Weekly Mailbag: Lineup Adjustments and a Potential Rotation Change
By Andy Singer
Coming into May, everyone at SSTN basically agreed that we would learn a lot more about this year’s Yanks by the end of the most recent series vs. the Rays. So, what did the Yanks do? They won 9 of 12 games, and each of their last 4 series. As frustrating as last night’s dud was with a sweep on the line against the Rays, the Yankees have largely righted the ship. Statistically, the pitching staff is one of the best in baseball, and all indications are that we shouldn’t expect much, if any, regression from the bullpen or the rotation. The offense is better than it was, and it looks even better when you look around baseball and understand just how far offense has fallen this season. In short, besides the recent Covid issues, life is pretty good for the Yankees.
As always, thanks for the mailbag questions, and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll work through a bunch of ideas for lineup adjustments and discuss a potential change in the starting rotation. Let’s get at it:
Cary asks: Was wondering your thoughts on:
Moving away from Ford in favor of Gittens on the premise that Gittens is a vastly superior defensive 1B & his raw power being so undeniable. He looked pretty good this spring also.
Optioning Clint Frazier ASAP & bringing Miggy in as the every day LF, while using Gardy in a regular late inning defensive replacement role
When Stanton starts playing OF part time, the Yankees might use Voit at DH & Gittens @1B. What is taking the Yankees so long to make this call, which I feel is so obvious. Am I crazy? Gittens is 27. He’s a plus defender. DJ LeMahieu also belongs a@ 2B where he makes the most impact.
There’s a ton to unpack here, so I’m going to devote some space to the variety of lineup adjustments Cary asks about above. A couple of you also asked about Gittens and Andujar, so answering Cary’s questions will get at some of the other questions that came into the mailbag this week.
Chris Gittens has been around on the fringes of the Yankee prospect discussion for a few years now. He is a large body at first base with elite raw power. Prior to the start of the 2020 season, Gittens’ profile was pretty clear: an all-bat first baseman with some potential, but also some worrying plate discipline numbers despite having just reached AA in his age-25 season. As a 1B-only prospect, the risky profile kept him off of the radar surrounded by some of the loud-tooled, but young and raw prospects that crowd the Yankee farm system. I have answered questions about Gittens in the last year, and while I have been intrigued by the power and whispers of elite exit velocity, the plate discipline numbers at AA really worried me. Everyone who spends time evaluating prospects at any level develops some biases, and I’m no different in that regard. Those of you that read the blog have probably picked up on some of those. I love loud tools, but plate discipline and pitch recognition are deal breakers for me as guys move above low-A. It’s why I gravitate towards guys like Mike Ford as minor leaguers and I freely admit, sometimes I overrate plate discipline when the hit tool just isn’t enough. Gittens had a higher strikeout rate than Aaron Judge ever had in the high minors, for reference. That worried me significantly, and while Gittens played at the alternate site last year, we really don’t have a feel for how good the competition really was down there. Thus, projecting skill advancement was nearly impossible, so I really wanted to wait to evaluate Gittens in real games.
The early results have been as promising as humanly possible. Gittens is old for the typical AAA prospect at 27, but he’s raked thus far, batting .333/.548/.714 and 2 loud home runs. Most importantly, he’s walked 9 times and struck out just 5 times in his first 31 plate appearances. I am of the believe that it takes significant reps in real professional games to make strides in plate discipline and pitch recognition, but I have to admit that my eyebrows are raised at Gittens’ early performance. However, there are a few caveats to that statement. Not to throw cold water on his performance, but have you looked at the hitting performance by almost everyone down in Scranton? The offense has been video game-esque thus far. I don’t think they’ve faced good pitching yet, so that could partially explain the crazy numbers. Secondly, I have heard nothing about what ball is being used at AAA this year. In 2019, AAA adopted the MLB ball for that season, the now infamous “gopher ball”. The ball has changed (yet again) at MLB which has resulted in less offense, but we have no word on whether the ball being used at AAA is the current MLB ball or the 2019 MLB ball. Lastly, we’re still talking about a miniscule sample size. I want to see Gittens put up big numbers over 150 plate appearances before we start having conversations about squeezing him onto the roster.
All of that being said, I think I undersold Gittens this offseason. I think he’s a real prospect if the plate discipline numbers hold. If they hold, I think it makes sense to find room on the 40-man roster for him. Right now, Ford is on the roster to give Voit a breather occasionally coming back from knee surgery, and he’s a lefty power bat off the bench for matchup purposes. If Gittens continues to prove that the raw power plays in games and he can strike out less than 35% of the time at the MLB level, then I think the Yanks should find a way to get him playing time.
At the end of the day, patience is a virtue. Gittens needs to force his way up with his bat, because he really doesn’t grade better defensively than Voit or Ford. Gittens deserves to finish up his development so that when he comes up, he’s ready to help a championship caliber team through the home stretch.
To Cary’s other point, I think we are approaching the time where the Yankees have to consider giving Andujar and Stanton some time in LF over Gardy and Frazier. By pretty much any offensive metric you want to consider, the Yankees have received bottom-5 production out of LF all season. Frazier is starting to hit the ball harder, so I want to give him through early June to try to sort it out, but as much as it pains me to say it, Gardy looks old at the plate. Everything looks just a hair slower, so I really think Gardy is going to become a real 4th outfielder that is used to keep guys fresh and pitch run late in ballgames.
The only way the Yankees can find a way to squeeze both Gittens and Andujar on the roster at the same time is if Stanton can play the outfield once or twice per week. Thus far, we haven’t heard any rumblings that the Yankees are ready to try him out there, but I keep hoping we’ll see it some month soon. It really will bring the lineup some much needed flexibility.
Brian asks: I’m watching Taillon pitch against the Rays and he is all over the place. He might be good at some point, but he doesn’t look like a consistent big league option right now. Is it time to call up Deivi to take his place?
I wrote extensively about what’s missing from Taillon’s arsenal earlier this week. Taillon’s fastball, despite excellent bottom-line velocity and spin rate, has been terribly inconsistent thus far, so while it occasionally generates whiffs at an elite level, it’s been punished when it flattens out and misses its location. We saw how that turns out during last night’s outing against the Rays. Taillon was genuinely Jekyl and Hyde with the fastball last night. When he was right mechanically, the pitch was sitting in the mid-90s and rode away from bats. When he missed with his hand position…it got ugly, fast. Taillon’s fastball really sets up all of his other pitches, so when his fastball wasn’t working, hitters sat on the slider.
Deivi has some development of his own that needs to occur, so I’m not sure he’s the answer yet. I still believe in the talent for both guys, but I think we’ll need to be patient. Luckily, the rest of the Yankee pitching staff has been good enough that the Yankees can live with Taillon working out the kinks at the back of the rotation…for now, anyway.