchers, and that’s really good. You’d rather than too many that not enough. The Yankees are going to use those six starters too. Montgomery might be in Triple-A now, but that’s only temporary. He’ll be back before you know it. Once rosters expand, using a six-man rotation makes an awful lot of sense given the physical and workload concerns in the rotation. It makes so much sense that I fully expect it to happen.

Yankeemetrics: Two up, two down in Cleveland (Aug. 3-6)

(AP)
(AP)

Sorry, Sonny
Thursday’s series opener in Cleveland — a sloppy and frustrating 5-1 loss — was definitely not the ideal way to welcome Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees franchise.

Four batters into the game and the Yankees had already committed three errors behind Gray and the Yankees were quickly in a 2-0 hole. Whoops. It was the first time the Yankees committed three errors in any inning since October 2, 2010 against the Red Sox.

For Gray, this was a recurring nightmare that he thought had ended when he left Oakland, which leads the league in errors. Instead, he now has 13 unearned runs allowed on his ledger, tied with Derek Holland for the most in the majors through Thursday.

Gray pitched well as the Yankee gloves failed behind him, showing his toughness in pitching out of jams and limiting the damage on the scoreboard. He finished with two earned runs allowed on four hits in six innings, and for that solid effort, gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series:

Gray is the first pitcher in nearly 60 years to post those numbers or better (at least 6 innings, 2 earned runs or fewer, 4 hits or fewer) in his debut with the Yankees — and lose. The last guy to be this unlucky was Duke Maas in 1958. Maas (no relation to Kevin, I think) was traded by the A’s to the Yankees in mid-June, and then made his pinstriped debut as the starter in a 1-0 loss to the Tigers on June 21.

The Yankees bats also provided little offensive support as they were dominated by Corey Kluber, who tossed an 11-strikeout, three-hit complete game while giving up one run. That was his fourth straight start with at least eight strikeouts and one earned run or fewer allowed against the Yankees, the longest such streak ever by any pitcher against the Yankees.

(AP)
(AP)

Bad News Bombers
It was deja vu all over again on Friday night for the Yankees, as the mistakes in the field piled up and their offense remained in a miserable slump, resulting in another disappointing loss.

The “star” of the defensive lowlights was Gary Sanchez, who had his 12th passed ball of the season, the most in the majors despite the fact that he missed nearly a month of games in April and early May. He also has 10 errors, the second-most among catchers through Friday.

While the Yankees could barely touch Kluber’s stuff on Thursday, they put plenty of runners on base against Trevor Bauer and the Indians bullpen, but repeatedly failed to cash in on those chances. For the 15th time this season, they outhit their opponent (11-8) but still lost; only the Blue Jays (16) and White Sox (21) had suffered more losses in games when out-hitting their opponents through Friday.

Jaime Garcia contributed to the miserable night with a mediocre outing. He coughed up six runs in 4⅔ innings and couldn’t find the strike zone (four walks, one wild pitch), earning himself this #NotFunFact:

He’s one of just seven players in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) to allow that many runs, not get out of the fifth inning and walk at least four batters in his Yankee debut. The most recent guy to do it was CC Sabathia on Opening Day 2009 … okay? And the others are Tim Redding (2005), Bob Wiesler (1951), Fred Sanford (1949) and Karl Drews (1946).

(AP)
(AP)

Chase “Hero” Headley
While the bats remained silent on Saturday, the defense was outstanding and the Yankees got a stellar effort from Jordan Montgomery to survive a 2-1 nail-biter in Cleveland.

It was perhaps one of the team’s most unlikely wins, given how dominant Danny Salazar and the rest of the Indians pitchers were against a feeble Yankee lineup. They struck out 15 times, were on base just nine times and scored only two runs. In the last 100 years, no Yankee team had ever won a game with that many strikeouts, fewer than 10 baserunners and no more than two runs scored … before Saturday.

