ALDS Victory Perspectives

Perspective.png

Wow!  That was amazing.  I have so many ideas and perspectives following what was an absolutely amazing five game series.

Let's start with Joe Girardi.  It's time to be fair and honest.  Girardi did an outstanding job.  Outside of the Game 2 debacle, Girardi actually out-managed Terry Francona.  I know it's hip to say what a great manager Francona is, but, if he was in New York - imagine the outrage now.  I felt that throughout the series, Francona made numerous questionable moves: Kipnis in center field, not starting Corey Kluber to open the series, using the entire bullpen in Game 4... Yes, Francona is an excellent manager, but he's not infallible.  I believe his record in his most recent "championship" games is 0-6, am I correct?

Also speaking of Girardi.  Let's say he doesn't come back for 2018.  Please tell me who you would like to see managing the team who is better than Joe Girardi.  Does anyone on the list of potential Mets or Red Sox managers inspire great hope?  For me, I hope Girardi stays.  I think his overall body of work as Yankees manager has been outstanding.

One last Girardi point - he deserves a standing ovation when the teams are announced at Yankee Stadium for Game 3.  A Standing Ovation.  

Moving Didi to the #3 spot in the batting order, breaking up the right handed bats of Judge and Sanchez, was a brilliant move (by Girardi).  Didi is fast becoming a New York superstar and legend.  He's happy, he's fun, he's full of energy, his Twitter posts are great, and he is one OUTSTANDING baseball player!  Didi is one of the leaders on the team.  The Yankees should extend his contract this off season.  Keep Didi in the Bronx.  He has become, in just a few years, a cornerstone player.  He's already knighted.  Might they make him the captain one day?

Brett Gardner has also cemented himself as a "True Yankee."  He has also been the heart and soul of this team.  The veteran.  The leader.  Full of energy.  Gardner does not give away at bats.  He battles.  And then he battles some more.  The 9th inning at bat last night was textbook great.  He battled until he could get a pitch that he could drive.  Those two insurance runs made all the difference.

I love Aaron Judge and think he's a super star, but the strikeouts are a HUGE problem.  We have to admit this.  His ALDS was a nightmare.  I don't think he should be ripped by fans or the media.  It's not like he isn't trying.  But, he had a bad series.  Legendarily bad.  It happens.  But, that being said, he's killing the Yankees in the #2 spot in the order.  It's time for a line-up change.

My optimal lineup goes Gardner (LF), Hicks (CF), Didi (ss), Sanchez (c), Bird (1b), Castro (2b), Ellsbury (dh), Judge (RF), Frazier (3b).  I could be convinced to flip Castro and Judge.  

I think Matt Holliday should be left off the ALCS roster.  The Yankees owe him nothing, there is no spot in which he'll be used, or so it seemed from the ALDS, so they should add a player who can play the field, just might hit, and can run (Clint Frazier).  

Who will DH for the Yankees?  The position gave the Yankees nothing.  Nothing.  Ouch.  Think about that, the Yankees, the Bronx Bombers, got zero production from their designated hitters.  (And they still won the series!)

Back to the positive stuff...

Todd Frazier is full of positive energy.  He brings a lot to this team.  He's solid.  He's a smart player.  The run he scored last night, because he goes all out and is always thinking on the field, was gigantic.  It took the pressure off of the team for the bottom of the 9th inning.  It put the game out of reach.  I'm so glad he's on the team.

The Yankees pitching has been spectacular.  CC was amazing last night.  Nine strikeouts!  Girardi managed EXACTLY as I would have the way the game played out.  Chapman has been outstanding since September 1.  He fixed whatever was ailing him.  He has been amazing.  D-Rob, Tanaka. Severino, Kahnle... they were all lights-out.  Brilliant.  Man is that fun.  

What a joy it is to watch great baseball!

Yankees fans must enjoy the moment.  Today is a day to celebrate and relish in the joy that comes from unanticipated success.  No one expected this.  The joy of sports is in moments like these.  The Yankees Won!  The Yankees WON!  The season goes on.  And it is GREAT!  

Go Yankees!  GO YANKEES!!!!!

 

 

Quick Post: The Yankee Bullpen Can Nearly Eliminate Cleveland's Edge in Game 2

Corey Kluber will probably win, and deserve, the AL Cy Young award. His 2.25 ERA is pretty awesome. CC Sabathia is a great pitcher, but his 3.69 ERA doesn't really compare. The Yankees appear to be huge underdogs in Game 2. 

