Monday Night Open Thread

The first postseason series came to an end last night as the Blue Jays swept the Rangers on Rougned Odor’s walk-off error. They’re loving that in Toronto. Texas won 95 games with a +8 run differential this season. Imagine that. Life in the AL West must be nice. Anyway, here is today’s postseason action, which is why the thread is up early:

  • NLDS Game Three: Nationals at Dodgers (Gonzalez vs. Maeda), 4pm ET on MLBN (Series tied 1-1)
  • ALDS Game Three: Indians at Red Sox (Tomlin vs. Buchholz), 6pm ET on TBS (Indians up 2-0)
  • NLDS Game Three: Cubs at Giants (Arrieta vs. Bumgarner), 9:30pm ET on FOX Sports 1 (Cubs up 2-0)

There’s also Monday Night Football (Buccaneers vs. Panthers), so talk about any of those games or anything else right here. Just no politics or religion, please. This ain’t the place for that.

(Today is the anniversary of the Raul Ibanez game, by the way. That’s why I picked that video.)

Yankees land three on Baseball America’s top Single-A prospects lists

Gleyber. (Tim Holle/Brevard County Manatees)
Gleyber. (Tim Holle/Brevard County Manatees)

Baseball America’s annual look at the top 20 prospects in each minor league continued last week with the various Single-A leagues, including the Low-A South Atlantic League and High-A Florida State League (subs. req’d). Nationals OF Victor Robles was the top prospect in the Sally League while Mets SS Amed Rosario was the top prospect in the FSL. You can see all the top 20 lists right here, without a subscription.

The Yankees landed three prospects on the FSL list, starting with SS Gleyber Torres. He is the No. 2 prospect in the circuit behind Rosario. Gleyber came over from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade — Baseball America (subs. req’d) also ranked Torres as the No. 4 prospect in the High-A Carolina League, where he started the season before the trade — and is arguably not even the best prospect the Yankees acquired in the trade deadline.

“Torres isn’t as flashy but earned comparisons with the Cubs’ Javier Baez for his leg kick, aggression and power potential at the plate … He has a knack for the barrel but also has bat speed, with some loft in his swing and pull power” said the write-up. The scouting report also says Torres is considered “at least above-average if not plus” defensively at short. He has the bat to profile at third if a move is necessary down the line.

SS Jorge Mateo ranked fifth on the FSL list and the write-up says “maturity (was mentioned) frequently as a need for Mateo, not just with his makeup but with his fairly raw game.” His top of the line speed still is still there, but he needs to get stronger to better drive the ball. While Mateo’s defense at short is good, the scouting report says some believe he fits best in center field long-term. The Yankees have had him play some center in Instructional League recently.

The third Yankees farmhand on the FSL list is RHP Chance Adams, who broke out in a big way this season. He ranked 18th. “Adams repeats his delivery, uses his legs well and produces plus fastball velocity, usually sitting 93-95 mph and touching 97,” said the write-up. He also throws a slider, changeup, and curveball, with the latter lagging behind the other two. One evaluator said “Adams dominated the league when he was here. He just imposed himself on other teams.”

RHP James Kaprielian did not throw enough innings to quality for the FSL list, but, in the chat, John Manuel said he “definitely would have been the first pitcher ranked” had he stayed healthy. LHP Ian Clarkin wasn’t a serious consideration for the list because “he pitched with less stuff and fringe-average stuff.” OF Mark Payton also earned a mention in the chat, though he didn’t play enough to qualify for the list. “I can see him being a fifth outfielder type, an up and down guy … I suspect he’ll wear an MLB uniform at some point,” said Manuel.

The Yankees did not have any prospects on the South Atlantic League list, which isn’t too surprising. Low-A Charleston wasn’t a great prospect team in 2016. SS Kyle Holder and SS Hoy Jun Park were the team’s top prospects. J.J. Cooper said RHP Dillon Tate was “not all that close” to making it in the chat. “Tate’s stuff was a little better in August with Charleston, but right now he looks more like a potential reliever than the front-line starter that scouts hoped to see coming out of the draft,” said Cooper.

