Sunday, April 1, 2018

2018 SEASON Review!

Hello Yankee fans; after taking two years off, I am going to write at least a few this year and with all the excitement going into this year I want to get this out before too many pre- season games.  (Obviously, we are 2 games into the season by the time I got this out.  I am going to send some of my preseason thoughts so some may not be relevant now, but at least you get an honest view of my thought process before the year.  Two games doesn’t make a season anyway.)

First, I will send out these via email for now (Please let me know if you don’t want to receive these); feel free to pass this on to anyone who is a Yankee fan and I can add anyone to the email list.  I will also be sending out the link via twitter @swigdor22 and the website (I can't get in) so please follow me and this way you will know when I have updated the blog.  That will be forthcoming.

Everyone should be excited; Cashman has done an excellent job and we are positioned well for many years to come.  Those of you who have read the blog previously, know that I feel if managed correctly, this team should compete every year because of the spending advantage.  However, the urge to win every year can take its toll if not managed correctly and with patience.  I also have always been in favor of signing studs and offsetting them with “rookies” (much lower priced guys) rather than having a lot of “6-10 million a year” type of players who barely do better than a rookie and have no upside (In terms of salary advantage or improving with age).  Further, when you play a younger player instead of the “10 mil” player you can use that money for more of the sure thing studs.  I would rather have the “sure thing guy and a rookie than two 10 mil dollar guys. The 10 mil type of guys may be one year fill in players as needed.  While I was very critical of the Ellsbury deal at the time of signing because we paid elite money for a decent/solid player (who obviously has not played at even that level), Cashman has done a masterful job since then.  Great examples are the moves with Chapman, trading him and then getting him back along with prospects (Gleyber Torres) was outstanding and rebuilding the farm system has been set (more on all of this later).

While we should be excited, we can’t get too ahead of ourselves and have to remember that we didn’t even win our division last year.  The 162 game sample is far more accurate in predicting the future than two short series’ (3 if you count the play in game against Minnesota) so let’s be realistic as well.  Most of the excitement surrounds the “one game away from the WS,” the youth (Judge, Sanchez and Bird along with Didi becoming a difference maker) along with the signing of a guy who hit 59 HR’s last year!  The other excitement should be about the quality and depth of the bullpen for the full year.

Let’s get into the team…

Didi had an OPS of .796 which is better offensive production we have gotten out of SS since 2009, when Jeter had an OPS of .871, but an adjusted OPS of .900 when you take into account he also stole 30 bases while only being caught 5 times).  While Didi contributed well at the plate, (not be blasphemous to Jeter as looking back on his offense he really was phenomenal for a SS), Didi’s defense was a difference maker and his defense is simply far better than Jeter’s ever was.  An oddity with Didi is that he had an OPS of .882 on the road and only a .707 OPS at home…The only explanation I have is that Didi was better against righty pitchers with an OPS of .848 and only a .653 against lefties and I would imagine teams try to get more lefties in at the stadium?

As for the other young guys to be excited about, let’s talk about Sanchez.  Being an ex-catcher, Sanchez was infuriating to me defensively.  I didn’t have my blog last year to prove I talked about his glaring defensive problems well before they became “public,” but it was obvious to me well before it started to become a talked about item.  In my view, the frustrating part was that it was laziness, not ability.  I am referring mostly to the pathetic attempts at blocking balls in the dirt where he just didn’t move his feet or body.  The receiving part of catching (the art of having soft hands to catch the thrown pitch) may be a weakness, but is not as alarming in my opinion.  The laziness is because he can move his feet and get out on a ball in the dirt and turn it back toward home plate (the way you are supposed to) when he wants to, but he is very slow at reacting and flat out lazy at times.  I think the way to correct it is to adjust his mind set.  The mindset of a catcher should be that every time a guy is on base you have to expect the ball to be in the dirt and are ready to move fast and block it...Maybe on a call for high fastball you don’t expect it to be in the dirt, but you are still on your toes to react to the fastball to make sure it doesn’t give the runners an easy base as you chase it down.  It is clear that Sanchez did not have this mindset and I consider it mental and physical laziness…the good thing is that can be corrected easier than a physical/ability issue.  One thing he can do defensively is throw well; he has a canon which needs to be a little more accurate, but the arm along with the hitting ability is something to be very excited about.  I am very interested to see how he does defensively.

