Mailbag: ALCS Fallout, Gary Sánchez, Patrick Corbin, Gerrit Cole

After taking last week off due to the ALCS, our mailbags are back. They’ll be here on Fridays at 9 am going forward again. This will be an offseason filled with questions for the Yankees as they try to retool a championship-caliber roster that has now fallen short of the ultimate prize three consecutive seasons.

As always, send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com for inclusion in next week’s post. We choose our favorites every week and this week there are four great questions. Let’s get right to it.

Craig Asks: While the fatigued bullpen certainly played a role, the failures of the Yankees’ offense were probably the main reason we lost.  The Astros’ staff is all right-handed. Doesn’t this suggest that adding a powerful LHB should be a priority? (Brett and Didi–even though I sincerely hope both will be back–are not sufficient, and while Judge, LeMahieu and Gleyber did well, our lineup was still full of holes.)

There are a few layers here, so I’ll start with the basics: in the most narrow sense, the Yankees’ offense was not sufficient to win the pennant. The Yankees hit .214/.289/.383 as a team and managed to score just 21 runs despite hitting 10 home runs. The RISP struggles were also evident to anyone who watched the series. So, yes, on the surface level, the offense was to blame.

But I’m not ready to make that sweeping claim, because there’s another layer here. Houston hit .179/.281/.318 as a team, scored just 22 runs, and hit only 8 home runs. They also struggled to hit with RISP, garnering just 5 hits in such situations…but three of those hits were three-run home runs. That was the difference in Games 4 and 6. They also had two enormous home runs in Game 2, which was the difference in that game.

In other words, the Yankees actually out-hit and out-pitched the Astros in the ALCS. The difference was that when the Astros did get a hit, it was a consequential one. That’s enough to change a series and it’s why extrapolating anything from these series is a waste of time, in my opinion. These two teams played each other close but Houston did just a bit better when it counted. Play those games again and the opposite result may have happened.

As for the LHB situation, I do think it’s a bit strange, especially after the years of big powerful lefties adorning the Yankees’ lineup. It seems to fit Yankee Stadium so well. But the offense did not struggle at all this season and I am not too worried about it. I also don’t think this is why they struggled in the ALCS, which was mostly because the vast majority of Houston’s innings were pitched by Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Ryan Pressley, and Will Harris. Those are good pitchers. Don’t forget that.

I’d like to see the Yankees add a lefty bat, particularly with Hicks now sidelined until midseason. I’m not sure who that is or who they’ll replace in the lineup, but a trade for a lefty bat with some pop to play in the outfield seems like a good enough idea to me. They should also bring back Gardner and Didi, though I sadly expect only the former will be in pinstripes next season.

George Asks: What kind of a pitcher would a Sanchez and Clint Frazier trade bring back?

Gary Sánchez is going to be the subject of much trade speculation this offseason, and I think it is extremely silly. Gary is clearly a streaky hitter with some defensive flaws (even if overstated) and has struggled with injuries. He also looked really rough in the playoffs when the scrutiny is highest. That’s all true. I am the biggest Gary fan in the world and I won’t deny that at all.

However, it’s also important to keep in mind some context here. Across over 64,000 plate appearances since the start of 2017 (Gary’s first full season), catchers leaguewide are hitting roughly .235/.310/.380, which comes to about an 86 wRC+. Gary, on the other hand, is hitting .238/.320/.495 (115 wRC+) over that stretch, and here are some of his rankings among catchers in that period:

  • Home Runs: 85 (1st)
  • Slugging Percentage: .495 (1st)
  • wRC+: 115 (tied for 2nd)
  • Runs: 192 (3rd)
  • fWAR: 8.3 (4th)
  • wOBA: .343 (5th)
  • Walk Rate: 9.4% (7th)
  • OBP: .320 (10th)

That’s what the Yankees have in Gary Sánchez. One of the most valuable and unique catchers in the league, warts and all. It’s important to remember that context. And he’s only just now entering into his arbitration years, which means he’ll still be earning a relatively low salary (though higher than it was this year).

In short: that’s a very valuable player and one who would probably command a sizable return in a trade package. That’s especially true when you add in Clint, even if he has probably lower trade value now than at any point in his career. Gary is a valuable player and there’s no way the Yankees try to move him or, if they did, receive a package they consider worth it. At least not in my opinion. They’ve adamantly stuck by him all this time, and I wouldn’t expect that to change now.

Jamie Asks: So far, Patrick Corbin has 28 strikeouts in 14.1 innings. I can’t help but lament that having him in a Yankee uniform this postseason would have been a plus. Agree?

