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The 2019 Yankees and RBI

If you’re reading this site, chances are you’ve at least dipped a toe into the waters of analytics, sabermetrics, whatever you want to call it. Even if you haven’t done more than that–or even that at all–you likely know that RBI isn’t exactly an ‘in vogue’ measure of a player’s performance. And, really, it shouldn’t be. While getting a hit with a man on base is great, that hitter didn’t do the work to put the men on base. At best, a high RBI total shows us a combination of skill–getting the hit–and chance–hitting while there happened to be men on in front of you. 

Stil, RBI tells us a story–who scored when and courtesy of whom. Without that story, the story of the game itself can’t be told. Earlier in the week, I saw a story about RBI that caught my attention. 

In a Facebook group, someone mentioned Luis Castillo’s 2000 season, in which he notched 17 RBI in 626 (!) plate appearances. Curious as to how that happened, I went to Castillo’s game logs page on Baseball Reference and looked up this handy chart:

Despite how shockingly low that is, especially when you see it compared to the average, it makes sense. Castillo was mostly a leadoff guy who was on a below average (79-82) team, so he routinely had bad hitters and the pitcher in front of him to drive in. The whole thing, though, got me curious about the Yankees. How good were they at driving in runners? Let’s take a look, using some charts. I included only those who had 300+ PA. 

Gary Sanchez

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
44629677265426321+5

Luke Voit

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
51032062196130020+1

DJ LeMahieu

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
655343102307938620+10

Didi Gregorius

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
34421561284120220+8

Gio Urshela

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
47630474245728020+4

Gleyber Torres

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
60436890247335621+3

Brett Gardner

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
55030574246632420+4

Aaron Judge

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
44724955225426321+1

This isn’t too surprising, is it? The Yankees get a lot of men on base–not one player had fewer than expected runners–and drive a lot of them in–not one player had fewer than expected RBI. As such, all of them are above the average expected RBI% by at least 1%, with DJLM smoking everyone else at 10% above average. 

Are these players good because they have high RBI totals and percentages compared to the average? No. They have those things because they are good players and they play with good players who get on base. RBI don’t tell the whole story, but they tell part of it. In this case, it’s another way of telling us the the Yankees are good at hitting. Plain and simple.

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What the New Statcast Infielder Metrics Say About the Yankees

Earlier today, Statcast released some new defensive metrics for infielders. More accurately, they took Outs Above Average, which was already available for outfielders, and made those figures available for infielders, too. Pretty cool. I always like to have a new leaderboard to poke around, even though I’m generally very skeptical as far as defensive metrics go. The individual leaderboard is here. The team leaderboard is here. Go check it out. There’s a lot to play with there.

Despite my overall defensive metric skepticism, one thing that this new set has going for it is simplicity: Outs Above Average measures — you guessed it — the amount of outs above average an infielder converts. In other words, if a player rates as a +2, that means they saved two outs. A -2, by contrast, means they cost two outs. It’s very straightforward and is based on the following four principals:

  • How far the fielder needs to travel to get the ball
  • The time he has to get to the ball
  • How far he is from the base to which he must throw the ball
  • His average sprint speed (on force plays)

The first two, obviously, apply to the outfield model as well, while the last two are unique to the infield. There is one other obvious positive: it takes into account a player’s positioning. In other words, where a player is listed on the lineup card is irrelevant. It’s all about where they’re standing on the field for a particular play for this evaluation. In the age of Big Shift, that’s a good thing. (You can also break it down by direction, which is also pretty neat.)

Anyway, Mike Petriello obviously wrote this all up over at MLB.com, so check that out for more details. Tom Tango, their stats guru, has the math/science behind it. I think what I described above should be enough to get the basics, but the basics are never enough with stats like these — it’s always good to dive into the methodology itself.

