Yankeemetrics: Bronx (bullpen) is burning [June 20-22]

(Getty)
(Getty)

Please deactivate Clip-bot
The Yankees returned to the friendly confines on Tuesday night but the story was virtually the same as the previous six games: they got themselves into an early hole thanks to some shaky starting pitching, then rallied to tie the score with a couple Baby Bombs, but a bullpen meltdown ultimately sealed their fate, resulting in another loss.

Their losing streak reached seven games, just the third time in the last two decades the Yankees have suffered that many consecutive defeats within a season – the other seven-game losing streaks came in 2000 (ended nicely!) and 2007 (ended pretty good).

What made this loss even more disheartening is that the odds were in the Yankees favor entering Tuesday’s game:

  • They had won nine straight in the Bronx against the Angels, tied for the second-longest win streak vs. any opponent at the new Yankee Stadium, and the second-longest home win streak against the Angels in the history of the rivalry.
  • The Yankees were 24-8 vs. the Angels at the current Yankee Stadium, their best record against an American League team at the ballpark
  • They had the AL’s best home record (22-9), and led the league in runs per game, batting average, home runs per game and pretty much every offensive statistic at home.

But then Tyler Clippard torched whatever good vibes the Yankees had built up, and the Yankees were losers, again. He entered with the game tied in the seventh – faced four batters, allowed three extra-base hits and three runs, got one long flyout — and exited to a chorus of boos.

Clippard was tagged with his fourth loss of the season, and only Masahiro Tanaka had more among Yankee pitchers after Tuesday’s disaster. Even worse, he suffered his 10th meltdown of the season, the most among AL pitchers through Tuesday. And his slugging percentage allowed in high-leverage situations increased to .737, per baseball-reference.com. Yeah, and Aaron Judge is “only” slugging .702 this season.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Back to business
Our long Bronx nightmare finally came to an end on Wednesday night as the Yankees snapped their seven-game losing streak with a 8-4 win over the Angels.

They avoided what would have been their first eight-game slide since 1995. If you think that’s a long drought … you’d be correct! Every other major-league franchise has suffered at least three losing streaks of eight-or-more games since the start of the 1996 season. And the Yankees have zero.

Jordan Montgomery delivered yet another impressive and gutsy performance (two runs on five hits in 5 2/3 innings), and it was his curveball that really stood out as a legit weapon for him against the Angels.

He threw 32 curves, per Brooksbaseball.net, and the Angels were 0-for-7 with four strikeouts in at-bats that ended with a curveball. Opponents are now hitting .155 against the pitch this season, the ninth-lowest average among starters (min. 200 curves). Montgomery also netted eight curveball whiffs on 14 swings (53.3%), increasing his swing-and-miss rate with the pitch to 42.7 percent, another top-10 mark for him among starters that have thrown at least 200 curves this season. Pretty good for a rookie, eh?

While Montgomery kept the Yankees in the game on the mound, the hero of the night at the plate was Matt Holliday, who broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth inning with a solo shot to right-center. It was a milestone hit for Holliday, too, his 1,200th career RBI.

This lets us reflect on his all-around greatness – his ability to hit for power, drive in runs, get on base – among left-fielders, the position he played for much of 14-year career. He is one of just four players in major-league history that played at least two-thirds of their games in left, and accumulated at least 1,200 RBI, 300 homers, 450 doubles and 700 walks.

The others: Ted Williams, Luis Gonzalez and Barry Bonds.

Holliday wasn’t the only Yankee that entered the record books on Wednesday night – though Tyler Clippard did so in the ugliest way possible. He was inserted in the ninth inning for mop-up duty, and then immediately gave up a booming double to the first batter he faced, and a two-run homer to the next guy, before Joe Girardi mercifully pulled him from the game without getting an out.

Combined with his dreadful outing less than 24 hours earlier (see above), Clippard became the first pitcher in Yankee history to allow at least two earned runs and two extra-base hits in back-to-back appearances of one-third of an inning or fewer.

(AP)
(AP)

No lead is safe
Deja vu was the theme of Thursday night’s brutal loss as the Yankees once again found themselves in an early hole, then quickly rallied to take the lead, only to have the bullpen (and some sloppy defense) set fire to that mid-game optimism, resulting in another disgusting defeat.

It was their sixth loss this season when entering the seventh inning with a lead, matching the same number of losses they had in that situation as all of last year. They also got charged with their 13th blown save of the season, one shy of the Tigers for the most in the majors. At this point last year (game number 70), the Yankees had just four blown saves. And it was the third time this year they lost a game after leading by four or more runs. Yup, you guessed it, that’s the same number of such losses they suffered the entire 2016 season.

The difference on Thursday was that Dellin Betances hopped on the Struggle Bus, coughing up two runs on two hits (single and double). In his first 24 appearances of the season combined, he had surrendered only two runs (one earned) and had yet to give up an extra-base hit.

