Archive for Yankees

Why the Cubs and Yankees Should Swap Tyler Chatwood and Sonny Gray

I know what you’re thinking even before you complete the first paragraph of this post: Sheryl’s trade proposal probably sucks.

I don’t blame you. Most trade proposals suck. As we pass the All-Star week contemplating trade value, though, I thought I’d take an opportunity to indulge myself by imagining a deal that makes too much sense (in my head, at least) not to happen. I contend that, before this year’s July 31 trade deadline, the Chicago Cubs should trade Tyler Chatwood to the New York Yankees for Sonny Gray.

One flaw is immediately apparent: contending clubs rarely make trades with other contenders. Why would they? Teams bound for the postseason are typically looking to add present talent while surrendering players with future value. Both the Cubs and Yankees are contenders. Both Chatwood and Gray are major leaguers. So already this is improbable. Because of their struggles, though, Chatwood and Gray actually possess unlocked future value, though — future value that another club, in my opinion, is more likely to unlock.

I’ve written about both pitchers this year. Both have struggled. Let’s start with Chatwood. When I examined his season back on May 22, he had a 3.14 ERA despite an 18.3% walk rate and 102 FIP-, the latter figure mostly on the back of an unsustainable 3% HR/FB. Since then, his walk rate has actually increased; since May 22, he’s recorded an 18.8% walk rate. That’s bad. Not only has Chatwood produced the highest walk rate among pitchers with 30 or more innings this season, but his 18.6% mark would actually represent the second highest among qualifiers* since the integration of baseball.

*The highest mark since integration is 20.3%, produced by Tommy Byrne in 1949. Improbably, Byrne still managed to record a 92 ERA- that year — that is, he prevented runs 8% better than a league-average pitcher. Overall, Byrne made 170 starts in the majors and logged 1362.0 innings, posting a career walk rate of 16.8% but still managing a 103 ERA-.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/11

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Andres Gimenez, SS, New York Mets (Profile)
Level: Hi-A   Age: 19   Org Rank: 3   FV: 50
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, 3B

Notes
Gimenez is a 19-year-old shortstop slashing .280/.350/.430 in the Florida State League. That’s good for a 107 wRC+ in the FSL. Big-league shortstops with similar wRC+ marks are Trea Turner (a more explosive player and rangier defender than Gimenez) and Jurickson Profar, who have both been two-win players or better this year ahead of the break. Also of note in the Mets system last night was Ronny Mauricio, who extended his career-opening hitting streak to 19 games.

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It’s Not Just Luis Severino’s Velocity

Luis Severino currently ranks second among all major-league pitchers in WAR. He’s third by park-adjusted ERA, he’s first by park-adjusted FIP, and he’s sixth by park-adjusted xFIP, and he’s done this while facing the seventh-toughest average opponent, among everyone with at least 50 innings. There was a time when a lot of the attention was on the development of Severino’s changeup. The changeup is there, and it’s not like Severino is afraid of it, but he’s blossomed into one of the best pitchers in either league largely on the back of his fastball and slider. Two pitches can be all you need, when said pitches are elite.

Just Tuesday, Severino blanked the Phillies over seven innings, whiffing nine without issuing a single walk. In all, 95% of his pitches were fastballs or sliders, and Severino’s 101st pitch clocked in at an even 100 miles per hour. It’s been said before that high velocity affords a pitcher a greater margin of error. That’s true, and part of the story behind Severino’s emergence simply comes down to how hard he can throw. Yet there’s more there, more that underscores how difficult Severino is for hitters. Let’s take a look at how his pitches play off of one another.

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Aaron Hicks Has Consolidated His Gains

The Yankees for so long had seemingly been the favorite to win the Bryce Harper sweepstakes. After all, the Yankees have the largest war chest to pursue one of the most coveted free agents in major-league history. The Yankees were determined to stay under the luxury threshold last winter for the first time in the tax era to restart their tax-paying status, and they were motivated to do so with an eye on this historic forthcoming class of free agents. While Harper has had some struggles this year, he is still going to be a 26-year-old free agent who has a nine-win season under his belt and is regarded as an elite talent. His left-handed swing is a natural fit for the right-field porch of Yankee Stadium II.

But now the Harper-to-Yankees match hardly seems like a sure thing. It is at least less of an obvious fit for reasons beyond just the $400-plus million. The Yankees saw an opportunity and pounced to add Giancarlo Stanton and his MLB-record contract this offseason. He’s bookended in the outfield by Aaron Judge. And for the purposes of this post, in center field, they have another asset in Aaron Hicks, who is proving his 2017 breakout is anything but a fluke.

