Poll: Finding a role for Chad Green

(Times Leader)
(Times Leader)

Eighteen games into the 2017 season, the surprise story for the Yankees has been their rotation. The five starters have a combined for a 4.05 ERA (4.00 FIP) in 104.1 innings, and they’ve been especially good over the last two weeks or so. Luis Severino looks like the 2015 version of himself, not the 2016 version, and rookie Jordan Montgomery has acquitted himself well. Masahiro Tanaka has been New York’s worst starter thus far, weirdly. That won’t last all season.

Beyond the current top five, the Yankees also have some pitching depth stashed away for emergencies. Adam Warren and Bryan Mitchell are in the bullpen and could be candidates to start at some point, if necessary. In Triple-A the Yankees have Chad Green and Luis Cessa, both of whom had stints in the rotation last season and handled themselves relatively well. Others like Daniel Camarena and Chance Adams could be options at some point too.

Early on the Yankees lined both Montgomery and Green up for the fifth starter’s spot simply to make sure they had two pitchers ready to go. They planned to wait until April 16th to use the fifth starter, but that didn’t happen. The Yankees decided to use their fifth starter, Montgomery, earlier to make sure everyone else in the rotation got an extra day of rest. I see no reason to regret that decision. The rotation has been pretty good lately.

While Montgomery has held down the fifth spot, Green has been sitting in the minors as a depth arm, taking the ball every fifth day. He has a 2.05 ERA (1.90 FIP) with 31.8% strikeouts and 4.6% walks in 22 innings spread across four outings. This is nothing new for him, of course. Last season Green threw 94.2 Triple-A innings with a 1.52 ERA (2.17 FIP) and great strikeout (27.4%) and walk (5.8%) rates. He dominates at that level.

What we don’t know is whether Green can dominate — or even pitch at the league average rate — at the MLB level. Green will turn 26 next month, so he’s not a young kid, and when you’ve got a pitcher that age throwing that well in Triple-A, you’d hate to waste those bullets, so to speak. Why let him manhandle the minors when he could help you win at the big league level, you know? The Yankees have three options with Green.

Keep him in Triple-A

There’s nothing wrong with stashing Green in Triple-A for the time being. It stinks for him because he wants to be in the big leagues, but it makes sense for the Yankees, who will inevitably need a sixth starter at some point. They’d surely like to have Green (and Cessa) all ready to go when time comes.

Also, keep in mind the single biggest reason Green is in Triple-A is his changeup, or lack thereof. He’s worked to add a changeup (or a splitter) throughout his pro career and hasn’t had much luck. Last season big league lefties hit .287/.351/.663 (.421 wOBA) against him because he had nothing to disrupt their timing. His Triple-A numbers are great, but until the Yankees see progress with his changeup, they might not want to call Green up. Keep him in Scranton and tell him to throw 30 changeups a start until he’s needed in the Bronx.

Put him in the MLB rotation

The Yankees did this for a while last season because they had no other choice, basically. They lost Nathan Eovaldi to injury and Ivan Nova was traded away, and they needed starters. Green had a 5.94 ERA (6.09 FIP) in eight starts and 36.1 innings. That’s terrible, but last year is last year and this year is this year. Green has some MLB experience now and could use that experience to have more success his second try at the show. Happens all the time.

The question with this option is who does Green replace? No one in the current big league rotation deserves to be demoted. I suppose you could argue Green should replace CC Sabathia. Sabathia will be 37 in July and he’s an impending free agent with no real long-term future in pinstripes. The Yankees might bring him back on perpetual one-year contracts Andy Pettitte style, but that’s far from a guarantee. Green, on the other hand, is 25 and could have a long-term role here. The Yankees are in the middle movement, right? Go with the kid!

That’s not going to happen, of course. Sabathia pitched well enough last year and has pitched well so far this year, and let’s not kid ourselves, his $25M salary buys him some rope. If Green were to join the rotation for any reason other than trade or injury, it would almost certainly come at the expense of Montgomery, the low man on the rotation totem pole.

