Not The Weekly Mailbag: Trends I’m Watching After Week 1
By Andy Singer July 31, 2020
Brooks Kriske On The Bump For His Major League Debut. Photo Courtesy of Rob Carr, Getty Images
With roughly one week of the season in the books, I think it’s safe to say that it’s already been a wild ride. I admit that I’ve been worried about the feasibility of playing all 60 games this season in light of the fact that the pandemic continues to rage across the US. The Yankees have already been directly impacted by the harsh reality of COVID-19, as the team’s schedule was altered due to a breakout on the Miami Marlins. I love baseball, and it has brought a smile to my face to see it on TV, but I shudder to think about the risk being taken by players, umpires, coaches, and support staff just to play a game. I know that players are handsomely compensated for their work, but it’s hard not to focus on the realities of the world we live in today. For today, I’ll focus on baseball, but what’s happening in the world both in and around the league cannot be ignored.
We’ll get back to the Weekly Mailbag as soon as we get enough questions to run one consistently. Keep sending your questions to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com, and I’ll answer as many as possible in the Weekly Mailbag. For today though, I wanted to take a look at a few early areas of interest that I’ll have my eye on moving forward:
As of Friday morning, Gary Sanchez and Brett Gardner remain 0-the world. Clearly the sky is falling, and we need a catcher and another outfielder. Oh right, we’re only 22-ish at-bats into the season. Yes, we all need to relax for a minute. We are still talking about a minuscule sample size here. As much as I’d like to see an equal and opposite reaction from both Gary and Gardy, we all need a little patience. Eventually, I expect both to come out of their funk and play as expected. Remember, players have been out of their routines for months now. As creatures of habit, I would have been surprised if we didn’t have a few Yankees start a little more slowly out of the gate.
The one caveat to the above is I am slightly alarmed by the rate at which Sanchez is whiffing. When Sanchez presses at the plate, he tends to swing at everything within 8 feet of the strike zone, trying to pound the ball into the moon. He looks like he could use a day to clear his head a bit. I remain confident that Sanchez will snap out of it, as Sanchez will often follow bouts like this with sheer dominance at the plate, but in the meantime, there’s no question but that it looks ugly on TV…although I’d imagine it looks just as bad in person.
The Bash Brothers Are Back!
So…does all of Yankee-land want to trade Stanton now?!?!? I know that the contract is large, and I fully recognize that a few good games does not change the long-term ramifications of Stanton’s deal, but wow does he look locked in right now. I couple of weeks ago on the Bronx Beat Podcast, I picked Stanton to lead the team in RBIs (and I thought long and hard about picking him to lead the team in homers), and he’s making me look smart in the early going. Stanton is one of the most talented hitters in baseball, and he looks like he did in his MVP year a few seasons ago. Most importantly, he looks healthy – I’m not sure that you can hit balls 120+ MPH as Stanton has this season unless your lower body is healthy. I have no problem with Stanton DH’ing all year if it keeps him this healthy.
Stanton is one of three players on this team capable of truly otherworldly dominance at the plate. One of the others is Aaron Judge, and he looks good at the plate as well. 3 of his 5 hits have gone for extra bases, so I’d say Judge is ready to go on a similar tear. The Yankees have such a luxury in the middle of the order when they can bat Stanton and Judge between 2-4 in the lineup. These two are going to propel the Yankee lineup all season long. They’re going to get plenty of help, but it’s fun to watch these two at the plate when they hit like they have early this season.
A Platoon Emerges
Lost in the discussion of Gardy’s early season struggles at the plate is the fact that he sat against a left-handed pitcher on Thursday night. Miguel Andujar got the start, and I expect to see this as long as Andujar proves to not be a disaster out there. I think it has become easy to forget just how good Andujar is at the plate. No, he doesn’t walk, and his success at the plate is dependent on contact, but he makes some of the loudest contact on the team. He’s only hit two balls in play this season, but they left his bat at 98.9 MPH and 100 MPH, respectively.
Gardy is a forever Yankee, but his career splits are pronounced, with a .765 OPS against RHP and a .682 OPS against LHP. Getting Gardy some much needed rest against LHP makes sense, as does getting the platoon advantage with a hitter of Andujar’s caliber. Finding Andujar at-bats is difficult on this team, but he deserves playing time.
All of you know about my oft-repeated drum-banging for tandem starters. I’ve identified numerous young Yankee arms who might fit such a role beautifully. One ore more of those arms could also be dynamite relievers in short outings with their stuff. If one were to use a Venn Diagram with reliever on one side and starter on the other, Jonathan Loaisiga is a guy who would wind up squarely in the intersection of the two circles.
I’ve noted numerous times that he could be either one-half of a starting tandem in one slot of the rotation, or a dynamite reliever in the mold of Dellin Betances. As such, his early season usage has been fascinating. He served as an “opener” in his first appearance, but not as a true opener. Loaisiga went 3 innings, giving up a solo shot while striking out 3 against a potent Nationals lineup on opening weekend. Last night, he went 3 innings following Happ’s outing, striking out 4 despite getting beat for a two-run shot late in his outing. Overall, I’d call his early outings a success, despite some issues with the gopher ball.
Yes, I’m excited about Loaisiga’s early usage pattern. I hope it continues, as I have believed for over a year now that he is uniquely suited to a role like the one in which the Yankees have used him early this season. I sincerely hope they try it with one or more of the other young guns waiting on the 60-man roster as the season rolls along.
Brooks Kriske’s Debut
I highlighted Brooks Kriske when he was added to the 40-man roster back at the end of 2019. To sum up, I noted at the time that he was a reliever with college experience who had suffered arm injuries, but had experienced a noticeable bump in velocity in 2019 (where have we heard that before?), jumping from the low-90s into the mid-90s, while pairing the fastball with a new splitter that earned positive reviews and a serviceable change-up.
Kriske had a good debut the other night, and now we have some statistics and pitch maps to go with the scouting report. Take a look:
Brooks Kriske 7-29 Pitch Map, Courtesy of Baseball Savant (Click To Enlarge)
Brooks Kriske 7-29 Pitch Velocity, Courtesy of Baseball Savant (Click To Enlarge)
The chart shows that Kriske threw 6 change-ups, but I believe that the pitch was actually a splitter. We’ll be able to confirm as the season moves along. Kriske showed good location with his pitches, working primarily down and on the edges of the zone. Kriske’s velocity was on the low end of my expectations, but still within the range quoted at the end of last season. Kriske seems to live in the mid-90s, and he pairs the pitch with the splitter/change-up and a show-me slider. All-in-all, I was reasonably impressed. Kriske is really the last guy in the bullpen on this team, but he’s useful all the same. I’d like to see more of him in the coming weeks.
I’ll be interested to see how some of these trends play out in the coming weeks. Look for Gardy and Sanchez to awake from their slumber; Judge and Stanton to keep mashing; Johnny Lasagna to pair with Yankee starters; Andujar to force his way into the lineup; and Brooks Kriske to show that last season’s improvements are for real. Keep sending in your questions to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com, and I’ll see you next week!