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Game 12: Bats go quiet after hot start in walk off loss to Toronto

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The Yankees dropped this afternoon’s affair to the Blue Jays, 5-4. Bo Bichette, who homered twice in this one, delivered a walk off home run against Chad Green in the ninth. The Yankees are now 5-7 and have lost three of the four series they’ve played thus far.

Corey Kluber delivered another less-than-ideal outing and the offense sputtered again. The bullpen kept the Yankees in the game, but the relievers can only keep doing so much. I’ll expand on Kluber, the bats, and the ‘pen in the takeaways from this one after the jump.

The bullpen: A great stable of arms [2021 Season Preview]

Newbie Darren O’Day sure knew how to endear himself to a fanbase, huh? There clearly was some intent in that comment early this month. As you may recall, Rays’ manager Kevin Cash touted his stable of guys who throw 98 last year in response to the beef the Yankees and Rays had. It sounded a bit threatening after Aroldis Chapman threw some chin music to Mike Brosseau. Granted, the Rays got the last laugh. It’s a new year though, and this bullpen is clearly pretty good, as O’Day said.

The locks

Although Aroldis Chapman‘s high octane fastball is no longer unique among his peers, he’s still one of the league’s best closers. He’ll continue to blow his upper-90s heat by hitters in 2021, but that might not be his only big threat anymore. Sure, his slider has been effective at times in the past, but this year, Chapman plans to incorporate the splitter he teased last season. It’s looked pretty nasty in camp.

As tantalizing as that split looks, there’s one ultimate goal for Chapman this season: to record the clinching out of the World Series rather than end his year like the previous two postseasons. One last note: Chapman will serve a two-game suspension to start the season as a result of this aforementioned incident against the Rays last season.

Chad Green’s (Almost) Great Season [2020 Season Review]

If the 2020 season was too short to fairly evaluate hitter performance, then it was definitely too short to evaluate relievers. So it is with Chad Green, who logged an inconsistent 2020 campaign for the Yankees. Green saw year-over-year declines in his strikeout, walk, and home run rates; left-on-base percentage; his earned run average; and his FIP. He even seemed to lose some zip on his fastball.

This all sounds alarming enough, but it was just 25 innings. He still struck out nearly a third of batters he faced, and threw over 95 miles-per-hour on average. More often than not, he looked every bit as dominant as we expect him to look. Most of his struggles came across just 6 innings, potentially enough to doom a reliever in a normal season. In 2020? Forget it.

Let’s get right into the good, the bad, and the ugly of Chad Green’s 2020 campaign.

A New Look

Chad Green’s success is not built on deception: he throws a high-spin, high-efficiency, and high-velocity fastball up in the zone an overwhelming majority of the time. (In 2017, when he was most dominant, he threw it 68% of the time, followed by 86% in 2018 and 77% in 2019.) It’s not difficult to see why. Check out this 2,500+ RPM, 95 miles-per-hour fastball against Jackie Bradley Jr. in July:

When you’ve got a fastball like that, you’d better use it. That said, the fastball reliance does leave Green with a weakness: when batters make contact, which is not often, he is prone to getting drilled. Try as he might, Green was never able to offer a competent secondary offering, despite toying with a slider and splitter during Spring Trainings past.

In 2020, though, Green brought a new look to Spring Training with a new curveball – and, for the most part, he stuck with it throughout the year. In fact, he threw it 25% of the time, which is the highest non-fastball usage Green has delivered since really arriving in 2017. The results were encouraging. Here was a daring example that demonstrates the new trust Green has in the pitch, thrown in an 0-2 count with runners on second and third to Rhys Hoskins:

Overall, the pitch was high-spin (~2500 RPM on average) and netted a 34% whiff rate, which easily makes it the best secondary offering Green has ever deployed. At the same time, batters still hit .240 against it with a .400 slugging percentage. Beneath the hood, the expected stats (.155 xBA and .182 xWOBA) suggest that the results would have improved in a full season.

As regular readers know, I am a big believer in Green generally and in his curveball usage specifically. The pitch makes sense as a secondary look for him, given that it plays well off a high-velocity fastball thrown up in the zone, and I thought the early returns on the pitch were promising. I’m excited to see how the pitch develops with a normal, uninterrupted offseason and over the course of a (hopefully) full 2021 season. There is every reason to be excited about the pitch, in my opinion.

