Fan Confidence Poll: November 13th, 2017

Regular Season Record: 91-71 (858 RS, 660 RA, 100-62 pythag. record), second in ALE
Postseason Record: 7-6 (51 RS, 42 RA), won AL WC Game, won ALDS, lost ALCS

Top stories from last week:

Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.

Given the team's current roster construction, farm system, management, etc., how confident are you in the Yankees' overall future?
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Weekend Open Thread

Happy Veterans Day weekend to all you veterans out there. Thank you for your service.

The offseason is more than a week old now, and we’re still waiting for the first major move. Or the first minor move, for that matter. No trades or free agent signings around the league yet. Things will pick up a bit next week, once qualifying offer decisions are made. I hope things will pick up, anyway. This is offseason has been boring so far. Here are a few links to check out:

Friday: Here is an open thread for the evening. The Islanders and Nets are the only local teams in action tonight. Talk about those games or anything else here, as long as it’s not religion or politics.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. The (hockey) Rangers, Islanders, Knicks, and Nets are all playing today, plus there’s all the day’s college football and basketball. Have at it.

Sunday: For the final time, this is the open thread. You’ve got all the day’s NFL and college basketball action, plus the Devils are playing as well. Talk about whatever here.

DotF: Justus Sheffield exits final AzFL start with an injury

LHP Justus Sheffield was removed from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League start after two innings as a precaution after taking a line drive to his left thigh. The video is above. That’s going to leave a bruise. The AzFL season ends Thursday, so that was his final start. Tough way to end the season, but a good season it was. Here are some other minor league notes:

  • Randy Miller spoke to a scout who saw all seven players the Yankees sent to the Arizona Fall League this year, so check that out. The six actual prospects the team sent to the AzFL received strong reports. (Sorry, RHP Andrew Schwaab.)
  • Danny Wild spoke to RHP Cody Carroll about his career to date, and the things he’s working on in the AzFL. Carroll throw very hard. The goal now is to improve his secondary stuff and command.
  • LHP Justus Sheffield (No. 5), RHP Albert Abreu (No. 6), and SS Thairo Estrada (No. 10) all appeared on last week’s Prospect Hot Sheet. The AzFL is usually very hitter friendly. Glad to see the Sheffield and Abreu are doing well out there.

Arizona Fall League

  • SS Thairo Estrada: 17 G, 24-68, 12 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 3 BB, 19 K, 2 BB, 1 CS, 2 HBP (.353/.397/.426) — lotta strikeouts for the contact guy
  • OF Estevan Florial: 16 G, 15-59, 11 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 3 RBI, 10 BB, 24 K, 2 SB, 2 CS, 1 HBP (.254/.371/.339) — started great, but he’s hit the skids the last week or two … he’s in a 4-for-32 (.125) rut at the moment
  • SS Kyle Holder: 10 G, 14-40, 4 R, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K, 1 CS, 1 HBP (.350/.386/.525) — had a great second half and a great AzFL … I think next year will be a big year for him
  • 1B/OF Billy McKinney: 16 G, 17-57, 8 R, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 20 RBI, 11 BB, 13 K, 1 SB, 1 HBP (.290/.391/.455) — so far he’s played nine games at first base, six in left field, and one at DH
  • RHP Albert Abreu: 5 G, 5 GS, 22.2 IP, 15 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 12 BB, 23 K, 3 HR (3.18 ERA and 1.19 WHIP) — at one of his recent starts, Jonathan Mayo had Abreu at 92-96 mph with his fastball, 88-91 with his changeup, and 80-82 with the curveball … Mayo also mentioned Abreu as a possible top 100 prospect in a recent mailbag
  • RHP Cody Carroll: 8 G, 10.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 16 K (0.00 ERA and 0.56 WHIP) — lights out
  • RHP Andrew Schwaab: 8 G, 9.1 IP, 12 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 6 BB, 6 K, 1 HB (6.75 ERA and 1.93 WHIP)
  • LHP Justus Sheffield: 5 G, 5 GS, 20.1 IP, 14 H, 8 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 22 K, 3 WP (3.10 ERA and 0.84 WHIP)

[Read more…]

Picking a Course

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

In my personal and professional lives, I try to be open-minded and give things lots of consideration before making a decision. Of course, that comes with a fair amount of vacillation sometimes, and it wouldn’t be inaccurate if you were to call me indecisive at times. At times, this spills over into my “life” as a “writer” and baseball fan; it’ll take me a while to figure out what I’d want the Yankees to do and I end up spilling lots of digital ink in lots of directions before coming to a “decision.” This is completely true of my thoughts on the Yankees’ DH situation for 2018. Or it was. I’ve made up my mind.

