Approaching Aaron Judge

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Here’s a hot take to help break the recent blustery cold in my neck of the woods: 2017 is going to be a big year for Aaron Judge. After his intermittently successful cup of coffee at the end of 2016, he’s poised to take over the starting right field job and hopefully lock it down for years to come. Of course, that future doesn’t depend wholly on this year. It’d be nice, though, if he laid any doubts to rest. Part of cementing his place in right field will be making adjustments to the league, as it will be for every young player, both in and out of the Bronx.

The biggest wrinkle–in terms of results–in Judge’s game is the fact that he strikes out a lot. He balances it with walks and homers, thankfully, so it makes you able to live with the whiffs. It would be disingenuous, though, to act like the high strikeout totals he racked up in MLB last year were not at last a little concerning. In 95 trips to the plate in 2016, Judge struck out 42 times, a percentage of 44.5. If we include his minor league numbers (98 Ks in 410 PA), the percentage drops down considerably to just over 27%, but that’s still rather high. To cut down on that number, Judge will have to adjust how pitchers have approached him in two situations: the first pitch and with two strikes.

On the first pitch last year, a the thing that stands out is his various whiff/swing rates on different pitch types. On the first pitch fastballs, he missed on 20% of his swings. That number is small, though, compared to how he fared on first pitches that were anything but a fastball. Of the non-fastballs, he saw 10 changeups, 16 sliders, and 13 curveballs. When he swung at those pitches, he didn’t make much contact. He whiffed at 100% of his first-pitch swings on changeups and curves, and 60% at the sliders. To his credit, Judge did a good job spitting on a fair amount of changeups and curveballs, as many of those went for balls on the first pitch. Some of that, though, could be due to location; those are pitches intentionally designed to dart out of the zone, and Judge’s whiff/swing rates show us he’s falling for that trick fairly often.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

With two strikes, the whiff/swing numbers increase slightly. They stay the same on the slider, but drop to 50% and about 64% on the changeup and curve respectively. Those numbers are better than I thought, as the trick of memory made it seem like Judge whiffed all the time with two strikes. It’s encouraging to see the two strike numbers be better than the first pitch numbers, though, as it does show he’s capable of recognizing the non-fastball coming in the non-fastball counts.

To adjust to this issue, Judge will need to better recognize non-fastballs, both on the first pitch and with two strikes. Doing so will allow him to hold back from swinging and getting himself into bad counts, which will set up the strikeout. He’s shown a good batting eye everywhere he’s been and his power means pitchers will be naturally cautious around him. Exploiting that by forcing them to come into the zone with fastballs early in the count will help make him successful in 2017 and beyond.

Open Thread: March 4th Camp Notes

The Yankees got back into the win column this afternoon, improving their Grapefruit League record to 8-2. Both Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks went deep while Greg Bird reached base three times (single, two walks). Billy McKinney laced a double as well. The third piece in last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade is 5-for-8 (.625) with two doubles and two dingers this spring. Pretty cool.

Michael Pineda, in his first start of the spring, struck out five in two scoreless innings. Dellin Betances walked one and allowed a hit in his inning of work. That was his final appearance before leaving for the World Baseball Classic. Chad Green allowed a run on three hits and a walk in 1.2 innings in his second Grapefruit League outing. That won’t help him win a rotation spot. Here’s the box score. The game wasn’t televised, so there are no video highlights. Here’s everything else that went on in Tampa:

  • Sanchez threw a runner out trying to steal second with Betances on the mound today, which is kinda significant. Runners went 21-for-21 stealing bases against Dellin last year, remember. He worked on his pickoff move over the winter and threw over to first base twice before the caught stealing. “It’s something that helps. It keeps them honest and I let Gary do the rest,” said Betances. [Billy Witz]
  • Bryan Hoch has the pitching assignments and hitting/fielding groups for everyone who didn’t play in today’s game. Domingo German, Jon Niese, and CC Sabathia all threw bullpen sessions. I’m pretty sure those three and James Kaprielian are the only healthy pitchers in camp who have yet to pitch in a Grapefruit League game.
  • Gleyber Torres will play second base at some point in the coming days but he will not play third this spring, Joe Girardi said. He hasn’t worked out there at all as far as I know. I get the feeling it’s only a matter of time until Gleyber spends time at the hot corner though. Maybe in Instructional League this fall? [George King]
  • Masahiro Tanaka will make his second start of the spring tomorrow afternoon. That’s a home game against the Pirates and there will be a YES Network broadcast. Hooray for that. Tanaka’s first spring start was not televised.

