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Game 28: Kluber Gets the Yanks Back Even

Friends, the Yankees are back at .500. Their 2-0 win against the Tigers got them to 14-14, which hopefully means this morning is the last morning we’ll wake up to a sub-.500 team this year. The sweep, in which the Yanks made the Tigers look like the Double-A team they are, wrapped up a 13 games in 13 days stretch. The Yanks went 9-4 on the stretch, which is good for a 112 win pace over a full season. That’ll do. More of that, please.

Let’s get right to today’s takeaways.

1. Corey Kluber Shines Again: By now, it’s something of an old story that Corey Kluber is a slow starter. Coming into the season, we had to expect this – it’s been the story of his entire career, even when he was winning Cy Young awards. Add in the injury, and it was pretty clear that something similar might happen again. He had some rust to shake off. I think it is fair to say that he has shaken it off.

The Klubot was excellent today, throwing 8 innings of 2-hit ball against the Tigers. He struck out 10, walked just 1, and didn’t allow a run. It took him just over 100 pitches to do it, too. He did it on the back of a truly tremendous changeup. And I mean tremendous. Here were the locations:

That is good stuff, with him pounding the inner half of the plate against righties and keeping the pitch down. But this is an example of where just looking at a pitch plot doesn’t really do a performance justice. Some of these pitches look really, really low, right? Well, this is what they actually looked like as they were delivered:

Filthy. That pitch stays on a level plane for what looks like 56 or 57 feet, and then it just tumbles and disappears. It is unhittable, especially since it was used just about a quarter of the time. Kluber also featured a sinker (29%), cutter (24%), and curveball (18%) today. That above pitch, which was the norm, is not easy to sit on when a pitcher is locating with three other pitches as well. (It was also a marked increase over his typical usage, which sits around 6% for the pitch – yet another sign the Yanks are relying on changeups a lot this year.)

The results were frankly gross. Kluber threw 25 changeups on the afternoon, inducing 19 swings on the offering. The Tigers whiffed on a truly amazing 13 (68%) of those swings. 13! It is not an exaggeration to say that this was the best changeup he’s ever thrown in his career: his previous career-high for whiffs on the pitch was 7. The change was not his only good pitch, either: his curveball also induced 4 whiffs on 6 swings. All told, Kluber had a 35% whiff-per-swing rate and a 35% called strike/whiff rate on the day. That will get it done right there.

Kluber really only got into trouble in the 4th inning, but he worked himself right out of it. Other than that, it was a truly easy, sweat-free day from Corey Kluber. It was even easy in the 7th, when I thought they were going batter-to-batter, and the 8th, when they definitely were. I was glad to see the Yanks push him. When a dude is rolling like this, ride the arm – and it helps build him up, too. Kluber even smiled in the dugout after pitching the 8th inning.

The former Cy Young winner has been on a roll lately. Over his last two starts, Kluber has thrown 14.2 innings, allowed just 8 hits, 3 walks, and 1 run while striking out 15. Sure, it’s the Tigers and the Orioles. They are not exactly known for their offenses. Still, you can’t do any better than that. Keep it up, Corey.

2. The Offense Gets Shut Down, But Makes it Count: Well, that was not the finest performance of the year for the Yankees’ offense. Jose Urena completely shut down the offense basically all day. He matched Kluber almost blow-for-blow and retired the final 13 Yankees he faced. He kept them off-balance, and it’s not difficult to see why. Check it out:

Both his sinker and slider were working, with a similar 34% called strike and whiff rate fo Kluber’s. There is not much you can do against that, and the Yankees didn’t: they managed just 4 baserunners on the day, on 3 hits and a walk.

