Here is your open thread for the evening. The Rangers, Devils, and Knicks are playing, and there’s college basketball on as well. You folks know how these thread work by now, so have at it.
As part of their bullpen overhaul this offseason, the Yankees sent Frankie Cervelli to the Pirates for lefty Justin Wilson, clearing the way for John Ryan Murphy to take over as Brian McCann‘s backup. Wilson is one of three lefties New York has acquired this winter, joining Andrew Miller and Chasen Shreve. Miller is going to be a big part of the late innings next year while Shreve will probably be an up-and-down arm, at least at first.
Wilson’s role seems to be something in between Miller and Shreve. Not an automatic high-leverage option but probably not someone who has to fight his way onto the roster in Spring Training either. Wilson does have two minor league options remaining but I don’t get the sense he’s in danger of starting the year in Triple-A either, at least not unless he has a miserable showing in camp. For now, he’s part of the bullpen picture.
Brian Cashman told reporters at the GM Meetings he’s been trying to acquire Wilson for years — “As a matter of fact, I had this discussion with Pittsburgh two years ago. This exact proposal,” said the GM to Brendan Kuty in November — so the Yankees obviously like something about him. He is a hard-throwing lefty and teams love hard-throwing lefties, even if they have control problems. It’s no surprise Cashman had long-standing interest.
The thing is, I don’t know a whole lot about Wilson. A quick glance at the internet tells me he’s 27 and has a 2.99 ERA (3.45 FIP) in 138.1 career big league innings, but there’s more to the story. What does he throw besides a big fastball? Can he get lefties and righties out, or is he strictly a matchup guy? That sort of stuff. So consider this an introduction to the Yankees’ newest lefty reliever. Well, second newest.
Wilson, who was drafted out of Fresno State in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, has been in the big leagues for two full years plus one September. He was a starter throughout his minor league career and has been nothing but a reliever in MLB. Through the years, Baseball America (subs. req’d) noted Wilson’s spotty command was likely to land him in the bullpen long-term, and here we are.
During his two full years in MLB, Wilson has improved his strikeout rate while actually performing a tiny bit better against righties than lefties, at when it comes to strikeouts and ground balls. Here’s what he’s done against lefties and righties the last two years (I’m ignoring his September call-up in 2012 because he threw only 4.1 innings):
|LHB wOBA||LHB K%||LHB uBB%||LHB GB%||RHB wOBA||RHB K%||RHB uBB%||RHB GB%|
Note: I removed intentional walks from the walk rate, hence uBB%. Wilson walked five batters intentionally last year, 23rd most in all of baseball, and all five were right-handed hitters. It was skewing the data.
Okay then, so Wilson’s not just a left-handed specialist. His numbers against righties and lefties have been pretty similar these last two years, though it’s worth noting he faced 181 lefties and 370 righties, so there’s quite the sample size difference. That said, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle clearly didn’t have any reservations about using Wilson against right-handed hitters. Looking at the numbers, it’s easy to see why.
Consistently throwing strikes has always been Wilson’s bugaboo and he hasn’t shown any improvement throughout his career. He walked 10.7% of the batters he faced in Single-A, 11.8% in Double-A, 11.9% in Triple-A, and 10.6% in MLB. Wilson’s not a huge guy, he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 lbs., so it’s not like he’s got a Randy Johnson thing going on where he just has to learn how to control his body. Throwing strikes is hard. That’s all it is.
The good news is that even with those control problems, Wilson is an effective Major League pitcher against both righties and lefties. That’s a pretty valuable skill out of the bullpen. Like fellow offseason pickup Andrew Miller, Wilson is a true one-inning reliever who just so happens to be left-handed. (Jacob Lindgren, last year’s top draft pick, projects to be the same type of pitcher.) That is pretty darn cool. LOOGYs have their place, but lefties who can get anyone out are better.
As mentioned, Wilson throws pretty hard, sitting in the mid-90s regularly with his four-seam fastball. As a matter of fact, 38 left-handed relievers threw at least 40 innings last season, and only Aroldis Chapman (101.2 … lol) had a higher average four-seam fastball than Wilson (96.4). (Jake McGee was also at 96.4 mph.) Wilson throws very hard by southpaw standards.