Here is the open thread for the rest of the day. MLB Network is showing games on tape delay throughout the afternoon and evening, plus the (hockey) Rangers, Devils, and Nets are all playing. There’s also a bunch of college basketball. Talk about those games or anything else here, as long as it’s not politics or religion.

Saturday Links: Gardner, Rule Changes, Farm System Rankings

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

The Yankees continue the Grapefruit League season this afternoon on the road against the Tigers. Michael Pineda is making his first start of the spring. Unfortunately, the game will not be televised anywhere. Not on YES, not on FOX Sports Detroit, not on MLB Network, not online, nowhere. Sucks. Instead of a game, I offer you some links for the weekend.

Yankees had chances to salary dump Gardner

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees had trade offers for Brett Gardner this past offseason that involved no money changing hands. They could have sent Gardner and the $25M left on his contract elsewhere. Of course, chances are these offers were essentially salary dumps, meaning the Yankees wouldn’t have received much of anything in return. Gardner isn’t a star or anything, but giving him away as a salary dump would be kinda silly.

My guess is the Yankees will eventually trade Gardner, the longest tenured player on the big league roster and the longest tenured player in the organization, at some point in the next 12 months. And maybe that trade will be a pure salary dump. Who knows. Maybe the Yankees will eat some money to get actual prospects in return, a la Brian McCann. Gardner’s contract isn’t onerous and he’s the team’s best on-base player. I can’t blame the Yankees for not giving him away in a salary dump.

MLB implements new rule changes

Earlier this week MLB and the MLBPA announced a series of rule changes for the 2017 season. None of the changes figure to have a dramatic impact on the game. They didn’t raise the bottom of the strike zone or anything like that. Here’s the full press release and here are the highlights:

  • Intentional walks are now automatic. The manager gives a signal from the dugout and the batter is sent right to first base.
  • Managers have 30 seconds to ask for a replay review. Also, the review crew in New York has a “conditional two-minute guideline” to made their replay decision.
  • Carter Capps’ delivery is now illegal. Pitchers may not take a “second step towards home plate with either foot.”

The automatic intentional walk rule is whatever. I don’t like it but it’s not the end of the world either. The two-minute guideline for replay reviews does sound pretty great even though it’s not a hard limit, just a guideline. Some of those reviews take a long time. Waiting out a replay is easily my least favorite part of baseball these days.

As for Capps, both he and Padres manager Andy Green told A.J. Cassavell they believe his delivery is still legal, but we’ll see. Read the press release. The rule change reads as if it was written specifically for Capps (and Jordan Walden). All of these rule changes take effect right away, so they’re in place for the 2017 season.

(Future trivia answer: The last Yankee to receive a traditional four-pitch intentional walk was Mark Teixeira. Drew Smyly intentionally walked him in the sixth inning on September 20th of last season. The last player to get one is Addison Russell. He was intentionally walked in the tenth inning of Game Seven of the World Series.)

Torres. (Presswire)
Gleyber. (Presswire)

Yankees rank second in BA’s and BP’s farm system rankings

Both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus (subs. req’d) released their annual organizational rankings within the last few days. The Yankees ranked second behind the Braves on both lists. The same was true was on Keith Law’s farm system rankings. The BP list groups teams into tiers, and the Yankees and Braves were alone at the top. Here’s a snippet of the write-up:

I generally don’t care all that much if the seventeenth best prospect in your system has a chance to be a decent middle reliever or a useful bench piece. That’s true of the vast majority of systems in any given year. Now when you have thirty of those guys? It felt like half the Trenton pitching staff might pitch in the majors at some point … We didn’t rank Dustin Fowler on our Yankees (top ten, showing their depth) … These are two of the best systems I can remember in my six years of covering prospects.

