Thursday Night Open Thread

Breaking Shohei Otani news: it’s Ohtani, not Otani. You’ll see it spelled both ways around the internet, but Shohei’s representatives at CAA Sports confirmed it is indeed Ohtani. Technically, both Ohtani and Otani are correct. There is no literal Japanese characters to English letters translation. The translation is based on the pronunciation. Well, whatever. Ohtani it is.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Titans and Steelers are the Thursday night NFL game, the Devils and Islanders are playing, and there’s some college basketball on as well. Talk about whatever here, just not religion or politics. Get that outta here.

Aaron Judge finishes second in 2017 AL MVP voting

(Elsa/Getty)
Greatness has arrived. (Elsa/Getty)

Alas, Aaron Judge did not become only the third player in history to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. Astros second baseman Jose Altuve was predictably named the 2017 AL Most Valuable Player by MLB and the BBWAA on Thursday night. Congrats to him. Judge finished second in the voting and Indians infielder Jose Ramirez finished third.

Earlier this week Judge was named the AL Rookie of the Year unanimously, which is the kinda thing that happens when you hit .284/.422/.627 (173 wRC+) with 52 homers. Judge is the second rookie ever to finish runner-up in the MVP voting, joining Mike Trout in 2012. Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) are still the only players to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season.

Altuve of course had a fantastic season, hitting .346/.410/.547 (160 wRC+) with 24 home runs and 32 stolen bases. The Baseball Reference version of WAR says he was the best player in baseball this season, AL or NL. The FanGraphs version of WAR says Judge was the best player in baseball. Hmmm. Ultimately, Altuve won because Judge went through that six-week slump after the All-Star break. That’s the difference right there.

At the same time, you could easily argue the Yankees would not have made the postseason without Judge. Would the Astros have made the postseason without Altuve? Yeah, probably. They won the AL West by 21 games. Same deal with Ramirez. The Indians won the AL Central by 17 games. So many MVP voters still consider the postseason situation when filling out their ballots, though not enough to give Judge the award this year.

Judge’s second place finish is the highest a Yankee has finished in the MVP voting since Mark Teixeira was the runner-up to Joe Mauer in 2009. Derek Jeter was third in the voting that year, and Robinson Cano finished third in the voting in 2011. The last Yankee to win the AL MVP award is Alex Rodriguez back in 2007.

The full voting results are available at the BBWAA’s site. Altuve received 27 of the 30 first place votes while Judge received two. Judge also received 27 second place votes and one third place vote. He was on all 30 ballots. In other MVP voting news, Didi Gregorius received one eighth and one tenth place vote, and Gary Sanchez received one tenth place vote. Pretty awesome. Congrats guys. What a fun season this was.

MLBPA sets Monday deadline to settle Ohtani posting dispute

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

According to Jon Heyman, the MLBPA has set a Monday deadline to settle the ongoing dispute regarding Shohei Ohtani and the posting system. If MLB, NPB, and MLBPA can not come to an agreement in four days, Ohtani will not come over this winter, and will instead return to the Nippon Ham Fighters next season.

The posting agreement expired a few weeks ago, and MLB and NPB agreed to grandfather Ohtani in under the old agreement, meaning the (Ham) Fighters will set a $20M release feel. The MLBPA doesn’t like that though. They don’t want so much money going to the (Ham) Fighters and so little money going to Ohtani, hence the dispute. MLBPA’s approval is needed to finalize the posting system.

Because he is only 23, Ohtani is subject to the international hard cap, which will severely limit his earning potential. The Rangers and Yankees are said to have the most hard cap space available at $3.5M or so each. Furthermore, Ohtani can only sign a minor league contract, and will earn the league minimum next year. Ouch.

Of course, the MLBPA agreed to the international hard cap last year as part of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. The union has been selling out its future members for years by agreeing to draft and international spending limits, and now there’s a star player who could’ve changed baseball’s salary scale and helped all MLBPA members, but can’t.

The MLBPA had their seat at the table. They could’ve rejected an international hard cap. We all knew about Ohtani last year. He was not a secret. MLB and the MLBPA knew he would come over at some point, yet the union agreed to the hard cap anyway. And if all the parties involved fail to come to an agreement by Monday and Ohtani has to stay in Japan next year, it will be the MLBPA’s fault.

