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.

9/11 to 9/13 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

After taking four of six from wild-card contenders during their six game road trip, the Yankees return to New York for what is technically a road series against the Tampa Bay Rays. With Hurricane Irma touching down in western Florida, Tropicana Field was unavailable. That forced the Rays to play the three-game home series at Citi Field.

The Last Time They Met

From July 27 through July 30, the Yankees took three of four from the Rays at Yankee Stadium, taking a six-game winning streak in the series finale. It was part of a stretch where the Bombers won 9 of 11 to briefly regain the AL East lead going into August.

  • It was a walk-off weekend for Brett Gardner. After a Gary Sanchez single (and poor Rays fielding) scored him to tie up the opener in the ninth inning, Gardner lined a home run to lead off the 11th for the win. He’d single with the bases loaded and no outs two days later for another walk-off.
  • Masahiro Tanaka had one of his best outings of the year in Game 2. He had a perfect game until Adeiny Hechevarria singled with two outs in the sixth. He went 8 IP, allowing just two hits while striking out 14.
  • Aroldis Chapman looked like his old self, striking out five in three dominant innings while picking up the win during both of Gardner’s walk-offs.
  • Sanchez and Gardner each homered twice in the series, but so did new Rays first baseman Lucas Duda, who made an immediate impact by reaching in 7 of 12 PAs during his first series with Tampa.

For more information, check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post.

Injury Report

The Rays are relatively healthy, but rookie starter Jacob Faria (abdominal strain) made a rehab start against Staten Island on Sunday. He could be back vs. Boston this week.

INF Matt Duffy (heel) won’t play this season and had just 80 PAs as a Ray. LHP Xavier Cedeno (forearm) and former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi (elbow) both began rehab appearances but are on the 60-day DL and their returns this season are in doubt.

Their Story So Far

The Rays are 71-73, leaving them 3.5 games out of the second wild card. Not only are they four games back in the loss column, they would have to surpass six teams to get the spot. Their lineup has been very middle of the road (.245/.318/.426, 97 wRC+) but they’ve also had the second worst strikeout rate in all of baseball. As Tanaka did in July, pitchers can rack up Ks against them. Their pitching staff has been solid with the 9th best team ERA (4.07) in baseball.

They have had similarly bad one-run luck to Yankees with an 18-22 record in those games. One thing that has held them back is the AL East as they are 27-33 in the division.

They’ve had a productive outfield with Dickerson/Kiermaier/Souza while Lucas Duda has been a major help since coming over at the deadline. The infield has been another story with Duffy out, Brad Miller struggling and Evan Longoria being merely an average (98 wRC+) hitter despite hitting .319/.411/.553 with three of his 18 HR against the Yankees.

Lineup We Might See

Kevin Cash mixes up his lineups depending on matchups, so you’re unlikely to see the same lineup twice. Trevor Plouffe, Peter Bourjos and Cesar Puello could all move into the lineup vs. LHPs while Mallex Smith’s glove often gets him into the starting nine. Here’s a possible lineup you’ll see this week.

1. CF Kevin Kiermaier (.278/.341/.447)
2. 1B Lucas Duda (.232/.337/.536)
3. 3B Evan Longoria (.265/.320/.433)
4. DH Logan Morrison (.248/.355/.529)
5. RF Steven Souza Jr. (.246/.351/.477)
6. LF Corey Dickerson (.280/.325/.499)
7. SS Adeiny Hechavarria (.245/.273/.366)
8. 2B Brad Miller (.195/.333/.322)
9. C Wilson Ramos (.238/.271/.387)

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:10 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi

Odorizzi has been plagued by a case of way too many home runs this year. He’s allowed at least one homer in all but three outings this year and he’s allowed 28, one fewer than he allowed last season in 64 fewer innings. His career low groundball rate has been paired with fewer strikeouts and more walks, part of which may be explained by a loss of .75 mph off his pitches.

He has only 3 quality starts in last 11 outings, though his last start was one of his best all season. He held the Twins to just two baserunners in 6 2/3 innings.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on Sept. 5) – 6.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K

Tuesday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. LHP Blake Snell

Snell has essentially had two seasons. Up until August, he continued to have the same issue as in his rookie 2016 season: Walks. He dished out 5.1 walks per nine innings and had a 4.98 ERA, all while barely getting through five innings a start.

