False Alarm: Aaron Judge has not eliminated his leg kick

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It wasn’t until Saturday that position players were due to report to Tampa for Spring Training, though, like several others, outfielder Aaron Judge showed up to camp early. He spent the offseason working with hitting coach Alan Cockrell (and others?) on his lower half, and that work has presumably continued in Tampa in recent weeks.

A little more than a week ago videos hit Twitter showing Judge taking batting practice, and in those videos he had no leg kick whatsoever. Judge had a normal sized leg kick in 2015 and a much bigger leg kick in 2016. Now he was using no leg kick. I wrote an entire post about it. It seemed Judge had again tweaked his leg kick as part of his continued adjustments to big league pitching.

As it turns out, that was a false alarm. Judge has not changed his leg kick. Or at least he didn’t eliminate it completely, as the videos suggested. Here’s what Judge told Pete Caldera about his offseason work recently:

“Just kind of working on being consistent, repeat the swing, repeat the mechanics,’’ Judge said of his offseason work. And he’s not abandoning the left leg kick he adopted as a timing mechanism.

“Somebody posted a video about me that I was changing my stance,’’ Judge said of his flat-footed stance earlier in workouts. “That was just kind of warming up, making sure my swing feels right.’’

Well, so much for that, huh? Keep in mind this doesn’t necessarily mean Judge hasn’t changed his leg kick at all. It just means he hasn’t eliminated it completely. That would have been a pretty drastic change. I was pretty shocked to see no leg kick when I first saw the videos. It sure seemed like a pretty big deal. That’s what I get for jumping to conclusions.

Either way, leg kick or no leg kick, the goal for Judge remains the same. Win the right field job in Spring Training and keep it for the next six years. That’s what the Yankees want to happen and I’m guessing that’s what most fans want to happen. Judge, like every young player, is still figuring out what it takes to succeed at the big league level, and these continued lower half changes are part of that process.

The Dellin Betances fiasco may lead to the arbitration system finally getting an update

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the weekend the Yankees beat Dellin Betances in arbitration and will pay him $3M this season instead of the $5M he was seeking. That $3M represents a record salary for a setup man in his first year of arbitration. No other setup man received even $2M as far as I can tell. That $5M Betances and his camp were requested is closer money.

The arbitration system, which has been around since 1974, is pretty old-fashioned. From what I understand there are a list of approved statistics each side can use to state their case, and for relievers like Betances, there is no more valuable stat than saves. Dellin has spent the first three years of his career as an incredibly valuable multi-inning setup man, which is why he went to arbitration with only 22 saves. That cost him.

Bullpen usage is changing around baseball and has been for a few years now. Starters are throwing fewer and fewer innings with each passing season, putting that much more emphasis on the bullpen. High-end relievers like Betances are in very high demand, which is why the Yankees were able to get such great prospect packages for Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller at the deadline last year. Great relievers are more valuable than ever.

Following the arbitration ruling Saturday, Yankees president Randy Levine called a wholly unnecessary conference call to rip Betances and his agent Jim Murray. It was pretty ridiculous, though I’ve said all I have to say about that. What Levine did do — aside from upset Betances, of course — is draw attention to the outdated absurdity of the arbitration system as it pertains to relievers. Ken Rosenthal put it best:

Saves? Really? Somewhere in the baseball universe there is a place where saves are still viewed as a primary measure of a reliever’s performance? A place, no less, where it is determined how a reliever gets paid?

The Betances arbitration ruling, which likely would have blown over and been a one-day story had Levine not opened his mouth, is the kind of high-profile case that could spur the MLBPA into action. They could seek an update to the arbitration rules, making them more fair to relievers given their increased importance. After all, in real world value, Betances is a heck of a lot closer to a $5M a year reliever than a $3M a year reliever. (He’s more like a $17M a year reliever, but I digress.)

There are two issues with updating the arbitration system. For starters, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement just took effect, which means we’re still five years away from MLB and MLBPA being able to rewrite the rules. This isn’t something that can happen right away. Arbitration is collectively bargained and the owners have no reason to open the new CBA and change arbitration mid-term. Any changes will have to wait.

