Saturday Links: Midseason Prospect Lists, Miller, Gurriel

The Judge and the GM. (Presswire)
The Judge and the GM. (Presswire)

The Yankees and Indians continue their four-game series with the third game later this afternoon. Here are some links to help you pass the time until first pitch.

Four Yankees make BA’s midseason top 100

The Baseball America crew released their midseason top 100 prospects list yesterday. The entire piece is free. You don’t need a subscription to see the list or the write-ups. Red Sox 2B Yoan Moncada sits in the top spot (groan) and is followed by Cardinals RHP Alex Reyes and Phillies SS J.P. Crawford in the top three. The Yankees have four players on the list: SS Jorge Mateo (No. 19), C Gary Sanchez (No. 36), OF Aaron Judge (No. 42), and RHP James Kaprielian (No. 99).

Both Mateo and Judge have climbed the rankings since BA’s preseason top 100 — Mateo was No. 26 and Judge was No. 76 coming into the season — though at least part of that is due to the graduation of prospects ahead of them. Still nice to see such a big jump for Judge. Sanchez stayed in the same spot (No. 36) and Kaprielian makes the midseason top 100 after not making the preseason top 100. He did that despite his elbow injury. It should be noted 2016 draftees were not eligible for the midseason top 100. OF Blake Rutherford will definitely be in the top 100 mix next spring.

Two Yankees make BP’s midseason top 50

Baseball Prospectus released their midseason top 50 prospects list earlier this week as well, and again, it’s free. It’s not behind the paywall. That’s always cool. Crawford, Moncada, and Dodgers LHP Julio Urias sit in the top three spots in that order. Players selected in the 2016 draft are not eligible for this list either.

The Yankees landed only two players on BP’s midseason top 50: Judge (No. 25) and Mateo (No. 29). Judge dropped a few spots while Mateo climbed many spots from the preseason top 101. Judge was No. 18 before the season and Mateo was No. 65. Sanchez was No. 92 before the season, so the BP crew is lower on him than BA. Jumping from No. 92 before the season into the top 50 at midseason is tough to do.

Miller atop Cubs’ wish list

According to Jon Heyman, Andrew Miller is believed to be atop the Cubs’ wish list as they look for bullpen help. That’s no surprise. Miller is awesome and signed to a favorable contract, plus Theo Epstein had him with the Red Sox too, so I assume there’s still some affinity there. The Cubs also would like Dellin Betances but “wouldn’t even ask,” says Heyman. Why not ask? You’re not doing your job if you don’t ask.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

In a separate piece, Heyman says someone with the Yankees put the chances of a Miller trade at “less than one percent.” That could just be posturing though. Also, apparently the Nationals made an offer for Miller over the winter. That makes sense, though we didn’t hear about it in the offseason. The Dodgers and especially the Astros were the two clubs most connected to Miller over the winter. The Yankees wanted Lance McCullers Jr. from Houston, but no dice.

Gurriel done with private workouts

Free agent Cuban infielder Yulieski Gurriel finished his private workouts with teams this week, reports Jesse Sanchez. Gurriel did indeed work out with the Yankees at some point. I know this because he posted it on Instagram. (Journalism!) Sanchez says Gurriel worked out with the Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Mets, and Padres in addition to the Yankees. I’m surprised it wasn’t more teams.

With the workouts over, I assume Gurriel and his agents will shift into contract negotiation mode. I really have no idea what to expect. I could see him getting big money (five or six years at $12M+ annually) or just a moderate short-term deal (three years at $10M per year). His age (32) and the usual concerns associated with the transition to MLB complicate things even though Gurriel has mashed everywhere he’s played.

Red Sox get Ziegler

Late last night the Red Sox picked up reliever Brad Ziegler from the Diamondbacks for two low level prospects, both teams announced. This is good for the Yankees if you’re on #TeamSell. It’s simple supply and demand. The supply of available relievers has now shrunk by one while the demand, as far as the Yankees are concerned, is unchanged. They weren’t going to trade with Boston anyway. The Red Sox took an available late-inning reliever away from the Cubs, Nationals, Rangers, Dodgers, Giants, and whoever else. Now the Yankees just have to, you know, sell.

Beltran, Betances, Miller selected to 2016 All-Star Game

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

For the second straight season, the Yankees will have three All-Star representatives. Carlos Beltran, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller were all selected for the 2016 All-Star Game, it was announced Tuesday night. Last year Betances, Mark Teixeira, and Brett Gardner represented the Yankees. Here are the full 2016 All-Star rosters.