Since getting recalled on Aug. 8 from his second demotion of the year, he’s been a whole new pitcher. He’s cut the walks to 2.2 per nine and held opponents to a .222/.271/.385 line. While he has a 3.16 ERA in that span, he did have a poor outing his last time out, getting battered around by the Twins, who launched two home runs off the southpaw.

Last Outing (vs. MIN on Sept. 6) – 4.0 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 0 BB, 7 K

Wednesday (1:10 PM EST): LHP Jaime Garcia vs. RHP Chris Archer

You surely know Archer by now. Hard fastball, top-notch slider. The Rays’ No. 1 has still struggled this season, posting a 4.00 ERA. Like Odorizzi, he’s surrendered a few too many homers (25) but he’s still posted career-best strikeout and walk rates. Two outings ago, he left with forearm tightness after just two batters. He came back on turn and was beat up by the Red Sox over three innings. The good news is that his velocity was back after his disastrous two-batter start in Chicago.

Last Outing (at BOS on Sept. 8) – 3.0 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 1 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The Rays have the fourth best bullpen ERA (3.28) since the All-Star break, only behind the Indians, Orioles and Yankees. Their closer, Alex Colome, leads baseball with 43 saves this year, but he’s been fallible, accumulating eight meltdowns.

Setting up Colome has been Tommy Hunter with Steve Cishek, Sergio Romo and Dan Jennings all spotting up in middle relief. While Jennings is one of just two lefties in the pen, he’s more than just a lefty specialist. Austin Pruitt is their main long man and former closer Brad Boxberger typically pitches low leverage innings. Since it’s September, you’ll see plenty of other pitchers with 12 relievers on the active roster.

Yankees Connection

Both Chaz Roe and Chase Whitley are former Yankee pitchers currently in middle/long relief for the Rays. Eovaldi won 23 games in pinstripes over the last two seasons before having Tommy John surgery. Of course, Cash had a brief 10-game stint with the 2009 Yankees, earning himself a World Series ring in the process.

Who (Or What) to Watch?

For this one, the crowd is weirdly a must-watch. This will be a unique environment. It’ll surely be mostly, if not exclusively, Yankees fans, but will it be nearly empty? Will the apple in center rise when the Rays hit a home run? And how will the Rays handle being on the road for perhaps the rest of the season? Hopefully, they’ll be back at Tropicana Field soon.

As for the games themselves, the Yankees come in having won three straight series. If this was in Tampa, they’d feel destined to lose two of three. Take two of three and you don’t have to worry too much about what everyone else does.

Next week’s Yankees vs. Rays series moved to Citi Field due to Hurricane Irma

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

4:28pm ET: The Rays have officially announced the site change. Monday’s and Tuesday’s games will begin at 7pm ET. Wednesday’s game is a getaway day 1pm ET start. Ticket information will be announced at a later time.

2:20pm ET: Next week’s three-game series against the Rays has been moved from Tropicana Field to Citi Field due to Hurricane Irma, reports Joel Sherman. Ken Rosenthal and Marc Topkin have the news too, so while MLB hasn’t announced it yet, it’s only a matter of time.

NYC Football Club, the MLS franchise that plays its home games at Yankee Stadium, has a game this weekend, and I assume that’s why the Rays series won’t be played in the Bronx. They won’t be able to get the field prepped in time for baseball after a soccer game Saturday.

Following this weekend’s series in Texas, the Yankees only have to make one more road trip this year, and that’s a quick three-game jaunt in Toronto. The Yankees will play 17 of their final 20 games in New York. That’s 14 games in Yankee Stadium and three in Citi Field.

Last week Hurricane Harvey forced the Astros and Rangers to play a series at Tropicana Field. Hurricane Irma, which remains very powerful despite being downgraded to a Category 4 earlier today, is expected to hit Miami this weekend, and impact all of Florida.

All of the ticket and concession sales proceeds from last week’s Astros-Rangers series in Tampa were donated to the hurricane relief effort. Hopefully the same happens with the series in Citi Field as well.

