Mailbag: Fulmer, Frazier, Gray, Franco, Hicks, Belt, Judge

We’ve got 13 questions in this week’s mailbag. An awful lot of “when are the Yankees calling up Tyler Wade/Miguel Andujar/Dustin Fowler?!?” questions were rendered moot the last few days. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send your questions.

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Rhett asks: Tigers are almost 10 games under .500 and have a depleted farm system. What about Michael Fulmer, should they tear it down and rebuild? I like everything but the high stress delivery, looks like an elbow blowout waiting to happen. Frazier, Sheff, Mateo get it done??

Going into yesterday’s game the Tigers had the second worst record in the AL at 34-43, and there are rumblings they will sell at the trade deadline. They did sell two years ago, remember, when they traded David Price and Yoenis Cespedes at the deadline. They could do it again this year.

Looking at their roster, there are only two players who make sense for the Yankees: Fulmer and Justin Wilson. Justin Verlander and especially Miguel Cabrera are owed way too much money. Those two are great players! Miggy is a first ballot Hall of Famer. But I have zero interest in paying $184M for his age 35-40 seasons (!). Hard pass.

Anyway, the 24-year-old Fulmer had a 3.19 ERA (2.94 FIP) in 101.2 innings this season after throwing 159 innings with a 3.06 ERA (3.76 FIP) en route to being named AL Rookie of the Year last season. Here’s a quick year-to-year comparison:

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2016 3.06 3.76 20.4% 6.5% 49.1% 0.91 .295 .276
2017 3.19 2.94 18.9% 5.8% 50.3% 0.35 .280 .263

Just about everything is the same except the home run rate, and chances are that’ll climb pretty soon given the way balls are flying out of the park these days. Otherwise Fulmer handles both lefties and righties well, he keeps his walks down, and his ground ball rate is solid. He’s not a huge strikeout guy but everything else checks out.

Thanks to the timing of his call-up last year, the Tigers delayed Fulmer’s free agency a year until the 2022-23 offseason. Acquire him at the deadline and you’re getting five and a half years of this guy. Fulmer did miss a start with shoulder bursitis earlier this year, though he’s come back fine since, and that won’t be enough to drop his price.

My guess is the Tigers will keep Fulmer and build around him going forward, but gosh, if they put him on the market, they could demand a ton. And they’d get a ton too. Teams would line up to get him. Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, and Jorge Mateo doesn’t seem like enough. Frazier, Sheffield, Fowler (they need a long-term center fielder bad), and Chance Adams for Fulmer? I don’t think it would be an unreasonable ask.

Brent asks: Is Clint Frazier underperforming? He struggled last year, and this year he’s definitely getting his HR’s but his obp is a bit low along with BA. According to his prospect potential, so far, is this underperforming? And what is his MLB potential?

Nah, not at all. He went into last night’s game hitting .257/.344/.478 (122 wRC+) with 12 homers in 72 games as a 22-year-old in Triple-A. Frazier went from a 27.9% strikeout rate and a 5.4% walk rate in Triple-A last year to a 21.7% strikeout rate and 11.5% walk rate this year. The power is there and Frazier is doing a better job controlling the strike zone. It would be cool if he were hitting .310 with a .400 OBP, but that’s not that important. The bat speed is there, the power is there, and the plate discipline is improving. That’s exactly what I wanted to see this year.

As for his long-term potential, I’ve been using Nick Swisher as a baseline, though Swisher had the advantage of being a switch-hitter. Swisher hit .258/.365/.471 (122 wRC+) and averaged 27 homers and +3.5 WAR a year from ages 25-31, and that includes his disaster season with the White Sox. I get the sense more than a few people won’t be thrilled to hear Frazier has Swisher upside, but Swisher was really freaking good for a long time. Plus, Frazier has insane bat speed and a much better chance to hit for a high average than Swisher did, so it’s not like Swisher is the ceiling here.

Damian asks: Am I crazy for not wanting Sonny Gray? His numbers dip hard the 2nd and 3rd time through the order. His ERA jumps from 5.24 the 2nd time through, and all the way to 5.94 on the 3rd pass… He feels like a guy destined to be a relief pitcher (albeit maybe an excellent one), not a top of the line starter…

No, I don’t think that’s unreasonable at all. I am a big Sonny Gray fan, have been for a while and I’ve said it many times before. Right now I just have so little confidence in him staying healthy that I’d rather not see the Yankees give up some of their best prospects to acquire him. Gray has had ongoing lat and forearm issues since last season. He’s a great pitcher when healthy. Great and tough as nails. The kinda guy I want on the mound with the season on the line. But he hasn’t been healthy since 2015.

Franco. (Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
Franco. (Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

John asks: How about Maikel Franco as a change of scenery if the Phils are interested in moving him?

Nick Cafardo says the struggling Franco is “more than available” in trade talks, and he’s probably worth a full post at some point. A few things about Franco. One, he’s still only 24 and is under team control through 2021. Two, he’s getting worse each year:

  • 2015: .280/.343/.497 (129 wRC+) with 14 homers in 80 games
  • 2016: .255/.306/.427 (92 wRC+) with 25 homers in 152 games
  • 2017: .222/.281/.376 (70 wRC+) with ten homers through 73 games

Three, Franco has a ton of natural power and he combines it with a better than average strikeout rate (14.1% this year and 16.1% career), and not many players can do that. And four, he is an absolutely brutal defensive third baseman. He should be playing first base like yesterday.

Like I said, Franco is worth the deeper dive outside a mailbag setting at some point, but yes, I’m interested in him as potential buy low/change of scenery player. For sure. Even if you have to stick him at first base or DH full-time, I’ll take a chance on the offensive potential. The power and contact ability give Franco a chance to be a monster.

Matthews asks: I realize he’s now going to be on the DL,the it’s unlikely while trying to get under the luxury tax and the team has plenty if young OF prospects but should they consider approaching Hicks about an extension? What would one potentially look like?

It never hurts to kick the tires, though I doubt the Yankees will seriously considered it. They have a ton of young outfielders knocking the door, so much so that trading Brett Gardner (or Jacoby Ellsbury) won’t clear up enough roster space. I also think the Yankees want to see more from Aaron Hicks before diving into contract talks. Is this the real him? Maybe! But why not wait a little while to find out?

Hicks will be a free agent following the 2019 season, so if the Yankees were to approach him about an extension this offseason, they’d be doing so when he’s two years away from free agency. Here are some other players who signed extensions two years before hitting the open market:

  • Jean Segura: Five years, $70M with a club option.
  • Brandon Belt: Six years, $79M with no option year.
  • Salvador Perez: Five years, $52.5M with no option year.
  • Brandon Crawford: Six years, $75M with no option year.

Don’t think one great year can get you paid? Segura was awful from 2014-15, then parlayed a great 2016 into a big contract.

I’m not comfortable committing upwards of $10M per season to Hicks yet. Maybe they could get him for, say, four years and $32M? He might jump at the guaranteed money, though that seems unlikely. Hicks has been unbelievable this season. Even after his little slump between the Achilles and oblique injuries, he’s hitting .290/.398/.515 (144 wRC+) with +3 WAR. Extension talks are still a bit premature, I think.

Rich asks: Here’s a fun one: After another great outing, Jordan Montgomery deserves a catchy nickname. J-Mont? Monty Python and the Holy Arm? Air Jordan?

Gumby works, doesn’t it? That was his college nickname and it’s his Twitter handle (@Gumbynation34). Here’s Montgomery explaining the nickname to Steve Serby:

Q: What is “Gumby”?
A: (Laugh) That was my nickname in college.

Q: Why?
A: I was so long, kind of uncoordinated … showed up first day of summer practice, and one of the fifth-year seniors turned around, asked me what my name is: “I’m gonna call you Gumby from now on,” and it stuck. I hated it at first, but lately everyone calls me it. Just kind of learned to go with it.

Seems to me Mr. Montgomery has a nickname already. Forced nicknames are the worst. Especially when they’re recycled nicknames like players adopting their own version of A-Rod. Gumby came along organically and it fits. I say we stick with it.

Bill asks: what would it take to get Belt from SF? He’s having a down year with the average but the power and walks are still there and SF will has to be in sell mode at this point.

Belt, who turned 29 in April, is owed $17.2M a year from 2018-21, which is on the pricey side but not outrageous. He’s hitting .228/.341/.442 (111 wRC+) with 14 home runs this year, which represents a down year for him and would equal a massive upgrade for the Yankees at first base. From 2013-16, Belt hit .277/.364/.474 (135 wRC+) with 64 home runs and +14 WAR in an extreme pitcher’s park even though he was limited to only 61 games in 2014 (a hit-by-pitch broke his thumb).

The Giants are abysmal. Far worse than I expected. They currently have baseball’s second worst record (only the Phillies are worse) so I imagine they’ll be open to moving pieces at the trade deadline. The Giants strike me as a team that will retool and try to win against next year though, not tear it all down and start a rebuild. Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are still in their primes, after all. How does trading Belt help that retooling process? It doesn’t, really. Would the Giants take Greg Bird and a good prospect like, say, Fowler? Both guys would be able to step right into their big league lineup next year. (In theory, given Bird’s injuries.)

Jason asks: Chance Adams is the guy knocking on the door but Caleb Smith, a lefty, has made 14 starts in 2017, at SWB, and has allowed two earned runs or less twelve times, including back-to-back gems (13 IP, 0 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 13 K) to lower his ERA to 2.84. Is he a realistic option in the MLB pen, or even in the rotation?

The 25-year-old smith was a 14th round pick in 2013 and the Cubs gave him a look as a Rule 5 Draft pick in Spring Training. So far this year he has a 2.20 ERA (3.32 FIP) with 24.5% strikeouts and 7.0% walks in 82 Triple-A innings, which is obviously excellent. Smith is a three-pitch guy with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and both a changeup and slider in the low-80s. Here is the only half-decent video I can find of the guy:

Smith has good velocity from the left side — I figured he would get popped in the Rule 5 Draft for exactly that reason — though neither his slider nor his changeup is a legitimate put-away pitch, which holds him back. He’s probably best suited for bullpen duty — he was was a reliever with Double-A Trenton for most of 2016 — as a fastball heavy lefty, a la Sean Doolittle. Smith very well might be next up on the lefty reliever depth chart now that Tyler Webb is in the big leagues.

Dan asks: If Judge just stopped playing for the rest of the year, would he still win AL rookie of the year? The season isn’t even at the halfway point, but from 2010 to now the only AL rookies worth more fWAR than what he has now were Abreu in 2014 (5.3) and Trout in 2012 (10.3). That’s insane.

I think so. We’ve seen guys win Rookie of the Year after getting called up at midseason. Why would winning the award playing only the first half rather than the second half be any different? There is no rookie in the AL (or all of MLB, for that matter) coming close to what Aaron Judge is doing. He reached +5 WAR before any other position player reached +4 WAR. That’s nuts. (As of yesterday Judge was at +5.1 fWAR and Paul Goldschmidt was second at +3.8 fWAR.)

Dan asks: Thoughts on picking up Miguel Montero to be back up catcher? The Yanks could use the offense. But, they probably wouldn’t cut Romine for him.

Nah. I don’t doubt that Montero is a better hitter than Austin Romine, but he’s faded big time behind the plate — runners have gone 90-for-98 (92%) stealing bases against him since the start of last season, and it ain’t all Jake Arrieta’s fault — plus his stints with two teams came to ugly and bitter ends. The guy’s a bit of a jerk. He can still hit a little — Montero was hitting .286/.366/.439 (112 wRC+) in part-time duty before getting designated for assignment the other day — but I don’t trust him behind the plate and I don’t trust him in the clubhouse. Montero’s not worth the headache, and obviously the Cubs agree.

Alessandro asks: This is a little out there, but if Bird remains out for an extended period of time, could the Yankees bring in another catcher to serve as backup to Sanchez, and keeping putting Romine out there at first?

Eh, I don’t see Romine at first base as a viable solution. He’s looked good over there defensively the last few days, but the guy is still hitting .236/.281/.323 (58 wRC+) overall, and that’s terrible. Maybe his numbers will tick up with regular playing time, though I don’t think Romine’s offensive potential is high enough to play him at first base long-term. The Yankees really need a full-time first baseman. I don’t like all this talk about having players change positions. Just get a real first baseman.

