Week two is in the books and it went a hell of a lot better than week one. If you missed the Yankees week one takeaways, check them out here.
For the purposes of this blog series, let’s say each week begins and ends on Friday. Week to week I’ll highlight a few key takeaways that stood out from the one that just ended.
It was an eventful week for the Yanks, even if it feels like baseball is still not in full swing because of all the off days. We laughed and we cried. We watched Michael Pineda flirt with perfection and Aaron Judge hit bombs. We saw Jordan Montgomery make his big league debut and we didn’t see much of Greg Bird. To the takeaways!
You can’t predict baseball, Suzyn
I don’t know if this is so much a takeaway as it has become a Yankees fan philosophy. Along along with It’s not what you want, You can’t predict baseball, Suzyn (or That’s baseball, Suzyn, if you prefer) has become the answer to anything Yankees related. Ronald Torreyes leads the team in RBIs… You can’t predict baseball, Suzyn. Chase Headley is playing like it’s 2012… You can’t predict baseball, Suzyn. Big Mike took a perfect game into the seventh inning in the Yankees home opener… Say it with me everyone! You can’t predict baseball, Suzyn.
Before Martha Stewart jinxed Pineda’s bid for a perfect game on Monday, the righty was dealing and had the sellout Yankee Stadium crowd electrified. The only other time we saw this level of dominance from Pineda was two seasons ago when he struck out sixteen Orioles.
Performances like Monday’s from Big Mike is what makes him the most frustrating pitcher on the roster. The eye test tells you he should flirt with perfection every time out; he’s got mid-90s heat, a natural cutter, and a sharp slider/curve hybrid. He was also throwing a changeup on Monday, which Austin Romine made a point to call more frequently during the game. It makes you scratch your head and wonder, is it that simple? Is all Pineda has to do is mix-in a changeup to keep hitters off balance? The answer is no, but it’s definitely a start.
The biggest criticism I have of Pineda is that he appears mentally weak. He struggled all last season and in his first outing of 2017 with putting batters away with two strikes and teams away after two outs. It’s as if he loses focus on the mound after already gaining the edge on his opponent. When things go awry he throws his arms up in frustration. If Girardi comes to the mound to yank him from a game earlier than Pineda thinks he should, Mike scowls and turns his back to the dugout. I don’t know if his Opening Day outing is a turning point, all I know is not to count on it.
Pineda is in line to start Sunday night vs the Cardinals, who will have Adam Wainwright on the mound. It has all the makings of a great pitchers duel, however we have seen enough of Pineda to know that you can’t predict his next batter or even next pitch, never mind his next outing.
Matt Holliday has more in the tank than I thought
Holliday walked five times last Sunday vs Baltimore. FIVE! Thanks to that odd afternoon and two weeks of good at bats, Holliday’s early slash line of .276/.462/.448 indicates to me he has more in the tank than I originally thought when the Yankees signed him for $13 million.
When the Yankees inked Holliday in December, the free agent market was flush with hitters poised to get big bucks. Fast forward to late January and we learned that many people overestimated the market and a lot of those hitters (Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Mike Napoli, to name a few) all received less than originally thought. I criticized the Yankees for pouncing on Holliday early because it seemed that a player like Napoli — who they could have had for less — fit their 2017 roster better. So far I’m happy to say I was wrong about Holliday.
The thing I’ve been impressed with most about Holliday is his professional at bats, to borrow a cliche. Unlike Chris Carter (who I’ll get to in a second), Holliday does the little things right. He leads the league in walks and only chases pitches out of the strike zone 18% of the time. Although his at bats have been quality and OBP is swollen, he only has three extra base hits, which I expect to improve as he becomes more familiar with American League pitching and his DH role.
Injuries are the only thing stopping this team
…from being exciting. You thought I meant from competing, didn’t you? Well, unfortunately this team still has a lot of hurdles to overcome, namely their starting pitching, if they are going to battle for the playoffs. If they’re injured, like they are now, then they definitely aren’t going to be in the playoff discussion.
Regardless of their record, the Yankees will be a ton of fun to watch if the young players are on the field.
The first two weeks of the season have been rough as far as injuries go. We lost Gary Sanchez for a month and Greg Bird missed four games with a sore ankle and illness. To make matters worse, James Kaprielian will undergo Tommy John surgery next week, which means we won’t see him on a mound again until next summer. It was a rude awakening to the Yankees youth movement, and a dose of reality that prospects are fickle. What it also showed us is that the Yankees are boring without the kids.
The lineup that Joe Girardi put out Wednesday was the lamest of the season. It gave me 2013 flashbacks of Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, and Jayson Nix.
Today’s lineup: Ellsbury 8 Hicks 7 Holliday dh Carter 3 Castro 4 Headley 5 Judge 9 Higashioka 2 Kozma 6 Montgomery 1
I understood playing Kyle Higashioka to catch Montgomery in his big league debut because they had familiarity with each other from the minors. But Girardi also inserted Pete Kozma for Ronald Torreyes, Chris Carter for a questionable Greg Bird, and Aaron Hicks for Brett Gardner. Watching that B-squad play the first five innings on Wednesday was frightening. Hicks has no business at the top of the lineup (note: written before Hicks single-handedly won Thursday’s game), Carter is a waste of an at bat, and Kozma is a 29-year old journeyman who won’t be on the team once Didi Gregorius is healthy. Without Sanchez and Bird in the lineup, the Yankees are boring and downright bad. That would have been the headline if not for the Rays gift wrapping Wednesday’s game for the Yankees.
Aaron Judge does not have to be perfect to be great
In February I wrote about the possibility of Judge hitting the longest home run in new Yankee Stadium history. He’d have to smash one 478-feet to beat Raul Ibanez’ 2009 blast. After watching Judge at the Stadium this week, it seems entirely possible. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.
@Andrew_Rotondi Cone said the same thing.
Homer distances may seem inconsequential, but what Judge has done so far this season is impressive. This article from FanGraphs outlines his ridiculous exit velocities (Judge is one of only four players in Statcast’s brief history to hit at least three balls in the air 115+ MPH) and breaks-down this improbable home run on Wednesday afternoon.
Why was it improbable? Because he got slightly jammed on a fastball that ran over the inner-half of the plate, didn’t get his arms fully extended, yet still drove the ball 437-feet to the opposite side of center field.
Aaron Judge vs. Erasmo Ramirez looked like this: pic.twitter.com/WlpHVt9SM2
Judge’s strength allows him to be imperfect yet still produce great results. Because he is so big and strong, he can “miss” a ball and still hit it harder and farther than most players in the league. His size, which many scouts feared would add to his limitations, has actually been his greatest asset so far this season. I know we’re all excited to watch Bird get back to his spring training form and for Sanchez to return from the DL, but let’s enjoy what Judge is doing right now.
Finally, may I present to you the ‘Ronald Torreyes is tiny’ picture of the week. Last week it came high-fiving Judge, this week it was take your little brother to work day for Judge and Dellin Betances.