Game 21: Bad Pitching (And Managing) Ends the Yanks Streak at Three

All good things must come to an end. The Yankees fell to Cleveland 7-3 today, although they won the series still. A sweep would have been nice but I’ll take three out of four every time. You play .750 baseball and you’re a 121 win team over a full season. Given where the Yanks were this time last week, it’s a marked improvement.

I say all of that because this game annoyed the hell out of me. One big managerial screw up contributed to this loss and I’m irritated by it. Much more on that below. Let’s get to today’s takeaways, shall we?

1. Taillon’s Stuff is Good, But Inefficient: That was not Jameson Taillon’s finest start, but I am still feeling extremely encouraged by him overall. I like his approach generally and think the stuff looks good. Check out his pitch plot on the day, which shows that his fastball up in the zone and breaking stuff down in the zone approach is here to stay:

He did not have his best curveball today, though. The spin rate was down 175 RPM over his season average to date. I think that’s reflected above – notice how the pitch, which isn’t breaking as hard or sharply, stayed out over the middle of the plate. (He also lived just a little too low with the fastball generally, although he was largely effective with the heater today. So who the hell am I?)

While Cleveland is not known for its offense anymore, it’s very, very difficult to have success with just two pitches. That’s what Taillon tried to do today and it felt inevitable watching him that something was going to go wrong as he faced the batters for the second or third time. Sure enough, that’s what happened. He struggled to put guys away with two strikes even though he did strike out 6 batters. It got worse as he got tired, too. Here was the big blow, which came in Taillon’s fourth and final inning of work:

Gah. Annoying. It was a little more of the same from Taillon, who has visibly tired as he works up the pitch count. He has struggled in the 4th inning particularly. That’s mostly a function of his inefficient pitching, though. It took Taillon 82 pitches to complete 4 innings. I am still confident in Taillon and think that he is trending up and will be very good for New York. Today didn’t change that. The next step in his season, obviously, is going to be keeping his early-game success going a bit later in the game.

2. Baffling Bullpen Management: I am very frustrated and confused by the way Aaron Boone and the Yankees managed the bullpen today. The decision-making was completely backwards and it probably cost the Yankees a chance at winning today’s game. I just did not get it at all. The Yankees understandably removed Taillon from the game after the disastrous 4th inning. Remember, the team was trailing 4-3 at the time. These are fairly high-leverage innings, all things considered.

Given the fact that there are a bunch of games in a row, and that much of the back end of the pen has been worked hard lately, there were really a few options. Here they are, with their recent workloads:

  • Luis Cessa: Last pitched Wednesday 4/21 (23 pitches); 23 pitches thrown in last 7 days.
  • Lucas Luetge: Last pitched Friday 4/23 (18 pitches); 39 pitches thrown in last 7 days.
  • Nick Nelson: Last pitched Wednesday 4/21 (27 pitches); 27 pitches thrown in last 7 days.

It’s worth noting that while both Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson have both pitched just once since Wednesday, they were likely going to be used later in the game if the Yankees had the lead. That’s why I didn’t include them here. They probably weren’t in the conversation to start a clean 5th inning of a 4-3 deficit, which is fine. Given all of that, the obvious choice to come out for the 5th inning is Luis Cessa. He has been pretty good for the last two seasons, owning a 3.69 (81 ERA-) in his last 112.1 innings since Opening Day 2019. In other words, he is the perfect candidate in that situation. We’ve seen him hold deficits in place time and time again.

Instead, Boone and the Yankees turned to Nick Nelson, who has electric stuff (and a good FIP) but has struggled in 2021. Predictably, Nelson struggled again today, allowing 3 runs on 4 hits and a walk. That turned a one-run deficit into a four-run deficit…at which point the Yankees turned to Cessa, who pitched two perfect innings (with an assist from an outstanding play from Clint Frazier) against the heart of the Cleveland order. It was completely the wrong way to manage the bullpen. It was easy to first guess in real-time. I am not surprised at all that it backfired. But it is very annoying nonetheless. Why not use the better pitcher in the higher leverage situation? It makes no sense to me.

I ranted about this on Twitter, where a few folks have correctly noted that Nelson is the pitcher who will get sent down tomorrow to make room for Deivi García. (In fact, it already happened.) That is true and it is important context, as it makes sense that the Yankees would turn to Nelson at some point today. Soak up some innings and save some ammo from the other arms. Makes sense. But it also has to make sense situationally or else it just feels like Boone is managing off a script and not reacting to the game in front of him.

In the end, he used both Nelson and Cessa. Unfortunately, by turning to Nelson first, he put the game out of reach by the time he turned to the superior pitcher. Just baffling stuff, but very familiar so far this year. The Yankees use Nelson entirely too much and in important situations. Using him as the opener, bringing him in with the bases loaded in a one-run game, and now today. I’m not making it up, either. Look at this:

Yeesh. That’s all there is to say.

3. The Power is Back: Okay, let’s use the last takeaway here to be a bit more positive, shall we? The Yankees may have had a power outage early on in the season, but that’s decidedly not the case now. The home runs are flowing again and I love it. We got our first back-to-back and a belly-to-belly of the season today courtesy of Gio Urshela (2-run blast) and Mike Ford in the 4th inning. Here is some video:

The Yankee offense was not great today – they had 11 baserunners (6 H, 5 BB) but scored just 3 runs – but this game is a good reminder of the importance of the home run. Even when the team lacks the proverbial Big Hit, as was the case today, they can still put runs on the board and stay competitive. That’s what was lacking early on in the season and it’s nice to see the power return to the Yankee bats. We’ll see some really crooked numbers soon. You can feel it.

