Author: Jonny Montano

How the 2019 Yankees Can Take the Next Step

The All-Star Break has come and gone and the Yankees have played more than half of their games. They have an impressive 58-31 (.652) record, which is the best in all of baseball. They have eight fewer losses than the second-place Rays and ten less than the third-place Red Sox. They’re pretty well set up, and only appear to be getting healthier.

This all puts the Yankees in the best position in quite a while to win the World Series. They’re in a position to hang on to the division, have enough assets to acquire playoff level talent, and have one of the deepest rosters in baseball. There’s no need to sugar coat it anymore: the 2019 Yankees need to win the World Series for this season to be a success.

So, what do they need to do to get there? Let’s think.

Step One: Starting Pitching Depth

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Everyone acknowledges the Yanks need more pitching arms. Bobby has done trade targets for Stroman, Boyd, and MadBum. This post isn’t to argue about which is better, or to discuss if they Yanks will go after an arm like Zack Wheeler, but to get to the bottom line: they need another arm in order to compete for another three and a half months.

The problem isn’t that the Yankees don’t have good starting pitching, but I don’t think it’s reliable enough for a World Series run. J.A. Happ and CC are too inconsistent, and Paxton has been inconsistent while getting settled to the Big Apple. Germán has been fantastic but will have an innings limit in addition to question marks. Can you trust him off of one half of a good season? I hope so, but I’m not 100% convinced. That just leaves Tanaka, who I trust in any big game, but has the tendency to just disappear sometimes. But again, talent isn’t the issue–it’s reliability and the ability to go deep into games.

For example, they only get a quality start 34% of the time. That means starters gets rocked for more than six innings or isn’t efficient enough to get to the seventh. League average QS% is 37%, so they’re not far off but need to improve. Houston, for example, gets a quality start 55% of the time, and Tampa Bay 41%.

But again, the point isn’t that the Yankees starting pitching is bad, because it’s not by any degree. But their inability to go deep into games is putting a strain on maybe their biggest strength: the bullpen. Going into October their pen has to be at full strength and they should not be compromising their best talent by overusing them from July-September.

That brings us to Step Two.

Step Two: Bullpen Usage

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The Yanks use their bullpen a lot. And that’s not a bad thing considering they have probably the best relief corps in the league. But it is a bit alarming how often they use their best arms. Ottavino already has 40.0 IP and has never accumulated more than 79.0 in a season. Britton has 37.0 IP, which is almost more than he threw in both 2018 and 2017. He has not thrown more than sixty since moving to the pen. Chapman has 34.2 IP and has thrown just over 50 in each of his seasons with the Yanks.

In addition to throwing a lot of innings, their best arms throw a lot of high leverage innings, for which Boone should be praised. The Yanks pen has been deployed in high leverage situations 106 times this season, the fifth most in all of baseball. Our best relievers get used in the biggest situations, but that also means they are getting more taxed in each outing.

I don’t necessarily believe that they need to go get another top reliever, but they should seriously consider adding a big league arm who can be used in a number of situations out of the pen to ensure the Yanks best relievers are ready for October.

Just for fun, though, I played around with baseball trade values to see what it could take to get Giles and Stroman in a package. I proposed Bird, Cessa, Frazier, Pereira and $4m and it was accepted. Would be an improvement to the team, and though Cessa comes out of the pen he’s easily replaceable, especially when the roster size is increased.

Step Three: Stay Healthy

This season has been pretty unlucky in terms of injuries. But the Yanks staff can’t really go without blame, either. Not making Severino get an MRI before letting him rehab is just inexcusable. That’s our $40m ace and a huge part of this team. Judge, Stanton, and Betances all had some sort of setback during their rehab as well. Maybe it’s just that Boone and co. aren’t communicating their injuries accurately, but something should change going into the second half.

I understand that most of this is just luck, but any World Series team has to stay healthy to win through and in October. The Yanks won’t be an exception, regardless of how good Gio and Maybin continue to play.

