Mailbag: The Gio Dude, Potential Trades, Porcello, High-Spin Curves

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Happy Friday! It’s the last Friday of the regular season. That’s good and bad news, at least to me. I’m extremely ready for the postseason–I have been since Spring Training, really–but this season has been just so much fun for the Yankees that I don’t want to see it end. Hopefully we get another month of fun from this team. I have a good feeling about it.

This week’s mailbag has four really great questions. As ever, please send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We do this every Friday, and we’ll choose our favorites each week. Thanks as always for sending your questions!

Bobby Asks: Is there anything in the underlying stats during Gio Urshela’s current slump that suggests he’s turning back into a pumpkin? Or is it just a slump?

Gio Urshela sure is struggling, that’s for sure. In his last 47 plate appearances (spanning two weeks before Tuesday’s hopefully minor injury), the Gio Dude is hitting just .163/.234/.256 (24 wRC+) with a 6.1% walk rate and 21% strikeout rate. His isolated power (.093) and batting average on balls in play (.188) are also extremely low and his hard hit rate (42%) is a bit down from his season average (44%). That’s not a huge amount–he’s still hitting the ball harder than I’d have expected–but we can see it play out in some under-the-hood Statcast data as well. Check out a rolling chart of his exit velocity:

Yeah, he’s clearly not hitting the ball with the same authority as he was a few months ago. The peak of that chart there was about an average 95 mph exit velocity (about the same as Aaron Judge) and he’s now basically at league average (around 86 mph). He’s also not driving the ball the same way he was. Here’s a similar chart, tracking his launch angle:

Pretty clear, isn’t it? He’s hitting the ball with less authority and into the ground, which is the exact opposite of what you want. Add that all up and you’re going to see this:

However! What this really shows us is that he’s just in a slump. There is no magic formula here, nor is there really any predictive value in these sorts of measures. It’s only been about 50 plate appearances, after all. Now, I know Gio hasn’t ever really set the world on fire before–I still can’t even believe we’re having this conversation at all–but our man is hitting .315/.356/.532 (132 wRC+) this season in 466 plate appearances. I cannot just write that off because of one slump (even if I’ve done so right here in this mailbag before).

Even a few weeks ago, DJ LeMahieu’s Statcast data would have looked fairly similar to this when he looked lost at the plate. Baseball is a tough, unforgiving sport and even the very best hitters can look like Little Leaguers for a time. The underlying data here isn’t exactly pretty but I don’t think it’s significant enough to say that Gio’s magic carpet ride is over. You don’t have to go back very far to see some extremely impressive under-the-hood data, after all. Let’s just hope this hand injury isn’t too serious and that some time off gets Gio back on track for October.

Brooks Asks: In theory, if the Yankees were to build a trade package of former prospects who have lost some of their shine – Greg Bird, Clint Frazier and Tyler Wade…what do you think you could get for them?  An ace, a solid 3/4 type, or absolutely nothing? (Remember MTPS.)

This is a really great question and one that I always kind of hate to field, mostly because of the clause at the end there: my (and your) trade proposals suck. That being said, it’s an interesting exercise because there is going to be a 40-man roster crunch in the coming weeks. There are going to be casualties as there always are. We’ll cover that in more detail when the season officially ends, i.e. hopefully with a hangover in November.

But I do have to say: none of these three guys are quite the same. Check it out:

  • Greg Bird, 1B: Age 26, .211/.301/.424 (96 wRC+) in 700 PA
  • Clint Frazier, OF: Age 25 .253/.303/.462 (98 wRC+) in 426 PA
  • Tyler Wade, Utility: Age 24, .197.269.300 (54 wRC+) in 236 PA

Each of them bring different skillsets to the table and will therefore have different value. Greg Bird, for example, has none. He’s not exactly young anymore and his last healthy season was 2015, when he was first called up to the bigs. That was also the last time he was a productive big leaguer. He did get 300 plate appearances last year in 80+ games but my word was he terrible (.199/.286/.386) and his defense isn’t much to write home about. He’s I guess an interesting last piece of a package, but I can’t imagine he is of much value to anyone right now, suck though that may. I was rooting for him.

Wade, on the other hand, does do some things well. He’s a multi-positional player with plus defense across the diamond (he’s learning outfielding skills too). He’s also very fast, as in he’d be the fastest player on the Yankees, and he’s a very smart and adept baserunner. He tops out at 29 feet/second per Statcast and he takes the extra base (i.e. first-to-third) in 71% of all opportunities, per Baseball-Reference. League average is 41%. He’s been a complete zero offensively, but he’s still just 24.

The Yankees have given him a shot in each of the last three seasons for a reason. They carried him on the postseason roster in 2017 and will do so again this year. To me, his value is higher to the Yankees as a pinch-running specialist and defensive super-sub than it is on the market. If he can hit like he has this year (92 wRC+, though that’s fueled by his insane recent hot streak), then my guess is that he remains on the Yankee roster next year. Most decent farm systems can turn out a fast super-sub. I don’t think you’d get much in a trade.

And now Clint. He’s been the subject of much discussion this year, and it’s not difficult to see why. He’s a large personality who came to the Yankees with a lot of hype at the 2016 and a lot of fans, myself included, wanted him to be this year’s (or last year’s!) breakout prospect. That hasn’t really happened, with Clint playing some truly unplayable defense in the outfield and being buried in Triple-A. To be fair, he’s really shown flashes of offensive dominance and he has been a slightly above-average offensive player this year. That’s not nothing, but time and time again, when there was playing time for Clint, the Yankees opted to give it to someone else.

