Prospect Profile: Kyle Holder

(Staten Island Advance)
(Staten Island Advance)

Kyle Holder | SS

Background
Holder is a San Diego native who played both baseball and basketball at University City High School. Baseball America did not rank him among the top 500 prospects for the 2012 draft. Holder went undrafted out of high school and headed to Grossmont College, a two-year school, and originally intended to play both sports before deciding to focus full-time on baseball.

During his lone season at Grossmont, Holder hit .405/.477/.446 with eleven walks and only four strikeouts in 38 games. Baseball America (subs. req’d) didn’t rank him among the top 500 prospects for the 2013 draft — Holder was draft-eligible because he went to a junior college, though he went undrafted again — but his big spring did catch the eye of several major Division I programs.

Holder was recruited by UNLV, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Riverside, among other schools, but chose to stay close to home and attend the University of San Diego. He took over as the Toreros starting shortstop and hit .295/.358/.403 with three home runs, 15 walks, and 16 strikeouts in 52 games in 2014. After the season Holder played with the Cotuit Kettleers in the prestigious Cape Cod League and hit .274/.398/.301 in 20 games.

As a junior this past spring, Holder broke out offensively, hitting .348/.418/.482 with four home runs and as many walks as strikeouts (19 each) in 55 games. Baseball America ranked him as the 38th best prospect in the 2015 draft and the Yankees grabbed him with their supplemental first round pick, No. 30 overall. That was the compensation pick for losing David Robertson to free agency. Holder signed quickly for $1.8M, slightly below the $1.91M slot value.

Pro Debut
The Yankees assigned Holder to Short Season Staten Island this summer and he hit .213/.273/.253 (57 wRC+) in 56 games and 250 plate appearances while batting a nagging thumb injury that caused him to miss 20 games over the course of the season. The Yankees then had Holder take part in Instructional League in September and October.

Scouting Report
Holder is a defense-first prospect. He’s ultra-athletic at 6-foot-1 and 185 lbs., and many reports dubbed him the best defensive player at any position in the draft and best defensive college shortstop in several years. Holder has good instincts, good range, a quick first step, soft hands, and a strong arm capable of making plays deep in the hole. He’s a no-doubt shortstop long-term who is an above-average defender right now with the potential to be more in the future.

At the plate, Holder is very much a work in progress. It’s unlikely he’ll ever be an above-average hitter because he lacks power — even the most optimistic folks project him to be a single-digit homer guy — despite having a bit of an uppercut swing. The Yankees have already gone to work with Holder, getting him to stand a bit more upright and do a better job of keeping his weight back. Here’s some video:

If you’re interested, here’s video of Holder with San Diego in May. The Yankees have shortened his base a bit and straightened him up, though there is obviously still work to be done.

Offensively, Holder’s best attribute is his bat-to-ball skills from the left side of the plate. He makes contact fairly easily and knows the strike zone, so it’s a matter of improving the quality of his contact, not revamping his approach. Holder’s a good runner but doesn’t have big time speed. He’s going to be a bottom of the order hitter whose primary value comes in the field. And, for what it’s worth, Holder has drawn praise for his work ethic and leadership skills.

2016 Outlook
Although he’s a college player who spent the last two seasons at a major program, Holder has only been playing baseball full-time for three years, so he’s not really in position to shoot up the minor league ladder. The Yankees have a ton of shortstop prospects in the low minors, most notably Jorge Mateo, who will open 2016 with High-A Tampa. That likely means Holder will open next season with Low-A Charleston. The Yankees have a lot of lower level shortstop prospects and sorting out playing time will be a challenge the next year or two.

My Take
I thought the Holder pick was fine in the sense that he was a supplemental first round pick talent, but didn’t love it because he’s a pretty low upside player. His value is tied to his defense — and to be fair, by all accounts he’s a great defender at an up-the-middle position — and if some swing changes don’t take, his bat may top out in Single-A.

At the same time, Holder has a carrying tool in his defense, and that’s a big deal at a premium position. Brett Gardner was overlooked in the minors because appeared to lack offensive upside even though his center field glove gave him a chance to stick as a regular. (Then Gardner learned how to hit, so yeah.) Holder’s detractors have already dug in and he will be heavily scrutinized. I like to think I have an open mind, though there’s no doubt the development of Holder’s bat will be under the microscope going forward.

