Saturday Links: Profar, Ohtani, Stanton, Ellsbury

Didi and Profar in the WBC. (Matt Roberts/Getty)
Didi and Profar in the WBC. (Matt Roberts/Getty)

Monday should be a pretty busy day, folks. It is the deadline the MLBPA has set to hammer out the posting agreement for Shohei Ohtani. If a deal isn’t done by Monday, he’s going to stay in Japan next season. Also, Monday is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft. There’s going to be plenty of roster shuffling that day. Here are some other bits of news to check out.

Yankees interested in Profar again

Once again, the Yankees have some interest in former Rangers top prospect Jurickson Profar, reports Joel Sherman. Pretty sure this is the third straight offseason the Yankees have been connected to Profar. They’ve been trying to buy low on him since his shoulder problems started a few years ago. Interestingly, Sherman says Texas has interest in some depth arms at the bottom of New York’s 40-man roster, and a deal could be built around them. Huh.

Profar, 25 in February, missed both the 2014 and 2015 seasons with shoulder surgery. He’s hit only .227/.316/.315 (71 wRC+) since coming back, including .172/.294/.207 (40 wRC+) in 22 big league games in 2017. The Rangers sent Profar to Triple-A, where he hit .287/.383/.428 (116 wRC+) in 87 games. They did not give him a September call-up though, and Profar is reportedly preparing to file a grievance because the non-call-up pushed his free agency back a year.

Acquiring Profar would be very similar to acquiring Aaron Hicks. The Yankees would be betting on talent and a chance of scenery. Profar was a tippy top prospect not too long ago, he’s still only 24, he’s a switch-hitter, and he’s played basically every position other than pitcher or catcher. He is out of minor league options, so it’s MLB or bust. That’s one drawback. Ultimately, just stockpile high-end talent. If all it takes is some fringe 40-man roster arms, this is a no-brainer.

Ohtani wants to hit and pitch

Not surprisingly, Ohtani wants to both hit and pitch whenever he comes over to the big leagues, reports Yahoo! Japan (translation via @NPB_Reddit). “Ohtani said he wants to play both ways in MLB. I plan to respect that wish,” said his agent. If you’re interested, Dan Szymborski put together statistical translations and ZiPS projections for Ohtani, which seem quite relevant. Here are the 2018 projections:

  • As pitcher: 3.55 ERA (119 ERA+), 10.4 K/9, +3.3 WAR in 139.1 innings
  • As hitter: .266/.328/.466 (112 OPS+), 12 HR, +2.2 WAR in 305 at-bats

That would be pretty incredible in his first year as an MLB player. And, for what it’s worth, ZiPS projects a 125 ERA+ and 121 OPS+ at Ohtani’s peak at age 27. That would be amazing. I think everyone has kinda assumed Ohtani will want to hit and pitch when he comes over, but now we know for sure. His agent confirmed it. We’ll see how it goes. Doing one thing well is hard enough. Doing both well would be rather remarkable.

Yankees checked in on Stanton

Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton. (Eric Espada/Getty)
Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton. (Eric Espada/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees have reached out to the Marlins to discuss Giancarlo Stanton this offseason, reports Jon Heyman. They also checked in back around the trade deadline. Stanton is the big trade commodity this offseason — Heyman says at least eight teams are involved, and I expect more to get involved before it’s all said and done — and so far the Cardinals and Giants have emerged as the most serious suitors.

The Yankees typically check in on everyone during the winter, especially any star players who become available. That doesn’t mean they’re seriously interested in acquiring Stanton. Would they take him if the Marlins make an offer that’s too good to be true? Of course. In that case you get Stanton and figure out where he fits later. That’s why you make the call. In case a favorable deal can be made. Otherwise this is just due diligence. The Yankees have more than enough outfielders as it is.

Ellsbury not yet asked to waive no-trade clause

According to Brendan Kuty, Brian Cashman confirmed this week that the Yankees have not yet asked Jacoby Ellsbury to waive his no-trade clause. Last offseason they approached Brian McCann about waiving his no-trade clause fairly early. I assume that’s because there was legitimate interest in McCann at the trade deadline and serious interest again in the offseason, so there was a real chance of a trade. That probably isn’t the case with Ellsbury. Here’s what Cashman told Kuty:

I have not had any dialogue with Scott (Boras), haven’t even approached Scott, I guess it’s a similar situation. I think in both cases — in McCann’s case as well as if there is going to be something for consideration with Jacoby — I would make sure I would stay ahead of it and have to include anybody in the process on their side of it to make sure it’s handled the proper way.

