Mailbag: Hitting coach vs. offensive philosophy, 2022 shortstop, playoff format

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Good morning and happy Friday, everyone. MLB’s final four teams are set with the Dodgers-Giants NLDS matchup coming to an end last night. We’re down to the Red Sox, Astros, Dodgers, and Braves. Uh, go National League, I guess?

What a disappointing end to a mostly exciting game last night, by the way. Hate to see a game end on a check-swing judgement call (and a bad judgement, at that), but so it goes. Max Scherzer probably finishes off Wilmer Flores on the next pitch anyway, but who knows? Nonetheless, I’d be apoplectic if I was a Giants fan.

Now, to the subject of today’s post: your mailbag questions. As a reminder, send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We’ll pick our favorites for the next edition. Here’s what we have this week:

Bob asks: Will changing batting coaches make a difference if the team philosophy doesn’t change?

The philosophy is changing, though. At least I think it is. Of course, I’m assuming by team philosophy, Bob means the emphasis on high-OBP hitters with power while tolerating strikeouts. A few signs of changes in the works:

  1. Acquiring Anthony Rizzo (lefty, low-strikeout bat) midseason while looking to trade away Luke Voit (oft-injured, but led team in HRs a year ago).
  2. There have been some Joey Gallo trade rumors already.
  3. A few of the free agent shortstops (discussed in the next question) are high contact guys.
  4. This response from ex-hitting coach Marcus Thames on Sweeny Murti’s podcast:

Murti: Is there a disconnect in philosophy in approach to hitting, is it about the information that is delivered on a daily basis and how it’s used, how does that break down?

Thames: I don’t think the information — I think we had a really, really good connection with our analysts and through the players…I think [there’s] some drill stuff that maybe some guys are doing down in the minor leagues that we weren’t quite doing at the major league level.

Now, at the same time, letting Thames and PJ Pilittere go isn’t just about team philosophy. I think it’s pretty clear they do want to align some things between the minors and majors, based on Thames quote. I suppose that makes sense from our vantage point given how many offensive breakouts we saw in the minors this year, particularly juxtaposed to the Yankees’ offense. However, I also think a big part of moving on from Thames and Pilittere has absolutely nothing to do with the team’s bevy of three-true outcome hitters. It also has to do with some of the performances of the team’s more contact-oriented hitters, like DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres.

In fairness to Thames and Pilittere, regression from players like LeMahieu and Torres isn’t wholly the coaching staff’s fault. A big part of that is on them too. At the same time, it’s hard to watch LeMahieu turn into a league average hitter and Torres drastically fall from grace over the last season or two. At some point, something has to change if the status quo isn’t working. LeMahieu’s here for five more seasons and Torres, barring a trade, is under team control too.

Daniel asks: What are the likeliest outcomes for shortstop in ‘22 (Star FA/Low tier FA/Internal)?

I really have no idea what the Yankees are going to do here, but they can’t stand pat, that’s for sure. The Yankees should spend big on one of the star free agents out there, but will they? I can’t say I’m confident. The Yankees have not been big players in free agency for a while now, with Gerrit Cole the exception to the rule. Perhaps this winter’s free agent class will result in another exception, because like the Cole situation, the Yankees badly need a shortstop like they needed a frontline starter that winter.

Here are the tiers that Daniel asked for:

  • Stars: Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien
  • Next rung: Javier Báez, Chris Taylor
  • Low tier: José Iglesias, Freddy Galvis, Andrelton Simmons
  • Internal: um, Gio Urshela?

If I haven’t made it clear in recent posts or on Twitter, I want Correa. But since the question is looking for most likely outcomes, I’ll say Seager is the most likely signee from the top tier. He’s not the best defensive shortstop out there, that’s for sure, but he’s the one lefty and I have a feeling that could sway things. He’s also the second-youngest shortstop free agent (Correa is the youngest).

