Mailbag: Mike Tauchman, Aaron Judge, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mound Changes

Happy Friday! It’s almost starting to feel like spring in New York City. I really start feeling the baseball itch when that happens. It’s almost time to bundle up and head over to 161st and River. Almost. For now we get to watch the Yanks enjoy the warm weather in Tampa. It’s better than nothing at least. And we also got this incredible tweet:

Amazing. Anyway, there are four questions in today’s mailbag. As always, please send yours to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We choose our favorites each week and answer them in this slot on Fridays.

Patrick Asks: There has been virtually no talk about Tauchman this spring. I see he has played (in the stats) but no mention here or any broadcast I’ve seen. What’s up with him?

Mr. Underrated himself.

This is true! It does feel like nobody is talking about Mike Tauchman these days, which is especially weird: the guy figures to be a major part of the Yankee outfield configuration come Opening Day. The injuries to Stanton and Judge make it almost a certainty. It was probably a certainty anyway, but he will now likely be in the Opening Day lineup in right or left field. What a world.

This spring, Tauchman has played in five games with a .091/.313/.091 slash line in 11 at-bats. That probably explains why we haven’t heard much about him. Spring Training stats are of course meaningless, but you do tend to hear about guys when they’re hitting .500 even in a limited sample. Cough, Rosell Herrera, cough. The combination of his relative struggles and his guaranteed spot on the roster explain the silence in my opinion.

On another note, I’m really curious to see what he does in 2020. Tauchman was a real surprise in 2019. He hit .277/.361/.504 (128 wRC+) in almost 300 at-bats, for crying out loud. He also played great defense. The underlying peripherals were mostly there, too. It was weird and unexpected. On the other hand, the Yanks are great at identifying these types, so who knows? Maybe it’s not weird at all!

I’m convinced he’s an ideal fourth outfielder type – great defense, speed, and the ability to hit a bit – but it’s a possibility he’s more than that. Luke Voit certainly was! It’ll take more than 300 at-bats to know for sure, though.

Peter Asks: I love Aaron Judge and believe he’s one of the absolute best players in the game.  He’s a leader in the clubhouse, seems like a great guy, and handles the media well, while not being at the Jeter boring level. Anyway, my concern is his inability to stay healthy. So, my question to you is….should the Yankees just hold out on signing Judge and just let him play through until Free Agency?  Or should they sign him long term and roll the dice on his non prime years, where his durability will likely be much worse rather than better (and knowing many other “fragile” players will have to play DH/1st Base).

Come back soon, Aaron.

We’ve covered this a bit already, so I’ll keep this brief. There are two ways to look at this: from our perspective as fan’s and from a rational front office point-of-view. Which perspective we choose to take matters a lot. Let’s go through both of them quickly.

From the fans’ perspective, who cares if he gets hurt a lot? He’s the face of the team, a leader, and the best offensive player the Yanks have developed since Robinson Canó. His surge maps perfectly with the resurrection of the franchise. He avoids drama, has a penchant for the big moment, and is a generally affable, likable guy. He’s the guy you want to keep as a fan. Judge is a Yankee, though and through, and it would be weird to imagine him playing elsewhere. Just look at the reaction to the Mookie Betts trade for a parallel. It’s not 1:1, of course, but it’s similar enough for a thought exercise. Lock him up and keep him in the Bronx, please and thanks.

On the other hand, baseball is not run by the fans. It’s a business and there are models at play here. I would extend Judge myself, but I think the quote-unquote rational move is to not. He’s a late bloomer, which means the Yanks are already getting his prime years. Not only are they getting those prime years, but they’re getting them at a steep discount. This is the first year he’s making over $1,000,000. Even if he were perfectly healthy all of the time, there’s no changing that economic calculus. Extensions happen more for guys like Gleyber Torres, who come up early and will hit free agency before or during their prime. The team wants to reap the benefits of those prime years, so they come to an agreement early.

That won’t happen with Judge just because of the economics of the sport. He has less leverage and will likely never collect the huge payday his production and talent would otherwise earn him. It’s a cold, calculating method, but it is what it is. Negotiations on the next CBA can help change that system, but until then, this is how it is. In other words, I think they “should” sign him but that they won’t. There are good reasons not to given the structure of the sport, unfortunately.

