Why Are Teams Interested in J.A. Happ? Let Me Explain…

Over the last few days, a few prominent baseball writers have shared on Twitter teams who are interested in former Yankees starter J.A. Happ, currently a free agent.

 

The comments are as you would expect, given his track record with the Yankees. Happ’s final game in Pinstripes was in Game Two of the ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays, where he took over for Deivi Garcia at the bottom of the 2nd inning (which I thought was a horrible idea) and promptly imploded. That game is still fresh in the minds of Yankees fans, and many baseball fans who watched on national television.

No doubt, Happ struggled in his first full season as a Yankee in 2019. Similarly, his first couple of outings in 2020 were rocky as well. He made his next start on August 16 against the Red Sox at home, giving up only one run over 5.2 innings. That outing began a stretch of seven starts where he was literally the best starter in the rotation not named Gerrit Cole.

Coupled with Cole, the two of them were the most reliable starters on the team in September. The numbers in the image above speak for themselves. Seven starts, an ERA of 2.34 over 42.1 innings, a WHIP under one and almost a strikeout an inning. In addition, Happ averaged more than six innings each start. Believe me, General Managers across the league were paying attention.

Hopefully this can answer the question of why J.A. Happ is generating interest in the free agent market. So far, the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Angels publicly expressed interest. Don’t be surprised to see him return for a third tour of duty with the Toronto Blue Jays. He enjoyed playing there, and you can be sure he will be pitching with a chip on his shoulder the next time he faces the Yankees.

 

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 Take ’em or Trash ’em – Position Players

Well, the time has come once again. For the past few seasons, I have graded New York Yankees players based on performance. I then recommend to either take ’em or trash ’em. Former Yankees beat writers Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand had their own annual take ’em or trash ’em when they were with ESPN, they deserve the credit. When they left ESPN, it was no more. I always enjoyed it and missed it, so I decided to do it on The Titanium Spine.

This first installment of Take ’em or Trash ’em will cover position players. Without further adieu, let’s begin with the catchers.

Catchers

Gary Sanchez – OOF. It’s been a long ways down since Sánchez made a splash back in 2016, when he hit 20 home runs in 53 second half games for the Yankees. This year, he averaged roughly one hit every seven at bats and his on base percentage (OBP) fell to a career-low .253. He did manage 10 home runs, but he just can’t hit. Coupled with his ongoing defensive problems, it doesn’t seem feasible to hang onto Gary when an established star like Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto will be available in free agency. That said, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner gave Sánchez something of a vote of confidence when speaking to the media yesterday.

That may well be lip service. Yankees GM Brian Cashman addressed the media Wednesday afternoon at his season-ending press conference, and did not commit to Sánchez as the full time starting catcher in 2021.

 

 

 

My opinion? Trash ’em!

Kyle Higashioka – Higgy became a popular man with “#YankeesTwitter”, simply by being a reliable guy with his bat and behind the dish. After spending a chunk of August on the shelf with an oblique strain, Higashioka returned in September and played the bulk of games as their starting catcher. He cemented that status when he slugged three home runs in a 13-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. However, his defense and game-calling made him popular with the pitching staff. Higgy became Gerrit Cole‘s personal catcher, or as Cole describes it, “I’m his personal pitcher”. It made a difference. With Gary Sánchez catching, Cole’s ERA was 3.91 after eight starts. With Higashioka behind the plate for seven starts (including the playoffs), it fell to 1.79. The ace of the Yankees staff is clearly more comfortable with Higgy, whom he was college teammates with at UCLA.

Take ’em!

Infield

Luke Voit – In a season full of injury and instability, Voit was one of the few sure things the Yankees could count on day in and day out. The 29 year old slugging first basemen played 56 of the teams sixty games, and led the major leagues with 22 home runs. Voit’s OPS (on base plus slugging percentages) of 948 was second on the team, only behind D.J. LeMahieu, and he cut his strikeout rate from 33 percent to 25 percent. Luke also provided a steady glove at 1st base, all while dealing with a painful foot-injury often described as “foot stuff”. He did have a platelet rich plasma injection and will spend some time in a walking boot.

 

 

Take ’em!

