The Ghost of DH Future

The DH situation in picture form. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
The DH situation in picture form. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

The Yankees’ designated hitters in the playoffs have been way more ‘designated’ than they have been ‘hitters.’ It seems that no matter what name or number Joe Girardi calls for that spot in the order, it comes up empty. Chase Headley gave it a good try yesterday, robbed of a homer by Josh Reddick, and that–aside from one measly catcher’s interference by Jacoby Ellsbury (of course)–has pretty much been the extent of the offensive production by Yankee DHs against Minnesota, Cleveland, and Houston. Short of someone being injured and another player–Tyler Austin? Clint Frazier?–being added to the roster, there really isn’t much the team can do about the current DH situation aside from hope that someone runs into a pitch or two and gets out of this funk. The future of DH, though, is up in the air.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that Todd Frazier–current third baseman–makes the most sense at DH next year–though, really, this would Headley to DH as it seems the Yankees prefer Frazier defensively. This idea stems mostly from the fact that it’s unlikely the team will go with a full time DH as there aren’t many good full-time options and the team could have extra Greg Bird insurance. Frazier and the Yankees seem to like each other, but he’s going to be a free agent and will have that leverage in his back pocket. So do the Yankees, though, as it seems like Bird is back and healthy and Headley did have a decent season and is a good defender at third, also on a one year deal. Would Frazier settle for a one year deal? Probably not. With Miguel Andujar just about ready to be a Major League player and Gleyber Torres (hopefully) knocking on the door behind him, it may not be wise to stock this team with too many third base types. Granted, Headley or Frazier on a one year deal could be jettisoned, but that’s not necessarily what you want. The outfield situation may also complicate things.

As they do now, the Yankees will have four outfielders for three spots in 2018. Of course, they could flip one in a trade to free up room, but I’m still not sure there are viable markets for Brett Gardner and/or Jacoby Ellsbury. Aaron Judge isn’t going anywhere and Aaron Hicks earned a starting spot for next year with his play this year. Gardner is, fankly, better than Ellsbury. If the team is willing to let Ellsbury be a high-priced fourth outfielder, then they could get another player to DH, rather than rotating the outfielders in and out when they need a day.

The more I think about it, the more it might make sense to let Todd Frazier walk. He’s a great guy and I’ve enjoyed rooting for him in every way possible. But in terms of money and roster space, it might be best to let him go, shift Chase Headley back to third base, and roll with a rotating DH.

Thoughts Before an Elimination Game

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Hello, dear reader. A lot has happened since last we spoke and I’m hoping a lot more happens before we speak again. Let’s hope this isn’t the last Sunday of 2017 when we can look forward to Yankee baseball, huh? Anyway, let’s get on with my thoughts, ones that hopefully won’t be the last of the season, however long that shot might be.

Oh, Joe

By now, you’ve read every Joe Girardi hot take, but allow me to pile on, self-indulgently. At the time he did it, I really had no problem with Girardi taking out Sabathia. It’s the playoffs, and you’ve gotta go to the power arms quickly, even if it’s CC Sabathia out there, who’s been an absolute rock this year. It’s too bad Chad Green didn’t quite have it, though, and that is understandable. Even with some days off, he pitched the most stressful game of his life on Tuesday and may have been fatigued.

Sadly, the bad decisions cascaded from there. Not challenging on the Lonnie Baseball foul tip/HBP. What. And even if Joe owned up to it yesterday, that seems a bit late, doesn’t it? Declaring in the aftermath that he didn’t want to disturb Green’s rhythm is like my students telling me they finished their essay, honestly, but they just left it at home! Or their printer stopped working. Or their email got lost. Right. Just tell me you didn’t do it and let’s move on. I’ll still be disappointed, but at least you won’t be insulting my intelligence until you do own up to it. Then he pushed David Robertson too far. Then he went to Aroldis Chapman for two innings…instead of just pitching him in the eighth and ninth. And then he pushed Betances too far. It’s safe to say that Friday night was probably the worst managerial night Girardi has had as Yankee manager.

In the immediate aftermath, people were discussing replacing Girardi and that conversation spilled over into Saturday. I’m of two minds here. With the one, I think that there really isn’t anyone better to manage this team than Girardi and he’s proven that over the years. But with the other, ten years is a damn long time and it might be time for a new voice in the room, especially as the team starts to skew younger. Who could that voice come from? I have no idea, honestly. If I had to bet, I’d say Girardi is back next year and thereafter.

If and when he is back, the most important thing for Joe to do is gain some more confidence in Gary Sanchez. He’s shown that by keeping Sanchez behind the plate and not buying into any sort of narrative, but not challenging despite Sanchez’s insistence looks bad. Gary needs to improve on blocking balls, sure, but he’s a good framer and receiver and he’s an elite level thrower behind the plate. Atop all that, he’s the best hitting catcher in baseball not named “Buster Posey.” Winning the trust and confidence of Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and the other young players on the team and on the 40-man is the most important thing Girardi can do. If the front office–read Brian Cashman–thinks he can do that, then he is certainly the right man for the job.

