Yankeemetrics: Rounding third, heading home (Sept. 25-28)

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

The Dinger King
The Yankees returned to the Bronx on Monday and kicked off the final week of the season with a sweet 11-3 rout of the Royals. They improved to 17-0 in games decided by at least eight runs, a typical blowout for this year’s club. The Yankees have the most wins by that margin in the majors, and are the only team that hasn’t suffered a loss by eight or more runs.

Aaron Judge stole the statistical spotlight as he enjoyed a record-breaking day at the Stadium. He clubbed his 49th and 50th homers of the season, not only becoming MLB’s all-time rookie home run king, but also etching his name alongside a bunch of franchise legends and some of baseball’s most iconic players. Let’s recap a few of his other incredible feats:

  • Fifth player in franchise history to hit 50-plus homers, a group that includes A-Rod (2007), Roger Maris (1961), Mickey Mantle (twice) and Babe Ruth (four times)
  • Joined Mantle (1956) and Ruth (1920) as the only Yankees with seven multi-homer games in a season at age 25 or younger
  • With his 12th and 13th homers in September, he became the youngest Yankee to go deep 13 times in a calendar month since a 25-year-old Maris had 14 in June 1960.
  • Coming off his two-homer effort on Sunday, Judge became the first rookie in franchise history with back-to-back multi-homer games
  • He also got his 120th walk, making him just the second player in major-league history to hit 50 homers and walk 120 times in a season before the age of 26. The other? That Ruth dude in 1920.
(AP)
(AP)

While Judge hogged the headlines, a couple other Baby Bombers helped turn this game into a rout with both Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez adding to their 2017 homer totals. It was the first time in the majors that Judge, Sanchez and Bird each went yard in the same game.

And let’s not forget about the old guy on the mound, CC “The Stopper” Sabathia. After cruising through six scoreless innings, he coughed up a couple homers in the seventh but still finished with a win and a bare-minimum quality start. More impressively, he’s now 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 11 games following a Yankee loss, the best record and lowest ERA of any MLB pitcher with at least seven such starts this season.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Another win, another clinching
After beating the Rays on Tuesday, the Yankees locked down homefield advantage for the Wild Card game next week. Aaron Hicks was activated from the disabled list in the morning, inserted into the starting lineup and made an immediate impact with a spectacular grand-slam-saving catch in the first inning. Even Hicks was amazed by the jaw-dropping home run robbery:

(MLB.com)
(MLB.com)

Aaron Judge didn’t homer but still contributed with an RBI double and scored his 125th run of the season. He joined Ted Williams (1939) and Joe DiMaggio (1936) as the only players in MLB history with at least 100 RBIs and 125 runs in their rookie campaigns.

Gary Sanchez also reached a nice round number, notching his 90th RBI of the year on a bloop single in the eighth. He’s the youngest American League catcher (primary position) to drive in at least 90 runs in a season since a 24-year-old Yogi Berra in 1949.

On the mound, Jordan Montgomery delivered his second straight gem, holding the Rays to one run over six solid innings. After allowing seven homers in his first eight home starts, he’s kept the ball in the park in each of his last six home starts dating back to July. How impressive that? The only Yankee with a longer single-season streak of homerless starts at the current Yankee Stadium is CC Sabathia in 2011. And through Wednesday, he was the only pitcher in the majors that had pitched at least 30 innings at home since the All-Star break and hadn’t given up a longball in his own stadium.

(USA Today)
(USA Today)

#TooManyHomers
A late-September Home Run Derby broke out in the Bronx on Wednesday as the Yankees enjoyed a 6-1 win backed by three homers and another masterful performance by Luis Severino. It improved their record to 18-7 this month, their most September wins since they went 19-9 in 2009 en route to … World Series title No. 27.

Amidst the offensive fireworks, the star of the game was the team’s 23-year-old ace. Severino rebounded from a poor start against the Twins last week to produce another typical dominant outing – nine strikeouts and one run allowed in six sharp innings – in the final performance of his historic 2017 campaign.

It was the 16th time this year he surrendered no more than one run, the most such starts in the majors, and the most by any Yankee since Mike Mussina also had 16 in 2001. He’s also youngest AL pitcher with 16 starts of one run or fewer in a season since Vida Blue in 1971, and the youngest right-hander in either league to reach that mark since a 21-year-old Dwight Gooden in 1985.

The nine strikeouts gave him 230, matching CC Sabathia (2011) for the third-highest single-season total in franchise history; the two guys ahead of him are Ron Guidry (248 in 1978) and Hall-of-Famer Jack Chesbro (239 in 1904). Oh, and Chesbro’s 1904 season is mind-boggling in the context of today’s pitching environment: he threw 454 innings while setting modern-era records in games started (51), wins (41) and complete games (48)!

Severino also lowered his ERA to 2.98, becoming the first Yankee to qualify for the ERA title with a sub-3.00 ERA since David Cone and Andy Pettitte in 1997, and the youngest to do it since Dave Righetti in 1981. Combined with his 230 strikeouts, and Sevvy is in some pretty elite company:

The last American League pitcher with 230 or more strikeouts and an ERA below 3.00 in his age-23 season or younger was Roger Clemens in 1986, the year he captured his first Cy Young award and the league MVP.