Baseball America ranked three Yankees among the top rookie ball prospects this year. The Double-A Eastern League and Triple-A International League top 20 lists will be the fun ones. The Yankees should be well-represented on both. Well, that assumes guys like C Gary Sanchez, OF Aaron Judge, RHP Chad Green, 1B Tyler Austin, and RHP Luis Cessa spent enough time with Triple-A Scranton to qualify for the IL list. We’ll see.

The Stopgap Closer [2016 Season Review]

Now that the 2016 season is complete and the dust has settled, it’s time to begin our annual season review series. This year was a complicated one. That’s for sure.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the last few seasons the Yankees have made a habit of carrying at least two elite relievers on their roster. The cast of characters changed — it was Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes in 2009, Rafael Soriano and David Robertson in 2012, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller in 2015, etc. — but Joe Girardi always had a pair of high-end arms in his bullpen. It was quite the luxury.

This past season the Yankees set themselves up to carry three top notch relievers. Aroldis Chapman was brought in over the winter to join Betances and Miller, forming what might have been the most devastating 1-2-3 bullpen punch in history. Those three held up their end of the bargain. They were excellent. The rest of the team did not. When time came to make a change at midseason, Chapman was the first one traded away. His short time in pinstripes was … eventful.

The First Trade

It was only three years ago that the Reds were in the postseason, you know. They went 90-72 in 2013, but lost the NL Wildcard Game to the Pirates, which more or less marked the beginning of their rebuild. Cincinnati went 76-86 in 2014 and 64-98 in 2015. Johnny Cueto and Todd Frazier were traded away. Brandon Phillips would have gone too had he not invoked his no-trade clause. The Reds decided to start over.

The rebuild continued this offseason with the Chapman trade. The Reds and Dodgers agreed to a trade that would have sent Chapman to Los Angeles at the Winter Meetings in December. The trade was done. The two teams agreed to the players and figuratively shook on it. The trade then hit a snag, and for a while no one knew why. Everyone kinda assumed something popped up in the medicals somewhere. That’s usually what happens.

Then, on December 7th, Jeff Passan and Tim Brown reported Chapman was being investigated by police for an alleged domestic abuse incident at his home in Miami back in October. His girlfriend claimed he pushed and choked her, then fired a handgun in his garage. Chapman denied pushing and choking her but admitted to police he fired eight shots from his handgun in his house. No arrests were made that night.

That was enough for the Dodgers. The club backed out of the trade and the Reds were left with a very good player, albeit an extremely devalued accident. The domestic violence incident became public knowledge and Chapman became persona non grata around the league. The Reds tried for weeks to trade him after the deal with the Dodgers fell apart and had no luck. It wasn’t until after Christmas that the Yankees came calling.

On December 28th, three weeks after the news of Chapman’s domestic violence incident broke, the Yankees acquired the hard-throwing southpaw from Cincinnati for four non-top prospects. “Given the circumstances that exist, the price point on the acquisition has been modified,” said Brian Cashman during the trade conference call. “We felt this was an opportunity to add a big arm to our bullpen.”

Translation: the domestic violence incident lowered the asking price and we took advantage. That’s what happened. There’s no need to dance around it. Every team in baseball wanted Chapman in their bullpen. Few were willing to take the PR hit that came with acquiring a player being investigated for domestic violence. The Yankees, seeing this as an opportunity to buy low, made the trade. Gross.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

At the time of the trade Chapman was still being investigated by police. It wasn’t clear whether he would face criminal charges or be suspended by MLB under the new domestic violence policy. Ultimately, Chapman was not charged with a crime because witnesses changed their stories. The handgun was registered and owned legally, and from what I understand there’s no law against shooting a gun on your own private property in Florida.

The Yankees took the PR hit — “Certainly, there is some serious issues here that are in play … There’s risk, and I understand that,” said Cashman — but added a truly great reliever to the bullpen. They were a better team after the trade, unquestionably. They also upset more than a few fans because, as it turns out, people don’t like domestic violence, especially those who have had it in their lives. The team hoped the allure of 105 mph fastballs would make everything better. That was the plan.

