Mailbag: Roark, Badenhop, Tanaka, Kaprielian, Guerrero

Eleven questions in the mailbag this week. I’ve gotta say, there weren’t many great questions in the inbox this week. Hopefully pitchers and catchers reporting next week will inspire everyone. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send any mailbag questions.

Roark. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)
Roark. (Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Brooks asks: What would it take for the Yankees to get Tanner Roark from the Nationals?  He seems like a great young pitcher who just doesn’t have a spot with that team, plus with Lucas Giolito eventually coming up you would think they might want to move him.  Thanks!

Roark is already 29, so he’s not that young. He was a late blooper who didn’t reach MLB until age 26. Roark had a very good season in 2014 (2.85 ERA and 3.47 FIP) then got knocked back down to Earth a bit last year (4.38 ERA and 4.70 FIP) as the Nationals shuffled him back and forth between the rotation and bullpen.

I’d expect something closer to the 2015 version of Roark going forward, especially in Yankee Stadium and the AL East. He’s neither a big ground ball (career 44.6%) nor strikeout (16.9%) guy, and he lacks a true put-away pitch. Roark is a three-pitch guy (two-seamer, slider, curve) who locates well enough. He is what he is at this point, and that’s a perfectly servicable MLB pitcher.

Right now Washington has Roark penciled in as their No. 4 starter behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez, so he’s fairly high on their depth chart. The Nationals could use another starter, a depth outfielder, and bullpen help. Unless they’re going to take something like Ben Gamel and one of the Triple-A relievers, I don’t see a match. The Yankees shouldn’t give up Brett Gardner or Andrew Miller to get a guy like Roark, who I see as a lesser version of Adam Warren.

Dan asks: In 2018, when Harper is a FA, what kind of opt-out do you think he’s going to get? I wouldn’t be comfortable dealing out a $400-500m contract with it being after 2 years (unless the contract was backloaded by a lot). I think I’d be comfortable doing it after year 5, when he’d be 31 years old. You’d think for half a billion dollars, he’d be up for sticking around.

Jason Heyward’s contract with the Cubs includes two opt-outs, but with a catch. He can opt-out after the third year, and if he doesn’t, he can opt-out after the fourth year as long as he reaches a certain number of plate appearances. I have to think Bryce Harper is getting at least ten guaranteed years when he hits free agency, and Scott Boras will surely push for multiple opt-outs. Maybe after years three and five?

These days teams are giving opt-outs to almost everyone, not just the elite free agents — Scott Kazmir and Wei-Yin Chen got opt-outs, for example — so they’re a normal part of the free agent landscape now. To get Harper in three years you’re either going to have to include an opt-out(s) or pay an absurd premium to buy away that right to go back out onto the market. At this point I have a hard time thinking Harper and Boras will take a deal without an opt-out. That’s the cost of doing business nowadays.

Barry asks: Hi Mike, after reading about the Gurriels trying to establish residency in a different country, I started wondering what it would take for a US born player to become eligible as an international player and avoid the draft? Say someone like Bryce Harper realizes how good he is at around the age of 15, could he theoretically establish residency elsewhere or would he need to renounce his citizenship for that to work?

The player would have to renounced their U.S. citizenship. Shortstop Lucius Fox was born in the Bahamas, moved to the United States as a kid and went to high school in Florida, then last year he moved back to the Bahamas so he’d be an international free agent and not draft-eligible. (The Giants gave him a $6.5M bonus.) Fox had Bahamanian citizenship, so this was a special case, not a loophole any player can use. Trust me, if there was a relatively easy way for guys to avoid the draft and become international free agents, Boras and other agents would have figured it out already.

Badenhop. (Dylan Buell/Getty)
Badenhop. (Dylan Buell/Getty)

dfed87 asks: The Yankees have a deadly back end of the bullpen, but I think the way the pitching is constructed, they need more pitchers so they don’t get over worked like they were last season. Wouldn’t Burke Badenhop or Ryan Webb make sense for the Yankees? They aren’t the sexiest names, but both are ground ball pitchers who limit walks, and they shouldn’t be expensive. Webb could probably even be had for a minor league contract.

A year or two ago I would have said yes to both, and while I’d bring in almost anyone on a minor league contract, I don’t see Badenhop or Webb as clear middle innings upgrades at this point. Badenhop lost some velocity last year and his ground ball rate plummeted from 61.0% to 46.7%, which is no good when your career strikeout rate is 16.1% (12.6% in 2015).

