SSTN Mailbag: Pitcher Usage, Fringe Outfielders, Yankee Baseball, and German!
The Yankees had me in a pretty terrible mood by the time I went to write the Mailbag opening monologue last week. I usually wait until early Friday morning to write the opening monologue (Mailbag questions are answered by Thursday evening), that way I'm as up-to-the-minute as possible with my feelings about the team. Last week, that meant watching not just the Yankee offense, but also the Yankee coaching staff throw away games. This week has been decidedly different. Since then, the Yankees took 2 of 3 from both the Rangers and the A's.
The Rangers are the best team in the AL West, with a seriously potent offense, and the pitching staff largely kept them in check. It was simply a great series win for the Yanks. The A's, on the other hand, are the worst team in baseball. You expect to take at least 2 of 3 from a team like that, though the Yanks deserve credit for winning with style. The bats have come alive, and of course, German had the masterful perfect game.
Is all of this a mirage? Yes...and also no. It's a mirage because this team very clearly has holes in the lineup that will continue to be exposed against better pitching. The flip side to that is, that whatever your perspective is on this year's roster construction, the offense was built to be better as the season moved along. How, you ask? 1.) Volpe is a kid with less than 100 plate appearances at AAA. The first half was always going to be a roller coaster. 2.) The Yankees would either trade for a left fielder, or someone from the farm would come up and take hold over the job. 3.) Vets hurt in the first half would help stabilize the offense in the 2nd half.
The Yanks won't win in the playoffs without Judge, but at least 2 of the 3 assumptions that Cashman likely made above are coming true. Volpe looks significantly better since making a change to his batting stance, is showing more patience at the plate, and has even settled down in the field. Jake Bauers and Billy McKinney have been excellent for the Yankees since their respective call-ups; in fact, were the vets playing to the back of their baseball card, we wouldn't be talking about left field anymore; and eventually, one or two of the vets will hit better than they've shown. I, for one, still believe that Stanton and LeMahieu can be good contributors for a contending team.
This team remains flawed, but talk of selling is a bit premature. Winning against a weak schedule in the next couple of weeks remains crucial, but while the road won't be completely smooth, I can squint and see a contending team that emerges by September.
We've got a big Mailbag this week - keep those questions rolling in! We have a bunch of questions that we don't have room for this week, but I promise they'll be answered in next week's SSTN Mailbag. Thanks, as always, and send your questions to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll talk about a unique strategy for managing a pitching staff, pick a surprise outfielder to stick, understand the Yankees' plan at the plate, and dissect German's perfect game! Let's get at it:
Daniel asks: I’ve never seen a discussion about this topic. I find it odd that no team seems to have tried it.
How about anchoring a pitching staff around 9 guys who can pitch 3 innings every 3 days? That leaves a bullpen of 4 guys who might actually get used less.
The “starters” would pitch in “teams” of 3. A “complete” game would happen when no bullpen arms are called for. No guy would be expected to get more than 9 outs and no guy would likely ever see the opponent’s batting order more than twice.
Success would involve keeping each regular starter to around 50 pitches which they would repeat every 3 days.
Daniel, you are a man after my own heart. From 2017-2021, I think I wrote 10+ articles (unfortunately, my guess is that most of those have been lost following our website redesign) detailing how a pitching staff could work with "tandem starters" in 2 or more slots in the rotation. My plan called for using 2-3 traditional starters (an ace, and 1-2 others who were pretty close...in fact, Cole, Sevy, and Rodon are pretty close to the types of starters I imagined), and in the final slots in the rotation, you would put 2 guys who were built up to 70-80 pitches to get through the batting order 1-2 times. No other pieces of the bullpen would normally be used.
It would mean a pitching staff would employ 4-6 "bulk" guys with a spot in the rotation who could also potentially toss an inning, if needed, on their mid-week throw day (something all starters do during the week, which is why you sometimes see starters who are available to pitch in relief during the playoffs 2-3 days after a start). Let's imagine how that might look on the 2023 Yankees, if everyone were healthy right now:
German/Vasquez/Brito/Beeter (pick 2; any of the 3 from the minors is well-suited to this role)
I think that would be pretty formidable.
Daniel, though, takes my plan even a step further. He argues for making every spot in a 3-man rotation and 3-way tandem spot; everyone would accumulate innings through pitching more frequently, and the bullpen would be even shorter than what I propose above, with just 4 guys.
