Author: Jonny Montano Page 1 of 2

The West Coast Trip Was A Roadmap for October

Before the Yankees landed in Oakland on August 19th, they had just split a four-game set with Cleveland. That series included an abysmal 19-5 loss and a poor performance from CC, Cortes, and Cessa in the other loss. Everyone remained confident in the Yankees, obviously, but there were concerns before a long and difficult West Coast trip.

The trip started poorly–the Yankees were swept by Oakland and their offense was struggling. Fans, myself included, were frustrated. Then came the Dodgers and Mariners.

The Yankees finished their road trip by taking 2 of 3 in LA and sweeping Seattle. And they looked good–really good. Their record on the trip was 5-4 despite starting 0-3. So, how does the trip prove their legitimacy come October? Let’s take a look.

1. They Beat Good Pitching

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Skeptics have said it all year–“The Yankees only beat the Orioles” or “The can’t score against a playoff team”. Well, the Dodgers series showed us the opposite. Of course, there were already numbers to disprove this claim, as James Smyth points out. But regardless, fans got real evidence and impressive performances this past week.

Just how good was their offense against good pitching? Here are Ryu and Kershaw’s lines:

  • Hyun-Jin Ryu: 4.1 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, and 3 homers allowed.
  • Clayton Kershaw: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, and 3 homers allowed.
  • Combined Line: 11.1 IP, 13 H, 10 ER, and 6 homers.

Obviously, the Yanks got to Ryu much more than they did Kershaw. But three bombs off one of the best pitchers in baseball is nothing to be modest about. Going into their starts Ryu and Kershaw’s ERA’s were 1.64 and 2.71, respectively. Both rose after the Yankees came to town – up to 2.o0 and 2.76.

All the talent and numbers pointed to the truth: the Yankees can beat good pitching.

2. Their starters can perform

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Many fans are worried about the Yankees pitching. I have written my concerns here a few times. The road trip doesn’t fix those problems, but it does show that they can perform against the best offenses in the league.

In three games, the Dodgers scored only 5 runs. 5! That is impressive. Their lines:

  • James Paxton: 6.2 IP, 2 ER, 11 SO.
  • CC Sabathia: 4.0 IP, 2 ER, 7 SO.
  • Domingo Germán: 6.0 IP, 1 ER, 5 SO

If you tell me that the Yankees played three World Series games in LA and their starters only surrendered 5 runs, I would respond that they won that series.

Another interesting note: their pen didn’t surrender a run in LA. Impressive.

Their starters were also good in Seattle, again allowing only 5 runs in 3 games.

  • J.A. Happ: 5 IP, 3 ER, 7 SO.
  • Masahiro Tanaka: 7 IP, 0 ER, 7 SO.
  • James Paxton: 5.0 IP 2 ER, 4 SO.

Tanaka is the obvious standout here, throwing an absolute gem. When he pitches like that, he truly looks unhittable. Paxton, too, looked good Wednesday afternoon and was able to fight through a loss of control in the fourth inning.

Starting pitching like that can win you a World Series. Especially with a pen like the Yanks behind it.

Aaron Judge.

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Well, Judge is back. I think we all knew it was coming, even if some were skeptical. For more analysis on Judge’s hot-streak check out Derek’s brilliant piece. But man oh man is Aaron Judge back.

On the 9-game road trip judge hit 6 homers and a total of 14 hits. And man, they were no doubters–he’s hitting the ball about as hard as I’ve seen him. On the trip, he averaged 95.2 MPH off the bat for an average distance of 258 feet, good for a 68% hard-hit percentage and an expected BA of .359.

I expected to be wow’d when I checked those numbers, but he still somehow surpassed expectations. An xBA that high is very, very good.

Judge’s importance can’t be stated enough. Not just his production–but his impact on the guys hitting behind him–are incredibly important if the Yankees want to make a deep run in October.

Dealing with Adversity

This is one of those things that can’t be quantified. I can’t search for statistics to validate my feelings and prove them to you. But this week showed me that the Yanks can deal with adversity and step up in big situations despite what happened the day–or series–before. Randy touched on an idea like this in his piece about Gardner.

To win in October a team has to have a short memory. Something will happen–be it a grand slam that shouldn’t have been hit, or not catching the ball which leads to a walk-off–something will happen this October that will require a short memory.

Going to Oakland after the Cleveland series wasn’t ideal. Going to LA after being swept was even less ideal. But it didn’t seem to matter. That is the mentality a World Series winner needs.

Conclusion

The successful road trip showed us how the Yankees are built for another ring come October. They can hit – and they can hit against anyone. Their starters can pitch well against good teams. Aaron Judge could carry the offense to number 28. And they have the mentality to do it.

