Saturday Links: Coaching Staff, Qualifying Offer, Super Two

No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Rob Carr/Getty)
No one ever takes pictures of the third base coach. (Rob Carr/Getty)

It has now been two days since the Yankees parted ways with Joe Girardi, and we’ve yet to hear anything concrete about potential replacements. Just speculation. I suspect we’ll hear some news next week, once Brian Cashman holds his annual end-of-season press conference following the World Series. Here are some bits of news and notes to check out in the meantime.

Espada a candidate for Astros, Red Sox

According to Sweeny Murti, the Astros and Red Sox are considering Yankees third base coach Joe Espada for their bench coach openings. The Tigers also considered Espada for their managerial opening before hiring Ron Gardenhire. The ‘Stros lost bench coach Alex Cora to the Red Sox, who was named their manager. Current Red Sox bench coach Gary DiSarcina is a John Farrell holdover, and he could be shown the door as Cora builds his staff.

Espada, 42, has been New York’s third base coach for three years now, and prior to that he spent some time in the front office as a special assistant to Cashman. As I said yesterday, Espada checks pretty much all the boxes associated with a modern manager. He’s young, he knows analytics, he’s upbeat, and he has a rapport with the front office (with the Yankees, at least). I’m not surprised two smart teams have interest in him for a coaching position.

Next manager will have say on coaching staff

Not surprisingly, the next Yankees manager will have a say on the coaching staff, according to Jack Curry. That’s usually how it goes. When Girardi was hired during the 2007-08 offseason, the only holdover coaches were hitting coach Kevin Long and first base coach Tony Pena. All the other coaching positions changed and it seems possible, if not likely, that will happen again.

Like Girardi, every member of the coaching staff has an expiring contract this year, so they’re all free to look for opportunities elsewhere while the Yankees sort things out. In fact, Ken Rosenthal says the Yankees have already given teams permission to interview any of the coaches before their contracts officially expire (after the World Series). My hunch is Pena and bench coach Rob Thomson will stick around in some capacity — Thomson is a Yankees lifer and particularly good with the young players — though it wouldn’t surprise me to see all the other coaches head elsewhere, even assistant hitting coach Marcus Thames, who it appeared was being groomed for the main hitting coach job the last few seasons.

Naehring not interested in manager’s job

Yankees vice president of baseball operations Tim Naehring is not interested in the now vacant manager’s job, he told Andrew Marchand. Naehring took over as Cashman’s right-hand man after Billy Eppler left to join the Angels. He has no coaching experience at all — Naehring has been working in various front offices since his playing career ended — so shifting down into the dugout would’ve been an interesting move. Naehring was never named as a real candidate for the managerial opening. It was just speculation given his relationship with Cashman. Now we can scratch him off the list.

Qualifying offer set at $17.4M

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

According to Tim Dierkes, the qualify offer has been set at $17.4M for this coming offseason. That’s lower than I expected. I thought it would be up over $18M. Heck, last year the qualifying offer was $17.2M, so it didn’t go up much. The qualifying offer is set at the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball, and I guess salaries didn’t go up much this season. That makes sense. Last winter’s free agent class kinda stunk. Yoenis Cespedes signed the only $100M+ contract, and it was only $110M.

Anyway, as I detailed in July, the Yankees only have one qualifying offer candidate this offseason: Masahiro Tanaka. If he opts out of the final three years and $67M left on contract — which most RAB readers expect to happen — then of course make him the $17.4M qualifying offer and get a draft pick, even if it is only a dinky fourth rounder. Todd Frazier is not eligible for the qualifying offer because he was traded at midseason, and even if the Yankees want to bring CC Sabathia back, they won’t make the qualifying offer because he’d take it and throw a wrench into the luxury tax plan. They’ll likely be able to sign him for less.

Super Two cutoff set at 2.123

The Super Two service time cutoff has been set at two years and 123 days this offseason, reports Dierkes. Players who qualify as Super Two go through arbitration four times instead of the usual three, which is their consolation prize for essentially having to wait an extra year for free agency. The Yankees do not have any players who will qualify as Super Twos this winter. Greg Bird is 70 days short of qualifying and he’s the closest. Bryan Mitchell would’ve qualified as a Super Two by six days had he spent the entire season in MLB, but he didn’t, so that’s that.

