Nathan Eovaldi says he’s open to a long-term deal with the Yankees


According to Andrew Marchand, right-hander Nathan Eovaldi said he is open to signing a long-term contract with the Yankees. Assuming the price is right, of course. “It would depend on what they offered,” said Eovaldi to Marchand. “I love it here.”

Eovaldi is one of the most important players on the roster right now. He’s only 26 and he’s pitching as well as he has at any point in his career. He’s also just a year away from free agency. The Yankees have to start thinking seriously about his long-term future if they haven’t already. (I’m sure they have.) Is Eovaldi most valuable long-term as a trade chip or in the rotation?

Honestly, I’m not sure there’s a right answer. You could make a very good argument for trading Eovaldi and a very good argument for keeping him. In fact, let’s do both really quick:

Nathan Eovaldi pros and cons

That about sums it up, right? The fact the upcoming free agent pitching market is terrible is a double-edged sword. Teams will be looking for pitching in trades and the Yankees have a pretty good pitcher to offer. Supply and demand, baby. At the same time, it also means it’s going to be pricey for the Yankees to build their own pitching staff.

Right now I am on team #ExtendEvo. I think power pitchers this young are hard to come by, and it helps that he’s already proven to be coachable (learned the splitter) and had some success in New York. If another team had Eovaldi and put him on the trade block — or he was available as a free agent — wouldn’t we want the Yankees to go after him? Of course we would.

At the same time, the Yankees have to listen to trade offers. It’s only smart. Someone might blow you away with an offer and the Yankees need all the young talent they can get. We know the Cubs have some interest. I could see the Giants, Rangers, Tigers, Astros, Pirates, White Sox, and Nationals all getting involved in Eovaldi talks too.

So far this season Eovaldi has a 3.71 ERA (3.53 FIP) in ten starts and 60.2 innings. His strikeout (22.9%) and ground ball (54.3%) rates are both career highs at the moment, as is his swing-and-miss rate (9.3%). There are plenty of reasons to like Eovaldi long-term and also some reasons to remain skeptical. No doubt about it. The fact he is at least open to an extension with the Yankees is a positive.

Mailbag: Judge, Reddick, Castro, Sabathia, Didi, O’Brien

We have 13 questions in the mailbag this week. Remember when these things used to only have four or five questions? What the hell happened. Anyway, use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything at anytime.

Judge. (Times Leader)
Judge. (Times Leader)

Nick asks: Is Aaron Judge broken? At what point do we start to worry?

Judge went into last night’s game hitting .224/.286/.378 (91 wRC+) with seven homers, a 7.4% walk rate, and a 26.3% strikeout rate in 217 plate appearances on the season. He hit .224/.308/.373 (98 wRC+) with eight homers, an 11.2% walk rate, and a 28.5% strikeout rate in 260 plate appearances at Triple-A last year, so the numbers are pretty similar. Judge actually started this season well (123 wRC+ in April) before falling into a 9-for-64 (.141) skid with 22 strikeouts over the last three weeks.

On a scale of 1-10 with one being no concern and ten being outright panic, I’d say I’m at a seven. Judge was always a high risk prospect because he’s so damn big. It’s hard to be a successful hitter at 6-foot-7. There’s a reason there are so few of them in MLB history. Oddly enough, his weakness is pitches away. Tall hitters usually have trouble with inside pitches because their arms are so long. Judge can get to the inside pitch. The outside pitch gives him problems.

Judge reworked his swing mechanics a bit in the offseason, specifically by incorporating a bigger leg kick and changing his hand position, and that was always going to take a bit of an adjustment. I think we’re probably beyond the point where his struggles can be attributed to the new setup at the plate though. Judge does not yet have a full season’s worth of at-bats in Triple-A, which is not insignificant. It’s not like he’s been there for two full years and is still struggling.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about Judge’s performance this year. The athleticism and raw power and overall skill set is there. That’s not the question. There are some approach issues to deal with, and also his size is an obstacle that isn’t going away. Judge just turned 24 and for some reason that is freaking people out. Who cares? They don’t check IDs on the field. The Yankees have the luxury of time here. Judge isn’t even on the 40-man roster yet, so they can let him work through things.

