Analysis

Dr. Tanaka or: How I learned not to overreact to bad opening day starts

It’s taken me a couple days but I finally feel like I’ve had enough time to mentally process the Yankees’s season opener against the Rays. At times, the team looked like they had never seen a baseball field before Sunday. At other times, they looked fine. Overall, there were a lot of mistakes and a lot of missed opportunities both on the field and at the plate. I mean, our lord and savior Gary Sanchez went 0-5 with a strikeout. What’s all that about?

Well, good players have bad games. When most of your team’s good players have bad games, the team has bad games. That’s basically what happened on Sunday. I don’t think anyone had an arguably worse game on Sunday than Masahiro Tanaka, though. The guy never even made it out of the third innings, allowing 7 ER in 2.2 IP. More Rays hitters reached base (10) than Tanaka recorded outs (8) before he got pulled. Yikes. Not a good start to the season, especially for someone who looked so dominant in spring training. And I’m not just talking about Tanaka’s spring numbers, because obviously those don’t count for anything. I’m talking about how in-command Tanaka looked on the mound in his spring starts. His control was as good as it’s ever been and he was just working through lineups like clockwork. So what happened?

I reiterate: good players have bad games. That’s all you need to know about Tanaka’s opening day start. It’s so easy to overreact to a game like this though. It’s been months since we’ve seen baseball that actually counted. We’ve been starved for games to watch obsessively and stats to overanalyze. We see a game like Sunday’s and maybe we start thinking, “I waited so long for this?! Blow it all up! Trade half the team and go into full rebuild!” …… Alright maybe not to that extreme, but it’s hard to stomach to say the least.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about it though, I got to wondering, what other pitchers have had similar opening day performances to Tanaka’s, and how did they fare the rest of the season? So, I did a quick search using Baseball Reference’s Play Index for starting pitcher’s who have completed 3 or fewer innings and given up 7 or more earned runs in their team’s first game of the season. The list was fairly short, but still somewhat intriguing. Going back to 2002, 8 pitchers have had similar opening day starts:

  1. Masahiro Tanaka (2017)
  2. Roberto Hernandez (2011)
  3. Carlos Zambrano (2010)
  4. Mark Buehrle (2008)
  5. Jose Contreras (2007)
  6. Barry Zito (2006)
  7. Javier Vazquez (2005)
  8. Pedro Martinez (2002)

Even a casual fan of the game will no doubt recognize more than a couple names on that list. The one that stands out the most is Pedro Martinez. Back on opening day for the Red Sox in 2002, Pedro allowed 8 runs (7 earned) in 3 IP, giving up 9 hits and 2 walks. By year’s end, Pedro was sporting a 2.26 ERA (2.24 FIP) with a 0.923 WHIP and a 10.8 K/9. All season he allowed 50 total earned runs, nearly 20% of them coming from his opening day start.

I reiterate: good players have bad games. Now obviously Tanaka is not Pedro Martinez, but he’s certainly not any of the other guys on this list either. Some of them went on to have good seasons. Some of them went on to have not so good seasons. The important thing to note is that there is absolutely no correlation between poor opening day performance and a good or bad season. Literally zero.

There is, however, correlation between past success and future success for starting pitchers with large sample sizes, and that’s exactly the case for Tanaka. In 3 seasons for the Yankees, he has maintained a 3.23 ERA (3.58 FIP), 1.06 WHIP, 8.2 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9. Those are very very very good numbers for a starting pitcher in today’s game, especially one who has had to pitch in an offense-heavy division like the AL East. It’s not as though Tanaka has changed his mechanics or lost velocity on his fastball. It was just a flukey start. Nothing more. All other signs point to Tanaka having yet another great season this year.

So, stop worrying. Baseball is back. I’m more excited to see how this season plays out for the Yankees than I have been for a long time, and one bad game isn’t going to change that. Two bad games, though? I don’t know…..we’ll see.

Analysis

Chase Headley vs. The Shift

Defensive shifts have totally changed the way baseball has been played in the field over the past several seasons. It seems that every year as more data is made accessible to teams more and more players are getting shifted on. It’s gotten to the point where shifts might actually be one of the biggest factors in the uptick of offensive output by second basemen we saw in 2016.

