Author: Matt Imbrogno Page 1 of 30

On Process and Results

As many of you–if not all of you–know by now, I’m an English teacher in real life. Teaching is all about adjusting a process in the hopes of better results. Sure, I use the same general formats and texts for my lessons year over year, but every year, my coteacher and I have to tweak them to better suit the kids in front of us. And while we have certain tools, tricks, techniques, and tactics to deploy, none will guarantee perfect results every time. Such is the nature of teaching. Baseball, similarly, features a similar interplay of process and results: they don’t always match up.

You can sting the ball perfectly…and it’ll go right to someone; you can call on the right guy at the right time…and he gets lit up. Conversely, you can squib a ball in front of the plate and wind up on base; you can throw a hanger and the batter could whiff. It’s a part of the game we’ve all come to accept and embrace, both on the field and off. Yesterday, Yankees GM Brian Cashman spoke about process, results, and how those things fit into the team’s organizational philosophy:

While there are a lot of words in there–Cashman spoke for nearly two minutes–I found the response to be lacking. In fact, I found it to kind of be a bit of a rambling word salad. He sounded like one of my students who knows the basic facts of something, knows the general form his answer is supposed to take, but has trouble going beyond the surface and actually analyzing or interpreting said facts.

What I say beyond this comes with an obvious caveat. I’m not inside the Yankees’ organization and don’t know what the internal workings look like there. But that applies to pretty much everything I and we say about baseball. If we’re going to limit comments on things because we don’t have inside access, we may as well not comment at all beyond watching the games and rooting for the teams.

The Yankees have been a good team for a long, long time. The entirety of Brian Cashman’s run as GM has seen them make the playoffs in all but four years. That is a remarkable streak of success, especially in the face of a game that has changed a lot in that twentysomething year span. Certainly, that’s evidence of adaptability in the face of a game that’s much harder to win now than then. But are they good enough at it? While we can’t see inside and say that for sure, look at what keeps happening. Every year, the Yankees are bounced from the playoffs by the same teams and every game and every series feel exactly the same. It’s the same disappointing result over and over again.

Since the Yankees last made and won the World Series in 2009, they’ve watched their chief rival win two championships while remaking the team multiple times. They’ve seen their other big rival win one championship and make it to four of the last six. They’ve seen another club become a regular season juggernaut and win one championship and make it to two others.

In missing out on the World Series beyond 2009, the Yankees have the company of about half the league. That’s obviously not a small number, but none of the teams can boast of the year over year success the Yankees have, which makes their failure to reach the fall classic even once a little more acute.

Winning a World Series is incredibly hard and only one team gets to do it every year. And in baseball, things just happen differently than they do in other sports. It’s subject to more variance, more randomness and more than the other sports, good process doesn’t guarantee good results. However, when the lack of a championship is explained the same way every year–‘we had good process, things just didn’t break our way’–fans are likely to be frustrated and less likely to keep trusting that process. A process can be good and yield less than desirable results, but if the process keeps spitting out less than desirable results, might it be time to change that process?

Whatever process the Yankees are using, it’s yielding generally good results. Like I said, they make the playoffs virtually every year. But all their actions off the field and their execution on it smacks of ‘good enough.’ For a team that espouses a championship or bust mentality, good enough is not good enough.

You want to be a good team and compete every year? Go for it. That’s what every team should strive for and what every fanbase should want. But if what’s going to keep happening is the same thing that’s been happening for the last decade plus, then stop blowing smoke with the ‘championship or bust’ mentality. It doesn’t seem like the process speaks to that stated goal. As for the results? Well, it’s the lack thereof that does all the talking.

Growing Frustration

On Thursday night, the Yankees made folks across the fandom happy by calling up infielder Oswald Peraza, a move many felt was long overdue. People were abuzz and excited about seeing another youngster get his turn, following Oswaldo Cabrera who’s impressed with his versatility in the field since joining the Yankees. Then, Friday evening, the Yankees announced their lineup; notably absent was Oswald Peraza. Immediately, fans were once again abuzz, but not excited this time.

The immediate question this move prompted was why call up Peraza if he wasn’t going to start playing right away? It also makes me wonder why he was playing on Thursday evening before being called up, but that doesn’t matter as much anymore. Close to game time, Bryan Hoch relayed a quote from Aaron Boone (this is going to be a running theme in this post, so thanks to Bryan Hoch for helping me here):

Sure, no one wants to put undue expectations on a young player on a floundering team. But, again, what’s the point of calling him up if he’s not going to play? If it’s just “a great opportunity for him to get up here and be in this environment,” that’s a waste of a roster spot for the club and a waste of time for the player, who’d be better served playing every day. “Some opportunities” is absurd to say. He should be getting the opportunities. Hoch had something similar from Boone earlier in the evening:

Reading this made my eyes bug out and my head spin. It was paired with this:

I get that Boone–like any manager–isn’t going to throw one of his players under the bus. But it is clear that Isiah Kiner-Falefa is not a player the Yankees should be trotting out every day. By almost any measure, he’s one of the worst shortstops in baseball. “Everything [the Yankees are] doing right now” is losing a lot and blowing their division lead over the Rays and, yes, IKF is right in the middle of that, and is, frankly, one of the causes. The organization is either unwilling or unable to face the reality that IKF is not worthy of a starting spot on a team with playoff and championship aspirations; neither of those is a good thing. But the thing that got me the most, the thing that made me the most incensed?

No set plan? NO SET PLAN?! You called up one of your top infield prospects and don’t have a plan for how and when and where he’s going to play? This reflects so incredibly poorly on Boone, on Brian Cashman, and the organization as a whole. The thinking and decision-making processes of this team are mind-boggling and, at the very least, need some deep, deep examination in this offseason, if not completely overhauled.

By calling up a player, you’re signalling that you think he can help your team. Peraza was prized enough that he wasn’t dealt for Major League help at the trade deadline, yet he’s not good enough to take the place of one of the worst regulars in MLB this year?

This is remarkably confusing, as this entire season has been for the Yankees. But one thing is clear: I’m moving closer and closer to embracing the idea that the Yankees need wholesale changes in the front office and most of the dugout (Matt Blake seems fine).

On the VF314 twitter account, I’ve cautioned about the possible post-Cashman front office. Such a front office would likely be even more beholden to Hal Steinbrenner’s self-imposed and self-defeating austerity plan than Brian Cashman is. However, after more than 20 years in charge, it is probably time to move on. Something is flawed, maybe many things, in the way the Yankees go about their business now and a new process may be needed. Whatever it is now, it isn’t working the way it should. In the past, I’ve been very willing to the give Yankees–generally a smart and well-run organization–the benefit of the doubt. But I’m not nearly as willing to do that anymore when that benefit has been squandered over much of the last year or so.

I won’t go as far to say the Yankees don’t try to win, but there’s a difference between trying to win and trying to win a championship. The Yankees do the former, but they no longer seem to do the latter. That’s likely more an ownership problem than a front office problem. But at the end of the day, the Yankees haven’t won a championship since 2009 and have stagnated in their pursuit of one over and over again. Perhaps it’s time to let someone else try under ownership’s constraints instead of Brian Cashman.

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.

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.

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