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Gleyber Torres Hit 3rd Last Night. He Should Stay There.

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Last night, Aaron Boone made a move that I’ve wanted to see for a long time: he hit Gleyber Torres in the top-third of the order. Look, I don’t want to complain about the Yankees lineup–the roster is so talented and so deep that there are many ways to arrange a lineup, and someone has to hit in the bottom third. Having said that, though, I think we can all agree that Torres deserves a solidified place in the middle or top third of the lineup.

On Thursday night in Oakland, Torres was hitting seventh. He went 4-4 with 2 homers and accounted for all three runs scored by the Bombers. I was a bit puzzled by his place in the lineup, and obviously, Boone made the move after this. So, I decided to take a look at Torres’s lineup placement this season as we look ahead to a playoff team. Here are the number of plate appearances Torres has recorded in each third of the lineup, including last night:

  • Top Third: 34 (6%)
  • Middle Third: 342 (70%)
  • Bottom Third: 117 (24%)

Obviously, the majority of the time Torres hits in the middle third. Specifically, he hits fifth the most, with 142 PA (30% of all ABs). That is preferable to the bottom third, where he was the other day, but Gleyber Torres belongs at the top of the Yankee lineup, and nowhere else.

Gleyber’s Production

Let’s take a look at his numbers this season to see why he deserves to hit higher in the lineup. He is hitting: .287/.350/.551 (131 wRC+) with 32 home runs and improving walk and strikeout rates. It’s pretty hard to expect much more from a 22-year-old in his second season.

Let’s take a look at his numbers in comparison to the rest of the team. 15 Yankees have recorded 100 times or more this season. Here are Torres’ rankings among them:

  • Home runs: 32 (1st)
  • RBI: 76 (2nd)
  • Runs: 84 (2nd)
  • OPS: .901 (3rd)
  • Avg: .287 (5th)
  • OBP: .351 (5th, with a 20 point lead over Gardy in sixth)
  • wRC+: 131 (6th, but 3rd among those with 300 PA or more)
  • Strikeout Percentage: 20.3% (6th)

Gleyber is pretty obviously one of the best hitters in the Yankee lineup, he has stayed healthy, and, most importantly, he is continuing to improve. The goal of lineup construction is to get your best hitters the most appearances, and there is no reason for Gleyber Torres to hit in the bottom third of the lineup at all anymore, let alone 25% of the time.

I know how talented the lineup is and I completely understand how challenging it will be to find him a spot among the bigger names, but it is clear by now that Torres is certainly performing well enough to be a top of the lineup hitter, even on this Yankee roster.

Conclusion

I don’t know about you, but I want Torres getting as many at-bats as possible in the playoffs this year. He is cool and collected at the plate, and it’s hard not to feel good when he is up. That means he shouldn’t be hitting seventh or eighth. I don’t care if he’s only 22, he’s been one of the Yankees best hitters this season and I want him at the plate as often as possible.

Personally, I want to see him hit second. I know that’s an unpopular opinion considering it’s Judge’s spot. But I do want to see DJ and Torres hit back-to-back with big power hitters like Judge and Sánchez right behind them.

Regardless of the exact location, I hope that Boone and the front office place Torres in the middle third or higher come October. I think Torres will reward them if they stick with it.

Three Things To Watch During the Final Stretch of 2019

The 2019 season is almost three-quarters of the way done. It has seemed to fly by because of the Yanks success and just how fun their roster has been. If you had told me in April that it would be August 9th and the Yankees would’ve all but won the division, I probably would’ve been more than a tad skeptical. But here we are with an 11 game lead over the Rays and a 17 game lead over the Sox, both in the loss column. How sweet it is.

So, with the division all but won barring an unheard of collapse, what’s there to look forward to down the stretch?

Securing Home-Field Advantage

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For starters: home-field advantage is going to be important this season. The Yankees are legitimate title contenders and playing in YSIII is a major advantage. They have to shoot for the best record in baseball. They have it right now, but both the Dodgers and Astros are not far behind. The Yanks have been hot and so have Houston and LA. The division may be all but over, but they have to secure the best record in the league to maximize their position.

So, let’s take a look at their upcoming schedule. After the current Jays series, the Yanks have 14 remaining series, facing 11 different opponents. Six are at home and eight are away. Of their remaining 14 series, 6 are against opponents with a record less than .500. That number rises to 8 if you count the Rangers, who have a winning percentage of just .509 (two wins above .500). That is by no means a difficult schedule. Should they be able to dominate the majority of those series and have to win against just a few good teams (Dodgers, Rays, Sox, Indians).

