There’s an adage in baseball that says the season doesn’t start until after Memorial Day. It may sound ridiculous considering the season is two months old, but the reality is there is so much more baseball to play (it’s a long season, in case you didn’t know).
The Yankees, at 27-17, have a 2.5 game division lead, and you can argue they have been slumping recently.
Aaron Judge’s torrid home run rate has slowed (he’s now only on pace for 55). Gary Sanchez has still not released his kraken and Chase Headley went back to being, well, Chase Headley. The offense is being carried by Brett Gardner’s unlikely power stroke (9 HRs in 22 games) and Didi Gregorius, who is now hitting .330. The good news for the Yankees is they should be getting a healthy Greg Bird back and the team is winning despite not playing their best ball.
The Judge’s Chambers
It’s been a little white (two weeks) since Aaron Judge had his own TWiYB section. Last Sunday at The Trop, we witnessed what makes Judge a special player.
Judge went 0-for-4 at the plate with four strike outs (the dreaded golden sombrero) but still managed to impact the game in a major way. That run-saving diving catch preserved a 1-run lead for the Yankees, which they managed to hold onto for a 3-2 victory. The 450-foot home runs and 115+ mph exit velocities are what put Judge on the map, but it’s plays like that in right center that will make him a transcendent player.
The day after his game-saving catch, the Yankees unveiled The Judge’s Chambers, an 18-seat designated area in section 104. This is a monumental shift in action for the Yankees, who rarely do gimmicky stuff like this. It’s especially surprising because Judge is a rookie; it’s not like they gave Derek Jeter his own section by the third base camera well after he went diving in there in 2004. To build a section for a rookie shows how the times have changed for the New York Yankees.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that is a bad thing. After all, this is sports entertainment we’re talking about. Baseball isn’t international politics or banking regulations, and people who treat it as such are annoying. Sports are fun, that’s why things like celebrations or player-dedicated fan areas should be encouraged, not disparaged. So, is this tacky? Sort of. Will the novelty subside? Yup. Could this backfire if Judge goes into a long-term horrendous slump? Uh-huh. But for now let’s just embrace the fact that the Yankees are trying new ways to enhance the fan experience.
Live by the home run, die by the home run
The Yankees lost an annoying game on Tuesday night that highlighted some of their deficiencies. The solo home run Jordan Montgomery served-up to Lorenzo Cain in the 7th inning looked benign, but it was the beginning of the end for the Yankees.
Montgomery gave way to Adam Warren with two outs in the 7th. Warren has struggled since allowing just 1 earned run over his first 19 innings pitched this year. Since then, Warren has surrendered 7 runs in 5.1 innings with a .333 BA-against. In other words, this is the Adam Warren the Cubs shipped back to New York last summer.
Warren, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve allowed 6 unanswered runs to score, gift-wrapping a 6-2 win to the Royals. A lot of things went wrong on Tuesday, but what continues to stick out to me is that the Yankees rely too heavily on home runs.
The offensive numbers for this team look good on paper. They’re 2nd in runs per game with 5.53, which, after all, is the bottom-line offensive number to look at. They also rank highly in batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs (obviously), and extra base hits. There’s another stat they lead in: they leave the most runners in scoring position per game with 3.95.
Tuesday was no different. The Yankees left 8 men on base and went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position. The two runs they did score came via solo home runs by Aaron Hicks and Chris Carter. In fact, all the runs they scored on Monday were via the home run as well. And so were 2 of the 3 runs scored on Sunday.
Had the Yankees plated a couple more of those runs earlier in the game on Tuesday, maybe Joe Girardi would not have been so quick to yank Montgomery. Lots of people were second-guessing Girardi for going to Warren, which is easy to do in hindsight, but the reality is that Joe does not trust the rookie Montgomery with a 1-run lead. That’s trust that will come, but it takes more than 8 big league starts to earn it.
Part of me thinks the Yankees inability to hit with runners in scoring position is a trend that will not continue. Water has to find it’s level, right? The Yankees rank 2nd in OBP, and any time there are that many runners on base, good things are bound to happen.
Gleyber on the move, Headley on notice
Gleyber Mania reached Scranton this week. Torres, the Yankees number-1 prospect, was promoted to Triple-A after just 32 games in Double-A where he slashed .273/.367/.496. Those numbers, while good, don’t tell the whole story. Every scout said Torres checked all the boxes the Yankees were looking for in Trenton, and after a slow start that was partially due to injury, Torres lit up the league. Less than two months was enough for Cashman and the organization to be convinced Torres was ready for the next step.
Gleyber, batting third, went 1-for-3 with a walk in his first game with the RailRiders. The most notable part of his night was that he was playing third base, not shortstop.
Erik Boland reported that the Yankees will have Torres on a 3-3-2 rotation: three consecutive games at 3B, three at SS, and two at 2B. This minor change from his Trenton defensive rotation — which was three at SS, two at 3B, and two at 2B — could indicate the Chase Headley era in the Bronx is nearing it’s end… mercifully.
Headley duped a lot of people into believing he regained his 2012 MVP-level form with a hot April. Since then, Chase is hitting .153 with 25 strike outs in 72 at bats. This is on par with the April/May Headley from last year when he was the worst offensive position player in baseball. Headley is also booting the ball more frequently; his 9 errors in just 39 games are already one fewer than his 2016 total.
I didn’t expect Chase to be the .300 hitter we saw in April, but if he just managed a pedestrian .250-.260 this season then he would have flown under the radar. Instead he is once again a liability, but now with a phenom nipping at his heels.