Except, I'm not sure that's true. As great as Corey Kluber is, he's still not really the equal of an elite major league bullpen. Let's assume that CC Sabathia pitches 4 innings, Chad Green pitches two, and Kahnle, Robertson and Chapman each pitch one inning. On the Cleveland side, let's assume that Kluber pitches 7 innings and Allen pitches two (I'm assuming Miller is unavailable). What is the expected ERA of each team?

For the Yankees: (3.69 * 4 + 1.83 * 2 + 2.59 + 1.84 + 2.21) / 9 = 2.78 ERA

For the Indians: (2.25 * 7 + 2.94 *2) / 9 = 2.40

(I'm assuming Aroldis Chapman is at his career 2.21 ERA, not his season ERA)

The Indians have an edge, but a small one. The Yankees can push it a little further by stretching one more inning out of the bullpen instead of Sabathia. They can pick up a little more if Kluber is pushed out after six innings, and someone like Bryan Shaw or Nick Goody has to pitch an inning.

The Yankees are at a disadvantage tonight, but a smaller one than people are expressing. 

 

The Yankees' postseason odds and the effect of the Wild Card game

Embed from Getty Images

In the last couple of weeks, the Yankees have played quite well. It's gotten them some recognition as a potentially dangerous team in October, with it's solid rotation front three, an overpowering bullpen, and a deep lineup. The recent headlines certainly allow for some excitement about a potential World Series run. A sample of a few: Here's why the Yankees are better than you think they are, Yankees have the right formula to beat the Indians in October, and No One Will Want to Face These Yankees. That's a lot of high praise for a team likely destined for a Wild Card game in which the odds of winning won't be much better than a coin flip.

There's no question that the Yankees should win the Wild Card game, assuming they can't make up Boston's three game division lead in the season's final ten games. Of the teams battling for the second Wild Card spot, all are inferior to the Yankees. There's no need to look much further than the standings to prove that, as the Yankees currently stand seven games up on the Twins, who are holding on to that last playoff spot. That being said, the Yankees being favored doesn't make them a shoe-in, and that's frustrating. Weird things can happen in a single baseball game. In this postseason structure, winning the division is emphasized, and the Yankees will probably have to take on the risk of the Wild Card game because of it.

Despite all of the glowing articles about the Yankees being a dangerous postseason team, the club's chances of winning the World Series are slim. That doesn't mean the pieces penned about the team's postseason potential are wrong, of course. The Yankees are unquestionably a very good team. It's just that a little bit of bad luck could get in the way in the first game of the playoffs, hence the Yankees' likelihood of winning the World Series at 5.4% per Fangraphs' Playoff Odds page. According My Top Sportsbooks, the Yankees' championship odds are at 12/1, or about 7.7%, and most online sportsbooks have them at 14/1, or about 6.7%..

Depending on where you look, the Yankees have somewhere between a 5% and 8% chance of hoisting the franchise's 28th title. That's pretty low, and understandably so. Clearly, the risk of playing in the Wild Card game has been priced in to the odds. Though facing Cleveland or Houston in a five game series is unquestionably a tall task thereafter, it'd feel like a fairer fight. To get there, the Yankees will have to come out on the positive side of the Wild Card game that could be full of surprises. Should the Yankees do that, the odds of making a deep October run will be much more in the team's favor.

Statcast: Aaron Judge is Back!

You know the story: Aaron Judge was in a mighty slump after the All Star Break. He batted .179/.341/.352 through August 27th, when Joe Girardi made the decision to rest him for two games. Since August 27th, Judge has recovered hit a pretty incredible .250/.413/.667. He's hitting 115+ mph home runs again, and making a push for AL MVP. 

Here's what the season looks like using a rolling 10-game moving average of Statcast's xwOBA statistic:

Source: Statcast

Source: Statcast

Three observations:

1) Judge began to come out of the slump long before he was rested in late-August. He was legitimately terrible after the All Star Break in July. His xwOBA began to improve in early August, but has take off like a rocket since he was rested. However, it did clearly affect his strikeout rate:

Source: Fangraphs

Source: Fangraphs

 

2) Even when he was slumping terribly, Judge never really bottomed out to below-average for any lengthy period of time. His ability to take walks sets a high floor. 

