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  • Writer's pictureAndy Singer

SSTN Mailbag: Shake-Up, Shortstop, and Dominguez!


Spring Training is officially in full swing, and while there hasn't been real news for the Yankees (other than surgeries for Frankie Montas and Ben Rortvedt), it feels like there have been many interesting trickles of news out of Yankee camp thus far. Among the updates with the greatest implications, I want to give a shout-out to our long-time reader, fuster. Fuster has noted consistently that the present Yankee roster begs for Judge to play left field at Yankee Stadium at least occasionally to get Stanton in the field. I just didn't see the Yankees doing that, but fuster was on the money with that assessment; it sure sounds as though the Yankees and Judge will give left field a test run in Spring Training games to see if it's a possibility during the regular season. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the idea, but it does have some merit. Given that Judge played basically average defense while being asked to cover enormous ground in center field last season, I do think Judge would be a plus left fielder with reps out there. Judge covers plenty of ground, which is a real asset in left field at Yankee Stadium, though it does diminish the impact of his plus-plus arm somewhat. The only way this works is if Stanton can be decent defensively out in right field (more of a possibility than some people credit, given his previous plus work out there...when healthy) and mash at the plate when he plays the field. I still believe in the bat, but it's time for Stanton to both stay healthy and hit consistently. I believe firmly in playing your best players in the spots at which they are best defensively, then fit everyone else around them. To me, this plan is antithetical to that premise, which would mean playing Judge in center or right. That said, I've been wrong before (and I'll be wrong again), so maybe this will work better than I'm anticipating.


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 perceived need for a shake-up, a scenario at shortstop, and Jasson Dominguez's prospect status! Let's get at it:


Rob W. asks: Would it be a fair assessment to say that two areas of the Yankees organization are in dire need of a shakeup, their medical and analytics staffs? Do we really believe that pitchers of the past could throw 300 innings but those of today can't do 180 without being Tommy John candidates? Or that a good scout couldn't have told us that Frankie Montas wasn't worth giving up much to secure? (Says here that Domingo German is a better pitcher than Montas!) How I hate analytics Notice the word "anal" is part of the word? Those yahoos don't know baseball is played on grass instead of paper.


I'm with you part of the way on this one. I think it's clear that the Yankees' medical staff has botched numerous evaluations over the last 5-7 years, and it increasingly gets the team into trouble. In no situation was this more clear than last year's trade for Frankie Montas. I noted in last week's SSTN Mailbag that acquiring Frankie Montas was a significant risk at last year's trade deadline. The Yankees knew that Montas had dealt with a shoulder issue during the summer despite the fact that he had pitched very effectively both prior to his shoulder-related shutdown and in two starts prior to the trade deadline, one of which was against the Houston Astros. The risk of making a trade like that is clear, and the single most important factor in making a deal like that was in the medical staff's evaluation of Montas' shoulder injury. As the team's medical staff has done in numerous cases, they straight up mis-evaluated how injured Montas' shoulder was.


The GM's job is to take into account the opinions of every department when making a move: the medical staff, the scouts, the analytics team, player development, and farm system coordinators. Bad information from any part of that chain leads to poorly informed decisions. Bad inputs equal bad outputs. The truth of it all is, as far as the Montas case was concerned, the analytics and the scouting were very nearly in alignment: he was a volatile, flawed, and very talented pitcher capable of being more than worth the return being asked for by Oakland. The real question was: was he healthy enough to pitch down the stretch and for the following year of his deal? Once again, the medical evaluation was a swing-and-a-miss.


The Yankees undertook significant changes in their approach to training regimens and recovery since 2020. I think we have mixed evidence of effectiveness on that front, and part of that stems from the fact that much of the Yankee roster as it stands is older, which usually means a higher propensity for injuries over a long season. Where I haven't seen any real movement is in the medical staff's ability to properly diagnose injuries initially and then their ability to help athletes recover from those injuries.


