Monday Night Open Thread

Earlier today the BBWAA announced the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot, which includes Jorge Posada for the first time. Posada was my favorite member of the Core Four Five — switch-hitting catchers with power are my jam — though I’m not lacking love for any of those guys. I don’t think Posada will get into the Hall of Fame, at least not this year, but hopefully he sneaks at some point. Would be cool.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Raiders and Texans are the Monday Night Football game, plus the Rangers and Devils are playing. There’s a decent slate of college basketball as well. Talk about those games, Posada’s Hall of Fame candidacy, or anything else right here.

Jorge Posada among newcomers on ’17 Hall of Fame ballot

Count 'em. (Getty)
Count ’em. (Getty)

For the first time ever, a member of the Core Four (groan) is eligible for the Hall of Fame. Longtime Yankees catcher Jorge Posada is one of 19 newcomers on the 2017 Hall of Fame ballot. The BBWAA officially released the 34-player class of Cooperstown hopefuls earlier today. Here’s the ballot.

Posada played his entire career with the Yankees and is one of the best hitting catchers in baseball history. He retired as a career .273/.374/.474 (121 OPS+) hitter with 275 home runs in parts of 17 seasons from 1995-2011. During his peak from 2000-07, Posada hit .283/.389/.492 (130 OPS+) and averaged 23 homers and 136 games caught per season. He won five World Series rings too, though he wasn’t exactly an integral part of the 1996 team.

Among the other first time eligible players joining the Hall of Fame ballot this year are Manny Ramirez, Ivan Rodriguez, and Vlad Guerrero. Manny won’t get in because he was suspended not once, but twice for performance-enhancing drugs as a player. Rodriguez never tested positive but there was plenty of suspicion. Vlad? With Vlad it’s a question of whether his career warrants induction, not PEDs.

In addition to Posada and Rodriguez, other players on the ballot with ties to the Yankees are Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Tim Raines, Gary Sheffield, and Lee Smith. Fred McGriff is also on the ballot. He never played for the Yankees because they traded him as a minor leaguer, but they did draft him. Raines is on the ballot for the tenth and final time, so this is his last chance to get in.

My guess is Rodriguez, Raines, Jeff Bagwell, and Trevor Hoffman get in this year with Vlad falling just short. Raines, Bagwell, and Hoffman all came close to getting in last year and I expect them to get over the hump this time around. Posada’s case is borderline, and while I don’t think he’ll get in, he’ll no doubt receive enough votes to remain on the ballot going forward.

As a reminder, players need to receive 75% of the vote for induction and 5% to remain on the ballot another year. The Hall of Fame voters have to send in their ballots by the end of the year. The 2017 Hall of Fame class will be announced during a live MLB Network broadcast on Wednesday, January 18th.

Year Nine of the Joe Girardi Era [2016 Season Review]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Joe Girardi‘s ninth season as manager of the Yankees — only Miller Huggins (1918-29), Joe McCarthy (1931-46), Casey Stengel (1949-60), and Joe Torre (1996-2007) had longer continuous stints managing the team — was unlike any of his previous eight seasons at the helm. From 2008-15, it was win win win, even when perhaps it shouldn’t have been.

In 2016, the objective changed. The goal coming into this season was to win and the goal remained the same until the trade deadline, when the roster dynamic changed. The Yankees sold veterans for prospects at the trade deadline, and while they feigned contention in August and September, the transition had begun. Girardi’s mission became developing the young players the Yankees added to the roster.

Evaluating a manager is basically impossible from where we sit as outsiders. It’s not nearly as simple as comparing the team’s actual record to their expected record based on run differential — the Yankees went 84-78 this year despite a 79-83 expected record based on their -22 run differential — for what I think are obvious reasons. There’s randomness at play and the run differential/expected record theory isn’t perfect.

Only so much of what the manager does is visible. He builds the lineup and makes pitching changes, and occasionally calls for a bunt and a hit-and-run, things like that. Most of the manager’s work happens behind the scenes, where he has to manage and motivate 25+ alpha males for more than seven months a year. That happens in the clubhouse, on the team plane, at the hotel, on the phone, and at home.

