The (Chad) Green Monster [2017 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Fans and analysts have a very natural tendency to declare winners and losers immediately after a trade. In all sports. A deal gets made and wow it’s great for this team and terrible for that team. There is definitely something to be said for evaluating a trade using only the information available at the time it is made. Most deals take years to fully evaluate, however.

Two offseasons ago the Yankees traded Justin Wilson, one of their top bullpen arms, to the Tigers for two prospects most people didn’t know. Never heard of ’em. Luis Cessa went from the Mets to the Tigers in the Yoenis Cespedes trade a few weeks earlier, so maybe people had heard of him, but that’s it. The instant reaction to the trade: what the hell are the Yankees doing? It was pretty universal.

Now, two years later, the trade looks borderline genius for the Yankees. Wilson was very good for the Tigers the last two years — he stopped throwing strikes after getting traded to the Cubs for whatever reason (19 walks in 17.2 innings) — so it’s not like he flamed out immediately. The trade looks great because Chad Green, the real “who the heck is that guy?” piece of the trade, broke out as one of the best relievers in baseball this year.

Starting The Season In The Minors

Green started the 2017 season in High Class-A. True story. Jordan Montgomery won the fifth starter’s job, but the Yankees were planning to use April off-days to skip the fifth starter’s spot the first two times through the rotation, so Montgomery went to the minors. They had Montgomery and Green pitch on the same schedule just to have two fifth starter options available in case someone got hurt. The Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton schedules didn’t line up, so to High-A went Green.

Green made one start with High-A Tampa, allowing one run on two hits and no walks in four innings while on a pitch count. The Yankees brought Montgomery to the big leagues sooner than expected to give their top four starters extra rest, at which point Green was bumped up to Triple-A Scranton. He made five starts with the RailRiders, pitching to a 4.73 ERA (2.59 FIP) in 26.2 innings. Ugh, the Yankees lost the trade!

It wasn’t until May 8th, when the Yankees needed a fresh long reliever following that 18-inning marathon at Wrigley Field, that Green was called up this season. It was expected to be a short-term thing. Soak up some innings until the other relievers were back at full strength, then go back down. Green threw a scoreless inning against the Reds the day after being called up, and five days later, he threw 3.2 nearly perfect innings against the Astros, allowing the Yankees to come back from a 3-1 deficit to earn an 11-6 win.

The Yankees eliminated the bullpen shuttle this season. After shuttling fresh arms up and down as necessary the last few years, they stopped doing it this year, so Green stuck around. Jonathan Holder and Chasen Shreve threw three innings apiece in that 18-inning game against the Cubs. In the past, they would’ve been on a plane to Scranton the next day. Instead, the Yankees kept them around the same way they kept Green around following his relief outing against Houston.

Four days after that hero relief outing against the ‘Stros, Green tossed three shutout innings against the Royals. Three days after that it was 1.2 scoreless innings against the Rays, and that was his first real taste of important innings. Joe Girardi brought Green into the sixth inning with a one-run lead and let him pitch the sixth and seventh. It was impossible not to notice Green’s strong work.

A little bump in the road came next. Green gave up two runs in 1.1 innings against the Athletics on May 28th, then one run in 2.2 innings against the Blue Jays  on June 1st. It was the first time he looked human out of the bullpen. Green rebounded by going ten up, ten down with five strikeouts against the Red Sox on June 6th. In his first month after being called up, Green had a 1.62 ERA (3.22 FIP) in seven appearances and 16.2 innings. He wasn’t going back down.

That Weird Spot Start

The Yankees made it all the way to June 11th, the 60th game of the season, before they needed to use a sixth starter. And they didn’t even need to use a sixth starter that game. They voluntarily used a sixth starter in order to push the struggling Masahiro Tanaka back one day, allowing him to face the Mike Trout-less Angels in Anaheim rather than the home run happy Orioles at Yankee Stadium.

Initial reports indicated Domingo German would get called up for the spot start. He lined up perfectly and he’d been pitching well in Triple-A, so it seemed like the obvious move. The Yankees changed course at the last moment, and decided to give Green the spot start instead. But! They still called up German anyway to serve as the just in case long man. It was … weird.

Green made the start, needed 53 pitches to allow two runs in two innings, then German came out of the bullpen to throw 2.2 scoreless mop-up innings in his MLB debut. They were good mop-up innings. The Yankees won that game 14-3. Aaron Judge hit a 495 foot homer. In the end, it all worked out. It was just a weird decision. Green was not fully stretched out, German was, yet they started Green and used German in relief. It was the last start Green would make this season. Possibly ever.