The Third & Fourth String Catchers [2015 Season Review]

(Presswire)
Sanchez. (Presswire)

This past season, the Yankees were the only team in baseball to use just two catchers. A dozen teams used three different catchers and the other 17 used at least four. Brian McCann and John Ryan Murphy combined to catch every inning of every game for New York, which is a minor miracle. It’s so easy for catchers to get banged up and yet both stayed healthy.

The Yankees called up two additional catchers once rosters expanded in September, and even though neither spent an inning behind the plate, they had important seasons for the Yankees. Gary Sanchez re-established himself as a top prospect and Austin Romine stayed healthy and put together a solid season in Triple-A. Their work allowed the Yankees to trade Murphy this offseason.

The Arrival of Sanchez

Fair or not, Sanchez’s prospect stock took a hit in 2014, when he was merely very good instead of great with Double-A Trenton. He hit .270/.338/.406 (108 wRC+) with 13 home runs in 110 games and made incremental progress with his defense, which is good, but not exactly a huge breakout. Sanchez has been around for a while now and people were still waiting for that huge year.

Sanchez, who turns 23 today, finally had that monster year in 2015. After barely playing in camp — Sanchez went 1-for-9 (with a dinger!) in six Grapefruit League games — he started the season back with the Thunder and hit in the middle of what was a rather ridiculous lineup, especially by Double-A standards. Check out the team’s Opening Day starting nine:

Trenton lineup

That’s something else. Sanchez stayed in the cleanup spot and raked for the Thunder, hitting .262/.319/.476 (127 wRC+) with 12 home runs in 58 games. Power is Sanchez’s calling card and he was showing a lot of it early on.

The Yankees moved Sanchez up to Triple-A Scranton in mid-July — he missed two weeks in mid-June with a minor hand injury after being hit by a foul tip — and he hit the ground running with the RailRiders. Sanchez went 2-for-4 with a homer in his Triple-A debut and 25-for-70 (.357) with six doubles and four homers in his first 20 games with Scranton. A minor hamstring pull ended Sanchez’s minor league regular season on August 26th.

The team planned to called Sanchez to the big leagues when rosters expanded in September, though he had to wait until September 12th, after the hamstring healed and he got some tune-up at-bats in the Triple-A postseason. Sanchez hit .295/.349/.500 (145 wRC+) at Triple-A and .271/.329/.476 (131 wRC+) with 18 home runs in 96 minor league games overall. Only two minor league catchers hit more home runs in 2015.

The Yankees were in the postseason race right down to Game 162 — they didn’t clinch homefield advantage in the wildcard game until the final day of the season, remember — so Sanchez didn’t play much in September. He got two at-bats, both as a pinch-hitter in a blowout. He popped up against Oliver Drake and struck out against Zach Britton in those two at-bats. Anti-climatic!

Sanchez was on the wildcard game roster as an extra right-handed bench bat, but he didn’t get into the game. The Yankees decided to send Sanchez to the Arizona Fall League after the season and holy moly, he raked in the desert. He put up a .295/.357/.625 (159 wRC+) batting line with a league-leading seven home runs in 22 games, and was impressive on both sides of the ball.

The Yankees value catcher defense very highly, and I don’t think they would have traded Murphy if they aren’t comfortable with Sanchez behind the plate. Does that mean they think he’s ready to catch everyday at the MLB level? Of course not. But Sanchez has steadily improved behind the plate and the Murphy trade was a big vote of confidence. It showed the team has faith in his defensive skills. Simply put, Sanchez’s play this summer made Murphy expendable.

We can never rule out an offseason trade, but right now Sanchez appears to have the inside track on the backup catcher’s job next year. The Yankees are really starting to emphasize youth and incorporating Sanchez into the 25-man roster is an obvious piece of that puzzle. We’ll see how things play out this winter and in Spring Training. One thing we know for sure is Sanchez is in position to have a real impact for the Yankees in 2016.

The Return of Romine

Coming into Spring Training, the Yankees said Murphy and Romine (and Eddy Rodriguez) were competing for the backup catcher’s spot. That was never really the case though. When Francisco Cervelli got hurt last season, it was Murphy who got called up to replace him. Romine, who spent most of 2013 as Chris Stewart’s backup, wasn’t even called up when rosters expanded on September 1st. He didn’t come up until later in the month, after Cervelli got hurt.

