Yankees Take ‘Em or Trash ‘Em – Relief Pitchers

Ok, I have slacked off for the last week since I cranked out Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em – Starting Pitchers. With this edition of take ’em or trash ’em, we will put a wrap on the 2020 Yankees. With the Los Angeles Dodgers on the brink of winning the World Series, the end of this batshit crazy 2020 MLB season is in sight.

Let’s begin dissecting the Yankees bullpen.

Zack Britton– (1-2, 1.89 ERA, 8 saves) Having a once-time dominating closer (120 saves from 2014-16 with Baltimore Orioles) in your bullpen to back up Aroldis Chapman is handy. While Chapman was recovering from a bout with COVID-19, Britton took over closing duties. He saved all eight opportunities and was dependable all summer. Britton finished the season with a 1.89 ERA, easily the best among Yankee relievers. His only hiccup was a couple shaky outings after missing 10 days while nursing a hamstring injury.

In less than a week, we may know the Yankees’ plans for Zack. His current contract is through 2021 (13M), but the club must decide on his option for ’22 after this year’s World Series. If Yankees decline Britton’s option for 2022, he can immediately opt-out if he wishes. Being that he’s only 32, he should still have many effective years left. Stay tuned!

*UPDATE* Per a tweet from Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch, the team has picked up Zack Britton’s option, keeping him under contract through 2022.

Take him! (and the Yankees did)

 

Aroldis Chapman – (1-1, 3.09 ERA, 3 saves) On the surface, Chapman’s season ERA (3.09) isn’t bad. The 32 year old from Cuba picked up 3 saves, his lowest total since 2011. He missed a few days at the front end of the season recuperating from COVID. Chapman took a few lumps in his first two outings but came out guns-a-blazing in September. Including his final game in August with his stats in September, Chappy was unhittable. In eleven games from August 29 – September 25, Chapman allowed a run, three hits and three walks over 10.2 innings. Over that span, he struck out twenty batters! In addition, Chapman held his opponents to a .184 on base percentage and a .361 OPS. While he may throw 102 with his fastball anymore, he still can dredge up 100. Chapman’s slider is a very viable off-speed pitch and recently unveiled a split-finger fastball in against Toronto.

Chapman’s current contract keeps him in the Bronx through the 2022 season.

Take him!

Chad Green – (3-3, 3.51 ERA, 1 save) This is another case of stats being deceiving. If you toss out three games where Green was lit up, he held opponents to a 0.77 ERA in his other 19 appearances. It feels like he has been around forever, but Green is still only 29 and has two more seasons before he reaches free agency. He’s an important piece of the Yankee bullpen, especially with fellow righthander Tommy Kahnle missing the 2020 season.

Take him

Tommy Kahnle – With the except of one appearance where he recorded all three outs by strikeouts (see below), Kahnle missed the season after injuring his elbow. He had Tommy John surgery and is still recovering. As of this writing, there are no new updates. He is arbitration eligible and it’s likely the Yankees will iron out a contract, since GM Brian Cashman likes to avoid arbitration hearings as much as possible. Kahnle’s return will be a welcome sight, as the Yankees were too often forced to rely on guys who simply didn’t get the job done.

Take him!

*UPDATE* Apparently the Yankees wanted to outright Kahnle, removing him from the 40 man roster while he continues recovery from elbow surgery. Kahnle decided to become a free agent instead. This is unfortunate.

Adam Ottavino – (2-3, 5.89 ERA) After a good first season in 2019 in New York, things didn’t go as well for him in 2020. After a particularly brutal three week stretch from mid-August into early September (including a horrific performance in Buffalo against the Toronto Blue Jays on September 7), Ottavino found himself working in lower-leverage situations. However, he turned it around the rest of the way. Over his final seven games, he allowed only one run and struck out ten in 5.2 innings. For those wanting Otto off the team, he’s probably not going anywhere. He has one more year remaining on his contract at 9M.

I still think Ottavino has more in him, given his stats from 2018 and ’19.

Take him.

Jonathan Holder – (3-0, 4.98 ERA) When Yankees legend Ron Guidry was a struggling rookie, the late Billy Martin asked him, “Is there anybody in this league that you can get out? Because if you can, let me know.” We know how that turned out for Guidry, but I ask the same thing about Jonathan Holder. I suppose it’s good to have bullpen filler guys for low-leverage situations, but this is what Holder is reduced to. His strikeout rate dropped to a career-low 5.8/9 innings while his walk rate doubled to 4.6/9. I wish I could put a positive spin to on Holder’s entry in this article, but I’m having trouble. Maybe a change of scenery will jump-start things for his once-promising career. Holder is only 27, so he has time. Also, this is the first and last time you will see Guidry and Holder mentioned in the same breath.

