Mailbag: Baez, Hicks, Nationals, Miller, De Leon, Eovaldi

Big mailbag this week: 15 questions and some of the answers are kinda long. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us questions throughout the week.

Baez. (Dylan Buell/Getty)
Baez. (Dylan Buell/Getty)

Matt asks: I know we’re all focused on Gallo at the moment (I know I’m probably doing Choo + Gallo for Ellsbury + Chapman + Sanchez in my MLB the Show Franchise), but how about that Javier Baez? He’s looked pretty good at 3B defensively, and has major power potential. What would it take to get him?

I’ve been secretly hoping Cubs closer Hector Rondon has some big time meltdowns this month and next month so they trade Baez for Aroldis Chapman. I’m not holding my breath though. The Cubs obviously look great, but the one thing they lack is a shutdown lefty reliever. Travis Wood and Clayton Richard have been fine. They’re not guys you want to run out there against, say, Bryce Harper or Adrian Gonzalez or Brandon Belt in playoff game though, you know?

Chapman for Baez is a dream scenario for me. I’d do it tomorrow. It’s more likely the Cubs would need Miller in a Baez deal to ensure they get a few years of control. I have a hard time thinking they’ll give Baez up for a rental, even one as good as Chapman. Baez is still only 23 and he has maybe the most electric bat speed in baseball …

… so he has a legitimate chance to be a 30+ homer hitter who plays above-average defense pretty much anywhere on the infield. The Yankees have a long-term need a third base, obviously. Baez has always had high bust potential for an elite prospect because his plate discipline is non-existent. The guy swings at everything. He has a 35.0% strikeout rate and a 5.7% walk rate in the big leagues (27.6 K% and 7.2 BB% in Triple-A).

Long-term, Baez my settle in as a .280/.300/.530 hitter who strikes out 190 times, hit 35 bombs, and saves 5-10 runs a year with his glove. There’s also a chance his chronic plate indiscipline means he never becomes better than a .240/.260/.400 hitter. Given the current state of the Yankees and their long-term needs, I’d absolutely take a chance on Baez’s talent, especially if it only takes a reliever to get him. Even one as good as Miller.

Anonymous asks: It will never happen, but with Hicks hitting with regular playing time, would it be better to have A-Rod and Beltran platoon? Small sample sizes so far, but A-Rod has been better against LHP and Beltran has been better against RHP, and Hicks is an infinitely better glove in RF than Beltran is.

A straight platoon might not be the best way to go about it, but scaling back on Alex Rodriguez‘s and Carlos Beltran‘s playing time to get Aaron Hicks more at-bats is definitely something the Yankees should consider. Hicks looked pretty darn good once he started playing everyday and the team owes it to themselves to give him more reps since he can be a piece for the future. Beltran will be gone next season and A-Rod the season after.

My guess is the Yankees will end up playing Hicks three or four times a week going forward with A-Rod, Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner all getting an extra day off. The Yankees spent all offseason talking about giving their regulars rest but it hasn’t really happened yet, mostly because the offense struggled and Joe Girardi kept playing his best players. Hicks has been hitting rockets all over the field lately. He needs to play more often.

Christopher asks: With the Nationals signing Strasburg long term does it make it any more likely that their young rotation options would be available for trade? Could you see the Yankees being able to pry Lucas Giolito away for one of the relievers and/or Mark Teixeira?

I think it means their young rotation options will be less available in trades. The Nationals now have $55M annually tied up in two starters (Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer) and they’ll need the cheap rotation options to offset the cost. Guys like Joe Ross and Giolito allow them to fill out the back of their rotation with high-upside players on the cheap. My guess is they’ll look to move Gio Gonzalez ($12M options for 2017 and 2018) to clear salary and a rotation spot for Giolito at some point, perhaps as soon as the trade deadline.

And no, I don’t think one of the big relievers plus Teixeira is enough to get Giolito. Not even if that reliever is Dellin Betances, who is the cheapest and under control the longest out the team’s three end-game arms. If the Nationals move Giolito, who is the best pitching prospect in all the land, it’ll be for a bonafide superstar. They’d move him if the Marlins made Jose Fernandez available. Someone like that.

