SSTN Mailbag: Batting Order, Managerial Candidates, Dominguez, And King!
For the first time since late-June, I feel like I have a reason to watch Yankee baseball. Don't get me wrong, I've watched an unfortunate percentage of the team's games this year, but this is the first time in a long while that I'll enjoy what I see on the field. Albeit far too late, the Yankees are finally taking the long-term path and allowing time for development and evaluation of their best young talent at the big league level. Just getting top prospects exposure to the big leagues over a multi-week span has benefit from a development standpoint. Guys like Pereira, Wells, and Dominguez can tangibly see what did and didn't work in the big leagues and fine-tune off-season training plans based on that feedback.
Were the Yankees' big league staff better at development, I would have advocated for calling these guys up earlier. Sadly, I think that's an area in which I think the organization has been lacking for quite some time now, though I don't think they can do much damage in 4 weeks. In any case, as someone who has said that Dominguez is the real deal from day one, I consider it a wonderful birthday present that I get to watch his first big league game this evening, even if Verlander manages to get him twisted up at the plate.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll talk about the batting order, possible managerial candidates, Jasson Dominguez, and Mike King's late season conversion to the starting rotation! Let's get at it:
G says: If batting your best hitter 2nd after the 7, 8, and 9 spots, how come Musial, Williams, etc. never did that?
We can argue about where Judge hits in the lineup until the cows come home, but the reality is that run expectancy wouldn't change much regardless of where we put Judge in the lineup. At best this season, the Yankees only had 1-2 other guys hitting well at the same time as Judge, so he likely would be doing a lot of damage with the bases mostly empty. More to the point, the Yankees didn't lose to the Astros in the ALCS in 2017, 2019, and 2021 because Judge hit 2nd instead of in the heart of the order. The Yankees would not have more rings if they shifted Judge's place in the lineup.
I would also caution against using lineups from half a century ago as evidence for where someone should hit in the lineup. In that era, plenty of teams batted the fastest guy on the team lead-off despite having the worst on-base percentage on the team, which is a far greater drain on run expectancy than batting Judge 2nd instead of 3rd or 4th.
The other argument one could make is that by getting Judge on-base (which he does with great frequency), it makes the most of the few positive contributions the guys behind him make.
Frankly, with a more stacked lineup, I'm fine with hitting Judge anywhere between 2-4, as long as the lineup is rolling.
Frank asks: Who are your favorite candidates for manager after this season and why (assuming Boone gets canned)?
I'm sure it's possible that the Yankees will talk to a candidate out of left field this off-season (after all, Aaron Boone certainly wasn't on my radar after 2017), but I think they need to hire someone with a broad spectrum of experience. The Yankees tend to hire people who have existed in their orbit in either a current or previous lifetime, so here are my top 3, in no particular order:
Don Mattingly. This one really doesn't need an explanation. Donnie Baseball is a Yankee icon with a long career in baseball as both a player and manager. In fact, rumor has it that Mattingly was close to a Yankee reunion this off-season to be an Assistant Hitting Coach, but he ultimately took the Bench Coach gig with Toronto instead. On the plus side, Mattingly would garner immediate respect inside the clubhouse; he's an old-school baseball guy with experience melding his philosophy with the modern game; he has managed in big markets previously; and he already is familiar with many of the dynamics that exist within the Yankee organization. The only possible knock on Mattingly is that he has a history of being a player's manager, and it's possible that Boone swung too far towards being a player's manager. He also clashed with an analytically-inclined front office in LA, but it appears that his managerial style evolved in Miami. It would be hard to find a more popular choice for manager than Donnie Baseball.