There’s a chance the Yankees’ season will end before I write again–duh–and I hope it doesn’t. I have missed playoff baseball, even if it is stressful and a cause for sleeplessness. This is why we watch, isn’t it? Baseball, more than other sports, may be about the journey more than the destination, but when the destination is in sight, it sure is more exciting. We’ve harped a lot about how this team wasn’t expected to go this far, wasn’t expected to win in the high 80’s, let alone the 90’s. This playoff run is gravy and a half. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be disappointed if it ends. That disappointment comes from enjoying the hell out of this team, but also from the fact that it’s a good team that could go farther than the ALDS. Is there shame in losing to the best team in the game? No, but that doesn’t mean it won’t sting if it happens. If this is the end, thanks for going on this ride with me for 2017; I can’t wait for 2018 and beyond.

Beginning at the End

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Yesterday, CC Sabathia walked off the mound after 5 2/3 innings. There is a chance that was the last time he walked off the mound as a starter in the regular season for the New York Yankees. Thinking back on it hours later, if it was his last time–I hope it wasn’t–it marks the end of something great, but hopefully the beginning of something that has the potential to be even greater.

CC hasn’t been a dominant pitcher in a long time and Masahiro Tanaka has been the Yankees’ best starter since he arrived; but he might be out the door as well. Two potential endings to two great Yankee careers. But right behind them, there’s a new beginning with equal potential: Luis Severino. It’s impossible to overstate just how good Severino was this year. The only pitchers better than him over the course of the season, really, were Corey Kluber and Chris Sale. That’s some damn good company. Is it likely that Severino has a year this good again? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be great going forward, and it looks like he will. As two ace-like pitchers (possibly? probably?) end their careers as Yankees, another one is taking over at just the right time. Are you ready for the Luis Severino Era?

Love these dudes. (Elsa/Getty)
Love these dudes. (Elsa/Getty)

Who else is ready to see that over and over and over for the next ten years? Hell. Friggin’. Yes. The end of this incredible season by Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge hopefully marks the beginning of a long run of offensive prowess and dominance by two young players that we haven’t seen in decades. Even back in the 90’s, Paul O’Neill and Bernie Williams were established when Derek Jeter was establishing himself. And was like O’Neill and Williams when Jorge Posada began his prominence. The most apt comparison is the pair of Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, forging their ways as Yankee pitching mainstays. Sanchez and Judge are doing it on the other side of the ball, though, and with a chance for both of them to be more dominant at their positions than Pettitte ever was. To match Mo, well, that’s a hard ask, isn’t it?

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Like in September of 2015, Greg Bird has been on fire this month. He was slow out of the block this year before being injured, and was somewhat inconsistent upon his return from the DL. Is he completely clear now, to the point where the Yankees can fully trust him for 2018 and beyond in terms of health? Eh… But his offensive performance this month speaks to his potential: a patient, powerful first baseman who can man the middle of the order with his counterparts at catcher and right field for years to come.

These individual accomplishments–hopefully big beginnings at the end of this surprising season–by homegrown Yankee youngsters are just a microcosm of the team and the organization at large. This was a year that took us all by surprise, but it happened. Just as we cross our fingers for the players above to be great for a long time, we do the same for the team. And if this season–especially its end–is any indication, we’re in for a fun few years. Now let’s just get through Tuesday.

Looking Ahead to the 2018 Roster

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

First of all, let’s take a moment to congratulate the Yankees on securing a playoff spot in 2017. This team was expected to maybe compete for the second wild card spot if everything broke their way, and now they’re on track to win 90 games. That’s fantastic. Much to what I’m sure is the chagrin of fans of other teams and organizations, the Yankees’ rebuild lasted about as long as it takes to microwave a burrito. For exceeding expectations and cementing their spot as one of the last standing after the marathon that is the baseball season, this team deserved every drop of beer and champagne last night. To see a team that was this fun achieve something so unexpected is a delight and I’m beyond ecstatic for the players.

Now, let’s look ahead for a bit, hopefully into a future that includes raising a 28th World Series banner. On Friday, Mike looked at the payroll and budget situation for 2018. Using his template, let’s examine the potential 2018 roster as it ‘stands’ now. Like Mike, I’m going to assume Masahiro Tanaka will opt out of his current deal, bad start Friday night and all.