Put him in the MLB bullpen

Tyler Clippard and all his fly balls still make me nervous, but how good has the bullpen been so far? They collectively have a 1.39 ERA (2.10 FIP) in 51.2 innings. Very nice. There’s always room for improvement though, and Green has a big fastball — he averaged 94.4 mph with his heater as a starter in 2016 — and a promising slider. Let him air it out in short relief and very good things may happen. (I predicted they will!)

Making room in the bullpen would be pretty easy. Jonathan Holder, who is very clearly a favorite of the Yankees, has managed to put ten men on base in 5.1 innings despite not walking anyone. Impressive. Sending him down to Triple-A to clear room for Green is an easy move. The Yankees could also send Mitchell to Triple-A to stretch him back out to start as well. That’s an option too.

Point is, Green chances of success as a starter aren’t great right now because he doesn’t have a changeup. He does have a great fastball though — hitters swung and missed at his fastball 16.2% of the time last year, which is nuts (that’s basically triple the MLB average) — not to mention a useful slider. Green truly has the potential to overpower hitters as a reliever, and there’s no such thing as having too many of those guys in your bullpen.

* * *

My guess is the Yankees will keep Green in Triple-A for the time being. Things with the pitching staff are going well right now and hey, why fix what isn’t broken? Eventually the Yankees will need another arm, and when they do, Green will be among the first considered. I want to know what you would do with Green, however. What’s the best course of action with this soon-to-be 26-year-old right-hander?

What should the Yankees do with Chad Green?
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Aaron Judge hasn’t just improved his plate discipline this year, he’s improved his plate coverage too

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

What’s your favorite Aaron Judge home run so far this year? I’m partial to the ball he hit nearly to the flag poles against the White Sox (video) because I saw that one in person. His blast against the Pirates this weekend (video) is another good one. Can’t forget about the Spring Training home run off the scoreboard (video), right? It happened this year. It counts.

We’ve seen Judge hit some massive home runs already this season and I’m sure there are many more to come this year and in the future. I’m excited. The home runs are great and I have a hard time picking my favorite. Picking my favorite Judge base hit is a different story. That one is an easy call. It was his opposite field two-strike single with one out in the ninth inning Sunday. Here’s the contact point:

aaro-judge

That pitch isn’t a strike. That pitch isn’t close to being a strike. Judge was in protect mode with two strikes though, and Tony Watson did show him a fastball away earlier in the at-bat, so it was in the back of his mind. The Yankees were down one run at the time and we were all thinking about Judge putting a ball into orbit to tie the game. Instead, he got a generally unhittable pitch and took it the other way for a hit. (Here’s a GIF of the hit.)

As broadcasters will tell you over and over again, hits to the opposite field are a “nice piece of hitting,” and that two-strike single to right field Sunday certainly qualifies. It helps that Judge is 6-foot-7 with long arms and was able to reach that pitch, but the point is he recognized the pitch and reacted appropriately. He wasn’t sitting on an inside heater he could yank to left field or anything like that. Judge took what Watson gave him and did all he could do with it.

Hits like that one are the difference between 2016 Aaron Judge and 2017 Aaron Judge. As Matt detailed over the weekend, Judge has shown improved plate discipline in the early going and he’s cut down his strikeouts, which was a necessity after last season. Another thing Judge has improved is his plate coverage, which we saw in action on that opposite field single Sunday night. Here is his 2016 contact heat map, via FanGraphs:

aarn-judge-2016-heat-mapLast season Judge was completely hopeless against pitches away. His contact rates on pitches on the outer third of the plate were typically right around 50% or well below, which is terrible. I mean terrible. We’re talking about simple bat-to-ball here, not exit velocity or hard hit rate or anything like that. Just getting the bat on the ball. When the pitch was on the outer third of the plate (and beyond), Judge failed to make contact with more than half his swings. Woof.

(To be fair, I should point out Judge’s contact rate on pitches on the inner half last season was quite encouraging. Big guys like him are usually easily jammed because bringing those long arms in to handle pitches inside is not easy. Judge has always had a surprisingly compact swing — relatively speaking, of course — for a guy his size.)

Now here is Judge’s contact heat map for the 2017 season, again via FanGraphs:

aaron-judge-2017-heat-mapAh, much better. Judge is covering the outer half of the plate this year — this is a heat map, so the brighter the blue, the worse the contact rate, and there isn’t nearly as much bright blue on the outside part of the plate this year as last year — which addresses arguably his biggest weakness from a season ago. Last year pitchers buried him breaking balls or fastballs near the left-handed hitter’s batter box, like the fastball Watson tried to sneak by him Sunday.