Sanchez suspended four games, Romine two games following brawl with Tigers

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

As expected, MLB has handed down several suspensions and fines following Thursday’s brawl(s) with the Tigers. Here’s a recap of the discipline, as announced by MLB this afternoon:

  • Miguel Cabrera: Seven-game suspension for “inciting the first bench-clearing incident and fighting.”
  • Alex Wilson: Four-game suspension for “intentionally throwing a pitch at Todd Frazier” after warnings had been issued.
  • Gary Sanchez: Four-game suspension for “fighting, including throwing punches.”
  • Austin Romine: Two-game suspension for “fighting, including throwing punches.”
  • Brad Ausmus: One-game suspension for “the intentional actions of Wilson.”

Joe Girardi, Rob Thomson, Tommy Kahnle, Brett Gardner, Garrett Cooper, Clint Frazier, and Jose Iglesias all received fines but were not suspended. Cooper and Frazier were fined for entering the field of play while on the disabled list. I’m kinda surprised Dellin Betances escaped without any discipline, even if he didn’t hit James McCann on purpose. Same with Michael Fulmer, who started the whole thing by hitting Sanchez.

I imagine Sanchez and/or Romine are going to appeal their suspension. I mean, they kinda have to, otherwise the Yankees won’t have any catchers tonight. Sanchez will definitely appeal because he (and the Yankees) want to get that suspension knocked down as much as possible. The more Gary is on the field, the better. Every game without him hurts the team’s chances at the postseason.

Kyle Higashioka is currently on the Triple-A Scranton disabled list, so the Yankees don’t have a obvious third catcher to call-up for the time being. They’ll have to add someone (Eddy Rodriguez, most likely) to the 40-man roster. The Yankees do have an open 40-man spot, though that’ll go to Greg Bird when he returns. Also, suspended players can’t be replaced on the roster. Teams have to play short.

All things considered, I think the Yankees got off pretty light here. I thought Sanchez was heading for six or seven games given the sucker punches. Rougned Odor got eight games (reduced to seven on appeal) for punching Jose Bautista when he was squared up. Sanchez threw punches at defenseless Cabrera. Whatever. Forget this pointless nonsense, be happy no one got hurt, and move on.

Update: Not surprisingly, Sanchez and Romine both said they will appeal their suspensions. Ken Rosenthal hears the appeals may not be heard until after rosters expand on September 1st, which would make it a million times easier to deal with losing a catcher(s). Also, Jack Curry hears Sanchez was only suspended four games because Cabrera instigated the brawl. Gary on reacted, basically.

Yankeemetrics: Rolling through Motor City (Aug. 22-24)

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

El Kracken Show
It’s been quite an emotional rollercoaster for the Yankees and their fans over the past month, making the drama-free night on Tuesday in Detroit even sweeter. Backed by a relentless and powerful attack combined with solid starting pitching, the Bombers pummeled the Tigers, 13-4.

This was their 14th game scoring more than 10 runs, which led the majors through Tuesday’s slate, and incredibly, it’s also twice as many such games as they had all of last year. Over the last six decades, 1998 and 2000 were the only other seasons that the Yankees had 14 games scoring at least 11 runs at this point in the schedule (before game number 125). Boom-tastic.

The offensive onslaught was fueled by Gary Sanchez‘s red-hot bat as he crushed a monstrous 493-foot homer in the first inning to put the Yankees up 2-0. It was the second-longest homer by any player in 2017, and tied for the fourth-longest that Statcast has recorded over the past three seasons.

Name Distance Date
1. Giancarlo Stanton 504 Aug. 6, 2016
2. Aaron Judge 495 June 11, 2017
3. Kris Bryant 495 Sept. 6, 2015
4. Gary Sanchez 493 Aug. 22, 2017
5. Michael Taylor 493 Aug. 20, 2015

But Sanchez wasn’t done lighting up the scoreboard. He drilled an opposite-field blast into the right field seats in the ninth inning, his 25th homer of the season, and a nice round number for the record books. He is the …

  • Third catcher in American League history to hit at least 25 homers in his age-24 season or younger, joining a couple Tigers backstops, Matt Nokes (1987) and Rudy York (1938).
  • First Yankee since Don Mattingly (1985) with 25-plus dingers in a season before age 25.
  • And the third right-handed batter in franchise history to reach the 25-homer milestone in his age-24 season or younger. The others? Hall of Famers Joe Gordon and Joe DiMaggio.

El Gary also deserves a cool #FunFact: He joined Yogi Berra (June 19, 1952) as the only Yankee catchers to hit at least two homers and drive in at least four runs in a game in Detroit.

