About EJ Fagan

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

Why Girardi Should Have a Much Quicker Hook for Starting Pitchers in 2016

Blue Jays-Yankees, August 30, 2008

I think we’re all pretty familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the current Yankee roster at the moment. The biggest strength is clearly in the bullpen, where the Yankees may have 3 of the 4 best relief pitchers in the American League, plus some interesting depth underneath them. The biggest weakness is clearly the starting rotation. CC Sabathia led Yankee starting pitchers with 167 innings last season, and only Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino were above-average by ERA+.

Given this, the Yankees should borrow a strategy from the 2015 Tampa Bay Rays: pull their starting pitchers much more quickly in close games when they reach the third time through the order. The third time through the order penalty is well documented. The balance of power between hitters and pitchers shifts substantially when a batter has seen that pitcher more than twice. Pitchers on their third time through the order on average prevent .35 runs per 9 innings worse than they do overall. Pitchers having very good days can overcome the penalty, but all pitchers are affected by it in equal proportions, no matter how good they are. Continue reading Why Girardi Should Have a Much Quicker Hook for Starting Pitchers in 2016

Gary Sanchez: Average Defensive Catcher?

Gary Sanchez

Today, Baseball Prospectus announced their new defensive statistics for minor league catchers. Catcher defense has always been very hard to measure, especially at the minor league level. Here’s what they’re able to give us:

  • Controlling the running game (Swipe Rate Above Average, SRAA, and Takeoff Rate Above Average (TRAA)
  • Blocking (Errant Pitches Above Average, EPAA)
  • Framing (Called Strikes Above Average, CSAA)
  • Total (FRAA)

Missing here is the dark matter of catcher defense: game calling, sequencing, psychology, etc. However, this is overall pretty comprehensive. So where does Gary Sanchez rank?

  • Running Game: 0 runs
  • Blocking: 0 runs
  • Framing: +3.0 runs
  • Total: +3.0 runs

This is remarkable in how boring it is. Sanchez was a league-average Triple-A catcher in 2015. Given his hitting talent, that is a big deal. An average defensive catcher was worth something in the 1.5-2 win range alone in 2015. If he were to hit something conservative like .252/.320/.453, which is what Chris Young hit last season, we’re talking about a 3.5-4.0 win player. Not bad. Continue reading Gary Sanchez: Average Defensive Catcher?

Mason Williams is a Top-10 Yankee Prospect

Mason Williams

Baseball America’s new top-10 prospect list is out. Mason Williams is nowhere to be seen.

I wrote last June that Mason Williams still had the potential to be a top prospect. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury just a few weeks later. All told, Williams hit .318/.397/.398 in 54 minor league games and .286/.318/.571 in a brief 8-game stint in the majors.

The short version of the case for Williams is this: he’s a young (just 24 in 2016), former top prospect, speedy outfielder who can play defense, rarely strike out, hit for some power, and is MLB-ready. The short version case against Williams is: he was really bad in 2013 an 2014, is somewhat injury prone (though not as bad as Slade Heathcott), and has had makeup issues when he struggles.

There is some probability that Williams is Slade Heathcott, and the cumulative injuries that he has suffered will prevent him from ever playing a substantial number of games at the major league level. I don’t know what that probability is, but I don’t think it’s insurmountably high. Continue reading Mason Williams is a Top-10 Yankee Prospect

Graph: State of the AL East

I started asking myself this morning what would have to happen for the Yankees to win the AL East. In order to answer that question, I had to find a starting point. Here are the AL East hitters by fWAR:


Here, we see a clear Blue Jays advantage.The Jays have no real weak spots, and are particularly strong at 1st, 3rd and DH. Their average position produced 4.6 fWAR, or 41.4 fWAR across all positions. Continue reading Graph: State of the AL East

Graph: The Yankees Are Underspending on Payroll

We like to complain a bit here at It’s About the Money about how the Yankees are taking in huge mountains of our money and not putting enough of it on the field. Obviously, baseball is a business (if a weird one that isn’t 100% about maximization of profits; many owners care more about winning than the bottom line), and the owners of baseball teams deserve to make money. That’s why teams that make less revenue spend less on payroll for the most part. Yankee fans don’t expect the Steinbrenners to go broke for the Yankees. I do think they expect to spend in proportion to the revenue the bring in.

