Mailbag: Tanaka, Otani, Thomson, Gleyber, Judge, Bullpen

We’ve got nine questions in this week’s mailbag. And later tonight, the Yankees will look to clinch the American League pennant. Amazing. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us any questions.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Many asks: Does Tanaka’s great postseason make him more likely to opt-out?

It could, sure. That said, teams have shown they won’t overreact to good (or bad) postseason performance. They don’t pay players based on October. They pay them based on their entire body of work and expected production going forward. Is Tanaka any different right now than he was three weeks ago? No, not really. We all knew he could have starts like this. We’ve seen him do it before. We knew it was in there.

I’ve said all season I think the chances of Tanaka opting out are pretty darn high, like 80/20. Either opting out or leveraging the opt-out into a contract extension like CC Sabathia did way back when. I don’t think anything has changed. The great postseason surely won’t hurt Tanaka’s earning potential in a few weeks. I just don’t think it’ll make a big difference either way. Teams have shown they won’t get caught up in the postseason and make an emotional decision, and I assume the same is true of Tanaka when it comes time to use that opt-out.

Jason asks: Do you think the Marlins gig will hurt Jeter’s legacy with the Yankees? He will probably have to detach himself from NYY team events and may find himself in direct conflict with the team at times. He was already very reserved and a bit disconnected, so he is starting from a difficult position to begin with.

Nah. Derek Jeter is a Yankees icon and he’ll always be a Yankees icon. Did Andy Pettitte signing with the Astros, or Don Mattingly leaving to manage the Dodgers hurt their legacies? I don’t think so. No matter what he does with the Marlins in Miami, Jeter will always be remembered as a Yankees legend, first and foremost. He hasn’t been around the team much anyway since retiring — Jeter has been back for number retirements and various ceremonies, that’s it — so it’s not like we’ll even notice he’s gone. I don’t think hooking on with the Marlins will change his legacy at all. Derek is a legacy Yankee, now and forever.

Evan asks: Did you catch A-Rod post game 5 giving a lot of the credit to Rob Thomson as the glue between the player and Girardi and management and saying he expects him to get a job as a manager soon? Any thoughts on him to the Marlins or being a Girardi replacement (recent article saying Joe might be getting tired and his family moved to Florida)?

Joe Girardi brought up Thomson prior to Game Five when asked about Aaron Judge, completely unprompted. “He’s a complete player. He’s a great defender. He’s a great baserunner. And he does so many things right at an early age on a big stage, and just the way he handles all the attention simply amazes me. It’s as good as it gets … That goes back to our minor league system, the way they’ve raised him. And Rob Thomson, he stays on these guys all the time to make sure they’re in the right place and ready to go,” said Joe.

Thomson has been with the Yankees forever. Since 1990, when he was named third base coach for High-A Fort Lauderdale. That was before the Yankees moved their operations to Tampa. Since then, Thomson has served as a minor league coach, field coordinator, director of player development, vice president of minor league development, first base coach, third base coach, and bench coach (two stints). He interviewed with the Blue Jays about their managerial opening back in 2010. (Thomson grew up outside Toronto.)

I don’t know anything about Thomson’s relationship with Jeter, so I’m not sure if he’s a candidate to head to the Marlins. Jeter has a very small circle and Gary Denbo was in that circle. I’m not sure whether Thomson is. If Girardi does leave to spend more time with his family after the season, I have to think Thomson would at least be considered for the manager’s job. Heck, the Yankees might look at him as a potential Denbo replacement. You don’t stick with one team for nearly three decades without having a lot to offer.

A few people asked: Why didn’t Sanchez have to throw to first on the strikeout to end the ALDS???

That was an interesting play, wasn’t it? Aroldis Chapman struck out Austin Jackson looking to end the ALDS, but Gary Sanchez dropped the pitch behind the plate. Here’s the play:

Jackson could’ve gone to first base and forced Sanchez to make the throw for the out. From what I’ve been told, the throw was not necessary because the home plate umpire determined Jackson made no attempt at the base. He stood there arguing the called strike three instead. Jackson had to go for first base basically right away.

Here’s the interesting thing: Sanchez put the ball in his back pocket. That could’ve been declared a dead ball and Jackson awarded two bases. The umpire did not signal Jackson was out for not attempting to take first base prior to Gary putting the ball in the pocket, at least not with his hands. He might’ve called him out verbally. Terry Francona could’ve argued the ball was in Sanchez’s pocket before Jackson was deemed to have not made an attempt for first base, but geez, that would’ve been tough to prove.

Ray asks: Does the Yankees win in the ALDS have a side benefit of making this young, exciting team more attractive to Shohei Otani?

Sure, it could. Ultimately, none of us have any idea what Otani will prioritize when picking a team. Money? Location? Chance to win? Weather? I would imagine the Yankees being an up-and-coming team with a lot of young players who are ready to win now — and showing they can win right now — makes them awfully attractive to any free agent. Plus there’s the whole New York thing. I think that’s pretty cool. It makes for a mighty long trip to Japan, however. I don’t think I’m being a raging homer when I say the Yankees figure to be a premier free agent destination going forward. They have money, they have talent, and they’re ready to win. What more could anyone want?

Brian asks: Way too early prediction, what do you think the chances of Gleyber making the team out of ST are? I’d guess very low even if he rakes in ST they’d send him down and call him up in early-mid May.

Tiny. The kid just missed half a season with a serious elbow injury and he’ll just be getting back on the field in Spring Training. Gleyber Torres played only 23 Triple-A games before the injury, remember. He didn’t even have 100 plate appearances. Even if he lights it up in Spring Training (again), I have to think the Yankees will send Torres to Triple-A for a few weeks to make sure he plays everyday and gets back on track following surgery. As an added benefit, it’ll delay his free agency one year. I expect Torres to arrive at midseason next year, and once he’s up, I think he’ll be up for good.

Nick asks: Is there a way to see all of called strikes on Judge this postseason? It’d be interesting to know how much of his struggles are related to calls out of the zone, and how much is just good pitching and dotting the corners.

FOX Sports 1 has to get rid of the strike zone overlay. I adds nothing to the broadcast. Actually, it does worse than add nothing because it creates confusion. The strike zone overlay doesn’t seem particularly accurate, especially on the edges of the zone. Here are all the called strikes against Judge this postseason, via Baseball Savant:

aaron-judge-postseason-called-strikes

The bottom of the zone is a big problem for Judge. Well, no, it’s an umpire problem, not a Judge problem, but he’s the one who has to deal with the ramifications. That’s been a problem all season and I hope the Yankees get on MLB’s case about it this winter. Judge’s strike zone is not the standard strike zone, and the umpires have to adjust because the rulebook says a 6-foot-7 player is not subject to same bottom of the zone as a 6-foot-2 player.

As for the edges of the zone, there have been some pitches off the plate called strikes against Judge this postseason, though not a ton. Not more than I’d expect in a random eleven-game sample, really. The pitch down below the zone getting called a strike against Judge is a legitimate problem. The FOX Sports 1 strike zone overlay makes the pitches off the plate in or out look worse than they really are.

Ray asks: I’ve seen/heard mention of how significant it was that the Yankees elected to play the infield in during the second inning of game 5 in the ALCS. With me not being incredibly versed in baseball defensive strategy, can you explain to me why that was a big deal? If playing the infield in is the best way to limit the opposing team from scoring runs in that situation, why would the inning matter? Why would it not be the defensive strategy all the time regardless of inning?

Playing the infield in improves your chances of either throwing the runner out at the plate, or forcing him to hold at third, which is what happened in Game Five. The runner held on the ball right to Starlin Castro. The downside is fielders have less time to react to a batted ball, so a grounder is more likely to get through the infield and become a hit, which could lead to a big inning. You’re banking on the ball being hit right at an infielder, basically.

Generally speaking, teams only play the infield in in close games, where one run makes a big difference. Playing the infield in in the second inning the other day tells us Girardi wasn’t expecting the Yankees to score many runs, and hey, who could blame him given Dallas Keuchel’s history against the Yankees? He felt every single run was imperative, enough that he was willing to risk a potentially bigger inning in exchange for improved odds of preventing that run from scoring, and it worked. Usually you only see the infield in in the late innings of a close game. Second inning is pretty rare because it’s still so early in the game and so much can happen. You don’t want to give the other team a better chance to get a grounder through, because that leads to another set of problems.

Matt asks: Obviously a lot of it will depend upon game situation, but what is your optimal bullpen strategy for Game 6? Do you go whole hog and ride Kahnle, Green, Robertson, Chapman for 5-7 innings total if the game is up for grabs? Or do you save a few bullets for a potential Game 7 against a starter who is definitively more beatable than Justin Verlander?

Treat it like a Game Seven and go all out to win. Now, if Luis Severino gets knocked out after two innings and the Yankees are down eight runs, then no, don’t go to the top relievers. That’s obvious. But if the game is winnable — as far as I’m concerned, being down three runs counts as winnable against Houston’s bullpen — go with the top guys and put yourself in the best position to win the game. And if the Yankees have a lead, absolutely go hard with the top relievers. Get this series over with. Ride the top relievers as long as possible, avoid Game Seven, and enjoy the extra day of rest afterwards.

Mailbag: Girardi, Betances, Otani, Maitan, Yelich, Gardner

Only seven questions in the mailbag this week because we’ve got a ton of ALCS preview content coming, and I wanted to keep it short. And also preserve my sanity. This is a busy time of year and I have enough on my plate. As always, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us your questions each week.