The four-seamer isn’t Wilson’s only fastball though. He also throws a sinker and a cutter, which averaged 95.9 mph and 90.1 mph, respectively. So he has three fastballs — one that cuts away from lefties/in to righties, one that goes down, and one that stays true. Wilson also throws an upper-70s curveball and an upper-80s changeup, but rarely. PitchFX recorded 1,019 of his pitches last year and 67 were curveballs. Only eight were changeups. That’s less than 8% of his total pitches combined.
Wilson is basically a four-seamer/sinker/cutter pitcher with a show-me curveball. Here’s how the three fastballs have done at getting swings and misses as well as ground balls these last two years:
|FF Whiff%||FF GB%||SNK Whiff%||SNK GB%||CT Whiff%||CT GB%|
Based on the swing-and-miss and ground ball rates, the sinker is the worst of Wilson’s three fastballs. Or at least it was last year. Back in 2013 it was really good. These things can fluctuate from year to year because relievers inherently work in small samples. That’s part of the reason why they’re so volatile from year to year.
Wilson’s four-seamer and cutter are both above-average pitches based on the swing-and-miss and grounder rates. Comfortably above-average too. Here’s a good look at Wilson’s four-seamer (first and third strikeouts) and his cutter (second and fourth strikeouts) in action:
I wasn’t quite sure what the Yankees got for Cervelli other than a reliever with decent numbers in his two MLB seasons. Wilson clearly has pretty good stuff, namely some lively fastballs that miss bats and get grounders, though his shaky control probably means he’ll never be regular in high-leverage spots. Most importantly, he’s not a specialist. He’s shown the ability to get both righties and lefties out.
Wilson has a little Boone Logan in him in that he’s a lefty with velocity held back by shaky command. (Wilson definitely doesn’t have Logan’s slider though.) The Yankees were able to straighten Logan out in his late-20s and get some nice years out of him, which is what they’re surely hoping to do with Wilson. He figures to slot into a middle relief role alongside Adam Warren and David Carpenter, setting up Miller and Dellin Betances, so we should see quite a bit of him in 2015.
As discussed earlier, the return of Stephen Drew impacts the Yankees in many ways, particularly with their roster construction. Drew’s return could mean the end of Brendan Ryan, it could mean Rob Refsnyder is going back to Triple-A, or it could mean Didi Gregorius is going to be flipped in a trade. Lots of possibilities.
What we do know is that Drew will play — at least at first, they didn’t sign him not to play — and that means the Yankee will have five left-handed hitters in the regular starting lineup. Three of the remaining four regulars are switch-hitters and one’s a righty. Here’s the quick breakdown:
Dating back to the early-1990s, when then-GM Gene Michael was ahead of the curve in emphasizing patience and wearing down pitchers, the Yankees have prioritized switch-hitters. Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada are the most notable examples, but over the years there was also Ruben Sierra, Tim Raines, Chili Davis, Melky Cabrera, Nick Swisher, and others. The switch-hitters add balance and make it tough for opposing managers to match up.
The Yankees have a weird lineup dynamic right now because it’s both left-handed heavy and balanced at the same. Against a right-handed pitcher, they’ll have eight guys hitting from the left side of the plate. Nine if Garrett Jones plays instead of A-Rod. But, against a lefty starter, they’d still have four guys on the right side of the plate and two lefties (Gardner and Ellsbury) who can hold their own against southpaws. That doesn’t include fourth outfielder Chris Young, who I have to think will play against lefties. What else would he do?
