Year one of Gerrit Cole [2020 Season Review]

Finally, the Yankees’ front office got its man. The Yankees coveted Gerrit Cole for years: the team drafted him in the first round back in 2008 (but couldn’t sign him away from his commitment to UCLA) and tried to trade for him before the 2018 campaign. The third time, free agency, was the charm. Cole in pinstripes finally came to reality in 2020.

By the numbers, Cole’s debut season with the Yankees was a good one. He went 7-3 in 12 starts and posted a 2.84 ERA in the pandemic-shortened regular season. That was good enough for fourth-place in American League Cy Young voting. Cole also pitched very well in the postseason, as advertised. But when you break it all down, things weren’t smooth all season for the team’s prize acquisition. Let’s take a look.

A slow start

The newly minted ace didn’t necessarily get off to a poor start, but it also wasn’t the beginning that was expected. Cole wasn’t ferociously mowing down opponents like we saw him do over the last two seasons with the Astros in the early going. He struck out just 16 batters in his first three starts (17 2/3 innings), though the Yankees won all three of those games and Cole allowed just five runs (2.55 ERA).

His next start came in Tampa Bay and it sure looked like we were in for the first overpowering performance of Cole’s career in pinstripes. The Yanks gave him a 5-0 lead and Cole had eight strikeouts through four innings before the wheels came off. He was pulled after he gave up three runs and recorded just two outs in the fifth (both strikeouts). For a while, it felt like Cole was off to a 7 or 8 inning performance with 14 or 15 strikeouts. Instead, he couldn’t finish the fifth (though he did punch out 10).

Free agent profiles: Infield depth

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Did you realize that the triumvirate of Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, and Jordy Mercer accumulated 170 plate appearances in 2020? That was nearly a third of the team’s total plate appearances at second base and shortstop. Both DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres spent some time on the injured list which quickly exposed the Yankees’ lack of depth up the middle.

This problem was something we clamored about last winter when Didi Gregorius departed. It’s something the team needs to address this offseason even after re-signing DJ LeMahieu or acquiring a shortstop like Francisco Lindor.

Here’s how this should play out. If LeMahieu returns, the Yankees still need to bring in another infielder capable of playing shortstop. Going another year of Wade/Estrada just isn’t going to cut it. If it’s Lindor (or another shortstop), Torres can act as the reserve shortstop when he’s not at second base. That doesn’t mean the team should rest on their laurels, though. In fact, it might make it easier to obtain a bench infielder upgrade since said target wouldn’t have to be able to play shortstop (though it’d still be nice).

With that in mind, let’s get into a few options that the Yankees should look into this winter.

My Obligatory HOF Post

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And I don’t mean the Christmas season (and I definitely mean this sarcastically):

That’s right, folks. It’s Baseball Hall of Fame season, the most tedious, pedantic time of the baseball year. And I can’t help but at least partially love it. I’ve been Extremely Online about baseball since about 2005 and a good portion of that time has been spent thinking about and discussing players making or not making the Baseball Hall of Fame. This style of writing and argument helped me get into thinking about the game in a more analytical, numbers-driven way, and for that, I’ll always be appreciative. My first statistical deep dives, way back when, were dissecting Craig Biggio’s career in my ‘he’s actually kind of overrated’ argument (before I got into/understood WAR. I still think there’s a touch of overrated there, but that’s a story for another day), then spilling a lot of digital ink over Bert Blyleven’s and Mike Mussina’s deserving HOF cases (and against those of Jack Morris, Jim Rice, etc.). For a long while, I was pretty passionate about it. Over the last few years, though, I’ve started to care less about it, but I can’t fully quit it.

To be honest, this discourse matters less and less as we move on in the baseball world. In this information/technology age, it’s much easier to find out who actually were the best players in a given time than before, making us much less reliant on the BBWAA’s interpretation (or whatever other committees are voting now) or the Hall of Fame’s plaques. Regardless, it’s obviously important and meaningful to both the players and the writers and I’m a sucker for that, so I can’t fully quit this stuff.