My gut has been wrong this offseason once so far–I really didn’t think Shohei Ohtani was going to be posted, but that appears imminent–but my gut tells me the Yankees aren’t going to find a trade partner for Jacoby Ellsbury and they’re going to be left holding the bag, so to speak, with five capable outfielders deserving of Major League time: Ellsbury, Gardner, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Clint Frazier. The obvious fix to that is that you start Frazier in AAA and let him work on things there. But let’s assume he has a Spring Training like Aaron Judge did last year and there’s really no way to justify holding him down there. This also all presupposes that there will be no full-time DH, which I think is a likely scenario, given what happened with Matt Holliday this year.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

That leaves us with five bodies for four spots, including the DH. How would I shake these guys out in a lineup? Four of them would play, with one as the DH, and one as the bench guy, depending on what the matchups or needs of the defense dictated. Now, obviously, right field never gets touched unless there’s a rest day or an injury to Judge. That’s his spot for the year almost no matter what.

Against righties, you’d line up Judge in right, Gardner in left, and one of Hicks or Ellsbury in center. This part gives me hesitation because I’m not sure if the new manager will want to give Ellsbury a chance to reclaim his spot or if what happened in the playoffs will continue. If it’s the former, Ellsbury plays center and one of Hicks or Frazier is the DH. Normally you’d just default to the switch hitting Hicks here, but batting lefty is the weaker position for him. Additionally, you wouldn’t want to bury Frazier; might as well have him playing every day in AAA instead of riding the pine with infrequent at bats.

Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Against lefty pitchers, Hicks plays center, Frazier plays left, and Gardner gets a half day off at DH. He’s getting up there in age and it makes sense to let him rest a bit while the younger guy roams left field. Once again, we relegate Ellsbury to the bench here, unless he manages to improve against lefties while Gardner falls off a bit.

So my five man plan is really a four man shuffle with Ellsbury relegated to the bench. If they manage to trade Taco, this plan is uninterrupted. But, there is another wrinkle, and that’s Ohtani. If he signs with the Yankees, will he be getting DH at bats between starts? If he does, this plan may not work. Setting that aside for the moment, though, I think this is the best way to balance rest and playing time for the outfielders. Of course they’ll have to throw in some DH days for Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird every so often ,but doing this day in, day out probably gives the Yankees the best possible lineup most of the time. Until something big happens, keep it this way.

Saturday Links: Otani, Minor League Free Agents, 2018 ZiPS

(Getty)
(Getty)

The offseason has been slow-moving so far, so here are some bits of news and notes to help you pass the time. Hopefully something exciting happens soon.

Otani will be posted this offseason

Yesterday the Nippon Ham Fighters announced they will indeed post Shohei Otani for MLB teams this offseason, according to the Japan Times and the Kyodo News. It’s important to note the (Ham) Fighters have only announced their intention to post Otani. He hasn’t actually been posted yet. MLB, MLBPA, and NPB are still haggling over the posting agreement. From the Kyodo News:

“Everyone in our ballclub accepts his thoughts,” said Hideki Kuriyama, manager of the (Ham) Fighters, at a press conference yesterday. “It’s not just me, but everyone in the ballclub believed in what he can do. I never lost doubt and I was sure he can do it. I spent the past five years just believing in that.”

Otani recently hired Nez Balelo of CAA, an MLBPA certified agent, which could help settle the posting squabble between MLB, MLBPA, and NPB. The union knows Otani is in good hands now — Balelo is a veteran agent who has experience representing Japanese players (Nori Aoki, Junichi Tazawa) as well as big name players (Ryan Braun, Adam Jones) — and can be sure he is completely aware of the situation. Once the posting stuff if sorted out, Otani will be posted. Hopefully it happens sooner rather than later.

16 Yankees become minor league free agents

Earlier this week a whopping 572 players became minor league free agents across baseball, according to Matt Eddy. Sixteen of those 572 players are Yankees. Or were Yankees, anyway. Here are the 16.

