Mailbag: Iwakuma, First Innings, Paxton, Bird, Expansion

The trade deadline is a week away now and I’ve got a dozen questions in this edition of the mailbag. Remember to use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us questions throughout the week.

Iwakuma. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
Iwakuma. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Mike O. asks: Any interest in Hisashi Iwakuma of the Mariners? Pending free agent, looked good his last two starts after coming off the DL, could be a good buy low candidate.

Make it three good starts since coming off the DL — he allowed two runs in seven innings against the Tigers yesterday. Iwakuma missed a bunch of time with a lat strain this year and has 4.50 ERA (5.14 FIP) in 42 innings overall, with all of the major damage coming back in April before the injury. The 34-year-old had a 3.52 ERA (3.25 FIP) in 179 innings last year and a 2.66 ERA (3.44 FIP) in 219.2 innings the year before, when he finished third in the Cy Young voting.

Iwakuma doesn’t strike out a ton of batters (career 20.8%) but he never issues walks (5.0%) and does keep the ball on the ground (50.0%), which is a good combination. He’s a sinker/splitter/slider guy like many Japanese hurlers. He is, dare I say, Hiroki Kuroda-like. Iwakuma and Masahiro Tanaka were teammates with the Rakuten Golden Eagles from 2007-11, so the Yankees have access to firsthand knowledge of him as a teammate and person. I’m not sure I’d say you’d be buying low on Iwakuma, he’s awfully good and I don’t think the lat strain is going to scare too many teams away, but he would be a fine rotation addition.

Sean asks: If you had to give up either Aaron Judge or Luis Severino, who would it be?

Severino for sure. First and foremost, pitchers have a much higher attrition rate due to injury. Scott McKinney’s research has shown top 20 pitching prospects bust much more often than top 20 position player prospects — position players busted 40.8% of the time, pitchers 62.7% (!) — and that right there is reason enough to deal Severino before Judge in my opinion. Also, if you look at the Yankees specifically, I think their need for a potential impact bat in the next year or two is greater than their need for a potential impact pitcher. Trade Severino before Judge all the way. But keep both, preferably.

Carl asks: What are the odds that a setup man wins the Mariano Rivera Award this season? Dellin Betances and Wade Davis both make strong cases.

I highly doubt it only because the nine-man voting panel — Rivera, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, John Franco, Billy Wagner, Trevor Hoffman — is a bunch of ex-closers. Of course they’re going to vote for closers. Greg Holland won the Mariano Rivera Award last year despite not even being the best reliever on his own team. I’m surprised they didn’t just give it to Fernando Rodney because he led the league in saves. This isn’t a sophisticated award. It’s going to be the best closer in the league each year. Simple as that. Setup men don’t stand a chance.

J.R. asks: In the Orioles series preview you mention, “This club hasn’t had a top pitching prospect max out since Mike Mussina.” Who was the last Yankees pitching prospect that maxed out?

Andy Pettitte. Chien-Ming Wang was never a top prospect. I mean a top top prospect. A top 100 guy. The Yankees have been really bad at getting their top pitching prospects (top prospects in general, really) to max out and reach their ceiling. It has undeniably been a problem. The Yankees never had top picks though. The O’s used top ten draft picks on Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Matt Hobgood, Brian Matusz, Wade Townsend, Adam Loewen, and Chris Smith since 2000. Hobgood, Townsend, and Smith never reached MLB, Loewen threw 164 big league innings (85 ERA+) before becoming an outfielder, Bundy’s been hurt most of the last two years, and Gausman’s been jerked around. Matusz, a lefty specialist, the best of the bunch by default at this point. Egads.

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

Kevin asks: Is it just me, or have the Yankees been struggling to go from first to third on a single and scoring from first on a double? It seems this is especially true with noted speedsters Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. How much is this hurting the Yankees offense?

Yes, that is definitely true. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury are the only guys on the team who can really run — Didi Gregorius and Stephen Drew are next best runners on the team and they’re average-ish — so the Yankees don’t rate too well on the bases. The FanGraphs all-encompassing base-running stat says the Yankees have added 1.5 runs on the bases this year, which is middle of pack. That includes stolen bases, first-to-thirds, advancing on wild pitches, everything.