Yankeemetrics: Gardy party rages on (July 27-30)

(AP)
(AP)

Brett Gardner, walk-off hero
You can add another chapter to the never-say-die tale of this rollercoaster season thanks to a thrilling and dramatic comeback win on Thursday night. After blowing a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning, the Comeback Kids rallied to tie the game in the ninth, setting the stage for the Gritty, Gutty Elder to win it on a blistering walk-off shot two frames later.

It was the Yankees fifth win this season when trailing at the start of the ninth frame, tied for the second-most such wins in the majors through Thursday, behind only the Dodgers (6). It’s a stunning reversal from last year’s team, which had only three wins of this kind during the entire season. And over the last 15 seasons, its the only time they’ve had five such wins before August 1. Hooray!

Brett Gardner sparked the stunning ninth inning rally with a lead-off triple and then scored the game-tying run on Gary Sanchez‘s two-out RBI single. El Gary’s grounder, which just barely sneaked through the infield, had a hit probability of only 19 percent, based on the combo of exit velocity (98.3 mph) and launch angle (-18 degrees) recorded by Statcast.

Aroldis Chapman held the Rays scoreless in the 10th and 11th innings as he needed just 19 pitches (16 strikes!) to mow down the six batters he faced. It was only the fourth time in his career he’s pitched at least two perfect innings, and the first time since September 2011 with the Reds.

Gardner then led off the bottom of the 11th with a solo shot to right field that quickly cleared the fences and gave the Yankees another wild-and-crazy 5-4 win. It was Gardner’s third career walk-off homer, making him one of just seven Yankees since 1930 to smash at least three walk-off home runs as an outfielder. He joins Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Tom Tresh, Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller and Yogi Berra in this legendary group.

As the hero of the night, he also earns our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: Gardner, who had moved to center in the ninth, became just the third Yankee centerfielder in the last 75 years to lead off an inning in extras with a walk-off homer. The others were two guys named Mickey — Rivers (1977) and Mantle (1959 and 1963).

And finally our favorite stat of the night:

Master Masahiro
No Comeback Mojo, No Fighting Spirit was needed on Friday as the Yankees jumped out to an early lead and continued to pummel the Rays with an unrelenting combo of power pitching and power hitting en route to a tidy 6-1 win.

Less than 24 hours after his shocking game-ending home run to beat the Rays, Brett Gardner wasted no time in delivering another huge offensive spark by drilling the third pitch he saw deep into the bullpen in centerfield. With that blast, G.G.B.G. became the third Yankee to follow-up a walk-off home run with a lead-off home run in the next game. Roberto Kelly in 1990 and Joe Gordon in 1940 also achieved the feat.

(AP)
(AP)

The two other flycatchers — Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier — provided the rest of the power punch, with Judge homering in the fourth and Frazier going deep in the fifth. It was the second time this year all three starting outfielders hit home runs (also on May 2). Over the last 25 years, the only other season the Yankees had two such games was 2000, and the guys that contributed in those two games were Paul O’Neill, Bernie Williams, David Justice and Ryan Thompson.

Chicks dig the longball, but the real star of Friday’s game was Masahiro Tanaka. The up-and-down right-hander was back in ace form, as he carved up the Rays lineup with his devastating slider/splitter combo — which generated 20 of his 21 whiffs! — in producing the most dominant performance of his career. He retired the first 17 batters he faced and finished with 14 strikeouts, no walks, two hits and one run allowed in eight brilliant innings.

That masterpiece earned Tanaka an exclusive niche in franchise history: he’s the first Yankee pitcher ever to strike out at least 14 guys and allow no more than two baserunners in a game.

Tanaka flashed this type of dominance earlier in the season, too, when he had 13 strikeouts against the A’s in May. With his second game of 13-plus strikeouts, he joined an impressive list of MLB pitchers this season to achieve that feat: Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Corey Kluber and Clayton Kershaw.

Tanaka also is one of four Yankees in the last 50 years to have multiple 13-strikeout games in a season, along with CC Sabathia (2011), Roger Clemens (2002) and Mike Mussina (2001).

(AP)
(AP)

Deja vu all over again
Thanks to another heavy dose of Comeback Kids potion plus a shot of Brett Gardner Magic elixir, the Yankees kept their winning streak alive in dramatic fashion on Saturday afternoon.

