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Mailbag: Game 3 starter, voids from 2019, James McCann in free agency, and short-season evaluations

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Another week, another mailbag to open. Four questions to address today. As always, send yours to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We answer our favorites each week. Let’s get to it.

Kenny asks: James Paxton being shut down again is disappointing. If the playoffs started tomorrow, is it absurd to have Deivi García be the third starter after Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka? This would be in lieu of a resurgent JA Happ and a struggling Jordan Montgomery.

To be precise, Paxton won’t throw again for a couple of days after feeling some soreness Wednesday. I wouldn’t say he’s shut down, though things certainly aren’t looking good for him. It’s probably not worth counting on him to contribute much, if at all, the rest of the way.

Now to the question. I’m not so sure the Yankees would go with a traditional starting pitcher in a hypothetical Game 3 in the first round. Remember, it’s a best-of-three series to open up the postseason. There’s a distinct possibility that the Yankees (or any other team) go the opener/bullpen game route instead. Of course, a lot of that depends on how much the ‘pen is used in the first two games of the series. Or, even better, the Yankees would just win those first two games and call it a series.

If the bullpen game isn’t an option, I’d strongly favor Deivi at this point. So no, it’s not absurd to think he’s deserving of it over Happ or Monty. It sure sounds like Aaron Boone believes García can do it too:

“I know he wouldn’t flinch at the opportunity…I’m totally confident, forget the pitching part of it, that he can handle any situation you throw him in. Hard to predict where we’ll be three weeks from now and just what exactly we’ll look like. But he’s certainly putting his name in those conversations because of his performance.”

Happ certainly has pitched better lately (2.59 ERA in last four starts), but I do not love the idea of putting the season in his hands. I’m still scarred from his 2018 ALDS performance, I guess. But it’s not just that. We’ve seen far more bad than good since last year with Happ, and even with a good run of late, who’s to say that he doesn’t have another dud?

Montgomery has pitched himself out of the conversation thanks to his last two outings. He still has time to turn the ship around, but there’s no way he’d get the ball if the season ended today. So, it pretty much comes down to Deivi or Happ in the traditional starter route.

All this isn’t to say that García wouldn’t have a bad game. He’s not invincible, of course. But at the same time, I’d rather lose with a more talented pitcher on the mound. Not a 37 year-old who’s mostly struggled over the last two seasons.

Andrew asks: Not having Encarnación, Maybin, and Didi really hurt the depth of this lineup. Would it be safe to say Didi would be the player that would currently help this lineup that’s been decimated by injuries?

I think that’s pretty safe to say. The combination of Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, and Jordy Mercer have hit .177/.266/.248 in 128 plate appearances this season. Didi, meanwhile, has hit .273/.333/.469 in 160 opportunities for the Phillies. That’s a massive difference! The Yankees middle infield depth is putrid and its something we’ve discussed on this here blog since the offseason. So of course, Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu missed time with injuries which forced inferior players to get opportunities.

While Maybin and EE would be nice to have right now, they aren’t missed as much as Gregorius. As bad as Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford have been this year, I wouldn’t say it was totally unreasonable for the Yankees to believe they were good depth for this season. They performed well last year when called upon. Would I have preferred some extra insurance in those spots? Yes, but it’s not as egregious as doing nothing to shore up the middle infield after letting Didi go. Also, consider this: if the Yankees brought back Maybin (or brought in someone else as outfield depth), there’s a chance Clint Frazier is still toiling away at the Alternate Site.

We’ve never seen Wade or Thairo exhibit any success at the big league level. To count on either of them as insurance up the middle was a big mistake. And again, that’s not in hindsight. Wade came into 2020 with a lifetime .197/.268/.298 (53 wRC+) in 241 big league trips to the plate. Estrada carried a .250/.294/.438 (91 wRC+) line last season in 69 opportunities. Even if the Yankees liked those two more than most, to not grab some sort of big league insurance was foolish. If you’re not willing to spend $14 million to bring back Gregorius, OK, but at least do something. How about Cesar Hernandez? José Iglesias?

