Mailbag: Pinch Running, Gleyber’s Defense, Closers, Lineup Construction

Happy Friday, everyone. Today’s the day we learn if Aaron Judge is actually hurt or not. In a few hours, we’ll find out if he’s in the lineup for today’s 3pm game against the Rays. I’m sure the reactions will be measured either way.

But before that, it’s time for a mailbag. Four good questions today. As always, please send yours to viewsfrom314@gmail.com. We answer our favorites every Friday. Let’s get to it.

Iron Mike Asks: Is there a reason Mike Tauchman has been the go-to pinch runner over Tyler Wade this year? I would’ve assumed Wade is the faster runner.

You’re right that Wade is the faster runner. Wade’s lowest sprint speed percentile came last year, when he was in the 83rd percentile of all runners. That came with a sprint speed, per Baseball Savant, of 28.2 feet per second. (He was in the top 5% of the league in both 2017 and 2019, when he ran 29.1 feet per second.) Remember this from 2019?

Tauchman, by contrast, topped out at 28.9 feet per second (89th percentile) in 2018 and has been slower each year since. Last year, he was in just the 58th percentile. So, that does seem to raise an obvious question: why have the Yankees gone to Tauchman first? They did this most notably on Wednesday, when he pinch ran for Gary Sánchez with two outs in the 8th.

He did not make them regret it:

Originally tweeted by New York Yankees (@Yankees) on April 8, 2021.

That is exciting as hell right there. Still, why not Wade? I think this largely comes down to roster construction. The Yankees just don’t have a ton of infield depth, while they do have a lot of outfielders on the roster. In a pinch, after Tauchman is removed, they still have Brett Gardner and even Jay Bruce to man the outfield. That is not the case in the infield, where Wade is really the only backup. It makes sense to hold on to him for a bit longer.

Anyway, that’s my best guess. No idea if it’s the right one, but it feels like it is. I guess we’ll monitor this moving forward. That said, there’s surprisingly more variance in the sprint speed stuff than you’d expect. It’s also possible Tauchman is in better shape now (or healthier) and is running really well. The Yankees would know that. We wouldn’t.

Daniel Asks: Very simple question. What happens if Gleyber is not a viable defensive shortstop?

This question, or some variation of it, was the most common question we got this week. It wasn’t even close. There are a lot of potential ways to tackle it, too. We could talk about re-alignment in the infield, potential trades, free agent signings, and more. The world is our oyster here. But before we do that, it’s worth asking ourselves another question: does it have to be?

Gleyber Torres is 24-years-old. It’s very possible he won’t be “viable” defensively at short. I’m still not there yet, though, and it depends what we mean by viable at all. As Derek noted in a very smart piece yesterday, it is okay if Gleyber isn’t the Ozzie Smith out there. He doesn’t need to have the most range in the league or be a Gold Glove contender. His bat is really that good. (Does this sound familiar?)

That said, I am concerned. Gleyber has always made a lot of basic errors, bungling simple plays. That is what I hope to see ironed out. I’m not going to say that Gleyber has the yips or anything, but he does not look confident when the ball is hit to him right now. It looks like he expects to make the error. That is never a good sign, but it’s also correctable. If he can get out of this funk – which I’m still hoping it is – and at least translate every easy play into an out, then I think his offensive production will far outweigh the negative impact of reduced range to one side. To me, that would be viable.

And, if that does not turn out to be the case, then we can revisit this conversation in a couple of months – this being baseball, though, we’ll probably forget all about this soon. It’s a long season. There’s no point in overreacting just 6 games in.

Neil Asks: In a random hypothetical, who on the team is best equipped to be future closer? My choice is Loaisiga.

The good news about the Yankees is that they have absolutely no shortage of qualified bullpen arms, any number of whom could be tagged in as closer. There are also a ton of very talented young arms in the organization who could also easily develop into elite relievers, but that’s not easy to project. (This is where I’ll mention that some scouts see this as Deivi García’s future.) So I’m going to just stick to MLB-caliber players right now.

The better news is that it’s probably not super necessary to worry about right now. I wrote the other day that Aroldis Chapman shows impressive versatility and adaptability for an elite reliever. It has allowed him to stay at the top of the game, and I see no reason why that wouldn’t continue. I mean, the guy added this to his arsenal and can still throw 101 mph:

Still, you’re right to ask this question. Chapman could get hurt or suspended again. In that case, the Yankees will go to Chad Green or Zack Britton, if he’s healthy. Britton first, then Green. Green was the closer for the first two games of this season, after all, and Britton has been one of the world’s best fairly recently. They’re deep.

In terms of the future, I’m definitely going to say Loaisiga. Is that any surprise? Loaisiga is my man, and I’m tantalized by his stuff. It’s so, so easy to dream on him. The biggest concern has clearly been his ability to throw strikes. That’s what’s held him back so far. In 2021, though, he’s been impressive. Here is his pitch plot:

That’s 31 strikes on 45 pitches (69%), which is very nice. And he hasn’t walked anyone. Super, super encouraging. Let me tell you right now: if Loaisiga can keep this up, he has closer stuff in the medium term, no doubt.

Paul Asks: I get the lineup order is largely irrelevant and we’re talking about margins of margins here, but can you please explain why Jay Bruce is hitting 5th and 6th?

Not really, but I really don’t care about the lineup construction. I don’t think it matters much at all. In fact, the best research on the subject – Tom Tango’s “The Book” – shows that a perfectly optimized lineup, played every single day over 162 games, is worth somewhere between 10 and 15 runs. For what it’s worth, 10 runs is considered the value of a win, so we’re talking about at most one additional win. And that’s probably overstating the fact, too, because most managers make good lineups.

Obviously, hitting a pitcher first or a Tyler Wade leadoff over, say, DJ LeMahieu or Aaron Judge would be a travesty. But nobody does that, and hitting Jay Bruce is not that, either. I think we as fans – and I am certainly guilty of this too – spend way, way too much time on lineup construction. It’s almost certainly because it gives us something to think about and argue about before the game. What’s better than that? I get it.

But we should also just remember the fact that it truly, truly does not matter.

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5 Comments

  1. Mungo

    Sprint speed is very important when it comes to baserunning, but there are other aspects too. We’ve seen Wade do some questionable things when running over the years. They may feel Tauchman is overall a better baserunner when factoring in both sprint speed, reading the OFers, decision making, etc. They also may simply be planning for when Wade was bumped off the 26-man roster when Odor was activated.

  2. fat sancho can rake

    also please release Gardner who has a huge stick in his back and let Tauchman progress naturally. He so much better and Gardner at this stage.

    • Nick

      Maybe wait until he’s not hitting .400 to make this….. point?

  3. fat sancho can rake

    Gleyber will be fine.

    • Sol Raeus

      Gleyber will be fine to be sent to the minors to learn that baseball players need to play a position as well as hitting.

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