Yankeemetrics: The final countdown begins [Sept. 20-22]

(AP)
(AP)

Gary For President
Fueled by the heroics of Gary Sanchez and a dominant outing by the enigmatic Michael Pineda in the series opener on Tuesday night, the desperate Yankees kept their faint postseason hopes alive for at least one more day.

Sanchez delivered the biggest blow in the seventh inning, when he pounced on a first-pitch slider and hammered it 437 feet over the left-center field wall for a tie-breaking, three-run homer that put the Yankees ahead 5-2. It was the 17th time he’s gone deep in his big-league career, and the first time (of many, hopefully) he’s homered to give the Yankees a lead in the seventh inning or later.

Sanchez wasn’t the only star of the game, of course, as Pineda pitched a gem and made sure the Yankees had a chance to record their 42nd comeback win of the season. He had absolutely filthy stuff, striking out 11 of the 22 batters he faced, including 10 of them swinging.

Pineda increased his strikeout total to 195, and a whopping 175 of them (89.7 percent) are of the swinging variety. Among all pitchers with at least 125 Ks this season, Pineda has the highest percentage of swinging strikeouts in the majors.

Pineda was yanked by Joe Girardi after Brad Miller singled with one out in the sixth inning, producing this Yankeemetric that perhaps best defines his tantalizing — and frustrating — talent: Pineda’s 11 strikeouts against the Rays are the most ever by a Yankee pitcher in an outing of of 5 1/3 innings or fewer.

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

LOL, Gary Sanchez
This is Gary Sanchez’s world, and we’re just living in it. Yup, the Sanch-ino (Thanks John Sterling!) did it again.

Sanchez continued to re-write baseball history at an incredible and frenetic pace, going deep twice while driving in a career-high five runs in the 11-5 win. He truly is must-see television as fans have a chance to witness something every time he comes to the plate.

On Wednesday, Sanchez clobbered his 18th and 19th home runs, becoming the fastest player ever to reach those marks. No other major-leaguer had even hit 19 homers in their first 50 career games (Wally Berger had the previous record with 19 in 51 games), and Sanchez compiled that number in a mere 45 games.

He made his mark on the franchise record books, too, becoming the first rookie in Yankees history to homer in four straight games. This was also the third time he’d hit two homers in a game, making the 23-year-old Sanchez the youngest Yankee with three multi-homer games in a season since Bobby Murcer in 1969.

There are so many ways to quantify his ridiculous home run pace and put his Superman-like slugging into perspective. Here’s another one (all data per Statcast):

Through Wednesday, one of every 6.5 balls that he put into play turned into a home run, and roughly one of every 18 pitches he swung at went over the fences! Both of those rates were by far the best among all players with at least 10 homers this season. #YoSoyGary

It’s a good thing that Sanchez is a human highlight reel, or else this game would have been decided by Masahiro Tanaka’s inexplicable four-homer meltdown in the third inning. Although he settled down after that blip, Tanaka still joined this illustrious list of Yankees to give up a quartet of longballs in a single inning: Chase Wright (2007), Randy Johnson (2005), Scott Sanderson (1992) and Catfish Hunter (1977).

(AP)
(AP)

“We need to win 11 out of 10
That quote above is from Brett Gardner following the Yankees 2-0 loss to the Rays on Thursday night, and pretty much sums up the daunting task ahead of the Yankees in the final week of the season. Do you believe in miracles? Because that’s what it might take for this team to avoid making tee times for October.

For the 417th time this season (approximately) the Yankees failed to close out a series sweep, getting blanked by the Rays as their near-impossible trek towards a postseason berth became even more improbable.

The Yankees and Rays played six series this season; in four of them the Yankees had a chance to win every game in the series, and four times they lost the final game to come up empty in the sweep opportunity. #Sigh

The Yankees season-long problem of coming up empty in scoring situations reared its ugly head once again, with the Yankees going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position while stranding 11 baserunners. This is the 17th time this year they’ve left at least 11 men on base in a game; last year, it happened only 12 times.