Richard asks: Do you think the Yankees might have an interest in signing James McCann as insurance this offseason with how Gary Sánchez has struggled the past two years? If so, what would a hypothetical contract look like?

I do think the Yankees will strongly consider adding another catcher this winter. I wrote about this my thoughts piece a few days ago. McCann will probably come at a price above the team’s comfort level, though. I think he gets something along the lines of the Travis d’Arnaud contract. Atlanta signed him for two years and $16 million last offseason.

d’Arnaud got that deal thanks to a strong finish with the Rays last season. He started off slowly with the Mets, got DFA’d, was with the Dodgers for literally one plate appearance, and then was shipped to the Rays. In Tampa Bay, d’Arnaud hit .263/.323/.459 (107 wRC+) with solid defense. That brought him into free agency as a 30 year-old, the same age McCann is for his impending trip to the open market.

McCann’s bat has been really good since last year, but it wasn’t until this year that his defense (particularly framing) vastly improved. That’s quite possibly the result of having elite defensive backstop Yasmani Grandal as a teammate now. Anyway, McCann posted a 109 wRC+ in 476 plate appearances last year and has a 163 mark in 79 this season, so the bat seems pretty good. Pair that with improved glovework and you’re probably looking at the d’Arnaud deal. I don’t think the Yankees will spend that on a catcher to play three times a week. McCann probably wants a full-time gig anyway.

As an alternative, I wonder if the Yankees can pry Tyler Flowers away from Atlanta. He’s been terrific for them since 2016, albeit never really playing much more than 50 percent of the time. Flowers has put up at least 2 WAR annually, mainly from the glove, but the bat isn’t a total zero. He’s got a 118 wRC+ this year in 54 plate appearances, though he’s probably closer to the 88 and 95 marks he put up in the last two seasons. And at 34, he’s probably looking at something similar to the $4 million he signed for this season. The Yankees should be in on something like that.

Eric asks: If you were the front office trying to figure out how to improve the team over the offseason, what are the metrics (or other indicators of performance) that you would take seriously despite the weird season?

You know what: I’m not so sure this short season changes the way teams evaluate players as much as we might think. In this day and age, teams are looking at health, Trackman/Hawkeye/Statcast/Rapsodo data, and scouting evaluations to support decision-making. I don’t think 60 games vs. 162 games changes that.

For example, the Yankees have seen James Paxton without his best velocity all season and he’s now dealing with a flexor strain. That’s got to be a huge red flag for his impending free agency. I presume that’ll be enough for the team to walk away from him this winter.

Then there’s someone like Sánchez, whose .121/.230/.327 line has so many people wanting him out of the organization. And yet, the elite underlying exit velocity, barrel percentage, and hard hit percentage numbers still exist. Is that enough for the Yankees to try to get him right for 2021? Probably.

Ultimately, everything boils down to talent level. Now that teams have metrics that are intended to be a proxy for talent, that’s what they’re gonna keep on using.

Episode 1: 2019 is dead, long live 2019

Randy, Bobby, and Derek kick off the first episode of the Views from 314ft podcast to discuss (what else?) injuries and roster machinations. Here are this episode’s notes:

  • [4:45] Following the intro, general injury discussion
  • [5:43] Luis Severino had Tommy John Surgery. How did it come to this?
  • [15:27] Getting to the bottom of Aaron Judge’s mysterious rib stress fracture
  • [25:50] Moving away from injury talk, fifth starter discussion begins. Is Clarke Schmidt a better option than Michael King?
  • [33:30] On Deivi García’s readiness
  • [36:00] Discussion on Jonathan Loaisiga’s best fit
  • [42:40] Other rotation happenings: Jordan Montgomery’s velocity uptick has been a pleasant surprise and maybe JA Happ won’t be so bad?
  • [49:15] Breaking down the Yankees’ current outfield situation and depth
  • [57:25] Offseason regrets, namely Cameron Maybin

We will be on all major podcast distribution mediums within the next week or so — there’s a process we need to follow before we’re officially up and running on places like iTunes or Stitcher, so we appreciate your patience. Hope you enjoy our first episode as much as we did making it! We’ll be back again a week from today.

