Archive for Yankees

Three Keys to Understanding Aaron Hicks

You’re forgiven if you don’t much care about Wednesday’s swap of Aaron Hicks for JR Murphy. Maybe you’re not a fan of the Twins or the Yankees. Maybe you’re not a fan of baseball at all, and you somehow wound up here by accident. Or maybe you are a fan of the Twins or the Yankees, but you recognize this as a trade featuring two players with less than 2 combined WAR over more than 1,200 plate appearances. Hicks has been probably the more hyped of the two, but Murphy is the younger of the two, and he seems like a backup. This isn’t on the level of Brad Miller and Nate Karns, and even that wasn’t on the level of something truly big.

These are the moves we have available to discuss, though, and if you want to speak generally, every professional baseball player has a compelling story. They’re all tremendously talented, and they’ve all dreamed of big-league success. If you want to speak specifically, Hicks is interesting, and I’d rate his level of interest above-average. He’s a former top prospect who’s trying to recover from initial struggles, and the most recent year saw him take a step forward. As far as this trade is concerned, it’s important to understand 2015 Aaron Hicks, and what follows are three keys to fully grasping the Hicks campaign. What he was in 2014, he wasn’t this summer.

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Yankees Acquire Aaron Hicks, A Potential Bargain

While it’s not going down as any kind of blockbuster, the Twins and Yankees struck a deal today, with Minnesota sending outfielder Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for catcher JR Murphy.

Hicks, a former highly though of prospect, finally showed some signs of life in 2015, putting up +1.5 WAR in 97 games after getting called back up from Triple-A. The improvement primarily came from his ability to avoid strikeouts, which looks to be potentially caused by a new-found willingness to swing at pitches in the strike zone; his in-zone swing rate jumped to 66%, significantly higher than it had been in his first two runs through the big leagues. With enough power to not just be a slap hitter and a good enough eye to draw some walks, Hicks profiles as something like a league average hitter going forward; Steamer projects him for a 99 wRC+ in 2016.

With some baserunning value and decent enough defense in center field, that makes Hicks a potentially interesting piece. In fact, if you look at the Steamer600 projections, where playing time is equalized for all players, you’ll note that Hicks looks like the kind of outfielder the Yankees have shown affinity for.

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Looking for a Kenta Maeda Comp

Since we don’t have much more than velocity readings from Japan, it can be difficult to rely on anything but scouting reports when evaluating pitchers coming over from Nippon Professional Baseball. And now that 27-year-old Kenta Maeda is once again rumored to be coming to America through the posting system, we’re once again left wondering how to place him in context.

We have his Japanese strikeout and walk rates, which we can compare to recent postings to find comparable countrymen. We also have his velocity readings and a general sense of the quality of his pitches that we can use to compare him to pitchers beyond just ones that have come from Japan. We even have one game of PITCHf/x data to help us look at the movement of his pitches.

And the few comparable players we produce might be the best we can do from out here in the public sphere.

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How the Astros Wound Up With a Bigger Zone

In a way, it felt like the Yankees were lifeless. Few fans expressed surprise when the team was ultimately shut out, given the way the offense had gone of late. The season is over, but it’s over by a narrower margin than it might seem. The Astros scored their first two runs with two swings, and the third scored on what could be best described as an accident. Neither team on Tuesday was dominant, and you can only wonder how it might’ve gone had the Yankees gotten another break or two. That’s the sort of thinking that gets people talking about the strike zone.

It was a story during the game, and it remained a story after the fact. Here’s a post by Dave on the matter. Perception was that Astros pitchers worked with a more favorable zone than Yankees pitchers did, and while a few pitches here and there didn’t make all of the difference, they certainly could’ve made some difference. Based on the evidence, it does indeed look like the Astros benefited more. A quick glance at the Brooks Baseball zone charts shows me the Astros benefiting by six or seven strikes, comparatively speaking. That’s a big enough margin to notice, and it deserves an explanation. Those of you in favor of an automated strike zone might well want to just skip the rest of this.

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Beltran, Beltre and the Greatest Active Players Without a Ring

Carlos Beltran‘s season ended last night in the same way it’s ended in each of the last 18 seasons he’s spent time playing Major League Baseball: without a championship. Beltran, one of the greatest postseason hitters of all time, with 16 home runs and a 192 wRC+ in 223 plate appearances, did what little he could against Dallas Keuchel, producing one of the three New York Yankees hits. Beltran, along with Adrian Beltre, are reminders that no matter how great a player is on the field, even in an age of great parity and multiple playoff berths, a World Series championship is far from certainty.

