One of the more exciting moments in mid-2017 was getting David Robertson back from the White Sox.
Ostensibly, Robertson could have been considered the third most important piece with Todd Frazier to shore up third base and Tommy Kahnle producing a better season to date. But there’s nothing like getting a welcomed old face back in the fold.
By the end of 2018, Robertson proved himself to be the best part exchanged in the deal. He followed up his rebound in 2017 with another strong season as he cemented himself in Aaron Boone’s circle of trust in relief.
Robertson’s numbers as a whole were slightly down in 2018, though they still trumped his 2016 performance. His ERA increased from 1.84 to 3.23 while his FIP went up from 2.57 to 2.97. Down below, you’ll see more about why his numbers decreased, but it was still a strong season for the reliable righty.
Robertson was used more as a traditional late-inning reliever to begin the year, not pitching before the seventh inning until mid-May. That didn’t preclude him from high leverage innings, just meant that Boone was going to others (Chad Green, for instance) in earlier fireman roles.
As time went on, Robertson found himself in different spots, particularly after the Yankees added Zach Britton. Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman were cemented as the eighth and ninth inning guys, giving Robertson the opportunity to put out earlier fires.
The right-hander finished the year with 33 shutdowns and 11 meltdowns, the latter a career-worst, though just by a hair. He produced a Win Probability Added of 1.54 for the season.
Trending Up, Trending Down
A funny thing happened in Robertson’s age-33 season: His velocity actually increased! He averaged 92.3 mph on his heater and 83.8 mph on his curveball. that was his hardest fastball since 2011 and his hardest curveball ever.
Despite his increased velocity and reliance on his curveball (more on that later), Robertson saw an increase in contact against him. However, a lot of it on out-of-the-zone pitches. That may have been simply due to hitters chasing his curve. Thanks to the increased contact, he didn’t get as many swings and misses out of the zone, perhaps due to hitters sitting off-speed.
As a whole, Robertson wasn’t quite as dominant in 2018, which comes down to his fundamentals. His prodigious strikeout rate fell by 6.4 percent to 32.2 percent (still great!) while his walk rate went up 0.5 percent. He allowed one more home run. His 9.2 percent walk rate was his second-highest since 2011.
However, some of the 2017 performance had been smoke and mirrors. He posted a career-best 95 percent strand rate in his half season with the Yankees and that fell precipitously to 67.5 in 2018. Regardless, Robertson still posted strong numbers, maintaining an important role in the Bombers’ bullpen.
Experimentation and Adaptation
Like any veteran pitcher, Robertson has had to change over the years. Early on, it was adding a cutter to his mix skew his fastball-curveball approach. Now, he’s moved with baseball trends and thrown the fewest percentage of fastballs in career. He throws his heater (almost exclusively a cutter) just 42.5 percent of the time, down 5.9 percent from a year ago and 38.4 percent from its peak six seasons ago. Additionally, he’s worked in two-seamers and changed everything about how he pitched just a few seasons ago.
With fewer fastballs has come an increased reliance on his curveball. He throws the primary breaking pitch 47.4 percent of the time, eclipsing his fastball for the first time in his career. This isn’t something novel in that the rest of the league have encourage their pitchers to throw their best pitches more often.
Despite increased velocity, his fastball was less effective in 2018, producing a negative pitch value for just the second time (2016). On the other hand, his curveball was nearly or even more effective, depending on the source. He added some differentiation with his slider that he started experimenting with the last few years, tossing the harder breaking ball 14.4 percent of the time with good results.
Mike has detailed Robertson messing with new arm angles, dropping down and trying to throw off the rhythm of hitters. It’s been infrequent, but the wily vet trusts the gimmick enough to use it in the most important spots. For instance, ALDS Game 4 against J.D. Martinez.
In the 2017 postseason, Robertson was used in all of the Yankees’ most important situations. He got 10 key outs in the Wild Card Game. He pitched with the Yankees leading by just one in three ALDS appearances. He helped keep the Yankees in striking distance in ALCS Game 2 and was asked to shut down Houston rallies in Games 4 and 6.
This season was decidedly different. Robertson threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings with one walk and seven strikeouts, allowing no hits in the postseason. In his one inning in the Wild Card Game, he allowed two line drives but escaped unscathed.