Secondly, how do you go about properly valuing relievers in arbitration? Looking at WAR is only slightly better than looking at saves in my opinion, mostly because I think WAR undervalues relievers in general, and especially high-leverage monsters like Betances. Here are three stats I’d like to see incorporated into arbitration for relievers:

  1. Leverage Index: Leverage Index tells us how important the situation is based on game state. Entering the eighth inning with a one-run lead and a man on second with no outs is a heck of a lot different than starting the eighth with a four-run lead, even though it’s still the eighth inning. Here is the 2016 Leverage Index leaderboard.
  2. Strikeout Rate: Pretty straight forward. The single best thing a pitcher can do is strike the hitter out, because it takes the defense right out of the equation. When you’re pitching in the late innings, not letting the other team put the ball in play is a pretty great recipe for success.
  3. Inherited Runners Stranded: This is a tricky one because the closers who start the ninth inning with a clean slate don’t inherit many runners. Middle relievers and setup men usually get the call in the middle of an inning. Clearly though, stranding inherited runners is important.

I’m not sure how you can best evaluate relievers in arbitration. I do know saves, a terrible stat that influences managerial decisions (!), isn’t the best way to go. Betances is clearly one of the best relievers in baseball and he should be compensated like one, which means closer money. The same way Miller was paid like a top reliever when he hit free agency with one career save.

The Betances-Levine stuff never should have happened Saturday. The arbitration process causes enough grief as it is. Levine piled on top of it and created more bad blood. If there’s anything good that can come out of it — good for the players, that is, not teams — it’s that maybe it created such a stir that the union will push to change how relievers are judged through arbitration. It’s a little too late for Betances to benefit from any changes, though at least this entire mess won’t go for naught.

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Open Thread: February 19th Camp Notes

Today was the first full squad workout of Spring Training. Position players reported yesterday and everyone was out on the field working today. Hooray for that. The Yankees will play their first Grapefruit League game in just a few days. Here’s what went on down in Tampa:

  • If you’re interested in such things, Brendan Kuty posted the day’s batting practice groups, fielding groups, and pitcher assignments. Masahiro Tanaka and Chad Green were among those to throwing live batting practice. Adam Warren, who has already thrown multiple live BP sessions, threw a bullpen. He seems to be ahead of the other pitchers and that could mean he’ll start the Grapefruit League opener Friday. We’ll see.
  • The Yankees have added outfielder Billy McKinney to their non-roster invitees, the team announced. There are 66 players in big league camp now, though Richard Bleier is currently in limbo after being designated for assignment. The Yankees will be without Tyler Austin (foot) and Mason Williams (patella tendon) for a little while, so McKinney gives them another outfielder. He was part of last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade.
  • Brett Gardner, the longest tenured player in the organization and longest tenured member of the big league roster, said he tried not to pay attention to trade rumors over the winter. “On one hand, obviously I don’t want to get traded. But, on the other hand, the fact that maybe some other teams have interest in me, I see that as a compliment. But I don’t want to play anywhere else. I want to be here,” he said. [Mike Mazzeo]
  • Joe Girardi said he is still debating whether to split up Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the lineup. If he does, he wouldn’t bat them first and ninth, because that means lefties hitting back-to-back. I guess it’s okay if the lefties hit back-to-back when they hit first and second, but not ninth and first. /shrugs [Bryan Hoch, Jack Curry]
  • Dellin Betances said he’s putting the arbitration situation behind him and doesn’t feel the need to talk to team president Randy Levine. “I don’t regret anything I said yesterday. I had to get it off my chest,” he said. [Erik Boland, Curry]
  • Clint Frazier is pushing the limits of the hair policy (photo), though Girardi said it is fine at that length. No big deal. [Andrew Marchand]

Here is the open thread for the rest of the day. The NBA All-Star Game is on tonight (8pm ET on TNT) plus the Devils and Islanders are playing each other. There’s a handful of college hoops games on too. Talk about that stuff, the day in camp, or anything else here, just not religion or politics.

Open Thread: February 18th Camp Notes

In case you missed it earlier, the Yankees beat Dellin Betances in arbitration, which means he’ll earn $3M this season rather than the $5M he was seeking. Team president Randy Levine then made the impossibly stupid decision to hold a conference call ripping Betances and his agent. Winning the hearing wasn’t enough, apparently. Great look, Yankees. Remind me again how classy the organization is. Anyway, here are the day’s notes from Tampa:

Here is the open thread for the rest of the day. The NBA All-Star Weekend skills competition thingee is on tonight (8pm ET on TNT), plus the Devils and Islanders are playing (each other) as well. There’s also a ton of college basketball on too. Talk about anything other than religion and politics.

Randy Levine rips Betances after arbitration hearing, says he “doesn’t have the stats” to ask for $5M

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

Earlier today it was announced the Yankees have beaten Dellin Betances in their arbitration case. The three-person panel sided with the team following yesterday’s hearing, which means Betances will earn $3M next year, not the $5M he was seeking. That $3M is a record salary for a first year arbitration-eligible setup man.

