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Series Preview: Mariners (65-63) at Yankees (68-58)

The Mariners continue their East Coast tour with a three-game series in New York.

New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

At a Glance

Mariners Yankees
Mariners Yankees
Game 1 Friday, August 25 | 4:05 pm
LHP Ariel Miranda LHP CC Sabathia
43% 57%
Game 2 Saturday, August 26 | 10:05 am
RHP Yovani Gallardo RHP Sonny Gray
39% 61%
Game 3 Sunday, August 27 | 10:05 am
LHP Andrew Albers RHP Masahiro Tanaka
40% 60%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Yankees Edge
Overview Mariners Yankees Edge
Batting (wRC+) 102 (4th in AL) 107 (2nd in AL) Yankees
Fielding (UZR) 16.2 (4th) 4.9 (7th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 119 (14th) 92 (4th) Yankees
Bullpen (FIP-) 98 (9th) 75 (1st) Yankees

Note: Text appearing in italics has appeared in a previous series preview.

While a sweep of the Braves would have been ideal, the Mariners took care of business on Wednesday to win the series. They’ve now won seven of their last eight road series and improved their overall road record to 31-31. They’ve certainly benefitted from their fair share of good luck on the road, winning 11 of their last 24 road games by two runs or less. Their road run differential this season is -29, but that’s heavily skewed by the first half of the season away from Safeco. With a greatly improved bullpen, the Mariners have the ability to outperform their expected win rate if they can score enough runs.

The Yankees:

During the first half of the season, the Yankees were scoring more than five and a half runs per game. Aaron Judge’s was a huge reason behind that scoring spree. His bat has cooled off considerably after the All-Star break and so has the Yankees offense. They’ve scored just four and a half runs per game during the second half but have posted a much better record in that time. Their pitching staff has prevented runs at a much better rate in the second half and much of it’s due to the upgrades they made before the trade deadline. An ugly brawl in their game against the Tigers yesterday will likely result in a number of suspensions for the Yankees. But because of the appeal process, those players who choose to appeal their suspensions probably won’t miss any of the games during this series.

Key Players

C Gary SanchezIn just 629 career plate appearances, Gary Sanchez has been worth 6.6 WAR for the Yankees. The 24-year-old catcher is lethal with the bat in his hands, where his .273 ISO has yielded 27 home runs this year. He doesn't run an astronomical fly ball rate, but his high hard contact rate supports a 28.7% HR/FB. Pitchers have thrown him more pitches in the zone this year and his contact rate has increased. August has been Sanchez's best month, as he's posted a 198 wRC+.

SS Didi Gregorius – Didi Gregorius has followed his 2016 offensive breakout with his best season at the plate of his career. Surprisingly, his batted ball stats have remained relatively consistent throughout his career. His fly ball rate is slightly above his career average, but the most dramatic difference in his batted ball profile is he is pulling the ball more than ever before. His tendency to pull the ball could explain his increase in ISO. Although his hard contact rate hasn't increased, the short distance to the foul pole in left field at Yankee Stadium plays to the advantage of a fly ball hitter with a tendency to pull. Defensively, he's a great shortstop with a 8.8 UZR/150. His impressive play in the field and at the plate have earned him a career high 3.8 WAR.

RF Aaron Judge – There 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.

3B Todd FrazierThe 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

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox

LHP CC Sabathia

108 1/3 18.3% 8.5% 14.9% 50.0% 3.99 4.45

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Sinker 91.0 22.9% 127 124 126
Cutter 90.3 28.9% 56 115 76
Changeup 84.1 16.5% 133 110 125
Slider 80.1 31.0% 53 87 64

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, and 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 Sonny Gray

120 22.2% 8.2% 11.1% 55.3% 3.38 3.30

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.0 64.0% 175 167 172
Changeup 90.0 7.0% 16 70 34
Slider 85.6 14.0% 171 117 153
Curveball 81.5 14.6% 148 58 118

Sonny Gray suffered through an injury-plagued season last year, posting an ugly 5.69/4.67/4.13 pitcher slash line. A year after placing third in the Cy Young voting, his unfortunate luck was a huge let down. Gray returned to the mound in May this season and hit the ground running. But rather than relying on his excellent breaking balls, he’s now throwing his fastball more than ever. Maybe it’s all an effort to avoid another arm injury, or maybe it’s because his fastball is just as good as his breaking balls. Whatever the reason, he’s posting the highest strikeout rate of his career despite throwing his best pitches less often. It seems like all of his injury woes are in the past and he’s finally fulfilling that promise he showed in Oakland. Of course, he’s now toeing the rubber for the Yankees after being traded at the trade deadline. He’s made four starts for the Yankees, allowing two earned runs in each of them but losing three of them.

RHP Masahiro Tanaka

140 2/3 24.3% 5.5% 21.3% 47.9% 4.86 4.60

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.1 9.0% 76 92 81
Sinker 91.6 20.7% 102 91 98
Cutter 90.0 8.9% 127 91 115
Splitter 88.0 23.6% 155 131 147
Slider 85.0 31.3% 164 80 136
Curveball 77.1 6.6% 71 51 64

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 around 15% during the second half of the season and has seen a slight drop in his home run per fly ball rate as a result.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 77-50 0.606 -- W-L-L-W-L
Angels 65-63 0.508 12.5 W-L-W-L-L
Mariners 65-63 0.508 12.5 W-L-W-L-W
Rangers 64-63 0.504 13.0 L-W-L-W-W
Athletics 55-72 0.433 22.0 L-W-L-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 68-58 0.540 +3.5 W-L-W-W-L
Twins 65-62 0.512 -- L-W-W-L-L
Royals 64-62 0.508 0.5 L-W-W-W-L
Angels 65-63 0.508 0.5 W-L-W-L-L
Mariners 65-63 0.508 0.5 W-L-W-L-W

There are now five teams within a game of the second Wild Card spot. The Rangers won three of four against the Angels, vaulting them up the standings and helping the Mariners and Royals keep pace. The Rangers travel to Oakland this weekend while the Angels host the Astros. The Twins lost three of their five games against the White Sox and will look to cling to their slim lead during a three-game series in Toronto. The Royals will travel to Cleveland after winning their series against the Rockies earlier this week.