  • Pitchers (8): RHP Colten Brewer, LHP Daniel Camarena, RHP Juan Jimenez, RHP Tyler Jones, LHP Joe Mantiply, RHP Jose Pena, RHP Eduardo Rivera, LHP Eric Wooten
  • Catchers (4): Wilkin Castillo, Kellin Deglan, Eddy Rodriguez, Wes Wilson
  • Infielders (3): 3B Dante Bichette Jr., IF Cito Culver, IF Donovan Solano
  • Outfielders (1): Mason Williams

Bichette and Culver are the most notable names here as former high draft picks, and Williams was once among the organization’s very best prospects. Brewer and Camarena are the best prospects right now, though neither comes particularly close to cracking the organization’s top 30 prospects list. Or even the top 40 list. Solano and Williams are the only two of those 16 players who played in the big leagues with the Yankees.

Also, according to Eddy, the Yankees have re-signed LHP Chaz Hebert, who was due to become a minor league free agent this winter. The 25-year-old southpaw had a breakout 2015 season, throwing 134 innings with a 2.55 ERA (3.11 FIP) at three levels. Then he blew out his elbow and missed the entire 2016 season and the first half of 2017 with Tommy John surgery. Hebert got back on the mound late this year and will back in the fold next year.

Yankees top 2018 AL ZiPS projections

A few days ago Dan Szymborski used his ZiPS system to put together way-too-early 2018 projected standings. ZiPS right now pegs the Yankees for 92 wins and first place in the AL East next year. In fact, those 92 wins are the most among all AL teams — the 90-win Astros are second — and second most in MLB overall behind the 96-win Dodgers.

New York of course had a gigantic payroll in 2017 as it typically does, but what people haven’t completely noticed about this team is that it got far more of its wins from inexpensive, young talent than the good Yankees teams typically do. The last time the team won a World Series, it got 9.7 WAR (17 percent) from players making less than a million bucks. In 2017, that number was 25.9 WAR (49 percent).

Of course, there is still an entire offseason to go, so every team’s roster can and will change before Opening Day. As things stand right now though, the Yankees are set up well going into next year thanks to their young core and some nice veteran complementary players. It’s entirely possible they could go into next season even bigger favorites to win the AL East depending how the offseason plays out.

Managerial Search Update: Wedge, Boone, Flaherty, Cone

Wedge. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Wedge. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Two weeks and one day ago, the Yankees parted ways with longtime manager Joe Girardi. They’ve just now started interviewing managerial candidates, at least as far as we know. Here’s the latest.

Yankees interview Eric Wedge

The Yankees have interviewed former Indians and Mariners manager Eric Wedge for their managerial opening, the team announced earlier today. He joins Rob Thomson as the only candidates who we know actually interviewed for the job. Wedge, 49, managed the Indians from 2003-09 and the Mariners from 2011-13. He famously ripped the Mariners after resigning, accusing the front office of “total dysfunction and a lack of leadership.” Zoinks.

Wedge, who managed CC Sabathia for a number of years with the Indians, has spent the last few seasons working with the Blue Jays in their player development department. He was well regarded for his work with young players during his time in Cleveland, and he has a reputation for being a players’ manager, though he will get on his guys if he feels it is necessary. Wedge has made it no secret over the years he wants to get back into managing. I do like the idea of Wedge as a candidate, though he has been out of the managerial game for a few years now.

Boone a candidate for managerial opening

According to Buster Olney and Andrew Marchand, former Yankee and current ESPN television analyst Aaron Boone is a candidate for the team’s managerial opening. He of course played for the Yankees in 2003, and hit one of the biggest home runs in franchise history. The Yankees have reached out for an interview. Also, Marchand says David Ross, another ESPN analyst, may be a managerial candidate as well. Hmmm.

Boone, 44, last played in 2009 and he joined ESPN immediately after retiring. He has no coaching or managerial experience. Boone did grow up in MLB clubhouses as a third generation big leaguer, and he spent the last few seasons of his career bouncing around as a role player who received praise for his leadership. Based on his broadcasts, Boone is into analytics. Can he be an effective manager? Your guess is as good as mine.

