Tonight I am joined in the recap duties by the inimitable Nick Stellini, writer at Baseball Prospectus, BP Bronx, and Beyond the Box Score, as well as one of the hosts of the Dingers, Doubles, and Drunks podcast. Nick is a kind, gentle soul who is also, inexplicably, a Yankees fan. Nick and I last teamed up for a recap back in April, when the Mariners earned a decisive 7-1 win at Yankee Stadium on Jackie Robinson Day. Four months later, the Yankees look decidedly different as a team coming into Safeco, so I thought it would be a good time to check in with Nick.
Kate: Hello, Nick. I thought you should know it’s 69 degrees at game start here.
K: Nice for whom?
N: Nice for you. I am stuck in New Jersey, while you are graced with Seattle’s temperate climate. Sad!
K: Yes, I am sorry about that. [NOTE: I am not actually sorry.] How are things in the great state of NJ?
N: Err, well. The heat finally broke the other day after it being hotter than James Paxton’s fastball for about a century. And humid, too.
K: That’s a nice topical reference the readers will appreciate. [Canó makes a sweet play to nail Ellsbury at first base, and just as I finish typing a message to Nick to ask him if that kind of thing still physically hurts him, Gary Sánchez, Freakish Human, steps up to the plate and crushes an 84 mph slider Cody Martin hung middle-middle into the seats]. DAMMIT.
N: The first thing you need to know is that Gary Sánchez is an unstoppable robot. He is nicknamed The Kraken for reasons that I do not know, and he has been unleashed upon baseball to wreak havoc and mash dingers. Oh, and he has a Howitzer for an arm behind the plate. He is very good. A year ago I was watching him make adjustments in Double-A, and now he’s out here winning Player of the Week awards.
K: Wow. I can’t say I’m not jealous, given the state of the Mariners farm system, but that seems like an incredibly fast ascension. Did he just totally skip AAA?
N: He hit AAA towards the end of last year. One thing you should know is that Gary has been one of their top prospects for about ten thousand years. He was a big bonus baby out of Latin America and got noticed rather quickly. There were some concerns about makeup and his ability to stay behind the plate, but he’s really put it together since the start of 2015. It’s very impressive. Speaking of prospects, it’s Former Future Mariners Great Michael Pineda on the mound. [Cody Martin has managed to get through the first inning with just the one dinger, but the night is young, so young]
K: Yes it is. So Pineda is always a little extra twist in the gut to Mariners fans, but he seems to have had an up-and-down year so far with a weak first half. What’s the deal with Big Mike, as I saw him nicknamed somewhere? (Somewhere awful)
N: I recently saw someone refer to Big Mike as a random number generator. That seems pretty apt. Mike is a guy who throws oodles of strikes and earns a ton of strikeouts. That’s good! But a lot of his strikes are really fat and they go over the wall. He can look like an ace and then literally the next second there’s blood everywhere and children are crying and they have to blur stuff out on live television.
K: I noted in my game thread he has a crazy high BABIP; is that a function of the less-than-star-powered Yankees infield or just bad luck?
N: Neither. Lots of hard contact. When guys get wood on the ball, they hit it hard. Castro has been okay-ish and Didi’s been great, but it’s hard to get to balls that are constantly scalded.
K: Yeah the velocity is way up there. That’s something I’ve noticed with Paxton, too; basically any time the batters can get wood on the ball it’s hard-hit. He also runs a super high BABIP. [No sooner do I type this than Seth Smith promptly grounds into a double play to wipe out Aoki’s leadoff walk.]
N: Yup. Pitchers provide a lot of the power on hits. And see, that’s what Pineda looks like when he’s on. [As Nelson Cruz strikes out chasing a ball located approximately in Uruguay.] The slider is NASTY sometimes. Other times it just hangs up right over the middle of the plate and then it hops on a 747.
K: No offense Nick but I would really like to win this game. But Cody Martin is just not going to let that happen. Speaking of balls that hop on 747s. [Starlin Castro crushes a 75 mph curve that Martin again leaves in the middle of the plate]
N [blissfully unaware of Cody Martin]: Starlin has been hot lately. That was crushed. Has Martin been a high-homer rate guy in the minors?