Phil asks: Josh Reddick. If his injury hurts his value as a big FA, can we look to sign him to a pillow contract next season (assuming we’d deal Gardner)? Instant short-term upgrade. He’s hit 30+ in YS.

Reddick’s not going to have to settle for a pillow contract even with the thumb injury. He’s expected back in about a month and that gives him the entire second half to show what he’s got. Reddick has made himself into a very good hitter — he’s hit .277/.337/.452 (121 wRC+) with an 8.3% walk rate and a 13.0% strikeout rate since 2014 — and he’s a fantastic defender in right field. That kind of two-way play is highly valuable and will get Reddick paid. The Alex Gordon contract (four years, $72M) seems reasonable to me.

Hey, if Reddick wants to build value in a left-handed hitter friendly ballpark on a one-year deal, sign him up. Even if the Yankees do take the plunge and decide to sell off parts and rebuild, Reddick would be one heck of a trade asset on a one-year contract. I can’t see it happening though. He’ll be back in a few weeks and he’ll get paid handsomely after the season.

Anonymous asks: Read one of your articles today saying league wide batting average is down about 10 points in the past 8-10 years. I believe lowering the mound 1 inch would put more offense back into baseball. What are your thoughts on this?

I don’t think it’s imminent, but I do believe MLB will seriously consider lowering the mound if offense continues to drop. Commissioner Rob Manfred has shown that he is very thorough and wants as much information as possible before making a decision, so I assume he’ll want several years of data before making a change that significant. I have no idea if one inch is the solution. It might be one and one-third of an inch or something weird like that. My guess is Manfred will have his people look into it and come up with a number rather than arbitrarily pick a nice round number like one or two inches.

Steve asks: As a west coast fan, I hate to admit it but I rarely get to catch many games live and thus catch up with most of my Yankee news with your site (thanks by the way) and video highlights. As someone who watches a lot of baseball, how has Castro looked at second? I’ve seen him make spectacular plays and I’ve seen him make some bone head plays … Overall though, are you happy with his D? (That’s what she said!) Has the trade been worth it so far?

I think the best way to describe Starlin Castro‘s defense is that he almost makes a lot of plays. Balls seem to find a way to be just out of his reach. His double play pivots have been noticeably slow at times too. Castro is relatively new to the position, so we should definitely cut him some slack. Overall he’s been fine defensively. Not great, not awful. He makes most of the plays he should make, will occasionally make a spectacular play, and will also occasionally let a ball get by that shouldn’t get by. Starlin hasn’t hit much at all since the Astros series and that’s pretty annoying. My early evaluation of the trade: meh. Not sure what else there is to say at this point.

Castro. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Castro. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

David asks: Forgetting about the probability of it but is it technically possible for the Yankees to get under the cap this year if they were able to trade a whole bunch of folks? I imagine timing might be everything as I assume the cap is based on salaries actually paid so every day that goes by makes it less and less likely.

Sure, it’s technically possible. The Yankees opened the season with a $228M payroll, so they’d need to shed about $40M in payroll to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold. Trading Alex Rodriguez ($18.4M), Mark Teixeira ($15.1), and Jacoby Ellsbury ($14.6M) right now at the one-third point of the season would accomplish that easily. The team would shed two-thirds of the average annual value of their contracts against the luxury tax payroll. The problem is those guys are basically untradeable, at least if the expectation is shedding their entire salary. So yes, it’s possible to get under the luxury tax by trading people, but no, it’s not happening.

Paul asks: Who is CC competing against for comeback player of the year?