However, there wasn’t really a high-leverage spot to give him. Dellin Betances usurped him as the most-trusted reliever in high leverage spots in the WCG and ALDS Game 2. Beyond those spots, Robertson was forced to pitch with the Yankees trailing. Not his fault nor should it be a mark against him. Circumstances made it so the Yankees couldn’t insert their best relievers in spots to win games.
(P.S. The photo above isn’t even close to the best David Robertson alcohol photo. Trust me.)
Robertson’s four-year, $46 million deal he signed with the White Sox has lapsed and he is now a free agent. He was ineligible for a qualifying offer, having received one from the Yankees in 2014.
The 33-year-old reliever has made the odd move of representing himself in free agency, a decision he explained to MLB Trade Rumors. He said it had nothing to do with his agents and more about knowing himself better than anyone else:
“Being a guy that’s hung around long enough to know what I can offer a team and what I would like in return, I feel I’m best suited to have all the discussions necessary to figure out my next contract.”
It makes too much sense for Robertson to be back in pinstripes for the 2019 campaign. He’s proven to be one of the few relievers in baseball that stays at or near an elite level for years on end and he should get multiple years in a free agent deal. The Yankees, meanwhile, will need to bring back or add a reliever with both Robertson and Britton hitting the open market.
There are 12 questions and eleven answers in this week’s mailbag. Remember to send all your mailbag related correspondence to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.
Chuck asks: Don’t hear much about Jameson Taillon. Any chance we could pry him away from the Pirates?
I don’t get the sense the Pirates are willing to trade Taillon, who is very good and under team control through 2022, but that is the kind of pitcher the Yankees should be targeting. Taillon, 26, had a 3.20 ERA (3.46 FIP) with good strikeout (22.8%), walk (5.9%), and ground ball (46.2%) rates in 191 innings this year. His four-seam fastball spin rate is comfortably above-average and he seems like a good candidate for the “hey, stop throwing so many sinkers” plan the Astros implemented with ex-Pirates Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton.
Pittsburgh traded (a lot) for Chris Archer at the deadline and they have Taillon and the sneaky good Trevor Williams under control for a while, so they have the makings of a good rotation front three. They traded Cole last year because he was getting expensive and they knew they wouldn’t be able to re-sign him long-term. The Pirates aren’t at that point with Taillon yet. They’re probably two years away from that point, really. I love the idea though. Taillon seems like a great target and, if the Pirates did make him available, I think you put Miguel Andujar on the table. Love the kid, but you have to give to get. I just don’t think Pittsburgh is ready to move Taillon yet.
Ryan asks: Who is this year’s Headley/Castro candidate of contract you’d like to shed without concerns of return? Or was that a rare case of AAA bursting at the seams?
I wouldn’t say I was eager to dump Starlin Castro’s contract last year. He’s an average player and useful, but also pretty replaceable, and if they could use him to get someone better, they should. And they did. Starlin wasn’t an albatross though. Anyway, the Yankees don’t really have that moveable bad contract player this year. The Yankees have six contracts on the books at the moment:
- Giancarlo Stanton: Nine years, $240M remaining
- Aroldis Chapman: Three years, $51.6M remaining
- Jacoby Ellsbury: Two years, $47.3M remaining
- Masahiro Tanaka: Two years, $45M remaining
- CC Sabathia: One year, $8M
- Brett Gardner: One year, $7.5M
Everyone wants the Yankees to move Ellsbury but I can’t see that happening at this point. Move Tanaka or Chapman? Eh. The Yankees need starters. Trade Tanaka and you wind up reinvesting that money in another starter who might not be as good as Tanaka. I suppose the Yankees could trade Chapman for a young pitcher, then sign a pricey closer to replace him. Can’t see it though. Chapman has a no-trade clause. Aside from Ellsbury, the Yankees don’t have any real bad contracts on the books. Perhaps that’ll change next year after they sign some free agents this winter.
Dan asks: Is it time to go full Evil Empire and sign both Harper and Machado? Then trade for deGrom. I think an offer that starts with Andujar, Frazier and Sheffield gets the Mets to listen. What do you think?