They erased three separate Rays leads before finally pulling out the thrilling victory in the bottom of the ninth inning for their fifth walk-off win of the season. Four of them have come since June 23, and in that five-week span through Saturday, only the Royals (5) had more walk-off wins than the Yankees.

G.G.B.G again showed off his flair for the dramatic with a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth. It was his eighth career walk-off hit in pinstripes, a number that is surpassed by only four other Yankees since 1930: Mickey Mantle (16), Graig Nettles (12), Yogi Berra (10), and Joe DiMaggio (9).

It was also the second time in three days that he wore the walk-off hero’s cape, making him the first Yankee with two walk-off hits in a three-day span since … Gardner did it August 9-11, 2013 against the Tigers. The last Yankee before Gardner to do this was Claudell Washington in September 1988.

Gardner, doing his best to prove that the clutch gene is a real thing, is the only Yankee since 1930 to do this — two walk-off hits in three days — twice in a career.

#RISPfail
There would be no sweep for the Yankees, who dropped the series finale on Sunday and saw their confidence-boosting six-game win streak snapped. They suffered another frustrating defeat, going 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranding 10 batters in the 5-3 loss.

Jordan Montgomery was maddeningly ineffective as he fell behind early and often, allowing the Rays to tee off on him in favorable counts. He gave up up four runs and needed 71 pitches to navigate a career-low 2⅔ innings, the third time in six July starts he failed to get through five innings.

The problem was crystal clear: Monty threw first-pitch strikes to only six of 16 batters (37.5%), the lowest rate in any of his 20 career outings and the worst by a Yankee starter this season. Here’s what that type of inefficiency looks like … yuck:

chart-11

The lone statistical highlight was his five strikeouts, which gave him 104 for his career, a noteworthy achievement for the lefty. He is the sixth Yankee to strike out at least 100 batters in his first 20 big-league games, joining Masahiro Tanaka, Al Leiter, Orlando Hernandez, Dave Righetti and Al Downing.

7/27 to 7/30 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
(Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

The Yankees have won three in a row, and five of their last six since an ugly series loss to the Twins. Things finally seem to be clicking (again), but the Rays will provide a serious test – heading into this series, they are just 1.5 games back of the Yankees for the Wild Card, and just 2.5 games out of first in the division.

The Last Time They Met

This will be the fourth series between these teams this year, with the Yankees leading the season series 5-4. The Rays won the last series, though, taking two of three in Tampa back in May. Here are some tidbits from that series:

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more on the series.

Injury Report

Tampa has dealt with several serious injuries this season, with four would-be everyday players, a few bench/platoon players, a couple of starting pitchers, and several relievers spending time on the DL. They’re just about as healthy as they’ve been right now. That’s a loaded phrase, though, as SP Matt Andriese, RP Xavier Cedeno, IF Matt Duffy, CF Kevin Kiermaier, SP Jake Odorizzi, and IF Daniel Robertson are all on the disabled list, and none will be back in time for this series.

And, while it’s not an injury, OF Colby Rasmus decided to “step away from baseball” in June, and is no longer with the team.

Their Story So Far

With yesterday’s victory over the Orioles, the Rays improved to 53-49 on the season, with a +13 run differential. They’re within striking distance of both the AL East and the Wild Card, and they have made it clear that they will be buyers at the deadline. Their moves for Adeiny Hechavarria and Sergio Romo may not move the needle all that much, but they’re said to be in on Lucas Duda, Addison Reed, and others.

The Rays offense is the key to their success. It’s among the best in the game, ranking fifth in the majors in wRC+, sixth in BB%, and tenth in ISO. Logan Morrison (140 wRC+), Steven Souza Jr. (140 wRC+), and Corey Dickerson (133 wRC+) form the heart of the order, alongside the declining but still good Evan Longoria (106 wRC+). It’s a group that’s capable of hitting the ball out of any park at most any time.

Pitching, however, is an issue – particularly in the bullpen. More on that in a bit.

