It’s pretty hard to escape the news of a global pandemic within the baseball blogging community, particularly now that Major League Baseball has made the decision to cancel the remainder of Spring Training and push back Opening Day by at least two weeks. Paul covered his thoughts last night, and I wrote about mine earlier this morning. As I think we all use blogs like this as an escape, this is the last mention I’ll make regarding baseball’s shutdown for this post.
In last week’s mailbag, I tried to give the benefit of the doubt to the Yankees’ medical staff with regards to diagnosing Aaron Judge’s mysterious shoulder/pectoral pain. Sure enough, mere hours after I deferred to the Yankee medical staff, we found out that Aaron Judge was dealing with a broken rib, and likely has been playing with it since September 2019! Surely, some of these problems are remnants of a training and medical staff that was overhauled in the off-season, but come on. It’s getting a little ridiculous. One of our readers, Bill, sent me this picture of the testing performed on Aaron Judge, and I think it’s pretty accurate:
Yeah, that about sums it up. Without any further ado, in this week’s mailbag, we’ll talk about Sanchez’s new catching stance, 26-man roster rules, and Jordan Montgomery’s fastball! Let’s get at it:
Greg asks: Much has been written about Gary’s “new” defensive stance behind the plate that was instituted by the new NYY catching guru. Seems to me that the exact stance was given to Gary by Tony Pena and Joe Girardi back in 2017, and that Pena was never given credit for it. He was a gifted defensive receiver and Gary didn’t follow up with his advice. Is it that Gary is more mature now and more willing to follow advice? Or that Cashman has laid down the law to Gary ?
I do agree with one point above: Tony Pena was among the better catching coaches the Yankees ever had. During Pena’s time with the Yankees, defense at catcher was highly prioritized, and Pena deserves credit for churning out consistently above-average receivers behind the plate. However, I do want to point out one very popular misconception in the above questio n: Sanchez was actually a very good receiver under Pena and Girardi, consistently ranking well among the various framing metrics. For the 2017 season, I think that Baseball Prospectus provides the most accurate defensive metrics at catcher, so I’ll highlight those.
In 2017, Gary Sanchez was constantly dinged by media and fans as a poor defensive catcher. Much of this was due to his very apparent issues blocking the ball (more on that in a minute). However, Sanchez was a net positive value defensive catcher in every other aspect of the game, particularly pitch framing. Baseball Prospectus credits Sanchez for +7.4 Framing Runs and +2.3 Throwing Runs. While Sanchez gave value back with -3.1 Blocking Runs, just on the core elements of catching that can be evaluated with metrics, Sanchez was a net positive in those seasons defensively, despite what popular opinion suggests.
In 2018 and 2019, under Aaron Boone’s new staff, there was greater emphasis on blocking the baseball behind the plate. In attempt to help Sanchez block the ball more effectively, Sanchez’s ability to frame the baseball, particularly the low pitch, plummeted while his blocking merely went from poor to average, at best. Yankee catching philosophy took Sanchez from an average defensive catcher (by the metrics) to well below-average. Enter new catching coordinator, Tanner Swanson
Under Swanson, the Yankees hope that Sanchez can better balance blocking and framing such that he is average or better value in both departments. Essentially, the new stance proposed by Swanson is a hybrid strategy that pulls from both what Sanchez was doing under Pena in 2017 and what Sanchez has done the last two seasons under Boone’s staff. This context is important, as it is not a case of Sanchez willfully ignoring the advice of previous coaches, but rather shifts in organizational philosophies that have caused Sanchez to change over time. Sanchez had a bit of rap early in his minor league career for maturity issues, but we really haven’t heard anything like that since Sanchez approached the high minors.
I realize that I’m biased as a Sanchez homer, and I really do believe that he is a good catcher even beyond what we see in the statistics. However, I think the metrics show that Sanchez was once a decent catcher based on the elements that we can measure, and the current Yankee staff is helping him blend philosophies to be a well-rounded catcher in 2020.
Mark asks: Any special rules for double headers this year with the 26 man roster? Do teams get to add an extra pitcher?
Also, how is the league handling dual players like Shohei Ohtani with the 26 man roster?
Any difference between a national League stadium home game vs American League with regard to the 26 man roster?
I’ve received a smattering of questions over the last few weeks of questions regarding the new roster rules, and I think that Mark’s questions get at the core of what most people ask about. Under the previous rules, teams were able to add a 26th man for double-headers, which teams used to get fresh pitching on the staff. Now that rosters are 26 men throughout the season, with strict rules regarding the number of pitchers and hitters on the roster (13 and 13), teams will not be afforded the ability to add an additional pitcher during double-headers; rosters will always be 26 men through September 1st in 2020. Also, there are no differences in requirement for National League teams vs. American League teams.
Here is the two-way player qualification description from MLB: “To qualify for the two-way designation, a player must pitch 20 Major League innings and have 20 games played as a position player or designated hitter, with at least three plate appearances in each of those 20 games, in either the current or previous MLB season.” This is a controversial part of the rule, as it allowed Shohei Ohtani to be grandfathered in, but guys like Michael Lorenzen, who were used as fielders and pitchers in various games, were not qualified under the rule. Over time, I expect the game and at-bat requirements to be tweaked.
Ultimately, I think that the limits on number of pitchers will eventually force the National League to adopt the DH, because under the current rules, National League teams have less effective roster flexibility given that they will always go through more pitchers in a game when they need to substitute the starter and subsequent relievers for competent hitters.
Rob asks: Watching Jordan Montgomery pitch today. The radar gun that they’re showing says that Montgomery is throwing his fastball in the mid 90s – lots of 94 and 95s. I don’t remember him ever throwing that hard. Is that new? How will it impact his ability?
Sadly, we don’t have publicly available numbers from Statcast to track pitching velocity in Spring Training games, However, I and many numbers have noticed the same thing that you have. In fact, Aaron Boone has even mentioned Monty’s uptick in velocity in various interviews throughout camp, so that tells us that the Yankees are getting higher readings on Monty’s fastball as well. It is not unheard of for guys to see an uptick in velocity following Tommy John Surgery, namely because the ligament is usually more injured than pitchers let on prior to surgery, so velocity readings were suppressed to begin with.
Prior to surgery, Monty had average, to slightly below-average velocity with his four-seam fastball, and depended on throwing the kitchen sink at hitters to get outs. Higher velocity with his fastball will only make all of his secondary offerings play up further, so that is definitely a positive development, if Monty’s velocity gains carry through when the regular season starts. Monty profiles as a 4-5 starter with his previous velocity, but he may be more than that if the velocity increase is for real, and that’s exciting, because the Yankees will need all the help they can get in the rotation this year.
That’s all for this week. Great questions, as always. MLB may be shutting down, but SSTN will be right here, so keep sending your questions in to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com for the weekly mailbag. Anything goes, as long as it’s related to baseball, even generally. Until next week, stay safe, and be well.