Betances looking forward to Chapman helping reduce his workload

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

It’s no secret Dellin Betances has endured a huge workload the last two seasons. He’s thrown 174 innings the last two years, nearly 20 more than any other reliever, and most of those innings were high-leverage situations. Dellin hasn’t just been throwing a lot of innings, he’s been throwing a lot of high-intensity innings.

Betances is a physically massive human — he’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 265 lbs. on the team’s official site — and the workload hasn’t really hurt his performance much. Yeah, he struggled throwing strikes late last season, but he has a history of control problems, so it wasn’t totally out of the ordinary. Fatigue may have been a factor. We just can’t say so definitively.

Either way, ideally Dellin’s workload would not be quite as high as it has been going forward. Relievers don’t throw 85+ high-stress innings year-after-year anymore. Aroldis Chapman will assume some of those high-leverage innings, and Betances said he’s looking forward to having the team’s new closer lighten his load a bit.

“It’s exciting, obviously,” said Betances to Meredith Marakovits when asked about Chapman (video link). “And I think that will help my workload as well, having Chapman there … I think everything will fall into place. Whatever the team needs me to do to help them win, I’ll be ready.”

I think Joe Girardi and the Yankees would like limit Betances to somewhere in the 70-75 inning range going forward, which is still pretty high by reliever standards. Only 19 relievers threw 70+ innings in 2015. Dellin’s shown he can handle a larger than usual workload, and that’s something the Yankees should take advantage of when possible.

Girardi likes to assign his relievers specific innings and it seems like Betances will take over as the seventh inning guy in 2016. That’s not set in stone, but I think it’s heading in that direction. That’s a good spot for Betances because Girardi can use him to get a few outs in the sixth inning on occasion as well. Justin Wilson didn’t do that much last year.

Betances is a big guy and he will turn 28 during Spring Training, so he’s not a young prospect. That doesn’t mean his workload can be brushed aside either. The Yankees want Dellin to help them win not only in 2016, but also in 2017, 2018, and 2019 as well. He’s a core member of the roster, and using Chapman to help lighten the load on Betances is a big positive.

Andrew Miller is the key to the Yankees’ arbitration case with Aroldis Chapman

 (Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

Last Friday the Yankees filed salary arbitration figures with four of their six eligible players prior to the 1pm ET deadline. Michael Pineda ($4.3M) and Dustin Ackley ($3.2M) signed new deals while Aroldis Chapman, Nathan Eovaldi, Didi Gregorius, and Ivan Nova filed salary figures. The two sides can still discuss a deal of any size. Friday was not a hard deadline for a 2016 contract.

Chapman filed a $13.1M salary figure, which is a touch more than the $12.9M projection MLBTR’s model spit out. The Yankees, meanwhile, filed a $9M salary figure. That represents a mere $950,000 raise for Chapman. Here’s what I wrote when the filing figure news broke:

First thought: Chapman should probably take the Yankees to a hearing. He made $8.05M last season. Would the arbitration panel really side with the Yankees and award him a raise of less than $1M after he saved 33 games with a 1.63 ERA (1.94 FIP) and 116 strikeouts in 66.1 innings in 2015? Seems really unlikely. The other third year arbitration-eligible closers (Kenley Jansen, Drew Storen, Mark Melancon) all received raises of at least $2.5M on Friday. I guess the Yankees think Chapman’s earning potential will be dragged down by the domestic violence incident.

Jonathan Papelbon holds almost every arbitration record for relievers, and he received a $12M payday in his final season of eligibility back in 2011. Chapman is looking to break that record and he’s not being unreasonable. Reliever salaries have increased significantly since 2011 and Chapman has been as good as any closer in history the last few seasons.

As I said Friday, it appears Chapman has a pretty good case should this thing go to an arbitration hearing next month. The Yankees, it seems, are using Andrew Miller as their salary reference point for Chapman. Free agent contracts are fair game for salary comparisons for players in their final arbitration year as Jeff Passan noted, and the team’s $9M filing figure matches the average annual value of Miller’s contract.