The Lineup We Might See

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Rays love to mix-and-match lineups on a game-to-game basis. Manager Kevin Cash seems to take after Joe Maddon in that respect, and it has worked out well for his club this year. That being said, their ideal lineup will look something like this:

  1. Mallex Smith, CF
  2. Corey Dickerson, LF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Logan Morrison, 1B
  5. Steven Souza, RF
  6. Brad Miller, DH
  7. Wilson Ramos, C
  8. Tim Beckham, 2B
  9. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Chris Archer

This will be Archer’s third time facing the Yankees this year. He had a very good outing against them on Opening Day (7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 5 K), and a quality start in a losing effort back in May (6.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 12 K). That’s the norm for Archer, as the 28-year-old has a 2.73 ERA in 15 starts (102.1 IP) against the Yankees.

Last Outing (vs. TEX on 7/22) – 7.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 1 BB, 11 K

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

Odorizzi would have made this start, but he was put on the disabled list yesterday. Austin Pruitt is rumored to be getting his turn in the rotation, having been scratched from his own Triple-A start on Tuesday for no real reason. He’s been an up-and-down guy for the Rays this year, serving as a swing man and long reliever in his first big league season. He has a 6.25 ERA (67 ERA+) in 31.2 IP.

Despite his struggles, Pruitt is a legitimate four-pitch pitcher. He throws a fastball in the low-90s, a cutter in the upper-80s, a mid-80s change-up, and a low-80s curveball. His cutter is often confused with a slider, though some would say it’s a slider that gets mislabeled as a cutter.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 6/23) – 3.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): LHP Caleb Smith vs. LHP Blake Snell

Snell made his major league debut against the Yankees last year, and fared quite well – he went 5 innings, allowing 2 hits, 1 run, and 1 walk, while striking out 6. He last faced the Yankees on April 12 of this year, getting chased in the fifth inning due to an elevated pitch count. And that’s been the story of his year, as his inefficiency sees him leave way too many games after just five innings. He’s still just 24, though, and the Rays are being cautious with his development (he spent a bit over a month in the minors working on his pitch sequencing and control).

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 7/24) – 7.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 4 K

Sunday (1:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. RHP Jacob Faria

The 23-year-old Faria was called-up on June 7, and has been a member of the Rays rotation since then. He was the team’s tenth-round pick back in 2011, and was a lightly-regarded prospect – the sort that was slapped with a “fifth starter” label from the outset. He’s been quite good for the Rays so far, though, pitching to a 2.67 ERA (156 ERA+) in 57.1 IP.

Faria is basically a three-pitch guy, with a low-90s four-seamer, a low-80s change-up, and a mid-80s slider. He’ll throw a curveball every now and then, but it’s more of a show-me pitch than anything else.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 7/25) – 7.1 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The Rays bullpen has been its weak point this year, ranking in the bottom-ten in the majors in park-adjusted ERA and K%, and in the bottom-five in WPA, meltdowns, and blown saves. There have been some improvements as the season has progressed, but they nevertheless took two losses against the Rangers last weekend (including a blown save on Sunday). They still have kinks to work out.

Alex Colome is the closer, with Tommy Hunter serving as his primary set-up man. Chase Whitley and Danny Farquhar have settled into 6th and 7th inning roles, and former closer Brad Boxberger is still in search of a role. With the possible exception of Hunter (who somehow has a 1.93 ERA and 10.5 K/9), the Rays don’t have a dominant reliever in the bunch.

Who (Or What) To Watch

These teams have had their fair share of dust-ups over the last several years, and that always bears watching. The fact that they’re also jockeying for position in the playoff race with the trade deadline rapidly approaching should only exacerbate that, so I wouldn’t be shocked if we see a few kerfuffles this weekend. I’d actually be kind of shocked if we didn’t.

Other than that, Jacob Faria is an interesting pitcher, with a legitimately plus change-up and a bit of potential. He’s also tiny for a pitcher, checking in at 5’11” and around 175 pounds, which always makes for some interesting chatter from the play-by-play guys.

Yankeemetrics: Roughed up in Tampa (May 19-21)

(AP)
(AP)

No relief
In a season defined by so many improbable wins and stunning comebacks, the Yankees fell just short of adding another one on Friday night, falling 5-4 to the Rays. It was just the Yankees’ fifth loss this season when holding a lead at any point in the game, the fewest in the AL and second-fewest in the majors behind the Rockies (3) after Friday’s slate.