“They have a full no-trade for a reason, and I would walk through that process with the highest level of communication and respect because of it. I haven’t connected with Scott at all, but I know he’s here somewhere, and I’ll make sure I’ll get a chance to talk to him before I leave just generally about everything Scott Boras related for the winter, and I’m sure we’ll also talk about Jacoby as well.

Cashman also said that, as of right now, Ellsbury is the fourth outfielder. Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge are entrenched in the corners, and Hicks is the man in center going forward. “They were the best that we had (in the postseason), and so I think we would anticipate going (into 2018) that way again,” said Cashman. The Yankees are going to have to eat a lot of money to trade Ellsbury, but I think they’re more willing to do it right now than ever before, so I expect them to shop him around pretty aggressively. And when the time comes, they’ll ask about the no-trade clause.

Picking a Course

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

In my personal and professional lives, I try to be open-minded and give things lots of consideration before making a decision. Of course, that comes with a fair amount of vacillation sometimes, and it wouldn’t be inaccurate if you were to call me indecisive at times. At times, this spills over into my “life” as a “writer” and baseball fan; it’ll take me a while to figure out what I’d want the Yankees to do and I end up spilling lots of digital ink in lots of directions before coming to a “decision.” This is completely true of my thoughts on the Yankees’ DH situation for 2018. Or it was. I’ve made up my mind.

My gut has been wrong this offseason once so far–I really didn’t think Shohei Ohtani was going to be posted, but that appears imminent–but my gut tells me the Yankees aren’t going to find a trade partner for Jacoby Ellsbury and they’re going to be left holding the bag, so to speak, with five capable outfielders deserving of Major League time: Ellsbury, Gardner, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Clint Frazier. The obvious fix to that is that you start Frazier in AAA and let him work on things there. But let’s assume he has a Spring Training like Aaron Judge did last year and there’s really no way to justify holding him down there. This also all presupposes that there will be no full-time DH, which I think is a likely scenario, given what happened with Matt Holliday this year.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

That leaves us with five bodies for four spots, including the DH. How would I shake these guys out in a lineup? Four of them would play, with one as the DH, and one as the bench guy, depending on what the matchups or needs of the defense dictated. Now, obviously, right field never gets touched unless there’s a rest day or an injury to Judge. That’s his spot for the year almost no matter what.

Against righties, you’d line up Judge in right, Gardner in left, and one of Hicks or Ellsbury in center. This part gives me hesitation because I’m not sure if the new manager will want to give Ellsbury a chance to reclaim his spot or if what happened in the playoffs will continue. If it’s the former, Ellsbury plays center and one of Hicks or Frazier is the DH. Normally you’d just default to the switch hitting Hicks here, but batting lefty is the weaker position for him. Additionally, you wouldn’t want to bury Frazier; might as well have him playing every day in AAA instead of riding the pine with infrequent at bats.

Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Against lefty pitchers, Hicks plays center, Frazier plays left, and Gardner gets a half day off at DH. He’s getting up there in age and it makes sense to let him rest a bit while the younger guy roams left field. Once again, we relegate Ellsbury to the bench here, unless he manages to improve against lefties while Gardner falls off a bit.

So my five man plan is really a four man shuffle with Ellsbury relegated to the bench. If they manage to trade Taco, this plan is uninterrupted. But, there is another wrinkle, and that’s Ohtani. If he signs with the Yankees, will he be getting DH at bats between starts? If he does, this plan may not work. Setting that aside for the moment, though, I think this is the best way to balance rest and playing time for the outfielders. Of course they’ll have to throw in some DH days for Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird every so often ,but doing this day in, day out probably gives the Yankees the best possible lineup most of the time. Until something big happens, keep it this way.

Year Four of the Jacoby Ellsbury Era [2017 Season Review]

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

At this point, the best thing the Yankees can say about the Jacoby Ellsbury contract is that they’re finally closer to the end than the beginning. Year 4 of the Ellsbury era played out very much like Years 1-3. There were months of poor production, an injury, and a hot streak that had everyone wondering whether Ellsbury would finally provide some bang for the buck.

In the end, Ellsbury hit .264/.348/.402 (101 wRC+) with seven home runs and 22 steals in 25 attempts in 112 games in 2017, which isn’t bad by any means. It is a bit deceiving though, because Ellsbury bunched all the good into a four-week hot streak from August 26th through September 20th, in which he hit .397/.494/.616 (194 wRC+) in 89 plate appearances. In his other 320 plate appearances, he hit .230/.303/.346 (~77 wRC+).

