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News & Notes: Gold glove finalists, Didi downplays potential return, Jasson Dominguez, Marcus Stroman

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It’s been a pretty quiet week for the Yankees, but that’s to be expected. Teams aren’t supposed to make noise during the World Series, which is supposed to be front and center in the baseball world right now. Speaking of, the Rays and Dodgers are even at one a piece in the series ahead of tonight’s Game 3.

Even though the team has been quiet, there are a few things worth relaying on the Yankees’ front. Here’s the rundown:

Gio Urshela and Clint Frazier are Gold Glove Award finalists

Brett Gardner was the last Yankee to win a Gold Glove (2016). That brief drought could end this year if one of Gio Urshela and Clint Frazier beat out the other two finalists at their positions. The winners will be named on November 3rd.

It’s important to note that as a result of regionalized schedules this season, there is no voting on these awards in 2020. Rather, statistics alone will determine the winner. It’s not clear what those metrics used to decide are, though.

At third base, Urshela is up against Isiah Kiner-Falefa (Rangers) and Yoan Moncada (White Sox). Here’s a statistical comparison of the three:

PlayerDRSUZROAA
Urshela+6+5.4-1
Kiner-Falefa+8+1.1+4
Moncada-1+3.5+3

Only Kiner-Falefa ranks positively per Defensive Runs Saved, Ultimate Zone Rating, and Oats Above Average. I guess that makes him the favorite? I don’t know.

Game 48: That was easy

This one was over pretty early. The Yankees put up crooked numbers in the second, third, and fourth innings en route to a 20-6 victory. Rookie Deivi García was great again, the offense socked a bunch of homers, and Toronto’s gaffes in the second inning opened things up. The winning streak is up to six and the Bombers are back in second place in the AL East. To the takeaways we go:

But first, we interrupt this recap to bring you a few words from David Cone and Michael Kay:

Yes, yes, we agree. Now, back to your regularly scheduled recap.

The Yankees are finally catching some breaks. It wasn’t that long ago when the Yankees couldn’t help but trip over themselves. Remember that awful loss to the Mets in extras? Those were the bad times when the team was making tons of sloppy plays and players were hitting the injured list on a daily basis. The tides have turned of late, though. Tonight, especially.

If not for Derek Fisher, the Yankees might have not scored in the second inning. Instead, one error and a misplay scored a single really allowed things to unfurl. Jays’ starter Taijuan Walker couldn’t stop the bleeding and pick up his outfielder, either.

First, with Gio Urshela (welcome back!) on second and one out, Clint Frazier hit what should have been a routine fly out to right:

Brett Gardner followed with a fly ball in the gap that Fisher couldn’t track down:

Two brutal miscues, but Walker still had a chance to get out of this with just one run allowed. After the Gardner hit, Walker struck out Gary Sánchez for the second out of the frame. That left just Tyler Wade between Walker and a trip to the dugout with the score just 1-1. Walker got to 0-2 on Wade, but couldn’t finish him off. A few pitches later, Wade delivered:

That’s just inexcusable for Walker. Wade, a lifetime .188/.264/.293 hitter coming into this game, should be an easy out especially when he’s behind 0-2 and is the final batter before the top of the order. Instead, after the Wade knock, DJ LeMahieu singled in another run to make it 3-1. That’s when things really snowballed.

Those back-to-back homers knocked Walker out of the ballgame. The offense continued to pour it on against Toronto’s next two arms, Shun Yamaguchi and Anthony Kay. The bats wound up scoring 20 runs, though this one was effectively over after the second inning.

All this happened as a result of a few things going the Yankees way. It’s nice to be the beneficiary of fielding gaffes and poor execution, isn’t it?

Deivi García was up for the challenge. This was the rookie’s second straight start against the Blue Jays. I wrote about the adjustments that he or the Jays could make for today’s game. Whatever either side did, Toronto didn’t do much better this time. García gave up 3 runs in 7 innings after he allowed 2 in 7 in Buffalo.

There were a couple of differences in Deivi’s approach against Toronto tonight, though I’m not so sure they were voluntary. First, He threw just 3 curveballs all night, which indicates that he didn’t have great feel for the pitch. It’s typically his most-used breaking ball, as you know. He threw one in the second, one in the third, and one in the fourth inning. The last one was a hanger that Lourdes Gurriel hit for a two-run homer. At that point, García probably had seen enough of the pitch.

