OK, I admit it

Posted by Baseball Bob at 12:02
May 242017

OK, OK, I confess. I post more faithfully when the Yankees are winning. What can I say?

They have been struggling recently; some of the early season success stories (Headley, Ellsbury, Romine, Torreyes) have been pretty bad, and the Yankees lead the AL in HRs but recently they are climbing the leaderboard in HR allowed, as well. For example, last night rookie Jordan Montgomery pitched his best game of the season: after 6 IP he had faced 19 batters, allowing only one scratch single. NY led 2-0 on two solo HRs. But he allowed a HR in the 7th, and left leading 2-1. Warren, Holder and Layne allowed a HR each, and they lost 6-2. I think they have lost 8 of 12 or something like that. So it is not that much fun to write.

I am working on a simple projection system to try to guess how a team will finish based on its start plus its projection.

In my mind, there are three elements to consider:

  1. Record to date – obviously, whether lucky or great or bad, the wins and losses to date are in the books, and barring a pine tar incident (don’t know that one? You are young, my friend. Look it up, it’s really a good yarn) they aren’t going to be taken away.
  2. Runs scored and runs allowed – this is the basic measure of team performance, even more than wins. If a team is, say, 25-10 but has scored 150 runs and allowed 160, that is clear evidence that they are NOT a .700 team (.714 actually) but if they are 25-10 and score 250 while allowing only 160, that IS some indication that they are a .700 team.
  3. Preseason projection – some sites (e.g. Fangraphs) update their projections daily, but then I should just use their projections. I think they don’t really take into account true increases, and I’m trying to do something simpler.

I’m not done, but here’s a peek:

Suppose we think of their likely result as follows:

The first X games are their record right now. Let’s call YTD% the percentage of the season already in the books (X / 162). Then we could say that the balance of the season projection should be YTD% based on 2017, and 100 – YTD% based on preseason projection. So my proposed formula, would be something like:

Record after X games + Pythagorean projection % for the next YTD% times (162 – X) games, plus Preseason projection % times remaining games.

For example:

Yankees are 26-17

43 games is 26.5% of the season

Yankees preseason consensus record was 82-80 which is .506

Yankees have scored 238 runs while allowing 185. By the Pythagorean principle, they “deserve” a winning percentage of .623 (actual winning percentage .605)

So by this theory, they project to:

26-17 + 20-12 (.623 over 26.5% of remaining games) + 44-43 (.506 over the rest) = 90-72

As the season progresses, of course, the games in the books account for more of the total, AND the way those wins and losses were compiled accounts for more of the remainder of the season, and the preseason expectation accounts for less.

I have time for one more, let’s do the Red Sox.

Sox are 23-21

44 games is 27.2% of season

Sox preseason consensus was 95-67 which is .586

Sox have scored 207 and allowed 194, a deserved winning percentage of .532

Projection: 23-21 + 17-15 + 50-38 = 90-72

Maybe there’s something wrong with my methodology, and everyone projects to 90-72. But I think what this says is that my method predicts a tight race between the Sox and Yanks. Maybe I’ll do the Orioles tomorrow.

Go Yankees!

May 182017

Sorry friends. It’s been years since I was truly excited about a Yankee team, and when I have only a little time I can’t seem to focus very often on anything else. One of these days I’ll have several hours to spare and I’ll write about what has happened to the Giants, or the Mets, or the Astros or the Twins. But for now, NYY it is.

The Yankees have scored 7 or more runs four games in a row. Last night they actually scored 11, and that game was started by the MLB ERA leader. OK, Jason Vargas was a bogus ERA leader (4.00+ career and a long career) but he started the day at 1.01 (!) and had allowed 0 or 1 run in 6 of 7 starts, 5 ER overall. So I was thrilled when they scratched across a first-inning run (Gardner single, Castro 2-out double) but it looked like Pineda was going to struggle (first inning included a single, a steal and a wild pitch). The predicted pitcher’s duel seemed to materialize over the next two innings, as Vargas allowed nothing at all, and Pineda only a walk, plus a couple of hard-hit outs.

Then in the top of the fourth with one out, Castro hit a fly ball that induced a rare misplay from Cain: he started back, looped left and forward, dove, made the catch, and flopped awkwardly to the ground. His wrist bent back (ouch – it reminded me of a play that cost Matsui most of a season) and the ball bounced out for a double. Cain appeared to be all right, he stayed in the game. Perhaps today’s lineup will tell us something. Judge then had an interesting at bat: he took three straight out of the zone, for a 3-0 count. Turned loose on the 3-0, he took a swing that would have put a 87-mph fastball into ORBIT, only Vargas threw him a 3-0 changeup and Judge was WAY out in front. On 3-1, same pitch, same swing, same result. Aaron did not come close to making contact with either pitch. Now the mind-game: does Vargas come back with the fastball, or stay with the change? And if the latter, is Judge sitting on it? Answer: he threw another change, not in the zone, and Judge did not even flinch. Walk, runners on first and second. Headley flied out on a 2-2 pitch, and my thought was “here we go again!” But Didi pulled a 1-2 pitch to right, they sent Castro with two outs, and when the throw missed the cutoff Judge took third as Castro beat the ball home. 2-0 Yankees. Hicks watched 4 pitches go by (strike, ball, strike, ball) and then belted a 3-run homer to left. 5-0 Yankees. Ken Singleton called the homer a “rally killer” (more like a rally finisher I’d say) but anyway there were now 2 outs and no one on, so you’d think the rally was done. Think again: Carter, he of the .200 batting average, singled through the shift (INTO it, not the other way) and Gardner pulled the ball into the right field gap. With 2 outs Carter is running as hard as he can from contact (I am not sure he is actually faster than I am, though I’d probably have a heart attack running 270 feet in a circle as fast as I can go) and the coach sent him. Gardner at that point is rounding second but continues on to third as Carter actually beats the throw home. The gave Gardner a triple, which is fine with me, though I personally would score it a double and takes third on the throw. But he didn’t visibly hesitate, and he MIGHT have made third even if the throw had been cut off so I guess it’s fair. 6-0 and the Yankees had scored more earned runs off Vargas in 3 2/3 innings than his other 7 opponents combined. Vargas’ ERA doubled to 2.03 (still pretty good, though).

