The Yankees and the 2017 All-Star Game

Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)
Judge and Sevy. (Al Bello/Getty)

Despite recent events, the Yankees have the second best record (39-30) and the second best run differential (+107) in the American League. Many expected this to be something of a rebuilding year, one of those “step back and regroup for next season” years. Instead, the Yankees got off to a great start and remain in the thick of the division race as we approach the season’s midway point.

The All-Star Game is less than three weeks away now — it snuck up this year, didn’t it? — and given their play to date, the Yankees will undoubtedly have multiple representatives in Miami next month. They won’t be one of those “one token All-Star” teams. The internet tells me the Yankees have sent multiple players to the All-Star Game every year since 1992, when Roberto Kelly was their lone representative.

The 2017 All-Star Game rosters will be announced either later next week or next weekend. That makes this as good a time as any to look at which Yankees could be selected to the Midsummer Classic. In fact, let’s rank the 25 players on the active roster in terms of their All-Star eligibility. Shall we? We shall. Let’s get to it.

1. Aaron Judge

Judge is a lock for the All-Star Game. He’s received more fan votes than any other AL player this far — his lead over second place Jose Altuve is roughly 500,000 votes — and is on track to start the game in right field. The Yankees have not had an All-Star Game starter since Derek Jeter got the farewell vote in 2014. Even if Judge were to fall out of the top three outfielders in fan voting, he would still be selected to the game. His AL ranks:

  • AVG: .331 (second)
  • OBP: .438 (first)
  • SLG: .694 (first)
  • wRC+: 195 (first)
  • HR: 24 (first)
  • RBI: 54 (second)
  • fWAR: +4.4 (first)
  • bWAR: +4.1 WAR (first)

Flawless victory. Fatality. See you in Miami, Aaron.

2. Dellin Betances

Remember Dellin? He’s this really great reliever who used to pitch for the Yankees once upon a time. Betances did actually pitch last night. It was his fifth appearance in the last 24 days. True story! Can you believe that? It’s friggin’ insane. Anyway, Dellin has allowed one earned run — on April 8th — in 22.2 innings this season. He’s struck out 43 and opponents are hitting .117/.261/.117 against him. I think Betances is going to his fourth straight All-Star Game. I do wonder whether the relatively light workload — Dellin ranks 162nd among all relievers in innings (!) — will work against him. I don’t think so though. Betances should be an All-Star again.

3. Luis Severino

This is awesome. Severino was so bad as a starter last season. So, so bad. And now he’s a legitimate All-Star candidate. He has a 2.99 ERA (3.23 FIP) through 13 starts and 81.1 innings, and he is among the AL top ten in WHIP (fifth), strikeouts (fifth), ERA+ (fifth), K/BB ratio (fifth), fWAR (fifth), ERA (sixth), FIP (seventh), and bWAR (eighth). Last season eight starters made the AL All-Star team and so far this season Severino has been one of the seven or eight best starting pitchers in the league. He’s not a lock, I don’t think. But he should receive strong consideration.

4. Aaron Hicks

Hicks should be an All-Star this year. The guy is hitting .301/.414/.543 (155 wRC+) overall and he’s fourth in the league in fWAR. I mean:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees: +4.5
  2. Mike Trout, Angels: +3.3
  3. Jose Altuve, Astros: +3.1
  4. Aaron Hicks, Yankees: +2.9

He’s also seventh among all AL players in bWAR. Hicks wasn’t even an everyday player to start the season! He’s been awesome and he should be an All-Star. My guess is Hicks gets snubbed and instead lands on the Final Vote ballot. Maybe he’ll make the roster outright with Trout injured. There are only six outfield spots on the roster though, and squeezing two Yankees into those six spots seems like a thing that won’t happen. Fingers crossed.

5. Matt Holliday

Man, how awesome has Holliday been this season? He’s hitting .275/.379/.536 (142 wRC+) with 15 home runs and it’s thanks to him that the Yankees lead all AL teams with a 138 wRC+ from their DHs. Nelson Cruz is currently leading the fan voting at DH with Holliday roughly 300,000 votes back in second place. Making up that gap seems unlkely with one week to go in the voting.

In recent years there have been two designated hitter spots on the All-Star Game roster, so it stands to reason that even if Cruz wins the fan voting, Holliday could still make it. It’ll be either him or Edwin Encarnacion, who has been insane the last six weeks or so. Now, that said, the All-Star Game rosters were trimmed from 34 players to 32 this year. With two fewer spots, will they not take a second DH? Hmmm.

6. Gary Sanchez

If Sanchez didn’t miss that month with that biceps injury, he’d be a shoo-in for the All-Star Game. The guy is hitting .296/.376/.554 (147 wRC+) with 12 home runs. Only Salvador Perez has gone deep more times among all catchers. He has 15 homers in 257 plate appearances. Gary has 12 in 178 plate appearances. Brian McCann and Alex Avila (?!?) are also having All-Star caliber seasons and neither missed a month with an injury. I think it’s down to Sanchez and Avila for the third spot. Perez is going to win the fan voting and McCann belongs too. He’s been great. A few more Sanchez dingers over the next week could decide this thing.

7. Starlin Castro

Altuve is going to start the All-Star Game at second base, as he should. Dustin Pedroia’s injury issues mean the backup spot could come down to Castro (128 wRC+), Jed Lowrie (126 wRC), or Robinson Cano (111 wRC+). I suppose Brian Dozier (106 wRC+) is in that mix too. Name value matters in the All-Star Game. Here’s an important factor: will Yonder Alonso make the All-Star team? If not, Lowrie figures to end up the A’s token All-Star, which will hurt Starlin’s chances of making the roster.