Man, the Yankees really should. How often do you get a chance to acquire a 26-year-old star like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado for nothing but cash (and a draft pick and international bonus money)? Basically never. This offseason there’s a chance to get two guys like that. It’ll never ever ever happen, but, if you were ever going to make a case for the Yankees going full Evil Empire and signing everyone, this is the offseason to do it. Sign Harper and sign Machado. And, if you do that, doesn’t it at least create the option of an Aaron Judge for pitching trade? Maybe build a package for both Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco around Judge? Not saying I’d do it! I’m just saying it’d open up the possibility.
Dan asks: What are your thoughts on a reunion with Brian McCann? Great clubhouse influence, lefty with power. Still a good defender. He could be a nice, cheap get.
This question was sent in before the news of Gary Sanchez’s shoulder surgery broke. I had McCann on my radar for my offseason plan, but, ultimately, I think he’s going to wind up with a starting job elsewhere. Even after a down season in which he hit .212/.301/.339 (82 wRC+) in 216 plate appearances around knee surgery, McCann’s track record is long enough that I think some team signs him to start. The Braves are supposedly looking for someone to share time with the right-handed hitting Tyler Flowers. McCann is from the area and he still lives there. Seems like a perfect for him, no? I love the idea of signing McCann. He’d give the team a nice safety net should Sanchez not be ready for Opening Day and he’d be a quality backup once Sanchez is healthy. I am all for it. I just think another team is going to give him starter money and starting catcher playing time.
Douglas asks (short version): What about Justin Bour? I know Bour wasn’t good last season with the Phillies but he was good as recently as 2017, would add left handed power to the line-up, would be a pick-up for 2 seasons and is projected to get around $5 million in arbitration, leaving plenty of money to chase Machado, Corbin, Harper, etc.
Hard pass on trading for Bour. Know why? Because the Phillies are almost certainly going to non-tender him at the end of the month. MLBTR projects a $5.2M salary next year and that is way too much for a first base only bench bat. If anything, the Phillies will non-tender him and re-sign him at a lower salary. Matt Adams was projected to made $4.6M last year and he can play (“play”) the outfield in addition to first base. If he got non-tendered, Bour is getting non-tendered. That’s why the Phillies got him so cheap in the first place. Everyone knew he was getting non-tendered after the season. The Marlins had no leverage. Bour would be fine as a first base pickup. Not great, not terrible. Just fine. If the Yankees can sign him and have him compete for the job with Greg Bird and Luke Voit, great. Do it. But don’t trade for him. Just wait a few weeks and he’ll be available for nothing but money.
Dom asks: One reason, to many, to not hand out mega-contracts to Harper/Machado is because it will leave less money to pay homegrown players when they are FAs. But, doesn’t it make more sense to pay Harper/Machado now, resulting in having more prime players under control for this window of contention, than eventually signing the homegrown guys when they’re older and not in their prime anymore?
Yuuup. Isn’t this one of the benefits of having productive young players? In addition to what they give you on the field, they’re also cheap and allow you to spend elsewhere. That’s one reason I despise the luxury tax plan. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino were all in their pre-arbitration years this past season. You only get so many years of those guys making six figures! Rather than take advantage, the Yankees capped their spending. Now Severino is arbitration-eligible and Judge and Sanchez will be in 2020. They’re still going to make far below what they’re worth, but the savings aren’t as great. This is the Yankees’ best chance to win a World Series. Right now. In 2018, 2019, and maybe 2020. Not four or five years from now. Right now, when their core guys are in their primes and cheap, like Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada were in the late-1990s. Windows close. Fast. At a time when the Yankees should be putting every last resource into winning a championship, they’re holding back.
Steve asks: So thoughts on Kipnis for fill in 2B? I know he had a down offensive season but he’d be a lefty who wouldn’t close much in lux tax, plays decent defense and think the Indians would be more open about moving his contract then say Kluber, etc.
