A deeper look at Sanchez’ denial of an intentional walk

Unlucky is not the way one would describe Gary Sanchez‘ 2016 season. Yet, the 23 year-old catcher might have lost out on his 14th home run in 33 games on Saturday. If you haven’t seen the play yet, you’ve almost certainly heard about it. Rays’ southpaw Enny Romero attempted to throw an intentional ball to the 23 year-old backstop, and this happened:

During intentional walks, we’ve become accustomed to a batter standing idly with his bat on his back shoulder. The four pitches are supposed to be a formality. Yet, some have decided to swing before (Miguel Cabrera, perhaps most famously), although those are extreme exceptions. Unlike most to be intentional pass recipients, Sanchez was ready in this instance, waiting to pounce just in case a meatball came his way. And wouldn’t you know it, Romero’s offering drifted back toward home plate. It was still out of the zone, but that was no matter. It came in so slow that Sanchez had plenty of time to adjust. Even though this deep drive didn’t disappear over the fence, we’ll see this highlight periodically for as long as Sanchez plays. Perhaps longer. Continue reading

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Masahiro Tanaka’s underappreciated 2016

Ho hum, another seven shutout innings for Masahiro Tanaka in yesterday’s west coast road trip finale. The Yankees’ ace has thrown gem after gem this season, but has seemingly flown under the radar on a league-wide scale. We hear plenty about the Jose Fernandez and Chris Sales of the world, but rarely does Tanaka’s name come up discussion of the world’s best starting pitchers. I’m not saying Tanaka is on par with Fernandez or Sale, but it’s not like the Japanese right-hander’s results are miles behind.

Traditional methods of pitcher evaluation are likely the reason for Tanaka’s somewhat unheralded 2016. This isn’t to say Tanaka’s pitched poorly based on old-school metrics, but he isn’t quite at the top of the leaderboard. In all of baseball, he ranks 19th in ERA (3.11), 10th in Innings Pitched (168), is tied for 7th in Wins (11), and is tied for 19th in strikeouts (142). That’s all very good! But guys like JA Happ and Rick Porcello have gotten more buzz because of their win totals (17) despite Tanaka’s arguably better performance. We’re far past the era of needing to explain to people why pitcher wins is a terrible stat (and I’m not going to here), but it still does gets noticed. Continue reading

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Pitchers are adjusting their approach to Aaron Judge

Of the Baby Bombers promoted since the calendar turned to August, Gary Sanchez has received the vast majority of attention, and justifiably so. That isn’t to say there hasn’t been any excitement regarding Aaron Judge, who hit a mammoth home run in his first big league at-bat and another long ball in his second game. After the 6-foot-7 outfielder’s first two games, though, Sanchez has torn the cover of the ball while Judge has slowed down a bit. This post isn’t intended to compare the two, but rather to illustrate a trend for Judge that has been somewhat overlooked (or we’ve been distracted from) because of Sanchez’ home run barrage.

Judge, a first round pick in 2013, has arguably been the jewel of the farm system since latching on to the organization. The power is obvious, and the athleticism is impressive given his stature. It’s easy to dream on Judge becoming the Yankees’ right fielder for the next decade while holding down a spot in the heart of the lineup. But if there’s any fly in the ointment, it’s Judge’s ability to consistently put the ball in play. Continue reading

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Weighing Brian McCann’s future with the Yankees

At the trade deadline, Brian McCann‘s name was a somewhat surprising addition to the rumor mill. Sure, the Yankees were sellers and Gary Sanchez was waiting in the wings at Triple-A, but it was hard to imagine the team handing a rookie the keys to the position without any gradual grooming at the highest level. Three weeks later, Sanchez’ ascension might hasten McCann’s departure from the Bronx. It could happen in the next week or so if another contender wants to have him eligible for its playoff roster (McCann has cleared waivers). The front office could wait until the winter to move him, as no immediate decision is necessary with McCann under contract for another two years. Perhaps no trade ever culminates.

While the lefty-swinging catcher’s future in the Bronx is murky, it’s clear that the 24-year old Sanchez has been tabbed as the club’s long-term catcher. Is it time for the Yankees and McCann to part ways, or should the veteran catcher stay aboard? Both options have merits and drawbacks. Continue reading

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Waving Goodbye to Alex Rodriguez

At least now he'll have more time to hang out.
At least now he’ll have more time to hang out.