The night actually started on a high note when Aaron Judge crushed his 25th homer of the season in the second inning to straightaway center and deep into Monument Park, giving the Yankees a 5-1 cushion. It was his MLB-leading 15th longball with an exit velocity of at least 110 mph; last year’s leaders in 110-plus mph home runs (Nelson Cruz, Giancarlo Stanton) had 14 … for the entire season.

Of course, he’s not just obliterating the Statcast leaderboards, he’s making a mockery of the Yankee and major-league record books too.

  • His 25 homers are just four shy of the Yankee rookie record set by Joe DiMaggio in 1936.
  • He’s just the fifth Yankee age 25 or younger to hit 25-or-more homers before the All-Star break (since the game was first played in 1933). The others you might have heard of: Mickey Mantle (1956) and Roger Maris (1960).
  • Judge is the second Yankee right-handed batter to reach 25 home runs before the All-Star break, joining a fella named Alex Rodriguez in 2007

And, finally, Judge is the only MLB rookie outfielder ever to hit at least 25 homers before the All-Star break. #AllRise

The Yankees and the 2017 All-Star Game

Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)
Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)

Despite recent events, the Yankees have the second best record (39-30) and the second best run differential (+107) in the American League. Many expected this to be something of a rebuilding year, one of those “step back and regroup for next season” years. Instead, the Yankees got off to a great start and remain in the thick of the division race as we approach the season’s midway point.

The All-Star Game is less than three weeks away now — it snuck up this year, didn’t it? — and given their play to date, the Yankees will undoubtedly have multiple representatives in Miami next month. They won’t be one of those “one token All-Star” teams. The internet tells me the Yankees have sent multiple players to the All-Star Game every year since 1992, when Roberto Kelly was their lone representative.

The 2017 All-Star Game rosters will be announced either later next week or next weekend. That makes this as good a time as any to look at which Yankees could be selected to the Midsummer Classic. In fact, let’s rank the 25 players on the active roster in terms of their All-Star eligibility. Shall we? We shall. Let’s get to it.

1. Aaron Judge

Judge is a lock for the All-Star Game. He’s received more fan votes than any other AL player this far — his lead over second place Jose Altuve is roughly 500,000 votes — and is on track to start the game in right field. The Yankees have not had an All-Star Game starter since Derek Jeter got the farewell vote in 2014. Even if Judge were to fall out of the top three outfielders in fan voting, he would still be selected to the game. His AL ranks:

  • AVG: .331 (second)
  • OBP: .438 (first)
  • SLG: .694 (first)
  • wRC+: 195 (first)
  • HR: 24 (first)
  • RBI: 54 (second)
  • fWAR: +4.4 (first)
  • bWAR: +4.1 WAR (first)

Flawless victory. Fatality. See you in Miami, Aaron.

2. Dellin Betances

Remember Dellin? He’s this really great reliever who used to pitch for the Yankees once upon a time. Betances did actually pitch last night. It was his fifth appearance in the last 24 days. True story! Can you believe that? It’s friggin’ insane. Anyway, Dellin has allowed one earned run — on April 8th — in 22.2 innings this season. He’s struck out 43 and opponents are hitting .117/.261/.117 against him. I think Betances is going to his fourth straight All-Star Game. I do wonder whether the relatively light workload — Dellin ranks 162nd among all relievers in innings (!) — will work against him. I don’t think so though. Betances should be an All-Star again.

3. Luis Severino

This is awesome. Severino was so bad as a starter last season. So, so bad. And now he’s a legitimate All-Star candidate. He has a 2.99 ERA (3.23 FIP) through 13 starts and 81.1 innings, and he is among the AL top ten in WHIP (fifth), strikeouts (fifth), ERA+ (fifth), K/BB ratio (fifth), fWAR (fifth), ERA (sixth), FIP (seventh), and bWAR (eighth). Last season eight starters made the AL All-Star team and so far this season Severino has been one of the seven or eight best starting pitchers in the league. He’s not a lock, I don’t think. But he should receive strong consideration.

4. Aaron Hicks

Hicks should be an All-Star this year. The guy is hitting .301/.414/.543 (155 wRC+) overall and he’s fourth in the league in fWAR. I mean:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees: +4.5
  2. Mike Trout, Angels: +3.3
  3. Jose Altuve, Astros: +3.1
  4. Aaron Hicks, Yankees: +2.9

He’s also seventh among all AL players in bWAR. Hicks wasn’t even an everyday player to start the season! He’s been awesome and he should be an All-Star. My guess is Hicks gets snubbed and instead lands on the Final Vote ballot. Maybe he’ll make the roster outright with Trout injured. There are only six outfield spots on the roster though, and squeezing two Yankees into those six spots seems like a thing that won’t happen. Fingers crossed.

5. Matt Holliday

Man, how awesome has Holliday been this season? He’s hitting .275/.379/.536 (142 wRC+) with 15 home runs and it’s thanks to him that the Yankees lead all AL teams with a 138 wRC+ from their DHs. Nelson Cruz is currently leading the fan voting at DH with Holliday roughly 300,000 votes back in second place. Making up that gap seems unlkely with one week to go in the voting.

