All things considered, the 2015 season was pretty successful for Didi Gregorius. He had the unenviable task of replacing a legend, and after some early season jitters, he settled in nicely and was rock solid on both sides of the ball. Gregorius hit .265/.318/.370 (89 wRC+) at a time when the league average shortstop hit .256/.307/.375 (85 wRC+). Couple that with his defense and you’ve got an above-average young player.
The Yankees had reportedly been after Gregorius for a long time — the first mention of him in our archives was back during the 2013 Winter Meetings — so they clearly liked him very much, but until he got out onto the field, it was impossible to know what he would bring to the table. The Yankees couldn’t put all their eggs in the Gregorius basket. They had to be prepared to fill the shortstop position in other ways in case he didn’t work out long-term.
“We went for a long time with one shortstop at the Major League level. Now we have good depth, and the good thing about shortstops is that they’re athletes, so they can play all over the field if the position doesn’t open up for them at the next level,” said farm system head Gary Denbo to George King (subs. req’d) recently. Seven of my top 30 prospects were shortstops and only two ranked lower than 18th. The Yankees are deep at the position.
The best of those shortstop prospects in 20-year-old Jorge Mateo, who is attending his first big league camp this year. He’s not there because he has a chance to make the team. There’s close to zero chance that happens. He’s there because he is arguably the Yankees’ top prospect and because the brain trust wants to get a look at him up close. They’re dangling a carrot. If Mateo keeps it up and puts in the work soon he’ll be rubbing elbows will big leaguers all the time.
Mateo led the minors with 82 steals a year ago and chances are he will begin the 2016 season at High-A Tampa, where he played 21 games a year ago. A quick-ish promotion to Double-A seems likely, and if everything goes right, it’s not impossible for Mateo to make his MLB debut at some point this year, likely as the designated September pinch-runner. “My goal is to play in the big leagues this year,” he said to King.
With a player like Didi and a prospect like Mateo, it’s not difficult to find yourself looking ahead and trying to figure out how all the pieces will fit. Gregorius showed last season he’s a capable big league shortstop and the Yankees should be very excited about having him at the position. They should also be excited about Mateo — and Wilkerman Garcia, Tyler Wade, Hoy Jun Park, Kyle Holder, and a bunch others — because he has the potential to be a dynamic player.
“As far as the publications and all that stuff, it’s great, but I’m really just — my focus is to work hard. I’m here to work hard. I don’t pay attention to that stuff,” said Mateo to Brendan Kuty. “I’ve been working really hard to be consistent and to make the routine plays come out as easily as possible … I feel very happy to be here. I thank God for the opportunity to be here. I’m having a really great time with my teammates.”
There is only room at the inn for one shortstop, and right now this is a classic “we’ll deal with it when the time comes” situation. Mateo still needs to spend time in the minors and realistically, it’s going to be at least 18 months until he’s ready to hold down a big league job. It might even be more like 24 months. A lot can happen in that time, including trades. Don’t forget the Yankees were willing to deal Mateo for Craig Kimbrel at the trade deadline last year.
Point is, the future at shortstop looks very bright right now. The Yankees have a ton of promising young shortstops coming up through the system — again, it’s not just Mateo, it’s also Wilkerman and Wade and everyone else — plus Gregorius at the MLB level. We can even lump Starlin Castro into this mix. The Yankees have all of these guys and one day they may be in position to pick the best one, then use the others to fill needs elsewhere, either through trades or by having them change positions.
We’ve got 16 questions this week, which might be a mailbag record. The RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address is where you can send us questions.
Eric asks: Since Kaprielian is on the roster and was invited to spring does that mean he will see action in any games, or was this more so the big league staff could work with him/see him first hand?
