ALDS Mailbag: Gerrit Cole, Bullpen Usage, Roster Changes, & Aaron Hicks

That’s right. This again!

It is Friday, which means it’s time for a (delayed) mailbag. I certainly enjoyed the rest of my day yesterday basking in the glory of the Yanks’ sweep of Cleveland in the Wild Card Series. Over the weekend and especially on Monday, we will have in-depth of all things ALDS. Until then: an ALDS-themed mailbag.

I limited these to the best questions about the upcoming ALDS. We got a bunch of questions about the offseason, but I am filing those away for the future. I am all playoffs right now. Please send us your questions at viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com if you’d like to be included in a future edition. We choose our favorites each week.

E Asks: Should Gerrit Cole start both Game 1 and Game 5 (if necessary) in the ALDS?

The short answer here is obvious: yes. It is emphatically yes. We all saw how dominant Cole was on Tuesday and I don’t think there is any doubt that he is the best pitcher on the Yankees. In fact, you could argue that he is the best pitcher left in the postseason. (I would argue this.) This is what Cole looks like, just for a reminder:

That is the guy you want to throw as many innings as possible in the postseason, and the Yankees should do just that. The good news is it will be easy to execute. It lines up well.

Remember, Cole started Game 1 of the Wild Card Series with two days of additional rest. He will start Game 1 of the ALDS with an extra day of rest, as well. Game 1 is on Monday, which lines Cole up to start a theoretical Game 5 on three days of rest. You absolutely use him in that game if it comes to that. There is no question in my mind.

Cole is a true ace. He wants the ball in the big moment and is capable of pushing it to the extreme. And we’ve all seen how he gets when Boone removes from a game. He is the real deal. If the Yankees and Rays make it to a Game 5, then you start Cole and don’t think twice about it. Hopefully, though, the Yankees have long clinched by then.

Dan Asks: The Yankees’ bullpen is clearly not as good or deep as it was last year.  Additionally, the lack of playoff off-days will make it impossible to use the same relievers each game.  Do you see that changing how Boone will manage going forward?  For instance, I can’t see the merit of pulling a starter after 3 innings in a non-elimination game, under these circumstances.  To me, the best bet is counting on our starters to get 5-6 innings per game and going from there (even if that means them giving up runs in some early jams).  

We will have a lot more to say about this over the weekend and on Monday, as I think it’s one of the burning questions of the new format. Teams won’t be able to use their bullpens quite the same way as they have in the past few postseasons. The Yankees are no different.

That said, I don’t think it will change that much, honestly. These are still playoff games and there is absolutely no point in giving up a game to plan for tomorrow. That is a loser’s mentality and I don’t think that the Yankees should go that route. You play to win the game you’re playing and you deal with tomorrow tomorrow, especially when you only need to win three times to advance. That means using your highest-leverage pitchers in the highest-leverage spots, assuming they’re available. That’s why you have them.

In other words, if Tanaka or Happ or whoever get hit around and fall behind early with no sign of turning it around, take them out of the game right away. I don’t care if it’s the 2nd or 3rd inning. I was tough on Boone yesterday, but he did go to Britton at exactly the right time on Thursday. He also had no problem pulling Tanaka in Game 1 of the ALCS last year in order to go to the pen. There’s little reason to expect this to change.

Now, the Yankee pen hasn’t been quite as formidable as we expected. Maybe that means he will want to push starters more. I don’t know. All I know is he shouldn’t hold relievers back to plan for tomorrow. That is how you end up never using your best arms. Besides, the Yanks have a horse in Gerrit Cole who should soak up a significant portion of innings in two of the five games.

Bill Asks: What changes do you expect to the roster and/or lineup for the next series? Is Andújar done for the playoffs barring injury, or could he take Ford’s spot? And given both Gardy’s hot streak and Frazier’s terrible pinch-hit at-bat, has Gardner reclaimed left field full-time for the moment? 

