Happy Friday, everyone. We’re just a few hours away from Game 5. In the meantime, let’s open up this week’s mailbag. I’m only answering two questions because so many of this week’s questions related to the offseason after losses in Game 2 and Game 3. Let’s wait until the Yankees are actually eliminated (if they are eliminated!) to discuss the 2021 plans.
As always, shoot your questions to viewsfrom 314 [at] gmail [dot] com. Away we go:
Dan asked/suggested: The Yanks need to rethink their bullpen usage. Considering the no off days and the fact that they have only three good relievers, the Yanks should try using starters out of the pen on their throw days. It worked for the Nats last year. Do you think Masahiro Tanaka or JA Happ are up for it?
I understand this sentiment, but the Nationals didn’t have much of a choice last year. The only reliever Washington could really trust was Daniel Hudson. Sean Doolittle too, I suppose. The Yankees have a deeper bullpen that’s really good on paper, inconsistencies aside. And sure, the lack of off days this postseason makes it more difficult on the Yankees’ traditional relievers, but it’s not as if that makes it any easier for starters as well.
It’s also important to point out that Washington really only did this with Patrick Corbin, who came out of the ‘pen five times last October. Yes, Stephen Strasburg relieved in the do-or-die Wild Card Game and Max Scherzer made one bullpen appearance in the NLDS, but that’s it.
Got a few questions to answer as we head into the final weekend of the regular season. Before we dive in, remember to send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com for a chance to be included in a future mailbag. Now, to this week’s questions:
A few people asked: What does the Yankees’ 2021 rotation look like?
People sure love to talk about next year’s team when this season isn’t over, huh? Nonetheless, I’ll oblige.
As you likely know, the Yankees can lose Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and JA Happ in free agency this offseason. That leaves a number of holes to fill, though the team does have enough big league caliber starters to fill out a staff. It just may not be as good as this year (or before this year). The players under contract for 2021: Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, Domingo Germán, Deivi García, Clarke Schmidt, and Michael King.
Of course, there are caveats with the seven pitchers I just rattled off. Severino is recovering from Tommy John surgery and will start the 2021 season on the injured list. Germán will have just finished his suspension under the league’s domestic violence policy, so who knows how much rust he will have to shake off. Montgomery was a roller coaster this season. King was terrible. Schmidt will have just one big league start to his name entering 2021. At least Cole and Deivi looked great.
Now, if all goes well, that group could look pretty good by 2021’s end! Cole and Severino could make for a formidable one-two punch. García and Schmidt have a ton of upside. Germán and Montgomery are more than capable back-end guys, with the former having shown flashes of better than that in 2019.
That said, count on the Yankees reinforcing the rotation this year. For one, I’d bet on Tanaka’s return, but I expect Paxton and Happ to depart. Don’t expect any free agent splurges like Trevor Bauer to replace those guys, though. A trade or middle-market free agent (Kevin Gausman? Marcus Stroman? Mike Minor?) signing seems more likely. Here’s what I envision as the Yankees’ ideal rotation come Opening Day 2021:
By season’s end, you can slot in Sevy. Forget about who that boots from the staff as that sorta thing always seems to sort itself out. Injuries and unexpected performances happen.
Paul asks:Should Luke Voit’s contract be extended?
Everyone at this here blog loves Voit, but this answer is a pretty easy no. Voit turns 30 in February and won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season. It stinks for the first baseman, but he was a late bloomer who won’t hit the open market until his mid-thirties. That leaves the Yankees very little motivation to extend him beyond 2024 at the moment.
Voit’s now a lifetime 138 wRC+ hitter in over 1,000 big league plate appearances and should still get paid fairly well in arbitration. He’s going to be super-two eligible this offseason and should get a nice raise over the near league-minimum pay he’s gotten over the last couple of seasons. More traditional stats like home runs and RBIs pay in arbitration, and Luke’s got those aplenty.
Aside from age and team control considerations, I think Voit’s position and health are detractors from any extension. I just don’t see much of a reason to lock up a 1B/DH type when the team already has a number of those guys on the roster already. Additionally, though Voit has played through “foot stuff” this season, I can’t help but worry about his health over the long run. Last year’s oblique injury really held him back too.
