There are ten questions in this week’s mailbag. Only one more mailbag until Opening Day! Can’t wait. Anyway, send your mailbag questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.
Dominic asks: Last chat you talked about CC’s five game suspension he will serve this season. Given that he’s starting the year injured, can he serve his suspension concurrently with his IL stint? Or is there a loophole wherein the team can retroactively put him on the IL after the suspension?
There’s no loophole and CC Sabathia can not serve his suspension while on the injured list. Performance-enhancing drug suspensions can be served while on the injured list, but not disciplinary suspensions for brawls or throwing at hitters, etc. (Don’t get mad at me. I didn’t make the rules.) For example, last season Yuli Gurriel served his five-game suspension for the Yu Darvish incident starting on Opening Day, then he was placed on the disabled list for the hand injury he suffered in Spring Training. The Yankees have to play with a 24-man roster during the suspension, which isn’t a huge deal because Sabathia is a starting pitcher and he wouldn’t play between starts anyway. The only question is whether the Yankees want to play shorthanded for the first five games of the season (suspension then injured list), or a few weeks into the season (injured list then suspension).
Nathan asks (short version): This might be more of a chat question, but how is Harper discussing his intent to talk to Trout that much different than GMs openly discussing their interest level/intent to sign a particular free agent? If Harper’s comments are tampering, the GMs comments have to be viewed the same way.
Mike Trout is under contract with another team. That’s the key difference. Players and executives aren’t supposed to talk about players under contract. Executives talking about their level of interest in Bryce Harper and Manny Machado over the winter skirted the tampering rules because they were free agents and not under contract with another club. I think MLB should allow players to openly discuss players with other teams like Harper did with Trout. Make players exempt from tampering rules. Similar to the NBA, it would create buzz for the game, and it’s silly to think players don’t talk to each other about this stuff behind the scenes. I get banning executives from discussing other players. That makes sense. Letting players tamper keeps MLB in the news and gives fans a reason to stay engaged.
Greg asks (short version): If the opener thing continues to increase in popularity among major league teams as appears will be the case, do you think MLB (or the non-analytic stat community) should adopt an arbitrary statistical measure for those guys along the lines of the save, the hold and the quality start? What should it be called and what should be required to earn it?
I don’t think it would be necessary and, frankly, baseball probably doesn’t need another pitching stat that tells us more about usage than performance. I guess you could call a scoreless first inning an “open?” Or maybe it’s a first inning in which the pitcher’s team finishes with the lead or tied? This would help everyone keep track of who is being used as an opener — it’s going to weird to look at the back of Ryne Stanek’s baseball card in 20 years and see he had 29 starts and 30 relief appearances in 2018 — but I’m not sure there’s any analytical value in such a stat. It doesn’t tell us about their performance, necessarily. It’s a bookkeeping thing. Maybe it would help relievers in arbitration? Or maybe it hurts them since you can now differentiate between starts and opens. Something to help us easily keep track of who’s starting and who’s opening would be nice, at least until managers start managing to the stat the same way they manage to wins (try to get the starter through five innings) and saves (build their entire bullpen strategy around the ninth inning).
Josh asks: If you know an opposing team is going to use an opener, what are your thoughts on altering your lineup so that basically your regular leadoff hitter actually hits cleanup and so on?
I don’t like it. You’re pushing your best hitters down in the lineup and robbing them of at-bats. I’m not necessarily referring to the 162-game season — last year the Yankees’ No. 1 hitter received 50 more plate appearances than the No. 4 hitter — I’m talking about at-bats in that individual game. You’re making it less likely your top hitters get that one extra at-bat in the ninth inning, which could make a huge difference in a close game. Not only that, but you’re also making it more likely the opener succeeds because he’s (theoretically) facing inferior hitters. I get the idea, but I’m inclined to stick with the same lineup construction. Get your best hitters high in the lineup and up to the plate as much as possible. If they have to face an opener in the first inning, so be it.
Nick asks: Total cart before the house stuff here but with a farm system loaded at its lower levels, should a “top of his game” MadBum (or any other true, top of the rotation type ace) become available at the trade deadline, would the Yankees have the pieces to win a bidding war?