Montgomery was terrific, allowing one run on three hits in five innings, and making a strong statement that he should be a key part of the rotation down the stretch (which is now a hot topic for us banter about after he was optioned to Triple-A following Sunday’s game). Although Monty rarely dazzles like a Severino or Pineda, he consistently puts up solid numbers and keeps the Yankees in the game while he’s on the mound.

Consider this stat: Saturday was the 16th time this season that he held the opponent to three runs or fewer. Only five other Yankee pitchers have done that within their first 21 career games: Dave Righetti, Doc Medich, Masahiro Tanaka, Mel Stottlemyre and Spec Shea.

Chase Headley rescued the Yankees from another depressing loss when he belted a tie-breaking home run in the top of the eighth inning. Headley, who has quietly been one of the best hitters in the league since the All-Star break deserves a #FunFact for his heroics on Saturday: He is just the third Yankee first baseman in the last four decades with a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later against the Indians – Jason Giambi (2005) and Don Mattingly (1984 and 1986) are the others.

(AP)
(AP)

#Sevy4MVP
Finally … the Bronx Bombers are back. The Yankees offense, which had been M.I.A. for the past week, exploded for eight runs on Sunday, more than they had scored in their previous five games combined. But it was the brilliant pitching of Luis Severino and a shutdown performance by the Yankee bullpen that truly shined in the 8-1 win.

It was the fourth game this year that the pitching staff allowed no more than three baserunners. The last time a Yankees team did that? 1929!

Sevy, the undisputed ace of the 2017 staff, cemented his status as a no-doubt Cy Young contender with another lights-out performance: two hits, one run, nine strikeouts over 6⅔ dominant innings. I think this is a good list to be on:

He also became the first Yankee pitcher in more than 20 years to beat the Indians in Cleveland while holding them to no more than two hits. The last guy to do it? David Cone in the 1996 opener … and we know how that season ended.

Severino’s effort would have been another wasted gem in a deflating loss if not for the team’s offensive explosion in the sixth and seventh innings. The five-run sixth was sparked by the most unlikely source, a bases-loaded triple off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury. The struggling lefty entered the day hitting .163 with runners in scoring position, the sixth-lowest batting average among AL players (min. 50 PA).

The three-run seventh, on the other hand, was powered by a much more familiar name — Mr. Aaron Judge — who smoked a 94 mph fastball into the rightfield seats for his 35th homer of the season. And, of course, with that blast, Judge etched his name in the baseball record books once again: He is the only rookie outfielder in major-league history with at least 35 homers and 75 walks in a season.

Attitude Adjustment

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

If you’re reading this, chances are you know a little bit about me. For those of you who don’t, let me tell you that I’m a teacher (high school English) by trade. In my experience as a teacher, I’ve had to rely on one trait more than any: flexibility. It took me a long time to land a full time position, so I was ‘stuck’ doing long-term sub positions in southwestern Connecticut from April 2013 to February 2016. In that time, I taught grades 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12 in five different schools (one middle, four high) to different populations, from different courses/curricula, and in five different districts. To boot, most of the time, I was parachuting in after the start of the year and had to find my bearings on the fly. If not for flexibility, I’d’ve drowned. It might be time to exercise similar flexibility for the Yankees.

All year, I’ve been saying this is a ‘house money’ season for the Yankees. Given the roster, expectations weren’t high; a second wildcard spot seemed like the ceiling. Of course, early season hotness blew the doors right off of that. Despite some hiccuping in June, the Yankees went into the trade deadline like buyers and came away with a much improved Major League roster and, until recently, a first place position in the AL East. Now, they sit in the first wildcard seat, controlling their own destiny. And with many games left against the first place Red Sox, the division isn’t far out of reach.

According to the FanGraphs projection mode, the Yankees have a 69.4% chance of making the playoffs. Using the season-to-date mode, their playoff chances are even higher at 79.8%. If we flip over to the Baseball Prospectus playoff odds table, they’re at 81.8%. Coupling this with the Yankees’ deadline moves and the general feeling you get, it’d be hard to call missing the playoffs anything aside from a disappointment.