Dan asks: I recall speculation before the season started that players who were on teams that were clearly eliminated would be compelled to opt-out, to avoid playing in meaningless games. Obviously, that hasn’t happened. Are you surprised at all?
I’m a little surprised, but I think that there are two big reasons we haven’t seen a bunch of opt-outs.
First, The expanded playoffs have definitely played a big part here. 21 of the league’s 30 teams are still alive with just three games remaining. Had the league stuck to 10 playoff teams for this season, perhaps we’d see a lot more guys bowing out early.
Additionally, perhaps players have become more confident in the league’s health protocols as the season’s gone on. The amount of positive tests and team-wide outbreaks has slowed down the stretch. Earlier this season, it was a lot easier to imagine players dropping out as playoff hopes dwindled because of the numerous positive tests and postponements.
All that said, one high profile player has opted out this week: Andrelton Simmons. The Angels (26-31) are technically still alive too, though it’ll take a lot going right for them to overcome the Astros (29-28) for second place in the AL West.
Jeremy asks: Gio Urshela is the man. I’m hoping you can help me understand something about his advanced stats (and advanced stats in general). His Exit Velo (86th percentile), xBA (98th), and xSLG (86th) are elite. Why are those stats so high when his Hard Hit% (56th) and Barrel% (48th) are fairly average? His K% (90th) is pretty elite but I feel like that only explains part of the xBA and not much of anything else. Is it more so because his GB%/FB%/LD% mix (38.3%/19.2%/38.3%) is seemingly much better than the MLB average (45.3%/21.9%/25.7%)?
It’s definitely strange that Gio’s hard hit percentage and barrel percentage aren’t up to snuff with his average exit velocity. I do think that Jeremy is on the right track with the batted ball type mix, but there’s one other thing I’d like to add.
Gio’s distribution of batted ball quality is excellent. He may not have a ton of hard hits or barrels, but he almost never makes weak contact. He also doesn’t get on top of the ball too often either. Further, the “under” or “flare/burner” category isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many of those are bloopers that dunk in. Better than a weak hit or chopper that’s almost an automatic out.
We should also keep in mind what this means for Gio’s hard hit and barrel percentages. Remember, a hard hit ball is 95 MPH or greater exit velocity in any direction. Grounders, pop-ups, or line drives can all get the same treatment under hard hit percentage. So just because Urshela isn’t great there doesn’t mean his exit velocity and xStats are inflated. Rather, it appears that Urshela’s distribution of hit quality helps him in the exit velocity department, while his launch angle helps him rarely hit into easy outs.
As Jeremy noted, Gio hits grounders well below league average and hits liners well above league average. Consider that with his hit quality distribution and elite bat-to-ball skills and you can see why Urshela’s had so much success.
Another night, another offensive outburst. The Yankees won this one 10-7, though it was a blowout up until Toronto’s ninth inning too-little-too-late rally. The Bronx Bombers are living up to their moniker and you love to see it. They scored 43 runs against the Jays this week to complete a sweep and win their eighth straight. To the takeaways:
The Yankees should keep hitting home runs. That’s it. That’s the tweet takeaway.
For real now: the fourth inning was unbelievable. Five homers in six batters against Toronto righty Chase Anderson. It brought the series total to 18, the most in any three-game span in MLB history (Gary Sánchez brought that total to 19 later). It was also the first time the Yankees had hit five dingers in one inning in franchise history. It’s been done six times before the Yankees, though.
The monster inning quelled any regret about a missed opportunity in the first inning. The Yankees had loaded the bases with no one out, but only scored two runs thereafter. Stanton singled in a run and another scored on a Gleyber double play.
Not much more to add other than hitting homers is good. In case you needed a reminder: hitting too many homers is nonsense. It’s good in the regular season, it’s good in the playoffs, it’s good in your Sunday softball league. Seeing the Yankees do this is encouraging. It’s no coincidence it comes as the team gets closer to full strength.