In his post, Mike listed the players needing to be replaced as Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Todd Frazier, and Matt Holliday. Of those, Tanaka is obviously the hardest to replace. If he does go, that task may be impossible because no free agent starters are of his caliber. The rotation would be in an okay spot considering they’d be leading with Luis Severino and Sonny Gray. A bit of improvement from Jordan Montgomery makes him into a third starter. Between the minor league system and some small time deals on the (not so hot) free agent market could round out the rotation decently. Considering how much of a question the rotation was this time a year ago, the Yankees could afford to go in with one that isn’t great and ride the lineup and bullpen like they did for a lot of this year.

Of the pitchers they’re (probably) losing, Sabathia is more likely to return on a small contract, maybe with some innings incentives. He’s said he wants to pitch for a winning team, and the Yankees are likely to be one. Tapping him to anchor the back of the rotation means the Yankees could take some innings risks with others in the fourth spot between CC and Monty.

To replace The Todd and Arms Holliday, the Yankees may be able to kill two birds with one stone…in the person of Todd Frazier. As good as Holliday looked at the beginning of the year, he’s looked much less so lately and given their experience with him and Chris Carter this year, I think the team’ll look to be more flexible at DH. That is, they won’t opt for a strictly DH type; they don’t have one in house and unless Carlos Santana somehow leaves Cleveland (doubtful), an elite option doesn’t exist on the free agent market.

The best option, I think, is to re-sign Todd Frazier. I wasn’t wild about that idea when he was brought on, but having him on the team gives the Yankees insurance for both Greg Bird‘s health and Chase Headley‘s performance. Those three guys can rotate between third, first, and DH until someone really grabs the job by the horns. While Bird may be limited to first, Headley and Frazier can both play the corner infield spots and the combination of all three could lead to upwards of 100 walks and 60 homers in some combination; that would be well worth it.

It’s likely that the 2018 Yankees will look incredibly similar to the 2017 Yankees. A lack of turnover can be a bad thing–see the 2017 Mets–but this team doesn’t have many major holes to fill–outside of Tanaka–and there’s a solid base of talent in each facet of the roster. Things are looking up for next year. Now, let’s see how they take care of this year.

Attractive Opposites

World Series Phillies Yankees Baseball

I’ve said often that the 2009 World Series winning Yankee team is my favorite of all the championship teams. I was finally old enough to appreciate a World Series win and I watched nearly every inning of that season. Additionally, I was (way too) active on this site and met a lot of great people through it. Every night was a new, fun, exciting experience on the road to dominance and an eventual championship. On its face, the 2017 version of the Yankees has very little to do with that team.

The 2009 team was built and focused around veterans. There were the ‘holdovers’ like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, and Robinson Cano. The team brought in Nick Swisher, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeria. That team was expected to win and to win big. And that’s what they did. Including the playoffs, they won 114 games en route to World Series number 27. The 2017 team, on the other hand, was built around young players and the hope that maybe if everything broke right, they could fight for the second Wild Card spot. Obviously, things have gone better than that and this year has been, probably, the most enjoyable year of my Yankee fandom since 2009.

Every night, this team is fun to watch. Of course, there have been frustrating moments of offensive and bullpen related frustrations, but those pale in comparison to how great it feels to watch young players playing great on a nightly basis. From Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge knocking dingers, leading their respective positions in offense, to Didi Gregorius‘s further offensive development and stellar throwing arm, to Luis Severino and Chad Green reaching heights that seemed well beyond anything we could think of, to Clint Frazier making an unexpected debut, young players have fueled the good times in 2017.

2009 featured walk off after walk off and it was amazing. I’ll not soon forget he A-Rod walk off against the Red Sox or walk off weekend against the Twins or all the playoff heroics of A-Rod and others. That sense of drama hasn’t quite been there more than a few times in 2017, but the wins have been satisfying nonetheless.

We’ve talked a lot about expectations this year and how the lack thereof has made this a stress free year of rooting. A different feeling than the expectations-laden one in 2009 for sure. But, at the end of the rooting day, there is a sense of calm I’ve felt regarding both squads. In 2009, I always knew the team would come through. I knew they’d get the big hit. I knew they’d win even when it looked like they wouldn’t. There was a level of comfort knowing just how damn good they were, knowing that they were the best. Even as expectations now rise for the 2017 team–anything less than a DS appearance would be disappointing at this point–there’s a comfort level in knowing that they blew past what we should have expected long ago.

Baseball is supposed to be fun, whether you’re playing or watching. Since 2012, the fun times for the Yankees have been few and far between, with plenty of frustration flung in there. 2017 hasn’t been that at all. 2009 seemed predestined for a championship and I’ve got no idea what 2017 will really do, but the ride has been fun as all hell and I hope it goes on for a long time and ends with a big parade.

Thoughts Before the Stretch Run Starts

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Before we begin, I’m sure that many of you reading this may be in or from Florida or have relatives/friends there. If that’s the case, I speak for everyone here when I say that we hope you’re safe and they’re safe.

