SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Questions at Shortstop, Bulk Guys, Joey Gallo, and Anthony Volpe!
By Andy Singer
As much as I’d prefer to see Yankee winning streaks last forever, the team was due for a couple of losses. I know that it was easy to worry given the fact that the offense reverted back to some of the maddening droughts we saw earlier this season, but we should all be encouraged by the fact that the ace of the staff put the team on his back in the most exclamatory way possible Wednesday night. The Yankee pitching staff, for all of our concerns throughout the year, has really been pretty great in 2021, and I have a hunch that for the Yankees to succeed in October this year, it will be great pitching performances, not necessarily a juggernaut offense, that propels the team. More to the point, I think that there’s a pretty simple explanation for the short offensive slump: the Yankees largely sat their hottest hitter not named Judge or Stanton. That man would be Luke Voit. Boone needs to find a way to pencil Voit in as often as possible in September. He looks healthy and determined, and I’ll take healthy and determined Luke Voit over almost anyone offensively.
Before we get to the SSTN Mailbag this week, I’d like to make a quick programming note. Last week, one of our readers wrote in a question regarding the coaching and development staff’s role in some greatly improved pitching performances this season. I gave a very cursory answer in last week’s mailbag that really didn’t give the insight I generally strive to provide. I have a dedicated post on that topic coming out on Monday, so stay tuned, and check it out.
In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll revisit the shortstop spot for the rest of the year, identify some out-of-the-box ideas for bulk relievers in the playoffs, discuss Joey Gallo’s struggles, and project the probability that Anthony Volpe starts at shortstop for the New York Yankees next season! Keep the questions coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. Let’s get at it:
Todd asks: Gleyber Torres is on the mend and should be back in the lineup any day now. Gleyber has been really bad since last year and he’s not a ss. Can the Yankees give real thought to starting the kid from the Bronx over him and would it give them more value than Torres?
I’ll be frank: I did not have questioning Gleyber Torres’ position as a long-term Yankee on my bingo card coming into the 2021 season, but I think it’s a very valid and crucial question right now. Playing Gleyber Torres at shortstop required him to be a plus offensive contributor, and that simply hasn’t happened for the last two seasons. More worryingly, Torres hasn’t even been an average offensive contributor over that time period. Add in the fact that questions on his ability to play shortstop from a defensive perspective remain, it’s pretty easy to see why a question like Todd’s arises.
I am coming around to the idea that it might be a good idea to put a defensive whiz at shortstop over Gleyber Torres in the long run. However, I don’t think Andrew Velazquez is the right guy to do it both right now and in the future. We only have small sample sizes with which we can discuss Velazquez’s value, so take the statistics with a grain of salt. However, in Velazquez’s short time at shortstop, Statcast really does not favor his defense, crediting him with -4 Outs Above Average already, which would make him one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball over a full season’s worth of chances. Defensive Runs Saved pegs Velazquez as an average defender, while Total Zone pegs him as a well below-average defender. Again, defensive statistics are unreliable in small sample sizes, but these numbers actually match what I see with my eye. For all of the balls that Velazquez gets to in the field, I don’t think he has the arm for shortstop, losing outs due to his inability to make throws consistently across the diamond. I don’t think it’s a mechanical issue either; I just don’t think he has the arm strength to make strong, accurate throws from the hole. The flip side to that is that Velazquez is one of the fastest players in all of baseball according to Statcast, and hits the ball surprisingly hard for a player with his stature, so maybe there’s some offensive upside there, but now we’re back in the same place: taking a below-average or average defender and hoping for added offensive ability. If that’s the upside with Velazquez, I’ll take Gleyber Torres every time, and keep Velazquez on the bench.
Now, the guy that I wish got a real shot right now is Tyler Wade. Wade has been an average hitter this year by OPS+, wRC+, and wOBA while playing superior defense all over the diamond, including at SS. Better yet, we have multiple seasons of data that shows that Wade can really play defense. Wade also bats left-handed and is one of the fastest players in baseball. If any player on the current roster deserves a shot to overtake Torres right now, it’s Wade. Frankly, if Wade were to hit like he is right now over a full season while playing above-average defense at SS, he’s likely a 2.5-3.5 WAR player. The Yankees would take that right now!
However, I still have belief in Gleyber. The talent that all of baseball saw from his years in the minors through 2019 hasn’t just disappeared. The team has to figure out why Torres is missing so many hittable pitches in the zone and consider shifting him more appropriately when he plays shortstop, as he’s actually a plus defender when shifted straight up, according to Statcast. When a player is this talented, the Yankees owe it to themselves to see if he can turn it around when he returns. I still believe that mechanics can be fixed when the talent is that high.
Jay asks: Jameson Taillon is slowing down – can Kluber overtake him in the playoff rotation and have Taillon move into the bullpen as a bulk guy? He could be really good in that role….
Sure, I could see that happening, but I do think we’re seeing a blip on the radar for Taillon over his last couple of starts. Taillon was so good over the last couple of months that he was due for a clunker or two – every pitcher does.
The playoff rotation starts with Cole and Montgomery. Everyone else is vying for time right now. I still think Taillon has the inside track on the 3rd starter’s spot, but it wouldn’t shock me if Kluber regains his feel over the last few weeks of the season and pitches like a 1-B starter on a short leash. Actually, a Taillon/Gil and Kluber tandem could be pretty deadly given how different those pitchers are…OK, I’m officially warming up to this idea.
Bryan asks: Are you worried about Gallo yet and was the trade a mistake?
It has certainly been an ugly couple of weeks for Gallo, there’s no denying that much. Frankly, I think he’s pressing right now. This is a guy who hit into 6 double plays his entire career coming into 2021, and he’s hit into 3 already with the Yankees. A day or two off might do him some good.
I still believe in his talent at the plate and his defense in the outfield is an asset. Let’s see what September brings, but on a scale of 1-10, I’m somewhere between a 3 and a 4 on Gallo.
Dave E. asks: Anthony Volpe has been even better than Dominguez down on the farm this year – any chance he’s the Yankees’ starting SS next year?
I was so beyond wrong about Anthony Volpe – I didn’t even have him ranked in my Top-15 Yankee prospects coming into this year, and I’d put him somewhere between 1 and 2 on that list right now. I think Volpe is the odds-on favorite to be the Yankees’ shortstop of the future.
However, as bullish as I am on Volpe’s development, I don’t expect him to start at shortstop in the Bronx next year. He’s still just 20 years old at A+. He very well may start next year at AA as a 21 year old, which is pretty awesome, but he still has plenty of development left. AA will be his first real test with good breaking balls and guys who can begin to locate more than their fastballs. I have confidence that Volpe will ace that test, but he still needs next year to prove himself in the high minors. It wouldn’t shock me if he gets a cup of coffee by the end of the year, but there’s no way he starts next year on the Major League roster.