Beltran has been far and away the Yankees’ best hitter this season. He owns a .296/.337/.567 (136 wRC+) batting line with 19 homers, seventh most in the AL. Only Mike Trout (169 wRC+), Nelson Cruz (141 wRC+), Jackie Bradley Jr. (141 wRC+), and Michael Saunders (140 wRC+) have been better among AL outfielders. This is Beltran’s ninth All-Star Game and, believe it or not, his first as an AL player. Who knew?

Betances is heading to his third straight All-Star Game even though this feels like the worst of his three full seasons in the big leagues. He’s set the bar rather high. Dellin has a 2.63 ERA (1.17 FIP) with 74 strikeouts in 41 innings. He leads all relievers in strikeouts and fWAR (+2.1), and he’s second in strikeout rate (46.3%). Betances has been insanely good this season. Again.

As for Miller, he is going to his first All-Star Game. He has a 1.47 ERA (1.91 FIP) with 66 strikeouts in only 36.2 innings. Miller leads all relievers in strikeout rate (48.2%), is second to Betances in strikeouts, and is fourth in fWAR (+1.4). He’s behind Betances, Kenley Jansen (+1.9), and Will Harris (+1.5). Needless to say, Miller is very deserving. I thought he was the only All-Star Game lock among Yankees players.

The Yankees don’t really have a snub for the All-Star Game. Masahiro Tanaka has a case for a spot, but he’s going to start this Sunday, which means he’s ineligible to pitch in the All-Star Game anyway. Brian McCann could have made it given the generally awful crop of AL catchers, but alas. Didi Gregorius has been awesome, though there are too many good shortstops in the AL. Congrats to Beltran, Betances, and Miller. They were all very deserving.

The Yankees and the 2016 All-Star Game

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Next Tuesday, MLB will announce the 2016 All-Star Game starters and reserves during a live ESPN broadcast. They’ll announce the entire roster — including the starting position players per the fan voting — with the exception of the final spot, which will be decided through the Final Vote ballot. You remember that, right? Of course you do.

The Yankees are not going to have a starting position player in the All-Star Game for the second straight year, which is no surprise. Their biggest “star” is currently being benched against righties. The Yankees definitely have some players deserving of an All-Star Game nod though, and not just because the rules say every team needs a representative.

In my opinion the Yankees have six players worthy of serious consideration for the All-Star Game. That doesn’t mean all six will get in. In fact, I’d bet on the Yankees only getting one or two All-Stars this year. Three tops. There are only so many roster spots, plus it’s not often a fourth place team sends six players to the All-Star Game. Here are the candidates.

Carlos Beltran

The recent hamstring injury could really throw a wrench into Beltran’s All-Star candidacy. He’s second among all AL outfielders in SLG (.570) — he’s four points behind Mike Trout — and ranks fifth wRC+ (137). His 19 homers are tied for fifth among all AL players, not just outfielders. Beltran’s defense drags down his WAR, though that doesn’t really matter. The All-Star Game has not yet morphed into the Highest WAR Game, thankfully.

Generally speaking six or seven outfielders are named to each All-Star team each year. Beltran won’t be among the three starters voted in by the fans — the starters will probably end up being Trout, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. based on the recent voting updates — and Ian Desmond will certainly be on the bench, leaving the last two or three spots for some combination of Beltran, Mark Trumbo, George Springer, Michael Saunders, and Nelson Cruz. (There could be some others in that mix too.)

On merit, Beltran belongs in the All-Star Game. He has the big power numbers and his track record sure doesn’t hurt either. The question is the hamstring. Right now it’s being called a day-to-day injury, but Joe Girardi said it is “worrisome” that the hamstring was still sore yesterday. If this lingers and causes Beltran to miss more than a few days or even land on the DL, it could put an end to his All-Star chances.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Masahiro Tanaka

You know, Tanaka really doesn’t get enough credit for being on the best pitchers in the league. I’m pretty sure it’s the elbow. Tanaka was an All-Star in 2014, when he was one of the best pitchers in the league, then he hurt his elbow and seemed to disappear from the great pitchers conversation. Even a big chunk of Yankee fans underrate him. Among qualified AL pitchers, Tanaka ranks …

  • Seventh in bWAR (2.6)
  • Fourth in fWAR (2.6)
  • Sixth in innings (104.2)
  • 11th in ERA (3.35)
  • Fourth in FIP (3.31)
  • Fifth in WHIP (1.06)
  • Eighth in K/BB (4.32)

And yes, that includes last night’s dud. Those games happen to everyone. Tanaka has been one of ten best starters in the league, meaning he’s absolutely worthy of All-Star consideration. Is he is a shoe-in? No, but he’s in the conversation. Will Tanaka actually get onto the roster? There’s usually seven or eight starters on the roster, so he might be able to sneak in.

