“Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake on whether pitchers would be prone to injuries with starting and stopping their throwing this spring: ‘There’s definitely a possibility of it, just like any start and stop throughout the season. Anytime you stop and then idle guys, and then try and ramp them back up, that’s where the concern would be if you do it too quickly. So we’re trying to be as proactive in monitoring their situations as much as possible, so we safely bring them up to speed.'” Marly Rivera, ESPN
I woke up this morning, April 1st, yearning for baseball
There’s a global pandemic and no baseball; no this is not an April Fool’s joke. It’s life as we know it in 2020. When Pink Floyd wrote “Wish You Were Here” they, unlike me, were not thinking of the New York Yankees and 2020 baseball:
So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
Heaven, blue skies, green fields — a ballpark in spring that embraces fans in a pastoral joy unlike any other sport, now filled with nothing but hope for a season gone dark.
Yankee fans know what they’re missing, the inaugural season of Gerrit Cole in pinstripes. Opening Day was a non-starter as Yankee fans looked forward to seeing him in Camden Yards feasting on strikeouts against the Baltimore Orioles.
Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?
Could there be lyrics more suited for the times? Fans are caged in during this pandemic unable to partake of the joys of baseball. Our minds are haunted by Yankee Stadium where the only sound is the sound of the past rustling through the Monument Park.
Our heroes have scattered to the four winds and fans are at a loss for box scores, interviews, news. Even the beat writers have little to say that is new and interesting.
Dressed in jersey number 0, I celebrated Opening Day, alone, watching the last Spring Training game before the shutdown, believe me it was cold comfort.
I woke up this morning, April 1st, yearning for baseball, yearning for the life of the spirit to return to our occupations and our preoccupations and naturally thought of Pink Floyd singing of loss and desire.
“How I wish you were here, how I wish you were here..”
Fans are eager to see LeMahieu in pinstripes for years to come.
When the Yankees signed former Colorado Rockies player DJ LeMahieu as a free agent in 2019, I knew the name well enough to know that they had just acquired the best defensive second baseman in the league, what I couldn’t know was what an effective utility man this veteran, multi-Gold Glove winning second baseman would become.
Yankee fans didn’t know what to make of the announcement that LeMahieu would be a super-utility infielder after the mold of Chicago Cubs infielder Ben Zobrist. While LeMahieu was known as a solid defender, on offense there were doubts about what he would produce after a career spent mostly in the rarified air of Colorado.
What Yankee fans got in 2019 in LeMahieu was “Le Machine,” an offensive weapon whose consistency and productivity earned him a Silver Slugger Award.
Ryan Chichester of pinstripealley.com writes of the sort of offensive numbers LeMahieu put up in New York in his first season with the team:
His exit velocity only went up from 91.1 to 91.7 in 2019, while his strikeout and walk rates experienced similar, minor changes from 2018. Yet his xSLG skyrocketed from .424 to .529, and his BABIP from .298 to .349. The big difference, at least at first glance? LeMahieu became a machine at squaring up the ball. He posted a career-high barrel percentage of 7.5 last season, just two years after finishing with a lowly mark of 1.9. His hard hit percentage also climbed to 47.2, good for the top ten percent in all of baseball, and his best since winning the batting title in 2016. He also increased his launch angle by a full degree, further continuing a trend since the 2017 season, as LeMahieu has continued to get balls further off the ground and increase his hit probability.
LeMahieu ended up putting up a .327 BA with an .893 OPS, 26 home runs, and 102 RBIs on the season. A career year for LeMahieu with numbers that Yankee fans hope he can sustain and even improve on in 2020.
On defense, LeMahieu proved to be a plus defender with above-average fielding percentage numbers at second base (.993 FP) and first base (.992 FP), and he also provided solid defense at third base (.963 FP) as well.
In what will be his age 31 season (he’ll turn 32 in July), if there is a season, LeMahieu shouldn’t see a drastic decline in the numbers because of age. He still has several years of peak playing time ahead of him, barring injury or any other unforeseen circumstance.
