LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Babe Ruth, Roger Maris and Giancarlo Stanton are the only players not connected to steroids to hit 59 home runs in a season. Now Stanton wants more, and he knows that his new home park, which helped lefthanders Ruth in 1927 and Maris in 1961, should help him get to 60 and beyond–to what he called “crazy numbers.”
Righthanded batters hit 156 homers last year at Yankee Stadium (second only to Oriole Park), 33 of them by Aaron Judge, an all-time city record. Just as Fenway Park rewards lefthanded hitters, Stanton knows that Yankee Stadium rewards righthanded hitters by encouraging them to stay on the ball longer, knowing that they don’t have to hit the ball especially hard to get it out to the opposite field. Righthanded batters hit 109 homers at Marlins Park, more than a quarter of them by Stanton (31).
“To get it out at Marlins Park you have to crush it and you have to get it up in the air,” Stanton said after his introductory press conference Monday. “Knowing that, it can affect your swing and your approach. There are no cheapies.”
I reminded him how Judge took advantage of home runs to rightfield at Yankee Stadium last year. Judge hit 12 home runs to the right of centerfield at home; Stanton hit only five such homers at home. When Judge is going well, he stays on the ball longer– not opening up too soon, as pitchers stay away against him–and hits the ball hard up the middle and the other way. Overall, Judge slugged 1.049 when hitting the ball the other way, second among all righthanded hitters, to J.D. Martinez.
“Knowing you don’t have to crush it to hit it out, that’s huge,” Stanton said. “I don’t mind the cheapies at all. I’ll take ‘em. That’s how you get to the crazy numbers. You mix in a few cheapies. I’m looking forward to it.”
Yankee Stadium, in its original form and in its remastered version, is known as a lefthanded hitter’s park because of the short porch in rightfield. But since the new version took out the curvature of the wall in rightfield, reducing the distance in the gap, it has become friendlier to righthanded hitters.
The late Gene Michael liked to say that to win in Yankee Stadium you need lefthanded pitching and lefthanded hitting. That’s no longer the case. The Yankees have only three lefthanded pitchers on their 40-man roster (Aroldis Chapman, Jordan Montgomery and Chasen Shreve). The have the most righthanded power since the 1999 Rockies–and it’s all good. Stanton, Judge and Gary Sanchez (five rightfield homers at Yankee Stadium, four of them in that shortened gap) all have not only elite power, but also the ability to flip pitches away into the near seats in rightfield even when they don’t hit it square.
Maris’ 61 homers in 1961 are not the record, but to many people, including Stanton, it’s the most meaningful threshold in this age of drug testing. Stanton will make a run at smashing it, not just breaking it, if Yankee Stadium gives him not only a few cheapies, but also encourages him to stay with a better approach at the plate–staying on the ball longer.
Now it can be told: Yu Darvish was tipping his pitches in losing his two World Series starts against Houston.
According to a Houston player, the Astros often knew what Darvish was about to throw by the way he brought the ball into his glove in the set position. (Darvish pitches exclusively out of the stretch.) The player said it worked like this: Darvish holds the ball at his side when he gets the sign from the catcher. Whether he re-grips or not as he brings the ball into his glove was the tip-off whether he was going to throw a slider/cutter or a fastball.
“We knew the first time we faced him [in Game 3],” the player said. “The next time [in Game 7] it was mostly the same, but then it was more about just having a great game plan going in. We knew he was going to try to go back to his slider to find it. We had a great approach.”
Darvish did not make it out of the second inning in either start. He threw 48 sliders and cutters to Houston hitters in the World Series. They swung and missed only twice at them while hitting .556 against the pitch.
Is the six-man rotation about to go mainstream?
One of the side stories of the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes was how teams were willing to at least consider a six-man rotation to accommodate Ohtani’s transition from Japan, where he was accustomed to pitching every six or seven days. The Angels, the sweepstakes winners, may indeed wind up with a six-man rotation, especially with so many pitchers with health concerns. The Texas Rangers also are considering a six-man rotation. The Indians used a six-man rotation during their American League record 22-game winning streak last year. The Giants, Padres, Phillies, Braves and Dodgers all fiddled with six-man rotations at times last year, especially at the end of the season, when pitchers show fatigue.