Once upon a time — as in last year before Jon Lester and David Price were traded — having five lefties in your regular lineup in the AL East was less than ideal. That isn’t the case anymore. The best southpaw in the division at this point is probably Drew Smyly, at least until Matt Moore returns at midseason and proves he’s all the way back from Tommy John surgery. Mark Buehrle, Wade Miley, and Wei-Yin Chen are the only other enemy southpaws in the division. And, as Buster Olney (subs. req’d) noted yesterday, those three aren’t tough on lefties:
If you dig inside the numbers more, even the left-handers in the division don’t wipe out left-handed hitters. Mark Buehrle is not a hard thrower, and left-handers typically have done about the same against him as right-handers; last year, lefties had a .718 OPS against him, while right-handers were at .752. Left-handed hitters had a .670 OPS against Wei-Yin Chen, right-handers .746. Wade Miley, acquired this winter by the Red Sox, had .727/.752 OPS splits last season against lefties and righties, respectively.
On paper, the Yankees’ lineup seems to match up well with the right-handed heavy AL East pitching staffs. Plus there are more righty starters than lefty starters in baseball in general — last season, righty starting pitchers faced 43,945 batters while lefties faced 16,069, so it’s roughly a 75/25 split — so the team is in good shape when it plays other opponents too. And of course left-handed hitters have a distinct advantage in Yankee Stadium. The Bombers have plenty of lefties for all those righty starters and enough switch-hitters to maintain balance.
Obviously the offense is a far cry from what it was a few years ago, when Swisher was hitting eighth and Curtis Granderson was clubbing 40+ dingers as the third or fourth best player on the team. I do think the Yankees have upgraded offensively at shortstop and third bases this year, maybe even at second base too, but it’s still a below-average group overall. Being so lefty heavy will help in Yankee Stadium and against all those righty starters, yet the club isn’t ultra-vulnerable against southpaws either.
Some serious and sad news to pass along. Yankees farmhand and 2012 first round pick Ty Hensley was attacked during the holidays, his attorney Jacob Diesselhorst has confirmed. Hensley had to be hospitalized and has since returned home.
Diesselhorst told me Hensley was jumped from behind and assaulted while at a home in The Village, a suburb of Oklahoma City. Hensley was knocked unconscious and beaten. He suffered head and “pretty significant facial injuries,” including multiple fractures to his jaw.
“Ty is a strong young man and we’re confident once his injuries heal up that he’ll be back to himself,” Diesselhorst told me. “He does have severe injuries though.”
Agent Rob Martin released the following statement (via Chris Cotillo:):
“On behalf of Ty Hensley and his family, we are able to confirm that Ty was hospitalized after being brutally attacked and assaulted over the holidays in Oklahoma City.
Ty was treated and released from the hospital and is presently recovering at home from the injuries he sustained after being knocked unconscious in this vicious attack. Ty and his family are grateful for all of the support, thoughts, and prayers he’s received from friends, fans, and well-wishers. We respectfully request privacy during this difficult time.
For those of us that know Ty best, this attack was shocking and disturbing both in it’s severity as well as the fact that it could not have happened to a nicer, more good-natured young man. While Ty always handles adversity remarkably well, he’s taken it to a new level in meeting this challenge head on. His pain tolerance, attitude, and determination to get back on the mound as soon as possible are literally off-the-charts. This is a young man with rare character and unbelievable toughness. Please direct all media inquiries to his attorneys Rob Martin (ICON Sports) & Jacob Diesselhorst (Maples, Nix & Diesselhorst). Thank you.”
Hensley is planning to press charges but none have been filed yet, according to Diesselhorst. Police in The Village investigated the incident and have recommended an aggravated assault and battery charge.
The Yankees selected Hensley out of an Oklahoma high school with the 30th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He had a 2.93 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 30.2 innings split between the Rookie GCL Yanks and Short Season Staten Island last summer. Hensley missed all of 2013 following hip and hernia surgery.
The attack and injuries likely mean Hensley will miss the start of the season, if not longer, but baseball is a secondary concern now. He’s a 21-year-old kid with his entire life ahead of him. Returning to full health after an attack like this is the priority. Get well soon, Ty.
Update (3:54pm ET): Jacob Unruh has more details on the attack. Hensley was attacked by Anthony Morales, an ex-football player from the area who played at Weber State and was in training camp with the Carolina Panthers last year. This is him. Morales was “found by an unidentified female standing over Hensley kicking and hitting him while he was lying on the ground following an argument over sports and signing bonuses,” according to Unruh. In addition to jaw fractures, Hensley lost a tooth, had lacerations on his lip and chin, and swollen eyes. Geez.