Yankee Takeaways

Anyway, there are a few immediate takeaways as they relate to the Yankees. Here’s what I found most interesting for our purposes:

  • Team Defense: The Yankees had a -18 OAA, which rated 28th overall (or third-to-last). We knew they were poor in the infield in 2018, but last year really felt different. They seemed much more competent on the diamond, but that’s not what this says. This surprises me.
  • Team Zones: Breaking it down further, the team was only a positive (+7) when moving laterally toward first base. When moving laterally toward third (-18), moving in (-5), and moving back (-1), they rated negatively. Overall, they converted 1% fewer outs than they “should” have. Interesting. Didn’t feel that way. Maybe the Yanks are excellent at shifting/positioning and that compensated for players with limited range. That might be enough to trick the eyes and explain the gap I hinted at above.
  • Best Yankee Defender: Surprise! DJ LeMahieu is the top NYY infielder with a +6 OAA. He converted 2% more outs than expected and ranked 23rd overall. Of course he did. This tracks well with the eye test.
  • Worst Yankee Defender: That distinction goes to Didi Gregorius, who was really, really bad defensively. Sir Didi was the third-worst defensive infielder (137th) in baseball with a -13 OAA — this is not prorated — but hey, he was better than Vlad Jr. A part of me wonders if this played into the Yankees’ decision not to bring him back. He converted 6% fewer outs than expected. The injury probably didn’t help here, but still. Ouch.
  • Gleyber’s Defense in Spotlight: Going off of that, if you really get into Gleyber’s data — he logged a -7, 2% fewer conversions than expected, good for 129th overall– you see a real discrepancy. Torres was much, much better as a shortstop than elsewhere by this metric. Derek will have more on this tomorrow, though, so check back for that.
  • Gio Urshela, Average Defender: I will die on this hill, but Gio Urshela is once again hosed by a defensive metric. I know that stats are supposed to fill in gaps and correct what we’re seeing. I know that players who make diving plays sometimes are worse defenders because of what it says about their range. But I just don’t see that with Gio…but all of the metrics disagree with me, so maybe I’m wrong. Definitely would not be the first time. I mean, DRS, UZR, and now OAA — he was a 0, exactly as expected. That’s 75th overall. I don’t know. I really don’t. This just feels wrong to me. FRAA, Baseball Prospectus’ metric, rates him much better, for what it’s worth. Also, I find it hard to believe that Urshela would still be employed if teams didn’t rate his defense well given his pre-2019 offensive production. It really feels like there’s a big gap here between public/proprietary stats here, but who knows?

What the New Statcast Infielder Metrics Say About the Yankees

Earlier today, Statcast released some new defensive metrics for infielders. More accurately, they took Outs Above Average, which was already available for outfielders, and made those figures available for infielders, too. Pretty cool. I always like to have a new leaderboard to poke around, even though I’m generally very skeptical as far as defensive metrics go. The individual leaderboard is here. The team leaderboard is here. Go check it out. There’s a lot to play with there.

Despite my overall defensive metric skepticism, one thing that this new set has going for it is simplicity: Outs Above Average measures — you guessed it — the amount of outs above average an infielder converts. In other words, if a player rates as a +2, that means they saved two outs. A -2, by contrast, means they cost two outs. It’s very straightforward and is based on the following four principals:

  • How far the fielder needs to travel to get the ball
  • The time he has to get to the ball
  • How far he is from the base to which he must throw the ball
  • His average sprint speed (on force plays)

The first two, obviously, apply to the outfield model as well, while the last two are unique to the infield. There is one other obvious positive: it takes into account a player’s positioning. In other words, where a player is listed on the lineup card is irrelevant. It’s all about where they’re standing on the field for a particular play for this evaluation. In the age of Big Shift, that’s a good thing. (You can also break it down by direction, which is also pretty neat.)

Anyway, Mike Petriello obviously wrote this all up over at MLB.com, so check that out for more details. Tom Tango, their stats guru, has the math/science behind it. I think what I described above should be enough to get the basics, but the basics are never enough with stats like these — it’s always good to dive into the methodology itself.

