Monday Night Open Thread

According to Alex Pavlovic, Giants manager Bruce Bochy told reporters last week that managers will not be allowed to go on the field to ask for a challenge this coming season. Apparently they will have to signal from the dugout or something. Nothing is official yet, but MLB has been looking for a way to speed up managerial challenges this offseason, and I guess this is their solution. Sounds good to me, but let’s see how it works in practice.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all playing, and there’s the usual slate of college basketball as well. Talk about those games, the apparent new procedure for managerial challenges, or anything else right here tonight.

Judge and Severino make Baseball Prospectus’ top 101 prospects

Severino and Judge, again. (Presswire)
Severino and Judge, again. (Presswire)

Earlier today, Baseball Prospectus released their list of the top 101 prospects in baseball heading into the 2015 season. The list is free but the scouting reports are behind the pay wall. Twins OF Byron Buxton sits in the top spot and is followed by Cubs SS Addison Russell and Astros SS Carlos Correa in the top three. Cubs 3B Kris Bryant ranks fifth, the lowest you’ll see him on a top 100 list this spring.

The Yankees have two players in the top 101 and they’re just about side-by-side in the rankings: OF Aaron Judge ranks 49th and RHP Luis Severino ranks 51st. Judge is the 11th outfielder on the list and Severino is the 25th pitcher (19th right-hander) on the list. C Gary Sanchez ranked third on Baseball Prospectus’ top ten Yankees prospects list a few weeks ago but did not make the top 101.

Judge ranked 23rd on Keith Law’s top 100 and 68th on MLB.com’s top 100, so add in Baseball Prospectus and his average ranking this spring has been 47th overall. Severino ranked 23rd on MLB.com’s list but he did not appear on Law’s list. Baseball America is scheduled to release their top 100 prospects list next Thursday and based on everything they’ve written these last few weeks and months, it’s safe to say Severino and Judge will make the list, in that order.

The five most interesting Yankees ZiPS projections

2015 ZiPS

Early last week, as part of his annual series at FanGraphs, Dan Szymborski released his ZiPS projections for the 2015 Yankees. As always, projections don’t mean a whole lot of anything. They aren’t predictions — projections are an estimate of current talent level — and while ZiPS has historically been accurate on a macro level, there are always individual outliers. Projections are a completely objective look at a player and a conversation starter, that’s all.

The graphic above shows the rough WAR projections for the Yankees’ regulars. The team’s full ZiPS projections are right here, so check them out at your own convenience. I want to focus on five players with projections that stood out as interesting to me, either for good reasons or bad reasons. Let’s get to it …

Brian McCann: +3.0 WAR

Catcher defense is still very difficult to quantify and ZiPS doesn’t handle it well, so there’s no point in looking at McCann’s projected WAR. The most important thing is ZiPS sees him as a .249/.316/.431 (.325 wOBA) hitter this coming season, which is way better than the .232/.286/.406 (.306 wOBA) line he put up last year. It’s down slightly from his .252/.329/.441 (.332 wOBA) line with the Braves from 2011-13 but still in the same ballpark. That’s encouraging.

Remember, ZiPS knows all about McCann’s heavy career workload and catcher aging curves and all that. It knows that catchers McCann’s age tend to continue declining once they’ve started declining, yet it still expects him to bounce back in 2015. That’s because it sees his .231 BABIP last summer and knows it was out of line with his .283 career mark. That said, it only has him getting back to .260 BABIP. This 100% objective computer system doesn’t expect McCann to slide into uselessness just yet and for some reason I find that reassuring.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Didi Gregorius: +1.6 WAR

Defensive stats are sketchy and defensive projections are even sketchier. ZiPS pegs Gregorius as a +1 defender, which is actually better than his career UZR (-3.6) and DRS (0) numbers at short, but not in line with his reputation. Is it possible Didi’s defensive skills have been overstated? Oh hell yeah. It happens all the time, especially with players who can’t hit. But, as I explained a few weeks ago, the scouting reports and Inside Edge data make it seem Gregorius is a standout defender with a knack for the occasional mental mistake on routine plays. That is something that can be improved with experience, in theory.

