Author: Bobby Page 1 of 68

Game 13: Yanks Lose 1-0, But At Least Tanaka Was Really Good

That game was dumb and bad, as so many games against the Rays are at Tropicana Field. The Yanks had just 2 hits tonight en route to a 1-0 loss (box score) to the 2nd-place Rays. It was an infuriating game filled with missed opportunities and unforced errors for the Yankees. The good news is that they’re 9-4 and get to play again tomorrow to cleanse the palate. Thank god for that.

Let’s get to tonight’s takeaways.

1. Tanaka Time at the Trop: I absolutely love watching Masahiro Tanaka pitch. When that dude is on, he pitches with surgical precision. That’s exactly what he did tonight in his second start of the season, throwing 5 innings of 1-hit ball with no walks and 5 strikeouts. He threw 59 pitches and 44 of them (75%) went for strikes. I’m not sure he missed his location even once. Check it out:

All of the fastballs were located up in the zone. All of the splitters, sliders, and curveballs are at the bottom of the zone are just below it. There was absolutely nothing in the middle of the plate. He threw 12 splitters, 12 fastballs, and 11 sliders. He had a 35% whiff-per-swing on his splitter/slider combo, which is something you just love to see. That tends to happen when your slider looks like this:

All in all, it was a masterful performance from Tanaka, who continues a solid stretch of dominating the Rays. It’s a shame he was on a pitch count – remember, he really didn’t have a camp – because it felt like he would have kept this up all night. The non-Cole starters have struggled to give the Yankees length in 2020, but this was an encouraging start from Tanaka. He should help correct this problem once he is fully stretched out again. That’s the best thing I can say about tonight. (To be fair, it’s a good thing.)

2. The Yankees Bullpen is Still Elite: All in all, this was a very sturdy performance from the Yankees bullpen this evening. Luis Cessa and Adam Ottavino combined for one-hit, one-run ball in 3 innings of work with 3 strikeouts and 2 walks. On nearly any night, that sort of performance – especially not out of the top guys in the pen – will be enough to get the job done. It was not tonight.

Luis Cessa was great (2 innings of one-hit ball) and looked a lot like the very good reliever we saw in 2019. Adam Ottavino, on the other hand, looked pretty bad. He manufactured a run for the Rays, which is not something you want to do. Here is his plot:

Yikes. That is all over the place, and it’s exactly how you walk 2 guys and manufacture a rally for the Rays. Couple that with an unacceptable wild pitch with 1st and 2nd and 1 out and you have a recipe for a loss. Sure enough, Michael Perez his a sac fly to deep center and the Rays took a 1-0 lead. Ottavino surrendered no hits and barely any hard contact but couldn’t get out of his own way. Infuriating.

Adam Ottavino deserves a lot of blame for this game, but not all of it. The offense simply did not do the job at all. Again, 1 run from the pen should be enough.

3. Too Many Wasted Opportunities: However, the offense did the staff absolutely no favors. The Yankees really couldn’t get out of their own way in this one. It was an evening filled with bad offense and blunders. Frankly, there was not a lot happening in the first 6 innings. The Yanks were completely shut down by Blake Snell, Andrew Kittredge, and Peter Fairbanks. Through 6 innings, the Yankees had just 3 baserunners on 2 walks and 1 hit. They’d struck out 6 times. You gotta tip your cap to the Rays’ pitching, which was stellar, but there were a ton of ugly at-bats from New York.

They had their chances after that, though. Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton both walked to open up the 7th inning and the Yankees were in business for the first time, with Luke Voit, Gleyber Torres, and Gio Urshela due up. Voit hit a shallow fly to left that I thought might dunk in…except Austin Meadows made a very good running catch:

Gleyber Torres then made a two-pitch out, followed by an Urshela walk (more on that below) to load the bases. That brought up Gary Sánchez, who got completely overpowered by Nick Anderson. He frankly wasn’t even close. Here is the plot:

And here is the video:

Let’s be fair for a second. There’s a good chance that Anderson is the best reliever in baseball right now. It’s hard to hit him! Especially when he has a nasty curve that plays off that gas. Still, Gary looked atrocious here. It was frustrating.

More frustrating even than this, though, was Mike Tauchman’s baserunning blunder in the top of the 8th. He lead off the frame with a double, which was very good. DJ LeMahieu followed that up with a grounder to short and Tauchman took off for third for some reason. He was dead in the water and that was basically that for the rally. It’s an unacceptable baserunning mistake. It just cannot happen, especially not when the opponent’s bullpen throws pitches like this:

Against guys like that, you just cannot waste opportunities or run into outs as the Yankees did tonight. It’s not a good recipe for winning games.