Chapman has very few peers statistically. Miller happens to be one of them. That they’re both left-handed gives the comparison even more validity. We’re talking about the two best lefty relievers in baseball here. (Okay, maybe two of the three best along with Zach Britton.) Here’s what Chapman and Miller did last season, the most important season during contract talks:

IP Saves ERA FIP K% BB% fWAR bWAR
Miller 61.2 36 1.90 2.16 40.7% 8.1% 2.0 2.2
Chapman 66.1 33 1.63 1.94 41.7% 11.9% 2.5 2.7

Pretty damn similar. Similar innings total, similar saves total, similar strikeout rate, WAR is in the same ballpark. Miller has the edge in walk rate but Chapman has him beat in ERA and FIP. The comparison is not crazy. Chapman was a bit better last summer but Miller isn’t too far behind him. He is one of Chapman’s few peers.

That comparison with Miller seems to be the basis of the Yankees’ $9M filing figure. Should this thing go to a hearing, they’re probably going to argue Miller is a comparable pitcher and he signed a deal worth $9M per season, so that’s what Chapman deserves in his final year of arbitration. At least that’s what I think is happening. I’m not sure how else they could have come up with that $9M number.

The Miller-Chapman comparison works for the 2015 season and that’s about it. Go back further and it’s advantage Chapman in a huge way, which is why he’s in position for a record arbitration salary in the first place. Miller has been an elite reliever for only two seasons now — you could argue two and a half seasons based on his work in 2013 — Chapman’s been doing it for four years.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Saves pay, especially in arbitration. Miller has 37 career saves and he had one when he became a free agent. Chapman has 146 career saves. That’s going to be the argument Chapman’s side makes should this go to a hearing. Miller got that $9M per year contract in free agency as a setup man. David Robertson, another elite reliever who had only one year as a closer under his belt when he became a free agent, landed a contract worth $11.5M annually that same offseason. That will work against the Yankees.

The Yankees aren’t stupid. They feel they have a strong argument to support that $9M filing figure and can win a hearing if necessary. From the outside, it looks like they filed way too low — again, we’re talking about a $950,000 raise for one of the best relievers in the game coming off a great season — low enough that Chapman’s side may not have much incentive to discuss a one-year contract smaller than their $13.1M filing figure these next few weeks.

Maybe the Miller comparison will stand up in front of the three-person arbitration panel, which tends to be not well-versed in sabermetrics. (Arbitration is a very antiquated process.) The fact fellow third year arbitration-eligible closers like Jansen, Storen, and Melancon all received raises north of $2.5M this offseason — Melancon’s $4.25M raise is a record for an arbitration-eligible reliever — does not bode well for the Yankees should this get to a hearing.

Measuring the improvement of Gary Sanchez’s defense

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Thanks to the John Ryan Murphy trade, Gary Sanchez will come to Spring Training with a very good chance to win the Yankees’ backup catcher job. Brian Cashman said he would like to “release the Kraken” a few weeks ago, indicating he wants Sanchez to be on the roster to begin his apprenticeship under Brian McCann. The job is his for the taking.

It feels like Sanchez has been around forever — he did sign back way back in 2009, after all — but he turned only 23 last month, and last season he was still 2.4 years younger than the average Double-A Eastern League player. Sanchez has always been a powerful hitter, that’s his calling card, so the focus of his work the last few years has been on the defensive side of the ball.

Measuring catcher defense is difficult as it is, and it has been close to impossible at the minor league level, though last week Baseball Prospectus introduced some new stats that help us paint a picture of minor league catcher defense. Here’s the primer, which is free. No subscription required. Long story short, the new stats measure pitch-framing, blocking, and throwing. All are expressed in runs saved, the standard currency of defense.

It goes without saying these new catching measures are not exact because no defensive measures are exact, especially at the minor league level. These are estimations more than anything, and for our purposes, that will work. I want to look at Sanchez’s defensive progress in general. Let’s dive into his year-by-year improvement.

2012: 68 games at Low-A and 48 games at High-A

Framing Runs Blocking Runs Throwing Runs FRAA CS%
not available -0.7 +0.0 -0.7 30%

(FRAA is Fielding Runs Above Average. It’s simply framing plus blocking plus throwing.)