8. Didi Gregorius

Can you quietly hit .321/.342/.500 (120 wRC+)? Because Gregorius is doing it. He’s been so good since coming back from the disabled list. And that’s the problem. The disabled list. Gregorius missed a month with a shoulder issue. He was already facing an uphill battle with Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Francisco Lindor in the AL. Those three dudes are going to the All-Star Game and they might be the three AL All-Star shortstops for the next ten years. Didi has been great. He’s almost certainly going to get squeezed off the All-Star roster though.

9. Brett Gardner

Gardner has had a slow June, but he’s still hitting .259/.341/.471 (115 wRC+) overall, and his 13 home runs are eighth among AL outfielders. The problem is Gardner is only the third best Yankees outfielder this season, and there are only six outfield spots on the All-Star roster. Judge is getting one of them. And if they pick a second Yankees outfielder, it’ll be Hicks. No chance for Gardner, unless he’s an injury replacement or something, and even then it’s a long shot.

10-11. Michael Pineda, Jordan Montgomery

A good but not great season for Michael Pineda, this is. He has a 3.56 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 14 starts and 83.1 innings — hey wait a minute isn’t Pineda supposed to be a ERA > FIP guy? — which is solid, but not All-Star worthy. Montgomery is right there with him with a 3.74 ERA (3.87 FIP) in 13 starts and 74.2 innings. Imagine where the Yankees would be without these two. Nice seasons, not All-Stars.

12. Aroldis Chapman

Last season Chapman did not make the All-Star team because he missed a month serving his suspension. This season he will not make the All-Star team because he missed more than a month with a shoulder injury. Also, Chapman wasn’t exactly lights out before going on the disabled list. He allowed five runs and 18 baserunners in 12.2 innings before getting hurt. Aroldis has thrown 14.2 innings this season. 14.2! No All-Star Game for him.

13. Chase Headley

Great start! Okay-ish June. Terrible May. Headley is hitting .245/.335/.362 (87 wRC+) overall, and by wRC+, he ranks 21st among the 24 third basemen with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Better luck next year, Chase.

14-17. Tyler Clippard, Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, Chasen Shreve

Non-Betances middle relievers have a really hard time making the All-Star Game. Green and Shreve have been the best of this foursome and they’ve thrown 23.1 and 19.2 innings, respectively.

18. Masahiro Tanaka

Woof. Tanaka has legitimately been one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season. There are 81 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, and Tanaka ranks 69th in fWAR (+0.1), 74th in FIP (5.64), 79th in ERA (3.34), and 79th in bWAR (-0.8). Please be better, Masahiro.

19. Chris Carter

At least he kinda plays everyday? That counts for … something. Carter is hitting .201/.287/.384 (77 wRC+) overall and probably wouldn’t make a Triple-A All-Star Game at this point.

20-21. Austin Romine, Ronald Torreyes

Remember April? These guys were so great filling in for Sanchez and Torreyes. Romine is hitting .237/.258/.325 (50 wRC+) even after last night’s big game while Torreyes is at .296/.319/.374 (84 wRC+). The next backup catcher and utility infielder I see make the All-Star Game will be the first.

22-25. Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Rob Refsnyder, Mason Williams

If you had to bet a paycheck on one of these four guys making an All-Star Game at some point in their careers, who would you pick? I feel like German is the obvious choice here, though I remain a Cessa fan. Maybe Refsnyder will have a late career Jose Bautista breakout?

Others of Note

The Yankees have four regulars on the disabled list right now: Greg Bird, Jacoby Ellsbury, CC Sabathia, and Adam Warren. There is no firm timetable for any of them to return to the Yankees, as far as we know. Warren seems closest since he’s scheduled to resume throwing Friday.

Ellsbury was playing well before his concussion. Not All-Star well — he was still the team’s fourth most productive outfielder behind Judge, Hicks, and Gardner — but well. Sabathia was pretty awesome after his four-start disaster stretch in May. Good enough to be an All-Star? Maybe! He allowed six runs (four earned) in his six starts and 36.1 innings before the injury. Imagine he keept that up until the All-Star break. Alas.

* * *

I think the Yankees will have at least two All-Stars this year (Judge and Betances) and possibly as many as seven (Judge, Betances, Severino, Hicks, Holliday, Sanchez, Castro). Seven’s not going to happen though. Seven All-Stars is reserved for super teams. The Cubs had seven All-Stars last season and that’s only because the fans stuffed the ballot and voted in five starters. So yeah, seven isn’t happening.

My official guess is four Yankees make the All-Star team: Judge, Betances, Severino, and Sanchez. Hicks gets hosed, Holliday loses out because they won’t carry two DHs with the smaller roster, and Castro gets squeezed out by other second basemen. The Yankees haven’t had four All-Stars since 2012, when Jeter, Sabathia, Cano, and Curtis Granderson made it. (Jeter, Cano, and Granderson were all voted in as starters.) Four All-Stars would be cool. Two seems like the absolute minimum for the 2017 Yankees.