Conclusion

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World Series winners have their fair share of luck, whether it be balls going their way, extreme health, or maybe strike three being called a ball and the next pitch being a grand slam:

But World Series winners also have the talent too. Cashman just needs to make a few of the right moves and the Yanks could well be on their way to title favorites, and World Series winners. Let’s hope it happens.

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Gleyber Torres is an All-Star, and he should be

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When Brandon Lowe was sent to the Injured List earlier this week, it finally earned Gleyber Torres a spot on the American League All-Star team. It’s a shame he received recognition this late in the process and at the expense of another players injury, but All-Star voting is pretty flawed. Regardless, he earned a spot on the team. So when’s a better time than to take a look at how good Torres really is than this week?

To start, let’s all remember that Torres is only twenty-two years old. Twenty two. What he’s doing has been pretty incredible and under-appreciated in my opinion. Part of what makes him special is how easy he makes everything look. From turning two or just making adjustments mid-at-bat, he performs like he’s been playing the game at an elite level for years. He makes it incredibly easy to forget his age because of his mature talent and ability to avoid rookie mistakes.

It is obviously still early in his career, but so far he has absolutely lived up to his hype. He was 2017’s number two prospect in all of baseball behind only Shohei Ohtani, who was coming to the MLB with legitimate professional experience and two-way talent. Not exactly a fair comparison in my opinion. Regardless, he was widely considered one of the most exciting prospects in the league. So far he’s showed us why. Let’s take a look.

How Good has Torres been?

Let’s start by looking at his season numbers. So far he’s slashing a .294/.361/.536 (.896 OPS). Even from a very straightforward point of view, these numbers are very good. He gets on base more than a third of the time and has an OPS of almost .900. Hard to ask much more out of a sophomore season rookie infielder. To put his OPS number into perspective, he scores a 135 OPS+ where league average would be marked at 100. In other words, he is 35% better than the average league player. Of the 34 second-basemen qualified for the batting title, Torres’ adjusted OPS ranks 4th. Torres also has a 132 wRC+ (32% better than the rest of the league). He is already a stud.

And he’s only improving. His 19 home runs also outline his ability to hit for power. This season he hits a home run in 5.7% of his at-bats, up almost a percentage point from last year. Over the course of a full season could turn into about 5 extra homers on the year — a significant figure.

Perhaps another reason he’s such a fan favorite is due to his ability to hit in the clutch. As Friend of the Blog Katie Sharp pointed out…

…he’s hitting .412 (28-68) with RISP this season. If it wasn’t for LeMahieu’s ridiculous season, Torres would be getting a lot more attention for that number. His ability to hit with runners in scoring position has his him tied for third for the highest number of RBIs in the Yankees power hitting lineup with a total of 50. He’s been a huge factor in the Yanks ability to score often and in big situations and he deserves recognition for it.

In addition to his stellar offense, Torres is a force in the middle of the infield. Defensive ability is really hard to quantify and I don’t think any stat does it justice, but every fan should feel more than comfortable that Torres will make every play expected of him plus a little more. I mean, just check out this DP he turned with Didi:

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Torres in Comparison

So, Torres’ raw numbers are clearly exceptional. But what about in comparison to the rest of the league?

This season, Torres has a 2.5 fWAR which ties him with Mookie Betts for thirtieth best in the entire league. Pretty good for a twenty-two-year-old! He also ranks the second highest on the star-studded Yanks, behind only DJ LeMahieu, who has an impressive 3.5 fWAR. Sanchez is the closest behind him but is still about half a win away. Gleyber has been one of the most important Yankees on a very good team.

Katie Sharp again pulled some fun numbers to help us compare Torres to other Yankee greats: the only other bomber under the age of 23 to have at least 19 homers and 50 RBI through 84 games is Joe DiMaggio:

Obviously, I’m not saying Torres is going to be Joe D, but that’s a pretty interesting way to understand just how talented Torres is at such a young age. He’s also only the fourth Yank to appear in two All-Star games before turning 23 years old. These stats don’t necessarily mean much, but they are impressive considering the Yankees long and successful history and in demonstrating how rare it is for a player Torres’ age to have the success he’s having.