It’s worth noting Tanaka is scheduled to make two more starts before the All-Star break, including one on Saturday, July 9th. That’s the Saturday before the All-Star break. The Yankees are six games into a 17 games in 17 days stretch to close out the first half, and I wonder if they’ll insert a spot sixth starter at some point to give the rotation members an extra day. If they do, Tanaka would instead start Sunday, July 10th, thus ruling him ineligible to pitch in the All-Star Game.

CC Sabathia

I think the last two starts may have doomed Sabathia’s All-Star Game chances. Two starts ago he was sitting on a 2.20 ERA (3.31 FIP) in 65.1 innings, ranking second in the AL in ERA. He was top ten in WAR even after missing two weeks with the groin injury. It’s close to impossible to keep a pitcher with those numbers out of the All-Star Game.

After those last two starts — Sabathia was really good for the first seven innings Tuesday, but the eighth inning happened — Sabathia now has a 3.17 ERA (3.65 FIP) in 76.2 innings. That’s still really good! But it’s probably not All-Star Game good, not even in the AL. Sabathia doesn’t have enough innings to qualify for the ERA title — he’d rank seventh in ERA if he did — so his lack of innings relative to other All-Star candidates will hurt him, plus he doesn’t rank among the top ten pitchers in anything (except hit batsmen).

Sabathia is going to make one more start before the All-Star rosters are announced and two more starts before the actual All-Star Game. A few extra pitchers are added to the roster each year as injury replacements and replacements for guys who pitch the Sunday before the All-Star break, so maybe Sabathia sneaks in that way. After these last two starts, I don’t think Sabathia gets in. That shiny near-2.00 ERA was his best chance to be an All-Star, and that’s gone.

Andrew Miller & Dellin Betances

I am certain at least one of these two is going to the All-Star Game. It’s definitely possible both are going, though Betances has had a few hiccups throughout the year, which could keep him out. There are generally six or seven relievers on each All-Star roster, and I have a hard time believing there are seven relievers in the AL more deserving than Dellinthis year.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Miller should be a lock for his first career All-Star Game. He’s not a closer, but his numbers are outrageous regardless of role. Miller is second among all relievers with 63 strikeouts (Betances leads with 67) and he’s fifth in WAR, though I’ve long been a believer in WAR underrating high-leverage relievers. Either way, Miller absolutely has All-Star numbers this year. If he doesn’t go the Midsummer Classic this year, when will he?

As for Betances, I think his track record (two-time All-Star) is going to help him, and I get the sense players around the league know how good he is, which could help. A big chunk on the roster is determined by the player vote, remember. Guys like Zach Britton, Sam Dyson, Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, Will Harris, Alex Colome, Roberto Osuna, Brad Brach, and Craig Kimbrel are also going to be in the mix for the All-Star bullpen. That’s a lot of competition! Maybe Betances will wind up on the Final Vote ballot.

Aroldis Chapman

The performance has been All-Star worthy, I’d say. Thirty-one strikeouts and four walks in 20 innings is pretty crazy. The problem is Chapman’s workload. The guy has thrown 20 innings because of his suspension. He’s 64th among all AL relievers innings, and he’s thrown literally half as many innings as most of the other All-Star worthy relievers. That lack of work is really going to hurt Chapman’s chances to go to the All-Star Game. He has the All-Star reputation and all that, but 20-something innings? Other guys have thrown way more innings and are more deserving. I can’t see Chapman getting in. He simply hasn’t pitched enough.

* * *

I suppose there’s a chance Brian McCann will sneak into the All-Star Game because AL catchers are so collectively terrible, but I feel like he’s been slumping a little too long to get in. (Last night’s game notwithstanding). Didi Gregorius has been awesome, but man, there are way too many good shortstop in the AL. Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts. There are your three AL All-Star shortstops from now through 2020. Sorry Didi. Not happening.

