Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The (hockey) Rangers and (possibly good?) Knicks are both playing tonight. Talk about those games or anything else here, as long as it’s not religion or politics.
It has been nearly two weeks since the Yankees parted ways with Joe Girardi, and we finally have our first report of the team interviewing a managerial candidate. The candidate: Rob Thomson. Ken Rosenthal reports Thomson interviewed today. Earlier this week Brian Cashman said each candidate hold a conference call, though I’m not sure whether that actually happened.
Thomson, 54, is a Yankees lifer who has been with the team since 1990, and he’s done everything over the years. Coached and managed in the minors, worked in the front office and in player development, and of course coached at the big league level. Thomson served as Girardi’s third base coach (2009-14) and had two stints as his bench coach (2008, 2015-17).
During the postseason both Alex Rodriguez (during a FOX pregame broadcast) and Girardi went out of their way to praise Thomson for staying on top of the team’s young players. “Rob Thomson, he stays on these guys all the time to make sure they’re in the right place and ready to go,” said Girardi prior to Game Five of the ALCS. The fact Thomson already has a relationship with the young guys can only help his chances of getting the job, I think.
Thomson interviewed with the Blue Jays for their managerial job a few years ago, and according to George King, the Twins spoke to him about their bench coach position this offseason. I suspect that, given how long he’s been with the organization and his existing relationships with the players, Thomson will be kept around in some capacity. If he doesn’t get the manager’s job, then maybe he stays on as a coach.
For the first time since 2012, the Yankees played in an actual postseason series this year. They beat the Twins in the AL Wild Card Game and came back from down 0-2 to beat the Indians in the ALDS — how cool was that? — before dropping Game 7 of the ALCS to the Astros. It was a fun season with a lot of big hits along the way.
Once again, I’m going to take my annual look at the five biggest hits of the Yankees season, though I’m going to use a different metric this time. Normally I use win probability added because that’s simple enough. This time around, I’m going use championship probability added, with is available at The Baseball Gauge. CPA is similar to WPA, though it looks at the big picture. Instead of “how much closer are we to winning the game because of this hit?” (WPA), it’s “how much closer are we to winning the World Series because of this hit?” (CPA). Easy, right?
Given the nature of CPA, the biggest hits of the year all came in the postseason. Winning one random game in May doesn’t improve your World Series hopes nearly as much as winning a postseason game in October. So anyway, let’s look at the five biggest hits of the season for the Yankees, shall we?
5. Judge vs. Giles in ALCS Game Four
Overall, the postseason was not kind to Aaron Judge. He hit .188/.316/.500 (114 wRC+) with a 47.4% strikeout rate in 13 postseason games, though he did provide some very big hits along the way. The biggest: his game-tying double in Game Four against the Astros. The Yankees were down 4-0 with nine outs to go in that game, and they won. The Fighting Spirit prevailed.
The comeback rally started with a Judge solo home run, which cut to deficit to 4-1. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but hey, a comeback has to start somewhere, right? The Yankees got to within one run with two run-scoring outs — Gary Sanchez had a sac fly in the seventh and Brett Gardner got a run home with a ground out in the eighth — and when Judge came to the plate against Ken Giles, the Yankees were down 4-3 with a runner on third and one out in the eighth inning.
Given his strikeout issues in October, it was easy to get discouraged when Judge fouled away a pitch to even the count 2-2. We were all waiting for the swing through the slider down-and-away. It never came. Giles did try to throw the slider down-and-away, but he left it up juuust enough for Judge to reach down and yank it to right field.
4. Gardner vs. Allen in ALDS Game Five
Before Judge could be the hero in Game Four of the ALCS, the Yankees had to come back to beat the Indians in the ALDS. They won Game Three 1-0 thanks to Greg Bird‘s homer and Masahiro Tanaka‘s brilliance. They won Game Four 7-3 thanks to Luis Severino and a diverse offensive attack. Just forcing Game Five against a team as good as the Indians was quite the accomplishment.