The other Baby Bomber that shined in this rout was Aaron Judge, who reached base four times in four plate appearance with three walks and a single. Yes, you did the math correctly, he didn’t strike out, ending his streak at 37 games, the longest ever by a position player. And thankfully the last time we’ll ever mention it.

The stat that’s most important is the three walks. It’s not a shocking number even during his slump, during which he’s maintained mostly the same approach at the plate since the break. Did you know that after Tuesday’s game … Judge had a higher walk rate in the second half (20.1%) than the first half (16.7%); or that only Joey Votto (41) had more walks among all MLB players in the second half than Judge (32).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Sharp Sevy, Scorching Sanchez
The offensive fireworks were on display again Wednesday as Yankee bats delivered another lopsided win, 10-2.

It’s the first time in more than 20 years that they’ve lit up the Tigers for 10-plus runs in consecutive games within the same series, since a blowout-filled three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium on May 6-8, 1996. A 21-year-old rookie named Derek Jeter went 6-for-13 (.462) with a triple and 3 RBIs, while veteran outfielder Paul O’Neill reached base nine times in 15 plate appearances and drove in five runs during that three-game romp.

Gary Sanchez ignited the offensive fireworks again on Wednesday, with a solo homer in the first inning and two-run bases-loaded single in the third. That gave him 10 homers and 21 RBIs in 20 games this month, a nearly unprecedented encore to the amazing August that he produced last season (11 homers, 21 RBIs in 24 games).

Only four other players in franchise history have put together multiple months of at least 10 dingers and 20-plus RBIs before age 25: Don Mattingly, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig.

While El Gary extended his August Assault, Luis Severino bolstered his resume as the staff ace and legit Cy Young candidate with another gem. He pitched into the seventh inning, holding the Tigers to a single run while striking out eight. It was his 13th start this season allowing one run or fewer, which led all major-league pitchers through Wednesday.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the 23-year-old’s season is the poise and consistency he’s shown pitching in hostile environments. He’s put up video-game-like numbers in his last five road games — 0.80 ERA, 38 strikeouts and eight walks – and is the first Yankee since Whitey Ford (1964) to pitch at least six innings while giving up no more than one run in five straight road games.

Overall, he’s surrendered one or fewer runs in 10 of his 14 outings away from the Bronx, becoming the only Yankee pitcher in the last 100 years with 10 such road starts in a single season.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Basebrawl in Detroit
Amidst the boxing match between the Yankees and Tigers on Thursday at Comerica Park, an actual baseball game broke out, and the Yankees lost, 10-6.

The final tally from the chaotic, brawl-filled afternoon was eight ejections between the two teams and a whole lot of ugliness. It was the most total ejections in a game since the infamous Blue Jays-Rangers slugfest on May 16 last year.

Back to baseball.

Gary Sanchez and Brett Gardner did their best to make up for a horrid performance by the Yankee pitching staff, combining to go 6-for-9 with three RBIs while the rest of the lineup had two hits in 23 at-bats.

Mr. August continued his ridiculous power binge with another mammoth home run in the fourth inning and an RBI single in the seventh. He is the first Yankee since Tino Martinez to homer in three straight games in Detroit. And if you’re looking for a definition of a hot streak, he now has …

– six homers in his last 7 games,
– eight homers in his last 10 games,
– nine homers in his last 12 games,
– 10 homers in his last 15 games

The solo blast was also the 47th of his big-league career, making him one of two players in the last 100 years (along with Tigers catcher/first baseman Rudy York) to hit 47 homers before their 150th career game.

Gardner celebrated his 34th birthday in style with a season-high four hits, earning himself the coveted Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series and a place on one of the most unique lists we’ve ever produced. Three players in franchise history have gotten at least four hits and drove in a run on his birthday: Gardner, Jerry Mumphrey (1981) and Lou Gehrig (1931).

8/22 to 8/24 Series Preview: Detroit Tigers

(Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
(Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

With so much discussion revolving around the Yankees failure to claw their way back into the race for the AL East, it seems as though their increasingly tenuous grasp on the Wild Card has been ignored. There are four teams within three games of those spots, and the Yankees will face one of them (the Mariners) this coming weekend. In order to stay in control of their own destiny, they must continue to beat-up on the subpar teams that they meet down the stretch; enter the Tigers.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees hosted the Tigers from July 31 through August 2, dropping two of three. It was a frustrating series that included their 20th one-run loss of the season, and a shutout loss in a game started by one of the worst pitchers in the game. Some notes:

  • The Yankees went 3-for-3 with RISP in the first game, plating five runs in those at-bats. 7 of their 10 total base-runners scored in the game as a whole.
  • The newly acquired David Robertson finished the second game, and reminded us all of his Houdini act. He allowed three hits in a scoreless ninth inning, and was saved by Brett Gardner throwing out a runner at home.
  • Jordan Zimmermann — the aforementioned awful starter — shut the Yankees out for 7 innings in the final game of the series. The last time he tossed a scoreless outing was on April 20, 2016; he had a 5.81 ERA (5.20 FIP) in 198.1 IP in the interim.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun facts.

