Saturday Links: Cashman, Gardner, 2018 Caps, Pitch Clock

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Shohei Ohtani’s shotgun free agency is now underway and it’s only a matter of time until we hear he’s started meeting with teams. Three weeks. Three weeks and this Ohtani stuff will all be over. Here are some random bits of news to check out in the meantime.

Cashman named Baseball America’s Executive of the Year

A few days ago Baseball America named Brian Cashman their 2017 Executive of the Year. That tends to happen when you nail your on-the-fly rebuild, and go from selling at the 2016 trade deadline to getting to within one win of the 2017 World Series thanks to your young players. From the write-up:

“For years the players worked in the minor leagues thinking, ‘If I play well I might get traded because I am blocked.’ Cash has changed that culture to the point now where young players not only develop as Yankees but have the goal of playing at Yankee Stadium and helping a championship club,” (vice president of baseball operations Tim) Naehring said.

That’s a pretty interesting quote. I always wondered what it was like to be a prospect in the farm system when the Yankees were doing nothing but signing free agents all those years. On one hand, do your job and someone will want you. On the other hand, it couldn’t have felt good knowing a trade was coming. Anyway, this is the first time Cashman has won Baseball America’s Executive of the Year award, which they’ve been giving out since 1998, his first season as GM.

Gardner wins Heart & Hustle Award

I missed this a few weeks ago, but Brett Gardner won the 2017 Heart & Hustle Award, the MLB Players Alumni Association announced. It is given annually to “an active player who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game.” One player from each team is nominated for the award, then the winner is selected through a player vote. Pretty cool.

Gardner, who is the longest tenured Yankee and unofficial team captain, has been New York’s nominee for the Heart & Hustle Award on five occasions now, though this was his first time winning the award. The MLBPAA has been giving out the award since 2005 and Gardner is the first Yankee to win it. (Todd Frazier won it last year.) I gotta say, Gardner winning something called the “Heart & Hustle Award” is pretty damn appropriate.

MLB unveils 2018 spring and batting practice caps

A week or two ago MLB unveiled their new 2018 Spring Training and batting practice caps. Considering some of the wacky designs we’ve seen the last few years (those pinstriped brims, man), these are pretty normal. Here are next year’s Spring Training and batting practice caps:

Home on the left, road on the right. (New Era)
Home on the left, road on the right. (New Era)

I hereby dub the new designs: fine. They’re fine. Also, the new caps are made with a lightweight polyester material, not the usual polyester material they’ve been using for years and years. The new caps are 26% lighter, so that’s cool. The new caps are already for sale at New Era and MLB.com.

MLB pushing for a pitch clock in 2018

According to Buster Olney, MLB is pushing for new pace-of-play measures in 2018, including the implementation of a pitch clock. The league has to power to implement rule changes unilaterally now, though they prefer to come to an agreement with the MLBPA. Labor peace is good. The pitch clock is seen as inevitable — the plan is a 20-second pitch clock like the one used in Double-A and Triple-A, though they may settle for 22-24 seconds — and there’s also talk of limiting mound visits.

I don’t think pace-of-play is as much of a problem as MLB seems to believe — I worry the league is blaming too many of their biggest problems (i.e. cultivating young fans) on pace-of-play — but I do think it is something that can improved. Give me a pitch clock and fewer mound visits. I’m all for it. I have no problem whatsoever with four hour games as long as they’re exciting. When it’s nonstop mound visits and pitchers staring in to get the sign, that’s when it gets dull. The less the players are standing around doing nothing, the better.

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.

The Old Reliable Outfielder [2017 Season Review]

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

It seems strange to think of Brett Gardner as the old man on the Yankees, but that was essentially the role he filled this season. He’s the longest-tenured member of the team, and, of the 51 players that suited-up for the Yankees this season, only Chase Headley, CC Sabathia, Matt Holliday, and pub trivia tidbit Erik Kratz are older. And, despite that, he’s still a high-quality starter in left field.

It All Starts with Defense

A few years ago it seemed as though Gardner was losing a step in the outfield. His numbers went from scale-breaking in his first few seasons to between average and very good thereafter, and it is never shocking when a player reaches his 30s and slows down. This season, however, was something of a blast from the past. Twenty-three players put in at least 500 innings in left field in 2017, and Gardner led them all in Defensive Runs Saved, with 17, and fielding percentage, as he went errorless in 1024 innings. He also finished fourth in UZR/150, and ranked near the top in every Inside Edge Fielding category.

And, while fielding metrics are occasionally fickle, Gardner won the Fielding Bible Award for left field, and was named as a Gold Glove finalist. Both awards represent a blend of advanced metrics and the good ol’ fashioned eye test, so it stands to reason that Gardner was really that good.

An Asset in the Leadoff Spot

Gardner batted .264/.350/.428 (108 wRC+) this year, and he hit a career-high 21 home runs. Those 21 dingers represent exactly 25% of his career output, but I wouldn’t read into it too much – after all, 117 players hit 20-plus home runs this year, up from 111 in 2016, and 64 in 2015. It is worth noting, though, that Gardner’s bump in home runs wasn’t solely a product of Yankee Stadium, as 11 of his bombs came on the road. And there’s no overstating his ability to work the count.