The Multi-Inning Dominance

It wasn’t until July that Girardi started to use Green in high-leverage spots regularly. His numbers were ridiculous — Green from June 25th to July 23rd: 16.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 26 K — but Girardi loves defined roles, and Green didn’t really have one. Aroldis Chapman was the closer and Dellin Betances and David Robertson were the setup men. Green pitched whenever those guys weren’t available, basically.

From June 12th (the day after the spot start) through the end of the season Green threw 50.1 innings across 32 appearances with a 1.61 ERA (1.27 FIP). He struck out 80 batters (42.8 K%) in those 50.1 innings and held opposing hitters to a .152/.211/.234 batting line against. On August 30th, Green became the first pitcher in history to strike out seven while facing no more than eight batters in an appearance. Hey, obscure history is still history!

Green finished the regular season with a 1.83 ERA (1.75 FIP) and 103 strikeouts in 69 nice innings. If we remove that one kinda pointless spot start, here’s where Green ranked in various categories among the 150 relievers who threw 50+ innings this season:

  • ERA: 1.61 (5th)
  • FIP: 1.75 (4th)
  • ERA-: 37 (5th)
  • FIP-: 38 (3rd)
  • K: 100 (5th)
  • K%: 41.0% (3rd)
  • BB%: 6.6% (30th)
  • fWAR: +2.3 (6th)
  • bWAR: +2.7 (10th)

In terms of total value, Green was a top ten reliever in baseball this season despite not being called up until May 8th, 30 games into the season. On a rate basis, he was a top five reliever in baseball. Maybe top three. He was that good. He was basically the second coming of 2014 Betances. Betances had a 1.40 ERA (1.64 FIP) in 2014. Green had a 1.61 ERA (1.75 FIP) as a reliever this year. Ridiculous.

Dellin’s walk problems, Adam Warren‘s poorly timed back injury, and Girardi’s general indifference to Tommy Kahnle meant Green went into the postseason as the No. 3 reliever. And Girardi needed him right away. One out into the Wild Card Game. The Twins jumped on Luis Severino early and Green came out of the bullpen to get maybe the two biggest outs of the season. Minnesota was up 3-0 and had runners on second and third with one out in the first inning. Green struck out Byron Buxton and Jason Castro to stop the bleeding.

Falling behind 3-0 in the first inning of a winner-take-all game really stinks, but an early 3-0 deficit is manageable. Falling behind 4-0 or 5-0 though? That’s when things start to get scary. Once you’re no longer able to take the lead with a grand slam, you’re in trouble. Green got two enormous outs to strand those runners at second and third, giving the Yankees a chance to make the comeback they ultimately made.

Green had a notable hiccup in Game Two of the ALDS, retiring only one of the four batters he faced and allowing that crushing grand slam to Francisco Lindor, following Girardi’s non-challenge. He did not pitch again in the series, though in the ALCS, he got right back up on the horse and allowed one unearned run in 6.1 innings while striking out seven Astros. The ALDS Game Two blip was pretty bad. Everything else about Green’s postseason was great.

The Best Fastball In Baseball, Maybe

Green was incredible this season. What made him incredible is pretty … incredible. Green is not quite a one-pitch pitcher, but he is close. He threw his fastball 76.5% of the time this season, one of the highest rates in baseball. This year 222 pitchers threw at least 200 fastballs. Here is the fastball whiffs-per-swing leaderboard:

  1. Chad Green: 39.8%
  2. Craig Kimbrel: 39.1%
  3. Josh Hader: 38.8%
  4. Corey Knebel: 34.0%
  5. Jacob deGrom: 32.5%
    (MLB average: 20.1%)

No pitcher got more empty swings with his fastball this season than Green. His whiffs-per-swing rate was nearly double the league average. Furthermore, consider what happened when batters did actually make contact and put Green’s fastball in play (minimum 50 fastballs in play):

  • AVG: .120 (3rd lowest behind Ryan Madson and Darren O’Day)
  • ISO: .083 (17th lowest)
  • wOBA: .136 (3rd lowest behind Madson and O’Day)
  • xwOBA: .184 (3rd lowest behind O’Day and Madson)

When hitters swung at Green’s fastball, they missed more than they did against any other fastball in baseball. And when they did did make contact with Green’s fastball, they did basically no damage. That’s how you dominate with one pitch. Miss bats and get weak contact. Do one of those things and you’re in good shape. Do both and you’re one of the most effective pitchers in the game.

Now what, exactly, makes Green’s fastball so great? Velocity? Sure, though averaging 96.1 mph and topping out at 99.8 mph like Green did this year is hardly unheard of these days. Turn on any random game on a given night and you’ll probably see one or two guys come out of the bullpen throwing that hard. Spin rate? Yeah, probably. Green’s average fastball spin rate of 2,487 rpm was 13th highest among those 222 pitchers who threw 200+ fastballs in 2017.