The other difference: fastball command. Take a look at where he spotted his heater tonight:

Now, take a look at where he put it last week:

He was much more over the middle with that pitch tonight and Toronto made plenty of hard contact against it. Most notably, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. took Deivi deep on one of his heaters down the middle. Toronto had a 95.8 MPH average exit velocity on the pitch.

In spite of not having his best fastball command, it’s pretty impressive that Deivi was able to still use it 58 percent of the time (he used it 59 percent last week). It might sound as if he was fortunate considering the high exit velocity, but keep in mind that Deivi tends to generate a lot of harmless pop ups and fly balls. Toronto recorded six outs on fastballs hit between 92 and 100 MPH off the bat. Five were fly outs, none with an xBA above .230. The other was a groundout. Clearly, it’s hard to square up the righty even when he’s missing his spots.

What more can you say about García? He’s been impressive in all four of his starts with the Yankees and is just 21 years-old. Even when he doesn’t have his best stuff (i.e. tonight) he’s able to succeed. Can’t wait to watch him pitch next.

Leftovers:
  • Welcome back Gio Urshela. The third baseman went 3-for-4 with 2 doubles and a walk.
  • Giancarlo Stanton went 0-for-4 in his return, but he did draw a walk. He also scalded a 111 MPH lineout. He was the only starter to go hitless in this one.
  • Toronto wound up using infielder Santiago Espinal to pitch in the eighth inning. He gave up a solo homer to DJ LeMahieu, but otherwise left unscathed. He was probably the team’s best pitcher all night!
  • A few other home runs to note: Voit delivered his second of the night in the sixth inning. It came against Ken Giles, who was getting some work in after returning from the injured list. Voit leads the league with 18 homers. Gary Sánchez and Clint Frazier also contributed homers of their own.
  • Michael King pitched the eighth and ninth innings for the Yankees. He gave up a few runs in the ninth, but they were harmless.

The series resumes tomorrow. Same time, same place. Have a good night everyone.

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.

Strolling Thunder: On Clint Frazier’s Improved Walk Rate

Few people in our little extremely online corner of Yankee baseball are as happy about Clint Frazier’s 2020 success as I am. I’ll say it shamelessly that I’m a complete and total Stan for Frazier and likely always will be. Regardless of that, he’s played well in a time of need for the Yankees and has (hopefully) made himself indispensable for their future outfield plans. One thing that’s stood out about Clint’s performance this year has been an inflated walk rate.

After last night’s game against the Orioles, his walk rate is 14.9%, well over anything he’s produced at the Major League level. He racked up a 12.2% rate in 2018, but that was in just 15 games. This year’s sample isn’t huge–and won’t be, given the 60 game schedule–and could easily be a blip, an aberration, but for now, it’s a pattern I noticed and it’s worth digging into.

Below is his chase rate by pitch category per Statcast:

While we see an increase in his chase rate on fastballs, the rate has gone way down for both breaking and offspeed pitches. On breaking balls, he’s brought his chase rate down from 23.5% to 15.4. On offspeed pitches, the shift has been even more stark: 43.1% to 17.2%. Taking a look below at the percentage of pitch types that are out of zone, we can see a pattern:

Pitchers have greatly increased the percentage of breaking and offspeed pitches out of the zone against Frazer. Given his chase rates last year, that makes sense. They responded, but so has he by taking more and more of those pitches instead of chasing them.

If we break it down by zone, we see a logical extension of this. Pitchers in general aim to keep offspeed and breaking pitches low in the zone, even out of the zone to get hitters to chase. And in terms of out of zone pitches, Frazier has seen the most in the lower portions:

This is a pattern that repeated from last year. However, when it comes to swing rate, we see a change. Last year, he swung at 28% of pitches in the lower left out of zone area and 23% of pitches in the lower right out of zone area. Let’s take a look at this year:

He’s dropped his swings at both lower areas and that tracks with the pitch data from before. He’s laying off breaking and offspeed stuff out of the zone and it’s helping him generate more walks.

Given his history, I doubt Clint will keep up a 15% walk rate as the year goes on and into 2021. However, if he can add just a little bit of this to his game, he becomes even more dangerous at the plate.

Clint Frazier’s unexpected defensive turnaround

Clint Frazier: reliable defender? It’s hard to believe after prior years, but he’s been impressive this season. Is it a low bar to clear? Maybe. Nonetheless, his glovework was on display again last night to rob Joey Wendle. As you can see in the video above, Frazier basically made a Superman dive to haul it in.