(AP)
(AP)

#NotEnoughHomers
The Yankees road to October hit a speedbump with a deflating 9-6 loss in the series finale. Let’s recap this rollercoaster-like game with a Yankeemetrics-style of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The Ugly
Handed a 4-1 lead, Sonny Gray imploded in the fifth inning, surrendering five runs in the frame (six overall) before getting pulled with two outs. It was definitely not the way he wanted to cap off his regular season in the Bronx. Following the disaster outing, his final three starts at Yankee Stadium look like this: 15 2/3 innings, 15 runs, 17 hits, six homers.

The Bad:
Normally a dinger party equals a Yankee win, but somehow the Bronx Bombers managed to snatch defeat from a near-certain victory. Prior to Thursday, they were 13-0 when hitting at least four homers in a game this season, the second-best record in MLB. The last game they lost despite going deep four times was August 22, 2016 at Seattle, and their last such defeat at Yankee Stadium was more than two years ago on June 23, 2015 versus the Phillies.

The Good:
The offense got off to a fast start when Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge opened the game with back-to-back homers, the first Yankee duo to do that since Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter on April 16, 2012 against the Twins. Greg Bird invited himself to the power party with a fourth-inning solo blast, his eighth homer and 23rd RBI in 26 games since coming off the DL. By the way, that’s a 162-game pace of 49 homers and 143 RBIs.

And with his first-inning blast, Judge continued his destruction of the record books:

  • 32nd longball at The Stadium this year, tying Babe Ruth — who hit 32 at the Polo Grounds in 1921 — for the most homers hit at home in a season in franchise history.
  • 14th homer this month, the first Yankee to go deep 14 times in September since Ruth set the major-league record for September home runs with 17 in 1927.
  • The only other right-handed batters to wear pinstripes and hit 14 homers in any calendar month were A-Rod (April 2007) and Joe DiMaggio (twice).
  • 8th straight game with extra-base hit, the longest streak by Yankee rookie in the last 100 years

Building the 2017 Wild Card Game roster

Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Although the Yankees are still mathematically alive in the AL East race, odds are they will go to the postseason as a wildcard team, and odds are they will host the Twins at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have already punched their postseason ticket. Once the Red Sox clinch the AL East and the Twins clinch the second wildcard spot, everything will be set.

The Wild Card Game is, technically, its own postseason round. Teams set their 25-man Wild Card Game roster, then can make adjustments prior to the LDS. That leads to some unique roster construction. Why carry four or five starting pitchers for one game, for example? I’m a bit surprised MLB didn’t try eliminate that Wild Card Game roster rule. Or maybe they did try and were unsuccessful. Whatever.

Anyway, the Yankees carried 16 position players and nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. For real. Like I said, there are better ways to use those last few roster spots than carrying extra starting pitchers. The Yankees are not guaranteed to follow the 16 position players and nine pitchers blueprint again, but it does give us an idea what to expect in advance of the Wild Card Game next Tuesday.

So, with that Wild Card Game now six days away, I figured this would be a good time to try to piece together the 25-man roster the Yankees could use for that winner-take-all affair. Really stinks the Yankees are going to win 90-ish games then have to play in that Wild Card Game, huh? Oh well. Can’t do anything about it. Let’s take a look at the potential Wild Card Game roster.

The Locks

This is the easiest group, so we might as well start here. These are the 18 players we all know will be on the Wild Card Game roster as long as they’re healthy.

Pretty straightforward, right? Right. I’m as annoyed by Dellin’s walks as much as anyone, but they’re not leaving him off the Wild Card Game roster in favor of … Chasen Shreve? Jonathan Holder? Ben Heller? Gio Gallegos? Another starter? Yeah, no. These 18 dudes will be on the Wild Card Game roster.

Locks, If Healthy

Aaron Hicks (oblique) returned last night and Adam Warren (back) is expected back soon. At one point earlier this season it seemed Hicks would start the Wild Card Game, maybe even hit first or second, but not anymore. The injury and Jacoby Ellsbury’s late season resurgence put an end to that. He’ll be on the Wild Card Game roster as the fourth outfielder though, as long as he’s healthy. Warren will of course be on the roster as well. Again, as long as he’s healthy. Health is the only reason these two wouldn’t be on the Wild Card Game roster. They’re on, so add them to the locks and that’s already 20 players.

The Extra Starters

Like I said, the Yankees carried only nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. That’s typical. It’s one game, not a series, so there’s no need to carry all five starters. The Yankees figure to carry the scheduled starter (duh), a backup starter in case the scheduled starter is unable to go for whatever reason (hurt during warmups, sick before the game, etc.), and an extra starter should things go crazy in extra innings. Three starters seems like the right amount to me.

Severino is on track to start the Wild Card Game with one extra day of rest. That’s the easy part. Who backs him up? That will depend as much on the pitching schedule as anything. Whoever starts the final regular season game Sunday won’t be on the Wild Card Game roster Tuesday, for example. Right now, Sonny Gray lines up to pitch the day of the Wild Card Game on normal rest and Jordan Montgomery is on track to pitch that day with two extra days of rest. Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, meanwhile, would be on short rest that day.

Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Because of the schedule, Gray and Montgomery seem like the obvious candidates to be the backup starters behind Severino. I suppose Jaime Garcia could be in the mix given how he dominated the Twins last week, though I think that’s unlikely. The Yankees could always call an audible and change the rotation this week, but that would surprise me. They’ll have their best ready to go in Severino. Assuming Warren is healthy, Severino plus Gray and Montgomery gets the Yankees to nine pitchers and 22 players on the roster overall.

The Final Bench Spots

The 12 locks plus a hopefully healthy Hicks gets the Yankees to 13 position players, leaving three open spots should the Yankees again go the 16 position players plus nine pitchers route. Realistically, there are five candidates for those three roster spots: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Clint Frazier, Erik Kratz, and Tyler Wade. Garrett Cooper didn’t even get a September call-up, so I he’s not a postseason roster candidate. Ditto Kyle Higashioka.

I think Austin is on the postseason roster for sure. He’d give Joe Girardi a right-handed power bat on bench and, just as importantly, a backup first baseman should Bird (or Headley) get lifted for a pinch-runner. You don’t want to give up the DH or have to play Holliday at first base in the Wild Card Game. Austin’s righty power and ability to play first base (and right field in a pinch) seems pretty clearly worth a Wild Card Game roster spot in my opinion. Easy call.

Wade, even though he basically never plays, strikes me as someone who has a leg up on a Wild Card Game roster spot as well. He’d give the Yankees coverage all around the infield and can play left field in a pinch as well. Also, he can run. Crazy fast. Maybe the Yankees don’t consider him a designated pinch-runner option — they didn’t acquire that player this September — but still, the situation could present itself, and Wade is the closest thing the Yankees have to a true burner available. I think he’s on the roster as the 24th or 25th player.

Frazier’s roster fate could be tied to Hicks. If Hicks re-injures the oblique or simply can’t get going these next few days, Frazier would be the obvious candidate to serve as the fourth outfielder in the Wild Card Game. I love Frazier, but I’m really hoping Hicksie is on that Wild Card Game roster. He’s such a weapon when right. The Yankees could always carry Hicks and Frazier, in which case Frazier’s role would be extra righty bat, fifth outfielder, and potential pinch-runner. Frazier is low key fast as hell. That could come in handy at some point during a close game.

The Yankees don’t trust Andujar’s defense at third base right now — they’ve made that clear given how little he’s played there so far — and he can’t play any other positions, so he doesn’t have much to offer in the Wild Card Game. He’d be an extra righty bat and emergency third baseman. That’s it. Kratz? Don’t be surprised if he’s on the roster. The Yankees carried three catchers in the 2015 Wild Card Game — Sanchez, who had two September at-bats in 2015, was on the Wild Card Game roster that year — and they could do so again, just for an emergency. You know we’re in for at least one Wild Card Game roster surprise, right? Right.

If Hicks and Warren are healthy enough to make the Wild Card Game roster, and it sure looks like that’ll be the case, I think those final three position player spots wind up going to Austin, Kratz, and Wade. Austin hits, Wade fields and can run, and Kratz is there for peace of mind. Here’s a recap of the 25-man roster we’ve talked out in this post:

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Starters Relievers
Sanchez Bird Austin Severino (SP) Betances
Romine Castro Ellsbury Gray Chapman
Kratz Frazier Gardner Montgomery Green
Gregorius Hicks Kahnle
DH Headley Judge Robertson
Holliday Torreyes  Wade Warren

Austin and Wade are more utility players than true outfielders, but I stuck them in the outfield section for easy table building purposes. The Twins are going to start a right-hander no matter what in the Wild Card Game — the only lefty in their rotation is up-and-down depth guy Adalberto Mejia, and he sure as heck isn’t starting that game — so I imagine Bird will be in the starting lineup and Holliday will not. Holliday has been pretty terrible against righties lately.

The Yankees, of course, don’t want to use their 25-man roster in the Wild Card Game. They’d like to stick with their nine starting position players and three, maybe four pitchers, tops. That would be the ideal Wild Card Game scenario. The rules say you have to carry a 25-man roster though, and you knows, maybe those 23rd and 24th and 25th players on the roster end up being a factor. No one plans for it to happen that way, but baseball can be weird sometimes.

Yankeemetrics: Welcome to October (Sept. 22-24)

(AP)
(AP)

Bad News Yankees
Instead of building on the positive momentum from their sweep of the Twins early in the week, the Yankees opened their weekend series in Toronto with a mistake-filled blowout loss, 8-1, to the Blue Jays.

This road trip north of the border has been a nightmare for the Bombers in recent years. Following Friday’s defeat, they guaranteed themselves yet another season-series loss in Canada. The last time the Yankees had a winning record at the Rogers Centre was 2009.

Much of the blame for this embarrassing loss falls on the brutal performance by Masahiro Tanaka. Terrible Tanaka was in peak form as he coughed up eight runs (seven earned) on six hits, three of which cleared the fences. Here’s a quickish recap of the ugly numbers after his latest disaster outing:

  • 35 homers allowed are tied with Phil Hughes (2012) for the second-most in Yankees history, behind Ralph Terry’s 40 in 1962. Oh, how times have changed: Terry was an All-Star, started 39 games, threw 298 2/3 innings and even got a few MVP votes that season, while Tanaka is at 29 starts and 177 1/3 innings.
  • Five games with three or more homers allowed leads MLB this season, and is tied with Catfish Hunter (1977) for the most in a season in Yankees history.
  • Five games with at least seven earned runs matches the most in a season by any Yankee pitcher, a mark he shares with A.J. Burnett (2010) and Red Ruffing (1934). Remember, folks, Tanaka had never given up more than six earned runs in any of his 75 career starts entering this year.

