Yankeemetrics: Riding the .500 roller coaster [June 27-30]

(Photo credit: Getty Images)
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Mother Nature 1, Yankees 0
In a season filled with crushing losses, embarrassing performances, horrible blown leads and frustrating games, Monday’s contest against the Rangers just might surpass them all. It will certainly go down in the record books as one of the most surreal games played at Yankee Stadium, and likely one of the most deflating defeats in recent years. Joe Girardi summed it in his postgame comments to reporters:

“It’s hard for me to understand what happened tonight, how it got to this point. But it did, and we lost.”

The two teams played through a rainstorm that got progressively worse during the night, until the umpires finally called for the tarp in the ninth inning with Aroldis Chapman on the mound to protect a 6-5 Yankees advantage.

chapman rain

When the delay finally ended 3 hours and 35 minutes later, the closer was on the bench and Kirby Yates was in to save the game.

Instead, he suffered an unprecedented meltdown on the mound, coughing up the lead as he hit three batters and surrendered three runs before getting the final out of the ninth.

Yates became the first pitcher in more than 100 years to hit at least three batters, pitch no more than one inning and get tagged with the loss. The last guy to do it was Earl Moore of the Buffalo Buffeds in a Federal League game on June 17, 1914 against the Indianapolis Hoosiers.

As unwatchable as the Yankees middle relief has been in the past few years, they’ve still maintained a lockdown back of the bullpen to close out games. So what happens when you’re forced to call upon that dicey non-Big 3 reliever to try and seal a win? You get an incredibly rare loss for the Yankees.

This was the first time the Yankees lost a game when taking a lead into the ninth inning since June 1, 2014 against the Twins. They had won 160 straight games in that situation, including a 34-0 mark this year and an 81-0 mark last season.

The Hangover
The best thing to be said about Tuesday’s lifeless 7-1 defeat was that it only took 2 hours and 37 minutes. Alas, here’s a few more words about the utterly forgettable loss.

CC Sabathia made one mistake in the first inning — a two-run homer to Adrian Beltre — but then retired 18 of 21 batters in the second through seventh innings. The large lefty unraveled in the eighth inning, however, as the first four guys reached base before he was pulled from the game.

It was the first time all season he threw a pitch in the eighth inning, and predictably, things didn’t go well as Sabathia was ultimately charged with six runs in seven innings. He has allowed 11 earned runs in his last two starts (11 1/3 innings), compared four earned runs allowed in his previous seven starts (44 innings).

It appears that Sabathia is experiencing some regression in his fly ball luck. Through his first 11 starts of the season he allowed two homers and had an incredibly low homer-to-flyball ratio of 3.1 percent. He’s now surrendered a homer in each of his last two starts, and while his fly ball rate remained unchanged, his homer-to-flyball ratio shot up to 14.3 percent in that span.

(Photo credit: Getty Images)
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

The Miracle on 161st Street and River Avenue
Buried in the standings and left for dead by much of the New York media, the Yankees pulled off arguably the most stunning win of the season — and perhaps its biggest so far — on Wednesday night, staging an epic comeback for the ages to beat the Rangers 9-7.

Trailing by five runs with five outs to go and three runs with two outs to go, the Yankees capped off a furious ninth inning rally with a pair of dramatic home runs, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat and breathing life into a team on the brink of irrelevance.

The win came with a few notable milestones:

  • it was their largest comeback win of the season
  • it was their first win this season when trailing entering the ninth inning (and it came less than 48 hours after they lost their first game in two years when leading entering the ninth inning!)
  • it was the first time they erased a deficit of at least four runs in the ninth inning or later since Sept. 22, 2012 against Oakland
  • it was their third win when trailing by four or more runs in the seventh inning or later in the past two weeks, after having only two such wins in the previous three seasons combined

The two biggest blows came from the bats of Brian McCann, who tied the game with a towering three-run homer in the final frame, and Didi Gregorius, who won the game with his first career walk-off shot. If that sounds like a rare type of rally … you’d be correct.

It was the first time since at least 1930 that the Yankees hit a game-tying homer when trailing by at least three runs in the ninth inning and then ended the game with a walk-off homer.

McCann became just the fourth Yankee in the past 70 seasons with a game-tying homer when facing a deficit of at least three runs at Yankee Stadium. He joins the illustrious group of Shelley Duncan (Aug. 15, 2007), Tino Martinez (July 2, 1998), and Joe DiMaggio (July 31, 1937 and Aug. 29, 1940).

Didi also put himself in some nice company with his historic blast. Only four other Yankee shortstops have hit a walk-off homer in the past 85 seasons: Derek Jeter (April 5, 2005 and Game 4 of the 2001 World Series), Gene Michael (June 23, 1971), Mickey Mantle (July 22, 1954 in a game he started in center field and then moved to shortstop in the ninth inning) and Phil Rizzuto (April 23, 1941).

(Photo credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)
(Photo credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

Be Like Mike
What’s better than a walk-off win against the best team in the AL? How about two of them in a row. The Yankees beat the Rangers, 2-1, on Thursday afternoon thanks to a passed ball in the bottom of the ninth that scored Chase Headley from third base.

This was just the second time in the last 50 years that the Yankees enjoyed a walk-off win via a passed ball; the other game was April 27, 2012 versus the Tigers.

