Well, last night’s game sure was great. I know that these Yankees have a reputation with some fans for backing down when the going gets tough, but I don’t see it. They’ve consistently not gone away all season – even when they folded for a bit in September, they stormed back to win 10 in a row – and last night was no different. They needed to win, and they did. In dominating fashion, really.
This sets up a do-or-die, must-win Game 5 against Tampa Bay tonight. I am amped up and extremely ready. This is why we’re fans, right? For games like these. Anyway, here is what’s on my mind heading into this one.
That was ideal, was it not? The Yankees clobbered Cleveland in Game 1 of this best-of-three series, 12-3. The offense was all over Shane Bieber and Gerrit Cole mowed down his opponent. It’s not like the Yankees needed to blow out Cleveland to feel comfortable, either. In fact, this one felt over after Aaron Judge’s two-run blast on the fourth pitch of the game. An early lead with Cole on the hill against a scuffling Cleveland offense? Just what the doctor ordered. Let’s break it down.
The bats took Bieber off his gameplan immediately. The Yankees’ offense may have been frustrating and inconsistent during the regular season, but that was far from the case tonight. Intimidated by the presumptive American League Cy Young winner? Not a chance. The Bombers took a 2-0 lead four pitches into this one. It completely took Shane Bieber off his game. DJ LeMahieu led off with a single and Aaron Judge followed with this:
That was quick. Bieber had come out firing all fastballs and the Yankees made him pay immediately. The right immediately shied away from his heater thereafter.
Bieber threw 27 fastballs the rest of the game, or 26.7 percent of his final 101 pitches. He’s not necessarily a fastball dominant pitcher as he used the pitch just over 37 percent in the regular season, but still. The Yankees scared him off the pitch.
Cleveland’s ace had a chance to settle down after a scoreless second and two relatively quick outs in the third inning. But instead, the Yankees’ relentless offense made him pay. Bieber fell behind Aaron Hicks 3-0, got it to 3-2, but then walked him. Up came Luke Voit:
Not a fastball, but rather, a cutter right down the pipe. Voit made him pay to give the Yanks a 3-1 lead.
The Yanks tallied a couple of more runs against Bieber in the fourth. Brett Gardner jumped a first pitch fastball for an RBI double and DJ LeMahieu delivered an RBI single up the middle against a heater too. The Yankees may not have seen Bieber’s fastball much, but when they did, they pounced. And they weren’t done jumping on Bieber’s fastball there. Gleyber Torres delivered the knockout blow in the fifth.
That was the end of Bieber’s night. 4 2/3 innings and 7 runs for the starter with a 1.77 ERA this season. Welp!
The offense didn’t let Bieber capitalize on his curveball, either. As impressive as it was to see the Yankees punish Bieber’s sporadically thrown fastball, it was also great to watch them not flail at too many of Bieber’s curveballs. Opponents had a .095 batting average, .143 slugging percentage, and 51.5 percent whiff rate against his yakker this season. Tonight, it’s not what they did when they put the ball in play (1-for-6), but rather, what they did against it otherwise.
Sure, Bieber racked up four Ks on his breaking ball, but that doesn’t tell the story. They whiffed on 7 of 18 swings (39 percent) against the curve, well below his regular season rate. They also fouled it off 5 times. Plus, Bieber was only able to nab 3 called strikes on it. It simply just wasn’t his typical putaway pitch this evening.
Overall, Bieber went to his curveball on 36 percent of his pitches this evening, 10 percent higher than in the regular season. That would have been a decent plan tonight had his curveball been fooling Yankees’ hitters. Instead, the offense was locked in. They hunted fastballs while spoiling Bieber’s curveball.
Got a few questions to answer as we head into the final weekend of the regular season. Before we dive in, remember to send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com for a chance to be included in a future mailbag. Now, to this week’s questions:
A few people asked: What does the Yankees’ 2021 rotation look like?