Effort level has never really been an issue for the Yankees under Girardi, based on what I’ve seen. Every team looks lethargic when they have problems scoring runs and the Yankees are no different. That’s not what I’m talking about. The players play hard deep into the season and the mental mistakes are generally kept a minimum. Believe me, there are a lot of teams out there that are completely checked out mentally come September.

When it comes to on-field decisions, Girardi is as predictable as it gets. He puts his players in specific roles and sticks with them until it’s no longer possible. I’m sure the players appreciate that. They all like knowing their role. Let’s attempt to break down Girardi’s on-field decision making this past season.

Bullpen Usage

Girardi has a reputation for being a strong bullpen manager, and while I agree he is, that reputation has become a bit outsized in recent years. Dellin Betances has worn down the last few years, and Girardi’s late-inning bullpen management is paint by numbers. Closer pitches the ninth inning. Eighth inning guy pitches the eighth inning. Seventh inning pitches the seventh inning. At least one 2016 Yankee thinks that approach is questionable.

“I know when (Aroldis) Chapman came back to us for the Yankees this year, Dellin and I were kind if up in the air about what order we would pitch,” said Andrew Miller to Jon Heyman a few weeks ago. “And in some instances it created a mess because we were both warming up next to each other … I’ve been lucky to have (managers) that really handled the bullpen well. But you hate to have two guys warming up at the same time. It seems wasteful in a sense.”

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once Chapman returned from his suspension, Girardi was like a kid on Christmas morning. He didn’t know which toy to play with. There were multiple instances in which Betances would warm up in the seventh in case the starter got into trouble, but when he didn’t, Dellin would sit down and Miller would pitch the eighth. Rather than use Betances in the eighth because he was already warm, Girardi ended up warming up two pitchers. Wasteful, as Miller said.

Friend of RAB Eno Sarris attempted to develop an analytical method to evaluate managers — almost like a manager version of WAR — and one of his components was bullpen optimization. His analysis found Girardi was 12th best among all managers in optimizing his bullpen in 2016 — his best relievers faced the other team’s best hitters, etc. — but was also in the bottom third in rigidity, meaning he didn’t deviate much from assigned innings.

It goes without saying this analysis is far from perfect — it doesn’t account for all sorts of variables, like the days a reliever wasn’t available because he was puking his brains out in the clubhouse — though as a big picture look, it passes the sniff test. The results make sense to me. Girardi is flexible enough to use Betances outside his assigned inning under certain circumstances. Otherwise everyone pitches in specific situations.

Platoon Advantage

The Yankees have consistently ranked among the best teams when it comes to getting the platoon advantage offensively. Here are the top three teams in percent of plate appearances with the platoon advantage in 2016:

  1. Indians — 70%
  2. Yankees — 68%
  3. Mariners — 68%

No other team was over 64%. The Yankees were helped out by having a bunch of switch-hitters — Carlos Beltran, Chase Headley, Aaron Hicks, and Mark Teixeira combined for 1,715 plate appearances, or 28% of the team’s total — but Girardi also does a good job with platoon bats. When Austin Romine started, it was usually against a lefty. When Rob Refsnyder found his way into the lineup, it was usually against a lefty.

There are times Girardi goes overboard — remember Brendan Ryan, Platoon Bat? — and sometimes he seems completely unable to anticipate the other team’s move. There were a few instances in September when Girardi would pinch-hit Brian McCann for Billy Butler against a right reliever, only to have the other team counter with a lefty reliever. He’d choose McCann against a lefty over Butler against a righty even though the numbers said it was the wrong choice. Nitpicky? Yes. Doesn’t make it any less true though.

Instant Replay

This was the third season of the instant replay system, and for the third straight year, the Yankees had one of the highest success rates in baseball. The call was overturned on 68% of their challenges. Only the Royals were better. They were at 69%. The Yankees had the highest success rate in 2014 (82%) and 2015 (75%) as well. Video review man Brett Weber is nails.

