We have ten questions in the final mailbag before Opening Day. Starting next week, we can begin answering questions about meaningful regular season baseball. Hooray. Anyway, send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.
Eric asks: The odds that Luke Voit makes the AL All-Star Team are ___?
Much better than I realized! I’ll say Voit’s chances of being an All-Star are 35%. That’s pretty darn good. A week or two ago I wrote about the grim catching situation in the American League. First base isn’t much better. In fact, it is shockingly bad. Here is the ZiPS projected 2019 wOBA leaderboard for AL first basemen (first basemen typically earn an All-Star Game selection with their bat):
- Joey Gallo, Rangers: .376 (he’s really a left fielder)
- Luke Voit, Yankees: .352
- Miguel Cabrera, Tigers: .344
- Matt Olson, Athletics: .342 (suffered a potentially serious hand injury earlier this week)
- Dan Vogelbach, Mariners: .339 (battling Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion for playing time)
Yeesh. By ZiPS projected WAR, Voit is fourth behind Olson (hurt), Gallo (an outfielder), and Marwin Gonzalez (playing third base). The AL first base situation is shockingly weak right now. Voit’s All-Star competition at first base probably isn’t those guys mentioned above. I think it’s more likely to be someone like Jose Abreu or Justin Smoak, who could wind up being their team’s token All-Star. Maybe my 35% number is too low?
Paul asks: With an additional roster spot being a win for the players, is it also possibly a loss since it could mean lower salaries? Teams staying under the luxury tax, which didn’t have a corresponding increase, will have fewer dollars per player to spread around.
Yes and no. Yes because you’re right, the luxury tax threshold is not increasing despite the addition of a roster spot, and no because most teams are nowhere close to the threshold anyway. The 26-man/13-pitcher roster means every team is adding an extra bench guy and my guess is that extra bench guy will be league minimum up-and-down type rather than a big earner. Even the poorest/cheapest teams should be able to add another league minimum guy to their payroll without cutting money elsewhere. The universal DH is an x-factor here. National League teams would have to add another starting position player with a universal DH, and that could be costly. They might have to trim elsewhere to make it work financially, so, in that case, yes, the 26th roster spot could mean fewer dollars per player overall. As things stand, I don’t think it’ll matter because I expect that 26th roster spot to go to a cheap young player. Anyone who would cost a couple million bucks and require cutting elsewhere is already getting signed anyway.
Jeff asks: Frank Robinson’s recent passing reminded me of a concept that intrigued me as a kid … the Player/Manager. Joe Torre did it with the Mets. Pete Rose was the most recent to do it in 1984. The Yankees clearly value Brett Gardner’s clubhouse presence. Is there such a thing as a Player/Coach? Are the any roster advantages to such a scenario?
There hasn’t been a player-coach or player-manager in the big leagues since Rose in 1984. Manny Ramirez spent a few months as a Triple-A player-coach with the Cubs in 2014, so it has been done fairly recently at a high level. These days, playing and coaching/managing seems like way too much work to do both well at the same time. It takes a lot of time and effort to be a productive big league ballplayer. As a coach or manager, forget it, you have many people to worry about, plus the front office is in your ear all the time. Even as a fourth outfielder and assistant coach, and carrying a lighter workload in both roles, I’m not sure one person could do it. As far as I know there would be no roster advantages. I can’t imagine you could get away using a player-coach to skirt the luxury tax.
Danny asks: What do you think of a universal DH rule that ties the starting DH to the starting pitcher? When the starter is removed from the game, his DH is removed as well, and when the DH spot next comes up to bat, a bench player must be used. This would allow the strategy and increased playing time of the NL to remain, while also not forcing pitchers to hit. It was an idea I originally heard Michael Kay pitch during a game broadcast and I think it’s a great compromise. Do you see any potential issues with it?
That seems like a lot of headache for what, two or three pinch-hitting appearances per game? How much strategy is involved in that anyway? Pinch-hitting for a reliever in the late innings of a close game is a common sense move. Think about it, with this rule, when the Yankees visit Citi Field during the Subway Series, they would lose Giancarlo Stanton once the starting pitcher is out of the game. Either that or they’d have to move him into the outfield and remove someone else to keep his bat in the lineup. All that so DJ LeMahieu or Tyler Wade could get an extra at-bat? Eh. The end result here is taking a good hitter out of the lineup (good enough to start at DH) through no fault of his own (because the starting pitcher is out) and replacing him with inferior players (not good enough to start at DH). I feel like anything gained in terms of increased “strategy” would be more than made up by keeping the best players on the field more often. Long live the DH. No one watches to see sac bunts and pinch-hitters and double-switches.
Ben asks: Given Judge’s surplus of power and the way he is hitting with the reduced leg kick on 2 strike counts, is there a reason he shouldn’t always go with this more subdued leg kick? Could it theoretically reduce strikeouts since I assume that’s why he’s employing it with 2 strikes?
