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Off-Day Musings and Analysis

The Yankees are officially in the home stretch now with just two weeks remaining in the regular season. Barring some form of horrific, historic collapse, the Yankees will go to the playoffs and win the AL East. While the remaining games have importance, and getting home field advantage throughout the playoffs would certainly be a preferable outcome to the end of the season, I am personally more concerned about finishing the season with as many healthy players as possible. It will be a delicate balance, but Aaron Boone has a tough job ahead of him to ensure that guys get the right amount of playing time to be sharp for the playoffs while keeping the Yankees’ foot to the accelerator enough to win some ball games.

As we look to the last couple of weeks of the regular season, here are a few storylines I’ve thought about a bit:

Yankee Pitching

We’ve talked about the Yankee pitching staff ad nauseum this year, for good reason. While the staff looked solid coming into the season, the relative strength of the offense made the pitching look like the obvious weak link. That narrative has rung true for much of the season. By ERA, the Yankees are a middle-of-the-pack pitching staff, ranking 15th in baseball. Other markers are mixed: the Yankees rank 9th in fWAR, 6th in K/9, and 24th in HR/9. The Yankees’ bullpen has helped prop up what has been an inconsistent starting rotation that has been forced to rely on an opener at times due to a lack of depth and injuries.

Injuries have certainly cost the Yankees dearly with regards to run prevention on the mound. The starting rotation that was missing depth for much of the season would have likely been much stronger had Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery been healthy for a greater percentage of the season. The bullpen, which has been strong, would likely be the best in baseball if Dellin Betances had been around to pitch 65-75 innings. Montgomery is likely a true-talent 1.5-2.5 WAR pitcher, Severino’s baseline WAR is roughly 5 (though admittedly somewhat volatile), and Betances has historically been worth at least 1.5 WAR. Simply adding WAR to the Yankees’ current total isn’t necessarily the right way to look at what the Yankees have lost, but taking even the 3-5 WAR bump the Yankees could have gotten from a half season with these guys over below-replacement level performances from the likes of Nestor Cortes, Ryan Dull, Tyler Lyons, etc. gives you a sense of how much stronger the Yankees’ pitching staff could have been during the regular season.

The good news? At least two of three should be around to pitch meaningful innings in October for the Yankees this season, as long as all goes according to plan (yes, I’m knocking on wood as I write that). Monty and Betances each made their 2019 debuts in Sunday’s loss to the Blue Jays and Sevy is set to make his debut Tuesday night against the Angels.

Monty suffered multiple setbacks on the road to recovery from Tommy John Surgery, a recovery process that too many in the media take as a given. It was great to see Monty throw on Sunday and look like Monty from a stuff perspective, but I don’t think that he’s a realistic option in October. He looks like a guy who is still in rehab-mode, and while his stuff looks good, his command just isn’t there yet. I’m thrilled that Monty gets to begin to work out the kinks at the big league level to finish the season, but he’s prepping for next season at this point.

Betances, on the other hand, can be expected to play a major role in the playoffs during this year’s push for a World Series title. Betances struck out both batters he faced on Sunday, but he isn’t quite all the way back yet. Betances is basically going through his Spring Training here in September, and while the stuff looked sharp, his velocity isn’t there yet, as he was sitting 93-95 MPH during his outing. While that’s certainly plenty hard when combined with his high-spin breaking stuff, Betances is typically in the 96-99 MPH range with his fastball. Betances may still get there, but I’m okay with having him in the bullpen even if he doesn’t get all the way back. Betances can be plenty effective if he can sit in the mid-90s, say 94-96 MPH. Thinking about the lineups he’ll face in October, the more velocity, the better.

Sevy is the real wildcard. The video from his minor league rehab outings is encouraging, but getting Severino ready for the playoffs would be the greatest benefit to the Yankee pitching staff.

All of this is to say that while the Yankees have battled for the best record in the AL with middling pitching, help is already here, and the pitching staff may be a greater strength in October if Betances and Severino can approach their previous levels of performance.

CC a LOOGY?

I have opined both here on Start Spreading the News and on the Bronx Beat Podcast that CC Sabathia has value to the Yankees this year even if he can’t start. CC’s knee is, sadly, not allowing him to work through a lineup much more than once. Boone has even acknowledged that CC’s best role on a playoff roster may not be as a starter, noting that he is going to give CC a look out of the ‘pen in the last two weeks of the season.