K: [surveying liquor cabinet] So Cody Martin escapes again with just the solo homer, but the Mariners can’t muster any offense for him. My At-Bat app tells me something called a Tyler Austin is coming up at the top of the third. Nick, what’s a Tyler Austin?
N: Tyler Austin is a former top prospect who got hurt and was Bad for two years, and is now healthy and may be Good once again. He hit enough in Double-A, quickly got bumped to Triple-A, kept hitting, and now he’s here. Dude was a Top 100 prospect at one point. The talent is there.
K: Well that’s basically AAA pitcher vs. AAA hitter so that’s at least fair. He grounds out on the curve but man he scampered down the line for a big dude!
N: He was an outfielder until he got banged up, so he can run a little bit. I dunno if he’s a big league regular once all is said and done, but he may wind up as part of a good platoon with Greg Bird next year. We shall see!
K: So once again, the Mariners go 1-2-3 in the bottom of the third to give Cody Martin no support, and now sheesh Gary Sánchez is up again. He’s terrifying. Tell me more about him.
N: Little-known fact: Gary Sánchez is literally Babe Ruth. They dug him up and cloned him and taught him to be an average-to-slightly-plus defensive catcher. Putting that pitcher’s arm to use with throwing out runners. He gunned down Mike Trout yesterday.
K: But he appears to be slow, as he just hit what looked like a sure double and seemed afraid of the arm of...Norichika Aoki???? That seems wildly incorrect.
N: Well, he’s new, to be fair. The dude’s a catcher so he’s not exactly a burner but he’s a got a bit of sneaky speed. He’s one of those guys who can pick his spots and swipe a random bag here and there. [Canó turns a nice double play to get Martin out of the inning.] Good lord, Robby just doesn’t stop.
K: Robi can’t stop, won’t stop, especially not against his old team. Speaking of which, the Yankees are a drastically different team from the beginning of the season. What’s your favorite change/least favorite change of this year so far?
N: I’m ecstatic that Aroldis Chapman is no longer employed by the team I grew up rooting for. I hate how A-Rod was rather unceremoniously kicked to the curb and not allowed to ride out what’s essentially a dead season, especially with rosters expanding relatively soon. I wrote about Chapman here, and A-Rod here.
K: So why do you think the A-Rod scuttling was so unceremonious, especially compared to the year-long hero’s parade Jeter enjoyed?
N: Because A-Rod is A-Rod. He was never beloved, even after his big comeback last year. The decision was made solely by Hal Steinbrenner without input from Brian Cashman or Joe Girardi, and Hal was trying to be his father, basically. It opened up room for the kids to come up, but that whole week was just a relative disaster. I explained it in my article. He just never fit in, despite him being the best player on the best team. Very, very weird and fascinating man. [Seth Smith doubles, Canó singles, and a batter later, Kyle Seager whacks a dinger to dead center] And there’s your requisite Pineda hanger. Welp.
K: So the Yankees, unlike the Mariners, were very active at the trade deadline. What was your favorite/least favorite transaction?
N: I loved everything. The Andrew Miller trade in particular was wonderful. Clint Frazier is now the team’s top prospect, and Justus Sheffield is a hell of a young pitcher. They also got two good minor league relievers in that deal, and both will likely see innings in the bigs next year. I wish that they had gotten a bit more for Carlos Beltrán, but Dillon Tate is a hell of a lottery ticket. Dude was the fourth overall pick last year. He hasn’t been good since turning pro and is now pitching out of the bullpen, but he’s got that pedigree.
K: Speaking of that bullpen, it was pretty well dismantled in the trade season. Who is coming up now that Miller and Chapman are gone? And why do you think the team prized Betances over the other two?
N: Betances is cheaper and has more years of control left. So they went out and got Tyler Clippard to make sure that Betances isn’t run out there for three innings every day. Adam Warren also came back in the Chapman deal and he’s good again. So you’ve got those three guys, and the rest is kind of spare parts. [OMINOUS FORESHADOWING MUSIC PLAYS] [but first Gary Sánchez hits ANOTHER mammoth blast on an 88 mph fastball that Cody Martin, brave little toaster still pitching in the sixth inning, left hanging right over the plate] YOU CANNOT STOP GARY SÁNCHEZ. YOU CAN ONLY HOPE TO CONTAIN HIM.
