Weekend Mailbag: All about the shortstops

Just had a huge and delicious Sunday breakfast. Now have a cup of coffee and nothing particular on the agenda, so let’s get to answering some questions Mike didn’t get to in this week’s official mailbag.

Plenty of people wrote in with shortstop-themed questions, and Mike covered ones relating to Asdrubal Cabrera, trades, and Korean SS Jung-Ho Kang. Yet there were plenty more.

Alcides Escobar
(Credit: Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

C.Roy asks: Could you see the Royals being willing to talk about Alcides Escobar in a trade this winter? I see it unlikely that we will fix our lack of power at the SS position and Escobar would provide great defense and one more solid leadoff type. Possibly get Beltran involved (eating money) to open DH for Arod and in turn 3B for Headley.

No, I don’t see the Royals shopping Escobar this winter. They’re right in the race this year and with some young players coming through the system I doubt they’re ready to sit back and start rebuilding. He’s also under contract and has pretty reasonable team options through 2017, so the Royals really have no reason to trade him.

Well, maybe they have one reason. Escobar isn’t a guy known for his bat, as C.Roy mentions in his question. Great on defense, not much of a bat. Sounds like someone else the Yankees have on the roster, Brendan Ryan. Yes, Escobar’s bat is considerably better than Ryan’s, but remember that Ryan once could hit a little bit. His OPS+ during prime years:

2009: 97
2010: 57
2011: 85

It’s only since 2012 that Ryan has been a complete and total zero with the bat. Escobar’s last three years, by OPS+:

2012: 96
2013: 53
2014: 87

Escobar is a bit younger than Ryan was from 2009-2011, so it’s not a straight comparison. But the point is that I wouldn’t place my bets on a light-hitting shortstop, especially as the league hits lighter and lighter.

Nik asks: The Yanks seemed to have had a dearth of OF’ers and catchers, even arms for the mound over the last large handful of years. Why is it so hard to find shortstops who can hit AND play serviceable d? Has the era of Jeter and Ripken passed? Or is it that the Yankees just decided “Well, Derek will play until he’s 55, we don’t need to worry about it…”??

Not sure how they have a dearth of catchers, unless by dearth you mean abundance, in which case sure, maybe. But that misses the larger part of the question.

Yes, the era of Ripken and Jeter has clearly passed. Offense is down league-wide, as it seems we say in every post these days. Of the 22 shortstops who have enough PA to qualify (and Troy Tulowitzki does not), only seven have a wRC+ over 100 (although another four have 98 or 99). Of those seven, three were below average last year. (Of the four with a 98 or 99 wRC+, three were worse in 2013.)

Point being, it’s incredibly difficult to find consistently good, healthy shortstops. In the last three years there are 26 shortstops who have 1,000 or more PA, and of them only eight have an above-average wRC+. Only 15 of them have 1,500 PA (so average of 500 per year, which is not that much).

Making matters worse, at least in terms of 2013 and 2014, is that the Yankees have Derek Jeter. Who’s going to sign with them to play backup to Jeter? Stephen Drew wouldn’t do it last year, even with Jeter’s status uncertain. As for grooming one through the minors: it sounds nice, but how many teams have developed everyday shortstops in the last five years?

Jon asks: Why not take a chance on Tulo next year?

For starters, he’s under contract with the Rockies through 2020, so it’s not as though the Yanks can just take a flier on him. The Rockies aren’t just going to give him away, even if they do owe him $118 million through 2020.

To that point, why would you want to take on the most expensive portion of that contract? Tulowitzki hasn’t played in nearly two months and he’s constantly hurt. Since 2012 he has 1090 PA, or 363 per season. He’s played more than 140 games just three times since coming up full-time in 2007.

What is a fair exchange for a super expensive player (Tulo got the 18th largest deal in MLB history despite never hitting free agency)? How much would the Rockies have to eat? How little would they take? No, I don’t think they’re parting ways with him this winter, just because doing so will be too complicated.

Mailbag: Asdrubal, Shortstops, Kang, Reynolds

The Yankees have a doubleheader tomorrow, meaning there won’t be time for the mailbag in the morning. My options were either post the mailbag a day early or not at all, so I went with the former. I’ve got five questions this week and three are kinda long. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar if you’d like to send us anything throughout the week. The mailbag will still be posted Friday morning going forward.

(Greg Fiume/Getty)
(Greg Fiume/Getty)

Brian asks: Mentioned in the “thoughts” piece, but there are a number of SS available in free agency this year. Doesn’t Asdrubal Cabrera make the most sense as a guy who is only 28 years old?