In recent years there have been two designated hitter spots on the All-Star Game roster, so it stands to reason that even if Cruz wins the fan voting, Holliday could still make it. It’ll be either him or Edwin Encarnacion, who has been insane the last six weeks or so. Now, that said, the All-Star Game rosters were trimmed from 34 players to 32 this year. With two fewer spots, will they not take a second DH? Hmmm.

6. Gary Sanchez

If Sanchez didn’t miss that month with that biceps injury, he’d be a shoo-in for the All-Star Game. The guy is hitting .296/.376/.554 (147 wRC+) with 12 home runs. Only Salvador Perez has gone deep more times among all catchers. He has 15 homers in 257 plate appearances. Gary has 12 in 178 plate appearances. Brian McCann and Alex Avila (?!?) are also having All-Star caliber seasons and neither missed a month with an injury. I think it’s down to Sanchez and Avila for the third spot. Perez is going to win the fan voting and McCann belongs too. He’s been great. A few more Sanchez dingers over the next week could decide this thing.

7. Starlin Castro

Altuve is going to start the All-Star Game at second base, as he should. Dustin Pedroia’s injury issues mean the backup spot could come down to Castro (128 wRC+), Jed Lowrie (126 wRC), or Robinson Cano (111 wRC+). I suppose Brian Dozier (106 wRC+) is in that mix too. Name value matters in the All-Star Game. Here’s an important factor: will Yonder Alonso make the All-Star team? If not, Lowrie figures to end up the A’s token All-Star, which will hurt Starlin’s chances of making the roster.

8. Didi Gregorius

Can you quietly hit .321/.342/.500 (120 wRC+)? Because Gregorius is doing it. He’s been so good since coming back from the disabled list. And that’s the problem. The disabled list. Gregorius missed a month with a shoulder issue. He was already facing an uphill battle with Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Francisco Lindor in the AL. Those three dudes are going to the All-Star Game and they might be the three AL All-Star shortstops for the next ten years. Didi has been great. He’s almost certainly going to get squeezed off the All-Star roster though.

9. Brett Gardner

Gardner has had a slow June, but he’s still hitting .259/.341/.471 (115 wRC+) overall, and his 13 home runs are eighth among AL outfielders. The problem is Gardner is only the third best Yankees outfielder this season, and there are only six outfield spots on the All-Star roster. Judge is getting one of them. And if they pick a second Yankees outfielder, it’ll be Hicks. No chance for Gardner, unless he’s an injury replacement or something, and even then it’s a long shot.

10-11. Michael Pineda, Jordan Montgomery

A good but not great season for Michael Pineda, this is. He has a 3.56 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 14 starts and 83.1 innings — hey wait a minute isn’t Pineda supposed to be a ERA > FIP guy? — which is solid, but not All-Star worthy. Montgomery is right there with him with a 3.74 ERA (3.87 FIP) in 13 starts and 74.2 innings. Imagine where the Yankees would be without these two. Nice seasons, not All-Stars.

12. Aroldis Chapman

Last season Chapman did not make the All-Star team because he missed a month serving his suspension. This season he will not make the All-Star team because he missed more than a month with a shoulder injury. Also, Chapman wasn’t exactly lights out before going on the disabled list. He allowed five runs and 18 baserunners in 12.2 innings before getting hurt. Aroldis has thrown 14.2 innings this season. 14.2! No All-Star Game for him.

13. Chase Headley

Great start! Okay-ish June. Terrible May. Headley is hitting .245/.335/.362 (87 wRC+) overall, and by wRC+, he ranks 21st among the 24 third basemen with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Better luck next year, Chase.

14-17. Tyler Clippard, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve

Non-Betances middle relievers have a really hard time making the All-Star Game. Green and Shreve have been the best of this foursome and they’ve thrown 23.1 and 19.2 innings, respectively.

18. Masahiro Tanaka

Woof. Tanaka has legitimately been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season. There are 81 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, and Tanaka ranks 69th in fWAR (+0.1), 74th in FIP (5.64), 79th in ERA (3.34), and 79th in bWAR (-0.8). Please be better, Masahiro.

19. Chris Carter

At least he kinda plays everyday? That counts for … something. Carter is hitting .201/.287/.384 (77 wRC+) overall and probably wouldn’t make a Triple-A All-Star Game at this point.

20-21. Austin Romine, Ronald Torreyes

Remember April? These guys were so great filling in for Sanchez and Torreyes. Romine is hitting .237/.258/.325 (50 wRC+) even after last night’s big game while Torreyes is at .296/.319/.374 (84 wRC+). The next backup catcher and utility infielder I see make the All-Star Game will be the first.

22-25. Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Rob Refsnyder, Mason Williams

If you had to bet a paycheck on one of these four guys making an All-Star Game at some point in their careers, who would you pick? I feel like German is the obvious choice here, though I remain a Cessa fan. Maybe Refsnyder will have a late career Jose Bautista breakout?

