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Game 50: Home run derby

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Another night, another offensive outburst. The Yankees won this one 10-7, though it was a blowout up until Toronto’s ninth inning too-little-too-late rally. The Bronx Bombers are living up to their moniker and you love to see it. They scored 43 runs against the Jays this week to complete a sweep and win their eighth straight. To the takeaways:

The Yankees should keep hitting home runs. That’s it. That’s the tweet takeaway.

For real now: the fourth inning was unbelievable. Five homers in six batters against Toronto righty Chase Anderson. It brought the series total to 18, the most in any three-game span in MLB history (Gary Sánchez brought that total to 19 later). It was also the first time the Yankees had hit five dingers in one inning in franchise history. It’s been done six times before the Yankees, though.

The monster inning quelled any regret about a missed opportunity in the first inning. The Yankees had loaded the bases with no one out, but only scored two runs thereafter. Stanton singled in a run and another scored on a Gleyber double play.

Not much more to add other than hitting homers is good. In case you needed a reminder: hitting too many homers is nonsense. It’s good in the regular season, it’s good in the playoffs, it’s good in your Sunday softball league. Seeing the Yankees do this is encouraging. It’s no coincidence it comes as the team gets closer to full strength.

Dear Giancarlo Stanton, please stay healthy. It absolutely stinks that we haven’t gotten to see the full Stanton experience since 2018. We’ve seen flashes, but inevitably, something has gone awry health-wise over the past two years. We got another flash tonight.

I think last year’s production from the injury replacements made it easier for us to put Giancarlo in the back of our minds when he he went on the injured list this season. At the time, the Yankees were 10-5 and in first place. The injury still stunk, but it didn’t feel like a death knell. Little did we know what would happen later in the month. While absent, Yankees’ designated hitters batted .189/.268/.315 (60 wRC+) in 123 plate appearances. Stanton was hitting .293/.543/.585 (180 wRC+) in 54 plate appearances before he went on the shelf. Lack of offense, not just from the DH spot, was one of the big reasons the team eventually fell to .500 just a little more than a week ago.

Tonight, Stanton reminded us how much he was missed. He went 4-for-5 and one of those four knocks was a homer in the Yankees’ monster fourth.

He’s good.

Hopefully, the team’s plan to gradually work Stanton back into everyday play proves beneficial. Likewise for Stanton’s plan to remain lose between at-bats while DHing.

Save for Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Masahiro Tanaka looked great again. Toronto’s left field went 3-for-3 with two homers against the Yankees number two starter tonight. No one else really had much success against Tanaka, who finished the game with a line of 7 innings, 7 hits, 3 runs, 5 strikeouts, and no walks. This actually raised his ERA to 3.27, which tells you just how good he’s been.

Only one of Gurriel’s homers was actually a true mistake pitch by Tanaka. He hung a slider on 2-2 that put Toronto on the board in the third inning. The other homer came with the Yankees up 9-2 on a challenge pitch. Tanaka threw a 3-1 fastball and Gurriel didn’t miss.

I’m not saying those Gurriel homers don’t count — they do — but otherwise, Tanaka handled Toronto’s lineup with ease. His slider and splitter were very effective and generated a 30 percent whiff rate combined. Meanwhile, his command was good and allowed him to work 7 innings while throwing just 91 pitches. This starting staff has really given the bullpen some rest of late, which is huge in this final stretch.

Last but not least, let’s talk about a defensive play Tanaka made. In the same inning as Gurriel’s first homer, Toronto threatened for more. After the long ball, the Jays strung together three hits in a row to tie the game at 2. That third hit, Bo Bichette’s RBI single to tie it, ended with Bichette thrown out at second base. Take a look.

You often see the pitcher backing up home plate in this situation, but here, Tanaka cut off Hicks throw. Maybe he had time to react and run back into the infield to cut it off. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a look at his positioning the entire play. He followed it up with a perfect throw to Gleyber for the tag out. This is the type of play that earns Tanaka praise for his glovework.

It was a pretty clutch play at the time. Without the cutoff, Toronto would have had second and third with one out and the score even at two. Instead, Tanaka needed just one out to escape the jam with the tie preserved and he did just that.

Leftovers:
  • Luke Voit’s homer, the third of the back-to-back-to-back shots, was his league leading 20th dinger of the season.
  • Aroldis Chapman picked up a two out save in this one. Jonathan Holder was given the ball up 10-3, but departed with the bases loaded and the score 10-5. Chapman did allow a hit but ultimately closed it out for the W.
  • Nice night for Sánchez, who went 2-for-4 with a double, homer, and no strikeouts. His double was the second-hardest hit ball of this regular season, 117.5 MPH. He can still crush ’em when he makes contact. more please.
  • Tampa Bay swept Baltimore in a doubleheader today. Thanks for nothing, Orioles. The Yankees are 3.5 games back of first place with 9 to play, and a tie won’t cut it as the Rays have the tiebreaker.
  • The White Sox defeated the Twins, which now ties the Yankees and the Twins in the loss column. Minnesota does have a couple more wins than the Yankees though. Point is, the Yanks and Twins are essentially duking out who’ll have home field advantage in the first round. The two teams are on a collision course for the 4/5 seed matchup.