The final pitch he threw was a hanging 0-2 slider with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, that Ryan Goins drilled into the seats in right-center. It was the second grand slam he’s surrendered this year, and – you guessed it – he had never given one up prior to 2017. Even worse is the fact that Goins was 0-for-22 against Tanaka entering that at-bat, and had never even hit a flyball or line drive in his career against him!

Finally, there’s this stat that sums up Tanaka’s Jekyll-and-Hyde 2017 campaign: Through Friday, he was the only pitcher in MLB this season that had five games with at least three homers allowed. He was also the only pitcher in the majors that had thrown multiple games with at least 13 strikeouts and no walks.

Aaron Judge was a one-man offensive machine, producing the team’s only run and two of their three hits. His 469-foot booming shot into the second deck in the first inning was the longest homer at the Rogers Centre this season, and tied for his second-longest of the season. Through Friday, he was the only player in baseball to hit three homers of 469-plus feet this year.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

The clinching
It’s official. The Yankees punched their ticket to the postseason party with a comeback win, 5-1, on Saturday afternoon.

It was fitting that the clinching victory came in a game where the Yankees had to rally, after the Blue Jays took a 1-0 lead in the third inning. This was the Yankees 34th win when their opponent scored first, tied for the most in the majors through Saturday.

Sonny Gray tossed six strong innings and limited Toronto to one run on four hits, as he continued his six-week stretch of gutty performances on the road. It was his ninth road start in a row with two earned runs or fewer allowed, the longest streak among AL pitchers this season.

Greg Bird earned the hero’s cape when he golfed a 91-mph cutter into the right-field seats in the fifth inning, putting the Yankees ahead 3-1. Bird is no stranger to delivering big hits: eight of his 17 career homers have given the Yankees the lead. Among Yankees with at least 10 home runs since Bird’s debut in 2015, his “go-ahead homer percentage” of 47.1% is the second-best, trailing only … Jacoby Ellsbury (47.8%)!

We’ll also give Bird our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: This was the second time he’s hit a clutch homer on the road against the Blue Jays; the only other Yankee first basemen with multiple go-ahead homers in Toronto are Jason Giambi and Don Mattingly.

[Because this is a stats post, I’ll note that Aaron Judge reached the 200-strikeout mark in the first inning, breaking the rookie record set by Kris Bryant in 2015. I’ll also mention that Bryant won the Rookie of the Year Award that season.]

(Getty)
(Getty)

The post-clinching
Less than 24 hours after a rousing playoff-clinching victory, the Yankees played like they were still hung over from the late-night celebration. Not only did they lose the rubber game of the series, but the loss also gave them a disappointing 40-41 record on the road this season as they head home for the final week of games.

This is the second year in a row they’ve been below .500 away from the Bronx, the first time in more than two decades they’ve done that. The last time it happened came during the dark ages, a seven-season stretch of road mediocrity from 1987-93.

Jaime Garcia put the Yankees in an early hole, giving up a home run to Teoscar Hernandez on the second pitch he threw. It was the 10th lead-off bomb the Yankees have surrendered this season, the most they’ve ever allowed in a single season in franchise history.

Garcia remains winless in eight starts as a Yankee, tied for the second-longest such streak by any pitcher to begin his pinstriped career over the last 100 seasons. The only longer streak belongs to Steve Trout, who failed to get a win in his first nine starts after a mid-season trade in 1987.

To say that Garcia lacked command would be an understatement. Not only did he throw a wild pitch and walk three of the 14 batters he faced, but more than half (33 of 60) of his pitches were called balls. His strike percentage of 45 percent is the lowest by any Yankee starter that threw 60-plus pitches in an outing since at least 2000 (as far back as we have complete pitch-by-pitch data).

Once again Aaron Judge was the lone shining star in the lineup, belting his 47th and 48th homers this season. He’s now one shy of the major-league home run rookie record set by Mark McGwire in 1987, and also continued his climb up some impressive franchise leaderboards:

  • The only Yankee right-handed batter to hit more longballs in a season is A-Rod, who hit 54 during his 2007 MVP campaign.
  • The 48 homers are the third-most by a Yankee in his age-25 season or younger, trailing Babe Ruth (54 in 1920) and Mickey Mantle (52 in 1956).
  • At the age of 25 years and 151 days, he is the second-youngest Yankee to reach six multi-homer games in a season, behind a 24-year-old Mickey Mantle in 1956.
  • He now has 11 homers in September, the third time this season he’s hit double-digit longballs in a calendar month. The last Yankee to match that feat was Roger Maris in 1961, who had four months with at least 10 homers during his record-setting 61-homer campaign.