4. Gio Urshela is So Damn Good: I keep harping on this but it’s because I can’t really believe how good Gio Urshela is. The dude was a nobody before 2019 and now he’s a legitimate force. It’s always easy to point something like this out when a player hits a huge home run or delivers a game-winning hit, but less obvious when a player doesn’t even have a hit. Still, though, Gio had a great night at the plate despite his 0-2 line. He really worked the count and looked very comfortable against some dominant Rays pitching. Check out his overall plot:

His at-bat in the 7th inning, against the filthy Nick Anderson, was a sight to behold. It was a 10-pitch at-bat in which he fouled off touch pitch after tough pitch before working a walk to load the bases. Just because it didn’t amount to a run doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable. Gio deserves props for that. Here’s how that at-bat looked:

Frankly, this and his at-bat against Snell early on in the game were basically the only good at-bats the Yankees had tonight. Go figure.

Leftovers

  • Gleyber Torres’ Slump: Gleyber Torres is zero for his last 24 at-bats. He has zero walks over that stretch and has struck out. He’s not making good contact. He is really, really struggling and I hope he snaps out of it soon. The Yankees are much better when he’s in top form. (The same is true for Aaron Hicks and Gary Sánchez, too, who are also mired in some awful slumps.)
  • Rays Bullpen is Nasty: The Rays bullpen is infuriating. I’m sure I’m saying this in a more petulant manner than I’d like but I don’t care: they are infuriating. They completely dominated the Yankees tonight (6 innings, 2 H, 6 K) and looked nasty in doing so. The Rays are beatable – that offense is Not Good – but it is difficult to score runs off of these guys. May tomorrow be a better day.
  • The Trop Sucks: I can’t write the first recap of the season in Tropicana Field without saying it. That field is horrible and it really feels like nothing good ever happens to the Yankees there. On the other hand, it was the most normal game of the season so far. The lack of fans was actually reassuring for once. Things can go back to normal indeed, huh?

The Yanks and Rays are playing a double-header tomorrow, so expect a full day of baseball ahead. Gerrit Cole (3-0, 2.55 ERA) will take the ball for the Yankees against Tyler Glasnow (0-, 3.12 ERA). A marquee pitching matchup, that is. The first pitch of the first game will be at 2:10 pm EDT.

We’ll keep you covered on both games and anything and everything that happens in between. Until then, enjoy your night, everyone.

Game 13: It’s (Tanaka) Time to Widen Lead Over Tampa Bay

The first-place Yankees are looking to put some serious distance between then and the second-place Rays tonight. It’s their first matchup of the season. Derek has you covered on all things Tampa Bay, so check that out if you’ve missed it. Let’s also hope that Masahiro Tanaka can do something no other pitcher but Gerrit Cole has really done in 2020: give the Yankees length.

Here are today’s lineups as the Yankees look to start burying the Rays:

New York Yankees (9-3)
1. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
2. Aaron Judge, RF
3. Aaron Hicks, CF
4. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
5. Luke Voit, 1B
6. Gleyber Torres, SS
7. Gio Urshela, 3B
8. Gary Sánchez, C
9. Mike Tauchman, LF
Masahiro Tanaka, RHP

Tampa Bay Rays (5-7)
1. Austin Meadows, RF
2. Brandon Lowe, LF
3. Yandy Díaz, 3B
4. Ji-Man Choi, 1B
5. Joey Wendle, 2B
6. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, DH
7. Willy Adames, SS
8. Kevin Kiermaier, CF
9. Mike Zunino, C
Blake Snell, LHP

The Yankee lineup is back in full force tonight after the B-lineup came out last night. You love to see it. Fun fact: Mike Tauchman is now hitting .283/.366/.498 (130 wRC+) in his 317 plate appearances with the Yankees with an 11% walk rate. That is just ridiculous. That’s why he’s in the A-lineup, though. Let’s hope Tanaka has his splitter working tonight, by the way, and that he gives as much length as he can. He’ll still be on a pitch count, of course, but still. Let’s get 70-75 pitches across 5 innings. Even that would be a huge step forward.