Luis Severino struggled early but gave the Yankees five solid innings and a chance to win the game, exiting with a 2-1 lead. He threw 30 pitches in the first inning and 59 in the next four frames, allowing just one run on five hits while striking out seven.

Severino’s slider was in peak form, generating a career-high 11 whiffs on 24 swings (45.8%) among the 42 sliders he threw. The pitch netted him four of his seven strikeouts and four of his five groundball outs, as he mostly buried it at the knees while also mixing in a few swing-and-miss sliders up in the zone:

luis-severino

His slider has emerged as one of the nastiest in baseball this season. The pitch has been responsible for a total of 36 strikeouts and 25 groundball outs in 2017; both of those numbers were the second-most among all pitchers through Friday, trailing only Chris Archer (48 strikeouts, 36 groundball outs).

Severino’s gutsy performance was wasted, though, as the bullpen imploded and blew the lead late. The Rays’ rally was capped by a tie-breaking RBI single in the eighth inning off the bat of notable Yankee killer, Evan Longoria. Friend of Yankeemetrics, Mark Simon, tells us that it was Longoria’s 13th career game-winning RBI against the Yankees, which is the most among active players.

Before Longoria’s hit, it looked like Matt Holliday might wear the hero’s cape. His two-run homer in the top of the eighth knotted the game at 4-4, and was his first game-tying homer in the eighth inning or later in more than seven years (April 11, 2010 vs. Brewers).

Even more impressive is that the pitch he crushed was a 100-mph fastball from Ryan Stanek, the fastest pitch hit out of the ballpark by any player this season. Prior to the at-bat, Holliday was just 2-for-10 (.200) with three strikeouts in at-bats ending in a 100-plus-mph pitch dating back to 2008.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Tanaka The Terrible
There is no sugarcoating the fact that Saturday’s loss might have been the ugliest of the season. The numerous ejections, the beanball war that erupted in the late innings and the glacial pace of the game were mere footnotes in what has easily become the Yankees biggest worry of the season:

Tanaka was clobbered yet again, giving up three homers and six runs before getting pulled with no outs in the fourth inning. This disaster performance somehow was an improvement statistically on his last start a week ago against the Astros, when he gave up even more runs (8) and homers (4) and pitched fewer innings (1 2/3).

That string of back-to-back train wreck outings put him in ignominious company: he is the only pitcher in Yankee history to allow at least six earned runs and three homers in consecutive games while getting fewer than 10 outs in each game. In fact the only other player in major-league history to do that was Mike Lincoln for the Twins in 2000.

Any way you slice it, his recent numbers are awful:

  • Dating back to the fifth inning of his May 2 start vs the Blue Jays, Tanaka has coughed up 10 homers and 22 runs in his last 14 innings pitched.
  • Dating back to the seventh inning of his May 8 start at Cincinnati, he’s surrendered 16 (!) runs and eight (!) homers in his last 5 2/3 innings pitched.

One of the few highlights was yet another dinger by Aaron Judge, his league-leading 15th of the season. He is one of five Yankees to hit at least 15 homers in the team’s first 40 games, joining this exclusive group of sluggers: A-Rod (2007), Tino Martinez (1997), Mickey Mantle (1956) and Babe Ruth (four times).

Super-Judge (AP)
Super-Judge (AP)

Strikeouts are overrated
The Yankees avoided the sweep and snapped their three-game losing streak with a 3-2 win on Sunday. Despite the Yankee victory, the Rays remain the only AL team with a winning record against the Yankees since 2010 (71-68).

Brett Gardner delivered the game-clinching blast with his tie-breaking two-run homer in the second inning. It was his eighth longball of the season, surpassing the number he put over the fence all of last year (in 148 games and 634 plate appearances). All eight of his homers have come since April 29; the only player with homers in that span is Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger (9).

They overcame a whopping 17 strikeouts, tying the franchise record for a nine-inning game, done three times previously, including once already this season (3-2 win over St. Louis on April 15). They are the only team in major-league history to win two nine-inning games when striking out at least 17 times in a single season.

