After brutal ALDS, Aaron Judge could benefit from being more aggressive in the ALCS

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Thanks to their historic comeback from an 0-2 deficit in the ALDS, the Yankees are heading to the ALCS to the face the Astros. It’s only the eighth time in 59 total opportunities that a team came back to win the LDS after losing the first two games. And the Yankees did it against the best team in the American League. A satisfying series, it was.

Two things stand out about the ALDS comeback. One, the Yankees could’ve won that series 4-1. They had a five-run lead in Game Two, and it slipped away in part due to Joe Girardi‘s non-challenge. The Indians had not lost three straight games since July — they’d lost just four of their final previous 39 games as well — then the Yankees went out and beat them in three straight. Hot damn.

And two, the Yankees won the series and completed the comeback even though Aaron Judge, their best player and a legitimate MVP candidate, was pretty much a non-factor all series. He went 1-for-20 with 16 (!) strikeouts in the five games. The one hit was a big one, it was that two-run double against Trevor Bauer in Game Four, but still. The Indians did an incredible job keeping Judge in check.

“I haven’t been doing my job there at the top of the order, and my teammates came up big for me this series. Now it’s time to regroup and get ready for the (ALCS),” said Judge to Bryan Hoch and Dan Martin following last night’s win. “It’s not tough for me. I’ve been through this before. Everyone has. Guys were able to pick me up when I wasn’t able to get the job done.”

On one hand, the Yankees managed to win the series despite Judge’s performance, which is evidence of how good and deep they are. On the other hand, they probably can’t count on that happening again. The Yankees need Judge to contribute. Not necessarily monster homers every at-bat, though I’d take them. Quality at-bats, base hits, walks … something more than strikeouts.

Judge, to his credit, did work the count in the ALDS. He didn’t go up there, flail at three pitches for the strikeout, then head back to the dugout. He saw 138 pitches in his 24 plate appearances in the series, or 5.75 pitches per plate appearance. That’s ridiculous. We also saw a Judge take a lot of called strikes in the ALDS. Here are the pitch locations and pitch types of Judge’s called strikes in the series, via Baseball Savant:

aaron-judge-alds-called-strikes

First things first, yes, Judge did get hosed on some called strikes both down below the zone and off the edges of the plate. The called strike three on the strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play last night was particularly bad. Umpires are going to make bad calls sometimes. It happens. With Judge, it seems to happen down at the knees more than anywhere. Umps haven’t adjusted to a 6-foot-7 hitter’s strike zone, I guess.

“He’s been a little more emotional … I think sometimes young kids are afraid to say something. But I definitely wouldn’t have a problem with it,” said Girardi to Mike Mazzeo when asked whether Judge should argue balls and strikes more often. “He’s extremely respectful. But I don’t necessarily think arguing for yourself is being disrespectful if you do it in the right way. It could hurt him, too. It could go the other way, too. So it’s a fine line. You really don’t know.”

And secondly, there are more than a few hittable pitches on that plot. Breaking balls that stayed up and fastballs over the plate and in the bottom half of the strike zone. They’re not meatballs, but they were pitches he might’ve been able to do something with. Judge crushed pitches basically everywhere during the regular season. Up, down, inside, on the outer half, you name it here. Here is his regular season isolated power zone profile, via Baseball Savant:

aaron-judge-2017-iso

Those pitches down in the zone and over the middle of the plate — not the pitches down and away — Judge can handle those. He did all through the regular season. The Indians did a tremendous job keeping Judge off balance in the ALDS — by Game Two it was clear he was going to see a steady diet of breaking balls — but there definitely appeared to be some instances in which Judge let a hittable pitch go by.

The best way to avoid strikeouts? Don’t get into two-strike counts. And after an ALDS that featured lots of deep counts and also some passivity, the best way for Judge to get back on track could be being more aggressive at the plate, and jumping on those early count pitches in the zone. That isn’t to say he should be reckless and swing at everything over the plate, but look for something hittable early rather than waiting for the perfect pitch, and trying to work a long at-bat. Jump on ’em early, you know?

Fortunately for Judge, he no longer has to face the Indians pitching staff. The Astros have a great staff too! But they don’t have Corey Kluber’s slider, or Trevor Bauer’s curveball, or Carlos Carrasco’s slider, or Andrew Miller‘s slider, or Cody Allen’s curveball. Those are nasty, nasty pitches. Justin Verlander’s curveball is obviously great, as in Ken Giles’ slider, otherwise the Astros can’t bury Judge with elite breaking balls. That’s not their staff.

That doesn’t mean they won’t attack Judge’s weaknesses, of course. They’re still going to throw him breaking balls because breaking balls are harder to hit than fastballs, and anything you can do to limit how often this guy makes contact is a plus. Judge is still a threat to hit a ball off the scoreboard at any moment. Other teams don’t feel comfortable with him in the box. Judge had a rough ALDS and the Yankees won anyway. To have their best chance to beat the Astros, the Yankees will need Judge to do more at the plate, and the best way to do it may be swinging early in the count.

