Spring Training Game Thread: A Two-Day Road Trip

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the first time this spring, the Yankees are on the east coast of Florida. They made the long trek across the state to West Palm Beach for this afternoon’s game against the Astros. And because they have to play the Nationals at West Palm Beach tomorrow — the Astros and Nationals share the Ballpark at the Palm Beaches, which just opened this year — they’re going to stay in town tonight rather than go all the way back to Tampa.

Anyway, this afternoon both Adam Warren and Luis Severino will make their latest Grapefruit League appearances as they hope to secure Opening Day rotation spots. I still think Warren will end up in the bullpen, but we’ll see. Also, Ben Heller has quietly had a nice spring and he’ll pitch today as well. Even if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, I’m certain we’ll see Heller at some point this summer. Here is the Astros’ lineup and here are the players the Yankees sent across the state:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. 1B Greg Bird
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. RF Aaron Judge
  7. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  8. C Kyle Higashioka
  9. SS Tyler Wade
    RHP Adam Warren

Available Pitchers: RHP Luis Severino, RHP Ben Heller, and RHP Gio Gallegos are all expected to pitch after Warren. RHP J.R. Graham, LHP Jason Gurka, RHP Jonathon Holder, RHP Travis Hissong, RHP Matt Marsh, RHP Cale Coshow, RHP Andrew Schwaab, and LHP Nestor Cortes are the extra arms. Hissong, Marsh, Coshow, Schwaab, and Cortes are all up from minor league camp for the two-day road trip.

Available Position Players: C Wilkin Castillo, 1B Ji-Man Choi, 2B Gleyber Torres, SS Pete Kozma, 3B Donovan Solano, LF Clint Frazier, CF Dustin Fowler, and RF Billy McKinney will be the second string off the bench. C Austin Romine, C Radley Haddad, IF Thairo Estrada, IF Ruben Tejada, and UTIL Rob Refsnyder are the extra players. Haddad and Estrada are up from minor league camp.

It is nice and sunny in West Palm Beach today. Good baseball weather. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET, and if you’re in the Houston market, you can watch on ROOT Sports. If not, MLB.tv is your only option. MLB Network is not showing the game live. Enjoy the game.

Looking at the Yankee Offense via Steamer Projections

(Kim Klement | USA TODAY Sports)
(Kim Klement | USA TODAY Sports)

Insert cliche about anticipation here. As we’ve been over since the last out of the World Series was recorded, we’re ready for baseball to begin again, aren’t we? That snowstorm last week may have made us feel trapped in winter for a few days, but the calendar is ticking away and we’re getting closer to Opening Day. The end of the WBC this week will likely speed things up as well, as it feels like a hill that needs to be conquered before we speed to the real season (but definitely a fun hill at that!).

The Yankees this year are somewhat up in the air. No one’s really expecting them to do anything much in the way of competing–myself included–but you can’t help but dream with all the potential on the team. Frankly, this is a best-of-both-worlds scenario and part of why I’m so looking forward to this season. If the Yankees are ‘bad,’ well, so be it. At least there are a bunch of young, exciting guys to watch. If they happen to compete? Awesome! An unexpected surprise. Even though I’ll watch and listen to most every game and definitely care in the moment, on a macro level, this season is going to be the epitome of Joe’s old maxim of Zen Baseball: just relax and enjoy it.

Regardless of that, curiosity’s got the best of me, so I wanted to take a look at what we might be in store for in 2017. We’ve already taken a look at ZiPS, so let’s try our hand at the Steamer projections for the Yankees.

Leading things off, Gary Sanchez paces the team in fWAR projection. Steamer projects him for 3.6 fWAR this year. Didi Gregorius follows him at 2.2 and Chase Headley rounds out the top three at 2.0. I was a bit surprised to see Headley at the third position, but Steamer likes his defense a lot and pairing that with near average offense (96 wRC+) gives him a solid projection. I’d sign up for that from Headley in a heartbeat.

In terms of wRC+, Steamer gives the nod to Greg Bird, projecting him for a 123 mark, just a head of Matt Holliday at 121 and Sanchez at 118. All in all, Steamer projects six Yankees to be over 100 in terms of wRC+: those three as well as Brett Gardner (101), Aaron Judge (106), and Chris Carter (107). Last year, only Brian McCann (103), Carlos Beltran (135), and Sanchez (171) were above average for the team in a significant number of plate appearances. That, frankly, is a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t mean this stuff will actually happen, but that would be a welcomed sight after last year’s mostly disappointing offense.

