Yankeemetrics: Bronx Bombers invade Texas (Sept. 8-10)

(AP)
(AP)

Terrible Tanaka
If you were to bottle up the Yankees 2017 season and play it out over the course of a nine-inning game, you probably would end up with what happened on Friday night. The 11-5 loss perfectly captured this rollercoaster campaign.

A quick recap: the Yankees offense burst of the gate with five runs on eight hits in the first four innings, jumping out to a 5-1 lead, but then were totally blanked the rest of the game, with zero hits and zero runs in the final five frames. The pitching staff suffered its own collapse, too, allowing the Rangers to score 10 unanswered runs and cruise to the blowout win.

While this loss might not be as heart-breaking as others, it still ranks as one of the most embarrassing and contributes to this depressing stat: The Yankees now have five losses in games they had a lead of at least four runs, their most since 2006 (when they had six of them). It’s also one more such loss than they tallied in the 2015 and 2016 seasons combined.

After more than two months of the Good Tanaka churning out solid outings – he entered the game with a 2.77 ERA over his previous 12 starts – the Terrible Tanaka took the mound in Arlington and was pummeled. He coughed up seven runs on eight hits before getting pulled in the fifth inning. Yet in typical Jekyll-and-Hyde mode, Tanaka also flashed dominance as seven of the 12 outs he recorded were strikeouts.

The first big blow was a towering blast by Nomar Mazara in the second inning, the 30th longball Tanaka has given up the year. He is the ninth pitcher in franchise history to reach that mark, but none of the others averaged at least a strikeout per inning like Tanaka is doing this season. [/shrug]

The frequency of these disaster Tanaka starts underscores how much of an outlier the 2017 season is for the four-year veteran:

  • Fourth start with at least seven runs allowed, which matches the same number he had over 75 starts from 2014-16.
  • Seventh start that he failed to complete five innings; that’s four(!) more than he had in his first three seasons combined

As we pile on the mess that Tanaka produced Friday, its only fitting we give him our Obscure Yankeemetric: He is the first Yankee ever to allow at least seven earned runs, eight-plus hits and throw two wild pitches in a game while facing no more than 20 batters.

(AP)
(AP)

Super Sevy
As they’ve done all summer, the Yankees bounced back from one of their most horrible losses with one of their most inspiring wins of the season. Fueled by a late offensive surge and backed by a dominant pitching performance from their young ace, the Yankees won 3-1 with the lone Rangers run coming on their only hit of the gamein the fifth inning. It was their fourth game this season allowing no more than two hits, their most such games in a season since 1998.

The offense was M.I.A for the first seven innings as the Yankees seemed headed for another boring loss, until they finally put together a rally in the eighth and ninth innings. Tyler Austin played the unlikely hero role as his bases-loaded RBI single in the top of the ninth broke a 1-1 tie.

Despite limited playing time, has proved he can deliver in the clutch. Austin has a 1.599 OPS in “Late and Close Situations” (at-bats in the seventh inning or later with batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck) since getting called up to the bigs last year, the highest among all players over the last two seasons (min. 15 PA).

While the bats were in a deep slumber for much of the game, Luis Severino kept the game close with perhaps his most outstanding performance of the season. He allowed one hit and struck out 10 over seven masterful innings, adding to his Cy Young resume and legacy as one of the best young pitchers ever to wear the pinstripes. Lets go bullet-point style to recap his awesomeness:

  • Second Yankee to give up one or fewer hits in an outing of at least seven innings against the Rangers, joining Catfish Hunter, who threw a one-hit shutout on May 31, 1975 in Texas.
  • 15th start with no more than one run allowed, the most of any pitcher in the majors this season.
  • The 23-year-old is the youngest pitcher in franchise history to have 15 one-or-zero-run starts in a season, and the first Yankee of any age to do it since Mike Mussina in 2001.
  • Sevy is the second-youngest Yankee to give up no more than one hit while striking out at least 10 batters in a game; the youngest was a 22-year-old Al Downing, who threw a 10-strikeout, 1-hit shutout against the White Sox on July 2, 1963.

Severino has pitched brilliantly in the second half of the season (2.07 ERA since the break), and befitting of his incredible toughness and grit, has done his best work on the road over the past two months: 5-0 with a 0.89 ERA and 48 strikeouts in six starts away from the Bronx since July 15. He has pitched more than six innings and allowed one earned run or fewer in each of those outings, the longest such streak of road games in a single season by any Yankee pitcher. Ever.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Two many homers
When the Yankees bats are healthy, happy and clicking on all cylinders (facing a below-average pitching staff helps too) you get an offensive explosion like Sunday’s 16-7 rout of the Rangers.

They bashed their way to victory, with two of the the Baby Bombers — Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge — each going deep twice while etching their names in the record books multiple times. The last time that two Yankees as young as Sanchez and Judge had matching two-homer performances in the same game was September 23, 1973 against the Indians (Ron Blomberg and Otto Velez!).

