Yankeemetrics: Bombers back in the Bronx (July 25-26)

(NJ Advance Media)
(NJ Advance Media)

Threes are wild
The Yankees had a successful homecoming on Tuesday as they kicked off a critical nine-game stretch in the Bronx with a win over the Reds.

Todd Frazier, wearing the traditional pinstripes for the first time, had perhaps the most unforgettable and unusual Yankee Stadium debut ever. In his first at-bat, he lined into a triple play — which would be quite memorable on its own — but turned into a statistical bonzai when Matt Holliday scored a run as Didi Gregorius got caught in a rundown for the third out.

Let’s run through some Triple Play #FunFacts:

  • Frazier was the 27th Yankee to hit into a triple play and the first since Russell Martin on September 27, 2011 against the Rays.
  • Before Tuesday, the last time the Yankees managed to win a game despite hitting into a triple play was May 29, 2000, when A’s infielder Randy Velarde turned the trick by himself, the only unassisted triple play ever recorded against the Yankees.
  • The play was scored 6-3-5-6 in the official boxscore, just the second triple play in MLB history with that sequence. The other was on June 6, 1970 by the Pirates against the Dodgers.
  • This was only the eighth time in the Live Ball era (since 1920) that a team scored on a triple play, and the first since the Mariners did it against the Twins on May 27, 2006; the Yankees had never scored on a triple play before Tuesday.
(Getty)
(Getty)

Didi redeemed himself after his triple play TOOTBLAN by driving in two runs, including his 15th home run of the season, five shy of the career-high he set last year. In the long and storied history of the franchise, Gregorius and Derek Jeter are the only shortstops with multiple 15-homer seasons.

Jordan Montgomery bounced back from his career-worst performance against the Twins last week to throw one of his best games as a major-leaguer. He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and finished with this stellar pitching line: 6⅔ innings, one run, two hits, six strikeouts, one walk.

It was the second time Monty has pitched that deep into a game while giving up no more than two hits, as the 24-year-old became the youngest Yankee since Dave Righetti in 1981 with two such starts in a season.

Aroldis Chapman threw a scoreless ninth for his 12th save but he was hardly dominant, failing to record a strikeout for the sixth time this season. Four of those outings have come since the All-Star break, making this the first time in his career he’s had a two-week stretch with at least four zero-strikeout games.

(NY Post)
(NY Post)

Summer of Severino
In a throwback performance to the scoreboard-dominant days of April and May, the Yankees used their tried-and-true formula of brilliant starting pitching and pinstriped power to complete the mini-sweep of the Reds.

Luis Severino tossed another brilliant gem, going seven strong innings while allowing only two runs (both unearned) with nine strikeouts, and added to his ace-like resume:

  • It was the fourth time this season he’s pitched at least seven innings, gave up zero earned runs and struck out at least six batters; the only other pitchers in baseball that have done that four times this season are Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and James Paxton.
  • And it was the eighth time he’s lasted at least seven innings and allowed zero or one earned runs — Scherzer (8 starts) and Clayton Kershaw (11 starts) are the only guys in MLB that can match Severino in that stat.
  • He’s now had three starts in a row of at least seven innings and no more than one earned run, becoming just the third AL pitcher with a streak like that this season. The others: Corey Kluber and Dallas Keuchel.

Severino was in peak-dominant form, generating 20 swings-and-misses, the second-most in any start in his career. He climbed the ladder with his fastball to get four of the whiffs, but mostly buried his changeup (5) and slider (11) below the knees to make the Reds look like little-leaguers at the plate.

chart-10

Six of his nine strikeouts came with his filthy hard slider, giving him 85 on the season with that pitch, the fourth-most in baseball behind Chris Archer, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer.

Clint Frazier continued to shine on the big-league stage, as he delivered two key run-scoring hits with men on first and second in the third and fifth innings. He’s now 6-for-14 and has 10 RBIs with runners in scoring position, nearly matching the output of Jacoby Ellsbury (7-for-40, 12 RBI) in those situations for the entire season.

Didi Gregorius’ scorching-hot bat provided more fireworks on Wednesday. He went deep in the seventh inning, extending his homer streak to a career-best three games, and also etched his name alongside some Yankee legends. Didi is just the fifth shortstop in franchise history to hit a home run in back-to-back-to-back games: Derek Jeter (twice in 2012), Tom Tresh (1962), Gil McDougald (1957) and Tony Lazzeri (1927) are the others.