The only major knock against Hicks last year was his inability to stick on the field, as he dealt with injury. He is also better from the right side of the plate, though he’s been above average as a left-handed hitter (119 wRC+ in 2017, 106 this season) the past two years. While Hicks is certainly not the talent that Harper is, and while he’s a couple years his senior, he’s solidifying himself as a solid regular, a three-win-type player with perhaps further upside to be extracted. Hicks, who is under club control through 2019, gives the Yankees the ability to throw $300-plus million at a free agent other than Harper this winter, a player such as Manny Machado, who is perhaps a better fit. While the Yankees infield is crowded, there’s a way to fit an elite left-side infielder on any MLB club. While Hicks remains a short- to mid-term center-field option, Estevan Florial and Clint Frazier give the Yankees longer-term, non-Harper outfield options.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 6/20

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen running slightly later than usual due to travel for the FanGraphs meetup in Denver this weekend. Read previous installments here.

Clay Holmes, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: Triple-A   Age: 25   Org Rank: 27  FV: 40
Line: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 8 K, 1 R

Notes
Holmes has had mediocre command throughout his career and has generally projected to a bullpen role where he’d theoretically be a mid-90s sinker/slider guy. In the past month, he has thrown 66% of his pitches for strikes and has been locating his slider to the back foot of left-handed hitters effectively. He looks more like a backend starter than a reliever right now, but it’s a four-start run juxtaposed against more than a half decade of fringe control.

Alexander Montero, RHP, Boston Red Sox (Profile)
Level: Short-Season   Age: 20   Org Rank: NR  FV: 35+
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 7 K, 1 R

Notes
Montero’s presence and early success is a welcome sight for one of the worst systems in baseball. He’s a relatively projectable 20-year-old with a three-pitch mix led by a fastball that’s up to 95 mph and a diving split changeup. Montero signed late for an amateur IFA last summer, inking a deal just weeks before he turned 20. He pitched in the DSL last year and was skipped directly to the New York-Penn League this summer after finishing extended.

Brandon Wagner, 1B, New York Yankees (Profile)
Level: A+  Age: 22   Org Rank: NR  FV: 35
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, HR

Notes
Wagner has had an odd developmental path. He was a chubby high school first baseman from New Jersey who spent two years at a Texas JUCO and became a 6th rounder as he improved his conditioning. He has displayed a career-long ability to discern balls from strikes and is a .365 OBP hitter over four pro seasons. During that time, Wagner has moved his batted-ball profile like a glacier from 50% ground balls down to 40% and has now begun to hit for significant in-game power. Six-foot first basemen with average, pull-only power are still long shots, but if Wagner keeps performing if/when he’s promoted to Double-A, he’ll at least force re-evaluation the way Mike Ford did.

Jackson Kowar, RHP, University of Florida (draft rights controlled by Kansas City)
Level: CWS Age: 21   Org Rank: NR  FV: 45
Line: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 13 K, 0 R

Notes
Kowar was dominant in his College World Series start against Texas yesterday, reaching back for 95-97 toward the end of his start and was flashing a 70 changeup. He also threw 121 pitches.

Jacob Amaya, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (Profile)
Level: Short-Season  Age: 19   Org Rank: HM  FV: 35
Line: 1-for-1, 4 BB

Notes
Amaya’s tools have a utility vibe because his frame limits his power projection to something around average or just below it, but he’s an average athlete with defensive hands befitting a middle infielder and advanced bat-to-ball skills. If he grows into a 6 bat, which is unlikely but possible, it won’t matter that he doesn’t hit for a lot of game power.

Notes from the Field

I’m just going to drop a bunch of D-backs notes from yesterday’s AZL action. Alek Thomas went 0-for-3 but ground out tough at-bats and spoiled several good pitches while he did it. He also made two impressive defensive plays, one which might have robbed a homer and another in the left-center gap that robbed extra bases. Jake McCarthy looks fine physically (of note since he was hurt for most of his junior year at UVA) and took a tough left-on-left breaking ball the other way for a single in his first pro at-bat. Twenty-year-old righty Luis Frias was up to 96 mph, rehabbing Brian Ellington was up to 97. Finally, lefty reclamation project Henry Owens (Allen Webster, Owens, and Clay Buchholz have all been D-backs for some amount of time during the last year, which isn’t surprising if you know the roots of this current front office) K’d 5 in 2.1 innings with some help from the umpire. He was 87-90 with an above-average changeup, an average breaking ball, and arm slot closer to what he had as a prospect with Boston after he was side-arming last fall.


Domingo German Seems Incredibly Talented

Shohei Ohtani was supposed to win the American League Rookie of the Year. And, you know, he still might, depending on how he recovers from his injury. His numbers are great, and he deserves a bonus for the degree of difficulty of his job. But Ohtani’s elbow makes me nervous, and I’ve become skeptical about these things. You can’t count on him coming back and looking like himself. And as the award goes, that would open up the door. One prime contender would be Gleyber Torres. Another strong contender would be Miguel Andujar.

