Category: Thoughts Page 1 of 5

Thoughts as Summer Camp Kicks Off

Believe it or not, the Yankees will (supposedly) play their first regular season game exactly two weeks from today. They’ll be taking on the defending champion Nationals down in D.C., so this is all happening pretty quickly. To that end, what we’re seeing so far is actually going to be significant. Not in terms of on-field results, but in terms of how guys are being used, what the teams is saying, etc. There’s just not a lot of time left before the games count.

So, it’s an appropriate time for the return of thoughts posts after they were sporadic for the last few months. But first…this was 9 years ago today:

(Via SNY Yankees)

Can you believe that was 9 years ago? It’s crazy. It’s been so long that even looking at David Price in a Rays jersey feels weird now. Anyway, on to today’s thoughts.

1. We (Mostly) Have A Lineup: The Yanks have now played the first of their two intrasquad games. While they’re just glorified practices, they’re actually pretty instructive. Opening Day, as I said above, is only two weeks away, so the team has to ramp up the intensity pretty quickly. With that in mind, it’s unsurprising that the A-Team has put out the same exact lineup in both games. I think what we’ve seen is pretty close to our Opening Day lineup.

Here is what they’ve put out there:

  1. Aaron Hicks, CF
  2. Aaron Judge, RF
  3. Gleyber Torres, SS
  4. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
  5. Gary Sánchez, C
  6. Brett Gardner, CF
  7. Luke Voit, 1B
  8. Gio Urshela, 3B
  9. Tyler Wade, 2B

Pretty interesting. Remember, DJ LeMahieu is currently unavailable after testing positive for COVID – he’ll need to test negative twice before joining the team in the Bronx – and that’s why we’re seeing Wade. We really have no idea how long it’ll be before DJLM is healthy (he’s been asymptomatic, at least) and obviously he should prioritize his health so it could (and probably should) be a while. So, for now, we should assume this is the lineup for Opening Day.

Now, in terms of the actual lineup construction, I think it mostly looks pretty good. I’ll never give up my battle for Judge and Stanton to hit back-to-back, but I’ve accepted defeat on this one. It just doesn’t feel like something the Yankees are ever interested in doing. Gleyber is certainly a worthy 3-hitter, so it’s marginal at best anyway. In other words, the top 5 hitters seem pretty immovable to me, at least until DJLM comes back. It will be interesting to see how he slots in when he does…maybe DJLM leads off and Hicks hits 3rd in between Judge and Stanton, with Gleyber moving to 5 and Gary to 6. That’d be my best guess, anyway.

Personally, as Luke Voit’s number 1 fan, I’d switch him and Gardner. Again, though, it isn’t really that big of a deal: this is one hell of a lineup, even without DJLM. If the season happens, the Yankees figure to be pretty, pretty, pretty good.

2. Rotation Battle: We’re also seeing something of a rotation battle. Derek went into this earlier this week, but it’s going to be interesting to see how the team builds its rotation in a short sprint of a season. Tanaka’s head injury adds a new element to the battle, too. Here’s how we expected the rotation to look before that vs. how it probably looks now:

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. James Paxton
  3. Masahiro Tanaka
  4. J.A. Happ
  5. Jordan Montgomery
  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. James Paxton
  3. J.A. Happ
  4. Jordan Montgomery
  5. ???

Tanaka will probably only miss a start or two, given how his injury seems to be progressing, but that’s far from a guarantee. Head injuries are no joke. That opens up a spot for someone like Clarke Schmidt, Mike King, or even Deivi Garcia to get some action as the fifth starter. I’m partial to Schmidt but King also looked pretty sharp the other day. The Yanks have been impressed with him, obviously, and he even got a cup of coffee last year, so he could well be the favorite. After all, the Yanks may not want to throw Schmidt right into the fire.

I also think it’s possible that we get a 6-man rotation this year, which opens up this spot even after Tanaka returns. I don’t think that guys will necessarily be stretched out like they normally would be given, well, everything. The Yankees are famously cautious with their arms, and it wouldn’t shock me to see them try to get guys an extra day of rest, especially in the beginning of the season while guys get into game shape. At the same time, every game has an added importance now, so it’s possible they want to run out their very best every single game. I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to see.