A poor Spring Training ended any chance Romine had at making the team. (He went 6-for-35 with ten strikeouts in camp.) It was going to take a monster spring combined with Murphy falling on his face for Romine to get the backup catcher job. Since he was out of minor league options, the Yankees had to put Romine on waivers to send him to Triple-A. Thanks to some creative timing, they were able to slip him through.

Romine. (Presswire)
Romine. (Presswire)

The Yankees designated Romine for assignment on April 4th, two days before Opening Day and the day before teams had to set their 25-man Opening Day roster. That gave them ten days to trade, release, or waive Romine. They waited until April 6th, the day after teams had to set their Opening Day rosters, to put him on waivers. Clubs had already set their rosters, so claiming Romine would have been a headache. That allowed him to slip through unclaimed. Sneaky!

Romine, who turned 27 last week, opened 2015 as the starting catcher with Triple-A Scranton. He started the season slow but did make it count when he connected — Romine went 11-for-56 (.196) in his first 15 games but had eight extra-base hits (seven doubles and one homer). He quickly settled in after that and owned a .267/.326/.407 (112 wRC+) line with six homers in 65 games the day Sanchez was promoted.

Considering Romine hit .242/.300/.365 (82 wRC+) in 81 Triple-A games in 2014, his rebound in 2015 was a welcome surprise. If nothing else, it allowed the Yankees to feel a little better about their catching depth. Sanchez took over behind the plate after being promoted and Romine moved into something of a utility role for the RailRiders. He played some first base and DH in addition to catching whenever Sanchez needed a rest, improving his versatility a tiny little bit.

The hamstring injury meant Sanchez wasn’t ready to be called up when rosters expanded on September 1st, so Romine got the call as the third catcher by default. He was re-added to the 40-man roster and joined the big league team after hitting hit .261/.311/.379 (99 wRC+) with seven home runs in 92 Triple-A games overall. Romine appeared in just one MLB this year: he started Game 160 at first base and went 0-for-2 with a line out and a ground out before being lifted for a pinch-hitter. That’s all.

Before the Murphy trade, Romine looked like a prime candidate to lose his 40-man roster spot whenever time came this offseason. Since he had already been outrighted once before (in April), he could elect free agency, which he almost certainly would have done so he could join an organization that gave him a better opportunity. Instead, Romine remains with the Yankees thanks to the Murphy trade and figures to do so for the foreseeable future.

At the moment it appears Romine will come to Spring Training and be given a chance to win the backup catcher’s job, except this time it might be a true competition with Sanchez. There are valid reasons to have Sanchez return to Triple-A next season — work on his defense, mostly — which could clear a spot for Romine. The Murphy trade was big for Romine. If nothing else, it bought him a few more weeks on the 40-man roster. It also gives him a legitimate chance to break camp with the Yankees next season.

Scouting the Trade Market: Joe Ross

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

This past season the Nationals were the undisputed most disappointing team in baseball. They were expected to not only win the NL East in a landslide, but be a serious World Series contender. Instead, they went 83-79 and finished seven games back of the Mets thanks to injuries and poor individual performances. Basically everyone except Bryce Harper is to blame.

GM Mike Rizzo is tasked with picking up the pieces this offseason. He already fired the entire coaching (and training) staff and brought in Dusty Baker to run the clubhouse. Rizzo also has to replace several big name free agents, most notably Ian Desmond, Denard Span, and Jordan Zimmermann. Trea Turner can step in at short to replace Desmond, but finding a center fielder and starter will be more difficult.

Despite their disappointing season, the Nationals do still have a lot of talent on their roster, including 22-year-old right-hander Joe Ross, the younger brother of Padres righty Tyson Ross. Washington acquired the younger Ross from the Rays with Turner in the Steven Souza trade last winter. The Rays got him from the Padres in the Wil Myers deal a few days earlier. San Diego selected Ross in the first round (25th overall) of the 2011 draft.

Nick Cafardo recently reported Ross is “one of the most sought-after pitchers of the offseason,” which makes sense because he’s a good young starter. Those guys are always in demand. Cafardo says Rizzo is resisting all offers at the moment, but that could change depending how the offseason plays out. The Yankees are looking high and low for young controllable pitching this offseason, so is Ross a potential fit? Let’s look.

