It’s looking more and more likely Jorge Posada will fall off the Hall of Fame ballot this year

Team Jorge. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Hip hip. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

One week from today, the National Baseball Hall of Fame class of 2017 will be announced during a live MLB Network broadcast. At this point Tim Raines, who is on the ballot for the tenth and final time, seems to be a lock for induction, as does Jeff Bagwell. He’s on the ballot for the seventh time. Trevor Hoffman, Vlad Guerrero, and Ivan Rodriguez are all on the bubble as well.

Among the 34 players on the ballot this year is Jorge Posada, the first member of the (groan) Core Four to be eligible for Hall of Fame induction. Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte hit the ballot in two years, Derek Jeter the year after that. Bernie Williams, the fifth member of the Core Four, was on the Hall of Fame ballot in both 2012 and 2013. He received 9.6% of the vote the first year and 3.3% the second year, which is why he dropped off.

Players need to appear on 75% of the submitted ballots to be elected into Cooperstown. They also need to receive at least 5% of the vote to remain on the ballot another year. Bernie didn’t in 2013, so he dropped off. So it goes. Posada, it seems, is on a similar path. Current voting results indicate he’s in real danger of slipping off the ballot in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility.

According to the Hall of Fame public ballot tracker, which is the product of the hard work by man of the people Ryan Thibodaux, shows Posada has appeared on only 4.2% of the public Hall of Fame ballots as of this writing. He’s already been mathematically eliminated from received the 75% necessary for induction this year, not that I expected him to get in anyway. Jorge is very much a borderline candidate. Borderline at best, really.

So far 185 ballots have been made public — those are from voters who posted their ballot on social media, in their newspaper, on a blog, whatever — while six others were sent to Thibodaux anonymously. That makes up roughly 44% of the voting body. Posada needs 14 more votes to clear the 5% threshold and remain on the ballot another year. We’re still waiting on ballots from many New York voters, which could help Posada, though historically players have received less support from private ballots than public ballots. It’s a long shot.

Now, I don’t think it would be some kind of grave injustice if Posada doesn’t make it into the Hall of Fame. Hardly. He’s one of my all-time favorite players, but I recognize him as a borderline candidate. Posada was unquestionably one of the best catchers of his era and one of the best in Yankees history, though you have to squint your eyes a bit to really see his Hall of Fame case. It comes down to his offense, because Jorge wasn’t a great (or even good) defender.

Among catchers with at least 5,000 career plate appearances, Posada is 12th all-time in OPS+ (121) and 14th all-time in wRC+ (123). He’s ninth in OBP (.374) and eighth in SLG (.474). As a catcher only, meaning ignoring time as a DH and all that, Posada is seventh all-time in homers (246) and sixth in extra-base hits (599). He’s also first in walks (818) and ninth in times in base (2,356). Posada hit .279/.380/.487 as a catcher. That’s pretty awesome.

There’s no question Posada, a career .273/.374/.474 (123 wRC+) hitter overall, was far better than the average catcher offensively. Far, far better. The question is whether the 12th or 14th or whatever best hitting catcher of all-time is worthy of being inducted into Cooperstown. For the vast majority of Hall of Fame voters this year, the answer has been no. Being part of four World Series titles teams (technically five, but Posada wasn’t exactly a key component of the 1996 Yankees) hasn’t helped his case much.

The fact the ballot is stuffed isn’t helping matters either. Of the 191 ballots on Thibodaux’s tracker, a whopping 110 voted for the maximum ten players. It’s really easy to come up with about 12 players worthy of Hall of Fame votes this year, but there’s only room on the ballot for ten, so inevitably a few deserving players get left out in the cold. Posada’s an easy one to cast aside. Heck, if I had a ballot, I’m pretty sure Jorge wouldn’t be among my “top” ten players, though I haven’t put a ton of thought into it.

Posada’s best shot at getting into the Hall of Fame was always going involve a long stint on the ballot with a gradual increase in support each year. Perhaps a Rich Lederer/Bert Blyleven, Jonah Keri/Tim Raines style campaign would have been necessary. The longer he stayed on the ballot, the more voters would consider him and realize how great he truly was. That was the plan. (As an added bonus, the longer the stayed on the ballot, the more unclogged it would get it.)

In all likelihood Posada is going to fall off the Hall of Fame ballot this year, his first year of eligibility. That stinks. At least Bernie stuck around for a second year. Posada is one of the greatest Yankees ever and no one will ever wear No. 20 in pinstripes again. Most players couldn’t dream of having his career. Jorge seems destined to be overlooked as one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, which is kinda fitting I guess, because I always felt he was a bit underappreciated during his playing career.

Prospect Profile: Justus Sheffield

(@MiLB)
(@MiLB)

Justus Sheffield | LHP

Background
Sheffield, 20, grew up in Tullahoma, Tennessee, which is about halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga. As a senior at Tullahoma High School, Sheffield struck out 131 batters in 61.2 innings while allowing only three earned runs. That’s a 0.34 ERA with seven-inning games. He had a 17-strikeout game and also hit .405 with three home runs, which earned him Gatorade National Player of the Year honors. No, he is not related to Gary Sheffield.