3. The “Fast Guy”: MLB implemented a the MiLB rule for extra inning this year, which means that teams will start with a runner on second in the 10th inning and beyond now. It’s dumb, but I think it creates a new role for Tyler Wade. FanGraphs got into this a bit with Billy Hamilton a few weeks ago, and I think it (somewhat) applies to Wade. He’s not as fast as Hamilton, obviously, but he can burn. Here are his sprint speeds as a Yankee, with league ranking in parentheses:

  • 2019: 29.0 ft/second (93rd percentile)
  • 2018: 28.7 ft/second (89th percentile)
  • 2017: 29.1 ft/second (93rd percentile)

He’s the fastest player on the Yankees – well, he and Gardner are pretty close – and we’ve already seen that in years past. Check this out:

That is a completely manufactured run right there and it’s a unique skillset on the power-heavy Yankees. If the Yankees go into extras and have the opportunity to put Wade on second over, say, Gary, Stanton, or Voit, I’d expect them to do so. You have to maximize your chances of scoring the run in those situations, however marginal that advantage may be – and a guy with Wade’s speed does that.

Wade’s very good offensive September (.297/.366/.486) was probably a fluke. His speed is not. He has successfully stolen a base 9 out of his 10 attempts, too. He knows how to use that speed. I have a hard time seeing the Yankees ignoring that given the new rules, but we’ll have to see. Until then, I leave you with this as a final example of what I’m talking about:

4. Tough First Half, Easier Second Half: We got the Yankees schedule the other day and I wrote that I think it’s favorable to the Yankees. They dominated the division last year and bad opponents like the Orioles and Marlins (though they’re improved) take up a greater share of the schedule in 2020. That feels like a net positive to me, even if last year’s success will be hard to replicate. I think the Yanks are the best team in every matchup except potentially against Washington, even if the NL East is a tougher draw than, say, the AL Central. That counts for something.

Still, it’s worth noting that the schedule starts out much, much tougher than is probably ideal. As Mike Axisa pointed out at his Patreon the other day, the first 30 games are loaded with good teams. Check out the winning percentage split:

  • First 30 games: .514 opponent’s projected winning percentage
  • Last 30 games: .459 opponent’s projected winning percentage

In some ways, that’s a tough draw. Starting out strong in a short season would make life easier, and this will make it tougher to do that. On the other hand, this makes it a lot easier to finish strong and enter the postseason on a roll, so I’m not too worried about it.

It’s hard to project how things will go in the short season and I expect the Yankees (who are, knock on wood, mostly healthy) to be very, very good team all year. But I did want to point out that this discrepancy out, because it’s definitely real.

5. Fans in the Stadium: I’m probably going to expand on this in a bigger post, so this will be brief, but it’s weird to think about playing games in an empty Stadium, isn’t it? I’m curious how that will impact home field advantage, which has been a very real thing for this Yankees core. It’s going to be interesting and extremely dystopian.

I do want to point out that Hal Steinbrenner, for some reason, thinks the Yanks will get games with fans this year at 20-30% capacity. I’m sure that’s based on conversations with Governor Cuomo as well as a million other stakeholders, so he knows more than we do. However, I’m extremely skeptical a single fan will step foot in Yankee Stadium this year. I think we need to be prepared for Yankee Stadium to be hosting fan-less games (if games at all, honestly, I’m still not convinced) all season – and we’ll have to see how, if at all, that impacts what’s traditionally been the Yankees biggest competitive advantage.

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Thoughts as MLB Considers How to Start Back Up

We are deep in the Bad Times and I have something to admit: I miss baseball a lot. We’re still podcasting and I came up with a survival guide yesterday, but it’s rough waters out there. Opening Day was supposed to be tomorrow, for crying out loud. Tomorrow! Instead, we have to wait even longer to wash the bad taste away from the last time the Yankees took the field in a meaningful game. It turns out that, after all, I do care if they cancel sports. It’s wild.

But what can we do? As I’ve said many times, the league made the right decision with this. That is by far the most important factor in all of this – but that sure isn’t going to stop me from whining anyway. Anyway, here are some thoughts for the day.

