Happy Friday, everyone. The Yankees are 9-3 and sit comfortably in first-place, with a four-game lead over Baltimore and Tampa Bay in second. The season is now 20% through, believe it or not, so this is about as good a position as you could reasonably want from the Yanks at this point. Things are good.
It’s time for another mailbag. We have six good questions today. As always, please send in yours to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com to be included in a future edition. We answer our favorites each Friday.
Iron Mike Asks: With the dominant closing of Britton, shouldn’t the Yanks consider keeping him at closer? He has been a groundball machine which is in contrast to Chapman, who has much more of a track record of being wild.
Aroldis Chapman is probably the best reliever in Yankees history to give fans this much agita. From a purely on-field perspective alone, it is completely unwarranted. To wit, here are Aroldis’ statistics and associated rankings since joining the Yankees in 2016, (including two months in Chicago):
- fWAR: 8.1 (1st)
- FIP: 2.07 (1st)
- Average Fastball Velocity: 99.6 mph (1st among RP w/ 1,000+ fastballs)
- ERA: 2.33 (3rd)
- HR/9: 0.42 (4th)
- Strikeout Rate: 38.3% (5th)
- Batting Average Against: .147 (5th)
The point here is that Chapman, wild though he may be at times, is one of the most consistent and reliable relievers in all of baseball. The only argument against having him be a closer 100% of the time would be to use him in the higher leverage situations, if possible. That’s not going to happen, but he is the best reliever the Yankees have. They treat him as such, and they should and should continue to do so.
It’s also true that Britton has been great in pinstripes. He has a 2.04 ERA (3.74 FIP) in 91.1 IP with a preposterous 77.2% ground ball rate. The walk rate (12%) is high, but this sample includes his recovery from an achilles tear. He’s looked better with basically every appearance. But he’s still not Chapman. Britton will not – and should not – replace Chapman as the closer, assuming Chapman is healthy.
Jeff Asks: Why shouldn’t the Yankees straight up release J.A. Happ right now? The simple answer I’m assuming is “depth”, but what good is that if he can’t get anyone out? I’d rather watch a Schmidt, Garcia, King, etc. struggle than Happ.
The simple answer is always the correct one. The Yankees shouldn’t release J.A. Happ because they’ll need the depth. Pitchers across the league are getting injured at a historic rates in 2020. That’s not speculation: it’s measurable and true. As bad as Happ has been – and he’s been bad – I don’t think the Yankees should get rid of a stretched out MLB arm. You just never know what might happen.
With that said, though, let me be extremely clear: J.A. Happ should not start another game for the 2020 Yankees, barring those major injuries. He has been very bad. Thursday’s start was infuriating to watch. This is not a James Paxton situation, where a star pitcher is struggling and needs to get right. Happ is getting older with declining velocity and spin rates coupled with worsening control. He shouldn’t be “figuring it out” in the MLB rotation for a team competing for a World Series. Give those innings to Clarke Schmidt, please.
The Yankees should use him in a long relief role where he primarily faces lefties. He was much better against LHB (.652 OPS against) than RHP (.830 OPS) in 2019. To the extent that Happ is salvageable, I think that is the role best conducive to his skillset right now.
Jonathan Asks: Gut feeling where do you think the rotation will be next year? With Sevy injured and Tanaka, Paxton, and Happ (hopefully) free agents. It’s just Cole and Gumby. I know the Yankees are loaded with good position players but the rotation is in major flux. I think the Yankees will re-sign Tanaka and go with the Schmidts, Kings and Garcias of the world. The Gleybers, Judges and Sanchezs of the world will get expensive so I think the Yankees will go cheap on pitching even though they need more. What do you think?
I agree about Tanaka. I think the Yankees/Tanaka marriage is working for both sides and I fully expect the two sides to work out an agreement to keep in him pinstripes for the next few years at least. It’s tough to say beyond that right now though.
The ultimate variable is James Paxton, who has just looked horrific so far in 2020. He’s not right, but there is a mechanical issue reason and the Yankees insist he’s healthy. Still, if his velocity drops 5+ mph and he’s unable to regain his 2017-19 form, it’s a big blow to him as a free agent. Perhaps the Yankees re-sign him to a cheap 1-2 year deal and try to get him right. And even if he does regain his old form soon, his free agency profile is really complicated by all this. I don’t know. We need to see more.
As for the rest of the class, there probably aren’t a lot of pitchers out there in whom the Yanks will be interested. Marcus Stroman and Robbie Ray, two pitchers formerly connected to the Yanks, are the headliners of the class. We all remember Cashman’s comment about Stroman not being good enough to crack last year’s playoff rotation, and Ray has his own issues. I don’t know that they’re going to commit dollars to these guys, but the market will be weird and probably depressed. Shrug.
If there is going to be a big splash for the Yanks in the rotation, it’ll probably come in the form of a trade for a cost-controlled starter with upside, like they did with James Paxton after 2018. I’ll have to think more about who that might be, though.
Max Asks: Is there coaching support for players at the alternate site? For example, the Triple-A staff. Also, can players not on the alternate roster play with players that are, for development? For example, Jasson Dominguez.
The best way to imagine the dystopian-named Alternate Site is to think of it like Spring Training 2.0. There are organizational coaches there running drills, organizing simulated games, and the like. Remember, these are the guys who can get called up at a moment’s notice, and the entire point of the site is to theoretically replace the entire team in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.. They have to be ready.
Twins outfielder Lane Adams gave a pretty good overview of what’s happening at the Twins’ alternate site here. I imagine that is roughly equivalent to what’s going on everywhere, including in Scranton for the Yankees’ other 30 guys. It’s not a MiLB season, but it’s better than nothing, I guess.
That’s what non-rostered players – like Jasson Dominguez – are dealing with right now. Nothing. Their contracts are currently suspended and they’re even allowed to play with independent league teams to get regular reps. It’s truly unprecedented. My guess, though, is that a number of the Yankees’ big-time prospects are in regular contact with the team, working out with MiLB/development staff, and getting their reps in.
Paul Asks: If a starting pitcher pitches all 7 innings of a doubleheader game, does he get credit for a complete game?
Yes. A pitcher earns a complete game in any circumstances in which he was the only pitcher to make an appearance for his team during an official game, however long it lasts. It’s not the pitchers’ fault that the game is only seven innings. This is why, if you check Gerrit Cole’s 2020 statistics, you’ll see he has a complete game on the ledger – from the rain-shortened season opener in Washington. Is it quite a bit cheaper? Sure. But it’s a complete game nonetheless.
Sam Asks: Rob Manfred decrees that in 2021 there will be a Designated Fielder, a 10th person to play defense who isn’t in the lineup. Where would you put that person in a standard defensive alignment?
Love this question, but I’m afraid to even answer it. I’m afraid doing so will speak it into existence. But it’s fun, so why not. In most cases, I’d put the extra defender behind second base as a fifth-infielder. You basically get the benefits of the shift without having to move anyone out of position (and protect against bunts, which actually do work against the shift).
And of course, you could use that person as a super shifter. Put them into the outfield when a pitcher or batter has extreme FB rates, etc. It is a fun thought experiment but let’s hope nobody gets any ideas.