Mailbag: Tanaka, Bryant, Tommy John Surgery, Hamels

I’ve got eleven questions for you in this week’s mailbag. As always, use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us any questions, comments, links, or complaints at any time.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Dan asks: I know the Yankees are saying that Masahiro Tanaka is a fully healthy player, for whatever that is worth. But can you see Joe Girardi holding him back to the 7th inning in games that he might have otherwise have gone into the 8th or 9th, simply to cover his own backside out of abundance of caution?

Yes, I think that’s very possible. We recently heard the Yankees are hoping to start Tanaka every sixth day instead of every fifth day, at least early in the season, so I’m sure they’ll do other things to try to keep him healthy. Going back out for the eighth inning after cruising through the first seven on 95 pitches might not happen, for example. (Especially with the bullpen they’ve built.) The Yankees can afford to cap Tanaka at, say, 100 pitches per start and turn it over to their relief crew afterwards. At the very least, I expect Girardi to have a quicker than usual hook with his ace righty in April, though I don’t necessarily think he would be doing it to cover for himself. I think he’d do it because it’s the best thing for Tanaka and the Yankees in general. Girardi’s not managing for his job. (Or at least he shouldn’t be.)

Dohson asks: Taking health and money out of the equation, would you rather have Tanaka/Pineda or Harvey/deGrom at the top of your rotation?

There’s really no wrong answer here, but I’m going to go with Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom over Tanaka and Michael Pineda. I’d rank those four pitchers in this order: Harvey (small gap) Tanaka (moderate gap) deGrom (moderate gap) Pineda. Harvey is just outstanding when healthy, probably a top five pitcher in the game, and deGrom has more weapons than Pineda. He’s got the big fastball, the overwhelming slider, a reliable changeup, and a useable curveball. Pineda’s basically fastball/slider with a nascent changeup. I’d be thrilled with either duo, but right now, heading into the 2015 season, give me healthy Harvey/deGrom over healthy Tanaka/Pineda.

Old Yanks Fan asks: From Tanaka’s preview: “Others like Chad Billingsley, Drew Hutchison, Matt Harvey, Francisco Liriano, Bronson Arroyo, Cory Luebke, and Pat Neshek are recent of examples of pitchers who tried to rehab their damaged ligament only to need surgery a handful of innings later.” Can you tell us how long each guy pitched before he broke down again?

Sure, but “a handful of innings later” was a really poor choice of words on my part, in retrospect:

UCL Tear Diagnosis Tommy John Date Innings Between Diagnosis & TJS
Billingsley 8/25/12 4/25/13 19.2
Hutchison 6/22/12 8/8/12  0
Harvey 8/25/13 10/22/13  0
Liriano 8/8/06 11/6/06  0
Arroyo 6/17/14 7/15/14  0
Luebke 5/4/12 5/23/12  0
Neshek 5/8/08 11/11/08  0

Those zeroes don’t really tell the whole story. All seven of those pitchers attempted to rehab their partial ligament tears but only Billingsley made it back to the mound in any sort of official setting (7.2 innings in Spring Training and 12 in the regular season). The other six guys didn’t complete their rehab and were on throwing programs when their elbows gave out completely. Remember, no one chooses to have Tommy John surgery. They only have it when it is necessary, and for those guys it wasn’t necessary until a few weeks or months after the original diagnosis.

Between his starts last September and this spring, Tanaka has thrown 12.2 innings in official games since completing his rehab. That doesn’t include the simulated games he threw last year in lieu of going out on a minor league rehab assignment before returning at the end of the year. Tanaka’s already way ahead of where those six non-Billingsley pitchers were in their attempt to rehab their damaged elbow. Does that mean Tanaka will stay healthy going forward? Of course not. But I guess this shows how difficult it is to rehab this injury, something the doctors say Tanaka has done successfully.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Mike asks: In the media storm that is Kris Bryant, his agent, Scott Boras, is pressuring the Cubs to put Bryant on the Opening Day roster. If Bryant isn’t on the roster 12 days after the start of the season, then he is under team until he is 30 instead of 29. What determines how long can a player be under team control?

First of all, yes Bryant absolutely deserves to be on the Opening Day roster, but he won’t. (Their starting third baseman otherwise is the sub-replacement level Mike Olt.) Getting that extra year of Bryant’s peak in exchange for sacrificing two weeks early in 2015 is a no-brainer for Chicago even though there’s basically no scenario in which they won’t be able to afford him down the road.