MLB’s investigation into the incident carried over into Spring Training, and on March 1st, commissioner Rob Manfred announced Chapman would be suspended 30 games for the incident. “I am gratified that Mr. Chapman has taken responsibility for his conduct, that he has agreed not to appeal the 30-game suspension, and that he has agreed to comply with the confidential directives of the Joint Policy Board established under the parties’ Policy to ensure that a similar incident does not occur in the future,” said the press release.

Chapman became the first player suspended under the league’s new domestic violence policy. He agreed to the 30-game suspension for one reason: to avoid having his free agency pushed back. Had Chapman continued to fight the suspension, the league could have suspended him even longer, and a ban of 46 games would have prevented him from becoming a free agent after the season. The 30-day ban and forfeiting $1.7M in salary was worth it to maintain free agent eligibility after 2016.

Because this whole thing wasn’t weird and gross enough, Chapman was allowed to continue partipating in Spring Training. How about that? He went through team workouts and even pitched in Grapefruit League games. Eight of them, in fact. At the end of camp, the rest of the Yankees went north and Chapman stayed behind in Tampa to stay sharp during his suspension. He threw bullpens and pitched in simulated games against Extended Spring Training kids.

Eleven Weeks of Dominance

The Yankees went 11-18 during Chapman’s suspension — a rainout meant he missed only 29 games — though that was hardly a product of missing a reliever. The offense stunk. That was the problem. Chapman returned to the Yankees on May 9th, and he made his season debut that night, in a four-run game. It was exactly what Girardi wanted. A relatively low stress outing to ease him back in.

Chapman immediately took over as the team’s closer, as planned. Girardi said that was going to be the case in Spring Training and that’s exactly how it played out. Miller did nothing to lose the closer’s job — Chapman actually allowed a run before Miller this season — but because he’s a swell guy, Andrew moved into a setup role with zero complaints. The three-headed bullpen monster was intact.

Chapman’s first save with the Yankees came in his second appearance; he struck out one in a scoreless inning against the Royals on May 10th to protect a three-run lead. Over his first 25 appearances in pinstripes, Chapman went 17-for-18 in save chances and fanned 34 batters in 23 innings. He allowed only eight runs (seven earned) and opponents hit a weak .207/.250/.322 against him. Chapman was as advertised on the mound. Utterly dominant.

On July 9th in Cleveland, Aroldis had his finest moment as a Yankee. The Yankees and Indians were tied 6-6 in the ninth inning, and Girardi went to his closer on the road in a tie game. Chapman recorded the final out of the ninth with the winning run at second, tossed a perfect tenth inning, then went back out for the 11th after the Yankees took the lead on Brian McCann‘s double. He threw 32 pitches and struck out four in 2.1 scoreless innings.

That was Chapman’s final appearance before the All-Star break and ultimately his sixth to last appearance as a Yankee. He appeared in five more games after the break, throwing six scoreless innings. All told, Chapman pitched to a 2.01 ERA (1.93 FIP) with a 36.7% strikeout rate and a 6.7% walk rate in 31.1 innings with New York. He also went 20-for-21 in save chances. Three things stood out to me about Chapman during his short time with the Yankees.

1. The raw velocity is jaw-dropping. On July 18th against the Orioles, Chapman threw a fastball that PitchFX measured at 105.85 mph. That’s the fastest pitch ever recorded. Chapman broke his own record, a 105.81 mph heater he threw back in 2010. His slowest fastest pitch in a game the Yankees was 99.13 mph. Chapman threw 254 pitches at 100+ mph with the Yankees. The rest of baseball threw 407 such pitches during that time. He accounted for 38% percent of the league’s 100+ mph pitches from Opening Day through July 25th in only 31.1 innings. That’s nuts.

