Mailbag: Laird, Cano, Waivers, PitchFXBy
Another week has gone by, so it’s time for another mailbag. This week we’re going to talk about Brandon Laird and his future role with the Yankees, the great Robbie Cano vs. Dustin Pedroia debate, replacing the … ugh … Core Four (hate that term, why do we have to come up with nicknames for everything?), waiver trades, and PitchFX. If you want to send in a question, and I highly encourage you to do so, just use the Submit A Tip box under The Montero Watch in the sidebar.
Kevin asks: If the Yankees can get Brandon Laird to fake it in the corner outfield spots, could he become Eric Hinske 2.0 for the team?
There’s two big differences between Laird and Hinske. The first one is obvious; Laird’s a righthanded batter, Hinske’s a lefty. It might not sound like much but it is significant, especially when he would be calling the New Stadium home. Being a lefty batter opens up more possibilities for platoon situations and matchups and all that. The right side of a platoon always gets the shaft, that guy gets about a third of the playing time or so. So right off the bat, Laird’s at a disadvantage.
The other difference between the two is plate discipline. Laird’s career high in walks is 40, which he set with Low-A Charleston in 2008. He’s at 38 right now, so he’ll assuredly eclipse that total this season. Meanwhile, Hinske never walked fewer than 40 times in his minor league career, and he did that as a 20-year-old playing 74 games in a short season league. Hinske’s career minor league IsoD (Isolated Discipline, it’s just OBP minus AVG and tell us how much a batter gets on base on something other than hitss) is .095, Laird’s is .058.
Remember, plate discipline doesn’t just mean taking walks, in fact that’s just a byproduct. The real advantage of being disciplined at the plate is getting in favorable counts and better pitches to hit, because a hit is always better than a walk. Hinske has a significant advantage in that department compared to Laird, who is known for his power, not necessarily his eye.
Getting back to the question, yeah, I think Laird can be some kind of super sub for the Yankees, filling in at the four corner spots. How valuable is that though, when he’ll get maybe two starts a week? If that’s his ultimate ceiling with the Yanks, which is very possible considering the players entrenched in those spots in the big leagues, then his biggest value to the team is as a trade chip. Don’t keep him around to come off the bench, trade him while his stock is high and maximize the asset.
Steve O. asks: In my conversation with Angelo the other day about Cano vs. Pedroia, it got me thinking that although Pedroia benefits a lot from Fenway, he is still an outstanding player. My question is: considering all factors including offense, defense, age, contract, etc, who would you rather have: Robinson Cano or Dustin Pedroia (the latest injury notwithstanding)? I would stick with Cano, but the gap between the two players isn’t as big as some people make it seem. Thanks guys. Excellent job with the mailbag.
Well, age isn’t much of a factor here, just to get it out of the way. Cano is ten months older, which isn’t all that significant. I wouldn’t consider that a dealbreaker or anything.
Obviously they’re different players offensively. Cano is a super high batting average/over the fence power guy, Pedroia is more of an on-base/gap power guy. It’s absolutely true that Pedroia benefits from Fenway Park (career .385 wOBA at homer, .341 on the road) while Cano hits wherever you stick him (.353 at home, .356 on the road). I’d feel more confident about the Yanks’ second baseman going forward offensively.
It’s not all that close on defense, however. Cano’s career UZR at second is -30.5, Pedroia’s is +24.6. Robbie has definitely improved over the last few years, and the numbers bear that out, but he’s still not on Pedroia’s level. Is it enough of a difference to make up the gap in offense? No probably not, because you can’t make the other team hit the ball to second. You can guarantee a player three plate appearances per game though.
Pedroia is signed for the next four years at a total of $33.5M while Cano was/will be paid $54M over that same chunk of his career, though that would require a pair of rather expensive options to be picked up by the Yanks in 2012 and 2013. It’s not fair to compare the contracts since each player signed their extension at different points of their career and in different economic climates. Obviously Pedroia’s a better bang for the buck, no disputing that.
