Tag: Mike King

Game 53: Yankees Swept and Embarrassed by Detroit

The Tigers came into this series with the worst run differential in the AL and handily swept the Yankees. This about sums it up:

We sincerely hope you had better things to do on this rainy Memorial Day Weekend Sunday than watch this debacle of a game in which the Bombers lost 6-2. To the takeaways:

The Yankees Will Be Okay

Usually we start these with how the starting pitcher did, but today warrants something different because it’s too easy to slip into the malaise and start thinking the season is over. It is not. After tomorrow, the season will be exactly 1/3 done, and despite how awful they have looked at times, the Yankees are on a 90 win pace.

Getting swept by any team sucks, and getting swept by the worst team in the league is even worse. It happens. Just last week, the Yankees were on a 6 game winning streak and swept the first-place White Sox. One bad week does not doom a season. There’s a reason they play 162 of these. Around these parts we’re constantly preaching patience and staying calm because the Yankees are good. In fact, they are still the best team in the AL. They didn’t look it this weekend, but they are and they will.

Starting tomorrow, the Yankees have 4 games against the Rays and Red Sox who lead the division. It’s time to hit the reset button, forget about this weekend and start playing like the team we know they are.

Mike King struggles in 5th starter audition

With Corey Kluber out for the next two months, the Yankees need another starter. Deivi García struggled in his audition yesterday, and King could not capitalize today. His final line was 2.1 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 HBP, 2 K. It took him 61 pitches just to get through those 2.1 innings. His pitch plot on the day left much to be desired:

Everything is all over the place and there’s way too many sinkers left right over the middle. Put differently, here’s a heatmap for his signature sinker on the afternoon:

You don’t need to be Matt Blake to know that’s not where you want to throw your sinker. You want that pitch to be at or below the zone to generate ground balls. Poor sinker location led to the following two-out double in the first:

The pitch location was predictably awful:

In a two strike count with two outs and RISP you absolutely cannot throw a sinker there. Especially not to a team that ranks bottom five in AVG, OBP, OPS, Runs, and HR. Thanks to some awful defending by Clint on the play, Miguel Cabrera was able to score from first on the play.

The offense is a joke right now

Five runs total in a series against the Tigers is unacceptable. Tarik Skubal came into this game with a 5.23 ERA and a 5.94 FIP to match. And the peripherals back it up:

Despite all that blue, the Yankees couldn’t get anything going against Skubal in his 6 scoreless innings.

There’s a lot of hittable pitches in there and the Yankees only managed 3 hits. They also struck out 8 times and Skubal had a 33% whiff rate on the day.

There are two things plaguing the Yankees offense right now: ground balls and bad luck. They have a 46% GB rate as a team which is the 6th highest in baseball. That’s how despite hitting the ball hard, they have nothing to show for it. In the first, after DJ and Stanton got on, Judge rifled a 108 mph grounder…for a double play. All that exit velocity means nothing when it’s pounded into the ground right at people.

Luck is also playing a factor here.

Numbers that bad are a combination of bad luck and guys pressing to try and do too much. Regression will even that out.

The April defense rears its ugly head

Believe it or not, that message was sent before the 3rd error they committed in the 3rd inning. At one point, the team had more errors than hits which is a reflection of both the offense and the defense. Here’s one of the errors:

Better get it out of their system today and play much sharper against the Rays starting tomorrow.

Leftovers

  • Nasty Nestor Cortes Jr. made his triumphant return to the big leagues for his first Yankee appearance since 2019. He sucked up 3.2 much needed innings and will likely be sent back to Scranton later today.
  • Even when they scored, the Yankees made another out on the bases in the 8th inning. That’s 26 outs on the bases for the season.
  • DJ LeMahieu and Gary Sánchez both had multi-hit games. Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come for both of them.
  • They somehow got the tying run to the plate in the 9th inning, so let’s see if the O’Neill theory pans out for tomorrow.

Wash the bad taste out of your mouths from this series, and hopefully look forward to better things tomorrow. It’ll be Jameson Taillon against Rich Hill back in the Bronx.

