The pros and cons of the upcoming six-man rotation

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

At the moment the Yankees have six viable big league starting pitchers for five rotation spots, which is pretty amazing considering the state of the rotation coming into the season. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia formed a solid yet fragile front three. The last two spots were very much up in the air. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery grabbed them and ran.

The Sonny Gray traded added another high-end arm and, if nothing else, the Jaime Garcia trade added depth. So, even after losing Pineda to Tommy John surgery, the Yankees are still six deep with starting pitchers in the season’s final month. And following tomorrow’s off-day, the Yankees plan to use all six starting pitchers. They’re going to a six-man rotation.

“You have a guy like (Severino) getting into an (innings total) he really hasn’t much passed. Sometimes it might help a Tanaka and it might help a CC so that is why we are doing it,” said Joe Girardi to George King and Pete Caldera last week. “… Some is the physical part of it, and we feel they might perform at a higher level on a sixth day.”

The Yankees will play 13 games in 13 days following tomorrow’s off-day, so they’ll be able to go two full turns through the six-man rotation. It’s September and rosters have expanded, so carrying six starting pitchers is no problem. Rolling with six starters and either a six-man bullpen (nope) or a three-man bench (yep) from April through August is where it gets tricky. That’s not the case now.

The six-man rotation comes with pros and cons like everything else. Or, really, it’s one big pro and one big con. The pro: giving pitchers rest late in the season. Severino’s and Montgomery’s workloads are an obvious concern — Severino (169.1 innings) and Montgomery (142.2 innings) have both already eclipsed their previous career high workloads — and something the Yankees need to monitor. They have to protect those young arms.

The four veteran guys could probably use the rest too. Tanaka just spent ten days on the disabled list with what was essentially a dead arm, plus there’s the whole partially torn elbow ligament thing. Sabathia had a knee flare-up recently. Gray has had some injury issues the last 18 months and Garcia’s injury history is as ugly as it gets. All four of those guys could benefit from a little extra rest now and then. Everyone could.

As for the downside of the six-man rotation, the Yankees would potentially be taking starts away from their best pitchers and giving them to their worst. The postseason races, both the AL East and wildcards, are awfully close. Taking even one start away from Tanaka or Severino and giving it to Montgomery or Garcia hurts the team’s postseason chances, at least in theory. (Montgomery or Severino could always come out and throw a gem, I suppose.)

Generally speaking, starters perform better with extra rest, which would maybe mitigate some of that “getting fewer starts from your best pitchers” thing. Here are the numbers quick:

  • MLB average on normal rest: 4.55 ERA (4.35 FIP)
  • MLB average with an extra day of rest: 4.38 ERA (4.32 FIP)

There is such a thing as too much rest — the MLB average with two or more extra days of rest is 4.51 ERA (4.48 FIP) — and that’s something Girardi acknowledged. “I don’t want guys having seven days (between starts),” he said. The numbers suggest an extra day of rest could improve performance, but those are league averages culled from thousands of innings and hundreds of pitchers. Anything could happen in one individual game, or a handful of individual games in this case.

For the Yankees, using a six-man rotation seems more about controlling Severino’s and Montgomery’s workloads, and giving the four veterans with injury histories a little breather late in the season. The Yankees could always call an audible depending on the postseason races. If things get too tight, they could scrap the six-man rotation and go with their five best. Here’s the possible rotation:

  • Wednesday, Sept. 6th at Orioles: Gray (on normal rest)
  • Thursday, Sept. 7th: off-day
  • Friday, Sept. 8th at Rangers: Tanaka (on one extra day of rest thanks to off-day)
  • Saturday, Sept. 9th at Rangers: Severino (on one extra day of rest thanks to off-day)
  • Sunday, Sept. 10th at Rangers: Garcia (on five extra days of rest)
  • Monday, Sept. 11th at Rays: Sabathia (on one extra day of rest thanks to off-day)
  • Tuesday, Sept. 12th at Rays: Gray (on one extra day of rest thanks to off-day)
  • Wednesday, Sept. 13th at Rays: Montgomery (on four extra days of rest)
  • Thursday, Sept. 14th to Sunday, Sept. 17th vs. Orioles: Tanaka, Severino, Garcia, Sabathia all with one extra day of rest
  • Monday, Sept. 18th to Wednesday, Sept. 20th vs. Twins: Gray, Montgomery, Tanaka all with one extra day of rest
  • Thursday, Sept. 21st: off-day

The Yankees have, essentially, skipped one Garcia start already when Montgomery got the ball Monday. That doesn’t mean he’ll sit around for nine days and do nothing between starts. He’s a veteran guy and knows what he needs to do to stay sharp. I’m sure he’ll throw extended bullpens and all that between starts.