Why Isn’t Clint Frazier Walking?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The emergence of Clint Frazier as one of the Yankees’ best outfielders this year is a microcosm of the Yankees’ 2017 in general. We expected steps forward for the Yankees, but not necessarily in terms of winning games; rather, we expected them to forward the development of young players at the Major League level — like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and Luis Severino — while fostering the same thing in minor leaguers like Gleyber Torres and, of course, Frazier. And for Frazier, we expected him to be with the big club, but not until late in this year at the earliest. Instead, somewhat like his team and organization itself, he jumped those expectations and arrived earlier than the schedule originally intended.

Following Tuesday night’s action against the Reds, Frazier is hitting .277/.284/.569 with a .347 wOBA (117 wRC+). Of his 18 hits, 11 have gone for extra bases. As Katie pointed out on Twitter, that’s just two fewer XBH than Jacoby Ellsbury has in 137 fewer at bats. The good ol’ eye test also tells us that Clint stings the hell out of the ball, thanks to his incredibly quick hands that generate great bat speed; the numbers back that up, too. Among players with at least 40 batted ball events, Frazier ranks 28th in the majors, with an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH. The only wrinkle in Clint’s game, it seems, has been a lack of walks (one in 67 plate appearances). It’s not as if that’s gotten in the way of his production, but it’s still curious.

Aside from his 30-game stretch at AAA last year, split between the Yankees and Cleveland’s organization, Frazier has always tallied respectable walk rates in the minors. His 2013 stint in rookie ball — and the aforementioned 2016 AAA stint — is the only time he failed to put up a double digit walk rate; even then, it was 8.7%. We could definitely chalk it up to armchair psychological factors: rookie jitters, wanting to impress, the feeling of needing to hit instead of walk to earn a spot on the team. Clint’s not necessarily going up there hacking, though. He’s seeing 3.96 pitches per plate appearance and, again with the eye test, does seem to have a plan when he’s up at the plate. There are numbers, aside from P/PA, to back this up as well.

If we look over Frazier’s swing data from FanGraphs, the first thing we notice is a low out-of-zone swing rate of 21.7%. The league average is usually around 30ish, so that’s great. In terms of pitches in the zone, he’s swinging at 71.5% of those pitches, compared to the average of around 67%. A low O-Swing% and a high Z-Swing% would seem to point to a lot of walks, but that’s not the case here. Perhaps, then, the answer can be found in the fact that Frazier sees more pitches in the zone — 54.4% — than the league average of around 45%. Given that number and his high in-zone swing rate, it’s a bit easier to see why Frazier isn’t taking his walks. Take a look at his heat map, also from FanGraphs:

clint-frazier-heat-map

 

Look at all that red in the zone, especially in the middle portion. Pitchers are pounding him there and he’s taking advantage by swinging. Additionally, pitchers are throwing lots of fastballs to Clint. Per Brooks, 196 of the 252 pitches he’s seen have been fastballs. Lots of fastballs. Lots of in the zone pitches. A hitter with remarkably quick hands. This isn’t too hard to figure out.

As the league adjusts to Frazier, I image he’s going to see more pitches out of the zone and more pitches with some wrinkles to them. Given he’s done so in the minors and does seem to have a good approach at the plate, I think we’ll see him laying off more pitches and taking his walks. Until then, let’s enjoy his bat and rejoice that he’s taken the “singles are for the weak” approach to hitting.

Yankeemetrics: The curse is over (July 20-23)

(AP)
(AP)

Ace Sevy
Back in Pacfic time zone where their current collapse began more than a month ago, the Yankees took the first step towards pulling out of the tailspin with a 4-1 win over the Mariners on Thursday.

If there is one west coast locale where the Yankees might be able to right the ship, it would be Seattle. They entered this series 49-28 all-time at Safeco Field, the best record by any team in the history of the stadium. The Yankees had won six straight series at the park, their longest active road series win streak against an AL club, and hadn’t dropped a series there since 2011.

Luis Severino dazzled in the matchup with Felix Hernandez, outdueling the Mariners longtime ace with seven brilliant shutout innings. It was his seventh start of at least seven innings and no more than one run allowed this season. The only other guys in the majors that matched that number through Thursday were Max Scherzer (7) and Clayton Kershaw (10).