Injury Report

Daniel Norris has been out since July 5, and just made his first rehab start last week. He could be back soon, but not in time for this series. And Anibal Sanchez just hit the DL on Friday, so he won’t be back, either. The Tigers are healthy otherwise.

Their Story So Far

The Tigers are in fourth place in the AL Central with a 54-69 record. Their -53 run differential is 21st in baseball, and they’re trending downwards. To wit, they lost six in a row before beating the Dodgers (!) on Sunday, and have been outscored by 25 runs this month.

Not much has changed since these teams last faced, in terms of the root cause of their struggles. They simply have too many players performing poorly, and they don’t have the depth to make up for the struggles of foundation pieces like Miguel Cabrera (100 wRC+ this year, 79 in August) and Ian Kinsler (95 wRC+). Justin Verlander has shown signs of life, though, pitching to a 2.48 ERA in eight second-half starts. Luckily, the Yankees won’t have to face a resurgent Verlander this week.

The Lineup We Might See

The Tigers lineup has been among the most consistently deployed in baseball this year, with the only real shake-ups coming from trades and injuries. As a result, it’s fairly likely that we’ll see something along these lines:

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Mikie Mahtook, CF
  3. Justin Upton, OF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  6. Victor Martinez, DH
  7. James McCann, C
  8. Andrew Romine, RF
  9. Jose Iglesias, SS

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. LHP Matt Boyd

Given the way the last series against the Tigers went, Boyd would be my pick to annoy the heck out of Yankees fans this week. The 26-year-old southpaw sports a 5.70 ERA (77 ERA+) in 90.0 IP, and has allowed at least 3 earned runs in 13 straight starts. He was said to be heading to the bullpen, but the injury to Anibal Sanchez kept his place in the rotation safe for the time being.

Boyd is a four-pitch guy, utilizing a low-90s fastball, a mid-80s slider, a low-80s change-up, and a mid-70s curveball. He also throws a variation of a sinker, but it doesn’t really sink, as evidenced by his 39.0% groundball rate.

Last Outing (vs. LAD on 8/18) – 1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 2 K

Wednesday (7:10 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann

Zimmermann had his best start in a season and a half the last time this teams met (7.0 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 6 K), and promptly turned back into a pumpkin (15.2 IP, 23 H, 17 R, 6 BB, 8 K in three starts since). He currently has career-worsts in K/BB, GB%, ERA, FIP, xFIP, and a slew of other metrics, even as his velocity has rebounded from last season. I’d say that he’s toast, but he certainly didn’t look that way three weeks ago.

Last Outing (vs. LAD on 8/18) – 5.1 IP, 10 H, 7 R, 2 BB, 5 K

Thursday (1:10 PM EST): LHP Jaime Garcia vs. RHP Michael Fulmer

The Yankees beat up on Fulmer last time around, plating 7 runs in 6 innings and earning some small measure of vengeance for last year’s Rookie of the Year award. Though his overall numbers are solid, it is worth noting that Fulmer is once again struggling in the warmer weather. He has a 4.38 ERA since June 1, and a 4.91 ERA since the All-Star Game. It’s a small sample size, of course, but that’s part of the reason why many were concerned that last year’s success was a bit of an illusion.

Last Outing (vs. LAD on 8/19) – 7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 6 K

The Bullpen

Former Yankee Shane Greene inherited the closer role when the Tigers dealt former Yankee Justin Wilson to the Cubs, and he has performed adequately thus far, closing out all three save opportunities. He has a 2.87 ERA in 53.1 IP on the season.