And as I look at things, the Yankees might very well run the table. Rookie of the Year voters select three names. Torres or Andujar could finish first. The other could finish second. And Domingo German could finish third. Or, I suppose, second or first, if he had a really good second half. But the point here is that the Yankees have three great and significant rookies. In March, Torres was considered the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect. Andujar was considered their No. 2 prospect. German slotted in at 13th.

A month and a half ago, Travis wrote about German right here. Since then, over 40 innings, German has allowed 28 runs, which is too many. Yet he’s also generated 45 strikeouts, with only a dozen walks. He’s turned in three strong starts in a row, and four times in a row, now, he’s gone at least six innings. I will not be making the point that German is amazing. I will be making the point that he’s probably being underrated. That might just be a consequence of how loaded the Yankees already are.

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Jonathan Loaisiga and the Yankees’ Player Development Machine

I first learned of the existence of Jonathan Loaisiga via the scouting service that is the Fringe Five, proudly produced by Carson Cistulli.

Entering 2018, very few non-baseball scouting professionals knew much of anything about Loaisiga, which is pronounced lo-AYE-siga. There’s been so much trouble with articulating his last name that Loaisigia is OK with “Johnny Lasagna” as a moniker.

Loaisiga basically came out of nowhere. He was absent from all preseason top-100 prospect lists, though he did come in at No. 12 on Eric and Kiley’s Yankees preseason organizational list.

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The Yankees Probably Need to Make a Trade

The season has gone pretty well for the Yankees thus far. Sure, the team brought in Neil Walker and Brandon Drury in the offseason and they are currently below replacement level; however, those two were acquired as placeholders for Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, and the two prospects are already succeeding in the big leagues, leaving the performance of the acquisitions moot. Greg Bird got hurt again and Tyler Austin wasn’t great. Giancarlo Stanton has only been good and not great, but Aaron Judge has been great, and Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez have been good while Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks have exceeded expectations. Yankees position players lead the American League in WAR at 13 and are projected to top all of baseball the rest of the way.

On the pitching side, the Yankees have done pretty well, too. Just as they were projected, the bullpen has been the best in baseball, striking out 32% of batters faced. Luis Severino has been one of the best pitchers in baseball with a 2.15 FIP that leads all qualified starters in the American League. After Severino, the rotation hasn’t been good, but with the bullpen, the team’s 9.5 WAR is third in all of baseball.

Fortunately for the Yankees, the team’s good results have translated in the win column up to this point with 40 victories. At this moment, they are projected to win more than 100 games and finish with the best record in baseball. The Yankees may be in an enviable position; however, there are some drawbacks to being an immensely talented, super-rich franchise piling up wins like nobody’s business.

The first drawback is their main rival, the Red Sox. Boston is also an immensely talented, super-rich franchise piling up wins, and only one of these two teams is going to win the division. Despite having the two best records in baseball and the highest playoff odds in the game, the Yankees and Red Sox rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in odds of making the division series. One of the two clubs is going to have to fend for itself in the Wild Card game in what will likely be a 50/50 shot against Shohei Ohtani, James Paxton, or maybe even Justin Verlander. Winning the division is going to affect the Yankees’ odds of winning the World Series by 5%-10%, maybe more.

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Gleyber Torres and the Yankees’ Pursuit of the Team Homer Record

When the Yankees promoted Gleyber Torres in late April, they envisioned him helping them on both sides of the ball, replacing an underwhelming Ronald Torreyes/Tyler Wade platoon that was admittedly nothing more than a stopgap, a temporary solution to an infield logjam. Even so, they probably didn’t expect the kind of power outburst that Torres has provided. After going homerless in his first 12 games, the 21-year-old rookie second baseman has clubbed eight homers in his most recent 15. His total leads the team in the month of May — and that’s a team on pace to break the major-league record for home runs in a season.

Though he’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Torres did not show a ton of in-game power coming up through the minors. His season high of 11 homers was set in 2016, when he was 19 years old and playing at the High-A stops of the Cubs and Yankees. To be fair, with seven homers in 55 games last year, he probably would have surpassed that total had he not torn his left UCL and required season-ending Tommy John surgery in June. The prospect hounds at Baseball America and MLB Pipeline both graded his power as a 55 (above average), with the latter suggesting 20-plus homers annually; our own Kiley McDaniel graded his raw power at 55/60 (present/future) and his game power at 40/55. The 55 is here, at the very least.

From Baseball Prospectus senior prospect writer Jarrett Seidler:

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The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

Fringe Five Scoreboards: 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013.

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion among the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels, and (most importantly) FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel* and also who (b) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on any updated, midseason-type list will also be excluded from eligibility.