So this is it. After tonight, baseball’s Alex Rodriguez era will officially be over. Sure, the Yankees are keeping him around as a “special advisor,” but regardless of what that actually means, it won’t be the same. There will be no more A-Bombs from A-Rod, or even any close-ups of him sitting dejectedly on the bench. For the first time since Bill Clinton’s first term in office, A-Rod will no longer be a professional baseball player. Continue reading

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Yankees Call Up Ben Gamel

With Alex Rodriguez sidelined with a hamstring injury and Brett Gardner‘s elbow barking, the Yankees have called up outfielder Ben Gamel from Triple-A to take his spot on the roster. At the moment, it isn’t clear how much Gamel will play. Although they’ve struggled this year, bot Aaron Hicks and Dustin Ackley have established track records in the big leagues, and may inherit most of A-Rod’s and Gardner’s at-bats — at least for now. Still, Gamel could come in handy as a reserve outfielder. He can play all three outfield spots, and although he isn’t a burner, he runs well enough to be a pinch-running option.

As a prospect, Gamel looks an awful lot like a future reserve outfielder. He’s hit well since he arrived in Triple-A last year, but his 20% strikeout rate suggests he’ll have trouble replicating last year’s .300 batting average in the big leagues. And although he posted double-digit homers and steals in Triple-A last year, neither his power and speed are stand-out tools. As a result, KATOH projected him for just 2.2 WAR over the next 6 years, which ranked 12th among Yankees prospects.

Here are the newest Yankees’ statistical comps:

Ben Gamel’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Alex Ramirez 1.2 0.1
2 Mike Ryan 0.8 0.9
3 Xavier Paul 1.3 0.5
4 Tony Mota 1.2 0.0
5 Ricky Ledee 2.4 1.3
6 Nigel Wilson 0.7 0.1
7 Tike Redman 1.1 2.7
8 Jim Edmonds 1.0 19.7
9 Danny Clyburn 1.0 0.0
10 Shawn Hare 1.4 0.0

So that’s Ben Gamel. He’s an undersized (5-foot-10) outfielder with no real weakness, but also no standout tool — unless you count his 80-grade hair. Gamel isn’t particularly exciting, but then again, nothing about the 2016 Yankees has been particularly exciting. At least we have a new face to look at.

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My Bold Predictions for the 2016 Yankees

With opening day right around the corner, I thought I’d come up with some bold predictions about this year’s team. I don’t necessarily think these things will happen, but neither does anyone else. If they did, my predictions wouldn’t be very bold. However, I believe any or all of my predictions could conceivably become reality. Incoming.

Ronald Torreyes will produce more WAR than Aaron Judge this year

Over the last couple of years, I’ve built out my KATOH projection system, which uses minor league stats to forecast big league performance. KATOH works pretty well, if I say so myself. But while watching a spring training game a couple of weeks ago, I began to question it all, when Aaron Judge and Ronald Torreyes came to bat in the same inning.

The two of them couldn’t have looked any more different. Judge was a 6-foot-7 and ripped, and just looked like a guy who’d be very good at hitting baseballs. Torreyes, on the other hand, was built like a jockey — short and thin. He looked like a guy who might struggle to hit the ball over the fence, even in batting practice. Sure, I had seen both of these players before and read the scouting reports, but seeing them hit back-to-back was really jarring, especially since KATOH projects Torreyes for more WAR over the next six years than Judge.

It was easy to see why Judge was a first round pick who is the Yankees’ consensus top prospect. It was also easy to see how Torreyes signed for peanuts out of Venezuela and has changed teams seven (!) times in his young career with little fanfare. But of course, we’re not selling jeans here. There’s much more to a player than his appearance, and Torreyes does one thing very well that Judge doesn’t do well at all: make contact.

Neither player figures to play a huge role on the 2016 Yankees, but both will almost certainly see playing time. Torreyes, who cracked the opening day roster as a utility infielder, can play second, third and shortstop, so there are lots of ways he can sneak into the lineup. Judge, on the other hand, needs a bit more seasoning in the minors. But by the time the second half roles around, he figures to be one of the first outfielders on call should any of the team’s regulars go down with injury.

