Mailbag: Chapman, Gray, Tanaka, Gardner, Holliday, Keller

Got a dozen questions in the mailbag this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us all your mailbag questions throughout the week.

Chapman. (Presswire)
Chapman. (Presswire)

Dan asks: If the season ended today, would you include Chapman on the postseason roster? Especially considering the idea that his last postseason is causing him to be so bad this season.

Yes, definitely. Aroldis Chapman would be on my postseason roster. Assuming the Yankees make it to the ALDS — a pretty big assumption, of course — and go with an eleven-man pitching staff, here would be my eleven pitchers:

The Yankees would essentially be taking two of Chapman, Montgomery, Jaime Garcia, and Chasen Shreve in that scenario. Give me Chapman and Montgomery. No, Chapman has not been all that good this year, but at least he offers you a chance at dominance. The other guys don’t, really. I’m not saying I’d bring Aroldis into a tight one-run playoff game or anything like that, but as the fourth or fifth guy on my bullpen depth chart? Give me him over the other guys, no question.

Dan asks: Is it possible that as Chapman has gotten older, he is just losing some of his arm strength, and he is sacrificing command of his pitches to keep his fastball up in the triple digits? At this point in his career, should he think about trying to locate and command his pitches better even if it means settling for a 98 mph fastball instead of a 102 mph?

Yes, absolutely, and I think that is happening to some degree. One of the reasons Chapman has been so amazing throughout his career is not just the raw velocity, but how easily he generated it. He’d throw 100-102 mph and it looked like he was playing catch. This year Chapman seems to be putting everything he has into each pitch to get to that 100-102 mph, and I think that’s why his location has been so poor. He’s missing his spots consistently, and by a lot. He’s probably overthrowing. Chapman’s control isn’t great to start with, so I’m not sure scaling back to 97-98 mph ensures he’d his spot more often. At this point, I’m not sure what more we can do other than hope an offseason of rest gets Chapman back to normal next year.

Brian asks: What do you think of Gerrit Cole as a target in the off – season ? He was a Yankee draft pick at one time so there’s familiarity, he’s still young, had some injuries, still has controllable years, struggled some this season, etc. Can the Yankees get him on the “low”? What would it take?

I am always interested in talented 20-something-year-olds. The Gray trade somewhat lessens the need for a pitcher like Cole, though there are five rotation spots, and the more good pitchers, the better. The Pirates aren’t looking so great going forward and Cole will be a free agent after the 2019 season, so I think it’s only a matter of time until they trade him to kick start another rebuild.

As talented as Cole is and as good as he’s been in his career overall, I can’t help but wonder why he’s continually going backwards. I feel like this would be a much bigger story if fans and analysts hadn’t decided to never question Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. Cole’s last few years:

  • 2015: 2.60 ERA (2.66 FIP) in 208 innings
  • 2016: 3.88 ERA (3.33 FIP) in 116 innings
  • 2017: 3.99 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 167 innings

If a Yankees pitcher did that, we’d all be calling for a new pitching coach and new management and saying they can’t develop players. A player on another team does it, and we’re talking about him as a trade candidate. Shrugs.

Anyway, the Gray trade seems like the perfect trade benchmark to me. Same amount of team control, same age, similar career arcs (great early before some injuries). I can’t see the Yankees giving up three more really good prospects, even if two of them are damaged goods like Dustin Fowler and James Kaprielian. Never say never. I just don’t see the Yankees unloading more prospects after picking up Gray.

Anonymous asks: At the trade deadline we kept hearing about Sonny Gray as a groundball pitcher. How do his numbers compare to Chien-Ming Wang at his prime? Who would you rather have?

Wang’s pitching style was so straightforward — throwing bowling ball sinker after bowling ball sinker — and yet he’s one of the most fascinating pitchers of the last 10-15 years or so. It wasn’t just the sheer number of ground balls. It was the complete lack of hard contact he allowed.

We have some numbers for this now, so let’s look at it quick. From 2005-16 there were 1,019 individual seasons in which a pitcher threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Here are the ground ball and hard contact rates:

grounders-vs-hard-contact

Those handful of dots at the extreme lower right corner, the “lots of ground balls, little hard contact” section, are seasons belonging to four pitchers: Wang, Brandon Webb, Derek Lowe, and Dallas Keuchel. It’s actually like five Webb seasons, and one or two from the other guys.

Gray is a very good ground ball pitcher, though he is not in Wang’s class. Few are. This season Gray has a 54.6% ground ball rate and a 22.4% hard contact rate, which is really good. Wang used to run ground ball rates north of 60% with hard contact rates around 20%, however. Gray is an above-average ground-baller and there ain’t no shame in that. Wang was one of the very best ground ball pitchers of his generation, at least before his body started to break.

Michael asks: The Yankees are the only team in the league to have the highest run differential in their division but not lead the division. Any theories what makes them different?

Going into last night’s game the Yankees had a +125 run differential, which was fifth best in baseball. The Red Sox were seventh at +93. The Yankees have a deceptively high run differential though, because a lot of that was built up early in the season. Their run differential by month:

  • April: +43
  • May: +13
  • June: +56
  • July: +7
  • August: +6

The Yankees have been hovering around the +120 run differential mark for about two months now. Generally speaking, the Yankees have won a lot of blowouts and lost a lot of close games. Their record in games decided by 5+ runs: 27-11. Their record in one-run games: 15-23. That’ll skew the run differential a bit.

Run differential is informative — scoring more runs than you allow is good (duh) — though its usefulness is limited. It’s descriptive more than predictive, and even then, it doesn’t paint a complete picture. The Yankees are having a bit of a weird season with the blowout wins/one-run losses, and I think it’s just one of those years. An anomaly. Nothing really to it.

Andrew asks: If Tanaka opts out after this season, should the Yankees (1) let him go; (2) leave the door open to him returning for the same dollars and years; or (3) offer him a richer deal? I would say (2)

For what it’s worth, Jon Heyman says the Yankees will not “chase” Tanaka if he opts out, and they won’t bid above the three years and $67M left on his contract. I completely buy that. Should Tanaka opt out, he’s not going to come back on the same contract terms, so that “we’ll take him back at three years and $67M” is only for show. We tried, basically.

If Tanaka opts out, I think the Yankees are going to let him leave because I don’t think they want to get into a bidding war. I also think they want to unload his $20M+ per year salary to help get under the luxury tax threshold next year. If he doesn’t opt out, what can you do? You keep him and hope getting his age 29-31 seasons at $67M turns into a bargain. If he does opt out, I think they’re letting him walk. I’m sure they’d be open to bringing Tanaka back if his market collapses and they can get him at a reduced price, but that’s not happening.

Hakim asks: I absolutely hate the Red Sox but, believe it or not, I would prefer to come in second in the division and play Houston in the Wild Card. The Wild Card Game should be a win with Severino pitching, especially against a weak Minnesota team. We then should beat Houston in the ALDS with their weak and injured pitching staff. It would also be very difficult to beat Cleveland in the ALDS especially with Kluber pitching two games, none against our Ace Severino. I am sure that our manager should not publicly agree to this and publicly want to win the division but I do feel that that would be a mistake. I am wondering if you agree with me and if others agree with me.

Strong disagree. Avoid that Wild Card Game at all costs. The Astros, Red Sox, and Indians are all too good to start picking and choosing who you might match up best against. I know the Astros have kinda stunk in the second half (19-24!), but if they get healthy in the season’s final month, they’re going to be an awfully tough matchup in a short series. Severino is awesome, but no pitcher is a lock to win anything. Joe Saunders once beat Yu Darvish in a Wild Card Game. I’d rather avoid that winner-take-all Wild Card Game and skip right to the ALDS than get cute and try to pick the best matchup. That seems destined to backfire.

Julian asks: If Gardner finished his career in Pinstripes, would he get a plaque in Monument Park?

Nah, I don’t think so. I mean, if Tino Martinez got a plaque, Brett Gardner should too, but that’s not going to happen. Gardner has only been part of one championship team (so far!) and he was the fourth outfielder on that team, not a centerpiece. And I don’t think Gardner should get a Monument Park plaque either. That should be reserved for the all-time greats. Gardner’s merely been a really good player for a long time for the Yankees. No shame in that. I look forward to seeing him sock dingers into the short porch at Old Timers’ Day in the future.

Holliday. (@swbrailriders)
Holliday. (@swbrailriders)

Paul asks: Isn’t it a little surprising that the union hasn’t raised a concern over Holliday bring stashed in rehab until rosters expand?

No because Matt Holliday doesn’t seem to mind. When he moved up from High-A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton earlier this week, he told reporters he hopes to be ready to go Friday when rosters expand, and that was it. If he’s upset about the long rehab — he’s played ten rehab games now — he hasn’t said so publicly. I guess Holliday either thinks he needs all the at-bats to get up to speed, or is doing the team first thing by waiting until September 1st. Or a little of both. The union won’t make a big deal of it if Holliday isn’t. Besides, I think it would be hard to argue a guy is ready to come up when he’s still within the collectively bargained 20-day rehab window.

Damian asks: If you could choose one Yankee to play at an MVP level the rest of the way, who would it be and why?… Bring Judge back to his 1st half form? Tanaka or Gray for a 1-2 punch? Or maybe someone out of the box like Ells, Headly, or T. Frazier?

Aaron Judge, for sure. If his shoulder is hurt, and it sure looks like he’s favoring it these days given all the lack of hard contact and the way he constantly flexes his arm, I’m not all that confident in him turning things around. If it was a simple mechanical/approach adjustment, I’d expect him to right the ship. But if the shoulder is barking, that’s a problem. So give me Judge because I’m not sure he’ll get straightened out on his own. If not Judge, then what about Todd Frazier to add another big power bat? I think you’d gain more with Frazier going from his current level to MVP caliber than you would with Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Greg Bird, Chase Headley … pretty much everyone else in the lineup.

Alessandro asks: Not really a mailbag question, but is Jose Devers related at all to Rafael Devers?

Yes, Jose is Rafael’s younger cousin. The Yankees signed Jose last July to an unknown bonus. It couldn’t have been larger than $300,000 due to the spending restrictions. Jose, 17, is not nearly as good of a prospect as Rafael, so don’t get your hopes up. He’s one of those toolsy international guys the Yankees load up on each year. Some click, most don’t. Jose is hitting .240/.337/.337 (100 wRC+) with one homer and 16 steals in 51 rookie balls games this year. (Yes, a .674 OPS is a 100 wRC+ in the Gulf Coast League. Kids down there don’t hit for much power.)

David asks (short version): So is Brian Keller a legitimate prospect?

Keller, 23, was last year’s 39th round pick. This season he threw 144 innings between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, and finished with 3.13 ERA (2.55 FIP) and excellent strikeout (26.8%) and walk (4.8%) numbers. As I mentioned in DotF the other night, Keller has 157 strikeouts this season, the most in the farm system since Alan Horne (165) and Ian Kennedy (163) back in 2007. Keller has already made his final regular season start. His next outing will be in the High-A postseason next week.