Mike Ford – This one hurts. When Ford hit a walk-off game winning home run off Oakland A’s closer Liam Hendriks in 2019, I thought he might have cemented himself a place on the Yankees roster going forward. Like Tyler Wade, I watched Ford play a good number of games at Triple-A Scranton and he had grown on me. As fate would have it, Luke Voit seized the Yankees 1st base job from him and hasn’t looked back. Ford hit a paltry .135 with only a pair of home runs, and went 0 for September in 22 plate appearances. Ford was sent to the Yankees alternative site in Scranton. One of the last memories of the Yankees postseason was manager Aaron Boone sending Ford to the plate to pinch hit for Kyle Higashioka late in Game 5 of the ALDS. The reactions were as you would expect.

 

 

I hate saying it because Ford is such a good guy, but Trash him.

D.J. LeMahieu – There aren’t enough superlatives to properly describe how much LeMachine means to this team. Simply put, the 2nd baseman is the Yankees heartbeat. When D.J. missed nine games due to a left hand injury, they went 2-7 in those games. The Yankees went 30-20 in games D.J. played and 3-7 when he didn’t. He led Major League Baseball in hitting with a .364 average and 1.011 OPS. The Machine gets on base 42 percent of the time, a true catalyst. He’s going to command a large salary this winter as a free agent, and the Yankees can’t afford to let him walk away. Oh, and he can play anywhere in the infield except shortstop.

Take him!

Tyler Wade – I’ll admit I always had high hopes for Wade, having watched him play a lot when he was with the Yankees Triple-A club, the Scranton Wilkes Barre RailRiders. It goes to show the talent in the minors doesn’t always translate to the big leagues. T-Wade hit a lethargic .170 in his limited at bats, which made him about as popular as a case of the clap. That said, Tyler is still a solid defensive replacement in the infield and can steal bases as a pinch-runner. I suppose there still is value in that, plus he’s still only 25 years old.

Take him (if you don’t have to rely on him every day)

Gleyber Torres – Gleyber had a very uneven, up and down 2020 season for the Yankees. After whacking 38 home runs in 2019, the number fell to three. In a normal full season, that would probably equate to 10-12. Torres’s average fell from .278 to .243 and the OPS from .871 to .724. In the field, Gleyber made nine errors in 40 games at shortstop. It was a painful season to be sure, but he did rebound in the playoffs and absolutely raked. Ten hits in 23 at bats, a pair of home runs, 5 RBI and a 1.262 OPS. And still, Torres is 4-5 years from even entering his prime. He will be ok, just keep working on defense.

Take him.

Gio Urshela – Gio picked up where he left off last season, providing excellent defense at third base (only one error) and reliable offense. Urshela really took off in September, raking to the tune of a .390 average with a 13 game hitting streak. The power numbers dipped, likely due to painful bone spurs in his throwing elbow. Gio will not require surgery at this time, as noted in the tweet above in Luke Voit’s paragraph.

Take him.

Miguel Andujar – When Andújar went down with a shoulder injury early in 2019, Urshela took over and Miguel has been unable to wrestle the third base job since. Miggy made the Yankees 28 man roster at the beginning of the season in late July, but his playing time was sparse. In order to keep him in playing shape, Andújar was optioned to Scranton to play every day in daily simulated games. His agent wasn’t happy about that.

 

 

When Urshela went on the injured list in September, Andújar was recalled and gave the Yankees offense a shot in the arm. He went 11-31 in nine games (eight of them starts) for a .355 average and .975 OPS in that span. When he gets regular at bats, Miguel has proven he can hit. Still, defense is an ongoing issue with Miguel. In six games at third base, he made three errors and made another in left field where he looked uncomfortable. With Gio Urshela firmly entrenched at third and nowhere to play, I believe the Yankees would be best served to seek to trade Andújar for more pitching help.

Trash ’em.

Outfield

Brett Gardner – Gardy has been a mainstay in the Yankees outfield since his arrival in 2008. He’s the last remaining holdover from the 2009 World Series winning team. Brett hit a personal best 28 home runs and drove in a career high 74 RBI in 2019. Unfortunately, time is catching up with Gardy, now 37 years old. His average dipped to a career-low .223, his worst as a full time player. Gardner’s bat speed has slowed after six thousand plate appearances. Gardy said he still wants to play in 2021, and would be a good fit as a reserve outfielder and defensive replacement. That said, I don’t think he fits as a productive every day player anymore. The offensive stats back that up. However, his speed in the outfield and glove still play. And his hitting could easily rebound if not subjected to the rigors of playing every day.