Pineda gave up 2 singles and a HR in the bottom of the fourth, but it was only 2 runs because the first single was followed by a DP. Big lead, throw strikes, but he was hit pretty hard. And then the Yankees did something that has been missing from their repertoire for about 5 years: they didn’t stop hitting with the lead. Having batted around in the fourth, Castro got to lead of the fifth and he singled. Judge got a 3-1 count, saw a pitch he liked but swung through it, and then resisted the temptation to swing at a ball out of the zone for his second walk in two innings. Headley singled, Castro scoring, Gregorius singled, Judge scoring, and Hicks walked, loading the bases with no outs. Carter was 3 for 4 on this night, but this is the other one: a ground ball to short. They got the force at second and the speedy (???) Carter beat the relay to first for an RBI (run would have scored anyway). Gardner then hit a sac fly to make it 10-2, and Carter motored into second (he is beginning to BELIEVE that he can run!). Sanchez then drilled the ball to left field, and Carter attempted to score. There was a close play, he was called safe, but it was reversed (correctly) on review. But NY had an 8 run lead. Pineda allowed another HR (10-3) in the fifth. At this point the only Yankees without a hit were Judge (2 walks though) and Holliday. Both took care of this with singles in the sixth, but no runs scored. For good measure the Yankees loaded the bases AGAIN with no outs in the 8th and with Judge at the plate. Sadly, he struck out, but they scored another run on an out, and won 11-4.

Well, no, actually. In the bottom of the ninth, with the score 11-4, the Yankees gave a brief audition to Mike Gallegos. His job, as my son Joe would say, was to create a save for Betances, which is a tall task with NY up by 7. But Gallegos was up to the task: He started single, strike out, fly out – one on with one more out needed. Four straight singles plated 3 runs, and voila! He had done it. The Yankees now led by 4, but the tying run was on deck, the very definition of a save, so Betances came out of the pen, induced Hosmer to tap back to him, and notched the save. Somehow, I don’t think Gallegos will get much credit for this outing, even though he got his job done, creating the save.

This was Pineda’s worst start since his first of the year, and I guess he struggled, but actually I though he was pretty good. His game score (49) is ordinary, but he basically gave up NOTHING until he had a big lead. Then he began to pour in strikes, and a couple of them got turned around. He threw 57 strikes out of 98 pitches, and I’m pretty satisfied with the outing. This was a fun game to watch only if you are a fan – they put it away in the middle innings, and I’m sure it was boring for most people after that. But I’m having fun watching this team and enjoyed it all. With Baltimore’s loss they lead the Orioles by 1 1/2 and the Red Sox by 4.

Fun times.

May 122017

The Yankees were dominated by Houston pitching last night. They actually managed some baserunners, especially in the late innings (no so much against Keuchel in the first 6) but were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position. Pineda was good but not great (GS 56, 3 ER in 6.2 IP) but they trailed 3-1 in the ninth inning. They managed to get two on base and in fact had a classic finale set up: 2 runners in scoring position, two outs, fast runner (Ellsbury) on second, and Gary Sanchez at the plate. Four possible outcomes, in order of likelihood: 1) strike out, 2) hard hit out, 3) game-tying hit, 4) walk-off home run.

The fates dictated a sad variant on #3 – a game-winning hard single to left field, followed by a game-saving perfect throw from Marisnick to nail Ellsbury at home and preserve a 3-2 win (Win: Keuchel, Save: Marisnick). The send was automatic and correct – it takes a perfect throw to get the speedy Ellsbury (reached the catcher on the fly!) so that even though he was out “by a mile” I would say the odds that he scores on that play were above 90%. Add in that Marisnick was not even in the game at the start (normal left-fielder Aoki started (no way Aoki throws out Ellsbury) and you get my frustration.

New York fell a half game behind idle Baltimroe for the division race, and Houston moved to 24-11 on the season.

Busy today – maybe a longer post tomorrow.

I still love this game, though, even when it frustrates me.

Back on Top

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:31
May 112017

Brilliant play by the Yankees pushes them back to the best record in Baseball, a massive .001 ahead of Houston, which is their next opponent. The play, of course, was in taking the day off, while Baltimore was blowing a 6-2 lead after 7 and falling to Washington 7-6. Houston is actually a half-game up on New York, but their records are so gaudy that playing 3 extra games and going 2-1 HURTS your winning percentage. Yankees are 21-10 .677 and Astros are 23-11 .676. Yea for us!