The first name that immediately jumped to mind was Yu Darvish, who made his first start back from Tommy John surgery a few days ago. If he pitches at an ace-level for 20 starts, it’ll be hard to give it to someone else. Here are some other candidates:

  • Marcus Stroman: Limited to four starts (and three more in the postseason) last year by a torn ACL. Can you be the Comeback Player of the Year when it’s only your second full season?
  • Michael Saunders: Played only nine games last season due to knee problems, mashing this year.
  • Rich Hill: Can you be the Comeback Player of the Year when you were never great to start with?

The Comeback Player of the Year award generally goes to players who missed a big chunk of time due to injury. CC Sabathia was mostly healthy last season. He missed two weeks with the knee problem and that was it. Sabathia just didn’t pitch all that well. That might work against him. If he keeps this up all season, then yeah, Sabathia will have to be a serious Comeback Player of the Year candidate. Let’s revisit in a few months.

Mike asks: Big Mike reaches his 5 year service time in 2 weeks; so the yanks will need his approval, if they want to send him to the minors.If Pineda doesn’t show improvement over his next two starts, do the Yankees send him to the minors, before he has a say? And who replaces him?

Yes, definitely. The exact date is June 14th, so that is only eleven days away now. On June 14th Michael Pineda will hit five years of service time and be able to refuse any assignment to the minors. Pineda will make two more starts before June 14th. If he doesn’t show significant improvement, send him down and give the rotation spot to … someone. Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Luis Severino, whoever happens to be pitching the best at the time.

Pineda would have to remain in the minors the rest of the regular season to push his free agency back — the Yankees actually pushed it back when they optioned him down in 2013 following his shoulder rehab, he should have been a free agent after this season — but the goal of sending him down is to get him on track. Even if you look at this season as a lost cause, Pineda has very little trade value right now. If a stint in the minors gets him on track, it’ll boost his trade value for the offseason. Pineda’s been arguably the worst starter in baseball this season. That usually results in a trip to Triple-A. Reassess after these next two starts.

What is Dan asks: Didi’s advanced fielding metrics from this year look terrible (-7 DRS, -4.5 UZR). Any idea why these numbers are so low? This doesn’t seem to match the eye test.

I wouldn’t look too closely at defensive stats one-third of the way into the season, but I do think Didi Gregorius‘ defense has slipped a bit since last season. He’s still making spectacular plays, but he seems to be botching routine-ish plays more often. Joe Girardi even called him out on it a week ago, at least as much as Girardi will call out a player.

“He needs to improve on it, that’s what has to happen. He’s a better fielder than what he has showed these first two months,” said the skipper to Ryan Hatch. It doesn’t seem like Gregorius has lost athleticism or anything like that. He looks like the same old Didi. It just seems like he’s misplaying some balls, particularly those hit one step or two in either direction. It could just be a slump. Defense is like anything else in baseball. Slumps happen. I’m curious to see whether Didi can shore up his glovework going forward.

C.J. asks: Mike, Is there a match with the Diamondbacks to potentially move Peter O’Brien back to the Yankees to be a backup 1B/OF, 3rd catcher? He strikes out a ton, but he’s young and he’s got a whole lot of RH power. He doesn’t have a position in AZ and he’d be a better option than Ackley (injured), Parmalee, or Swisher.

O’Brien could be a fit, sure. He’d give the team a true backup first baseman who can also play some left field and even step in as the emergency third catcher. Plus he still has that huge right-handed power.

Power was never the question with O’Brien. The question is whether his lack of plate discipline — he has a 28.9% strikeout rate and a 3.2% walk rate in Triple-A this season — would allow him to use that power at the MLB level. O’Brien can hammer a mistake pitch. Can he do enough other things to be a net positive?

The Yankees could use some right-handed power and a backup first baseman. My trade proposal sucks, but what about Rob Refsnyder for O’Brien, straight up? The Diamondbacks need middle infield help — Jean Segura has been fine but Nick Ahmed can’t hit all, so they could stick Refsnyder at second and Segura at short — and also some outfield depth, two positions Refsnyder can play.