2015 Performance

Ross started this season in Double-A, made nine starts (2.81 ERA and 2.80 FIP), then was called up to the Nationals for a three-game cameo. Washington eventually sent him down to Triple-A for five more starts (2.19 ERA and 3.85 FIP), then called him back to the big leagues for good in late-July. He replaced the struggling Doug Fister in the rotation.

All told, Ross had a 3.64 ERA (3.42 FIP) in 76.2 big league innings spread across 13 starts and three relief appearances. (The Nats moved him to the bullpen at the end of the season to control his workload.) He had very strong strikeout (22.0%), walk (6.7%), grounder (49.8%), and home run (0.82 HR/9) rates. I’m not sure what more you could want from a 22-year-old kid making his MLB debut.

Ross’ overall numbers are impressive, so let’s look at some platoon splits.

TBF AVG/OBP/SLG (wOBA) K% BB% GB% HR/9 Soft% Hard% FIP
vs. RHB 160 .170/.209/.252 (.205) 26.3% 3.8% 63.6% 0.62 24.3% 20.7% 2.58
vs. LHB 154 .275/.353/.456 (.351) 17.5% 9.7% 35.8% 1.08 11.7% 38.7% 4.51

Obviously small sample size warnings apply, but gosh, that’s a massive platoon split. Ross totally dominated right-handed batters during his time with the Nationals but got knocked around pretty good by lefties. For what it’s worth, he had a negligible platoon split during his time in the minors this past season, but that’s not uncommon. Good pitching prospects tend to have success against everyone in the minors.

Plenty of starters put together long careers with a platoon split, though I’m not sure anyone has done it with a platoon split quite that extreme. Ross is still only 22, so he’s not a finished product. Figuring out a way to combat lefties is at the top of his (and his organization’s) to-do list going forward. Holding opposite hand hitters to even league average numbers would make Ross an above-average starter given his success against righties.

The Stuff

Coming into the season, Ross was a borderline top 100 prospect who jumped into top 50 prospect territory by midseason thanks to his Double-A and Triple-A dominance (and brief MLB competence). Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Ross as the 23rd best prospect in the game in his midseason update while Baseball America and MLB.com had him 31st and 33rd, respectively. Here’s a snippet of Baseball America’s preseason scouting report:

He shows two plus pitches with consistency, though his changeup still has a long way to go for scouts to confidently peg him as a quality starter. Ross pitches at 93-94 mph and tops out at 97 with above-average riding life on his fastball, which helps him keep the ball on the ground and home runs off the board. He can alter batters’ eye level with a power slider that darts out of the zone and flashes plus potential. He loses velocity in later innings and doesn’t have the best feel for mixing his pitches.

That lack of a changeup — Ross threw the changeup only 6.8% of the time in the big leagues — explains the struggles against left-handed batters. This isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Young pitchers often lack a reliable changeup because they never really needed one before. They dominated in high school and college and even in the minors without one. Ross is hardly an exception here.

Even if he improves the changeup down the road, the fastball and slider will always be Ross’ bread and butter. He’s similar to Michael Pineda in that sense. (And his brother Tyson, in fact.) Pineda has done a nice job developing a usable changeup the last two years but it’s always going to lag behind his heater and slider. The same will likely be true for Ross.

Anyway, here’s some video of Ross in action so you can actually see what his pitches look like:

Interestingly, the PitchFX gurus at Brooks Baseball classify Ross’ fastball as a sinker because it moves so much. That’s the “above-average riding life” mentioned in the Baseball America scouting report. And you can see that movement in the video. Ross’ fastball runs back in on righties and that’s a great way to get ground balls and limit extra-base hits. The movement helps keep the ball off the barrel.

The video sure makes Ross’ fastball-slider combination look great — I don’t remember seeing any changeups in there — but it is a highlight video, so it’s only going to show good pitches. Here are some numbers that paint a broader picture. (There are his numbers as a starter only. I removed those three relief appearances at the end of the season.)