A win! Yanks break the game open late in 8-4 win over Angels

Finally. The seven-game losing streak is over. This one was a nail-biter for five-and-a-half innings before the Yankees pulled away in the late innings. The final score was 8-4. A new winning streak has begun.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Montgomery’s One Mistake
Angels right-hander Ricky Nolasco came into this game tied with Masahiro Tanaka for the MLB lead in home runs allowed (sob sob), and the Yankees wasted no time taking him out of the park. Gary Sanchez singled and Didi Gregorius hooked a hanging first pitch curveball into the second deck in right field for a quick 2-0 lead in the second inning. Nolasco throws a lot of first pitch curveballs and it look like Didi sat on it.

Given the way things have been going, it was easy to think Jordan Montgomery was going to have to make those two runs stand up, and the hand the ball directly to Dellin Betances. Montgomery pulled his Andy Pettitte act in the first (leadoff walk), second (one-out double), and third (leadoff single) innings, though he couldn’t escape the jam in the fourth. An Andrelton Simmons single, a balk, and a Martin Maldonado two-run homer knotted things up. The home run came on a hanging slider that spun right into Maldonado’s bat. ‘Twas bad.

After the home run, Montgomery kinda sorta settled down and retired six of the final eight batters he faced. His night ended when Simmons pulled a little ground ball single under Gregorius’ glove. Didi probably should have knocked it down, but with his momentum going toward third base and Simmons running, I don’t think he would have gotten the out at first anyway. Chad Green came in to escape that jam and preserve the 3-2 lead.

All told, Montgomery finished the night with those two runs allowed on five hits and two walks in 5.2 innings. He threw 97 pitches and struck out five. The hanging slider to Maldonado was, rather easily, his worst pitch of the night. He pitched pretty well aside from that. A lot of routine fly balls and ground outs. Typical Montgomery start, basically. Kid is boringly reliable.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

A Lead!
For all the attention the bullpen has received for the blown leads, the offense hasn’t been tearing the cover off the ball either the last two or three games. The Yankees took a 3-2 lead on Matt Holliday‘s two-out opposite field home run in the fifth inning. It came immediately after a strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play. Hate that. Seems like the Yankees were trying too hard to make something happen. Sending the runner (Aaron Hicks) with a high strikeout hitter (Aaron Judge) at the plate? Gah.

Anyway, Holliday hit the homer, and the game went to the sixth inning. Montgomery got two quick outs, gave up the grounder single to Simmons, then gave way to Green. Green got the four biggest outs of the game. He struck out Maldonado to strand Simmons to end the sixth, then got all three outs in the seventh as well. Getting the ball from the starter to Betances has been a problem of late. Green was asked to do it Wednesday night and he did it well. Nice work, Chad.

Of course, the Yankees did score three insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth, so that helped. Austin Romine doubled in two runs after a Sanchez single and a Chase Headley walk. Romine’s first at-bat: single served to right. Romine’s second at-bat: single served to right. Romine’s third at-bat: rocket double pulled into the left-center field gap. Nice night for the backup backstop. A Hicks infield single scored the third run of the sixth inning for a 6-2 lead.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Late Innings
Thankfully, the offense did not stop there. And, thankfully, Joe Girardi did not not use Betances. In fact, he had Betances warming in the bottom of the sixth. I’m pretty sure Dellin would have come in for the seventh and eighth had the Yankees not tacked on runs to turn that 3-2 lead into a 6-2 lead. Anyway, a Holliday double and a Starlin Castro single scored a run in the seventh, and Headley got in another run with a two-out single against the shift. The Yankees have done that an awful lot this year, tack on runs in the late innings. I love it.

Betances, who warmed up to Shook Ones, came on for the eighth and looked well-rested. Fourteen pitches, two strikeouts, and a weak ground ball to short. Vintage Dellin. He was sharp. You always kinda have to worry about his command disappearing after a long layoff. His command was there in this one. In the ninth, Girardi went to Tyler Clippard with an 8-2 lead in an effort to get him straightened out. A double and a homer later, he was out of the game. Clippard’s six batters faced the two nights:

Home run
Double off the wall
Fly ball to the warning track
Triple off the wall
Double
Home run

Not great, Bob. Clippard was booed throughout his appearance and Girardi gave him a long talking to on the mound when he was pulled. Not scolding him or anything like that. It’s almost like he was talking him down from the ledge. Clippard’s confidence is shot. You can see it in his face. Aroldis Chapman came in and got the final three outs without incident. He looks like himself. Throwing free and easy. Not like before the shoulder injury.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Leftovers
The 6-7-8-9 spots in the lineup: 7-for-14 with a double and two walks. Those four batters combined to drive in five of the team’s eight runs. Romine led the charge with his three hits. Sanchez had two hits and Headley had a hit and two walks. The 1-2-3-4-5 hitters went 5-for-20 with three walks. The Yankees went 4-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

Clippard allowed both batters he faced to reach base and was charged with two runs. Green, Betances, and Chapman combined to retire ten of the eleven batters they faced, with five strikeouts. Green walked a batter and that’s it. The bullpen has been pretty terrible the last week. It wasn’t in this game. Not coincidentally, the good relievers pitched. Funny how that works.

And finally, Romine’s fourth inning single was his 100th career hit. Considering his career was basically left for a dead a few years ago as guys like Sanchez and John Ryan Murphy passed him on the depth chart, getting to 100 big league hits is pretty cool. Congrats, Austin.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
For the box score and updated standings, go to ESPN. For the video highlights, go to MLB.com. For our Bullpen Workload page, stay at RAB. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Yankees and Angels will wrap-up this three-game set Thursday night. Luis Severino and Jesse Chavez are the scheduled starting pitchers. RAB Tickets can get you into the ballpark in that game.