This makes a ton of sense, and it is a move that I think the Yankees would have made earlier if they had more depth in the starting rotation. Most importantly, CC still does one thing at an elite level: get left-handed batters out. While CC’s numbers against lefties are tempered by homers (7 allowed in 96 PA), CC has struck out 24/96 batters (25% K%) in those appearances while allowing just a .266 OBP. CC still has a great slider that he can work away to LHH, which can come in handy in October.

I’m sure CC wanted his last season to go better from a personal performance standpoint, but that doesn’t mean that the big fella (future Hall-of-Famer, in my opinion) can’t have one or two more big moments for the Yankees. I love CC, and hope that his knee will allow him to finish the next 6 weeks strong.

One Up, One Down

We all know Luke Voit has had a tough comeback from his sports hernia. Between August 30th and September 10th, Voit had an ugly 13 strikeouts in just 37 PA, while hitting .242/.324/.333, and just looking a bit off at the plate. I’m hoping that we’ll look back and remember last week as the turning point.

Voit had a big game against the Tigers on September 12th, and he hasn’t slowed down since, hitting .368/.478/.789, with 2 homers and a K/BB rate of 2 K/4 BB. Voit’s struggles since had multiple members of the media talking about his place in the lineup in the playoffs. While those conversations were premature, the concerns were valid. While the Yankees are looking at an infield logjam in October if everyone stays healthy and effective, it’s better to have that problem than the problem of not having enough guys for 5 spots. Voit was a huge part of the early season offense, and he can be again, so it’s good to see him put good at-bats together again. Visually, Voit looks worlds better at the plate, so I think his surge is here to stay.

On the other hand, all of the injury conversation has hidden the struggles of a lineup mainstay: DJ LeMahieu. Since September 2nd, LeMahieu has hit for an empty .605 OPS in 56 PA. Check out his batted ball profile during that time, courtesy of Fangraphs:


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DJLM’s Batted Ball Profile Since 9/2, Courtesy of Fangraphs (Click to Enlarge)
DJLM’s Batted Ball Profile Since 9/2, Courtesy of Fangraphs (Click to Enlarge)


DJLM’s Batted Ball Profile Since 9/2, Courtesy of Fangraphs (Click to Enlarge)


Now, check out his typical batted ball profile, according to Statcast:


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DJLM 2019 Batted Ball Spray Chart, Courtesy of Statcast
DJLM 2019 Batted Ball Spray Chart, Courtesy of Statcast


DJLM 2019 Batted Ball Spray Chart, Courtesy of Statcast


LeMahieu is adept at hitting the ball to all fields, and while he is not a prototypical launch angle darling, he has been adept at lacing line drives all over the field. Looking at the batted ball profile from Fangraphs, LeMahieu is pulling the ball, particularly groundballs, far more often than he typically does. LeMahieu is also not hitting the ball as hard as he has the rest of the season. Hopefully this is just a short slide, and LeMahieu is just getting out in front of balls, hence the pulled grounders. Let’s hope it’s a timing issue, and LeMahieu works to get back his all-fields approach before the playoffs.

Home Field Advantage

I noticed some commentary in our comments section regarding home field advantage the other day. The statistics are pretty definitive regarding the win probability of the team with home field advantage in the playoffs. Now, to play devil’s advocate a bit, some of this is due to the fact that the teams with home field advantage in the playoffs have proven to be the better team during a long, 162-game season, so it makes sense that the home team would win more often just from a probability standpoint. All of that aside, I do think that home teams get a small bump during the playoffs.

I’ve told a few friends that I don’t care about winning more games than the Astros the rest of the way, but that’s a lie. I care more about the Yankees getting healthy so that they can field the best possible team during the playoffs, but I also want them to win against the soft schedule they’ve got over the next two weeks – really, the only tough match-up is the Rays.

Home field advantage is not the be-all, end-all, but games in the Bronx in October are definitely better than road games.

#JordanMontgomery #NestorCortesJr #LukeVoit #RyanDull #DJLeMahieu #CCSabathia #DellinBetances #LuisSeverino #TylerLyons

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