The heart of the order — 3-4-5 batters — were the biggest culprits, fanning 11 times in 12 at-bats. Matt Holliday and Aaron Judge were both 0-for-4 with four Ks, becoming the first set of Yankee teammates to whiff four-plus times in a non-extra-inning game. This was also the first time in any game (regardless of innings) that the Yankees had two players go hitless and strike out at least four times.

Judge redeemed himself in the field, with a spectacular game-saving catch and double play, robbing Evan Longoria of extra bases with a man on in the sixth inning.

Entering the day, Judge ranked second in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved (6) among rightfielders behind the Cubs’ Jason Heyward (7).

5/19 to 5/21 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Jason Miller/Getty Images North America)
(Jason Miller/Getty Images North America)

Tampa Bay is stop number two in the Yankees’ twenty games in twenty days tour, and the second series of said stretch against sub-.500 teams. The Rays, interestingly enough, are coming off of an unforgiving twenty-in-twenty run of their own – yesterday was their first day off since April 27.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees hosted the Rays for a three-game series from April 10 through April 13, earning the sweep. It was their first series victory of the season, and it put them above .500 for the first time this year, as well. There are too many firsts to recount here, given that it was the third series of the year, but some interesting tidbits include:

  • Michael Pineda took a perfect game into the seventh in the home opener, retiring the first twenty batters he faced. He finished the day with 7.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, and 11 K.
  • The Yankees hit six home runs in the series – two apiece by Aarons Judge and Hicks, and one each from Chase Headley and Starlin Castro.
  • Jordan Montgomery made his big league debut in the second game, and pitched to the following line: 4.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 7 K.
  • Hicks hit both of his home runs in game three, and was responsible for all of the team’s runs in a 3-2 victory.
  • The Yankees starting pitchers (Pineda, Montgomery, and Luis Severino) combined to strikeout 29 batters in 19.1 IP.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more on this series.

Injury Report

The Rays currently have quite a bit of talent on the disabled list. Brad Boxberger, Xavier Cedeno, Matt Duffy, Tommy Hunter, Brad Miller (placed on the DL just yesterday, after being listed as day-to-day for most of the week), Wilson Ramos, and Shawn Tolleson are all on the DL, and none are expected to return this weekend. That accounts for their would-be (or should-be) starters at catcher, second, and short, as well as four relievers. That’s less than ideal.

Their Story So Far

Tampa Bay is currently 21-22 with a +17 run differential, and they wrapped-up that twenty-in-twenty stretch by taking two of three from the Indians. Despite their record, the Rays have the statistical profile of an above-average team; they’re fifth in the majors in wRC+, eleventh in adjusted ERA, fourteenth in adjusted FIP, and third in defensive runs saved. So what gives?

The Rays bullpen has already blown nine saves, and the team lost 7 of those 9 games. They’ve also been outscored 71 to 52 from the seventh inning forward. That ability to come back in the later innings can make a big difference on a team’s record, and the Rays have largely been unable to do so this year. Some of it is undoubtedly luck, but the injuries to four would-be bullpen pieces haven’t helped, either.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Kevin Cash has used thirty-one lineups this season, and has a propensity to ride the hot hand. Several players (notably Kevin Kiermaier, Brad Miller, and Logan Morrison) have moved up and down the lineup as their production dictates, and Cash also attempts to give players fairly regular rest. My best guess as to what the lineup will look like would be this:

  1. Corey Dickerson, DH
  2. Kevin Kiermaier, CF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Logan Morrison, 1B
  5. Steven Souza Jr., RF
  6. Colby Rasmus, LF
  7. Tim Beckham, SS
  8. Daniel Robertson, 2B
  9. Jesus Sucre or Derek Norris, C

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Erasmo Ramirez

Ramirez has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen throughout his major league career, accumulating 64 starts and 93 relief appearances in parts of six seasons. He’s been a roughly league-average pitcher in doing so, posting a 95 ERA+ in 485.1 IP. Surprisingly, Ramirez has been better as a starter, with superior marks in ERA, FIP, K%, K-BB%, and HR/9. He spent nearly all of 2016 in the bullpen, making just one start, and he opened this year as the long man. He made a spot start on April 20, though, and he has now (at least temporarily) replaced the demoted Blake Snell in the rotation.