Like I said in the post, Cabrera and every one of the other shortstop free agents comes with their pluses and minuses. Hanley Ramirez is a legitimate middle of the order hitter but he gets hurt all the time and is awful in the field. Stephen Drew is very good in the field but looks like he forgot how to hit. J.J. Hardy is also a legit shortstop but his power fell off big time this year. Jed Lowrie can hit when he’s not hurt or busy being a butcher in the field.

Cabrera, who will turn 29 in November, had two pretty big years with the Indians from 2011-12, putting up a 116 wRC+ with 41 homers across those two seasons. He slumped down to 94 wRC+ last year but has rebounded to hit .247/.311/.398 (101 wRC+) with 14 homers so far in 2014. The defensive stats hate Cabrera, consistently rating him as a below-average defender throughout his career. From what I’ve seen, he has a knack for the highlight play but will botch the routine play more than a big league shortstop should. (He’s playing second base for the Nationals right now, in deference to Ian Desmond at short.)

Asdrubal is a switch-hitter who has been better against righties (111 wRC+) than lefties (100 wRC+) over the last four years, and the split has been even more pronounced the last two years (106 vs. 80 wRC+). He does have power though, plus he doesn’t strike out much either (17.1%), a skill that is increasingly valuable in this offensively starved era. The defense is iffy and because he was traded at midseason, the Nationals won’t be able to make Cabrera a qualifying offer, so he won’t cost a draft pick to sign. I’m not sure Cleveland would have made him the offer anyway.

The fact that Cabrera is only 28 is nice, but I wouldn’t overvalue his age and the perception that he has more upside remaining. The guy has has played almost 1,000 games and has more than 4,000 plate appearances to his credit. We have a pretty good idea what he is at this point, and that’s an average-ish hitter with good power for the position but sketchy defense. It’s worth noting Cabrera is swinging at more pitches than every before these last two years — both in and out of the zone — so maybe he’ll get back to being a 115+ wRC+ hitter with some more plate discipline. He’s a viable shortstop candidate but I wouldn’t get too caught up in his age. The other guys are very good players in their own right.

(Mitchell Leff/Getty)
(Mitchell Leff/Getty)

J. Kelly asks: Even with a deep SS free agent class and that being the most likely route the Yanks go in search of a SS, who would be some potential trade targets to fill that spot?

The obvious big name shortstop trade target is Troy Tulowitzki, who as far as we know is not even going to be on the market. The Rockies have been very hesitant to deal him. Tulowitzki also just underwent surgery to repair a torn hip labrum, which is pretty scary. If he slows down at all the field, his value is going to take a huge hit. Even with his annual injuries, Tulo is the best shortstop in baseball and it’s not all that close. I’d take 100 games of him and 62 of a replacement level shortstop over any other shortstop in baseball. I just don’t see him being available.

The other big name shortstop trade candidate is going to be Jimmy Rollins, who is under contract next season for $11M after his option vested. He’s already said he’s open to accepting a trade under the right circumstances and I think coming to the Yankees to replace Derek Jeter seems like something right up Jimmy’s alley. He has quietly had strong year, hitting .243/.323/.394 (102 wRC+) with 17 homers, 28 steals, and his usually strong defense. I know he’s an old guy and the Yankees should avoid old guys at all costs for reasons, but trading for one year of Rollins is not a bad idea if the free agent prices are through the roof in my opinion. Not at all.

Other than those two, I suppose the Tigers could shop Jose Iglesias if they’re happy with Eugenio Suarez at short. Iglesias hasn’t played all year due to stress fractures in his shins, so his value is down. (I don’t see the point in trading for a glorified Brendan Ryan when you already have the real Brendan Ryan.) Everth Cabrera seems to be on the way out with the Padres, the Cubs have a bunch of young shortstops to offer if you’re willing to give them an ace, the Mariners might move Brad Miller or Chris Taylor if they really believe in one or the other, and I’m sure the Mets would give Ruben Tejada away at this point. That looks to be about it for the shortstop trade market, though surprise names always pop up every winter.

Travis asks: Have you heard anything linking the Yankees to Korean SS Jung-Ho Kang? Has good defense and power from right side.