Judge certainly has the higher upside of the two, especially in the long run. Though, I could easily see Judge hitting .222/.243/.389 his first time through the league and wind up with a negative WAR. Joe Borchard — a former top prospect who happened to be one of Judge’s top statistical comps — did just that back in 2002. Meanwhile, Torreyes could hit his ZiPS projection of .268/.302/.351, and wind up with like 0.4 WAR in limited time.

Nick Rumbelow will be a mainstay in the bullpen by the second half

Nick Rumbelow‘s minor league numbers have been filthy. He shot through four levels of the minors in 2014, posting a 2.05 FIP and a 34% strikeout rate. Last year, he followed it up with a 2.72 FIP in Triple-A and 16 serviceable innings out of the Yankee bullpen. Despite his performance, however, Rumbelow isn’t on the prospect radar at all. My FanGraphs colleague Dan Farnsworth left him off of his Yankees prospect list that ran 45 deep, while Baseball America left him off of their top 30.

Rumbelow was a late-spring roster cut this year, but he’ll almost certainly be back soon. The Yankees have made it clear they plan to use the last spot or two in their bullpen as a revolving door, just like they did last year. Rumbelow is one of a small army of pitchers who figure to shuttle between the minors and majors this year. Given his minor league performance and mid-90s fastball, I think he has perhaps the best chance of distinguishing himself from the pack.

Luis Severino will have an ERA under 3.00

Luis Severino‘s first tour of big league duty went about as well as anyone could have anticipated. After breezing through the minor leagues, the Dominican-born rookie pitched to an impressive 2.89 ERA in 11 starts down the stretch. His peripheral stats suggest he wasn’t nearly that good, however, as his FIP, SIERA and DRA were all over 3.80.

Unsurprisingly, the projections anticipate Severino’s ERA will regress back to 3.80 this year. But given his stuff, I think he has the potential to blow past the projections. It’s also worth noting that he drastically outperformed his peripherals in his 11 Triple-A starts as well, so perhaps last year’s ERA-FIP differential isn’t as fluky is at looks. Maybe I’m just being an un-objective fanboy, but I’m all in on Sevvy.

At least one of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances will have ERA over 3

Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are arguably the three best relievers on the planet. Among qualified relievers, they ranked 1st, 3rd and 5th in SIERA over the last two years, and swept the top three in strikeout rate. But relief pitchers are fickle creatures who have a habit of losing their effectiveness with little notice. Looking back at the top relievers from 2014 by SIERA, Brad Boxberger, Sean Doolittle and Greg Holland all ranked in the top eight. Yet, all three of them posted ERAs in the high 3’s last year.

We’re already starting to see some chinks in the armor. Chapman, of course, will miss the start of the season due to his involvement in a domestic dispute. Miller fractured his non-pitching wrist this week. In theory, neither of these incidents should drastically affect their on-field performances. But you never know.

Elite relief pitchers are all sorts of awesome, but at some point, they stop being awesome. One way or another, I fear one of the Yankees ace relievers will stop being awesome this year. Luckily, the Yankees have three awesome relievers, rather than one. So, while it would be unfortunate, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if one of them reverted back to being human.

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Health paramount to Ellsbury’s success in 2016

Two seasons have passed since the Yankees and Jacoby Ellsbury agreed to a colossal $153M contract. Those two years have been a disappointment offensively, and with five more years remaining on Ellsbury’s deal, it’s difficult to find reason for optimism. Jacoby’s body has let him down, with various injuries hindering his performance during his time in pinstripes. This isn’t a surprise, as health has always been an issue for the center fielder dating back to his time in Boston.

Since joining the Yankees, Ellsbury has hit .265/.324/.387 (97 wRC+) with 60 stolen bases in 74 attempts. That isn’t the ideal leadoff hitter that the club had hoped him to be. His hitting became such an eyesore that he was fittingly benched in the American League Wild Card game against southpaw Dallas Keuchel last season. All that said, there have been some positives during Ellsbury’s time in pinstripes.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about this very same topic. As you might remember, Ellsbury was having an excellent 2014 season through August. Why? Probably because he was healthy. He was easily the club’s best player until the final month of the season, with a .288/.348/.435 batting line and 37 steals to boot. Then, after spraining his ankle on August 29th, it was all downhill. Returning after just a few games, he played through most of September until he strained his hamstring in late in the month, knocking him out of the last nine games of the 2014 season. Those impressive numbers he had built? Depleted. A full year triple-slash of .271/.328/.419 doesn’t get anyone excited.