My guess is the D’Backs would want quite a bit more. They consider O’Brien one of their best prospects. At the same time, they’re not oblivious to the fact they have no place to play him. Paul Goldschmidt is entrenched at first and they have Yasmany Tomas making big bucks in left field. O’Brien could be a good fit for New York’s roster as kind of the a Dustin Ackley, the part-time player who sees time at first, a corner outfield, and DH.

Ariel asks: I know this is more of a question of one’s loyalty and dedication to his team than a regular ol’ baseball question, but am I a bad fan for rooting for the Yankees to lose on a consistent basis? Just so they have to trade away the three headed monster in the bullpen and guys like Teixeira and Beltran (if they waive their no-trade clause).

Nah, that doesn’t make you a bad fan. I can’t think of any reason to consider someone a bad fan. Maybe rooting against the team or a player just to prove you were right about something? The best thing for the Yankees right now could very well be losing and losing a lot, since it would presumably force the brain trust’s hands into beginning a rebuild. If you believe that is the best thing for the team long-term — at that is a 100% percent reasonable stance at this point in time — then how could anyone blame you for rooting for it? We all want the Yankees to win first and foremost. That doesn’t seem to be much of an option right now though.

Stephen asks: Is there any precedent to trading two elite relievers as part of the same deal? What could the Yankees get if they packaged two – or even all three! – of their big three relievers in a trade?

Chapman. (Elsa/Getty)
Chapman. (Elsa/Getty)

I haven’t found any such precedent at all. The closet thing I can find is the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade a few years ago. Samardzija and Hammel were two of the best available starting pitchers at the 2014 deadline, and the Athletics acquired them both in the same trade. They had to give up Addison Russell to do it though. Hammel was rental while Samardzija had one year of control left.

If the Yankees do decide to take the plunge and sell, they should absolutely be open to the possibility of a package deal with their relievers. I’m sure the Dodgers would love to get their hands on both Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, for example. What team wouldn’t? Can they get more if they move them individually than they would as a package deal? I can’t really answer that. My guess is they would end up with more total pieces if they shop them individually but perhaps get the best true impact player if they move them together.

Mark asks: I was wondering what you think the chances are that we may start to see language in contracts regarding failed drug tests and resulting suspensions… I know the suspensions are without pay, but I wonder if teams may eventually want to use such an event to get out of contracts altogether. Love the site and thanks for all your hard work.

Oh I’m sure owners would love to make contracts voidable due to a performance enhancing drug suspension. (But only the bad contracts, right?) I don’t think the MLBPA ever will (or should) agree to that. Giving owners a way to void contracts is a precedent the union does not want to set. The Joint Drug Agreement is by far the best PED testing program in pro sports and the penalties are harsh.

Making contracts voidable gives teams a reason to look the other way, which is the opposite of what should happen. It could create a distrust between the player and team because the team would have some incentive for a player to fail a drug test. Would the Yankees be heartbroken if Alex Rodriguez accidentally took a tainted B-12 shot? Nope. Not at all. Unless the player admits it, it’s pretty much impossible to prove whether he took a banned substance intentionally.

Want to improve the system? It would help by making the team accountable in some way, perhaps by having them donate the player’s forfeited salary to charity. No one really thinks teams are oblivious as to which of their players may be using PEDs, right? There aren’t many secrets in this game. The program is working. Players are getting caught. That’s what supposed to happen. No positive tests doesn’t mean no one is using.

John asks: How do you view Didi and Starlin? Do you think that they’re our long-term solutions up the middle, or are they good, short-term pieces until the farm delivers some of the guys at A and AA? If you think the minors guys are that good, who do you see starting at short and second in, say, 2019?

Closer to short-term fill-in pieces until someone better comes along than long-term solutions. I think Gregorius is closer to being a long-term solution at short than Castro is at second. Their bats are closer than most may realize — Starlin has more power and that’s about it — but Didi is the far better defender at the tougher position. I think it’s harder to find a shortstop like Gregorius than it is a second baseman like Castro, basically.