As for the team control question, players need six full years of service time to qualify for free agency. The MLB season runs 183 days, but 172 days of service time counts as a full year. Every day on the active roster (or DL) equals one day of service time. There are some catches — a player who is sent down but recalled less than ten days later gets service time credit for the days he was in the minors, for example — but that’s the gist of it. So by sending Bryant down for 12 days in April, he’ll accrue only 171 days of service time in 2015, meaning he won’t be a free agent until after 2021 instead of 2020. Rick Porcello and David Price were only two and eight days shy of qualifying for free agency last year, respectively. Ouch. This system needs to be fixed.

Drew asks: According to this article the Yankees have had 4 major league players undergo TJ Surgery since 2005. Obviously Ivan Nova is one but I can’t seem to remember the others. I know they signed guys like Jon Lieber/Octavio Dotel who were recovering for TJ. Who are the others?

Nova had his surgery last year, Joba Chamberlain had his in June 2011, and Carl Pavano had his in June 2007. The fourth player wasn’t a pitcher, it was an outfielder: Xavier Nady in July 2009. Jon Roegele has created a log of Tommy John surgeries dating back to the very first procedure performed by Dr. Frank Jobe on Tommy John in 1974. His list is far from complete, of course, though it’s certainly not for a lack of effort on Roegele’s part. The Yankees have had 25 players undergo elbow reconstruction according to Roegele research (eight MLB players and 17 minor leaguers), the fourth fewest in baseball. Only the Astros (20), Giants (23), and Rockies (24) have had fewer. The Rangers (48), Braves (47), and Dodgers (44) have had the most. No other team is over 40 (or 37, for that matter).

Brian asks: Commissioner Rob Manfred seems to be in favor of an international draft. I can see how that could have hurt the Yankees a couple years ago, since they were always top spenders on IFA talent, but now with the cap system, doesn’t it improve their chances of “premium” talent making it to later picks in the upper rounds? Also, would they go back to like 30 rounds of the draft?

It depends how they structure it. If there are separate domestic and international drafts, the Yankees won’t have access to the top players in either talent pool unless they really stink and get a high pick. If it’s a combined draft, domestic players and amateurs, then the Yankees will have a better chance of landing a top talent because the talent pool will be deeper. That make sense? I’d prefer a combined draft to two separate drafts — why should the worst teams get first dibs on both the best U.S. born and internationally born players? — if an international draft happens, which I think it will. Eventually. The amateur draft is 40 rounds now and that’s plenty, even if they add international players. They could probably chop it down to 25-30 rounds and have teams fill out minor league rosters with undrafted free agents, really.

Rob asks: I don’t know if it’s just the irrational exuberance of spring, but I feel really excited about these Yankees. Especially the pitching. Tanaka seems ok (for now). Pineda seems poised to have a dominant year. Nathan Eovaldi is intriguing. Couple that with some bounce-back years from veteran position players, and we could have something here. Or am I out of my mind?

Rob, if you’re excited right now, then what’s the point of it all? The Yankees are healthy right now. Tanaka, Pineda, and Eovaldi are throwing the snot out of the ball. Didi Gregorius is making two or three web gems a day. The bullpen is striking everyone out, even the minor league relievers. It’s a long season. There will be plenty of time to bitch about the Yankees stranding a runner at third or Girardi bringing someone other than Dellin Betances out of the bullpen in a few weeks. Right now, the only negative in camp has been Chris Capuano‘s injury. Everything else has gone as good as we could have possibly hoped. Get excited. Enjoy it. Baseball’s fun.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Brad asks: Does the Cliff Lee injury make Philly more or less likely to deal Cole Hamels?

I don’t think Lee’s injury will change the likelihood of Hamels being dealt. It might raise the price for Hamels since there is one fewer starter on the trade market now, but I’m not sure how many teams realistically viewed Lee as a viable alternative to Hamels considering Lee’s elbow trouble started last year. Hamels is an elite starter owed a big annual salary but on a short-term contract by elite starter standards, so his market and trade value is unique. If the Phillies are going to trade him, it’ll be because they think they’re getting the best possible package and are setting themselves up for long-term success. That’s it. Or at least that should be it. The Phillies are going to stink either way and Hamels is too great a trade chip to let other factors dictate their willingness to move him.

Peter asks: My two least favorite things the Yankees have done in the past two years are (1) sign Carlos Beltran, and (2) not sign Brandon McCarthy. Signing Beltran was such a legacy Yankee move at his age and $45M. I can’t help but think there’s causation between that and not signing McCarthy. Am I out of line here?