With the shutdown of baseball due to the coronavirus, re-signing DJ LeMahieu seems a non-priority. Yankees fans are, however, curious to know whether LeMahieu will be offered a contract as a free agent at season’s end.
Le Machine has already begun to carve a place in Yankees history and fans are eager to see him in pinstripes for years to come. I’ve seen predictions that there will be no season in 2020 and that Yankees fans may have seen the last of DJ LeMahieu due to his impending free agency.
With his offensive consistency and defensive versatility, the Yankees will be sure to bring Le Machine back to lead off at the top of the lineup. Even without playing a game in ’19, LeMahieu’s veteran leadership, now proven in the steaming hot cauldron that is the Bronx, will be just what the Yankees need to capture a World Series.
It was a day of celebration and lament for baseball.
Now my title may be misleading, technically “fun” would be going to a Major League Baseball ballpark on Opening Day and actually watching a game, or, in the alternative, watching from the sofa with a cold one nearby. Real fun would be if that game were in Yankee Stadium and I was parked in a seat behind home plate.
“Fun” as we know it in this world in crisis is barely a consideration; however, the human spirit is indomitable and will not be kept down. March 26th came and with it came thoughts of Opening Day 2020.
Players and fans showed their support for the stay-at-home initiatives ordered to keep the coronavirus from spreading at a breakneck pace.
Gleyber Torres posted on Instagram “We miss New York, we miss baseball..we’ll be back soon #OpeningDayAtHome.”
And on Twitter, there was a campaign, started by Jomboy Media to celebrate Opening Day with the hashtags, #JerseysOn, #CapsOn, #OpeningDayOnline and #OpeningDayatHome.
On Facebook, fans posted selfies in jerseys, t-shirts, caps, with friends and family, at home and at the stadium.
It was a day of celebration and lament for baseball. Fans turned out on social media to rep their teams and to do what they always do late in March or the first days of April and that is celebrate baseball.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus prevented Opening Day, so I celebrated by watching the March 12th Spring Training game between the Yankees and the Nationals, the last game played before the shutdown. I wanted to be as close to live action as I could get. It was, however, unsatisfying and no substitute for what I imagined would have been a stellar Opening Day for Gerrit Cole and the Yankees at Camden Yards.
There weren’t any cheers, chicken buckets, or beers, just me on the sofa on a Thursday afternoon wishing for the return normal, wishing for the return of baseball. The fun, what could be found, was in the interaction with other fans on social media feeling likewise lost and sad but feeling lighter, even uplifted, by sharing these feelings with others and by celebrating together, though far apart, the irreplaceable something that baseball brings to our lives.
Could Stanton carry the team on his shoulders to a World Series?
Alex Rodriguez was especially busy on Monday, March 23rd, hosting a baseball clinic on Instagram and then appearing on Facebook in a Fox at Home segment with Kevin Burkhardt and Frank Thomas talking baseball.
One of the players A-Rod talked about was Giancarlo Stanton, who, as the $325 million dollar player, should perform at an MVP level, with the reality being that he has been hampered by injuries from reaching that goal.
If you look beyond the dollars, beyond fan expectations, what has Stanton done for the Yankees? What has he done for us lately?
Unfortunately, injuries scuttled the 2019 season for Stanton; he suffered a biceps strain and no sooner had he returned from that, but he incurred a right knee sprain that sidelined him for most of the middle of the season. He played in only 18 games.
But in 2018, he played in 158 games, with 38 homers, 100 RBIs, .266/.343/.509 slash line with an .852 OPS and 130 OPS+. While these are certainly respectable numbers, they don’t come close to his 2017 MVP year.
In ’17 while with the Miami Marlins, Stanton had the kind of year a player can only dream of without winning the World Series. His slash line was .281/.376/.631 with a 1.007 OPS and 169 OPS+. He had 132 RBI, and 59 homers. He won not only the MVP, but also the Silver Slugger award.