It was also their second straight victory in walk-off fashion (duh), third on this nine-game homestand (also June 22 vs. Rockies) and fourth of the season. The last time the Yankees had three walk-off wins in a span of fewer than 10 days was May 15-23, 2009, when they had back-to-back-to-back (!) walk-off wins against the Twins and one six days later against the Phillies.

The uplifting victory wouldn’t have been possible without another stellar performance from Michael Pineda, who finished with 12 strikeouts and one run allowed on two hits. It was the 13th time in last 100 years that a Yankee pitcher struck out at least 12 batters while giving up no more than two hits and one run — but only once before had that pitcher also not been credited with the win, like Pineda. On April 11, 1997, David Cone tossed seven scoreless innings and had 12 strikeouts against the A’s in a game the Yankees lost 3-1.

Pineda capped off an excellent June (2.75 ERA in six starts) with perhaps his two best outings of the season: a two-hit, one-run, eight-strikeout effort on June 25 against the Twins and Thursday’s two-hit, one-run, 12-strikeout masterpiece. He’s the third Yankee in the last century to strike out at least eight batters and allow no more than two hits in back-to-back starts, matching David Cone (1997) and Al Downing (1965).

His stuff was especially nasty when he got into two-strike counts, as he induced a swing-and-miss on strike three for all 12 of his punch outs. Pineda is just the fourth pitcher in baseball this season to record 12 swinging strikeouts in a game, along with Clayton Kershaw (12 on June 10), Vince Velasquez (13 on April 14) and Max Scherzer (14 on May 11). No other Yankee pitcher has done that in a game since at least 2008 (the Pitch f/x era).

6/27 to 6/30 Series Preview: Texas Rangers

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It’s gut-check time. The Yankees have spent the last few weeks beating up on the likes of the Twins, Angels, Rays, and Athletics. Now they have to prove their mettle against arguably the best team in the AL and inarguably one of the best in all of baseball. The Rangers are in town for a four-game series. The Yankees want people to believe they can contend? Then go out, put up a fight, and win some games against Texas this week.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Rangers have been insanely hot of late. They took two of three from the Red Sox over the weekend and have won 22 of their last 28 games overall to push their record to 49-27, best in the AL by 3.5 games. The Giants are the only other team in baseball with as many as 49 wins. The Yankees and Rangers played three games in Arlington in late-April. The Rangers won two of the three.

Offense & Defense

Do the Rangers ever have a bad offense? They always seem to be really good at scoring runs. So far this year they’ve averaging 4.88 runs per game with a team 95 wRC+. (The runs per game/wRC+ disconnect always intrigues me.) Manager Jeff Banister has two injured position players: OF Josh Hamilton, who won’t play at all this season due to knee problems, and OF Drew Stubbs. Stubbs is out with a toe injury and it doesn’t look like he’ll be back this series.

Desmond. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Desmond. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Banister puts his four best hitters right at the top of the lineup. RF Shin-Soo Choo (136 wRC+) leads off, CF Ian Desmond (135 wRC+) bats second, rookie LF Nomar Mazara (101 wRC+) bats third, and future Hall of Famer 3B Adrian Beltre (101 wRC+) cleans up. Choo has a .418 OBP in the leadoff spot and Desmond has been off-the-charts the last two months. He has a 159 wRC+ in his last 57 games. Crazy. DH Prince Fielder (60 wRC+) has been awful, but he stays in the lineup because the Rangers owe him more than $80M through 2020. Egads.

SS Elvis Andrus (94 wRC+) is having his best offensive season in a few years and 2B Rougned Odor (97 wRC+) has been just okay to date. IF Jurickson Profar (134 wRC+) has been something of super utility guy getting regular at-bats all over the infield. 1B Mitch Moreland (84 wRC+) and OF Ryan Rua (123 wRC+) are platoon options. Texas is carrying three catchers: C Robinson Chirinos (105 wRC+), C Bryan Holaday (77 wRC+), and C Bobby Wilson (77 wRC+). Three catchers is a hell of a thing.

The Rangers are a very good defensive team with two major sore spots: right field and first base. Choo is not a good defender — he does throw very well, but his range stinks — and regardless of whether Fielder or Moreland (or Profar) is at first, they’re a liability. (Profar lacks experience.) Beltre, Mazara, Odor, and Andrus are all above-average glovemen. So is Desmond in center field, believe it or not. He’s never going to play the infield again. The transition to the outfield has worked so, so well.

Pitching Probables

Monday (7:05pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. TEX) vs. RHP Chi Chi Gonzalez (vs. NYY)
The Rangers are currently without Yu Darvish (shoulder), Derek Holland (shoulder), and Colby Lewis (lat), so they’ve had to dip deep into their pitching depth. Gonzalez, 24, is coming up from Triple-A to make the start in place of Lewis tonight. He threw 67 innings for the Rangers last summer and was serviceable (3.90 ERA and 4.97 FIP). So far in Triple-A this year Gonzalez has a 5.04 ERA (3.91 FIP) in 14 starts and 80.1 innings. He wasn’t missing bats (15.9%) or limiting walks (7.4%), but Chi Chi did limit homers (0.34 HR/9) and keep the ball on the ground (58.0%). Gonzalez is a classic sinker/slider pitcher. He sits 91-94 mph with the sinker and in the upper-80s with his slider, so he throws it hard. A mid-80s changeup is his third pitch. Every once in a while he’ll flip a low-80s curveball to keep hitters guessing.