There’s also this: the Yankees were dead last with only 28 challenges this year. Last year they had the ninth fewest challenges. The year before they had they fifth fewest. Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend. Girardi is conservative with his replay challenges. We have three years’ worth of data telling us that. He only uses them for sure things. He’s not one to roll the dice. Remember this?

That’s a potential leadoff triple in the seventh inning of a game the Yankees were trailing by three runs. Replays sure made it look bang-bang. The throw was there but Headley kinda sorta swim-moved around it. And yet, no challenge. The Yankees challenged zero plays that game. Their replay challenge went unused that night, like the vast majority of them.

I said this the last two years and I’m sticking to it: I’d like to see Girardi be more aggressive with his challenges. So his success rate will take a hit. Who cares? They don’t give out a trophy for that. I get the argument that if you blow your challenge early in the game, you might not have it later when you need it. That’s the risk you take. Girardi challenges so few plays as it is. The odds of that happening are small.

I’m not saying the Yankees and Girardi should challenge every close play, but surely they can do better than 28 challenges in 162 games, right? Did really only that few blown calls go against the Yankees (for the third straight season)? No, of course not. Come on. Girardi’s (and Weber’s!) success rate is high. Consistently one of the best in baseball. It’d be nice if they were a little more liberal with the challenges rather than leaving so many unused.

The Farewell Tours

Girardi, who is fond of saying he’s not here to manage farewell tours, had to manage two farewell tours this past season. First came Alex Rodriguez‘s in August, then came Teixeira’s at the end of the season. Teixeira’s went far smoother than A-Rod‘s. Girardi helped create some of the A-Rod awkwardness.

“If he wants to play in every game, I’ll find a way,” said the skipper after A-Rod’s forced retirement was announced. Then, of course, Rodriguez didn’t play. The Yankees were in Boston, where A-Rod played his first career game, and he was denied the opportunity to play.

“I came to the stadium really excited, hoping I would play all three games or maybe two out of three,” said Alex after finding out he would ride the bench in the first game of the series. “He just said, ‘We’re trying to win games.’ It was surprising and shocking.”

“I’m aware of what my quotes were,” said Girardi. “That there would be conversations and I would try to get him in every game, I said that. But what I’m saying is, I made a mistake. And I’m admitting that. And I’m admitting that to everyone who’s watching because I have a responsibility and I’m trying to take care of my responsibility.”

The Yankees had sold at the deadline the week prior, and while the goal should always be to win, Girardi’s words sounded hollow. Especially since A-Rod sat for long stretches of time, but when he did play, he batted third or fourth. It made no sense. It was the Derek Jeter farewell tour but more convoluted.

Rodriguez’s final night with the Yankees was incredible. His final week was not Girardi’s finest moment. He said one thing and did another, and it just didn’t come off well. He’s in charge of the clubhouse and trust is important, yet he went back on his word with the most veteran and one of the most respected guys in the clubhouse. Eh.

Outlook for 2017

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Given the direction of the franchise, the Yankees have to decide whether Girardi is the right manager to lead them through this rebuild transition. Managing a team designed to win right now is much different than managing a team built around a bunch of young players trying to find their footing in the show. Girardi had a team like that with the 2006 Marlins, so it’s not a completely new experience, but it will be very different.

Girardi’s contract expires after the 2017 season and it’s important to note Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner love him. If I had to bet right now, I’d bet on Girardi getting a new deal next winter. I also think the chances of a managerial change next year — as in after 2017, when his contract expires — are higher than they’ve ever been before. The Yankees haven’t played a postseason series in a while and that will only be tolerated so long, even with the youth movement underway.

Personally, I think Girardi’s a good but not a great manager in terms of on-field strategy. He’s not going to do anything that revolutionizes the game. He’s going to stick to the same approach because he’s stuck to that approach since the day the arrived in New York. A-Rod’s farewell tour notwithstanding, Girardi seems to do well in the clubhouse, and that’s the most important part of his job.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Rich Hill

(Getty)
(Getty)

Remember when Rich Hill pitched for the Yankees back in 2014? He threw 5.1 IP of one-run ball in 14 appearances, walking three and striking out nine. The Yankees, of course, did not bring him back that offseason. That 2014 season was the final season of his very forgettable seven-year stretch in which Hill was marred by injuries and inefficiency. In those years, he threw only 153.0 ML innings total with a cumulative 5.41 ERA and 108 walks. No one was going to give serious consideration to an aging journeyman pitcher who had a 6.4 BB/9 since 2008.