Below is a scatter plot of post-luxury tax, post-revenue sharing 2015 MLB revenue (via Forbes) and 2015 MLB payrolls.


Assuming a simple linear relationship between revenue and payroll (which is generous to the Yankees, who have similar fixed costs to the other teams, but I won’t get all economicsy right now), teams that are above the trend line are spending less money on payroll than the predicted value given their revenue. Teams that are below the trend line are spending more on payroll than predicted.

We can see that the Yankees and Dodgers are huge outliers in opposite directions, as you’d expect. There are some other interesting tidbits on this graph: Detroit really is spending a lot more than they “should” in order to win a championship for their owner, Miami is right on trend, etc. Corporate-owned teams like the Mariners also tend to be right on trend, even though I’d have expected them to be below the line.

But the grander point here is: the Steinbrenners really are milking the Yankees more than other teams are milking their own teams. Continue reading Graph: The Yankees Are Underspending on Payroll

There Are No Heyward-Equivalent Free Agent Hitters on the Market for 3 Years

Jason Heyward will turn 27 years old in August of 2016, a season after putting up a bWAR of 6.5. He’ll also turn 28 years old in August of 2017 and 29 years old in August of 2018. That’s how time works. At each of these time periods, Heyward will be younger and probably better than any free agent hitter available to the Yankees. Let’s look at his competition:

After the 2016 season:

Josh Reddick (Age 30, 3.5 bWAR in 2015)
Colby Rasmus (Age 30, 2.6 bWAR in 2015)
Carlos Gomez (Age 31, 2.3 bWAR in 2015)
Justin Turner (Age 32, 3.9 bWAR in 2015)
Neil Walker (Age 31, 2.4 bWAR in 2015)
Jose Bautista (Age 36, 5.1 bWAR in 2015)
Adrian Beltre (Age 39, 5.8 bWAR in 2015)

After the 2017 season:

Brett Lawrie (Age 28, 1.9 bWAR in 2015)
Lucas Duda (Age 32, 3.0 bWAR in 2015)
JD Martinez (Age 30, 5.0 bWAR in 2015)
Brandon Belt (Age 30, 3.9 bWAR in 2015)
Mike Moustakas (Age 29, 4.4 bWAR in 2015)
Eric Hosmer (Age 28, 3.6 bWAR in 2015)
Lorenzo Cain (Age 32, 7.2 bWAR in 2015)
Lonnie Chisenhall (Age 29, 2.3 bWAR in 2015)
Cameron Maybin (Age 31, 0.6 bWAR in 2015)

If Jason Heyward were a free agent after the 2016 or 2017 season, he would almost surely be the most valuable hitter on the market, even if every single listed hitter above makes it to free agency without signing a contract extension That means that even if the Yankees decide that they want to open up the checkbook after Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, etc come off the books, they won’t have as good of an opportunity as they have now to improve the team.

Here is the scenario that I am hoping for: Cashman has permission to go out and sign Jason Heyward, but only if he can clear equal room on the payroll. Cashman is trying to trade both Brett Gardner ($13.5m) and Andrew Miller ($9m) in order to offer Heyward something like 10 years, $225m (Conveniently [13.5 + 9]*10, right at the AAV predicted by the Fangraphs crowdsource)

The team would almost certainly get better from those combinations of moves. Not only was Heyward worth more wins in 2015 than Miller and Gardner combined (6.5 vs. 5.5), but the Yankees would likely get something back in the trades to improve the team. Even if the returns are all prospects, the Yankees could use the extra roster spot to add a win or two pretty easily.