Sanchez sparked the offensive fireworks with a first-inning laser shot to left field, and went deep again in the eighth, a 461-foot mammoth shot, for his 29th and 30th homers this year. His 30 homers match the single-season franchise record for a player whose primary position was catcher, set by Jorge Posada (2003) and Yogi Berra (1956, 1952). Sanchez is the youngest Yankee to reach the 30-homer milestone in a season since a 24-year-old Don Mattingly in 1985.

Those two bombs were also his 49th and 50th career homers (in his 161st big-league game), as he joined Mark McGwire and Rudy York as the lone players in MLB history to reach 50 dingers before their 162nd major-league game. And it was his seventh career multi-dinger game, a feat that only McGwire reached this early into his MLB career.

Together with Aaron Judge, they became the second set of Yankees age 25 or younger to hit 30-plus homers in the same season — Joe DiMaggio and Joe Gordon also did it in 1940.

Judge had a record-breaking afternoon, too, drawing his 107th walk of the season in the second inning, which set the modern era (since 1900) rookie mark. Two frames later he hit a solo dinger to center, his 40th home run of the season.

With that blast Judge joined a group of franchise legends to hit 40 homers in their age-25 season or younger: Mickey Mantle (1956), Joe DiMaggio (1937), Lou Gehrig (1927) and Babe Ruth (1920). Judge added his 41st home run in the sixth inning, a gigantic 463-foot blast that made him and Sanchez the only pair of teammates to each crush a 460-foot-plus home run in the same game this season.

And finally there’s this little historical nugget that sums up Judge’s unprecedented combo of patience and power: He is the first Yankee right-handed batter ever to hit 40 homers and walk 100 times in a season.

9/8 to 9/10 Series Preview: Texas Rangers

Gallo. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
Gallo. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees played host to the Rangers from June 23 through June 25, and dropped two of three. That series was in the midst of the Yankees roughest stretch of the season, when they went 7-18 in their last 25 games of the first half. Some notes:

  • The first game was incredibly tense, with the teams trading zeroes for the first 8 innings. Elvis Andrus scored on a passed ball to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead in the top of the ninth, but Brett Gardner tied it up with a home run in the bottom of the frame. Ronald Torreyes was the next hero up, with a walk-off, two-out single in the bottom of the 10th.
  • Masahiro Tanaka‘s start in that game shouldn’t be understated, though – he went 8 scoreless, allowing just 3 runs and 2 walks, while striking out 9.
  • Texas won the second game 8-1, and the Yankees offense was shut down by Austin Bibens-Dirkx for 7 innings. That was also Tyler Clippard‘s third straight abomination of an appearance, in which he allowed 3 hits, 4 runs, and 2 walks in a single inning. Moving on…
  • Michael Pineda had an awful start in game three, allowing 7 runs in 4 innings. Two start later he would leave the game early, only to be diagnosed with a torn UCL shortly thereafter. The Yankees lost that game 7-6.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun facts.

Injury Report

Adrian Beltre, the latest entrant to the 3,000 hit club, was placed on the 10-day DL on September 3 with a hamstring strain, so he won’t be available for this series; there are some rumblings that he may be done for the season. Relievers Matt Bush and Keone Kela are on the disabled list, as well, and neither is expected to be back for this series.

Nomar Mazara left the team’s last game with quadriceps tightness. No announcement has been made, regarding a stint on the DL, but he’s questionable for tonight’s game.

Their Story So Far

The Rangers are currently 70-69, and within a couple of games of the second Wild Card spot. Their +42 run differential is good for 10th in the majors, which is something of a testament to how unlucky they’ve been this season. That run differential leads to a Pythagorean record of 73-66, which would have them in the driver’s seat right now. Of course, that ignores several mitigating factors – but they have been a bit snake-bitten this season.

Despite floating around .500 throughout the season and remaining within striking distance of the playoffs, the Rangers elected to sell at the trade deadline. They sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers and Jonathan Lucroy to the Rockies, and caught a bit of flack for the returns. Darvish yielded Willie Calhoun (a top-75ish prospect with a big bat and no position) and not much else, and Lucroy was essentially given away for a player to be named later.

The Lineup We Might See

The Rangers lineup has been in a state of flux for much of the season, due to both injuries and poor performance. They also utilize a couple of platoons. With a couple of righties starting today and tomorrow, though, this is what we’ll probably see:

  1. Delino DeShields, LF – .280/.357/.382, 4 HR, 28 SB
  2. Shin-Soo Choo, DH – .263/.365/.415, 18 HR, 12 SB
  3. Elvis Andrus, SS – .304/.345/.494, 20 HR, 24 SB
  4. Nomar Mazara, RF – .259/.334/.439, 18 HR, 2 SB
  5. Carlos Gomez, CF – .251/.339/.462, 17 HR, 13 SB
  6. Joey Gallo, 3B – .211/.336/.561, 37 HR, 7 SB
  7. Mike Napoli, 1B – .196/.290/.437, 29 HR, 1 SB
  8. Rougned Odor, 2B – .213/.255/.410, 28 HR, 14 SB
  9. Robinson Chirinos, C – .259/.367/.536, 16 HR, 1 SB

With CC Sabathia taking the mound on Sunday, Choo will likely be on the bench, with Napoli shifting to DH and Will Middlebrooks (.429/.429/1.000 in 7 PA) taking over at first.