Other than Beltran theoretically making money the Yankees could have given to McCarthy, I’m not sure there’s much of a relationship there. One way or another, the team was going to spend money to add another bat last offseason, it just so happened to be Beltran. McCarthy clearly wanted to return to New York, though it seems the Yankees never seriously engaged him in contract talks. Maybe they’re worried about his long history of shoulder injuries. That’s not unreasonable. I think the four-year deal the Dodgers gave McCarthy is bonkers and I’m happy the Yankees passed in this case. If they could have gotten him for three years, fine, I would have taken it but still been a bit nervous. Either way, I’m not sure there’s any sort of relationship between signing Beltran and letting McCarthy go, same way I don’t think there’s a relationship between, say, signing Brian McCann and letting David Robertson walk.

Steve asks: What are the percentage of players who stay on the 25-man roster for the entire year? That means no injury, option to the minors, trade, etc. Not sure if bereavement list or paternity leave would count in this theoretical situation.

I have absolutely not idea, and I’m not even sure how to look this up. We can work up a rough estimate, but that’s about it. Last year 1,187 players appeared in at least one MLB game, which is an average of 39.57 players per team. Since every team needed at least one spot to be a revolving door for call-ups, the absolute highest number of players who could have stayed on the 25-man roster all season is 720 (24 players times 30 teams). That would be 60.6% of all players. In reality, the percentage is way lower. Way, way lower. The Yankees used 58 players last year and only 19 (32.8%) stayed on the 25-man active roster or DL from Opening Day through Game 162. Only eight were on the active roster (non-DL) all season (McCann, Derek Jeter, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ichiro Suzuki, Hiroki Kuroda, Betances, Adam Warren), or 13.8%. That seems like a decent ballpark number to me. Roughly 14% of players stay on the active 25-man roster all season.

Chuck asks: I read RAB because I’m a Yankee fan, but as I was reading your “Thoughts Following Two Weeks of Grapefruit League Play,” particularly the Chasen Shreve part, I was thinking I could sure use this kind of insight for other teams during my Fantasy Baseball prep. While I know there is no equal to RAB, would you be able to recommend the closest equivalent for the other 29 teams?

Our Team Blogs page is woefully outdated. I’ve had overhauling that thing on my to-do list for like two years now. I’ll make a point of getting to it before Opening Day. In general, the SB Nation team sites are very good, so I recommend those. My personal favorites are, in no particular order, Athletics Nation (A’s), Lookout Landing (Mariners), South Side Sox (White Sox), DRays Bay (Rays), Fish Stripes (Marlins), Amazin’ Avenue (Mets), and, of course, the holy blog grail that is McCovey Chronicles (Giants). Other non-Yankees favorites include The Process Report (Rays), Dodgers Digest (Dodgers), Pirates Prospects (Pirates), Bleacher Nation (Cubs), Disciples of Uecker (Brewers), The DiaTribe (Indians), and Andrew Stoeten (Blue Jays). Once I get the Team Blogs page in order, I’ll post an updated link.

Spring Training Game Thread: Fifth Starter Competition Continues

(Presswire)
Rogers. (Presswire)

With Chris Capuano out of action for a few weeks, the Yankees are holding a competition for the fifth starter’s spot, a competition Joe Girardi said more or less begins in earnest this week. “The competition’s on now, in a sense,” said the skipper to Chad Jennings last night. “These guys are competing for jobs. Even if they felt it before, this is when we’re really going to start playing attention.”

Fifth starter candidate Esmil Rogers is on the bump tonight — fellow fifth starter candidate Adam Warren starts tomorrow — and he’s pitched well so far in camp, striking out six and walking none in five scoreless innings. He’s made some mechanical changes at the behest of pitching coach Larry Rothschild (he doesn’t bring his hands over his head anymore) and supposedly his control has been good this spring. We’ll see.

Tonight’s reason to watch: Rogers, if only because he’s a serious candidate for the rotation at the moment. Jose Pirela is also scheduled to come off the bench to play center field tonight after starting in left field last night. He’s played both positions before in the minors, but Girardi & Co. want to see Pirela out there for themselves. He might work his way onto the bench at some point. If not Opening Day, then later in the season.

The Phillies are visiting from Clearwater and brought most of their regulars. Here’s their lineup card and here is Girardi’s starting lineup:

  1. SS Didi Gregorius
  2. 2B Stephen Drew
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. 3B Chase Headley
  6. DH Alex Rodriguez
  7. C Austin Romine
  8. LF Ramon Flores
  9. CF Slade Heathcott
    RHP Esmil Rogers

Available Position Players: C John Ryan Murphy, 1B Francisco Arcia, 2B Rob Refsnyder, SS Nick Noonan, 3B Cole Figueroa, LF Jonathan Galvez, CF Jose Pirela, and RF Tyler Austin will be the second string off the bench. C Kyle Higashioka, C Eddy Rodriguez, IF Ali Castillo, and OF Mason Williams are the extra players.