Doing a better job covering the outer half is obviously a positive sign, as is the improved plate discipline. This, to me, is most important: Judge has been able to cover the outer half this year without sacrificing the inner half. He’s not focused so much on the outer half that he’s letting pitchers beat him inside. Judge is covering both sides of the plate now. That’s good! Plate coverage is a wonderful thing.

The season is still quite young and we’ll see whether this continues. Baseball is a game of adjustments and it’s only a matter of time until opposing teams come up with another way to attack Judge. They pitched him away, it worked, and now he’s made the adjustment. Judge doesn’t get enough credit for being as good a pure hitter as he is — it’s so easy to stereotype guys like him as meathead sluggers who swing out of their shoes — and we’re seeing it now with the way he’s covering the outer half.

DotF: Abreu dominates; Gregorius homers during rehab stint

Two quick notes to pass along:

  • The Yankees have released RHP Paddy O’Brien, according to Matt Eddy. The system just took a big hit in the prospect name rankings. O’Brien, 24, was New York’s 24th round pick in the 2015 draft. He was a catcher at UC Santana Barbara and the Yankees put him on the mound. O’Brien struck out 27 batters in 21 pro innings, all in rookie ball, but he also walked 13 and allowed 18 runs.
  • LHP Justus Sheffield was included in today’s Notes from the Field feature at Baseball Prospectus. Best of all, his write-up is above the paywall, so you can read the entire thing for free. “Sheffield showed the potential for a future plus fastball with two average grade secondaries,” said the write-up, which was based on Sunday’s start.

Triple-A Scranton (6-2 loss to Louisville)

  • SS Tyler Wade: 1-5, 1 CS, 1 E (fielding) — still hasn’t played a game in the outfield, though I imagine that’ll happen soon … I’m guessing the Yankees wanted to make sure he was ready to go at shortstop in case Ronald Torreyes didn’t cut it
  • LF Clint Frazier: 2-5, 1 2B — five of his last eight hits have gone for extra bases (three doubles, two homers)
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 0-4, 1 BB, 1 K
  • 1B Ji-Man Choi: 1-3, 2 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB, 1 E (fielding) — still crushing the ball
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 1-4, 1 K
  • RF Mason Williams: 2-3, 1 2B, 1 BB — now 9-for-50 (.180) on the season
  • LHP Caleb Smith: 5.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 4/9 GB/FB — 50 of 78 pitches were strikes (64%) … he’s done a very nice job filling in since the LHP Dietrich Enns injury
  • RHP Ben Heller: 1 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 3 WP, 1/0 GB/FB — 21 of 32 pitches were strikes (66%), though one of the walks was intentional … I suppose that doesn’t count against the pitch count anymore since intentional walks are automatic, right?

[Read more…]

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Sigh. Another day without Yankees baseball. Getting real sick of this, you guys. Since the Yankees have been rained out, I suggest listening to this podcast I recorded with Zone Coverage earlier today. We talked about the Twins briefly before diving into a good half-hour of Yankees talk. If you can’t watch the Yankees play tonight, might as well listen to me bumble on about them instead, right? Right.

Here is an open thread for the evening. The Mets were rained out as well, but MLB Network is showing a regional game, plus there are a few NBA playoff games on as well. Talk about those games, Derek Jeter buying the Marlins, or anything else here as long as it’s not religion or politics.

Report: Derek Jeter part of ownership group with deal to buy Marlins for $1.3 billion

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

It looks like Derek Jeter‘s dream of being an owner is coming true. According to Barry Jackson, Jeter is part of an ownership group that has agreed in principle to purchase the Miami Marlins from Jeffrey Loria for $1.3 billion. There are still some details to work through, plus MLB and the other owners have to give approval, so the sale is not final.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is leading the ownership group and will be the “control person” while Jeter will have an “active role” with the franchise, according to Jackson. Sounds like a Magic Johnson situation. The Guggenheim Partners own controlling interest in the Dodgers, but Johnson owns a piece and is basically the face of the ownership group.

