The 2019 season has begun and the Yankees are undefeated. Granted, there are still 161 regular season games to go, but I’ll take being in first place after Opening Day any year. The other four AL East teams lost yesterday. The Yankees stand alone atop the division. Let’s hope they stay there all season and go wire-to-wire. Here are some thoughts (and overreactions) following the Opening Day win.
1. Yesterday was a textbook 2019 Yankees win. The offense powered the Yankees to an early lead, they got good enough starting pitching, and they smothered the other team with the bullpen in the late innings. Masahiro Tanaka was better than “good enough,” but I think you get my point. The Yankees put together tough at-bats all game — they averaged 4.21 pitches per plate appearance as a team yesterday, a number only 15 qualified hitters reached last year — and in only one inning did they fail to put a runner on base (the 7-8-9 hitters went down in order in the fourth). I get it, the Orioles are simply awful, and eventually the Yankees will play teams that can hang in and actually compete with them. The Yankees did what you want them to do against a bad team though, and the formula still applies. Lots of offense, good enough starting pitching, then bullpen them into oblivion. There are so many bad and rebuilding teams in the American League that I have to think we’re going to see a lot more games like yesterday’s throughout the season.
2. The Yankees are where they are as an organization largely because they’ve gotten much better at developing prospects. You can’t win these days without growing your own Aaron Judge or Luis Severino or Miguel Andujar. The Yankees are where they are because they’ve also been so good at identifying undervalued players in other organizations. The Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks trades were heists. Getting six years of Chad Green for three years of Justin Wilson was a great move. And now there’s Luke Voit as well. Imagine if this dude is truly for real and the Yankees turned two MLB roster bubble middle relievers (Chasen Shreve and Gio Gallegos) into a bona fide middle of the order masher? Good gravy. Trading Voit for nothing in particular, then giving up multiple prospects to get Paul Goldschmidt (and give him a big extension) feels like something the Yankees would have done in the early 2000s. Now they’re on the other end of that transaction. They’re getting the undervalued guy. Voit swung the bat twice yesterday and did not make an out — he’s currently hitting 1.000/1.000/4.000 (661 wRC+) — and he’s already one of the most popular players on the team. No one is beating Aaron Judge when it comes to crowd reaction. Those “LUUUKE” chants each time Voit came to the plate were awfully loud though. Didi and Hicks are two-way guys who play important up-the-middle positions. Those were masterful pickups. Getting a dude who straight mashes, even if he’s a full-time DH, is a heck of a pickup as well. Voit being for real would be amazing.
3. Maybe it’s just me being a giant Miguel Andujar homer (are we going with FANdujars or what?), but I was encouraged by his defense yesterday. Even with the throwing error. The throwing error came on a non-routine play and it is the type of play Andujar probably isn’t even in position to make last season. He ranged to his right (in foul territory) and made a strong overhand throw. I feel like we could count on one hand the number of times we saw that last season. More importantly, Andujar made a quick transfer on a potential 5-4-3 double play ball later in the game. Might as well GIF it up:
Last year Andujar’s transfer was sooo slow. My goodness. He waited for the ball come to him and often double-clutch before making the throw. On that play Andujar went and got the ball, and made a quick and accurate throw to second base. The runner, Drew Jackson, is crazy fast and was able to beat out the double play, but there was at least a chance at the out at first base. Last year, probably not. Too many times we saw Andujar take his time getting that ball to second base, and hey, maybe we’ll see him take his time getting the ball to second base going forward. That play might’ve been an anomaly. I guess we’ll find out. Andujar seemed to show a little more range and a little more urgency with his defense in Spring Training, and we saw something similar yesterday. This is a #thingtowatch.
4. It sure sounds like Adam Ottavino will be the fireman going forward. The guy who enters in the middle of an inning to snuff out a rally. He kinda sorta did that yesterday — Ottavino entered with a runner on second and two outs with a four-run lead, so it was hardly a dire situation, but it was the only point in yesterday’s game where it felt like the O’s had something going — and Aaron Boone indicated that will be Ottavino’s role. “Adam came in at a time in the game that was a big spot. We liked the lane he was coming into, and to go out there and kind of dominate, the way he’s done,” Boone said. Given the current bullpen personnel, Ottavino as the fireman is the best way to go. Pretty clearly, I think. He struck out 36.3% of the batters he faced last year, and given his current stuff, I am pretty confident that’s his true talent level. His true strikeout level might even be higher now that he’s in Year Two of his self-rebuild and with a smart, analytically inclined organization. Point is, Ottavino is the best bet to come in and miss bats, and that’s what you want when you’re in a sticky situation. Someone who can end an inning without a ball being put in play. Chad Green is really good, but his strikeout rate went from 40.7% in 2017 to 31.5% in 2018, and he’s predictable with all those fastballs. Jonathan Holder’s really good as well, but he’s not going to overpower anyone. Zack Britton seems locked into the eighth inning while Dellin Betances is out and, honestly, Britton has been too wild so far this year (even in Spring Training) for my liking. Once he starts throwing more strikes, we can add him to the fireman conversation. Right now, it should be Ottavino, and he was used accordingly yesterday.
5. I’m really looking forward to James Paxton’s debut tomorrow. As sports fans (this isn’t limited to Yankees fans), we have a tendency to compare current players to our favorite players of yesteryear. Melky Cabrera was going to be the next Bernie Williams, Greg Bird was going to be the next Don Mattingly, Jordan Montgomery was going to be the next Andy Pettitte, so on and so forth. I try to avoid those comparisons. Just let players be themselves and not worry about them being the next whoever, you know? That said, Paxton does remind me of Andy Pettitte more than anyone who’s gotten the “next Andy Pettitte” label over the years. Peak Andy Pettitte, I mean, not late-career Andy Pettitte. They’re both tall left-handers with a similar arm action who have above-average fastballs — the average fastball standard is higher now than it was in Pettitte’s heyday, obviously — and a good array of secondary pitches. Paxton throws his fastball more than Pettitte ever did, though my guess is we’ll see his fastball usage scaled back a little bit this year. I don’t think he’ll go full anti-fastball like Tanaka, but I think we’ll see him use his curveball and cutter a little more. It seems like there’s potential for improvement through pitch selection tweaks. We’ll see. The Orioles stink, so tomorrow’s results might be skewed, but I’m still looking forward to seeing Paxton in a meaningful game.