It was also his third scoreless start of at least seven innings, an impressive feat for the 23-year-old pitcher. In the last 50 years, the only other Yankee as young as Severino with three or more scoreless starts of seven-plus innings in a season was Dave Righetti in 1981.

He dominated with a blazing fastball that averaged 98.3 mph, per Statcast, his highest average fastball velocity in any start in his career. Severino also tied his career-high with 10 whiffs on his fastball, and his four-seamer swinging strike rate of 19.6 percent was his highest in any of his 41 major-league starts. As you can see in the chart below, he was bringing the high heat, with all 10 of those swinging fastball strikes coming on pitches above the letters:

severino-whiffs

The hitting hero of the night was Brett Gardner, who broke a scoreless tie in the sixth inning with a solo shot to right field. Gardner finished the night 1-for-3 vs. King Felix, and is now hitting .361 against him, the third-highest batting average among the 53 guys that have faced him at least 40 times. The two ahead of Gardner? Mike Trout (.367) and David Ortiz (.410).

(Getty)
(Getty)

Best birthday present ever
Baseball has its share of small-sample-size statistical quirks and one of the oddest is the fact that CC Sabathia entered Friday’s game 0-3 with a 6.99 ERA in five starts on his birthday.

The baseball gods, though, were in Sabathia’s favor on Friday night as he finally broke his birthday curse against the Mariners. He was in vintage form, grinding through five innings, allowing seven baserunners but yielding just one run. Let’s run through some notable #FunFacts in honor of CC’s sweet birthday victory:

  • first Yankee starter to earn a win on his birthday since Joe Cowley in 1984 against the Mariners
  • first Yankee starter to allow one run or fewer on his birthday since Ron Guidry in 1981
  • And, at age 37, Sabathia is the oldest Yankee pitcher to win on his birthday since a 37-year-old Red Ruffing in 1942

Aaron Judge delivered the best birthday present ever to Sabathia in the fifth inning, when he ended in his 10-game homerless drought in style by clobbering a monstrous homer into the last rows of the upper deck in left field.

It was hit so high, so far … that it broke Statcast, literally, as MLB’s sophisticated measurement system didn’t spit out any numbers for the distance or exit velocity. We do know that the pitch he clobbered was a 76.3 mph curveball, the slowest pitch he’s hit for a home run in his career.

So close, yet so far away
It was too good to be true. Riding an actual winning streak and with a chance to clinch a series win on Saturday night, the Yankees got stung with another frustrating loss in Seattle. They rallied twice — erasing 4-1 and 5-4 deficits to tie the game — but never were able to take the lead, and lost 6-5 in heart-breaking fashion on Nelson Cruz’s game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the 10th.

Let’s dig deeper into this recent stretch of excruciating late-inning close losses:

The Yankees fell to 9-19 in games decided by one run, the second-worst record in the Majors and tied for the second-most losses through Saturday. The only team worse in both stats is the Phillies at 11-26. Fifteen of those 19 losses have come on the road, and an unfathomable 14 of them have been against teams with a .500 record or worse — a number that leads all of MLB after Saturday’s slate.

And, of course, the one-run losses have really been piling up over the last two months. They’ve lost 14 of their last 16 games decided by a run dating back to May 29 — so, after some quick math, they were 7-5 in one-run games for the first two months of the season and are 2-14 over the last two months.

Saturday was their fifth walk-off loss, one more than last year. All five have come since June 13, the most suffered by any team in that span. And three have been on the west coast, one each in Seattle, Anaheim and Oakland. Strange but true: this is just the second time ever they’ve lost walk-off games to each of them in the same season (it also happened in 2006).

Even in the depressing loss, Aaron Judge was still doing Aaron Judge things. He crushed a 396-foot home run to right field, showing off his ridiculous oppo-field power. Ridiculous is actually an understatement. After Saturday’s game, he was slugging 1.140 to the opposite field, easily the highest in baseball among qualified hitters. For reference, the league slugging percentage on balls hit to the opposite field is .474. Holy moly, what a beautiful hit spray chart:

aaron-judge-3

Streaks are meant to be broken
See yaaaaaaa …. The Yankees finally ended their torturous month-plus baseball nightmare and won their first series since June 9-11. They snapped a 10-series winless streak, their longest since August/September 1991, just weeks before Stump Merrill was fired.