As you may know, it’s been a total turnaround for Hill. In 2015, he figured some things out and got a chance with the Red Sox. He threw four stellar games for Boston (29.0 IP, 14 H, 5 ER, 5 BB, 36 K, 1.55 ERA), looking unlike the pitcher who seemed to be on the verge of irrelevancy. Those four games made him an intriguing yet uncertain player entering free agency. The A’s took a flier on him with a one-year deal and a $6 million guarantee.

Hill showed in 2016 that he can stay effective for more than just four starts. In fact, he was one of the best ML starters when healthy. Pitching for the A’s and Dodgers, he had a 12-5 record with a 2.12 ERA in 20 starts. His underlying stats (2.39 FIP) suggest it was no fluke.

I was going to name this “Is Rich Hill a fit for the Yankees?” but of course he’s a fit. A pitcher who can perform like he did in those 20 starts this year is going to be a fit for any team. It is a question of whether Yankees should take a risk and throw money at him after what he’s done in his career, specifically the past two seasons. Let’s break it down.

1. He’s really good. Perhaps good enough that Yankees should consider splurging a bit.

The Yankees have not been willing to offer a huge-money contract to a starting pitcher since, well, Masahiro Tanaka in the 2013-14 offseason. Prior to that, they were willing to break the bank for Cliff Lee but the lefty chose to play with the Phillies. They also approached and signed Hiroki Kuroda via free agency.

The common theme that I see is that you could count on solid, consistent production from those guys. Sure, Tanaka was just coming out of NPB, but many had tabbed him to be a real deal. Cliff Lee, of course, was an ace and he went on a pitch like one in Philly. Kuroda pitched four very consistent seasons for the Dodgers before coming over to New York.

The Yankees did not bother much with the Ricky Nolascos or Wei-Yin Chens of the world — guys who were above average prior to hitting the market, but would you really be comfortable giving either a five-year, $80 million contract? (That’s how much the Marlins are paying Chen by the way. He had a 4.96 ERA in 22 GS in the first year of contract.)

Sure, Hill’s track record of domination isn’t long but his 2016 season reassured us that his surge is for real. He figured something out. Unless his physical strength deteriorates big time, he should have at least a year or two of quality pitching left in tank. You want numbers on how good he is? Here are some (min. 110 IP):

  • 2.12 ERA — ranks 2nd behind Clayton Kershaw
  • 2.39 FIP — ranks 4th behind Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard and Jose Fernandez
  • 10.52 K/9 — ranks 9th
  • 0.33 HR/9 — ranks 1st. It helps that he pitched in two of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks (A’s Coliseum and Dodger Stadium), but still, a great figure.
  • 22.3% soft contact rate — ranks 9th highest
  • 28.3% hard contact rate — ranks 19th lowest

As you can see, Hill ranked among the top 10 in many positive stats. It’s not like he was great at just one thing, a la Michael Pineda and striking hitters out. He excelled in many facets of dominating hitters. He’s a guy that you’d give a ball to in important games ten times out of ten.

If you need a refresher on what Hill’s stuff looks like, here are all the pitches thrown from his September 10 start versus Miami.

2. He won’t cost a pick.

The Yankees hold the 17th overall pick for the MLB Draft next year, which means that they will lose it if they sign a free agent that rejected the qualifying offer. New York is one of the teams that can afford to pick signability guys early and gift them with an ample bonus cash, just like what they did with Blake Rutherford, the 18th overall pick of the draft this year.

I don’t think Yankees would risk losing a pick that high for a pitcher with substantial risk. They have been collecting many young assets via the draft and trades, and I don’t see them slowing down anytime soon. Hill did not reject the qualifying offer — he couldn’t receive one because he was traded at midseason — so he won’t cost the Yankees their first round pick.