The Yankees are now off to Boston for a three game weekend set. See you all tomorrow.

Gleyber Gone? On Torres’ Power Drop

In 2019, Gleyber Torres set the baseball world on fire, knocking 38 homers and loudly announcing himself as a star in the making. But a funny thing happened on the way to true superstardom in 2020: his power completely dropped off the table. While power wasn’t his calling card as a prospect and it seemed unlikely he’d push 40 homers again, the drop has been dramatic, though subtle. In fact, I didn’t realize just how drastic it was until Derek mentioned on the most recent edition of the podcast that, at the time it was published, Gleyber Torres and Mike Tauchman had the same amount of extra-base hits. If you’re tied with Mike Tauchman in any sort of power category, something has gone wrong. 

After processing what Derek said, I went to Statcast to see what I could find about Torres’ power and the first thing that jumped out at me–given its position on the page–was the display of Torres’ percentile ranks:

That is a lot of blue. It’s worth noting that Torres didn’t tear it up by Statcast stuff in 2019–his exit velocity wasn’t anything special then, clocking it at under 90 MPH as it does now. Still, though, it’s shocking to see a hitter so good rank so low relative to his talent and skill. This made me dig into the swing data to see what’s behind this bevy of blue.

Overall, his swing rate his down over 10% from last year–41.2 this year compared to 51.8 last year. As such, his in-zone swing percentage has dropped, too, from 75.6 to 65.6. On the plus side, his chase rate is way down and he’s walking more than he ever has. This comes despite a whiff rate–28%–that’s identical to last year’s and has led to a career low in strikeout rate–18.1%, part of a positive trend since 2018. But there’s a tradeoff to this drop in swings. Swinging at fewer pitches in the zone isn’t necessarily good or bad, but when you’re passing up good pitches to hit, it can be detrimental. Torres may be doing that.

While pitchers aren’t throwing him as many ‘meatball’ identified pitches–he’s seeing a career low 5.6% of those, indicating they’re are being careful with him–he’s swinging at drastically fewer of them than he did last year: 74.1%, down from 84.9%. This would suggest he’s not taking advantage of the few very easy-to-hit pitches he’s seeing. Those are pitches he–and anyone, really–should be doing damage on. By not swinging at them, he may be robbing himself of XBH opportunities. The same might be true when it comes to attacking pitchers on their first pitch to him.

Last year, Torres hit .362 on first pitches while slugging .862. This year, he’s hitting .400 and slugging .800 on them. Those numbers are similar and both great. However, since his first pitch swing percentage has dropped from 36.4 to 25.0, the overall impact may be lessened.

Aside from swinging less overall, there seems to be another problem: breaking balls. In 2019, Torres hit .256 with a .442 SLG against breaking balls, good for a .302 wOBA. Those numbers don’t look great (though that’s a solid ISO of .186), but that’s the point of breaking balls, isn’t it? So far in 2020, the numbers are way worse: .125 BA; .156 SLG; .197 wOBA. His whiff rate on breaking balls is also way up from 32.2 to 40.9. It’s hard to hit for any sort of power when you’re missing on that many breaking balls.

And that brings us to the last bit I found, everyone’s favorite bugaboo, from the aforementioned Mike Tauchman to the much-maligned, much-struggling Gary Sanchez: middle-middle pitches. Torres, like those two, is failing to punish pitchers for leaving balls over the plate.

He’s hitting .273 on pitches right down the middle that he makes contact with. Not bad in a vacuum, but considering where those pitches are and who he is, that should be much higher. Slugging?

He’s slugging .462 on contacted middle-middle pitches. Fine…ish, but not for him. And not for that location. It’s possible that Torres is experiencing some bad luck on those pitches, though. His expected batting average on contact for the zone is .383; his expected slugging on contact in the zone is .622.

However, given that this is a shortened season and that it’s almost over (went fast, didn’t it?), there may not be time for things to even out, to progress to the mean. Torres has to make some adjustment to get the power back–swinging more? swinging at different pitches?–because it’s not just going to fall into place like it might over 162. With his talent, I’m sure he can.

Injury Updates: Paxton, Torres, Avilán, and more

No day is complete without some Yankees’ injury news. Not since last year, at least. The Yankees placed three more players on the injured list this afternoon: James Paxton (grade 1 flexor strain), Gleyber Torres (grade 1 quad and hamstring strains), and Luis Avilán (shoulder inflammation).

Nobody’s prognosis is available yet, but I wouldn’t count on seeing Paxton or Gleyber soon. Between a shut down, resuming throwing, and building back up, it could be a few weeks until Paxton’s back assuming he’s pain free. As for Torres, it could be somewhat tricky given he strained two different muscles. We’ll see. It’s been a rough few days for the Yankees, so I’ll concede some pessimism might be shining through.

There aren’t any corresponding roster moves yet since this weekend’s series against the Mets has been postponed. The Yankees next game is Tuesday in Atlanta (though a doubleheader against the Mets on Monday has been floated) and we should find out about the replacements by then. I’d guess we see a couple of more arms and another middle infielder, perhaps the recently added Jordy Mercer.