2. He’s an incredibly strong and athletic human. The raw radar gun readings were impressive enough. What really stood out to me was Chapman’s ability to throw that hard even while fatigued. Girardi used Chapman on back-to-back days an awful lot — there were several instances in which he warmed up to pitch a third straight day too — yet his velocity never waned. Chapman pitched five times in a seven-day span from June 2nd through June 9th, and in the fifth appearance he averaged 100.10 mph and topped out at 102.27 mph. Ridiculous. It’s a shame the term freak of nature has been so overused because Chapman is a true freak of nature. Humans aren’t supposed to throw this hard. He’s an incredible athlete and so powerful.

3. He gives up a lot of foul balls for a guy who throws 100 mph. Among the 359 pitchers to throw at least 750 pitches during the regular season, Chapman ranked eighth with a 23.4% foul ball rate. So despite that high octane fastball and sneaky good slider, hitters were still able to foul off roughly one quarter of Chapman’s pitches. Maybe this isn’t such a big deal — Kenley Jansen is first at 25.95% and he’s pretty darn good too — I was just surprised at how often hitters were able to spoil those triple-digit fastballs. I guess I kinda expected Chapman to come in and throw fastballs by everyone. That’s a me problem, not a Chapman problem. Still, lots of foul balls.

The Second Trade

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Chapman was available to the Yankees for 69 total games, and in those 69 games the Yankees went 39-30. That’s pretty good! Too bad that only improved them to 50-48 on the season overall. On the morning of July 25th, the day the Yankees traded Chapman away, the team was 7.5 games back in the division and 4.5 games back of a wildcard spot with four teams ahead of them. FanGraphs put their postseason odds at 8.3%.

The Yankees were going nowhere fast leading up to the trade deadline, so rumblings of a Chapman trade grew louder. I thought it made sense to trade him even if the Yankees were in the race. They got him at a discounted rate and were in position to flip him for much more than they gave up. The various investigations were over and he’d served his suspension. When the Yankees acquired him, they had no idea whether he would be suspended five games, 30 games, or 162 games. That mystery was gone.

As expected, there was no shortage of interested teams. Basically every contender was connected to Chapman at some point. The Cubs were said to be the most aggressive suitor, which made sense. They were having a fantastic season and Chapman was someone who could help put them over the top. Two months of a great closer is not something you give up the farm to acquire when you’re on the postseason bubble. That’s someone you go get when you want to win the World Series, like the Cubs.

So, after a weekend of negotiations, the Yankees and Cubs finalized the Chapman trade on Monday, July 25th, one week prior to the trade deadline. Chapman went to Chicago for old pal Adam Warren, shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres, and outfield prospects Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. Torres was the real prize. Baseball America ranked him as the 27th best prospect in baseball at midseason. Warren is Warren, and McKinney was a top 100 prospect a year ago. Crawford, the fourth piece, is a toolsy lottery ticket.

From a pure baseball perspective, the series of Chapman trades was masterful. The Yankees got him for pennies on the dollar, then traded him for about $1.75 on the dollar. They turned four non-top prospects into 31.1 innings of Chapman, Warren, an elite prospect, and two other prospects. How is that anything but a smashing success? Given what they received in the trade, keeping Chapman in hopes of contention and taking the draft pick at the end of the season would have been a big mistake.

What About The Prospects?

We’ll cover Warren and the three prospects the Yankees received in the Chapman trade later in the season review series. This section is about the four prospects the Yankees gave up to get Chapman last December. Here’s the list and a brief recap of their seasons:

  • RHP Caleb Cotham: Made the Reds’ Opening Day roster and had a 7.40 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 24.1 relief innings before going down with shoulder and knee problems.
  • RHP Rookie Davis: Had a 3.71 ERA (4.27 FIP) in 131 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He struck out only 15.5% of batters faced.
  • 3B Eric Jagielo: Hit an unfathomable .205/.305/.310 (83 wRC+) with seven homers in 111 games at Double-A. I have no idea what in the world happened here.
  • IF Tony Renda: Hit .311/.363/.434 (132 wRC+) between Double-A and Triple-A, then got called up to the show late in the season. He picked up his first MLB hit three days after the fact thanks to a scoring change.