Yankee Takeaways

Anyway, there are a few immediate takeaways as they relate to the Yankees. Here’s what I found most interesting for our purposes:

  • Team Defense: The Yankees had a -18 OAA, which rated 28th overall (or third-to-last). We knew they were poor in the infield in 2018, but last year really felt different. They seemed much more competent on the diamond, but that’s not what this says. This surprises me.
  • Team Zones: Breaking it down further, the team was only a positive (+7) when moving laterally toward first base. When moving laterally toward third (-18), moving in (-5), and moving back (-1), they rated negatively. Overall, they converted 1% fewer outs than they “should” have. Interesting. Didn’t feel that way. Maybe the Yanks are excellent at shifting/positioning and that compensated for players with limited range. That might be enough to trick the eyes and explain the gap I hinted at above.
  • Best Yankee Defender: Surprise! DJ LeMahieu is the top NYY infielder with a +6 OAA. He converted 2% more outs than expected and ranked 23rd overall. Of course he did. This tracks well with the eye test.
  • Worst Yankee Defender: That distinction goes to Didi Gregorius, who was really, really bad defensively. Sir Didi was the third-worst defensive infielder (137th) in baseball with a -13 OAA — this is not prorated — but hey, he was better than Vlad Jr. A part of me wonders if this played into the Yankees’ decision not to bring him back. He converted 6% fewer outs than expected. The injury probably didn’t help here, but still. Ouch.
  • Gleyber’s Defense in Spotlight: Going off of that, if you really get into Gleyber’s data — he logged a -7, 2% fewer conversions than expected, good for 129th overall– you see a real discrepancy. Torres was much, much better as a shortstop than elsewhere by this metric. Derek will have more on this tomorrow, though, so check back for that.
  • Gio Urshela, Average Defender: I will die on this hill, but Gio Urshela is once again hosed by a defensive metric. I know that stats are supposed to fill in gaps and correct what we’re seeing. I know that players who make diving plays sometimes are worse defenders because of what it says about their range. But I just don’t see that with Gio…but all of the metrics disagree with me, so maybe I’m wrong. Definitely would not be the first time. I mean, DRS, UZR, and now OAA — he was a 0, exactly as expected. That’s 75th overall. I don’t know. I really don’t. This just feels wrong to me. FRAA, Baseball Prospectus’ metric, rates him much better, for what it’s worth. Also, I find it hard to believe that Urshela would still be employed if teams didn’t rate his defense well given his pre-2019 offensive production. It really feels like there’s a big gap here between public/proprietary stats here, but who knows?

Thoughts after the Yankees land Gerrit Cole

Just about everyone’s reaction after last night, I’d imagine.

If you’re reading this and are a Yankees fan, I’d bet you’re having a really nice morning right now. Whether you got a good night’s sleep and woke up to the Gerrit Cole news or stayed up late as the news broke, it’s no matter. This is the best news in a while.

Say it with me: Gerrit Cole is a New York Yankee. How great does that sound? Pretty, pretty good if you ask me. The Yankees did the thing we’ve all been hoping for. They also did the thing we’ve been waiting for them to do for years: dole out a big contract to a superstar.

What more can I say? I’m numb and speechless from the excitement of the news. It’s a good thing I wrote the rest of this post before the Cole news broke. I’m not sure I’d have been able to in the immediate aftermath. We’ll have a whole lot more on Cole in the coming days.

Ultimately, there’s no need to overthink this one. Be happy, everyone. I sure as hell am. Gerrit Cole is a New York Yankee and it sure sounds sweet.

Missing Didi as a fan. As great as the Cole signing is, yesterday remains somewhat bittersweet because the Phillies reportedly signed Didi Gregorius. I’m sad to see him go and I’m sure I’m not alone. After the news broke, Twitter was ablaze with fond memories of Didi’s time here, including his postgame victory tweets, clutch homers, and his success in the post-Derek Jeter era.

