The Erstwhile Manager [2017 Season Review]

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Joe Girardi‘s tenth season as manager of the Yankees turned out to be his final season as manager of the Yankees. And, weirdly enough, he was dismissed after the club exceeded all expectations and made it to within one game of the World Series. Just consider the preseason projections real quick:

And yet, after the season Hal Steinbrenner admitted the Yankees would have changed managers even if they’d won the World Series. “I’m sure there would have been more pressure. It would have been maybe a more difficult decision to make. But I would have made it because I felt like that was best for the organization moving forward,” he said.

There are two parts to being a manager. There are the parts we see and the parts we don’t see. The parts we do see are the batting orders and pitching changes, things like that. The parts we don’t see is everything that happens behind closed doors in the clubhouse, on the team plane, at the hotel, at home. Those relationships that develop between men who are with each other basically non-stop from mid-February through October.

The stuff we don’t see is apparently what led to Girardi being let go after the season. Brian Cashman cited concerns about Girardi’s ability to “communicate and connect” with his players, which is a pretty big deal considering communication is a manager’s No. 1 priority. The Yankees are building a very exciting team with a lot of young players. You don’t want that to be derailed by a manager with communication issues.

The thing is, those alleged communication issues came as a pretty big surprise to us outsiders. At least I thought so. The Yankees played well this season, all their young players had incredible years, the veterans blended in nicely even while having their roles reduced … what was the problem? I don’t know. Whatever it was, it was deemed enough of a problem that a change was necessary. After ten years and 910 wins, Girardi is out as manager.

We can’t evaluate the behind the scenes stuff. We kinda have to take the Yankees’ word on that. The on-field stuff is another matter, though even that is difficult to evaluate. The manager’s job is to put his team in the best position to succeed, right? He can do that and it still might not work out. That’s baseball. We’re not privy to which relievers are and are not available on a given night, things like that. Let’s try to evaluate Girardi anyway, shall we?

Bullpen Usage

Girardi has long had a reputation for being a strong bullpen manager, though he was always quite rigid. He likes to have a closer, an eighth inning guy, a seventh inning guy, and if possible even a sixth inning guy. Girardi didn’t deviate from his assigned innings all that often during the regular season. Most relievers like to have set roles. Girardi seemed to like having set roles even more than the players.

This season Girardi was thrown a curveball by Aroldis Chapman‘s early season injury and ineffectiveness, Tyler Clippard‘s meltdown, and Dellin Betances‘ walk problems. The plan was Clippard in the seventh, Dellin in the eighth, and Chapman in the ninth. That lasted maybe a month before changes were necessary. Betances became the closer when Chapman was hurt, and at one point, he pitched four times in 24 days because there weren’t any save chances. Clippard blew more than a few eighth inning leads during that time.

It wasn’t until about midseason, when it was clear Chad Green wasn’t a fluke and David Robertson had returned, that the bullpen settled down. And the first half bullpen problems weren’t all Girardi’s fault, of course. It’s not his fault Chapman temporarily stopped throwing his fastball by hitters or that Betances stopped throwing strikes. Should he have realized it sooner and pulled the plug? Eh, maybe. It’s not like he was loaded with options though.

Leverage index can help give us an idea who pitched in important situations the most, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s the most important aspect of bullpen management. Make sure your best guys are on the mound in the most important situations. Generally speaking, anything with a leverage index of 2.0 or greater is considered high-leverage. Here is the team’s leaderboard for high-leverage appearances:

  1. Aroldis Chapman: 18
  2. Dellin Betances: 16
  3. Adam Warren: 11
  4. Tyler Clippard: 9
  5. Chasen Shreve: 7
  6. Jonathan Holder: 5
  7. Chad Green: 4
  8. David Robertson: 4 with Yankees (12 with White Sox)
  9. Tommy Kahnle: 4 with Yankees (10 with White Sox)

I’m surprised Robertson had only four high-leverage appearances with the Yankees. I’m not surprised Green only had four though, because even when it was clear he was a monster, he entered a lot of games in the middle innings, which usually aren’t high-leverage spots. That doesn’t mean his work was any less important. Clippard getting almost as many high-leverage appearances as Warren despite only being a Yankee for half a season though? Yikes.

Girardi’s bullpen usage during the regular season is whatever. That period in May and June when Clippard was blowing games while Betances sat in the bullpen was quite annoying, otherwise it was a typical Girardi season. The postseason, however, was a much different story. Girardi’s bullpen work was exceptional in October, particularly in the Wild Card Game, in which Luis Severino recorded one out.

“We talked prior to the game. You bring up that scenario that if he takes line drive off the shin, what do you do? I didn’t think that he was going to get one out. I didn’t bring that scenario up,” said Girardi after the game. “And you know, part of that is trying to decide who to bring in, and we talked about Greenie and Robbie would be the first two guys that we would bring in tonight, no matter when the situation was, to try to put innings out, and to get as much out of them as we could.”

That’s exactly what happened. Green came out of the bullpen, got some big outs in the first inning, and Robertson bridged the middle innings. Robertson was Girardi’s go-to reliever in the postseason and he used him every chance he had, for as long as he could. Robertson appeared in eight of the team’s 13 postseason games and five times he threw more than an inning. Chapman was used for more than three outs on several occasions as well.

The postseason is a much different animal than the regular season, and in terms of his bullpen usage, I thought Girardi was just outstanding in October. He went to his best relievers regardless of inning and did as much as he could to put the Yankees in position to win. Sometimes it didn’t work out — Robertson gave up four runs and didn’t get an out in ALCS Game Six — but for the most part, it did. Girardi’s regular season bullpen usage was typical Girardi. In the postseason, he was fantastic.

Platoon Advantage

Throughout Girardi’s tenure the Yankees consistently ranked near the top of the platoon advantage leaderboard. Last season 68% of their plate appearances came with the platoon advantage, second most in baseball. The year before that they led baseball with 73%. The year before that they were third at 70%. From 2008-16, the Yankees were consistently one of the best teams at getting the platoon advantage.

That all changed this season, when only 51% of the team’s plate appearances came with the platoon advantage, slightly under the 52% league average. And it’s not Girardi’s fault. The Yankees lean more right-handed with their lineup nowadays, thanks mostly to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, but also keep in mind righties like Todd Frazier and Chris Carter held down regular lineup spots for an extended period of time as well. There are more righty pitchers in baseball than lefties, so yeah.

Is getting the platoon advantage a managerial skill? Yeah, I think so, to some degree. It depends on the personnel, obviously. The Yankees were near the top of the league in plate appearances with the platoon advantage from 2008-16 and part of it was Girardi and part of it was the roster. This year they were middle of the pack mostly because of the personnel, and they still scored the second most runs in baseball.

