Mailbag: Vogt, Moran, Bird, Adams, Judge, Betances, Shreve

I’ve been busy the last few days, so I didn’t have much time for mailbaggin’. Only eight questions this week. These things used to only be three or four questions, you know. Now eight qualifies as small. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. Send questions there.

Vogt. (Lindsey Wasson/Getty)
Vogt. (Lindsey Wasson/Getty)

Mike asks: Do you believe in Stephen Vogt?

I believe in Stephen Vogt. The Athletics designated Vogt for assignment yesterday as part of their renewed emphasis on youth. Vogt is gone, Trevor Plouffe is gone, and I imagine it’s only a matter of time until Jed Lowrie, Yonder Alonso, and Rajai Davis are gone too. The A’s are going young.

Vogt, 32, was hitting .217/.287/.357 (73 wRC+) with four homers in 174 plate appearances this year — Chris Carter went into last night’s game hitting .201/.287/.384 (77 wRC+) — after being an All-Star in 2015 and 2016. His production has dropped from a 116 wRC+ in 2015 to a 93 wRC+ in 2016 to a 73 wRC+ in 2017. That is: bad. And yet, there is this:

  • Vogt is a career .260/.320/.428 (106 wRC+) hitter against righties.
  • He’s a left-handed hitter who can take advantage of the short porch. Example: this homer.
  • He can play first base, fake the outfield, and be an emergency third catcher.
  • Vogt is an A+ clubhouse dude. He’s awesome. Example: his NBA referee impression.
  • If he gets released, Vogt can be signed for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.

The Yankees gotten nothing from first base this year. Stephen Vogt has been very bad this year! Can he better in Yankee Stadium while limited to platoon duty? Maybe! Now that Aaron Hicks is healthy, the Yankees don’t need Mason Williams on the bench. Sending down Williams for Vogt and giving him a chance at first base could be an upgrade. Probably not, but maybe so.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t think the A’s will release Vogt, and he definitely won’t elect free agency because he has fewer than five years of service time, meaning he’d forfeit the remainder of his $2.965M salary by electing free agency, and that’s not happening. The A’s will outright him to Triple-A and stash him as depth. I wouldn’t trade anything to get him nor would I take on the salary via waivers. If the A’s do release Vogt, sure, see if he’ll come to New York. If they don’t release him, then forget it.

Colin asks: Colin Moran, top college bat, high draft pick, local kid. The Astros are all locked up in the infield (although with Gleyber going to 3rd maybe the Yankees are now). He’s 25 and seemingly figuring it out, would it be possible to pry someone like that away on the cheap side?

Eh, I’m not sure he’s figuring it out as much as he is repeating Triple-A. Moran, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft, is hitting .279/.340/.541 (122 wRC+) with 16 homers, 17.6% strikeouts, and 8.2% walks in 57 Triple-A games this year. He’s a left-handed hitter known more for his level swing than his power. MLB.com ranks him as the 23rd best prospect in the Astros’ system. Here’s a piece of their scouting report:

Known for his pure left-handed swing and his ability to barrel balls easily while controlling the strike zone … His approach and relatively flat stroke yield below-average power, however, and he’s not the walk machine he was in college at North Carolina. Moran contributes little value beyond his bat, so he’ll have to boost his projection to become a big league regular … He has the hands and solid arm to play the hot corner, though Moran lacks range there. He’s a well below-average runner whose only other defensive option is first base.

The ‘Stros have Alex Bregman at third base and Yulieski Gurriel at first — plus A.J. Reed is waiting in Triple-A — so there’s no real spot for Moran going forward. He has a minor league option remaining for next season, so I suppose the Astros could stash him in Triple-A for another year as a depth option. They don’t have to move him anytime soon.

The Yankees don’t have a clear cut long-term third baseman. Gleyber Torres is awesome, though his recent Tommy John surgery throws a wrench into things. If nothing else, it delays his arrival. I am a big Miguel Andujar fan, but prospects are suspects until they prove otherwise. Could the Yankees get Moran for a similar busted former top prospect like, say, Mason Williams? It would be worth it given the uncertainty surrounding third base. Moran is by no means a “must acquire” though.

Jake asks: Given Bird’s setback and the likely probability that Detroit will sell, Alex Avila seems like a good fit. He’s on a prove-it contract that expires at the end of this year, he’s played first in the past, and he’s slashing well (including getting on base at a career-best .432 clip). Is he worth the risk?

Interesting! Avila has played 35 games at first base the last two seasons, so it’s not completely new to him, plus you could always stick him behind the plate. Avila is hitting .314/.437/.587 (172 wRC+) with ten homers on the season, easily his best year at the plate, because he’s doing the “hit more fly balls” thing (like Yonder Alonso):

alex-avila-batted-balls

If Greg Bird continues to have injury issues, Avila would be a nifty little pickup. He’d slide right into Bird’s roster spot as the left-handed hitting first baseman (slash catcher), and he’d give the Yankees a nice platoon option against righties. Plus, left-handed hitter and the short porch! Those two things always mix well. I wonder whether the Yankees could get him for someone like Ben Heller or Jonathan Holder. I can’t imagine Avila has much trade value despite his great start. Getting him for an extraneous reliever (the Tigers are in perpetual need of bullpen help) would work.