Like his older brother Jordan, Justus committed to Vanderbilt, which meant he figured to be a tough sign. Vandy is typically a tough commitment to break. Baseball America ranked Sheffield as the 49th best prospect in the 2014 draft class and the second best prospect in Tennessee, behind Vanderbilt righty Tyler Beede. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Justus as the 21st best prospect in the draft class while MLB.com had him 39th.

The Indians selected Sheffield with the 31st overall pick in the 2014 draft, the supplemental first round pick they received as compensation for losing Ubaldo Jimenez to free agency. Rather than be a tough sign, Sheffield was literally the first 2014 draftee to agree to terms. (That we know of, anyway.) The two sides agreed to a below-slot $1.6M bonus only hours after the MLB Network broadcast of Day One of the draft. Slot money for the 31st pick was $1.733M.

The Yankees acquired Sheffield from Cleveland in the five-player Andrew Miller trade at the 2016 deadline. Miller went to the Indians for Sheffield, outfielder Clint Frazier, and righties Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. It was a four-for-one swap.

Pro Career
Because he signed quickly, the Indians sent Sheffield to their rookie level Arizona League affiliate for his pro debut. Sheffield had a 4.79 ERA (2.67 FIP) with 29 strikeouts and nine walks in 20.2 innings after signing. That’s a 30.9% strikeout rate and a 9.6% walk rate. After the season, Baseball America ranked him Cleveland’s fourth best prospect.

During the 2014-15 offseason, Sheffield was arrested back home in Tullahoma for underage drinking and aggravated burglary after breaking into a home in the early morning hours to confront one of the residents about a personal matter. Sheffield pled guilty to underage drinking and a reduced charge of aggravated criminal trespassing, and was sentenced to probation. He also had to donate $500 to a local charity and was allowed to have the charges expunged from his record one year later.

Once the 2015 season began, the Indians assigned Sheffield to their Low-A affiliate in the Midwest League, where he was the sixth youngest player and second youngest pitcher in the league on Opening Day. He spent the entire season at the level and posted a 3.31 ERA (2.99 FIP) with 24.9% strikeouts and 6.9% walks in 26 starts and 127.2 innings while being nearly three years younger than the average Midwest League player. Baseball America ranked Sheffield as the club’s fourth best prospect and 81st best prospect in baseball after the season.

The Indians moved Sheffield up to the High-A Carolina League to begin 2016 — he was the sixth youngest player and youngest pitcher in the league on Opening Day — and he had a 3.59 ERA (3.80 FIP) with 22.8% strikeouts and 9.8% walks in 19 starts and 95.1 innings there before the trade. Baseball America ranked Sheffield as the 69th best prospect in the game in early-July, in their midseason top 100 update.

After the trade the Yankees initially assigned Sheffield to High-A Tampa, where he made five starts and had a 1.73 ERA (2.33 FIP) with 27.3% strikeouts and 10.1% walks in 26 innings. A late season bump to Double-A Trenton saw Sheffield make three more starts, postseason included, during which he managed a 4.97 ERA (4.86 FIP) with 17 strikeouts and nine walks in 12.2 innings.

All told, Sheffield pitched to a 3.36 ERA (3.61 FIP) with 24.2% strikeouts and 10.4% walks in 27 starts and 134 innings in 2016. He was three years younger than the competition in both High-A leagues. After the season, Baseball America ranked Sheffield as the seventh best prospect in New York’s stacked farm system. He should be in the middle of all the top 100 prospect lists that come out this spring.

Scouting Report
Sheffield is a short little southpaw — he’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 195 lbs. — with big stuff. His fastball is more of a two-seamer than a four-seamer, with run down and back in on left-handed batters. It sits mostly in the low-90s and has topped out at 96 mph. That’s pretty good velocity given his age (he doesn’t turn 21 until May) and size.

A low-to-mid-80s slider is Sheffield’s primary secondary pitch. He used to throw a curveball back in the day, but it’s morphed into a slider since signing and become a more reliable offering. Sheffield also throws a mid-80s changeup that has made a lot of progress since high school and is now an average-ish offering. On his best days, he’ll take two swing-and-miss secondary pitches out to the mound. Here’s some video from September.

Throwing strikes has been an issue for Sheffield at times, which is surprising because he’s a great athlete and repeats his delivery well. The hope is he’ll iron out his location with more experience. Sheffield has mid-rotation upside, but as a lefty with three quality pitches, he could exceed that ceiling with much improved command. Keep in mind it’s not unusual for a 20-year-old kid to lack pristine location.

The arrest a few years ago was a surprise because Sheffield was praised for his makeup prior to the 2014 draft. He completed his probation and hasn’t had any other legal problems, either before or since the arrest.

2017 Outlook
Sheffield will open the 2017 season as a 20-year-old in Double-A, where he figures to be one of the youngest players and pitchers in the Eastern League on Opening Day. You can never rule out a player starting extremely well and forcing a promotion, but I think Sheffield will remain with Double-A Trenton almost all season. He could make a handful of Triple-A starts at the end of the regular season and in the postseason or something like that, I suppose. The Yankees like to do that stuff. A midseason promotion seems unlikely though given his age and developmental needs.