Instant Replay

In the first three seasons of the replay system, Girardi and the Yankees had one of the highest overturn rates in baseball. They had the second highest success rate in 2016 (69%) after having the highest in 2015 (75%) and 2014 (82%). This year they were had a 67% overturn rate, second highest in baseball behind the Twins (68%). When Girardi challenged, more often than not it was overturned.

Now, that said, Girardi has also ranked near the bottom in total challenges over the years. Last year they challenged the fewest plays in baseball. The year before they challenged the ninth fewest and the year before that it was the fifth fewest. That changed this season. The Yankees challenged 49 plays during the regular season, sixth most in baseball. How about that? The Rangers led the way with 63 challenges.

I’d been beating the “Girardi should challenge more who cares about the overturn rate” drum for a while now, so I’m glad Girardi did challenge more season. That he did so while maintaining that high overturn rate is pretty cool. The problem, of course, is the one play Girardi didn’t challenge. In Game Two of the ALDS, Green appeared to hit Lonnie Chisenhall in the hand with a pitch, which loaded the bases and set up Francisco Lindor for the grand slam. Replays showed the ball hit the knob of the bat, but Girardi didn’t challenge in time even though Sanchez was telling him to challenge, so the hit-by-pitch count and the grand slam happened.

“There was nothing that told us he was not hit on the pitch. By the time we got the super slow mo, we were a minute — probably beyond a minute — and it was way too late,” said Girardi after the game, explaining the non-challenge. “They tell us we have 30 seconds … Being (an ex-catcher), my thought is I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm. That’s how I think about it.”

That was about as bad an excuse as Girardi could’ve come up with. They give you two challenges in the postseason! It was a huge moment, Girardi didn’t challenge it, and the Yankees paid dearly. Who knows what happens had they challenged. Maybe they lose anyway. Or maybe they win the series in four games instead of five, and they outlast the Astros in the ALCS because the team is better rested. It was a bad, bad, bad, bad decision at the time. The Yankees bailed Girardi out by coming back to win the series.

The Gary Sanchez Incident

Girardi was a staunch defender of his players. He had their backs even when they didn’t deserve it. On August 4th, for really the first time during his tenure with the Yankees, Girardi threw a player under the bus. Sanchez committed a passed ball that allowed a run to score against the Indians, and after the game Girardi laid into Gary while speaking to reporters.

“He needs to improve. Bottom line,” said Girardi after the game. “I don’t have a problem with his effort, but sometimes he shows his frustrations. He’s late getting down. That’s what I see sometimes, and it’s something we’ve been working on and we continue to work on. He’s capable of doing a better job.”

Tame in the grand scheme of things, though that was easily the most we’ve ever heard Girardi criticize a player. And it wasn’t just any player, it was his franchise catcher who was already under the microscope. He inflamed the situation. Gary’s defense became a Very Big Deal the rest of the season, to the point that people were talking about starting Austin Romine in the postseason, which is madness.

Girardi benched Sanchez after that, and he did it in what was probably the best possible way. Gary sat the next day, which was a day game after a night game, so he was probably going to sit anyway. The next day was an off-day, then Sanchez was the DH the day after that before going back behind the plate. That’s three straight days away from catching but only one day out of the lineup, a day he was likely to sit anyway.

A narrative was born that the benching woke Sanchez up at the plate, which I would buy if he hadn’t gone 9-for-26 (.346) with three doubles and three homers in his previous seven games, but whatever. Between the benching and the fact Sanchez’s calls to challenge the Chisenhall hit-by-pitch were ignored, it seemed as though Girardi did not fully trust Gary, at least behind the plate. That’s not good. The manager — the ex-catcher manager — and the team’s young franchise catcher should be on the same page. I suppose it’s possible Girardi’s relationship with Sanchez could’ve contributed to his dismissal.

* * *

Before the Yankees let Girardi go, there were weeks of rumors that Girardi would make the decision to step away himself, so he could spend more time with his family and avoid getting burnt out. Managing for ten years is not easy, especially in New York. Hal and Cashman had been in Girardi’s corner for years and I assumed he still had their support, and if you have their support, you’re in good shape. I figured Girardi would be back if he wanted to be back.

Girardi did want to be back. He said so in interviews after being let go. The Yankees are going in another direction though, and it doesn’t really matter whether we think it is the right move or the wrong move. It happened and it’s done with. Girardi will undoubtedly land on his feet — he’s said he wants to manage again at some point, though it seems he’ll wind up in a broadcast booth somewhere next year — and the Yankees will likely win a boatload of games next year because they’re so talented and deep organizationally, making Boone look smart.

Given how they exceeded expectations so greatly, the case can be made that the 2017 season was Girardi’s most impressive with the Yankees. Behind closed doors though, enough problems had surfaced (or were beginning to surface) that the Yankees decided a change in leadership was necessary. Parting ways with Girardi came as a shock to me and I know it did to many others. We’re not in the clubhouse though, or on the plane or at the hotel. The stuff we don’t see is the reason the Yankees are moving forward with a new manager.

Buying at the trade deadline [2017 Season Review]

Without the 2017 deadline, there's no thumbs down! (Getty Images)
Without the 2017 deadline, there’s no thumbs down! (Getty Images)

In 2016, the Yankees sold at the trade deadline, signaling time for a rebuild. A year later? The tables had turned with the Yankees as buyers looking to bolster a club already in playoff contention.

Through two big deals and a few smaller ones, Brian Cashman was able to give the Bombers an extra boost they needed for the stretch run, October and beyond.

July 19
Yankees receive: Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle
White Sox receive: Blake Rutherford, Tyler Clippard, Ian Clarkin and Tito Polo

In one move, the Yankees solved multiple problems. Need another corner infielder in case Greg Bird doesn’t come back? There’s Frazier. Need to bolster the bullpen that’s gotten slightly overused? Robertson and Kahnle. It was a perfect move.

It did cost the Yankees, but not irreparably. They had to deal Rutherford just a year after drafting him in the first round. While he has plenty of potential, he’s yet to show any power. Clarkin and Polo likely wouldn’t have been protected in the Rule 5 draft, so they were expendable (Clarkin was added to the White Sox’ 40-man, Polo was not after getting hurt in the Arizona Fall League).

And somehow Tyler Clippard got himself traded to the Astros and won a World Series ring. Go figure.

We’ve already written about Frazier, D-Rob and Kahnle‘s respective impact in our season review series, but each has potential impact beyond this season. Robertson is under contract for 2018 while Kahnle won’t be a free agent until 2021. That’s a lot of value, even if the Yankees don’t re-sign the ToddFather.

As far as 2017, they each filled their roles to a tee. Frazier fixed the Yankees’ last hole in the lineup and brought energy to the club (Thumbs Down!). Robertson and Kahnle were studs down the stretch and in the postseason.