And thankfully I don’t have to tweet this stat again:

Brett Gardner got the offensive fireworks started early with his third leadoff homer of the season, and you could almost smell a victory dance … entering Sunday, the Yankees were 13-0 when Gardy went yardy. Didi Gregorius added two solo dingers for his first career multi-homer game, putting the Yankees up 3-0.

#FunFact alert: Didi is the first Yankee shortstop to hit two or more homers against the Mariners.

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Mariners soon erased that lead, but the Comeback Kids struck again. Unlike Saturday, this time they were able to complete the rally. Clint Frazier‘s bases-loaded double in the sixth inning broke a 4-4 tie and made sure the Yankees plane ride back east would be a happy one.

That was Frazier’s second go-ahead hit in the sixth inning or later this season, or two more than Jacoby Ellsbury has in 2017. Following Sunday’s game, Frazier now has 11 extra-base hits in 61 at-bats this season, or just two fewer than Ellsbury has in 197 at-bats.

Thanks to his game-winning two-base hit, Frazier also earns our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series: He has a double in three straight games, the youngest Yankee outfielder to do that since Mickey Mantle in 1953.

The Yankees still live in the past even when focused on the future

Frazier. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)
(Justin K. Aller/Getty)

We live in a world in which the corporate culture is, as always, dominated by brands. In terms of sports, the Yankees are arguably the most famous and valuable brand out there, at least on this side of the Atlantic. At this point, the Yankees have built that brand on a tradition of winning and a tradition of, well, tradition itself. In the past few weeks, that idea has manifested itself in a bunch of frustrating ways.

Most recently, there was the manufactured controversy of new acquisition Todd Frazier‘s number of choice. For his entire Major League career–up until this past week, of course–Frazier had worn the number 21. Now he’s wearing number 29. Why? Because of the past. Paul O’Neill’s 21 has gone unworn–save for by Latroy Hawkins and Morgan Ensberg, briefly–thanks to some limbo the Yankees are playing. They won’t retire it, but they won’t issue it. This is beyond silly. I saw a lot of fan reaction in support of Frazier NOT wearing the number because he’s not Paul O’Neill, he’s not “The Warrior” and he hasn’t “earned his pinstripes.” This is hogwash. You now how Todd Frazier earned his stripes? By being traded to the Yankees. He doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone; he’s done that over his career. If wearing a number makes him more comfortable at the plate, in the field, in the clubhouse, wherever, whenever, then he should be allowed to wear that number. Stop living in the past if you’re not going to retire the number 21.

First, let’s praise Clint Frazier for picking 77 as a great troll move. Yes, he gave the reason that he liked the way 77 balanced Aaron Judge‘s 99 in right, but it’s easy to see that Clint is having a little fun with his number controversy–also fake–from earlier in the year. Second, we got word that when Aaron Hicks returns from the disabled list, he’ll be going down. If this happens, that’s a mistake. Big time. Frazier is clearly one of the three best outfielders on the team, and will likely to continue to be when Hicks comes back; even then, he’s one of the four best and should get every day at bats. Sending him down, even for a brief time, would be ill-advised and really only serve to placate Ellsbury.  Granted Hicks is still a ways away from coming back, but if Frazier is sent down in late August or early September, those are crucial games he’ll be missing with a lesser player getting his at bats. This would betray not only the future in depriving Frazier of developmental at bats, but also the present in that it would actively hurt the Yankees’ chances at the playoffs.

With Starlin Castro now on the DL–again–the Yankees need to think of the future once again: play Tyler Wade every day. He’s up here, he might as well play. Ronald Torreyes is NOT an every day player. Running him out at second will hurt the team in the present. Wade didn’t show too well at the plate in his first cup of coffee, but he deserves to play, since he, unlike Torreyes, has the potential to be a future starter. He should–at the least–play against right handed pitching.

The Yankee organization has done well to market this year around their young stars like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. They need now to make a full commitment to that future, because those players–as well as Frazier, Wade, and even the regrettably absent Greg Bird–are the brightest parts of the current team and the signs of things to come. Living in the past by deferring to tradition and veterans serves a losing cause.

