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Seven thoughts before the Yankees begin a nine-game homestand

An assortment of thoughts before the Yankees take on the Braves, including takes on Frazier, Stanton, and Paxton

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know about you, but Yankee Stadium sure feels like a sight for sore eyes. The Bombers are fresh off a seven-game road trip where they went 2-5. Yuck. Later tonight, the Yankees welcome the Braves to the Bronx. It should be a fun time, as Atlanta has an 11-7 record, and even without Ozzie Albies, and Mike Soroka, they have plenty of fun, young players. Ronald Acuña Jr. anyone? Before the game gets started, let’s go over a random assortment of thoughts.

1. The Yankees optioned Thairo Estrada to the alternate site following Sunday’s loss. The team hasn’t announced an official corresponding move yet, but the reporting suggests an imminent Clint Frazier call-up. The Bombers need a replacement for Giancarlo Stanton, and Frazier is available in Scranton. The 25-year-old outfielder hit the cover off the ball in summer camp, while showing off an adjusted stance that should maximize his explosive bat speed. He’s as natural a replacement for Stanton as it gets.

Bringing Frazier up on Tuesday will inevitably lead to two questions: 1) Why didn’t the team call him up when Stanton went on the IL, and 2) What about Miguel Andújar? Both answers have to do with logistics. The Yankees were in St. Petersburg playing the Rays, and Estrada was a member of the traveling party. The team just had to activate him to make him available. With a one o’clock game, it comes down to a matter of convenience.

As for Andújar, the Yankees optioned him on August 6. The earliest they could recall him, barring injury, is August 16. They used Estrada to replace the injured Stanton, so Andújar has to wait another six days. Just logistics.

2. The Yankees have to play Frazier every day now, right? They need to find out if he’s part of their future, or if he’s attractive to another teams in trade talks. They can’t do that by calling him up and having him ride the bench. Frazier has demonstrated that he can provide a jolt to the offense. Think of last April, when he hit .324/.342/.632 with six home runs (148 wRC+) across 73 plate appearances.

Frazier understood that this season would involve constant roster restructuring. “I think it’s pretty natural to let your mind wander to those areas. But something I’ve learned the last couple years is to stop trying to play GM. I have a role. I don’t know what that role is going to be and I guess as the season continues to unfold, we’ll figure out what all of our roles might be,” he told Kristie Ackert last month. “Hopefully it’s one that gets to play a big part and a consistent role if I earn it.”

Prior to the coronavirus shutdown, it looked like Frazier would get a chance as an everyday player with the injuries to Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Stanton. Now, he has an opportunity to take that role on again. The Yankees need to let him capitalize on it.

3. The Stanton injury frustrates fans, and that’s a natural reaction. He’s a force at the plate, and he single-handedly shifts the balance of power in the division when healthy. This hamstring strain represents his third leg injury in ten months. He suffered a quad strain in the ALCS, a calf strain in spring training, and now the hamstring. These are all running injuries, as opposed to the traumatic PCL sprain from colliding into third base last June.

While reading the comment section over the weekend, I saw a pretty interesting idea floated by Rorschach44. Essentially, Stanton only became a magnet for soft-tissue injuries after moving into the DH role. It makes sense when you think about it: instead of staying loose between innings by running in the outfield, he comes off the bench cold, then has to sprint the basepaths. Sprinters, football players, and athletes from across other sports can speak to the importance of keeping muscles warm. Sudden bursts of movement without proper warmup just begs for injury.

So, how could the Yankees correct this? They could consider stealing a play from the NFL’s books. If they want to keep Stanton away from the outfield, why not have him hop on a stationary bike between innings. He can pedal to keep his legs warms. The Yankees are at the forefront of innovation when it comes to training. A bike in the dugout might be the next big idea. Somebody drop this into Eric Cressey’s suggestion box.

4. James Paxton pitched six inspired innings on Sunday afternoon. For the first time this season, he looked competitive, even bordering on great. Paxton established his fastball early, hit his spots, then put batters away with a looping slider and a sharp knucke-curve. He registered double-digit strikeouts on the game, and that should have been the big takeaway. Paxton rebounds, news at 11.