Take him – only as a back up.

Clint Frazier – Frazier came to the Yankees back in 2016 when Brian Cashman traded then-closer Andrew Miller to Cleveland in a trade-deadline deal. After a series of ups and downs, Frazier is now healthy from post-concussion symptoms and showing why the Yankees were and are excited about his future. “Red Thunder” provided thunder with his lightning-quick bat speed when he was recalled from Scranton in mid-August. In his first four games, Frazier went 8-15 with a pair of homers and five extra-base hits. Before hitting a 1-20 skid to end the 2020 regular season, Clint was hitting .306 with a 1.017 OPS. Frazier finished at .267 with 8 HR, 26 RBI and an OPS of .905. I believe he’s earned a shot at the left field job full time. He’s paid his dues.

Take him.

Aaron Hicks – I can best describe Aaron Hicks as a case in frustration. One category he improved in is staying healthy and on the field. Hicks also improved his walk rate. Everything else offensively is in decline, at a time when most athletes are in their prime. Hicks’s average, slugging percentage and OPS are in decline since 2017. Aaron made only two errors, but he made a few misplays in center field that shouldn’t have happened. At times, he looked disinterested. No worries, though. He’s under contract through 2025 at the minimum, when he will be 36 years old. It’s not a bank-breaking annual salary (in relative terms, at least), but still a long time to be tied to a player who has regressed when he should be improving. This was NOT one of Brian Cashman’s best signings.

I would love to trash him, but doubt he’s going anywhere.

Giancarlo Stanton – Stanton started off the season hot, whacking a pair of home runs in Washington against the Nationals. After five games, Giancarlo had eight hits in 16 at bats, with 6 RBI. Unfortunately, bad luck struck once again and Stanton missed five weeks with a bad hamstring. After he came back in mid-September, he went 7-35 (.200) in nine games with one home run. But Stanton was there when the Yankees needed him in the postseason. In seven playoff games, he went 8-26 (.308) with 6 HR’s and 13 RBI, and showed truly fun Stanton is to watch when locked-in.

In Cashman’s post-mortem presser this afternoon, he indicated Stanton will be primarily a DH going forward.

 

 

 

He’ll here through the 2028 season. Try the veal. Take him.

Mike Tauchman – After emerging as an excellent left handed option in the Yankees outfield in 2019, Tauchman had an equally uninspiring 2020 campaign. He finished at .242 with no home-runs and 14 RBI. After a three game series sweep at home against the Red Sox, Tauchman had six hits in 12 at bats. After that, he promptly fell off the face of the earth. From August 17 through season’s end, Mike had eight hits in 65 plate appearances for a .151 average and .462 OPS. Like Tyler Wade, Tauchman is a defensive replacement and pinch runner, and can’t be counted on for production as an everyday player. The sentimentalist in me would take Brett Gardner over Tauchman.

Take him (strictly as a reserve/defensive replacement).

Aaron Judge – Let me start by saying I love Aaron Judge. I really do. The broken hand he suffered from an errant inside pitch from Jakob Junis in 2018 wasn’t his fault. He pulled an oblique on April 20, 2019, the day after my son and I were lucky enough to watch him play from the Judge’s Chambers at Yankee Stadium. He fractured his rib in September 2019 on a diving play in the outfield that wasn’t officially diagnosed until March. The extra time from the season being delayed gave Judge more time to heal.

When the season started in late July, Judge hit the ground running. After 18 games, Judge hit .292 and slugged 9 HR’s with 20 RBI. Then he pulled his right calf. The injury bug nailed him less than three weeks into the season. After missing nine games over 15 days (thanks to an unscheduled COVID break), Judge returned for three at bats against the Baltimore Orioles in the second game of a doubleheader. He was removed in the sixth inning after reaggravating the calf, missing 21 more games as a result.

Judge returned for the team’s final ten games, but he looked out of sorts. He had no home runs, two RBI and only seven hits in 36 at bats. In the postseason, Judge didn’t look much better, with four hits in 35 plate appearances (.133 average). At least he hit the ball a long way when he DID make contact, sending three of them over the fence.

