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 ūüėČ 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.

Apr 282017

OK, I’m now officially hooked on the 2017 MLB season. Whether or not the Yankees continue to thrive, whether or not the expected division leaders in fact emerge to dominate, whether or not Eric Thames is for real, I’ve got the bug. It happened like this: yesterday my son celebrated his birthday. His loving sister got an opportunity to acquire 2 high-quality tickets to the Red Sox and Yankees at Fenway. His wife had an unbreakable commitment, it was a school night for his kids. So, ipso facto, he invited me to go with him to the game.

The seats were amazing: fourth row behind the Red Sox dugout (Walli, the mascot, danced not 10 feet from us; don’t really care but we were CLOSE). As Andrew remarked, if you are going to watch a pitcher’s duel (which we both like, actually) being where you can actually see the ball go past the batter (as opposed, say, to watching from the bleachers) is really great. It was really great. It was billed as a battle of the aces, with Chris Sale (totally dominant this season, though 1-1) against Masahiro Tanaka (really bad to start the season, but rounding into form and the Yankees ace the past several seasons). The Red Sox had managed to score exactly 3 runs in Sale’s 4 starts (!!) hence the 1-1 record despite the 0.91 ERA. And Sale was totally dominant – he had 7 strikeouts after 3 innings (he led the AL in strikeouts going in) and had allowed only one baserunner on a weak 2-out infield single by #9 hitter Ronald Torreyes. Tanaka, meanwhile, whose command has been his problem, started leadoff hitter Dustin Pedrioa off with three straight balls, giving quick rise to thoughts of “here we go again”. But he got Pedroia, and began to cruise.

Sale’s pitch count was very low, but Tanaka’s was even lower throughout the game. He allowed a single to Hanley in the second inning, who advanced on a ground out – but was stranded there. In the fourth inning, the Yankees “rallied”. Aaron Hicks swung late on a nasty pitch down and away, and grounded a single through the open right side against the shift. Headley grounded the ball back to Sale, who turned to throw to second. He probably could have gotten Hicks, but decided instead to throw to first, only to see that Moreland, the first baseman, had headed toward the ball that Sale had fielded, and couldn’t get back to the bag! What could have been a serious gaffe was averted when Pedroia, who started the play behind second but ran toward the play, managed to continue on to first base in time to take the throw and just beat Headley to the bag at first. Sale then apparently crossed up Sandy Leon, and the ball got by him (passed ball) so Hicks took third. Matt Holliday seemed overmatched by Sale, but kept getting just a small piece and fouling off 4 pitches en route to a 3-2 count, and then lifted a fairly deep fly ball to left (I thought it might hit the monster, though it wasn’t actually THAT close and Hicks scored easily, as Benintendi was backing up and could get nothing on the throw. 1-0 Yankees, though no earned run for Sale.

Tanaka seemed to sense that this run was all he would get, and he had to make it stand up. Bogaerts singled to start the fifth, but Bradley hit a ball sharply to Chris Carter (playing first instead of Bird) who made a legitimately good play, snaring the hard shot, moving in to the grass to make a good throw to second, and scrambling back to the bag in time to double up the speedy JBJ, who did NOT seem to be busting it down the line. The inning required 5 (!) pitches. To this point both Sale and Tanaka had allowed 3 hits (all singles) and neither had issued a walk. It turned out that the DP in the fifth was a turning point of sorts: Tanaka did not allow a baserunner the rest of the game, and got the final 14 outs on 39 pitches! His 97-pitch complete game shutout (known as a “Maddux”: complete game shutout under 100 pitches) was the Yankee’s first complete game since August 2015 (also Tanaka) and their first Maddux since 2002. Sale meanwhile weakened somewhat, as he allowed 2 more hits and after 7 strikeouts in 3 IP, struck out “only” 3 in the subsequent 5 IP. Going into the ninth, with NY still clinging to that 1-0 lead, Sale had thrown 103 pitches, Tanaka 88. 100 pitches DOES seem to be magic: the Sox sent Sale back out in the ninth and the first three hitters (Hicks, Headley, Holliday) all singled to end his night. Hembree allowed ANOTHER single (and another run) and with runners on 2nd and 3rd and no one out it appeared that Sale’s ER total for the season would double, but foulout, DP ended the threat, and Tanaka closed out Boston on 9 pitches.

Tanaka has made 5 starts this season. Here is his season ERA after each start: 23.62, 111.74, 8.36, 6.00, 4.21. Can you detect a trend? Another way to see it, his game scores: 15, 44, 54, 65, 84. Same lines for Sale: 0.00, 1.25, 1.23, 0.91, 1.19 and 77, 70, 76, 86, 66. So last night WAS his worst game of the season. One tiny clarification: while they have only scored 3 runs for him while he has been in the game, they have scored 4 total runs in games he started. That’s 33% more run support than I gave them credit for!