3) When Judge gets hot, he stays hot. Hit like a modern day Babe Ruth for two separate month-long hot streaks. He's hot now (September 10th and 14th were two of Judge's best three games of the season by xwOBA).

Missing from Monument Park - Part 3 of 3

For Part 1 of this series, please click here:  Part 1

For Part 2 of this series, please click here: Part 2

***

Following Graig Nettles, third base once again became a weak position for the Yankees. 

No stars here....

No stars here....

In 1984, Toby Harrah spent his lone year as one of the Yankees’ starting third basemen.  In 88 games, Harrah rewarded the Yankees’ confidence by hitting a paltry .217.  Harrah split time that year at third base with a converted shortstop, Roy Smalley whose own contribution was a weak .239 batting average.  By mid-July, the Yankees called up a left-handed swinging potential slugger named Michael Pagliarulo.  Known as “Pags,” this scrappy player took hold of the position and enjoyed some success with the long ball.  Between 1985 and 1987, Pagliarulo hit 79 home runs, but his low batting average helped his flame burn out rather quickly and by 1989, Pagliarulo was traded to the San Diego Padres.

No stars here either...

No stars here either...

In the early 1990’s, the Yankees tried a host of players at third base, none leaving much of a mark.  These players, Randy Velarde, Mike Blowers, Pat Kelly, and Jim Leyritz, had all come through the Yankees minor league system.  None attained prominence as a starter.

Charlie Hayes ably manned the position in 1992, batting .257 with 18 home runs, but was taken from the Yankees by the Colorado Rockies in the Expansion Draft.

1996 Champions!

1996 Champions!

The next truly great Yankee third baseman was former Red Sox star Wade Boggs who came to the Yankees in 1993.  In five seasons with the Yankees, Wade Boggs batted .313 including a high of .342 in 1994.  Boggs’ strong bat, better than advertised defense (Boggs won the Gold Glove in 1994 and 1995), and leadership helped bring the Yankees back to respectability.  Boggs was the Yankees starting third baseman on their 1996 World Championship team.  At the end of the 1996 season, Charlie Hayes also returned to the Yankees to help with the championship drive.  Hayes and Boggs shared the starting third base duties in 1997.

Another World Series Champion!

Another World Series Champion!

Between 1998 and 2000, the Yankees won three consecutive World Championships.  Their third baseman during those years (and in 2001, when the lost the World Series to the Arizona Diamondbacks) was Scott Brosius.  Brosius was a solid defensive player who hit the occasional long ball.  In his four seasons as a Yankee, Brosius averaged just over 16 home runs a year.  He was an American League All-Star in 1998 and he won the Gold Glove in 1999.  Brosius’ play helped to cement a strong left side of the infield along with shortstop Derek Jeter.  Known as a “clutch-player,” Scott Brosius hit three World Series home runs including the game winner in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series.

Scott Brosius retired after the 2001 season.  In 2002 and 2003, the Yankees primary third baseman was Robin Ventura.  Late in the 2003 campaign, the Yankees acquired Aaron Boone.  Boone’s performance as a Yankee was lacking, but he etched his name in Yankee lore when he hit the game winning homerun that sent brought the Yankees victory over the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series in 2003.

Finally, any discussion about Yankees third basemen would be incomplete without a discussion about the third baseman who may have been the greatest all-around player the Yankees ever had, along with being one of their most controversial – Alex Rodriguez.

For nine seasons, from 2004 through 2012, Rodriguez was the Yankees starting third baseman.  In that time, Alex Rodriguez played more games at that position (1.193) than any player in Yankees history other than Graig Nettles (1,508).

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When he arrived with the Yankees in February 2004, Alex Rodriguez was widely hailed as one of the greatest players of his generation.  He was the premier shortstop in baseball – a seven time All-Star who had led the American League in home runs each of the three years before arriving in New York with amazing totals (52 home runs in 2001, 57 home runs in 2002, and 47 home runs in 2003).  Rodriguez won the Gold Glove at shortstop in 2002 and 2003.  He was also the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 2003, the year before he became a Yankee.  Alex Rodriguez was a superstar in every sense of the word.  Yet, the Yankees at that time had a great shortstop of their own, the legendary Derek Jeter.  Upon his arrival in New York, Alex Rodriguez deferred to Jeter and voluntarily moved from shortstop to third base where he would star for many seasons.