My Take
It’s easy to overlook Sheffield in the system, isn’t it? He wasn’t even the headliner in his own trade (that was Frazier), and the Yankees landed other bigger name prospects like Gleyber Torres and Dillon Tate at the deadline. And they drafted Blake Rutherford. And guys like Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo, and James Kaprielian are prospect list holdovers from last year. It’s really easy to forget about Sheffield.

That said, I think Justus is the Yankees’ best pitching prospect at the moment. His medical history is cleaner than Kaprielian’s — Sheffield has never had an injury, arm or otherwise — and his arsenal is more advanced than Albert Abreu’s. Fastball plane and homeritis is always a concern with sub-6-foot pitchers because they tend to lack downhill plane on their fastballs, but Sheffield has some natural sink on his heater and has kept the ball in the park as a pro (career 0.46 HR/9), which is encouraging.

There is no such thing as a low-risk pitching prospect — Sheffield has been healthy to date, but that doesn’t mean he can’t blow out his arm on the first day of Spring Training — but I feel like Sheffield carries less risk than the typical 20-year-old hurler. He has three pitches already, and he’s athletic and he repeats his delivery well. I’m optimistic his control will improve in time. Sheffield has less to figure out than most kids this age.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how Sheffield handles his assignment to Double-A this season. A good season at that level would put him in the game’s top tier of pitching prospects and make him a potential big league option for the Yankees as soon as 2018. It’s not often a high school pitcher reaches the big leagues within four calendar years of being drafted, but Sheffield has a chance to do it. That’s pretty awesome.

Yankees considering splitting Ellsbury and Gardner in the lineup, but I’ll need to see it to believe it

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Three offseasons ago the Yankees committed significant dollars to reshape their offense. After years of relying on the home run (not a bad thing!) and playing station-to-station baseball (a bad thing), New York invested big in a pair of speedsters. Jacoby Ellsbury was brought on board as a free agent and Brett Gardner was retained with an extension. That’s $205M worth of table-setters right there, with three-quarters of that money going to Ellsbury.

The attempt to diversify the offense hasn’t worked as hoped. In the three years since the signings, the Yankees ranked 20th, second, and 22nd in runs per game. The year they ranked second was the year zombie Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez rose from the dead to hit a combined .252/.357/.513 with 64 homers in just under 1,100 plate appearances. It wasn’t because Ellsbury and Gardner raised hell atop the lineup.

Derek Jeter‘s retirement tour kept him glued to the No. 2 lineup spot in 2014, but over the last two years, Ellsbury and Gardner have batted first and second in whatever order in 200 of 324 possible games, or 62%. Needless to say, building the top of the lineup around their speed hasn’t worked as planned for a number of reasons, and as a result, the Yankees are now considering breaking up the Gardner-Ellsbury combo.

“We’ve kicked it around (since) the second half last year,” said Brian Cashman during a YES Network interview earlier this week (video link). “Is it best to split them up? Who should really bat leadoff? Those type of things. And I’m sure those will pop back up this Spring Training. It could stay that way. It’s ultimately going to be Joe’s call … I think Joe’s going to get a better feel when he sees everything in camp — if it’s all healthy — and who’s best for that two-hole, then where’s the best guy slot after that. We’ll see how it plays.”

Changing the lineup can sometimes be really simple and at other times really complicated. Splitting up Gardner and Ellsbury is one of those times when it’s complicated, I think. There are a lot of ramifications up and down the lineup, and even in the clubhouse as well. There’s a lot going on here, so let’s break it down bit by bit.

1. Of course Gardner, not Ellsbury, should bat leadoff. Ellsbury has the more lucrative contract and is the bigger name, but Gardner is the better player and better hitter, and therefore the better fit for the leadoff spot. Consider their offensive numbers over the last few years (defense doesn’t matter when it comes to lineup spots):

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR XBH SB-CS BsR
2016 Gardner 634 .261/.351/.362 97 7 35 16-4 +7.3
2016 Ellsbury 626 .263/.330/.374 91 9 38 20-8 +2.7
2014-16 Gardner 1,926 .259/.340/.395 105 40 130 57-14 +18.5
2014-16 Ellsbury 1,762 .264/.326/.382 95 32 110 80-22 +14.1

Ellsbury steals a few more bases and hits for a slightly higher average, and that’s about it. Gardner is better at everything else, including all the other aspects of baserunning (BsR). The most basic job of the leadoff man is to get on base, and Gardner has a higher on-base percentage than Ellsbury over the last year (.351 to .330), the last two years (.347 to .324), the last three years (.340 to .326), the last four years (.341 to .333), the last five years (.341 to .331) … on and on we could go.