Now, don’t get me wrong, those 89 great plate appearances from August 26th to September 20th count. Ellsbury was phenomenal those weeks! He helped the Yankees win a lot of games. The season is not four weeks long, however. There was a lot of bad sandwiched around those four weeks, bad enough that Ellsbury was relegated to fourth outfielder duty for long stretches of time, including in the postseason.

A Lineup Demotion, In Theory

Following the end of the 2016 season, both Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman hinted at a lineup change for the 2017 season. The Brett Gardner/Ellsbury tandem would be broken up atop the lineup. The Yankees signed Ellsbury hoping he and Gardner would form a dynamic one-two lineup punch with speed and sneaky power. It never really materialized.

The question was who would be demoted, the more productive Gardner or the more highly compensated Ellsbury? Money talks. In a perfect world teams wouldn’t consider salary in making roster decisions, but they do. They all do. The Yankees are no different. In this case, Ellsbury salary didn’t matter. Girardi dropped him from second in the lineup all the way down to … fifth. He even batted fourth for a few games.

On one hand, dropping Ellsbury from the second spot in the lineup was the right move. On another hand, dropping him to fourth and fifth meant he was still hitting in the premium lineup spot, and would still be a significant part of the offense. And for the first few weeks of the season, it was fine. Not great, not terrible. Fine. Ellsbury hit .277/.333/.410 (99 wRC+) in April and even swatted his first career grand slam.

Ellsbury played well enough in April — and the season was still young enough, of course — that he stayed in the lineup even with Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks hitting the snot out of the ball and forcing their way into the lineup. Judge played every single game because he had to. Hicks, Ellsbury, and Gardner spent most of the month rotating in and out of the lineup, with Hicks getting the least playing time.

The Concussion

On May 24th, with his batting line sitting at .281/.349/.422 (108 wRC+) through 153 plate appearances, Ellsbury crashed shoulder-first into the center field wall making a catch against the Royals. He initially stayed in the game, but was removed one inning later with a concussion.

Ouch. Concussions are no joke. They’re a brain injury and if they’re not treated properly and quickly, they can lead to very bad things down the road. The concussion sidelined Ellsbury for almost exactly one month — he returned on June 26th. Ellsbury’s injury gave Hicks a chance to play everyday, and it was a Hicks injury that brought Ellsbury back from the disabled list a little sooner than expected. Hicks hurt his oblique on June 25th and the Yankees brought Ellsbury back from his rehab assignment a few days early to fill the roster spot.

The first few weeks back from the concussion did not go well, and while that is understandable — again, concussions are a serious matter — it also fit a career-long pattern for Ellsbury. He has a history of getting hurt and not hitting once he returns. We’ve seen it in pinstripes a few times, most notably after he tweaked his knee in 2015. In his first 41 games back from the concussion, Ellsbury hit .186/.289/.297 (60 wRC+) in 136 plate appearances. Yeesh. At one point he went 3-for-29 (.103) during a 13-game span. That dragged his season batting line down to .237/.320/.364 (85 wRC+).

Ellsbury’s Best Four Weeks As A Yankee

That ugly 41-game slide ended August 25th, a cherry-picked date. The very next day, Ellsbury started his monster four-week hot streak, a 38-game stretch in which he was not only New York’s most dangerous hitter, but also one of the best hitters in the game not named Giancarlo Stanton. Those four weeks were incredible.

Those four weeks were so great they represent Ellsbury’s best four-week stretch as a Yankee, bar none. He hit .397/.494/.616 (194 wRC+) those four weeks. His next best four-week stretch in pinstripes is a .324/.366/.539 (150 wRC+) batting line back in August 2014. Here is Ellsbury’s tenure with the Yankees:

jacoby-ellsbury-2014-17-wrc

More valleys than peaks, though some of the peaks are quite high. None are as high as his second half this season. Ellsbury was the Yankees’ best player during those four weeks late this season and the Yankees needed him to step up, because Hicks was hurt again and Judge was still working his way out of his second half slump. The Yankees were noticeably short a bat down the stretch. Ellsbury helped pick up the slack.

The hot streak was the very best of Ellsbury. He was a contact machine — he drew 13 walks and struck out only nine times in those 38 games — who sprayed the ball all around and used his speed. There is always going to be some element of luck involved when a player hits .397 across 38 games — Ellsbury did have a .444 BABIP during the hot streak — but Ellsbury created his own luck by putting the ball in play so often. He saw 375 pitches during the hot streak. He swung and missed only 28 times.