Beltran has had a Hall of Fame-caliber career on and off the field. With just eight more home runs, he will become the fifth player in MLB history to record at least 400 home runs and 300 steals (Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, Andre Dawson). His 66 wins above replacement sit comfortably among the top 100 position players of all time. He has used his wealth and fame to start a baseball academy in his native Puerto Rico that has already produced more than 10 MLB draft picks even as Beltran himself continues to produce on the field. After a disappointing 2014 season and disappointing start to 2015 that had this author worried he was finished, Beltran hit .295/.357/.505 with a wRC+ of 134 following the month of April and added a few more WAR to his career ledger.

While Beltran’s exit is disappointing for those hoping he wins a ring before he retires, he’s not even the most accomplished player in this postseason without a title. Beltre debuted in 1998 just like Carlos Beltran and, over the last 18 seasons, has accumulated more than 10,000 plate appearances, coming close in 2011 to a World Series title but never getting over the hump. Among active players, only Alex Rodriguez has stepped to the plate more times than Beltre. As for performance, no active player has been more accomplished than Beltre without winning a title.

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The Yankees Didn’t Get Screwed by the Strike Zone

During last night’s Wild Card game live blog, there were a few readers (presumably Yankee fans) who were very upset with the strike zone being called by home plate umpire Eric Cooper.

Comment From Hank
Cooper is a joke – that one was 4-6? off the plate!

Comment From Cb
Why is Sipp getting the benefit of the doubt on all these 3-ball count pitches on the edge?

Comment From Will
I don’t think it’s been atrociously bad, but saying “it’s fair because both teams knew about it” ignores the fact that walk-heavy teams will be more burned by a pitcher-friendly zone than a free-swinging team like the Astros.

Comment From The Hamburglar
Cooper’s zone is notoriously high. Once again, this does not explain the constant outside pitches going the Astros way

As we talked about pre-game, Eric Cooper is a known pitcher’s umpire with a tendency to call more strikes than average on pitches at the top and bottom of the zone. And that’s exactly what he did yesterday. From our box score page, a graphical representation of every called ball and called strike from last night’s game.

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The Reality of Masahiro Tanaka’s Fastball

Six months ago, we were all idiots. We were all idiots because we figured the Yankees were idiots for letting Masahiro Tanaka pitch. It felt like elbow surgery was inevitable, UCL tears being things you don’t just play through, so it felt strange to see the Yankees in denial. Oh, we all thought we knew what was better. Turns out the Yankees might’ve been on to something. Turns out those doctors have more than just pieces of paper. Tommy John might still be an inevitability. Greg Holland pitched through something like this for a year. The elbow still got him. The elbow might still get Tanaka, but tonight he’s starting a playoff game. Tonight, he’s the guy, at least until Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances are the guys. It’s safe to say now it worked out.

Remain in the flashback, though. Go back six months to when Tanaka made his first start. There was so much attention on his fastball — on its usage, and on its velocity. Observers thought the fastball would be a dead giveaway. They thought the injury would make the fastball worse, and they thought Tanaka wouldn’t be able to cut it without a decent fastball. Just about everyone, after all, builds off the fastball. It’s the pitch at the center of the pitch-type solar system.

In the end, Tanaka’s fastball actually gained velocity this season. He started 24 times, with a mid-3s ERA, and his average fastball was up the better part of one mile per hour. In a sense, the fastball wasn’t a giveaway. But if you stare long enough, you see two things. One: overall, Tanaka was pretty good. Two: Tanaka’s fastball was pretty bad.

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CC Sabathia and the Humanity of Athletes

Tonight, the Yankees take the field with their season on the line, as they host the Astros in the AL’s Wild Card game. CC Sabathia will not be with the team for the game, or any other game this postseason, because he checked into a rehab clinic for treatment related to alcohol abuse. The full statement that he released to the media.

“Today I am checking myself into an alcohol rehabilitation center to receive the professional care and assistance needed to treat my disease.

“I love baseball and I love my teammates like brothers, and I am also fully aware that I am leaving at a time when we should all be coming together for one last push toward the World Series. It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, and I want to be a better man, father and player.