Last season there were 34,081 instances where a batter faced a shift. This is up roughly 10,000 from 2015, and 20,000 from 2014. If you go all the way back to 2010, the earliest season for which we have recorded shift data, the total number of instances of a batter facing a shift shrinks down to 3,323. That means that teams are currently shifting 10 times more often than they were 7 years ago.

How has this affected hitters’ performance? Well, in 2010 batters averaged .293 when teams did not use a defensive shift, and .306 when they were being shifted against. This seems counterintuitive, considering the whole reason for a defensive shift is to keep batters from getting hits. A few managers seemed to recognize this, and in 2011 we saw slightly fewer shifts compared to the previous year. However, what we also saw in 2011 was a dramatic drop in batting averages against the shift, with hitters only batting .289 against shifts, this time 2 points lower than when they weren’t hitting against the shift. A lot of teams took notice, and in 2012 we saw shifts nearly double in frequency from 2011, and that number has been increasing ever since, in spite of some fairly inconsistent outcomes.

vs. Shift     vs. No Shift     Difference

2010          .306               .293              + .013

2011          .289               .291               – .002

2012          .301               .293              + .008

2013          .291               .294               – .003

2014          .297               .295               + .002

2015          .287               .298               – .011

2016          .297               .298               – .001

As you can see, more often than not the shift succeeds in getting batters out, but not by much, and not with much consistency from season to season. Still, defenses use the shift because it “usually” helps.

These, of course, are league averages. For some hitters, the shift is much more frustrating than for other hitters. One such hitter for which the shift has evidently become quite frustrating is none other than much beloved Yankees third baseman, Chase Headley.

In 2015, when Headley saw a huge increase in defensive shifts against him from the previous season, he noticeably struggled.

vs. Shift     vs. No Shift     Difference

2015          .284               .350              – .066

Then in 2016, Headley adjusted, and the numbers looked very different.

vs. Shift     vs. No Shift     Difference

2016          .311               .304               + .007

Now it seems Headley is looking to continue his relative success against the shift into 2017. In the Yankees’s season opener on Sunday, in his very first at bat of the season, he turned a pitch inside-out for a single down the third base line, where no one was standing. Then in the 7th, with a runner on 1st, Headley beat the shift again with a well-placed bunt single down a yet again vacant third base line. He finished the day 3-4, batting 1.000 against the shift.

So it would seem Headley is determined to continue his crusade against the defensive shift, and he’s willing to take advantage of it in any way he can, with the hope that teams will eventually start fielding a normal defensive alignment against him, allowing him to get more line drive hits through the infield gaps. The last season in which Headley saw virtually no defensive shifts, 2012, he slashed .286, .376, .498 for the Padres and was a 7.5 fWAR player. There’s no guarantee that he will ever reach that level of production again, in fact I would never bet on it considering how flukey his power numbers were that year, but hey, if a defense first 3B like Headley can continue to finagle his way onto the bases, he has the potential to be an above average player and not a huge headache for Yankee fans.

Analysis · Spring Training

The Rotation Competition

Seeing as how we’re exactly halfway through spring training at this point (17 games down, 17 more to go), I figured it would be a good idea to check in on how the five pitchers competing for the fourth and fifth rotation spots are doing. The candidates are (still) as follows, and in no particular order:

  1. Bryan Mitchell
  2. Chad Green
  3. Adam Warren
  4. Luis Severino
  5. Luis Cessa

Two of these guys will end up in the rotation, a couple more in the bullpen, and at least one will inevitably get sent down to Scranton before the season starts. Let’s take a quick look at how they’ve each done so far. Bear in mind, though, that Girardi and management are looking more at stuff than results, at least for now, so we may not be seeing everything that they’re seeing. Nonetheless, here we go.

Bryan Mitchell

3 GS, 11.1 IP, 5 ER, 9 H, 2 BB, 7 K, 3.97 ERA, 0.97 WHIP

Game Log:

vs. PHI – 2 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 1 K
vs. ATL – 3 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 2 K
vs. PIT – 2.1 IP, 6 H, 0 BB, 4 ER, 1 HR, 2 K
vs. DET – 4 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 2 K

Just looking at the stat/game lines quickly, it’s pretty clear that the Pittsburgh game created a damaging outlier for Mitchell. And really it was just the second inning of that game, where he gave up 3 of those 4 runs. If you get rid of that inning (because one inning isn’t going to decide someone’s spring training fate one way or the other), then Mitchell has allowed only 2 ER in 10.1 IP this spring. Pretty damn good.