The biggest moment of Ellsbury’s torrid hot streak came during Players Weekend, when he swatted a go-ahead three-run home run against the Mariners. The Yankees suffered a tough extra-innings loss the night before and basically half the AL was trying to catch them in the wildcard race. Ellsbury’s homer contributed to an important win.

By the end of the hot streak Ellsbury had raised his season batting line to .273/.361/.420 (110 wRC+). It was an uneven distribution — he started well enough, stunk in the middle, then got crazy hot — but it was the first time since his first season with the Yankees that Ellsbury was an above-average hitter that late into the season.

The Beginning Of The End

The hot streak didn’t last, of course. They never do. Ellsbury went 5-for-30 (.167) in his final eight games of the regular season, and with Hicks back from his second oblique injury, Ellsbury again found himself on the bench. It was Hicks, not Ellsbury, who played center field in the postseason. The Yankees played 13 postseason games this year and Ellsbury appeared in six of them. He started four, all at DH. In those six games he went 0-for-9.

There were stretches throughout the season in which Ellsbury was dropped down into fourth outfielder duty, though the Hicks injury and the general day in, day out nature of the regular season meant he still played a few times a week. In the postseason though, with every game meaning so much, Girardi and the Yankees determined Ellsbury did not give the Yankees the best chance to win. Not at the plate and not in the field. He was a pinch-runner, basically.

As things stand, the Yankees are deep in outfielders going into the 2017-18 offseason. Ellsbury, Gardner, Hicks, and Judge are all under control for at least two more years, and Clint Frazier is very close to ready for full-time MLB action, if he isn’t already. Ellsbury is the one outfielder who clearly deserves less playing time going forward, not more. That the Yankees already scaled back on his playing time this summer leads me to believe Ellsbury’s days as a starter are close to over, at least when he’s not in the middle of a hot streak.

2018 Outlook

For the first time since Ellsbury joined the Yankees, I feel like the team will make a very serious effort to unload him this offseason, to clear room for Hicks and Frazier and the other outfielders. It’s going to hurt to trade Ellsbury, and it should hurt. The signing seemed completely crazy at the time, and when you make a decision that bad, you deserve to deal with the consequences. The Yankees will have to eat a lot of money to move Ellsbury. There are four questions now:

  1. Will Ellsbury waive his no-trade clause?
  2. Does any other team even want Ellsbury?
  3. How much money will the Yankees have to eat to facilitate a trade?
  4. How badly do the Yankees want to open the roster spot?

That’s what this is about, right? Opening a roster spot for a younger player (Frazier) and saving as much money as possible. The contract is a sunk cost. Right now the Yankees have to pay all of it no matter what. Saving some of it, even a few million a year, to open the roster spot and create a more flexible roster makes sense given where the Yankees are. It’s hard to see Ellsbury as a meaningful piece of the next great Yankees team.

Trading Ellsbury won’t be easy nor will it yield any sort of meaningful return. It’ll be a reverse Vernon Wells trade, basically. The Yankees get non-prospects in return for saving some cash. Ellsbury is better than Wells, sure, but his contract is more onerous. If the Yankees can unload Ellsbury, I think they’d jump at the chance this winter. And if not, they’ll have no choice but to go into next season with him penciled into a bench spot.

Reviewing RAB’s ten bold predictions for the 2017 season

Thanks for making me look smart, Chad. (Bob Levey/Getty)
Thanks for making me look smart, Chad. (Bob Levey/Getty)

Sadly, the 2017 Yankees season came to an end Saturday night, with a loss to the Astros in Game Seven of the ALCS. On one hand, falling one win short of a World Series spot sucks always and forever. On the other hand, the 2017 Yankees were a pretty awesome team. I haven’t had this much fun following the Yankees in a long time. I won’t forget this season.

Back in March, four days before Opening Day, I made ten bold predictions for the 2017 Yankees season. And now that the season is over, it’s time to go back and see how I did. One thing this exercise taught me: I need to go bolder next year. Most of this year’s bold predictions were more mild than bold. Eh, whatever. This was my first crack at this. Now I know better for next season. To the bold predictions review!

