ALDS Victory Perspectives

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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!!!!!

 

 

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).

How (the lack of) pop-ups have helped Aaron Judge mitigate his strikeout problem

Aaron Judge's propensity to strikeout has been his biggest drawback as a player, and could continue to be for the rest of his career. Can't have it all, I guess. Given his size, no player is required to cover as large of a strike zone as Judge must. Perhaps he'll improve a few ticks as his career progresses, but it's hard to imagine him ever running an average strikeout rate. This year, he's gone down on strikes at a 30.1% clip, which though is far from ideal, has been more than tolerable given Judge's production otherwise. Though that rate sounds high, Judge has done something exceptionally well to mitigate it: he's made quality contact when putting the bat on the ball. In particular, Judge rarely hits infield pop-ups, something that's essentially the equivalent of a strikeout.

Strikeouts and pop-ups are incredibly similar. Both are easily recorded outs on which baserunners rarely advance. Infielders rarely botch pop flies, and on strikeouts, runners infrequently move up on wild pitches or passed balls. Considering the aforementioned, it's reasonable to say that a pop fly is just as bad as a strikeout. Although Judge has struck out in 30.1% of his plate appearances, he's only popped up twice all year, or 0.5% of his trips to the plate. Simple math shows that Judge has struck out or popped up 30.6% of the time this season (let's call it easy out rate, or EO%).

Major league hitters (pitchers excluded) have a 23.4% EO-rate this season, meaning that Judge's 30.6% mark is still 7.2% higher than the league. However, that's an improvement from the 9.0% difference between Judge's strikeout rate (30.1%) as compared to the league's (21.1%). Of hitters with 200 plate appearances or more (265 players qualified), only 12 hit pop flies less often than Judge. In other words, Judge has made up some of the ground he's lost from striking out by not popping up frequently. Judge's K% is 20th-worst in baseball whereas his EO% is 27th-worst (both min. 200 PA). That's still not great, but it's a better picture of how Judge truly stacks up. Look, Judge could (obviously) still stand to put the ball in play more often. Hopefully that gets better with time. Regardless, had he hit infield fly balls at a league average rate, he'd have cost himself seven or eight additional outs this season. I know it doesn't sound like much, but it certainly makes it easier to deal with the times he goes down on strikes.

Let's look at it from another perspective. Todd Frazier, one of the newest Yankees, has struck out at practically a league average clip (21.2%). However, he pops up more than twice as often as the rest of baseball, at 5.4%. That brings his EO% up to an above average 26.6% (again, league is 23.4%). Using Frazier as an example shows that though a batter's strikeout rate can tell us a lot, it can be a tad misleading. Frazier, who's strikeout rate is ho-hum and wouldn't raise any eyebrows, actually has been retired easier than it seems once his pop-up rate is considered.

Although Judge's strikeout rate is bad, it's not telling the whole story. No, his low pop fly rate won't save him, but it's unquestionably a helpful way to alleviate some of the contact concerns. Essentially, Judge has earned seven or eight additional plate appearances thanks to his ability to square up the ball when making contact. It doesn't sound like much, but it's certainly beneficial.

EO% Leaderboard thru 7/23/17, created via Fangraphs

Aaron Judge's Rest of Season Expectations and the Home Run Derby "Curse"

After a couple of days without any baseball whatsoever, the league gets back into action tonight, and so does Aaron Judge. The rookie right fielder had an incredible first half, to say the least. He was far and away baseball's best hitter (197 wRC+) and best player (5.5 fWAR/5.3 rWAR). Though Judge has been a top prospect for a few years, nobody saw this level of production coming, especially after last season's cameo in the majors. As if all that wasn't enough, Judge put the icing on the cake with a relatively easy victory in the home run derby on Monday.

There's no question that the Yankees wouldn't be in the thick of the playoff race had Judge not broken out in grand fashion. After a rough few weeks leading up to the break, the team (obviously) needs Judge to keep raking in order to stay afloat. There are a myriad of other issues on the roster, but maintaining a Judge-led high power offense can keep them in the hunt. The question is, what can we expect from the hulking right fielder the rest of the way?

What everyone needs to accept is that it'll be extremely difficult for Judge to maintain this level of production over the next two and a half months. Full season offensive performances of Judge's first-half caliber have been done before, but it's exceedingly rare. Does that mean it could be done? Sure! I wouldn't bet on it, though. That doesn't mean Judge is incapable of having an excellent second half, however. 

Both ZiPS and Steamer envision strong finishes to Judge's rookie campaign. ZiPS expects a 134 wRC+ while Steamer anticipates a slightly lower 128 mark. That's really good! Since the World Series began in 1903, only 71 rookies have ever had seasons with a 130 wRC+ or greater (minimum 500 PAs). For projection systems to see that as his baseline going forward is rather impressive. Somehow, though, I imagine it would only lead to widespread disappointment and criticism of his home run derby entry.