Jorge Mateo will hopefully fit into the middle infield picture somewhere within a year or two. He’s the obvious internal candidate to assume a long-term middle infield position. The Yankees have a ton of infield prospects but, aside from Tyler Wade, none are particularly close to MLB right now, so it’ll be Castro and Gregorius for a while. My guess is when the team is ready to be a true championship contender again, they’ll have a different double play combination than the one they have right now.

Four-run seventh propels Yankees to a 5-4 win over the Tigers

A win! You’d think that, with Yankees leading 5-1 in the 7th and Dellin BetancesAndrew MillerAroldis Chapman potentially lined up, it’d be a breeze to finish. Well, it came awfully close at the end but they held on for a 5-4 victory.

Getty Images

Pineda: Actually Pretty Good Tonight

Michael Pineda was allowing hits from the very first inning. After striking out Cameron Maybin to begin the frame, he allowed back-to-back hits to J.D. Martinez and Miguel Cabrera. Well, you’ve seen this movie before. He went on to allow three runs en route to another loss, right? Wrong. He induced a double play from Victor Martinez to get out of the inning unscathed.

Pineda showed two of his usual traits today – striking out hitters (8 in 5.2 IP) and limiting walks (none allowed). He did allow more hits (7) than innings pitched but he managed to limit the damage to only one earned run. His slider was a plus tonight – generating 13 whiffs with the slider tonight, good for a 40.6% rate. Even based on the eye test, it looked like it had better bite than it looked all season. Encouraging!

Tonight’s outing brought Pineda’s ERA all the way down to… 6.41. Better than it rising, I suppose. I’m assuming they orked on fixing some of the kinks in bullpen sessions. We’ll see if he can sustain today’s success.

Getty Images

Zero to… Something

The Yankees were being perfecto-d by Matt Boyd through 4.2 IP. Boyd is not a bad pitcher at all but he hasn’t seen much ML success yet, with a 6.85 career ERA in 67.0 IP. Tonight, however, he was pitching pretty well. For the first four innings, he only struck out one but Boyd was inducing soft contact all around. His perfecto broke in the fifth with a Chase Headley walk.

Leading off the sixth, Rob Refsnyder hit a double to break Boyd’s no-no. He advanced to third on an Aaron Hicks fly out and scored on a Jacoby Ellsbury sac fly. Hey, a run! (Remember “too many homers” was a thing? Sigh.) The Yankees actually managed two more hits that inning – singles by Starlin Castro and Carlos Beltran – but did not score any more thanks to a Mark Teixeira strikeout. Fortunately for Yanks, the bats weren’t done.

The Seventh Inning Explosion

The Yankees scored four runs in the seventh. Wait, did I write that right? I did. A-Rod and Headley had back-to-back singles to lead off, setting up runners first and second with no out for Austin Romine. The Yankee catcher hit into a fielder’s choice that ended up resulting with A-Rod being out at third. However, Refsnyder hit the first pitch to left field for an RBI single, giving Yanks a 2-1 lead. Justin Upton seemed to make a good throw from outfield but Nick Castellanos cut off the throw and tried to get the runner out at second. Interesting choice.

The Tigers brought in Bobby Parnell to replace Boyd. Hicks, on the first pitch, hit a grounder that deflected off the glove of a diving Jose Iglesias for an RBI single, 3-1 Yankees. And that was just about the only pitch Parnell threw tonight, as they yanked him immediately for lefty Kyle Ryan to face Ellsbury.

Ellsbury, following the trend of first pitch-hitting, squared up on Ryan’s first offering for a 2-RBI triple. 5-1 Yanks. That’s probably the most fun I’ve had watching the Bombers in awhile. The Yankees very much needed an offensive inning like this and they got one.

Walking the Ropes

So the Betances – Miller – Chapman trio of Yankee bullpen is supposed to be pretty reliable, right? Well, they usually are but tonight, each of them had a little bit of a hard time. They all each gave up an earned run, which kinda cut it close because they turned a 5-1 lead to a 5-4 finish.

