Thoughts as the Offseason Doldrums Take Hold

Things sure are boring in Yankeeland these days. That’s not a bad thing. I’m not really sure what more the Yankees could do this offseason to make me happy. The went out and signed Gerrit Cole and they revamped their strength and conditioning departments. Those were pretty clearly the two big priorities. I mean, I wish they brought back Didi and Betances, obviously. But there are baseball red flags for both players and it never felt like the Yankees were serious about a renewing their vows with either guy. I’ve made my peace with that.

Anyway, the slow days of the January months, try as they might, have not stopped me from thinking about the Yankees. Here’s what’s on my mind today, which is only 78 days away from Opening Day.

1. Gleyber’s ZiPS Projections: Have you all see the ZiPS projection for Gleyber Torres yet? It was at the bottom of Dan Szymborski’s look-back on the 2019 Yankees, which is worth reading even if the projection wasn’t included. With the projection, though, it’s a must-read. I mean, check it out:

Told you! That’s about as bullish of a projection as you can imagine on any player. Szymborski — who is the architect of ZiPS, it’s worth mentioning — correctly noted that Torres “became more aggressive at the plate in 2019 in the best possible sense.” That is true, as I noted in my review of Gleyber’s season. He swung at better pitches, which is why his walk rate and strikeout rate both declined year-over-year. These two charts are pretty illustrative:

2018
2019

Very impressive stuff. Torres, who is now just 23-years-old, made real improvements at the plate last year. He looked in command of the strike zone. That should help quell doubts about his power surge: there was more going on here than just the ball, even though that definitely helped. The reality is that Torres absolutely got better. There’s no doubt about it.

Overall, he’s as an impressive a young player the Yankees have produced since at least Robinson Canó — who hit .342/.365/.525 in his age-23 season, remember — and there’s every reason to believe that he will continue to improve. I believe that Aaron Judge will be the Yankees’ best player for at least the next few years, as long as he’s healthy at least, but Gleyber is making this a real competition.

Now, having said all of that…I have a hard time being this optimistic. ZiPS projects — *does quick math* — 223 home runs and 25 fWAR over the next five years for Torres. Almost 45 home runs a year! Insane. It makes me wonder what it will project for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. 80 home runs a year? I kid, I kid. But seriously, that is quite a projection.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I put Gleyber’s 2019 season in the context of other young middle infielders historically. This new projection is an excuse to revisit that exercise, which I found really fun, so here it goes. Assume that ZiPS is 100% spot-on. Here is where Gleyber would rank among middle infielders — defined as players who logged 80% or more of their games at 2B or SS in the World Series era — all-time, sorted by bWAR:

15. Willie Randolph: 32.2
16. Ernie Banks: 32.1
17. Gleyber Torres: 31.8
18. Alan Trammel: 31.4
19. Chuck Knoblauch: 31.2

That’s sandwiched right between two Hall of Famers right there. (Derek Jeter ranked 14th on this list.) Not bad! His 285 home runs, for what it’s worth, would be good enough for second behind A-Rod. There’d be a 102 HR gap in-between him and third place on the list.

Sign me the hell up for this. I’m really rooting for the ZiPS projection to be right on this one, but even if it is too optimistic, Gleyber is well on his way to superstardom. In fact, he’s probably already there.

2. Mike Ford’s Potential: All of this projection talk had me curious, so I checked out another of FanGraphs’ projection systems, Steamer. Here’s one that caught my eye: it projects Mike Ford to hit .254/.340/.485 (115 wRC+) in 2020. It also expects a 10.5% walk rate. Now, to be fair, that’s only across 105 projected at-bats, but still: that’s pretty good! In fact, it’s better than it projects from Luke Voit (.250/.341/.446, 108 wRC+).