Anyway, aside from the defense, ZiPS has Didi as a .251/.307/.369 (.295 wOBA) hitter and that sorta stinks. The league average shortstop put up a .251/.306/.363 (.297 wOBA) line last year though, so Gregorius is projected as almost a perfectly league average hitting shortstop. There’s nothing sexy about that, but Derek Jeter did hit .256/.304/.313 (.279 wOBA) last season, and that’s really really bad. Even at the league shortstop average, Didi will be a big upgrade at the plate. Add in even +1 defense, and he’s an even bigger upgrade. The Yankees got -2.3 WAR from their shortstops a year ago, easily the worst in baseball. Gregorius is looking very much like a multi-win upgrade even with the modest ZiPS projections.

Nathan Eovaldi: +1.1 WAR

To me, Eovaldi is the perfect example of a pitcher poised to exceed projections. ZiPS only knows the stats, remember. It doesn’t know Masahiro Tanaka has a tiny tear in his UCL, for example. It doesn’t know Chasen Shreve decided to throw harder last year. And it doesn’t know Eovaldi appeared to improve his changeup late last season or that he is going from an atrocious pitch-framer (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) to an elite one (McCann) or that pitching coach Larry Rothschild has a long history of improving strikeout rates. Those are three ZiPS ignored factors that could have a major impact going forward. Eovaldi is projected for a 4.51 ERA (4.16 FIP) and I wouldn’t be surprised if he outperforms that by a full run this coming season. Okay, fine, let’s say half-a-run instead. Either way, I like Eovaldi’s chances of exceeding ZiPS.

Justin Wilson: -0.1 WAR

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

So ZiPS isn’t a fan of New York’s new lefty middle reliever. Wilson has a 2.99 ERA (3.45 FIP) in 138.1 career innings and the projection system has him as a true talent 4.31 ERA (4.54 FIP) pitcher in 2015. His strikeout and walk rate projections (23.6 K% and 12.8 K%) are right in line with his 2014 performance (23.8 K% and 11.7 BB%), so the difference is all in home run rate. After allowing eight homers in his first 138.1 big league innings, ZiPS sees Wilson as an eight homers in 64.2 innings guy right now. That … seems weird.

Yes, Wilson is moving into a much more hitter friendly ballpark. Yankee Stadium had a 111 HR Park Factor last summer — that means it inflated homer production to 11% more than the league average — while PNC Park had an 88 HR Park Factor, so that’s a big difference. Enough to go from a 0.52 HR/9 from 2012-14 to 1.11 HR/9 in 2015? Maybe! That just seems like an exorbitant spike in homer rate, especially for a pitcher with a career 50.9% ground ball rate.

Reliever homer rates can be pretty volatile year to year because they inherently work in small samples, maybe 60-70 innings per year. One single homer results in a pretty big change in a reliever’s homer rate. Five dingers in 50 innings is 0.90 HR/9. Four is 0.72. Six is 1.08. Those are pretty big swings that result from one swing of the bat, one gust of wind, a couple degrees of temperature, stuff like that. ZiPS sees Wilson being replacement level because it expects him to start serving up long balls, but reliever homer rates are really volatile. The computer is being pretty pessimistic.

Bryan Mitchell: -1.3 WAR

Yikes. ZiPS pegs Mitchell for a 5.92 ERA (5.68 FIP) with mediocre strikeout (15.0 K%) and walk (11.5 BB%) rates, which isn’t good at all but not completely unexpected for a non-elite 23-year-old pitching prospect. The problem is Mitchell is more or less the team’s sixth starter. Maybe he’s more like the eighth starter behind Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers, but the point is he’s not all that far down the depth chart. ZiPS won’t have any impact on Mitchell’s real life performance, but geez, it would have been nice to see the system be a little more optimistic heading into the season.

