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Category: Thoughts Page 2 of 10

Thoughts a Week and a Day Before Opening Day

Happy Wednesday, friends. We are rapidly approaching Opening Day, but there are still Spring Training games before then. Here is the broadcast schedule through the rest of the Grapefruit League to hold us over for the rest of the week.

Here’s hoping that the Yanks can stay healthy in that time, too. Anyway, on to today’s thoughts.

1. Opening Day Next Week: Opening Day is one week from tomorrow, which is wild. It really snuck up on me this year. Still, I am excited for the season – and you should be, too. The games are really going to matter right away. The Yankees are the hands-on favorite to win the American League East, and they’ll have a chance to emphatically make that case nearly right away: 19 of the team’s first 25 games (76%) are inter-divisional matchups.

Now, those aren’t exactly spread out evenly, either. Here is how it breaks down:

  • Baltimore Orioles: 7 games (3 at home)
  • Tampa Bay Rays:6 games (3 at home)
  • Toronto Blue Jays: 6 games (3 at home)

Notably missing is the Red Sox, so the Yanks are getting a big chunk of their non-Boston divisional rival games out of the way early. That is significant. Tampa got worse since we last saw them, but I won’t count them out. (Baseball Prospectus tags them for 86 wins; FanGraphs says 84.) Toronto, on the other hand, got better, but is dealing with a Yankee-like deluge of injuries right now. (BP has them at 84 wins; FanGraphs 88.) Both will be looking to challenge the Goliath Yankees and will have a chance to make their mark early on.

While it is a long season – and it feels nice to be able to say that again after last year’s weirdness – this still feels important. As Matt noted, there are four off-days, not counting an inevitable rainout. The good news for the Yankees is that this means they can turn to team ace Gerrit Cole more often than not.

The bottom line is that these early games are going to matter. The Yankees, barring a major surprise, will be the best team in the American League East, if not the entire league. It would be awfully nice for the team to get out to a hot start and put some distance between themselves and their closest competition right way. The schedule means they’ll have a great opportunity to do so. Let’s hope they don’t miss it.

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Thoughts As Zack Britton Undergoes Surgery

Zack Britton, as you have likely seen by now, will have surgery today and miss the start of the season. It is the first major blow to the Yankees in 2021 in terms of injury, even if it could have been much worse. (When you hear elbow, you immediately think Tommy John.) Still, it’s not what you want.

Anyway, this will have a number of impacts on the Yankees and I have some thoughts about all of that. Let’s get to them.

1. Missing Britton’s Performance: The Yanks will miss Britton. He is sometimes frustrating due to his high walk rates (13% in 2019, 9% in 2020), but the man has been an integral piece of the Yankee bullpen since he joined the team at the 2018 deadline. Britton owns a 2.14 ERA (3.62 FIP) with a 76.3% ground ball rate in 105 innings pitched in pinstripes, with an average exit velocity of just 87 miles-per-hour. This combination means he gives up almost no home runs (0.43 per 9 innings pitched) and limits the damage opposing batters can do against him: they hit just .182, with a .226 BABIP. That is elite performance. Britton has been all you could have asked for and more.

All of this is to say that Britton is a key cog in the dominant Yankee bullpen machine. He also brings a unique look, throwing 85% sinkers – the next closest Yankee regular over this stretch is Jordan Montgomery at 15% – and just 0.5% straight fastballs, the lowest on the team. While he still brings the heat and is by no means a junkballer, Britton is a new, different look every time he comes out of the pen. It will not be easy to replace his performance.

Now, the good news is that he will only be out a couple of months, barring no setbacks. It’s not clear when he will return – estimates vary, and the team didn’t say – but the New York Post says he will be shut down six to eight weeks. That puts us at a June return if all goes well. The good news is that this is a straightforward surgery. Gio Urshela just had it in December, after all, and he is fine now.

Still, the Yanks can and should play it safe. Britton just recently recovered from COVID and these are the best months to miss, if you have to miss any at all. It sucks, and the bullpen will suffer, but the Yankees can weather his absence for two-and-half months. The most important thing will be getting him back to full health and strength before the stretch run and postseason. That is really what’s most important here.

Thoughts on the interplay of Deivi García’s workload and the Alternate Site, retaining NRIs, and Lucas Luetge

Last week, we found out that Alternate Sites are returning as a result of the delayed start to the Triple-A season. The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler has all the details regarding the rules and regulations for the Alternate Site. I have a couple of thoughts on roster implications as a result of the Alternate Site’s return, along with a closing note on a surprising non-roster invitee in camp. Let’s dive in.