Steve asks: Let’s say Bird misses all of 2017. What do the Yankees do this winter? They can’t pencil Bird in for 1B next year, can they? Do they hedge their bets with another Carter-like signing? Find a DH that can fake 1B if needed? Thanks.

If Bird misses the rest of the season, I don’t see how the Yankees could count on him to be the starter next year. They’d have to go out and get someone to be the starter, and if Bird forces the issue, great! Maybe Tyler Austin will do enough this year to claim the starting job and he solves everything. That seems unlikely given his “high grade” hamstring strain. Odds are the Yankees are going to have to bring in a first baseman next year. Missing essentially your entire age 23 and 24 seasons like Bird may do is bad, bad news. That’s an awful lot of development time he’s not getting back.

Jason asks: Some of us middle-aged Yankees fans were talking about the latest Judge exploits and wondering: is this the best half-season of any Yankee since we have been watching (say 1975, possible competitors include Mattingly (1986), Arod, perhaps Giambi)? Thanks.

If you go back and look at the best half-seasons in Yankee history, it’s basically all Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, with a little Mickey Mantle mixed in as well. I’m going to go back 50 years, to 1967. Here are the best half-seasons by a Yankees, by OPS+:

First Half Second Half
Aaron Judge (204 OPS+ in 2017) Bobby Murcer (189 OPS+ in 1972)
Bobby Murcer (198 OPS+ in 1971) Don Mattingly (185 OPS+ in 1986)
Dave Winfield (187 OPS+ in 1988) Don Mattingly (184 OPS+ in 1985)
Paul O’Neill (186 OPS+ in 1994) Reggie Jackson (184 OPS+ in 1980)
Alex Rodriguez (184 OPS+ in 2007 Alex Rodriguez (184 OPS+ in 2005)

The All-Star break is only nine days away! Judge is putting the finishing touches on the best-half season by a Yankee in the last half-century. That is insane. The last Yankees with a 204 OPS+ in either the first or second half was Mantle in 1961.

  • Mantle in the first half of 1961: .320/.450/.691 (208 OPS+)
  • Mantle in the second half of 1961: .314/.446/.682 (209 OPS+)

lol.

As for Judge, what he’s doing is beyond “he’s having a great start to his rookie season” stuff. We’re in “he’s having an all-time great season for a player with any number of years of experience” territory. I get why lots of people jumped ship after his ugly debut last season, but man, but dude is among the elite of the elite when it comes to hitting know-how and making adjustments. That he’s 6-foot-7 and 282 lbs. of brute strength makes him that much more dangerous.

Mailbag: Vogt, Moran, Bird, Adams, Judge, Betances, Shreve

I’ve been busy the last few days, so I didn’t have much time for mailbaggin’. Only eight questions this week. These things used to only be three or four questions, you know. Now eight qualifies as small. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. Send questions there.

Vogt. (Lindsey Wasson/Getty)
Vogt. (Lindsey Wasson/Getty)

Mike asks: Do you believe in Stephen Vogt?

I believe in Stephen Vogt. The Athletics designated Vogt for assignment yesterday as part of their renewed emphasis on youth. Vogt is gone, Trevor Plouffe is gone, and I imagine it’s only a matter of time until Jed Lowrie, Yonder Alonso, and Rajai Davis are gone too. The A’s are going young.

Vogt, 32, was hitting .217/.287/.357 (73 wRC+) with four homers in 174 plate appearances this year — Chris Carter went into last night’s game hitting .201/.287/.384 (77 wRC+) — after being an All-Star in 2015 and 2016. His production has dropped from a 116 wRC+ in 2015 to a 93 wRC+ in 2016 to a 73 wRC+ in 2017. That is: bad. And yet, there is this:

  • Vogt is a career .260/.320/.428 (106 wRC+) hitter against righties.
  • He’s a left-handed hitter who can take advantage of the short porch. Example: this homer.
  • He can play first base, fake the outfield, and be an emergency third catcher.
  • Vogt is an A+ clubhouse dude. He’s awesome. Example: his NBA referee impression.
  • If he gets released, Vogt can be signed for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.

The Yankees gotten nothing from first base this year. Stephen Vogt has been very bad this year! Can he better in Yankee Stadium while limited to platoon duty? Maybe! Now that Aaron Hicks is healthy, the Yankees don’t need Mason Williams on the bench. Sending down Williams for Vogt and giving him a chance at first base could be an upgrade. Probably not, but maybe so.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t think the A’s will release Vogt, and he definitely won’t elect free agency because he has fewer than five years of service time, meaning he’d forfeit the remainder of his $2.965M salary by electing free agency, and that’s not happening. The A’s will outright him to Triple-A and stash him as depth. I wouldn’t trade anything to get him nor would I take on the salary via waivers. If the A’s do release Vogt, sure, see if he’ll come to New York. If they don’t release him, then forget it.

Colin asks: Colin Moran, top college bat, high draft pick, local kid. The Astros are all locked up in the infield (although with Gleyber going to 3rd maybe the Yankees are now). He’s 25 and seemingly figuring it out, would it be possible to pry someone like that away on the cheap side?

Eh, I’m not sure he’s figuring it out as much as he is repeating Triple-A. Moran, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft, is hitting .279/.340/.541 (122 wRC+) with 16 homers, 17.6% strikeouts, and 8.2% walks in 57 Triple-A games this year. He’s a left-handed hitter known more for his level swing than his power. MLB.com ranks him as the 23rd best prospect in the Astros’ system. Here’s a piece of their scouting report:

Known for his pure left-handed swing and his ability to barrel balls easily while controlling the strike zone … His approach and relatively flat stroke yield below-average power, however, and he’s not the walk machine he was in college at North Carolina. Moran contributes little value beyond his bat, so he’ll have to boost his projection to become a big league regular … He has the hands and solid arm to play the hot corner, though Moran lacks range there. He’s a well below-average runner whose only other defensive option is first base.

The ‘Stros have Alex Bregman at third base and Yulieski Gurriel at first — plus A.J. Reed is waiting in Triple-A — so there’s no real spot for Moran going forward. He has a minor league option remaining for next season, so I suppose the Astros could stash him in Triple-A for another year as a depth option. They don’t have to move him anytime soon.

The Yankees don’t have a clear cut long-term third baseman. Gleyber Torres is awesome, though his recent Tommy John surgery throws a wrench into things. If nothing else, it delays his arrival. I am a big Miguel Andujar fan, but prospects are suspects until they prove otherwise. Could the Yankees get Moran for a similar busted former top prospect like, say, Mason Williams? It would be worth it given the uncertainty surrounding third base. Moran is by no means a “must acquire” though.

Jake asks: Given Bird’s setback and the likely probability that Detroit will sell, Alex Avila seems like a good fit. He’s on a prove-it contract that expires at the end of this year, he’s played first in the past, and he’s slashing well (including getting on base at a career-best .432 clip). Is he worth the risk?

Interesting! Avila has played 35 games at first base the last two seasons, so it’s not completely new to him, plus you could always stick him behind the plate. Avila is hitting .314/.437/.587 (172 wRC+) with ten homers on the season, easily his best year at the plate, because he’s doing the “hit more fly balls” thing (like Yonder Alonso):

alex-avila-batted-balls

If Greg Bird continues to have injury issues, Avila would be a nifty little pickup. He’d slide right into Bird’s roster spot as the left-handed hitting first baseman (slash catcher), and he’d give the Yankees a nice platoon option against righties. Plus, left-handed hitter and the short porch! Those two things always mix well. I wonder whether the Yankees could get him for someone like Ben Heller or Jonathan Holder. I can’t imagine Avila has much trade value despite his great start. Getting him for an extraneous reliever (the Tigers are in perpetual need of bullpen help) would work.

Bobby asks (short version): Given that the Yankees drafted numerous players at the bottom of the draft who are early round talents, is there any chance that the Yankees would decide to go crazy and sign all of them to multi-million dollar bonuses? They would have to forfeit their first round pick in the next two drafts and pay 100% tax on the overage.

No team has ever exceeded their bonus pool to the point where they forfeit future draft picks and I don’t see that happening anytime soon. It is an interesting idea though. In the late rounds this year, the Yankees drafted one bonafide first round talent (Alabama HS RHP Tanner Burns) and two players who could be first round picks next year with healthy 2018 college seasons (Stanford RHP Tristan Beck and Louisville RHP Riley Thompson). Beck is a potential top ten pick next year.

Exceeding your bonus pool by 15% or more means forfeiting your next two first round picks and paying a 100% tax on the overage. If the Yankees were to give those three players first round money, say $2.5M to $3M each, they’d be way over their $6.91M bonus pool. Let’s call it $3M each. That means paying $9M in bonus, $9M in tax, and giving up their first round picks in 2018 and 2019. But! You are adding three first round caliber talents to the organization right now. I think this is seriously worth considering when you’re talking about signing more than two such players. Doing it for one doesn’t make sense. But three? It’s not a bad idea. I don’t see the Yankees doing it though.

Michael asks: With the hole at first base who would you acquire? Any thoughts on Matt Adams? He’s cheap and controllable beyond this year.

I’ve never been a big Adams guy but he has been raking since getting traded to the Braves: .294/.346/.647 (148 wRC+) with eleven homers in 30 games prior to last night. Unless you think he’s a new player for some reason — and there’s nothing in the underlying numbers to suggest this is something more than a hot streak — Adams is the same guy he was with the Cardinals a few weeks ago. Atlanta gave up a non-top 30 organizational prospect to get him (Juan Yepez) and that’s all I’d give up to get him now. I’m not paying a bigger price because he had a month long hot streak with the Braves that will in no way benefit me. If the Yankees can get Adams for a non-top 30 guy, say Abi Avelino or Chris Gittens, do it. That’s about my limit here.

Henry asks: without seeing the numbers the eyeball test is telling me that Judges K rate has been climbing. It seems like he is maybe a little frustrated by the lack of good pitches in the zone and hes swinging more at the low and away out of the zone. It also looks that he might be sitting fastball a bit too much as im seeing him take a lot of loopy curves down the middle. do the numbers and your opinion back this up?

Aaron Judge‘s strikeout rate spiked in May and has stayed at the same level since. He was running a 29.8% strikeout rate heading into last night’s game. Here’s the graph:

aaron-judge-strikeout-rate

Twenty-eight of Judge’s 87 strikeouts this season have been looking, or 32.2%. The MLB average is 23.3%. I’m guessing all those low strikes he keeps getting called against him has something to do with that. It does seem like Judge has been caught looking a little more often the last few weeks — I could be completely wrong — and maybe that means he’s caught in between a bit. He’s looking fastball but gets a breaking ball, and vice versa. That sorta thing. Judge is striking out a lot, but man, whatever he’s doing, it’s working. Keep doing it.

Michael asks: Is DiDi’s very low walk rate concerning to you? There have been 208 players with 190+ PA and DiDi is ranked 204th with a BB% of just 3.1.

Nah. I wish Didi Gregorius would walk more, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. This is who he is. He’s a free swinger. And it works for him! Didi makes plenty of contact and he can hit the ball over the fence. I’d just let him be. Swinging is in his DNA so let him do it. If Gregorius wasn’t producing or if the Yankees had six or seven hitters like this in the lineup, it would be a problem. But he’s been hitting and, by and large, the Yankees have a patient lineup. One (or two, really, counting Starlin Castro) free swinger ain’t the end of the world.

Daniel asks: I don’t have video evidence, but it seems to me that Betances has seriously closed off his stance on the mound. What do you think? With Shreve doing the same, does two make a trend?

Both Dellin Betances and Chasen Shreve have closed their deliveries this year. Here’s what I mean:

dellin-betances-chasen-shreve-2016-vs-2017

One of the ex-pitcher YES Network broadcasters spoke about this a few weeks ago. I think it was David Cone. He said closing up like that — Betances and Shreve are practically showing their number to the hitter now — helps the pitcher stop from flying open out front. They stay back better and can more easily maintain their balance through their delivery. That’s what the broadcaster (again, Cone, I think) said, so take their word for it.

Shreve is throwing harder this season. His average fastball is 92.9 mph, up from 92.2 mph the last two years, and his max velocity has jumped from 94.8 mph to 95.7 mph. Basically one full mile-an-hour. That’s not nothing. I have no idea whether the slight velocity jump is due to closing up his delivery, but I suppose it could be related. The fact two pitchers on the same staff have done this now, closed up their delivery, leads me to believe it’s not a coincidence. The coaching staff encouraged this. And hey, given the way Betances and Shreve have pitched this year, it seems it be working.