Ellsbury and Hicks- Across the board everyone was talking about how Hicks will dominate this battle and Ellsbury should be traded as he is useless.  I have a little bit of a different take.  First, for perspective, I tend to look at a larger sample size for basing conclusions and I combine that with what I see.  Last year, Hicks improved tremendously for a stretch of time and a lot of it was based on an improved eye at the plate which led to much better plate discipline.  He has always had the tools, but let’s not forget his offensive performance for his career tells us he is a .233 hitter with an OBP of .315 and a slug of .373 for an OPS of .688.  In 2016 for us in 361 plate appearances he had an OPS of .617 for us.  Last year at 27 he had by far his best year with an OPS of .847, so was that a trend and he turned the corner or did he just get hot for the first few months of the year and then fell back to his normal self? The first half of the year he had an OPS of .913!  That is outstanding and with his decent defense (and strong arm) that is an excellent player.  But the 2nd half of the year, albeit only 28 games, he was back at an OPS of .715.  The playoffs were not friendly either, as he had 50 plate appearances and posted an anemic .564 OPS hitting only .196.   So who is he really and what do we expect?  The positive is that he is in his prime at 28 and he is inexpensive (2.8 mil) so he is good value even if he is not what he was last year.  The smart money is that he is improved over his career numbers but not a .900 OPS guy.  I would think a mid .700 OPS is a pretty realistic number and one we should be happy with; anything above would be great.  Not that Spring Training is a great predictor but he had an OPS of .704 in 50 AB’s.  So is that better than what we would expect from Ellsbury?  First, Ellsbury was injured in spring training but when he did play he was 1-14 so that was pretty anemic and more in line with how this battle would play out in most people minds.  I think Hicks will get the benefit of the doubt, but it is not a sure bet Hicks will be the better player against righties.  As “bad” as Ellsbury was last year, he had an OPS of .750 in over 400 plate appearances and still stole 22 bases against only 3 CS.  Ellsbury also had an OPS of .795 against righties which is good for a CF’r.  The point is that while Ellsbury was a bad signing and he is a terrible value, the cost is a sunk one and he is a better option than most and worth having on the team whether he ends up being the starting CF’r in the middle of the year or just to have for very good depth (which is needed as we see every year)  Ironically, Ellsbury is the one who is hurt now, but unless we get someone to take him off our hands he is better to have on the team than not.  The negative is that while Hicks is entering his prime, Ellsbury is 34 and heading downward most likely.  That being said, there is a decent chance Ellsbury is a better option against righties than Hicks.  He doesn’t have close to Hicks arm, but I don’t see Hicks better at getting to balls than Ellsbury and the stats bear that out.  Hicks is slightly better overall in the OF because of his arm, but not enough to warrant too much concern.  The team will be better though if Hicks is more like the guy who played in the first half last year than the rest of his career, so let’s hope that plays out (UPDATE – remember this was written during spring training – Hicks is now injured for 10 days or so.)

Aaron Judge – I am in his chambers!  What’s not to like, especially if strikeouts don’t bother you?  Veteran readers know that I don’t like the ALL Star game and while others try to get people to vote for our Yankees to go to the AS game, I vote for everyone else.  I don’t want my guys doing anything but resting and I surely don’t want them trying to jack balls for HR derby and then screw up their swing (I stated this to many of my friends before the AS game as well).  The jury is out (no pun intended) whether it does have a big impact as Stanton didn’t seem impacted by it, but as Yankee fans we know Judge was.  Still, Judge had an OPS of .939 in the 2nd half (an amazing 1.139 in the 1st half).  One would think his OPS would be in that range, but it would be great if higher.