Further thoughts on my baseball fever: amazingly, the Yankees now lead all of baseball in fewest runs allowed (63 in 20 games). I knew they were getting good pitching, but I hadn’t realized just HOW good. Oddly, the second and third lowest totals are also American League teams (White Sox, Orioles) and who also play in hitter’s parks. It won’t last, of course, but it is an oddity for now. Another oddity: the longest current winning streak in MLB belongs to: the Phillies? Picked to lose 100 games, they are 12-10 and with the Mets struggles, may battle the Marlins for second in the division. A further fun fact: the Red Sox to date, in 21 games, have hit 11 home runs (miss David Ortiz much?) and 3 of those, which leads the team, belong to now-on-the-DL Pablo Sandoval. Meanwhile Eric Thames, also in 21 games, also has 11 home runs. Thames, in case you missed it, last played in the majors in 2012, and¬†in his only other seasons in MLB had 12 and 9 HRs in 95 and 86 games, respectively.

Yankees start a 3-game set with the Orioles at the stadium tonight. When they played in Baltimore, the Yankees blew two late-inning leads before rallying from 3-0 down to win the finale. They are now 5-6 on the road, with the 2-game sweep of the Red Sox representing their first road series win of the year, after losing the first three by 2-1 each. Go Yankees!

Isn’t this fun?

Trouble In Paradise

Posted by Baseball Bob at 09:33
Apr 262017

Hi friends,

No, this doesn’t refer to further setbacks in the Yankeeverse, though those exist as well (more in a minute).

I am getting reports of malicious invasion of this site; the suggested remedy is one we have already taken. My son, who arranged for the hosting of this site and did the layout, is not available until late next week at the earliest, and the host is threatening to shut the site down. Since I have been a little frustrated at my inconsistent blogging and the limited feedback, and since I have lately waxed nostalgic for the “good old days” of a simple email group, I may go back to that. For the moment, I ask anyone who has a login to change the password, and make sure your email address is accurate there, if you would like to be on an email list. Then, IF I decide to revert, I will send an invitation to everyone whose email address I have, requiring a response if you want to be on the list.

Meanwhile, the Yankees appear to be doing well, but it is an odd illusion. Gardner, Bird and Holliday are all in the vicinity of 1 for their last 20, while Ellsbury, Hicks  and Headley are on fire. Yankee fans yearn for the return of Sanchez and Gregorius, but they are unlikely to give MUCH more than Romine and Torreyes (playing over their heads to be sure) have given. The most promising early developments for NY are none of these, but rather the apparent steps forward by Judge, Severino and Montgomery.

Last night’s rainout with Boston hurts the Yankees, in my opinion: they will miss Pomeranz, who I expected to light up. Instead, we get only Sale and Porcello. Oh, well.

Life is good. Maybe more later.


Random Observations

Posted by Baseball Bob at 08:55
Apr 242017

I’m back, sort of. After a week of full-time babysitting (not really babies, they range from 3 to 14) I now have two weeks of part-time child care, as my wife is traveling and I take her place 3 times a week at our daughter’s home. So I should have more time to post, but not THAT much more time.

The Yankees lost 2 of 3 to the Pirates, and are officially no longer tracking the 1998 Yankees. Apparently they never were, but were just showing an exaggerated home/road split: that 9-4 record was 2-4 on the road, 7-0 at home. They have now played 9 games each way, and their records are 8-1 home, 3-6 away. This translates into 99-63 so I’ll take it, but 1998 Yankees it is not. They lost yesterday 2-1, wasting a gutty performance by surprise rookie Jordan Montgomery, who allowed 7 hits and 2 ER in 6 IP despite not having his best stuff. But the Yankee bats did very little. And Girardi pushed so many buttons, unsuccessfully, that when they loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, their last 9 position players were already in the lineup, and so the last two outs were made by Austin Romine (surprisingly good with the bat so far, but a career near-zero) and Pete Kozma (offensive zero by any measure). They didn’t get the job done.