July 30
Yankees receive: Jaime Garcia
Twins receive: Dietrich Enns and Zack Littell

Garcia represented a fill-in for the Yankees’ rotation, an extra arm to allow Jordan Montgomery to throw fewer innings in the second half. As a rental, there was no expectation of him sticking around and it’s not like the Yankees expected him to start in the postseason.

He ultimately gave the Yanks 37 1/3 kinda-sorta average innings over eight forgettable starts before throwing 2 2/3 innings in ALDS Game 1. Remember that outing? He wasn’t bad, walking two and striking out three while absorbing eight outs.

Enns made two appearances for the Twins, allowing four runs (three earned) on seven hits over four innings. He was probably getting DFA’d or outrighted in the offseason, so he was highly expendable.

Littell less so. The 22-year-old righty acquired for James Pazos had a remarkable year between High-A and Double-A in 2017. Between the Yankees’ and Twins’ organizations, he threw 157 innings, struck out 142 and had a 2.12 ERA while going 19-1.

He is a new member of the Twins’ 40-man roster. He may not have made the Yankees’ roster this offseason, but he could be someone the Yanks regret dealing.

Playoff Sonny (Abbie Parr/Getty)
Playoff Sonny (Abbie Parr/Getty)

July 31
Yankees receive: Sonny Gray and International Bonus Pool Money
Athletics receive: Dustin Fowler, James Kaprielian and Jorge Mateo

This deal made all the sense in the world. Getting 2.5 years of Gray for three prospects, two of whom were injured and one likely blocked.

Who knows if Kaprielian can stay healthy at this point? He has the stuff to pitch in the majors if he ever does stay on the mound, but that’s seeming less and less likely. Fowler had a pretty bad knee injury and the Yankees had Clint Frazier, not to mention Gardner, Judge, Hicks and Ellsbury in the majors (and now Giancarlo!).

Mateo seemed to have broken out after reaching Double A Trenton, but he was blocked by plenty of outfielders, just like Fowler.

So the Yankees dealt from a position of strength and added Gray, who had two playoff starts after a solid end to the season. He had some homer issues, but he’s still a good middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Yankees and much more affordable than similar arms on the current free-agent market. Even with the strong potential of all three players given up, it’s a deal the Yankees should make every time.

The other trades

– While the Yankees picked up bonus money in the Gray deal, they also dealt two possible Rule 5 picks for extra money in July. They dealt RHPs Matt Wotherspoon and Yefry Ramirez to the Orioles for a lot of Baltimore’s pool as the O’s don’t really wade into the international market.

Considering the fact that Shohei Ohtani is now a Los Angeles Angel, these moves didn’t quite work out. The Yankees can still use some of the pool on other prospects, including the few remaining ex-Braves, but they couldn’t reel in the big fish of the international market and are left holding a little too much bonus money. Oh well.

– In exchange for Rob Refsnyder, the Yanks acquired Double A first baseman Ryan McBroom in mid-July. Refsnyder had been DFA’d and McBroom was a non-prospect. He did fill a hole as depth after the team had run through multiple first basemen in the majors. McBroom had previously hit some homers against the Trenton Thunder, so it was good to get him out of the opposing dugout.

– Along the same lines as the McBroom deal, the Yankees dealt LHP Tyler Webb for Garrett Cooper. Cooper filled in for Chris Carter/Greg Bird for a month or so before going down with injuries. Webb gave up a grand slam on literally his first pitch with the Brewers. Seriously!

– Lastly, at the waiver deadline, the Yankees acquired Erik Kratz from the Cleveland Indians to be their depth catcher. He had two hits in two at-bats, produced 0.1 WAR and mostly rode the bench before being outrighted off the roster this offseason.

2018 Outlook

For next year, the Yankees still have Gray, Kahnle and Robertson as well as, to a lesser extent, McBroom and the bonus pool money. McBroom is hitting over .400 in Mexico right now!

But at the 2017 deadline, Cashman acquired a starter and two late-inning relievers for 2018. He has plenty of prospects left if he wants to add further at next season’s deadline.

As for the prospects traded away, it’ll be nice to see what Fowler can do in the majors this year. The rest of the prospects dealt are either further away from the show or are unlikely to even reach the majors in 2018. Regardless, monitoring their development from afar will be a pleasant side gig for Yankees fans.

The back of the bench [2017 Season Review]

Higgy looking for hits (Al Bello/Getty Images)
Higgy looking for hits (Al Bello/Getty Images)

We’ve gone through just about every player who made an appearance for the Yankees this year. The good ones. The bad ones. Now let’s get to some of the players in between, the players who are easy to forget. These are the players that you miss on the 2017 New York Yankees Sporcle quiz.

First, let’s go a little more in-depth on a few players I went over in the miscellaneous first basemen review and then touch on the true bottom of the roster.

Rob Refsnyder

While Refsnyder had a five-game stint at first base, the Yankees didn’t use him primarily at first this year. He was called up on May 2 to replace an injured Greg Bird on the roster. Six days later, he was sent down for Chad Green.

In all, Refsnyder was up-and-down three times in May, once for the single-admission Derek Jeter/Mother’s Day doubleheader and another time to take the spot of Jacoby Ellsbury post-concussion.

I’ve already gone into his inability to hit this year. It was painful. But his fielding also reared its ugly head. The moment that sticks out was when he replaced Dustin Fowler after the rookie’s devastating knee injury. Refsnyder almost immediately misplayed a ball in right field during a game the Yankees lost by one run.

The dream was that Refsnyder could be a Zobrist-type, but he could neither hit nor field particularly well and it’s why he’s currently on his third organization in the last year (Yankees to Blue Jays to Indians). He played six games against the Yankees with the Blue Jays in the final two months of the year and went 2-for-12.

Tyler Austin

With 40 more at-bats in 2017, Austin is six at-bats shy of no longer being a rookie. And after a sub-par season due to injuries, it’s worth wondering where he fits in New York.

Two separate DL stints this season really set him back from a chance to prove himself as at least a bench bat, if not the righty side of a platoon. Now, he’ll likely start 2018 in Triple A if he makes it through the offseason on the 40-man roster.

Fun note: He is Pikachu in Didi’s postgame tweets. I don’t think any of these other players got an emoji.

Kyle Higashioka

Higashioka had an impressive 2016 in the minors, earning himself the opportunity as the No. 3 catcher out of spring. His calling card in 2016 was his power, although we didn’t get a chance to see it in the majors.

In his age-27 season, he walked twice and picked up no hits in 20 plate appearances while playing nine games in April. He got the chance after Gary Sanchez went down with a forearm injury, but Higgy couldn’t hack it in an extremely short sample size after debuting in the Yankees’ home opener.

As he did for much of his minor league career, Higashioka dealt with injuries for much of the season. The team had to have hoped he’d turned the corner health-wise in his breakout 2016, but alas, he was unable to do so.

