ST Game Thread #3 -- BJs vs. Yanks

Yanks enter the game 1-1-0 (Gotta love ST and the possibility of ties.)

Fans should get a chance to see a bunch of Yankiddies play today. Severino will take the mound for his first start after a winter of working on solutions to his dismal showing as a starter last year. His work included some help from Pedro Martinez on a change up.

The following lineup was found on GameDay:

Gardner, LF

Ellsbury, CF

Sanchez, C

Holliday, DH

Gregorius, SS

Carter, 1B

Castro, 2B

Headley. 3B

Hicks, RF

Grant Dayton, Fastball Spin Rate, and How It Applies to the Yankees

I was listening to the episode 56 of The Ringer MLB podcast on my way to work yesterday, in which hosts Ben Lindbergh and Michael Baumann interview Dodgers reliever Grant Dayton. If you have no clue who Dayton is, don't fret. He made his major league debut as a 28 year-old last season and pitched in only 25 games. Yet, Dayton was fantastic in that short time. He boasted a 2.06 ERA and an elite 38.6% strikeout rate (13.33 K/9). His numbers in the minors were similarly spectacular. This year, the Dodgers will count on him to be a bridge to closer Kenley Jansen. And rightly so, because Dayton certainly looks like an elite reliever.

Alright, so where am I going with this? This isn't a Dodgers blog, after all. Hold on for a few more paragraphs - we'll get to how this relates to the Yankees.

If you haven't listened to the Dayton interview, I recommend it. He discusses his success and how effective his fastball has been for him. Though it averages 92.2 MPH, it plays up because Dayton is well aware of its above average spin rate. What can spin rate do for a pitcher? Very good things on the high end of the spectrum. A higher spin rate on a fastball induces more fly balls and whiffs, as Mike Petriello of explains.

Chart via

Chart via

Chart via

Chart via

Swinging strikes are great, enough said.. Fly balls are mostly good, provided that they're in the ballpark (and ideally pop ups). Batters whiffed on a third of their swings against Dayton's fastball last season. He also did a great job inducing pop flies (14.3% of batted balls), but also surrendered his fair share of long balls (14.3% HR/FB). In the podcast, Dayton noted that he made a conscious effort to keep the ball very high in the zone in order to generate whiffs and garner pop ups. Here's proof in the form of a pitch location heatmap:

Chart via Baseball Savant

Chart via Baseball Savant

Dayton also said that he claimed that his fastball was more likely to get crushed when down in the zone. Was he right? It appears so:

Chart via Fangraphs

Chart via Fangraphs

See all that red in the bottom of the zone? That's where opposing batters' isolated power marks were the highest against Dayton's fastball. Intuitively, that makes sense and should be fairly consistent with regard to high spin fastballs. The higher spin rate causes the fastball to drop less than usual during its trip to the plate, making it more likely for a batter to swing under the ball. Thus, there are more batted balls that are airborne against high spin rate pitchers. For a batter, it's physically more difficult to square up a fastball up in the zone that doesn't drop as much (or appears to rise) compared to a typical fastball, and thus, we should expect more whiffs and pop ups. On the other hand, when a ball is over the middle or low, the slower descent of a high RPM fastball can turn batted balls that typically would be grounders into line drives. It can also turn balls in play that normally would be liners into fly balls.

If I may compare this post to a supermarket's layout, there's a reason the milk is all the way in the back of the store. Just like how many shoppers go to a supermarket and need to get milk, I imagine most readers come to this blog to get Yankees content. But to get to the milk, shoppers need to browse the rest of the store's offerings first, giving the store more opportunity for profit. Unfortunately, there's no profit in this article, but I did feel like the Dayton angle was important to establish. Alright, alright. On to the Yankees. 

The Yankees have a handful of pitchers who possess above average spin rates on their fastballs, and I'm going to highlight a couple of them. One of the obvious players in said group is Aroldis Chapman, but I won't focus on him. We already know he's a great pitcher. I'm going to touch on a two of the unheralded hurlers that could take advantage of the spin on their heaters.

After Chapman, the Yankee with the highest average spin rate on his four-seamer last season was Ben Heller at 2,660 RPM. That's only 10 RPM behind Chapman, and judging by the charts from above, it's unquestionably elite. When you take into account Heller's 95.5 MPH average velocity on the offering, there's a chance for it to be a dominant pitch. If only he would throw it up in the zone more often...