The pessimistic side of me says that the Yankees will go the stopgap route while waiting for Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza to progress. There’s nothing wrong with those two prospects, but ugh, more good players please. The positioning can be reshuffled in a later year when they’re ready — no need to hold down the fort temporarily. Anyway, the Yankees have been connected to Simmons a lot over the years, which makes him feel like a distinct possibility (please no, he’s terrible).

Josh asks: I don’t mind the one game Wild Card as it’s great entertainment and gets one more team into the playoffs, however I cannot stand the five game Division Series.  There are so many ups and downs with baseball, don’t you think a 7 game series makes more sense for the DS? 

Yes, absolutely with regard to the Division Series. I don’t really agree with Josh on the Wild Card game, but at least it does incentivize winning the division.

Aside from a personal desire to have more playoff baseball to watch, a longer first round makes more sense given how MLB structures its season and the volatility of individual game outcomes. This isn’t like the NBA playoffs, where I’d argue it’s not necessary for every series to be a seven game format (although it can make for great drama!). Generally, the cream rises to the top in the NBA postseason. That doesn’t always happen in MLB’s postseason, even in seven game series. But at least a seven gamer is more likely to reward the better team than five games.

I bet the Rays and Brewers wish they had a couple of more games available to them. They may not have overcome Boston or Atlanta anyway, but they had far better regular seasons than their opponents in the division series. To see a great 162 game regular season fall apart in a short series is painful, even if there’s a strong argument that those losing clubs (namely, the Rays) weren’t well-structured for the postseason format.

Further, who else wishes there could have been a Game 6 and/or 7 between the Dodgers and Giants? I feel like we got shorted on what will ultimately be remembered as the best series of this postseason (and not merely because of that awful check-swing call to end the series).

Aside from simply having more games to watch, a longer series should reward the better team more often than not. Isn’t that the goal of the MLB postseason? To reward the best team? As long as there aren’t trophies given out for the best regular season teams and the postseason is treated like the End All Be All, then we should have a 7-7-7 format.

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14 Comments

  1. Regarding DJ LeMehieu, he has played for 11 years and for 8 of them – if we are using OPS+ as the measure – he has been a below average hitter. In his two “real” above average years his OPS+ numbers were 128 and 136 – solidly above average but far from otherworldly. Using 2020’s 178 as the norm – which many people seem to have done in trying to understand “what happened to DJ” is pretty questionable. He played 50 games, and the season was far from normal with a high percentage of games against Baltimore, down Boston with broken pitching, growing up Toronto with unsettled pitching, etc. The “real” DJ has become a distorted notion in his time with the Yankees, but his record shows that this past season his OPS+ of 97 was actually his best season outside of the two mentioned above, and the third best of his career ignoring 2020.

    • topchuckie

      I think “What happened to DJ?” is referring to his 5 of 6 seasons over .300 and two batting titles, followed up with a .268 year.

  2. Wire Fan

    I see three issues with signing Seager
    1. He has had back issues in the past, those tend to re-occur
    2. He probably is not long for SS (while they can move him off SS later, will the contract be worth it at 2nd or 3rd?)
    3. With big contracts to Cole and Stanton, and longish contracts to Hicks and DJL, another big, long contract probably means they have to let Judge walk after next year

    I think they go stopgap. A 2 year deal on relatively low money where that signee can turn into a utility guy if one of the young SS’s crush it next year and are ready in 2023. There’s also the LT issue. The Yankees might be willing to go over it, but will they blast 40-50mil beyond it?

  3. DanGer

    Anything longer than the current format would be a complete slog.

    Regular season ended Oct 3rd. A 7 game DS means LAD/SF doesn’t end until ~Oct 17th. And still have to do that TWO MORE TIMES.