The BA write-up (subs. req’d) mentioned OF Estevan Florial as the system’s high-upside sleeper and RHP Dillon Tate as the breakout prospect. Tate was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft, remember. The Yankees got him for rental Carlos Beltran and he’s not even one of the ten best prospects in the organization. Pretty cool.

Yankees had $4M to sign Carter

I thought this was interesting. According to Jared Diamond, Hal Steinbrenner okayed one last $4M signing late in the offseason, after it became clear there were bargains to be had. The Yankees didn’t even need the full $4M to sign Chris Carter. He took $3.5M guaranteed. Prior to signing Carter the Yankees had been connected mostly to lefty relievers like Travis Wood and Jerry Blevins. The 40-homer dude made more sense.

I know saving $500,000 with Carter doesn’t sound like much, and it’s really not in the grand scheme of things, but what if it was enough to finish off the Jon Niese signing? He’ll make $1.25M at the big league level. Steinbrenner gave the thumbs up for $4M and they wound up with Carter and Niese for $4.75M total, possibly less because Niese might not make the Opening Day roster, and his $1.25M salary will be pro-rated. Anyway, I’m just kinda interested in how this worked out. The Yankees were done for the offseason until the free agent market collapsed.

Open Thread: March 3rd Camp Notes

The Yankees dropped their second game of the spring earlier today, and like the other loss, they rallied to tie in the top of the ninth inning before suffering the walk-off defeat. At least they have Fighting Spirit. Aaron Judge had a pair of singles and Ji-Man Choi had the game-tying two-run single in the ninth. Not much else happened offensively.

Luis Severino started and looked just okay. He allowed two runs on a Jose Bautista homer in 2.1 innings of work, and was generally all over the place. The camera angle was terrible, so I couldn’t tell whether he threw any changeups. I’m sure he did. Johnny Barbato struck out three in two innings. Here are the box score and video highlights for today’s game, and here is the rest of the day’s notes from camp:

This is the open thread for the evening. This afternoon’s game will not be replayed anywhere as far as I can tell, but MLB Network is showing games on tape delay all night. The Knicks, Nets, and Islanders are all in action as well, plus there’s some college basketball on as well. Talk about anything here, as long as it’s not religion or politics.

Poll: Second-Guessing the Matt Holliday Deal

(MLB.com)
(MLB.com)

When the Yankees signed Matt Holliday to a one-year, $13 MM deal back in December, the consensus was largely positive. Or, at the very least, a bit better than lukewarm. Holliday was coming off of a down year and was soon to be 37-years-old, but he was probably the best DH option this side of Edwin Encarnacion (who would require a large commitment and a surrendered draft pick) and Carlos Beltran. And that’s before you factor in his reputation as a great teammate and mentor for younger players (insert joke about ‘veteran presents’ here), which was undoubtedly a consideration for the Yankees in the midst of their youth movement.

A bit over two months later, however, the Yankees signed Chris Carter – a player whose best role would be that which Holliday was slated to play. The immediate reaction revolved around DINGERS!, but was followed promptly by questions about when and where the 30-year-old would play. His $3.5 MM salary (along with an extra $500,000 in bonuses based on plate appearances) is veritable chump change to this team (if not all organizations at this point in time, given the influx of cash into Major League Baseball), so it might not matter if he’s riding the bench more often than not. Moreover, there are always injuries: Tyler Austin succumbed to a broken foot already, Greg Bird missed the entirety of 2016 with a torn labrum in his shoulder, and the aforementioned Holliday has missed 50-plus games in each of the last two seasons. Phrased differently, opportunities for playing time are never too far away in the big leagues.