Jason Kipnis has been really bad the last two years. Like, sneaky bad. I knew he didn’t put up numbers like he did in his prime, but he’s been even worse than I realized. Kipnis hit .232/.291/.414 (81 wRC+) last year and .230/.315/.389 (89 wRC+) this year. Yeesh. And he has $17M coming to him next season (his luxury tax hit is only $8.75M) assuming his 2020 option is bought out. I know Kipnis is a left-handed hitter and he might benefit from the short porch (plus the Yankees need left-handed hitters), and I know he can play the outfield too, but he’s been pretty bad two years running now. Can’t you sign Jed Lowrie at a similar luxury tax number and expect more production? Kipnis is a maybe, if anything. There’s no reason to think he’s gong anywhere right now. If some things fall through in free agency, the Yankees could think more seriously about Kipnis later in the offseason.
Juan asks: It certainly feels to me like there’s a personality element to Cashman’s Sonny Gray comments. Greg Bird was equally awful this season after being not good the previous year, but the Yankees still speak of him with a positive outlook. What do you think happened with Gray? Why can’t it be repaired?
Jonathan asks: What do you think is the benefit of Cashman being so candid about wanting to trade Gray? Don’t you think this diminishes his value, considering he’s giving no option to hold on to him if he doesn’t get enough in return? I don’t get why any GM would ever say this, really. What gives?
Going to lump these two questions together. It is pretty weird, isn’t it? It seems like Brian Cashman is going above and beyond to make it known not only that Sonny Gray is available, but also that he’s not wanted. “I don’t think it is going to work out in The Bronx. I don’t feel like we can go through the same exercise and expect different results,” he said the other day. That’s pretty harsh! Cashman is always quick to admit some players can play in New York and other can’t, but very rarely does he single someone out like this. I can’t ever remember it happening.
I sensed a lot of frustration with Gray this year. More than the usual “he’s not pitching well” frustration because we go that with guys every year. Aaron Boone, Larry Rothschild, and Cashman all seemed frustrated with Gray. Maybe it was his preparation? His attitude? Whatever. Cashman has chosen to express that frustration this offseason and, honestly, I think everyone knew it existed. Instead of lying about it, he’s being honest. I don’t think Cashman would do it until he was certain he could get a good deal for Gray. He wouldn’t go out there and crush the guy if his market was non-existent. Supposedly there’s a good amount of interest. Teams still want Sonny despite this year’s performance and despite the GM taking the guy’s head off every chance he gets.
Neil asks: Any trades headlining Gleyber for a young controllable pitcher that you would consider and might make sense for both teams? (Yeah, I know, pitchers break….)
The one that immediately jumped to mind is Walker Buehler. Unless the Dodgers think Max Muncy at second base is a viable long-term strategy (nah), they need a second baseman. Hell, they might need a shortstop. Corey Seager is coming back from Tommy John surgery and it’s always been a bit unclear how long he’ll stay at short anyway because he’s so big (6-foot-4 and 220 lbs.). The Dodgers have a need for a middle infielder.
Buehler was the most impressive young pitcher I saw this past season and it’s not even close. It was Buehler (big gap) Jack Flaherty (enormous gap) everyone else. Buehler threw 137.1 innings with a 2.62 ERA (3.04 FIP) with excellent strikeout (27.9%), walk (6.8%), and ground ball (50.0%) numbers this year, and he was real good in the postseason too. The stuff is electric.
Jon asks: Schwarber seems to be a perpetual trade rumor. What would it realistically take to get him and would he improve the team, assuming no Bryce Harper? Could a package centered around Sonny Gray and Jonathan Loaisiga work, since they’re both traded in your offseason plan?
Schwarber makes more sense for the Yankees now than he did back in 2016, when they apparently tried to get him at the deadline. He’s never played first base but he’s going to wind up there eventually, so the Yankees could move him there and have him split time at first and DH, and be the emergency third catcher. They also need a left-handed bat and Schwarber’s pull heavy left-handed swing would fit well in Yankee Stadium.
This past season Schwarber hit .238/.356/.467 (115 wRC+) with 26 homers, and over the last two years he has a .225/.336/.467 (109 wRC+) line in nearly 1,000 plate appearances. That … kinda sucks? For a bat only guy, yeah, it kinda sucks. After all that hype and all those rejected trades, that’s it? Schwarber is young (26 in March) and cheap (projected $3.1M in 2019) and there’s always a chance he’ll improve, for sure. I don’t know that Gray and Loaisiga will get it done — Theo Epstein is said to love Schwarber — but I don’t know how much higher I’d go either.