Bobby asks (short version): Given that the Yankees drafted numerous players at the bottom of the draft who are early round talents, is there any chance that the Yankees would decide to go crazy and sign all of them to multi-million dollar bonuses? They would have to forfeit their first round pick in the next two drafts and pay 100% tax on the overage.

No team has ever exceeded their bonus pool to the point where they forfeit future draft picks and I don’t see that happening anytime soon. It is an interesting idea though. In the late rounds this year, the Yankees drafted one bonafide first round talent (Alabama HS RHP Tanner Burns) and two players who could be first round picks next year with healthy 2018 college seasons (Stanford RHP Tristan Beck and Louisville RHP Riley Thompson). Beck is a potential top ten pick next year.

Exceeding your bonus pool by 15% or more means forfeiting your next two first round picks and paying a 100% tax on the overage. If the Yankees were to give those three players first round money, say $2.5M to $3M each, they’d be way over their $6.91M bonus pool. Let’s call it $3M each. That means paying $9M in bonus, $9M in tax, and giving up their first round picks in 2018 and 2019. But! You are adding three first round caliber talents to the organization right now. I think this is seriously worth considering when you’re talking about signing more than two such players. Doing it for one doesn’t make sense. But three? It’s not a bad idea. I don’t see the Yankees doing it though.

Michael asks: With the hole at first base who would you acquire? Any thoughts on Matt Adams? He’s cheap and controllable beyond this year.

I’ve never been a big Adams guy but he has been raking since getting traded to the Braves: .294/.346/.647 (148 wRC+) with eleven homers in 30 games prior to last night. Unless you think he’s a new player for some reason — and there’s nothing in the underlying numbers to suggest this is something more than a hot streak — Adams is the same guy he was with the Cardinals a few weeks ago. Atlanta gave up a non-top 30 organizational prospect to get him (Juan Yepez) and that’s all I’d give up to get him now. I’m not paying a bigger price because he had a month long hot streak with the Braves that will in no way benefit me. If the Yankees can get Adams for a non-top 30 guy, say Abi Avelino or Chris Gittens, do it. That’s about my limit here.

Henry asks: without seeing the numbers the eyeball test is telling me that Judges K rate has been climbing. It seems like he is maybe a little frustrated by the lack of good pitches in the zone and hes swinging more at the low and away out of the zone. It also looks that he might be sitting fastball a bit too much as im seeing him take a lot of loopy curves down the middle. do the numbers and your opinion back this up?

Aaron Judge‘s strikeout rate spiked in May and has stayed at the same level since. He was running a 29.8% strikeout rate heading into last night’s game. Here’s the graph:

aaron-judge-strikeout-rate

Twenty-eight of Judge’s 87 strikeouts this season have been looking, or 32.2%. The MLB average is 23.3%. I’m guessing all those low strikes he keeps getting called against him has something to do with that. It does seem like Judge has been caught looking a little more often the last few weeks — I could be completely wrong — and maybe that means he’s caught in between a bit. He’s looking fastball but gets a breaking ball, and vice versa. That sorta thing. Judge is striking out a lot, but man, whatever he’s doing, it’s working. Keep doing it.

Michael asks: Is DiDi’s very low walk rate concerning to you? There have been 208 players with 190+ PA and DiDi is ranked 204th with a BB% of just 3.1.

Nah. I wish Didi Gregorius would walk more, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. This is who he is. He’s a free swinger. And it works for him! Didi makes plenty of contact and he can hit the ball over the fence. I’d just let him be. Swinging is in his DNA so let him do it. If Gregorius wasn’t producing or if the Yankees had six or seven hitters like this in the lineup, it would be a problem. But he’s been hitting and, by and large, the Yankees have a patient lineup. One (or two, really, counting Starlin Castro) free swinger ain’t the end of the world.

Daniel asks: I don’t have video evidence, but it seems to me that Betances has seriously closed off his stance on the mound. What do you think? With Shreve doing the same, does two make a trend?

Both Dellin Betances and Chasen Shreve have closed their deliveries this year. Here’s what I mean:

dellin-betances-chasen-shreve-2016-vs-2017

One of the ex-pitcher YES Network broadcasters spoke about this a few weeks ago. I think it was David Cone. He said closing up like that — Betances and Shreve are practically showing their number to the hitter now — helps the pitcher stop from flying open out front. They stay back better and can more easily maintain their balance through their delivery. That’s what the broadcaster (again, Cone, I think) said, so take their word for it.

Shreve is throwing harder this season. His average fastball is 92.9 mph, up from 92.2 mph the last two years, and his max velocity has jumped from 94.8 mph to 95.7 mph. Basically one full mile-an-hour. That’s not nothing. I have no idea whether the slight velocity jump is due to closing up his delivery, but I suppose it could be related. The fact two pitchers on the same staff have done this now, closed up their delivery, leads me to believe it’s not a coincidence. The coaching staff encouraged this. And hey, given the way Betances and Shreve have pitched this year, it seems it be working.

Yankees melt down late to lose 10-5 to the Angels

The Yankees only won 2 out of 6 against the Mike Trout-less Angels team this season, which is not good! They lost 8 of the last 9, which is also not good. Because the Red Sox aren’t playing tonight, the Yankees still stay in the first place (albeit tied), which just seems like a miracle. They had a 5-1 lead tonight that evaporated away for a 10-5 loss. Gross.