This was also their 73rd loss of the season, meaning the Yankees will fail to win 90 games for fourth year in a row. That’s their longest stretch of sub-90-win campaigns (excluding strike-shortened seasons) since the dark days of the late 1980s and 90s, when they didn’t reach the magical 90-win mark from 1987-1993.

Mailbag: McCarthy, Mateo, Drury, Moore, Straily, Sanchez

There are 13 questions in this week’s mailbag. Use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything throughout the week. Questions, links, comments, whatever.

McCarthy. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)
McCarthy. (Dustin Bradford/Getty)

Lou asks: What are your thoughts about a possible reunion with Brandon McCarthy? Dodgers almost packaged him with Puig to Brewers and McCarthy pitched well his first time with Yankees. Could be a good #4 and lessen dependence on Cessa, Green or Warren as starters and not pressure Severino at outset.

I wanted the Yankees to re-sign McCarthy two years ago but definitely not at that price. The $12M annual salary is fine. It’s a bargain in this market, if anything. The years are the problem. Four years for a guy with zero track record of staying healthy is asking for bad news. I wouldn’t even have done three years and I’m pretty sure I wrote that at some point that offseason.

McCarthy, now 33, made four starts last year before blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery. He came back this year, made eight starts, then had to be shut down with a hip problem. Chances are he’s done for the season. McCarthy has thrown only 54.2 innings the last two years, and even then he was hurting, so we don’t really know what his stuff looks like nowadays. I don’t think it’s safe to assume he’ll be the guy we saw with the Yankees two years ago again.

As with any move, it all depends on the price. If the Yankees can get McCarthy cheap, as in one or two low-grade prospects, then it might be worth taking on his salary as long as the medicals check out. He was reportedly set to be included in the Ryan Braun-Yasiel Puig trade as a way to offset salary, not as a legitimate chip with trade value. As long as he’s healthy and comes super cheap, I’d roll the dice. The upcoming free agent class is so bad.

Michael asks: Mike, in the chat this past week you said Billy Butler becomes an FA after this season, regardless. Is this always the case? If a player is released with say 5 years left on a contract (hypothetically), every year he becomes a free agent with the team he signs with on the hook for the league minimum?

Yes. The player’s contract with his former team does not apply to his new team. Released players can sign a new multi-year deal with another team, but that never happens. These guys get released for a reason. Jose Reyes had two years left on his contract when the Rockies released him, and the Mets signed him to a one-year contract with a club option for 2017, all at the league minimum. They wanted to be able to bring him back in case he plays well. Yes, the Mets could have simply re-signed him after the season, but now there’s no competition. They can pick up the option and not have to worry about Reyes, say, signing with the Nationals because they’re offering more playing time. The player’s old contract means nothing. Butler will be a free agent after the season.

Dan asks: You mentioned Jorge Mateo earlier as one of the guys you would add to the the 40 man roster. He has played poorly in High A Tampa, is he really a risk to be taken in the rule 5 draft?

Yes, absolutely. Too much upside and too much athleticism at a hard to fill position. A rebuilding team like the Padres, who have had a hole at shortstop for basically their entire existence, would grab Mateo in an instant and figure out a way to make it work. They could use him as a utility infielder at the start of the year and gradually increase his playing time. Mateo is a top 50 prospect in the game. Maybe top 30. Give teams a chance to pick him up for nothing — well, nothing other than the $50,000 Rule 5 Draft fee — and they’re going to take it.

Michael asks: To continue the theme of D-Backs players from last week, would the Yankees have interest in Brandon Drury instead of Jake Lamb? Lamb’s hit better this year but Drury has more positional flexibility and is a nice player in his own right – might be better than Castro right now. Any thoughts on him?

Drury is basically what the Yankees hope Rob Refsnyder can be. He’s a super utility type who can play second, third, and the two corner outfield spots while putting up decent offensive numbers from the right side of the plate. The 24-year-old Drury is hitting .277/.326/.449 (100 wRC+) with 15 homers in 460 plate appearances this year, but the numbers hate his defense, which is why both versions of WAR has him at replacement level.