Available Pitchers: RHP David Carpenter and LHP Chasen Shreve are the only pitchers scheduled to follow Rogers. RHP Chris Martin, RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Cesar Vargas, RHP Nick Goody, LHP Jacob Lindgren, LHP Fred Lewis, and LHP Tyler Webb are the extra arms. I’m sure a few of them will get in the game as well.

It’s warm and a bit humid in Tampa this evening, but there’s no rain in the forecast. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:05pm ET, and you can watch on YES locally and both ESPN and MLB.tv nationally. MLB.tv will not be blacked out in the Yankees’ home market but I’m not sure about ESPN. Enjoy the game.

March 19th Camp Notes: Eovaldi, Ryan, Burton, DePaula

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Phillies are traveling over from Clearwater to play the Yankees in Tampa tonight. The game is scheduled to begin a bit after 7pm ET, so the regular game thread will be along a little closer to game time. Until then, here is a recap of the day’s news and notes from Spring Training.

  • Nathan Eovaldi threw a simulated game afternoon. I’m not sure how many innings or anything like that, though I would guess it was four or five innings or so. Esmil Rogers is starting tonight and he’s competing for a rotation spot. Eovaldi isn’t, hence the simulated game to get work in. CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson, and Bryan Mitchell were among those to throw bullpen sessions. [Chad Jennings, Brendan Kuty]
  • Brendan Ryan (mid-back sprain) is on the travel roster for tomorrow afternoon’s game against the Tigers in Lakeland. He’ll be making his Grapefruit League debut after dealing with that back problem the last few weeks. Girardi made it clear Ryan will be the team’s backup infield if healthy, unsurprisingly. [Hoch, Jennings]
  • Jared Burton has a strained lat and is heading for an MRI. He’s in camp on a minor league contract and the Yankees have to pay him a $100,000 bonus to send him to the minors. If the injury is serious and a long-term thing, they might release him rather than pay the bonus. [Bryan Hoch]
  • Jose DePaula got good news from today’s MRI on his left shoulder. I have no idea what exactly that news is, but he feels good and the tests showed no significant injury. [Kuty]

Also, tonight’s game is your last chance to see the Yankees for a while. There will be no video broadcast for either Friday’s game or Saturday’s game. No YES, no MLB.tv, nothing. Next time we’ll see the Yankees after tonight is Sunday, when CC Sabathia faces Matt Harvey in Port St. Lucie.

The quietly important David Carpenter is opening eyes this spring, apparently

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As the Yankees overhauled their bullpen this past offseason, they focused on adding power left-handed relievers, specifically guys who can get both righties and lefties out. Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson have both done that at the MLB level and Chasen Shreve projects to be that type of pitcher as well. Handedness doesn’t really matter if you have no platoon split, but quality lefties are harder to find than quality righties, so they’re good to have.

In addition to those lefties, the Yankees added one bonafide big league right-handed reliever in David Carpenter, who came over from the Braves with Shreve in the Manny Banuelos trade. Carpenter spent the last two years setting up Craig Kimbrel and he’ll slot into a similar setup role with the Yankees, basically replacing Shawn Kelley. That’s fitting because they’re both fastball/slider pitchers with fly ball tendencies, though Carpenter is slightly younger and cheaper (and under control two extra years).

According to Buster Olney, scouts have been impressed by the 29-year-old Carpenter in the early going this spring. He expanded on that ever so slightly in his Insider-only blog yesterday:

Evaluators have been greatly impressed with the spring showing of Yankees reliever David Carpenter, who has been working to add a splitter to his power stuff in his first season with New York. Carpenter mentioned in conversation how good it is to be teaming up again with catcher Brian McCann, who caught Carpenter when both were with the Braves during Carpenter’s impressive 2013 season.

Carpenter has only made four appearances this spring, allowing three runs on five hits and two walks in four innings, striking out three. His first two outings were very good, the last two were kinda duds. Whatever. Results don’t really mean much in March. Someone, somewhere was impressed by Carpenter according to Olney. That’s sort of cool but spring is always full of “this random guy looks great” stories.

Regardless of how he’s looked this spring, Carpenter is filling an important role with the Yankees as the No. 2 right-handed reliever behind Dellin Betances. Pretty quietly too. Carpenter hasn’t gotten as much press as Miller, Shreve, Jacob Lindgren, or pretty much every reliever in camp so far this spring. I guess that makes sense — Miller was a big free agent pickup, Shreve is trying to make the team, and Lindgren was the team’s top draft pick this year.