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (8:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Martin Perez

We are only seven years removed from Martin Perez being one of the most highly-touted pitching prospects in the game, when he peaked as Baseball America’s 17th overall prospect. He was only 19 then, and he was an ace in the making. He’s still only 26, but he has yet to look the part, posting a 4.43 ERA (99 ERA+) in parts of six seasons. Perez has made 27 starts of 4.87 ERA (96 ERA+) ball this year, with a well below-average 14.2% strikeout rate. And, as young as he is, it’s difficult to look at his lack of progress and expect much more going forward.

Perez is a four-pitch guy, featuring a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a low-to-mid 90s sinker, a low-80s slider, and a mid-80s change-up. He’ll sprinkle in a curveball every now and again, but he’s largely shelved it over the last few months.

Last Outing (vs. LAA on 9/3) – 6.0 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 4 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Andrew Cashner

The Rangers signed Cashner to a 1-year, $10 MM deal fairly early in the off-season, which was viewed as a head-scratching move by some. It was a low-risk deal, to be sure, but he was a pitcher with a scary injury history coming off of a bad season, and the Rangers were looking to compete. That deal looks fantastic in hindsight, as Cashner is currently 5th in the AL with a 142 ERA+, and 6th with 4.4 bWAR. He missed a few starts with injuries, as per usual, but he has been quite good when he steps on the mound – and he now seems like a lock for a qualifying offer.

Cashner is a five-pitch guy, though he varies his arsenal from outing-to-outing. He throws a mid-90s four-seamer, a low-90s cutter, a high-80s cutter, a mid-80s change-up, and a low-80s curve.

Last Outing (vs. ATL on 9/4) – 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 5 K

Sunday (3:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP A.J. Griffin

Reviewing Griffin’s stat line is a fine reminder of just how elevated offensive levels are this season. His 5.09 ERA is good for a 92 ERA+, whereas last year’s 5.07 ERA translated into an 89 ERA+; and he pitched for the Rangers in both seasons. Griffin is a flyball pitcher (just 27.5% grounders this year) with below-average strikeout numbers in a hitter’s park. That’s not a great recipe for success.

Griffin is a three-ish pitch junkballer. He mostly throws a high-80s four-seamer, a low-80s change-up, and a high-60s curveball. He’ll also flash a mid-80s cutter, but that’s more of a show-me pitch than anything else.

Last Outing (vs. LAA on 9/2) – 5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

Closer Matt Bush and set-up man Keone Kela are both on the DL as of this morning, so the bullpen isn’t in great shape right now. And the bullpen wasn’t particularly strong to begin with, checking-in within the bottom third of the majors in ERA, FIP, K%, BB%, bWAR, fWAR, and WPA.

Tony Barnette has served as the closer since those two went down, and he’s 2-for-2 in save opportunities. He has a 4.91 ERA (95 ERA+) in 51.1 IP. Jason Grilli (6.46 ERA in 39.0 IP) is the set-up man for the time being, with Jose Leclerc (4.32 ERA in 41.2 IP) and Alex Claudio (2.33 ERA in 69.2 IP) also chipping in in the late innings. Tyson Ross was moved to the bullpen at the end of August, as well – he allowed 3 hits and 2 runs in 0.2 IP in his first relief appearance.

Who (Or What) To Watch

The Rangers currently have two hitters with 25-plus home runs and a negative fWAR, in Mike Napoli and Rougned Odor. That’s not necessarily something to watch, but it’s endlessly fascinating to me. They’ve combined to hit .205/.270/.422 in 1050 PA thus far.

I compared Joey Gallo and Aaron Judge last time around, and they’ve trended in opposite directions since then. Gallo is batting .236/.402/.649 (168 wRC+) with 18 HR since they last met; Judge, on the other hand, is at .209/.380/.412 (112 wRC+) and 12 HR. Perhaps Judge can take this opportunity to get his mojo back…

Yankeemetrics: Fighting spirit, Baby bombs (June 23-25)

(NY Post)
(NY Post)

Torre-YES!
The comeback kids aren’t dead yet. After gutting through eight innings of a historically great pitchers duel, the Yankee bats finally broke through and notched yet another dramatic overtime win, 2-1, on Friday night.

Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish were absolutely brilliant, throwing a combined 15 scoreless innings while allowing only five hits and striking out 19 batters. This was just the second game in major-league history that each starter allowed no runs, gave up three-or-fewer hits, and struck out at least nine batters.

The only other instance came on August 26, 1968 in a game between the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins; the dueling pitchers in that game were Jim Perry (Twins) and Frank Bertaina (Senators).