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

Steve asks: T/F: in a weird way, aside from “The Blunder (TM)” in Game 2, Girardi has actually been the best he’s ever been this postseason. Starting with the WC game, he’s consistently used his best guys in the right spots and put his foot on Cleveland’s throat. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

True. The non-challenge was bad. Joe Girardi‘s worst moment with the Yankees, I believe. Aside from that though, I think he’s done a fantastic job with the bullpen overall, using his best relievers in the biggest spots. You could argue he should’ve taken out a struggling Chad Green before he gave up the grand slam to Francisco Lindor, or that he should’ve stuck with CC Sabathia longer in that game, but that stuff happens. If Green doesn’t, you know, give up a grand slam, no one is talking about it. Watching the other postseason series, as other managers continually bring inferior relievers into big spots, has made me appreciate Girardi more. Now I just wish he could wave his managerial magic wand and get one of the DH options to start hitting.

Bob asks: What is your definition of a number 1, 2, and 3 pitcher? Do you feel Gray is higher than a number 3?

I try not to look at pitchers as No. 1 or 2 or 3 starters. I usually drop them into one of three buckets: an ace/frontline starter, a mid-rotation guy, or a back-end guy. Or a sixth starter/swing man. Those guys exist too. I don’t think it’s worth spending time arguing what is a No. 2 or No. 3 starter when, on a lot of days, a No. 2 pitches like a No. 3 and a No. 3 pitches like a No. 2. Look at Jordan Montgomery. Some starts this year he pitched like a someone you’d see near the top of the rotation. Other days he looked very much like a rookie. Those are my three classifications. Ace, mid-rotation, or back-end. Easy enough.

As for Sonny Gray, he definitely fits in that frontline starter bucket for me given his overall career to date. I know his last three starts in particular haven’t been good, mostly because he’s been walking everyone, but it happens. His stuff looks as good as ever and once he settles in, I expect Gray to be very good for the Yankees. It almost seems like the move from the Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium spooked him a bit. Gray ran into some home run trouble a few weeks back and now seems to be trying to locate precisely on the edges rather than aiming for a section of the plate and letting his natural stuff do its thing. I’d for sure project Gray to pitch better than a No. 3 going forward.

Steve asks: What do you think a reasonable return for Betances would be for the Yankees if he’s put on the trade block? And yes, your trade proposal sucks.

Dellin Betances‘ trade value is down for two reasons. One, he can’t stop walking people. It was a season-long problem and he has a history of control issues, which makes it scarier. This isn’t something that popped up out of the blue. And two, he’s now only two years away from free agency. The closer you get to free agency, the more your trade value goes down. That’s just the way it is.

The bullpen market is not what it was when the Yankees traded Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. We haven’t seen anything close to those trades since. One year of Wade Davis was traded straight up for Jorge Soler. A year and a half of Ryan Madson and three and a half years of Sean Doolittle fetched a meh big league reliever (Blake Treinen) and two non top-100 prospects (Jesus Luzardo, Sheldon Neuse). Heck, look at what the Yankees gave up to get David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle. It wasn’t a monster package.

I’m not quite sure what the Yankees could get for Betances right now given his control issues and the reliever market in general. Could he get a Blake Rutherford caliber prospect plus a secondary piece or two? I have no doubt many teams out there would happily take him on. The question is how much do they want to give up to get him, and what other relievers could they get at that price? It’s difficult to gauge Dellin’s trade value right now.

Anonymous asks: With the limited remaining international free agent money available, do you prioritize Otani (assuming her declares) or Maitan?

Kevin Maitin, a top international prospect who signed with the Braves last year, could be declared a free agent once MLB completes its investigation into the team and their international signing practices. Jeff Passan reported on it recently. The Braves broke the rules rather severely, and there is precedent for a player being declared a free agent after an improper signing. It happened to the Red Sox with some international prospects last year.

MLB.com currently ranks Maitan as the 38th best prospect in baseball and says he “has been compared to Miguel Sano and his ceiling has been put side-by-side with the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Chipper Jones,” and, uh, wow. At the same time, he’s a 17-year-old kid who just hit .241/.290/.340 (72 wRC+) with a 27.8% strikeout rate in rookie ball this year, so Maitan got humbled a bit in his first taste of pro ball.

Between Shohei Otani and Maitan, I think you have to go Otani because he’s big league ready. You can stick him in your rotation and/or lineup next season and he’ll help you win games. Maitan still has a lot of development ahead of him and is years away from contributing. Otani can help right now, and if you’re the Yankees, with this young core in the big leagues, you want to get them as much help as possible. Give me Otani over Maitan. It’s not like Shohei lacks upside.

Yelich. (Mike Zarrilli/Getty)
Yelich. (Mike Zarrilli/Getty)

Andrew asks: With Denbo going to the Marlins and his familiarity with our system, you think this increases possibility of any Yanks/Marlins deals? I’m still dreaming over a Clint Frazier led package for Yelich.

Not necessarily. I expected a flurry of minor Yankees-Angels trades once Billy Eppler left, but that didn’t happen. Eppler just signed a bunch of ex-Yankees prospects as minor league free agents and claimed them on waivers. I’m certain Gary Denbo has personal favorites in the farm system. How could he not? It’s human nature. Denbo is the player development guy though, not the general manager, so he’s not making the calls.

I’m a huge Christian Yelich guy. Has been years. If you’ve read RAB long enough, you know that. Yelich actually had the worst offensive season of his career in 2017, hitting .282/.369/.439 (115 wRC+) with 18 homers, but he remains an above average hitter who takes walks (11.5%) and doesn’t strike out a ton (19.7%), runs the bases well, and plays great defense. A left-handed hitter with some power and lots of patience to go with speed and defense is worth acquiring. Plus he’s owed only $58.3M through 2022. I’m a big Frazier guy, but I’d have no trouble trading him for Yelich at all.

Bob asks: I really enjoy watching Brett Gardner play baseball but, am aware that every off season there are rumors about his availability. He may be the Yankees most complete player and brings so much to the team. Don’t you think it would be a mistake to move him while he is still this productive?

There are two ways to look at this. One, Gardner is still very productive and an important glue guy in the clubhouse, plus there’s only one guaranteed year remaining on his contract, so it’s not like he comes with long-term risk. So keep him. And two, Gardner is now 34 years old and he plays all out, all the time, and that could lead to him declining soon. Plus the Yankees have Frazier looming and need to open a spot, so trade Gardner now before it’s too late.

Honestly, I think there is a perfectly valid argument to be made on both sides here, trade him or keep him. My preference is to keep Gardner. He’s still productive, he’s the unofficial captain, and as we saw the other night, he can be a monster from the leadoff spot with the way he grinds pitchers down. And there’s just one guaranteed year on his contract, so if does decline next year, you move on. Ideally the Yankees would move Jacoby Ellsbury this winter and go into next season with Gardner, Frazier, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge as the four-man outfield rotation.

Denzil asks: How much does ownership make per home game in the playoffs?

It’s impossible to say, exactly, but the answer is millions. Tens of millions, really, when you consider the inevitable uptick in future attendance and merchandise and ticket sales. Back in 2012, Wendy Thurm estimated postseason revenue for each club and had the Yankees at a little more than $10M. They were swept in the ALCS that year and had five home postseason games total (three in ALDS and two in ALCS). This year the Yankees will have at least five home postseason games (Wild Card Game, two in ALDS, two in ALCS), and we’re talking about five years of inflation here, so that $10M for five home games in 2012 could be what, as much as $20M in 2017? For what it’s worth, Mike Ozanian estimated the non-challenge in Game Two could’ve cost the Yankees upwards of $30M had they not won the ALDS. I don’t know the exact answer to Denzil’s question, but generally speaking, the answer is several million dollars per home game.

Mailbag: Beltre, Injuries, Green, Judge, Severino, Postseason

Only eight questions in the mailbag this week because the postseason is keeping us all busy around here. You can send all your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.

(Rick Yeatts/Getty)
(Rick Yeatts/Getty)

Zach asks: Sounds like there is some talk of a rebuild next year for the Rangers. If that’s the route they go, does it make sense for the Yankees to go after Beltre? Only 1 year left on his contract, but at 18 million. He would be a great bridge to either Torres or Andujar, and still seems very productive. What would it take to get him and how could his salary vs. the luxury tax implications play out?

It would. Absolutely. Adrian Beltre is one a one-year contract, so it’s not a long-term commitment, and he remains a very productive player. He hit .312/.383/.532 (138 wRC+) with 17 homers and great strikeout (13.4%) and walk (10.0%) rates in 94 games this season. Beltre’s no longer the defender he was in his prime, but he remains very good at the hot corner. And he’s a Grade-A clubhouse dude. A great fit in every way.

As far as I’m concerned, the only real worry here is age. Beltre will turn 39 in Spring Training and it could always go south in an instant at that age. It did for Carlos Beltran this year. We’ve seen it happen to Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Alfonso Soriano in recent years. The fact he’s on a one-year deal mitigates risk, and he’d be an upgrade at third base without blocking Miguel Andujar or Gleyber Torres or whoever. I think it’s worth the risk.

What would it cost? Eh, it’s hard to say. Would a Beltran-esque package get it done? One top prospect (Dillon Tate) plus some secondary pieces (Nick Green Erik Swanson)? Remember, prices tend to be a little higher at the trade deadline because teams are more desperate. There’s not as much urgency in the offseason, for the buyer or seller. I would be surprised if the Rangers moved Beltre, but if they’re open to it, I’d want the Yankees to make a call. He’s fit well.

Lou asks: When it comes time for the adds and subtracts for the 40 man what are the survival chances of Shreve, Holder, Heller, Mitchell, Gallegos and Herrera? We know what free agents automatically will be coming off but amongst this group is where the bulk of the 40 man space will come.

I think Bryan Mitchell and Ronald Herrera are gone for sure. Mitchell will be out of minor league options next season and it’s difficult to see him sticking in the big leagues, so I think he gets the axe. Herrera missed a bunch of time with injury this year and fringy up-and-down arms with injury issues will have a tough time keeping a 40-man roster spot in this organization.