Cone, Flaherty interested in manager’s job

Cone. (Al Bello/Getty)
Cone. (Al Bello/Getty)

Both David Cone and John Flaherty, two former Yankees turned YES Network broadcasters, have reached out to the team to let them know they’re interested in the manager’s job, reports Mike Mazzeo. “I just wanted (Brian Cashman) to know I’m at a point in my life where I would be interested in it. My agent and him have had a conversation, but it hasn’t gone any further than that,” said Flaherty. The Yankees have not gotten back to either Flaherty or Cone about an interview.

Neither Cone nor Flaherty has any coaching or managerial experience, and as fans, it’s tough to separate our opinions of them as broadcasters from their potential as managers. Just because Flaherty comes off as old school on television doesn’t mean he’d be a bad manager, the same way Cone reciting FIP and WAR doesn’t make him a good manager. Cone has been a staunch pro-labor guy throughout his career and he was heavily involved in the MLBPA. I wonder if that’ll work against him. Ownership might not love the idea of him running the clubhouse.

Thomson wants to remain with Yankees

Even if he doesn’t get the manager’s job, Thomson would like to remain with the Yankees, he told Erik Boland. “I’m a Yankee. I’ve been here 28 years and if didn’t get this job, I would certainly want to come back because this is what I consider my home. I love it here, I love the players, I love what’s going on here,” he said. Thomson, who interviewed earlier this week, has been with the Yankees since 1990 and has done basically everything there is to do in the organization. Given his existing relationships with the young players on the roster, I think Thomson is worth keeping around in some capacity.

The King of Soft Contact [2017 Season Review]

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

It’s hard to believe CC Sabathia‘s time with the Yankees may very well be over. The 2017 season was the final guaranteed year on Sabathia’s contract — well, it was the vesting option year, not a guaranteed contract year — and he is currently a free agent able to sign with the highest bidder at a moment’s notice.

The Yankees won a World Series and were never truly bad during Sabathia’s nine years in pinstripes. Their worst season was 84 wins and, really, that’s not that bad. The leaderboard among Yankees pitchers from 2009-17:

  1. CC Sabathia: +28.4 WAR
  2. Masahiro Tanaka: +12.8 WAR
  3. David Robertson: +12.4 WAR
  4. Hiroki Kuroda: +12.0 WAR
  5. Mariano Rivera: +12.0 WAR

Even with the lean years from 2013-15, Sabathia has been far and away the Yankees’ best and most reliable pitcher the last nine years, and their best pitcher since peak Mike Mussina. The Yankees gave him a seven-year contract worth $161M back in the day, then essentially tacked on two years and $50M. Sabathia provided the team with $212.8M in production in exchange for that $211M in salary, per FanGraphs’ calculations. That doesn’t include the financial windfall the Yankees received following the 2009 World Series title, to which Sabathia contributed greatly.

Following those lean years from 2013-15, the now 37-year-old Sabathia reinvented himself as a cutter pitcher in 2016, and he used the same approach in 2017. His 2016 and 2017 seasons were shockingly similar on a rate basis:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
2016 179.2 3.91 4.28 19.8% 8.5% 50.1% 1.10
2017 148.2 3.69 4.49 19.3% 8.0% 49.9% 1.27

Sabathia allowed a few more home runs in 2017 than 2016 because, well, everyone gave up more home runs in 2017 than 2016. Despite the increase in homers, Sabathia was able to lower his ERA this year because he had more success pitching out of jams — his strand rate went from 75.7% in 2016 to 79.0% in 2017 — and also because Joe Girardi had a quicker hook. Remember how many times he left Sabathia in only to watch him allow runs in his final inning last year? That didn’t happen as much this year. His innings per start average went from 5.99 to 5.51.

Let’s dig a little more into Sabathia’s generally awesome 2017 season.

Postseason Hero

Maybe hero is too strong a word. Aside from Tanaka though, Sabathia was the Yankees’ best starter in the postseason, and the team trusted him so much that they gave him the start in Game Five of the ALDS and Game Seven of the ALCS. Look at the game log:

  • ALDS Game Two: 5.1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 3 ER,, 3 BB, 5 K
  • ALDS Game Five: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 9 K
  • ALCS Game Three: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 5 K
  • ALCS Game Seven: 3.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K

There’s a story behind each of those starts. In ALDS Game Two, Sabathia allowed the four runs early, then settled down to retire eleven of the final 12 batters he faced. In ALDS Game Five, he dominated for four innings before the Indians were able to string together some singles in the fifth.

