Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Yankees Gave The Advantage Back To Boston

I warned the Yankees about Brock Holt before the game yesterday. The Yankees usually hold their own against the superstars. But the utility guys kick them around all the time. The guy has a 91 career OPS+ and he gets ten total bases in one game against the Yankees. Ah well, the fact is that once again, Luis Severino could not come up big in a playoff game. So he got David Priced by the Red Sox and from there, all hell broke loose.

So now the Yankees face elimination. They have to beat the best team in baseball two games in a row to advance. They lose tonight, they go home. And surprisingly, the Yankees have chosen CC Sabathia to start the game. While this seems a big gamble, it is not as if Sabathia hasn't been here before. He is 2018's Andy Pettitte trying to rally the day. But I thought sure that J.A. Happ would get the start. Boston is why the Yankees went and got him, right? That becomes moot if the Yankees go home.

On the other side, the Boston Red Sox will start, Rick Porcello, a pitcher who has made the Yankees look stupid on many an occasion. The Yankees had a lousy batting plan against Nathan Eovaldi and if they don't plan better against Porcello, they will go home. It is as simple as that. The Yankees cannot continue to try to pull the ball against these guys. Eovaldi will invade the dreams far into the winter.

Aaron Hicks is back. Is that a good thing? Can he play defense with a bad hammy? Can he play it as well as Brett Gardner? At least he will bat third and push Luke Voit down in the batting order. The Yankees got really carried away by batting Voit third yesterday. The guy is easy to love and all of that, but he is not a three-hole hitter and will bog down against good pitching. He is another guy who had all his success hitting the ball to right field and suddenly wants to pull everything now. Why do all Yankee players turn into that? Giancarlo Stanton? Gary Sanchez? Pull, pull, pull. Go the other way!!

The Yankees will win if they have a good plan against Porcello and get him early AND if CC Sabathia can survive four innings with less than three runs. The Yankees will lose in all other scenarios. But at least one shred of dignity will be left. Other than the Braves, the Yankees will be the only vanquished Division Series team that won at least once in the series.

Oh, and remember one thing. In 2004, the Yankees took a 3-0 series lead against the Red Sox by scoring 19 runs in the third game. They never won the fourth game. So anything is possible. It's just not probable.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Yankees Set Up Nicely Against Boston

In a series of five games with the Red Sox getting a home, home, away, away, home advantage, it was crucial that the New York Yankees win one of the games in Boston. Thanks to Boston's insistence of starting David Price, the Yankees accomplished the split up in Boston. That sets the team up nicely as the series becomes a best two-out-of-three contest with two of the games occurring at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees could not have given the team a better chance to upset this American League Division Series.

But that means little. The team still has to go out and beat Boston, a great team, and beat them both games in New York. The Yankees will not want to play a fifth and deciding game in Boston. The Red Sox are very capable of winning one or both of the next two games.

The good news is that the Yankees can start Luis Severino tonight and J.A. Happ tomorrow. The former gives the Yankees its best pure talent on the mound to take a lead in the series. The latter is a lefty, something always useful in Yankee Stadium, and Happ should be better than he was in Game 1.

What could go wrong? Plenty. Severino could come out wild or flat and get banged around. He has lost his pinpoint command that he displayed in all of the first half of the 2018 season. He struggles to get through four or five innings with high pitch counts and lots of tension. He still shows flashes of what can make him so dominant. It would be great if he could be efficient and go deep. If he can do neither, that can be a problem.

What else can go wrong? It has been absolutely galling to see Nathan Eovaldi throw sixteen scoreless innings against the Yankees since Boston picked him up from Tampa Bay. Yankee fans have to be totally befuddled by that development since Eovaldi was a subject of derision when he pitched for the Yankees.

Eovaldi's improvement is not a fluke. His biggest problem when he worked with the Yankees was that his pitches had no movement to go along with his velocity. Thus, a team knew what it was getting and could pound him. Now, it seems as if everything Eovaldi throws has great movement and with his velocity, that makes things difficult for a team that swings for the fences like the Yankees do.

What the Yankees need to do is look for a good first pitch fastball to hit and be aggressive. Later in the count, look to the opposite field as he will be throwing cutters away from the right-handed batters.

The Red Sox have announced some lineup changes for Game 3. Brock Holt, Rafael Devers, Christian Vazquez and Steve Pearce will be starting in place of Ian Kinsler,  Eduardo Nunez, Sandy Leon and Mitch Moreland (respectively).

The Red Sox lose defense without Leon, Kinsler and Moreland, but Holt has always been a pain in the neck for the Yankees and Devers has more power than Nunez though they are both sub-par on defense. Pearce has been a Yankee killer since forever. Yankee fans hate that guy.

The Yankees have put themselves in a very good position. But the Red Sox are terrific and rarely beat themselves. While certainly better than coming home down by two games, the task is still great and the odds of the Yankees winning this series are still 50/50.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Yankees' Pitching Strategy Against Oakland

The Oakland Athletics made a lot of headway and almost overtook the New York Yankees for the right to host the 2018 AL Wild Card Game. The Yankees held on and get to host the game. There are pluses and minuses there. The A's do not hit nearly as well at home as they do on the road. But, then again, the Yankees have won one game in Oakland combined in 2017 and 2018. Besides, in games like this, the crowd and lack of travel will be big items. The biggest question will be how the Yankees will set up their pitching for the game.

