Thoughts after the season’s first ten games

  • All things considered, a 5-5 start to the season isn’t bad. The injury bug has struck, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez aren’t hitting, the bullpen has been shaky, and yet the team is .500. No reason to worry this early on, and if anything, it’s nice to see the Yankees treading water when a lot of breaks haven’t gone the team’s way.
  • I’m really looking forward to getting Aaron Hicks back in the lineup, which will allow Stanton to revert back to the designated hitter role. Stanton’s actually looked good in left field, better than spring training for sure, but I have a feeling that he’s going to be more comfortable in a hitting only role. I wonder if the adjustment to playing a new position, let alone playing for a brand new team, has contributed to his struggles.
  • Didi Gregorius wants to stay in New York, though no contract extension talks have occurred yet. I say: pay the man. He’s become a fantastic player and a core piece to this team.
  • The Red Sox are off to an 8-1 start and are 3.5 games ahead of the Yankees. The standings are the least of my concern right now, but it sure would be nice to put a licking on them this week at Fenway. Boston has played all of their games against the Rays and Marlins, two of the league’s expected doormats in 2018, so you can’t blame them for beating teams they are supposed to beat, but it sure would be nice to put an end to their fun.
  • Here’s what I’ve written for BP Bronx lately:
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OOTP 19 Review: It Gets Better

Last year I wrote a rave review of Out of the Park Baseball 18. Here’s how I introduced it:

Year after year, Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP) is the top simulation baseball game available. OOTP 18 is no different. The amount of depth is incredible; from being able to play historical seasons, manage every detail of one’s controlled organization, and having complete power over customization, there isn’t much one can’t do in this game.

On a yearly basis, OOTP is a reliably entertaining and immersive game that always feels like there’s nothing else necessary to add. Sure, some minor tweaks to AI always help improve the experience, but it’s almost impossible to come up with something that this game doesn’t have. That being said, the makers behind OOTP come up with new (and great) features anyway, and this year is no different.

Honestly, I could say the very same thing about this year’s iteration, OOTP 19. For a game that seemingly doesn’t have any more room for improvement because it doesn’t need anything else, the developers have found a way to make the game better this year. Thankfully, OOTP 19 isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. The developers of the game know what already works and wisely left the game’s core in place. Instead, the new features are a supporting cast that amplify what the game does best.

There are a handful of new features this year, but I want to focus on two of my favorite ones before briefly noting some others that intrigue me.

3D Enhancements

OOTP has had 3D gameplay in the past, but I must admit that I didn’t delve into it. I wasn’t interested in the pitch-by-pitch of each game, so watching a game unfold wasn’t for me. This year, I gave it a shot and I’m glad I did. Though the graphics that OOTP 19 features aren’t mind blowing, they add some depth that makes playing individual games appealing. Seeing 3D real-life stadiums, outfielders running down balls in the gap, and baserunners sliding into home all make venturing into an individual game much more worthwhile.

OOTP didn’t need to add this feature, as its hard core fans like myself are seeking realism in its simulation. Given that its sim-engine is already top notch, it certainly makes sense to see the developers branching out a bit more. And it works! As I noted, I’m not someone who is drawn to this type of gameplay in OOTP, as I usually just like to sim a few days at a time and see what happens. This year, however, I’m definitely planning to do more in-game managing, and the improved graphics and animations are the reason. It really adds to the text-based play-by-play.

I don’t think the screenshot I’ve included below does the 3D graphics justice. For one, it’s the Rogers Centre, which isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing ballpark out there in the first place. The developers did a nice job on Yankee Stadium, for what it’s worth. Ultimately, it’s important to emphasize that the graphics aren’t what makes this game excellent. That being said, they do add another element to a game that really didn’t need much work.

Rewritten scouting reports and player development graphs

In past iterations of OOTP, I mainly just focused on the raw scouting grades for players and prospects. There wasn’t too much qualitative information and there wasn’t a simple way to get an idea of any particular player’s development.

This year’s game is different. In the screenshot below of Gleyber Torres‘ player page, there’s a paragraph giving a brief scouting report. It’s accompanied by the scouting grades we’re accustomed to seeing, which is helpful. Sometimes it’s easier to understand what a player can be or currently is with some words, rather than just a number.