DotF: Solak’s big game helps Tampa clinch postseason spot

Some quick notes to get us started:

  • SS Gleyber Torres had his Tommy John surgery today and it seems everything went well. He posted a photo on … something. I can’t keep track of all the social media sites anymore. The injury is to his non-throwing elbow and Torres is expected to be ready in time for Spring Training.
  • I mentioned yesterday that 3B Nelson Gomez is currently suspended and I didn’t know why. Turns out he’s serving a five-game suspension stemming from a heated argument with an umpire at the end of last season. Gomez must have bumped the ump pretty good to get five games.
  • RHP Jorge Guzman hit 100 mph ten times in last night’s start, according to Josh Norris. Velocity is no issue for Guzman, who commands his heater better when he scales it back to 95-97 mph. The Yankees got him from the Astros in the Brian McCann trade.

Triple-A Scranton (5-2 loss to Syracuse)

  • RF Jake Cave: 1-4, 2 K
  • CF Dustin Fowler: 2-4, 1 R — multiple hits in six of his last eleven games
  • 1B Tyler Austin: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 2 K — second straight game with a homer
  • LF Clint Frazier: 0-4, 1 K
  • 3B Miguel Andujar: 2-3, 1 BB — 5-for-10 in three Triple-A games so far
  • C Kyle Higashioka: 0-3 — left the game after the seventh with a back issue according to Donnie Collins, and he’ll see a doctor tomorrow … that’s not good, losing catching depth stinks
  • RHP Domingo Acevedo: 5.1 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, 1 Balk, 5/5 GB/FB — 67 of 98 pitches were strikes (68%), plus he picked a runner off first … tough second start in Triple-A … no big deal, shake it off and get back out there in five days
  • RHP J.P. Feyereisen: 2.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 3/1 GB/FB – 25 of 37 pitches were strikes (68%) … 33/16 K/BB in 31.1 innings
  • LHP Tommy Layne: 1 IP, zeroes, 3/0 GB/FB — nine pitches, six strikes

[Read more…]

Game 69: Not Nice

Standard outfield positioning when Clippard is on the mound. (Al Bello/Getty)
Standard outfield positioning when Clippard is on the mound. (Al Bello/Getty)

So. Yeah. Things aren’t going well for the Yankees right now. Seven straight losses, five at the hands of the bullpen. I mean, the offense and starters and defense haven’t stood out either, but man, that bullpen. It’s a minor miracle the Yankees still have the third best record (38-30) and second best run differential (+103) in the AL.

This seven-game losing streak is New York’s longest since a seven-gamer in April 2007. That losing streak ended with a rookie on the mound: Kei Igawa! The Yankees have a rookie on the mound tonight too: Jordan Montgomery. Igawa didn’t stick around much longer after that win. Montgomery looks like he might be here a while. Find a way to win, dudes. This losing business is getting old. Here is the Angels’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. 1B Matt Holliday
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. DH Gary Sanchez
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 3B Chase Headley
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

Very nice weather in New York today. Good night for a ballgame. This evening’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET. You’ll be able to watch on YES locally or MLB Network nationally. Try to enjoy the stupid game.

Injury Update: Greg Bird (ankle) saw a specialist yesterday who shot him up with some steroids. Bird will rest another 3-5 days before resuming baseball activity. My guess is we won’t see him until after the All-Star break between the rest and baseball activities and rehab assignment.

Let’s talk about Chris Carter and Tyler Austin

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The Yankees lost their seventh straight game last night, and the biggest reason was the bullpen. Again. The offense didn’t light the world on fire, but Tyler Clippard and Jonathan Holder combined to allow five runs in three innings. That simply is not good enough. The bullpen has been a major sore spot for more than a week now.

Another reason the Yankees lost: Chris Carter. His second inning error on a routine ground ball contributed to two runs, and he also went 0-for-3 at the plate. Joe Girardi lifted him for pinch-hitter Austin Romine (!) in the ninth inning. When asked about Carter being his starting first baseman after the game, Girardi said, “That’s what we have.” Yikes. Not exactly a ringing endorsement!

Based on his tone over the last few days and weeks, it’s clear Girardi’s patience with Carter has run out. He doesn’t want to use him at first base but he has to because, well, there’s no one else. The Yankees could play Matt Holliday at first base more often, though I hate that idea given Holliday’s age, and the other option is Rob Refsnyder Eek. The first base depth chart looks like this while Greg Bird is out:

  1. Chris Carter
  2. Tyler Austin
  3. Rob Refsnyder
  4. Matt Holliday
  5. Ji-Man Choi

Austin is down in Triple-A, where he’s hitting .287/.357/.494 (132 wRC+) with two homers and a 28.6% strikeout rate in 24 games. The Yankees don’t think he’s ready to help at the MLB level, however. I know that because they haven’t called him up. Brian Cashman said yesterday Austin is striking out too much, which is true. Heck, Austin himself said the other day that his timing at the plate still isn’t right. From D.J. Eberle:

“I was trying to get a feel of staying inside the ball,” Austin tells the media that night. “It’s one of those things where I feel like my swing has been a little long for me the past few days and I feel like (Wednesday) was good for me to get some of that work done.”

“I feel good. I feel like I’m making strides every day at the plate and defensively,” he said. “I think its more of just getting reps, picking up spin of the ball and swinging at pitches in the zone. I feel like that’s the big thing for me right now and I’m trying to do every time I go up there.”

