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Yankees Mailbag: Aroldis Chapman, luxury tax, and sliders

The answers to this week’s mailbag are here.

MLB: ALCS-New York Yankees at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning and happy Friday! We have five questions in today’s mailbag. Don’t feel bad if yours didn’t get answered; there were a ton of submissions this week. Just keep sending questions in to our weekly call or by e-mailing them to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Kyle Ren asks: Any particular reason why Chapman decided to throw two straight sliders to Altuve? Wouldn’t he have been better to paint the corners a little with fastballs, especially since he got a strike with the first slider?

Aroldis Chapman’s sequence to Jose Altuve continues to bother me. He missed wildly with two fastballs, so I don’t think he could just paint the corners. But he stole a strike with an okay slider, and at that point he should have gone back to the heater. Instead he got beat on the worst version of his secondary pitch.

By the time he got to 2-1 on Altuve, Chapman was clearly flying open in his delivery. The Yankees should have called a mound meeting to give him a breather, an opportunity to slow down and focus on his mechanics. Instead he gave up the season-ending home run. What a frustrating and avoidable turn of events.

Nathan asks: My question is about the whole luxury tax situation from a few years ago. The Yankees got under it, and most people expected the team to go back to their free-spending ways, but it hasn’t been that way. Is it safe to say that this team likely won’t ever go back to being the big spenders, blowing other teams away? Isn’t that the Yankees’ true competitive advantage?

After resetting their luxury tax penalties, the Yankees did go back over the threshold this year. The team just allocated their resources among several moderately paid players (DJ LeMahieu, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, J.A. Happ) instead of one or two marquee imports.

It’s unclear, however, if the Yankees will go big-game hunting again in the near future. Hal Steinbrenner says he’s willing to blow past the luxury tax barriers for the right players, but he has yet to walk the walk. This winter will give us the clearest indication of the team’s approach, especially with the looming free agency of Gerrit Cole. They can either flex their financial muscle and reel in the marquee free agents, or they can continue to operate as a middle-market team. We’ll see.

The Gregorius B.I.G asks: Do the Yankees really have a problem with laying off sliders out of the zone? I see this complaint constantly around here, but I suspect this is a universal condition in MLB, what with the rising strikeout rate and the low-and-away slider being a classic put-away pitch. How does the Yankees’ O-Swing% on sliders compare to the rest of the league?

Fun! This probably deserves its own article, but I’ll try to give you a quick and dirty answer for now. A dig through Statcast revealed that the Yankees whiffed on sliders down and away at an 89.6% clip. That’s worse than in 2018, when they cut on and missed at 87.7% of those pitches. If you go back to 2017, the rate drops to 86.8%. So, they have regressed each year.

Context is important, though. The entire league struggles on those pitches. The Red Sox, for example, whiffed at 81.9% of sliders down and away in 2019. I’ll have to take some time to go over yearly trends and find out where the Bombers fall in relation to the rest of the league. Great question.

For reference, I used zones 29 and 39 as my guides in determining down and away.

Baseball Savant

#UsetheOpener!!! asks: With Judge and Sanchez entering arbitration for the first time, should the Yankees direct their efforts towards extending them this offseason?

This winter screams extension season for Aaron Judge. MLB Trade Rumors projects him to earn $6.4 million in his first year of arbitration. The Yankees have made it clear they see Judge as the face of the franchise, so I expect them to try to avoid an arbitration hearing at all cost. They also know that his future arbitration paydays will skyrocket, assuming he stays healthy. I wouldn’t be surprised if extending Judge ranks near the top of their offseason priorities.

I can see them trying to extend Gary Sanchez, too. MLB Trade Rumors expects the backstop to pull in $5.6 million during his first trip through arbitration. The organization loves him, and while he may run hot and cold, quality catchers are tough to come by. They get expensive fast, too. The Bombers may see this as an opportunity to lock in Sanchez at a cost-certain rate, not unlike Aaron Hicks and Luis Severino.

PJ asks: What will the Yankees do if Jacoby Ellsbury shows up for spring training ready to play?

At this point, with the Hicks injury news, I think the Yankees would have him play center field. That said, they do not see that as an option. “Right now he’s not in a position health wise,” Brian Cashman said of Ellsbury to reporters yesterday.