It’s worth noting that at this time last year, before his injury, Mitchell was competing for a bullpen spot on the Yankees 25 man roster, and it looked like he was going to get it. Unfortunately things didn’t work out that way. However, he did eventually get the call up later in the season, making 5 starts for the club and pitching to a 3.24 ERA, although that certainly doesn’t tell the whole story. In 25 IP, Mitchell’s K totals were low (11) and his BB totals were high (12). Not that he’s ever really been a strikeout pitcher, but you never want to see someone’s walk total higher than their strikeouts. The good news is that based on what he’s done this spring, Mitchell seems to be on top of his game once again.

Chad Green

2 GS, 5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 3 K, 1.59 ERA, 1.94 WHIP

Game Log:

vs. BAL – 2 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 0 K
vs. DET – 1.2 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 1 K
vs. PHI – 2 IP, 2 H, 3 BB, 0 R, 2 K

A quick look tells us that Green’s outcomes have been good, but ultimately very lucky with that WHIP approaching 2.00. Nearly averaging a walk per inning, Green hasn’t been able to go very deep into his appearances, reaching his pitch limits rather quickly. You’d think someone competing for a starting rotation job would have thrown more than 2 innings in a game by this point in the spring, but Green’s inability to work innings quickly and efficiently has hindered him so far.

One thing he does have going for him though is a major league track record, even if it’s not a spectacular one. Green started 8 games for the Yankees last season after excelling in AAA ball (1.52 ERA/2.17 FIP in 94.2 IP) during the first half of the year. In the majors Green struggled a good deal though, sporting a 4.73 ERA (5.34 FIP) in 45.2 IP. However, his K/9 was strong at 10.25. He proved to the team that he was capable of throwing at least 5 innings in a game on a regular basis, which has become something of a (low) baseline for today’s major league starters. If he can rein in his command, then Green could make a strong case for himself, however if he continues to walk guys and be wild, I don’t the Yankees will be super eager to bring on a high-4’s ERA starter for the rotation.

Adam Warren

2 GS, 8 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 3.38 ERA, 0.88 WHIP

Game Logs:

vs. PHI – 2 IP, 0 H, o BB, 0 R, 2 K
vs. BAL – 3 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 1 HR, 3 K
vs. TB – 3 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 2 ER, 2 HR, 0 K

The home run ball has been Warren’s kryptonite this spring. If you could take away three swings of the bat, he’d have a 0.00 ERA. Unfortunately, you can’t do that. Fortunately, these last couple games seem pretty flukey for Warren, who has a career 0.94 HR/9. It’s spring training, weird things happen. Otherwise, he’s looked very much like himself so far, using his 5-pitch arsenal to generate outs in the field.

Warren has by far the most major league experience out of all the candidates. A lot of that experience, however, comes from the pen as a long relief guy. In the 205 MLB games he’s played in, he’s only started 21. Most of those starts came during the 2015 season with the Yankees when the time was in some pretty dire straits with rotation injuries. During that 2015 stretch, Warren pitched to a 3.66 ERA (3.92 FIP), striking out 67 and walking 30 in 96 IP, while averaging about 6 IP per start. A mid-3’s ERA and 6 IP per start is pretty damn good for a fourth or fifth starter. That was more than a full season ago, but at least we know that Warren has the potential for those types of numbers as a regular rotation guy already.

Luis Severino

2 GS, 4.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 4.15 ERA, 1.38 WHIP

Game Logs:

vs. TOR – 2 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 1 K
vs. TOR – 2.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 HR, 4 K

Luis Severino had a very clear mission heading into the spring, and it’s very unclear as to whether or not he’s actually accomplished what he’s needed to. Sev was more or less given a rotation spot heading into 2016, but his significant struggles early on (8.50 ERA in 71 IP) lead to a AAA demotion a couple months into the season. This was due largely in part to the weakness/lack of his changeup, which made it easier for hitters to just lay off his slider and sit on the fastball. Fastball/slider is an effective arsenal for a relief pitcher, as Severino showed at the end of last season, pitching to a 0.39 ERA from the bullpen, but not for a starting pitcher.

Severino has definitely been working the changeup more into games so far this spring, but to mixed results. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not. The important thing is he’s throwing it more frequently and letting hitters know that he actually has one, and it’s something they need to watch out for. That’s how he was able to pick up 4 K’s in just over 2 innings in his second start against the Blue Jays.

