Guest Post: Aaron Hicks in August

The following is a guest post from Carlo Macomber, who goes by CoryWadeDavis in the comments. He’s previous written guest posts about Masahiro Tanaka, Didi Gregorius, and Jacoby Ellsbury.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

From April through July, Aaron Hicks struggled mightily in his first season with the Yankees. There are no two ways about it. Hicks hit .187/.251/.287 (41 wRC+) in 232 relatively sporadic PAs. That is unacceptable for a Major League player, but, to the disappointment of most fans, the Yankees stuck with Hicks through all of his struggles.

The Yankees have been rewarded for their patience as Hicks hit .280/.330/.439 (107 wRC+) in 88 PAs during the month of August. By no coincidence, Hicks’ much improved hitting has matched up perfectly with the Carlos Beltran trade that has allowed him to play regularly. However, all players are constantly making adjustments at the plate, and surely Hicks is no different.

Unfortunately, Hicks suffered a hamstring injury on the last day of the month. Nevertheless, let’s look to see what other differences there have been this month for Aaron Hicks other than simply playing regularly, while of course keeping in mind that this is only a small sample size.

Unsurprisingly, Hicks hit the ball harder in August than he had the first four months of the season. His hard contact rate in August is at 30.3%, up from 25.6% from April-July. His soft contact rate also dropped to 13.6% from 20.2%. This is clearly good news, especially because it shows that Hicks’ improved batting line is not entirely BABIP driven. His BABIP has increased significantly, from .220 in April-July to .306 in August, but the latter number is not absurdly high and seems to be the result of Hicks making much better contact.

Along with hitting the ball harder, Hicks has also managed to hit the ball in the air with more frequency this month. Check out this batted ball data:

Months GB% LD% FB%
April-July 49.4% 15.7% 34.9%
August 35.4% 21.5% 43.1%

While the drop in GB% is certainly noticeable, Hicks’ August LD% is quite encouraging. If Hicks had a 21.5% LD% on the entire season, he would be nearly tied with Buster Posey and in the vicinity of players like Miguel Cabrera. Of course, this is not to say Hicks will ever be remotely close to Posey or Cabrera offensively, but it is certainly encouraging that he is capable of putting up a similar LD%, even in the small sample of a single month.

Also, as baseball fans know, players with elite speed can thrive with high ground-ball rates, the vast majority of players are better off hitting the ball in the air with frequency. Didi Gregorius, a player somewhat similar to Hicks in terms of speed, has managed to drop his GB% from 44.7% last year to 42% this season. This has, of course, coincided with Didi’s breakout offensive season. Hicks’ April-July GB% was simply too high for him to have sustainable, non-BABIP driven offensive success. While his August GB% may not be completely sustainable given where has was for much of the year, if he could maintain a ground-ball rate around Didi’s 2016 level, Hicks could notice more continued success in the future.

Now, let’s take a look to see how Hicks has done more damage offensively based on pitch selection. Because Hicks only had a small number of PAs from the right side of the plate in August, the following comparison is going to focus on Hicks’ PAs from the left side (against right-handed pitching). With that being said, the graphic below shows (from the catcher’s point of view) Hicks’ swing rate on four-seam fastballs against right-handed pitching from April through July.

Aaron Hicks1

Hicks was quite aggressive on fastballs just about anywhere in the zone as well as fastballs up and out of the zone for the first four months of the season. Being aggressive on fastballs in the zone is generally a positive, but considering that Hicks pulled the ball at a 46.4% clip during this time frame, he probably would be better off attacking pitches on the inner-half of the plate only. (For reference, Brian McCann pulls the ball 49.8% of the time so far this season.)

Additionally, while Hicks struggled mightily overall during this time, he did minimal damage on fastballs up and out of the zone, which is not particularly surprising given the location, but is quite poor considering how often he chased those pitches. Hicks struggled so much from April-July, that it would seem difficult to find one particular issue. His fastball selection, however, certainly stands out as contributing to his struggles. Now, let’s take a look at the same chart except with the time period being the entire month of August.

Aaron Hicks3

While keeping in mind that one month is obviously a smaller sample size than four, Hicks was much more successful at laying off fastballs up and out of the zone. Those types of fastballs can be challenging to do much damage with, so this stands out as a clear improvement for Hicks! Another noticeable difference between the two charts is that Hicks has also been more selective within the strike zone. While still swinging at some fastballs in the outer part of the zone, Hicks has taken more of them, while looking to attack fastballs on the inner-half of the plate. He has even been slightly more likely to swing at fastballs in and off the plate. Given his tendencies to pull the ball, Hicks has improved greatly in August by being more selective with fastballs and looking to attack ones located on the inner-half of the plate.