I have no idea what happened to Jagielo. That’s the same guy who hit .284/.367/.495 (141 wRC+) with nine homers in 58 Double-A games in 2015 before going down with a knee injury. I guess the injury took that much out of him? Davis broke out last year but didn’t build on it this year. Cotham and Renda were so far down the depth chart the Yankees didn’t even notice they were gone.

Cotham. (Presswire)
Cotham. (Presswire)

From Cincinnati’s perspective, this trade is a total disaster. They had the opportunity to trade Chapman at the deadline last year, decided to wait until the offseason, and it came back to bite them. The Reds ended up settling for four meh at best pieces for one of the best closers in the game, then watched the Yankees flip him for a ton seven months later. Woof. Needless to say, the Yankees are pretty thrilled with how things turned out.

Outlook for 2017

Well, Chapman is not with the Yankees at the moment, but he might be back next season. He’ll be a free agent this winter, and thanks to the trade, the Cubs can not make him the qualifying offer. That means teams will not have to forfeit a draft pick to sign Chapman this offseason. All he’s going to cost is straight cash homey, and the Yankees have a lot of that lying around.

“My job is to get as much as we can find. In the front end of the season 7-8-9 was special,” said Cashman at his end-of-season press conference when asked about signing a top notch reliever. “So my job is just to find as much quality arms, whether they’re fireballers or sidewinders or soft-tossers. The only important thing is getting outs … The more the merrier.”

Soon after the Yankees traded Chapman to the Cubs, I said I expect them to pursue one of the top free agent relievers this offseason, be it Chapman or Jansen or whoever else. Chapman won’t cost a draft pick and the Yankees know him, which I think makes him their top target. Remember, they tried to sign him to an extension earlier this summer. It was only after Chapman said no to an extension that Hal Steinbrener okayed the trade, reportedly.

We’ll see what happens with Chapman and the Yankees this offseason. Either way, I expect him to shatter Jonathan Papelbon’s record contract for a reliever (four years, $50M). Jansen’s going to eclipse that too. The Yankees love having multiple elite relievers, and with Miller also traded away, signing one this offseason feels inevitable. Chapman was extremely productive in his short time in pinstripes and a reunion very well may be in order. Expect to hear a lot about these two this offseason.

Fan Confidence Poll: October 10th, 2016

Season Record: 84-78 (680 RS, 702 RA, 79-83 pythag. record), 5.0 GB of postseason spot

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in the nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Weekend Open Thread

Friday: Today is the first full day of postseason action. Because of that, I’m going to post the open thread much earlier than usual. Here’s the schedule for today’s four postseason games:

  • ALDS Game Two: Blue Jays at Rangers (Happ vs. Darvish), 1pm ET on TBS (Blue Jays up 1-0)
  • ALDS Game Two: Red Sox at Indians (Price vs. Kluber), 4:30pm ET on TBS (Indians up 1-0)
  • NLDS Game One: Dodgers at Nationals (Kershaw vs. Scherzer): 5:30pm ET on FOX Sports 1
  • NLDS Game One: Giants at Cubs (Cueto vs. Lester), 9pm ET on FOX Sports 1

We’ve got about 12 hours of non-stop postseason baseball coming this afternoon. It will be glorious. You guys know how these threads work by now, so have at it.

Saturday: As we do in the offseason, we’re going to recycle the open thread throughout the weekend. Here is today’s postseason action:

  • NLDS Game Two: Dodgers at Nationals (Hill vs. Roark), 4pm ET on FOX Sports 1 (Dodgers up 1-0)
  • NLDS Game Two: Giants at Cubs (Samardzija vs. Hendricks), 8pm ET on MLBN (Cubs up 1-0)

The forecast in Washington isn’t pretty, so the Dodgers-Nats game might be delayed. Hopefully not. There’s also a ton of college football on today, so talk about those games or anything right here.

