Weekend Open Thread

TGIF, for real. I’m looking forward to the Winter Meetings next week, but I’m mostly just happy this week is over. This was a long one for me. Anyway, as you wait for all hot stove hell to break loose next week, here are a few links worth checking out this weekend. A couple of these pieces are a few weeks old. Sorry. I didn’t get around to reading them until this week.

Friday: This is tonight’s open thread. Not a whole lot going on in the world of sports this evening. Just the Knicks and one college hoops game. It’s Friday night though. Go out and get some fresh air.

Saturday: Once again, this is the open thread. The Rangers and Devils are playing right now while the Nets will be in action a little later. There’s also a boatload of college basketball and football. Have at it.

Update: Carlos Beltran signs with Astros, not Yankees

(Greg Fiume/Getty)
(Greg Fiume/Getty)

Arguably the best DH option for the Yankees is off the board. According to multiple reports, former Yankee Carlos Beltran has agreed to a one-year deal worth $16M with the Astros. He gets a full no-trade clause as well. Carlos and Brian McCann, together again.

The Yankees reportedly had interest in re-signing Beltran to replace McCann at DH, but Mark Feinsand says they never made him a formal offer. That doesn’t mean much though. It just means they didn’t put a piece of paper in front of him to sign, not that they didn’t talk money.

Beltran, 39, hit .304/.344/.546 (135 wRC+) with 22 home runs in 99 games with the Yankees before being traded away as part of their deadline sell-off. He wasn’t quite as good with the Rangers after the trade, hitting .280/.325/.451 (103 wRC+) with seven homers in 52 games.

Interestingly enough, Beltran’s contract is worth less than the qualifying offer this offseason ($17.2M). A few days before the trade I said the Yankees shouldn’t consider Beltran a qualifying offer candidate because he’d probably accept it, and while it wasn’t a given, the money suggests it was a possibility.

There is no shortage of DH bats available in free agency. The big name is Edwin Encarnacion, but geez, I can’t imagine the Yankees would pay huge money and forfeit their first round pick to sign a soon-to-be 34-year-old DH. They got rid of like four old and expensive DHs this year. Why rush to sign another?

Other free agent DH candidates include Matt Holliday, Mike Napoli, Chris Carter, and Brandon Moss. I suppose we shouldn’t rule out Jose Bautista or Mark Trumbo either, though they’re cut from the same “expensive and forfeit a pick” cloth as Encarnacion. That’s not something the Yankees should be doing right now, I don’t think.

When in doubt, bet on the Yankees targeting the lefty pull-hitter. That’s their go-to demographic when looking for short-term roster fillers. Think Travis Hafner and Raul Ibanez. I guess that makes Moss the likely target? Ryan Howard, Colby Rasmus, Pedro Alvarez, and Michael Saunders are other possibilities.

DotF: Rosa dominating out of the bullpen in winter ball

Two weeks ago the 2016 Arizona Fall League season came to an end, though other winter leagues around the world are still in the middle of the season. Here are the final AzFL stats, and before we get to the rest of the winter league updates, here are some minor league notes:

  • Minor league hitting coordinator James Rowson has left the Yankees to join the Twins as their Major League hitting coach, the team announced. Rowson served two stints in New York’s farm system (2006-11, 2014-16) and worked closely with all the team’s top prospects. He helped OF Aaron Judge make some adjustments last offseason, for example.
  • Both Baseball America (no subs. req’d) and MLB.com posted their top Arizona Fall League prospects lists. SS Gleyber Torres was No. 1 on both. RHP James Kaprielian was No. 7 for Baseball America while both Kaprielian (No. 12) and 3B Miguel Andujar (No. 21) made the MLB.com list.
  • In other Fall League news, Torres landed at shortstop on MLB.com’s All-AzFL team, and his performance was also one of Mike Rosenbaum’s top ten storylines of the AzFL season. Gleyber became the youngest batting champion and MVP in league history, so yeah.
  • Jeff Sullivan wrote about RHP Jonathan Holder, who was arguably the most dominant reliever in the minor leagues this past season. Jeff takes a deep dive on Holder’s stuff and finds some similarities to Alex Colome, who is pretty damn good. That’d be a heck of an outcome for Holder.
  • J.J. Cooper put together a Rule 5 Draft preview, if you’re interested in such things. LHP Tyler Webb is listed as one of the best players available. Webb has pretty good stuff and a history of missing bats at Triple-A, so he’s a lock to be picked in the Rule 5 Draft. He might stick next year too.
  • Also, Cooper wrote about RHP Albert Abreu, who the Yankees received in the Brian McCann trade. The timing of the trade means Abreu won’t show up on Baseball America’s top ten prospects list for either the Yankees or Astros, so Cooper posted the scouting report in his weekly mailbag.
  • And finally, there was a ton of talk about the Yankees’ farm system on Wednesday’s episode of the Effectively Wild podcast, so check that out. The Yankees stuff starts at the 6:13 mark.