Of course, the sample size of pitches that meet these criteria is quite small, but Hicks has done quite a bit of damage in August on fastballs on the inner-half of the plate. The increased selectivity has been paying off, as Hicks was an above-average offensive player for the month of August. However, it is, of course, unknown whether Hicks can sustain this kind of success over a longer period of time. Perhaps, he simply had a good month. The increased hard contact rate, increased line drive rate, and better fastball pitch selection, among other improvements, do provide a little bit of evidence that Hicks may have made real gains in his development. His recent injury obviously creates another obstacle on his path to sustaining this success, but it is certainly fair to say the month of August provided hope for Aaron Hicks as a hitter.

9/2 to 9/4 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

The Yankees are about to wrap-up a pretty important 12-game stretch against three wildcard competitors. They took two of three from the Mariners, two of three from the Orioles, two of three from the Royals, and now they play three more against the Orioles this weekend. This series is in Baltimore though, not the Bronx. The Yankees are 7-6 against the O’s this season, but they’ve lost two of three in each of their two previous visits to Camden Yards.

What Have They Done Lately?

Like I said, the Yankees beat the Orioles twice in three games last weekend at Yankee Stadium. The O’s returned home after that and lost two of three to the Blue Jays earlier this week. Baltimore is struggling, folks. They’ve lost five of their last seven games and 14 of their last 23 games. The O’s and Tigers have identical 72-61 records and they’re tied for the second wildcard spot. The Yankees are 2.5 games back. This series is: huge.

Offense & Defense

The Orioles can score runs. That’s what they do. Their pitching is a bit shaky but their bats are going to do damage. They come into this series averaging 4.69 runs per game with a team 102 wRC+. Their 209 home runs are the most in baseball. No one else has hit 200 yet. The O’s have two injured position players: OF Joey Rickard (85 wRC+) is out long-term with a thumb issue, and CF Adam Jones (102 wRC+) is day-to-day with a hamstring problem. He missed two games in New York with it last weekend.

Schoop. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Schoop. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Jones had been hitting leadoff, but since his injury, manager Buck Showalter has used four different leadoff hitters in five games. The O’s just picked up OF Michael Bourn (73 wRC+) from the Diamondbacks to add outfield depth and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he leads off tonight, should Jones remain out of the lineup. The middle of the order is 3B Manny Machado (138 wRC+), 1B Chris Davis (113 wRC+), and RF Mark Trumbo (121 wRC+). That’s the scary part of the lineup. Those dudes can all hit the ball a very long way when they connect.

OF Hyun-Soo Kim (123 wRC+) and UTIL Steve Pearce (144 wRC+) have been platooning in left lately, and DH Pedro Alvarez (115 wRC+) starts against righties. 2B Jonathan Schoop (108 wRC+), SS J.J. Hardy (81 wRC+), and C Matt Wieters (80 wRC+) are the other regulars. OF Nolan Reimold (79 wRC+) is the extra outfielder, UTIL Ryan Flaherty (61 wRC+) is the extra do everything player, and C Francisco Pena (36 wRC+) is the backup catcher. The Orioles have not announced their September call-ups as of this writing, so I’m not sure who else is on the bench.

The Yankees and Orioles just played last week, so I’m going to take the easy way out and copy and paste what I wrote about Baltimore’s team defense in the last series preview:

Defensively, the O’s are very good up the middle with Wieters, Hardy, Schoop, and Jones. Machado is outstanding at third base and Davis is underrated at first. Trumbo is a nightmare in right and none of the guys they use in left are anything to write home about. It’s a solid team defense overall with a glaring weakness in right.

The only difference now will be Bourn over Jones, which is a downgrade. Bourn’s legs are not what they used to be.

Pitching Matchups

Friday (7:05pm ET): RHP Chad Green (vs. BAL) vs. RHP Dylan Bundy (vs. NYY)
After several years of injuries, the Orioles are finally getting some value from the still only 23-year-old Bundy. He has a 3.71 ERA (4.45 FIP) in 85 innings overall this season, including a 4.21 ERA (5.08 FIP) in nine starts and 47 innings since moving into the rotation. Bundy’s strikeout rate (24.5%) has been very good as a starter, but his walk (8.7%), grounder (38.0%), and homer (1.91 HR/9) numbers are a bit of a problem. Righties have hit him harder than lefties so far this season. As a starter, Bundy works with a 93-95 mph fastball as well as a mid-80s changeup and an upper-70s curveball. The changeup was very good last week. The Yankees scored five runs in four innings against Bundy last weekend, the only time they’ve seen him as a starter this season. (He threw 3.2 innings of relief against them earlier this year.)

