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Clint Frazier deserves better

“Clint has earned his place”

Aaron boone

That’s a direct quote from Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone back in February, via Bryan Hoch. Indeed, Clint Frazier deserves to be the starting left fielder for the Yankees. Especially after last season, when the 26 year-old was a shot in the arm for the 2020 club. He hit .267/.394/.511 (149 wRC+) in 160 plate appearances and unexpectedly played good defense.

And yet, Frazier has sat out three of the last five games. Unless he’s banged up, this is pretty unusual for a player named a starter. Sure, he hasn’t hit well so far. But who has? In fairness to Boone, Clint’s slow start (.200/294/.267, 65 wRC+) hasn’t been the manager’s reasoning. Rather, the skipper cited his desire to have a lefty in the lineup (Brett Gardner) over Frazier when the Yankees faced Chris Archer and Brent Honeywell/Michael Wacha last weekend.

Then, yesterday, Frazier was in the original lineup but not the final one. Once Toronto scratched Ross Stripling for TJ Zeuch, Boone swapped in Gardner for Frazier. Gardner singled against Zeuch last week, whereas Frazier struck out against him. Surely, that wasn’t the reason for the lineup change. Boone pointed to the different type of pitchers that Zeuch and Stripling are, for what it’s worth. Still, it’s weird.

No, the Yankees Should Not Trade Luke Voit

Trading Luke Voit has become a conversation starter on the Yankees’ corner of the internet. Talk about the Yankees online long enough and someone will invariably bring up trading him. It makes some sense. Such a proposal shows a keen understanding of baseball economics: Voit’s pre-arbitration days are over, which means that he will collect a hefty raise this offseason. (MLB Trade Rumors estimates somewhere between $4-8 million, depending on the model.) Trade him now, in other words, and spend that money elsewhere.

It also seems to be a way to demonstrate creativity and to show a willingness to think outside of the box. A fan suggesting to trade Voit, who was one of baseball’s best players in 2020, shows shows that they are serious: as the old maxim goes, a realistic trade proposal is one that hurts both sides.

Unfortunately, it is also a very dumb idea. The Yankees should not trade Luke Voit. There are many reasons why, but let’s choose the three most obvious ones today.

Here are Some Dismaying Stats about the Yankee Offense

Boy have the Yankees been bad lately, huh? It’s borderline unfathomable to me. They’re implementing the classic formula for a struggling baseball team: when the offense is good, the pitching is bad; when the pitching is good, the offense is bad. And, of course, when both are good, the bullpen blows the late lead. It’s brutal.

Anyway, the Yankee offense has been horrible since the 5-14 stretch began on August 18. I was going to write a whole post about it, but it’s honestly pretty deflating. Besides, what is there to say? We all know they’ve been horrible. There’s very little new ground here. So, instead, I’m going to bullet out this misery:

  • Yankees batters have a .205 batting average in their last 672 plate appearances. That ranks 28th out of 30, ahead of Cincinnati (.202) and Arizona (.197).
  • They have a .304 on-base-percentage, ranking the Yanks 25th in the league.
  • Amazingly, the Bronx “Bombers” have a .354 slugging percentage over the period. It’s better than just two other teams, Texas (.341) and Arizona (.328).
  • For the team, they’ve been hitting .205/.304/.354 in the last nearly 700 plate appearances. That is “good” for an 80 wRC+, which ranks 25th out of 30. That is good for a .657 OPS, which ranks 27th.
  • Put another way, they have a .290 wOBA – ranking them above Kansas City (.289), Pittsburgh (.286), Arizona (.270), and Texas (.269).
  • The Yanks still have some power, with an average exit velocity of 88.6 mph, which puts them 15th and a .149 ISO that ranks 22nd. This is more in line with their .330 xWOBA, which ranks 21st.
  • Overall, the Yankees offense has posted 0.2 fWAR. That’s 28th out of 30, with just Arizona (-0.7) and Texas (-1.8) clocking in worse over the period.