News & Notes

  • Aaron Boone says that he’s not worried about Gleyber Torres, who is in a big slump. Listen to Aaron. Don’t be worried about Gleyber. (Bryan Hoch)
  • Don’t expect to see Clarke Schmidt this weekend, though he could “certainly be a factor at some point.” At some point means when he starts instead of J.A. Happ next time, right Aaron? (Bryan Hoch)
  • Players that might help this weekend include Miguel Andujar, Albert Abreu, Thairo Estrada, Ben Heller & Erik Kratz, who are on the taxi squad. (Bryan Hoch)
  • That’s right! Albert Abreu. He’s the Yanks #10 ranked prospect according to Baseball America, and he throws gas. I hope we get to see him do his thing this weekend. Here’s some video to prove it.

Tonight’s game begins at 6:40 pm EDT in the hideous Trop. The game will be broadcast on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. WFAN and WADO will have the radio call, as usual. Enjoy the game, everyone.

Mailbag: Zack Britton, J.A. Happ, 2021 Rotation, Alternate Site, & More

Happy Friday, everyone. The Yankees are 9-3 and sit comfortably in first-place, with a four-game lead over Baltimore and Tampa Bay in second. The season is now 20% through, believe it or not, so this is about as good a position as you could reasonably want from the Yanks at this point. Things are good.

It’s time for another mailbag. We have six good questions today. As always, please send in yours to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com to be included in a future edition. We answer our favorites each Friday.

Iron Mike Asks: With the dominant closing of Britton, shouldn’t the Yanks consider keeping him at closer? He has been a groundball machine which is in contrast to Chapman, who has much more of a track record of being wild.

Aroldis Chapman is probably the best reliever in Yankees history to give fans this much agita. From a purely on-field perspective alone, it is completely unwarranted. To wit, here are Aroldis’ statistics and associated rankings since joining the Yankees in 2016, (including two months in Chicago):

  • fWAR: 8.1 (1st)
  • FIP: 2.07 (1st)
  • Average Fastball Velocity: 99.6 mph (1st among RP w/ 1,000+ fastballs)
  • ERA: 2.33 (3rd)
  • HR/9: 0.42 (4th)
  • Strikeout Rate: 38.3% (5th)
  • Batting Average Against: .147 (5th)

The point here is that Chapman, wild though he may be at times, is one of the most consistent and reliable relievers in all of baseball. The only argument against having him be a closer 100% of the time would be to use him in the higher leverage situations, if possible. That’s not going to happen, but he is the best reliever the Yankees have. They treat him as such, and they should and should continue to do so.

It’s also true that Britton has been great in pinstripes. He has a 2.04 ERA (3.74 FIP) in 91.1 IP with a preposterous 77.2% ground ball rate. The walk rate (12%) is high, but this sample includes his recovery from an achilles tear. He’s looked better with basically every appearance. But he’s still not Chapman. Britton will not – and should not – replace Chapman as the closer, assuming Chapman is healthy.

Jeff Asks: Why shouldn’t the Yankees straight up release J.A. Happ right now?  The simple answer I’m assuming is “depth”, but what good is that if he can’t get anyone out?  I’d rather watch a Schmidt, Garcia, King, etc. struggle than Happ.

The simple answer is always the correct one. The Yankees shouldn’t release J.A. Happ because they’ll need the depth. Pitchers across the league are getting injured at a historic rates in 2020. That’s not speculation: it’s measurable and true. As bad as Happ has been – and he’s been bad – I don’t think the Yankees should get rid of a stretched out MLB arm. You just never know what might happen.

With that said, though, let me be extremely clear: J.A. Happ should not start another game for the 2020 Yankees, barring those major injuries. He has been very bad. Thursday’s start was infuriating to watch. This is not a James Paxton situation, where a star pitcher is struggling and needs to get right. Happ is getting older with declining velocity and spin rates coupled with worsening control. He shouldn’t be “figuring it out” in the MLB rotation for a team competing for a World Series. Give those innings to Clarke Schmidt, please.

The Yankees should use him in a long relief role where he primarily faces lefties. He was much better against LHB (.652 OPS against) than RHP (.830 OPS) in 2019. To the extent that Happ is salvageable, I think that is the role best conducive to his skillset right now.

Jonathan Asks: Gut feeling where do you think the rotation will be next year? With Sevy injured and Tanaka, Paxton, and Happ (hopefully) free agents. It’s just Cole and Gumby. I know the Yankees are loaded with good position players but the rotation is in major flux. I think the Yankees will re-sign Tanaka and go with the Schmidts, Kings and Garcias of the world. The Gleybers, Judges and Sanchezs of the world will get expensive so I think the Yankees will go cheap on pitching even though they need more. What do you think? 

I agree about Tanaka. I think the Yankees/Tanaka marriage is working for both sides and I fully expect the two sides to work out an agreement to keep in him pinstripes for the next few years at least. It’s tough to say beyond that right now though.