1. Pitchers not currently on the 40-man roster will combine for 30+ starts.

Yeah, I probably should’ve gone with something like 50+ starts instead of 30+ starts if I wanted to be bold. Here is the games started leaderboard among players who were not on the 40-man roster as of the bold predictions post:

  1. Jordan Montgomery: 29
  2. Sonny Gray: 11
  3. Jaime Garcia: 8
  4. Caleb Smith: 2

That is 50 starts — 50 starts! — by pitchers who weren’t on the 40-man roster at the end of Spring Training. Nearly one-third of the season. The Yankees had some serious questions at the back of their rotation this year, though I figured guys like Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, and Chad Green would get most of the chances to fill in since they were already on the 40-man. That didn’t happen. Cessa, Mitchell, and Green combined for seven starts this season — five by Cessa and one each for Mitchell and Green.

2. Judge finishes in the top three of the Rookie of the Year voting.

Well, technically we don’t know the answer to this yet since the awards haven’t been announced yet, but yeah. Aaron Judge is going to be named AL Rookie of the Year. It should be unanimous, but you never know. The rookie WAR leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees: +8.2
  2. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers: +4.0
  3. Paul DeJong, Cardinals: +3.0
  4. Matt Chapman, Athletics: +2.7
  5. Jordan Montgomery, Yankees: +2.7

If Judge doesn’t win AL Rookie of the Year, it’ll be a travesty.

3. A pitcher other than Tanaka, Betances, and Chapman makes the All-Star Team.

I am 3-for-3 so far. Luis Severino made the All-Star Team this season. And he made it clean. He wasn’t an injury replacement or a Final Vote guy or anything. He was an original member of the AL All-Star roster. In the bold predictions post I guessed Michael Pineda would be the pitcher other than Masahiro Tanaka, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman to make the All-Star Team. I don’t know why anyone listens to me.

4. Green emerges as the next great Yankees reliever.

I am proud of this one. I believed Green had the tools to be a very effective reliever, mostly because his fastball generated so many swings and misses, even as a starting pitcher last season. His slider is just okay and his changeup basically doesn’t exist. I figured he’d eventually end up in the bullpen at some point, impress while airing it out for an inning or two at a time, and eventually enter the Circle of Trust™. That is pretty much exactly what happened. I’d be lying if I said I expected Green to be this good, but I had a feeling there was a potentially dominant reliever hiding in there somewhere. This is why people listen to me, I guess. Every once in a while I luck into looking smart.

5. Neither Sanchez nor Bird will lead the Yankees in home runs.

Remember Greg Bird‘s Spring Training? He was a monster and it looked like he was about to have a huge season. That’s why I included him in this bold prediction. Obviously the ankle injury changed things. Gary Sanchez was ridiculous during his two-month cameo last year, and pretty much everyone expected him to be the team’s best hitter this summer. The 2017 Yankees home run leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge: 52
  2. Gary Sanchez: 33
  3. Didi Gregorius: 25
  4. Brett Gardner: 21
  5. Matt Holliday: 19

In the bold predictions post I picked Starlin Castro to lead the Yankees in homers in 2017. For real. Here’s what I wrote:

I’m boldly predicting Sanchez and Bird will finish second and third on the Yankees in home runs, in either order. Judge could sock 25+ dingers, which would probably be enough to lead all rookies, though I don’t think he’ll lead the Yankees either. Not Matt Holliday or Chris Carter either. My pick? Starlin Castro. Boom. Castro turned 27 last week and is at the age where maximum power output could be reasonably expected. He set a career high with 21 dingers last year, and now that he’s entering his second year with the Yankees and is presumably more comfortable with things, I’m saying he’ll get to 30 this year.

Castro finished sixth on the team with 16 home runs, though he spent two stints on the disabled list with hamstring injuries. Otherwise he would’ve cleared 20 homers easily, maybe even 25. And he still wouldn’t have been even halfway to Judge. Yeah, technically I got this bold prediction right, but the Castro pick is kinda embarrassing. I’m ashamed.

6. The Yankees do more buying than selling at the trade deadline.

Remember when we were all talking about the Yankees as sellers? Good times. The Yankees sold at last year’s trade deadline, and they weren’t projected to be all that good this season, so of course we thought they might sell again. Tanaka, Betances, Holliday, Gardner, and others represented potentially tradeable pieces.

Ultimately, the Yankees bought at the trade deadline with two big trades and one smaller deal. A quick recap:

Don’t forget about the Tyler Webb for Garrett Cooper blockbuster. All buying, no selling.

7. Ellsbury, not Gardner, is the outfielder traded away.

Nope. Neither was traded away. The outfielder traded away was, uh, Fowler? Poor Dustin. His injury was definitely the worst moment of the season. Once the injury happened, part of me hoped the Yankees would make the postseason and invite him to throw out the first pitch at some point. That would’ve been cool. The Yankees traded him instead. This business is cruel.