And don’t look now, but here come the Dodgers. Winners of 5 straight and 8 of 10, they have passed surprise team #1 Arizona and now have surprise team #2 Colorado in their sights – they trail the Rockies by 1 1/2 games. Their run differential is +53, second to the Yankees (+56) in all of MLB. The Nats are +51, but the drop from there is more precipitous: Astros +40, Snakes +23, everyone else below +20. On the negative side, the Giants are an amazing -68 and the Padres are right there with them at -58. The Royals are -45, and there are three teams in the thirties: A’s -37, Braves -35, Pirates -33. These run differentials mostly track a team’s record, but when they don’t, is usually means a team is under or over performing in the W-L department. So the Orioles, at 22-11 but with a differential of just +13 are unlikely to be as good as the Yankees, with essentially the same record (21-10) but +56.

Looking ahead to the Houston at New York 4-game series, you might well think that the Astros have the edge. Thursday pits Dallas Keuchel vs. Michael Pineda, a clear edge for Houston. Friday it’s Lance McCullers (2-1 3.40) against rookie Jordan Montgomery (2-1 3.81), again edge to Houston. Saturday Fiers vs. Severino clearly favors New York, and Sunday Morton (4-2 3.63 vs. Tanaka (5-1 4.36) which appears to favor Houston. What equalizes this series is the fact that NY is dominant at home (12-3) and Tanaka has been very good since a couple of bad starts that balooned his ERA. I won’t predict the series, but I do think that the most likely outcome is a split. The Yankees haven’t lost a series since April 21-23 at Pittsburgh and have won every home series of the year. The Astros have been good on the road (9-5) and have won their past 4 series, though only one of those (Angels) was on the road. Fun times!

The Orioles have one more game against the Nats, and then they get the woeful Royals for 3 games: I look for them to gain a game on New York over the next four games.

I love this game!

Still Going

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:03
May 092017

The Yankees won their 6th straight last night, scoring 10 runs and getting length from Tanaka, ameliorating the concern about a depleted bullpen. They scored 3 in the first to take the pressure off, and than added on throughout the game. It really never felt like Cincy was going to get in the game, and they didn’t (final 10-4). They had a TON of baserunners: 13 hits, 7 walks, 3 HBP (all in the same inning!), 1 by error, 1 by fielder’s choice. They left 11 on base, which is a high number, but normal-to-low when you score 10 runs. The Reds numbers were more typical: 12 baserunners, 4 runs and 6 LOB.

The Yankees, of course, continue to sport the best record in the game (hard to lose that distinction if you win) but the second best record is in their own division: the Orioles who have almost matched this streak (5 straight) are 21-10 to the Yankees 21-9, 1/2 game behind. Many pre-season prognosticators had these two teams 4-5 in the division. That could still be true, of course, as it is early days. But most projection systems now have the Yankees winning something like 93-95 games, due to their hot start and their run differential. The Yankees are +58, best in baseball, but the Orioles are only +13. Thus the projection systems see them as lucky, and are still only projecting them in the 84-86 win stage, despite the hot start. I would buy more into this were it not for the fact that Baltimore under Showalter has outperformed its run differential EVERY SINGLE YEAR since Buck arrived. That makes it hard for me to bet against them doing it again, though I know that it is likely that  SOME team will outperform its pythagorean projection five years running.

The Dodgers are on a tear (3 straight, 8 of 10) and seem in the process of reestablishing order in the NL West. They have passed the Diamondbacks and are within 2 of the Rockies, and seem destined to soon be ahead of both. And the Indians are back on top of the AL Central as the Twins and White Sox return to earth. As Houston and Washington, preseason favorites both, are well ahead in their own divisions, and the Cubs were back on top until they ran into the Yankee buzz saw, it now appears that the only division in which the original favorite is favorite no more is the famed AL East. The Red Sox are playing better, but hardly seem like the juggernaut that they projected to be.

FanGraphs is the only place that still projects the Red Sox to triumph over the Yankees (91 wins to 90) at this moment – most sites have NY ahead by 2-4 games. Everyone still projects the Indians, Astros, Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers though.

Tuesdays are busy for me. More tomorrow I hope.

May 082017

Yes, the Yankees currently sport the best record in baseball. The margin is razor thin: they are 20-9 .690. The Nationals are 21-10 .677, The Astros and Orioles are 20-10 .667. Thus NY is the only team in baseball who has not reached double-digits in losses. In (the unlikely) case you were wondering, the 1998 Yankees didn’t lose their 10th game until their 41st game (thanks for asking) so this edition, to match that 31-9 record, would need to add 11 more wins to their current 5-game win streak. Pretty unlikely, I would say.

Last night they had a BAD game. They wasted a great start from Severino (GS 73) but built a 4-1 lead entering the ninth inning. Cue Aroldis Chapman. Ooops: 2 K, 3 H, 2 W, 1 HBP and Chapman departs with a BS (Blown Save. Shame on you!), a YIKES! and 36 pitches thrown. First time this year he has been pulled mid-inning. Clippard stopped the bleeding and pitched another inning. Warren pitched 2 innings despite having thrown more than an inning the night before. Holder had pitched more than an inning (1.2) only once this season, so naturally he pitched 3 scoreless innings. The Chasen Shreve, who was in AAA a couple of days ago, came on. He hasn’t exceeded a single inning all season, and HE went 3 innings as well. Who knows who might have pitched if the game went another inning (Ronald Torreyes?)