If you take a deep look at Oakland's team batting splits, two things become noticeable. The first is that Oakland fares much worse against power pitchers than others. The A's' team OPS sits at a very healthy .765 to go along with a slugging percentage of .439. Against power pitchers, those rates are .734 and .411 respectively.

That bodes well for the Yankee bullpen, but the Yankees' resident power starter is Luis Severino. Severino has faced Oakland three times since the beginning of 2017 and has an ERA over 6.00 in those three games. The Yankees on paper (with small sample sizes) should probably avoid Severino. But that is a little unfair to the pitcher. He pitched a good game (at home) against the A's early in the season and his last loss was that disaster when his catcher fouled him all up.

The other telling split is the difference when the A's face right-handed pitching versus left-handed pitching. The A's' OPS against LHP is 30 points lower than against RHP, but more importantly, had a 22 point lower slugging percentage against the lefties. The most important thing for both teams in this game is to keep the opponent in the yard.

The Yankees have two lefty starters, J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia. While the heart yearns for Sabathia to get the start for the old warrior he has been, The only other good start this season against the A's other than Severino was Happ. You would probably not even consider putting Sabathia on the roster for the game.

The lefty vs. righty split would seem to also give Stephen Tarpley the edge for a roster spot over Tommy Kahnle.

So we have two little weaknesses for the A's. They do not hit power pitchers as well and they fare worse against lefties. This is not to say they are not capable of mashing either. The only point is that there is an edge with these two scenarios.

So, who should it be? Well, we can rule out Sabathia, Lance Lynn (gosh no), Masahiro Tanaka (not a good match-up) and (does it need to be said?) Sonny Gray. That leaves Happ or Severino.

Let's face it: these games are a crap shoots where anything can happen. But the feeling is that it should be Luis Severino over Happ for two reasons. First, it always seems better to go with your best real talent. No starter on the Yankees has more talent than Severino. Secondly, if all goes well and the Yankees win the game, then you have Happ for two games against the Red Sox.

One other point to consider for whoever does get the start: The Yankees and the A's both put the first pitch of an at bat in play at the same rate. In fact, only two at bats separate the two teams. But while the Yankees have a .773 OPS on doing so, the A's have an incredible .883 OPS. The lesson here is that the A's like to jump on a good fat first pitch and the Yankees should not let them do it.

Now that we have decided who should start the game, we need to think about who should be on the 25-man roster for the game. Let's start with the line-up:

  1. Andrew McCutchen - LF
  2. Aaron Judge - RF
  3. Aaron Hicks - CF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton - DH
  5. Didi Gregorius - SS
  6. Miguel Andujar - 3B
  7. Luke Voit - 1B
  8. Gary Sanchez - C
  9. Gleyber Torres - 2B
  10. Neil Walker - Reserve
  11. Austin Romine - Reserve
  12. Brett Gardner - Reserve
  13. Ronald Torreyes - Reserve
  14. Tyler Wade - Reserve (base running)
  15. Luis Severino - SP
  16. Jonathan Holder - RP
  17. Stephen Tarpley - RP
  18. Adam Robertson - RP
  19. Chad Green - RP
  20. Dellin Betances - RP
  21. Zach Britton - RP
  22. Aroldis Chapman - RP
  23. Luis Cessa - RP
  24. Lance Lynn - RP
  25. Domingo German - RP
You hope to get five innings out of Severino and then go: Robertson, Betances, Britton and Chapman. If you get less than five, go with Chad Green and perhaps Tarpley in a situational at-bat. If Severino is terrible from the start, go with Holder. The last three are in case of extra innings.

A one-game scenario is no fun. As they say, "Anything can happen in one baseball game." The Yankees should win with a better overall offense and bullpen and a better starter than any that Oakland can throw out there. But what will be will be. The most a team can do is field its best talent and hope that it is enough.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Yankees May Get Plenty Of Rest In The Playoffs

Nowadays, if a person was to question any of the landslide of decisions being made by a team's analytical department, that person would be considered "Old School" or out of touch. I support and appreciate many of today's new numbers. They do help in understanding things. I have spent a fan's life with a love of box scores and for poring over statistics.  But some still seem counter-intuitive to me. Resting position players is one of them.

I have always written as a fan with a typewriter. The Yankees have always been my team. I am a fan of all things baseball, but the Yankees are deep, deep in my blood and my DNA. The first 77 games of the 2018 season were probably the most fun I have had watching the Yanks in over fifty years of doing so. Why the first 77 games? It was the last game the Yankees were in first place. The team's record was 52-25. With all the young players and the addition of Giancarlo Stanton overcame the concern of the lousy starts by Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird and Sonny Gray.