The team had to seek out a new third catcher for September after he couldn’t make make it back from his back injury. Now he’ll have to prove himself again to make it through 2018 on the 40-man.

Mason Williams

The former top prospect spent his final games in pinstripes this season. Sad to see his time as a Yankee come to an end, but he became expendable this season with the team’s glut of young outfielders.

He made five starts in June and picked up four hits, stealing two bases. No extra-base hits though, which has been part of his issues. He just couldn’t hit for much pop, nor could he work many walks.

He was designated for assignment on June 29 to make room for Dustin Fowler. He spent the rest of the year in Scranton where he continued to show very little power but still produced with his legs (19 steals in 24 attempts).

Williams is now with the Cincinnati Reds, having signed with the club as a minor league free agent after the season.

Williams steals a base on Kozma! (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Williams steals a base on Kozma! (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Pete Kozma

Kozma may be the easiest 2017 Yankee to forget. He wouldn’t have made the roster at all if it wasn’t for Didi’s injury during the World Baseball Classic/Spring Training.

He played just 11 games in pinstripes and made just 10 plate appearances. He had just one hit and one walk. Didn’t do anything remarkable. He was DFA’d to make room for Didi on April 28 and spent the next 3.5 months with the Rangers. He was cut from their Triple A squad in mid-August.

Erik Kratz

The Yankees needed a third catcher down the stretch, so Kratz was acquired at the waiver deadline. He played in just four games and had just two at-bats. He delivered in both of them with a single and a double, finishing the season with a sterling 2.500 OPS. That’s good for a 600 wRC+. Oh snap!

He hung around the team during the postseason and stood up for Aaron Judge in a postgame interview after ALDS Game 5. That’s about it for his brief Yankees career.

The Prospect Debuts [2017 Season Review]

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Even though the Yankees were not considered a slam dunk contender going into the 2017 season, there were plenty of reasons to be excited. Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge were two of them. We were also looking forward to seeing some of the team’s top prospects make their MLB debuts at some point. Gleyber Torres and Chance Adams didn’t debut this year for different reasons, but plenty of others did.

Because so many things went right at the MLB level (Aaron Hicks breaking out, for example) and because the Yankees went out and made in-season upgrades (Todd Frazier trade), the Yankees did not have to lean heavily on any of their position player prospect call-ups. They came up, got their feet wet, and that’s about it. Time to review the four young position player prospects who made their MLB debuts this summer.

Miguel Andujar

Andujar finally had that big breakout season in 2016, and after hitting .312/.342/.494 (126 wRC+) with seven homers in 67 games with Double-A Trenton to start 2017, the Yankees moved him up to Triple-A Scranton. Nine days later he was in the big leagues, replacing the ill Matt Holliday. Against the White Sox on June 28th, his first MLB game, Andujar went 3-for-4 with a double, a walk, and a stolen base. He also drove in four runs.

Andujar became the first player in Yankees history to drive in four runs in his MLB debut. He was the first player with three hits and four runs driven in in his big league debut for any team since … Steven Matz? Steven Matz. Matz went 3-for-3 with a double and four runs driven in during his MLB debut on June 28th. Okie dokie. He’s a pitcher, you know.

The Yankees sent Andujar back down the next day — he returned for a day as an injury replacement a few days later, but did not play — because their plan was to use him against the left-handed Carlos Rodon before bringing up a more permanent replacement. Andujar returned in September and appeared in three games, all as a late-inning replacement in blowouts. He went 4-for-8 with two doubles as a big leaguer while hitting .315/.352/.498 (132 wRC+) with 16 homers and a 13.6% strikeout rate in 125 games split between Double-A and Triple-A.

Andujar of course survived the 40-man roster purge last month and, more surprisingly, he was not included in the Giancarlo Stanton trade. That surprised me. A cheap, young, and talented MLB ready third baseman seemed like someone the Marlins would target in the deal, but nope. Third base is open long-term for the Yankees, especially now that second base is clear for Torres. Andujar needs to work on his defense, sure, but chances are he’ll get a longer opportunity to help the Yankees at some point next year.

Dustin Fowler

Hands down, the worst moment of an otherwise wildly fun and exciting 2017 season for the Yankees was Fowler’s injury. The injury itself wasn’t particularly gory or gruesome, though the circumstances were awful. In literally his first inning as a big leaguer — Fowler was called up on June 29th, as the more permanent replacement for Andujar — Fowler crashed into the side wall chasing a foul pop-up at Guaranteed Rate Field, and blew out his knee.

Fowler suffered an open rupture of the right patella tendon and needed emergency surgery, which ended his season. In his first inning as a big leaguer. Terrible. The kid didn’t even get an at-bat. He was due to lead off the next inning. Fowler spent the rest of the season on the disabled list — at least he got to accrue 95 days of service time and big league pay while on the disabled list, as if that’s some consolation —  and was included in the Sonny Gray trade at the deadline. Had he been healthy, I’m not sure he gets traded. It might’ve been Estevan Florial instead.

Prior to the injury Fowler ripped up Triple-A, hitting .293/.329/.542 (138 wRC+) with 13 home runs and 13 steals in 70 games before getting called up. He is no longer with the Yankees, but the good news is that according to John Shea, Fowler’s rehab is progressing well and he is current working out at the A’s complex in Arizona. MLB.com ranks him as the third best prospect in Oakland’s system and their center field depth chart is very weak. Fowler is expected to be ready for Spring Training. I hope he wins the center field job in camp.

Clint Frazier

Spring Training got off to a pretty ridiculous start for the headliner in last summer’s Andrew Miller trade. First the Yankees made a spectacle of Frazier getting a haircut to conform to the team’s hair policy rules. Then there was a flat out made up story that Frazier asked to wear Mickey Mantle’s No. 7, which required an apology from Suzyn Waldman. The damage had already been done though. Clint became the new media whipping boy.

Anyway, Frazier opened the 2017 season with Triple-A Scranton, where he got off to a bit of a slow start, but he eventually picked it up and hit .256/.344/.473 (123 wRC+) with 12 home runs in 74 games before being called up on July 1st. Frazier replaced Andujar, who replaced Fowler, who replaced Andujar, who replaced Holliday. Got all that?

Frazier’s big league debut — and his first few weeks in pinstripes, really — was quite eventful. He went 2-for-4 with a double and a homer in his first MLB game, and in his first 15 games, Clint went 17-for-56 (.304) with five doubles, two triples, and three homers. That’s ten extra-base hits and seven singles. One of those three homers was a walk-off three-run shot against the Brewers on July 8th.