The key to Tanaka’s dominance was getting ahead of batters and then unleashing his devastating offspeed pitches to put away hitters. He threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of 27 batters faced (92.6%), the highest rate of his career and the second-best mark by any starter in a game this season (Michael Fulmer was 23-for-23 against Twins on April 12). The Rangers went 0-for-14 when reaching a two-strike count against Tanaka.

The most encouraging number to come out of Tanaka’s outing, however, might be zero: the number of home runs he allowed. In fact, he was excellent in avoiding hard contact all night. Of the 23 batted balls recorded by Statcast, none were charted as “barrels” or “solid contact” – the two categories (out of five) that produce the highest quality of contact and the most damage. Here’s what that looks like in a cool radial chart via baseballsavant.mlb.com:

masahiro-tanaka-8

The Yankees were on the verge of wasting Tanaka’s gem until Brett Gardner – the “little ball of muscle” – saved the day with a game-tying homer in the ninth inning. He drilled a 98-mph fastball into the right field seats, the fastest pitch he’s ever hit for a home run in his career.

It was just the second hit in 21 ninth-inning at-bats for Gardner this season. The other one? A three-run homer to beat the Cubs on May 5. Good timing? Sure!

One inning later, Ronald Torreyes capped the comeback with a two-out, game-winning single, his first career walk-off RBI. Torreyes’ heroics give us a chance to unleash some #FunFacts:

  • The 5’8” Torreyes (height as listed on baseball-reference.com) is the shortest Yankee with a walk-off hit since Mike Gallego on July 27, 1994 against the Red Sox (hat tip to Friend of Yankeemetrics, Mark Simon).
  • Big Toe is also the first Yankee third baseman with a two-out, walk-off hit since A-Rod‘s memorable walk-off solo homer in the 15th inning against the Red Sox on August 7, 2009.
  • And our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: Torreyes is the second Yankee No. 9 batter with a two-out, walk-off RBI against the Rangers. He joins Gene Michael, who hit a walk-off single to score Thurman Munson in a 3-2 win on August 8, 1973.
(AP)
(AP)

Please help Mr. Judge
Any positive momentum generated from Friday’s thrilling victory came to a screeching halt the next day in a lackluster 8-1 loss on Saturday afternoon.

The game was closer than the final score indicates, because the human blowtorch – aka, Tyler Clippard – was put to work in the ninth inning. Three outs later, after giving up four runs on three hits (including two doubles), Clippard again found himself on the wrong side of history. He became the first Yankee ever to allow multiple runs and multiple extra-base hits in three straight appearances of one inning pitched or fewer.

In his last three games, spanning 1? innings, Clippard has allowed nine runs … or one more than Dellin Betances (4) and Chasen Shreve (4) have combined for in their 44 innings pitched this season.

The Yankees avoided being shut out thanks only to a solo homer in the sixth inning by The Animal. It’s still June, and the only Yankee rookie to hit more homers than Aaron Judge is Joe DiMaggio (29) in 1936.

Forget rookie or any age records, the all-around excellence of Judge’s first half is unprecedented in the long and storied history of this franchise. Since the first All-Star game in 1933, no Yankee had ever compiled as many homers (26), doubles (11), triples (3) and steals (6) before the break than Judge did this year.

(AP)
(AP)

Fighting Spirit not enough
An early seven-run deficit was one run too many for the Comeback Kids to overcome on Sunday afternoon. Trailing 7-0 entering the fifth, the Yankees staged an improbable rally to get within a run, but fell just short in yet another crushing loss, 7-6.

It was the Yankees 13th one-run loss this season, one more than they suffered in all of 2016. The calendar on my computer tells me its still June.

The loss also extended their inexplicable struggles against AL West teams. They fell to 6-14 against the division, while going 34-19 against everyone else. The only MLB team this season that has played more than one series vs. the AL West and has a worse record than the Yankees is the Tigers (7-17).

Michael Pineda wore the goat’s horns in this game, allowing seven runs — thanks to three dingers — in four innings. It’s the first time in his career he’s coughed up than many runs and that many homers while getting before the fifth inning.

A couple Baby Bombers did their best to erase Pineda’s dreadful performance, as Gary Sanchez clobbered a three-run homer into Monument Park and Judge went 2-for-3 with two walks and an RBI.

For Sanchez, it was his 33rd career homer in his 100th career game. He tied Rudy York for the second-most homers in a player’s first 100 big-league games, trailing only Mark McGwire (37).

Judge’s stellar day at the plate extended his on-base streak to 27 games, the longest active streak in the American League. Over the last 50 years, just one other Yankee age 25 or younger has reached base safely in 27-plus straight games within a season: Derek Jeter (1999).

