Tag: Greg Bird

Mailbag: The Gio Dude, Potential Trades, Porcello, High-Spin Curves

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Happy Friday! It’s the last Friday of the regular season. That’s good and bad news, at least to me. I’m extremely ready for the postseason–I have been since Spring Training, really–but this season has been just so much fun for the Yankees that I don’t want to see it end. Hopefully we get another month of fun from this team. I have a good feeling about it.

This week’s mailbag has four really great questions. As ever, please send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We do this every Friday, and we’ll choose our favorites each week. Thanks as always for sending your questions!

Bobby Asks: Is there anything in the underlying stats during Gio Urshela’s current slump that suggests he’s turning back into a pumpkin? Or is it just a slump?

Gio Urshela sure is struggling, that’s for sure. In his last 47 plate appearances (spanning two weeks before Tuesday’s hopefully minor injury), the Gio Dude is hitting just .163/.234/.256 (24 wRC+) with a 6.1% walk rate and 21% strikeout rate. His isolated power (.093) and batting average on balls in play (.188) are also extremely low and his hard hit rate (42%) is a bit down from his season average (44%). That’s not a huge amount–he’s still hitting the ball harder than I’d have expected–but we can see it play out in some under-the-hood Statcast data as well. Check out a rolling chart of his exit velocity:

Yeah, he’s clearly not hitting the ball with the same authority as he was a few months ago. The peak of that chart there was about an average 95 mph exit velocity (about the same as Aaron Judge) and he’s now basically at league average (around 86 mph). He’s also not driving the ball the same way he was. Here’s a similar chart, tracking his launch angle:

Pretty clear, isn’t it? He’s hitting the ball with less authority and into the ground, which is the exact opposite of what you want. Add that all up and you’re going to see this:

However! What this really shows us is that he’s just in a slump. There is no magic formula here, nor is there really any predictive value in these sorts of measures. It’s only been about 50 plate appearances, after all. Now, I know Gio hasn’t ever really set the world on fire before–I still can’t even believe we’re having this conversation at all–but our man is hitting .315/.356/.532 (132 wRC+) this season in 466 plate appearances. I cannot just write that off because of one slump (even if I’ve done so right here in this mailbag before).

Even a few weeks ago, DJ LeMahieu’s Statcast data would have looked fairly similar to this when he looked lost at the plate. Baseball is a tough, unforgiving sport and even the very best hitters can look like Little Leaguers for a time. The underlying data here isn’t exactly pretty but I don’t think it’s significant enough to say that Gio’s magic carpet ride is over. You don’t have to go back very far to see some extremely impressive under-the-hood data, after all. Let’s just hope this hand injury isn’t too serious and that some time off gets Gio back on track for October.

Brooks Asks: In theory, if the Yankees were to build a trade package of former prospects who have lost some of their shine – Greg Bird, Clint Frazier and Tyler Wade…what do you think you could get for them?  An ace, a solid 3/4 type, or absolutely nothing? (Remember MTPS.)

This is a really great question and one that I always kind of hate to field, mostly because of the clause at the end there: my (and your) trade proposals suck. That being said, it’s an interesting exercise because there is going to be a 40-man roster crunch in the coming weeks. There are going to be casualties as there always are. We’ll cover that in more detail when the season officially ends, i.e. hopefully with a hangover in November.

But I do have to say: none of these three guys are quite the same. Check it out:

  • Greg Bird, 1B: Age 26, .211/.301/.424 (96 wRC+) in 700 PA
  • Clint Frazier, OF: Age 25 .253/.303/.462 (98 wRC+) in 426 PA
  • Tyler Wade, Utility: Age 24, .197.269.300 (54 wRC+) in 236 PA

Each of them bring different skillsets to the table and will therefore have different value. Greg Bird, for example, has none. He’s not exactly young anymore and his last healthy season was 2015, when he was first called up to the bigs. That was also the last time he was a productive big leaguer. He did get 300 plate appearances last year in 80+ games but my word was he terrible (.199/.286/.386) and his defense isn’t much to write home about. He’s I guess an interesting last piece of a package, but I can’t imagine he is of much value to anyone right now, suck though that may. I was rooting for him.

