Mailbag: Stanton, Wong, Tanaka/Paxton Free Agency, Curveballs, and What’s Next?

Happy Friday, everyone. Today is arbitration day, as Jeff Passan points out:

The Yankees have nine arbitration-eligible players, and I expect most of them to reach an agreement before the deadline. We’ll keep you posted on this as it develops, obviously. After arbitration ends, extension season begins, which is always interesting.

In the meantime…mailbag! We have five great questions today. As always, send in your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We choose our favorites each week.

James Asks: Why do you think people act like Stanton is this rugged old guy who’s going to break down tomorrow when he’s only 30 years old? The way people talk about Stanton, I was shocked the other day when I saw he was only 30.

This is one of my biggest baseball pet peeves, actually, so I’m glad you brought it up. (It was even my very first post on this website.) The way people talk about Giancarlo Stanton is capital-R Ridiculous. It really is. Unfortunately, the idea that Stanton is brittle has been around a long time. It is true that he’s had a bit of an injury history. He missed time in 2013 with a hamstring injury, 2014 because he got drilled in the face with a pitch, in 2015 with a broken wrist, and again in 2016 with a hamstring injury. Of course, last year was another injury-filled one for Stanton. (Though I’m chalking that up to Yankee-related weirdness, to be honest. It’s not like he was the only one.)

So, to some degree, it’s fair. But it also feels superficial to me. If he didn’t get hit in the face by a pitch–a freak injury he can’t control that came in his 145th came of the year–he’d have played in at least 155 games three of the last five seasons. In 2017 and 2018, for example, he averaged 700 at-bats for the Marlins and Yankees, respectively. For some reason, it doesn’t feel like he gets enough credit for this. Stanton seems like one of those players fans just love to hate.

It’s not just fans, either. ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote a post on the best left fielders in the game yesterday (subs req’d) and, even though he noted that Stanton counts as a left fielder, he didn’t think he was worth a mention in the top 16. The top 16! He listed [checks notes] Brett Gardner as a superior left fielder. Look, I love me some Brett Gardner, but come on. Seriously. Come on.

Brittle or not, Stanton is a career .268/.358/.547 (142 wRC+) hitter with tremendous power. And you’re right: he’s still only 30-years-old. He’s still in his prime and he’s extremely good. I’m tired of everyone writing Stanton off. I hope he stays healthy this year, because if he does, he’ll be in the running for MVP and Comeback Player of the Year. That’s the kind of player he is. Maybe it will put an end to this ridiculous talk.

Dan Asks: Any interest in trading for Kolten Wong?  He doesn’t have much power, but I think he satisfied a need of getting a lefty-hitting infielder who doesn’t strike out much and gets on base. According to Baseball Trade Values, Frazier for Wong would be acceptable to both sides. And it certainly looks to me like St. Louis could use the outfield help.

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This is an interesting question, especially in light of yesterday’s trade. The Cards sent Randy Arozarena to Tampa Bay for Matthew Liberatore, who is highly-regarded as a prospect but still several years away. In that context, a trade for Frazier could make sense, assuming the Cardinals don’t have defensive concerns. Obviously, they wouldn’t be able to bury him at DH in the National League.

As for Wong, he would be fine. He’s a lifetime .260/.332/.388 (96 wRC+) lefty hitter who strikes out much less than league average. Seems to make sense. He also rates positively as a defender, which makes him a fit for New York: apparently, the Yankees have a weak infield defense. He has been about 10% better than league average offensively in two of the last three years, though, so I’m not sure St. Louis would part with him. Also, weirdly, I’m not sure if it’s the best use of Frazier–he is probably more valuable to the Yankees than as a chip for Wong, who’d likely be a rotating piece of the infield for New York.

This is one of those deals that might make more sense if the Cards use Liberatore to shore up their infield in a trade for someone like Lindor or Arenado, as Keith Law speculates today (subs req’d). Very interesting idea though.

Bobby Asks: Who do expect to command the bigger contract in Free agency, James Paxton or Masahiro Tanaka, and who would you rather have for the next five years?