As a team, the Yankees take the extra base 37% of the time. They got first-to-third on a single 28% of the time, second-to-home on a single 52% of the time, and first-to-home on a double 39% of the time. The MLB averages are 39% (taking the extra base in general), 28% (first-to-third on a single), 57% (second-to-home on a single), and 42% (first-to-home on a double). First-to-third hasn’t been a problem, it’s the scoring plays. Perhaps that’s a third base coach Joe Espada thing? Maybe he’s really conservative. I wouldn’t blame him, necessarily. This offense is pretty good and can score in a hurry. No need to be super aggressive. The Yankees have been a tick below average at taking the extra base but not terrible — last year they took the extra base only 33% of the time.

Matt asks: The Yanks seem to score a lot of 1st inning runs. Any way to see how they compare to all other MLB clubs?

Oh yes, the Yankees are the undisputed kings of first inning runs this season. They’ve scored 86 first innings in 2015. 82! The Rockies rank second with 65. The gap between the Yanks and Rockies is the same as the gap between the Rockies and the 15th ranked team (Braves and Diamondbacks). They can thank Ellsbury, Gardner, A-Rod, and Teixeira for that. The top four of the lineup has been crazy productive. The White Sox, by the way, rank dead last in MLB with 27 first inning runs. The record for first inning runs is 147 by the 2000 Cardinals. The Yankees are on pace for 148. It’ll be close!

John D. asks: What about Juan Uribe? As a former SS, could he fake it at 2B for 2+ months?

I love Uribe, he’s one of my favorite players in baseball and I’d love to see him in pinstripes, but he’s played six innings at second base since 2012. He hasn’t played the position with any sort of regularity since 2011. Uribe is hitting .272/.331/.409 (107 wRC+) this year and he’s an excellent defender at third base despite his portliness, plus he’s been a big part of two World Series teams (2005 White Sox and 2010 Giants), so that experience would be welcome. If there was a way to add Uribe to the bench — he’s hitting .288/.362/.596 (164 wRC+) against lefties and would make a fine platoon partner for Chase Headley — I’d be all for it. Starting second baseman probably isn’t happening at age 36 though, even for a relatively short period of time.

Dan asks: Do you think the Mets are only one or two deadline deals away from being able to legitimately contend with the Nationals for the division?

I do! They need two bats, which I know is easier said than done. Ben Zobrist would be a huge upgrade for them, and with Michael Cuddyer banged up, they could use another outfielder as well. Yoenis Cespedes is reportedly out there and he’s a rental, so they wouldn’t have to take on a long-term deal. Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce … why not? Even someone like Gerardo Parra would be a big upgrade. The Mets have saved something like $4.5M in salary this season thanks to Jenrry Mejia’s suspension and insurance on David Wright’s contract. If the Wilpons don’t put that money back into the roster, MLB should just force them to sell the team. This is getting ridiculous. A New York team with a bottom third payroll for several years running is embarrassing for the league.

Andrew asks: Does Chasen Shreve get a few ROY votes at the end of the season?

Nah. Shreve has been awesome but middle relievers usually don’t much Rookie of the Year love. Voters have only three slots on the ballot and at this point Carlos Correa, Devon Travis, Roberto Osuna, Carson Smith, Andrew Heaney, and Billy Burns are ahead of Shreve in the Rookie of the Year race, among others. (Those guys aren’t in any sort of order, that’s just off the top of my head.) That’s fine. Shreve’s been awesome. He doesn’t need Rookie of the Year votes to validate his great season.

Paxton. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
Paxton. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)

Chris asks: There’s been a lot of talk of Jack Z. getting a bit desperate and trying to make a huge deal. As unlikely as it is, do you think he’s crazy enough to trade James Paxton and Alex Jackson for Jacoby Ellsbury?

Why would the Yankees do that? I think Ellsbury’s contract is really bad but at least he’s still a very good all-around player on a contending team. That seems like someone the Yankees should keep for the time being. Jackson is hitting .256/.300/.352 (85 wRC+) this summer and while Paxton has been impressive the last two years (3.33 ERA and 3.69 FIP), he’s only thrown 132.1 innings due to all sorts of injuries. Finger this year, lat strain last year, knee trouble in the minors. The Yankees are a win now team and that’s not a win now trade at all. That’s a “dump the contract and hope Paxton figures out how to stay healthy” trade a non-contender makes. The Mariners would absolutely make that trade, assuming ownership okays the money. Ellsbury is a huge upgrade over Jackson and they won’t even notice Paxton is gone because he hasn’t been on the mound since May anyway.