In terms of counting stats, Sanchez is projected to lead the team with 27 homers, then Bird at 23, followed by Carter at 22, though in limited playing time. Steamer also has Judge at “only” 17 homers, but also with under 400 PA. Adjusting him up to 500 PA gets him in the neighborhood of 22-23.

Regarding homers, there was one thing I wanted to touch on: Didi Gregorius’s total. It seems him dropping to 15 and, call it a silly gut feeling, but I think that’s about right. Didi did add some power last year, but I’m not sure 20 homers is going to be the norm for him. If he drops lower than 15, too, that’s fine, given his defense. I think 10-15 is more where he’s going to live, not 15-20, or even more.

Overall, Steamer seems to like the Yankee offense, at least as an improvement over last year’s team. ZiPS is definitely more bullish on Judge–projecting him to hit 30 homers–but Steamer seems to have the playing time distribution down better, excepting Judge being part-time. We’ve got to remember that projections aren’t predictions. We should use them to guide expectations, a starting point rather than an ending one. Regardless, things are looking up for the Yankees at the plate. It may not be a return to full on Bronx Bombers status, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Open Thread: March 18th Camp Notes

A late home run sent the Yankees to a loss today. Billy McKinney smacked his third home run of the spring while Gary Sanchez had a two-run double. Aaron Judge had a no-run double. Jacoby Ellsbury and Tyler Wade had base hits as well. Bit of a quiet day for the offense.

CC Sabathia started and allowed three runs in four innings. He allowed all three runs in the fourth, as he approached his pitch count for the day. Aroldis Chapman struck out one in his scoreless inning, and Tommy Layne allowed a solo home run in his inning of work. Layne is just back from the World Baseball Classic. The game wasn’t televised, so there is no video. Here’s the box score and here’s the rest of the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Ernesto Frieri made his Grapefruit League debut today and faced four batters: three strikeouts and a solo homer. Frieri said he spent last season away from baseball to figure some things out, but is ready to get back at it. He added he’s willing to go to Triple-A, which indicates either his contract doesn’t include an opt-out at the end of Spring Training, or he isn’t planning to use it. [Mike Mazzeo]
  • Bryan Hoch has the pitching assignments and hitting/fielding groups for everyone who didn’t play in today’s game. The next two games are on the other side of Florida, and rather than bus back and forth both days, the Yankees will have a bunch of players stay overnight.
  • Tomorrow afternoon the Yankees will play the Astros at their new facility, the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. It opened this year. I think Luis Severino is lined up to pitch. The game will be on MLB.tv.

Here is an open thread for the rest of the day. MLB Network is showing Venezuela vs. Puerto Rico right now even though the game is completely meaningless. Puerto Rico has already clinched a spot in the semifinals and Venezuela has already been eliminated. Still, it’s baseball. Later tonight at 10pm ET MLB Network will have USA vs. Dominican Republic in an elimination game. Winner advances and loser goes home. That’ll be fun. The (hockey) Rangers are playing later and there’s all the March Madness action all day. Talk about whatever here, just not religion or politics.

Saturday Links: Wade, Best Tools, Farm System Rankings

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Welp, it appears this afternoon’s game will not be televised. It was on the original YES Network broadcast schedule and it’s still listed on today’s MLB.tv schedule as of this writing, but it’s been removed from the updated YES schedule and they’re advertising a 2pm ET NYCFC game on Twitter. Womp womp. If the game is on YES or MLB.tv or whatever, use this as a game thread (here’s the lineup). Otherwise here are some links to check out.

Yankees making Wade a super utility player

As suspected, the Yankees are indeed trying to turn Tyler Wade into a super utility player. Their Ben Zobrist, basically. Farm system head Gary Denbo told Brendan Kuty they approached Wade with the idea last August, and he was all for it. “Does it get me to the big leagues? … Then sign me up,” Wade told Denbo at the time. Here’s what Joe Girardi had to say:

“(Wade) gives you a ton of options. He loves it. And that’s why I think he’s done so well with it. He loves the idea. You think about it, you have your everyday players, but realistically does it hurt to give him a day off a week? No. So if you’ve got a guy who can play six positions, he could actually play five or six days a week.”

Wade told Kuty being a super utility guy is “a good thing for me, a good thing for the team.” He got his first taste of the outfield in the Arizona Fall League, and this spring he’s already played second, short, third, left, and center. (He played right in the AzFL.) I had a feeling the Yankees were going to try to turn one of their shortstop prospects into a 400-500 plate appearance supersub, and Wade is a good candidate given his athleticism.