Using the no-stride swing full-time could further reduce strikeouts, though I don’t think it’s necessary. I say let Aaron Judge use his leg kick before getting to two strikes so he has the best chance at maximum damage. Once he’s in a two-strike count, go to the no-stride approach. Could he eventually go with the no-stride approach all the time? Sure. I don’t think we are anywhere close to having enough information to know whether that’s a good idea yet. Judge started using the no-stride two-strike swing this spring, and yes, he’s socked some dingers and extra-base hits, but we need more information. Let’s see how it plays during the regular season and over a few months rather than a few weeks. Judge is so good that I’m inclined to say let’s not change things too much.
Andy asks: Could you explore the effect of moving to a full time DH could have on Stanton? I thought I read an article that claimed there was a negative effect on offense when a player isn’t regularly in the field?
A few years ago research showed there’s about a 5% penalty for being a DH, meaning a player would be expected to perform 5% worse offensively as a DH than he would while playing the field. That’s on average. Each individual case is different. Last year Giancarlo Stanton’s overall offense was down about 13.5% from his career average, though he was quite a bit more productive at DH (150 wRC+) than he was as an outfielder (101 wRC+). It could be a sample size thing, or it could be that his body was fresher as a DH, and that he had more time review video in-game and make adjustments. I’m not sure. Stanton’s been a pretty good defensive outfielder throughout his career and it does feel kinda like a waste to stick him at DH so often. Then again, if it’s keeping him healthy and he proves to be one of those guys who performs better at DH than while playing the field, might as well roll with it.
Jeff asks (short version): Why are you against the 28 man September roster other than player service time and could you see an similar 28 man April expansion?
Expanded rosters in April would be a logistical nightmare. It would require pushing the entire minor league regular season back a month. The minor league season ends in early September each year and only a handful of teams go to the postseason, making it much easier to call up players. I understand the concerns that expanding rosters can impact postseason races, but, generally speaking, teams in the race still rely on their regulars and best players. The Yankees aren’t going to bring in Stephen Tarpley to nail down a one-run ninth inning lead at Fenway Park, you know? Players in September are beat up and worn down, and anything teams can do to reduce their workload in blowout situations is worthwhile.
Elliot asks: While I agree with your article on why CC should take the suspension to start the season, wouldn’t the suspension prohibit him from being in the dugout/on the field for opening day ceremonies (which everyone wants for his last opening day)? Could he file his appeal on Opening Day and withdraw it after the game to manipulate it for the same purpose, and start German for game 7 (especially if there is a rain out in games 2-6)?
I’m pretty sure CC Sabathia can take part in the pregame Opening Day ceremonies even while suspended. Rule 4.07 says any player, manager, or coach serving a suspension “may not be in the dugout or press box during the course of a game.” Before the game and during the game are different things. In fact, I’m pretty sure Gary Sanchez still took batting practice while serving his four-game suspension following the Tigers brawl two years ago. Anyone serving a disciplinary suspension can still do all their usual work before and after games. (Performance-enhancing drug suspensions are another matter.) They just can’t be around the team during the game itself. Sabathia should be in the clear for the Opening Day ceremonies. He’ll probably go sit in the team’s front office suite during the game.
CJ asks: You mentioned that Tyler Wade would likely be substituted in to facilitate a 5 man infield. How would you rank the Yankee infielders (other than Wade) to move into the outfield for a 4 man outfield against Joey Gallo?
Interesting! It definitely can’t be Luke Voit or Greg Bird. Imagine them running around the outfield? Oy vey. Voit did actually play some left field in Triple-A with the Cardinals, but that didn’t last long, and I think it’s easy to understand why. Not including Wade, I’d rank the infielders in terms of their potential outfield prowess this way:
- Didi Gregorius
- DJ LeMahieu
- Gleyber Torres
- Miguel Andujar
- Troy Tulowitzki
- Luke Voit
- Greg Bird
That is little more than a ranking of athleticism. I figure the middle infielders are the best athletes and the most mobile, so they’re the best bets to play the outfield. With a three-man infield, you’re basically conceding grounders, so I don’t see a point in keeping your rangiest players on the infield. A grounder is most likely going for a hit. In that case, put the guys with the most range in the outfield and go all-in on air balls, and that’s how I set my rankings. If the Yankees ever go with a four-man outfield, I imagine Wade would replace Andujar to make it all work.
Corey asks: Now that Mo did it, do you think there’s a chance Ichiro is a unanimous first ballot HOFer? I’d say he deserves it.
Definitely. Ichiro Suzuki is a slam dunk Hall of Famer and I would say he deserves to go in unanimously even if Mariano Rivera hadn’t done it. Rivera being unanimous makes it more likely others will get in unanimously going forward, including Ichiro. The only good reason for leaving him off the ballot is giving the spot to another player who needs more help, and with the ballot starting to unclog, that shouldn’t be an issue. Ichiro doesn’t need to lean on his numbers in Japan to get into the Hall of Fame, though I do believe his status as a global baseball icon should be considered, and that makes him an inner circle guy. All-time great player on two continents.