Others of Note

The Yankees have four regulars on the disabled list right now: Greg Bird, Jacoby Ellsbury, CC Sabathia, and Adam Warren. There is no firm timetable for any of them to return to the Yankees, as far as we know. Warren seems closest since he’s scheduled to resume throwing Friday.

Ellsbury was playing well before his concussion. Not All-Star well — he was still the team’s fourth most productive outfielder behind Judge, Hicks, and Gardner — but well. Sabathia was pretty awesome after his four-start disaster stretch in May. Good enough to be an All-Star? Maybe! He allowed six runs (four earned) in his six starts and 36.1 innings before the injury. Imagine he keept that up until the All-Star break. Alas.

* * *

I think the Yankees will have at least two All-Stars this year (Judge and Betances) and possibly as many as seven (Judge, Betances, Severino, Hicks, Holliday, Sanchez, Castro). Seven’s not going to happen though. Seven All-Stars is reserved for super teams. The Cubs had seven All-Stars last season and that’s only because the fans stuffed the ballot and voted in five starters. So yeah, seven isn’t happening.

My official guess is four Yankees make the All-Star team: Judge, Betances, Severino, and Sanchez. Hicks gets hosed, Holliday loses out because they won’t carry two DHs with the smaller roster, and Castro gets squeezed out by other second basemen. The Yankees haven’t had four All-Stars since 2012, when Jeter, Sabathia, Cano, and Curtis Granderson made it. (Jeter, Cano, and Granderson were all voted in as starters.) Four All-Stars would be cool. Two seems like the absolute minimum for the 2017 Yankees.

Yankeemetrics: West Coast nightmare (June 12-14)

(Getty)
(Getty)

No pizza but still a win
The Yankees headed out west for the first time this season, but the story remained mostly the same on Monday night: another win and another legend-boosting performance by Mr. Judge.

This victory, however, was different from others in the past couple weeks because of the fact that John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman didn’t get to mention the beloved Papa John’s promotion. In case you’re not familiar with the popular deal: the day after the Yankees score six or more runs, customers get 50 percent off the regular menu price of all pizzas at Papa John’s online.

The Yankees scored ‘only’ five runs on Monday night, but that was still enough for the win because of another anomaly: Masahiro Tanaka did not get pummeled! Though he did cough up a solo homer to the second batter of the game, he settled down after that, retiring 13 straight at one point while pitching into the seventh inning.

One of the biggest keys for Tanaka was getting ahead in the count, throwing a first-pitch strike to a season-high 77.8 percent of the batters he faced. Because he was consistently in control of at-bats, he was then able to efficiently finish off batters when getting to two strikes, as the Angels went 0-for-11 in two-strike counts with eight strikeouts.

Okay, so back to the part of this game that was normal – Aaron Judge destroying baseballs. With the game tied in the eighth inning and a man on second, Judge drilled a 2-0 cutter from Bud Norris over the fences for a 5-3 lead. Sorry Buddy, this is not the best location for a pitch when facing a 6’7, 280-pound baseball cyborg:

aaron-judge

I wouldn’t be surprised if Judge was literally smiling as he extended his arms and pummeled this pitch into the right-centerfield seats. It was right in his power-happy zone, as he was slugging 1.182 in that part of the strikezone after Monday’s game.

judge

It was his first career go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later … and hopefully the first of many more to come.

Judge wouldn’t have been the hero, though, without another standout performance from Didi Gregorius. He went 4-for-4 and kept the Yankees in the game with game-tying and go-ahead RBI singles in the third and fifth innings. Didi was the second Yankee shortstop ever with a four-hit, multi-RBI game against the Angels. The other guy to do it was … of course, Derek Jeter on Sept. 5, 1999 at Angel Stadium.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Clipp’d
The Yankees six-game win streak was snapped on Tuesday in one of the more frustrating losses of this season, as they lost in the 11th inning after failing to cash in on key scoring chances throughout the night. It was also a rare type of loss for a couple reasons:

  • Before Tuesday, the Yankees were one of just two teams that hadn’t yet suffered a walk-off loss – the Marlins are now on the clock as the only team left on that list.
  • The Yankees were 33-0 when leading at the start of the eighth inning, one of four major-league teams without a loss in that scenario entering Tuesday’s slate. The others: Rockies (33-0), Red Sox (26-0) and White Sox (23-0).

Tyler Clippard was the game’s biggest goat – according to Twitter, at least – as he surrendered that game-tying homer and was tagged for his fourth blown save of the season in his 29th appearance. Through Tuesday, the only pitchers in the majors with more blown saves were Tony Watson and Francisco Rodriguez (both with 5).

Fangraphs tracks a stat called Meltdowns, which answers the simple question of whether a reliever hurt his team’s chance of winning, based on changes in win probability during the pitcher’s outing. (To be more specific, he gets a Meltdown if the game’s win probability declines by at least six percent from when he enters and then exits the game.) Clippard has eight Meltdowns this season, tied for the most among American League pitchers and fourth-most in MLB.

