It is Tuesday and the Yankees return to action after a rough weekend at Tropicana Field. Seriously, where else? I’m excited for the new series to start so we can start to put the stink of that place behind us. In case you missed it, here is the latest news from the off day. Anyway, here’s what’s on my mind before the Yankees take the field tonight against Atlanta.
1. The Yankees, 25% of the Way Home: The Yankees have played 16 of their 60 scheduled games, which comes out to about 27%. In a normal season, that would be the equivalent of 44 games played. There’s a weird tension here. On the one hand, it’s a substantial chunk of the actual season and it’s natural to want to begin drawing some early conclusions about player performance, team construction, et cetera. On the other hand, it’s only been 16 games. That’s not nearly enough for sweeping conclusions; after all, Aaron Judge has just 65 plate appearances so far. We’re not even out of Voros’ Law (any MLB player can do anything in 60 at-bats) territory yet.
However, while that may be the case with individual players, 25% of the season is still 25% of the season. It’s more than fair to look at the team as a whole, right? It’s fair to want that, at least. There are still some problems here, though. What I’d normally do here is list out some key statistics for both the offense and pitching staff, list their league rankings, and compare winning percentages. It wouldn’t be analytically honest to do that right now. The Cardinals have played 5 games. The Cubs have played 13. The Marlins have played 10. And on and on. There is too much variance and weirdness to compare teams to one another right now, in my opinion.
What we can do is look at the division. The Yankees had a chance this weekend to bury the Rays and didn’t do it. Blowing Sunday’s game took what was about to be a 4-game lead over Tampa and made it a 2-game lead. Still, the Yankees are in good position. FanGraphs’ Playoffs Odds calculator has them with a 97.6% chance to make the playoffs and a 67.6% chance to win the division. Their 10.3% World Series odds are still second-highest behind the Dodgers. The point is the Yankees are in good shape 25% of the way in, even after a rough week last week. That’s good news, and let’s hope this week is a better one.
2. Missing Aroldis Chapman: The Yankees really miss Aroldis Chapman. How could they not? He’s one of the best relievers in baseball and having him locking up the 9th inning frees up the Yanks’ other dominant arms for high leverage spots earlier on in games. The loss of Tommy Kahnle has made this worse. Looking at Leverage Index – a tool which quantifies the importance of each appearance, with 1.0 being average – helps make this point clearly. Here are the top 5 Yankees by average LI when they enter a game this season, not counting Tommy Kahnle (who’d top the list):
- Zack Britton: 2.03
- Jonathan Loaisiga: 1.56
- Michael King: 1.15
- Luis Avilan: 1.04
- Nick Nelson: 0.98
Some of this is sample size weirdness and it’s also obviously reflective of the fact that the Yankees have played two doubleheaders and the league has jammed a bunch of games into a short season. Hopefully, this series against Atlanta, which is sandwiched by off days, helps correct this. Still, it’s interesting. The Yankees have given important innings to some surprising names, right?
Guys you’d want to see top this list, like Chad Green (0.96) and Adam Ottavio (0.91), and even Jonathan Holder (0.79) are nowhere near it. I’m not making this into a big deal – there are a ton of factors at play and it’s been just 16 (!) games – but it’s a real phenomenon. The return of Chapman will free up Britton for earlier innings and hopefully move some of the B relievers into lower leverage slots. That will make the Yanks’ pen even more formidable.
3. Yankees Upcoming Rotation: I like the way the Yankees have set up their rotation for the next 6 games. They’re starting Jordan Montgomery tomorrow and Masahiro Tanaka Wednesday before Thursday’s off days. This means that the Friday-Monday series against Boston lines up to be Gerrit Cole (Fri), James Paxton (Sat), Jordan Montgomery (Sun), and Masahiro Tanaka (Sun). The Yankees have four competent starters right now and they should find every way to get them into as many games as possible, so this is good.
It would also mean that the Yankees won’t start J.A. Happ until next Tuesday (August 18) against Tampa Bay in New York. This is also good for two reasons: 1) it minimizes Happ’s starts and 2) probably makes it more likely his option doesn’t vest. I wouldn’t like doing this for #2 alone, but the reality is that Happ is not looking like an MLB-level starting pitcher right now. If the Yanks wanted to really make me happy, they’d start Clarke Schmidt instead, as he’d face two anemic offenses in Tampa Bay and the Mets for his first two starts. That would be nice. (And they might as well size him up before the 8/31 trade deadline, right?)
4. The Imminent Return of Clint Frazier: Clint Frazier will be called up later today. Are you excited for two more weeks (at least) of Clint Frazier discourse? It is exhausting as hell and it’s been going on for years at this point. I’m not particularly interested in diving back into it myself. At this point, I don’t think the Yankees value him as many fans do – if they did, he’d have steady playing time like so many other 2016-era prospects – but he’s still a useful player.
He has a 108 wRC+ over his last 300 MLB plate appearances and has had some hot stretches offensively. Frazier will likely get a few innings in the corner outfield at some steady at-bats as a DH in Stanton’s absence. I think Frazier can be a helpful player right now and I hope he makes the most of it for his sake: he’d be on another MLB roster regularly right now. It’s not his fault the Yankees are so damn good.
5. Home Sweet Home: Finally, the Yankees return to New York. Just 4 of their 16 games (25%) of their games have been played in Yankee Stadium so far. They had a “home” game in Citizens Bank Park, but that doesn’t count. Most of the games have been road games
That is about to change. 15 of the next 19 games will take place in Yankee Stadium. Of the other four, two will be at Citi Field. (The other two are in Atlanta.) In other words, 17 of the next 19 games will be in New York City. The next extended road trip isn’t until September 3rd, when they head to Baltimore and Buffalo. That’s good news for the Yankees, who are truly dominant at home. Let’s hope they keep that advantage rolling even without fans.