Over the weekend, the Yankees welcomed the Athletics to the Bronx for what would normally not have been a very noteworthy series. The mini-rivalry of the early 2000s is long over, and the A’s, while starting to move in the right direction, have finished last in the American League West three straight years.
However, this series featured a serendipitous storyline worth following: former Yankees prospect Dustin Fowler, now with Oakland, had just been activated, less than a year after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in his major league debut with the Yankees – after only two-thirds of an inning in the field.
On Friday, in the first game of the series, Fowler finally stepped to the plate for his first major league at-bat, a strikeout. His next time up, Fowler singled for his first major league hit.
Both of these at-bats came against Sonny Gray, and there’s the serendipity. Gray is the reason that Fowler now wears green instead of pinstripes. At last year’s trade deadline, Brian Cashman traded Fowler, pitcher James Kaprielian, and shortstop Jorge Mateo to the Athletics for the righthander.
Gray did not come cheap, as all three of the prospects acquired by the A’s had major potential. Prior to the 2017 season, MLB Pipeline ranked Mateo as the Yankees’ No. 5 prospect, Kaprielian No. 6, and Fowler No. 9.
While those rankings indicated high ceilings for the players the Yankees shipped out, both Fowler and Kaprielian had undergone season-ending surgeries, while Mateo was still far from the majors, having only just been promoted to Double-A. Oakland got a talented package, but one rife with question marks.
The Yankees, in Gray, acquired a cheap young starter under team control through next year. Gray has shown flashes of mastery in his young career: during his first two full seasons in Oakland (2014-15), he averaged 214 innings and pitched to a 2.91 ERA (3.46 FIP). In 2015 he was named an All Star and came in third in the Cy Young voting. And that was after he made two playoff starts for Oakland, eight scoreless innings in a Game 2 no-decision and a no-run support loss in Game 5 of the 2013 division series.
Gray did take a step back in an injury-plagued 2016, when he pitched to a 5.69 ERA (4.67 FIP) with an inflated 1.38 HR/9 in 117 innings, and he has had trouble limiting walks throughout his career.
So far in 2018, Gray is having exceptional difficulty throwing strikes: he is currently walking 12.9% of batters, or 5.68 batters per nine innings. Additionally, his tendency to allow home runs, 1.18 per nine innings, mirrors that of his disastrous 2016 season.
In 38 innings in 2018 Gray has pitched to an ERA of 6.39 (5.25 FIP). Since joining the Yankees in 2017, he has pitched to a 4.70 ERA (4.98 FIP), not the pitcher that the Yankees thought (and definitely hoped) they were acquiring when they sent three of their top prospects to Oakland.
Gray has yet to truly impress on the Yankees, but he has previously shown that he clearly has the ability somewhere inside him to be a front of the rotation starter. It may primarily be an issue of command, or perhaps his decline in fastball usage is the main culprit in his struggles.
However, Gray’s success (or lack thereof) over the course of his remaining year and a half before reaching free agency may not be of much import in analyzing whether the Yankees should regret making the trade to acquire him; it is equally important to consider the repertoires of the prospects traded away and check in to see how they are doing in Oakland.
Prior to the trade, Mateo was the highest ranked of the three Yankee prospects. A shortstop by trade, the Yankees had been testing Mateo at second base and in center field.
Leading up to the 2017 deadline, Mateo had hit .300/.381/.525 (147 wRC+) in 140 plate appearances in Double-A Trenton. Primarily known for his 80-grade speed, he had begun to show some power as well, posting an ISO of .225. He continued to rake following the trade, hitting .292/.333/.518 (133 wRC+) in 147 plate appearances with Oakland’s Double-A team.
However, 2018 has not been kind to Mateo, as he has hit .190/.227/.298 (29 wRC+) in 129 Triple-A plate appearances. His ISO has cratered to .108. Given that his BABIP is currently at .259, well below his career mark of .331, and far below that expected of someone so fast, some positive regression to the mean is likely.
Still, Mateo’s precipitous drop in ISO is concerning. Additionally, Mateo was blocked at shortstop and second base on the Yankees by Didi Gregorius and Gleyber Torres, respectively, with the outfield no less crowded. The Yankees thus likely do not and should not regret parting ways with Mateo, especially in exchange for a controllable young starting pitcher.
Kaprielian was drafted by the Yankees with the No. 16 overall pick in 2015. He was lauded for his fastball and considered a high-floor talent with a ceiling as a No. 2 starter in the majors.
Kaprielian’s talent on the mound was evident during his time with the Yankees: with the Yankees High-A affiliate in 2016, Kaprielian pitched 18 innings with a 1.50 ERA (2.03 FIP) and 11.00 K/9.
He impressed scouts with his strikeout repertoire in the Arizona Fall League in 2016, fanning 8.67 batters per nine innings while pitching to a 4.33 ERA.
Unfortunately, arm injuries all but completely prevented Kaprielian from pitching during his time in the Yankees system. First it was elbow inflammation and a flexor tendon strain in 2016, and then at the start of the 2017 season, Kaprielian underwent Tommy John surgery.
Kaprielian is only now just returning to facing live hitters as part of his rehab process. He is expected to make a full recovery and could still eventually fulfill his potential.
However, he is already 24 years old and has a total of 29.1 innings of professional baseball to his name, none since 2016.
There’s definitely a chance he reaches his ceiling and leaves the Yankees with some regret, but this won’t be for at least another year or two at a minimum – and it isn’t as if the Yankees’ system is hurting for strikeout-happy righty pitchers. The Yankees need starting pitching right now as they seek ring number 28, so they traded (perennially injured) future potential for a major league pitcher with a track record of success.
That’s a move Brian Cashman makes 100% of the time, as he should.
Fowler, who will forever hold a place in Yankees history, was raking in Triple-A before last year’s fateful call-up: in 313 plate appearances, he hit .293/.329/.542 (138 wRC+).
After rehabbing from his traumatic knee injury and subsequent surgery, Fowler began the 2018 season back in Triple-A, hitting .310/.333/.484 (109 wRC+) in 132 plate appearances for Oakland’s affiliate in Nashville before earning a promotion to the majors.
In terms of 2018 overall, the Steamer projection system predicts he will accrue 237 plate appearances and hit .251/.285/.403 (81 wRC+).
Fowler has a high ceiling and could certainly be a player of great impact for the A’s. However, had the Yankees kept him, he would have been right alongside Clint Frazier and Billy McKinney in being capable of playing in the major leagues, but not really having a spot with the Yankees.
Both Fowler and Mateo were blocked at their positions on the Yankees, and while the former has reached the majors and could have an impact for the A’s this year, the latter is majorly struggling in Triple-A in 2018. Kaprielian could become for the A’s something like what Gray once was for them, but he’s 24 already – older than Gray was when he got started in the majors – and has missed significant development time due to arm injuries.
In five years, Kaprielian may be the player the Yankees miss most and wish they had on their team. But the Yankees were fighting for a ring last year and are hoping to capture it this year. Having Gray on the team gives them a better chance of achieving the goal, both this year and next, and given the chance to make the trade again, the Yankees would be wrong to reconsider it – even with Gray’s struggles, it was the right move.
Series preview | The Rays pay another visit to Yankee Stadium
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.
Mets 8 Yankees 5 | Severino falters again
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.
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.
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.
The Yankees are still dropping the ball regarding social issues
Last Tuesday, SNY.tv 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 SNY.tv 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 NJ.com. 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 NJ.com 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.