Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Newsletter Excerpt, June 14, 2023 -- "AL East Notes"


This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider.

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New York Yankees

The big topic here in the city is how much longer the Yankees can stick with rookie Anthony Volpe at shortstop. Back on April 26, I wrote up Volpe and Gunnar Henderson, favorably contrasting the Yankees’ commitment to their rookie with how the Orioles were using theirs. Seven weeks later, though, that commitment starts to look like stubbornness.

Volpe, since that column, has hit .182/.226/.370. My fear that Volpe’s early-season walk rate would be cut down has come to pass -- he has a 50/8 K/BB in 164 PA since April 26. While he’s had some big hits, pitchers have challenged Volpe to beat them in the zone and won. His contact rate on pitches in the strike zone is 83.2%, roughly in the bottom quartile. I thought the problem would be fastballs, but in fact it’s the wrinkly stuff. Volpe is hitting .173 and slugging .307 against curves and sliders, while holding his own (.258 BA, .621 SLG) against four-seamers.

That Volpe has held onto his job -- he is tied for the AL lead in games played -- is in part a credit to how well he’s done everything else. He’s 14-for-14 stealing bases, and at least by Defensive Runs Saved he is a plus defender at short. (Statcast is less generous.) Perhaps more important is that the Yankees are playing at a 93-win pace and have more visible problems, like an $80 million injured list. Baseball Reference pegs Volpe as a one-win player so far, even with the .191 BA.

Still, his inability to manage the strike zone has gotten worse over time. Volpe has one walk in 30 June plate appearances, and just one walk in 54 PA dating to May 25. As with the Orioles and Jorge Mateo, the Yankees may have better options; Oswald Peraza, the odd man out this spring, is hitting .307/.377/.581 at Triple-A and is the one shortstop in the organization better with the glove than Volpe is. But for Volpe’s strong spring, Peraza would have been the starting shortstop on Opening Day.

I love the patience the Yankees have shown with Volpe, who has superstar upside, especially at shortstop. There are risks to sending him down, both short term and long term. Volpe’s complete loss of the strike zone, though, is an indication he needs a reset. It’s time to swap him for Peraza. The team can deal with a potential logjam up the middle -- Peraza, Volpe, and Gleyber Torres -- when it happens.