The game lasted 18 innings, 6 hours and 5 minutes, both records for interleague play and for longest game this season to date. The Yankees struck out 22 times, besting (worsting?) by FIVE their previous high. But they also struck out 26 (!!) Cubs, besting by SEVEN their previous best, and the combined 48 strikeouts between the teams bested the all-time MLB record by FIVE.

Such inept offensive effort (or superb pitching) could not end with a home run, or even a double/single. It ended with a bunt single (a good throw gets him) and a bad throw, putting Hicks on second with no outs. A bunt by Torreyes put him at third with the infield in, and a ground ball by Castro and bad throw by Addison Russell scored him in the 18th. Shreve, dead tired, got two on with two out (visions of a single tying the game and it CONTINUING) but no, a strikeout (what else) ended it with NY on top 5-4, and in first place. Whoo-hoo.

Castro, Gregorius, Headley and Romine, the original 5-6-7-8 hitters in the Yankee lineup, were a combined 0 for 30 (!) and Castro say his league leading batting average fall by .023 and STILL lead the league (he was 0 for 8 but still drove in the winning run). Whew!

Who predicted that the Yankees and Reds would open a series on May 8 with both of them in first place? Not I, that is for sure! Go Yankees.

May 062017

The Yankees were stifled last night by the World Champion Cubs. While they out-hit the Cubs, with 9 hits in 8 innings to the Cubs 4, the Yankees were 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position (and that one hit did not drive in a run), the Cubs had 2 HRs in their four hits and sported a 2-0 lead. But Wade Davis had been used for three consecutive nights, so they called on Hector Rondon to close out the game. Gregorius grounded out on a 2-2 count to open the frame, but Headley hit a 3-1 fastball to left for a single. What must the Cubs thought about the Yankee lineup when they saw that 2016 NL Home Run leader Chris Carter was batting eighth? Anyway, Carter came up and Rondon’s first pitch went to the backstop, Headley taking second. This was relevant, of course, because Carter has not three but four true outcomes: HR, K, BB, GIDP 😉 Carter did his thing, getting to 0-2, fouling off 3 of the next four pitches while taking one ball, and striking out on a 1-2 slider that broke back over the plate. 2 out, 1 on. Ellsbury pinch hit for Holder (the pitcher) and the bat never left his shoulder in a 5-pitch walk. This brought up Gardner, who up until 5 games before had NO RBI on the season, but who had had a recent hot streak. After 3 pitches in which there were no swings, he was down in the count 1-2 and forced to swing. He fouled off two good pitches, took a ball outside, and the stage was set. The catcher called for the ball low and outside, it was actually low and inside (probably not a strike), but Gardner saw it clearly, swung low and met it squarely, and put it about 6 rows deep in the rightfield stands, fairly near the line but in no danger of being foul, nor of being caught, despite a wind that was blowing in. 3-2 Yankees. And Chapman and Betances were BOTH available. Headley made a two-base error on the leadoff batter, but with Chapman on the mound it didn’t matter: strikeout, groundout, strikeout and NY moved to 18-9.

It broke a long Cubs streak: the previous 152 times they entered the ninth inning with a 2-run lead they had won the game. And in only a couple of them had they given up the tying run and won it in extra innings (like the Yankees loss to Toronto, where they turned a 4-2 deficit into a 4-4 game dramatically, but lost 7-4 in 11).

But some prognosticators have stopped dismissing the hot start out of hand, and think the Yankee resurgence may well be real. Their pitching is erratic (Sabathia has 3 great starts and 3 awful starts, for example) but overall pretty solid, they are scoring a bunch of runs and it’s not just Aaron Judge, and while some players (Headley, Castro, Hicks, Judge) figure to get worse, others (Sanchez, Bird, Gardner) figure to get better. It IS a scary lineup; 41-HR Carter WAS batting 8th in an NL park. ESPN currently projects them for 97 wins – no one else in the AL East projects for more than 85. I don’t buy those numbers, but I do think they might win in the low 90s, and that might be enough to win the division.

It’s certainly early days. but last year they won 84 games with an 8-17 start. if they only play as well as they did the rest of last year, hardly a blistering pace, they’ll win 92 games and be in the hunt all season. And they could well be better than that.

For sure they’ll be more fun.

This time each year there are several articles published which give surprise players/teams and disappointing players/teams. Perhaps booms and busts. Or breakouts and brokens. This post is not one of them. You’re welcome. It is also not about the current Yankees, who were off yesterday, even though there is plenty to write about them (still leading the division, Judge tied with Trout and Sale for best fWAR, and leads everyone in bWAR).