Paul asks: What was the exit velo of Headley’s HR?

The first homer was 98.5 mph (Ian Kennedy) and the second was 99.6 mph (Chris Sale). The MLB average exit velocity on home runs is roughly 104 mph this season. Going into last night’s game, Chase Headley‘s average exit velocity on all batted balls was 85.9 mph. The MLB average is 89.5 mph, so yeah, Headley is well below that.

Exit velocity is useful but limited. There is such a thing as a 100 mph pop-up, for example. Launch angle matters too. Exit velocity is like batting average. If you tell me a guy is a .300 hitter, I can infer he’s a pretty good hitter. That .300 average does not tell me if he’s a singles hitter, a power hitter, someone who walks a lot, nothing like that. It’s one piece of information, not the only piece of information.

Rick asks: I just got done watching Chris Sale mow down the Yanks and was struck by his resemblance to a pitcher we all know well. If you look at Sale’s body type, motion, repertoire and stuff, it reminds me a lot of Andrew Miller. I know Miller failed as a starter early in his career. But, now that Miller has figured it out at the big league level, what do you think of the idea of trying him next spring training as a starter. If it fails, he can always go back to relieving. If it succeeds, we potentially have an ace starter at a bargain basement (for a starter) salary.

Sale is definitely what people thought Miller would be earlier in his career. Tall, lanky, hard-throwing, filthy slider. For whatever reason Miller’s control was abysmal as a starter earlier in his career. We’re not talking about command here, just basic strike throwing. He walked 11.8% of batters faced as a starter from 2007-08, and it’s not like he was striking out a ton of batters either (17.5%).

Miller also had strike throwing problems as a reliever up until 2012, when Bobby Valentine tweaked his mechanics and simplified his delivery. Valentine’s year in Boston was a total disaster. The only good thing he did was fix Miller. I get it can be tempting to put Miller and his new mechanics in the rotation, but he doesn’t have a third pitch, and we don’t know how his stuff will hold up over 100 pitches. Miller is not an ordinary reliever. He’s one of the best in the world. I wouldn’t risk changing his role.


David asks: I saw a report that Mateo was being worked out at 2nd base and that its likely we will see him in the field there in the coming weeks. Does this have implications on the big club or is it more to give Mateo a little flexibility with the glut of shortstops in the minors.

Even if Jorge Mateo is long-term shortstop at the big league level — and there is no indication he needs to move off the position for defensive reasons — playing some second base in the minors is beneficial because of the shift. It allows him to get familiar with the right side of the infield so he’s prepared whenever he’s asked to play shallow right field or whatever against a left-handed pull hitter. Most shortstop prospects will spend at least a little time at second base in the minors. It’s good experience. This is not a permanent change. Mateo is still a shortstop first and foremost.

P.J. asks: Do you think there is any possibility that the Yankees try and re-sign Aroldis Chapman to a contract rather than trading him before he becomes a FA?

Definitely can’t rule it out but it would surprise me. The Yankees are trying to get under the luxury tax threshold and they already have one reliever making big money. Would they really commit something like $20M or $22M a year for two bullpen arms? Maybe! They did it with Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano a few years ago. As good as Chapman is, if the Yankees are going to limit their spending for luxury tax purposes, there are other places they should spend their money besides the bullpen. Like pretty much everywhere else on the roster.

Dan asks: My question is…it’s seems like analytics is shifting away from Moneyball. Do you see it moving to another area of baseball? I read on MLBTR that the Red Sox are moving towards analytical medicine. Do see that as the next big thing?

Health has been the latest “market inefficiency” for a few years now. The league is so competitive these days that it’s not just about having the best players, it’s about having the best players on the field as much as possible. Teams are investing in better nutrition and training methods and things like that — the Yankees have looked into optimizing sleep for their players (they did it in Spring Training) — to keep their guys as close to 100% as possible.

