Scouting the Trade Market: Scott Alexander

(Hannah Foslien/Getty)
(Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Now that the Yankees are out of the Shohei Ohtani race, they can move forward with the rest of their offseason plans. The question now is what the heck are they going to do next? They need another starting pitcher, that’s fore sure, and re-signing CC Sabathia seems like the logical outcome there. Otherwise there are no glaring needs. The Yankees are in “improve on what we have” mode. That’s a good place to be.

The Yankees have been looking for a reliable left-handed reliever since last offseason (much longer than that, really), and while it doesn’t seem to be a top priority, it is something they could try to acquire this winter. Any worthwhile free agent will probably cost upwards of $6M a year, if not more, and that may not jive with the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold. The Yankees could try to trade for a more luxury tax friendly southpaw instead.

One such potential trade target is Royals lefty Scott Alexander, who Ken Rosenthal hears Kansas City “might consider moving” given the fact they have to rebuild now that nearly their entire core (Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, etc.) became free agents this winter. When you’re rebuilding, the last thing you should hold on to is relievers. They’re too volatile. Cash ’em in as trade chips quick. Let’s see whether Alexander makes sense for the Yankees.

Who is Scott Alexander?

Might as well start here, since I suspect more than a few of you reading this have never heard of the guy. Alexander, 28, was a sixth round pick out of Sonoma State in 2010, and he gradually climbed the minor league ladder as a full-time reliever before making his MLB debut as a September call-up in 2015. He went up and down in 2016 before sticking for good this season. His 2017 numbers:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 Opp. wOBA
vs. RHB 50 3.26 19.3% 9.4% 76.2% 0.36 .281
vs. LHB 19 3.16 24.7% 11.1% 67.3% 0.47 .303
Total 69 2.48 3.23 20.9% 9.9% 73.8% 0.39 .293

There have been 5,225 individual pitcher seasons with 50+ innings since batted ball data started being recorded in 2002, and only four of those 5,225 posted a higher ground ball rate than Alexander this year: Zach Britton in 2016 (80.0%), Zach Britton in 2015 (79.1%), Zach Britton in 2014 (73.8%), and Brad Ziegler in 2012 (75.5%). Only ten of those 5,225 pitchers generated a grounder on seven out of every ten balls in play. That’s all.

Clearly, Alexander is an elite ground ball pitcher, or at least he was in his only full MLB season to date. He does walks a few too many and he was better against righties than lefties this year, so he’s not your typical left-on-left matchup guy. He’s a quality reliever who just so happens to throw left-handed. Those guys are great. Carrying a Clay Rapada type, a true matchup lefty who might throw 35 innings in 60 appearances in a season, is tough to do these days with starters throwing fewer and fewer innings. (Alexander threw two full innings 15 times this year, so he’s definitely more than a matchup guy.)

Current Stuff

Given the ground ball rate, it should not surprise you Alexander throws a sinker. In fact, he throws almost nothing but sinkers. Here is his pitch selection in his limited time as a big leaguer:

scott-alexander-pitch-selection

Alexander threw his sinker, a 93.5 mph bowling ball that topped out at 96.8 mph, a whopping 91.0% of the time this year. The other 9% was mostly sliders (6.1%) with a few straight four-seamers (1.1%) and changeups (1.8%) mixed in. Basically, Alexander would pound away with the sinker, and if the hitter was giving him trouble, he’d break out the slider or maybe the changeup to try to put him away. And if he needed to throw a strike in a 3-0 count or whatever, he’d chuck a four-seamer down the middle.

There are no extended videos of Alexander available (can’t believe no one made a highlight video of a random middle reliever), so instead I give you this thoroughly unexciting clip of Alexander using that sinker to get an inning-ending double play, just so you can see what the guy looks like:

It’s an unconventional approach, throwing basically nothing but sinkers, but it can work. I mean, if you’re going throw only one pitch, the sinker is a good one to throw. Alexander’s control isn’t perfect, hence the 9.9% walk rate, but he mitigates the walks by getting so many ground balls, which allows him to avoid homers and generate double plays. (The Royals turned 13 double plays behind Alexander this year, the second most for any reliever behind the 18 the Indians turned behind Bryan Shaw.)

Injury History

Alexander missed a month with a hamstring strain this season, and back in the day he missed the entire 2011 season with a shoulder injury that was bad enough to require surgery. That stinks, but the good news is Alexander’s shoulder hasn’t given him any trouble since. And the hamstring injury this year is whatever. Those happen and it’s not like Alexander has a history of them.

It is also worth noting Alexander is a Type 1 diabetic. He was diagnosed in June 2016, so he’s had to adjust his lifestyle and learn how to manage the disease these last 18 months. “I take insulin and watch what I eat. I limit my sugar intake and carbs. It’s been different. Still learning. I’ll see how it goes. Right now, I feel good,” said Alexander to Jeff Flanagan back in Spring Training. This isn’t really an injury, but it is a physical condition that has to be managed.

Contract Status

Alexander has one year and 97 days of service time, so he still has two pre-arbitration years and three arbitration years to go before qualifying for free agency. He won’t even qualify as a Super Two. It is important to keep in mind Alexander was essentially a 27-year-old rookie this year, so he’s a late bloomer. This is his peak right now, and given the inherent volatility of relievers, it may end up he’s not worth keeping for all five of those years of control. That’s the reliever circle of life.