If Judge performs in line with his rest of season projections, some will inevitably be disappointed. The easy spin will be to claim that the derby fouled up his swing. That would be wrong, of course, as regression would almost certainly be the culprit. Using regression as the explanation isn't as sexy of a narrative as the derby curse, though, so brace yourselves. Unless Judge is one of the greatest hitters of all-time or in the midst of a legendary season (maybe!), maintaining his year to date performance will be next to impossible. Again, that doesn't mean he's going to be bad! In fact, even with regression, he's still expected to be one of the best hitters in the league. ZiPS thinks he'll be the majors' 11th-best hitter while Steamer believes he'll be 20th-best. But hey, be prepared for those horrible pieces about the derby messing up his swing.

Judge's first portion of the season has created unreasonable expectations, unfortunately. While it's been a blast to watch him rise to stardom, it's still important to keep our expectations in check. For one, he's a rookie. Though it's almost certain that Judge's 2017 will end up as one of the best offensive rookie seasons in history, we should be appreciative of its rarity. Further, no player is immune to regression. Home run derby or not, the odds of Judge matching his performance up to the break are not high.

Though Judge's future performance could be perceived in different ways, one thing is for sure: the right fielder has established himself as one of baseball's best hitters. He's undeniably been the league's top hitter to this point of the season, and it's reasonable to believe that he'll be a top-20 hitter going forward. It's funny (and perhaps sad?) that some could view Judge's second half as underwhelming if he lives up to the projections.

Surprise, surprise: Aaron Judge is the 2017 Home Run Derby Champion

Was Aaron Judge winning the derby every in doubt? For a little while, yes. Justin Bour's first round show put Judge in a big hole, but it turned out to be no matter. Judge topped Bour's 22 home run mark in the bonus round to advance to the semifinals. From there, it didn't seem like Judge broke a sweat. He toppled Cody Bellinger in the semifinals and beat Miguel Sano in the championship round without much concern.

Gary Sanchez had a respectable showing, too. He held off defending champion and hometown hero Giancarlo Stanton in the first round before losing to the Derby's runner up, Sano.

That was a much needed breath of fresh air, right? It hasn't been too much fun to watch the Yankees in the past few weeks. Tonight, it was a blast to see two of their sluggers in the spotlight, and of course, thrilling to watch Judge win while blasting 500+ foot dingers with ease.

Which Home Run Records Will Aaron Judge Break?

Through 84 games, Aaron Judge has hit 30 official home runs. If he plays every remaining game and continues his current pace, Judge will hit 59 home runs this season. He's already broken the (strangely low) Yankee rookie record of 29 home runs. It's time to start thinking about what other records he could break.

Home Runs by a Rookie: Mark McGwire, 49 HR

This is a big one. McGwire was a child home run sensation, and broke into Major League Baseball with a huge bang. Judge needs only 20 official home runs in 80 games (a 39 HR-pace) to crack McGwire's record. Totally doable, maybe even probable.

Home Runs by a Yankee: Roger Maris, 62* HR

While breaking McGwire's record would be cool, it likely wouldn't be celebrated by more than a scoreboard note. Breaking Roger Maris' record would be cause for league-wide celebration. Judge needs 33 home runs in 80 games (a 64-HR pace) to take down Maris. Fun fact, he's been hitting a 64-HR pace since May 28th. 63 HR isn't out of the question.

Home Runs by a Major League Player, 73 HR

Somehow I didn't know until today: Bonds hit his 73 home runs just 153 (!) games. Damn. Judge would need to hit at an 87-HR pace to beat Bonds. Not happening.

 

The Good News of the Past Two Weeks: Aaron Judge and Gary Sanches Have Adjusted Back to the League

The Yankees have had a tough few weeks. They left for the West Coast road trip high on a five game winning streak over division rivals and a solid lead in the AL East. Since then, they've lost 10 of 12 against subpar competition, most of the team's bats have gone cold, middle relief has imploded, and the Yankees and Red Sox are now tied for first place. Gleyber Torres also tore his UCL on a freak play, so we won't be seeing him any time soon.

Rather than dwell on the negative, I want to focus on the good news: amidst all the bad play, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez are playing great. Both players have gotten off to some of the best rookie seasons in MLB history. Like any rookies, we've all been waiting to see what happens when the league adjusts to them, then they adjust back. If Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge are going to be the next superstar cornerstone of a Yankee dynasty, this is a critical period.

That's why this period is so important: both Judge and Sanchez are approaching the 100-game mark. The league has had plenty of time (including an offseason) to adjust.