Michael asks: Read recently that MLB will eventually expand, with places like Portland, Charlotte and a location in Mexico as possibilities. But is MLB ignoring the lack of enthusiasm for baseball in Tampa and Miami? What’s the possibility of those two franchises moving to one of the locations being considered for expansion?
I worry about this. MLB is stuck in Miami because that $600M ballpark is only seven years old. Tampa is a different story. The Rays have been trying to get a new ballpark for years now — the most recent chatter has them moving to a park on the other side of the bay in Ybor City — but can baseball work there? Doesn’t MLB have to answer that question before building a new park? Florida would seem to be the perfect place for baseball. It’s warm all year and there are a ton of players from the state, plus there are people from all over Latin America as well. It seems like it should work. It hasn’t. There are other baseball hungry markets out there. I would hope MLB would at least consider relocation before breaking ground another new park that will sit half empty 81 times a year.
According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees have signed journeyman catcher Ryan Lavarnway to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. The team hasn’t announced the signing yet, but that’s not unusual. In recent years the Yankees have announced their minor league signings and non-roster invitees all at once a week or two before camp.
Lavarnway, 31, was once a notable prospect with the Red Sox, and he’ll provide some catching depth in the wake of Gary Sanchez’s shoulder surgery. This signing has been in the works for a few days now, possibly before Sanchez’s shoulder started barking, and the surgery might’ve ramped up the team’s efforts to get a deal done. Who knows. The Yankees needed another Triple-A catcher anyway.
This past season Lavarnway hit .288/.375/.485 (145 wRC+) with nine homers in 77 Triple-A games with the Pirates. He also went 4-for-6 as a September call-up. Lavarnway is a .208/.268/.326 (59 wRC+) hitter in 423 career big league plate appearances. He is not regarded as a good defender at all. His framing and throwing numbers (career 20.2% caught stealing rate) are pretty bad.
With Sanchez rehabbing from shoulder surgery, Kyle Higashioka and Lavarnway are the catching depth behind Austin Romine. The Yankees needed another catcher to pair with Higashioka in Triple-A even before the Sanchez injury. I wonder if they’ll try for another minor league depth pickup just to have some more options with Gary rehabbing.
Thursday: Sanchez had his surgery today, the Yankees announced. It was performed by team doctor Dr. Ahmad in New York and the Yankees say it went “as expected.” Get well soon, Gary.
Wednesday: Another important Yankee is having offseason surgery. Brian Cashman told reporters at the GM Meetings tonight that Gary Sanchez is having debridement surgery on his left shoulder, and he’s expected to be ready for Opening Day. The surgery comes with a three-month recovery, so it will cut significantly into Gary’s offseason routine. Sucks.
“We could continue with the conservative treatment and play it out, hope that it would get better, but we’re going to go the other route and just get ahead of it,” Cashman said (video link). “Downtime is three months. He’ll be ready to go obviously by Opening Day, I’ll say, instead of Spring Training even though (the timetable says) Spring Training. All systems should be go by Opening Day.”
Cashman said the shoulder has been bothering Sanchez since 2017, and he’s been able to play through it while receiving cortisone shots and other treatment. It’s still bothering him though — Cashman said Sanchez was in Tampa working out recently when he mentioned he still has discomfort — so they’re getting it repaired this winter.
The good news: The injury is to Sanchez’s non-throwing shoulder. The bad news: The injury is to Sanchez’s left shoulder, his front shoulder when hitting, and that’s the power shoulder. Gary had a bad season this year but the power numbers were still there. If the shoulder was hurting, it was hard to tell. The power output was very good.
Aaron Judge had surgery on his left shoulder last offseason, his front shoulder when hitting, and he showed no ill-effects this year. That said, it was a different procedure, so this isn’t an apples to apples comparison. Judge had arthroscopic surgery to remove a loose body. Sanchez is having damaged tissue removed from his shoulder.
