Is Brian McCann still an elite pitch framer?

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Last year when Brian McCann suffered through perhaps his worst offensive campaign as a major-leaguer with a career-low OPS of .692, the one thing that kept his season from being a complete disaster was his strong defense behind the plate. He ranked sixth in caught stealing percentage, and according to the various catcher framing metrics, he was among the elite in stealing strikes.

It’s been a different story this year for McCann. While he’s back to bashing baseballs and putting up his customary above-average offensive numbers, his glovework has been a mixed bag. Yes, he’s still throwing out runners at a high rate, but his pitch framing skills have declined sharply.

There are two catcher framing models — one from the Baseball Prospectus folks and one at StatCorner.com — and both agree that McCann has surprisingly been a poor receiver behind the plate this year.

mccan stats pic2

For the first time in his career (or at least since data became available in 2008), his framing stats are below average and he’s actually losing strikes — i.e. getting fewer called strikes than predicted by the various framing models.

Last season McCann was really good at both stealing strikes outside the zone and getting correct strike calls on pitches that are taken within the zone. Baseball Prospectus credited him with 69 extra strikes gained from his ability to frame pitches outside the zone (16th in MLB); StatCorner calculated that only 10 percent of the pitches he caught within the defined strike zone were called balls, the fifth-best rate among qualified catchers last year.

This season, each of those numbers are in the red and much worse than last year. BP has him with -2 framing runs — meaning he has cost the team two runs based on his poor receiving work — while StatCorner is slightly more optimistic at -0.7 runs. He’s gotten 13 fewer strikes than expected while his rate of called balls within the zone has jumped to 13 percent. Although the raw number of “lost” strikes seems low (13), all it takes is one extra pitch for a batter to deliver a game-changing hit and give away a potential win. That’s baseball, folks.

Digging into the numbers using Baseball Savant’s pitch f/x tool, we can try to figure out where exactly McCann has struggled in stealing strikes outside the zone this year compared to last year. As you can see in the called strike pitch heat maps below, it appears that he’s been less effective in getting calls on pitches to his non-glove side — on the outside corner to right-handed batters and inside to lefties (focus more on the changes in the shapes of the blobs, not the colors):

ezgif.com-maker

There are a couple potential theories to explain McCann’s troubles with framing pitches this year. As the catcher told FanGraphs’ writer Eno Sarris earlier this month, framing is an athletic skill. “You have to have soft hands, and when the ball hits your glove, your wrist can’t move,” explained McCann. When a catcher ages — McCann turned 31 years old this winter — he loses the athleticism and physical skills, along with the critical flexibility, needed to properly execute the framing techniques.

It’s also possible that this year’s pitching staff has thrown him fewer “frameable” pitches. While most analysts agree that the catcher plays a significant part in getting borderline strike calls, framing is a two-way street. The pitcher also has to be able to paint edges with pitches that are just enough off the plate so the batter doesn’t swing but close enough to the zone that the catcher can make it look like a strike.

Regardless of the reasons why McCann is struggling with his pitch framing this year, there is little doubt based on the metrics that his skills have eroded. While the actual impact of these lost strikes on the outcome of a game might seem subtle, we know that one pitch can be the difference between a win and a loss, and one win can be the difference between making the playoffs and playing golf in October.

Davidoff: MLBPA requests “hold” to help settle A-Rod’s home run milestone bonus dispute

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Ken Davidoff, the MLB Players’ Association has formally requested a “hold” from MLB in hopes of settling the dispute over Alex Rodriguez‘s 660th home run milestone bonus. The MLBPA is acting on A-Rod‘s behalf. The Yankees owe Alex a $6M bonus for the homer but have opted not to pay because they claim his performance-enhancing drug history has rendered the milestone unmarketable.

Monday was a soft deadline for A-Rod and/or the MLBPA to file a grievance on the matter — the Collective Bargaining Agreement gives players 45 days to file an appeal and Monday marked 45 days since the 660th homer. A-Rod has been deferring everything to the MLBPA thus far. They’re handling the dispute. Understandably, the union doesn’t want set a precedent by allowing a team to simply refuse to pay a contract bonus.

