Tag: JA Happ Page 1 of 4

Catching up with where the Yankees left off in March

Baseball is coming back, but the stands will remain like this. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Playing baseball seems pretty reckless right now, but things will move full steam ahead starting this week. The Yankees already announced their initial player pool yesterday, which I broke down here. Most of those players will report to “summer camp” by Wednesday at Yankee Stadium. The rest, i.e. the taxi squad, will head to another location.

Since it’s been a long time since spring training was cut short, now’s a good time to refresh our memories of where the Yankees stand today. But first, let’s run down some of the new rules for this season:

  • Universal designated-hitter
  • 30-man roster for first two weeks of season, followed by 28 players for the next two weeks, and lastly 26 players the rest of the way
  • August 31st trade deadline
  • Postseason eligibility: player must be added to Major League roster by September 15th
  • Teams can have three players on their taxi-squad for road games, one of three must be a catcher
  • Extra-innings will begin with a runner on second base (batter who made final our in previous inning or a pinch runner)
  • 10-day injured list for pitchers and hitters
  • 60-day injured list is now 45-days
  • Separate injured list for players who test positive or have symptoms of COVID-19 with no minimum or maximum days for list

With that out of the way, here’s how the Yankees shape up at the moment.

Aaron Judge could be ready for Opening Day

The saga continues, three months later. Newsday’s Erik Boland reported on the right fielder’s status over the weekend, and while its good news that Judge is hitting off a tee, it’s not as much progress as one might have hoped since March.

As a reminder, Judge suffered a rib stress fracture and collapsed lung late last season, though nobody found out until this spring. His lung is healthy, but his rib is another story. We learned that Judge was set to have a CT scan to check his progress in mid-May, and perhaps another one not long after. However, we’ve been in the dark ever since.

Boland quotes one club insider who said that Judge “didn’t seem to be holding anything back”. That’s good and all, but tee work is still a long ways away from game action. Hopefully, the three week tune up is enough time for him to ramp up from the tee to game-ready. The Yankees really need as much of Judge as possible in this shortened season, so hopefully we get better news when the players report to camp this week. For now though, “could” doesn’t leave me particularly optimistic.

Stanton, Hicks, and Paxton are healthy

In better injury news: Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and James Paxton are healthy.

Stanton, who lost nearly all of 2019 to a myriad of injuries, suffered a calf strain back in February. It’s not new news that Stanton’s ready, though. Manager Aaron Boone said so back in March, as Bobby reminded us in a post a few weeks ago.

Last week, Hicks told the New York Post he’s ready to play. So that’s that. I think we all anticipated this, particularly after seeing how long it took Didi Gregorius to rehab offseason Tommy John surgery last season.

Finally, Paxton’s surgically repaired herniated disc is a non-issue at this point. This is old news, but positive nonetheless. Having a healthy Paxton piggy back Gerrit Cole during the 60 game sprint will be key, especially if the southpaw is as good as he was down the stretch last summer. Remember, the Yankees were undefeated in his final eleven starts of 2019 when he posted a 2.51 ERA. Not only would a repeat performance obviously propel the Yankees, but it would help Paxton land a big contract this winter when he hits free agency.

Domingo Germán’s suspension

The shortened season has guaranteed that the Yankees won’t have Domingo Germán in 2020. The 27 year-old right hander was suspended at the end of 2019 after MLB’s investigated a domestic violence altercation between Germán and his girlfriend.

Entering this year, there were 63 games remaining on his suspension which would have put him on track for a return in June under normal circumstances. Instead, the remainder of his suspension will keep him on the sidelines for all of the regular season and three postseason games should the Yankees make it. I can’t imagine the Yankees bringing him back for the postseason, though.