Shelley Duncan. Shelley Duncan has one of the best resumes of any young managerial candidate in baseball, and is the current manager of the Yankees' AAA affiliate. Not only did Duncan have an MLB career, but he has held a variety of roles in front offices and in dugouts both in the Majors and minors. Duncan has managed at multiple minor league levels; worked in the front office in scouting and development; served as the Analytics Coordinator for the White Sox, whose job it was to translate and filter analytical concepts to both players and fellow coaches in the dugout as appropriate; he has managed many of the players who have earned big league call-ups; and displays a demonstrated ability to filter what a player needs day-to-day on the field. The only drawback to Duncan for the Yankees is that he's not a flashy hire, which is meaningless to me, but I'm sure to the guys in Hal's office running numbers, it's important. If I'm being honest Duncan would probably be my first choice, but his resume mirrors that of many other successful managers across the league. I've posted this before, but here's an interview he did with Fangraphs last year. I know many of you have an anti-analytics bent given this year's debacle, but it's hard to argue with much of what Duncan says here.
Joe Espada. Espada has been in the final group for manager's jobs for multiple years now. He was a well-respected coach under Joe Girardi, served in multiple coaching and front office roles in the Yankee system, and has been the Astros' Bench Coach on two World Series teams. He also has managerial experience in Latin American Winter leagues. He checks every box for a modern manager, and likely will get a managerial job soon, possibly as soon as Dusty Baker retires. Espada's Yankee connections run deep, so I wouldn't discount his chances even if he appears to be the heir apparent in Houston.
Given that all of these guys seem like fairly obvious choices, I'm sure the Yankees will go in a completely different direction, but these feel like the best candidates for this particular job.
Brian asks: Jasson Dominguez is coming up to the Majors for September. What would you consider a successful cup of coffee for him?
In truth, for me it won't particularly be based on numbers, though good statistics would be nice. I want to see Dominguez take a good approach at the plate. Dominguez has proven good at drawing a lot of walks as a minor leaguer, but he will be one of the youngest players in MLB in September playing older pitchers with great command. He might not hit for a good batting average, and he will likely strikeout a lot, but with a good approach, he'll likely draw his fair share of walks and find some pitches to hit in hitter's counts. I want him to see what works and what doesn't against pitchers this talented. When he gets on-base, I want him to balance playing smart, but also use his immense speed to take extra bases and swipe a few bags. In the outfield, I want to see him communicate with his fellow outfielders, even if he misplays a ball or two. Oh, and I hope he doesn't get hurt.
I want to see flashes of the talent that makes Dominguez such a draw. With those flashes, we can begin to project Dominguez's place as part of the next Yankee core. If Dominguez can string some of those flashes together, it will give me real hope that maybe 2024 won't be as frustrating as 2023.
Kevin asks: What do you think about the Yankees' plan to stretch out King to start at the end of the year? He throws more than 2 pitches and seems like he could handle it and it could take pressure off of the rotation next year.
It is true that King is a different pitcher now than he was the last time he made starts for the team in 2021. However, I have very real concerns about his ability to hold up under an increased workload. Part of what makes King so good now is the increased intensity with which he throws and he now has a scary history with elbow injuries (Tommy John Surgery and last year's stress fracture). Given that fact plus his lack of innings over the last two years, I have to imagine that King would be on a heavily restricted pitch count next season which will put further strain on the bullpen. King is also such an integral part of the bullpen, that I worry about the Yankees' ability to replace him next year. I'm inclined to believe that converting King into a starting pitcher is a bad idea.
The flip side is, if King can hold his stuff for 5-6 innings per start, he is probably significantly more valuable as a starter than he is as a reliever, which is saying something because he is one of the most valuable relievers in the sport. If his stuff is similar as a starter over time, he's probably a 4+ WAR starting pitcher, even as a 5-and-dive guy. Really, I worry about his ability to hold up and the chain effect it will have on the bullpen's performance.
However, this is one of the rare good problems to have. King is good enough that he will likely perform well in multiple roles. It flies under the radar, but King was one of Cashman's best trades in recent years. Following the 2017 season, Cashman traded Garrett Cooper and Caleb Smith to the Marlins for prospect Mike King, a soft tossing fringe starter. The Yankee minor league development staff helped him unlock more velocity and stuff, and he's become one of the best relievers in the sport, and someone who would likely succeed as a starter if he can stay healthy. On a team where so much has gone wrong, this is one place where the Yankee front office should feel good.