Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Yankees Devil Magic

This season, the New York Yankees have been decimated by injuries. Aaron Judge has missed a lot of time. Giancarlo Stanton has 38 PA. Greg Bird is out, again. Miguel Andujar is out for the year. Gary Sanchez is currently on his second IL stint. And that’s just the position players, without getting into their pitching injuries. So, they are in last place, right? Surely no team could survive this. Wait, what? They have the best record in the AL? WTF? How is this possible? It’s possible because they’ve been getting out of this world performances out of journeymen and players no one has ever heard of.

Exhibit A: Mike Tauchman

Tauchman is a 28 year old who had only gotten enough time in the bigs to get a nice 69 plate appearances between two seasons with Colorado. In those plate appearances he hit .153/.265/.203 with a 17 wRC+, and zero home runs. Even in the minor leagues Tauchman was barely considered a prospect. The Yankees acquired Tauchman for Phillip Diehl in one of those random organizational depth for organizational depth trades that almost never come back to mean anything. So, against all odds, Tauchman has been very good in 2019, batting .299/.371/.563 with a 143 wRC+. He doesn’t have enough plate appearances to qualify for leaderboards, but if he did he would have the same wRC+ as Xander Bogaerts, and just below Freddie Freeman, so that’s some good company to be keeping. Is it a small sample fluke, an average player who just happens to be on am amazing heater right now, or something else? The Statcast data seems to think that it’s not quite what it seems, given his .322 xwOBA, compared to his actual .393 wOBA, so his quality of contact isn’t necessarily living up to the results on the field. What is the truth? Probably somewhere in the middle. It’s completely plausible that he’s just a Ryan Ludwick style late bloomer.

Exhibit B: Gio Urshela

Urshela is a bit of a different case than Tauchman, as he had 499 plate appearances as a sub-replacement player, slashing .225/.274/.315 with a wRC+ of 57 before this season and -0.7 fWAR. When he was traded from Cleveland to Toronto it was for the immortal player to be named later or cash considerations. There are no reports I can find stating that there was a player to be named so he was just traded for cash, and then traded again, to the Yankees, also for just cash. So, of course the Yankees took a guy off the scrap heap and he became a positive contributor to a top team. Urshela has a wRC+ of 129 and has been worth 1.8 fWAR. Statcast data seems to agree, as his wOBA and his xwOBA are only .003 apart, so he’s been hitting the ball hard, and often. Of all players with at least 200 plate appearances, Urshela is 49th in hard hit percentage, which is higher than for instance, Mike TroutMax MuncyPeter AlonsoMatt Chapman, and Alex Bregman. Which, of course, is not to say that he’s better than those players, but it shows that he’s hitting the crap out of the ball. The Yankees might have a guy here who can be their third baseman for quite awhile, as he’s under team control until after the 2023 season.

Exhibit C: Cameron Maybin

Bit of a different animal here, as we know what Maybin is. It seems like he’s been around since 1976, so color me surprised that he’s only 32. Maybin has a career OPS of .698 and a 94 wRC+, and this is over more than 1000 games. He’s been around, doing his thing, and you’ve pretty much known what you were going to get. You were going to get a player who could play a competent center field, (although now starting to age, he’s been playing in the corners this year) which is valuable in itself, be a slightly below average hitter, and he could steal a bag or 30 in a season. So after getting some of that magic Yankee dust sprinkled on him, he’s got an .904 OPS and a 140 wRC+, over 165 plate appearances. Is it real? Well…probably not, but maybe. Maybin is one of the guys who have embraced the “launch angle revolution,” raising his launch angle to 12.4° from a Statcast era career mark of 4.7°. This has led to more hard contact, as his percentage of “barrels” is 10.5%, compared to 4.1% and 3.3% in the two previous seasons. It stands to reason that’s there’s more than enough data to suggest Maybin will turn back into what he’s always been, but you never know anymore.

It isn’t unreasonable to suggest that these three guys, not just these guys, but it’s a large part of it, have saved the Yankees season. No one expected to see DJ LeMahieu to leave Coors Field and then go off on a career year, but it happened. Brett Gardner is having a good year when it looked like he was starting to decline in 2018. Gleyber Torres is probably going to develop into an MVP-type player, and he’s pretty darn good now, and they have that amazing bullpen, which helps mask the shortcomings on the starting pitching front. Aaron Judge is back, and Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez will be soon. These three players have really helped the Yankees this year, but in a playoff series vs. the Astros it’s probably not optimal that all these guys will be playing regularly, but even if Tauchman and/or Maybin get pushed to a bench role come playoff time, it’s not a bad thing to have a guy like that on your bench.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

It's coming.......