Neuroscience is another one. I’ve read about teams putting draftees through tests that measure their reaction time and the way their brain works. It’s nothing super intense. From what I understand it’s basically a computer exercise almost like an IQ test. But teams are doing that now. They’re trying to measure brain function and hope it translates to pitch recognition and things like that. We’re beyond the point of “OBP is undervalued” and “FIP is better than ERA.” Teams are going far more in-depth.

Paul asks: Do you think the Yankees would sit Beltran for Judge near the end of the season? Like if they are out of it? It would be good to see what you have for the next season.

If the Yankees are that far out of it, I think Beltran might waive his no-trade clause to go to a contender for the rest of the season. The Royals, Indians, White Sox, Rangers, and Astros all seem like potential landing spots. I wouldn’t rule the Nationals out either. They could stick Bryce Harper in center and Beltran in right if Ben Revere doesn’t start hitting. If Beltran sticks around and the Yankees are out of it, I think it’s more likely they’ll give the extra playing time to Hicks. I’m not sure, really. Let’s reassess in a few weeks.

Gene asks: What would the Yankees have to add to Chapman to get De Leon from LAD?

I think the Dodgers would have to add something, not the Yankees. Jose De Leon is a very good pitching prospect — Baseball America had him 23rd on their top 100 — but I think he’s getting overrated a bit because his stats are so good. He’s a mid-90s fastball guy whose slider and changeup are still inconsistent and not reliable weapons just yet. Plus he’s had shoulder problems this year. De Leon missed the start of the season with an ankle problem, made a start in Triple-A two and a half weeks ago, then had to be shut down with a sore shoulder. Not great, Bob. De Leon is a risky asset. Chapman for De Leon is probably fair value. It’s on par with the Miller for Eduardo Rodriguez deal. The Yankees shouldn’t have to kick anything in. I’d prefer a pitcher not dealing with arm trouble though.

De Leon. (Tulsa Drillers)
De Leon. (Tulsa Drillers)

Brent asks: The Yanks farm system is stacked with infielders at the lower levels. They have a legitimate 10 infielders who are all fair to serious prospects. As much as there’s no such thing as depth and these things work themselves out do the Yanks start converting to another position or trade for other prospects of need or young controllable players?

Off the top of my head, these are the legitimate shortstop prospects the Yankees have at Single-A and below: Mateo, Abi Avelino, Hoy Jun Park, Kyle Holder, Angel Aguilar, Thairo Estrada, and Wilkerman Garcia. They also have Tyler Wade in Double-A and everyone’s next favorite prospect Diego Castillo set to come stateside this year. I still feel like I’m forgetting someone.

Anyway, that’s a ton of prospects! The Yankees have been rotating players around different positions to make sure they all get time at short — Park, Holder, Aguilar, and Estrada are basically splitting time at second, short, third, and DH with Low-A Charleston — which isn’t ideal, but what can you do? You’d rather see players spend the majority of their time at their most natural position and dabble elsewhere.

There is going to be some natural attrition here and a few of these guys will fizzle out. It’s inevitable. These prospects are definitely valuable trade commodities though — obviously some are more valuable than others — because shortstops are always in demand. If I were another team with a need at short at the MLB level, I’d be all over Wade. He’s not going to be a star but he can hold the position down for a few years and soon.

Mateo and Wilkerman are the prizes. They’re the best prospects of the bunch. The Yankees should (and will) set a high price for them. They’ll get moved for impact players, if at all. The others could all go in trades as the second or third piece. They’re good prospects, not great prospects, and not great prospects in Single-A usually aren’t headliners in big trades. Having so many legit shortstop prospects is a good “problem,” and the Yankees should definitely look to capitalize by trading some. You can’t keep ’em all.

Wyatt asks: If the Yankees fall out of contention do you think they might dangle Eovaldi? I really think it would be a mistake to trade him but he’ll be a free agent at the end of next season and he looks like he could be on his way to a huge contract.