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The answer to both of these questions, I think, is Paxton. In last week’s mailbag, I wrote about the potential of a Paxton extension and compared his overall body of work to Zack Wheeler’s. That had some interesting results that I think are worth sharing again here:

  • Zack Wheeler (Age 29): 749.1 IP, 3.77 ERA, 22.8% K%, 8.5% BB%, .687 OPS against, 9.7 bWAR
  • James Paxton (Age 31): 733 IP, 3.50 ERA, 26.5% K%, 7.4% BB%, .670 OPS against, 12.9 bWAR

Obviously, Paxton is older. That is a strike against him in free agency, but these are very similar pitchers. Wheeler just got a $118 million deal from Philadelphia. Given his age, it’s fair to expect Paxton to command a bit less, but he’ll be a desirable pitcher in a weak market next year. He should do well for himself, at least in a sane market.

Tanaka is only five days older than Paxton, so both will hit the market at age-32 next year. I think Paxton will command a larger contract because he throws harder (95 mph vs 91 mph) and strikes out more batters (26.5% to 20%) than Tanaka does. That seems to be what teams care about these days. Plus, even at his “advanced” age, I think teams look at a guy like Paxton and think they can unlock him. With Tanaka, I’m not sure that’s the case. In other words, I think Paxton gets the nod to both of your questions.

However, I am a Tanaka man through and through. I have loved the dude since he came over from Japan. I think the Yankees will try to retain both of them following the season, but if they only get one, a part of me thinks Tanaka is the more likely option to stay in New York.

This doesn’t jive with anything I’ve said before, I know, but Tanaka and the Yankees feel like they have a good thing going. They seem to like one another and I think Tanaka’s profile — many pitches, working with less velocity, etc. — suggests he will be a mighty fine pitcher even as he declines. He is smart and capable of adjusting, as he showed this year without his signature pitch. Really, though, they should just make this easy and bring them both back. Wild idea, I know.

Charlie Asks: With all the improvements to pitch tracking and showing the arc of breaking pitches, I’ve often heard that the most desired movement of a curveball is 12-to-6. If this is in fact true, why? Logically, it seems that a ball that moves both horizontally and vertically would be harder for hitters to make contact with. Also, what makes a curveball a “hammer curve”? Is it just the catchy term for the 12-to-6 break?

I think this is an old scout’s adage because the 12-6 curve breaks sharply vertically and doesn’t “discriminate” against lefty or righty batters. In other words, it’s a pitch that is effective against batters on both sides of the plate. That plus it just looks really cool. I mean, look:

Image result for barry zito curveball gif

There’s something inherently appealing about that. This question seems to get at the heart of an old Hardball Times study from a decade ago or so, though, so I’m going to defer to the hard science in there. Check that out if you like some real, hard quantitative analysis. There’s a lot going on in there, but the conclusion agrees with you. The pitch that moves more horizontally and vertically tends to be more effective. Really, though, there are tons of variables: velocity, location, pitch sequencing, etc. A great 12-6 curve is still a great pitch, and that’s ultimately what matters.

As for a hammer curve, I believe that’s just a term for a nasty curveball, movement be damned. I personally always imagine it as a hard curve with a sharp break, like this:

Finally, I do want to just point out that curveballs are extremely, extremely effective pitches. Here is how the league has performed against curves since the start of 2017:

  • Batting Average: .222
  • wOBA: .272
  • Slugging: .370
  • ISO: .148
  • Avg. Exit Velocity: 86.1 mph

You get the idea. It’s a very effective pitch — it’s why smart teams encourage their pitchers to throw more of them! — and that’s even in the aggregate. If I controlled for other factors, like velocity, spin rate, location, and count, I’m certain these numbers would improve even more. The overall point is this: every MLB curveball is a good pitch and worth throwing.

Mick Asks: Will there be any more signings? I know there’s still time but I thought they’d do more after landing Cole.

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I think the Yankees are done with signings. At least with ones that are interesting. Maybe they add someone like Joe Panik or Brock Holt (\o/) on a MiLB deal closer to Spring Training, but that’s not very exciting, is it? I know we all want the Yankees to do more, more, and then even more, but this felt like the Cole and done offseason from the start. The Yanks resigned Gardner and added Cole. I would have taken that ten out of ten times if you’d given me the choice the day after Game 6 of the ALCS. Once the season begins, we’ll all remember that this offseason was anything but boring for the Yanks.