Update (4:46pm): The district attorney in Oklahoma County has filed felony aggravated assault and battery charges against Morales. The Yankees say they are aware of the incident but declined comment. The attack happened on December 28th and Hensley’s lawyer said Ty refused to tell Morales the size of his signing bonus, which prompted the attack. What a nut job.
Earlier this week the Yankees agreed to re-sign infielder Stephen Drew in a move that didn’t seem to go over too well, to put it nicely. It’s a nothing contract, reportedly $5M for one year with $1.5M in incentives, but bringing back a guy who hit .150/.219/.271 (32 wRC+) in pinstripes last year was never going to be popular. Plus the Drew family seems to be polarizing in general.
The Yankees have long coveted Drew — they offered him more money than the Red Sox two years ago, but he went to Boston in part due to uncertain playing time based on the health of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez — and it seems his price simply dropped into their comfort range this offseason. During the holidays Joel Sherman reported Drew was seeking $9M to $10M. The Yankees were able to get him for half that.
Anyway, the return of Drew impacts the roster in several ways. Chad Jennings did his usual fine job breaking down the impact of the signing yesterday. Now here’s what I think.
So A Trade Is Coming, Right?
I don’t know if this is a new phenomenon or if I’m just starting to notice it now, but every time the Yankees make a move these days, the immediate response seems to be “this is a precursor to a trade.” When they traded for all those relievers a few weeks ago, it was because they were planning to trade their bullpen depth to add a starter. When they re-signed Drew, it was because they’re planning to trade Didi Gregorius or Rob Refsnyder for Cole Hamels. Something like that.
That is very possible. Drew puts the Yankees in a better position to deal a young middle infielder for a high-end starter, though it would go against everything else they’ve done this offseason. The Yankees have gotten younger with just about every move this winter and it appears to be a concerted effort, not a coincidence. Turning around and trading a bunch of that youth for someone like Hamels would be a total change in direction. A complete 180. The Yankees have done this before, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented, but I don’t see it.
And there’s also the money. If the Yankees were going to absorb a huge contract like Hamels’, I think they’d sooner sign Max Scherzer or James Shields, forfeiting the draft pick but keeping the real live young players. Perhaps the plan is to trade Gregorius or Refsnyder for a younger, cheap starter. Someone like … Shane Greene? That wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. Packaging a bunch of players for a young pitchers gets you who these days? Tyson Ross? That’s a lot of work to get someone like him.
A trade is definitely possible because a trade is always possible. I would never put a huge splash by the Yankees. Those moves are in their DNA. I just think there’s a definite emphasis on getting younger for the first time in a very long time by the Yankees. They’ve been after Gregorius for years — they’ve been trying to get him since at least the 2013 Winter Meetings — and they finally landed him this winter, right when they desperately needed a young shortstop. I would be very surprised if the Drew signing did in fact lead to a young infielder being traded.
Middle Infield Depth Is A Good Thing, You Know
To me, re-signing Drew boils down to this: New York’s shortstop depth chart was Gregorius and Brendan Ryan, and their second base depth chart was Refsnyder and Jose Pirela. Three unproven guys and Ryan. I’ve been saying for weeks that a young middle infield tandem like Gregorius-Refsnyder made me nervous as heck, and while Drew doesn’t significantly improve the situation by himself, he does help. Drew gives the team protection at both second and short, where Refsynder and/or Didi could prove to be overmatched. Simply put, the Yankees added another able body at a hard to fill position(s).
The Kids Aren’t Blocked, Stop Saying They’re Blocked
A one-year contract blocks no one. Big money, long-term contracts block prospects. A one-year deal? That’s no obstacle. In fact, I think the Drew signing actually benefits Refsnyder developmentally. Granted, he loses out on a potential big league job come Opening Day and that sucks for him, but now he’ll go back to Triple-A to work on his defense, which has always been the concern. He won’t have to learn on the job. I mean, he will eventually, but not right now, not two years after changing positions.