With regards to pitching, yes, I do believe that there are very clear reasons why pitchers of old could throw 300 innings while those in today's era rarely go much beyond 200 innings, and they are numerous. For one, while there were a significant number of pitchers who threw 300 hundred innings each year, I think perception has clouded reality here to some extent. There were also high percentages of pitchers who threw that number of innings once or twice who were never heard from again. Some of those pitchers might have been fixed by modern surgical techniques, but I guarantee that they wouldn't be throwing that much upon their return. Secondly, pitchers throw so much harder on average today than they did even 30 years ago. Heck, I showed in an article last year that average fastball velocity has increased by 3+ MPH just in the last five years. Athletes might be bigger and stronger today, but joints and ligaments don't know any different, generally speaking; the faster the whip, the more strain is being placed on numerous points on the body. Lastly, athletes today are horribly overworked by the time they reach the pros, and pitchers are an egregious example of this. Showcase events and high profile travel leagues that begin at the age of 8 (!) push kids to throw as hard as possible throughout the year. In recent years, there are pushes to limit pitches and max throwing events, but all this means is that arms have far more high intensity tosses on their odometers by the time they're 25 years old than pitchers of the past. This is hardly an exhaustive set of reasons for why pitchers are seemingly less capable of packing on innings without injury, but all are major factors.


As far as analytics are concerned, I've made my feelings on this point fairly clear, and I think my thought process is in-line with where professional baseball stands today. The popular idea of scouting vs. analytics is a fallacy. The best professional organizations blend scouting and analytics into everything they do on a baseball diamond. If you want to be the best at any pursuit, why would you ignore relevant information that can help inform areas of strength and weakness? The reality is that players and fans have cared deeply about statistics since the beginning of baseball, and wrongly weighted those statistics to evaluate performance. The difference is that the industry as a whole got better at math.


The reality is that analytics in baseball's purpose is to quantify more precisely the elements of the game that our eyes cannot process. Those analytical concepts also remove bias from the equation and can even help quantify what scouts see with their eyes. The beauty of it is that everyone weights those analytical concepts differently, and analyzing individual players from an analytical perspective work in concert with every other on-field department in baseball. Analytics can identify holes in a player's game with very granular detail; with that knowledge, scouts can look at particular parts of a player's mechanics to identify why a player struggles in a particular department; and it is then the job of coaches, trainers, and player development staff to develop plans for players to fill those holes. All of these departments work in concert in the modern game.


Where we can argue is how balanced each department is weighed within an individual organization. Most baseball insiders have for years lauded the Yankees for balancing analytics, scouting, and player development, and I do believe that few do it better than the Yankees. Does that mean the Yankees are perfect? Far from it, and I think it's clear that some of the inputs in the decision making process have been flawed in recent years. The Yankees have shown that they are willing to make changes to achieve better balance and outcomes over the years (see: overhauling the training staff, pitching coordinators, and adding ex-GMs to the front office). I'm not sure you can ask for much more in terms of finding a balanced approach in the front office and on-field staff.


Brian asks: Let's play with the following scenario: Oswald Peraza wins the starting shortstop job and Volpe goes to AAA for more seasoning at the start of the season. Torres is not traded to begin the year, everyone is healthy, but Volpe rakes in April and May. It's clear he can help the MLB team. No one is hurt. How do the Yankees get Volpe in the lineup?


This is a very plausible scenario. What this really comes down to is the following: what is Volpe's best defensive position? Having watched him play, I think that rumors of Volpe's wet noodle arm have been greatly exaggerated (I think it's closer to average than below-average for the position); his hands and defensive actions are excellent at shortstop; and while I think his natural range is middling for the position, I think he makes up for it with excellent jumps and reads off the bat. I am far more aligned with observers, like Keith Law, who believe that Volpe can be an average shortstop in the Majors, at least in the near-term.


The question in my mind is: would Volpe be a better defensive second baseman than a shortstop? If you align more closely with the scouting community at Fangraphs, then you would probably say yes to this question. However, I'm not sure that's definitively the case. It's up to the Yankees to figure out which position he plays better in a vacuum. Whatever the answer to that question is should answer where Volpe plays when he's ready. Obviously, if he's an equal defender in both spots, then it is more advantageous to stick Volpe at shortstop, where he's obviously more valuable due to positional adjustment. If he's better at second base, then it's because the Yankees determine that Volpe's arm is actually a detriment at shortstop.


That evaluation makes his ultimate position in 2023 tricky in Brian's scenario above. If Volpe is a shortstop, I am fine with moving Peraza to second or third base to accommodate one of the best prospects in baseball. If my evaluation of Volpe's arm is wrong, then this situation is far more tricky, because I'm not sure Volpe's arm plays at third base in more than a pinch, which makes him a second base-only player in the infield.