Bottom line, Judge has to find a way to stay on the field. People with large bodies like his are more prone to injury. But he’s not doing the Yankees any help in the dugout (the same can be said for Stanton). Judge is better off as a DH but Cashman said Stanton is a DH going forward. It’s a conundrum, but I think Judge and Stanton should split their time in RF and DH to help preserve both of them.

Anyway, Take him.

Thanks for reading my “Take ’em or Trash ’em”, next time we’ll take a look at Yankees pitchers.

 

 

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.

 

Yankees 50 Game Report

A week and a half ago, as I was typing out my Yankees 40 game report, I was doing it with a sense of doom and resign. The Yankees seemed to be in a free-fall. They were in the middle of a five-game losing streak and lost six of seven. The team wasn’t hitting. When they did hit, they couldn’t pitch. Things looked bleak.

What a difference ten games make! After losing the first pair of games on the road to the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees have reeled off eight consecutive victories. In four of them, the Bronx Bombers have lived up to their moniker, scoring ten runs or more. They are coming off a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays at home, making up for losing three of four in Buffalo earlier this month.

Yankees bats have never been hotter. The team scored 43 runs over the three games, including a mind-blowing 18 (!!!) home runs. No Yankees team has ever done that. Amazing.

Hitting

A line from ex-MLB hitter Mark DeRosa in the game “MLB The Show 20” come to mind. “There’s a fight at the bat rack for who’s gonna hit next”. Let’s start at the top of the Yankees lineup and work our way down.

D.J. LeMahieu continues to rake like a man-possessed. He played all ten games and brought his lunch pail to work, going 16-40 (.400) with six bombs and 11 RBI. Why the Yankees haven’t extended his contract is beyond comprehension. They can’t afford to lose him.

Luke Voit has firmly seized the first base job. Initially splitting time with lefty batting Mike Ford (who has since been optioned to Yankees alternative site in Scranton) in a platoon situation, Voit has been scorching hot no matter who is pitching. Over the last ten games, Voit went 14-43 (.326) while mashing 7 taters and bringing him 18. None of his home-runs are cheapies, either.

Gleyber Torres hasn’t shown the power he displayed in 2019 when he belted 38 home runs, but still is very productive. Over the last ten, “Glasses Gleyber” went 9-26 (.346) with a pair of homers and eight RBI.

Injured superstars Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are back! Both players took an o-fer in their first games back, but last night Giancarlo went 4-5 against Toronto. He only came a triple shy of the cycle, bringing home a pair of runs. Having Judge and Stanton in the lineup makes an already potent lineup more dangerous.

Third baseman Gio Urshela missed a handful of games while on the injured list with bone spurs in his throwing elbow. He returned Tuesday and has since gone 5-14 over three games. No RBI’s, but it’s hard to drive in runs when everyone else is clearing the bases with home-runs.

OF Clint Frazier has been consistently productive in 2020 for the Yankees. Injuries to Stanton and Judge opened the door for Frazier and he’s earned his everyday playing time. He played all ten games, going 11-34 (.324) with a pair of homers and nine RBI. On Monday, Frazier revealed he was still dealing with concussion issues that carried over from 2018. He suffered from depth perception problems, which explains his defensive struggles last season. This year, Clint’s defense has been top-notch.

It’s been no secret Gary Sánchez has struggled in 2020, so we’ll take any silver linings. Always streaky, Gary went hitless in his first nine at bats over this ten game stretch, followed by six hits in the next 22. Sánchez socked a pair of homers in the Toronto series, driving home six. Backup catcher Kyle Higashioka has caught Gerrit Cole‘s last two starts, and all he’s done is hit four HR’s, including a three-homer game against the Blue Jays.

Veteran outfielders Brett Gardner (6 for 22) and Aaron Hicks (7 for 28) have been suffering through abysmal seasons, hitting .198 and .215, respectively. The defense is still there for both of them, but for some reason the offense hasn’t been there. Mike Tauchman had a three hit game against the Baltimore Orioles on September 11, but has otherwise been non-existent. Light hitting Tyler Wade has subbed in for Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres when needed. When he’s on base, Wade is always a threat to score. The problem here is, he’s rarely on base.