The ultimate variable is James Paxton, who has just looked horrific so far in 2020. He’s not right, but there is a mechanical issue reason and the Yankees insist he’s healthy. Still, if his velocity drops 5+ mph and he’s unable to regain his 2017-19 form, it’s a big blow to him as a free agent. Perhaps the Yankees re-sign him to a cheap 1-2 year deal and try to get him right. And even if he does regain his old form soon, his free agency profile is really complicated by all this. I don’t know. We need to see more.

As for the rest of the class, there probably aren’t a lot of pitchers out there in whom the Yanks will be interested. Marcus Stroman and Robbie Ray, two pitchers formerly connected to the Yanks, are the headliners of the class. We all remember Cashman’s comment about Stroman not being good enough to crack last year’s playoff rotation, and Ray has his own issues. I don’t know that they’re going to commit dollars to these guys, but the market will be weird and probably depressed. Shrug.

If there is going to be a big splash for the Yanks in the rotation, it’ll probably come in the form of a trade for a cost-controlled starter with upside, like they did with James Paxton after 2018. I’ll have to think more about who that might be, though.

Max Asks: Is there coaching support for players at the alternate site? For example, the Triple-A staff. Also, can players not on the alternate roster play with players that are, for development? For example, Jasson Dominguez.

The best way to imagine the dystopian-named Alternate Site is to think of it like Spring Training 2.0. There are organizational coaches there running drills, organizing simulated games, and the like. Remember, these are the guys who can get called up at a moment’s notice, and the entire point of the site is to theoretically replace the entire team in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.. They have to be ready.

Twins outfielder Lane Adams gave a pretty good overview of what’s happening at the Twins’ alternate site here. I imagine that is roughly equivalent to what’s going on everywhere, including in Scranton for the Yankees’ other 30 guys. It’s not a MiLB season, but it’s better than nothing, I guess.

That’s what non-rostered players – like Jasson Dominguez – are dealing with right now. Nothing. Their contracts are currently suspended and they’re even allowed to play with independent league teams to get regular reps. It’s truly unprecedented. My guess, though, is that a number of the Yankees’ big-time prospects are in regular contact with the team, working out with MiLB/development staff, and getting their reps in.

Paul Asks: If a starting pitcher pitches all 7 innings of a doubleheader game, does he get credit for a complete game?

Yes. A pitcher earns a complete game in any circumstances in which he was the only pitcher to make an appearance for his team during an official game, however long it lasts. It’s not the pitchers’ fault that the game is only seven innings. This is why, if you check Gerrit Cole’s 2020 statistics, you’ll see he has a complete game on the ledger – from the rain-shortened season opener in Washington. Is it quite a bit cheaper? Sure. But it’s a complete game nonetheless.

Sam Asks: Rob Manfred decrees that in 2021 there will be a Designated Fielder, a 10th person to play defense who isn’t in the lineup. Where would you put that person in a standard defensive alignment?

Love this question, but I’m afraid to even answer it. I’m afraid doing so will speak it into existence. But it’s fun, so why not. In most cases, I’d put the extra defender behind second base as a fifth-infielder. You basically get the benefits of the shift without having to move anyone out of position (and protect against bunts, which actually do work against the shift).

And of course, you could use that person as a super shifter. Put them into the outfield when a pitcher or batter has extreme FB rates, etc. It is a fun thought experiment but let’s hope nobody gets any ideas.

Yankees Option Miguel Andújar, Thairo Estrada, and Nick Nelson

The Yankees announced several roster moves today as rosters contract from 30 men to 28. The team sent Miguel Andújar, Thairo Estrada, and Nick Nelson to the Alternative Site in Pennsylvania. I took a look at the roster crunch on Monday and predicted that Brooks Kriske and Thairo Estrada would be first to go. Kriske was already sent down for Luis Cessa yesterday, so he wasn’t an option here. Thairo doesn’t play at all, so his demotion was predictable. Nelson had a rough outing yesterday and has 3 options, so he makes sense, too. (The Yanks will probably recall Ben Heller or another depth arm to fill the extra spot on the roster.) The big news here, of course, is Miguel Andújar.

There is logic to this from a straight baseball point-of-view. Miggy is recovering from major injuries and will need regular playing time to get back up to speed. Those at-bats are likely not there with the Yankees, but they are there in Pennsylvania. And it’s not like he’s setting the world on fire: he is hitting just .071/.071/.071 in 14 plate appearances. The Yanks clearly tried to get him regular time. It probably just wasn’t enough. He’s the victim of a very deep and talented roster, like so many other big league quality players in the Yanks organization. A less talented team probably has space for Andújar. Right now, the Yankees do not.