The Yankees supposedly listened to offers for Nathan Eovaldi last offseason and I’m sure they’ll do it again. As I continue to say: it doesn’t cost anything to listen. Even with an unsightly 4.44 ERA (93 ERA+), Eovaldi really seems to be making big strides with his splitter and overall effectiveness. He’s been truly dominant at times. He hasn’t been as hittable (.257 AVG/.301 BABIP against in 2016 compared to .275/.320 from 2011-15) and his strikeouts are way up:

Source: FanGraphsNathan Eovaldi

Eovaldi is still only 26 too. He’s got a few peak years remaining. His trade value is somewhat limited by the fact he’ll be a free agent after next season. The Yankees would only be trading a year and a half of him at the deadline, not three or four years of him. Every team needs pitching so there will definitely be a market for Eovaldi. The Astros strike me as a good fit because their rotation is full of guys who throw in the upper-80s and rely on deception.

Anonymous asks: What would it take to land Freddie Freeman, looking towards 2017 and beyond … say Bird, Betances, Heathcott and Sanchez? I know, my trade proposal sucks.

That seems like an awful lot, no? I know Greg Bird is hurt and Betances is “only” a reliever, but that’s two pretty good young players (Bird and Gary Sanchez) plus an impact big leaguer for a not cheap first baseman. (Freeman’s salaries jump into $20M+ range next year and he’s signed through 2021.) Freeman’s only 26 and he’s really good! Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sure I’d give up that much for a first baseman getting a market rate salary. The Braves should ask for two young players plus a big leaguer for Freeman. I’m just not sure it makes sense for the Yankees. Why not keep Bird and see what you have there?

Ricky asks: We’ve already seen two starters, CC and Severino, miss time with injuries. Pineda has been ineffective at best. Nova is inconsistent. Beyond the current #6 and #7 (Luis Cessa and Chad Green), who in the system could become the 8th or 9th starter?

Oh boy. The Yankees will really be scrapping the bottom of the barrel at that point. They have their six big league starters — the five guys in the Opening Day rotation plus Ivan Nova — with Cessa and Green as the No. 7 and 8 starters. Bryan Mitchell would be No. 7 if he were, you know, healthy.

Behind those eight I think lefty Richard Bleier might actually be next in line. He’s not a prospect — he’s 29 and was signed as a minor league free agent over the winter — but he has a 3.10 ERA (3.20 FIP) in Triple-A. Brady Lail hasn’t exactly lit up Triple-A, and calling him up means committing to a 40-man roster spot. Bleier is someone the Yankees could call up, then drop from the 40-man without regret. (Obligatory reminder: No team has good No. 8 and 9 starters.)

Toshiki asks: I understand Sonny Gray still is A’s ace yet he is struggling this season. Do you think it would be appropriate for the Yankees to take this opportunity and make a move for him? I believe he is a great pitcher. His value could be at all time low but there is always that risk of his recent struggles move with him into the pinstripes.

As long as he’s healthy, I would be all for the Yankees acquiring Gray despite his struggles this season. He’s really, really good. Tough as nails too. Gray is the kind of guy you want on the mound in a must win game.

The upcoming free agent pitching market is terrible now that Strasburg re-upped with the Nationals, so anyone looking for an impact pitcher is going to have to turn to the trade market. Gray is going to be the No. 1 target because he’s about to get expensive through arbitration, and the A’s tend to flip their top players before they get too expensive.

I’m so used to saying the Yankees probably don’t have the pieces to make a competitive offer for someone like Gray, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. They can go into a bidding war and put guys like Judge, Sanchez, and Mateo on the table. That will get anyone’s attention, right? I’m not saying they should trade all three for Gray. They have the pieces to make a strong offer though. Like I said, Gray’s someone I’d target. About 28 other teams will as well.