About JA Happ’s Vesting Option

I doubt that the Yankees want to bring JA Happ back in 2021. Over a full 162 game season, it wouldn’t be too much of a challenge for the Yankees to prevent his $17 million option from vesting. Was he really going to make 27 starts or throw 165 innings over a full season this year? Probably not. But now, under the terms of the March agreement, things get trickier for the Yankees. Take a look:

Each player signed to a major league contract at the start of the season shall have his salary determined by multiplying his full-season salary by the number of games scheduled (not adjusting for weather-related postponements or cancellations) divided by 162, minus any advanced salary. In the event of an additional interruption or delay, the salary shall be determined by multiplying his full-season salary by the games played by the player’s club divided by 162. Thresholds and amounts for bonuses, escalators and vesting options would be reduced by using the same formula.

In a 60 game schedule, Happ needs to make 10 starts or throw at least 61 1/3 innings to return to the Yankees in 2021. I wouldn’t fret about the innings threshold. However, limiting Happ to just nine starts during that span won’t be so simple. It’ll take an injury or a demotion to the bullpen to fall short. I guess we can’t rule out contraction of COVID-19 either, sadly. What a world we live in.

What if the pandemic interrupts or ends the 60 game season prematurely? Happ’s thresholds would be recalculated based on the amount of games the Yankees play. Since Happ will only need to make one start every six games, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the season ends after just 10 games and Happ’s already made two starts, thereby guaranteeing his 2021 option.

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Mailbag: Season Delay, Happ’s Vesting Contract, Gleyber’s Defense, New Rules

Come back soon, baseball. (Via Bryan Hoch)

Happy Friday, everyone. Or, maybe not so much. Day 1 of the post-sports reality is going to be interesting to say the least. There’s a lot to unpack about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the baseball world, and I’m sure we’re all collectively working through our thoughts about all of this. I know I am. It’s weird and it puts this site in a bit of a bizarre place, but we’re going to keep plugging ahead. Season previews, thoughts, updates on the ever-changing reality, the like. It will keep some sense of normalcy and hopefully serve as a good distraction (As an aside, the podcast is TBD – it probably does not make sense for us to travel to the studio to record Monday night, but we’ll announce something either way).

To that end, we’re doing a mailbag this week and each week going forward. We’ve got four good questions today. As always, send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We’ll answer our favorites each week.

Chris Asks: What teams benefit the most the most and least from the delayed season start? My thoughts: With less strain on the bullpen and a higher percentage of games played by Paxton, Hicks, Stanton, and Judge now, it has to be the Yankees, right? I would think the 2nd and 3rd best teams in each division would also benefit a lot – with a smaller sample size of games, there should be more variation.

I have to be honest: the impact on the Yankees’ health was the first baseball-related thought I had about all of this. It’s pretty clear that, when considering only the on-field impact, this is a huge boon to the Yankees. That would be true even if this was only a two week delay. (That’s the plan right now.) I think we should all accept a dose of cold hard reality, though: this is going to be much longer than two weeks. We should not expect to see Major League Baseball until May at the earliest, in my opinion. Maybe even June. That is just how things are trending right now, although it’s an obviously fluid situation.

So, with that in mind, that’s good news for Giancarlo Stanton, James Paxton, and Aaron Hicks. They were slated to return in April, May, and June, respectively. I think they should all be healthy – or close to it, barring setbacks – right around the time games get going again, in the best-case scenario. (As for Judge, let’s just hope he doesn’t exacerbate his injury since the guy doesn’t know how to take it easy for one day, apparently.) A fully-healthy Yankees roster is the best in the league, in my opinion, and this should make that a more likely possibility come Opening Day. That’s good news (I guess).

There are other downstream impacts, too. The higher rate of variance in the shortened season is a real one. It benefits the Astros in a meaningful way, I think. Do we really think fans are going to care about the sign-stealing stuff in a few months? I think it’s possible that the fervor has died down and people will want to just get back to normal. Then again, maybe fans will redouble their efforts when games come back, to get to normal? This is really uncharted territory. Nobody knows what is going to happen or when.

Iron Mike Asks: Lets say the season gets shortened to 130 games. How do you think this would affect vesting contracts? For example Happ needs to pitch something like 165 innings (don’t quote me on that number) this season in order for his 2021 contract to be activated?