Also, Alexander has two minor league options remaining, so he can be sent to Triple-A, if necessary. Then again, if you trade for him and have to send him to the minors, something’s gone wrong.

What Will It Take To Get Him?

This is difficult to answer because there are so few trade trade benchmarks out there. Relievers with one good season under their belt and five years of team control don’t get traded all that often. I’ve found two recent trades we can reference:

  • Ken Giles: Traded with a low level prospect (Jonathan Arauz) for Vince Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer, two mid-range prospects (Mark Appel, Thomas Eshelman), and a low level prospect (Harold Arauz).
  • Enny Romero: Traded for a non-top 30 organizational prospect (Jeffrey Rosa).

That’s pretty much all we’ve got. I’d say Alexander slots in somewhere between Giles, who had a year and a half of excellence under his belt at the time of the trade, and Romero, who was pretty terrible with the Rays before ending up with the Nationals. He shouldn’t cost as much as Giles nor as little as Romero, which doesn’t help us at all.

Last year the Royals traded Wade Davis for Jorge Soler and Jarrod Dyson for Nate Karns, both straight up deals, which could mean they want MLB ready pieces in return to try to speed up the rebuild. Then again, their goal last year was to strengthen the big league roster in an effort to win one last time before their core players became free agents. The goal now might be getting the best and most talent possible regardless of proximity to the big leagues.

The good news is the Yankees are pretty loaded in the farm system, so if the Royals want MLB pieces, they can offer that. If they want higher upside players who are further away, they can offer that too. I’d prefer to see the Yankees dip into all those pitching prospects to make a trade. They’re loaded with arms and inevitably a few of those guys will get hurt or otherwise flame out. Cashing some in as trade chips now seems wise. That’s just me.

Does He Make Sense For The Yankees?

Yes for multiple reasons. One, Alexander is left-handed and pretty good! The Yankees have been looking for someone like that for an eternity. An extreme ground-baller would fit well in Yankee Stadium. Two, he’s still in his pre-arbitration years, so he’s cheap and under control for a while, which fits the luxury tax plan well. These days even middle of the road relievers are getting $4M a year, and that’s $4M the Yankees wouldn’t be able to spend elsewhere.

And three, I don’t think Alexander will cost a ton to acquire. It won’t be a reverse Andrew Miller trade or something like that, with multiple top prospects going to Kansas City. Are the Royals really in position to demand more than two good, but not great, prospects? Maybe they are, a bidding war could jack up the price, but Alexander’s track record is short and he’s already 28. Is his trade value as high as, say, Justin Wilson‘s two years ago? I’m not sure.

The Yankees may want to save their one open bullpen spot for younger pitchers, though given the way they’ve operated over the last however many seasons, I don’t think they’d let that stand in the way of adding another good big league reliever. Alexander comes with risks (limited track record, shoulder surgery, only throws one pitch) but at the right price, he’d be a worthwhile add to the bullpen. The Royals figure to make him available, so it’s up to the Yankees to decide what that right price is.

Coaching Staff Notes: Beltran, Willits, Mendoza, Harkey

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees officially introduced Aaron Boone as their new manager earlier today — that still sounds weird as hell — and if you missed the press conference, you can watch it here. Now that Boone has been hired, the next step is building his coaching staff. Brian Cashman said today that process could take “a couple of weeks.” Here’s the latest.

Boone’s contract worth $4M

According to Joel Sherman, Boone’s contract will pay him $4M across the three guaranteed years before the club option for 2021 comes into play. Other rookie managers hired this offseason, like Mickey Callaway (Mets) and Dave Martinez (Nationals), all received between $2M and $3M on their three-year contracts. Boone received a little more because he was leaving a lucrative deal with ESPN.

Joe Girardi earned $4M per year on the contract he just completed, so the Yankees are saving quite a bit of cash with their managerial choice. I’m sure the cynics out there will say that is Hal Steinbrenner‘s reason for making the managerial change, but nah. That’s just the way it goes when you bring in new managers. The new guy almost always makes less than the old guy.

Experience not necessary for bench coach

Interestingly enough, both Cashman and Boone said today they’re not prioritizing experience with their bench coach. They’d like a bench coach with managerial experience, sure, but they want a good baseball mind and hard worker above all. “Experience is important, but it’s not the be all, end all. I want smart sitting next to me. I want confident sitting next to me,” said Boone today.

Boone is a complete rookie and he knows it — “As far as the in-game stuff, there’s obviously going to be some stuff that I’m green at,” he said today — so I figured they’d want a bench coach who has been there, done that. Someone who has seen pretty much everything the game can throw at a manager. Apparently not. We’ll see where this goes. I’d be surprised if the Yankees hire a bench coach with zero prior managerial or bench coach experience.

Beltran could join Yankees in some capacity

I had a feeling this was coming. Carlos Beltran told Neil Best that it is very possible he will join the Yankees despite not getting the manager’s job. As I said earlier today, I think the managerial interview was out of respect for Carlos, and the Yankees’ way of letting him know they want him in the organization. From Best:

“There’s no doubt that they showed interest in having me back in a different role,” he said. “I basically have to have a conversation with the organization and see which role they want me to be back in and see if that’s something I really want to do after I just retired from the game.”