“I want to thank the New York Yankees organization for their encouragement and understanding. Their support gives me great strength and has allowed me to move forward with this decision with a clear mind.

“As difficult as this decision is to share publicly, I don’t want to run and hide. But for now please respect my family’s need for privacy as we work through this challenge together.

“Being an adult means being accountable. Being a baseball player means that others look up to you. I want my kids — and others who may have become fans of mine over the years — to know that I am not too big of a man to ask for help. I want to hold my head up high, have a full heart and be the type of person again that I can be proud of. And that’s exactly what I am going to do.

“I am looking forward to being out on the field with my team next season playing the game that brings me so much happiness.”

For making this decision, Mr. Sabathia, I’m already proud of you.

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Why Dallas Keuchel Should Fear Chris Young Most

Talking about matchups in a one-game playoff is an almost futile enterprise. Batter versus pitcher numbers have proven to be mostly useless, and other than a perusal of the platoon situations, a discussion of roster decisions around the edges, and some tinkering with the order in which you throw your pitchers, previewing Tuesday’s American League Wild Card game seems like heavy-breathing about the pre-game coin toss in football.

There is one way you can classify pitchers and hitters that may be meaningful to this game in particular, however. Because of the way swings work, there are matchup problems for certain hitters against certain pitchers. Most of the research says that extreme ground ball pitchers have problems with fly ball hitters — one study found fly ball hitters had better outcomes against ground-ball pitchers than any other matchup of batted ball mixes, and another found that this type of matchup produces the most line drives in baseball. And it makes sense, because fly ball hitters usually have ‘uppercut’ type swings that can reach down and produce power on the low pitch.

Dallas Keuchel has the second-best ground-ball rate in baseball. The Yankees should have Chris Young bat leadoff.

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JABO: What’s Wrong With Jacoby Ellsbury?

When the New York Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million contract before the 2014 season, the team was certainly hoping for a version of the 2011 center fielder: a speedy, defensively-sound player with serious power upside. A prevalent thought was the short porch in Yankee Stadium’s right field might help him regain some of his power after injury-marred seasons in 2012 and 2013.

Following a healthy 2014 — in which the left-hander was able to post a respectable power/speed combination while staying relatively healthy — the 2015 season has seen Ellsbury take a step back. In recent weeks, during the thick of a September pennant race, he’s actually sat against left-handed pitching in favor of Chris Young. These are the depths of the slump that Ellsbury is currently in, and it’s obviously not the return on investment the Yankees had in mind when signing him to a long-term deal.

With New York headed toward a very probable Wild Card berth, it’s time to take a close look at Ellsbury. What are the driving factors behind his current struggles? What is the outlook for the Yankees without his production?

We assign many beginning and end dates to baseball statistics, which is a part of our natural desire to organize things we’re trying to understand. We’re going to do that now, because it’s necessary for us to understand Ellsbury’s season before and after a certain event. The Yankees’ center fielder has had two very different halves  — separated by seven weeks on the disabled list with a knee injury — and understanding how they’re different is the first step we’ll take in evaluating his performance.

During the first six weeks of the season, Ellsbury was putting up great leadoff numbers: Although the power stroke wasn’t quite there — he hit only one home run along with a .047 Isolated Power average before May 19 — Ellsbury was still creating runs for his team at a 25% greater rate than a league-average player.

The classic Ellsbury tools were on display during this stage of the season. He was hitting lots of line drives, showing great speed on the base paths and playing sound defense in center field. Between April and the first two weeks of May, the 32-year-old was even walking at a much higher clip than his career norm (11.2% vs. 7.0%). The caveat with those stats, of course, is six weeks is a small sample size, so whether he would have continued his early season production is hard to gauge.

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The Yankees Saw a Different Marcus Stroman

Marcus Stroman isn’t David Price. Maybe, if Stroman had been healthy all year, the Jays wouldn’t have gotten Price at the deadline, so Stroman would be their No. 1, but that isn’t how things went, so Price is No. 1, and Stroman’s looking to be No. 2. Stroman himself would happily concede that Price is on another level, but then, just about every World Series-winning team ever has needed more than one starting pitcher, and this is where Stroman becomes important. It’s a minor miracle to just see Stroman already back on the field, but his own focus is on starting and helping. It’s gone beyond just getting healthy. And if Wednesday’s any indication, Stroman’s rounding into top form with the playoffs coming up.