Nova and Beltran lead Yankees to 4-1 win over A’s in series opener

Source: FanGraphs

It wasn’t the most well-played game, but a win is a win is a win. At this point style points do not matter. The Yankees beat the Athletics 4-1 in Thursday’s series opener out in Oakland. West Coast night games get bullet point recaps, so let’s get to it:

  • Nasty Nova: Boy has Ivan Nova given the Yankees a big shot in the arm. His third start was another dandy: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 K. The only run came on a Josh Reddick solo homer. Hanging curveball. It happens. Nova got 12 of his 15 non-strikeout outs on the ground and he threw only 62 pitches too. 62! Like Nathan Eovaldi on Wednesday, Joe Girardi took six strong innings from his starter, patted him on the bottom, and went to his top relievers. Well done, Ivan.
  • Four Hits, One Run: Thanks to a pair of base-running mistakes, the Yankees scored only one run on four hits in the sixth inning. Chase Headley singled, then got picked off first. Blah. Then Dustin Ackley singled. Then Didi Gregorius singled. Ackley went first-to-third on Didi’s single and made it safely, but Gregorius tried to advance to second on the play and was thrown out. Sigh. Thankfully Aaron Hicks picked up the run with a two-out double into the corner to make it 2-1 Yankees. The Yankees tried like hell to not score, but the A’s wouldn’t let them.
  • Bullpen Time: Dellin Betances, who has appeared in exactly half the team’s 40 games, allowed a leadoff single before striking out two and getting a classic Oakland Coliseum foul pop-up in a scoreless seventh. Andrew Miller struck out one in a perfect eighth, then Aroldis Chapman pitched around a single in the ninth. Girardi doesn’t like using his relievers three days in a row, so none of the big three figure to be available Friday. Maybe Eovaldi and Nova can toss an inning?
  • WTFundamentals: More blunders! After the Yankees made a bunch of boneheaded plays in Arizona, Carlos Beltran kicked off the A’s series by losing track of the outs while on the bases. Beltran was on second with two outs when Brian McCann lifted a fly ball to right field that Reddick dropped. Beltran didn’t know there were two outs, so he tagged up and was unable to score on the play. Cost the Yankees a run. Brutal. The Yankees have played such sloppy baseball all season, and especially of late. Gotta clean it up.
  • Leftovers: The Yankees scored their first run when Beltran doubled into the left field corner in the third inning. Brett Gardner chugged all the way around from first … they scored their third and fourth runs on Beltran’s two-run homer in the ninth, so he atoned for the whole not scoring on Reddick’s error thing … Gardner went 2-for-3 with two walks and a stolen base … Headley had two hits as well, and every starter reached base at least once except Starlin Castro. He went 0-for-4 with a strikeout … even with the hiccup against the Diamondbacks, the Yankees have won nine of their last 14 games.

Here are the box score, video highlights, and updated standings. Also make sure you check out our Bullpen Workload and Announcer Standings. The Yankees and A’s continue this four-game series Friday night. That’s a 9:35pm ET start. CC Sabathia will come off the DL to make that start. Sonny Gray will be on the bump for Oakland.

DotF: Fowler homers; Yankees get a win at every level

Triple-A Scranton (9-1 win over Louisville)

  • DH Ben Gamel: 0-5, 1 K
  • RF Aaron Judge: 0-4, 1 R, 3 K, 1 HBP
  • C Gary Sanchez: 3-5, 2 R, 1 2B, 1 K — he’s up to .283/.333/.512 as an everyday catcher who is nearly four years younger than the average International League player
  • LF Nick Swisher: 2-4, 2 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB — only his second game in left field and his fourth in the outfield overall
  • CF Jake Cave: 3-4, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI, 1 BB
  • 1B Chris Parmelee: 2-4, 2 R, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 1 BB — had three homers and 9 RBI total in his first 31 games of the season
  • RHP Eric Ruth: 7.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K, 1 WP, 6/5 GB/FB — 71 of 105 pitches were strikes (68%) … he started the season with High-A Tampa and after being a Double-A All-Star last year, and now he’s in the Triple-A rotation
  • RHP Johnny Barbato: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 4/0 GB/FB — ten of 18 pitches were strikes (56%)

[Read more…]

Game 40: Quarter Point


Tonight’s game is the 40th game of 2016, making it the unofficial one-quarter point of the season. (If you want to be exact, the middle of the fifth inning of tomorrow’s game will be the quarter point.) The season to date has been a mixed bag for the Yankees. It has mostly been bad, let’s not kid ourselves, but there’s some good too. Starlin Castro, Nathan Eovaldi, the back of the bullpen, the everyday player version of Aaron Hicks, etc.