Chasen Shreve is in the same boat as Mitchell in that he’ll be out of options next season, so he can’t be sent to the minors without passing through waivers. Lefties who have experienced some MLB success always have a high likelihood of being claimed. I could see the Yankees keeping Shreve as long as possible this offseason, but if they need a spot at some point, he’ll get the heave ho. I don’t think Jonathan Holder or Ben Heller are going anywhere. They’re optionable depth pieces and, in Heller’s case, he has a chance to be a real bullpen contributor.

Daniel asks: It seems like almost every player on the Yankees this year can fit into this statement, “He is putting up good numbers, and remember he missed a month of the season.” Gregorius, Sanchez, Chapman, Castro, Bird, Pineda, Sabathia, Hicks. Ellsbury, Austin, Holliday, and Tanaka all spent time on the DL this year. I know every team has its injuries, but where do the Yankees stand in terms of number of days players have been on the DL?

Believe it or not, the Yankees were near the bottom of the league in days lost to the disabled list this season. That surprised me. I guess all those little one month stints don’t add really add up. They’re not as bad as losing, say, two pitchers to season-long injuries in Spring Training. Here’s the days lost to the disabled list leaderboard:

1. Dodgers: 1,789 days
2. Blue Jays: 1,765 days
3. Rays: 1,735 days
4. Padres: 1,674 days
5. Red Sox: 1,664 days

MLB Average: 1,085 days

23. Yankees: 861 days

30. Cubs: 234 days

All things considered, the Yankees were relatively healthy compared to the rest of the league. I suppose it’s better to lose several players for a few weeks here and there rather than lose two or three players for long stretches of time. Well, no, not necessarily. It depends on the players. Either way, the Yankees were in the bottom third of the league in games lost to the disabled list in 2017.

Steve asks: Obviously this will depend on how the offseason plays out, but what’s your preference on how to use Chad Green next year? Back as a starter or leave him as lights out setup man?

Reliever all the way. Some guys are just built for the bullpen and that’s Green. He doesn’t have much of a changeup at all — he threw nine changeups all season — and he’s an extreme fly ball pitcher (26.4% grounders this year). As good as Green has been, I don’t think he has the tools to turn a lineup over multiple times, especially in a hitter friendly home ballpark. Keep him right where he is, let him air it out with that fastball for two innings at a time, and enjoy having one of the best relievers in baseball rather than a meh back-end starter.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Andrew asks: Where does Aaron Judge‘s 2017 rank on the all-time list of “true outcomes” (home runs, strike outs, and walks) by a player in a single season?

It sure is up there, alright. Here’s where Judge ranks in the various three true outcome single-season leaderboards:

  • Strikeouts: 208 (tied for 6th all-time)
  • Walks: 127 (tied for 28th)
  • Home Runs: 52 (tied for 28th)
  • Three True Outcomes Total: 387 (tied for 1st)
  • Three True Outcome Rate: 57.1% of plate appearances (3rd)

The 387 walks plus homers plus strikeouts is tied with Mark McGwire, who also had 387 true outcomes in 1998 (155 strikeouts, 162 walks, 70 homers). Only Joey Gallo this season (58.6%) and Jack Cust in 2007 (58.2%) had a higher percentage of their plate appearances end in a walk, homer, or strikeout among players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Walks and strikeouts can be boring. Dingers? Never.

Ed asks: Which players currently in the Yankees System do you envision as future core players?

I guess that depends how you define core player, isn’t it? I’m a big Andujar fan, though I’m not sure he’s a “build around this guy because someday he’ll be one of the five best players on a championship caliber team” player. That to me is a core player. A key contributor to a championship caliber club. Torres absolutely has franchise core player potential. Beyond him? Eh, not sure if anyone else in the system fits that description. Maybe Estevan Florial? Keep in mind that within the last 18 months or so, the Yankees graduated several core caliber players from the system in Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino (and Greg Bird?). Aside from Gleyber, the best young players in the organization with core potential are currently in the big leagues serving as core players. That’s cool. I’d rather them be in the show producing than in the minors being talked about as potential impact players.

Dan asks: Is it possible that Luis Severino has hit a wall after pitching a career high in innings?

Of course. I have no idea whether that is the case, but it’s certainly possible. Severino has thrown 193.1 innings this season between the regular season and postseason, which is easily a career high. He threw 151.1 innings last season and set his previous career high with 161.2 innings in 2015. He’s already 30 innings over his previous career high. Of course he could be wearing down. I think his dud Wild Card Game start was more about being amped up and overthrowing more than anything, though I suppose he could’ve been overthrowing to compensate for what he feels is arm strength lost to fatigue. Severino was great in September (2.10 ERA and 3.17 FIP) even with his tough start against the Twins a few weeks ago. With a young pitcher above his previous career high in innings, it’s always possible he’s going to hit a wall soon. I don’t think Severino is there yet.

Steve asks: During playoff games, what happens to players who were not selected for the 25-man roster? I assume they are not allowed to sit in the dugout during games. Do they hang out in the clubhouse and watch the game on TV? Sit in the stands? Stay home?

They are allowed to remain in the dugout during games. We saw Clint Frazier and Tyler Wade in the dugout at various points during the broadcast last night. They’re not on the roster but they could still be added any day as an injury replacement, so they stay with the team and continue to work out and taking batting practice and all that. Not every player is kept around in the postseason — teams do send some players home to cut down on the size of their traveling party — but basically anyone with a realistic chance of being added to the roster stays with the team, and they are allowed in the dugout during games.

Mailbag: Wild Card Game, Torres, Judge, Rookie Seasons, Ruth

Only nine questions in the mailbag this week. I tried to keep it short because there’s a day game today and we’ve got a series preview coming and all that. As always, send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.

Buxton and Judge. (Presswire)
Buxton and Judge. (Presswire)

Paul asks: Given the Yankees success against the Twins and the power bullpen, is there any sense to start Tanaka or Gray in the WC Game in order to potentially match up Severino with Kluber? Not being able to match up our ace with Kluber would be terrible.

Do not underestimate the Twins. I know the Yankees have been the better team overall this season and I know the Yankees have dominated the head-to-head series since 2002 and I know the Yankees swept them last week, but do not underestimate the Twins. They absolutely could walk into Yankee Stadium and send the Yankees home Tuesday. Are they the inferior team? All signs point to yes. But any team can beat any team on any given night in this game.

Given the winner-take-all nature of the Wild Card Game, I believe you have to start your best pitcher regardless of opponent. I’d want the Yankees to start Luis Severino even if they were facing the Tigers, and the Tigers are terrible (5-22 in September!). Not being able to throw Severino twice in the ALDS stinks, but that’s life. That’s what happens when you don’t win your division and have to settle for a wildcard spot. I seem to be the only person confident in Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray, but give me Severino in the Wild Card Game.

Rubaiyat asks: Concerning the one game playoff format, Fangraphs had an interesting article on a different format. They looked at the KBO and thought that their wild card system would work. The first wild card team only has to win one game to advance to the next round while the second wild card has to win two games in order to advance. Obviously it’s not perfect, but it would give teams incentive to win the first wild card besides home field advantage. What do you think?

I like it. I wasn’t aware of that wildcard format until the FanGraphs article. It’s pretty neat. It creates much greater incentive to be the top wildcard team and would add more juice to the postseason races. Homefield advantage is important, don’t get me wrong, but it only helps so much. Having to win one game instead of two to advance would be an enormous advantage. Think about it, this year the top wildcard team in both leagues is likely to be six or seven games better than the second wildcard team, yet there’s no reward for that. The wildcard system used in Korea creates the opportunity for maximum chaos and I am cool with chaos.

Christopher asks: Seems like most have Gleyber Torres penciled in as the 3rd baseman of the future but wouldn’t Torres have more value as a 2nd basemen especially since Miguel Andujar looks like a potential above average 3rd baseman?

Yes, Torres would be more valuable at the up-the-middle position. The reason we’re all kinda penciling him in at third base is because there’s more opportunity there. Todd Frazier will presumably be gone next year and Chase Headley is as replaceable as it gets. Starlin Castro is not a great player — he’s gone backwards defensively this season, hasn’t he? — but he’s better than Headley, and he’s younger and under control longer. The Yankees figure to be much more willing to displace Headley than Castro, hence the potential opening at the hot corner. Gleyber could definitely wind up at second base long-term though, especially if the Yankees decide Starlin’s defense has slipped too much to stay on the middle of the diamond.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Erick asks: At the beginning of the year it looked like Judge would have the best rookie season of all time, then the slump happened. All things considered, where does his rookie season rank?

It is still arguably the greatest rookie season in history thanks to his power. That’s not an exaggeration. At the very least, it’s on the super duper short list of the best rookie seasons ever. Here’s where Aaron Judge ranked all-time among rookies who had enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title heading into last night’s game:

  • AVG: .284 (138th)
  • OBP: .421 (8th)
  • SLG: .622 (2nd behind Rudy York)
  • OPS+: 168 (3rd behind Shoeless Joe Jackson and Jose Abreu)
  • HR: 50 (1st)
  • RBI: 113 (13th)
  • BB: 124 (1st)
  • K: 204 (1st)
  • WAR: +7.8 (4th behind Mike Trout, Shoeless Joe, and Dick Allen)

The strikeouts are the only negative in Judge’s game. Do you know who held the rookie strikeout record before Judge? Kris Bryant. He struck out 199 times in 2015 and he turned out okay. Judge is wrapping up what is easily a top five all-time rookie season for a position player, in my opinion. Possibly top three. Possibly the best! This is the kind of rookie season we’ll be talking about the rest of our lives.

Jeffrey asks: As of Tuesday, Judge and Sanchez have 83 homeruns this season and adding Didi, the trio have 108. Are they in the lead for teammate pairs/trios with homeruns this season?

