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Series Preview: Mariners (48-48) vs. Yankees (48-45)

The Mariners begin 10-game homestand with a four-game series against the Yankees.

New York Yankees v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

At a Glance

Yankees Mariners
Yankees Mariners
Game 1 Thursday, July 20 | 7:10 pm
RHP Luis Severino RHP Felix Hernandez
49% 51%
Game 2 Friday, July 21 | 7:10 pm
LHP CC Sabathia RHP Andrew Moore
50% 50%
Game 3 Saturday, July 22 | 6:10 pm
RHP Masahiro Tanaka LHP Ariel Miranda
48% 52%
Game 4 Sunday, July 23 | 1:10 pm
RHP Luis Cessa RHP Sam Gaviglio
48% 52%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Yankees Mariners Edge
Overview Yankees Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 109 (2nd in AL) 104 (4th in AL) Yankees
Fielding (UZR) 2.4 (8th) 13.3 (4th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 93 (4th) 118 (13th) Yankees
Bullpen (FIP-) 76 (2nd) 104 (13th) Yankees

Winning a road series against the best team in the American League gave the Mariners a huge boost in confidence, though just a little boost in actual playoff odds. Now they return home for a huge weekend series against the Yankees. With the Mariners just a game and a half behind in the Wild Card race, a series win could see these two teams flip places in the standings. Both teams have made trades to bolster their relief corps—the Mariners added David Phelps this morning and the Yankees added both David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle along with Todd Frazier yesterday. Those types of moves make more sense for the Yankees who have been decimated by injuries recently. All three major projection systems think the Yankees have more than double the odds of making the playoffs than the Mariners do.

The Yankees:

The Yankees started off the year very well, reaching 15 games over .500 on June 12. Since that date, they’ve gone 10-22, given up the AL East division lead, and fallen behind the Rays in the Wild Card race. They haven’t won a series since sweeping the Orioles early in June. Their offense has been the main culprit during this swoon. They’ve scored just 4.3 runs per game during this stretch, far below the 5.4 runs per game they averaged in April and May. But adding Robertson and Kahnle to an already stacked bullpen should help them keep any lead they build from here on out.

Key Players

RF Aaron JudgeThere isn’t much I could say about Aaron Judge that hasn’t already been said. Between his 30 home runs before the All-Star break and his all-too-easy domination of the home run derby, Judge has already become one of MLB’s brightest stars. What’s even more impressive is that his performance seemingly came out of nowhere. The athleticism and raw power was always obvious but scouts agreed he had a lot of work to do at the plate to be leverage those skills. What we’re witnessing now is the result of all of these adjustments happening at once. He’ll likely post a strikeout rate around 25-30% but the Yankees can live with that if he’s also posting an ISO over .300.

LF Brett Gardnerat 33-years-old, Brett Gardner is posting the highest ISO of his career. He’s two home runs away from matching his career high and this newfound power has led to a 113 wRC+, the second highest mark of his career. Like so many others, Gardner is elevating the ball more often this season. But his 37.6% fly ball rate nearly matches his fly ball rate from 2014-2015 when he launched 33 home runs across those two seasons. When put into that context, it seems like his 97 wRC+ from 2016 is the outlier rather than this season’s. Gardner’s ability to steal bases has deteriorated significantly so he’s going to have to continue contributing with the bat to be useful to the Yankees.

DH Matt HollidayAfter posting his lowest wRC+ since his rookie year, Matt Holliday signed a one-year deal with the Yankees, hoping to rebuild some of his value. All he’s done is rebound to the tune of a .245/.344/.479 slash line and a 119 wRC+. He’s offset a career high strikeout rate with his highest ISO since 2007 when he was with the Rockies. There’s always risk with a 37-year-old, but Holliday has delivered exactly what the Yankees were looking for in a DH.

3B Todd Frazier – The 2015 home run derby champion, Todd Frazier has seen his home run output increase each year since 2013, peaking last year with 40 bombs. This year, however, the prodigious slugger is off to a slow start. He’s making contact at the highest rate of his career but that additional contact is coming on pitches thrown outside of the zone (a 15 point increase in O-Contact% over last year). That could help explain his 24.7% hard contact rate to start the season, which falls 8.2% below his career average. It seems like a conscious effort to make contact more often, driving his strikeout rate to a career low, but it’s cost him much of his power as well. With a batted ball profile that includes way too many pop ups and not enough line drives, a high contact approach doesn’t seem well suited for Frazier.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox

RHP Luis Severino

113 2/3 28.1% 6.3% 13.5% 51.5% 3.40 3.09

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 97.6 51.9% 152 117 140
Changeup 88.3 12.3% 42 106 63
Slider 88.3 35.8% 118 155 130

