Plate discipline will be key for Didi in 2015

In the days leading up to the winter meetings, the Yankees swung a trade for shortstop Didi Gregorius, who will be tasked with the tall order of replacing Derek Jeter as the team’s starting shortstop in 2015. Still two months shy of his 25th birthday, and with five years of team control remaining, the Yankees hope they’ve found someone who’ll be a fixture in their lineup for years to come.

There’s certainly a lot to like about Gregorius. Most consider him to be an above-average defender at an uber-premium position, and he’s shown flashes of offensive promise to boot. He hit a respectable .277/.332/.389 in parts of seven minor league seasons, and managed a 92 wRC+ in something resembling to a full season’s worth of games in 2013 — quite an accomplishment coming from someone with his defensive acumen.

But things didn’t go as swimmingly for Didi in 2014. Following an atrocious spring training, Gregorius lost out to fellow youngster Chris Owings for the D-Backs’ starting shortstop gig, and began the season in Triple-A Reno of the Pacific Coast League. Didi redeemed himself a bit by hitting .310/.389/.447 in two months in the PCL, but fell flat on his face after returning to the big club in June, hitting just .226/.290/.363. We’re only talking 299 plate appearances here, so small sample size caveats apply, but there seemed to be something amiss with Didi’s offensive game: His plate discipline took a turn for the worse. Continue reading

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Analysis: Yankees re-sign Chase Headley

After losing David Robertson and Brandon McCarthy, the Yankees finally retained one of their useful pieces from 2014: Chase Headley. OK, yes, they brought back Chris Young too — but he wouldn’t have been nearly as great of a loss as the aforementioned three players. Headley, who signed a four-year, $52M contract, will be the everyday third baseman for the Yankees.

Before re-signing Headley, the infield depth was disconcerting. If Martin Prado was penciled in at the hot corner, the Yankees would have relied on rookies Rob Refsnyder and/or Jose Pirela at second. If Prado was to spend the majority of his time at second, the Yankees might have had to roll the dice with Alex Rodriguez at third. Bringing back Headley alleviates those weaknesses by shifting Prado to second, A-Rod to DH, Pirela to a utility role or Triple-A, and Refsnyder to Scranton.

Inking Headley was sensible in the fact that it improved the team, that much is certain. However, is a four-year, $52M deal sensible? Let’s use a comparison to make a judgement on the preceding question. Below, I present you a comparison of two players and their past two seasons: Continue reading

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Sorting through the myriad outfielders on the 40-man roster

On the day before the rule 5 draft protection deadline, the Yankees added four players to their 40-man roster: Danny Burawa, Braden Pinder, Tyler Austin, and Mason Williams. Each of these additions make some sense. Burawa and Pinder are relief pitchers in the high minors, whose stuff implies that they’re just about ready to contribute at the big league level. Austin and Williams, meanwhile, are outfield prospects who have fallen on hard times these last couple of years, but still retain a decent amount of their prospect shine.

Austin and Williams join Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ramon Flores, Brett Gardner, Eury Perez, and Chris Young to give the Yankees eight outfielders on their 40-man roster, and that’s not even counting Martin Prado, who’s played 161 games in the outfield over the last three seasons. In Austin, Flores and Williams, three of those spots are filled with outfielders who have yet to play a game in the majors, and Eury Perez has all of 23 big league plate appearances to his name. Frankly, that’s a lot of roster space tied up in outfielders who are buried on the depth chart and aren’t quite ready to contribute at the major league level. Continue reading

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Examining free agent alternatives for closer

In my most recent piece analyzing the aftermath the Andrew Miller signing, I highlighted the importance of acquiring a closer if David Robertson latches on elsewhere:

Making Betances or Miller the closer would deplete their utility, that much is clear. Additionally, it would allow guys like Shawn Kelley, Justin Wilson, and Esmil Rogers more high-leverage innings. It could also thrust a prospect like Jacob Lindgren or Danny Burawa into the fold. All of these pitchers are capable, but a downgrade from having taking Miller or Betances out of a more flexible role. Thus, I’d like the Yankees to sign a closer in the event that Robertson departs.

In the same post, I teased out a few names — Rafael Soriano, Jason Grilli, and Francisco Rodriguez — but let’s take a look at a few target relievers on the open market: Continue reading

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The impact of the Andrew Miller signing

On Friday, the Yankees made their first big free agent splash of the 2014-2015 offseason, inking Andrew Miller to a four-year, $36M contract. I already profiled Miller when I wrote him up as an offseason target, so you can read that if you want to know more about the type of player he is. Instead, I’ll examine the ramifications of the signing.

With Miller in the fold, perhaps the greatest question is the likelihood of David Robertson returning.