JJ Asks: Have you heard any word about the grievance Jacoby filed to get paid his salary for last season? I imagine that has large luxury tax implications for 2020 – potentially motivating the team to squeeze in someone like Arenado – but there’s been surprisingly little about it. Thanks!

Happier days.

We have not heard anything. That may be frustrating – you’re right that it has major financial implications – but this stuff is complicated. It takes time. The best parallel is the Mets/Céspedes situation. That dispute took a full calendar year to resolve and the Ellsbury one is even more complicated, I think. There are $70 million at stake, remember. The language of these contracts is very technical. There are MLB Player’s Association interests at stake. And on and on. There’s going to be a lot to discuss. This is going to take time.

Also, it’s worth remembering that we don’t really have much information. Ellsbury is saying one thing and the Yankees are saying a different thing entirely. It’s true that the money is significant for CBA purposes and could be the difference between another move or not, but it shouldn’t factor in your mind at all. I’d be very surprised if this resolved itself before the 2020 season ended, let alone before the Trade Deadline.

George Asks: Let’s say MLB decided it wanted to inject more offense into the game. What might work better for batters, moving the mound back a foot or so, or lowering it?

This is a fun corollary to the question two weeks ago about metal bats. The difference here is that baseball is actually experimenting both with moving the mound back and is potentially considering lowering the hill. The good news it that there’s a bit of research out there about this, so let’s get into that.

The league lowered the mound after 1968’s Year of the Pitcher, remember. So we do have some real evidence to examine. The results were pretty immediate. The average score increased by 1.2 runs a game in 1969, with hits and walks also up. Home runs and batting average on balls in play also increased. Those are real, immediate, and tangible changes – or so they may seem.

The reality is that this is all very, very complicated. Hardball Times research showed that the way balls and strikes were called in 1969 also changed quite a bit, which could impact the rate of strikeouts and walks, obviously. There are tons of extraneous factors that contribute to the run scoring environment, down to the ball itself. It is really difficult to pinpoint causality without rigorous analysis. That correlation does not imply causation should be a familiar refrain to anyone familiar with the basic social sciences. The maxim is also true in baseball, but there was definitely a change from 1968 to 1969. That much is undeniable. We just don’t necessarily know the mound changes caused those changes.

Moving the mound back is a bit more theoretical. Baseball America (subs req’d) spoke to Driveline’s Kyle Boddy about this a few weeks ago and the conversation was fascinating. Boddy believes that moving the mound back would actually benefit pitchers more than hitters. He says his research shows that the the move wouldn’t really change the velocity/reaction time calculus much and that it may increase the effectiveness of breaking balls. Pretty counterintuitive but also makes sense to me.

We’ll know more after the Atlantic League experiment, but I’d have to say lowering the mound just because we do have some evidence that it works. But again, these things are never as they seem. Baseball is a very complicated game. It’s one of the things I love most about it.

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6 Comments

  1. Stanzy

    Ellsbury got injured on the way to the first grievance meeting. It’ll be 3-6 months before he can resume grievance activities.

  2. RetroRob

    One things over ignored regarding the lowering of the pitching mound in 1969. It did seem to contribute to a bump in offense that year, following the “year of the pitcher,” but it was short term. In fact, the early ’70s were some of the lowest offensive years in the game’s history. Offense slowly ticked up in the mid- to later-70s, but overall the decade was on the low end offensively. So, yes, it is complicated.

  3. DanGer

    “Extensions happen more for guys like Gleyber Torres, who come up early and will hit free agency before or during their prime. The team wants to reap the benefits of those prime years, so they come to an agreement early.”

    100%

  4. chip56

    Honestly, when I saw “Ellsbury” as part of the headline, I thought someone was going to ask if the Yankees should consider bringing him back due to all the injuries.

    Serious question though: Yasiel Puig…why not?

    • ’cause he’s clubhouse cancer?

      • Mungo

        There is a reason why no team seems to want to touch him.

        Maybe he’s simply asking too much and hasn’t lowered his demands, or maybe, just maybe, it’s something else.

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