1. A New Opening Day: Jeff Passan and Kiley McDaniel released a new report late last night over at ESPN with the latest news re: MLB and MLBPA’s plans for starting up the season. You should definitely check it out in full. (Another new report says the sides want 140-150 games.) There’s a bunch of new information in there. Here are the key takeaways, in my opinion:

  1. The two camps have “worked toward a potential agreement over the past 10 days” with a goal of starting the season in “early June” and includes “pro-rated” salaries for players, though many officials believe July is more likely;
  2. Players are saying they’d play a “significant number” of doubleheaders, up to two a week (!) in order to get as close to a 162 game schedule as possible; and,
  3. Both sides are theoretically okay with playing regular season games in October and playoff games played a neutral sites stretching into November.

First things first: At this point, it feels very optimistic that games will start up in early June. Obviously, New York has been the epicenter of the outbreak and that’s where I live. Perhaps I am biased, but there are indications that other parts of the country are just a few weeks behind us. How do you manage the fact that some areas will be experiencing the worst of this at different times than other areas? That feels like a logistical challenge that will prove impossible to solve. July, as the other officials noted to Passan, feels much more likely – and it is probably about as late as they can realistically go. We’ll have to see. I want sports to come back too, but we can’t rush this. I really, really hope that the league doesn’t do just that.

(This doesn’t even consider the potential of a player testing positive, either. What happens to the season then? Honesty, all of this feels like wishful thinking to me. But whatever. Let’s just take it at face value for now but with a huge pile of salt.)

Second, it was always obvious that things were going to get weird this season (if it even happens) but I was definitely not prepared for the possibility of multiple doubleheaders a week. Players have historically been resistant to doubleheaders for obvious reasons, even in the 1995 negotiations, but desperate times call for desperate measures. You’d also probably have to expand the active rosters to 30 players or something to make it work. Maybe it’s a pressure point to extract service time concessions from management? Whatever it is, it’s fascinating.

Finally, neutral site playoff games are extremely uninteresting to me…but I don’t know that I have a better alternative. Playing games in front of an empty stadium also sucks! But I still think home-field advantage matters…there is still just an implicit benefit to waking up in your city, sleeping in your bed, etc. Weather is a consideration too, of course, but I’d prefer it if they kept the playoff schedule as close to normal as possible. The regular season is one thing. The playoffs are another beast altogether.

2. A Race to the End Helps the Yankees: Am I crazy or do most of the above scenarios help the Yankees? There’s an obvious caveat that a shorter season creates more volatility. More volatility means a wider possibility of outcomes, etc. That’s all very real and we can’t discount it. As Voros’ Axiom goes, anything is possible in 60 at-bats. We can extrapolate that to a whole season: nearly anything is possible in 60 games, too. Remember how horrible the Nats were last year in the first few months? They won the whole shebang anyway. That’s not happening in 2020.

Now, with all that said, I do think this benefits the Yankees – especially the part about the double headers. The Yankees have a very deep roster and a great bullpen. Those are both critical to having success in a race to the end. As a reminder, here is the likely Yankee bullpen if rosters are still 26 men:

  • Aroldis Chapman (CL)
  • Zack Britton
  • Adam Ottavino
  • Chad Green
  • Tommy Kahnle
  • Jonathan Loáisiga
  • Luis Cessa
  • Jonathan Holder

That’s probably the best bullpen in baseball right there. We’ve already all known this, of course, but it takes on added importance given the circumstances. You can space out guys and limit their repetition and still throw out a top-shelf bullpen. That is a huge, huge luxury that most other teams, if any, won’t have.

Moreover, given the fact that the Yankees will return (hopefully!) at full strength given the delay, they’ll also be able to do the same in the lineup. That so-called “problem” about not knowing where to slot in Andújar if the Opening Day outfield is Stanton/Hicks/Judge just solved itself. And that’s not even considering an expanded roster, which, again, feels inevitable in the above scenario. Funny how that always happens.

All in all, I think the Yankees are well-positioned to survive a sprint to the end, even though a full 162-game schedule would have been to the club’s benefit. But hey, when life give you lemons, you might as well make lemonade, right?

3. Yankee Roster Impacts of a June/July Start: So, at this point, it looks like the Yankees will be at full-strength when things start ramping back up again. Boone said the other day that Giancarlo Stanton is healthy enough to play in games right now. Aaron Judge is seemingly progressing along. Aaron Hicks was slated for a June or July return. James Paxton in mid-May to early-June. Gary Sánchez will have plenty of time to recover from the flu/back aches. Hell, even Zack Britton’s wrist will have time to recover.