As a Yankee third baseman, Alex Rodriguez put up numbers that had never been seen by a Yankee at that position.  From 2004 through 2010, Rodriguez enjoyed seven consecutive 30+ homerun seasons.  In each of those seasons, Alex Rodriguez also drove in at least one hundred runs.  Over that span, Rodriguez batted .296 with 268 home runs and 841 runs batted in.  A-Rod was the American League MVP in 2005 and again in 2007.

The only blemish on Alex Rodriguez’ resume was his seeming inability to deliver big hits in the post season as the Yankees qualified for the playoffs in each of those seasons, except 2008.  Through the 2007 post season, Rodriguez owned a .245 batting average with only four homeruns in 24 playoff games.  The Yankees failed to reach the World Series in any of those seasons, losing in the Division Series in 2005, 2006, and 2007.  Fair or not, Rodriguez’s inability to raise his game was considered a major factor in the Yankees’ post season failures.

All of that changed in the 2009 post season when Alex Rodriguez finally delivered on his promise.  In the 2009 Division Series, he hit .455 with two home runs and six runs batted in as part of the Yankees’ three game sweep of the Minnesota Twins.  Rodriguez followed that by batting .429 with three home runs and six more runs batted in against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as the Yankees won that series in six games.  While his batting average was just .250, Rodriguez hit one home run and drove in six runs to help the Yankees defeat the Philadelphia Phillies to capture the 2009 World Championship.  Alex Rodriguez was a huge force that post season as he put to rest, forever, discussion of his inability to be clutch.

Alex Rodriguez’s resume through 2009, and then beyond, would have been enough, judging by the numbers to easily rank him as the Yankees premier third baseman of all time.  But, just as he seemingly won over the Yankee faithful, his career started to unravel – Alex Rodriguez’s name became associated with steroids.

The steroid talk actually began in 2009 with the release of a positive test and then articles and a book that claimed Alex Rodriguez had used steroids throughout his career.  Rodriguez admitted to using illegal performance enhancing substances in the period 2001-2003 while a member of the Texas Rangers, but denied that he still used them.  In 2013, he was involved in another steroid allegation that ultimately resulted in his suspension from baseball for the entire 2014 season.  Books will be written that document this sorted affair.  For the sake of brevity, the allegations, dishonesty, law suits, and such that played a major role in this story greatly tarnished Alex Rodriguez’s legacy as a Yankee and as one of baseball’s premier players.  His close association to performance enhancing drugs puts Alex Rodriguez’s body of work in question.  His numbers alone would rank him as an all-time great, but the controversies that surround his career, leave much of his legacy in doubt.  In the case of Alex Rodriguez, time will determine his legacy.

Following A-Rod, third base has been primarily patrolled by Chase Headley (2014-present) and Todd Frazier (2017).  Hot shot prospect Miguel Andujar might be the next great Yankees third baseman.  Only time will tell!

It's time to open the doors of Monument Park to a third baseman.

It's time to open the doors of Monument Park to a third baseman.

In conclusion, it is clear that throughout the Yankees’ impressive history, many great players patrolled third base who contributed to the team’s glory.  Frank “Home Run” Baker and Wade Boggs have been enshrined in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame.  Alex Rodriguez certainly has Hall-of-Fame worthy numbers.  In addition to Boggs and Rodriguez, both Graig Nettles and Red Rolfe were Yankee All-Stars at third base.  Scott Brosius, Wade Boggs, and Graig Nettles all earned Gold Gloves while manning the hot corner as Yankees.

Each of the major players in this series has left enough of a legacy with the Yankees to be considered to be enshrined in Monument Park.  They all contributed to the Yankees championship history.  Their absence from Monument Park is an oversight that must be corrected.  It is time to begin honoring some of these Yankees legends. 

Graig Nettles

Graig Nettles

The place to begin is with the player who played more games at third base than any other in Yankees history.  A former Yankees captain and one of the team's true leaders during their successful seasons in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, Graig Nettles.  For Nettles, and numerous others, this recognition is long past due.

Passed balls are a problem, but there's so much more to Gary Sanchez

In last night's blowout of the Red Sox, Gary Sanchez recorded his 14th passed ball. It tied him with Yasmani Grandal for the league lead despite Sanchez missing about a month of the season. It's not fun to focus on perhaps the only big negative of a player's game, but in this case, the frustration with Sanchez' ability to handle certain pitches is palpable.

