SSTN Weekly Mailbag: MLB Crackdown, Signs Against Minnesota, Andujar vs. Frazier, and Chapman Worrie
By Andy Singer
The Twins may not be very good this year, and last night’s game was a crusher, but it still feels good to get a series win. This season has been a slog for Yankee fans, and the last week and a half made it worse. I continue to hope that the Yanks will wake up at some point, but frankly, the Yankees’ offensive struggles this year are far from exceptional when you look around the league. Baseball’s problems with offense run far deeper than the struggles of just one team. We’ll talk about that and more in a minute.
As always, thanks for the great questions, and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll discuss MLB’s supposed crackdown on the application of foreign substances on the baseball, signs from the Minnesota series, debate Andujar vs. Frazier in LF, and Chapman’s meltdown last night! Let’s get at it:
Tim asks: You’ve been talking about pitchers putting stuff on the ball for a while now. MLB says they are going to crackdown on it and we saw Cole’s embarrassing answer on the subject. Do you think this goes far enough and do you think it will change the balance of pitching vs hitting across the league?
It’s a start, but I’m not sure how effective MLB’s current strategy will actually be. As of right now, MLB’s strategy was to scare a few MLB pitchers by punishing minor league pitchers for using foreign substances on the mound while engaging in a whisper campaign through the media that the league will further enable umpires to enforce the rules that are on the books. I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds passive aggressive, underhanded, and weak. The exact words I used to someone who asked me about it earlier this week: eye wash.
I’m sorry, but at some point, the league has to realize that it has a duty to protect and manage the product on the field. Rob Manfred and his cronies can’t just count their cash and go home. MLB has only themselves to blame for this crisis. It has been obvious for at least the last 3 seasons (and truthfully longer) to anyone that knows the game that pitchers were turning to substances to aid the movement of their pitches. Frankly, I first started noticing it with regularity in the second half of the 2017 season (because at the end of the day, it takes one to know one…). Personally, I’m beginning to think that the gopher ball we saw beginning in 2019 was MLB’s reaction to a known problem inside the game. I know I sound like a conspiracy theorist, but MLB really has not earned any trust over the last few decades. They consistently sit idly by as players cheat because the money is good, and then scramble badly when a fever pitch is reached years down the road. I’ll end my rant about MLB, but it’s absolutely maddening to see how issues like this are handled by the league. At some point, someone at MLB needs to be an adult and at least pretend to manage the product on the field and recognize that the commissioner’s office has a responsibility to be both a steward of the game and a strong defender of the game’s integrity.
Back to the question. No, MLB’s current strategy doesn’t go far enough because it passes the buck to umpires to enforce, leaving them on an island. I would have preferred to see a top-down enforcement strategy in which umpires collect data (while managing the game in question), and MLB issues standardized penalties based on the data collected. To be clear, I have a solution for the issue that I have written about here multiple times that I think gets closer to finding the sweet spot between securing player safety while leveling the playing field between pitchers and hitters. That is an example of a top-down strategy that I would whole-heartedly endorse.
Will the scare tactics work? Maybe to some extent. Anecdotally, fastballs across the games I’ve watched have been a little flatter and breaking balls just a touch less sharp in the last week. As a result, contact seems to be up a bit, but it could just be small sample size noise. For sure, I’ll be monitoring it, but I think more work will be needed to re-achieve balance.
Sam T. asks: See anything against the Twins that makes you think that the Yankees are about to turn it around? A lot of offense so far in the series…
It was great to see more offense, but let’s be real here: the Twins’ pitching staff is an absolute dumpster fire. The Yankees have missed hittable pitches throughout the year, so clearly it’s great to see the Yankees mash hanging breaking balls throughout the series throughout the lineup. We’re talking about a miniscule sample size here, but the Minnesota series is a piece of a larger trend for a couple of players on the roster.
Miguel Andujar and Gary Sanchez have been quietly raking for close to a month now, and both had a really good series. Here’s their high level stats over the last 14 days:
Sanchez: .314/.400/.486/.886, 145 OPS+
Andujar: .326/.348/.674/1.022, 174 OPS+
That’ll do. Both players are capable of putting up monster stretches, and now would be a good time to do it. In addition to Sanchez and Andujar, Judge and Torres are making plenty of contact, Stanton is starting to come around, and LeMahieu is at least hitting the ball harder. These are all good signs, but must be taken with a grain of salt. We need to see a group of 4 or 5 guys in the lineup hit at the same time for 3 or 4 weeks before I’m willing to say the offense is truly better. However, I am encouraged by what I’m seeing.
Nick asks: Let’s assume there’s only one spot in the outfield available: LF. Who do you start more regularly: Frazier or Andujar?
I really like Frazier, and I think he can be at least an average player at the MLB level. I’ve reached the point that I just don’t think it’s going to happen in New York despite last year’s tease. I have always been the high man around here on Andujar’s bat, as I think that he will always make consistently hard contact when he’s healthy and getting consistent playing time. Right now, the Yanks need all the offense they can get, so Andujar is the guy to do it, particularly given the severe regression in Frazier’s defense this season. Andujar at least has a cannon for an arm that is starting to make a difference in games, as we saw last night. I am bullish on Andujar’s future, and I want to see him out in LF with regularity.
Dave asks: Not sure I’m getting to this in time, but are you worried about Chapman? He’s got nothing tonight and the fastball just doesn’t have it’s usual oomph.
Dave might be on to something here. Until last night, Chapman has been basically unhittable, but there is one troubling sign I noticed. I haven’t dug into this too deeply yet (as Dave said…the question came in a bit late!), but check out Chapman’s rolling four-seam fastball velocity this season:
Click to Enlarge
Yeah, that’s a negative trend. I don’t know whether Champan’s hitting a bit of a wall, or whether something’s bothering him a bit, but I think his fastball velocity is going to be worth monitoring. Good catch, Dave.
Even if Chapman’s fastball velocity is down, he can still be effective if he mixes in more sliders and splitters to be incredibly effective. Velocity is not an end-all-be-all, but for a guy like Chapman, yes, I think this trend is of concern.