“At this point in time, the focus right now (is) on the field,” said MLBPA chief Tony Clark to Davidoff. “I know there are other things that are out there, but the focus right now, being in the field, is what’s been beneficial to everyone. For now, we’re going to make sure that remains the focus, regardless of anything or any dialogue that happens in conjunction.”

Davidoff says the Yankees at one point reached out to Rodriguez and presented the idea of settling the dispute with a donation to charity, and while A-Rod’s camp has not yet agreed to that, it isn’t off the table either. (I’m no accountant but I imagine there is some sort of tax implication that makes the charitable donation solution less of a no-brainer than it appears to be.) For what it’s worth, Davidoff says everyone involved has “maintained steady, mostly peaceful discussion in the interest of common ground.”

Anyway, Monday had the potential to be an ugly day had the MLBPA gone ahead and officially filed the grievance on A-Rod’s behalf. Instead, the two sides are working amicably to find a solution and avoid a grievance, which no one wants. I find it hard to believe the argument that the 660th homer was unmarketable would hold up in a hearing, but what do I know. I’m no lawyer. At least this controversy is flying under the radar relatively quietly.

Yankees should follow the Adam Warren blueprint with other pitching prospects this season

Severino. (MiLB.com)
Severino. (MiLB.com)

It’s easy to forget now, but Adam Warren only made the Opening Day roster in 2013 because Phil Hughes suffered a minor back injury late in Spring Training. Hughes went down, long man David Phelps had to step into the rotation, and Warren got the long relief job almost by default. Warren pitched well and stayed on the roster even after Hughes returned. (Cody Eppley went down instead.)

Since then, Warren has developed into a pretty important piece of the pitching staff. He was the long man back in 2013, a setup man in 2014, and now a starter early in 2015. Chances are Warren will lose his rotation spot when Ivan Nova returns in a week or so, though not because he’s pitched poorly. He’s just the low man on the rotation totem pole, and hey, the Yankees need another quality reliever with Andrew Miller hurt. Warren showed he can be that guy last season.

Warren’s path to the big leagues and into the team’s rotation is not uncommon — lots of pitchers have started their careers in the bullpen before graduating to the starting staff. Adam Wainwright and Chris Sale are probably the two most notable recent examples but it is a very long list. Warren did something many other pitchers have done and it’s something the Yankees should consider doing again with other pitching prospects, especially since the middle relief situation is … unsettled. Let’s put it that way.

The most obvious candidate for the Warren blueprint is Luis Severino, New York’s top pitching prospect and one of the best in minor league baseball. The Yankees have moved Severino through the system very aggressively — he threw 85.1 innings in Low-A, 20.1 in High-A, 63 in Double-A, and is at 21.2 in Triple-A and counting — and a second half call-up would hardly be surprising. Everything the Yankees have done with Severino the last two years suggests his MLB debut will come sooner rather than later.

“Can that happen? I wouldn’t rule it out,” Brian Cashman recently said to David Lennon when asked about using Severino in the bullpen later this year. “But it’s not something we’re talking about right now. I’m not opposed to it. It’s just right now, I think we have some other people legitimately before him for the bullpen category … If they’re the best option to help us, whether they’re a starter, and the best option for the pen, then I’m open to any of that stuff.”

Severino threw a career high 113 innings last season and he is still only 21, so he’s not going to throw 180+ innings this year or something like that. (He’s at 59.2 innings right now.) His innings limit might be in the 140-150 innings range this summer, 160 tops. Severino only has another month or so before workload limits starting taking over — capped at five innings per start, something along those lines — and if he’s dominating, why not let him throw his last 20 or so innings of the year out of the big league bullpen? I don’t see much downside.