Alex Wilson (3.99 ERA in 49.2 IP) is the set-up man, and Daniel Stumpf (2.52 ERA in 25.0 IP) serves as the LOOGY, while the rest of the bullpen is kind of a mish-mash of roles. Warwick Saupold (3.47 ERA in 49.1 IP) is primarily a mop-up/long reliever, while Drew VerHagen (6.14 ERA in 7.1 IP), Bruce Rondon (10.91 ERA in 15.2 IP), Joe Jimenez (11.70 ERA in 10.0 IP), and Chad Bell (5.59 ERA in 38.2 IP) handle the middle innings.

As you can probably imagine from looking at this group, the Tigers have the worst bullpen in the majors (at least by WAR and ERA).

Who (Or What) To Watch

There is a chance that Greg Bird and/or Starlin Castro could be back for this series. Nothing concrete has been said about their return dates as of this writing, but both are rehabbing at Triple-A. The Yankees lineup will look a great deal better once they’re back – so the sooner the better.

In terms of this specific match-up, Justin Upton bears watching. He is back to raking this year (.282/.366/.546, 26 HR, 10 SB, 140 wRC+), and could opt-out of his contract and hit free agency as a 30-year-old. I highly doubt that he’d be on the Yankees radar if that happened, but they’ve been interested in him before.

Yankeemetrics: Rain halts streaking Bombers (July 31-Aug. 2)

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Baby Bombers shine bright
Buoyed by a wave of optimism following the deadline-day trade for Sonny Gray, the Yankees extended their recent hot streak with a series-opening win over the Tigers on Monday night.

Luis Severino didn’t have his best stuff but still gutted through five tough innings and threw a career-high 116 pitches. He struck out eight while allowing only one run, despite putting multiple runners on base in three of his five frames.

He found himself in so many deep counts thanks to a career-high-tying 29 foul balls and the fact that he fell behind early and often, starting only 8-of-24 (33.3 percent) Rays he faced with a strike. That’s the lowest first-pitch strike rate for any Yankee pitcher that saw at least 20 batters since Ivan Nova (31.3 percent) on July 22, 2013 against the Rangers.

Despite his inefficient outing, Severino was able to limit the damage and notched his 10th game this season with at least six strikeouts and one run or fewer allowed.

Through Monday, that led all American League pitchers and was tied with Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw for the most such starts in the majors this year. Digging through the Yankee record books, the only pitcher to have more than 10 of those starts in a season is Ron Guidry, who had 13 in his Cy Young-winning 1978 campaign.

Aaron Judge provided the power in this win, smacking a 400-foot home run in the fifth inning to give the Yankees a 5-1 lead. It was his 34th homer and 75th RBI of the season — and when combined with his league-leading 76 walks — he joined Al Rosen (1950) as the only players in major-league history to reach each of those totals in his rookie year … and there’s still two months left in the season.

Clint Frazier was the other Baby Bomber that had a starring role, as he continued his extra-base binge with an RBI triple in the seventh inning. That gave him three triples, six doubles and four home runs for the season – a nearly unprecedented combination of hustle, power and hitting ability for a guy that is one month into his big-league career.

Ding, ding … we have our Obscure (yet cool) Yankeemetric of the Series: The only other Yankee to compile at least three homers, three triples and three doubles before playing in his 25th game was Joe DiMaggio in 1936.

(AP)
(AP)

So close, yet so far away
What if I told you … the Yankees would dig themselves into an early hole after their starting pitcher suffered a bout of gopheritis, then stage a furious late-game rally fueled by their own dinger-happy players, but fall just short and lose by a run. Sounds familiar, eh?

Well, that was the game story again on Tuesday night as the Yankees fell to 11-20 in one-run games, the worst mark in the American League. The only team with a worse record in the majors is the Phillies, who are also the only team with more one-run losses than the Yankees through Tuesday.

It is the first time since 1990 (ugh) that they’ve had at least 20 one-run losses in their first 105 games of the season. While they aren’t on pace to break the franchise record of 38 one-run losses – which was set by the 1966 team – their current winning percentage of .355 in one-run games would be the second-worst in franchise history, ahead of only that 1966 club (.283).

CC Sabathia was hammered in the first three innings for four runs on four hits, including two homers, but then settled down and held the Tigers scoreless in his final three frames. His early-inning struggles are nothing new, he has a 4.70 ERA in the first three innings, nearly two runs higher than his ERA for the rest of the game (2.76).

Clint Frazier had a chance to earn his second True Yankee Moment when he came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two runners on base but popped up for the final out in the 4-3 loss. He had his first 0-for-5 game, and shockingly, failed to come through in the clutch.