But there is also another benefit for the Yankees: by sending him down now, they’ll likely gain another year of control over Andújar. MLB and MLBPA agreed to pro-rate service time in 2020, so the normal 172 days on an active roster needed for a full year of service time is now 61 days. This helps us understand Andújar’s situation. He came into 2020 with 2 years and 20 days of service time. Using the new formula, Andújar needs 54 days on the Yankees’ active roster to clear 3.0 years of service time and hit free agency a year sooner.

In other words, sending Andújar down now all but guarantees the Yankees another year of control. If he spends 13 days in Pennsylvania – and he can’t come up for at least 10 days anyway – then that’ll be that. It’s unfortunate for Andújar. No doubt about it. On the bright side, at least he’ll be a Super 2 and be arbitration-eligible before reaching 3 years of time. It’s also important to remember that this isn’t necessarily straight service time manipulation. The extra at-bats will likely be helpful to Andújar and help him return to form more quickly than he would otherwise. That’s a win-win for everyone.

An Early Look at Chad Green’s Curveball

Well hello there.

Chad Green is one of my favorite relievers to watch. Despite throwing his fastball as much as 86% of the time (2018), he manages to generate a whiff-per-swing rate north of 33% in his career, topping out at 45.5% in 2019. That sort of production is crazy for a one-pitch pony. It really is. Green gets by because of his truly elite velocity (96 mph average) and spin rates (~2450 RPM) on the pitch.

That elite fastball is the key ingredient in Green’s success in pinstripes. He is 18-7 with a 2.75 ERA (2.60 FIP) in 219.1 innings pitched since his 2017 debut, when he first made a splash. He strikes out 35% of the batters he faces while walking just 6% of them. These figures are even inclusive of his horrendous start to the 2019 campaign. Green is excellent because of his fastball. We all know this.

Still, Green has always worked in Spring Training to introduce a new pitch to his arsenal. It makes sense. He wants to be as dynamic and durable on the mound as possible. Plus, a legitimate breaking pitch will play off his fastball and probably elongate his time as a dominant reliever. In year’s past, that pitch was a splitter, but it never took. This year, it was a curveball. The big difference is that the curveball appears to be sticking.

First, Statcast shows us that he’s using the pitch more so far in 2020. About 25% of the time, actually. That 10% more than he’s ever used a non-fastball since joining the Yankee pen. In fact, he’s thrown it 19 times, 13 of which (68%) went for strikes. He’s thrown a third of them with 2 strikes, and batters have a 27.27% whiff-per-swing rate on the pitch. Batters have just one hit off the pitch (a weak infield single). It appears to be working, in other words.

I’ve been watching this closely all year, and I think last night was a showcase for why the offering can make Green an even better pitcher. Let’s start with this 1-2 curve to McCutchen. I’m using the whole video, and I suggest listening to Paul O’Neill’s commentary:

O’Neill was saying that McCutchen will know Green’s approach well from his time in the Bronx. In the clip above, you hear him say that Green loves to attack the top part of the zone with two strikes. True enough. Here’s Green’s 2019 four-seam pitch plot with two strikes:

I’d be looking for a high fastball, too. Instead, Green did this:

It wasn’t the best curveball you’ve ever seen. Far from it. But, given Green’s history, even offering it as a get-me-over pitch for show can be effective, as we see here. Not to mention, Green is obviously confident in it – he used it with two strikes to a good hitter with runners on second and third.

But it was in the next at-bat where it really shined and suggested to me that it can be much more than just a show-me pitch. Let’s go through this at-bat, again to a good hitter in Rhys Hoskins, pitch-by-pitch.

Strike 1:

“Strike” 2:

0-2 Foul:

After these 3 high fastballs, Green turned to his new curve and he snapped off an excellent one. Probably the best of the season. Check it out:

Here’s how that looks as a plot:

Nasty. That’s truly nasty. It’s very easy to see how and why a curveball in particular makes sense for Green. Pitchers have been using a curveball to play off fastballs for years. It’s a time-tested approach. Given how good Green’s is, it’s always made sense for him to try it.

I’m not sure if this new approach is a result of something Matt Blake suggested or something Green came up with himself. All I do know is that, in a limited sample, Chad Green sure looks like a much more dynamic pitcher thanks to his new pitch. Let’s hope he can keep it up.

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