There's no question that Sanchez needs to get better at holding on to catchable pitches. All players have certain facets of their games that they need to improve upon, and Sanchez is no different. Fortunately, receiving seems like something a catcher can learn. Unlike something like running speed, blocking or holding on to pitches is a technical skill.

It doesn't hurt that the Yankees have Joe Girardi and Tony Pena on the staff, two former catchers known for their defensive chops in their playing careers and good reputations for working with catchers. Their tutelage can certainly help Sanchez, and for what it's worth, Girardi has liked what he's seen from Sanchez in recent weeks.

Though it's vexing to see Sanchez miss a pitch that doesn't even hit the dirt, he's doing so much else to make up for it. His throwing arm is ridiculous:

He's now caught 37.5% of potential basestealers this year, 4th-best in baseball. Sanchez is also a very good pitch framer, 9th in framing runs above average. It seems a little odd that Sanchez could be a good receiver when it comes to framing when he's a poor receiver when it comes to allowing catchable pitches by him, but Gary has a history of being a very good framer:

Over at Baseball Prospectus, they have pitch-framing information for both the major and the minor leagues. The information for the minors is worse, simply because the supporting data is more limited, but there is real signal there. Let me now show you how Sanchez has ranked as a receiver:
  • 2015, Double-A: 82nd percentile
  • 2015, Triple-A: 83rd
  • 2016, Triple-A: 88th
  • 2016, Majors: 85th

All this goes without mentioning Sanchez' hitting. Since last season, no catcher is close to his production with the bat. Sanchez owns a 143 wRC+ since last year, well ahead of Willson Contreras (123) and Buster Posey (122). Again, it's not even close.

While it's easy to get caught up with each pitch that Sanchez let's by, not all hope is lost. His receiving seems like something that he can improve upon, and even if he's always going to be below average with that part of his game, Sanchez has so much else going for him that it won't really matter. As long as he's showing off his cannon behind the plate, his pitchers like throwing to him, and he hits plenty of home runs, the passed balls won't be a deal breaker. Sure, we'll probably throw our hands up in the air when the next passed ball comes, but the bigger picture quite rosy for the Yankees' catcher.

Why I'm Betting Against Didi Gregorius' Breakout Season

Didi Gregorius has been awesome this season. He's 10th in the American League with 3.6 fWAR despite missing time. Gregorius is hitting .311/.338/.503 with a strong 13.2% strikeout rate, adding up to a .354 wOBA and 121 wRC+. As usually, he's providing tons of value on defense (>1 win, 5th best in the AL). 

What's not to like? 

I'll get into more detail below, but the answer is weak contact. Our new statcast numbers show that Didi Gregorius is making very poor contact. Combine that with his tiny 4% walk rate and Didi might be a much worse hitter going forward than he's seemed to be so far this year.

How Statcast Predicts Hitting Quality

Statcast records two important variables for every batted ball. We've all heard these about these ad nauseum this season: exit velocity and launch angle. We can take the exit velocity and launch angle of a given batted ball and look at all past batted balls around that number. For example, Gary Sanchez hit a ball last night at 97 mph at an angle of 29 degrees. Here are all the balls hit at those parameters this season:

Source: Statcast

Source: Statcast

That's really good! That ball is a home run 35% of the time, and also produces a fair number of singles and doubles. 

Gregorius hit a solid single last night as well, at 81 mph and 22 degrees:

Source: Statcast

Source: Statcast

That ball only goes for extra bases 8% of the time, but yields a .500 batting average. It's a classic line drive hitter's ball.

We can put all the possible exit velocities and launch angles together to produce this great graph via FiveThirtyEight's Rob Arthur:

Source: Rob Arthur /  FiveThirtyEight

Source: Rob Arthur / FiveThirtyEight

(Fun fact: this graph is a year old. Aaron Judge has hit a ton of balls harder than anything on this chart)

This graph should be pretty easy to read. The more purple a location, the less valuable a batted ball is. These are almost always outs. The more orange a location, the more valuable a batted ball is. Hitters can thrive in two basic bands: the line drive band in between 10 degrees and 25 degrees, where soft contact can yield hits, and the power hitting band, where (only) hard contact yields extra base hits.