Yeah, we should see James Kaprielian pitch in some Grapefruit League games. Luis Severino appeared in two games and threw 2.2 innings with the big league team last spring before being reassigned to minor league camp, and Kaprielian figures to be on a similar plan this year. Last year the Phillies had 2014 first rounder Aaron Nola throw three innings in camp, and he was a quick moving college starter like Kaprielian. (Nola was in the big leagues by July.) A handful of innings is pretty standard, so it won’t be much of a look, but it’ll be something.
Mike asks: You mentioned in a post this week that the biggest predictor of future injury is past injury – have there been any studies/examinations of data around injury causation/correlation? Wondering if data such as previous season PA/Innings pitched, previous injury history, SB attempts, etc. would line up with conventional wisdom about injuries?
Jeff Zimmerman has done a ton of research on injuries (mostly pitcher injuries) over the years and I can’t point you to any one specific post or series of posts. The only things I can recommend are his FanGraphs archive and Hardball Times archive. There’s a lot of posts and they go back years and years. He’s found evidence throwing a lot of breaking balls is bad (curveballs are worse than sliders, apparently), and there’s also strong correlation between high walk rates and injuries. The theory is pitchers with high walk rates have bad mechanics, making them prone to injury. Zimmerman’s work is top notch and it can be overwhelming because there’s so much of it.
Paul asks: Do you think if/when there are 2 teams added, interleague games will go back to being a couple of thematic weeks since they’ll no longer mathematically be required year-long? And how do you think it would impact divisions since there would now be 16 teams/league that 2 8-team divisions might surface?
Interleague play definitely isn’t going anywhere but I do think they’d bunch it together in the span of two or three weeks like they did back in the day, assuming the league expands at some point. Maybe they’ll bunch most of it together and give some high-profile geographic rivalries (Yankees vs. Mets, Dodgers vs. Angels, Giants vs. Angels, Orioles vs. Nationals, etc.) their own weekend later in the season.
I have to think two expansion teams would even the leagues out at 16 teams apiece, and two eight-team divisions would make the playoffs nice and neat too. Top two teams from each division get in, first place plays second place in the LDS, then the LCS features one team from each division. Easy, right? I don’t think MLB is going to want to get rid of the wildcard game though. It’s done very well for the league.
Shaya asks: The Ian Kennedy signing got me thinking out of the 6 pitchers from “The Big Three” and the “Killer B’s” has the most valuable one been Betances, or is a middling SP (IPK, Hughes) more valuable?
Phil Hughes leads the six pitchers in fWAR by a decent margin — he’s at 17.6 fWAR in 1,145.2 innings and Ian Kennedy is at 14.4 fWAR in 1,234.2 innings — and I’d agree he has had the best career of those guys to date. He’s had one year as a great reliever (2009) and a couple years as a good (2010, 2012) to great (2014) starter. Kennedy’s had some solid years too (2010-12). Starters are generally more valuable than relievers, but Dellin Betances is no ordinary reliever, and if he keeps this up, he’s going to go down as the best of the Big Three/Killer Bs pitchers. Dellin is at 5.6 fWAR in 181.2 innings and I’m one of those guys who thinks WAR underrates late-inning relievers by quite a bit.
Will asks: How exactly does dipping under the luxury tax and resetting a team’s tax rate work? Does a team have to begin, end, or play an entire season at a payroll figure below the $189M rate? If the payroll dips below the threshold as contracts expire after the season, could the Yankees spend their way back above that offseason or do they have to play the following season below that mark to qualify for a reset?
The end of season payroll has to be under the $189M threshold, so they have to stay under from Opening Day through Game 162. The expiring contracts at the end of the season don’t factor into the 2016 luxury tax payroll calculation. There’s no way the Yankees can get under the luxury tax this year. They’d have to shed close to $60M in payroll and that’s just not realistic. They should be able to get under in 2017 as long as the threshold rises with the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement. Once they spend a season under the threshold, the luxury tax rate resets, and the Yankees are free to spend whatever they please the following year.
Dan asks: I am definitely a glass half empty Yankees fan. Be honest with us: how bad is Greg Bird‘s shoulder surgery? Career derailing? Minor blimp? Somewhere in between?
