The Series Where Everything Goes Wrong

This weekend’s series sweet at the hands the Cardinals had a little bit of everything, didn’t it?

A blown save by the AL’s formerly most dominant reliever.

A shutout mainly at the hands of someone just traded away for at least slightly illogical reasons.

A back-and-forth loss in which multiple leads were blown by the newly acquired, big-ticket starting pitcher, not to mention the other new acquisition whose homer allowed put the game out of reach.

Oh, and Anthony Rizzo is out with a bad back and Gleyber Torres has been a ghost for the last week or so (today notwithstanding). Did I mention Andrew Benintendi is 4-30 since joining the Yankees?

Starting to feel like Joe Pesci:

To put it mildly, the vibes are very, very off.

I wrote or tweeted many times that the Yankees building up a big lead in the division was a good thing so it wasn’t likely that they’d have to fight for a division or playoff spot in September and October. They’re not going to have to, but their lead over the Astros for home field advantage has evaporated. The pitching has regressed considerably. The lineup looks weak half the time and suffers when DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge don’t constantly produce; luckily, they’ve been almost constantly producing. We’ve seen this team go from its best case scenario to its worst over the last month or so and it is exceedingly frustrating.

Going into this year, there were a lot of questions and those questions were answered in a positive direction and expectations were blown away at the beginning of the year. But as is almost always the case with baseball, those answers weren’t written in stone and they’ve started to turn. For now, this 2022 season is starting to feel very 2021.

There’s time to turn things back around, of course. There’s over a month of baseball left. While things may not always be good as they were April through June, they’re not likely to be this bad for the rest of August and September.

Quick Thoughts Before the Trade Deadline

Happy Sunday. Including today, we’re three days out from the trade deadline–August 2 at 6 PM eastern. While the Yankees have already traded for Andrew Benintendi–whom I identified as a target way back–it’s worth noting that August 2 is my seventh wedding anniversary, so it’d be nice of the Yankees to get my wife and me a present, like a starting pitcher and/or a reliever or two. And the best part is that you all would benefit, too. Not really sure why they can’t do this! Anyway…

Starting with the Benintendi trade, I’ll say what I said on Twitter. It’s a good trade (with a caveat). He’s better than Joey Gallo and that’s really what the bar was for acquiring an outfielder. With a high-contact approach, Benintendi continues the Yankees’ attempt at lineup diversification. Again, good thing. The Yankees have a lot of on-base and power types who could be on in front of Benintendi to take advantage of his contact skills. However, as Mike Axisa noted in the RAB Patreon right after the trade, we’re a BABIP regression away from having an outfield version of Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the lineup. For now, though, it’s a lineup upgrade that the Yankees could surely use.

The cost of the trade also helps make this a good deal. While it always hurts to give up three prospects at once (Beck Way, T.J. Sikkema, and Chandler Champlain in this case), these ones aren’t likely to be players the Yankees will miss in a few years, especially if this season ends the way we all want it to end.

One big addendum to this trade is that, as of now, Benintendi has not gotten his Covid vaccination. You’ll remember that he and nine other Royals were not allowed into Canada for the team’s series against the Blue Jays a few weeks back. He’s implied that he’s “open” to getting the vaccine, whatever that means, and he does have time. The Yankees’ series in Toronto isn’t until the end of the year, so by my count (14 days out), he’ll have to be fully vaccinated by September 11 to be eligible to play there for the regular season and any potential playoff series. It’s worth noting that the Jays themselves were apparently in on Benintendi, too, so maybe he really is open to getting his shot(s) , as he should be. If he happens not to get it, it’d be damn near impossible to not downgrade the trade’s evaluation. The whole point is to get better for the stretch run and the playoffs, and if he can’t play in one of or both of those, well…Hopefully it becomes a moot point.

With Benintendi, the Yankees are a better team than they were without him. However, they still need to make some tweaks to the roster going forward. With Luis Severino out, it’s imperative for the Yankees to get a starter to bolster the rotation. Number one target Luis Castillo is gone to the Mariners for a package of prospects that, apparently, the Yankees couldn’t or wouldn’t match. I’ve seen people suggest it may’ve been a slight overpay for the M’s but who can blame them? Their last playoff appearance came when I was a freshman in high school; they should be going for it. Castillo would’ve been perfect for the Yankees, but if the Reds liked what the Mariners offered more, well, so be it. Of course, as luck would have it, Castillo will be making his Mariners debut against the Yankees this coming week.

Now that he’s off the board, the Yankees’ focus will likely turn to Oakland pitcher Frankie Montas. They’ve also been linked to Noah Syndergaard and Jose Quintana. There was a report yesterday that the Giants are even willing to listen on Carlos Rodon. Any of these four would pass the “better than Domingo German” test, and that’s really what the Yankees need. Even when Severino returns, one of them could help deepen the rotation and give the Yankees plenty of post-Gerrit Cole options for a stretch and playoff run rotation. Montas and Rodon would be preferable to the other two, but I wouldn’t scoff at Quintana or Thor.

Additionally, the Yankees have been linked to (another) reunion with David Robertson, now of the Cubs. Given the injuries to Michael King and Chad Green, this move would make a ton of sense. He’s an established, experienced reliever used to playoff runs and high-leverage spots. It would likely behoove the Yankees to bring him home.

All of it, of course, is price-dependent, but with the position the Yankees are in, how close they are to a title run, I’m more than a little willing to pay higher prices. Flags fly forever, folks.