They are not in the lead for either, pairs or trios. The Marlins lead both. Going into last night’s action, Miami had received 93 home runs from Giancarlo Stanton (57) and Marcell Ozuna (36). Judge (50) and Gary Sanchez (33) were second. Here are the most home runs for a trio of teammates going into last night’s game:

  1. Marlins: 118 by Stanton (57), Ozuna (36), Justin Bour (25)
  2. Yankees: 108 by Judge (50), Sanchez (33), Didi Gregorius (25)
  3. Rockies: 101 by Nolan Arenado (36), Charlie Blackmon (36), Mark Reynolds (29)
  4. Indians: 100 by Edwin Encarnacion (38), Francisco Lindor (33), Jose Ramirez (29)
  5. Blue Jays: 99 by Justin Smoak (38), Josh Donaldson (33), Kendrys Morales (28)

The fewest home runs by a trio of teammates this season is so sad I don’t even want to pass it along. It’s 45, by the Giants. Brandon Belt (18), Brandon Crawford (14), and Hunter Pence (13) are the team’s top three home run hitters. Good gravy. Judge has out-homered them by himself. The Braves have the second fewest homers by three teammates at 66, so the Giants lag big time.

Brian asks: Random question, with all the talk about Judge “First Yankee since Ruth…” I looked up Babe’s baseball reference page. Do you have any idea why he only won 1 MVP?! Seems completely insane.

The MVP award as we know it did not exist until 1931. From 1910-14, it was known as the Chalmers Award and given to the player with the highest batting average in the league. (The winner received a car from Chalmers Automobile.) There was no MVP from 1915-21, then, from 1922-29, there was the League Award, which was voted on by the writers. The League Award winner received a medal and a cash prize, and players were only allowed to win it once, which is why Ruth has only one MVP (1923). By time the current version of the MVP became a thing in 1931, Ruth was already in his mid-30s and starting to decline (though he was still ridiculously great), which is why he didn’t win any more MVPs.

Severino. (Presswire)
Severino. (Presswire)

Jason asks: If Sevy finishes 3rd in the CY and Judge is 2nd or 3rd in MVP – how rare an outcome would that be? When was the last time a team had a player finish in the top 3 in both of those (aside from when the same person won both)? How about a team having a player finish in the top 3 in CY, MVP and ROY? (maybe when Ichiro won the latter two and Felix finished high in the CY?)

The last time a team had two different players finish in the top three of the MVP and Cy Young voting was … last year. Rick Porcello (won the Cy Young … lol) and Mookie Betts (MVP runner-up) did it for the Red Sox. The last time it happened before that was 2014, when Corey Kluber (won the Cy Young) and Michael Brantley (third in MVP) did it for the Indians. Both the Tigers (Max Scherzer, Miguel Cabrera) and Cardinals (Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright) did it in 2013.

As for having a player in the top three of the MVP and Cy Young and Rookie of the Year, it happened twice during that 2013 season. The Cardinals did it with Wainwright (Cy Young runner-up), Molina (third in MVP), and Shelby Miller (third in Rookie of the Year) while the Tigers did it with Cabrera (won MVP), Scherzer (won Cy Young), and Jose Iglesias (Rookie of the Year runner-up). It happened in 2012 as well with Mike Trout (won Rookie of the Year, MVP runner-up) and Jered Weaver (third in Cy Young). It’s surprising how often this happens. I guess that’s because good teams tend to many really good players. That doesn’t make it any less cool, of course.

Anonymous asks: We all know that Judge has hit a ton of HRs, struck out a ton of times, and walked a ton of times, but how many times this year has he done all three in the same game? I’m curious if it’s enough of a thing where we can label a day at the plate like that as a ‘Judge’.

Judge does lead baseball in “Judges,” those games with a homer, a walk, and a strikeout. A three-true outcomes game. Here’s the Judges leaderboard going into last night’s game:

  1. Aaron Judge: 19
  2. Curtis Granderson: 13
  3. Joey Gallo: 11
  4. Khris Davis: 10
  5. Matt Carpenter: 10

Judge did it again last night, so he’s had 20 Judges this season. Those five players above are the only guys in baseball with double digit Judges. Brett Gardner is second on the Yankees with five Judges, including the one he had last night. Matt Holliday has four, Sanchez has three, and no other Yankee has more than one.

The all-time single-season leader in Judges is 21 by Mark McGwire in 1999, and the all-time career leader is Jim Thome. He had 154 Judges total. McGwire is a distant second with 133. Strikeouts are annoying, but I hope Judge racks up many more Judges. Homers and walks are cool.

Jonathan asks: How/when/why did you become a Yankee fan?

I’m pretty sure I’ve told this story on the site before, but I might as well tell it again since it’s been a while. I grew up in Brooklyn (Gravesend) and my grandparents lived literally right next door, so when I was a kid, I used to go over to their place all the time while my parents worked. Everyone in my family at the time was a Mets fan except my grandfather, who grew up a Yankees fan. He was a huge Joe DiMaggio fan. Huge. I spent my formative years hanging out with my grandfather and watching the Yankees in his den, and boom, a Yankees fan was born. My grandfather passed away a few years ago, so me and my younger brother are the only Yankees fans in the family. (My brother got it from me.)

Mailbag: Tiebreakers, Rivera, Garcia, Judge, Ellsbury, Harvey

There are 12 questions in this week’s mailbag, the second to last mailbag of the regular season. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us all your questions.

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

Several asked: Can you explain the various postseason tiebreaker scenarios?

Yes. Yes I can. Technically there are still several tiebreaker scenarios relevant to the Yankees, though, realistically, only one matters. That’s tying with the Red Sox for the AL East title. Here are the miscellaneous tiebreakers:

  • Tie with the Twins for a wildcard spot. If they tie for the second wildcard spot, they’d play a tiebreaker game at Yankee Stadium because the Yankees won the season series. Loser goes home and winner gets the wildcard spot. If they finish in the two wildcard spots with identical regular season records, the Wild Card Game would be at Yankee Stadium because the Yankees won the season series.
  • Tie with the Angels for a wildcard spot. If they tie for the second wildcard spot, they’d play a tiebreaker game at Angel Stadium because the Angels won the season series. Loser goes home and winner gets the wildcard spot. If they finish in the two wildcard spots with identical regular season records, the Wild Card Game would be at Angel Stadium because the Angels won the season series.

As for the AL East, the Yankees and Red Sox would play a Game 163 tiebreaker if they tie for the division title. Even if they’re both assured of a postseason spot. There is a huge, huge difference between winning the division and being a wildcard team. That’s not something MLB will let be decided by head-to-head record. The Yankees and Red Sox would play a tiebreaker game at Yankee Stadium because the Yankees won the season series. Winner gets the AL East title and loser gets a wildcard spot. Easy, right? Right.

Brent asks (short version): Should quality starts stats be the new win stat? Like instead of holding pitchers to the old standard of like roughly 300 wins, which is pretty tough to do in today’s standards and probably no one will ever get it again. Would quality starts be a better way to categorize it?

A quality start in and of itself is not great to start with. Three earned runs in six innings is a 4.50 ERA. Maybe it should be no more than two earned runs in six innings? Not many guys are going to pitch to a 3.00 ERA all season, but the number of starts with no more than two earned runs allowed in six innings seems kinda useful. Here is this year’s leaderboard:

  1. Max Scherzer: 19
  2. Gio Gonzalez: 19
  3. Marcus Stroman: 19
  4. Clayton Kershaw: 18
  5. Chris Sale: 18
  6. Luis Severino and eight others tied with 17

I think the Hall of Fame voting body has been getting better the last few years, and I think they understand wins isn’t the best way to evaluate pitchers. I’m not sure how much better quality starts would work. Bottom line, there isn’t one good way to measure a pitcher’s Hall of Fame candidacy. Wins alone aren’t enough. Quality starts alone aren’t enough. WAR isn’t enough. ERA and innings aren’t enough. I think the voting body knows this, and in time, we’ll see wins become less and less of a factor in the Hall of Famer voting.

Andrew asks: What was Mariano Rivera‘s best season? Is it one of the seasons when the Yankees won the World Series? I would consider 2008 when his WHIP was .665 at age of 38, the first of five sub 1 WHIP years. Wasn’t Britton’s WHIP last year finally lower?

I think it was 1996, when he was a multi-inning setup man. Rivera’s 2008 was insane, Andrew is right about that. Among full-time relievers to throw at least 60 innings in a season, Koji Uehara actually has the lowest WHIP. He had a 0.565 WHIP in 2013. Rivera’s 2008 season is fifth all-time behind Koji, 1990 Dennis Eckersley (0.614), 2012 Craig Kimbrel (0.654), and 2017 Kimbrel (0.662). Here are Mo’s five best seasons by bWAR:

  1. 1996: 2.09 ERA (1.88 FIP) and 0.99 WHIP in 107.2 innings (+5.0 WAR)
  2. 2008: 1.40 ERA (2.03 FIP) and 0.67 WHIP in 70.2 innings (+4.3 WAR)
  3. 2004: 1.94 ERA (2.82 FIP) and 1.08 WHIP in 78.2 innings (+4.2 WAR)
  4. 2005: 1.38 ERA (2.15 FIP) and 0.87 WHIP in 78.1 innings (+4.0 WAR)
  5. 2006: 1.80 ERA (2.84 FIP) and 0.96 WHIP in 75 innings (+3.9 WAR)

Rivera was ridiculous from 2004-06, huh? Those were his age 34-36 seasons. He led all relievers with +12.1 WAR those seasons. B.J. Ryan was second at +9.4 WAR. Basically a three-win gap between Mo and the second best reliever. Crazy. I’m going with 1996 as Rivera’s best season, but 2008 isn’t a bad choice at all. What made Rivera great was not only the eye-popping stats. It was that he did it year after year for two decades. There are lots of one-year Riveras. Guys who have an insane individual season, like Zach Britton last year. When someone does it even ten years in a row, we can begin talking about the next Rivera. Right now, no one’s close.

Garcia. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Garcia. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Michael Cohen asks: Could you analyze the Jaime Garcia flip from the Twins perspective? How’d they make out on those two July trades?