That piqued my interest enough to go into Ford’s batted ball profile from 2019, which somehow I’d never done before. Turns out that there is reason to be optimistic after all. Here are some of his batted ball stats from his (limited) 2019 appearances, with league average in parentheses:

  • Average Exit Velocity: 91.9 mph (87.5 mph)
  • Launch Angle: 15.6 (11.2)
  • Expected wOBA: .365 (.318)
  • Hard Hit Rate: 45.6% (34.5%)

Look, a small sample is a small sample, but a player can only hit the balls he is thrown. Ford absolutely did that last year. In fact, he hit the ball much harder than average and into the air — that sure is a good combination for a lefty bat in Yankee Stadium — which is all you can ask any hitter to do. Perhaps Ford, a lefty, can help fill the gap in “lefty power bat” that everyone is obsessed with these days.

As you all know by now, I am Luke Voit’s number one fan. I believe that Ford will have to show that he is for real in order to take significant playing time away from Voit, who has already demonstrated again and again that he is a legitimate MLB player. But there is some actual evidence to suggest that Truck Month may be extended well into 2020.

3. Relief Market Dried Up: The free agent market for relievers has all but dried up at this point, now that Washington re-signed Daniel Hudson last week. We know that the Yankees have interest in adding another reliever due to their ties to Josh Hader, but if they’re going to add anyone, it’s going to be from a trade at this point. I was looking at the rest of the market the other day and, blegh, there’s nobody that really is all that interesting to me. If you want to check it out yourself, you can find the list here.

I’m not worried about the Yankee bullpen at all, even though I personally would have signed Betances. They’ve been the best in the business at assembling a bullpen for at least a decade now and that isn’t going to change now. (Plus, the Gerrit Cole signing will help save some bullpen bullets next year, which shouldn’t be overlooked.) Still, the more relief arms the merrier. Now, though, if there’s going to be any support coming, it’s probably going to come via trade.

4. What’s Next for Clint Frazier: Speaking of trades, what the hell is going on with Clint Frazier? The Frazier saga has been one of the oddest dramas in Yankeeland in recent years and it doesn’t seem likely to end anytime soon. Derek noted that the team has been really quiet on the trade market this year — a definite break from year’s past — and that starts and begins with Clint Frazier, in my opinion. Obviously J.A. Happ has been at the center of trade discussions this year, but Frazier is the biggest piece with actual value on the team who seems likely to move. (And I like Happ for some reason.)

This waiting game — he’s been in Triple-A since 2016 — is really odd. It’s not how the Yankees have operated with their other young talent. They’ve repeatedly made space, even when there wasn’t any, for Gary, Judge, Torres, Andújar, etc. That they haven’t with Frazier implies that they don’t think he’s ready for prime time, concussion notwithstanding. At the same time, though, they’ve also been hesitant to move him when presented with the chance. That implies that they value him highly — or at least higher than Robbie Ray. It’s an interesting tension, but Frazier is a 25-year-old on the brink of a fourth consecutive season at Triple-A, although could factor in as a fourth/fifth outfield option, too. It’s just a strange situation. Something’s got to give at some point, right?

5. Unofficial Yankee Brett Gardner: Speaking of outfielders, the Brett Gardner contract — now a month old! — still is not official. I can’t believe it. I know there’s a 40-man crunch and everything, but it is still so, so weird to me. This has been a long time now. Oh well. Not really much to add here. He’s going to get added to the roster at some point and he’s most likely going to be the Yankees everyday centerfielder until Aaron Hicks returns. Just a weird situation that gets weirder each and every day.

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5 Comments

  1. RetroRob

    Re: Frazier. Every situation is different. Frazier’s opportunity now is different than it was when Severino, Bird (RIP), Sanchez and Judge and arrived. The team is much better now, there is no clear opening for him, and the concussion created a significant gap in his skill set. I think many are underestimating how bad defensively Frazier was last year. I see people acknowledge it, but then demand Frazier be given a chance to play. I disagree. I’ve been watching baseball since the early ’70s. Frazier last year was as bad as any OFer I’ve seen in nearly 50 years of watching baseball. EVER. It wasn’t a case of just taking bad routes, or being unsure, of having poor range. I’ve seen OFers with all those issues. It was that he couldn’t even catch simple fly balls. He was like a Little Leaguer learning the game, but instead of learning he was getting worse. He didn’t improve in the minors, and not only that, he stopped hitting when they sent him down too. Why does that man deserve a job? They’re not punishing him. They’re hoping he goes back to being the prospect he was a couple years back.