6/23 to 6/25 Series Preview: Texas Rangers

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Last Time They Met

The Rangers visited the Yankees this time last year, splitting a four-game series from June 27-30. Both of the Yankees wins came in walk-off fashion, with one coming by way of long ball, and the other as the result of a passed ball. Ain’t baseball grand? A few more notes:

  • Mark Teixeira went 3-for-5 with a home run in the first game, which ended up being the last three hit effort of his career. It would’ve been the game-winning home run had Kirby Yates not blown the lead two innings later.
  • Luis Cessa picked-up the first win of his MLB career in game three. He came in to relieve Masahiro Tanaka in the 7th, and pitched the last three innings of the game.
  • Alex Rodriguez went 2-for-4 in the final game of the series; it was the last multi-hit game of his career.
  • The sequence of events that led to the game four walk-off was: walk – sacrifice bunt – walk – fielder’s choice (runner’s advance to 2nd and 3rd) – passed ball. Jacoby Ellsbury was at the plate for the passed ball, so perhaps we should chalk it up to his catcher’s interference magic.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun with numbers.

Injury Report

While the quality is up for debate, there’s no arguing that the Rangers essentially have a pitching staff on the disabled list. Starters Cole Hamels, Andrew Cashner, A.J. Griffin, and Chi Chi Gonzalez, and relievers Tony Barnette, Jake Diekman, and Jeremy Jeffress are all out, and none are expected to return for this series.

Their Story So Far

The Rangers are currently 36-36 with a +22 run differential, and they’ve won 10 of their last 15. They’ve dealt with a litany of injuries this year, with their current disabled list only representing a portion of that – Adrian Beltre missed 50-plus games with injuries, Carlos Gomez missed 20-plus games, Tyson Ross didn’t pitch until June 16, and Jonathan Lucroy has been dealing with nagging injuries all season. Their ability to hover around .500 so far is impressive, all things considered, and they should improve when (if?) they get healthy.

Surprisingly, the Rangers offense (25th in baseball in wRC+) has been a larger issue than their pitching (13th in park-adjusted ERA). The worst offenders have been Lucroy (78 wRC+), Mike Napoli (77 wRC+), and Rougned Odor (63 wRC+), all of whom were expected to be solid contributors in the lineup.

You can read more about the Rangers over at Lone Star Ball.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Jeff Banister has been tinkering with the lineup quite a bit over the last month or so, with injuries and underperformance all but forcing his hand. The first, second, and fourth spots in the lineup have been veritable revolving doors, and that’s less than ideal when your team is expected to have a potent offense. Nevertheless, the Yankees will probably see something like this over the weekend:

  1. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
  2. Elvis Andrus, SS
  3. Nomar Mazara, LF
  4. Adrian Beltre, DH/3B
  5. Rougned Odor, 2B
  6. Carlos Gomez, CF
  7. Joey Gallo, 3B/DH
  8. Mike Napoli, 1B
  9. Jonathan Lucroy, C

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

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

Even with injuries that cost him all of 2015 and much of 2014 and 2016, we should be discussing Darvish as one of the greatest Japanese imports in MLB history. He has 18.1 bWAR through his fifth season (4.4 bWAR per 180 IP), which puts him just three bWAR behind Hideo Nomo and Hiroki Kuroda in significantly fewer innings, and he’s still just 30-years-old. He’s also a free agent after this season.

Darvish is something of a two-pitch pitcher, with most everything being either a fastball (be it a mid-90s four-seamer, mid-90s two-seamer, or high-80s cutter) or a slider. He’ll throw the occasional curveball or change-up, but that’s not an every-game occurrence.

Last Outing (vs. SEA on 6/18) – 5.0 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 6 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Cessa vs. RHP Austin Bibens-Dirkx

Yes, that’s his real name. Bibens-Dirkx spent the first eleven seasons of his professional career in the minors, pitching in five organizations along the way (as well as in the Mexican League and independent ball). The Rangers signed him to a minor league deal last off-season, and he made his big league debut on May 17, three weeks shy of his 32nd birthday.

Bibens-Dirkx is a borderline junk-baller, with a pair of 90ish MPH fastballs, a mid-80s slider, a mid-80s change-up, and an upper-70s curve. His offspeed pitches have graded extremely well as per PITCHf/x, albeit in just 29.2 IP.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 6/19) – 5.0 IP, 5 R, 1 BB, 5 K

Sunday (2:05 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Nick Martinez

Martinez’s path to pitching has been interesting, as well. He was drafted out of Fordham in 2011, having spent most of his time there as an infielder (and occasional reliever). The Rangers converted him to starting in his first professional season, and he’s done well-enough since (96 ERA+ and 2.1 bWAR in 364.1 MLB IP). He lack a strikeout pitch, which limits his ceiling, but he has improved his control and groundball rates over time.

Martinez throws three low-90s fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter), a curve in the upper-80s, and a mid-80s change-up. It’s not premium stuff, but he throws all of his pitches for strikes.

Last Outing (vs. TOR on 6/20) – 6.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 2 K

The Bullpen

The Rangers have already used fifteen different relievers this season. It’s not surprising, then, that the group has a 4.45 ERA and more blown saves (13) than saves (11); those save and blown save numbers are both second-worst in the majors. Those numbers are at least a bit misleading, though, as Sam Dyson (now on the Giants) was 0-for-4 in save opportunities, and had a 10.80 ERA in 16.2 IP. The remaining relievers – notably closer Matt Bush, set-up man Keone Kela, Jose Leclerc, and Alex Claudio – have been solid or better.

