SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Bryan Reynolds, The Outfield Jumble, and Checking in on Predictions!
Once again, the Yankees have ruined my introduction. I even wrote it a day ahead this week, and look at where that's gotten me! Gerrit Cole had as bad a start as I think is humanly possible for a pitcher with his talent last night. You could see that his confidence was completely absent as he took the bump, and his command over his pitches was non-existent. In fact, looking at the heatmap for his locations last night, Cole produced one of the most stunning location heatmaps I've ever seen. I rarely include charts or diagrams in my Mailbag openings, but this was too good:
It's almost as if Cole was trying to target the middle of the strike zone! Pitches outside of the middle were waste pitches, too far off the plate to make a difference. Somehow, it felt even worse than Cole's final line: 2.1 IP, 7 ER, 8 H, 2 BB, 3 K. This should have been a throw-away game, but instead the most maligned parts of the roster came through to get the Yankees a surprising win. Aaron Hicks and Joey Gallo combined for 3 HR and 6 RBI; the bullpen, under greater scrutiny with all of the injuries it's faced, pitched 6.2 scoreless frames in relief of Cole; and the defense, which suddenly looked ambling and confused against the Twins, was very solid behind the bullpen. Just as this team looks like it might find a slump, they find a way to pick each other up. I am the Chief Optimist here at SSTN, and I already believed that this team would win 98 games, but I'm beginning to believe that there may be more in the tank than even that. What an exciting game; what an exciting team to watch.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll look at what it might take to acquire Bryan Reynolds from the Pirates, try to make sense of the jumble in the outfield keeping Miguel Andujar in the minors, and check in on my pre-season predictions! Let's get at it:
Fuster asks: what are the chances that the Pirates would be willing to make yet another trade with the Yankees and send Bryan Reynolds?
would they demand much?
In a word? Yes. The Pirates will, and should, ask for a king's ransom for Bryan Reynolds. The temptation exists to lean into the Pirates' front office ineptitude as a reason for why Reynolds could be had on the cheap, but I think he'd be elsewhere already were that the case. The Pirates recognize that they have a blue chip asset that can help accelerate their rebuild if they play their cards correctly. Reynolds is in his prime, playing this season at age-27, and will likely be at the tail end of his prime by the time the Pirates are ready to compete again.
How valuable is Reynolds, exactly? Based on perception, previous performance, and financial cost? Very valuable, as in among the more valuable trade chips in baseball in the non-Juan Soto division. Reynolds comes with three more seasons of team control beyond this season, generally produces above-average offensive numbers (and occasionally at an All-Star level), can play CF, and is a burner on the basepaths even if he doesn't steal bases. Given the dearth of good hitting CF-capable players available on the trade market, Reynolds is a hot commodity.
Baseball Trade Values' Trade Simulator pegs Reynolds' median value at 80.5, a significant figure with which I happen to agree. Regardless of what I think about his real value as a CF (more on that in a minute), I think this value assessment is realistic in terms of acquisition cost. The Pirates have needs all over the diamond and they need potential impact prospects in return for Reynolds. A deal for Reynolds certainly and necessarily starts with Anthony Volpe (55.4 median trade value). Beyond that, I think the Pirates would want a high-upside outfield prospect, and a solid pitching prospect in the high minors. I think a trade like this at least gets the conversation started:
Pirates send OF Bryan Reynolds to the Yankees
Yankees send IF Anthony Volpe, one of OF Jasson Dominguez/OF Everson Pereira, and one of P Hayden Wesneski/P Ken Waldichuk
That would hurt, but I think that's realistic value. Now: do we actually want the Yankees to spend that kind of prospect capital on Bryan Reynolds? He's having a down year with the bat and defensively in CF. Some might look at that as a flash in the pan, but I'm not so sure. Defensive metrics have always been mixed on Reynolds' performance in CF, with Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) consistently ranking him as a below-average or worse CF since the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, while Statcast's Outs Above Average (OAA) was bullish on his performance prior to this season. My eye tells me that he takes poor jumps and routes to the baseball in CF that can be covered by his speed more effectively in LF, but I do think he can fake it in CF on a more limited basis. That's not a rave, and that already is a mark against his ultimate value, for me anyway. Additionally, I think there are worrying trends in his underlying data at the plate. His launch angle is down considerably this season, and even a cursory look at the data trends shows that Reynolds is topping the ball at the highest clip of his career at a whopping 37.4% of batted ball events, which is a continuation of a trend that was briefly suspended last season. Additionally, Reynolds is not doing damage against fastballs, producing the lowest exit velocity and wOBA of his career. This might not be worrisome, except for the fact that this is the pitch against which Reynolds typically does most of his damage. Lastly, Reynolds has been worth -7 runs against pitches in the heart of the plate despite swinging more than 80% of the time against meatball pitches, which again are the type of pitches against which elite hitters do damage.