Outside of a recent Nick Cafardo report saying the Cardinals had interest at one point, there hasn’t been anything linking the Yankees or any other team to Kang. The 27-year-old is hitting .360/.463/.757 with 33 doubles and 38 homers in 107 games for the Nexen Heroes this year, easily the best season of his very good career. Here are the obligatory stats (the obligatory video is above):

Year Age Tm Lg G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2006 19 Hyundai KBO 10 21 1 3 1 0 0 1 0 1 0 8 .150 .150 .200 .350
2007 20 Hyundai KBO 20 15 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 .133 .133 .133 .267
2008 21 Woori KBO 116 408 36 98 18 1 8 47 3 1 31 65 .271 .334 .392 .726
2009 22 Woori KBO 133 538 73 136 33 2 23 81 3 2 45 81 .286 .349 .508 .857
2010 23 Nexen KBO 133 522 60 135 30 2 12 58 2 2 61 87 .301 .391 .457 .848
2011 24 Nexen KBO 123 504 53 125 22 2 9 63 4 6 43 62 .282 .353 .401 .754
2012 25 Nexen KBO 124 519 77 137 32 0 25 82 21 5 71 78 .314 .413 .560 .973
2013 26 Nexen KBO 126 532 67 131 21 1 22 96 15 8 68 109 .291 .387 .489 .876
2014 27 Nexen KBO 107 458 98 137 33 2 38 107 3 3 62 98 .360 .463 .756 1.219
9 Seasons 892 3517 465 904 190 10 137 535 51 28 381 593 .298 .382 .503 .885
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/10/2014.

Kang is said to be a true shortstop with strong defense, and his best offensive tool is his big power from the right side. Supposedly he’s a dead fastball hitter who struggles against good breaking pitches, which would be a major concern if true. Remember, Kang is playing in Korea, where the level of competition is even lower than Japan.

I remember reading something a few years ago that pointed it almost all the successful position players to come over from Asia were outfielders because the game on the infield is simply too fast and too big of an adjustment. Akinori Iwamura is the most notable recent Asian import to make it work on the infield in MLB, and he was nothing more than a league average player for two and a half years. Others like Kaz Matsui and Tsuyoshi Nishioka flopped despite being high-profile pickups and stars in Japan. That doesn’t mean Kang will be a bust, but it’s something to keep in mind.

I don’t know nearly enough about Kang right now to say whether the Yankees should have interest in him, but I’m sure they’ll do their due diligence. He’s a shortstop and he has power, two things the Yankees desperately need. Reports say he will be definitely posted this winter, and MLB’s posting agreement still uses the old posting rules. It’s a blind bid for the right to negotiate with the player for 30 days. The release fee nonsense Masahiro Tanaka went through only applies to Japanese players.

JPK asks: I’m for re-signing Chase Headley and DHing A-Rod. But an acceptable alternative in my mind would be to go back after Mark Reynolds, agree or disagree?

I like Reynolds. He’s a potentially useful player if you look at what he is instead of focusing on the strikeouts. Reynolds went into last night’s game hitting .196/.288/.392 (87 wRC+) with 21 home runs, and it’s worth noting his offensive production has declined from a 116 wRC+ in 2011 to a 109 wRC+ in 2012 to a 95 wRC+ last year to an 87 wRC+ this year. He can split time at the two corner infield spots and DH on occasion. The Yankees have sorely lacked power and a true backup first baseman this year, two roles Reynolds would fill. Would I give him 600 plate appearances? No way. But if he would take a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training and try to win a 250-300 plate appearance bench job, great. I wouldn’t guarantee him multiple millions or anything. Remember, Reynolds turned the Yankees down last offseason to sign with the Brewers because they offered more playing time.

James asks: Obviously offense is down around the league, and many chalk it up to lack of PED’s, shifts, and strong bullpens. It also seems that the strike zone is much bigger than it used to be, the low and away pitch just off the plate often gets called, along with just below the knees. Any statistical proof of an increased strike zone from this year compared to the last few seasons?

Yes, absolutely. Jon Roegele put together a great PitchFX analysis of the strike zone back in January, showing that the zone is shrinking on the corners but getting bigger at the knees. A few days ago Jeff Sullivan showed the bottom of the zone has continued to get bigger this season. It’s easier to get a strike at the knees now than ever before — pitching coach Larry Rothschild made sure to emphasize the low strike in Spring Training — and I think that has absolutely contributed to the decline in offense around the league. Those pitches are hard enough to hit as it is, and now batters can’t let them go because they’re being called strike.

Mailbag: Pineda, Long, 2015 Payroll, Extensions

Six questions and six answers in this week’s mailbag. If you’d like to send us anything, mailbag questions or links or cooking tips or whatever, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar. We get a ton of questions each week, so don’t take it personally if we don’t answer yours.