He went hitless in three at-bats with runners in scoring position, including that ninth inning letdown, which was a stunning reversal from his performance in those situations prior to this game. Frazier was 8-for-20 (.400) with RISP, and 5-for-9 (.556) with the go-ahead runner on base in his brief big-league career before Tuesday.

(AP)
(AP)

Nothing sunny about this loss
A rain storm in the Bronx wiped away the Yankees latest burst of momentum, as they were shut out 2-0 in the series finale, snapping their three-series win streak. With four-plus hours of delays and countless failed at-bats in key scoring situations, this was one of the most infuriating games of the season.

Adding to the frustration meter was the fact that Tigers starter Jordan Zimmermann began the day with a 5.69 ERA, the second-highest in the majors among qualified pitchers. Of course, Zimmermann dominating the Yankees shouldn’t have been surprising. After throwing seven scoreless innings on Wednesday, he lowered his ERA in four career starts against them to 1.33, the third-best mark by any pitcher that has started more than three games versus the Yankees. The only guys ahead of him on that list are Jorge De La Rosa (0.77!) and Chris Sale (1.17).

Making this loss even worse is this sobering note: it was the first time the Yankees were shut out in a regular-season game at home by the Tigers since the second game of a doubleheader on August 10, 1991. In that span of more than 25 years between regular-season shutouts, the two teams matched up in the Bronx 113 times.

Or how about the fact that they had more hits than the Tigers and still lost the game? Alas, this is a recurring nightmare with your 2017 New York Yankees. It was their 14th loss this season when out-hitting their opponent, the fourth-most such losses in MLB.

Actually, this might be the ultimate gut-punch stat: It’s not surprising that the Yankees would struggle against a mediocre team such as the Tigers. They are now 30-31 against teams with a losing record (23rd-best in MLB), and 27-18 versus teams with a .500 record or better (3rd-best in MLB).

The lone statistical highlight for the Yankees was Dellin Betances tossing an “Immaculate Inning” (nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts) in the eighth. Behold, the beauty of strikeout perfection:

chart-12

He is the sixth pitcher in franchise history to strike out the side on nine pitches, joining Brandon McCarthy (2014), Ivan Nova (2013), A.J. Burnett (2009), Ron Guidry (1984) and Al Downing (1967). Betances’ feat might actually be the craziest stat from this game: remember, he owns the highest walk rate among all major-league pitchers that have thrown at least 30 innings this season.

7/31 to 8/2 Series Preview: Detroit Tigers

(Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
(Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

I started writing this series preview this morning, about eight hours before the trade deadline, in the hopes that these two teams wouldn’t look entirely different before this hit the front page. That’s likely a fool’s errand, though, as most major deals on deadline day are announced with mere moments to spare, and this is scheduled to publish at 2 PM EST. And these two teams are expected to be active today, albeit on opposite ends of the buy-or-sell spectrum.

The Last Time They Met

The Tigers visited New York last June, from the 10th through the 12th. They took 2 of 3 that time around, dropping the Yankees to 31-32 on the season. And through that point that was the norm for the Yankees, as they spent the majority of the first half within two games of .500. Here are some notes from that series:

  • CC Sabathia, Dellin Betances, and Anthony Swarzak combined to pitch a gem in the first game of the series, a 4-0 Yankees win. They allowed eight baserunners (6 hits, 2 walks) and struck out 7 in 9 innings.
  • Former Yankee Shane Greene came in in relief in the 7th inning in games two and three … and he was relieved in the 8th inning by former Yankee Justin Wilson both times.
  • Four of the six Yankees relievers that pitched in this series (Swarzak, Kirby Yates, Nick Goody, Richard Bleier) are no longer in the organization.

For more information, check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post.

Injury Report

LHP Daniel Norris and OF Alex Presley are both on the disabled list, and neither is expected to return for this series.

Their Story So Far

The Tigers are 47-56 with a -24 run differential, and are currently eight games out of the Wild Card race. They announced that they would be sellers back on July 18, when they sent J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks in exchange for prospects, and they dealt Justin Wilson and Alex Avila to the Cubs just last night. Rumors around Justin Verlander and Ian Kinsler have been swirling for a few weeks, as well, but there doesn’t seem to be anything in the works as of this morning.