Dear Giancarlo Stanton, please stay healthy. It absolutely stinks that we haven’t gotten to see the full Stanton experience since 2018. We’ve seen flashes, but inevitably, something has gone awry health-wise over the past two years. We got another flash tonight.
I think last year’s production from the injury replacements made it easier for us to put Giancarlo in the back of our minds when he he went on the injured list this season. At the time, the Yankees were 10-5 and in first place. The injury still stunk, but it didn’t feel like a death knell. Little did we know what would happen later in the month. While absent, Yankees’ designated hitters batted .189/.268/.315 (60 wRC+) in 123 plate appearances. Stanton was hitting .293/.543/.585 (180 wRC+) in 54 plate appearances before he went on the shelf. Lack of offense, not just from the DH spot, was one of the big reasons the team eventually fell to .500 just a little more than a week ago.
Tonight, Stanton reminded us how much he was missed. He went 4-for-5 and one of those four knocks was a homer in the Yankees’ monster fourth.
Hopefully, the team’s plan to gradually work Stanton back into everyday play proves beneficial. Likewise for Stanton’s plan to remain lose between at-bats while DHing.
Save for Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Masahiro Tanaka looked great again. Toronto’s left field went 3-for-3 with two homers against the Yankees number two starter tonight. No one else really had much success against Tanaka, who finished the game with a line of 7 innings, 7 hits, 3 runs, 5 strikeouts, and no walks. This actually raised his ERA to 3.27, which tells you just how good he’s been.
Only one of Gurriel’s homers was actually a true mistake pitch by Tanaka. He hung a slider on 2-2 that put Toronto on the board in the third inning. The other homer came with the Yankees up 9-2 on a challenge pitch. Tanaka threw a 3-1 fastball and Gurriel didn’t miss.
I’m not saying those Gurriel homers don’t count — they do — but otherwise, Tanaka handled Toronto’s lineup with ease. His slider and splitter were very effective and generated a 30 percent whiff rate combined. Meanwhile, his command was good and allowed him to work 7 innings while throwing just 91 pitches. This starting staff has really given the bullpen some rest of late, which is huge in this final stretch.
Last but not least, let’s talk about a defensive play Tanaka made. In the same inning as Gurriel’s first homer, Toronto threatened for more. After the long ball, the Jays strung together three hits in a row to tie the game at 2. That third hit, Bo Bichette’s RBI single to tie it, ended with Bichette thrown out at second base. Take a look.
You often see the pitcher backing up home plate in this situation, but here, Tanaka cut off Hicks throw. Maybe he had time to react and run back into the infield to cut it off. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a look at his positioning the entire play. He followed it up with a perfect throw to Gleyber for the tag out. This is the type of play that earns Tanaka praise for his glovework.
It was a pretty clutch play at the time. Without the cutoff, Toronto would have had second and third with one out and the score even at two. Instead, Tanaka needed just one out to escape the jam with the tie preserved and he did just that.
Luke Voit’s homer, the third of the back-to-back-to-back shots, was his league leading 20th dinger of the season.
Aroldis Chapman picked up a two out save in this one. Jonathan Holder was given the ball up 10-3, but departed with the bases loaded and the score 10-5. Chapman did allow a hit but ultimately closed it out for the W.
Nice night for Sánchez, who went 2-for-4 with a double, homer, and no strikeouts. His double was the second-hardest hit ball of this regular season, 117.5 MPH. He can still crush ’em when he makes contact. more please.
Tampa Bay swept Baltimore in a doubleheader today. Thanks for nothing, Orioles. The Yankees are 3.5 games back of first place with 9 to play, and a tie won’t cut it as the Rays have the tiebreaker.
The White Sox defeated the Twins, which now ties the Yankees and the Twins in the loss column. Minnesota does have a couple more wins than the Yankees though. Point is, the Yanks and Twins are essentially duking out who’ll have home field advantage in the first round. The two teams are on a collision course for the 4/5 seed matchup.
The Yankees are now off to Boston for a three game weekend set. See you all tomorrow.
