Catch up with Aaron Judge and others in an MLB Roundtable.
MLB could help initiate a return to normalcy
When I woke up on Tuesday, the news had hit that Jeff Passan reported:
Major League Baseball and its players are increasingly focused on a plan that could allow them to start the season as early as May and has the support of high-ranking federal public health officials who believe the league can safely operate amid the coronavirus pandemic, sources told ESPN.
I was ecstatic that plans were being made to restart the cultural machine that is Major League Baseball – it was a sign of hope in a world where business and personal lives have been stalled by the coronavirus.
It was time to begin thinking of a way out of the bind and get not only baseball, but the entire country moving again in the wake of the crisis.
Unfortunately, by mid-day on Tuesday, Commissioner Rob Manfred countered the story with the following statement:
“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so,” the commissioner’s office said in a statement Tuesday. “While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan.”
I realized that no “plan” existed for Passan’s proposal, and as social media aptly pointed out the stark realities which would render any plan at this time unfeasible – the biggest drawback being that players, coaches, accompanying media and employees, would have to be sequestered in Arizona away from their families – but other factors, such as the heat in Arizona and the lack of a minor league system to replenish teams in case of injury or illness also figured into the criticism.
Today is Wednesday, April 8th, when I awoke this morning there was no such news of hope that the MLB season could be started. But that does not mean that I believe the season is a lost cause in 2020. Quite the contrary, I believe there will be baseball.
I don’t have an elaborate plan to offer. I don’t have solutions for the many headaches a shortened season will cause around the league, but I believe a July start makes the most sense.
By late May, if not before, the federal and state governments should have an understanding of where the population stands with regard to fighting and shutting down the spread of the coronavirus.
And since this is a New York Yankees baseball blog, I can’t help but mention that a July start would benefit the team as key players, such as Aaron Judge, James Paxton and Aaron Hicks will be healed from injuries and ready to return to the lineup.
Instead of an All-Star break, schedule Opening Day around the country to kick off the season. By mid-July, it may even be possible to have fans in the stands. MLB could help initiate a return to normalcy and a fulfillment of the hope that the virus can be beaten.
Gleyber Torres is one of the most personable Yankees, from his engaging smile and horseplay in the dugout, to his engaging desire to speak English to the media and fans.
Torres enjoyed a highly successful offensive campaign in ’19, putting up a .278 average with 38 home runs, 90 RBIs and a 3.1 WAR. Torres’ accolades in ’19 are included in Wikipedia:
On August 22, Torres hit his 30th home run, thus becoming the second Yankee to hit 30 or more home runs in a single season at age of 22 or younger, joining Joe DiMaggio who hit 46 home runs in 1937. His 39 home runs made him the second ever middle infielder after Alex Rodriguez to do so before turning 23, and third Yankees player since DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle to hit at least two 20+ HR seasons before the age of 23.
Torres is surely carving his name in Monument Park in his first seasons with the Yankees given the company he keeps.
On defense, Torres’ success has been more uneven. He came up as a shortstop with the Chicago Cubs, though once traded to the Yankees, who at the time already had Didi Gregorius at shortstop, he was moved over to second base to make room for his bat with the big club.
Torres is below average in every category as a second baseman. As far as shortstops are concerned, he is average when DRS is mentioned, but every other stat across the board clarifies that he is below average. In general, Torres is a below-average fielder but is a much more sufficient shortstop than a second baseman.
What fans have experienced with Torres on defense, both at second and at shortstop, is some flashes of brilliance with the glove, but also some mental lapses which have resulted in errors or hits which should not have been.
In 2020, with the loss of Gregorius to free agency, Torres has taken over the shortstop position on an everyday basis. In Spring Training 2020, says Mark Goodman of SI.com:
Gleyber Torres committed his fifth error of the spring on Tuesday, bobbling another ball that was ruled a hit. With five errors in Grapefruit League play thus far – tied for the most in all of baseball – is the 23 year old ready for a full-time role at shortstop?”