Second confession: I also thought about this almost immediately. Happ’s contract vests for 2021 in one of two ways: 1) he throws 165 innings or 2) he makes 27 starts. Neither of those outcomes feels very likely right now. They did feel likely a few days ago. If he reaches either of those milestones, he will be back in pinstripes for 2021.

I really have no idea what the hell to make of this. I’m not an expert in contract law. I do wonder if his agent would try to renegotiate the terms of the vest once we hear more about the plans for the season. That’s what I would do. There may even be some clauses in there for catastrophes or other unforeseen events. Again, though, I have absolutely no idea. I can’t wait to hear more about this once things get back to normal, because I do think this is an interesting baseball implication.

Rafi Asks: I know that spring training stats are meaningless, but at what point should we worry about Gleyber’s error total (5 errors through 10 games so far)? Haven’t been watching the games, so not sure if he’s been making routine plays etc.; worth a deep dive/analysis?

No, not yet. I wrote about this the other day in a thoughts post, but I don’t think we’re there yet. I don’t feel good about it by any means. But we don’t have enough information yet. All I’m going off is tweets, and we all know how reliable that can be. (Not very reliable.) Only a few of these errors have been in televised games. That really matters! Seeing the errors, obviously, allows us to determine what kind of errors they are and how worried we should be.

Anyway, here is one of those tweets:

Those seem bad? I don’t know. Gleyber has a penchant for making mistakes defensively, even on otherwise routine plays. It’s been that way since he was a rookie. I always make excuses – he’s a rookie, it’s a new position, etc. – but maybe time is running out? For what it’s worth, as I noted the other day, the advanced stats rate him a better shortstop than second baseman. I think that’s true, too. I’m not worried but we should all be monitoring this again, as soon as we can. I’m sure the Yankees are.

Bob Asks: I was thinking about the new rule regarding having a relief pitcher face at least three batters which, as I understand it, is a pace-of-play thing. However, it seems that if a pitcher comes in and has an off-day (or night) there is the potential for a big inning, which then could lead to a longer game, defeating the purpose of the rule. Or is the rule just designed to reduce trips to the mound and game length is not a factor?

It’s all about pace-of-play. That’s what Rob Manfred is all about these days: making baseball games end faster. I don’t get it, but maybe I’m just in the .001% of baseball fans? I actually like the sport, after all. It’s true that this plan is dumb and poorly thought out. I don’t think a player getting smacked around changes much though. It’s only three batters. It should not add that much time. (As for the mound visits, they should have handled sign-stealing better. That was definitely why teams were visiting the mound so much.)

I gotta say, though, I just wish there were baseball games on. Who cares if they take 4 hours? It was the right decision to suspend the league for now. It really was and I think it’s foolish to pretend otherwise. But even a 4 hour game is better than no game. Even baseball fans who have whined about pace of play for the last decade would surely agree with that.

Reviewing the Yankees’ 2020 Projections: ZiPS

After examining Steamer’s 2020 outlook earlier this week, it’s time to review the Yankees’ ZiPS projections just released on Fangraphs today. And as you can tell by the graphic above, they are pretty, pretty good.

ZiPS comfortably puts the Yankees over the 100-win threshold, as it should. The Yankees are stacked, folks. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more intriguing projections the system has in store.

Betting the over

Hitter: Like I did with Steamer, I could easily pick DJ LeMahieu again (ZiPS has a 108 OPS+ projection). But, let’s mix it up here to avoid repetitiveness. I’m going bolder this time. Gio Urshela already has a respectable forecast, but I think he’ll do better than the 105 OPS+ and 2.2 WAR ZiPS calls for. Urshela’s exit velocity, hard hit percentage, and xwOBA all were comfortably above average last year which led to a 133 OPS+. Now, I don’t expect a repeat of 2019, but something like a 115 OPS+ seems within reach.