Pitching

It all starts with Gerrit Cole. The ace starting pitcher, Brian Cashman’s so-called “White Whale”, made a pair of starts against the Orioles and Blue Jays. Both outing were seven-inning gems, a two-hit complete game shutout against Baltimore in the first game of a doubleheader, followed by a three-hitter against Toronto. Cole gave up one run in his collective 14 innings, striking out 17 hitters. Filthy.

Masahiro Tanaka follows Cole in the Yankees rotation, and is a nice contrast. Masa is going to give up his home runs, it’s just who he is. The good thing is Tanaka never walks anyone, so usually the bombs are solo jobs. He had the benefit of a lot of run-support over his last pair of starts, his teammates giving him ten runs. This allowed Tanaka to pound the strike-zone and get outs efficiently. Against the Blue Jays, the long-time mainstay of the Yankees rotation had his longest start of 2020, seven innings. The only damage was a pair of homers to Lourdes Gurriel.

Deivi García, all of 21 years of age, has continued his impressive rookie season. The young righty made a pair of starts against the Blue Jays, pitching seven innings each time. In Buffalo, he only allowed a pair of runs on five hits in Buffalo, a start that helped stop a five game skid. Six days later, he made another start against Toronto. This time, the Yankees won 20-6 and his seven innings helped rest a weary bullpen. His WHIP and SO/BB ratios are better than Gerrit Cole’s. Imagine that. Did I mention he’s only 21??

Rounding out the rotation are lefties Jordan Montgomery and J.A. Happ. Montgomery’s last outing was a very solid 5.2 innings of one-run ball against the Orioles at home. He struck out a career-high nine and lost a win opportunity on an unearned run that scored after he departed. Monty’s season high is six innings, as he seems to hit the proverbial wall after about 75 pitches. Aaron Boone doesn’t seem to give him a lot of rope, and Montgomery seemed unhappy when the manager relieved him in the Baltimore game.

After a rough pair of starts to begin the 2020 season, veteran J.A. Happ has reeled off five starts where he’s kept his team in the game, if not pitch outstanding. Over the five starts, Happ has pitched to a 2.45 ERA, with 27 strikeouts over 29.1 innings. Over that span he has allowed a scant five walks and 23 hits, translating to a WHIP of 0.95. Happ is earning his money, although he only has a record of 1-2 to show for it.

In the bullpen, Chad Green and Adam Ottavino combined for a horrific meltdown inning against the Blue Jays in Buffalo on September 7. The Jays scored four times on Green and six against Ottavino in a 10 run inning that lasted 43 minutes. Green rebounded with a pair of good outings against Baltimore, while Ottavino struggled again six days later. Boone used Adam again last night against Toronto, and he looked much better. He gave up a hit, but struck out a pair of Blue Jays in a 13 pitch inning.

It’s hard to predict what the Yankees will get from Jonathan Holder. The 27 year old Holder was lights out over the last month where he only allowed one run over 10 innings (eight appearances). He came in last night to close out last night’s game against Toronto with a 10-3 lead. He departed 28 pitches and four runs later when closer Aroldis Chapman had to come in to put out the fire and lock down the save. Holder’s ERA jumped two full runs after the game, now sitting at 4.08.

Zack Britton continues to bring his lunch pail to work and get the job done. Britton provided four efficient scoreless innings over games 41-50 and picked up a win along the way. I applaud his unselfishness, as he could probably close for every other MLB team not named the Yankees.

The aforementioned Chapman notched a pair of saves this past week and added another memorable moment he probably would prefer never happened. Chapman recorded the first out in the 9th inning of a tie-game against the Orioles. We’ll just let Jomboy break it down, as he always does so well.

Of note, Chapman’s appeal for the suspension he received for throwing a pitch over Tampa Bay Rays hitter Mike Brosseau was supposed to be heard this past Monday (September 14), but there has been nothing reported since. Stay tuned.

Luis Cessa, Mike King, Jonathan Loaisiga and Nick Nelson are the leftovers who usually come in to mop up or cover in the event of injury. Cessa and Loaisiga are generally the more trusted pitchers of this quartet to get the higher leverage innings.

Next time, we’ll cover the final ten games of the season. We’ll also take a peek at what will be ahead for the Yankees as we enter the expanded postseason in this crazy year that is 2020.