Chad Green will come to Spring Training as a starting pitcher, and there’s no reason not to try it

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

For the umpteenth straight season, the Yankees will have a relief pitcher report to Spring Training as a starting pitcher. Adam Warren has been that guy the last few years, and before him it was David Phelps. Next year it’ll be Chad Green (and Warren?). Brian Cashman confirmed earlier this week Green will indeed get a look as a rotation option in camp next year.

“The reliever situation (will be a) fallback, but nothing certain yet,” said Cashman to Erik Boland. “You can’t disregard how exceptional he was in the role he had, but at the same time, he didn’t find himself in that role because he was a failed starter.”

Green, 26, was outstanding for the Yankees this season, throwing 69 innings with a 1.83 ERA (1.75 FIP) and a 40.7% strikeout rate. Almost all of that came in relief. Green made one spot start in June and allowed two runs in two innings while on a limited pitch count. In the postseason he allowed five runs (four earned) in 8.2 innings.

I’ve said this a few times in recent weeks and I guess I have to say it again: I do not like the idea of Green as a starting pitcher. I don’t think he has the tools to be successful in that role long-term. There are two reasons:

  1. He doesn’t have a changeup. Green has a great fastball, but he lacks a third pitch — heck, even his second pitch (slider) isn’t all that great — and trying to go through a lineup multiple times by throwing fastballs by everyone doesn’t seem like it’ll work. I feel like someone would’ve done it already if it were a viable approach.
  2. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher. A total of 355 pitchers threw at least 50 innings in 2017. Green ranked 353rd with a 26.4% ground ball rate. Yikes! He allowed 12 homers in 36.1 innings as a starter in 2016, remember. Asking him to go through a lineup multiple times in Yankee Stadium might get ugly.

Keep in mind Green finished the 2016 season on the disabled list after working as a starter pretty much all year. His season ended September 2nd because of a sprained ligament and a strained tendon in his elbow. That’s a scary combination of words. It worries me a bit. Can Green hold up physically under a starter’s workload? Is it worth the risk to find out?

Personally, I don’t like the idea of Green as a starter. Now, that said, the Yankees should absolutely try it in Spring Training. Why not? That’s exactly when you should tinker with things. Let Green get stretched out to four of five innings during Grapefruit League play, see how he looks, then make a decision about his role. It’s much easier to go from starter to reliever than reliever to starter. So let him start in camp, then adjust.

For years we heard an average starting pitcher is worth more than an elite reliever, but given the way pitching staffs are run these days, I think the pendulum has swung in the other direction. An elite reliever is very valuable, and Green was definitely elite in 2017. I think it would be much easier for the Yankees to find another fourth or fifth starter than another dominant multi-inning setup man. That should factor into the decision about Green’s role, right?

Like I said, I don’t like the idea of Green as a starter but I am totally cool with letting him try it in Spring Training. Maybe he develops a changeup or finds a ground ball pitch. Who knows? Stranger things have happened. One way or another, Green will again be an important part of the pitching staff next season. If he’s not starting, he’s going to be soaking up a lot of high-leverage innings out of the bullpen.

The Many Walks of Dellin Betances [2017 Season Review]

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

As is often the case, the Yankees remade their bullpen during the course of the 2017 season. They traded for David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, and Chad Green also emerged as a trusted setup man. It happens every single year. The bullpen going into the postseason never looks like the Opening Day bullpen. That’s baseball.

Over the last four seasons Dellin Betances has been the one constant in New York’s bullpen. Closers came and went and middle relievers came and went a lot more, yet Betances remained. He led all relievers in innings (247) and strikeouts (392) from 2014-16, and ranked third in WAR (+8.6). Dellin was among the very best of the best.

This season Betances was pushed out of the Circle of Trust™ or, rather, he pushed himself out of the Circle of Trust™ by walking way too many hitters. He threw 59.2 innings with a 2.87 ERA (3.23 FIP) and 38.3% strikeouts this year, numbers that are objectively great. Now here is the bottom of the walk rate leaderboard among the 355 pitchers to throw at least 50 innings in 2017:

350. Justin Wilson: 14.1%
351. Alex Meyer: 14.4%
352. Tyler Glasnow: 14.4%
353. Carl Edwards Jr.: 14.5%
354. Adam Ottavino: 16.1%
355. Dellin Betances: 16.9%

Dead last. Highest walk rate in baseball. Betances walked 44 batters in those 59.2 innings and, to further exacerbate things, he also hit eleven batters. Only six pitchers hit more batters then Betances this year and all six are starters. Between the walks and hit batsmen, that’s 55 free baserunners in 59.2 innings. Brutal. Let’s review Dellin’s season.

