Happy Friday, everyone. The Yankees play a baseball game tonight and I sure do hope they win it. They have been frustrating as hell to watch this year, and it’s been something of a continuation of last year’s frustrations, too. I don’t think that it’ll last. Tonight would be a good night to prove me correct.
Before then, though, it’s time for another mailbag. You all sent in a bunch of great questions this week, but this was running pretty long. Many of them were timeless, so I’ll get to them in future editions. I’m rolling with four good questions today. As always, please send us your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. We choose our favorites each Friday. Answers after the jump.
Mr. Rodgers Asks: Wouldn’t Derek Dietrich or Mike Ford be an upgrade over Jay Bruce at this point?
Yes. Pretty easily too. I preach patience in the early going of the season – no emotional reactions to April baseball, the sample sizes are way too small for meaningful analysis, it’s only been 13 games, etc. – but I am going to break my own rule for Jay Bruce. He does not belong on the Yankees. I’m sorry. He just doesn’t.
Bruce is an absolute zero at the plate so far to the point that I consider it a victory when he only makes one out, not two. Now, his 37 wRC+ (lol) is not going to stand all season, of course. We know that. That’s an early-season slump sample size right there. But he also doesn’t inspire much confidence. Bruce hasn’t been an above-average hitter in his last 900 MLB plate appearances. This isn’t a situation where you’re just waiting for a guy to get hot in April. The fact of the matter is that Bruce hasn’t been a plus hitter since Gleyber Torres made his debut and he isn’t getting any younger.
Making matters worse, he is playing out of position defensively and doing a really poor job. He is letting otherwise routine throws at first get by him with regularity and it is hurting the team. That is not entirely his fault, to be fair: the Yankees are not putting him in a position to succeed. But they’re also not putting the team in a position to succeed. Mike Ford could be a zero at the plate, but he’d provide at least MLB-quality average defense at first. Competence, not excellence, would be an upgrade.
Unfortunately, we can’t see Ford for a while – he just came up for Gio when he was on the COVID list last weekend – so it’s not happening until at least Tuesday. (The same is also true for Wade.) Dietrich is an option but doesn’t solve their 1B problem. Maybe Gittens? I don’t know, but I don’t care. Every day that Bruce is on the team from here on out is a joke, in my opinion. This about sums up my views:
Reed Asks: Is there anything the Yankees can do about Giancarlo Stanton, and do we really care if he hits a ball at 120 mph if it is an out? I feel like he’s gotten a pass the last few weeks because of his postseason play and he hasn’t helped the team at all this year.
Giancarlo is struggling, there’s no doubt about it. He is hitting just .175/.233/.275 (43 wRC+) in 43 plate appearances so far. It has not been a good start to the season for him at all. But this is overly panicky, in my opinion. Derek wrote the other day that Stanton is tagging the ball, but just into the ground, which is actually a good sign for the slugger. It would be much worse if he wasn’t making contact or making weak contact.
I like the non-Giancarlo spirit of this question, though. (I mean, his postseason shows why it’s worth keeping him around. There are only a handful of players in the league capable of getting that locked in.) That is to say, I think there is a lot of needless emphasis on “exit velocity” in broadcasts and on social media in a way that misses the utility of the stat.
It is always dumb when someone posts or writes that “Player X has the HARDEST HIT ball of the STATCAST ERA” and then you watch the video and it’s an otherwise routine ground ball out to third, or whatever. Who cares? That is pointless, and I agree. But that doesn’t mean exit velocity isn’t valuable or predictive. It is, especially when taken in bulk.
For example, Giancarlo ranks in the 93rd percentile in both average exit velocity and in his hard-hit percentage so far in 2021. You want to hit the ball hard in your at-bats, after all, and this means he’s making good contact. He just isn’t making the best contact yet, because, as you note, exit velocity is only half of the battle. You also have to hit the ball into the air for it to count, and he’s not doing that. But I wouldn’t worry. His ground ball rates do not look sustainable to me at all. Look at this:
Does that look like a trend or a short-sample anomaly? Seems pretty clear to me, even if his ground ball rate has ticked up a bit in recent years. Point is that there’s almost no chance this specific struggle is consistent over the year. His swing will be fine and when it normalizes, we’ll see plenty of majestic homers and stung extra-base hits. When that happens, you’ll be glad Giancarlo is on the team. I guarantee it.
Peter Asks: Aaron Judge is quickly becoming – or already is – the Yankees’ version of Troy Tulowitzki: he has incredible, game-changing talent, but health prevents him from displaying it over a full season. He is already closing in on 30. Is there any chance the Yanks pony up the dollars he’ll want in free agency?