% Thrown Avg Velo Max Velo Whiff% (MLB Avg) GB% (MLB Avg)
Sinker 57.4% 93.7 97.7 4.7% (5.4%) 51.8% (49.5%)
Slider 35.8% 84.2 88.3 24.9% (15.2%) 52.4% (43.9%)
Changeup 6.8% 87.4 90.7 7.1% (14.9%) 40.0% (47.8%)

For at least this past season, Ross had an elite slider in terms of swing-and-miss rate and ground ball rate. Both numbers were well-above-average compared to the league averages for sliders. The sinker was more or less average and the changeup … well the changeup was bad. Leave it at that.

Much like Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi, the idea with Ross would be acquiring a guy with good raw ability and helping him get to the next level by teaching him an offspeed pitch. Pineda’s made some progress with the changeup and Eovaldi really took to the splitter this summer. Ross’ fastball and slider are a great starting point. Get him to develop and trust a usable third pitch changeup and you’ve got yourself a nice looking young starter.

Injury History

Ross is a pretty big guy at 6-foot-4 and 205 lbs., so he has the look of a workhorse, but size doesn’t always equal durability. He’s had two notable injuries in his career. Shoulder tendinitis forced Ross to miss close to two months in the middle of the 2012 season, and shoulder fatigue ended his 2014 season in early-August.

Shoulder woes are always a red flag, though the good news is Ross hasn’t had any kind of strain or structural damage that required surgery. Just a little tendinitis and fatigue. (He was healthy in 2015 as well.) Not great news but not the end of the world either. The Baseball America scouting report noted Ross struggles to hold his velocity deep into games and that was certainly true this summer, so stamina is a concern.

Joe Ross velocity

That’s his time as a starter only. It doesn’t include those three relief appearances in September, when the Nationals basically shut Ross down for workload reasons.

There’s some who believe Ross is destined for the bullpen long-term because he lacks a changeup and doesn’t hold his velocity deep into starts, and that’s a valid opinion. I do think it’s way too early to say Ross is destined for the bullpen, however. He’s only thrown 452.1 innings in his entire career. Gotta give him more time than that to work on his changeup and other stuff, right?

Contract Situation

This is easy: Ross was added to the 40-man roster and called up to MLB for the first time this June. He is sitting on 94 days of service time, meaning he has all six years of team control remaining and is not on pace to be a Super Two player if he never returns to the minors, so you’d be getting three pre-arbitration and three arbitration years. Ross did burn a minor league option when he was sent back to Triple-A in late-June, so he has two left.

Possible Cost

This is always the tricky part, coming up with comparable players who were traded, giving us an idea of Ross’ trade value. Ross himself was traded twice this past offseason, which helps a little, but not much because he was a prospect then and now he’s a guy with some MLB success under his belt. That makes a big difference. Also, Ross was part of a package of players each time, so isolating his trade value is tough.

Ross shot up and became a consensus top 50 prospect this summer, and he has six full years of team control left, so that’s our starting point. Here are similar top 50-ish pitching prospects (per Baseball America) who were traded in recent years:

  • Daniel Norris: Part of a three-player package for a half-season of David Price.
  • Matt Wisler: Part of a four-player package for three years of Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton.
  • Andrew Heaney Part I: Part of a four-player package for four years of Dee Gordon and one year of Dan Haren.
  • Andrew Heaney Part II: Straight up for one year of Howie Kendrick.
  • Chris Archer: Part of a four-player package for three years of Matt Garza.
  • Casey Kelly: Part of a three-player package for one year of Adrian Gonzalez.
  • Zack Wheeler: Straight up for a half-season of Carlos Beltran.

Does this help us any? Eh, not really. Only Norris (30 innings) and Heaney (29.1 innings) had MLB experience at the time of their trades. Wheeler was in High-A, Archer and Kelly were in Double-A, and Wisler was in Triple-A. Not many young pitchers like Ross — under control for six years but with some big league success and experience under their belt — get traded these days.

Wrapping Up

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

It’s very hard to ignore the Yankees and Nationals match up really well for a trade. Washington needs a center fielder and leadoff hitter to replace Span (Brett Gardner …. or Jacoby Ellsbury?), they want another high-end reliever (Andrew Miller), and they could use rotation depth after losing Zimmermann and Fister (Ivan Nova).

The Yankees are not necessarily shopping Gardner, Miller, or Nova, but their names are out there and the team seems very willing to listen to offers. A young controllable starter like Ross is said to be atop their wish list. Of course, the Nats need a young and controllable starter too since Zimmermann’s gone and Stephen Strasburg will be a free agent next offseason.