Saturday (7:05pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. BAL) vs. RHP Kevin Gausman (vs. NYY)
Blah. Can’t escape him. Gausman, 25, has achieved Yankees Killer™ status this season. He has a solid 3.73 ERA (4.16 FIP) in 24 starts and 140 innings overall, and that’s broken down into a 0.98 ERA in four starts against the Yankees and a 4.41 ERA in 20 starts against everyone else. His strikeout (23.6%) and walk (6.4%) numbers are good, his grounder (43.1%) and homer (1.48 HR/9) rates less so. Righties have hit Gausman harder than lefties and that’s not unusual because he has a nasty mid-80s splitter. His fastball sits mid-to-high-90s and he’ll also throw some low-80s curveballs. Here are Gausman’s four starts against the Yankees this season: eight scoreless innings in April, one run in six innings in June, two runs in 6.2 innings in July, and seven scoreless innings last weekend. I really don’t know what the Yankees could do at this point. The regulars haven’t gotten it done against Gausman this year, so maybe change it up and give guys like Austin Romine and Rob Refsnyder and Ronald Torreyes a crack at him? It might be worth a try at this point.

Kevin F. Gausman. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Kevin F. Gausman. (Rob Carr/Getty)

Sunday (1:35pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. BAL) vs. LHP Wade Miley (vs. NYY)
I didn’t understand the point of the Miley trade at all. The O’s traded a Major League ready pitching prospect (Ariel Miranda) the projection systems like more than Miley to the Mariners for Miley, and took on a boatload of money in the process. The veteran southpaw has 7.14 ERA (4.94 FIP) in six starts with Baltimore too. LOL Orioles, I guess. Miley, 29, has a 5.43 ERA (4.80 FIP) in 25 starts and 141 total innings this season. His underlying stats are completely forgettable (18.2 K%, 7.0 BB%, 46.7 GB%, 1.53 HR/9) and righties have hammered him all year. These days Miley sits in the low-90s with his four-seamer and sinker, and pairs them with low-to-mid-80s changeups and sliders. He’ll also toss a few upper-70s curves per start too. The Yankees have not seen Miley at all this season. Not when he was with Seattle and not since he joined the Orioles.

As for the Yankees, I can’t help but wonder if they’ll use yesterday’s off-day to shuffle their rotation once again, allowing Masahiro Tanaka to pitch Sunday instead of Pineda. Tanaka would be on normal rest and he only threw 71 pitches in five innings last time out because of the rain delay, so it’s definitely doable. That would allow the Yankees to throw their ace against the team they’re chasing in the wildcard race. Maybe that decision depends on how the first two games of the series go. Remember, they flipped Sabathia and Pineda for matchup reasons last weekend.

Bullpen Status

Given the state of their rotation, I’m sure Showalter will be very happy to have a bunch of extra relievers on his roster now that it’s September. They’re still without ace setup man RHP Darren O’Day, who is out with a shoulder problem. His return is not imminent. Here is the O’s current bullpen:

Closer: LHP Zach Britton (0.67 ERA/2.01 FIP)
Setup: RHP Brad Brach (1.76/2.71)
Middle: RHP Mychal Givens (3.63/3.47), RHP Tommy Hunter (4.18/3.10), LHP Donnie Hart (0.00/2.93)
Long: RHP Oliver Drake (8.10/5.24), RHP Vance Worley (3.51/4.53)

Like I said earlier, the Orioles have not yet announced their September call-ups, so I’m not sure who else they’ll have in the bullpen tonight. You can be sure there will be a bunch of extra arms out there though.

Britton has been off-the-charts good this season and Brach has been excellent as well, though he’s come back down to Earth a bit in the second half. Givens is the No. 3 guy at the moment. Like the Yankees and most of the rest of the league, the Orioles had an off-day yesterday, so their bullpen is as fresh as it’s going to get this late in the season.

Update: The Orioles have called up RHP Tyler Wilson, C Caleb Joseph, and LHP Jayson Aquino, the team announced. Also, Bourn and OF Drew Stubbs were added the roster as well. They were acquired in minor moves earlier this week. There’s the O’s first wave of call-ups.