“He was going up against some amazing pitching,” said Brian Cashman to Hoch last night. “Turn the page and now focus on Houston. Reggie (Jackson) always talked about, ‘If you have the bat in your hand, you can change the story.’ Thankfully, he’ll have the bat in his hand for another series. He’s one of the reasons we got this far, but it takes a village. Other people were able to pick it up and find a way to carry us through.”

Yankeemetrics: Kings of the Comeback (Wild Card & ALDS)

(AP)
(AP)

Wild, wild win
From a nightmare start to a very happy ending, the Yankees used their relentless power bats to overcome a debacle on the mound in a crazy Wild Card Game victory. With the win, the Yankees snapped a five-game postseason losing streak, which was tied for the second-longest in franchise history.

Luis Severino produced one of the worst playoff starts ever, becoming the third starter in franchise history to give up three or more runs while getting pulled before recording two outs in a postseason game. The others were Art Ditmar in the 1960 World Series and Bob Turley in the 1958 World Series.

Down 3-0 before even swinging a bat and your ace is in the showers? No big deal for this Yankees team: they had the second-most wins when their opponent scored first during the regular season (36). Yet still, this victory was nearly unprecedented in major-league history. Only once before had a team won a postseason game in which their starter lasted 1/3 of an inning and allowed at least three earned runs – the Pirates in Game 7 of the 1925 World Series against the Washington Senators.

The game quickly became a battle of the bullpens and the relief crew responded with a historic performance. Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman allowed just one run while striking out 13, the most strikeouts ever by a bullpen in a winner-take-all playoff contest.

Robertson’s epic outing deserves a couple #FunFacts. He’s the first Yankee reliever to throw at least 3 1/3 scoreless innings and strike out five guys in the playoffs since Mariano Rivera in Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS, and just the third reliever in major-league postseason history do that in a winner-take-all game. The other two? Pedro Martinez (1999 ALDS) and Walter Johnson (1924 World Series).

Aaron Judge put an exclamation point on the comeback with a two-run laser shot into the leftfield seats that gave the Yankees a 7-4 cushion in the fourth. Adding to his ever-growing legendary rookie campaign, he became the youngest player in franchise history to go deep in his first career postseason game. Judge also became the second-youngest Yankee to homer in a sudden-death playoff win; the other dude was a 20-year-old Mickey Mantle in Game 7 of the 1952 World Series. #NotClutch

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

Overmatched in Cleveland
The Yankees offense was a complete no-show in Game 1 of the Division Series as they were dominated from start to finish by the AL’s best team. Not only were they blanked, 4-0, but they had only three hits, the seventh postseason game all-time that the Yankees were shut out on three hits or fewer.

Adding in the 14 strikeouts, and the Yankees entered the MLB record books – in the worst possible way. This was the fifth time in major-league playoff history that a team scored zero runs, had no more than three hits and struck out at least 14 times. The Yankees are the owners of two of the five games: Thursday night and 2010 ALCS Game 3 vs Rangers. Welp.

Trevor Bauer used his nasty fastball-curve combo to throw one of the most dominant playoff pitching performances ever against this franchise. Bauer, Pedro Martinez (1999 ALCS Game 3) and Cliff Lee (2010 ALCS Game 3) are the only starters to allow no runs and two hits or fewer while striking out at least eight Yankees in a postseason game.

While the Yankees bats went M.I.A., Sonny Gray was a mess on the mound. He really struggled with his command, issuing four walks, hitting a batter and throwing a wild pitch. Only one other Yankee pitcher crammed all that into a single playoff appearance: Jack McDowell in the 1995 ALDS.

Even worse, Gray gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series with this #NotFunFact: only one other starter in major-league postseason history walked four guys, hit a guy and tossed a wild pitch while pitching fewer than four innings: Ramon Ortiz (Angels) in the 2002 ALDS … against the Yankees.

(Getty)
(Getty)

No challenge, no win
Speechless.

The Yankees have suffered plenty of heart-breaking and frustrating losses this season, yet somehow Game 2 managed to top them all, zooming to first place in the W.L.O.T.S. (Worst Loss of the Season) standings. How improbable was this loss?

  • The five-run blown lead was tied for their second-largest in the postseason; the last time they gagged a five-run lead in the playoffs was the 2002 ALDS (Game 3) against the Angels. And it was the first time ever the Indians erased a deficit of five-plus runs to win a playoff game.
  • Scoring eight runs, fueled by three homers, should have been enough offense to win this game. Before Friday’s loss, the Yankees were 14-0 all-time in the postseason when scoring at least eight runs and going deep three times in a game.
  • It was just the second time the Yankees lost a postseason game on the road in the 13th inning or later. It’s probably best to not mention the other one (Game 5 of 2004 ALCS vs. the Red Sox). Sorry.