The Yankees did not stop there. They jumped out to an early lead against Corey Kluber in Game Five, and when Gardner came to the plate in the ninth inning, his team was up 3-2. New York had runners on first and second with two outs and were looking for insurance. With the speedy Aaron Hicks at second, the Yankees did not need Gardner to find a gap. A single would suffice, and a single is what they got, but not until after Gardner battled Cody Allen for 12 — 12! — pitches. The glorious at-bat:
3. Gregorius vs. Kluber in ALDS Game Five
Even after knocking him around in Game Two, having to face Kluber in Game Five of the ALDS was daunting. He’s probably going to win the Cy Young and he’s one of the three or four best pitchers in the world. No one wants to face that guy with the season on the line.
The Yankees jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead in Game Five thanks to a Didi Gregorius solo home run on a Kluber mistake. He missed his spot with a fastball by the full width of the plate. It was supposed to be away, and instead he left it up middle-in. Gregorius yanked it out to right for a first inning homer. And two innings later, Didi did it again. Kluber left a slider up, and Gregorius again hammered it to right field, this time for a two-run shot and a 3-0 lead.
2. Headley vs. Musgrove in ALCS Game Four
Oh no oh no oh no oh yes oh yes oh yes! That describes this play in a nutshell. It was not a run-scoring hit, but it was an important hit as part of the comeback in Game Four of the ALCS. The Yankees were still down 4-2 at the time, and Todd Frazier opened the eighth inning with a single to left against Joe Musgrove. Pinch-hitter Chase Headley followed with what went into the record books as a single. It was so much more than that though.
Anyway, that single — Headley officially hit a single and advanced to second on the throw — put runners on second and third with no outs in a 4-2. That’s why it registers so high in terms of CPA. It put the tying run in scoring position with no outs, with the Yankees having a chance to win the game to even the series 2-2. CPA of Headley’s single: +0.042.
1. Bird vs. Morton in ALCS Game Seven
A harsh reminder of how close the Yankees were to the World Series. Their biggest hit of the season in terms of CPA did not drive in a run. It did not even lead to a run being scored later in the inning. It set them up to potentially score the tying run in Game Seven of the ALCS.
The Yankees were down 1-0 in the fifth inning of Game Seven, and Charlie Morton was going through the lineup a second time. He’d allowed some hard contact in the previous inning, and in that fifth inning, Bird greeted him with a first pitch leadoff double into the right field corner. Just like that, the Yankees had the tying run in scoring position in Game Seven.
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CPA and WPA are an objective look at something that, frankly, is quite subjective. You know when a big hit happens because you feel it. There are factors and context stats don’t consider. It doesn’t know that, say, the shutdown closer is warming up in the bullpen so you better score now. Or that the staff ace is looming in Game Four so you better not lose Game Three and fall behind in the series 2-1, you know?
Subjectively, I thought the three biggest hits of the season were Didi’s three-run game-tying homer in the Wild Card Game, Bird’s home run off Miller in Game Three of the ALDS, and Sanchez’s go-ahead two-run double in Game Four of the ALCS. I go to a lot of games each year, and I went to Houston for Games Six and Seven of the ALCS for CBS, and the loudest I heard a ballpark in 2017 was Yankee Stadium after Sanchez hit the double. It was louder than Minute Maid Park after the Astros won Game Seven. It was incredible.
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That concludes the postseason portion of our program. Now let’s look back at the biggest hits of he regular season, because hey, big regular season hits are cool too.
Biggest regular season hits by CPA
- May 5th: Brett Gardner go-ahead three-run homer vs. Cubs (+0.005 CPA) (video)
- July 8th: Clint Frazier walk-off three-run homer vs. Brewers (+0.005 CPA) (video)
- July 27th: Gary Sanchez game-tying single vs. Rays (+0.005 CPA) (video)
Six other regular season hits registered at +0.004 CPA. The Gardner homer against the Cubs stands out as the biggest hit of the regular season for me. The Frazer walk-off job was pretty great too. Remember that Sanchez hit? That was when Tim Beckham and Adeiny Hechavarria miscommunicated and let a weak grounder get through the infield. It should’ve been the final out of the game.