I don’t think a player can have surgery, miss an entire season, and have the injury qualify as a “minor blip.” Bird had a very serious procedure. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Could it derail his career? I mean, possibly. Any time you’re talking about an injury to a major joint like the shoulder, it’s always possible it won’t ever work the same way again. Bird is not a pitcher but he still needs the shoulder to hit. It’s his front shoulder, his power shoulder, so it’s an important part of his swing. This is definitely somewhere between minor blip and career-threatening, closer to minor blip, I’d say. There’s always a chance the worst case scenario happens. That’s just the way it is.
(Also, I was a glass half empty fan once upon a time. It’s not worth it. I can’t control anything on the field so there’s no point in getting worried or upset. Zen baseball.)
P.J. asks: I’d like to jump ahead to the FA class next winter. We’ve all read over and over this past winter the rumors of Brett Gardner. But in reality wouldn’t moving him next winter be much more likely with a better return? There are a lot of FA outfielders available BUT quantity doesn’t equal quality and the FA outfield class next winter seems to be short on quality.
It’s possible if he has a typical Gardner season in 2016, meaning offense that is roughly 5% or so above league average and defense that is solid if not spectacular. The free agent outfield class is surprisingly strong next offseason — it’s Carlos Gomez, Dexter Fowler, Jose Bautista, Colby Rasmus, and Yoenis Cespedes — assuming Bautista doesn’t re-up with the Blue Jays and Cespedes opts out. If that doesn’t happen, the market will be thinner and there could be more interest in Gardner. I don’t know if the Yankees will get a better return — they’d be trading two years of Gardner instead of three, and the extra year of control matters — but they should still be able to drum up interest in him next winter. Their willingness to trade Gardner is going to depend a lot on the development of Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge.
Dave asks: Ellsbury was recently on Dan Szymborski’s ESPN Insider list of worst contracts; not surprising considering he has 5 years and $110.7M remaining. What kind of contact would he have gotten if he had been a free agent at the start of this offseason? He turned 32 last September.
That’s a good question. No way would he get five years and $110.7M after the season he had. Cespedes and Justin Upton didn’t sign until January, and I have to think Jacoby Ellsbury would have been right there waiting for a contract with them. I wonder if he would have been one of those guys who got hung out to dry by the qualifying offer, like Fowler and Ian Desmond. Two years ago I thought a five-year contract worth $85M or so was appropriate for Ellsbury. Knock two years off that and it’s three years and $51M. Would Ellsbury have gotten that this offseason? Cespedes had that monster 2015 season and only got three years and $75M.
Andrew asks: Is it possible to let Tex walk for a year? Assuming he gets a 1 or 2 year contract from another team, could he be signed in a DH role for his 38/39 year seasons if he shows he can still produce?
Of course. When he said he wanted to play until he was 40, Mark Teixeira specifically mentioned spending the last few seasons of his career as a DH, and we know he loves New York, so I’m sure he’d be open to it. The only issue is if he spends 2017 (and possibly 2018 as well) with another team, he might fall in love with that club and that city even more than he loves New York. Once Alex Rodriguez is off the books, I think the Yankees are going to want to rotate players in and out of the DH spot, so I’m not sure bringing Teixeira back at that point of his career is realistic. I’d be open to it. I don’t think the Yankees would.
Frank asks: Let’s dream for a minute and visualize Kaprielian improving his command dramatically. Considering the quality of his stuff, what is the absolute ceiling he can achieve in your opinion?
Well, if he improves his command considerably, Kaprielian has an ace ceiling. He added velocity last year and is now more 93-96 mph rather than 88-91 mph, and he has three average or better offspeed pitches, including a wipeout slider. Kaprielian has stuff, and if he can improve to the point where he has above-average command, then forget it. He’s going to be awesome, possibly a top 20 pitcher in MLB. With even average command he should be very good, and there’s nothing wrong with very good.