Three notable Spring Training invitees and three notable omissions

Jagielo. (MiLB.com)
Jagielo. (MiLB.com)

A few days ago the Yankees announced their list of 26 non-roster Spring Training invitees, so they’ll have a whopping 66 players in big league camp this year when you include the guys on the 40-man roster. The crop of non-roster invitees is pretty standard in the sense that some are top prospects, some are journeymen on minor league contracts, and some are spare bodies who will help carry the workload in March. Extra arms, extra catchers to catch bullpens, that sort of thing.

Some of the non-roster invitees are more interesting than others, of course, and there are several other players who are notable because they did not receive an invitation to big league camp this year. We’re all jonesin’ to see OF Aaron Judge and 1B Greg Bird and RHP Luis Severino in action in the coming weeks, but here are three other non-roster invitees I’m looking forward to seeing. And, on the flip side, here are three guys we somewhat surprisingly won’t get to see in camp.

Notable Invitee: RHP Andrew Bailey

The Yankees signed Bailey to a minor league contract last offseason knowing he likely wouldn’t pitch in 2014 following shoulder capsule surgery. The move was geared towards 2015, and, after Bailey suffered a few setbacks last summer, the Yankees opted to decline is 2015 club option (reportedly worth $2.5M or so) and instead re-signed him to another minor league contract.

Bailey is supposedly healthy now — “He’s in a throwing program, and there’s been nothing adverse reported from him,” said assistant GM Billy Eppler to Chad Jennings recently — and will get a chance to show what he can do post-capsule surgery in camp. Torn shoulder capsules are very serious and there’s a really good chance Bailey will never get back to where he was from 2009-13 (2.64 ERA and 3.13 FIP), but that doesn’t man he can’t help. Instead of being a shutdown late-inning guy, maybe he’s only a serviceable reliever. That’s still useful. Spring Training will give us a chance to see if Bailey has anything left.

Notable Omission: 3B Eric Jagielo

Jagielo, the team’s first of three first round picks in the 2013 draft, did not get an invitation to Spring Training. Judge, the team’s second first rounder that year, did get the invite. (The third first rounder, LHP Ian Clarkin, is a Single-A pitcher less than two years removed from high school, so he understandably didn’t get an invite to camp.) Judge has obviously passed Jagielo as a prospect but it’s still surprising the team didn’t give a recent first rounder — a polished college hitter at that — an invitation to big league camp.

Now, it’s important to note this could be health related. Jagielo took an errant pitch to the face in Instructional League back in late-September and suffered fractures that required surgery. He didn’t suffer a concussion and there was no other neurological damage. Jagielo was expected to need 4-6 weeks to heal from the injury, but, since it’s a head injury, the Yankees could never be too careful. Jagielo’s recovery might be going slower than expected and that could be why he didn’t get the invite to camp.

If that’s not the case, Jagielo was simply the victim of a number’s crunch. Not only will Chase Headley and yes, Alex Rodriguez, get work at third base in camp, so will Brendan Ryan, Jose Pirela, Nick Noonan, Jonathan Galvez, and Cole Figueroa as well. Maybe even Stephen Drew. “There’s a limited number of at-bats and innings to hand out in Spring Training. You don’t want to water it down,” said Eppler to Jennings. It’s understandable yet still a bit of a bummer Jagielo wasn’t invited to camp if he is indeed healthy and over his facial injuries.

Notable Invitee: RHP Nick Goody

Goody. (AP)
Goody. (AP)

The Yankees have built quite a bit of bullpen depth this offseason, and that’s all on top of the bullpen prospects they have in the minors. RHP Nick Rumbelow, LHP Tyler Webb, RHP Wilking Rodriguez, RHP Diego Moreno, and LHP Jacob Lindgren are all Triple-A relievers coming to camp as non-roster players. Goody has been lost in the minor league bullpen shuffle so to speak because he’s only thrown 66 innings since being the team’s sixth rounder in 2012. You can blame Tommy John surgery for that.