Beltran could join Boone’s coaching staff, or he could join the front office as a special advisor, similar to Hideki Matsui. He is very highly regarded within baseball, especially among Latin American players, and has an awful lot of knowledge to share. Beltran has been taking young players under his wing for years and it’s no surprise the Yankees want him around. I think it’ll happen. They’ll do whatever they have to to accommodate him.

Willits, Mendoza being considered for coaching staff

Reggie Willits and Carlos Mendoza are being considered for Boone’s coaching staff, reports George King. Willits, 36, played with the Angels from 2006-11, and has been the organization’s minor league outfield and baserunning coordinator for three years now. The 38-year-old Mendoza has been with the Yankees since 2009 and has held a variety of minor league coaching and managerial roles. He’s been the team’s minor league infield coordinator since 2012.

Neither Willits nor Mendoza have big league coaching experience, though they are among their best instructors in the minors, and have been considered potential coaching candidates for a while now. Mendoza in particular has a lot of fans in the front office. He’s worked with all the organization’s top prospects in recent years, from Gleyber Torres to Miguel Andujar to Tyler Wade to Jorge Mateo. This would jibe with the talk about not necessarily wanting an experienced person on the coaching staff, but a smart person.

Yankees officially bring back Rothschild, could bring back Harkey

As expected, Larry Rothschild will indeed return as pitching coach next season. The Yankees made the official announcement earlier this week. It’ll be his eighth year as pitching coach. In more surprising news, King reports “there are indications” Mike Harkey will return as bullpen coach. Huh. Didn’t see that coming.

Harkey, 51, is in his second stint as bullpen coach (2008-13, 2016-17) after spending the 2014-15 seasons as the Diamondbacks pitching coach. He is a Girardi guy. Girardi hired Harkey because they’re very close friends dating back to their playing days. I’ve been assuming he’s as good as gone because of that, but I guess not. Tuns out Rothschild might not be the only coaching staff holdover.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today the Yankees introduced Aaron Boone as their new manager at a press conference at Yankee Stadium. The video is above. Boone definitely seemed a little nervous at the podium, but when he met with a smaller group of media later, he was much more comfortable and outgoing. He’s a funny guy. He also talked about being able to pick the brains of all 30 managers over the years while at ESPN. I thought that was interesting. Anyway, the Yankees officially have their new manager. Now it’s on to the rest of the offseason.

Here is an open thread for the night. The Knicks are playing and there’s some college hoops on the schedule too. Talk about those games, the Boone press conference, or anything else here that isn’t religion or politics. Have at it.

The New Yankee Ace [2017 Season Review]

(Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)
(Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

Luis Severino was a highly-touted prospect coming up to the bigs. He had the stuff, could throw strikes, had youth, etc. However, there always were question marks following him (size, durability concerns and delivery, mostly). His solid 2015 showing was encouraging, but in 2016, Severino put many in doubt by putting up a 5.83 ERA in 22 appearances (with an ugly 8.50 ERA in 11 starts as a starter). Some felt that his long-term destination is in bullpen due to his flaws taking over his performance.

However, the Yankees were not just going to give up their starting pitcher plans for a 23-year-old. Severino entered 2017 as one of the candidates for the last spots of the rotation. He went out, showed some marked improvement in Spring Training, and earned a spot. As you know, since then, he never looked back. He put up one of the best seasons… ever… by a young starter in an illustrious Yankees history.

The full-season dominance

Severino made his first start of the season on April 7 versus the O’s. He went 5 innings, allowed 4 earned runs but walked 1 and struck out 6. Okay, okay. Not the best outcome but there were encouraging things. The next start, he struck out 11 in 7 IP while allowing 2 runs against the Rays. He followed it up with a strong losing effort vs. the White Sox (8 IP, 3 ER, 10 K). And we gradually started to think this: is this for real?

As we know, the answer was a resounding yes. Severino became a very reliable starter in the first half (3.54 ERA in 17 games with 124 K/27 BB in 106.2 IP) and earned the AL All-Star honors. Not so bad for a guy who had to make trips to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year, right? In the second half, however, he bulldozed through the hitters: 2.28 ERA in 14 starts with 106 strikeouts and 24 walks in 86.2 IP. To be a bit more specific, after the first ten starts of the season, Severino was just on the next level. Look at this graph and marvel at how consistent and reliable he was after around the tenth start of the season. His season FIP stayed right around 3.00 for the most of it:

luis-severino-era-fip

It is remarkable for any pitcher to be able to accomplish this, especially pitching at the Yankee Stadium for half of the season.  To me, he basically had a season that we all envisioned guys like Joba Chamberlain or Michael Pineda having back they were much more promising.

How good was Luis Severino’s season in context of the Yankee history? Well, let’s take a look at Sevvy’s total season numbers:

14-6, 2.98 ERA, 31 GS, 193.1 IP, 150 H, 21 HR, 51 BB, 230 K

We’ll get some help from the Baseball Reference Play Index here. How many Yankee starters in the history had an ERA lower than 3.00 while throwing more than 175 innings and striking out at least 200 in a season?

  • 1904 Jack Powell
  • 1904 Jack Chesbro
  • 1910 Russ Ford
  • 1978 Ron Guidry
  • 1979 Ron Guidry
  • 1992 Melido Perez
  • 1997 David Cone
  • 2011 CC Sabathia
  • 2017 Luis Severino

Alright, alright. That’s a pretty great company Sevy’s associated with. Take out the Dead Ball Era guys and the group is even more exclusive. Now, how many of those guys were not yet 25-years old in those seasons?