As with most bench players, I think Drury is pretty replaceable and not worth paying big to acquire. A lot of people seem enamored with the idea of a super utility guy who is in the lineup at a different position every day and actually provides offense too, but that player doesn’t exist. Even Ben Zobrist at his peak was a full-time second baseman who occasionally played elsewhere. Is Drury better than Refsnyder? Yeah, probably. I definitely do not believe he’s better than Starlin Castro though.

Drury. (Norm Hall/Getty)
Drury. (Norm Hall/Getty)

Ethan asks: Given the terribleness of the bullpen and the complete lack of starting pitching this year could you see the Yankees spending big on bullpen? Maybe going for Jansen and Chapman to recreate their 3 headed monster as well as 2 or 3 quality arms?

As I’ve said, I think the Yankees will definitely add another top notch reliever this offseason, likely Aroldis Chapman because it costs nothing but money. I think earlier this year we saw the “load up the bullpen because the rotation stinks” plan doesn’t really work though. Bullpen usage is based on the game situation created by the other players on the roster. If the starter stinks or the offense comes up empty, Chapman or whoever else isn’t much help. Would adding another great reliever be a good move? Of course. But it doesn’t mitigate the need for rotation help in any way.

Richard asks: Do the Yanks and Giants match up in a trade? If so, what type of package to you think it would take to land Matt Moore?

Basically what the Giants gave up to get Moore, right? His value hasn’t changed much the last few weeks. The Giants gave up a good young big leaguer with four years of control (Matt Duffy), a top prospect in Low-A (Lucius Fox), and another lottery ticket prospect (Michael Santos) to get Moore. San Francisco isn’t rebuilding. They’re not going to take a bunch of prospects. They’ll want players who can help in MLB immediately.

Also, I’m not sure I’d want to spend big on Moore even given New York’s need for pitching and the crummy free agent class. He hasn’t looked all that good since returning from Tommy John surgery last year — he has a 4.62 ERA (4.51 FIP) in 245.2 innings since returning — and things just don’t look as easy as they once did. Moore used to throw 95-98 mph and look like he’s playing catch. Now there’s effort behind every pitch.

I know Moore is young (27) and cheap (owed $26M through 2019 via club options), but that stuff is only good if he’s effective, right? The Rays know pitching. They could have kept Moore at an affordable rate for another three years and waiting until he rebuilt some trade value. Instead, they cut bait with his stock down a year after surgery. That’s a red flag. I thought Moore was going to be a megastar when he first broke in. That never materialized, and now he’s damaged goods.

Alex asks: Is Gio Gallegos an actual bullpen prospect? His stats look good. Is it enough to get a look in spring training and/or a spot on the shuttle?

Yes and no. He’s not a top bullpen prospect or anything but he has a chance to pitch in the big leagues at some point. Don’t obsess over minor league reliever stats. There are literally hundreds of bullpeners in the minors with sexy numbers. Gallegos had a 1.17 ERA (1.97 FIP) with a 36.5% strikeout rate and a 5.7% walk rate in 84.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A this year, and that’s awesome. He was dominant. More importantly, Gallegos has a mid-90s fastball and a breaking ball that might not be consistent enough to miss bats in the big leagues. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter and the Yankees have no room for him on the 40-man roster, so Gallegos could end up getting a look in Spring Training with another team.

Kenny asks: Mike, would taking a flier on Dan Straily next season be worth it? His numbers don’t speak to how well he has pitched this season, and he has AL experience with Oakland. What would it take to get him (assuming he’s not a FA) and how do you think he would fare being our #3-4 next season? A few top 20 prospects?