*Note: I’ve excluded Baseball America’s list this year not due to any complaints with their coverage, but simply because said list is now behind a paywall.

For those interested in learning how Fringe Five players have fared at the major-league level, this somewhat recent post offers that kind of information. The short answer: better than a reasonable person would have have expected. In the final analysis, though, the basic idea here is to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

*****

Austin Dean, OF, Miami (Profile)
Selected by Miami in the fourth round of the 2012 draft out of a Texas high school, Dean appeared — when Eric Longenhagen published the Marlins list in February of 2017 — to have fallen into a sort of prospect netherspace, possessing too little footspeed and athleticism for center field but too little offensive ability to sustain a corner-outfield role. The Marlins’ assignments appeared to indicate a lack of enthusiasm, as well: after passing all of the 2016 and -17 seasons at Double-A, Dean began the present campaign there, as well.

In this case, however, Dean quickly earned a promotion, producing a strikeout rate and isolated-power mark that still rank second and sixth, respectively, among the 97 total Southern League batters to record at least 80 plate appearances. The early returns at Triple-A have been promising for a player in his first exposure to a new level. In particular, Dean’s contact skills have translated well: among batters with 50 or more plate appearances, Dean’s strikeout and swinging-strike rates place in the 91st and 97th percentile. Meanwhile, he’s produced roughly league-average power numbers. While the offensive burden of a corner-outfield role remains high, Dean could probably survive with slightly less power on contact than most given his bat-to-ball skills.

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Aaron Judge Is Hitting Better with an Even Worse Strike Zone

We know the Aaron Judge story. He was a prospect whose contact ability was questioned. Would his 80-grade power play in games? After working on a swing adjustment in the winter of 2016-17, however, he dramatically improved his contact rate, posting a remarkable 173 wRC+ last season while nearly winning the AL MVP award.

In the 21st century, there have been only 31 completed or ongoing seasons with a wRC+ better than Judge’s mark. And what’s remarkable is that one of those — though, just a partial season — is Judge’s 2018 campaign, in which he has a wRC+ of 178.

After making one of the most dramatic year-to-year improvements in major-league history, Judge has actually improved through the first quarter of this season, which is amazing in a different way. While making gains is one thing, consolidating them is another, with the wealth of scouting information available.

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The Reinvention of CC Sabathia

NEW YORK – On Thursday night in the Bronx, the Regression Monster clawed back at CC Sabathia, whose stellar work over his previous three starts had been one of several factors in the 17-1 surge that allowed the Yankees to overtake the hot-starting Red Sox and claim sole possession of first place in the AL East. Though no longer able to muster the 95 mph fastball of his heyday, Sabathia’s remade repertoire — along with the smoke and mirrors produced by a .211 batting average on balls in play — had helped him to a 1.39 ERA entering the night, the league’s second-best mark among starters. Alas, the Red Sox teed off on a handful of pitches that Sabathia called “probably too good to hit with two strikes” and allowed a season-high four runs in a rain-shortened four-inning start. The Yankees’ 5-4 loss brought their eight-game winning streak to a halt and at least temporarily ended their sole occupancy of first place in the AL East.

Though Sabathia netted a season-high 15 swings and misses against the Red Sox, he was peppered for nine hits, three of which never left the infield — death by BABIP. Just after he served up a solo homer to Hanley Ramirez to start the fifth, putting the Yankees in a 4-0 hole, the skies opened up and drenched the playing field, causing a 55-minute rain delay and ending the 37-year-old southpaw’s night after just 80 pitches. The Yankees lineup, though held to just one hit by Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez and reliever Matt Barnes over the first six innings, rallied to tie the game in the seventh, only to fall behind for good via J.D. Martinez’s eighth-inning solo homer off Dellin Betances.

“I felt pretty good, maybe a little too aggressive a couple times with two strikes,” said Sabathia afterwards. Indeed, while he had held opposing batters to a .159/.183/.261 line with two strikes (the AL average is .175/.247/.280), five of the nine hits he surrendered were two-strike hits. Each one led to runs: Mookie Betts’ game-opening ground rule double, the three straight third-inning hits by Betts, Andrew Benintendi (a double), and Ramirez that keyed a two-run rally, and Ramirez’s solo homer.

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Domingo German Demands Our Attention

Most of the general public, perhaps even many hardcore baseball enthusiasts, were unacquainted with Domingo German until Sunday. German has never been a top-100 prospect. He is 25 years old and has been a professional for nearly a decade, yet he remained largely unknown. He was, for example, still available in most fantasy baseball leagues as of Sunday afternoon.

But on Sunday afternoon, German went out to the middle of the infield at Yankee Stadium and no-hit the Indians for six innings, striking out nine against two walks. He was taken out of the game by Aaron Boone due only to pitch-count concerns. It was his first major-league start, and he dominated.

