It was a very early night for me last night, so I didn't see the late rally by either team, but I think I saw everything I needed to see in the early innings as the Yankees dropped their second straight to a team right in front of them in the Wild Card race.
Michael Pineda gave up 5 hits and 3 earned runs in the bottom of the 1st inning. 3 of the 5 hits and all of the runs came with 2 outs in the inning, and more than 1 of the hits came with 2 strikes. It was classic Pineda, nothing we haven't seen before.
The Yankees should have been able to overcome that early deficit against Dillon Gee and his 5+ ERA as a starter, but instead they curled up into a ball and pissed themselves for the first 7 innings, scraping 1 run across on a pair of doubles in the top of the 4th. There have been some bad games this year, but getting held to 1 run over 6 innings by Dillon Gee might be one of the lowest points.
In keeping with typical Pineda tradition, Joe left him in to start the 7th after he breezed through the previous 5 innings. Of course Pineda caved and gave up base hits to the first 2 batters of the inning. Joe compounded his previous bad decision by making an ever dumber one and bringing Tommy Layne into a 2-run game. Layne gave up a 3-run home run to Alcides Escobar, pushing the Royals lead to 6-1 and opening the floodgates for an even bigger inning.
To their credit, the offense did mount a comeback in the top of the 8th. A leadoff catcher's interference by Jacoby Ellsbury, a walk, and a hit batsman loaded the bases with no outs, and Didi Gregorius came through with a 2-run double to get things started. Starlin Castro sac flew in another run to bring the Yankees within 4, and a Chase Headley ribbie single made it 8-5. Unfortunately that was when the rally stopped and the disastrous bottom of the 7th was too big a hill to climb.Read More
On August 13, the Royals were 56-60, and sat 10-plus games out of the playoffs. Since then, they have won 12 of 14, and are now just 3 games out of the second wild card spot. Their stock hasn't been all that different from the Yankees, with both teams clawing their way back into the playoff hunt after being left for dead, which adds an interesting wrinkle to this series.
Here's tonight's lineup:
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
- Aaron Hicks, LF
- Gary Sanchez, C
- Didi Gregorius, SS
- Starlin Castro, 2B
- Brian McCann, DH
- Chase Headley, DH
- Aaron Judge, RF
- Tyler Austin, 1B
The first pitch is scheduled for 8:15 PM.
Gary Sanchez is a beast. Prior to Sunday's game, he had hit .400/.467/.900 in his first 21 games. He's already the top Yankee position player by WAR this season, which is all sorts of crazy. Sanchez was always a decent power hitter in the minors (He's consistently put up ISOs around .200, with 20-25 HR power). Even adjusting for any kind of hot streak this this represents, he's playing way above his pedigree. What the hell is happening?
Below, I'm going to lay out a theory. Here's the short version: the MLB ball is juiced, the MILB ball is not, and only certain types of hitters have been able to take advantage of the juiced ball. Gary Sanchez is one of those hitters.
Home runs rates are at all-time highs. Fangraphs Audio and Dave Cameron have a great summary of what is going on here. Basically, home runs rates began rising abruptly in the second half of the 2015 season, and the result can be attributed to a sudden rise in exit velocity, and is unlikely due to changes in weather, stadiums, players uppercutting the ball, the strike zone or an influx of new players. Ben Lindbergh and Rob Arthur don't find a ton of evidence from testing the balls, but note that the Triple-A home run rate has continued to fall even as the MLB rate has risen. The majors and minors both buy balls from Rawlings, but they are made in different factories.
But, something else weird is happening. Home run rates are rising for the average MLB player, but not for the best home run hitters. No one is threatening the home run record, or coming even particularly close. Instead, a lot of guys who used to hit 10 home runs are now hitting 15, a bunch who hit 15 are now hitting 20, etc. The big hitch-swing guys haven't actually gotten better at all. To make this point mathematically, I'm going present some very simple statistics:
- In 2014, the average qualified batter hit a home run in 2.6% of their PAs with a standard deviation of .15
- In 2016, the average qualified hitter hit a home run in 3.6% of their PAs with a standard deviation of .15.
Put as simply as possible: A higher standard deviation in a sample means it has more variance. The highs are higher and the lowers are lower. Qualified MLB hitters are hitting home runs almost 40% more frequently, but the variance hasn't grown. This means the growth in HR rates comes from the middle hitting a lot more home runs.
