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New York Yankees

Does it matter who catches Sonny Gray?

Britt Huber



Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

At just over a quarter of the way through the season, it’s clear that Sonny Gray is struggling and that Austin Romine is his catcher. Is this simply catering to the whims of a mercurial pitcher, or is there something to the puzzle that is Sonny Gray that Romine has a better chance at solving?

While pitchers are known for all manner of rituals with varying degrees of apparent rationality, something as extreme as determining the lineup is not the sort of thing a manager, even a seemingly easy-go-lucky green one like Aaron Boone, is going along with barring a specific indication that there’s reason for it, and in spite of his disappointing outing against the Angels, it is true, at least on its face, that Gray has pitched better to Romine.

His two worst outings of the season came when paired with Gary Sanchez, and up until his most recent start Gray had seemed to be on a positive trajectory since being paired more or less permanently with Romine. Last season, Gray pitched several of his best games with Sanchez behind the plate, but his worst outings were all with Sanchez and his outings with Romine were largely good to very good.

The gap between Gray’s performance with his two battery mates was far less noticeable last season than it has been this season, but if looking purely at results, Gray has quite simply pitched better to Romine.

Why Gray has been more successful with Romine is less simple to answer. Looking at the pitch selection for Gray’s first two starts (shown on the top), where he was paired with Romine, and his next two starts (shown on the bottom), the only ones where he worked with Sanchez, the most noticeable difference is that Gray threw slightly more curveballs in those first two starts.

(It is important to note that the distinction between Gray’s slider and curveball is almost impossible to pinpoint with pitchf/x or statcast data.)

Overall that’s a reasonably similar pitch selection, considering there’s going to be a certain degree of variation start to start, but looking at where in the zone those pitches were thrown shows a difference in approach.



In the two early starts with Romine, which were generally speaking fine, there’s a fairly clear approach — sliders and curveballs in the zone and down, fastballs and sinkers in the zone and up. The pitch selection with Sanchez is a bit more scattershot and has notably fewer curveballs and sliders below the zone.

Before the shrieks of “defensive liability” ring out across the trig-state area, it’s important to note that much of this could be a result of Gray simply being behind in the count more often in his less successful starts and not being in a position to throw a pitch out of the zone to get a hitter to chase.



(Romine top, Sanchez bottom)

Looking at pitch selection purely when ahead in the count, it’s apparent that a certain amount of the variation has to do with opportunity, as there were simply more pitcher’s counts in those first two starts with Romine catching.

That said, it is still notable that there were fewer pitches below the zone, especially curveballs and sliders, in the two starts with Sanchez.

It’s in Gray’s April 25th start, his first again with Romine catching after two back to back borderline disasters, we see an interesting trend that perhaps explains part of Gray’s results with Romine behind the plate.


In that start Gray relied heavily on his fastball and was almost exclusively in and below the zone. It’s almost as if Romine and Gray reverted to the basics, focusing on fastball command to lock back in after struggling.

For a team that was notorious early in the season for not throwing fastballs, perhaps the key to getting back on track was in the ability to veer away from that strategy for a pitcher who was clearly struggling with it.

Part of the reason that the “no fastball” approach may have failed Gray is also part of why he more than other pitchers works best with a specific catcher.

Gray has never been a get it and go style pitcher, and he has been called cerebral on more than one occasion. Cerebral, yes, but not analytical like the Greinkes and Scherzers and even Bauers of the league. He is perhaps more artist than mad scientist, which is only fitting for a pitcher who lives and dies by painting the corners.

Gray operates intuitively, pitching by feel and making minute adjustments in finger pressure rather than necessarily with grips the way other pitchers would. He prefers to visualize how he wants to pitch, an approach described by Sean Doolittle as “thinking of how he wanted the ball to move, then just making it do it.”

Romine’s ability to adapt, more than the specifics of pitch selection or strategy, more than his strength at blocking a curveball in the dirt, likely holds the key to his on-field relationship with Gray, and why Boone and the Yankees are content to continue to let Romine take the start every fifth day.

Whether it’s adjusting to leaning again on Gray’s fastball, guiding Gray through a bounce back start so that one bad day doesn’t become a full on slide, catching an entirely new version of his slider on almost no notice, or simply getting Gray to settle into a rhythm on the mound when he could get caught up tinkering, Romine has been able to at least come close to reading Gray’s mind.