The Yankees were able to salvage that series in Arizona with a win last night, and tonight they start a four-game set in Oakland. They’ve won only two of their last ten games at the Coliseum. That is really bad. Good thing nothing that happened from 2013-15 has any bearing on tonight’s game, huh? Here is the Athletics’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Carlos Beltran
  4. C Brian McCann
  5. 2B Starlin Castro
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. 1B Dustin Ackley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. RF Aaron Hicks
    RHP Ivan Nova

It is cool, cloudy, and windy in Oakland tonight. Bay Area weather, basically. Tonight’s game is going to begin a little after 10pm ET. You can watch on YES. Enjoy.

Injury Update: Alex Rodriguez (hamstring) ran the bases this afternoon. The Yankees hope he can return Saturday, but that is still a little up in the air.

Thursday Night Open Thread

On this date 18 years ago Armando Benitez gave up a go-ahead three-run home run to Bernie Williams, and responded by drilling Tino Martinez in the back with a fastball. Then all hell broke loose. Both benches cleared and punches were thrown — and landed — during the mayhem. Most benches clearing brawls involve a lot of standing around. Not this one. There was a lot of hatred between those two teams back in the day.

Anyway, we’ve got yet another West Coast night game tonight, so here’s the open thread until the game thread comes along. The Mets are playing, MLB Network is showing a regional game, and there are NBA and NHL playoff games as well. You folks know how these things work by now, so have at it.

2016 Draft: Eric Lauer

Eric Lauer | LHP

Lauer, 20, was raised in Elyria, Ohio, which is part of the Cleveland metro area. He declined to sign with the Blue Jays as a 17th round pick in 2013 and instead followed through on his commitment to Kent State. Lauer has been a starter for the Golden Flashes since the day he walked on campus, and this year he has a 0.81 ERA with 109 strikeouts and 25 walks in 89.1 innings. Just this past weekend he struck out 13 in a no-hitter against Bowling Green State. The only base-runner came on an error.

Scouting Report
Lauer is the quintessential polished college lefty. He’s a pretty big guy at 6-foot-3 and 205 lbs., and he typically operates in the 91-93 mph range with a few 94s. He can cut and sink his fastball too. Lauer’s best secondary pitch is a mid-80s slider, and he also throws a low-80s changeup and an upper-70s curveball. The curve is the worst of his four pitches and it’s not much more than a show-me pitch to disrupt timing. Lauer has a long arm action that can hinder his command, otherwise his delivery is picture perfect. Smooth and repeatable. Whichever team drafts Lauer will work to improve either his changeup or curveball to give him a third above-average offering.

In their latest rankings Baseball America,, and Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked Lauer as the 22nd, 36th, and 51st best prospect in the draft class, respectively. The Yankees pick 18th. Lauer seems like the type of prospect who could go a little earlier than projected because he’s quite polished and has insane stats. It only takes one team to love the changeup and/or curve more than the consensus for him to go in the middle of the first round. It’s worth noting Lauer carved up the Cape Cod League last season (2.04 ERA and 50/18 K/BB in 40 innings) and the Yankees value success on the Cape. It’s a wood bat league that features the best college players in the country.

5/19 to 5/22 Series Preview: Oakland Athletics

See? The Coliseum wasn't so bad before Mount Davis. (Baseball Feelings)
The Coliseum was pretty nice before Mount Davis. (Baseball Feelings)

The road trip continues with four games in Oakland. These days the ballpark is called the Oakland Coliseum. opted out of their naming rights deal in April. Regardless of what they’re calling the stadium, playing in Oakland has been a nightmare for the Yankees in recent years. They’re 2-8 at the Coliseum since 2013. Woof. The A’s swept three games at Yankee Stadium last month.