    I like Frazier. I don’t care about his personality. He actually seems like a good guy. I think too much is made of that. He hasn’t been the same since that concussion. The Yankees aren’t just going to trade him because they’re not get full value. They have control over him for one more year. He’s an asset. They’re going to hold him unless someone comes forward with a significant trade offer. That all said, I wouldn’t bet against him in 2020. The talent is there.

  2. chip56

    I’m conflicted on the offseason. Obviously, I love getting Cole and the moves they’ve made to address their operations; but the fact that they basically said “Gardner and Cole and we’re done!”

  3. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    If things seem boring it’s because you’re boring, Bobby. You need to have more fun in life. Get a hobby.Me and Dad are going ice fishing later if you want to join us and then you’ll know what fun is like.

    1. I don’t care about ZiPS or WAR or VORP or PECOTA or any of that crap. I just go by what John Sterling’s eyes tell me when I listen to the games. Gleyber is going to be MVP this year. He’ll be playing SS, hit 30+ HR’s and hit over .300. He’ll be the best Yankee SS we’ve had since Jeter and probably the best overall Yankee since Mickey. I don’t need ZiPS to tell me that.

    2. Seriously Bobby, get a hobby. Nobody wakes up one day and thinks let me look up Mike Ford’s potential in Steamer, whatever the hell that is. And once again, we don’t need that crap to know that Ford will be on the roster this year and he will be the Cecil Fielder of his generation. My best friend Big Dan told you years ago about what he could be. I think he’ll platoon with Voit this year and hopefully DH if Stanton can play left without getting hurt by a blade of grass.

    3. I’d trade whatever we have to in order to get Bill Hader from the Brewers. We know we can’t trust Ottavino in big games. All he did was walk guys and give up runs in last year’s postseason. Boone barely even trusted him to throw to more than one batter. That leaves Green, Kahnle, Britton and Chapman that we can rely on. If one or two of those guys have a bad year we’re going to need help. Lasagna can be the opener instead of Green. The pen is our biggest weakness without a significant acquisition.

    4. What’s next for Bozo the Clint is that he’s traded to the Brewers for Hader. He doesn’t have a role here and doesn’t fit in the clubhouse. When Green was sent down last year he accepted it and came back better. Clint complained about it and came back even worse defensively running around in circles while the ball dropped in front of him. He doesn’t want to play defense. And most of his offensive production came against the lowly Orioles. And he wanted Mickey’s #7. I just don’t think he has what it takes to be a Yankee.

    5. That’s why a trade needs to happen immediately. With CC retired Brett is our leader. Problem is nobody wants Happ and Clint is damaged goods. Could cut Holder or Tarpley and nobody would give a damn but they seem to like those two for some reason. Treating Brett like some rookie FA is a travesty. He doesn’t have a home and we don’t have a leader. Witches in Salem got better due process than this.

    • Joy Illimited

      Ah, this is the Eddard I miss.

      On a less-Eddard note, one has to wonder if they’re just trying to take Frazier down a peg – showing him they don’t need him, but like what he brings to the plate enough to keep him around. It seems that they just don’t…like him. That they’re waiting for him to mature/shut up for long enough that they can consider him a team player. Entirely speculative, but that would at least make some sense of their odd actions.

      • D.B.

        I think it’s something like that. They value their clubhouse culture to a very high degree. I think that’s why they didn’t really go after Machado or Harper. They want professionals, and none of those three act like professionals, even if they provide professional results.

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