The Twins could use Garcia right now, especially with the Angels right behind them in the wildcard race. Since the trade, four different pitchers have started a game as Minnesota’s fifth starter: Adalberto Mejia (three starts), Dillon Gee (three), Aaron Slegers (one), and Dietrich Enns (one). They’ve combined for a 7.13 ERA (6.30 FIP) in 35 innings. Yikes. (Enns allowed two runs in 2.1 innings in his start.)

Minnesota got Garcia from the Braves in what was essentially a salary dump. The prospect they traded, right-hander Huascar Ynoa, had a 5.26 ERA (4.38 FIP) in 51.1 rookie ball innings this season. MLB.com ranks Ynoa as the No. 29 prospect in Atlanta’s system. Enns allowed three runs in 11.2 Triple-A innings and four runs (three earned) in four MLB innings after the trade. He also missed time with a shoulder problem.

Righty Zack Littell, the main piece in the deal, had a 2.81 ERA (3.50 FIP) in 41.2 Double-A innings after the trade. All told, he had a 2.12 ERA (3.04 FIP) in 157 innings this year, and MLB.com currently ranks him as the No. 16 prospect in Minnesota’s system. He’ll be added to their 40-man roster this winter and I’m sure the plan is to have him join the rotation at some point next year, after some Triple-A time. Seems likely.

At the time of the trade, the Twins had lost 12 of their previous 17 games and were five games back of the second wildcard spot. Trading Garcia (and Brandon Kintzler) made sense. Then they got hot and climbed back into the race unexpectedly. Ultimately, they turned a fringy prospect (Ynoa) and about $4M into an up-and-down arm (Enns) and a potential back-end starter (Littell). The Twins could use Garcia right now given their fifth starter situation and the wildcard race, but the trade made sense for them at the time and still does.

Joel asks: Has anyone crunched the numbers on Judge’s numbers when Holliday is on the active roster (as opposed to the DL) and when he’s not? Seems like since Holliday came back, Judge came out of the slump he was in for a while. I know if there’s any correlation it’s coincidence, probably, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s at least a notable statistical anomaly.

It is kinda funny how Aaron Judge started turning things around pretty much right as Holliday came back, isn’t it? Holliday was healthy — well, he was on the active roster, but he sure didn’t look healthy — for the first few weeks of Judge’s second half slump though, so I’m not sure how much there is to it. Here are Judge’s numbers:

  • Holliday healthy (April 2nd to June 27th): .333/.447/.697 (198 wRC+)
  • Holliday on DL (June 28th to July 13th): .297/.458/.649 (185 wRC+)
  • Holliday healthy (July 14th to August 5th): .178/.330/.342 (73 wRC+)
  • Holliday on DL (August 6th to August 31st): .179/.360/.346 (96 wRC+)
  • Holliday healthy (September 1st to present): .262/.407/.705 (176 wRC+)

That works out to .293/.416/.630 (~169 wRC+) in 490 plate appearances while Holliday was healthy and .217/.392/.443 (~125 wRC+) in 148 plate appearances while Holliday was on the disabled list. I don’t think there’s much to this. The timing is just a coincidence. I think Judge’s injured right shoulder had more to do with his slump than anything. He doesn’t need Holliday around to be successful or anything like that. Is Holliday a good mentor? Sure. All the young players say so. But he’s not the key to a productive Judge.

Brian asks: Is the last 6 weeks or so the best Ellsbury has ever played as a Yankee?

Without looking up the numbers, I’d say yes. He was pretty good back in 2014 and early in 2015, though not this good. It would be far too time consuming to go through and slice up Ellsbury’s four years with the Yankees into six-week segments, so here are his five best months in pinstripes:

  1. September 2017: .429/.543/.625 (209 wRC+) in 72 plate appearances
  2. August 2014: .324/.366/.539 (150 wRC+) in 112 plate appearances
  3. May 2016: .320/.407/.493 (145 wRC+) in 89 plate appearances
  4. June 2014: .324/.390/.419 (133 wRC+) in 118 plate appearances
  5. April 2014: .312/.369/.452 (130 wRC+) in 103 plate appearances

In his four seasons as a Yankee, Ellsbury has ten months with a 100 wRC+ or better and 13 months with a sub-100 wRC+. He has seven months with a sub-70 wRC+. Ouch. So yeah, I think it’s safe to say this current hot streak is Ellsbury’s best stretch in pinstripes. He’s hitting .397/.494/.616 (192 wRC+) with more walks (13) than strikeouts (nine) in his last 24 games now.

Dan asks: If the Mets DFA Harvey, should the Yanks make a run at him? He has so much upside, and he’s been so successful before, he seems to me to be a guy to gamble on.

First things first: the Mets are not going to designate Matt Harvey for assignment. They’re not even going to non-tender him in the offseason. If anything, they’d tender him a contract and trade him. No way they let him go for nothing.

But, if for whatever reason the Mets do cut Harvey loose, yes, absolutely go after him. I think his terrible 2017 season — and it’s been really terrible (6.59 ERA and 6.16 FIP) — has more to do with injuries than a decline in skills. The guy had surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome last year and he missed a bunch of time with a stress reaction in his shoulder this year. Can we give him an offseason to get healthy and see what he looks like after that before kicking dirt on his grave? I enjoy a good LOLMETS as much as anyone, but Harvey is only 28 and he’s shown he can pitch at a very high level. In New York too. He was brilliant in Game Five of the 2015 World Series.

If the cost is basically nothing — and that’s the hypothetical presented in the question — absolutely bring Harvey aboard and hope he can rebound once fully healthy. Rolling the dice on a 28-year-old who has been a bonafide No. 1 starter in the not-too-distant past is forever cool with me.

Dave asks: Can you explain the pythag. record and how we should think about it? If I remember correctly, the Yankees have outperformed it the last several years, but this year they are lagging behind it pretty significantly. Is it a statistical anomaly or is there an identifiable reason? Does it have anything to do with Girardi’s managerial decisions?

The Yankees are 85-67 this season, though their +186 run differential says they should really be 94-58. Nine game difference! Good gravy. That’s what a 17-25 record in one-run games and the bullpen letting so many winnable games slip away earlier in the season will do to you. And yes, the Yankees have outperformed their run differential by quite a bit in recent years:

  • 2017: -9 wins from expected
  • 2016: +5 wins
  • 2015: -1
  • 2014: +7 wins
  • 2013: +6 wins

During the Joe Girardi era, the Yankees have outperformed their run differential by 12 wins over ten seasons, so it was 21 wins over nine seasons before this year. I honestly don’t think there is anything meaningful to this. I think the early season bullpen meltdowns and the Yankees’ propensity for blowout wins — they are 34-12 in games decided by at least five runs (thanks Orioles!) — are skewing the run differential. I think this is an anomaly season. Those one-run losses and bullpen meltdowns happened. Don’t get me wrong. I just don’t think this indicates some kind of fatal flaw in the roster and reason for concern going forward. Baseball can be weird sometimes. That’s all.

Simon asks: Between 2013-2015, CC ran a FIP of 4.40 with an ERA of 4.81. Since 2016, he’s had an ERA of 3.87 with roughly the same FIP (4.38), driven mostly by a lower BABIP (.283). How useful is FIP anymore (and by extension fWAR for pitchers) if players like Sabathia have shown they actually can make changes to drastically lower their BABIP?

FIP is still useful — striking guys out while avoiding walks and homers are good skills to have! — though it has always been somewhat limited because pitchers do have some control over the contact they allow. We just couldn’t measure it before. Now we can. Some quick numbers on Sabathia:

  • 2013-15: 16.3% soft contact and 30.7% hard contact
  • 2016-17: 24.4% soft contact and 25.9% hard contact

Big difference, huh? Among the 89 pitchers to throw at least 400 innings from 2013-15, Sabathia ranked 73th in soft contact rate and 65th in hard contact rate. Among the 89 pitchers to throw at least 250 innings from 2016-17, he ranks first in soft contact rate and second in hard contact rate. Only Tanner Roark (25.5%) had allowed less hard contact. The drop in BABIP is not an accident or a fluke.

Does that make FIP useless? No. Again, there’s still a lot to be said for racking up strikeouts while limiting walks and homers. We just have to understand FIP’s limitations. Given his current profile as a weak contact king, Sabathia is probably always going to allow fewer runs than FIP suggests. Some guys, like Michael Pineda, are the opposite. They struggle to avoid hard contact despite shiny walk and strikeout rates. FIP (and, by extension, fWAR) is just one tool in the shed. It helps do the job but it can’t do the job by itself.

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

Anonymous asks: Due to the interest in Shohei Ohtani and his ability to pitch and hit, is it probable that more young players go that route, and do you see the NL adopting the DH, if we see more of this type of player?

Doing one thing, hitting or pitching, is really hard. And lots of players do both through college. Being good at both at the pro level is extremely difficult. Will more kids try it? Eh, maybe. I’m inclined to think their best chance to reach (and stay in) the big leagues is to focus on one thing, and be the best hitter or pitcher you can be.

The Rays are trying to develop Brendan McKay, the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, as both a hitter and a pitcher. He did both at Louisville and was excellent: 2.23 ERA with 391/111 K/BB in 315 innings on the mound and .328/.430/.536 with 28 homers in 189 games as a position player. The stats from his pro debut:

  • As a hitter: .232/.349/.376 (123 wRC+) with four homers, 22.1 K%, and 14.1 BB% in 36 games
  • As a pitcher: 1.80 ERA (4.03 FIP) with 28.8 K% and 6.9 BB% in 20 innings

Because more and more teams are carrying eight relievers and three bench players, I think we’ll see more clubs try to develop true two-way players. And if Otani manages to do both successfully, teams will try that much harder to develop a two-way guy. But, like I said, doing one thing is really hard. Doing both at an MLB level seems damn near impossible to me.

Daniel asks: Chapman changed his fastball grip. Can you look at Chapman’s spin rate since he made this switch? SSS and all, but I imagine spin rate stabilizes very quickly.