Yanks add Severino, five others as first round of call-ups

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

The Yankees added six players to the active roster today as their first round of September call-ups, the team announced. The six players: Luis Severino, Nick Goody, Rob Refsnyder, Kirby Yates, Eric Young Jr., and Jonathan Holder. It’s safe to assume all six will be with the team and available for tonight’s series opener against the Orioles.

Severino, Goody, Refsnyder, and Yates were expected to come up. They’ve all gone up-and-down a few times this season and those guys are typically among the first ones called up when rosters expand. Severino is going to pitch in relief and chances are he’ll assume a prominent late-inning role right away. He was in the Triple-A Scranton rotation, so he’s good for three or four innings at a time, if necessary.

Holder is the most interesting call-up. Earlier this week it was reported the Yankees would not call anyone up before they are Rule 5 Draft eligible, which Holder is not. They have a massive 40-man roster crunch coming after the season, and adding Holder before it was necessary would further clog things up. Brian Cashman told Joel Sherman he decide to call Holder up because he gives the team the best chance to win.

“I changed my mind,” said the GM. “I wrestled back and forth with it, but the bottom line is we are 2.5 out with a month to go and (Holder) is better than some guys we have already promoted. He’s earned the right to be here. It was a roster issue that he wasn’t coming. But this will get his feet wet. He will get some exposure and we will find out what he is capable of.”

Young was acquired earlier this week to serve as the designated pinch-runner. The only time we’ll see Young play the field or hit is in the late innings of blowouts. Both Young and Holder had to be added to the 40-man roster. One takes Ben Gamel‘s spot, and to clear the other, Nick Rumbelow was recalled from Triple-A and placed on the 60-day DL. He’s rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Not sure why they didn’t just transfer Nathan Eovaldi to the 60-day DL. Whatevs.

Right now the only healthy players on the 40-man roster and not in the big leagues are Johnny Barbato, Richard Bleier, J.R. Graham, Bryan Mitchell, James Pazos, and Mason Williams. Mitchell, Pazos, and Williams all missed significant time with injury this season, so they’ll remain in Triple-A and continue to get regular playing time. I’m sure most of these guys will be called up later this month.

Mailbag: Torres, Replay, Sanchez, QOs, Torreyes, Sheffield

I somehow managed to answer 17 questions this week. Don’t know how that happened. Some of the answers are kinda long too. So monster mailbag this week. Yeah. As always, the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address is the place to send us anything. (Also, I’m way behind on guest post submissions. I’ll get to them soon.)

Torres. (Greg Lovett/New York Times)
Torres. (Greg Lovett/New York Times)

Brian asks: Could you see the Yankees moving Gleyber Torres to 3rd base? It has worked out well for the Orioles with Machado and also Bregman is doing well in that role for the Astros. Since Headley is average at best, we could trade him as we bring up Torres for 3rd and have a solid group of young infielders for several years.

Definitely possible, especially with Didi Gregorius establishing himself as a rock solid big league shortstop. Torres fits the typical third base offensive profile better than Jorge Mateo, and I also think he’s the more fundamentally sound defender. Not that Mateo is bad in the field, but Torres is more sure-handed and reliable. Mateo has a knack for being a little too flashy. Torres won’t wow you in the field. He just makes plays.

Shortstops are typically the best athletes on the field and that makes them the best candidates to move to other positions. Sliding over to second or third is a fairly common move, but we’ve also seen shortstops move to the outfield. Billy Hamilton did it, and in a roundabout way Mookie Betts did it to. (He was drafted as a shortstop, then moved to second, then to center, then to right.) There’s no reason to think Torres couldn’t play third. He has the tools. I don’t think the Yankees should move him just yet, but if they determine in the future that’s the best way to get him into the lineup, then move him over. I think Torres would pick up the hot corner quickly.

Mark asks: Any worry of a strike or lock out this off season? Or is everyone rolling in the deep, that no matter how the cba turns out, everyone is a winner?

I’m not worried about a work stoppage and there’s no indication the two sides have reached a sticking point in Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. MLB is insanely healthy right now. Everyone is making a ton of money and everyone involved knows the best thing for business is to keep it going. A work stoppage would do a lot of unnecessary harm. Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters at the owners’ meetings a few weeks ago that talks were progressing and he expects a deal to be reached. I fully expect the two sides to have a new deal in place this offseason. Not worried at all. MLB and MLBPA have too much to lose.