Now, for fun, let’s take a look at Torres’s age 21-22 seasons in comparison to two other Yankee infield greats: Jeter and A-Rod. I know, Alex wasn’t a Yankee then, but he’s one of the best infielders ever and was very successful at a very young age.

  • Torres: .280./348/.503 (.851 OPS)
  • Derek: .310/.365/.425 (.790 OPS)
  • Alex: .306/.355/.530 (.886 OPS)

Damn. Torres is right there, basically. His power numbers are higher than Jeter’s and his OBP is almost the same as A-Rods. Interestingly, Torres is worth 2.4 more wins than Jeter in these two compared seasons with only 110 more PA. Even more interestingly, he has a higher HR% than A-Rod did (5.3% compared to 4.7%). Alex had a really low HR hitting season in ’97 (age 21), but still. Beyond the traditional slash numbers, Torres compares very well to some exceptional infielders who had long, Hall of Fame careers.

If Torres develops into a combination of those two HOF deserving players, I’d be one happy Yankee fan during his tenure and I imagine you would be too.

Looking Ahead

I think we can all assume Torres is only going to get better, as it’s what he’s already shown us: he hasn’t endured a sophomore slump yet and has only improved upon his rookie breakout season. My personal favorite improvement has been his ability to walk more and strikeout less. This season his BB rate is up to 9.7% from 8.7% and his K rate is down from 25.2% to 22.4. Pretty impressive improvements from such a young player.

Torres has a long career ahead of him, but he’s already one of the most exciting players on the Yankees. He looks as though could develop into a Hall of Fame caliber player and be a centerpiece of a World Series team for many years to come.

The Yankees should trade for two starting pitchers

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There is no doubt that the the Yanks need to add depth to their starting rotation. Most every serious analyst or fan would agree with that claim. The base is looking for – or hoping for – an ace like Mad Max (gotta dream, right?). Of course, the Yankee should try and get the best starting pitcher available. That should be the priority. But in addition to that, they need to try and get another big-league arm that can competently start games that can serve as quality MLB depth. Think Lance Lynn, only this time they’ll use him correctly.

There are two competing arguments for this: one realistic and one idealistic. But either way, the Yanks will encounter one of these situations. The realistic outcome is that the Yanks will suffer another injury to their starting rotation. There’s a long season left to go, and their staff isn’t necessarily known for their durability. The idealistic outcome is that they have depth and can use a six-man rotation.

Let’s take a look at both outcomes and why adding two starters is necessary.

Realism

It’s fairly likely that at least one current starter will get hurt and need a stint on the IL. We all know about Sabathia’s ongoing knee issues and Happ’s age, but Paxton and Tanaka aren’t known for throwing full seasons either. Tanaka has never thrown more than 200 IP, even if he did throw 199.2 in 2016. Regardless, never surpassing a 200-inning season is because he usually suffers some or injury that requires an IL stint. Paxton’s injury history even worse – his max IP in a season is 160, last year. Not ideal.

In addition, German is going to be on an innings limit. This doesn’t mean he won’t pitch all season, but he will be restricted, and the pen will be readily used when he starts down the stretch. This will make him less of a go to starter than he has been to start the year.

With Green already being used as an opener, the Yanks wouldn’t have many choices for another starter. Even if no current starter suffers an injury, Severino could surely suffer a setback or a re-injury. Shoulders are sensitive, especially to a 100mph fireballer.

So, adding one starter and suffering one injury will leave the yanks using Green as an opener, or (god forbid), letting Cessa start games again. Not great in my opinion. And certainly not great for their pen either.

Idealism

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I think a six-man rotation fits the Yanks’ personnel perfectly. Let’s imagine this for a second: nobody gets hurt, Severino comes back, and the Yanks add two starters. This means the Yankees have some room to play around with their rotation.

Sevy, Tanaka, Paxton, German, CC, and one more. So, there’s still one more starter left. The point is that the type of pitcher the Yanks would acquire could eat innings in the pen or be disposable if everything goes perfectly.

Another possibility is that German moves to the pen. I don’t necessarily love this idea but if he can transition to that role well it’ll be quality late innings, less stress on high leverage relievers, and fit with his innings limit.