Clearly, the Yankees are more concerned about Montgomery’s workload than the raw innings totals would lead you to believe. Only once in his last eight outings has he thrown more than 85 pitches. That was 92 pitches against the Indians last week. Five times in those eight outings he threw fewer than 80 pitches. The Yankees are trying to keep his workload down and that’s why I think they’ll essentially skip his next start.

A rainout tonight would throw a wrench into things, though the rotation outline above allows for some flexibility. That Twins series could end up being awfully important. If the wildcard race is tight, the Yankees could easily skip Montgomery entirely that series, and go with Tanaka and Severino on regular rest instead. We’ll see. Every so often I sketch out these possible rotation plans and they’re never right. Injuries and playoff races have a way of changing things.

For now, we know Girardi said the Yankees will use a six-man rotation following tomorrow’s off-day, which makes sense given the workload and injury concerns that exist. Extra rest this late in the season is good. But, at the same time, getting fewer starts from your top pitchers in the middle of a postseason race is not ideal. The Yankees very well might have to change their rotation plans if the race gets tighter in the coming days.

Yankeemetrics: Stayin’ Alive (Aug. 31-Sept. 3)

(Getty)
(Getty)

Old Man Ace + Baby Bombers = Win
The Yankees kicked off the Most Important Series of the Season® with a 6-2 romp over the Red Sox on Thursday night.

While other pitchers on the team have better pure stuff than CC Sabathia, there isn’t a guy the Yankees would rather have on the mound trying to halt a three-game slide while facing their hated division rival:

  • Sabathia is now 8-0 with a 1.44 ERA in 10 starts following a Yankee loss this season. That’s the best ERA among all MLB pitchers with at least six such starts through Thursday.
  • He went 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox this season. That’s tied for the fifth-lowest single-season ERA by a Yankee against the Red Sox, among the nearly 200 guys that have made at least four starts vs them.
  • Only four other starters in franchise history won at least four games in a season versus Boston with an ERA as low as Sabathia’s: Spud Chandler (1943), Lefty Gomez (1934), Bob Shawkey (1923).
  • Sabathia has won five straight starts against the Red Sox dating back to September last year. Over the past 50 years, Mike Mussina (2001-02) and Sabathia are the lone Yankee pitchers to beat the Red Sox five starts in a row.

Gary Sanchez capped off another stellar August by going 2-for-5, hammering a game-tying solo homer in the third and then delivering a game-winning RBI single in the fifth. He finished with 12 homers in the month, producing a slew of cool statistical nuggets:

  • Sanchez is the fifth player under age 25 in franchise history to hit a dozen homers in any calendar month, joining Don Mattingly (Sept. 1985), Mickey Mantle (three times), Joe DiMaggio (twice), and Lou Gehrig (June 1927).
  • The only Yankee right-handed batters in the last six decades with 12-or-more dingers in a month are Sanchez and Alex Rodriguez (August 2005, April 2007).
  • Sanchez and Yogi Berra (1952) are the only catchers in franchise history with a dozen homers in a calendar month.
  • He is one of six Yankees to reach 12 homers in August. You might have heard of the other guys: A-Rod (2005), Mantle (1955, ’56), DiMaggio (1939) and Babe Ruth (1929).

Combined with his awesome August last year, Sanchez now has a 1.133 OPS in 52 career games in the month. Here’s a list of MLB players with the highest career August OPS (min. 100 plate appearances) over the last 100 seasons:

Name OPS
Babe Ruth 1.134
Gary Sanchez 1.133
Lou Gehrig 1.111

Slipping away
One up, one down …. the Yankees rollercoaster season kept chugging along on Friday night as they followed up an encouraging win with another lackluster loss.

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Red Sox got only five hits off Sonny Gray, but three of the them went over the fence and resulted in all four of the runs Boston scored in the game. That snapped Gray’s streak of 11 straight starts with no more than two earned runs allowed, the longest in the majors this season.

That the streak ended because he got burned by the longball was stunning: Gray entered the game with the majors’ lowest home run rate allowed (0.71 per 9 IP) among pitchers with at least 120 innings. Also prior to Friday, the Red Sox had hit the fewest homers in the AL and ranked 29th in MLB in percentage of runs scored via home runs (34.7%).

Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi continued his assault on Yankee pitching with a solo homer. It was his fifth dinger at Yankee Stadium in 2017, joining Jim Rice (1983) as the only Red Sox players to hit five homers there in a single season. More impressive, the 23-year-old became the youngest visiting player ever to go deep five times in a season at either version of the storied ballpark.

