A New York Yankee fan’s look at Justin Verlander

Verlander’s career has been one long success story and if I had to bet, I’d bet that he comes back from the Tommy John surgery strong and solid.

I’m a transplant from the Midwest, Fort Wayne, Indiana, to be exact. It’s a great town if you love sports because within a 3-4 hour drive in any direction you can be in Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, or Cincinnati. Most folks you meet are fans of one of these cities’ sports team(s).

It’s such an eclectic area of the country that I know people who are Cincinnati Reds, Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Blackhawk fans all at once!

So it was somewhere around 2007-2008, that I had tickets to see Justin Verlander pitch at Comerica Park against the Chicago White Sox and I unfortunately missed the game for another commitment. Since that time, I have watched Verlander pitch with appreciation and deep respect for his accomplishments and success.

When Verlander went to the Houston Astros in 2017, my heart was broken – I’ve never been an Astros fan, obviously.

I had been a Verlander fan since he came up in 2005 and have watched as he turned a good career into a Hall of Fame career winning two Cy Young Awards along the way.

Presently, I live on the East Coast and am a Chicago Cub fan turned Yankee fan. I was converted by my husband during the 1998 season – what a year to become a Yankee fan!

When Verlander went to the Houston Astros, he seemed to snub his nose at the Bronx. Major League Baseball fans watched as he was a key to the Astros win in the 2017 World Series.

Fast-forward past a cheating scandal and Tommy John surgery and Verlander appears ready to leave Houston. According to Talkin’ Yanks on November 16th:

“ESPN’s Jeff Passan says Justin Verlander will sign this week, and he thinks the team he’ll sign with is the Yankees. Passan has no idea about Correa, but he does not think the Yankees are the right fit.”

With this news, Yankees Twitter was lit all day with rumors and speculation about what seemed an all but done deal.

Typical of the anti-Verlander comments: he’s 38 coming off Tommy John surgery and has only thrown 6 innings since 2019. Why would the Yankees want another reclamation project? Referring, of course, to last year’s signings of Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon, both of whom were coming off serious injuries.

There’s no real convincing response to this except to say that Verlander’s career has been one long success story and if I had to bet, I’d bet that he comes back from the Tommy John surgery strong and solid.

In 2019, Verlander led the league in innings pitched and won the second Cy Young Award of his career (his first with Detroit in 2011). That’s the upside – that’s what you potentially get when you sign Verlander, an elite bulldog who will grind out innings and always keep the team in the game.

No matter how you look at it, it is a crapshoot what Verlander will bring to the game after the surgery and Yankee fans are not patient. I have to believe that if Verlander comes to the Bronx it will be because he believes he can still perform at a very high level.

Kluber’s no hitter in May of ’21 was one of the highlights of a frustrating and inconsistent season for the Yankees. I’d still take it despite losing Kluber until August afterwards. For one outing, fans got vintage Kluber and no doubt he will continue his success with another team in ’22.

If the Yankees sign Verlander, it will be with the hope that they can catch lightning in a bottle and he can reprise his power pitching performances of years past.

The Yankees front office hopes that bringing Verlander in would propel this team to a championship, otherwise there’s no reason to sign him.

As a Yankee fan and a baseball fan, I’m all in on bringing Verlander to the Bronx. To have Cole and Verlander sharing the workload at the top of the rotation guarantees excitement and high level performances.

How bad is DJ LeMahieu for the New York Yankees in 2021?

New York Yankees 2020’s silver slugger and utility man, DJ LeMahieu is having a year. After a career year in 2020 and subsequent six year $90M contract extension, DJ is struggling offensively in 2021 and fans are crying foul.

How bad is DJ at the plate through August 3, 2021? Let’s just say, too many at-bats end in a grimace for him and for fans! As far as the numbers go, there’s no comparison between last year and this year.

LeMahieu was an offensive juggernaut in ’20, posting a .364 batting average and winning the batting title. His OPS was an eye-popping 1.011. Yankees’ analytic guys were going nuts I’m sure, and he looked like the unstoppable machine he has been named for.