Under-performance has been the Tigers greatest issue this season, as Miguel Cabrera (152 wRC+ to 103), Ian Kinsler (123 to 93), Nick Castellanos (119 to 96), and Victor Martinez (120 to 90) have all regressed heavily as opposed to last season; and Justin Verlander (136 ERA+ to 101) and Daniel Norris (123 to 82) have done the same on the pitching side of the game. It’s difficult to win games when the heart of your order and the top of your rotation struggles so tremendously.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Brad Ausmus has been fairly consistent with his lineups, with the greatest discrepancies being caused by injuries, a catcher platoon (which no longer exists, thanks to the Avila deal), and the Martinez trade. Barring another trade, we’ll probably see something like this:

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Mikie Mahtook, CF
  3. Justin Upton, OF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  6. Victor Martinez, DH
  7. James McCann, C
  8. Andrew Romine, RF
  9. Jose Iglesias, SS

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Monday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Michael Fulmer

For better or worse, most Yankees fan know Fulmer best as the pitcher that stole the AL Rookie of the Year from Gary Sanchez last year. Many expected him to see a dip in his production this season, due to the wide gulf between his ERA (3.06) and FIP (3.76), as well as his second-half drop-off (he had a 4.76 ERA in September), but that hasn’t really happened. His ERA has risen from 3.06 to 3.35 this year, but it’s still good for a 129 ERA+ – which ranks 10th in the American League.

Fulmer is a four-pitch guy, with a mid-90s four-seam fastball, a mid-90s sinker, a high-80s slider, and a high-80s change-up. He doesn’t get many strikeouts (6.4 K/9), but he keeps the ball on the ground (50.0 GB%).

Last Outing (vs. KC on 7/25) – 8.0 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 6 K

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP CC Sabathia vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez

Sanchez was a solid starting pitcher from 2006 through 2014, pitching to a 3.53 ERA (117 ERA+) in 1177.0 IP. He missed parts of several seasons with injuries, but he was reliable when he was on the field. Since then, however, he has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball, with a 5.55 ERA (74 ERA+) over the last three seasons. He’s bounced between the rotation and the bullpen these last to seasons, and the Tigers are likely counting down the days until the end of the season, when they can buy him out of his team option for 2018.

The 33-year-old Sanchez is a five-pitch pitcher, with a low-90s fastball, low-90s sinker, mid-80s slider, low-80s change-up, and high-80s curveball. None of those offerings is particularly effective, though.

Last Outing (vs. KC on 7/26) – 3.2 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 4 K

Wednesday (1:5 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann

Two years ago, the Tigers signed Zimmermann to a five-year deal worth $110 MM. It wasn’t an entirely unreasonable deal, as he had averaged 203 IP of 3.13 ERA ball from 2012 through 2015, and he wouldn’t turn 30 until May of 2016. It hasn’t worked out, as Zimmermann has posted a 5.29 ERA (80) ERA+ in his time in Detroit, while also missing time with injuries.

Zimmermann has five pitches in his repertoire, but he focuses on three for nearly 95% of his offerings – a low-to-mid 90s four-seamer, a mid-to-high 80s slider, and a low-80s curve. He’ll also through a sinker and change-up, but those are more show-me pitches.

Last Outing (vs. KC on 7/28) – 7.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 2 K

The Bullpen

The Tigers are ostensibly closer-less right now, as Justin Wilson was filling that role most recently. He wrested that gig from Francisco Rodriguez, who was released in June, signed by the Nationals, and then released again. That’s not great news for a bullpen that has the worst ERA and FIP in baseball.

The expectation is that Shane Greene (2.74 ERA in 46.0 IP) will inherit the role for now, and recent call-up Joe Jimenez (12.46 ERA in 4.1 IP) will be groomed for it going forward. Alex Wilson (4.25 ERA in 42.1 IP), Daniel Stumpf (2.25 ERA in 20.0 IP), Chad Bell (6.10 ERA in 31.0 IP), Bruce Rondon (12.41 ERA in 12.1 IP), and Drew VerHagen (6.75 ERA in 4.0 IP) round out the group.

Yankees Connection

Shane Greene pitched well for the Yankees in 2014 (78.2 IP, 102 ERA+), but he is most memorable for being dealt for Didi Gregorius in December of that year. He was mostly bad for the Tigers in 2015 and 2016 (144.0 IP, 63 ERA+), but he seems to have found his niche as a short reliever this year.

Utility player Andrew Romine is the older brother of Austin Romine, and arguably the more successful of the two. He has a 67 wRC+ in 1070 MLB PA, and has spent most of the last four years on big-league rosters.

Who (Or What) To Watch

I’m looking forward to Sanchez and Fulmer squaring-off, which, depending on the Yankees batting order and ability to hit, will happen in the first or second inning. We could also see Gregorius vs. Greene, but that’s far less exciting.