The jump from Triple-A to MLB is tougher right now than it has ever been because of all the information teams have. I can’t repeat that enough. Super-elite prospects — I’m talking top two or three in the game — like Xander Bogaerts, Gregory Polanco, and the late Oscar Taveras all came up and stunk last season when everyone was certain they’d rake. Refsnyder (and Pirela) are not close to that level of prospect, and non-elite prospects are not the guys you just hand jobs. They’re the ones who have to force the issue.
Remember, the Yankees cut both Alfonso Soriano and Brian Roberts last season when they were terrible, and that’s when they didn’t have appealing replacements. They dumped Soriano and called up Zelous Wheeler. They dumped Roberts when they acquired Drew. Now, if Drew stinks, they have Refsnyder waiting and can more quickly pull the trigger and make a change. A one-year contract for Drew isn’t a roadblock for Refsnyder, it’s a bridge.
Et tu, Brendan?
Although it seems like Refsnyder will return to Triple-A thanks to Drew, I’m not so sure this move doesn’t mean the end of Brendan Ryan. I don’t think the Yankees will cut him right now — like I said, middle infield depth is hard to find, and Ryan will be handy if Drew or Gregorius or whoever pops a hamstring in Spring Training — but he might have to fight for his roster spot in camp. (For the record, I think Eury Perez will be designated for assignment to clear a 40-man spot for Drew.)
Before adding Drew, the Yankees needed Ryan because he was the only player in the organization other than Gregorius who could legitimately play shortstop at the big league level. Now they have Drew to do that. The club could opt to carry the more versatile Pirela on the bench instead of Ryan, for example. Maybe they decide to carry Refsnyder anyway and use him in some three-man platoon with Gregorius and Drew. There’s no reason to get rid of Ryan just yet, but come Opening Day, he might not have a place on the 25-man roster.
When the Yankees first traded for Drew and stuck him at second base last year, his inexperience was obvious. He had never played a position other than shortstop in his professional career and it showed. I remember there were some issues on double play pivots and indecisiveness on cut-off plays. But I though he improved quite a bit by the end of the season. He wasn’t a natural, but Drew had the raw athleticism to make tough plays and he was gaining experience.
With Drew at second as opposed to Refsnyder or Pirela, the Yankees will field a regular infield with three above-average defenders and one average defender. The average defender being Drew, who could become above-average with more experience. They’ll also have an above-average defender in Brian McCann behind the plate as well as Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury in two outfield spots. The only bad defender on the field will be Carlos Beltran in right. The lineup is sketchy and the rotation is risky, but man, the Yankees are going to catch the ball next year. They haven’t had a defense this good in ages.
Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Nets, and Rangers are all playing, plus there’s the usual slate of college basketball as well. Talk about whatever’s on your mind right here.
Yesterday afternoon four players were elected to the Hall of Fame, including ex-Yankee Randy Johnson and longtime Yankees rival Pedro Martinez. Johnson eventually arrived in New York in 2005 after the Yankees — and George Steinbrenner in particular — had wanted him in pinstripes for years, dating back to his time with the Mariners.
Aside from the whole “he’s one of the best pitchers in the game and would be great on our team” thing, I don’t remember the Yankees longing for Pedro the way they did Johnson all those years. As it turns out though, Martinez wanted to be a Yankee, and the club was close to acquiring him a few times over the years. Here’s what Pedro told Christian Red earlier this week:
“I was almost traded to New York more than once. A lot of people don’t know that. I wanted the trade to happen. I wanted out of Montreal. I wanted to go to the best team out there,” Martinez told the Daily News during a December interview in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, when he attended David Ortiz’s charity golf event. “I saw John Wetteland, Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker go to different teams. But the one that ended up winning most of the time was the Yankees.”
“I saw Wetteland become a champion right away. I wanted a team like that. I was in trade talks every year. Every year it seemed like the Yankees were in it,” said Martinez. “So I wanted to go to one of those teams that would give me a legit chance to win.”