And still, sometimes, baseball is predictable. This was the third extra-inning playoff contest between these two teams — and the Yankees have now lost all three.

Obviously the major pivot point of the game was the non-challenge by Joe Girardi in the sixth inning. Before we get to the numbers, Girardi’s non-challenge was clearly an inexcusable mistake given the circumstances. Anyways, here’s a couple stats related to the at-bat.

First, Chad Green had faced 190 left-handed batters in his career entering Game 2, and had hit exactly one of them (Chris Davis last year). And Francisco Lindor’s grand slam was the first extra-base hit that Green had allowed with the bases loaded in his career. Second, the Yankees challenged six hit-by-pitch calls in the regular season, which was the most of any team (they ranked 13th in total challenges with 42). And overall, the Yankees 75 percent success rate on all challenged plays this season was the best in the majors.

Now that The Ugly chapter of this game has been written, let’s finish off with The Good. Remember, the Yankees pummeled the likely AL Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, for six runs and seven hits. Gary Sanchez kick-started the offense with a two-run homer in the first inning. The 24-year-old is the youngest Yankee catcher to homer in a postseason (a 22-year-old Yogi Berra homered in the 1947 World Series as a pinch-hitter).

Aaron Hicks then sent Kluber to the showers with a three-run bomb in the third inning that put the Yankees ahead 6-3. That gave us a nice #FunFact: he joined Bernie Williams and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankee centerfielders to hit a tie-breaking, multi-run homer in the playoffs.

Finally, Greg Bird extended the lead to 8-3 with a towering shot to rightfield in the fifth. Bird and Sanchez became the second set of Yankee teammates under age 25 to homer in a postseason game. Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller also did it in Game 3 of the 1939 World Series.

(Getty)
(Getty)

It ain’t over ’til …
The Yankees staved off elimination with a dramatic 1-0 win in Game 3 on Sunday night, showing off their Fighting Spirit once again in this rollercoaster, never-say-die season.

It was the sixth 1-0 win in franchise postseason history and the third in a potential elimination game (also 2001 ALDS Game 3 and 1962 World Series Game 7). Their only other 1-0 playoff win in the Bronx was in Game 1 of the 1949 World Series against the Dodgers.

In contrast to the rest of this run-happy postseason, Game 3 was a classic – and unprecedented – pitchers duel. It was the first postseason game in major-league history where each starter allowed zero runs, no more than three hits and had at least five strikeouts.

Masahiro Tanaka delivered an ace-like performance for the Yankees, carving up the Indians lineup with his nasty, dive-bombing splitter and late-breaking slider. Considering the magnitude of the game, Tanaka’s gem becomes even more impressive and historic. A worthy #FunFact for our ‘Hiro: he is the first Yankee pitcher ever to toss at least seven scoreless innings, strike out seven-or-more guys and give up three hits or fewer in a potential postseason elimination contest.

Aroldis Chapman also came through in the clutch with a white-knuckle, five-out save to seal the win. Since saves became official in 1969, the only other pitcher in baseball history to record a save of at least five outs in a 1-0 win with his team facing postseason elimination was Mariano Rivera in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS.

As brilliant as Tanaka and Chapman were, the Yankees couldn’t have won the game without the heroics of Greg Bird and his solo homer in the seventh off Andrew Miller. Two other Yankees have gone deep in the seventh inning or later of a postseason contest to break a 0-0 tie — Tommy Henrich in the 1949 World Series (Game 1) and Charlie Keller in the 1939 World Series (Game 4).

Finally, another #FunFact for the Birdman: he is the first player in major-league history to snap a 0-0 tie with a homer in the seventh inning or later and his team on the brink of being eliminated from the playoffs.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Stayin’ Alive
The never-say-die Yankees forced a winner-take-all Game 5 with a convincing 7-3 win at the Stadium on Monday night. The Yankees broke out of their mini-offensive slump with seven runs and were helped out by a sloppy Indians defense that led to six of them being unearned. This was just the second postseason game where a Yankee opponent allowed six or more unearned runs; the other was in Game 2 of the 1960 World Series against the Pirates.

Gary Sanchez added an insurance run in the sixth inning with a solo drive to right-center for his second homer of the postseason. Power-hitting young catchers shining in October is special; only four other backstops under age 25 have hit multiple homers in a single playoffs: Johnny Bench (1970, ’72), Javy Lopez (1995), Brian McCann (2005) and Yadier Molina (2006).

While the offensive fireworks were cool, the star of this game was Luis Severino. He bounced back from his disastrous Wild Card game outing with seven superb and gutty innings. Sevy is the second-youngest Yankee with nine strikeouts in any postseason game (trailing 22-year-old Dave Righetti in the 1981 ALDS). And he is only the fourth pitcher – of any age – in franchise history to win a potential elimination game while striking out at least nine guys. CC Sabathia (2012 ALDS Game 5), Bob Turley (1958 World Series Game 5) and Vic Raschi (1952 World Series Game 6) are the others.