The Carter/Austin situation reminds me of the Stephen Drew/Refsnyder situation back in 2015. Drew was terrible that year — he hit .201/.271/.381 (76 wRC+) in 2015 — and we all wanted to see Refsnyder, the kid tearing the cover off the ball in the minors who happened to play the same position. I know I did. Why aren’t they calling him up? The Yankees obviously hate Refsnyder, right? Well, no. Refsnyder just wasn’t as good as we all thought.

I feel like the same thing is happening here, though Carter this year has been worse than Drew in 2015. (Drew at least played above-average defense at an up-the-middle position.) Austin isn’t being called up because the Yankees don’t think he’s an upgrade over Carter, the same way they didn’t think Refsnyder was an upgrade over the Drew, and the Yankees have more information than us. When it comes to minor league promotions and all that, the team knows better than we do. Always and forever. The Yankees are not stupid. They know what they’re doing.

A few things about the ongoing first base situation. One, Carter has been better of late. He’s hit .228/.290/.456 (95 wRC+) with four homers in 15 games in June. Still bad! But better than April and May. If Bird or Austin had done something like that after a terrible April and May, the internet would be abuzz with GIF-filled posts about adjustments and small sample size signs of life and blah blah blah. I know this because I’ve done it myself, and I hate myself for it. When it comes to a young guy, we microanalyze everything. When a veteran we don’t like does it, no one cares.

(Times Leader)
(Times Leader)

Two, the Yankees are not cutting Carter without feeling good about Bird’s health. And I don’t mean “okay he’s playing in rehab games again” feeling good. We’ve been there, done that. They don’t have the first base depth to cut a dude with legit 40-homer power. If they cut Carter and Bird needs more time to get ready, they’re looking at Austin and Refsnyder at first base. No. Just … no. And three, there’s no way to carry Austin and Carter on the roster. They’re basically the same player in that they’re right-handed hitters and provide no defensive flexibility. Can’t have two of those guys in the age of four-man (and often three-man) benches.

Like all of you, I’m at my wits’ end with Carter. I could live with all the empty at-bats if he were hitting more homers, but he’s not. He has eight homers in 181 plate appearances. Last season he had 13 homers in his first 181 plate appearances. A little bit behind that pace, he is. Add in some egregious errors and you’ve got a sub-replacement level player. Not the reason the Yankees have lost seven straight games. A reason though, undoubtedly.

As bad as Carter is though, I’m not convinced Austin is an upgrade. The guy himself said he still isn’t right at the plate. (If you’re into projections, ZiPS pegs Austin as a true talent .231/.291/.419 (98 OPS+) big league hitter.) I want to see the Yankees try Austin, though that has more to do with me not wanting to watch Carter than it does me believing Austin is an upgrade. Girardi seems to be in the same boat. He’s over Carter. You can see it every time he is asked about the guy.

The front office makes roster decisions, not Girardi (I’m certain Girardi has some input though), and they have to look at the big picture. And part of that big picture is the team’s thin first base depth chart, Austin admitting he still isn’t himself at the plate, and the potential reward each player offers. Carter is one of the most frustrating players I can remember wearing pinstripes. All things considered though, sticking with him is probably the best move right now, at least until Austin is where he needs to be and we know more about Bird’s injury.

Scouting the Trade Market: Yonder Alonso

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Remember the offseason, when Greg Bird and various supporting cast members couldn’t possibly provide less production at first base than Mark Teixeira last year? Good times. We were so naive. So far this season Yankees first basemen are hitting .192/.291/.355 (54 OPS+) overall, easily the worst production in the league. This is the position with the highest offensive bar. It has been capital-B Bad.

Bird has been on the disabled list since early May with an ankle issue, and last week he suffered a setback that will sideline him for an unknown length of time. He saw a specialist yesterday and we’ve yet to get an update. Given the setback and Chris Carter‘s inability to find sustained success, it’s time for the Yankees to begin looking outside the organization for first base help. Carter isn’t cutting it and the Yankees have to give Bird all the time he needs to get healthy.

One first baseman who is very likely to be available at the trade deadline is Athletics masher Yonder Alonso, an impending free agent having a career year offensively. The 30-year-old is hitting .299/.392/.619 (168 wRC+) with a career high 17 home runs already. His previous career high was nine homers back in 2012. The Athletics have the worst record in the American League and it stands to reason they’ll, at the very least, listen to offers for Alonso.

Does Alonso make sense for the Yankees? Well, yes. That’s easy. A left-handed hitter with those numbers and solid defense is pretty much exactly what the Yankees need. That’s what they hoped to get from Bird! There are two questions here. One, why should we expect Alonso to keep up this level of production? He’s never done it before. And two, what’s it going to cost? Let’s try to answer those.

The Fly Ball Revolution

Thanks largely to Statcast, there’s a lot of talk these days about launch angle and a renewed emphasis on getting the ball airborne. I refuse to believe Major Leaguers are just now figuring out that hitting home runs and getting the ball in the air are good things, though now we can better quantify that, and perhaps that helps in some way. I’m certain teams use this data to educate their players and make mechanical tweaks.