The Yankees drafted Keller out of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he spent four years and got better each season. Check out the numbers:

IP ERA WHIP BB/9 K/9 K/BB
2013 (freshman) 33.2 4.81 1.57 4.28 4.54 1.06
2014 (sophomore) 82.1 4.26 1.32 2.62 5.90 2.25
2015 (junior) 97.2 3.50 1.28 1.84 5.99 3.25
2016 (senior) 107.1 3.10 1.20 1.68 8.64 5.15

Like I said, Keller got better each season. Textbook progression. Is he a prospect? Yeah, though not a big one. He’s more of a Dietrich Enns type than a Chance Adams type. Keller operates with a low-90s fastball and three secondary pitches (curveball, slider, changeup), and he locates everything well and really knows how to pitch, so it’s no surprise he’s carving up Single-A hitters. Some video:

The Yankees have a knack for getting pitchers to add velocity, so if they can help Keller go from 91-93 mph to 93-95 mph consistently, they could really have something here. He’s an interesting arm to watch going forward more than a true prospect, I’d say. Does that make him a sleeper? The expected return on a 39th round pick is nothing. If the Yankees get anything out of Keller, even if he’s the third piece in the trade, it’s a big win.

Mailbag: Suspensions, Judge, Sensley, Austin, Age, McCann

Ten questions in this week’s mailbag. I guess that makes this a smaller mailbag. As always, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send all your questions.

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

Michael asks: Assuming Sanchez and Romine both get suspended, can one (or both) appeal to delay the suspension to buy them some time?

They can appeal, sure. I imagine Gary Sanchez will get the longer suspension given the sucker punch. That was pretty bad. (Here’s video if you still don’t think it was a sucker punch.) Romine should only get a game or two, if he gets suspended at all. He was defending himself. The video doesn’t lie. Miguel Cabrera instigated the whole thing and Romine defended himself.

Assuming they both get suspended, I think the Yankees would prefer to have Sanchez appeal and Romine accept his suspension. Keep in mind it’s up to the player. Not the Yankees. They can’t order someone to appeal a suspension. They could ask him to, but they can’t force it. Sanchez appealing the suspension would allow him to continue playing while he’s red hot, and the appeal could shorten the suspension. The Yankees need him on the field as much as possible. If the appeal knocks it down even one game, it’s worth it.

Romine serving a short suspension means the Yankees would have to call up another catcher temporarily, and here’s the kicker: teams don’t get to replace players on the active roster during suspensions. This isn’t like performance-enhancing drug suspensions. They Yankees will have to play with a 24-man roster while Romine is out. So they’d have to call up another catcher (Eddy Rodriguez is the obvious candidate) and send someone down to make room. Pretty terrible situation all around. It really is. The Yankees had everything to lose and nothing to gain yesterday.

Anthony asks: Aaron Judge. With all his full counts, how close is he to the record of seeing the most pitches in a season?

Pitch data only goes back so far. Since PitchFX became a thing in 2008, basically. We have individual game pitch counts for pitchers going back further than that, but not for hitters. Here are the five highest single season pitches seen totals since 2008:

  1. Mike Trout: 3,136 in 2014
  2. Matt Carpenter: 3,101 in 2014
  3. Chone Figgins: 3,085 in 2009
  4. Dustin Pedroia: 3,078 in 2011
  5. Curtis Granderson: 3,070 in 2011

The most pitches seen by a Yankee since 2008: 2,937 by Bobby Abreu in 2008. Brett Gardner and Mark Teixeira both have several seasons over 2,800 pitches seen. The same guys have been near the top of the leaderboard the last few years. Trout, Carpenter, Granderson, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, Josh Donaldson, guys like that.

Anyway, as for Judge, he went into yesterday’s game second in baseball with 2,377 pitches seen this year. Only Jose Bautista (2,423) has seen more. Goldschmidt (2,319), Charlie Blackmon (2,289), and Gardner (2,286) round out the top five. Those 2,377 pitches in 125 team games put Judge on pace for 3,081 pitches seen this season, which would be a top five total during the PitchFX era. So I guess the answer to the question is pretty darn close, at least among the years with pitch data available.

Daniel asks: Steven Sensley! What should we know about this guy?

Sensley received a straight slot $125,000 bonus as the Yankees’ 12th round pick this year, and so far he’s hitting .292/.370/.584 (157 wRC+) with 13 home runs, 23.6% strikeouts, and 9.6% walks in 50 pro games so far. He’s been a beast. This spring he hit .314/.417/.576 with eleven homers in 57 games at Louisiana-Lafayette. After the draft, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer called Sensley a sleeper. “We like his exit velo, power, athleticism,” he said to Randy Miller.

Sensley has been drafted three times now — the Twins took him out of high school (33rd round in 2013) and the Rays took him out junior college (38th round in 2015) — and the scouting reports have consistently said he offers left-handed pull power and good athleticism. He’s going to turn 22 in less than two weeks, so he has been old for his various levels so far, which means we have to take the numbers with a grain of salt. I am intrigued but not fully buying in yet. I’ve seen enough late round guys come in and dominate in their pro debuts to know better. Sensley has some ability, and in the 12th round, that’s pretty much all you’re hoping to get.

#GREGBIRD (Times Leader)
#GREGBIRD (Times Leader)

Asher asks: Let’s say Bird/Holliday/Castro are ready to be activated before rosters expand on September 1. Who are the corresponding players sent down? Tyler Austin? Tyler Wade? Or do they send down one of their 13 pitchers- Caleb Smith?

For what it’s worth, Jon Heyman says the Yankees want to wait until September 1st to bring Matt Holliday back. We’ll see. I’m not sure they’d bury a respected veteran down in the minors on an extended rehab assignment like that. The moves are fairly straight forward: Starlin Castro replaces Wade, Greg Bird replaces Austin, and Holliday replaces the eighth reliever (Smith?). Wade never plays and the Yankees will have to live without an eight-man bullpen for a few days before rosters expand. Austin has performed well in limited time, but how else do you get Bird on the roster? The Yankees aren’t cutting Todd Frazier or Chase Headley, and they sure as heck aren’t going with six relievers. It’ll have to be Austin. Hopefully the Yankees get to make these decisions and they aren’t made for them (other injuries).

Anonymous asks: Who do you think is the future Yankees lead off hitter?

Man, I have no idea. Gardner won’t be doing the job much longer, either because the Yankees trade him or because his production will slip with age. Jacoby Ellsbury? No chance. He’s not even a starter now. Among the young players, Wade has the most classic leadoff profile as a contact/speed guy who will take walks, but I think he’s going to spend most of his career hitting down in the order. And that’s fine. I like Wade. But I don’t think he should be getting the most at-bats on a contending team. Maybe Gleyber Torres? He could work, though I’d rather use his offensive might a little lower in the order. The easy answer to this question: the future leadoff hitter will be someone no one expects.

Anonymous asks: Extremely small sample size but Tyler Austin has looked solid since coming off the DL. What is his future with the Yankees?

I’m not really sure. Austin does have a minor league option remaining, so the Yankees could continue to send him up and down next year, if they want. How many right-handed platoon first basemen can one team have on the 40-man roster though? The Yankees have Austin and Garrett Cooper, plus Ryan McGroom is a non-40-man roster option. Three of the same player, basically. It’s not like these guys are shortstops. They’re right-handed hitting first basemen. Their usefulness is limited.

My guess is either Austin or Cooper will be a 40-man roster casualty this offseason. Cooper still has all three minor league options remaining, but Austin is a year younger and has considerably more power. I’d much rather keep him. Austin sticking as Bird’s platoon partner/insurance policy seems like his only way to remain with the Yankees going forward. He has power and a knack for big hits (he did last year, at least), but guys with this skill set tend to bounce around a bit, unless they bring really good defense and contact skills to the table too.

Ryan asks: Excited about the Yankees being able to showcase their depth in September. It’s a whole new beast, and truly a time they can make an extra move in the East. People always say Boston’s 2011 collapse was due in part to the expanded rosters. With that being said, what roles do you see for Andujar and Austin in September? That’s 2 guys I’m excited to see make a major league impact in the pennant chase.

Limited roles because the Yankees are fighting for a postseason spot. I don’t think they’re going to start playing kids just for the heck of it in the final month. Joe Girardi is going to stick with his regulars down the stretch and he absolutely should. The goal is to win the division, and if that doesn’t happen, the secondary goal is win a wildcard spot. Every lineup decision and roster move should be made with that in mind. Austin could start against lefties. That’s about it. I don’t think Andujar will play much of a role aside from getting some at-bats in blowouts. The Yankees have made it pretty clear they don’t think he’s ready to help right now. Otherwise he’d have been up the last few weeks.

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

Greg asks: With the exception of Gardner, the starting nine and pitching rotation for the 2018 Yankees will likely all be twenty-somethings. In fact, their 40-man roster over the winter may only have a few players 30 or more. Given that we all complained about how “old” the Yankees were just a year or two ago, how will their average age stack up against other teams?

The team’s average age is definitely trending down. I mean, duh. The MLB average age for position players hovers right around 28.3 years old each season. Give or take a tenths of a year. For pitchers it’s 28.7 years old. That surprised me. I thought the pitchers would be younger. Anyway, here’s where the Yankees have ranked over the years:

Position Players Average Age Pitchers Average Age
2017 28.6 (17th) 27.7 (5th)
2016 29.9 (27th) 27.9 (7th)
2015 31.2 (30th) 27.4 (7th)
2014 32.5 (30th) 29.3 (25th)
2013 31.8 (30th) 31.8 (30th)

The average age is weighed by playing time, so the 22-year-old September call-up who gets five at-bats doesn’t count as much as the 35-year-old who has been in the lineup all year. Anyway, I’m surprised to see the Yankees’ average pitcher age has dropped more than the position players. Maybe I shouldn’t be though. Mariano Rivera retired and the Yankees have been leaning on youngsters in middle relief rather than signing veteran free agents.

As Greg said, the Yankees figure to get younger the next year or two as well, especially on the position player side. Gardner, Headley, Frazier, and Holliday will all become free agents either this offseason or next, and the Yankees could replace them with younger players. Younger doesn’t always mean better — the Padres and Phillies have the youngest rosters in baseball this year and they stink — but it sure beats being old. Having players whose best years are ahead of them sure is fun.

John asks: How much help would Brian McCann have been this season? He could have been the opening day DH and back up at catcher and first. His money isn’t that different than what we gave to Carter and Holliday this off season? So would he have been a better piece this year than signing the two of them?

I was in favor of keeping McCann as a part-time backup catcher, part-time first baseman, and part-time designated hitter. He would’ve taken Romine’s roster spot and gotten, say, 450 plate appearances in that role. McCann is hitting .232/.313/.407 (91 wRC+) with 13 home runs this season, making this the worst season of his career. I’m sure the short porch would’ve helped, but it’s not like Houston is a bad place to hit. In theory, McCann replaces Romine, leaving the Holliday and Chris Carter roster spots open. He’d also take Holliday’s payroll slot, so the Yankees couldn’t spend big on those two spots. I dunno. I’d rather have McCann than Romine, but how would he have handled playing irregularly? I was in favor of keeping McCann and I do think the Yankees would be a better team without him (duh). He’s almost certainly not the difference in the AL East race, however.

