SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Scouting Arizona's Outfield (Part II) and Judge's Strike Zone!
May 6, 2022
By Andy Singer The Yankees went up to 11. Honestly, it was a fantastic run, and they’ve played well enough that I actually believed the team had a shot to pull out a comeback win in a tight 2-1 loss on Wednesday evening. It’s been a good couple of weeks to be a Yankee fan. The pitching staff is dominant, as I expected. The offense has largely rebounded, as I expected, but it is also possibly more versatile and flexible than I expected. The Yankees are playing fun baseball, and I haven’t said that since 2019. Despite how much fun the baseball has been, I have taken even more joy over the past two days watching the fun and heart-warming fallout from the display of kindness stemming from Aaron Judge’s huge homer in Toronto on Tuesday night. From the fan that caught the home run ball making sure that a kid who loved Aaron Judge could have the ball, to the child’s gut-wrenchingly authentic reaction, and then watching the way Aaron Judge handled the situation the next day by taking significant time with the fan and his family, I find myself feeling a genuine appreciation for baseball, but more importantly humanity. For those of you who haven’t seen the clip of the child crying and hugging the fan that gave him the home run ball or the child’s interview with the YES Network and his subsequent meeting with Aaron Judge, please take some time to do so. All I can say is that for a moment, I felt better than I have in a very long time. As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll revisit Arizona’s outfield and discuss Aaron Judge’s strike zone! Let’s get at it: Fuster asks: noting that the Yankees have two outfielders scheduled to become free agents after the season, assuming that they will sign, at most, one of them and fervently hoping that it'll be the one who bats right-handed..... I ask whether there's any likelihood that the team can convince the D'Backs to send one of their two top lefty outfielders to the Bronx and the reasonable cost of persuasion. [POSTSCRIPT TO LAST WEEK’S MAILBAG - Fuster asks: what I had in mind was attempting to acquire one of their two lefty-hitting outfield PROSPECTS Thomas or Carroll.] Somewhere in the universe last week, Fuster and I crossed signals. In thinking back, I think it’s hilarious that the Diamondbacks currently employ and all lefty outfield which enabled the confusion in the first place such that the two lefty centerfield prospects at the top of basically every D’Backs prospect list never even entered my mind. Though Daulton Varsho and Pavin Smith (the two young outfielders I examined in last week’s SSTN Mailbag) are very interesting young baseball players, Alek Thomas and Corbin Carroll are certainly more exciting topics for conversation. Alek Thomas is a consensus top-50 prospect, which is impressive, but he tends to play in the shadow of Carroll, who despite a very scary shoulder injury in 2021, is a consensus top-20 prospect in all of baseball, and if I were making my own prospect list, Carroll would be firmly in my top-10 now that we can see that he seems fully recovered from the avulsion fracture in his shoulder. Whoever you prefer, both of these guys are blue chip prospects. Let’s start with Carroll. Eric Longenhagen over at Fangraphs compared Carroll’s skillset to Brett Gardner, which may initially sound like an underwhelming skillset for a top prospect until you realize that Brett Gardner produced 44.3 bWAR/38.2 fWAR for his career. Carroll has some significant tools, none greater than his plus-plus speed. He is a twitchy athlete, seemingly accelerating to full speed by his second step which allows him to both steal bags and cover tons of ground in centerfield. Carroll also has some very real feel to hit, making contact seemingly with ease which allows him to access and maximize his average raw power in game settings. At just 21 years old, he is already dominating AA coming off of a scary injury, though all indications are that his shoulder shouldn’t continue to be a problem moving forward. Depending on how you weight the importance of the various traits and skillsets ballplayers should have, Carroll is arguably the best centerfield prospect in the sport. Carroll appears poised to wreak havoc at the lead-off spot in a lineup for years to come while patrolling centerfield with ease. If there is one concern, it’s that Carroll really hasn’t gotten a ton of reps down on the farm due to the cancelled minor league season in 2020 and his early injury in 2021, but it wouldn’t shock me if Carroll were a regular by sometime in 2023. Alek