People sure love to talk about next year’s team when this season isn’t over, huh? Nonetheless, I’ll oblige.
As you likely know, the Yankees can lose Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and JA Happ in free agency this offseason. That leaves a number of holes to fill, though the team does have enough big league caliber starters to fill out a staff. It just may not be as good as this year (or before this year). The players under contract for 2021: Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, Domingo Germán, Deivi García, Clarke Schmidt, and Michael King.
Of course, there are caveats with the seven pitchers I just rattled off. Severino is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will start the 2021 season on the injured list. Germán will have just finished his suspension under the league’s domestic violence policy, so who knows how much rust he will have to shake off. Montgomery was a roller coaster this season. King was terrible. Schmidt will have just one big league start to his name entering 2021. At least Cole and Deivi looked great.
Now, if all goes well, that group could look pretty good by 2021’s end! Cole and Severino could make for a formidable one-two punch. García and Schmidt have a ton of upside. Germán and Montgomery are more than capable back-end guys, with the former having shown flashes of better than that in 2019.
That said, count on the Yankees reinforcing the rotation this year. For one, I’d bet on Tanaka’s return, but I expect Paxton and Happ to depart. Don’t expect any free agent splurges like Trevor Bauer to replace those guys, though. A trade or middle-market free agent (Kevin Gausman? Marcus Stroman? Mike Minor?) signing seems more likely. Here’s what I envision as the Yankees’ ideal rotation come Opening Day 2021:
By season’s end, you can slot in Sevy. Forget about who that boots from the staff as that sorta thing always seems to sort itself out. Injuries and unexpected performances happen.
Paul asks:Should Luke Voit’s contract be extended?
Everyone at this here blog loves Voit, but this answer is a pretty easy no. Voit turns 30 in February and won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season. It stinks for the first baseman, but he was a late bloomer who won’t hit the open market until his mid-thirties. That leaves the Yankees very little motivation to extend him beyond 2024 at the moment.
Voit’s now a lifetime 138 wRC+ hitter in over 1,000 big league plate appearances and should still get paid fairly well in arbitration. He’s going to be super-two eligible this offseason and should get a nice raise over the near league-minimum pay he’s gotten over the last couple of seasons. More traditional stats like home runs and RBIs pay in arbitration, and Luke’s got those aplenty.
Aside from age and team control considerations, I think Voit’s position and health are detractors from any extension. I just don’t see much of a reason to lock up a 1B/DH type when the team already has a number of those guys on the roster already. Additionally, though Voit has played through “foot stuff” this season, I can’t help but worry about his health over the long run. Last year’s oblique injury really held him back too.
Dan asks: I recall speculation before the season started that players who were on teams that were clearly eliminated would be compelled to opt-out, to avoid playing in meaningless games. Obviously, that hasn’t happened. Are you surprised at all?
I’m a little surprised, but I think that there are two big reasons we haven’t seen a bunch of opt-outs.
First, The expanded playoffs have definitely played a big part here. 21 of the league’s 30 teams are still alive with just three games remaining. Had the league stuck to 10 playoff teams for this season, perhaps we’d see a lot more guys bowing out early.
Additionally, perhaps players have become more confident in the league’s health protocols as the season’s gone on. The amount of positive tests and team-wide outbreaks has slowed down the stretch. Earlier this season, it was a lot easier to imagine players dropping out as playoff hopes dwindled because of the numerous positive tests and postponements.
All that said, one high profile player has opted out this week: Andrelton Simmons. The Angels (26-31) are technically still alive too, though it’ll take a lot going right for them to overcome the Astros (29-28) for second place in the AL West.
Jeremy asks: Gio Urshela is the man. I’m hoping you can help me understand something about his advanced stats (and advanced stats in general). His Exit Velo (86th percentile), xBA (98th), and xSLG (86th) are elite. Why are those stats so high when his Hard Hit% (56th) and Barrel% (48th) are fairly average? His K% (90th) is pretty elite but I feel like that only explains part of the xBA and not much of anything else. Is it more so because his GB%/FB%/LD% mix (38.3%/19.2%/38.3%) is seemingly much better than the MLB average (45.3%/21.9%/25.7%)?