He’s scheduled to face off against the Rays tonight after not appearing in game action for a couple weeks due to his participation in the WBC, so we’ll see how he does in his return.

Luis Cessa

1 GS, 6 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 2 ER, 5 K, 3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP

Game Logs:

vs. PHI – 2 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 2 K
vs. BOS – 2 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 2 ER, 1 K
vs. PIT – 2 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 0 ER, 2 K

Cessa has looked a lot like a back of the rotation starter so far this spring, which is good and bad. He’s not exactly impressing, but as a pitcher who has already shown he can make starts at the major league level, he’s not doing anything as of now to suggest that he can’t continue to do that.

Last season along with Green, Cessa made a good number of starts toward the end of the year to fill in for some holes in the rotation created by injuries. He made 9 starts and pitched to a 4.01 ERA (4.21 FIP) in those games. He wasn’t an overpowering pitcher by any means, but his astronomically low 1.39 BB/9 (3.9 BB%) is indicative of the excellent command he’s shown. He makes a living as a started by making guys swing at the ball and put it in play. Sometimes that works to his advantage, sometimes it doesn’t, which is basically what you’d expect from a bottom of the rotation guy.

Cessa has continued to show that level of command this spring, walking just 1 in his 6 IP so far. Also, according to MLB.com’s spring training game logs, which I suspect are somehow inaccurate due to what I’m about to tell you, Cessa has thrown 39 pitches so far this spring, 34 of them for strikes. That’s 87% strikes, which might sound amazing but it honestly isn’t very good at all. You want your pitchers to throw strikes, but if hitters know the ball is going to end up in the zone 90% of the time, they’re going to swing and they’re going to get hits.

*     *     *

So that’s the general rundown so far. It’s still only halfway through the spring, so not too much is clear on how this competition will play out. As of now, my gut is telling me Mitchell and Cessa get the spots, with Warren and Green ending up in the bullpen and Sev heading down to AAA to start the season. There’s still a lot of baseball to be played though, so we’ll see. I’m sure my prediction will be nowhere close to the reality.

Analysis · Free Agents

Mr. Carter’s Impact

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(Megan Elice Meadows)

The Yankees’ recent free agent acquisition of Chris Carter creates somewhat of a logjam at what most would not consider a position(s) of need for the club right now. Carter plays mainly firs base and DH. He’s seen some time in the outfield, but hasn’t played there since his 2014 season with the Astros, and he was a mild disaster when he did. So it’s really first or DH for him. Let’s look at who the Yankees currently have slotted in at those positions.

1B: Greg Bird, Tyler Austin, Rob Refsnyder

DH: Matt Holliday, Tyler Austin, Revolving door of third/fourth/fifth outfielders

It doesn’t look like there’s a lot of room for Carter, does it?

Well, the truth is he’s not really the type of guy you want on the field, unless it’s in the batter’s box. In 3402.2 innings at first, Carter has a cumulative UZR of -15.5 runs, and has not had a positive UZR in any single one of his six seasons at the position. The dude’s got poor range and makes his fare share of errors.

So let’s assume that regular time at 1B is out of the equation. That just leaves us with DH. Holliday, who the Yankees signed earlier in the offseason on a 1 yr, $13 million deal, is the presumed starting DH. He’s been a career NL outfielder who’s at an age where guys like him typically start to look more toward hitting than fielding on a regular basis. Last season he was down to 85 games in left, as compared to 150 games in 2014. Still, that’s half a season, which means Holliday can be a viable corner outfield option if needed to give guys like Gardner or Judge a day off. If Holliday isn’t DHing, then I’d have to assume Carter gets the edge over Austin, at least for the time being.

That, plus off days for Holliday, are really the only times I see Carter getting regular at bats. Right now he’s looking like more of a backup platoon option with Bird should Austin go down with some sort of injury, or start seriously underperforming.

The thing is, I’m sure Carter, who played in 160 games last season, is going to want more playing time than that. Maybe the Yankees have something else in mind for him. Either way though, a deal’s a deal, and Carter surely knew the situation he would be heading into in New York when he signed it. For the Yankees, it’s certainly not bad to have a high power bat in the reserves to stick into the lineup whenever they need a big hit. Carter gives the team options, which is something you definitely want to have, especially when they come cheap.

