DJ LeMahieu: Yankee MVP, AL MVP

LeMahieu is a quiet leader who sets the pace at the top of the yankee lineup.

The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWA) announced their American League Most Valuable Player candidates on November 2, 2020. The finalists are Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox, DJ LeMahieu of the New York Yankees and Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians. Each player had elite numbers in a pandemic-shortened season.

A cursory view of the stats for Abreu, LeMahieu and Ramirez suggests that Abreu and LeMahieu outpaced Ramirez in most statistical categories, such as WAR, batting average, OPS and even DRS. This is really a two-man race.

Abreu and LeMahieu are each at 2.8 WAR for the ’20 season, but that’s where the comparison ends. Abreu had much more slugging power and his 60 RBIs in 60 games is a feat no one else came close to. LeMahieu, on the other hand, was an offensive juggernaut, posting a .364 batting average and winning the batting title. His OPS was an eye-popping 1.011.

Defensively, Abreu was above average with a DRS of 5, while LeMahieu, uncharacteristically, was at the league average of 0. Both Abreu and LeMahieu have been All-Stars and MVP candidates in past seasons and LeMahieu holds six Gold Glove awards.

But no player can rest on their past accolades. Abreu was certainly the MVP of the White Sox in ’20, leading them to their first postseason appearance since 2008. Of course, Rick Renteria, now a Manager of the Year candidate and, surprisingly, ex-manager of the White Sox, had a lot to do with their run into the postseason.

LeMahieu was the offensive catalyst for a powerful Yankee lineup, featuring the league’s home run king for ’20, Luke Voit. LeMahieu is aptly named “Le Machine” by Yankee fans because of his consistently solid at-bats and his high on base percentage. LeMahieu often was the Yankee offense as the team’s heavy hitters were sidelined or hampered by injury.

LeMahieu is a quiet leader who sets the pace at the top of the Yankee lineup. In 2019, he finished fourth in the MVP voting. It’s time for the BBWA to get it right and recognize the excellence of LeMahieu’s contribution to the Yankees and to the league.

New York Yankees Baseball: MLB July start would help fans heal

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.

Highlighting New York Yankees SS Gleyber Torres

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 <a title="Joe DiMaggio who hit 46 home runs in 1937. His 39 home runs made him the second ever middle infielder after <a title="Alex Rodriguez to do so before turning 23, and third Yankees player since DiMaggio and <a title="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.

Based on advanced fielding stats provided via Fangraphs, Empire Sports Media writer, Dillard Barnhart wrote an of Torres’ defensive abilities:

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.

 

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.

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: thoughts on pitching and winning it all

Is 2020 the year the Yankees front office believes it can win it all?

What I’m thinking about this morning as I write my daily article is RHP Mike Clevinger.  The 29 year old Clevinger has been on the trading block, along with the Cleveland Indians’ other players, since the Indians decided to offload their star talent while their value was high and their contracts favorable.

The Yankees injury woes in the starting rotation are glaring in 2020 with Luis Severino having Tommy John surgery and James Paxton recovering from offseason surgery to remove a cyst from a disc on his spine.

The Yankees have some in-house solutions to the problem of filling out the starting rotation.  They have proven starters in Jonathan Loaisiga and Luis Cessa and a group of young talented pitchers in right-handers Clarke Schmidt, Mike King and Deivi Garcia – any one of whom could probably win a spot on the roster.

None of these young pitchers is a replacement, at least in the current circumstances, for Severino or Paxton.  Fortunately, the Yankees have gotten Jordan Montgomery back from his Tommy John surgery and he profiles to play a significant role in the starting rotation. The Yankees are eager to see Montgomery perform as he did in 2017 when he finished sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting.

All this leads me to the trade deadline, by which time Paxton will have returned to the rotation and the Yankees will know what they’ve got in a fifth starter.  With the Yankees projected to compete for the division title and beyond, they’ll assess whether the rotation can run the gamut.

If the Yankees can make a trade at the deadline to bring in a proven performer like Clevinger, it could be the piece that propels them to a championship.  On the Yankees side, Clevinger still has three years of control left and, although he is injured at present, he is already throwing and will be ready just after the season opens.

What would it take to make a trade for Clevinger happen?  It would probably take Miguel Andujar, who’s outfield play would be attractive to the Indians, and a major-league ready pitcher.  Andujar is not a name I throw around lightly; he’s the player I have most enjoyed watching play and develop over the past few years, but he’s also on the verge of a break-out career, though, at present, a man without a position for the Yankees.

Clevinger’s numbers are the stuff dreams are made of: in 2019 he was 13-4 in 21 games started with a 2.71 ERA, 1.056 WHIP, 2.49 FIP, 12.71 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and .7 HR/9.  He hasn’t won any awards yet, but look out, Clevinger’s on the brink of having a Hall of Fame type career.

The Yankees will have a decision to make at the trade deadline, whether to risk winning in the postseason with the talent they currently have or to make a blockbuster trade to increase their chances of winning a World Series in 2020.  Is 2020 the year the Yankees front office believes it can win it all?

 

New York Yankees “Le Machine” ramping up for Opening Day

Yankee fans began to chant “extend him, extend him”

31 year old DJ LeMahieu, infielder extraordinaire, hails from California with stops in Wisconsin, Michigan and Louisiana along the way.  He was drafted in the seventh round out of a Bloomfield Hills, MI high school by the Detroit Tigers in 2007, but elected to go to college and played 2 years for the Louisiana State University Tigers instead.  Wikipedia.

LeMahieu was then drafted by the Cubs in 2009, where he made his major league debut (May 30, 2011) before being traded to the Rockies in 2011.  The rest, as they say, is history,  as he racked up awards and accolades in Colorado, including three Gold Gloves (2014, 2017, 2018) and three Alls-Star appearances, including in his first year with the Yankees in a utility role (2015, 2017, 2019).

LeMahieu’s offensive numbers for the Yankees 2019 were nothing short of astounding for the super utility role he performed: .327/.375/.518 with 26 home runs and 102 RBIs.  According to Wikipedia, “he set new career highs in hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs and runs scored.”

Yankee fans began to chant “extend him, extend him” during the offseason since he is only signed through the 2020 season.  He has become the quintessential Yankee, earning the nicknames “Big Fundy” for his attention to fundamentals and Le Machine, for his ability to consistently make contact at the plate.

In Spring Training, LeMahieu is off to a slow start, as are most of the Yankee hitters.  He’s currently had 14 PA with 1 R, 3 H, 1 RBI and sports a .231 average.  Look out though for LeMahieu to begin to take off in the coming weeks as he’s projected by Baseball Reference to have 586 PA, 89 R, 158 H, 73 RBIs and a .297 average on the 2020 season.

LeMahieu is projected to have another powerful performance for the Yankees in ’20, playing Gold Glove defense at second base, no long in a utility role, and contacting the ball at the plate with consistency and power.

 

Pregame Gab: David Hale and Spencer Turnbull take the mound; Gary Sanchez busts out

Look for Gary Sanchez to bust out the bat today.

Spencer Turnbull is on the mound today for the Detroit Tigers – he’s a 27 year old right hander who made 30 starts for the Tigers in 2019 as a rookie.  He pitched to a 4.61 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 3.99 FIP in ’19.  He had a solid rookie campaign for the Tigers.  When his stuff is working he’s a ground ball pitcher.

He most recently pitched on February 25th against the Mets – 2 scoreless innings without allowing a hit or a walk while striking out four.

The Yankees throw David Hale out there today against the Tigers.  Hale has returned to the Yankees as a non-roster invitee after playing 20 games out of the bullpen in ’19.  He put up a 3.11 ERA, 3.32 FIP, and 1.22 WHIP, with 1.67 BB/9 and 5.50 K/9.  Hale was a reliable middle reliever last season.  Today he starts/opens the game and it’ll be exciting to watch the parade of young talent that follows behind him on the mound.

Mike Tauchman makes his appearance in the lineup.  It seems that sightings of Tauchman have been few and far between this spring and it’s good to see him in left field again.  An outfield of Tauchman, Brett Gardner and Rosell Herrera scares me just a little, but hey, it’s only spring!

Look for Gary Sanchez to bust out the bat today in the DH role and hit one over the wall.  What are your predictions for today?

Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery Highlight New York Yankees Spring Training Game Two

Montgomery is going to surprise a lot of people in 2020

My first thought was why a game debuting Gerrit Cole in pinstripes was not televised?  I shared the frustration of many fans who couldn’t watch or listen to Cole’s first pitch.  Despite the fact that he threw only 20 pitches in a one inning outing, I wanted to see every strike (there were two), every ball (there was one) and every pop-up to short (there was one).

Cole dialed it up to 98 mph on the radar gun and was everything the Yankees hoped for and paid for.  Cole was followed up by Jordan Montgomery for two innings of the best kind of come-back pitching, three strikeouts, two ground-outs, a hit-by-pitch and a fly out.  Montgomery hit 94 mph on the radar gun and was sharp with all his pitches.

As Eric Boland reported for Newsday, Montgomery told reporters after the game:

“Feel good about my arm strength and my mechanics, and they’re only going to get cleaner.”

Yankee fans look forward to a strong, healthy Montgomery to fill a rotation spot now that Luis Severino is a question mark and James Paxton is out healing from back surgery.   Let’s remember that Montgomery finished sixth in 2017 in Rookie of the Year voting on the strength of an impressive rookie campaign.  Montgomery is going to surprise a lot of people with his performance in 2020 as he looks to regain and surpass his rookie achievements.

New York Yankees’ Gerrit Cole takes the ball in first steps toward number 28

Gerrit Cole takes the first step toward number 28 tonight

When Gerrit Cole appears for the Yankees tonight against mound opponent, Chris Archer, many fans believe it is the first step toward landing on the moon, so to speak, the first step toward number 28.

What does Gerrit Cole mean to Yankee fans: elite baseball every appearance, a master at the top of his craft taking the mound.  Cole means wins, especially with the noted absence of Luis Severino, who is suffering from forearm soreness and has been sent to New York for tests.

Cole pitched to a .179 average against the Yankees in 2019 and the Yankees are looking forward to watching Cole decimate opponents in similar fashion in 2020.  Cole’s statistics from 2019 are the stuff dreams are made of: 212.1 IP, 2.50 ERA, 13.82 K/9, 2.03 BB/9, 2.64 FIP, 7.4 WAR, opponents hit .185 against him.

Gerrit Cole, anchoring this rotation, armed with the largest pitching deal ever made, has been acquired to bring a championship to the Bronx.  Tonight against the Pirates, he takes his first steps on what promises to be a long, exciting road to number 28.