Well folks, this is it. The final RAB mailbag. Our archives tell me I’ve written 538 mailbag posts over the years. Figure eight questions per mailbag and that’s a little over 4,000 questions. I have 12 questions for you this week. As a reminder, I am putting together a “Guide to life after RAB” post, so if you have any suggested sites to check out for Yankees analysis, send ’em to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.
Michael asks: Is it safe to start being concerned that Judge is a little injury prone? He’s not Bird, but 2 oblique strains in four years and a shoulder problem that required surgery in another season (discounting the freak hbp).
Aaron Judge also missed a few weeks with Triple-A Scranton back in 2016 after he banged up his knee diving for a ball on the warning track. So, to recap:
- 2016: Knee injury in Triple-A and oblique strain in MLB.
- 2017: Shoulder injury that required offseason surgery.
- 2018: Broken wrist after hit-by-pitch.
- 2019: Oblique strain.
The thing is, does it really matter if we label Judge injury prone? What difference does it make? He’s still an incredible player and 130 games of Judge is better than 150 games of most others. Two oblique strains in four years is not a red flag for me. The hit-by-pitch last year was a fluke thing, and if you dive for balls or crash into the wall, you’re at risk of injury. That’s baseball.
Greg Bird had three surgeries in three years from 2016-18, including two on the same ankle, and now he has a torn plantar fascia. The’s had serious non-contact injuries. He didn’t crash into a wall or get hit by a pitch. That’s just his body giving out. Judge’s knee, shoulder, and wrist injuries were kinda dumb baseball things. He’s an outlier because he’s so big and we have no idea how he’ll age with that frame. I’m not worried about him being injury prone right now though. I’ll worry when random non-contact injuries start piling up. Right now it’s two four years apart.
Caleb asks: How far back can a player be put on the IL to start the season? I was curious if someone like Hicks got put on the 60 day IL would the clock start the day he got hurt or the first game of the season?
When a player is transferred from the 10-day injured list to the 60-day injured list, his 60-day clock begins the first day he was put on the 10-day injured list. It doesn’t reset. The Yankees placed Luis Severino on the 10-day injured list on Opening Day, so, after being transferred to the 60-day injured list to make room for Cameron Maybin yesterday, he is eligible to return 60 days from Opening Day (May 27th). His 60-day clock didn’t start yesterday. Players get credit for time served, so to speak.
Ed asks: Should the Yanks keep three catchers and play Sanchez & Romine most days? Romine’s bat is certainly better than some of the options they have on hand.
The Yankees sent down Kyle Higashioka when Gary Sanchez returned, so they are carrying two catchers. Hypothetically, they would’ve had to send down Mike Ford to carry three catchers — carrying three catchers and two first basemen with a three-man bench ain’t happening — so the question is essentially Sanchez at DH and Austin Romine at catcher, or Sanchez at catcher and Ford at DH. I’d go with the latter. With a healthy roster, the Yankees could sacrifice some offense to improve their defense. They can’t do it now. They have to generate as much offense as possible and Romine isn’t solving any offensive problems. Ford might with his lefty power and patience. The defensive upgrade behind the plate doesn’t make up for the offensive downgrade. Carrying three catchers when you have one of the best catchers in the game seems crazy to me. Sanchez should be playing as much as possible behind the plate. He gives the Yankees the best chance to win.
Rob asks: Domingo Acevedo = Dellin Betances 2.0? Seriously, the Yankees seem to have a never-ending supply of good relievers. I think it’s because they’re obsessed with hard throwers who, more often than not, have a natural tendency to have arm problems and low durability is the number 1 symptom of that. So they rarely develop solid starters successfully. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Good relievers are valuable especially as trade chips. But at some point, shouldn’t they learn their lesson and search out pitchers with high IQ and high durability instead?
Acevedo isn’t the next Betances. Dellin has a better fastball and a much better secondary pitch. They aren’t all that comparable aside from being really tall (Acevedo is 6-foot-7) and command challenged, as far as I’m concerned. I assume the high IQ thing refers to command because at some point long ago command became a proxy for intelligence (million dollar arm and ten cent head, blah blah blah), which is the dumbest thing ever. Throwing strikes and commanding the baseball are hard. The league average zone rate is 47.3% this year. We are currently watching the best and most talented pitchers in baseball history, and, collectively, they throw the ball in the strike zone less than half the time. Throwing strikes is hard. Commanding the ball is even harder. Every team looks for pitchers with command and the Yankees are no exception. There just aren’t very many great command — sorry, high IQ — pitchers out there. As for high durability, good luck figuring out who will and will not stay healthy. Teams have been trying to crack that code for decades.