Furthermore, Gardner sees a heck of a lot more pitches than Ellsbury. That is kinda the secondary job of the leadoff man, right? To work the pitcher and prolong the at-bat so everyone else in the lineup gets an idea of what’s coming? Right. Gardner saw 4.09 pitches per plate appearance last season, 29th most in baseball. Ellsbury saw 3.73 pitches per plate appearance, which was 108th most. Gardner has a big advantage over the last three years too (4.23 to 3.73).

Looking ahead, both Steamer (.340 OBP to .324 OBP; 101 wRC+ to 91 wRC+) and ZiPS (.330 OBP to .324 OBP; 104 OPS to 97 OPS+) project Gardner to both get on base more often and be a better overall hitter than Ellsbury this coming season. Unless you’re one of those folks who believes the quality of a leadoff hitter can be measured exclusively by his stolen base total, there’s no statistical argument to be made Ellsbury deserves the leadoff spot over Gardner.

2. Okay smarty pants, who bats second then? The second spot in the lineup is an important one. Old school baseball folks will say that spot should go to a bat control guy who can hit behind the runner, hit-and-run, things like that. New schoolers believe your best overall hitter should hit second because he’ll get more at-bats than he would hitting third or fourth, plus he’d bat with more men on base than he would as the leadoff hitter.

Ellsbury fits the mold of an old school No. 2 hitter. He struck out only 13.4% of the time last year (career 13.6 K%), the 25th lowest strikeout rate among the 146 hitters qualified for the batting title. Ellsbury is most certainly not New York’s best hitter though. That’s probably Gary Sanchez. (I wouldn’t be completely shocked if, say, Greg Bird out-hits Sanchez in 2017.) Girardi has batted power hitters second in the past, most notably Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, but I have a hard time believing he’d do it with Sanchez. He seems entrenched as the No. 3 hitter.

So if Gardner is leading off, Sanchez is hitting third, and Ellsbury is moving down in the lineup, who is the best candidate to hit second? My nomination: Chase Headley. He’s a better on-base player than Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro — Headley had a .331 OBP last year whereas Didi and Starlin were at .304 and .300, respectively, and ZiPS suggests more of the same in 2017 — but he probably won’t pop 20-something homers like those two. He’s better in a table-setting role. Gregorius and Castro are better used killing rallies with homers a bit lower in the order.

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

Ultimately, the Yankees don’t have a great No. 2 hitter candidate. Ellsbury has the bat control but is a below-average hitter overall. Castro and Gregorius don’t get on base much. Headley and Sanchez (and Bird and Matt Holliday) are really slow. Aaron Judge strikes out too much. You know who’d theoretically be a nice fit as the No. 2 hitter? Aaron Hicks. Switch-hitter with some pop who can run, doesn’t strike out a ton (18.8 K% in 2016), and will draw walks (8.3%). Of course, Hicks has a lot to prove before becoming a serious consideration for a premium lineup spot.

The lineup is going to change throughout the season, it always does, and it’s entirely possible Ellsbury will emerge as the best possible candidate for the two-hole. Headley seems like the best fit right now because, even though he lacks top of the order speed, he’ll get on base and hit for more power than Ellsbury, plus he’s a switch-hitter, which creates some matchup headaches for opposing managers. Headley has batted second for the Yankees before, 49 starts there the last two years, so it wouldn’t be new to him. He’s my suggestion until a better option emerges.

3. Will Girardi actually move Ellsbury down in the lineup? I can think of 153 million reasons why Ellsbury will remain the leadoff hitter in 2017. Like or not (not!) contract status absolutely plays a role when teams make decisions. It’s one thing to bench a wholly ineffective A-Rod, or slide Brian McCann to DH when Sanchez starts socking dingers left and right. It’s another to drop a guy in the lineup when you owe him $90M over the next four years.

Now, to be fair, Girardi did bench Ellsbury in the AL Wildcard Game two years ago, which I’m sure was difficult even though it was unquestionably the right move at the time. And Girardi did scale back the playing time of his veterans last year (A-Rod, McCann, Teixeira) without the clubhouse breaking into mutiny. Say what you want about Girardi’s on-field management skills. The Yankees have been largely distraction free the last few seasons. He seems to do a wonderful job managing the clubhouse.

Perhaps then demoting Ellsbury lower in the lineup — by demoting I mean dropped to the bottom third of the batting order, not, say, third or fifth — would not be a problem. Ellsbury accepts the demotion, uses it as motivation, and plays his way back to the top of the lineup. (Or demands a trade!) That would be the best thing for everyone. That said, there are too many years and too many dollars left on Ellsbury’s contract for me to think this will actually happen. I’m going to need to see this one to believe it.

4. Don’t forget, a Gardner trade is still possible. The Yankees can split Gardner and Ellsbury up by dropping one, preferably Ellsbury, lower in the lineup. They could also split them up by trading Gardner (or, again, preferably Ellsbury, but nah). Gardner has been on the trade block for more than a year now and reports indicate the Yankees continue to field offers. He remains a Yankee though, and until he’s traded, we have to proceed as if he’ll be around. This is just a reminder that a Gardner trade could make Ellsbury the leadoff hitter by default.