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I couldn’t agree more. I wrote it at the time and still believe that not signing him was a mistake. They should have gone the extra year. Now, would it have made the difference this year? I’m not sure. It’s always impossible to say those things definitively.

What I can say is that he absolutely would have been a plus not just in the postseason but all year. He threw 202 innings of 3.25 ERA (72 ERA-) ball for the Nationals this season and that is extremely valuable. Masahiro Tanaka’s 182 IP was the most thrown by a Yankee this season. J.A. Happ’s 162 ranked second if you can believe that.

Those innings would have saved bullpen arms for the playoffs–I don’t think it’s even a question that the bullpen was on fumes by the end–and that’s to say nothing of the fact that he may have been able to give some length against Minnesota or Houston. That, in turn, may have allowed for some of the key bullpen arms to rest even in games the Yankees won in those series, allowing them to be fresher and possibly even more effective. It didn’t happen, though, so no use crying over spilled milk. Although…

Jon Asks: What does the market look like for Gerrit Cole this offseason? I know every team should be in on him, but what teams actually might make a run? It’s becoming increasingly obvious that a workhorse starter is critical in the postseason to give the bullpen a break.

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…there is a pretty good starter on the market this offseason, too. (And another one from Corbin’s own team!) A much better starter, actually. Gerrit Cole is the best starter to hit the market since Max Scherzer in 2014 and I think Cole is even better than Mad Max was then. I’ll be profiling the key players in the free-agent market once the World Series wraps up, so I won’t get too deep into Cole here. We all know how good he is.

As for his market, I’m not really sure. The economics of the sport are so truly broken right now. All 30 teams should try for him as he’s a true difference-maker, but probably only a handful will. He’ll probably end up signing close to February, if not later unless some team just blows him out of the water. Right now, though, I think the market shakes out like this, in alphabetical order:

  • Angels
  • Astros
  • Dodgers
  • Padres
  • Phillies
  • Yankees

The Yankees have already said they’re in on him. Arte Moreno in Anaheim said that they’d be fine to raise payroll (imagine!) and the Padres aren’t afraid to make a big splash, plus Cole is from the West Coast and may prefer to return there. The Astros will almost assuredly try to retain his services, the Phillies may try to capitalize on their window (they were in on both Machado and Harper last year and signed just the latter) and you can never count the Dodgers out, even though you can basically count them out.

The market should be bigger and I’m sure there will be others involved in some way, but that’s how I see it shaking out. There will be a lot of talk about Cole’s preferences over the next few weeks. Don’t buy it. At the end of the day, the team that gives him the most money over the longest period of time will snag him. That’s how this works, and it’s how it should work.

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11 Comments

  1. RetroRob

    I’d put the Rangers on the list of teams that could make a strong push for Cole. They’re opening a new ballpark, have a rich TV contract, and need starters. This is not just about 2020 for the Rangers, it’s about the next six/seven years. They should be in it.

    As for the hitting question, the Yankees hitters were great during the season, they were great during the ALDS, they were fine in game one of the ALCS. We’re talking about a five game sample size here against a rotation that includes the Cy Young Award winner, and the runner up. A guaranteed HOFer in Verlander, a likely HOFer in Greinke, and perhaps the most dominant starter in the game in Cole. It’s a team that has a strong bullpen. They’ve been to the ALCS three straight years, the World Series two of the last three years, and already have a world championship. I believe their starting lineup had the highest wRC+ since one of the Yankee teams from the 1920s or 30s. As Klaw said in his chat the other day, this is one of the greatest assembled teams of all time. That’s who the Yankees lost to. So panicky fans need to take a deep breath and step away from the ledge if you think this Yankee team has great holes in it. They were a couple of timely hits away from being in the World Series and beating the best team in the game. I don’t care if they’re down 0-2 to the Nats. They are the best team in baseball. If they lost to the Nats, it’s simply a reminder of the unpredictability of a short series in baseball. The Astros won’t throw the baby out with the bathwater if they lose. The Yankees shouldn’t either.

    So that mini-rant out of the way, the Yankees need to go into 2020 recognizing that the path to the World Series is likely going to go through Houston again. They need to make sure they are better than Houston. Not just close the gap, but be better. The “easiest” way to do that is to add Cole. He’s subtracted from the Astros, who likely will also be faced with some age-related decline to both Verlander and Greinke. No guarantee on that, but I think it’s like at least one of them will slip a little.

  2. Vaughn Crawford

    Go with Ford

  3. I’m on board with what you said Bobby in re the ALCS. For me though it was all about which pen blinked first. Ours did. The biggest reason the Astros beat the Yanks is the length JV and Cole gave them. They exposed their pen less and they won.