The six-man rotation is the natural next step in the growing emphasis on recovery. As velocity has gone up (and as the size and importance of bullpens have grown), teams are much less likely to pitch their starters on what used to be “regular” rest–pitching them by force of habit on the fifth day with four days of rest.
Last season pitchers made only 46 percent of their starts on the fifth day, the lowest percentage in the history of the five-man rotation. That was down from 52.3 percent just 10 years earlier.
The 2011 season marked the first time that pitchers made less than half their starts on “regular” rest, and that percentage has continued to trend downward since. You won’t see many teams commit all year to six-man rotations, but you’re likely to see more teams use it during certain intervals of the season. It shouldn’t be a big deal.
Years ago teams talked about how pitchers from Japan would have to adapt to the American style of pitching. But over time, and as the game moves closer to the Japanese model, teams are more likely to tread carefully with pitchers making that transition. You can see that below in the percentage of starts made on four days of rest by noted pitchers from Japan in their first year in the majors. (Because Hideki Irabu pitched a partial season in his first year, his first full season is used.) It would be a shock if Ohtani makes even 40 percent of his starts this year on the fifth day.
First-Year Starts in MLB
Starts on Four Days of Rest
So who plays rightfield for the Yankees, Judge or Stanton? Both, according to manager Aaron Boone. The new Yankees manager said he does not mind moving outfielders among positions, rather than setting on fixed positions. Both could also rotate through DH to get a measure of rest. “We’ll look at it and see what’s best,” Boone said. “We’ll take a few months with it. The good thing is it’s a non-issue with the players. They don’t mind.” … The latest evidence that it pays to be a reliever: Brandon Morrow. He went to spring training in 2016 and in 2017 on minor league contracts, posted a 7.20 ERA in the minors for two months last year, and just seven months and less than 50 innings later gets $21 million over two years from the Cubs. Why? Switching from the rotation to the bullpen, Morrow saw his velocity jump at age 33 from 94.7 to 97.8, a career high, he stayed healthy, he stopped throwing his split-change, and he learned after trying to keep his fastball down all these years to throw it at the top of the zone, as just about every reliever from the Dodgers did. Here’s how much the game has changed: Morrow, coming off less than 50 innings, gets about the same contract as last year went to Edinson Volquez, a classic innings-eater who had made 30 starts five straight years.
Teams continue to jump out after veteran relievers (Morrow, Luke Gregerson, Yasmeiro Petit, etc.), while home run hitters must wait around while their market continues to crater … MLB has made almost no progress on getting the players association to come around to the (bases empty only) pitch clock. The talks are likely to linger until the start of spring training games, which looms as a soft deadline. If the two sides cannot reach an agreement, MLB is likely to exercise its right to unilaterally implement the change. The concept of getting a limit on mound visits, however, has gained more traction with the union … The Padres’ interest in Eric Hosmer and Carlos Santana is interesting on several fronts. Not yet ready to contend, San Diego could be looking for its Jayson Werth, a surprise sign that is ahead of the team’s winning curve. It also signals a willingness to move Wil Myers back to the outfield. Mostly, it’s surprising because those are two big-ticket first basemen. The Padres never have handed out a contract more than the $83 million they gave Myers in a five-year extension.
Congratulations to Jack Morris, the last true workhorse, and Alan Trammell, the kind of player the late Sparky Anderson called “a manager’s dream,” on their election to the Hall of Fame. The fame part is especially important in regards to Morris. He changed baseball history by way of not just Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, but also as the staff ace for three world champions, each for a different franchise. Mostly, it was his ability to take the ball deep into games start after start and year after year that set him apart. Since the AL adopted the DH in 1973, nobody has taken the ball through the eighth inning in the league more often than Morris (248), and it’s hard to imagine anybody will.