Starting pitching: Significant depth and prospects in the pipeline [2021 Season Preview]

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If you read my piece on the Yankees’ pitching depth last week, you know that the team is pretty deep in starting pitching. Sure, some of those pitchers have their warts, but there are also a number of viable options to pitch out of the rotation. Pitchers break — they always do — so it’s best to have a lot of them. By midsummer, the Yanks may have nearly a dozen major league caliber starters. Yes, some far better than others, but that’s a lot of insurance.

Today, it’s time to preview the organization’s starters. Not just those who’ll see major league time, either. Like my catcher preview or Dom’s corner infield breakdown, I’ll dive into the starters down the rungs of the minors.

A formidable front four

It’s awfully exciting to have a full season of Gerrit Cole ahead of us. In that sense, he still feels like a new addition to this team. I know we saw him for 12 regular season and 3 postseason starts in 2020, but there’s nothing quite like having a bona fide ace for 30-plus starts and 200 innings. And that’s what we can expect from Gerrit this season: a workhorse who could easily win the American League Cy Young award.

If there’s any uncertainty regarding Cole in 2021, it’s his battery mate. As you know, Kyle Higashioka became Cole’s personal catcher by last September. Cole had better numbers with Higgy behind the plate, and given Gary Sánchez’s struggles offensively, it was an easy decision at the time. This year, the Yankees are hoping to pair Cole and Sánchez, and understandably so. Ideally, the two mesh and Gary mashes once again.

After Cole is when folks start getting nervous, which I can understand. What’s a soon-to-be 35 year-old Corey Kluber going to look like after two injury-riddled seasons? How will Jameson Taillon rebound from his second Tommy John surgery? Will Jordan Montgomery‘s results catch up to his peripherals? And so it goes. No, this isn’t a rotation for the risk-averse. But at the same time, how many other big league rotations are full of sure things?

Spring Training Competition: Fifth Starter

Pitchers and catchers are the theme of the week, and since I already covered the backup catcher competition, today it’s time for the fifth starter role.

If it wasn’t for James Paxton’s surgery, this probably wouldn’t have been a competition at all. Brian Cashman proclaimed JA Happ as the team’s fifth starter in January. Personally, I expected some sort of competition whether or not Happ was still with the team, but that’s moot now. Happ’s going to be in the rotation leaving the last spot up for grabs. Let’s take a look at whose in the hunt for the last starter spot.

The favorite

It certainly seems like Jordan Montgomery is the heavy favorite. Aaron Boone spoke highly of him. He’s also got the most big league experience and success compared to the rest of the bunch in this battle. In 182 2/3 pre-TJS innings with the Yankees, Montgomery had a 3.84 ERA, 4.09 FIP, and 3.5 WAR. That’s rock solid for a back of the rotation guy.

Track record aside, the one concern I have is how rusty he may be. Now, he did return to pitch four innings last September after missing most of 2018 and 2019 rehabbing, which is a plus. But he really hasn’t pitched in a competitive game since early 2018. On the other hand, when is there a better time to dust off the cobwebs than April?

Remember, Monty won a rotation spot out of camp as a rookie in 2017 — before he had ever thrown a major league pitch. The Yankees liked him then and certainly still do now. Expect him to be in the rotation from the get go.

Better off in the bullpen?

Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Cessa were named as options by Brian Cashman after the Paxton news broke. However, both may be better utilized in relief.

Cessa seemingly found his home in the bullpen last year. In 43 games and 81 innings, all in relief, Cessa recorded a 4.11 ERA and 4.87 FIP. The 27 year-old righty’s fastball-slider combination appears to play up in shorter stints. And frankly, I don’t really want him facing the top of the opponent’s order in the first inning. He’s better suited in low leverage opportunities as he showed last season.