    Green gave up 2 of those 3 run bombs. He was great for the Yanks this year, but if we rank all the pitchers on both rosters, he’s near the bottom. His failure is a big reason the Fightin’ Taubman’s are still playing.

    • RetroRob

      Peak performances from Green and Ottavino likely change the outcome of the series.

      • Sure, it’s possible. I think we learned though that a “superpen” has too many moving parts to be more effective than having two horses at the top of your rotation.

        • Bobby

          My response to this debate has generally been “why not both?”

          • RetroRob

            Exactly. The pen is good. Add a stud to add some relief for the pen. Pun intended.

  4. daryl bennett

    Yes, the team “out hit” and “out pitched” Houston, minus timely hits.

    However, I felt Verlander going 7 IP and saving their BP was huge. By starters putting up more innings, the relief pitchers will have less workload. Or, even more effective in a lower utilization. Obviously seeing the same pitcher over and over again, eventually the hitter will get their hit. Hence “a timely hit”.

    This goes back to the starting pitcher. The buck stops here. The hitters are fine. But man, you need a pitcher. But I’d like a more balanced lineup.

    Not everyone needs “to be able to carry the team.” hell, arods best post season was when he dropped that mentality.

    And if cheap ass Hal won’t break the bank for Cole, something needs to give. You can’t float that joke Estevan Florial (obp under 0.300 for his third year at A+), frazier (who we clearly don’t trust, he can’t field, has some mental issue, and punches the floor on missed catches) and deivi garcia (he walks 3x the rate of severino when sevi was his age. Imagine the disaster of that at the major league level). So yea, sanchez is a great hitter, but streaky, and does good enough behind the plate. He’s eventually going to demand a fortune. Had a bad post season, but many players did. You need to open up the wallet, or trade actual valuable players to get value in return. So we aren’t trading sanchez because we think he sucks, we are valuing his bat and skill. I just think he’s injury prone and would be much better splitting time between C and 1b/+/-DH elsewhere. Give me a defensive guru catcher than can handle sliders and high heat, and whatever with the bat. Couldn’t be worse than the DH/C combo we just watched. I have no need for the catcher to “carry the team.”

    Fyi- Stanton vs the big 3 Nats pitchers is crushing with over 0.300 Ave, 0.400 obp, 1.000+ OPS, 5hr, in 70 at bats.

  5. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    Craig Asks: While the fatigued bullpen certainly played a role, the failures of the Yankees’ offense were probably the main reason we lost. The Astros’ staff is all right-handed. Doesn’t this suggest that adding a powerful LHB should be a priority? (Brett and Didi–even though I sincerely hope both will be back–are not sufficient, and while Judge, LeMahieu and Gleyber did well, our lineup was still full of holes.)

    No, Craig. The last thing we need is more big left handed hairy monsters who strike out 50 times a game. We need more guys like DJ and Gleyber who get on base and hit for average. This happens every year. We get these power guys and they hit HR’s in the summer but come October they do nothing but strike out and kill rallies.

    George Asks: What kind of a pitcher would a Sanchez and Clint Frazier trade bring back?

    An ace, George, and I do think we need to trade both players. Gary just looks lost out there both at the plate and behind it. He strikes out way too much. He gets hurt trying to run because he’s too fat and his legs can’t support him. He had many troubles catching this postseason. Clint Frazier just looks like a circus clown out in the outfield and I don’t like his attitude. He rubs me the wrong way, not like Gio Urshela who rubs me the right way.

    Jamie Asks: So far, Patrick Corbin has 28 strikeouts in 14.1 innings. I can’t help but lament that having him in a Yankee uniform this postseason would have been a plus. Agree?

    Sure woulda been nice to have him instead of counting on the bullpen to get 24 outs a game wouldn’t it, Jamie? Cashman completely bungled that and many other pitcher signings. He didn’t want to go 6 years but we gave 7 years to the oft injured Hicks who will now basically miss 2 whole seasons. Corbin, Tanaka, Paxton, Sevy coulda went toe to toe with the Astros and Nats.

    Jon Asks: What does the market look like for Gerrit Cole this offseason? I know every team should be in on him, but what teams actually might make a run? It’s becoming increasingly obvious that a workhorse starter is critical in the postseason to give the bullpen a break.

    It looks very promising for him and the non-Yankee ballclubs, Jon. You know Cashman will put in a half-hearted effort and then cry afterwards when Cole signs with the Dodgers for an extra year. And Hal won’t add a penny to the roster. Scrooge McDuck and Mr. Magoo ain’t gonna do a damn thing to improve this ballclub

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