Wade, on the other hand, does do some things well. He’s a multi-positional player with plus defense across the diamond (he’s learning outfielding skills too). He’s also very fast, as in he’d be the fastest player on the Yankees, and he’s a very smart and adept baserunner. He tops out at 29 feet/second per Statcast and he takes the extra base (i.e. first-to-third) in 71% of all opportunities, per Baseball-Reference. League average is 41%. He’s been a complete zero offensively, but he’s still just 24.

The Yankees have given him a shot in each of the last three seasons for a reason. They carried him on the postseason roster in 2017 and will do so again this year. To me, his value is higher to the Yankees as a pinch-running specialist and defensive super-sub than it is on the market. If he can hit like he has this year (92 wRC+, though that’s fueled by his insane recent hot streak), then my guess is that he remains on the Yankee roster next year. Most decent farm systems can turn out a fast super-sub. I don’t think you’d get much in a trade.

And now Clint. He’s been the subject of much discussion this year, and it’s not difficult to see why. He’s a large personality who came to the Yankees with a lot of hype at the 2016 and a lot of fans, myself included, wanted him to be this year’s (or last year’s!) breakout prospect. That hasn’t really happened, with Clint playing some truly unplayable defense in the outfield and being buried in Triple-A. To be fair, he’s really shown flashes of offensive dominance and he has been a slightly above-average offensive player this year. That’s not nothing, but time and time again, when there was playing time for Clint, the Yankees opted to give it to someone else.

I’ve said this over and over again on Twitter and in offline discussions with friends, but that tells me something. It tells me a lot, actually. The Yankees make space for their young guys–even flawed ones. They did it with Bird and Sánchez in 2015 and 2016, even with Teixeira and McCann on the team. They did it with Judge and Torres, and they did it with Andújar, who, as I’m sure you remember, also played atrocious defense. They have notably not done so with Clint. And I’m sorry, but the chances were there. The Yankees would not have given Mike Tauchman time over Aaron Judge in 2016.

To me, that all but ensures Clint is a goner this offseason. We have a sense of what teams are willing to give for him, but I don’t think you’re going to like it. The Blue Jays and Diamondbacks both wanted Clint plus for Marcus Stroman and Robbie Ray, respectively. There is a package out there for Clint, for sure, but I don’t think he’s bringing home the top-line prospects folks tend to think he is. That’s why he’s still here, in my opinion.

Rich Asks: On Rick Porcello, what are the chances the Yankees go after him in FA to bolster the back end of the rotation if they miss out on Cole? Do his numbers against the likes of Houston, Oakland, Minnesota and Tampa back up a multi-year offer?

Sigh. Let me just get something out of the way right away: there is no excuse for the Yankees to miss out on Cole. He’s the perfect pitcher for them, and I really hope that they leave their newfound austerity behind for him. I’m not holding my breath, but hey, I’m not writing off the possibility either. Nobody said sports fandom is rational.

Rick Porcello is the type of pitcher who is a completely fine back-end starter, in my opinion. He has had some very, very good seasons, a Cy Young winning season, and some terrible seasons. All told, he’s been just about league average (99 ERA+) in over 2,000 career innings pitched. You don’t now what you’re going to get on a year-to-year basis, perhaps, but on a 2 or 3 year deal you’re probably a good bet to get a solid innings-eater at the very least. He’s only 30. There are worse options, but there are better ones too.

I’m not really going to read anything into his splits against this year’s playoff teams mostly because Oakland/Minnesota have only been good for 2 years, so he hasn’t really had many chances against them. He has under 40 IP against Houston in his entire career. He is quite good against the American League East, though. Check this out:

  • New York Yankees: 11-10, 3.96 ERA in 156.2 IP w/ a .701 OPS against
  • Tampa Bay Rays: 14-12, 3.56 ERA in 204 IP w/ a .699 OPS against

Pretty good figures against some pretty good teams. If nothing else, not having to face Porcello a few times a year might be a very slight boon to the Yankees, but they should really go out there and get Cole.

Cory Asks: I think I more or less understand how to interpret spin rate when it comes to fastballs. High spin fastballs drop less than batters are used to, generating the impression of rise. Low spin fastballs drop more than batters are used to, generating grounders. Mid spin fastballs do what batters are used to, generating hard contact. But I’m not sure I have a grasp on what spin rate means for breaking pitches. You’ll often hear that a pitcher has a high-spin curve, for instance, but without knowing what that means for the flight of the pitch, I don’t know what to make of that information. What does spin rate tell us for breaking pitches, beyond what the movement of the pitch tells us?