Hugs Season and the Sock Man [2019 Season Review]

Flex on ’em! (MLB Gifs)

The Yankees had the same outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge for both Opening Day and ALDS Game 1. In between, there was pure chaos.

Mike Tauchman and Cameron Maybin thrived off that uncertainty to give a backbone to the Yankees’ everchanging outfield and lineup. Though neither was in the organization as recently as mid-March, they both became emblematic of the team’s Next Man Up mentality and the unending depth built in the Bronx.

The Stats

Mike Tauchman: 87 games, 296 PA, 18 2B, 13 HR, 47 RBI, .277/.361/.504 (128 wRC+, 112 DRC+), 3.6 bWAR

Cameron Maybin: 82 games, 269 PA, 17 2B, 11 HR, 32 RBI, 9-for-15 stolen bases, .285/.364/.494 (127 wRC+, 106 DRC+), 1.5 bWAR

Tauchman, the Sock Man!

With less than a week before Opening Day, the Yankees traded MiLB reliever Phillip Diehl to the Rockies for Tauchman. The Colorado outfielder had only 52 games of MLB experience. While he’d mashed in the high-octane Pacific Coast League, his numbers hadn’t translated to the Major League level.

But with Aaron Hicks nursing a back injury, the Yankees needed insurance in center field. That gave Tauchman the room to make the Opening Day roster. He played sparingly at first before he was cast into action with injuries to Stanton and Judge.

Tauchman earned a signature moment early on with an RBI double against Chris Sale followed by a three-run homer to put away a meeting with the Red Sox. He homered in two of the next three games and got into a groove, particularly in the field.

After a fine first 1.5 months, Tauchman went back and forth between Triple-A and the Majors until late June. With Stanton again on the shelf, he began to get regular playing time in July. This time, he wouldn’t let go of the opportunity.

In July, Tauchman hit an absurd .423/.474/.750 (221 wRC+) over 57 plate appearances and carried that into a torrid August as well. In the second half of the season, he posted a .977 OPS with nine home runs after just four homers before the break.

If he hadn’t been torching the ball offensively, his defense would have sufficed. In just 694 1/3 innings, he posted 16 Defensive Runs Saved, as well as a 7.1 UZR, primarily working in left field with double-digit starts at all three outfield positions. Tauchman’s sliding grab in San Francisco impressed fans early, but his home-run robbery in August was a season web gem.

Tauchman was in line for a postseason roster spot, but he came up lame while fielding a ball at Fenway Park on Sept. 8, shortly after hitting his final homer of the season. It turned out he’d suffered a Grade II left calf strain and it kept him out through the ALCS. He may have been able to return for the World Series, but Jose Altuve rendered that moot.

Let’s Hug it Out

Maybin had a rough winter and early spring. He was charged with a DUI, cut by the Giants in Spring Training and had to settle for a job in Triple-A with Cleveland when the regular season began. The decimation of the Yankees’ outfield was the opportunity he needed.

The Bombers acquired Maybin for cash considerations on April 25 after Clint Frazier joined Judge, Hicks and Stanton on the shelf. He was thrown into action in San Francisco and immediately singled in a run. In fact, he singled in each of his first seven games.

Maybin mostly filled a bench role once Hicks returned a week later. He scored the winning run on a DJ LeMahieu walk-off single in May. Still, the 32-year-old outfielder faded into the background outside of his signature hugs in the dugout.

Then came June. With the returns of Stanton and Judge on the horizon, Maybin kicked his game into a new gear. Over his 12 games from June 5-21, he went 17-for-41 with four homers, three doubles and a .415/.442/.780 line. The four homers came in four consecutive games, helping New York propel past the White Sox and Rays.