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

Taking the lead

Things did not start great for the Yankees. Cameron Maybin drove the second pitch of the game over the left field fence for a home run. But don’t worry, the Yankee bats are in town! They tied it up on the bottom of the inning. With two outs, Aaron Judge and Matt Holliday walked, and Starlin Castro singled to drive a run in to make it 1-1.

The Yankees blew it open (or so it seemed) in the second with four runs. With one out, Chris Carter doubled to get on base. Ronald Torreyes followed it up with a line drive that hit Jesse Chavez on the hip and became a single. Ouch. That seemed painful for Chavez but thankfully, he was able to stay in the game. Brett Gardner drove Carter in with a force out at second and Aaron Hicks extended the inning with a single to make it runners on corners.

Aaron Judge, being the Aaron Judge he is, did what he does the best – working the count and hitting big home runs. On a 3-2 count, Judge got a 90 mph fastball down the middle and drove it into the Monument Park to make it 5-1 Yankees. It was his 25th of the year. A big lead early in the game! With your best starter out there, it would be a walk in the park for the Yankees for the rest of the game, right? Nope. That’s why you gotta play it out.

The Angels got two right back in the top of the third. The Angels got two baserunners on with a Cliff Pennington single and Maybin walk. Kole Calhoun grounded into a force out at second to make it two outs with runners on the corners. Albert Pujols got a hold of Severino’s slider for an RBI single to right field. Yunel Escobar followed it up with another RBI single to make it 5-3 Yankees. Ho-hum, a two run lead. It was still early in the game and you could bank on the Yankee bats on scoring more runs (they didn’t). Halos got another run in the sixth with an Escobar double and a Luis Valbuena RBI single. Heading into the seventh, Yankees had a 5-4 lead…

The meltdown

Top of the seventh, with Severino on the mound, the plan seemed clear: let him have one more inning, then have Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman take care of the last two, right? That is how it should have went, but the Angels had different ideas. Pennington singled to lead off the inning. Maybin followed it up with a grounder to second… that subtly changed its course right before Castro was about to catch it. As a result, the ball went past Castro as he stumbled for an error. Oof. That should have been an easy double play. To be fair, the ball did have a really funky hop and not a lot of infielders would have made such last-split-second adjustment to field it successfully. Anyways, that made it runners on corners with no out. Joe Girardi went to Chasen Shreve and that was it for Severino tonight.

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

The Angels tied the game up with a Calhoun sac fly to center. Girardi then played mix-and-match by putting in Betances to face Pujols. During the at-bat, Maybin attempted to steal second and Gary Sanchez’s throw sailed way over Castro and allowed Maybe¬† to advance to third. Yeesh. Some sloppy baseball going on right here. Anyways, Pujols singled off Betances’ 99 mph fastball to make it 6-5 Angels. The next hitter, Yunel Escobar, walked to make it runners on first and second. With Valbuena batting, Betances unleashed a wild pitch way over and outside to put both runners on scoring position. One batter later, Andrelton Simmons jumped on the first pitch for a two-RBI double, making it 8-5 Angels. Welp. Betances had allowed only 9 hits this whole season prior to this game. He allowed two tonight. The Simmons double was also the first XBH he’s allowed all year. It was that kind of night.

The Angels tacked on two in the eighth against Domingo German. It involved even more sloppy baseball. With one out, Pennington doubled and a wild pitch advanced him to third. Maybin walked to make it runners on corners. During Calhoun’s at-bat, German made a pickoff attempt to first but the errant throw got past Carter, scoring Pennington and advancing Maybin to third. Calhoun followed it up with a sac fly to make it 10-5 Angels. The score remained this way for good. Definitely not the pinnacle of the Yankees season.

Leftovers

Chris Carter probably had the quietest 2-for-4 game that I can remember in awhile. He had that double to start the second-inning rally. Sure, the bats scored five but from the third inning till end, they only managed three baserunners. With the rotation and bullpen not performing to their strength lately, the team needs as much runs as possible.

Box score, standings and WPA graph

Here’s tonight’s box score, updated standings and WPA graph.


Source: FanGraphs


New series tomorrow. The Rangers are in town and we have a Japanese pitching matchup – Masahiro Tanaka will be on the mound against Yu Darvish.

DotF: Wagaman homers twice in Pulaski’s season opener

Here are the day’s notes:

  • The Yankees called up LHP Tyler Webb, they announced earlier today. UTIL Rob Refsnyder was sent down to clear a roster spot. Webb, the team’s tenth round pick in 2013 and LHP Jordan Montgomery‘s former college teammate, spent nearly all of the last four seasons with Triple-A Scranton. Cool to see him get the call. Webb has a 3.24 ERA (2.14 FIP) with 47 strikeouts and only three walks in 33.1 innings this season.
  • SS Gleyber Torres told Conor Foley and D.J. Eberle he is heading to Tampa on Saturday following yesterday’s Tommy John surgery. He’ll rest the next two weeks before beginning rehab work. Apparently Torres was told he could be ready to play by November, which means winter ball could be in play, though I don’t see that happening. The Yankees won’t push their top prospect. Gleyber said he’s focused on Spring Training.
  • C Kyle Higashioka has been placed on the 7-day DL, the RailRiders announced. Foley says Higashioka is dealing with bad lower back spasms. He was supposed to see a doctor today, and if they’re calling it spasms, I guess that means there’s no structural damage. That’s good.
  • No Triple-A Scranton players lead their positions in the All-Star Game fan voting. Here’s the update. RHP Chance Adams does lead the write-in votes, however. Lehigh Valley fans are really stuffing the ballot, it seems. Voting ends tomorrow. Here’s the ballot.
  • Two links to check out: Chris Crawford asked executives whether they’d take the Yankees farm system or the Braves farm system, and Jim Callis listed OF Clint Frazier as a potential impact prospect for the second half.