Deception? Almost certainly, and this factor interests me most. The average perceived velocity of Green’s fastball, which tells us how fast the pitch looks to the batter when accounting for spin and extension and all that, was 96.1 mph. Identical to his actual average velocity. And yet, that whiffs-per-swing rate and xwOBA, man. There’s something going on here. I think it might be right here …

chad-green-deception

… when Green’s arm disappears behind his back during his delivery, that gives hitters problems. The ball disappears behind Green’s back then bam, he explodes forward and the fastball is right on you with all that velocity and spin. I could be completely and totally wrong, and probably am. I’m just looking for possible explanations here. Something about Green makes his fastball even more effective than the high-end velocity and elite spin would lead you to believe. Whatever it is, it helped Green emerge as a dominant reliever and a bullpen fixture for the Yankees in 2017.

2018 Outlook

The Yankees, as they always do when a starter-turned-reliever has success, will have Green come to Spring Training as a starting pitcher next year. I don’t think it’ll work for reasons I’ve detailed several times already (no changeup, only an okay slider, lack of grounders, etc.) but there’s no harm in trying it in camp. That’s exactly when you should experiment. Get Green stretched out to four or five innings and see what happens.

More than likely Green will wind up back in the bullpen at some point, where he’ll again be a key setup man alongside Robertson and a hopefully fixed Betances. His ability to go multiple innings — Green recorded at least four outs in 29 of his 39 relief appearances this year, and at least six outs 16 times — is incredibly valuable, especially with starters throwing fewer and fewer innings with each passing season, and I hope the next manager recognizes that and uses Green accordingly.

Chad Green will come to Spring Training as a starting pitcher, and there’s no reason not to try it

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

For the umpteenth straight season, the Yankees will have a relief pitcher report to Spring Training as a starting pitcher. Adam Warren has been that guy the last few years, and before him it was David Phelps. Next year it’ll be Chad Green (and Warren?). Brian Cashman confirmed earlier this week Green will indeed get a look as a rotation option in camp next year.

“The reliever situation (will be a) fallback, but nothing certain yet,” said Cashman to Erik Boland. “You can’t disregard how exceptional he was in the role he had, but at the same time, he didn’t find himself in that role because he was a failed starter.”

Green, 26, was outstanding for the Yankees this season, throwing 69 innings with a 1.83 ERA (1.75 FIP) and a 40.7% strikeout rate. Almost all of that came in relief. Green made one spot start in June and allowed two runs in two innings while on a limited pitch count. In the postseason he allowed five runs (four earned) in 8.2 innings.

I’ve said this a few times in recent weeks and I guess I have to say it again: I do not like the idea of Green as a starting pitcher. I don’t think he has the tools to be successful in that role long-term. There are two reasons:

  1. He doesn’t have a changeup. Green has a great fastball, but he lacks a third pitch — heck, even his second pitch (slider) isn’t all that great — and trying to go through a lineup multiple times by throwing fastballs by everyone doesn’t seem like it’ll work. I feel like someone would’ve done it already if it were a viable approach.
  2. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher. A total of 355 pitchers threw at least 50 innings in 2017. Green ranked 353rd with a 26.4% ground ball rate. Yikes! He allowed 12 homers in 36.1 innings as a starter in 2016, remember. Asking him to go through a lineup multiple times in Yankee Stadium might get ugly.

Keep in mind Green finished the 2016 season on the disabled list after working as a starter pretty much all year. His season ended September 2nd because of a sprained ligament and a strained tendon in his elbow. That’s a scary combination of words. It worries me a bit. Can Green hold up physically under a starter’s workload? Is it worth the risk to find out?

Personally, I don’t like the idea of Green as a starter. Now, that said, the Yankees should absolutely try it in Spring Training. Why not? That’s exactly when you should tinker with things. Let Green get stretched out to four of five innings during Grapefruit League play, see how he looks, then make a decision about his role. It’s much easier to go from starter to reliever than reliever to starter. So let him start in camp, then adjust.

For years we heard an average starting pitcher is worth more than an elite reliever, but given the way pitching staffs are run these days, I think the pendulum has swung in the other direction. An elite reliever is very valuable, and Green was definitely elite in 2017. I think it would be much easier for the Yankees to find another fourth or fifth starter than another dominant multi-inning setup man. That should factor into the decision about Green’s role, right?

Like I said, I don’t like the idea of Green as a starter but I am totally cool with letting him try it in Spring Training. Maybe he develops a changeup or finds a ground ball pitch. Who knows? Stranger things have happened. One way or another, Green will again be an important part of the pitching staff next season. If he’s not starting, he’s going to be soaking up a lot of high-leverage innings out of the bullpen.