That bat speed, man. Frazier turned around a 97.3 mph heater from All-Star Corey Knebel like it was a batting practice lob. By both win probability added and championship probability added, the walk-off blast was the second biggest regular season hit of the year for the Yankees, behind only Brett Gardner‘s three-run jaw-dropper at Wrigley Field.

Frazier stayed in the lineup on an everyday basis because Holliday was hurt, Hicks was hurt, and Jacoby Ellsbury was largely ineffective. He wound up on the disabled list himself on August 10th, after tweaking his oblique during batting practice. The injury kept Frazier out until mid-September, and when he returned, he was largely a bench player who played in blowouts. All told, he hit .231/.268/.448 (82 wRC+) with four homers in 142 MLB plate appearance.

Like Andujar, Frazier somewhat surprisingly wasn’t included in the Stanton trade, so he remains in the organization. The Stanton trade does create some uncertainty about Frazier’s long-term role, however. In Judge and Stanton, the Yankees now have two of best corner outfielders in baseball, so where does Frazier fit? Triple-A depth/injury replacement? DH? Make him fake center field long-term? Trade bait? I’m not sure, and the Yankees might not be sure right now either.

Oh, and by the way, Frazier initially wore No. 30 after being called up, though he gave it up when David Robertson was reacquired. His new number? No. 77. I have no idea whether that is a troll move following the Spring Training nonsense, but I’m going to pretend it is.

Tyler Wade

The players in this post are listed alphabetically, but it all started with Wade. He was the first in the parade of prospect debuts. Wade started the season in Triple-A before being called up on June 27th. He debuted the day before Andujar, who debuted the day before Fowler, who debuted two days before Frazier. That was quite a week. Arguably the four best non-Gleyber position player prospects in the system made their MLB debuts in the span of five days.

Unlike the other guys in this post, Wade did not make his debut as a starter. He came off the bench. Wade hit .313/.390/.444 (135 wRC+) with five homers and 24 steals in 71 Triple-A games before coming up, and his first taste of the big leagues came as a pinch-hitter. He pinch-hit for former teammate Rob Refsnyder against future teammate Tommy Kahnle. Wade worked a seven-pitch walk against Kahnle that sparked the go-ahead rally. Too bad the bullpen blew that game.

Wade started in left field the next day and went 1-for-5 with a double, his first MLB hit. He started the next day at second base and went 1-for-4. He started in right field the day after that and went 0-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored. Three different positions in three days in his first three starts as a big league ballplayer. You can do that when you have the athleticism to make plays like this:

After those three starts at three different positions, Wade slipped into a utility role, and he barely played. He accrued 81 days of service time and had only 63 plate appearances. There was also a short Triple-A stint in August mixed in there. Joe Girardi stuck with Ronald Torreyes at second base while Starlin Castro was injured, so from July 1st through the end of the season, Wade was on the MLB roster for 73 games and appeared in only 26.

One of those 26 games came against the Rays on July 27th, in a rare start. Wade had a brutal game, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and a double play. Two of the strikeouts and the double play came in the late innings with either the tying or go-ahead run in scoring position. Ouch. At least the Yankees won. Wade finished the season with a .155/.222/.224 (17 wRC+) batting line in his 63 big league plate appearances, and a .310/.382/.460 (136 wRC+) line in 85 Triple-A games.

As with Andujar and Frazier, Wade was not included in the Stanton trade, so he remains in the organization. And depending what the Yankees do the rest of the offseason, it’s entirely possible Wade will go into Spring Training with a chance to win the starting second base job. I imagine it would be between Wade, Torreyes, Torres, and the journeyman infielder the Yankees will inevitably sign to a minor league deal. I like Wade. His MLB stint this year was terrible, no doubt about that, but he has some skills and can be a nice contributor as soon as next season.

The Miscellaneous Relievers [2017 Season Review]

Heller (and Gary). (Rich Gagnon/Getty)
Heller (and Gary). (Rich Gagnon/Getty)

Every season, without fail, teams cycle through a parade of relievers as injuries and poor performance force roster changes. The average MLB team used 22 different relief pitchers this year. The Mariners led the way with 34. The Yankees used 18, third fewest in baseball, if you can believe that. Only the Nationals and Indians used fewer relievers this year. They used 17 apiece.

This season the Yankees put an end to the bullpen shuttle they’d used so extensively from 2015-16. The days of calling up reliever, using him for an inning or two, then sending him down the next day for a fresh arm came to an end. We saw relievers stick around even after extended outings, the type of outings that usually land them back in Triple-A. It was a refreshing in a way. Here are the miscellaneous relievers the Yankees used this season. Weirdly enough, three of these dudes were on the Opening Day roster.

Gio Gallegos

A dominant minor league season in 2016 earned Gallegos a spot on the 40-man roster last winter, and he received his first MLB call-up in mid-May. He had one great three-inning outing against the Astros on May 14th, allowing just one unearned run and striking out three, but he then allowed seven runs in his next six appearances and 7.1 innings.

On June 15th, in the tenth inning of a game in which Joe Girardi had already used all his top relievers, Gallegos was brought in to protect a one-run lead in Oakland. The inning went ground out, strikeout, single, double, intentional walk, two-run walk-off bloop single. You remember that one, don’t you?

Gallegos had four different big league stints this season, during which he threw 20.1 innings with a 4.87 ERA (3.65 FIP) and 25.0% strikeouts. He also threw 43.1 innings with a 2.08 ERA (2.18 FIP) and 40.8% strikeouts in Triple-A. Gallegos did survive the 40-man roster purge last month, though I’d say his grip on a spot is tenuous. There’s no guarantee he makes it through the offseason on the roster.

Domingo German

Little Sunday (Domingo Acevedo is Big Sunday) made his MLB debut on June 11th under unusual circumstances. He was pitching well in Triple-A and lined up perfectly to make the spot start when the Yankees decided to push Masahiro Tanaka back a day, but they gave the start to Chad Green, who wasn’t stretched out. German wound up pitching in long relief anyway. Weird.

German, who returned to the 40-man roster last offseason after completing his Tommy John surgery rehab, made seven relief appearances with the Yankees this season, throwing 14.1 innings with a 3.14 ERA (3.44 FIP). Those 14.1 innings featured lots of strikeouts (29.0%) and lots of ground balls (54.5%). German also had a 2.83 ERA (3.17 FIP) in 76.1 Triple-A innings and was especially great down the stretch, as the RailRiders made their postseason run.

It seems German is in position to take on a larger role next season, either as a Green-esque multi-inning reliever or spot starter. He’s shown he can handle Triple-A and his stuff is quite good. I think he’s got a chance to have a real impact in 2018. The Yankees acquired German in the Nathan EovaldiMartin Prado trade three years ago and he’s on the cusp of paying dividends.