Carpenter had a 1.78 ERA in 2013 and a 3.54 ERA in 2014, but his peripherals were very close those two seasons: 28.9 and 25.9 K%, 7.8 and 6.2 BB%, 38.2 and 37.6 GB%, 0.69 and 0.74 HR/9, and 2.83 and 2.94 FIP. There’s a little of the normal year to year fluctuation in there but for the most part his 2013 performance was in line with his 2014 performance aside from the whole runs allowed thing. More importantly, look at Carpenter’s platoon splits across 2013-14.

IP wOBA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
vs. RHP 72.1 .265 2.52 28.0% 5.4% 37.7% 7.2%
vs. LHP 54.1 .284 3.37 26.6% 9.2% 38.2% 8.8%

Like most relievers, especially fastball/slider guys, Carpenter is less effective against hitters of the opposite hand. It’s not a huge platoon split, but it’s enough of a split that Joe Girardi will probably opt for Miller or Wilson against a tough lefty in a big situation in the late innings of a close games.

The new splitter could be a difference-maker for Carpenter, however. It could better allow him to combat left-handed hitters and become an even greater weapon late in the ballgame. And maybe the pitch is something McCann can help him develop. Carpenter has said he greatly enjoyed throwing to McCann while with the Braves and perhaps he’s more comfortable using the splitter in meaningful games with his old friend behind the plate. It’s one thing to toy with it in Spring Training, it’s another to use it in the seventh inning of a one-run game in the regular season.

Either way, splitter or no splitter, Carpenter has the tools to be an effective late-inning reliever. He’s done it the last two years and he’ll be expected to do it again in 2015. If he can develop that splitter a little bit — it doesn’t need to be a great pitch, just something to put in the back of a left-handed hitter’s mind to keep him off the fastball and slider — Carpenter would become even more of a weapon for Girardi. For now, he’s the No. 2 righty behind Betances, and that itself is a pretty significant role.

Nathan Eovaldi and Trying to Go from Good to Great [2015 Season Preview]

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Despite all the health concerns in the rotation, the Yankees acquired only two bonafide Major League starting pitchers this offseason. One was veteran Chris Capuano, who returned on a low-cost one-year contract to add depth, and the other was youngster Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi came over from the Marlins with Garrett Jones and prospect Domingo German in exchange for Martin Prado and David Phelps in mid-December.

Even though he has a touch more than three years of service time and 460 career big league innings to his credit, Eovaldi just turned 25 last month. He’s younger than both 2014 Rookies of the Year and is the third youngest pitcher (behind Bryan Mitchell and German) and the eighth youngest player overall on New York’s 40-man roster. Eovaldi zoomed through the minors in three years as a high school draft pick and has plenty of MLB experience despite being so young. Needless to say, he’s an important piece of the 2015 Yankees.

Yankees Need: Innings

This is priority number one. With so many question marks surrounding the other starters on the roster — Capuano suffered a quad strain a few days ago and will be out the first few weeks of the season — the Yankees need Eovaldi to be the staff workhorse. The guy who won’t make them hold their breath and hope he doesn’t blow out with each individual pitch. Well, I’m sure they do that with every pitcher no matter what, but you know what I mean. Eovaldi fell one stupid little out shy of 200 innings last year and the club is hoping he gets up over that level this summer.

Eovaldi Can: Take The Ball Every Fifth Day

Eovaldi has had two arm injuries in his life. He had Tommy John surgery way back in 2007, during his junior year of high school, and he missed the first three months of the 2013 season with shoulder inflammation. Considering how hard he throws and the fact he’s stayed healthy since the shoulder issue, I’d say it’s in the past. Same with the Tommy John surgery. Eovaldi’s thrown over 800 total innings since having his elbow rebuilt, so he’s well beyond the “honeymoon” period*.

* Long story short, Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs found most pitchers who continue to have ligament trouble after Tommy John surgery do so within 400 innings of going under the knife. I don’t know if he’s written that anywhere but I’ve spoken to him about it in the past.

Both the Dodgers and Marlins did a good job controlling Eovaldi’s workload, so his innings jumps from year to year have been reasonable. Here’s a quick rundown:

2008 – 10.2 innings after the draft plus whatever he threw in high school
2009 – 96.1 innings in the minors
2010 – 98.1 innings in the minors (missed a month with an oblique strain)
2011 – 137.2 innings between MLB and the minors
2012 – 154.1 innings between MLB and the minors
2013 – 127 innings between MLB and the minors around the shoulder injury
2014 – 199.2 innings in MLB

The shoulder injury threw a wrench into things two seasons ago but that seems to have been a blip on the radar. Eovaldi’s workload has grown incrementally through the years and it appears he is ready to become a consistent 200 innings a year starter. He’s a big, physical guy at 6-foot-2 and 215 lbs., and there are no lingering health concerns. The Yankees can pencil him in for 32 starts this year and feel pretty comfortable with it.