Back during the mid-to-late-1990s, the Yankees always seemed to be seeking an ace-caliber starter even though the team was very successful and had solid veterans around a young Andy Pettitte. That search led them to Roger Clemens in 1999 — Clemens had just won back-to-back Cy Youngs with the Blue Jays — but they always seemed to be after guys like Johnson and Chuck Finley. Apparently they were after Pedro too.
The Expos traded Martinez during the 1997-98 offseason because he was a year away from free agency and they wouldn’t be able to afford him, so off to Boston he went for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas (who the Yankees traded to the Sox for Mike Stanley). You laugh now, but Baseball America ranked Pavano as the ninth best prospect in baseball before the 1998 season and Armas was a year away from jumping on top 100 prospects lists as well. They were a big deal back then.
Pedro wanted to come to New York and was disappointed to go to the Red Sox, who were swept in three games by the Indians in the 1995 ALDS, their only postseason appearance from 1991-97. Here’s more from Martinez, via Red:
“When I was traded to Boston, I was shocked. Boston had finished in (fourth) place (in ’97), just like (Montreal). I had asked (Expos manager) Felipe (Alou) and Jim Beattie, the (Expos’) GM at that time, to at least give me the honor to trade me to a team where I would have a legit chance to win, to contend,” said Martinez. “It was the total opposite.”
You folks all know what happened after that. Martinez put together one of the most dominant stretches in baseball history, the Red Sox contended and eventually won their first World Series in nearly a century, thanks in large part to Pedro. He was the centerpiece of those late-1990/early-2000 Red Sox teams and always seemed to be in the middle of something whenever he faced the Yankees.
But imagine if Pedro was on the other side and doing all of that in pinstripes. The Yankees didn’t have the prospect power to match the Pavano/Armas package — according to Baseball America, their top prospects heading into 1998 were Rickey Ledee (ranked 46th in baseball), Mike Lowell (71st), and Jackson Melian (91st), and the Expos didn’t need Lowell because they had a young Shane Andrews — especially since Montreal seemed to focus on pitching, so it wasn’t necessarily a case of not wanting to surrender the prospects. They simply didn’t have them.
Had the Yankees been able to land Martinez though, man everything would be different. He was a true difference-maker, the kind of player who shifts the balance of power within a division, but the Yankees were already atop the AL East anyway. Would the 1998 Yankees have actually been better with had Pedro instead of, say, Hideki Irabu, who they picked up that offseason? Or does it mean they still would have acquired Irabu but passed up Orlando Hernandez in Spring Training?
Trading for Pedro almost certainly means no Clemens during the 1998-99 offseason, which opens another can of worms. As Buster Olney wrote at the time, Clemens had a full no-trade clause and was using it to control his market, with the Yankees or one of the two Texas teams his preferred destinations. Martinez in pinstripes could have meant Clemens with the Rangers, and, in case you forgot, the Yankees and Rangers met in the 1999 ALDS.
And, of course, what in the world happens in 2003 and 2004? There’s no Pedro to blow Game Seven for the Red Sox in 2003 and no Pedro to help the Red Sox come back from down three games to none in 2004. Are the Sox even relevant those years without Martinez? He helped turn that whole franchise around. No Pedro could mean no Manny Ramirez in 2001 because Boston would have been a less desirable destination for trade targets, and geez, no Manny in Boston means a lot more wins for the Yankees from 2001-08. He crushed the Yanks.
In the end, this is all a guessing game. A trade to the Yankees would have changed Pedro’s entire career path — he would have worked with different coaches, with different trainers, with different teammates, in a different ballpark and city, it would have changed everything. And, considering what he turned into, it’s likely he would have been a worse pitcher with the Yankees than he was with the Red Sox. Me? I think Pedro would have been a boss in pinstripes and the team would have been even better in the late-90s/early-00s, winning another World Series or two. But that’s just me.
Pedro getting his wish and coming to New York would have changed everything for everyone, and that’s why it’s so fun to think about. Endless hypotheticals.