Triple-A Scranton (11-1 with over Pawtucket)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 0-3, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 1-5, 1 2B, 1 K, 1 SB
  • DH Tyler Austin: 2-5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 K — three straight games with a homer … here’s video of the double and home run
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 1-4
  • RF Jake Cave: 2-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI — four homers in his last six games
  • LF Mark Payton: 3-4, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 RBI — some team’s future fourth outfielder is hitting .293/.350/.421 on the season
  • RHP Chance Adams: 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 5/5 GB/FB — 60 of 100 pitches were strikes … has a 43.7% ground ball rate this year, which is pretty terrible for a good pitching prospect in the minors … the book on him is that he doesn’t get great downhill plane on his fastball (he’s only 6-foot-1) and his heater can be pretty straight … I worry that when he comes up, he’ll initially be really home run prone, especially with the ball flying out of the park all around the league this season
  • RHP Ben Heller: 1.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 0/1 GB/FB — 19 of 30 pitches were strikes (63%)

[Read more…]

Game 70: Win the Series

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

The Yankees snapped a seven-game losing streak last night, and regained control of first place in the AL East. A win tonight would give them a full one-game lead over the idle Red Sox heading into the weekend, which would be surprisingly comforting given how close the divisional standings have become. And it will largely be up to Luis Severino – the team’s de facto ace – to get them there.

Severino will face what may well be the Angels best lineup without Mike Trout. That may sound like a joke, but the offense has been surprisingly potent in his absence. Joe Girardi will counter with this:

  1. Brett Gardner, LF
  2. Aaron Hicks, CF
  3. Aaron Judge, RF
  4. Matt Holliday, DH
  5. Starlin Castro, 2B
  6. Gary Sanchez, C
  7. Didi Gregorius, SS
  8. Chris Carter, 1B
  9. Ronald Torreyes, 3B

The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM EST, and you can catch the game on WPIX.

Other teams are happy with trades they’ve made with the Yankees, and that’s a good thing

Goody. (Ed Zurga/Getty)
Goody. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

Now that the amateur draft is over, teams have shifted in trade deadline mode. Scouts are all over potential trade targets and front offices are talking to each other a little more often with each passing week. The trade deadline is five weeks and four days away now. So close and yet so far. Plenty of time for deal-making.

The Yankees, despite their recent issues winning games, are in good position heading into the trade deadline. They can take on money, as always, and they have a robust farm system with every type of prospect imaginable. Impact players close to MLB? Yep. Lower level lottery tickets? They have them too. Power arms? Toolsy projects? Sleepers? You name it and the Yankees have it. They can put together a competitive trade package for any player.

Another thing the Yankees have going for them leading into the deadline is their trade reputation. As fans, we spend an awful lot of time talking about who won or who lost a trade. It’s what we do. Ask folks in baseball though, especially those actually calling the shots and making trades, and they’ll tell you the best trades are the ones that benefit both teams. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that over the years, an executive saying win-win trades are the best.

Over the last two or three years, the Yankees have made more than a few trades that have worked out pretty darn well for the other team. The notable exception is the Aaron Hicks trade. I have no idea what happened to John Ryan Murphy. The poor kid is hitting .231/.306/.362 (85 wRC+) in Triple-A. Hicks has broken out this year after a rough first season in pinstripes. Maybe Murphy will figure it out and this will go eventually down as a win-win. Right now it doesn’t look good for the Twins.

Here is a sampling of young players the Yankees have traded away since the start of the 2015-16 offseason. I’m emphasizing young players here because they’re typically unknowns. The Indians knew what they were getting in Andrew Miller, you know? Same with the Astros and Brian McCann, the Cubs and Aroldis Chapman, and the Rangers and Carlos Beltran. Anyway, here are some traded Yankees:

  • Nick Goody, Indians: 1.29 ERA (3.87 FIP) with 25.2% strikeouts in 28 innings.
  • James Pazos, Mariners: 2.01 ERA (2.87 FIP) with 29.7% strikeouts in 31.1 innings.
  • Ben Gamel, Mariners: .351/.411/.485 (146 wRC+) in 220 plate appearances.
  • Jose Pirela, Padres: .351/.422/.596 (170 wRC+) in 64 plate appearances since being called up.

Among those not listed are Johnny Barbato, Vicente Campos, and the four kids the Yankees sent to the Reds for Chapman. The Chapman trade was pretty unique in the grand scheme of things and I’m not sure we could ever count on something like that happening again. That deal didn’t work out too well for the Reds.

Anyway, the Yankees traded away those four players above — excess players on the margins of their 40-man roster — and now other teams are reaping the rewards. Gamel has been out of his mind with the Mariners. Goody and Pazos have been solid too. I suppose we shouldn’t count Pirela because he was non-tendered over the winter and could have signed with any team, but he’s still an ex-Yankee, and he’s playing well for the team they traded him too.