Loria has been looking to sell the team for months now and at one point reportedly had a $1.6 billion handshake agreement in place, but that fell apart due to political reasons. Loria purchased the Marlins for $158.5M back in 2002. He sold the Expos to MLB and bought the Marlins from John Henry, who then bought the Red Sox. It was essentially three sales at once.

Jeter has made it no secret he wants to one day own a team, and while he won’t have controlling interest in the Marlins, he has a piece of the pie. I have to say, I always figured Alex Rodriguez would buy into the Marlins. Not Jeter. The team is right in A-Rod‘s backyard. A-Rod buys the Marlins and Jeter buys the Rays. That’s how it’s supposed to work!

In all seriousness, it’s going to be kinda weird seeing the Cap’n promoting the Marlins, huh? What if he throws a ceremonial first pitch in a Marlins jersey? That’s going to be weird. I’m sure Hal Steinbrenner will love cutting Jeter and the Marlins a revenue sharing check too. That won’t be awkward at all.

Tonight’s game rained out, doubleheader set for July 16th

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Another night with no Yankees baseball. Tonight’s series opener at Fenway Park has been postponed due to inclement weather, the Red Sox announced. The game will be made up as part of a split admission doubleheader on Sunday, July 16th. That’s the Sunday after the All-Star break. The games will start at 1pm ET and 8pm ET.

The weather forecast in Boston is pretty terrible — it’s supposed to rain nonstop from now right through tomorrow afternoon, basically — and the next two days won’t be much better, but those games should at least be playable. Between off-days and the postponement, the Yankees have played three games in the last six days.

As far as the Yankees are concerned, the postponement is good news because this means they will play one fewer game without Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius. The Yankees have played well in the super early going this season, but I’d still rather see them at full strength for as many games as possible. This rainout helps.

Neither team has announced their pitching plans for the next two days, though I assume both clubs will simply push everyone back. That means Luis Severino vs. Rick Porcello on Wednesday night, and Masahiro Tanaka vs. Chris Sale on Thursday night. We’ll see what the teams say, but that seems simple enough, right?

I do believe this is the Yankees’ first weather delay of any kind this season. It’s definitely the first postponement. I’m pretty sure we haven’t even seen the tarp for an in-game delay yet. Anyway, this is now six off-days in the first 24 games of the season for the Yankees. Not enough baseball!

Looking for positive signs amid Greg Bird’s early season slump

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

Remember Spring Training? It was a fun time. The Yankees were winning on a near daily basis, the prospects were all playing well, and a now healthy Greg Bird looked like a budding middle of the order force. Bird hit .451/.556/1.098 during Grapefruit League play, and he led all players in homers (8) and extra-base hits (16). If nothing else, he looked healthy after missing last season with shoulder surgery.

Because baseball can be a jerk, Bird has followed up his monster Spring Training performance with a dreadful start to the regular season. He’s hitting .104/.204/.229 (23 wRC+) in 54 plate appearances, and basically all his success has come in one game, that 3-for-3 with a home run and a double effort against the Cardinals last Sunday. We all hoped that would be the start of big things for Bird. Instead, he’s gone 1-for-19 (.053) since. Woof.

Players go through slumps all the time. Sometimes right out of the gate to start the season. It’s not often a talented young player hits .104/.204/.229 in a span of 54 plate appearances, however. When they do that, they tend to find themselves back in Triple-A. The Yankees are clearly giving Bird some rope here. To me, the biggest red flag so far has been this:

greg-bird

That’s Matt Andriese blowing a 92 mph fastball right by Bird. He’s late on it. Second straight pitch too! Bird swung and missed at a nearly identical fastball the previous pitch. We saw Bird punish all sorts of fastballs in Spring Training. He was turning around 97 mph heaters like it was no big deal. Now he’s getting beat by 92 mph fastballs in the zone? Yikes.

Here, for reference, are all the fastballs Bird has swung at and missed this season, via Baseball Savant:

greg-bird-fastball-whiffs

Swinging and missing at back-to-back 92 mph fastballs from Andriese two Thursdays ago was not an isolated incident. Bird has been doing it pretty much all month. Pitchers haven’t needed Aroldis Chapman velocity to get Bird to swing and miss at a fastball. Anything at 92 mph and above has given him trouble, even when it’s out over the plate.