A quick glance around the league reveals a ton of guys on track for 20+ home runs for the first time in their career. The Didi Gregorius' of the world are hitting the ball harder. In a world where exit velocity has increased, contact hitters become more valuable. Furthermore, the value of a line drive increases. Why? Because of the nonlinear relationship between launch angle and exit velocity. Hitters with an upper-cut launch angle don't benefit as much from increased exit velocity. So, add 2 mph to Mark Trumbo, and you get pretty much the same number of home runs.
But before we continue, let's take a look at Sanchez's launch angle chart:
Sanchez has an average exit velocity of 95 mph, which is pretty darn good, top-10 in the majors good. He's hot, so we should expect his small sample of exit velocity to be very high. The launch angles are more interesting. Sanchez isn't hitting anything at a high angle. No popups. He's locked into that 10-25 degree range.
The average MLB exit velocity has increased about 1.4 mph since 2014, with a little more on non ground-balls. Let's call it roughly 2 mph, with a +/- 5 mph range. Below, I borrow a great graph from FiveThirtyEight, plotting batted balls by launch angle and exit velocity. I've very unscientifically sketched on Gary Sanchez's range of batted balls, and a rough guestimate of what it would look like centered on -2 mph:
Gary Sanchez's launch angle profile benefits more from a small increase in exit velocity than any other launch angle profile. Put differently: Sanchez's mean exit velocity is 95 mph, so let's call his range at 25 degrees 90-100. A large portion of that range (about 20% by my eye) falls into the home run range. Shift the box to the left by a little bit, and you very quickly get a lot of outs.
There's no doubt that Gary Sanchez is a hot hitter, but he's also built to capitalize perfectly on the juiced ball. He'll eventually start popping up more balls, and his exit velocity will come down a bit. But I think the power is here to stay. To explain why, let me start with Didi Gregorius' launch angle chart:
Like Sanchez, Gregorius doesn't pop the ball up too much. However, his whole profile is shifting a few degrees toward the ground, more in the 8-20 degree range for hits than Sanchez's 10-25 degree range. That profile is much less likely to hit home runs (even at similar exit velocities, and Gregorius is averages only 86 mph), although the harder balls will still go out.
In my book, this is great news for Sanchez, assuming the ball stays juiced. His launch angle profile has become one of a power hitter with a higher BABIP, rather than a guy who flies out a lot with the occasional ball being hit hard enough for a home run. In the minors, his power was solid, but more limited.
Friday (NYY 14 BAL 4)- This one got out of hand early. The Yankees put 8 runs on the board in the first 2 innings, including a 6-run 2nd, and led 12-1 after 5. Teix, Chase Headley, and Gary Sanchez all hit 2-run homers, Brett Gardner drove in 3, Ronnie T stayed hot, and Luis Cessa did a good enough job avoiding too much damage in his 6 innings of work. Not a good night for Buck or his pitching staff.
Saturday (NYY 13 BAL 5)- More of the same from the Yankee offense. They got out 5-2 after 4 innings, and when Baltimore climbed back within 1 on back-to-back solo shots in the top of the 5th, they turned it on again for 7 runs over the next 2 innings to put the game away. Chad Green wasn't quite as successful as Cessa in avoiding damage and that put more on the New York 'pen, but they held up well in the late innings and got big games from Starlin Castro, Brian McCann, and Aaron Hicks.
Sunday (BAL 5 NYY 0)- The Yanks definitely used up all the runs in the first 2 games. For what felt like the 5th or 6th time this year, they got outmatched by Kevin Gausman and his fastball/changeup combination. He pitched 7 scoreless innings with 9 strikeouts while a few big Baltimore hits in the 7th inning ruined what was a pretty good CC Sabathia start. Sanchez and Ronnie T did their job (2 hits apiece), but it wasn't enough to overcome the mighty Gausman.
On Saturday afternoon, the Yankees will get their first look at Dylan Bundy the starting pitcher. After missing a great deal of time from 2013 through 2015, Bundy has begun to round into form as a big leaguer. Through his first eight starts, he's pitched to the following line - 43.0 IP, 32 H, 14 BB, 42 K, 3.56 ERA. Considering the fact that many thought that Bundy's career may have been over before it really started, it's great to see him having some measure of success. And, for those optimists out there, he's still only 23-years-old.