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

5. So what actually is the best lineup? Good question! Moving Ellsbury, who has been 5% worse than the league average hitter over the last three seasons, down in the lineup makes perfect sense. Except when you look at the rest of the roster and realize the Yankees aren’t exactly loaded with high-end hitters. It’s not like they still have Swisher hitting eighth or something like that. I’d say this is the best possible lineup right now:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 1B Greg Bird
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. CF Jacoby Ellsbury

That allows Ellsbury to act as a second leadoff hitter, so to speak. After the first inning, he’d still be setting the table for Gardner and Headley and Sanchez. He just wouldn’t do it in the first inning. There are a lot of questions in that lineup — will Judge stick with the team on Opening Day or go to Triple-A? is Bird healthy and productive? etc. — but that seems like the best order.

Now, based on last year and his overall tendencies, this is the lineup I’m guessing Girardi would run out there if the Yankees do decide to split up Ellsbury and Gardner:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 2B Starlin Castro
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. 3B Chase Headley

Don’t ask me why, that just seems very Girardi-ish to me. Gregorius saw plenty of time in the middle of the lineup last year, and Castro was elevated to second on more than a few occasions. (Fifteen times, to be exact.) Sixth is low enough that Ellsbury is not getting premium at-bats but still high enough not to insult him. Then you’ve got the two kids in Bird and Judge, then Headley, who Girardi never bothered to elevate in the lineup for an extended period of time last summer even though he hit .269/.344/.426 (107 wRC+) in the final 135 games of the year.

Like I said earlier, I’m going to need to see Ellsbury dropped in the lineup before I believe it. Consider me skeptical. I half expect Gardner to be the one who gets demoted to seventh or eighth or whatever. It’s good the Yankees have been discussing this for a while now, since the second half of last season according to Cashman, now we just need to see if it leads anywhere. If there were one year left on Ellsbury’s deal and more viable top of the lineup alternatives on the roster, I’d be more optimistic about the chances of him being dropped. For now, I’m not expecting much.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Last night Brian Cashman was in the YES Network studio for an appearance on Yankees Hot Stove. YES cut it up into a few different clips, so there’s one embedded above and the rest are here. If you don’t want to click through and watch them all, Brendan Kuty recapped the most important stuff. Most of it is typical CashmanSpeak, meaning lots of words but not a lot of new information. Still, check it out though. Some pretty interesting stuff in there.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Nets are the only local pro sports team in action tonight, and there’s some college basketball on the schedule too. Not a whole lot going on, so talk about whatever here.

Cashman says it’s “99% likely” the Yankees will not add a starter before Spring Training

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

All things considered, this has been a pretty quiet offseason for the Yankees. They did make one notable trade (Brian McCann) and two pricey free agent signings (Matt Holliday, Aroldis Chapman), but otherwise things have been really slow for a solid month now. That’s what happens with a weak free agent class and trade prices sky high.

The Yankees will have some position battles in Spring Training, as always, but generally speaking, the roster is kinda set. There are no glaring needs. It’s not like they traded Chase Headley and don’t have a third baseman. New York does need pitching depth the way every team needs pitching depth, they’re just unlikely to add it. Brian Cashman all but confirmed it earlier this week.

“We have stay engaged with the marketplace, but I think more likely than not — 99% likely — we are going to be going to camp with what we have,” said Cashman on Jim Bowden’s radio show Monday. “That’s Tanaka, CC, and Pineda locked in to three spots, and then five guys competing for the final two spots between — in no order — Warren, Cessa, Green, Mitchell, and Severino.”

Cashman first said he wasn’t optimistic about adding pitching during the Winter Meetings last month, and he’s stuck to his guns. Hal Steinbrenner said pretty much the same thing. That’s typical Cashman (and Hal) though. He says he doesn’t expect to do anything all winter, then bam, something happens. Bottom line: you can never truly rule the Yankees out on anything. Anyway, I have some quick thoughts on this.

1. I still think the Yankees will add a starter. I know the Yankees insist they need to dump salary before making a move, but I don’t totally buy it. I have a hard time thinking they’ll pass up the opportunity to sign a player to a little one-year contract if something pops up. Maybe nothing will pop up! There are still so many low level starters on the market (Doug Fister, Jorge De La Rosa, Scott Feldman, Ryan Vogelsong, etc.) that surely one or two will still be on the market on the eve of Spring Training, right? Right??? Anyway, yeah, I think the Yankees will scoop someone like this up on cheap one-year contract at some point. Maybe even a minor league deal.

2. I feel pretty good about the young pitchers, actually. Cashman listed the team’s four most notable young starters in Luis Cessa, Luis Severino, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell. (Adam Warren ain’t so young anymore.) We saw all four of them in the show last season. Further down in the system are Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams, and Dietrich Enns and Ronald Herrera. (Enns and Herrera are on the 40-man roster.) I’m a young pitcher skeptic; I always assume the worst when a young guy gets called up for the first time. I oddly feel pretty confident in this group though. I guess I was encouraged by what I saw last year. That and the fact there are so many of them. Odds are good one or two (or more!) will emerge as reliable options going forward. (I hope.)