Ben Heller

Heller is a personal favorite. He came over in the Andrew Miller trade and he made his MLB debut last season, and going into Spring Training, I thought he had a chance to win a bullpen spot. Instead, he went to Triple-A, and it wasn’t until mid-June that he was was called up. And that was for only one appearance. In that one appearance, Heller allowed a walk-off single off his butt.

Heller was called back in mid-July and again, it was only one appearance. That one appearance was memorable for a good reason, thankfully. Remember the 16-inning game at Fenway Park? When Matt Holliday took Craig Kimbrel deep to tie it up in the ninth? Heller was the last guy out of the bullpen. He tossed a scoreless 15th inning, the Yankees scored three runs to take the lead, then he closed it out with a 1-2-3 16th inning.

The Yankees brought Heller back in September and he was the one September call-up reliever who got regular work, appearing in seven games and throwing 8.2 innings in the season’s final month. He was great too, allowing just one run in those 8.2 innings. All told, Heller, had a 0.82 ERA (3.16 FIP) with 20.9% strikeouts in eleven big league innings and a 2.88 ERA (3.09 FIP) with 36.8% strikeouts in 56.1 Triple-A innings in 2017.

Heller is in the same camp as German for me. I think he’s in position to take on a larger role next season and have a real impact. He has some of the best stuff on the 40-man roster. His fastball sits in the upper-90s and the ball runs all over the place, and his slider has been a wipeout pitch at times. It’s tough to see where Heller (and German) fit right now, but like I said, the average team used 22 relievers this year. The opportunity will come.

Ronald Herrera

Boy, that series in Anaheim did not go well. That’s when Holliday first came down with his illness, Heller allowed the walk-off single off his rear-end, then Herrera made his MLB debut in the seventh inning of a tie game. The first batter he faced? Albert Pujols. One of best hitters in history. Herrera allowed a solo home run to Andrelton Simmons that inning and wound up taking the loss. Womp womp.

Herrera made one more big league appearance later in June, then he went to the minors and dealt with a nagging shoulder injury most of the rest of the season. He did get healthy in time for the Triple-A postseason, though the Yankees did not give Herrera a September call-up. That was a good indication he wouldn’t be around much longer. Sure enough, the Yankees traded him to the Rangers for a pitching prospect last month. Herrera allowed two runs in three big league innings this year, and had a 1.91 ERA (3.20 FIP) in 75.1 minor league innings.

Jonathan Holder

Holder. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Holder. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Holder is the first of the three relievers in this post who was on the Opening Day roster. He pitched in low-leverage situations and did see some sixth and seventh inning worth when the top relievers weren’t available, and for the first few weeks, things went fine. Holder then allowed ten runs on 19 hits (including five homers) and five walks in 14.2 innings from May 23rd to June 26th, earning a demotion to Triple-A. Opponents hit Troutian .322/.385/.644 against him during that time. Ouch.

The demotion to Triple-A was more or less permanent. Holder returned for a quick stint in mid-July and again as a September call-up, otherwise he was a RailRider in the second half. He threw 39.1 innings with a 3.89 ERA (3.62 FIP) and 23.4% strikeouts with the Yankees, though his performance was uneven. He was great for the first few weeks before things collapsed. It should be noted Holder had two appearances of three shutout innings. Once in the 18-inning game at Wrigley Field and once in the 16-inning game at Fenway Park. Well done.

Down in Triple-A, Holder threw 16 innings with a 1.69 ERA (3.21 FIP) and 30.0% strikeouts. The Yankees really seem to like him — they added him to the 40-man roster and called him up way earlier than necessary for Rule 5 Draft purposes — probably because his overall minor league performance has been great and he’s a spin rate darling, so I doubt Holder goes anywhere this offseason. I do wonder whether German and Heller have jumped him on the depth chart, however.

Tommy Layne

Another member of the Opening Day roster. The Yankees picked Layne up off the scrap heap last season and he did fine work, securing a bullpen spot this season. Then he went out and allowed 12 runs on 16 hits and eight walks in 13 innings this year. Lefties hit .304/.407/.391 against him. Not great, Tommy. He was designated for assignment on June 10th, clearing a roster spot for German.

Layne cleared waivers and spent some time with Triple-A Scranton before being released on July 5th. The Yankees had too many quality arms in Triple-A and needed the roster spot, so away went 33-year-old journeyman. Layne hooked on with the Dodgers a few days later, but didn’t make it through August with them. He had a 7.62 ERA (4.85 FIP) in those 13 innings with the Yankees, and he allowed two runs in 6.2 innings with the RailRiders. Relievers, man. Great one year and unrosterable the next.

Bryan Mitchell

The third and final Opening Day bullpen member in this post. Seriously. Holder, Layne, and Mitchell were all on the Opening Day roster. Mitchell would’ve been on the Opening Day roster last year had he not managed to break his toe covering first base at the end of camp. This year he made it through Spring Training in one piece and started the season as a low-leverage reliever.

Mitchell allowed one run on one hit and one walk in his first six outings and 6.2 innings of the season, but the wheels came off in late-April, when he allowed seven runs on nine hits and three walks in 2.2 innings across two appearances against the Orioles. That was the series in which he played first base, which is a real thing that happened.

That was way too cute a move by Girardi. The best case scenario there was putting Mitchell back into the game after a 20-30 minute break, which usually leads to bad things for control challenged pitchers. Mitchell blew the game in the next half-inning and that was that.

Amazingly, Mitchell was called up and sent down at least once in every single month this season. He made two big league appearances in May, one in June, and one in July before resurfacing for an extended period of time in August. Mitchell finished the season with a 5.79 ERA (4.20 FIP) and 11.1% strikeouts (not a typo) in 32.2 MLB innings, and a 3.24 ERA (4.23 FIP) and 25.4% strikeouts in 63.2 Triple-A innings.

Mitchell somewhat surprisingly survived the 40-man roster purge last month. He hasn’t been good in the big leagues and he’ll be out of options next year, meaning he can’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers, and I thought the Yankees would cut bait. They still might at some point this winter. The kid has a good arm, but with his 27th birthday four months away, it’s past time for potential to turn into production.

Tyler Webb

Although he didn’t reach Colter Bean status, Webb was the “why aren’t they calling this guy up???” guy the last few seasons. The Pirates took a chance on Webb as a Rule 5 Draft pick, and while he pitched well enough in Spring Training (13 IP, 13 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 11 K), they couldn’t find room for him on the roster, and back he came to the Yankees.

Webb continued to do what he’d been doing for a few years now, and that’s dominate Triple-A hitters. The Yankees gave him his first MLB call-up in late-June and he stuck around for a little while, allowing three runs on three hits and four walks in six innings across seven appearances. With the first base situation a total mess, the Yankees traded Webb to the Brewers for Garrett Cooper on July 13th.