I love questions like this. You’re more or less spot-on re: the importance of high-spin fastballs–they drop less and look “faster” than they are as a result. That’s why the best teams in the league are actively targeting pitchers who can really spin it on their fastballs. High-spin curveballs, too, are very desirable, so when you hear that a curve has high-spin, it can be a good thing.

But it’s important to remember that curveballs and fastballs work in opposite ways. Fastballs have backspin, which keeps them “straight”, so more spin means the ball drops less. Curveballs are thrown with topspin, which is designed to generate their break, so a high-spin curveball essentially means it has more movement. Overall, high-spin curveballs have more downward momentum and, as you’d expect, result in more ground balls.

However, a nice analysis of curveball spin rate at Pitcher’s List covers this in some scientific detail, but the tl;dr is that a high-velocity, high-spin curveball breaks sharp and late–the velocity means that the pitch breaks closer to the plate. This is all kind of wonky, so here’s a gif of a high-spin, high-velocity curveball that I suspect you’ll like:

Look at that thing. It stays tight in the plane throughout it’s trajectory until it just dies right before the plate. Loaisiga’s curveball is averaging more than 2,800 RPM in 2019 and that one came in at 88 mph. It is the very definition of a high-spin, high-velocity fastball. I think the physics of it are quite clear just in that one GIF, and I think it’s pretty apparent why teams (and scouts) fall in love with guys with stuff like that.

That’s one example of what a high spin curveball can look like. Here is another one:

Deivi’s curve is clearly loopier than Loaisiga’s, which is much tighter. It has a similar spin rate–about 2,900 on this one, per former Yankee pitching development guru Danny Borell–but it came in at 80.5 miles per hour. That can really impact the way the pitch breaks and also its outcome.

Ultimately, though, there are a wide-range of spins on curveballs. The Statcast era is really young so we’re learning more about this stuff as we go. But, generally speaking, a high-spin curveball means that the pitch has a lot of movement and will result in a lot of grounders. I don’t think it ever hurts–especially if it’s paired with high-velocity.

Yankees Midseason Grades: LeMahieu, Gleyber and the Infield

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With the Yankees reaching the All-Star break, we’ll evaluate the team thus far, position by position, before play resumes. I started with the rotation and yesterday covered the catchers and DHs. Now, let’s get to the infield:

The Yankees’ infield has anchored the team this season. You could say the bullpen and I wouldn’t argue much. However, the combination of DJ LeMahieu, Luke Voit, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela and, now that he’s healthy, Didi Gregorius goes toe-to-toe with the league’s best infields. The first four had legit cases for the All-Star Game and Didi could in a full season.

Let’s kick it off with the team MVP:

DJ LeMahieu: A+

Y’all already know. DJ LeMahieu has been one of the best hitters in the American League and holds the edge in the batting title race at the break. He’s hitting a crisp .462 with runners in scoring position and had seven hits in the London Series alone. French for The Mahieu, or The Machine. It’s all the same. He’s been wonderful in pinstripes.

His first two games against Baltimore showed the potential of all he could do. It’s laughable to think that he sat out Opening Day, then had four hits, a double, some sterling plays at third base (not his natural position) and saw a ton of pitches. I remember thinking about whether he could actually handle third base and he immediately made a diving stop.

His two-year $24 million deal has been the steal of the offseason, particularly when you remember that the Rays were likely about to sign him. He’s been the Yankees’ most valuable player, has anchored their infield defense and done everything the team could ask for.

Luke Voit: A

There was a somewhat real debate before the season: Luke Voit, Greg Bird or outside help, who would win first base? Voit left no doubt with stellar Spring Training and even better Opening Day, when he homered in his first at-bat and never looked back at Bird.

He started the season by extending his on-base streak to 42 games, a constant amid the ever-changing Yankees lineup due to injury. With Judge out, Voit held down the No. 2 spot in the lineup and has batted .280/.393/.509 with 17 home runs, cementing himself as a top-end first baseman at the plate.

Voit walks 14 percent of the time, up even from his second-half surge in 2018. He’s cut down on his strikeouts slightly, though he’s swung and missed more on pitches out of the zone.