    It also lowers stakes of middle games because you have more games to come back

  4. I really don’t get the “stopgap SS until one of the guys who had one breakout year in low A ball is ready to take the reins” idea. Sign who you need to sign in order to put your team in a position to win the division this year. Not in the next few years-NOW! They need to flex the biggest advantage they have as an organization and that’s the amount of money they can spend. But alas this is the same organization that missed out on Moncada back in the day because they were outspent, that didn’t spend for one or both of Harper/Machado even though they were generational talents and there was a need for either of those two at the time. Therefore I have zero confidence in them signing one these players from the best SS class since the early 2000’s. I’m no expert on what organizational changes need to take place as a whole but it certainly can start with signing good players for positions of need when they’re available for nothing but money.

  5. samhexum

    How about Adelberto Mondesi as a stop-gap until Volpe’s ready? Yeah, he’s all potential and not much production to this point, but he’s a fairly young, fast, athletic player and is a switch-hitter with a bit of pop. KC needs a DH & power and has Witt and Nicky Lopez to handle SS, so how about oft-injured Voit for oft-injured Mondesi, with minor leaguers added to balance it out?

    I’d also look to see if they’d expand it to add Benintendi for Gallo, thus getting another lefty who’ll hit for a higher average. Give them Odor (a free player, since Texas pays his salary) for their infield mix, Joely Rodriguez for their bullpen (no room for him next year on the Yanks & not worth his $3 mil option) and a low-level minor-leaguer or two and this could work.

    If the NL gets the DH, complete the remaking of the roster by trading Sanchez for Tucker Barnhart, yet another lefty (although not much of a hitter) who is strong defensively.

  6. Kansas

    Is Andrelton Simmons any better than Velasquez ?

  7. topchuckie

    Wouldn’t it make sense to have multiple hitting coaches for different types of hitters, i.e. contact/singles hitter and TTO hitters? Ideally, every hitter would be an all around hitter like Don Mattingly, but that’s just not how it works. I know the Yanks had two, or a head guy and an assistant recently, and that makes sense to me if they are geared toward different types of hitters, and not just parroting each other.

    Put me down as a fan of the stop gap SS so as to not block the prospects, but I suppose Seager could move to 3B once they are ready. Also, if Semien is considered top tier, then no thanks. If he could be had on a 3 year deal with a high AAV, then maybe. I strongly expect someone will sorely regret signing him going forward.

  8. The Original Drew

    MTPS, but what about a Gleyber Torres for Cody Bellinger swap? Both guys have been shells of their former selves since 2019. This is the new spin on the Robinson Cano for Matt Kemp trade.

  9. The Original Drew

    I’d be all in favor of the 7 game Divisional series.

    For the Wildcard I would be in favor in what they do in Japan and have it be a two game series where the lesser team have to win both games and the home team only has to win 1.

    • topchuckie

      For the Wild Card, I think a best of 3, all at the home of the better record, with a double header the first day, is more fair than the lesser team must win 2 because what if there is only a 1 game difference in the two teams and it’s the Yankees with one less win in the AL East than the other Wild Card that got to beat up on the AL West or Central all year and won the single game more?

      • Joewhar

        I also like that format of best of 3. I believe they do something similar in Korea.

      • Will

        I don’t think the point of the postseason is to reward the best team. It’s entertainment and “fairness” is only one consideration. You would just go straight to the Rays – Giants World Series for 9 games or whatever if you wanted to reward the best teams.

  10. DZB

    I imagine they won’t change the one-game WC, but a 3-7-7-7 would be nice from a fans’ perspective. That’s potentially 12 more total games across all the series, but realistically you have to imagine it adds maybe eight total games since only the WC is guaranteed to go longer than it currently does. With the overlapping days of the various series, you really only have to add five days to the schedule (two days for the WC, and a WC travel day, and two days to the LDS since they don’t need another travel day if they just shift to 2-3-2). Five days is a pretty minimal change to get more compelling games, and as many as 12 more playoff games in revenue. Maybe they revisit this in the CBA negotiation as a bargaining chip the players can use against the owner.

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