Texas’ bullpen has been stretched somewhat over the last week, including being called upon for six innings on Tuesday. Bush and Kela rested yesterday, though.

Yankees Connection

Get excited, folks, as Yankees legends Ernesto Frieri and Pete Kozma will be making their way to the Bronx for the next three games.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Adrian Beltre is healthy, hitting, and just forty hits shy of 3,000. I’ve always enjoyed watching him play, and I’m excited to (hopefully) see him reach that milestone later this year. And I still feel like few people realize just how close he is to that level of immortality.

Joey Gallo is no Aaron Judge, but he’s currently fifth on the exit velocity leaderboard. He’s a three-true outcomes hitter, with nearly 56% of his PA resulting in a home run (19 jacks), walk (11.0%), or strikeout (37.3%), and when he manages to make contact the ball really flies off of his bat. He’s still only 23-years-old and this is his first extended look in the majors, so there’s definitely room for improvement.

Rangers claim Pete Kozma off waivers from Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier today the Rangers claimed Pete Kozma off waivers from the Yankees, the team announced. Kozma was designated for assignment Friday when Didi Gregorius returned from the disabled list. Texas needed a backup infielder, apparently.

Kozma, 29, went 1-for-9 (.111) at the plate and played 34 innings in the field, all but one at shortstop, during his short time in pinstripes. He was on the roster as the backup infielder while Gregorius was on the disabled list and that’s pretty much it. That was the only reason he was around.

With Kozma gone and Donovan Solano out long-term with a calf injury in Triple-A, the Yankees lost some infield depth this week. They still have Tyler Wade and Ruben Tejada in Triple-A, plus Rob Refsnyder as well, so maybe it’s not a big deal.

Potential trade partners for Brett Gardner dwindling due to hot stove activity

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees right now are very much open to trading pricey veterans for prospects. They sold big time at the deadline and continued selling in the offseason by sending Brian McCann to the Astros for two Single-A pitching prospects. The Yankees have reportedly dangled Brett Gardner and Chase Headley in trade talks this winter, and I’m sure they’d love to move Jacoby Ellsbury too, but, you know.

Two teams that stood out as obvious suitors for Gardner addressed their outfield needs last week. The Nationals traded for Adam Eaton and the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler. Both clubs needed a defensively competent center fielder — Gardner plays left for the Yankees in deference to Ellsbury, but he could still handle center full-time, no problem — and a top of the order on-base guy. The Nats and Cards went in another direction.

Gardner is a good player, not a great one, and the two years and $23M left on his contract is not unreasonable. And besides, the Yankees have shown a willingness to eat money to facilitate trades. They did it with Carlos Beltran at the deadline and McCann a few weeks ago. Salary shouldn’t be a problem. The problem is finding a team that actually needs Gardner, a defense first outfielder with on-base skills. Here are the remaining potential trade partners I came up with.

Baltimore Orioles

Adam Jones needs some help. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)
Adam Jones needs some help. (Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Current Outfield: Adam Jones in center and Hyun-Soo Kim in left, with Joey Rickard and Rule 5 Draft picks Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez candidates for right. They also have the option of moving Chris Davis to right field and playing prospect Trey Mancini at first.

Why Would They Want Gardner? He’s a heck of a lot better than Rickard and the Rule 5 Draft kids — Santander has never played above High-A — and he’d give the O’s a legitimate leadoff hitter, something they really lack. Jones was their leadoff hitter most of this past season. Yeah. Also, the Orioles have an opening at DH, remember. They could put Gardner in left, Kim at DH (where he fits best), and stick with the kids in right.

So Are They A Fit? Yes with the caveat that they’re an AL East rival, and intradivision trades are rare. I don’t think that closes the door completely, it just makes it unlikely. For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman told Bryan Hoch he’d have no problem trading with the Orioles.

“If I can trade with the Red Sox and the Mets, I can trade with the Orioles. I can trade with anybody. If it’s in our best interest, whether it’s short- or long-term, it doesn’t matter what the other teams get. Does it make sense for us? If it happens to be them, I don’t really care.”

What do the O’s have to offer the Yankees for Gardner? Geez, beats me. Their farm system isn’t in great shape (here’s their MLB.com top 30 prospects list) and I doubt they’d be willing to give up pieces from their big league roster. I’m sure the Yankees could find some combination of minor leaguers to make it work though.

Cleveland Indians

Current Outfield: Tyler Naquin in center and Lonnie Chisenhall in right. Brandon Guyer and Abe Almonte are expected to hold down left field until Michael Brantley returns from shoulder surgery.

Why Would They Want Gardner? Not too many reasons at this point. The Indians seem focused on adding a big middle of the order bat to share first base and DH with Carlos Santana, and I suppose if those plans go awry, they could circle back and import Gardner to be part of a rotating DH system. He’d give them a more traditional leadoff hitter too. They used Santana at leadoff most of last season, which was somewhat a waste of his power because he batted with fewer men on base.