Sam asks (short version): Are you happy with instant replay? What causes the MLB offices to not overturn calls that are seemingly obvious?

The folks in MLB’s central review office need clear and convincing evidence to overturn a call on the field. A lot of plays that look like they should be overturned aren’t because the replays are deemed inconclusive. That’s the best answer I can give. We’ve all seen plays where there appears to be obvious grounds to overturn the call, but it doesn’t happen for whatever reason. I can’t explain those.

As for the replay system in general, I am happy with it, though there are ways it can be improved. I’d like to see them speed up the process somehow. Is there a reason the crew chief can’t keep a direct line cell phone in his pocket and call the review crew that way rather than go over for the headsets? Just spitballing here. The other thing I don’t like about replay are the ticky-tack reviews on a player who might have popped up off the base for a fraction of a second after a slide. Like this:

Yes, it’s important to get the calls right. Ultimately that is why the replay system is in place. Calls like that are not the reason replay was implemented though. That’s an unintended consequence. I’m not sure how you could eliminate those, but plays like that are by far my least favorite aspect of replay.

Joseph asks: In light of the team’s recent success and playoff run attempt, would you undo any of the trades made before the deadline this year?  (I wouldn’t, feel like we need to store as many assets as possible to trade for at least one top of the rotation starter eventually, although I do miss Miller every day).

I don’t think so. The only one you would even consider taking back is the Andrew Miller trade because he is under contract another two years, and the Yankees could have always traded him for a monster package somewhere down the line. There’s no doubt the Yankees would be a better team right now with Miller and Aroldis Chapman, but they were smart to take a big picture view at the deadline. They had to. The franchise was desperate for an infusion of young talent. That the Yankees managed to claw their way back into relevance in the postseason race is all gravy in my opinion.

Andrew asks: With Sanchez having the month he’s having, possible extension candidate?  Great arm behind plate, crazy advanced hitter.  Something along the lines of Longoria’s deal from a few years ago enough to get it done?

It might be a little too early for this. Generally speaking, yes, Sanchez is the kind of young player you’d look to lock up long-term, especially given his position. The kid just had what might legitimately be the best month of his entire career though. His leverage is at an all-time high. Waiting until the offseason, or even next offseason, might not be the worst idea.

Just for fun, here are some players who signed long-term extensions with less than a half-a-season of service time (via MLBTR’s Extension Tracker):

  • Jonathan Singleton: Five years, $10M with three club options ($35M max)
  • Salvador Perez: Five years, $7M with three club options ($26.75M max)
  • Evan Longoria: Six years, $17.5M with three club options ($44M max)

The Longoria deal seems most relevant to Sanchez. They were both high profile prospects who received big signing bonuses as amateurs, so they already had some financial security. Perez received a $65,000 bonus as an amateur and jumped at the guaranteed money. Singleton received a $200,000 bonus out of the draft and he actually signed his extension with the Astros as a minor leaguer. They only called him up after he agreed to the deal.

If the Yankees were to wait and sign Sanchez to an extension after next season, contract benchmarks based on players with similar service time would include Christian Yelich (seven years, $49.75M), Jedd Gyorko (five years, $35M), Yan Gomes (six years, $23M), Starlin Marte (six years, $31M), and Anthony Rizzo (seven years, $41M). What do you think, worth the wait? Putting the Longoria extension in front of him this coming offseason is worth a try, I’d say.

Sanchez. (Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
Sanchez. (Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

Jerry asks: I’ve looked at’s scouting report on Gary Sanchez and his hit tool is only rated 45. Is his hit tool really below average because it certainly doesn’t look like it? gives him a 45 hit tool and they’re probably the low man on him. I’ve seen other publications (Baseball America, Keith Law, etc.) say they believe Sanchez can be a .270-.280 hitter in the big leagues, which is closer to a 55-60 hit tool on the 20-80 scale. A 50 is average and these days non-pitchers are hitting .259 collectively. Sanchez sure looks advanced for a hitter, right? He knows the strike zone and seems willing to go the other way. Based on everything I’ve seen and read over the years, I think a 50 hit tool is the minimum here. Anything less seems really light.

Frank asks: I have noticed that SP Will Carter has an amazing ratio of 36 ground outs to every 10 fly outs in AA Trenton. He pitches to a 4.42 ERA but I was wondering how much the quality of the minor league infields, as well as, minor league infield defense has played a part in his high ERA? Also do you think there would be a significant improvement should he pitch in the majors, given these factors?

