The Yankees take another series from the awful Boston Red Sox. While the pinstripes didn’t score 8+ runs tonight, they were able to do more than enough to secure a victory by the score of 4-2. With the win tonight, the Yankees improve to 15-6 and maintain a two game lead in the AL East. This game was a snooze fest so on to the two main takeaways.
Happ Solid By His Standards
We have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to get from J.A. Happ when he takes the mound. There will be high fastball usage with iffy location, declining velocity, and largely ineffective breaking stuff. It is a victory when Happ is able to keep the team in the game. On this night, Happ faced a struggling Boston Red Sox lineup and pitched his best game of the season. “Best” is in the most relative use of the word possible.
Happ was largely efficient in this game by his standards. One of the many issues with his starts over the last year is the inability to go deep into the game. That wasn’t the case tonight. J.A. featured good command of his arsenal. Outside of a few match-ups against Xander Bogaerts and Michael Chavis, Happ had pretty quick at-bats against the Red Sox hitters. Happ is no longer a strikeout pitcher. It is imperative Happ minimizes the length of each at-bat. He just doesn’t have the stuff or location to survive long confrontations with batters. On this night, he was in control of most at-bats on the night and lasted into the sixth inning.
Part of his effectiveness was changing the eye level of the hitter. This pitch location chart highlights this:
Happ had a nice mix of high fastballs paired with off-speed stuff down in the zone. The importance here lies in getting guys to swing at his pitch early in the count. As you can see from the chart, there are multiple at bats where hitters weren’t swinging at a bunch of poorly located pitches in the zone as we’ve seen in previous starts. The effectiveness of the high fastball was especially noticeable on this night. It emerged as his best pitch as the night went on.
While there were encouraging signs from Happ, there are still lingering issues under the hood. He still gives up hard contact. Boston’s average exit velocity on Happ’s fastball was 94.1 MPH. The max velocity was 105.9 on a Kevin Plawecki ground ball. The average exit velocity on Happ’s changeup was 93.9 MPH with a max of 95.9. When Red Sox hitters were able to square up a pitch, they were doing so with authority. The fastball and changeup were Happ’s main pitches on the night. Happ was able to get outs, but it always feels like he was an extra base hit or homer away from trouble.
The other continuing concern is the lack of swing and misses. Out of his 75 pitches, there were only 7 swinging strikes. You don’t need me to tell you that isn’t great. If Happ was facing a better lineup, it is hard to believe he gets away with just giving up one run. There is a bit of fortune here that Happ faced a lifeless Red Sox team.
The larger problem is this start probably gives Happ a little bit of a longer leash. It is conflicting to say that because you want all of the players to do well, but Happ just isn’t a reliable option. The data shows Happ’s issues still remain. A singular night of better execution doesn’t remedy those issues. If you’re looking forward to seeing a Clarke Schmidt or a Mike King start, you’ll be waiting a while longer.
The Lineup Grinds For Runs
We can quickly get the obvious thing out of the way. The Yankees lineup is tremendous. It is tremendous because it is both elite and versatile. There are really good lineups in the league. There aren’t many lineups that have a profile that allows the team to consistently put up runs when one plan of attack no longer works. The loss of Judge and Stanton are evident. With Gleyber, Hicks, and Gary still struggling to find a consistent power stroke, there will be times when the explosiveness of the lineup isn’t available. This leaves you with a game like tonight where tough at-bats, some key hits, and a timely homer all factor into a win.
The first two games were laughers. The hitters were clicking up and down the lineup. Tonight’s game was more a testament to the grind mentality each hitter in the lineup possesses. We often think of grind at-bats as matchups involving a lot of foul balls, close takes, and high pitch counts. Sometimes a tough at-bat is getting a hit with two strikes. Sometimes it is getting a two-out hit on the first pitch. Anything that keeps the offensive half of the inning going on a consistent manner contributes to that grinding approach. The Yankees put up ten hits and three walks on the night. Mike Ford drove in all four runs, but the lineup put him in a position to do damage.
The Yankees score the majority of their runs through the power game. What often gets missed is the amount of traffic the overall lineup creates. The quick strikes come with maximum damage. The benefit to that is even when there aren’t a ton of homers like in tonight’s game there are still run-scoring opportunities. This approach is a major reason why the “next man up” movement exists. All of these players are taught to generate opportunities in as many ways as possible. If the hitters were one-dimensional types, it would be much more difficult to survive the losses of Judge, Stanton, and LeMahieu. The offense is still able to chug along because the ecosystem is built to do so. Organizations weather storms and not just the players.
- Chad Green’s fantastic season continues. The curve continues to make a big difference in his performance. Green is one of the most important pitchers on the staff.
- The Yankees have a real middle infield depth issue. The drop off from DJLM to Tyler Wade is stark. You’re not looking for a backup to replicate LeMahieu’s performance, but you are looking for something a little better than replacement level performance on the offensive side. Wade struggles to give replacement level production. Thairo Estrada should get a longer look.
- The Yankees finish this wrap around series with Boston tomorrow night. It will be Jordan Montgomery versus Martín Pérez. The game will be on YES with a 7:05 start time. Enjoy your night everyone.