In 2015, it took far less time for Ellsbury to break down. On May 20th, a knee injury forced him to the disabled list. To that point of the season, Jacoby was on fire, hitting .324/.412/.372 (124 wRC+) in 170 plate appearances. He returned in early July, but was far from the same player. He closed out the year on an ugly .224/.269/.332 (61 wRC+) run, and one can only wonder if Jacoby ever felt fully healthy, or at least close to it. Lending some credence to this thought, his stolen base attempts seem to hint at him still not feeling comfortable. In 74 games after returning, he sought to outrun the opposing battery only 11 times. Before the injury, he had 19 tries in just 37 games. I don’t think it’s to reach to say something wasn’t right after returning from the disabled list.

Clearly, Ellsbury’s talent hasn’t dissipated. He was great for the vast majority of 2014, and was even better for the first quarter of 2015. As a 32 year-old, he’s still theoretically in his prime. Yes, it’s the very tail end of his prime, but there’s still some gas left in the tank. Can he stay healthy in 2016, though? Considering what’s occurred in recent seasons, it’s unlikely. Nonetheless, with some good fortune medically, it shouldn’t shock anyone to see Ellsbury rebound this season.

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Updated Luxury Tax Payroll Tracker

Yesterday, the Yankees and Aroldis Chapman avoided arbitration and settled at an $11.325M contract for the 2016 season. The new closer was the last of the club’s non pre-arbitration eligible players without a contract, making today a good time to update the luxury tax payroll tracker included in the navigation bar above.

Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training next week, and it seems unlikely that the Yankees will make any other significant moves, so the payroll should remain steady from now until Opening Day. In addition to updating the Google spreadsheet in the navigation bar, I’ve also embedded it below. Continue reading

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Yankees get discount on Aroldis Chapman and his baggage

Perhaps the Yankees took Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” to heart this offseason. After acquiring Starlin Castro a few weeks ago, the Yankees took the plunge to obtain closer Aroldis Chapman from the Reds yesterday. Castro, as I noted before, has been involved in a couple of off-field incidents. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is currently investigating Chapman for his role in a domestic violence incident at his home in Florida. The details are murky, but the Yankees struck a deal with Cincinnati anyway. Indeed, it appears the Yankees would prefer to laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.

There’s nothing to say about Chapman’s ability that you probably don’t already know. At any rate, I’ll provide a few tidbits. He’s one of the top relievers in baseball, if not the very best. The Cuban lefty possesses the highest velocity fastball in the big leagues, regularly hitting 100 MPH. He has the highest strikeout rate of all-time (42.9%), minimum 300 innings pitched. Finally, his career ERA and FIP are 2.17 and 1.97 respectively. There’s no need to look any further to understand why the Yankees wanted him.

But for as incredible of a pitcher Chapman is, he might be just as bad of a person. After a trade that would have shipped him to the Dodgers fell through, a police report of a domestic violence incident at Chapman’s Florida home trickled out to the media. Tim Brown and Jeff Passan have the summary of the police report on Yahoo. Chapman was not arrested for his involvement, but that doesn’t necessarily save him from scorn. It’s more or less of a he-said-she-said, but there was clearly an argument that incited some sort of physical altercation between Chapman and his ex-girlfriend. We probably won’t ever know if Chapman choked his girlfriend and pushed her against a wall (her claim), or if he “poked” her in the shoulder and she fell to the ground (Chapman’s claim). Nonetheless, either action is in poor judgement. No, there weren’t any signs of injury on Chapman’s ex-girlfriend, but that is by no means a saving grace. That’s not all, though: in an apparent fit of rage, Chapman fired eight bullets in his garage while alone. That’s an alarming way to blow off some steam. Oh, and did I mention that the couple’s child was in the home during the entire confrontation? Yikes. Continue reading

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