- “There’s a gigantic difference in how we use analytics here compared to Baltimore,” Yankees reliever Zach Britton told Fangraphs’ David Laurila. After coming to New York from the Orioles in a trade deadline swap, Britton was presented with lots of personally-focused data. “I’d never been exposed to that amount of information,” Britton said. “And it’s not just ’Here’s a stack of stuff to look over.’ …. I don’t want to get into specifics, but some of it is how my ball moves, both my sinker and my slider, compared to different hitters’ swings. It kind of opens your eyes to things you maybe didn’t think of when you didn’t have that information.” The Orioles are known to be looking for a more analytically-minded figure in their new general manager, though the team has a long way to go to catch up to the Yankees, who are known to have one of baseball’s best information departments. If Britton’s comments sound similar to Justin Verlander’s reaction to joining the Astros last season, it isn’t a surprise, as Britton noted that “If you look at the teams in the postseason, most are well-known for their analytics departments, especially the Astros.”
The latest on the Yankees, who will try to draw even against the archrival Red Sox in Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Saturday after dropping the opener Friday:
- Luke Voit may be on his way to becoming an “increasingly legitimate answer” at first base for the Yankees, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post observes. Acquired in what was then a low-key trade with the Cardinals in July, Voit slashed an astounding .322/.398/.671 (187 wRC+) with 15 home runs in 161 regular-season plate appearances, also posting the majors’ leading expected weighted on-base average (.440) among those with at least 150 PA. The 27-year-old continued to stand out during the Yankees’ first two playoff games – including their wild-card win over the Athletics – and general manager Brian Cashman said Friday (via Davidoff): “He’s certainly exceeded my expectations. He’s batting close to the middle of the lineup in the postseason. That’s pretty impressive stuff. And he’s certainly taken advantage of his opportunity playing here. I’m thankful for it.”
- Voit was on New York’s “radar” before it acquired him for relievers Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos, Cashman revealed, adding that “our analytics crew had noticed him early on. In a lot of our meetings last year, he was someone we coveted from St. Louis, and we finally matched up.” Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe sheds more light on the Voit addition, writing that assistant GM Tim Naehring has credited both the Yankees’ scouting staff and fellow AGM Mike Fishman – an “analytics guru,” per Cafardo – for the move. A 22nd-round pick of the Cardinals in 2013, Voit totaled just 137 PA with them – during which he batted a mediocre .240/.307/.432 (93 OPS+) – prior to the trade.
- While Voit looks like the in-house favorite to start at first for the Yankees in 2019, Cashman’s not ready to give up on the 25-year-old Greg Bird, who has battled injuries and inconsistency during his 659-PA career (via Davidoff). “The way his season played out has been a head-scratcher. But the great thing about our game … is he’ll go home and try to regain all the accolades that were coming his way with performance and that can start next spring,” Cashman said of Bird, who hit an ugly .199/.286/.386 (81 wRC+) with 11 HRs in 311 trips to the plate during the regular season.
- Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks aggravated his right hamstring Friday, forcing him to exit in the fourth inning, but it seems he dodged a serious injury. While Hicks won’t start Game 2 in Boston, he’ll be available off the bench, Bryan Hoch of MLB.com relays. Manager Aaron Boone said he “wouldn’t hesitate” to use Hicks, whom Brett Gardner replaced Friday and will once again fill in for on Saturday.
Steven Wright won’t pitch again in the ALDS, per Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston via Twitter. Wright, arbitration eligible for the second time this winter, returned in 2018 to post a 2.68 ERA (4.37 FIP) in sixteen relief appearances and four starts after losing most of 2017 to invasive surgery that repaired cartilage in his knee. The knuckleballer had an MRI after feeling discomfort in the surgically repaired knee before the game, making him a last minute scratch from Alex Cora’s bullpen in Friday’s ALDS game one, and he will see a knee specialist when the team arrives in New York. In an earlier piece, Drellich noted that Wright’s replacement on the ALDS roster would likely come from a pool of Bobby Poyner, Heath Hembree, Hector Velazquez or Brian Johnson. For last night at least, even Rick Porcello was surprised to hear his name called, per this fun peak behind the curtain from Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Boston manager Alex Cora recognized the need for improvisation during the playoffs – as using Porcello in relief was plan “C and a half.” The injury likely affects Boston’s playoff rotation, as mid-season acquisition Nathan Eovaldi could slide up a day to take Porcello’s scheduled start in game three if the latter isn’t ready to go on two days rest.
More from the Red Sox, Yankees ALDS…
- Drellich also writes that now might be the time for Matt Barnes to step up as the potential stopper the Red Sox need. With Craig Kimbrel an impending free agent, Barnes’ moment could extend through next season. Boston’s offseason decisions do not probably hinge on playoff performance – he’s been in the organization since 2011 and they likely have a sense for his abilities – but it’s an interesting narrative to track. The 28-year-old reliever would certainly be a cheaper option over Kimbrel – he’s arb eligible for the first time this offseason – and his stuff compares – Barnes’ 14.01 K/9, 4.52 BB/9, 53 GB% to Kimbrel’s 13.85 K/9, 4.48 BB/9, 28.2 GB % in 2018. Collecting saves in 2019 would certainly net Barnes a larger pay bump his second time through arbitration. For next season, however, he provides Boston with a lower-cost option to close out games.