I tackled this one a few weeks ago, when I suggested that I would offer Judge a 6-year, $150 million contract extension before the 2021 season began. That’s a fair offer for both the Yankees and Judge from my perspective. Check that out for more thoughts on my reasoning behind that if you’re interested. But I think that this question gets at a deeper problem with the way the Yankees communicate and the way it impacts our perception of Judge.
When Judge went “down” last week – i.e. missing two (2) baseball games – the Yankees fandom had a nuclear meltdown. People wanted to trade him. Others said we’d see him in July. And still others tried to make like a private detective and thread together a non-existent story of Yankee duplicitousness and deception to show that Aaron Judge has been secretly hurt since Spring Training.
I’m sick of it. Judge is hitting .308/.386/.615 (178 wRC+) with 4 HR in the early going so far. Does that seem like a player who is playing hurt? It doesn’t to me! He was great before the two injury-adjacent days off and has been great since. It sure seems like the day-to-day treatment was the right way to go and there wasn’t anything else going on.
But you know what? It’s not the fans I’m sick of with this. It’s the team, really. The Yankees deserve it. They’ve spent three years doing this tired song-and-dance where they downplay serious injuries as day-to-day maladies, so fans can and should be skeptical of anything they say. I do it myself! I do think it’s bad optics, too, and I think it causes a lot of needless rage from fans. It’s not a good cycle, for the team, the players, or the fanbase.
But at the same time, let’s try to all take a collective deep breath. It seems like Aaron Judge is fine, at least for now. It is certainly true he gets hurt too much – nobody would deny this – but so far he’s been healthy in 2021. Let’s not hold a non-existent injury against him. Although I will say that a fully healthy – or even mostly healthy – season would go a long way toward the Yankees giving him the big contract he is going to want.
Christopher Asks: Is CC Sabathia a top-5 all-time Yankee pitcher, including overall performance, peak performance, legacy, “Yankee”-ness, etc.?
This is a good question for two reasons. First, it gives me an excuse to write about CC Sabathia, who is on the short list of my personal favorite players to ever don the pinstripes. That’s always cool. Second, it’s actually challenging, and it speaks to a weird historical quirk for the Yankees’ franchise: nearly all of the team’s marquee names were batters, not pitchers.
Consider this. Of the 10 Yankee pitchers with the highest accumulated bWAR (min 20 GS), 6 of them retired before 1946. Now, let’s be fair. To some degree, this is expected. Baseball has changed significantly over the last 15 years, but it is almost unrecognizable when compared to the game played a century ago. Pitchers were the name of the game then, even as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and others started to change that. Red Ruffing (1930-1946, 4th in NYY bWAR) had 261 complete games. Sabathia appeared in 307. It was just a different sport.
Anyway, I say all of this because I think it’s important context. Sabathia ranks just outside the Yankees Top 10 all-time WAR leaderboard, ranking at 12. He’s all but tied with early-century ace Jack Chesbro, logging 29.7 bWAR compared to Chesbro’s 29.8, though both are about 4 wins shy of the Herb Pennock’s 33.9. He ranks in the Yanks’ top 10 all-time leaderboards in wins (10th) and just outside in innings pitched (11th), but is nowhere close in opposing OPS (71st), ERA (102nd), ERA+ (45th), or FIP (109th).
So, the superficial leaderboard analysis says no. But there’s more to sports than that, right? CC has a few factors working against him, namely:
- He is a modern pitcher who pitched in the bullpen era.
- His first year in pinstripes was his age-28 season, meaning that the bulk of his prime was spent elsewhere.
- He was a Yankee for some of his roughest career years as he aged, before he re-invented himself.
So let’s try to account for that. CC does significantly better when compared to even slightly more modern peers. Of all Yankee pitchers with 20 games started for the Yanks in the post-war period, CC ranks 5th in wins, 5th in innings pitched, 5th in games started, and 6th in WAR. That’s more like it, and speaks to the fact that Sabathia is one of the best pitchers the Yanks have ever had. Now, let’s break it down one more way, this time accounting for his peak and value to the Yankees.
The Yankees have had 14 instances of a pitcher logging more than 6 bWAR since 1946. Two of those (2009, 2011) were CC Sabathia, tying him with Mike Mussina and Ron Guidry for most such instances. His 20 bWAR from 2009-2012, across 900 innings pitched, carried the Yankees to three ALCS appearances and a World Series championship. He almost single-handedly changed the Yankees culture and they won their most recent World Series in his first year with the team. I don’t think that is a coincidence.
I have no doubt that, had he joined the Yankees even three years sooner, he’s an easy choice in this question. As it stands, though, he’s probably not. But when I factor in the fact that he reinvented himself later on in his career for a resurgence, was one of the most dominant peak pitchers in modern Yankee history, and is a major reason why the team won its only title in the last 20 seasons, I say yes. He was a unique pitcher for the Yanks, and recent team history looks much different without him. With that context in mind, I’m saying yes. Why the hell not? CC rules.