Milwaukee kept Webb around for two appearances before sending him down to Triple-A, where he remained the rest of the season. Didn’t get a September call-up. Ouch. Webb is still on the 40-man roster though, so he has that going for him. He allowed three runs in six innings with the Yankees, and had a 3.24 ERA (2.14 FIP) in 33.1 innings with Scranton before the trade. Those “why aren’t they calling this guy up???” guys have a way of show why they weren’t getting called up, don’t they?

The litany of below-average first basemen [2017 Season Review]

Believe it or not, Chris Carter got a hit on this one. (Elsa/Getty Images)
Believe it or not, Chris Carter got a hit on this one. (Elsa/Getty Images)

The Yankees had a lot of first basemen this year. Too many? Too many.

In total, 11 different people manned first this year with Greg Bird probably the finest after he overcame his ankle issues. Chase Headley is the runner-up there, filling in admirably there once Todd Frazier took third base from him.

But there were many others at first. And so let’s dive in, beginning with the person who could have claimed the job for himself if he hadn’t hit so poorly.

Chris Carter

Carter signed in mid-February with the Yankees. At the time, the plan was simple: Bird would be the starting first baseman while Carter was the backup who’d get some tough lefties as well as some time at DH. Not much glamour for a guy who’d just led the National League with 41 home runs in 2016, but it was $3.5 million he wasn’t getting elsewhere.

So when Bird went 6-for-60 in April and landed on the disabled list, the job was Carter’s to lose. And boy did he lose it!

In 62 games for the Bombers, the slugger didn’t live up to his reputation, hitting for 14 extra-base hits in 208 plate appearances, including just eight home runs. Meanwhile, he found a way to strike out even more than he did in Milwaukee while drawing fewer walks. His .201/.284/.370 (73 wRC+) line doesn’t do it justice. He was hovering below or at the Mendoza line for the entire first half.

Of course, this wouldn’t be nearly as much of an issue if he was a good defensive player. However, that’s never been Carter’s calling card. He had a -2.3 UZR at first.

Carter did come up with some clutch hits in pinstripes. He came up with a much-needed seeing-eye single to give the Yankees a run in a 3-2 win over the Cardinals on Apr. 15. A week later, he hit a go-ahead pinch-hit three-run shot to put the Yankees up for good against the Pirates.

And on May 3, he had a bloop single to tie a game against the Blue Jays.

Finally, on June 15, just a week before he was designated for assignment, he tied a game against the Athletics with a solo homer in the eighth inning. After an 0-for-4 with three strikeouts game, he was DFA’d on June 23. However, he was brought back a week later when Tyler Austin strained his hamstring. This stint would be short-lived as he was again DFA’d after going 0-for-2 with a walk against the Blue Jays on July 4. From there on out, it was a mix of first basemen in the Bronx.

Rob Refsnyder

While Carter was struggling in late May, the Yankees decided to give Rob Refsnyder a go at first. However, he was somehow less adequate with the bat than Carter. In four starts from May 30 through June 4, he went just 2 for 13 with a walk. That’s a .154/.214/.231 line. Yikes.

While he’d play a little too much in the outfield for the rest of the month, he wouldn’t get any more time at first base, a place where he actually wasn’t too bad in 2016, at least relative to the rest of his performance. His last game in New York was July 2 before he too was sent packing like Carter. The Yankees traded Refsnyder to the Blue Jays for minor league first basemen Ryan McBroom.

Ji-Man Choi

Ah, the Ji-Man Choi era. This was perhaps the best part of the season. He started at first the day after Carter was DFA’d, literally taking his spot on the roster. His first at-bat was an unremarkable groundball to first, but he struck gold with a homer into the bleachers in his second at-bat.

He’d hit a homer in his second game against the Brewers — a much less impressive ball that cleared the short porch in right — and that was about it for him in New York. After the second homer, he went hitless for seven straight at-bats until pick up a pair of hits — and a sacrifice fly — in his final game, a 3-0 win over the Red Sox on July 16.

Choi was sent down after that and would be removed from the 40-man roster later on. In his six games, he went 4-for-15 with two homers, a double, two walks and a sac fly, good for a .267/.333/.733 line. That’s a 162 wRC+, second on the team behind Aaron Judge for players with at least 10 plate appearances.

Cooper (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Cooper. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Garrett Cooper

After Carter was let go, Brian Cashman looked for cheap first base help and found it with Garrett Cooper, who was in Triple-A with the Milwaukee Brewers. A 26-year-old tearing up the Pacific Coast League isn’t a huge shocker, but it was something the Yankees didn’t have, so they traded left-handed reliever Tyler Webb to get him.

Cooper started at first in the Yankees’ first two games after the All-Star break and struck out in five of his first seven plate appearances. He didn’t get a hit until his third game.

While he didn’t hit for any home runs with the Yankees, he did launch a lot of doubles. Five of his 14 hits were two-baggers while he also added a triple. He just didn’t walk much (once in 45 PAs) and he struck out 26.7 percent of the time.

Still, he posted a .326/.333/.488 (113 wRC+) line and likely would have held the job until Greg Bird’s return. However, he didn’t play after Aug. 16 due to hamstring tendonitis.

He was traded this offseason to the Marlins to free up 40-man space. We’ll always have his eight hits in three days against the Blue Jays this August.

Tyler Austin

Austin could have been the Yankees’ starting first baseman for multiple months this season. All he needed to do was stay healthy.

However, he broke a bone in his left foot during Spring Training and was out until June. He was called up to replace Carter and hit a home run in his third game back, just to strain his right hamstring a day later. Oh well.

Austin got another week of starts at first base and DH in August when Cooper went down and picked up two hits in his first game back. However, once Bird was healthy, it was back to the bench for the 26-year-old Austin. Unlike everyone listed above, he’ll be back in 2017 as of now, although he’ll likely be in Triple-A to start the year if he makes it through the offseason.

Other adventures with first base

I’ll be brief, but here are the other highlights at first base outside of Bird and Headley.

Gary Sanchez played three innings over two games at first base. He made seven putouts in seven chances. No errors!

Matt Holliday started seven games at first and made two errors. He was not smooth in the field and it would have been fitting if the Yankees had put together a Carlos Beltran-esque ceremony to retire his glove.

– Despite having 82 starts at first in his career, Todd Frazier didn’t play a single inning at first for the Yankees.

Austin Romine started four games at first base. He actually didn’t look too bad at first and as crazy as it is to say now, it was a relief to see him there compared to their other options at the time.

– And finally, the best moment at first base non-Bird/Headley edition all year: Bryan Mitchell’s unfortunate inning. Perhaps my favorite Yankees loss of the year.

