Weekly Mailbag: Donnie Baseball and the HOF, Tyler Lyons, and Clarke Schmidt vs. Deivi Garcia!
The end of another winter week brings us that much closer to the hopes and dreams of Spring Training. It’s been a relatively busy week in baseball, as multiple teams have made significant moves. While multiple teams are fully invested in a rebuild, it’s been fun to see teams that have been straddling the line between rebuilding and contending make moves to get better. Both the Reds and the D’Backs have shown that they are willing to add to their payroll by upgrading their rosters in meaningful ways. I’m choosing to focus on the good, as I think it’s far more fun to think about teams than try than teams that tank.
By the way, just wanted to mention that I’ve gotten some good questions from people the last few weeks. Our readership is up significantly since the mailbag started last year, so I just wanted to take a second to reiterate that all are welcome to submit questions for the mailbag – don’t be shy! I’m ready to field any question that’s even remotely related to baseball. Email your mailbag question to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com, and I’ll answer 3 or 4 each week.
This week, I’ll answer questions about Mattingly’s HOF case, Tyler Lyons, and Clarke Schmidt vs. Deivi Garcia! Let’s get at it:
Mark asks: There was a lot of talk on MLB radio about steroid era players who were great during their first 10 years and then took steroids, and they deserve to get in based on their first 10 years of production.
Taking that thought process into account, wouldn’t Mattingly be a HOFer during his 10 years? He’s just missing the steroid jacked up numbers after 1995.
Donnie Baseball was a great ballplayer, and a legendary Yankee. There is no question but that Mattingly was the heart and soul of the team throughout the 80s and early 90s. It is truly unfair that Mattingly didn’t get the chance to play in a World Series either on the underdog 1996 team that won it all one year after he retired, or on the 1994 team that many have forgotten because of the labor strike that ended the season in August. Not that he had a ton of competition for the honor, but Mattingly really was the best Yankee from that generation of players. Unfortunately, even if we fictitiously gave him a boost from 1993-1995 with the help of some added power numbers, I don’t think it would have been enough to make Mattingly a Hall of Fame candidate.
Mattingly’s peak was certainly Hall of Fame worthy. From 1984 to 1989, Mattingly was worth 33.0 bWAR, hitting .327/.372/.530, while swatting 160 HR, and producing a K/BB ratio of 293/206, which is mind-bogglingly good. Sadly, I think that Mattingly’s back injuries would have prevented even pharmaceutical enhancement from salvaging what came next in his career. From 1990-1995, Donnie Baseball was worth just 9 bWAR, as a bad back demolished whatever power Mattingly had. While he retained elite bat control and plate discipline numbers, the lack of power really took a toll on Mattingly’s value as a 1B. I don’t think the lost power was a strength issue; it was a mechanical choice because of Mattingly’s bad back.
Very few players are capable of putting together an entire career’s worth of elite seasons to get to Hall of Fame caliber numbers. Mattingly was certainly on that trajectory. Unfortunately, some guys’ bodies just break down, and Mattingly was one of those guys. Regardless of whether he ever gets into the Hall of Fame, Mattingly will forever be a Yankee legend, and the story of baseball in the 1980s can’t be told without Donnie Baseball.
Allen asks: The Yankees re-signed Tyler Lyons to a minor league deal. Does he have a chance at a bullpen spot on the MLB roster? Or is he just a depth signing? I’m surprised he’s back with the new 3 batter minimum.
Clearly, there is something the Yankees like about Lyons. After acquiring him in August, Lyons pitched in 11 games in September, and then even made the postseason roster, much to my surprise. Give credit where credit is due: Lyons faced 5 batters in the playoffs, and he retired all 5, retiring 4/5 by strikeout. Interestingly, there was a relatively strong mix of righties and lefties, partially due to the fact that he primarily pitched in blowouts during the playoffs, but also because he was not deployed solely as a lefty-on-lefty reliever in the 2019 season.
In looking at his splits, he struggled pretty equally against lefties and righties, as lefties had a 1.032 OPS against Lyons while righties had a .894 OPS. In such a small sample size, the difference between those OPS figures is basically meaningless. You can squint at his expected stats against based on quality of contact and say that Lyons got a little unlucky, but his average exit velocity against of 89.0 MPH represented the highest exit velocity against of his career, and hitters barreled the baseball in 13% of at-bats over the last two seasons. Even more worrisome, Lyons’ best pitch, a slider that he throws between 50-60% of the time, was as ineffective as ever this season, allowing hitters to post a .372 WOBA and a 92.7 MPH exit velocity against the pitch. In digging into the numbers, the pitch was located similarly to years past, but Lyons has lost a little vertical drop on the pitch over the last two seasons, which could be contributing to the pitch’s relative ineffectiveness.
There are a lot of good, young pitchers in the Yankee system that can be used to fill out the back of the bullpen, but depth is never a bad thing. The Yankees know Lyons, and he was cheap. I don’t expect Lyons to spend a lot of time on the MLB roster, but he is a good depth piece. Based on the numbers, he is a left-handed pitcher that has traditionally been employed against lefties and righties alike, making him relatively impervious to the new 3 batter minimum rule.
Greg asks: The prospect rankings are starting to come out and there hasn’t been a consensus on the number 1 Yankee prospect. Until recently, I always thought that Deivi Garcia was the consensus top pitching prospect in the Yankee system, but the rankings seem to flip flop between Garcia and Clarke Schmidt.
Who do you think is the best prospect of the two?
Clarke Schmidt, a recent 1st round draft pick, is definitely getting a lot of love by the various scouting services coming into 2020. Coming into last season, Schmidt still had work to do to completely overcome Tommy John Surgery, and he was further down the prospect rankings. He put together a solid campaign at A+ Tampa, but he really kicked it into another gear when he got to AA Trenton, putting together 3 great starts that teased Yankee fans with what could be coming. Schmidt has a mid-90s fastball and good-to-plus breaking stuff that produces great strikeout numbers. Where Schmidt struggles is with his control and command, some of which is due to a unique delivery that is difficult to repeat. Not only does Schmidt’s delivery hurt his ability to command the baseball consistently, it remains to be seen whether it will lead to further durability issues down the road. On the bright side though, Schmidt has a ceiling as a mid-rotation starter, maybe even a bit better at maturity. Because his stuff is so good, Schmidt has a likely floor as a good reliever even if durability, command, or the lack of a good enough change-up (though this pitch made significant strides in 2019) keep him from starting long-term.
Garcia is similar in the sense that he is still working to develop command, there are durability concerns (due to his diminutive size, not his delivery), and he has great stuff. The difference with Garcia is that it is apparent that he has a minimum of 4 pitches that are comfortably average or better, including one of the best curveballs in the minor leagues and he does not have a significant injury rap sheet to this point.
Both Schmidt and Garcia are in the high minors, so they will likely be viable options for the MLB roster at some point in 2020. Evaluating them as prospects come down to how concerned you are with Schmidt’s delivery and command vs. Garcia’s small stature hurting his ability to stay on the field and get appropriate fastball plane.
Both players are great, and I would rank them 1 and 2 in the Yankee system over Jasson Dominguez right now. It’s really close, but I’m all in on Deivi Garcia. I think that he is a starter long-term, with good enough stuff to be a 2 or 3 starter at maturity.
That’s all for this week! Enjoy Super Bowl Sunday, a wonderful day not just for the spectacle the day brings, but also because its conclusion means that baseball is right around the corner. See you all for another mailbag next week!