The Yankees have moved DJ LeMahieu to his natural position, to take advantage of his multi-Gold Glove abilities at second base. Torres will have a full season to take over the shortstop role and make it his own.
In 2019, Torres played 77 games at shortstop with a .961 FP and -1 DRS before Gregorius returned to play after recovering from Tommy John surgery. Torres played 65 games at second base with a .967 FP and -7 DRS.
Torres is just below average defensively. However, there is no going back, Torres will have to make the adjustments defensively to raise his play at shortstop if he’s to complement LeMahieu up the middle.
The question Goodman asks, whether or not Torres is ready for the full-time shortstop role is, I hope, rhetorical, as the job belongs exclusively now to Torres for the first time in his career with the Yankees. Goodman says that “taking over a position as essential as shortstop is a monumental task.”
There is plenty of truth to this statement, as the shortstop is the most pivotal player on the infield and needs to be a leader as well. Think Derek Jeter and you see how far Torres has to reach to be great in pinstripes at shortstop.
There will be growing pains whenever a player transitions to another position and Yankee fans will have to be patient with Torres when baseball returns. Fans can expect a steady, offensive consistency with power from the 23-year old Torres, and continuing improvement in the field.
This is my all AL East team for 2020, what’s yours?
My all American League East team for 2020 – the stats (all but Andujar from 2019). I’ve chosen to focus on are batting average, home runs and RBIs – showing the consistency, power and production of each player.
- Christian Vazquez – BOS – .276, 23 HR, 72 RBIs in 482 ABs;
- Gary Sanchez – NYY – .232 34 HR, 77 RBIs in 266 ABs;
- Pedro Severino – BAL – .249, 13 HR, 44 RBIs in 305 ABs;
- Danny Jansen – TOR – .207, 13 HR, 43 RBIs in 347 ABs; and
- Mike Zunino – TB – .165, 9 HR, 32 RBIs in 266 ABs.
- Luke Voit – NYY – .263, 21 HR, 62 RBIs in 429 ABs;
- Ji-ManChoi – TB – .261, 19 HR, 58 RBIs in 410 ABs;
- Mitch Moreland – BOS – .252, 19 HR, 58 RBIs, 298 ABs;
- Sam Travis – BOS – .215, 6 HR, 16 RBIs, 144 ABs; and
- Chris Davis – BAL – .179, 12 HR, 36 RBIs, 307 ABs.
- DJ LeMahieu – NYY – .327, 26 HR, 102 RBIs, 602 ABs;
- Hanser Alberto – BAL – .305, 12 HR, 51 RBIs, 524 ABs;
- Brandon Lowe – Tampa Bay – .231, 3 HR, 19 RBIs, 238 ABs;
- Jose Peraza – BOS – .239, 6 HR, 33 RBIs, 376 ABs; and
- Cavan Biggio – TOR – .234, 176 HR, 48 RBIs, 354 ABs
- Rafael Devers – BOS – .311, 32 HR, 115 RBIs, 647 ABs;
- Gio Urshela – NYY – .314, 21 HR, 74 RBIs, 442 ABS;
- Vlad Guerrero, Jr. – TOR – .272, 15 HR, 69 RBIs, 464 ABs;
- Yandy Diaz – TB – .267, 14 HR, 38 RBIs, 307 ABs;
- Rio Ruiz – BAL – .232, 12 HR, 46 RBIs, 370 ABs.
- Xander Bogaerts – BOS – .309, 33 HR, 117 RBIs, 614 ABs;
- Gleyber Torres – NYY – .278, 38 HR, 90 RBIs, 546 ABs;
- Jose Iglesias – BAL – .288, 11 HR, 59 RBI’s, 504 ABs;
- Willy Adames – TB – .254, 20 HR, 52 RBIs, 531 ABs; and
- Bo Bichette – TOR – .311, 11 HR, 21 RBIs, 196 ABs.