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9 Comments

  1. Dan G

    I agree the Stanton hate is undeserved. Even 75% of Stanton is one of the best players in the world.

    But we can’t be so quick brush off the injury history.

    The reality is he averaged 115 games from 2012-2016 and only 18 in all of 2019.

    Excluding his rookie season, he’s averaged 118 games from 2011-2019. And that includes 159 G in his MVP season and 158 in his first year in NY. (FWIW, 118 is ~73% of a full season)

  2. Kevin J Schappert

    Stanton, if you disregard his face injury and rookie seasons, has played in 145 games + in 4 of 8. Not a great track record. And last season’s cavalcade was bizarre and somewhat scary. To trade for him with 9 years left was risky and looks to be a big mistake. He may be fine for a season or two, but chances are he’ll be like the mess Teixeira was in his last 4.

    • DJ Lemeddardhieu

      I agree, Kevin. And I hate it when people say well if you just take out this injury and that injury he’s like Lou Gehrig out there! If you take out all of Jacoby Ellsbury’s injuries he’s a beacon of health! Look out Cal Ripken! As crazy as things were last year Gleyber didn’t get hurt. DJ didn’t get hurt. Tanaka didn’t get hurt. Good players don’t get hurt, they win. Stanton is 30 going on an AARP card. I think he’s nothing more than a DH for the rest of his contract or he’ll miss 50-100 games a year getting hurt running in the outfield or breathing.

    • RetroRob

      The completely negative takes of Yankee fans never ceases to amaze me.

  3. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    James Asks: Why do you think people act like Stanton is this rugged old guy who’s going to break down tomorrow when he’s only 30 years old? The way people talk about Stanton, I was shocked the other day when I saw he was only 30.

    Because he is, James? Just because you’re 30 doesn’t mean that you’re healthy. I had a quadruple bypass at age 29. The 5th anniversary of my surgery was just last week and Dad and I celebrated our good health with some Double Bacon Cheeseburger pizza from Papa John’s. But Stanton doesn’t appear that healthy to me. Some of it may be because the awful training staff we had last year but it seemed like every time he came back he got hurt again. A blade of grass falls on him and he’s out for 3 months. People say Stanton is brittle because he is. He’s not strong and healthy like Judge.

    Dan Asks: Any interest in trading for Kolten Wong? He doesn’t have much power, but I think he satisfied a need of getting a lefty-hitting infielder who doesn’t strike out much and gets on base. According to Baseball Trade Values, Frazier for Wong would be acceptable to both sides. And it certainly looks to me like St. Louis could use the outfield help.

    You had me at “he doesn’t have much power” Dan. I think he’d be one hell of an addition. We can always use more .240 punch and judy hitters around here because they worked so well from 2013-2016. Why stop at a straight up trade for Bozo the Clint, throw in Gleyber, DJ and Judge to boot! Seriously though, Id rather just re-sign Cameron because he can hit for power and is good in the clubhouse.

    Bobby Asks: Who do expect to command the bigger contract in Free agency, James Paxton or Masahiro Tanaka, and who would you rather have for the next five years?

    I’d rather have both for the next 15 years, Bobby, and we can have both. This isn’t Sophie’s Choice where we have to choose which one gets saved from the Nazis. Tanaka is a big game pitcher that always shows up in the postseason. His elbow is being held together with crazy glue and scotch tape but it’d held up thus far. Paxton also showed up in the postseason last year and is a lefty in Yankee Stadium. He reminds me a lot of Andy. With Cole this is the best Yankee rotation we’ve had since 1998. Why would you want to break it up?

    Mick Asks: Will there be any more signings? I know there’s still time but I thought they’d do more after landing Cole.

    There will be, Mick. We need another reliable arm in the pen, we need to re-sign Cameron and we need a super star at every position. What more did you think they’d do? They’re pretty set at every position, rotation is the best in baseball, bullpen just needs one more arm. Not much more they can add.

    • Chris

      Dude, lay off the double bacon cheese burger pizza. And from Papa John’s no less!

    • JG (Ben Francisco)

      Lol I missed your mailbag responses

  4. Mark D.

    Please tell me \o/ was a Steve Holt reference.

    • Bobby

      Of course. One of the biggest reasons I want the Yanks to bring him aboard.

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