Hicks struggled over four seasons with the Twins and Yankees, but he's one of the best hitters in the majors so far in 2017.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Aaron Hicks leaned forward at his locker and asked teammate Didi Gregorius about his tweeting. He wanted to know about the 140-characters-or-less game summaries Gregorius has been posting on Twitter after Yankees victories. Instead of using Hicks’ name, Gregorius has been using a certain emoji.
“Hey, Didi,” Hicks said. “Who am I supposed to be?”
Gregorius, sitting nearby at a card table, laughed and put a look of pretend surprise on his face.
“Who are you supposed to be?” Gregorius asked, still pretending. “I mean, you’re Aaron Hicks!”
Hicks wasn’t letting him off the hook: “What’s my emoji?”
It was a good first quarter for the Rockies, Yankees, Nationals, and Diamondbacks.
In this space yesterday, I examined the four struggling teams that have seen their BP Playoff Odds drop the most through one-quarter of the season. Let’s flip things around now and look at the four teams that have seen their odds rise the most since Opening Day.
This season is old enough to know better, but some early hitting performances really stand out.
I know it’s still too early in the season to draw meaningful conclusions about much of anything because my beloved Twins have a winning record, but we are far enough along that only seven hitters with 100 or more plate appearances are beating their 90th percentile PECOTA projections by at least 200 points of OPS. Two of those seven, Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman, are great hitters off to especially strong starts, leaving five genuine, out-of-nowhere surprises among full-time position players. By the end of the season they may all have turned back into pumpkins, but in the meantime my curiosity is piqued.
On the third episode of DFA, Bryan and R.J. attempt to figure out which early season picher injury has hurt which club the most, talk about how the Yankees have managed to play better than expected, a Pittsburgh Pirate call-up from Single-A, and much more.
It's Baseball Prospectus's newest podcast: DFA! Host Bryan Grosnick (Baseball Prospectus), co-host R.J. Anderson (CBS Sports), and producer Shawn Brody (Beyond the Box Score, BP Mets) are talking about all the transactions and roster moves that make MLB go. From trades and signings to callups and disabled list stints, DFA is here to provide analysis and commentary on all things baseball.
On this episode, the guys rally their spirits despite a series of pitching injuries laying teams low. Cole Hamels is out for the Rangers, Corey Kluber is banged up, and even Hyun-Jin Ryu and Edinson Volquez have hit the 10-day DL in the past three days. So which team has suffered the most from a wounded wing? Then it's onto the surprising Yankees, who don't seem to be missing a step despite the recent injury to Greg Bird. Were their offseason acquisitions instrumental in building an AL East leader, or has it just been dumb luck? Plus, Shawn serves up more minor moves, including the beginning of the Kyle Kendrick era in Boston and a High-A catcher that somehow found his way to Pittsburgh.
The Yankees rookie isn't just about dingers and dives.
The Yankees have been a pleasant surprise so far this year. Yes, I know, I’m the guy who has written, more than once, that April numbers shouldn’t be trusted. And they shouldn’t. But they’re also irreversible. The Bombers ended the month 15-8, tied with the Orioles for the best record in the American League. Going into play Sunday, our Playoff Odds Report gave the Yankees a 51 percent chance of making the postseason. Only Houston, Cleveland, and Boston currently sport higher odds in the American League. That’s not bad for a team PECOTA expected to finish below .500 and in fourth place.
At what point do expectations cease mattering? And why is Tom Koehler part of this story?
Let me first say that I don’t know which advertising conglomerate came up with the idea that explains the omnipresent hand-wringing over Michael Pineda, and I wouldn’t thank them if I did—their actual intended result is so breathtakingly insulting to the intelligence of the general public that it cancels out any value of this incidental discovery. Nonetheless, a bit of wisdom is glinting off the surface of the cultural eyesore they brought into our world, so we might as well use it.
Surely, you’ve seen them. The commercials. There is apparently only one way to reinvigorate an automobile manufacturer’s brand, and that is to record a bunch of “normal people”—aka bad actors—acting very surprised that a car that meets the standards of their 30-second inspection could possibly be created by a brand they implicitly thought to be a terrible manufacturer of cars.
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After beating Dellin Betances in arbitration the Yankees added to the drama by going public with criticism of the star reliever.
The arbitration process sucks. It sucks for the team. It sucks for the player. The player, his agent, and key front office personnel go into a room where their lawyers and contractors argue why the player is worse or better than he initially appears. At the end of the day, three professional arbitrators who don’t necessarily have intimate knowledge of MLB player value decide between the player’s submitted salary number and the team's submitted salary number.
These decisions are almost always fitted on a player’s service time, past salary, and the closest comps based on antiquated box score-level stats like wins, saves, batting average, home runs, and RBI, as those stats are generally what the arbitrators understand. The process has been around long enough that there are almost always comparables. Because of this, groups like the Pace Law baseball arbitration team are able to project arbitration awards with stunning accuracy without even being in the room, and an annual national law school arbitration competition occurs with MLB’s system as the model. Often, this is all about a couple hundred-thousand dollars, a pittance in the overall budget of MLB teams.
The Yankees reached arbitration settlements with six of the players they tendered. The seventh was Dellin Betances, one of the best relievers in baseball, entering arbitration for the first time. The Yankees offered $3 million and Betances countered at $5 million. The Yankees are a "file-and-trial" team, which means once the arbitration numbers are officially exchanged they will no longer negotiate a one-year deal.
Economist Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors went a step beyond looking at cases individually and fitted a statistical model to project arbitration salaries across the league, since the comparables are so stable. Swartz’s model for relievers is pretty clear: saves get paid and holds don’t. Swartz also found that the arbitration panel hews so closely to past precedents that a player is unlikely to get more than $1 million beyond the previously highest-paid player for his role and service time, no matter how much better he was than that past comparable. Swartz’s model is generally well-regarded and projected Betances’ median arbitration award at $3.4 million for 2017, far closer to the team filing than the player filing. It’s no surprise that the Yankees won the case, no matter how unfairly light that $3 million number may seem at first glance.
I suspect nothing further would’ve happened here except perhaps a generic disappointment quote from Betances, but then Yankees president Randy Levine went to the media. You certainly wouldn’t be reading about it here on BP—across town, Wilmer Flores’ arbitration victory over the Mets floated through the papers as a couple of sentences in a pre-spring training slice of life story, garnering no major regional or national attention.
Why Levine chose to go after Betances in the media after winning is a question only Levine himself can answer. Arbitration proceedings are often rancorous. It often puts the team in a position where it has to trash its own player for financial advantage, pointing out things like how slow he is to the plate. Occasionally these things boil over; Jerry Blevins’ arbitration win over the Nationals in 2015 was reportedly a factor in his trade a few weeks later to the Mets. This proceeding was apparently particularly bad, but again, the Yankees won.
Can the Yankees shortstop repeat last year's unexpected power surge?
We’ve long recognized Didi Gregorius as a deft hand in the field. The question was always how much he would end up hitting. It’s a question that wasn’t asked too often, given the low baseline for meaningful contribution, set cleat-high due to how good he was at one of the most difficult positions.