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 10.10.46 PM.png

That might explain why Heller garnered only 11.3% whiffs per swing, whereas Dayton (and Chapman) did so on a third of all swings. Granted, Heller tossed merely 7 innings in pinstripes, so small sample size caveats apply. But I'd like to see him elevate the ball more in order to take advantage of his velocity and spin.

Next on the list: Chasen Shreve. You heard me right. Shreve average 2,608 RPM on his heater last season, but didn't take advantage of it. His 5.18 ERA and 2.18 HR/9 in 33 innings were unsightly, yet maybe he could rediscover some of the success he had back when he was first acquired prior to 2015. Half of Shreve's eight home runs allowed in 2016 were on the fastball, though his whiff/swing on the pitch was actually quite good (24.0%).

Based on location, Shreve might be able to limit the damage if he could bring his fastball into the upper third more often. As an additional benefit, it could improve his already solid ability to make batters feel the breeze.

After Chapman, Heller, and Shreve, the four-seam fastball spin rate leaders takes a bit of a drop. There are a few still above the average mark of 2,264, but not quite elite. Here's the list I pulled from Baseball Savant:

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 10.29.34 PM.png

A few guys that I was surprised to see below average with brief reasoning in parentheses: Andrew Miller (velocity), Jonathan Holder (gaudy minor league numbers), Luis Severino (velocity), Dellin Betances (velocity), and Michael Pineda (velocity). Obviously, based on my assumptions, velocity isn't everything. Dayton's spin rate should have taught me that. Low spin rate might explain some of Severino's and Pineda's struggles last season, but that's another post for another time.

One other quick observation: look how low Sabathia's RPM was! I'm kind of doubting it's accuracy, to be honest. There's always a chance for some misreadings in systems like Statcast, but there are 792 pitches to play with here so perhaps it is valid. With that in mind, referring back Petriello's article I linked before, Petriello noted that low spin rates aren't necessarily bad. Very low spin rates are associated with more grounders, and that sure sounds like Sabathia's game nowadays. Ground balls and weak contact led to much of his resurgence last season.

Ultimately, spin rate is only one aspect of pitcher evaluation. There are so many other things for a pitcher to worry about, especially because spin rate doesn't seem like something easily manipulated. Either you have a high spin rate, or you don't. That being said, it would behoove pitchers like Heller and Shreve to capitalize on their high-end RPM fastballs. Heller is seeking to establish himself as a key cog in the bullpen this year, while Shreve is running out of chances to prove himself worthy of a role in the majors. If they can elevate their fastballs more frequently, it wouldn't be surprising to see either of them put together strong campaigns this year.

Podcast Episode 76: Spring Training Games Cometh

E.J. and Scott discuss the future of the Yankees at Center Field after Jacoby Ellsbury. Will Mason Williams, Dustin Fowler, Clint Frazier, Jorge Mateo, or someone else be next? They also discuss discuss some recent New York Yankees news. 

We're sponsored by, a great new website where fans can trade their unused tickets with other fans. Use the promo code "SWAP" to get $20 off your next purchase on Swap Seat's partner website, Seat Geek.

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Betances and Enterprise Warning Signs

Sitrep: We've lasted about 72 hours since news of the arbitration hearing broke. EJ and Dominic had some excellent points Sunday on the matter, but I was indisposed during the podcast, so I'm going to peel off the bandage and see what happens.

To start, mutually beneficial sports deals do not happen in front of an arbitrator. Dellin had every right to exercise the arbitration process; however, actually going to arbitration rarely leaves both sides in a better state. If Dellin's team sought an above-standard contract for a setup man, they needed to find a way to leverage the Yankees into a deal before the hearing occurred. Dellin's team should have known they stood little chance in a hearing, and they should have protected him a discussion that could only distract him moving forward.

Equally though, this is a case where the Yanks should have exercised a little grace. The Yanks had an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to exceptional talent and differentiate themselves from other organizations in proactively compensating talent. Instead, they smacked their star closer on the back of the hand because he asked for more porridge, and then they ridiculed him for being hungry. The pay difference comes down to 0.05% of the Yanks estimated value.  This is a bad look for the company, but they've recovered from worse.

I worry more that this signifies a step back for the Yankee organization. For me, watching the 2016 team finally embrace a unified strategy of building for the future satisfied me on so many levels. Superficially, the team's actions last year followed the proven blueprint for developing a dominant roster for years to come, but last summer also revealed clear leadership emerging within the team. Cashman had finally appeared to align the personalities in the organization on a plan, and for the most part, the team seemed to be flowing into a Hal-Cashman-Girardi structure. That structure might not be ideal, but I could see the team winning with that formula because at least it allows for consistent messaging within the team.