For Yankees, Playoffs Start Now

After tonight’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays, the New York Yankees will have completed 80 percent of their 2020 schedule. It has been a roller-coaster season for the Bronx Bombers, with injuries and uneven play up and down the lineup and pitching staff.

The Yankees begin a three-game homestand, taking on Toronto this evening at Yankee Stadium. Last week, the Blue Jays took two of three games against them at Sahlen Field in Buffalo. Thus included a demoralizing 12-7 loss on September 7 when relievers Adam Ottavino and Chad Green thoroughly imploded. The Yankees rebounded, winning the series finale and followed by sweeping the Baltimore Orioles in a four-game set at home.

Looking ahead, this upcoming series against Toronto is the beginning of the (unofficial, of course) playoffs for the Yankees. Their final 13 games consist of the three games at home against the Jays, followed by three games against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway, then four games back in Buffalo against Toronto. Finally, the 2020 campaign closes with a three-game set against the Miami Marlins at home September 25-27.

The Yankees will be healthier in the days ahead. Injured players Gio Urshela, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are expected to all return by the weekend. Scranton Wilkes Barre Railriders reporter Conor Foley (@RailRidersTT) sent this tweet yesterday showing them working out at PNC Field.

The returns of Urshela (expected back tonight), Judge and Stanton give the lineup a nice boost. While players like D.J. LeMahieu, Luke Voit, Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres have carried the team, the addition of the three injured sluggers makes the Yankees much more potent.

It may take a few games for Urshela, Judge and Stanton to get back in a rhythm and feel comfortable. However, the Yankees have to show they can win against their upcoming opponents. The Blue Jays have been rolling, winning twelve of their last 18 games. Their lineup is potent, and their bullpen is quietly effective. They added three starters before the trade deadline and won’t go quietly. The Red Sox have had a miserable season, but will want to gear-up and play spoilers against their longtime rivals. The Marlins won’t roll over, as they are only four games out of first place in the NL East behind the Atlanta Braves. The Yankees will have their hands full over the next two weeks.

For more coverage, you can listen to me as I join the great Sal Maiorana on his podcast “SalSpeaks”. I join Sal each Tuesday as we break down the week for the New York Yankees. The link is below.

https://www.salmaiorana.com/posts/8332010?utm_source=manual

Yankees 30-Game Report

After yesterday’s walk-off win against the New York Mets, the Big Apple’s other team, the Yankees officially reached the halfway point of 2020’s abbreviated schedule. The Bronx Bombers are 17-13 heading into Sunday’s doubleheader against these same Mets.

The past ten games for the Yankees was a brutal stretch. They won the first two games against the Boston Red Sox, were swept by the 1st place Tampa Bay Rays in a three-game set. Then the team was idled due to a handful of Mets players testing positive for COVID-19, followed by an off-day and a rain-out in Atlanta. After play resumed, the Yankees were swept by the Braves in a doubleheader. The Yankees traveled back home to be swept in another doubleheader Friday night against the Mets. Finally the Yanks won Saturday afternoon, snapping a seven-game losing streak.

In fairness, that five day stretch where the Yankees didn’t play a game did not do them any favors. The team has scored 11 runs in five games since resuming play. Not playing for close to a week, doesn’t do any baseball player much good.

Hitting

After spending 15 days on the shelf recovering from a calf injury, Aaron Judge was penciled into the lineup in the second game of a doubleheader in Atlanta. His return lasted six innings before re-injuring the same calf. After hitting a single in three at bats, Judge was replaced by Clint Frazier in right field.

This of course sent Twitter into a raging frenzy. After a couple of days, Brian Cashman told a group of Yankees fans on a Zoom call Judge would be returning to the injured-list. On the same call, he also said shortstop Gleyber Torres was looking at 3-6 weeks for his recovery from a quad strain and hamstring injury.

As for the players still on the field, it wasn’t a pretty ten game stretch. The Yankees did get excellent production from first baseman Luke Voit. Aaron Boone installed Voit in the lead-off slot, and has been a revelation. Luke has hit at a .452 clip in the past ten game (14-31) with 7 HR’s and 10 RBI. He’s simply on fire.