Of course, other injuries will follow, as they always do. I’m not suggesting that they won’t, just that the odds are now much better that the Yankees will return at full strength. That is good news, because my note above is predicated on the assumption that, you know, the team will be healthy. Any injuries that happen in 2020 will take on a heightened importance given the shorter timeframe over which games will be played. But we’ll cross that bridge when we have to. For now, it looks like the Yanks will have a full roster (minus Luis Severino, of course) whenever Opening Day is. That’s good news to me. We all need a bit of that these days.

4. Other Downstream Impacts: In the ESPN report, Passan also notes a few other areas potentially impacted of the agreement. These include:

  • Changes to the draft/international signing period
  • A potential transaction freeze, placing an embargo on signings/trades
  • Adjustments to the arbitrations system
  • Payroll for stadium employees/staff (reportedly, Manfred is urging teams to continue to pay them)
  • MiLB payroll structure

I don’t have a whole lot to say about these items, really, since they’re all pretty vague. A few things are clear, though. First, teams should 100% continue to support MiLB players and especially stadium personnel. There is no excuse to not support those workers, who are suffering much, much more than ownership is right now.

Second, please don’t put a moratorium on transactions. Signings and trades are really fun and drive up interest in the game. MLB would be shooting itself in the foot if it did that. (And some injuries would completely devastate a team in that case.) I hope that’s just a rumor in these discussions, which it probably is.

5. High-Profile Arms and Tommy John: Finally, Noah Syndergaard is having Tommy John surgery in what was a pretty shocking new development yesterday. The list of top-shelf players going under the knife now includes Thor, Chris Sale, and Luis Severino. It’s a big bummer, especially for Syndergaard, who is set to be a free agent after 2021. On the bright side, though, at least the season these guys are missing will be this weird, shortened one. Alas, I wish good pitchers would stop needed Tommy John. I love basbeall always but even more when fun, dynamic pitchers like these three are on the mound. Oh well. Again, what can we do?

To close off, let’s all watch highlights from my personal favorite ever Severino start. Enjoy:

Thoughts Two Weeks Before Opening Day (Maybe)

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:

Via Pitching Ninja

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!

2018
2019

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.

Thoughts as the Opening Day Roster Begins to Crystalize

Friends, it is Wednesday. Opening Day is just 22 days away and let me tell you: I am looking forward to it. Spring Training is great – and it’s nice to have some new videos and GIFs to share – but I am very much looking forward to the return of real Yankee baseball. Almost there.

In the meantime, we all get to participate in one of baseball’s oldest traditions: speculating over production in meaningless games. It’s a tale as old as Spring Training itself.

1. Other Fifth Starter Candidates: Yesterday I said that I believe Clarke Schmidt is pitching himself into the fifth starter’s role. I still believe that, even if it’s only been five innings to date and he only has 19 innings in Double-A. (He’s also not on the 40-man roster, but given the Severino injury, that’s an easy fix.) The case for Schmidt is more than five dominating innings, really: it’s the way the Yankees have used him. He’s getting action against MLB talent, he’s pitching before Jonathan Loáisiga, etc. But it’s far from a sure thing. The other two contenders real like Mike King and Deivi Garcia. Let’s go through the argument for each, shall we?

Mike King

Mike King has the MiLB experience, which feels like a pretty big plus. He has 94.2 IP in Double-A and 62.2 IP in Triple-A . That’s 156.1 total innings in the upper minors and he’s mostly been pretty successful in them. In 2018, when King rose three levels pretty rapidly, he put up a 1.79 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, .202 BAA in about 160 innings pitched. He limits walks and home runs – before the juiced ball hit Triple-A at least – and is someone the Yankees like quite a bit. The Yankees gave him some burn in September last year, so they think he’s MLB-ready (or at least capable) for sure.

He struggled a bit last year after returning from an injury that derailed his year, but that should be behind him now. So far, he’s given up 5 hits in 3.2 innings of work in the Spring but has not allowed a run. I expect King to get a very long look as the spring continues and into the season, as Derek noted here. It’s very possible he wins the job out of camp.