  • 2017 Luis Severino

That’s it. Severino was also the only starter under 25 in all of ML in 2017 to accomplish the feat. In 2016, it was Jose Fernandez and Noah Syndergaard. 2015? Madison Bumgarner and Gerrit Cole.

Basically, in 2017, the Yankee fans got to witness not only one of the greatest seasons put up by a young Yankee starter, but also a young ML starter in 2017.

Baby’s first postseason

With the Yankees pretty much destined to take the first AL Wild Card spot, the team brass started to monitor Severino’s workload to get him prepared for the Game 163 versus the Twins. Start your best starter in a winner-take-all game, right? No one refuted that logic but things just didn’t work out for Sevy. He overthrew, missed his spots and failed to go beyond recording one out in his Wild Card Game start (0.1 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 HRs) – by far his worst showing in 2017, especially given the circumstances! Fortunately for the Yankees, they pounced on Ervin Santana and the Twins bullpen to advance to the ALDS, but Severino, once again, had questions from detractors. Can he handle the bigger spotlight? Are the innings catching up to his arm?

Fortunately for the Yanks, Severino rebounded in the ALDS. In Game 4, with the Yankees down 2-1 in the best-of-five series, the team needed a win to force the Game 5 and he pitched to a tune of 3 ERs in 7 IP with 9 strikeouts and a walk against the dangerous Indians lineup. It also helped that the hitters absolutely jumped on Trevor Bauer, but Severino did his part to keep the Indians bat in check.

Against the Astros though, things were a bit dicier. Severino started the Game 2 of the ALCS and lasted only four innings after exiting with a shoulder issue. He insisted that he was fine and wanted to pitch more, but what kind of chance can you take with a young starter whose workload increased steeply this year? Joe Girardi pulled him out of the game and the Yankees suffered a walk-off loss. Later in the series, in the Game 6, Severino was back out against the Minute Maid Park for a rematch against Justin Verlander. It went less than stellar – 4.2 IP, 3 ER, 4 BB, 3 K and a loss. The Yankees dropped the game and, later, the series.

Severino finished his first postseason with a 5.63 ERA in 4 starts. I would not point much finger at him though. It is a lot to ask any pitcher to go out and dominate the Indians and Astros lineups (oh, and the Twins too, they were No. 6 in all MLB in the team wRC+). A guy like Severino will definitely see a plenty of playoff actions in his career and this could be a valuable learning experience.

With a little help from our former enemy

So how did Severino transform from a fifth starter candidate to No. 3 in AL Cy Young voting? A popular narrative regarding his improvement is that he worked with none other than Pedro Martinez over the offseason to tweak the mechanics. When I talked to Severino, he told me that what Martinez taught him was nothing more than a simple adjustment.

“You know, the thing was that (last year), I was starting with my hands right here,” Severino told the Sporting News, as he emulated his old hand position. Severino held his hands a bit away from his torso, as you can see below from a game from last year:

giphy

“(Martinez) told me to keep my hands closer to my body and just go over my pitches,” Severino said as he brought his hands nearer to his torso. You can see the change in the gif below:

giphy-1

By starting the delivery with his hands closer to the body, there is less movement for his arm to get to the high-cocked position, simplifying the process.

Simple enough, right? Well, don’t attribute everything to this one weird trick. Severino also worked hard over the offseason to work on his changeup. In my opinion, the changeup is the most underrated pitch. It is not the sexiest but it helps with what pitching is supposed to be, which is upsetting hitter’s timing. Severino increased his changeup usage from 9.8% in 2016 to 13.6% in 2017. While fastball and slider are his bread and butter, having a changeup that he can throw in any count makes you a more formidable being on mound.

If you want to know what #shoving looks like, here are all the pitches thrown by Severino in his June 10 start vs. the Orioles.

2018 Outlook

Unlike how it was back in February, Severino will have a spot locked hard in the Yankee rotation, and many hope that would be the case for a long, long time. Assuming he stays healthy and can maintain the 2017 excellence… man, the Yankees have an absolute gem.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Alex Cobb

(Rich Gagnon/Getty)
(Rich Gagnon/Getty)

Coming into the offseason it was clear the Yankees need at least one starting pitcher, if not two given the big workloads the staff endured in 2017. In a perfect world one of those two starters would’ve been Shohei Ohtani. That won’t happen though. Re-signing CC Sabathia seems likely, at least I think so, but even then there’s still room for another starter. There’s no such thing as too much pitching depth.

One of the top free agent starters this offseason — I’d say he’s the top second tier starter behind Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta — is longtime Rays right-hander Alex Cobb. He turned 30 in October, and even though the Rays haven’t been a .500 team since 2013 (true story), Cobb has been through the AL East grinder and knows what it’s like pitching against great teams in tough hitter friendly environments. The Yankees have not been seriously connected to him yet, only speculatively, though I suspect it’ll happen at some point. Let’s break Cobb down as a potential target.