(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
(Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Tim Leary asks: Am I the only one who thinks that nobody won the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda deal? Just because Montero is seemingly a disaster right now and Pineda has made seven starts now, doesn’t mean the Yankees won. Montero could have fetched any number of star caliber players from 2010 through 2012 and the Yankees flipped him for an asset who subsequently got hurt and missed two full years. I just don’t see how in retrospect you can say the Yankees “won the trade” with that misuse of a top asset. Your thoughts?

There are a bunch of different ways to evaluate a trade, right? The easiest and lamest way is to add up the WARs, in which case both FanGraphs (1.1 vs. -0.8) and Baseball Reference (1.6 vs. -0.4) say the Yankees won the trade. That doesn’t include Hector Noesi, who would only further tip the scales in the Yankees’ favor, though Jose Campos would give some of that back since he hasn’t done much of anything or been particularly healthy these last three years.

Another way and arguably the fairest way to evaluate is trade is based on what we knew at the time. Back in January 2012, we knew:

  1. Pineda just had an All-Star debut season and was the first rookie in history to qualify for the ERA title with 9+ K/9 and sub-3 BB/9. He had five years of team control remaining.
  2. Montero had a monster September in pinstripes and was widely regarded as one of the two or three best hitting prospects in baseball despite his lack of position. He had six years of team control remaining.
  3. Noesi had a nice MLB debut season as a swingman and looked like someone cut from the David Phelps and Adam Warren cloth. He had six years of team control remaining.
  4. Campos was a good looking pitching prospect way down in the short season leagues.

That’s what we knew at the time. Based on that, I think you’d have to say the Yankees got the better end of the deal because Pineda had established dominance at the MLB level. I’ve always said I thought the trade was fair value (or that the Yankees actually came out ahead) on paper, but I wouldn’t have done it because I thought they had a much greater need for a young middle of the order bat than the young top flight arm. I was kinda right, no?

Anyway, there is also an opportunity cost element here — what they actually got vs. what they could have gotten had they traded these players elsewhere — but how could we possibly evaluate that with any sort of accuracy? Unless reports come out involving these players and trades that were turned down, it’s all guesswork. We know for a fact the Blue Jays said no to Montero for Roy Halladay and that the Mariners backed out of a Montero for Cliff Lee deal, but that’s really it. Knowing that, how could you say “Montero could have fetched any number of star caliber players from 2010 through 2012?” We assume the Yankees could have gotten something nice if they traded Montero elsewhere but we don’t know that for sure.

I think the simplest and most straight-forward way to evaluate a trade like this is: did either team get what they wanted? Did the Yankees get the young pitcher who claimed a spot near the top of their rotation? Did the Mariners get their big middle of the order bat? The answer to both of those questions is no. Neither team has gotten what they wanted out of this deal. Does that mean they both lost? I guess. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who wins and who loses. There is no trade scorecard. The Yankees are left with Pineda and Campos and what happens with the Mariners is mostly irrelevant to their end of the trade. This deal has not worked out as hoped for either team and although I will stop short of calling it win for the Yankees, I do know I’d much rather have their end of the trade than Seattle’s right now.

Dustin asks: Do you think Kevin Long could be under any heat this offseason? It wouldn’t be necessarily deserved, but given the problems getting on base and scoring runs all season.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Yeah I think so. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Yankees, after spending all that money last offseason only to win fewer games and score fewer runs in 2014 than they did in 2013 (which they’re on pace to do), look for someone to take the fall after the season. Ownership reportedly wants to bring Brian Cashman back and I suspect that’s what will happen. Joe Girardi sure as hell shouldn’t go anywhere, so now we’re down to the coaches, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild deserves a lot of credit for keeping the rotation afloat despite the injuries. That leaves Long, right? If someone is going to be scapegoated for the season, the process of elimination leaves him as the likely candidate.

Justin asks: How much money comes off the Yankee payroll at the end of the season? Off the top my head I got Derek Jeter, Hiroki Kuroda, David Robertson, Brandon McCarthy, Chase Headley, and Ichiro Suzuki. Did I miss any one significant? Also will $189M will be a issue this offseason? If so how much room to work do they have?

