Earlier this week, I touched on a few players’ spring training performances that have me optimistic. Maybe taking meaning from their camp statistics will make me look dumb over the next few months. Probably, in fact. Today, let’s actually follow conventional wisdom: Grapefruit League numbers are meaningless. Our expectations of the following players shouldn’t be altered because of what they’ve done down in Florida.
Bursting Luis Cessa’s bubble
When Luis Severino and CC Sabathia went down, it seemed inevitable that Luis Cessa would nab a spot in the rotation. He was nothing short of fantastic this spring. Yet, after he posted a microscopic 0.98 ERA in a hair more than 18 innings, the righty was relegated to the bullpen. He probably will get a handful of starts this season anyway, but the fact that his performance didn’t earn him a chance every fifth day speaks volumes.
It’s nice that he pitched well, but that doesn’t erase his lifetime 4.71 ERA and 5.03 FIP. He’s seen his fair share of major league time over the last few seasons, and now that he’ll be 27 next month, it doesn’t look like he has any upside. Been there, done that. It’s time for Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga prove their worth. Or, go to Gio Gonzalez as an experienced veteran.
J.A. Happ will be fine
The Yankees re-signed J.A. Happ to solidify the rotation, and just over 11 poor Grapefruit League frames shouldn’t cause much concern. The southpaw was prone to the long ball in camp and surrendered six dingers, which ballooned his ERA to 7.94. His regular season ERA will probably be half that. ZiPS, PECOTA, and Steamer all have him right around 4.00.
There are legitimate reasons to worry about Happ, though. Pitchers in their mid-to-late thirties decline, and the 36 year-old Happ is no exception. He’s going to get worse while under contract with the Yankees barring a Sabathia-like resurgence. That being said, cherry picking his spring performance does not make him toast.
Tyler Wade still has something to prove
After he posted an .845 OPS this spring, Wade’s frustration about not making the team is understandable. He had a spot on the 25-man roster until the Yankees made a trade in the 11th hour for Mike Tauchman. Clearly, the Yankees are looking for a bench that isn’t full of light hitters. Pairing Wade with Austin Romine makes for a pretty weak bench, and even though Tauchman hasn’t hit much in the big leagues yet, he’s the type of player the Yankees covet.
Wade has a disappointing major league track record. He’s posted a 23 wRC+ in 133 big league plate appearances, which doesn’t cut it no matter how much versatility he offers. No amount of production in spring training can erase that. With DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres having the ability to cover multiple infield positions and Tauchman able to span all three outfield spots, Wade became the odd man out despite his best effort.
Think twice about falling for Brett Gardner again
A .394/.450/.697 triple-lash will open anyone’s eyes in spring training. That was what Gardner did, but we’ve seen this before. He’s a notorious hot starter who wears down in the second half. He has a career 112/89 wRC+ split between the two halves of the season.
I’d undoubtedly sign up for a torrid start again this year, especially with the array of injuries the team is dealing with. But, it wouldn’t surprise me if he can’t do it again. At some point, his second half swoons are going to carry over into the start following season, and 2019 could be that year. He authored a putrid 66 wRC+ to close last season and lost his job to Andrew McCutchen, to boot. Clint Frazer is gunning for his role this year. It would be fun to see Gardner have one last gasp, but I’m not changing my opinion based on what he did over the last month. I was basically ready to move on in the offseason. Now, the Yankees have no choice but to start him.
The players mentioned above are the ones I found most compelling to discuss. There are other standouts and poor performers whose results mean next to nothing, but it’s not worth a couple of paragraphs. No, I’m not worried about Gary Sanchez, DJ LeMahieu, or Adam Ottavino. I don’t think Nestor Cortes, David Hale, or Gio Urshela are hidden gems. I think that’s a little too obvious.