Then there's the most wild scenario, if the latter evaluation is true. EJ Fagan published an idea on his Substack, Baseball is Life, that is genuinely insane on its surface, but I'm beginning to believe is slightly more realistic than I initially realized: Anthony Volpe could play left field for the Yankees in 2023. Crazy? Absolutely. But it definitely helps the infield logjam all of us are talking about, and everyone raves about Volpe's baseball instincts in similar fashion to what we heard with Oswaldo Cabrera last season...who transitioned to playing the outfield stunningly well. The physical elements are there for Volpe to be a decent outfielder, and the Yankees have already said that all of their young infielders are going to train at multiple positions in order to increase versatility. Maybe Volpe gets exposed to left field in Spring Training, and bounces around the infield and left field to begin his big league career.


Most realistically though? I think a trade and injuries combine to make Volpe the new full-time shortstop or second baseman at some point in 2023.


Larry asks: You have remained high on Jasson Dominguez despite some early struggles. However, Dominguez didn't really move up too much in any of the major prospect rankings lists this year. With that said, do you think that you are overvaluing him as a prospect?


When it comes to prospects I have seen in-person and/or spent significant time evaluating on video, I try not to allow other rankings or evaluations to cloud my opinions unless those reports have information to which I am not privy. Dominguez is one such case, however I will refute the idea that he didn't move up in many major rankings. He didn't move up really in Fangraphs' rankings, but MLB Pipeline and Keith Law (in particular) moved him up significantly, with Law placing Dominguez highest as the #32 prospect in baseball. Frankly, I trust Law's evaluation in this case because I know for a fact that he made it a point to see a lot of Dominguez (and other Yankee prospects) last season.


The two places Dominguez gets dinged the most as a prospect are on his hit tool and the impact his sheer size will have on his production in the long-run (he's listed at 5-10, 190 lbs, but through recent interviews, Dominguez has noted he's right around 218 lbs., which is more akin to a running back than a center fielder). To my mind, Dominguez's athleticism continues to shine as he moves up the minor league ladder, getting positive reviews for his range in centerfield and his run times from home plate to first. I don't see athleticism as an issue in the near-term.


Secondly, the outlets doubting Dominguez's hit tool I think are overweighting his first pro season without evaluating the improvements Dominguez made from May forward last year. He improved his strikeout and contact rates as he moved up the ladder last year. I too am the least bullish on his hit tool out of all of his tools, but I don't think it's fair to rate that tool as below-average based on the way he played in the second half last season. Dominguez has an athletic, short swing that produces tons of pop. I want to see him continue to improve against upper level pitching, but I think the kid can hit.


Lastly, I love Dominguez's attitude, which the Yankees rave about. The Record asked Dominguez about his best accomplishment from the 2022 season. To paraphrase his response: contributing to the AA championship team. If that doesn't scream, "future Yankee," I don't know what does.


In short: no, I don't think I'm overvaluing Jasson Dominguez as a prospect. Time will tell the tale, but I think Dominguez has a chance to be special regardless of the ridiculous hype that echoed when he signed. This is a kid who is about to play his age-20 season at AA (and hopefully beyond) despite having just 771 professional plate appearances. That's impressive by any measure.

5 Comments


Len
Len
Feb 25, 2023

Your points about pitching 300 innings are valid, but there were more than a few, who did it consistantly. Also complete games. Before the 60s, there were pitchers who regularly threw 20, 25, and a few did 30 a year.

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fuster
Feb 25, 2023
Replying to

check Denny McLane's record in 1968

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fuster
Feb 24, 2023

with the end of the extreme infield shifts, shortstops are going to be asked to cover more ground and, after covering, make strong throws to first.


it's natural to want Volpe, a clearly valuable hitter, to be given the most responsible infield position that he's able to handle. but we might be entering a phase of the game where defense at shortstop is again emphasized


if Peraza performs well at the plate, he's likely the better choice for short...


.....assuming neither Peraza nor Volpe gets traded.


if they keep both, Volpe should shift to the other side of the sack.


Torres may well have the arm for 3B

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fuster
Feb 24, 2023
Replying to

cant say for sure


but Torres was ticketed for 3B just before he hit the Bronx.


he was diverted to second because of Andujar.


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