Tag: Didi Gregorius Page 1 of 11

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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