Mailbag: Opener for Paxton, Trade Targets, Short Pitchers, Abreu’s future, 2020 Infield

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Thanks for sending in your questions this week. As a reminder, send a note to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com if you’d like to ask us something for future mailbags.

A couple people ask: What’s with James Paxton’s struggles in the first inning? Should the Yankees use an opener for him?

First and foremost, more runs are scored in the first inning than the remainder of the game. This year, the league has a 4.72 ERA in the first frame and a 4.48 mark in all others. So, it’s not just a Paxton issue. And this makes sense: only the first inning guarantees that the opponent’s best hitters will bat (i.e. the top of the order).

Now, Paxton has taken this split to the extreme this year. He has a 10.12 ERA in the first inning and a 2.44 ERA in all others. Historically, Paxton has been worse in the first inning (4.85 vs. 3.20 career), but never quite like this. Regression has to be coming. This is definitely a thing for Paxton (like just about everyone else), but this is unsustainable. That said, there’s evidence that it’s not just the opponent’s top of the order that’s made the first inning difficult.

First, there’s this:

Paxton’s fastball velocity is at it’s lowest in the first inning but gains steam as the game goes on. By the fourth inning, he’s almost one mile per hour ahead of the beginning of the game.

There’s also this:

Left: first inning, Right: other innings

The Big Maple’s location is worse in the first inning. Granted, Paxton works over the heart of the plate quite often because his stuff is so good. That said, he’s a little more on the edges later in the game.

If you’re also asking me how he can fix this: I don’t know. He’s definitely been unlucky to an extent, but I can’t deny that some of the problem is his own. It’s plausible that his pre-start routine is at the root of his early struggles.

My problem with using an opener for Paxton is that he shouldn’t need one. For one, there’s no guarantee he’d start with a higher velocity if he were to enter a game in the second or third inning. But more importantly, he’s too talented to need an opener. Nothing against Nestor Cortes, but there’s a reason Chad Green opened for him a handful of times. Paxton’s got markedly better stuff (and past results).

“jdk” asks: If the Yankees do trade for another starter how will they use him (assuming the current five stay healthy)?

Here are the current healthy starters:

  • Masahiro Tanaka
  • James Paxton
  • Domingo Germán 
  • JA Happ
  • CC Sabathia

As the saying goes, this sort of thing usually resolves itself. Nonetheless, the Yankees have options, including a six-man rotation. The Yankees have a busy upcoming schedule and only have four off days before August 31st. The slate also includes a doubleheader. So, it might help to have some extra rest built into that stretch.

Further, the Yankees are going to have to figure out how to handle Germán’s innings limit. That figure isn’t public knowledge, but he’s at 88 innings to date after throwing 94 at all levels last year. I can’t imagine the team pushing him much farther than 130 or 140 innings this season, which means he’ll either need to be shut down or sent to the bullpen. That itself opens up a spot.

Andrew asks: What are your thoughts on Carlos Martínez of the Cardinals as a trade target?

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Even though St. Louis is only three games out of first place, Ken Rosenthal reported the Cardinals would be open to trading Martínez. With Jordan Hicks out for the season, Martínez has stepped into the closer role, so I’m not sure it makes sense for the Cardinals to deal him. Nonetheless, let’s just run with it.

If you asked me before last summer, I’d have been very interested. He was stellar in St. Louis from 2015 through 2017. However, a handful of injuries have cropped up since. Last year, he hit the shelf three times with: a right lat strain, a right oblique strain, and a right shoulder strain. Yikes. This year, he began the season on the injured list with rotator cuff inflammation. Two shoulder issues in recent memory? That makes me skittish.

Another issue is that he seems to be a bullpen-only option this year. The Yankees could use help in relief, but they need a starter more. After returning from injury this season, Martínez has done nothing but relieve, and the Cardinals have no plans to return him to the rotation this year. I’m not sure how (or if) any potential acquiring team could get him in the rotation at this point of the year.

However, Martínez is under contract for two more seasons at a very reasonable price. And hey, the Yankees pitching staff is going to need help down the road too. Martínez has yet to turn 28, and his stuff is still good despite some of the recent shoulder woes, so it seems like he could help over the long run.

Ultimately, I’d say pass on Martinez now. His recent injury history and limitation to the bullpen this year probably isn’t worth the pursuit.

Micah asks: Deivi for Thor: would you do it?