It’s hard to say. The Yankees are short on high-end prospects at the upper levels of the minors right now, and those guys are usually most in demand at the trade deadline, so they might be at a disadvantage come trade deadline time. Then again, if a few of those lower level guys (Deivi Garcia, Roansy Contreras, Antonio Cabello, etc.) really bust out this season, they would become more attractive in trades. Ultimately, it comes down to the other team’s preference. The Giants might be more willing to take lower level guys for Madison Bumgarner than, say, the Indians would for Corey Kluber. The good news is the Yankees have talent in their farm system. It’s not barren like it was way back when. They should be able to get whatever they need in July. It just might be more difficult to make a match than it was a year or two ago.
Jerry asks: Would swinging earlier in the count help Aaron Judge cut down his strikeouts? Or would that negatively affect his OB%? Maybe being more aggressive yields more hits to offset the fewer walks.
Judge is a career .395/.393/.775 hitter in the first two pitches of an at-bat and a career .244/.399/.515 hitter thereafter. Based on that, yes, he should swing early in the count more often, though it’s not quite that simple. There’s a lot of selection bias at play. Judge’s numbers on the first and second pitch are so good because he’s usually swinging at only very hittable pitches that early in the count. If he starts swinging early in the count more often, pitchers will adjust, and try to get him to fish out of the zone. With his plate discipline, that might not be a problem. Judge is so good and such a smart hitter than I think it’s best just to let him do his thing and not force a change. Trust him to adjust when pitchers tell him he has to adjust. He’s done it before and he’ll do it again.
Kian asks (short version): I know this is a long shot and zero chance Yanks do this…. But after reading our lack of options in center-field if Hicks can’t start the season, is there anything more than a 0% chance that Florial starts there?
I feel like I get asked some version of this question each spring. “This Major Leaguer might not be ready for Opening Day, so what about going with this prospect who’s having a great spring?” Estevan Florial is hitting .345/.406/.517 this spring and he looks great. That doesn’t mean he’s any more Major League ready than he was four weeks ago. Florial hit .255/.354/.361 (110 wRC+) around his wrist injury in High-A last season and asking him to jump from that to the big leagues is unfair. He’s not on the 40-man roster and he doesn’t have to be added until after the season, so there are roster ramifications here as well. The Aaron Hicks injury shouldn’t change Florial’s development plan. You’re only making a bad problem worse. Teams sign players like Billy Burns for situations like this. To cover for an injury without rushing prospects. Florial’s pitching recognition might not be Double-A ready right now. Big leaguers would almost certainly pick him apart.
David asks: Who is the third string centerfielder? It seems they are reluctant to put Judge in there, but why?
I don’t think the Yankees want Aaron Judge to deal with the extra wear-and-tear. Center fielders have more ground to cover and they have to back up on every ball hit to an outfield corner. It’s a lot of running. There’s a reason it’s a young man’s position. I’m sure Judge could do it and play a passable center field on an everyday basis if pushed into action, but if the Yankees can save him some running and avoid fatigue throughout the season, by all means, do it. He’s too important.
Paul asks: Seriously, Voit looks like he’s for real. Why was he so cheap to get?
I guess it would be the same reason why Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks were so cheap, right? Their former teams undervalued them (or overrated the players they received in the trade), and the Yankees had a better and more accurate evaluation of the player, and/or had a better plan to help the player reach his potential. Teams make mistakes all the time. All the time. Even the smart ones. The Cardinals might’ve undervalued Voit because he was stuck behind Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez on their internal first base depth chart, or not understood the value of his hard contact. Maybe Voit isn’t for real and last year proves to be a fluke. It could happen. But guys like Gregorius, Hicks, and Chad Green show the Yankees are pretty excellent at identifying buy-low players in other organizations. I don’t know how to answer this question other than to say the Yankees are just that smart.
Mike asks: With the removal of the August trade waivers, could you foresee more veteran players on minor league deals with August 1st, August 15th, and August 31 opt outs? If multiple teams have the same needs, these players could have a mini free agency in August. Could also force more teams to call these types of players up to the MLB roster to avoid losing depth and then optioning young controlled players.
Yes, definitely. Maybe it’s not a set opt-out date, but instead a blanket opt-out clause that allows the player to leave if another team is willing to put him directly on their MLB roster. Those clauses are common in Spring Training. The end of trade waivers could bring those clauses to the regular season as well. Teams can’t go out and trade for help when an injury strikes in August (and September!) now, so it only makes sense for players and their agents to ensure they can escape Triple-A after the trade deadline so they can be available to teams in need. It’s a win-win. The player gets a chance at the big leagues and teams get more options for late season roster help.