Heading into the 2012 season, Baseball America (subs’ req’d) said the then-19-year-old Sanchez struggled to catch breaking balls, so much so that “some scouts believe he’s a lost cause as a receiver.” Their scouting report did say he had “plus arm strength,” which has been the one defensive constant throughout Sanchez’s career. The kid’s always had a rocket.

The numbers say Sanchez was slightly below average blocking balls in the dirt in 2012, and his throwing was average. (The combined average caught stealing rate for the South Atlantic League and Florida State League was 28% that year.) The knock on Sanchez’s throwing for most of his career was his release, not his arm strength. He took forever to get rid of the ball, and when you do that, the arm strength plays down.

At this point of his career, Sanchez was close to a bat-only prospect. He hit .290/.344/.485 (129 wRC+) with 18 homers in 116 total games that year, and holy crap, that’s incredible for a 19-year-old catcher in full season ball. It was very clear Sanchez could hit. His defense lagged big time.

2013: 94 games at High-A and 23 games at Double-A

Framing Runs Blocking Runs Throwing Runs FRAA CS%
+0.0 at Double-A -5.5 +2.5 -2.9 44%

Apparently scouts saw some improvement in Sanchez’s defense during that 2012 season. Baseball America (subs. req’d) said Sanchez had “solid athleticism and receiving skills” going into 2013, which is much better than the whole lost cause thing we read a few paragraphs ago. Baseball America again lauded Sanchez’s arm but did note he was “an erratic defender prone to lapses in receiving.”

The blocking numbers got much worse in 2013. Sanchez is a big guy — he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 235 lbs. on the team’s official site right now, and he was a little chunky back in A-ball — and he’s not the most mobile catcher, so it was understandable why he struggled to block pitches in the dirt. He did reach Double-A that year, which is where pitchers start to combine stuff with command.

The throwing was very good, however. The combined average caught stealing rate for the Florida State League and Eastern League was only 31% that year, so Sanchez was far above that. The “he can really throw but his receiving sucks” defensive profile isn’t uncommon for young catchers — many of those guys end up on the mound if they can’t hit, like Kenley Jansen — and Sanchez fit the profile to a T.

2014: 110 games at Double-A

Framing Runs Blocking Runs Throwing Runs FRAA CS%
+6.8 -1.5 +1.9 +7.2 39%

The 2014 season is when we first started to see some generally positive defensive scouting reports on Sanchez. Before the season, Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he “still needs to work on blocking balls,” but his “arm has been rated as high as an 80 by some scouts.” And, for the first time, he “took charge behind the plate and was handling staffs with much more authority than in years past.”

We don’t have much framing data for 2012 or 2013 because it isn’t available for Single-A that far back, so the 2014 season is the first time we have a decent sample of framing data for Sanchez. And wow, he really performed well. I am still very skeptical of framing stats — especially for minor leaguers since there’s no PitchFX (they’re just estimations) — but it is obviously a valuable skill, and BP’s stats suggest Sanchez was really good at it a year ago.

The blocking was still below average but better in 2014 than it was in 2013, and the throwing remained excellent. I wouldn’t say Sanchez’s framing improved in 2014 — we don’t have any reliable numbers for 2012-13 — but it looks like his blocking ability did. Progress? Progress! At least based on this admittedly imperfect stats.

2015: 58 games at Double-A and 35 games at Triple-A

Framing Runs Blocking Runs Throwing Runs FRAA CS%
+3.0 +0.0 +0.0 +3.0 36%

The scouting report from Baseball America (subs. req’d) heading into last season said Sanchez’s arm “remains an impressive tool” while adding he is “still working to become more adept as a receiver and a blocker.” That jibes with the numbers so far. The throwing stats love him but the blocking stats haven’t.

The framing numbers came back to Earth a bit last year, but again, Sanchez’s blocking improved. He went from -5.5 blocking runs in 2013 to -1.5 in 2014 to +0.0 in 2015. At the same time, his throwing numbers have actually gotten worse. Sanchez’s caught stealing rate remains really good — the combined average for the Eastern League and International League was a 30% caught stealing rate in 2015 — but it has been trending down, and his throwing runs total has fallen from +2.5 to +1.9 to +0.0.