Statcast essentially does the same thing that Rob Arthur's graph does to produce the statistic xwOBA, which we've used a lot on this blog in 2017. It takes each individual batted ball a player hits, calculates an expected value, and adds in strikeout, walk rates, and other information. The equation basically looks like this:

wOBA = Batted Balls*X1 + Strikeout Rate*X2 + Walk/HBP Rate*X3 + Error

We produce the values for X1, X2, and X3 here by taking in all of the data for players recorded by Statcast so far, including their actual wOBA. We then can take those coefficients and estimate the wOBA that a given batted ball profile from a player would on average produce.

The error term is important here. We are not going to perfectly predict the wOBA is a player using their batted ball profile and plate discipline. There are lots of other factors at play: luck, opposing defenses, park factors, speed, and horizontal angle (where on the field the ball lands). A really big error number suggests that the model we've designed to predict an outcome does not do a great job predicting it, even if the individual variables fed into it are significant predictors of the outcome. 

For the individual player, a large error term means that a lot of things other than the model are probably contributing to the observed outcome. For example, Billy Hamilton is very fast, and turns a lot of batted balls into more valuable outcomes than the average player. Since xwOBA doesn't (yet) account for speed, we should expect it to undershoot Billy Hamilton's value.

However, luck is probably the predominate factor for most players. Sometimes, balls find holes in the field. These hits count in the game, but aren't likely good predictors of future performance. If a player is having a good season because a lot of balls that are normally low value are falling in, they are likely not going to be as good going forward, and vice versa.

Didi Gregorius's Breakout Performance According to Statcast

Gregorius has posted a wOBA of 0.354 this season, well above the AL average 0.322 wOBA. However, the above equation predicts an xwOBA of 0.284 - well below average.

381 players have at least 100 MLB plate appearances this season. Of those, Gregorius is the 4th highest overperformer. The other three are Mallex Smith, Marwin Gonzalez, Zack Cozart. Here's what this looks like on a graph:

Picture1.png

Gregorius is a huge outlier off his predicted value. If Didi Gregorius was super fast, you could argue that he's doing what Mallex Smith is: turning ground ball outs into singles, singles into doubles, and doubles into triples. However, we all know that Gregorius is a pretty average runner.

What about Yankee Stadium? Gregorius has actually been worse at home than on the road this season. This is probably luck, but it could actually be that his swing is particularly damaged by Yankee Stadium. While YS3 is clearly a hitter's park (11% more runs are scored in Yankee Stadium than the average park), that is almost entirely driven by a league-leading +45% (!) home run park factor. It is actually harder to hit a single, double, or triple in Yankee Stadium than the average ballpark. Logically, this makes sense: a smaller field leaves room for outfielders to catch the balls that stay in the park. For a weak-contact, hopefully line drive, hitter like Gregorius, Yankee Stadium might actually make it easier to defend him.

Bottom Line: I'm Not Betting on Gregorius

Didi Gregorius is by no means a bad player. The average MLB shortstop is hitting a tiny 0.307 wOBA this season. Didi is one of the better defensive shortstops in baseball. He's been an above-average contributor at his position for most of his career despite below-average hitting. 

But does anyone really believe Didi is a 0.500+ slugger? A 0.315+ hitter? The data clearly suggest otherwise. The point is that we shouldn't bet on Didi Gregorius, MVP Candidate, going forward. We should bet on good old Didi Gregorius, valuable Yankee shortstop. Anything else is just wishful thinking in the face of pretty definitive data. 

Masahiro Tanaka is Back On Track (And Will Probably Opt-Out)

It's been a rough season for Masahiro Tanaka. He's pitched to a 4.93 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 3.50 xFIP. The FIP/xFIP gap is massive, and notable. The gap is entirely explained by home runs - Tanaka has gotten killed so far this season, which we all know very well. The question is whether or not Tanaka has been unlucky or just bad.

A few years ago, answering this question would be impossible, but we now have excellent Statcast data. Statcast puts out a statistic called xwOBA, which estimates the expected wOBA of batters against a pitcher based on walk and strikeout rates, exit velocity, and launch angle. The average wOBA for a pitcher is 0.328 working out to about a 4.56 ERA. Tanaka's wOBA so far is 0.335 on the season.