Tuesday (7:05pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. TEX) vs. LHP Cole Hamels (vs. NYY)
The 32-year-old Hamels is in his first full season with the Rangers, and in 15 starts he’s given the team 96.2 innings of 2.79 ERA (4.58 FIP) ball. His strikeout (23.5%) and grounder (50.8%) numbers are very good, though he’s been walk (9.1%) and homer (1.40 HR/9) prone, which is out of the ordinary. He’s been quite a bit better against lefties than righties this year, though he’s had a tiny platoon split throughout his career. Hamels is one of those ultra-rare veteran pitchers who has added velocity over the years. Check it out (via Brooks Baseball):

Cole Hamels velocity

Every pitcher should be so lucky. Hamels backs up his low-to-mid-90s four-seamer and sinker with a world class mid-80s changeup. It’s one of the best changeups in baseball and the reason he’s been so good for so long. He throws it with the same arm speed as his heater, so by time it starts fading, the hitter’s brain has already said “fastball!” and told his arms to start swinging. An upper-80s cutter and an upper-70s curveball are his fourth and fifth pitches. Hamels uses all five pitches regularly too. The Yankees didn’t see him when they were in Texas earlier this season.

Wednesday (7:05pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. TEX) vs. RHP Nick Martinez (vs. NYY)
Martinez, 25, is in the rotation because of all those injuries. He’s made two starts and two relief appearances for the Rangers this year, allowing eight runs on 16 hits and seven walks in 13 innings. Martinez has struck out only five. He had a 4.50 ERA (3.97 FIP) in 64 Triple-A innings this year before getting called back up Texas. Martinez lives and dies with his low-90s sinker and mid-80s slider. He’s going to throw some mid-80s changeups and upper-70s curveballs too, but the sinker and slider are his moneymakers. They’re why he’s in the show. Martinez was still in Triple-A when the Yankees and Rangers played in April.

Thursday (1:05pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. TEX) vs. RHP A.J. Griffin (vs. NYY)
After losing the 2014 and 2015 seasons to Tommy John surgery and shoulder issues, the now 28-year-old Griffin has a 3.08 ERA (3.55 FIP) in seven starts and 38 innings for Texas this season. He did miss a few weeks with more shoulder problems, however. Griffin has a strong strikeout rate (21.9%) and he’s kept the ball in the yard (0.71 HR/9), but his walk (9.7%) and grounder (36.8%) numbers aren’t all that good. Left-handed batters have had more success against him this season than righties. Griffin is averaging 88 mph with his four-seamer and 83 mph with his little cutter/slider hybrid. His changeup is in the low-80s and his hilariously slow curveball still sits in the mid-to-high-60s. That slow curve makes his heater play up quite a bit. The Yankees did see Griffin back in April, and he held them to one run in eight innings. I remember that game being the one when it really set in that this year’s offense stinks.

Griffin. (Rick Yeatts/Getty)
Griffin. (Rick Yeatts/Getty)

Bullpen Status

Despite their success, the Rangers have one of the least effective bullpens in baseball. They rank 28th in bullpen ERA (4.73) and 29th in bullpen FIP (4.67) among the 30 clubs so far this year. That’s going to have to be fixed at some point. I happen to know a team with some spare relievers. Anyway, here is Banister’s bullpen:

Closer: RHP Sam Dyson (1.93 ERA/2.81 FIP)
Setup: LHP Jake Diekman (2.83/3.38), RHP Matt Bush (2.29/2.83)
Middle: LHP Cesar Ramos (4.42/5.48), RHP Shawn Tolleson (6.84/5.61), RHP Tony Barnette (3.13/3.35)
Long: RHP Luke Jackson (7.27/7.52)

That’s the same Matt Bush who was the first overall pick in the 2004 draft … as a shortstop. He had drug and alcohol problems in the minors and got into some big time legal trouble; Bush spent 51 months in prison following a DUI hit-and-run in Florida in which he hit and nearly killed a 72-year-old man on a motorcycle. Geez. Bush was released from prison a few months ago and the Rangers felt he is truly a changed man, so they signed him, and now he’s one of their setup relievers.

Bush (22 pitches), Diekman (5 pitches), and Tolleson (15 pitches) all appeared in yesterday’s game. Tolleson pitched Saturday as well, which figures to limit his availability tonight. Head over to our Bullpen Workload page for the status of Joe Girardi‘s bullpen.

Rosenthal: Five clubs already lining up for Andrew Miller


The trade deadline is now only six weeks away, and unless the Yankees get hot and go on an extended run between now and then, they’re going to have to seriously consider selling. The Yankees are four games back of the second wildcard spot with four teams ahead of them. FanGraphs pegs their postseason odds at 13.8%.

According to Ken Rosenthal (video link), five contending teams are already showing interest in ace lefty reliever Andrew Miller: Cubs, Giants, Nationals, Dodgers, and Rangers. We’ve already heard that the Giants and Nationals want Miller, and that the Cubbies have been scouting New York’s bullpen. The Dodgers and Rangers are obvious fits too. I have some thoughts on this.