What Have They Done Lately?

Oakland just swept three games from the Rangers at home, and they’ve won their last four games overall. Prior to that they lost ten of 13. The A’s are 19-22 with -39 run differential overall. Only the Twins (-67!) have a worst run differential in the AL. Somehow they’re in third place in the AL West.

Offense & Defense

Thanks in part to their spacious ballpark, the A’s are averaging only 4.00 runs per game with a team 92 wRC+ this season. Pop-ups that land in the seats in other parks are outs in the Coliseum because of all that foul territory. There’s a reason the A’s have never had a batting champ since they moved to Oakland. Anyway, the Athletics have a ton of position players on the DL: 1B/OF Mark Canha (hip), IF Jed Lowrie (shin), OF Sam Fuld (shoulder), C Josh Phegley (knee), and IF Eric Sogard (knee). None are coming back this series.

Jump shot to celebrate a walk-off? A+ (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Jump shot to celebrate a walk-off? A+ (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Manager Bob Melvin builds his lineup around three players: RF Josh Reddick (129 wRC+), 3B Danny Valencia (180 wRC+), and LF Khris Davis (115 wRC+). Davis, who looked lost at the plate when these two clubs last met, has 12 homers in his last 25 games. Valencia has hit six homers in his last six games. Those three guys typically hit 3-4-5 with OF/DH Coco Crisp (91 wRC+) and CF Billy Burns (73 wRC+) batting first and second. That middle of the lineup is a dangerous group, no doubt about it.

1B Yonder Alonso (72 wRC+) and DH Billy Butler (48 wRC+) have been platooning at first base since Canha’s injury — yes, they’ve actually been playing Butler in the field — while IF Chris Coghlan (57 wRC+) and UTIL Tyler Ladendorf (-84 wRC+) are handling second base duties. The Yankees once drafted Ladendorf, you know. Thirty-fourth round back in 2006. Anyway, SS Marcus Semien (118 wRC+) and C Stephen Vogt (75 wRC+) are the regular shortstop and catcher, respectively. C Matt McBride and IF Max Muncy are the other bench players. Those two were just called up this week.

Overall, the A’s have a really weak team defense. In fact, they rank last in UZR (-18.2) and next to last in DRS (-22) so far this season. Take that for what it’s worth because it’s only May 19th. Reddick is an outstanding defender in right with a great arm, so don’t hit it his way. Burns can also go get it in center. The A’s are below average pretty much everywhere else on the field though, especially now that Crisp’s range has been sapped with age and Butler is playing the field.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday (10:05pm ET): RHP Ivan Nova (vs. OAK) vs. RHP Kendall Graveman (vs. NYY)
Graveman, 24, came over from the Blue Jays in the Josh Donaldson trade and he has been as close to replacement level as it gets with the A’s. So far this season he has a 5.84 ERA (6.33 FIP) in seven starts and 37 innings. Both his strikeout (17.0%) and walk (8.5%) numbers are decent at best, and Graveman has managed to be extremely home run prone (2.43 HR/9) despite an above-average ground ball rate (51.2%). Righties have actually hit him harder than lefties. Graveman is essentially a low-90s sinker/upper-80s cutter/upper-70s curveball pitcher, plus he will throw a few mid-80s changeups per start. Unusual pitch mix. He held the Yankees to one run in 6.1 innings in the Bronx last month, back when the Yankees couldn’t score more than two runs in a game to save their lives.