Brandon asks: Build a 12 man team (9 hitters including DH, one SP, one relief pitcher, one manager). You can only use 2 players from each division. The 2 players cannot be from the same team. Unlimited salary cap. How do you build your team?

Fun! And not as easy as you’d think. There are shockingly few quality left fielders out there. There’s about a billion different possibilities here, and I’m sure you could come up with the best possible team based on projected WAR or whatever, but I’m not doing that. Here’s my quick mailbag team:

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Pitchers
Buster Posey (NLW1) 1B Joey Votto (NLC1) LF Justin Upton (ALC1) SP Carlos Martinez (NLC2)
2B Daniel Murphy (NLE1) CF Mike Trout (ALW2) RF Craig Kimbrel (ALE2)
SS Corey Seager (NLW2) RF Giancarlo Stanton (NLE2)
Designated Hitter 3B Manny Machado (ALE1) Manager
Nelson Cruz (ALW1) Terry Francona (ALC2)

I really wanted to squeeze Sanchez in there. I was originally planning to go with Sanchez at catcher and Nolan Arenado at third, but Posey at catcher and Machado at third is the way to go. Machado was pretty terrible in the first half, but the guy is hitting .333/.364/.599 (148 wRC+) with ten home runs in the second half. That’s Manny Machado. Arenado’s awesome. So is Sanchez. Machado and Posey are better, so they’re on my team.

Mailbag: Gregorius, Frazier, Green, Torres, Bird, Solo Homers

We’ve got ten questions in the mailbag this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send all your questions and comments and concerns.

(Presswire)
Didi. (Presswire)

Dan asks: John Sterling just said that he thinks Didi is the best short stop in the game. Mike has said that he is found of Lindor, but realistically, where does Didi fit into leagues best short stops?

The best shortstop in the game is a bit of a stretch, though I don’t think it would be unreasonable to call Didi Gregorius one of the five best shortstops in baseball right now. My top five, in no particular order, are Gregorius, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, and Andrelton Simmons. Simmons is having an unreal season. The shortstop WAR leaderboard:

  1. Corey Seager, Dodgers: +5.1 WAR
  2. Andrelton Simmons, Angels: +4.4 WAR
  3. Carlos Correa, Astros: +3.9 WAR
  4. Didi Gregorius, Yankees: +3.5 WAR
  5. Elvis Andrus, Rangers: +3.3 WAR

Lindor is right behind Andrus (+3.1 WAR). Gregorius is fourth among shortstops in WAR despite missing a month — Correa has missed more than a month with his thumb injury himself — so had he not missed April, he’d probably be third on that list. Maybe even second.

The only three shortstops I would unquestionably take over Gregorius for the next, say, four years are Seager, Correa, and Lindor. I’m not sure whether Simmons or Andrus will keep up this pace offensively — to be fair, the same goes for Didi — and Xander Bogaerts … I dunno. I have no idea what’s going on there. He should be sooo much better than he really is. Must be infuriating for Red Sox fans. Long story short: Didi is awesome, though calling him the best shortstop in the game is a real stretch.

Ed asks: Will the injury to Clint Frazier allow him to retain rookie eligibility for 2018?

MLB’s rookie limits: 50 innings for pitchers, 130 at-bats for positions players, and 45 days of service time outside September for everyone. Exceed any of those and you’re no longer a rookie. Why is it roughly 25% of a season for a pitcher and 20% of a season for a position player? Who knows. Frazier is at 111 at-bats right now, so if returns in September and bats 20 more times, he will no longer be rookie (or prospect) eligible.

The service time criteria is another matter. I didn’t realize this, but apparently time on the disabled list doesn’t count against those 45 days for rookie status. I feel like I should’ve known that. Frazier was called up on July 1st and placed on the disabled list August 9th, so he picked up 40 days of service time before getting hurt. As long as he’s activated no early than August 26th (five days before September 1st), he won’t lose rookie eligibility through his service time.

I should note Frazier still gets credit for the service time. Same with Dustin Fowler. He got hurt in his first big league game and has been on the MLB disabled list since, so he’s racking up that sweet, sweet service time. It does not, however, count against his rookie eligibility. Frazier’s oblique injury was said to be minor, so I expect him to be back at some point. I bet they hold him back until rosters expand. We’ll see. Anyway, I bet he gets those 20 at-bats before the end of the season and loses his rookie eligibility.

Green. (Elsa/Getty)
Green. (Elsa/Getty)

Carlo asks: What do you think of Chad Green‘s usage? Since June (when Green started to pitch with regularity), he’s made 21 relief appearances (through Monday). Thirteen of them have started before the 7th inning, 17 have lasted more than 3 outs, and only once has he pitched on consecutive days. Is using Green for multiple innings (followed by multiple days of rest) and often during the middle innings the most effective way to utilize him? Is his usage pattern simply the result of the SuperPen and other relievers having longer track records?

Bullpens are a weird thing. Every once in a while teams stubble upon a guy like Green, who is so dominant and can pitch multiple innings, and they immediately move him into a strict one-inning setup or closer role. They take this guy who is so valuable, and they use him less. It makes no sense, but it happens all the time. Even Chris Devenski is only throwing an inning at a time these days.

I like the way Green has been used, and it’s important to note it works because the Yankees have other good relievers. Joe Girardi can use Green for two or three innings, then let him rest two or three days knowing he has David Robertson and Dellin Betances and others. That’s quite the luxury. Using Green for multiple innings one day only to rely on, say, Jonathan Holder and Tyler Clippard to set up the other days maybe doesn’t work as well.

I do think that, if the Yankees hadn’t brought in Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, we’d see Green work in shorter bursts and pitch more days. He’d probably be working one inning at a time as the seventh inning guy by now, right? Probably. I’m not sure there is a correct answer to the “is this the best way to use him?” question. It really depends on the rest of the bullpen and whether or not the pitcher can throw multiple innings and remain effective. I like the way the Yankees have been using Green. Nice having that multi-inning weapon.

Ed asks: I must be missing something on why Torres would need to be protected this year. According to the MLB website, a player that was 19 or older when he signs to play pro ball in the US has to wait 4 years before he’s eligible to be picked in the Rule 5 Draft. Players 18 or younger have to wait 5 years before they can be drafted. Torres is 20 now, 21 in December. His first year in the US was 2014 (at 16 years old), so this is his 4 the season stateside. Why would he have to be protected this year? What am I missing??

The Rule 5 Draft eligibility rules are written in a confusing way. Players who sign at 18 or younger are eligible to be picked in the Rule 5 Draft for their fifth pro season, not after their fifth pro season. Similarly, players who sign at 19+ can be picked for their fourth pro season. This is Gleyber Torres‘ fourth pro season. He’s been playing games since 2014, making next year his fifth pro season, hence his eligibility for this winter’s Rule 5 Draft.

Things can be confusing with the Rule 5 Draft and international players. Torres signed with the Cubs on July 2nd, 2013, though he signed a 2014 contract. That’s typical. Players who sign right after the signing period opens sign contracts that begin the following season. They go bide their time and work out in the complex the rest of the year rather than burn one of their pre-Rule 5 Draft years to play maybe a month’s worth of games.

Update: I’m wrong, disregard. I’ve been told players who sign at 18 or younger do get five years in the minors before being Rule 5 Draft eligible, however that first partial season counts even if the player didn’t play. Torres signed in July 2013, so his five years are 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. The same is true for guys who sign at 19 or older. They get four years in the minors, though that first partial season counts. My bad.

If you’re still in doubt, just use another player as a reference point. The Mets sign Amed Rosario on July 2nd, 2012, and added him to their 40-man this past winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. The Cubs signed Torres on July 2nd, 2013, so the Yankees will have to add him to their 40-man this offseason. Lots and lots of international players are rushed to the big leagues because they’re Rule 5 Draft eligible and on the 40-man at such a young age. It’s a bit of a problem. I’d like to see MLB maybe create a uniform Rule 5 Draft eligibility age. Maybe 23?

Anonymous asks: Mike, if Bird returns and reclaims first base would they cut ties with T. Frazier..??

No way. Todd Frazier has come through with some pretty big hits (and sac flies) the last few weeks, but overall, he’s pretty underwhelming offensively. Lots of popups. Lots and lots and lots of popups. That’s why I don’t expect his .224 BABIP to climb all that much, if at all. All those popups are easy outs. Still though, rosters expand two weeks from today, so pretty soon there will be no roster crunch. We have no idea what Greg Bird will do once healthy, so cutting ties with a big league caliber bat to make room for him doesn’t make sense. Send down Tyler Austin when Bird returns, then rotate Bird and Frazier and Chase Headley at first base, third base, and DH for the time being. Once September 1st rolls around, there will be room for everyone.

Robert asks: Feel like every fan of every team would say this, but are the Yankees hitting an inordinate amount of solo homers? How do they compare to the league?

Quite the opposite. They are dead last in solo home run percentage this season. Going into last night’s game the Yankees led MLB with 83 home runs with men on base, and ranked 14th with 89 solo home runs. So 51.7% of their home runs have been solo home runs this season, lowest in baseball. The MLB average is 58.9%. Here are the top and bottom five:

Lowest Solo Home Run Rate Highest Solo Home Run Rate
Yankees (51.7%) Giants (68.8%)
Rockies (52.8%) Mets (67.6%)
Nationals (52.8%) Padres (64.7%)
Tigers (53.6%) Rays (62.9%)
Braves (54.6%) Orioles (62.9%)

The Yankees rank fourth with a team .336 OBP this season, so they have more men on base then most teams, hence fewer solo homers. I think? I dunno, maybe that makes sense. Anyway, no, the Yankees do not hit an inordinate number of solo home runs. They hit fewer than any other team relative to their overall home run total.

Vincent asks: Out of curiosity, why do you direct us to the ESPN website for box score and standings in the post-game write-up rather than another website? Do you favor the layout or added information they provide?

Both, the layout and information. ESPN gives you each player’s updated AVG/OBP/SLG line and, once the game is over, it provides first pitch strike, swing-and-miss, and foul ball totals for the pitchers. I also find it easy to switch back and forth between the box score and play-by-play, which I use to write game recaps. MLB.com’s Gameday/box score setup is kinda clunky, so I’ve been using ESPN basically as long as I’ve been on the internet.

Paul asks: If the Yankees are somehow in a 13-2 game or something like that and then bullpen is taxed, which position player pitches? Hicks has a cannon arm but for some reason I’d just love to see Toe toe the rubber.

It won’t and shouldn’t be a regular. I know Aaron Hicks has a rocket arm and he did pitch in high school, but you can’t risk injury with such an important player. Ronald Torreyes seems like a good bet to be the designated position player who pitches. Maybe Austin instead? The Yankees are pretty short on infielders at the moment, but they have some first base depth, so maybe Austin makes more sense. Yeah, Austin. I think it would be Austin. If you’re interested in such things, here’s the list of position players to pitch for the Yankees. The last was Brendan Ryan in 2015. He threw two innings!

Eric asks: Where is Jeter’s baby? Hannah Jeter was due in June. Any news?

Hannah looked ready to pop at Derek Jeter‘s number retirement ceremony in May. Apparently she hasn’t had the baby yet though. Bob Nightengale says Jeter was not at the quarterly owners meetings this week to move forward with the sale of the Marlins because Hannah is due to give birth any day now. So there’s your Baby Jeter update.