Regardless, the main point is that the Yankees should try and use a six-man rotation for a few reasons. The first is that it protects their health and keeps German with less stress. But the second is more interesting: Yanks starters are better with more rest. Check this out:

Masahiro Tanaka

  • 4 Days Rest: 3.44 ERA 1.152 WHIP 4.84 SO/BB .250 BA against
  • 5 days rest: 3.72 ERA 1.117 WHIP 4.88 SO/BB .242 BA against
  • 6+ days rest: 3.31 ERA .972 WHIP 5.06SO/BB .208 BA against

James Paxton

  • 4 days rest: 3.68 ERA 1.264 WHIP 3.66SO/BB .252 BA against
  • 5 days rest: 3.30 ERA, 1.133 WHIP 4.10 SO/BB .231 BA against
  • 6+ days rest: 3.16 ERA 1.127 WHIP 3.09 SO/BB .214 BA against

J.A. Happ

  • 4 days rest: 3.58 ERA 1.276 WHIP 2.48 SO/BB .246 BA against
  • 5 days rest: 4.48 ERA 1.371 WHIP 2.46 SO/BB .257 BA against
  • 6+ days rest: 3.76 ERA 1.231 WHIP 2.64 SO/BB .239 BA against

The difference in production for Paxton seems the most obvious. Except for strikeouts, each category improves with the more rest he has.  For Tanaka, the difference between four days and six days is stark, and there’s a bit of a bump on the fifth day. Regardless, the point remains: more rest usually means better pitching. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in all three starting pitchers their batting average against decreases with more rest.

Pluss. I’m sure Sabathia wouldn’t mind another day off in between starts, and Sevy’s shoulder probably would too.

The pen this year has thrown 280 IP through 74 games and last year at this time they had thrown 253–might not seem like a lot, but it’s a significant increase. Another starting pitcher will take innings away from the pen, especially as the goal is to remove the role of an opener. Resting the Yanks’ best weapons is always a good idea and adding two starters will do that.


I can’t predict the future, so maybe the Yanks won’t suffer another injury all year and Sevy will come back and perform how he did to start last year. I hope that’s the case. But the Yanks front office has to prepare for the worst-case scenario as they try to win their first World Series in 10 years.

Adding two starters – one dominant and one role player – will be extremely beneficial to the 2019 Yanks specifically. Their starters thrive on extra rest and will likely need it as they nurse fickle injuries.

Go do your thing, Cash.

Infield Replacements Have Been Key to the Yanks’ Early Success

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The 2018 Yankees started their first 68 games with a record of 46-22. This season, they are 41-27. Considering the well-documented series of injuries the Yankees have endured in 2019, this is pretty impressive. Last year’s team did win 100 games, after all.

The Bombers’ health concerns have been a dominating storyline across Yankees media. As it should be. Even ignoring their injuries in the outfield, the Yanks came into this season without their shortstop Didi Gregorius and Miguel Andujar was sidelined for the year after just 49 at-bats. It’s certainly not what you want.

So, how have the Yanks been able to win games despite missing 50% of their infield? Well, the easy answer is that their replacements have stepped up. But how do they compare to last year’s production? Let’s take a look.

Third Base: Andújar to Gio

To start: this comparison is NOT suggesting that the Yankees trade Andújar, nor saying that Urshela will win the job over him when he comes back. It is merely outlining how the Yanks have kept pace with last year’s team despite missing their stars. Here’s Andújar and Urshela last year and this:

  • Andujar (through 68 NYY games last year): .291/.319/.516 with a 122 wRC+.
  • Urshela: .310/.364/.466 with a 120 wRC+

Andújar was the Yanks surprise talent of the first half of last season. But man, Gio has taken over that title with ease. Alas, Urshela has able to not just match, but overcome his production in a few ways. Pretty insane talent from a replacement player, even if there are signs the magic is wearing off.

The Yanks traded Miggy’s power for Urshela’s ability to get on base. While they strike out at similar rates, Urshela walks a lot more – 7.2% compared to 3.8% BB rate. Again, the large takeaway here is that Urshela has been able to match Andújar’s production offensively. They are not the same style player, but Urshela has been able to fill the offensive hole left by Andújar with ease. You can’t take those at-bats away.