Before I reveal my hypothetical ballot, some thoughts on the voting process:

  1. I hate the ten-player limit. It’s less of a concern now that the logjam of the last ten years or so has cleared up, but there should be no limit.
  2. I don’t like that there’s some arbitrary eligibility standard to get on the ballot. If a player has played ten years and been retired for five, he should be on the ballot and stay on until his time’s up. The 5% barrier is fine, I suppose, but I think it should be expanded beyond one year.
  3. I hate blank ballots. Hate them. Absolutely hate them. Allow me to reproduce what I said on Twitter on Friday, prompted by this tweet from Jared Diamond: No, the reasoning is bad. There is at least one person on this ballot who is surely HOF worthy with no “baggage” or whatever. To act otherwise is foolish, or shows a complete lack of understanding of baseball beyond, like, 1993. There are going to be years when no one gets in; we experienced that recently. But there is almost never going to be a year when no one is worthy of a vote, by most any standard. Writers who turn in blank ballots are seeking attention above all else, whether directly or indirectly, so they can make some point informed by an incredibly narrow and (most often) outdated understanding of baseball. It also smacks wildly and loudly of the almost unrivaled self-seriousness of baseball writers, which I cannot stand.

Now on to my fake ballot, without paragraph upon paragraph of explanation because most of these are pretty self-evident.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Todd Helton, Jeff Kent (an offensive force at 2B when that wasn’t quite a thing yet), Andruw Jones (400+ homers; all time great CF), Manny Ramirez (PED suspensions or not, one of the top RHB ever), Scott Rolen (he crawled so Adrian Beltre could walk/run), Gary Sheffield (go look up his numbers if you haven’t lately), Sammy Sosa. I’m leaving Curt Schilling off, even if some of the guys on here are also bad. Craig Calcaterra does a nice job explaining why here, so I’m not going to drone on and on about it.

The only one I’m unsure about up there is Kent, but the rest are among the best hitters or pitchers in the game’s history, without whom the telling of the story of baseball is hard to do. Clearly, PED stuff doesn’t matter to me, either. If you want the HOF to put some PED acknowledgement on their plaques, go right ahead.

And that’s my HOF discourse for 2020-21 (don’t hold me to this; I’m sure I’ll offer a take or three when the results come in). Let’s do this again next year, shall we? Good luck to the candidates.

The Views from 314ft Podcast Episode 35: Another mailbag

Randy and Derek fielded your mailbag questions in this week’s edition of the podcast. But before that, the two broke down Atlanta’s signing of Charlie Morton and its impact on the Yankees. They also discussed the not so shocking Blake Snell trade rumors. After, mailbag questions regarding various topics, including Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, and Jasson Dominguez, are addressed.

The podcast is still being recorded remotely. We are operating over Skype so we apologize in advance for any sound quality issues. We hope you continue to bear with us as internet connections can always be tricky during recording.

The podcast is now available on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher so please subscribe, drop a five-star rating, and spread the word. We hope this gives you some distraction from all the craziness in the world right now.

Again, we apologize for any sound quality issues. We’re making the most of an inconvenient situation as all of you are. Please don’t forget to subscribe to the pod and spread the word.

Clint Frazier’s here to stay [2020 Season Review]

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The wait is over. Clint Frazier’s had a hard time sticking in the majors since the Yankees first brought him up in 2017, although not all of that was his fault. This season, Frazier left the Yankees with no choice but to play him everyday once he was called upon. Let’s take a look at Clint’s terrific season.

We’re not in Scranton anymore

Clint wasn’t free from Scranton to start the year, but once he made his way to the Bronx, there was no turning back. Frazier wasn’t brought up from the Alternate Site to the majors until August 11th, between the placement of Giancarlo Stanton (8/9) and Aaron Judge (8/14) on the injured list. It didn’t take long for Clint to make his presence felt. From his first game:

Frazier’s had opportunities with the Yankees a few times over the years — though some better than others — and has spent time at Triple-A each year since 2016. That’s a lot of time shuttling between the minors and majors over the past four years. Of course, a big part of that was the concussion he suffered in 2018 which undoubtedly threw off his trajectory.

Perhaps Clint deserved this shot sooner, but it’s better late than never. It was incredibly frustrating to watch a number of players go down due to injury this season, but the silver lining was Frazier’s breakout.

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