My not-so-bold prediction is the Yankees get two All-Stars this year: Beltran and Miller. Tanaka doesn’t make it and Betances falls victim to the bullpen numbers crunch. I think it’s much more likely Betances sneaks onto the roster than Tanaka, and I think it’s really unlikely Sabathia and Chapman make it to the All-Star Game at this point. Miller’s a lock. He’s been so outrageously good. Everyone else is a maybe, even Beltran because of the hamstring.

Guest Post: The Future of the Big Three Relievers

The following is a guest post from longtime reader Don Sullivan, who is smart enough to avoid the comments. Don wrote about the future of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman.

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

It wasn’t too long that the Yankees were playing pretty well, was it? A big part of their success has been their bullpen. Chapman, Miller, and Betances form a historic trio. There is no denying that a phenomenal bullpen can turn a good team into a great team. The question that Brian Cashman and company have to be honest with themselves in asking is, “are we a good team?” If the answer is yes, then you keep the bullpen status quo; if the answer is no, it is time to shop. In my opinion, the magic number is somewhere between 8-12 games under .500 now that we are nearly 1/3 of the way through the year in which the answer is shop.

This post will explore the future of each of the big three and ramifications/expected returns of unloading each one.

(*Disclaimer: I am more of a fan of trades that bring in talent compared to unloading contracts. However, the Yankees do have some albatross contracts to unload.)

Move #1 – Dellin Leaves Home

Out of the three relievers, I would be most inclined to trade Betances (gasp!). In my opinion, not only is Betances the most valuable (youngest/cheapest/most years of team control) but he is also the most enigmatic. He is also the only reliever in which I think the Yankees can trade and include a bad contract with. Relievers are fickle, history tells us there are very few of them who enjoy consistently great careers.

Can Betances be one of the few? Absolutely, but I would rather cash in on his value now, which probably cannot be any higher. Is Betances enough of a sweetener to make a team like the Rangers (5.20+ bullpen ERA) bite and take on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s contract (also note their current CF is Ian Desmond)? Possibly. Maybe throw in a tertiary bullpen piece like Chasen Shreve or some cash to get it done. Rangers ownership has shown the propensity to spend and after last year’s debacle, they may be the perfect partner to unload Ells. The only way I am trading Betances is if the other team will take on a Ellsbury or a Chase Headley type contract. I am not personally trading Betances for controllable talent (unless I am blown away).

Move #2 – Cashman cashes in on Chapman

Aroldis is the most accomplished of the three and also has the most explosive stuff (which is really saying something). Odds are the Yankees will not dole out the big bucks to keep Chapman after 2016. Trading Chapman comes with one huge caveat, if you keep him you are guaranteed a first round draft pick when he bolts in free agency.(Recent first round picks have been Aaron Judge, James Kaprielian, Ian Clarkin, etc.)

Also of note, Chapman has been the definition of a work horse throughout his career and Joe Girardi would not have to worry about burning him out. Chapman has pitched five times in six days (2013) and six times in eight days (2012) during his career. Additionally, Chapman probably has the lowest trade value because of his limited amount of team control (half a season).

Given the Yankees farm system and current needs, I would definitely deal Chapman for either a young, controllable starter or a third baseman. The Pirates would seem to be the perfect trade partner as they know Chapman from the division and need to dramatically improve their bullpen (3.93 bullpen ERA). For me either Jameson Taillon or Ke’Bryan Hayes get it done.

Move #3 – Move on from Miller

Andrew Miller has been all the Yankees could hope for and more.  His performance has been gaudy and he has proven to be the consummate teammate. He is also signed until 2018 at $9M per year, which is extremely reasonable. I don’t know if his trade value is as high as Betances, but it is certainly higher than Chapman’s.

I do think that Miller can get a similar package to that of Ken Giles, though probably slightly less. Miller is the superior player but Giles is controlled for a longer period of time/cheaper. However, I do think a Vincent Velasquez type talent in return for Miller is not at all unreasonable. The Dodgers would seemingly salivate if Miller were available. They backed out of the Chapman deal based on off the field concerns that Miller does not carry. I would ask the Dodgers for Julio Urias (unlikely), but settle for Jose De Leon, who is much more likely.

All in all, if the Yankees choose to deal, I believe the smartest action is to move two of the three.  If the team manages to improve and play well, it still may be worth trading one of the three, however the deal better bowl you over. Of course, my trade proposals suck.