The New Yankee Ace [2017 Season Review]

(Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)
(Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

Luis Severino was a highly-touted prospect coming up to the bigs. He had the stuff, could throw strikes, had youth, etc. However, there always were question marks following him (size, durability concerns and delivery, mostly). His solid 2015 showing was encouraging, but in 2016, Severino put many in doubt by putting up a 5.83 ERA in 22 appearances (with an ugly 8.50 ERA in 11 starts as a starter). Some felt that his long-term destination is in bullpen due to his flaws taking over his performance.

However, the Yankees were not just going to give up their starting pitcher plans for a 23-year-old. Severino entered 2017 as one of the candidates for the last spots of the rotation. He went out, showed some marked improvement in Spring Training, and earned a spot. As you know, since then, he never looked back. He put up one of the best seasons… ever… by a young starter in an illustrious Yankees history.

The full-season dominance

Severino made his first start of the season on April 7 versus the O’s. He went 5 innings, allowed 4 earned runs but walked 1 and struck out 6. Okay, okay. Not the best outcome but there were encouraging things. The next start, he struck out 11 in 7 IP while allowing 2 runs against the Rays. He followed it up with a strong losing effort vs. the White Sox (8 IP, 3 ER, 10 K). And we gradually started to think this: is this for real?

As we know, the answer was a resounding yes. Severino became a very reliable starter in the first half (3.54 ERA in 17 games with 124 K/27 BB in 106.2 IP) and earned the AL All-Star honors. Not so bad for a guy who had to make trips to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year, right? In the second half, however, he bulldozed through the hitters: 2.28 ERA in 14 starts with 106 strikeouts and 24 walks in 86.2 IP. To be a bit more specific, after the first ten starts of the season, Severino was just on the next level. Look at this graph and marvel at how consistent and reliable he was after around the tenth start of the season. His season FIP stayed right around 3.00 for the most of it:

luis-severino-era-fip

It is remarkable for any pitcher to be able to accomplish this, especially pitching at the Yankee Stadium for half of the season.  To me, he basically had a season that we all envisioned guys like Joba Chamberlain or Michael Pineda having back they were much more promising.

How good was Luis Severino’s season in context of the Yankee history? Well, let’s take a look at Sevvy’s total season numbers:

14-6, 2.98 ERA, 31 GS, 193.1 IP, 150 H, 21 HR, 51 BB, 230 K

We’ll get some help from the Baseball Reference Play Index here. How many Yankee starters in the history had an ERA lower than 3.00 while throwing more than 175 innings and striking out at least 200 in a season?

  • 1904 Jack Powell
  • 1904 Jack Chesbro
  • 1910 Russ Ford
  • 1978 Ron Guidry
  • 1979 Ron Guidry
  • 1992 Melido Perez
  • 1997 David Cone
  • 2011 CC Sabathia
  • 2017 Luis Severino

Alright, alright. That’s a pretty great company Sevy’s associated with. Take out the Dead Ball Era guys and the group is even more exclusive. Now, how many of those guys were not yet 25-years old in those seasons?

  • 2017 Luis Severino

That’s it. Severino was also the only starter under 25 in all of ML in 2017 to accomplish the feat. In 2016, it was Jose Fernandez and Noah Syndergaard. 2015? Madison Bumgarner and Gerrit Cole.

Basically, in 2017, the Yankee fans got to witness not only one of the greatest seasons put up by a young Yankee starter, but also a young ML starter in 2017.

Baby’s first postseason

With the Yankees pretty much destined to take the first AL Wild Card spot, the team brass started to monitor Severino’s workload to get him prepared for the Game 163 versus the Twins. Start your best starter in a winner-take-all game, right? No one refuted that logic but things just didn’t work out for Sevy. He overthrew, missed his spots and failed to go beyond recording one out in his Wild Card Game start (0.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 HRs) – by far his worst showing in 2017, especially given the circumstances! Fortunately for the Yankees, they pounced on Ervin Santana and the Twins bullpen to advance to the ALDS, but Severino, once again, had questions from detractors. Can he handle the bigger spotlight? Are the innings catching up to his arm?

Fortunately for the Yanks, Severino rebounded in the ALDS. In Game 4, with the Yankees down 2-1 in the best-of-five series, the team needed a win to force the Game 5 and he pitched to a tune of 3 ERs in 7 IP with 9 strikeouts and a walk against the dangerous Indians lineup. It also helped that the hitters absolutely jumped on Trevor Bauer, but Severino did his part to keep the Indians bat in check.

Against the Astros though, things were a bit dicier. Severino started the Game 2 of the ALCS and lasted only four innings after exiting with a shoulder issue. He insisted that he was fine and wanted to pitch more, but what kind of chance can you take with a young starter whose workload increased steeply this year? Joe Girardi pulled him out of the game and the Yankees suffered a walk-off loss. Later in the series, in the Game 6, Severino was back out against the Minute Maid Park for a rematch against Justin Verlander. It went less than stellar – 4.2 IP, 3 ER, 4 BB, 3 K and a loss. The Yankees dropped the game and, later, the series.

Severino finished his first postseason with a 5.63 ERA in 4 starts. I would not point much finger at him though. It is a lot to ask any pitcher to go out and dominate the Indians and Astros lineups (oh, and the Twins too, they were No. 6 in all MLB in the team wRC+). A guy like Severino will definitely see a plenty of playoff actions in his career and this could be a valuable learning experience.

With a little help from our former enemy

So how did Severino transform from a fifth starter candidate to No. 3 in AL Cy Young voting? A popular narrative regarding his improvement is that he worked with none other than Pedro Martinez over the offseason to tweak the mechanics. When I talked to Severino, he told me that what Martinez taught him was nothing more than a simple adjustment.

“You know, the thing was that (last year), I was starting with my hands right here,” Severino told the Sporting News, as he emulated his old hand position. Severino held his hands a bit away from his torso, as you can see below from a game from last year:

giphy

“(Martinez) told me to keep my hands closer to my body and just go over my pitches,” Severino said as he brought his hands nearer to his torso. You can see the change in the gif below:

giphy-1

By starting the delivery with his hands closer to the body, there is less movement for his arm to get to the high-cocked position, simplifying the process.

Simple enough, right? Well, don’t attribute everything to this one weird trick. Severino also worked hard over the offseason to work on his changeup. In my opinion, the changeup is the most underrated pitch. It is not the sexiest but it helps with what pitching is supposed to be, which is upsetting hitter’s timing. Severino increased his changeup usage from 9.8% in 2016 to 13.6% in 2017. While fastball and slider are his bread and butter, having a changeup that he can throw in any count makes you a more formidable being on mound.

If you want to know what #shoving looks like, here are all the pitches thrown by Severino in his June 10 start vs. the Orioles.

2018 Outlook

Unlike how it was back in February, Severino will have a spot locked hard in the Yankee rotation, and many hope that would be the case for a long, long time. Assuming he stays healthy and can maintain the 2017 excellence… man, the Yankees have an absolute gem.