There was a great joy in watching Didi play for the Yankees. His passion made him incredibly fun and easy to root for, which was an element many Yankees teams lacked in years before his acquisition. Remember those business-like Yankees teams of the 1990s and 2000s? They were great, but I wouldn’t always define them as fun. Gregorius played a big role in making things different in the Bronx from many fans’ viewpoints.

Embed from Getty Images

Missing Didi in the clubhouse. Of course, it’s not just us who will miss Didi. The shortstop was clearly incredibly popular among his teammates and grew into a leadership role. I noticed a couple of players shared fond farewells to Didi on social media, including Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres. They’re certainly not alone.

Didi’s departure marks the second significant hole to fill in the clubhouse. We all knew about and were prepared for CC Sabathia’s departure, as were his teammates, but Gregorius’s future beyond 2019 was murky.

Other guys in that locker room will have to step up in those two’s absence. I’m plenty confident in guys like Judge and Torres doing so, but still. Sabathia and Gregorius leave big shoes to fill, and there’s still the risk of losing other significant presences like Dellin Betances, Brett Gardner, and Austin Romine.

Gregorius’s departure puts a lot of pressure on Gio Urshela and Miguel Andújar. I tweeted about this after the news broke yesterday and I want to expand upon the thought. With Gregorius gone, the Yankees’ infield is officially set: Urshela/Andújar, Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu, and Luke Voit from left to right. Even without Didi at short, that middle infield is one of the league’s best. Voit should be just fine at first too. That said, there’s some real risk over at third base. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer in Urshela’s all-around game and Andújar’s bat. However, it’s not that hard to envision scenarios in which either or both struggle in 2020.

Urshela was a late bloomer as a 27 year-old this season. Even though he delivered strong xStats per Statcast and a 121 DRC+, it’s not unreasonable to be somewhat skeptical of his breakout. Again, I think he’s for real, but I can’t help a little bit of doubt trickle in because of his limited track record.

Meanwhile, who knows how long it will take Andújar to be all the way back, if at all. The recent history of hitters who’ve returned from labrum surgery, including Greg Bird, is a mixed bag. Maybe I’m being too pessimistic, but I don’t want to count on Miggy’s bat at the outset of 2020. Even back at full strength, missing a full season will require him to shake off some rust. All this not to mention the already legitimate concerns about his ability to handle the hot corner defensively.

If the Yankees had kept Didi, LeMahieu would have remained in his roving infield role next season. Remaining in that role would have protected the Yankees against significant regression from Urshela and/or Andújar.

Right now, the Yankees’ infield depth consists of Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada. I like both players, but they’re a steep drop from what could have been with Gregorius. Handing either of those two extended time due to poor performance or injury from the expected regulars isn’t ideal.

Trading Happ will be costly. If the Zack Cozart trade is indicative of anything, the Yankees will have to include a good prospect to get out of what’s remains on JA Happs’ contract. The Angels sent Cozart and their 2019 first rounder, Will Wilson, to the Giants. San Francisco is absorbing Cozart’s contract, approximately $13 million.

The Yankees are seeking a trade partner, but it may not be easy to find a match. Now, nobody was expecting a heist like the Chase Headley salary dump with the Padres a few years ago. But let me ask you this: would you trade any of the following prospects to shed Happ’s deal?

  • Luis Gil
  • Anthony Volpe
  • Estevan Florial
  • Ezequiel Duran

I’d rather not. All four of these guys had 55 grades put on them per Baseball Prospectus, the same as Wilson. Now, all of their major league ETAs vary, but it’s a good start for a comp.

Unfortunately, pulling a few trade comps based on scouting grades isn’t the end-all-be-all. Happ’s deal is more complicated than the just-dealt Cozart’s. The newest Giant was owed nothing more after his $13 million this year, whereas Happ is due at least $17 million. And, if Happ throws 165 innings or makes 27 starts in 2020, he gets another $17 million in 2021. That additional “risk” could cost the Yankees more in prospects. Now, any suitor for Happ could plan to manipulate his innings next year. That’s a slippery slope, of course, but not unheard of.