8. Rutherford will take over as the No. 1 prospect in the organization.

Nope. Rutherford was traded too, so he can’t be the No. 1 prospect in the organization. That said, even if he hadn’t been traded, he wouldn’t have taken over as the top prospect, even with Gleyber Torres blowing out his non-throwing elbow and needing Tommy John surgery. Rutherford did not have a good season overall:

  • With the Yankees: .281/.342/.391 (113 wRC+) with two homers, 18.1 K%, 8.2 BB%
  • With the White Sox: .213/.289/.254 (63 wRC+) with no homers, 15.4 K%, 9.6 BB%
  • Overall (all at Low-A): .260/.326/.348 (98 wRC+) with two homers, 17.3 K%, 8.6 BB%

I certainly wouldn’t give up on Rutherford based on a disappointing first full season as a pro. The kid is still incredibly talented and it could click next year. He’s not a better prospect than Torres though. This bold prediction didn’t come true. (MLB.com currently ranks Gleyber as the top prospect in baseball with Rutherford sitting at No. 39, for what it’s worth.)

9. The Yankees will have the most productive DH spot in baseball.

For the first two and a half months of the season, this one was looking pretty good. Holliday had a fantastic start to the season. Then he got sick and just stopped hitting in mid-June, two things that may or may not be related. Here is where the Yankees ranked among the 15 AL teams in DH production:

  • AVG: .235 (11th)
  • OBP: .327 (4th)
  • SLG: .429 (5th)
  • OPS+: 105 (3rd)
  • HR: 28 (5th)

The Mariners had the most productive DH spot pretty much across the board thanks to Nelson Cruz. They were first in AVG (.288), first in SLG (.547), first in OPS+ (148), first in homers (39), and second in OBP (.374). Only the Indians were better in OBP (.391).

10. The Yankees will spend more days in first place than last year.

I kinda cheated with this one. The Yankees spent zero days in first place last year. They didn’t win the AL East this season, though they did spend 62 days in first place, more than 2013 (17 days), 2014 (24 days), and 2016 (zero days) combined. (They spent 100 days in first place in 2015.) I closed the bold predictions post with this:

Even with the questions at the back of the rotation, I believe this team is better than last year, and it’ll show when they get off to a better start in April. They’ve had some trouble keeping their head above water early on the last few seasons.

The Yankees went 15-8 with a +43 run differential in April, the best record in the AL. And off they went.

The Ghost of DH Future

The DH situation in picture form. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
The DH situation in picture form. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

The Yankees’ designated hitters in the playoffs have been way more ‘designated’ than they have been ‘hitters.’ It seems that no matter what name or number Joe Girardi calls for that spot in the order, it comes up empty. Chase Headley gave it a good try yesterday, robbed of a homer by Josh Reddick, and that–aside from one measly catcher’s interference by Jacoby Ellsbury (of course)–has pretty much been the extent of the offensive production by Yankee DHs against Minnesota, Cleveland, and Houston. Short of someone being injured and another player–Tyler Austin? Clint Frazier?–being added to the roster, there really isn’t much the team can do about the current DH situation aside from hope that someone runs into a pitch or two and gets out of this funk. The future of DH, though, is up in the air.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that Todd Frazier–current third baseman–makes the most sense at DH next year–though, really, this would Headley to DH as it seems the Yankees prefer Frazier defensively. This idea stems mostly from the fact that it’s unlikely the team will go with a full time DH as there aren’t many good full-time options and the team could have extra Greg Bird insurance. Frazier and the Yankees seem to like each other, but he’s going to be a free agent and will have that leverage in his back pocket. So do the Yankees, though, as it seems like Bird is back and healthy and Headley did have a decent season and is a good defender at third, also on a one year deal. Would Frazier settle for a one year deal? Probably not. With Miguel Andujar just about ready to be a Major League player and Gleyber Torres (hopefully) knocking on the door behind him, it may not be wise to stock this team with too many third base types. Granted, Headley or Frazier on a one year deal could be jettisoned, but that’s not necessarily what you want. The outfield situation may also complicate things.

As they do now, the Yankees will have four outfielders for three spots in 2018. Of course, they could flip one in a trade to free up room, but I’m still not sure there are viable markets for Brett Gardner and/or Jacoby Ellsbury. Aaron Judge isn’t going anywhere and Aaron Hicks earned a starting spot for next year with his play this year. Gardner is, fankly, better than Ellsbury. If the team is willing to let Ellsbury be a high-priced fourth outfielder, then they could get another player to DH, rather than rotating the outfielders in and out when they need a day.