(AP)
(AP)

Ace ‘Hiro
In full desperation mode and facing perhaps their most critical game of the season so far on Saturday, the Fighting Spirit kicked in and the Yankees pulled off their latest and greatest Biggest Win of the Season®.

Masahiro Tanaka‘s transformation from dud to stud over the last two-plus months has been remarkable. His seven-inning, five-hit, one-run gem against the Red Sox gave him a 2.77 ERA over his last 12 starts, a massive turnaround from the 6.34 ERA he posted through his first 14 starts of the season.

He dominated the Red Sox by pounding the bottom of the zone with a well-located mix of sharp sliders and splitters, generating a ton of weak contact and grounders. Per Fangraphs, half of the 22 balls in play against Tanaka were classified as “soft contact,” the highest rate in any of Tanaka’s 101 career starts. And Statcast tracked those batted balls with an average exit velocity of 78.8 mph, the lowest that Tanaka has allowed in the 81 starts he’s made in the Statcast era (since 2015). As you can see in the spray chart below, nearly everything the Red Sox hit was either in the infield or a weak fly ball:
masahiro-tanaka-9

Matt Holliday‘s overall numbers are well below his career standards, but he still has been a difference-maker in the lineup because of his ability to consistently deliver big, clutch hits. His tie-breaking, three-run homer in the sixth inning increased his slugging percentage with RISP to .671 this season, the fourth-best mark in the AL (min. 90 PA).

(AP)
(AP)

Victory with an exclamation point
The Yankees kept alive their dreams of an AL East title with an emphatic 9-2 win on Sunday night, cutting Boston’s division lead to 3 1/2 games with one month left in the season.

Chase Headley sparked the offensive explosion with a line-drive homer in the third inning. The wallscraper came on an 0-2 pitch from Chris Sale, making it one of the unlikeliest homers of the season. It was the 129th career homer allowed by Sale but just the fifth one that came on an 0-2 pitch. And it was just the third time in Headley’s career that he homered off an 0-2 pitch from a lefty, and the first since 2013.

The Yankees continued to pummel Sale in the next frame when Matt Holliday and Todd Frazier homered in consecutive at-bats to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. It was the first time ever that Sale has allowed back-to-back homers in a game. Each of the three longballs that Sale coughed up came in a two-strike count — a remarkable feat by the Yankees considering that entering Sunday, Sale had allowed a slugging percentage of .167, the second-lowest mark in the majors (min. 200 batters faced).

Aaron Judge joined the homer party when he crushed a 469-foot bomb to left-center in the sixth inning. It was his 38th home run of the season, matching Wally Berger (1930) and Frank Robinson (1956) for the second-most ever hit by a rookie in major-league history; the only player with more is Mark McGwire with 49 in 1987.

Luis Severino bolstered his own Cy Young case with another dominant gem, holding the Red Sox to one unearned run on two hits while striking out nine. It was his 14th start surrendering no more than one run, the most such games by any pitcher in MLB this year.

Sevy also reach a significant milestone when he whiffed Sandy Leon for the final out of the fifth inning. It was his 200th strikeout of 2017, as he joined Al Downing (1964) as the only pitchers in franchise history to strike out at least 200 batters in a season at age 23 or younger.

Yankeemetrics: Ending with a win, finally (Aug. 25-27)

(AP)
(AP)

Extra awful loss
The uniforms might have looked different, but the result was a familiar one for Yankee fans in the Bronx on Friday night – a frustrating and gut-wrenching 11-inning, 2-1 loss. While another late meltdown by the bullpen was the trigger point, the lack of clutch hitting and numerous wasted scoring opportunities gave the Yankees virtually no chance to win the game.

Let’s recap the ugliness:

  • It was their 22nd one-run loss of the season, the most in the American League through Friday, and 10(!) more than they had all of last season.
  • It was also their sixth extra-inning loss, twice as many as they suffered in 2016.
  • And it was the 22nd time the bullpen was charged with a loss, the third-highest total in the AL through Friday, behind the Rays and Rangers.

Aroldis Chapman‘s miserable season continued as he coughed up the game-winning homer to Yonder Alonso in the top of the 11th inning. Chapman wore the goat horns, and also gets stung with our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series:

He is the second Yankee ever to give up an extra-inning go-ahead homer at Yankee Stadium against the Mariners. The other one happened on June 14, 1978 when Leon Roberts took Sparky Lyle deep in the top of the 10th, a shot that was rendered meaningless when the Yankees rallied in the bottom of the frame to win the game.

Alonso is also the second left-handed batter this month to homer off the Cuban Missile. That is a mind-blogging fact considering Chapman had surrendered only one home run to a lefty in his career before Rafael Devers took him deep two weeks ago (Luke Scott was the other on June 26, 2011).