Here's a graph showing a 20-day rolling average of Aaron Judge's wRC+ over his career from Fangraphs:

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 9.18.35 AM.png

Note that a 100 wRC+ is exactly average. Judge was on fire by the end of April, hitting close to a 300 wRC+ over a twenty game stretch. Then, there was an adjustment. Judge was still elite in May, but pitchers started to limit the damage. Then, in June, Judge adjusted back to MVP-level production. 

What about Gary Sanchez? Sanchez's breakout came in 2016, so you have to consider his progress over two seasons:

Sanchez had the best debut in major league history, in August of 2016, so try not to get distracted by the massive peak at the beginning of this series. Pitchers started to adjust to him in September, and seemed to have Sanchez figured out (the injury didn't help). Then, Sanchez turned it on in late June, and returned to superstar levels.

While the rest of the Yankees have slumped, Sanchez and Judge are hitting a 200 wRC+. Sanchez is doing it as a plus defensive catcher. This is great news. Since they've entered the league, Sanchez and Judge are the 2nd and 3rd best hitters in the American League, while also contributing on defense. In fact, if you count their 100 games so far as a full season, they are having the 5th and 6th-best seasons by wRC+ of any Yankee since 1995. Only Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi had better seasons - and Giambi lost a ton of value on defense.

The rest of the Yankee roster is, let's be honest, pretty questionable, other than maybe Severino. I don't buy the current seasons coming from Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, or even Didi Gregorius as remotely sustainable. Those guys are at best above-average players. But Sanchez and Judge? Superstars. 

 

 

Aaron Judge is the Overwhelming Favorite for AL Rookie of the Year

If you bought in on Aaron Judge at 8-1 for AL Rookie of the Year before the season, congratulations. Judge is now the overwhelming favorite to win the award.

Here are the AL rookie leaders in fWAR:

  1. Aaron Judge: 3.0 fWAR
  2. Mitch Haniger: 1.3 fWAR
  3. Jordan Montgomery: 1.1 fWAR
  4. Ben Gamel (!): 1.1 fWAR
  5. Guillermo Bonifacio: 1.0 fWAR
  6. Chad Pinder: 0.6 fWAR
  7. Nick Goody (!): 0.6 fWAR
  8. Jose Leclerc:  0.5 fWAR
  9. Daniel Robertson: 0.5 fWAR
  10. Jharel Cotton: 0.4 fWAR

Aaron Judge is current second in the league, behind Mike Trout. He's currently on a 9.7 fWAR pace. I think we'd all be shocked if he maintains his current pace. Even if he hits a hard adjustment and plays at a 3.0 fWAR pace for the remainder of the season, he'll end with north of 5 fWAR, way ahead of any of these players. He's also got the flash and star power by virtue of being a home run hitter in New York. He won't fall under the radar come awards time. Judge needs an injury to deny him the award.

In fact, Judge has a shot at one of the best rookie seasons over the past two decades. The best rookies since 1997:

  1. Mike Trout, 2012, 10.3 fWAR
  2. Corey Seager, 2016, 7.5 fWAR
  3. Albert Pujols, 2001, 7.2 fWAR
  4. Krys Bryant, 2015, 6.6 fWAR
  5. Nomar Garciaparra, 1997, 6.4 fWAR
  6. Ichiro Suzuki, 2001, 6.0 fWAR
  7. Evan Longoria, 2008, 5.6 fWAR
  8. Jose Abreu, 2014, 5.3 fWAR
  9. Troy Tulowitzki, 2007, 5.0 fWAR
  10. Austin Kearns, 2002, 5.0 fWAR

Odds are Judge ends up somewhere in that top-10, with a solid shot at top-5.

What about AL MVP? The current leaders:

  1. Mike Trout, 3.6 fWAR
  2. Chris Sale, 3.3 fWAR
  3. Aaron Judge, 3.0 fWAR
  4. Miguel Sano, 2.6 fWAR
  5. Corey Dickerson, 2.4 fWAR
  6. Chris Archer, 2.4 fWAR
  7. Mookie Betts, 2.3 fWAR
  8. Aaron Hicks, 2.2 fWAR
  9. Jose Altuve, 2.2 fWAR
  10. Xander Bogaerts, 2.1 fWAR

The MVP competition is tougher, obviously. Trout is on the mend for two-ish months, but could easily finish north of 7 fWAR. My guess is Chris Sale will fade a bit, but he's still threatening 7.5-8.0 fWAR. Judge is definitely a contender though. If he finishes at a rough 5.0 fWAR pace, he'll end up well above 6.0 fWAR.

 

Podcast Episode 82: Gary Sanchez Injury, Jordan Montgomery

Domenic and EJ discuss a busy first week of the 2017 season. They discuss the injuries to Gary Sanchez and James Kaprielian, Michael Pineda's stellar Monday performance, Jordan Montgomery's impending call-up, and Aaron Judge's start. 

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