Liam asks: What are your expectations of Greg Bird? He’s been struggling a bit in Scranton, but a promotion and an injury can have that effect, plus he is still only 22. Is he a future big leaguer or did the fanbase hype him up a bit too much?

Don’t fans hype up every prospect too much? I believe the answer to that is a resounding yes. Bird has been much better the last few games with the RailRiders (since the question was sent in) and I do think he’s a future big leaguer. He’s not too different from Logan Morrison back during his prospect days — a left-handed hitting first baseman with great plate discipline and power potential, though Morrison is a better glove man and struck out less while Bird seems to have better makeup, which absolutely matters.

I will say this: Bird has to hit and hit big to have value. The offensive bar at first base is fairly high (MLB average at the position is .256/.330/.434 with a 111 wRC+) and Bird has to clear that by a decent margin to a positive contributor. He’s not much of a defender and there are concerns about his ability to handle lefties, not to mention his sneaky scary injury history. Top first base prospects also have a shockingly poor track record of reaching their ceiling. Use ctrl + F to search “1b” and scroll through Baseball America’s all-time top 100 prospects list page. There are a few gems in there, but man, it’s ugly.

Mitch asks: Rob Manfred has discussed both expansion and shortening the schedule this week. What’s the earliest you could see either happening? Would you prefer expansion or more playoffs to offset the lost revenue from a shortened schedule?

The shortening the schedule thing seems almost impossible. There are major economic issues there — assuming they cut back to 154 games, owners would have to be willing to give up four home dates, plus they’d have to work it all out with the television contracts. Those deals have minimum broadcasting requirements that need to be met. Also, if they do cut eight games (approximately 5% off the schedule), are the owners going to ask the players to take a 5% pay cut? I wouldn’t put it past them. The players are the ones asking for fewer games, after all. If they do go to a 154-game schedule, I don’t think it’ll happen for very long time. I think it’s more likely they add a few more off-days and stretch the season out over a longer period of time.

As for expansion, I think that could happen reasonably soon. Within five years or so. (That doesn’t mean it will happen, of course, just that it’s feasible.) Baseball is certainly healthy enough financially to add two more teams, and there are no shortage of cities able to support an MLB franchise. San Antonio, Portland, hell, New York could support a third team in Brooklyn or northern New Jersey. (The Yankees and Mets would never ever ever ever let that happen though.) If I had to pick between expansion or more playoffs, I’d go expansion. I don’t want MLB to turn into the NBA or NHL, where more than half the league gets into the postseason.

DotF: Mateo stays hot in Charleston’s loss

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 win over Indianapolis)

  • SS Cole Figueroa: 0-3
  • CF Jose Pirela & LF Ramon Flores: both 0-4
  • 2B Rob Refsnyder: 0-3, 1 K
  • 1B Greg Bird: 0-2, 1 E, 2 BB — he’s reached base multiple times in each of his last five games
  • C Gary Sanchez: 2-4, 1 RBI, 1 K, 1 SB — keeps raising that trade value
  • RF Tyler Austin: 0-3, 2 K
  • RHP Diego Moreno: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 2/1 GB/FB — 37 of 53 pitches were strikes (70%)
  • RHP Jose Ramirez: 3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 4/2 GB/FB — 23 of 41 pitches were strikes (56%)
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 17 pitches, nine strikes (53%) … Triple-A debut for the guy who came over from the Padres in the Shawn Kelley trade
  • RHP Nick Goody: 1 IP, zeroes, 2 K — eleven of 15 pitches were strikes (73%) … 70/14 K/BB in 48.1 innings … ranks seventh in the system in strikeouts, and all six of the guys ahead of him have thrown at least 20 more innings

[Read more…]

Thursday Night Open Thread

I’m not sure you could have expected a series against a division to go as well as the series with the Orioles did. Three wins — three convincing wins — pushing the O’s seven games back in the standings when they could have climbed to within one. Doesn’t get much better than that. Love this team. They’re en fuego right now.