Trash him. 🗑

Luis Cessa – (0-0, 3.32 ERA, 1 save) Luis Cessa is another bullpen filler on the roster to eat innings in mop-up situations. He has a live arm, consistently hitting 95-97 with his fastball. The 28 year old righty from Mexico was tagged for four runs over 1.1 innings in his final appearance of the 2020 season, causing his ERA to jump from 2.21 to 3.32. Cessa figures to once again be a part of the Yankees bullpen in ’21. That’s fine as long as they aren’t relying on him in high leverage situations.

Take him (someone has to eat the innings)

Jonathan Loáisiga – (3-0, 3.52) The young righthander from Nicaragua has been something of an enigma in his short time with the Yankees. His stuff can be dominating, and there were times he shut teams down. Other times, Loáisiga pitched behind in the count, forcing him to groove pitches with the expected results. I’m not sure where the Yankees plan to best utilize Jonathan going forward, but he rose up through the minor leagues as a starter. I think Loáisiga would be best served to start 2021 in Scranton (he has one option remaining), where he can start every five days. He has three pitches, let him refine things and get stretched back out. That way, if the Yankees have an injury, he can immediately be plugged right into their rotation. His stuff is just too good to be a middle reliever. Plus he’s still young, about to turn 26.

Take him. (Let’s not give up on him yet)

Nick Nelson (1-0, 4.79 ERA) – Nelson made his major league debut in 2020 after rising through the minors in 2019. The 24 year old native of Panama City, FL picked up a his first win in his initial appearance against the Red Sox on August 1. Like Jonathan Loáisiga, Nelson climbed through the system as a starter. He would be better served to start 2021 in Triple-A to gain experience and continue honing his craft. That said, it’s hard to ignore a guy who can bring 99 mph heat out of the bullpen.

Take him!

And with that, we have covered the 2020 New York Yankees. Stay tuned as we enter the Hot Stove League. Soon enough, we will see who and what is in their plans going forward.

Yankees End of Season Report – Playoff Preview

When we last looked at the New York Yankees in my “50 Game Report”, I wasn’t sure what kind of team they were. The last ten games of the season didn’t give any more clarification, other than the 2020 Yankees are a notoriously hot and cold team.

Maybe I just answered my own question, the Yankees aren’t bad but they aren’t good. They’re just streaky. Anyway, let’s cover the last ten games of the 2020 schedule. Then we’ll briefly look ahead at their AL Wild Card Series against the Cleveland Indians.

Catcher

Gary Sánchez – Gary suffered through an absolutely horrific season with the bat and behind the plate. Sánchez went 2-5 with a clutch game-tying three run home run against the Red Sox at Fenway on September 18, and seemed to be turning the corner. He was fresh off an 8-27 stretch with 3 HR’s, but went back in the tank, and finished the season with two hits in his final 23 plate appearances. Sánchez ends the 2020 season with an abysmal .147 average, making the “Mendoza Line” (.200 batting average) seem a galaxy away. He is a liability on both sides of his game.

Kyle Higashioka – With Sánchez struggling, Higashioka’s playing time has increased. Higgy already has been serving as Gerrit Cole‘s quote/unquote personal catcher, and earned more playing time by simply being reliable both at the plate and behind it. Kyle finished the season at .250 with 4 HR’s and 10 RBI, and went 3-11 with runners in scoring position (RISP).

Infield

Luke Voit continued his MVP-caliber 2020 season by going 10-40 (250) during the season’s final ten game stretch, with a pair of homers and six RBI. He finished the season with a slash-line of .277/.338/.610 to go with 22 HR’s and 52 RBI. Not bad for a 60 game season.

After D.J. LeMahieu came of the injured-list on August 29, he played every one of his team’s remaining 31 games. While he couldn’t maintain the .411 clip he was raking at before he hurt his left hand, he still finished the 2020 campaign with a .364 average. That was good enough to win the AL batting title. The Yankees are a completely better team with LeMahieu in the lineup. When he played, they went 31-20. Without him, the Yankees were 3-7. The Yankees would be wise to sign him long-term. He is Captain material, and the team responds to him.