That all reflects well on the Yankees. Make a trade with New York, even for lower profile guy squeezed off their roster, and you have a chance to get a pretty useful player. And the Yankees have a lot of guys about to be squeezed off their roster! The upcoming 40-man roster/Rule 5 Draft crunch is real. Some of those guys will be put on the 40-man, some will be traded. And some guys on the 40-man now will be traded to clear roster space for those guys.

Back in the day the Braves had a reputation for trading pitchers who got hurt. Bubba Nelson, Dan Meyer, Jose Capellan … those dudes were all top 100 prospects with the Braves who got traded and broke down almost immediately. It happened so fast there was talk Atlanta traded them knowing they were injured. And, for a while, no teams wanted to trade with the Braves. The whole injured pitching prospects thing sullied their reputation.

It worked out for the Braves in that they traded those guys and got value out of them before they broke down, but, in the grand scheme of things, it hurt them in the long-term because making trades became that much more difficult. And maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe the goal should be to win every trade and make sure the other team loses the trade. I don’t agree with that though. Win-win trades are cool. The more people who end up happy, the better.

Over the next five weeks — really beyond that considering waiver trades — Brian Cashman and the Yankees will explore the trade market and look for ways to improve the roster. That could be short-term help for a playoff push or a long-term addition with a dynasty in mind. And when he’s talking trades, Cashman can point to his recent track record of sending teams good players. That does nothing but help. The club’s trade reputation is strong.

Scouting the Trade Market: Brad Hand

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

One thing has become clear in recent weeks: the Yankees need bullpen help. Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances are arguably the best closer/setup man tandem in baseball, though there are other innings that need to be pitched, and those other innings have cost the Yankees too many games of late. The middle relief is a major weakness.

The Yankees could try to address the middle relief from within, something I suspect they’ll try at some point, though going outside the organization for help is always an option too. Trading for bullpen help can be tricky though. Relievers inherently work in small samples and weird things can happen in small samples. Your process can be sound and your evaluations correct, but a few hangers can cost you games and bloat an ERA.

One reliever who we absolutely know will be available this summer is Padres left-hander Brad Hand, a workhorse strikeout artist (30.6%) with a 2.72 ERA (3.17 FIP) in 39.2 innings this year. Since joining San Diego and moving into a short relief role last year, Hand has a 2.89 ERA (3.12 FIP) with 30.6% strikeouts, 9.2% walks, and 47.5% grounders. The Padres are terrible and in a deep rebuild, so Hand is available. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be. Does he makes sense for the Yankees? Let’s look.

What’s changed with his stuff?

Before joining the Padres last spring — as a waiver claim, I might add — Hand was a swingman with the Marlins. He came up from the minors as a starter and threw 288.2 innings with a 4.71 ERA (4.54 FIP) in 43 starts and 47 relief appearances with Miami from 2011-15. Now he’s dominating. Look:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 WAR
with Marlins 288.2 4.71 4.54 15.2% 9.6% 44.0% 1.00 +0.4
with Padres 127.2 2.89 3.12 30.6% 9.2% 47.5% 0.85 +2.7

Mediocre starter/swingman becomes dominant reliever. We’ve seen this movie before. More times than I care to count. Why is Hand dominant now? What changed? His role, yes, but that alone doesn’t explain it. Usually the first time that comes to mind is velocity. The move into short relief allows the pitcher to air it out, he adds some oomph to his fastball, and it makes a big difference. That’s usually how this works. That isn’t the case with Hand, however. From Brooks Baseball:

brad-hand-velocity

Same average velocity! Weird. Same max velocity too. It’s not like Hand suddenly has 98-99 in his back pocket. He doesn’t. I guess this means he’s one of those rare pitchers whose stuff doesn’t tick up in the bullpen. Weird.

What has changed is Hand’s pitch selection. He’s shortened his repertoire as a one-inning reliever. As a starter and swingman, he threw everything. Fastball, slider, curveball, changeup, the works. Now he’s primarily fastball-slider with a few show-me curveballs. The changeup is gone. Here are Hand’s pitch selection rates, via Brooks Baseball:

brad-hand-pitch-selection

Hand is throwing a lot of sliders now. A lot. Almost exactly half the time this season (49.2%). It almost makes you wonder whether Hand is throwing the slider too much. Yeah, it’s working, but how long can this last before his elbow says “okay, stop you jerk”? Heavy doses of breaking balls and healthy elbows usually don’t mix. Then again, maybe Hand is the left-handed Luke Gregerson, throwing slider after slider and staying healthy.

The change in pitch selection and heavy emphasis on sliders explains Hand’s success with the Padres, even without a velocity spike. Hand has a great slider. Check it out:

Throw that slider as much as Hand and you’re going to get a lot of outs. Strikeouts and weak contact. It helps the fastball play up too because the hitter has that slider in the back of his mind at all times. No more crummy changeups, fewer mediocre curveballs, and many more sliders. Lots and lots of sliders. It’s not an Andrew Miller slider, but it is pretty damn good.

Thanks to that quality slider, Hand has basically no platoon split. He’s held left-handed hitters to a .145/.249/.255 (.228 wOBA) batting line with 31.8% strikeouts, 11.1% walks, and 40.0% grounders since the start of last season. Righties, meanwhile, have hit .226/.299/.355 (.284 wOBA) with 29.9% strikeouts, 8.2% walks, and 51.5% grounders. Okay, so Hand does have a platoon split. But he’s quite good against righties!

