SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Judge’s Future Role, Gil’s Current Role, and The Move The Yankees D
By Andy Singer
Since that awful trip to Boston, the Yankees have won 8 out of their last 10 games. Has it always been pretty? No. Do they still count as wins? Yes. I’ve been the optimist in the room all year, and while I had faith that the Yankees would turn it around eventually, I agreed with the consensus opinion that significant reinforcements were needed. Brian Cashman managed to significantly upgrade the roster without pillaging the farm system or the Steinbrenners’ wallets. Somehow, the longtime Yankee GM managed to make everyone happy.
I was in the minority of observers that wasn’t a huge fan of the Anthony Rizzo trade. Thus far, he’s proven me about as wrong as I could possibly be. I like that more than I can explain, and I hope it continues. While the offense has been great, I think Rizzo’s superior defense at 1B has been the real story. He’s been able to pick some truly terrible throws over there, so Rizzo’s making Odor and Torres look a lot better. Needless to say, I’ve become a fan very quickly.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll discuss Aaron Judge’s role, Luis Gil’s first start, and the trade that didn’t happen! Let’s get at it:
Brian asks: with the recent acquisition of Joey Gallo, could Aaron Judge be the future solution in centerfield?
This is a question that we need to look at from both a short-term and medium-term view. Unless the Yankees acquire someone from the outside, I think the Yankees have a problem in centerfield for the next couple of years while we wait for Jasson Dominguez to arrive. And yes, Dominguez is for real, without question. He’s an 18 year old producing at an above average clip in low-A when other players his age are either playing in the Dominican Summer League or at team complexes. When prospect lists are revised in the coming months, I expect Dominguez to be included in the Top-35 on numerous lists, possibly higher. Even given the lofty expectations I’m willing to assign to Dominguez, I think that the earliest we can expect him to take over centerfield for a full season is 2023. That means finding a way to plug centerfield for both the remainder of this season and likely next season as well.
For this season, Judge is absolutely part of the centerfield solution because there aren’t a lot of realistic options that give the lineup value over time. He is comfortable in center, as he’s proven multiple times this season, so that’s at least a start. Additionally, between his plus arm and above-average sprint speed (according to Statcast), Judge has enough tools to overcome poor jumps and routes with a part-time assignment in centerfield.
It is important to note that defensive metrics are very mixed on Judge’s defensive contributions this season. Statcast is down on Judge, noting that he’s allowed more 50/50 balls to fall in for hits than an average outfielder this season, though the Defensive Runs Saved metric loves Judge’s contribution in both right field and centerfield. My eye tells me that Judge got off to a slow start defensively, but has been elite again since May. Defensive metrics are notably volatile in less than full-season sample sizes, so I think it’s safe to say that Judge is still at least above-average defensively, and possibly elite. From a value perspective, it actually makes good sense to play Judge occasionally in center.
For next season, I think Brian Cashman’s recent trade deadline moves covers all of the Yankees’ contingencies in centerfield for next season. He couldn’t go into next season counting for a full season from Aaron Hicks again, so he now has the potential to play a mix of Hicks, Judge, Gallo, and Florial (barring a trade) in centerfield next year. Even without another acquisition, that’s a far better depth chart in centerfield than the Yankees came into 2021 with.
I love the idea of utilizing Judge 1-2 games per week in centerfield, but I wouldn’t push it much beyond that. At the end of the day, Judge is best in an outfield corner, and they should do everything in their power to keep him in the lineup everyday, which means playing him at a less demanding defensive position on a regular basis to keep him fresh.
When Luke Voit returns, the Yankees now have an embarrassment of riches if Stanton can play in an outfield corner 2-3 times per week. That frees up the DH slot for Voit at least 3 days per week, and he can spell Rizzo at first once per week. There should be enough at-bats to go around to give the Yankees an incredibly potent lineup in August and September (and hopefully the playoffs).
To make a long story short, I think Judge is part of the centerfield solution for at least this year and next, but I don’t think he’s the whole answer.
Luke asks: Luis Gil was electric in his first start. The Yankee rotation is hanging by a thread now that Cole and Monty are on the Covid list. Will Gil hang around for the rest of the season with the Yankees? Does he need more development or was his performance against the lowly Orioles for real?
Gil was a breath of fresh air earlier this week. I felt like a kid waiting to open birthday presents anticipating Gil’s first start. I’ve been pretty high on both Gil and Medina for years, so watching Gil pick apart the Orioles without breaking much of a sweat was a thrill. I think there’s a lot more where that came from. The truth is that both Gil and Medina can help the Yankees during the playoff push; the only question is role in my mind.
We saw exactly what makes Gil a great pitching prospect against the Orioles. Gil’s fastball is electric, sitting in the high 90s with excellent ride at the top of the zone. Statcast confirms that he also gets great extension on his pitches, sitting in the 94th percentile with 6.9 feet of extension, so that fastball looks even harder to an unexpecting hitter at the plate. So at least we know that the Oriole’s late swings weren’t just a product of being terrible. The slider was his best secondary offering in my opinion, showing good movement and depth in the mid 80s. Gil still didn’t seem to have complete confidence in his firm change-up, though it did work at the bottom of the zone his 2nd time through the order. I also loved Gil’s demeanor on the mound, as he looked ready for the moment.
We also saw where continued development is needed. Gil’s command is nascent at best with his fastball, while his slider and change-up succeed on pure stuff and pitch sequencing, because he really can’t command either pitch around the zone. Control doesn’t appear to be a huge issue, though I think the majority of his high walk rates come from trying to steer his pitches.
Is Gil a starter this year? I’m not so sure I trust Gil against a better lineup more than once through. Can he pitch 2-4 effective innings? I daresay he could be electric in such a role, and we know the Yankees need quality innings out of the bullpen with the current rotation.
Until the injured pitchers return, Gil should remain in the rotation, but I’d keep him in a multi-inning weapon role for the remainder of the season thereafter. Gil could be the missing piece on the Yankee pitching staff in a role like that.
Dave M. asks: Is the trade deadline a failure since the Yankees didn’t get Story?
I admit, I really thought Story was going to be a Yankee on July 31st, but I don’t think the deadline is a failure without him. I have no doubt but that Cashman tried to pry him away, but I don’t blame him for not pulling the trigger on the Rockies’ asking price. At the end of the day, half of the league wanted Story on an expiring contract with a clearly rebuilding Rockies’ roster, but Colorado is such a dumpster fire, they still held onto Story, clinging firm to their clearly absurd asking price. I don’t fault Cashman for holding off at all under the circumstances.