Pretty bad, right? How about a few more, this time a bit more in-depth:

  • The Yanks have a .283 wOBA against high-velocity fastballs (any over 95 mph). That’s 24th out of 30. Their .184 batting average against them ranks 26th out of 30.
  • Their .190 BABIP against such fastballs is consistent with their actual batting average and ranks 29th out of 30. The good news, though, is they “should” perform better, with a .342 xWOBA that ranks 15th and an average exit velocity of 89.3 mph that ranks 18th.
  • Teams have noticed, throwing them 18.1% of the time against the Yanks, the second-highest clip in the league. Hey, I’d do it too.
  • Lest you think it was just fastballs, they also have a .188 BA (26th), .236 wOBA (25th) and .266 xWOBA (26th) against off-speed stuff.
  • As I’m sure you can imagine by now, they’ve been abysmal against breaking pitches too. Our Bombers have a .153 BA (29th), .196 wOBA (30th), and .266 xWOBA (25th) line against those offerings.
  • Finally, they can’t even hit anything right down the middle. They have a .230 BA (30th), .268 wOBA (30th), and .354 xWOBA (25th) against 692 pitches in the heart of the plate. Pretty frustrating!

If you’re still here, there are two pieces of good news. The first is that the Yankees are still taking pitches (their 28.7% chase rate is a top-10 mark) and they still walking (their 11.3% walk rate ranks 4th). That bodes well in the long-run.

The second is that every team, no matter how good, is bound to struggle at some point. It won’t stay this bad forever – even in a pandemic-shortened season, the law of averages will win out. We’ll forget about this soon, but until then, it’s rough waters ahead for the New York Yankees.

Judge or Lindor? Why not both?

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Yesterday, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal weighed in on a potential choice the Yankees could face soon:

No decision is necessary just yet. But if I were running the Yankees, I’d think twice about signing the oft-injured Aaron Judge to a monster extension. Instead, I’d consider taking that money and going hard after Francisco Lindor when he becomes a free agent after the 2021 season.

I won’t give away the details of Rosenthal’s rationale since it’s behind a paywall. The gist of his argument is that Judge’s long-term health is murky, the team is loaded with outfielders, and have a ton of salary commitments already. Rosenthal believes Lindor might be the team’s better option as it’s next splurge. Not only is Lindor great in his own right, but he’s also younger and has a healthier track record. None of Rosenthal’s points are wrong, per se. But as you might have expected us to say, why can’t the Yankees have both?

Let’s address Rosenthal’s biggest concern: Judge’s health. Frankly, I can’t deny that it worries me too. He’s on the injured list yet again after playing in just 112 and 102 of the team’s games in each of the last two seasons. He probably would have played a similar total this year if not for the pandemic because of his broken rib and collapsed lung. The only real “bad luck” injury was the wrist fracture on a hit by pitch in 2018. Otherwise, we’ve seen a couple of muscle strains and that broken rib (which to his credit, he played through at the end of 2019). I suppose the rib fracture could be bad luck too. That said, it worries me that an impact play like that in right field could hurt him again.

Depending on your WAR metric of preference, Judge was a five-win player in 2018 and 2019 in spite of missing so many games. There aren’t many outfielders who do that in a full season! If you could only pencil in Judge for 115 games annually but knew you’d get 5 WAR a pop, I think you’d be thrilled. And with guys like Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier around to fill the void, those other games aren’t exactly being filled by scrubs. The caveat: Judge needs to be healthy when it matters most in October.

Speaking of Tauchman and Frazier — yes, the Yankees have in-house options to step in for Judge after 2022, when he becomes a free agent. But as good those two look, they’re not Judge and they almost certainly never will be. Plus, Tauchman is 1.5 years older than Judge. Frazier is a little more than a year younger, though. Hell, Jasson Dominguez might be ready for the show come 2023, but that’s a ways away from now. Who knows what happens between now and then.