There was a great deal of talk about Gardner’s clutchness in the postseason (more on that in a bit), but he came through in big situations all season long. The difference in his overall production versus his numbers in late and close situations was negligible, and he slashed .302/.393/.566 with 4 HR in 61 PA with runners in scoring position and two outs. As a result of this he led the Yankees in WPA, and finished second in FanGraphs’ Clutch metric (behind Jacoby Ellsbury, of all people).

He Can Still Run, Too

We as fans have been oscillating between loving Gardner for his high-efficiency base-running and lamenting his lack of stolen base attempts for years now. He averaged 58 stolen base attempts per 162 games in his first four seasons, as compared to 29 since he lost most of 2012 to injury. His 23 steals and 28 attempts this year were his most since 2013. That being said, with the modern style of play those 23 steals were good for 17th in all of baseball.

It isn’t just about raw steal totals, though. Gardner’s 82.1% success rate is well-above the break even point (and league-average is 73%), and within the top-20 among players with at least 15 SB attempts. He also ranked 11th in the game in FanGraphs’ BsR, which factors in stolen bases, caught stealing, taking the extra base, or making an out on the basepaths on a batted ball. As per Baseball-Reference, he took the extra base 49% of the time, which is comfortably above the league-average of 40%. For the sake of comparison, Jose Altuve took the extra base 48% of the time this year, and Dee Gordon did so on 60% of his opportunities.

Surprising Durability

Despite having the feel of a player that’s perpetually banged-up, Gardner has appeared in at least 145 games and racked up at least 609 PA in each of the last five seasons. This season represented a career-high of 682 PA for the 34-year-old, and 583 of those came from the top of the order. Given his hot and cold spells, it might make sense for Gardner to sit out a few more games – but his reliability in the field and on the bases combined with his ability to play almost every day is extremely valuable to the team.

The Playoffs

Gardner’s bat was largely silent in the ALCS, but he came through several times in the Yankees 13 game playoff adventure. The most memorable, for me at least, was his absolutely epic 12 pitch at-bat against Cody Allen in the decisive Game 5 of the ALDS. I highly recommend Jeff Sullivan’s detailed account of that at-bat, which could serve as a fine ‘Exhibit A’ of a nebulous ‘professional hitter’ presentation.

Well, that, or Gardner’s go-ahead home run in the Wild Card game, which included an uncharacteristic (and wonderful) stare-down of Ervin Santana:

How awesome was that? The swing, the bat-drop, the stare, the crowd … amazing.

The Bottom Line

As per Baseball-Reference, 2017 was the second-best season of Gardner’s career, as he posted a fantastic 4.9 bWAR. That put him in the top-five at the position, which is kind of amazing in and of itself. Were it not for Aaron Judge towering over the game like a colossus, Gardner would have easily been the team’s MVP.

2018 Outlook

Gardner is perpetually brought-up as a trade candidate, and we may well see more of the same this off-season. Judge has right field on lock, Aaron Hicks was quite good in center, Clint Frazier is ready for an extended look, and Jacoby Ellsbury has an albatross of a contract in center. And Gardner is eminently movable, given his $11.5 MM salary for 2018 and affordable $12.5 MM team option in 2019. It would be much, much better to send Ellsbury packing – but it’s a veritable guarantee that one of the two need to be moved.

That being said, Gardner is a bargain in 2018, and I would be happy to see him in left field for the Yankees on Opening Day. I don’t know how confident I am that that will happen, though.

Gardner and Judge named 2017 Gold Glove finalists

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Once again, Brett Gardner is one of three finalists for the AL Gold Glove award in left field. MLB and Rawlings announced the Gold Glove finalists today, and in addition to Gardner, Aaron Judge is a finalist in right field as well. Neat. Here are all the Gold Glove finalists.

Gardner won his first Gold Glove last season and is a finalist for the fourth time in his career (2011, 2015-17). He’s up against Alex Gordon and Justin Upton, and with Gordon beginning to fade and no longer getting by on reputation, Gardner has a pretty good chance to win the award for the second straight season. It certainly wouldn’t be undeserved.

As for Judge, this is his first time as a Gold Glove finalist (duh), and he’s up against Mookie Betts and Kole Calhoun. Betts is probably going to win, but I’m glad Judge is at least a finalist. The man is so much more than monster home runs. He’s a very good defensive right fielder and I’m happy to see him get some recognition.

Didi Gregorius could’ve easily been a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop, though the AL shortstop crop is crowded, and he was unable to crack the top. That’s not surprisingly considering he missed a month with an injury. Elvis Andrus, Francisco Lindor, and Andrelton Simmons are up for the AL Gold Glove at short. Yeah. Also, Masahiro Tanaka is a snub. He’s a great fielder.

Prior to Gardner last season, the last Yankees to win a Gold Glove were Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano, both in 2012. I think Gardner has a pretty good chance to win again this season. Judge will probably lose out to Betts, but whatever. The Gold Glove winners will be announced Tuesday, Nov. 7th.

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.

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.