An All-Star First Half

Betances was an All-Star this season! And deservedly so. In his first 26 appearances and 24.1 innings of the year, Betances pitched to a 1.11 ERA (1.35 FIP) with 46 strikeouts. He allowed an earned run on April 8th, in his second appearance of the season, and he didn’t allow another one until June 22nd, in his 25th appearance of the season. It was typical Betances. He even threw an Immaculate Inning along the way. Nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts.

There’s no one else in baseball quite like Good Betances. He’s so big and he throws so hard, and he has that wicked breaking ball to go with it. I don’t know how anyone ever gets a hit off this guy.

Aroldis Chapman missed a month with a shoulder injury in the first half and, while he was sidelined, Betances stepped in as closer and went 6-for-6 in save chances. Usually I worry Dellin pitches too much. When he was married to the ninth inning, the problem was he didn’t pitch enough. At one point Betances made four appearances in the span of 24 days. A few too many times he sat in the bullpen being held back for the save situation while the wholly ineffective Tyler Clippard coughed things up. It was: annoying.

Betances is the only reliever selected to each of the last four All-Star Games and one of only four pitchers overall who can make that claim. Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Dellin Betances. Basically the three best starters in the world and Betances. It would be wrong to say Dellin was bad all season. He was lights out in the first half and he earned that All-Star Game selection.

A Walk-Filled Second Half

The walk problems first surfaced in early July, right before the All-Star break, when Betances walked eleven of 22 batters faced across a five-appearance span. Then he settled back down and walked only seven of the next 78 batters he faced, which spanned 20 appearances. It appeared those extreme walk problems were only temporary.

Chapman lost the closer’s job due to ineffectiveness in late August and Betances again stepped in to close, not Robertson. He nailed down his first four save opportunities, but in the fifth, Dellin walked the generally un-walk-able Tim Beckham with two outs, then hung a curveball Manny Machado swatted for a walk-off homer.

That was pretty bad. It was also the end of Betances’ time as closer. Chapman resumed ninth inning duty and Betances was relegated to mop-up duty. Joe Girardi would pick and choose his spots, though often had a short leash. Two batters was the standard leash. After the walk-off homer, Betances walked six batters in his final seven innings of the season.

Understandably, Girardi had an extremely short leash with Betances in the postseason. He was pretty great in Game One of the ALDS (three up, three down, three strikeouts) and again in Game Two of the ALDS, at least in his first two innings of work. He retired the first six men he faced before the Indians scored in his third inning of work, when he was looking a little run down. Betances was pulled after two walks in ALDS Game Four and again after two walks in ALCS Game Three. He wasn’t the very last guy in the bullpen, but he was close.

As the season progressed and it was clear Betances was having trouble throwing strikes, opponents took a very simple approach against him. They didn’t swing. Microphones even caught Bryce Harper during the All-Star Game saying there is no need to swing against Betances. Opponents bet that he couldn’t throw three strikes before he threw four balls, and if he did, it meant he was locked in and they wouldn’t hit him anyway. A graph:

dellin-betances-swing-rate

Just don’t swing. And the weird thing? Betances threw (slightly) more pitches in the zone as the season progressed. His season 46.4% zone rate was exactly league average. The MLB average was 46.4% pitches in the zone this year. Exactly league average.

That’s an average though, and Dellin’s walk problems seemed to come and go on a game-by-game basis. One day he’d struggle to get the ball even close to the plate, then next time out he’d pump strikes and dominate. The bad days were very bad. There were still good days mixed in though. That’s part of what made it so frustrating. Betances would still go out once or twice a week and look like the best reliever in baseball.

With Betances, this is all mechanical. He has a very long history of control problems. In 2012, the year before the Yankees decided to move him to the bullpen, Betances walked 99 batters and 15.7% of batters faced in 131.1 minor league innings. His career minor league walk rate is 12.3%. It’s not like this is a control artist who suddenly lost the plate. This is a guy with a history of control problems having control problems.