Michael asks: Cashman has said that Ackley would be the backup 1B. Do you see anyone else being a backup 1B, such as a right handed hitter, in case Ackley would have to play OF (or IF)?
I guess it depends how that last bench spot shakes out. If Starlin Castro can’t hack it at third base and the Yankees need to carry a true backup third baseman, that guy (Donovan Solano? Deibinson Romero?) could also see some action at first base. Gary Sanchez has some first base experience in winter ball but not much. I think the Yankees would sooner put Brian McCann at first and Sanchez behind the plate in that situation. I don’t believe a backup backup first baseman who hits right-handed is much of a priority. They have Teixeira and Dustin Ackley. That’s enough. If someone gets hurt, they’ll deal with it when the time comes. That’s going to be bad news either way.
Edward asks: Given that Ivan Nova has had good periods, though he’s more often been bad, how good of a season would he have to have for you to consider him for a new deal?
Ideally Nova would pitch his way into qualifying offer territory and decline it so he can go out and get Ian Kennedy money. As for bringing him back, I think something like a 3.70 ERA (4.00 FIP) in a good 150 innings would do the trick. That’s basically his 2011 season. If Nova stays healthy, shows good stuff, and gets decent enough results, I think the Yankees might consider bringing him back given their need for pitching beyond 2017. Hughes signed a three-year deal worth $24M with the Twins a few years back. Would that be a reasonable contract for Nova? It might be. Nova needs to have a good season first. If he’s mediocre and inconsistent again, then he’s a goner.
Joe asks: What is your take on Joel Sherman’s list of possible trade candidates or roster cuts: “I suspect their scouts will be armed with a list of likely available guys who are out of options or have no real roles on their current teams — players such as Philadelphia’s Cody Asche, Milwaukee’s Hernan Perez, Cleveland’s Giovanny Urshela, Miami’s Derek Dietrich, Oakland’s Danny Valencia and Philadelphia’s Andrew Blanco.”
Dietrich and Valencia are by far the best of the bunch and there’s no reason to think they’ll be available. Dietrich had a 119 wRC+ last season and is the Marlins main bench guy who backs up everywhere. Valencia is even better; he had a 135 wRC+ last year and is the A’s starting third baseman. Andres (not Andrew) Blanco had an out of nowhere 136 wRC+ in 2015 — he’s never hit like that before — and going after him now is the definition of buying high. I feel he’s destined to disappoint whoever trades for him. Urshela isn’t out of options; the Indians added him to the 40-man roster just an offseason ago. They’re probably going to keep him for 2017 and beyond even after signing Juan Uribe. Assuming Dietrich and Valencia are off limits, none of these guys excite me much. They’d be useful and fill a roster hole, sure. I don’t think there are any hidden gems. Just warm bodies.
John asks: The top prospects seem to be mostly from the 2015 draft and the 2014-15 international signing spree. What would you attribute that to: the farm just plainly not producing for a while or the scouting overhaul that took place a few years ago?
I don’t think that’s the case at all. I had five 2015 draftees (Kaprielian, Drew Finley, Jeff Degano, Kyle Holder, Chance Adams) and two 2014-15 international signees (Wilkerman Garcia, Hoy Jun Park) in my Top 30 Prospects List. Baseball America had five 2015 draftees (Kaprielian, Finley, Holder, Degano, Jhalan Jackson) and two 2014-15 IFAs (Wilkerman, Park) in their Yankees top 30 in the 2016 Prospect Handbook. MLB.com went a little overboard with seven 2015 draftees (Kaprielian, Finley, Degano, Holder, Adams, Donny Sands, Trey Amburgey) in their top 30, though they only had one 2014-15 IFA (Wilkerman). That seems like a normal amount of recent acquisitions to me. Most of New York’s very best prospects — Sanchez, Judge, Jorge Mateo, Ian Clarkin, etc. — were all acquired other years. The 2014-15 IFA class is going to dominate the top 30 for the next few seasons, though I do also think the Yankees have done a very good job in the middle rounds of the draft recently. They’re digging up quality under the radar guys like Jackson and Adams and Sands and Amburgey.