The Yankees didn’t want to call Clint Frazier up, but now they have no choice but to keep him around

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Three weeks ago the Yankees were hit with a rash of injuries that saw Aaron Hicks (oblique), Starlin Castro (hamstring), Matt Holliday (illness), and Tyler Austin (hamstring) all placed on the 10-day DL within a four-day span. Four days! As a result, the Yankees had to dip deep into their farm system for help, and at one point they had three position player prospects make their MLB debuts on three consecutive days.

First up with Miguel Andujar, who went 3-for-4 with a double in his debut and was sent down the next day to continue working on his defense. Then came Tyler Wade, who drew a walk in his first plate appearance to spark a go-ahead rally (before a bullpen meltdown). Up next was Dustin Fowler, who blew out his knee in the first inning of his first game crashing into a wall in foul territory. It was awful. I feel terrible for the kid.

It wasn’t until a few days later that the Yankees called up Clint Frazier, their top outfield prospect, and they did that only because they were essentially out of options. They’d already called up everyone who could have been called up. So it was Frazier’s turn, and in his first game he had a double and a home run. He’s since added two more home runs, including a walk-off blast against All-Star closer Corey Knebel the weekend before last.

When the Yankees first acquired Frazier last year Brian Cashman said he has “legendary” bat speed and holy smokes have we seen it these last few weeks. Watch the video above. Look at that swing. Sunday night he turned around a 98.5 mph fastball from Craig Kimbrel and ripped it 380 feet like it was nothing. It was a fly out because he hit it to the wrong part of the ballpark, but still. We’ve yet to see Frazier be overmatched by velocity. He’s been on everything.

So far the 22-year-old Frazier is hitting .308/.317/.718 (162 wRC+) in 41 plate appearances with the Yankees, and while he’s not getting on base a ton, his track record suggests the walks will come. Frazier has shown a lightening quick bat, fine range in the outfield, and sneaky good speed. Last night he turned two hard-hit singles into hustle doubles. It was awesome. The kid’s done a little of everything.

Before his call-up we heard a lot about Fowler being more big league ready than Frazier, and that very well may have been true. Frazier clearly was not the team’s first call-up choice following all those injuries. He wasn’t their first, second, or third choice. They went with Andujar, Wade, and Fowler before turning to Frazier, and even then it was only because there was no one else to call up. It sure seems like the Yankees would have preferred to keep him down a little longer.

Since coming up Frazier has made some slight adjustments at the plate and calmed down his lower half. He has funky hitting mechanics in which he thrusts forward and lifts his back leg off the ground. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Frank Thomas hit like that and he was a deserving first ballot Hall of Famer. Frazier was getting a little out of control though, and already he’s made an adjustment to tighten things up early in his MLB career.

“I wasn’t gathering my weight on my backside well,” said Frazier to Brendan Kuty recently. “I was coming off of it really quick and kind of lunging at the pitcher rather than sitting on the backside and swinging from my backside. A great guy to watch is Judge. He does a really good job of keeping his weight on his backside. That’s why he hits the ball the way he does. So I’ll take a note out of his book and apply it to mine.”

So far Frazier has given the Yankees a nice lift with timely home runs and extra-base hits — he has four singles and eight extra-base hits so far (three doubles, two triples, three homers) — plus he definitely brings a fun youthful energy to the team. The Yankees have struggled overall the last month or so, but they’re still fun. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez at-bats are must-see television, as are Luis Severino starts and Didi Gregorius defensive plays.

Frazier adds to that. He’s fun, he’s showing a ton of promise at the plate, and he’s helping in the field too. He’s also already made a key adjustment with his lower half. Frazier’s not a nobody. This isn’t some random minor leaguer coming up and having two good weeks. He’s a former fifth overall pick and highly ranked prospect. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen the tools that give him a chance to be an impact player down the line. Heck, he’s playing like one right now.

The Yankees didn’t want to call Frazier up when they did. I know this because they called up three other prospects before him. The opportunity came though and Frazier has impressed. The Yankees have a clogged up outfield as it is and I have no idea how they’ll squeeze Frazier in with Judge, Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and a healthy Hicks when the time comes. All I know is Frazier is a big part of the future, and when a player with his talent has some success at the MLB level, the Yankees owe it to themselves to give him a longer look.

2017 Midseason Review: The Outfield

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Going into the spring, the Yankees had two spots claimed in the outfield and one up for grabs.

Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner were the veteran holdovers from last season while the pair of Aarons — Hicks and Judge — battled for right field. Both hit quite well in the spring, so the job went to the prospect with higher promise — and what promise it has been!

Perhaps the best way to look at this outfield is going month-to-month, as things changed … other than Aaron Judge‘s dominance.

April: Judge and Hicks emerge

As I’m sure everyone remembers, Judge was a monster in April. He smacked 10 home runs, batting .303/.411/.750 (198 wRC+) for the month. Somehow, that wasn’t his peak for the season. That slugging percentage should be a little higher because of that “triple” against the Cardinals. It actually took him five starts to hit a home run and he’s taken off from there.

Hicks, on the other hand, was the fourth outfielder, so he took a lot of pinch hitting duty early on. He hit two home runs vs. the Rays on Apr. 13 and proved effective in the 57 plate appearances he received. His .295/.429/614 (173 wRC+) slash line is his best for a month this year.

Gardner and Ellsbury each got off to slow starts, which allowed Hicks to get into the lineup more often. They combined for 11 stolen bases (and fielded their positions well, like both Aarons), but had 78 and 99 wRC+ respectively. Gardner was slowed by a collision at first base against Tampa Bay while Ellsbury met expectations while hitting a key grand slam against Baltimore.

Signature moments: I’ll nominate two: Judge’s birthday, when he homered and dove into the stands for a catch vs. Boston, and Hicks’ two-homer game against the Rays, when he provided all of the offense the Yanks needed.

May: Judge (and Gardner) surge

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The fair assumption was that Judge would cool off in May. His OPS did fall… but from 1.161 to 1.084. Another seven homers, just insane stuff. Hits first grand slam came late in the month and he followed with a Memorial Day homer next day. He actually hit for more average in May yet with a little less power.

Meanwhile, Gardner went on a power surge starting with a two-homer game vs. Toronto May 2, his first of two multi-homer games in the month. He had perhaps the most clutch homer of the season vs. the Cubs three days later. His nine homers for the month were more than he had all of 2016.

Hicks really hit his stride, earning some playing time over Ellsbury before Taco’s injury. Not quite as good as April overall, but he also proved his first month wasn’t a fluke. He had seven hits over the first two games of the Cubs series and 10 hits over a four-day span.

Even Taco hit better in May with a .288/.373/.442 (120 wRC+) line. Just one HR, but five doubles. Unfortunately, he got hurt catching a ball on May 24 and was out for over a month.

Signature moment: Easily Gardner vs. the Cubs. Down to the final strike, Gardner erased a 2-0 deficit with a game-winning three-run shot. That’s a very literal game changer.

June: How is Judge still doing this!?!

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Judge literally got on base every single game in June. That shouldn’t be possible. But it was. That 495-foot homer was absurd. He struck out 39 times, but walked 30(!). Another 10 home runs. Ho hum.

Like Ellsbury, Hicks got hurt making a catch and it threw a wrench into the outfield situation. He had slumped later in the month, but was still walking and getting on base. Ellsbury’s return was quickened by the loss of Hicks.

Gardner cooled off significantly (.239/.296/.389 for June). With his power falling off, he got back to stealing bases with five and continued to provide solid fielding in left and center.

Off the bench, the Yankees went to Mason Williams and Rob Refsnyder, the former who would be DFA’d. You surely remember the Dustin Fowler injury…

Signature moment: Is there any question? It’s Judge vs. the Orioles. A 495-foot homer is impressive in BP, let alone in game. And he followed it with a lightning fast shot to right-center.

July: Enter Clint Frazier

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Since returning at the end of June, Ellsbury is batting just .208/.321/.208. No power and a lot of weak grounders to second. Judge, of course, is still doing Judge things, though his on-base streak came to an end on July 1. He also won the Home Run Derby, which was cool. Gardner picked up just five hits (no HR) in 37 plate appearances.

The main bright spot in the eight games before the ASG was Clint Frazier. Frazier has been a revelation with his bat speed. He could force his way onto the roster post-Hicks return, although the outfield will be quite crowded if everyone stays healthy. Six of his seven hits have gone for extra bases and he’s slugging .875 through 24 at-bats. I like it!

Signature moment: Frazier’s walk-off vs. the Brewers. He fastball hunted against All-Star Corey Knebel and launched one to left for the win. Well done.

