Happy Friday, everyone. There are less than three full weeks to go before Opening Day. Pretty wild. This season is really sneaking up on me, I have to say. Before then, though, we still have some Spring Training. Jameson Taillon will start against the Tigers today at 1:05, and you can watch that one over on MLB.TV.
To hold you over before then, here is another mailbag. Please submit your questions to email@example.com for a chance to be included in a future edition. We run our favorites each Friday. Questions and answers after the jump.
Eric Asks: Provided that Tyler Wade’s role remains as a backup, how badly do you think he would have to struggle at the plate for the Yankees to consider replacing him? If he struck out in every single at bat, would the Yankees still stick with him if he were fielding well? Or is there no bottom to how bad he can be on offense?
This is a pretty funny question. In his email, Eric described this as “Randy catnip”, which made me laugh and is actually an understatement. I think this is the first question Randy asks himself when he wakes up each morning. And for good reason: I am probably the closest to a “Tyler Wade Defender” that this site has, but it is extremely obvious that Wade is not on the team for his offense.
He is the owner of a career .190/.274/.301 (57 wRC+) career line in 346 career plate appearances. Wade has appeared in just about a month’s worth of games in each of the 2017, 2018, and 2019 campaigns, though, minimizing his negative impact on the team. (Though, by fWAR, he has accumulated negative value across that time.) That changed last year, when he appeared in 52 of the team’s 60 games (86 percent!) and put up a paltry .170/.288/.307 (68 wRC+) line.
That gives us a little bit of a baseline, doesn’t it? He was about 32 percent worse than the league average player across the bulk of a season and yet he is still here, much to Randy’s – and, apparently, Eric’s – chagrin. They could have replaced him and did not. The only other real in-house option for the vaunted backup infielder role is Thairo Estrada, too, so they must believe in Wade’s ability to be better.
Okay, so let’s get to the point. I would say that the next few months are Wade’s last chance to be a productive member of the team. He still has value – he is a very fast multi-positional infielder with a plus glove – as long as he isn’t a complete zero at the plate. I’d go so far as to say an 80 or 85 wRC+ from him would give him plus value for the team. The Yanks don’t have a lot of guys who can do this:
And he would not really get a lot of important at-bats if the team stayed healthy. In other words, if he maintains his career baseline, which tells us he is not capable of a line like that (outside of September 2019), then I think we’ll see the Yankees calling Thairo Estrada’s number before long. And maybe they’ll even make a trade for someone else to fill the role. If he struck out in every single at-bat, it would push this process along, to be sure. Even the Yankees wouldn’t put up with that.
Dan Asks: With the juiced ball (RIP) and selling out for launch angle, are you surprised no one made a run at Bonds’ single-season home run record recently? It’s almost surprising nobody has even been able to break 60. This might be up there with DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak. Here’s hoping Stanton and Judge give us a 1961 redux.
So, a few things about this. First, it is a bit surprising when taken out of context. Stanton, after all, hit 59 home runs in 2017. We are slaves to round numbers and all, but that’s essentially 60 in my book. It would have been a *huge* deal if 60 was still the magic number. Second, the pandemic really threw a wrinkle in this. Last season, of course, was just 60 games. It takes it out of the running immediately. That means that 2019 was our best bet here. And the two players in baseball with the most raw power, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, missed most of that season. Alas.
Now, let’s just play it out a bit more. It is still not surprising to me. I’m not sure folks realize how just insane Barry Bonds was at the turn of the century. I really don’t. In his record-breaking 2001, he came up to the plate 664 times and took a walk in 177 (!) of those. That leaves just 476 at-bats. He hit 73 home runs in those chances, or one every 6.52 at-bats. One home run every 6 at-bats. Please think about how ridiculous that is over a full season.
To put this in context, this was the second year of a five-year stretch in which Bonds hit .339/.535/.781 (241 OPS+) across more than 3,000 plate appearances. It is literally impossible to be better at baseball than he was at this point…and he only hit more than 60 home runs once, in the 2001 season. That should help crystalize just how difficult this really is.
But let’s just appreciate Stanton for a second. In a mailbag before last year’s season, I touched on this a bit when considering the best 60-game stretches in modern history. Stanton was one such contender in his 59 HR 2017 season. He actually hit more home runs than Bonds did in that stretch 0n a rate basis: From June 22 through August 29 of that season, Giancarlo hit .317/.422/.824 (212 wRC+) with an absurd 33 home runs in just 60 games. He had 221 at-bats over that period, meaning he hit one HR every 6.42 at-bats.
Of course, there were still 100 games to go, and Stanton cooled down. And he still posted one of the best offensive seasons in modern history. As one does. The point here is that this is an insanely difficult record to break, and even approaching it and falling 8 HR short or so would automatically put a player into “best season of all-time” category.
All of this said…if Judge and Stanton want to make me eat these words in 2021, well. I would welcome that.
Paul Asks: How does eliminating the shift put more balls in play?
It does not. I have a lot more thoughts on this issue, which I am fleshing out into a more full post, so I won’t get too involved here. For those who missed this yesterday, Paul is referring to experimental rule change MLB announced for Double-A yesterday. It would ban the shift. Cranks everywhere rejoiced.
To me, it is a very dumb “solution” to the “problem” of three-true-outcome baseball. Again, I won’t get too much into this, but the idea is that the shift is taking away the precious ground ball base hits that made baseball the game’s national pastime in 1925. It is the shift that’s to blame, in other words, not the fact that everyone throws 97-miles-per-hour with a curveball like this…
…that is to blame for this phenomenon. Paul understands how silly this is. Banning the shift will not increase contact at all. It will do nothing to solve the problem, if you believe it is one. All it will do is make people feel like they solved the problem. They did something and that is what serious leaders do. They take action, even if it is stupid action. At least they didn’t stand idly by.
Anyway, I’ll have more fleshed out thoughts on this soon, but the short answer is that it will not increase contact. Obviously. Anyone who thinks it would is kidding themselves.
Iron Mike Asks: Which minor leaguers/non-roster invites benefit the most from the Britton injury?
I touched on this the other day, but the obvious answer is Lucas Luetge. He has been incredible this spring, and it continued even yesterday. The man is striking out everyone he faces, and the Yanks have long liked him, which bodes well for his chances.
Britton’s injury opens up another spot on the roster for him. In my opinion, this all but guarantees that he’ll make the team. He probably was going to anyway! So, with that in mind, the other beneficiaries are the non-Luetge contenders for that last slot, which include Nick Nelson, Brooks Kriske, Addison Russ, Mike King, and Adam Warren. Possibly even Albert Abreu.
Mr. Rogers Asks: Is there any more news on Albert Abreu’s minor league option? Being able to stash him at AAA to start the season could be great for the overall depth of the bullpen.
Speaking of Albert Abreu, the answer to this question is no. Roster Resource says yes, but the real answer is that nobody knows. Not even the Yankees or Abreu himself. His case is before a panel to decide if he has a fourth option or not. This is all a function of the weird pro-rated 2020 season in terms of service time, as you probably guessed. We will find out soon enough, as a ruling is expected to be handed down before the end of March. Makes sense. Opening Day is April 1, and we gotta know before then.
In terms of Abreu’s development, we should all cross our fingers that he has that option. He needs more time to cook at Triple-A and he’s still a very enticing prospect. If he doesn’t have an option, the Yankees either have to keep him on the MLB roster or lose him to waivers. I’d strongly prefer he continue to develop in pinstripes, as he has the potential to be a really effective bullpen weapon.