Author: Derek Page 2 of 73

Game 57: Another loss in Buffalo

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I’m glad there are no more games in Buffalo. The Yankees lost to the Blue Jays tonight at Sahlen Field, 4-1. Toronto trails the Yanks by two games with three to be played. There’s no reason to doubt a second place finish yet, but it’s getting uncomfortable. Also: the Yankees missed a chance to gain on the White Sox for the fourth seed. The South Siders lost but remain two ahead of the Yanks.

We’re doing abbreviated takeaways tonight as all of us are a bit busy today. Here they are:

  • Jordan Montgomery’s roller coaster regular season ends on a high note. What a strange season for the lefty. There was a bit of hype after some impressive performances in spring training and summer camp, but his regular season was all over the place. There were some strong outings and some awful outings. Overall, including tonight, he finished with a 5.11 ERA and 3.86 FIP in 10 starts and 44 innings pitched. He allowed 3 runs (1 of those was inherited by Adam Ottavino) in 5 1/3 innings and looked sharp. Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s homer was the big blow, but Monty also struck out 8 and walked nobody. I presume that he’s the teams fifth starter this postseason if the Yankees advance past the Wild Card round.
  • More than a personal catcher? It now looks like Kyle Higashioka could be more than Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher. Aaron Boone dropped that bomb before today’s game. Starting for a second straight night, Higgy went 0-for-3 today, though he was pinch hit for by Gary Sánchez in the 8th inning. More on that Sánchez in a moment. I think some forgot that Higashioka was hitting .188/.188/.281 (20 wRC+) in 32 plate appearances before that three homer game last week. Or that he was a career .164/.212/.336 (41 wRC+) hitter in 156 plate appearances at the big league level entering 2020. It can be worse than Gary Sánchez has hit this year (66 wRC+), folks. And it’s not that I don’t like Higashioka. To the contrary; he’s hit well in the minors and has a good defensive reputation. But if you think you’re getting an offensive upgrade with him instead of Gary, think again. Defensively? I won’t fight you on that.
  • 2020 has shown no mercy on Gary Sánchez. As if the batting line wasn’t bad enough, Sánchez ran into some bad luck as a pinch hitter tonight in the eighth. Up in place of Higgy and as the tying run, Gary barreled one to left center that Randal Grichuk made a leaping catch on for the final out of the inning. Gary has mostly earned his stat line this season, but he didn’t deserve the below tonight. Would have been a two-run double to make things 4-3. And it had an .880 expected batting average, per Statcast.
  • The bats don’t show up on the road again. The Yankees have knocked around Hyun-Jin Ryu a couple of times in the last year (once with the Dodgers, once with the Blue Jays). Not tonight. He twirled a gem this evening. He blanked the Yankees across seven innings and barely gave up any well-struck batted balls. The Yankees’ average exit velocity against Ryu was 83.4 MPH in this one. It was yet another instance of the Yankees’ offense struggling away from the Bronx. The Yankees did hit Ryu well at Sahlen Field earlier this month, so maybe credit to him for adjusting. Or, maybe the Yankees are just going through the motions at this point. Or maybe there is a problem away from home. Who knows for sure, but the numbers are glaring:
    • Home: 176 runs, .276/.366/.588, 150 wRC+
    • Away: 124 runs, .221/.318/.354, 87 wRC+
  • I was about to say that Adam Ottavino has looked better lately. Entering tonight, Ottavino hadn’t allowed a run in his last five outings. He had faced 18 batters, allowed 3 hits, walked 1, and struck out 7 while not allowing a run. This came after that horrendous performance in Buffalo when he faced six hitters and didn’t record a single out. Tonight, the bad Ottavino returned. He gave up a two-run double to Alejandro Kirk in the sixth which put the Yankees behind 4-0. One of those runners was on Montgomery’s line. Sigh. Ottavino is an enigma.

Three games remain, all at Yankee Stadium. The final regular season series begins tomorrow with the Marlins in town. Have a good night everyone.

Should Kyle Higashioka be Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher?