Webb is very similar to prime Badenhop. He gets a lot of grounders (59.2% in 2015) and limits walks (5.9%), but doesn’t miss bats (15.2 K%), and lefties have historically hit him pretty hard. If the Yankees want to bring one or both guys in for depth, sure. I wouldn’t guarantee them a big league roster spot though. They’ve got to compete for a job in camp. I’m ready to see what these young prospect relievers can do.

John asks: I’m a Comcast subscriber living in NJ and I’m starting to panic about not having a way to watch my team. Is there any new news about a deal? I know MLB has changed the app. Will I be able to watch games from there without a blackout restriction? Any info would be appreciated. Thanks.

I have nothing to pass along, sorry. If I ever come across any updates on the YES-Comcast dispute, they’ll be posted right here at RAB. You’ll be able to steam Yankees games in-market on MLB.tv this season, but you need to subscribe to YES through your cable provider, so that’s not a work-around for the Comcast situation. Hopefully the two sides get this resolved and soon. I wouldn’t wish no Yankees on my worst enemy.

Liam asks: Hey Mike, what do you think the Yankee will do about Tanaka’s opt out after 2017? Hiro will be coming off his age 28 season, and barring any disastrous injuries, he could probably beat the 3/67 remaining on his current contract. With the Yankees seemingly not committing any big money over the next couple years, do you think they will push to re-sign Ma-Kun?

As I’ve been saying since he signed the contract, Masahiro Tanaka will opt-out as long as he’s healthy. Ian Kennedy got five years and $70M this offseason. What’s 28-year-old Tanaka going to get on the open market if he’s healthy? Lots more than the $67M he’d be walking away from, that’s for sure. It’s a no-brainer. As long as his arm is sound — and it might not be in two years — opting out is an easy call.

Right now I’ll say the Yankees will walk away from Tanaka if he opts out. Obviously these next two years will bring important information the Yankees will use to make their final decision, but right now I think they’ll walk away. They will have gotten his age 25-28 seasons and would be in position to redirect the money elsewhere. The Yankees have given out two huge opt-out related contracts in recent years (Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia) and were burned both times. (Don’t forget they signed A.J. Burnett after he opted out of his Blue Jays contract!) I can’t imagine they’re eager to go something like that again.

Ed asks: How can the Yankees best use their financial might without affecting the MLB Payroll and luxury cap?

They’re doing it already. They spent huge internationally two years ago, they’ve added two new minor league affiliates in recent years (the second GCL team and Pulaski), they’ve renovated and upgraded the minor league complex in Tampa, and they’ve beefed up their pro and amateur scouting departments. The facilities at Yankee Stadium are state of the art — video equipment, workout equipment, etc. — so they’re doing what they can behind the scenes. I’m not sure what else the team could do, realistically. The Yankees have indeed pumped a ton of cash into the farm and player development systems the last few seasons while the MLB payroll had held steady.

Eric asks: Under what circumstances, if any, do we see James Kaprielian make a big league start this year? Another way of looking at this question would be to ask what is the major league depth chart at starter? Ie where are we after Nova at 6 right now?

After Ivan Nova the Yankees have Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa, Anthony Swarzak, Tyler Cloyd, and Chad Green as rotation depth in some order. I know that doesn’t sound great, but very few clubs have legit MLB caliber starters in the 7-11 slots of their rotation depth chart. I don’t think the Yankees will rush Kaprielian if there’s a need at the MLB level but I do think we could see him this year. He could end up doing something like six starts in High-A, ten starts in Double-A, four starts in Triple-A, then the big leagues if necessary. If Kaprielian does that in the minors and succeeds, I think we’ll see him in September. Surely the team will be able to find a way to squeeze him onto the roster.

Guerrero. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Guerrero. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

Alex asks: Any interest in Alex Guerrero?

Only if he comes super cheap. The Dodgers would have to take little in return and pay him down to a $1M a year player. Something along those lines. Guerrero’s really bad. He hit .233/.261/.434 (89 wRC+) last year, but it was a 303 wRC+ in April and a 60 wRC+ (and a .238 OBP) the rest of the way. Guerrero has been a productive big leaguer for basically 28 plate appearances in his career, all last April. He’s a disaster defensively who can’t play anywhere at even a below-average rate, and he’s owed $15M over the next two years. (Guerrero can opt-out of his contract if traded, but he’s not walking away from $15M at this point.) The Dodgers are trying to trade him, but who’s going to take him on? Eventually they’ll just release him and eat the contract. Give Guerrero a minor league deal then. No way would I give up anything of value for him.