Australian Baseball League

  • RHP Brandon Stenhouse: 2 G, 2 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 WP (22.50 ERA and 3.50 WHIP) — the Yankees gave the 20-year-old Australian a six-figure bonus out of high school three years ago … he has a 3.49 ERA (3.50 FIP) with 27.0% strikeouts and 12.3% walks in 38.2 rookie ball innings in his two pro seasons

Dominican Winter League

  • IF Abi Avelino: 14 G, 6-20, 3 R, 1 RBI, 3 K, 1 CS (.300/.300/.300)
  • SS Jorge Mateo: 20 G, 7-42, 8 R, 1 2B, 1 3B, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 10 K, 5 SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.167/.239/.238) — he’s not hitting, but the fact he’s still playing regularly tells you how highly he’s regarded … winter leagues are super competitive, they play guys who can help them win without regard for prospect status, and Mateo’s still in the lineup
  • RHP Anyelo Gomez: 2 G, 1.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K (10.80 ERA and 1.80 WHIP) — he was one of ten current Yankees farmhands to hit 100 mph in the minors this year
  • RHP Adonis Rosa: 5 G, 1 GS, 12 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 6 K (0.00 ERA and 0.42 WHIP) — Rosa turned 22 last month and he had a 2.19 ERA (3.03 FIP) with 23.0% strikeouts and 4.7% walks in 78 innings with Short Season Staten Island and Low-A Charleston in 2016 … he was a low-profile signing back in 2013, but he throws strikes and has three pitches (low-90s fastball, curveball, changeup), so he’s not someone to completely overlook

Mexican Pacific League

  • OF Tito Polo: 18 G, 15-66, 13 R, 4 2B, 1 RBI, 5 BB, 19 K, 8 SB, 1 CS, 4 HBP (.227/.320/.288) — he got hurt three weeks ago, came back a few days later, played three games, and hasn’t played since … not sure what’s going on here, exactly

Venezuelan Winter League

  • IF Angel Aguilar: 13 G, 4-20, 5 R, 8 K, 1 SB (.200/.200/.200) — he was actually traded in the VWL … played ten games for Navegantes del Magallanes before being shipped to Aguilas de Zulia … Aguilar is still Yankees’ property, the trade just means a new team controls his winter ball rights
  • C Francisco Diaz: 31 G, 20-90, 9 R, 4 2B, 2 3B, 3 RBI, 9 BB, 16 K, 1 SB, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.222/.300/.311)
  • RHP Luis Cedeno: 4 G, 2 GS, 11.1 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 6 BB, 7 K, 2 HR, 2 HB, 2 WP (5.56 ERA and 1.68 WHIP)
  • RHP David Kubiak: 9 G, 3 GS, 22 IP, 21 H, 15 R, 13 ER, 10 BB, 16 K, 1 HR, 3 HB, 3 WP (5.32 ERA and 1.91 WHIP)
  • RHP Mark Montgomery: 5 G, 3.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K (7.36 ERA and 1.91 WHIP) — hasn’t pitched in a month now, which is probably bad news

Yankees non-tender Jacob Lindgren, who will probably be back at some point soon

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Prior to tonight’s deadline, the Yankees non-tendered left-hander Jacob Lindgren, the team announced. He’s now a free agent. All other pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players received contract offers. The Yankees now have one open spot on the 40-man roster.