Mitchell. (Scranton Times Tribune)
Mitchell. (Scranton Times Tribune)

The other bullpen candidate in the Triple-A Scranton rotation is Bryan Mitchell, who has a 2.79 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 67.2 innings despite mediocre strikeout (19.1%) and walk (12.0%) rates. Mitchell has a strong ground ball rate (53.5%) and has yet to allow a homer, but that doesn’t mean much. Any pitching prospect worth a damn should have a very good ground ball rate in the minors. There are a lot of bad hitters who are overwhelmed at the plate down there. A lot. Mitchell got his first taste of the show last year, for what it’s worth.

The Yankees initially worked Warren into the big leagues as a relief pitcher before reintroducing him to the rotation, which by and large has been a success. He helped the bullpen and is now helping the rotation. They could follow a similar path with Severino and Mitchell, getting them acclimated to MLB life as relievers this year — and potentially solidifying the middle innings later in the process — before moving them back into the rotation next year. Again, teams have been doing this with young pitchers for decades.

That last part is important though. The going back to the rotation part. Especially for Severino. It’s too early to shoehorn either guy into permanent relief roles, though that does happen often these days. The Yankees tried and mostly failed to put Joba Chamberlain back into the rotation years ago, and while that may make you skeptical about their ability to pull it off with Mitchell or Severino, I’d like to think it was a learning experience. They seem to have gotten it right with Warren, mostly because the bullpen-to-rotation transition didn’t happen at midseason.

Anyway, the imminent return of Ivan Nova gives the Yankees some more rotation depth, as does Esmil Rogers‘ decision to remain in the organization after being outrighted. (Don’t laugh, Rogers could stretch back out as a starter in Triple-A and be an emergency option if necessary.) Mitchell had been sitting around as the sixth starter by default the last few weeks but keeping him in that sixth starter role is no longer imperative. Moving him to the bullpen would be a relatively easy move. Same with Severino.

The Yankees do have some more bullpen options in Triple-A — Nick Rumbelow, Danny Burawa, Branden Pinder, etc. — they could try out before turning to a starter-to-bullpen candidate like Mitchell or Severino. Those two guys should not be off the table as bullpen options though, especially in the second half. The Warren blueprint — bullpen now, rotation later — is one that could really benefit the Yankees this season without sabotaging the future of their young hurlers.

Eovaldi, Yankees get crushed by Marlins, fall 12-2 for fifth loss in six games

It’s probably not a good thing that the most exciting part of the game was watching an opposing player crank an opposite field home run off the facing of the upper deck, but here we are. Giancarlo Stanton did just that in fifth inning on Tuesday, though the game was already out of hand by then — the Marlins demolished the Yankees 12-2. New York has now lost five of their last six games.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Lost The Trade!
This game was over in the first inning. The Marlins hammered their former teammate Nathan Eovaldi — I mean hit after hit after hit after hit — for eight runs on nine hits in just two-thirds of an inning. No, his defense didn’t do him any favors — Didi Gregorius bobbled a grounder and both Chris Young and (surprise!) Carlos Beltran failed to reel in catchable fly balls — and yes, four of the nine hits were ground balls with eyes, but some point Eovaldi has to pick his defense up. Can’t just fall apart like that.

Anyway, five of the nine hits came in two-strike counts and Eovaldi got one swing-and-miss out of 36 total pitches, which is basically a microcosm of his season (and career). Eovaldi came into Tuesday with a respectable 4.13 ERA (4.07 FIP) and left with a disastrous 5.12 ERA (4.06 FIP). (Hey, he lowered his FIP!). This is an anomaly start. I don’t care how much you hate Eovaldi, eight runs in two-thirds of an inning is an extreme outlier, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. I just wish Joe Girardi had left him in to bite the bullet, throw his 100 pitches, and save the bullpen, but alas.

