Thoughts from a Yankees fan and an Aaron Judge update

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.

Prospecting: New York Yankees LF Canaan Smith

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.

Baseball on hiatus, but not Trevor Bauer

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:

 

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.

New York Yankees fan thoughts on Adam Ottavino

How will the Yankees manage Ottavino in 2020?

I like to listen to Talkin’ Yanks with Jomboy and Jake and today’s episode was a player profile and projection for Adam Ottavino.  Check it out at on Youtube at https://youtu.be/wPpXWhyETd0.

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?

 

Luke Voit’s bat will pick up ailing Yankees offense

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.

New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole expects to bounce back after loss

Yankees fans expect to see the ace back in form today

Gerrit Cole toes the rubber this afternoon at George M. Steinbrenner Field against the Toronto Blue Jays, and Yankees fans expect to see the ace back in form after the drubbing he took in his last outing at the hands of the Detroit Tigers.

Back on March 5th, Cole was coming off a week of fever and illness, and the wind was blowing out at Joker Marchant Stadium, as he was tattooed for four home runs, with six hits, one walk and three strikeouts in two innings of work.

Afterwards, reports George A. King III of the NY Post, Cole said:

There is probably an element to we are going to continue to push the fastball, especially this early in spring. They are trying to get timed up on the fastball. That is probably their priority, too. We will have a more normal routine coming off this start. You take it for what it is, learn from it and get better.’’

Pitchers working on the fastball and hitters working on hitting it and “that’s baseball Suzyn,” as spring training sometimes throws up surprising results.  Whatever Cole was working on in his last start, only his third of Spring Training, Yankees fans can expect the ace and his fastball to have better results going forward.

Cole features a four-seamer with 97 mph velocity (among his other offerings) and led Major League Baseball in ’19 with 326 strikeouts, a 39.9% strikeout percentage and 13.818 strikeouts per nine innings.  According to Wikipedia, “he became the first full-time starting pitcher in MLB history to average more than one and a half strikeouts per inning in a season.”

These are lofty numbers and although Cole finished second behind Justin Verlander for the Cy Young Award, he picked up the richest contract for a pitcher in MLB history when he signed with the Yankees.

Cole last saw this potent Blue Jays’ lineup on June 14, 2019, when he went 6 innings and gave up 2 runs on three hits with 1 walk and 10 strikeouts.  Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. both got hits off of him in that game, as did Luke Maile, now with the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Cole held the Blue Jays to a .125 batting average against and got the win.

Expect Cole to have a short memory about the Tigers loss last week, to be focused on whatever he’s working on today in Spring Training and to be focused on returning to the elite form Yankees fans expect this season.

 

RHP Clarke Schmidt has starting opportunity against the Orioles today

A good start against the Orioles would be a huge step in the right direction for Schmidt.

Clarke Schmidt, the 24 year old New York Yankees right-hander, is on the mound today at George M. Steinbrenner field against the Baltimore Orioles.  Schmidt is making a very good case for himself as the fifth starter in the Yankee rotation, despite the fact that that he’s never pitched above AA before.

Schmidt on the spring has pitched a scoreless five innings with 1 home run, 6 strikeouts and two base on balls.  In three games in relief, he has pitched to a 1.80 ERA.  Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs.com said of Schmidt:

Schmidt throws four average or better pitches and enough strikes to start…He profiles as a number four starter.

Baseball America also projects that Schmidt, currently the Yankees second best prospect, has the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter.  Schmidt is most likely vying with not only other young arms, such as Mike King, Deivi Garcia, Albert Abreu and others for the fifth starter position, but he is also up against veteran players such as Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Cessa.

Schmidt gets his first start of Spring Training today against the Orioles and it will be exciting to see how his stuff plays against a good offensive team.  Schmidt may just step up to be the most effective of the available starters to round out the rotation.

There are however, several obstacles to Schmidt making the roster and one is that he is not on the 40 man roster.  Another argument against Schmidt making the roster is that, as Andy Martino of SNY.com reports, scouts believe his stuff is still raw and needs the polish of more time in the minors.

One scout replied when asked if Schmidt were ready for the big leagues:

“I don’t think so,” the scout said. “Fastball command and usage still a work-in-progress. No question has raw stuff.”

Wherever Schmidt begins the season, Yankee fans will cheer for his continued improvement and performance. A good start against the Orioles would be a huge step in the right direction for Schmidt.

Aaron Judge on his injury

Judge said “Overall I’m just mad.”

Aaron Judge’s shoulder and pectoral ailments have been fodder for much speculation on social media.  Today, a diagnosis finally was announced for Judge – a stress fracture in the first rib – surgery has not been ruled out.  A fracture which he said he suffered making a diving catch back in September.

What did Judge himself have to say about the injury?

Judge does not hesitate to sacrifice his body to make a catch as fans have witnessed on many occasions with trepidation.  There is no timetable for Judge to rejoin the team.  He is being shut down for two weeks, but then he will be re-evaluated.  Most fans are speculating that he is out indefinitely.

 

Gleyber Torres: Didi Who?

There’s a case to be made that Torres has not only made fans forget about Gregorius but about Judge as well.