Julian asks: I know this isn’t Yankee’s related, but the Orioles must really be scaring away free agents these days, no? Between their constant issues over physicals and now Dexter Fowler backing off, they have to be a destination of last resort (at least in terms of Major league deals) for free agents it would seem.
Yeah I can’t imagine too many free agents are eager to sign with the Orioles given the medical shenanigans. Chris Davis and Darren O’Day had been there already and knew the deal, and they were comfortable going back. But if you were coming from another team, knowing they’re such sticklers with the medicals, wouldn’t you pause a bit? Yovani Gallardo didn’t sign with the O’s because he thought it was a good fit. He signed with the O’s because they were the only team willing to pay him late in the offseason. Same thing with Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez two years ago. It does seem like they’re becoming something of a last resort team for a lot of free agents.
Chip asks: Give me 5 prospects not on the Yankees top 30 who you think will be on there by midseason and the 5 who are going to come off either because they’ve played badly or graduated to the majors?
Would it be too much of a cop out if I just linked to my Not Top 30 Prospects List for the five guys I think will be on the list come midseason? That’s kinda why I put that post together each year. We can include Estevan Florial in that group since he’s the new hotness. As for five who drop off the list, I’ll say Sanchez and Jacob Lindgren graduate to MLB, and Slade Heathcott (injury), Leonardo Molina (performance), and Abi Avelino (performance) are most at risk for dropping off for not good reasons.
Following the first full squad workout today, Alex Rodriguez told reporters he plans to pace himself this season after wearing down in the second half last year. He also said he’s not planning to play another five years like Mark Teixeira, and he also has no aspirations to manage. “You can quote me on that,” he said. Bummer. I wonder if A-Rod will end up on TV instead. He was quite good with FOX last fall. Anyway, the A-Rod news comes via Jack Curry, Mark Feinsand, and Anthony McCarron. Here are today’s photos and here is the rest of the day’s news from camp:
- As always, Chad Jennings has the day’s workout groups. Masahiro Tanaka threw a bullpen session — Gary Sanchez caught him with Tony Pena watching, which is kinda notable — while Ivan Nova, Bryan Mitchell, James Kaprielian, Jacob Lindgren, Nick Rumbelow, and Branden Pinder all faced hitters in live batting practice. There were infield drills and batting practice and all that good stuff for the position players. [McCarron]
- Both Rob Refsnyder and Starlin Castro will work out at third base this spring. The team discussed using Refsnyder at third yesterday and they’re going to indeed try it. Hooray for that. Teixeira, Dustin Ackley, and Chris Parmelee will be the only players to get meaningful innings at first base this spring. By the way, Parmelee’s nameplate still says “Parmelle.” “Oh, it’s going to get fixed,” he joked. [Bryan Hoch, Jennings, Jared Diamond]
- Pete Kozma is expected to miss a “couple of weeks” with a lower back issue, according to Joe Girardi. He’s already filling the Brendan Ryan role nicely. In case you missed it earlier, Brett Gardner will be limited early in camp by a left wrist bone bruise and Mason Williams is likely to start the season on the DL as he continues to rehab from shoulder surgery. [Jennings]
- Aroldis Chapman was not in camp today for personal reasons. Apparently it’s a citizenship matter and he told the Yankees he needed these two days off — he was away from the team for a day earlier this week too — way back when the trade was made. Chapman will be back in camp tomorrow. [Billy Witz, Feinsand]
- Hideki Matsui, Willie Randolph, and Lee Mazzilli are among the guest instructors already in camp. Randolph supposedly took some time to turn double plays with Didi Gregorius and Jorge Mateo. [Brendan Kuty]
Here is the open thread for the evening. All of the local sports teams are in action except the Knicks, and there’s some college basketball on the schedule too. Talk about those games or Spring Training or anything else here.