Alonso, maybe moreso than any player in the league, has not only bought into the fly ball revolution, he’s also excelled at putting it into practice. It’s one thing to say or know you need to do something. It’s another to actually do it. Baseball is hard! Becoming an extreme fly ball hitter is not like flipping a light switch. Here are Alonso’s batted ball rates over the years:

yonder-alonso-batted-balls

Yup. Before this season, Alonso’s career low ground ball rate was 41.8% in 2011. His career high fly ball rate was 38.5% in 2014. So far this season he’s at 28.1% ground balls and 50.7% fly balls. Statcast data goes back to 2015, so here are Alonso’s 2015-16 launch angles and his 2017 launch angles:

yonder-alonso-launch-angles1

The ideal launch angle is 10-30 degrees. Below that and you hit a grounder. Above that and you hit a pop-up. Anything from 10-25 degrees is likely a line drive (depending on how hard the ball is struck, i.e. exit velocity). Most home runs fall in the 25-30 degree range. From 2015-16, Alonso’s average launch angle was 9.1 degrees. 9.1! This year it’s 21.8 degrees.

It’s also worth noting Alonso’s hard contact rate (36.3%) and strikeout rate (22.5%) are career highs for a full season as well, which perhaps indicate he’s selling out for power a bit. (Like Matt Holliday?) In an effort to get the ball in the air, he’s swinging harder than ever, which inevitably leads to more whiffs.

Here’s a look at 2016 Alonso vs. 2017 Alonso. If a guy is hitting way more fly balls and way fewer ground balls, in addition to more hard contact and strikeouts, surely his swing is going to look a little different, right? I’d assume so. 2016 Alonso is on the left. 2017 Alonso is on the right.

2016-17-yonder-alonso-swing1

Looks … pretty much exactly the same? Dammit. I hate when that happens. Yonder has always had a pretty swing. That’s one of the main reasons he was the seventh overall pick in the 2008 draft. He just never developed the power many expected. At least not until this season. Before this year, he was basically James Loney 2.0.

Anyway, as for the GIFs, Alonso still uses both one-handed and two-handed follow-throughs regularly, so that’s not it. The GIFs are synced up at the moment his front foot touches down, and it does seem his leg lift is a little shorter this year. His leg hangs in the air a little longer in the GIF on the left, from 2016. Also, Alonso’s head is much more still in the 2017 GIF. Last year there was some herky-jerkiness in there. Keeping your head still is kinda important.

Ken Rosenthal recently profiled Alonso, who did some soul-searching this past offseason and was not happy with the way his career was playing out. From Rosenthal:

“It’s pretty simple,” Alonso says. “I was heading in a direction where I saw my career on the downfall. I think in August and September of last year I realized that if I don’t make some adjustments, I will be heading into a backup role, not get the at-bats that I want.

“I’m 30 years old. I’m in my prime. I pretty much was very truthful honest with myself. I realized that if you’re going to play first base, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing everything to make yourself valuable. I needed to work on my hitting.”

Alonso told Rosenthal he consulted with many former teammates and players around the league in the offseason. Everyone from Joey Votto to Rougned Odor to Danny Valencia to Carlos Beltran. Rosenthal and Susan Slusser say Alonso even sent video of his at-bats to Votto and Beltran for advice. This is a player who was not happy with his career, sought help, made changes, and is now reaping the rewards. Hooray hard work!

The Yonder Alonso we’re seeing this year is not the same Yonder Alonso as the past five years. He has made a drastic change to his batted ball profile and is now hitting the ball harder and in the air far more often than ever before. The difference is enormous. The power spike is not necessarily a fluke. It would be if Alonso were the same hitter with the same batted ball profile as in the past. That’s not the case though. He’s a different hitter. Because of that, there is reason to believe this version of Alonso is here to stay.

What’s it going to cost?

Alonso is a rental, not a long-term buy, which takes a bite out of his trade value. The A’s can still market him as an impact hitter, however. Here’s a list of rental bats traded at the deadline the last two years:

  • Jay Bruce: Traded for an up-and-down depth infielder (Dilson Herrera) and one organizational top 20 prospect (Max Wotell). (Bruce’s contract did in include a club option for another year.)
  • Carlos Beltran: Traded for a preseason top 50-75 global prospect (Dillon Tate) and two non-top 30 organizational prospects (Erik Swanson, Nick Green).
  • Yoenis Cespedes: Traded for a preseason top 50-75 global prospect (Michael Fulmer) and a top 20 organizational prospect (Luis Cessa).
  • Gerardo Parra: Traded for an organizational top ten prospect (Zach Davies).
  • Ben Zobrist: Traded for a preseason top 50-75 global prospect (Sean Manaea) and an up-and-down depth arm (Aaron Brooks).

Decent sample! The best comparable to Alonso is probably Parra, right? Beltran, Cespedes, and Zobrist were all high-end producers with long track records at the time of the trade. Bruce had some pretty great years earlier in career before slipping a bit, partly due to injuries.

Parra, meanwhile, was a solid player from 2009-14 who was an average-ish hitter and an above-average defender. He then had a huge first half with the Brewers in 2015, hitting .328/.369/.517 (137 wRC+) in 100 games, which is when they flipped him to the Orioles. Parra then hit .237/.268/.357 (66 wRC+) with the O’s. Heh.

There was no real reason to believe Parra was a changed hitter, however. That 2015 first half was a .372 BABIP fueled hot streak. Baltimore then dealt with the correction. With Alonso, there are tangible reasons to believe he is a different hitter now, specifically the sudden surge in fly balls. Parra had a hot streak. Alonso is a new player.