It didn’t take long for this one to feel over. DJ Stewart hit a two-run homer in the first inning against Masahiro Tanaka and the Orioles never looked back. Baltimore topped the Yankees 5-1. The O’s took three of four from the Bombers this weekend. Not good. Anyway, since it’s a holiday weekend and a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the New York area, we’re going to keep these takeaways short and sweet. On we go:
One bad pitch is enough to do this team in. That’s the kind of state this offense is in, folks. Tanaka pitched really well today, but left in line for the loss because the bats were lifeless yet again. It would have been nice to see Tanaka give a little more length (he left after 5 1/3 innings), but it was a solid outing nonetheless. His one mistake? The aforementioned Stewart’s 2-run homer in the first inning. Tanaka left a splitter up and Stewart made him pay.
This lineup has no punch. The Yankees were actually lucky to score a run in this one. The offense scored on Erik Kratz’s RBI fielders choice in the second inning. It probably should have been an inning-ending double play given Kratz’s speed, but third baseman Rio Ruiz’s hesitation gave Kratz just enough time to beat the throw. This came after Mike Ford and Mike Tauchman missed hittable pitches earlier in the frame (as they so often do). This lineup has nowhere to turn until the big bats get healthy. The depth just isn’t any good at the moment.
Second guessing Aaron Boone’s seventh inning. After back-to-back one out singles, Aaron Boone let Erik Kratz bat while down 4-1. That’s just inexcusable. He’d already used Aaron Hicks as a pinch hitter in the previous at bat, but he still had Gleyber Torres and Gary Sánchez at his disposal. Don’t want to use Gary? Fine, I get it. He’s been awful. But pinch hit Gleyber then. Don’t wait until the next batter to do it! Kratz wound up flying out, but what if he grounded into a double play? Torres would have never had a chance to hit with runners aboard. Just bad managing. Who’d have thought that the day the Yankees bench Gary, Kratz would have two of the biggest plate appearances of the game? Sigh. By the way, since Torres did wind up pinch hitting, why couldn’t he play at all? I get that he was replaced defensively by Thairo Estrada, but man that’s frustrating too.
The Yankees are now 21-19. Toronto is currently up by four against Boston, so it looks like the Yankees will fall into third place and the American League’s eighth seed by the end of the day. This comes as the Yankees begin a three game set against the Blue Jays tomorrow. A pretty big series upcoming, indeed.
It’s good to be back home. The Yankees have won the first two games of this homestand by completing a two-game sweep of the Braves in the Bronx tonight. The final score in this one: 6-3. Clint Frazier, who stepped in for Aaron Judge today, was an offensive juggernaut and homered in his first at-bat of the season. DJ LeMahieu had a huge game in multiple facets. The bullpen was strong albeit for a minor scare in the 9th. In all, a good win to head into the off day. Now, the takeaways:
Was Clint prophetic or what? It took just one at-bat to make his presence felt. He went back-to-back (and belly-to-belly) with Gary Sánchez in the second inning.
These two dingers leveled the score at two at the time. Frazier finished the day 3-for-4 with a single, double, and strikeout. He scalded everything he hit:
This is exactly what he needs to do to make a lasting impression with Giancarlo Stanton (and potentially Aaron Judge) down. OK, maybe asking for 3-for-4 on a nightly basis is a bit much. But as we talked about on the podcast, the Yankees really haven’t been keen on giving Frazier many opportunities even as he’s hit well. So maybe he’ll have to do a little extra to stick around this time.
DJ LeMahieu does it all
The Machine recorded 4 hits to raise his batting average to .431 on the season, which is now officially 30 percent complete. He was also a home run away from the cycle. While we often rave about LeMahieu’s hitting ability (and rightly so), there’s so much more to him as a player. Two moments stood out in this game for DJLM.
LeMahieu saved a run with his glove in the third inning, and he did so without even recording an out. After Tanaka issued back-to-back two out walks, Adam Duvall bounced a grounder up the middle that nearly snuck through the infield. Instead, LeMahieu was able to keep it from getting to the outfield which assuredly would have scored a run and given Atlanta a 3-2 advantage. Alas, no video from MLB for me to share here but it was a big play as Tanaka wiggled out of the jam thereafter to keep the game tied.