The Yankees are an excellent team with a big lead and virtually guaranteed playoff odds. That doesn’t mean they can’t and shouldn’t make tweaks and improvements. This, more than any other recently, is the year to strike hard at the deadline and go for it.

Looking back at the Yankees’ 2017 Draft

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This year’s draft is over and done with. You can see who the Yankees selected here. Of note: first round pick Spencer Jones, an outfielder who stands at a towering six-foot-seven with big power projection. Sound familiar? Fair or not, he’s already had a left-handed Aaron Judge comp thrown around. That sure would be a fun outcome, wouldn’t it?

Like I did last year, it’s time for a retrospective of the Yankees’ draft from five years ago. Here’s the 2016 piece I penned. Let’s dive right into the facts of the club’s 2017 selections:

  • Signed: 23/40
  • Made the majors: 7
  • Still in the organization: 8
  • WAR for Yankees: 0.7
  • Total WAR: 4.7

*Baseball Reference WAR.

Those are by far better results in terms of WAR than the ’16 draft, though the bar was very low to clear. The likes of Nick Nelson and Brooks Kriske really put a drag on the ’16 class. Granted, the Yankees made some trades out of that crop that significantly benefited the major league roster (the David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier trade).

Like the draft haul from a year prior, the Yankees didn’t hesitate to trade away some pieces from the ’17 class. In turn, they acquired the following players:

  • Jameson Taillon: +3.1 WAR
  • Joey Gallo: +0.5 WAR
  • Joely Rodríguez: +0.3 WAR, who turned into Miguel Castro (-0.3 WAR)
  • Andrew Heaney: 0.0 WAR

Now, there were non-’17 draft class players included in the trades for Taillon, Gallo, and Rodríguez, so their contributions to the major league team don’t totally stem from the prospects drafted and traded. Still, it’s worth mentioning how the Yankees improved the team via the draft, even if indirectly.

Now, let’s get into the players selected in greater detail:

Re-June-venated: Gallo showing signs of life

2022 was set to be a big year for a big guy in the Bronx. Outfielder Joey Gallo, after a relatively disappointing Yankee debut last year, would be more comfortable and looking for a bounceback heading into his free agency. However, the season got off to a terrible start, with plenty of boos to go along with the bad performance. Luckily, Gallo has turned it on a bit more in June as the Yankees have steamrolled the competition so far this month.

In June, Gallo is hitting to a .360 wOBA, good for a 139 wRC+. This surge has brought his season wRC+ up to a respectable 94. In April (76 wRC+) and May (87 wRC+), this level of production seemed near impossible, but here it is, along with some tangible reasons for it.

One tangible reason is a lack of ground balls. After running up grounder tallies in the mid-30’s for each of the season’s first two months, Joey has dropped down to under 17% grounders in June. Considering the shifts Gallo sees, this is huge. It’s happened across the board, too:

June has seen Gallo drop his ground ball rates dramatically on breaking and offspeed pitches, as well as fall to literally zero against fastballs. Not surprisingly, this has come with a corresponding jump in launch angle, especially against said fastballs:

A rise in power has corresponded, naturally, with these competing batted ball results as his ISO has climbed every month: .115 to .161 to .326.

Speaking of pitch types, aside from crushing fastballs in June (.368 ISO), he’s made a big improvement against breaking balls. With four hits against them–including a double and a homer–he’s got more against breaking balls in June than he did in April (1) and May (0) combined. So what can he do to keep this up?

Aside from not driving the ball into the ground, one thing Gallo may want to do is swing less. His swing numbers have jumped way up this year, encapsulated by his overall percentage, which has jumped from 40.4 to 50.7. This includes jumps at or around ten points in, zone swing rate and chase rate as well as a near 20% jump (!) in first pitch swings. This is most definitely costing him runs.

Gallo’s takes are plus 10, which is good. But he’s given all that value back with -17 swing runs, especially around the shadow of the plate, ones he probably should be taking. Maybe if he gets back to swinging at those ones less, his production will ramp back up over the closing months of the season.

Joey Gallo seems like a good dude who’s easy to root for. He put himself in fan’s negative sights early on, but he’s starting to come out of it. As he does, I hope those who booed begin to cheer just as vociferously.

Jose Trevino’s Transformation

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Entering this season, the Yankees essentially planned to punt offense at the catcher position. Kyle Higashioka (lifetime 63 wRC+ through 2021) and Ben Rortvedt (40 wRC+ in 98 MLB plate appearances) were set to share time behind the plate as defense-first backstops while the team showed Gary Sánchez the door. Then, a Rortvedt injury led to the Yankees making what seemed like an innocuous trade: the acquisition of Jose Trevino.

Trevino was cut from the same cloth as Higgy and Rortvedt: a plus defender without much to offer as a hitter. He posted a measly 66 wRC+ in 519 plate appearances for the Rangers pre-trade. Now that he’s donned pinstripes, he’s suddenly hitting like an All-Star: .300/.346/.490 (141 wRC+) in 107 trips to the plate. Where did this come from?

The easy answer, as always, is small sample size noise. It’s just 107 plate appearances, after all. And if you really slice and dice it, the period in which he’s been a great hitter is even shorter:

  • Through May 15: 51 PA, .170/.235/.191, .195 BABIP (27 WRC+)
  • After May 15: 56 PA, .415/.446/.755, .425 BABIP (245 wRC+)

Trevino inevitably will cool off. That’s baseball. But at the same time, there is some evidence that Trevino is an improved (or at the minimum, a different) hitter.

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