Thoughts on the Yankee Letter, DJLM, Cole, and Gallo

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Programming note: Today’s chat has been moved to tomorrow afternoon during the game against the Orioles.

With last night’s 12-8 victory over Baltimore, the Yankees are now 11-6 and a half game behind Toronto in the AL East. The Bombers also have the AL’s second best run differential (+18), only topped by the Mariners (!?). Things are starting to roll for the Yanks: the offense has awoken and the pitching staff continues to impress.

While we wait for tonight’s affair against the O’s, I have a few thoughts to share. Most of my thoughts relate to the 2022 team, but first, I share my reaction to the unsealing of the infamous “Yankee Letter”. Let’s get to it.

About the “Yankee Letter”. Well, so much for the big reveal. The letter from Commissioner Rob Manfred to Brian Cashman confirmed what was previously reported by The Athletic back in 2020. As a refresher, the Yankees used the replay room for more than its intended purpose in 2015 and 2016. The team decoded opponents’ pitch signals during games which were relayed to runners on second base to pass along to the batter.

There’s no question that what the Yankees did those seasons was wrong. It doesn’t really matter to me that much of the league was doing the same thing (including the Red Sox, as noted in the letter). Just because everyone else was doing it doesn’t make the Yankees look any less bad. Granted, in comparison to what Houston did in 2017, this is peanuts. Yes, the Yankees cheated, but there’s also nuance here. If anyone is trying to make the Yankees out like they’re just as bad as the Astros, get a grip. Let me reiterate: the Yankees deserve scorn for cheating and getting caught, but not to the level of ridicule the Astros have received.

Now, I also want to talk about why the Yankees were so motivated to keep this letter under wraps. Seems really strange, no? Especially after it was already reported in The Athletic two years ago. Again, there’s nothing damning that we didn’t already know about. There are a couple of things that may explain the Yankees’ motivation, though.

For one, I’m sure the organization didn’t want folks to confuse this unsealing for a new cheating scandal. The team’s statement from yesterday says this right from the start: “The contents and details of the letter from Commissioner Manfred to Brian Cashman have widely been reported upon since 2017.”

The club’s response also notes that this violation came before MLB specifically outlawed sign stealing. The Yanks want to use that as vindication to a degree, but let’s be real here. Codified or not, the team knew it was using the replay room to steal signs. I know sign stealing has been part of baseball forever, but once it goes outside the lines, it’s foul play in my view.

Lastly, I think this letter makes the Yankees look pretty dumb for tattling on the Red Sox. Boston was wrong too, obviously, but maybe the Yankees shouldn’t have cast the first stone? Did they think that their own operation wouldn’t come to light? It’s amusing that the Yankees got busted for doing effectively the same thing Boston did.

Anyway, enough about this letter, let’s get back to the 2022 team.

Welcome back, DJ LeMahieu. It’s early, but LeMahieu sure looks like his 2019-2020 self again. He’s hitting .339/.413/.500 (176 wRC+) in 63 plate appearances and all of the underlying numbers are exactly where one would want them to be:

A couple of other positives, albeit in still really small samples: his line drive rate is way up (34.8% from 26.8% last year) and he’s going to the opposite field more than ever (47.8%, previous high was 43.4% in 2020). To me, LeMahieu smacking a line drive single to right field is the epitome of his game.

Look, it’s dangerous to make too much of a few weeks of play. Still, one thing that makes me feel good about LeMahieu’s resurgence is that he’s presumably healthy. Remember, he had offseason surgery to fix a sports hernia. He had nagging hip/groin issues during 2021 that weren’t properly identified until the end of the year. Good DJLM will make a world of difference for this offense, obviously. Looks like he’s here once again.

On Gerrit Cole’s command, the cutter, and the ball itself. I hope you all are feeling better about the Yankees’ number two starter (this is a Nestor Cortes reference, before anyone unaware jumps down my throat). Cole looked terrific in a dominant outing against Cleveland on Sunday in which he fell just one out short of completing seven shutout frames. He also struck out nine batters.

I still think there’s some work to do with Cole’s fastball command, but the newfound cutter seems to have helped him counteract some of his four seamer command woes. From Sunday:

Locations are pretty similar on both offerings. It’s also worth noting that he’s ramped up his cutter usage in each of his starts.

While the cutter may help Cole work through his apparent fastball command difficulties, there’s more to the story. Pitchers around the league are unhappy about the ball.

MLB has a baseball problem? Surprise! Never could have seen that coming. After cracking down on foreign substances last year, wasn’t the league planning to introduce a tackier baseball this year? Maybe I’m not remembering correctly.

Anyway, perhaps this terrible ball is a reason Cole has struggled so much in the early going. It’s not a good excuse, especially as the rest of the Yankees’ pitching staff has dominated, but it’s something that’s come to mind. In any event, Cole seemed to finally adjust to the ball last time out…or did he?

As the poster boy of the sticky stuff ban, Cole will always be scrutinized, so this Twitter sleuthing is no shock. Then again, wouldn’t the umpires have busted Cole? What was on Cole’s backside very well could have been sweat, dirt, and/or rosin. The umps literally check his hand between innings, and he’d have been busted with any illegal residue, at least I’d think.

All told, losing confidence in Cole after three poor starts to begin 2022 was always silly. Frustrating, yes, but Cole is way too good of a pitcher to collapse so suddenly. I know folks like to point out that his numbers weren’t great after the foreign substance crackdown, but how many times do we have to remind you that he actually was terrific without the sticky stuff? It’s the hamstring that bogged him down late last year, not the lack of spider tack.

I hope I’m wrong about Joey Gallo. The lefty slugger bopped his first homer of the season last night, and it was a bomb. He received the always funny silent treatment from the bench.

Gallo’s bating line now stands at .154/.254/.231 (52 wRC+). Still far from respectability, though he’s certainly way better than his year to date numbers. That said, I also don’t think he’s ever going to be the guy he was in 2019 (.253/.389/.598, 144 wRC+). It’s probably unfair to have expected such a performance again in the first place, but yeah.

What Gallo has done since that monster campaign worries me. Since ’19, Gallo has hit .191/.332/.421 (109 wRC+). As ugly as the triple slash looks, it’s not bad once you get past the batting average. However, it’s worth mentioning that those numbers are propped up by his ridiculous June last summer, during which he hit .263/.434/.671 (192 wRC+). That month counts, but there’s also a significant amount of time around it when he was much closer to a league average hitter than anything else.

To get more granular, Gallo’s time with the Yankees is now approaching 300 plate appearances (287 to be exact). Post trade, he owns a .158/.293/.367 (86 wRC+). Oof. I realize that Yankee Stadium should be a match made in heaven for Gallo given his discerning eye and big power, but I am worried given the growing amount of time with mediocre numbers. Especially because his astronomical strikeout rate leaves him little margin for error when he does make contact.

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4 Comments

  1. Tim

    First of all, the Yankees fought in court to keep the letter sealed because, despite the fact that it doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been widely reported, the release of the letter now once again pulls the franchise into the “cheating scandal” spotlight and for no reason. This is the reputational harm the team claimed in its motion to the court, and it is legitimate. The letter says nothing, and yet all you are hearing in the media is the Yankees and a cheating scandal.

    Second, there have been several twitter idiots that have posted about Cole’s asscheek. If the principle figure in the “sticky stuff” discussion from last year is stupid enough to put an illegal grip-enhancing substance on his ass for all the world to see, in a climate where he is literally checked after EVERY SINGLE INNING, then I don’t know what to say. It’s obvious that he was wiping sweat off his hand to better grip the ball on the next pitch.

  2. MikeD

    I was mostly surprised the Yankees fought so hard to keep the letter out of the public once I read it. There was really nothing much new of note. I suspect the Yankees didn’t want to be mixed it with the egregious violations of the Astros. Fair, but also not worth the legal fight. The news media correctly reported the story and it’s in the rear-view mirror. Beyond that, it reminds me that anything that is supposed to be secret in MLB, such as the original PED testing, will be leaked. Teams and players should take that into account whenever agreeing willingly to participate in “secret.”

    As for Cole, it’s silly to think the poster-child for sticky stuff would purposely put a gob on his butt where it would be seen on every pitch. As Mike A. showed on his blog, Cole swipes that spot when he pitched. It’s almost assuredly rosin residue, which is legal, as Al Leiter noted on MLBN.

    I’d like to now peacefully think about a Yankee lineup that has a healthy DJLM to go along with a resurgent Gleyber and Gallo.

  3. Isiah Kiner Faleddardfa

    I knew a lot of folks were going to have egg on their faces once this letter came out, Derek. They made such a big stink about the Astros cheating and they were doing the same damn thing. So to act holier than thou was dishonest. There’s a reason they didn’t want it to come out, because the content is damning and makes them look like big hypocrites. Just another reason to use pitch com but then I suppose we’ll hear about clubs will be hacking into the signal. And since cheaters aren’t allowed into the HOF no player on the Red Sox, Astros or Yankees during this cheating scandal shall be eligible for the HOF.

    DJ has been great. He’s finally health again. I think he needs to stay in the lead off position. I like him there more than Hicks. The sweep of Cleveland was surprising. I don’t like how bad Loisaga looks but it’s early. Chappy had to warm up, sit down, warm up last night. The lineup is finally starting to turn it around. Stanton looked better last night. Rizzo just needs to keep hitting fly balls to RF and let Yankee Stadium do the rest. Donaldson finally making better contact. Gleyber had a GW hit off the bench. It’s a good club. They do need to sweep the O’s at home to make up for losing to them in Baltimore.

    Gerrit did finally have one ace like game. Nestor has had five. This was after Gerrit couldn’t even complete 2 innings against a bad Detroit club. I do think Trevino needs to be his new personal catcher. They seemed to have a better rapport. And Trevino is hitting better than Higgy right now so he should be playing more. Let’s see what Cole does in his next start. I’m not convinced yet that he’s back to where he was with the spider tack but maybe he found a new sticky substance that isn’t detectable by the umps. And Trevino needs to stay even when Rortvedt is healthy.

    Gallo’s really bad, Derek. I don’t understand why he can’t just hit a fly ball to RF like Rizzo because Rizzo’s flyballs turn into dingers. I guess you have to make contact with the ball to hit a HR and that’s what the sabmetricians don’t understand. They think striking out 500 times a year is fine as long as you hit the occasional HR like Gallo did last night. It just boggles my mind that analytics thinks he’s a good player. I said it last year, about all he’s good for is Italian memes.

    I’ll tell you who is a good player is IKF. Derek buried him after 4 games, Matt after a 7. I wonder when we’ll see a correction article that IKF can hit and has been one of our best players this season. He’s only hitting .500 over his last 10 games and had a real nice defensive play at SS last night. Hitting .300 on the season. Not too shabby. It’s not as a good as the .154 that Joey Gallo is slugging but it’ll do.

    • Luke

      Did you read the post? Yankees were absolutely not doing what the Astros were doing

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