Betances being untrustworthy absolutely had an impact in the postseason. Girardi had lean on Robertson more than I think he would’ve liked, ditto Green and Kahnle. Good Betances could’ve taken some innings away from those guys, and who knows how things play out? Then again, the Yankees couldn’t score a run in Houston to save their lives, and to me that caused their ALCS downfall. Not an overworked setup crew. Whatever. Bottom line, Betances walked too many guys this season. Way, way too many guys, and it hurt the Yankees in multiple ways.

2018 Outlook

I would be surprised if the Yankees traded Betances this offseason. Brian Cashman is not one to sell low, and Dellin’s trade value is the lowest it’s been since his 2014 rookie season. The walk problems were extreme this year and he’s also making good money through arbitration. A walk prone non-closer reliever who is making something close to closer money and is two years from free agency won’t generate a huge return.

The Yankees figure to keep Betances and try to rebuild him, both his mechanics and his confidence, which is something they’ve had to do before in the minors. Now they have to do it in the big leagues. The Yankees are in position to go into next season with Dellin as the sixth reliever in their seventh man bullpen, so it’s not like they’ll need him to soak up high-leverage innings from the get-go. They can work to get him back to form, and that’s the goal. Get the Good Betances back.

Pros and cons of the Yankees’ prolonged managerial search

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

Three weeks ago today, the Yankees parted ways with longtime manager Joe Girardi, supposedly because there was concern he didn’t “communicate and connect” well with players. That’s kind of a big deal. Managers need to be able to communicate with their players, especially young players who are still learning the ropes in the big leagues. The Yankees have plenty of those.

In the three weeks since Girardi was let go the Yankees have only interviewed two managerial candidates: Rob Thomson and Eric Wedge. Brian Cashman has a third interview with an unknown candidate today — the Yankees will reportedly interview Aaron Boone and Hensley Meulens at some point, so maybe one of them is interviewing today — and I’m sure more interviews are scheduled in the coming days and weeks as well.

The GM Meetings this week put the managerial search on hold for a few days, though even considering that, it sure seems this whole process is moving slowly, doesn’t it? The Yankees named Girardi their manager eleven days after parting ways with Joe Torre back in the day, but, to be fair, it was an open secret Girardi would get the job. This time around the Yankees didn’t go into the managerial search with a favorite, at least not that we know of.

Cashman admitted last week he has a list of 20-25 candidates, which is an awful lot. He’s not going interview 20-25 candidates though. Hal Steinbrenner told Bryan Hoch they will interview “less than ten.” The Yankees started with a list of 20-25 candidates, pared it down, and are interviewing who they consider the best options. Going through 20-25 interviews would be nuts and take a very long time. For reference, here’s how long it took other teams to name new managers this offseason.

  • Mets: 22 days
  • Nationals: 9 days
  • Phillies: 30 days
  • Red Sox: 11 days
  • Tigers: 19 days

The Nationals and Red Sox hammered through their managerial search in under two weeks. The Phillies needed a month. On average, it took those five teams 18.2 days to find a new manager. The Yankees are at 21 days right now, and don’t seem particularly close to a resolution. Could the Yankees have a new manager in place by this time next week? Absolutely. Do I think they’ll have a new manager in play by this time next week? Nah. Thanksgiving is going to throw a wrench into things, if nothing else.

For whatever reason the managerial search is moving slowly, at least relative to the other teams that hired a new manager this winter. And, honestly, I have no idea whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. I mean, it seems like a bad thing. It makes the Yankees seem indecisive and unprepared. But who knows? Let’s talk this out a bit.

1. It’s good to be thorough. Managing the Yankees is unlike any other managerial job in baseball. The media demands are different and the expectations are different. Even when the Yankees openly admitted 2017 would be a rebuilding transition year, there was still that expectation to win. The new manager won’t have to deal with the never-ending Alex Rodriguez saga — Girardi doesn’t get enough credit for handling all that as well as he did — but things will pop up. That’s baseball in New York.

The Yankees want to nail this. They don’t want a stopgap manager — remember when Jeff Pentland was the stopgap hitting coach? that was weird — they want someone who will be here for the next decade. The Yankees have had only two managers in the last 22 years, which is insane. They want whoever they hire this offseason to still be the manager when Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino are in their mid-30s.