Now, I think Reynolds is a valuable player who is better in the long run than Hicks and Gallo; I'm just not sure he's worth the acquisition cost.
Brian asks: Can you please explain to me why it is that Miguel Andujar was once again sent to the minors while the Yankees continue to play Gallo and Hicks in the outfield as opposed to DFA'ing them?!? It makes no sense to me.
I don't think I feel worse for any current Yankee than Miguel Andujar. I have always been the high-guy on Miggy dating back to his years as a prospect, and I still believe that he will hit over 500 ABs. However, the Yankees have made an investment in both Gallo and Hicks, and if the team can get both of those guys right, they are likely more valuable in the aggregate than Andujar. Andujar, even at his best, is likely a LF-only defender who likely produces negative defensive value over a larger sample size, and his offensive value is completely dependent on his ability to make contact and hit for power, as he doesn't draw walks almost at all.
Yankee fans may not want to hear it, but Hicks at least can play every outfield position and even when he does nothing else, he gets on-base and runs the bases well. Those skills remain even when he's as dreadful at the plate as he was in May. Gallo is generally in the same boat, though he has not looked as good defensively this season as he has in previous seasons. Additionally, Gallo at least has some minimal trade value, so DFA'ing him is unrealistic, and Hicks' defensive versatility makes him at least a decent 4th outfielder option.
Also, don't look now, but both guys are heating up. Gallo has hit .273/.333/.556 over the last 14 days while Hicks has hit .344/.432/.438 in the same timeframe. The Yankees are at their best if both of these guys are rolling well, as evidenced by last night's game, so hang in there.
David asks: With the site upgrade I wasn't able to access your season predictions for 2022, but how do those predictions look so far?
Believe it or not, I had trouble finding them myself, but click on the link embedded in this sentence, and you'll be able to find them. Honestly, my predictions look decent so far. Rather than go line-by-line, I'll list the best ones and the worst ones:
I didn't exactly go out on a limb here, but I predicted an AL MVP for Judge this year, with 9.3 WAR, a .285/.380/.600 batting line with 53 homers, and typically stellar defense. I'm pretty darn close here. Judge is on-pace to match my WAR prediction at both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference, he's beating my batting line and homer prediction, and my eye tells me his defense has been great, while the metrics put him somewhere between average to slightly less, but with a nice bump for positional adjustment in CF. He's my AL MVP right now.
I think I was the lone person that said this would be a Top-5 Rotation, and even I undersold it. I said it was deep and would perform 1-5, and that's even an understatement. Cole hasn't looked quite like a Cy Young candidate, while Nestor has been way better than average, but otherwise I hit the mark.
The bounce-back guys, Torres and LeMahieu, have performed roughly how I expected. Suddenly, the calls to trade Torres have diminished, and LeMahieu has played as much as I expected (and more than others expected) as a super utility player, accumulating the 3rd highest number of plate appearances on the team thus far. LeMahieu and Torres are 2nd and 3rd, respectively, among Yankee position players in bWAR.
I seem to be right about both the Jays and the Rays. I didn't think the Jays had enough depth nor did I believe the Rays had enough high-end talent to be elite rosters in the same way as the Yankees, and I've been proven right thus far. There's plenty of baseball left in 2022, but this one looks pretty good.
I thought Higgy would make just barely make enough hard contact to make his defense worthwhile as a slightly below-average, but acceptable starting catcher. I regretted this prediction within hours of making it, and it's gone worse than almost any of us could have imagined. Higgy frames the ball well, but his defense seems to have regressed in other areas, and he has fewer hits (13) than the Yankees have losses. Woof.
I predicted the following batting line for Joey Gallo: .230/.350/.530, 45 HR, 4.5 WAR. He'd have to have a stunning hot streak to approach these numbers. He has it in him, and he appears to be heating up now, but it's going to be quite a climb to get there.
I predicted Deivi Garcia would turn things around and toss 100 valuable innings in the Majors in 2022. I guess that's still technically possible, but by that rationale, it's also possible that me and my busted left shoulder will throw 100 innings for the Yankees this year. What a stunning fall...I give the Yankees' development staff a ton of credit for their work the last 5-8 years, but they really messed this kid up last year by trying to change his delivery.