Interestingly enough, Eric Longenhagen (subs. req’d) saw Sanchez in the Arizona Fall League, and said he “showed signs of fixing the glacial way he rises from his crouch when he throws down to second base by often just eliminating the middle man and throwing from his knees.” Unconventional? Sure. But hey, if it works, great. I could have sworn MLB.com had video of such a throw, but apparently not. For shame. (If anyone finds it, let me know.)

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

After the 2015 season Baseball America (subs. req’d) said Sanchez has “an extremely strong arm” and has “spent years refining his receiving and blocking.” The scouting report also said he “still has some polish to add as a receiver,” which makes sense because, you know, he just turned 23. No one is a finished product at that age, especially not a catcher defensively.

Point is, Sanchez’s defense seems to have come a long way from “lost cause” based on the both the scouting reports and stats. The stats are still somewhat rudimentary of course, but they continue to get better with each passing year. That they match up with what the scouts are saying — blocking needs work, arm is great, etc. — is encouraging. We’re on the right track.

The Yankees value catcher defense highly — they’ve traded away bad glove catcher prospects like Jesus Montero and Peter O’Brien in recent years — and they’ve been very patient with Sanchez the last few seasons. His bat was always going to buy him time, and lately his defense appears to be improving as well, so much so the team was comfortable trading Murphy.

Sanchez figures to get his first real opportunity at the big league level this coming season, and surely the Yankees hope his glovework will improve even more under McCann, Joe Girardi, and Tony Pena. His bat will forever be his main tool. But, if he is able to settle in as even an average defensive MLB catcher, Sanchez will be an incredibly valuable asset for the Yankees.

Fan Confidence Poll: January 18th, 2016

2015 Season Record: 87-75 (764 RS, 698 RA, 88-74 pythag. record), lost wildcard game

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.

Weekend Open Thread

Another week down, another week closer to Spring Training. I’m starting to get desperate here. I need baseball. This offseason has been weird in too many ways. Anyway, here are the weekend links:

  • With the 2016 Hall of Fame vote compete, it’s time to look ahead. Jay Jaffe posted his annual five-year Hall of Fame projection. He sees eleven players being voted into Cooperstown over the next five years, including ex-Yankees Tim Raines (2017), Mariano Rivera (2019), Derek Jeter (2020), and Mike Mussina (2021). Jay’s the best Hall of Fame analyst out there. Don’t miss it.
  • Here’s a fun story from Arwa Mahdawi about a guy named Jeffrey who had kind of a boring wake up, go to work, come home, go to sleep, do it all again the next day life. He was sick of it, so he quit his job to pursue other stuff, until one day he picked up a Citi Bike in lower Manhattan and rode the damn thing to California. The trip took five months.
  • A few weeks before El Chapo was captured (again), Dana Priest wrote about the connection between the media and drug cartels in Mexico. The cartels use the threat of violence to control the news and have murdered reporters over their stories. Social media has made it more difficult for the cartels to control the news, but not impossible. Pretty scary stuff.
  • And finally, here’s an awesome post on The Players’ Tribune from former NHL player Ryan Whitney, who wrote about his experience playing in Russia. He retired young due to ankle problems and spent his final season as a player in Sochi. The YouTube video cracked me up.

Friday: Here’s the open thread for the evening. Not a whole lotta sports! going on tonight. The Nets are playing and that’s pretty much it. Not even any college hoops on the schedule. Anyway, you know how these work, so go nuts.

Saturday: This is the open thread again. The NFL playoffs resume with the Chiefs vs. Patriots (4:30pm ET on CBS) and Packers vs. Cardinals (8pm ET on NBC). The (hockey) Rangers already played, but the Devils are playing right now, and both the Knicks and Nets will play later tonight. There’s also a whole bunch of college hoops on as well. Talk about those games or whatever else.

Sunday: For one last time, this is the open thread. I’m bumping it up to the top of the site a little earlier than usual because of the NFL playoffs. Today you’ve got Panthers vs. Seahawks (1pm ET on FOX) and Steelers vs. Broncos (4:30pm ET on CBS). The Rangers and Islanders are both playing too, and there’s some college basketball on as well. Have at it.