Lindgren will miss the entire 2017 season following Tommy John surgery, and his non-tender is not entirely unexpected. Chances are the Yankees will look to re-sign him to a minor league contract now, which allows them to keep him in the organization as a non-40-man player.

The Yankees have made the non-tender/re-sign move several times in the past, most notably with Slade Heathcott, Vicente Campos, and Domingo German. They were all hurt at the time too. The non-tender allows the Yankees to remove Lindgren from the 40-man without exposing him to waivers.

Lindgren, 23, threw only seven innings this past season, during which he walked nine and uncorked six wild pitches with High-A Tampa. He landed on the disabled list shortly thereafter and had Tommy John surgery later in the summer. Sucks, but what can you do?

The open 40-man roster spot means the Yankees will be able to make a selection in the Rule 5 Draft next Thursday. They haven’t made a Rule 5 Draft pick since 2011. Odds are against it, but who knows. Maybe they take a flier on a bullpen arm or a Josh Phelps type for first base depth.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement is kinda good, but mostly bad for the Yankees

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Earlier this week, MLB and the MLBPA worked out a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which will cover the 2017-21 seasons. The owners will reportedly vote on the new agreement on December 13th, which is merely a formality. Once they give the thumbs up, the new CBA will be ratified and everything will be good to go.

The new CBA won’t have any direct impact on this offseason. Teams are operating under the old rules, so they still have to give up their first round pick to sign a qualified free agent. The new luxury tax rules will affect decision-making for sure, though that’s only a matter of degree. The luxury tax threshold went up, so here’s the new payroll target. That sorta thing.

Looking over the details, it sure seems like the owners got the better of the players’ union this time around. This is the second straight CBA that appears to favor the owners. Not a great decade for MLBPA leadership, I’d say. The Yankees do benefit from the new CBA, at least somewhat. There are definitely some negatives as well, however.

The Good

1. The revenue sharing savings are significant. The new CBA removed the Performance Factor from the revenue sharing system, which will save the Yankees a ton of money. Long story short, the supplemental revenue sharing pool, which is based on market size, has been eliminated. Because the Yankees are in the largest market and generate the most revenue, they were contributing the most to the supplemental pool.

The Yankees and every other team still have to pay into the basic revenue sharing pool — each team dumps 34% of their net revenue into the pot, which is then paid out to the 30 teams equally — so they will still be forfeiting a big chunk of change to small market clubs. The supplemental pool, which is determined through the Performance Factor, is gone now. The Yankees get to keep that money, which likely measures in the tens of millions. Simply put, the Yankees now have a lot more money available to them. It’s not going to revenue sharing anymore.

2. The draft pick compensation rules aren’t as harsh. The free agent compensation rules are a little convoluted — they’re tied to revenue sharing and the luxury tax now — but they guarantee teams will be able to keep their first round pick when signing a qualifying free agent. Because the Yankees don’t receive revenue sharing money, they’ll have to give up their second highest pick to sign a free agent. If they paid luxury tax in the most recent season, they have to give up their fifth highest pick too.

Those terms are much more favorable than the current system. First round picks are mighty valuable, both in terms of expected return and the associated draft pool money. The second highest pick, which will usually be a second rounder, is not going to be something that stops a team from signing a qualifying free agent. The Yankees tend to spend in bunches. When they sign qualified free agents, they sign several at once, a la the 2008-09 and 2013-14 offseasons. They can do that and still keep their first rounder. Pretty cool. (Or they could sign one qualified free agent each offseason and still keep their first rounder. That’s pretty cool too.)

The Bad

1. The luxury tax threshold didn’t go up that much. The luxury tax threshold did not rise until year three of the current CBA, the one expiring this offseason. The threshold was $178M in 2011, the final year of the old CBA, and it remained $178M in both 2012 and 2013 as well. It wasn’t until 2014 that it jumped to $189M, where it has remained since.

