The beauty of baseball is everything that occurs during in its 162-game season. It’s the excitement of young stars, the disappointment of injuries and the steadiness of the veterans. This year’s edition of the New York Yankees has featured all of the above and more. Here are six of the major storylines from the 2017 season.
The resurgence of Sabathia was a huge shot in the arm for a rotation filled with questions. No longer able dominate on pure stuff alone, he used his entire repertoire to keep hitters off-balance.
A leader of the pitching staff and the team, Sabathia came up large all season when they were coming off of a loss. In those games, Sabathia was rock solid, pitching to a 9-0 record, with 50 strikeouts, 19 walks and a 1.76 ERA. Tasked with keeping the team in ball games, he accomplished exactly what the team was looking for finishing with a 14-5 record (Most wins since 14, in 2013).
Sabathia’s desire is to continue playing and it would be surprising if Sabathia didn’t return on a one-year deal. Also of note, he stands only 154 strikeouts shy of the 3,000 mark.
Judgement Day Arrived
Entering Spring Training there were both questions about Aaron Judge and competition from Aaron Hicks for the starting right field position. Questions, of course, came from his first taste of the majors, that saw Judge strikeout at an alarming 44.2% clip.
Judge not only grabbed a permanent hold on the position, but issued a judgment in the form of dominance. Garnering the most All-Star votes in the American League, he not only received his first All-Star nod, but an invitation to the Home Run Derby. As expected, he put on a show, delivering on the lofty expectations, taking home the trophy.
However, it wasn’t all a joyride for Judge. As the heat of the summer kicked in, his bat went cold, leading him to a record 37 consecutive games with a strikeout. With it, many began to question whether his first half was a fluke.
Judge came back and answered the critics with a torrid month of September, where he hit to a slash of .311/.463/.889, to go along with 15 home runs and 32 runs batted in.
The American League leader in home runs (52), walks (127) and runs (128), Judge is the odds-on favorite to win the Rookie of the Year and will be among the finalists for Most Valuable Player. Judge has become not only the face of their franchise, but one of the most lethal power bats in the game.
A Duo of Inconsistency
Every year people have waited for Tanaka’s elbow to finally give up and once again, it didn’t happen. The ace of the staff since his arrival in 2014, the 2017 season was one that caused a lot of head scratching.
The “good” Tanaka made 17 quality stars, going 12-3, with a 1.78 ERA and 133 strikeouts. Those numbers are remarkable and everything that you would want out of a top-of-the-rotation pitcher.
However, the “bad” Tanaka made nine starts in which he imploded and gave up five or more runs. Most alarming was his propensity for giving up the long ball. He gave up a whopping 35 homers, 12 more than his previous career high of 25 in 2015. Does he opt-out? Does he stay? It will be an interesting situation to watch unfold.
Does he opt-out? Does he stay? It will be an interesting situation to watch unfold.
Aroldis Chapman has always been surrounded by mystique and a feeling of invincibility. Lighting up radar guns with his blazing fastball and intimidating opposing hitters, led the organization to sign him to a five-year, $86 million reliever-record contract.
A rough patch in May led Chapman to a lengthy DL stint due to left shoulder cuff inflammation. Things seemed to be back on course until August 11, when the first of four straight poor outings occurred (August 11-18). In those outings, he gave up seven earned runs and five walks in 4.1 innings pitched. His performance forced manager Joe Girardi to remove him from the closer’s role to work on regaining form.