The storyline of Andújar’s poor defense has run its course, but it is impossible to mention Urshela’s ability and ignore his talented glove. His defense simply saves runs–a skill that Andujar didn’t bring to the field. Again, the point isn’t that Urshela is a better player, just to point out that he has been able to keep pace with Andújar’s comparison a year ago.

Shortstop: Didi to Torres

Didi is now, of course, returned from injury – and seeing him man short is a sight we’ve all waited a long time to see. But how did the Yankees fair while he was away?

  • Didi through 68 NYY games in 2018: .263/.326/.474 with a 112 wRC+
  • Torres this season: .284/.336/.517 with a 121 wRC+

Damn. Torres, who is only 22, outperformed Didi in every category, even if only slightly. The big caveat here is that Torres strikes out more – a lot more. Almost twice as much, actually. And he doesn’t necessarily hit more home runs. This season he’s hit 14 out of the park whereas Didi had 17 at this point last year. Less, but not a huge deal, especially considering Torres better overall run production.

There’s really not a huge difference in their defensive abilities. As this is a general comparison of how well replacements have slotted in, I think it’s safe to say they’re about equal at short. 

It is not controversial to say that Torres stepped up to fill Didi’s role pretty exceptionally.

Second Base: Torres to LeMahieu

Again, Torres is back to his position at second and LeMahieu will platoon. But it’s fun to compare how the controversial offseason signing (I, for one, was livid at this signing) fit in while Torres was slotted at short.

The numbers here are a bit less smooth. LeMahieu has only played 49 games at second this season, as he revolves around the infield, and Torres was called up in the middle of April in 2018 so he’s a bit shy too. Nevertheless, let’s take a look:

  • Torres through 68 NYY games in 2018: .287/.341/.557 with 140 wRC+ (183 PA).
  • LeMahieu this season: .311/.358/.450 116 wRC+. (275 PA)

These stat-lines are very similar. Hard to complain about that production for a replacement player, especially with Torres’s hot start last year. Their style of play is pretty similar, but LeMahieu lacks a bit of power and run production. Torres had 13 home runs at this point last year where D.J. only has 7. The differences in wRC+ are pretty stark as a result. We all know how good DJLM has been, so if anything, this is a testament to how good Torres is.

Regardless, LeMahieu has been more than a suitable replacement, with a significantly higher OBP. What he lacks in power he makes up for with getting on base. I’ll take it.


In a season where the Yankees have had to re-arrange their infield following injuries to two key players in their infield, they’ve managed to keep pace with the production of their peers last year. It’s great. Gio, Torres (playing short instead of 2nd), and LeMaheiu have matched or out-produced last year’s starters.

Andújar isn’t returning, of course, but now that Didi is back, things will return to normal in the infield: Torres back to 2nd, Didi at short, and DJLM likely playing often at third. It’s safe to say that the Yanks’ temporary infield has been a huge reason the Yanks’ have largely kept pace with their 100-win predecessor.

The Yankees Should Trade for Marcus Stroman

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This is the first post by our newest contributor, Jonny. He’ll be writing a post each Saturday morning. Welcome him aboard. He can be found on Twitter at @jonnym02.

Dallas Keuchel’s one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves means that the Yankees’ only avenue to acquiring another starting pitcher now is by trade. Missing out on Keuchel is frustrating, as Bobby pointed out here, but there are still viable alternatives. We’ll get to that in a second.

First, let’s be clear: there is no doubt that the Yankees need another starting pitcher. They are one long-term injury away from facing a pretty significant crisis. With James Paxton’s injury record, Sabathia’s fickle knee, and Tanaka’s potential elbow problem, it seems more likely than not that at least one Yankee starter will face another IL stint, and potentially a considerable one. Plus, there is no guarantee that Severino comes back for the second half of the season, and his post-injury quality is obviously up in the air. He suffered a serious injury and may not return (at least right away) as the ace we know and love.