1. Push Chapman on the Nationals. Because Aroldis Chapman will be a free agent after the season, there should be a greater sense of urgency to trade him than Miller, who has two years left on his deal. The Nationals don’t have a history with Chapman but they kinda do. Dusty Baker was his first manager with the Reds and Washington reportedly tried to trade for him this offseason, even after the domestic violence incident. The Yankees just beat them to it. Hopefully the Yankees can exploit that interest, send Chapman to the Nats for a big package, then look to move Miller elsewhere.

2. The Rangers have more to offer than anyone. To me, no team has as much to offer for Miller (or Chapman) as the Rangers. They have both high-end young big leaguers (Jurickson Profar, Nomar Mazara) and high-profile prospects (Joey Gallo, Chi Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz) to trade, though obviously some are more available than others. I’d be stunned if Texas traded Mazara, and I think it would take a lot to pry Profar loose. Certainly more than a reliever, even a great one like Miller.

That said, Rangers GM Jon Daniels has a history of being aggressive and paying big at the trade deadline. He gave up a lot to get Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza a few years back, most notably. Texas has the best record in the AL (45-25), a huge lead in the AL West (8.5 games), and an awful bullpen (4.76 ERA). I can’t imagine Daniels will not address his relief crew at the deadline. The Yankees have great relievers to offer and the Rangers can offer a lot in return. It’s a really great match.

3. A bidding war between the Giants and Dodgers would be sweet. The Giants have won eight straight games to open a 6.5-game lead in the NL West, and while that is hardly insurmountable in mid-June, it sure is better than being neck-and-neck. You know the Dodgers don’t want to fall behind any further. Both teams have some bullpen issues and, of course, they’re big time historic and intradivision rivals.

Creating a bidding way between the Giants and Dodgers could be awfully beneficial to the Yankees. The Dodgers have more to offer if you look at prospect lists and whatnot, but I wouldn’t rule out the Giants cobbling together enough to beat them out for Miller (or Chapman). Either way, the best possible thing for the Yankees would be the Dodgers closing the NL West gap a bit in the next few weeks. If the San Francisco bullpen could blow a few games during that time, that would help too.

4. More teams will get involved. The Cubs, Giants, Nationals, Dodgers, and Rangers are the most notable contenders looking for bullpen help, but they’re far from the only teams in need of relievers. The Orioles, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Indians, and Mets all figure to be in the market for bullpen arms at the deadline. Would the Yankees trade with another AL East team? I doubt it but they shouldn’t rule it out. If that’s the team that offers the best return, why not take it? In theory, an intra-division trade means you’d be improving your organization and making a rival’s worse, right? Just go into the deadline with an open mind. There will be plenty of suitors. Listen to them all.

Trade Notes: Cubs, Gallo, Tigers, Fulmer, Norris, Reyes


The draft is now over, which means teams will soon shift their focus to the trade deadline. The way things are going right now, the Yankees are much more likely to be sellers than buyers this summer. We’ll see what happens. Here are some miscellaneous trade notes, both past and present.

Cubs scouting Yankees’ top relievers

According to George King, the Cubs had a scout at Yankee Stadium last week taking a look at New York’s big three relievers. The Cubbies already know those guys are awesome. They’re just doing their due diligence. Chicago could really use a shutdown lefty reliever, and I’m guessing they’d prefer Andrew Miller to Aroldis Chapman. Miller is under contract two more years and is willing to pitch in any role. Also, Theo Epstein and Miller have a connection dating back to their time with the Red Sox.

I’ve already written about the Cubs as a possible trade partner a few times (here and here) and something tells me I will end up writing about them a few more times before the trade deadline. As always, it’s going to come down to what Chicago is willing to give up in a trade. We’ve already heard they won’t trade Kyle Schwarber straight up for Miller. Javier Baez and Jorge Soler were involved in trade rumors all offseason, so I imagine they’re available.

Rangers won’t trade Gallo for Miller

From the “no duh” rumor mill: the Rangers are unwilling to trade third base masher Joey Gallo straight up for Miller, reports Jon Heyman. The Rangers have the best record (40-25) and worst bullpen ERA (5.12) in the AL, so yeah, a reliever or three figures to be on their trade deadline shipping list. It’s the glaring need right now. Manager Jeff Banister has to hold his breath each time he signals for a reliever.

Texas GM Jon Daniels has a history of making big moves at the trade deadline, and no team will have more bullpen help to offer than New York, so I expect to see a ton of Rangers-Yankees rumors these next few weeks. I can’t help but wonder if the Yankees will push for Jurickson Profar. They’ve had interest in him in the past, and it appears the Rangers have no place to play him. That’s the kind of talent the Yankees should be targeting, anyway.


Tigers were unwilling to part with top prospects for Miller

Prior to the Justin Wilson trade in December, the Yankees and Tigers were discussing a Miller trade, reports Ken Rosenthal. Rosenthal says Detroit was not willing to move their top prospects, specifically righty Michael Fulmer and lefty Daniel Norris, so nothing happened. The Tigers then shifted their focus to Wilson, and that trade eventually came together.