Diving catches (especially that one) often look like incredible plays. It takes impressive timing and athleticism to make a snag like that at full extension. That said, diving catches can be necessitated by mistakes earlier in the play. A poor jump or a bad route to the ball can force an outfielder to lay out rather than make an easier catch while on the run. Watching on TV doesn’t let us see a jump or a route in real time, so it’s something that’s not typically in the front of our minds. Considering some of Frazier’s defensive miscues in the past, it’s fair to wonder if his catch last night (or any of his other defensive work this season) is actually good defense or a cover up for a previous mistake.

Wonder no more: Frazier’s defense has been better this season, statistically speaking. Statcast has all sorts of defensive measures that paint a rosy picture for Clint. Red Thunder has made marked improvements in getting a good jump on batted balls from last year. In fact, he’s been one of the best outfielders at getting a good jump on the ball this season.

Statcast’s Burst vs. Reaction.

Per Statcast’s Burst and Reaction metrics, the difference between Frazier’s jump last year to this year is night and day. I should clarify what those two metrics measure, though. Reaction measures how many feet are covered in the first 1.5 seconds of a batted ball. Burst measures feet covered in the 1.5 seconds thereafter. One caveat: those two metrics don’t care about route efficiency — they account for feet in any direction. Statcast does measure efficiency with Route, a stat that compares the actual feet covered in those 3 seconds vs. the “correct direction”. Burst, Reaction, and Route are all measured in feet vs. average, by the way. The sum of all three stats is Total Feet vs. Avg. With that aside, let’s dig back into Frazier.

Overall, Clint covers three feet more than average in the first three seconds. That doesn’t sound like much ground at first glance, but it’s actually fourth-best in MLB. Take a look:

Now, you’ll probably notice that Frazier’s Route is the worst of this group. There’s no way to sugarcoat it, but -1.3 feet below average puts him in the bottom-10 (peep Mike Tauchman, by the way).

So, are Clint’s jumps actually good? Yes and no. His athleticism is definitely doing the vast majority of the work for him and helps cover up for some not so ideal routes. For now, that’s fine. Maybe Clint doesn’t make the best reads, but his first step speed is important too. This will become more of an issue as he gets older. Yet, allow me to make an argument that the 25 year-old’s route efficiency isn’t a huge deal.

Up until this year, Frazier has taken slightly above-average routes to fly balls. That’s kind of hard to believe after what we’ve seen in prior years, but consider this: perhaps Frazier froze right after a batter made contact, which allowed him to take a more direct route. Maybe this year, at the expense of efficiency, he’s going on instinct (even if it’s not perfect) and taking advantage of his athleticism to track down fly balls. Whatever the case may be, it’s working much better for him this season.

Let’s take last night’s catch as an example of his athleticism over efficiency. Here’s the play chart:

You can see that Clint’s first step appears to be in before he makes a bee line to the landing spot. He also has to turn back in slightly to make the dive, which you can actually notice in the video. So yeah, that’s not necessarily a “good” route, but his speed helps him get the job done. If this was last year, I have no doubt that ball is in the gap for an extra base hit. Instead, he’d have waited a split second after contact and then headed toward the gap. This year, he’s going on instinct (even if it’s not the correct first step) and it’s working out much better.

The same can be said about this catch he made earlier this year:

There appears to be a very slight curve to that route. Once again: a quick first step might in an imperfect direction is better than no first step at all.

Outfield defense isn’t all about tracking down fly balls and line drives. It’s a big part of it, perhaps the most important aspect, but not everything. Arm strength is important too, especially in right field where there are more longer throws to make. This is one of Clint’s strengths. Check out this pea he threw earlier in the season:

One thing I haven’t addressed is concussion Frazier suffered in 2018. As you know, the lingering effects of the concussion chased Frazier for a long time thereafter. There’s a good chance it shook his confidence in the field, especially when making plays near the wall. Perhaps this year, even further removed from it, he’s regained some confidence out there.

Distance from his concussion certainly helps, but there’s no question that Frazier’s worked extremely hard to get better in the field. He’s taken plenty of lumps over the years for lackluster play, and rightly so. His defense was nothing short of abominable. But finally, all that hard work is paying off. I no longer cringe when the ball is hit in his direction, and that says a lot. Is it safe to declare him a good or above average defender yet? Maybe not, but it’s an incredible improvement to say that he’s reliable out there. I mean, how is this the same player that did all of this?

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