Biggest regular season hits by WPA
- May 5th: Brett Gardner go-ahead three-run homer vs. Cubs (+0.730 WPA)
- July 8th: Clint Frazier walk-off three-run homer vs. Brewers (+0.650 WPA)
- April 28th: Starlin Castro game-tying two-run homer vs. Orioles (+0.470 WPA) (video)
- April 30th: Didi Gregorius game-tying two-run single vs. Orioles (+0.460 WPA) (video)
- June 23th: Brett Gardner game-tying solo homer vs. Rangers (+0.460 WPA) (video)
CPA and WPA agree the Gardner homer against the Cubs and Clint’s walk-off dinger were the two biggest hits of the regular season. I’m cool with that. Makes sense to me. The Castro homer was fun. Between the big comeback and the whole dropping to one knee thing, it was one of the most satisfying and aesthetically pleasing homers of the season. I don’t remember the Gregorius single against the O’s at all. That was the game Bryan Mitchell played first base. I still can’t believe that happened.
Going into 2017, you would have been forgiven if you chalked up the John Ryan Murphy–Aaron Hicks deal to a lose-lose with both players going bust in their new environments. Hicks hit .217/.281/.336 (64 wRC+) in his first season with the Yankees while fulfilling mostly a part-time, fourth outfielder role.
Despite his clear tools, his breakout in 2017 was nonetheless surprising.
Forging an opportunity
When the regular season started, Hicks was better from the jump. In his first start (Apr. 8), He went 1 for 2 with a double and a walk. After Brett Gardner was banged up on a play at first, he got a chance to start full-time for a week and he took off. He homered twice to lead the Yankees to a win over the Rays. He walked six times while knocking in eight runs in a four-game span.
Impressively, he had four two-walk games in April despite starting just nine times. Since he was in the minors, Hicks was always renowned for his eye, but it hadn’t quite translated to the majors. He added a pair of three walks games on May 3 and May 11 while notching seven hits in two games in-between against the Cubs. After the May 11 game, he was hitting .333/.474/.627. That’s unreal, even in the small sample size.
Of course, while this was happening, Aaron Judge was taking the entire league by storm while Brett Gardner was beginning to show off some power. Even Jacoby Ellsbury was hitting some, so it would have been simple for Hicks to lose playing time as soon as he had a brief cold streak…
But then came Ellsbury’s concussion on May 24. From there on out, centerfield was Hicks’ job for the taking.
And take it he did. He put together a 21-game on-base streak from mid-May to mid-June. This included a four-hit game with three doubles and six RBI against Toronto. Just killing the ball.
He was walking consistently and wasn’t striking out nearly as much. Meanwhile, Hicks continued to hit for power, posting 10 homers and 15 doubles along with 37 walks to just 42 strikeouts through June 25.
Injuries rear their ugly head
But on Old Timer’s Day on the 25th, Hicks injured his oblique. He’d missed a few games with Achilles soreness just a few days earlier. Hicks had dealt with injuries in 2016, but none that kept him out quite as long as the oblique injury did. It robbed the Yankees of their best option in the No. 2 spot of their lineup, where Hicks had been batting for nearly three weeks.
While he was replaced by Ellsbury on the roster, it was still a blow to the team as they lost Starlin Castro and Matt Holliday around the same time. The team was left shorthanded and their lineup took a hit.
Hicks would return more than a month later on Aug. 10 and he wasn’t quite the same despite a clutch homer and outfield assist in his second game back.
However, he’d make it back for six more games (five starts) to close out the year. He robbed his second grand slam of the season in his first inning back on Sept. 26 and walked three times in the game. He’d hit homers each of the next two days and close out the year hitting .266/.372/.475 (127 wRC+), a career-best line.
Highlights in the field
Here are the two grand slams he robbed. One was in Anaheim in mid-June (the road trip from hell) and the other in Tampa.