This jibes with everything we heard about the Miller trade talks over the winter. The Yankees wanted high-end young pitching in return. They talked to the Astros about Lance McCullers Jr. and Vincent Velasquez, for example. Fulmer and Norris are cut from a similar cloth. When it comes time to take offers for Miller again — I imagine the Yankees will listen even if they’re unwilling to sell — I assume they’ll again prioritize young power arms.

Yanks didn’t offer Mateo for Reyes

Remember a few weeks back when we heard the Yankees reportedly offered the Rockies shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo for Jorge Reyes last year? That didn’t pass the sniff test at all. As it turns out, the report was wrong. Tracy Ringolsby says the Yankees did not offer Mateo for Reyes, but Mateo’s name did come up during talks about a larger multi-player trade. That makes much more sense.

I wonder who else the Yankees could have been targeting in such a deal? The Rockies don’t exactly having pitching to spare — Jon Gray had not made his MLB debut at that point, and I can’t imagine Colorado was willing to trade him anyway — and the Yankees had no other massive needs since Reyes would have presumably replaced Stephen Drew at second. Maybe Mateo and stuff for Reyes and prospects? I have no idea what it could realistically be otherwise. Intrigue!

Yankeemetrics: It’s getting late early [April 25-27]

Nasty Nate (Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports Images)
Nasty Nate (Tim Heitman/USA Today Sports Images)

Near No-No Nate
Nathan Eovaldi‘s chance to make history fell just short on Monday night, but he still established a new level of pitching dominance for Yankee starters this season and helped the team start its road trip with a 3-1 win over the Rangers.

Eovaldi dominated the Rangers lineup, holding them hitless through six innings until Nomar Mazara led off the top of the seventh with a single. He finished with a stellar line of seven-plus innings, no runs, two hits, six strikeouts and one walk, becoming the lone Yankee starter to produce a scoreless outing in 2016. His Game Score of 77 also set a new benchmark for the rotation.

He consistently got ahead in the count, and while pitching with the advantage, was able to get hitters to chase his diving splitter out of the zone. The Rangers went 0-for-12 in at-bats ending in his split-fingered fastball; six of those outs were swinging strikeouts, and five were harmless grounders. His command of his slider was just as impressive: he threw 19 of them, 17 for strikes, and none resulted in a hit.

Although Eovaldi missed out on etching his name in the record books, he did put himself on a couple lists with some pretty good names. The last Yankee to throw at least seven shutout innings while giving up no more than two hits against the Rangers in Texas was Ron Guidry (1980). It was also his eighth straight game with at least six strikeouts, the longest streak by a Yankee right-hander since Roger Clemens in 2001.

From best to worst
One day after Eovaldi spun a gem, Luis Severino produced the exact opposite – a terrible performance in which he was pummeled by the Rangers’ bats and allowed twice as many runs (six) as innings pitched (three). Severino’s Game Score of 20 was the worst for any Yankee starter this season, and it was also the shortest outing for any pinstriped starter.

The Rangers ultimately cruised to a 10-1 victory, handing the Yankees their worst loss in Arlington since a 13-3 beating on August 21, 2001.

The most frustrating part was that numerous times the Yankees seemed thisclose to escaping an inning with no harm done, but were stung by several crushing two-out hits. Nine of the 10 runs allowed by the Yankees came with two outs, continuing a troubling trend for the team.

After Tuesday’s disaster, they had surrendered 49 two-out runs, by far the most of any AL team (the Tigers were second with 39), and the Yankees easily led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS allowed with two outs.

Dead Bats Society
Following their 3-2 loss on Wednesday night, there are few words left to describe the magnitude of the Yankees’ near-historic offensive struggles this season, so let’s just recap with some facts (because numbers never lie):

• Yankees have scored 72 runs, their fewest thru 20 games since 1990. And that season ended … um, not good.
• They’ve tallied two runs or fewer in 10 of 20 games, the most for any Yankee team this early into the season since 1966. Yuck.
• Yankees are the only major-league team this season that’s scored two-or-fewer runs in at least half of their games. Disgusting.
• They’ve scored three runs or fewer 15 times this season. Over the last 100 years, no other Yankee club has ever done that more times in the team’s first 20 games. Ugh.
• Since their game in Detroit was postponed on April 10, the Yankees have played 15 games and scored more than four runs just once. Gross.

On a more positive note, A-Rod returned from his oblique injury and produced his best game of the season, going 3-for-3 with a homer, double and single. It was his 543rd career double, tying Tony Gwynn for 32nd place all-time. Next up on the list is The Captain, Derek Jeter, with 544. A-Rod also scored his 1,000th run as a Yankee, the 12th player in franchise history to reach that milestone, and is one of nine players to total at least 1,000 runs and 1,000 RBIs in pinstripes. The other guys? Mattingly, Bernie, Jeter, Yogi, Mantle, DiMaggio, Ruth and Gehrig.

4/25 to 4/27 Series Preview: Texas Rangers

(Mike Stone/Getty)
(Mike Stone/Getty)

The Yankees really need to get out of the Bronx for a little while. They just went 3-6 (3-6!) on a nine-game homestand and looked pretty bad doing it. I don’t know if the change of scenery will help anything, but I can’t imagine it’ll hurt. The Yankees start a nine-game road trip with the first of three in Texas tonight.

What Have They Done Lately?