With Judge, Hicks, Ellsbury, Gardner and Frazier all starting quality outfielders, the Yankees have some of the most enviable outfield depth in baseball. That crew includes the MVP so far, a young player having a career year, a vet with a power resurgence and a 22-year-old just tapping into potential. It’s been a good 3 1/2 months for the Bombers OF and it should be a good overall season, too.

Thoughts on Baseball America’s midseason top 100 prospects

(Al Bello/Getty)
Frazier. (Al Bello/Getty)

Late last week, Baseball America released their updated list of the top 100 prospects in baseball. White Sox 3B Yoan Moncada remains in the top spot, which isn’t too surprising. The Moncada hype train still has a full head of steam.

Seven Yankees made the updated top 100 list, the same number that made the preseason list. A few of the names have changed, however. Here’s where the Yankees rank:

3. SS Gleyber Torres (Preseason: 5th)
36. OF Blake Rutherford (Preseason: 45th)
48. OF Clint Frazier (Preseason: 39th)
55. RHP Chance Adams (Preseason: Not ranked)
70. OF Estevan Florial (Preseason: Not ranked)
72. LHP Justus Sheffield (Preseason: 91st)
88. OF Dustin Fowler (Preseason: Not ranked)

Adams, Florial, and Fowler jump into the top 100 while preseason No. 85 Jorge Mateo (poor performance), No. 87 RHP James Kaprielian (injury), and No. 90 OF Aaron Judge (graduated to MLB) fell out of the top 100. Looking back, it’s pretty funny Judge slipped from 53th to 76th to 90th on Baseball America’s preseason top 100 lists the last three years, and now he’s an AL MVP candidate (favorite?) as a rookie. Good times. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the latest top 100, so let’s get to them.

1. Gleyber’s injury hasn’t changed his prospect status. Despite undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery a few weeks ago, Torres remains on the very short list of the best prospects in baseball. That indicates the injury to his non-throwing arm hasn’t soured anyone on his long-term outlook. The lost development time stinks, no doubt about that, but it’s a correctable injury to his least important limb. (That sounds bad. You know what I mean.) It was a freak injury and a pretty rare injury, but there is some precedent here. Reds shortstop Zack Cozart needed Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow in August 2011. He tore his ligament in a collision at second base. Cozart had surgery in August and was ready for Spring Training. He was in Cincinnati’s lineup on Opening Day 2012. Torres had his surgery in June, two months earlier in the season than Cozart. And Cozart has had no trouble with the elbow since. Tommy John surgery is really bad and always risky. In Gleyber’s case, it’s not as bad as it would be with his throwing arm, and because of that, he remains a tippy top prospect.

2. Why did Rutherford and Frazier switch spots? For all intents and purposes, Rutherford and Frazier have switched spots since the preseason list. They’re still pretty close together — they’re separated by 12 spots on the midseason top 100 — but they did flip. For some reason Baseball America now prefers Rutherford whereas four months ago they preferred Frazier. Hmmm. What changed? Frazier, 22, hit .257/.345/.474 (123 wRC+) with 12 homers, 21.3% strikeouts, and 11.6% walks in 73 Triple-A games before getting called up. Rutherford, 19, is hitting .278/.343/.384 (111 wRC+) with one homers, 19.3% strikeouts, and 8.8% walks in 64 Low-A games. Which performance is more impressive? It’s Frazier for me. Pretty clearly too. But it’s not just about numbers though. The scouting report will forever be more important than the stats. I’m curious to know why Rutherford climbed (slightly) and Frazier fell (slightly). If anything, Frazier’s stock is up in my eyes, and not only because he’s now socking dingers in the big leagues. Forget about all that for a second. Frazier is better commanding the strike zone this year and he’s tapping into his power more often. He hit 12 homers in 73 Triple-A games. His previous career high was 16 homers in 119 games last year. I dunno. Feels like ever since the trade, people have been looking for reasons to dog Frazier, whether it’s silly stories about his attitude or nitpicking his game and dropping him in prospect rankings. Dropping him below Rutherford (who is awesome!) seems like more of the same.

