The Yankees announced this afternoon that they’ve outrighted reliever J.R. Graham to Triple-A, thus removing the 26-year-old right-hander from the 40-man roster.
New York claimed Graham off waivers from the Twins earlier this year after Minnesota designated the 2014 Rule 5 Draft pick for assignment. Graham stuck in the Twins’ bullpen all throughout the 2015 campaign, with manager Paul Molitor typically reserving him for low-leverage situations. Graham wound up logging 63 2/3 innings of 4.95 ERA ball and averaged 7.5 K/9 against 3.0 BB/9 to go along with a 49 percent ground-ball rate. However, he was also quite homer-prone in his rookie campaign and struggled to strand runners. The former Braves top prospect tossed just 1 2/3 innings in the Majors this season and spent the majority of the year with the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate. All told, he logged a 3.27 ERA with 9.6 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9 in 44 innings across three minor league levels.
New York Yankees enjoying power surge from Gregorius-Castro middle infield duo
09/28/2016 12:41 PM ET
By A.J. Herrmann
Didi Gregorius powering his way through career-best season in home runs.(MLB)
Home runs across baseball are up for the second consecutive year, and two somewhat unlikely Yankees are joining in on the power display.
For the first time in franchise history, both Yankees' middle-infielders have logged seasons with at least 20 home runs, after Didi Gregorius notched his 20th shot of the season Tuesday night against Boston.
The 26-year-old shortstop's previous career-high in home runs was nine, set one year ago in his first season in pinstripes, making 2016's spike an unlikely yet pleasant surprise for the Bronx Bombers.
His double-play partner, Starlin Castro, has shown slightly more power throughout his young career, but he too has set a new career-high this year with 21 homers after joining the Yankees prior to the season. Castro has collected at least 10 homers in each of the last five seasons, but has seen a significant jump in 2016 despite missing time due to injury.
Some of this can be explained by each player's change of scenery; ballplayers almost always see a spike in power when half of their games are played in the new Yankee Stadium. And while this is Gregorius' second season in the Bronx, there's little doubt that it took some time for him to adjust to his new high-profile role, team and city.
But Gregorius is one of several unlikely ballplayers who have seen their home run output take off in 2016, prompting some to ask the question: What's changed?
As Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci reported Wednesday, MLB has seen a hard-to-explain uptick in home runs for the second consecutive year, from a 17% increase in 2015, to another 15% increase this year.
"The growth in home runs in consecutive seasons is so large as to be unprecedented without an obvious reason," Verducci wrote. "This marks only the fifth time that baseball has seen a double-digit increase in homers in consecutive years."
Another notable Yankee who has thrown his hat into the 20-home run ring this season has been none other than rookie superstar Gary Sanchez, who also crushed his 20th bomb of the season in Tuesday night's thrilling win against Boston.
Plenty has already been said to attempt to describe what Sanchez has accomplished in his first long-term stint in the Majors, but the records and accolades keep piling up for the Yankees' latest exciting homegrown talent.
Sanchez's dinger put him in a tie with Wally Berger of the 1930 Braves as the fastest players of all time to reach 20 career home runs, doing so in just their first 51 games in the Majors.
With Sanchez and Gregorius both joining the 20-home run club this year, the Yankees have four players (Carlos Beltran being the fourth) to crack the plateau, with veteran slugger Brian McCann one shy at 19 blasts on the year.
107 players - and counting - have hit 20+ HR in 2016, breaking previous record of 103 in '99.
- MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) September 28, 2016
The equally puzzling thing about this year's rise in home runs is that it diametrically contradicts the upward trends in pitching specialists, reliever usage and strikeout rates.
For the 11th sconsecutive season, MLB set a new all-time record for strikeouts in a season, and the totals will keep climbing for another week. Additionally, Major League relievers have tossed an all-time record amount of innings this year, as more and more teams look to win games from the back-end, just as the Yankees aimed to do earlier this season with their ultra-dominant relief trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman.
Some around the game have suggested that something structural within the actual baseball has changed, as they attempt to explain the unusual spike.
"Something happened to the baseball," one anonymous MLB pitching coach told Verducci. "I'm not lying to you. I saw baseballs going out to the opposite field like they were pulled -- in cold weather -- and I said, 'Uh-oh. Something's up.'"
Whether it's a physical change to the baseball itself, or just a peculiar aberration in the game's ever-changing nature, home runs and strikeouts continue to significantly dictate play in 2016, and the Yankees are following right in line with the direction the game appears to be headed.
Yankees slugger Aaron Judge made 95 plate appearances in his first taste of big-league action and batted .179/.263/.345 before hitting the DL with an oblique strain. Now, he’s looking forward to 2017, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch writes. “It’s the same thing as last year; I got a little taste of Triple-A and got used to it, and same thing here,” says Judge. “I got a couple games up here and saw what it’s like. It’ll help me prepare coming in here, not in the unknown.” Judge says he expects to have to compete for a starting role in the big leagues next year. Manager Joe Girardi sensibly points out that Judge needs to work on hitting for contact — Judge struck out 42 times in his short stay in the Majors this year. As Judge implies, though, he struggled in his first stint in Triple-A last year, only to bat .270/.366/.489 with 20 homers there this year. Perhaps he can improve the second time around against big-league pitching as well.