Thomas is the definition of a professional ballplayer. Thomas grew up around the ballpark, as his father worked for the Chicago White Sox for 20 years. While Thomas’ carrying tool is his plus speed, that has not translated into aggressiveness on the basepaths yet, as Thomas doesn’t steal the number of bags that you would expect. Thomas covers plenty of ground in centerfield, though he has a below-average arm that limits his defensive upside. He’s fine as a total package in centerfield, but he’d likely be plus in an outfield corner where his arm could be hidden a bit easier. At the plate, Thomas shows improving plate discipline that borders on elite in 2022, walking nearly as much as he strikes out at AAA. Thomas shows real feel to hit and he’s beginning to access his above-average raw power in games, manifesting itself in gap-to-gap power with occasional balls over the fence. He may be overshadowed somewhat by Carroll, but Thomas is a fine prospect in his own right, and would likely be a top-3 prospect in the Yankees’ system. All of this is by way of saying that neither player would come cheap, but both have obvious long-term fits for the Yankees, as both can play centerfield, bat left-handed, and would be ideal lead-off men. Unfortunately. their long-term fits in their current organization is clear as well. The Diamondbacks are re-tooling on the fly, and hoping to compete again in the near future. Thomas and Carroll, as players likely to come up to stay between 2022 and 2023, fit nicely into the D’Back’s timeline for contention. If they really wanted to, it’s not hard to picture the Diamondbacks playing Carroll in centerfield and Thomas in left field at maturity, giving the team a nice one-two punch at the top of the lineup while giving them 2/3 of an elite defensive outfield (and a complete defensive outfield if Varsho sticks around). I think the only way that the D’Backs would be willing to trade either player is if they received high-end middle infield and/or high-end pitching with years of team control. The Yankees have both, but a trade to acquire either Thomas or Carroll would really deplete the Yankees’ resources down on the farm. Volpe is a reasonable return in a one-for-one setting, but I don’t think a deal like that makes sense for the Yankees or the D’Backs. Stepping down in value to Peraza as the centerpiece of a deal means that the Yanks would have to sweeten the pot with likely 2 of the Yankees’ pitching prospects in AA/AAA and likely a low-minors prospect as a lottery ticket. I think that would put the Yankees in the ballpark for Thomas and be a hair light for Carroll. That’s a big ask, and I’m not sure it’s worth it for the Yankees right now. The team will likely need all of the pitching depth it has in the minors this year and next in pursuit of a World Series title, and I’m not sure it makes sense if Thomas is the target, while Carroll is likely too expensive. As much as I’d love either Thomas or Carroll in pinstripes, I’m not sure a deal is a realistic pursuit. Bob asks: Is it me, or is Aaron Judge again getting squeezed on the low strike in 2022? I thought it was a bit better last year, but it seems like it’s bad again in 2022. Do the stats back that up? This really took me down a rabbit hole. I have always felt like Judge gets an expanded strike zone below the knee, but I found something interesting when I used Statcast to look at all Called Strikes against Aaron Judge in 2022: View fullsizeAaron Judge Called Strikes 2022, Courtesy of Statcast (Click To Enlarge) Statcast appears to dispute my impression, and I was ready to take that for face value until I drilled down into some of those low pitches. I checked out video of the lowest pitch you see in the image above. For reference, it was an 89.1 MPH fastball by Tyler Alexander of the Detroit Tigers on 4/19/2022. Here’s an image of the ball crossing the plate: Does This Look Like A Strike?!?!? Ummmmmmm…that’s not the bottom of the zone. That’s a shin ball. I found numerous other examples of bad pitch plotting on low balls against Judge in 2022. I am now very skeptical of some of Statcast’s visual representations of pitch maps without verifying it with my own eyes. The cynic in me wants to find a conspiracy in which MLB is covering for bad umps by manipulating Statcast, but I don’t think MLB as an organization is competent enough to engage in a plot that sophisticated. I think the plots just need some re-calibration. However, back to the main point: no, the umps still can’t judge the bottom of the strike zone for Aaron Judge. It’s a huge problem, and I’m ready to scream about it some more when it inevitably costs the Yankees a game.