Simon asks: Is there a list of recent prospects the Yankees traded that became perennial all-stars?

No, because there aren’t any. The last was … Mike Lowell? I guess Tyler Clippard and Mark Melancon. Both went to two All-Star Games, though that doesn’t qualify as perennial. I’m not going to be heartbroken over trading two great relievers when the Yankees produced David Robertson and Dellin Betances in recent years. Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy became good players, not perennial All-Stars.

The best prospect turned MLB player the Yankees let go in recent years is Jose Quintana, who wasn’t traded. He was allowed to leave as a minor league free agent. I don’t think Quintana would have developed into what he has become away from White Sox pitching coach/cutter guru Don Cooper, but the Yankees clearly mis-evaluated him. They let Quintana walk to keep guys like Kevin Whelan and Brandon Laird and Melky Mesa on the 40-man roster. Hindsight is 20-20, but yeah, the Yankees goofed there. The Yankees haven’t traded many prospects they truly regret the last 15 years or so. I’m not missing anyone obvious, am I?

Ryan asks: If Sanchez makes the team, what do you think the workload will be like for McCann? I see him being behind the plate for maybe 110 games and then some games at 1st and DH.

I don’t think Brian McCann‘s workload will change at all. It might have had the Yankees held onto John Ryan Murphy, who showed last year he’s an MLB caliber player perhaps capable of handling more playing time. The Yankees don’t know exactly what they have in Gary Sanchez yet and they’re not going to figure that out in Spring Training or the first few weeks of the regular season. It takes time. McCann started 119 games behind the plate last year and that’s right in line with his career average (117.5). I think he’ll start another 115-120 games behind the plate again, leaving 42-47 for Sanchez. The 2017 season is when Sanchez could start stealing more starts from McCann.

Yankees outright Lane Adams to Triple-A

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have outrighted outfielder Lane Adams to Triple-A Scranton, the team announced. He has been invited to Spring Training as a non-roster player. The Yankees will now have 26 non-roster players in camp.

Adams, 26, was claimed off waivers from the Royals last month, then designated for assignment last week when the Yankees hilariously re-claimed Ronald Torreyes off waivers from the Angels. The team originally designated Torreyes for assignment when they claimed Adams last month. Got all that?

In 140 games split between Double-A and Triple-A last year, Adams hit .275/.342/.436 (115 wRC+) with 16 home runs and 31 steals in 140 games. He started the year at Triple-A before having to be demoted due to poor performance. Adams has six games of big league experience, all with Kansas City in 2014.

The Yankees currently have four Triple-A outfielders (Aaron Judge, Ben Gamel, Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams), so Lane could end up starting the season in Double-A. That assumes everyone makes it through camp in one piece and no one wins that last big league bench spot. Either way, Lane is way down the outfield depth chart.

Thursday Night Open Thread

You may have seen this by now, but if not, John Harper spoke to Brian Cashman, who broke down the Yankees’ offseason. He talks in detail about the trades they did make, and also discussed some other stuff that didn’t work out. I recommend giving that link a good old clickin’.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Islanders are the only look sports club in action, and there are only two college hoops games on the schedule as well. So talk about any of those three games, the Harper story, or anything else right here.

Yanks announce Rivera plaque coming to Monument Park, ticket sale dates, promotion dates

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Earlier today the Yankees announced a whole bunch of the 2016 calendar news. First and foremost, individual game tickets will go on sale online beginning Monday, February 22nd at 10am ET. You can walk up to the Yankee Stadium ticket booth and begin buying tickets the following day, February 23rd.

Now that you know when you can buy tickets to get in the door, here’s the big news: the Yankees are dedicating a plaque in Mariano Rivera‘s honor this coming season. No. 42 is already retired in Rivera’s (and Jackie Robinson’s) honor, but now he’s getting a plaque too. Pretty cool. The Rivera plaque ceremony will take place on Sunday, August 14th. That’s a 1pm ET game against the Rays.

The Yankees also announced they will have a special ceremony honoring the 20th anniversary of the 1996 Yankees on August 13th, the day before Mo’s ceremony. We celebrated the 1996 Yankees all last week during Retro Week. Old Timers’ Day is scheduled for Sunday, June 12th. The 1996 club is getting their own special day, as they should. No plans for that ceremony have been announced yet.