After five years of the Didi Gregorius regime at short stop, the New York Yankees moved on after the 2019 season.  Gleyber Torres has taken over the reins at shortstop this season – his natural position, as he played shortstop coming up the minors.

While Torres played a solid second base, he’s most likely glad to give up the spot to multi-Gold Glove second baseman DJ LeMahieu, who roved around the infield in a utility role in ’19.  With Torres and LeMahieu both in their natural positions, the Yankees up the middle defense should be that much better this season.

Gregorius ably filled the void left by the legend, Derek Jeter and his final line looked like: .269/.313/.446 with 97 HR, 360 RBI’s as a Yankee.  His defense was solid, but not spectacular; he had a .979 fielding percentage in his final season in pinstripes with a -10 DRS.  There were questions about Gregorius’s range.

Not to say 2019 was a typical season for Gregorius, it wasn’t, as he was coming off his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery, but the signing of DJ LeMahieu and his overwhelming success both offensively and defensively in ’19 made Gregorius expendable, particularly since Torres was seen as ready to take over the shortstop position

Torres played 77 games at shortstop in ’19 with a .961 fielding percentage and -1 DRS, now while one would like to see the fielding percentage improve the -1 DRS is not bad, right around the league average.

It’s Torres’ bat that puts fans in seats at Yankee Stadium.  His offensive achievements at such a young age have catapulted him into the company of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.  According to Wikipedia:

On October 13, 2019, Torres became the youngest second baseman in MLB history, third youngest overall (Mantle, Tony Kubek“) to score 4+ RBI in a game, & youngest ever for 5+. He is on pace to amass the most ever extra base hits in a single postseason (8 by Cody Bellinger in 2017).

Gleyber hit .278/.337/.535 in ’19 with 38 home runs, 90 RBIs and had a 3.9 WAR.  His offensive campaign was exciting as Mike Vaccaro of the NY Post.com described:

He started spraying line drives all across the American League from the moment his plane landed on April 22, 2018, he fielded both middle infield positions with flair and reliability. Then he hit 38 home runs this year, and if you want to simply credit all of that to a baseball dripping juice it seems fair to point out that no other middle infielder in the whole sport hit as many.

Gleyber Torres, in short, has become the face of the Yankees – that is in the absence of Aaron Judge, who’s Judge’s Chambers will cheer without their namesake in right field, at least to begin the season.

There’s a case to be made that Torres has not only made the fans forget about Gregorius, but he’s making them forget about Judge as well.  Already on the spring, Torres is hitting .286 with 1 double, 1 home run and 4 RBIs.

Watch out for Torres to have an absolute break-out season in 2020, putting it all together with reliable, solid defense and offensive power and production.  Torres is the superstar the Yankees have been waiting for.

Aaron Judge more than a statistic

He will get healthy and regain his status as the face of the Yankees

Aaron Judge is coming in for some criticism from fans on social media because he has suffered injuries to start the new season without ever stepping on the field.  Brendan Kuty reported yesterday:

Cashman said he doesn’t think Judge, nursing a sore right shoulder and right pectoral muscle, will be ready for Opening Day on March 26 in Baltimore.

I saw fans on Twitter and Facebook criticizing the perennial All-Star and team leader, saying that he, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks did not deserve the big money contracts as they are always injured and what’s more, their injuries, for the most part, seem minor, and ballplayers, such as Mantle, would have played through them.

Fans can be brutal and short-sighted, but truth remains, the Yankees are challenged once again with putting together a lineup which is missing key players due to injury.  The “next man up” slogan has already become as much a thing in 2020 as it was in 2019 when the Yankees won 103 games.

Judge, however, is more than a statistic, though certainly a rehearsal of the statistics is impressive enough.  He’s a career .273 hitter with an 18.6 WAR.  In 2019 he hit .272 with 27 HR and 67 RBI’s and Baseball Reference projects him to hit .276 with 30 HRs and 67 RBI’s in 2020.  Now it remains to be seen if Judge can come back healthy in April whether he’ll meet or beat his projections, but the numbers seem in line with his 2018 and 2019 performances.

Of course, fans would love to see a healthy Judge come back in April and put up the kind of numbers he put up in 2017, when he was Rookie of the Year: .284/.422/.627 with 52 HR and 114 RBIs.  This is the Aaron Judge fans expect every time he goes up to the plate, however, whether it’s that he’s been hampered by injuries or whatever, Judge has not put up those kind of numbers since his rookie campaign.

He has, however, become a team leader since his rookie campaign – it appears to a fan at least – both on and off the field.  His response to the Astros cheating scandal was as sharp and angry as it needed to be, and was directly in line with what league leaders, such as Mike Trout, thought about the scandal.

When the season starts, it is unlikely Judge will be in the lineup, however, the Judge’s Chambers will haunt whoever takes over, as that real estate belongs to Judge, whenever he may return.  I have no doubt that he will come back healthy and prowl right field providing the kind of elite defense we’ve come to expect.

So when social media blows up with criticism that Judge is injury prone, it is appropriate to keep scrolling and wait until he’s healthy for him to regain his status as the face of the New York Yankees.

Picture by Mark Brown/Getty Images.