Clippard has a shiny 2.00 ERA and .158 batting average allowed, but he’s been horrible in critical at-bats this season. He’s allowed a .304/.375/.682 line in high-leverage plate appearances – that equals a .436 wOBA, which ranked seventh-highest among pitchers that have faced at least 25 batters in those situations. For reference, Aaron Judge had a .476 wOBA through Tuesday.

As if the game wasn’t depressing enough from a standard win-loss perspective, there’s also the fact that CC Sabathia suffered a hamstring injury in the fourth inning. He had won his last five starts, with a 0.99 ERA dating back to May 16 at Kansas City. During that month-long span (May 16 to June 13), a total of 161 pitchers threw at least 15 innings; Robbie Ray (0.24) and Sabathia (0.99) were the only ones to post a sub-1.00 ERA.

(AP)
(AP)

Welcome back, Tiny Mike
This annual road trip to Southern California has been a devastating one for this franchise, even in the best of times. After dropping the rubber game on Wednesday, the Yankees continued their run of futility in Los Angeles (or Anaheim, whatever). The Yankees fell to 45-58 at Angel Stadium in the Wild Card Era, their worst record at any AL ballpark in that span.

It looked like they might reverse that trend after taking a 4-0 lead in the top of the first, capped by Gary Sanchez‘s booming 441-foot three-run homer. It was the Yankees 11th home run of at least 440 feet this season, the most in the majors.

And here’s a stat that pretty much sums up the 2017 Yankees: Sanchez’s longball was also the 35th hit by a Yankee in his age-25 season or younger; in the five-year period from 2010-2014, there were 21 homers hit by Yankees in their age-25 season or younger … COMBINED.

Unfortunately that early offensive explosion was quickly rendered meaningless as #BadMike returned with vengeance. He soon turned that 4-0 advantage into a 5-4 deficit by the end of the third inning. Pineda ended up pitching six innings and gave up five runs on 10 hits, further widening his Jeykyll-and-Hyde home/road splits this season:

He is now 1-5 with a 6.25 ERA in six road starts, compared to 6-1 with a 1.96 ERA in seven home starts. That difference of 4.3 runs is the ninth-largest among the 100-plus pitchers that have made at least five starts at home and five starts on the road.

An appreciation for the unconventionally successful Tyler Clippard

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

Many relievers live off intimidating opposing hitters. Aroldis Chapman comes at you with 100+ mph and a changeup that hits 90. Dellin Betances can touch 100 and has a curveball that can’t be touched when he’s on. Former Yankee Andrew Miller comes at you with his 6-foot-7 frame and tosses his signature slider with a fair dose of imposing fastballs.

Tyler Clippard doesn’t really fit that category. But that hasn’t stopped the Yankees now-setup man from not only carving out a solid career, but continuing to excel at 32.

Thoughts of doom crept in when Clippard was traded to the Yankees at last year’s deadline. A flyball pitcher at Yankee Stadium? A guy seemingly on the downside of his career having a sub-par season? Yikes. The idea that he would replace Miller seemed laughable. For me personally, I had most recently seen Clippard struggle in the 2015 postseason for the Mets, leaving an impression that was at least somewhat misleading.

But his 3+ months back in pinstripes have been fine. Actually, better than fine. He’s thrown 40 2/3 innings over 46 appearances, allowing just nine earned runs while striking out 47 batters. That’s good for a 1.99 ERA and 10.4 K per nine. His ERA had steadily climbed since his 2014 All-Star appearance and he was typically worse in the second half, so his resurgence has been surprising and that much more rewarding and exciting. This is a homegrown talent returning to the Bronx and thriving, even if it’s been less than a full year’s worth of work.

And it doesn’t hurt to have a goofy guy who seems to be genuinely nice getting big outs for you, adding to the overall Clippard experience.

He goes out there with a top-notch changeup and a fastball with some “rising” action, a quality slider and splitter, and all of this plays up in part thanks to his quirky motion. It’s not something to teach your kids, but you can’t say it doesn’t work.

Don’t get me wrong, he can terrify you with some of his appearances. We’re still talking about a flyball pitcher in a park that plays very small. He’s typically off to fast starts (2.50 and 2.14 ERA in first two months, respectively for his career) before the summer air aids a few more flyballs in their pursuit of becoming home runs in June and July. His 2016 return was all rosy in August until hiccups came in September.

We were indoctrinated early in 2017 about his potential pitfalls when he earned a loss against the Orioles with a two-run homer allowed to Seth Smith. And don’t act like you weren’t biting your nails on the edge of your seat during his save against the Cardinals. Perhaps the best example of how the Clippard experience can frustrate is the Adam Jones catch from March’s World Baseball Classic. Clippard’s “Oh my” reaction was all of us in that moment.

But he also turns it on at times. He changed the complexion of the 18-inning win vs. the Cubs, ending the 9th inning rally before striking out the side in the 10th. Watch the video below: He utilizes his entire arsenal to create three punchouts.

Compared to most team’s “7th inning guy”, Clippard is light years ahead. Some teams would even kill for him to be their setup man.