In other news, Aaron Boone provided updates on a few players who are working to turn:

  • The team expects Aaron Judge to return once the Yankees play next, whether that’s Monday or Tuesday (Kristie Ackert)
  • DJ LeMahieu took dry swings and played catch for the first time today (Ackert)
  • The team will have workouts tomorrow and Sunday to stay fresh (Brendan Kuty)
  • Zack Britton played catch and ran on the field today. Boone anticipates a short injured list stint (Kuty)

Try to have a good weekend, everyone.

Gleyber Torres exits game due to tight hamstring

How does this keep happening?

Gleyber Torres was in obvious pain as he grounded out in the third inning. Thairo Estrada subbed in for him on defense. Once we have more information we’ll share.

With DJ LeMahieu already out, the Yankees’ middle infield depth is going to be seriously tested if this is serious. They did just sign Jordy Mercer to a minor league deal earlier this week, so he could be up. Matt Duffy is in camp as well.

Guess the injury bug from last year never went away.

Update, 3:15 p.m. EDT:

Gleyber Torres is searching for his power stroke

Tampa Bay has held the Yankees’ offense to three or fewer runs in all but one game between the two sides this season. The last two games, both frustrating losses, have featured lineups without DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton. Those absences once again leave the Yankees yearning for the next man up mentality that carried the team last summer. In fairness, they’ve gotten some of the replacements to step up: Clint Frazier has made an impact immediately, for instance. However, there are still star caliber players in this lineup not performing up to expectations. Gleyber Torres is one of them.

It wasn’t long ago that Torres seemed to be snapping out of his slow start. He hit .480/.594/.560 (229 wRC+) in 32 plate appearances from the 8th to the 16th, but now is back in a mini-slump. He’s 1-for-11 since the last game of the Boston series, but that’s not necessarily a big deal. The Rays just threw its two best starters and its dominant bullpen against the Yanks, after all. That said, even when Gleyber seemed to be getting going, his power remained absent. For as long as Judge and Stanton are out, the Yankees are going to need Torres to bring some oomph to the lineup that’s sorely missing it. Luke Voit can’t hit all the dingers for the time being.

Torres has just three extra base hits this season and a .066 isolated power in 89 plate appearances. Is that still a small sample size? I suppose, but he also doesn’t have 162 games to figure this out. Torres has posted big power numbers early in his career, including 38 homers and a .256 ISO last season. This early career performance resulted in some remarkable power long-term power projections, namely from ZiPS. You may recall that Dan Szymborski’s system forecasted 40 home runs annually through 2024. Where has the power gone?

Metric20192020
Exit Velocity (MPH)89.186.8
Hard Hit %36.536.8
xSLG.502.331
Barrel %10.11.8

The 23 year-old shortstop’s bat control really helped him tap into his power in his first two seasons. He struck out just below league average last year, and has improved upon that this season while also exhibiting an uptick in walks. Yet, he’s still not making good contact (as you can see in the table above) and part of the problem might be his approach. Torres has been dramatically more passive at the plate this season.

The first thing that stood out to me is that Torres has been less aggressive against the first pitch of a plate appearance. To be fair, he’s seeing far fewer first pitch strikes (55 percent, down from 61 last season). Still, I’d like to see Torres try to pounce on opposing pitchers early if possible. Perhaps more importantly though: Gleyber has been more tentative against pitches down the middle. Torres is swinging much less often at what Statcast defines as a meatball, or a crushable middle-middle pitch (zone 5 below). That’s no good.

That’s also an extremely small subset of pitches this season (19). Let’s expand that to all pitches in zones 1 through 9, or the heart.

Again, not ideal. Going from swinging at 80 percent of pitches in the heart of the zone last year to 70 percent this year is a significant drop. To make matters worse, he’s not lifting these pitches either. His launch angle is down to 10.9 degrees from 21.4 a year ago, so it’s no wonder his SLG and xSLG are way down as well. By way of example:

On a 3-1 count, Nate Eovaldi challenged Gleyber with a 92 MPH cutter down the pipe. Torres singled, but I think we’d all agree he could have done better. Want to give Eovaldi credit for using the cutter in that spot, perhaps preventing more damage against what could have been a four-seamer? Fine. But there are other examples, too:

That’s a 1-0 four-seamer with the bases loaded an no one out. A potential damage pitch. It’s up and over the middle of the plate. Instead of rocketing it into the gap or over the wall, Torres bounced into a double play.

So, while his lack of aggression on hittable pitches has been an issue, he’s also not getting desired results when he swings at them. I’d bet something is off mechanically because Torres is simply too good to continue chopping pitches over the heart of the zone.

It’s frustrating to see Torres have difficulty tapping into his power this season. This isn’t something to worry about long-term and I have to imagine he’ll work things out. Hopefully sooner rather than later, though. It’s strange to say just 24 games into the season, but he doesn’t have much time left to start swatting homers again. I wouldn’t mind seeing one this afternoon in a victory to salvage the final game of this series vs. the Rays.

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