We’ve already seen the Yankees turn to the opener when faced with injury. While Chad Green has ably filled that role fairly well, he’s much more suitable out of the pen as another option for Aaron Boone.

It only makes sense that the team will turn to the trade market. One potential exciting option is Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays. Stroman has similar strengths to Keuchel, has a reputation for being a competitor, and is three years younger. Let’s take a look to see if he’s a fit on this Yankees team.

Why Stroman?

To begin with, Stroman appears to want out of Toronto. That, coupled with the Jays’ horrible start to the season, puts them in the perfect situation to be sellers in any trade deal. Jayson Stark of the Athletic reports that they will be aggressive in moving their young stars, and Stroman is one of those. So, he’ll be available. Does he fit?

Stroman is not the league dominating ace that many Yankees fans hope for. But he is very, very good. As far as his contract goes, he’s earning only $7.4 million this season and is controlled through 2020, meaning the Yankees will not lose him after this year. That matters. His low financial cost will be appealing to the Yankees, and the fact that free agency isn’t too far away means he could come at a good price.

He also seems to be a great fit the Yankee stadium. His 2.84 season ERA is due in large part to his extremely low HR/9 of 0.6 (in 2018, Verlander had a 1.2 HR/9). This season isn’t exactly an anomaly for him keeping the ball in the park, as he averages 0.8 HR/9 in 741.0 career innings. That’s impressive when you remember that the majority of those innings were thrown in the AL East. Even last year, when he struggled after returning from an injury, he gave up less than a homer per 9. Stroman keeps the ball in the park. That’s a valuable skill, especially at YSIII.

That’s mostly because he keeps the ball on the ground. Last season he had an impressive 62.1% ground ball rate in 102.1 IP and, in 81 innings in 2019, batters hit the ball on the ground 58.1% of the time, ranking 3rd out of 85 qualified starters so far. (For reference, Tanaka induced ground balls 46.3% of the time last season.) Dallas Keuchel has the highest ground ball rate across two seasons in the last decade at 62.6%, which is right about where Stroman is.

If Stroman can keep the ball on the ground and in the park at similar rates, there is good reason to believe he’d be an excellent fit in the Yankees rotation. Urshela and LeMahieu’s elite defense, paired with the Yanks successful use of the shift, should result in a lot of groundball outs.

It’s a good thing that Stroman keeps the ball on the ground, because he misses less bats than league average. But, if you don’t strike a ton of batters out, the next best thing is a forcing a groundball. In addition, Stroman’s career 2.6 BB/9 is certainly not bad. It is reasonable to assume that if he throws seven innings, he will allow two free passes – not anything to lose any sleep over, but not fantastic, either.

Stroman’s biggest weakness, though, is hard hit balls. This season he has a hard-hit percentage 36.9% That is certainly not great, but it is much higher than his career numbers, so hopefully, it is simply an anomaly – or that the Yanks staff would know how to fix it. Hard hit balls generally lead to more hits, obviously, and this shows to be true for Stroman.  His BABIP (.305) is slightly above league average and a bit too high for my tastes. But again, the Yanks strong infield defense could make this number drop.

To round out his profile, although Stroman’s fastball velocity has dropped a bit since 2017, he still throws a mid-90s fastball and the Yankees organization is really good at turning fastballs into strikeouts. In other words, the Yankees analytics department could help Stroman keep bats off the ball, which make his BABIP and hard-hit percentage less significant.

What’s it going to cost?

I’m not a front office guru, so I won’t pretend to come up with a trade proposal for Cashman. But if I were the Jays, I’d start by asking for Clint Frazier. His age and considerable talent make him an attractive piece, and the Yankees are definitely deep in the outfield. Who knows if that price is too high for Cashman and Co. (it just might be) but that’s probably where the discussion starts.

Finally, there is also no reason to believe the Yanks and Jays won’t do business together. Just last year, they completed the Happ deal and have done business together before. There’s inter-divisional wariness here. The Yankees will certainly be scouting the market, and I suspect they’ll like what they see in Marcus Stroman, as his ground ball rates and overall profile make him a good match for the team.

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