What caught my eye today was a truly surprising stat: since leaving the Yankees, Ivan Nova, for Pittsburgh, has MORE COMPLETE GAMES THAN WALKS ALLOWED!! Really? Yes, last year for the Pirates he had three of each, and this year so far he has two complete game and only one strikeout. Now THAT’S a stat. So what I got to wondering is about the trades that the Yankees made at the deadline last year. You’ll remember that there were a slew of them, and Cashman was widely praised for reducing payroll while restocking the farm system, now rated one of the best in baseball. Bill James says you can’t evaluate a trade for at least 5 years, but it is more FUN to do it now. Here we go:

Ivan Nova to Pittsburgh for two players to be named. This was a straight “get middling prospects for a soon-to-be-free-agent” trade, designed to help the Pirates to the postseason. It also opened up a rotation slot for the Yankees to evaluate some possibly-ready AAA starting pitching talent, since they were (presumably) going nowhere themselves. Of course, they kind of got back into the wild card race and possibly could have used Nova, but he was inconsistent for them (7-5 4.90) and would be gone in two months. So who did they get? Tito Polo was a 21-year-old center fielder who played mostly for class A West Virginia and class A+ Bradenton and was named essentially after the season (August 30). He was a half year younger than league average at class A where he hit .302/.368/.551/919 and 1.7 years younger than average at A+ where he hit .276/.351/.346/697. He is on no one’s top prospects list, but a player who is hitting well below age level, and (sort of) holding his own WAY below age level has value. For what it’s worth, this year at A+ Tampa he is so far essentially duplicating last year’s numbers (OPS 699) and is 0.8 below the age average. Stephen Tarpley was also named on August 30, and was a 23-year-old pitcher who was 6-4 4.32 at Bradenton, where he was almost exactly league average. He hasn’t pitched at all this year, starting the year on the Class A DL. I’m quite sure Pittsburgh is delighted with this trade, while the Yankees are probably indifferent.

Carlos Beltran (and cash) to Texas for RHP Nick Green, RHP Erik Swanson and RHP Dillon Tate. Nick Green turned 22 in March, and played in 2016 in A- and A as a starting pitcher, where he was 0.3 and 0.8 years younger than league respectively. His combined line was 6-3 3.34 and his best work was done in class A (3-0 1.59). He is back there this year, off to a bit of a rough start (2-3 4.18) and he is now 0.3 above league average age. Erik Swanson is now 23 and in A+, where he is stretching out to be a starter, and is 0-0 1.50 so far in two starts, 12 IP. Dillon Tate was the true lottery ticket of this trade, a former #1 pick (4th overall) who turned 23 this past week, and has yet to impress. His career 4.29 ERA at low minor league levels is not really good, and he started the year on the DL. So mostly it looks like the Yankees missed on this trade, so far, and Beltran was great for Texas, so I suspect they don’t regret the trade. But of course the Yankees gave up nothing but two months of Beltran, and those two months were spent getting Judge over the MLB yips so he could become the monster he has been so far.

Vicente Campos to Arizona for Tyler Clippard. Campos (as Jose!) was the Seattle throw-in in the Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero, and for a time looked like the most valuable piece of the trade (all the others having negative WAR, and he having no MLB result). And the Yankees flipped him for Tyler Clippard. Campos has one MLB appearance, pitching 5.2 innings of relief in a 13-0 loss, allowing 2 ER for an ERA of 3.18. This outing was not, actually, good though: he gave up 2 HR, 3 Hits, 3 Runs (2 earned) and walked 2. He was put on waivers by Arizona at the close of the season, and claimed by the Angels. He has started one game at AAA and one game at AA and was shelled both times, but he is still only 24 and could become something, I suppose. Meanwhile Clippard, formerly a Yankee who was traded even up for Jonathan Albaladejo and became a mainstay in the Nationals bullpen, was really struggling (2-3 4.30) in the D-backs pen, and the Yankees took a flyer on him. He replaced Andrew Miller in the Yankee scheme (no mean feat!) pitching 25.1 innings of 2-3 2.49 in their flirtation with last year’s pennant race, not exactly Andrew Miller but not chopped liver either. Now installed as the main 7th inning guy, his year-to-date is 11.2 IP, 0-1 1.54. I think it is safe to say that so far the Yankees have easily won this trade.

Andrew Miller to Cleveland for RHP Ben Heller, CF Clint Frazier, RHP J.P. Feyereisen, LHP Justus Sheffield. This one could obviously go either way. Cleveland is surely delighted with Miller, who not only pitched them into the World Series (which they ALMOST won, and he would have been the MVP I think) but he was NOT a rental – they have two more years of possibly the best reliever in baseball. The Yankee half is less clear: if they still had Miller, they might be even better than they have been so far, and none of the prospects they got have made an impact in the majors so far. Heller did get a September callup and appeared in 10 games. While his ERA was ugly (6.43) my metric has him as 7 effective, 2 ineffective, 1 yikes for a score of 3 in 10 appearances, which is a short sample grade of B. He will turn 26 in August, so he is probably not destined for stardom, but he could be a useful bullpen piece, though off to a bad start this season in AAA. Clint Frazier is an exciting outfielder, and a real prospect. He turned 22 in September, and is currently in AAA, 4.7 (!) years younger than league average. A former first round pick (#5 overall) he dominated AA but was overmatched last year in AAA, posting a 674 OPS in 30 games. So far this year he has been better, with a .239/.340/.477/817 line in 24 games. Still quite young, he projects to be a decent ML outfielder and has played all three outfield positions. If things broke right for him, he could be the Yankees CF of the future. Feyereisen is a lottery-ticket reliever, now 24 and still in AA but in part that is due to the glut in the Yankee system. He is more like another trade chip than a future Yankee, but he dominated AA last year at age 23 (1.5 below average age) so he clearly has upside. Sheffield is an exciting starting pitcher prospect, who at age 21 in A+ last year was 10-6 3.09 and has moved up to AA this season. He could be a solid rotation piece. So the optimism of the prospects in this trade has not faded, and I don’t think that the Yankees (yet) regret making it, though their surprise contention this season could change that calculus.

Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for RHP Adam Warren, SS Gleyber Torres, RF Billy McKinney, OF Rashad Crawford. Warren, another former Yankee, had been traded to Chicago in the 2015-16 offseason for Starlin Castro. Castro is not a long-term solution at second base, but was a MAJOR upgrade over the likes of Stephen Drew (and, sadly, Rob Refsnyder) and Brendan Ryan, who in fact was included in the deal for Castro. Warren had been great for the Yankees, with seasons of 3.39, 2.97, 3.29 and I hated to see him go. Castro was good enough, though, and the bullpen was fine without him. He did not pitch well at Wrigley (3-2 5.91) so Chicago was delighted when the Yankees agreed to take him and his salary back in this deal. His 2016 NYY numbers were right in line with his previous Yankee experience: 3.26 ERA. This year he has so far been totally lights out: he retired the first 22 batters he faced (!) and currently sports an 0.63 ERA. Welcome back! Torres of course was the centerpiece of the package, and is currently rated the #2 prospect in all of baseball (and #1 is in the majors), several slots ahead of Judge. He is very young (he turns 20 in December) and was great for the Yanks in spring training as well as being the MVP of the Arizona Fall League. He is likely to be a Yankee regular in the infield as early as next season; perhaps he will play second for Castro or third for Headley, or perhaps he will displace Didi to man one of those positions. His AFL line was scary: .403, .513, .645, 1158 and he has been good in AA Trenton so far this year (829 OPS) so here he comes. I expect a September callup and an early season 2018 permanent arrival (we get an extra year of control if he starts the season in AAA and comes up around May 15). All signs are positive, except that perhaps he won’t stick at SS which is OK, since Didi seems solid there (for what little it is worth, he has no errors so far this season, having played SS, 2B and 3B). Billy McKinney is a 22-year-old outfielder currently struggling in AA (though he hit fine there for Chicago); a lottery ticket. Rashad Crawford is exactly the same – an OF struggling with AA though he did not do as well in A+ as McKinney. Neither is in the Yankees top 25 prospects, but both are very young and could surprise. I suspect Chicago is happy with their World Series win, in which Chapman played a big role, and they didn’t need another infielder, so they are probably content with this trade, but the Yankees appear to have gotten a TON for 2 months of Chapman, whom they got back via free agency.

In short, 8 months later the trades look as enticing as ever.

And to add one more: in 2014 the Yankees traded backup catcher Francisco Cervelli to the Pirates for Justin Wilson. Cervelli has been fine for Pittsburgh, who probably don’t regret the trade at all. But Wilson was great for NYY in 2015 (5-0 3.10 in 61 IP) and in that offseason he was traded for Chad Green AND Luis Cessa, two legitimate candidates for the rotation, and he struggled for Detroit (4-5 4.14) last year, though he has been go so far in 2017. A great sequence for New York.

Kudos to Brian Cashman. He had first to convince Hal Steinbrenner to sell at the deadline, no mean task, and THEN he had to actually do it to good effect. To all appearances, he managed both brilliantly, and the Yankee future looks pretty bright.

 

 

May 012017

Frustrating loss for the Yankees yesterday: they left a ton of men on base (16!), got a good pitching performance from rookie Jordan Montgomery (5 innings of 1-run, 3-hit, 7K, 2BB ball, which is a game score of 62. He came out for the sixth, walked the first two batters (GS now 60), and Holder came in and allowed both runners to score (GS 52) plus allowing a run of his own (yikes) to put them down 4-2. Lots of scoring chances, but no scoring until a bizarre ninth inning.

With one out Holliday singled, which (as Michael Kaye) pointed out, assured Judge a chance to tie the game with a HR unless Castro hit into a DP. So, of course, Castro grounded a DP ball to Machado at third. Machado made the play and a quick throw, but Schoop was a bit slow on the pivot and Castro, to his credit, was busting it for all he was worth down the line and beat the relay to save Judge’s ups. Judge, of course, took a strike (which was a questionable call) and then four balls, putting the tying run at first base. The Orioles made a pickoff attempt which should have had Castro picked cleanly off to end the game but 1) the pitcher did not pivot on the mound but rather took 2-3 steps and so didn’t get the throw off fast, and 2) thew it off-line. Hardy, the shortstop, lunged for the ball, missed it (it went into centerfield) and landed on Castro, preventing him from going to third (which he might or might not have done, Schoop chased the ball down pretty quickly). The umpires conferred and put the runners on second and third.

The announcers called it a balk, which it could be deemed to be though neither I nor David Cone could see it, MLB NY called it obstruction which I think needs to be intentional (it clearly wasn’t) but then changed it back to a balk. A bad call, I think, no matter what. Anyway, now the tying run is in scoring position, with Headley at the plate. Headley takes four straight (!) balls to load the bases for Didi, which was according to plan for Baltimore, I think, because they brought in Hart, their death-to-lefties specialist. Maybe they didn’t read his press clippings: Didi last year batted .324 against lefties, best in MLB by a left-handed batter. And in the three games since his return from the DL he was batting .500. He took two balls and a strike, and stroked a single to left to tie the game, and put runners on the corners. Carter predictably struck out to send the game into extra innings tied at 4.

