Mailbag: Changeup Usage, Bullpen, Joey Gallo, Jose Berrios, Jeopardy

Happy Friday, everyone. It’s a weird one. The Yankees love to take very long, unexpected delays after giving up sickening walk-off home runs to Jose Altuve, huh? Even if this season goes nowhere, I really want to get the taste of last Sunday out of my mouth. To that end, we’ll keep you posted as we hear more today about the COVID scare and how that will impact tonight’s game.

Until then, it’s time for another mailbag. We got plenty of good questions this week and, as usual, I chose my favorites below. Send yours in to viewsfrom314@gmail.com to be included in a future edition, which runs every Friday.

Eric Asks: Since the ban on the sticky stuff, have the Yankees changed their changeup usage?

We covered this a lot at the beginning of the season, as Eric noted in what was a slightly longer email. As of May 4, the Yankees ranked 8th in the league in changeup usage since Opening Day 2020, so a decent-sized sample. To answer this one simply, I’m going to break it down into three quick parts.

The first will be the original studied period in my previous analysis – Opening Day 2020 through May 3, 2021. Then, I’ll look at the intervening period from that study to the crackdown, which began in earnest on June 21. Then, I’ll look at everything since then. That should start to get us an answer. Here’s what we see:

  • July 23, 2020 to May 3, 2021: 13.1% changeup usage; 8th in MLB
  • May 4 to June 20: 15.2% changeup usage; 4th in MLB
  • June 21 to July 11: 11.9% changeup usage; 13th in MLB

So, that’s a pretty clear decline, at least at first glance. It’s a several percentage point decline across both time frames. But I’m not ready to read anything into it yet. It’s too early to tell what this means, especially since the Yanks’ changeup usage is still significantly higher than it was with Rothschild, when it came in at about 8.5%.

In other words, they’re still emphasizing the offering more than they were before. A few drops in percentage points here and there over a few weeks doesn’t signify a real break from the pattern. At least not yet. All that said, the underlying question – has the Yankees’ approach changed since the crackdown? – is an interesting one. That’s an answer we’ll hope to have once there is a bit more time separated from the crackdown.

Michael Asks: What’s wrong with the bullpen?

The short answer here is nothing. Yankee relievers are the league’s best reliever corps by fWAR (4.5), and they rank in the top 10 in every major category you’d want them to. Strikeout rates, walk rates, HR rates, ERA, FIP, ground ball percentages, etc. The relievers have not been the problem with the Yankees this season – in the aggregate.

In my opinion, the longer answer here is still nothing, even though they’ve blown too many games lately. Jonathan Loaisiga is out with COVID, which left the team short their most consistent reliever against Houston. That had downstream effects, and it’s put a lot of burn on other guys, specifically Chad Green. Zack Britton is out. Teams have rough stretches out of the pen every year. It happens.

The more worrying answer is Aroldis Chapman. All of the recent issues – bullpen burnout, blown games, lack of confidence – are fundamentally rooted in his complete and utter collapse. Remember when Aroldis looked like this at the beginning of the season?

All of this prompted me to write glowing pieces about Chapman’s future reliability and his ability to adapt. The wheels have fallen off that wagon recently. This is worth a deeper dive in its own post, but look at this:

Chapman’s usage rates have changed significantly since July, which, of course, is right around the league cracked down on sticky stuff. While Chapman was clearly not using a changeup, I’d argue that his splitter, seen above, functioned as a de facto change for him. That is all but gone now. Look at that – synergy across questions!

In all seriousness, I’m not willing to draw any conclusions here yet, either. Chapman is prone to having rough stretches every year. In those stretches, he has absolutely no idea where the ball is going. Safe to say that’s going on again:

It’s too soon to know if this is related to substances or just general weirdness. Here is what we do know, though. Chapman is not the same pitcher he was a few months ago. That could change soon, but for now, any issues the Yankees’ pen has are going to start and end with its most important piece. It all flows downstream from Chapman. I think he’ll figure it out, though.

Owen Asks: Knowing the Yankees are looking at trading for Joey Gallo, which players would likely be included to get the deal done?