Al after looking at the lineup without him. (Presswire)
Al after looking at the lineup without him. (Presswire)

Two Token Runs
Girardi may have out-thought himself with the whole “David Phelps as a reverse split since the start of last year so I’m going to put Chris Young and Brendan Ryan in the lineup” thing. Yeah, the reserve split business is true, but Young can’t hit righties and Ryan can’t hit anyone. Seems like that would negate any advantage gained by the reverse split. Maybe just stick with the best hitters regardless of handedness next time.

So, anyway, the Yankees scored their first run in the sixth inning on a bloop (Gregorius), a walk (Mark Teixeira), and a single through the shift (Brian McCann). They scored their second run on a walk (Stephen Drew), a single (Garrett Jones), and a double (Mason Williams). None of those last three guys started the game. McCann blooped a single, Beltran doubled into the right field corner, John Ryan Murphy singled back up the middle, and Ryan also reached on an error. The offense. What are you going to do. Sometimes you’re just going to run into twin aces like Tom Koehler and David Phelps.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
Chris Capuano bit the bullet and threw four innings and 77 pitches out of the bullpen, so thanks for that. Chris Martin got four outs — he served up the monster three-run homer to Stanton, with two of those runs being charged to Capuano — and Jose Ramirez allowed one run in two innings. His first inning was probably the best he’s looked as a big leaguer. Ramirez will likely be demoted to Triple-A for a fresh arm now.

Speaking of a fresh arm, I wonder if the Yankees will call up Jose DePaula before Wednesday’s game. It’s his day to start for Triple-A Scranton and he’s already on the 40-man roster, so it’s an easy move that would add another long man with Capuano down. Esmil Rogers can start for the RailRiders to save their bullpen too. We’ll see.

Eovaldi is the first Yankee to allow eight runs in one inning or less since Bartolo Colon in 2011. Before that it was Chien-Ming Wang in 2009 and before that you have to go all the way back to Orlando Hernandez in 2000. Colon, Wang, and El Duque, huh? Pretty good pitchers. Baseball is weird sometimes.

And finally, this was somehow not the worst loss by an AL East team on Wednesday. The Nationals beat the Rays 16-4. Good gravy. The Blue Jays lost too, so, after all that, the Yankees remain one game back of first and one game up on third. No harm, no foul.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights, and here are the updated standings. We also have Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages worth your time. Now here’s the loss probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
Same two teams on Wednesday, though the four-game series now shifts to Yankee Stadium for the final two games. Righties Michael Pineda and Jose Urena will be on the mound. The Yankees will play 14 of their next 21 games at home, so head over to RAB Tickets if you want to catch a game(s) these next few weeks.

DotF: Flores and Severino lead RailRiders to a win

Got some notes to pass along:

  • Matt Kardos says C Gary Sanchez has been placed on the Double-A Trenton DL with a hand injury. He was hit by a foul tip the other day and has a bone bruise. X-rays showed no fracture. Sanchez is a few days away from returning to baseball activities according to Trenton manager Al Pedrique.
  • LHP Jacob Lindgren has been placed on the Triple-A Scranton DL, reports Chad Jennings. Not sure what’s wrong there but he hasn’t pitched since being demoted this past weekend. If it’s something Lindgren suffered while in MLB, the Yankees will have to call him back up and place him on the big league DL, allowing him accrue service time and receive MLB salary.
  • According to his Twitter feed, SS Kyle Holder is heading to Short Season Staten Island, which makes sense. He was the team’s supplemental first rounder last week ($1.8M bonus). Also, Robert Pimpsner says IF Thairo Estrada and RHP Domingo Acevedo will be with Staten Island as well. The season starts Friday.
  • Nick Peruffo says LHP James Pazos has been bumped up to Triple-A Scranton while RHP Caleb Cotham was send down to Double-A Trenton to clear a roster spot

Triple-A Scranton (6-4 win over Rochester)