Davies actually represented the Orioles in the 2015 Futures Game, though he was by no means a top prospect. He was a good prospect in a bad farm system. Davies was a top ten prospect in that system. Bring a top ten prospect in the Yankees’ system means being in the conversation for top 100 lists. Davies is not comparable to, say, Chance Adams. Not close.

The current Yankees equivalent of Davies is probably Domingo German, though they are very different pitchers. (Davies is finesse, German is power.) German for Alonso? I’d do it, which probably means the A’s would not. Then again, the Athletics have made some terrible trades of late, so who knows. Maybe they’d go nuts for Tyler Austin or Rob Refsnyder. They seem like “random players the A’s build a trade around” players, no?

Keep in mind Matt Adams, a pretty similar player to Alonso, was traded straight up for a non-top 30 lower level prospect a few weeks ago (Juan Yepez). How many of these first base masher types were unsigned in February? The market for them is not robust. Alonso is better than Adams — he’s performing better at the time of the trade, plus he can play defense — but not so much better that it’ll take a top prospect to get him.

There aren’t many teams in need of first base or DH help at the moment. That could always change with an injury, but looking around the league, the only contenders with a need at either position right now are … the Yankees? That’s about it. Maybe the Cardinals if they’re willing to put Matt Carpenter at third and Jedd Gyorko at second. I suppose the Mariners could be in the mix too. That’s pretty much it.

So, given the overall lack of suitors and the fact Alonso’s track record is not long at all, it should not take a top prospect to get him. It might take two okay prospects, but not a great prospect. Not a top seven or eight prospect in the system. The Yankees have a ton of minor league depth and using some of it to improve the big league team through trades only makes sense.

Okay, so does Alonso still make sense?

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

I’m a big believer in not paying for outlier performance at the trade deadline. Example: Parra! Also: Xavier Nady. He had a huge first half with the Pirates in 2008, then went back to being regular ol’ Xavier Nady after getting traded to the Yankees. You remember that, don’t you?

Look at his career numbers, and this season is a clear outlier for Alonso. He’s never come close to doing anything like this in the past. Unlike Parra and Nady, however, there are some indicators Alonso has changed his hitting approach in a way that allows him to hit for more power. There are reasons to believe this is all very real.

If you buy into the new Alonso — I do, the Yankees may not — then yeah, he’d be a wonderful fit for the 2017 Yankees, especially since it probably won’t cost an arm and a leg to acquire him. Carter has been mostly terrible and who knows when Bird will be healthy. Given everything Bird has been through the last 18 months or so, it would behoove the team to be cautious and patient with him.

One thing I should note is that Alonso wants to remain with the Athletics long-term, so much so that he is open to foregoing free agency to sign an extension midseason. “I think that there is a great chance that I stay here. I really do mean that,” he said to Rosenthal. That gives the A’s some leverage in trade talks. They don’t have to trade him. They could keep him and try to re-sign now, before he hits free agency.

That all said, given their shoestring budget and the fact they have other first base options in house (Ryon Healy, Matt Olson), it would make sense for the A’s to at least listen to offers for Alonso. Billy Beane has a history of making trades early in the season too. This one might not have to wait until the July 31st deadline. The Yankees or any other team could probably get Alonso before the end of the month and squeeze that many more at-bats out of him.

Trading for a rental like Yonder is a win now move, and it’ll be up to the Yankees to decide whether they want to do something like that. They may decide to stay the course and go with the kids, and hope Bird gets healthy soon. Or they could decide that yes, they’re in the race, and yes, they have some excess prospects to trade. If they decide to make the win now move, Alonso would be pretty much the ideal first base target in my idiot blogger opinion.

Chance Adams, Domingo Acevedo, and the Yankees’ need for middle relief help

Adams. (Times Leader)
Adams. (Times Leader)

It happened again last night. For the fifth time during the seven-game losing streak, the bullpen let a winnable game slip away in the late innings. Tyler Clippard did the honors again, this time by allowing three runs in the span of four batters. Sometimes the bullpen is going to let a game slip away. It happens. That’s baseball. It has been happening entirely too often this last week though. It’s bad.

The Yankees did welcome Aroldis Chapman back from the disabled list Sunday, and adding him to the bullpen will no doubt help. Dellin Betances is now freed up for seventh and eighth inning work. Beyond those two though, the Yankees are without the injured Adam Warren, have a malfunctioning Clippardbot, and will need guys like Jonathan Holder and Chasen Shreve to get big outs. Not ideal!

The season is more than one-third of the way complete now, and it’s looking like the bullpen needs more help than a healthy Chapman. The trade deadline is coming up and trades are fun! We’re going to talk about them a bunch in the coming weeks. No doubt about it. But give the Yankees and Brian Cashman a truth serum, and I’m guessing they’d say they’d rather not trade prospects for non-elite bullpen help.

With the Yankees in the middle of their youth movement, going out and making a trade to shore up the bullpen may be Plan B. Plan A could be looking for help within first. We’ve seen guys like Gio Gallegos and Ben Heller already, and they could get more chances. I’m not talking about them though. The Yankees could turn to some of their high-end minor league starters for bullpen help, specifically Chance Adams and Domingo Acevedo. Let’s talk this out.

1. Using minor league starters as big league relievers is tried-and-true. Teams have been doing this for decades now. It’s not a new idea. Chris Sale spent his first year and a half as a big leaguer in the bullpen before transitioning into the rotation and becoming an ace caliber starter. So did Carlos Martinez. Jeff Samardzija, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Dylan Bundy, Adam Wainwright. They all broke into the show as relievers.