(Getty)
(Getty)

#LoveThisTeam
The Yankees are Kings of the Improbable Comeback, winning Game 5 to become the 10th team in baseball history to overcome a two-games-to-zero deficit in a best-of-five series. Combined with their similar rally in the 2001 ALDS against the A’s, they joined the Red Sox as the only franchises to achieve this incredible feat twice.

Making this amazing victory even more impressive is that it came against a 102-win Indians club that was the AL’s best in the regular season. The Yankees are now 9-2 in postseason series against 100-plus-win teams, and their only losses were to the Reds in the 1976 World Series and the Cardinals in the 1942 World Series.

They’ve been at their best with their backs against the wall this entire season and especially in the playoffs, improving to 4-0 in potential elimination games and 2-0 in winner-take-all games in this postseason. It is the first time in franchise history they’ve won four games when facing elimination in a single postseason, and the first time they’ve won multiple winner-take-all games in a single postseason.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Didi Gregorius had a performance for the ages, lighting up the scoreboard early and often, with a solo homer in the opening frame and then going deep again in the third inning. He joined Jason Giambi (2003 ALCS Game 7) and Yogi Berra (1956 World Series Game 7) as the only Yankees with multiple homers in a winner-take-all postseason game. And … he’s the first shortstop in franchise history to go yard twice in any playoff game.

While Didi provided the power, Brett Gardner brought the grit. He won a grueling 12-pitch battle with Cody Allen in the ninth inning, lacing an RBI single into right field to give the Yankees a three-run cushion with three outs to go. Remarkably, it was the longest at-bat of his career that G.G.B.G. ended with a hit.

CC Sabathia was lights-out through four innings before getting into trouble in the fifth, but still finished with nine strikeouts. That matched his career postseason high that he set in the deciding Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS. Sabathia is just the fourth pitcher in major-league history to whiff at least nine guys in a winner-take-all game twice in his career. The others? Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling and Justin Verlander.

Aroldis Chapman sealed the win with two near-perfect innings and entered the record books with this remarkable #FunFact: He is the first pitcher in postseason history to save a winner-take-all game by throwing at least two hitless innings and striking out four or more guys.

************
We will see you Friday night!

Tuesday Links: Sabathia, Girardi, Mets, Judge, Tate, Abreu

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Thanks to wins in Games Three and Four of the ALDS the last two days, the Yankees will play for a spot in the ALCS tomorrow night. What a fun season this has been. I hope it never ends. Anyway, here are some stray links to check out now that we all have a chance to catch our breath a bit during the off-day.

Sabathia still wants to pitch in 2018

Over the weekend CC Sabathia reiterated to Jon Morosi that he plans to pitch in 2018. He said this back over the winter too, but at 37 years old and with a balky knee, he could’ve changed his mind at some point during the season. And heck, maybe the Yankees will win the World Series and Sabathia will decide to ride off into the sunset as a champion. That’d be cool, as much as I’d miss CC.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow night, I am totally cool with bringing Sabathia back on one-year contracts for pretty much the rest of his career, Andy Pettitte style. He showed this year that last season’s success was no fluke. The new Sabathia is here to stay. Between the perpetual need for pitching depth and Sabathia’s leadership role in the clubhouse, bringing him back is a no-brainer. And why would Sabathia want to leave? The Yankees are good and fun, and he lives here year-round. The going rate for veteran innings dudes (Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, etc.) is one year and $10M to $12M these days. Maybe Sabathia gets $15M because he’s basically a legacy Yankee?

Mets have discussed Girardi

I had a feeling this was coming. According to Mike Puma, the Mets have internally discussed pursuing Joe Girardi should Girardi and the Yankees part ways when his contract expires after the season. Terry Collins was essentially pushed out as Mets manager after the season, and the team is looking for a new skipper. Also, as George King writes, Girardi has given some indications he could step away after the season to spend more time with his family and avoid burnout.

While we should never rule out Girardi going elsewhere or simply stepping away to be with his family, these two reports struck me as plants from Girardi’s camp as a way to build leverage for contract talks. The best thing for Girardi would be the Nationals and Dusty Baker having trouble finding common ground for an extension, because then he could use them as leverage too. I think Girardi wants to come back — who’d want to leave given how well set up the Yankees are for the future? — and I think both Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman want him back. The chances of a reunion seem quite high to me. Maybe as high as 95/5.

Judge named BA’s Rookie of the Year

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

A few days ago Baseball America named Aaron Judge their 2017 Rookie of the Year, which should surprise no one. They give out one award for all of MLB, not one for each league. Baseball America has been giving out their Rookie of the Year award since 1989 and Judge is the second Yankee to win it, joining Derek Jeter in 1996. From their write-up:

“You watched him in the minor leagues and you saw the raw power and athletic ability,” one pro scout told BA during the season. “You saw a big swing and high strikeout numbers. Then you have to ask yourself does he have the ability to make adjustments and shorten the swing. The answer was yes.’