Let me start by saying two things: 1) the Yankees would absolutely be a better team if they acquired Joey Gallo and 2) I sort of don’t want them to acquire Joey Gallo. There’s no question about number 1, and I would not be upset if they traded for him. I mean, consider this:

  • Yankees Outfielders: .229/.321/.388 (98 wRC+)
  • Joey Gallo: .239/.402/.522 (153 wRC+)

Yep. Hard to argue otherwise! And he’s a lefty. He would easily fit on the team, and he’d improve the theoretical platoon weakness: he mashes lefties (161 wRC+) and righties (149 wRC+) alike. The Yankees need offense, particularly from the outfield. Gallo helps.

Why I don’t want him is mostly because he is the embodiment of the three-true-outcome player. He does not hit for average, he strikes out a ton, he walks a lot, and he hits a lot of homers. That’s not a bad thing – hell, I’ve spent years defending the Yankee offense – but it doesn’t offer any variety. And fans would hate him. Remember, people think Judge strikes out a lot. Gallo is in another universe. It would get exhausting quickly.

All of that said, the Yankees should pull the trigger if it’s a choice between Gallo and nobody and Gallo and a much worse, marginal upgrade. What does a deal look like? Hard to say. He’s still in arbitration and will be around in 2022, which adds onto his value. Jaime commented on what was surely a fake source speculation yesterday with this note:

That has the Yankees giving up Kevin Alcantara, Austin Wells, and Deivi Garcia to the Rangers. Feels a bit steep, but Gallo is a good player at age 27, and he’d help the 2021 and 2022 clubs. The Yanks wouldn’t have to give up any MLB talent to get him in this scenario. Still, I don’t think it would cost this many prospects. These trades always, always, always cost less than we think. I’d be shocked if a Gallo trade was a 3-1 in which the 3 Yankee prospects are players most Yankee fans have heard of.

A spoiler player to watch in these negotiations and over the next few weeks is going to be Ken Waldichuk, in my opinion. The former college arm is killing it in the minors and is presumably not too far away given his development trajectory and collegiate history. I expect he’d be a desirable piece and likely a sell-high candidate from the farm. Teams will ask about him. And, to boot, the Yankees would likely try to clear out their Rule 5 backlog in any trade. That matters here, too.

George Asks: José Berríos from the Twins seems like a realistic target at the deadline. What would it take in a package, and what’s your take on acquiring him?

Color me interested in Berrios. The dude has been above-average in every season since 2017, posting very solid seasons in each of those campaigns. This year is no different. He has a 3.48 ERA (4.13 FIP) and is posting a near-career-high in strikeouts and is barely walking anyone. He’s also improved his ground ball rates this year. Low walks, decent Ks, and ground balls is a recipe for success in Yankee Stadium. I’m interested to say the least.

That said, moving to the American League East, away from the soft-hitting AL Central, could juice some of those stats. If the Yankees traded for Berríos, I’d expect him to both improve the Yankee rotation and also take a slight step back in his Minnesota performance. That’s fine, though, as they could use him. No question about that.

Much of what I said above here applies to a Berríos trade, too. Who knows what it would take to get him, and I won’t wager a guess. That’s not what we do around here. Still, it would probably have to be a near MLB-level prospect like Deivi, a dependable further away piece like Waldichuk, and/or some Rule 5 players as a consolation prize. The Yankees should be calling though, and I bet they are.

Steven Asks: Which current Yankee would do best on jeopardy?

Oof. Former VF314’er Steven asks a tough but on-brand question for him here. This one is tough because we don’t know the players or their interests, really. Jeopardy obviously requires a bit of renaissance man knowledge and we have no idea which Yankees have that cache of historical, political, and cultural knowledge built up. There’s no way to know. But that’s not fun.

My answer here is Gerrit Cole. He’s very cerebral in his postgame answers, he clearly loves the craft of pitching, and everything you hear about him says that he approaches the game with a curious, analytical bent. That, coupled with the fact he attended UCLA, gives him a leg up in my book. I bet he’d do pretty well. If he’d do the best on the Yanks, though, is anyone’s guess.

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2 Comments

  1. Steven Tydings

    I like the Cole pick! I, as always, threw you a curveball and you hit it to exit velo city.

    I think Zack Britton might also be a low-key good option, plus Aaron Hicks would be fun to watch on the show.

    • Bobby

      I was thinking about Britton too – he makes sense!

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