The Yankees have done this too. They did it with Joba Chamberlain, most notably. Phil Hughes spent just about the entire 2009 season in the bullpen. Luis Severino did the bullpen thing last season before getting another chance to start this year. I know we’re all still scarred from the Joba Rules and the weird way the Yankee used Joba late in 2009 and all that, but that was almost ten years ago now. The Yankees have learned from that. I know that because they’ve done absolutely nothing like it since.

The bottom line is this: if the Yankees believe in a player as a starting pitcher, they’re going to give him a chance to start at some point, likely sooner rather than later. They are not against an apprenticeship in the bullpen, however, because that can be beneficial too. Learning how to get outs in the big leagues is valuable experience regardless of role. Does Severino become the pitcher he is today without pitching out of the bullpen last season? I don’t think so.

2. Both Adams and Acevedo can miss bats, and that’s huge. I’m of the belief that the ability to miss bats is essential for bullpen arms. The Warren types, who succeed despite an okay-ish number of strikeouts thanks to weak contact and deep arsenals, are pretty rare. Being able to miss bats and get swings and misses in the late-innings is crucial. That ability to escape jams — or prevent rallies from getting started — by limiting balls in play is huge. Huge.

Both Adams and Acevedo can miss bats. They’ve racked up strikeouts in the minors — Adams has a 25.5% strikeout rate this year, Acevedo 26.2% — and the scouting reports suggest it’s not a fluke. Adams has a mid-90s fastball and a pair of quality breaking balls in his curveball and slider. Acevedo is 6-foot-7 with big extension on his mid-to-upper-90s fastball, plus he has a quality changeup. Let them air it out in relief for an inning or two at the time and these guys could run strikeout rates north of 30%.

3. It won’t be long before they bump up against their workload limits. I don’t know what the number for either guy is, but the number exists. The Yankees have some workload limit in mind for Adams and Acevedo, two of their top pitching prospects, because they want to protect their arms long-term. Here are their recent innings totals:

Adams Acevedo
2014 56.1 15.1
2015 94.1 49.2
2016 127.1 93
2017 so far 75.2 81.2
2017 limit 160? 140?

The old and outdated Verducci rule says you shouldn’t increase a young pitcher’s workload more than 30 innings from one year to the next, but that is, well, old and outdated. Teams are smarter than that now. Every pitcher is different and a blanket “no more than a 30-inning increase” doesn’t make sense.

The Yankees are fairly aggressive with their workload increases. Severino threw nearly 50 more innings in 2015 than he did in 2014, for example. (He threw 48.2 more innings, to be exact.) The Yankees will set limits and stick to them, however. They shut Adams down completely right before Double-A Trenton started the postseason last year. Took away the club’s best pitcher for the sake of his long-term health.

Whatever it is, Adams and Acevedo have an innings limit this year. Maybe it’s the 160 innings and 140 innings I threw in the table. Maybe it’s something else entirely. Whatever it is, rather than shut these down like they did with Adams last year, the Yankees could use those final few innings — their last, say, 20-25 innings, maybe? — out of the big league bullpen.

Remember, we’re not talking about Single-A pitchers here. Both Adams and Acevedo are in Triple-A now. Letting a young, talented pitcher reach his workload limit only to shut him down for the year in Triple-A rather than give him a chance to help the MLB team, even as a September call-up, almost seems wasteful.

Big Sunday. (Icon Sportswire)
Big Sunday. (Icon Sportswire)

4. Service time, minor league options, and the 40-man roster aren’t obstacles. Any time you call up a player, there are roster consequences to be considered. In the case of Adams and Acevedo, neither is on the 40-man roster. The Yankees have an open 40-man spot right now, plus Greg Bird is a 60-day DL candidate, though that might not be the case when they’re ready to call up these two pitchers.

Acevedo will be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, so calling him up would simply be getting a head start and adding to the 40-man a few weeks early. Adams won’t be Rule 5 Draft eligible until after next season, however. And once both guys are on the 40-man roster, they’re not coming off. The Yankees would be tying up a spot for good and that limits their roster flexibility. That’s not nothing!

That said, Acevedo is going to end up the 40-man roster soon anyway, and Adams is likely going to be big league ready before being Rule 5 Draft eligible. This isn’t like adding, say, Jorge Mateo to the 40-man last year. Mateo is a Single-A kid who isn’t MLB ready but was Rule 5 Draft eligible. Acevedo and Adams would be added to the 40-man when the Yankees deem them MLB ready. They’d be on the roster because they’re ready to help.

As for minor league options and service time, who cares? It’s not worth worrying about service time with non-elite prospects, especially pitchers because they get hurt so often. And if the Yankees run into options trouble with Acevedo and Adams down the line, then things are going wrong. Not being able to send them to the minors in 2020 would mean something has gone wrong. These roster issues really aren’t worth worrying about.

* * *

All of that was a long way of saying that if the Yankees consider Adams and Acevedo big league ready, there’s no good reason not to use them as relievers. The guys in the bullpen are not getting the job done and sticking with the status quo might not be viable much longer. The Yankees are going to have to get some new bodies in there if things don’t change soon.

Adams and Acevedo can go back to starting next year and the roster situation isn’t enough of an obstacle. Maybe the Yankees end up needing both Adams and Acevedo in the rotation and this is all moot. If not though, the bullpen is waiting, and both should be considered middle relief options. If they’re deemed ready to help, let them help, even if they’re only throwing one inning at time.