Way Too Early Lineup Musings

2015 Wild Card Game Lineups

Spring Training may still be about a month away and, despite their relative quietness this Hot Stove season, the Yankees may not be done adding to or tinkering with their team. However, it’s never too early to start dreaming on the lineups we’ll see throughout the year, even with the general knowledge that lineup construction doesn’t always have a big effect on the macro level.

Over the last few seasons, the Yankees have a had a good deal of year-to-year lineup turnover due to players leaving the team or leaving the game altogether–or returning to it in Alex Rodriguez‘s case. Before this three year stretch of 2013-2015, we’d usually see the Yankees cycle out a DH or a random position here or there, but things were generally consistent and well-balanced. That hasn’t been the case for the last few years, though we could see a return to that in 2016.

The return of Mark Teixeria will help restore some needed right-handed power to the lineup, and Aaron Hicks will look to replicate what Chris Young did. Hicks also joins two other switch hitters, Carlos Beltran and Chase Headley. Starlin Castro gives the Yankees a dedicated righty hitter in their infield who can hopefully fit into the lineup in a variety of ways.

There is no shortage of ways the Yankees could deploy their hitters against right handed pitchers. Joe Girardi could stack lefty/switch hitters in the first four spots of the lineup and not give the other team a platoon advantage until fifth, or even sixth if he really wanted to:

1. Brett Gardner
2. Jacoby Ellsbury
3. Carlos Beltran
4. Mark Teixeira
5. Brian McCann
6. Alex Rodriguez
7. Chase Headley
8. Didi Gregorius
9. Starlin Castro

You could flip Didi and Castro if you’d like, but I imagine Girardi would want to break up the lefties at the turn of the lineup. Of course, swapping Ellsbury and Gardner is possible as well. Given Gardner’s slight power advantage over Ellsbury, that might make some sense, provided Ellsbury returns to his non-2015 form. The 3-4-5-6 spots are also fairly interchangeable; at their best, any of those players can carry a team offensively and having them anchor the lineup, even at their advanced age, is an okay thing.

Against lefties, there’s an opportunity for Girardi to really shake things up and get pretty frisky. It all hinges on just how much he plans on platooning Gardner/Ellsbury/Hicks. It’s very likely that Aaron Hicks winds up playing in a ton of games–like Chris Young did this year–just as a defensive replacement for Carlos Beltran late in games. But he’s also here to hit lefties, something Ellsbury struggled with in 2015, leading to a benching in the Wild Card game. If we assume Ellsbury sits a fair amount against lefties, we could see something like this:

1. Gardner
2. Hicks
3. Beltran
4. Teixeira
5. Rodriguez
6. McCann
7. Castro
8. Headley
9. Gregorius

If it’s Gardner who ends up sitting against lefties, it’s likely that Ellsbury would still hit at the top of the lineup. After all, he’s got the name and he’s got the big contract. But, in a more “just” world, perhaps this lineup could be trotted out:

1. Castro
2. Hicks
3. Beltran
4. Tex
5. A-Rod
6. McCann
7. Ellsbury
8. Headley
9. Gregorius

Regardless of who sits and who doesn’t, the Yankees will likely feature a more balanced attack against lefties than they did in the second half and the Wild Card game last year. Their inability to hit lefties consistently certainly cost them and the front office seems to have recognized that with the acquisitions of Hicks and Castro. There are a ton of other permutations for each lineup, but I’m choosing to stay positive and assume some health for the Yankees (trust me, I know this could all fall apart very, very quickly).  What lineup combinations do you favor? Which ones did I forget? What are you dying to see, even if you know it’s probably a bit unrealistic? Even if we know they don’t make much of a difference, it’s still fun to play manager and adjust a lineup to our own liking. And at this time of year, when we’re all optimists, it’s easy to dream.

Saturday Links: Powell, Interpreters, Instant Replay, ESPN

Powell. (Mark Kolbe/Getty)
Powell. (Mark Kolbe/Getty)

The Yankees handled some major offseason business on arbitration filing day yesterday. They agreed to new one-year deals with Michael Pineda and Dustin Ackley, and exchanged figures with Aroldis Chapman, Didi Gregorius, Nathan Eovaldi, and Ivan Nova. They can still work out contracts with those four players. They aren’t necessarily headed for arbitration hearing now. Anyway, here are some assorted links and notes to pass along.