That mind Romine has been attempting to read is not weak, and Gray is not fragile, or easily rattled as it would be far too easy to label him. This is the man who, when he was still just a boy, played a football game the day his father died because quite simply it’s what he felt he had to do; the one who, as a rookie, stared down Justin Verlander in a postseason start and didn’t blink.

Gray is simply different, and not easy to catch though seemingly easy to talk to if his teammates past and present are to be believed. A little accommodation for that difference, with the promise of the genius Gray has flashed at times throughout his career, is warranted. Gray’s a puzzle still trying to be solved, and while that solution is mostly in his hands, maybe Romine has the clue he needs.

Britt Huber is a Bay Area bred writer of many stripes with Florida roots. Her interests include catchers, sports labor law, crafty college pitchers, ridiculous minor league promotions, and whichever undervalued prospect she’s currently championing. You can find her on Twitter @brittalih.

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New York Yankees

Series preview | The Rays pay another visit to Yankee Stadium

Matt Gregory



Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees continue an 11 game homestand Tuesday night with three games against the Tampa Bay Rays in the Bronx. It is the last time Tampa Bay will visit Yankees stadium.

The Yankees have struggled against the Rays this season, as they have split 12 games so far, going 6-6. The Rays most recently took two of three back in July at Tropicana field. The Yankees received some bad news Monday, with CC Sabathia going to the disabled list with a knee injury.

The Rays starters have not been set yet, as they tend to use openers, and they only have two starters in their “rotation.” One of those starters is Blake Snell, who is a probable starter for the rubber game on Thursday. Snell has taken the leap this year, making the American League All-Star team and a stellar 2.18 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 128 innings.

However, Snell has struggled against the Yankees to the tune of nine earned runs in 8 1/3 innings of work, he walked seven batters in those starts and given up four home runs, the most he has given up against any team. The other possibilities for those two other starts could be Ryne Stanek, Jake Faria, Sergio Romo or Yonny Chirinos.

The Yankees are on track to run out J.A. Happ, Masahiro Tanaka, and Lance Lynn. Happ has been solid thus far for the Yankees, sporting a 3.00 ERA with 0.75 WHIP since coming over from Toronto. He bounced against the Texas Rangers after a bout of Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease, going six innings and only giving up three earned runs.

That was exactly what the Yankees signed up for when they acquired him from Toronto on July 26th. Happ has been successful against the Rays, with a 2.53 ERA in two starts, though he walked seven batters in those two starts.

Masahiro Tanaka looks to bounce back on Wednesday from a rough start against the Rangers where he was tattooed for six runs in 5 innings of work, with three home runs surrendered. Tanaka looked like a different pitcher coming out of the All-Star break, giving up one earned run through 19 2/3 innings with 26 strikeouts and only one home run against him. The Rays could be a welcome sight, last time against the rays he pitched a complete game shutout with nine strikeouts and only four runners allowed.

The rubber game on Thursday should feature Lance Lynn. Lynn was another deadline acquisition for the Yankees in a trade with the Minnesota Twins for Tyler Austin. Through 16 2/3 innings, Lynn has given up one run and struck out 22 batters against four walks. Lynn has already surpassed his WAR total with the Twins in 3 games with the Yankees, as he has been worth .8 WAR since coming to New York.

He has taken Sonny Gray’s spot in the rotation and has not looked back. If Lynn can continue to provide steady 5-6 inning starts with limited damage, much less the performances he has provided thus far, then the Yankees will be in good shape.

The top performers for the Yankees offensively out of the All-Star break have been Giancarlo Stanton and Didi Gregorius.
Stanton has hit five home runs in the last seven days and is slashing .313/.382/.750 in August, picking up the slack with Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge on the disabled list. Gregorius has hit well against the Rays, with a slash line of .318/.362/.614 and three home runs with 13 runs batted in.

The goal for the Yankees? Come out of the series healthy and hopefully with a series win as they try to right the ship against the Rays.