Pitcher: ZiPS pegs Zack Britton for a 3.48 ERA and 3.63 FIP in 51 2/3 innings. A fine projection, but I think Britton can beat it easily. Zack really came on in the second half of last season and I think we can expect more of that in 2020. Take a look at the splits from a year ago:

  • 1st half: 2.43 ERA and 4.21 FIP, 17.2 percent strikeout rate
  • 2nd half: 1.11 ERA and 3.01 FIP, 28.7 percent strikeout rate

Betting the under

Hitter: This was a hard one. I don’t think there’s any obvious pick here, so I’m going a little more granular. ZiPS projects Gleyber Torres to hit 41 home runs, but I think he falls short of that. I know he hit 38 last year, so 41 may be in reach, but I am more comfortable pegging Torres in the 25-30 home run range. Which is still great! I just can’t see him hitting more homers per plate appearance (one every 15.1 PAs) than Aaron Judge (one every 15.8 PAs), which is what ZiPS indicates.

Pitcher: I have no choice but to do a repeat here. I thought Steamer was too high on JA Happ, but ZiPS is even more optimistic. It expects 138 innings of 4.43 ERA and 4.40 FIP performance, which seems too good to be true. I’ll gladly sign up for a 101 ERA+ from the fifth starter, but I just can’t envision it.

Push

Hitter: Gary Sánchez’s projection feels about right. ZiPS gives The Kraken a .244/.323/.524 (121 OPS+) batting line with 32 homers and 2.6 WAR in 467 plate appearances. Only Giancarlo Stanton (43 in 567) is projected to hit homers at a higher per PA rate than Gary. That said, I could absolutely see a monster season that beats the forecast, but this is a pretty darn good outlook nonetheless.

Pitcher: ZiPS projects a 4.34 ERA and 4.30 FIP for Masashiro Tanaka in 168 innings. Considering that Tanaka hasn’t posted a FIP below 4.01 since 2016, this seems like a reasonable expectation. In any event, we know the season doesn’t really get going until the calendar says October for Tanaka. We can reasonably expect a sub-2.00 ERA come fall.

Biggest Surprises

Hitter: ZiPS has Mike Tauchman at 2.5 WAR, or sixth-best out of the Yankees’ position players. It loves his defense and thinks he’ll hit aplenty (.263/.335/.437, 105 OPS+). I think the offensive projection is reasonable, but the way ZiPS loves Tauchman’s glove caught me off guard. Dan Szymborski, the proprietor of ZiPS, did note that the system has loved his fielding since he was in the minors. Statcast has him in the 95th percentile in outs above average, so maybe this shouldn’t come as a total surprise. But essentially, per ZiPS, the big takeaway here is that Tauchman should play over Brett Gardner, which I didn’t anticipate.

Pitcher: It’s not really one guy, but rather, how the non-late inning relievers stack up per ZiPS. See below:

PlayerERA+
Ben Heller108
Jonathan Loaisiga104
Brooks Kriske101
Jonathan Holder101
Luis Cessa93

If the Yankees are going to carry an eight man bullpen, that means three of the five above can be in the majors along with Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Chad Green, Adam Ottavino, and Tommy Kahnle. It’s pretty obvious that Cessa should be the odd-man out, right? And that Heller absolutely deserves a spot, too. I didn’t expect that to be so cut and dry. I figured everyone would be a bit more closely bunched together.

Personal Favorites

When you see Gleyber’s projection.

Hitter: It has to be Gleyber’s projection, right? I know I already wrote about betting the under on his home run total, but still. .287/.348/.557 (136 OPS+), 41 home runs, and 4.6 WAR is a thing of beauty for the 23 year-old shortstop.

Pitcher: One of my favorite things about the ZiPS release are the comps the system spits out. For the Yankees, the pitcher comps are simply fantastic. ZiPS equates Gerrit Cole to prime Greg Maddux, Luis Severino to Roy Halladay, and James Paxton to Andy Pettitte. And then there’s the bullpen. Aroldis Chapman was comped to Billy Wagner, Chad Green to Rollie Fingers, and Adam Ottavino to Jeff Nelson.