The Yankees will counter Bundy with Chad Green, who has also found his stride of late. He's allowed just one run in his last two starts (12 IP), striking out 16 against one walk.
And on Sunday, Kevin Gausman will square-off against ... TBA. Or TBD, depending upon where you look. Michael Pineda is in-line for the start, but the team has not made an official announcement as to who will be toeing the rubber on Sunday afternoon as of this writing.
When I sat down to throw this game thread together, these were the lineups that greeted me:
Note the Yankees starting pitcher - one Aaron Dott. Mr. Dott has not thrown a professional pitch since July 27 of last year, though it does seem as though he got married on October 24, 2015. So there's that. Unfortunately, the YES Network is reporting that Luis Cessa is starting tonight.
The rest of the lineup is completely accurate, at least.
The overarching theme of the Yankees season has been the team finally embracing its youth movement. Rookies Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge are the regulars at catcher and in right field, respectively, and fellow rookies Chad Green and Luis Cessa are the team's fourth and fifth starters. The 25-man roster has seven players that are 25 or younger, and its middle infield is made-up of a couple of 26-year-olds. This is the youngest group that we have seen in quite some time.
And in the midst of this all, lest I bury the lede too far, is Masahiro Tanaka.
It seems as though few realize just how young Tanaka is, particularly comparatively speaking. He will not be 28-years-old until November 1, and he is more than seven months younger than Dellin Betances. He's more than a year younger than Adam Warren, and only a couple of months older than Michael Pineda. He's younger than Corey Kluber and Chris Archer, and only a few months older than Rick Porcello, Danny Duffy, and Jose Quintana. While I wouldn't suggest that he should be compared to the Jose Fernandezes and Noah Syndergaards of the world, it is important to contextualize just how young he is.
More importantly, though, we have reached the point wherein Tanaka has become underappreciated as a top of the rotation performer. When the focus does swing in his direction, it tends to linger on his elbow, and its potential for disaster. Meanwhile, he is one of the very best starters in the American League this year.Read More
Once again it wasn't the sweep it should have been, but the Yankees looked pretty damn good closing out their road trip yesterday with a crisp, commanding, all-around well played win over the Mariners.
Masahiro Tanaka was back on the bump following his 7 shutout innings against the Angels and he picked up right where he left off, throwing another 7 scoreless against a slightly better Seattle lineup. He wasn't as dominant as last time. He had to work out of consecutive 2 on/1 out situations in the 2nd and 3rd innings. But once he cleared those hurdles, Tanaka was on point. He got ahead in the count, he mixed pitches, and he finished strong, retiring the final 8 batters he faced in order and recording 4 of his 5 strikeouts in that span.
The offense wasn't electric as a whole, but it was consistent in putting runs on the board against Hisashi Iwakuma. They got started with a bang on yet another Gary Sanchez moonshot in the top of the 1st. It was a hanger and Sanchez waited on it to bash it into the left field upper deck. From there the Yankees tacked on runs in the 2nd (Tyler Austin single), 4th (Brett Gardner sac fly), 7th (Mark Teixeira single), and 9th (Starlin Castro sac fly).
Joe had a well-rested bullpen and a day off today, so he used his best to finish the game off. Tyler Clippard got into some trouble in the 8th, and that brought on Dellin Betances for the 4-out close. He struck out 3 batters for 75% of the outs and picked up a save for the effort thanks to his early entry in the 8th. Not a bad way to finish up a road trip.Read More
Today marks the Yankees last game West of Kansas City, and that comes as a relief for those of us that enjoy both watching the games and getting to bed at a reasonable hour. The team's latest start time for the rest of the season is 8:10 PM (barring some weather shenanigans, of course). Here's this afternoon's lineup:
- Brett Gardner, LF
- Didi Gregorius, SS
- Gary Sanchez, C
- Mark Teixeira, DH
- Starlin Castro, 2B
- Aaron Judge, RF
- Aaron Hicks, CF
- Tyler Austin, 1B
- Ronald Torreyes, 3B
The first pitch is scheduled for 3:40 PM.