Mailbag: Suarez, Pineda, Peralta, Healy, Judge, Andujar, AzFL

Pretty huge mailbag this week. Fifteen questions. Send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com each week. I’ll answer as many as I can get too, assuming I actually know the answers.

Suarez. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Suarez. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

Dee asks: Seems like the plan is for Torres to take over 3rd but if not what about Eugenio Suarez of the Reds as a target? He’s having a solid season (.283/.368/.597) but he’s being pushed by Scooter Gennett for playing time, and the Reds top prospect (#20 overall) is 3B Nick Senzel, although he is at single A.

Suarez is younger than I realized. He’ll turn 26 next month. He’s been around a while and I kinda assumed he was already 27 or 28. The Reds got Suarez from the Tigers for Alfredo Simon (!) three years ago, and he’s currently hitting .280/.368/.484 (124 wRC+) with ten homers and 11.2% walks as Cincinnati’s everyday third baseman. He’s a natural shortstop playing third in deference to Zack Cozart.

The Reds are in the middle of a rebuild, so they’ll probably listen to offers for Suarez, though there’s no indication he’s on the market right now. With Cozart a trade candidate and impending free agent, I suppose their master plan could be sliding Suarez back to shortstop when Senzel is ready to take over third. Anyway, yeah, I think Suarez would be a real interesting trade target. He’s always had some pop and he’s starting to come into his own as an all-around hitter, which is exciting at his age.

As an added bonus, Suarez will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2020, so he would be New York’s long-term solution at the hot corner. I know Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are coming, but Suarez is a good player too, and good players are always worth adding. Would it be unreasonable if the Reds asked for Clint Frazier? I don’t think so. Doesn’t mean I’d do it. I’m just saying that’s what they could ask for in a trade. What about, say, Dustin Fowler and Chance Adams? I like the idea of Suarez. The question is, as always, cost.

Kenneth asks (short version): Michael Pineda has added a hesitation to his delivery from last season. It occurs when he brings his back foot down and starts to raise his hands. From a pitching standpoint, how far do you think this goes in terms of consistency, repetition, and overall makeup?

Kenneth has raised the mailbag question bar, folks. He not only made an astute observation, he also provided a video breakdown. 2017 Pineda is on the left and 2016 Pineda is on the right:

I hadn’t noticed the hesitation in Pineda’s delivery, perhaps because it’s so subtle. Tempo is pretty darn important, and if this hesitation helps Pineda keep everything in check and be more consistent with his delivery, it could absolutely have an impact on his overall performance. At the same time, pitchers make these tiny little changes to deliveries over the years and often they don’t mean anything. Compare any pitcher’s delivery today to his delivery last year and there will be some differences, no doubt.

To answer the question, I think it’s possible this little hesitation is helping Pineda’s overall performance this season, though I’m not ready to say that with any certainty. Does he even do it every pitch? I’m not sure. If anything, this could be a reason for Pineda’s success this year, but probably not the reason.

Joe asks: Is Jhonny Peralta better than Chase Headley?

Nah. Not at this point. The floundering Cardinals released Peralta earlier this week and ate the $10M left on his contract. He’s been hurt (103 total games) and ineffective (81 wRC+ and -0.9 fWAR) the last two seasons, and at age 35, he just looks old and worn down. The bat is slow, the defense is rough, and the body doesn’t recover as well as it once did. Any team can sign Peralta for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum now, so he’s basically risk-free, but I have no interest in signing him to replace Headley, even as bad as Headley has been since April. I’d rather have Ronald Torreyes than Peralta, and the Yankees also have a few young infielders knocking on the door in Triple-A. I don’t see Peralta having anything to offer New York at this point. He’s at the end of the line.

Max asks: Mike, any interest in Ryon Healy as a potential deadline pickup to play third? What would it even take? Fowler and a good secondary piece?

I don’t think the A’s would trade Healy now because he’s cheap and productive — he went into last night’s game hitting .282/.310/.532 (125 wRC+) with 15 homers — so this is purely hypothetical. I’m not much of a Healy fan because he’s so one dimensional. He’s basically a power hitter and that’s it. And that’s good! If you’re going to be one-dimensional, power is a good dimension to have. Hitting 15 homers in two months in that home ballpark is pretty impressive.

The downside here is that Healy is a brutal defender at third base. One of the worst in baseball. There’s a reason he’s played more first base and DH than third base this year. (That’ll continue going forward with top third base prospect Matt Chapman now up.) Add in suspect strikeout (25.2%) and walk (3.5%) rates, and you’ve got a player who is going to have to continue hitting for big power to have value. I’d rather see the Yankees look elsewhere for third base help.

Daniel asks: Aaron Judge is currently hitting .323 and according to ESPN he is on pace to strikeout 196 times. What are the most strikeouts someone who has batted over .300 has ever had?

Judge went into last night’s game hitting .338 with a 193-strikeout pace, which is a hell of a combination, even over a 63-game sample. The average really surprises me. I’ve always been a Judge guy, but I never expected him to hit well over .300 for this long a stretch. Certainly not so early in his career. Anyway, here is the answer to Daniel’s question:

  1. Bobby Bonds: .302 AVG and 189 strikeouts with 1970 Giants.
  2. Ryan Howard: .313 AVG and 181 strikeouts with 2006 Phillies.
  3. Freddie Freeman: .302 AVG with 171 strikeouts for 2016 Braves.
  4. Sammy Sosa: .308 AVG with 171 strikeouts for 1998 Cubs.
  5. Sammy Sosa: .320 AVG with 168 strikeouts for 2000 Cubs.

The Yankee record for strikeouts by a .300 hitter belongs to Alfonso Soriano. He hit an even .300 with 157 strikeouts back in 2002. There have been 20 instances in history of player hitting .300+ with 150+ strikeouts. Sosa and Mo Vaughn are the only guys to do it multiple times. Judge is still striking out a ton (28.9 K%) this year, but man, when he makes contact, it is LOUD. I keep waiting for the .424 BABIP to come down, but the guy hits like three 115+ mph line drives a night.

Judge. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
Judge. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

Sean asks: With Judge at 5th in Avg, 1st in HR’s, and tied for 3rd in RBI’s in the AL, is it out of the question to start talking about the triple crown? With his new spot as number 3 hitter and they way he’s been consistently hitting, it seems like it’s certainly possible. At this rate he’s essentially a lock for ROY and is challenged only by Trout for MVP.

I read recently that no rookie has ever led all three Triple Crown categories as late into the season as Judge this year. (He held the lead outright in all three categories for a day earlier this week. I think it was Tuesday.) Here’s where Judge stood in the Triple Crown race prior to last night’s game:

  • AVG: .338 (second to Avisail Garcia .339)
  • HR: 22 (Logan Morrison is second with 18)
  • RBI: 49 (second to Nelson Cruz’s 52)

We’re still a long ways away from serious “okay he has a real chance to win the Triple Crown” talk — we have to wait until at least August for that, no? — but it sure is fun to think about right now, isn’t it? Heck, if you’re not talking about Judge maybe winning the Triple Crown right now, then what’s the point of being a fan? It’s fun and baseball is supposed to be fun. Go Judge, my large baseball mashing adult son.

Michael asks: At what point does Judge’s rookie season get put in the conversation for the greatest rookie season of all time? What past rookie season would even be in Judge’s conversation? (I know Ichiro‘s rookie year was amazing, even though he wasn’t a true rookie)

Right now. It’s time to start having this conversation. This is a topic worth its own post at some point, but here’s a quick list of the best rookie seasons by a position player in history:

HR OPS+ wRC+ fWAR bWAR
1. 1987 Mark McGwire (49) Judge (195) Judge (200) 2012 Mike Trout (+10.3) 2012 Mike Trout (+10.8)
2. 1956 Frank Robinson (38) 1911 Shoeless Joe (193) 1911 Shoeless Joe (184) 1914 Benny Kauff (+9.9) 1911 Shoeless Joe (+9.2)
3. 1930 Wally Berger (38) 2014 Jose Abreu (173) 2014 Jose Abreu (167) 1911 Shoeless Joe (+9.3) 1964 Dick Allen (+8.8)
4. 2001 Albert Pujols (37) 2012 Mike Trout (168) 1914 Benny Kauff (167) 1964 Dick Allen (+8.2) 1914 Benny Kauff (+7.8)
5. 1950 Al Rosen (37) 1914 Benn Kauff (165) 2012 Mike Trout (167) 1899 Jimmy Williams (+7.5) 2001 Ichiro Suzuki (+7.7)

Judge is currently on pace for +10.3 WAR, both the FanGraphs and Baseball Reference versions. Given the obvious issues with historical WAR — something tells me the defensive component for Shoeless Joe Jackson in 1911 might not be reliable — I’m inclined to look at offense only right now. That means Judge is up against guys like Trout, Abreu, and Pujols. Either way, WAR or offense only, Judge is doing stuff only a handful of rookies have done before. This will be fun to follow the rest of the season.

Kyle asks: How do minor league options work for international free agents? Are the Yankees allowed to option Tanaka to the minors? Or, does it need to be a phantom injury DL stint if this keeps up?

As best I can tell, there is nothing in Masahiro Tanaka‘s contract that prevents the Yankees from sending him down. Many of these overseas veterans have clauses put in their contracts that prevent teams from sending them down without the player’s consent. Eric Thames has one, for example. Also, Tanaka doesn’t have enough service time (needs five years) to refuse a minor league assignment.

So yes, the Yankees can send Tanaka down. I don’t see that happening though. That’s a pretty extreme measure and you risk making Tanaka, your best player last year and a guy you need to have a legitimate World Series chance this year, unhappy. That’s not good. Relationships are important. If anything, I think the Yankees would put him on the phantom disabled list. The Yankees have yet to do that though. They’re sticking with Tanaka because he shows enough flashes of snapping out of it. Sending him down ain’t happening.

Anthony asks: I am a big fan of Miguel Andujar. Not the most sexiest name in the loaded Yankee’s farm system but definitely a legitimate third base prospect. The writing is on the wall for Torres to take over third at some point this season. Where do you see Andujar fitting in the Yankee’s future plans? Can we safely assume he has the flexibility to learn a new position or does he become trade bait at this point?

I imagine Andujar is going to head to Triple-A Scranton fairly soon. He’s been at Double-A a year now — Wednesday was the anniversary of his promotion — and he’s hit .285/.330/.419 (106 wRC+) with nine homers and a 13.3% walk rate in 133 games and 570 plate appearances at the level. Andujar has been excellent of late too, hitting .385/.420/.635 (192 wRC+) over the last month. He’s figuring it out!

A promotion to Triple-A will complicate the infield situation because Torres and Tyler Wade have been working out at the hot corner, and Andujar has no experience at other positions. The Yankees have had him work out a bit at first base this year, though he’s yet to play there in a game. I suppose the outfield could be an option, though it seems unlikely. The Yankees have not yet had him work out there anyway. I’m not sure Andujar is equipped to play anywhere other than the infield corners.

Perhaps the inevitable Andujar promotion to Triple-A coincides with Torres being called up to MLB, which would answer the playing time questions. If not, well, I imagine Andujar would get the lion’s share of the playing time at third base for the RailRiders while Torres (and Wade) move around. What else would they do? I’m an Andujar fan and think he can be a starting big league third baseman, which would allow the Yankees to play Torres at second. Let’s wait until everyone is ready before we start to worry about who fits where though.

Will asks: Any talk in the last CBA negotiations about teams being able to trade picks? There has been a lot of parity in MLB over that past decade or so and I do feel like not being able to trade picks helps (keeps teams from making stupid trades) but I love the idea. I don’t follow them anymore but it makes the trades in the NBA and NFL much more interesting.

If MLB and the MLBPA talked about it prior to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement being finalized, it wasn’t reported anywhere. Apparently the concern is small market teams would trade all their draft picks to avoid spending on bonuses, which seems sorta silly. I’m pretty sure every front office in baseball right now is smart enough to know high draft picks are crucial to long-term success. Trading picks would be really interesting and I’d like to see it. There probably has to be some limitations though. Only picks in the top ten rounds, the picks tied to the bonus pool, are tradeable, maybe? If not, why not ask for, say, a 30th round pick to be added to every trade? I really hope MLB makes draft picks tradeable at some point. It would be fun and it would make the draft more interesting.