According to Cot’s, the Yankees already have $168.8M in salary commitments for next season. Those players Justin mentioned plus Stephen Drew are the notable guys set to hit free agency, clearing money. Remember, Alex Rodriguez and his massive salary will be coming back. A-Rod is included in that $168.8M but the team’s arbitration-eligible players are not. This winter’s crop of arbitration-eligible players includes Pineda, Ivan Nova, Phelps, Shawn Kelley, Frankie Cervelli, Esmil Rogers, Josh Outman, and David Huff. Rogers, Outman, and Huff are all non-tender candidates. Pineda and Phelps will get nice raises as first time eligible players, Nova and Kelley less so by virtue of being hurt and a non-closing reliever, respectively.

Including the arbitration guys, the Yankees already have something like $180M to $185M on the books for 18 players next year when you include Rogers, Outman, and Huff. Non-tendering them clears three roster spots but would results in minimal savings, maybe dropping them down to $175M to $180M for 15 players. This is all back of the envelope stuff, obviously. The Yankees have opened the last few years with a payroll in the $195M to $210M range, and if they stick to that again, they’ll have approximately $20M to $30M to spend this offseason unless they manage to shed some salary through trades. The biggest needs are a big bat (right field?), another starting pitcher or two, and a reliever or two if Robertson leaves.

Adam asks: Any idea/prediction on what this offseason’s qualifying offer amount will be? And does it make sense to offer to D-Rob and/or Kuroda?

Estimations have this winter’s qualifying offer just north of $15M. Last offseason it was $14.1M, the offseason before that $13.3M. The Yankees can not make qualifying offers to McCarthy, Headley, or Drew by rule since they were traded at midseason. Kuroda is again on the fence about retirement and the Yankees have made him the qualifying offer in each of the last two winters, so I think they will again just in case he decides to spent another year in Los Angeles or something. He didn’t accept the last two qualifying offers, instead opting to negotiate a new one-year deal. I think they trust he would do that again.

I definitely think the Yankees will and should make Robertson a qualifying offer. He just might accept, at which point the team could either keep him another year at an inflated salary (not the worst thing in the world) or use it as a stepping stone towards a long-term deal. If Robertson doesn’t accept, it might kill his market. I’m not sure how many teams will give up a high draft pick to sign a reliever, even an elite one. Remember, Rafael Soriano sat out there unsigned until Yankees ownership felt the need to grab some headlines a few winters ago. My feeling at this moment is that it makes sense to extend the qualifying offer to both Robertson and Kuroda, and that the team will do just that.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Paul asks: Thoughts on the Yankees trying to get some extensions done this month, before the end of the season? D-Rob and B-Mac (is that what we call him?) seem likely candidates. Or is it more likely they’ll wait until the season ends? Also, remind me again of how the exclusive negotiating period works please. Thanks.

I know Cashman has said the no extensions policy is a thing of the past, but I would be surprised if they took the time to work out any extensions this month. Robertson and McCarthy and maybe Headley are the obvious candidates for a new contract. I assume they’ll wait until after the season to work on that. The five-day exclusive negotiating period starts the day after the end of the World Series, but the Yankees are unlikely to go to the postseason, so they’ll have the entire month of October to discuss any extensions as well. They’ll have plenty of time to talk about new deals with McCarthy and/or Robertson and I hope they do just that. There are obvious reasons to keep both and few reasons to let either go.

Jamie asks: The Yankees offensive woes makes me wonder: how many times have they been shut out? Scored one run? Two? Three? Four? Five? Etc.

As always, Baseball Reference makes this nice and easy. To the table:

Runs Games Wins Loss W-L%
0 6 0 6 .000
1 18 2 16 .111
2 19 5 14 .263
3 22 10 12 .455
4 23 15 8 .652
5 17 10 7 .588
6 10 9 1 .900
7 12 10 2 .833
8 3 3 0 1.000
9 4 4 0 1.000
10 2 2 0 1.000
12 1 1 0 1.000
14 1 1 0 1.000
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/4/2014.

The Yankees have been shut out six times and held to two or fewer runs 43 times. That’s basically one-third of their games played at this point. They’re 7-36 (.163) in those games. On the other hand, they’ve scored six or more runs 33 times and are 30-3 (.909) in those games. That’s been the “magic number” this year, so to speak. If the Yankees manage to push across six runs, then in all likelihood they won the game. The MLB average winning percentage when scoring two or fewer runs and six or more runs is .144 and .874, respectively, so the Yankees are above-average at both.