If you’re wondering, the Yanks won’t face Houston again this regular season. So in terms of separating space with for the best record in baseball, they can only control that against the Dodgers. They face LA in the middle of a fairly long West Coast trip where they face LA three times after a trip to Oakland. It’ll be a good test to see how they shape up against the best team in the NL and if they can create breathing room for home-field advantage.

Importantly, though, the Dodgers have an incredibly easy schedule coming up. They have 15 series remaining, and only 4 are against winning teams. That number goes up to 7 if you include Arizona and the Giants, but they’re both hovering at just about .500 teams.

The Astros also have 15 series remaining. They also only face 4 winning teams–5 if you count Texas. You know, it’s almost like the league has a competition issue.

Anyways, it’s safe to say that the Yanks, Dodgers, and Astros all have an easy schedule. Nothing you can do besides go out and try and win your games and not worry about the others.

“The Best Trade We Could Make”

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Yes, we all hate to read it. But it’s true, as Bobby pointed out here and again here. The Yankees roster is going to get better, and that’s something to look forward to.

The last fifty games of the season are going to be very important for two specific players: Severino and Betances. Their development (and please, God, no setbacks) are going to be vital for the Yankees postseason odds. Watching them in August and September is going to be incredibly important. If Sevy can come out and throw 100 mph accurately, you best believe he will be a force in the postseason, no matter what capacity they think is best for him and the team.

Betances, too, could come back and immediately improve their strongest asset. If he comes back healthy and ready to perform, it will be important for him to build strength and, importantly, give some rest to the other star relievers.

And finally, Stanton should be back before October. He will be an immediate improvement to their already impressive offense. If he can come back and be healthy, the league better watch out.

These would be three legitimate improvements to the Yankee roster. Seriously, these are three actual superstars. It’s nice how the replacements have stepped up, but how these guys bounce back during the last quarter of the season will be incredibly important to the Yankees’ ultimate aspirations.

September Call Ups

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The Yankees will obviously expand their roster this September. The rule changes mean they will not be able to add any big name from a waiver trade. So, they’ll have to come internally.

Your bet is about as good as mine about why Frazier isn’t playing in New York already. But I do believe he will be playing come September. Regardless of your opinion of Clint, he’s shown flashes of being very good and deserves to play in at least September. I expect we’ll see him.

Deivi Garcia, too, will be given innings. As Mike recently pointed out in his Patreon and I started to worry about a while back, their bullpen is going to need rest in September. Why not give Garcia a shot? Yes, he hasn’t been as dominating in Triple-A as he was in Double-A, but it is still an incredibly small sample size and nobody questions his talent. If he can continue to improve as he adjusts to the new ball, he should be given a chance to get outs at the Major League level. And hopefully, he can make a legitimate impact on this team, though anything at all would be nice.

Conclusion

So yes, the 2019 division race is all but over. But no, upcoming Yankee games are not less meaningful. While they have to balance competitiveness with smart, incremental rest, they do need to continue to win games. Home-field advantage will be important.

And these games will be important for returning players. Sevy and Betances have not thrown a single inning yet in 2019. They will need all the time they can get to get ready for October.

And September is always fun for prospects. I suspect we’ll see what Deivi can do at the major league level, and I truly hope Clint gets another chance to improve this team.

The Yankees Need Their Starting Pitching to Improve

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The Yankee starting pitching has had a horrible week. If you want to read a level headed take, read Randy’s post from Friday. But this isn’t going to be that – I’m going to highlight just the things Yankee starting pitching needs to do better.

To start: Yankee starters have a team ERA of 4.64. League average team starting ERA is 4.49. Sure, the last week has probably raised that ERA a lot, but if one week can push you that far past league average ERA, it’s not good enough. World Series contenders should be far better than league average. Their FIP doesn’t suggest it’s a run of bad luck, either. They have a 4.90 FIP, good for 9th worst in the league.

Perhaps their biggest problem is their HR rate. Yankee starters have the second worst HR/9 in the league, allowing 1.84 home runs per nine innings. Only the Orioles have a worse rate. I don’t care if that number is inflated by some poor starts recently or by the London series, it’s just not good enough. They allow a home run on 18.5% of the fly balls they give up, second worst in the league. This needs to get better.

Yankee starters also allow too many base runners. They have 1.31 WHIP, exactly league average. League average isn’t good enough for a team looking to win the World Series.

We all know the Yankees have the best bullpen in the league. But their starters rely on them way too much. Only five teams have less innings logged from their starting rotation. The Dodgers rotation has 100 more innings attributed to them than the Yanks. Of course, LA might be complaining that their starters are going to be too gassed come October, and that might be true, but Yanks starting pitching needs to go deeper into games and rely less on the work of those behind them.

While those raw numbers are not good, perhaps these are even scarier: Yankee starting ERA versus the Twins, Red Sox, Rays, and Houston.