Coming Friday morning at Banished to The Pen, my 2017 Cincinnati Reds preview! That means baseball is on the horizon, my friends. And that is a good thing.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Is there hope for Byron Buxton?


Byron Buxton is probably one of the most hyped prospects to come down the pike in quite a while. It was certainly a struggle for Buxton when he was (quite possibly prematurely) promoted to the major leagues to make his debut on June 14, 2015. Buxton pretty much struggled right off the bat, going 2 for his first 22 with 2 walks and 8 strikeouts. It really didn’t get any better in the rest of that season, finishing up the year with a line of .209/.250/.326. Buxton has been yo-yo’d back and forth between the majors and AAA, and given his performance, those demotions were probably justified, but honestly, it’s not like the Twins are in “win now” mode or anything, so you can make the case that they should have just let him be and let the chips fall wherever they may.
Things didn’t get much better for much of 2016, until his recent call up at the start of September. It’s quite possible that this could just be a weird September baseball mirage, but since his call up he’s put up a line of .385/.442/.872, and yes, it’s a small sample, but small samples notwithstanding, this is the best run he’s ever had in the big leagues. Starting pitchers that he’s faced during this run are Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon, James Shields, Anthony Ranaudo, Ian Kennedy, Dillon Gee, Danny Duffy, Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger, Corey Kluber, and Daniel Norris, so we’ve got a fairly reasonable split of good/middling/bad pitchers faced during the run, so I would carefully deduce that there’s nothing weird going on there.
Before the call up, Buxton’s career line was a .199/.248/.319, so a .567 OPS over 356 plate appearances. So, what we want to find out is, is there precedent for players to start out so badly over that number of plate appearances and later recover from it to become superstars? So, what’s the best way to find this out? Play Index!! I searched for players over their first two seasons with an OPS of .570 or less with at least 350 plate appearances since 1961 for brevity’s sake. This is not the full table, I have pruned the results to remove players that didn’t stick or replacement level type players.
Player
WAR/pos
OPS
PA
From
To
Age
HR
RBI
SB
CS
BA
OBP
SLG
Omar Vizquel
2.2
0.557
716
1989
1990
22-23
3
38
5
5
0.231
0.281
0.276
Dave Concepcion
1.3
0.562
650
1970
1971
22-23
2
39
19
5
0.23
0.282
0.28
Rey Ordonez
1.2
0.558
921
1996
1997
25-26
2
63
12
8
0.24
0.275
0.283
Jackie Bradley
0.4
0.548
530
2013
2014
23-24
4
40
10
0
0.196
0.268
0.28
Brandon Phillips
0
0.57
429
2002
2003
21-22
6
37
4
5
0.212
0.251
0.319
Tim Flannery
-0.1
0.535
388
1979
1980
21-22
0
29
2
2
0.224
0.272
0.263
Dick Schofield
-0.2
0.548
514
1983
1984
20-21
7
25
5
2
0.194
0.268
0.28
Brandon Inge
-0.4
0.545
553
2001
2002
24-25
7
39
2
7
0.194
0.247
0.298
Brett Butler
-0.4
0.569
413
1981
1982
24-25
0
11
30
9
0.23
0.312
0.257
Lenny Randle
-0.7
0.547
516
1971
1972
22-23
4
34
5
6
0.205
0.265
0.282
Frank White
-0.8
0.537
366
1973
1974
22-23
1
23
6
5
0.222
0.249
0.289
Jose Oquendo
-1.3
0.514
564
1983
1984
19-20
1
27
18
10
0.217
0.269
0.246
Cito Gaston
-1.5
0.569
446
1967
1969
23-25
2
29
5
4
0.224
0.266
0.303














Source: baseball-reference.com
No real superstars in that list, unless you are a Brett Butler guy, like me.  The jury is still out on Jackie Bradley, and if Buxton becomes 2015-16 Bradley the Twins would be very pleased. Omar Vizquel was a very good player but not offensively. Brandon Phillips has had a very nice career, even though Ryan Sullivan thinks he’s the most over-rated player in baseball. Cito Gaston was pretty much a one-year-wonder. Brandon Inge made one All-Star Game and arguably could have made two or three. Frank White was a really under-rated guy (hey, Time WARP article idea!)  Dave Concepcion was very good and played for a very long time, but I don’t really consider him a star, just a good average regular. And that’s about it.
Byron Buxton may indeed one day become what we all think he has the ability to, but at this point, after the start to his career, the odds are a little bit longer than they were. It was probably unfair to compare him to Willie Mays to begin with, but this is a book with a lot of pages still waiting to be turned.