The lack of a changeup and the shoulder woes are definite red flags, but Ross is the kind of pitcher the Yankees have been targeting in recent years: big fastball, low walk rate, and physically big. They’re obviously confident in pitching coach Larry Rothschild‘s ability to teach an offspeed pitch — they wouldn’t have acquired Pineda and Eovaldi if they weren’t — so I doubt the lack of a changeup scares them. They’ve accepted that challenge before, multiple times.

Maybe there is a deal to be built around the Gardner-for-Ross or Miller-for-Ross framework. I wouldn’t say each team is dealing from a position of depth — is Ross a surplus for the Nationals? is Miller a surplus for the Yankees? — but they would be addressing a clear need. The real question isn’t Ross’ talent and ability. It’s whether the Nationals and Rizzo are even open to moving him.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today the Indians announced they’ve signed ex-Yankee Joba Chamberlain to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. It’s been a while since Joba was a Yankee but he was a pretty big deal around these parts back in the day. Too bad it didn’t work out. Hey, at least Chamberlain helped the Yankees win the 2009 World Series. That was cool.

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Nets and Devils are both playing, plus there’s a bunch of college basketball on as well. Talk about those games, Joba’s deal with the Tribe, or anything else right here.

(Sorry the video is grainy. Blame MLB.com, not me. Here’s the box score if you don’t remember that game.)

Red Sox get their ace: Boston to sign David Price to $217M deal

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

As expected, the Red Sox have spent big for a free agent ace. According to multiple reports, the BoSox and David Price have agreed to a seven-year contract worth $217M. He gets an opt-out after year three, which is par for the course these days. All huge money deals include an opt-out. The contract is still pending a physical which will happen later this week.

At $217M, this is the largest pitching contract in history, narrowly edging out Clayton Kershaw’s $215M pact. It’s the eighth largest contract ever, behind Giancarlo Stanton ($325M), Alex Rodriguez ($275M and $252M), Miguel Cabrera ($248M), Robinson Cano ($240M), Albert Pujols ($240M), and Joey Votto ($225M). Hey, you don’t bring in Dave Dombrowski to run your baseball operations to not spend money and trade prospects.

As for the Yankees, this doesn’t really affect anything other than having to compete against Price and the Red Sox going forward. New York wasn’t in the hunt for Price — the Cubs, Giants, Cardinals, and Dodgers were the other teams in the race, reports Jerry Crasnick — because they’re unlikely to spend significant money this offseason. The Yankees only spend what comes off payroll and this year that’s only $20M or so.

Nothing has really changes for the Yankees as far as their offseason plan is concerned. They still could use another starting pitcher, preferably one they control beyond 2017, plus maybe a second baseman and miscellaneous depth pieces. A Brett Gardner or Andrew Miller trade could change things considerably, but right now both are on the roster.

King: Yankees not close to trading Gardner, Miller, or Nova

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

Despite all sorts of rumors, the Yankees are not close to trading Brett Gardner, Andrew Miller, or Ivan Nova according to George King. King says no team has made anything close to an acceptable offer for Gardner or Miller, and there simply isn’t a ton of interest in Nova at this point. Obviously this could all change in a hurry.

So far we’ve heard Gardner connected to the Mariners and Cubs (and possibly the Indians), and Miller connected to the Astros, Diamondbacks, and Tigers. Nova? He hasn’t been connected to any teams yet, but I’m sure there’s some interest. Teams always need pitching and this is a chance to buy low on a guy who has had some success in the AL East, albeit not recently.

My hunch is a Gardner trade is much more likely than a Miller or Nova trade. The Yankees have a ready made Gardner replacement in Aaron Hicks, plus a bunch of young outfielders in Triple-A. Miller is an elite reliever and not as easily replaced. Nova? He doesn’t have a ton of value at the moment and keeping him as the sixth or seventh starter makes more sense than giving him up for meh prospect.

For what it’s worth, Gardner’s agent told Brendan Kuty his client wants “to be a New York Yankee for his entire career,” though he also acknowledged this is a business and a trade is out of his control. (Gardner doesn’t have a no-trade clause but he does get a $1M bonus if dealt.) That’s not surprising. Pretty much everyone who experiences some success with the Yankees never wants to leave. It’s good to be a Yankee.