Gardner – I have been in Gardner’s corner since the beginning and one of the reasons I hated the Ellsbury signing because I wrote that Gardner gives you the same type of production for a ton less money.  People have been trying to have him traded for a while but Cashman has not pulled the trigger and I for one think the Yankees are better for it.  He is the best defensive LF’r in the game and I don’t think it is close.  His offense is also solid.  5 straight year of over 600 plate appearances and last year had an OPS of .778!  While he is not the SB threat he used to be (he isn’t a natural base stealer and struggles reading pitchers), he still was productive swiping 23 bases while only getting caught 5 times.  The days of him swiping 45 bases are gone at 34 years old, but he is still very fast!  He is very important to this team, but with our depth with Ellsbury/Hicks coming off IR, we are covered pretty well.  Gardner is definitely underrated.

I could write about every player, but I do want to write briefly on Bird.  Another situation where we may be getting ahead of ourselves (although I hope we aren’t).  In 2015, at the age of 22, he had an OPS of .871 in 157 AB’s.  This led to a lot of optimism (as it should), but then injuries led him to only get about the same amount of playing time over the next 2 years…which is not a lot.  Last year, he was not good (.710 OPS), but the reason for being optimistic is that he had an OPS of .921 in 57 Plate post season appearances including a dramatic HR against ex Yankee Andrew Miller (who is deadly against lefties).  He clearly will be our starter at 1st base, but he still is young and may have some struggles, including he has had a lot of issues in his ankles.  I still want him batting 5th in my lineup and I will post that later.  (UPDATE – Bird is out for a while with his ankle – ugh). 

Rookie/minor league excitement – Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are who I expect to begin manning 2nd base and 3rd respectively by the All Star Break.  Andujar needs to work on his fielding but I love watching his stick come through the zone.  Both guys will probably start in the Minors so that we get an extra year of arbitration out of them, but they are a reason for excitement and two of the reasons, I really liked trading away Castro in the Stanton trade.  Castro was mediocre as a defensive 2nd baseman and hit pretty well for one (.792 OPS), but as I said at the beginning, go get your studs and Stanton is one.  (UPDATE – Cashman made two good depth moves getting Drury and Walker.  While Walker is probably a stop gap at 32 years old, he is a hitting 2nd baseman and can give us depth at 1st base.  He has been over an .800 OPS the last 2 years and a career OPS against righties of .842.  We do need some help from the left side so at 4 mil this is a very good signing.  Drury was an interesting trade.  I really don’t know anything about him, but what the stats say, however, it didn’t seem like we gave up too much in the way of where these guys were ranked and remember Drury is only 25 years old so you aren’t renting him.  We have him under arbitration control for the next 4 years.  He is a decent player right now posting a .775 OPS over the last 2 years so there is no reason to think he can’t age well and do even better. He seems to be pretty equal against lefties and righties so he can play every day.  Have to tip your hat to Cashman as he has added some decent players without mortgaging any future and I love the way he mixes things up in a 3 way trade (has done it a few times). 

Stanton – What can you say; add the studs when you can.  On the negative side, it can be said we got the guy after by far his best year and the contract is expensive and very long!  25 mil a year for 10 more years.  He will be about 38 then so this will be another Teixeira, ARod ending most likely after 35.  But, the hope is that he will deliver a .950+ OPS for the next 5-7 years before we see a larger decline.  He had an OPS of 1.007 last year but I think a .950 is a good number.   The other positive is that he had an OPS of 1.095 after the break so he finished well.  I think this is exactly the types of trades we should do and we didn’t give away too much.

I want to touch base on one more player before I get into the pitching…Clint Frazier.  He is an interesting one as he has a very unique batting style/stance/stride that may need to be altered, but he has outstanding bat speed.  He runs well and has good pop in his bat, but his plate discipline needs a lot of work.  7 walks and 43 K’s is a good example.  Only 7 walks bothers me as I like guys who get on base or work the count, but he is only 22 and needs to adjust.  He did hit lefties well with an OPS of .770 (.715 OPS overall), but I think he needs more work.  His minor league numbers were decent with an OPS of .816, but that isn’t great for the minors.  I think Andujar is a better hitter at this juncture.