The Rangers, who snuck in and won the AL West in the final series of the season last year, are currently 10-9 with a +1 run differential in the early going. They were just swept by the White Sox in Chicago, so Rangers fans must be talking about the Rangers the same way Yankees fans are talking about the Yankees right now. They suck, they won’t contend, etc.

Offense & Defense

It always seems like the Rangers have a good offense, doesn’t it? They’re currently tenth in baseball in runs per game (4.44) despite being 17th in wRC+ (91). Texas is pretty banged up at the moment. They’re without their starting corner outfielders (Shin-Soo Choo, Josh Hamilton) and top two catchers (Robinson Chirinos, Chris Gimenez) due to injuries. None are expected back this weekend.

Nomar. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Nomar. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Manager Jeff Banister, who was named Manager of the Year as a rookie skipper last year, has a pretty set lineup. This isn’t a team that uses many platoons or mixes up the batting order on a daily basis. The team’s lineup generally looks like this:

  1. CF Delino DeShields Jr. (98 wRC+)
  2. RF Nomar Mazara (160 wRC+)
  3. 3B Adrian Beltre (143 wRC+)
  4. DH Prince Fielder (37 wRC+)
  5. LF Ian Desmond (73 wRC+)
  6. 1B Mitch Moreland (96 wRC+)
  7. SS Elvis Andrus (123 wRC+)
  8. 2B Rougned Odor (81 wRC+)
  9. C Bryan Holaday (40 wRC+)

Any changes day-to-day are usually subtle. Beltre and Fielder will be flip-flopped, or Desmond and Moreland will be flip-flopped, that sort of thing. UTIL Ryan Rua (43 wRC+) will see at-bats against lefties, usually in place of Moreland. IF Hanser Alberto (-35 wRC+) and C Brett Nicholas (75 wRC+) are the other bench players. The Rangers are currently carrying eight relievers and three bench players.

Defensively, the Rangers are a very interesting team. They have a 73.2 Defensive Efficiency Rating — that means they turn 73.2% of balls in play into outs — which is seventh best in baseball. Yet when you look at their runs saved visualization, it doesn’t look like they should be that good. From Sean Dolinar:

Rangers defense There’s a disconnect here. First of all, Choo is hurt and Mazara is playing right field, and that’s a big upgrade defensively. Secondly, the Rangers are quite good at shifting, which helps them on the infield. I also think Odor is a bit better than the numbers based on the eye test. There’s a lot of red on that infographic, but Texas seems to be better defensively than expected.

Pitching Matchups

Monday (8pm ET): RHP Nathan Eovaldi (vs. TEX) vs. LHP Cesar Ramos (vs. NYY)
The Yankees are catching a break tonight. Cole Hamels, who is perpetually overlooked as one of the game’s great pitchers, was scheduled to start tonight’s series opener, but he has been scratched with a minor groin injury. He won’t start in the series at all. Ramos, the former Rays lefty, is coming up from Triple-A to make the spot start. The 31-year-old had a 3.18 ERA (3.55 FIP) in three Triple-A starts this year, though it’s worth noting he did not throw more than 4.1 innings or 79 pitches in any of his three games. That means he’ll throw six scoreless tonight, I’m sure. Out of the bullpen Ramos posted average strikeout, walk, and ground ball numbers all throughout his career, and he’s historically fared a bit better against lefties than righties. Ramos sits in the low-90s with his four-seamer and sinker — he didn’t throw any sinkers with the Angels last season for whatever reason — and backs them up with a mid-80s slider, mid-80s changeup, and low-70s curve. He’s always had the stuff to start, but never really did get an extended opportunity in a big league rotation.

Tuesday (8pm ET): RHP Luis Severino (No vs. TEX) vs. RHP A.J. Griffin (vs. NYY)
Griffin, 28, is back in the big leagues after missing the entire 2014 and 2015 seasons due to Tommy John surgery and subsequent complications. He has a 3.18 ERA (4.60 FIP) in 17 innings across three starts this year, though his strikeout (16.7%), walk (11.1%), grounder (34.6%), and homer (1.06 HR/9) rates are all below-average. Lefties have hammered him early on too. Back in the day Griffin had an average strikeout rate with very low walk and grounder rates. After missing two years with arm problems, I’m not surprised his strikeout and walk numbers are out of whack early on. Through three starts this season Griffin is averaging 89 mph with his four-seamer and 85 mph with his cutter. His changeup is in the low-80s and his hilarious slow curveball still sits in the mid-to-high-60s. Look:

A.J. Griffin curve

Griffin throws the slow curve regularly too, roughly 16% of the time both this year and historically. It’s a different look, that’s for sure.

Wednesday (8pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. TEX) vs. LHP Martin Perez (vs. NYY)
Like Ivan Nova and Matt Moore, the 25-year-old Perez returned from Tommy John surgery in the middle of last season. He pitched better than those two (4.46 ERA and 3.40 FIP) following the surgery, though this year has not gone well (4.50 ERA and 5.11 FIP). Perez has more walks (13.1%) than strikeouts (11.1%) through four starts and 24 innings, and that’s always bad. His grounder (54.3%) and homer (0.75 HR/9) numbers are right in line with his career norms. Righties have hit him pretty well this year and throughout his career. Perez sits in the low-to-mid-90s range with his sinker, which he throws about twice as often as his straight four-seamer. A mid-80s slider and low-80s changeup are his go-to offspeed pitches. His overall numbers are not good this year, but Perez can be very tough to handle when his sinker is working.