All that being said, the Carter signing – and the subsequent discussions – reminded me of the criticisms hurled at the Blue Jays when they signed Kendrys Morales to a 3-year, $33 MM deal. The signing happened what felt like hours after free agency opened, and was greeted with derision as much better options (including their own Encarnacion) remained on the market. It only looked worse in the weeks to come, as comparable-at-worst DH options were scooped up on cheap one-year commitments, eventually turning disastrous when Encarnacion signed with the Indians for 3-years, $60 MM. If it wasn’t clear that the Blue Jays jumped the gun way back in November, it certainly was once the new year rolled around.

And so the question becomes whether the Yankees jumped the gun with Holliday.

It’s a bit different here, on a few levels. The Yankees are not striving to contend this year, so Holliday’s off-the-field qualities mean a bit more to them. Moreover, they didn’t prevent themselves from signing a better option to a comparably superior deal. Carter was better than Holliday last season, but that doesn’t quite matter because (1) they still signed Carter, and (2) the projection systems see them as a toss-up.

Should we be looking at the opportunity cost differently, though?

Holliday will likely earn $9.5 MM more than Carter this year. If the Yankees could have signed Carter to this deal all along, it stands to reason that they would have had at least another $9.5 MM to spend – if not the full $13 MM, considering that Holliday’s deal didn’t prevent them from signing Carter. With that extra money they could have signed Brett Anderson as a reclamation project, or Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey, or Jason Hammel to solidify the back of the rotation (or both Anderson and Hammel). Or they could have signed one of Anderson and Jerry Blevins (or Hammel and Blevins, if they had the full $13 MM to spend). There are several permutations out there that would have improved their rotation and bullpen.

This is laden with assumptions, of course. I’m comfortable saying that the Carter deal could have come to fruition regardless, given that the Brewers couldn’t get anything for him at the trade deadline or prior to non-tendering him, but everything else is guesswork. Even so, it seems clear that the Yankees could look better as a whole with Carter as the starting DH and between $9.5 MM and $13 MM invested elsewhere.

Did the Yankees act too soon by signing Holliday?
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Spring Training Game Thread: Severino’s Second Start

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Can regular season start already? Things are going so well early in Grapefruit League play. Hate to waste it on meaningless games. The Yankees are 7-1 this spring and they lead all teams in runs (55), homers (15), and extra-base hits (40). The bats are usually behind the arms this early in Spring Training. The Yankees have come out swinging though. It’s been fun. Hopefully it lasts another eighth months or so.

The Yankees are on the road to play the Blue Jays this afternoon. A few things to watch: Luis Severino, who is making his second spring start. He broke off some nice changeups last time out and I’d like to see him do it again. Also, Aaron Judge is in the starting lineup and have you noticed he’s struck out only once in 13 plate appearances this spring? That’s pretty cool. Maybe the new leg kick is working. Here is the Blue Jays’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Chris Carter
  5. C Austin Romine
  6. 1B Rob Refsnyder
  7. 3B Donovan Solano
  8. SS Jorge Mateo
  9. 2B Pete Kozma
    RHP Luis Severino

Available Pitchers: RHP Johnny Barbato, LHP Joe Mantiply, RHP Brady Lail, LHP Evan Rutckyj, RHP J.R. Graham, and LHP Jason Gurka are all scheduled to pitch. RHP J.P. Feyereisen, RHP Kyle Haynes, and RHP Matt Marsh also made the trip. Haynes and Marsh are up from minor league camp for the day.

Available Position Players: C Francisco Diaz, 1B Ji-Man Choi, 2B Ruben Tejada, SS Gleyber Torres, 3B Miguel Andujar, LF Clint Frazier, CF Dustin Fowler, RF Billy McKinney, and DH Wilkin Castillo will be the second string off the bench. C Jorge Saez, IF Ronald Torreyes, and UTIL Tyler Wade are on the bench but not scheduled to play.

The Yankees made the 20-ish mile trip west to Dunedin, where it’s nice and sunny with temperatures in the low-70s. Pretty windy too. Not a bad day for a ballgame. This afternoon’s game will begin a little after 1pm ET, and if you’re in the Blue Jays home market, which is basically all of Canada, you can watch on Sportsnet. If not, you can watch live on MLB Network, even in the New York market. There’s also MLB.tv as well. There is no YES broadcast of today’s game. Enjoy the game.