Happy Friday, everyone. Only one more week of the cold, baseball-less winter. Next week at this time we’ll be looking forward to the start of Spring Training. Well, pitchers and catchers will be reporting, which is the first step anyway. We will see some photos of Gerrit Cole stretching and probably even taking some long toss. Exciting! In other news, longtime favorite Curtis Granderson announced his retirement:
Wishing nothing but the best for Curtis in retirement. Anyway, it’s time for another mailbag. We have three great questions today, and, as always, if you’d like to be included in an upcoming mailbag, just drop us a line at viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We choose our favorites each week.
Mickey Asks: If you had the power to turn any hitter on the Yankees’ roster into a lefty hitter, OR to turn any Yankees pitcher into a lefty pitcher, who would best impact the team? E.G. would turning Judge into a lefty hitter improve the team more than turning Cole into a lefty pitcher?
This is a fun question! Without giving it too much thought, I want to say Judge. I mean, there’s just something alluring about the left-handed swing, isn’t there? For some reason, they just look prettier. So, on that purely cosmetic reason, imagine this swing from a lefty:
That would probably be the prettiest Yankee swing since Robinson Canó (and it might be anyway). On the contrary, Friend of the Blog Lucas Apostoleris worked some video magic a few weeks ago that showed Cole as a lefty pitcher. Check it out:
Both would be cool! It’s hard to choose, so let’s game this out with some numbers, shall we?
First, there are, by far, more right-handed hitters than left-handed hitters in baseball. There were just over 110,000 plate appearances from righty batters against just 76,000 for lefty batters in 2019. There are also far fewer lefty pitchers (12,000 IP) than righty pitchers (31,000 IP) in the league. Lefty-on-lefty matchups, while rare, clearly favor the pitcher, with lefty batters logging an 89 wRC+ in 2019 against southpaws. Righties, by contrast, put up a 105 wRC+ against them. Finally, righty-on-righty matchups had a 91 wRC+ for the righty batter, while lefties put up a 102 wRC+ against righties.
This is pretty insightful, I think, and there are a few takeaways. The first is that there are not many left-handed players in the league, relatively speaking. With this in mind, the second takeaway is that being a left-handed hitter (or a switch hitter) is a much more valuable skill, because a lefty batter is much more likely to face a right-handed pitcher on a given day than the opposite — and that’s where the advantage really lies.
So, I think I’m going to take Judge. There is probably an argument that taking a more marginal player with a good split and switching his handedness may increase the value-add to the Yankees, but meh. Give me Judge — who is a better hitter against lefties (160 wRC+) than righties (150 wRC+) now, so we could assume he’d fare similarly if roles were reversed — as a lefty bat with that sweet short porch right there. Feels like a no-brainer given this broader context.
Rich Asks: Just saw that Scott Kazmir is attempting another comeback. The Twitter video even looked promising. Any chance the Yankees will take a minor league flier on him? Might be good lefty insurance should Monty/Happ have issues.Embed from Getty Images
Sure, why not? I mean, I would be surprised — Kazmir hasn’t pitched in the league since 2016 and is 36-years-old — but anything is possible. Here is the video in question:
He is a lefty, which is our theme today, which means that he’ll have approximately 500 lives as a pitcher. Those are just the rules. But still, he hasn’t pitched since 2016, when he was with the Dodgers. And he wasn’t particularly good then, with a 4.56 ERA (4.48 FIP, 114 ERA-) and 0.9 fWAR in 136 innings. The strikeout rate (22%) and walk rate (8%) were okay though.
Honestly I’d be pretty surprised to see Kazmir even get a job, let alone one with the Yankees. On the other hand, nobody is going to give him a MLB deal, so what’s the harm in seeing if he can pull a rabbit out of his sleeve for a few months? I firmly believe that a team can’t have too much pitching depth, and a MiLB deal is virtually free, so why not? He makes as much sense for the Yankees as he does anyone else.
James Asks: Here’s a slow end of January baseball question. Are there any stats or data showing that certain types of hitters, fielders, or pitchers do better or worse on artificial turf compared to grass?Embed from Getty Images
This is a good question! Here’s a fun nugget: there are only two stadiums in the Majors that currently use artificial turf, and both of them are in the American League East. Those are, of course, the Rodgers Centre and Tropicana Field. (The Dome shut down in 2010 and Minnesota plays outside on grass now.) In other words, there are just 162 games played on artificial turf each season (81 at each) which feels insane! The Yankees play a disproportionate amount of those, which also probably skews our perception of this.
For a statistical analysis, this provides a few problems, I’d guess. There’s a lot of player turnover and it may be hard to get a meaningful sample that controls for the outside variables to get a sense of what player type or skillset does best on turf. Don’t quote me on that, it’s just a gut feeling. I’ll have to do a deeper dive here to be sure. But it’s a much, much smaller sample size than everything else, which I think matters.
However, I did remember a study from Beyond the Box score from five or so years ago that looked at the effect of playing on turf on a player’s aging curve. You can check out the whole analysis here, but here is the main takeaway in graph form:
In other words — with some caveats about sample size — we see that players who spent three seasons playing on turf decline faster and harder than those who don’t. So it’s very possible that turf accelerates declines and is harder on players’ bodies than playing on grass. I’d guess more research needs to be done here to be definitive, but it makes sense to me on an intellectual level. And, not to mention, we don’t see many artificial surfaces league-wide. There has to be a reason for that.