Yankees prospects among best tools lists

Over at Baseball America (subs. req’d), J.J. Cooper polled scouts and executives about the best individual tools in the minor leagues. The best tools among legitimate prospects, that is. They didn’t worry about the light hitting journeyman outfielder with an 80 arm. Several Yankees prospects appeared on the lists. A quick recap:

  • Best Athlete: SS Jorge Mateo (fourth)
  • Best Power Hitter: OF Aaron Judge (fourth)
  • Fastest Baserunner: SS Jorge Mateo (fourth)
  • Best Fastball: RHP Domingo Acevedo (eighth)
  • Best Defensive Infielder: SS Kyle Holder (seventh)

Again, these rankings cover the entire minor leagues, so they’re saying Mateo is the fourth best athlete and baserunner among the hundreds of prospects in the minors. Baseball America puts together league specific best tools lists each year as well, and the Yankees will be heavily featured when those are released.

MiLB.com ranks Yankees system second in baseball

These last few weeks every major scouting publication said the Yankees have the second best farm system in baseball, behind the Braves. Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, and MLB.com all agree. The crew at MiLB.com takes their farm system lists a step further and ranks teams based on different criteria. Here’s where the Yankees rank:

The Yankees are heavy on position player prospects at the moment — the top four and seven of the top ten prospects on my top 30 list are position players — but there’s no shame in ranking 13th among pitchers. Not when you have guys like RHP James Kaprielian and LHP Justus Sheffield in the system.

Besides, I am totally cool with a position player heavy farm system. Pitchers are very risky. You need them, but they get hurt often and it’s hard to build around young arms long-term. Give me a lineup loaded with high-end young position players and I’ll figure out the pitching as we go. Offense is becoming harder find these days because of all the velocity and shifts and whatnot. Focusing on a great offense is the way to go in my books.

Open Thread: March 17th Camp Notes

Spring Training is going so well for the Yankees that they threw a damn no-hitter today. Seriously. Masahiro Tanaka (4.1 innings), Chasen Shreve (0.2 innings), and Jordan Montgomery (4.0 innings) combined to do the deed. Tanaka personally has thrown 10.1 hitless innings against the Tigers across three starts this spring. He again looked really good this afternoon. Midseason form. A spring no-hitter. What a time to be alive.

There were no dingers off offense, sadly. Matt Holliday, Chase Headley, Rob Refsnyder, and Tyler Wade all had doubles, however. Gary Sanchez drew one walk while Greg Bird drew two. Bird has six walks and six strikeouts in 38 plate appearances this spring. Seems he’s seeing the ball well, eh? Here are the box score and video highlights for the no-hitter — YES says this was the Yankees’ first spring no-hitter since March 14th, 1983, a game started by Ron Guidry — and here’s the rest of the news from Tampa:

  • Jorge Mateo has been optioned to High-A, the Yankees announced. He was supposed to travel for today’s game before being pulled off the road trip. “At 21 years old, I was doing some foolish things. I think he’s grown up,” said Joe Girardi, who said he was pleased with Mateo’s spring and added he’ll work out in center field in minor league camp. By my count there are 46 players still in big league camp. [Brendan Kuty, Bryan Hoch]
  • Girardi wouldn’t say whether anyone has a leg up in the rotation competition. “I would say (no one is ahead). I think we’re going to have some long meetings about this,” he said. Girardi also didn’t rule out Montgomery making the Opening Day roster. That would surprise me, but stranger things have happened. [Randy Miller, Erik Boland]
  • Luis Severino has been leaning on Tanaka for advice this spring. “I asked him about how he’s always calm, because nobody can mess with Tanaka when he’s pitching. That’s how I wanted to be. He told me to do something that would remind me of that, and that’s what I decided to do,” said Severino. [David Lennon]
  • Kuty has the day’s pitching assignments and hitting/fielding groups for everyone who didn’t travel for today’s game, if you’re interested in such things. Not a whole lot going on. Chad Green and Severino threw their usual between starts bullpen session. Yawn.
  • Alex Rodriguez will return to camp at some point next week for his second stint as a guest instructor. Also, Bernie Williams announced he’s in camp as a guest instructor right now. He’ll be there until Tuesday. [Mike Mazzeo, Kuty]
  • The Yankees will be at home against the Orioles tomorrow afternoon. That game will be on YES. In fact, the Yankees will be televised every day from today through next Saturday. Hooray for that. Anyway, CC Sabathia and Adam Warren are lined up to pitch tomorrow.
  • And finally, check out Andrew Marchand’s great story on Michael Pineda, who’s done a lot of growing up since the pine tar incident a few years ago. The Yankees have been so impressed by Pineda’s maturity that they had him speak at Captain’s Camp this year.