The Winter Meetings start next week and in recent years the Yankees have handled their major business away from the four-day event. Their last major Winter Meetings transactions were re-signing Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera in 2010. You have to go back to the three-team Curtis Granderson trade during the 2009 Winter Meetings for their last major deal not involving a legacy Yankee.

That doesn’t mean next week will be slow, of course. The Winter Meetings are never slow. It just means the Yankees haven’t pulled the trigger on many deals at the Winter Meetings in recent years. With players like Gardner and Miller on the block, the Winter Meetings could be busier than usual for the Yankees. It’s not often they’re open to dealing players of that caliber.

Fun with Statcast: Where does each Yankee hit the ball the hardest?

Carlos Beltran
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

This past season, MLB and MLBAM made Statcast data available to the public for the first time. Things like spin rate and batted ball velocity were suddenly right at our fingertips. The info as presented still lacks context — I have no idea if a 96.8% route efficiency is good or bad or average — but it’s a start. More information is a good thing.

Batted ball velocity is an interesting one because intuitively, the harder you hit the ball, the better. There’s something to be said to having the ability to place the ball in a good location, but hitting the ball hard is a positive. There’s a pretty strong correlation between exit velocity and BABIP. From Rob Arthur:

Exit Velocity BABIP crop

The averaged batted ball velocity in the AL this season was approximately 88.7 mph. The Yankees as a team had an 88.6 mph average exit velocity, but that doesn’t help us much. The individual players are most important, so we’re going to look at them. Specifically, we’re going to look at where each Yankee hit the ball the hardest, which for our purposes means 100+ mph. That sound good?

Before we start, it’s important to note exit velocity by itself is only so useful. Things like launch angle are important — it’s possible to hit a 100+ mph infield pop-up, for example — but there still hasn’t been a ton of research in that department. We’re going to keep it simple and just look at the pitch locations of the 100+ mph batted balls by each Yankee this past season. Got it? Good. So with a big assist from Baseball Savant, let’s dive in. (Click any image in this post for a larger view.)

Carlos Beltran

Carlos Beltran 100mph

Beltran led the Yankees with exactly 100 batted balls with a 100+ mph exit velocity in 2015. Seventy-eight of them came against right-handed pitchers, which makes sense since 71% of his plate appearances came as a left-handed batter. Those numbers are in line with each other.

There isn’t much data against southpaws, so that doesn’t tell us a whole lot, other than Beltran liking the ball over the plate. The pitch locations against right-handed pitchers is far more interesting. Beltran hit away pitches the hardest this past season. Almost all of his 100+ mph batted balls as a lefty batter came on pitches in the middle of the zone or away. There’s very few on the inner half.

Beltran is not an extreme pull hitter from the left side but he definitely doesn’t use the field a whole lot — only 20.3% of his batted balls as a lefty were to the opposite field in 2015. He pulled 45.2% and the other 34.5% went back up the middle. He’s able to do that despite hitting away pitches harder than inside pitches. Interesting! Being able to hammer outside pitches is cool, but would taking slight step back away from the plate better allow him to cover the inner half?

Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez 100 mph

A-Rod was second on the team in 100+ mph batted balls with 92. It appears he hits the ball the hardest in the lower half of the strike zone, and he also does a better job driving balls on the outer half of the plate, which is also interesting. Pulling inside pitches is anecdotally a good way to create exit velocity.

Chase Headley

Chase Headley 100 mph

Headley was third on the team with 69 batted balls of 100+ mph, so yeah, the gap between Beltran and A-Rod and everyone else was massive. Twenty-five of Headley’s 69 100+ mph batted balls, or 36.2%, came as a right-handed batter, which matches up with his plate appearance split (31% as a righty).

Again, the “vs. LHP” plot doesn’t tell us much because there’s not a ton of data, but wow, look at the “vs. RHP” plot. Headley loves down and away pitches, huh? Or at least that’s where he hit the ball the hardest in 2015. He didn’t drive anything — and by drive I mean hit a ball 100+ mph — up in the zone or in the inner half. So far the data has been the exact opposite of what I expected. I figured we’d see most 100+ mph batted balls on pitches up and/or in.