Stroman has made three big-league starts since returning, pushing his pitch count close to 100. His first start came in New York, and he managed a half-decent five innings. Wednesday, he faced the Yankees again, only this time in Toronto, and he worked his way through seven, allowing no runs while striking out five. In easily the biggest game of his life, Stroman rose to the occasion, reducing any doubts he might not be ready to help. And it’s interesting to note just how Stroman looked. Two times out of three, Stroman has faced the Yankees. And the second time, owing in part to Stroman’s broad repertoire, the hitters saw a different pitcher.

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Yogi Berra Was Certifiably Clutch

Yogi Berra‘s playing career ended well before my time. He was a superstar of an earlier generation, and though he never left the public eye, I certainly don’t know him any better than any of you do. So much of his stardom was due to his character, and to receive revealing anecdotes, we have to turn to the storytellers. Others are better equipped to talk about Berra’s personality. Others are better equipped to talk about their interactions with him, about all the things he said, about his graciousness and about his legacy. Berra, like all of them, was more than a baseball player. Berra was a person like few of them, and to fully understand him is to spend most of the time thinking about what he was off the field.

But of all the functions of statistics, one of them is to allow us to connect to the bygone eras. Stories provide information about the type of person Berra was. Statistics provide information about the type of player Berra was. Berra played before I knew what was going on. He played before most of you knew what was going on. We never got to watch him, outside of a few old video clips, but by digging into the data, we have a means by which to appreciate how talented he was, and how unlikely his story turned out to be. Berra did have one of those rare larger-than-life personalities, and that’s what made him more than just a great baseball player. Yet he was an unquestionably great baseball player, and as it turns out, he was also unquestionably clutch.

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Under-the-Radar Rookie Hitters on Contending Teams

The crux of my duties here at FanGraphs is to project prospects who happen to be in the news. In most cases, this involves writing about highly touted minor league players as they’re called up to the big leagues for the first time. There’s certainly been no shortage of players from that phylum in 2015. This year has often been labeled the “The Year of the Prospect,” and rightly so. From Kris Bryant to Carlos Correa to Noah Syndergaard to Lance McCullers, we’ve experienced a historic wave of young talent matriculating to the big leagues. Top prospects often turn into productive big leaguers, so nobody would be surprised if several of this year’s crop of rookies went on to be perennial All-Stars.

But not all impact major leaguers come out of this mold. As Jeff Sullivan uncovered this past February, about one-third of the players who produce three wins in any given season never even cracked a Baseball America’s Top 100 list. The purpose of this post is to analyze, or at least call attention to, a few rookie hitters on contending teams who weren’t ballyhooed as prospects, but have still acquitted themselves well in the big leagues. The four hitters below came to the big leagues with little fanfare, but have already made an impact on the division races this year, and more importantly, stand a good chance of remaining productive.

Randal Grichuk, OF, St. Louis

Although he was a first round pick, Randal Grichuk underwhelmed throughout his minor league career. His 113 wRC+ as a minor leaguer was more good than great, especially for a future corner outfielder. And up until this season, he was best known as the guy the Angels selected before Mike Trout. Grichuk’s put together an excellent performance for the Cardinals this year, however, belting 16 home runs in 92 games on his way to a 142 wRC+. Grichuk’s had some trouble making contact, but has made up for it by being extremely productive in those plate appearances that haven’t resulted in a strikeout.

Grichuk didn’t crack any top-100 lists heading into the year, but KATOH still thought he was an interesting prospect based on his minor league numbers. Although his overall .259/.311/.493 batting line was nothing special, especially for the Pacific Coast League, KATOH was still impressed by the power he demonstrated as a 22-year-old in Triple-A. My system projected him for 4.4 WAR through age 28, making him the 81st highest-ranked prospect. It’s no secret the Cardinals have a good team this year, and Grichuk has been a big part of that success. The one obstacle for the 23-year-old is an elbow injury, which has limited him to pinch-hitting duties of late. If healthy, though, Grichuk’s pop should continue to power the Cardinals lineup this October, even if his batting average comes back to earth a bit.

