Yankees sign Neil Walker

Update, 5:15pm: The Yankees have announced the signing. Jake Cave was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster. Expect Cave to be traded in the coming days.

This made too much sense not to happen. The Yankees have an opening at second base, at least until Gleyber Torres sheds any doubt that he’s ready for the show. Walker can play second base and is a solid hitter. What else needs to be said?

ZiPS projects Walker to hit .269/.346/.461 (108 wRC+) and accumulate just under 2 WAR in 483 plate appearances. Given his track record and 2018 forecast, Walker is almost certainly the opening day second baseman. It’s a bit of tough luck for Tyler Wade, who appeared to be on the precipice of nabbing the job to start the year. Perhaps after the Yankees saw Wade roll his wrist a few days ago, despite it being not serious, the team decided to re-engage with Walker after apparently backing out once they acquired Brandon Drury.

At some point, when Torres is ready to take the keys at second base, Walker won’t have to be fully relegated to the bench. The switch-hitter should be able to play a few times a week even if not an everyday player. He has experience at the infield corners too, meaning that he can spell Drury and Greg Bird. Speaking of Bird, Walker is a nice hedge at first base in case Bird winds up getting hurt. Walker’s versatility makes him a better option for that than the recently added Adam Lind.

The Yankees were already in good shape prior to adding Walker. Adding him only deepens the roster and lengthens the lineup, both good things. Two thumbs up on this free agent addition.

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Yankees thoughts despite the non-baseball weather

I worked from home today because of the Nor’easter that plowed through New York today. While working, I watched the Yankees face the Mets in sunny Port St. Lucie, which was quite the juxtaposition of weather. Opening day is merely 22 days away, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Anyway, here are few things on my mind regarding the Yankees:

  • Adam Lind had a 122 wRC+ last season, projects to be an above average hitter again this year, and yet somehow only landed a minor league deal with the Yankees. Of course, given the opt-out in his deal prior to spring training’s end, I’d be surprised if he spends any time in Triple-A this year. I’d bet that he has a leg up on Tyler Austin for that last bench spot.
  • Speaking of the bench, how it shakes out is not quite as clear now that Jacoby Ellsbury is banged up. It initially looked like the team would go with a four man bench consisting of Ellsbury, Austin Romine, one of Ronald Torreyes or Tyler Wade, and Tyler Austin. Ellsbury’s injury opens up a spot and the aforementioned Lind will be a challenger for Austin. Meanwhile, Clint Frazier‘s concussion probably will keep him out of the running for Ellsbury’s bench role, though Frazier might have wound up in the minors for regular playing time, anyway. Does this mean the door is open for Billy McKinney, who’s been red hot this March?
  • Aroldis Chapman was all over the place in his first outing. There’s no reason to make anything out of one performance in spring training, especially a season debut. He was almost certainly rusty and shaking off some cobwebs. There is a legitimate reason to be a little worried about Chapman’s performance, though. Remember, he lost his hold on the closer role late last summer. His strikeouts were down and he labored quite a bit. Fortunately, he finished the year strong, but I have a lingering concern about how he’s going to age after seeing him experience his first on-field difficulties of his career last year.
  • I haven’t written as much as I would have liked in recent weeks. Here’s the only other post I’ve done of late:
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Thoughts with Spring Training Underway

I have a few things on my mind now that Spring Training is in full swing:

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Yankees add Brandon Drury for infield insurance

You didn’t think they were actually going to play rookies at second and third base to start the season, did you? Tonight’s acquisition of Brandon Drury from Arizona all but assured that at least one of second and third base won’t be manned by a rookie to start the regular season.

Drury, 25, is a career .271/.319/.448 (95 wRC+) hitter in just over 1,000 plate appearances. He’s primarily a second baseman, though he has experience at third base and in the outfield. In all likelihood, Drury will be the Opening Day second baseman as the Yankees give Gleyber Torres some more time in Triple-A.