Betances started the seventh and walked Jarrod Saltalamacchia on four pitches to start it off. On a 2-2 count, Betances allowed an RBI double to Mike Aviles, making it 5-2. After having a little command issue early, he went on to (casually) strike out three straight hitters to get out of the inning.

Miller came in the eighth and started it off with a five-pitch walk to Miguel Cabrera. After striking out the next two, he gave out another five-pitch walk to Upton. Coming into tonight, Miller had allowed only one walk all season. He allowed two in four batters tonight. Ian Kinsler followed it up with an RBI double that scored Cabrera but Upton was called out at home by a nice Gregorius throw. The inning ended with a 5-3 Yankees lead.

How about a third time? Chapman started the inning by loading the bases with no out. That two-run lead? Looking pretty shaky there my friend. However, Chapman induced a double play against J.D. Martinez – which scored a run but again, it’s two outs! Suddenly, it wasn’t too threatening anymore.  Well, except that the next hitter was Miguel Cabrera. Fortunately, he grounded out to second on the first pitch, ending a wild ride. 5-4 Yankees win.

Box Score, Highlight, WPA and Standings

Here’s tonight’s box score, video highlights, WPA and updated standings.

Source: FanGraphs

The Yankees head to Baltimore to face the Orioles in a weekend three-game series (fun! For me!). I may be attending one of the games so say hi if you’re going!

DotF: Fowler stays hot in Trenton’s loss

RHP Luis Severino, who will make his first start with Triple-A Scranton tomorrow, reported to the team today, so says Shane Hennigan. RHP Mark Montgomery was sent down to Double-A Trenton to clear a roster spot.

Triple-A Scranton (2-1 loss to Columbus)

  • CF Ben Gamel: 2-5
  • DH Aaron Judge: 0-3, 1 K, 1 HBP — he can’t buy a hit right now
  • LF Jake Cave: 0-4, 2 K
  • RF Cesar Puello: 1-3, 1 BB, 2 K — he missed a bunch of time due to a concussion, but he is hitting .304/.456/.443 in 103 plate appearances
  • LHP Tyler Webb: 4.2 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 3/3 GB/FB — 50 of 70 pitches were strikes (71%) … looks like he’s being stretched out to start
  • RHP Layne Somsen: 2.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 K, 1 HB, 4/0 GB/FB — 25 of 37 pitches were strikes (68%) … 32/9 K/BB in 23.1 total innings this year
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 K, 3/2 GB/FB — 23 of 36 pitches were strikes (64%)

[Read more…]

Game 53: Detroit, Temporarily


Today was supposed to be an off-day. Instead, the Yankees are in Detroit for a night to make up a rained out game from April. That’s unfortunate. Seems like the Yankees could use a day away from the park. I know I could use a night away from the Yankees given the way they’ve been playing. Here is the Tigers’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. SS Starlin Castro first start at short this season
  3. RF Carlos Beltran
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. DH Alex Rodriguez
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. C Austin Romine
  8. 2B Rob Refsnyder
  9. LF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Michael Pineda

No rainout tonight. It’s warm and actually a bit windy in Detroit this evening. Nice night for a game, I’d say. Tonight’s game will begin at 7:40pm ET and you can watch on YES. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Chasen Shreve (shoulder) threw today for the first time since being placed on the DL. He made 25 throws from 60 feet and felt good. Shreve will do it again tomorrow.

2016 Draft: Will Craig

Will Craig | 1B/3B

The 21-year-old Craig is from Johnson City, Tennessee, which is about 100 miles northeast of Knoxville. He was a 37th round pick (Royals) out of Science Hill High School in 2013 but did not sign and instead followed through on his commitment to Wake Forest. Craig has been one of the best hitters in the nation with the Demon Deacons. He’s a career .354/.463/.637 hitter with 34 homers, 95 walks, and 80 strikeouts in 147 games. This spring he’s hitting .417/.551/.826 with 13 homers, 34 walks, and 23 strikeouts in 40 games.