 

Analysis

WWJD: What Was Judge Doing?

aaron_judge_on_september_8_2016
(Original: Arturo Pardavila)

If you’ve been following the Yankees at all for the past several years, you’re likely quite familiar with the name Aaron Judge. At 6ft 7in and 275 lbs (not a typo) he’s kind of a hard guy to miss. He profiles more as an NFL tight end than he does as an MLB outfielder. Regardless, when the Yankees snagged Judge back in the 2013 amateur draft, you could tell they were getting something special. He’s made Keith Law, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com’s top 100 prospect lists in both 2015 and 2016, and this year Law ranked him #44 while MLB.com had him at #45.

Per MLB.com: “Judge generates massive raw power from the right side of the plate thanks to his impressive leverage and strength … While he could deliver 25 or more homers per season, he won’t hit for average unless he closes some holes in his swing and approach.”

That’s the Judge we saw last year during his late season call-up. The one in that second sentence. He made his (historic) debut on August 13 batting alongside fellow rookie Tyler Austin in a game in which the two players hit back to back home runs in their first big league at bats. That’s the only times that has ever happened in baseball history. Pretty cool, and it gave us a lot of reason to be optimistic about Judge.

But then the rest of August and September happened. In 27 games, Judge slashed .179/.263/.345 with a 9.5 BB% and a staggering 44.2 K%. He was striking out almost half the time. Now, strike outs are something that Judge has had to and will have to deal with his whole career. There’s just way to much space in that strike zone for pitchers to attack him. But 44.2% is insane. In his time in the minors, he typically ran a strikeout rate in the mid-20’s, topping out around 28%. I’ll add the disclaimer here that strikeouts aren’t necessarily BAD. Yes, obviously they’re bad, but they aren’t BAD. They produce outs, but those outs aren’t always as costly as outs that are created by a ball that is put in play. Take double plays for example. Even a guy like Mike Trout has a career K% in the low 20’s. What matters more is what the player is doing when he’s not striking out.

So what was Judge doing when he wasn’t striking out? Well you already know the answer because I just gave it to you. Not much. That’s primarily due to two factors: 1. His strikeout rate wasn’t just high, it was, I reiterate, insanely high, and 2. When he was making contact, he wasn’t generating hits. So what exactly is contributing to these two factors?

A lot of the strikeouts are coming from the fact that Judge is swinging (and missing) at way too many pitches up in the zone. It’s natural for power hitters to be looking for high pitches as those are pitches they can get more leverage on, but Judge was taking hacks at far too many of these pitches in his first 30 games. In that span, he saw 30 pitches that were over the plate but above the strike zone. On those 30 pitches, he swung at 21 (70%) of them. That’s way too high. More than double league average. It would be alright if he was doing something with those pitches though, right? Well he wasn’t. Of those 21 pitches that he swung at, he missed 9 (43%) of them, and 7 of those were on two strike counts. I know that seems like a small number, but we’re working with a small sample size, so those 7 K’s accounted for 17% of Judge’s strikeouts last season. And they were all on pitches that he shouldn’t have even been swinging at.

The other spot that seemed to hurt Judge quite a bit was pitches over the plate but below the zone. Of the 22 pitches he saw in this area with two strikes, he swung at 10 of them, missing all 10 of those pitches. That’s 10 more strikeouts on pitches outside the zone, bring the running total of his percentage of strikeouts on non-strikes to 40%. Factoring in all of the other otherwise balls that Judge swung and missed at on two strikes, the percentage jumps up to 53%. Ouch. In other words, with more plate discipline, Judge could have cut his strikeout rate in half, which would place him back in the mid-20% range that we’re used to seeing from him. Okay, maybe eliminating all those strike outs is a lot to ask for. Of course, a good amount of those pitches started out as strikes and just dropped out of the zone. But those high pitches, which were never strikes to begin with, are the ones that Judge needs to stay away from. If he does that, the K% will come down.

