Not The Weekly Mailbag: Mid-Season Musings
By Andy Singer
Photo Courtesy of Mike Carlson – Getty Images
Even though we can all logically do the math and determine that the season is almost 1/3 complete, it still feels strange to say that after just shy of 20 games played. For that reason, as much as we can only work with small sample sizes this season, there’s going to come a point at which we have to try to look for trends and statistically significant information in blips. As much as I may believe in his talent and the law of averages over standard sample sizes, Gary Sanchez may very well skid his way through the majority of the 2020 before regression to the mean occurs. OR, Sanchez could have 2 scorching hot weeks that nearly negate the bad start. All of this is by way of saying that while so much of the season’s story is written, we’re still talking about statistics with significant noise and variability.
With that in mind, I have some random musings that I’ve been thinking about lately. Here they are, in no particular order:
Last week, I wrote about some interesting trends in Masahiro Tanaka’s performance. Obviously, I was working with a 1 start sample size, but many of the things I liked about Tanaka’s first start have carried through to some extent in his subsequent starts. While Tanaka was fastball-heavy in his first start, he has been decidedly less so more recently, but he continues to utilize his four-seam fastball on 34% of his pitches, a significant increase over last season. Tanaka is using his fastball, slider, and splitter very evenly, while sprinkling in a curve for show. Combined with the fact that Tanaka’s velocity increase over last season has held, Tanaka has been one of the most effective pitchers on the Yankee staff. While Tanaka’s fastball continues to be hit hard, his secondary pitches are being driven into the ground softly by opposing batters when they aren’t busy flailing uselessly at them as they sail by. Additionally, Tanaka’s command has been superb:
Tanaka Heat Maps, Courtesy of Baseball Savant (Click to Enlarge)
Tanaka has done a fantastic job of working fastball up and at the edges of the zone, while pounding the splitter and slider low both in and out of the strike zone. It’s been impressive to watch, and I have real hope that this is a trend that will be lasting.
James Paxton has been a mess in 2020. While his last start gave fans and the Yankees some hope, I still thought the performance was something of a mirage. While Paxton’s fastball had more spin and life, he continued to struggle mightily with his command, leaving 92 MPH fastballs over the heart of the plate with seeming impunity while struggling to make competitive pitches with his knuckle-curve. I really want to see Paxton pitch well, but I’m just not seeing enough pieces yet to believe it will happen this year. I’ve mused that there must be an underlying injury that would account for Paxton’s velocity loss, but there was a fascinating nugget in Pitching Coach, Matt Blake’s, interview with NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty. Blake told Kuty, “Obviously, any time you have a surgery on your back, there’s going to be some time to get your feet underneath you and then trust it again. I think the unique part of this rehab is that he basically did it all on his own once he started throwing again. As we’ve kind of looked at it, there’s probably some general patters that he got into just playing catch at a lower intensity and now we’re trying to move him a little bit quicker and kind of get into some better positions underway.” This is evidence of something I’ve worried about all along with this season: players rehabbing away from team facilities and trainers would see their rehabs stunted. Given that Paxton’s strength markers are normal, Paxton’s disjointed rehab from major back surgery has hurt his ability to perform this season. I feel for the guy, because circumstances completely out of his control are hurting him in his walk year. Paxton’s current performance is not what the Yankees expected coming into the year, but maybe there’s some hope that Paxton can find his missing mechanics by season’s end.
While I’ve written in the past that Clint Frazier does not project to be an impact big leaguer, he has always been a personal favorite. I think he’s gotten an unfair rap from the media, and I do believe he’ll hit if given the chance. I was happier than anyone to see him have a big first game this year, going 3-4 with a homer. Frazier looks to be in great shape, and with injuries in the outfield (stop me if you’ve heard that before), he looks primed to grab an important role on the team.
Could DJLM be any better? I think that the Yankees are in good position to retain his services at a discount given the likelihood that salaries will be depressed this winter, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that DJLM is an essential player on this roster. For now, I want to embrace the weird: let’s see DJLM hit .400 for the season. I’m ready for it.
I think we should start drawing straws for Clarke Schmidt’s first MLB appearance. My vote is for early next week. Happ does not deserve a spot in the rotation. It’s time to bring on the kids, and Schmidt deserves to start the wave.
I know the Yankees need to balance his usage, but Jonathan Loaisiga is becoming a key Swiss Army knife on the Yankee staff. Loaisiga is harnessing his dominant stuff, striking batters out and limiting hits in a manner more in line with what we would expect from a pitcher with Loaisiga’s stuff. I’ll write more about Loaisiga soon, but he is shaping up to be an important part of the Yankee staff for years to come, if he can stay healthy.