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

Anonymous asks: It seems lately in blowout games, that Gardner is usually the first to get pulled. (Saturday and Sunday for instance). Any trade speculation talks? Thanks.

It doesn’t have anything to do with trades. Gardner is the oldest regular position player on the roster — among guys who actually play the field, that is — and he’s played a ton lately with Jacoby Ellsbury out, so when Joe Girardi has a chance to get Gardner off his feet for a few innings, he does it. That’s all it is. There’s no greater meaning here.

Christian asks: In Monday’s game I was perplexed the Angels pitched to Judge with one out, Hicks at 2nd and 1st base empty… I’m glad they did. But it made me think if you would rather have Hicks hit a single or a double with one out? A single and they more or less have to pitch to Judge or a double to give the team a runner in scoring position in which case the smart move would be to walk Judge?

Yeah that made no sense to me at all. I get that Matt Holliday was on deck and he’s a dangerous hitter, but man, how do you pitch to Judge in the late innings of a tie game with first base open? Both Judge and Holliday are dangerous hitters. Walking Judge means you only have one great hitter to deal with rather than two. Whatever. The Angels pitched to Judge and he socked the go-ahead homer. Hooray for that.

Anyway, as for the question, give me the double over the single in that (and every) situation. I understand the thinking, that Aaron Hicks stopping at first base forces them to pitch to Judge, but in the late innings of a tie game, you’ve gotta get to second base if you can. If they walk Judge, so be it. Take the free baserunner. Give me first and second with one out and Holliday at the plate over a man on first and one out with Judge at the plate.

Ryan asks (short version): What about locking players up (Judge, Sanchez, etc,) to long term extensions à la Tampa & Longoria?

The Yankees absolutely should consider long-term extensions for their young players, which means Luis Severino in addition to Judge and Gary Sanchez. I’d prioritize extensions for those players in this order:

  1. Sanchez: Quality catchers are so hard to find and Sanchez very well might be the best hitting backstop in baseball for the next ten years.
  2. Judge: Love the guy, but he’s already under team control until his 31st birthday, and part of me worries about that big 6-foot-7, 282 lb. frame breaking down at some point.
  3. Severino: Pitchers break, man.

My guess is the Yankees won’t approach any of them about an extension until after they get under the luxury tax threshold next season. If the Yankees were give Sanchez, say, six years and $42M this offseason, he’d count as $7M against the luxury tax payroll next season, not his near league minimum salary as a pre-arbitration-eligible player. That hurts their chances to get under the luxury tax threshold. You could easily argue that, in the big picture, signing Sanchez now would save more than enough long-term to justify the luxury tax hit, but it’s not like the Yankees couldn’t afford to sign him down the road anyway.

Kyle asks: How soon after you draft a player can you trade him? I know you can’t trade draft picks but I am wondering if there are any way to circumvent the restriction by making trades post-draft.

After the season. They changed that rule not too long ago. Teams used to have to wait one calendar year after the player signed his first pro contract to trade him. They used to get around that by including them in deals as players to be named later. That’s what happened with Trea Turner. He was included in that big Wil Myers trade as a player to be named, and he had to stay with the Padres until he was eligible to be officially traded. It was a crappy situation for everyone. Turner was essentially a Nationals employee under Padres management. Because of that, they changed the rule. Drafted players can be traded right after the season, which is how Dansby Swanson went to the Braves in the Shelby Miller deal.

John asks: Who do you think the Yankees will send to the Fall League?

We’re still a ways away from the Arizona Fall League rosters being officially announced. They usually aren’t released until the end of August. As always, the best AzFL candidates are players who missed time with injury this season. That makes Dillon Tate (shoulder), Albert Abreu (elbow), and Dietrich Enns (shoulder) prime candidates. Top Double-A and Triple-A prospects are always candidates too. Wade, Torres, Andujar, Fowler, etc. They could be in the mix.

Because the Yankees have so many quality prospects eligible for the Rule 5 Draft after the season, I could see them using the AzFL as sort of a “last gasp” to evaluate guys on the 40-man roster bubble. Billy McKinney, for example. He has talent, and even though he hasn’t hit much, you’d still hate to lose him for nothing. The AzFL could buy the Yankees some more time to evaluate him before making a decision about the roster. Others like Tito Polo, Thairo Estrada, Ian Clarkin, Rashad Crawford, and J.P. Feyereisen could fit into that class too.

Mailbag: Yelich, Wade, Cozart, Domingos, Schwarber, Hicks

Thirteen questions in this week’s mailbag. The email address for all mailbag related correspondence is RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. We’re getting more questions this year than we did the last few seasons, probably because the Yankees are good now, so don’t feel discouraged if yours doesn’t get picked. Keep trying.

Yelich. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)
Yelich. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)

Alessandro asks: So if the Marlins do indeed make Christian Yelich available, that’s someone we should totally go after, right?

Yup. Ken Rosenthal (video link) recently reported the Marlins will be “wide open” at the trade deadline and will listen to offers for basically everyone, including Yelich. Yelich is off to a slow start this season — he’s hitting .268/.348/.406 (101 wRC+) so far — but it’s only a matter of time until that turns around. The facts:

  • He is still only 25 years old and he will spend the entire season at that age.
  • He had a 118 wRC+ every year from 2013-15 — literally 118 on the nose all three years — before breaking out and hitting .298/.376/.483 (130 wRC+) with a career high 21 home runs in 2016.
  • He is an excellent defensive outfielder who can remain in center field for the foreseeable future.
  • He is owed $43.25M from 2018-21 with a $15M club option for 2022, so he’s signed through his age 30 season.

Also, Yelich is basically a shift proof left-handed hitter. He goes the other way as well and as often as anyone. His power spike last year was the result of him finally figuring out how to pull the ball a little more often. Here is his 2016 spray chart, via Baseball Savant:

christian-yelich-2016-spray-chart

It’s beautiful. So, to recap, Yelich is a 25-year-old left-handed hitter who hits the ball to all fields while playing a mean center field and being signed affordably for another five seasons behind 2017. That is someone you pursue very aggressively if the Marlins do indeed make him available. Yelich would fit the Yankees’ youth movement perfectly.

What will it take to get him? A lot, obviously. The Nationals gave up two top 50 prospects (Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez) plus a third good prospect (Dane Dunning) for Adam Eaton, who like Yelich is signed affordably long-term, but is also three years older and has an uglier injury history. (Even before the recent knee injury.)

It would in no way be unreasonable for the Marlins to ask for Gleyber Torres in a Yelich trade. Fortunately the Yankees have the prospects to make it happen without including Gleyber. In that case we’re talking a package that includes Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield, a really good third piece like Dustin Fowler or Chance Adams, and probably a really good fourth piece too. I’d seriously consider it. Then again, I’ve been a Yelich guy since he was in the minors, so I’m biased.

Bill asks: I know the plan is to groom Gleyber to take over 3rd, but reality is he probably needs a few months in AAA. Why isn’t Wade being discussed more for 3rd? He has played multiple positions (including 3rd if I’m not mistaken) and he has had a great year at AAA. Seems like a logical move unless his defense at 3rd is that bad.

I’m sure the Yankees are considering Tyler Wade for third base too, but no one is really talking about him because he’s not the sexy top prospect like Torres. Keep in mind Wade has even less third base experience than Gleyber at the moment. Wade has started seven games at the position in his career, all this season. He also played one game there in the Arizona Fall League. Torres has 12 games at the hot corner this year (and for his career). They’re both new to third base. Like I said, I definitely think Wade is someone the Yankees are considering. He’s just not a sexy enough prospect to generate headlines.

Dan asks: With the surprising move of the Yankees reinstating Tyler Austin from the 60-Day DL and optioning him to AAA, I was wondering if there could be any service-time thresholds the Yankees might be trying to avoid? If yes, when would he be an option to come back up?

I seriously doubt it. The Yankees activated Austin because his 20-day minor league rehab stint was about to expire, and they optioned him because they believe Chris Carter is the better first baseman. It’s really that simple. It’s not worth worrying about Austin’s service time. A year and a half ago he was designated for assignment and unclaimed on waivers. He’s someone you call up whenever he’s ready, get whatever you can out of him, then move on when the time comes. There’s no reason to manipulate service time with non-elite prospects, especially if you’re the Yankees.

Michael asks: If Ellsbury is still out as the deadline approaches do we go out and get more of a true 4th outfielder?

I hadn’t thought about that. Seems possible, right? I suppose it depends what the Yankees want to do with Frazier and Fowler. Are they comfortable using either as a true fourth outfielder, meaning only occasional spot start duty? I don’t like that idea. I’d rather let them play everyday in Triple-A. In that case picking up a veteran fourth outfielder who passes the “better than Mason Williams” test at the deadline wouldn’t be a bad idea. I don’t know who that could be. Rajai Davis? Cameron Maybin? Gregor Blanco? Right now, Rob Refsnyder is the fourth outfielder, and that’s not good.

Cozart. (Andy Lyons/Getty)
Cozart. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve asks: How about Cozart an outside the box trade for 3B? I know he has only ever played SS but with his defense I imagine he could be moved to 3B and handle it easily enough….FA at the end of the year, and wouldn’t cost a lot of prospects, just an idea. Thoughts?

Interesting idea. Zack Cozart has been unreal this season. He’s hitting .346/.430/.612 (170 wRC+) with nine homers — he passed Aaron Judge in fWAR the other day (+3.3 to +3.1) — plus he’s an outstanding defensive shortstop. Has been for years. Cozart has never played third base though, not even in the minors, so you’d be asking him to learn the position on the fly. That seems like a bad idea even for someone with his defensive skills.

I’m of the belief that you shouldn’t pay for outlier performance at the trade deadline, and even though Cozart has been a solid player throughout his career, he’s never done anything close to this with the bat before. Maybe it’s a legit breakout (at age 31)! Do you want to bet a boatload of prospects on it at the deadline? I’d rather not, though I like the outside the box thinking. Cozart is an impending free agent, so the Reds are going to trade him. My guess is he winds up with the Nationals. They’ll go with Cozart at short and put Trea Turner back in center field to cover for the Eaton injury.

Dan asks: The two Sundays, Acevedo and German, can you tell us if they either of them are rotation options this year?

Domingo German yes, Domingo Acevedo no. Acevedo is more of a 2018 guy. Also, I don’t think German is someone the Yankees could count on for more than a spot start right now either. He’s having a fine season and by all accounts his stuff has returned following Tommy John surgery, but he had never pitched above High-A prior to this season. I could see him getting called up to make a spot start because he is already on the 40-man roster — not to mention a token September call-up to sit in the bullpen all month — but probably nothing more this year. Acevedo just got to Double-A himself and there are too many MLB ready (or readier) arms ahead of him at the moment. I don’t see him debuting in 2017.

Dave asks (short version): With Chance Adams pitching so well, doesn’t a six-man rotation make sense for them right now? Most of the rotation could use the extra rest (Tanaka, CC) or the limited innings (Sevy, Jordan).

The Yankees have been playing with a three-man bench and an eight-man bullpen for a few weeks now, and of course that eight-reliever isn’t pitching a whole lot. Right now Gio Gallegos is the eighth reliever with Tommy Layne the “he doesn’t pitch much either” seventh reliever. Carrying a sixth starter instead of an eighth reliever seems like a better use of the roster spot. It’ll give the regular five starters extra rest — surely Luis Severino is on some sort of workload limit, right? — and also give Adams a chance to cut his teeth in the show. My official 25th roster spot power rankings:

  1. Fourth bench player, especially with first and third bases being so bad these last few weeks.
  2. Sixth starter to give everyone extra rest throughout the season.
  3. Eighth reliever who pitches maybe once a week. Maybe.

And there you have it.

Nate asks: Buster Olney hinted on the podcast that the Cubs may be souring on Schwarber. Would a package of Fowler + Sheffield + another arm make sense for both sides? Seems like Schwarber could do well in YS as a 1b/DH.

I wouldn’t trade Fowler for Kyle Schwarber straight up. I’ve never been a Schwarber guy. Said it all last year during the trade rumors. Let’s look at this objectively and strip away the Cubs hype. Schwarber is a career .212/.328/.435 (108 wRC+) big league hitter — he’s at .173/.298/.377 (81 wRC+) in 2017 — with a 29.0% strikeout rate, and against lefties, he’s hit .141/.262/.216 (47 wRC+) with a 39.3% strikeout rate. That’s not a new problem either. There were always concerns about Schwarber’s inability to hit lefties, and everyone just kinda ignored them for some reason.