It’s hard to imagine Robertson settling for anything less than what Miller agreed to. We already know that Robertson was asking for “Papelbon money”, alluding to the four-year, $50M pact the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to. If that’s still the case, I’d guess that the Yankees are more comfortable in the $40-45M range. Otherwise, as Olney tweeted, they’ll go with what they have now and take the supplemental draft pick from Robertson’s departure. Continue reading

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Trade Analysis: Gregorius in, Greene out in three-team deal

Roughly two months after the Yankees’ shortstop of the past two decades retired, the Yankees found Derek Jeter‘s replacement in Didi Gregorius. It came at the cost of starting pitcher Shane Greene, who heads to Detroit. The Tigers dealt southpaw starter Robbie Ray to Arizona, with the Diamondbacks sending Gregorius to the Bronx. It’s a move that fills the shortstop position for the Bombers in 2015, with the hope that Didi blossoms into mainstay beyond next season.

Gregorius, 25 in February, gives the Yankees an inexpensive shortstop option now and for the next few seasons, with five years of control remaining. The lefty-swinger isn’t known for his bat, but is said to be a plus defender. Greene, 26, made an impressive debut for the Yankees this past season, and should step in to the back-end of Detroit’s rotation immediately. The Tigers hold his rights through 2020.

Continue reading

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Improvements in Plate Discipline: Rare but Effective

For even the most physically gifted hitters, offensive success is highly dependent on one’s approach at the plate. No two pitches are exactly the same, and the batter has less than half-second to glean the characteristics that differentiate them — things like velocity, movement, and location. The ability to process and act on this information is key, and can really separate a good hitter from a bad one. Anyone who’s watched more than a few baseball games could tell you that some hitters hinder themselves by swinging at bad pitches, but while plate discipline’s pretty easy to see, quantifying it — or even defining it — is a little more tricky.

One way to measure a player’s plate discipline is through a signal-detection theory approach, which was first introduced by Russell Carleton, and has since been replicated elsewhere. The idea is to calculate how frequently a hitter makes the “correct” decision on the pitches thrown to him – that is, swinging at pitches in the strike zone and laying off pitches outside of it. By no means is this a perfect representation of plate discipline, as there are plenty of instances where swinging at a ball or letting a strike go by isn’t necessarily a bad decision. Lots of other factors come into play, such as pitch type, ball-strike count, and a pitch’s location within the strike zone. Continue reading

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Searching for Under-Used Breaking Pitches with PITCHf/x

You probably didn’t even notice when the Astros claimed Collin McHugh off waivers from the Colorado Rockies last Dec. 18, and I can’t say I blame you. With a career ERA of 8.94 and a fastball that barely broke 90 mph, McHugh looked like your garden-variety, soft-tossing righty. Players like this shuffle among teams on a regular basis, serving as spare parts or emergency call-ups, and the Astros’ claim of McHugh seemed like just another of these unremarkable transactions.

McHugh, however, went on to exceed expectations by a wide margin. After starting the year in Triple-A, the 27-year-old rookie got called up in late April and proceeded to rattle off a 2.73 ERA over 25 starts. McHugh’s 3.3 fWAR campaign may have been the biggest surprise performance of the 2014, and his breakout seems to be largely attributable to a greater reliance on his curve ball and slider. Continue reading

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Yankees Potential 2015 Free Agent Target: Kenta Maeda

The Yankees starting rotation depth chart is looking pretty thin at the moment. The possible departures of Hiroki Kuroda and Brandon McCarthy, along with flimsy health records of Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, leave the team with a real lack of reliable arms to fill out their rotation. As a result, Brian Cashman and co. seem likely to add a starting pitcher or two or three before its all said and done.

Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and James Shields headline this year’s crop of free agent starters, but there’s a much less recognizable name out there that could also be on the market: Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda. The Hiroshima Carp have yet to announce weather or not they will post the 26-year-old this winter, but if they do, Maeda could be a good fit for the Yankees. Continue reading

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Free Agent Target: Luke Gregerson

With David Robertson‘s decision to test free agency, the Yankees have something of a hole in the back end of their bullpen. Robertson’s easily the best of this year’s free agent relief crop, but it remains to be seen if the Yankees will be willing to spend $10-$15M annually to retain their All-Star closer. Lefty Andrew Miller headlines the second tier of free agent relievers, but like Robertson, he’s unlikely to come cheap. If the team does choose to pass on Miller and Robertson, that leaves Luke Gregerson, Rafael Soriano, Sergio Romo, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jason Grilli as the top free agents remaining on the board, and with a 2.12 ERA in 2014, Gregerson had the lowest ERA of this group.

Although his fastball almost never breaks 90, Gregerson’s been one of the game’s better relievers for a few years now. Since establishing himself as a dominant setup man with the Padres back in 2009, Gregerson’s been about as consistent as they come, racking up at least 55 innings in each of the last six seasons, and posting a sub-3 ERA in the past four. Gregerson’s overall numbers may have been helped by his home ballparks. He spent 2009-2013 pitching half of his games in Petco Park, before being traded to the A’s, who also play in a park known for suppressing homers. But even after taking his home ballpark into account, Gregerson’s still a very talented pitcher. He keeps the ball on the ground, and rarely issues any walks, which is generally a good recipe for success. Odds are, he wouldn’t have much trouble putting up a sub-3.50 ERA, even in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium. Continue reading

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