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4/22-4/24 Series Preview vs. Cleveland Guardians

Story so far

The Yankees (7-6) head back home after going 3-3 on their first road trip of the year. They scored a putrid 16 runs in the six games against two teams they expect to beat up on, and are only staying afloat thanks to their excellent pitching. Cleveland (7-5) on the other hand is fresh off a three-game sweep of the defending AL Central champion White Sox.

Projected Lineup (2021 stats)

The Guardians rank first, yes first, in all of baseball in runs per game after finishing 18th in 2021. After moving on from Eddie Rosario and Cesar Hernandez at the trade deadline, offense was hard to come by for Cleveland. Yet, they have managed to bash early in 2022, and here is the lineup that has done the damage.

  1. Myles Straw (R) CF (.271/.349/.348, 98 wRC+)
  2. Steven Kwan (L) LF (.328/.407/.527, 154 wRC+ between AA and AAA)
  3. Jose Ramirez (S) 3B (.266/.355/.538, 137 wRC+)
  4. Franmil Reyes (R) DH (.254/.324/.522, 125 wRC+)
  5. Amed Rosario (R) SS (.282/.321/.409, 99 wRC+)
  6. Josh Naylor (L) RF (.253/.301/.399, 90 wRC+)
  7. Bobby Bradley (L) 1B (.208/.294/.445, 99 wRC+)
  8. Andres Gimenez (L) 2B (.218/.282/.351, 73 wRC+)
  9. Austin Hedges (R) C (.178/.220/.308, 40 wRC+)

As you can tell, the Guardians’ offensive production so far this season is likely more sample-size based than anything, as Straw, Kwan, Ramirez, and Naylor all are currently sporting wRC+ over 160.  For reference, Ramirez, widely considered one of the sport’s finest players, has only a career 128 wRC+. However, they deserve some credit for the additions they made. 

Steven Kwan is the big story, reaching base an incredible 18 times in his first five career games, the most in the Modern Era (since 1901). He has since cooled off a bit, but still ranks in the 100th percentile in whiff percentage and 96th in walk percentage, a combination which should make him a high OBP player going forward.

Myles Straw is looking like an excellent pick-up for the Guardians, as they nabbed him from Houston at the 2021 deadline for reliever Phil Maton. He gives Cleveland solid defense in centerfield and speed on the bases, and if he continues to slash .290/.374/.382, as he has since coming to the Forest City, will remain a fixture at the top of the order going forward.

Probable Pitchers

Friday (7:05 ET): RHP Jameson Taillon vs. RHP Elijah Morgan

Taillon is two starts into his 2022 campaign and experienced similar results in both outings. He pounded the strike zone (only one walk thus far), worked quickly and looked in total command, but allowed a two-run homer in each game. Since joining the Yankees he has favored his four-seam fastball over his sinker, resulting in higher whiff rates but also increased launch angles, leading to a higher home run rate. If Taillon can limit the long ball he has a chance to establish himself as the legit mid-to-top of the rotation pitcher New York thought they were getting when they acquired him from Pittsburgh.

Morgan made his major league debut in 2020 after being selected in the 8th round of the 2017 draft out of Gonzaga. Morgan had mixed results in 2021, as he compiled a 7.47 ERA in his first seven starts as opposed to a 4.19 ERA in his final eleven. While Morgan was never considered a top prospect for Cleveland, he steadily moved up the system thanks to his phenomenal changeup. Opposing batters racked up a .245 wOBA and 25.4% whiff percentage against the pitch in 2021, proving it can be a weapon for him in the big-leagues. His success in this game will likely weigh on the effectiveness of that pitch.

Saturday (1:05 ET): LHP Nestor Cortes Jr. vs LHP Kirk McCarty

The potential ceiling for Nestor Cortes continues to rise after his sterling 5-inning, 12 strikeout scoreless outing against the O’s on Easter Sunday. After a breakout in 2021 Cortes is proving he is a legitimate MLB starter and the advanced metrics back it up. He is missing bats (98th percentile in strikeout percentage), avoiding walks (88th percentile in walk percentage) and limiting barrels (76th percentile in barrel %).  Whether or not he can continue his ace-level performance remains to be seen but so far he is proving you can still get outs in the bigs with a fastball barely touching 90 mph.