Injury History

This is the logical place to start, because Cobb’s injury history is sneaky long. So long in fact that his 179.1 innings this season represent a new career high. Here’s a recap of his injury history with the amount of time missed:

  • 2010: Oblique strain (one month)
  • 2011: Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery (missed final two months of the season)
  • 2013: Concussion (two months after being hit by a line drive)
  • 2014: Oblique strain (six weeks)
  • 2015: Tommy John surgery (entire season)
  • 2016: Tommy John surgery rehab (returned to MLB in late August)
  • 2017: Turf toe (three weeks)

Definitely some fluky stuff in there that is not a long-term concern. Two oblique strains four years apart? It happens. Turf toe? Whatever. Getting hit in the head by a line drive and being carted off the field on a stretcher, as scary as that is, is a total fluke. The baddest of bad luck injuries.

On the other hand, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is very serious and can end careers if not caught early enough. Tommy John surgery is obviously very bad too. The combination of the two is worse than the sum of the parts. Chris Carpenter is the only notable example of a pitcher who had both and went on to have a long career. Shaun Marcum and Noah Lowry had both and were done. Jaime Garcia had both and hasn’t been the same since. Same with Matt Harvey, though he’s only a year removed from his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery.

The good news is Cobb had the procedures five years apart, and he returned in 2017 to be an effective pitcher in close to 180 innings. So perhaps he’s the next Carpenter rather than the next Marcum. In fact, he’s already ahead of the game just by making it back from both procedures and throwing a full season. Still though, that’s a pretty scary injury history, even ignoring the fluky stuff.

Recent Performance

When Cobb returned with his new elbow late last year, he was so bad that it’s almost hard to believe. He allowed 22 runs and 39 baserunners in five starts and 22 innings last season, after returning in August. Yuck. That said, it was his first five starts back from Tommy John surgery, so it’s fair to cut the guy some slack. Chalk it up to the rust and the usual post-elbow reconstruction wonkiness.

This season Cobb was much better, as he got further away from Tommy John surgery, though he did not perform like he did immediately prior to the injury. His numbers were down across the board. Here is Cobb’s final pre-Tommy John surgery season and his first full post-Tommy John surgery season:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2014 166.1 2.87 3.23 21.9% 6.9% 56.2% 0.6 .294 .265
2017 179.1 3.66 4.16 17.3% 5.9% 47.8% 1.1 .311 .295

Do you remember what baseball was like in 2014? Nobody scored runs. Teams scored, on average, 4.07 runs per game. The Angels led baseball with 4.77 runs per game that year. This season teams averaged 4.65 runs per game with the Astros leading the pack at 5.53 runs per game. The juiced ball has brought back offense, thankfully. I missed it.

Anyway, because of the offensive explosion from 2014 to 2017, we have to throw Cobb a bit of a bone here. His home run rate nearly doubled? Okay, part of that is what’s going on around baseball in general. The decline in strikeout rate and ground ball rate is not a juiced ball problem, however. In fact, we should’ve expected Cobb’s strikeout rate to increase this year because there are so many more strikeouts in baseball now.

That 2.87 ERA and 3.23 FIP in 2014 work out 77 ERA- and an 88 FIP-, meaning his ERA was 23% better than average and his FIP was 12% better than average. This year he had 86 ERA- and a 97 FIP-. Still better than average! But not as good as before Tommy John surgery when adjusted for ballpark and the offensive environment around baseball. Long story short: Cobb was good this year, but not as good as he was before blowing out his elbow.

Current Stuff

If you’ve been watching the Yankees long enough, chances are you’ve seen Cobb shut them down with that nasty split-finger fastball of his at some point. That pitch is the reason he made it to the big leagues. That pitch is also perhaps the biggest red flag surrounding Cobb at this point. Since Tommy John surgery, it has behaved almost nothing it did before he had his elbow rebuilt.

Eno Sarris touched on this back in April, but that was very early in the season, and now we have a full season’s worth of data to examine. Cobb’s splitter lost quite a bit of effectiveness from his pre-Tommy John surgery days. Here are the splitter numbers, ignoring that short and messy 2016 stint.

% Thrown Velo Gap Vert Mvmt Diff Horiz Mvmt Diff % Whiffs % GB
2013 32.7% 5.23 5.70 -0.29 18.9% 60.0%
2014 37.7% 5.26 5.22 0.76 21.1% 62.0%
2017 14.3% 6.07 1.72 -0.34 12.3% 51.8%

Cobb does throw his curveball regularly, though the sinker and splitter are his top two pitches, and that’s what we’re comparing here. The velocity gap and movement differences are between the sinker and splitter. That’s the whole point, right? Use the sinker to set up the splitter. You want the pitches to be similar but different, if that makes sense. A couple quick observations:

  • This year Cobb threw his trademark splitter way less than ever before in his MLB career. Imagine if Masahiro Tanaka did that? He’d be an entirely different pitcher.
  • Cobb had a larger velocity gap between his sinker and splitter this year than he did in 2013 and 2014, and that’s good. You want a big velocity gap between your fastball and offspeed stuff.
  • From 2013-14, Cobb’s splitter dropped more than five inches more than his sinker. This year the difference was less than two inches. That’s a significant difference. The bottom wasn’t falling out of the split.
  • The difference in horizontal movement between the two pitches was about the same this year as 2013, though way less than 2014. (The negative number in the table means the sinker moved more horizontally than the split.)