Looking Ahead to the 2018 Roster

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

First of all, let’s take a moment to congratulate the Yankees on securing a playoff spot in 2017. This team was expected to maybe compete for the second wild card spot if everything broke their way, and now they’re on track to win 90 games. That’s fantastic. Much to what I’m sure is the chagrin of fans of other teams and organizations, the Yankees’ rebuild lasted about as long as it takes to microwave a burrito. For exceeding expectations and cementing their spot as one of the last standing after the marathon that is the baseball season, this team deserved every drop of beer and champagne last night. To see a team that was this fun achieve something so unexpected is a delight and I’m beyond ecstatic for the players.

Now, let’s look ahead for a bit, hopefully into a future that includes raising a 28th World Series banner. On Friday, Mike looked at the payroll and budget situation for 2018. Using his template, let’s examine the potential 2018 roster as it ‘stands’ now. Like Mike, I’m going to assume Masahiro Tanaka will opt out of his current deal, bad start Friday night and all.

In his post, Mike listed the players needing to be replaced as Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Todd Frazier, and Matt Holliday. Of those, Tanaka is obviously the hardest to replace. If he does go, that task may be impossible because no free agent starters are of his caliber. The rotation would be in an okay spot considering they’d be leading with Luis Severino and Sonny Gray. A bit of improvement from Jordan Montgomery makes him into a third starter. Between the minor league system and some small time deals on the (not so hot) free agent market could round out the rotation decently. Considering how much of a question the rotation was this time a year ago, the Yankees could afford to go in with one that isn’t great and ride the lineup and bullpen like they did for a lot of this year.

Of the pitchers they’re (probably) losing, Sabathia is more likely to return on a small contract, maybe with some innings incentives. He’s said he wants to pitch for a winning team, and the Yankees are likely to be one. Tapping him to anchor the back of the rotation means the Yankees could take some innings risks with others in the fourth spot between CC and Monty.

To replace The Todd and Arms Holliday, the Yankees may be able to kill two birds with one stone…in the person of Todd Frazier. As good as Holliday looked at the beginning of the year, he’s looked much less so lately and given their experience with him and Chris Carter this year, I think the team’ll look to be more flexible at DH. That is, they won’t opt for a strictly DH type; they don’t have one in house and unless Carlos Santana somehow leaves Cleveland (doubtful), an elite option doesn’t exist on the free agent market.

The best option, I think, is to re-sign Todd Frazier. I wasn’t wild about that idea when he was brought on, but having him on the team gives the Yankees insurance for both Greg Bird‘s health and Chase Headley‘s performance. Those three guys can rotate between third, first, and DH until someone really grabs the job by the horns. While Bird may be limited to first, Headley and Frazier can both play the corner infield spots and the combination of all three could lead to upwards of 100 walks and 60 homers in some combination; that would be well worth it.

It’s likely that the 2018 Yankees will look incredibly similar to the 2017 Yankees. A lack of turnover can be a bad thing–see the 2017 Mets–but this team doesn’t have many major holes to fill–outside of Tanaka–and there’s a solid base of talent in each facet of the roster. Things are looking up for next year. Now, let’s see how they take care of this year.

Rotation shuffle confirms what we already knew: Luis Severino will start the Wild Card Game

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the weekend the Yankees shuffled their rotation under the guise of keeping CC Sabathia and his balky right knee off the turf in Toronto this coming weekend, and I’m sure there’s some truth to that. Sabathia aggravated the knee and had to go on the disabled list the last time he pitched at Rogers Centre. The last thing the Yankees want this late in the season is an injured pitcher.

“We are trying to keep CC off that turf, yes. Is his knee okay? Yes. Are there concerns always about his knee? Yes. It won’t change his amount of starts, but it will keep him off the turf,” said Joe Girardi when announcing the rotation change following Saturday’s win. “Right now we are (Jaime) Garcia, CC, and (Masahiro) Tanaka (against the Twins this week).”

The rotation shuffle does two things. One, it keeps Sabathia away from the turf in Toronto. And two, it means Luis Severino will not start this week against the Twins, the team closest to the Yankees in the wildcard race. No player on the Twins has ever faced Severino (seriously), so Minnesota would be going into the Wild Card Game blind, should they and the Yankees qualify. Reading scouting reports and watching video only helps so much. There’s no substitute for standing in the box.

I’ve seen a few people mention the rotation shuffle lines Severino up to start the Wild Card Game, but that’s not really the case. He was already lined up for the Wild Card Game and the shuffle changes nothing. Here’s how the rotation would’ve lined up before the shuffle and how it lines up now:

Old Rotation Plan Current Rotation Plan
9/17 vs. Orioles Sabathia Gray
9/18 to 9/20 vs. Twins Gray-Tanaka-Severino Garcia-Sabathia-Tanaka
9/21 off-day
9/22 to 9/24 @ Blue Jays Montgomery-Sabathia-Gray Severino-Montgomery-Gray
9/25 vs. Royals Tanaka Garcia
9/26 to 9/28 vs. Rays Severino-Garcia-Montgomery Sabathia-Tanaka-Severino
9/29 to 10/1 vs. Blue Jays Sabathia-Gray-Tanaka Montgomery-Gray-Garcia
10/2 off-day
10/3 Wild Card Game Severino (two extra days) or Gray (one extra day) Tanaka (one extra day) or Severino (normal rest)

I would bet against Garcia making that start in the makeup game against the Royals next Monday. Thursday’s off-day allows the Yankees to start everyone on extra rest next week anyway, and, more importantly, skipping Garcia lines Severino up to pitch the Wild Card Game with an extra day of rest. And it’s not just about the extra rest. That extra day is also an insurance policy in case there’s a rainout or something. If the Yankees do skip Garcia next Monday, the Game 162 start could go to Domingo German or Bryan Mitchell, assuming the game is meaningless. If it’s a must-win situation, you run Tanaka out there on normal rest.