Deivi Garcia

Deivi Garcia was last year’s prospect superstar, wowing everyone with his flashy stuff and meteoric rise through the farm system. He hit some bumps in the road in Triple-A, sure, but Deivi is the jewel of every prospect loving Yankee fan’s eye. His tantalizing strikeout stuff is easy to dream on and I think there are many out there who want to see him win the job out of camp. It’s not difficult to see why. Fans who want to see the next flashy prospect understandably want to see what he can do. After all, the Yankees floated him as a late-season option last year. So why not carry not out of camp? That’s the idea, anyway.

However, I’d be surprised. He’s only pitched 2 innings this spring so far but will obviously get a very long look. But at such a young age – he’ll turn 21 in May – and so few upper level MiLB innings under his belt, a return to Triple-A makes the most sense. He can fine tune his stuff against upper minors hitters. That will set him up nicely for a midseason call-up to the Bronx. That’s pretty great, all things considered.


In other words, this really feels like a race between Schmidt and King. We’ll have to see how it goes moving forward. While I’m predicting Schmidt, that could be recency bias. Neither option would be all that surprising, really.

2. Opening Day Lineup: In exciting news, we basically saw the Opening Day lineup yesterday! That’s pretty exciting. Here it was:

  1. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
  2. Brett Gardner, CF
  3. Gleyber Torres, SS
  4. Gary Sánchez, C
  5. Luke Voit, 1B
  6. Miguel Andújar, LF
  7. Mike Tauchman, DH
  8. Gio Urshela, 3B
  9. Clint Frazier, RF

That seems pretty good to me. Gardner had a hell of a year in 2019 and the Yankees just love putting lefties at the top of the order to break up the righty barrage, so I can’t say I’m too surprised to see him batting second. He’s earned it. Hopefully, though, if when Stanton and Judge come back, they just stack them again. It’s time.

Otherwise, this looks pretty good. I’d expect Tauchman to rotate at DH with Mike Ford quite a bit, but otherwise this looks pretty good. (EDIT, 11:01 am: I am dumb and meant to say Frazier and not Tauchman here. Tauchman will certainly play more in the field than Frazier. Forgive me.)

Nice reminder of how good Luke Voit is – he should be in the middle of the order – and that Gleyber has successfully completed his ascent into superstardom. The bottom of the lineup is no longer a home for him.

3. Jon Gray, Trade Target: Per Brendan Kuty, the Yanks are inquiring about Jon Gray from the Rockies, a favorite trade partner of late. The Yanks feel perennially connected to Gray, whom they drafted in the 10th round of the 2011 draft. (He did not sign.) I’m all for a Gray trade personally. It can be difficult to evaluate pitchers in Coors Field, but there are reasons to want to buy on him.

For one, he’s had two very good seasons as a pro – 2019, when he slightly over-performed his peripherals, and 2017, when he underperformed them. In 2018, when he struggled, he still missed bats (24% K rate) and limited walks (7%). Last year, too, he took a step forward after working with Driveline in the offseason. Gray says it helped sharpen his secondary pitches, particularly his slider. It also clearly helped him get some of his velocity back:

Gray is open to advanced data and is pretty introspective about the way he pitches from what I can tell. I suspect that would work well with the Yankees’ suddenly-advanced pitching apparatus (and former Driveline expert Matt Blake). I’d be curious to see if the Yankees could help Gray unlock his potential and take that next step. Gray is worth a deeper dive at some point, but I’ve always been a fan. Maybe if the rumors get more serious.

4. ESPN’s Top 100 Prospects: Finally, Kiley McDaniel, formerly of FanGraphs and now of ESPN, released his Top 100 prospect list today (subs req’d). Check it out. There are 4 Yanks on the list, respectively:

  • Jasson Dominguez (39)
  • Deivi Garcia (45)
  • Clarke Schmidt (82)
  • Alexander Vargas (86)

No surprises on the first three, really. It’s about in line with what we’d expect given the other lists. He, like everyone, is in love with Jasson and notes that Schmidt, a former first round talent, is making waves in the spring. Par for the course.