Although there were only a few rumors, it was widely believed MLB and the MLBPA were working this winter on rule modifications to further improve the pace-of-play and make take-out slides safer. On Thursday they announced exactly that. The full press release it right here. Here’s a quick breakdown.
Starting this season managers and pitching coaches will have only 30 seconds for mound visits. The distance from the dugout to the mound is not the same at all 30 ballparks — Bob Melvin in Oakland is screwed with all that foul territory — but I guess the league doesn’t care. I bet we’ll see pitchers meet the manager/pitching coach at the foul line so they can walk to the mound together and buy a little more time.
Also, MLB is cutting between-inning commercial breaks by 20 seconds this season. That’s surprised me. Those 20 seconds equal real advertising dollars. Anyway, teams now have two minutes and five seconds between half-innings for local broadcasts and two minutes and 25 seconds for national broadcasts going forward. They have to be ready to play once the little clock in the outfield hits zero.
Take-Out Slide Rules
With all due respect to Jung-Ho Kang, a take-out slide rule change was inevitable as soon as Chase Utley broke Ruben Tejada’s leg on national television during the NLDS. Under the new rules, the runner must attempt a “bonafide slide” when charging into second base, otherwise they will be called for interference. A “bonafide slide” occurs when the runner …
- begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base;
- is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot;
- is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide;
- slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.
The runner is still allowed to make contact with the infielder trying to turn the double play as long as he performs a “bonafide slide.” The runner can’t roll into the base and they can’t go out of the base path to break up the double play, even if there is no contact. If the runner violates the new rule, both he and the runner going to first are called out.
For the first time, neighborhood plays at second base will be reviewable. It’s amazingly contradictory MLB and the MLBPA agreed to make take-out sliders safer only to eliminate the neighborhood play, which is a way of making the double play pivot safer for infielders. They’re putting the infielders right in the path of the oncoming base-runner now. I mean, yeah, if you don’t touch the base it shouldn’t be an out, but I’m okay with non-egregious neighborhood plays. This is going to be “reviewing the play because the runner was off the base for a fraction of a second after a slide” level annoying.
More than four months after the wildcard game, Brett Gardner is still dealing with a lingering bone bruise in his left wrist after crashing into the outfield wall making a catch against the Astros. The Yankees are being cautious and will limit Gardner’s work early in Spring Training.
Here’s the catch that caused the injury:
Joe Girardi told Chad Jennings and Jack Curry there is “very little there, but there’s no reason for him to get started,” and the team is taking it slow with Gardner “because we can.” It’s worth noting this is not the wrist that bothered Gardner for much of last season. Last year it was his right wrist after being hit by a pair of pitches in April. This year it’s the left wrist. Gardner told Bryan Hoch he’s fine and will be ready for Opening Day, because of course. He always says he’s fine.
As we learned last season with Mark Teixeira, bone bruises can be very tricky, and even though it’s been four months, the Yankees don’t want to unnecessarily push Gardner in camp. It’s possible the wrist could have been an issue during offseason trade talks. The team has to disclose injuries — well, they don’t have to, but they kinda do — and the wrist may have pushed clubs to focus on other outfielders. There were lots available this winter.
In other injury news, Mason Williams told Jennings he expects to start the season on the DL because he is still rehabbing from shoulder surgery. He had his surgery in August and apparently the rehab timetable is something like 8-10 months. That puts Williams on target for a return hopefully sometime in April, but possibly as late as June. He hurt himself diving back into first base on a pickoff throw. Pretty fluky injury.