Mailbag: Headley, Pineda, Challenges, Rookie of the Year

Only five questions this week, but one has a really long answer. The best way to send us anything throughout the week is via the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Justin asks: What would a fair contract for Chase Headley be? I know he hasn’t set the world on fire here, but he seems to be involved in a lot of rallies and his defense speaks for itself. I know re-signing him would in theory block Rob Refsnyder, as it would lock Martin Prado in at 2B, but I don’t see that as a major hurdle as there is almost no way the combination of Carlos Beltran, A-Rod, and Mark Teixeira don’t miss significant time next year and Prado would likely move somewhere to fill in in such times.

I am pretty terrible at estimating free agent contracts and I feel especially lost on what it will take to sign Headley. Is he going to look for the biggest payday possible? That’s never a bad idea in my opinion, especially at age 30. Will he be open to a one-year “pillow contract” to re-establish his value and then look for the biggest payday next winter? That’s what Adrian Beltre did with the Red Sox a few years ago.

The pillow contract idea is pretty risky, especially since Headley has hit only .234/.310/.350 (90 wRC+) this year after putting up a 113 wRC+ last year. Excellent defense is great, but it’s getting harder and harder to put up big offensive numbers, and that’s what gets guys paid. Can Headley get back up to, say, .270/.340/.430 with a full season in Yankee Stadium and without the pressure of having to be The Man offensively? Maybe, but who really knows. Baseball is hard.

I don’t think Headley would have any trouble getting $10M on a one-year pillow contract. Maybe $10M plus incentives. Teams have shown they’re willing to pay big dollars to keep the term short. The biggest possible contract for Headley at this point probably ranges between two years and $15M (Juan Uribe) to three years and $39M (Aramis Ramirez). Headley and Uribe are actually very similar players as standout defenders with average-ish bats, though Headley is several years younger with an MVP caliber season to his credit. Uribe has two total disaster years (2011-12) on his resume.

Ramirez and Headley are not at all the same type of player — Aramis is all bat while Headley’s value comes primarily from his glove — but Ramirez’s deal is the largest given to a non-Beltre free agent third baseman since A-Rod. Headley isn’t getting Beltre money (five years, $80M) but he’ll probably get more than Uribe. Aramis is right in the middle there. Headley’s free agent stock is very hard to gauge because he’s in his prime years and has shown he can be a solid offensive player, but he’s also the type of player who always leaves you wanting more.

The Yankees will need a caddy for Alex Rodriguez next year and Prado could always play second base — I’m not worried at all about blocking Refsnyder, I want the Yankees to have as many good players as possible — so there’s an obvious place for Headley on the 2015 Yankees. I’d absolutely love to get him back on a pillow contract, but I would be wary of giving him three years at something like $27M to $30M or so. I like Headley, he fits the team well, but the Yankees need impact hitters at this point and he isn’t one.

JonS asks: Maybe I haven’t been paying attention and SSS and all that, but does it seem like Michael Pineda is a LOT more efficient since he’s been back?

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

The difference between Pineda and other young big stuff prospects was always his command and ability to pound the strike zone. He had a 2.07 BB/9 (5.7 BB%) while in the minor leagues with the Mariners from 2006-10, then he followed that up with a 2.89 BB/9 (7.9 BB%) with Seattle during his rookie year in 2011. Pineda threw 54.1% of his pitches in the zone that year, the 14th highest rate among the 94 qualified starters according to PitchFX. Remember, he was a 22-year-old rookie back then, and 22-year-old rookies are not known for filling the zone.

Pineda has a 0.97 BB/9 (2.9 BB%) in seven starts and 37 innings overall this year, throwing 54.7% of his pitches in the strike zone. That is broken down into a 1.37 BB/9 (3.9 BB%) walk rate and a 52.6% zone rate in 19.2 innings before getting hurt and a 0.52 BB/9 (1.6 BB%) walk rate and a 57.0% zone rate in 17.1 innings since coming off the disabled list. Pineda also averaged 3.94 pitches per plate appearances before getting hurt and is at 4.00 pitches per plate appearance since coming back, so he really hasn’t been more efficient. About the same in terms of pitches per batter. The important thing is that Pineda is healthy and pounding the zone, which indicates he hasn’t lost confidence in his stuff.

Matt asks: Is there any available data about a manager’s success at challenges? I’ve heard people mention it before, and after the challenge at the plate with Jacoby Ellsbury (against the Royals) the ESPN guys mentioned it again. Seems like Joe Girardi is doing very well.

There sure is. Baseball Savant has a database of all manager’s challenges. Heading into yesterday’s action, calls have been overturned only 46.92% of the time this year, which really surprises me. I thought the overturn rate would be much higher since, you know, managers get the thumbs up or thumbs down from their video people before challenging. You’d think a system like that would have a pretty high success rate. I guess a lot of managers are rolling the dice on super close plays.