Kirk McCarty is expected to make his major-league debut Saturday after RHP Cal Quantrill was placed on the COVID list. McCarty has a strong 0.79 ERA in 11.1 AAA innings so far this year, but his minor-league track record shows some flaws. He has not finished a season with a sub-5 ERA since 2018, and his 9 K/9 is nothing to write home about. He hasn’t a go-to pitch so far but has solid command. He’s undersized (5’8”) but athletic, as he was a high school quarterback like fellow Guardians pitcher Zach Plesac, a trait Cleveland seems to be drawn to. Don’t expect McCarty to go more than twice through the heavy right-handed Yankee order.

Sunday (1:35 ET): RHP Gerrit Cole vs RHP Aaron Civale

Gerrit Cole is hoping to get his season back on track after a dismal start. He is pitching to a 6.35 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP and 7 walks in his first 3 outings. It took him 10 starts to reach 7 walks in 2021, so clearly his command is the main issue. The good news for Cole is his whiff rate so far is in the 89th percentile and fastball spin in the 95th, proving his struggles are not due to lost spin rate since the banning of spider tack. He’s given up five hits, all for extra bases, on his fastball so far in 2022, but his 25.6% on that pitch is encouraging. It is far too early to worry about Gerrit Cole, but a great start this weekend will go a long way in silencing the doubters.

Civale, like Cole, is coming off a strong 2021 but struggling early in 2022. Civale only touches upper-80’s to low-90’s with his fastball so he relies on an extensive arsenal to get hitters out. His cutter was his most used pitch in 2021, and one of his most effective as hitters managed only a .235 wOBA on the pitch. In 2022 that figure has ballooned to .942, albeit on an extremely small sample size (only 37 pitches and 3 batted ball events). Civale has a good feel for pitching and manages to keep hitters off balance, usually a recipe for success against the Yankees, evident by his 2.08 ERA in 17.1 career innings against the Bombers.  

Three things to watch:

  1. Offense: On paper, the Yankees have an immensely more talented and established offense than the Guardians, but do not have the production to show for it. We’re getting towards the end of April, the time where slow starts turn to down years and hot ones turn to breakout seasons. Players have up and down stretches, sometimes 10-15 games at a time, but from the fan’s perspective the first streak holds the most significance. The Yankees must turn it around at the plate or a puzzling ‘21-’22 offseason will begin to look like a disaster for Cashman and company after refusing to bid for premier bats. The Guardians are playing with house money this year, but the more production from young players, the better. 
  2.  Joey Gallo: Gallo slashed .160/.303/.404 with a measly 95 wRC+ in his 58 game debut with the Yankees in 2021 after a .223/.379/.490 with a 139 wRC+ in Texas. He has managed to slip even further in 37 AB’s in 2022 with a disastrous .135/.256/.135 slash line and a 29 wRC+, ZERO extra-base hits, and poor defense (-2.5 UZR). Gallo has hit 40 home runs twice in his young career and earned two Gold Glove awards, so this is far from the player he is capable of being. Gallo is entering free agency after this season, so he must turn it around soon, not just for the team’s sake but his own. 
  3. Aaron Judge: Similar to Gallo, just is looking to prove himself before free agency and is off to a slow start. His .255/.340/.404 slash line and 126 wRC+ are still fine, but far from the production expected from the Yankees star. Judge reportedly turned down a seven year, $213.5 million extension before the season, which is notable this weekend as they will see Jose Ramirez. Ramirez, who would’ve been a free agent after 2023 and entering his age-31 season like Judge, was given five years and $124 million for those years. Ramirez is off to a scalding .426/.472/.830 and 281 wRC+ start with a league leading 20 RBI’s, and his production may leave Judge concerned that he made a grave mistake. 

 

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