King: Yankees have asked Tigers about Justin Wilson

(David Banks/Getty)
(David Banks/Getty)

According to George King, the Yankees are among the teams to check in with the Tigers about left-hander Justin Wilson. Detroit is kinda sorta trying to get younger and trim payroll — they salary dumped Cameron Maybin to clear a spot for JaCoby Jones earlier this offseason — and cashing in Wilson as a trade chip given the current bullpen market seems like a good idea.

The Tigers are looking for “controllable Major League arms” for Wilson, says King, and the Yankees passed because they found that too prohibitive. Funny how things have turned out, eh? The Tigers gave up two controllable arms (Luis Cessa and Chad Green) to get Wilson last winter, and now they’re looking to flip him for basically the same package. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this.

1. When did the Yankees ask about Wilson? Was it before or after agreeing to a deal with Aroldis Chapman? If it was before, the Yankees may have only been doing their due diligence and looking at backup plans in case Chapman went elsewhere. If it was after, then we know they’re still seriously looking to improve their middle relief. Earlier this winter Brian Cashman indicated he wants to improve his bullpen beyond adding a closer, so it’s entirely possible the Yankees are thinking Chapman and Wilson, not Chapman or Wilson.

2. If the Yankees still want a lefty, just sign a free agent. During the Winter Meetings last week we heard the Yankees want to add a lefty reliever this offseason to join (or replace?) Tommy Layne. Not just Chapman, but a middle innings guy for left-on-left matchup work. Wilson is certainly qualified to do that — he’s overqualified, actually, since he can get out righties as well — but why trade prospects for a lefty reliever when there are so many free agents available?

BF AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% HR/9
Jerry Blevins 127 .220/.278/.284 .251 30.7% 6.3% 50.6% 0.29
Mike Dunn 186 .250/.321/.353 .299 24.2% 7.5% 31.1% 0.59
J.P. Howell 198 .262/.318/.324 .284 22.2% 5.6% 66.4% 0.38
Boone Logan 205 .172/.276/.254 .245 34.2% 8.8% 57.0% 0.18
Justin Wilson 179 .276/.351/.368 .314 23.5% 7.8% 51.7% 0.44

Those are 2015-16 numbers against left-handed batters. Four of those players are free agents. Why trade prospects for Wilson when someone like Blevins or Logan can do the job just as well, if not better? Perhaps the “gets righties out too” part is too great to ignore. The Yankees have a matchup left-on-left reliever in Layne. If they are planning to carry two middle southpaws, it would be nice if one could get righties out, and Wilson can do that. The other four guys in the table generally can not.

3. Wilson wasn’t as good in 2016 as he was in 2015. During his one season with the Yankees, Wilson was really awesome. He was a legitimate high-leverage reliever Joe Girardi shoehorned into the seventh inning role, but Wilson could have easily gotten outs in the eighth or even ninth inning. And sometimes he did. This past season though, Wilson’s performance took a step back.

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
2015 61 3.10 2.69 27.1% 8.2% 43.8% 0.44
2016 58.2 4.14 3.18 25.9% 6.8% 54.9% 0.92

Improved ground ball and walks rates coupled with a slight decline in strikeout rate is generally a good thing, I’d say. For Wilson this year, it wasn’t. He was more hittable overall — opponents hit .223/.293/.309 against Wilson in 2015 and .263/.316/.392 in 2016 — and it showed up in his ERA.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Wilson had some elbow problems this summer. He was shut down for a few days with soreness in June, then, in August, he needed a cortisone shot. Wilson was so inconsistent this past season that Bless You Boys took a deep dive. It’s entirely possible the Yankees traded Wilson at exactly the right time, before he started to break down.

4. The trade looks pretty good now, doesn’t it? Understandably, many folks didn’t like the Wilson deal when it went down. He was pretty great for the Yankees and they traded him for two unknowns. I myself had never heard of Green, and I’m as big a baseball nerd as you’ll find. Cessa’s name might have rung a bell only because he was the second piece in last year’s Yoenis Cespedes trade.

This past season, Cessa and Green showed bonafide Major League stuff during their relatively brief big league cameos. Maybe they’re only relievers long-term — I think Cessa has a much better chance to start than Green at this point in time — but they are big leaguers, not prospects, and that’s pretty great. Turning a reliever with three years of control into two pitchers with six years of control each was a nifty, albeit unpopular at the time, move by Cashman.