3. Still, some veteran depth would be cool. At the end of the day, they’re still young pitchers, and their performance will be unpredictable and their workloads will have to be monitored. You don’t want to push these guys to the point where they’re at increased risk of injury, and if they struggle, you want to be able to send them to Triple-A if necessary. Development isn’t always pretty. Severino last year was a reminder of that. A veteran starter, even a scrap heap guy like Fister or De La Rosa, is a safety net in case the kids need to be shut down or sent down. And if not, great! The Yankees won’t let a scrap heap veteran stand in their way. Bottom line, the more pitching to protect the young arms, the better.

Young starters allow the Yankees to finally use a six-man rotation in 2017

Cessa. (Mike Carlson/Getty)
Cessa. (Mike Carlson/Getty)

It feels like only a matter of time until a six-man rotation becomes the norm around baseball. Individual pitchers are generally throwing fewer and fewer innings with each passing season, and with a full-time 26th roster spot seemingly on the horizon, soon it’ll be much easier to carry that extra starter. Right now it takes a little roster creativity to make a sixth starter work.

The Yankees, like many teams, have used a spot sixth starter at times the last few years. Someone gets called up, makes one start to give the rest of the rotation an extra day of rest, then gets sent back down the next day. We’ve seen Chase Whitley, Bryan Mitchell, and Chad Green used in this way the last three seasons. Mitchell, Green, Luis Cessa, and Luis Severino are candidates to do this in 2017. Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams too, possibly.

Yesterday I wrote about the possibility of a tandem fifth starter system, which sounds great in theory, but probably wouldn’t fly in reality. It could work for a team in a deep rebuild with nothing to play for — the Rockies tried a four-man rotation and with four sets of tandem starters in 2012, when they lost 98 games — but a team trying to contend like the Yankees? Nah. Seems like it would be tough to pull off.

Tandem starters might not be doable. But some sort of six-man rotation? That definitely seems possible. It doesn’t have to be a full-time six-man rotation, remember. That would require playing with a six-man bullpen (nope) or a three-man bench (yup). Let’s call it a modified six-man rotation, in which the Yankees use their young pitching depth as a series of sixth starters.

In a nutshell, you call one guy up for a spot start, send him down the next day, then six days later you call up another young starter to make the next spot start. The Yankees wouldn’t be able to call up the same guy for both starts — players must remain in the minors ten days after being sent down, unless someone is placed on the disabled list — but they have the depth to swing it. Something like this:

Day One: Masahiro Tanaka
Day Two: CC Sabathia
Day Three: Michael Pineda
Day Four: Severino (or whoever wins the rotation spot)
Day Five: Cessa (or whoever wins the rotation spot)
Day Six: Mitchell as spot sixth starter
Day Seven: Tanaka
Day Eight: Sabathia
Day Nine: Pineda
Day Ten: Severino
Day Eleven: Cessa
Day Twelve: Green as the spot sixth starter (Mitchell can’t be recalled yet due to the ten-day rule)

The exact names may change, but that’s the idea. And this is doable because the young starters have minor league option years remaining. Mitchell has one left while Cessa, Severino, and Green each have two. Montgomery and Adams, who are also spot sixth starter candidates, have yet to be added to the 40-man roster, so they have all three options remaining. Dietrich Enns and Ronald Herrera were just added to the 40-man and have all three options too. Can’t forget them.

Shreve. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Shreve. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

Furthermore, the Yankees have optionable relievers, which is a necessity to make this spot sixth starter thing work. Guys like Johnny Barbato, Richard Bleier, Gio Gallegos, Ben Heller, Jonathan Holder, and Chasen Shreve can all be sent up and down without being exposed to waivers in 2017. Send a reliever down one day, call up the spot sixth starter the next, then send down the spot sixth starter and call up another reliever the day after that. See? Simple.

Keep in mind the Yankees don’t have to do this all season. April is, as always, loaded with off-days. The Yankees have three off-days in the first ten days of the regular season. They have eight off-days in the first 43 days of the regular season. Basically one every five days. Yeah. It’s not until mid-May, when they begin a stretch of 20 games in 20 days on May 16th, that the Yankees need to seriously consider using a spot sixth starter to give their regular rotation extra rest.

With any luck, the Yankees will be in position to consider using a spot sixth starter (or tandem starters!) all season. That will mean everyone will have stayed healthy and all the young starters won’t be needed to plug big league rotation spots. We know that’s very unlikely, which is why depth is important. Counting guys like Montgomery, Adams, Enns, and Herrera, the Yankees just might have enough arms to use spot sixth starters all year.

Remember, this is as much about the veterans as it is the kids. Tanaka and Sabathia would benefit from the extra rest now and then, as would the younger pitchers, especially since they’ll all presumably be on some workload limit. Cessa led the kids with only 147.2 innings in 2016. It’s not like these guys are all set to throw 190 innings in 2017, you know? Using a spot sixth starter, something the Yankees have done in the past and have the personnel to do this coming season, benefits everyone.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Brett Anderson

(Jamie Sabau/Getty)
(Jamie Sabau/Getty)

The offseason is not so young at this point — pitches and catchers report in fewer than five weeks! — and so far the Yankees haven’t done anything to improve their starting rotation. We haven’t even seen the token “innings guy on a minor league contract for Triple-A” signing yet. If the Yankees do make any changes to their rotation before Spring Training, chances are it’ll be a small signing, not a huge trade. That’s my feeling, anyway.