Defensive metrics have not been kind to him as he’s a -4.0 UZR with -6 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). Still, with his batting, the Yankees will take it.

One curiosity on my end: It always seems like he gets pitches up and in. He only has six HBP this season and the zone breakdowns don’t back it up. Maybe it’s just his reaction — falling over and/or getting angry — that creates the perception.

Gleyber Torres: A-

Torres might have been handed the toughest task in the first half; He had to move to shortstop in the interim (once Troy Tulowitzki was injured) and then surrender the position back to Didi Gregorius right away. Torres hasn’t missed a beat.

In fact, he’s been a better fielder all around, ranking better by most metrics at both second and short. That’s not easy, particularly for a second-year player who made plenty of rookie mistakes in the field a year ago. He’s generally seemed more comfortable and, in cliched baseball parlance, let the game come to him. Now he gets to move back to second base, where he could spend a good decade or so.

You can dance if you want, you can leave the infield behind (MLB.tv)

On offense, Torres was slow out of the gate as he was thrust into the middle of the order. The 22-year-old appeared to be trying to do too much and was able to relax when the lineup received more reinforcements, taking off with a 151 wRC+ in May and 171 wRC+ in June.

All games count the same, but Torres has really made the Orioles hurt. Though he’s hit well enough outside Baltimore, he’s crushed 10 of his 19 homers against the O’s with seven dingers and a .522 batting average at Camden Yards in seven games. Let’s see those numbers against the Rays and Sox next!

Gio Urshela: A

No one saw this coming.

How in the heck did Urshela become one of the Yankees’ key contributors in the first half? I truly can’t explain it in full, whether it’s simply the opportunity, his change in batting stance and swing or just plain dumb luck. It’s been a blast though.

With Miguel Andujar on the shelf, Urshela simply would have made up for Miggy’s value by playing a steady third base, something Andujar failed to do. Urshela has a highlight reel of plays, yet he’s held back by a lack of range and the occasional error. Still, he’s more or less an average third baseman compared to Andujar’s dreadful season in the field.

However, Urshela has been a godsend at the plate. He batted .330 well into May and holds a .304/.355/.469 line with seven home runs at the break. He had just eight homers in his career to this point. It doesn’t hurt that he has a flair for the dramatic.

Though his offense has stagnated some, he’s one of the better bench players in baseball once Voit is off the IL. He puts the ball in play at a high clip and will figure to start plenty of games the rest of the way.

Didi Gregorius: B-

Through 22 games, Gregorius is still finding his footing at the plate. His power is mostly there but he has walked just thrice in 94 PAs. Sir Didi has never been much of a walker to begin with, but under two percent is low even for him.

He debuted in early June after undergoing Tommy John surgery following the 2018 ALDS. Gregorius was a quick healer, getting through the rehab process quickly and back into the Majors in eight months.

Though he appears about the same in the field, UZR hates him in a small sample (-14.4 UZR/150), though DRS has him at a more average -1 runs. He found a way to make highlight plays on the turf in London, when the field was eating up most other infielders.

We haven’t yet seen the Didi of old. Only glimpses. A second-half return to normalcy would help take the Yankee offense up another level yet.

Miguel Andujar, Troy Tulowitzki and Greg Bird: Incomplete

Remember when Andujar, Tulowitzki and Bird all started on Opening Day? LeMahieu was on the bench, Gregorius was hurt and Urshela was in Triple-A, a complete afterthought.

All three of these guys had curious resumes going into the year: Could Miggy replicate his rookie season while achieving competency defensively? Could either Tulo or Bird actually stay on the field, let alone produce with the bat?

The answer to those questions, unfortunately, was no. Andujar injured his shoulder diving back into third in the season’s third game and wasn’t the same in a brief return before surgery. There’s no return in sight for either Tulowitzki or Bird as they sit on the 60-day IL.

You’d be foolish to have expected much from the latter two, but this injury is entirely disappointing for Andujar. When he comes back he’ll have the road blocks of LeMahieu and Urshela, let alone his own defensive efficiencies. This blog wishes all three the best in their arduous rehab.

If you’re worried that I forgot about Thairo Estrada, Mike Ford and others, don’t worry, they’ll be subject to another post. #SummerofThairo continues.

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