As for his overall fielding, he occasionally misreads a ball yet he tends to make up for it with his speed. His first oblique injury came making a play near the wall, so he made need to be more careful there moving forward.
Still, Hicks had a career-best 15 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and a UZR/150 of 13.5. While he had a strong year at the plate, he didn’t let himself take off plays in the field. A testament to him and his all-around game. True five-tool player.
Back in the nick of time
Returning just in time for the postseason, Hicks was right back in center field. It gave the Yankees their best defensive arrangement and a batter with a strong eye near the bottom of the lineup. Getting back into center so quickly showed that he’s well above Ellsbury in the Yankees’ plans.
And Hicks produced some big playoff moments, including a bases-loaded walk in the Wild Card Game to extend the lead and a monster home run to KO Corey Kluber in ALDS Game 2. He nearly opened the ALCS with a homer off Dallas Keuchel in Game 1, but he hit to the wrong part of Minute Maid Park. While he hit well in the ALDS (.316/.350/.526), he was mostly silent at the plate in the ALCS, finishing the postseason with a .196/.260/.304 line.
Hicks likely goes into 2018 as the Yankees starting centerfielder. He’s opened the door for the Yankees to salary dump Ellsbury while still having a more than adequate replacement.
If healthy, he has the approach at the plate that can produce something close to his 2017 production over a full year, even if maybe not quite as productive. He hit just .218/.319/.396 in the second half, still showing off his ability to draw walks but striking out a fair amount more while working around injuries.
Still, there’s less pressure on him to be a top-of-the-order hitter with Judge, Sanchez, Bird and others ahead of him. He works anywhere in the lineup with a limited left-right split (surprisingly close splits, even for a switch-hitter) and his approach at the plate.
The Yankees starting rotation is far more settled heading into 2018 than it was this past season, and it’s a pretty good feeling. Luis Severino earned a top-three finish in the Cy Young voting, Masahiro Tanaka rebounded brilliantly from a poor first half, Sonny Gray was mostly as good as advertised, and Jordan Montgomery was the best rookie starting pitcher in baseball, and all four will be in the rotation this coming season.
That leaves one spot open for a potential reunion with CC Sabathia, an internal candidate like Chance Adams, international free agent-to-be Shohei Otani (perhaps their primary target), or “other.” There’s a great deal of off-season to go, but it is clear that, as of this writing, the Yankees need a fifth starter. And my favorite free agent for that role is Tyler Chatwood.
Let’s take a look at Chatwood’s numbers over the past two seasons:
Two things jump out immediately – he didn’t throw a full workload in either season, and he regressed fairly heavily from 2016 to 2017. Well, those things, as well as the fact that Coors Field is still a veritable death trap for pitchers, given that his 4.69 ERA was actually 7% better than league-average (relative to the conditions in which he played) … but I digress.
Chatwood was quite good across the board in 2016, and something closer to mediocre in 2017, and there’s obviously value in both. The middling strikeout and walk rates leave something to be desired, but his groundball rates are elite, he limits hard contact (league-average was 31.8% in 2017), and his home run rate was actually a tick above-average. There are reasons to believe that he is closer to the pitcher that we saw in 2016 than last year’s version as a result.
And, as you might suspect, he has been significantly better on the road the last two years:
The sample sizes are relatively small, and Chatwood pitched in a division with three pitcher’s parks on the docket, but the underlying numbers nevertheless paint him as a different pitcher on the road. His walk rate is still discouraging, but he picks up more whiffs and garners less hard contact on the road, which may be indicative of him changing his plan of attack to suit his environment. He is not as good as the 2.57 road ERA indicates, but he has been a far better pitcher than his overall numbers suggest.
Chatwood throws five different pitches, each of which has a fair bit of moment. It may be a bit disingenuous to call him a true five-pitch guy, though, as his change-up is more of a show-me pitch than anything else, and he doesn’t use it all that often. Take a look:
His fastball and sinker velocity ticked up this past season, jumping from the low-90s to sitting comfortably in the mid-90s, which fits the league-wide trend in velocity. And all of those pitches have a great deal of movement, which allows him to induce grounders with all five.