Point is, Hand can get out batters on both sides of the plate. He annihilates lefties and more than holds his own against righties. He’s someone his manager can use for a full inning. Limit him to left-on-left matchup work and you’re doing it wrong. Hand is a capable late-inning reliever who happens to be left-handed. His stuff has not necessarily changed with the move into short relief. He’s just throwing his best pitch much more often.

Injury history

Hand has been on the disabled list once in his career, for an ankle sprain in 2014. He missed a month. It was a phantom DL stint though. As Clark Spencer explains, the Marlins put Hand on the DL because he’s out of minor league options and they didn’t want to expose him on waivers in order to send him to the minors. The fake injury bought the team some time to get their roster figured out.

Aside from that, Hand has never been on the DL or injured. Not even in the minors. Completely healthy throughout his career. He’s a big dude (listed 6-foot-3 and 228 lbs.) with a strong frame that allowed him to make 82 appearances and throw 89.1 innings last season, most among all full-time relievers. Hand has thrown 39.2 innings so far this season, which has him in the top ten among all relievers. He’s healthy and he throws a ton of innings.

Contract situation

Over the winter Hand went through the arbitration process for the first time. He’ll make $1.375M this year and remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in both 2018 and 2019 as well. And because he’s a non-closer, Hand’s arbitration salaries won’t be too big. He’s looking at $3M or so next year and $5M or so the year after, even at this level of performance. Hand is out of minor league options, however. He can’t go to the minors without being placed on waivers, and that ain’t happening. Then again, if you trade for Hand and have to think about sending him to the minors at some point, something has gone wrong.

What’s it going to cost?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

You know, with Zach Britton on the disabled list, you could argue Hand is the second best left-handed reliever in baseball behind Miller. Well, Chapman is back, so third best. It’s either Hand or Felipe Rivero. Maybe Jake McGee. Hand is in the conversation though. I’m sure the Padres would love to get a Miller package for Hand, but that’s not happening. Miller was better and had thrived in a big market.

Ken Rosenthal recently reported the Padres want a “Will Smith-type return” for Hand, which is certainly more reasonable than an “Andrew Miller-type return.” At the time of the trade, Smith had a 2.95 ERA (2.94 FIP) in 85.1 innings from 2015-16. On par with Hand, though in way fewer innings. Also, Smith came with three-and-a-half seasons of control. Hand comes with two-and-a-half. That extra year is big. Here’s what the Giants sent to the Brewers in the Smith trade at last year’s deadline:

  • RHP Phil Bickford: Baseball America ranked Bickford, San Francisco’s first round pick in 2015, as the 50th best prospect in baseball in their midseason top 100 prospects list a few weeks before the trade. He had a 2.71 ERA (2.95 FIP) in 17 starts and 93 innings before the trade, all in Single-A.
  • C Andrew Susac: Post-hype prospect who snuck onto a few top 100 lists in 2015. Susac hit .240/.309/.407 (104 wRC+) in 243 big league plate appearances and .282/.355/.469 (119 wRC+) in 299 Triple-A plate appearances from 2015-16 before the trade. He was blocked by Buster Posey.

Sad trade is sad. Smith allowed six runs in 18.1 innings for the Giants last year before blowing out his elbow this spring and needing Tommy John surgery. Bickford has not pitched this season because he’s serving a suspension for a second positive test for a drug of abuse. Susac is hitting .146/.196/.292 (18 wRC+) in Triple-A. That trade has no winners.

Anyway, if that’s what the Padres want for Hand, I suppose the Yankees equivalent would be something like Justus Sheffield (mid-top 100 guy like Bickford) and maybe Tyler Austin (former fringe top 100 guy with no MLB spot)? The Yankees don’t really have a Susac. A spare quality young player at a hard-to-fill position. Give me Susac last year over Austin this year eight days a week and twice on Sunday.

The general theme here is the Padres want two players for Hand: one top 100 prospect and an MLB ready young player. If they’re using the Smith trade as a benchmark, that’s the package. That’s a lot! But gosh, Hand is really good, and adding another great reliever to the bullpen sure would be a big help. And he’s not a rental either.

Does he make sense for the Yankees?

In terms of adding Hand to the bullpen, yes, clearly. He’d improve literally every bullpen in baseball. At that cost though? Eh, that’s up for debate. I do worry about Hand’s limited track record — again, this guy was on waivers last spring — and how well he’ll hold up while throwing so many sliders. Relievers are really risky. Even the good ones. And the more you give up to get them, the more risk you assume.

Although Hand would improve the bullpen, my guess is the Yankees do not want to trade top prospects for a reliever, even a great one. They were reportedly hesitant to trade their best youngsters for a starting pitcher in the offseason, remember. Now they’re going to turn around and deal young players for a reliever? Eh. Can’t see. I mean, they could always have a change of heart, but yeah. I don’t see this happening.

The last few times the Yankees traded for a reliever, it was either a buy low trade (Chapman, Tyler Clippard) or a perfect “my strength matches your weakness” trade (Justin Wilson). The Yankees are more likely to look for the next Brad Hand, that interesting swingman who could thrive in short relief, than trade prospects for the actual Brad Hand. The Padres will have no shortage of suitors for Hand and I don’t see the Yankees getting involved in a bidding war.