Yankees Need: Unlock Those Strikeouts

Although he sports a high-octane fastball and a promising slider, Eovaldi has only struck out 16.2% of batters faced in his career (16.6% in 2014), well below the continually climbing league average (20.4% in 2014). The Yankees love strikeouts. Love ‘em love ‘em love ‘em. They want to see Eovaldi turn his impressive stuff into more swings and misses so he can record more outs all by himself. He’s a good pitcher now. More strike threes will help him take that next step towards becoming an elite pitcher.

Eovaldi Can: Bring Great Stuff To The Table

As I said, Eovaldi’s raw stuff is among the best in the game. His four-seam fastball averaged 95.5 mph last season and 95.2 mph from 2012-14, the fourth and third highest average velocities in baseball among qualified starters, respectively. Baseball America (subs. req’d) called his slider “a plus pitch with tilt and late movement at its best” back before the 2011 season, the last time Eovaldi was prospect eligible, so that’s a solid two-pitch mix. It still hasn’t added up to strikeouts, however.

Personally, I see three reasons to believe Eovaldi may boost his strikeout this summer despite moving from the NL to the AL this season.

  1. Brian McCann: Simply put, McCann is one of the best pitch-framers in baseball and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Eovaldi’s catcher with the Marlins, is one of the worst. McCann’s going to get Eovaldi a lot more called strikes than Salty ever did.
  2. New Splitter: Eovaldi said he started tinkering with a splitter late last year (PitchFX classified it as a changeup) and he’s continued to work on it in Spring Training. He’s thrown a few nice ones during Grapefruit League play but the pitch is still very much a work in progress.
  3. Elevated Fastballs: At the behest of pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Eovaldi has been working on elevating his fastball in two-strike counts this spring. High fastballs at the top of the zone or even above the zone are a great way to get swings and misses, especially when you throw as hard as Eovaldi. High fastballs are tough to lay off.

Rothschild has a long history of helping pitchers improve strikeout rates and Eovaldi seems like the perfect project for him. They aren’t trying to squeeze water from a rock here. Eovaldi has the kind of high-end stuff that should be allergic to bats, he just needs to better learn how to use it, especially in two-strike situations.

Yankees Need: Improve Against Lefties

Like most pitchers, Eovaldi spent the first two seasons of his career going back and forth between Triple-A and MLB. He moved into the big league rotation full-time after being traded from the Dodgers to the Marlins for Hanley Ramirez at the 2012 trade deadline, and since the trade, these are his platoon splits:

IP wOBA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
vs. RHB 181.0 .308 3.32 16.3% 7.3% 47.7% 7.5%
vs. LHB 188.0 .328 3.73 15.2% 7.5% 41.3% 6.0%

It’s not a huge split, but it’s enough of a split that the Yankees would like to see Eovaldi improve against lefty hitters. After all, Yankee Stadium is a great place to hit if you swing from the left side.

Eovaldi Can: Maybe Improve Against Lefties

It’s no surprise Eovaldi’s been more effective against righties than lefties in his career as a fastball/slider pitcher. Those guys typically have decent (to significant) platoon splits. The splitter will be crucial to Eovaldi’s potential improvement against lefties, not just an improved strikeout rate. His changeup stinks but the splitter would be a fine substitute as an offspeed pitch that moves down and away from lefties. There’s really not much more to say than that. If Eovaldi can develop his splitter into a reliable third pitch, he should see improvement against batters of the opposite hand.

Yankees Need: Adapt To A New Environment

Eovaldi is going from one end of the figurative baseball map to the other. These last few years the Marlins have played in front of tiny crowds in a big ballpark with four regular beat writers and basically no expectations. The Yankees play in front of much bigger crowds in a much smaller ballpark with eleven beat writers and a ton of expectations (regardless how good they actually project to be). Oh, and there’s a whole NL to AL thing too. Eovaldi’s about to enter a very different situation and he needs to adapt.

Eovaldi Can: Maybe Adapt?

There’s no way to know how some will react to a new environment until he’s actually there. The Yankees had some firsthand knowledge of Eovaldi from current third base coach Joe Espada — Espada, who spent last year as a special assistant to Brian Cashman, was the Marlins third base coach from 2010-13 and presumably got to know Eovaldi then — and I’m sure they did their homework before acquiring him. They’ve put a lot of time and effort into evaluating makeup (or attempting to evaluate makeup) in recent years. I have no reason to think Eovaldi won’t be fine in his new situation, but again, there’s no way to know for sure until he gets there.