Two months into 2016, it’s clear the top relievers are most valuable to the Yankees as trade chips

Has he been traded yet? What about now? (Presswire)
Has he been traded yet? What about now? (Presswire)

The Yankees aren’t very good, folks. It’s true. They haven’t been all that good since the middle of last year. They were going to need some things to break their way to contend in 2016, and not only are those things not happening, unexpected things are going wrong. Luis Severino and Michael Pineda have been awful and Mark Teixeira forgot how to hit, for example. Last night’s loss dropped them to 24-27 on the season. Yuck.

Last night’s seventh inning meltdown notwithstanding, pretty much the only thing going right for the Yankees this year is the back-end of their bullpen. The trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman have allowed eleven earned runs in 54.1 innings (1.82 ERA) with 100 strikeouts and eight walks. Most of that is Miller and Betances since Chapman had to serve his suspension. But still, they’ve been collectively awesome.

Those three guys are the reason the Yankees are 23-0 when leading after seven innings and 18-1 when leading after the six innings. The problem is the rest of the team isn’t nearly good enough to hand them leads consistently. The offense is powerless (and average-less) and while the rotation has been much better of late, it’s not going to win many games by itself. The Yankees have three Ferraris in the garage but they can’t figure out how to get the door open.

It’s easy to say Betances, Miller, and Chapman are crucial to the team’s success this year and that they’ll go nowhere without them, and that is 100% true, but they’re not going anywhere with them either. What needs to happen for the Yankees to make a run and contend this year? Like four guys in the lineup need to start putting up huge numbers and both Severino and Pineda need to do a complete 180. Possible? Sure. So very unlikely though.

The Yankees are not a team that is one or two pieces away from contention. They need something pretty close to an overhaul whether they want to admit it or not. Ownership can continue to spout the “you can’t rebuild here” line until they’re blue in the face. It doesn’t change that it needs to happen. How much more obvious could it be? The Yankees have a ton of money coming off the books the next two years but they can’t spend their way back into contention. Baseball doesn’t work like that anymore.

The quickest and easiest way for the Yankees to add some desperately needed young talent is by breaking up that end-game bullpen and trading those relievers. Every single one of them should be on the market. Relievers are too volatile to be counted on as part of a rebuild — serious question: how confident are you Betances will still be an ace reliever when the Yankees are ready to contend again? — even the very best of them. These guys are hot commodities.

The good news is high-end relievers are always in demand. Every contender will want those guys. The Cubs lost last night because Clayton Richard had to face lefties Chase Utley, Corey Seager, and Adrian Gonzalez in the eighth inning of a scoreless game, for example. Don’t you think they’d be willing to pay big for Miller? The need for elite bullpen help always exists. There is lots more demand than supply. We saw the kind of packages Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles fetched this offseason. They were significant hauls loaded with top prospects.

Believe me, there is nothing I would love more than to watch the Yankees storm into the postseason with Betances, Miller, and Chapman turning every game into a five (four?) inning affair. The bullpen is by far the most exciting and watchable part of the team (Masahiro Tanaka is a distant second). No one wants to see these players traded. They’re fun! That said, in the grand scheme of things, trading a reliever or three is 100% the right baseball move given the state of the franchise.

The Yankees are not ready to win with this group right now. There are too many weaknesses. This isn’t “the season is still young” stuff anymore. Holding on to these relievers only to win, say, 83 games instead of 78 would be a massive mistake, and the Yankees can’t afford any more mistakes. They’re paying for a lot of them right now. The sooner they trade them, the more they get back and less injury risk they assume. The Yankees must be willing to deal Betances, Miller, and Chapman starting today.

The Yankees and the difference between actual velocity and perceived velocity

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Since the start of last season, Statcast has opened our eyes to all sorts of cool stuff that we knew existed in baseball, but were unable to measure. Exit velocity, outfielder first step quickness, things like that. All this information is new and we’re still learning how to use it — at-bat by at-bat exit velocity updates are the worst thing on Twitter these days — but it’s all really neat and interesting.