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Gerrit Cole gets the ball tonight in what will be his final regular season start. In all likelihood, Kyle Higashioka will catch him this evening. Higgy has caught Cole’s last three starts, all of which have been excellent performances from the ace. The Yankees have yet to put an official label on it, but it sure looks like Higashioka is Cole’s personal catcher. Should that hold, Gary Sánchez will be on the bench for Game 1 of the postseason. The numbers for Cole throwing to the two catchers are jarring:

By Catcher
Split G IP ERA HR BB SO BA OBP SLG tOPS+
Kyle Higashioka3 20.0 0.901527.127.184.21124
Gary Sanchez8 46.0 3.91121260.224.282.494131
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/22/2020.

Catcher ERA typically is not indicative of much, but considering how stark the results are between the two backstops and Sánchez’s lack of hitting this season, it’s become a pretty easy decision to make. Stuff-wise, Cole doesn’t look any different with either catcher behind the plate. That said, there are some differences worth pointing out that perhaps Gary can take into account for 2021.

When I last wrote about Cole, hitters were teeing off against his fastball. I surmised that a big problem was his inability to throw his secondary pitches in the strike zone, making it easier for batters to sit fastball. I guess I was wrong. Here’s a heatmap of Cole’s secondary offerings in his last three starts, all with Higashioka behind the plate.

And yet, Cole’s fastball has been even more effective despite a lack of curves, sliders, and changeups in the zone. With Higgy, batters have a .241 wOBA and .268 xwOBA against Cole’s fastball. With Gary, opponents’ wOBA is .343 and xwOBA is .366 against the heat. Huge difference.

Perhaps it wasn’t as simple as just being able to wait for Cole to throw a fastball since nothing else was going to be a strike. Rather, it appears that pitch usage with Higashioka behind the plate is not as predictable as when Sánchez has caught Cole. Let’s start with overall pitch selection:

Pitch TypeHigashiokaSánchez 
4-Seam51.0%54.1%
Slider20.9%25.5%
Curve20.9%15.0%
Change7.1%5.4%

Fewer fastballs and a little more balance in the slider/curve department when Higashioka catches. Let’s now go to when Cole falls behind in the count:

Pitch TypeHigashiokaSánchez 
4-Seam54.9%69.4%
Slider27.5%16.8%
Curve9.8%6.6%
Change7.8%7.1%

Now here’s a massive difference. 1-0, 2-0, 3-1…whatever the count may be, hitters could bank on a heater coming with Gary catching Cole. Not so much with Higashioka. Alright, how about when Cole’s ahead in the count?

Pitch TypeHigashiokaSánchez 
4-Seam47.1%44.8%
Slider22.1%35.6%
Curve23.5%15.6%
Change7.4%4.0%

Fastball usage is pretty similar here. If anything, Higgy has been more willing to have Cole throw his curve, whereas Sánchez went more slider heavy. Finally, let’s look at even counts.

Pitch TypeHigashiokaSánchez 
4-Seam51.9%52.2%
Slider15.6%23.0%
Curve26.0%19.5%
Change6.5%5.3%

Again, Higashioka seems to favor the curveball a bit more than Gary. Here’s a visual breakdown of count and pitch usage by catcher:

Higashioka catching.
Sánchez catching.

Overall, it’s evident that Higashioka has called a less predictable game with Cole on the mound as compared to Sánchez. In fairness, we can’t assign 100 percent of the credit or blame to Cole’s battery mates for pitch calling. He can shake them off he wants, you know. Still, the results with Higashioka have been much better and there is a noticeable difference in how Cole has attacked hitters with Higgy behind the plate. The fastball isn’t as hittable and the overall numbers are great.

I’ve been a staunch defender of Sánchez, but I can’t argue for him in favor of Higashioka with Cole on the mound at the moment. If Gary was raking, it might be a different story. I know he’s hit better of late, but it’s not enough to convince me that catching him over Higgy in Game 1 is the right move. It’s a bit easier to stomach Higashioka in the lineup now that the offense is at full-strength, too. This situation can be reassessed next year, but for now, it’s time to pair Higashioka and Cole for the rest of 2020.

Game 54: The other side of a blowout

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Oof. That was ugly. The Yankees blew out Toronto a couple of times last week, and tonight, the Blue Jays returned the favor. The final in this one: 11-5.