Ideally you want an 8-10 mph gap between your fastball and offspeed pitch (if not more), but even at his best from 2013-14, Cobb’s velocity gap was roughly five-and-a-quarter miles an hour. Because he doesn’t have that huge velocity gap, he relies on movement more than most, and for whatever reason, the split is not moving like it did before Tommy John surgery, especially vertically. It’s not diving out of the zone.

It should also be noted Cobb’s release point with his splitter — and only his splitter, weirdly — has risen since he came back from Tommy John surgery. He’s releasing the splitter from a higher spot than before his elbow ligament gave out. Look:

alex-cobb-release-point

That is weird. Is the change in release point causing the lack of movement? Or has Cobb raised his release point in an effort to generate more movement? Chicken or the egg, man. Chicken or the egg. Whatever it is, Cobb is not getting the same movement on his splitter now as he did before Tommy John surgery, and as a result, the pitch is generating fewer swings and misses and ground balls. And he’s not throwing it nearly as often.

The split-finger is what made Cobb so good before Tommy John surgery and that pitch is the key to him being a quality pitcher going forward. His sinker is fine and his curveball is fine, but they’re not good enough that he can scale back that much on his splitter and succeed forever. Like I said, what if Tanaka stopped throwing his splitter so much? He’d be a much different pitcher. Anyway, here’s some video of Cobb this year:

Seven strikeouts in the video. Four on sinkers and three on curveballs. Not one splitter. That would’ve been unthinkable for Cobb before Tommy John surgery. Bottom line: Cobb was quite good this season, but his splitter is not the same as it was before his elbow gave out for whatever reason, and unless that changes, there’s no reason to think he’ll return to his previous level of performance. He’s now a solid starter, not someone who is a borderline ace like he was from 2013-14. And hey, that’s fine. Solid starters are good to have.

Contract Estimates

Cobb is one of the top free agent starters on the market and that means he will be paid quite well. Quality starters never have trouble finding work. Here are two contract estimates:

I think both estimates are low. I could totally see Cobb pulling down $16M annually on a four or even five-year deal. That’s Ian Kennedy money. No, Kennedy did not have Tommy John surgery in his recent past, but he also wasn’t as good as Cobb, and he was a year older than Cobb is now when he hit free agency. Cobb at four years and $48M sounds pretty great actually, splitter issues be damned.

Also, keep in mind the Rays made Cobb the qualifying offer. Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement the Yankees would have to surrender their second and fifth round picks in the 2018 draft, and $1M in bonus money during the 2018-19 international signing period, to sign a qualified free agent. I’d rather give all that up than my first round pick like they did in old days, but that’s just me.

Does He Make Sense For The Yankees?

Yes because he’s a quality starter — even with his post-Tommy John surgery splitter — and the Yankees could use another quality starter. It sure doesn’t hurt that Cobb is AL East battle tested and turned only 30 in October, meaning you should get another year or two of peak performance, in theory. The Yankees need another starter and Cobb is among the best available, so yes, he’s a fit on the field.

Is he fit under the luxury tax plan? My calculations say the Yankees have about $35M to play with under the luxury tax threshold, though I underestimated the team’s contribution to player benefits, so it’s actually closer to $32M or so. Still though, that’s a nice chunk of change, so the Yankees can afford Cobb. Can they afford Cobb and Sabathia? Eh, probably not. Remember, they have to leave some money open for midseason call-ups and the trade deadline additions.

Personally, I think Cobb carries an awful lot of risk. He has both Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and Tommy John surgery in his history and his best pitch is not the same anymore, and I think it’s much more likely the pitch gets worse going forward with age, not better. Maybe Cobb will bounce back next year and pitch like the 2013-14 version of himself, or even just maintain his 2017 performance. I’m not willing to bet $12M or $14M or $16M or whatever it ends up being on him. It doesn’t matter what I think though. It matters what the Yankees think, and whether they’re willing to take the risk.

Thoughts after the Yankees name Aaron Boone manager

No more dip in the dugout, skip. (Getty)
No more dip in the dugout, skip. (Getty)

In a few hours the Yankees will hold an introductory press conference for new manager Aaron Boone, who we learned got the job last Friday. You’ll be able to watch the press conference live on YES and Yankees.com at 12pm ET. Needless to say, this is a significant change. The upstart Yankees are going from veteran skipper in Joe Girardi to a neophyte in Boone. The manager situation is almost a microcosm of the roster. Out with the old, in with the new. Anyway, I have thoughts on all this, so let’s get to ’em.

1. News broke the Yankees would name Boone their manager Friday night, and the word of the weekend was “risky.” It’s a risky hire. The Yankees made a risky move. It’s a risky decision. Blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda. Of course hiring Boone is a risky decision. This was always going to be a risky decision, no matter who the Yankees hired. Realistically, who could the Yankees have hired to make this whole thing not be considered risky? Maybe luring Terry Francona away from the Indians would’ve done the trick? Parting ways with Girardi and going forward with literally anyone else as manager was risky. I don’t see Boone as any more risky than any other managerial candidate, even with the lack of experience. Hire an experienced manager and you’re hoping he learned from his previous managerial stint (from which he was fired, of course). Hire an inexperienced manager and you don’t really know what you’re going to get. There’s always risk, and with Boone, the focus has been on the negative (he might suck) rather the positive, specifically the fact he is a very bright and personable guy who grew up in the game and is enthusiastic about taking on the challenge of managing in New York.