Under the new CBA, the luxury tax threshold will rise to $195M in 2017, so right off the bat that’s a $6M increase. By the end of the new CBA, the threshold will be $210M. That’s a $21M increase over five years. The expiring CBA featured an $11M increase over five years. Compared to the current CBA, the new one provides a much larger long-term luxury tax threshold increase. Hooray!

The problem is the threshold still isn’t rising as quickly as payrolls around the league. In 2012, the first year of the current CBA, the average payroll was $95M, or 53% of the $178M threshold. Only one team was over the threshold that year (the Yankees, duh). The Phillies were the only other team within $15M of the threshold. By 2016, the final year of the current CBA, the average payroll rose to $131M, or 69% of the $189M threshold. Six teams were over the threshold (Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Cubs, Giants) and another (Angels) was within $10M.

See the problem? Payrolls are growing at a faster rate than the luxury tax threshold. Nathaniel Grow explained last year that the players are receiving a smaller piece of baseball’s total revenue right now than they have at any point in the last two decades. I can’t imagine that’ll change with the new CBA, especially since it comes with such high tax rates — a first time offender that is at least $40M over the threshold gets hit with a 62.5% tax rate — that the luxury tax effectively acts as a soft cap.

I could be wrong, but it seems a lot of people are assuming that once the Yankees get under the luxury tax threshold and reset their tax rate, they’ll spend big again and go back over. I’m not entirely convinced that’ll happen. Hal Steinbrenner insists the Yankees don’t need to spend $200M to field a winner, and it wouldn’t surprise me if staying under the threshold is a long-term goal. If it is, all that revenue sharing money the team is saving won’t go into the roster. Payroll will remain essentially unchanged.

2. The international free agency system is awful. Gosh, how badly does the new CBA screw over international players? As is, the new agreement effectively prevents Shohei Otani from coming over until 2019, when he’ll be 25 and no longer subject to the hard cap. How impossibly stupid. MLB and the MLBPA should want players like Otani in the league. Instead, they put together a deal that actively pushes him way. So dumb. So very dumb.

Anyway, the international hard cap takes away New York’s ability to flex its financial muscle in that market. One of the reasons the Yankees went on that massive spending spree during the 2014-15 international signing period was because it might have been their last chance to spend huge, and sure enough, it was. Rumblings of an international draft are not new. They’ve been around for years. We got a hard cap instead of an international draft, which is just as bad.

Because the hard cap isn’t enough, teams will also have to forfeit a chunk of their spending pool to sign qualifying free agents. So yeah, the Yankees only have to give up their second highest pick, but they also have to give up at least 10% of their bonus pool to sign a player. That stinks. It stinks for the teams because they can’t spend freely, and it really stinks for the kids trying to get signed. Their earning potential is so limited now. It’s a shame.

* * *

The owners go into CBA talks every five years with the same goal: cut costs. They accomplished that this year with the international hard cap, and also by giving teams less of a reason to increase payroll thanks to the harsh luxury tax rates. Mission accomplished for the owners.

The new CBA helps the Yankees because they’re going to save a boatload of revenue sharing money behind the scenes. An absolute ton. It also hurts them by marginalizing their financial might, both internationally and on the MLB roster with the luxury tax. Depending on which side of the table you sit, the new CBA is either really good (owners) or really bad (pretty much everyone else) for the Yankees. Each new CBA keeps whittling away at their financial advantage.

Attendance, the Shift, and Other Random Stats [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At long last, our 2016 Season Review series comes to an end today. Every year I wrap the season review up with a post on some random stuff I found interesting or caught my eye or whatever. Just stuff that’s worth touching on but isn’t worth a full post, you know? Some quirky stats and whatnot. Time to put a bow on the season review. Here’s our last little bit of 2016 coverage.