- Andrew Benintendi – BOS – .266, 13 HR, 68 RBIs, 541 ABS;
- Lourdes Gurriel – TOR – .277, 20 HR, 50 RBIs, 357 ABs;
- Giancarlo Stanton – NYY – .288, 3 HR, 13 RBIs, 59 ABs;
- Dwight Smith, Jr. – BAL – .241, 13 HR, 53 RBIs, 357 ABs; and
- Hunter Renfroe – TB – .216, 33 HR, 64 RBIs, 440 ABs.
- Aaron Judge – NYY – .272, 27 HR, 55 RBIs, 378 ABs;
- Austin Meadows – TB – .291, 33 HR, 89 RBIs, 530 ABs;
- Kevin Pillar – BOS – .259, 21 HR, 88 RBIs, 611 ABs;
- Anthony Santander – BAL – .261, 20 HR, 59 RBIs, 586 ABs; and
- Randal Grichuk – TOR – .232, 31 HR, 80 RBIs, 378 ABs.
- Brett Gardner – NYY- .251, 28 HR, 74 RBIs, 491 ABs;
- Jackie Bradley, Jr. – BOS – .225, 21 HR, 62 RBIs 494 ABs;
- Teoscar Hernandez – TOR – .230, 26 HR, 65 RBIs, 417 ABs;
- Kevin Kiermaier – TB – .228, 14 HR, 55 RBIs, 447 ABs;
- Austin Hays – BAL – .309, 4 HR, 13 RBIs, 68 ABs.
- J.D. Martinez – BOS – .304, 36 HR, 105 RBIs, 575 ABs;
- Miguel Andujar – NYY – .297, 27 HR, 92 RBIs, 573 ABs (2018);
- Renato Nunez – BAL – .244, 31 HR, 90 RBIs, 541 ABs;
- Yoshitomo Tsutsugo – TB – no stats available; and
- Rowdy Tellez – TOR – .227, 21 HR, 54 RBIs, 370 ABS.
This is my all AL East team for 2020, what’s yours?
The Yankee pitching coach has his work cut out for him negotiating a season with so many uncertainties ahead.
New York Yankees pitching coach, Matt Blake, spoke with reporters from his home in Cleveland on April 1st. He spoke of the challenges in these stressful circumstances of working with the pitchers without having eyes on them.
Blake stressed the importance of each pitcher working to find a balance between baseball and their family and community responsibilities. Each pitcher is at work staying healthy and keeping ready to resume their Spring Training work towards a season that is still in jeopardy.
Even the Commissioner himself probably lacks certainty as to when, or if, Major League Baseball will begin in 2020 – there have been suggestions that the league play a shortened season without an All Star Game and with games going into November. But without a firm return date for baseball, Blake says:
“You are kind of guessing more than anything,” new pitching coach Matt Blake said Wednesday in a media conference call. “I think you’re kind of idling them as much as possible and trying to find out a good rhythm for all of them, given their circumstances.”
The Yankee pitchers are each working out in their separate locations: Gerrit Cole in New York, James Paxton in Wisconsin, Jordan Montgomery in South Carolina, JA Happ in Florida and Masahiro Tanaka in Japan. Blake has had to tailor workouts for each pitcher’s individual circumstances.
“We’re trying to get guys to get on the slope for one high-intensity session a week or one long-toss session at high intensity just to kind of make sure they’re pushing their motor up a little bit. And then the rest of the week, just kind of moving the ball around a little bit, whether it’s some moderate long toss or some flat ground (throwing), things of that nature.”
As far as relief pitchers go, Blake said that it is not as important for them to be on a mound at this point as it is to keep them moving and putting healthy stress on their pitching arms.
The Yankee pitching coach has his work cut out for him negotiating a season with so many uncertainties ahead and fans are eager to see the impact he has on the performance of the pitching staff whenever baseball begins.
“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.