Weekly Mailbag: Judge’s Shoulder, the 5th Starter, and Aaron Boone!
Gerrit Cole gave up back-to-back homeruns yesterday to the Tigers, and the Yankees gave up 15 runs to the lowly Tigers. The sky is falling! Okay, not exactly. While we all want Spring Training performance to mean something, it really doesn’t. All of the homers hit off of Cole were on pitches grooved over the middle of the plate, which I doubt will happen once the regular season starts. Everyone remain calm.
In this week’s mailbag, we’ll talk about the mystery surrounding Judge’s shoulder, the 5th starter, and Aaron Boone! Let’s get at it:
Bill B. asks: I’m frustrated by the very minimal amount of information that has been forthcoming regarding Aaron Judge’s aching shoulder. And a lack of news like that makes me suspicious. Why aren’t the Yankees telling us HOW he hurt his shoulder? Did they x-ray it? Has he had an MRI? So far, we’re hearing nothing.
You’d think that the Yankees and the media would be all over an injury to the guy who is the face of the franchise. Instead, we’re getting chirping crickets.
What are the Yankees hiding?
Bill asked this question last Friday, but the mystery surrounding Judge’s shoulder/pectoral muscle remains, so I think it’s worth addressing Bill’s questions here. In the last week, we’ve learned that Judge has undergone a battery of tests that, to our knowledge anyway, have not definitively provided Judge and the Yankees with a diagnosis. In fact, Judge publicly expressed frustration in the lack of a diagnosis at this stage, a rarity for someone who typically plays it coy with the media, telling ESPN, “It’s always been chest and shoulder,” Judge said. “That’s what is making it tough, trying to describe what I’m feeling. I haven’t got a definite answer of what’s going on yet. … It’s a combination. One day I’ll wake up and the chest is feeling good, next day the shoulder is feeling bad. Next day, the shoulder is feeling good. It’s just kind of back and forth right now.”
That sure sounds like a frustrating situation, given that the pain appears to float between two connective pieces of tissue. Like Bill, I was initially suspicious that the Yankees were not being forthcoming with updates regarding Judge’s injury, but now that more details have emerged, I’m beginning to believe that whatever is wrong with Judge’s shoulder/chest has doctors and the Yankees medical staff confused as well. Given the fact that Judge is a guy who has proven that he will play hurt until his body will no longer allow him to play, the issue is clearly uncomfortable enough that he is okay with being shut down until a diagnosis is discovered.
This is one of the rare situations over the last couple of years where I don’t think that we can fault the Yankee medical staff…yet. Based on the information that is publicly available today, giving a Judge a battery of tests like what he’s had this week earlier in February would not have yielded any better results, because they still can’t find what’s wrong with him!
I am not a doctor, nor am I a trainer/physical therapist, but I am wondering whether Judge has already had things like cortisone shots or anti-inflammatory medications to try to eradicate the pain in his shoulder. The continued lack of information just makes it harder to evaluate whether the Yankees made a misstep and how likely it is that Judge will be cleared to play in the near future. While the Yankees have good options to temporarily replace Judge, he is one of the best players in baseball on a rate basis both offensively and defensively. The longer they are without Judge, the harder it will be for the Yankees to shoulder the loss (sorry, couldn’t help myself), so they better get it figured out fast.
Alex asks: You (and others on SSTN) have written about the competition for the 5th starter spot in the rotation, but I haven’t seen you list a preference for that spot in the rotation. Who do you like the most for that position?
I admit that my thinking has evolved on this one over the course of the last week and change. A question came into last week’s mailbag about using Chad Green as an opener again, and since then, I can’t help but think about what a Yankee rotation and bullpen would look like if they structured the roster around an opener and one or two bulk guys in the bullpen. Even without the opener, my preference based on what I’ve seen in Spring Training is split between two guys. Those of you who have read the blog over the last year plus know that I am a huge Deivi Garcia fan, but I do think that he needs to prove himself in AAA to begin the year after his struggles at that level in August last season.
The first guy I like is a pretty obvious answer, and will shock exactly none of you. Few pitchers on the Yankee roster can match Jonathan Loaisiga on stuff, and no matter what else happens with regards to how the Yankees build the roster this year, I think that Loaisiga needs to have a roster spot either in the rotation or in the bullpen. He has nothing left to prove or learn in AAA, and when the concerns regarding his durability are considered, I think it is necessary to use Loaisiga’s remaining bullets at the Major League level so that the Yankees ensure that they maximize a return on Loaisiga’s obvious talent. Loaisiga’s fastball velocity and spin rates on his fastball and curveball are elite. I opined over the winter that Loaisiga could be the next Dellin Betances out of the bullpen, and I stand by that assessment. I think that Loaisiga has proven that his body will not hold up as a starter over the long haul. However, despite all of those factors, I think that Loaisiga can provide good value as a starter/bulk guy with a relatively low pitch limit until Paxton returns to the rotation. Loaisiga has a three-pitch mix that can be successful more than once through a batting order, so he can be a decent short-term option as the fifth starter.
The other guy I like is Clarke Schmidt. There are obvious problems with anointing Schmidt with a spot on the roster, such as the fact that the Yankees will need to make a move to squeeze Schmidt onto the 40-man roster, but he has been as exciting as any player in Yankee camp. Schmidt’s delivery is much cleaner this Spring than in any other video I’ve seen of him pitching. Schmidt’s fastball hums and the power curveball has lived up to its billing, but it’s the change-up that I’ve been most impressed by. Schmidt’s change-up is thrown with good arm speed, and it has a shocking amount of fade. I had never considered Schmidt’s change-up to be an asset in the scouting reports I had read and the video I’ve seen, but I think that the pitch is perfectly viable at the big league level right now. Questions remain about pushing Schmidt all the way to the majors after just a few appearances at AA, but I am very impressed by what he looks like at Yankee camp. Even if he doesn’t break camp with the Yankees, look for Schmidt to spend some time in pinstripes at some point this summer.
Vic asks: A lot of Yankee fans have very strong opinions about Aaron Boone one way or the other. How do you think he’s been as Yankee manager? Will they have buyers remorse if Girardi does well with the Phillies?
No, I don’t think that the Yankees will have buyer’s remorse if Girardi has a good season with Didi and the Phillies this season (yes, I want that to be a thing…I miss Didi). I was very fond of Girardi as a manager, particularly his ability to manage bullpens and manipulate lineups on the fly, but I think that the Yankees had made up their minds that they wanted to move in a different direction after the 2017 season even prior to the playoffs. Boone has certainly taken his lumps as a strategist, but I think that he has shown the ability to learn from his mistakes, which is all you can ask of any leader. Most importantly, Boone has lived up to his billing as an excellent communicator, at least from what we can see externally. Obviously, it is difficult for anyone that doesn’t work with a team to truly know how good a manager is at doing their job, given that most of it is done behind closed doors, but I’ve been pretty happy with Aaron Boone overall since the middle of last year.
Most importantly, I think that Boone is a class act. If you haven’t read it, check out this story that came out this week. The Yankees always try to project an image of old-world class. Often times, that projections is little more than a cheap, media-driven façade, but I think that stories like this exemplify the person that Boone really is away from the ballpark. Fans of the Yankees should be proud that someone with that level of class is the Yankee manager. I look forward to seeing further improvement from Boone as a strategist this season, and I think he is the right guy for the Yankees in 2020.
That’s all for this week – great questions, as always. We’ll be back next week, and hopefully we’ll have more on our minds than a constant stream of injuries. Keep sending in the great questions to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com, and I’ll see you all next week!