I’ve said this over and over again on Twitter and in offline discussions with friends, but that tells me something. It tells me a lot, actually. The Yankees make space for their young guys–even flawed ones. They did it with Bird and Sánchez in 2015 and 2016, even with Teixeira and McCann on the team. They did it with Judge and Torres, and they did it with Andújar, who, as I’m sure you remember, also played atrocious defense. They have notably not done so with Clint. And I’m sorry, but the chances were there. The Yankees would not have given Mike Tauchman time over Aaron Judge in 2016.

To me, that all but ensures Clint is a goner this offseason. We have a sense of what teams are willing to give for him, but I don’t think you’re going to like it. The Blue Jays and Diamondbacks both wanted Clint plus for Marcus Stroman and Robbie Ray, respectively. There is a package out there for Clint, for sure, but I don’t think he’s bringing home the top-line prospects folks tend to think he is. That’s why he’s still here, in my opinion.

Rich Asks: On Rick Porcello, what are the chances the Yankees go after him in FA to bolster the back end of the rotation if they miss out on Cole? Do his numbers against the likes of Houston, Oakland, Minnesota and Tampa back up a multi-year offer?

Sigh. Let me just get something out of the way right away: there is no excuse for the Yankees to miss out on Cole. He’s the perfect pitcher for them, and I really hope that they leave their newfound austerity behind for him. I’m not holding my breath, but hey, I’m not writing off the possibility either. Nobody said sports fandom is rational.

Rick Porcello is the type of pitcher who is a completely fine back-end starter, in my opinion. He has had some very, very good seasons, a Cy Young winning season, and some terrible seasons. All told, he’s been just about league average (99 ERA+) in over 2,000 career innings pitched. You don’t now what you’re going to get on a year-to-year basis, perhaps, but on a 2 or 3 year deal you’re probably a good bet to get a solid innings-eater at the very least. He’s only 30. There are worse options, but there are better ones too.

I’m not really going to read anything into his splits against this year’s playoff teams mostly because Oakland/Minnesota have only been good for 2 years, so he hasn’t really had many chances against them. He has under 40 IP against Houston in his entire career. He is quite good against the American League East, though. Check this out:

  • New York Yankees: 11-10, 3.96 ERA in 156.2 IP w/ a .701 OPS against
  • Tampa Bay Rays: 14-12, 3.56 ERA in 204 IP w/ a .699 OPS against

Pretty good figures against some pretty good teams. If nothing else, not having to face Porcello a few times a year might be a very slight boon to the Yankees, but they should really go out there and get Cole.

Cory Asks: I think I more or less understand how to interpret spin rate when it comes to fastballs. High spin fastballs drop less than batters are used to, generating the impression of rise. Low spin fastballs drop more than batters are used to, generating grounders. Mid spin fastballs do what batters are used to, generating hard contact. But I’m not sure I have a grasp on what spin rate means for breaking pitches. You’ll often hear that a pitcher has a high-spin curve, for instance, but without knowing what that means for the flight of the pitch, I don’t know what to make of that information. What does spin rate tell us for breaking pitches, beyond what the movement of the pitch tells us?

I love questions like this. You’re more or less spot-on re: the importance of high-spin fastballs–they drop less and look “faster” than they are as a result. That’s why the best teams in the league are actively targeting pitchers who can really spin it on their fastballs. High-spin curveballs, too, are very desirable, so when you hear that a curve has high-spin, it can be a good thing.

But it’s important to remember that curveballs and fastballs work in opposite ways. Fastballs have backspin, which keeps them “straight”, so more spin means the ball drops less. Curveballs are thrown with topspin, which is designed to generate their break, so a high-spin curveball essentially means it has more movement. Overall, high-spin curveballs have more downward momentum and, as you’d expect, result in more ground balls.

However, a nice analysis of curveball spin rate at Pitcher’s List covers this in some scientific detail, but the tl;dr is that a high-velocity, high-spin curveball breaks sharp and late–the velocity means that the pitch breaks closer to the plate. This is all kind of wonky, so here’s a gif of a high-spin, high-velocity curveball that I suspect you’ll like:

Look at that thing. It stays tight in the plane throughout it’s trajectory until it just dies right before the plate. Loaisiga’s curveball is averaging more than 2,800 RPM in 2019 and that one came in at 88 mph. It is the very definition of a high-spin, high-velocity fastball. I think the physics of it are quite clear just in that one GIF, and I think it’s pretty apparent why teams (and scouts) fall in love with guys with stuff like that.

That’s one example of what a high spin curveball can look like. Here is another one:

Deivi’s curve is clearly loopier than Loaisiga’s, which is much tighter. It has a similar spin rate–about 2,900 on this one, per former Yankee pitching development guru Danny Borell–but it came in at 80.5 miles per hour. That can really impact the way the pitch breaks and also its outcome.

Ultimately, though, there are a wide-range of spins on curveballs. The Statcast era is really young so we’re learning more about this stuff as we go. But, generally speaking, a high-spin curveball means that the pitch has a lot of movement and will result in a lot of grounders. I don’t think it ever hurts–especially if it’s paired with high-velocity.

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2 Comments

  1. “The Yankees would not have given Mike Tauchman time over Aaron Judge in 2016.” Thank you for crediting the Yankees with having some sense.

  2. mike

    No way the Yanks sign Cole. Years ago, there was no way the Yanks would NOT sign a free like Cole. Times have changed!

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