Furthermore, Schwarber has no position. He’s a designated hitter all the way. And he’s a negative on the bases who recently had a major knee injury. Schwarber has left-handed power and patience against righties, and the Yankees do love that, but he offers literally nothing else. He’s a platoon designated hitter. I’m not saying I wouldn’t take him under the right circumstances, but Fowler and Sheffield and more? Not a chance. Schwarber’s upside is too limited given his skill set. His best years might be +3 WAR.

Schwarber. (Jon Durr/Getty)
Schwarber. (Jon Durr/Getty)

Gene asks: Putting contract and free agent issues aside, if you were the Yankees front office, if you could would you trade Aaron Judge straight up for Mookie Betts?

Yes. If we completely ignore contract status and service time and all that, and focus only on talent and expected production going forward, I would take Betts over Judge. He’s a few months younger, his combination of contact (career 11.7 K%) and power (career .196 ISO) is extremely rare, plus he adds a ton of value on the bases and in the field. I love Judge. He’s the man and I’m glad the Yankees have him. But Betts is the better player. I’d rather have him going forward. Now, that said, Betts will be a free agent following the 2020 season. Judge won’t be a free agent until after 2022. I’d take six years of Judge over four years of Betts.

Gai asks: Do you buy into Aaron Hicks‘ success this season? Where do you think he fits in long term? He’s a former top prospect and having an incredible eye is a very important trait to have as a hitter, so it makes me excited to think Hicks might actually be a long term solution.

Yes I buy into Hicks turning things around for real, no I don’t buy him as a true talent .315/.426/.550 (163 wRC+) hitter going forward. I would love to see Hicks keep that up, but I don’t expect it. That would be amazing. I think he could settle in long-term around, say, .280/.380/.450, which is obviously really good. Keep in mind though that Hicks will become a free agent after the 2019 season, so it’s not like he’s under control super long-term. Perhaps the Yankees should approach him about an extension? Eh. Might be a little too soon for that. I’m excited Hicks has turned it around and I’m excited he’s complicated the outfielder picture even further.

Quintin: Judge seems to always have long at bats. Does he rank 1st on the team in terms of pitches per plate appearance? Where does he rank in the MLB? Also, even though he’s having an amazing year, do you think it would benefit him to be a little more aggressive earlier in his at bats? Thanks!

Judge does always have long at-bats. He’s averaging 4.36 pitches per plate appearance, which leads the Yankees and is seventh high among all qualified hitters in baseball. The top seven:

  1. Anthony Rendon, Nationals: 4.49 pitches per plate appearance
  2. Curtis Granderson, Mets: 4.48
  3. Kyle Schwarber, Cubs: 4.46
  4. Todd Frazier, White Sox: 4.46
  5. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: 4.41
  6. Jayson Werth, Nationals: 4.39
  7. Aaron Judge, Yankees: 4.36

Brett Gardner (4.26), Matt Holliday (4.23), and Chase Headley (4.18) are all in the top 25 as well. Working the count is great and all, but at the end of the day, you’re trying to get a pitch to hit, and if that pitch comes early in the at-bat, so be it. I don’t think it would be a bad thing for Judge to be a little more aggressive early in the count, but what he’s doing right now is working so well that it’s not much of a concern at all.

Jeff asks: Inspired by Cone talking about Gardner’s base running prowess since he entered the league… is there any data that compares the value of stolen base % vs total bases stolen? As in, would you rather have someone go 15-for-15 in SBs or someone who goes 20-for-25? Thanks.

Sure. In the calculation for wOBA, the value of a stolen base is held constant at +0.2 runs year to year. The value of a caught stealing changes each year depending on the offensive environment. In a high scoring era with a lot of homers, a caught stealing is more damaging than it is in a low offensive era. Losing baserunners when the ball is flying is bad. When runs are at a premium, steals are worth the risk.

So anyway, stolen bases are held constant at +0.2 runs. This year a caught stealing is worth -0.416 runs. So going 15-for-15 in steal attempts is worth +3.0 runs (15 x 0.2). Going 20-for-25 equals +1.92 runs ([20 x 0.2] + [5 x -0.416]). In theory, going 15-for-15 is more valuable than going 20-for-25 because losing those five baserunners hurts more than the extra 90-feet five times helps. The stolen base is a weird thing though. In the eighth inning of a tie game, a stolen base could be huge. In a fifth inning of a blowout, it’s meaningless. I’ve always felt the blanket “steals are +0.2 runs” statement was overly simplistic.

Alex asks: Is it time to start thinking about Judge or Sanchez as the next captain of the Yankees? This year is obviously early, but in the next few seasons would that make sense for one of them?

Way too early. Way way way too early. Derek Jeter wasn’t named captain until 2003, in the eighth season of his career. He’d won four World Series and signed a massive ten-year contract by then. The Yankees knew he was sticking around. Don Mattingly wasn’t named captain until 1991. We’ve got a long way to go before the Yankees name another captain, I believe. I do think Judge is captain material because he’s an extreme team first guy with a great work ethic. People gravitate to him. Let’s just let Aaron Judge be Aaron Jdge for a while before we worry about naming captains. The same is true with Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Gleyber Torres, whoever.

Mailbag: Pitchers, Torres, Headley, Green, Harvey, Chapman

Big mailbag this week. Fifteen questions. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send your questions throughout the week.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Ross asks: Assuming Tanaka opts out at the end of the season, who would you re-sign of Tanaka, Pineda, and CC and what is the contract value/years you would be willing to pay?

Well, if Masahiro Tanaka opts out, it’ll be because he’s looking for more than the three years and $67M left on his contract. This is a difficult question to answer because he’s been so bad this year. Before this season I was thinking Johnny Cueto money (six years, $120M). Now? Hard to see that happening. Jeff Samardzija money (five years, $90M)? Brandon McCarthy money (four years, $48M)? It really depends how the rest of the season plays out.

Michael Pineda, if he keeps doing what he’s been doing, will best McCarthy’s contract, I believe. He’s still on the right side of 30, and he’s been pretty durable the last three years. CC Sabathia is a year-to-year guy at this point. One year, $10M to $12M or so. How’s this sound?

  • Tanaka: Four years and $80M with a Lackey clause (fifth year at the league minimum if he needs Tommy John surgery at some point during the life of the contract)
  • Pineda: Four years and $60M.
  • Sabathia: One year and $10M.

Those are my current guesses — and I emphasize, these are only guesses — as to what these guys will receive this coming offseason. I’d be open to re-signing all of them, especially if Tanaka is healthy and rights the ship soon. The Yankees have a lot of young pitching in the minors and that’s exciting, but give me as much pitching depth as possible. I’m definitely open to re-signing those guys at those terms.

Many asked: Why did Tanaka get the loss against the A’s???

One of baseball’s many weird scoring quirks, that’s why. Let’s set the scene: Tanaka dominated the A’s last week, striking out 13 in 7.1 innings. He left a runner on first base for Tyler Clippard in a scoreless game. Clippard threw a pickoff throw away, allowing the runner to get to third. The next batter hit a weak grounder to Chase Headley, who threw home for the out. That erased Tanaka’s runner! Clippard then allowed the runner who reached first base on the fielder’s choice to score, yet Tanaka was charged with the loss. Rule 9.16(g) explains this. Emphasis mine:

When pitchers are changed during an inning, the official scorer shall not charge the relief pitcher with any run (earned or unearned) scored by a runner who was on base at the time such relief pitcher entered the game, nor for runs scored by any runner who reaches base on a fielder’s choice that puts out a runner left on base by any preceding pitcher.

So because the runner who scored the go-ahead run initially reached base on a fielder’s choice in which the out was recorded on Tanaka’s runner, the run was charged to Tanaka. How stupid is that? That’s the rule though, so Tanaka got the loss against the Athletics last week. And there you have it.

Todd asks: I’m gonna need a ruling here. If Gleyber Torres makes it up to the show this year, do we get a revote for a new watch or does he stay on the sidebar all year regardless of level?

No re-vote! Torres stays in the sidebar all year, for better or worse. We’ve had other Prospect Watch players get called up to the big leagues in the past. Joba Chamberlain for sure. I’m pretty sure Jesus Montero as well. (I forget exactly what year Montero was the Prospect Watch guy.) The Prospect Watch is perpetual. Every game Gleyber plays this season will be added, regardless of level.

Matt asks: I see two trade suggestions all the time for the 2017 Yankees: either get a LHRP or a high end starter, but who wants to give up prospects for a reliever and who gets bumped from the rotation? That made me think, what if our high leverage lefty is the guy who gets bumped out? Is it just me, or wouldn’t CC Sabathia be a killer reliever if he airs it out an inning at a time?

Sabathia’s numbers against lefties aren’t great this year — they were hitting .278/.375/.314 (.317 wOBA) against him going into last night’s start — but that’s small sample size noise more than anything. Sabathia handled lefties well last season (.294 wOBA) and all throughout his career. Who knows, maybe his fastball will tick back up into the 93-95 mph range in the bullpen. That’d be cool. The big question is how will Sabathia handle the adjustment to the bullpen? How quickly will he warm up, that sort of thing. This is all hypothetical, of course. The Yankees won’t move Sabathia to the bullpen. But, if they add another starter, moving him wouldn’t be a bad idea given his age and impending free agency.

Jackson asks: The Yankees can trade for about up to an additional $3.6 million in IFA salary cap. What type of player(s) would the Yanks have to give up to max out to this number so that they can increase their chances of getting Otani?

Those international bonus slots usually don’t fetch much in a trade. The White Sox just traded a Single-A reliever, Alex Kratz, for roughly $750,000 in international bonus money last month. Kratz was a 27th round pick two years ago and isn’t really a prospect. A fringe prospect at best, basically. Based on that, acquiring a bunch of additional bonus money will be easy! But you have to find teams willing to trade their bonus money away, and I don’t think that’ll be easy. Most teams are looking to add spending money, not give it away.

Green. (Presswire)
Green. (Presswire)

Brian asks: Jack Curry suggested on the pregame show that Chad Green start getting high leverage relief innings over Clippard and Warren. I agree wholeheartedly. How long do you think before this starts occurring?

I’m not sure I’d have Green replace Clippard and Adam Warren in the late innings yet, but I would like to see him get some more responsibility. Now that Warren is the Seventh Inning Guy™ while Aroldis Chapman is out, the Yankees could use Green in the old Adam Warren role, that do everything reliever. One of my predictions coming into the season was Green emerging as a dominant reliever because he’s got a great fastball and a good enough slider (and no changeup, which makes starting hard). Right now it seems the bullpen pecking order is Chapman, Dellin Betances, Clippard, Warren, Jonathan Holder. Holder’s been fine, but I’d like to see Green used in some of those spots going forward.

Jim asks: The Yankees seem to be awful at hitting with RISP. But are they? How do they compare to the rest of the league??

I’ve been writing about baseball for more than a decade now, and my time at MLBTR and FanGraphs and CBS has exposed me to the fanbases of all 30 teams. And during that time, I’ve learned one thing: everyone thinks their team stinks at hitting with running in scoring position. That’s what happens when three hits in ten at-bats is considered a success. Anyway, here are where the Yankees ranked at hitting with running in scoring position going into last night’s game:

  • AVG: .240 (18th in MLB)
  • OBP: .322 (23rd)
  • SLG: .477 (5th)
  • wRC+: 111 (10th)

Middle of the pack in AVG, near the top in SLG, but bottom third in OBP. That’s annoying. I’d worry more about the OBP and AVG right now. Make fewer outs in any situation and good things will happen.

Dan asks: Could the solution to Chase Headley’s struggles be a platoon? As of this email, he is OPS’ing .749 against RHP’s and .476 against LHP’s. Torreyes is perfectly capable of hitting in a platoon with Headley if they go that route.

Interesting, I hadn’t thought about that. Going into last night’s game Headley was hitting .259/.358/.405 (111 wRC+) against righties and .173/.189/.269 (15 wRC+) against lefties. Headley has many more at-bats against righties though, and frankly he’s looked hopeless against all pitchers lately, so I’m not sure how much I’d read into those numbers. His platoon split has been pretty small the last few years too. Given how bad he’s been, I’m totally cool with giving more third base starts to Ronald Torreyes going forward. If that means a straight platoon, so be it.