- Across the diamond, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports Aaron Hicks aggravated his bothersome right hamstring Friday. Hicks was forced to leave the game after singling off Chris Sale in the fourth and was scheduled for an MRI. Hicks has struggled with a series of nagging injuries during his Yankees tenure, to his oblique, intercostal muscle and now his hamstring – which he injured on September 24th before being cleared of a tear two days later. Brett Gardner is likely to get the start in game two if Hicks can’t go. More concernedly for Hicks, hamstring injuries are notoriously tricky as they often lead to overcompensation and further injury down the line if tested too early. One hopes Hicks can get healthy and stay healthy, lest he earn the ever-ominous label of “injury prone” leading up to his 2019 free agency. Hicks will be arbitration eligible for the final time this offseason and due a raise after hitting .247/.368/.465 with a 127 wRC+.
While many simply point to the Yankees’ payroll as the reason for their success, general manager Brian Cashman has spent over a decade quietly assembling an analytics department that rivals any in baseball, as Marc Carig and Eno Sarris detail in a fascinating piece for The Athletic (subscription required). Current assistant GM Michael Fishman was hired as the Yankees’ first full-time analyst in 2005, and today, New York has an estimated 20 employees on their analytics team. This ties them with the Dodgers as the largest such staff in baseball by Carig and Sarris’ count, though they note that teams are notoriously secretive in providing any details about their information-gathering practices. The increased focus on analytical data has impacted all levels of the baseball operations and scouting departments, with the results apparent in how the Yankees have built their outstanding bullpen, all their pitchers’ high velocity and spin rate on their four-seam fastballs, and in the sheer number of current Major League players that the Yankees originally signed or drafted.
The Yankees and Athletics have named their starters for Wednesday’s American League wild-card game. New York will turn to right-hander Luis Severino, the team confirmed, while Oakland will open the game with reliever Liam Hendriks, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The fact that the A’s are counting on Hendriks in such an important role would’ve been a shock back in July, when they outrighted him, but the 29-year-old reemerged as an effective member of the team’s pitching staff in September. Severino, meanwhile, is in line to start his second straight AL wild-card contest. Last year’s showing was disastrous, as Severino allowed three earned runs and only recorded one out against the Twins before exiting what proved to be a comeback win for the Yankees. In an MLBTR poll over the weekend, the plurality of voters expressed that J.A. Happ should start the game over Severino. The Yankees disagree.
- Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez has come under fire for his difficulty with blocking pitches – he was the majors’ third-worst catcher in that department during the regular season, according to Baseball Prospectus – but general manager Brian Cashman isn’t overly concerned about that aspect of his game. “Believe it or not, that falls down (the list) compared to the other things he brings to the table, including his bat,” Cashman told NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty, who goes into detail about Sanchez’s subpar regular season. After establishing himself as an elite offensive catcher from 2016-17, his first two seasons, Sanchez fell flat during an injury-shortened year with a .186/.291/.406 line in 374 plate appearances. The 25-year-old continued to provide considerable power, though, evidenced by his 18 home runs and .220 isolated slugging mark, and may have deserved better production in general. Not only did Sanchez post a .220 batting average on balls in play, down from .308 over the previous two years, but he logged a .357 expected weighted on-base average – up 53 points from his .304 wOBA (per Statcast). And for all the handwringing over his defense, Sanchez actually earned a positive overall mark from BP.
While we know the Yankees will host the Athletics in the American League wild-card game on Wednesday, it’s not yet clear which pitcher will start for either team. The A’s seem poised to take an unconventional path and roll with their bullpen all night, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported Saturday, while the Yankees are likely to take a more traditional path. New York’s brass is currently debating whether to start Luis Severino, J.A. Happ or Masahiro Tanaka, who comprise the top three in the team’s rotation.
No matter who starts for the Yankees, one thing’s obvious: He’s in for an extremely difficult test against Oakland, whose offense ranks fourth in the majors in runs scored. The A’s have been death on both right-handers (112 wRC+) and lefties (106), meaning the Yankees can’t base their pick largely on pitcher handedness, and own the majors’ best road wRC+ (116). They also lead the league in fly ball rate (38.9 percent) and rank third in home runs, which bodes well for a team set to play at HR-friendly Yankee Stadium.
The A’s power could help steer the Yankees away from Tanaka, a homer-prone righty whose HR-to-FB rate (17.7 percent) is the majors’ sixth highest among pitchers who have thrown at least 150 innings this year. The left-handed Happ’s 30th in that category (13.4 percent), while Severino sits 45th (11.4 percent). On the other hand, the fact that Tanaka tends to shy away from fastballs could work in his favor. Tanaka has thrown his splitter 32 percent of the time this year, and according to Statcast, the A’s have only managed the majors’ second-worst weighted on-base average (.162) against that pitch. The 29-year-old’s main offering is his slider, which he has gone to 33 percent of the time. Oakland does place third in the majors in wOBA versus that pitch, though its .287 mark still doesn’t look that threatening. The A’s have also held their own against four-seam fastballs, evidenced by their .361 wOBA (ninth in the game), and that’s the pitch both Severino (50 percent) and Happ (59 percent) rely on the most.