Bart asks (short version): Pure speculation question; 2013 draft, let’s say the Yankees didn’t have 3 picks in Round 1, do you think they take only Jagielo at #26? They eventually took Judge at #32 and Clarkin #33 but do you think they would have chosen the order differently if they only had 1 or 2 picks or was Jagielo clearly the best option?

It’s impossible to say, though my hunch is the Yankees still would have taken Eric Jagielo with that 26th overall pick because they loved his left-handed power bat. Back then, the consensus was Jagielo and Ian Clarkin were no-doubt first round talents, and Aaron Judge was on the bubble. Their pre-draft Baseball America rankings:

  • Eric Jagielo: 16th
  • Ian Clarkin: 17th
  • Aaron Judge: 30th

Judge was, understandably, considered quite risky. He swung and missed a bunch in college and no one knew whether he’d be able to tap into his power at the next level. Judge is basically hitting on the best case scenario right now. It’s awesome.

Back in 2013, I think the Yankees were willing to roll the dice on Judge because they knew they’d already landed two true first round talents in Jagielo and Clarkin, so why not shoot for the moon with that third pick? (They picked Judge before Clarkin, but they were back-to-back picks.) Figures Judge worked out and the other two haven’t so far. At least they’ve been useful as trade chips.

Mailbag: 40-Man Roster, Tanaka, Sanchez, Traded Prospects

Only nine questions this week, which qualifies this as a small mailbag. Once upon a time these things used to be three or four questions, you know. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you should send all mailbag questions.

Gleyber. (Scranton Times Tribune)
Gleyber. (Scranton Times Tribune)

Joe asks: How does the off-season’s 40 man roster crunch look after the deadline deals?

Not nearly as severe as it did earlier this season. Part of that is the trades and part of it is players playing their way out of 40-man roster consideration. The Yankees traded away three prospects who will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season: Ian Clarkin, Zack Littell, Tito Polo. Here’s a quick breakdown of the notable players eligible for the Rule 5 Draft after the season:

  • Will be added to 40-man roster: Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, Gleyber Torres
  • Won’t be added to 40-man roster: Abi Avelino, Rashad Crawford, Leonardo Molina, Erik Swanson
  • On the bubble: Daniel Camarena, Jake Cave, Thairo Estrada, J.P. Feyereisen, Billy McKinney, Stephen Tarpley

Camarena and Cave will be minor league free agents, so the Yankees would have to add them to the 40-man right after the World Series to keep them. They can’t wait until the November 20th deadline to set the roster for the Rule 5 Draft. I think Cave gets added and Camarena doesn’t.

Among the bubble guys, I’d say McKinney’s chances of being protected at this point are really good. Probably 90/10 or thereabouts. He’s having a strong season, he’s a former first rounder and top 100 prospect, and he’s only 22. There might not be a ton of upside there, but even a lefty platoon bat would be useful. Estrada and Feyereisen would be prime Rule 5 Draft fodder if they go unprotected, Estrada as a utility infielder and Feyereisen as a hard-throwing reliever. Tarpley has great numbers and is a lefty with good velocity, but he’s also never pitched above Single-A.

The Yankees have five players scheduled to become free agents after the season: Todd Frazier, Jaime Garcia, Matt Holliday, Michael Pineda, and CC Sabathia. (Possibly Masahiro Tanaka too.) That’s five open 40-man spots, though it’s really four because Pineda is on the 60-day DL right now and doesn’t count against the 40-man. The Yankees would be able to easily add Abreu, Acevedo, Cave, and Torres. They’d have to cut someone loose for Estrada, Feyereisen, and/or McKinney. (Plus any other offseason pickups.)

Anonymous asks: In Tanaka’s start against the Tigers, he threw only three (!) fastballs and 44 sliders. His usage rate according to Fangraphs has him basically abandoning the fastball altogether over his last 10 starts which have also coincided with a rebound in his performance. New Tanaka or is he buying into the new Yankees philosophy of throwing more offspeed stuff?

The Yankees in general throw fewer fastballs than any other team, though with Tanaka, I think it has more to do with his fastball not being very good than it does team philosophy. Tanaka’s not going to blow anyone away. Never has and never will. He succeeds by getting hitters to chase his slider and splitter, and lately he is using those pitches an extreme amount. From Brooks Baseball:

masahiro-tanaka-pitch-selection

Wednesday’s grind of a start against the Blue Jays notwithstanding, Tanaka has been pretty darn good over the last two months or so, and it coincides almost perfectly with the shift to the “no fastballs” approach. Here are the splits:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% HR/9 Fastballs
First 12 starts 66 6.55 5.68 19.7% 6.1% 2.32 47.8%
Last 11 starts 67.2 3.33 3.64 30.0% 5.4% 1.46 34.9%

Over those last eleven starts Tanaka has been close to the guy he was from 2014-16 (3.12 ERA and 3.53 FIP). The homers are still a problem and I think they always will be. What can you do? As long as most of them are solo homers — 19 of the 28 homers he’s allowed this year have been solo shots — you just kinda live with it, I think. There’s no other choice, really.

Is throwing essentially one-third fastballs a viable long-term approach? I don’t know. Maybe it is. Lots of sliders and splitters seems bad for the elbow. Then again, people have been waiting for Tanaka’s elbow to give for three years now, and it hasn’t happened. If he were that worried about the elbow, I can’t imagine he’d be throwing that many sliders and splitters. I think this is all a reaction to Tanaka’s fastball getting hit earlier this year. That’s all.

Eric asks: How long would it take one of our OF to learn to play 1B? Could McKinney or Cave start playing 1B in AAA, likely as Bird Insurance for 2018?

Depends on the player, right? One player might pick it up in a week and another might never get it at all. McKinney is the better first base candidate among those two guys because he’s not much of an outfield defender. He’s not bad, necessarily, but he’s not going to save you a ton of runs out there either. He’s a bat first prospect. Cave can play center field, so if you stick him at first base, you’re sacrificing a lot of defensive value. If you’re going to move one of these guys to first base, it should be McKinney. Let Cave use his speed to run down balls in the outfield.

Anonymous asks: Until recently the Yankees couldn’t draft their way out of a paper bag, on any round, early, middle or late, with the exception of the year the got Dellin, Robertson, Kontos, etc. Now, they seem to get good players in all 3 days of the draft. Maybe not all stars but projected major league contributors. Though it’s early, guys like Sensley and Wagaman, late rounders, from this year, already look good. Throughout, the draft was headed by Oppenheimer. What changed?

Nothing. The Yankees have been finding quality players in the late rounds of the draft for years now. Getting David Robertson in the 17th round in 2006 is the big coup, though other late round gems include David Phelps (14th round in 2008), Shane Greene (15th round in 2009), Bryan Mitchell (16th round in 2009), Ben Gamel (10th round in 2010), Tyler Austin (13th round in 2010), Chase Whitley (15th round in 2010), Rookie Davis (14th round in 2011), James Pazos (13th round in 2012), and Dustin Fowler (18th round in 2013). Those guys have all been useful to the Yankees in one way or another. That late in the draft, the expected return is basically zero. Turning a 15th round pick into someone like Greene, who gets traded for an above-average shortstop, is pretty great. The Yankees have had some big time misses in the first round over the last 20 years or so. Their mid-to-late round drafting has been really good though.

Adam asks: Does it seem to you as though Girardi made Gary Sanchez the scapegoat for the team’s recent struggles? I mean he’s not the only one that has made defensive miscues. Seemed like Girardi went out is his way to embarrass a young star possibly for his own self preservation. Love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.

There seems to be an insane amount of Sanchez criticism these days. Not necessarily from Girardi and the Yankees, but from the media and fans. It’s getting to be ridiculous. A 24-year-old catcher hitting .266/.344/.492 (122 wRC+) with 18 home runs in 80 games is a star, even if he does lead the league in passed balls. Maybe it’s just a function of expectations, or the whole “build it up so you can tear it down” mentality that exists. Whatever it is, it’s dumb.

Anyway, I don’t think Joe Girardi made Sanchez the scapegoat. I think as an ex-catcher, Girardi pays attention to that position more than any other. If he were an ex-infielder, maybe he’d have benched Starlin Castro for his slow double play turns or something. Sanchez allowed a lot of passed balls in a short period of time (five in 12 games before the benching) and Girardi wanted to nip it in the bud. It may have seemed silly to single out Sanchez when pretty much the entire team has been struggling, but that doesn’t mean Girardi shouldn’t have done anything.

Everything is Gary's fault. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Everything is Gary’s fault. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Kian asks: With the recent, and seemingly endless, struggles with RISP; can we get a look at where the stats put the yanks with RISP? See if it lines up with the eye test … which they aren’t passing lately. I feel like we struggle no more than other teams. RISP fail is such a big event I think we’re blowing it out of proportion a little out of frustration.

Every fan of every team thinks their team stinks with runners in scoring position. The team’s actual performance is irrelevant. The propagation of RISP stats is easily my least favorite current trend in baseball. Go 4-for-12 with RISP and you’re hitting .333, but 4-for-12 still looks bad and means you’ve missed a lot of opportunities. I hate everything about RISP stats. But, because I was asked, here’s where the Yankees ranked in RISP this year going into last night’s game:

  • AVG: .256 (17th in MLB, league average is .260)
  • OBP: .332 (20th in MLB, league average is .343)
  • SLG: .462 (6th in MLB, league average is .429)
  • wRC+: 106 (8th in MLB, league average is 98 wRC+)

The Yankees as a team are hitting .256/.332/.462 (106 wRC+) with runners in scoring position and .261/.337/.441 (107 wRC+) in all situations. Kinda weird they’re so close, huh? Funny how that works. It’s almost like if you gave everyone enough at-bats with RISP, their RISP numbers would look a lot like their overall numbers.

Daniel asks (short version): When farm systems are ranked, do they take into account the record of the minor league teams? Right now the Yankees farm system from top to bottom is leading their respective leagues. The farm system has done all this while losing some its best members to the majors, injuries and trades. Shouldn’t that make them the #1 farm system?

No and they shouldn’t. Minor league team records do not reflect prospect quality at all. Most organizations have 40-50 prospects with true MLB potential. The deepest teams might have 60-70. That’s true “hey if this guy clicks he could stick around for a while” ability, not “this guy might get called up for a few games at some point” ability. Most organizations have seven minor league affiliates: Triple-A, Double-A, High-A, Low-A, Short Season, rookie ball, Latin American summer league. Some teams, like the Yankees, have more.

Anyway, seven affiliates with 25-man rosters gives you 175 players. Those 100-something non-prospects and organizational guys are doing much more to drive minor league win-loss records than the actual prospects. It’s cool to see the Yankees’ minor league affiliates all leading their division, but it doesn’t mean much. Minor league win-loss record has close to zero correlation to farm system rank or future big league success. There’s way way way too much noise. So many non-prospects — both playing for you and against you — skew the results.

Steve asks (short version): Looking ahead toward the offseason, you think we should all brace ourselves for a Betances trade or at least “He’s available” rumors? With Green and Kahnle emerging and Chapman not going anywhere, would think Betances would make the most sense to trade from depth and get a really good return (prospects or MLB ready).