OK I lied, one more player and that is Tyler Wade.  Last year, I thought he was lost; he showed he was not ready at all and I didn’t like his swing or his approach.  The Yankees brass all say that what we saw wasn’t him and he is really good.  The question is what happened?  He was anemic in the majors last year, but he had an OPS of .842 as a 2nd baseman in the minors and the scouts say he had a great winter.  (UPDATE: Getting Walker means Cashman was not ready to give Wade part of the 2nd base job with Torreyes (who is a decent backup), but if Wade is what the scouts think that is great news…have to see a lot more maturity, but at 23 Wade can be a lot better.


I am not as down as many about our starting pitching and mostly because Severino and Montgomery are a year older and we have Sonny Gray all year.  Of course, CC is a year older and while he made the transition into a pitcher from a thrower, it would be shocking if he pitched better this year than last year.  Tanaka is 29 so he is in a good spot pitching.  I think he will be better than last year where he nibbled too much and saw his strikeouts go up but his walks and HR’s went up.  I think nibbling caused him to be behind in the count too much and just flat out grooved too many pitches.  He will always allow a lot of homers, but last year was absurd allowing 35 HR’s in 178 IP; he allowed more than a HR in every start!  I didn’t look up stats but that had to be one of the worst in baseball. 

Severino – Hard to think his stats can get better with an ERA of 2.98 and it probably won’t, but man he has a crazy strong arm.  The fact he can hit 100 MPH on his 100th pitch is special!  He has also done a great job of not giving out free passes.  The hope is he can control his pitches even better, specifically his off speed pitches.  Right now he is a 3 pitch pitcher (fast, slider and changeup) and that is OK, but one slower pitch would be better.  His slider and change are both around 87-90 and while the change should fade to the right and the slider will go down and to the left, if he can either take something off his slider at times, I think it would be very beneficial.  That being said, he is a stud and we need him healthy.

Gray – 28 and in his prime.  He had 2 excellent years followed by an awful year and then a good one last year.  If he can give us another 3.72 ERA, he should win at least 2x as many games as he loses with this offense and bullpen. 

CC (37) – had an ERA of 3.69 last year and was 14-5 (which is almost 3x as many wins as losses.  I wouldn’t be shocked if we saw CC’s ERA climb over 4, but if he stays around 4 I will be happy.  There is a high chance of DL as well with CC

Montgomery – At 25 years old he has upside, but if he can duplicate a 3.88 ERA I would not be disappointed either.  He is pretty savvy for a 25 year old, but he could improve by lowering his walk total a little bit and fine tune his control within the strike zone.

Bullpen:  The depth of quality arms is crazy.  We have many guys who could close if needed and we can really shorten a game if we need to.  I won’t go into all of them, but it is a group that throws really hard.  Chapman is the closer and while he can be shaky, he still throws hard.  I think he needs to trust his breaking ball more and get a good feel for it.  Last year was by far his worst year seeing his ERA over a run higher than his career.  He is 30 and a big guy so I don’t see him slowing much for the next year or two.  If he falters you can pick between, Robertson, Green, Kahnle and the wild card Betances.  At 30 years old, he should have harnessed his windup by now, but his stuff is the most electric on the team, if not the league.  He can be so frustrating, but if he could get a little more control, he is as lights out as anyone (he reminds me of Rob Dibble with less control). We also have a very solid pitcher in Warren who would probably be the first call into the rotation as juggling these guys won’t be easy in terms of keeping them busy.  Warren was excellent last year with a 2.35 ERA.  Chapman and Shreve are the only lefties and Shreve is there as a LOOGY.  While Shreve wasn’t great last year, he did hold lefties to an OPS of .498.  That is excellent.  Now for perspective, Austin Romine who hit .218/.272/.293 had a very weak .565 OPS.  Think about this, Warren, Robertson and Green had OPS’ against of .491, 488 and 454 respectively!  THREE guys with sub .500 OPS against.  None of those guys are our main closer either!