Kyle asks: Are there any active Haitian ballplayers? Sharing an island with DR, one would believe baseball would still be prevalent. Any idea why so little crossover?

It’s weird, right? One side of the island produces gobs of baseball talent while the other doesn’t. Bruce Schoenfeld wrote about this earlier this year. Apparently a lot of Haitian players keep their backgrounds a secret and identify themselves as Dominican. My guess there are more than a few Haitian players in the show and we just don’t know it because they’re considered Dominican. The Yankees do have a prominent Haitian player in their farm system: Estevan Florial. Perhaps if he reaches the show and makes a name for himself, it’ll inspire other young players to identify themselves as Haitian rather than Dominican.

Anonymous asks: What are the chances the Mets non tender Matt Harvey? If that happens, does Cash make a run? I would think if given a choice Harvey would take less money (slightly less) to stay in New York.

Not happening. The non-tender thing. The only way the Mets will non-tender Harvey is if he suffers a catastrophic injury that will sideline him all of next season. It would have to be a Nathan Eovaldi situation. Why pay him a big arbitration salary to rehab in 2018 only to have him become a free agent after the season? If anything, the Mets will tender Harvey a contract and trade him. They won’t let him go for nothing. Also, Harvey might be one of the least likely players in the big leagues to take less to go anywhere. He seems like he’s going to chase every last dollar, like most big name Scott Boras clients. In the off chance the Mets do non-tender Harvey, I’m certain the Yankees would kick the tires.

Chapman. (Presswire)
Chapman. (Presswire)

Sam asks: Would a Dustin Fowler for Matt Chapman prospect swap make sense? Both are in AAA and have similar prospect rankings with Chapman just in the top 100 and Fowler just out on most lists. Chapman would be an immediate upgrade in the field and likely at the plate over Headley and the A’s are in desperate need of a real CF. It feels like it would improve both clubs right now. And yes I know #MTPS.

Interesting! They’re both fringe top 100 prospects, so in that sense they’re equals. Fowler is a very good defensive center fielder while Chapman is a Gold Glove caliber defender at third. He’s a defensive stud. Both guys have spent the entire season in Triple-A, so here’s the side-by-side statistical comparison:

  • Fowler: .312/.348/.583 (155 wRC+), 9 HR, 7 SB, 5.2 BB%, 18.6 K%
  • Chapman: .242/.333/.563 (125 wRC+), 11 HR, 4 SB, 12.0 BB%, 30.7 K%

They are very different hitters. Fowler is a contact lefty with some power. Chapman is a grip it and rip it righty who will strike out a bunch, but also hit the ball over the fence more often. Also, Chapman is nearly two full years older than Fowler, which is kind of a big deal. Chapman would, in theory, fill a hole for the Yankees because they need a long-term third baseman. Problem is the A’s need a long-term third baseman too.

I don’t think Fowler-for-Chapman is unfair in terms of value, nor am I against trading Fowler for anything, let alone a third baseman of the future. I just worry about Chapman’s swing and miss tendencies. I’m inclined to say keep Fowler and see if one of the 900 shortstops in the farm system can play third base long-term.

Zeke asks: What do you think about the idea of trading Aaron Hicks now and call-up Dustin Fowler? Really appreciate your blog! Great quality!

Not a bad idea as long as Fowler plays a ton, as Hicks has so far this year. If they call Fowler up only to use him like a true fourth outfielder, meaning once or twice a week, then forget it. I don’t like it. I don’t think that would happen though. Another thing: how much trade value does Hicks have? That’s not easy to answer. Are teams buying into this year’s version, or do they still see him as a reclamation project? I guess the answer to this mailbag question depends on what you’re getting back in the trade. If you’re trading Hicks as part of a package for a young starter, sure. If you’re dumping him only to open a roster spot for Fowler, nah.

John asks: With Severino’s latest good start in Baltimore on 5/30, it looks like he’s doing a great job mixing up his pitches. Last season one of the big talks with him was the lost change-up. How often has he been throwing it this year and how successful has it been?

Luis Severino admitted last year that he lost confidence in his changeup, which is why he rarely threw it towards the end of the season. Even when he went back into the rotation. Anyway, here are the changeup numbers:

% Thrown Avg. Velo Whiff% GB%
2015 14.6% 88.6 19.3% 63.2%
2016 9.7% 90.0 8.5% 46.4%
2017 9.4% 88.1 9.7% 50.0%
MLB AVG 12.2% 84.1 14.9% 47.8%

He’s been throwing the changeup as often as last season, which seems wrong. It seems like he’s using the pitch much more this year. Overall, the changeup hasn’t been great. Below average swing-and-miss rate and basically an average ground ball rate. Then again, Severino doesn’t need it to be a great pitch. It would be cool if it was, but he doesn’t need it to be. He’s a fastball-slider pitcher, first and foremost. Severino just needs the changeup to give hitters something else to think about. I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen from him this year. How could you not be?

Michael asks: I am reflecting back on one of my favorite Yankees from the 2000s. I believe this was before StatCast existed. My question for you is: Do you think the liners Gary Sheffield hit were as fast or faster than the 119 MPH Statcast record for a home run Judge hit earlier this year against the O’s?

Statcast was introduced back in 2015, so no, it wasn’t around for Sheffield, unfortunately. He was the original exit velocity king, even toward the end of his career. Sheffield’s bat speed was insane. The ball exploded off his bat. It amazes me that he could swing that violently and still retire with a 10.7% strikeout rate and a 13.5% walk rate. My guess is Sheffield produced exit velocities on par with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. That 119-120 mph range might be the human limit, you know? At least for now. In a few years players will be even bigger and stronger. Remember how only a handful of guys threw 95 mph back in the day, and now everyone throws 95? At some point dudes will be hitting the ball 119 mph on the regular, probably.

Alex asks: Zack Littell is putting up great stat lines in High-A for the second straight season, but it seems that there’s no room for him in the Trenton rotation, especially since Rogers and Acevedo just got moved up ahead of him. Does he have to wait until next year to get promoted and will that stunt his development?

So far this season Littell, who came over from the Mariners in the James Pazos trade, has a 2.03 ERA (3.62 FIP) in 53.1 innings with High-A Tampa. He split last season between Low-A and High-A, so between this year and last year, he has thrown 121.1 innings at High-A. That’s a good amount, though keeping him there a little longer wouldn’t be a big deal. At some point a Double-A rotation spot will open up and he’ll get the call. These things have a way of working themselves out. I think Littell gets to Double-A sometime in August and starts next season there as well.

Mailbag: Wade, Hand, Berrios, Greinke, Tanaka, Robertson

There are 13 questions and eleven answers in this week’s mailbag. Remember to use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us any questions. We get a lot of them each week, so don’t take it personally if yours doesn’t get picked. Keep trying.

(Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

Many asked: Talk to me about Tyler Wade.

Lots of mailbag questions about Wade this week, for some reason. Kinda came out of nowhere. I guess that’s what happens when a 22-year-old is hitting .307/.380/.436 (133 wRC+) while playing six different positions at Triple-A. Anyway, I’m going to try to hit on all the popular questions, so let’s get to ’em.

Could he be the answer at third base? Possibly. Chase Headley is doing the reverse of last season. He was terrible last April and then pretty solid the rest of the season. This year he was great in April, and he’s been inexcusably bad since. I don’t think Headley is really this bad, but if he keeps it up, the Yankees will have to make a change. What could Wade give you right away? Eh, it might not be pretty. ZiPS pegs him as a true talent .224/.284/.315 big leaguer right now and I don’t think that’s terribly far off from what Wade will give you in his first taste of the show. That said, I wouldn’t surprised if Wade outperformed that projection because he’s a contact guy and a really smart hitter. I think I’d rather see the Yankees go outside the organization for short-term third base help (rental Todd Frazier?) than hand the keys to the hot corner over to Wade this summer.

What do the Yankees do with him and Torreyes? There’s room for both on a four-man bench. Wade would essentially take the Chris Carter spot. The Yankees would have a backup catcher (Austin Romine), a backup infielder (Ronald Torreyes), a backup outfielder (Aaron Hicks), and then what amounts to a flex spot. Having Wade and Torreyes on the bench would give Joe Girardi more flexibility to pinch-run and rest guys, things like that. I like Torreyes. I like him a lot! But if it ever comes down to Torreyes or Wade for a bench spot, give me Wade. The Yankees don’t have to make that decision yet though. Probably not until next year at the earliest.

Are you worried about all the errors? Nah. Wade has nine errors this season: seven at shortstop, and one each at second and third base. Minor league errors aren’t really indicative of anything. The fields aren’t in the best shape and there’s a lot of hometown scoring. And, of course, the players are learning. Every time you move up a level, the game moves a little faster. Wade has been in Triple-A a little less than two months now. He’s a really good athlete with good hands and good footwork. The tools are there for him to be a good defensive player. I wouldn’t sweat the errors one bit.

Where does he fit long-term? I think the Yankees are trying to turn Wade into their Ben Zobrist, their super utility guy who gets 500-something plate appearances while playing all around the field. It never seems to quite work out that way — even Zobrist spent most of his time at second base, and moved around only on occasion — but that’s the idea. Injuries happen. Wade could spend a month filling in at shortstop, then six weeks in left field, then bounce around a little bit. Something like that. The Yankees have moved Wade around pretty aggressively since the Arizona Fall League, and he’s handled it well. He’s made himself more valuable through versatility, and because of that versatility, he’s carved out a spot in the team’s long-term plans. He’ll fit somewhere. Wherever the Yankees need him.

A few asked: What about Brad Hand?

The Padres are terrible and Hand, a shutdown left-handed reliever, is arguably the most valuable trade chip remaining on their roster. Buster Olney reported a few days ago that San Diego is letting teams know they are open for business, and Hand is the primary piece they’re discussing. He’s available. There’s no doubt about that.

Hand, 27, spent a few years as a spot starter/long man with the Marlins before the Padres put him in short relief last season, where he’s thrived. Last year he had a 2.92 ERA (3.07 FIP) with 30.5% strikeouts and 9.9% walks in 89.1 innings. So far this year he’s at 1.73 ERA (2.84 FIP) with 32.7% strikeouts and 9.4% walks in 26 innings. Hand has always had a good slider, and his velocity has ticked up into the 93-95 mph range with the move to short relief.

Hand turned 27 in March and he’s under team control through 2019 as an arbitration-eligible player, so he’s on the right side of 30 and he’s not a rental. Seems like a pretty good trade target, no? I think so. Especially since he dominates lefties (.211 wOBA since Opening Day 2016) and more than holds his own against righties (.283 wOBA). He’s a full inning reliever who happens to be left-handed.

I’m curious to see how the Padres value Hand. Do they market him as Andrew Miller without the hype? You could make the argument Hand is the closest thing to Miller in baseball right now with Aroldis Chapman and Zach Britton hurt. He’s been that good. I have a hard time thinking the Padres will settle for one good prospect and an interesting secondary piece here. They’re going to ask for the moon, which is what I would do.

That said, are teams going to be willing to pay big for a guy who was on waivers just last season? (The Padres plucked him Hand waivers from Miami at the end of Spring Training last year.) It only takes one team to take the plunge of course. There is no shortage of contenders in need of another dominant bullpen arm. My guess is the Yankees will resist trading notable prospects for a bullpen arm, even one as good as Hand. They’ll look for the next Brad Hand. The guy available for cheap who could benefit from a move into short relief.

Frank asks: Yankees are looking for controllable pitchers. Can the yankees do anything to pry berrios from minny? hes young, has insane stuff, and a free agent after 2023. I know my trade proposals suck, but is gleyber straight up enough?

The Yankees have the pieces to put together a legitimate trade offer for any player in baseball. If the Angels put Mike Trout on the market, the Yankees could make as strong an offer as any other team. The question isn’t whether the Yankees can get Jose Berrios, but whether the Twins want to give him up, and my guess is no. They’re rebuilding and he is, by frickin’ far, their most promising young starter.