So Are They A Fit? Nah, I don’t think so. Naquin had a nightmare postseason but a very good regular season, good enough to finish third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting and earn a starting spot in 2017. They’ll ride it out with Almonte and Guyer until Brantley returns, which could be as soon as April.

Detroit Tigers

Current Outfield: Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez on the corners, with Anthony Gose and JaCoby Jones in the mix for center. Tyler Collins could get a crack at the job too, though he’s best in a corner.

Why Would They Want Gardner? Gardner is much better than the group of players vying for Detroit’s center field job at the moment. Of course, the Tigers traded away Cameron Maybin earlier this winter, and they seem to be scaling back on payroll a bit. Salary dumping Maybin only to turn around and acquire Gardner would be a bit weird, don’t you think?

Of course, plans change, and the Tigers are looking at a more winnable AL Central right now. The Twins stink, the White Sox are selling, and the Royals might have to sell at the deadline since basically their entire core will hit free agency next winter. The Tigers won 86 games in 2016 despite going 4-14 (4-14!) against the Indians. What are the odds of that happening again? Small. Gardner would improve their chances in a much more winnable division.

So Are They A Fit? Maybe! I think the Yankees would have to eat money to make a trade happen, which I doubt would be a deal-breaker. If the Yankees ate money to trade Beltran and McCann, I’m sure they’d do the same for Gardner.

Oakland Athletics

Jake Smolinski was the A's everyday center fielder in the second half. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)
Jake Smolinski was the A’s everyday center fielder in the second half. For reals. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)

Current Outfield: Some combination of Khris Davis, Matt Joyce, Brett Eibner, and Jake Smolinski. Did you know Khris Davis hit 42 home runs in 2016? True story.

Why Would They Want Gardner? The A’s are in the market for a center fielder this offseason, it’s been reported everywhere, and they’ve most recently been connected to Jarrod Dyson of the Royals. Gardner is a very similar player (lefty hitting leadoff type with speed and defense) who happens to be much more expensive. But again, if the Yankees are willing to eat money, his contract may not be an obstacle.

So Are They A Fit? Maybe. The Athletics are a weird team that seems to be stuck between going for it and rebuilding. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they traded for an outfielder making $23M over the next two years despite losing at least 93 games the last two seasons. They’re weird like that.

San Francisco Giants

Current Outfield: Denard Span in center and Hunter Pence in right, with Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker slated to platoon in left. Gorkys Hernandez has a leg up on a bench job.

Why Would They Want Gardner? Left field is wide open. Williamson and Parker did an okay job as platoon partners while Pence was on the disabled list this summer — they hit a combined .230/.338/.402 with eleven homers in 278 plate appearances in 2016, but also struck out 28.5% of the time — though neither is a long-term building block. Williamson is the young one at 26. Parker turns 28 in three weeks.

Gardner would, at a minimum, give the Giants an above-average defender for that spacious left field at AT&T Park. In also guessing he’d outproduce a Williamson/Parker platoon at the plate over a full 162-game season. The Mark Melancon signing pushed San Francisco over the luxury tax threshold and they don’t want to go much higher, so Gardner’s contract could be an issue. Then again, the Giants are built to win right now, while Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are still in their primes, and left field is a sore spot.

So Are They A Fit? Yes, definitely. The Giants have enough prospects to cobble together a trade package (here is their MLB.com top 30 prospects list) and the Yankees could eat money to make things work on San Francisco’s end with regards to the luxury tax. The Giants are a fit. A great fit. No doubt.

Seattle Mariners

Current Outfield: Leonys Martin in the middle with some combination of Seth Smith, Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, Mitch Haniger, and possibly even Danny Valencia in the corners.

Why Would They Want Gardner? As an alternative to that hodgepodge of platoon veterans and mid-range prospects slated for the corners. The Mariners are trying to win right now. I mean, they should be. Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz aren’t going to be this productive forever, so anything Seattle can do to improve their short-term chances qualifies as a good move in my book. Gardner represents an upgrade.

So Are They A Fit? Yes in theory, no in reality. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has said his team is too left-handed at the moment, which Gardner would only exacerbate. Also, they seem committed to playing those kids in the outfield. So while there is a fit on paper here, I don’t see it happening.

Texas Rangers

Mystery Rangers outfielder. (Rick Yeatts/Getty)
Mystery Rangers outfielder. (Rick Yeatts/Getty)

Current Outfield: Carlos Gomez in center, Shin-Soo Choo in right, and Nomar Mazara in left. Delino DeShields Jr. and Ryan Rua are the depth options.

Why Would They Want Gardner? The Rangers have no first baseman or designated hitter at the moment. Adding Gardner would allow them to slide Mazara over to right field, his natural position, and put Choo at DH full-time, which is where he belongs at this point. Texas has money and prospects to trade, plus an obvious opening for Gardner in the lineup and on the field.

So Are They A Fit? Yes. Whether the Rangers are willing to make a trade is another matter. They may prefer to hang on to their prospects and address those first base and DH openings through free agency. There are still plenty of those players available.

