Yankeemetrics: Pitching, Power and Wins (May 22-24)

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

Bronx Bombers Born Again
The Yankees returned to the Bronx on Monday and kicked off their seven-game homestand with a sweet comeback win over the Royals, 4-2.

Michael Pineda continued to shed the enigma label that had defined his time in pinstripes leading up to this season with his eighth straight start of at least five innings pitched and no more than three earned runs allowed, easily the longest streak of his career. He didn’t have his dominant stuff, but executed well in tough spots as the Royals went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position against him.

That’s been one of the biggest keys to his resurgent campaign this year – remaining focused and poised while getting big outs when he needs them. Pineda has held batters to a .143/.162/.229 line with RISP in 2017, and most impressive is that .162 opponent on-base percentage, the lowest in the majors (min. 35 batters faced) through Monday.

Down 2-0 early, Brett Gardner ignited the Yankees rally with a third-inning solo homer, his ninth dinger of the season. All nine of those homers came in a span of 80 at-bats from April 29 through Monday, an at-bat per homer rate of 8.9 that should be familiar to Yankee fans: during Babe Ruth’s 60-homer campaign in 1927, he homered once every 9.0 at bats.

Another key moment in the game was the Yankees’ successful replay challenge prevented tying run from scoring in the seventh inning. That was their 14th challenge in 2017, and the 12th time they’ve had the call overturned. Thanks to our unsung hero of the season – coaching assistant Brett Weber – that “replay win percentage” of 85.7 was the best in the majors through Monday.

(AP)
(AP)

Magnificent Monty
The Royals handed the Yankees a rare loss on Tuesday night in the Bronx, one where the home team saw its normally lock-down bullpen implode in the late innings after an unprecedented outing by one of its young pitchers.

The Yankees wasted a historic gem by Jordan Montgomery, who was nearly perfect as he took a one-hit shutout and a 2-0 advantage into the seventh frame before giving up a solo homer to Lorenzo Cain. The bullpen then coughed up the lead and more, allowing five runs on four hits, including three home runs.

Let’s put all that craziness into context:

  • Before Tuesday’s meltdown, the Yankees were 15-0 when taking a multi-run lead into the seventh inning.
  • The bullpen entered the game with the fewest homers allowed (5) and the lowest homer rate (0.32 per nine innings) in the majors.
  • The final longball was surrendered by Chasen Shreve, who had not given up a single run, let alone a homer, in 2017. His 44 batters faced prior to Tuesday were the most of any pitcher in MLB that had yet to be scored on this season.
  • At the age of 24 years, 147 days, Montgomery became the youngest Yankee in franchise history to produce this impressive pitching line: at least six strikeouts, zero walks, no more than two hits allowed and six-or-more innings pitched.
(Getty)
(Getty)

Ace Sevy
Luis Severino made sure there would be no chance for another bullpen disaster on Wednesday as he delivered a dazzling performance with a 114-pitch, three-hit, eight-inning, scoreless gem in the Yankees 3-0 win.

It’s crazy but true: this was the first time the Yankees shut out the Royals since September 15, 2004 in Kansas City. They were the only AL team the Yankees hadn’t blanked in that span of nearly 13 years. Also crazy but true: it had been more than 16 (!) years since the Yankees shut out the Royals in the Bronx – the last time it happened was April 5, 2001. They were the only AL team the Yankees hadn’t yet held scoreless at the new Yankee Stadium.

Back to the highlight of the night … Severino’s ace-like domination of the Royals lineup. The 114 pitches were a career-high, and most impressively, he averaged 98 mph on his four-seamer in the seventh and eighth innings (!). He faced just one batter with a runner in scoring position all game, and nobody even reached third base against him.

One of the key at-bats came in the fourth with a man on first and two outs and the Yankees clinging to a 1-0 lead, when Severino struck out Eric Hosmer looking on a 3-2 changeup to end the inning. It was a perfectly placed pitch in the zone that completely fooled the Royals lefty:

hosmerseverinok2gif

Severino’s changeup has been a surprising weapon for him this season, as he’s allowed just two hits in 19 at-bats (.105) with four strikeouts ending in the pitch this season. While the pitch doesn’t generate a ton of whiffs, it’s super-effective at keeping hitters off-balance thanks to a 46 percent foul rate that is the second-highest among all major-league starters (min. 50 pitches). This command and confidence in his changeup has helped him hold lefties to a .600 OPS this season, a nice improvement from the .727 OPS he allowed to opposite-handed batters in his first two seasons.

How impressive was Severino’s masterpiece? Consider this fun nugget: Severino became first Yankee age 23 or younger to pitch at least eight scoreless innings and strike out seven-or-more batters in a game since a 23-year-old Dave Righetti on May 22, 1982 vs. the Twins.

Why are the Yankees sticking with eight relievers?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

For the last 15 days, the Yankees have had eight men in their bullpen.

At first, it was out of necessity. The team was coming off an 18-inning marathon with the Cubs and had to play a two-game series starting the next day. Making a move to add a long reliever — in this case Chad Green — was a prudent move after everyone but Tommy Layne was used on that Sunday night/Monday morning vs. the Cubs.

But two days later, the team had an off-day. They had optioned Rob Refsnyder, the obvious 25th man, to make room for Green, so he wasn’t available for a call-up. However, the team still had/has Mason Williams ready to call-up and an open 40-man roster spot to utilize for an extra position player, should they see the need.

By this time, it’s obvious they don’t see the need. They’re fine with a three-man bench as it provides them the luxury of eight relievers. It’s likely they’ll go back to a four-man bench with Tyler Austin comes off the 60-day DL either later this month or in early June, but that would mean another week or so with this peculiar arrangement. And it truly is a luxury as they aren’t all necessary.

When you look at the composition of the bullpen right now, there are the guys that are being used consistently and with purpose; Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard, Adam Warren and Jonathan Holder each have their roles right now and are minimally influenced by another man in the bullpen. Chad Green has taken on Warren’s long-man-in-close-game role and has been quite solid in said role.

But beyond those five guys, there hasn’t been much to do. Tommy Layne and Chasen Shreve, the two lefties, have thrown just 4 1/3 and five innings, respectively, over a combined nine appearances. With few lefty-laden lineups with which to deal, there simply isn’t much work for the duo. They’ve pitched in the same game twice, mostly as mop-up guys.

Giovanny Gallegos was used in a similar fashion, taking mop-up innings and helping the team get by during the Astros doubleheader. He’s more of a 1-2 inning guy anyway, so the team called up Bryan Mitchell in his spot.

Mitchell (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)
Mitchell (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

This seems like a poor use for Mitchell. Mitchell had been getting stretched out in Triple A and would be ready to call on as a spot starter. With the rotation’s struggles, that seems like it may be on the horizon, particularly with few off-days upcoming. And with an eight-man bullpen, an extra long reliever is superfluous. Green and Warren can both go multiple innings. Even if you say that Warren is now a one-inning reliever, the nominal ‘7th-inning guy’, you still have both Shreve and Layne sitting in the bullpen with little recent mileage most nights. They can take the long relief on any given night. With the current arrangement, Mitchell neither has a role nor a chance to develop further despite his ability to be either a solid back-end starter or quality reliever if given the opportunity.

The main reason to keep the eight-man bullpen going would be with the struggles in the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka has had a few short starts in a row, same with Luis Severino, while Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia have been the ones getting consistently through 6-7 their last few times out. The rotation has gone from 5.93 innings per start in April to 5.45 this month. This opens up about an inning every other game, yet that seems hardly enough to justify an extra reliever when the team was still barely using its last reliever when they had seven in April. If the innings trend continues to go down, both this season and in the future, an eight-man bullpen may become more of the norm to help spread innings among a taxed bullpen, but that isn’t the Yankees reality right now.

Eight relievers were fully necessary during the doubleheader, but the team was also allowed to call up an extra man for the roster. If the team wants another long reliever but needed an extra position player right now, they could either jettison Layne or option Shreve to call up Tyler Webb, who has been effective in Scranton since he was returned from his Rule 5 stint with the Pirates, and use Mitchell’s spot for a position player. Still, you run into the same issues with Webb that you did with Mitchell, as the team already has capable long men and at least one other lefty ready to go.

The question does need to be asked: Would the spot be better utilized for another position player? Ultimately, it seems like there hasn’t really been a role for an extra position player. Perhaps they should have had Kyle Higashioka up vs. Tampa last Friday with Gary Sanchez feeling off — thereby allowing them to pinch hit for Austin Romine in a big spot — but a roster spot for one at-bat, maybe a couple innings of defense, doesn’t seem like a better use than 4 1/3 innings.

So with the last 15 days, the Yankees have shown how little they utilize the 25th spot on their roster at the moment. With Greg Bird and Tyler Austin out and few ready-to-use and effective position players on the 40-man roster, the team seems more than content to get by the eighth reliever. Perhaps, this is a glimpse into the future of baseball yet, for now, it doesn’t seem like an efficient use of resources, although there may not be a better use within simple reach.

Layne’s struggles make this Chasen Shreve’s best chance to stick with the Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

All offseason long, the Yankees were said to be seeking a left-handed reliever, which seemed a little odd considering Tommy Layne did a nice job for them down the stretch last year. By no means was Layne irreplaceable. It just seemed like there were bigger fish to fry, you know? The Yankees wound up passing on guys like Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins, and instead rolled the dice with Jon Niese and Joe Mantiply.

Thus far neither Niese nor Mantiply have pitched for the big league team, and Layne has been so shaky that he’s been relegated to mop-up duty. Only once in his last seven appearances has the score been separated by fewer than five runs. That’s how far down the depth chart he’s fallen. Layne was good late last year, but he is a 32-year-old journeyman, and those guys are as unpredictable as it gets. The Yankees were smart to look for more lefty relief help.

Layne’s early struggles have opened the door for Chasen Shreve to get left-on-left matchup work, and so far he’s been lights out. Lefties are 0-for-14 with four strikeouts and one unintentional walk against him. A small sample, of course, though lefty specialists only work in small samples. That’s the nature of the beast. Layne wasn’t working out — lefties are 6-for-16 (.375) against him — so Joe Girardi moved on Shreve. Makes sense, right? Right.

Two years ago Shreve looked like a potential long-term bullpen piece thanks to his nasty splitter, which allowed him to neutralize both lefties and righties. He served as a trustworthy middle innings option for the first four months of 2015 before crashing hard late in the season. I hoped it was just fatigue. Then Shreve allowed 19 runs, including eight homers, in 33 innings last year. He wound up spending most of the summer in Triple-A.

Is there any reason to believe 2017 Shreve will pitch more like early-2015 Shreve than 2016 Shreve? Eh, not really. It’s too early to say. He’s thrown only 9.2 innings with the Yankees this year, three of which game during the 18-inning game with the Cubs, so we haven’t seen him much. Shreve did dominate those few weeks he spent in Triple-A — 12 strikeouts and no walks in 6.1 innings — though that doesn’t mean much. It’s Triple-A.

More important than the small sample early season results are what lies ahead: another opportunity. Layne has pitched his way out of high-leverage spots, Niese is still in Tampa building arm strength, and Mantiply isn’t doing enough in Triple-A to earn an MLB chance. Like it or not, Shreve is Girardi’s best left-handed bullpen option now that Aroldis Chapman is on the disabled list. (Chapman wouldn’t be used in matchup situations anyway.)

These next few weeks might be Shreve’s last chance to stick with the Yankees and carve out a role in the bullpen going forward. He’s already burned his final minor league option this year, meaning when time comes to clear a roster spot next year, Shreve may find himself on the chopping block. He has to make himself valuable, not expendable. There’s no real competition right now. The left-on-left matchup job is his for the taking.

Keep in mind the bullpen shuttle as we know it is kaput. We’re not seeing relievers called up and sent down on a near daily basis anymore. The bullpen moves that have been made have been made due to necessity (injury, extra innings, etc.). Shreve should get a chance to stick around the next few weeks and show whether he’s up for being the primary left-on-left reliever. And maybe he’s not. He’s had chances before, after all. Given the available options though, Shreve is worth another audition.

I don’t think a lefty specialist is all that important to start with — how many lefty hitters in the AL East really scare you? Chris Davis, Andrew Benintendi, and, uh, Corey Dickerson? — but the Yankees clearly value the role, and they spent the winter looking for an upgrade. They didn’t find one, and now Layne pitched his way out of the picture. Shreve is not the only in-house option, but he might be the best, and he now has a chance to grab the job outright.

Game 25: Win it for Bird

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees lost their talented young first baseman earlier today, as Greg Bird went on the 10-day disabled list with a bone bruise in his right ankle. This is the same issue he’s been dealing with since fouling a pitch off the ankle at the end of Spring Training. It sucks, but hopefully this DL stint turns into a positive. This’ll give Bird a chance to get healthy and hopefully get back on track at the plate.

As for tonight’s game, the Yankees have lost consecutive games for the first time since losing three straight from April 5th through the 8th. Those were the third, fourth, and fifth games of the season. It’s been a while since the Yankees had anything resembling a losing streak. Thankfully, they have the right man on the mound tonight to stop this losing nonsense. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Matt Holliday
  4. 2B Starlin Castro
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. CF Aaron Hicks
  8. 1B Chris Carter
  9. C Austin Romine
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It’s a lovely day here in New York. Windy as hell — the wind is blowing out at Yankee Stadium, so we could see some dingers tonight — but it’s cool with only a few clouds in the sky. Very pleasant evening. Tonight’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Moves: As expected, Luis Cessa was send down earlier today, the Yankees announced. Chasen Shreve has been called back up. Cessa threw 55 pitches in 3.1 innings yesterday, so it’s no surprise he was sent down for a fresh arm … Rob Refsnyder was called up to take Bird’s roster spot.

Injury Updates: In addition to Bird, the Yankees will be without Jacoby Ellsbury for a few days. He went for an MRI today and has been diagnosed with a bruised nerve in his left elbow. It happened when he crashed into the wall making that catch last night. The Yankees will see how he feels the next few days before deciding whether to put him on the disabled list before the road trip.

Quick Postgame Notes: Sanchez, Montgomery, Shreve

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees announced some news following this afternoon’s win over the Rays. A quick recap:

  • Sanchez out four weeks. Gary Sanchez will miss four weeks with a Grade I strain of his brachialis muscle. That’s the muscle behind the biceps. Girardi clarified that the Yankees expect Sanchez to be back in the big leagues in four weeks, not just starting baseball activity.
  • Montgomery to debut Wednesday. Jordan Montgomery will start Wednesday’s game and make his big league debut. Girardi said they’re doing that specifically to give Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia an extra day of rest. Luis Severino will pitch Thursday instead.
  • Shreve sent down. The Yankees optioned Chasen Shreve to Triple-A Scranton following today’s game. That clears a 25-man roster spot for Montgomery. They still need to clear a 40-man spot. That might not happen until Wednesday.

So good news and bad news. Yay for Montgomery, boo for the Sanchez injury. All things considered though, four weeks for Sanchez isn’t terrible. The way he grimaced in pain Saturday had me thinking it was a serious shoulder problem.

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

Holder. (Presswire)
Holder. (Presswire)

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

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

CATCHERS (2)
Austin Romine
Gary Sanchez

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

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

DESIGNATED HITTER (1)
Matt Holliday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Definitely Making The Team (19)

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

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

Very Likely To Make The Team (3)

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

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

Injured (2)

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

In The Mix For A Roster Spot (7)

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long Shot To Make The Team (1)

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

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