Since that point, the Yankees have only gone 39-33 and they are 6-8 in September. When they do not hit multiple homers, they cannot score, the pitching has been inconsistent and sometimes the focus seems to come and go. The team does not seem to have a valid plan against the pitcher they are facing. Rather, they stick to their own batting agenda. Those are all observations, so take them or leave them.

The one thing that has rankled more than anything is the emphasis on resting position players. A fan tunes into a game and Aaron Hicks is not playing or Gleyber Torres or Miguel Andujar. If I am not mistaken, those three are the most versatile hitters on the team. Two of them are incredibly young. What is that fan to think?

The first question is: How much rest does a really young player need? The second is: How do you create statistical wins when a game can be lost because one of those three are being rested? Is a statistical win more critical than an actual one?

Let's take the most recent such events. The Yankees had what seemed like a soft spot on their schedule. They played teams like the Twins, Tigers, Blue Jays, etc. This soft spot was in front of the last two weeks that were going to feature a bunch of games against the Red Sox and Rays, both teams that are tough to beat. You would like to have your foot full on the throttle for those games, right?

The period starts right after the Orioles series that the Yankees swept to start the stretch off on the right foot. Next came the White Sox (beginning August 27). The Yankees were short-handed without Didi Gregorius and Andrew McCutchen was not there yet. So the team can be forgiven for DHing Andujar and starting Walker. But they lost two of three.

Then it was on to Detroit, another bad team that had purged its best players. Shane Robinson started in right field and Kyle Higoshioka was behind the plate. Dillon Betances blew a save in a game where he faced left-handed batters in the bottom of the ninth and Zach Britton faced the right-handed ones in the eighth. Bizarre. They went on to split that series, 2-2.

They had a critical three-game series in Oakland. They lost the first game and won the second. In the third game, Miguel Andujar was "rested." The Yankees lost that one and only managed five hits. What everyone will remember is how badly Luis Severino and Gary Sanchez worked together that game. A little offense might have helped, especially in the first inning when they loaded the bases and were a hit away from popping Mike Fiers.

They Yankees won the first two games of a series in Seattle. Then they lost the third one. Andujar was again riding the pines and Didi, though back, was not allowed to start and only pinch hit as his replacement went 0-3.

It was on to Minnesota and the Yankees won the first game. But Sonny Gray was given a start and it did not go well. Brett Gardner was given a day off and Stanton played left. There was one play Stanton could not make that Gardner would have cleaned up that had a lot to do with the runs the Twins piled up--as did a passed ball by Austin Romine who had to play because Gray was pitching. Jonathan Loaisiga should have started the game. Brett Gardner should have started that game. Gardner again did not start the last game which the Yankees also lost. Sitting Gardner meant sitting a player who had seen the starter, Jake Odorizzi more than any other Yankee.

Finally, the team came home to face the Blue Jays. They won the first game easily, 11-0. The rest of the series was awful. Andujar again (!) did not start on Saturday. He did hit a grand slam pinch hitting later in the game. But perhaps, if he had come up in the bottom of the second when the Yankees had bases loaded and no outs, he would have fared better than a Neil Walker strikeout (followed by two more strikeouts). Say Andujar kept the rally going and pushed across a couple of runs, the Yankees would have made different pitching decisions and not let the game get out of hand.

Dillon Betances blew the save plain and simple in the last game. But the Yankees only scored two runs and Neil Walker came up in the ninth and flied out deep (I'll give him that) because the Yankees had removed Andujar for defensive purposes.

The last one listed, that second Blue Jays game was so not understandable. The Yankees had just had a day off the previous Thursday and had another one coming on Monday after the series. Again, how much rest does a player need?

What this does is defy a sense of urgency. The Oakland A's are breathing down the Yanks' collective necks for home field advantage for the Wild Card Game. The Yankees are one for 2017 and 2018 (combined) at Oakland. Every game needs to be played to the max for the rest of the season. But how do you create that mental image in a player's (and the fans') mind when resting people is more important than winning? There is no science that can measure the psychology such decisions create in players.

Perhaps I am a big old school. Why do teams like the Yankees mess around and have Aaron Judge get his toes wet for a week before letting him hit in a live game? Why is Aroldis Chapman throwing simulated games when Betances has blown two games in the past week? Again, where is the urgency? The Yankees urgently need to play the Wild Card Game at home. And even then, they could go home after one game if they lose.

The Yankees have bought into the idea that players need regular rest. It is an idea that has full sway in MLB team analytical offices. Joel Sherman was quoted in this Mike Axisa article that Theo Epstein, AKA, "The Brilliant One," said that a player getting 650 plate appearances was "passe" and 500 was plenty. What!? You are going to take thirty games of Aaron Judge, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, etc., away from their respective teams!? It is absurd. It is also unfair to the paying fans not to see the best players on the field. I am not buying this one. Throw rocks. Call me Gramps. That's fine. But it is absurd.

This season could have been so much more. You can blame it on injuries. Every contending team has had injuries, so I do not want to hear that excuse. I said before the season (on another site) that the Red Sox made the best managerial decision and the Yankees did not. I still believe that. Joe Girardi was fired because he tried to create too much urgency. Aaron Boone does not create enough. I know where Girardi got the team last year. We'll see what happens this.