CY-Verino

I know Luis Severino isn’t going to win the Cy Young Award. And given how Chris Sale and Corey Kluber have pitched this year, he probably doesn’t deserve to win it. But dammit if I’m not rooting for those two to crash and burn this month so Severino has a chance to grab it. We’ve talked a lot about things going as well as possible for Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez–and I wrote about it regarding Severino last week–but we might be able to argue that things have gone even better for Luis considering what happened last year. He’s stepped up for the Yankees time and time again this year, including yesterday, and he’s gone a long way towards making me feel better about the rotation next year, which was looking shaky.

Pleasantly Frustrating

This was supposed to be a process year, a developmental year. Then the Yankees started winning and that mindset of mine changed. The Yankees are incredibly likely to win the wild card and host the play-in game for the second time in three years and that’s a lot better than we could’ve hoped for in February and March. But it’s also frustrating as hell because the Yankees are clearly better than any of the teams they’d face in that game. Their starters are better than any starter they will face. In the end, that may not matter. One bad game could derail things. That’s not to say this season would be any sort of failure if the Yankees don’t make it to the Division Series. Would it be disappointing? Definitely. But considering the expectations at the beginning of the year, this season has largely been a success.

The teasing thing is that this is a team built well for a series-style playoff run: a solid rotation of Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, and CC Sabathia. A dominant bullpen. A lineup capable of explosion. All of that is dangerous in October, especially the pitching, but they may not even get there. Times like this make me long for the old Wild Card system or something radically new and different.

My pipe dream is a balanced schedule with no divisions within the AL and NL, so the top 4 teams from each league make it. That will never ever happen, but a guy can dream, no?

Anyway, it was nice last year to have a relatively stress-free season (especially in my first year as a parent), but that competitive baseball, the idea of the playoffs, it’s something I definitely missed. Sure, this isn’t like 2009-12 when you knew the Yankees were racking up division wins and what not, but it feels good to have some form of baseball to look forward to in the fall. Remind me I said this when I’m rocking back and forth like Leo Mazzone during the Wild Card game.

The Same, but Different: Luis Severino in 2017

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Tonight, the Yankees conclude their most important series of the year. A win in this tilt against the Red Sox would pull them to within 3.5 games of the AL East with a month left to play and maintain–or improve–their wild card lead against the annoyingly hard-charging Minnesota Twins. It’s a game in which you’d love to have your best on the mound and, fortunately, the Yankees do in Luis Severino. A year ago, if I told you that you’d want Severino starting the biggest game of the biggest series of the year, would you have believed me?

Severino has been nothing short of super this year. If it weren’t for Chris Sale being Chris Sale and Corey Kluber being, well, Corey Kluber, Severino might have a shot at the Cy Young Award, something inconceivable last season. Looks like he’ll have to settle for a top-5 (hopefully top 3) finish, barring any big changes from either pitcher. The promise we saw back in 2015 is finally coming to fruition. So what happened? More of the same, in a way.

His arsenal hasn’t changed from 2015-2016 until now; he’s still throwing a fastball, a slider, and a changeup. His usage for this year is slightly different. Like most Yankee pitchers this year, he’s dealing his fastball a little less, which has led to a necessary bump in usage of his other pitches: around a two percent increase in changeup usage and around a one percent increase in slider usage. The results form this change have been fantastic.

He’s getting batters to chase those same pitches more, with a career high 33.3% O-Swing rate. He’s getting batters to miss those pitches more with a career low 74.6% contact rate; his slider has been the main cause of this, jumping from a 24.78 whiff per swing rate in 2015-16 to a 34.02% rate in 2017. That same slider has also seen a massive jump in ground ball rate, from an already solid mark in the mid-50’s all the way up to 63.64. Perhaps the most important factor, though, is an obvious one for 2017, given the context of the majors: home runs.

In 2015 (1.30 HR/9) and 2016 (1.39), the long ball was a big problem for Luis. But, even with struggles in 2016, he’s managed to drop his HR/FB% from 17.3 to 16.4 to 15.1. That leaves his HR/9 this year at 1.05, still perhaps a touch high, but not too bad considering the rest of his stellar numbers. Despite a slight increase in HR rate with his slider (8.62 up from 8.00 in ’15-’16), both the fastball and changeup have seen drops. All three have become positive pitches.

We knew Sevy had a great fastball from day one and that it was his secondary stuff that would dictate his success. Despite it being his roughest pitch, Severino is 9th in the majors this year in terms of run value per 100 pitches with his changeup. He ranks 14th with his slider. We could argue, then, that his ‘lesser’ pitches have surpassed his calling card.

Luis Severino has been nothing short of incredible this year, especially in the light of a horrific year in 2016. He’s turned himself around and made himself into one of the best pitchers in the AL, despite not changing all too much about himself as a pitcher. Here’s hoping that tonight is his signature performance in an already amazing year.