SSTN Mailbag: Prospect Positional Changes, Defense at 1B, and a Blockbuster!
Why can't we have nice things? Relative to how Yankee fans generally behave, I think we've been okay, and are deserving of nice things. Why must the Baseball Gods take nice things from us? I knew Sevy wasn't right from the first pitch he threw on Wednesday night. I was sitting at a bar with a co-worker in Syracuse, NY (a bar I only sat at because I knew the Yankee game would be on), and he looked at me with a puzzled expression when Severino threw the first pitch of the evening and I muttered, "Oh no..." It was obvious that Severino wasn't finishing through the baseball and short-striding to push the ball in his last outing (it takes one to know one...been there, done that...my shoulder still hurts), and while it's admirable that Severino tried to push through it, I really wish the Yankees' staff had been more proactive, pulling Severino after the first inning when even his body language was bad. For now, it seems that Severino and the Yankees have dodged a bullet, but lat strains can be tricky, and I fear that it might be more than a few weeks before we see Severino pitch again. Let's keep our fingers crossed that this turns out to be a bump in the road that allows Sevy to get a little rest before the second half. This is why the old adage, "You can never have too much pitching," lives on.
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 possibility of converting some of our middle infield depth into outfield depth, take a dive into the importance of defense at first base, and evaluate a proposed blockbuster trade! Let's get at it:
Yankeerudy asks: Is it time to consider moving one of our stud SS prospects to centerfield? As a long-term thing, not a short-term quick fix, I mean.
The Yankees are seemingly blessed with a wealth of talent and prospect depth down on the farm right now. At the top of the list are shortstops Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza, both within reach of the Majors in the next year; next is the sometimes-shortstop Oswaldo Cabrera at AAA (though he's missed a lot of time this year to injury); possible prospect Alexander Vargas in the low minors; Trey Sweeney, whose bat will likely play at another position, as he doesn't seem destined to stay at shortstop; and lottery ticket Roderick Arias, the jewel of last year's international free agent class who might play either SS or CF. That's a lot of prospect depth for guys that deserve playing time!
I don't think it makes sense to push either Volpe or Peraza to CF at this stage; Peraza is the best defender of the prospect group and should stay at his natural position, while Volpe continues to make strides at the position. Either seems capable of playing 2B if necessary. Cabrera is already generally playing 2B or 3B with greater frequency than SS, and his body really isn't built to be rangy in the outfield. Sweeney, has a rocket arm and poor feet for the outfield, so I think he's destined for 3B. Vargas may not be a prospect much longer given his inability to hit, but his only carrying tool right now is his ability to play SS. Arias is a wild card because we don't know much about him. Sure, he could be a SS, but it's equally as likely that he could end up on the outfield grass if his hands are harder than billed.
I completely understand the suggestion about moving some depth around, and it seems like an easy plug-and-play to move Peraza or someone else to CF, but it's not always that easy. For every guy like Nick Senzel who makes the transition easily, there are guys like Oneil Cruz who really struggle to make reads in the outfield. While it seems like a no-brainer to add versatility and depth to expose these guys to centerfield, I think it's far more important to make them the best shortstops they can be first, let someone take the job, then worry about shifting positions later.
Cary asks: In fact, I have another possible question also, or maybe it's an article topic in a deep-dive sense. I've seen limited info out there on the web about which positions are the most valuable. Is there any data that supports a ranked list of which defensive positions are valued the highest.
The reason for the question is this. I grew up watching superb defensive first basemen impact baseball games in a variety of ways. Chris Chambliss of the Yankees was one (I believe he's an ever-underappreciated Yankee). Then, on to Mattingly, Tino, Tex..etc - on up to the present. Look how vastly important Rizzo's defense really is on a daily basis. Game in and game out, he noticeably impacts games.
Would love your thoughts on this topic Andy!
Cary asked a question that I've been thinking a lot about. I had long discounted the importance of defense at first base which is part of the reason I was not a big fan of the idea of acquiring Anthony Rizzo prior to last season (obviously, I was wrong). I think a lot of modern baseball observers have fallen into this very trap, and the statistical adjustments we make to measure defense help validate this thought process. I went very deep into a rabbit hole thinking about this topic, but I don't want to get too bogged down in the heavy math in a Mailbag. However, it is important to understand that the manner in which value is calculated in baseball takes positional ranking into account. All calculations of defensive value take something called positional adjustment into account. In essentials, defensive contributions are weighted against the defensive difficulty of the position. A slightly below-average defensive shortstop is far more valuable than an average defensive left fielder; a below-average defensive catcher is more valuable than an average third baseman. Those weights are calculated differently depending on the calculation used, but most tend to rank positions similarly. Here's how Fangraphs adjusts defensive value per position:
1B is at the bottom of the pile, only slightly better than the positional adjustment for a DH. Because 1B defense is already low on the totem pole, this justifies why teams try so hard to find a bopper at the position, as a player needs to really be something offensively to overcome the defensive positional adjustment at the position. But is this correct? And how is defense at the position measured?
Everyone does it a little differently, and there are some very serious gaps in all approaches. Baseball Savant's Outs Above Average (OAA) doesn't take into account the value of a good scoop or the value of a first baseman snagging an errant throw, nor does it measure the speed at which the runner is actually moving on a particular play; rather it uses the runner's average sprint speed, which doesn't really factor into the play at hand. Fielding Bible's Defensive Runs Saved does add and subtract value for "good plays" and "misplays", but that's pretty subjective.
More to the point, as fewer balls are hit into the infield, it puts a greater emphasis (and value) on every play that can be made in the infield, which to me would seem to indicate that first base defense is more important than we've accounted for. This might be worth a deeper dive, because I am wondering if our assumptions about positional adjustment might need an update. After all, we all see the impact Anthony Rizzo has made on the Yankees' infield defense and run prevention.
Fuster asks: Because Soto has an obnoxious agent who will demand an arm and a leg and the title to the Empire State Building and because the team plans on paying Judge $300M Cashman goes coastal and seeks after the big lefty bat that comes with a good right pitching arm, both of which are under team control for next season. if Cashman pulls the trigger which Yankees get to be goners and go to join the Angels?
Fuster is obviously talking about Shohei Ohtani here. And who should the Yankees trade to get him? I think everyone not named Cole or Judge would be fair game in that scenario. Ohtani is the real deal and on a championship caliber team, he'd be an overwhelming piece. I would put anything on the table, and it would still probably be light for Ohtani. This only happens if the Angels decide to blow it all up. I don't see it happening, but I'd do almost anything to see Ohtani in pinstripes.
So, who joins the Angels? Whoever the Angels want; bring me Shohei!