Attendance

Attendance at Yankee Stadium was down this season. We all saw it. We watched on television. It wasn’t entirely unexpected either, even after the wildcard berth a year ago. The Yankees have been mostly mediocre the last few seasons and that doesn’t exactly sell tickets. Here are the attendance numbers the last few seasons, via Baseball Reference:

  • 2012: 3,542,406 (43,733 per game) — swept in ALCS
  • 2013: 3,279,589 (40,489 per game) — Mariano Rivera‘s final season
  • 2014: 3,401,624 (41,995 per game) — Derek Jeter‘s final season
  • 2015: 3,193,795 (39,430 per game) — lost Wildcard Game
  • 2016: 3,063,405 (37,820 per game) — missed postseason with no farewell tour

It’s worth noting the Yankees were second in the AL in total attendance this season behind the Blue Jays (3,392,099) and sixth in all of MLB in attendance. It’s not like they were near the bottom of the league or even middle of the pack. Relative to the rest of the league, attendance was very good this year. Relative to Yankees’ standards, attendance was down. Especially considering the attendance numbers are tickets sold, not tickets used. There were large swaths of empty seats late in the season.

On a per game basis, the Yankees’ attendance this past season was their lowest since drawing 36,484 fans per game in 1998. Not too many folks wanted to see a 114-win juggernaut, I guess. In all seriousness, the relatively low 1998 attendance is because there is a lag between team performance and attendance change, historically. Got a great team? The big attendance spike comes the following season, not that season. (The 1999 Yankees drew 40,651 fans per game.) That’s because most tickets are sold before the season and early in the season.

The Yankees made the Wildcard Game last year and there were reasons to feel good about the team coming into 2016, but they got off to a slow start, slow enough that they sold at the deadline. That’s a pretty significant event that could have an impact on attendance. Sure enough, the Yankees drew 38,588 fans per game before the trade deadline and 36,515 per game after the deadline. Can’t say a drop of 2,000 fans per game surprises me. The team essentially threw in the towel.

It’s possible if not likely attendance will drop again next season, even though a mediocre team with young players is far more exciting than a mediocre team loaded with veterans in my opinion. Given their attendance this year, it’s not unreasonable to think the Yankees could draw fewer than 3,000,000 fans in 2017 for the first time since 1998. If it happens, it happens. Whatever.

The Shift

Over the last few seasons the Yankees have become one of the most shift happy teams in baseball. According to the fancy Baseball Info Solutions data I have access to through CBS, the Yankees used the seventh most shifts in baseball this season, though they were close enough to bunch of other teams that they were a few more David Ortiz and Chris Davis at-bats away from being third.

Overall, New York’s performance with the shift was not great, at least according to the data we have. Chances are the team sees something different with their internal data. Here are the numbers, via FanGraphs:

No Shift All Shifts Traditional Shifts Non-Traditional Shifts
Yankees .284 .304 .301 .329
MLB AVG .298 .297 .298 .293

A shift qualifies as a traditional shift if one of three things happens: three infielders on one side of the infield, two players are significantly out of position, or one infielder is playing in the outfield. If any of those three conditions are met, it’s a traditional shift. Anything else is considered non-traditional.

Anyway, those numbers in table are both AVG and BABIP. They’re identical because strikeouts, walks, and home runs are not included in the shift data. Interestingly enough, the overall MLB batting average was essentially the same when there was a shift and no shift on this past season. You’d think batting average would be lower with the shift since that’s the whole point, but nope.

For the Yankees though, their overall AVG/BABIP allowed with the shift employed was 20 points higher than without the shift. That’s backwards. The whole idea is bringing down your AVG/BABIP allowed by using the shift. This could be a statistical blip, but last season the Yankees allowed a .292 AVG/BABIP without the shift and .322 with. The year before it was .298 vs. .299, and the year before that it was .302 vs. .304.

Over the last two seasons the Yankees have allowed a much higher AVG/BABIP while employing the shift than without, according to the numbers we have. That’s a problem! The shift should be helping your pitchers, not your opponent. I don’t know what the problem is either. Bad positioning? Pitchers not executing? A bad pitching plan? It could be many things. This has happened two years running now. The shift upped the opponent’s AVG/BABIP by 20 points this season. Last year it was 30. 30!

Does this mean the Yankees should stop shifting all together? Of course not. That’s an overreaction. Intuitively, placing your defenders where the batter is most likely to hit the ball is a very smart thing to do. I’m surprised it took teams so long to start doing it regularly. For all we know the AVG/BABIP numbers we have above are wrong. Remember, this stuff is being recorded by human stringers watching video, so there is scorer bias.