3. What about his age and health? 

The thing about Rich Hill is that the man has a long enough injury history to it out on an entire roll of toilet paper. In 2016 alone, he had two separate DL stints (groin and blisters) and was limited to only 110.1 IP. The silver lining is that neither of them are serious arm issues, but they still caused him to miss an extended amount of time. One of the last things you want during the season is to have one of your best pitchers hit the disabled list, whatever the reason may be.

If the Yankees sign Hill, they will monitor his workload for sure. It’s pretty clear that the Yanks are targeting bullpen arms this offseason. If all goes as planned, they could have another ‘pen that can send an array of trustworthy arms after a 5-6 IP outing by the starter. I’m not guaranteeing that they will sign another guy beyond Aroldis Chapman/Kenley Jansen/Mark Melancon, but I think it would make sense if they do. In 20 regular season starts, Hill went 7 innings or longer only thrice. The highest pitch count he had was 112. If New York signs him, I think it is very possible that Joe Girardi will have a strict limit.

From what we can tell, Hill can give a team excellent quality innings in a limited number of starts. “Limited” is the key word here. Prior to 2016, the last time he had a 100+ IP season in pros was 2010 (103.0 IP total between AAA and MLB). In his pro career that started in 2002, only six times he managed to break the 100 IP mark. That is kind of terrifying.

Behind that number are a lot of injuries, but at the same time, he was very ineffective and also had pitched as a reliever. Perhaps we shouldn’t take the figure too seriously. It is true, however, he has limited or basically zero track record of durability. There could very well be a scenario in which he suffers a major injury early on in the contract and is never effective again. Obviously I am no Dodgers fan, but I always get wary that a free agent pitching signing could go as bad as the Jason Schmidt deal. It’s not an outcome that happens often but anything bad could happen when you take on an aging arm.

(Getty)
(Getty)

4. Do the Yankees need rotation help? (Spoiler: Yes)

As of right now, the two locks for the 2017 rotation are Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, and Pineda. Who do they have otherwise? Nathan Eovaldi will be rehabbing. Luis Severino could spend another year flip-flopping between the rotation and bullpen. Chad Green will have to earn a spot again if he recovers well from sprained elbow. Bryan Mitchell had a decent showing late in the year but I can’t say he’s locked down a rotation spot. There’s also Luis Cessa, who was decent but not a type that I’d easily guarantee a spot to.

So yeah, there are tons of question marks. At this point, you’ve gotta figure management knows that they need to make a move to improve the rotation to be competitive in 2017. As you can see the names from above, the young depth is there. It is hard to tell, at this moment, if any of them will turn out to be a reliable MLB starter for 2018 and beyond.

The Yankees would surely like to be a winning team in 2017. A Tanaka-Hill tandem would be a hoot. Hill was worth 3.8 fWAR in 2016, which is remarkable considering he only threw 110.1 IP. Getting 20 starts worth of solid production is better than none. Also, in a scenario where the 2017 Yankees tank coming into the trade deadline and Hill pitches lights out, they could explore trading him for prospects.

I think Hill is a worthy venture. He is an elite starting pitcher when healthy … for now. You never know what could happen to a pitcher turning 37. Unless he suffers a season-ending injury, a team could count on him for 100-130 IP worth of solid production. Is 150 IP out of the question? Maybe. If they monitor him well and his body doesn’t betray him, I can see Hill being a useful starter until the young guys in the organization start to make an impact. However, he hasn’t shown a track record of staying healthy as a SP for most of the season since, well, 2007.

On the other side of the coin, Hill wouldn’t require a draft pick or a trade. Just a check from the Steinbrenners. If the contract is around 3 years and $45-50 million, I say sign him. You don’t get many chances to sign a guy with such upside for that money. I don’t think money would be a huge issue for Yankees. However, I’m wondering, because of the weak starting pitching market this winter, if the Hill camp pushes the envelopes a bit and demand more annual money and/or a fourth year. I’m sure the team has done/doing/will do their research to evaluate whether Hill would be worth the risk. We’ll see what happens.