Zach asks: Give the plethora of injuries, does Aaron Boone get legitimate Manager of the Year consideration if the Yankees win the AL East this year? He’d have to be the favorite — even if the Yankees are healthy by September — right?
Normally I would say no. The Yankees came into the season as the consensus favorites to win the AL East, and the game’s biggest market team winning the division when pretty much everyone expected them to win the division usually doesn’t equal Manager of the Year votes. The injuries have changed the calculus though. The Yankees have had nothing close to a full strength roster this season and, given the timetables on their injured guys, it doesn’t sound like they will have a full strength roster anytime soon. Every team deals with injuries, they are part of the game, but this is well beyond normal injury rates. We’ll see what happens with the other American League races — I have to think Rocco Baldelli would get Manager of the Year love if the Twins win the AL Central — but yes, the Yankees winning the division despite all these injuries should equal serious Manager of the Year consideration for Aaron Boone. Joe Girardi would be getting praised to no end for keeping this group together and competitive. Boone deserves the same love.
Paul asks: Can we talk about how the Yankees have a pretty good Pythagorean record despite sending an entire major league team to the IL? Sure, crummy competition so far, but pretty incredible right?
Going into last night’s game the Yankees had the second best run differential in the American League and the third best run differential in baseball overall. The leaderboard:
- Rays: +40 (16-9 actual record vs. 17-8 expected record)
- Cardinals: +33 (15-9 vs. 15-9)
- Yankees: +31 (14-10 vs. 15-9)
- Astros: +28 (15-9 vs. 15-9)
- Mariners: +28 (16-11 vs. 16-11)
It is way way way too early in the season to begin drawing conclusions from run differential. I don’t buy the Mariners as the fifth best team in baseball. I also don’t buy the Red Sox as the third worst team in baseball despite their -36 run differential. Run differential is descriptive more than predictive. It tells you what happened, not what will happen next.
As I write this Thursday evening, the Yankees have two one-run losses, four two-run losses, three three-run losses, and one five-run loss. They have not been blown out at all this year. In fact, they are 4-1 in games decided by at least five runs, and that’s the bulk of the run differential right there. Yes, it is crazy impressive the Yankees have outscored their opponents by roughly 1.3 runs per game despite their depleted roster. I’m not sure how sustainable it is without some guys getting healthy.
Justin asks: You’ve mentioned a number of times that even when unsigned free agents are signed, they’ll need to see a fair amount of game action before they’re ready to be put on an MLB roster. I’m wondering why free agents who are biding their time don’t sign on with a club in one of the higher-tier independent leagues instead of just working out in a facility somewhere. It seems like a low-risk way to get into games, showcase for MLB clubs, and have a more immediate major-league impact when eventually signed.
No established big leaguer is going to bide his time in an independent league. The travel is terrible, the ballparks are nice (some of them) but they’re far from MLB caliber, the pay is horrible, the postgame spreads are terrible, so on and so forth. If you’re Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel, and you are an established above-average big leaguer, do you work out close to home and spend time with your family, or go spend a few weeks with the Long Island Ducks? I’d stay home too. Nothing those players do in an independent league will improve their free agent stock — the level of competition would render stats meaningless, and if a team wants to put a radar gun on someone, they’re welcome to attend a workout — and if a team decides to pass because the player will need a few minor league games to prepare, then that’s their loss. They’re not serious about winning if waiting two or three weeks is enough of a reason to pass on the player entirely.
Michael asks: Gio Urshela. This may be a very small sample size, but as of now both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference rate him as a poor defender thus far. Would you happen to know the reason behind that?
I do not and it is almost certainly small sample size. Defensive stats are updated every two weeks or so, and the first 2019 update was released recently. It is a very tiny little bit of data and I would not sweat it at all. To the eye test, Urshela looks very good at third base, and the eye test matches all the scouting reports throughout his career. Give it time and the numbers will likely reflect that. Of course, Urshela might not be around long enough for the numbers to correct. If Miguel Andujar comes back in a few weeks, that’s probably it for Urshela. I don’t have a good answer for why Urshela is rated as a negative defensively right now. Why was Jose Ramirez batting .150 on April 15th? There’s no good reason. Weird things happen in small samples and they don’t always mean the player’s true talent level has changed.