D.J. LeMahieu missed a bunch of games due to a left hand ailment, but returned yesterday. Raking with a .411 average before going on the IL, he picked right up, smoking a triple in the bottom of the 3rd inning. LeMahieu is a welcome sight for this Yankees team.

Third baseman Gio Urshela was held out of the last few games with a bone spur in his right elbow. This may explain why he only had four hits in his last 24 at bats.

Tyler Wade and Miguel Andújar saw increased playing time due to Torres and Urshela being out. Neither player has hit well, combing for four hits in 35 at bats over the past ten games. At least Wade provides reliable defense; a 55-gallon drum is more dependable than Andújar at the hot corner. After a horrible day in Friday’s twin-bill, Miguel was sent back to the team’s alternate site in Scranton. Both Andújar and Wade might benefit from a change of scenery at this point.

With Judge back on the IL, Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier will continue to see increased playing time. Both are productive at the plate, countering the lack of productivity by veterans Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner.

Behind the dish, Gary Sánchez is going through a nightmarish season. On the season, Gary has 10 hits in 77 at bats with 37 strikeouts. In Friday’s doubleheader, he left a small army of Yankees stranded on the bases in two separate crucial plate appearances. Manager Aaron Boone went with 40 year old veteran back-up Erik Kratz to catch J.A. Happ the following day. Kratz and Happ were teammates way back in 2014 when they were with the Toronto Blue Jays. Happ responded with 7.1 scoreless innings, and said he felt very comfortable with Kratz back there.

Pitching

Let’s start with the aforementioned Happ. Coming into Saturday’s start against the Mets with a 6.39 ERA, he did it with a chip on his shoulder. Speaking with the press on a Zoom-call, he said this……

Given Happ’s age (37) and his contract situation (17M/year), there may be something to it. On Saturday, he delivered 7.1 scoreless innings on three hits, with no walks and 5 K’s. He raved about working with Erik Kratz, who may find himself catching Happ in his next turn later this week.

Let’s talk about Gerrit Cole. He’s the undisputed ace of the Yankees pitching staff. As great as he is, he’s giving up home runs at a break-neck (10 over 41.1 innings). Cole allowed one blast in each of his first five starts, followed by a pair of solo shots in St. Petersburg against the Rays. Following that start, Gerrit gave up three bombs to the Braves, including one by Ronald Acuña, Jr. (473 feet) that may still be in orbit. Cole’s stuff is still crisp as ever, and he is his own harshest critic. He’s not someone to worry about because he will figure it out.

Masahiro Tanaka made a pair of starts, one in Tampa where he was pretty bad (6 runs/4 innings/2HR), and one on a hot/humid day in Atlanta (5 scoreless innings). Tanaka still hasn’t thrown more than 71 pitches in a start, and was gassed after 66 pitches against the Braves. The steamy weather in Atlanta may have pushed his endurance a bit.

James Paxton made a start against the Rays at Yankee Stadium that was bizarre. He held Tampa hitless through four innings. Paxton went out for the 5th and struck-out the first batter, followed this with a pair of walks and a wild-pitch, which put the runners on 2nd and 3rd. Joey Wendle doubled home the runners, and went to 3rd on the throw home. Paxton walked the next batter, then allowed a sac fly which scored Wendle. Paxton struck out the next guy, ending the inning. I called the inning bizarre, as Paxton normally has excellent control. Also notable his velocity, already lower in 2020, dropped further – barely touching 90 mph.

A few days later, the Yankees announced Paxton is heading to the IL.

Jordan Montgomery performed well in two starts, the first on August 17 against Boston. He allowed one-run ball into the 4th inning before the game was stopped by rain. The second start was the first game of Friday’s doubleheader. Cruising through five innings, the only blemish an unearned run, thanks to another error by Miguel Andújar. Jordan started the 6th inning allowing a pair of singles on consecutive pitches, which brought Aaron Boone out of the dugout to make a change. Chad Green came in and promptly gave up a home run to Mets first baseman Pete Alonso. Montgomery deserved a better fate.

The bullpen – Yankees relief pitchers haven’t provided much relief. Let’s start with Chad Green since we already touched on him. Coming into the 7 inning twin-bill in Atlanta, Green was his usual dominating self with a ERA of 0.71. Taking over after Tanaka’s five scoreless, he gave up a pair of bombs, handing a win to the Braves. Two days later, Green came in following Jordan Montgomery and it was batting practice. Three homers later, it was all over but the shouting. Those two outings raised Green’s ERA almost three runs.