One of these fun new Statcast tools is “perceived velocity,” which measures how fast a pitch “plays” when factoring in things like extension and release point. We’ve all seen pitchers with a 92 mph fastball who get hitters to react like it’s 95 mph, and vice versa. Here is the perceived velocity definition from MLB.com’s glossary:

Perceived Velocity is an attempt to quantify how fast a pitch appears to a hitter, by factoring the Velocity of the pitch and the release point of the pitcher. It takes Velocity one step further — because a 95 mph fastball will reach a hitter faster if the pitcher releases the ball seven feet in front of the rubber instead of six.

To attain Perceived Velocity, the average Major League “Extension” must first be obtained. Any pitcher who releases the ball from behind the average Extension will have a lower Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity. On the other hand, if a pitcher releases the ball from in front of the average Extension, he’ll have a higher Perceived Velocity than actual Velocity.

Perceived velocity seems pretty important, right? More important than actual velocity, I think. Since the start of last season the league average fastball velocity is 92.5 mph while the league average perceived velocity is 92.1 mph. That’s not a negligible difference. There’s much more to it than the raw radar gun reading.

So, with an assist from Baseball Savant, let’s look over the Yankees’ pitching staff and compare average fastball velocities to perceived fastball velocities. These are numbers since the start of last season to give us the largest sample possible.

The Starters

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
CC Sabathia 89.96 90.93 +0.97
Michael Pineda 93.42 93.65 +0.23
Luis Severino 95.83 95.47 -0.36
Masahiro Tanaka 91.81 91.03 -0.78
Nathan Eovaldi 97.29 96.43 -0.86
Ivan Nova 93.31 92.32 -0.99

There are some pretty big differences between average velocity and perceived velocity in the rotation. Sabathia is a big man with a long stride, so it makes sense his fastball plays up and appears faster than what the radar gun tells you. He’s releasing the ball that much closer to home plate. Of course, a 90.93 mph perceived velocity is still well below the league average, but that’s what Sabathia has to work with at this point of his career.

On the other end of the spectrum is Nova, who is unable to gain any extra velocity through extension despite being 6-foot-4. His fastball looks a full mile an hour slower to the hitter than what the radar gun says. The ability to see the ball well out of Nova’s hand has always been a knock against him. He doesn’t have much deception in his delivery and the perceived velocity data suggests he lacks extension too. That’s why Nova’s always been more hittable than his stuff would lead you to believe.

The same is true of Eovaldi, though he brings much more raw velocity to the table than Nova and most other starting pitchers. Eovaldi is not as tall as most of his rotation mates (6-foot-2) so his stride isn’t as long, which costs him some perceived velocity. He’s the poster child for pitchers with big fastballs and small results. His new splitter has really made a big difference because it gives hitters something else to think about. Before they could zero in on the fastball.

I have nothing to back this up, but the 0.78 mph difference between Tanaka’s average fastball and perceived fastball seems to matter less to him than it would other pitchers. Tanaka is basically a splitter/slider pitcher with a show-me fastball. Nova and Eovaldi rely on their fastballs much more heavily because their secondary pitches aren’t as good. I don’t mean that as a knock. Most pitchers rely on their heater. Tanaka’s an outlier. The lack of perceived velocity could help explain why he’s so homer prone though.

The Relievers

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Andrew Miller 94.60 95.41 +0.81
Aroldis Chapman 99.92 100.32 +0.40
Dellin Betances 97.49 97.65 +0.16
Chasen Shreve 91.85 91.28 -0.57
Kirby Yates 93.16 92.05 -1.11

These five guys have been the constants in the bullpen this season. The other two spots — sometimes it has been three other spots — have been used as shuttle spots to cycle arms in and out as necessary.

The big three all gain some velocity through their release points because they’re all so damn tall. I’m actually sort of surprised the difference between Betances’ average fastball velocity and perceived fastball velocity is so small, relatively speaking. He has such a massively long stride …

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

… that you’d think his fastball would play up. Then again, it’s not where your leg lands, it’s where you release the ball. Miller has those long lanky arms and he seems to sling his pitches towards the batter, and those long limbs and funky angles make his already speedy fastball seem ever faster. Same with Chapman. Good grief. His fastball somehow looks faster to the hitter than the radar gun reading. That can’t be fun.

Yates is pretty interesting. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and he has that compact little delivery, so his fastball looks much slower to the hitter than what the radar gun tells us. That said, Yates is not a reliever who tries to throw the ball by hitters. His key to his success is his slider, which he throws nearly 40% of the time. The fastball may play down according to perceived velocity, but he’s not trying to get guys out with the heater anyway. It’s all about the slider with Kirby.