The Reds have had Straily in the rotation for most of the season because they didn’t have any better options. He’s been okay, pitching to a 3.83 ERA (4.82 FIP) in 178.2 innings. His strikeout rate is good (20.3%), but Straily does two things that usually don’t work well together: he walks people (9.3%) and he doesn’t keep the ball in the park (1.41 HR/9). That’s not limited to this year either. Straily’s career rates are 9.4% walks and 1.37 HR/9.

Moving an extremely fly ball prone righty (31.3% grounders this year) with an upper-80s fastball who walks people into the AL East and Yankee Stadium probably won’t have a happy ending. It’s not just the short porch. Straily would have to pitch in the other hitter friendly ballparks in the division too. Unless the Yankees think they can teach him a sinker or something, I think the downside far outweighs the upside here.

Straily. (John Sommers II/Getty)
Straily. (John Sommers II/Getty)

Rich asks: Bud Norris DFA by Dodgers, do we take a flyer the last 2 weeks of the season on him???

True story: I once wanted the Yankees to trade for Norris, back when he was with the Astros. He went to the Orioles instead and gave them a good 2014 season (3.65 ERA and 4.22 FIP), but that’s about it.

Anyway, the “actually, Bud Norris is good now” stories that made the rounds after the Dodgers got him were so predictable and laughably wrong. He had a 6.54 ERA (5.15 FIP) in 42.2 innings with the Dodgers and over the last two years he has a 5.79 ERA (4.62 FIP) in 196 innings. He also has a reputation for being a major jerk (example). So no. The Yankees should not take a flier on Bud Norris. They’re not that desperate for pitching.

Bob asks (short version): The Padres waited until after the Triple-A Championship Game to call up their top prospects. The Yankees didn’t. What’s going on here? Would SWB’s management/ownership be angry at the Yankees for these actions and possibly endanger their contractual agreement?

The Padres are the exception here, not the Yankees. Almost every team prioritizes the needs of the big league club over the minor league postseason. I have no idea why the Padres waited so long to call up top prospects like Austin Hedges, Manuel Margot, and Hunter Renfroe. You’d think they’d want to get as much of a look at them as possible in September. The Triple-A title is relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Being affiliated with the Yankees is far more valuable to the RailRiders than winning a championship. They’re not going to be upset over having their roster gutted every September. And, if they are, other Triple-A franchises will line up for a chance to be affiliated with the Yankees brand.

Dan asks: I know you’ve said before that no prospect is untouchable but with the new additions from the trade deadline do you still feel that way? If so which ones? I know prospects are completely unreliable but everyone falls in love with them. (Can’t what to see Frazier drop bombs in pinstripes)

Still feel that way. Among the guys still in the minors, Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres are the two guys I’d least like to give up, but if they can get the Yankees a good young starter, they’d be foolish not to make them available. I consider Frazier the better prospect, though I’d trade him before Torres, weirdly. The Yankees are loaded with outfielders at the upper levels. Torres is going to play the infield, likely either short or third, and a potential star at those positions is more necessary long-term than a big outfield bat.

Mike asks: Which is more likely to happen, Tanaka winning the AL Cy Young Award or Sanchez winning the AL Rookie Of The Year Award?

Gary Sanchez winning Rookie of the Year. Masahiro Tanaka‘s been awesome, but there are a whole bunch of other guys performing just like him. Sanchez has burst onto the scene with a historically great start to his career. He has no peers. I mean, he’s hit 19 homers in 44 games this year. I would have been thrilled if he hit 19 homers across the full season as the starting catcher. I think Sanchez winning Rookie of the Year is far more likely than Tanaka winning the Cy Young at the moment.

Julian asks: I’ve noticed that Eric Young Jr has only pinch ran once since rosters expanded when they called him up to pinch run. Why are they not using him more?

He’s pinch-run twice, actually. Young has appeared in three games as a Yankee:

  • September 2nd: Played an inning in center field at the end of a blowout loss.
  • September 6th: Pinch-ran for Brian McCann with two outs in the eighth inning of a game the Yankees led by one. Chase Headley homered two pitches later. This was the Brett Gardner catch game against the Blue Jays.
  • September 18th: Pinch ran for Sanchez with two outs in the ninth inning of a game the Yankees trailed by one. Mark Teixeira flew out to end the game four pitches later. Young never attempted to steal.