Finally, we get to payroll. I think we’ve argued this ad nauseam, but the Yankees aren’t in dire straits as much as some may lead you to believe. There is a lot of money coming off the books this season, even if you consider the large arbitration raises for guys like Judge, Gary Sánchez, and Gio Urshela (among others). Masahiro Tanaka ($23M), JA Happ ($17M), James Paxton ($12.5M), DJ LeMahieu ($12.5M), and Brett Gardner ($12.5M) could all depart this winter. Now, it wouldn’t be great to lose that much talent, it’s just worth noting. Per Cot’s, these are the Yankees’ salary commitments through 2024:

  • 2021: $132M
  • 2022: $103M
  • 2023: $82M
  • 2024: $78M

Almost all of that is tied to Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton (but don’t forget, the Marlins are paying a. Of course, this doesn’t account for the larger arbitration increases for guys like Judge in 2021 and 2022, but still. There’s money to play with and it doesn’t have to be Judge or Lindor. It can be both.

Keep in mind that Judge might not be as expensive as you think. The Yankees can continue to go year-to-year in arbitration through the 2022 season. While that could cost them something like $40 million over the next two seasons, that’s a pittance for Judge’s production. Further, Judge becomes a free agent in advance of his age-31 season. This isn’t a Manny Machado or Bryce Harper free agency when guys sign for $300 million in their mid-twenties.

So, I’ve spent all this time talking about Judge’s health and the Yankees’ financial status without really talking about Lindor. He’s great and the Yankees should absolutely sign him after 2021. Move Gleyber Torres back to second base, and depending on what happens with LeMahieu in free agency, the Yanks can play either DJ or Urshela at third. Don’t forget about Luke Voit at first base. That probably would be the Yankees’ best infield since 2009.

It’s exciting to think about the prospect of Judge and Lindor in pinstripes, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It would be awfully fun to have both of them around, but the focus at the moment is winning this year and next. Unless there’s a trade, Lindor can’t help just yet.

JA Happ, Clarke Schmidt, and the Trade Deadline

When is enough, enough? Earlier this week, we learned that the Yankees would skip JA Happ in the rotation because of two off days this week. This was a sensible decision given the continuation of his bad 2019 into his first two starts of 2020. The veteran lefty, or at least his rotation spot, isn’t in need again until Monday. But instead, the Yankees announced that he’ll start Sunday against Boston. I know it’s just a difference of one day, but Jordan Montgomery could have gone on regular rest Sunday. Plus, a certain pitching prospect is in line for Monday.

Running Happ out against Boston’s lineup isn’t likely to get him back on track. Yes, the Red Sox have struggled this year. Still, even without Mookie Betts, there are some excellent hitters in that lineup who probably wouldn’t mind facing Happ. How could hitters not want to face him? He’s given up three homers and walked eight in just seven innings this season to follow up last year’s 4.91 ERA. Do the Yankees really need to keep trying this? We know what Happ is at this point. So, with the trade deadline a little more than two weeks away, it’s time to figure out what the organization has internally (i.e. Clarke Schmidt). Not only is Happ bad, but if Paxton can’t regain his velocity, the Yankees should nab another starter. Maybe that starter is already in waiting at the Alternate Site.

Schmidt was scheduled to throw five innings in Scranton yesterday, which would put him in line to make his next turn on Monday. That should be in the Bronx, but it looks like it won’t be. And it could have worked out just fine, too. Again, instead of Happ Sunday, Montgomery could have pitched on normal rest leaving Monday wide open. Alas.

Putting Schmidt in the rotation now would allow him to start three times before the deadline. As Bobby said earlier this week, might as well size him up before the deadline. Now, I don’t know if that’s enough time to evaluate his readiness to stick in the rotation, but it’s better than not seeing him face big league hitters until mid-September when it’ll be too late to make a trade.

There’s really no need to salvage Happ at this point. Stick him in the bullpen, let him eat some garbage time innings, and maybe try him in similar situations that Luis Avilán is currently getting. Give Schmidt his chance, and if it works out, great. If not, the trade market will still be available.

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