Girardi is 19-for-24 (79.17%) at getting calls overturned this year, which is obviously excellent compared to the 46.92% league average. In fact, that is the highest overturn rate in baseball. The Marlins are a distant second at 72.73% and no other team was over even 65% heading into yesterday. I’m sure there’s an element of luck here — super close players without what seems to be conclusive evidence going your way, for example — but that is pretty remarkable. Girardi and everyone involved in the team’s video review process have done a fantastic job this year.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Ryan asks: If Shane Greene keeps pitching the way he is and the Yankees make the playoffs, could he be considered in the running for Rookie of the Year? Same thing with Dellin Betances, does he have a legitimate shot at winning it?

Jose Abreu has the Rookie of the Year already in the bag and deservedly so. He went into last night’s game hitting .312/.371/.602 (164 wRC+) with 33 homers, and voters will love that he’s leading the league with 96 RBI. Masahiro Tanaka was the only player (in the league, not just with the Yankees) with a realistic chance to challenge Abreu, and his Rookie of the Year chances went down the drain as soon as he got hurt.

Betances has been awesome and he’ll definitely get some Rookie of the Year votes, maybe even a stray Cy Young or MVP vote, but there’s no way he’s beating out Abreu. The slugging first baseman is always going to trump the setup reliever in awards voting. Greene has been very good as well but he’ll finish the year with fewer than 100 innings pitched. What makes him more deserving than, say, Matt Shoemaker of the Angels (3.33 ERA and 3.38 FIP in 110.2 innings)? Nothing, really. Greene’s been great but I don’t see him getting any Rookie of the Year votes. The ballot is only three players deep, remember.

JPK asks: A lot will change, but as currently structured how you stack the top of the order next year? Do you bat Prado between Brett Gardner and Ellsbury or do you go some order of Ellsbury and Gardner 1-2?

I’d definitely go with Ellsbury and Gardner in the one-two spots with Prado lower in the lineup, ideally seventh or eighth. That’s not a knock on Prado, I just hope the team adds some true middle of the order bats this winter. It would be awesome if Prado bats eighth because the lineup is so deep, but batting him fifth because they don’t have anyone else? Nope. Ellsbury is at his absolute best as a leadoff hitter because he creates so much havoc, and Gardner’s on-base ability and newfound power make him a nice fit for the two-hole. Ellsbury’s completely miscast as a number three hitter, I wouldn’t do that again next year. Prado would make sense as the number two hitter if the Yankees didn’t have the other two guys under contract.

Mailbag: A-Rod, Protected Pick, Pineda, Homers

I’ve got seven questions for you this week. If you want to send us anything, mailbag questions or comments or links or whatever, just use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar at any time.

Many asked: What about playing Alex Rodriguez at shortstop next season?

We get asked this question a shocking number of times each week and I guess we can’t ignore them any longer. Alex can not play shortstop anymore. He hasn’t had the mobility for the position for about five years now based on his play at third. His arm is fine and his baseball instincts are literally the best I’ve ever seen, so I’m sure he knows what to do and all that, but physically he doesn’t move like he once did. Remember, we’re talking about a 39-year-old with two bad hips who has played 44 games total from 2013-14. By time Opening Day rolls around, it will have been 12 years since Alex played short. I’m am confident saying there is zero chance of this happening.

Assuming the Yankees don’t release A-Rod once his suspension is over — earlier this year I thought they would for sure, I think I wrote that somewhere, but now I don’t think that’s likely because he’s such a rating and ticket sale powerhouse — I’m sure they’ll try him at third base next year but wind up playing him at DH most of the time. I guess that would mean Martin Prado at third? Maybe they can teach Rodriguez to play some first base as well. But anything that requires actual mobility? I can’t see it. He’ll have to overcome a lot of physical obstacles to play the field regularly next season. Part-time third base, part-time first base, part-time DH seems like the best we could hope for going forward.

Justin asks: How does Jon Lester compare in age, innings pitched and injury history to CC Sabathia prior to his signing with the Yanks? Am I wrong to think off the top of my head that he would be well under CC’s innings total?