Fan Confidence Poll: November 21st, 2016

2016 Season Record: 84-78 (680 RS, 702 RA, 79-83 pythag. record), 5.0 GB of postseason spot

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 the 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?

Weekend Open Thread

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in less than two weeks now, so MLB and the MLBPA don’t have much time to hammer out a new deal. It’s even less time than it seems because I doubt the two sides will be negotiating during Thanksgiving dinner. Nathaniel Grow has a great column up looking at the legal ramifications of the CBA and the December 1st deadline. Make sure you check that out.

Friday: Here is tonight’s open thread. The Rangers, Islanders, and Nets are all in action, plus you’ve got a full slate of college hoops as well. Talk about that stuff or anything else right here.

Saturday: This is the day’s open thread again. The Devils are playing and there’s a bunch of college #sports on too. You folks all know how these things work by now. Have at it.

Sunday: For the last time, this is the open thread. You’ve got all the day’s NFL action plus the Knicks, Nets, Rangers, and college basketball. Fun little Sunday. Go nuts.

Tanaka’s Falling Strikeout Rate

Masahiro Tanaka
(Getty)

There’s no denying that Masahiro Tanaka had a brilliant season in 2016. For the first time in his three-year career, he had a legitimate shot at the Cy Young Award and ended up finishing seventh in the balloting. He tied his career high in ERA- at 72 and was close to his career high FIP- of 78 with a mark of 80 this year; he put up a career high ground ball rate while notching new career lows in infield fly ball percentage and home run/fly ball percentage. The only thing he didn’t do as well as he’d done previously is strike batters out.

Continuing a trend, Tanka’s K/9 dipped again this year, falling to 7.44 from 8.12, which was down from 9.31 in 2014. His K% shows a similar downturn, going from 26 in 2014 to 22.8 in 2015 and 20.5 in 2016. 20.5 K% is still good, especially considering he’s never posted a BB% above 4.5 (this year’s mark). And given the change in approach that Mike described here, a drop in strikeout numbers wouldn’t be unexpected. Still, it’s worth taking a look to see what’s behind the dip in whiffs because punchouts are fun and the most efficient way to get a batter out.

tanaka cap tip
(AP)

Let’s start with the out-pitch, the one whose reputation came in tow when Tanaka arrived in MLB, the splitter. In 2014, he generated a 46.01 whiff/swing rate on the pitch. It dropped to 33.33 in 2015, then to 30.00 in 2016. As a percentage of his strikeouts, the splitter has gone from being about half of them (2014) to about a third of them or a little more (2015-16). Of course, when your groundball/balls-in-play percentage is in the mid to high sixties with a pitch, the declining strikeout rate is something you can live with. Tanaka’s slider tells a similar story. The whiff/swing rate on his slider has gone from 39.55 to 34.38 to 33.16. The GB/BIP rate has gone from 31.37 to 39.00 to 40.74.

If we take a look at the splitter and where Tanaka likes to throw it, we get a good idea of why whiffs and grounders happen. The bottom drops out of the splitter and the batter either swings over it or beats it into the ground. The conclusion drawn before–fewer strikeouts, more grounders–is fleshed out here as well. Take a look at the whiff/swing rate on Tanaka’s three most popular spillter locations in 20142015, and 2016; there’s a general downward trend, suggesting that hitters are making more contact with those pitches, even if they’re not doing a lot with them. His slider has shown a similar trend, gathering more grounders in the lower part of the zone as the years have gone on.

We tend to take a drop in strikeout rate as a cause for alarm among pitchers and I’m generally inclined to agree with that quick assessment. However, while it’s something to watch with our beloved, underrated TANAK, I’m not overly worried. He showed this year that he can be incredibly successful without having to get too many strikeouts and, frankly, this is a microcosm of him as a pitcher. Each game, Tanaka seems to bring a new strategy, a new approach to the mound and that’s been true on the broad scale of his three year career. As a pitcher who seems to reinvent himself every start, he’s capable of displaying greatness in myriad ways, strikeouts or not.