  • German: 6.12
  • Happ: 6.49
  • CC: 4.28 (man, gotta love him)
  • Paxton: 2.81 (this does not include his abysmal performance Friday, but I still felt the need to include it)
  • Tanaka: 5.28
  • Team: 5.12

Again, these numbers can change pretty quickly, and of course I still trust Tanaka in a big game. But man, that is just not what you want. The four best teams in the AL seem to just dominate our starting pitching.

To validate this, I looked at Yankee starters in high leverage situations across any opponent. It is not good. Their team ERA in high leverage situations is 11.96. 26.1 innings defined as high leverage, and 35 runs allowed. Five big flies and ten walks. Not good.

They need to improve. Period.

The Yankees, Indeed, Are “Savages in the Box”

Aaron Boone was ejected Thursday afternoon for arguing balls and strikes. It wasn’t quite the vein-popping fury Girardi used to display, but Boone went viral and rightfully so. Sticking up for the team is important, and Brennan Miller was pretty, pretty bad.

But the best part of Boone’s rant was that it was mic’d up, meaning we get to know what he said. Boone screamed, “our guys are f’n savages in the box”. I’m not so sure I–or anyone else for that matter–know exactly what that means. In fact, I don’t think Boone really knows what that means, either. But my guess is that it means that Yankee batters are really, really good.

Of course, Boone is right, but that’s an excuse to take a deeper look at the offense. Let’s try and qualify Boone’s claim by analyzing the three offensive aspects of baseball: patience, contact, and power.

Patience at the Plate

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The Yankees patience at the plate is key to their offensive success. So far this season they have a walk rate of 9.6%. In other words, almost 1 in every 10 batters reaches via walk–about one walk each turn through the lineup. Pretty damn good. 9.6% is good for 5th best in the league and an entire percentage point above league average (8.6%). The four top teams are only marginally better than the Yanks, with the Cubs leading the league with an impressive 10% walk rate.

The Yankees are also good at laying off pitches outside the zone. They swing at only 30% of the balls they see. Only seven teams lay off more balls than the Yanks. This is especially important to a team like the Yankees. Their O-Contact%, which measures the rate of contact on pitches outside the strike zone, is below league average. In other words, the Yanks aren’t good at hitting balls. So it’s important they don’t feel the need to chase outside the zone, a skill they’re better most of the league at.

Interestingly, the Yanks don’t swing at more strikes than most teams. In fact, they are exactly league average, swinging at 68% of the strikes they see. This shows that the Yankees are patient even in the zone–they want to wait for their pitch.

So no wonder Boone gets fired up over horrendous umpiring. The Yanks rely on patience, and poor strike calls can really impact their strategy at the plate.

And no, the Yankees are not too patient at the plate. They strike out almost exactly league average, 23.1% of the time versus 22.8%. Sure, you can argue that the league strikes out too much, but you can only judge a 2019 team based on 2019 data.

The Yankees have an above-average eye at the plate. Check number 1 on the “savage in the box” list.

Contact

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I know that batting average is a dying stat nowadays, and I get why, but it’s still an important number when analyzing offensive success. The Yankees team batting average is .265 on the season, 6th best in the league and 12 percentage points higher than league average. According to Statcast, the Yankees have an expected batting average of .252 on balls in play. League average is only .248.

Hard to complain about the Yankees’ batting average numbers, especially when it’s paired with their ability to get on base in general. The Bombers have a team OBP of .340, good for fourth-best in the league.

Amazingly, the Yankees rarely leave runners on base despite being one of the best teams in the league in getting on base. The Yankees have left 620 runners on base this season, 30 less than league average. By contrast, the very good Dodgers have left 737 men on base. The Yanks get on base, and they seldom leave them there.

In addition, they record an RBI every 6.3 AB–the best rate in the league. Pretty damn good, especially considering that is more than one run every turn through the lineup.

In terms of contact, another check on the “savage in the box” list.

Power with the bat

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And finally, the most obvious of all: power. To the surprise of literally nobody who knows anything about baseball, the Bombers have a powerful offense.

Let’s start with some standard numbers. The Yankees have hit 160 homers this season, good for fourth in the league. They score 5.63 runs per game, behind only the Red Sox who score 5.64.

They are the fourth-best when it comes to hitting the ball hard, averaging 89.5mph off the bat. The best in the league is 89.8.

So, it’s not surprising that they also hit a lot of home runs. The Yankees hit a bomb every 20 ABs, or 4.4% of the time–good for second best in the league.

Safe to say we can check off power on the “savage in the box” list.

Conclusion

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So yes, the Yankees are savages in the box. And yes, that should continue to be their brand.

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