Meanwhile, Manny Machado made a slide into second that spiked Dustin Pedroia – for what it’s worth I think it was marginal, but not a clear violation of the new rule. The slide went right toward the base, clearly legal, but the spike was probably a bit high, and it could have been called a DP which would likely have avoided any controversy at all. But it wasn’t called a DP, Pedroia left the game and hasn’t yet returned (though he is not badly hurt) and yesterday Matt Barnes threw a fastball BEHIND Machado’s head, the best way by far for a pitcher to intentionally injure a batter, as the instinct is to duck INTO the pitch. Machado avoided that (the ball hit his bat, making it the weirdest strike of the season) but it obviously fanned the flames. The Red Sox pitcher and manager claim it was an inside pitch that just got away, but the catcher’s target was low outside. The likely “penalty” for Barnes is 4-5 day suspension, which could push his start back by 1 day. Some penalty! I think that, like the home-plate block/collision rule, this one needs to be seriously looked at. And because this incident involves Pedroia and Machado, it may get a treatment similar to Buster Posey, whose injury almost single-handedly changed the catcher rule, or Chase Utley, whose slide almost single-handedly changed the second-base slide rule AND the neighborhood play.

If the playoffs were held today, the three division leaders in the AL would be Baltimore, Cleveland and Houston, and the wild-card game would be New York and Boston. This is not truly an implausible list of playoff teams, though the order is shuffled (most would have Boston winning, with Baltimore and NY or Toronto as wild card. The NL would feature Washington, Chicago and Colorado, with Arizona hosting Miami in the WC game. THAT would be a shock, with neither LA nor SF involved at all, even with TWO west teams in the postseason. Of course, a few days ago neither Nats nor Cubs were there, and so baseball is resuming its normal shape. Within a few weeks you can expect a return to more or less normality (note: normalcy is NOT a word, no matter what the spell checker says).

Early in the season there are always some startling stat lines, as non-entities happen to have their unreal hot streak just as the season begins, and so have no “normal” stats dragging it down: case in point is Chase Headley of the Yankees who was batting .409 with OBP and SLG well over .500 until a few days ago. But what do we make of Bryce Harper, who is NOT a non-entity having a hot start, but rather a very young superstar having an unbelievable start: the Nats star in 18 games has 6 doubles, 7 HRs, 17 (!) walks, and a slash line of .400/.524/.815 OPS 1340. Since 18 games is conveniently 1/9 of a season, this projects to 54 doubles, 63 HRs, 234 hits and 153 walks. He probably won’t keep THAT up, but all indications are for a pretty historic season. And he’ll be a 26-year-old free agent after next season . . . hmmm.

Chris Sale is 1-1 with an 0.91 ERA. Can you spell poor run support? Amazingly, that 0.91 ERA is THIRD in the AL behind KC’s Jason Vargas (3-0, 0.44) and MIN’s Ervin Santana (3-0, 0.64). Speaking of non-entities.

On to Boston! Of course, the Yankees have not been good on the road, and the Red Sox are on the rise (only 1/2 back of NY as play begins today). New York will start Severino, Tanaka and Sabathia while Boston counters with Porcello, Sale and Pomeranz. That third game should be a bloodbath: neither Pomeranz nor Sabathia has the stuff to pitch as a lefty in Fenway. Sale of course does, but at Fenway is the Yanks’ best chance to get to him (see: Aaron Judge). I wish Gary Sanchez were back.

I love this game!

Apr 192017

I am still here, and have not even backslid: it is vacation week and I have 4 grandchildren here 24/7: baseball has taken a back seat. I may not post again until next week.

BUT: the 1998 Yankees started 1-4, then won 8 straight, then lost to go to 9-5. The 2017 Yankees have done exactly the same thing. Tough team to channel though, they now went on another 6-gamer, to bring them to 15-5. Their SECOND twenty went 16-4, so they got to 31-9 (.775) after 40 games. Let’s do it!

Yankees getting good starting pitching game after game, 9 straight acceptable starts – some of them not really showing in the box scores. In last night’s loss, Severino retired 18 of 19 through 6 innings, the lone exception a home run, but trailed 1-0. In the seventh he gave up a clean single, then got a double-play ball which was booted, putting two on with no outs. After an out, he gave up a HR. Officially this is 3 R, 2 ER. Unofficially, though, this is single, DP, out and he is done after 7. His actual game score is 70. His GS after 6 IP was 79. He pitched very well.

I love this game.

Apr 162017

With a 3-2 win over the Cardinals, the Yankees continue to track the great 1998 team, winning their sixth straight after the 1-4 start. they still trail the Orioles by 1/2 game – the 1998 Yankees did not take first place until their 21st game. Those Yankees, in case you were wondering, ran the streak to 8 before losing, then reeled off another 6-game streak to go to 15-5. So the comparison is just a bit premature.

But THIS Yankee team is winning with pitching – only once in the 6-game streak did they allow 4 runs, and their game scores have been 49, 82, 49, 69, 54, 63. By contrast, the 1998 Yankees were doing it mostly with hitting, their corresponding 6-game win streak starting with a 13-7 win followed two days later with a 17-13 affair. In those 6 games they scored 50 (!) runs and allowed 32, while these Yankees scored 33 and allowed 15. And when you add in that 1998 Yankee Stadium was a noted PITCHER’S park, while 2017 Yankee Stadium is a pretty fair HITTER’S park, and that 5 of the 6 wins have been at home (4 of 6 in 1998) it is even more remarkable.