Adam Ottavino has also tossed gasoline on the fire, coming in after J.A. Happ’s start yesterday only to blow the lead after allowing a home run to Wilson Ramos. On August 20, Ottavino gave up three runs after a poor performance by him and Luis Avilán (since released).

Zack Britton has been a wonder this season, especially while close Aroldis Chapman recovered from a bout with COVID-19. Britton made his first appearance in a non-closing situation against Tampa on August 19, and had a tough outing. After he departed, the team announced he will be going on the IL with a left hamstring problem. He has been throwing bullpens over the past couple days, and should be activated soon.

The 32 year old Chapman has made three appearances. He has yet to earn a save, but looked much better in his last outing, compared to his first pair. The velocity is bumping up for Aroldis, touching 99-100 mph.

Jonathan Loaisiga has worked as an opener and long reliever, turning in reliable work when needed. Jonathan Holder and Luis Cessa have provided decent work, normally in low-leverage situations. It’s asking a bit much for them to pitch with the game on the line, however.

Next time, we will cover the next ten games for the Yankees and see what progresses. Thanks for reading!

Who’s Your Vladdy?

From the time Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. was drafted in July 2015 by the Toronto Blue Jays, he has been compared to his Hall of Fame father, Vladimir Sr. The 20 year old third baseman hits much like his dad, putting baseballs deep into orbit and hitting for a high average at the same time. He even mashes the lowest of pitches a few inches off the ground like Vladimir, Sr. did.

Junior has powered his way through the minor leagues, from High-A Dunedin, to New Hampshire and AAA Buffalo, making it look pretty easy the whole way.

Tonight, the entire world of Major League Baseball will get their first glimpse of Vladdy, Jr. as he makes his big league debut for the Blue Jays.

Twitter is already ablaze with Vladdy’s debut just minutes away. Rogers Sportsnet play by play man Dan Shulman even tweeted out video of batting practice.

You don’t have to be just a fan of the Blue Jays to be excited to watch this kid play. Players like Vladdy are good for the game, just as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are. If you are a baseball fan, take some time this evening and watch Vladimir Guerrero’s first game. You’ll be glad you did.

 

It’s Opening Day!

It’s finally here!

Opening Day in MLB is a holiday in my household. Personally, I feel that it’s better than Christmas. Baseball is my favorite thing in life after my son. Every team in baseball is full of optimism and dreams of hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy in October.

And the weather is warmer in the vast majority of the country than it is on Christmas!

There is literally nothing on the agenda for me today than watching our national pastime. Good luck and best wishes to whomever you root for.

Enjoy the day, everybody!

Yankees Extend Aaron Hicks

Just before 8 o’clock this morning, Jack Curry of the YES Network announced via Twitter that the New York Yankees signed center-fielder Aaron Hicks to a 7 yr./70 million dollar contract extension.

The extension begins with this season, replacing the one year contract Hicks signed in January, and extends through his age-35 season. This is an extremely wise move by Yankees GM Brian Cashman and the front office. It ensures that Hicks, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton will stay together through 2022 at the earliest.

Hicks will man centerfield for the foreseeable future, at least until highly-touted OF prospect Estevan Florial is ready for major-league action. Florial is in Yankees camp as a non-roster invitee, but probably two years away. Chances are Hicks will shift to left field when that time comes.

For this season, it looks like long-time Yankee Brett Gardner will get most of the playing time in left. Gardy is 35, and wears down as the season goes on. He could split time with Clint Frazier, or Jacoby Ellsbury (remember him?) if he actually plays. The Yankees have to pay Ellsbury anyway, so they may as well see if he can contribute.

Long term, I have a feeling Cashman will try to trade Frazier if he has a healthy spring. With Hicks, Judge, Giancarlo and Florial, there’s really no room for Clint. They may as well trade him for prospects and start replenishing the farm system for the future.

Also of note, according to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are now shifting their attention to try to sign Dellin Betances to a long-term deal.

The Yankees play this afternoon against the Toronto Blue Jays at 1:00 on YES Network. The Big Maple, James Paxton makes his spring debut against Marcus Stroman. See you there!