Miscellaneous Arms

Average Velocity Perceived Velocity “Gain”
Branden Pinder 92.25 94.35 +2.10
Bryan Mitchell 95.67 96.57 +0.90
Chad Green 94.43 95.32 +0.89
Nick Rumbelow 93.60 93.90 +0.30
Nick Goody 91.54 91.54 +0.00
James Pazos 94.16 93.59 -0.57
Jacob Lindgren 89.78 89.20 -0.58
Luis Cessa 92.53 91.62 -0.91
Johnny Barbato 95.28 93.54 -1.74

These are the so-called shuttle pitchers, some of whom haven’t pitched in the big leagues at all this season due to injury. The samples are all very small — Mitchell leads the group with 298 fastballs thrown since the start of last year, and in some cases (Green, Pazos, Cessa, Lindgren) we’re looking at 60 or fewer fastballs — so these numbers are FYI only. There’s something to look at that, not something that should be taken seriously right now.

The numbers are on the extremes are pretty fascinating. Statcast says Pinder’s fastball has played more than two full miles an hour faster than what the radar gun says. Barbato is the opposite. His fastball plays down nearly two miles an hour. Pinder is listed at 6-foot-4 and Barbato at 6-foot-1, so there’s a big height difference, but look at their strides too (you can click the image for a larger view):

Barbato (left) via Getty, Pinder (right) via Presswire
Barbato (left) via Getty; Pinder (right) via Presswire

I know this is amateur hour with the photos, sorry. In my defense, it’s really tough to find photos of up and down relievers who have thrown a combined 41.2 innings in the big leagues.

Anyway, you can still kinda see the differences in their strides with those two photos. Both are about to release the ball, yet Pinder is so much closer to the plate that his back foot is already disconnected from the rubber. Look at the angles of their legs too. Barbato is standing a bit more upright, which means he’s not striding as far forward.

Just like regular old velocity, perceived velocity alone is not the key to pitching, but it is definitely part of the equation. Those extra miles an hour — or, to be more precise, the appearance of those extra miles an hour — disrupt timing and give hitters less time to react. Mike Fast once showed a difference of one mile an hour of velocity equates to roughly one-quarter of a run of ERA.

Perceived velocity still doesn’t tell us why Eovaldi’s fastball is less effective than Miller’s, for example. Eovaldi’s heater has Miller’s beat in terms of both average and perceived velocity. I do find it interesting someone as tall as Sabathia can “add” a mile per hour to his heater with his size while a short pitcher like Yates “losses” a mile an hour. Intuitively it all makes sense. It’s just cool to be able to put some numbers on it now.

Managing a bullpen isn’t easy, but sometimes it can get needlessly complicated

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Two nights ago Nathan Eovaldi was removed from a start after only six innings despite retiring 18 straight batters (!) and throwing only 85 pitches. He held the Diamondbacks to one run on one hit and no walks. They hit two balls out of the infield. It was the kind of start the Yankees have been getting far too infrequently this season. Eovaldi was cruising and he looked as good as he’s looked at any point since coming to New York.

Rather than send Eovaldi back out for the seventh inning, Joe Girardi pulled the plug and went to Dellin Betances, opting to turn the game over to his dynamic bullpen. Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman handled the eighth and ninth innings. Giving the ball to Betances is never a bad move — he did walk the first two batters, which was pretty unnerving — but it seemed like Eovaldi had earned another inning.

“I thought I was going to go out there, but I wasn’t disappointed with those three guys coming in,” said Eovaldi to George King after the game. Girardi added, “If I got them set up and they are rested, I am going to go to them. I could have (sent Eovaldi back out), but I am going to take my chances 99% of the time with Betances, Miller and Chapman.”

The Yankees had a two-run lead at the time and Eovaldi was preparing to face the 2-3-4 hitters for the third time, so with the team in need of a win, Girardi played it safe. Again, it’s hard to blame him given the bullpen he has at his disposal. The move was first guessed as much as any pitching change can be first guessed, and the second guessing was rampant as soon as Betances walked the first two batters.

Then, last night, Girardi did it again. Ivan Nova held to Athletics to one run in six innings and he had thrown only 62 pitches. 62 pitches! Rather than stick with his starter, Girardi again went to his big three relievers, who did the job and closed out the eventual 4-1 win. “There’s a reason we put them together down there and it’s for games like today and yesterday,” said Girardi to Billy Witz afterward.