The Yankees haven’t had very many opportunities to use Young as a pinch-runner this month. I don’t remember any “why isn’t he pinch-running?” moments at all. This could change in a hurry. Young could pinch-run three times this weekend for all we know. Generally speaking though, the September pinch-runner rarely has a big impact. He’ll appear in a handful of games and that’s it.

Yankees can’t finish sweep, drop finale 2-0 to Rays

Well that was a wasted opportunity. The Yankees failed to complete the sweep Thursday night — they’ve been quite good at this season — and dropped the series finale 2-0 to the Rays. They’re still alive in the postseason race with ten games to go, but it’s going to take a miracle at this point.

Just a little out in front. (Mike Carlson/Getty)
Just a little out in front. (Mike Carlson/Getty)

You Can’t Win If You Don’t Score
Two weeks ago the Yankees forced Blake Snell to throw 88 pitches in 3.2 innings. Thursday night he used 88 pitches to cruise through five scoreless innings. Well, maybe cruise isn’t the right word. It’s not like the Yankees had zero baserunners. They had men on base in all five innings against Snell, including multiple runners in the first and third innings. And yet, zero runs.

Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury started the game with back-to-back singles and were stranded. Sigh. Two strikeouts and a pop-up doomed that inning. Then, in the third, the Yankees loaded the bases with two outs on a walk (Gary Sanchez), a single (Billy Butler), and a walk (Mark Teixeira) before Chase Headley flew out to end the inning. They also wasted leadoff singles in the fourth and ninth.

All told, the Yankees went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position against Snell and various relievers. The biggest culprit? Teixeira. He went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts with men on base. He’s hitting .197/.289/.343 (71 wRC+) and here he is, still batting in the middle of the order in Game 152. It’s not your fault, Mark. You don’t make the lineup. The Yankees were held to eight singles and three walks, and they scored no more than one run for the AL-leading 32nd time.

Six Strong From Cessa
Aside from the #obligatoryhomer problem, Luis Cessa has been rock solid since joining the rotation last month. He held the Rays to two runs in six innings Thursday night, one on a solo homer and the other after Aaron Hicks appeared to lose a fly ball in the roof and let it drop in for a leadoff single. Either way, lost in the roof or not, it was a ball that had to be caught. Two ground ball singles got that run home in the first inning.

(Mike Carlson/Getty)
(Mike Carlson/Getty)

Between Brad Miller’s run-scoring single in the first inning and Corey Dickerson’s solo dinger in the sixth, Cessa retired 15 of 19 batters faced and allowed only five balls to be hit out of the infield. Sanchez helped him out by throwing out one runner trying to steal and picking another off second with a snap throw. Cessa struck out six and allowed the two runs on six hits and two walks in his six innings. He has a 3.83 ERA in seven starts now. That’ll work.

Leftovers
Butler, Gregorius, and Hicks each had two hits. Sanchez drew two walks and it looked pretty obvious the Rays finally decided to stop pitching to him. He saw nothing close to the strike zone. For some reason Ronald Torreyes was allowed to face Alex Colome while representing the tying run in the ninth. Not sure I get that one. Maybe pinch-hit someone who can tie the game with one swing? Just a thought.

Luis Severino struck out three and allowed one hit in two scoreless innings. He was the only reliever used. But! Dickerson took Cessa deep with Tommy Layne warming. Second night in a row a right-handed pitcher gave up a home run to a left-handed batter with Layne ready in the bullpen. That’s the good stuff.

Assuming the Red Sox beat the Orioles again, the Yankees will remain two games back in the loss column for the second wildcard spot. The Tigers could jump the O’s and take over the second wildcard spot if they beat the Twins tonight.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
ESPN is the place to go for the box score and updated standings. MLB.com has the video highlights. RAB has Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. Here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees are headed up to Toronto for their final road series of the 2016 season. Bryan Mitchell and Francisco Liriano are the scheduled starters for Friday’s series opener. That’s a four-game series.