Maybin credited Marcus Thames and the Yankees’ hitting staff with helping him at the plate. The results were clear: Maybin’s 11 home runs were a career-high despite having his fewest PAs since 2012.

Maybin’s surge staved off competition from Frazier and Tauchman for the final roster spot. Like Tauchman months later, he suffered a calf strain of his own and went to the IL for just over a month. Once back, he got hot again with a .405 average over his first 10 games.

Another injury, this time the wrist, felled Maybin as his playing time dwindled in the last month of the season. He was able to fight through the wrist discomfort and became the fourth outfielder on the postseason roster.

Once there, he served as the defensive replacement for Giancarlo Stanton and homered off the bench in ALDS clinching game. He’d go on to start for Stanton in ALCS Game 2, his final appearance of the year.

Though he may not return next season, Maybin left an indelible impression on the Yankees. His positive energy was apparent as he gave a hug to every home run hitter, and he clearly had fun on the field. He did all of that while his mother battled cancer during the year, though she thankfully is in remission. That he was able to find focus and peace on teh field is a credit to the Yankee outfielder.

What’s Next

For Maybin, he’s back in a free-agent market that hasn’t been kind to veteran corner outfielders in recent seasons. Despite a career-year in many ways, he’ll likely have to wait until 2020 to sign, and he’ll probably have to settle for a low-money one-year deal or even MiLB offer. A reunion with the Yankees seems unlikely.

Tauchman is part of why. The Yankees have the outfield depth to get by if the 28-year-old southpaw is healthy. He provides a baseline of impeccable defense in the corners and can play center in a pinch. Even if his bat proves to be a juiced ball-fueled mirage, his defense will play off the bench.

Some last ditch ideas to wake up the Yankees’ offense

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Last night felt like a must win, though tonight is actually the Yankees’ first must win game of 2019. It’s do or die. Win or go home. You know all the clichés by now. Let’s get some more of the obvious out of the way: the Yankees need James Paxton to pitch like he did down the stretch in August and September. But more importantly, they also need the offense to snap out of its funk. The savages we grew to love over the summer have suddenly disappeared.

Tonight, the bats will have to wake up against Justin Verlander, which is no easy feat. And at this point, with the team having scored six runs in the last three games, a little shake up may be necessary. Nothing drastic or out of desperation, but there are clearly a number of things simply not working. Namely:

New York Yankees Batting Table
Name AB H BA OBP SLG
Edwin Encarnacion151.067.222.133
Brett Gardner152.133.235.133
Didi Gregorius162.125.125.125
Gary Sanchez172.118.118.294
Gio Urshela152.133.188.333
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/18/2019.

It’s hard to win any game, let alone a best-of-seven, when five lineup regulars have turned into pumpkins. A few in this group probably need to be relieved for Game 5, because they either haven’t performed and/or have had horrific at bats while doing so. Here are a few things the Yankees may try:

Giancarlo Stanton needs to play – if not, he needs to be replaced

Aaron Boone said before yesterday’s loss that he envisioned Stanton as a designated hitter option for tonight’s affair. Well, it’s now or never. Edwin Encarnación has looked terrible this series and could sit tonight (though Gio Urshela’s situation could change that – more on that shortly). JV carved up EE in Game 2, and as I wrote earlier this week, it’s not totally surprising.

On the left is Edwin’s xwOBA based on pitch location. On the right is how Verlander pitched EE in Game 2. The only ball Edwin put into play was a weak fly out on a pitch up and out of the zone. He’s just a bad matchup against Verlander (not that many hitters are good matchups for him).

Stanton had a strong Game 1 and had a good approach during the ALDS. Who knows how much his quad is affecting him, but I have to imagine he’s going to be in the lineup tonight. And if he can’t, the Yankees really need to plug in Luke Voit or Mike Ford. I really don’t want to lose Giancarlo if the Yankees can stage a comeback from down 3-1, but at this point, the Yankees can’t wait any longer if he’s still hurting.