Gio Urshela continues to provide offense, as he went 12-34 (.353) over the team’s final ten games. Urshela is also a vacuum cleaner at the hot corner, showing over and over again why the Yankees were justified to choose him over Miguel Andújar at third base.

While Urshela, LeMahieu and Voit are hitting well, Gleyber Torres has struggled most of the season. His average dropped to a career low .243. His slugging percentage fell .167 points from .538 in 2019 (38 HR’s) to .368 this year (only 3 HR’s). However, Torres’s OBP was higher in 2020 (.356) than 2019 (.337), a result of more patience by earning walks at a higher rate. Making things worse, Gleyber’s fielding percentage also dropped to a career-low .933, his first full season at shortstop. Still, Torres is extremely young (23) and I would bet every dollar he will rebound on both sides of his game.

Tyler Wade has played at an increasing rate, despite continuing to produce at an anemic rate. Only Aaron Boone knows why, as he’s best suited as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner.

Outfield

Longtime Yankee Brett Gardner turned 37 years old on August 24, and much of the season has been a struggle. Gardy limped into September with a .169 average. Over the season’s final month, he turned it on with 17 hits in 59 at bats (.288) and knocking in 9 RBI. Over the last ten games of the schedule, Gardy went 7-19 (.368). No one knows for sure if this will be the end for Brett Gardner, but if so, he finished it off on a high-note.

Like Gleyber Torres, centerfielder Aaron Hicks had an odd season with the bat. His slash-line has dropped every season since peaking in 2017, but this year his on-base percentage reached a career high .379. Why, you may ask? Working more walks. Hicks walked more times (41) than he struck out (38) for the first time in his career. Like Brett Gardner, Hicks finished on a stronger note. After bottoming out at .200 on September 5, he recorded 17 hits in 66 at bats over the last twenty Yankees team games to finish at .225.

Clint Frazier has been a pleasant surprise all season with the injuries to Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. He provided a spark when the Yankees needed it, and played excellent defense, after struggling in 2019 with depth-perception from post-concussion syndrome. As late as September 19, Frazier’s slash-line was .306/.422/.595, but closed out 2020 on a 1-20 slump with 11 strikeouts. Still, Clint has much to be proud of. With the Yankees facing the Indians, Frazier is going to look forward to taking it to the team that drafted him, then traded him to the Yankees in 2016.

Both the aforementioned Judge and Stanton have struggled since returning from their injuries. Judge has 7 hits in 36 at bats (.194), while Stanton has 7 in 35 AB’s (.200). Combined, their production since returning is one home run with six RBI. To be fair, it seems like Judge and Stanton will play a game or two and manager Aaron Boone will sit them for a “rest day”. They need the at bats and reps. I’m not sure if it’s coming from the Front Office or Boone himself, but being an every day player many years ago, Boone should know this.

Pitching – Starters

Gerrit Cole has been on fire all September. In his four starts the Yankees Ace (with a capital A), mowed down 34 hitters in 27 innings. This equated to a WHIP of 0.70 and allowing batters to hit .147 against him. Filth.

Masahiro Tanaka did not have the same dominant month Cole did, but he still was steady and reliable, which is all the Yankees need. Tanaka went 3-2 in September with a 3.62 ERA. Plus his postseason stats speak for themselves (5-3, 1.76 ERA, 0.78 WHIP in 8 starts). Masa will be ready to go.

 

After his first two starts of the 2020 season, longtime veteran J.A. Happ was looking at an ERA over ten and an unsure future beyond this season. Since then, all Happ has done is become the Yankees most reliable starter not named Gerrit Cole. The 37 year old lefty pitched to a 2.34 ERA and 0.87 WHIP over his last seven starts, striking out 39 over 42.1 innings. Happ earned his keep over the past month and a half, and deserves a lot of credit.

Lefty Jordan Montgomery (5.11 ERA) and young rookie righthander Deivi García (4.98) were up and down. Their postseason roles will likely depend upon matchups. However, both will be ready to help any way they can.

Bullpen

Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton are ready to go for the playoffs after dominating performances down the stretch. In Buffalo against the Blue Jays, Chapman broke out his new toy, a split-finger fastball.