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Projecting Yankees Catching Prospect Gary Sanchez

Now that the minor league regular seasons have come to a close, and we’ve reached the ides of September, most of the noteworthy roster-expansion call-ups are behind us. Nearly all of the players who were expected to have substantial impacts on the pennant races came up on the first of the month or shortly thereafter. However, a few more prospects were promoted over the weekend, as minor league clubs were eliminated from their respective playoffs. The most notable of the rookies called up over the weekend was probably Gary Sanchez, a catcher in the Yankees organization.

Sanchez has been on the prospect radar for a few years now, ever since the Yankees gave him a big bonus to sign out of the Dominican as a 16-year-old back in 2009. Sanchez hit an excellent .286/.350/.496 (134 wRC+) over his first three seasons in the minors, but followed it up with a less impressive .261/.329/.405 (107 wRC+) between High-A and Double-A in 2013 and 2014. The primary culprit for the change was a drop-off in power, which manifested itself in substantially lower isolated power figures. However, Sanchez’s pop made a comeback in 2015, during which he split time between the Double-A and Triple-A.


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A Look at the Comeback Player of the Year Award

In years past, I’ve looked at players who might win the Comeback Player of the Year Award. I don’t know why, but I just like this award. It sort of gets lost in the shuffle of awards season. It’s usually a feel-good story. I’ve felt like it is interesting to put some statistical context to the award. This year is no different. I never did last year’s post, but I did this in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The methodology remains the same as it did in previous iterations. From the 2013 post:

Just like last year, the criteria is a player who posted 2.5 WAR or less last year, and has posted at least 1.0 WAR this year. Then I cull the list. The general standard is for a player to have roughly 2.0 more WAR this year than last, but this year I’m making an exception for catchers (roughly 1.5 WAR) and relief pitchers (roughly 1.0 WAR), as WAR may not be as fair to them as it is to others.

From there, we have to decide who is really making a comeback. Sometimes, guys just make the leap, or were never really good to begin with. But first, some honorable mentions.

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Dodgers’ $300 Million Payroll Not That Crazy

Back before the 2012 season, Frank McCourt owned the Los Angeles Dodgers. He had purchased the team in 2004, inheriting a club that featured a $105 million payroll in 2003. Nearly ten years later, he sold the team to the deep-pocketed Guggenheim-led group — handing over a club that also featured a $105 million payroll. Major League Baseball revenues had doubled during McCourt’s tenure as team owner — and salaries for players increased at something close to the same rate — but the Dodgers, sitting in one of the biggest media markets in the country, stuck to the status quo after fielding one of the bigger payrolls in baseball at the beginning of the century. The Dodgers have finally caught up with the times (some would say surpassed) in terms of payroll, but while their $300-plus million payroll might seem enormous, the team would still be right in line with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox if those two teams had not slowed their spending in recent years.

Prior to the arrival of the Dodgers’ new ownership and $8 billion cable deal, the Yankees were the only team to exceed a $200 million payroll. The Yankees crossed that threshold in 2005, but kept their spending fairly static over the following decade, only getting above $225 million once (in 2013) and falling below that mark last season. Their total outlay on players was often somewhat higher, given the luxury-tax payments the team was forced to make every season. Given the Yankees’ spending over the last decade and the Dodgers’ spending over the last few seasons, it might appear that the luxury tax is not much of a deterrent towards spending, but as Nathaniel Grow detailed back in May, the luxury tax has kept spending down at upper levels.

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Likely Scenarios for Current Front-Office Vacancies

Two seasons ago, I ranked the job security of each general manager and listed GM prospects. I think I did a pretty good job with both lists given what we knew at the time, and may do it again as Opening Day 2016 closes in. We’ve had less executive movement in the last few off-seasons than usual and it looks like the regression is happening this year, with four GM jobs currently open and a likely fifth coming soon. This seemed like a good time to cover each of the situations in flux and target some possible changes in the near future, along with some names to keep in mind as candidates to fill these openings.

The Open GM Spots
We have two teams without a top baseball decision-making executive, in Seattle and Milwaukee:

The Mariners moved on from (now former) GM Jack Zduriencik recently, a long-rumored move that club president Kevin Mather admitted he waited too long to execute. Mather has said they’re looking for a replacement sooner than later (likely eliminating execs from playoff teams), with GM experience (eliminating most of the GM prospects you’ll see below), and that the team doesn’t require a rebuild (meaning a shorter leash and higher expectations from day one). This should prove to narrow the pool of candidates a good bit, but this is still seen as the best of the currently open jobs.