The Yankees and the 2017 All-Star Game

Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)
Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)

Despite recent events, the Yankees have the second best record (39-30) and the second best run differential (+107) in the American League. Many expected this to be something of a rebuilding year, one of those “step back and regroup for next season” years. Instead, the Yankees got off to a great start and remain in the thick of the division race as we approach the season’s midway point.

The All-Star Game is less than three weeks away now — it snuck up this year, didn’t it? — and given their play to date, the Yankees will undoubtedly have multiple representatives in Miami next month. They won’t be one of those “one token All-Star” teams. The internet tells me the Yankees have sent multiple players to the All-Star Game every year since 1992, when Roberto Kelly was their lone representative.

The 2017 All-Star Game rosters will be announced either later next week or next weekend. That makes this as good a time as any to look at which Yankees could be selected to the Midsummer Classic. In fact, let’s rank the 25 players on the active roster in terms of their All-Star eligibility. Shall we? We shall. Let’s get to it.

1. Aaron Judge

Judge is a lock for the All-Star Game. He’s received more fan votes than any other AL player this far — his lead over second place Jose Altuve is roughly 500,000 votes — and is on track to start the game in right field. The Yankees have not had an All-Star Game starter since Derek Jeter got the farewell vote in 2014. Even if Judge were to fall out of the top three outfielders in fan voting, he would still be selected to the game. His AL ranks:

  • AVG: .331 (second)
  • OBP: .438 (first)
  • SLG: .694 (first)
  • wRC+: 195 (first)
  • HR: 24 (first)
  • RBI: 54 (second)
  • fWAR: +4.4 (first)
  • bWAR: +4.1 WAR (first)

Flawless victory. Fatality. See you in Miami, Aaron.

2. Dellin Betances

Remember Dellin? He’s this really great reliever who used to pitch for the Yankees once upon a time. Betances did actually pitch last night. It was his fifth appearance in the last 24 days. True story! Can you believe that? It’s friggin’ insane. Anyway, Dellin has allowed one earned run — on April 8th — in 22.2 innings this season. He’s struck out 43 and opponents are hitting .117/.261/.117 against him. I think Betances is going to his fourth straight All-Star Game. I do wonder whether the relatively light workload — Dellin ranks 162nd among all relievers in innings (!) — will work against him. I don’t think so though. Betances should be an All-Star again.

3. Luis Severino

This is awesome. Severino was so bad as a starter last season. So, so bad. And now he’s a legitimate All-Star candidate. He has a 2.99 ERA (3.23 FIP) through 13 starts and 81.1 innings, and he is among the AL top ten in WHIP (fifth), strikeouts (fifth), ERA+ (fifth), K/BB ratio (fifth), fWAR (fifth), ERA (sixth), FIP (seventh), and bWAR (eighth). Last season eight starters made the AL All-Star team and so far this season Severino has been one of the seven or eight best starting pitchers in the league. He’s not a lock, I don’t think. But he should receive strong consideration.

4. Aaron Hicks

Hicks should be an All-Star this year. The guy is hitting .301/.414/.543 (155 wRC+) overall and he’s fourth in the league in fWAR. I mean:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees: +4.5
  2. Mike Trout, Angels: +3.3
  3. Jose Altuve, Astros: +3.1
  4. Aaron Hicks, Yankees: +2.9

He’s also seventh among all AL players in bWAR. Hicks wasn’t even an everyday player to start the season! He’s been awesome and he should be an All-Star. My guess is Hicks gets snubbed and instead lands on the Final Vote ballot. Maybe he’ll make the roster outright with Trout injured. There are only six outfield spots on the roster though, and squeezing two Yankees into those six spots seems like a thing that won’t happen. Fingers crossed.

5. Matt Holliday

Man, how awesome has Holliday been this season? He’s hitting .275/.379/.536 (142 wRC+) with 15 home runs and it’s thanks to him that the Yankees lead all AL teams with a 138 wRC+ from their DHs. Nelson Cruz is currently leading the fan voting at DH with Holliday roughly 300,000 votes back in second place. Making up that gap seems unlkely with one week to go in the voting.

In recent years there have been two designated hitter spots on the All-Star Game roster, so it stands to reason that even if Cruz wins the fan voting, Holliday could still make it. It’ll be either him or Edwin Encarnacion, who has been insane the last six weeks or so. Now, that said, the All-Star Game rosters were trimmed from 34 players to 32 this year. With two fewer spots, will they not take a second DH? Hmmm.

6. Gary Sanchez

If Sanchez didn’t miss that month with that biceps injury, he’d be a shoo-in for the All-Star Game. The guy is hitting .296/.376/.554 (147 wRC+) with 12 home runs. Only Salvador Perez has gone deep more times among all catchers. He has 15 homers in 257 plate appearances. Gary has 12 in 178 plate appearances. Brian McCann and Alex Avila (?!?) are also having All-Star caliber seasons and neither missed a month with an injury. I think it’s down to Sanchez and Avila for the third spot. Perez is going to win the fan voting and McCann belongs too. He’s been great. A few more Sanchez dingers over the next week could decide this thing.