6 Bad Innings Will Doom Ya

The season was far from all roses for Green, though. He logged 6.1 truly atrocious innings from August 26 to September 7. This is responsible for some of his uglier statistics on the year. In those innings, he surrendered 4 home runs on 8 hits and allowed 8 earned runs. You remember the September 7 game, if not by date. It was not just the low-point of Green’s year, but of the Yankees’, too. Green was a pivotal part of the never-ending bottom of the 7th in which the Yankees surrendered 10 runs in Buffalo. It was ugly.

This bad stretch, which is perfectly mapped over the worst stretch the team faced in 2020, plays a role in our memory. You are excused for forgetting that Green logged a 1.35 ERA in his final 6.2 innings after that game. I’ll forgive you for forgetting that he had a 0.71 ERA in the 12.2 innings before the bad stretch. In both of those periods, the peripherals were back to normal, too.

Alas, so it goes for a reliever. Bad weeks ruin stat lines. That is true in a normal season. And this was anything but a normal season.

What’s Next?

A full offseason and normal Spring Training that hopefully allow Green to further refine his curve. That would be nice. But even if he mostly repeats his 2020 performance, there’s plenty of reason to believe in Green. He was the same dominant reliever we all remember in 2020, aside from a bad week. It would have normalized over a full season’s worth of work.

I think the curveball is a promising development for his future. In short, I am looking forward to seeing Green pitch in 2021. He is one of baseball’s best relievers and for the majority of 2020, that’s exactly how he performed.

ALDS Game 4: Yankees Live to See Another [Gleyber] Day

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The Yankees aren’t done yet. They beat the Rays 5-1 to force a deciding Game 5 tomorrow night in San Diego. The Bombers finally got a well pitched game from someone other than Gerrit Cole and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Let’s get to the takeaways:

Gleyber Day arrives just when the Yankees needed it. The shortstop’s 2-run homer in the sixth inning gave the Yankees some breathing room, putting the Bombers up 4-1. Up until that point, I had a lingering concern that an earlier wasted opportunity — scoring just one run after loading the bases with no one out in the second inning — would later haunt the Yankees. Thankfully it didn’t, and Gleyber’s bomb eased those concerns:

What a shot. How many dingers would the Yankees send over the Western Metal Supply Co. building if this was actually the team’s home ballpark?

Keep in mind that Gleyber fouled a ball off his shin in his previous at bat against Yarbrough. It took a while for him to get back in the box after it, too. I guess it’s safe to say he’s OK now!

By the way, Torres reached base two other times this one. Once via single, once via walk. He stole a base in the ninth and scored a run too. He had a really nice series against Cleveland last week, but had been relatively quiet until tonight against the Rays. Nice to see a big game from him tonight. Would be even better to see him carry it into tomorrow.

Game 41: Does rock bottom exist?

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The Yankees blew 2-0 and 6-2 leads in this one and ultimately lost 12-7. A sixth inning bullpen meltdown in which the Blue Jays scored 10 runs (you read that right) sunk the ship tonight. The Yankees are 21-20 and reeling, to put it kindly. Here are the takeaways.

These are the 2020 Yankees, so something had to go wrong. Things were fairly smooth for the Yankees up until the bottom of the sixth inning. Yes, Jordan Montgomery squandered an early 2-0 lead, but the Yankees offense picked him up a few innings later. Up 6-2, Aaron Boone turned to Chad Green. It all fell apart from there.

Green threw 29 pitches and recorded just one out. He’s one of the best at missing bats, and yet tonight, he literally couldn’t miss one. Toronto swung at 14 of his 29 pitches, fouled off 11, and didn’t whiff once. Still, Green nearly stopped the bleeding. Rowdy Tellez kept fouling off pitch after pitch, but on the 10th offering, he bounced one to first. It was not struck well (67.8 MPH off the bat, .050 xBA) and yet, Luke Voit booted it.

Was it an inbetween hop? Maybe, but that’s a play that needs to be made. Has to. That’s when the “here we go again” feeling really sunk in. It should have been a 6-3 game with two outs and two on. Still trouble! But not as bad as bases full and just one out. That was it for Green. Enter Adam Ottavino.

Ottavino faced six batters. He didn’t record a single out. Single, single, walk, single, and a walk made it 8-6 Toronto. Then came the back-breaker:

Atrocious, and yet, unsurprising given how things have gone this year. That effectively was the end of the ballgame.

Green might have been bad, but Ottavino had absolutely nothing. 29 pitches, 12 swings, 1 whiff, 7 fouls, and an average exit velocity of 103.9 MPH on 4 balls in play. He got absolutely rocked. What an embarrassing performance all around.