Cashman said the Yankees are comfortable with Austin Romine behind the plate should Sanchez not be ready for Opening Day, but what’s he supposed to say? Even before Sanchez’s surgery, I expected the Yankees to look for an Erik Kratz type to stash in Triple-A with Kyle Higashioka. I guess they’ll look for someone like that with a little more urgency now.
The offseason is still young Sanchez is already the second Yankee having major surgery. Didi Gregorius will miss the start of next year with Tommy John surgery. Now Gary needs his non-throwing shoulder repaired. Gah. No more of these offseason injuries, please. Everyone stay healthy the next few months.
The GM Meetings wrapped up today and there was some hot stove action this week. The Yankees re-signed CC Sabathia and, last night, the Rays traded Mallex Smith to the Mariners for Mike Zunino. Not mad about it. Smith gave the Yankees some headaches the last two years. Anyway, here’s the latest.
Yankees not showing interest in Goldschmidt
As expected, the Diamondbacks are receiving considerable interest in first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, but not from the Yankees, reports Jon Heyman. Arizona collapsed this past season — they were one game up in the NL West on the morning of September 1st and finished nine games back — and they stand to lose Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock to free agency. They’ve hinted at tearing things down and rebuilding, and they have some possible fits for the Yankees.
Goldschmidt, 31, is the best first baseman in baseball and on the short list of the best players in the game overall. He hit .290/.389/.533 (145 wRC+) with 33 homers this past season and is a Gold Glove caliber defender. The D’Backs exercised his no-brainer $14.5M club option last week, so he’s a one-year rental. The Yankees might have two viable big league first basemen (Luke Voit and Greg Bird) or they might have none. I dunno. Either way, Goldschmidt would be a clear upgrade, but he wouldn’t come cheap, even with one year of control. For now, the Yankees aren’t showing interest.
Yankees have interest in Miller
The Yankees have interest in free agent lefty reliever Andrew Miller and have requested his medical information, reports Andy Martino. As I noted yesterday, lots of team request medical information from lots of players, especially early in the offseason. It doesn’t mean they are progressing toward a deal or anything. The team is just doing due diligence. Miller had shoulder trouble this year and has had knee problems the last two years. In fact, the Indians even sent him to see the Cleveland Cavaliers’ doctors because they have more experience with tall dudes and knee injuries.
This past season the 33-year-old Miller had a 4.24 ERA (3.51 FIP) with 29.2% strikeouts in 34 innings around his injuries. He was far more wild and hittable than he’d been the last few years. If you watched the postseason, you know Miller wasn’t right. He didn’t look like himself at all. For what it’s worth, Miller’s agent told Joel Sherman his client recently received a clean bill of health. That’s great, but teams are going to give him their own physical and make sure for themselves. Miller’s a great dude, but he’s entering his mid-30s and he seems to be breaking down physically. His medicals will be scrutinized.
Yankees have met with Harrison
I had a feeling this was coming. According to Heyman, the Yankees have interest in free agent utility man Josh Harrison and have already met with his representatives. I assume that happened at the GM Meetings this week. Didi Gregorius will miss the start of the season with Tommy John surgery and the Yankees need a replacement middle infielder. Harrison can play second, then, once Gregorius returns, he could shift into a utility role.
Harrison, 31, hit .250/.293/.363 (78 wRC+) this past season and is a year removed from a .272/.339/.432 (104 wRC+) batting line with a career high 16 homers. His OBP was propped up by 23 (!) hit-by-pitches. Harrison was hit 23 times in 128 games last year. He was hit 31 times in the other 714 games of his career. The Yankees have been connected to Harrison a few times in recent years but never seemed to seriously pursue him. Now that he’s available for nothing but cash, the Yankees could pounce. I hope he’s Plan C or Plan D rather than Plan A or Plan B though.
The Yankees bullpen was the focus of several storylines in 2018; the resurgence of Dellin Betances, the injuries of Aroldis Chapman, the acquisition of Zach Britton, and Aaron Boone’s strange fascination with A.J. Cole immediately spring to mind. Chad Green’s continued brilliance sort of fell by the wayside as a result, despite the fact that he led the group with:
- 75.2 IP
- 1.78 BB/9
- 6.27 K/BB
- 2.3 bWAR
We, as fans of the Yankees, know that Green is brilliant, and have a strong sense of confidence whenever he enters the game – but he is nevertheless one of the best kept secrets in the bullpen (at least insofar as any Yankee can fly under the radar). Such is the life of a middle reliever without the flash of his teammates, I suppose.