Bullpen Status

The Rangers are currently without two of their better relievers right now. RHP Keone Kela just had surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow, and RHP Tanner Scheppers is out long-term following knee surgery. Well, Kela is one of their better relievers. Scheppers is more big name than big production. Here is Banister’s relief corps:

RHP Tony Barnette: 8.2 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 1 HR
LHP Alex Claudio: 2.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, 0 HR
LHP Jake Diekman: 5.1 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR
RHP Sam Dyson: 9 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 8 K, 1 HR
RHP Phil Klein: 5.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 0 HR
RHP Nick Martinez: 0.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 K, 0 HR
RHP Shawn Tolleson: 7 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 HR
RHP Tom Wilhelmsen: 6 IP, 13 H, 10 R, 10 ER, 5 BB, 1 K, 4 HR

One of those guys is going to be sent down for Ramos today. Claudio is the obvious choice because he threw 31 pitches yesterday — he was the only reliever used Sunday — but the Yankees are so susceptible to left-handed pitching that I wonder if the Rangers will keep him around for the second and third game of the series and send down Martinez instead. We’ll see. (UPDATE: Martinez was send down for Ramos.)

Tolleson is the closer and don’t be fooled by the numbers. He had one horrible meltdown (five runs, no outs on April 6th) but has been very good otherwise. Wilhelmsen has had two huge meltdowns and has been fine the rest of the time. Dyson and Diekman are Banister’s go-to setup crew. Dyson has a crazy sinker (68.2% grounders) and Diekman is one of the hardest throwing lefties in baseball. He runs it up to 98-99 mph regularly.

Joe Girardi‘s bullpen is in good shape heading into the series, though neither Kirby Yates nor Nick Goody figure to be available tonight following their multi-inning outings yesterday. Our Bullpen Workload page has all you need to know about the Yankees’ recent reliever usage.

Let’s try to find a bad contract-for-bad contract trade for Jacoby Ellsbury


Jacoby Ellsbury is a problem. Following last night’s 1-for-3 game, he is hitting .263/.321/.383 (95 wRC+) with 4.8 WAR in two years and 13 games as a Yankee. He’s now 32 years old, his defense is kinda sorta slipping, and he is still under contract for another four years and 149 games. Ellsbury is talented and he could certainly turn things around, but yeah. Outlook not so good.

Trading Ellsbury is far-fetched. He’s owed roughly $110M through 2020, and very few teams can and will be open to taking on that much money. Did you see how long it took good outfielders like Justin Upton and Yoenis Cespedes to sign this past offseason? Ellsbury’s value is down well below those two. And oh by the way he has a full no-trade clause, so he can shoot down any deal. Not great, Bob.

Unless the Yankees eat a ton of money, which just isn’t happening, any Ellsbury trade would have to be a bad contract-for-bad contract trade. Those trades are surprisingly rare — straight salary dumps are much more common — but they do happen from time to time. At Ellsbury’s pay grade though? Forget it. It’s never happened at that salary. Moving Ellsbury in a bad contract-for-bad contract deal would be unprecedented. Not impossible, just unprecedented.

The number of teams with a similar bad contracts to trade are limited — there are lots of bad contracts out there, but few have over $100M remaining — and even fewer need a player like Ellsbury. Finding a match is tough. Here are four possible fits — I guess it’s five, but there’s no sense in listing the Red Sox and some ridiculous Pablo Sandoval scenario — for a bad contract-for-bad contract trade that sends Ellsbury elsewhere. The teams are listed alphabetically.

The Team: Los Angeles Angels
The Player: Albert Pujols
The Remaining Money: $165M through 2021

Does It Make Sense For The Angels? Oh yes. The Halos would shed more than $50M in future salary obligation and get a more dynamic two-way player. They could stick C.J. Cron at first base full-time, put Ellsbury in the leadoff spot and in either center or left field (Mike Trout has played a ton of left field), and then find a cheap DH. Angels GM Billy Eppler may have some lingering affinity for Ellsbury dating back to his time as Brian Cashman‘s right hand man.

Does It Make Sense For the Yankees? Nope. Even if the two teams finagle the money so the Yankees don’t take on any additional cash, New York would be acquiring the older and much more one-dimensional player. The last thing they need is another lumbering DH type on the wrong side of 35. Sure, they could stick Pujols at first base and let Mark Teixeira leave next offseason, then put Pujols at DH and Greg Bird at first when Alex Rodriguez retires the offseason after that, but yuck. This one doesn’t work for the Yankees at all. That Pujols contract is the worst contract in baseball.

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

The Team: San Diego Padres
The Players: Matt Kemp and James Shields
The Remaining Money: $117.75M through 2018 plus another $20.25M in 2019

Does It Make Sense For The Padres? It might! They’re currently rebuilding and looking to both shed money and add prospects. Ellsbury for the Kemp/Shields duo wouldn’t net them any prospects, but it would wipe almost $30M off the books, reduce their annual payroll through 2018, and also land them an upgrade in the outfield. Kemp has a degenerative condition in his hips and is a year or two away from being a first baseman or DH, and DHs do not exist in the NL. Ellsbury gives them the kind of speedy contact hitter who would ostensibly thrive in spacious Petco Park.