Goody, 23, returned with his new elbow in the middle of last season and had a 4.60 ERA (3.63 FIP) in 31.1 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton, showing the control problems (10.7 BB%) that typically plague a pitcher soon after having his elbow rebuilt. He still missed bats though (32.9 K%), and he was dynamite before getting hurt, putting up a 1.29 ERA (1.76 FIP) with excellent strikeout (40.4 K%) and good walk (8.2 BB%) rates in 35 innings from 2012-13.

Goody is a short little righty (listed at 5-foot-11 and 195 lbs.) with a low-to-mid-90s heater and a sharp low-80s slider, and he was projected to be a quick moving strikeout artist before blowing out his elbow. All the bullpen depth means he may not get to MLB this summer — I expect Goody to start the season with Double-A Trenton — but he’s someone who could be on the map for 2016. He’s a nice little relief prospect and I think he’ll sneak up on some people and open eyes during Grapefruit League play in March.

Notable Omission: RHP Johnny Barbato

Acquired from the Padres for Shawn Kelley a few weeks ago, the 22-year-old Barbato had a 2.87 ERA (3.31 FIP) with a 25.6 K% and 7.8 BB% in 31.1 innings for San Diego’s Double-A affiliate last season. He missed the second half with an elbow strain that did not require surgery. Eppler told Jennings that Barbato is healthy and even pitched in Instructional League for the Padres in the fall, so it doesn’t seem like he was excluded from camp for health reasons. It appears he was another victim of the numbers crunch.

Despite his strong performance last year, Barbato will likely return to Double-A this season because there doesn’t figure to be any room for him at Triple-A. At least on Opening Day. Like Goody, he is probably looked at as more of a 2016 bullpen candidate than a 2015 bullpen candidate, yet one is going to big league camp and one isn’t. Weird. I just figured the Yankees would invite Barbato to camp after getting him in a trade for a real live big leaguer. But I suppose there just aren’t enough innings to go around.

Pazos. (Robert Pimpsner)
Pazos. (Robert Pimpsner)

Notable Invitee: LHP James Pazos

Even before signing Andrew Miller and trading for Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve, the Yankees had built up a healthy amount of left-handed bullpen depth. Lindgren is the most notable as last year’s top draft pick, and Webb put up unignoreable numbers at three levels last year, but Pazos shouldn’t be overlooked either. In fact, after the Yankees let Matt Thornton go on waivers last August, both Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi mentioned Pazos by name when discussing the club’s lefty bullpen depth.

The 23-year-old Pazos was New York’s 13th round pick in 2012 and he had a 2.42 ERA (2.38 FIP) with a ton of strikeouts (27.4 K%) and perhaps a few too many walks (9.1 BB%) in 67 innings split between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton last year. According to PitchFX data from the Arizona Fall League, he averages 94 mph with his fastball and the low-80s with his slider, so he’s not some soft-tosser. A hard-throwing lefty who has had success at the Double-A level is always worth keeping an eye on.

Notable Omission: RHP Mark Montgomery

Three years ago, Montgomery was the top relief prospect in the organization after a ridiculous 2012 season in which he posted 1.41 ERA (1.56 FIP) with a 40.2 K% and 9.1 BB% in 70.1 innings with High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton. Then he suffered a shoulder injury in the middle of the 2013 season and hasn’t been the same guy since, mostly because his once low-90s fastball is now more mid-80s, and his trademark slider simply isn’t as effective.

Montgomery was invited to big league camp in both 2013 and 2014, but he didn’t get an invite this year because he’s not nearly the same level of prospect anymore. Jagielo and Barbato appear to have been squeezed out by the numbers crunch. That’s not the case here. Montgomery’s stuff hasn’t been the same since the shoulder injury and he’s not much of a prospect anymore. That’s baseball. And that’s why you need a deep reserve of relievers.