  Continue reading There Are No Heyward-Equivalent Free Agent Hitters on the Market for 3 Years

Jason Heyward is Perfect for the Yankees. Here’s How He Breaks the ‘Zombie Roster’ Problem.

Typically for Brian Cashman’s front office, we have not heard much about the Yankees plans for this offseason, other than that they are trying to shop Brett Gardner. As far as I can tell, the Yankees have not been directly connected to Heyward, although some have noted how well hit fits on the team.

Let’s review the case for Jason Heyward, quickly:

Heyward has produced 6.5, 3.4 (5.3 over 150 games), 5.2 and 6.0 fWAR over the past four seasons. He has been a remarkably consistent offensive player, with wRC+s of 121, 120, 110, and 121 over that time period. He was the 7th best hitter in baseball by fWAR over that time period, just ahead of Robinson Cano and Paul Goldschmidt. Among outfielders, only Mike Trout and Andrew McCutcheon were better.

Heyward’s performance is somewhat controversial given that a great deal of his production relies on defense. He has averaged 18.3 UZR/150 over his career. In terms of defensive fWAR, Heyward is 5th in baseball over the last four years behind Lorenzo Cain, JJ Hardy Yadier Molina, and Andrelton Simmons with 58.9 runs saved.

How Heyward Breaks the ‘Zombie Team’ Problem

Heyward is the youngest elite free agent to actually hit the market in a long time. He won’t turn 27 until August of next season. A ten-year contract will take him only through his age-35 season. I tried searching for the last MLB free agent to be this good and this young, and I couldn’t find anyone in recent memory.

Here’s what an aging curve for a player like Heyward looks like, via BTBS:


Most elite free agents hit the market around the age 29-31 marks. At that point, the average elite player’s decline has already started, and is about to get very steep. We’ve seen that with players like Robinson Cano (free agent at 31) and Jacoby Ellsbury (free agent at 30), who hit the steep part of their declines almost instantly after signing the big contract. Continue reading Jason Heyward is Perfect for the Yankees. Here’s How He Breaks the ‘Zombie Roster’ Problem.

Yoenis Cespedes Wins Walkup Songs

Previous walkup song winner Jayson Werth has been dethroned. Yoenis Cespedes decided to buck tradition, flaunt his millions of dollars, and commission his own custom walk up song. Here it is:

We here at IIATMS have a long tradition of not saying nice things about the New York Mets. But I think this is a proper time to break that tradition. Props, Cespedes. Let’s hope he decides to sign somewhere else and awkwardly keep the same song. Or just play it against the Mets. Continue reading Yoenis Cespedes Wins Walkup Songs

Ranking the World Series Matchups

The divisions series are underway. Four teams in each league are fighting it out for two spots in the World Series. The Yankees are off to the emergency room/golf course, but baseball is still going on. There are 16 different possible combinations of teams in the World Series. Today, I will rank them all. What is the best matchup?

The Bottom 4: Anyone but the Mets

16. Mets v. Blue Jays
15. Mets v. Astros
14. Mets v. Rangers
13. Mets v. Royals

These are easy. Any scenario where the Mets make the World Series is a bad scenario. They don’t have any interesting rivalries on the AL side to deal with. Their fans say stupid things like, “Take Back New York” after a decent spring training showing. The team itself was almost certainly the worst team in the NL regular season. Booo Mets.

The Next 4: Acceptable, If Boring

12. Cardinals v. Blue Jays
11. Cardinals v. Astros
10. Cardinals v. Rangers
9. Cardinals v. Royals

Who wants to see the Cardinals again? I get that they made a deal with the devil to always be an NL playoff team forever, no matter what players come and go. But we’ve been there, done that. A Cardinals World Series win would be incredibly anti-climatic in the middle of a fun playoff. Someone needs to make a new deal with a different devil and put them down once and for all. Continue reading Ranking the World Series Matchups