Aroldis Chapman did indeed change his fastball grip recently. He told Brendan Kuty that Larry Rothschild got him to throw with more of a true four-seam grip rather than his previous grip, which was more like a cutter. Chapman credits the change for the renewed explosiveness on his fastball. The thing is, we don’t know when exactly Chapman made the change. It was recent, after his demotion out of the closer’s role. That’s about all we know. Here are his fastball spin rates and swing-and-miss rates per month:

  • April: 2,510 rpm spin rate (24.2% whiffs-per-swing)
  • May: 2,496 (44.1%) in 3.1 innings due to injury
  • June: 2,477 (17.8%) in 4.2 innings due to injury
  • July: 2,486 (22.7%)
  • August: 2,446 (16.1%)
  • September: 2,544 (39.7%)

Chapman’s spin rate and whiff rate are indeed up in September, though keep in mind he’s thrown only 96 fastballs so far this month, so it could be a sample size issue. Still, the improvement is encouraging. The MLB average fastball spin rate is 2,255 rpm this year, and, as I noted a few weeks ago, Chapman has been consistently far above the league average. Even when he was struggling this year. High spin rate correlates very well to swings and misses for a fastball.

Whatever the reason, new grip or otherwise, Chapman looks so much better right now that he did at pretty much any point prior to September. His velocity never really dropped, but the pitch lacked that explosiveness. Hitters kept fouling it off like it was nothing. Now he’s throwing it by hitters consistently and looks like the old Chapman. If the new grip is the reason for the improvement, great! If it’s something else, well, that’s great too. Chapman looks fixed and that’s the most important thing.

Rich asks: With Todd Frazier hitting free agency, I was wondering if Nick Castellanos might be a reasonable offseason target? Apparently he possesses decent exit velocity and the ability take advantage of the short porch in right field at YS3. If he seems like a decent candidate, what would he cost?

The Tigers committed to a rebuild at the trade deadline and I imagine the 25-year-old Castellanos will be on the trade block this winter. He’ll be a free agent following the 2019 season. Detroit finally came to their senses and moved Castellanos to the outfield last month — since becoming a regular in 2014, his -63 Defensive Runs Saved are second worst by any player at any position (Andrew McCutchen is worst at -64 DRS) — after acquiring third base prospect Jeimer Candelario at the trade deadline.

Castellanos’ batted ball stats are drool worthy. Among the 99 hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances since 2014, he has the third lowest soft contact rate (11.3%) and 20th highest hard contact rate (35.7%). Hit the ball hard and good thing tend to happen. And, as Rich mentioned, Castellanos is a right-handed hitter who can hit the ball out to right field. His 2014-17 spray chart, via Baseball Savant:

nick-castellatos-2014-17-spray-chart

There’s some oppo pop in that bat. There’s some ability here. Castellanos is a former first round pick and he went into yesterday’s game hitting .271/.320/.490 (110 wRC+) with 24 homers. That’s something. The problem is he doesn’t have a position — the shift to the outfield has been adventurous so far — and he’s always been a bit of a free swinger (23.8% strikeouts and 6.3% walks). Can a player learn plate discipline in his mid-20s? Maybe!

What about getting Castellanos to be a most of the time designated hitter who also sees some action in right field and at first and third bases? I have no idea what it’ll cost to get him, though I’m guessing the Tigers want prospects, and the Yankees have plenty of those. I can’t imagine it’ll cost top prospects. Forget Gleyber Torres or Clint Frazier. I wouldn’t even trade Miguel Andujar or Tyler Wade for two years of Castellanos. I’m intrigued by Castellanos’ ability to hit the ball hard and to right field. The rest of the package kinda stinks. With Matt Holliday and Frazier set to become free agents, Castellanos could be a target to plug in the lineup.

Mailbag: Game 162, Warren, Michael, Headley, Avila, Judge

Got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week. Send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll get to as many as I can each week.

(Elsa/Getty)
Sevy. (Elsa/Getty)

Bill asks: Say game 162 the yanks have clinched a spot in the WC game but haven’t cliched home field and can’t win the division. Your option is Severino in 162 and then Gray/Tanaka in the WC or Monty in 162 and Sevy in WC game which would the Yanks do?

Man, that’s tough. The Yankees are a better team at home than on the road, but are they so much better that it makes up for the difference between Luis Severino and either Sonny Gray or Masahiro Tanaka? Gray and Tanaka are awesome! But they’re not Severino right now. Here are the home-road splits heading into last night’s game:

W-L Run. Diff Runs Scored per Game Runs Allowed per Game
at Home 40-27 +87 5.42 4.12
on Road 38-39 +68 5.10 4.22

Ignore the win-loss record for a second. The difference between the Yankees at home and the Yankees on the road is basically one extra run scored every three games. That’s the big picture way of looking at things. In an individual game, one fly ball into the short porch can change everything. The Yankees are built for Yankee Stadium — their starters get ground balls, their relievers miss bats, and their hitters sock dingers — and you’d like to have that advantage in the Wild Card Game.

At the same time, you have to put your best foot forward in that Wild Card Game, and Severino gives you the best chance to win. And hey, who’s to say the Yankees wouldn’t win Game 162 behind Jordan Montgomery? They’re playing the Blue Jays that day and the Blue Jays stink. They figure to have one foot in the batter’s box and one foot on the plane home for the offseason that afternoon.

Also, shouldn’t the wildcard opponent matter to some degree? If the Angels leap over the Twins in the standings, does anyone want the Yankees traveling all the way out to Anaheim for the wildcard game? That would bite. A trip to Minnesota wouldn’t be too bad. And there’s also the home gate factor to consider. Playing a postseason game at home equals millions in revenue. There’s no guarantee Severino will win the Wild Card Game, but playing that game at home guarantees straight cash, homey.

I’m not sure there’s a right answer here. There’s a good argument for both sides. I think I’d roll with Montgomery in Game 162 and make sure Severino is lined up for the winner-take-all Wild Card Game. I wouldn’t be uncomfortable with Gray or Tanaka in the Wild Card Game, but Severino gives you a better chance to win, and that game is a must-win. I think the Yankees would start Severino in Game 162 and go with Gray or Tanaka in the wildcard game though. I think they’d much rather be at home for that game.

Many asked: Why did the Yankees put Adam Warren on the 10-day DL? What’s the benefit with rosters expanded in September?

There is no benefit other than allowing the Yankees to bring a player back from the minors before his ten days are up, though they didn’t do that in Warren’s case. The Yankees put Mark Teixeira on the disabled list in September 2015 and didn’t call anyone up, before they knew his bone bruise was a season-ending fracture, and Brian Cashman said at the time it was essentially an administrative move. It logs it as an official injury with the league office and that’s about it. It’s a nothing move, assuming you know for the sure player won’t be back in fewer than ten days. In Warren’s case, he’s going to be shut down for at least two weeks, so that’s no problem.

Lou asks: What are your thoughts of some Monument Park honor for Gene Michael? As a builder of the 1990s dynasty, he is as much deserving as some of the recent additions and retired numbers.

Yes, absolutely, and it probably should’ve happened already. I think Stick is absolutely deserving of a plaque given everything he’s done with the Yankees. His front office accomplishments obviously headline things, though he also played and coached and managed. And scouted too. Michael was not the general manager when the Yankees won all those World Series in the late-1990s, though he helped build the core of the roster, and when you build a dynasty, you deserve to be recognized. Stick should’ve had a plaque a while ago, I believe.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Head. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Dan asks: Looking at next year, is it better to keep Headley as a 3B/1B option or trade him while his value is high?

Eh, as good as Chase Headley has been the last three months or so, I’m not sure his trade value is all that high. He’s a corner bat with limited power and a pricey (though not outrageously so) contract. Even if the Yankees pay it down so that Headley is, say, an $8M player next year, I don’t know how many bites they’ll get. Teams are probably going to look for someone better in the offseason. I think the Yankees would unload Headley in the heartbeat this winter if the opportunity presented itself. Keeping him wouldn’t be the end of the world. He’d be insurance for the kids (Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar) at third and insurance for Greg Bird at first base.

Salvatore asks: Hello, 2 part question here. First part, do you think the Yankees chose to use Betances to close over Robertson as a way to increase value to possibly trade him during the offseason, by considering him a closer to jack up the price? Part 2, what do you think of possibly trading Dellin to a team in need of a closer (ex. Nationals, maybe Rangers) for multiple top prospects and in turn flipping those prospects with Yankees prospects for an Ace (Carlos Martinez, Chris Archer)

The first answer: No. I think Joe Girardi used Dellin Betances to close because at times like this, he’s always moved his relievers up one spot in the pecking order. Betances was the eighth inning guy, so he moved up to the ninth inning. That’s pretty much all there is to it. These days teams know better than to evaluate relievers through saves. At least the smart teams. I don’t think a handful of saves will change anything regarding trade value.

The second answer: I’m not opposed to trading anyone for the right package, whether it’s prospects or MLB players. I’m not sure how realistic getting Martinez (pretty much untouchable) or Archer (intra-division trade) is, but someone like that would obviously be a fine addition. The emergence of Chad Green and the return of David Robertson makes it easier to part with Betances, though I don’t think the Yankees would’ve have any trouble trading him even without those two guys. As long as they got quality pieces in return. The same is true now.

Douglas asks (short version): Is it just me or is Alex Avila potentially a good fit for next year’s roster? He’s a lefty swinger in a line-up that looks to be loaded with righties (Judge, Sanchez, Andujar, Torres, Castro), gets on-base at a decent clip (.389 OBP combined between Detroit and the Cubs this season, .351 for his career), potentially could fill in at first if Bird goes down for an extended period again.