Which, coincidentally, is where he’ll be for the next month, taking the 8th with Betances closing. We were spoiled last year with No Runs DMC. Miller is gone and Chapman is hurt, although the Yankees hope he’ll be back in a month or so. However, Clippard is adept. He’s certainly a non-traditional back-end reliever with below-average velocity, but he’s out here with career-best strikeout and walk rates in 2017.

The Tyler Clippard renaissance will only last so long. He has a .161 BABIP and a 98 percent strand rate. His home runs per fly ball are actually up vs. last season, but his 1.17 ERA isn’t going to hold and it would be foolish to expect it. He’s going to blow at least a game or two, but, then again, so does every reliever.

But Clippard is a pitcher worth enjoying for what he is. Clippard is an above-average reliever who won’t overpower or intimidate, but he’s beat expectations and he’s doing it in a Yankees uniform, coming full circle. If that’s not something to sit back and appreciate, then I don’t know what is. I suggest enjoying the ride.

The Yankees aren’t relying on the bullpen shuttle in 2017

Cessa. (Presswire)
Cessa. (Presswire)

Yesterday afternoon, prior to the series opener against the Blue Jays, the Yankees did something they had not done all season. The swapped out a reliever for a fresh arm. Bryan Mitchell was sent down following his pitch an inning/play first base for an inning/pitch an inning adventure and Luis Cessa was called up to give the Yankees another long man. Cessa wound up throwing 3.1 innings last night.

Prior to that move, the Yankees had made exactly one transaction involving a relief pitcher this season. They optioned Chasen Shreve to Triple-A Scranton to make room on the roster for Jordan Montgomery last month. The Yankees started the season with eight relievers and inevitably someone was going to get send down for the fifth starter, so we all knew that move was coming.

Otherwise, the Yankees stuck with their Opening Day bullpen through the season’s first month — good health has played a part in that and hopefully it continues — which has not been the norm the last few seasons. The last few years the Yankees have shuttled relievers up and down to ensure Joe Girardi always has a fresh bullpen arm or two available. Lots of teams are doing that nowadays and the Yankees took it to the extreme.

Last April, for example, the Yankees made three shuttle moves, including sending down Cessa and calling up Tyler Olson on April 15th, then sending down Olson and calling up Branden Pinder on April 16th. The year before the Yankees made five shuttle transactions in April, transactions that included names like Kyle Davies and Joel De La Cruz and Matt Tracy. They called you up, used you as much as possible, then sent you down for someone else the next year.

The Yankees did not make their first shuttle move until yesterday — Cessa was send down for Shreve earlier today, so now it’s two shuttle moves today — though it was not because of a lack of opportunity. Mitchell threw nine pitches on April 22nd and 35 pitches on April 23rd, yet remained on the roster. He threw 26 pitches last Friday and got clobbered, and he still stuck around. Jonathan Holder threw 19 pitches on April 22nd, the second game of back-to-backs, and yet he remained with the Yankees.

In the past, sending unavailable pitchers like Mitchell and Holder down for a fresh arm following outings like that would have been a given. They’d get sent down knowing full well it was essentially a temporary demotion. Once their ten days were up — players have to remain in the minors at least ten days after being sent down unless they’re replacing someone who goes on the disabled list — they’d ride the shuttle back to the Bronx. It happened constantly from 2015-16.

The Yankees have yet to fully activate the bullpen shuttle this season and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think it’s a shift in philosophy. That doesn’t mean they won’t send guys down if necessary — again, they did it yesterday and did it again today — but right now, they seem to be trying to avoid it, and I think there’s something to that. Two possible reasons why:

Holder. (Presswire)
Holder. (Presswire)

1. The shuttle doesn’t really work. The shuttle worked the last two years in that it provided Girardi with a rested reliever every single night and hey, that’s a good thing. It did not work in that those relievers rarely provided quality innings. Last year’s shuttle crew included Shreve, Kirby Yates, Nick Goody, Johnny Barbato, Richard Bleier, and Conor Mullee, among others. Those dudes combined for a 4.74 ERA (4.26 FIP) in 142.1 innings. Eh.

Reliever quality is certainly one factor in that poor performance, though I also think there’s something to be said for not having to look over your shoulder, knowing the next trip to Scranton is only a few days away. I can’t imagine going back and forth between Triple-A and MLB can be an easy thing, and not just for the player. For his family too. It’s difficult not knowing where you’re going to be from week to week, or even day to day. Being treated like a big leaguer can go a long way.

2. It’s time to give some players an extended audition. Shuttling guys in and out and seeing them for two innings at a time every few weeks is no way to evaluate a player. The only way the Yankees will be able to find out whether any of these guys are long-term bullpen pieces is by keeping them around and seeing how they perform once they’re able to get settled in. And maybe they pitch themselves out of the picture. That’s part of the process.

Holder had a phenomenal minor league season a year ago — he threw 65.1 innings with a 1.65 ERA (1.30 FIP) and a ridiculous 42.4% strikeout rate against a 2.9% walk rate — and the Yankees seem to like him, so he’s getting an extended opportunity right now. Mitchell was sort of in the same boat before being sent down yesterday. He turned 26 last month and still can’t seem to develop a changeup. With him, this is more make or break time. Time to see what he can do, you know? Holder is younger and has time on his side.

