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  • E.J. Fagan

This Model Doesn't Work

July 25, 2023


NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.

Please check out EJ's substack page for more great articles.


The Yankees needed a first basemen in 2021. Luke Voit, a surprisingly effective stopgap they found in the Cardinals minor leagues system, was playing poorly when he wasn’t injured. They traded two unknown prospects for Cubs first basemen Anthony Rizzo.

Rizzo used to be really good. During his six-year peak, Rizzo hit .284/.388/.513 while playing great defense and leading the Cubs to the 2016 World Series. He was Chicago’s Derek Jeter. Then, Rizzo got old. He hit .240/.343/.432 in 2020-2021, prompting the rebuilding Cubs to trade him to the Yankees.

Before June of this year, I think Yankee fans considered the Rizzo trade to be a success. But, a quick look at the numbers presents a more complicated picture. Rizzo has hit .236/.337/.438 overall for the Yankees, good for a .776 OPS. For context, the average MLB first basemen hit .252/.330/.426 in 2023, with similar rates in 2021-2022. He was worth 2.1 fWAR in 2021 and 2.4 fWAR in 2022, and is on track to be worth something like 1.5 fWAR in 2023. The Yankees have paid him $17 million per year for average production, which could dip below average as Rizzo enters his mid-30s.

If the Yankees filled all nine starting position players and five starting pitchers with average players that cost $17 million, they would spend $238 million (before the bench and bullpen) for a team that could be expected to win 82 games if they all stayed healthy all year, and more realistically many fewer as a few inevitably decline or are unable to play through long stretches of the year. In practice, All-Rizzo is a 75 win strategy.

The math obviously doesn’t work on the all-Rizzo plan. A team that wants to spend $250 million on their roster is going to do it with a mix of blue chip free agents getting paid much more than Rizzo, players making much less than Rizzo and a few in the middle. One starter making the minimum salary allows you to sign another Rizzo. A second allows you to sign a blue chip free agent making $35 million. Instead of Rizzo, you get to sign Freddie Freeman.

Ideally, a team finds players making the minimum using their farm system. A prospect who puts up an average performance is incredibly valuable, because they allow the team to direct money elsewhere. Some will even breakout and become true stars at a bargain, which is how true powerhouse teams are built.

The Yankees are absolutely terrible at developing young hitters. By my count, here are all of the young hitting prospects that became regular, average-or-better MLB starters for the team since they won the 2009 World Series:

  • Gleyber Torres (2019)

  • Aaron Judge (2017)

  • Gary Sanchez (2016)

That’s it. They have a few temporary successes in Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier and a few bench players, but not much else. Contrast that with the Dodgers:

  • James Outman (2023)

  • Gavin Lux (2022)

  • Will Smith (2019)

  • Max Muncy (2018)

  • Austin Barnes (2017)

  • Cody Bellinger (2017)

  • Corey Seager (2015)

  • Kike Hernandez (2015)

  • Enrique Hernandez (2015)

  • Joc Pederson (2014)

  • Yasiel Puig (2013)

  • Dee Strange-Gordon (2011)

  • AJ Ellis (2010)

Can you spot the difference? Okay, maybe the 2010s Dodgers were exceptional. Let’s just pick another contending team at random, like the Chicago Cubs:

  • Christopher Morel (2022)

  • Nico Hoerner (2022)

  • Patrick Wisdom (2021)

  • Ian Happ (2017)

  • Kyle Schwarber (2017)

  • Wilson Contreras (2016)

  • Addison Russell (2015)

  • Javier Baez (2014)

  • Anthony Rizzo (2011)

  • Starlin Castro (2010)

  • Welington Castillo (2010)

I could go on. Hundreds of average-or-better major league players have debuted over the last 13 years. Three have been Yankees. Even if Volpe, Peraza and Rortvedt pan out, the team has been an absolute failure in terms of player development.

The Yankees have made up for abysmal player development with scouting. You know the names: the Yankees have filled out their roster by plucking players like Gio Urshela, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, Luke Voit, Jake Bauers, etc.

Cashman’s ability to find underrated late-20s players and turn them into productive major league regulars has been impressive, but its utility is limited. These players were all either old or had already burned through a lot of major league service time before their acquisition. The Yankees have to find a new crop of productive Quad-A every two or three years. Eventually, their luck ran out.

Why are the Yankees so bad at hitter development? I’ve been repeating one of the big problems here and on the Bronx Beat podcast: they don’t play young players who aren’t exceptional. One thing that Judge, Torres, Sanchez, Volpe and Peraza all had in common was that they were top prospects. But a ton of major league regulars weren’t big name prospects. They just played well at Triple-A, were called up, and held their own against major league pitching. If you never call up a good Triple-A hitter you never learn if they can hack it in the majors.

That said, I don’t think the Yankees reluctance to give the Florials of the world a chance explains all of the problem. A quick glance around the majors doesn’t reveal a ton of former Yankee prospects who are starters: Thairo Estrada, Ezequiel Duran, Rob Refsnyder, Ben Gamel, JR Murphy. They clearly also stink at bringing in talented hitters and teaching them how to play major league baseball.

I think the player development failures are the core case to fire Brian Cashman. The Yankees can’t build a World Series winning core without a solid base of young, cheap position players, supplemented by a few Freddie Freemans and Aaron Judges.

2 bình luận

Alan B.
Alan B.
25 thg 7, 2023

I've been saying this in different ways for years. There are so many different ways this is failing, it's not funny. From slow footing guys through the system, to coaching based on analytics and the sports lab results. It doesn't help that the Yankees are constantly changing their minor league coaches. They also don't manage the hitters like they do the pitchers. If so many of these kids have speed, why aren't they bring taught how to bunt for a hit?

Having too many minor league veterans at AAA are a problem. They take playing time away from kids who deserve to either struggle at AAA, or deserve promotions but can't get them because the allegiance to the vets. Trey…

25 thg 7, 2023
Phản hồi lại

What do you imagine the Yankees were going to learn about Dominguez in a handful of AAA games before the AA season? He would either be good, average or bad and it would mean nothing because of the small sample size. Dominguez has barely been above the Mendoza line in AA so does it really matter if he played 6 games in AAA in April? He's young for AA and would even be younger for AAA. The ST numbers are meaningless as we've seen with Volpe's struggles at the MLB level. Both of them were facing AA level pitching for the most part in those games.

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