Sabathia was only 28 years old when he signed with the Yankees, remember. At the time of his free agency he had thrown 1,684.1 big league innings between the regular season and postseason, and his only notable injury was a torn meniscus following the 2006 season. Lester will turn 31 this offseason and he’s at 1,623.2 big league innings, so he’ll finish the year in the 1,650-1,700 range. He missed two weeks with a lat strain in 2011 and went through the cancer stuff back in the day. When Sabathia was Lester’s age, he had thrown 2,450.1 total innings. He started breaking down the next season (2012). (I’m not saying Lester will break down at the same age.) Lester’s arm is much fresher than Sabathia’s at the same point of his career, theoretically.

Paul asks: Approximately how bad would the Yankees have to be the rest of the way to get a protected draft pick? Where do you think they’ll end up picking (or which pick will they be losing to sign a qualified free agent if that’s what you think will happen)?

Because the Astros did not sign first overall pick Brady Aiken, they will receive the second overall pick as compensation next year. That pick as well as the first ten “natural” first round picks are protected from draft pick compensation. The Yankees currently have the 13th best record in baseball at 64-61, putting them in line for the 18th overall pick. The Mets have the tenth worst record at 60-68, a .469 winning percentage. Let’s say the Yankees would need to finish with a .460 winning percentage to secure a protected first round pick. That would mean a 74-88 overall record, or 10-27 in the final 37 games. The Yankees stink, but I can’t imagine they’ll play the .270-ish ball they would need to play the rest of the season to get a protected first rounder. In all likelihood they’ll end up picking in the 15-20 range.

Charlie asks: Just curious, how much longer is Big Mike under team control for? Does all of his injury time delay his arbitration? Thanks.

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

The Yankees did delay Michael Pineda‘s free agency and arbitration one year by activating him off the disabled list and optioned him to Triple-A last July. He should have been in his first arbitration year right now and scheduled to become a free agent after the 2016 season. Instead, Pineda will be arbitration eligible for the first time next year and hit free agency after the 2017 season, when he’ll still only be 28. Time spent on the DL is the same as the active roster for service time purposes.

Mark asks: It seems to me that as bad as the Yankees power output has been this year, a larger percentage of the few HRs that they hit have been solo HRs. Is that true?

The Yankees have hit 112 homers this season, which are broken down into 75 solo homers (67%), 27 two-run homers (24%), eight three-run homers (7%), and two grand slams (2%). Two grand slams! Remember when they hit three grand slams in one game a few years ago (video)? Good times. Good times. Anyway, the AL averages this year are 57% solo homers, 29% two-run homers, 11% three-run homers, and 2% ground slams. So yes, the Yankees have hit far more solo homers than a) any other type of homer, and b) the league average this year.

Drew asks: I know no prospect is perfect but which Yankee hitting prospect has the most complete tool set? My first initial thought was Aaron Judge, or am I missing someone? Does most complete tools equal best prospect? I’m not too sure, and it depends on how high you value a particular skill set and ceiling.

I would say Judge has the most complete set of tools in the system right now. In fact, I think he does easily. I’m not even sure who’s close at this point. Tyler Austin lacks speed and a strong arm, Greg Bird has all the hitting tools but not much else, and Jake Cave lacks power. Slade Heathcott probably has the second most complete set of tools in the system but he’s never healthy. I wouldn’t say the most complete tools automatically equals the best prospect, the quality of the tools matter as well. I would rather have a guy with 80 power, 20 speed, and 40 everything else (to use the 20-80 scouting scale for a second) than someone with 50s across the board, for example. Having a well-rounded game is good! It’s not everything though.

Drew asks: Is Mark Montgomery really having that bad of a season? Yes the walks have been an issue but overall it looks like his numbers have been pretty good. I don’t think he is a realistic option for the pen in September but more like the middle of next year after starting the year in AAA. Yes we thought it was going to happen this year but, hey things happen.

It’s about more than just the numbers, remember. Here’s what Brian Cashman told Nick Peruffo just the other day:

He used to have much bigger velocity, and now its settling at a lower level. He still has the performance behind it, its just not the power stuff it was before. He’s still someone that’s on our radar.

Montgomery has a 2.30 ERA (3.98 FIP) in 47 innings with a 24.1% strikeout rate and a 12.8% walk rate between Double-A and Triple-A this year. During this sicko 2012 season at High-A and Double-A, he had a 1.54 ERA (1.62 FIP) with a 39.4% strikeout rate and an 8.8% walk rate in 64.1 innings. Montgomery’s stuff hasn’t been the same since he hurt his shoulder last year and it shows in the numbers. He’s still a good relief prospect, just not the potential shutdown late-inning force we all thought he would be two years ago.