And finally, the Yankees also announced their full 2016 promotional schedule. You can see it here. The highlights: bat day for the unmarketable Alex Rodriguez on May 14th, Didi Gregorius bobblehead on August 7th, and a Dellin Betances bobblehead on September 10th.  I want them all.

Yankees place four on Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list

Judge. (Presswire)
Judge. (Presswire)

Yesterday Keith Law posted his annual farm system rankings, and earlier today he followed up with his top 100 prospects for the 2016 season (subs. req’d). Dodgers SS Corey Seager predictably claims the top spot. He is the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball this spring. Twins OF Byron Buxton and Nationals RHP Lucas Giolito round out the top three.

The Yankees landed four players on Law’s 2016 top 100 list: OF Aaron Judge (No. 36), SS Jorge Mateo (No. 55), C Gary Sanchez (No. 57), and RHP James Kaprielian (No. 87). Law seems to be the high man on Kaprielian. He hasn’t shown up on any other top 100 lists this spring. The other three guys are pretty clearly top 100 caliber. Reminder: RHP Luis Severino and 1B Greg Bird are no longer prospect eligible. Too much big league playing time in 2015.

“(Judge) has 70 raw power that hasn’t shown up in games because his swing is relatively short and he hits more line drives than big flies … Learning to cover the outside corner — or lay off pitches just off of it — while maintaining (his) plate coverage inside is the main challenge for Judge if he wants to become an impact bat in the majors,” said the write-up. Law adds Judge has “30-homer power and should make enough hard contact to keep his average up even if he still punches out 150 times a year.”

As for Mateo, Law writes “shortstop prospects with his skill set — glove, speed, contact — tend to fare pretty well even if they never learn to hit with any authority, giving Mateo a high floor as long as he makes some small adjustments to help him on routine plays.” I’m not a fan of the term high floor but I get what Law is saying. Mateo, even though he’s a 20-year-old in Single-A, is a good bet to contribute at the MLB level in some capacity because he can impact the game in so many different ways.

The scouting report on Sanchez is as exciting as any you’ll see in the top 100. “(He) could easily get to .290/.330/.500 with his power and contact,” wrote Law. “That hitter, as a mediocre catcher who can still nail one out of three runners, is a borderline MVP candidate, and if Sanchez wants to get there, he can.” Sanchez has that kind of ability, but up until last year with work ethic and approach to the game were questionable. He matured big time in 2015. Hopefully that continues going forward.

“Kaprielian will sit 93-95 mph as a starter with a wipeout slider, showing above-average control but still-developing (that is, it’s not yet average) fastball command. He gets on top of the ball well to get good downhill plane on the fastball and to keep his changeup low in the zone. He’s very aggressive, attacking hitters with strikes, and working to both sides of the plate,” wrote Law on Kaprielian. Grandmaster Kap has been invited to Spring Training, which indicates the Yankees want to move him up the ladder fast.

Seeing the Yankees with four top 100 prospects is pretty cool, especially since two of them (Judge and Sanchez) are at Triple-A and knocking on the door of the big leagues. Sanchez could be on the Opening Day roster, in fact. Kaprielian may move quickly too. Heck, even Mateo could see MLB time this coming season. He’s Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason and the Yankees could bring him up early to serve as their September pinch-runner. That’d be neat.

2016 Preseason Not Top 30 Prospects

Jackson. (Staten Island Advance)
Jackson. (Staten Island Advance)

Although the Yankees have not signed any Major League free agents this offseason, they have been active on the trade market, and they graduated several high-profile prospects to the big leagues last year, so the farm system has undergone a significant facelift these last 12 months. Expect to see many new faces in my 2016 Preseason Top 30 Prospects List, which will be posted at 12pm ET tomorrow.

But first, we have to cover five Not Top 30 Prospects. These are not prospects 31-35. These are five players who I believe have a chance to jump into next year’s Top 30 with a strong statistical season in 2016, and, more importantly, good progress in their development. It was tough to settle on five names this year because a bunch of those 2014-15 international signings figure to be top 30 material next year. I could have easily picked five guys from the spending spree and almost did.

Two of last year’s Not Top 30 Prospects jumped into this year’s Top 30, and over the years I’ve learned two out of five is pretty good. A few of the players in this year’s Not Top 30 — the July 2014 international signees, specifically — are too well-known to be considered sleepers. That’s not necessarily the case for the others. Here are my five 2016 Not Top 30 Prospects.