Reviewing the Yankees’ 2020 Projections: Steamer

49 homers for Stanton? Sign me up. (Keith Allison – CC BY-SA 2.0)

As spring training nears, projection season is upon us. Today, we start a series examining the various projection systems’ outlooks for the Yankees in 2020. Today, we cover Steamer, currently available on Fangraphs. We’ll get to others like PECOTA and ZiPS once they are publicly available.

We’re not going to go player-by-player as we review each system’s output. Rather, we’ll call out a few projections that caught our eyes. With that, let’s get to what Steamer says about the Yankees’ fortune.

Betting the over

Hitter: It’s going to be difficult for DJ LeMahieu to match or top his production in 2019, but Steamer calls for a pretty significant drop off. After LeMahieu hit .327/.375/.518 (136 wRC+) last season, the system projects a .285/.345/.434 (107 wRC+) line. That’s way to low on the Yankees’ second baseman.

Pitcher: Steamer is bizarrely down on Luis Severino. It projects a 3.98 ERA and 4.05 FIP in 168 innings. I know his shoulder injury was scary, but he came back and looked sharp by the end of 2019. Moreover, he’s been dominant since 2017. In just under 400 innings from 2017 through last season, Sevy owns a 3.13 ERA and 2.99 FIP. Pitchers have down years from time to time, but I just can’t fathom Severino’s marks hovering around 4 in 2020. Gerrit Cole is the ace of the staff, but there’s no reason to sleep on Severino.

Betting the under

Hitter: I hate that I’m about to say this, but I could see Miguel Andújar falling short on expectations this season. Steamer says he’ll hit .270/.312/.474 (104 wRC+), which is already a far cry from his brilliant rookie season in 2018. I’m not taking the under here because I think Miggy is bad, but rather, I can’t help but wonder how long it will take him to get acclimated after missing most of 2019. Labrum tears are no joke and it could take him a little bit longer to approach his 2018 form.

Pitcher: This is a bit of a cop out, but I’m going with JA Happ, who Steamer says will have a 4.64 ERA and 4.78 FIP in 105 innings. That’s an improvement over last season, but I’m not confident in Happ rebounding. Maybe he won’t be as bad as 2019, and he did pitch well in September, but a 37 year-old fastball-reliant pitcher with diminished velocity? Count me out.

Push

Hitter: At some point, 36 year-old Brett Gardner’s production is going to taper off. I thought that was the case after the second half of 2018, but he rebounded with a terrific 2019. Now, Steamer expects Gardy to still be a solid player, but experience some decline. It calls for 1.8 WAR in 509 plate appearances, 17 home runs, and a .246/.327/.422 (98 wRC+) batting line. The batting average and on-base percentage are basically in line with 2019, but there’s a stark drop in power. I think that’s pretty reasonable to expect.

Pitcher: Steamer slates James Paxton for a 3.85 ERA and 3.96 FIP in 183 innings this year. That’s virtually a carbon copy of Paxton’s performance in 2019 and slightly worse than 2018. I can see a case for the projection being low, especially after watching the lefty’s dominant second half of 2019. That said, this seems to be a pretty safe expectation and a solid season for The Big Maple.

Biggest Surprises

Hitter: Steamer thinks Mike Ford (115 wRC+) is a better hitter than Luke Voit (108 wRC+). I like Ford quite a bit, perhaps more than most, but I’m skeptical of any forecast saying he’s better than Voit. As Bobby put it in his season review of Voit, Luke carried the offense before he got hurt last summer. Ford was great in his stead, but Voit has a longer track record of success at the big league level.

Pitcher: Steamer is down on Adam Ottavino. The system calls for a 4.36 ERA and 4.43 FIP in 68 innings this year, which would be a major disappointment. I imagine Ottavino’s high walk totals (14.1 percent in 2019) put some fear into the projections, but he’s been effectively wild for a few years running now. I suppose there’s concern that another 2017 is plausible, when Otto had a 5.06 ERA and 5.16 FIP. But that looks more like an anomaly around dominant 2016, 2018, and 2019 campaigns.

