Weekly Mailbag: Frazier vs. Hicks, Umpire Grading, Kahnle’s Performance, and Deivi!
In this week’s mailbag, we’ll talk about evaluating Aaron Hicks vs. Clint Frazier, umpire grading, Tommy Kahnle, and Deivi’s arrival! Let’s get at it:
Marc asks: I was wondering your thoughts about Clint Frazier vs Aaron Hicks.
I know that I have probably led everyone to believe that I am pro-Frazier versus anyone in the non-Aaron Judge division in the outfield, but that is simply not the case. Clint Frazier has the potential to be a very good Major League ballplayer, while Aaron Hicks is an established Major League center fielder. I think that context is very important when comparing two players as disparate as Hicks and Frazier.
Very few will dispute that Aaron Hicks is one of the better defensive center fielders in the league. Personally, by combination of the eye test and the metrics, I feel very comfortable calling Aaron Hicks a top-10 defensive center fielder in all of baseball. An arm as strong as Hicks’ is an unusual asset in CF. Hicks also shows good range due to the fact that he generally takes good routes to fly balls and line drives, and he gets good jumps despite very good (69th percentile in sprint speed this season) as opposed to elite speed. Add in the fact that Hicks has shown good plate discipline and solidly above-average offensive numbers (120 OPS+ since 2017, according to Baseball Reference), and I think that Hicks is an all-around great ballplayer. I know Hicks has been banged up this year enough that it’s difficult to maintain context when talking about him, but keep in mind that most of us were talking about Cashman’s ninja credentials when he managed to re-sign Hicks to a relatively modest 5-year/$50 million extension. Even with the semi-lost year, I still would make that signing every time, and I think that it is safe to project Hicks to be a valuable center fielder for at least the next 3 years of that contract.
Despite my affinity for Frazier, not even I believe that Frazier could man center field on an everyday basis. Frazier struggles mightily defensively, and while I think the tools are there for him to eventually be a slightly below-average defensive left fielder, that means the bat needs to reach the upper end of his projections to be an above-average Major League contributor. The signs are there that he is capable of doing that! The power and bat speed are real, and I think he’ll make enough contact to get to his power consistently. What worries me is his relative lack of plate discipline which leads to strikeouts and a low OBP. Remember, Frazier’s various injuries the last couple of years have cost him valuable development time both in the field and at the plate. Frazier has reached the stage where he needs big league at-bats in order to develop further at the plate. Frazier is nearly 25 years old, and while late bloomers exist (see: Aaron Hicks), he needs to start getting at-bats in the big leagues if he is going to reach his potential at the plate.
At the end of the day, I think that even if Frazier reaches his potential in all facets of the game, his 95th percentile outcome still falls short of Hicks’ best seasons. As much as I love Frazier’s potential, I’ll take Hicks any day.
Mark asks: Can you explain how the home plate umpires are graded? Is it by the rules and regulations? Or by that box that YES puts on the screen? The box YES uses seems to be only belt high on most players. Not even belly button or (gasp) at the letters.
I sympathize with Mark’s take regarding YES’ strike zone box. The box rarely reaches Judge’s belly button, so the network really needs to work on that graphic a bit in order for me to more consistently believe its vertical strike zone. Thankfully, no, Major League Umpires are not graded based on the various network’s strike zone indicators that we see on the broadcasts – that is just for the “pleasure” of the viewer.
MLB is very tight-lipped about evaluation standards for umpires, and it is very difficult to find any concrete answers regarding this topic. In fact, it is one that has interested me for some time. All I can say definitively is that MLB has a supervisory structure for evaluating umpires. Those evaluation methods supposedly lead to only the best umpires getting playoff series gigs. I’m not sure I buy that playoff jobs are granted based purely on performance; otherwise, there is no way Angel Hernandez would ever step on a playoff field as far as I am concerned.
In the end, I am sure that MLB is utilizing their strike zone findings using the Trackman data that is gathered at every big league ballpark. Additionally, I am sure that they evaluate umpire performance with regards to correct calls versus the rules and the way in which umpires comport themselves in the face of politically delicate situations. How forceful MLB is with their evaluation standards is between them and the umpire’s union.
Brian asks: Is Tommy Kahnle back to his pre-2018 form?
If Kahnle isn’t all the way back, he’s darn close. Very quietly, Kahnle had one of the best July performances of any reliever in baseball. Here was his line:
11.2 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 1 ER, 17 K (!), 0.77 ERA, 0.600 WHIP, 8.25 K/BB
Yeah, I’d say that Kahnle is about as good as we can expect a volatile reliever to be. More importantly, his fastball velocity has returned, as Kahnle has consistently hit 98 MPH in his outings since July. Frankly, given Ottavino’s issues with walks, if the playoffs started today, Kahnle would be my choice to be the bridge to Chapman in the 9th.
Kahnle came into this season on the roster bubble, but he has re-established himself as a key member of one of the best bullpens in baseball.
Jeff asks: Let the betting begin: when do the Yankees call up Deivi Garcia?
I think that Garcia makes one more start in AAA. If all goes according to plan, I don’t see the Yankees waiting much longer to make a move. Let’s go with August 15th. I can’t wait much longer to see the kid in pinstripes.
Thanks for all the great questions, as usual! Let’s see if the Yanks can extend their winning streak to 10 games tonight – that would be fun.