In 2020 Stanton came to camp apparently healthy – we have all seen the pictures of him bench pressing Adriana Lima – but he strained his right calf during fielding practice and was doubtful for opening day.
Because of his contract and the size of the fans’ expectations, Stanton has been a polarizing. He has ardent supporters, such as Alex Rodriguez, who said yesterday on Fox at Home live on Facebook that “it’s really up to Stanton” to carry the Yankees on his shoulders in the absence of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Luis Severino.
Stanton’s detractors, for the most part, believe the Yankees didn’t need Stanton or his enormous contract, in the first place, and, in the second place, he didn’t come close to his MVP performance with the Yankees. Then came the injuries, which have only further disappointed fans, who are especially vocal on social media.
Yankee manager Aaron Boone, gave an update on Stanton’s health which was reported by Brian Hoch of MLB.com:
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) March 23, 2020
A fully healthy Stanton would certainly improve the lineup, particularly with the stoppage of baseball giving Judge the opportunity to heal by the time baseball returns. The question remains, could Stanton, as A-Rod suggests, carry the Yankees on his shoulders to a World Series?
A healthy Stanton, capable of staying in the game over a season, however shortened, would be welcome to any Yankee fan. Stanton should be a significant contributor to any World Series run the Yankees make, after all that’s what the Yankees were counting on when they acquired him. Could he carry the team? He could be a team leader in many ways, but I don’t believe he could carry the team, but I am willing to be proven wrong.
Yankees baseball is woven into the rhythm of life for me. Even during Spring Training, I record the day games and watch them after work. Of course, during the regular season, watching the Yankees is a daily routine. What can I say, I’m a Yankees baseball freak.
I want to watch 162 games, or as close to that as I can get, from beginning to end without interruption. Am I crazy? Are most baseball fans?
Yankees fans are a special sort of crazy because they have more media, more coverage of their favorite players than many other teams in the league. However, all that has stopped in the wake of the coronavirus.
I was cheered by the news from George King III, of NYPost.com that these players were still in Tampa working out at the Yankees facility: DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Tyler Wade, Clint Frazier and Mike Ford. For a fleeting moment it seemed like news.
More positive news from Aaron Judge who told reporters that his collapsed lung had healed, which was stunning news because no one had suspected that besides a fractured rib, he had a collapsed lung.
Yankee fans just need to be patient until the coronavirus runs its course and baseball returns. My prediction for the return of baseball is July 15th. Ironic, baseball starts when the All Star Game would have provided a break.
Expect to see Canaan Smith moving up the prospects’ lists in 2021.
In the vacuum left by with withdrawal of baseball (and all other US sports), I looked to Fangraphs to give me an direction today for an interesting topic. Prospects always intrigue me and Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen digs deep into the prospect pool to include Canaan Smith in his article “Picks to Click: Who I Expect to Make the 2021 Top 100.”
Smith, a Dallas, Texas native, was drafted out of high school in the 2017 June Amateur Draft in the 4th round; he was drafted 122 overall. He’s a left-fielder with speed in the field and on the bases despite his 6’0 215 lbs frame. Longenhagen compares him to Kirby Puckett in body type, saying:
He’s a tank, the absolute unit, a lefty- hitting thumper with the most fully actualized combination of game power and approach on this entire list.
In full season ball at Charleston in ’19, he raked. In 124 games, he hit .307 with an .815 OPS, 11 home runs and 74 RBIs.
Expect Smith to begin the season at Charleston and to get the promotion to AA Trenton if he continues to profile the “big raw power” that has impressed scouts so far. Expect to see Smith also moving up the prospects’ lists in 2021.
Great to see baseball again…
On Saturday evening, over in the Cactus League, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer and friends, like Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger played sandlot baseball into the Arizona night and fans were invited to watch and listen as each player was mic’d up.
San Diego Padres outfielder Tommy Pham was captain of one team, and Bauer captain of the other. They were joined by other major league players from teams such as the Cubs, Diamondbacks, and Indians. Some of the notable players were: Indians CF Oscar Mercado, Indians LHP Logan Allen, Diamondbacks LF Josh Rojas, and others who didn’t introduce themselves.