Oh yes, that stuff absolutely plays a role in a pitcher’s ERA. Minor league fields are well groomed but not nearly as well as Major League fields, so there are bad hops and things like that. Minor league teams just don’t have the resources to care for them as well as MLB teams. Also, as talented as players like Mateo and Tyler Wade are, they’re still minor leaguers and they’re going to make mistakes on defense. It’s part of the learning process. Carter has a heavy mid-90s sinker and a 67.8% ground ball rate in the minors. Put him on a Major League field in front of a Major League defense, and his ground ball ability will be a real asset.

Adam asks: I counted 10 definites (Jansen, Trumbo, Ramos, Encarnacion, Napoli, Walker, Prado, Desmond, Cespedes, Bautista) and 3 strong maybes (Saunders, Fister, Lind) to receive the QO.  Is there anyone obvious that I am missing? and will this be the lowest amount of QO’s given since inception of the rule? Thanks

I think you’re being a wee bit generous with the qualifying offers. Adam Lind is essentially a DH and he’s hitting .230/.267/.429 (85 wRC+) this season. The qualifying offer is expected to be $16.7M this offseason. Put that in front of Lind and he’d take it in a heartbeat. I can’t see Mike Napoli getting the QO either, even as good as he’s been. He has a chronic condition in both of his hips. Neil Walker’s recent back surgery might take him out of the running too.

Adam is missing three QO candidates, in my opinion: Justin Turner, Matt Wieters, and Dexter Fowler. Turner and Fowler are no-brainers right now. Wieters is a bit more up in the air because he hasn’t had a great season, but still, quality catchers are hard to find. That gives us ten definites (Turner, Fowler, Kenley Jansen, Mark Trumbo, Wilson Ramos, Edwin Encarnacion, Martin Prado, Ian Desmond, Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Bautista) and four maybes (Wieters, Walker, Michael Saunders, Doug Fister).

Last year’s free agent class was ridiculously good and a whopping 20 players received the QO. That is by far a record. Only nine received it during the 2012-13 offseason, then 13 in 2013-14, and 12 in 2014-15. Looks like we’re heading for another 12-13 or so this year. I guess we could consider that a “normal” offseason at this point. I would be surprised if the Yankees forfeited a draft pick to sign one of those potential QO players this winter.

Eric asks: Do the Yankees sign a LH Reliever such as Boone Logan or Brett Cecil? Even if the Yankees bring back Chapman, he’s the closer so they would seem to be without any LH reliever options?

Outside of Miller, who was a special case because he is so much more than a left-on-left matchup guy, the Yankees have not had much luck signing free agent lefty relievers in recent years. Both Damaso Marte and Pedro Feliciano blew up on them (we’ll always have the 2009 World Series, Damaso!), and Matt Thornton was mediocre at best. The Yankees dumped him on a trade waiver claim four months into a two-year contract.

The list of non-Chapman free agent lefty relievers this coming offseason includes Logan, Cecil, Thornton, Mike Dunn, Javier Lopez, Marc Rzepczynski, and Travis Wood. Dunn has had some arm problems this year, otherwise he’d interest me the most out of those guys. Wood is more than a lefty specialist. He can go full innings if necessary, so he’d probably be my top target.

The Yankees have Chasen Shreve, James Pazos, Richard Bleier, and Tommy Layne on the 40-man roster right now. Dietrich Enns and/or Tyler Webb could be added this winter to avoid Rule 5 Draft exposure. I think the Yankees will stay in-house for lefty middle relievers. (By the way, I think the odds of them signing Chapman are, like, 85%.)

Torreyes. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
Torreyes. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Quintin asks: Torreyes is undersized and has no power, but has been fairly productive when given the chance to play. Could he be a starter for a contending team, or is he just a utility player?

I liked the Ronald Torreyes pickup and wrote that a few times before the season. I think he’s a really good utility infielder, someone who won’t kill you if you’re forced to play him everyday for two weeks while someone is on the DL, but not a guy you want to run out there for 150 games a season. I know Torreyes was insanely hot last week, but remember, he was hitting .218/.274/.308 (54 wRC+) as recently as August 18th. His hot week pushed that up to .298/.348/.452 (115 wRC+).