With his struggles in August came opportunities for redemption in September. His numbers in September were nothing short of dominant. In 12 innings of work, he posted a 0.00 ERA, striking out 17, walking only two batters. His confidence and stuff returned, for the Yankees, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Watching Jordan Montgomery, I can’t help but to see the similarities to retired Yankee Andy Pettitte. To sum up Jordan Montgomery and his excellent rookie campaign, I turned to Bernie Pleskoff, who has been raving about Montgomery since he first saw him in spring training. Here are Pleskoff’s thoughts on the young lefty:
“I first saw Montgomery in spring training last year. I came away raving about him. First and foremost, he has the mound presence of a seasoned veteran. Nothing rattles him. He uses a repertoire that includes a four-seam fastball at 90-93 miles per hour, a two-seam sinker at about the same velocity, a changeup at 82-84 miles per hour, a slider in the mid-80’s and a very explosive curveball at 78-80 miles per hour. His best combination is his two-seam sinker/curveball. The curveball is a “put away” pitch.
The Emergence of Ace Severino
They say that patience is a virtue and it’s one that’s best used when developing talent. High expectations were placed on the shoulders of Luis Severino last season. Unfortunately, he fell short. After the struggles of 2016, there were questions about where he would fit in on the team’s 2017 pitching staff.
Severino erased any lingering doubts from last season with performances that have put him in the conversation for the Cy Young Award. Three C’s stand out when watching the right-hander this season. First, his confidence on the mound. He appeared confident and threw his pitches with conviction. Second, he commanded his pitches, especially his 100 mph heater. Consistency in the location of his pitches allowed him to paint corners and change planes. Third, he regained his changeup and with it came further separation from his fastball, as this chart from Brooks Baseball shows:
Just 23 years of age, Severino has established himself as the Yankees ace and the foundation of the starting rotation into the future.
Cashman Made Power Moves
Since last season, one of the Yankees’ weaknesses was the depth of their starting rotation. That weakness became even more prevalent when Michael Pineda underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time.
Rumors of the team’s interest in Gray date back to at least the 2016 offseason. Those rumors became reality when Brian Cashman agreed to a blockbuster trade that sent pitcher James Kaprielian, infielder/outfielder Jorge Mateo and outfielder Dustin Fowler to Oakland at the trade deadline. Gray’s acquisition not only solidified the rotation for a postseason run, but locked a premium pitcher in for next season as well.
So far, the results are solid and he has remained healthy, though a rise in walks and home runs surrendered are worth keeping an eye on. Not only did this trade strengthen the team for the stretch run, but also provided protection should Tanaka opt-out and go elsewhere.
The Return of Houdini, Kahnle and Todd Frazier’s Homecoming
Looking to shore up their bullpen and their corner infield positions, Cashman looked to the trade market for improvements. Three of those improvements came in a deal to bring a pair of former Yankees and a Jersey product back to the Bronx. The deal sent David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Todd Frazier to NY and sent promising prospect Blake Rutherford, Tyler Clippard, Ian Clarkin and Tito Polo back to the Chicago White Sox.
Robertson is a familiar face for the organization, as he was drafted, developed and played the first seven years of his big league career with the Bronx Bombers. He immediately became one of Girardi’s most trusted relievers, pitching to a minuscule 1.03 ERA, with five wins and 51 strikeouts in 35 innings pitched with the club. Robertson also remains under contract with the Yankees through the 2018 season.
Like Robertson, Kahnle is a familiar face for the Yankees. Kahnle spent the first three years of his professional career with the team’s minor league system (2010-2013), before he was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the Rule 5 Draft. He has helped lengthen an already strong bullpen. In pinstripes, his numbers have been strong (2.70 ERA, 36 K’s in 26.2 IP) and he’s still under team control for 2018 and beyond.
Frazier, a New Jersey native, provided stability on the field and another home run threat to Girardi’s lineup. At the time, they were receiving little offense at first base with Greg Bird recovering from surgery. The move allowed Girardi to shift Headley to first base until Bird returned, leaving Frazier to man the hot corner. Frazier has played well defensively, adding value at the plate as well with his 11 home runs and 32 RBI’s since joining the club.
Regardless of how the postseason plays out, the team’s development is ahead of schedule. The New York Yankees sport a combination of a talented core, stout farm system and veteran leadership. With a continuance of smart acquisitions, the team is poised for postseason runs for years to come.