Berrios is a former top prospect — Baseball America ranked him as the 28th best prospect in baseball prior to last season — who was historically bad last year. Not just bad bad, I mean bad for the ages. He had an 8.02 ERA (6.20 FIP) in 14 starts and 58.1 innings. Here is the full list of rookie starters pitchers with an 8.00+ ERA in 50+ innings throughout baseball history:

  1. Jose Berrios, 2016 Twins

That’s it. He was awful last year. Berrios started this season in Triple-A and he’s been very good since coming up earlier this month, allowing four runs total in three starts and 21.2 innings. Three of those four runs came on solo home runs Wednesday afternoon against the Orioles. Good to see him rebound. Has he been good enough to forget about last season? Eh, little too early to say that. Props to the kid for getting back on track and not letting last year snowball though.

Berrios will turn 23 on Saturday and he is pretty much exactly the type of player I’m talking about when I say I’m open to trading someone like Clint Frazier or Dustin Fowler for a young arm. No chance I’m trading Gleyber Torres for him though. Give me the elite position player prospect over the very good pitching prospect eight days a week and twice on Sunday. I’m wouldn’t even trade Frazier for Berrios straight up. Surely there’s a middle ground somewhere, though the Twins have to make Berrios available first, and I don’t see that happening.

Scott asks: How about a bad contract swap of Ellsbury for Zach Greinke? With the exception of the last year of Greinke’s contract, the difference between the two is around 10 million, and Greinke would be much more useful to the Yanks than Ellsbury is right?

The difference between the two is $10M per year. Greinke is owed $172.5M from 2017-2021. Jacoby Ellsbury is owed $89.5M from 2017-20. Greinke has been awesome this year (2.82 ERA and 3.18 FIP in 67 innings) and I love him, he’s a modern day Mike Mussina between his pitching style and grumpiness, but the Diamondbacks can keep that contract. On paper, it makes sense for the Yankees because they need high-end pitching and to clear an outfield spot for younger players, but goodness, taking on nearly $100M in additional contract obligations? No thanks. And how much longer will he be a high-end starter anyway? The time to get Greinke was five years ago, when he hit free agency as a 29-year-old still in his prime. Taking on a 33-year-old pitcher, even a great one, with over $170M remaining on his contract is asking for bad news.

Michael asks: Do you think we’ll eventually see Judge move to 1B a la Pujols and Miggy? Feel like it could clear up a potential OF log jam (especially if Harper is ever added to the mix), limit wear and tear on Judge’s body, and ultimately, provide a ton of value at an offensive position. Like the actor who played Ron Washington in Moneyball said, “(1B) is incredibly hard,” but I bet Judge could pull it off!

I do think it’s a possibility. Not right now because Aaron Judge is a really good defensive right fielder, but a few years down the line. Running around the outfield day after day while being 6-foot-7 and 282 lbs. can’t be good for the knees, you know? Add that to the normal “he’s lost a step” that happens to every player and yeah, a permanent move to first base could be in the cards at some point. When? I have no idea. Judge will answer that for us with his defensive play and health. Could be two years away. Could be ten. I don’t think it will happen soon enough to clear up the current outfield logjam, however. That’s something the Yankees need to address basically right now.

George asks: Even if Tanaka turns it around at this point (pitches to his normal low 3.00 ERA), he’s probably already cost himself dearly in free agency right?

James asks: After his start to the year I find myself thinking, how bad a year (excluding an injury) does Tanaka have to have to not opt out of his contract?

Eugene asks: If Tanaka’s troubles are mechanical rather than physical, is there any way a rough season for him could be a minor blessing? If he doesn’t opt out and returns to form, that has to be a win.

Might as well lump these three questions together. It’s too early to worry about the opt-out and what Masahiro Tanaka is costing himself in free agency and all that. He has 20-something starts remaining. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. If Tanaka pitches like himself the rest of the way, I think he’ll opt out and pretty easily clear the three years and $67M left on his contract. Jeff Samardzija led the league in hits, home runs, and earned runs two years ago and still got five years and $90M. Teams are desperate for pitching.

And as Eugene suggested, there’s a scenario in which Tanaka not opting out works great for the Yankees. Unless you think Tanaka will now be this bad forever, keeping him for his age 29-31 seasons at $67M total is pretty damn great. Getting a top flight pitcher at that sort of commitment for peak-ish years is damn near impossible. You usually have to give up a ton prospects to get that guy in a trade. This is all a long way off right now. The Yankees have to figure out what’s wrong with Tanaka and get him right. The opt-out decision is still six months away.

(Presswire)
Robertson. (Presswire)

Dan asks: If the White Sox were willing to eat some of the contract, would you be in favor of pursuing David Robertson?

Sure. Robertson is having a great season so far (2.65 ERA and 2.04 FIP in 17 innings) and there’s no such thing as too many good relievers. Bob Nightengale reported the White Sox and Nationals came really close to a Robertson trade right before Spring Training. From Nightengale:

The Nationals, according to executives with direct knowledge of the deal, were to send 19-year-old left-hander Jesus Luzardo and minor league infielder Drew Ward to the White Sox for Robertson, with the White Sox eating about half of the $25 million remaining in his contract. But the deal got hung up over money.

The Nationals would have gotten Robertson at roughly $6M per year through 2018 and given up their No. 10 (Luzardo) and No. 12 (Ward) prospects, per MLB.com. The Yankees have a deep farm system, so their No. 10 (Albert Abreu) and No. 12 (Jordan Montgomery) prospects according to MLB.com sure as heck aren’t equal to Washington’s. A more appropriate trade equivalent is probably something like Dillon Tate and Hoy Jun Park. Or Domingo Acevedo and Nick Solak. My guess is the Yankees would say no to that, even with the ChiSox eating half of the money left on Robertson’s deal. I’d probably be fine with it. Prospects are a renewable resource.

Paul asks: I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but what’s the better defensive alignment: Didi at SS and Gleyber at 3B or vice versa? I’m assuming the former.

I have no idea. We haven’t seen any reports on how Torres is adjusting to the hot corner yet. And how would Didi Gregorius handle third base? He’s played ten innings at the position in his professional career. My guess is Gregorius at short and Gleyber at third would be the better alignment because Didi is so good at short. Torres is good too! But I think Gregorius is better, so keep him at the tougher position.

John asks: Do you think the new character of the team (more young and hungry players, less overpriced has-beens) will have any influence over how individual players do in the end-of-season award voting? There’s been a bias in the past, but (not to get ahead of ourselves) will Castro show up better in MVP voting because he’s on an “underdog”?

Interesting. I hadn’t thought about that. There has been something of a bias against Yankees in awards voting for a long time now. It takes an incredible season far beyond what everyone else is doing for a Yankee to win a major award, a la Alex Rodriguez in 2007. They still get plenty of votes — CC Sabathia finished top four in the Cy Young voting every year from 2009-11, for example — but Yankees always seem to be underrepresented.

I think that bias stems from the belief the Yankees are supposed to be good and have such a big advantage due to their payroll. The Yankees definitely have a huge payroll advantage, but are they supposed to be good now? I don’t think many folks pegged them as anything more than a possible wildcard team this year. They’re overachieving! It’s a weird feeling. Maybe that could sway the voters to put Yankees higher on their ballots, though I’m going to need to see it to believe it.

Alessandro asks: Looking around the league, there are plenty of teams that need bullpen help. We have an upcoming 40 man crunch, would this be the trade deadline to start doing 2 for 1 deals with relievers (Tyler Webb, etc) to clear some of that up?

Two things about this. One, I have no issue with keeping all the pitching. I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Guys like Webb and Ernesto Frieri and Gio Gallegos aren’t great, but they’re usable depth arms. And two, these guys don’t have a ton of trade value anyway. You’re not going to package two or three together and get one nice piece out of it. Webb was on waivers at the end of Spring Training as part of the Rule 5 Draft return process, and no one grabbed him. Frieri was unsigned until March. These guys don’t have a huge impact on the 40-man roster situation. They’re pretty replaceable.

Julian asks: Should the Yankees consider dumping Layne for Tyler Webb? Layne isn’t getting the job done and Webb seems to be tearing up AAA this month, getting both lefties and righties out.

Yeah, I think so. Tommy Layne‘s leash shouldn’t be long. He’s a career journeyman, and if you cut him loose and he has success elsewhere, who cares? Not a huge loss. Webb has been phenomenal for Triple-A Scranton this season, pitching to a 3.27 ERA (0.98 FIP) with 33 strikeouts and no walks in 22 innings. He’ll turn 27 in July and this is his third full season at Triple-A. There’s a glaring need for a lefty in the big league bullpen. If they’re not going to try Webb now, they probably never will. I’d make the change. Chances are it wouldn’t amount to much of anything anyway, so I wouldn’t sweat it.

Mailbag: Hosmer, Freeman, Outfield, Defense, Estrada, Netting

Big mailbag this week. Sixteen questions and 15 answers. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the email address for all mailbag related correspondence.

Hosmer. (Brian Davidson/Getty)
Hosmer. (Brian Davidson/Getty)

Joe asks: What would an Eric Hosmer deadline trade look like? Do you think it’s a potential fit?

The Royals are pretty terrible and Hosmer is one of their many impending free agents, along with fellow core players Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. Hosmer, 27, went into last night’s game hitting .295/.358/.409 (110 wRC+) with three home runs, and he’s really turned things round after a terrible start. He was hitting .225/.281/.292 (55 wRC+) on the morning of May 1st.

Hosmer has developed a reputation for being better than he actually is. I guess being a former top prospect and cleanup hitter for a World Series champion will do that. The fact of the matter is Hosmer hit .266/.328/.433 (101 wRC+) last season, and is a career .278/.336/.427 (107 wRC+) hitter in nearly 4,000 MLB plate appearances. That’s not awful, but it is below average for a first baseman.

As far as the Yankees are concerned, the question is whether Hosmer would be better than their in-house first base options, specifically Greg Bird and Chris Carter. I guess it depends on Bird’s health, really. I’d much rather stick with Bird than give up prospects for Hosmer. But, if Bird’s ankle issue lingers and the Royals decide to sell, maybe checking in on Hosmer wouldn’t be a terrible idea?

The thing is, I’m not willing to give up a whole lot for Hosmer. I do think he’s a better defender than the stats indicate, but he is a below average hitting first baseman, and that’s not all that valuable. If the Yankees could build a package around their second tier prospects, guys like Miguel Andujar and Domingo Acevedo, then sure, it might be worthwhile. I can’t imagine parting with Tyler Wade or Dustin Fowler for Hosmer though, nevermind Gleyber Torres or Clint Frazier.

Jason asks: Could you imagine a scenario in which the Yankees ownership gets antsy and decides to buy big in either July or this offseason and target Freddie Freeman? What would a package for him look like?

This question was sent in before Freeman took a pitch to the wrist the other day. He’ll be out ten weeks with a fracture. Hypothetically though, I don’t think trading for Freeman would be an “ownership gets antsy” move. I think everyone would be on board with that, including Brian Cashman and the rest of the front office. There are not many players I would give up Torres to acquire, but Freeman is one of them.

The facts: Freeman is only 27, he is signed affordably through 2021, and he’s hit .309/.411/.602 (162 wRC+) with 48 homers in 858 plate appearances since the start of last season despite playing nearly all of his home games in a pitcher’s ballpark. He is one of the best and most valuable players in baseball. There’s basically no chance the Braves are open to trading him — Freeman is their franchise player, the guy they’re building around — but if they decide to put him on the market, the Yankees should go all out to get him. He’s an MVP caliber producer.

Would the Braves be wrong to ask for Torres, Frazier, Bird, and Luis Severino? I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s enough, to be honest. Torres and Frazier are great looking prospects, but they’re still prospects. Bird hasn’t been healthy for a while now. Severino? Well, you have to give something to get something. Add Freeman to Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, and the Yankees are set with a monster middle of the lineup. Like I said though, the Braves aren’t trading him.

Freeman. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
Freeman. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Michael asks: Mike. Am I being irrational in wanting them to trade Fowler but not Frazier (or Torres for that matter) for a SP..?? As a CF Fowler may project as better in the long term, yet I’m fascinated by what Frazier is likely to become and want to keep him no matter.

Not at all. Fowler is getting more hype right now because he’s having an insane start to the season in Triple-A, but Frazier remains the better prospect with the higher long-term ceiling. I’m not opposed to trading either! I just wouldn’t give them away for a quick fix rental, you know? Trading Frazier or Fowler as part of a package to get a young pitcher with ceiling and long-term control is perfectly cool with me. If I had to pick, I would trade Fowler before Frazier despite their early season numbers. Frazier’s upside is too great to ignore.