Here’s where the game gets bizarre. Girardi had used Brian Mitchell to pitch the ninth, and now realized that he had only two pitchers available, and neither could go more than an inning! So he had to win it by the 11th or have to pitch Torreyes or someone. So he hatched a plot: he moved Mitchell, still in the game, to FIRST BASE, and brought in Chapman to pitch the 10th. The idea was that Mitchell, who competed to be in the rotation, could go multiple innings, so he would play first while Chapman pitched, and then come back to the mound. I will go into the flaw in this plan (besides the obvious flaw that Mitchell can’t really PLAY first base) in a minute, but first, what happened: Mitchell immediately got a foul popup near first, which he dropped for an error, and the batter now singled. After a strikeout, there was ANOTHER foul pop to first, this one Mitchell corralled (though not without difficulty) for a fielding percentage as a firstbaseman of .500. Not good, actually. Chapman recorded another strikeout to end the inning.

Romine singled to start the 10th. Gardner bunted to the pitcher, who threw to second base though EVERYONE was screaming and pointing to first, and everyone was safe. First and second, no one out. Hicks also bunted to the pitcher, and this time he had a clear shot at second, but threw to first. But now CHAPMAN is due up, because keeping Mitchell in the game cost NY the DH (as well as the first baseman) so Bird pinch hit for Chapman. He was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out for Castro. Castro hit weakly to the pitcher who threw home for the force, bringing up Judge with the bases loaded, two out. Judge on the day was 1 for 2 with 2 walks – Baltimore threw him only about 3 pitches in the zone all day. NOW they have to pitch to him, or he walks off the winning run with a walk. Ball one, here we go. Swinging strike, swinging strike, swinging strike – no contact at all. Mitchell has nothing, gives up 3 in the 11th, and they lose 7-4.

What about the Mitchell strategy? Some thoughts:

  1. The move cost you BOTH your DH AND your first baseman. They wound up hitting for Mitchell in the 11th (would they not have hit for him if the game were still tied? We’ll never know). So in effect, the move traded two hitters for one extra inning of pitching. Odd swap.
  2. The move put an ineffective first baseman on the field, though in reality this caused only heartburn and laughter, not actual baseball cost.
  3. Mitchell went 35 minutes between pitches, and got only the requisite warmup pitches to get ready for the 11th, which he obviously was not. (Well, not truly: he got 2 outs before the wheels came off)

What might Girardi have done differently?

  1. If he thought about the possibility of tying the game in the ninth, the clear strategy would be to pitch CHAPMAN in the ninth, then bring in Mitchell in the 10th. It eliminates ALL THREE of the issues above.
  2. If he assumed the game was gone, and so brought in Mitchell to get him some work and save Chapman, why not STAY WITH THE STRATEGY, and just keep Mitchell pitching. He looked good in the ninth, he was your multi-inning guy, just save Chapman and pitch him, win or lose. And have Holliday and Carter still in the game.
  3. Oops.

The Yankees are 15-8, tied with Baltimore for best record in the AL. They are no longer the best in baseball, as Washington allowed the Mets 5 runs in 4 IP (Ross GS 32 and out after 4) but POUNDED Syndergard (he allowed 5 ER and recorded 4 outs!) and then destroyed the Mets bullpen (4 relievers who went YIKES!, YIKES!, YIKES!, YIKES!) for a 23-5 shellacking. I am not sure I ever saw a game before in which a team had NO pitcher pitch even marginally well (say, a mere yikes). Sadly, after Syndergard left in the second inning (some kind of physical problem, MRI today) the Nats failed to score in the inning. Why sadly? Well, they scored IN EVERY OTHER INNING OF THE GAME. I have never seen nor heard of a team scoring in every inning of a ML game (happens in little league and softball all the time), so that would have been fun.

And Eduardo Rodriguez actually pitched well (GS 65) even as a lefty in Fenway against the world-champion Cubs (does that feel weird to you? I plan to type that often this year, just to wrap my head around it) to take the rubber game 6-2 and close back to within 2 1/2 of the Yankees and Orioles.

Fun times.

Turning Point

Posted by Baseball Bob at 10:07
Apr 292017

At some point in the season of every surprise team, there comes a turning point. That is the point where a hot start begins to realize that they are a good team, or young players begin to really believe that they belong; they can play with the big boys. When the feeling turns from “isn’t this fun? Let’s enjoy it while it lasts” to “this could really be something!”. It is absolutely impossible to detect that point when it happens; it is something to look back on and point to: no matter WHAT they say, NO Red Sox fan watched Dave Roberts steal second against Mariano in the ninth inning down 3-0 in games and behind by a run and said “This is it! The curse is over, we are going to win it all!” We can look back NOW and see that as a critical moment, a pivotal event (if he is called out, a point still in some dispute, then the Sox season is over and maybe the curse is still active today).

