Weekly Mailbag: Frazier/Hicks Part III, #21, Who is Mike Ford, and An Under-the-Radar Hitting Prospe
Wow, you guys really got into the Frazier vs. Hicks conversation! I’ve had fun with the way you guys have challenged me the last few weeks, and we’ve got some really good stuff this week – thanks and keep it coming! You guys have been way more on your games than the Yankees have this week.
Without any further ado, this week’s mailbag will feature round three of the Frazier vs. Hicks discussion, the number 21, digging deeper into Mike Ford’s production, and taking a look at an under-the-radar hitting prospect. Let’s get at it:
Bob says: I read your assessments and analysis often. This one I cannot agree but with an alternative. Granted Hicks is a Cashman guy, but he is very injury prone bad back core issues and now elbow. He should be traded and he is signed for a very reasonable contract. My suggestion is next year have Tauchman/Gardner in center Judge Stanton in right and Gardner/Frazier in left.
I swear, this is the last time we’ll talk about Frazier and Hicks, but I’m glad so many of you have been interested in this mailbag question series. While I would choose to keep Hicks, it is a perfectly valid line of thought to see value in trading Aaron Hicks.
Aaron Hicks signed one of the most team-friendly extensions I’ve seen in years this off-season. Frankly, I see it as a sign of just how lopsided “Free” Agency (it doesn’t seem very free lately) has become in favor of the owners, but it’s a fact, and the Yankees were able to reap the benefits. Hicks, even in diminished form, is likely an above-average CF throughout the length of his extension, but I do agree that Hicks has a tendency to get nicked up throughout the season, and his injuries this year are troubling for a player close to the wrong side of 30.
Even given Hicks’ injuries, my expectation is that he would be a very valuable trade commodity were the Yankees to make him available. That said, there is only one thing that I would be willing to trade Hicks to obtain: controllable starting pitching. If the Yankees could obtain a good, young, mid-rotation arm by trading Hicks, it would be worth exploring depending on the arm.
The suggestion of having Tauchman, Frazier, Gardner, Judge, and Stanton rotate through the outfield corners and DH is perfectly valid, as is allowing Gardner to patrol CF on a part-time basis. However, despite Tauchman’s positive defensive metrics this season, I have very real reservations about his ability to play CF, and I agree with the assessment others have made that the Yankees do not feel strongly about Tauchman’s play in CF either. Defensive metrics vary wildly in samples even as large as a single season, and the eye test tells me that Tauchman, while a good corner outfielder, is not a strong enough defender to play CF in anything other than a reserve role. Just last night (sorry to make you re-live Tanaka’s start against the A’s), Tauchman totally mis-read a fly ball to the wall, nearly hurting himself when he banged into the wall, while allowing the ball to scatter in the outfield, turning a double into a triple. Obviously, that’s just anecdotal evidence, but I really don’t feel comfortable with Tauchman playing CF anything more than occasionally.
Trading Hicks sets the Yankees back in CF for at least a couple of years. I don’t see Florial as a realistic option on a championship team, and Gardy is getting older. Most players are expendable in the right deal, but I think it would be tough to find the right deal in this scenario.
Mark asks: What should be done about #21? After Torres’ talk about the hall and how he believed Paul would be in there if it wasn’t for the strike shortened seasons. Should the Yankees retire the number? Let it stay in limbo for now? The poor relief pitchers wear 70+ numbers.
Paulie amassed 38.8 bWAR over the course of his career; we could give him another 800 prime at-bats, and I still don’t think that you could make the argument that he was a Hall-of-Fame player. O’Neill was great! Trading for O’Neill was a move that helped usher in the last Yankee dynasty, and his best seasons (All-Star caliber seasons!) were in pinstripes. Giving Paulie a plaque was the right thing to do.
That said, reserving numbers that have not been officially retired is ridiculous. Paulie got a plaque in Monument Park for his contributions to the Yankees, but retiring his number is over the top. Give it to the next good, young player who wants it.
Jeff asks: You have been a Mike Ford fan, but I haven’t seen a lot of production. Am I missing something? I want Luke back.
Wanting Luke Voit back is perfectly reasonable – he’s been one of the better first basemen in all of baseball, and the Yankees could use additional thump in the lineup right now.
That said, Ford’s underlying numbers remain really, really good. Ford’s average exit velocity is 92.2 MPH (MLB Average is 87.5 MPH) and his average launch angle is 16.1, which is right in the happy zone for a power-hitting first baseman. While he’s only had 102 plate appearances this season, those are numbers that tend to stabilize early. He remains a highly disciplined and selective hitter at the plate, walking in 11.1% of plate appearances while only striking out in 17.2% of plate appearances. These are elite numbers for someone who impacts the ball the way Ford does, and his plate discipline numbers match what we know about him from his minor league career.
Statcast largely believes that Ford has hit into bad luck this season, giving him credit for .361 XWOBA vs. an actual WOBA of .305. Ford’s XWOBACON (based on Ford’s contact numbers) is .392. Those are fantastic expected numbers.
The one thing I will say is that Ford may be too passive at the plate right now. While Ford makes well above average contact on balls in the strike zone and refuses to chase balls out of the strike zone (8.5% better than league average), Ford is sitting tight when he gets a good pitch to hit too frequently. According to Statcast, while Ford has received a roughly average number of meatball pitches this season, he has swung at those pitches 16.8% less than league average. Looking at his swing map, it looks as though he’s holding off on too many middle-middle pitches and pitches middle-in. Check it out:
Courtesy of Statcast
MLB hitters have to swing more often at balls in those zones. These issues tell me that this is a player that just needs to go through an adjustment period. Whether he’ll get it with the Yankees is another story, but I still believe that Ford can be a Major League player. Nothing I’ve seen this season gives me pause in that regard.
David asks: I’ve heard a lot about pitching prospects in the Yankee system this year, but can you tell me about a hitting prospect we haven’t heard much about?
Fun! I’m a prospect hound, so I’m going to dig down to low-A Charleston. Canaan Smith has had a great season as a 20-year-old corner outfielder, batting .308/.407/.464 with 10 HR, 12 SB, and 69/100 BB/K in 489 plate appearances. Not only is that outstanding performance by a guy who is 1.5 years younger than the average player in the South Atlantic League, but he is already well-built at 6 feet tall, 215 lbs., and has the potential to grow into more power as his body matures.
Smith isn’t the most athletic prospect and had a poor year in 2018, so he is not high on many prospect lists, but I think that he’s a better athlete than he’s given credit for as a well-regarded high school quarterback who also managed to swipe 12 bags this year. In addition, it is notoriously difficult to hit homers in the River Dogs’ home park, yet Smith managed to whack 10 dingers this year. I really think that Smith will have a coming out party next year if he plays in high-A Tampa.