Does It Make Sense For the Yankees? Again: it might! Shields’ contract complicates things because he can opt-out after the season. If Shields opts out, the the Padres would actually end up taking on money in this trade because he would be walking away from $44M. I suppose the two sides could work out a conditional trade — if Shields opts out, the Yankees send a prospect or two over, or kick in more money — but when things start getting that complicated, bet against it happening.

If nothing else, Shields would give the Yankees an innings guy even though he’s dangerously close to a Sabathia-esque decline. Kemp would fit in decently. They could put him in left this year to replace Ellsbury, then put him and Aaron Judge in the corners next season since Carlos Beltran will be gone, and then put him at DH once A-Rod retires. Kemp would also add another righty bat. Would the Yankees take on money to move Ellsbury and take two declining players in return though? Seems unlikely.

Kemp alone would not work — the Padres owe him only $73M through 2019, so significantly less than the Yankees owe Ellsbury — so Kemp plus Shields it is. The Yankees would be taking on more money in the short-term, screwing up their plan to get under the luxury tax threshold, but the contracts would be off the books a year sooner. That’s not something that should be glossed over. They’d get out of the bad deal(s) sooner.

The Team: Seattle Mariners
The Player: Robinson Cano
The Remaining Money: $192M through 2023

Does It Make Sense For The Mariners? Yes if the only goal is shedding approximately $80M and three years worth of contract. No if the goal is improving the roster. Cano is a better player than Ellsbury, there’s no doubt about that, and the difference in the contract commitments is massive. Seattle doesn’t have a ready made second base replacement and they don’t really need another outfielder, so Ellsbury doesn’t fit their roster, at least not in the super short-term. Their motivation for a Cano-for-Ellsbury deal would be dumping all that money.

Does It Make Sense For the Yankees? No for a few reasons. One, that’s way too much money to take on. The Yankees had a chance to re-sign Cano and balked at that price. I personally would rather have Cano for ten years and $240M than Ellsbury for seven years and $153M, but that’s just me. Obviously the Yankees feel differently, otherwise Robbie would still be wearing pinstripes.

Two, the Yankees now have Starlin Castro at second base, so they don’t really need Cano. An Ellsbury plus Castro for Cano deal would be fun in an lolwtf way — it would also even out the money slightly — but c’mon. The Yankees aren’t going to add Castro to the trade and still take on $40M or so just to get rid of Ellsbury. Not happening.

In a vacuum where positions and things like that don’t matter, I’d trade Ellsbury for Cano in an instant. This ain’t no vacuum though. That stuff matters and neither player fits the roster of their would-be new team. Ellsbury for Cano seems like the kind of trade none of us would even consider had Cano not been a Yankee once upon a time.

The Team: Texas Rangers
The Player: Shin-Soo Choo
The Remaining Money: $102M through 2020

Does It Make Sense For The Rangers? Finally, a trade that seems remotely plausible. Ellsbury and Choo both signed seven-year contracts two offseasons go, and while Ellsbury received an additional $23M in guaranteed money, Choo’s deal was back-loaded, so the two are owed similar dollars from 2016-20. Bridging the gap between the $102M left on Choo’s deal and the $110M left on Ellsbury’s doesn’t seem like it would be a huge issue, right?

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

Rangers GM Jon Daniels has reportedly coveted Ellsbury for years, so I’m sure there’s still some level of interest there. The problem? The Rangers have a good young center fielder and leadoff hitter in Delino DeShields Jr., who is making close to the league minimum. Texas also has a top flight center field prospect in Lewis Brinson at Triple-A. They have options at that position, so it’s not a pressing need.

Either way, the Rangers will have a declining veteran outfielder making $20M+ a year through 2020 on their roster. The question is whether they prefer Choo or Ellsbury, who are very different players. Ellsbury is the two-way threat and Choo is the bat first guy. They both have their pluses and minuses. This would almost be like a change of scenery trade.

Does It Make Sense For the Yankees? I think so, even if the money is evened out. The Yankees need Choo’s offense — he’s hit .259/.360/.419 (114 wRC+) with the Rangers, including .276/.375/.463 (127 wRC+) in 2015 — more than they need Ellsbury’s two-way skill set. Choo slots in perfectly in left field in the short-term, then at DH in the long-term once A-Rod is gone. As with the Rangers, the Yankees are going to have a declining veteran outfielder making $20M+ a year on their roster no matter what. Would they prefer that player to be Choo or Ellsbury?

* * *

It goes without saying those four bad contract-for-bad contract trades above are all pretty unrealistic and very unlikely to happen. This just goes to show how tough it would be to move Ellsbury without eating a significant chunk of money. It’s not impossible, crazier things have happened, but his trade value is very low for the time being. And of course there’s the whole no trade clause thing.

My sense is the Yankees really like Ellsbury as a player and wouldn’t look to move him in a bad contract-for-bad contract deal. Their best course of action is to remain patient and hope he shakes off his slow start, and gets back to being the dynamic leadoff hitter he was prior to his knee injury last year. Ellsbury’s contract is really bad, and while trading him seems like a good idea, it’s very possible the best bang for all that buck will come from Ellsbury, not a declining player on another team’s roster.