The Yankees will probably use the Alternate Site to protect Deivi García’s workload. Like it or not, it’s been pretty clear that the fifth starter’s job is Domingo Germán’s to lose. Not that he needed any more help, but the delay to the Triple-A season might give him a further boost. The Yankees could use the Alternate Site as a way to limit innings for certain pitchers who Germán is in competition with and the organization want to protect, namely García.

There should be no qualms about Deivi’s candidacy for the fifth spot, and in fact, I’d argue he’s the best option. Yet, he’s also never thrown more than 111.2 innings in a season (2019) and is still just 21 years old. I’d wager that the Yankees will be careful to not significantly overstep the young righty’s previous high water mark in 2021. It’s not like the organization needs him to bear a significant anyway. The team has very good starting depth.

So, optioning García to the Alternate Site to start the year would make it easier to manage his 2021 workload. He could pitch in a few exhibition games in April, but wouldn’t need to pitch him every fifth day. Alternatively, there would be no need for him to go five or six frames each time out either. Of course, this could also just be used as a front for service time shenanigans, but there are certainly legitimate health considerations.

This would have applied to Clarke Schmidt too, especially if he stayed healthy and pitched as well as he did last March. But now, his common extensor strain will make his time at the Alternate Site more like spring training all over again anyway.

Now, with Deivi in particular, this scenario only works as long as everyone else stays healthy this month. For instance, I can’t imagine running out Jhoulys Chacín every fifth day in the name of limiting Deivi’s innings. In that case, García should be in the rotation and the Yankees could kick can down the road on workload concerns.

Thoughts as the Yankees Host Their First 2021 Workout

Friends, a new season is upon us. The offseason is over and the Yankees are hosting a true workout today. It is pretty exciting. The last year has been pretty damn miserable for everyone, so I am really hoping to see a full, safe baseball season. I know I could use it, and I bet you can too.

With much more to come in the next few days, here are some preliminary thoughts as the Yankees break camp and get the 2021 season underway.

1. Expectations, Expectations, Expectations: The beauty of Spring Training is that it is a time for optimism. Squint hard enough and fans of nearly any team, with my apologies to Orioles and Pirates fans, can see a path forward. The good news about rooting for the 2021 Yankees is that absolutely no squinting is necessary: they are comfortably the best team in the American League. It’s not just me saying that. The major projection systems agree:

  • PECOTA: 98-64, 81.5% chance of winning the AL East
  • FanGraphs: 96-66, 71.4% chance of winning the AL East

In both cases, that’s the highest in the American League – PECOTA has Houston winning 93 games and FanGraphs also has Houston second with 88 wins –and second only behind the reigning champion Dodgers in the league overall. FanGraphs also calculates World Series odds. The Yanks rank second (18%) behind the Dodgers there, too. It’s good company and it passes the sniff test. The Yankees are definitely that good.

All of this is to say that I am cannot wait for the season to start. One obvious reason is because of how good they are: this is a complete roster and the team had a very strong offseason, Ottavino salary dump aside. Another reason is that last season was extremely frustrating for many reasons, one of them being that it was really short – over a full 162 games, I think things would have straightened out. Alas, it was not to be.

But the past is the past. It is a new season, and all indications are that it is going to be a good one. Hopefully, it will be the best one since 2009. As Aaron Boone said in his introductory press conference yesterday afternoon, “talk is cheap at this point.” Can’t say it any better than that.

Thoughts after the Yankees Acquire Jameson Taillon

The Yankees finally made their long-awaited trade for a starter today, acquiring former Pirates righty Jameson Taillon for a package of four mid-level prospects. Taillon, a 29-year-old righty, has two seasons left before he reaches free agency and will earn $2.25 million in 2021. There is a lot to say about this trade, but the long and short of it is that I like this move a lot for the Yankees. Let’s get right into it.

1. Taillon’s Injury History: Although I like this move, let’s start with the obvious risk here. Taillon, as you all know, has twice undergone Tommy John surgery, most recently in 2019. Here is his full injury history:

  • 2014: Tommy John surgery
  • 2015: Sports hernia
  • 2017: Testicular cancer
  • 2019-20: Tommy John surgery

This is a significant injury history to be sure. There’s no way around it. As Derek noted back in December, though, it’s the two elbow reconstructions that are most worrying. The list of pitchers who have twice undergone the procedure is pretty short, and the list of those who have been effective after a second is even shorter. Still, Nathan Eovaldi is a prominent example of one such guy. It is certainly possible.

The good news, though is that Taillon is ready to play now. He will report to camp with a healthy arm and look to prove that he is finally healthy. There (hopefully) won’t be any waiting around for him. Hopefully, he’s back with his full velocity and arsenal, though who knows? That is the risk here. The good stuff comes after the jump.

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