During Game 7 of the World Series, I realized just how much I actually hate the Astros. I subconsciously pumped my fist and cheered when Howie Kendrick hit his go-ahead two-run home run off the right-field foul pole in the 7th inning and didn’t even realize it. I also immediately thought of this:
Seeing the Astros lose like that was extremely cathartic and now it has me hungry for the Yankees to make real offseason improvements. I want the Yankees to do that to them next year. To that end, we’ve got five great questions for the mailbag this week as we hit the offseason.
As always, send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com for inclusion in next week’s post. We’ll choose our favorites every week.
Dennis Asks: How do you prepare for next year without knowing which ball will be used? Does it make a difference in roster construction if every guy in the lineup is a 20+ HR guy? What if they go back to the old ball?
I think this question is super irritating. Not the question itself, which is a fair and interesting one, but the fact that it has to be even asked in the first place. MLB has really manufactured (ha ha, get it) a problem with this ball fiasco. It’s all anyone was talking about in the regular season and that was before the ball was clearly tampered with going into the playoffs, which became its own story. It is an unforced error and it is really stupid.
In any case, it is an interesting question from the perspective of team construction. It will also likely add more fuel to the labor strife we’re seeing across the league, so buckle up.
I think a perfect example of this is J.A. Happ. My own galaxy-brain theory is that J.A. Happ is a pitcher who was really, really harmed by this year’s baseball. Consider his HR/FB percentage over the last six years, with league average in parentheses:
- 2014: 11.5% (9.5%)
- 2015: 9.2% (11.4%)
- 2016: 11.1% (12.8%)
- 2017: 12.3% (13.7%)
- 2018: 13.4% (12.7%)
- 2019: 18.3% (15.3%)
Look at that jump from 2018 to 2019. That is huge. It’s almost a 40% increase year-over-year. As the league averages show, it also came amid a huge increase league-wide. We are all very familiar with the rise in homers generally, so the run-scoring environment obviously changed. This is an accepted fact.
Also an accepted fact is the reality that Happ was routinely victimized by the long ball this year in a way that he never was before. As a fly ball pitcher (40% GB rate in 2018-19), he is particularly vulnerable to a juiced ball. Seems straightforward like a pretty straightforward analysis.
It’s really not, though. Happ is also an older pitcher with declining velocity (93 mph average in 2014 and 92 in 2019) and spin rates (2371 vs. 2319). It’s a pretty straightforward argument to advance: declining velocity leaves less room for error and that the lower spin rate makes him less deceptive, which is a cocktail for more home runs. That would have been true regardless of the broader context.
In all likelihood, it’s a combination of both, but it’s difficult to isolate. At least, it’s difficult to isolate with public data. Teams probably have better tools at their disposal, but it’s still going to pose a challenge. Players will argue that the ball either was or wasn’t a factor based on their 2019 performance and teams will argue the opposite.
Brett Gardner, for example, is likely going to point out that he was a 30-homer player in 2019. Teams will argue that his HR production was a function of a HR-happy ball. And on and on. Even leaving this aside, though, it makes team construction difficult. Ideally, you build your team to the environment, but when that environment is subject to wild fluctuation, well, that becomes a whole lot more challenging.
Ray Asks: What’s the better move? Extending Chapman to prevent his opt-out, or letting him go and signing Will Smith (3 years), and Betances on a make-good contract? I like Chapman now but not in his age 34 and 35 seasons.
I think this is a key question for the Yankees as they prepare for the offseason. It speaks to a larger question that Derek, Steven, and Randy have all addressed in the last few days about optimal bullpen construction that is also interesting. But it’s important to first start with a pretty basic fact: Aroldis Chapman is one of the best relievers in the game. Here are some indicators of his dominance since he joined the Yankees in 2016 (including the half-season he spent with Chicago), with league rankings among qualified relievers in parentheses:
- fWAR: 8.1 (1st)
- FIP: 2.07 (1st)
- ERA: 2.33 (3rd)
- Average Fastball Velocity: 99.5 mph (4th)
- HR/9: 0.42 (4th)
- Strikeout Rate: 38.3% (5th)
- Batting Average Against: .147 (5th)
While his velocity is dropping now, he’s also added a slider to his repertoire that demonstrates a surprising amount of versatility for the flamethrower. He was as dominant as ever in 2019, so if you let Chapman walk now, this is the guy you’re losing. He’s one of the best relievers in the game. There is no question about it.
Can Will Smith fill that void? Derek profiled him yesterday and the short answer is that in theory, yes, he can. Smith is really good and he’d be a fine addition to the team, but I don’t think he can replace Chapman. (As for Dellin, I think his injury means he’s coming back no matter what else they do.) There are very compelling non-baseball reasons to let Chapman go, of course, but strictly from a baseball perspective, he is the best reliever on the Yankees. The team has placed a lot of emphasis on their bullpen in recent years and I don’t expect them to let their best reliever walk.