It’s definitely strange that Gio’s hard hit percentage and barrel percentage aren’t up to snuff with his average exit velocity. I do think that Jeremy is on the right track with the batted ball type mix, but there’s one other thing I’d like to add.
Gio’s distribution of batted ball quality is excellent. He may not have a ton of hard hits or barrels, but he almost never makes weak contact. He also doesn’t get on top of the ball too often either. Further, the “under” or “flare/burner” category isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many of those are bloopers that dunk in. Better than a weak hit or chopper that’s almost an automatic out.
We should also keep in mind what this means for Gio’s hard hit and barrel percentages. Remember, a hard hit ball is 95 MPH or greater exit velocity in any direction. Grounders, pop-ups, or line drives can all get the same treatment under hard hit percentage. So just because Urshela isn’t great there doesn’t mean his exit velocity and xStats are inflated. Rather, it appears that Urshela’s distribution of hit quality helps him in the exit velocity department, while his launch angle helps him rarely hit into easy outs.
As Jeremy noted, Gio hits grounders well below league average and hits liners well above league average. Consider that with his hit quality distribution and elite bat-to-ball skills and you can see why Urshela’s had so much success.
Gerrit Cole gets the ball tonight in what will be his final regular season start. In all likelihood, Kyle Higashioka will catch him this evening. Higgy has caught Cole’s last three starts, all of which have been excellent performances from the ace. The Yankees have yet to put an official label on it, but it sure looks like Higashioka is Cole’s personal catcher. Should that hold, Gary Sánchez will be on the bench for Game 1 of the postseason. The numbers for Cole throwing to the two catchers are jarring:
Catcher ERA typically is not indicative of much, but considering how stark the results are between the two backstops and Sánchez’s lack of hitting this season, it’s become a pretty easy decision to make. Stuff-wise, Cole doesn’t look any different with either catcher behind the plate. That said, there are some differences worth pointing out that perhaps Gary can take into account for 2021.
When I last wrote about Cole, hitters were teeing off against his fastball. I surmised that a big problem was his inability to throw his secondary pitches in the strike zone, making it easier for batters to sit fastball. I guess I was wrong. Here’s a heatmap of Cole’s secondary offerings in his last three starts, all with Higashioka behind the plate.
And yet, Cole’s fastball has been even more effective despite a lack of curves, sliders, and changeups in the zone. With Higgy, batters have a .241 wOBA and .268 xwOBA against Cole’s fastball. With Gary, opponents’ wOBA is .343 and xwOBA is .366 against the heat. Huge difference.
Perhaps it wasn’t as simple as just being able to wait for Cole to throw a fastball since nothing else was going to be a strike. Rather, it appears that pitch usage with Higashioka behind the plate is not as predictable as when Sánchez has caught Cole. Let’s start with overall pitch selection:
Fewer fastballs and a little more balance in the slider/curve department when Higashioka catches. Let’s now go to when Cole falls behind in the count:
Now here’s a massive difference. 1-0, 2-0, 3-1…whatever the count may be, hitters could bank on a heater coming with Gary catching Cole. Not so much with Higashioka. Alright, how about when Cole’s ahead in the count?
Fastball usage is pretty similar here. If anything, Higgy has been more willing to have Cole throw his curve, whereas Sánchez went more slider heavy. Finally, let’s look at even counts.
Again, Higashioka seems to favor the curveball a bit more than Gary. Here’s a visual breakdown of count and pitch usage by catcher:
Overall, it’s evident that Higashioka has called a less predictable game with Cole on the mound as compared to Sánchez. In fairness, we can’t assign 100 percent of the credit or blame to Cole’s battery mates for pitch calling. He can shake them off he wants, you know. Still, the results with Higashioka have been much better and there is a noticeable difference in how Cole has attacked hitters with Higgy behind the plate. The fastball isn’t as hittable and the overall numbers are great.