“If anybody says they expected this I would have to call them a liar. Nobody in their right mind expected this.”

The last few Baseball America Rookies of the Year include Corey Seager, Kris Bryant, Jose Abreu, Jose Fernandez, and Mike Trout. Judge is for sure going to win the AL Rookie of the Year award — he’d be the first Yankee to win that since Jeter — and he should win unanimously. The real question here is the MVP race. I see way more people explaining why Judge shouldn’t win it (his slump) than why Jose Altuve should win. Kinda weird.

Tate removed, Abreu added to AzFL roster

Dillon Tate has been removed from the Scottsdale Scorpions roster with Albert Abreu taking his place, the Arizona Fall League announced. Also, Chris Gittens was removed from the roster as well. I’m not sure why Tate was dropped from the roster, but it could one of countless reasons. He could’ve gotten hurt. The Yankees could’ve decided to shut him down after Instructional League. The Yankees may think those innings would be better spent on Abreu. Who knows.

Abreu came over in the Brian McCann trade and he threw only 53.1 innings around elbow and lat injuries this year. He finished the season healthy though, and is obviously healthy enough to go to the AzFL, so he’ll be able to squeeze in some more innings there. That’s good. Abreu has an awful lot of upside, maybe the most of any pitcher in the system. As for Gittens, he was removed because Billy McKinney was added to the AzFL roster, and he’s going to start playing some first base there. Only so many first base roster spots to go around, so Gittens gets dropped.

Saturday Links: Otani, Denbo, Judge, Sanchez, YES Network

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

The Yankees and Indians have an off-day today as the ALDS shifts from Cleveland to New York. The best-of-five series will resume with Game Three tomorrow night. Here are some links to check out in the meantime.

Otani dazzles in possible final start in Japan

Shohei Otani, who may or may not come to MLB this offseason, made what could be his final start for the Nippon Ham Fighters earlier this week. He struck out ten in a two-hit shutout of the Orix Buffaloes, and Jason Coskrey says dozens of MLB scouts attended the game. Otani finished the season with a 3.20 ERA in 25.1 innings and a .340/.413/.557 batting line in 63 games. He missed time with quad and ankle problems, hence the limited time on the mound.

Joel Sherman says the Yankees are “known to be extremely interested” in Otani, who, if he does come over this year, will come over under the old posting rules. That means the (Ham) Fighters will set a $20M release fee. MLB and NPB are currently renegotiating the posting agreement for other players going forward. The Yankees have roughly $2M in international bonus money to offer Otani based on my estimates, though if he comes over this year, it won’t be for top dollar. Basically no team has much international money to offer. Otani will go wherever he thinks is the best fit based on his own personal preferences. Good luck predicting that.

Denbo expected to join Marlins

Folks in baseball expect Yankees vice president of player development Gary Denbo to join Derek Jeter and the Marlins this offseason, reports Jon Heyman. Marlins general manager Mike Hill is expected to remain on, with Denbo coming over to head up their player development department, the same department he runs for the Yankees now. Denbo’s contract is up after the season, so he’s free to come and go as he chooses.

Jeter and Denbo are very close and go back a long away, and I figured Jeter would try to poach him once we found out he was buying the Marlins. Denbo has done a phenomenal job turning around the farm system and the Yankees will miss him, assuming they can’t convince him to stay. Who will take over the farm system? I have no idea. The Yankees will find someone. I’m curious to see which Yankees farmhands the Marlins try to acquire going forward. You know Denbo has some personal favorites in the system.

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

Judge had most popular jersey in 2017

The most popular player jersey this season, according to sales on MLB.com, belongs to Aaron Judge. Here is the press release. The average age of the top 20 players in jersey sales is 27, so that’s fun. Here’s the top five:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees
  2. Kris Bryant, Cubs
  3. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  4. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  5. Bryce Harper, Nationals

Also in the top 20 jersey sales: Gary Sanchez. He ranked 15th in jersey sales overall and sixth among AL players, behind Judge, Mike Trout, Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, and Jose Altuve. Only two pitchers in the top 20, which is kinda weird. Kershaw is fourth and Noah Syndergaard is 19th. The people love dingers, I guess.

YES Network ratings up 57%

Not surprisingly, the YES Network’s rating were up a whopping 57% this season, the network announced yesterday. This season’s ratings were the best in five years. Primetime game broadcasts on YES had higher ratings than the primetime schedules of all other cable networks in New York, plus ratings for non-game broadcasts (pregame and postgame shows, etc.) were up as well. Ratings outside the city also increased substantially. Turns out if you put a very good and very fun team on the field, people will watch. Who woulda thunk it?

The Yankees need their arms to neutralize the Twins’ legs in the Wild Card Game

Eyes on the target! (Elsa/Getty)
Eyes on the target! (Elsa/Getty)

Tonight’s AL Wild Card Game features two up-and-coming teams built around impressive young cores. The Yankees have Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. The Twins have Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Jose Berrios. The Yankees have Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia as veteran support. The Twins have Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana. There are interesting parallels between the two teams.