But strikeouts weren’t the whole story. In fact, when Judge was putting the ball into play, the fact is he still wasn’t producing as much as he could have been. His BABIP last season was .282, which is a little below average for most players (most hitters sit around .300), but for a guy who hits the ball as hard as Judge can, it’s fairly below average. Let’s take a look at average exit velocities for hitters last season:

  1. Aaron Judge 96.8 MPH
  2. Nelson Cruz 96.2 MPH
  3. Giancarlo Stanton 95.9 MPH
  4. Matt Holliday 95.3 MPH
  5. Mark Trumbo 95 MPH
  6. Miguel Cabrera 95 MPH
  7. Keon Broxton 94.9 MPH
  8. Pedro Alverez 94.8 MPH
  9. Gary Sanchez 94.6
  10. David Ortiz 94.5

These are the guys who were hitting the ball the hardest. Now let’s take a look at their career BABIP’s:

  1. Aaron Judge .282
  2. Nelson Cruz .308
  3. Giancarlo Stanton .322
  4. Matt Holliday .333
  5. Mark Trumbo .288
  6. Miguel Cabrera .347
  7. Keon Broxton .369
  8. Pedro Alverez .291
  9. Gary Sanchez .315
  10. David Ortiz .300

We’ll pull out Broxton and Sanchez because they each have less than a season under their belts at this point. Then to round it out, we’ll add in Tyler Flowers (94.4 MPH and .322 BABIP) and Ryan Zimmerman (94.1 MPH and .309 BABIP), as they’re the next two players on this exit velocity list with at least three season’s worth of games plated, which lends more credibility to their career BABIPs. That leaves us with every player on the list having a higher BABIP than Judge, and 7 of the 9 players with BABIPS that are at least 26 points higher. These types of hitters who hit the ball hard are the types of hitters that Judge projects to be most similar to, and yet in his first 30 or so MLB games, he wasn’t hitting very much like them at all, even if he was actually hitting the ball harder than they were.

It’s difficult to say exactly why this was the case. Sometimes you just have to chalk these things up to bad luck, although with only about a month of games played we can’t really know what Judge’s BABIP ought to look like. We can just speculate based on players who’s profiles he shares. Interestingly enough, he did have a fairly low GB% at 34.9 and that, coupled with a pretty above average FB% at 51.2, would support the idea that he’s swinging at far too many pitches up in the zone and popping out as a result.

But take all of this with a huge grain of salt, as they’re more a commentary on what Judge was doing during his call-up last season as opposed to what he’ll do this season. Not only is this an extremely small sample size we’re working with here, but all of the major issues I brought up are fairly fixable. Judge can’t change the size of his massive strike zone, but he can work on his plate discipline, and as long as he keeps hitting the ball hard, the hits will come. One of the reasons he’s made it to the bigs is because of his ability to make adjustments at every level, so we’ll just have to wait and see how he does that this season.

 

Analysis · Prospects

Keith Law’s Wild Rankings

Not to inundate you with more prospect posts, but it just happens to be that time of year when everything else has slowed down and the rankings start rolling in. Anyway, today Keith Law unveiled the final installment of his 2017 prospect rankings, numbers 20 through 1. If you’re an ESPN insider you can find the full rankings here. If you’re not an ESPN insider, then the content is behind a paywall, so you can’t. Maybe ask a friend who is.

Law had six Yankees on his top 100 list, with four in the top 30. Here they are:

4. SS Gleyber Torres
22. OF Blake Rutherford
27. OF Clint Frazier
28. RHP James Kaprielian
44. OF Aaron Judge
88. LHP Justus Sheffield

You’ll notice that Jorge Mateo has fallen off of the list since last season, which has a lot (a.k.a. everything) to do with his performance last season.  As I’ve noted before though, the raw talent is still there for Mateo, so we’ll see if he can put a few things together and maybe jump back into the top 100 next season, or even mid-season.

A few quick thoughts on the list. Based on everything we know about Gleyber Torres, that #4 spot seems to be much deserved, especially after the way he raked in the AFL this past fall. The three players ahead of him were #1. Red Sox OF Andrew Benintendi, #2. Braves SS Dansby Swanson, and #3. Mets SS Amed Rosario. Remember, MLB.com has Torres ranked higher than both of those shortstops, so there’s no clear consensus that any of them are better than the other.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Blake Rutherford? 22?!”, and if you are then you’re not alone. Law appears to be VERY high on Rutherford, who at this time last year was still in high school. That fact alone seems to defy all logic. Imagine going from being a high schooler to the 22nd best prospect in all of baseball in under a year. I can barely wrap my head around it. But Rutherford did a lot between then and now for Law to be able to justify that ranking. After getting drafted in June, the kid mashed in Rookie ball, slashing .382/.440/.618. Even before that, he was considered to be in the top 10 draftees by several lists, including Law’s, prior to the draft. The main reason he slipped to the Yankees at pick #18 was because of his age (19 as a high schooler is pretty old) and because he wanted top 10 draft pick money, which a lot of teams apparently weren’t willing to give him. The Yankees saw their chance and took it though, and so far it seems to be panning out pretty well, even though it will be years before we see B. Ruth(erford) get MLB playing time, if he does at all.