OF Trey Amburgey
No Yankees draftee had a better pro debut than Amburgey last season. The 21-year-old hit .335/.388/.502 (161 wRC+) with five homers and 21 steals in 62 games split between the Rookie Gulf Coast League and Short Season Staten Island affiliates after being selected in the 13th round of the 2015 draft. I wouldn’t expect those numbers to be the norm, but Amburgey has bat speed and an impressive approach at the plate. His power potential is limited because he’s a line drive hitter who doesn’t generate a ton of loft. Amburgey has above-average speed and a strong arm, which serve him well in the outfield, where’s an asset defensively. He also plays with a ton of energy. Amburgey’s a classic grinder. I’m not quite sure where he will begin the 2016 season, but it could very well be with Low-A Charleston.

OF Juan DeLeon
DeLeon, 18, signed for $2M back in July 2014, when the Yankees made a mockery of baseball’s international talent acquisition system. He spent his first summer in pro ball in the Dominican Summer League, where he hit .226/.344/.366 (108 wRC+) with three homers and a 29.7% strikeout rate in 53 games, but drew raves for his tools. He has elite bat speed and very good power potential, and despite that strikeout rate, he makes consistent hard contact. DeLeon is also a very good center field defender with an above-average arm, so even if he fills out his 6-foot-2, 185 lb. frame at some point and slows down, he’s more than equipped to play right field. DeLeon will make the jump stateside this year, splitting the season between Extended Spring Training and one of the organization’s three rookie ball affiliates.

3B Dermis Garcia
Signed for $3M as part of the 2014-15 international spending spree, Garcia, 18, has already moved off shortstop to third base because he filled out considerably over the last 18 months or so. He’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs., though that might be 10-20 lbs. light. Garcia has huge power and the bat makes a special sound when he connects. He can drive the ball out of any part of any park. His offensive approach is rudimentary, however, so he needs to sharpen his knowledge of the strike zone before he can begin to approach his offensive ceiling. Garcia is not a great athlete and there’s a chance he may end up in left field or even first base down the line. He’s a bat first prospect, no doubt. After hitting .159/.256/.188 (46 wRC+) with a 32.1% strikeout rate in 23 Rookie Gulf Coast League games in 2015, Garcia will return to that level this year following a stint in Extended Spring Training.

OF Jhalan Jackson
The Yankees grabbed the 22-year-old Jackson in the seventh round last year and he has some of the most raw power in the system. He put up a .266/.338/.452 (133 wRC+) batting line with five homers in 49 games with Short Season Staten Island after signing, though his 29.8% strikeout rate shows his approach is not where it needs to be. Jackson can handle breaking balls, but the power he shows in batting practice isn’t going to translate over to games if he doesn’t lay off more pitches out of the zone. He’s a freakish athlete and a gym rat with a body that looks like it was chiseled out of marble, so it’s no surprise he has good range in the outfield and a very strong arm. Jackson has an awful lot of upside. Controlling the strike zone will be his biggest challenge going forward. He figures to head to Low-A Charleston this coming season.

OF Carlos Vidal
Vidal, 20, was one of the top statistical performers in the farm system last year, putting up a .303/.389/.492 (145 wRC+) line with nine homers, 16 steals, a 15.7% strikeout rate, and a 10.3% walk rate in 60 games for the new Rookie Pulaski affiliate. He was a relatively unheralded international signing out of Colombia in 2014, and he’s one of those guys who lacks a standout tool but can do a little of everything. Vidal has a contact-oriented left-handed swing but not a ton of power, which limits his offensive ceiling. He’s a solid defender with a strong arm who is at his best in a corner. The Yankees love Vidal’s makeup and coachability. He’s likely headed to Low-A Charleston in 2016.

Yankees may be able to improve their offense by swinging at the first pitch more often in 2016

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

Last week was Retro Week here at RAB, and a trademark of that 1996 Yankees team was their relentless offense. That was the trademark of the entire late-90s dynasty, not just the ’96 team. They’d work the count, grind out at-bats, then get into the soft underbelly of the opposing team’s bullpen. It was an incredibly effective strategy. The offense was fun to watch and not fun to face.

Baseball has changed over the last 20 years, and while working counts and grinding out at-bats is never a bat strategy, middle relievers aren’t a bad as they once were. Pitchers are throwing harder than ever before in general, plus teams are matching up more often, so they’re putting their middle relievers in the best position to succeed. Middle relievers now are more effective than they were two decades ago, generally speaking.