Game 152: Finish the Sweep

(Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty)
(Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty)

Amazingly, the Yankees have just one three-game sweep this season. It was two weeks ago against the Blue Jays. Tonight they have a chance to finish a three-game sweep of the Rays, a team they did beat three straight times earlier this month. That was part of a four-game series though. With a 2.5-game deficit and four teams ahead of them in the wildcard race, and only eleven games to play, every game is a must-win from here on out. Here is the Rays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Billy Butler
  5. 1B Mark Teixeira
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. RF Aaron Hicks
  9. 2B Donovan Solano
    RHP Luis Cessa

Another cloudy and humid day in St. Petersburg. The weather is always great in Tropicana Field though. Tonight’s series finale will begin at 7:10pm ET. You’ll be able to watch on WPIX locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Trade!: The Yankees traded Phil Coke to the Pirates for cash earlier today, the team announced. Coke was not on the 40-man roster. The Triple-A season ended Tuesday and the Yankees weren’t going to call him up, so they turned him into some extra cash.

Masahiro Tanaka to skip next start with flexor mass strain

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Masahiro Tanaka will not make his scheduled start Monday due to what Joe Girardi called a “slight slight slight” strain in his flexor mass, according to Erik Boland and Mark Feinsand. This is the same thing Andrew Miller had last year. The strain is not near the elbow ligament.

“I’m not worried at all, because I think the team was taking precautions. I don’t feel any pain or anything like that so I’m very confident that I should be able to comeback soon,” said Tanaka to Andrew Marchand. He’ll rest five days before throwing again.

The injury could explain Tanaka’s sudden bout of homeritis in the third inning last night, though he did settle down after that and pitch well the rest of the way. There was no indication he was hurt prior to this. Tanaka’s been pretty awesome all year, and especially of late. Stupid injuries.

The bad news is Tanaka, by far the Yankees’ best starter, had two starts left this season and now he’ll miss one. That won’t help their postseason chances. At the same time, Tanaka is way too important to the Yankees, so they have to play it safe with him. Their playoff odds are long as it is.

The Yankees are very short on rotation depth at the moment with Tanaka, Nathan Eovaldi, and Chad Green all injured. Girardi indicated they’ll go with a bullpen game Monday. They really don’t have much of a choice.

After losing a year to shoulder surgery, Mason Williams is making the most of his brief opportunity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last month, after selling at the trade deadline, the Yankees committed to a youth movement and have been rewarded with a historically great stretch by Gary Sanchez. Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin have had their moments as well, ditto Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell. Sanchez is a rarity. Very few come up and have that much instant success. The other guys have had their ups and downs.

This youth movement really started last season, when Luis Severino and Greg Bird were called up in the second half. That happened after the Yankees cycled through several young outfielders in the wake of Jacoby Ellsbury‘s knee injury in May. Ellsbury got hurt, Slade Heathcott came up and played well, but then he got hurt. Ramon Flores came up, didn’t play all that well, then got sent down.

Mason Williams was the third young outfielder the Yankees used the replace Ellsbury, and like Heathcott, he had some success right away before getting hurt. Williams jammed his shoulder diving back into first base on a pickoff throw, and when rest and rehab didn’t work, he needed season-ending surgery. It sidelined him for a full calendar year. That’s rough. Williams had just come up and was playing well, then bam, down for a year.

The 25-year-old Williams spent most of this season in Triple-A after returning, and it was another outfielder injury that brought him back to the big leagues this month. Two injuries, really. First Aaron Hicks pulled his hamstring, then Judge strained his oblique. At that point the Yankees needed another outfielder, so while they wanted to leave Williams in Triple-A to get more at-bats, they had no choice but to call him up.