Beyond the roster composition, the Yankees and Twins have something else in common: they’re both very good baserunning teams. Among the best in the game. You may not believe it after watching the Yankees run into outs all summer, but I assure you, every team does that. The Yankees added a lot of value on the bases this season. Some stats:

Yankees Twins
FanGraphs BsR +10.6 runs (5th in MLB) +14.2 runs (1st in MLB)
SB Total 90 (12th) 95 (9th)
SB% 80% (1st) 77% (4th)
Extra Base% 39% (16th) 42% (7th)

I have to think at least part of the difference in their extra base taken rates — that’s going first-to-third on a single, scoring from first on a double, etc. — is a result of their home ballparks. Yankee Stadium is pretty small and it’s not always possible to go first-to-third on a single to right because the right fielder is that much closer to the infield. Target Field is massive. There’s more room to cover and that gives the runner a little extra time on the bases.

As for stolen bases, the Twins are led by Buxton, who went a ridiculous 29-for-30 in stealing bases this year. And the one time he was caught stealing, Buxton made it to the bag safely, but was tagged out when he overslid.

Both Dozier (16-for-23) and Jorge Polanco (13-for-18) had double-digit steals as well. Buxton took the extra base a whopping 71% of the time this season, the highest mark among all MLB regulars, while Eddie Rosario (58%), Eduardo Escobar (50%), and Dozier (44%) were all comfortably above the 40% league average.

The Twins use their speed to take the extra base. That’s what they do. The best way for the Yankees to combat Minnesota’s speed is by not allowing anyone to reach base. Simple, right? In the likely and unfortunate event the Twins do get some men on base tonight, it’ll be up to the throwing arms to limit those extra bases, specifically Sanchez behind the plate and the three outfielders.

Severino & Sanchez

We know Sanchez has a ridiculously powerful arm, one that allowed him to throw out 23 of 60 attempted basestealers this season, which is a well-above-average 38%. The league average is 27%. How good is Sanchez’s arm? Runners attempted only 91 steals against the Yankees this season, third fewest in baseball behind the Cardinals (Yadier Molina) and Indians. That’s with Austin Romine, who can’t throw at all, starting for basically all of April.

Severino, tonight’s starter, allowed four stolen bases in six attempts this season. That’s it. The guy threw 193.1 innings and six runners attempted to steal. Six! Between Sanchez’s arm and Severino’s nifty little pickoff move — he has that funky sidearm motion that really speeds up his delivery to first base — the Yankees appear to be well-suited to control the running game tonight. It’ll be strength against strength. Fun!

The Outfielders

For the first time in a long time, the Yankees have some pretty great outfield arms on the roster. Aaron Judge has a very strong arm and Aaron Hicks has one of the strongest outfield arms in the game. Maybe the strongest. Brett Gardner has a solid arm as well. Jacoby Ellsbury? His arm is bad. It just is. His arm is terrible and it has cost the Yankees plenty of runs over the years. Here are some outfield throwing numbers:

Opportunities Hold % Throw Out %
Gardner in LF 135 65.2% (63.2% MLB average) 3.0% (1.6% MLB average)
Ellsbury in CF 88 36.4% (44.9%) 1.1% (1.9%)
Judge in RF 140 54.3% (47.7%) 1.4% (2.1%)
Hicks in LF 14 50.0% 0.0%
Hicks in CF 61 45.9% 0.0%
Hicks in RF 11 63.6% 0.0%

Hicks did have three outfield assists this season, though none came on a runner trying to advance an extra base on another player’s base hit. He twice threw a runner out trying to stretch a single into a double, plus this happened:

Anyway, both Gardner and Judge were better than the league average at preventing runners from taking the extra base. Judge was considerably above-average, but again, I think the small right field at Yankee Stadium has at least something to do with that. He’s closer to the infield than most other players at the position. Judge clearly has a very strong arm though.

In center field, opposing teams ran wild on Ellsbury. His hold rate was far below the league average for center fielders. That’s not surprising, right? Because of this, I think the Yankees have to seriously consider starting Hicks in center field tonight. Even if you ignore the hold rates for a second, Hicks has a much better arm than Ellsbury — the Twins should know that better than anyone after drafting and developing Hicksie — and he’s better equipped to control Minnesota’s high-end running game.

Keep in mind we’re not talking about a small difference in outfield arms here. We’re talking about one of the best outfield arms and one of the worst outfield arms, against a team that is very aggressive on the bases. Given the winner-take-all nature of the Wild Card Game, the Yankees have to put their best team on the field, and the best team has Hicks and his arm in center field over Ellsbury. Let Ellsbury be the DH.