Personal Favorites

Hitter: I’m here for a monster season from Giancarlo Stanton, and that’s just what Steamer has ordered. Look at this thing of beauty: in 143 games and 627 plate appearances, Stanton is projected to hit a league-leading 49 homers. He’s also projected to be the Yankees’ best hitter (143 wRC+), a few ticks ahead of Aaron Judge. 2019 was a lost season for Stanton, but Steamer is still a big believer.

Pitcher: I think Steamer may be a little bit low on Gerrit Cole, but regardless, his projection is great. His forecast calls for a 3.25 ERA and 3.15 FIP in 202 innings along with a remarkable 280 strikeouts. And per WAR (6.1), Steamer thinks he’ll tie Jacob deGrom for most in the league.

A Case for Keeping JA Happ

When the Yankees decided to bring back JA Happ about a year ago, the move made sense. He’d just pitched well for them in a half season after a trade (disaster against the Red Sox in the ALDS notwithstanding) and was lined up to be a back end guy with CC Sabathia. Then the 2019 season happened.

Everyone got hurt for the Yankees–not quite an exaggeration–and that pressed Happ (and Sabathia) into greater service, if you will. Rather than being a fourth or fifth starter, Happ had to act like a second or third starter and it didn’t go well. He ended 2019 with an ERA of 4.91 and a FIP of 5.22 (34 homers!); those aren’t good any way you slice it.

Now, a year and a bad season later, the Yankees are looking to move on from Happ via trade. Such a move would get a not-so-great pitcher off the team and clear money, which could help come trade deadline time. But, like there was for Sonny Gray last year, I think there’s a case to be made for keeping Happ on the team.

For one, there really is no such thing as too much depth. As I’ve written before, the Yankees learned that the hard way last year. Despite signing Gerrit Cole, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka are still in the Yankee rotation and they’re not exactly shining examples of health. That’s not to mention that Luis Severino is coming off a completely lost year in terms of health. Beyond Happ, there’s some depth, but lots of questions–again about health, guys like Jonathan Loaisiga and Jordan Montgomery. JA Happ-enning to be around could help the Yankees soak up innings in the event of an injury.

If the playoffs are any indication about the way 2020 will go, the ball itself might change into something more normal. If that’s the case, as Bobby has argued Online at times, then maybe Happ isn’t so bad. It may not be totally wise to think in those terms–maybe the ball won’t change–but we can’t ignore it, either.

Lastly, I think there’s a way to distribute Happ to limit potential damage to him. It would hardly be innovative anymore, given how many teams do it, but the Yankees could pair Happ with an opener, making him the second/’bulk’ guy out of the bullpen. If I had my way with this, they’d pair him with Loaisiga for this experiment. The benefits of this set up would be threefold. First, it would limit Happ’s exposure to the tops of opponents’ lineups. Second, it would give Loaisiga a set schedule while still allowing him to get more innings than he would as a one-inning reliever. While Loaisiga’s future probably lies as a reliever, pitching him as a more traditional one-inning reliever could waste his potential given his talent/stuff and expose him to more injury risk–back-to-back games, an inconsistent schedule, etc. Third, a combination of Loaisiga and Happ could throw teams off, considering how different their styles are. By the time they adjust to Loaisiga’s power stuff, Happ will be in the game. By the time they adjust to Happ’s stuff, the Yankees can deploy their power relievers.

May I be painting too rosy a picture here? Sure. Happ is an older pitcher with declining stuff. Even in new roles, those guys don’t always do well. Not everyone can by Mike Mussina or CC Sabathia or Andy Pettitte and learn how to pitch on diminished stuff. Most likely, Happ is traded and the Yankees are better for it. However, if they decide to keep him, that could be justified and they could use him in a creative way.

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