As a result, I think it's very telling that the one time the media puts a mic in front of Levine, he grabs it with both hands and tells the world how great he is at his job. It seems crazy, because for the first time in a while, the teams health is improving. Bad contracts are rolling off the books, and the supporting levels are producing big league talent. Levine is not publicly associated with either of those contributions, though, and I think that rattles him. To me, Levine's gloating over the arbitration result seems like a manifestation of insecurity more than anything else, and insecure executives have the means to layer bad decisions for their companies. I take Levine's resurgence as a sign that the front office may not be as steady as I had hoped. Since the Boss's passing, I think this team has struggled with establishing direction at its upper levels, and I think that their inconsistent direction a significant contributor to the team's recent stagnation.

At best, this Betances-Yankees arbitration demonstrates the need for leadership within the organization capable of reigning in stray exec's. At worst, we're witnessing early signs of unsatisfied egos at the higher levels of the front office. Neither one of these issues is immediately concerning as Gary Sanchez's bat or the number 4 starter, but if the team wants to return to dominance, I think they'll need to sort out their front office at some point. 

Though unlikely to help, Niese a worthwhile addition on a minor league deal

Somewhat lost in the hubbub of Randy Levine's scorching comments this weekend was the addition of Jon Niese. The former Met and Pirate has joined the Yankees on a minor league contract.

Niese, a southpaw, started last season with Pittsburgh and was a disaster before being traded back to his original team, the Mets. His season was cut short in late August when he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Perhaps the tear had something to do with his 5.50 ERA and 5.62 FIP, as Niese was a solid back of the rotation pitcher with the Mets for a few years. From 2010 through 2015, Niese's tenure as a full season starter in Queens, he posted a 3.86 ERA and 3.84 FIP in over 1,000 innings.

There are two big league roles that Niese will have a chance to earn in camp. One is in the back-end of the rotation. The veteran will be competing with some of the Yankees' younger options for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, like Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green. If that doesn't work out, perhaps the 30 year-old becomes a bullpen option. The Yankees already have one situational lefty, Tommy Lane, but could utilize Niese in such a role if something awry occurs with Layne. Given Niese's history as a starter, he could also serve as a long reliever.

It's farfetched to think that Niese could return to his old form in 2017, which is why he signed a minor league deal. Maybe the Yankees get lucky and he does revert to his past self, but it's unlikely. His poor performance and surgically repaired knee make it difficult to foresee anything good coming out of this deal. Turning to the projections systems doesn't portray a rosy outlook, either. Steamer and ZiPS both project a mid-4 ERA and FIP for Niese.

Despite his shortcomings, this is a low risk addition. Signing Niese to a minor league deal will allow the Yankees to cut bait before he could significantly hurt the team with his performance. Hell, he might not even get the chance to throw one pitch with the Yankees all season. Basically, the Yankees have purchased all of the upside (a decent back-end starter) while minimizing risk. If all goes well, great. If not, it'll be easy to move on.

Podcast Episode 75: Dellin Betances Arbitration Decision Reaction

Emergency podcast! E.J. and Domenic discuss the Dellin Betances arbitration decision and the reaction by New York Yankees President Randy Levine to it. 

We're sponsored by, a great new website where fans can trade their unused tickets with other fans. Use the promo code "SWAP" to get $20 off your next purchase on Swap Seat's partner website, Seat Geek.

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The injury bug takes its first victims: Tyler Austin and Mason Williams

Position players have yet to report to Tampa, but that hasn't stopped them from catching the injury bug. Both Tyler Austin and Mason Williams are the Yankees' first victims of the season.

That Chris Carter signing sure looks good now, huh? Austin's six week timeframe takes us up to Opening Day, which probably means he'll also need a month or so to have a Spring Training of his own. With that in mind, we might not see Austin in game action until May, most likely with Scranton.

With Carter around, there was a strong chance Austin wouldn't have been in the Bronx to begin the year anyway. Nonetheless, he would have had a chance to supplant Greg Bird or Aaron Judge, depending on the former's shoulder and the latter's mechanical adjustments.

Williams was likely ticketed for the Triple-A outfield before this knee injury. Fortunately for him, the current prognosis doesn't have him losing too much of camp, so there's a chance he's still ready for the opener should he be needed in New York.

Losing depth is never a good thing. But if there's a bright side, these two injuries will give us more opportunities to watch Clint Frazier and Dustin Fowler over the next month.