Maybe the Yankees, already enjoying a rare collection of young talent, an uber bullpen, a cast of superstar sluggers, and an incredible amount of purchasing power for next offseason, have unearthed yet more wealth.

With Jordan Montgomery leaving his last start because of an elbow strain, this is a chance for German — labeled as something of a ‘tweener — to compete for a rotation gig.

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More Pitchers Are Getting Pulled from No-Hitters

On Friday night, in just his third major-league start, Walker Buehler delivered on the promise that the Dodgers envisioned when they made him the 24th pick of the 2015 draft out of Vanderbilt. Pitching on a rainy night at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey, in the opener of the three-game Mexico Series, the 23-year-old righty held the Padres hitless for six innings while striking out eight and walking three. But with his pitch count at 93, one short of his professional high, manager Dave Roberts did not waver in his decision to put the brakes on the kid’s bid for a slice of baseball immortality.

Via the Orange County Register‘s Bill Plunkett, Beuhler said that Roberts “told me I was out of pitches and I was out of the game.”

This wasn’t the first time that Roberts pulled a starter who had yet to allow a hit, but it was the first time that his decision paid off in full, as relievers Yimi Garcia, Tony Cingrani,and Adam Liberatore each chipped in a hitless inning, thus completing the 12th combined no-hitter in big-league history and the first in franchise history. Prior to that — and jusy five games into his managerial career, on April 8, 2016 — Roberts had removed Ross Stripling after 7.1 innings of hitless ball against the Giants. The 26-year-old Stripling, who himself was making his major-league debut, had thrown 100 pitches and had walked four batters when Roberts called for the bullpen. Having missed all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery, he understood the precautionary move, even though it backfired, as reliever Chris Hatcher promptly gave up a game-tying home run to the next batter, and the Dodgers eventually lost.

Things worked out better for the team when Roberts pulled 36-year-old Rich Hill after seven perfect innings on September 10 of that year. Though Joe Blanton surrendered a single with two outs in the eighth, the Dodgers did get the win.

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A Former Yankees Prospect on the Athletics Is Suing the White Sox

Lots of things went right last year in the Yankees’ run to the American League Championship Series.

This wasn’t one of them.

The player you see here is Dustin Fowler, who was making his major-league debut for the Yankees. Fowler, in a haunting echo of Moonlight Graham, never got to bat in that game; he had been due up in the top half of the second. Fowler suffered an open rupture of his patellar tendon on the play and required emergency surgery.

During his recovery, he was traded to the Athletics in the Sonny Gray deal.

How Fowler is expected to develop as a player in the wake of his injury is a worthy line of inquiry; however, it’s not the one I’ll pursue here. Rather, my interest is in the lawsuit that Fowler filed against the White Sox in the wake of his injury — a lawsuit that remains pending.

Fowler’s suit, on the surface, is pretty simple. Fowler has sued two parties — both Chicago White Sox, Ltd. (the limited partnership that owns the White Sox) and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (the Illinois government agency that actually owns Guaranteed Rate Field, where the White Sox play). The complaint alleges two counts, one against each Defendant, and sounds in both simple negligence and a peculiar creation of Illinois law known as “willful and wanton conduct.” Essentially, Fowler alleges that, although the wall into which he crashed was padded, an electrical box located there wasn’t.

Here’s the relevant passage:

Let’s start with the obvious question: whither the electrical box? It’s hard to tell from the video. A still image from the above provides some sense, but it’s also easy enough not to notice.

In fact, the Chicago Tribune reported after the game that video seemed to show Fowler missing the exposed electrical box, which is there to provide wifi to fans. Based on that video, the Tribune reported in the same story that no changes would be made to the stadium.

The Tribune, however, appears to have been a bit premature in their reporting. Later image seemed to suggest Fowler did make contact with the electrical box. (You can see the best ones via Newsday here.) The fact that the box is so hard to see — it’s designed to blend in with the wall — is actually part of Fowler’s lawsuit.

So we know the box is there, and that — it appears, at least — Fowler’s knee did impact it. So that leads to the second question: are the White Sox and the ISFA legally responsible?

Last year, Nathaniel Grow took an excellent look at workers’ compensation for professional athletes. Like in many states, Illinois has a law which says that, for the most part, you can’t sue your employer for an injury you suffer on the job. That’s the reason workers’ compensation exists. In Fowler’s case, though, while he is suing for an injury that occurred on the job, he is not suing his employer. As a result, this isn’t a workers’ compensation issue, and Fowler’s negligence claim isn’t barred on that basis.