Among the remaining unsigned starters, and there are still quite a few of them, by far the most interesting to me is left-hander Brett Anderson, formerly of the Athletics, Rockies, and Dodgers. Injuries have been a problem over the years, there’s no doubt about that, but at the moment, every free agent is significantly flawed. Teams are sorting through those free agents and deciding which flaws they can live with. Does Anderson make sense for the Yankees? Let’s take a look.

Injury History

Might as well start here since injuries define Anderson’s career. Last year he threw only 11.1 innings across three starts and one relief appearances mostly due to back trouble. Anderson hurt his back in Spring Training and needed surgery to repair a bulging disc. It wasn’t until mid-August that he was activated, and barely a week later he landed back on the disabled list with a blister. The blister kept him out until late-September.

Last year was the fourth time in the last five years Anderson was limited to fewer than 50 innings. It was the fifth time in the last six years he was unable to throw more than 85 innings. His list of injuries is quite long and quite significant:

  • 2009 (175.1 IP): Missed a little time with finger and biceps issues, but avoided the disabled list.
  • 2010 (112.1 IP): Separate instances of elbow inflammation and a forearm strain sidelined Anderson for three months total.
  • 2011 (83.1 IP): Elbow soreness ended his season in June. He had Tommy John surgery in July.
  • 2012 (35 IP): Returned from Tommy John surgery in August. An oblique strain ended his season in September.
  • 2013 (44.2 IP): Sidelined four months with an ankle sprain and a stress fracture in his foot.
  • 2014 (43.1 IP): A broken finger and a lower back strain cost him close to five months total.
  • 2015 (180.1 IP): Healthy! Except for calf cramping that caused him to miss a start in September.
  • 2016 (11.1 IP): Back surgery and a blister kept Anderson out the entire season, basically.

Yeesh. Little of everything there. Muscle pulls and ligament tears, broken bones and bulging discs, upper body and lower body. Based on that, Anderson has to be considered a complete lottery ticket. If he stays healthy in 2017, great! If not, well, that’s kinda what you expected going in. You hope to get lucky like the Dodgers did in 2015. Maybe half as lucky.

Recent Performance

Anderson threw only 11.1 innings last year and they were 11.1 terrible innings. Terrible as in 15 runs on 25 hits and four walks. Only five strikeouts too. On the bright side, a 50.0% ground ball rate! That’s pretty good. The rest? Awful.

Now, that said, I can’t put any stock in 11.1 innings, especially when the pitcher was coming off back surgery and missed a month with a blister right in the middle of those 11.1 innings. Anderson’s only meaningful sample of innings over the last five years is that 2015 season in Los Angeles. That’s it. Here’s what he did:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2015 180.1 3.69 3.94 15.5% 6.1% 66.3% 0.90 .320 .308
Career 685.2 3.86 3.70 17.5% 6.3% 58.2% 0.83 .329 .308

So after you smush all those little 40-something-inning seasons together to get Anderson’s career rates, it looks an awful lot like his 2015 performance. He’s not a big strikeout guy, never has been, yet he succeeds by limiting walks and keeping the ball on the ground. In fact, his 66.3% ground ball rate in 2015 was the third highest by a qualified starter since batted ball data started being recorded in 2002. (Derek Lowe had a 67.0% grounder rate in both 2002 and 2006).

Point is, when Anderson has been healthy, he’s been pretty effective, last year notwithstanding. Back during his prospect days, Anderson always stood out for his pitching acumen and ability to locate, not his sheer stuff. Presumably his pitchability hasn’t vanished with the injuries. It’s not like Anderson is a guy who needs to throw the ball by hitters to be successful.

Current Stuff

Because he missed so much time last year — Anderson threw 118 total pitches last year (118!) — and was either coming off injury (back surgery) or injured at the time (blister) when he was on the mound, I’m not sure 2016 PitchFX data tells us anything useful about Anderson’s current stuff. He was physically compromised.

When he’s been on the mound over the years, Anderson has consistently thrown five pitches regularly. He uses both a four-seam fastball and a sinker, plus both a curveball and a slider in addition to his changeup. Anderson’s velocity has dipped since his debut in 2009, but that’s to be expected. It would happen to anyone, not just someone who’s dealt with a ton of injuries. From Brooks Baseball:

brett-anderson-velocity

It would be a major red flag if Anderson’s velocity was down considerably last year, into the mid-80s or something. Instead, the four-seamer and sinker averaged 91.9 mph and 92.3 mph, respectively, in those 11.1 innings in 2016. They topped out at 95.6 mph and 95.2 mph as well, so the vee-low is there. That indicates the injuries haven’t damaged his arm beyond the point of no return, you know?