As bad as Bird as been, there are some positive trends in his game that suggest maybe he’s getting closer to snapping out of it. You have to squint your eyes a little, but the trends are there. The question is whether they’re meaningful this early in the season and in this few plate appearances. For example, here are Bird’s strikeout rate and contact rate on pitches in the zone, via FanGraphs:

greg-bird-plate-discipline

Okay, that’s a start. The strikeout rate is coming down and the contact rate on pitches in the zone is going up.  Earlier this year Bird was making contact with fewer than 50% of his swings against pitches in the strike zone. That is unfathomably awful. When the pitch was in the zone, Aaron Judge managed to make contact with 74.3% of his swings last year, and Judge was terrible last season.

So while Bird couldn’t handle Andriese’s 92 mph heat two weeks ago, he has gradually been doing a better job getting the bat on the ball and avoiding strikeouts since then. That’s sort of a prerequisite for being a good baseball player. Making contact. Bird has a healthy 9.3% walk rate, but walks alone are not enough. He needs to do a better job making contact, especially on pitches in the zone, and he’s started to do that. Progress!

Making contact is one thing. Lots of players can do that. Pete Kozma can do that. Making quality contact is another. Quality contact is what separates good hitters from everyone else. Simply getting the bat on the ball isn’t enough. You have to be able to drive it too. Here is Bird’s hard contact rate, again via FanGraphs. It also shows a recent uptick:

greg-bird-hard-contact

Here’s something that surprised me: Bird has a 48.4% hard contact rate this season. That’s really freaking good. The MLB average is 31.1%. Going into yesterday’s games 228 players had batted at least 50 times this season, and only 13 had a higher hard-hit rate than Bird. Judge, who has been hitting mammoth home run after mammoth home run, has a 47.7% hard contact rate. This is a big deal. Bird is coming back from major shoulder surgery and he’s impacting the baseball. Good news!

Those two graphs are connected, of course. Bird is hitting the ball harder because he’s making more contact on pitches in the zone. And, as always, Bird is getting the ball airborne. His 30.0% ground ball rate is well below the 44.3% league average and ranked 18th lowest among those 228 hitters with at least 50 plate appearances prior to yesterday’s games. Hitting the ball hard in the air is Bird’s thing. Hit the ball hard in the air and extra-base hits will come. Bird is still doing that. Remember this?

greg-bird-fly-out

Bird hit a fly ball there Saturday afternoon. He hit the ball hard and he hit it in the air, and it was just short of the wall. Bird also had a line drive back up the middle taken away Sunday when Ivan Nova stuck out his glove and caught it. Bird has been dreadful so far this year. No doubt about it. But I can’t help but feel there’s a little bad luck in his .133 BABIP (!), especially given his hard contact rate.

Did you notice Bird’s positive trends — the improved hard contact rate and contact rate in the zone — started at roughly the same time? That all started when Bird came back from the nagging ankle injury and that illness. He spent five straight days on the bench earlier in the season due to the ankle and the illness. Since he’s returned, Bird is making more contact and hitting the ball harder. Coincidence? Maybe! But yeah, probably not. He’s probably healthier now than he was on Opening Day.

There is no denying Bird has been awful in the early going this season. And if he continues to be awful, the Yankees will have no choice but to consider sending him to Triple-A to get things straightened out. I don’t know when they’ll have that conversation. Maybe next week, maybe next month, or maybe at the All-Star break. But it’ll have to happen eventually if this continues. Sending Bird out there day after day to get his lunch handed to him helps no one.

At the same time, we are starting to see the old Greg Bird at the plate, even if the results aren’t there yet. He’s making more contact on pitches in the zone. He’s hitting the ball hard and he’s hitting it in the air. He’s talking his walks. I’d be worried if Bird was still missing hittable fastballs, or if he was beating the ball into the ground. That’s not happening now. At least not as often as it did a few weeks ago. Small sample size caveats always apply in April and that is no different here. We have to reach a little bit because Bird has been so bad, but there are some reasons to believe he is inching closer to getting out of this early season funk.