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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.

Mailbag: 2021 rotation, Voit’s contract, COVID-19 opt-outs, and Urshela’s metrics

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:

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Masahiro Tanaka
  3. Trade/Free Agent
  4. Deivi García
  5. Jordan Montgomery

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.

ComparisonWeak %Topped %Under %Flare/Burner %Solid %Barrel %
Urshela0.826.725.031.77.57.5
MLB3.233.224.324.35.66.4

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.

Game 57: Another loss in Buffalo

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I’m glad there are no more games in Buffalo. The Yankees lost to the Blue Jays tonight at Sahlen Field, 4-1. Toronto trails the Yanks by two games with three to be played. There’s no reason to doubt a second place finish yet, but it’s getting uncomfortable. Also: the Yankees missed a chance to gain on the White Sox for the fourth seed. The South Siders lost but remain two ahead of the Yanks.

We’re doing abbreviated takeaways tonight as all of us are a bit busy today. Here they are:

  • Jordan Montgomery’s roller coaster regular season ends on a high note. What a strange season for the lefty. There was a bit of hype after some impressive performances in spring training and summer camp, but his regular season was all over the place. There were some strong outings and some awful outings. Overall, including tonight, he finished with a 5.11 ERA and 3.86 FIP in 10 starts and 44 innings pitched. He allowed 3 runs (1 of those was inherited by Adam Ottavino) in 5 1/3 innings and looked sharp. Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s homer was the big blow, but Monty also struck out 8 and walked nobody. I presume that he’s the teams fifth starter this postseason if the Yankees advance past the Wild Card round.
  • More than a personal catcher? It now looks like Kyle Higashioka could be more than Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher. Aaron Boone dropped that bomb before today’s game. Starting for a second straight night, Higgy went 0-for-3 today, though he was pinch hit for by Gary Sánchez in the 8th inning. More on that Sánchez in a moment. I think some forgot that Higashioka was hitting .188/.188/.281 (20 wRC+) in 32 plate appearances before that three homer game last week. Or that he was a career .164/.212/.336 (41 wRC+) hitter in 156 plate appearances at the big league level entering 2020. It can be worse than Gary Sánchez has hit this year (66 wRC+), folks. And it’s not that I don’t like Higashioka. To the contrary; he’s hit well in the minors and has a good defensive reputation. But if you think you’re getting an offensive upgrade with him instead of Gary, think again. Defensively? I won’t fight you on that.
  • 2020 has shown no mercy on Gary Sánchez. As if the batting line wasn’t bad enough, Sánchez ran into some bad luck as a pinch hitter tonight in the eighth. Up in place of Higgy and as the tying run, Gary barreled one to left center that Randal Grichuk made a leaping catch on for the final out of the inning. Gary has mostly earned his stat line this season, but he didn’t deserve the below tonight. Would have been a two-run double to make things 4-3. And it had an .880 expected batting average, per Statcast.
  • The bats don’t show up on the road again. The Yankees have knocked around Hyun-Jin Ryu a couple of times in the last year (once with the Dodgers, once with the Blue Jays). Not tonight. He twirled a gem this evening. He blanked the Yankees across seven innings and barely gave up any well-struck batted balls. The Yankees’ average exit velocity against Ryu was 83.4 MPH in this one. It was yet another instance of the Yankees’ offense struggling away from the Bronx. The Yankees did hit Ryu well at Sahlen Field earlier this month, so maybe credit to him for adjusting. Or, maybe the Yankees are just going through the motions at this point. Or maybe there is a problem away from home. Who knows for sure, but the numbers are glaring:
    • Home: 176 runs, .276/.366/.588, 150 wRC+
    • Away: 124 runs, .221/.318/.354, 87 wRC+
  • I was about to say that Adam Ottavino has looked better lately. Entering tonight, Ottavino hadn’t allowed a run in his last five outings. He had faced 18 batters, allowed 3 hits, walked 1, and struck out 7 while not allowing a run. This came after that horrendous performance in Buffalo when he faced six hitters and didn’t record a single out. Tonight, the bad Ottavino returned. He gave up a two-run double to Alejandro Kirk in the sixth which put the Yankees behind 4-0. One of those runners was on Montgomery’s line. Sigh. Ottavino is an enigma.

Three games remain, all at Yankee Stadium. The final regular season series begins tomorrow with the Marlins in town. Have a good night everyone.

Mailbag: Game 3 starter, voids from 2019, James McCann in free agency, and short-season evaluations

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Another week, another mailbag to open. Four questions to address today. As always, send yours to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We answer our favorites each week. Let’s get to it.

Kenny asks: James Paxton being shut down again is disappointing. If the playoffs started tomorrow, is it absurd to have Deivi García be the third starter after Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka? This would be in lieu of a resurgent JA Happ and a struggling Jordan Montgomery.

To be precise, Paxton won’t throw again for a couple of days after feeling some soreness Wednesday. I wouldn’t say he’s shut down, though things certainly aren’t looking good for him. It’s probably not worth counting on him to contribute much, if at all, the rest of the way.

Now to the question. I’m not so sure the Yankees would go with a traditional starting pitcher in a hypothetical Game 3 in the first round. Remember, it’s a best-of-three series to open up the postseason. There’s a distinct possibility that the Yankees (or any other team) go the opener/bullpen game route instead. Of course, a lot of that depends on how much the ‘pen is used in the first two games of the series. Or, even better, the Yankees would just win those first two games and call it a series.