Loaisiga is tantalizing simply because of his nasty stuff. Not only did he average 96.9 miles per hour on his fastball last year, but he also was in the 84th and 89th percentile in fastball and curveball spin, respectively. Though his command wavers, we know he can be dominant at times. As we’ve seen with so many other hard throwers with suspect command, sometimes they’re better off in short stints and in fact more valuable in relief anyway.

The unknown

After a strong 2018 following his inclusion in the Giancarlo Stanton trade, there was some intrigue about Michael King’s potential to be a back of the rotation starter. As a 24 year-old in 2018, King dominated across 161 1/3 innings between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. He had a 1.79 ERA and 2.76 FIP supported by a good strikeout rate (24.7 percent) and stupendous walk rate (4.7 percent).

Unfortunately, 2019 was mostly a lost year for King, hence his chances in this competition being a bit of a mystery. He had a stress reaction in his pitching elbow last spring training which basically derailed all of his campaign. Once he completed his rehab and returned to action, he wasn’t as good as the year before. He did get to make his major league debut in relief last September, at least.

King’s kind of in the same boat as Montgomery except he doesn’t have the big league track record. Both pitchers returned late last season after lengthy layoffs, so it’ll be interesting to see how sharp they are in the early going. King’s going to get a look, but chances are he’s in Scranton to begin 2020.

The prospects

The Yankees’ 40-man is littered with pitching prospects, though only one of them is close to the big leagues. Deivi García, Luis Gil, Luis Medina, Nick Nelson, and Miguel Yajure were all new additions to the 40-man roster this winter and will be exciting to see in camp. However, only García appears to have a legitimate shot given his proximity to the majors.

Deivi reached Triple-A by the end of 2019 and there were some whispers of him joining the big league bullpen by season’s end. That never came to fruition as García stumbled a bit in Scranton. Nonetheless, the 20 year-old righty is a consensus top-100 prospect specifically named by Cashman as in the running for the gig.

Don’t count on Deivi winning the job out of camp, but it’s not impossible. Being on the 40-man alone is a booster, and if he shoves in Grapefruit League action, people are going to want to see him in the majors soon.

If we move away from the 40-man, we’ll also find Clarke Schmidt as a non-roster invitee. Schmidt’s prospect pedigree is basically on par with García’s, sans the BP rankings which prefers the latter by a good margin. There’s a decent shot we see Schmidt in pinstripes by year’s end, but since the Yankees would need to cut someone to add him for Opening Day, his odds are slim to none. Worth a mention though because of his upside and inclusion in big league camp.

Break glass in case of emergency

The Yankees brought in Nick Tropeano on a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. He’s assuredly destined for Triple-A to start the season, but he does have over 200 major league innings to his name. Tropeano’s struggled to stay healthy and was last effective in 2015 and 2016, so he’s not particularly enticing.

Unless there are tons of injuries to the staff in spring, Tropeano’s not going to see action with the Yankees. He’s here more to fill out Scranton’s rotation than serve as an actual major league option. Still, he’s in camp and has pitched at the highest level before, so I suppose he has some qualifications. Again though, it’d take a true emergency to need him right away.

James Paxton is Hurt. What’s Next?

The 2019 season is dead; long live the 2020 season. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to camp next week, so it was only natural that we have our first major injury. Of course, I’m talking about James Paxton, who recently underwent back surgery and will miss 3-4 months to start the year.

There’s obviously a bunch of fallout here. Earlier today, Derek outlined some of the external candidates for pitching depth, so check that out if you missed it. I wanted to take a quick look at what Paxton’s injury means for the Yankees currently on the roster (and for Paxton himself) to complement that. Here are some rapid-fire implications:

1. So Much for That Extension: A few weeks ago, I looked at what a potential Paxton extension would look like. A week later, I tried to project what his free agent profile will look like. All of that is irrelevant now, isn’t it? Although, it was kind of irrelevant all along. As we learned, this injury flared up in that horrifying first inning in Texas in 2019’s final weekend. The team knew about this all along, making the extension even less likely than it already was.

