Good morning everyone. And it is indeed a good morning — the Yankees have won the first two of this week’s series against the Rays at Tropicana Field and go for the sweep tonight. It’s really nice to finally see the team win a couple of games at that awful excuse of a ballpark. With that out of the way, let’s get to some of my Yankees-related thoughts.
On the catcher situation. I understand why the Yankees turned to Kyle Higashioka more than Gary Sánchez toward the end of last month, but at this point, we’re starting to see Higgy’s limitations as a near-everyday player. Keep in mind that this is someone who hasn’t caught a significant workload since 2016, when he caught 102 games split between Double-A and Triple-A.
After starting .320/.414/.880 (250 wRC+) with four homers in his first 29 plate appearances, the 31 year-old backstop is hitting .087/.192/.261 (31 wRC+) with one homer in his last 26 trips to the plate. He’s also struck out 11 times (42.3 percent). I know, I know — we’ve seen Sánchez slump like this and Higashioka is the better defender (by pitch framing, in particular: Higashoka is Statcast’s 98th percentile).
Since April 14th, both Sánchez and Higashioka have played in 14 games. Gary did DH one of those games, leaving Higgy with a slight majority of games caught. And as Mike Axisa pointed out on the RAB Patreon, the catching situation has effectively become a personal catcher platoon. Higashioka has caught all games in the last three turns for Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, and Domingo Germán. On the flip side, Sánchez has been behind the plate for Jameson Taillon and Jordan Montgomery. I have no concerns defensively about this, but from an offensive perspective, I don’t really like a 60/40 split in favor of Higgy. It should be the other way around, if anything. Not to mention that it’s been a long time since Higashioka has had this sort of workload.
And aside from workload concerns, opposing teams will adjust to Higashioka over time. He’s not going to keep hitting homers every dozen at-bats or so.
Higashioka is basically a dead red fastball hitter. He’s got a .348 batting average and 1.000 slugging percentage against heaters this season, whereas breaking balls give him fits (.045 BA, .182 SLG, 45.2 percent whiff rate). He had similar woes last season, when he hit .333/.704 against fastballs and .154/.154 against breakers. Sure, Higgy will capitalize on a hanger, but he’s going to see more secondary pitches the more he plays. I’m a little surprised we haven’t quite seen that happen yet:
Higashioka’s expected stats aren’t very good against non-fastballs, either. His xBA is .098 and xSLG is .132 against breaking balls this season. It was a bit better last year (.211/.414), but still not great. He hasn’t seen too many changeups (only 47 pitches since last season), so there’s not much to make on those yet.
Sánchez can struggle against non-fastballs too, but at least he appears to have the ability to punish all pitches. His xSLG against fastballs (.492), breaking balls (.501), and offspeed pitches (.456) indicates a decent balance this season. Last year, he was better against fastballs and changeups in terms of xSLG (.489 and .480) compared to breaking balls (.332). The batting averages and expected batting averages are all extremely low, but at least you know he can crush one when he gets it. Plus, there’s this:
That’s a lot of good red. The whiffs make it hard for Gary to reach his potential, and his framing is a drawback, but I’m far more confident in him outproducing Higgy offensively in the long run. I’m not asking for Gary to play everyday again — just maybe a flip to 60/40 in his favor rather than the other way around.
I’m expecting a good outing from Jameson Taillon tonight. Jordan Montgomery and Gerrit Cole shut down Tampa Bay the last two nights, and there’s no reason that Taillon won’t do the same this evening. Frankly, the Rays offense stinks. Meanwhile, Taillon is coming off his longest outing of the season (6.1 innings against the Nationals) and hopefully can build off that later today.
One thing to watch for tonight: Taillon’s fastball usage. He’s deemphasized it in his last few outings:
Opponents have done some damage against his heater this season, which he’s used 48.4 percent of the time overall. He’s allowed five of his seven homers on the pitch. However, Statcast indicates that he’s been a little bit unlucky with it. He has an xBA and xSLG of .189 and .403, respectively, on his four-seamer. This lags behind his results: .265 BA and .612 SLG.
Perhaps the results have made him shy away from it in recent appearances, but it’s still a very good pitch. No, he doesn’t throw as hard as he did in Pittsburgh, but he’s still put up an impressive 30.8 percent whiff rate against on the offering.
Considering how helpless the Rays looked against Cole’s high heat last night, I wonder if we see Taillon ramp up his fastball usage. No one will mistake Taillon’s fastball for Cole’s, of course. Then again, the same can be said about Montgomery, who was also was pretty successful with his four-seamer on Tuesday too.
Also pay attention to tonight’s starter’s changeup. Taillon’s reintroduced the pitch in his last three starts after apparently shelving it for much of April. We know how much the Yankees like changeups, after all.
Speaking of changeups, let’s take a look at Wandy Peralta. Did we mention the Yankees like changeups? Check out what Peralta is up to:
April 30th was Peralta’s first game in pinstripes, and well well well. The organization’s mantra has already rubbed off on him. And in incredibly small sample size theater, Peralta hasn’t allowed a run (and just one baserunner) in five outings (3.1 IP) with the Yankees. He’s also struck out five of eleven batters faced. That’ll do. Here’s a good one:
Now, Peralta already threw his changeup a lot with the Giants. Last year, he used it 31.4 percent of the time (he only went to his slider more — 33.2 percent). He had success with it last year too, and it seems like the Yankees identified him as someone who would fit well into the team’s pitching strategy. So far, so good. Aaron Boone clearly trusts him more than Justin Wilson already.
- Tyler Wade had a pretty brutal game offensively yesterday. After striking out in his first at-bat against Ryan Yarbrough, he got to 3-0 against him to lead off the sixth. He took strike one, then chased ball four to ground out to start the frame. Just a terrible approach. Then, after an infield single in the eighth, he got thrown out stealing to end the inning with Giancarlo Stanton up. Inexcusable. Strange to say this, but: get well soon, Rougned Odor
- Aaron Hicks is hitting .303/.415/.455 (150 wRC+) over the last two weeks (41 plate appearances). His sac fly last night was the deciding run of the game. His shin is definitely still bothering him after fouling a pitch off it over the weekend. At least it’s starting to look like he’s coming out of his early season swoon
- By wRC+, the Yankees are tied with Cleveland for the lowest left field offensive production in 2021 (64 wRC+). Can’t say anyone expected that this season, particularly after Clint Frazier’s breakout in 2020. He and Brett Gardner have been black holes in the lineup. Some folks have called for Miguel Andújar to get some reps in left, but the Yankees have already returned him to Triple-A upon Luke Voit’s return. I’m still confident in Clint turning it around, though.