Leftovers

  • Giancarlo Hits it Hard: It was just a 1-5 game today for Big G, but not because of his contact. My lord did he hit the ball hard today. In fact, he logged the hardest-hit ball (120.1 mph) of the season on his first-inning single. He then smacked 4 additional balls hit harder than 96 mph. It didn’t translate to hits – still too many grounders – but it’s a good approach. Stanton is going to break out soon. I feel it.
  • Mike Tauchman’s Very Bad Throw: What the hell kind of play was this from Mike Tauchman? I feel bad. I pick on Tauchman a lot, though I’d pick on him less if he could hit a fastball). That said, I cannot let this one go. Look at this throw home on a sac fly. Bear in mind that the “runner” is Cleveland catcher Austin Hedges, who had a 3rd percentile sprint speed last year. Inexcusable throw from the defense-first 4th outfielder.
  • Clint Frazier with a Great Play: Here is the opposite of that horrendous excuse of a play. And it came from Clint Frazier! Look at this amazing catch:

The Yankees will go to Yankee Stadium South for a four-game set against the Orioles. They’ll kick it off tomorrow at 7:05 pm, with Deivi García (debut) taking on Matt Harvey (1-1, 5.12 ERA). The game will be on YES and WFAN. Have a great night, everyone.

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9 Comments

  1. DZB

    Stat of the day: only four of the ten NYY players who appeared in that game yesterday are hitting over .200. (and Higgy leads the team in BA).

    What a mess, especially Frazier (I am hopeful that Torres is on his way out of the funk)

  2. Gerreddardit Cole

    Well they finally came to their senses and sent that awful Nick Nelson down, Randy. I’ve been saying that for weeks. He only had a 10 ERA. And Michael King has a 0 ERA and keeps getting sent down. And watch Deivi get sent down after tomorrow even if he throws a perfect game. I’m tired of listening to people say Tallion and Nelson have “great stuff.” Then why do they have a 10 ERA? I just don’t understand it. They trusted Deivi in October last year but not in April this year? He should have been up here this whole time and King needs to be up here starting.

    But 3 out of 4 on the road ain’t bad. We knew they would hit because they always have. Stanton, Hicks, Judge, Gio and Odor are hot. Gary needs to sit more for Higgy. They’ve gotta get DJ and Gleyber going. I’d keep playing Clint until he gets hot. Gardy has fallen off a cliff. The Orioles and Tigers coming up should allow guys to keep hitting and us to keep winning. The calming influence of Boone has us right where we need to be.

  3. Alex

    Boone was way too quick to waive the white flag in this game. You cannot actively be throwing away games when the Yankees are already facing a decent sized deficit in the division. This team does not have the capacity to win 100 games in its sleep like the Dodgers yet the complacency from the front office and manager would make you think they do…

    I’m not sure how much more awful hitting we need to see from Sanchez before Higashioka gets more playing time. Nothing even resembling Gary’s production from the first two games of the season has carried over since. If Gary’s not going to hit, as has been the case far more often than not lately, he’s next to useless on this team. Higashioka is the far better defensive catcher whose top-tier framing abilities and excellent game calling will remain consistent even when he is not hitting.

    Speaking of pitch calling, what in the world was that pitch sequence to Franmil Reyes? He’s a dead-pull fastball hitter and Taillon kept throwing one fastball after another on the upper-middle part of the plate and made it way too easy for him.

  4. dasit

    this “break up the righties” line-up obsession has gotten absurd. if i tell the yankees i’m a lefty maybe they’ll let me hit clean-up for a game?

    note: there’s probably a joke about the awful “batting odor” or “odor at clean-up” but i’m too lazy to come up with it

    • Wire Fan

      The reason they do this with a righty starter on the mound is that they are worried about a lefty late in the game.

      It is much better to run a suboptimal lineup for most of the game in the off chance there might be a lefty reliever late. Plus, MLB has apparently instituted a new rule which would prevent the Yankees from PHing for their lefties if it was a key situation late.

  5. Wire Fan

    If the Yankees are going to limit Taillon to 80-85 pitches, he is the perfect guy to use an opener with (especially if Nelson gets optioned).

    The whole idea of the opener is the 2nd and 3rd time thru the lineup starts with lesser hitters in the middle to bottom of the lineup. This makes it more likely the Yankees can get an extra inning out of Taillon and can pull him when he sees the top of the lineup for that 3rd time.

    Frazier, the “every day LF” needs to actually play every day. Platooning him is just another case of the Yankees obsession with the platoon advantage and an over-reliance on it with their decision making.

    • DZB

      I agree that Frazier just needs to play every day. Stick with him and wait to be rewarded since it doesn’t look like the situation will fix itself without regular playing time. Use Gardy as intended – give guys a rest now and again, have a lefty pinch hitter and a solid defender you can call on when needed. I am hoping that the spectacular catch from Frazier helps jumpstart him (giving him some confidence). That was a thing of beauty.

  6. Frank Ariola

    I completely agree with everything. It is satisfying to know my exact rants and rave during the game is felt by others. Cessa was correct choice but was wasted by Boone. I also felt when Nelson was struggling he could have went to the mound to give him a blow. To see where your pitchers at mentally. Boone often hesitates costing runs to fall out of reach. He’s more of a save your bullets to fight another day. We need a coach who fights to the end. Worry about tomorrow later. Thanks for the great article. Aloha

  7. Eric Quail

    FYI I believe Kriske was sent down for German on Thursday.

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