Weekly Mailbag: A Healthy Lineup (Gasp!), Didi, and Chance Adams!
In this week’s mailbag, we’ll talk about what a healthy 25-man roster might look like (I might faint at the idea), whether Didi Gregorius is worth extending, and Chance Adams. Let’s get at it:
Rudy asks: When the dust settles and Stanton and Judge and the rest return, how do you see the roster and lineup shaping up?
It’s still a little too far out to imagine what the Yankee lineup will look like with a totally healthy group. After all, it looked like Stanton was close to a return until another setback earlier this week. But, what the heck – we can dream, right?!?
It looks as though the Yankees should have a healthy infield (minus Andujar, of course) by mid-June with both Didi and Tulo set to return by that time. You should note that I did not bother including Bird among the infielders working their way back to health. I think that this last injury is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Bird should not be back in a Yankee uniform unless he is hitting so well at AAA that it would be impossible to keep him there. Voit has earned the first base job until further notice, and I do not think that there is an argument to be made that Bird is better than any other option the Yankees could put at DH.
That said, I think that Didi will immediately return to his customary starting role at SS when he returns. The Yankees will (should) not bring him to the majors until he is ready to man SS. Tulowitzki is the interesting case. The Yankees clearly liked what they saw over the winter in Tulowitzki, enough so that I think they may find a way to shoehorn him onto the roster once he is healthy as a utility infielder.
My issue with that is that he is likely not even the second-best option in that role on the current 25-man roster. Obviously, DJ LeMahieu isn’t going anywhere, but despite the seemingly early call-up, Thairo Estrada has been impressive in his small taste of Major League playing time. Prior to getting shot in Venezuela last year and suffering through a lost season, Estrada was a well-regarded prospect who had a reputation for hitting the ball hard and playing solid defense. That reputation appears well deserved, as Estrada has looked good when playing on the dirt, and he even looked adequate playing LF for the first time in his professional career. At the plate, Estrada has put up good numbers and shown some pop. Estrada’s exit velocity is 91.0 MPH, 4.6 MPH above the league average, and his Hard Hit rate of 46.7% shows that his success hasn’t been a fluke. While his plate discipline leaves something to be desired, I think Estrada has learned a longer look at Tulowitzki’s expense.
As far as the outfield is concerned, I am not sure that we’ll see a completely healthy one until after the All-Star break. The core four of Stanton, Hicks, Judge, and Gardner are givens, but I think that Frazier deserves a starting role. Frazier is struggling against teams that aren’t the Orioles right now, particularly due to his aggressiveness at the plate. While Frazier’s O-Swing% (swings outside the strike zone) is slightly below the league average, the percentage of pitches he sees inside the strike zone (Zone%) is 51.8%, which is well above-average. This means that while Frazier swings at balls outside the strike zone slightly less often than other batters, he also sees far more pitches inside the strike zone than other batters. This tells me that Frazier should be more patient and wait for his pitch, which until this most recent series in Baltimore, Frazier was struggling to do. If Frazier can make an adjustment between now and July, I think the ideal lineup has Frazier in LF, Hicks in CF, Judge in RF, Stanton at DH, and Gardner frequently spelling the other 3 as the 4th outfielder. In that scenario, there are plenty of at-bats to go around, and Frazier can continue to develop at the Major League level.
As far as the pitching staff is concerned, I’ll believe it when I see it. It’s really wonderful to imagine Severino, Paxton, Tanaka, German, CC, and Montgomery healthy at the same time, but we have a long way to go until that is a reality. I am not sure that Happ will make it to July in the rotation. I respect the fact that he’s battling out there, but I was not a fan of the signing this winter, and Happ looks like he’s gotten old all at once. As a guy who relies on his fastball for success, I’m not sure that Happ is capable of a CC-like resurrection. With everyone healthy, I think Happ should be the odd man out, with German and Monty splitting the last spot in the rotation for the sake of innings management. Now, the Yankees won’t do that, and these things have a way of working themselves out (someone else will get hurt), so let’s revisit this topic in early July.