After deep playoff run, the Yankees will again have to monitor pitcher workloads in 2018

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

At some point in the coming days, we’ll find out whether the Yankees need to add one starting pitcher this offseason, or two. The deadline for Masahiro Tanaka to opt-out of his contract is Saturday, and if he opts out, the Yankees will need to replace Tanaka and CC Sabathia. If he doesn’t opt out, the Yankees will only have to replace Sabathia. And they very well could replace Sabathia with Sabathia. Re-signing him seems like a definite possibility.

As things stand right now, the only thing we know for sure about the 2018 rotation is that it will include Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, and Jordan Montgomery. My guess is both Chad Green and Adam Warren will come to Spring Training stretched out as starters, though the smart money is on both going back to the bullpen. Luis Cessa and Domingo German will be around as depth, plus Chance Adams and maybe Justus Sheffield will debut at some point in 2018 as well.

This year the Yankees had to monitor the workloads of all their starting pitchers for different reasons. Severino and Montgomery are young pitchers gradually increasing their workloads. The Yankees have handled Tanaka with kid gloves since his 2014 elbow injury. Sabathia’s knee is an ongoing concern. Gray has had some injury problems in recent years as well, so giving him extra rest from time to time was a priority.

And, as things stand now, the Yankees are again going to have to monitor the workloads of their starters next season thanks to their deep postseason run. Severino and Montgomery threw more innings this season than ever before. By a lot too.

  • Severino: 209.1 total innings (previous career high: 161.2 innings in 2015)
  • Montgomery: 163.1 total innings (previous career high: 139.1 innings in 2016)

The Yankees were so concerned about Montgomery’s workload — big league innings are not the same as minor league innings because there’s more stress and intensity involved — that they went out and added Jaime Garcia so they could send Montgomery to Triple-A to control his innings there. Severino seemed to tire out a bit in the postseason. I thought he was noticeably fatigued in the fourth inning of ALCS Game Six.

This isn’t just about raw innings totals though. Montgomery and especially Severino pitched deeper into the year than ever before. The Yankees were one game away from the World Series! That means a shorter offseason recover. And this applies to the veterans too. Tanaka and Sabathia, should they come back, as well as Gray will miss out on a few extra weeks to rest this winter because of the postseason run.

The whole World Series hangover phenomenon is not new. Pitchers who pitch deep into the postseason and have shorter offseasons than usual have been coming back the next year and struggling for a long time now. That’s part of what made Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera so great. Those guys played seven-month seasons, not six-month seasons, because the Yankees were always in the playoffs. Yet they never broke down physically.

As much as we’d like them to turn out that way, the Yankees can’t proceed under the assumption Severino and Montgomery are essentially unbreakable like Pettitte and Rivera. This year they had to be careful with their workloads eclipsing their previous career highs. Next year they’ll have to worry about any lingering effects from those big workloads this year, and well as the shorter offseason that comes with going to Game Seven of the ALCS.

The Yankees know this, of course. Remember the Javy Vazquez trade? The second one? The Yankees made that trade because Sabathia, Pettitte, and A.J. Burnett worked hard in 2009 and pitched into November en route to the World Series championship. The Yankees wanted an innings eater to help lighten the load on the other guys. So they went out and got Vazquez, who at the time had just thrown 190+ innings for the tenth straight season to bolster the back of the rotation.

Now, the Vazquez trade didn’t work out in 2010. He stunk. But the idea was sound. Get another innings eater for the back of the rotation so it’s easier to pull Sabathia, Pettitte, and Burnett a little earlier than usual without overtaxing the bullpen following their long 2009 seasons. That’s where the Yankees are now. Their starters just threw a ton of innings and pitched deep into October, and there might be a carryover effect in 2018.

Perhaps the need to add rotation depth this winter isn’t as great as it was following 2009. The farm system is much richer now. Cessa, German, Adams, and Caleb Smith are basically MLB ready. Back in 2009, their best MLB ready pitching prospects were, uh, Ivan Nova? Zach McAllister? Good big leaguers! But the farm system was much thinner, and the Yankees didn’t have an Adams waiting, that top pitching prospect, or a Sheffield not far behind.

I’ve always been a pitching depth guy. Bring in as many viable starters as possible and don’t worry about where they all fit, because odds are you’ll need all of them at some point anyway. If the Yankees re-sign Sabathia, retain Tanaka, and bring in a veterans innings dude who pushes Montgomery to Triple-A to start 2018, I wouldn’t lose any sleep. Montgomery would be back in MLB before you know it. The long season and big workloads are something the Yankees have to be cognizant of next year, and that could mean making another Vazquez-esque trade.