If Stanton has to be shelved, do they go to Ford or Voit? I think Ford has a really strong case over Voit, despite the limited major league track record.

PlayerwOBA vs. >= 95 MPHxwOBA vs. >= 95 MPH
Mike Ford.599.431
Luke Voit.373.369

Ford’s numbers and zone charts point to him being a favorable matchup against a hard-thrower like Verlander. Plus, there’s the short porch at Yankee Stadium that he can take advantage of.

Bench Gio Urshela

The Gio we knew and loved from the regular season has really cratered this series. He stung some balls in Game 1, including a homer, but he’s generally looked awful ever since. We know how great he is with the glove, but at this stage, the Yankees need to prioritize offense over defense. And I say that the day after the team had an embarrassing game in the field.

Sitting Urshela means that DJ LeMahieu would have to slide over to third base. It would also mean that Edwin Encarnación (or Ford or Voit) would have to play first base. I know I just wrote about how badly EE has looked at the plate in the previous section, but I’d still rather see the slumping established veteran play over the struggling limited track record guy.

Sit Gardner for Cameron Maybin or move Gardy down in the lineup

This suggestion isn’t a must by any means, but I think there’s a sliver of upside. Even though Gardner has run out of steam (has the de-juiced ball hurt him?), I still trust him to deliver productive at bats. Last night’s first inning bases loaded walk was one of them. Nonetheless, the Yankees should consider starting Maybin over Gardner.

Maybin’s very good against high velocity pitches and pitches up in the zone as I outlined earlier this week. Since 2017, Maybin has a .383 wOBA and .382 xwOBA against pitches greater than or equal to 95 MPH. Gardner is just at .364 and .312, respectively. Both singled off Verlander in Game 2, for whatever that’s worth (nothing).

To be honest, I doubt we see this swap. It’s an idea, but I’m not sure if it’s a good message to send to the team to suddenly bench its longest tenured player. But, at the minimum, Gardner should be moved down. He’s probably better suited hitting in the bottom third of the order than the middle third.


Ideally, here’s the lineup I’d run out tonight:

  1. DJ LeMahieu, 3B
  2. Aaron Judge, RF
  3. Aaron Hicks, CF
  4. Gleyber Torres, 2B
  5. Giancarlo Stanton , DH
  6. Gary Sánchez, C
  7. Edwin Encarnación, 1B
  8. Didi Gregorius, SS
  9. Brett Gardner, LF

Forget about “lanes”. Put your five most recently successful hitters one through five and hope six through nine wake up. Hopefully, Sánchez’s dinger last night was a start (and don’t you dare mention Austin Romine). As for the rest of that bottom portion – something’s gotta go in their favor eventually. It just has to come tonight, or else.

2019 ALCS: Breaking down Yankees’ roster choices for next round

Defensive replacement Aaron Hicks? (MLB Gifs)

The Yankees come in ALDS Game 1 on Saturday with five days of rest and few questions. Still, as with the end of the regular season, there are roster decisions to be made.

Bench Spots

In the Division Series, the Yankees had the following players on the bench: Austin Romine, Luke Voit, Cameron Maybin and Tyler Wade. Of those four, only Maybin saw playing time as a defensive replacement/caddy for Giancarlo Stanton.

Austin Romine is guaranteed his spot as the backup catcher. Beyond that, there are three questions to be answered with the bench:

  1. Should Mike Ford replace Luke Voit?
  2. Should the Yankees go with an extra pitcher?
  3. What about Aaron Hicks.

We addressed the Ford vs. Voit conundrum before the ALDS, but it’s worth rehashing. Voit had the better track record, Ford the hotter and healthier finish to the season. Aaron Boone mentioned that they kept Voit in part to matchup with Twins closer Taylor Rogers, though that occasion never arose.