The bullpen is nearly healthy. Betances should be back next month, so hopefully we’ll finally get the dominant bullpen we all dreamed of in February. Not much work needs to be done here – those guys should be fine once everyone is healthy.
Lionel asks: What do the Yankees do with Didi? Cashman has dug up a possible glut of good infielders. Can the Yanks afford to let the only lefty-hitting one go as a free agent or do they have to sign him?
As many of you know, Didi Gregorius is one of my favorite players to watch, and as much as I care about statistics and value, I just love the way he plays the game. He’s energetic, fun, and was the perfect choice to succeed Derek Jeter. So, I admit to some bias regarding this question.
Putting on my analytical hat, 3-5 WAR shortstops who can handle the pressure of playing in New York are not a dime-a-dozen. We may be living in another golden age of shortstops, but that doesn’t mean that good shortstops are easy to find. Thairo Estrada is a fine ballplayer, and Gleyber Torres will be a star. I am not sure that Estrada and Torres is a better combination than Didi and Torres. I understand that Torres has looked more comfortable at SS, but he also has not had the chance to develop adequately at 2B yet, and I think that he will be fine there with time. Estrada’s career year might look a lot like a standard year for Didi. Most importantly, Didi has historically been a been a better defender than either Torres or Estrada.
The elephant in the room is Tommy John Surgery. Part of Didi’s value stems from his rocket arm that he uses to great affect at SS. If his arm strength is at all diminished following surgery, then the conversation around Didi is a bit different. Tommy John shouldn’t have an impact on Didi’s ability to hit, so I think he’ll continue his ascent as a hitter. If healthy, Didi will play the remainder of this season and each of the next 3 seasons in the thick of the traditional “prime” seasons of his career. Add in the fact that Didi is, conservatively, one of the top 7 players at his position at a time when everyone seems to have a superstar shortstop, and re-signing him is a no-brainer.
John asks: What do you think of Chance Adams? Will he finally contribute to the Yankees this year?
Chance Adams was once one of the top prospects in the Yankees’ farm system. By the end of 2017, he looked as though he was ready to be an impact pitcher at the big league level. In 2018, Adams struggled to recover from bone chips in his elbow, and his effectiveness and command with all of his pitches suffered. Add in the fact that his fastball went from 94-96 MPH to 89-93 MPH, and Adams’ stock has been in free-fall.
While Adams’ mid-90s heat has not returned, he certainly looks better on the mound recently. As discussed in multiple outlets, Adams went to work with Scranton pitching instructors to watch video of himself from 2017 to make some deliberate mechanical adjustments to be more effective. While his results were not good in April, Adams has pitched well at Scranton throughout the month of May. In his only big league appearance this season, Adams pitched 3 scoreless innings, striking out 4, walking 1, and allowing just 1 hit against the dangerous Tampa Bay Rays.
What interested me about his big league appearance this year was how different he looked from last season. In his appearances last season against the Red Sox, Adams nibbled with his fastball, and really didn’t show any bite with his slider, curveball, or change-up. This year, Adams ditched the change-up and increased his curveball usage, making it his primary secondary offering. The results were excellent, but more interesting was the way in which Adams accomplished his results. Adams worked off of his fastball, throwing it 70% of the time, and he got whiffs with the curve, getting batters to swing at miss at the offering on 27.7% of their swings (according to brooksbaseball.net).
All of this is to say that Adams is officially interesting again. With CC getting shut down for a couple of weeks, it would not surprise me if the Yankees get a longer look at him. Long-term, I am not sure that Adams has the repertoire or the command to work through a lineup 2-3 times, but I think he has the ability to be effective in 2-4 inning outings. Time will tell how the Yankees utilize him, but I think he might be ideally suited to Luis Cessa’s current role, only with more responsibility than just mop-up appearances. In short, I think he can help the 2019 Yankees, even if he is not an impact starting pitcher.
That’s all for this week, everyone. Have a great Memorial Day weekend, and don’t forget to send in your questions for next week’s mailbag to SSTNreadermail@gmail.com!