I don’t expect to see Andújar again in October. I actually expect the roster to be virtually the same. Boone is clearly not shy about pulling Voit – who is injured, remember – for a pinch runner. They’ll want to keep Ford handy to play first and pinch hit for the weak-hitting Wade later in those ballgames, so I think he’s here to stay.

And yes, I think Gardner is the left fielder right now. That has less to do with Frazier’s ABs that the fact that Gardner is a dependable hitter who is having great at-bat after great at-bat right now. I don’t think that will change.

One area where we might see a slight tweak is in the pen. I’m not sure Nick Nelson, who was rostered for the Wild Card round, makes the cut again. The Rays have a lot of lefties, so I could see the Yanks carrying Tyler Lyons for select matchups. The three-batter minimum rule means he can’t be used as a LOOGY, but he might come in handy.

Lyons holds LHB to a .642 OPS in his career, which is much better than his line against righties. The Yanks also carried him in the postseason last year, remember, so there is precedent here. I expect him to make the cut, though I sure hope the Yankees don’t need to use him.

Adam Asks: Why is Aaron Hicks so awful with the bases loaded? His career OPS in bases-loaded situations is ~.300 below his OPS in all other situations. What is he doing differently?

This question comes in after Hicks logged an awful at-bat with the bases loaded in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series. I’m willing to give him a pass given that every other at-bat of his has been great of late. But it was definitely uncharacteristic:

He swung at two separate pitches out of the zone, which is very unusual for him. I won’t read too much into this, but Adam raises a good point. Hicks is actually horrible in his career with the bases loaded.

Hicks has come to the plate 66 times in such situations throughout his career, hitting just .125/.303/.167 in those at-bats. He is 6-for-48 with just 2 extra-base hits. (Both hits are doubles.) As Adam notes, this is much worse than his career line, obviously.

I really don’t have a good answer as to why. Maybe he is pressing and trying to do too much? I don’t know. It’s worth noting that his OBP is still significantly above his batting average, so I don’t think we can chalk it up to him constantly chasing. He actually has 13 (!) career walks with the bases loaded, which is more than he has strikeouts (12). And his batting average on balls in play is abysmally low (.150) so maybe he’s just getting really unlucky with his contact.

Finally, it is just under 70 plate appearances. It is always important to remember Voros’ Law: any MLB hitter can put up virtually any line in 60 plate appearances. My guess is that this is just that. Give him a few more chances and I suspect we see him finally break through and deliver a huge hit. Let’s hope that happens soon.

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9 Comments

  1. CentralScrutinizer

    “”And his batting average on balls in play is abysmally low (.150) so maybe he’s just getting really unlucky with his contact”

    Umm, no – he’s not. Hicks is hitting a ton of ground balls that are easy outs and weak fly balls that are also easy outs. bad luck isn’t the problem.

    • Bobby

      This is over the course of his career, not in 2020 alone.

      • CentralScrutinizer

        No one is unlucky for their entire career with the bases loaded.

  2. Mike Fetkowitz

    Hicks has never been a good hitter (about.235 lifetime) so why is anyone surprised by his lack of it with the bases loaded?

  3. CentralScrutinizer

    Point #1 – Frazier has to start against the lefties. Don’t make too much of Gardner’s good game 1 and dismiss his poor game 2. The Yankees have jerked Frazier around so much in his short tenure with them that is has to have had an effect on him. He has not been doing well lately but he deserves a chance to show that he’s snapping out of it.

    Point #2 = You’re way too kind to Aaron Hicks whose terrible AB in with the bases loaded in the 9th inning was not uncharacteristic. I’ve seen too many of them. I don’t care how many walks he”s drawn he’s killing the Yankees in that 3 hole.

  4. Thomas Kriton

    IDK gardy plays well, he can hit snell

  5. Wire Fan

    While Gardy should play most of the time, I’m not sure they should start him against Snell.

    • Billy

      Totally agree. I would imagine Frazier gets the start and his 2-3 at bats against Snell then Gardy comes in for defense and gets an AB or 2

    • MikeD

      Agreed. I think we see Frazier start vs. Snell. Maybe a solid showing gets him positioned for some more ABs.

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