While Ford’s lefty bat could pay off against the righty-heavy Astros’ staff. However, the Yankees have a potent enough lineup that there isn’t a clear spot to pinch hit. Voit, for what it’s worth, took Gerrit Cole deep in April.

Yet, should the Yankees even keep Voit or Ford on the roster? They need a backup infielder, so one of Voit, Ford and Wade is needed, but not necessarily two of them. The Yankees could sacrifice one of their spots for an extra pitcher.

Or, they could lose their spot to Aaron Hicks. Not only has Hicks declared himself ready, but the Yankees are seriously considering him. He took it upon himself to start throwing in an effort to prove himself to the Yankees, and that gumption appears to have paid off.

Hicks could replace any of Maybin, Voit or Wade for the ALCS roster. He can switch-hit, play any of the outfield positions and provide a better defensive replacement for Stanton than Maybin. That is, of course, if he’s truly ready to go, but that’s not information we’re privy to.

If Hicks is rostered, Maybin could still stay as a pinch runner and extra bat, though Wade would appear to be a superior basestealer and can play the infield. However, of the bench players, Maybin is the only one to bat this postseason and went deep in Game 3.

Starting Lineup

The starting nine appears all but set. For the first time this season, the Yankees kept the same starting lineup together for three straight days and it paid off with 23 runs over three games against the Twins.

You can certainly quibble with the lineup order — Brett Gardner in the No. 3 spot drew plenty of ire — but it’s worked. The Astros come at the Yankees with a series of right-handed pitchers outside of Wade Miley, who is likely a mop-up reliever in the ALCS. Therefore, there’s little reason to change the lineup.

Again, Hicks could change the calculus as he would have been part of the Yankees’ Death Star lineup just a couple of months ago. It’s hard, though, to go from simulated games after two months off the shelf to facing the best rotation in baseball. The Yankees would have a hard time replacing Gardner, Stanton or Edwin Encarnación with him.

Rotation

Again, this isn’t the most difficult question as we know the key players. James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino will start in some order for the first three games against Houston, while J.A. Happ will likely toss bulk innings or start Game 4 in an all-hands-on-deck situation.

Will Yankees change up the order of their rotation? Tanaka’s home/road splits are well-documented and he would start both Game 2 and 6 on the road if Boone does not alter his staff. Otherwise, the Yankees could flip him with Severino to keep him at home, though he’d still start a potential Game 7 on the road.

Despite a rocky Game 1 start, Paxton remains the Yankees’ best option for Game 1. He struggled in his first start against the Astros this season in Houston, but he was also reportedly tipping pitches. Big Maple rebounded with five one-run innings in the Bronx. The Astros’ lineup is righty-heavy, yet Paxton can handle both sides of the plate.

Bullpen

The main query with the bullpen is two-fold; Is CC Sabathia healthy enough to return, and would he replace a pitcher or hitter?

Sabathia went through a bullpen session Wednesday. In his workout day presser Thursday, Boone said Sabathia felt good before he went out to stretch and play catch, though he hadn’t completed his routine by the press conference. If the left-hander bounces back well, he presumably has a role on the roster.

Who’s spot does he take? He could take one of the bench bats’ spots, or he could replace Tyler Lyons, Jonathan Loaisiga or Luis Cessa. Though Cessa didn’t pitch in the Division Series, Sabathia would be more likely to replace the other two as Cessa gives emergency length to the pen. Lyons is another lefty and might be superfluous with CC back.

If CC is on the roster, he could both give limited length (one time through the order) and would also be another option to team with Tommy Kahnle to attack Michael Brantley and Yordan Álvarez, the Astros’ two best left-handed hitters.


If I had to make a guess, I’d say the Yankees keep their same starting lineup while adding both Hicks and Sabathia to the roster and taking off Maybin and Lyons. That’s not necessarily fair to either of the latter duo who performed well last round, but Hicks and Sabathia bring both more talent and intangibles that could help the Bombers.

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