I’m not sure I fully buy the huge gap in AVG/BABIP the last two years, but based on the eye test, I won’t argue with anyone who says the Yankees allow more hits with the shift on than without. If the numbers we have are even close to right, this is something that has to be fixed. Can’t keep shooting yourself in the foot like that.

Ellsbury and the First Pitch

Ellsbury. (Presswire)
Ellsbury. (Presswire)

One thing I neglected to mention in Jacoby Ellsbury’s season review was his propensity to swing at the first pitch this season. He became such an extreme first pitch hacker at times that even Michael Kay noticed and commented about it. Here are the numbers, with an assist from Baseball Savant:

  • 2013: Swung at the first pitch in 23.9% of all plate appearances.
  • 2014: 27.6%
  • 2015: 31.0%
  • 2016: 30.5%
  • MLB AVG in 2016: 28.3%

Those are all instances in which Ellsbury swung at the first pitch. It includes balls in play, foul balls, and swings and misses. If he swung at the first pitch, it’s included in those numbers regardless of outcome. That isn’t just the percentage of first pitches put in play.

Ellsbury didn’t swing at more first pitches this year than last year. Fewer actually, but by a tiny little amount. Compared to two and three years ago though, Ellsbury is swinging at way more first pitches these days. Swinging at the first pitch is not inherently a bad thing. In fact, I advocated for doing it more often coming into the season. Many times the first pitch of the at-bat is the best one to hit. Why let it go by? It’s not like starters pitch deep into games these days. You’re going to get to the bullpen eventually.

Swinging at the first pitch so often wouldn’t be so bad if Ellsbury had hit well in those situations. He hit .298 with a .131 ISO on the first pitch in 2016. That seems pretty good, especially compared to his overall season numbers (.263 AVG and .111 ISO). The problem is the league averages were a .346 AVG and a .236 ISO on the first pitch this year. Ellsbury was well below that. He rolled over and grounded out to second on a ton of first pitches.

Ellsbury has never been a guy who works deep counts. (He actually set a new career high with 54 walks in 2016.) He’s up there to swing and that’s fine. Hits are better than walks. He just hasn’t hit much the last two years, and when you’re not producing as expected, a lot of quick one-pitch outs gets mighty frustrating. Had Ellsbury hit, say, .350 with a .200 ISO on the first pitch, I don’t think anyone would care. But when his numbers are that far below league average, it gets old in a hurry.

Differences of Opinion on Baserunning

Depending who you ask, the Yankees were either one of the better baserunning teams in baseball this season, or one that was below average. They were successful with 77% of their stolen base attempts, fifth best in baseball, but they also attempted only 94 steals, which was 23rd most among the 30 teams. The Yankees took the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) only 37% of the time, the fourth lowest rate in baseball.

So the Yankees didn’t take the extra base all that often — obviously that is largely due to personnel, because guys like Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez aren’t burners — but they were sneaky efficient at stealing bases. They just didn’t do it often. Here’s what the all-encompassing baserunning metrics say:

Hmmm. Which one is correct? I lean towards BRR myself. The eye test told me the Yankees were not a good baserunning team overall, mostly because they had so many slow players. They didn’t take the extra base often, didn’t advance on wild pitches and similar opportunities all that much, and they didn’t steal often either.

The difference in BsR and BRR boils down to the way the two stats are calculated. Both essentially compare the team’s actual baserunning success to their expected baserunning success — how often does a runner go first-to-third on a single hit to that location? That sort of thing. BRR includes some more adjustments for ballparks and things like that, which are important.

You’re welcome to feel differently, but I agree with the BRR number more than the BsR number based on everything I saw this season. The Yankees weren’t a great baserunning team at all in 2016. Teixeira, A-Rod, and McCann are all gone though, and with the new infusion of younger players, this number will hopefully tick up in the future. Baserunning is a weird thing. It’s easy to overlook but it’s very obviously important, and it can often be the difference in an individual game. It’s something the Yankees can improve going forward, for sure.