Learning curve, hard-hit ball tendencies point to offensive upswing for Didi Gregorius

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the winter the Yankees were tasked with finding a replacement at shortstop for Derek Jeter. Well, replacement isn’t really the right word. It’s not like they chose to move on from Jeter, he retired. Successor might be a better term here than replacement. Anyway, the search for a new shortstop led them to Didi Gregorius, who came over from the Diamondbacks in a three-team trade in early-December.

The Yankees had been trying to acquire Gregorius since at least the 2013 Winter Meetings, though they needed to wait until after his disappointing 2014 campaign for the price to drop low enough. Simply put, the Yankees bought low on Gregorius, at least relative to what they think he can become. They’re banking on a just turned 25-year-old improving in the coming years and becoming a no doubt starting shortstop down the road.

Gregorius was born in Amsterdam but grew up in Curacao, which has produced a bevy of talented young middle infielders in recent years. A bevy of talented young middle infielders who all initially struggled at the MLB level. Jurickson Profar started slow before his recent shoulder woes, and others like Gregorius, Xander Bogaerts, Andrelton Simmons, and Jonathan Schoop have been below-average hitters early in their careers. They all have that in common.

“(Players from Curacao) are all highly educated, all speak four to seven languages,” said Rangers GM Jon Daniels to Peter Gammons in December. “They almost all come from very strong family backgrounds. So they have little issues adapting to the American society in the minor leagues, and are able to blow through on their natural skills. But in the Majors, when they have to make adjustments for the first time, they haven’t got the baseball backgrounds to make those adjustments. And because we have gotten so intrigued by them, we tend to be disappointed. It’s not fair.”

Current Giants hitting coach and ex-Yankees infield prospect Hensley Meulens, who grew up Curacao, agrees with Daniels. “It doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Meulens to Gammons. “The kids on Aruba and Curacao don’t play a lot of baseball when they are young, and the level is very crude. They play like eleven games in a Little League season. If you’re a kid in the Dominican or Venezuela, you’re playing year round. Don’t lose patience.”

Gregorius doesn’t have the offensive potential of Profar or Bogaerts and he isn’t as gifted in the field as Simmons, but he was considered a potential two-way player coming up through the minors, someone with above-average defense and the ability to be a league average-ish or better hitter. Baseball America (subs. req’d) consistently lauded Didi’s glove during his prospect days and a few years ago noted his “combination of solid bat control, good pitch recognition and plus speed lead some scouts to project him as an above-average hitter.” That sounds promising.

Now, here’s the catch: we don’t know if Gregorius, Profar, Bogaerts, Schoop, and Simmons will be able to make the adjustments Daniels spoke about. Meulens sure didn’t during his days as a player. Others from Curacao like Wladimir Balentien and Roger Bernandina didn’t make the adjustments either. Andruw Jones is the best position player (and best player overall) to come from Curacao by a mile. The second best hitter is probably Randall Simon. It’s not a great collection of names.

That doesn’t mean Gregorius and those other guys won’t the make adjustments though. They haven’t had enough playing time in MLB to show us whether they can. What the Yankees do know about Gregorius is that he consistently hits the ball hard. Subjectively speaking, of course. ESPN stats guru Mark Simon detailed Didi’s tendency to sting the baseball back in December:

Inside Edge, a video-scouting service used by major league teams (including the Yankees) rates every at-bat by a stat known as “hard-hit rate.” The service employs video trackers who chart every batted ball as either hard-hit, medium-hit or soft-hit based on velocity and barrel contact (former Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long used to track this on his own).

Gregorius had a hard-hit rate of 20.4 percent. He was one of 34 players to have at least 250 plate appearances this past season and a 20 percent hard-hit rate.

Gregorius registered 56 hard-hit balls this past season, 30 of which went for base hits, so he hit .536 when hitting the ball hard.

That’s an unusually low number. The average major leaguer hits around .700 on his hard-hit balls. And Gregorius has hit that mark before. In fact, in 2013, he recorded the same number of hard-hit balls. They resulted in 39 base hits.

Inside Edge’s hard-hit ball data is recorded by human stringers, so there will inevitably be some scorer bias, though until HitFX becomes public (which may never happen), this is the best data we have for measuring quality of contact. Three hundred and eleven players had at least 250 plate appearances last season, and Gregorius being one of 34 with a 20%+ hard-hit ball rate means he was in the 90th percentile, give or take. That’s encouraging.

The Yankees have their own internal measure of quality of contact called exit velocity, according to Mark Feinsand. Brian Cashman mentioned the improvement of Chase Headley‘s “hit velo” after the trade last summer and assistant GM Billy Eppler told Feinsand their metric places Aaron Judge in the 90th percentile of MLB hitters when it comes to hitting the ball hard. The Yankees use Inside Edge data and have their own internal exit velocity metric, and I’m certain both were consulted before the Gregorius trade.