Yankees scouted cricket player Kieran Powell

Here’s a fun little story. Kieran Powell, one of the best cricket players in the world, is attempting to transition to baseball. Jack Curry says the Yankees had a scout on hand for his workout Wednesday. Powell, 25, is from the West Indies, and last summer he spent eight weeks working with former big leaguers to develop baseball skills. From Jared Diamond:

Following a contract dispute with the West Indies team, Powell’s agent sent footage of Powell to major-league teams, catching the eye of scouts from the Los Angeles Dodgers. They arranged for Powell to spend eight weeks last summer training in Southern California with two former Dodgers players to start the process of dropping his “cricket habits” and learning the nuances of baseball. (Powell declined to reveal which ex-players worked with him.)

Powell headed to the IMG Academy in Florida to continue training following his crash course with the Dodgers. He’s been working with Tim Raines Jr. and former Yankees farmhand John-Ford Griffin. Here’s some video of him in the batting cage.

There is almost no overlap between baseball and cricket at the pro level, so Powell would be a pioneer. The games are similar in that you’re hitting a ball with a bat, but the swing mechanics are very different. (Cricket involves an extreme uppercut, for example.) Both games do require top notch hand-eye coordination though, and Powell has that.

Curry says the Yankees aren’t interested because they didn’t see any standout baseball skills, and one evaluator went as far as telling Wally Matthews, “He sucks. He’s not worth any time.” Ouch. I am curious see how Powell does on the diamond though.

Teams required to provide Spanish interpreters

According to Jerry Crasnick, teams will be required to provide full-time Spanish interpreters for players beginning next season thanks to a new directive implemented by MLB and the MLBPA. Many clubs already have interpreters while others rely on coaches or other players to translate during media scrums. Teams routinely hire individual interpreters for Asian players, but not Spanish players.

Carlos Beltran has been pushing for full-time Spanish interpreters for years, and in fact David Waldstein says Beltran reached out to the MLBPA to make it happen. Most notably Beltran spoke out after Pineda spoke to the media without an interpreter following the pine tar incident two years ago. “It’s a problem, of course, because he can’t express himself the way he wants to,” said Beltran the next day when he found out Pineda did not have a translator.

Roughly 25% of players come from Spanish speaking countries these days, so this is long overdue. I’m surprised it took this long for MLB and the union to get something done. You’d think they want to help players who are attempting to communicate in their second language. Hopefully the league implements a similar program in the minors. Of course, the MLBPA has been hanging minor leaguers out to dry for years now, so who knows.

MLB not close to changing replay rules for slides

MLB is not close to changing the instant replay rules for overslides, reports Jon Morosi. Those are the nitpicky plays where the the player comes off the base for an instant. Stuff like this:

I hate that. Yes, the rules say the player is out, but man, I don’t think that’s what anyone intended when they wanted expanded replay. If the player completely overslides the base, yes, then replay. But a little pop up off the bag like that? Especially when it’s the result of the impact of the slide? I feel like that should be off-limits from replay. Either way, no rule change is coming. Stay on the base.

ESPN releases early Sunday Night Baseball schedule

A few weeks ago ESPN announced the early season portion of their Sunday Night Baseball schedule. As always, the Yankees will be among the most featured clubs. Here are their games:

  • April 10th: Yankees at Tigers
  • May 1st: Yankees at Red Sox
  • May 8th: Red Sox at Yankees
  • July 17th: Red Sox at Yankees

The back-to-back Yankees-Red Sox games in early-May made me laugh. ESPN still pumps up the rivalry even though it’s been four years since both teams were good at the same time. At least some more teams will be involved in Sunday Night Baseball next year, including the Astros and Diamondbacks. The Astros haven’t played on Sunday Night Baseball since 2013 and the D’Backs haven’t been featured since 2008.

Also, ESPN announced a new Sunday Night Baseball booth: Dan Shulman remains as play-by-play man and will be joined by Jessica Mendoza and Aaron Boone. Curt Schilling will be moved to other broadcasts and John Kruk is going to be an in-studio analyst. Having a pro-Yankees guy (Boone) in the booth will be a welcome change.