It’s all too bad for Paxton honestly. As Randy said yesterday, the injury-prone label will stick with him for another year. It’s definitely not what you want if you’re Paxton entering a walk year. That said, he’s still well-positioned. He and Zack Wheeler have a very similar career trajectory, injuries included, and Wheeler signed a $118 million deal a few months ago. Seriously:

  • Zack Wheeler (Age 29): 749.1 IP, 3.77 ERA, 22.8% K%, 8.5% BB%, .687 OPS against, 9.7 bWAR
  • James Paxton (Age 31): 733 IP, 3.50 ERA, 26.5% K%, 7.4% BB%, .670 OPS against, 12.9 bWAR

Obviously, Paxton is older, which absolutely matters, but he’s also been a better pitcher than Wheeler. In a relatively weak upcoming free agent class, Paxton still figures to be one of the best pitchers on the market. He should still get paid — and maybe even by the Yankees, who may also lose Masahiro Tanaka. Hopefully, for everyone’s sake, he pitches like 2019 second-half Paxton. That would be cool for the Yankees as well as Paxton’s future bank account.

2. Yankees’ Timing: If you view this through the lens of the team, it becomes pretty clear that things could be worse. Nobody wants one of their top-of-the-rotation guys to get hurt before the season begins — anyone else having flashbacks to Luis Severino last year or is it just me? — and especially not to their back. It’s scary. In the words of a former Yankee skipper, it is not what you want.

Image result for it's not what you want girardi

Still, let’s assume the 3-4 month timeline is accurate for a minute. It’s February 6 today, and exactly three months from now will be the first full week of May. That slates him to return in May-June, which is neither ideal nor a true panic situation. The team is good enough — turns out signing a guy like Cole is good! Imagine how we’d feel right now if they didn’t? — to weather this storm. Of course, that assumes no other injuries, but he should be back for the bulk of the season. And, more importantly, he’ll be ready to go for October if all goes well after he returns. That’s the end goal here, after all.

3. Internal Options: As I mentioned, Derek outlined the external options earlier today. There are a few compelling options — sign me up for Colin McHugh, myself — but I have a very good feeling that the guy to whom the turn to will come from inside the house. Here’s a rough sketch of where the Yankees pitching depth chart surely sits:

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Luis Severino
  3. James Paxton
  4. Masahiro Tanaka
  5. JA Happ
  6. Jordan Montgomery
  7. Jonathan Loáisiga
  8. Mike King
  9. Deivi Garcia

You could quibble with the order of the last few but it’s a good general sense. Montgomery, Loáisiga, King, and Deivi will all be fighting for that final rotation spot this spring. Add that to the list. Honestly, we all expected some sort of a competition anyway. There was always a possibility someone could overtake Happ. This just adds some urgency to it.

As for right now, the betting favorite has to be Montgomery. Before his 2019 return, I wrote up a brief refresher on him, so check that out for an in-depth review. There are reasons to be skeptical of him in 2020 — it’s hard to come back from an injury like that when you’re a low-velocity guy — but our man was really, really good in 2017. The best rookie pitcher in baseball, in fact.

After him, I think the Yankees love Loáisiga’s stuff a ton — I sure as hell do — and they’ve given him opportunities to start in both 2018 and 2019. He even made the ALCS roster. With him, though, the big question is injuries and whether or not they slot him in as a reliever to start the season. I’d think about doing that as his stuff probably plays up in the ‘pen, but he is a definite option to start.

The other two options, King and Deivi, would surprise me. King had a very nice 2019 and even made his MLB debut, but I think he’d have to really impress in Spring Training to win the job. As for Deivi, the Yankees have been very cautious — and he got rocked in Triple-A — and he’s still so young. I expect him to start the season in Scranton, and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, he probably should. But ultimately, who knows? Yankees baseball is nearly back, and that means there’s injury-related intrigue. Exciting!

Rehabbing pitchers with promise [2019 Season Review]

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No one could have anticipated he amount of injuries the Yankees sustained during 2019. The injury bug struck hard and often, with numerous setbacks throughout the campaign. Even though the sheer number of injuries was unfathomable, the Bombers were aware of a few guys who would be out for extended periods before the regular season began. Namely, Jordan Montgomery, Ben Heller, and Mike King.