Scouting Report
The first thing that stands out about Craig is his size. He’s a big guy listed at 6-foot-3 and 235 lbs., and already the belief is he will have to move to first base in the near future. Craig has the arm — he closes for Wake Forest and has been up to 93 mph off the mound — and the hands for third, but he’s not very mobile. The hot corner requires quick reactions and he doesn’t have them. Craig can mash though. He’s an ultra-disciplined right-handed hitter who knows the strike zone and can read spin, so he makes consistent loud contact. The expectation is he will be a 20+ homer guy down the road, though that’s not the consensus. There is some concern about his long-term power potential because he had a hard time with a wood bats against premium velocity in the Cape Cod League last summer.

Miscellany ranked Craig as the 27th best prospect in the 2016 draft while both Baseball America and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked him 45th. The Yankees pick 18th. I absolutely believe Craig will come off the board in the first round and wind up with a stat heavy team, perhaps one with extra picks looking to save some draft pool space. The Yankees are said to be targeting college hitters, and while Craig is flawed defensively, he’s one of the best pure bats in the draft beyond the elite prospects likely to go in the top ten. That said, he’s pretty much a bat only prospect.

Guest Post: The Still Good At Baseball Jacoby Ellsbury

The following is a guest post from Carlo Macomber, who goes by CoryWadeDavis in the comments. He’s previous written guest posts about Masahiro Tanaka and Didi Gregorius.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract is horrible. Absolutely terrible. Ellsbury is not the type of player that should make over $21 million per season (Cot’s Contracts actually says he makes exactly $21,142,857.15 annually, which is oddly specific). This is not about Ellsbury’s contract, though. Nothing can be done about that at this point, and as Yankees fans, all we can hope is that Ellsbury plays close to his career averages. We should not (and cannot) expect him to perform like a $21 million per year player.

Now that the contract talk is out of the way, let’s look at Jacoby Ellsbury the baseball player. So far this year, Ellsbury has actually been pretty good! After hitting .257/.318/.345 (83 wRC+) in 501 PAs last year, Ellsbury is hitting .280/.344/.415 (108 wRC+) through June 1 (186 PAs) of this season. While his offensive numbers are not anywhere near his anomalous 2011 season when he had a 150 wRC+, this year’s batting line looks incredibly similar to his career .288/.343/.425 (106 wRC+) line. In other words, after being a well below average hitter in 2015, Ellsbury is (so far) back to being the above average hitter he has been for most of his career.

Perhaps the biggest difference between 2015 and 2016 Ellsbury is simply health. Although he did miss about a week with a hip injury this year, Ellsbury has been mostly healthy this season, which is already a noticeable difference from 2015. With this in mind, let’s look to see what Ellsbury has done differently baseball-wise in 2016.

1. He’s hitting the ball harder (for the most part)!

Ellsbury’s hard contact rate this year is at 26.3%, up from 21.1% last year, and very close to his career rate of 25.4%. This is a very good improvement! Interestingly, however, Ellsbury’s soft contact rate is also up. This season he is making soft contact 25.5% of the time, up from 24.1% last year, and well above his career rate of 19.5%. Ellsbury’s BABIP is not particularly high this season at .328, which is in line with his career BABIP of .319 (but higher than last year’s .301).

On the one hand, Ellsbury is making more hard contact than last year (and is now in line with his career average). On the other hand, his soft contact is well above his career rate, yet he is still putting up a typical Ellsbury batting line without an astronomically high BABIP. It will be interesting to see how Ellsbury’s batted ball velocity and BABIP look as the season progresses, but as of right now, it all looks quite solid.

2. He’s striking out less.

Ellsbury’s K% last year was a career-worst 17.2%. A player like Ellsbury, who depends a lot on his speed, needs to put the ball in play as often as possible to be successful. He simply did not do that last season. This year, however, Ellsbury’s K% is down to 15.1%, much closer to his career rate of 13.6%, and nearly identical to his 2013 and 2014 rates (14.5% and 14.6%). It should also be noted that Ellsbury’s 2016 BB% of 7.5% is in line with his career rate of 7.0%. So, while Ellsbury’s hard contact rate is up this year, he is simply making more contact in general than he did last season, leading to a more typical batting line.