Anyway, the Yankees were originally going to skip Garcia this turn through the rotation, which would’ve allowed them to start their three best pitchers against the Twins this week. They were ready in case the wildcard race was closer than it is and this series really meant something. Instead, the Yankees increased their lead over the Twins the last few days, so this series isn’t as important as it looked a week ago. It’s important! But the race isn’t as close as it was, and it gives the Yankees some flexibility.

“We’re planning on Tanaka for Wednesday, but I could change my mind,” said Girardi yesterday, hedging a bit and indicating Severino could indeed start against the Twins this week. I suppose that depends how tonight and tomorrow go, but, worst case scenario, the Yankees will be one game up on the Twins for the first wildcard spot and 3.5 games up on Angels the for a wildcard spot in general come Thursday morning.

Right now the Twins are the team the Yankees are mostly likely to face in the Wild Card Game — for all intents and purposes it’s down to the Twins and Angels because everyone else has fallen further back — so hiding Severino makes sense. Let them go into the Wild Card Game blind. At the same time, if things go wrong the next two days, the Yankees can still run Severino out there Wednesday to stop the bleeding. They have some flexibility.

Shuffling the rotation this week is as much as about Severino as it is Sabathia’s knee. He was already lined up to start the Wild Card Game, or at least close enough to being lined up that the Yankees could’ve made it happen at pretty much any point. Now the Yankees have a chance to make sure the Twins don’t see Severino before the Wild Card Game while still having the ability to throw him at Minnesota this week, if necessary. It was a small little move that could potentially yield big dividends.

Yankeemetrics: Bird hunting in the Bronx (Sept. 14-17)

(AP)
(AP)

Dingers and runs are awesome
What happens when you combine one of the five best homer-hitting teams (Yankees) with one of the five most homer-friendly ballparks (Yankee Stadium) and one of the five most homer-prone pitching staffs (Orioles)? You get the dinger-fueled blowout that happened on Thursday night in the Bronx.

The Yankees crushed four homers and pummeled the Orioles, 13-5. It was the fifth home game that the Yankees scored at least a dozen runs – and the opponent for all five of those has been the Orioles. This is the first time in the last 100 years of major-league baseball that any team has scored 12 or more runs in five home games against a single opponent within a season.

Aaron Judge led the offensive barrage – he went 3-for-4, scored three runs, belted two homers and piled up a career-best six RBIs – and unsurprisingly continued his assault on the record books:

  • The homers were his 10th and 11th against the Orioles, making him the first player on any team to hit 10 or more home runs against the Baltimore Orioles in a season (the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1954).
  • Going back to the days when they were known as the St. Louis Browns, the only other Yankees with 11-plus dingers against the franchise in a season are Joe DiMaggio (three times), Lou Gehrig (twice) and Babe Ruth (twice).
  • Judge is the first Yankee to hit at least 11 homers against any opponent since 1961, when Roger Maris had 13 against the White Sox and Mickey Mantle had 11 against the Senators.
  • The two home runs were also his 26th and 27th in the Bronx, setting the single-season record at the new Yankee Stadium, a mark previously held by Curtis Granderson in 2012.
  • Judge also now has 24 RBIs against the Orioles. Combined with his 11 longballs, he became the youngest player to reach both those totals against any team in a season since a 24-year-old Willie Mays hit 12 homers and drove in 29 runs versus the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955.
  • He scored his 110th run in the first inning, adding his name to this decent list of Yankees with at least 110 runs and 110 walks in a season: Ruth (10 times!), Mantle (six) and Gehrig (five).

Finally, lets cap it off with an #AaronJudgeFunFact: He is the youngest Yankee with at least three hits and six RBIs in a game since Yogi Berra on August 22, 1950 against the Tigers.

Gary Sanchez joined the home run derby in the sixth inning, going deep for the 31st time while setting the single-season franchise mark for homers by a player whose primary position was catcher. The 24-year-old also became the youngest backstop to hit more than 30 homers in a season since Mike Piazza for the Dodgers in 1993.

(AP)
(AP)

Eight is enough
Another home game against the Orioles, another blowout win. This one was a little tamer than Thursday’s explosive contest, as the Yankees won by only six runs (8-2) and had just three extra-base hits.

Didi Gregorius broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth inning with a 418-foot two-run blast, and added two sac flies, earning himself the coveted Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series award:

Only four other Yankees have hit a homer and multiple sac flies in a game (since sac flies first officially tracked in 1954) – Jorge Posada (2006), Jose Canseco (2000), Don Mattingly (1995), Bobby Murcer (1970).