But still, we’re conditioned to think working the count is the great way to generate offense even though middle relievers are no longer pushovers. Working the count is good, but there are other ways to generate offense, including swinging early in the count. In fact, the Yankees as a team should maybe consider swinging early in the count — and by early in the count I mean the very first pitch — more often this coming season.

Last year the Yankees swung at the first pitch in 6.14% of their plate appearances compared to the 7.36% league average. Only the Red Sox (5.77%) swung at the first pitch less often. The Yankees as a team hit .303 with a .198 ISO when swinging at the first pitch last year, and .248 with a .169 ISO following the first pitch of the at-bat. The MLB averages were a .340 average and a .213 ISO on the first pitch, and .248 with a .144 ISO thereafter.

That makes sense, right? Hitters swing at the first pitch when they get a really good pitch to hit. Plenty of guys go up to the plate hunting a first pitch fastball or curveball or whatever based on the scouting reports. That’s one of the reasons Brett Gardner‘s power has spiked the last few years. He started ambushing first pitch fastballs. And these days pitchers are throwing more first pitch strikes than ever before. Look:

Zone First Pitch Strike Rates

Do you see what’s going on there? Over the last few seasons — this goes back to 2008, the start of the PitchFX era — pitchers are throwing more first pitch strikes but fewer pitches in the zone overall. It’s a trend too. First pitch strike rate and overall zone rate are headed in opposite directions and have for a few seasons now. Chances are the first pitch of the at-bat will be in the zone. After that? The numbers say it is likely to be out of the zone.

PitchFX data says pitchers throw a first pitch fastball roughly two-thirds of the time, and that’s held pretty constant over the years. I actually though it would be higher than that, but two-thirds of the time it is. I’m sure it’s different for each pitcher. Some guys probably throw a ton of pitch fastballs while others pitch backwards with breaking balls. Masahiro Tanaka seems like a guy who throws a lots of first pitch breaking ball, but I digress.

For the sake of having the information readily available, here is how the returning regular Yankees fared when swinging at the first pitch in 2015, via Baseball Reference:

Player PA H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip OPS+
Carlos Beltran 59 22 7 1 2 .386 .373 .649 1.022 .351 125
Brett Gardner 37 13 2 0 1 .382 .389 .529 .918 .353 108
Alex Rodriguez 62 16 5 0 4 .271 .306 .559 .866 .218 89
Brian McCann 42 11 3 0 2 .282 .310 .513 .822 .237 82
Chase Headley 65 19 5 0 2 .302 .292 .476 .768 .270 70
Didi Gregorius 83 23 5 0 2 .295 .317 .436 .753 .273 70
Jacoby Ellsbury 70 21 2 0 2 .309 .304 .426 .731 .284 65
Mark Teixeira 48 13 6 0 1 .277 .271 .468 .739 .255 63

New addition Starlin Castro put up a .328/.317/.552 (91 OPS+) batting line in 61 plate appearances when he swung at the first pitch last season. Keep in mind we’re talking about a very small sample of plate appearances here. I don’t think these splits have much year-to-year predictive value at all. I don’t think “good first pitch hitter” is a thing that exists.

Anyway, hitters generally do much more damage when they swing at pitches in the zone for pretty obvious reasons. When you swing at something out of the zone, you’re either reaching or getting jammed, and it’s tough to drive a ball with authority that way. Last season batters hit .300 with a .202 ISO on pitches in the zone. It was a .188 average and a .075 ISO on pitches out of the zone. So yeah. Swing at stuff in the zone. And based on PitchFX data, the first pitch of the at-bat is much more likely to be in the zone than any other pitch in the at-bat.

This isn’t to say hitters should always swing at the first pitch. That’s a bad idea. Pitchers aren’t stupid. They’ll pick up on it quickly and adjust. But swinging at the first pitch a little more often isn’t a bad idea. Like I said, only one team swung at the first pitch less often than the Yankees last year, and the Yankees will have almost the same exact lineup in 2016 than they did in 2015. Castro’s the only new regular. They can change the scouting report a bit and start punishing pitchers when they try to steal a strike with a first pitch heater.

Working the count and driving up the pitcher’s pitch count is awesome. The Yankees won a lot of titles doing exactly that. The game is changing though, and getting into the bullpen isn’t as effective as it was 20 years ago, especially in the postseason when teams use only their best relievers. Gardner started hunting first pitch fastballs a few years back and his power output nearly doubled. If the rest of the lineup picks their spots and jumps on the first pitch a little more often, the result could be a nice boost for the offense in 2016.