3. I am still the low man on Adams. Adams keeps climbing prospect rankings and that’s pretty cool to see. The reliever-to-start conversion couldn’t be going any better. I ranked Adams as the tenth best prospect in the system in my most recent top 30 list, behind three players who did not make Baseball America’s midseason top 100. That isn’t to say I think he’s a bad prospect. He’s not! He’s really good. But ranking Adams in the middle of a top 50 list suggests you think he can be an impact pitcher soon, or that he’s very likely to remain a starter long-term, and I’m not sure I buy either right now. I have some reservations about his overall command, about the life and plane on his fastball, and about his complete inability to keep Double-A and Triple-A hitters on the ground this year. A 42.7% ground ball rate at those levels is pretty darn scary. Just about every pitching prospect worth a damn puts up good grounder numbers in the minors simply by overwhelming all the low quality hitters you inevitably find at every level. Adams hasn’t been able to do that. Hopefully I’m wrong and he’ll soon be an impact pitcher for the Yankees. The fact the Yankees haven’t called him up despite their pitching needs — even as a reliever at this point — is a pretty good indication the team doesn’t consider Adams ready to help, however. I feel like a spot in the middle of the top 100 is a bit aggressive, but to each his own.

Florial. (Rob Carr/Getty)
Florial. (Rob Carr/Getty)

4. Florial has a really unique profile and I don’t know how to rank him. So far this season the 19-year-old Florial is hitting .300/.383/.502 (152 wRC+) with eleven homers, 15 steals in 21 attempts, and an 11.4% walks in 74 Low-A games. That is across the board excellence for a kid who is more than two years younger than the average South Atlantic League player. At the same time, Florial has a 30.2% strikeout rate, which is awfully high. You don’t often see a player pair that strikeout rate with the kind of overall success at the plate Florial is having. It’s very unique, though we are watching Judge do the same thing in the big leagues, so it’s not unprecedented. Does the strikeout rate mean Florial will fail against more advanced pitchers as he climbs the ladder? Or does the strong overall numbers indicate he will make the adjustment and cut down on the whiffs as he moves forward? This much is clear: Florial’s tools are off the charts. He’s got power from the left side of the plate, he runs well, he’s a very good center fielder, and he has a rocket arm. Based on the natural talent and overall production, Florial is a top 100 caliber prospect. I’m just not sure what that strikeout rate means. I’m more fascinated than alarmed.

5. Mateo could wind up back on the top 100 soon. Mateo has been tearing the cover off the ball since being bumped up to Double-A Trenton. He hit .240/.288/.400 (97 wRC+) in 69 games while repeating High-A and is at .417/.533/.750 (249 wRC+) in 13 games since being promoted. I mean, 13 games is 13 games, we probably shouldn’t read too much into them, but it sure is nice to see Mateo raking for the first time in more than a year. I don’t think Baseball America was wrong to drop him out of their midseason top 100. Not at all. That said, Mateo certainly has the tools to climb back into the top 100 in the future, and his Double-A performance is going to make people take notice. The Yankees have plenty of top 100 caliber prospects and I feel like they’re most willing to part with Mateo in a trade despite his upside. His success in Double-A is perhaps rebuilding some trade value leading up to the deadline and the offseason. It can’t hurt. That’s for sure.

6. Andujar keeps getting snubbed. I am the low man on Adams and the high man on Miguel Andujar, it seems. I’m not saying Andujar is a no doubt top 100 prospect, but I do think he deserves serious consideration, and he’s yet to sneak into any top 100 list. For shame. Andujar is hitting .302/.336/.479 (121 wRC+) between Double-A and Triple-A this year and he’s gone from a 98 wRC+ in 2015 to a 111 wRC+ in 2016 to a 121 wRC+ in 2017, so he’s trending in the right direction. That said, Andujar has to improve his defense, and I guess that’s why he’s not making any top 100 lists. Not everyone is sold on him remaining at third. Defense is the No. 1 priority right now and I’m glad the Yankees are letting him work on it in Triple-A. I don’t want Andujar playing first base and I don’t want him learning the hot corner on the fly in the big leagues. Third base in Triple-A is the appropriate spot for him. Robinson Cano never made a top 100 list, you know. Not once with any publication. I’m not saying Andujar will be the next Cano — Robbie is about 90% of the way to the Hall of Fame at this point, it’s not pair to compare any prospect to him — but in a few years, I definitely think he’s the type of player who will have people saying “how was this guy never on a top 100 list?”