As you’ll also notice in the screenshot, there are graphs. They don’t show much yet, but that’s because I just started my game. As months and years go on in my game, the graph will display the progression in a concise way that wasn’t easily accessible before.

Other Additions

Those are just two of my favorite new things about this year’s version of OOTP. Here are a few others that have caught my eye that I haven’t had too much of a chance to explore yet, but are certainly welcomed:

  • Manual voting for end of season awards
  • Mutliple interface options
  • Improved internal ratings
  • Improvements to historical league data (e.g. splits, defensive ratings, and more)

Verdict

Once again, OOTP is a must purchase. I’m glad that the developers continue to stick with what makes the game shine while bringing in new additions that buoy its framework. What’s more is that OOTP is for everyone. With complete customization of how much control a player wants over its team and league, it’s not terribly overwhelming for a beginner to play. Meanwhile, it also caters to the player that wants to have power over every last little detail from top to bottom.

OOTP 19 costs $39.99 and is available on Windows, Mac, and Linux. You can download and purchase the game here.

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Aaron Hicks to the DL, Billy McKinney to take his place on roster

The Yankees have lost their starting center fielder, Aaron Hicks, just one game into the season. Not good, obviously. There’s no return timetable yet, but Hicks has struggled to stay healthy in the past and missed a decent chunk of time thanks to oblique issues last season.

I suspect that Brett Gardner will handle center field duties until Hicks returns or until Jacoby Ellsbury is ready, whichever happens first. In left field, we’ll probably see a mix of Giancarlo Stanton and rookie Billy McKinney. Pretty exciting opportunity for McKinney, eh?

Whenever McKinney gets into his first game, it’ll be his major league debut. The lefty swinging outfielder thrived after a promotion to Triple-A last season, posting a strong 140 wRC+ in 224 plate appearances. He showed some power this spring, hitting 5 home runs in 52 plate appearances.

In all likelihood, this would have been Clint Frazier‘s first chance for significant playing time in the big leagues this year. Unfortunately for him, his recovery from a concussion suffered in camp is still underway.

Losing Hicks is a tough pill to swallow. After breaking out last season, injuries derailed his second half. Hopefully this trip to the disabled list isn’t a bad omen for 2018. On the plus side, the team’s outfield depth is strong enough to weather the storm, especially once Ellsbury and Frazier are back to full strength.

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Thoughts after the first game

Can every game be like yesterday’s opener? That was a lot of fun. You really couldn’t ask for Giancarlo Stanton to have a better debut. I have a few things on my mind related to yesterday’s game:

  • I always defend John Sterling, but I just can’t get behind his Stanton home run call. It’s bad. I know his calls are contrived, but this one goes a bit too far. It’s not smooth and doesn’t roll off the tongue. Even Sterling couldn’t seem to articulate it. I hope he finds something else.
  • There was some thought to sticking a lefty bat between Aaron Judge, Stanton, and Gary Sanchez in the lineup, but I think yesterday’s order was just right. It’s not that putting Didi Gregorius or Greg Bird between any of them would be a break, but I’d rather force the opponent to run the gamut of the team’s three best hitters. In 15 plate appearances yesterday, the trio reached based 7 times, smacked 3 doubles, 2 homers (all Stanton, of course), and drove in 5 runs. Judge, Stanton, and Sanchez will be relentless all season long, and opposing pitchers won’t be able to pitch around them. Like Stanton said, I feel sorry for the baseballs.
  • Alright, enough on the offense. A quick take on Luis Severino: I thought he didn’t have his best command yesterday. It didn’t matter, of course. He struck out 7 Blue Jays in 5.2 innings, surrendered only 1 hit, and had a 7-2 groundout to flyout ratio. The three walks indicated that he wasn’t totally precise, and I thought that he got away with some pitches up in the zone. Nonetheless, his stuff is so nasty that he was able to avoid even a hint of danger. If that’s Severino without his best command, look out American League.
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How can 2018 be a successful season?

Embed from Getty ImagesOpening day is just over 24 hours away – finally! 2018 is easily the most anticipated Yankees season in recent years, as all but two seasons from 2013 through 2017 ended up with the Yankees missing the playoffs. Plus, none of those teams had high expectations entering those respective years. This year is different for the Yankees thanks to young stars like Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and Gary Sanchez along with the high profile addition of Giancarlo Stanton. Last year’s playoff run came as somewhat of a surprise, while this year a deep run is the expectation.