If we allow ourselves some dispassion for a minute, we can rationalize a missed playoff run. Aaron Judge will have had a killer season. Gary Sanchez, too. Clint Frazier came up and held his own. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery will have taken huge steps forward. Didi Gregorius, too. With Sonny Gray aboard, the rotation for 2018 feels a lot better than it did even a month ago. Those are all great things for the Yankees in 2017 and 2018, regardless of this year’s record.

But dispassionate analysis is for the offseason. Right now, we’re in the heat of things, quite literally as August marches on. I want this team to make the playoffs. This team can and should make the playoffs. They’ve worked hard and gone through some rough patches and ‘deserve’ to have that rewarded with a real shot at number 28. The rotation and bullpen are stacked for a playoff run and they could do some real damage in a short series, especially if the bats heat back up to support them.

Another important factor of teaching is holding students to high expectations, or at the very least, adjusting those expectations as they perform. The Yankees have performed above and beyond their original expectations for 2017 and it’s time to ask more of them. Play today. Win today. That’s it.

Sonny Gray and the move from Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium

(@Yankees)
(@Yankees)

Later tonight right-hander Sonny Gray will make his first start with the Yankees after coming over from the Athletics prior to Monday’s trade deadline. He’ll face the same Indians team he held scoreless over six innings just three weeks ago. I’m sure Gray will feel some “first start with his new team” butterflies and all that, but one start is just one start. As long there are (many) more good starts than bad starts, the Yankees will be happy.

Gray is making the move from Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium, which is going from one extreme on the ballpark spectrum to the other. Oakland Coliseum is pitcher friendly thanks to the spacious outfield, the tall outfield walls, and all that foul territory. Yankee Stadium is pretty much the exact opposite. Short porch, not much foul territory, so on and so forth. Gray’s moving from a big time pitcher’s park to a big time hitter’s park.

So far Gray has made just one career start at Yankee Stadium, back in 2015 when the held the Yankees to three runs in seven innings. If you’re using that to forecast how Gray will perform going forward, stop. It’s meaningless. It’s one start. One start against a lineup …

sonny-gray-lineup

… Gray will never face again. That one start tells us nothing useful. There’s not a pitcher alive who wouldn’t see their numbers get worse moving from Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium. They are very different ballparks and very different run-scoring environments. You have to adjust your expectations accordingly knowing how hitter friendly Yankee Stadium can be.

Now, that all said, there are reasons to believe Gray is built to succeed in Yankee Stadium. First and foremost, Gray is a ground ball pitcher, and the next ground ball I see hit over the short porch will be the first. Among the 99 pitchers who have thrown at least 90 innings this year, Grays ranks seventh with a 56.7% ground ball rate. Since the start of the 2014 season, he’s fifth with a 54.6% ground ball rate. Ground balls are good.

Get that many ground balls over that long a period of time and it’s not a fluke. What makes Gray’s consistently above-average ground ball rate impressive is that he doesn’t do it with one pitch. Many great ground ball pitchers have that heavy sinker they use to pound the bottom of the zone. Gray gets ground balls with multiple pitches. Here are his 2017 numbers:

  • Four-Seam Fastball: 63.3% grounders (37.8% league average)
  • Two-Seam Fastball: 62.1% grounders (51.5% league average)
  • Slider: 51.4% grounders (44.8% league average)
  • Changeup: 45.5% grounders (49.5% league average)
  • Curveball: 32.1% grounders (47.7% league average)

The two fastballs and the slider have been comfortably above-average ground ball pitches. The changeup, his least used offering (6.5% in 2017), is a tick below-average. The curveball has been well-below-average at getting ground balls this season, though that’s an outlier. Gray’s curveball had a 46.5% ground ball rate last year. It was 52.3% the year before that and 53.5% the year before that.

