Happy Friday, everyone. Got a handful of questions in this week’s mailbag. As always, send yours to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We answer our favorites each week.
Jeff asks: Not to sound too complain-y about Gerrit Cole, but small sample size aside…what does the underlying data say in regards to hit Hard Hit percentage being the highest of his career?
Atlanta socked three dingers against Gerrit Cole a few days ago and made a bunch of hard contact otherwise. Home runs have been a problem for Cole this year (10 allowed in 41 innings), but he’s given up his fair share of dingers in the past. But as Jeff points out, Cole’s 45.5 percent hard hit rate is the highest of his career. Previously, it maxed out at 39.8 percent in 2018 with Houston. Last year, he had a 35.5 percent rate.
Before digging deeper, it’s important to note that hard hit percentage makes up any batted ball with an exit velocity of 95 MPH or higher. It can be a popup or grounder too, not necessarily just a line drive or a deep fly ball. Pointing this out matters. For instance, if you look back at Cole’s 2018 season, you’ll see that his hard hit rate was one of the worst in the league (13th percentile). However, his expected batting average (91st percentile), expected slugging (83rd percentile), and xwOBA (89th percentile) were all superb. Even though there were a lot of high exit velocities against him, hitters didn’t square up too often.
So at first glance, a high hard hit rate against Cole isn’t necessarily a big deal this season. I’d say that the bigger concern is opponents’ higher barrel rate against him. Right now, that stands at 11.1 percent (career-worst, 7.6 previous high in 2017) and is in the 27th percentile of MLB. I’m still pretty comfortable chalking that up to a small sample size, though. His stuff certainly hasn’t deteriorated. He just hasn’t put everything together for one outing yet. Frustrating? Yes. But I have no reason to doubt it’ll come around.
I have one theory as to why batters are barreling Cole’s pitches more often this season. Cole has seemed to struggle throwing his curveball for strikes, which is something he could do in the past. Take a look:
Basically, Cole’s only been able to locate his fastball for a strike with consistency in 2020. That probably makes things easier for hitters — they aren’t seeing knee-buckling curveballs dropped into the strike zone like in years past. It’s one less thing to keep them honest.
Iron Mike asks: What do you think Domingo Germán’s future is with the Yankees next year? Also if the Yankees are in dire need of pitching, can’t he technically pitch after the 3rd game of the playoffs?
I’ll get your second question out of the way first: yes, he can technically return after the third game of the playoffs, but I would not expect that to happen. As far as I know, he’s home and not preparing for a return. I doubt the Yankees would want to throw him out in a high leverage spot for the first time in 2020, anyway.
As for next year: I think Germán will be a rotation candidate. The Yankees will have no shortage of openings with James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and JA Happ all potentially gone via free agency. Plus, Luis Severino won’t be ready for the start of the season. And, considering how comfortable the Yankees were with bringing in Aroldis Chapman twice after a domestic violence suspension, I can’t envision anything different here.
Brian asks: Has there been any update on the Ellsbury contract situation? Will he be paid the same prorated salary that other players are earning, and is there any news on whether or not the Yankees are still trying to avoid paying him because he sought unapproved medical advice?
It’s been radio silence on Jacoby Ellsbury for months now. I believe the last we heard was that the MLBPA filed a grievance on the outfielder’s behalf in attempt to regain the remaining $26 million on his contract. Unless the two sides settle, there will be an arbitration hearing.
If Ellsbury wins the grievance, he’ll get his full $26 million. He was released well before this pandemic changed the fate of the 2020 baseball season. Per Forbes, players not on 40-man rosters receive their full guaranteed contracts. Had the Yankees kept him around, he’d have earned roughly $9.6 million. Tough luck for the Bombers, I suppose, but there’s a chance the team walks away without paying him a penny if they win the hearing.
Old friend Steven asks: The most obvious selling team is the Red Sox. If Chaim Bloom came to you, the Yankees GM, and said everyone but Devers, Benintendi and Eduardo Rodríguez were on the table, who would you target?
Oh, I think this is an easy one: Xander Bogaerts. Though I have to imagine that he probably wouldn’t be on the table, either. The 27 year-old shortstop is in the first year of a six-year deal, though he can opt out after 2022. He’s currently hitting .276/.342/.505 (123 wRC+) for Boston and is coming off a 7 WAR season.
Frankly, there’s really not much else on this roster that’s attractive. I *suppose* the Yankees could benefit from either Nate Eovaldi or Martín Pérez, but that’s a real stretch. Been there, done that with Eovaldi, who hasn’t been good since 2018 anyway. He’s also under contract through 2022. Pérez has actually been OK this season (3.45 ERA and 4.56 FIP in 31 1/3 innings), but he’s not particularly inspiring. His career DRA is 6.13. Barf.
Finally, with the departures of Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree, there’s not much left in this bullpen to look at. I do think that Phillips Valdez is intriguing (0.98 ERA, 3.15 FIP in 18 1/3 innings). His changeup, which he throws 47.1 percent of the time, has been pretty nasty. He’s got a 36.9 percent whiff rate on the pitch.
Anyway, the Yankees and Red Sox haven’t pulled off a trade since the Stephen Drew for Kelly Johnson swap in 2014. That was the first time to two sides made a swap since 1997! Baseball Reference has the rundown of all Yankees-Red Sox trades here.