After a hideous meltdown on September 7 against the Blue Jays in Buffalo, Adam Ottavino worked his way back into Aaron Boone’s circle of trust with seven solid outings. Over his final seven appearances, Ottavino allowed just a run in 5.2 innings (1.59 ERA) with 10 K’s. Chad Green suffered a similar fate against the Jays in Buffalo on Sept. 7, and also turned it around in six games since (1.35 ERA). Hopefully they will provide needed innings for the back of the Yankees pen.

The usual cast of suspects round out the bullpen. If Jonathan Holder, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loáisiga and Michael King (combined 5.03 season ERA) are pitching, chances are good things are not happening for the Yankees.

The Yankees are in Cleveland to open their Wild Card Series tomorrow night against Shane Bieber (1.63 ERA), the likely AL Cy Young Award winner. After they face Bieber, the Yankees will have to contend with Carlos Carrasco (2.91) and Zach Plesac (2.28). They will have their hands full. Once they get into Cleveland’s bullpen, Bombers will have to deal with Oliver Pérez, James Karinchak (17.7 K’s/9 innings) and Brad Hand.

I will report back after the conclusion of the Yankees season. Hopefully it won’t be a post-mortem report. Hopefully it will be after the Yankees hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy with champagne-soaked hair. It’s been too long since Yankees fans have seen this sight.

 

 

 

Which Yankees Team is it?

After a seven-game homestand against the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, the New York Yankees took to the road to play a three game set against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. They won the first two games, 6-5 Friday night, followed by an 8-0 whitewash on Saturday. J.A. Happ‘s outstanding shutout performance over eight innings, coupled with a potent offense had the Yankees and their fans flying high on a ten-game winning streak. Things are great, right?

Pump the brakes. The next afternoon, rookie starting pitcher Deivi García laid his first real egg against the Sox. It was an early exit where he gave up 11 pitches where the ball was hit 99 mph or harder, by far the most of his brief major league career. It set the tone for the entire game, which ended in a 10-2 blow-out. The game was still in reach, until relief pitcher Jonathan Holder gave up three more runs. The highlight of the game was beloved backup catcher Erik Kratz pitching the bottom of the 8th inning.

 

After leaving Boston, the Yankees traveled back to Buffalo, where the Blue Jays had taken them to the woodshed a couple weeks prior. The hope going into this series was the Yankees would continue momentum they built when they buried the Jays in a three-game set at Yankee Stadium. The Bronx Bombers simply bludgeoned them by a composite score of 43-15, with a mind-blowing total of eighteen (18!!) HR’s in the three games.

For the first game back at Sahlen Field, Yankees manager Aaron Boone started rookie Michael King as an opener. It was a bullpen day, specifically designed to push back the rotation in preparation for the playoffs. It didn’t go well. King breezed through the first two innings with ease. After the first time through Toronto’s lineup, he wasn’t fooling anyone. He departed after 2.2 innings and five runs later. Jonathan Loáisiga, who relieved King in the third, tossed gasoline on the fire by letting in 4 more runs in the fourth inning. The rout was on.

The Yankees only scratched across a pair of runs against Jays starter Matt Shoemaker and reliever T.J. Zeuch. Mike Tauchman capitalized on Wilmer Font‘s wildness with a double down the right field line in the 9th. That drove in three runs, making the final score a little less ugly at 11-5. It was “garbage time” offense, to use a football analogy. It should be noted Tauchman was only in this game because the game was a blowout. Moreover, it’s time to get all the regular players at bats every day. No more resting players bullshit, because the guys need regular at bats. Let Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres get their bats going. The Yankees need their offense. Most certainly, their struggles are a result of too much downtime.

The losses to Boston and Toronto drops their road record to 10-16, compared to 21-7 at Yankee Stadium. With this year’s postseason set up the way it is, the Yankees can’t take their foot off the gas pedal. They have to find a way to have as many playoff games at home as possible.

Pitching is a concern for the Yankees. Starters Gerrit Cole, Happ and Masahiro Tanaka have pitched well over the last month, while Chad Green, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman anchor the bullpen. However, literally everyone else scares the daylights out of me. Will Deivi García rebound from his rough outing in Boston? Can Jordan Montgomery at least give two solid turns through a lineup? Will Adam Ottavino keep building on his last few positive outings? Lastly, will someone please lock Holder and Luis Cessa in the crapper so they don’t have to pitch?

Joking aside, this is put-up or shut up time for the Yankees. What team is it? The one who reeled off ten straight wins, or the unpredictable team who all too often made Yankees fans scream into their pillows? To be sure, they better find a way to win consistently on the road or it’ll be an early exit in the postseason.