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Yankees Perform Increasingly Rare Feat, Win with Age

Since the New York Yankees’ incredible five-year run at the end of the last century, which saw the club win four titles with a youth-filled core, the Yankees have long been seen as an aging group of veteran free-agent purchases. Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, and Alex Rodriguez supplemented Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera as the group entered their 30s. Whether that perception was fair or merely irrelevant, the club remained successful for much of the last decade as players aged slowly and made great contributions into their 30s. As Major League Baseball got younger, though, the Yankees’ core aged without young replacements on the farm. It appeared as though the Yankees might have a rough couple of years when, after the club missed the playoffs in 2013, ownership tried to reduce payroll below $189 million in attempt to save millions in salary cap money and revenue sharing.

As sometimes happens, though, the Yankees’ owners appeared to change their mind and a spending spree in the winter of 2013 brought in free agents Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran, as well as the acquisition of Masahiro Tanaka in order to compete in 2014. That effort fell short as injuries, age, and the missing production of Alex Rodriguez all took their toll on the franchise and the team fell short of the playoffs. In 2015, the team’s elder batsmen — Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Carlos Beltran — have remained healthy for much of the season and led the way for an offense sporting a 107 wRC+, second only to the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League.

Mark Teixeira had been having a phenomenal year prior to his recent injury, Alex Rodriguez has been strong in his return from suspension, and Carlos Beltran has recovered nicely from a very poor start to the season. All three are among the very best in the league among position players 35 years old and older this season.

Best 2015 Seasons by Players at Least 35 Years of Age
Name Team AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR Age
Mark Teixeira Yankees .255 .357 .548 145 2.9 35
Adrian Beltre Rangers .273 .314 .427 96 2.7 36
Alex Rodriguez Yankees .257 .363 .489 133 2.3 39
David Ortiz Red Sox .264 .352 .515 128 1.9 39
Albert Pujols Angels .247 .305 .493 121 1.8 35
Juan Uribe Braves .254 .318 .418 103 1.7 36
A.J. Pierzynski Braves .293 .333 .424 107 1.7 38
Carlos Beltran Yankees .282 .344 .480 125 1.6 38
Matt Holliday Cardinals .290 .409 .420 132 1.2 35

The above list constitutes every player 35 and older with at least one win above replacement on the season. Just a decade ago, there were double that amount, and two previous years had a dozen players each. The Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies are the only teams with more than 1,000 plate appearances from players at least 35 years old, and the Yankees’ 6.8 WAR from those players is more than double the second-place Braves — and actually higher than the rest of MLB combined (6.6 WAR).

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Nate Eovaldi: No Fastball Is Too Big to Hide

For his career, Nathan Eovaldi has a below-average strikeout rate. He’s been a little bit worse than league average by ERA, and a little bit better than league average by FIP, but even average is a strange outcome for a guy with a top-ten fastball by velocity.

Take a look at how much of an outlier Eovaldi is in graphical form. That’s him highlighted, against all starters that have thrown at least 1000 fastballs since 2007.

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Yankees Free (Greg) Bird

With their offense sputtering, the Yankees called up first baseman Greg Bird from Triple-A last week in an attempt to potentially help matters. Bird is strictly a first baseman, meaning he’s unlikely to see regular playing time with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez holding down first base and DH, respectively. However, with 16 games without an off-day on their schedule, the Yankees will surely want to spell both Teixeria and A-Rod, especially since both have been slumping of late.

If his 2015 numbers are any indication, Bird has little left to prove in the minor leagues. He hit .277/.356/.469 between Double-A and Triple-A this season, including a .319/.372/.534 performance over his last month in the minors. Bird’s combination of power, walks and manageable strikeout numbers have made him a potent hitter in the high minors this year, as evidenced by his 139 wRC+.

Those manageable strikeout numbers are a new feature for Bird. Prior to this season, the 6-foot-3 slugger had some trouble putting the ball in play on a regular basis. His strikeout rates were consistently higher than his league’s average (roughly 20%) since the Yankees drafted him in the fifth round back in 2011, but he’s managed to hack a few percentage points off of his strikeout rate this year.

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