I wanted to write something about the bullpen and bullpen management in general, but I couldn’t come up with a coherent format. I’m just going to list some thoughts using Wednesday’s and Thursday’s game as jumping off points. Got it? Good.

1. Betances needs regular work. Betances is rather unique for many reasons. He’s physically huge, he has unbelievable stuff, the results are historically great, yadda yadda yadda. Dellin has also had well-documented trouble keeping his mechanics in check, which is why it never worked out as a starter. The bullpen agrees with him because, as Betances has said, the regular work allows him to keep his mechanics tight. Yes, he throws fewer innings as a reliever, but he works more often, and that helps.

Betances had two days off prior to Wednesday and giving him three days off between appearances is when it starts to get tricky. He’s a guy who needs regular work to remain effective. It’s a tough thing for Girardi to balance, the need to get Dellin work and keep him rested for the long season. Is it really a surprise Betances came out and walked the first two batters — he had walked three batters all season going in Wednesday’s game, and two of the three walks were on Opening Day — after having two days off? Not really. The man has to pitch.

2. Assigned innings can complicate things. Girardi loves loves loves to assign his relievers set innings. It makes bullpen management simple and it allows players to settle into a routine. Ask relievers and they’ll tell you they like knowing exactly when they’ll be used. They like having a set innings. Players are creatures of habit, and when they have an unpredictable schedule, it’s tough to have a set routine.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, Betances has settled in as the seventh inning guy and Miller the eighth inning guy since Chapman returned. Girardi simply bumped everyone back an inning. Most nights this is no big deal, but we’ve already seen some instances in which Dellin warmed up in the seventh, did not pitch, then Miller came in for the eighth. That’s the formula. Eighth inning guys pitch the eighth inning.

Girardi had Betances warming in the sixth inning Wednesday even while Eovaldi cruised, and since he was warming up, chances are he was going to pitch. The Yankees would have had to really break the game open for Dellin to sit down. So, in that case, why not let Eovaldi go out for the seventh, and if he gets through it clean, use Betances in the eighth rather than Miller just because it’s his inning? There should be wiggle room with those assigned innings.

(Betances was not warming up during the sixth inning Thursday, probably because he had thrown 31 pitches Wednesday. Girardi had to back off a little bit.)

3. The batter to batter strategy. By far, my least favorite Girardi move is going batter to batter with a starter. You know what I’m talking about. When the starter appears to be nearing the end of the line, he goes back out to start the next inning anyway, then is lifted after allowing a leadoff base-runner. It happens all the time — how many times do you think a starter got through an inning clean when his leash was one base-runner? — and all around the league.

Sending Eovaldi and Nova back out for the seventh and hating the whole batter to batter approach seem like conflicting ideas. There should never be a blanket one size fits all strategy though, right? It’s one thing to send Eovaldi back out when he’s retired 18 straight — or Nova when he’s getting ground ball after ground ball and had thrown only 62 pitches — and another to send, say, CC Sabathia back out when he’s already allowed three runs and a bunch of right-handed hitters are due up. There’s a certain feel to each game that has to be considered.

4. What happened to only using two of the big three per games? This sort of relates to point No. 2 and the answer is simple: the Yankees need every win they can get right now. They don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing relievers each game with an eye on tomorrow. If they have a lead in the late innings, they have to nail it down, and the best way to do that is with Betances, Miller, and Chapman. Perhaps the Yankees can climb back into the race in a few weeks, allowing Girardi to use only two of the three each night. Until then, it’s all hands on deck.

* * *

I would have sent Eovaldi and Nova back out for the seventh inning. I was actually really surprised when Betances came running out of the bullpen last night. I didn’t think Girardi would pull Nova with his pitch count so low. Girardi spent most of April talking about the need to get more length from his starters, and here he was gifted back-to-back very good outings, and he pulled the plug early each time.

It worked these last two days. I don’t think this is something that can continue all season though. When you’ve got a starter on a roll like Eovaldi and Nova last night, sometimes you have to let them handle that seventh (and eighth) inning to preserve the bullpen. Betances, Miller, and Chapman can’t pitch in every single win. They’ll be toast by August. Using the big three is mighty tempting. There also has to be some sense of bullpen preservation, and starts like the ones turned in Eovaldi and Nova give Girardi an opportunity to take his foot off the gas.