To sum it up: he allowed one homer to the first 418 lefty batters he faced in the majors, and since has allowed two homers to the last 12 lefty batters he’s faced in the majors.

With Alonso hammering a 100.1 mph pitch from Chapman into Monument Park, it’s becoming more and more likely that his blazing fastball is no longer a weapon of intimidation in the pitcher-hitter duel. Batters are squaring up on his triple-digit heater more often than ever. Look at these numbers for the 100-plus mph pitches he has thrown in this career.

Year Pitches Slug pct Home runs Whiff rate
2017 253 .324 2 15%
2010-16 2,330 .150 3 22%

The Yankees wasted a gem from CC Sabathia, who was brilliant in his second start since coming off the DL, going seven innings and allowing just one run. Sabathia’s late-career resurgence is reminiscent of another Yankee legend who had a couple strong seasons after reaching the midpoint of his 30s, Mike Mussina. And so it was fitting that the two pitchers had a cool statistical convergence on Friday night:

When Sabathia took the mound at the start of the game, it was his 249th start as a Yankee, breaking a tie with Mussina for sole possession of 11th place on the franchise’s all-time games started list. And when Sabathia struck out Kyle Seager in the sixth inning, it was his 2,814th strikeout, passing Mussina for 19th place on the Major-League all-time strikeout list.

(AP)
(AP)

Sonny skies all day
The crushing losses have been piling up, but the resiliency of this team hasn’t waned. That toughness was on display again this weekend when the Yankees bounced back from Friday’s devastating loss to beat the Mariners 6-3 on Saturday. They’ve now won seven of their last 10 games following a one-run loss, dating back to the last week of June.

Sonny Gray delivered his finest performance as Yankee, striking out nine and allowing just one run in seven stellar innings. He’s pitched at least five innings and allowed no more than two earned runs in each of his first five starts with the Bombers, becoming the first pitcher to begin his Yankee tenure with a streak like that since Tommy John in 1979.

This excellent stretch extends even further back to his final month in Oakland too; Saturday was his 11th consecutive start giving up fewer than three earned runs, the longest streak by any pitcher in the majors this season. In that span – since June 25 – he’s compiled an ERA of 1.95, the lowest by any American League pitcher (min. 30 IP) over the last two months.

Gray dominated with his two breaking pitches, as the Mariners swung at 18 curves/sliders and whiffed on 11 of them, including five for strike three. But perhaps more impressive was how he repeatedly froze batters with his two-seamer. He got a career-best 15 called strikes among the 54 two-seam fastballs he threw, and most of those takes were in the heart of the zone (orange dots below):

sonny-gray2

While Gray shined on the mound, Jacoby Ellsbury had a rare starring role as the offensive spark plug, with an RBI single and a tie-breaking three-run dinger. Ellsbury’s blast was a Yankee Stadium special, just barely clearing the short porch in right field. According to ESPN’s Hit Tracker (and based on calculations if the ball had been hit in ideal weather conditions of 70 degrees and no wind), Yankee Stadium is the only ballpark it would have been a home run.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Sloppy Seattle, Magnificent Masa
The Yankees’ inability to close out series had become a recurring nightmare … until the Bad News Mariners showed up to Yankee Stadium. Entering this weekend, the Yankees had dropped their previous 11 rubber games — a streak that reached back to early June — and were 5-14 in rubber games overall this season, easily the worst record and most losses of any team. On Sunday afternoon the Yankees took advantage of a historically sloppy Seattle defense to snap that inexplicable streak, en route to a 10-1 victory.

They raced out to an early 6-1 lead thanks to five Mariners errors in the first inning, the most errors committed by one team in a single inning since the Cubs on July 2, 1977 against the Cardinals. If you’re curious, the modern record (since 1900) for the most errors committed in one inning is seven, by the Cleveland Naps against the Chicago White Sox on September 20, 1905.

Thanks to all those free outs, a cavalcade of hits, and some timely at-bats (6 hits with runners in scoring position), the Yankees were able to win without the benefit a homer — an extremely rare win for this power-happy team. It was just their fourth win this season in a game they didn’t go deep, which is now tied with the Tigers for the fewest such wins in the majors.

Masahiro Tanaka made sure the Yankees offensive outburst wouldn’t be wasted as he shut down the Mariners lineup after a shaky first inning. He struck out 10 in seven innings, allowed one run, and has now quietly posted a 2.92 ERA over his last 11 outings. This was also his 100th career start, and with those 10 strikeouts, Tanaka became the first pitcher in franchise history to reach 600 strikeouts in his first 100 major-league games.

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.