Because beating Betances in arbitration apparently wasn’t enough, team president Randy Levine jumped on a conference call Saturday and ripped Betances and his agent Jim Murray for what he considered an unrealistic salary request. A few of the highlights:





Murray told Joel Sherman that Levine didn’t even pronounce Betances’ name correctly during the arbitration hearing, calling him Dylan instead of Dellin. “The Yankees hid behind the system. It is really unfortunate,” said Murray to Sherman.

First things first: the Yankees were not wrong to take Betances to an arbitration hearing. They felt he was worth one number, he felt he was worth another, and arbitration is a collective bargained part of the process. It’s not the team’s fault the arbitration system is archaic and overvalues saves.

Arbitration is an unfortunate part of the game, but it is part of the game. There’s a reason the two sides usually try like hell to avoid it. What is not part of the game, however, is holding a conference call to trash one of your best and most beloved players. That’s total garbage. Betances never once has complained about his role and his heavy workload, and he does a ton of stuff with the team in the community. The guy has been a model employee.

Beating Betances in arbitration should have been enough. Once that happened, the Yankees should have moved forward and worked to repair their relation with Dellin. Instead, Levine went out of his way to kick dirt on Betances and minimize his accomplishments. I’m sure all the young players the team is trying to develop noticed that. The Yankees couldn’t just win and be happy with it.

Then again, I guess I shouldn’t have expected anything different from an organization in which the COO says poor people shouldn’t sit in expensive seats and the owner says we should all just forget about Aroldis Chapman’s history. What a joke.

Heyman: Yankees beat Dellin Betances in arbitration

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

According to Jon Heyman, the arbitration panel has sided with the Yankees in their case against Dellin Betances. Betances will earn $3M this coming season rather than the $5M he was seeking. He’ll be in Spring Training today after spending the last few days away from camp, with the team’s blessing. It’s not uncommon for players to wait until their arbitration case is resolved before reporting to camp.

Betances was eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason, and the $5M request means he was looking to be paid like a top closer. Last year some pretty good closers like Cody Allen, Jeurys Familia, and Hector Rondon all signed for roughly $4M in their first trip through arbitration. Saves matter in arbitration and Betances doesn’t have many, yet he was seeking more than those guys.

Now, that said, the $3M award is still a record for a setup man going through arbitration for the first time. By a lot too. I can’t find another non-closer who signed for even $2M in his first year of arbitration. Betances blew the previous record away. Billy Witz has some details on yesterday’s arbitration hearing:

On Friday, Betances arrived at the Vinoy Renaissance shortly before 9 a.m., with a half dozen or so advisers, including his agent, Jim Murray. Several members of Betances’ team carried armfuls of thick white binders, and at one point, someone warned the 6-foot-8 pitcher not to bump his head on a low-hanging ceiling beam.

A few minutes later, the Yankees’ contingent — about 10 strong, headed by the team president, Randy Levine, and including General Manager Brian Cashman and the assistant general managers, Jean Afterman and Michael Fishman — entered.

But as (Betances) waited afterward in the lobby of the hotel where the hearing was held, several of his advisers could be heard nearby grousing about a Yankees tactic during the hearing — namely, focusing on Betances’ slow delivery to home plate, which allowed base runners to steal 21 bases against him last season in 21 attempts.

The $2M difference in salary figures doesn’t seem like much, especially for a big payroll team like the Yankees, but arbitration uses the player’s previous year salary as a base, so it carries over. That $2M this year will equal at least $6M in savings in Betances’ three arbitration years, but likely more given how raises are determined. The savings are pretty considerable. These are real dollars.

Reports indicate the Yankees and Betances discussed a multi-year contract before filing their salary arbitration figures. Cashman said the two sides were simply too far apart to settle somewhere in the middle, which is why they went to a hearing. This was New York’s first arbitration hearing since 2008, when they beat Chien-Ming Wang. Their last hearing before that was with Mariano Rivera in 2000. They won that one too.

I had a feeling the Yankees would win because a) they were already offering a record salary for a setup man in his first year of arbitration, and b) Betances was seeking an enormous raise usually reserved for top tier closers, only he didn’t have the saves. Betances and his camp had more convincing to do, basically. I’m not too surprised the three-person panel sided with the Yankees here.

Hopefully there are no hard feelings — arbitration can be pretty ugly because the team is up there detailing the player’s shortcomings — and the Yankees and Betances can move on with business as usual. The business side of the game can be unpleasant at times.