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TWiYB: This Week in Yankees Baseball – Week 5

New month, same slugging Yankees. I for one was sad to see April go. It was like a dream; Aaron Judge was setting new records every night, the pitching staff was out-performing our wildest expectations, and Chase Headley… didn’t stink!

For a second I was worried the Yankees mojo ran out when the calendar turned to May. Luis Severino had his first lousy outing of the season and Greg Bird found himself on the disabled list. But then things quickly turned again and the Yankees took the 3-game set from the struggling Blue Jays to claim sole possession of first place in the AL East.

Here’s last week in Yankees baseball in case you missed it.

We all got Girardi’d

Last weekend in the Bronx was wild. The Yankees erased a 9-1 deficit with 12 outs to go, thus producing one of my favorite pictures of the Yankees season. As if that wasn’t enough, Sunday’s marathon game was even weirder.

If you missed it or simply tried to wipe it from your memory, here’s what happened: Didi Gregorius tied the game for the Yankees in the bottom of the 9th with a two RBI single (yippee!). Joe Girardi then went to Aroldis Chapman to pitch the 10th inning (makes sense, you use your closer in a tie game of extra innings). With a thin bullpen and prospect of many more innings to play, Girardi did not want to waste Bryan Mitchell who had already pitched the 8th, so he shifted Mitchell to first base and removed Chris Carter from the game. Let me repeat that, Bryan Mitchell, PITCHER, shifted to first base so he could come back into the game if it went that far.

For a little while it actually looked like Girardi was a genius. He was able to get Chapman into the game without burning Mitchell, who could throw multiple innings if need be. Chapman is a low-contact rate pitcher, so the chances for Mitchell to show off his cat-like reflexes at first would be lower. Everything worked out until Mitchell went back to the mound after the Yankees wasted a golden scoring opportunity in the bottom of the 10th and surrendered the lead. I can’t really blame Mitchell, who essentially had an hour long rest in between throwing pitches. It was good in theory but not in practice.

It was a bizarre game. Not only did it drag on for 4 hours and 37 minutes, but Girardi’s roster maneuvering caused mass confusion among the media and fans. Nothing we could do except throw up our hands and say, That’s baseball, Suzyn.

League-leading offense

The Yankees rank first in the American League in: runs (148), runs per game (5.7), home runs (44), RBIs (138), OBP (.355), and SLG (.469). They also rank third in stolen bases (19) and walks (112). Their offense is everything I wanted it to be and more, yet it still has room for improvement.

The real reason the Yankees lost last Sunday’s wacky game to Baltimore was because they left 16 runners on base, not because Girardi had Bryan Mitchell pitch and play first base.

As a team, the Yankees rank 8th in the AL with a .249 batting average with runners in scoring position — 24-points below their overall team average. The homers are fun and exciting, but the team is scoring nearly 55% of it’s runs via the long ball. They need to get more hits with runners on base if their offense is to be near the top come September.

Not only are they middle of the pack when it comes to RISP, but they’re dead last in first base production by a mile. This should come as no surprise. Greg Bird has been totally lost all season and is now on the 10-day DL. Chris Carter has been equally as lost at the plate, and the reigning NL home run king has been more valuable to the Yankees defensively than offensively thus far. Combined, they have put up a pathetic .158/.266/.253 slash line. That will be better. It has to get better. It can’t get any worse.

Finally, this offense is getting their most feared hitter from 2016 back in the lineup this weekend. Gary Sanchez has been out for a month, and while Austin Romine has filled in admirably, he’s no Kraken. The Yankees as a team rank 9th in catcher production. I think we all expect that to change once Sanchez is back in the lineup every day.

Didi not skipping a beat

This is what I wrote last week about Didi Gregorius’ impending return: Torreyes has gone about his business and out-performed all expectations in Didi’s absence with a .308 average and 13 RBIs. But can we please chill with the “What are we going to do with Toe when Didi comes back” talk? I love Torreyes as much as the next fan, but he’ll be just fine as the utility infielder. I’m looking forward to watching Didi take the next step as he enters the prime of his career and Ronald freakin’ Torreyes is not going to stand in his way.

I’m so glad Didi got off to a quick start — he’s 8-for-24 (.333) with 5 RBIs — so we didn’t have to hear a bunch of hot takes about Torreyes being the starting shortstop and Didi messing up the Yankees chemistry. Gregorius fits in nicely to the middle of the Yankees batting order because he hits lefties (.320/.357/.469 last season) and projects to have more power than Jacoby Ellsbury, who has been filling that lefty middle-of-the-lineup void. Didi also has a cannon for an arm; while Torreyes is solid at multiple positions, he does not have the capabilities to make the ‘wow’ play that Didi possesses.

TWiAJ

That stands for This Week in Aaron Judge, in case you were wondering. When am I going to stop talking about Aaron Judge, you ask? When Aaron Judge stops doing Aaron Judge things.

Say Aaron Judge one more time…

Aaron Judge.

Yankees fans know that Judge has been amazing all season, but it seems like the rest of baseball is finally taking notice. This is evident by Judge’s walk totals over the past week. Judge has 15 walks on the season, which are the driving contributor to his stellar .433 OBP, but 8 of those 15 walks have come in the last six games. Opposing pitchers are not attacking Judge with the same here it is, hit it mentality they were at the end of 2016 because he has punished baseballs to the moon and back. Instead, Judge is only getting a pitch or two per at bat to drive, and with nobody on base he may not see anything to hit at all. This is what we in the biz call The Barry Bonds Treatment.

The two biggest concerns entering the season for Judge were plate discipline and contact rate. He is never going to be Joey Votto, who’s career walk percentage (17.3%) and strike out percentage (18.7%) are nearly the same. Judge’s walk and strike out percentages for the season are 15.2% and 26.3%, respectively. The discipline he’s shown as pitchers have given him less and less to hit has been one of the biggest offseason transformations I’ve ever seen, and the key reason as to why fans are chanting MVP! when he’s at the plate. (Side note: Let’s hold off on MVP-chants until after the All Star break, at the very least.)

Another developing storyline surrounding Judge are the comparisons between he and Derek Jeter. This has more to do with the way Judge conducts himself off the field and in post-game interviews. He essentially sounds like Derek Jeter 2.0 when he talks; always team-first, never braggadocious. Ken Rosenthal wrote an interesting article earlier this week about why the Yankees took a chance on Judge in the 2013 first round. They saw shades of Jeter in Judge back then, in addition to his massive stature and raw skills. Makeup, as we know, can go a long way to a player’s success in New York.

I like how both Judge and Jeter handled the comparisons. As Derek said, let Judge be Judge. If that means leading the league in sky-scraping and laser-beam dingers, then sign me up.

Oh, and don’t look now but Judge has been the best player in baseball so far this season.

The Yankees are also realizing they have a marketing gold mine in Judge. They are shoving Judge and Torreyes down our throats, and Yankees fans are eating it up. Alls fun when you’re smashing homers and winning ballgames.

 

Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Rotondi

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