Oh yeah, it’s definitely coming. And there’s nothing wrong with listening to offers for Dellin Betances (or any player) as far as I’m concerned. Betances should bring a pretty nice return. Not an Andrew Miller return, but a pretty good return. If the Yankees do look to trade a reliever this winter, I wonder if they’ll look to trade Robertson rather than Betances. Robertson will make $13M next year and become a free agent after the season. Betances won’t become a free agent until after 2019, and he might make $13M total from 2018-19. Robertson won’t net the Yankees the same return as Betances, but he will help them get under the luxury tax threshold, and they’d be keeping the reliever with two years of control rather than the reliever with one. Ultimately, I think the Yankees wind up keeping both Robertson and Betances, and try to make a run with them next year.

Justin asks: How have Blake Rutherford and Jorge Mateo preformed since their trades?

It hasn’t been all that long since the trades, so these guys haven’t had a chance to log many games with their new organizations yet. Dietrich Enns got called up yesterday and made his MLB debut with the Twins. He allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits and one walk in 2.1 innings against the Brewers last night. He struck out zero in the start. Here’s how the other prospects have fared since the trades:

  • Ian Clarkin, White Sox: 5 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 4 K in one High-A start. He’s currently on the disabled list with an oblique strain.
  • Zack Littell, Twins: 11.2 IP, 13 H, 9 R, 7 ER, 4 BB, 11 K in two equally mediocre Double-A starts. It wasn’t one good start and one bad start.
  • Jorge Mateo, Athletics: 12-for-43 (.279) with two doubles and three triples in nine Double-A games. Last night was his first hitless game since the trade.
  • Tito Polo, White Sox: 7-for-26 (.269) with one double and one triple in seven Double-A games. He’s currently on the disabled list. Not sure what’s wrong with him.
  • Blake Rutherford, White Sox: 18-for-74 (.243) with four doubles in 18 Low-A games.

Dustin Fowler (knee) and James Kaprielian (elbow) are rehabbing from their surgeries, so they haven’t played yet (duh). It hasn’t even been a month since the trades, so I wouldn’t get too caught up in the results one way or another. And thus concludes your regularly scheduled “I can’t believe they traded that guy!” update.

Mailbag: Judge, Frazier, Ellsbury, Severino, One-Year Deals

Big mailbag this week. Eighteen questions and 17 answers. This might be our biggest mailbag ever. Lots and lots of people asked about the international bonus pool money trades and whether they mean the Yankees will go after Shohei Otani this offseason. I wrote about that earlier this week. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the mailbag email address.

Judge. (Elsa/Getty)
Judge. (Elsa/Getty)

Dan asks: If Judge’s slump persists, could he be in any danger of losing Rookie of the Year?

Nah. I don’t think the slump will last much longer — that doesn’t mean he’ll go back to hitting .329/.448/.691 (198 wRC+) again like he did in the first half, but he’ll be better than he’s been the last few weeks — but even if it did, he’s still done more than enough to win the award. Who is his primary competition anyway? The AL rookie fWAR leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge: +5.8 WAR
  2. Bradley Zimmer: +2.1 WAR
  3. Ben Gamel: +2.1 WAR
  4. Jordan Montgomery: +2.0 WAR
  5. Trey Mancini: +1.5 WAR

Zimmer has the most realistic chance to knock off Judge as the AL Rookie of the Year and this is basically the reverse Michael Fulmer-Gary Sanchez argument. Zimmer has only done it for half the year while Judge has been up all season. Also, Judge this year has been better than Fulmer last year, and Sanchez last year was better than Zimmer this year, so yeah.

As ugly as the slump has been, Judge has been “only” a -0.1 WAR player in the second half. There’s basically no way he can dip under +5 WAR for the season at this point, even if he continues to slump. His defense is too good. I’m sure some voters will find a reason not to vote for Judge — “He slumped when his team needed him the most in the second half,” sounds like a thing someone will say, nevermind the role Judge played in getting the Yankees to where they are in the first place — but he should still win the AL Rookie of the Year unanimously.

Artie asks: If the Yanks send Frazier down and recall him in September when rosters expand, can he still be on the post-season roster (provided they get there)? And if so, who does he bump from the roster? Joe loves having more pitchers than he needs so I would think the last spot would come down to Ellsbury and Frazier.

Brian asks: Do you think Ellsbury is left off the postseason roster?

Might as well lump these two together. Clint Frazier and every other player in the organization before 11:59pm ET on August 31st is eligible for the postseason roster, even if they haven’t played in the big leagues. Because Frazier has played in MLB, he can be added to the postseason roster nice and easy. A player who did not play in the big leagues prior to September 1st would have to be an injury replacement. The only stipulation there is that a position player has to replace a position player, and a pitcher has to replace a pitcher.

That last part is kinda tricky. The Yankees have Michael Pineda‘s spot to add a pitcher. So if, say, Domingo Acevedo comes up in September and throws fire in relief, and the Yankees want him on their postseason roster, they could use the Pineda injury to add him. The Yankees don’t have any injured position players who are expected to miss the rest of the season. They’re probably going to get a pinch-runner at some point, a Rico Noel/Eric Young Jr. type, but if that guy is not in MLB before September 1st, he can’t be on the postseason roster. (Unless someone gets hurt between now and then.)

As for getting Frazier and/or Jacoby Ellsbury on the postseason roster, that won’t be a problem. The pitching staff shrinks in the playoffs because you don’t really need your fifth starter or seventh reliever. The Yankees figure to cut down to ten pitchers in the postseason, or maybe eleven. That leaves room for Frazier, Ellsbury, and Aaron Hicks on the roster. Maybe the Yankees don’t need a Noel/EYJ type and will use Ellsbury as their pinch-runner?

Matt asks: If it were up to you, what four stats would you show when a player comes up to hit during a broadcast? As more advanced stats have pushed themselves to the mainstream, when could we see networks move on from the traditional AVG HR RBI OBP?

I am cool with keeping sabermetrics out of broadcast presentations. The Astros have things like WAR and wRC+ on their broadcast and that’s neat, but the vast majority of the people watching don’t care. I’d stick with the basics. Give me the full AVG/OBP/SLG slash line, homers, RBI, and steals. That works for me. At this point in time, I think less is more with sabermetrics on television. Let the announcers like David Cone talk about them once in a while, but I don’t think baseball should be forcing this stuff down the throats of casual fans. Those who want to learn about sabermetrics will seek the information out.

Dustin asks: Who do you think is more likely to be re-signed next year, Sabathia or Tanaka?

CC Sabathia by a mile. If Masahiro Tanaka opts out — I’d say it’s about 80/20 in favor of opting out at this point — I don’t think the Yankees will re-sign him. I don’t see them handing out any large $20M+ per year contracts this coming offseason because they want to get under the luxury tax threshold next year. The Yankees should be able to re-sign Sabathia to a one-year deal worth $12M or so. Tanaka is looking at what, five years and $100M? Maybe four years and $88M? I don’t see the Yankees going there. The Sonny Gray addition makes it that much easier to walk away too. The Yankees know they’re building around Gray and Luis Severino (and Montgomery) going forward.

Dan asks: What about Severino for Comeback Player of the Year? Maybe it’s more “development” than a true comeback but he went from having an historically bad 2016 to being a legit Cy Young candidate. That has to count for something, no? So whereas Berrios and Judge went from a horrendous 2016 debut to really good in 2017, Severino at least had a bit of elite success prior to his down year. Thoughts?

Nah. This isn’t a comeback. This is a young — Severino is only 23! — player breaking out. To me, the Comeback Player of the Year is someone who had a rough season either due to injury or poor performance, then bounced back to their previous level of production (or better). Severino made eleven starts in 2015. That’s not enough to establish a baseline for Comeback Player of the Year for me. Severino is just a young dude breaking out. The best Comeback Player of the Year candidate on the Yankees is, uh, Adam Warren? They don’t really have one. Michael Brantley stands out as the AL Comeback Player of the Year to me. He played only eleven games last year due to two shoulder surgeries, and is hitting .295/.357/.438 (110 wRC+) this year.

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Bryon asks: If the team can’t find a way to move Ellsbury, is it possible the Yankees don’t sign someone to DH full time and start Judge, Gardner, Hicks and Frazier, among the 3 OF spots and DH with Ellsbury serving as the 4th OF?

Yeah I think it’s possible. I don’t think they’d sign another DH only player like Matt Holliday again. That’s for sure. They might someone who can actually play the field, likely first base or the corner outfield, with the idea of giving them DH at-bats at times. But a full-time DH? Nah. Even if the Yankees manage to unload Ellsbury, they’d still have to figure out how to get Frazier, Judge, Hicks, and Brett Gardner regular at-bats. And don’t forget Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar too. Those dudes are going to be a factor next year.

Gene asks: Rick Porcello has a legit shot at losing 20 games this year. Has a CY winner ever lost 20 games the year after winning the award? For that matter, has any CY winner ever lost 20 games in a season in his career, whether before or after winning the award?

Oh sure, plenty of Cy Young winners have lost 20 games at some point in their careers, especially back in the day when guys used to make 40-something starts a year. Steve Carlton went 27-10 and won the Cy Young in 1972, then went 13-20 in 1973. Porcello went 22-4 last year, and after last night’s win, he is 5-14 this year with about about ten starts to go. Losing 20 games is possible, though I’d bet against it.

(If you’re interested, here’s a list of 20-game losers. The last was Mike Maroth with the 2003 Tigers. That had to be the worst team of my lifetime.)

John asks: As a team the yankees seem to be a bad baserunning team. But Is it just me or is Gardner the best Yankee baserunner by a mile? He always seems to take the extra base and have a knack to know when to steal. Additionally Gary really is scary but doesn’t seem to be scary on the basepaths. I know he is slow but he seems lost on the bases at times. Do you have stats to show who are the best and worst yankee baserunners and how the yankees are compared to other teams?

Gardner is pretty easily the best baserunner on the Yankees and one of the best in baseball. I know he frustrates people because he doesn’t run first pitch every time he’s on the first base — that’s not realistic at all — but he’s a highly efficient basestealer (15-for-18 this year) and an extra-base taking monster. He’s taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) 54% of the time this year. That’s actually down from 56% last year and 58% the year before. The league average is 40%. Since 2015, Gardner is seventh among all players with +14.4 runs on the bases, per FanGraphs.

The Yankees as a team are middle of the pack when it comes to running the bases, closer to the top than the bottom. Some quick ranks:

  • Steals: 64 (9th in MLB)
  • SB Success Rate: 79% (2nd)
  • FanGraphs Baserunning: +2.1 runs (12th)
  • Baseball Prospectus Baserunning: +5.8 runs (6th)

Is Sanchez really that bad running the bases? I hadn’t noticed. He’s slow because he’s a catcher and pretty much every catcher is slow, but slow doesn’t automatically equal bad. Starlin Castro is far and away the worst baserunner on the Yankees. He makes a lot of boneheaded mistakes. Didi Gregorius can be an adventure too.

Zach asks: If the offer was on the table, would you have rather offered Torres or Frazier straight up for Sonny Gray, rather than 3 other top 10 prospects?