* * *

The Twins went 40-34 in the second half and, believe it or not, they led the AL with 412 runs scored. The Indians (397) were second and the Yankees (381) were third. The running game is a huge part of Minnesota’s offensive attack and the Yankees have to be prepared for that tonight. Sanchez and Severino are about as good a stolen base neutralizing battery as there is. Judge’s and Gardner’s arms are assets in the outfield. Ellsbury’s? No way. Hicks’ is though, and the Yankees need to seriously consider playing him in center field tonight to help take away the Twins’ ground game.

The Twins probably won’t pitch to Aaron Judge, so others need to carry the Yankees in the Wild Card Game

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

I think the most impressive thing about Aaron Judge‘s rookie season is the way he rebounded from a deep slump not once, but twice. Sure, the massive dingers were cool — no one loves dingers like I do — but the league tested Judge and he passed with flying colors. He adjusted following his MLB debut last year and he adjusted again following his midseason slump. It was quite impressive for a rookie.

Judge finished the 2017 regular season with a .284/.422/.627 (172 wRC+) batting line and a rookie record 52 home runs, and in September he authored a .311/.463/.889 (223 wRC+) batting line with 15 homers. He was a force as the Yankees pushed for a postseason spot and hung around the AL East race far longer than anyone expected. Judge will win Rookie of the Year. It should be unanimous. Will he win MVP? Eh, maybe. The fact he is in the conversation is pretty cool.

Tomorrow night the season will be on the line in the Wild Card Game, and of course the Yankees are hoping Judge helps them to a victory. He’s the centerpiece of their offense and he’s almost certainly going to bat second, nice and high up in the order. Here’s the thing though: the Twins won’t let Judge beat them. I assume that’s their plan going into the Wild Card Game. Don’t give Judge anything to hit.

When the Twins visited Yankee Stadium two weeks ago, they did pitch to Judge, and he burned them over and over and over again. Judge went 4-for-11 (.364) with two homers, two sac flies, one walk, and two strikeouts in the three-game sweep. The Twins pitched to him in every single situation:

  • Bases empty: 3-for-3 with two singles and a homer
  • Men on with first base occupied: 0-for-2 with a sac fly
  • Men on with first base open: 1-6 with a homer, a walk, and a sac fly

Perhaps the Twins will take their chances and hope Judge saves all his hits for when the bases are empty tomorrow night. Something tells me that will not be the case. In a close game, they’re probably going to take the bat right out of his hands because he can change the game with one swing. That’s what I would want the Twins to do if I were a Twins fans, anyway. This isn’t a normal hitter here. Judge might get the Barry Bonds treatment.

What does this mean? This means it’ll be up to the other guys in the lineup to lead the charge offensively, because Judge might not even get a chance to have an impact. Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius, the guys hitting behind Judge, will have to make the Twins pay for pitching around him. The No. 9 hitter and Brett Gardner will have to get on base to force the Twins to pitch to Judge. Clog those bases and make pitching around Judge a non-option.

Fortunately the Yankees have a deep lineup, one in which Todd Frazier and Jacoby Ellsbury figure to hit in the bottom third tomorrow night. Frazier hits for a low average, sure, but he can get on base and hit for power. Ellsbury makes an awful lot of contact and can create havoc with his legs. From 2013-15, guys like that were hitting much higher in the lineup for the Yankees. Now they’re hitting eighth and ninth. The lineup depth is there to supplement Judge.

With any luck, the Yankees will back the Twins into a corner and force them to pitch to Judge several times. Runners on first and second with no outs, or men on the corners with one out, that sort of thing. Otherwise I just can’t see him getting much to hit — other than mistakes, of course — and Judge is more than disciplined enough to take those walks. Getting on base is good! But it would also be nice to see Judge get some chances to swing the bat.

Can the Yankees win without Judge contributing offensively? Of course. They did it a bunch of times this season. It sure does make life easier when he contributes though, and the Twins are very aware of this. Maybe Minnesota will trust their game plan and go after Judge all night, like they did two weeks ago. That’d be cool. I’d welcome that. I trust Judge to do damage. If they don’t pitch to him, it’ll be up to everyone else to carry the load offensively, and the Yankees have the firepower to do exactly that.

Yankeemetrics: Goodbye, regular season (Sept. 29-Oct. 1)

(AP)
(AP)

Terrific Tanaka
The Yankees opened their final regular-season series with a 4-0 shutout of the Blue Jays, reaching the 90-win plateau for the first time since 2012 and the 61st time in team history. That’s 19(!) more 90-win seasons than any other franchise (Giants have 42).

Masahiro Tanaka was absolutely dominant as he carved up Toronto’s lineup, retiring the first 14 batters – including 10 via strike three – en route to one of the most spectacular outings of his pinstriped career. He finished with a career-best 15 strikeouts and no walks in seven scoreless innings. Let’s recap this historic gem:

  • First Yankee ever to strike out at least 15 guys, walk none and allow no runs in a game.
  • Second pitcher in major-league history with 15-plus strikeouts, no walks and no runs in an outing of seven innings or fewer. Mike Mussina also did it on September 24, 2000 against the Red Sox.
  • It was his third start this year with 13 or more strikeouts – he’s the only pitcher in franchise history to have a trio of games like that in one season.