I’d rather have signed free agent Neil Walker, personally. All Walker would have cost is money, and although it’s not like they Yankees lost big time prospects in Nick Solak and Taylor Widener, I’m disappointed. Not because the Yankees got fleeced, as it seems like a reasonable exchange in a vacuum, but rather because Walker likely would be a superior player. I get that the luxury tax is an issue, but Walker wasn’t going to break the bank either. Indeed, Drury will play for only a tad more than the league minimum, which helps the Yankees pursuit of avoiding the tax.

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Per Heyman, Red Sox nearing deal with JD Martinez

The most obvious fit of the offseason is finally happening. The Red Sox desperately need power in their lineup, and assuming the two sides make this official, Boston’s offense will be much better than it was last year.

Prior to adding Martinez, what do the projections say about the Red Sox? Fangraphs pegged Boston for 92 wins, a higher forecast than the Yankees 90. That’ll change once they update the depth charts page. Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA standings have the Yankees far ahead of Boston before this free agent addition, at 97 wins to 88. That gap will close a bit once that’s updated.

Either way, the division race just got a lot more interesting. Martinez is going to feast at Fenway Park.

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Projecting the NASCAR Prospects

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This post is horribly off-topic from Pinstripe Pundits’ typical coverage, so feel free to ignore it if you don’t care about NASCAR prospects. But this is something I’ve been working on and wanted to publish somewhere as a one-off post. Pinstripe Pundits is that somewhere. 

For the past 3+ years, I have built and refined a stats-based projection system for baseball prospects: KATOH. KATOH appeared most prominently on FanGraphs, where I covered prospects until yesterday, when I stepped down to pursue another opportunity in baseball.

In what follows, I apply a similar methodology to NASCAR prospects.

I built a statistical model using historical data that attempts to forecast each driver’s total number of top-10 finishes over his first five Monster Energy Cup seasons. (I also tried to forecast wins, but found them to be much less fluky – and obviously rarer – than top-10s. Both of those traits make wins tricky to predict.) The model considers a variety of factors to arrive at these projections, including: level of competition, finishing position, crash frequency, age, quality of equipment and sample of races run. In addition to the point estimate for number of top-10s, I have also provided two percentages for each driver: (1) The odds that he or she will record at least 60 top-10s and (2) The odds that he or she will record at least one top-10. Continue reading

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Yankees prospects in KATOH’s Top 100, and those who missed

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Chris published his top 100 KATOH prospects on Fangraphs yesterday. Here are the Yankees that made the cut:

14. IF Gleyber Torres (8.9 WAR)

26. IF Tyler Wade (7.3 WAR)

62. RHP Chance Adams (5.0 WAR)

Torres’s rank is slightly lower than the consensus, but still excellent. KATOH has always been high on Wade, who is certainly a good prospect but not one who is a top prospect in scouts’ eyes. Opinions on Adams vary by publication, but clearly KATOH is a fan.

Some of the notable Yankees prospects who fell short in KATOH’s eyes: Justus Sheffield, Miguel Andujar, Estevan Florial, and Albert Abreu. Chris let me know each of their projections:

  • LHP Sheffield: 3.3 WAR
  • 3B Andujar: 3.2 WAR
  • CF Florial: 2.0 WAR
  • RHP Abreu: 0.9 WAR

So Sheffield and Andujar are in the category of “just missed”. Mauricio Dubon was the 100th ranked prospect per KATOH, and he had a 4.0 WAR projection, not far ahead of Sheffield and Andujar.

There are a few reasonable guesses to explain why KATOH isn’t as high on these four as others:

Pitchers tend to be riskier prospects, and KATOH accounts for this, hence the suppressed forecasts for Sheffield and Abreu. Both pitchers are currently more “stuff over results” prospects at this point, which also helps explain KATOH’s evaluation. Still, Sheffield’s projection is nothing to scoff at.

Andujar’s 3.2 WAR projection isn’t bad even though it didn’t make the top-100 cut. His 132 wRC+ paired with a low 13.6 percent strikeout rate was impressive in time with both Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton last year, and his power (.183 ISO) was solid to boot. However, it’s his defense that must be holding back the soon-to-be 23 year old’s projection. KATOH uses Clay Davenport’s stats for defense, and Andujar fared poorly per those metrics in the minors last year.