The other stud in this game was, of course, Luis Severino, who cemented his Ace status with another fantastic performance. He went eight strong innings, giving up two runs on three hits while striking out seven. It was his 16th start this season with at least seven strikeouts and no more than two runs allowed, tied with Chris Sale and Corey Kluber for the most such games in the AL (through Friday’s slate).

The seven punchouts also pushed his season total to 218, becoming the youngest Yankee ever to reach that mark. He’s now tied for fifth on the franchise single-season strikeout list:

1. Ron Guidry (1978) – 248
2. Jack Chesbro (1904) – 239
3. CC Sabathia (2011) – 230
4. David Cone (1997) – 222
5. Luis Severino (2017) – 218
5. Melido Perez (1992) – 218

Holding a potent Orioles lineup to three hits and two runs is impressive on its own. But perhaps the most jaw-dropping part of his night was that he was pumping triple-digit gas in the late innings. Eight of the 23 pitches he threw in the seventh and eighth frames were clocked at 99 mph or faster. He’s now thrown 30 pitches of 99-plus mph after the sixth inning this season – which is more than twice as many (14) as the rest of all MLB starting pitchers combined!

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Runs and dingers are awesome, Part II
The whipping of the O’s in the Bronx continued on Saturday with a 9-3 rout, and the victory also clinched their 25th consecutive winning season. That’s the second-longest streak in MLB history (Yankees had a winning record for 39 straight seasons from 1926-64), and nearly three times as long as the next-best active streak (Cardinals, 9)

Thanks to the nine-run outburst, the Yankees reached 150-run mark against the Orioles in their 18 matchups through Saturday. Why is that significant? It is the …

  • Most runs scored by any team against another team during the Expansion Era (since 1961).
  • Yankees ninth consecutive game with at least six runs against the O’s; since 1913, their only other longer six-plus-run scoring streak against any team was a 12-game stretch vs. the Indians in 1930.
  • Yankees sixth home game in a row scoring eight or more runs against the Orioles, their longest such streak against any opponent at Yankee Stadium (old or new).

Didi Gregorius opened the slugfest with a three-run shot in the third inning, his second straight game he homered with two men on base. He joined Frankie Crossetti (1932) as the only Yankee shortstops in the Live Ball era (since 1920) to hit a three-run homer in back-to-back games. [He added another homer in Sunday’s finale, bringing his total to 24 this season, and tying Derek Jeter (1999) for the most by a shortstop in franchise history.]

(Getty)
(Getty)

All good things … must come to an end
You knew the Yankees recent trend of bashing baseballs and breaking scoreboards was unsustainable (see Regression to the Mean), and that it came in a game started by Sonny Gray was hardly surprising (see Lowest Run Support among Yankee Starters).

But the fact that the Yankees were finally cooled off by Ubaldo Jimenez — and his 6.75 ERA — in Sunday’s 6-4 loss was shocking. The Yankees entered the game 12-3 when facing an opposing starter with an ERA over 6.00, the second-best such record in the majors behind the Dodgers (9-2). So, of course, Jimenez held the Yankees to one run over five innings while striking out 10. More #WeirdBaseball? Ubaldo joined Matt Moore (Sept. 22, 2011) as the only pitchers in the last 100 years with double-digit strikeouts in an outing of five or fewer innings against the Yankees.

But wait, there’s even more!

You also couldn’t have predicted their ridiculous scoring spree to be snapped by any Orioles pitcher, given how much the Yankees had pounded the entire O’s pitching staff this season and especially in the Bronx. First, the ridiculous totals from the 19-game season series and the 10 home games vs the Orioles:

Games Runs HR BA OBP Slug Pct.
Overall 19 154 46 .313 .406 .575
Home 10 102 32 .337 .425 .671

If you’re curious, Babe Ruth owns a slugging percentage of .690 and homered once every 11.7 at-bats in his career — which looks alot like the .671 slugging and 11.3 at-bat-per-homer rate that the Yankees put up against the Orioles in the Bronx this season. And now for the historical perspective on those numbers:

  • 154 runs overall are the most by the Yankees vs any team in a season series since 1956, when they scored 158 in 22 games against the A’s.
  • 46 homers overall are the most by any team against any single opponent in the Expansion Era, and are the second-most hit by the Yankees against a single team in franchise history (48 in 1956 against the A’s).
  • .575 slugging percentage overall is their second-highest in a season against any team in the last 100 years (min. 7 games), trailing the .578 mark vs. the Rangers in 1998.
  • 102 runs at home are the third-most Yankees have scored at Yankee Stadium (old or new) against an opponent (104 vs Browns in 1949, 108 vs White Sox in 1931).
  • 32 homers at home are the most hit by the Yankees against a single team within a season at either Yankee Stadium.

Yankeemetrics: Feeling right at home in Queens (Sept. 11-13)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Let the good times roll …
Riding the momentum of a three-game win streak, the Yankees headed back to the Northeast to play a “road series” against the Rays at Citi Field due to Hurricane Irma. Despite spotting the Rays an early 1-0 lead, the Yankees were unfazed by the early deficit, and thanks to an explosive five-run fourth inning, cruised to a relatively easy 5-1 win on Monday. This game-script has actually become a familiar one for the 2017 Yankees (ranks through Monday):

  • 31st win when the opponent scores first, the most among AL teams and tied for the second-most in the majors.
  • Of course, it also helps that it was the 80th game this season in which they allowed the first runs of the game; only the Phillies and Athletics have more games.
  • 23rd time they scored at least five runs in an inning, tied with the Nationals and Astros for the most 5-or-more-run innings in MLB this season.