Let’s break it down a bit further.
From Multi-Inning Weapon to One-Inning Guy
A huge part of Green’s appeal in 2017 – aside from his 1.83 ERA and 13.4 K/9, of course – was his ability to eat innings out of the bullpen. He recorded 4+ outs in 30 of his 40 appearances, and went 2+ innings 17 times. In an era with more pitching changes and increased specialization, Green’s ability to be incredibly effective for multiple innings was a boon for the Yankees. And the expectation was that he would continue to serve that role for the team in 2018.
It didn’t quite work out that way, though. Green recorded 4+ outs 20 times this year, spread across 63 appearances, and he only went 2+ innings 11 times. He was quite good once again, pitching to a 2.50 ERA in 75.2 IP, so it’s difficult to criticize his deployment by Aaron Boone – especially when injuries occurred and pieces had to be shifted around. However, it does make one wonder what was left on the table this year, given that Green prefers pitching multiple innings; and it’s much easier to find a reliever that can get you two or three outs than it is to find one that can get four or five (or, in three cases in 2017, nine-plus).
It’s difficult to parse whether Green is better in longer outings, though. The greatest issue to overcome is the simple fact that a pitcher is far more likely to be pulled if he’s not performing well – so we can’t really say for sure that Green wouldn’t have went deeper into the game if he didn’t allow 2 runs in 0.2 IP on April 5, or if he hadn’t allowed three base-runners in 0.2 IP on August 2 and again on August 26.
That being said, he does do better with more rest. Here’s 2017:
And here’s 2018:
Seven of Green’s 40 appearances (17.5%) in 2017 came with 0 or 1 day of rest, as compared to 31 of his 63 turns (49.2%) in 2018. That’s a massive difference in usage, and it seems possible – if not probable – that this played a role in his dip from untouchable to merely excellent this year. And it almost certainly played a role in the drop in his fastball’s effectiveness.
Let’s Talk About That Fastball
Saying that Green relies on his fastball is a hell of an understatement, so let’s take a look at it in graph form:
In 2016, Green threw just over 39% four-seamers. That number jumped all the way up to 68.6% in 2017, which makes sense given that he moved from the rotation to the bullpen full-time. And there was another sizable jump this year, with four-seamers representing 86.3% of his offerings. That meant that his sinker and cutter, which were already used sparingly, disappeared, and his slider usage was slashed by more than half.
And, as Mike outlined just a few weeks ago, his fastball wasn’t nearly as dominant this year:
|Average Velocity||96.1 mph||96.5 mph||93.2 mph|
|Average Spin Rate||2,484 rpm||2,444 rpm||2,257 rpm|
|Whiffs per Swing||37.9%||27.3%||19.7%|
Much like Green himself, the fastball went from untouchable to excellent. And that makes sense, given that he was pitching more often and throwing the pitch more than ever before. Whether this trend continues is the million dollar question with Green, given the general unpredictability of relievers, and the Yankees pipeline of young arms.
Let’s Not Bury the Lede
I feel the need to reiterate that Green was still incredible in 2018. His 2.50 ERA was good for a 175 ERA+, and he was among the elite relievers in all of baseball, ranking:
- 5th in K/BB
- 8th in BB/9
- 13th in fWAR
- 17th in IP
- 19th in WPA
There was a drop-off, to be sure, but it was unrealistic to expect Green (or most any reliever for that matter) to be as good as he was in 2017 again. This version of Green would’ve been the best reliever on the majority of the teams in baseball, and he’s not even the best in pinstripes – and that’s awesome.
Green is entering his final pre-arbitration season, so he’ll be dirt cheap in 2019. And he’s under team control for three years after that, which is also awesome. There’s always the possibility of a trade (and Green has a ton of value because of that team control), but with David Robertson and Zach Britton hitting free agency, it seems likely that Green will be back in pinstripes and holding down the fort in the middle innings next year. And I’m more than okay with that.