What about his xwOBA? He's just above average at 0.319, suggesting he has been slightly unlucky. What about the trend?

Source: Statcast

Source: Statcast

Tanaka wasn't bad in the first few months of the season, averaging a xwOBA of about .300. Everything fell apart in mid-May, and the average batter became Aaron Judge for a month. He remained below-average through mid-June. Since then, he's been good to great.

I think it's safe to say that Masahiro Tanaka is back. He was definitely bad, not just unlucky, earlier this season. Now he's Masahiro Tanaka again: near ace.

In the short term, Tanaka becomes the best #3 starter in the American League. Only 12 starting pitchers hold an ERA under 4.00, and Tanaka is currently performing well below that benchmark. In the long term, opting-out becomes much more attractive for him. Tanaka can claim $67 million over three seasons after the opt out, but an effective Masahiro Tanaka is worth much more than that. Of course, any scenario where Tanaka opts out is one where he is good enough to help push the Yankees into the postseason, so we'll take it.

 

Gray Area: Will Sonny Gray Happen? At 11th Hour, Odds Are Rising

I’m writing mainly about the odds of a Sonny Gray deal but, first things first, here's why I really hope it happens: he'd solidify the rotation now, for the playoffs, and for 2018, when the rotation will be verrrry thin; his combination of young, cheap, and good makes him a better asset than any free agent starter would be; and he looks to cost less in prospects than lesser pitchers recently have. On that last point; any prospect package less than the blue-chip haul the Yankees got for Chapman or Miller last year is a steal. A 27 year-old top starter with two years of team control left is a more valuable asset than even a top closer with 0-1 years of control (like Chapman and Miller last year) -- yet it looks like the Yankees can land Gray for a weaker prospect package than they landed for Chapman or Miller last year.

But will they get Gray? Until today, I thought the Yankees were the front-runner to land Gray -- but with several teams in the chase, "front-runner" means maybe a 40% chance. But I’m doubling that to 80% after Morosi's report that Oakland would "prefer Florial over Frazier because of defense in CF." That's an odd preference! I see two possibilities -- and either makes me think a deal is really, really likely.

(1) Maybe: Beane genuinely prefers Florial? If so, I think the Yankees in a heartbeat give up a package of Florial and maybe two more good-not-elite prospects. Teams trading prospects often list their untouchables, and the Yankees consistently have named “Torres and Frazier” – but no others – as untouchable. Confirming that they had no untouchables beyond that top two is that they traded their #3 prospect (Rutherford) for a White Sox package that, even all together, isn’t as valuable as Gray. If they gave up their #3 (Rutherford) and #15-ish (Clarkin) prospects for less than Gray, I think they’d happily give up a better package, led by their #5 (Florial), for Gray.

(2) Probably: Beane is saving face by spinning a Florial package he expects? Bluntly: I don't buy any sentient lifeform actually wanting Florial over Frazier. More likely, Beane is saying that for spin -- which implies he thinks the deal is happening, so he needs good press for landing Florial. Beane is a competitive guy, and anyone trading a star for prospects needs to claim he got a great prospect haul. More likely than (a) Beane strangely preferring Florial over Frazier is (b) Beane failing to land Frazier, but still wanting to deal, leading him to claim that a Florial package is still a top-prospect package.

(3) Prediction: Gray+Alonso for (a) Florial, (b) Mateo, (c) either of the inconsistent but promising 100-MPH guys, Acevedo or Abreu, & (d) a fourth good, but non-top-10, prospect. That's a wild guess, but I suspect that the Yankees' cost of keeping Torres and Frazier is including four real prospects -- and that's still a deal, because it's a much lighter package than the less valuable Chapman and Miller each cost last year. Alonso wouldn’t be a huge addition, but he does add value for the reasons Derek's deep-dive post noted, plus his platoon splits: over several years, he’s had a mid-.700s OPS against righties, so he’d be useful to rotate with the righty (Todd Frazier) and switch-hitter who occasionally needs rest (Headley) currently swapping among 1B & 3B.

Punch line: They'll be a much better team in 2017, the playoffs, and 2018 with Gray -- and they'd be getting him for a cost that, though heavy, preserves their true elite prospects, and isn't crushing in light of the depth of the Yankee system.

How should the Yankees value Yonder Alonso as part of a deal with Sonny Gray?