Thus it is VERY presumptuous of me to consider that the new look Yankees may have had such a moment last night (last 3 nights really) but I think it possible. If I hadn’t been AT Thursday’s game, last nights game would certainly be my favorite of the young season, even though (as is almost always the case) very bad things had to happen to make it such a thrill. I watched CC struggle mightily – he was in trouble all night, made some good pitches when he had to, limited the damage, but still bad things happened: an infield single, a marginal call that allowed a walk, oops 2 runs. A ball just out of reach, a good pitch hammered anyway by a great hitter, oops 2 more. Down 5-0, Judge hit his 8th HR to close to 5-1, but CC put two runners on (one real hit) and gave way to Brian Mitchell, who took runners on the corners with two outs and with walk (to Machado), HR (to Trumbo) made an in-trouble game into a laugher at 9-1. The Yankees got a run back in the bottom of the sixth, and brought up Judge with a runner at second, and he hit THE HARDEST BALL OF THE STATCAST ERA (the past 3 seasons) for a 2-run HR. The slight hope that the Yanks, now down 9-4, might get back into it were crushed when Machado hit a massive blast (much farther than Judge’s, though not as hard-hit) to stretch the lead back to 7 runs at 11-4. But the Yankees loaded the bases for Ellsbury (batting cleanup, again!) and he parked his 100th career HR and FIRST career grand slam well over the short porch in right, a HR in ANY park, and it was 11-8. Two batters later Judge, looking for his 3rd HR, struck out swinging at a bad pitch.

on to the ninth, when the Orioles ALWAYS rule, except that Zach Britton is on the DL. Still Brach, their emergency closer, was 6 for 6 in saves and hadn’t allowed a run all season, seemed up to the job of protecting a 3-run lead for an inning. But Headley did not swing at any of his six offerings, which went strike, ball, ball, ball, strike, ball and we had a baserunner. Holliday, who had come out of his funk a bit with two hits in Boston on Thursday (both off the monster) hit the ball very hard, rocketing off the right-field wall so fast that he was held to a single, Headley holding third and we were in business, first and third with no outs. Ellsbury, the seventh-inning hero, hit a fairly slow grounder up-the-middle, and Hardy, thinking double-play, tried to field it stretching with his foot on the bag, and dropped the ball. He recovered to tag out Holliday as Headley scored to make it 10-9. Up came Castro, with game-tying HR on his mind, and he swung at a pitch so hard that he went to one knee and almost fell over. But the ball went well into the stands in left for a game-tying HR. 11-11. One out later Judge came up with walk-off HR on HIS mind, and took a mammoth swing at a pitch at the knees and off the plate outside, missing badly. Brach decided that was just the pitch and threw him 4 more of them: he had learned his lesson and didn’t offer at any of them. Judge, on first, broke for second on a 2-2 pitch to Bird which appeared to us all (and to Castillo, the catcher) to be high and possibly outside, so Castillo threw for Judge but he stole the base cleanly. A delayed strike call punched out Bird and ended the inning.

The game was tied but it was clearly advantage Yankees: not only had they engineered the comeback, they also hadn’t used their best relievers: Chapman, Betances and Warren were all still on the bench. Meanwhile the Orioles, in a reasonable effort to close out a game that they had led throughout, had gone through their entire bullpen except for Jayson Aquino and a couple of situational lefties. So Chapman came on for NY (no possible save in extra innings at home) to face Jones, Machado and Trumbo. He struck out Jones, got Machado on a hard grounder to third (nice play by Headley) but Trumbo hit a slow ground ball with the infield playing deep and beat out an infield single. No problem, Chapman struck out Chris Davis to end the frame.

Unlike Chapman, Aquino (relieving Brach) got to face 9-1-2 but not who you think: Aaron Hicks had hit for Austin Romine and stayed in to play left, and Gardner had departed for third-string catcher Kyle Higashioka, still looking for his first major-league hit. Hicks, of course, is dangerous and having a great season so far, so Aquino threw him two straight balls, on which he didn’t bite. He then put one in the zone and Hicks took a vicious swing (he missed) but may have scared Aquino because the next two were not that close, and Hicks was on with the winning run. Higoshioka was OBVIOUSLY there to bunt, and Machado was positioned about 40 feet from the plate (I kid you not) and charged on the first pitch. Kyle squared to bunt but pulled back for ball one: Machado was about 10 (!!) feet from the plate at the conclusion of the pitch. The drama repeated and it was 2-0. When Machado charged a third time Higashioka swung hard (he missed) and I swear that Manny both ducked and swerved – he wound up in the Orioles on-deck circle. But he didn’t really back up (he did stop charging on the pitch) as Kyle squared again, and again pulled back on an outside pitch. Someone should tell Aquino that in this situation you have to throw the ball over the plate, so that it goes bunt, field, throw to second. Instead, he walked Higoshioka on 5 pitches, first and second for Headley. Conventional wisdom again dictates a bunt, but this seems a BAD play with a quality hitter up and a hot hitter (Holliday) to follow. Girardi agreed and Headley was up there to hit, to win the game if he could. He couldn’t: Aquino had learned his lesson and threw strikes, and the at bat went strike (looking), strike (swinging), foul, foul, strike (swinging).  It worked so well on Headley that Aquino threw a first-pitch strike to Holliday, who put it into the bullpen, 414 feet away for a 3-run walk-off HR and an 14-11 Yankee win.

It was the first truly bad starting pitching performance for the Yankees since the first week of the season, AND the worst bullpen performance of the season, but also their biggest offensive performance and a signature win. And it just MIGHT be the moment when the hot start became a team that expects to win. Stay tuned.

One day after I noted that the Yankees led the majors in fewest runs allowed, they no longer due, since they gave up 11 runs. But they are now SECOND in runs SCORED per game, as well as second in runs allowed per game, which means they are doing just fine. As you would expect, they are first in run differential, at +38 in 21 games.

Fun times.

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