Todd Frazier turned a pitchers duel into a rout with a three-run homer in the fourth inning to give the Yankees a 5-1 advantage. The likelihood of him simply getting a hit in that situation – runners on first and second – was low: Frazier entered the game hitting .176 with men on base, the second-worst average in the majors (min. 150 at-bats).

The guy on first when Frazier went deep was Jacoby Ellsbury, who reached base via catcher’s interference for the 30th time in his career, breaking the major-league record for that obscure stat. The mark was previously set by Pete Rose, who got his 29 catcher’s interferences in a major-league-record 15,890 plate appearances; Ellsbury’s 30th came in his 5,308th plate appearance.

The unsung hero of the game was David Robertson, who took over for CC Sabathia with one out in the fifth and two men on base. He got out of the jam by striking out the next two batters and then held the Rays scoreless over next two frames. It was the first time in his career he pitched more than two innings and the earliest he entered a game since April 9, 2011.

How was D-Rob able to dominate the Rays? He peppered the edges of the strike zone with his signature cutter/curveball combo:

robertson

And got a few key outs with his devastating breaking ball (two strikeouts and two groundouts). Robertson’s curve is so nasty because of its ability to get whiffs and grounders at ridiculously high rates. More than 200 pitchers this year have thrown at least 100 curveballs, and only one other – Craig Kimbrel – can match Robertson’s 50 percent whiffs-per-swing rate and his 60 percent groundball rate with the pitch.

… and then see the good times come to a screeching halt
Buckle up, folks, this is going to be a bumpy and exasperating rollercoaster ride down the stretch in September. After enjoying a few days of offensive bliss, the Yankee bats crashed back down to earth on Tuesday. They were held to three hits – and didn’t get a runner past first base after the first inning – in a listless and boring 2-1 loss.

Yes, another one-run loss. It was their 25th of the season, which leads the American League and is also more than twice as many as they suffered last year (12). With a record of 15-25 (.375) in games decided by one run, they are still on pace for the fourth-worst winning percentage in those games in franchise history.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

They wasted another gem by Sonny Gray, who literally threw two bad pitches: his first one of the night, a 94 mph fastball up-and-away that Kevin Kiermaier deposited into the right-centerfield seats, and his 90th of the night, another elevated four-seamer that Adeiny Hechavarria clobbered for a tie-breaking solo homer in the eighth inning.

Kiermaier’s shot was the ninth leadoff homer allowed by the Yankees this season, which is one more than their pitchers gave up in 2015 and 2016 combined. For Gray, it was the first time in his career he surrendered a longball on the first pitch he threw in a game.

This lack of run support has become a recurring nightmare for Gray, who is 3-5 with a 2.66 ERA in eight starts with the team. In those five losses, they have scored a total of four runs. Tuesday’s heart-breaker was the fourth time as a Yankee that he got charged with a loss despite giving up no more than two earned runs. That’s the most such losses suffered by any starting pitcher in the majors since Gray made his first start in pinstripes on August 3. #KillTheWin

Gray certainly doesn’t deserve this fate, so let’s celebrate how terrific he’s been this season. It was his eighth consecutive road start allowing no more than two earned runs, the longest streak in the AL this season. The streak dates back more than three months, and during that stretch he’s posted a 1.99 ERA in those eight road starts, the best mark in the AL among guys with at least 35 innings pitched since June 1.

(AP)
(AP)

Survive and advance
Not even another massive RISPFAIL performance can stop the Fighting Spirit freight train that the Yankees have been riding this season. Despite leaving a small navy of runners on base and wasting a ton of scoring chances, the Yankees escaped with a 3-2 win on Wednesday to win their fourth straight series.

Joe Girardi went to The Binder early, yanking Jaime Garcia with two outs in the fifth inning after he’d only thrown 78 pitches and had allowed just one run at the time. This has become a signature call for Girardi this season — it was the 13th time a Yankee starter was removed before completing five innings, despite not giving up no more than two earned runs. That’s the most such starts by any AL team and tied with the Brewers for the MLB-high.

Yet you could hardly fault Girardi for an early hook with Garcia, given his massive splits when facing batters multiple times in a game (stats and ranks entering Wednesday):

  • 1st time through order: .542 OPS, ranked 15th out of 172 starters with at least 100 batters faced
  • 2nd time through order: .783 OPS, ranked 88th out of 171 starters with at least 100 batters faced
  • 3rd time through order: .989 OPS, ranked 114th out of 119 starters with at least 100 batters faced

[And it also helps when you have a Pitching Cyborg — aka Chad Green — with 99 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings and a 1.96 ERA ready to go in the bullpen]

Brett Gardner — living up to his G.G.B.G. nickname — was the rare Yankee who came through in the clutch, driving in two runs with a bases-loaded single in the second inning that would end up as the game-winning hit. He is now 11-for-21 (.524) with the bases loaded since the start of last season, the best mark among any AL player with at least 20 at-bats and the second-best in MLB behind Daniel Murphy.