Yesterday’s game, which I watched ¬†the start of, was certainly one of the strangest games I’ve seen. The Yankees did not put a ball in play until the third inning – every out was a strikeout, and no hits or errors. BUT they led 1-0 because Martinez, while allowing NO balls in play, had walked SIX (four in the first) – the Yankees put a ball in play for the first time on the SIXTY-THIRD pitch that they saw. The 1-0 lead held up until Torreyes put a pop fly into the sun which fell untouched (the analysts say that the centerfielder catches that ball 99% of the time, and the leftfielder 94% – their chances of NEITHER catching it were 6 in 10,000 (!!!). Torreyes moved to third on a ground out, and tried to score on another grounder, which was thrown away by the pitcher, Hicks taking second, where he scored the second unearned run of the inning for a 3-0 Yankee lead. The Cards got two late home runs, but lost 3-2.

Further curious facts:

The Yankees struck out 17 (!) times in the game. How often does a team win while striking out 17 times and hitting no home runs?

The Yankees are 1 for 30 (!!!) with runners in scoring position in their last three games – all wins. (3-2, 4-3, 3-2) Thank goodness for home runs.

Adam Warren has faced 20 batters this season, and retired them all. He was in contention for a starting spot, but was felt to be too valuable in the bullpen, especially since (obviously) he can go multiple innings. So he came in with one out in the eighth, retired the two batters he faced to preserve a 3-1 lead, and was replaced by Clippard¬†who gave up a home run and had two runners on base when he got the final out for a “save”. Also, in the parlance of baseball Bob, a yikes. Does this make sense to you?

So, the 1998 Yankees these are not. Near-rookie first baseman Greg Bird has exactly one hit this season, an opposite-field bloop double that might have been caught by a fleet left fielder. He has achieved the near-impossible feat of an OPS+ of -27, -0.6 WAR in only 7 games played, on pace for -150 for the year. Girardi says he is not worried.

Michael Pineda takes the mound tonight for the finale of the Cardinals series. Last time out he retired the first 20 he faced, the time before that he was shelled. Go Big Mike!

Isn’t this fun?


Here Comes the Judge

Posted by Baseball Bob at 11:18
Apr 132017

Yesterday the Yanks continued to track the 1998 Yanks, as their 3rd straight win evened their record at 4-4. Jordan Montgomery started and showed enough promise to get another start, rather than being sent down so Chad Green or Luis Cessa could start in 5 days. that’s good, and he looked pretty good, even though he gave up 2 runs (technically 3, but the last was a) unearned and b) after he had left the game. On the downside, he reached his pitch count before the 5th inning ended. Still, he looked, at least for one day, like a keeper.

More fun, though, was Aaron Judge, who homered for the third time in three games. And WHAT a homer. I was watching, and I swear I thought it was an infield fly! The pitch was up and in and he kind of inside-outed it a la Jeter, and it rose at an insane angle, just like a fly that the second baseman competes with the right fielder for. I wondered if it was a bloop, but then I realized that he is so strong that it would stay up a long time, and be caught wherever on the field it came down. But where it ACTUALLY came down was 437 feet away in the right-centerfield seats. Wow. Now THAT’S strong. And Judge also hit the season’s hardest ball of the year to date, a single up-the-middle that was by Jumbo Diaz so fast that he ducked AFTER it went past (at 118 MPH). It would have taken the head off his shoulders if it were on a line with it, because he had NO time at all to react.

Two of the three baby bombers (Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird) are hurt, and also off to poor starts. the third and iffiest (is that a word?) of the three is Judge, and his .308/.369/.692/1061 line can play just fine, thank you. After striking out in HALF (!!) of his at bats last fall, Judge has whiffed 6 times in 8 games. And played an excellent right field. He batted 8th to start the season, and moved up to seventh with Austin Romine replacing Gary Sanchez. If he keeps this up, even a little, his journey to 4 or 5 will not be far off.

Meanwhile, Girardi decided Montgomery would benefit from a familiar face, and allowed Kyle Higoshikawa to make his first MLB start. He is 26, and has been in the minors for TEN years. Do you think the kid was a little anxious? He was 0 for 4 and saw FIVE total pitches! For the second straight game the Yankees scored 8 runs, which is amazing when the catcher hole is now completely unproductive and the first base hole (manned by Chris Carter) hardly more so. Still, i’ll take it.

Keep it coming!

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