Because Anderson is a ground ball pitcher and not a strikeout pitcher — he’s made 115 career starts and only 12 times did he strike out more than seven batters (never more than ten) — let’s examine the ground ball rate of his individual pitches over the last two years. This tells us what healthy Anderson is capable of doing, and what he did in his most recent season, albeit in a miniscule sample size.

Four-Seam Sinker Curveball Slider Changeup
2015 54.5% 76.4% 58.8% 68.2% 59.7%
2016 50.0% 55.6% 37.5% 57.1% 40.0%
MLB AVG 37.9% 49.5% 48.7% 43.9% 47.8%

Two years ago, during his healthy season, Anderson got an above-average number of ground balls with all five pitches. That’s how you post the third highest ground ball rate by any starter in the 15 years batted ball data has been recorded. Last year, even with a bad back and a blister, Anderson got an above-average number of grounders with three of his five pitches. Yay?

The 2016 data doesn’t help us much because again, we’re talking about 118 total pitches, and I can’t imagine scouting reports would be all that helpful either. How much can information can you take from 118 pitches spread across four appearances? There’s very little video of Anderson in action in 2016 — MLB.com has three videos of Anderson from last year, and two are of him getting hurt — so here’s a clip of good, healthy Anderson from 2015:

That version of Anderson looks pretty good! Will that guy still exist in 2017, two years and one back surgery later? Damned if I know. That’s the hope though.

Contract Estimates

Things have been extremely quiet for Anderson this winter. So quiet there’s basically nothing in his MLB Trade Rumors archive. He was listed as a possible bounceback candidate in a December post, and the post before that is an injury update from September. No hard rumors at all. Anderson hasn’t been connected to any team so far this offseason.

Even though he was pretty good in 2015 and this free agent class is thin, Anderson was not included in either MLBTR’s or FanGraphs’ top 50 free agents. The only contract estimate we have comes from Jim Bowden (subs. req’d), who pegs Anderson for a one-year deal worth $5M. I had one year and $4M in my silly offseason plan, for what’s it worth.

One year and $5M or so seems to be the going rate for reclamation project starting pitchers. Derek Holland signed for $6M earlier this winter. Last offseason Matt Latos ($3M), Doug Fister ($7M), Kyle Kendrick ($5.5M), and Aaron Harang ($5M) all signed for similar amounts. Two years ago the Dodgers spent big to sign Anderson (one year and $10M) and it worked out well. Then he accepted the $15.8M qualifying offer and it was a waste of money.

Given the decided lack of interest and his ugly medical history, it’s difficult to see Anderson getting anything more than one year and $5M or so. Maybe a desperate team stretches their budget and gives him $7M, but I don’t see it. A low base salary short-term deal with incentives based on innings and/or starts seems most likely, does it not?

Does He Fit The Yankees?

My vote is yes, and for a few reasons. One, Anderson won’t cost much money. He shouldn’t, anyway. If he holds out for big bucks, then walk away and wish him luck. Two, Anderson is still only 28 (29 in February). This isn’t some 36-year-old trying to hang on. Anderson’s still on the right side of 30 and theoretically offers more upside than the typical reclamation types you find in free agency. Three, Anderson fits Yankee Stadium well as a southpaw who get ground balls.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)

And four, and perhaps most importantly, the Yankees have the pitching depth to absorb an injury should Anderson get hurt again. They have a lot of young pitchers currently slated to compete for the fourth and fifth rotation spots, including Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell. Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams will be in Triple-A as well, ditto Dietrich Enns and Ronald Herrera. The arms are there to cover for an injury.

Anderson is very unique as a reclamation project given his age and the way he ostensibly fits Yankee Stadium. You needn’t look back too far to see the last time he was successful too. It was 2015, one season ago. He’d be a very nice (and affordable) upside play for the 2017 Yankees, a team banking on the upside of their young kids to have any shot at contention (and not looking to spend big to make additions).

It’s important to note the Yankees have tried to acquire Anderson several times in the past, so they seem to like him. They were reportedly one of the runners-up two offseason ago, when he first signed with the Dodgers. The Yankees also tried to trade for Anderson during the 2013 Winter Meetings and at the 2014 trade deadline. Perhaps their feelings have changed over the years, but once upon a time, there was legitimate and persistent interest.

The real question is, as always, whether Anderson wants to join the Yankees. What is his goal this season? To stay healthy and show he can be effective. At this point he can’t do much more than cross his fingers and hope he stays healthy. Pitch effectively though? Performance is something that can be affected by outside factors, such as a hitter friendly ballpark in a division with three other hitter friendly ballparks in the DH league, like Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees could always use another arm just to help lighten the load a bit on the kids. Anderson offers a smidgen of upside, unlike, say, Doug Fister or Jorge De La Rosa, and even if he gets hurt again, the Yankees would be right back where they started minus a relatively small amount of cash. The potential reward is not sky high, I don’t think Anderson is an ace when healthy or anything like that, but there’s a chance for him to be league average or slightly above. If he’s open to pitching in New York, the Yankees would be wise to scoop him up.