In all three of those 13-strikeout, zero-walk games he also gave up no more than one run. Tanaka is one of two pitchers in the history of baseball to have three games with at least 13 strikeouts, no walks and one run or fewer allowed in a single season. The other guy you might have heard of, Pedro Martinez, in 2000.

Tanaka’s first and last starts of the regular season perfectly encapsulate the bizarre and confounding campaign he’s had this year. In his first start, he tossed a clunker (7 runs, 2 2/3 innings vs. Rays), which was one of five games he allowed at least seven earned runs. In his final start, he authored a 15-strikeout, no-walk gem, which was one of three games with at least 13 strikeouts and zero walks.

Putting those two bizarro notes together, we get this head-scratching factoid for Tanaka:

  • Five starts allowing at least seven earned runs are the most in the American League this year.
  • Three 13-strikeout, no-walk games are the most in MLB this year. In fact, the rest of the pitchers in the majors combined for four such starts!
(AP)
(AP)

Vintage Sabathia, Record-breaking Judge
The Yankees extended their win streak on Saturday with a narrow 2-1 victory, but their chase for the division crown ended as the Red Sox beat the Astros to secure first place in the AL East. Still, the Yankees have made a strong push towards postseason these past few weeks, and finished up the month with a 20-8 record, their most September wins since 1995.

CC Sabathia – in possibly his last start as a Yankee – delivered yet another vintage performance, scattering four hits across 5 2/3 scoreless innings, while lowering his ERA to 3.69. He is the third Yankee southpaw to start at least 25 games in his age-36 season or older and finish with an ERA that low, along with Tommy John (1979, 1980, 1982) and Whitey Ford (1965).

Sabathia gave up one run or fewer in nearly half (12) of his 27 starts this season, which gives us to a notable #FunFact for the large lefty: Only one other Yankee pitcher as old as Sabathia (age 36+) compiled 12 or more starts with one run or fewer allowed in a season – Spud Chandler had 14 in 1946.

In the least surprising news of the day, Aaron Judge broke another record. He destroyed a 2-0 fastball from Marcus Stroman in the fourth inning, clearing the bleachers in left-center with a blast that Statcast measured at 484 feet, the second-longest homer of his career. Since Statcast began tracking distance in 2015, Judge is the only player to hit multiple homers of 480-plus feet in one season.

It was also the 33rd time he went deep in the Bronx and the 15th time he cleared the fences in September. Seems good, right?

  • 33 homers are the most ever by a Yankee at home, one more than Ruth in 1921 at the Polo Grounds. Ruth played 78 home games that year; this was Judge’s 77th game at the Stadium.
  • 15 homers are the most in a calendar month by a Yankee since Roger Maris had 15 in June 1961.
  • He joined Babe Ruth as the only guys in franchise history with at least 15 homers and 25 walks in a calendar month (Ruth did it in May 1928 and June 1930).
  • The 25-year-old is the youngest player in Major-league history to hit 15-plus homers and walk more than 25 times in any calendar month.
(AP)
(AP)

Bring on the Twins
The Yankees wrapped up the regular season with a meaningless loss to the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon, a game in which the biggest takeaway is that everyone stayed healthy. Well, it was meaningless in terms of the standings and playoff implications. But, this is Yankeemetrics so let’s dig into the best stats and numbers from Game No. 162.

With Sunday’s 2-1 loss, the Yankees finished the season with an 18-26 record in games decided by one run. It’s their most one-run losses since 1990 (29) and their worst record in one-run games since 1981 (21-32). What does that mean? The 1990 club was one of the worst in franchise history — their 95 losses are the third-most by a Yankee team, and their .414 is the fourth-worst; the 1981 club went to the World Series (lost in six games to the Dodgers). So it means … nothing?!

The most encouraging performance in this game was delivered by Jordan Montgomery, who capped off his terrific rookie campaign with another impressive outing (1 run, 2 hits, 5 2/3 innings). He finished with 144 strikeouts, the seventh-most by a Yankee rookie and the most since Ron Guidry had 176 in 1977.

The bullpen didn’t allow another hit, but still coughed up a run on a groundout, resulting in #weirdbaseball loss. It was the first time in nearly four decades the Yankees lost a home game in which they gave up no more than two hits. That last time it happened was August 3, 1979 against the Orioles — the first game following Thurman Munson’s tragic death.

Finally, let’s end on a positive note with an #AaronJudgeFact that sums up his elite combo of patience (127 walks) and power (52 homers). Just three other players* in Major-League history have reached those homer and walk totals in a season: Barry Bonds (2001), Mark McGwire (1999, 1998) and Babe Ruth (1928, 1927, 1921, 1920).