SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Early Season Surprises, Mike Ford, Left Field, and the Trade Deadline!
By Andy Singer
I think we should all feel a little better as Yankee fans this week as compared to last week. The Yankees are far closer to clicking on all cylinders than when we last spoke, and I feel pretty good that the lineup elements that aren’t clicking are getting pretty close to clicking. I know that I was the guy preaching optimism and patience during the Yankees’ early season struggles, but I’d be lying if I said the ugly manner in which the Yanks were losing ballgames didn’t frustrate the heck out of me. It feels really good to see the team pull out of their early season slump, and winning 5 out of their last 6 is no small feat, particularly considering the fact that half of those games were against the Astros. I really wanted a sweep, but I’ll take 2 out of 3, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t grinning from ear to ear when I saw the reception the fans gave the ‘Stros at Yankee Stadium. I only wish that the guy wearing the Oscar the Grouch outfit had been allowed to wear the costume in the stadium. But the thing that’s making me happiest? Watching Stanton rake. I’ve been quietly (and loudly) chided by some for my prediction that Stanton would hit 50 homers this year. He’s making me look smarter by the day, so for that, I thank him.
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 early season surprises, Mike Ford, growing concerns about left field, and thoughts about the trade deadline! Let’s get at it:
John C. asks: Now that one month is in the books, who has been the most surprising player so far and who has been the most disappointing?
I think we have enough of a sample size where I can begin to answer questions like this, though my answers are probably going to be somewhat unorthodox. I think a lot of people would name Stanton as their most surprising player, but since I picked him to hit 50 homers this year, I can’t exactly say that. I could say Jonathan Loaisiga, but I’ve been calling him the next Dellin Betances for 2+ years now, so his success really doesn’t surprise me either.
Thus far, Aroldis Chapman’s dominance has surprised me more than anything, and it’s not just his bottom-line performance, but how he’s done it. I have long been worried about how Chapman would age, and over the last year and change, we had begun to see some cracks in the Adonis. Chapman had (has) a balky knee, we witnessed a small, but steady decline in velocity, and his fastball/slider combination wasn’t always fooling hitters anymore. At the end of last season, Chapman began to flash a splitter that was interesting, but I still assumed the pitch would be an interesting, but tertiary offering in his arsenal, mainly used to get hitters off of the fastball and slider. Fast forward to 2021, and Chapman has been nearly unhittable, using the splitter almost as often as his slider (13.4% to 19.4%) to mix it up, and he’s paired it with a fastball that is very clearly up a tick from last year (all of his fastballs combined have averaged 99.2 MPH). Prior to this season, I quietly believed that Chapman was a replaceable, tradeable asset. Now? I think he may be the most important player in the Yankee bullpen. He’s really been that good, and with stuff like he’s shown this season, it’s far from a fluke.
As for the most disappointing player, there’s plenty to choose from, but for me it’s a tie between two young players looking to establish their careers: Nick Nelson and Clint Frazier. I predicted that Nelson would show enough control to be a valuable multi-inning arm out of the bullpen on a team that will need to lean on the bullpen all season. That hasn’t happened, and in fact, Nelson has been demoted to AAA, and has continued his struggles in the early going down there. Frazier is possibly even more frustrating to watch. The talent is so blatantly obvious, but he gives far too many at-bats away, and he is struggling to consistently barrel the ball. I’ll hold out hope for both guys this season, but they’ve both been terribly disappointing.
Gary asks: Is it time to end the Mike Ford experiment? Luke Voit can’t come back soon enough!!!
While I agree that we should all count down until Voit returns, I’m far from ready to give up on Ford. A lot of Ford’s performance struggles are small sample size noise. He has consistently hit the ball hard (91.1 MPH exit velocity) and his expected stats look far better than his actual performance thus far. That matches what I’ve seen with my eyes, that he’s hit some lasers all over the field, just right at guys. He’s also seen a ton of pitches per at-bat, so he’s back to working pitchers, something he didn’t do in 2020. Some of the strikeouts thus far have also been very questionable, as he’s been the victim of really bad called strike 3’s in the last week.
I’d rather have Voit than Ford, but I still think Ford can be a valuable left-handed bat off the bench for the Yankees in 2021.
Sean asks: LF is becoming a black hole for the Yanks – any reason to believe that is going to change?
I think it’s pretty stunning just how bad Yankee left fielders have been this season. Neither Frazier nor Gardner has provided any consistent value out there. I was worried that Gardy was done prior to September last year, but he really looks done at the plate right now. Looking at the sprint speed metrics, it also looks like he’s finally lost a step, so I’m worried that the decline is real right now. I’m hoping against hope that Gardy proves me wrong again, because I think he was one of the most underrated players in baseball through his prime and I’ve loved watching him play, but he really shouldn’t be getting a ton of playing time right now.
All of this hinges on Frazier playing up to his potential. If he snaps out of his slump, LF won’t be a black hole. His plate discipline has been good, but he needs to do more damage on fastballs if he has any hope of breaking through at the plate. If he doesn’t, I’m not sure there’s a good move out there at the trade deadline to sure up LF.
Bob B. asks: I know it’s early, but is there a move you’d make at the trade deadline looking at the team and what’s available right now?
The stock answer to this question is pitching, because there is no such thing as too much pitching. However, I think the Yankees need to keep their eyes open for a good utility player. The Yankees have proven with their early season roster moves that they don’t believe Tyler Wade is that guy, so I think having someone that can play SS and provide some modicum of offense and good baserunning is a good idea. That’s a gap on this team currently that I’d like to see filled.