The above numbers may factor into the Yankees’ decision for Wednesday, though if they make their call largely on upside, Severino will be the choice. The hard-throwing 24-year-old has been one of the sport’s most electrifying starters since last season, after all, and looked like an AL Cy Young front-runner during the first half of the season. Severino has experienced some turbulence since then, as he posted a horrid 5.57 ERA in the second half. At the same time, though, the righty still recorded excellent secondary numbers (10.86 K/9 against 2.00 BB/9, 3.37 FIP/3.06 xFIP), which suggests he deserved much better than his unsightly ERA, and finished the regular season allowing two or fewer earned runs in three straight starts.
Like Severino, Happ has been hot lately. Not only does Happ own a 2.62 ERA in the second half, but the 35-year-old has helped the Yankees to wins in nine of his 11 starts since they acquired him from the Blue Jays on July 26. However, his 4.21 FIP as a Yankee indicates fortune has been on his side. Tanaka, meanwhile, enjoyed a lights-out second half of the season in which he put up a 2.85 ERA/2.98 FIP with 9.41 K/9 and 1.61 BB/9. But it’s worth pointing out he’s fresh off back-to-back rough starts that saw him yield a combined eight earned runs in as many innings.
Based on numbers, selecting a starter against the A’s may not be a slam dunk for the Yankees. But in the end, the club’s choice might not even be on the mound for long. Whether it’s Severino, Tanaka or Happ, New York won’t gives its first-inning pick much rope Wednesday, largely because its bullpen is loaded with appealing choices. That relief corps was put to the test early in the Yankees’ wild-card game win last year, when the Twins teed off on Severino and chased him off the mound after he recorded just one out and allowed three earned runs. The Yankees’ bullpen saved them in a comeback victory in the Bronx that night, and they can only hope they won’t need that kind of help again in this season’s sudden death round.
(poll link for app users)
- Major League Baseball has issued a five-game suspension to Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia and a three-game ban to Rays right-hander Andrew Kittredge, Daniel Kramer of MLB.com was among those to report. Both players will serve their suspensions at the beginning of the 2019 season, if they’re upheld through the appeals process. Sabathia was ejected from a win over the Rays on Thursday after throwing at catcher Jesus Sucre, a retaliatory move which served as a response to Kittredge nearly hitting Yankees backstop Austin Romine in the previous half-inning. Sabathia’s ejection may have cost him a significant amount of money, considering he was cruising through five innings and was only two frames away from notching 155 for the season. Had Sabathia reached that mark, he’d have secured a $500K bonus. It’s still possible the 38-year-old will earn that money, though, with George A. King III of the New York Post noting the Yankees could use him for a couple innings Sunday in Boston in a postseason tuneup. However, Sabathia told reporters on Saturday that he’s not interested in doing that (via Erik Boland of Newsday). “Nah, man, the season’s over for me. I’m ready for the lights to come on,” he said.
Yankees lefty C.C. Sabathia cost himself a $500K bonus during today’s matchup against the Rays after he was ejected for plunking catcher Jesus Sucre in retaliatory fashion. As Steve Gardner of the USA Today details, Sabathia’s contract included incentive bonuses in the amount of $500K for eclipsing each of the 155, 165, 175, and 185 inning plateaus. As it stood, Sabathia, who sat at 54 pitches in the 6th inning of game in which the Yankees led 11-0, was a near sure bet to hit the first mark, standing just six outs from the total at the time of the incident, though later he confessed ignorance regarding the matter in a soirée with reporters. The 38-year-old, who’s earned upwards of $250MM in his MLB career, turned in another solid campaign for the Bombers this season, comfortably outperforming his peripheral marks (4.22 FIP, 4.28 SIERA) for the third consecutive year on the way to 3.77 ERA, all while posting his highest strikeout rate since 2012. Sabathia has already expressed a desire to pitch next season, and figures to be in line for a similar (one year, $10MM) deal to the one he inked before the ’18 campaign, should he choose to continue.
- Marc Carig of the The Athletic dives deep into the Yankees bullpen and the manner in which it’s deployed in a fabulously detailed piece that’s unquestionably a must-read for all Pinstripe fanatics. The Yankee pen of ’18 ranks, per fWAR and K/9, as the best in baseball history, a fact that likely comes as little surprise to anyone who’s followed the incredible collection of talent assembled in the unit over the last few seasons. Notably, Carig also canvasses the depths to which the unit is influenced by new analytics, making particular mention of rookie manager Aaron Boone’s number-crunching preferences: Boone, it seems, has bucked convention by eschewing previous batter/pitcher history and platoon advantages in favor of new-wave proprietary data based primarily on pitch types, spin rates, and recent velocity totals while aiming to deploy the best possible arm for the situation. Though the Bombers have a firmly entrenched reputation as one of the league’s most data-hungry franchises, it no doubt helps to feature a cavalcade of relievers capable of setting down batters from both sides at almost any point throughout the game.