Ultimately, the Yankees shouldn’t be in the business of attaching prospects to get out from contracts they regret. If you’re going to trade prospects, trade them for someone who can help the team win now. The organization is a financial behemoth that can sustain itself with Happ under contract for one more season. After all, it’s hard to imagine Happ meeting his incentives this season while a member of the Yankees.

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On the Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, and Carlos Correa trade rumors. We’ve known about Lindor and Bryant being on the block for weeks and months now, but Correa is the latest addition to young studs supposedly available. And once again, it’s because of teams “facing tough payroll decisions”.

I’m tired of beating a dead horse, but let’s do so once more. It’s absurd that teams in the midst of its contention windows are contemplating trading its best players! Team valuations are through the roof, and yet, owners do not want to pay stars to maintain a winning club. As fun as it can be to speculate on blockbuster trades, this is just getting ridiculous.

Anyway, I really really hope we don’t hear about this with the Yankees anytime soon. Imagine the uproar if the Yankees decided to dangle Aaron Judge or Gleyber Torres in the coming years? Good grief. I’d like to think the Yankees know better than that. Such a thing would be a massive slap in the face.

Report: Didi Gregorius Inks One-Year Deal with Phillies

Didi Gregorius has a new home. He and the Philadelphia Phillies agreed to a one-year, $14 million deal, per the Post’s Joel Sherman. Sir Didi will be reunited with his former manager Joe Girardi up the turnpike. Despite the fact that Didi apparently had multiple suitors, it doesn’t sound like the Yankees ever really had that much interest in him this year.

That’s a shame, even if his performance was not where we all wanted it to be in 2019. As a player, Gregorius took a major step forward with New York, improving in each of his first four seasons. He peak in 2018 when he hit .268/.335/.494 (124 OPS+) with 27 home runs. All told, he hit .269/.313./.446 (101 OPS+) in 660 games across five seasons in the Bronx. He was a great defender at short, as well, as anyone who watched him knows.

But Gregorius became a fan-favorite not just because of the fact that he was a productive player–it was because he always donned the pinstripes with grace and a smile. Remember, he was asked to replace an all-time great and all-time Yankee legend in Derek Jeter. That is not an easy burden to bear. I think Didi accomplished it about as well as you could reasonably expect.

On a baseball-level alone, I would have liked to see Gregorius return. We all saw the revolving door of infielders in 2019 and we all know that there will be plenty of playing time to go around. Gleyber Torres can now return to his natural position at short, for sure, but an infield rotation of Urshela/Andújar/Torres/LeMahieu/Gregorius and one of Wade/Estrada sure feels better than Urshela/Andújar/Torres/LeMahieu/Wade/Estrada to me. Oh well. This isn’t a particularly surprising move, but I will miss Didi a lot just because of how fun he was to root for. The Yankees will be less fun without Gregorius, even if they’ll almost certainly be fine on the field without him.

How could you not love him? If you think about it, Gregorius was involved in several of the most memorable moments in recent playoff memory. This past year, he drilled this grand slam in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Twins:

And in Game 5 of the 2017 ALDS, Gregorius somehow slammed two home runs off Cleveland ace Corey Kluber:

But both of these moments pale in comparison to what is clearly the most memorable moment of Gregorius’ Yankee career. That, of course, came in the 2017 AL Wild Card Game in the Bronx against the Twins. You all know the story, but it is fun to relive anyway. After falling behind 3-0 to Minnesota in the top of the first, Gregorius answered in the bottom half with this:

It was an incredible moment and probably the first real explosion the Yankee fanbase had felt since Raúl Ibanez in 2012, if not since 2009. It was the moment that put the current version of the Yankees on the map and Didi was right at the center of it.

Finally, I think I speak for all of us here when I say that I hope Didi rebounds next year as he gets far away from his surgery. I’d love to see him bounce back and have a great year with Philly and position himself to make a lot of money in free agency next year. That would be cool.

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