As bad as Green and Ottavino were, Boone probably should have had a quicker trigger to get these guys out. But by the time he got Luis Cessa in, it was already too late. As for who he could have gone to? I don’t know, but anyone else would have been better. Someone should have been warming by the time Ottavino had failed to record an out after three batters. It was already tied at that point and Ottavino did not look good anyway.

Do you really care to read any other takeaways? Well, I had written a decent amount as the score built up to 6-2, so I’ll let you have those as well.

That could have been a lot worse for Jordan Montgomery. Boone pulled the 6-foot-6 lefty with one out in the fourth inning. It’s the second straight short outing for Monty, though at least he made it out of the first inning this time (a low bar to clear, of course). It was pretty obvious that he didn’t have it right away. His location was a mess, particularly in the first inning. Pitches were bouncing to the plate and sailing way high and out of the zone. It was frustrating to watch after the Yankees staked him to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first.

Montgomery’s 1st inning pitch chart.

It took him 31 pitches to complete the frame and he was probably fortunate to allow just one run. It would have been more had Lourdes Gurriel’s 107 MPH line drive wasn’t hit right to Brett Gardner. Otherwise, Toronto could have had a crooked number.

Monty wasn’t much better come inning number two. Travis Shaw stroked an opposite field double off the wall. Up came Santiago Espinal, who initially squared around to bunt Shaw over. Instead, he worked the count full and delivered an RBI single to tie the game at two. Montgomery escaped without further damage, but he did get some help from Luke Voit who stole a single from Cavan Biggio a couple batters after Espinal leveled the score.

He didn’t allow a run the rest of his outing, but he didn’t exactly recover. He gave up two more hits in the third and walked the ninth hitter, Danny Jansen, with one out in the fourth. That was the final straw for him. In total, Monty surrendered eight baserunners in 3 1/3 innings. Jonathan Holder cleaned up the fourth and then pitched a scoreless fifth.

It’s crucial for Montgomery to get things going and soon. He really impressed back in spring training and summer camp and even had a few solid outings earlier in the regular season. But his last two starts have been alarming for a rotation that’s already depleted. There are bigger problems on this team than him (duh), but Montgomery’s gone from a pleasant surprise to a concern in a hurry.

Miguel Andújar needs to be in the lineup until further notice. I think we’re all pretty tired of watching Mikes Ford and Tauchman play. Andújar can and should effectively replace both of them (though that means we have to live with the struggling Brett Gardner in left field while Miggy DHs). We know of Miggy’s limitations in the field, but he’s an incredibly talented hitter. Look what he did against Jays’ starter Hyun-Jin Ryu in the fourth:

Hanging curve over the fence? Who knew big league hitters were allowed to do that. Must have felt good for Miggy to hit his first big league homer since September of 2018. It put the Yankees back in the lead after Monty coughed up a couple of runs.

Andújar had a three hit game yesterday, so perhaps that along with his homer tonight is the start of a hot streak. The Yankees sure could use another hitter in this lineup to produce. Since Andújar has returned from the Alternate Site, he’s (5-for-10, 4 singles, 2 walks, 1 triple entering tonight).

In any case, I’d much rather watch Andújar get opportunities and struggle than Ford or Tauchman. Miggy is still just 25 years-old and really needs to competitive at-bats, anyway. Ford and Tauchman don’t look like long-term chips, whereas Andújar still can be one. Miggy already lost all of last year, and letting him stagnate in Scranton doing whatever they’re doing is less than ideal. Big league at-bats, good or bad, are better for him. Productive big league at-bats? Even better. DH him as much as possible.

Leftovers

  • Erik Kratz and Kyle Higashioka have gone 0-for-8 since Gary Sánchez was benched. I’m fine with giving Gary a break to clear his head and work on things, but he should be back in the lineup tomorrow. Kratz and Higashioka aren’t actively helping even if this latest lousy performance wasn’t their fault.
  • It feels like eons ago, but the Yankees jumped out of the gate quickly thanks to back-to-back homers in the first inning by Luke Voit and Aaron Hicks. Those two along with Miggy’s came against Hyun-Jin Ryu, who had allowed just three homers in 43 innings entering this one.
  • The other contributor offensively? None other than Clint Frazier. He had (at the time) a big 2-run double that gave the Yankees some breathing room in the 5th. He’s been terrific.
  • Clarke Schmidt did much better in his second big league outing. He did walk two batters, but also struck out two in a scoreless eighth inning.

More baseball tomorrow, if you can stomach it. JA Happ will try to stop this skid. It’s another 6:37 p.m. EDT start tomorrow. Have a good night.

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