Michael McCann did a nice run-through of Fowler’s suit back when it was first filed, and I encourage you to read it in full. But negligence law in torts is a lot more complicated than it might seem, and since I’m an Illinois lawyer, I figured I might examine this from a more local perspective. To establish negligence, a plaintiff generally has to plead and prove all of the following:

  1. The existence of a legal duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff;
  2. The breach of that legal duty by the defendant;
  3. That the breach by the defendant caused an injury to the defendant; and
  4. That the injury is a real and cognizable harm.

Lawyers generally turn these elements into the shorthand of DBCH, which is short for duty, breach, causation, and harm. Illinois follows the traditional negligence standard, with those same four elements: “To state a cause of action for negligence, a plaintiff must plead the existence of a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, an injury proximately caused by the breach, and damages.”

The tricky thing with negligence suits is twofold, though. First, you are basically punishing a defendant for what it did or didn’t do even though those actions weren’t intentional. That means that, every time you find for a plaintiff, you are necessarily saying the defendants have to undertake an obligation to protect people that otherwise wouldn’t exist. That, of course, has real social and economic costs, so courts tend to be wary of pushing the creation and application of legal duties too far. Second, because we’re talking about unintentional conduct here, there are a lot of defenses to negligence that don’t apply anywhere else in the law. These are things like contributory or comparative negligence (sometimes called comparative fault), assumption of the risk, and others which vary by state.

The first question, then, is whether the White Sox and ISFA owed a legal duty towards Fowler. In this case, there are two types of possible duties. (Actually, there are more, but we have limited space here.) There could be a “duty to warn.” That would mean anything from a sign down the right-field line saying “beware of box,” to actually telling Fowler about the box’s existence before the game, to just painting the box a bright shade of yellow so it stands out. On the other hand, there could be a “duty to protect” Fowler, with things like padding on the box or just the complete relocation of the box to somewhere outside the field of play.

Obviously, all of these points relate to the defendants, because the defendants are the ones with control over the box. That doesn’t always happen in negligence cases. What that means, though, is that a court will have to decide whether the law imposes a duty on ISFA and the White Sox either to warn players or protect them from hidden on-field hazards and — if so — how far that duty goes. Many states have accepted what’s called the “Learned Hand Rule” as the gold standard for whether to impose a duty on a defendant. Named for Judge Learned Hand (yes, that really was his name), the Learned Hand Rule uses what’s called “law and economics” to determine whether a duty should be imposed on a defendant. I personally think of the Learned Hand Rule as the “FanGraphs Method” of Negligence. Professor Doug Holden explains why:

This formula lists three factors:

1. Probability of harm (or likelihood of injury) and = P
2. Gravity of harm (or seriousness of injury) as weighed against = L (loss or liability)
3. Burden on defendant (or injury sacrificed) to take adequate precautions = B.

Therefore, if B < P x L, then you have unreasonable behavior. If you have unreasonable behavior, then there is a breach of duty.

This is a useful little algorithm for identifying breach of duty. In practice, however, judges don’t like to sit and calculate such variables like Learned Hand did. So somewhere along the line, the Learned Hand rule went from functioning as a mathematical calculation to serving as a guidepost to then becoming the rule that a party has a duty to all persons who could suffer a “reasonably foreseeable” harm as a result of the former’s actions.

Illinois follows that “reasonably foreseeable” standard. So, in this case, the question is whether it was reasonably foreseeable that a player like Fowler would injure himself on the electrical box. Given that much of the rest of the wall is padded, it’s clearly foreseeable that a player could be injured by colliding with an unpadded wall. By extension, it seems reasonably foreseeable that an unpadded box could also cause harm. Therefore a duty does exist to take adequate precaution. And theoretically, since the burden on the defendant is minimal — like spray-painting the box yellow or a few feet of padding — the Hand formula weighs in favor of Fowler, too.

Next is whether the ISFA and White Sox breached their legal duty to Fowler. To that point, we know they didn’t pad the box. We also have no reason to believe they warned Fowler, either. Of some relevance here perhaps is a doctrine in the law called “res ipsa loquitur.” Res ipsa loquitur basically means that if a defendant exercises exclusive control over an object — like an electrical box — and the object harms someone, the law presumes the defendant was negligent even in the absence of evidence of negligence. Here, I think there is that evidence of negligence, though: the existence of the padding elsewhere. Remember when we discussed protective netting that I explained the “voluntary undertaking doctrine”?

Here’s a refresher:

The Illinois Supreme Court, for example, explained in Nelson v. Union Wire Rope Corp. that, where a company voluntarily does something it wasn’t legally obligated to do, that company is liable for failing to do so reasonably. In some states (like Illinois, for instance), this is known as the voluntary undertaking doctrine.

If the ISFA and White Sox voluntarily undertook to protect fielders by padding the wall but didn’t pad the box, that’s negligence because they failed to complete the job reasonably.