7. Starlin Castro

Altuve is going to start the All-Star Game at second base, as he should. Dustin Pedroia’s injury issues mean the backup spot could come down to Castro (128 wRC+), Jed Lowrie (126 wRC), or Robinson Cano (111 wRC+). I suppose Brian Dozier (106 wRC+) is in that mix too. Name value matters in the All-Star Game. Here’s an important factor: will Yonder Alonso make the All-Star team? If not, Lowrie figures to end up the A’s token All-Star, which will hurt Starlin’s chances of making the roster.

8. Didi Gregorius

Can you quietly hit .321/.342/.500 (120 wRC+)? Because Gregorius is doing it. He’s been so good since coming back from the disabled list. And that’s the problem. The disabled list. Gregorius missed a month with a shoulder issue. He was already facing an uphill battle with Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Francisco Lindor in the AL. Those three dudes are going to the All-Star Game and they might be the three AL All-Star shortstops for the next ten years. Didi has been great. He’s almost certainly going to get squeezed off the All-Star roster though.

9. Brett Gardner

Gardner has had a slow June, but he’s still hitting .259/.341/.471 (115 wRC+) overall, and his 13 home runs are eighth among AL outfielders. The problem is Gardner is only the third best Yankees outfielder this season, and there are only six outfield spots on the All-Star roster. Judge is getting one of them. And if they pick a second Yankees outfielder, it’ll be Hicks. No chance for Gardner, unless he’s an injury replacement or something, and even then it’s a long shot.

10-11. Michael Pineda, Jordan Montgomery

A good but not great season for Michael Pineda, this is. He has a 3.56 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 14 starts and 83.1 innings — hey wait a minute isn’t Pineda supposed to be a ERA > FIP guy? — which is solid, but not All-Star worthy. Montgomery is right there with him with a 3.74 ERA (3.87 FIP) in 13 starts and 74.2 innings. Imagine where the Yankees would be without these two. Nice seasons, not All-Stars.

12. Aroldis Chapman

Last season Chapman did not make the All-Star team because he missed a month serving his suspension. This season he will not make the All-Star team because he missed more than a month with a shoulder injury. Also, Chapman wasn’t exactly lights out before going on the disabled list. He allowed five runs and 18 baserunners in 12.2 innings before getting hurt. Aroldis has thrown 14.2 innings this season. 14.2! No All-Star Game for him.

13. Chase Headley

Great start! Okay-ish June. Terrible May. Headley is hitting .245/.335/.362 (87 wRC+) overall, and by wRC+, he ranks 21st among the 24 third basemen with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Better luck next year, Chase.

14-17. Tyler Clippard, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve

Non-Betances middle relievers have a really hard time making the All-Star Game. Green and Shreve have been the best of this foursome and they’ve thrown 23.1 and 19.2 innings, respectively.

18. Masahiro Tanaka

Woof. Tanaka has legitimately been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season. There are 81 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, and Tanaka ranks 69th in fWAR (+0.1), 74th in FIP (5.64), 79th in ERA (3.34), and 79th in bWAR (-0.8). Please be better, Masahiro.

19. Chris Carter

At least he kinda plays everyday? That counts for … something. Carter is hitting .201/.287/.384 (77 wRC+) overall and probably wouldn’t make a Triple-A All-Star Game at this point.

20-21. Austin Romine, Ronald Torreyes

Remember April? These guys were so great filling in for Sanchez and Torreyes. Romine is hitting .237/.258/.325 (50 wRC+) even after last night’s big game while Torreyes is at .296/.319/.374 (84 wRC+). The next backup catcher and utility infielder I see make the All-Star Game will be the first.

22-25. Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Rob Refsnyder, Mason Williams

If you had to bet a paycheck on one of these four guys making an All-Star Game at some point in their careers, who would you pick? I feel like German is the obvious choice here, though I remain a Cessa fan. Maybe Refsnyder will have a late career Jose Bautista breakout?

Others of Note

The Yankees have four regulars on the disabled list right now: Greg Bird, Jacoby Ellsbury, CC Sabathia, and Adam Warren. There is no firm timetable for any of them to return to the Yankees, as far as we know. Warren seems closest since he’s scheduled to resume throwing Friday.

Ellsbury was playing well before his concussion. Not All-Star well — he was still the team’s fourth most productive outfielder behind Judge, Hicks, and Gardner — but well. Sabathia was pretty awesome after his four-start disaster stretch in May. Good enough to be an All-Star? Maybe! He allowed six runs (four earned) in his six starts and 36.1 innings before the injury. Imagine he keept that up until the All-Star break. Alas.

* * *

I think the Yankees will have at least two All-Stars this year (Judge and Betances) and possibly as many as seven (Judge, Betances, Severino, Hicks, Holliday, Sanchez, Castro). Seven’s not going to happen though. Seven All-Stars is reserved for super teams. The Cubs had seven All-Stars last season and that’s only because the fans stuffed the ballot and voted in five starters. So yeah, seven isn’t happening.

My official guess is four Yankees make the All-Star team: Judge, Betances, Severino, and Sanchez. Hicks gets hosed, Holliday loses out because they won’t carry two DHs with the smaller roster, and Castro gets squeezed out by other second basemen. The Yankees haven’t had four All-Stars since 2012, when Jeter, Sabathia, Cano, and Curtis Granderson made it. (Jeter, Cano, and Granderson were all voted in as starters.) Four All-Stars would be cool. Two seems like the absolute minimum for the 2017 Yankees.