Toronto Blue Jays

Current Outfield: lol

Why Would They Want Gardner? Kevin Pillar is still the center fielder. That much is clear. But after losing out on Fowler, the Blue Jays have Melvin Upton, Steve Pearce, Ezequiel Carrera, and Dalton Pompey penciled in as their corner outfielders. That might be the worst outfield unit in baseball. Gardner would give them a legitimate left fielder and leadoff hitter, allowing them to slide Devon Travis lower in the order, in a run producing spot. That would be a big help considering they effectively replaced Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista with Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce. I’m sure that’ll work out fine.

So Are They A Fit? Yes in the same way the Orioles are a fit. The Blue Jays could use Gardner, for sure, but to get him, they’d have to swing a rare intradivision trade. It’s not impossible. Just really tough to do. There’s a reason you don’t see them often. Everyone’s afraid of losing a trade to a division rival.

Rosenthal: Rangers made last minute push for Ivan Nova

(Andy Lyons/Getty)
(Andy Lyons/Getty)

According to Ken Rosenthal (video link), the Rangers made a last minute push for Ivan Nova prior to the August 1st trade deadline. The two sides exchanged proposals, and Rosenthal says talks occurred so late they might not have had time to review medical information before the deadline. Nova was instead traded to the Pirates for two prospects.

Nova, 29, had a tough start yesterday but has generally been very good for Pittsburgh. He has a 2.93 ERA (2.67 FIP) in nine starts and 55.1 innings since the trade deadline. Nine starts since the deadline? Was it really that long ago? Geez. Anyway, I’m guessing more than one team made a run at Nova before the deadline given the general need for pitching around the league. I have a few thoughts on this.

1. What would have been a comparable package from Texas? The Yankees received two players to be named later for Nova and they were legitimate prospects: outfielder Tito Polo and lefty Stephen Tarpley. They’re not high-end prospects — the Yankees traded Ivan Nova, not Greg Maddux — but they’re bonafide prospects with a chance to help the Yankees at the big league level or as trade chips at some point.

Both Tarpley and Polo were at High-A at the time of the trade. Tarpley’s a bit of a ‘tweener in that he has quality stuff but may lack the command to start long-term, while Polo is a toolsy player who may profile best as a fourth outfielder. Using MLB.com’s top 30 Rangers prospects list, here’s a list of comparable Rangers prospects:

  • RHP Pedro Payano: “Payano may lack a plus pitch, but he has three effective offerings and knows how to use them.”
  • RHP Jonathan Hernandez: “Hernandez may not have more of a ceiling than No. 4 starter, he’s a safe bet to remain in the rotation and could advance quickly.”
  • RHP Tyler Ferguson: “The bullpen might be the best destination for him anyway, because he’ll never have fine command and has yet to show aptitude for throwing an offspeed pitch.”
  • OF Jose Almonte: “Almonte’s below-average speed and quickness precipitated his move from third base but shouldn’t prevent him from becoming a competent right fielder.”

This isn’t an apples to apples comparison, of course. I was just looking for Single-A players who fit the “maybe a starter, likely a reliever” and “toolsy fourth outfielder” profiles. The Rangers system isn’t all that deep in those types of players. They have a lot of teenage infielders in the back of their top 30 prospects list.

Anyway, the point is the Yankees probably weren’t missing out on anything great by trading Nova to the Pirates instead of the Rangers. Some Single-A prospects with iffy profiles work out. Most don’t. That’s baseball.

2. The Yankees had to trade Nova. I have a hard time believing anyone would think otherwise. The Yankees sat 5.5 games back of a wildcard spot and they were coming off four straight losses the morning of the trade deadline. They had just been swept by the last place Rays. There was no reason to think they would miraculously storm back into the race, even temporarily.

Nova is an impending free agent and he was not a qualifying offer candidate because he’d pitched to a 4.99 ERA (4.98 FIP) in 191.1 innings following Tommy John surgery. They could either keep him, get another 12-13 mediocre starts, then lose him for nothing after the season, or they could trade him for some lottery tickets. Regardless of whether Nova went to the Rangers or Pirates or some other team, the Yankees were smart to move him.

3. No, the Yankees shouldn’t try to re-sign Nova. Nova’s the big winner here because there seems to be a belief that the Pirates are magicians and can fix any pitcher — why did they have to trade for Nova in the first place if that’s true? — and Nova is the latest example. Someone’s going to pay him good money in the weak free agent class, the same way J.A. Happ and Edinson Volquez made more than expected after leaving Pittsburgh.

Does that mean the Yankees should try to re-sign Nova? That’s an easy no for me. I’m not convinced his recent success is the result of anything more than a favorable schedule — he’s faced the Reds, Brewers, and Phillies six times in his nine starts — and a friendly home ballpark in the non-DH league. Nova might only be fixed the same way Phil Hughes was fixed with the Twins in 2014. Ivan’s going to get paid this winter and good for him. The 700-something innings in pinstripes far outweigh the 50-something innings with the Pirates in my opinion.