Next are causation and harm. Did the box cause Fowler’s injuries? Well, the impact is what tore his knee open. I could talk about proximate cause and cause-in-fact, but we don’t really need to here. Because the injury was foreseeable and a direct result of an impact with the box, causation’s probably satisfied.

So what defenses do the ISFA and White Sox have? Their primary argument is probably going to be that they didn’t owe Fowler any duty. But in an Illinois court, that’s unlikely to hold water simply because Illinois courts have adopted the reasonable foreseeability standard. And they could argue that Fowler assumed the risk of being injured, but it’s hard to argue that running into things is part of baseball the way being hit by a pitch is. And they can’t argue that Fowler wasn’t injured, because even though he’s back and playing, his injury was very real, which in and of itself entitles him to damages under Illinois law.

So they tried something else. Shortly after Fowler filed his lawsuit, the ISFA and White Sox removed the case to federal court. The White Sox then moved to dismiss the case, arguing that it was preempted by the CBA. The White Sox invoked the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), a federal law stating (in Section 301) that federal courts, and federal law, govern all employment disputes where the rights of the parties have been collectively bargained. As the White Sox argue, “Plaintiff alleges that he was injured as a result of an incident that took place only because he was employed as a Major League Baseball Player pursuant to a highly regulated contractual employment relationship that specified all of the rights and duties of the respective parties – including with respect to Players health and safety.” Here, the White Sox point to Article XIII of the CBA, which governs players’ safety and health.

Here we return to the issue of “willful and wanton conduct” cited at the outset of this piece. In Illinois, under a case called Ziarko v. Soo Line Railroad, willful and wanton conduct represents something more severe than just negligence, but not so severe as intentional conduct. It’s akin to recklessness. And generally, in Illinois, you can’t disclaim willful and wanton conduct by contract. Moreover, Fowler argues, the CBA doesn’t actually cover situations like this, which means the CBA doesn’t preempt Fowler’s claims.

On that basis, Fowler wants the case sent back to state court.

This is one case where both sides appear to have strong arguments, and there’s ample case law going both ways. I tend to think Fowler has the better of the argument, but I don’t see this as being a clear-cut issue, particularly given the unusual set of facts. Many of the cases cited by both sides, like Stringer v. NFL, concerned situations where the player was injured by or on his own team’s facilities or lack of care. And even there, courts often split the proverbial baby, allowing some claims through and not others. The issue is currently being briefed, and Judge Gary Feinerman will rule sometime in June or July.

Meanwhile, Dustin Fowler hasn’t yet exhibited the form that made him a top prospect when he debuted last June. After a 138 wRC+ last year at Triple-A, he has just a 84 wRC+ for Oakland’s highest affiliate this year through 97 plate appearances. On the plus side, he’s already stolen five bases.


The Yankees’ No-Fastball Approach Might Be Breaking Sonny Gray

The Yankees’ biggest splash at the trade deadline last season was the acquisition of Sonny Gray. The Bronx Bombers thought they had acquired a frontline starting pitcher to pair with homegrown ace Luis Severino and Splitter Aficionado Masahiro Tanaka.

But Sonny Gray, after the trade in 2017, posted a 101 xFIP- and 107 FIP- — this after having produced a 75 xFIP- and also 75 FIP- with Oakland before the deal.

Sonny Gray, since the beginning of 2018, has a 132 xFIP- and 115 FIP-. Sonny Gray, on Wednesday night, gave up three earned runs, a home run, and walked five in 4.2 innings, recording a 6.67 xFIP in the process. Sonny Gray, the Yankees version, has been bad.

One, of course, is curious as to why he’s been bad. What happened to the guy who, at the time of the deal, could boast a 3.25 FIP, 8.7 K/9, 1.175 WHIP, and 3.13 K/BB ratio, numbers that were much more in line with his 2013-15 run with the A’s? On the surface, it appears Gray joined the Yankees and reverted to his troubled 2016 self. After all, after the trade, Gray’s home-runs allowed spiked, from 0.7 per nine to 1.5 per nine. Perhaps as a result of wariness, his walks spiked from 2.8 per nine to 3.7 per nine, as well.

It’s a plausible theory, but it’s also insufficient.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 5

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the fifth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Max Fried, Tommy Kahnle, and John Smoltz — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Max Fried (Braves) on His Curveball

“I learned my curveball when I was pretty young, maybe nine or 10. It started out as more of a knuckle curve, although I didn’t really spike it. I would kind of curl my pointer finger down on the ball.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 4

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a slider in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the fourth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Andrew Cashner, Drew Pomeranz, and CC Sabathia — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Andrew Cashner (Orioles) on His Sinker

“I got cut with a knife in 2013, in the offseason. I cut the flexor tendon in my right thumb. That was when I really learned a sinker. After I got cut, I had to learn a new pitch.