Here is the nightly open thread. MLB Network will show USA vs. Puerto Rico live at 10pm ET. The winner of that game is all but a lock to advance to the World Baseball Classic final four. The (hockey) Rangers, Devils, and Nets are all playing tonight, plus there’s all the March Madness action. Talk about those games or anything else right here, as long as it’s not religion or politics.

Michael Pineda and the Luck Dragon [2017 Season Preview]

(Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)
(Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports)

Over the last two seasons, seventy-six pitchers have thrown at least 300 IP. And, by at least one measure, Michael Pineda has been by far the most unlucky starting pitcher in baseball, with a 1.02 run difference between his ERA and FIP. The league-average gulf is 0.00, and only four pitchers are within half a run of Pineda (with Wade Miley and Gio Gonzalez coming closest, at 0.77).

Looking at it from another angle, his 111 ERA- (11% below-average) over the last two years ranks 69th within that group, while his 83 FIP- (17% above-average) places him 19th. The former metric puts him between Jeff Samardzija and Ubaldo Jimenez, whereas the latter ties him with Jeff Verlander and Zack Greinke; it’d be difficult to find two more distinct sets of pitchers to be a part of.

Luck, then, is a term that has been bandied about with Pineda quite a bit over the last two years. On some level, there remains hope that this is a long stretch of bad luck, and it’s easy to see why – he’s a 28-year-old whose strikeout and walk rates have placed him among elite company these last two years, after all. It’s never that simple, though.

The Good

There were plenty of things to like about Pineda’s 2016 season. The towering righty was in the top-ten in all of baseball in K% and K-BB%, and top-ten in the American League in strikeouts and FIP. His 45.8 GB% was a tick above league-average, he picked up swings on 37.8% of pitches outside of the strikezone (against a league-average of 30.3%), he allowed precious little contact (70.9%, versus a 78.2% league-average), and his fastball velocity jumped from 92.5 MPH in 2015 to 94.0 MPH last year.

In short, he regained lost velocity, racked up whiffs, limited walks, and kept the ball on the ground. What’s not to like?

The Bad

Pineda has earned a reputation for struggling to put hitters away, and that appears to be justified. As Mike pointed out in his season review:

And yet, with two strikes:

Pineda: .187/.246/.286 with a 47.6% strikeout rate
MLB Average: .176/.246/.276 with a 41.1% strikeout rate

The strikeout rate is nice, but Pineda’s overall numbers in two-strike counts are far too close to the league average pitcher for a guy with his stuff. Chad Green, whose slider isn’t nearly as good as Pineda’s, held hitters to a .135/.192/.281 batting line with two strikes. Those are the kind of numbers you’re looking for from Pineda.

This may be an issue with general pitch location, hanging sliders, sequencing, or any number of things, but the vast majority of above-average starting pitchers perform significantly better with two-strikes. It’s worth noting that this is something that Pineda is mindful of, and is said to be working on; a walk year would be a good time for him to make some improvements.

The Ugly

Batters teed off on all incarnations of Pineda’s fastball last year, batting .347 with a .619 SLG against the offerings (per Brooks Baseball). Or, phrased differently, batters turned into 2015 Bryce Harper when Pineda threw a fastball, which he did just over fifty-percent of the time. As per PITCHf/x it was the least-valuable pitch in baseball, checking in at -20.6 wFA (or 20.6 runs below-average).

That represents a significant drop-off from 2015, when the pitch was just 4.7 runs below-average, and may go a long way in determining how he ended up with a 4.82 ERA against a 3.80 FIP and 3.30 xFIP. Well, that, and the fact that his 1.38 HR/9 and 70.7 LOB% both ranked in the 20th percentile in all of baseball; this likely stems from his horrendous fastball, as well.

What made his fastball so bad? Location, location, location.

(FanGraphs)
(FanGraphs)

You see that red area, right in the middle of the strikezone? That’s where Pineda threw the majority of his fastballs last year; not on the black, not just outside the zone – right down the pike. It’s not too shocking that batters were able to hit .347 against the pitch with this in mind, particularly when you consider they hit .328 against it in 2015, when his location was incredibly similar.


The projection systems are bullish on Pineda, essentially buying into his strikeout and walk rates and forecasting significantly fewer home runs:

ZiPS – 156.2 IP, 9.4 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 3.96 ERA

Steamer – 152.0 IP, 9.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 3.51 ERA

PECOTA – 168.0 IP, 9.6 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 3.60 ERA

Steamer and PECOTA actually prefer Pineda to Masahiro Tanaka, which is … interesting, I suppose. Regardless, I would be thrilled with any of those lines, as even ZiPS would represent a slightly above-average pitcher (based on ERA), which would be a significant improvement upon Pineda’s two full seasons in pinstripes.