K: [screams into pillow as Cody Martin hangs out yet another ball for Starlin Castro to punish and the Yankees take a 5-3 lead. Enter Nick Vincent to get the final out of the inning. You almost made it six, Cody. Almost.] Why can’t you guys just lose? What did the Mariners ever do to the Yankees?
N: I mean I don’t think anyone saw Gary Sánchez carrying the Yankees on his back and taking them into relevance. But it’s fun so who cares. They just got a bunch of great prospects, and had a great draft, too. Blake Rutherford is gonna be Good. I’m just terrified that they’ll blow all these kids on Chris Sale over the winter, and then still be mediocre next year. The Steinbrenners have burned me too many times before. They really need to just take time to build next year. The makings of another really good run are here.
K: Is that a legitimate fear? Chris Sale? Or...I’m trying to think of some other vaunted pitcher who would be available. Hey, we have a nice shiny Taijuan Walker.
N: I trust Brian Cashman to do the right thing. I don’t trust Hal Steinbrenner to not try to put on his daddy’s hat and try to go scorched earth with all this prospect currency that they now have laying around.
K: Enter the Shadrach. Dwarshak. Swarzak? What kind of Hunger Games/Star Trek name is this?
N: Swarzak is… not great. He was a swingman with the Twins for a while, pitched for Cleveland last year, was an NRI in Yankees camp this spring. He… yeah. Not great. Joe Girardi is kind of fascinated with him though, so yeah. Also the other righty middle relief options are Kirby Yates and some dude named Blake Parker. I dunno. Like I said, spare parts.
K: Well a 96 fastball is no joke. But here’s hoping Z can put himself into a good count. That was a garbage strike though. Nick come on, don’t you want to see the Mariners make the playoffs? [Mike Zunino crushes a three-run bomb to put the Mariners ahead by a run again]. YES MIKE.
N: [extremely Forrest Gump voice] and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
K: Hey Nick remember when you asked me a while back about Shawn O’Malley?
N: Every time I watch a Mariners game involving O’Malley he does something crazy.
K: I literally don’t know what to say about this.
[Steve Cishek comes out to work a 1-2-3 8th]
N: Has Cishek been fixed?
K: I...maybe? I don’t want to piss off the baseball gods here.
N: Steve Cishek is a wizard because he got Gary Sánchez out.
K: I am pro-Cishek-as-wizard. He was a dark wizard, and now he is a good wizard. This is a narrative I like. And man he just burned Didi there. So much movement. I was wondering if he was hurt for real or if it was a vanity DL stint but he sure seems to be different. But okay, here’s Kirby Yates. What can you tell me about Kirby Yates? Other than, he just got bailed out in a big way by Ellsbury?
N: Like I said earlier, he was having a good year until Super Weird Baseball, and then was promptly sequestered in Triple-A. He’s got decent stuff but was likely pitching above his pay grade during April and May.
K: So is Yates the high-leverage hold-it-together dude? That still seems like pitching above his pay grade. Do you feel a deep nervousness when he’s up or mostly confident he can get the job done?
N: I don’t really feel anything with him. The Yankees don’t have a super-leverage fireman right now. They’ve lost too much firepower to do that. Betances was that guy, but that was because he had two guys over him. [Cruz wallops a solo shot]
And, well, yeah. There you go. A Nelly Cruz Broken Bat Boomstick.
K: What’s weird is I had a feeling about that before he even threw that pitch.
N: Oh well. Now I get my Gary dingers and my “Let’s not be too good and get a draft pick” initiative.
[Díaz comes in and despite looking a little shaky, manages to put away the Yankees in the 9th for his 10th save.]
N: Well, that was a very typical second half Yankee game. Starting pitching implosion but still winnable, and then a bullpen meltdown. Cripes. Good hitting tonight from the M’s, though.
K: Nick, thanks so much for stopping by LL and sharing your insights on the Yankees. This team will definitely be a force in the future, and Sánchez is terrifying right now. Just let us win these games, won’t you? You know you’d rather see it be the Mariners than the Orioles or the Red Sox.
N: [extremely diplomatically] The Mariners are fun and I have many Mariner fan friends now.
Thanks again to Nick for staying up so late to talk baseball with me. You can find him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets