Happy Wednesday! It’s slightly eerie around New York these days, with fairly empty subway cars and an ever-growing number of COVID-19 cases. Not for Gary Sánchez, though. He just has the flu. Amid the general anxiety, though, we are (maybe) getting close to MLB baseball. Stanton is hitting in the cage, Gary is resting, Paxton is throwing bullpens. The Yankees are getting healthy. Perhaps 2019 will leave us alone after all.
Anyway, there are a few things on my mind today. Here’s what I’ve got.
1. Coronavirus and Opening Day: So, I think there’s an obvious question looming over all of Spring Training these days: is the season going to start on time? A few weeks ago – even a week ago, really – I would have thought this was insane. Now I’m not so sure. In Italy, which is one of the countries hit hardest by COVID-19, officials have already canceled all domestic sports, including the famous Serie A soccer league. Stateside, the NCAA and NBA are contemplating playing in empty arenas. In fact, San Francisco’s public officials are urging the Golden State Warriors to cancel their home games. (The team is not acquiescing to that request, but the city may soon take more aggressive measures than a suggestion.) Other large public events, as you surely know, have also been canceled across the country.
Enter Major League Baseball, which is oddly in a decent position compared to the other sports. With the season not yet started, the logistical nightmare of suspending an in-progress season and economic nightmare of playing playoff games in empty arenas are not yet present. Pushing back the start of the season is much simpler than that. It’s still complicated! But it’s much simpler. We’re not there yet, though. An exclusive report in the Wall Street Journal (subs req’d) this morning sheds some light on the league’s plans.
Per Jared Diamond, the league understands that “starting the season as scheduled, with no disruption” is “rapidly slipping away as an option.” MLB understandably does not want to play in empty stadiums nor does it want to push back the start of the season, so it is considering playing games in stadiums less impacted by the outbreak – including Spring Training sites in Arizona and Florida. That seems like a reasonable contingency plan but I personally think it takes a very rosy view.
Public health officials are pretty clear about not gathering in large public events, local municipalities and governments are taking aggressive steps (especially here in New York!), and the virus will almost certainly end up in areas clear of it right now. We may be looking at a pushed back Opening Day here, in other words. Obviously, this changes fast, but that’s sure how it feels to me as of this writing.
2. Jordan Montgomery’s Velocity Bump: But anyway, let’s get to some real baseball talk, shall we? Jordan Montgomery, the Yankees’ presumed 4th starter, is experiencing a real boost in velocity this spring. Pretty exciting stuff. The Spring Training guns have him sitting 93-95 mph, reportedly, which is a marked increase over what we’ve seen from Gumby in his career:
- 2017 average FB velocity: 91.9 mph
- 2018 average FB velocity: 90.5 mph
- 2019 average FB velocity: 91.7 mph
The drop in 2018 is pretty clearly related to the need for Tommy John given the post-surgery return to the norm last year. I’m pretty curious to watch this once we see regular season guns. There’s research that suggests pitchers have bumps in velocity after TJS because their now-repaired ligaments have been damaged for years, so I actually do buy that it’s up. How much the velocity is up is what I’m curious about. Added zip could change his profile as a pitcher a little bit. Look at his 2017 whiff percentage chart by location:
This makes sense for a low-velocity sinkerballer: he didn’t miss many bats up in the zone. That’s fine! But I do wonder if a few added ticks on the ol’ radar gun will make his otherwise mediocre fastball – the spin rate is just okay, too – more effective up in the zone. That would, in theory at least, help out his sinker down, too. It’s sure been working in the spring, as Montgomery has 16 strikeouts, 1 walk, and just 7 hits allowed in 11 innings of work. It’s been a nice start for Montgomery. Hopefully he can keep it up.
3. JA Happ’s Rebound Season: As I said on our inaugural podcast, I am this site’s JA Happ optimist. I don’t think he’ll be an ace or top-of-the-rotation talent by any means, but I think it’s likely he’s not “the worst starter NYY has ever had” material in 2020. One of the reasons why is the fact that he seems to have better control of his two-seam fastball. Check it out:
Per Lindsey Adler, that’s also caught Aaron Boone’s eye. He says he’s pitching in to righties better so far this Spring. I think that’s noticeable – see above GIF – and it’s a key for Happ to have success. He got absolutely hammered on pitches in to righties last year after having a lot of success on that same pitch in 2018. To the graphs!
He got hit harder across the board, of course, but it’s especially noticeable on the inner half. Batters hit the ball 9 mph (!) faster on the middle inner third in 2019 compared to the year before. Yeesh. Again, Grapefruit League caveats and all, but it’s nice to see Happ start to correct that a bit. And for what it’s worth, he’s facing pretty good talent: per Baseball-Reference, his average opponent quality this spring is 8.3, which is essentially AAAA. For Spring Training, that’s not so bad. Like with Gumby, hopefully Happ can keep this up once the games actually count again.
4. Gleyber’s Defense: Our son Gleyber Torres is struggling a bit this spring on the defensive side. He’s committed a team-high five errors so far. Most of them have been simple errors, too:
Is this that big of a deal? Probably not. I’m not yet worried about Gleyber’s glove, even with the shift to short. I will say that it’s something on my mind though. He made a lot of basic errors as a rookie, which I was more than fine to chalk up to him being a rookie, and mostly looked better last year. At least I thought. Statcast disagrees, pegging him as a below average fielder in 2018 (-4 OAA) and worse last year (-7 OAA), though it rates him a better shortstop than second baseman. Interesting.
For now, I’ll keep making excuses: physical mistakes happen, especially in the spring. Still, Gleyber does seem to do this a bit more than I’d like. Hopefully he tightens it up when the regular season rolls around. For now, though, I’m not too worried. But I am watching it.
5. Roster Changes: The Yanks made a number of roster changes the other day, as expected. There weren’t any surprises. Check it out:
About as we’d expect. It does mean the season is almost here, which is exciting. It also means that we’re close to seeing the Triple-A and Double-A rosters shake out this year, which is always exciting for me. I can’t wait to dive into the rosters and see where some of the big names land. It’s almost time, you guys. There will be more of this in the days to come.
Finally, speaking of MiLB players, I leave you today with this:
Pretty cool! Can’t wait to see more from Jasson this spring and for years to come.