Point is, I think the Yankees have decided while shutting relievers in and out allowed Girardi to have fresh relievers at all times, it is no way to evaluate players. They’re rebuilding transitioning, and they have to figure out who is part of the future, and that includes relievers. Maybe Holder will be the next David Robertson and emerge as a setup force in a year or two. The only way you can find out is by giving him an opportunity, and they’re doing it now.

* * *

This all isn’t to say the Yankees will never send down relievers again. Someone might pitch their way down to the minors, plus you know at some point the Yankees are going to have one of those series where the bullpen gets wrecked, and they have no choice but to call some people up to help get them through the next few days. They’re kinda going through that right now. It happens to every team.

In the big picture though, the idea of shuttling relievers in and out on a nearly daily basis seems to have gone by the wayside. The Yankees tried it out for two years, didn’t like the results, and decided to change things up. That allows a young guy like Holder to really show what he can do. Eventually others like Ben Heller and Gio Gallegos may get a chance to join him as well. The bullpen shuttle as we know it seems to be a thing of the past.

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster; Holder, Mitchell, and Shreve make the bullpen

Holder. (Presswire)
Holder. (Presswire)

Earlier this morning, Joe Girardi informally announced the Yankees’ 25-man Opening Day roster. Aaron Judge will be the right fielder and Luis Severino will be the fourth starter, and the decision to option out Rob Refsnyder means Pete Kozma will be the utility infielder. Also, Girardi told Bryan Hoch that Bryan Mitchell, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve will be in the bullpen. Got all that?

The Yankees still need to open a 40-man roster spot for Kozma, though they have a few days to figure that out. The Opening Day roster itself doesn’t have to be finalized with the league until 12pm ET on Sunday, an hour before first pitch. Here’s the unofficial official roster:

CATCHERS (2)
Austin Romine
Gary Sanchez

INFIELDERS (6)
Chris Carter
Starlin Castro
Greg Bird
Chase Headley
Pete Kozma
Ronald Torreyes

OUTFIELDERS (4)
Jacoby Ellsbury
Brett Gardner
Aaron Hicks
Aaron Judge

DESIGNATED HITTER (1)
Matt Holliday

STARTING PITCHERS (4)
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Luis Severino
Masahiro Tanaka

RELIEF PITCHERS (8)
Dellin Betances
Aroldis Chapman
Tyler Clippard
Jonathan Holder
Tommy Layne
Bryan Mitchell
Chasen Shreve
Adam Warren

DISABLED LIST (2)
Tyler Austin (foot)
Didi Gregorius (shoulder)

The Yankees will carry eight relievers for the time being. The team has three off-days in the first ten days of the regular season, allowing them to skip their fifth starter the first two times through the rotation. They’ll do exactly that, then figure out the fifth starter later. They don’t need one until April 16th.

Rotation candidates Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Jordan Montgomery did not make the Opening Day roster, though it’s only a matter of time until we see those guys in the big leagues. The Yankees will need a fifth starter soon enough, and given his performance last year, I don’t think it’s a given Severino sticks in the rotation all season. Montgomery opened some eyes this spring and could be the first starter called up. We’ll see.

The Yankees open the regular season this Sunday, with a 1pm ET game against the Rays at Tropicana Field. They’ll start the season with a six-game road trip through Tampa and Baltimore before coming home. The home opener is Monday, April 10th. They’ll play the Rays again.

Sorting out the 35 players the Yankees still have in big league camp

Bird and Judge. (Presswire)
Bird and Judge. (Presswire)

Opening Day is now only six days away, and at this point the Yankees still have nearly a full 40-man roster worth of players in big league camp. They have 35 players in camp and the World Baseball Classic is part of the reason. Some players, like Donovan Solano, have been in camp without actually being in camp these last few weeks. The Yankees and every other team needed the extra bodies while players were away at the WBC.

All throughout this week the Yankees will cut down their roster as they prepare for Opening Day on Sunday. It’s late in camp, so not only will the big league players start playing a full nine innings and back-to-back days, the minor leagues need to do that too. There’s only so much playing time to go around, and at this point of the spring, it’s time for clubs to emphasize their MLB roster players.

Earlier today the Yankees reassigned Solano, Wilkin Castillo, and Ruben Tejada to minor league camp, meaning there are now 35 players remaining in the big league Spring Training. Let’s take stock of those 35 players and figure out where they fit into the Opening Day roster equation. Some will definitely make it, some definitely won’t, and a whole bunch of guys are on the bubble. Let’s get to it.

Definitely Making The Team (19)

Might as well start here since this is our easiest and largest roster group. These are the players we know will be on the Opening Day roster in some capacity.

Any doubt about Bird making the Opening Day roster was erased when he was named the starting first baseman last week. It was plenty fair to wonder whether he’d need some time to Triple-A to regain his strength and/or timing after missing the entire 2016 season with shoulder surgery, but he’s crushing the ball this spring. No doubts about him now. Everyone else is pretty straightforward, right? Right.