In seven games since coming back Williams has gone 7-for-18 (.389) at the plate — he should have had another hit, but Joe Kelly threw out his glove and snagged a would-be single with the bases loaded — while playing his typically strong defense. He’s 13-for-39 (.333) in 15 big league games so far, which is pretty great. Williams came back from shoulder surgery and didn’t miss a beat in Triple-A. Now he’s in the show and again producing.

Williams has always been supremely talented. There were some production and work ethic issues in Double-A a few years ago, but the proverbial light bulb went on last year, and he seemed to begin realizing his potential. Then the injury happened. Williams went from top prospect to suspect to reclamation project, all before his 25th birthday. Right now he’s in the process of reestablishing himself after the shoulder surgery.

It’s nice to see Williams having success again, and not just in his brief September cameo with the Yankees. In the minors too. He put up a .309/.327/.399 (106 wRC+) batting line in 47 minor league games after coming back from surgery this year. This success, along with his track record and raw tools, have me wondering two things.

1. What would have happened if he didn’t get hurt? This is a fun hypothetical. Say Williams never hurts his shoulder diving into first base last year. What happens? Does he continue to play well and force his way into the team’s plans? Williams could have made the Hicks trade unnecessary. It could have been him getting all those at-bats in right field when Alex Rodriguez was benched and Carlos Beltran was at DH earlier this year. There was an opportunity for playing time last year, and Williams lost out on it because of his injury. Sucks.

2. Where does he fit going forward? The Yankees have a lot of outfielders right now. Brett Gardner and Ellsbury are the established veterans at the MLB level. Judge and Hicks are the young guys. Williams is next in line with others like Jake Cave and Clint Frazier right behind him on the depth chart. His only path to playing time right now is injury. Judge is out for the year and Joe Girardi has said he won’t push Hicks hard after his hamstring injury, so Williams will play these last eleven games.

But what about next year? Does Williams go to Triple-A again? I guess that wouldn’t be a bad thing. He’s only played 51 games at the level, plus he has an option for next year, so they might as well use it. Right now Williams is the fifth outfielder, the up-and-down guy. Maybe Gardner will get traded this offseason. Or maybe Hicks goes. Perhaps Judge won’t win the right field job next spring. Something like that is going to have to happen for Williams to continue getting a look at the MLB level. That or injury.

The problem for Williams isn’t that the Yankees have a lot of other outfielders, it’s that they have a lot of other outfielders just like him, specifically Gardner and Ellsbury. The speedy defense-first left-handed hitter. How many of the same player do you need? It would be cool to have an outfielder who can hit the ball out of the park, wouldn’t it? Maybe even two. Williams could be trade bait, Triple-A depth, the fourth outfielder … none of that would surprise me going forward.

For now, the most important thing is that Williams seems to have come back well from his shoulder surgery. His talent and athleticism are pretty obvious. The kid looks the part of an exciting young player. The question is whether the Yankees can make room for Williams in the near future, and if not, how does he get another opportunity? He’s playing well now and that’s great. Williams has shown the shoulder is sound, giving the Yankees yet another outfield candidate going forward.

Is Gary Sanchez’s bat too valuable to keep at catcher?

(Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty)
(Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty)

Two nights ago the Yankees snapped their five-game losing streak thanks to yet another clutch home run by Gary Sanchez. His three-run shot broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning. Then, last night, he added two more home runs to raise his season batting to .337/.410/.747 (203 wRC+). He’s hit 19 home runs in 43 games since being called up following the trade deadline. That is pretty, pretty good.

There is no question Sanchez has emerged as a cornerstone player for the Yankees. That was always the hope, but I don’t think anyone expected it to happen this quickly. Especially at catcher. Usually it takes those guys some time to find their bearings at the big league level just because there’s so much to take in defensively. They have to learn the pitching staff and the hitters around the league in addition to their offensive responsibilities.