2. When teams change managers, they have a tendency to bring someone in who is the exact opposite of the guy they just fired. The Mets and Phillies went from the old school Terry Collins and Pete Mackanin to the very new school Mickey Callaway and Gabe Kapler this offseason, respectively. The Tigers moved on from Brad Ausmus, an analytics guy and former front office dude, and brought in the thoroughly unspectacular Ron Gardenhire. The Yankees replaced the intense and meticulous Girardi with Boone, who by all accounts is much more laid back and open-minded. Girardi was high-strung and he wore it on his face, you could see if every time the Yankees played a remotely important game, and I think that tends to wear on a team after a while. That shouldn’t be a problem with Boone. He’s outgoing and he’s got a great sense of humor (have you seen his impressions?). I’ll be very surprised if we see Boone in the dugout wearing that same strained look Girardi wore so often the last decade.

3. “Communication” was the buzzword during the managerial search, and if you’re judging Boone’s communication skills on his broadcasting, just stop. Broadcasting a game for a national audience is waaay different than communicating with players one-on-one. Informing the audience is not the same thing as a manager forming a professional (and personal) relationship with his players. Basically everything I’ve read about Boone the last few days (like this, this, this, this, and this) indicates he is very relatable and the kind of person who gets along with everyone. He’ll joke around with the media — that’ll be a nice change of pace from Girardi, who enjoyed speaking to the media about as much as I enjoy a subway platform on a nice and toasty August afternoon — and keep his players loose, and that’s important. The Yankees bought into his communication skills and ultimately, that’s all that matters. Just don’t judge those skills by his broadcasts. Talking on television and talking to human beings are very different things.

4. Clearly, experience was not a priority for the Yankees. Or for pretty much any team this offseason, for that matter. Six teams changed managers this winter (Mets, Nationals, Phillies, Red Sox, Tigers, Yankees) and five of them hired first time managers. Only the Tigers (Gardenhire) hired a retread. The Yankees interviewed six candidates and only one, Eric Wedge, had prior MLB managerial experience. Boone and Carlos Beltran have zero coaching or managerial experience, and Chris Woodward is relatively new to the coaching game. This is the trend within baseball now. Even Girardi only had one year coaching experience and one year managerial experience under his belt when the Yankees hired him. He wasn’t exactly a seasoned vet. Teams don’t want Joe Maddon or Terry Francona. They want the next Joe Maddon or Terry Francona. Look at the two World Series managers this year. Dave Roberts and A.J. Hinch have barely more than 1,000 games of managerial experience combined. That’s a little more than six full seasons between them. Boone spent the last few seasons speaking to all 30 managers as a broadcaster — and I don’t mean those silly mid-game interviews, I’m talking about in the clubhouse and on the field before games — and that’s valuable experience. He got to pick the brain of everyone around the league rather than work under one or two managers. Young inexperienced managers are a clean slate. Boone is going to have his own unique managerial style, no doubt, but the Yankees will also be able to mold him into the manager they want because he’s not set in his ways. That’s what pretty much every team is trying to do these days.

5. I was surprised the Yankees let Rob Thomson get away and join the Phillies as their new bench coach. He’d been with the Yankees since the early 1990s and he’d done basically everything there is to do in the organization. Thomson knew the Yankees inside and out, and he said he wanted to stay even if he didn’t get the manager’s job. The fact he’s now with Philadelphia leads me to believe the Yankees moved on from Thomson, not the other way around. The split seems amicable — “No hard feelings on my part! It’s the business. The Steinbrenners and the Yankee organization have taken great care of me for 28 years,” said Thomson to Joel Sherman — so I wonder if the Yankees felt they needed such large scale clubhouse change that they let Thomson go in addition to Girardi. Or maybe they didn’t want Boone to have to look over his shoulder at a Girardi holdover and someone else who interviewed for the managerial job? I’m not sure. If anything, I thought the Yankees would kick Thomson back up to the front office than let him go completely. I’m surprised. I expected Thomson to stay in some capacity.

6. Speaking of the front office, I think the odds are pretty darn good the Yankees will hire Beltran as a special advisor to Brian Cashman, similar to Hideki Matsui. I think that’s why they brought him in for the managerial interview. To show him respect and to show him he’s wanted. Matsui has been a special advisor to Cashman for three years now and his duties include, among other things, going around and working with prospects in the minors. I know Beltran said he wants to manage, but going from player one year to manager the next is a huge jump, and was probably never all that realistic. A special advisor role is much less demanding. There’s less travel and more time at home with the family, which a recently retired player figures to appreciate. But he also gets to stay in baseball and begin the second phase of his career. Matsui and Beltran are very similar. They are dignified and very highly respected, especially in their home countries, and have a lot of baseball knowledge to offer. The Yankees could bring Beltran aboard as a special advisor with the promise that if a coaching or managerial job opens somewhere around the league, he’s free to leave. He can work with players up and down the organization, particularly Latin American players, in the meantime. Beltran is someone worth having in the organization and I think the Yankees let him know they want him during their interview, even if they didn’t name him their manager.