And, to do that, they need to be thorough. The interview process is grueling — Thomson and Wedge both described it as a 5-6 hour ordeal — and very in depth. Candidates meet the front office, the analytics folks, hold a conference call with reporters, the whole nine. The Yankees are trying to get as much information as possible to make sure they can make the best decision. Rushing to a decision could lead to a very bad result, and the Yankees definitely aren’t doing that.

2. There’s no competition. The Yankees are the only team looking for a manager right now. One of the reasons the Red Sox and Nationals had to wrap up their managerial searches quick is because other teams were looking for a manager at the same time, and they wanted to make sure they got their man. Alex Cora interviewed with several teams, so the Red Sox had to act quickly to get him. Same with the Nationals and Dave Martinez.

The Yankees have no such concerns. They’re not competing with any other teams. They can interview all the available managerial candidates without worrying another club will swoop in with a job offer. Maybe they’ll lose a candidate to a coaching job elsewhere, like Joe Espada. Espada presumably didn’t want to wait around for the Yankees to complete their managerial search and possibly lose out on the Astros’ bench coach job, so he took it. I guess something like that can happen.

Point is, the Yankees are the last team standing. Any candidate who wants a managerial job has one place to turn. That affords the Yankees the time to be thorough and go through a prolonged interview process. The Red Sox and Nationals and Mets didn’t really have that luxury. They had to make quick decisions or risk losing their top choice to another team. That isn’t the case with the Yankees.

3. Could it hurt free agent pursuits? It might. It very well might. Tough to make a good pitch to a free agent when you don’t know who the manager will be, right? What if Shohei Otani gets posted sooner than expected and begins the process of interviewing teams and whatnot? Tough to make a good impression if you show up with no manager.

For what it’s worth, CC Sabathia said he wouldn’t have a trouble re-signing with the Yankees before they hire a new manager — “I trust those guys that they’ll hire somebody that we can play for,” he told Dan Martin — but Sabathia is a special case. He’s been a Yankee the last nine years and is comfortable with the organization. This is his home and he’s made it clear he doesn’t want to leave.

Trying to lure free agents away from other teams could be an issue for the Yankees if their managerial search continues for several more weeks. Players want to know who they’re going to play for. That’s human nature. Especially pitchers. Wouldn’t you want to know whether your manager has a history of abusing arms? The Yankees aren’t going to hire someone like that, but who knows what gets said behind the scenes.

Right now, the Yankees can’t tell any free agent targets who will manage the club next season, and that’s a bad thing. Sabathia’s a special case. He’s the exception, not the rule. The hot stove hasn’t yet started to heat up, but it will soon, and until the Yankees have a new manager in place, they’ll be at a disadvantage. I can’t imagine not knowing who your manager (and coaches!) will be would be a fun situation to walk into.

* * *

“We’d love to have a new manager ASAP, but we have a healthy process involved with every decision we make, and the most important aspect is steps we take rather than time frame,” said Cashman last week when asked about a timetable for hiring a new manager. It’s good to be thorough and the Yankees don’t have to worry about losing candidates to other teams, but players want to know who they’ll play for. That includes both players already on the team and free agents who are considering joining the team.

Is the prolonged managerial search a good thing or a bad thing? Right now, I think it’s neither. I think it’s just a thing. Needing three or four weeks to find a new skipper is not terribly unusual. What I do know — and I think we can all agree on this — is the longer the managerial search goes, the worse it looks. It’ll look like the Yankees are having trouble finding a candidate they like. Looking bad and being bad are not the same thing though. For now, things are fine. But the sooner the Yankees can wrap this up, the better.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today Hal Steinbrenner spoke to reporters and confirmed the Yankees still don’t have a new contract in place with Brian Cashman. “Maybe it’s a handshake deal with no terms, but we’re working on it,” said Hal to Mark Feinsand. The fact Cashman is running the managerial search and representing the team at the GM Meetings tells us he’s coming back. They just haven’t worked out the details. Huh.

Anyway, here is an open thread for the night. The Knicks and Rangers are both playing, plus there’s a ton of college hoops on as well. Talk about anything here that isn’t religion or politics.