So with Gardner banged up and Williams likely to start the season on the DL, the Yankees are already faced with the possibility of dipping into their outfield depth. Good thing they have a lot of it. The outfield depth chart looks something like this right now:
Those are on the 40-man options. We could even throw former outfielder Rob Refsnyder into the mix, though that’s unnecessary. Lane Adams is a non-40-man roster outfield option. So is top prospect Aaron Judge, but the Yankees want to give him regular at-bats in Triple-A this year, and they have the depth to do that even with Gardner already banged up and Williams hurt. They still might have to tap into their outfield depth earlier than expected.
The good news is the tests show Gardner’s bone bruise is improving — remember Teixeira’s bone bruise? his didn’t improve at all — and he was able to hit today. Sweeny Murti says he took 50 swings earlier today, though those were the first swings he’s taken since the wildcard game. Gardner, who usually starts hitting in December, is going to have to knock quite a bit of rust off this spring if he wants to be ready for Opening Day.
Chasen Shreve was very good last season. And then he was very bad. For the first four and a half months of the season he was truly outstanding, giving Joe Girardi a very good fourth option in the bullpen. Then it all fell apart in the middle of the August. Shreve allowed ten runs on 21 hits (five homers!) and 14 walks in his final 12.2 innings of 2015. Yuck.
There is no shortage of theories why Shreve struggled so much late in the season. He was fatigued. The league caught up to him. It was all bad luck. Everyone has a theory and no one knows if they’re actually right. Lately the idea Shreve was tipping his pitches has gotten some press — Joel Sherman wrote about it (twice) and Ryan Hatch asked Larry Rothschild about it — and that’s as good a theory as any.
Shreve is a three-pitch pitcher but his fastball and splitter are his main weapons. He does throw a slider too, just not very often. It’s a surprise pitch, basically. Not a real weapon. Shreve uses his fastball to set up his splitter and vice versa. Pretty simple formula. Here are some numbers:
What really stands out is how often Shreve threw his splitter in the zone in August and September (and October). The splitter is designed to finish out of the zone. The pitcher releases it, the batter reads fastball in the zone, starts his swing, then the pitch falls off the table. When thrown properly, the split might be the most devastating pitch in the sport.
For whatever reason Shreve threw a lot of splitters in the zone at the end of the season, and that’s not where the pitch is supposed to be. That suggests a mechanical issue, or maybe fatigue, but tipping pitches? I’m not sure it jibes with that. When a pitcher tips his pitches, he tells the hitter what is coming, not where it’s coming. And even if he did tell them where it was coming, it requires a lot of skill to actually throw it there. Command is hard.
For the sake of thoroughness, here are two GIFs of Shreve from October, in the second to last game of the season. The pitch on the right is a fastball and the pitch on a left is a splitter. If you can spot some sort of difference in his set position or delivery that may be tipping the pitch to the hitter, you’re better at this than I am.
Shreve missed his spot with both pitches though not necessarily in a bad way; he got the fastball a little too far inside and the splitter finished down in the dirt. He didn’t miss out over the plate. Of course, this is a sample of two pitches. Shreve did a lot of missing over the plate down the stretch.
Rothschild told Hatch he believes Shreve simply wore down last season, though that could be pitching coach speak for “I’m not telling you anything.” It’s certainly possible he was tipping his pitches. You can never rule it out, but it often feels like crying wolf. Every time a pitcher struggles unexpectedly, oh well he must be tipping his pitches. We hear it constantly.
Fatigue does seem like the most logical explanation. I don’t think Shreve got lucky for four and a half months then it all caught up to him. He didn’t get bad overnight. Shreve likely wore down, which threw his mechanics out of whack and resulted in poor location, hence all the extra splitters in the zone. He couldn’t get the same finish on the pitch. Fatigue would be the cleanest explanation. An offseason of rest and he’s as good as new.
The real Chasen Shreve is probably somewhere between the awesome pitcher he was from April through mid-August and the bad pitcher he was from mid-August through the end of the season. It’s up to Shreve and Rothschild to figure out what happened. For now, Shreve’s performance most of last season earned him some rope, and I think he’s got a leg up on one of those open bullpen spots.