I’ve been a staunch defender of Sánchez, but I can’t argue for him in favor of Higashioka with Cole on the mound at the moment. If Gary was raking, it might be a different story. I know he’s hit better of late, but it’s not enough to convince me that catching him over Higgy in Game 1 is the right move. It’s a bit easier to stomach Higashioka in the lineup now that the offense is at full-strength, too. This situation can be reassessed next year, but for now, it’s time to pair Higashioka and Cole for the rest of 2020.
Now this is more like it! Homers and dominant pitching against the Orioles is what we’re accustomed to. Today, Gerrit Cole went the distance and blanked Baltimore’s bats while the offense struck often and early. Let’s break it down before the second game of the twin bill.
We finally got the Gerrit Cole outing we’ve been waiting for. He put everything together in his complete game two-hit shutout this afternoon. The ace was on from the start and didn’t allow any hits through 4 2/3 innings. That’s when Hanser Alberto broke things up with a single to right, but it didn’t phase Cole.
Cole struck out 9 and walked just 1 in his 7 innings of work. Perhaps most notable of it all: he didn’t allow a home run. It’s the first time he’s done that this season. In fact, Cole didn’t allow much hard contact at all. The average exit velocity against him was 84.4 MPH.
Cole got a lot of mileage out of his curveball and slider today. He got 5 whiffs on 7 swings on the former and 10 on 20 swings on the latter. I wrote about Gerrit’s trouble with his secondaries ten days ago, particularly his ability to throw them in the zone. Perhaps that was part of his success today? Let’s see. First, his curve:
Hmm..not quite here. Not that these are all bad locations! But you could tell from watching that he was a little frustrated with his curve at times, especially the few that slipped and went high out of the zone. Now, let’s examine the slider:
Now that’s an improvement. He really seemed to have a good handle on it today and threw it where he wanted, whether in the zone or off the plate. Maybe he got a little too much plate with a few of those, but again: he got a ton of whiffs on the pitch and it wasn’t hit hard (79.9 MPH average exit velocity on 4 balls in play).
Numbers aside, Cole going the distance was huge. Obviously, this is the first game of today’s double header so he gave the bullpen a reprieve. Aaron Boone let Cole start the 7th inning despite having thrown 100 pitches through 6, though in fairness, Cole probably wouldn’t have let Boone pull him. That’s what you want out of the ace.
Home runs are good. I’ve been pining for the days of #TooManyHomers, and today, the Yankees gave me my wish. The lineup took Alex Cobb deep three times this afternoon. DJ LeMahieu led off with a dinger while Brett Gardner and Kyle Higashioka chipped in two-run homers each. On Gardy in particular, look at what this big dumb blog said about today’s lineup construction:
Not much else to say other than that. Most good offenses thrive on home runs and the Yankees aren’t going to be the exception. Granted, guys like LeMahieu, Gardner, and Higashioka aren’t exactly known for their home run prowess. But when the big bats like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton return (apparently soon!), the Yankees will need the long ball from them. Remember when Judge was swatting dingers every day? Those were the good times. Those were the Bronx Bombers.
Mike Tauchman went 3-for-3, all singles. And hey, one of his hits came against a fastball! An 85 MPH from Tom Eshelman, that is. It was confounding to watch Alex Cobb keep throwing Tauchman splitters today, by the way.
Brett Gardner reached base all three times today, including the homer. However, he was caught stealing twice.
Gary Sánchez, the DH in this one, went 0-for-2 with a walk to bring his batting average down to .119. One of his two outs recorded was a bit of hard luck though: a 103 MPH line drive to first baseman Pat Valaika, which had a .700 xBA.