That’s really hard to answer! I think I would. My first inclination was no, but I probably am overly enamored with the long-term prospects of Deivi García. Noah Syndergaard would have a real chance to impact the Yankees’ title odds this year.

Any excuse to use this Deivi gif.

Now, I’m aware that Thor has struggled this season. His ERA starts with 4, his strikeouts are down, and his home runs allowed are up. Still, as a 26-year-old with a 132 ERA+ in 518.1 innings entering this season, his upside is tantalizing. From a high level, part of the problem seems to be lost slider velocity (~3 MPH) and less usage of the pitch as a result.

I’d understand any skepticism the Yankees’ ability to “fix” Thor. But, how could his talent be passed up in a year the Yankees could win the World Series? No one else on the trade block has his skillset. Plus, Syndergaard would be around for at least 2020 and 2021 too. García may not reach his best until after then, when the team’s window could already be closing.

In case you’re wondering, Baseball Trade Values thinks the Yankees would need to give up a lot more.

Robert asks: People are saying that Deivi Garcia’s ceiling is lowered by his slight frame. Is there any truth to this belief that if you’re short and skinny, you can’t be a true ace? I can think of lots of true aces that were short and skinny – Pedro Martinez and David Cone come to mind immediately.

Fortunately for you, Robert, your question has been answered by smarter folks than me. Jeff Zimmerman has done research on the bias against short pitchers for the Hardball Times.

Zimmerman found that although pitchers shorter than six feet are twice as likely to hit the disabled list, they put up better statistics. Now, there’s selection bias at play here as teams are likely to be pickier for shorter players – they really have to stand out in terms of stuff.

So if Pedro as an example wasn’t enough, the numbers make it clear that height doesn’t matter. It may affect the length of time one can remain an ace, but not the ability to achieve it.

Duncan asks: Saw some clips on YES of Albert Abreu’s recent outings. What are your thoughts on him overall? And how do you see his trajectory impacting decisions made this deadline and the offseason? Could he be a rotation candidate next year?

Abreu seems ripe for a relief role to me. He’s got a deep repertoire but little idea of where the ball is going. Nonetheless, he still has another option year so there’s no need to give up on him as a starter just yet. He should open next season as a starter too, but he’s slow out of the gate, send him to the ‘pen.

At the deadline, Abreu’s name is certain to come up in trade talks. He’s not a good enough prospect to be a deal headliner, but he might be a nice second or third piece in a deal. There’s enough risk in his profile that the Yankees might be willing to part with him, too.

If he sticks around, I don’t foresee him as a rotation candidate next season. A couple of spot starts? Maybe. As I’ve said, I just don’t think he’ll improve his control to force his way into the rotation.

Paul asks: Is it possible that the Yankees will let Didi walk at the end of the year? They can slide Torres to SS and DJ to 2nd.

As Kevin Garnett says, anything is possible. I just really hope not; I love Didi. If they do go that path, they’d have to be pretty confident in Miguel Andújar reverting to his old form or Gio Urshela to be for real.

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6 Comments

  1. RetroRob

    Deivi for Thor?

    Yes. Yet you do that deal. The Mets won’t. They can get more.

  2. Your a Looser Trader FotD

    Y’all should check Mike’s Patreon today about Deivi’s stature and odds of big time success, and Carlos Martinez as a trade target.

  3. Can easily go to a 6 man rotation for some time, starting August 2nd it’s a stretch of 19 games in 17 days (no off days with 2 DHs mixed in). By the end of that stretch they will be close enough to September that carrying the additional SP should be fine. It may be clear who they want to phase out, or someone might get ‘hurt’ (10-day IL stint for rest, I’m looking at you CC).

    I wonder if German’s limit will be a little higher than everyone is expecting now that he had a few weeks off from throwing right in the middle of the season.

    • Also related to German, I don’t know that his 94 IP from last year is the number to start working from. In 2017 he threw 123 IP and they let him go pitch in a winter league following the season! That was after throwing only 49 innings in 2016, so who knows.

      • Namecap Spaceman

        I agree that German’s limit is likely higher than estimated here. If they really wanted to keep his innings low, they wouldn’t have started him first after the all-star break. They also could have used Wednesday’s rainout to push him back or skip him, but instead they pushed Happ back.

      • RetroRob

        The general baseline teams go by is off the highest number of innings in any year, so the increase would be based on that 123 number. He’s also 26 and a few years removed from TJS. The innings limit is probably somewhere in the 155-165 range.

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