Mark Teixeira

Mark Teixeira 100 mph

If not for the shin injury, Teixeira would have been among the team leaders in 100+ mph batted balls, if not the leader outright. He had 66 of ’em. Teixeira has that big long swing from both sides of the plate so he loves outside pitches. The vast majority of his 100+ mph batted balls came on pitches on the outer half if not off the plate entirely. Let Teixeira extend his arms and he can do major damage.

Brian McCann

Brian McCann 100 mph

Another outer half guy. The Yankees have all these pull hitters and yet most of them seem to hit outside pitches the hardest, and McCann is no exception. He tied Teixeira with 66 balls in play at 100+ mph. It’s amazing to me McCann and the other guys can reach out and pull a pitch that far away from them with such authority. So if you want to limit hard contact, I guess the best way to pitch these guys is inside? That sounds a little weird given their pull tendencies, but the pitch location plots don’t lie.

Brett Gardner

Brett Gardner 100 mph

Okay, this is more like what I expected. Gardner is an all-fields hitter and the majority of his 53 100+ mph batted balls came on middle-middle pitches. There are a few on the inner half and a few on the outer half, but in general, Gardner hit the ball the hardest when it was right down the middle. That makes perfect sense. Brett’s not a brute masher like most of the other guys ahead of him in this post. He makes the hardest contact on mistake pitches over the plate.

Jacoby Ellsbury

Jacoby Ellsbury 100 mph

Ellsbury had 46 batted balls register 100 mph or better and, like Gardner, most of them came on middle-middle pitches. He did some more damage on down and away pitches and less on inside pitches than Brett, but generally the pitch locations are similar. These two aren’t power hitters. The pitcher has to give them something in the heart of the plate for them to really drive it.

Didi Gregorius

Didi Gregorius 100 mph

Ellsbury had one more 100+ mph batted ball than Gregorius in 77 fewer plate appearances. Didi is another guy who does most of his damage on pitches out over the plate, but he also showed the ability to reach out and drive pitches on the outer half this past season. Well beyond the outer half too. Gregorius had a handful of 100+ mph batted balls on pitches off the plate. Pretty crazy.

The Yankees worked with Didi this summer and in June or so he seemed to make a concerted effort to use the opposite field more often. His plot of 100+ mph batted balls ostensibly reflects that approach.

Dustin Ackley

Dustin Ackley 100 mph

This plot covers Ackley’s entire season, not just his time with the Yankees. He had 47 total 100+ mph batted balls in 2015, including nine with the Yankees. Ackley has tremendous natural hitting ability, and although it hasn’t shown up in the stats yet, he does a good job of covering the entire plate based on the plot. He hit balls 100+ mph that were in, out, down, middle-middle … basically everywhere but up, which doesn’t appear to be uncommon.

I am really curious to see a full season of Ackley next year, and not just because of this plot. Getting away from the Mariners and into hitter friendly Yankee Stadium is one hell of a change of scenery for a talented left-handed hitter.

Greg Bird

Greg Bird 100 mph

Bird wasn’t around very long this past season but his 35 batted balls with a three-figure exit velocity were ninth most on the team, ahead of guys with (many) more plate appearances like Chris Young (30) and Stephen Drew (24).

Based on the pitch location plot, Bird does his most damage on pitches down in the zone, which sorta jibes with opponents trying to beat him upstairs with fastballs all the time. I don’t think Bird has an uppercut swing, or at least not an extreme one like McCann or Teixeira, but the lower half of the strike zone is his wheelhouse. He can go down and golf pitches.

Aaron Hicks

Aaron Hicks 100 mph

Hicks, who so far is the Yankees’ only notable pickup of the offseason, had 35 batted balls of 100+ mph last season. As a right-handed batter, he was all about the low pitch. He could really go down and drive low pitches with authority from the right side of the plate.

As a left-handed batter, Hicks had the hardest contact on pitches middle and away. Not so much inside. That is his weaker side of the plate, historically, but being a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium comes with some perks. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Yankees and the hitting coaches do with him next season. There are reasons to believe Hicks is on the verge of really breaking out.

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The Yankees had a bunch of other guys on the roster this past season who are still with the team, but they didn’t hit many 100+ mph batted balls at all. That group includes Rob Refsnyder (seven 100+ batted balls), Slade Heathcott (seven), Brendan Ryan (four), and Mason Williams (three). Click the links in parentheses for each player’s pitch location plot, if you’re interested.