The more I think about it, the more it might make sense to let Todd Frazier walk. He’s a great guy and I’ve enjoyed rooting for him in every way possible. But in terms of money and roster space, it might be best to let him go, shift Chase Headley back to third base, and roll with a rotating DH.

Chase Headley should be the Yankees’ ALDS DH

(David Maxwell/Getty Images)
(David Maxwell/Getty Images)

After scoring eight runs in the Wild Card Game, the Yankees may not be inclined to switch up their lineup. Yet one small change could be their most prudent move.

Therefore, I’d advocate for Joe Girardi to move Chase Headley back to designated hitter and have Jacoby Ellsbury come off the bench.

Ellsbury provided a lot to the Yankees’ late-season surge. From Aug. 26 to Sept. 20, he went 29-for-73 with nine doubles, two triples and a homer, sporting a .397/.494/.616 (194 wRC+) line. That doesn’t include record-setting catcher’s interference(!). Filling in after Aaron Hicks‘ injury, he became a reliable presence and looked like the player the team thought it was getting when he signed in the 2013-14 offseason.

But he’s gone cold. In his last eight games of the regular season, he went just 5-for-30 with a double and a walk, striking out six times. He followed that up with an 0-for-4 performance on Tuesday. Just like the 73 AB sample above, there isn’t a whole lot to go off, but he hasn’t been quite as useful.

Meanwhile, Headley has been similarly cold, which likely led to his benching in the first place. In his last 40 PA, he batted 6-for-36 with three walks and a HBP, no extra-base hits. After three homers in his first five games of the September, his power went back to previous levels. Again, small sample size.

So this move is less about trends and more about what it opens up on the roster. As I detailed last month, Ellsbury is an ideal pinch runner if he’s not starting. He was 22-for-25 stealing bases and has an 82.9 percent success rate on steals in his career. He’s the Yankees’ best option to wreak havoc on the bases now that Tyler Wade was taken off the roster.

With Ellsbury on the bench (and Aaron Hicks still in centerfield), the only is that if he solely pinch runs for anyone, the Yankees won’t have a backup outfielder remaining on the bench. They’d have Headley and Todd Frazier for first base. Ronald Torreyes for the middle infield and third. Then no one left for the outfield. Sometimes that’s a risk you take though.

The team removed both C. Frazier and Wade from the roster to make room for Jaime Garcia and Jordan Montgomery. Now that they’ve decided they need 12 pitchers, which may be a mistake, they can simply use Ellsbury as a fourth outfielder and have Torreyes as the emergency man on the corners. Not ideal, but serviceable with Frazier or Wade able to be called up in case of injury.

That option is a no-go if Ellsbury is at DH unless the team is willing to insert the pitcher into the lineup. That is because the Yankees weren’t willing to remove Matt Holliday from the roster even though he only serves as a pinch hitter and doesn’t serve much, if any, defensive role on the roster. However, Holliday is still a solid option against the Indians’ left-handed relievers and should be their best offensive option off the bench.

There were many permutations for the Yankees’ ALDS roster. It could have involved 11 pitchers or 12. Two outfielders on the bench or one. The Yankees opted for 12 pitches which leaves them one fewer outfielder on the bench. But, either way, having Headley as the designated hitter would be the prudent move for the ALDS.

The Yankees need their arms to neutralize the Twins’ legs in the Wild Card Game

Eyes on the target! (Elsa/Getty)
Eyes on the target! (Elsa/Getty)

Tonight’s AL Wild Card Game features two up-and-coming teams built around impressive young cores. The Yankees have Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino. The Twins have Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Jose Berrios. The Yankees have Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia as veteran support. The Twins have Brian Dozier and Ervin Santana. There are interesting parallels between the two teams.

Beyond the roster composition, the Yankees and Twins have something else in common: they’re both very good baserunning teams. Among the best in the game. You may not believe it after watching the Yankees run into outs all summer, but I assure you, every team does that. The Yankees added a lot of value on the bases this season. Some stats:

Yankees Twins
FanGraphs BsR +10.6 runs (5th in MLB) +14.2 runs (1st in MLB)
SB Total 90 (12th) 95 (9th)
SB% 80% (1st) 77% (4th)
Extra Base% 39% (16th) 42% (7th)

I have to think at least part of the difference in their extra base taken rates — that’s going first-to-third on a single, scoring from first on a double, etc. — is a result of their home ballparks. Yankee Stadium is pretty small and it’s not always possible to go first-to-third on a single to right because the right fielder is that much closer to the infield. Target Field is massive. There’s more room to cover and that gives the runner a little extra time on the bases.