My guess? The two parties come to an extension agreement to add a year and about $15 million to the contract, meaning the Yankees and Chapman are together through 2022. That would be his age-34 season, sure, but it would also mean that the Yankees keep their bullpen as loaded as possible now–and I think that’s the priority.
George Asks: Will the Yanks be proactive and sign DJ to an extension in the offseason and how many games do you see Miggy playing 1st base, 3rd base and DH?
No, I don’t think there’s any chance that the Yankees extend DJ LeMahieu. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t do it but it just won’t happen. In a just world, coming off that season, DJ would be set up to cash in and get paid in a huge way. Alas, this is not a just world.
There’s a very good chance that last year’s version of DJ is the best version we’ll ever see. I mean, the guy hit .327/.375/.518 (136 wRC+) for crying out loud. He never got out with two outs and runners in scoring position. He barely got out at all, actually, and he did it all while floating around the infield and playing great defense at multiple positions. He was truly special. I think LeMahieu will be a fantastic player for the Yankees in 2020, don’t get me wrong–but I am not sure we’ll ever see that DJ LeMahieu again.
That’s exactly why I don’t think the Yankees will extend him. Baseball is a business, and leverage is the key to that business. Right now, if the two parties were to negotiate, DJ would own all of it because of the season he just had. He’d be due for a huge raise that would increase his CBT hit for a team that cares a lot about that.
In other words, the Yankees will be perfectly content to let him play on a $12 million salary, which he very much outperformed in 2019, and spend more money elsewhere this season. They’ll cross the extension bridge when they have to and not a moment sooner, fair or not.
As for Andújar, I can’t even posit a guess. I don’t know, 120 games total? Moving him to 1B does make some sense but that will be Voit’s spot to lose. I really don’t know. That’s what Spring Training is for.
JJ Asks: Given that the Yankees essentially showed us how they feel about Clint Frazier this season (i.e. not someone they believe in moving forward), and given that he is likely to be traded, do you think if the team regrets the Miller trade? Or, to be more precise, do you think they regret the return?
No, I do not think the Yankees regret the Andrew Miller trade at all. I think they do it ten times out of ten if they could do it all over again. Something is going on with the Yankees and Clint, to be sure, but Clint was not the only part of that deal. They also netted Justus Sheffield, who they then flipped to Seattle for James Paxton. You can draw a straight line between trading Miller and acquiring Paxton. Even if Frazier never plays another game professionally, I think that’s a good deal.
That’s even without considering the fact that, aside from 2017, Miller hasn’t been that good. Now, he was extremely good in 2017 (1.44 ERA/1.99 FIP) but has been mostly mediocre or worse since. I love Miller and he was a blast to root for–and he was unhittable–but I don’t think he was the difference in 2017, 2018, or 2019.
Clint will likely either be traded or be a part of the 2020 team, so my “never plays another professional game” scenario is, of course, underselling the trade. The Yankees are getting value out of that trade every 5th day with Paxton and possibly getting even more in 2020 depending on what happens with Clint.
I’m not sure that they could have gotten a better package for a reliever than they did for Miller. Or Chapman at that deadline, for that matter. Cashman has been an excellent executive for two decades, but the 2016 deadline, where he capitalized on two very good franchises desperate for a title, is probably his finest act.
Andrew Asks: I am interested in your thoughts on a trade with the Cubs for Yu Darvish. He has something like 4/80 left on his contract and was one of the best starters in the second half this year after he finally got over his injuries. I think he would get more than that if he was a FA this off season. Seems like the Cubs would listen.
Yu Darvish has four years and $81 million left on his deal, which makes him a free agent after 2023. That’s his age 36 season. The cost-cutting Cubs, who have not really shown much interest in “improving” of late, would almost certainly listen on this deal, but probably not more than that.
First of all, you’re right. Darvish was dominant in the second half. Check it out:
- Second Half: 81.2 IP, 2.76 ERA (2.83 FIP), 37.8% K rate, 2.2% BB rate, .199/.228/.384 opposing line
Good grief is that good. It’s about as dominant as a starter can be, really. That’s the Darvish the Cubs wanted when they signed him to his deal. It was also the first time he’d shown up. He really struggled in 2018 prior to an elbow injury that ended his season after just 40 IP and he wasn’t great in the first half this year either. He really turned on the jets in the second half. Maybe he’d been struggling with injury that whole time. Who knows?
In any case, I think you can at least make a call about him but I don’t see Chicago really trying to move him unless it’s for a huge package. They haven’t been active on the free agent market, really, but they’re still in a window of contention. They’re not going to move a top-of-the-rotation guy for far away prospects, that’s for sure, and far away prospects are basically all the Yankees have right now.
I will be rooting for Yu, though. He’s one of my favorite non-Yankees. He’s analytically-inclined (and he’ll tell you that) and is a ton of fun to watch. He’s also genuinely hilarious on Twitter…
…and he loves to roast Justin Verlander, which is something I am always here for.
So while I don’t think this is a good match per se, I do hope Yu continues to have success and keeps up the success he found in the second half of this season.