In ALCS Game Three, the Yankees scored early and often, and Sabathia did exactly what you want a veteran pitcher to do with a big lead. He worked quickly and kept the other team off the board, and got his offense back on the field. In ALCS Game Seven, when Sabathia clearly had no command, he somehow got through 3.1 innings while allowing just the one run.

It’s a damn shame the season ended in a Sabathia start given how well he pitched this season overall, though, to be fair, it’s hard to pin that loss on the big man. The offense scored one run total in Games Six and Seven of the ALCS. Five earned runs in 19 total innings in the postseason (2.37 ERA)? Sign me up. With Luis Severino up there in innings, Sonny Gray struggling to throw strikes, and Tanaka being a bit of an unknown going into the postseason given his rough 2017 overall, Sabathia was the steady hand in October.

King of Soft Contact

For years and years, Sabathia was a power pitcher who overwhelmed hitters with velocity, a wipeout slider, and the sheer intimidation factor that comes with being 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds. As the years and innings piled up, that approach no longer worked, so last year Sabathia scrapped his four-seam fastball entirely. He started throwing a cutter. From Brooks Baseball:

cc-sabathia-fastball-selection

The cutter did a few things for Sabathia. One, it gave him a way to bust right-handed hitters inside. Righties punished him from 2013-15, but once Sabathia was able to get in on their hands, he was able to keep them at bay. And two, it allowed him to miss the barrel more often. The straight four-seamer was getting squared up far too often. The subtle movement on the cutter makes it more difficult for hitters to get the sweet spot on the ball.

As a result, Sabathia traded hard contact for soft contact last year, and this year he was again one of the best contact managers in the league. Hitters had as much trouble making hard contact against Sabathia this season than they did against guys like Corey Kluber and Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw. Sabathia’s rates (min. 140 IP):

  • Soft Contact: 27.2% (sixth highest)
  • Hard Contact: 24.1% (fifth lowest)
  • Average Exit Velocity: 83.9 mph (lowest)
  • Average Launch Angle: 6.2° (12th lowest) (what’s this?)

Simply put, over the last two seasons Sabathia has made it very difficult to hit the ball hard against him. When he makes mistakes, they still get crushed. That’s true for everyone. Sabathia gave up a 470-foot homer to Manny Machado back in April. It was the 19th longest homer in baseball this season.

Sabathia has been able to limit those mistakes the last two seasons. From 2013-15, there were a few too many of those each time out. Now he keeps them to a minimum. Sabathia embraced the cutter and embraced the finesse pitcher within, which he absolutely had to do to be successful at this stage of his career. He’s transformed himself as a pitcher, and now that he’s done it for a second year in a row, we know it’s not a fluke. This is who Sabathia is now. He is one of the game’s best soft contact pitchers.

2018 Outlook

Like I said, Sabathia is a free agent right now, free to sign with any team at any time. He has made it perfectly clear he wants to remain in New York, however. “This is my home. I want to see this thing through. I want to come back here and finish things off. This is where I want to be,” said a very emotional Sabathia following Game Seven of the ALCS.

There are reasons the Yankees should re-sign Sabathia and reasons to stay away. They do need a fifth starter, and Tanaka not opting out means getting a big name like Yu Darvish or even Alex Cobb won’t happen without blowing up the luxury tax plan. Sabathia won’t cost a ton and won’t require a long-term contract, plus there won’t be an adjustment period of any kind. He knows the ropes and knows New York. Plug him into the rotation and go.

On the other hand, Sabathia is 37, and his balky right knee won’t get better. Sabathia has admitted he’ll likely need a knee replacement after his playing days are over. He did miss a few starts this season when the knee acted up. Also, Sabathia doesn’t pitch deep into games anymore. He’ll get through five and maybe six on a good day, and that’s pretty much it. As with all players this age, Sabathia could lose it any moment.

The offseason is still young and right now the Yankees seem to be focused on finding a new manager and coaching staff. That’s kinda important. Hard to make a good pitch to free agents when they don’t know who the manager or coaching staff will be. I get the sense Sabathia is in no rush to sign a new contract. I think he wants to see if things can be worked out with the Yankees, and if not, he’ll find a home elsewhere. If this is the end, Sabathia was a great Yankee. I hope he comes back for another season though.