The experience was fun as they played “over the line” – there was no running to speak of, except to chase down a ball in the outfield. Check out the game to see this exciting variation of baseball.
Bauer is also raising funds to pay game-day personnel affected by the shut down and is trying to raise $1,000,000 for the cause. He tweeted:
We’ve started a GoFundMe to help support stadium workers displaced by our season postponement. Please join us and consider donating: https://t.co/DyEKdvwtpW
— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) March 14, 2020
Great to see baseball again, even this truncated version, but even better seeing players out supporting the cause to pay stadium workers, who will be affected by the postponement.
How will the Yankees manage Ottavino in 2020?
Jomboy and Jake agree with others who say that Ottavino came to be overused last season by the Yankees, and also, according to the Talkin’ Yanks guys, he became the righty specialist and seemed to perhaps even lose to confidence against lefties.
The significant point about Ottavino is that over the whole season, he was effective. Devin Fink of Fangraphs says:
Ottavino had a solid first year in New York. His 1.90 ERA was a career-best, as was his 2.5 RA9-WAR.
Ottavino’s 1.2 WAR ranked 22nd among all relievers and second on the team.
However, he’s the victim of the the what have you done for me lately mind-set because he was not effective during the postseason and that’s what’s left an impression in most Yankees’ fans minds. Again, Fink notes:
Ottavino became the first pitcher ever with four appearances without recording an out in a single postseason.
The question of the day is then, how will the Yankees manage Ottavino in 2020?
Voit is being called upon again to step up and perform at a high level
Luke Voit was the victim of injury during the 2019 season, though it didn’t, for the most part, keep him out of the lineup. He spent time off and on the disabled list throughout July and didn’t return to the team until August 30th.
There’s definitely an argument to be made that pre and post injury Voit were not the same hitter.
The injury, which began around the London series as an abdominal strain and was eventually diagnosed as a sports hernia, continued throughout the season, eventually requiring surgery, which he described to the Athletic’s Lindsay Adler (subscription only). Voit told Adler that after the season ended, a doctor told him “Dude, you tore everything down there,” and he realized that was because he had tried to play through the injury which only worsened it.
Probably enough has been said about the Yankees medical staff and the way injuries are handled by the team, but I can’t help but wonder whether Voit was playing against the advice of the medical staff or whether the medical staff were unaware that he was making the injury worse.
Either way, Luke Voit after the injury had lost the explosiveness and power at the plate, but with patience at the plate, laying off bad pitches, taking his walks, he still hit the ball hard and in the air, but did not have the success he had in the first half of the season.
Prior the the injury, Joshua Diemert of pinstripe alley.com describes Voit’s season:
Before going down, Voit was having a better season than Gleyber Torres or DJ LeMahieu, boasting a 140 wRC+ in the first half. His plate discipline actually improved over his monster 2018 run, which is always very encouraging to see in a player’s first full season.
He was hitting .280 with .393 OBP, and a .409 slugging percentage with a 140 wRC+ (7th in MLB, 3rd in AL) and fWAR of 1.8 (10th in MLB, 4th in AL).
Voit was having the kind of season Yankees fans are being treated to in Spring Training this year. In 9 games, Voit has hit .296/.345/.444 with one home run and two RBIs. He’s on pace to pick up where he left off last April when he was an offensive juggernaut as Bobby from viewsfrom314ft.com notes:
This includes a torrid April .275/.392/.523 (144 wRC+), during which time he buoyed an injury-plagued Yankees lineup. (Sound familiar?)
Voit is being called upon again to step up and perform at a high level in the absence of injured players, such as Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, which is exactly what he’s been capable of doing when healthy.
Just a note on the lighter side, look out for Richard Torrey’s new children’s book based on Voit called Luke’s Baseball Story. Voit plans to read the book to children at schools around the Bronx.