Fast-forward to 2021, and just a cursory look at his batting averages for the season: April .271, May .253, June .291, July .241 shows that he has not been able to put together a consistently solid season at the plate. Stat nerds can deep dive and probably find that all LeMahieu’s numbers this season are way below what Yankee fans expected.

Numbers aside, just watching him ground out at bat after at bat – or so it would seem – fans have become frustrated with him in the lead-off role. His on-base percentage in 2020 was .421 and is almost .100 points lower this year at .341. DJ’s lack of success getting on base has been disappointing for fans.

The only consolation, if it is any, is that the Yankee offense has been as inconsistent overall as DJ has been individually, with several players also having down years – Gleyber Torres, in particular.

He hasn’t hit a home run since June 26th, but then, no Yankee not named Anthony Rizzo has hit a home run since July 21st.

How bad is DJ? I’m one of the biggest fans of LeMachine, but that name seems much less apt in 2021. Fans have spent the season hoping with each game that LeMahieu would turn the corner and regain his form, but unless he’s planning a spectacular August and September, that scenario seems unlikely.

Expect more of the same, unfortunately, from LeMahieu.

Nasty Nestor on the base pads?

The 26 year old Nestor Cortes, Jr. is known for his wacky windups on the mound, but perhaps not so much for his base running moves.

He got a chance to show off these moves on Friday against the Marlins, when he pinch ran for Urshela. In true Cortes fashion, his style on the base pad was all his own, as he overran the base and just made it back before the tag.

So while Anthony Rizzo’s coming out party was a smashing success, and Joey Gallo’s was ok, it was Cortes who made me smile and reminded me that the game is supposed to be fun.

Even when he’s deceiving hitters with his unique windups, throwing them off their timing, they can’t help but laugh at the fun he’s having.

DJ LeMahieu: A Yankees fan’s reaction to his return

DJ LeMahieu, a Yankee for life, or so it would seem from his 6 year, $90M contract.

I was up early on January 15, 2021 and was among the first to see new that DJ LeMahieu was finalizing a deal with the New York Yankees. This news was soon confirmed and I smiled all day.

DJ LeMahieu, a Yankee for life, or so it would seem, from his 6 year, $90M contract. LeMahieu is the epitome of Yankee greatness, a player focused on performing at the top of his game every time out and focused on winning. His personal success, accolades, and awards only serve to solidify how important his contributions are to the winning culture of the Yankees.

The LeMahieu signing begins to clarify the Yankees infield for 2021. There was a time when impatient Yankee fans speculated that LeMahieu would not be returning and that Gleyber Torres would be moved back to second base where he had been more effective defensively than he was at short stop in his first full season. LeMahieu’s return makes that scenario unlikely, however the rumor mill continues to churn on speculations about what the Yankees might do with Gleyber Torres.

LeMahieu provides elite defense behind the American League’s best pitcher in Gerrit Cole, and profiles to improve on his 2020 defensive numbers, which were down from previous years.

I’ve wondered what effect, if any, Torres’ first year at shortstop might have had on LeMahieu at 2B, contributing, perhaps, to the slight downturn in Fielding Percentage (.971 in 2020 and .993 in 2019) and Defensive Runs Saved (0 in 2020 and 3 in 2019). It will be interesting to see how Torres and LeMahieu perform together in their second year together on the infield.

But it’s the offense of the player nicknamed “LeMachine” that excites Yankee fans. His stoic focus at the plate resulted in a Silver Slugger Award in 2020. He finished third in Most Valuable Player voting, but he has the potential not only to be a MVP candidate again in 2021, but to win it.

Yankee fans across Twitter and Facebook were united in their relief that LeMahieu had at last been signed, knowing that he is the fuse in an offense with explosive power. The 2021 Yankees roster is far from being carved in stone, but with LeMahieu anchoring it, at least Yankee fans know they’ll get a winning attitude, a championship attitude.

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?