Keep Torres and Frazier for sure. Keep the elite talent — Gleyber is unquestionably elite in my opinion, Frazier is arguable, though he’s obviously very talented — and trade the merely very good talent. Especially when two of those three very good talents are recovering from major injuries. I know Torres is coming back from Tommy John surgery himself, though it’s to his non-throwing arm, and that’s not nearly as much of a long-term risk as a pitcher having Tommy John surgery or a center fielder have an open rupture of his patella tendon. Quality over quantity. Giving up Dustin Fowler, Jorge Mateo, and James Kaprielian hurts. Getting Gray was always going to hurt. But the Yankees managed to keep their very best prospects and that’s a good thing.

Timothy asks: If you could take back one of the players from the Gray trade and send a similarly-ranked, similar position prospect in his place, who would you swap?

That’s a tough question. Kaprielian’s had to many injury issues the last two years to swap out, I think. I’d probably keep Fowler over Mateo despite the knee injury. Fowler has performed everywhere he’s played and even if he slows down and has to move to a corner outfield spot full-time following the injury, I think he’ll do enough things to help his team win. Mateo has loud tools, though he hasn’t always performed, so I’m most skeptical of him going forward. I’d swap out Fowler for … I guess Tyler Wade? I’ve had them ranked similarly over the last year or so.

Pete asks: If the WC game was next week and the Yankees had their choice of pitcher to throw out there (ie rest/turn in the rotation isn’t an issue), who would it be?

Severino for sure. I don’t think going with any one of Severino, Gray, or Tanaka would be a bad move. They’re all capable as far as I’m concerned. Severino has pitched the best up to this point though, so he’s my choice. That said, the Yankees aren’t thinking wildcard. The AL East is winnable. The postseason preference list is this:

  1. Win the AL East with ease and set up your rotation for the ALDS.
  2. Win the AL East on the last day and not be able to set up your rotation for the ALDS.
  3. Win a wildcard spot with ease and line up your preferred pitcher for the Wild Card Game.
  4. Win a wildcard spot on the last day and not be able to line up your preferred pitcher for the Wild Card Game.

Back in 2015, Tanaka was an easy call to start the Wild Card Game in my opinion. Severino pitched well in eleven starts that year but it was eleven starts, and Tanaka had been better for longer. This year it’s a little more wide open and not because everyone stinks. Tanaka has turned things around and has been pitching much better. This Tanaka, this Severino, and Gray are all viable Wild Card Game options for me. I’d be happy starting any of them in the Wild Card Game or Game One of the ALDS.

Andujar. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Andujar. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Michael asks: Cashman did a great job with trades. Still, Yanks need another bat. Assuming (dangerous word) Yanks don’t pull a waiver deal, what about bringing up Andujar? Although not the preferred LH bat, he’s already on 40-man, can DH and play 3B, and with Todd F and Chase (gives Girardi plenty of flexibility without increasing payroll.

For me, it’s starting to get to that point. Holliday has been so bad these last few weeks. So, so bad. He’s hitting .142/.208/.257 (19 wRC+) in 125 plate appearances since June 12th and that can’t on forever. A DH who doesn’t H isn’t even a zero. He’s a negative. Alex Rodriguez hit .190/.230/.267 (29 wRC+) in his final 126 plate appearances before being released last season. Alfonso Soriano hit .200/.209/.320 (39 wRC+) in his final 129 plate appearances before being released in 2014.

I’m not saying the Yankees should release Holliday. But they can’t keep running him out there every single day and wait for things to turn around. Both A-Rod and Soriano were already well into the “losing at-bats” phase of their slumps by this point. Earlier this year I was totally cool with keeping Andujar in Triple-A to work on his defense. Now that we’re later into the season and the postseason race is heating up, the Yankees have to put their best team on the field, and it wouldn’t take much for Andujar to be an upgrade over this version of Holliday. In all likelihood, the Yankees won’t call up Andujar and will wait for Hicks to return before taking at-bats away from Holliday.

Marc asks: You recently talked about Matt Holliday’s slump and him seemingly turning into Travis Hafner. Can you talk about the Yankees success (or lack thereof) of their most recent 1-year off-season free-agent contracts for hitters, say over the last 7 years or so? Feels like there has been a lot of futility in this type of contract…

According to the MLBTR Transaction Tracker, the Yankees have signed 12 position players to guaranteed one-year Major League contracts since the start of the 2010-11 offseason. That doesn’t include the one-year Derek Jeter extension in November 2013. Here are the results:

  • Chris Carter ($3.5M for 2017): -0.7 WAR and released at midseason.
  • Matt Holliday ($13M for 2017): +0.0 WAR and trending down at this point.
  • Stephen Drew ($5M for 2015): +0.4 WAR because he could field but not hit.
  • Chris Young ($2.5M for 2015): +1.2 WAR as arguably the best fourth outfielder in baseball.
  • Brian Roberts ($2M for 2014): +1.5 WAR and released at midseason.
  • Kelly Johnson ($3M for 2014): +0.7 WAR and traded for Drew at the deadline.
  • Travis Hafner ($2M for 2013): -0.1 WAR and hurt for much of the year.
  • Kevin Youkilis ($12M for 2013): -0.2 WAR and hurt pretty much all year.
  • Eric Chavez ($0.9M for 2012): +1.6 WAR as a great platoon bat in his second year in New York.
  • Andruw Jones ($2M for 2012): +0.3 WAR and especially bad in the second half.
  • Andruw Jones ($1.5M for 2011): +1.0 WAR as a really good platoon bat.
  • Russell Martin ($4M for 2011): +2.7 WAR after being non-tendered by the Dodgers.

Martin was kind of a weird case because he was still only 28 at the time, and the Dodgers non-tendered him over injury concerns, not production concerns. He remained under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2012, so it wasn’t a true one-and-done contract. The only clear “yes we’d do it again in an instant” hits to me are Martin, 2011 Andruw, Chavez, and Young. Roberts’ WAR was basically all defense and having seen him play, I didn’t really agree with him being that good in the field.

Keep in mind the vast majority of these signings were small one-year deals for reclamation project types or role players. Many of these guys were damaged goods to start with. Holliday and Youkilis are the only big money deals. (The Yankees signed Youkilis because they had basically nowhere else to turn after A-Rod went down with hip surgery.) Andruw, Chavez, Hafner, and Roberts were all nearing the end of their careers and trying to hang on. Johnson, Drew, and Carter were stopgaps.

That track record is spotty at best, though I guess that’s what you’re going to get with these players. If they were better or lower risk, they wouldn’t get one-year contract. The Yankees won’t and shouldn’t stop looking for depth players on one-year deals. Just have to hope they work out as well as guys like Chavez and Young did.

Update: I missed Raul Ibanez. He signed a $1.1M deal for 2012 and put up +0.5 WAR that year, though all those glorious clutch dingers made it worth it.

Nick asks: Do you think the trading of so much outfield depth means that Billy McKinney is a lock for the 40 man? And what about Rashad Crawford and Jake Cave?

Yes, no, maybe. Yes I think McKinney is getting added to the 40-man roster after the season. He’s a former first rounder who just might be figuring things out right now, and even if you don’t think he’s going to help you in 2018 because he might need another 400 at-bats in Triple-A, he’s worth keeping around to see what happens. Crawford has great tools and athleticism, but he’s not hitting at all. I can’t see him sticking as a Rule 5 Draft pick next year. Easy call to leave him exposed in my opinion.

Cave is the tough one because what’s changed this year? I don’t know. I know the stats, but is something fundamentally different about Cave as a player this year, or is he merely beating up on the competition his fourth year at Double-A and third year at Triple-A? Cave is going to be a minor league free agent after the season, and right now, my guess is the Yankees will add him to the 40-man roster and keep him around as their depth center fielder now that Fowler is gone and Mason Williams is likely to be gone after the season.

Mark asks: Pretend Headley was a first basemen all year. How does his offensive numbers compare to the rest of the leagues’ first basemen?

Pretty terrible overall. Chase Headley went into last night’s game hitting .272/.354/.393 (102 wRC+) with five home runs, which is basically league average overall. The problem is the average first baseman is hitting .260/.343/.480 (114 wRC+) this year and Headley is well below that. There are 27 first basemen with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title this year. Headley would be the 28th. Here are his hypothetical ranks among those 28 first basemen:

  • AVG: .272 (13th)
  • OBP: .354 (13th)
  • SLG: .393 (27th, ahead of only Joe Mauer and his .390 SLG)
  • wRC+: 102 (23rd)
  • HR: 5 (27th)
  • fWAR: +1.5 (15th)

Chase Headley: 102 wRC+. Miguel Cabrera: 101 wRC+. Yikes.

Anyway, remember that +1.5 fWAR includes the third base positional adjustment, which Headley would lose at first base. The difference between first base and third base is +15 runs (!) per FanGraphs. Swap out the positional adjustment and keep everything else the same, and Headley is roughly a +0.5 WAR first baseman. Nope.

Justin asks: The Yanks have almost no left handed pop in their lineup this year which is very unusual. Seems the Rays gave up very little to land Lucas Duda. 1st base was a trade deadline priority for the Yanks. Why didn’t they offer a better package than the Rays to land him?

The Yankees tried. Joel Sherman says the Yankees made the Mets a comparable offer — I guess that means someone like Jonathan Holder or Ben Heller? — but the Mets didn’t want to send him across town. “The Mets just wouldn’t trade him to us,” said someone with the Yankees to Jon Heyman. I guess you could argue the Yankees should have just blown them away with an offer. Offer them Holder and Heller instead of one or the other, something like that. That doesn’t really make sense to me. There are comparable bats to Duda out there you won’t have to overpay to get. Had Duda not hit two home runs against the Yankees last weekend, I don’t think anyone would be sweating the non-trade. The Yankees tried, the Mets didn’t want to send him to their crosstown rival, and that’s that.

Stephen asks: Had Dustin Fowler not gotten hurt in Chicago when he was called up and he had been productive enough to keep Ells on the bench and in turn kept Frazier in AAA, do you think Frazier would have been included in Sonny Gray trade? Or do you think Fowler and Frazier would have been off limits?

I think both guys would have been off-limits. The Yankees said they were not going to trade their best close to MLB prospects and they didn’t. The only guy who fits the bill is Fowler, and he’s coming off a major injury. I don’t think he would have been traded had he been healthy. In all likelihood, a healthy Fowler likes means Fowler and Frazier are with the Yankees and Estevan Florial is with the A’s.

Mailbag: Severino, Santana, Sanchez, Cave, Judge, Anderson

There are 13 questions in this week’s mailbag, the final mailbag before the trade deadline. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the mailbag email address.

Sevy. (Rich Gagnon/Getty)
Sevy. (Rich Gagnon/Getty)

Erick asks: Considering Severino continues to pitch like this, lowers his ERA and FIP more, where do you see him at the end of the year among AL pitchers? Keuchel and Sale are definitely above him. Top 5? Top 10? Where could he rank among Cy Young voting?