“My slider wasn’t the same pitch after that. I had a hard time getting extension with it, getting out front. The cut healed, but the tendon was tight. I think it just took time for the tendon to lengthen. It’s a feel pitch and it just never felt the same. It took a long time, but I’ve got [the slider] back now.

“The good thing is that I gained another pitch. And the sinker isn’t just arm-side run. Once you can learn to locate it back-door, it’s almost like a reverse slider for s lefty. You throw it at the hip and it comes back.”

Drew Pomeranz (Red Sox) on his Curveball

“It would have to be my curveball. Everybody I play with is like, ‘How the hell do you throw that?’ That’s because I flick it forward. I don’t turn my wrist like a normal person does.

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Gary Sanchez Shows Some Punch

In a game that will be remembered more for a bench-clearing seventh-inning brawl between the beasts of the AL East — we’ll get to that, you blood-lusting rubberneckers — Gary Sanchez scored some points with a few swings of the bat himself on Wednesday night against the Red Sox. While the early struggles of reigning NL MVP and Bronx newcomer Giancarlo Stanton have gotten more attention, it was the Yankees’ 25-year-old catcher who owned the dubious title not just as the team’s coldest hitter, but as the majors’ single worst batting title-qualified player in terms of both wRC+ and WAR. Whether it was the intimate confines of Fenway Park, the struggles of the Red Sox pitching staff, or the inevitability of positive regression, by the fourth inning of the Yankees’ 10-7 victory, Gary got his groove back, at least for one night. Sanchez clubbed two homers and added a double, driving in four runs and more than doubling his season totals in hits, homers, and RBI.

Sanchez, who last year led all major-league catchers with 33 homers and a 130 wRC+ while batting .278/.345/.531, began the 2018 season in a 2-for-36 skid. Through Tuesday, his positive contributions at the plate could be counted on Mordecai Brown’s pitching hand: an RBI double off the Blue Jays’ John Axford on Opening Day, a two-run homer off the Rays’ Blake Snell on April 4, and a hit-by-pitch against the Orioles’ Darren O’Day on April 5. He went 0-for-17 between the first two hits, and 0-for-15 between the latter one and Wednesday’s game. Since he hadn’t drawn a single walk, that hit-by-pitch juiced his batting line all the way to .056/.081/.167. That’s a -42 wRC+, which is something closer to an ASCII approximation of a smashed fly than it is a comprehensible comparison to league average. He entered Wednesday as one of eight qualifiers with a negative wRC+

The Upside Down
Name Team PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+
Gary Sanchez Yankees 37 .056 .081 .167 -42
Logan Morrison Twins 30 .074 .167 .111 -22
Jose Iglesias Tigers 33 .069 .182 .103 -15
Jason Kipnis Indians 46 .098 .196 .122 -9
Kevin Kiermaier Rays 35 .094 .171 .156 -7
Byron Buxton Twins 35 .171 .171 .200 -7
Lewis Brinson Marlins 51 .149 .200 .149 -6
Randal Grichuk Blue Jays 39 .086 .154 .200 -6
All stats through April 10.

Sanchez had some good company in this particularly decrepit Small Sample Theater: a guy who hit even more homers last year (Morrison), two of the game’s best defensive center fielders (Kiermaier and Buxton, who is apparently constitutionally incapable of hitting major-league pitching before May 1), a top prospect (Brinson), and so on.

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Giancarlo Stanton Has Struggled with the Fastball

Giancarlo Stanton still looks like Giancarlo Stanton. He’s a gigantic human being who possesses a fierce swing that inflicts damage upon baseballs when his bat makes contact. The problem in the early part of this season is that his huge swing is making slightly less contact than it did a year ago when he was the National League MVP.

Stanton has swung at 116 pitches this year and has whiffed 48 times, per Baseball Savant. Based on his fantastic 2017 season, we would expect to see about 34 whiffs. While a difference of 14 whiffs over 250 pitches doesn’t seem like a lot, it’s the difference between normal, awesome Stanton and this abnormal version of Stanton that has struck out in 40% of his plate appearances.

To better understand just what’s going on with Stanton, let’s try to take the early-season numbers we have and separate normal Stanton from abnormal Stanton. To start, here is a table showing some statistics from his career, from last season, and from this season to spot the problems.

Giancarlo Stanton’s Strikeout Numbers
Metric Career 2017 2018 Normal/Abnormal
BB% 11.8% 12.3% 10.5% Normal
K% 27.8% 23.6% 40.4% Abnormal (Bad!)
ISO .286 .350 .275 Normal
BABIP .317 .288 .360 Abnormal (Good!)

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