The next thing you’re probably thinking is, “James Kaprielian? 28?!”, and if you are then once again you’re not alone. Kap ranked #87 on Law’s list last year, and since then he’s played in all of 10 games due to a flexor tendon injury back in April. Before the injury though he was dominating at High A ball, but the important thing is that when he made his return via a stint in the AFL, Kap was right back to where he left off in terms of his stuff, hitting 97 mph on the radar. His fall league numbers weren’t great, but it was good to see him back at it and feeling good after missing nearly the whole season. That’s a great sign that even this early in his career he can bounce back from an injury like that. Law’s ranking is an optimistic one, but he sees Kap as having a very high ceiling. Top of the rotation type stuff. Obviously I’m pulling for all of the Yankees prospects, but as a fellow Armenian American I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pulling for Kaprielian just a little bit more than the rest of the guys. If you’re looking for even more of a reason to root for him as well, check out this video that delves into his backstory growing up as a kid with a mother battling cancer. Really good, motivating stuff.

In all seriousness though, Law puts a ton of work into his rankings, and his opinions and value judgments on these guys is obviously worth way more than mine. He takes a lot of factors into account and he has access to way more information about baseball and players than most of us could ever dream of. It’s exciting that he’s so high on a lot of these young Yankees.

Analysis · Prospects · Uncategorized

Frazier MLB Pipeline’s #9 OF

In it’s final list of positional rankings for prospects heading into 2017, MLB named Clint Frazier the ninth best outfield prospect in baseball. Bear in mind, this is the ranking for ALL outfielders (LF, CF, and RF), so a ninth spot ranking on this list holds more weight than it would for other positions. You could almost look at it as being in the top 3 at a given outfield position (Frazier used to play primarily in center bus has since switched to the corner outfield spots). Anyway, that’s all just semantics. The point is Frazier is good, and on top of that he’s really close to seeing some MLB playing time. Here’s how he graded out:

Hit: 50 | Power: 60 | Run: 55 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 55

Frazier is highly touted as a 5 tool player, and these numbers back that up. He’s considered average to above average in every single part of his game. At first glance these grades might not jump out as much as someone like Jorge Mateo with his 80 run grade, but players like this are rare. Frazier can do it all.

Frazier was drafted 5th overall in the 2013 draft by the Indians and then subsequently traded this past July to the Yankees in the package of prospects they received for Andrew Miller (which also included LHP Justus Sheffield). He spent the majority of last season in AA ball, where he slashed .276/.356/.469 with a wOBA of .371 (very good), and then finished the season with a short stint in AAA for both the Indians and the Yankees.

Throughout his minor league career, Frazier has been known to generate high strikeout rates and low walk rates, but his raw power and lightning bat speed are what make him an exceptional hitter. You can teach plate discipline, but you can’t teach those things. As the MLB scouting report notes, “He’s still just 22 and has time to make further adjustments that could help him hit for a solid average with 30 homers per season.”

We will undoubtedly get a closer look at Frazier in pinstripes this spring as a spring training invitee, so that’s something to watch for in March. The Yankees are fairly deep at OF as of right now, but Frazier is the type of player you move guys around for, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a late season call up this year for him to get some big league at bats.

Now with all of the rankings revealed, the Yankees finished with five players total in all of the positional top ten charts. To recap, these players were: LHP Justus Sheffield (#8), 3B Miguel Andujar (#7), SS Gleyber Torres (#1) and SS Jorge Mateo (#8), and now OF Clint Frazier (#9).

At the end of the day they’re just prospects, but this is really great for the Yankees. The only team to have more top 10 prospects than the Yankees was the Braves (7), with the White Sox and the Phillies both also rounding out with five players a piece. These are all top farm systems, and it’s (unusually) great for the Bombers to be ranked among them for once. They’ve got the star power and they’ve got the depth. Let’s see how it all plays out.