Dallas Keuchel has probably missed too much time to get serious Cy Young consideration this year. He’s coming back from a nerve issue in his neck tonight and will make his first start in exactly eight weeks. Tough to get votes after missing that much time. The only two AL pitchers I’d unquestionably have above Luis Severino on my hypothetical Cy Young ballot right now are Chris Sale and Corey Kluber. Here’s the AL bWAR leaderboard:

  1. Chris Sale, Red Sox: +5.2 WAR
  2. Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays: +4.5 WAR
  3. Corey Kluber, Indians: +4.3 WAR
  4. Luis Severino, Yankees: +4.1 WAR
  5. Jason Vargas, Royals: +3.6 WAR

There are some natural tiers here. Sale has been out of this world great and there’s a gap between him and everyone else. He’d probably win the Cy Young unanimously if the vote were held today. After Sale, there’s Kluber, Severino, and Stroman in the second tier, with a big gap between them and the next few guys.

Kluber missed time with a back injury earlier this year and that puts him about 30 innings behind the other Cy Young hopefuls. Severino has a huge edge in strikeouts over Stroman — he’s faced 27 fewer batters and has 36 more strikeouts — and baserunners allowed (1.09 vs. 1.31 WHIP), which I think would give him an edge in the Cy Young voting. Bottom line, Severino has been a top five pitcher in the AL this season, and that will earn him plenty of Cy Young love when the time comes.

Nathaniel asks: What about Ervin Santana? What would it take to acquire him and would it be worth it?

Yeah, as long as you don’t expect him to pitch like he did earlier this season. Santana got off to an insane start, throwing 77 innings with a 1.75 ERA (4.22 FIP) in his first eleven starts. In ten starts since, he has a 5.46 ERA (5.89 FIP) in 59.1 innings. He’s allowed at least five runs in five of those ten starts. Santana’s overall numbers are good (3.37 ERA and 4.95 FIP), and over the last five seasons he has a 3.56 ERA (3.98 FIP). That’s the guy you hope to get.

The Twins have fallen out of the postseason race — they’re 4-10 in their last 14 games — and that reportedly has them shifting gears from buyers to sellers. Mark Feinsand reported yesterday the Twins will listed to offers for Santana and the recently acquired Jaime Garcia. I’d prefer Garcia because he’s a rental and would come cheaper, though Santana’s contract is very affordable — he’s owed $13.5M next year with a $14M option for 2019 — and he’d be fine too. I’m not sure what it would take to acquire him. Maybe two good prospects plus a third piece?

Mark asks: Mike, If the Yankees don’t see Gary as a long term solution at catcher, do you think they’d be better off selling high this offseason. I took a peek in FG and among catchers (min 450 Innings), he ranks 19th in FLD%, 2nd in errors (13) and 2nd in PBs (8). On one occasion I saw Joe chewing him out in the dugout after allowing a PB. Gary has played 468.2 innings behind the plate as I type this. I know he’s a great hitter but I don’t see him lasting long at C and I can’t picture him fielding ground balls at 1B. Thoughts?

No way. I don’t see the Yankees giving up on Gary Sanchez at catcher anytime soon. Stick with him and keep working with him behind the plate. I know he’s had some ugly passed balls this year, but no way am I giving up on a 24-year-old player with this much talent as a catcher. Keep working with him and help him improve. Sanchez has already made a lot of progress defensively in his career. Stick with it. He wants to get better and he will in time. No first base, no designated hitter, no selling high in trades, just keep him and help him be the best catcher he can be. Sanchez is a franchise catcher and you don’t start thinking about trades and position changes roughly one full season into his career because of some defensive problems. Fortunately, I don’t see the Yankees doing anything drastic here. I think they’re sticking with Gary at catcher no matter what.

R.J. asks: Mike, Buster Olney had an article on ESPN yesterday evening about possible “bad contracts swaps” for Jacoby Ellsbury. He did say that Ellsbury has a no trade clause and it could be difficult to trade without his consent. What if the Yankees put him on waivers after the trade deadline? Could Ellsbury block being claimed by another team if they Yankees let him go?

There’s an ongoing debate about this. Technically a no-trade clause is a no-assignment clause, and everything in baseball is an assignment. A trade, a waiver claim, a trip to the minors … all assignments. The MLBPA says a no-trade clause covers waiver claims while MLB says it doesn’t. This has never really come into play though. Players are very rarely claimed on trade waivers — there’s zero chance a team would claim Ellsbury and his contract on any type of waivers — and those who do get claimed are usually good players their team doesn’t want to lose for nothing, so they get pulled back. In the extremely unlikely event some team claimed Ellsbury on trade waivers in August, the Yankees would let him go in a heartbeat, and deal the MLB/MLBPA no-trade/no-assignments legal war.

Cave. (Times Leader)
Cave. (Times Leader)

Jeffrey asks: Is Jake Cave anything anymore? Still hasn’t turned 25 and hitting .380, 10 HR, 1.000+ OPS. It feels like he’s destined to be in the Rays outfield and get annoyingly big hits against us for the next 10 years.

I’d like to hear from people who’ve seen him over the years and know what they’re talking about. Anyone can read the stat line — Cave is hitting .322/.375/.592 (164 wRC+) with 21 doubles and a career high 15 homers this season — but this year was his fourth stint at Double-A and third stint at Triple-A. Has something fundamentally changed? Or is this just the same Jake Cave beating up on levels he’s been playing at since 2015?

Two things to keep in mind here. One, any team could have had Cave and kept him as a two-time Rule 5 Draft guy last year. They all passed. Could have kept him as a straight 40-man roster player with no strings attached, but no one did. And two, Cave will be a minor league free agent after this season, so we’ll know pretty quickly what the Yankees plan to do with him. They’ll have to add him to the 40-man roster right after the season to prevent him from going out on the open market. I know what the stats say, but I’d like to know more before buying in.

John asks: Do you think it’s time for, or are you expecting, the Yankees to sign Didi Gregorius to a long-term contract during the off-season?

Yes, I think it’s time. I thought it was time last offseason. The price has gone up quite a bit since then because Gregorius is having another strong season, and because he’s inching closer to free agency. As I said a few weeks ago, Didi can now use the Jean Segura’s recent five-year, $70M extension as a contract benchmark. That wasn’t possible this past offseason. Over the winter I was thinking five years and $50M might be able to get it done.

As for expecting an extension to get done, no. I don’t think the Yankees will sign anyone to a long-term extension until after they get under the luxury tax threshold. Give Gregorius the Segura contract right now and his luxury tax hit next season is $14M. Go year-to-year as an arbitration-eligible player and it would be roughly $8M. Gregorius is a really good player at a hard to fill position. That makes him a long-term contract candidate. I don’t see it happening until after the Yankees get under the luxury tax rate next year though.

Josh asks: Judge’s Home and Away splits are pretty significant. He is doing so much better at home. What’s up with that?

Going into last night’s game Aaron Judge was hitting .377/.489/.825 (240 wRC+) at home and .255/.390/.500 (136 wRC+) on the road. He’s been superhuman at Yankee Stadium and merely All-Star caliber on the road. I don’t think there’s much to this. It’s probably a combination of sample size noise (Judge has 188 plate appearances at home and 231 on the road) and the fact most players perform better at home. The MLB average is .264/.335/.443 (104 wRC+) at home and .255/.323/.426 (96 wRC+) on the road. Yankee Stadium is a great place to hit. I’m not surprised a guy with Judge’s power is doing more damage at home.

Brian asks: When do you predict Mateo gets promoted to AAA?

Not until next season. Jorge Mateo just got to Double-A last month and he was pretty bad in High-A for a year and a half prior to that. It’s entirely possibly Mateo will make his MLB debut before his Triple-A debut. He could get a September call-up to serve as the designated pinch-runner. I don’t see the Yankees rushing Mateo up the ladder. They’re going to give him plenty of at-bats at each level.

Chuck asks: What do you think of trading Kahnle for Schwarber? Seems like a plus for both the Cubs and Yanks. The Cubs get a top-line reliever for their pennant run, and the Yanks get a long-term power-hitting lefty DH. I hate to give up Kahnle but we’re deep in the pen; Schwarber isn’t helping the Cubs now and they have to send him to the AL eventually anyway.

There’s no chance the Cubs do that. Forget about me not being much of a Kyle Schwarber fan for a second. The Cubs reportedly wouldn’t trade Schwarber for Andrew Miller last year. They’re not going to trade him now for Tommy Kahnle, who has a half-season of excellence on his resume. Schwarber has been terrible this year, like sub-replacement level terrible, but they’re not selling low. “Long-term DH” is the very last piece of the roster puzzle I am worried about. There are plenty of dudes available to plug in at DH on a one-year deal every offseason.

Andujar. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Andujar. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Quintin asks: What do you anticipate the plan is for 3rd base next season? Go with Headley? Re-sign Frazier? Sign a stop gap? Go the Greg Bird route and put all of your chips in the Andujar basket? I imagine it would’ve been Gleyber’s to lose had he not gotten hurt this year, but now it may be in his best interest for him to start in AAA after missing the 2nd half of 2017.

I think the master plan is to give Miguel Andujar an opportunity to compete for the starting job in Spring Training. If Chase Headley is still around, then he would be the competition. If the Yankees manage to unload Headley (unlikely, but you never know), then they’ll find another veteran option on a one-year contract. Maybe Todd Frazier is that guy. Or maybe Asdrubal Cabrera. I think the plan is to let Andujar compete for the job, have a veteran safety net, then see how Gleyber Torres is doing after spending a few weeks in the minors shaking off the rust following surgery.

Ryan asks: What are the Yankees choices when Hicks returns or in anticipation of it? Send down Frazier, Trade Ellsbury (nearly impossible), or ????

Send down Garrett Cooper. There’s no need to keep a first base only guy on the roster when Headley is playing there, Frazier could always move over, and Austin Romine is an emergency option. Ellsbury is not going anywhere. The Yankees are stuck with him. Keep Clint Frazier around because he gives you the best chance to win, activate Aaron Hicks, and send down Cooper. Then use Frazier, Hicks, Judge, and Brett Gardner in a four-man outfield rotation.

Joe asks: T. Frazier’s triple play lead me to thinking, which is rarer, an unassisted triple play (15 ever) or a triple play to score a run? Baseball ref indicates that there have been 712 total.

A triple play to score a run is more rare. There have only been seven recorded run-scoring triple plays in history while, as you said, there have been 15 unassisted triple plays. Also, there’s no overlap there. There’s never been a run-scoring unassisted triple play. And have there really been 712 triple plays in history? That seems like an awful lot. That’s an average of five a year since MLB was born in 1876.

Brian asks: Does Brett Anderson make sense on a flyer if he clears waivers?

He’s definitely going to clear waivers given his $3.5M salary. Signing Brett Anderson is one of those things that always seems like a good idea until you actually sign Brett Anderson. He’s such an extreme injury risk, and even when healthy the last two years, he hasn’t been good (9.45 ERA and 5.67 FIP in 33.1 innings). Anderson is a minor league contract only guy for me now and going forward. Should he manage to stay healthy for an extended period of time at some point, I’ll reconsider my position. For now, minor league deal only. I don’t want the Yankees to pick him up and consider the fifth starter’s spot filled. No way, no how.

Mailbag: Judge, Mateo, Hamels, Nola, Girardi, Taillon, Betances

We’ve got ten questions in the mailbag this week. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us any questions. More than a few were rendered moot by the trade with the White Sox.