By all accounts Sanchez has handled the defensive side of the game well. He seems to be a little passed ball/wild pitch prone, but that’s not all that unusual for a young catcher. There’s every reason to believe Sanchez can handle the defensive side of the position. My question is this: is Sanchez most valuable long-term at catcher? I mean, yes, of course he is. Catcher is the most difficult position to fill. But is his bat too valuable to tie to such a demanding position?

The idea behind taking Sanchez out from behind the plate — and just to be clear, I’m not endorsing this, I’m just asking the question for discussion purposes — is avoiding the wear-and-tear of catching and getting his bat in the lineup more often. Sanchez has been in the starting lineup for each of the last 35 games either as the catcher or DH, and that can’t last long-term. Like every other catcher, he’ll need regular days off to get through a 162-game season. A few things to consider:

1. This would not be unprecedented. The best example of moving a great hitter out from behind the plate is Bryce Harper. He was a catcher as an amateur, but as soon as he was drafted, the Nationals moved him to the outfield. Didn’t even give him a catch to catch in pro ball. They didn’t want to put Harper through the rigors of catching because his bat was going to be so valuable.

Harper’s the best example but he’s not the only example. Paul Konerko and Joey Votto were catchers. So were Josh Donaldson and Wil Myers. Neil Walker, Pablo Sandoval, Justin Morneau, Jayson Werth, Josh Willingham … they were all catchers at one point and not all of them were moved because they couldn’t handle it defensively. Walker, Myers, and Sandoval in particular were moved largely to get their bats in the lineup more often.

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

2. It could help his offense. First and foremost, not getting beat up behind the plate can help Sanchez remain more productive deeper into the season, if not allow him to reach new offensive heights. Secondly, shedding the defensive responsibilities of catching and focusing on offense can help too. Donaldson is a pretty good example. His bat didn’t take off until he moved to third base.

Donaldson, who moved to third because the Athletics had no one to play the position after Scott Sizemore tore up his knee in Spring Training 2012, has said moving out from behind the plate helped his offensive game. Without having to worry about working with pitchers and studying hitter scouting reports and all that, he was able to work on his offense. Extra swings in the cage, more time studying pitchers on video, all that stuff. That could really help.

3. Where would he play? This is the big question. First base and DH seem like the only possibilities. I love the guy, but Sanchez is not the same kind of athlete as Harper and Donaldson. He’s more Morneau and Konerko, if you catch my drift. That’s fine though. The Yankees have a long-term opening at first base at the moment. We’re hoping Greg Bird can fill it, but who knows coming off shoulder surgery. Even then, DH is still a possibility for Sanchez.

Should the Yankees move him, Sanchez would have to learn first base on the fly. There’s no sending him down to work on things now. Not at this point. That may not be much of a problem though. Sanchez could serve as the DH four times a week and play first the other two or three days. Ease him into it, you know? Having a guy learn a new position on the fly like that can be tough, but the Yankees wouldn’t have another option.

4. They’d still be set behind the plate. The Yankees could move Sanchez to another position and still have a quality catcher thanks to Brian McCann. Even at this point of his career, McCann’s a good hitter for the position, and he’s a more than capable starter. Austin Romine would be able to stick around as the backup as well, or, if you prefer, the Yankees could give Kyle Higashioka a try. Point is, Sanchez isn’t the only starting catcher on the roster. The Bombers have another quality backstop in McCann.

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The history of the Yankees is loaded with great hitting catchers. You can go back to Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra. Elston Howard. Thurman Munson. Jorge Posada. Sanchez looks very much like the next in a long line of great Yankees catchers, and man, having a great hitting catcher is such an advantage. The average catcher is hitting .241/.310/.389 (86 wRC+) this year. Compare that to what Sanchez can do.

I don’t think the Yankees will move Sanchez out from behind the plate and I don’t want them to either. He’s an asset defensively. Maybe if he were a better athlete and a move to the outfield or third base — golly, imagine his arm at third — was a legitimate possibility, it would be worth considering. But if the only alternative is first base or DH, then don’t bother. Enjoy the great hitting catcher and don’t worry about saving the wear-and-tear.