Jordan Montgomery

After a solid rookie campaign in 2017, Montgomery made just six starts in 2018 before he needed Tommy John surgery. The Yankees weren’t counting on the 26 year-old southpaw to return until late this season, if at all. The rehab process for this surgery is now as long as 18 months. In Montgomery’s case, he made his final start of 2018 on May 1st and underwent surgery in early June. He returned to big league action in mid-September of this year after roughly a 15 month layoff.

The 26 year-old southpaw starting throwing batting practice this June, but suffered a setback in his rehab not long after. An MRI later revealed shoulder inflammation, unrelated to his surgically repaired elbow. After sitting out a few weeks, Montgomery got back on track in July and eventually threw a simulated game in August. Later in August, he began a formal rehab assignment in the minors.

J-Mo made three starts in the minors: one in Tampa, one in Scranton, and another in Trenton during the Eastern League playoffs. After his last outing for the Thunder on September 10th, the Yankees activated him. He made his 2019 debut in relief against Toronto on the 15th.

Montgomery pitched one more game in 2019, nine days later against the Rays. This time, he started against the Rays and threw two shutout innings. He struck out three and surrendered three hits. More important than anything, Montgomery ended the year healthy.

It’s not clear what role Montgomery will serve next year, at least from the start. He was obviously big league ready before he got hurt, but whether or not he starts 2020 in the minors depends on what the Yankees do this winter. He’d be a perfectly competent fifth starter, but the Yankees may want to bide some time with him in order to make sure he’s fully back.

Ben Heller

Like Montgomery, Heller didn’t return until late 2019 because of Tommy John surgery recovery. Heller had his surgery last April and didn’t pitch a single game in 2018.

Heller began a rehab assignment in late June, but was shut down in July due to forearm pain. By mid-August, Heller was back on the mound in minor league games for Scranton for take two. This time, no setbacks. The Yankees activated Heller on September 10th and he got into his first game two days later. His first batter faced went pretty well:

Travis Demeritte homered in the next at-bat, but from there on out, Heller didn’t allow a run the rest of the season in seven more innings.

Heller is a major league bullpen candidate next year. It feels like we’ve been ready to see him entrench himself in the Yankees ‘pen ever since he was acquired as part of the Andrew Miller trade, but obviously the surgery created a big gap. He also has options still, so he could spend time in Triple-A in 2020. But if all goes well health-wise, he should spend a good amount of time in relief for the Yanks.

Mike King

Unlike Montgomery and Heller, King wasn’t on the 40-man roster at the beginning of the season. However, he was expected to contribute in the majors at some point this season. In 2018, King threw 161 1/3 innings of 1.79 ERA ball between High-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton, and Triple-A Scranton. He was on the precipice of the big leagues by the end of that year and could have been one of the first guys to come up when the rotation needed help this year. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be.

Very early in spring training, it was revealed that the righty had a stress reaction in his elbow. Three weeks and an MRI to determine the next steps turned into King missing almost all of the season.

The 24 year-old righty, originally acquired from Miami in exchange for Garrett Cooper, started a rehab assignment in July and made his way back to Double-A by the end of the month. He pitched thrice for Trenton before moving up to Triple-A, where he had finished his stellar 2018 campaign. Overall, his minor league numbers (5.48 ERA in 46 innings, including rehab) were a far cry from what he did a year before. But more importantly, he was healthy.

On September 19th, the Yankees selected King’s contract to the 40-man roster. He was going to get added at some point given his Rule 5 eligibility, but Domingo Germán’s domestic violence investigation opened up a spot on the roster. King made his big league debut against the Rangers, his sole outing with the Yankees in 2019, before the regular season ended.

Expect King to return to Triple-A to start 2020. He could get some action in the rotation in the Bronx at some point next year, but probably not right away. The surgery recovery pushed his timetable back a bit and he’s already lower on the depth chart someone like Montgomery.

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