I am soooooooooo tempted to say this is brilliant, and frankly, I think teams without a fantastic 1-2 starters should absolutely try what Daniel proposes. The issue is that the second even one guy gets hurt or you need to shuffle the staff when a couple of guys have a bad game, roster management gets really tricky. It would take a few years for a team to build a farm system in which guys pitched with this strategy so that the timing worked out as supplementation is needed from AA and AAA.
I think Daniel's proposal works, but it would take a bit of time to implement properly. Kudos for being willing to go even further than I have been willing to go with my tandem pitching proposals. However, I do think some team will try something close to what I, and now Daniel, have proposed. It's the only way to prevent ever-expanding pitching staffs, and frankly, it might help keep guys healthy.
Michael G. asks: Mckinney, Bauers and Calhoun of the three who will stay with the team the longest? Do any of them have a future with the team beyond the deadline? Next year?
It's funny; to varying extents and times, I've stumped for for each of these outfielders. I've said in the past that as much as I had marked McKinney as an expendable prospect, I always really liked his game and feel for putting the barrel of the bat on the ball; Bauers has prospect pedigree, bat speed, and I wrote extensively earlier this year about the mechanical changes he's made to realize more of his inherent talent; and Calhoun was the best of bad options I saw in Spring Training in the non-roster invitee realm, as another guy with bat speed and a feel for putting the bat on the ball.
I still believe McKinney can become a useful bench bat if he stays healthy, though I think that he's proving he can impact the baseball with some lift more than he used to, and that could make him a bit better than I thought. However, I don't think he's the best fit on the roster, given the other veterans and prospects who will get roster spots next year and beyond.
Calhoun is totally expendable, and I'm not sure he even has a roster spot by the time he's healthy. His bat is vaguely interesting, but there's nothing else particularly useful about his profile, as he should be a DH-only guy.
Bauers is the guy that I think sticks. Like McKinney, he plays all over the outfield and first base, but he has serious pop in his bat, with a left-handed stroke that generates tons of lift. I believe very strongly in the mechanical changes he's made at the plate, and I think he's worthy of a roster spot on the Yankees this season and beyond.
Give me one choice, and Bauers is my guy.
Rob C. says: Hi John Sterling used to say Yankees don't bunt.
Then they did.
Now they don't.
Why try to kill the ball and strike out or a useless fly out.
He should walk.
As for Hal it's a bit like Space Odyssey movie. He's taken over and killing them by not getting a good Left fielder.
Go for Otani too.
I'll respond to each of these individually:
Bunting wouldn't help this team at all; all they'd be doing is trading an out without much expectation of success in fewer chances. This team's issue has been approach at the plate (putting themselves in holes/pitcher's counts) and missing good pitches to hit. Bunting more would just end innings faster, and I'm not convinced at all it would lead to more runs. Now, if you're talking about late inning situational bunting when the Yanks only need 1 run, that I can get behind in certain limited situations.
I agree that Boone is not the right manager for this team; by my running tally, his decisions have cost the Yanks 3 games this year (4 if I were really nit-picking).
More than Boone or Cashman though, I agree that Hal's management style as owner has tied everyone's hands, and made it difficult to evaluate who to blame.
I'd love Ohtani, but I don't think it's happening.
Mike asks: Is there anything we should believe about German's perfect game other than that it was a night where the stars aligned?
Of course the stars aligned; anyone who pitches a perfect game needs the stars to align, even the best of the best. However, German certainly did things a bit differently on Wednesday night.
Domingo German's talents as a pitcher come down to two things: he has a high-spin fastball, and he gets a ton of movement on his curve, with spin rates and a movement profile that are nearly elite. While many loved German's fastball as he rose through the minors, the pitch just hasn't been good since he broke through:
At best it was passable, but more recently, both his 4-seamer and sinker have been bad pitches for German. One constant though has been that his curveball has been a weapon that hitters struggle against. Despite this, German has always led with his fastball. I actually called for German to use his curve much more during his initial breakout in 2019; it hasn't happened...until recently:
German finally allowed his curveball to take centerstage, throwing the highest percentage of curveballs in his career, and it led to a perfect game. Yes, it was against the worst team in baseball, but his stuff and pitch mix would have played against even very good lineups.
The stars aligned for German this past week, but the change in his pitch mix should stick if he wants to continue to perform well as an MLB starter.