Manager – It is impossible for me to say what kind of manager Boone will be.  I view the manager of the Yankees to have 4 main legs.  There are the X’s and O’s part of game management, the ability to handle the pressure of the NY marketplace including the media, the relationship with the players to maximize their attributes and finally hiring a competent staff.   Then there are the adjustments to all of these, especially as Boone becomes more familiar and confident.  A big portion will be for him to make the moves he feels are correct and not worry about how he gets roasted for the ones that don’t work out, BUT, he must also have the self-reflection to understand why something didn’t work out and then analyze if it was a miscalculation on his part or sometimes the right decision just doesn’t work out.  Then, he must resist the problem that Girardi had where he would come up with a totally BS excuse that anyone who understands the game knows is a disingenuous answer.  I used to write about how I hated how condescending Girardi was to cover up a bad decision; his, “I know better than you” cover-up.  Managers will make mistakes; the good ones make a lot less than the bad ones and more importantly put their players in a position where their skills can be accentuated and limit their exposure to their flaws.  Boone talks the game correctly and is humble as well as smart (we need more of that).  To be fair, Girardi was a good X and O manager; much better than Torre was, but Girardi didn’t handle the media well and didn’t relate to the players that much.  It all came to a head when he basically lied and failed to own his mistake(s) when he didn’t want to challenge the foul tip into Sanchez’ glove which unfortunately led to a grand slam to blow an 8-3 lead and we fell behind Cle 2 games to 0.  Whether it was overturned or not isn’t the issue, it was Girardi’s excuse for not taking a shot in the 6th inning of a game where there was little chance he would have a review close to the same significance the rest of the way…Girardi said, "Probably being a catcher, my thought is I never want to break a pitcher's rhythm, that's how I think about it."  I blew my gasket when I heard that BS…as did Cashman obviously and that was it.  To the credit of Girardi and this team, we came back and beat Cleveland, but it was a bad decision and an equally bad excuse.  BTW, the fact we overcame this is one of the reasons I am excited about this team.

Finishing my thought on Girardi, he overall handled the pressure of NY OK, but didn’t handle the media well and supposedly the players were indifferent to him.  I think his X and O management was pretty decent and his preparation was excellent.  He was average at surrounding himself with good people; I think mostly of leaving Robby Thompson at 3rd much longer than he deserved as he was very bad at 3rdbase (I lost count how many guys we got thrown out at home with 1 or no outs…this blog has accounts of my issues with him).  Overall Girardi was not a bad skipper, in fact he was at the worst average and probably a little better than that (you can see I value the preparation and x and O more than the rest, especially when you consider he is obviously a pretty good guy and had no scandals or issues at all.

Gardner, Judge, Didi, Stanton, Bird, Sanchez, Hicks/Ellsbury, 3rd base and 2nd base
UPDATE: with Bird out, I would juggle the lineup and matchup to the pitcher a little more.  I would put Walker 5th most likely. 
The key here is having the lefties in between Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez.  I like Didi in the 3 spot slightly better because he doesn’t walk as much (more of a free swinger) as Bird and I would expect that slot to have pitchers go at the hitter more with Stanton on deck.  Bird is a patient hitter and takes many grooved 1st pitches and while that is a strength at times, it could hurt him a little in that spot always falling behind as the pitcher does not want to walk guys in front of Stanton.   It is not as critical which one is in that spot but I do like to split the righties up to make matchups harder later in the game for specialists.  I like Judge 2nd as he is a little more disciplined than Stanton and gets on base more.  Judge had an OBP of .402 and a slug% of .627 for an OPS of 1.049.  Stanton had an OBP of .376 and a slug of .631 for an OPS of 1.007.   

The expectations are high as they should be and I am very optimistic about this year and future years as well!

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