Fan Confidence Poll: February 9th, 2015

2014 Record: 84-78 (633 RS, 664 RA, 77-85 pythag. record), did not qualify for postseason

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?

Cotillo: Padres sign James Shields to four-year contract; 2015 draft order finalized

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

According to Chris Cotillo, the Padres have signed right-hander James Shields to a four-year contract in the $72M to $76M range. It’s been a foregone conclusion that Shields, who grew up in the San Diego area, would sign with the Padres for about a week now. The two had been connected quite a bit. The Cubs, Marlins, and Blue Jays were also said to be in the mix these last few weeks.

As with Max Scherzer and Jon Lester, the Yankees were never seriously connected to Shields this offseason despite their obvious need for rotation help. Ownership and Brian Cashman said they were going to avoid big money long-term contracts that bought decline years in bulk this winter and they stuck to their guns. Can’t imagine many people expected that.

At this point the best free agent starter left on the market is righty Brandon Beachy, who is working his way back from his second Tommy John surgery and isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season. After Beachy, the best available free agent hurlers are Roberto Hernandez, Chris Young, Joe Saunders, and Kevin Correia, all of whom are minor league contract guys. I don’t expect New York to get involved with any of them at this point.

The Padres are forfeiting the 13th overall pick to sign Shields, and, because of that, the Yankees’ first two picks in the 2015 draft move up a slot. Their natural first rounder moves up from 17th overall to 16th overall, and their supplemental first rounder (the compensation pick for David Robertson) moves from 31st to 30th overall. Based on last year’s slot values, the 16th and 30th overall picks come with $2.34M and $1.76M bonus slots, respectively.

The Yankees haven’t picked as high as 16th overall since taking Florida high school righty Matt Drews with the 13th overall pick in 1993. They haven’t had two of the top 30 picks since 1978, when they took California high school shortstop Rex Hudler and New York high school outfielder Matt Winters with 18th and 24th overall picks, respectively. Yeah, it’s been a while.

Now that Shields is off the board, all of the top non-Yoan Moncada free agents are signed and the 2015 draft order is more or less finalized. (The competitive balance lottery picks can still be traded before the draft.) The offseason is basically over barring a surprise trade. Pitchers and catchers will start reporting to Spring Training next week and the 2015 season will start to get underway. It’s about time.

Weekend Open Thread

Two weeks! Two weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training! It’s getting closer, folks. Also coming in two weeks: my annual top 30 prospects list and RAB’s eighth birthday. Eight years, man. Time flies. Here are the weekend links:

  • Jonah Keri released his annual list of the worst contracts in baseball. One Yankees player made the top ten and three others made the honorable mentions. I’m guessing you don’t even need to click to know who they are. Three of the five worst contracts belong to one team though, and it ain’t the Yankees.
  • David Waldstein wrote about Rob Refsnyder, but it’s not your typical puff piece. He covered Refsnyder’s upbringing — Refsnyder was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in California as an infant — and all the challenges he faced growing up, including being heckled as a college player.
  • There have been a bunch of interviews with new commissioner Rob Manfred since he officially came into power two weeks ago, and I think Bill Shaikin’s is the best. He hit Manfred with questions about growing the game, labor piece, the Athletics’ stadium situation, and more. It’s good stuff.
  • Last week, Baseball America republished a really great roundtable article on the “stats vs. scouts” debate from 2005. Two scouts and two stats guys sat down and discussed the usefulness of each other and where the game was going moving forward. It’s still really great read. Check it out.

Friday: Here is your open thread for the night. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all playing, and there’s a ton of college basketball on the schedule as well. Talk about those games, the links, or anything else right here. Have at it.

Saturday: This is your open thread again. The Rangers have already played but the Islanders, Devils, Knicks, and Nets are all in action tonight. And there’s college hoops as well. Talk about whatever’s on your mind here.

Sunday: For the last time, here’s your open thread. The Rangers are playing right now and that’s pretty much it. Have at it.