Pete asks: I just read your post about the OF production and the 160 OPS+. What was the best Yankees OF of the past 25 years based on overall OPS+?

Going into last night’s game Yankees outfielders were hitting .303/.407/.572 (157 OPS+) with 31 home runs in 520 plate appearances this season, so they have slipped a tiny little bit since that 160 OPS+ post. That was bound to happen. Even then, the Yankees still have far and away the most productive outfield in baseball. The Nationals are a distant second with a 148 OPS+.

Most of the best outfields in Yankees history are from way back in the day. The Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle teams. The most productive outfield in franchise history is the 1940 team (140 OPS+), which was led by DiMaggio. Next best is the 1961 team (135 OPS+), the year Mantle and Roger Maris raced to the single season home run record. Here are the best Yankees outfields over the last quarter-century:

  1. 1994: .317/.407/.497 (128 OPS+)
  2. 2011: .260/.360/.459 (119 OPS+)
  3. 1998: .299/.380/.482 (118 OPS+)
  4. 1997: .302/.380/.473 (117 OPS+)
  5. 1996: .291/.379/.482 (114 OPS+)

The peak Bernie Williams/Paul O’Neill teams dominate the list, unsurprisingly. The Yankees had some great outfields from 2009-12, though they weren’t close to the mid-to-late-1990s teams. I’m not sure the current outfield is good enough to best the 1994 outfield — that was a strike-shortened season, remember — though I do this year’s crew will go down as one of the most productive units in recent Yankees history.

Alessandro asks: Who is the 40th man on the roster right now? Is it finally Refsnyder? Or is it someone like Giovanny Gallegos/Mason Williams?

There actually is no 40th man on the 40-man roster right now. Well, no, that’s not true. There are 40 players, but Tyler Austin doesn’t count against the 40-man because he is on the 60-day DL. The Yankees have an open spot at the moment. Right now, my guess is Dietrich Enns is the last man on the 40-man roster. He’s an okay prospect at best and he’s currently out with a shoulder injury. Those dudes usually don’t stick around long. Refsnyder and Williams are the next men up on the position player side. If an infielder gets hurt, Refsnyder is coming up. If an outfielder gets hurt, Williams is coming up. I don’t think either is in danger of losing their 40-man spot right now. Enns is my guess. Tommy Layne might be next.

Charlie asks (short version): While we look great at the plate and pretty good in pitching (when I combine the performance of the starters and the bullpen), I’m wondering how the team ranks in terms of performance in the field. I know defensive stats are tough, but how are we doing?

Here are the defensive stats for the Yankees over the last three seasons (MLB ranks in parenthesis):

UZR DRS Defensive Efficiency
2015 -19.9 (27th) -38 (22nd) .700 (22nd)
2016 +5.0 (15th) +1 (14th) .708 (10th)
2017 -1.3 (15th) -2 (16th) .715 (12th)

Keep in mind UZR and DRS are counting stats, so the Yankees right now are on pace for -5.7 UZR and -9 DRS, which indicates the Yankees have been worse than last year. I suppose that makes sense. The Carlos Beltran to Judge upgrade is negated by the Mark Teixeira to Bird/Carter downgrade, plus Chase Headley‘s errors have annoyingly returned.

That said, UZR and DRS aren’t perfect. Far from it. On a team-wide scale, I prefer Defensive Efficiency, which is simply the percentage of batted balls the team turns into the outs. The Yankees have converted 71.5% of all balls in play into outs this year, up from 70.8% last year and 70.0% the year before. The MLB average is 70.9% this year. Simplistic? Sure, but I think this works best.

Jerome asks: If Gleyber asks for the number zero would the Yankees give it to him? What will it take for the Yankees to issue the #0 to someone?

I don’t think they ever would. The Yankees have never issued No. 0 (or No. 00, for that matter) and it just seems like one of those things they’d never do. Then again, I didn’t think we’d ever see a player wear No. 99 either, so what do I know? No. 0 is just weird though. I suppose eventually they will have no choice but to issue No. 0 because so many other numbers are retired, but we’ll all be long gone by time that happens. A player wearing No. 0 would be kinda cool — wouldn’t Ronald Torreyes be a fun No. 0? — but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for it to happen.

Gleyber. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

Bobby asks: As I read Steven’s piece on the potential for a Yankees-Astros rivalry, I thought about how the battles with Cleveland, Anaheim and Seattle in the past and how replicating those seem less plausible now that teams in the same league but different divisions only play two series per year. Do you support the unbalanced schedule and inter-league play or would you rather balance things out to see the A.L. central/west teams more often?

I would greatly prefer a balanced schedule with no interleague play. It would add more drama and intrigue to the World Series because there’s no chance the two pennant winners will have played during the regular season — the Yankees dropped two of three to the Phillies during the 2009 regular season — and also the balanced schedule would make things much more fair. Could you imagine the Yankees if they had, say, the Nationals’ schedule? The Nats are going to play 57 games, more than one-third of their schedule, against the crummy Braves, Phillies, and Marlins. A balanced schedule would make things more fair for everyone, especially since the postseason seeding is determined by regular season record. Interleague play is never going away because it’s too popular among casual fans and there’s too much money to be made, and the unbalanced schedule is more about travel than anything. I don’t see these things going away anytime soon.

Jim asks: I was a little surprised the Yankees held back former top international signee Dermis Garcia based on the power he showed last year (13 Hrs in 194 ABs) for extended spring training. Seems like move was based on his contact issues the first few years stateside. Might it be to rebuilt or tweak his swing to produce better contact? The Yankee minor league philosophy has been leave them alone initially before making changes.

On a scale of 1-10, I’m about a three with my level of surprise for Garcia being held back in Extended Spring Training. I thought he would start the season with Low-A Charleston, but holding back a 19-year-old kid who had a 34.3% strikeout rate in rookie ball last year is not stunning, regardless of his power output. The Yankees felt Dermis required more seasoning and instruction than full season ball allows, so they kept him in ExST. Not a huge deal or terribly surprising, as far as I’m concerned.

John asks: Do the Yankees have a better bullpen now than in 2016? Do you agree? Disagree? Why? Obviously without Andrew Miller who is arguably the best reliever in all of baseball it’s a tough argument to make, but on some level it does make sense due to the depth.

I do think the 2017 bullpen is better than the 2016 bullpen, at least when Aroldis Chapman is healthy. The Chapman-Dellin Betances-Andrew Miller trio is unmatched. Those guys were devastating for the short time they were together. Chapman-Betances-Tyler Clippard is a pretty great end-game trio too, but Clippard is not Miller, so this year’s late-game relievers aren’t as good as last year’s.

The key difference between the 2016 bullpen and the 2017 bullpen is depth. Adam Warren and Jonathan Holder, the fourth and fifth relievers in this year’s bullpen, are far better than the guys who held those roles last year. Do you remember who they were? It was Kirby Yates and Anthony Swarzak. Yeah. Really though, they were shuttle spots with others like Chasen Shreve, Nick Goody, and Richard Bleier. Either way, give me Warren and Holder over those guys any day of the week. No Miller stinks. He’s awesome. But the Yankees have a much deeper relief crew right now than they did a year ago.

Billy asks: MLBTR had a phenomenal in-depth look at the 1992 expansion draft. Using the same rules, who do you think would be the 15 protected players in the Yankees’ organization right now?

An expansion draft would be pretty fun to cover as a baseball writer dude. I’m jealous of all the NHL folks who get to analyze the expansion draft this summer. Anyway, here are the 1992 expansion draft rules:

  1. Teams could protect only 15 players in the entire organization for the first round.
  2. Players with no-trade clauses (either contractual or 10-and-5 rights) had to be protected.
  3. After the first and second rounds, AL teams could protect an additional four players.
  4. Players selected in the 1991 and 1992 drafts did not have to be protected.
  5. International free agents signed at 18 or younger from 1990-92 also didn’t have to be protected.

So let’s assume there will be an expansion draft after this season, meaning 2014-16 international free agents and 2015 and 2016 draftees do not have to be protected. Here is my protection list for the Yankees:

Teams can only lose one player per round, and I assume the Yankees would lose one of those pitchers in the first round. Probably Sheffield since he’s the best prospect of the bunch. It’s not often you can grab a top 100 caliber prospect in an expansion draft. Perhaps the expansion team would pop Hicks, though he doesn’t come with a ton of team control (free agent after 2019).

Keep in mind notable prospects like Chance Adams, James Kaprielian, Blake Rutherford, and the entire 2014-15 international signing class are not eligible for the expansion draft. They were all acquired too recently. Also, CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will become free agents after the season, so they don’t have to be protected. The notable players left unprotected include Tyler Austin, Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, Jonathan Holder, Rob Refsnyder, and Adam Warren.

Simon asks: I’ve noticed that various folks have called Dellin Betances’ breaking ball as a curve, knuckle curve, slider. To me it looks like a curve. Can we determine once and for all what breaking pitch he actually throws?

The grip never lies. Here is a screen grab of Betances throwing his breaking ball from FanGraphs:

dellin-betances-grip

That’s a knuckle curveball grip. Mike Mussina used to throw that pitch too. Betances himself calls it a curveball, not a slider. The grip says it all though. His knuckle is on the ball, therefore it’s a knuckle curve. It’s a very hard knuckle curve — the pitch is averaging 83.7 mph this season — but it’s a knuckle curve nonetheless.

Brent asks: Thairo Estrada has been performing pretty well for a few years and as of late has been on fire. He’s young and seems to be very well rounded. Is he emerging as maybe a top 5 prospect in the Yankees system? With some guys graduating and his good play.

Bob asks: I get why the Yankees are exploring using Tyler Wade all over the field. Why aren’t they doing the same thing with Thairo Estrada? He has played 3b and 2b in addition to his natural ss position so why not the outfield as well?

Going to lump these two questions together. I love Estrada as much as anyone, but no, I don’t see him as a top five prospect in this system. His offensive ceiling is too limited by his lack of power. Perhaps he’ll grow into some more pop and outperform expectations. That would be cool. I do love me some Thairo though. That dude can flat out play.

As for the outfield, I think it is a very real possibility. Estrada is a natural shortstop who has played a ton of second and third base in deference to higher ranked prospects (Torres and Mateo, most notably), and the outfield could be next. Keep in mind the Yankees didn’t have Wade play the outfield until after he mastered Double-A. They could do the same with Thairo. Wait until it’s crystal clear he’s an MLB option with no clear path to playing time on the infield.

Anonymous asks: Since it looks like SD has no intention of returning Torrens, do you think they would be amenable to a trade that will allow them to send him back to the minors for seasoning instead of eating an entire year of development? What do you think the Yankees could ask for and what do you think SD would agree to surrender to make this happen?

Generally speaking, teams don’t give up a whole lot to acquire players already in their organization. The Padres already have Luis Torrens, and while I’m sure they’d love to send him to the minors for regular at-bats, I don’t think they’d part with even a decent prospect to make it happen. Last year the Padres traded cash to the Mariners to keep Jabari Blash, a Rule 5 draft pick. Torrens is better than Blash, but still, San Diego already has him. Why give up something worthwhile to acquire him again? Maybe the Yankees could get a Grade-C prospect, someone from the back end of their top 30 prospects list, but that’s probably it. The Padres have little reason to pursue a trade unless they determine there’s absolutely no way to keep Torrens on the MLB roster much longer.

Dan asks: In wake of Aaron Judges and Gary Sanchez’s high exit velocity, should the Yankees reconsider putting up extended netting down the foul lines? Do you think there is an increased risk of injury as players start hitting the ball harder? Could they do so on their own, or do they need permission from MLB?

Teams are free to do it on their own, and I am all for extended netting. Players are so big and strong these days, and everything on the field is happening faster than ever before. A woman sitting behind the dugout got hit by a flying bat earlier this year and the game was delayed nearly ten minutes while she received medical attention.

“Pay attention and watch the game!” is not a realistic solution, and “fans won’t be able to get autographs” is not an acceptable reason to keep the netting as is. The netting extends all the way around, from foul pole to foul pole in Korea. There’s no reason MLB can’t do the same. Given the way things are going now, it’s only a matter of time until a fan gets killed by a foul ball. The longer MLB waits to extend the netting, the more likely it is to happen. They need to be proactive when it comes to safety. Not reactive.