Here is tonight’s open thread. This afternoon’s win will be replayed on YES at 7pm ET, if you’re interested. The Mets are facing Clayton Kershaw tonight and MLB Network is showing a regional game. Talk about any of that stuff and more right here.

Sweep! Tanaka cruises, offense crushes Ubaldo in 9-3 win over O’s

So that game-slash-series went well, eh? The Yankees finished off the sweep of the division rival Orioles on Thursday afternoon, clobbering Ubaldo Jimenez and various relievers in the 9-3 victory. A+ series, would watch again. The Yankees have won five of six games since the All-Star break and 12 of their last 16 games overall.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

First Inning Runs
The four-run first inning was almost a zero-run first inning. The Yankees loaded the bases with no outs against Ubaldo thanks to a single (Jacoby Ellsbury) and two walks (Brett Gardner and Alex Rodriguez), though Mark Teixeira struck out and Carlos Beltran popped out to shortstop. The bases were still loaded, but quickly there were two outs. Not ideal! Blowing big first inning opportunities like that is just the worst.

Thankfully, Second Half Chase Headley picked up Teixeira and Beltran with a booming first pitch double off the center field wall, right near the door to the home bullpen. I thought it had a chance to get out off the bat. Had to settle for off the wall instead. Ellsbury and Gardner scored easily while A-Rod, even running with two outs, would have been out at the plate had the relay throw not been off-line. Alex is not so fleet of foot these days. Here’s the dismount:

Alex Rodriguez slide

The double gave the Yankees a nice 3-0 lead, and Didi Gregorius extended it to 4-0 with a ground ball single through the right side of the infield to score Headley from third. (He took third on the throw to the plate.) Gosh, blowing that bases loaded, no outs opportunity would have been ugly. Headley picked ’em up though. The Yankees are up to an incredible 86 first inning runs this year. The Rockies have 65, the next highest total. Bonkers.

Clobberin’ Time
The scoring didn’t stop after the first. Ellsbury hit a leadoff home run in the second, Stephen Drew (double) and Ellsbury (sac fly) drove in runs in the two-run third inning, then Ellsbury doubled in another two runs in the fifth. Left fielder David Lough made an ill-advised slide coming in on a fliner, missed the ball, and it scooted by him and into left field. Four in the first, one in the second, two in the third, two in the fifth. That’s a good day. Ubaldo was charged with seven runs in 2.1 innings. He went from a 3.29 ERA to a 3.81 in an afternoon.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

My Hero Masahiro
Bah, that eighth inning ruined what was an otherwise dominant showing from Masahiro Tanaka. Both J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado swatted garbage time solo homers in the eighth, after the game was all but decided. (Chris Davis hit a solo homer way back in the second inning.) Homers are Tanaka’s only real bugaboo. As long as they’re solo shots though, it’s not the end of the world. Hope he gets that under control soon.

Anyway, Tanaka threw 7.2 innings, allowing just the three runs on four hits and no walks. He punched out seven. Tanaka retired 20 of the final 24 batters he faced after the Davis home run in the second, and one of the four base-runners was a routine fly ball Gardner lost in the sun and allowed to sail over his head. (It was ruled an error.) Between the Davis and Hardy homers, while the Yankees were extending their lead, Tanaka retired 18 of 20 batters.

All told, Tanaka threw 101 pitches, including 77 (!) for strikes. That includes a season-high 19 swings and misses. Only four of his 23 outs were recorded on fly balls to the outfield. Tanaka got five infield pops and five ground balls. He also caught a line drive flying towards his face. The garbage time homers are dumb, whatever, he was just pumping strikes in a blowout, but overall Tanaka was dominant. In complete command of the game.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Leftovers
Remember earlier this season when the Yankees couldn’t score if the top of the lineup didn’t do anything? The 6-7-8-9 hitters went a combined 9-for-12 (.750) in this game. Headley went 2-for-4 with a double, Gregorius and John Ryan Murphy both went 3-for-4, and Drew went 1-for-4 with a double. Murphy had a single off the third base bag and a single off the second base bag. Didn’t come close to getting one off the first base bag though. For shame.