Even if Gray’s curveball is permanently broken as a ground ball pitch — batters have put his curveball in play only 25 times this season, so I’m betting it’s sample size noise — he still takes three above-average ground ball pitches to the mound on any given day, plus a fourth that is average-ish. He’s not someone who, when he needs a ground ball, has to throw his two-seamer. Or has to throw his slider. He has more than one option.

Secondly, Gray is really good against left-handed batters. A righty who can’t keep lefties in check is going to have a really hard time in the Bronx. His numbers against lefties:

BF AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% HR/9 Hard%
2014 489 .219/.300/.339 .289 20.7% 9.6% 58.0% 0.76 25.2%
2015 425 .208/.275/.303 .260 21.9% 8.0% 56.3% 0.68 26.7%
2016 256 .280/.329/.427 .325 19.1% 6.3% 51.6% 0.91 28.6%
2017 191 .220/.277/.335 .269 23.0% 7.3% 57.4% 0.58 26.3%

Gray was injured and bad all around last season, against both righties and lefties. When healthy from 2014-15 and in 2017, he’s been very good against left-handed batters, especially at keeping the ball on the ground and limiting hard contact. (The MLB average is a 32.1% hard contact rate.) Preventing lefties from getting the ball airborne is imperative in Yankee Stadium.

As you’d expect, Gray uses his slider more against righties and his changeup more against lefties, otherwise his fastball and curveball usage is the same against all hitters. That curveball is the difference-maker. It’s a high-quality pitch Gray can throw for strikes or bury in the dirt for swings and misses, and he throws it at any time. Many starters are fastball-breaking ball against same-side hitters and fastball-changeup against guys on the other side of the plate. Gray is fastball-cuveball-slider against righties and fastball-curveball-changeup against lefties.

Another reason Gray won’t suffer too much from the move from the Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium? He doesn’t rely on pop-ups. There’s sooo much foul territory in Oakland. Balls that land behind the dugouts in many ballparks are caught for outs at the Coliseum. Those cheap outs have allowed dudes like Tommy Milone and Jesse Chavez to function as viable starters for the A’s, but nowhere else. Here is Gray’s pop-up spray chart overlaid on Yankee Stadium, via Baseball Savant:

sonny-gray-pop-ups

That covers 2014-17, so that’s 641 innings worth of pop-ups there. You can count on one hand the number that were outs at Oakland Coliseum but would have been in the seats elsewhere. Will Gray lose some easy foul pop-up outs given the smaller foul territory at Yankee Stadium? Of course. But he wasn’t relying on them for success anyway. He’s a ground ball/strikeout guy. Not a pop-up guy.

One last thing to keep in mind — and this is not ballpark specific — is the Yankees are a substantially better defensive team than the Athletics. Remember how much the A’s kicked the ball around during the two series with the Yankees? The A’s might be the worst defensive team in baseball this season.

A’s DRS: -50 (30th among all MLB teams)
A’s UZR: -42.0 (30th)
A’s Defensive Efficiency: 0.706 (14th)

Yankees DRS: -5 (16th)
Yankees UZR: +4.9 (11th)
Yankees Defensive Efficiency: 0.711 (6th)

Gray’s ability to get ground balls with multiple pitches and use those pitches to neutralize left-handed batters are why it appears he is well-suited for Yankee Stadium despite being a short (5-foot-10) right-handed pitcher. He’s very unique in that regard. Not many pitchers that size can get ground balls. That the Yankees are a far superior defensive team to the A’s is icing on the cake. More of those grounders will be turned into outs.

As far as pitching well in New York and the AL East, I’m not concerned about Gray at all. He has a lot of weapons and he’s extremely competitive. The only concern I have with Gray is his health. As long as his arm stays in one piece, I think he’s going to be very effective for the Yankees, and I don’t think it’ll take long for him to become a fan favorite. Moving from Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium will hurt his performance because it would hurt anyone’s performance. Gray has the tools to minimize the ballpark related damage, however.