This one was over early as Michael King and Jonathan Loaisiga got knocked around in the third and fourth innings. Meanwhile, the offense couldn’t muster much against Matt Shoemaker and the Jays’ bullpen. Here are the takeaways:

Michael King isn’t a big league starter. At least, not yet. There are reasons to like King, but his start tonight was emblematic of his entire season. He got off to a good start but wore down once the opposing lineup got a second look at him. Now, the times-through-the-order penalty applies to just about every pitcher. But for King, it’s particularly bad. Take a look:

Times Facing Opponent in Game
Split PA HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS tOPS+ sOPS+
1st PA in G, as SP27156.182.333.409.74281108
2nd PA in G, as SP26134.318.423.455.878116134
3rd PA in G, as SP1000.000.000.000.000-100-100
1st PA in G, as RP38218.278.316.528.844100127
2nd PA in G, as RP15112.286.333.571.905114115
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/21/2020.

Opposing hitters’ OPS go way up in a second plate appearance against King, though the jump is particularly noticeable as a starting pitcher. He’s kind of consistently bad as a reliever, whereas when starting, his first time through is actually pretty decent.

Tonight, King looked great his first time through the order. He allowed two hits and struck out five. One of those hits absolutely shouldn’t have been a hit, by the way. Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge let a ball drop in the outfield that turned into a triple. Anyway, point is: King shut down the Blue Jays in their first look tonight. He capped off that first time through with a beauty, too:

After that is when things unraveled. With one on, one out, and the top of the order due up, here’s what happened. King walked Cavan Biggio and then gave up back-to-back singles to Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernández, which put Toronto ahead 2-1. Next, King fanned Lourdes Gurriel Jr. for the second out, but Randal Grichuk delivered the final blow right after: an RBI single to make it 3-1. In short, Toronto hitters reached in four of the first five plate appearances in the second turn through the batting order. Not good. Jonathan Loaisiga relieved King, but allowed two of his inherited runners to score, putting the Yankees down 5-1 through 3 innings.

In fairness to King, some of the hits in that third inning weren’t scalded. Still, hits are hits and King has shown us time and time again that he doesn’t fare well against opposing hitters twice. As long as this issue remains, he’s not a viable starting pitcher.

King now has a 7.76 ERA and 5.13 FIP in 26 2/3 innings this season. If this is it for King this year, yikes. He had a chance to grab a rotation spot this year, but his poor performance, Deivi García’s success, and JA Happ’s resurgence never allowed it to be a possibility. My one big takeaway from King’s season, aside from the times through the order stuff: he’s gotta find a way to get his sinker down. Here’s his heat map on the pitch this season:

He flashes an excellent sinker (that Pitching Ninja gif, for example), but far more often than not it’s up and over the plate. If he can get that down, maybe he can get himself back on track as a back-end starter type.

Jonathan Loaisiga hasn’t looked great since returning from his unknown illness. In his third outing off the injured list, Loaisiga let this one get out of hand. He entered when it was 3-1 and allowed a couple of inherited runs to score, as mentioned earlier. Then, the next inning, he proceeded to give up four more runs. Loaisiga allowed five hits and walked two before Nick Nelson relieved him in the middle of the fourth inning.

Loaisiga’s pitch usage really stood out to me tonight. Of his 39 pitches in this one, 32 were fastballs. He’s got a great heater, but he also possesses a high spin curve and a sharp changeup, both with whiff rates north of forty percent this year. So, it’s a bit odd to see him spin off five breakers and two changeups tonight. He did something similar in his last outing too.

Granted, Loaisiga’s had some other high fastball usage outings this season. But considering how poorly things went tonight, it’s strange how he and Gary Sánchez kept going to the well. Maybe he just didn’t have a feel for the breaker or change, I don’t know. In any case, he also didn’t elevate his fastball at all, something he’s had success with before.

Hopefully this is just a case of Loaisiga trying to get back into a groove after missing a couple weeks of action. He showed some flashes of excellence in short relief last month and looked like a great option to graduate into late relief, particularly with Tommy Kahnle out for the year. It’d be nice to see him sort things out before the postseason.

Leftovers:
  • Gio Urshela drove in two of the three of the Yankees’ runs tonight. One was an RBI single that gave the Yankees’ a short-lived 1-zip lead in the second. The other was an RBI groundout in garbage time.
  • Giancarlo Stanton plated the Yankees’ third run with his RBI double in the eighth.
  • More from the too little, too late department: Mike Tauchman delivered a three-run double in the ninth inning against Wilmer Font.
  • Nick Nelson threw two innings in relief. The only run he allowed came on Randal Grichuk’s solo shot.
  • Chad Green and Adam Ottavino got some work in relief as well. Green gave up one run, a solo homer to Alejandro Kirk. Adam Ottavino pitched a clean eighth inning.
  • The Rays’ magic number for the division title is now 1. Additionally, the Yankees now trail the Twins by 1.5 games for the 4th seed.