3. He’s swinging at better pitches.

Here is a graphic, from the catcher’s perspective, of the percentage of pitches in each location that Ellsbury swung at in 2015.

Jacoby Ellsbury 2015

Obviously, Ellsbury swung at high percentages of pitches in the zone, just as he should.  What stands out here, however, is how often he swung at pitches low and out of the zone, and, to a lesser extent, outside and off the place. In general, it is more difficult to hit pitches low and/or outside with authority, which, as evidenced by last seasons’ hard contact rate, Ellsbury did not do very well. On pitches in the bottom five squares of the graphic, Ellsbury hit 14 total line drives, compared to 52 ground balls last season. He also whiffed on 12 of the 21 pitches he swung at in the bottom right square. If Ellsbury is looking to hit the ball hard, which all players should be, laying off more of these low pitches would make sense. Of course, that is much easier said than done in the MLB.

Now, here is the same graphic, except for all pitches Ellsbury has seen this season through June 1.

Jacoby Ellsbury 2016 swings

Clearly, this is a much smaller sample size, but Ellsbury has at least started this season by swinging at fewer pitches low and out of the zone and outside and off the plate. In fact, Ellsbury has swung at a lower percentage of pitches in eight of the nine lowest and furthest outside squares. The only square of those nine with a higher swinging percentage this season is the one in the middle and outside. Ellsbury has continued to swing at pitches both in the zone and inside with high frequency, and these are the pitches that he should be looking to attack in order to hit the ball hard more often.

Offensively, Ellsbury has looked much more like himself so far this season. He is a good, not spectacular, hitter that uses his speed to put pressure on the other team. Last season, after he returned from the DL, Ellsbury looked like an absolute mess at the plate, and he started to swing at poor pitches. It appears that so far this season Ellsbury is being more selective at the plate, which has lead to better contact and fewer strikeouts! It is still possible (maybe likely?) that health is a key factor in his improvement. It is also possible that he made a mechanical adjustment. However, it is evident here that Ellsbury’s ability to swing at better pitches this year has certainly contributed to his success. I imagine that Ellsbury’s resurgence (through two months, don’t forget) is a combination of all three!

4. But what about defense?

While we all know that Ellsbury struggled offensively last season, he actually cost the team several runs defensively as well. Ellsbury has always had a poor arm. Anyone that has ever watched him throw can confirm this. Outfield arm runs, one of the components of the all-encompassing (but, of course, imperfect) defensive metric Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), says he cost the Yankees 2.1 runs last season, and 2.7 runs this season just because of his poor arm. What is more interesting, however, is that range runs, another component of UZR that measures how well and outfielder can get to balls hit near him, says Ellsbury cost the Yankees 2.0 runs. When all the components are added together, Ellsbury total UZR last season was -3.2 and his UZR per 150 games played was -5.6. This was only his second ever season with a negative UZR.

While his arm has already cost the Yankees 2.7 runs this year, Ellsbury range has improved considerably, and his overall UZR so far this year is +0.6. He is, hypothetically, on track for a UZR per 150 games played of +12.8, which would be a drastic improvement on both 2014 and 2015 but right near is 2013 level. While I do not expect Ellsbury to provide that much defensive value over the course of this season, the evidence is there to suggest that last year was an (injury-related?) aberration, and that Ellsbury is a valuable defensive player. (Last night’s error notwithstanding.)

Overall, Ellsbury is so far revealing that his 2015 season was the polar opposite of his 2011 season. Those two seasons deviate the most from his career averages but in opposite directions. His batting line this season is incredibly close to his career average, and his defense, according to UZR, is returning to a positive level, even if it is not close to his defensive peak. Ellsbury has looked like a good Major League Baseball player again this year, and Yankees fans everywhere should hope that Ellsbury continues to swing at good pitches, chase down fly balls in the outfield, and, of course, remain healthy!