Beyond the stats, the Yankees also had a firsthand scouting perspective on Didi from Eric Chavez. Chavez played with Gregorius in Arizona from 2013-14 and now works in New York’s front office as a special assignment scout. “I was really high on him,” said Chavez to Bryan Hoch in December. “His defense is unbelievable, and hitting-wise, he has the potential to be a good hitter — a good .275, .280 hitter, 12 to 15 home runs. His swing plays perfect for Yankee Stadium, he’s kind of got that pull swing. Most of his home runs he hit, where he likes to hit them, I think he’ll be pretty successful there.”

I am generally a scouting report over stats guy when it comes to young players, but in this case I’m more inclined to believe the stats than the scouting report. For starters, I wouldn’t expect Chavez to say anything bad about Gregorius. Even if doesn’t like him all that much, he wouldn’t trash him while talking to the media. Secondly, the Inside Edge data is specifically measuring the quality of Gregorius’ contact, which ostensibly tells us more about his offensive potential going forward than, say, his batting average or wRC+ in 2014. Either way, both the stats and scouting report are positive, but I’m trusting the numbers over Chavez here.

The Yankees didn’t acquire a finished player in Gregorius, which is why he came so relatively cheap. Starting shortstops are really hard to find and the team believes Didi is an MLB caliber defender right now — based on what we’ve seen this spring, uh, yeah, he’s a good fielder — and has the potential to improve at the plate. Players from Curacao are slow-starters in general, and the hard-hit ball data suggests Gregorius got some unfortunate results at the plate in 2014. I am skeptical of Didi’s bat long-term, but there is reason to believe his offense will soon be on the upswing.

March 18th Camp Notes: Ellsbury, Cuts, Rotation, Ryan

The Yankees pummeled the Braves 12-5 on Wednesday night. Masahiro Tanaka made his second start of the spring and was fantastic, allowing two hits in 3.2 scoreless innings, striking out three. He looked as strong as ever. Andrew Bailey made his spring debut — it was his first game action since July 2013 — and allowed an unearned run on two hits in an inning of work. The television gun had him at 92-93, which would be amazing after a torn shoulder capsule if true. His curveball was all over the place though. “Rusty” is the word I would use to describe how Bailey looked.

Didi Gregorius and Brian McCann led the way offensively. Didi went 3-for-3 with a triple and McCann went 2-for-2 with two walks and a two-run homer. Stephen Drew also mashed a two-run tater. Brett Gardner went 1-for-3 with a walk, Chase Headley went 1-for-2 with a walk, both Mark Teixeira and Garrett Jones went 1-for-3 with a double, and Chris Young went 1-for-3. Also, the Braves are going to be bad this year. Very, very bad. Here’s the box score, here are the video highlights, and here are the rest of the day’s notes from Tampa:

  • Jacoby Ellsbury went for an MRI and has been diagnosed with a low grade oblique strain, the Yankees announced. He’ll be shut down for the next seven days. Opening Day is 18 days away now, so there’s still time for Ellsbury to rest, heal up, and get ready for the start of the season. Any sort of setback might force him to start the regular season on the DL, however.
  • The Yankees announced another round of roster cuts following last night’s game. Branden Pinder was optioned to Triple-A Scranton, Gary Sanchez was optioned to Double-A Trenton, and Domingo German was optioned to High-A Tampa. Don’t ready anything into the level assignments, those are just the player’s workout group for the rest of spring. Greg Bird and Kyle Roller was both reassigned to minor league camp as well. I unofficially count 53 players still in big league camp.
  • The upcoming rotation: Esmil Rogers (Thursday), Adam Warren (Friday), Michael Pineda (Saturday), and CC Sabathia (Sunday). I assume Nathan Eovaldi will either throw a simulated game or pitch out of the bullpen one of those days. Also, Joe Girardi said Bryan Mitchell will make at least one more start this spring. One of the split squad games on April 2nd seems like a good guess. [Chad Jennings]
  • Brendan Ryan (mid-back sprain) is on track to return to game action on Friday. Some of the position players who didn’t make the trip for tonight’s game took batting practice back in Tampa, but there were no bullpens or throwing sessions scheduled. [Jennings, Brendan Kuty]
  • Lefty Jose DePaula is heading for an MRI on his shoulder after dealing with continued soreness. He’s had a ton of arm problems over the years, including shoulder tendinitis in 2013. DePaula has only thrown two innings during Grapefruit League play but had been throwing regular bullpen sessions. [Jennings, Kuty]

In case you missed it earlier, tonight’s game against the Braves will be replayed on MLB Network at 11pm ET. Tune in for Tanaka, if nothing else.