When it comes to Florial, the outfielder’s strikeout rate is the culprit. He went down on strikes 31.1 percent of the time last season with Single-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, which is troublesome. It’s hard to grade out highly from a stats-only model when you go down on strikes at such a high clip.

In all, having three top-100 caliber prospects from a stats-only model’s eyes is very good. Combine that with the young talent already in the big leagues that have graduated from prospect status, and things look even better.

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Will the Yankees open the gates early for batting practice this season?

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From the New York Post:

TAMPA — The Yankees will open the gates three hours before spring training home games, allowing fans to watch Aaron Judge and new teammate Giancarlo Stanton take their thwacks during batting practice.

This is progress, I guess. I’d like to see this done during the regular season, however. As it stands, you can only see the visiting team take BP at Yankee Stadium if you arrive early enough.

It would seem like a win-win to open the stadium early enough for the home team’s batting practice to be seen. Aside from giving the fans a greater opportunity to connect with the team, it also might aid with security lines and increase concession revenue, among other things.

The caveat is the moat blocking off fans from getting up to the dugout for autographs and photo opportunities. The legends seats section is cordoned off and cannot be accessed without a ticket even prior to first pitch, so even if the Yankees were to open the gates extra early during the regular season, most fans still couldn’t get the full experience. Unless they were to change that as well, of course.

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Report: Todd Frazier joins the Mets

Cross one third base option off the board: Todd Frazier has switched boroughs. He’ll suit up for the Mets next season. After joining the Yankees last summer in a trade with the White Sox, Frazier did a respectable job on the field while making a significant impact in the clubhouse. He’ll be missed in the Bronx.

As each day passes, and now especially with Frazier now unavailable, the likelihood of Miguel Andujar becoming the opening day third baseman increases. Andujar has plenty of upside, and has been ranked as high as 14th-best prospect in all of baseball, but is less of a sure thing in the short term. ZiPS is bullish on Frazier for 2018 and forecasts 3.5 WAR for the newest Met, whereas it projects 1.2 WAR for Andujar in similar playing time.

I’m disappointed that Frazier won’t return. $17 million for two years is quite team friendly. Even though the Yankees are striving to avoid paying the luxury tax this year, it’s not like this deal would have broken the bank. That type of deal wouldn’t block Andujar either should he force his way into a starting role.

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Reminiscing upon 1998

Embed from Getty ImagesRiver Ave. Blues just wrapped up its fantastic Retro Week that covered the Yankees’ 1998 season. As a seven year-old turning eight in September, I was still pretty young at the time and don’t have too many vivid memories of that year. I recall watching the Sportscenter before school to find out about the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and also remember watching McGwire’s 62nd blast, but my Yankees-specific memories are pretty limited.

I have three distinct memories from that year: two games I attended over the summer and the moment Tino Martinez hit his famed grand slam against Mark Langston in the World Series.

For Tino’s World Series blast, all I remember was jumping up and down on my parents’ couch. I was going wild, for an eight year-old.

I also remember sitting in the upper deck, third base side, at a mid-September game (for my birthday) against the Blue Jays on September 12th. I don’t remember any details of the game except that David Wells pitched. Pretty nondescript.

Out of everything in 1998, though, it was a game between the Yankees and Rangers on August 13th that I have the fondest memory of. Orlando Hernandez pitched and was magnificent, striking out thirteen batters while falling just two outs short of a complete game. I was sitting with family in the upper deck behind home plate, slightly off center to the left if I recall correctly. The gradually growing excitement of the crowd as each and every strikeout amassed was something I hadn’t yet experienced in person, which left a lasting impression. Reading this great piece about El Duque on RAB last week reminded me of that game, even though it wasn’t mentioned in that particular post.

I’ve seen the 1998 team’s highlights countless times and even remember one playoff moment well, but it’s still a random game in August that has stuck with me the most. I often wish that I was a little bit older at the time so I could have appreciated what was accomplished, but I’ll gladly take what I suppose I should call my indoctrination to a Yankee Stadium crowd.

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