The 27-year-old righty throws a trio of low-90s fastballs (mostly a two-seamer and a cutter, but he’ll sprinkle in a four-seamer), a mid-80s slider, and low-80s change-up. He pounds the bottom of the zone with all of his offerings, and he keeps the ball on the ground at a well above-average rate as a result (55.2% this year, 52.5% in 2016).

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/14) – 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K

Saturday (4:10 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Matt Andriese

Yankees fans may know Andriese best as the pitcher that gave up back-to-back home runs to Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin last summer, in what may have been the most memorable moment of their 2016 season. He has been a solid pitcher in parts of three seasons, though, pitching to a 98 ERA+ in 238.2 IP, including a 125 ERA+ through eight starts this season. He entered 2017 as a perceived placeholder for top prospect Jose De Leon, but he’s earning his keep thus far.

Andriese is basically a three-pitch guy, featuring a low-90s cutter, low-80s curve, and mid-80s change-up. He’ll mix in a four-seamer and a slider every so often, but those are relatively rare.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 5/14) – 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 5 K

Sunday (1:10 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Chris Archer

Archer has been viewed as an ace-in-waiting for half a decade now, and it isn’t difficult to see why. The 28-year-old boasts great stuff, strikes out hitters in bunches (career 25.1 K%), keeps the ball on the ground (career 46.3 GB%), and walks batters at a league-average rate (8.1 BB% for his career). He backslid a bit last year, though, posting a league-average ERA as his home run rate (1.34 per 9) soared and his velocity dipped. Archer did improve in the second half, and his velocity has recovered this season – but his walk, strikeout, and home run rates have trended in the wrong direction, and he has been more good than great on the whole.

His stuff isn’t really in question, though. Archer throws a mid-90s fastball with good movement, a wicked slider in the upper-80s, and a mid-80s change-up. About 90% of his offerings are fastballs and sliders, and the league may simply be adjusting to that approach. That may well be the difference between good starter and top of the rotation arm.

Last Outing (vs. CLE on 5/15) – 5 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 6 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

The Rays bullpen has been hit hard by injuries and poor performances. Scrap heap pick-up Jumbo Diaz and 27-year-old rookie Austin Pruitt have been pressed into duty for 35.2 IP as the team scrambles for depth, producing a 7.13 ERA, and the need for Ramirez in the rotation leaves the cupboards a bit more bare. Closer Alex Colome (2.37 ERA in 19.0 IP), set-up man Danny Farquhar (3.00 ERA in 18.0 IP), and old friend and middle reliever Chase Whitley (1.53 ERA in 17.2 IP) have done their job in keeping the bullpen afloat, but they’ve been leaned on heavily already.

As a group, the bullpen has a 4.02 ERA (99 ERA+), and the worst – by far – strikeout rate in baseball. The Rays’ 17.1% strikeout rate is 1.2 percentage points behind the next worst team, and significantly below the MLB-average of 23.1%. Allowing that many balls in play can be a real problem, particularly against more potent offenses.

Yankees Connection

The Yankees let Chase Whitley walk when he was recovering from Tommy John Surgery, and the Rays picked him up on the cheap. He made his way back to the majors last September, producing a 2.51 ERA in 14.1 IP. The Rays called him up in mid-April this year, and he has been a steadying presence in a mediocre bullpen since then.

Diego Moreno left the Yankees as a free agent after the 2016 season, and he’s also in the Rays bullpen right now. He was called up last week, and was hit hard in his first two outings (2 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 2 BB, 2 K). He had a one-two-three inning his last time out, though.

And Nathan Eovaldi followed the Chase Whitley path over the winter; he’s on the Rays 60-day DL, and isn’t expected to be back in action until 2018.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Kevin Kiermaier has misplayed a few balls in the early goings of 2017, but he is nevertheless the best or second-best defensive outfielder in the game today. Watching him run down balls in center is worth the price of admission, if you’re into that sort of thing, as he has seemingly limitless range and a strong, accurate arm. He’s also been heating up with the bat in May, posting a 110 wRC+ in the first seventeen days of the month.

The patience of the Yankees lineup against the lack of strikeout ability in the Rays bullpen should be interesting, too.