  • CF Ben Gamel, RF Jose Pirela & 2B Rob Refsnyder: all 0-4 — Gamel and Pirela both drew a walk and struck out
  • LF Ramon Flores: 3-4, 3 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI
  • SS Gregorio Petit: 2-4, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 K
  • RHP Luis Severino: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 2/7 GB/FB — 59 of 103 pitches were strikes (57%) … this strikes me as the kind of performance that would have been much uglier against big leaguers … lots of fly balls, same number of walks as strikeouts, inefficient, etc.
  • RHP Jaron Long: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 4/1 GB/FB — 14 of 19 pitches were strikes (74%) … temporarily working out of the bullpen because Ivan Nova is in his rotation spot
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 1 IP, zeroes, 1 K, 1/0 GB/FB — nine of 13 pitches were strikes (69%)
  • RHP Branden Pinder: 0 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K — only one of four pitches were strikes … he was ejected in the middle of an at-bat, hence the pitch count weirdness … also he’s allowed five runs in six innings since being sent down

[Read more…]

Game 64: Phelpsie

Huh, no post-Yankees beard. (Presswire)
Huh, no post-Yankees beard. (Presswire)

In the grand scheme of things, the five-player trade with the Marlins was the biggest trade the Yankees made this past offseason. Four bonafide big leaguers and one very good prospect were involved, and two of those big leaguers will be on the mound tonight when Nathan Eovaldi and David Phelps square off in the second game of this four-game home-and-home series.

Phelps was a servicable swingman for the Yankees the last three years, pitching to a 4.21 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 40 starts and 47 relief appearances from 2012-14. Considering the Yankees acquired Phelps with a 14th round draft pick (2008) and a $150,000 signing bonus, I’d say they got a pretty great return on their investment. Hopefully he still bleeds pinstripes and throws his former teammates some meatballs tonight. The Yankee could use all the help they can get right now. Here is Miami’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Brett Gardner
  2. SS Didi Gregorius
  3. 1B Mark Teixeira
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. LF Chris Young
  8. 2B Brendan Ryan
    RHP Nathan Eovaldi

Typical weather in Miami today, so sunny and hot and humid. Same yesterday, and since the Marlins Park roof was closed last night, I assume that will be the case tonight as well. Today’s game begin 7:10pm ET and can be seen on YES. Try to enjoy.

Injury Update: Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) will not stay behind in Tampa to continue his rehab when the team returns to New York tomorrow. “(He’s) not where he needs to be,” said Joe Girardi. Ellsbury is still unable to run at 100%.

Sanchez: 2014-15 international signing period now closed

Martinez. (MLB.com)
Martinez. (MLB.com)

According to Jesse Sanchez, the 2014-15 international signing period closed at midnight last night. It was reported weeks ago that the signing period closed on June 25th, but, like most things with the international market, that report was off slightly. Anyway, the Yankees can no longer sign an international prospect and have the bonus applied to the 2014-15 signing period.

Sanchez says the Yankees “made a run” at free agent Cuban outfielder Eddy Julio Martinez, who was cleared to sign a few weeks ago, prior to the end of the signing period last night. Martinez, 20, has been described as an “impact talent” and the Yankees were interested in signing him following his recent workouts. He’ll now wait until the 2015-16 signing period opens July 2nd to sign.

As far as we know the Yankees did not sign any last minute free agents prior to the end of the signing period, though there weren’t many available either. The big names in addition to Martinez are Cuban infielder Andy Ibanez and Bahamian SS Lucius Fox. That’s about it. Cuban righty Yadier Alvarez was not eligible to sign during the 2014-15 signing period.

Because the Yankees blew their bonus pool out of the water during the 2014-15 signing period — we don’t have an exact number, but the bonuses and penalties are around $30M total — the Yankees will be unable to sign any player to a bonus in excess of $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing period. They won’t be able to make a serious play for any big name prospects.

The Yankees will, however, still be able to sign older Cuban free agents should any come stateside these next two years. And by older I mean age 23+ per the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Yeah, younger guys are more desirable, but Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, Yasmany Tomas, and Rusney Castillo were among the big name “older” Cuban free agents in recent years. The Yankees won’t be completely shut out of the top of the international market the next two signing periods.