Ellsbury, meanwhile, quietly finished a triple shy of the cycle. He went 3-for-4, drove in four runs and grounded out to the pitcher in his final at-bat. Ellsbury is the third Yankee to fall a triple shy of the cycle this season, joining Chris Young, Headley, and Teixeira. Don’t ask me why I looked that up. The 2-3-4 hitters went a combined 0-for-11 with five strikeouts. Go figure.

And finally, Chris Capuano recorded three outs after Tanaka. (Branden Pinder came in to get the 27th out because Joe Girardi didn’t want to not use his last pitching change … wait, what?) Including this game, Capuano has thrown only 5.2 innings and 88 pitches in the last calendar month. From fifth starter to seldom-used mop-up man.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Here are the box score and video highlights, and also the up to the minute standings. I guess I should start linking to the postseason odds too, huh? Might as well. Also make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings pages. They’re fun. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The homestand is over and the Yankees are now heading out on a three-city, ten-game road trip. It starts Friday night in Minnesota, when Michael Pineda faced former Yankee Phil Hughes. Fun!

Olney: Yanks expected to listen to offers for Gary Sanchez

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Buster Olney (subs. req’d), rival executives are expecting the Yankees to listen to offers for catcher prospect Gary Sanchez. The team has reportedly “sworn off” trading top prospects like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino, but Sanchez is a notch below those guys, and it makes sense to make him available with Brian McCann and John Ryan Murphy entrenched at the MLB level.

Sanchez, 22, is hitting .262/.322/.480 (129 wRC+) overall this season with 15 doubles and 13 home runs in 273 plate appearances with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. That’s after hitting 19 doubles and 13 homers in 477 plate appearances at Trenton last year. It feels like Sanchez has been around forever, but he was 2.5 years younger than the average Eastern League player and is currently 4.9 years younger than the average International League player.

Should the Yankees make Sanchez available — and I expect they will — it would not at all be surprising. As I said in our recent trade chips post, the Yankees value defense behind the plate very highly, and Sanchez simply is not a strong catcher. He’s improving but still below-average. Both Jesus Montero and Peter O’Brien, two other bat first prospects faking it behind the plate, were dealt in recent years when they were hitting at the upper levels.

Sanchez now is a worse prospect than Montero was a few years ago but is a better prospect than O’Brien last year, so I guess that means his trade value is somewhere between Michael Pineda and Martin Prado. Not helpful! More than anything, Sanchez’s trade value will depend on whether other teams believe he can catch. That and how much they believe in the bat. All it takes is one club to think he’s an impact hitter to get a nice return.

First Domino Falls: Scott Kazmir traded to Astros

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

The first trade deadline domino has fallen. The Athletics have traded Scott Kazmir to the Astros for prospects right-hander Daniel Mengden and catcher Jacob Nottingham, both teams announced. The Yankees reportedly scouted Kazmir’s last start over the weekend. He’s from Houston, so I imagine he’s happy with the trade. Also, what a world, the Astros are buying.

Neither Mengden nor Nottingham were including in the Astros’ top 30 prospects in Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook before the season, though they’ve both played well this summer, so I’m sure their stock was on the rise. I couldn’t tell you what an equivalent Yankees package would have been. Sorry. The prospects are too obscure even for a nerd like me.

The apparently light return could mean prices for a rental starter aren’t as high as expected — the market is flooded with available arms, after all, lots of options for buyers — or it could mean teams were scared off by Kazmir’s medicals. Remember he left his start against the Yankees with an injury just before the break. Either way, expect trades to pick up now.

Game 94: Finish the Sweep

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

So far this series against the division rival Orioles has been a huge success for the Yankees. They took the first two games, extended their lead in the AL East to a season-high 5.5 games, and have upped their postseason odds to 88.7% per FanGraphs. This afternoon is a chance to finish the sweep and further push the Orioles in the rear-view mirror.

Masahiro Tanaka, today’s starter, has made 32 career starts with the Yankees, approximately a full season. His numbers: 3.08 ERA (127 ERA+) in 210.1 innings, 3.30 FIP, 1.05 WHIP, 25.6 K%, 4.3 BB%, and 47.1 GB%. That’s pretty awesome. Too bad the elbow injury got in the way. Sweep the birds, mmmkay? Here is Baltimore’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. C John Ryan Murphy
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is a picturesque day in New York. Nice and sunny, more cool than hot, and no clouds at all. Great afternoon for a game. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game, folks.