But, instead, he came out to pitch the seventh inning, and the hard-contact followed: Double, pop out, home run, home run. Paxton entered the inning with a manageable pitch count, 77 through six innings, and that led Aaron Boone to keep the left-hander in the game.

“Felt like 85-90 (pitches) with Pax today was where we were comfortable going,” Boone explained to Brendan Kuty. “And then after he got the pop up of (Hunter) Renfroe for the first out after the double, I have to look back, but it looked like he made a decent pitch to (Mike Brosseau) got the head to for the two-run homer. And then I wanted him to face (Brandon) Lowe then for the lefty-on-lefty for his last hitter and Lowe got him.”

For such a progressive organization, this feels like backwards thinking. The Yankees shouldn’t be concerned with a starting pitcher getting his work in when a game’s on the line and the order’s about to flip over for the third time. Let Paxton throw in the bullpen after, and have one of the relievers come in to the game (Chad Green, Adam Ottavino, etc). Go for the kill against the division rival, and use one of the team’s biggest strengths. Constant pitching changes aren’t aesthetically pleasing, but the goal of the game isn’t to look good, it’s to win. Sticking with the non-Cole starters three times through the order isn’t the way to do that.

5. On the subject of the bullpen, it looks like Jonathan Holder has entered the Circle of Trust. The 27-year-old has appeared in five games (6.2 innings pitched) and has a 100% strand rate. It’s not like he’s using smoke-and-mirrors to get outs, either. His Statcast profile page has a whole lot of red:

Credit: Baseball Savant

In the early goings of 2020, Holder has turned to his changeup more often, using the pitch 30.2% of the time. This is probably a small sample size item, because his previous season high was 16.6% in 2018. But, it might be worth continuing to go to this well, because the pitch has a 36.8% whiff rate in 2020. Holder has a chance to fill in for Tommy Kahnle at the back end of the bullpen, and he might as well go all in and borrow his signature pitch, too.

6. Gary Sánchez, man, he’s had a rough start to the 2020 season. The Yankees’ catcher has gone 4-for-45 with one home run so far. That’s a .103/.222/.205 triple-slash, or a 30 wRC+. That’s a small sample size, of course, and Sánchez has incurred his fair share of injuries over the last few years. So, to get an idea of his offense over the course of a “regular season”, I turned back to May 29, 2018—which gives us a 162-game sample. In that span, he has hit .202/.295/.444 with 41 home runs (94 wRC+).

Sánchez still crushes the ball when he makes contact, as evidenced by his 91st percentile exit velocity in 2020. The problem in his profile is that he doesn’t make enough of that kind of contact, and he doesn’t balance that out by drawing walks. If he isn’t on one of his patented tears, he looks terrible at the plate. He’s really a boom-or-bust bust kind of player.

A lot of folks in our Twitter mentions have been on a “shoulda kept Austin Romine” kick, but that’s overreacting. If Sánchez maintains a 2020-level of defense, which is actually quite good, then he’s probably a top three catcher in baseball. Only J.T. Realmuto and Yasmani Grandal are obviously better. Romine enamored fans in New York, but contrary to popular opinion, he isn’t a great defender, and he offers nowhere close to the upside Sánchez does in the batter’s box.

7. We are exactly 20 days away from the 2020 trade deadline, and if you’re looking forward to action-packed few days of rumors and deals, I think you should start to lower your expectations. Alex Anthopoulos, general manager of the Braves, told reporters that he was engaged in the trade market following Mike Soroka’s injury, but he found it extremely difficult to line up on deals and find matches.

There are several roadblocks facing teams interested in making substantial trades. First, only individuals on a club’s 60-person player pool are eligible to get traded. That prevents lower-level players, some of whom can be attractive trade candidates, from getting included in packages. Teams also can’t scout farm systems like they used to, so the alternate sites are now trying to find ways to share video. An information asymmetry exists in any trade discussion, but this little knowledge might be a dealbreaker when it comes to big swaps. A slow trade deadline might be a good thing when it comes to the health and safety of all players, too.