Welp, on to the next one. The Yankees have now lost two straight, but it’s nice to have Gerrit Cole on the bump tomorrow. Have a good night, everyone.

Game 54: Back in Buffalo

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Now that the Yankees have clinched a postseason spot, it’s time to play out the string. Including tonight, seven games remain and the only thing left to play for is seeding. First place in the division technically isn’t out of the question, but making up 3.5 games on Tampa Bay is highly unlikely. That leaves the focus on the fourth seed, which the Yankees (31-22) currently trail the Twins (33-22) for. Yankees-Twins will be the first round matchup in all likelihood, but where those games will be played has yet to be determined. Tonight, the Yankees can continue to make a push for home field advantage. Here are the lineups for tonight’s game in Buffalo:

New York Yankees (31-22)

  1. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
  2. Aaron Judge, RF
  3. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
  4. Luke Voit, 1B
  5. Gleyber Torres, SS
  6. Aaron Hicks, CF
  7. Gio Urshela, 3B
  8. Gary Sánchez, C
  9. Brett Gardner, LF

RHP Michael King

Toronto Blue Jays (27-26)

  1. Cavan Biggio, 3B
  2. Bo Bichette, SS
  3. Teoscar Hernández, RF
  4. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., DH
  5. Randal Grichuk, CF
  6. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B
  7. Jonathan Villar, 2B
  8. Alejandro Kirk, C
  9. Jonathan Davis, LF

RHP Matt Shoemaker

News & Notes

Tonight’s game starts at 6:37 p.m. EDT. You can watch on YES and MLB Network (out-of-market) or listen on WFAN and WADO. Enjoy the ballgame.

Toronto Blue Jays Series Preview: 9/21 to 9/24

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Last call for the Blue Jays. Wasn’t it just a week ago that these two sides were duking it out for second place in the AL East? Now, Toronto sits in the 8th seed at 27-26 whereas the Yankees are four games ahead of them at 31-22. It ain’t over ’til it’s over, but barring a Blue Jays four game sweep, this series isn’t going to change the outcome of the AL East race.

Since we last saw them

Hasn’t been all that long since the Yankees and Blue Jays previously squared off. This will be the third consecutive week that these two sides have a series against one another. Most recently, the Yankees swept the Blue Jays in three games at Yankee Stadium. This wasn’t any ordinary sweep, by the way. The Yanks outscored Toronto 43-15.

Things haven’t gone much better for the Jays since they departed the Bronx. Toronto lost three of four down in Philadelphia, though it could have been worse. Philly tacked on 15 runs in Friday’s doubleheader to open the series. This, after the Yankees’ 43 run shellacking of the Jays’ pitching staff. Then, Toronto finally got a well-pitched game from Hyun-Jin Ryu, but still lost. Vince Velazquez outpitched Ryu to beat the Jays, 3-1. At long last, Toronto returned to the win column yesterday to salvage the series and break a six game losing streak.

Injury Report

  • Rowdy Tellez, 1B (strained knee)
  • Derek Fisher, OF (knee contusion)
  • Yennsy Diaz, RHP (strained lat)
  • Elvis Luciano, RHP (undisclosed)
  • Nate Pearson, RHP (strained flexor)
  • Matt Shoemaker, RHP (strained lat)
  • Trent Thornton, RHP (elbow surgery)
  • Ken Giles, RHP (strained flexor)
  • Jordan Romano, RHP (strained middle finger)
  • Jacob Waguespack, RHP (strained back)

Spotlight: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

There are a lot of exciting young players on the Blue Jays. Whether its Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, or Cavan Biggio, one guy seems to get a little less notice: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. But like the first three, he’s got baseball in his lineage as older brother Yuli plays for the Astros.

The almost 27 year-old outfielder has been a strong contributor in Toronto since he debuted in 2018. Gurriel came up as a shortstop, but was moved to left field last year in favor of Freddy Galvis (though really in preparation for Bo Bichette’s call-up). Regardless of where he’s played, his bat has been superb.