The good news, though, is that they made them count. Almost all of the action came in the second inning. A Gio Urshela single and Aaron Hicks walk led off the inning. A batter later, Kyle Higashioka came up to hit and, while he didn’t stroke a home run, he did rip a double down the line:

That gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead on the day. Brett Gardner made it 2-0 on a ball that I was certain would make it 4-0 Yankees when it left the bat. Alas, a great play meant the Yankee lead merely doubled:

A Giancarlo Stanton single aside, that was the entirety of the offense. They struck out 9 times and looked generally lifeless aside. Here’s the thing, though: the Yankees made their sole chance count. It was enough to win the game.

3. Aroldis Chapman is Unhittable: I legitimately don’t know how any person in history has ever made contact against Aroldis Chapman. That was true before 2021, but it is doubly true in 2021. The dude is just utterly untouchable. There are many reasons why – his nasty new splitter chief among them – but none are bigger than his command. He is attacking the zone and forcing hitters to react. It’s not easy to do. Here is his pitch plot today, which says it all:

Pretty tough to do anything on this when the pitcher is sitting 100 miles per hour. The final pitch of the game, hilariously, was a 102 mph frozen rope to Miguel Cabrera, who struck out. Didn’t stand a change.

Overall, he threw 10 pitches, inducing a fly ball to center, and struck out two more. That means he’s now struck out 24 of the 35 batters (68%) he has faced in 2021. He has walked just 3. Listen, Chapman has been good his entire Yankee tenure. He has never been better than he is right now.

Leftovers

  • Kluber’s Length Saves the Day: I was pleasantly surprised to see Boone and the Yankees push Kluber today. He was definitely batter-to-batter in the 7th, and I thought for sure he was done after that. He wasn’t, though, and he got through the 8th. I’m glad he was able to do it. Boone had two non-Chapman relievers warm up, and they were Wandy Peralta and Lucas Luetge. Look, I like both of those guys. I do. I did not want to see them serve as the Bridge to Chapman™ in a 2-0 game. Green and Loaisiga, who have each thrown 2 out of the last 3 games, were evidently unavailable. Kluber – and the Yanks’ willingness to push him – meant that didn’t matter.
  • Giancarlo Stanton Keeps it Up: Another day, another hit for Giancarlo Stanton. He has been red hot lately and has his season line up to .271/.320/.490 (128 wRC+). Once he starts elevating the ball – and he will – he is going to go on an incredible home run tear, perhaps like he did in 2017. That’s how well he’s been hitting the ball lately. Just gotta keep him healthy.

Today ended the 13 games in 13 days stretch. They’re off tomorrow and will return to action on Tuesday against the Astros. It’s the first time the teams have played since the cheating scandal broke. Domingo Germán (2-2, 4.05 ERA) will try to build on his recent success as he takes on Houston ace Zack Greinke (2-1, 3.44 ERA) at 7:05 pm in the Bronx. Enjoy your day, everyone.

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3 Comments

  1. Rich K

    Bobby-I subscribe to the Patreon RAB, but I really miss Mike Axisa’s River Ave Blues. So glad you guys are around to provide Yankee news. Anyway, your style of writing is very much ala Axisa (which I think is a very good thing as I find him to be outstanding). Wonder if he might have influenced you. At any rate, keep up the good work!

  2. Gerreddardit Cole

    Best win of the season by far, Bobby. I always said Kluber was a brilliant signing by ninja Cash and was just a couple starts away from putting it all together. He gives us a 1-2 punch to go with Cole and will go down in history as the greatest FA signing in sports history. Chappy is unhittable. He threw 102 mph to blow away washed up Miggy Cabrera. And starting Higgy 80% of games is going as good as we thought it would. He has to catch Kluber every game going forward. And he gives us a good bat too driving in the game winning run. Wonder if Gary would fetch more than an egg salad sandwich on the open market. Gotta keep it going against the evil Houston Astros. The fans better be ready to give em hell.

    • Jacob Ibotpo

      I wouldn’t say best win of the season, just because the bats were lifeless against a not-so-great pitcher. But yeah, quality win. Glad to see them actually capitalizing on RISP. Lets go get those stinkin Astros 🙂

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