SSTN Mailbag: Peraza vs. Volpe And McKinney!
Major League baseball has a serious problem on its hands. Well, they have multiple serious problems on their hands, but I want to focus on one that has been glaringly apparent in recent days. First, the good: while there's certainly some fine-tuning needed, and baseball traditionalists will only grudgingly accept them, the new rules the league implemented to speed up games and make the game more exciting have largely worked. Ratings are up, more fans are coming to the ballpark, and I can't remember the last time I had as many of my friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances who are casual fans talk to me knowledgably about Major League Baseball. That's great! Excitement about the game is good, and even the most hardened traditionalists are usually welcoming to newcomers to the sport.
Now that more people are paying attention, one of the worst aspects of the modern game is becoming difficult to ignore: the quality of umpiring at the MLB level. I'm a hardcore fan and I played baseball at a relatively high level. I know how tough their job is on a moment-to-moment basis. Generally speaking, I respect umpires. However, the lack of public oversight over umpires, their grading, and their actions is allowing them to get away with eroding skills. It feels like missed and totally botched plays and calls are becoming the norm as opposed to the exception. In previous years, it was very rare to see an umpire accidentally get mixed up in the play on the field. Just this week alone, I've seen it happen 4 times in various MLB games, and I've only watched 5-6 hours of baseball this week! In Game 1 of yesterday's Yankee doubleheader, the game ended on a double-play that clearly wasn't; replay definitively showed that White Sox SS, Tim Anderson, didn't touch the 2B bag when making the play. The play was reviewed by umpires at league headquarters, and still they didn't overturn the play. The Yanks lost the game, but could have had runners at 2nd and 3rd, down by one run against a pitcher who clearly was struggling. The Yanks could have done more to win the series, but they had the bat taken out of their hands at the end.
We haven't even talked about ball/strike calls, which are as bad as they've ever been. It used to be that umpires had tendencies, and it was the job of the pitcher and hitter to adjust for those tendencies...call it the art of the game, and I'm in the minority that liked it. Now, missed calls are seemingly at random in the strike zone. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm ready for the automatic strike zone.
More people are watching baseball than at any point in recent memory. People will lose interest if MLB doesn't find a way to improve the umpiring at the highest level of the sport.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll debate the merits of Anthony Volpe vs. Oswald Peraza and evaluate Billy McKinney's chances of making an impact. Let's get at it:
Bryan asks: Anthony Volpe has really struggled to make a consistent impact for the Yankees this year while Oswald Peraza has done nothing but rake down at AAA. Is it time for Volpe to get a reset down at AAA and for Peraza to get a shot at the starting ss gig? If that happens, where does Volpe play when he gets back?
This is becoming a much more interesting question. I want to start by saying that Volpe is having one of the more complex statistical rookie seasons in recent memory. Don't think so? I'll walk you through it. His batting average and on-base percentage have totally tanked since the 3rd week of May, though he still hits the ball hard (particularly when compared to other shortstops), has shown pop, and steals bases seemingly at will when he does get on-base. Defensively, he was solid early, but some recent errors on routine plays have tanked his overall defensive value, which makes his arm (which is a hair light for SS) a bit more glaring. However, Volpe is also on-pace for almost 25 HR and 30+ steals; with one hot streak, he could easily find himself on-pace for the very first 30-30 season for a rookie, a stunning juxtaposition!
What does all of this mean? It means that Volpe has flashed the high-end talent that we all can see, but he isn't putting it all together consistently. While he hasn't been good overall, he also doesn't look completely lost out their either, like Oswaldo Cabrera did a couple of weeks ago. Volpe is taking good at-bats, he's just not quite barreling up hittable pitches. His expected stats all show that he's gotten a bit unlucky this year. While the expected stats would still be a bit light for offense, they'd be solid numbers for a shortstop.
When the Yankees began the season with their top prospect on the roster, they committed to playing him everyday and letting him finish his development at the big league level. Development is not linear; I don't see a player that looks lost out there, so I think he can push through this rough patch and develop in the big leagues. The Yankees committed to living with that inconsistency and the possibility for bad performance early on. I still believe in Volpe, and if he can show some better swing decisions on breaking and off-speed stuff beneath the zone, I think Volpe will turn it around, and that confidence will likely help him in the field as well.
Peraza is a separate question entirely. For this season at least, the Yankees made their choice: Volpe is the starting shortstop, period. It would have been smart to get Peraza more playing time at other positions of need, given his defensive talent. To this point, the majority of his playing time at AAA has been at SS, with just some cameo appearances at 3B and 2B. There's little question but that he has the defensive ability to play those positions. He is hitting like a monster, with surprisingly low strikeout rates (<15%), but he also has a shockingly low walk rate. I can't help but think that a swing-happy approach like that will eat him alive in the big leagues, but it's also clear he's ready for MLB action.
The Yankees should find a way to get Peraza to the big leagues, but not at Volpe's expense. 3B, 2B, and OF should all be on the table for Peraza, because it sure seems like his bat could help the Yanks now.
David asks: The Yankees called up old friend Billy McKinney to fill a roster spot with all the injuries out there. Is he anything and have they done anything to change his swing?
Billy McKinney was an expendable prospect during the Baby Bomber days, and the Yankees cashed in before his value plummeted. He's been well-traveled ever since, though I've always kind of liked him irrationally; he puts the bat on the ball a fair amount, and he always seemed to hustle.
He had a nice first day back in pinstripes, but sadly I don't see any mechanical adjustment that will yield big results. Hopefully, good health and good luck will mean that he gets hot at the right time to help the Yankees temporarily weather the injury storm.