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Friday (9:35pm ET): LHP CC Sabathia (vs. OAK) vs. RHP Sonny Gray (vs. NYY)
Last season Sonny Gray was a deserving All-Star who finished third in the AL Cy Young voting. This year he has 5.84 ERA (5.15 FIP) in eight starts and 44.2 innings. Egads. Jeff Sullivan noted Gray’s breaking ball has not been good this year, and, for what it’s worth, Gray told Jane Lee he thinks he picked up a mechanical flaw and made an adjustment in his previous start. We’ll see. So far this year he’s getting an average-ish number of strikeouts (18.9%) and a ton of ground balls (54.3%), but he’s walking too many (10.0%) and allowing a ton of dingers (1.61 HR/9). Gray has been a FIP beater in his relatively young career — 3.13 ERA and 3.51 FIP in 535.2 innings — because he gets a ton of infield pop-ups and weak ground balls. He’s historically had no platoon split at all. Gray uses low-to-mid-90s four-seamers and sinkers to set up his bread-and-butter low-80s curve. He’ll also throw some upper-80s changeups and mid-80s sliders. The Yankees did not see the 26-year-old Gray during the series in New York last month.

Saturday (4:05pm ET): RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. OAK) vs. LHP Sean Manaea (No vs. NYY)
Manaea, 24, came over from the Royals in the Ben Zobrist trade last year. Baseball America ranked him as the 48th best prospect in baseball coming into the season, and once his service time was sufficiently manipulated, the A’s called him up. Manaea has a 7.91 ERA (5.54 FIP) through four starts and 19.1 innings. Few walks (6.9%) and an average number of grounders (45.5%) are positives, but few strikeouts (14.9%) and a ton of dingers (1.86 HR/9) are negatives. In a super small sample righties have hammered Manaea while he’s dominated lefties. Manaea has three pitches: mid-90s four-seamer, upper-70s slider, and mid-80s changeup. He’s got a funky delivery and that slider is his go-to pitch:

Sean Manaea slider

Manaea’s chopped off all his hair since that game in the GIF by the way. Like so many young pitchers still finding their way in the big leagues, Manaea has good stuff but is also prone to losing the plate and working himself into trouble. He was just called up three weeks ago, so the Yankees didn’t see him when these two teams met in Yankee Stadium earlier this season.

Sunday (4:05pm ET): RHP Michael Pineda (vs. OAK) vs. RHP Jesse Hahn (vs. NYY)
This game was supposed to be the A’s debut of right-hander Henderson Alvarez, who the team signed as a free agent over the winter while he rehabbed from shoulder surgery. Those plans have been scrapped because Alvarez came down with shoulder soreness following his last rehab start. Apparently the soreness is severe enough that he’s going to see Dr. Andrews. Yikes. That sucks. Big Hendo is one of the most entertaining pitchers in baseball.

So, with Alvarez down, Hahn jumps into the rotation. The 26-year-old has thrown 18.2 innings in three spot starts this season, allowing eight runs (seven earned) on 21 hits and seven walks. He’s struck out only six with a 57.6% grounder rate. Last season he had a 3.35 ERA (3.51 FIP) in 96.2 innings before coming down with a forearm problem. Hahn has very sharp stuff, with a mid-90s heater setting up his upper-80s changeup and trademark upper-70s curveball. The question is health. Hahn has a long and scary injury history. The Yankees didn’t see him last month when the A’s were in New York.

Bullpen Status

Last season the A’s went 19-35 (!) in one-run games in part due to a leaky bullpen. They overhauled the relief crew over the winter with some trades and free agent signings, which has given Melvin way more options in the late innings. He no longer has to hold his breath once the starter comes out of the game. Here’s his bullpen:

Closer: RHP Ryan Madson (1.93 ERA/3.59 FIP)
Setup: LHP Sean Doolittle (3.31/3.97) and RHP John Axford (3.18/3.87)
LOOGY: LHP Marc Rzepczynski (4.05/4.01)
Middle: RHP Ryan Dull (3.48/4.03) and RHP Andrew Triggs (3.38/2.48)
Long: RHP Fernandez Rodriguez (1.54/2.64)

Oakland’s bullpen is pretty well rested. Rodriguez threw 19 pitches and Triggs threw eight pitches yesterday. Madson and Doolittle threw 17 and 16 pitches on Wednesday, respectively. That’s all. For the status of the Joe Girardi‘s bullpen, head on over to our Bullpen Workload page.