Of note, he says that while Deivi is easy to like on paper, it can take a bit longer in person. He says “a role akin to that of Rich Hill or Lance McCullers Jr.  might be the best fit — a starter with rest built into his schedule or a reliever who can go multiples and spot-start — as a way to find the most important 100 or so innings to use Garcia’s playoff-caliber stuff rather than wasting it in less meaningful games.” That’s an interesting approach and not one I necessarily disagree with. It may be the best way to utilize Deivi, but we’ll have to see how he holds up in Triple-A first.

McDaniel is also very high on Alexander Vargas, who is an 18-year-old shortstop who featured on FanGraphs’ Top 100 list as well. (It makes sense for there to be some crossover.) Says McDaniel: “Vargas has a chance for four plus tools, with power the one lagging behind. He was under 150 pounds when he signed but has added bulk, and his current power won’t keep him from making contact.” Pretty exciting profile. He has just about 180 professional plate appearances – all in rookie level ball – so there’s a long way to go, but that’s an easy profile to like.

Vargas is another of those Yanks’ prospects – I recently called out Kevin Alcantara – that is worth keeping an eye on this season. A big year from guys like him, who are very high potential but several years away at least, can help vault the Yanks farm to the next level.

Thoughts after the Luis Severino Injury

There are real Yankee games back and all of that. There are many more to come. This is very good. What is very bad is that Luis Severino will not be taking part in any of them because he needs Tommy John surgery. It still hurts to type, honestly. Here’s what is on my mind following this devastating news…but first, a tribute to a slider we won’t see for at least another year:

1. Honestly, This Just Sucks: As I said last night on Twitter, there is considerable fallout in baseball terms from the Severino news, but it doesn’t immediately come top of mind. I’ll get to that in a minute – and Randy covered it yesterday in real-time, too. But first the personal impact. You just have to feel for Luis Severino. I know I sure as hell do. Think about it: just last year, twelve months ago, Severino was one of baseball’s top young arms. He’d struggled in the second half of 2018, sure, but there was no denying his talent (or his results).

There’s more to this, too. Severino was the first of the new homegrown core – Judge, Sánchez, Torres (yes, he counts), etc. – to reach the Majors. He was the only one who arrived in 2015 (remember his 2.89 ERA in 62 innings?) and was a shot of youthful enthusiasm in the arm of an aging, decrepit team standing on its last legs. While he struggled in 2016, he emerged on the scene in 2017 as every bit an ace. He was as vital to that season as Aaron Judge — Severino finished third in AL Cy Young voting, remember – and took the ball in the group’s first playoff game. It will be weird to watch this team without him. Again. I’m sure he and his teammates alike are extremely disappointed.

Personally, I was stoked to see him this Spring and watch him hopefully rebound and firmly re-establish himself after a lost 2019. Instead, Severino will be on the shelf again for all of 2020. He’ll miss the start of 2021, too – and that’s assuming all goes well. Since the disastrous Game 3 of the 2018 ALDS, Severino has thrown just 20.1 innings as a Yankee, which includes the 2019 postseason, by the way. That harrowing statistic will be true at this time next year, too, and likely as late into the season as next May or June. It is very unfortunate and I have spent the last few hours since the official announcement pretty damn bummed out. It’s just a shame. Baseball, guys. It’ll break our hearts. Severino, for his part, is publicly handling the news about as positively as one could expect:

2. Shades of Zack Wheeler, if You Squint: But enough of that. I’ve seen several people compare Severino to Zack Wheeler. That makes sense. Both pitchers were successful at 23- and 24-years-old and both suffered debilitating injuries. Wheeler, who is again an effective big league pitcher once more, is also an optimistic comparison. Wheeler even underwent Tommy John surgery. In other words, I get the comparison. But it still falls flat to me for one reason: Luis Severino is a much, much better pitcher. Check out Wheeler’s first two full seasons (2013-14) against Severino’s (2017-18):

IPERAOPSK%BB%HRbWAR
Severino (’17-18)384.23.18.63528.8%6.2%2.6%10.1
Wheeler (’13-14)285.13.50.68422.1%10.2%2.0%2.1

Yeah. Not much of. a comparison there, is there? Severino was a more complete – and therefore better – pitcher in nearly every regard. He had better control, missed more bats, threw more innings, and was hit less hard. I could go on and on. Of course, I understand the comparison. The point is not to compare them as pitchers. It’s about the injuries. And there’s a good case here: since returning, Wheeler has pitched 377.2 above-average innings. He still has his good stuff. He has a nine-figure contract. All of this makes me feel better and it should make you feel better too.