Torreyes is still only 23 — he’s two months older than Greg Bird and three months older than Gary Sanchez — and he’s a contact machine, which makes him prone to these ridiculous BABIP fueled hot streaks. He did it in April and he did it again last week. Torreyes has no power, but he gets the bat on the ball, he plays solid defense, and he’s a high-energy player who is a very popular teammate. I’m wrong about players all the time, so if Torreyes becomes an everyday player at some point, great. I see him as a really nice utility guy, someone who can be on a championship team’s bench.

Michael asks: Mike- with seven teams vying for the two WC spots separated by only 3.5 games (as of 8/30) can you please explain the tiebreaker system should it come to that.

I am #TeamChaos and would love to see a three or four-team tie for a wildcard spot one of these years. A two-team tie is simple. The two teams just play a Game 163 and the winner is the second wildcard team. This happened in 2013, when the Rangers and Rays tied for the second wildcard spot. Tampa beat Texas in Game 163 and then beat the Indians in the wildcard game.

For a three-team tiebreaker, the three clubs are designated Team A, B, and C based on a ton of criteria. Head-to-head records, intra-division records, all sorts of stuff. Team A plays Team B, then the winner plays Team C. The winner of that game gets the wildcard spot and advances to the postseason. You want to be Team C in that scenario. You one get to play fewer one winner-take-all tiebreaker game.

A four-team tiebreaker is boringly straight forward. The four teams are designated Team A, B, C, and D through all that messy criteria, then Team A plays Team B and Team C plays Team D. The two winners meet, and the winner of that game then advances to the postseason as the second wildcard team. MLB has all the tiebreaker scenarios worked out. Here are all the gory details.

George asks: Thoughts about the possibility of not having a “clubhouse leader” or “veteran presence” next year, especially if they trade McCann? I remember reports about how huge Miller was, and going back even Jeter and Posada. CC seems like a great model for the pitching staff (owning up to mistakes, overcoming addiction,…), but the position players don’t seem to have a go to guy especially after ARod’s jettison.

I do think this is something the Yankees take seriously. Based on everything I’ve read and heard, CC Sabathia is the leader of the pitching staff and Brett Gardner and Brian McCann are essentially co-captains in the clubhouse. They’re the leadership guys. Sabathia is almost certainly going to be around next year. Gardner and McCann could be traded though and that will leave a leadership void. Mark Teixeira will be gone too.

Ultimately, I think you have to focus on talent and put the best players on the field, and hope the leadership core develops. Back in the day the sabermetric credo was that intangibles didn’t matter, or that they didn’t have nearly as much impact as everyone believed. I agree that intangibles and leadership should not be the tippy top priority, but it’s silly to say they don’t matter. They obviously do. I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate to trade Gardner and/or McCann for clubhouse reasons, but I do think the leadership void is something they’d look to address.

Ross asks: I noticed that when Ben Gamel got traded, he was immediately put in 15th place for the Mariners top 30 on  Gamel was 24th on Yankee list.  Orozco was 19th on the Mariners list and Stephen Tarpley was #17 for the and Tito Polo was #27 for the Pirates and with Gamel’s top 30 spot, none of those three cracked the Yankee top 30 (Freicer Perez took the new 30 spot).  Is their depth that crazy deep or did mess up not putting any of those guys top-30?

No, didn’t screw up. The Yankees have that much depth in their farm system right now. The deadline trades added 12 (12!) legitimate prospects to the system, a system that was on the rise this season as it is. The Yankees have some high-end talent at the top of the farm system (Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, etc.) but they also have a ton of guys who project to be average-ish big league players. Guys like Thairo Estrada and Donny Sands have really nice skill sets and they can’t sniff the top 30 right now (in my opinion). Overlooked pitchers like Will Carter and Caleb Smith have a chance to contribute at the MLB level too. The depth in the system right now is just absurd. I’ve never seen it better.

Sheffield. (@MiLB)
Sheffield. (@MiLB)

Michael asks: Think we could see Justus Sheffield as early as sometime in 2017? What about Kaprielian?

I wouldn’t completely rule it out, but I do think 2017 is unlikely for both guys. Sheffield is just now getting to Double-A, and he figures to start next season at that level too. The Yankees are probably going to take it very easy with James Kaprielian given his elbow injury. I doubt they’ll rush him up the ladder next season. The fact neither of these guys is on the 40-man roster works against them too. I’d call late 2017 a slight possibility for both Sheffield and Kaprielian with early-to-mid-2018 more likely.

Nick asks: Would sending Severino to the AFL be an option?  Let him get a few extra innings and work on his changeup there.