Very Likely To Make The Team (3)

This group includes three players who are not a lock to make the Opening Day roster, but are in prime position to make the club out of Spring Training. The three players: Aaron Judge, Bryan Mitchell, and Luis Severino. Judge has had a strong camp to date. I’m not sure what else the Yankees could want to see from him, though I still don’t think the right field job is 100% his right now. Hicks has played well this spring. (Like he does every spring. Career .303/.365/.521 hitter in Spring Training!)

Mitchell and Severino are both competing for a rotation spot, though I think they’re on the roster either way, starter or reliever. Mitchell won a bullpen spot in camp last year and he hasn’t really done anything to not deserve a roster spot since. I still think Severino is the odds on favorite to get one of the open rotation spots. I’m also not convinced he’ll go to Triple-A should he not get a starting spot. The chances of Severino making the Opening Day roster in some capacity sure seem pretty darn high to me. He’s not a lock, but the odds are in his favor.

Injured (2)

Baseball can be cruel. The Yankees lost both Didi Gregorius and Tyler Austin to injury this spring, and while neither suffered a severe long-term injury, they are going to miss the first several weeks of the regular season. Austin fouled a pitch off his foot and broke a bone. He could return to game action in mid-April. Gregorius strained his shoulder making a throw and could be out until May. Yuck. Both Austin and Didi are disabled list bound to begin the regular season.

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Most players in this group will be shuttle pitchers. Chad Green is competing with Severino and Mitchell (and Warren, I guess) for the two open rotation spots, and I feel the Yankees are much more willing to send him to Triple-A rather than stash him in the bullpen. Jordan Montgomery has impressed in camp, so much so that Joe Girardi is talking about him as a possible Opening Day roster option. Can’t say I expected to have him in this group at the outset of Spring Training.

Aside from Green and Montgomery, the other three pitchers in this group are all relievers: Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve. We will inevitably see those guys in the Bronx at some point this season, though I’d say it’s less than 50/50 they’re on the Opening Day roster. Heller probably has the best chance to win a job out of camp. He’s had a fine spring and is, in my opinion, the best bullpen prospect in the organization.

Rob Refsnyder, who has been mentioned as a trade candidate at times this spring, didn’t have much of a chance to make the Opening Day roster at coming into the spring. Then Austin and Gregorius got hurt which, if nothing else, opened the door for Refsnyder a little bit. His inability to play shortstop hurts him, obviously. The Yankees would have to be comfortable using Castro at shortstop.

An unexpected Opening Day roster candidate is Tyler Wade, who has played well this spring and could get a look at shortstop while Gregorius is sidelined. The question is whether the Yankees want to tie up a long-term 40-man roster spot — the veteran non-roster infielders in camp can be dropped off the 40-man roster as soon as Gregorius returns, but Wade will be on the 40-man for good — so Wade can fill-in for a month. I have him in this group for a reason though. I think it’s possible the Yankees go with him at short while Didi is out.

Oh Geez, They Might Actually Make The Team (3)

It happens every year, doesn’t it? Some random player you forgot the Yankees acquired shows up to camp, performs well, and before you know it, he’s on the Opening Day roster. Kirby Yates did it last year. Chris Martin the year before. Cody Eppley a few years before that. You never see it coming with these guys. Here are this year’s candidates, listed alphabetically:

  • Ernesto Frieri: The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal two weeks ago, which suggests they were impressed by the way he threw with Colombia during the WBC.
  • J.R. Graham: Graham recently had a three-run disaster outing, but eight of his ten Grapefruit League appearances have been scoreless. Ten strikeouts and two walks in 9.1 innings too.
  • Pete Kozma: Kozma’s chances of making the Opening Day roster improved with the news of the Gregorius injury as well as the Solano and Tejada demotions. He’s a candidate to help fill in either at shortstop or as the utility infielder.

With Gregorius hurt and two open bullpen spots, I’d put the chances of at least one of these five players making the Opening Day roster at: annoyingly high. My money is on Frieri making it. He’s looked pretty darn during the World Baseball Classic and with the Yankees, plus his experience as a Proven Closer™ will work in his favor.

Esmil Rog ... I mean Ernesto Frieri. (Presswire)
Esmil Rog … I mean Ernesto Frieri. (Presswire)

Long Shot To Make The Team (1)

The Yankees reassigned their very best prospects to minor league camp last week, which took some of the excitement out of the remaining Grapefruit League games. It was that time of the spring though. The kids have to go get ready for their seasons. The at-bats aren’t there any more in the big league camp. The regulars are going to play and play a lot this week.

The final player still in big league camp is catcher Kyle Higashioka. He is No. 3 on the catcher depth chart, which means he is heading to Triple-A Scranton until someone gets hurts or rosters expand in September, whichever comes first. Higashioka’s only chance to make the big league roster out of Spring Training involved and injury to Sanchez or Romine, and, thankfully, the Yankees have stayed healthy behind the plate.