Sunday: For the third and final time, this is your open thread for the weekend. There are three postseason games on tap today:

  • NLDS Game Two: Dodgers at Nationals (Hill vs. Roark), 1pm ET on FOX Sports 1 (Dodgers up 1-0)
  • ALDS Game Three: Indians at Red Sox (Tomlin vs. Buchholz), 4pm ET on TBS (Indians up 2-0)
  • ALDS Game Three: Rangers at Blue Jays (Lewis vs. Sanchez), 7:30pm ET on TBS (Blue Jays up 2-0)

The forceast in Boston isn’t looking so hot today, so chances are the Red Sox and Indians will be delayed somewhat, if not postponed. The Dodgers and Nats were postponed yesterday. Anyway, you’ve got those baseball games plus the day’s NFL action on top of that. Have at it.

Goal for 2017: Reduce Roundtrippers

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

Yankee pitchers over the last few years have been generally good at two things: limiting walks and striking batters out. If there are two skills you want pitchers to have, those two would be pretty good. Both skills combine to minimize runners on base and put little stress on the fielders and the pitchers themselves. In 2016, though, the third component of defense independent pitching–limiting home runs–was severely lacking.

Among the Major League leaders, the Yankees were, well, not leaders. Despite ranking only 13th in the league in FB% overall (so just about average), the only team worse in HR/FB% than the Yankees and their 15.5% mark was Cincinnati Reds and their 15.9% tally. In fact, the Yankees were the only AL team with a HR/FB% over 14%; the Twins clocked in at second worse in the AL at 13.9%. To state the obvious, when you’re near the 2016 Twins in some statistical category, you’re probably not doing a good job. To state the obvious yet again, this is something that needs to get better in 2017.

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

Luckily for the Yankees, the homer happiness may improve by subtraction alone next season. The biggest culprits in surrendering homers on fly balls were Ivan Nova (21.3%) and Nathan Eovaldi (18.7%), both of whom won’t be on the Yankees next year for one reason or another. Unfortunately, three fifths of their potential rotation for 2017 was dismal at keeping the ball in the yard in 2016.

Michael Pineda clocked in at 17% with Luis Severino and Luis Cessa tipping the scales at 16.4% and 19.5% respectively. Severino’s number is skewed slightly, as he didn’t give up a homer as a reliever; as a starter, his HR/FB% was 22.9% (!). Cessa’s numbers were a bit more balanced: 19.3% as a starter, 20% as a reliever.

Luis Cessa Corey Dickerson

In terms of pitches, the culprits for the homers for Pineda and Cessa are split between two. For Pineda, they’re the slider and the cutter; this is problematic because those are the pitches he throws most often. Cessa’s fastball and curveball are taking the brunt of punishment from hitters. Severino’s fastball is the root of all home run evil for him.

Whether it’s varying their selection, improving their location, or perhaps hiding these pitches better, all three righties need to do something to keep the ball in the park in 2017. Chances are, they’ll all be called on to do some heavy lifting for the Yankee pitching staff in 2017 and another year of giving homers left and right is not going to cut it. Like this past season, the margins between success and failure are going to be razor thin next year and the Yankees will need to stifle any hiccups in pitching performance or they could be looking at another year of mediocrity.

Yankees re-sign Larry Rothschild to one-year deal

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees have re-signed pitching coach Larry Rothschild to a one-year contract, the team announced yesterday. Next season will be his 43rd in professional baseball as either a player or instructor, which is pretty nuts. No word on Rothschild’s salary. No one seems to care about coach’s salaries anyway.

Rothschild, 62, was essentially a free agent; his contract expired following the season. Brian Cashman indicated earlier this week the Yankees wanted to bring him back. “(The coaches are) signed except for Larry Rothchild. His contract expires and I will meet with Larry today … I don’t have interest in recommending changes,” said the GM.

The Yankees hired Rothschild away from the Cubs following the 2010 season, and since then they lead the AL in WAR and strikeout-to-walk ratio. They’ve also set a new franchise single-season strikeout record in each of the last three seasons. Of course, there’s more to life than WAR and K/BB. The next good statistical way to evaluate coaches I see will be the first.

With Rothschild re-signed, the Yankees will return the entire coaching staff next season. I thought maybe the team would make a change at third base coach, but apparently not. The manager and coaches are all accounted for already. Now it’s time to make some upgrades to the player personnel.