I don’t think so. The Arizona Fall League is not the best place to send a young starter to work on things. It’s a very hitter friendly league. There’s no reason Luis Severino couldn’t go to the Arizona Fall League, he doesn’t exceed the service time limit, but it’s usually not a place for top young pitchers. Not unless they missed significant time with injury. Winter ball could be more likely for Severino, and even that I think is a long shot. They might send him home after the big league season and let him recharge the batteries, then come to Spring Training ready to work next year.

Luke asks: Where is Slade Heathcott these days?

Heathcott signed with the White Sox a few weeks after being released by the Yankees. He’s hit .227/.373/.330 (109 wRC+) with a 26.1% strikeout rate in 32 games for their Triple-A affiliate, and does not rank Slade among the top 30 prospects in a weak ChiSox farm system. I don’t know what Chicago’s 40-man roster situation is, but they’ll have to add Heathcott after the season to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent.

Travis asks: Considering the almost identical stat lines between Taylor Widener’s 2016 debut and Chance Adams’s 2015 debut, do you think the Yankees may try to convert Widener to a starter for 2017? I know he has had some injury concerns the last year or so, but I wasnt sure to what extent.

Widener was the Yankees’ 12th round pick out of South Carolina this season, and he has a 0.52 ERA (1.61 FIP) with 52 strikeouts and 6 walks in 34.1 pro innings. That’s a 43.0% strikeout rate and a 5.0% walk rate. Widener did have some injuries in college, most notably ulnar nerve transposition surgery last fall. He’s also had some back and knee problems over the years. The nerve injury is serious stuff, but he seems to be over it.

I suspect we’re going to hear a lot of “this guy might be the next Chance Adams” going forward, but it’s unfair to put that on anyone. What Adams did this year is like 95th percentile outcome stuff. Best case scenario. Widener has a mid-90s fastball and a hard slider, though he lacks a changeup, and that’s why most project him as a reliever. It’s worth noting the Yankees have him working 3-4 innings stints, so perhaps they’re considering him for a starting role. Widener could be in for the Jonathan Holder plan. Try him as a starter for a year, and if they don’t like what they see, stick him back in the bullpen.

DotF: Florial triples and homers in Charleston debut

As always, we begin with the notes:

  • OF Zack Zehner was named to the High-A Florida State League end of season All-Star Team. Also, Pat Osborn was named the league’s Manager of the Year, so congrats to both. Zehner, last year’s 18th round pick, hit .282/.382/.379 (129 wRC+) with three homers in 107 games for Tampa.
  • OF Alex Palma was placed on the Low-A DL with a lower body injury, the team announced. His regular season is over but he could return for the postseason, depending on the severity of the injury. The 20-year-old hit .265/.292/.420 (101 wRC+) with six homers in 64 games this year.
  • OF Estevan Florial was bumped up from rookie Pulaski to replace Palma, the team announced. Pulaski’s season ends today, so Florial is getting a late-season cameo in full season ball. Neat.

Triple-A Scranton (6-1 win over Buffalo) the win clinches at least a tie of the division title

  • CF Mason Williams: 3-5, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 1 BB — he’s locked in right now
  • RF Cesar Puello: 1-3, 1 R, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 HBP — another hit-by-pitch … he’s a magnet
  • 3B Rob Refsnyder: 1-5, 1 RBI, 1 K
  • 1B Chris Parmelee: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 E (fielding) — ten homers in 61 games for the RailRiders
  • DH Kyle Higashioka: 1-5, 2 K
  • LF Jake Cave: 1-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB
  • LHP Phil Coke: 6 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 5/5 GB/FB — 68 of 93 pitches were strikes (73%)
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 2 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 4/0 GB/FB — 12 of 16 pitches were strikes
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0/1 GB/FB — eleven of 16 pitches were strikes (69%) … pitching tonight is a pretty good indication he won’t be called up tomorrow

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

The Yankees have a much-needed off-day today. The bullpen is really worn out, and the last two weeks or so have been really taxing in general. Fans could use the off-day as much as the players, I think. So, with no game tonight, I instead command you to read my buddy Paul Swydan on MLB’s knack for unintended consequences. I applaud the league and commissioner Rob Manfred for looking for ways to improve the game, but it’s okay to leave some things the way they are.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The baseball schedule is very light today. Only four games! And one was a day game! The Mets are playing tonight and MLB Network is showing the Giants and Cubs. There’s also a ton of NFL preseason games on too. Apparently the college football season begins tonight too. So talk about any of those games or anything else right here. Just no religion or politics. Get that outta here.