Man of the people. (Rich Gagnon/Getty)
Man of the people. (Rich Gagnon/Getty)

A few people asked: What could the Yankees get for Judge?

Several masochists emailed in asking what sort of return the Yankees could expect if they traded Aaron Judge. Just about all of them made it clear they don’t want the Yankees to trade Judge, because duh. They’re just curious.

Anyway, because he’s already shown he can perform at an MVP caliber level and comes with five years of control beyond this season, Judge is one of the most valuable assets in baseball. FanGraphs ranked him the sixth most valuable trade asset in baseball behind basically the five best players on the planet. He carries some risk because his track record is limited and there’s so little precedent for a dude this size, but yeah, Judge is insanely valuable.

The way I see it, the Yankees have a strong young position player core (Gary Sanchez, Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Dustin Fowler, Miguel Andujar, etc.), so if you’re going to trade Judge, you trade him for an ace-caliber starter with several years of control remaining. I’m talking four or five years of control, not two or three. Five names immediately jumped to mind:

  • Michael Fulmer, Tigers: A little unconventional because he doesn’t strike out a ton of batters (17.4%), but he’s been dynamite since being called up and is under control through 2022.
  • Jon Gray, Rockies: Coors Field makes it tough to appreciate how good Gray really is. He has three swing-and-miss pitches and he’s under control through 2021.
  • Carlos Martinez, Cardinals: Martinez has already pitched like an ace for two full years, and his recent contract extension will pay him $46.8M from 2018-21 with affordable club options for 2022 ($17M) and 2023 ($18M).
  • Lance McCullers Jr., Astros: Electric arm and team control through 2021. The only downside is McCullers has an injury history. He’s had both shoulder and elbow problems in the past.
  • Noah Syndergaard, Mets: Pretty much the perfect pitcher. Go into a lab to build a starter and you’d come out with Syndergaard. He’s under control through 2021, though this year’s injury problems are a red flag.

Among those five pitchers, Martinez is at the top of my list because he has the longest MLB track record and he also comes with the most team control thanks to his extension and the two club options. If you’re going to trade Judge, a bonafide middle of the order force under control through his peak years, you trade him for a guy like Martinez.

Pitchers are risky because they break, but Judge comes with a fair amount of risk himself, so in this hypothetical it balances out. And that’s all this is, a hypothetical. Never say never, but I don’t think trading Judge has even crossed the Yankees’ mind at this point. I say keep all those bats, build a powerhouse offense, and figure out a way to build a pitching staff around them. The Mets are a pretty good example why building around arms is so risky.

Jonathan Stewart: While it’s still a SSS, if Mateo’s keeps up his resurgence, could we see him this year?

It’s certainly more likely we see him this year, yeah. Jorge Mateo has been tearing the cover off the ball since his promotion to Double-A Trenton, hitting .357/.438/.619 (189 wRC+) through 20 games. Before, when he was hitting .240/.288/.400 (98 wRC+) for High-A Tampa, there was basically no chance at a call-up. Brian Cashman likes to say anyone at Double-A is a call-up candidate, and with Mateo performing, his chances of coming up this year have increased.

The Thunder went into yesterday’s game with a 64-31 record, the best record in all of Double-A, so they’re going to the postseason. I do think the Yankees would prefer to keep Mateo in Trenton through the postseason to get him at-bats and continue his development. I don’t think he will be a September 1st call-up to be a designated pinch-runner or something like that. We’ll see how Mateo performs from here on out. If he’s still playing well, yes I think he could get a token September call-up since he’s already on the 40-man roster, though I don’t think they’d yank him out of Trenton’s everyday lineup just to sit on the big league bench and pinch-run. He might have to wait until after the playoffs.

Matt asks: New rumor has Hamels potentially being available at the deadline if the Rangers sputter out of the gate. Thoughts?

That is an interesting one. Cole Hamels is 33 now and he went into last night’s start with a 3.05 ERA (4.29 FIP) in 59 innings around an oblique injury, so he has been effective, though the drop in strikeout rate is a definite red flag.

cole-hamels-strikeouts

Hmmm. Hamels is still getting ground balls and keeping the walks in check, but the swings and misses have been harder to come by, and that’s especially troubling because he has arguably the greatest changeup of his generation. The swing and miss rate on his changeup has declined noticeably in recent years. Hamels is in decline. He’s entering his mid-30s and losing some stuff. It happens to everyone.

Hamels is owed $22.5M next season, the final guaranteed year on his contract, and this year’s oblique injury ensures his $19M option for 2019 will not vest. He missed too much time and won’t reach the innings threshold to lock in the option year. If the Rangers are willing to trade Hamels as a salary dump, meaning the Yankees would take on that contract and not give up much in return, I don’t think it would be a terrible idea because he can still give you innings. The time to get Hamels was a few years ago though, then he was still in his prime and the Phillies were looking to move him.

Michael asks: What would it take to pry Aaron Nola from the Phillies? Under control through 2021, and he looks like a classic high strikeout guy the Yanks usually target. Seems like he’d fit with the trajectory of this team moving forward also. Thoughts?

Nola is probably someone I should have included in the Judge trade hypothetical earlier. The 24-year-old was the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft and he has a 3.54 ERA (3.42 FIP) with very good strikeout (24.7%) and ground ball (48.1%) rates in 86.1 innings this season. He’s also under team control through 2021. The run on his two-seamer is ridiculous.

aaron-nola-fastball

The big concern with Nola is his elbow. He missed the entire second half of last season with an elbow strain and that’s never good. The elbow has been fine so far this year — Nola did miss two starts with a back strain earlier this season — but still, a fairly significant elbow injury just last year? That’s a red flag and an ongoing concern. How could it not be.

The Phillies would presumably want top prospects for Nola and I don’t think that’s unreasonable at all. Parting with either Torres or Frazier, plus a bunch of quality secondary pieces, seems like a must to me. Nola is young and very good, and he’d fit what the Yankees need going forward. He also fits what the rebuilding Phillies need going forward, which is why I don’t think they’ll entertain a trade unless they get a huge offer.

Dan asks: Between the marriage of his relievers to certain innings, the fact that hitters are bunting when they should be hitting, and his marriage to pitching and hitting matchups based on handedness, do you think we can start to fairly question whether Girardi is being too rigid as a manager?

Oh sure. Joe Girardi‘s paint-by-numbers managerial style has been a problem for a few years now. The most obvious example is his bullpen roles. He lets the inning dictate his reliever usage, not the game situation (score, where the other team is in their lineup etc.). Girardi is also pretty strict with left-right platoons even when the numbers say they don’t make sense. He’ll split up the lefties in the starting lineup to avoid a potential matchup situation in the seventh or eight inning rather than putting the Yankees in the best position to do damage against the starter. Girardi is not the only manager who does this stuff. Hardly. But I feel like, in the year 2017, we should be getting away from these moves. It’s time to evolve.

Steve asks: Is it too early to think about what the 40 man roster will look like in November? With 11 MLB debuts this year, and the bevy of Rule 5 eligible prospects, it seems like some notable talent is destined to be lost. What prospects will be on the bubble?

Definitely not too early. The Yankees are certainly thinking about it. They know they’re going to face a roster crunch, so they’re doing what they can to clear things up. Ian Clarkin and Tito Polo will both be Rule 5 draft eligible after the season and neither guy was all that likely to be added to the 40-man roster, so they went to the White Sox in the trade. Here are the notable prospects due to become Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season:

Catchers: None
Infielders: Abi Avelino, Thairo Estrada, Gleyber Torres
Outfielders: Rashad Crawford, Billy McKinney
Pitchers: Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, J.P. Feyereisen, Zack Littell, Erik Swanson, Stephen Tarpley

Frazier, Fowler, Tyler Wade, and Jordan Montgomery were all going to be Rule 5 Draft eligible before getting called up to the big leagues this season. Torres, Abreu, and Acevedo will definitely be added to the 40-man roster. Littell probably will as well. Estrada and McKinney are on the fence and could be trade bait before the deadline. A guy like Tarpley, a lefty with good velocity, is prime Rule 5 Draft fodder. Inevitably the Yankees will leave some good players exposed. That’s what happens to teams with good farm systems.

Taillon. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)
Taillon. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)

Dan asks: Would you deal Clint Frazier for Jameson Taillon straight up?

Yes and the Pirates would not. They could get a lot more than Frazier for Taillon, despite all his pitching injuries over the years. Taillon is only 25 and he’s under team control through 2022. In 171.2 big league innings, basically a full season, he has a 3.25 ERA (3.56 FIP) with 21.1% strikeouts, 5.5% walks, and 52.4% grounders. That is really, really good. I love Frazier. He’s a blast. You also have to give something to get something, and pitchers like Taillon are a heck of a lot harder to find than corner outfield bats. Plus the Yankees are loaded with outfielders. The Pirates would say no because they could get more.

Austin asks: With the addition of Robertson and Kahnle, will the Yankees finally give Warren a look in the rotation? Surely he has more value there than as a 5th option out of the pen.

I don’t think so. The Yankees have never seemed all that eager to put Adam Warren in the rotation. Even in 2015, when he made 17 starts (3.63 ERA and 3.92 FIP), it was only because Chris Capuano hurt his quad in Spring Training. The biggest thing working against Warren right now is that he’s not stretched out. He could give you what, maybe 50 pitches his first time out? It’ll take a month to get him stretched out completely, so by time that happens, it’ll be near the end of August. I think the chances of Warren out-pitching Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa, and Chance Adams the rest of the season as a starting pitcher are pretty darn good. My guess is the Yankees will stick with the kids, and use Warren as part of the super bullpen they’ve been trying to build.

Adam asks: What are the chances we use Betances as trade bait now that we added two strong options? Probably more likely if the Yankees continue to spiral down.

I believe the plan is to add David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to Dellin Betances, not use them to replace him. The more great relievers, the better. That said, having Robertson and Kahnle around makes it easier to part with Betances in a trade. The Yankees always listen to offers for everyone. Every team does. I don’t think they’ll be out there actively shopping Dellin, but I do think they’ll be a little more open-minded when fielding phone calls. Maybe this is something that happens in the offseason rather than at the deadline?

Paul asks: What has changed in the last few years that has teams open to trading highly rated prospects again? A few years ago, there was extreme prospect hugging going on.

Teams were definitely much more reluctant to trade their prospects a few years ago. That isn’t the case anymore. According to Baseball America’s midseason top 100, the No. 1 (Yoan Moncada), No. 3 (Gleyber Torres), No. 5 (Eloy Jimenez), No. 13 (Willy Adames), No. 16 (Lewis Brinson), and No. 20 (Michael Kopech) prospects in baseball have all been traded. Just eyeballing the rest of the list, I count 22 top 100 prospects who have been traded at some point.

I think two things are happening here. One, more teams are willing to go into a deep rebuild, so they’re making their best big leaguers available in trades, and those guys command top prospects. And two, more teams seem willing to acknowledge success can be fleeting, so they’re going all-in when it looks like they have a shot. Like the Indians last year, for example. It’s a bit of a Catch-22. More teams are rebuilding, meaning fewer teams are in contention, so those teams in contention are willing to trade their prospects to rebuilding teams to improve their chances.