The upcoming free agent class is pretty thin on catchers — when isn’t it? — so Avila is probably the best available backstop. Either him or Jonathan Lucroy, if you believe Lucroy can go back to being good at some point. (He’s been brutal this season.) Avila went into last night’s game hitting .270/.387/.464 (127 wRC+) with 14 home runs this season, making it by far his best offensive effort since his breakout 2011 season. He was one of those fly ball revolution guys earlier this year, though his fly ball rate has tailed off as the season has progressed:

alex-avila-fly-ballsDefensively, Avila grades out as an average thrower and blocker, and below-average pitch-framer. Even if you think he’ll revert back to the hitter he was from 2013-16 (95 wRC+), an average-ish all-around catcher makes for a good backup. Austin Romine seems like a good dude, but I have no idea what he brings to the table. Doesn’t hit, can’t throw, pitch-framing stats don’t like him. There’s more to life than blocking balls in the dirt.

The problem with Avila, and I think the problem the Yankees might have looking for a backup catcher the next ten years, is that he’s probably not going to want to sit behind Gary Sanchez. Who would? You’re not going to get much playing time as Sanchez’s backup. Avila’s been plenty good enough this season that he figures to find a starting job, or at least a platoon job somewhere this offseason. Yes, it makes sense to go after him, but this seems like an “Avila is a good fit for the Yankees but the Yankees are not a good fit for Avila” situation.

Paul asks: Chad Green and Dellin are both on pace for 100k from the bullpen. Has that ever been done before from 1 team?

Going into last night’s game Green had 99 strikeouts (42.1 K%) and Betances had 97 strikeouts (40.1 K%), so they should clear the century mark by the end of the Orioles series. Tommy Kahnle (86 strikeouts) and Robertson (84 strikeouts) both have a chance to get to 100 strikeouts as well, though most of theirs came with the White Sox. Anyway, here’s the full list of teams with two 100+ strikeout relievers:

  • 2015 Yankees: Betances (131) and Andrew Miller (100)
  • 2004 Angels: Francisco Rodriguez (123) and Scot Shields (109)
  • 1997 Orioles: Armando Benitez (106) and Arthur Rhodes (102)
  • 1989 Blue Jays: Duane Ward (122) and Tom Henke (116)
  • 1986 Blue Jays: Mark Eichhorn (166) and Henke (118)

Those two Blue Jays teams were back when relievers threw way more innings than they do now. Eichhorn threw 157 innings in 1986! Ward threw 114.2 innings in 1989. They don’t make relievers like that anymore. Aside from the Yankees, the Indians have the best shot at two 100+ strikeout relievers this season with Cody Allen (80) and Miller (79), and they’re probably too far away at this point. Doesn’t look like any other team will get there.

Rex asks: Do you think Judge took the same media relations college course as Jeter — in that he says a lot but reveals nothing much. I’m not being overly critical here but at times he’s seemingly almost goofing w the media by answering all questions by complimenting his teammates. Come on Judge, let us in!

The Yankees put their players through media training every year. Every team has media training, though the Yankees really kick it up a notch because of the whole New York thing. They essentially train players to not say anything controversial. Be respectful and say a lot of words without saying anything of substance, basically. Aaron Judge is unfailingly polite and always defers to his teammates. Judge goes 2-for-3 with two homers and a walk? Great team win. Really proud of the guys for battling. Every single time. On one hand, that’s a good attitude and it comes off well. On the other hand, it’s okay to have some personality! Judge definitely has the same “boring as hell publicly” trait as Derek Jeter. Nothing wrong with bat flipping a monster dinger now and then.

Judge. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)
Judge. (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Tony asks: Maybe I am too apologetic to Gary (love those dingers!), but could part of his struggles with blocking balls in the dirt be related to the high-spin rate the Yankees value in their pitchers? It seems like we’re hearing that he’s in decent position but the ball still bounces away a few times. That, coupled with his willingness to continue to call breaking balls in the dirt with runners on, means that a flaw he needs to work on has become a cause for people to try to move him from behind the plate (not that I want that).

Oh, absolutely. The Yankees don’t have an easy pitching staff to catch. A few weeks ago Sanchez was charged with a passed ball when Aroldis Chapman missed on the other side of the plate with a 102 mph fastball in the dirt. I mean, come on. Catching all those Robertson breaking balls in the dirt can’t be easy. Catching Betances in general can’t be easy. Catching all those Tanaka splitters in the dirt can’t be easy. What about Gray, who varies the break on all his pitches and they look like they were thrown in a video game? This isn’t to excuse Sanchez, because his blocking absolutely needs to improve. But it’s important to have context. This isn’t the easiest pitching staff to catch overall.

Julian asks: If Judge finishes the season on the pace he had in the first half, does he go back to being the MVP front runner? Or is his struggles too much to overcome?

It’s too late to win MVP, I think. Judge is still third in the AL in both versions of WAR — he’s behind Jose Altuve and Mike Trout in fWAR, and Altuve and Andrelton Simmons in bWAR — though MVP is generally a performance-plus-narrative award, and the narrative is Judge has come up small down the stretch, when the Yankees needed him most. The fact the Yankees wouldn’t be anywhere near the postseason without his first half is the kind of thing that tends to get overlooked in these cases. Judge will almost certainly finish in the top ten of the MVP voting. Maybe even top five. Or even top three! I don’t think he’s going to win though. He’ll have to settle for being the Rookie of the Year, possibly unanimously (should be unanimous, anyway).

Michael asks (short version): Loved the Hosmer piece, I have a question regarding Greg Bird though. Unless he comes back from his back issue and goes on a 2015-esque hot streak, how can the Yankees possibly depend on him to be the full time 1st baseman next year?

I guess the same way they did this year, after he missed all of last season following shoulder surgery. They’ll absolutely have to bring in some kind of first base insurance. Or maybe Headley is that insurance now that he’s shown he can play the position? Either way, some sort of fallback plan needs to be in place, preferably someone better than Chris Carter. A fallback plan and a fallback plan for the fallback plan, ideally. I think the Yankees will — and should — give Bird next season to show whether he can stay healthy and produce. If he doesn’t, it’s probably time to move on. You can only wait so long after three straight years of injury and/or poor performance.

Michael asks: Whose season has surprised you more this year, Severino or Green?

Severino for sure. A good but not great starting pitcher prospect turning into a monster in relief isn’t all that surprising anymore. Happens a few times around the league each year. Archie Bradley did it this season for the Diamondbacks. The signs were there that Green could be a pretty good reliever. On the other hand, a young starter going from getting smacked around in MLB and spending time in Triple-A one year to being one of the top three starters in the league the next is pretty damn rare. I’m not sure even the most optimistic Severino fans saw this season coming. This is the best case scenario.

Mailbag: Otani, Dead Money, Frazier, Verlander, Green, Torres

We’ve got eleven questions in the mailbag this week. As always, you should send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. I get to as many as I can, assuming I actually know the answer or can look it up.

The most fun player on Earth. (Getty)
The most fun player on Earth. (Getty)

David asks: If the Yankees acquired Otani and he was the DH on days he didn’t pitch, (1) who is a comparable hitter, (2) who is a comparable pitcher, and (3) realistically, what should fans expect as a reasonable production for a two-way player?

We still don’t know whether Shohei Otani will come over to MLB this winter and chances are we won’t know until well into the offseason. These things tend to drag out. Remember, when Masahiro Tanaka and Yu Darvish made the jump, we waited weeks to find out whether they’d actually come over. It certainly doesn’t help that MLB is reportedly pushing to renegotiate the posting system with NPB.

Anyway, the 23-year-old Otani got a late start on the season due to nagging quad and ankle injuries. He’s hitting .347/.405/.553 with 14 doubles and five homers in 168 plate appearances and has allowed eight runs in 4.2 innings on the mound. Otani hit .322/.416/.588 with 22 homers last year and threw 140 innings with a 1.86 ERA and a great strikeout rate (31.8%) and an okay walk rate (8.2%). Travis Sawchik spoke to someone in the know about Otani comps earlier this year:

To better understand Otani I spoke with Anri Uechi of Kyodo News, who covers Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees but also has followed the career of Otani. I asked Uechi for a comps on Otani as a pitcher and hitter. He came up with a blend of Yu Darvish — only with more velocity – and Christian Yelich. Hey, not bad.

That sounds … amazing? Yeah, amazing. For what it’s worth, Clay Davenport’s statistical translations say that .322/.416/.588 batting line in NPB last year works out to a .306/.367/.512 batting line in MLB. Yelich hit .298/.376/.483 last season, so Otani is right in the ballpark. As a left-handed hitter with power, Otani has the potential to do serious damage in Yankee Stadium. The dude certainly looks the part of the superstar, both on the mound and at the plate.

My guess is letting Otani hit will be a prerequisite for signing him, which ostensibly gives AL teams an advantage. They can let him DH between starts. My one concern is he could wear down. Would it be best to give him a full day off the day after and/or before starts? I’m not sure. Anyway, Otani won’t cost much given the international hard cap and the fact he’ll be a pre-arbitration-eligible player like everyone else. The financial risk of letting him pitch and hit is small.

At the same time, this is a super talented player, and you want to protect him physically so he can help you win as long as possible. I was on the fence about letting him hit before but I’m cool with it now. Why not? If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. My only real concern is injury and pitchers get hurt so often it’s maybe not worth worrying about. If Otani comes over this winter, the Yankees should go all out to sign him. Shovel every available international dollar in front of him, wine and dine him, let him spend time with special advisor Hideki Matsui, the works.

Alex asks: It was interesting to me to see that Cashman is personally going to Japan to watch Otani pitch. How much actual scouting does Cashman do at this point in his career compared to big picture/management stuff? How much expertise/background does he have as a scout?

Before becoming general manager, Brian Cashman worked in player development and in the scouting department, though as far as I know, he was never a scout who went around seeing players. He’s an administrator. A general manager is a manager. The Yankees have countless people working in many different departments, and Cashman manages them all. There is so much more to the job than trade this guy and sign that guy.