The old Yankees mantra is World Series or bust. Any season that doesn’t result in the Yankees hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy has usually been deemed a failure. In some years, it’s understandable to call such a result no good. In other years, 2017 being a prime example, the all or nothing approach isn’t a good barometer. 2017 was unequivocally a success for the Yankees thanks to the development of young stars and an unexpected championship push. 2018 has higher expectations, but does that mean a World Series victory is all that matters?

Depending on where you look, the Yankees are one of the World Series favorites. Fangraphs gives the Bombers an 11.0% chance to take home the title and Baseball Prospectus checks in at 11.5%, both similarly high marks. The Vegas Westgate sports book had odds as high as 6/1 last month, though 9/1 odds to win the World Series elsewhere seem more in line with Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus.

The biggest impediment to the Yankees chances of making the World Series, let alone winning it, will be the Astros. Last year’s champs knocked off the Yankees in an epic seven game American League Championship series and are the consensus favorite to repeat. They’re not alone, however, as the Indians and Red Sox will be tough opponents in the American League. If the Yankees manage to get through the top heavy American League, it’ll be tough to snuff out a team like the Dodgers, the National League favorite.

In other words, even though the Yankees have strong odds doesn’t mean we should be disappointed if they fall short of a championship. Obviously, it would be disappointing not to win it all, but if they make the playoffs and get knocked out in a competitive series, it would be hard not to consider the season a step in the right direction, especially considering the stiff competition they’re likely to face.

If the Yankees don’t take home at least one title by, let’s say 2020, I think we can talk about failure. With the core the team has in place, a deep farm system, and a stacked upcoming free agent class, it’s fair to expect the Yankees to break through and win it all in one of the next few years. That doesn’t mean this year has to be a championship year, as awesome as that would be. Is the goal to win the World Series? Of course. If at the season’s end that doesn’t happen, in all likelihood we should still be able to appreciate a pretty excellent Yankees team.

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Greg Bird to undergo surgery

Ugh. This likely means that Greg Bird will not be a big league option until late May. Unfortunately, injuries are nothing new for Bird, who seems to have some part of his body let him down on a yearly basis. His hitting ability is tantalizing, but he’s yet to prove he can stay on the field for an extended period of time.

In Bird’s absence, expect to see Neil Walker and Tyler Austin form a first base platoon. That duo should be solid and will help cushion the blow of losing Bird. This won’t turn out to be another Chris Carter and Rob Refsnyder situation.

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Thoughts with the regular season near

Regular season baseball starts this week! It’s about time. A few things on my mind with Opening Day just around the corner:

  • The Greg Bird news is a bummer. We’ll know more tomorrow, so cross your fingers. It’s hard not to be pessimistic knowing Bird’s injury history, that this current malady relates to the same issue as last season’s injury, and that he struggled this spring. Fortunately, the Yankees do have some depth to cover Bird for as long as he will be out. Neil Walker and Tyler Austin should be able to handle things at first base.
  • Speaking of first base, we found out that Miguel Andujar will be on an “80/20” plan in Triple-A, meaning that 20 percent of his playing time will be at first base. Don’t count on him being a Bird replacement option anytime soon, but maybe down the road if Bird’s out for an extended period.
  • One more point on first base: Rule 5 pick Mike Ford was just returned from the Mariners. He’s a stats over scouting report guy, but I think he’s pretty interesting nonetheless. For what it’s worth, ZiPS projects a 105 wRC+ for him. I doubt he gets a chance with the Yankees even with Bird out, but maybe we’re in for a surprise.
  • I got MLB The Show 18 over the weekend and have enjoyed it thus far. I’ve also gotten OOTP 19 and will be writing a review as soon as I can. I had great things to say about OOTP 18, last year’s version, and I expect to have more of the same for the latest.
  • Two things I wrote for BP Bronx since I’ve last posted here:
    • I compared the defensive prowess of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in left field. Looks like Stanton will be the choice when Brett Gardner is out of the lineup. I think Judge is better suited for left, but Stanton’s no slouch in the field, so it’s not a big deal.
    • I shared some mixed feelings about the Yankees’ future of third base.
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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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