It's taken a while for 2008's 7th-overall pick to figure things out at baseball's highest level, but Yonder Alonso is in the midst of a breakout campaign in Oakland. This year, the 30 year-old first baseman has a solid .264/.362/.531 triple-slash and 21 home runs (139 wRC+). Alonso is eligible for free agency this offseason, so the timing of his best season to date couldn't have been better for himself. Though Oakland and Alonso are mutually interested in an extension, the first baseman has been subject to plenty of trade rumors given Oakland's usual reluctance to pay up in free agency. The Yankees have been connected to Alonso for much of the season, and now with the trade deadline less than a week away, it appears that Alonso could be included in a trade to the Bronx that Sonny Gray would headline. The Yankees could still use some help at first base, but what is Alonso actually worth?

Plenty has been written about the legitimacy of Alonso's breakout season. In the past, Alonso has struggled to lift the ball, but this season, he's selling out for fly balls and it's certainly paid off. At first glance, it doesn't sound like this season has been a fluke, as his improvement can be pointed at an actual adjustment he made at the plate. Further, as a former high draft pick and top prospect, it's not like Alonso wasn't inherently talented. Sure, it took him a while to figure things out, but perhaps it's not a total surprise given his early career expectations. All that being said, there are some aspects of Alonso's season that are troubling and cast some doubt on his viability going forward.

Any hitter that improves his fly ball rate from 33.3% a year ago to 46.4% this season is going to hit more home runs. That's precisely how Alonso's rates have changed. However, his home run to fly ball rate is quite high, standing at 21.4%. League average stands at 13.7%, and Alonso has never posted a full year rate higher than 7.8%. So while I can buy that Alonso has turned himself into a fly ball hitter due to a mechanical change, I'm not sure I buy into the frequency his fly balls are going over the fence. According to Stacast, one piece of data on Alonso's side is that his average exit velocity on fly balls is up to 93.7 MPH this season, much higher than 90.3 MPH a year ago. Even so, it's such a significant jump from his career norms that I'm still skeptical.

May was by far Alonso's best month, but the rest of his season hasn't been overwhelming. During May, Alonso clubbed 10 home runs in 80 plate appearances and slashed a ridiculous .303/.425/.803 (217 wRC+). In the months surrounding, Alonso still has been pretty good but not superb. April was his second best month, when he hit .279/.355/.515 (133 wRC+) with 4 home runs in 76 opportunities. After a strong start, Alonso's not done much since the calendar turned to June. He's been slightly above average at the plate, hitting .241/.337/.424 (107 wRC+) while swatting 7 long balls in 181 plate appearances. Furthermore, his HR/FB rate has come back to earth (15.6%). The June and onward version of Alonso is still a pretty good hitter, but not much different than the guy he was entering 2017. His career wRC+ entering this season was 102, based on a .269/.334/.387 line. The version we've seen over approximately the last two months is essentially that with some additional power.

Moving forward, projection systems believe that Alonso is much more like his June through July self. ZiPS and Steamer forecast 109 and 110 wRC+, respectively. Both expect decent power, with ZiPS the high system, expecting a .172 ISO vs. Steamer's .166 estimate. That's a good projection, but it definitely pumps the breaks on Alonso's full season line.

Despite his former prospect status and mechanical adjustments, I'm having a hard time buying into his full season stat line being representative of Alonso. Based on what he's done since June and what the projections indicate, it appears that Alonso is a slightly above average hitter. Given that he'll be a rental, I don't think that makes him worth more than one or two low-level prospects. I hate making hypothetical trade proposals because they often sound stupid, but let's put myself at risk anyway: for Alonso only, could Hoy Jun Park and/or Dermis Garcia get it done? Feel free to ridicule that for being too much or too little. One problem is that if Alonso is lumped into a trade with Gray, it'll be difficult to bifurcate the additional prospect(s) that would net Alonso into the deal.

If the Yankees are dead set on acquiring another first baseman, Alonso is a fine option. He would be a boost over Chase Headley and Garrett Cooper at first base, and in combination with the recent acquisition of Todd Frazier, Alonso would make the Yankees' corner infield better than it was just a couple weeks ago. I'm still wary of Alonso's supposed breakout, but if the prospect cost is reasonable, he makes sense (obvious statement is obvious).

Statistics via Fangraphs. Statcast data via Baseball Savant.