Michael asks: Just checked and found out Ian Happ is in the minors and has been for all of 2019. Last year he was a league-average hitter and he has upside beyond that. Could a Chad Green for Ian Happ swap be a starting point for a trade discussion? Or if not that, what would it take to interest the Cubs in parting with their out-of-favor young player?
That would be interesting. It wouldn’t be fair to call Green-for-Happ a damaged goods for damaged goods trade — when I think damaged goods, I think player with an injury — but it is definitely two guys whose stock is down. Green got hit around this year and was sent to Triple-A this week. Happ was squeezed off the roster in Spring Training and he went into last night’s game hitting .225/.313/.408 (77 wRC+) with two homers and a 31.3% strikeout rate in 19 Triple-A games. A year ago these were important players on contending teams. Now they’re afterthoughts.
I don’t like Happ all that much — his swing is so long and robotic that it seems like it’ll take a not insignificant mechanical overhaul to cut down on his strikeout and swing-and-miss rates — but I’d trade Green for him in a heartbeat. A reliever for a potential everyday player, or at least a “tenth man” type who can switch-hit and play both the infield and outfield? A player like that is mighty useful in the three-man bench era. (Well, it becomes the four-man bench era next season with the 26-man/13-pitcher roster, but the point stands.) My guess is the Cubs would want quite a bit more than Green to part with Happ and I don’t blame them. Maybe Green and Jonathan Loaisiga for Happ? Not saying I would do it, but that might be what it would take.
Christian asks: My question for the mailbag is about the bullpen – or rather an observation… I like the “concept” of two sets of starters for a game. CC for 5 innings and Loaisiga for 3 innings are a great combo because it gives a breather to the other members of the bullpen. Should teams use second tier starters in that role more often if you were GM and/or manager?
That is kinda sorta what’s happening right now. Most notably, the Rays are sheltering their back-end starters by pairing them with an opener. It keeps them away from the other team’s best hitters one time through the lineup. Using piggyback starters — that is essentially what CC Sabathia for five innings and Jonathan Loaisiga for three innings every five days would be, piggybacking — is great in theory but has proven difficult to put into practice. Matchups and bullpen needs on other days tend to throw things out of whack. Teams are still figuring out the best way to do this and keep everyone healthy and productive, but yeah, baseball is moving in this direction. Teams are coming up with ways to maximize the effectiveness of their second and third tier starters, usually by reducing how often they go through the lineup a third time, or face the other team’s best hitters.
Brad asks: if he had not injured his wrist in ST, would Florial have been considered for ML time given all the OF injuries, or would they have stayed the course in his development?
Nah. The Yankees would not have rushed Estevan Florial to cover for the injuries. For starters, Florial is almost certainly not ready for the big leagues given his pitch recognition issues. He could play defense and run, but I don’t see any way he could hang in at the plate. Secondly, Florial is their best prospect and they’re not going to alter his development plan and risk stunting his development. The jump from High-A or Double-A to MLB is huge. And third, there are 40-man roster considerations. The Yankees can designate Cameron Maybin for assignment when the time comes and not think twice about it. Once Florial’s on the 40-man though, he’s not coming off. It limits flexibility. Florial is expected to resume baseball activities in the coming days and that’s good. I don’t think the injury kept him out of the big leagues though. He wouldn’t have been a serious call-up candidate.
Several asked: At what point do we start the question the training staff given all the injuries?
People have been questioning the training staff since Spring Training. Aaron Boone is asked about them pretty much every day and Brian Cashman is absolutely asked about them whenever he meets with the media. Believe me, the Yankees are asked about the training staff all the time. I totally get why the training staff is being questioned and it’s not unfair given these injuries. This just strikes me as a freakishly bad year. Luis Severino coming down with an achy shoulder after his workload the last two years isn’t the most surprising thing in the world. Same with Dellin Betances. Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier hurting themselves diving into bases is dumb luck. The absolute last thing you can say about Giancarlo Stanton is that he’s not in peak physical condition, yet he hurt his biceps. These days players all have personal trainers, and that makes it tough to blame the team’s training staff for everything. I have no doubt the Yankees are looking into this. From the outside, I don’t see how we could blame anyone in particular. We don’t have enough information at all.