As for stolen bases, the Twins are led by Buxton, who went a ridiculous 29-for-30 in stealing bases this year. And the one time he was caught stealing, Buxton made it to the bag safely, but was tagged out when he overslid.

Both Dozier (16-for-23) and Jorge Polanco (13-for-18) had double-digit steals as well. Buxton took the extra base a whopping 71% of the time this season, the highest mark among all MLB regulars, while Eddie Rosario (58%), Eduardo Escobar (50%), and Dozier (44%) were all comfortably above the 40% league average.

The Twins use their speed to take the extra base. That’s what they do. The best way for the Yankees to combat Minnesota’s speed is by not allowing anyone to reach base. Simple, right? In the likely and unfortunate event the Twins do get some men on base tonight, it’ll be up to the throwing arms to limit those extra bases, specifically Sanchez behind the plate and the three outfielders.

Severino & Sanchez

We know Sanchez has a ridiculously powerful arm, one that allowed him to throw out 23 of 60 attempted basestealers this season, which is a well-above-average 38%. The league average is 27%. How good is Sanchez’s arm? Runners attempted only 91 steals against the Yankees this season, third fewest in baseball behind the Cardinals (Yadier Molina) and Indians. That’s with Austin Romine, who can’t throw at all, starting for basically all of April.

Severino, tonight’s starter, allowed four stolen bases in six attempts this season. That’s it. The guy threw 193.1 innings and six runners attempted to steal. Six! Between Sanchez’s arm and Severino’s nifty little pickoff move — he has that funky sidearm motion that really speeds up his delivery to first base — the Yankees appear to be well-suited to control the running game tonight. It’ll be strength against strength. Fun!

The Outfielders

For the first time in a long time, the Yankees have some pretty great outfield arms on the roster. Aaron Judge has a very strong arm and Aaron Hicks has one of the strongest outfield arms in the game. Maybe the strongest. Brett Gardner has a solid arm as well. Jacoby Ellsbury? His arm is bad. It just is. His arm is terrible and it has cost the Yankees plenty of runs over the years. Here are some outfield throwing numbers:

Opportunities Hold % Throw Out %
Gardner in LF 135 65.2% (63.2% MLB average) 3.0% (1.6% MLB average)
Ellsbury in CF 88 36.4% (44.9%) 1.1% (1.9%)
Judge in RF 140 54.3% (47.7%) 1.4% (2.1%)
Hicks in LF 14 50.0% 0.0%
Hicks in CF 61 45.9% 0.0%
Hicks in RF 11 63.6% 0.0%

Hicks did have three outfield assists this season, though none came on a runner trying to advance an extra base on another player’s base hit. He twice threw a runner out trying to stretch a single into a double, plus this happened:

Anyway, both Gardner and Judge were better than the league average at preventing runners from taking the extra base. Judge was considerably above-average, but again, I think the small right field at Yankee Stadium has at least something to do with that. He’s closer to the infield than most other players at the position. Judge clearly has a very strong arm though.

In center field, opposing teams ran wild on Ellsbury. His hold rate was far below the league average for center fielders. That’s not surprising, right? Because of this, I think the Yankees have to seriously consider starting Hicks in center field tonight. Even if you ignore the hold rates for a second, Hicks has a much better arm than Ellsbury — the Twins should know that better than anyone after drafting and developing Hicksie — and he’s better equipped to control Minnesota’s high-end running game.

Keep in mind we’re not talking about a small difference in outfield arms here. We’re talking about one of the best outfield arms and one of the worst outfield arms, against a team that is very aggressive on the bases. Given the winner-take-all nature of the Wild Card Game, the Yankees have to put their best team on the field, and the best team has Hicks and his arm in center field over Ellsbury. Let Ellsbury be the DH.

* * *

The Twins went 40-34 in the second half and, believe it or not, they led the AL with 412 runs scored. The Indians (397) were second and the Yankees (381) were third. The running game is a huge part of Minnesota’s offensive attack and the Yankees have to be prepared for that tonight. Sanchez and Severino are about as good a stolen base neutralizing battery as there is. Judge’s and Gardner’s arms are assets in the outfield. Ellsbury’s? No way. Hicks’ is though, and the Yankees need to seriously consider playing him in center field tonight to help take away the Twins’ ground game.