Gurriel has a lifetime .285/.327/.507 (121 wRC+) in 807 plate appearances. He’s got plenty of power (41 homers, .222 ISO) and has a more than tolerable strikeout rate (22.9 percent) considering his power production. 2020 has been his best offensive season: .303/.348/.530 (137 wRC+), 10 homers, and a 19.9 percent strikeout rate in 201 trips to the plate. He’s also boosted his walk rate to 7.0 percent, comfortably above the 4.8 percent walk rate he had from 2018 through 2019.

If it’s not clear based on more than 800 big league plate appearances, Gurriel’s Statcast data also backs up his offensive results.

Plenty of hard contact leading to good results. And a lot of those hard hits have come against the Yankees this year, by the way. Gurriel enters this series with a .550/.550/1.100 batting line in 20 plate appearances against the Yankees this season. He also has three homers, two coming against Masahiro Tanaka.

Projected Lineup

  1. Cavan Biggio, RF (.247/.371/.409, 121 wRC+)
  2. Bo Bichette, SS (.306/.327/.551, 133 wRC+)
  3. Teoscar Hernández, DH (.307/.356/.639, 165 wRC+)
  4. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., LF (.303/.348/.530, 137 wRC+)
  5. Randal Grichuk, CF (.258/.296/.447, 98 wRC+)
  6. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B (.237/.312/.407, 96 wRC+)
  7. Travis Shaw, 3B (.233/.307/.397, 93 wRC+)
  8. Joe Panik, 2B (.248/.363/.333, 101 wRC+)
  9. Danny Jansen, C (.160/.297/.292, 69 wRC+)

Bench:

  • Alenjandro Kirk, C (200/.273/.200, 37 wRC+)
  • Jonathan Villar, INF/OF (.241/.310/.307, 73 wRC+)
  • Jonathan Davis, OF (.333/.500/.750, 233 wRC+)

Pitching Matchups

Tonight, 6:37 p.m. EDT:

TBD

The Yankees pushed back Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka in preparation for the postseason rotation, which opens up today’s slot. Michael King seems like a possibility to start tonight, though nothing has been announced.

RHP Matt Shoemaker

This will be Shoemaker’s first start in a month. He’s been on the injured list with a lat strain. In 25 2/3 innings pre-injury, the righty had a 4.91 ERA and 6.10 FIP. Tonight will be his first start against the Yankees as a Blue Jay.

Shoemaker.
Tomorrow, 6:37 p.m. EDT:

RHP Gerrit Cole

The Yankees’ ace in on a roll of late. He faced this same Jays squad last week and allowed just one run in seven innings. Expect Kyle Higashioka to catch Cole again.

RHP Tanner Roark

Roark has been dreadful this season (6.41 ERA, 7.71 FIP in 39 1/3 innings). The Yankees shelled the veteran last time out and surely are salivating to face him again.

Roark.
Wednesday, 6:37 p.m. EDT:

RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Tanaka had his longest outing of the season — 7 innings — against Toronto on the 17th. He’s been good all season (3.27 ERA, 4.25 FIP) and is getting ready for a Game 2 start in the Wild Card round.

RHP Chase Anderson

Like Roark, the Yankees crushed Anderson last week. Anderson’s had a brutal season (7.45 ERA, 7/15 FIP in 29 innings) and this Yankees’ lineup is not a good matchup for him.

Anderson.
Thursday, 6:37 p.m. EDT:

LHP JA Happ

The previously written-off 37 year-old lefty now has a 3.25 ERA after throwing eight scoreless innings against Boston on Saturday. His turnaround after two dreadful starts to open up the 2020 campaign has been remarkable.

LHP Robbie Ray

Toronto acquired Ray at the trade deadline, but he hasn’t been all that great. Better than Arizona (7.84 ERA and 7.28 FIP), but that’s a low bar to clear. In 16 2/3 innings with the Jays, Ray has a 5.94 ERA and 5.70 FIP.

Ray.

Bullpen Status

RHP: Rafael Dolis, Anthony Bass, Julian Merryweather, A.J. Cole, Thomas Hatch, Patrick Murphy, Shun Yamaguchi, Wilmer Font, Ross Stripling, T.J. Zeuch

LHP: Ryan Borucki

Bass (14 pitches), Hatch (27), and Yamaguchi (21) pitched yesterday. Everyone else has had a day of rest, although Borucki and Cole pitched back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday.

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