Anyway, Cashman may not be able to scout and evaluate Otani, but there is value to seeing him firsthand. You get to see his personality, see his work ethic, see how he responds to adversity, those sorts of things. And Cashman gets to talk to his scouts in real time and hear their opinions, and see what they’re talking about. Cashman wasn’t the only non-scout to see Otani — Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman was there too, and he’s a Wall Street guy — and even if he can’t pick apart a delivery or analyze a swing, I think it’s good for your top decision maker to see a player up close, especially when he’s coming from overseas and you have limited information.

Dan asks: Do players appear in person at hearings on appeals of suspensions? Who appears on the player’s behalf – someone from the union? The team?

They can appear in person for the hearing but sometimes it’s just not possible for the player to get to MLB’s office in Midtown. Gerry Fraley explained the process last year following the Rougned Odor-Jose Bautista brawl. Here’s how the appeal works:

Odor’s representatives, the Beverly Hills Sports Council, and the Major League Baseball Players Association will handle the appeal. Bob Lenaghan, the union’s assistant general counsel, will direct the process. MLB has 14 days to schedule an appeal hearing, which can be held in person or by video conferencing.

I assume Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine were in attendance for their hearings, but you never know. Doesn’t really matter either way. I don’t think there would be more leniency because the player showed up.

Jonathan asks: Is there a stat that shows dead money for each team? I feel after next year, the Yankees will only have Ellsbury and Chapman as brutal contracts and aren’t that much worse off then most teams.

When I think of dead money, I think of paying players who no longer play for you. The Yankees are paying Alex Rodriguez $21M this season to hang out with Jennifer Lopez. That’s dead money. The Jacoby Ellsbury and Aroldis Chapman contracts don’t look great, but they’re not true dead money. They are still playing for the Yankees and providing some value.

The Yankees have roughly $27.5M of dead money on the books this year between A-Rod, Brian McCann (they’re paying $5.5M of his salary), plus the remainder of Tommy Layne‘s $1.075M salary. Here are the five non-Yankees teams with the most dead money on the books this year:

  1. Dodgers: $47.4M (Carl Crawford, Hector Olivera, Alex Guerrero, Erisbel Arruebarruena, Yaisel Sierra, Dian Toscano)
  2. Padres: $33.1M (Olivera, James Shields, Melvin Upton Jr.)
  3. Red Sox: $28.5M (Pablo Sandoval and Allen Craig)
  4. Rockies: $26.5M (Jose Reyes and Jason Motte)
  5. Angels: $22.4M (Josh Hamilton minus salary paid to Ricky Nolasco by Twins)

The Angels are paying Hamilton $24.4M to sit at home and Albert Pujols $26M to hit .244/.289/.394 (80 wRC+), so that’s probably the worst contract tandem in baseball. The Dodgers have $44.2M tied up in Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, and that’s not much better. In the grand scheme of things, the Ellsbury and Chapman contracts aren’t that bad.

Luke asks: What about the Toddfather taking Holliday’s spot on the team next year? Can play 3b, 1b, DH. He’s not perfect but seems to fit a role perfectly. Thoughts?

I think the odds of this happening are higher than maybe many fans realize, but still unlikely. I still think some team out there is going to be willing to give Todd Frazier a two or even three-year deal to be their everyday third baseman, and I don’t see the Yankees going there. Frazier seems to genuinely enjoy being a Yankee, and his ability to play two positions is quite nice. I have two problems with bringing Frazier back. One, he’s a low average hitter who hits into an awful lot of easy out pop-ups. His infield pop-up rate (20.3%) is easily the highest in baseball this year, and second highest over the last three years (18.3%). And two, he’s yet another right-handed hitter. The lineup leans a little too heavily to that side right now, and it’ll only get once worse right-handed hitters Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier (and Miguel Andujar!) force their way into the lineup.

Weird. (Lindsey Wasson/Getty)
Weird. (Lindsey Wasson/Getty)

Michael asks: Did the Yankees flub it by not claiming Verlander on waivers? If the Yankees had refused to make a trade offer, almost certainly Detroit would have pulled him back, or Verlander would have vetoed the move, and the worst case of Verlander on a 2x28M (after this year) wouldn’t be disastrous. As it is, they let Houston scoop him up and may have to face him in the playoffs.

It’s an interesting question. Of course, this also applies to the Red Sox and the Indians and the Angels and every other team with postseason hopes. I do not think the Tigers would’ve let Justin Verlander go on trade waivers for nothing. He’s a franchise icon and they wanted a real return, and hey, they got one. You always have to be prepared for the possibility that the contract gets dumped on you, though the chances of that happening seemed awfully low here. Had the Yankees or any other team claimed Verlander, the Tigers probably would’ve pulled him back, tried to work out a trade, then try again in the offseason if it didn’t work out. In hindsight, yeah, the Yankees or some other contender should’ve claimed Verlander to avoid facing him in the postseason. I’m not sure how realistic that is though, to expect a contending team to claim any player they could end up seeing in October.

Ralph asks: Now that we’ve seen Starlin Castro for two seasons, it is easy to see why he was a young all-star. It’s also easy to see why the Cubs let him go. The Benintendi slide into 2nd in the first game of the series featured Castro’s non-follow on the tag, another example of the bone-headed plays that seem to find their way to his highlight reel throughout the year. Can we really count on Castro as a core guy, or will Wade find his way there assuming some offensive improvement?

I think Castro is a really good complementary player and not necessarily a core piece, and the Yankees don’t need him to be. The core of the Yankees going forward, on the position player side, is Aaron Judge and Sanchez, and hopefully Frazier and Torres join them next season. Castro is a quality hitter by second base standards, even though he occasionally gives away at-bats. I’m not sure how much longer he’ll remain at second base though. His defense seems to have gone backwards this year. He might be a corner infielder long-term, or maybe even a DH. There’s no reason to move Castro now, but if Torres or Wade were to emerge at some point, I don’t think the Yankees would have any trouble trading Starlin. He’s a good player but probably not someone you make off-limits and build around.

Matt asks: Do you think in this day and age its finally time for the old fashioned waste pitch to die? I’m not talking about changing eye levels or setting up another pitch, but the ball so far out of the strikezone that nobody could possibly swing at it. With pitch counts and limits, it seems silly to waste pitches just so you don’t give up an 0-2 hit.

How many of those waste pitches, the pitch so far outside that no one would ever swing at it, do we even see? And how many are intentional? I feel like very, very few. Most of those are mistake pitches. In the traditional sense of the term, a waste pitch is something you throw to set the next pitch up. The fastball up and in to set up the slider down and away, for example. Those aren’t going away, even in the age of pitch counts. Take away waste pitches — it’s probably better to call them setup pitches, right? — and inevitably other pitches will lose some effectiveness. You need to be able to set one pitch up with another. It’s not a video game where you can just throw a slider in any count and get the swing you want. Waste pitches aren’t going anywhere.

Melanie asks: Can you ask Katie to run the numbers on Judge when he is up with less than two outs and runners in scoring position? It feels like that home run Sunday night was the first time he has gotten a hit in that situation in months. Even in the first half of the season. Thanks!

Lots of talk about Judge with runners in scoring position and similar situations this year, especially in the second half. Here are the numbers going into yesterday’s game:

  • Men on base: .262/.388/.561 (145 OPS+)
  • Runners in scoring position: .262/.386/.587 (150 OPS+)
  • Runner on third and less than two outs: .263/.483/.632 (155 OPS+)
  • High-leverage: .281/.400/.557 (152 OPS+)

Keep in mind there is some sample size noise here — Judge has only 29 plate appearances with a runner on third and less than two outs all season — but the numbers are pretty great. Roughly a 150 OPS+ across the board, which is right in line with his overall 154 OPS+ this season. Funny how that works. I want Judge at the plate in a big spot because in all of baseball (not only among Yankees) he is one of the hitters least likely to make an out and most likely to hit the everloving crap out out of a ball.

Dan asks: Is deception part of the reason why Chad Green‘s fastball is so untouchable? If so, what contributes to that kind of deception?

It has to be, right? Green has great velocity and a high spin rate, on par with baseball’s other top fastballs, yet no one gets as many swings and misses on that pitch as Green. It’s amazing. Green’s not super tall by pitcher standards (listed at 6-foot-3) and there’s basically no gain through extension. His average fastball velocity: 95.55 mph. His average perceived fastball velocity: 95.56 mph. Yeah. Here’s some video:

Green has a big leg lift and his arm action is long and deliberate in the back, then he explodes forward, and I think that creates the deception. The hitter keeps waiting and waiting and waiting for the pitch, then bam, it’s right on them. I imagine that contributes to Green’s effectiveness. Whatever it is, it’s working wonderfully. Green has been unreal this season.

Ryan asks: Don’t we need to pump the breaks just a little on Gleyber being reading at the start of next season? I know it is his glove hand (non throwing arm) he had to have TJS on, but doesn’t that also make it his lead arm batting, which if I’m not mistaken, is his power arm when batting. Do we have batter comps for Torres coming back with power the way we had with Bird after his, much more risky, shoulder injury in terms of power concerns?

Torres has already resumed baseball activities — he shared videos of himself hitting in the batting cage and fielding grounders within the last week — and he is expected to be ready in time for Spring Training. There are very few comps for this type of injury, though there is a good one: Zack Cozart, another right-handed hitting shortstop. Cozart had Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow in August 2011 and was ready to go for Opening Day 2012.

Torres had his surgery in June, so he has a two-month head start on Cozart. Of course the Yankees are going to play it safe with him. Those videos he posted this week? Those are surely closely monitored workouts. I don’t think there’s any chance Gleyber will break camp with the Yankees next year, not after missing half a season. I expect him to go to Triple-A to get back into the swing of things before the inevitable call-up. The injury stinks. I’m pretty sure Torres would’ve been in the big leagues right now. He’d have been up when Castro got hurt, if not sooner. What can you do though? Everyone expected Torres to come back strong and so far his rehab is going swimmingly. That’s all I need to hear.