If the bullpen game isn’t an option, I’d strongly favor Deivi at this point. So no, it’s not absurd to think he’s deserving of it over Happ or Monty. It sure sounds like Aaron Boone believes García can do it too:

“I know he wouldn’t flinch at the opportunity…I’m totally confident, forget the pitching part of it, that he can handle any situation you throw him in. Hard to predict where we’ll be three weeks from now and just what exactly we’ll look like. But he’s certainly putting his name in those conversations because of his performance.”

Happ certainly has pitched better lately (2.59 ERA in last four starts), but I do not love the idea of putting the season in his hands. I’m still scarred from his 2018 ALDS performance, I guess. But it’s not just that. We’ve seen far more bad than good since last year with Happ, and even with a good run of late, who’s to say that he doesn’t have another dud?

Montgomery has pitched himself out of the conversation thanks to his last two outings. He still has time to turn the ship around, but there’s no way he’d get the ball if the season ended today. So, it pretty much comes down to Deivi or Happ in the traditional starter route.

All this isn’t to say that García wouldn’t have a bad game. He’s not invincible, of course. But at the same time, I’d rather lose with a more talented pitcher on the mound. Not a 37 year-old who’s mostly struggled over the last two seasons.

Andrew asks: Not having Encarnación, Maybin, and Didi really hurt the depth of this lineup. Would it be safe to say Didi would be the player that would currently help this lineup that’s been decimated by injuries?

I think that’s pretty safe to say. The combination of Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, and Jordy Mercer have hit .177/.266/.248 in 128 plate appearances this season. Didi, meanwhile, has hit .273/.333/.469 in 160 opportunities for the Phillies. That’s a massive difference! The Yankees middle infield depth is putrid and its something we’ve discussed on this here blog since the offseason. So of course, Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu missed time with injuries which forced inferior players to get opportunities.

While Maybin and EE would be nice to have right now, they aren’t missed as much as Gregorius. As bad as Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford have been this year, I wouldn’t say it was totally unreasonable for the Yankees to believe they were good depth for this season. They performed well last year when called upon. Would I have preferred some extra insurance in those spots? Yes, but it’s not as egregious as doing nothing to shore up the middle infield after letting Didi go. Also, consider this: if the Yankees brought back Maybin (or brought in someone else as outfield depth), there’s a chance Clint Frazier is still toiling away at the Alternate Site.

We’ve never seen Wade or Thairo exhibit any success at the big league level. To count on either of them as insurance up the middle was a big mistake. And again, that’s not in hindsight. Wade came into 2020 with a lifetime .197/.268/.298 (53 wRC+) in 241 big league trips to the plate. Estrada carried a .250/.294/.438 (91 wRC+) line last season in 69 opportunities. Even if the Yankees liked those two more than most, to not grab some sort of big league insurance was foolish. If you’re not willing to spend $14 million to bring back Gregorius, OK, but at least do something. How about Cesar Hernandez? José Iglesias?

Richard asks: Do you think the Yankees might have an interest in signing James McCann as insurance this offseason with how Gary Sánchez has struggled the past two years? If so, what would a hypothetical contract look like?

I do think the Yankees will strongly consider adding another catcher this winter. I wrote about this my thoughts piece a few days ago. McCann will probably come at a price above the team’s comfort level, though. I think he gets something along the lines of the Travis d’Arnaud contract. Atlanta signed him for two years and $16 million last offseason.

d’Arnaud got that deal thanks to a strong finish with the Rays last season. He started off slowly with the Mets, got DFA’d, was with the Dodgers for literally one plate appearance, and then was shipped to the Rays. In Tampa Bay, d’Arnaud hit .263/.323/.459 (107 wRC+) with solid defense. That brought him into free agency as a 30 year-old, the same age McCann is for his impending trip to the open market.

McCann’s bat has been really good since last year, but it wasn’t until this year that his defense (particularly framing) vastly improved. That’s quite possibly the result of having elite defensive backstop Yasmani Grandal as a teammate now. Anyway, McCann posted a 109 wRC+ in 476 plate appearances last year and has a 163 mark in 79 this season, so the bat seems pretty good. Pair that with improved glovework and you’re probably looking at the d’Arnaud deal. I don’t think the Yankees will spend that on a catcher to play three times a week. McCann probably wants a full-time gig anyway.

As an alternative, I wonder if the Yankees can pry Tyler Flowers away from Atlanta. He’s been terrific for them since 2016, albeit never really playing much more than 50 percent of the time. Flowers has put up at least 2 WAR annually, mainly from the glove, but the bat isn’t a total zero. He’s got a 118 wRC+ this year in 54 plate appearances, though he’s probably closer to the 88 and 95 marks he put up in the last two seasons. And at 34, he’s probably looking at something similar to the $4 million he signed for this season. The Yankees should be in on something like that.

Eric asks: If you were the front office trying to figure out how to improve the team over the offseason, what are the metrics (or other indicators of performance) that you would take seriously despite the weird season?

You know what: I’m not so sure this short season changes the way teams evaluate players as much as we might think. In this day and age, teams are looking at health, Trackman/Hawkeye/Statcast/Rapsodo data, and scouting evaluations to support decision-making. I don’t think 60 games vs. 162 games changes that.

For example, the Yankees have seen James Paxton without his best velocity all season and he’s now dealing with a flexor strain. That’s got to be a huge red flag for his impending free agency. I presume that’ll be enough for the team to walk away from him this winter.

Then there’s someone like Sánchez, whose .121/.230/.327 line has so many people wanting him out of the organization. And yet, the elite underlying exit velocity, barrel percentage, and hard hit percentage numbers still exist. Is that enough for the Yankees to try to get him right for 2021? Probably.

Ultimately, everything boils down to talent level. Now that teams have metrics that are intended to be a proxy for talent, that’s what they’re gonna keep on using.

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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