(New York Daily News)
(New York Daily News)

7. Among the six managerial candidates, my personal preference was Hensley Meulens, though I didn’t feel strongly about any of the candidates one way or the other. I liked Bam Bam because he has extensive coaching experience. That’s basically it. Being able to speak five languages was an obvious plus, though I thought it was getting played up a little too much. There’s more to managing than speaking different languages. Meulens has coached for a long time, he’s coached under a great manager in Bruce Bochy, and just about everyone who’s spent time around him has said he’ll make a great manager one day, so that’s why I liked him. Then again, Meulens has interviewed for a few managerial openings over the years (including the Tigers this offseason) and didn’t get any of them, so maybe he’s not as great of a candidate as everything thinks? I dunno. I thought Bam Bam would be the guy and he was my personal favorite for the job, but like I said, I didn’t feel all that strongly about any of the six candidates. I thought maybe I would the deeper the Yankees got into the process, but nope. I was mostly indifferent about the whole thing.

8. The next step now is building a coaching staff and I have to think Boone and Yankees will look for a bench coach with managerial experience to help the rookie skipper. I don’t think there will be a meaningful difference between Girardi and Boone in terms of on-field strategy. The lineup kinda writes itself, at least through the top six spots or so, and the bullpen is deep enough to survive the rookie manager’s learning curve. The front office has a lot of input into that stuff anyway. Boone and the Yankees are still going to want someone in the dugout with experience. Someone who has run a Spring Training before, someone who has seen so many of those weird situations baseball can throw at you. Who are some potential bench coach candidates then? Beats me. Wedge has been mentioned as a candidate — he managed Boone for two years in Cleveland — and he reportedly wants to get back in the managing game, and getting back in the dugout as a bench coach is a step in that direction. Tony Pena is an obvious candidate, but if the Yankees want to move on from Pena like they apparently wanted to move on from Thomson, he won’t be an option. Dave Miley managed Boone for a short period of time in 2003 and managed Triple-A Scranton from 2006-15, so he is familiar with the Yankees and vice versa. Could the Yankees hire bench coach Bob Geren away from the Dodgers? They’d probably be able to get Fredi Gonzalez, Boone’s former manager with the Marlins, away from Miami. He is currently their third base coach. Robin Ventura (unemployed)? John Farrell (unemployed)? Ron Washington (Braves third base coach)? Bo Porter (unemployed)? I’m looking forward to seeing the coaching staff. Should be interesting.

9. Boone is going to be under the microscope this year because every new manager is under the microscope, though in this case Boone is the inexperienced manager of ready to win Yankees, who will almost certainly be a trendy World Series pick going into 2018. There will be a lot of attention on him. And that’s good because it means that much less attention will be paid to Aaron Judge and Greg Bird and Luis Severino and all the other young players who would’ve been the top story this season had the Yankees kept Girardi. There’s some value in that. Anything that makes life easier for your young cornerstone players is a plus. I always thought Alex Rodriguez provided an intangible value by soaking up so much attention that many other Yankees were able to fly under the radar. Don’t get me wrong, there will be a ton of attention of Judge and Severino and all the young guys expected to lead the team to a title. As much attention as there would’ve been without the managerial change? I don’t think so.

10. So what number will Boone wear? I imagine we’ll find out today. He wore No. 19 during his brief stint with the Yankees as a player, but that’s Masahiro Tanaka‘s number. Boone also wore No. 8 at times in his career. That’s not happening either. He wore No. 17 with the Reds all those years, and that’s open now with Matt Holliday gone, so I guess that’s it? We’ll find out. Whatever it is, I hope Boone doesn’t adopt Girardi’s tradition of wearing the number of the World Series title the Yankees are chasing. Remember that? He wore No. 27 in 2008 and 2009, then when the Yankees won the 2009 World Series, he switched to No. 28 because that was his goal, the team’s 28th championship. I always thought that was kind of gimmicky, and when Girardi ended up wearing No. 28 for the final eight years of his tenure, it was a daily reminder that the Yankees weren’t achieving their stated goal. The gimmick has run its course. I hope Boone picks No. 17 or whatever and that’s that.

11. And finally, no, the Yankees did not hire Boone because of that home run he hit 14 years ago. I know some people out there are thinking it. Did that home run give Boone a level of celebrity he wouldn’t have otherwise achieved given his playing career? Absolutely. It helped land him on ESPN, I’m sure. And maybe that helped Boone stay relevant long enough to be considered for a managerial gig seven years after he played his final game. But no, that homer didn’t get him the job. If anything, being honest and accountable about blowing out his knee in a basketball game helped Boone get the job. He could’ve easily made up some story about getting hurt during an offseason workout to keep his 2004 contract — the Yankees voided his $5.75M deal, which would’ve been the highest salary of his career by $2M — but no, Boone owned up to it. That speaks to his character and I think that stood out to the Yankees. Now, did they hire him because of that? No, of course not. But it was an insight into Boone’s character. It was a piece of information that could be used during the hiring process. The home run though? Nope.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Happy Didi Day. Three years ago today Brian Cashman made one of his very best trades, sending Shane Greene to the Tigers to get Didi Gregorius from the Diamondbacks. Since the trade, Gregorius ranks seventh among all shortstops in WAR and third in homers, behind only Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor. What a trade. Oh, and later that day, the Yankees signed Andrew Miller. December 5th, 2014 turned out to be a pretty significant day in Yankeeland.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The three local hockey teams are playing, plus there’s a bunch of college basketball on as well. Talk about those games, the Didi trade, the Miller signing, or anything else here as long as it’s not politics or religion.