But I can’t help myself from comparing them anyway. The loss of Severino is such a devastating blow in every way precisely because there are few comparisons that work in a baseball sense. He is one of the finest young arms in baseball. A true top-10 talent. Injuries have derailed all of that. It sucks! No matter which way I try to spin this, I just end up sad about it. Gah.

3. Offseason Hindsight is 20/20…Kind Of: In addition to the Wheeler comparison – and also the second-guessing of the medical staff, which I understand but won’t touch myself – the other big conversation happening is a re-litigation of the 2020 offseason. This makes sense. Just about a month ago, we all thought this was the Yankees’ rotation:

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Luis Severino
  3. James Paxton
  4. Masahiro Tanaka
  5. ?? (J.A. Happ/Jordan Montgomery/Deivi Garcia/Mike King etc.)

Now, what once looked like one baseball’s best rotations looks like this:

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Masahiro Tanaka
  3. J.A. Happ
  4. Jordan Montgomery
  5. ??? (Jonathan Loaisiga/Deivi Garcia/Mike King/Clarke Schmidt etc.)

Talk about a steep decline. The next bullet will address what this means for the upcoming season. But first, let’s look backwards. Neither James Paxton’s injury nor Severino’s is a new one. The Yankees knew about both before the season began and before last season even ended. (As I’ve said before: 2019 is dead; long live 2019.) That is important because it gives us a new lens through which to evaluate the offseason. It would be one thing if these injuries happened in camp. They didn’t. The Yanks knew that Paxton and Severino may miss time with these injuries – how could they not at least think it was possible – and added just Cole anyway. Yes, I know how ridiculous “just Cole” is. Honestly, I do. He is a huge signing and the single-best upgrade they could make. Imagine this team without him!

But still, oblige me. Obviously, this explains why Happ wasn’t traded. (Separately, Happ may be around next year now, too. It’s hard to imagine his option not vesting now!) What it doesn’t explain is why the team didn’t add more pitching depth. I’ll admit that I rolled my eyes at the Twitter complaining a few weeks ago about “just adding Cole.” Now, though, knowing what the Yankees knew all offseason, I’ll admit that I was wrong. It looks like a mistake. (Or, perhaps, it shows why Patrick Corbin’s non-existent candidacy before 2019 remains so frustrating to me.)

4. So, What’s Next?: But all is not lost. The Yankees are worse now – do yourself a favor and don’t look at the ZiPS projections with and without Severino – but they’re still in good shape. They should win the division. The “Opening Day” rotation doesn’t matter all that much, anyway. Paxton should be return sooner rather than later. Domingo Germán will eventually return to the team, too. Moreover, Yanks do, in fact, have some depth and MLB-ready arms. Of course, they showed that the opener works just last season. It depleted the bullpen, I think, but they won a lot of games utilizing it. In other words, there are options. The Yanks will use those options and they will win a lot of games. Mark my words. I am very confident in this team and still believe that they should be in the conversation for World Series favorite.

It’s important perspective to keep because the trade and free agent market is pretty thin right now. Colin McHugh makes the most sense to me but we’ll see. For his part, Cashman said that the Yanks will look internally only. That will change around the deadline, I’m sure. But for now, the Yanks are going with what they’ve got. This is not surprising. At the very least, though, Spring Training just got a lot more interesting. Hooray?

5. Two Good Things: This has been a very depressing thoughts post. As an optimist by nature, I don’t like it. So, I’m going to close out with some positive words. One, Gerrit Cole made his debut. He touched 98 miles-per-hour in his Spring debut (lol) and continues to just be a freakin’ awesome interview and player. This guy is going to be so easy to watch. Even though Severino won’t follow him every fifth day, Cole is going to be so damn fun. I cannot wait for the games to count, even though they matter now.

The second good thing is that we get to laugh at Boston. I mean, they just traded their best player and second-best pitcher across the country because they didn’t think they could be competitive. And now the Yankees look much weaker than before that move. But they did it anyway and it’s made this latest slate of injuries much easier to stomach as a Yankee fan. Some big competition is much worse, after all, and they did it to themselves. That’s pretty hilarious, to me. Laughing at Boston has a way of making things feel a bit better.

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