Chatwood boasted healthy whiff rates on his change-up (20.16%), slider (16.9%), and curve (12.9%) last year, which has led some to speculate as to why he doesn’t use his off-speed stuff more often. That curveball is also a groundball generating machine, with 70.4% of those put into play were worm burners. And, while we still have a great deal to learn about the usefulness of spin rate, it’s worth noting that Chatwood’s curveball (4th among starting pitchers) and four-seamer (7th) have elite spin rates, as per Statcast.
The reason why Chatwood threw so few innings in 2016 is because he underwent Tommy John surgery in the Summer of 2014, and was on an innings limit as a result. He made just four starts in 2014 and missed all of 2015 as he rehabbed from the procedure. That was the second such surgery of his career – the first came way back in 2005, when he was a 15-year-old pitching for Redlands East Valley High School.
Having two Tommy John surgeries is never a good thing, so caution may be a key word thrown around by any team interested in his services – but he has otherwise been mostly healthy as a professional. He spent time on the disabled list in 2017 with a calf strain, and that’s about it.
MLB Trade Rumors predicted a 3-year, $20 MM deal for Chatwood, ranking him as the sixth best starting pitcher on the market (not including Shohei Otani). That feels a bit light for a 28-year-old with a recent history of success, but his ugly overall numbers and twice-repaired elbow may well give some teams pause. The market was light last year, as well, with Rich Hill being the only free agent starter to get a multi-year deal worth $10 MM or more per year.
If I had to hazard a guess, I would go with something closer to 3-years, $30 MM.
Does He Fit the Yankees?
Chatwood is young, he throws hard, his pitches have great movement, and he keeps the ball on the ground – that sounds like the sort of package that the Yankees would salivate over. And, should Otani not come to the Yankees (be it by staying in Japan, or signing elsewhere), I could see him being at or near the top of the team’s list.
That being said, the Yankees are trying to limit payroll, and I don’t know that they’d view Chatwood as the player to invest precious dollars in, given the team’s internal options and potentially cheaper options on the market. The fit in a vacuum is obvious, but it becomes less so when viewed under the totality of it all.
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Here is the open thread for the night. Every local hockey and basketball team in action except the Rangers. Talk anything here as long as it’s not religion or politics.
If you’re a fan of home runs, boy was this the season for you. MLB teams combined to hit 6,105 home runs in 2017, by far the most in history. The previous record was 5,693 homers set back in 2000. The record was broken by 412 homers (!) and with 12 days to go in the regular season. That is insanity. MLB insists the ball is not juiced. I have a very hard time believing that.
Anyway, the Yankees contributed greatly to that record home run total this season. They smashed 241 home runs in 2017, the most in baseball. One-hundred-and-sixty-one, or almost exactly two-thirds of those 241 homers, were hit by players age 27 or younger. The Yankees play in a home run ballpark and in a division with other home run ballparks, plus they’re getting younger and more powerful. Fun!
As a big fan of dingers, I’ve been putting together these “five longest homers of the season” posts since way back in 2010. Those posts covered 35 different home runs from 2010-16. Exactly one (1) of those 35 would have appeared in this year’s top five longest homers list. The Yankees didn’t just hit a lot of home runs this season. They hit a lot of long home runs this season. Let’s break down the top five.
5. Judge vs. Marco Estrada
Get ready for an awful lot of Aaron Judge, folks. He is featured in this post prominently. New York’s fifth longest home run of the season was No. 46 of his record-breaking rookie season. It came in the first inning too. Judge hit Estrada’s fifth pitch of the game, an 89.1 mph fastball up in the zone, into the Rogers Centre second deck for a missile solo homer on September 22nd.
4. Judge vs. Addison Reed
I remember this home run as the end of Judge’s ugly second half slump. He hit .176/.337/.340 (82 wRC+) in 199 plate appearances from the start of the second half through the start of this game, September 3rd against the Red Sox. And in his first three at-bats of this game, Judge went strikeout, strikeout, ground out. Yuck.