Extremely poor fastball command sunk Luis Severino’s sophomore campaign. He made 11 starts for the Yankees last year but those we’re interrupted by a demotion to the minors and later to the bullpen. So his breakout year this season comes as somewhat of a surprise. With a repertoire built around two pitches, a fastball and a slider, he needs to have both pitches working to have any kind of success. Last year, his fastball command was off and he was punished by opposing batters. This year, he’s been able to get his command under control and it’s led to a wide array of improvements. His strikeout rate is up, his walk rate is down, and his ground ball rate is back where it was during his rookie year. All these things add up to 3.2 fWAR, the seventh best mark in the majors and fifth best in the American League.

LHP CC Sabathia

84 18.7% 9.1% 11.7% 50.2% 3.54 4.20

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Sinker 91.2 23.6% 133 126 131
Cutter 90.6 27.0% 44 113 67
Changeup 84.3 16.9% 123 107 118
Slider 80.3 31.8% 69 88 75

As he’s aged out of being one of the premier power pitchers in baseball, CC Sabathia has reinvented himself as an excellent contact manager. He’s ditched his once dominant four-seam fastball for a sinker that’s help him post a ground ball rate over 50% the last two seasons. The contact that he does allow is much weaker than average, leading to a severely depressed BABIP. He’s allowed just four combined extra-base hits off his changeup and slider. The former pitch has helped him close the wide gap in his handedness splits. The combination of weak contact and a ground ball heavy batted ball profile has helped him post an ERA far below what his peripherals might indicate.

RHP Masahiro Tanaka

109 2/3 23.6% 5.7% 22.6% 49.7% 5.33 4.84

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.2 9.1% 114 112 113
Sinker 91.6 22.2% 114 92 107
Cutter 90.3 8.9% 77 91 82
Splitter 88.3 23.3% 167 134 156
Slider 85.2 29.2% 169 85 141
Curveball 77.1 7.3% 72 59 68

Masahiro Tanaka has a problem. He can’t keep the ball in the yard. If you only looked at his xFIP, which normalizes his home run rate, he’d be one of the best pitchers in baseball. He strikes out more than a batter per inning and his walk rate is one of the lowest in baseball. But he’s also allowed the third most home runs in baseball which is reflected in his ERA and FIP. With such a wide repertoire, there isn’t one single pitch that’s been the main culprit—he’s allowing an ISO over .200 on three of his six pitches—but his sinker has clearly been his worst pitch. Opposing batters have posted an ISO of almost .400 against that pitch. To his credit, Tanaka has dropped the usage of that pitch down to 14.5% during his last five starts and has allowed just three home runs in those games.

RHP Luis Cessa

27 1/3 15.6% 9.0% 12.9% 43.8% 4.61 5.18

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 95.0 42.6% 79 108 89
Changeup 86.5 21.9% 35 105 58
Slider 85.2 24.5% 115 92 107
Curveball 81.1 10.8% - - -
*Cessa’s curveball does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Luis Cessa is a pretty run-of-the-mill back end starter. He has a decent fastball with some velocity and can command it in the strike zone, but all of his secondary pitches are simply average at best. He’s bounced between the rotation and the long relief role in the bullpen, making four spot starts this season and nine starts last year. With Michael Pineda out for the season after his Tommy John surgery, Cessa will take his spot in the Yankees rotation—at least until the Yankees acquire another start to take his place.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 63-32 0.663 -- L-W-L-W-L
Mariners 48-48 0.500 15.5 W-W-W-L-W
Angels 47-50 0.485 17.0 L-L-W-L-W
Rangers 45-49 0.479 17.5 W-L-L-L-L
Athletics 43-52 0.453 20.0 W-W-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rays 51-45 0.531 +1.5 W-L-W-W-L
Yankees 48-45 0.516 -- W-L-L-W-L
Twins 48-46 0.511 0.5 W-L-W-L-W
Mariners 48-48 0.500 1.5 W-W-W-L-W
Royals 46-47 0.495 2.0 L-W-L-L-W

With so many teams bunched together in the standings, each of them trying to determine whether or not to buy or sell in the next 10 days, any ground lost is magnified tenfold. The Rangers felt this in particular this week. They started off this week tied with the Mariners in the Wild Card race but three losses in a row to the Orioles has dropped them to three and a half games back. They’ll wrap up their series in Baltimore before traveling to Tampa Bay this weekend. The Angels split a two-game series against the Nationals and host the Red Sox this weekend. The Twins won their series against the Yankees and will host the Tigers after they wrap up their series against the Royals.