Reviewing RAB’s ten bold predictions for the 2017 season

Thanks for making me look smart, Chad. (Bob Levey/Getty)
Thanks for making me look smart, Chad. (Bob Levey/Getty)

Sadly, the 2017 Yankees season came to an end Saturday night, with a loss to the Astros in Game Seven of the ALCS. On one hand, falling one win short of a World Series spot sucks always and forever. On the other hand, the 2017 Yankees were a pretty awesome team. I haven’t had this much fun following the Yankees in a long time. I won’t forget this season.

Back in March, four days before Opening Day, I made ten bold predictions for the 2017 Yankees season. And now that the season is over, it’s time to go back and see how I did. One thing this exercise taught me: I need to go bolder next year. Most of this year’s bold predictions were more mild than bold. Eh, whatever. This was my first crack at this. Now I know better for next season. To the bold predictions review!

1. Pitchers not currently on the 40-man roster will combine for 30+ starts.

Yeah, I probably should’ve gone with something like 50+ starts instead of 30+ starts if I wanted to be bold. Here is the games started leaderboard among players who were not on the 40-man roster as of the bold predictions post:

  1. Jordan Montgomery: 29
  2. Sonny Gray: 11
  3. Jaime Garcia: 8
  4. Caleb Smith: 2

That is 50 starts — 50 starts! — by pitchers who weren’t on the 40-man roster at the end of Spring Training. Nearly one-third of the season. The Yankees had some serious questions at the back of their rotation this year, though I figured guys like Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, and Chad Green would get most of the chances to fill in since they were already on the 40-man. That didn’t happen. Cessa, Mitchell, and Green combined for seven starts this season — five by Cessa and one each for Mitchell and Green.

2. Judge finishes in the top three of the Rookie of the Year voting.

Well, technically we don’t know the answer to this yet since the awards haven’t been announced yet, but yeah. Aaron Judge is going to be named AL Rookie of the Year. It should be unanimous, but you never know. The rookie WAR leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees: +8.2
  2. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers: +4.0
  3. Paul DeJong, Cardinals: +3.0
  4. Matt Chapman, Athletics: +2.7
  5. Jordan Montgomery, Yankees: +2.7

If Judge doesn’t win AL Rookie of the Year, it’ll be a travesty.

3. A pitcher other than Tanaka, Betances, and Chapman makes the All-Star Team.

I am 3-for-3 so far. Luis Severino made the All-Star Team this season. And he made it clean. He wasn’t an injury replacement or a Final Vote guy or anything. He was an original member of the AL All-Star roster. In the bold predictions post I guessed Michael Pineda would be the pitcher other than Masahiro Tanaka, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman to make the All-Star Team. I don’t know why anyone listens to me.

4. Green emerges as the next great Yankees reliever.

I am proud of this one. I believed Green had the tools to be a very effective reliever, mostly because his fastball generated so many swings and misses, even as a starting pitcher last season. His slider is just okay and his changeup basically doesn’t exist. I figured he’d eventually end up in the bullpen at some point, impress while airing it out for an inning or two at a time, and eventually enter the Circle of Trust™. That is pretty much exactly what happened. I’d be lying if I said I expected Green to be this good, but I had a feeling there was a potentially dominant reliever hiding in there somewhere. This is why people listen to me, I guess. Every once in a while I luck into looking smart.

5. Neither Sanchez nor Bird will lead the Yankees in home runs.

Remember Greg Bird‘s Spring Training? He was a monster and it looked like he was about to have a huge season. That’s why I included him in this bold prediction. Obviously the ankle injury changed things. Gary Sanchez was ridiculous during his two-month cameo last year, and pretty much everyone expected him to be the team’s best hitter this summer. The 2017 Yankees home run leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge: 52
  2. Gary Sanchez: 33
  3. Didi Gregorius: 25
  4. Brett Gardner: 21
  5. Matt Holliday: 19

In the bold predictions post I picked Starlin Castro to lead the Yankees in homers in 2017. For real. Here’s what I wrote:

I’m boldly predicting Sanchez and Bird will finish second and third on the Yankees in home runs, in either order. Judge could sock 25+ dingers, which would probably be enough to lead all rookies, though I don’t think he’ll lead the Yankees either. Not Matt Holliday or Chris Carter either. My pick? Starlin Castro. Boom. Castro turned 27 last week and is at the age where maximum power output could be reasonably expected. He set a career high with 21 dingers last year, and now that he’s entering his second year with the Yankees and is presumably more comfortable with things, I’m saying he’ll get to 30 this year.

Castro finished sixth on the team with 16 home runs, though he spent two stints on the disabled list with hamstring injuries. Otherwise he would’ve cleared 20 homers easily, maybe even 25. And he still wouldn’t have been even halfway to Judge. Yeah, technically I got this bold prediction right, but the Castro pick is kinda embarrassing. I’m ashamed.

6. The Yankees do more buying than selling at the trade deadline.

Remember when we were all talking about the Yankees as sellers? Good times. The Yankees sold at last year’s trade deadline, and they weren’t projected to be all that good this season, so of course we thought they might sell again. Tanaka, Betances, Holliday, Gardner, and others represented potentially tradeable pieces.

Ultimately, the Yankees bought at the trade deadline with two big trades and one smaller deal. A quick recap:

Don’t forget about the Tyler Webb for Garrett Cooper blockbuster. All buying, no selling.

7. Ellsbury, not Gardner, is the outfielder traded away.

Nope. Neither was traded away. The outfielder traded away was, uh, Fowler? Poor Dustin. His injury was definitely the worst moment of the season. Once the injury happened, part of me hoped the Yankees would make the postseason and invite him to throw out the first pitch at some point. That would’ve been cool. The Yankees traded him instead. This business is cruel.

8. Rutherford will take over as the No. 1 prospect in the organization.

Nope. Rutherford was traded too, so he can’t be the No. 1 prospect in the organization. That said, even if he hadn’t been traded, he wouldn’t have taken over as the top prospect, even with Gleyber Torres blowing out his non-throwing elbow and needing Tommy John surgery. Rutherford did not have a good season overall:

  • With the Yankees: .281/.342/.391 (113 wRC+) with two homers, 18.1 K%, 8.2 BB%
  • With the White Sox: .213/.289/.254 (63 wRC+) with no homers, 15.4 K%, 9.6 BB%
  • Overall (all at Low-A): .260/.326/.348 (98 wRC+) with two homers, 17.3 K%, 8.6 BB%

I certainly wouldn’t give up on Rutherford based on a disappointing first full season as a pro. The kid is still incredibly talented and it could click next year. He’s not a better prospect than Torres though. This bold prediction didn’t come true. (MLB.com currently ranks Gleyber as the top prospect in baseball with Rutherford sitting at No. 39, for what it’s worth.)

9. The Yankees will have the most productive DH spot in baseball.

For the first two and a half months of the season, this one was looking pretty good. Holliday had a fantastic start to the season. Then he got sick and just stopped hitting in mid-June, two things that may or may not be related. Here is where the Yankees ranked among the 15 AL teams in DH production:

  • AVG: .235 (11th)
  • OBP: .327 (4th)
  • SLG: .429 (5th)
  • OPS+: 105 (3rd)
  • HR: 28 (5th)

The Mariners had the most productive DH spot pretty much across the board thanks to Nelson Cruz. They were first in AVG (.288), first in SLG (.547), first in OPS+ (148), first in homers (39), and second in OBP (.374). Only the Indians were better in OBP (.391).

10. The Yankees will spend more days in first place than last year.

I kinda cheated with this one. The Yankees spent zero days in first place last year. They didn’t win the AL East this season, though they did spend 62 days in first place, more than 2013 (17 days), 2014 (24 days), and 2016 (zero days) combined. (They spent 100 days in first place in 2015.) I closed the bold predictions post with this:

Even with the questions at the back of the rotation, I believe this team is better than last year, and it’ll show when they get off to a better start in April. They’ve had some trouble keeping their head above water early on the last few seasons.

The Yankees went 15-8 with a +43 run differential in April, the best record in the AL. And off they went.

Glow and Grow

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Before we begin, a sincere thanks to you, dear readers, for following along during the season and the playoffs. We all appreciate your day in, day out support and couldn’t do any of this without you. Please continue to read, share, and support the–frankly–great work that goes on here. Yankees Only. 

Reflection and feedback are key to our growth in anything we do. Whether we’re students or professionals in whatever field, we don’t move forward unless we take stock of what’s happened, how it happened, why it happened, and what to do next. When the Yankee organization goes through this process, they’ll have plenty to be happy about.

I said it all year. You said it all year. Everyone said it all year. This was not supposed to be ‘the year’ for the Yankees. This was supposed to be a year in which they won 85 games if everything clicked right. Everything clicked way right and they won 91 games and took one of the two best teams in the AL to seven games in the ALCS. Despite the repetition, I don’t think this can be said enough. What the Yankees did this year is nothing short of shocking in the best possible way.

They led the league in homers. They were second in runs. Top three in AVG/OBP/SLG. Their pitchers were third in ERA and fourth in strikeouts.

Aaron Judge? An MVP type season. Gary Sanchez? A 24 year old catcher with 30 homer power and the ability to throw out nearly 40% of base stealers. Luis Severino? A Cy Young caliber season. Chad Green? The next Dellin Betances. Greg Bird? A great playoff run to inspire hope for 2018. Clint Frazier? Forced his arrival early and showed flashes of brilliance in his cup of coffee.

What was the worst thing that happened to this team? Michael Pineda‘s injury? As sad as it was to see Big Mike go down, they didn’t miss him. Matt Holliday‘s second half of doom? It didn’t sink the team. Chris Carter? Total disaster, but they recovered.

2017, in so many ways, was glowing for the Yankees. They do have things to improve, mainly Dellin Betances remembering he’s Dellin damn Betances and fixing whatever ailed him for the last month or so of the season. They have to figure out their third base situation and the outfield logjam.

For this team, there is room to grow. For this team, the future is bright. We got an unexpectedly great taste this year, and hopefully, this is just the appetizer. While baseball will break your heart more often than not, this team looks to be set up for long-term success.

The World Series or bust mentality has certainly gone away in the last few years, and that’s a good thing. Despite that, expectations were the lowest for this team than they had been in years. Not only did the Yankees beat those expectations, they shattered them. If anyone–friend, family, foe–tells you that this year was a disappointment, a failure, laugh at that person. This was probably the most fun season the Yankees have had since 2009 and there should be many more just like around the corner.

The optimal bullpen usage for yet another winner-take-all

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

The Yankees will play on Wednesday just their sixth game of the postseason, yet it will be their second winner-take-all. Unlike the first one, this game will likely ride more on the starting pitchers with the performances of CC Sabathia and Corey Kluber looming large.

However, with the way Joe Girardi has managed his bullpen over the last eight days, we have seen a variety of different game options after the starter. In their last two wins, it’s been ‘Rely on the starter and then go to the big guns.’ The win over the Twins was the routine ‘Get 26 outs of top four relievers’ game. You know, basic stuff we see all the time.

And we’ve also gotten a taste of every reliever in this series outside of Jordan Montgomery, who will likely be the long man in late extra innings on Wednesday.

So with that in mind, here’s my take on the optimal use of the pen.

1. Make the same decision with CC as in Game 2: Girardi caught flak for many things after Game 2. Rightfully so. But pulling Sabathia early wasn’t as big a mistake. You only have to go back to the last Monday of the regular season for a game where Sabathia was left in a little too long and let the opposing team back in the game.

And this time, the Yankees have a more rested bullpen to get the final few innings, especially if Sabathia can get two times through the order. Once you’re into the fifth or the sixth, CC should probably be batter-to-batter except in the extremely unlikely case of a 6+ run lead.

2. If Chad Green warms up early, he needs to come in early: This one is simple and worked to a tee in the Wild Card Game. Girardi got Green hot in the first and then went to him and rode him into the third. With four days off, Green should be able to do something similar if the situation calls for it.

But if Green gets hot in those first few innings, he better come in or he likely goes to waste. Green warmed up in the second and third innings in Game 2 but didn’t come in until the sixth. That’s a good 80-plus minutes or so after sitting down. It’s no wonder he seemed off.

We saw the same thing with Alan Busenitz in the Wild Card Game. I know, I know, not nearly as reliable a reliever. But the Twins got him warm in both the first and second inning and he didn’t come in until there were bases loaded and two outs in the seventh. That’s a lot of downtime and it thus makes sense that he threw four straight balls to walk in a run.

So hopefully Girardi doesn’t repeat this mistake. It’s better off skipping Green if he warms while CC gets out of early trouble than having Green warm, throw a ton of warmup pitches over the course of a few innings and then sit, just to come in off of his game.

3. Ride Robertson, Kahnle and Chapman (duh): At this point, I have no idea what the Yankees can get out of these three, but they need to seize every last drop in Game 5. A Houston series or beyond is irrelevant right now.

Here are their lines through five games:

  • Robertson: 3 G, 5.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K, 87 pitches
  • Kahnle: 3 G, 5 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 6 K, 59 pitches
  • Chapman: 3 G, 4.2 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 9 K, 81 pitches

Kahnle’s thrown fewer pitches (and those numbers!) but also pitched most recently. Are two days off enough for full throttle Robertson and Chapman? You have to figure Chapman can get you at least three outs. Robertson, too. Between the three, they should be able to get the last four innings. Maybe five.

How do you tell who’s up for what? That’s gotta be a gut feel for Girardi, who needs to be willing to pull them too early rather than too late. You’ve still got Adam Warren, Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray after them if needed. But we should see at least Chapman at some point and probably all three of these big guns.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

4. Avoid Betances: Dellin Betances can’t come into this game. He just can’t. It’s tough to see Betances struggling like this. His command just isn’t there and he needs to be at the very back of the bullpen. Probably behind Montgomery and Jaime Garcia. Would you feel comfortable with him in extras? Not ahead of Warren or one of the starters.

The Baseball America podcast brought up the question of whether he should even be on a possible ALCS roster and it’s unfortunate that it’s a valid question to raise. But until the ALCS roster is something worth discussing, Betances shouldn’t be pitching, even in a blowout.

5. Get by without the starters until extras: It’s really tempting to go with Tanaka after how he looked on Sunday. However, you never know how someone who hasn’t relieved will react to that situation. With the depth of this bullpen, the Yankees can survive without finding out what they can get from Tanaka or Gray (or Severino) until extra innings. If Sabathia struggles, Green and Warren are fine long men to get you to the fourth/fifth. Once you’re in extras, it’s all hands on deck in a pure scramble.

The Yanks rode their bullpen in the Wild Card Game, but they probably won’t be able to do it again in ALDS Game One

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

In the days leading up to last night’s Wild Card Game, we discussed the different ways the Yankees could approach their pitching staff in the winner-take-all affair. There were two approaches, basically. Start Luis Severino, the staff ace, or rely on all those power arms in a bullpen game. Overwhelmingly, RAB readers voted for Severino.

As it turned out, the Yankees did both. They started Severino, but because the Twins knocked him out one out into the game, Joe Girardi had to empty his bullpen. And the bullpen was magnificent. Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Aroldis Chapman combined to allow one run on five hits and three walks in 8.2 innings. They struck out 13. Incredible.

Aside from Chapman, who got the three outs in the ninth, the bullpen went above and beyond the usual call of duty. Green threw 41 pitches in two innings. Robertson threw a career high 52 pitches in a career high 3.1 innings. Kahnle threw 2.1 innings — that’s the second longest outing of his career — and 29 pitches. Girardi’s top three setup guys combined for 23 outs and 122 pitches. Again, incredible.

That performnce comes with a cost, however, as the Yankees won’t have a full strength bullpen heading into Game One of the ALDS against the Indians tomorrow. Kahnle managed to keep his pitch count low, so he should be in decent shape for Game One. Robertson will almost certainly be out of action though, and the same with Green, who typically received two days off following multi-inning appearances during the regular season.

“Greenie probably is going to need two days off. Robbie is probably going to need two days off,” said Girardi following last night’s game. “If you’re playing four games in five nights, it’s really difficult to (keep using your bullpen like this). You can do it probably two of the games of the (five), but you can’t do it back-to-back. And a lot of times you can — if you were to do it on Game Two, you probably can’t even do it on Game Three, even with the off-day in between.”

On one hand, the Yankees do have a pretty deep bullpen, so their “backup” setup men are Kahnle and Dellin Betances and Adam Warren. Yes, Betances has walked a ton of hitters this year and it’s hard to trust him, but when he’s your fourth (fifth?) best reliever, you’re doing okay. Even without Green and Robertson, the Yankees will have some quality bullpen arms available to bring the gap from starter to Chapman in Game One tomorrow.

On the other hand, Green and Robertson are the team’s best relievers, and the Yankees have their best chance to win when those two are available. No Green and no Robertson tomorrow reduces New York’s chances of winning. That’s just the way it goes. That isn’t to say Girardi was wrong to use them like he did yesterday. Of course not. That was necessary to win the winner-take-all game. This is just the consequences of not winning the division.

Bullpen usage tends to rely on the performance of the rest of the team. If the starter and the offense does their job, it’ll impact how the manager uses his relievers. That was the biggest reason the Yankees didn’t dominate even with the Chapman-Betances-Andrew Miller trio last year. The offense and the rotation didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, so those three didn’t have as many chances to impact the game.

So, the impact of not having Green or Robertson tomorrow can be mitigated by the offense and by the starter, whoever it ends up being. I think it’ll be Sonny Gray, but we’ll see. Point is, if the offense can score some runs against Trevor Bauer — not Corey Kluber! — and the starter can go reasonably deep into the game (more than one out, preferably), not having Green and Robertson won’t be as much of a factor as it could be.

The Yankees and Girardi did what they had to do to win the Wild Card Game last night, and because Severino checked out so early, that meant pushing the top relievers much further than usual. And there’s a domino effect to that. Green and Robertson won’t be available in Game One of the ALDS tomorrow. That’s life. Hopefully the starter and the offense can make it a moot point. And if not, it’ll be time for the rest of the bullpen to step up.