The Yankees took an early lead against Chris Sale in this game, and worked him hard too. He threw 109 pitches in only 4.1 innings. Yikes. The Yankees were in the process of breaking the game open in the sixth inning, and had already stretched their lead to 7-1 when Judge came to the plate against Addison Reed with a man on base. This home run came on another high fastball, though Reed (93.7 mph) throws quite a bit harder than Estrada.
3. Judge vs. Marcus Stroman
I told you Judge would be featured prominently in this post. This is another September homer too. In fact, this was his 52nd and final regular season home run. It came on September 30th. Judge really locked it in during the season’s final month, following his slump.
As with the Stroman and Reed homers, this was another fastball up in the strike zone. The game was scoreless in the fourth inning when Marcus Stroman’s little 2-0 count 93.1 mph two-seamer ran right into Judge’s bat path. You almost can’t see the ball leaving his bat it got out so quick.
@TheJudge44 is creating history. He hits baseballs extremely far too. Lol looking forward to competing against him the rest of my career!
— Marcus Stroman (@MStrooo6) September 30, 2017
Judge is crushing dingers so far opposing pitchers have to praise him after the game. What a season. Distance: 484 feet.
By the way, remember when I said just one home run from 2010-16 would’ve made this list? It would’ve slotted in fourth behind this Judge blast. Alex Rodriguez swatted a 477 foot homer back in 2015. No other Yankees homer from 2010-16 topped even 460 feet. Pretty crazy.
2. Sanchez vs. Matt Boyd
Hey, it’s not Aaron Judge. It’s the Yankees other young slugger. Most teams hope to have one guy like this to build an offense around. The Yankees have two powerful 20-somethings with one full season under their belt.
Gary Sanchez went on a ridiculous home run tear in mid-August, hitting ten homers in the span of 15 days. The seventh of those ten homers came in Detroit on August 22nd, two days before the brawl game. Lefty Matt Boyd left an 80.4 mph cement mixer changeup up in the zone in the first inning, and Sanchez hit it to the concession stands beyond the left field bleachers. Look at this thing:
1. Judge vs. Logan Verrett
Ho hum, another Judge homer. He hit baseball’s longest home run this season, two of baseball’s four longest homers this season, and five of the Yankees’ six longest homers this season.
The year’s longest home run came on June 11th, during the blowout series against the Orioles, in which the Yankees won all three games by the combined score of 38-8. It was the final game of the series, and the Yankees were up 7-3 in the sixth, so Baltimore’s spirit was already broken. Up-and-down arm Logan Verrett was soaking up innings in the eventual blowout, and he threw Judge the hangiest of hanging sliders. It was 84.7 mph and it just spun into nothing.
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Sanchez and Judge have a monopoly on the longest Yankees homers this season and I get the feeling it’s going to stay that way for a few years. Those two plus Greg Bird figure to hit plenty of long dingers in the coming years. So, for the sake of variety, here are the Yankees’ five longest homers hit by players other than Judge and Sanchez this season.
- April 17th: Matt Holliday vs. Derek Holland (459 feet) (video)
- July 5th: Ji-Man Choi vs. Marco Estrada (457 feet) (video)
- July 28th: Clint Frazier vs. Austin Pruitt (455 feet) (video)
- June 10th: Starlin Castro vs. Chris Tillman (452 feet) (video)
- May 3rd: Matt Holliday vs. Marcus Stroman (446 feet) (video)
Shout out to Estrada and Stroman for appearing in this post twice. I remember being surprised Holliday still had that kind of power when he hit that home run against Holland. Who knew he could still hit a ball 460-ish feet at age 37? Also, that May 3rd homer was No. 300 for Holliday in his career.
And how about Choi? He wasn’t with the Yankees long, but he did manage to hit a very long dinger while in pinstripes. Frazier’s legendary bat speed was on full display with that July 28th homer. I’m looking forward to a full season of the Clint experience in 2018.