In the fourth, LeMahieu scored the go-ahead run on Aaron Hicks’s double. It wasn’t an easy trot to home plate for DJ, though. He scored from first after Ender Inciarte had difficulty with the carom off the wall. LeMahieu is not fast (32nd percentile in sprint speed), so even with the Inciarte’s bobble there was going to be a play at the plate. It was close, but a good slide helped him avoid a good relay throw home.
What a complete player. Extend him now.
Not Tanaka’s best
Aaron Boone pulled Masahiro Tanaka a little earlier than I anticipated tonight. After throwing 51 and 59 pitches in his first two starts, respectively, Tanaka finished this evening with 66 pitches through four innings. In fairness, Tanaka didn’t look as sharp as his previous two outings and he would have faced Travis d’Arnaud, Freddie Freeman, and Marcell Ozuna for the third time had he started the fifth inning. Perhaps this was a proactive pull.
Tanaka gave up his fair share of hard contact tonight and it started right from the get go. Dansby Swanson led off the game with a line drive single to center. The next batter, Travis d’Arnaud, nearly took Tanaka deep. The Atlanta catcher hit one 103.4 MPH off the bat and 405 feet to right-center, but Aaron Hicks tracked it down with a nifty leaping catch. Take a look:
Masa ran into some more hard contact in the second. The big blow came off Johan Camargo’s bat: a two-run shot down the right field line. He jumped on a 1-2 fastball that he seemed to be sitting on:
That was Tanaka’s 7th fastball of 25 pitches through that point, and perhaps the bomb scared him off the pitch. Just 7 of his last 41 pitches were heaters, and he threw just one in the fourth inning. He’s had better fastball velocity this year, but it’s still not the caliber of his splitter and slider. He may have also fallen in love with his four-seamer after inducing a 38.9 percent whiff rate in his first two outings on the pitch.
After Tanaka eschewed the fastball, he really only had his slider going. He got just one swing-and-miss on his splitter on 12 swings against it. Much of that boils down to location. Even though you’ll see a few splitters down and out of the zone (grey dots below), a bunch were up that he got away with. Even his slider location wasn’t ideal, though he did seem to get his best results from it.
Tanaka’s final two innings after Camargo’s dinger weren’t easy. After recording the first two outs of the third, Atlanta’s heart of the order reached via walk, walk, and infield single. Fortunately, Tanaka got out of that mess as noted above in the LeMahieu section. In the fourth, Tanaka worked around a one out single and his day was done. The final line: four innings, five hits, two runs, two walks, and three strikeouts. Maybe he’ll get up to 80 pitches next time out.
Gary’s homer above was his second of the season. It came on a middle-in 1-2 mistake changeup. He went hitless in his next four at-bats, including a strikeout against a hanging curveball from Josh Tomlin. Gary hit an opposite field homer in Philly last week, but that wasn’t a turning point so we’ll have to reserve judgement after tonight’s dinger.
On the other hand, Gleyber Torres seems to be looking a bit more comfortable at the plate. He had an RBI single to right field and has a hit in four of his last five games (and reached base via walk in the other). Including tonight, Torres has been aboard in 10 of his last 20 plate appearances and has a .286/.500/.357 triple-slash in that span. More power would be nice, but it’s good to see some production nonetheless. Lastly, he looked a little more confident defensively as well.
Jonathan Loaisiga looked great in two-plus innings. He faced 9 batters, struck out three, and allowed just two hits. It probably should have just been seven batters, but Boone put him out there to start the seventh and he promptly gave up back-to-back singles. Chad Green, who seems to pitch everyday, worked out of that jam. Maybe it’s time to just have Loaisiga pitch in one or two inning stints — he seems to run out of steam by the third.
Jonathan Holder couldn’t finish this one off in the ninth. After the Braves cut the score to 6-3, Boone summoned Zack Britton to close this one out. Britton, who’s now pitched in 8 of 18 games, didn’t look sharp but shut it down for the save.
Tomorrow’s another off day, but the Red Sox come to town for a wraparound series this weekend.