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New York Yankees

Mets 8 Yankees 5 | Severino falters again

Matt Gregory



Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Luis Severino struggled yet again and failed to reach the fifth inning for the first time this season as the Yankees lost to the Mets on Monday night. The Yankees were able to scrape three runs out against Jacob DeGrom but Severino gave back four runs on two home runs. DeGrom struck out 12 Yankees in 6 2/3 innings of work. The Yankees look to bounce back tomorrow night against the Tampa Bay Rays in the Bronx.

Turning Point

The sixth inning, when A.J. Cole gave up three home runs and allowed the Mets to stretch their lead to four runs. The Yankees had kept it close against DeGrom and would have had a shot if Cole had kept the deficit to just one run.

Three Takeaways

1. Severino struggled to get batters out with his four-seam fastball. Five of the seven hits came on four-seam fastballs with only three swinging strikes. He got 10 swinging strikes on his off-speed offerings. Whether he is tipping pitches or not, it seems like hitters are looking for his four-seamer and leaving his off-speed pitches alone, as he only got four called strikes between his change-up and slider.

2. A.J. Cole is having a rough August, he gave up three home runs in two innings and has given up six earned runs in only 7 innings this month. Two of the home runs came against lefties in the Mets lineup, which is the norm for Cole, as lefties are slashing .338/.421/.708 this season. He came into the game down one run and left the Yankees trailing by four runs in the seventh inning.

3. Gleyber Torres’ bat has gone dead in August, to the tune of .146 batting average with six hits and thirteen strikeouts in 41 at-bats. Torres has struggled since the All-Star break, with a .164 batting average and a .278 on-base percentage. Obviously, he is still working back from his injury before the all-star break, but he was a big part of the early year success and will need to get back to improve for the stretch run.

Player of the Game

Aaron Hicks scratched out two singles against Jacob DeGrom and drove in the first run for the Yankees. He reached base three times overall as he drew a walk in the eighth inning. The singles were not particularly hard-hit balls, but against DeGrom you take what you can get. He has a .402 OBP since the all-star break and is on pace to set a career high in WAR.

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New York Yankees

The Yankees are still dropping the ball regarding social issues

Matt Gregory



Jun 17, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics fans wave flags on pride night during the first inning of the game against the San Diego Padres at Coliseum. Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Last Tuesday, reported that the Yankees are planning to commemorate the Stonewall Riots with events in 2019. There have been no confirmations for the 2019 promotional calendar but states that several sources confirmed internal discussions to finalize the details of the events.

The Yankees later announced that they were reinstating their relationship with Papa John’s late Friday night, according to The move comes less than a month after suspending the relationship after finding out the face of the brand and CEO, John Schattner, used the n-word during a conference call in May.

A source with knowledge of the situation told that there will be a rebranding of some Papa John’s logos in Yankee stadium, specifically to emphasize that the locations at the stadium are “locally owned and operated.”

Here’s the statement the Yankees released:

“As a result of the significant steps recently taken by Papa John’s, including the removal of their founder from all facets of their business, the Yankees have agreed to resume their relationship with the company,” the Yankees said in a statement late Friday night.

As we stated last month, we found the remarks made by the Papa John’s founder to be reprehensible, and our feelings on the matter have not changed.

The Yankees have had a longstanding relationship with 120 Papa John’s local franchise locations within the tri-state area, and we feel strongly that this incident does not represent their principles, values or their responsibilities to the communities they serve.

Papa John’s is implementing important and sincere measures to restore customers’ faith in their brand, including the launch of a diversity and inclusion committee, and a third-party audit of their company’s practices. We are confident the company will continue to take the appropriate measures to show their commitment to preventing such an egregious incident from happening again in the future.”

The move is disappointing and unfortunately, not surprising. The Yankees continue to prioritize their business opportunities and money streams over showing their fans that they do not support a business founded by a man who felt comfortable saying the n-word in a meeting. The move is indefensible and at this point, fans can only hope that there is enough negative feedback that the team will eventually consider severing all ties to the company.

Even with this small step forward to connect with the LGBTQ+ community, it came after backlash that the Yankees were one of two teams to not hold an event in 2018. It is a positive step and hopefully, it is not the last that the Yankees take to honor and work with the LGBTQ+ community. Still, with social issues even when the Yankees take one step forward, they find another way to take two steps back.

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