I think that through their prime seasons, basically age 27-32 or so, they could both average around 5.0 WAR per season, perhaps a bit more. I’d feel safer with Cano though, since the game comes much more naturally to him. You don’t have to worry about him throwing out his back with a giant from the heels swing. They’re both excellent, excellent players and I would happily take either on my team, I just feel more comfortable with Cano going forward. Perhaps that’s my bias, but too bad, it’s my site and you asked.
Corey asks: Do you think we’ll ever see a “Core Four” that has meant so much to the Yankees in our lifetime?
I do not. We’re talking about a Hall of Fame shortstop, a borderline Hall of Fame catcher, a borderline Hall of Fame starting pitcher, and the greatest reliever to ever live. What they’ve meant to the team, both on the field and off it, is something that I can’t ever see being replicated. We’ll see great cores in the future, no doubt, but nothing like that. Hell, Nick Swisher, Robbie Cano, CC Sabathia, and Phil Hughes is a rather fantastic “Core Four” as well, and we’re still leaving out Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
But those four guys doing what they did for that long and at those positions … I can’t ever see it being done again. If Brian Cashman or any future GM tries to replicate that success, he’s wasting his time. We’re talking about a monumental amount of luck for four players of that caliber to come up with the same team at the same time.
Anonymous asks: Could you explain the process of waiver trades?
After July 31st, any player on a 40-man roster has to go through trade waivers to be traded. Minor leaguers not on the 40-man roster are home free. These trade waivers are completely revocable, meaning if another team claims a player, his original team can pull him back and keep him with no consequence. You can put up to seven players on waivers per day, and every team will put basically their entire roster on waivers in August. Part of it is to hide players. If the Yanks are interested in dealing say, Brett Gardner, and his name popped up on the waive wire with six other Yankees, no one will figure out what’s up.
Anyway, once a player goes on waivers, one of two things happens: he either gets claimed, or he goes unclaimed. If he goes unclaimed, the team is free to trade him to any other team out there. If he’s claimed, then they can only trade him to the team that claims him, that’s it. If they try to put the player through waivers again, they are irrevocable, meaning the claiming team gets him (and his entire contract) no matter what. When the White Sox claimed Alex Rios last year, the Jays could only trade him to Chicago, but they decided to let them take the player and the full $50M+ left on his contract instead. They also had the option to pull him back and keep him.
I’m terrible at explaining things, so here’s another primer that explains the process better than I did. That’s probably easier to understand. Just remember, a player has to be on the 40-man roster before Sept. 1st to be eligible for the postseason roster.
HyShai asks: Two questions: 1) Who does the pitch selection and location on Pitch Fx and Gameday, is it a person or computer? It seems near impossible to tell the location of a pitch unless you’re standing right there (with the angles of the cameras being off centered). How would a computer get the location correct?
This article explains it well, but basically it’s a series of cameras that take high speed photographs of the ball in flight, and those are used to calculate things like velocity, acceleration (or really, deceleration), spin angle, all of those nerdy physics’ properties. That can then be used to calculate trajectory, horizontal and vertical movement, break, etc., and then that is used to classify the pitches. There are mistakes, but not as many as you think. The classification has been improving each year as they work out the kinks as well.
I’m not sure how exactly the system determines the location of the ball out in space, but I assume it uses some kind of reference point and measures off that. MLB Advanced Media is responsible for collecting all the data, which you can find here.
2) It seems that a huge part of a pitcher’s success is how well he hides the ball in delivery (CC supposed to be great at this), and there is no method currently used to measure this, statwise. Is there something in development? Maybe measuring at how many feet the batter picks up the ball etc. Thanks.
Deception is definitely a big part of a pitcher’s success. The later a batter picks up the ball as it’s being pitched, the less likely he is to hit it. CC Sabathia is good at this because he has that little hesitation with his arm behind his body before he goes to the plate. J.A. Happ is another guy known for having a ton of deception in his delivery. Ivan Nova is on the opposite end of the spectrum, he’s known for having very little deception in his delivery, making it easier for batter to pick up the ball out of his hand.
I’m not sure how this could be measured statistically, but I’m sure someone has/will try. Perhaps you could look at each pitch individually and measure the amount of time between when the instant when you can clearly see the white of the ball in the pitcher’s hand and the instant when it crosses the plate or something. This would be very interesting to see, but the general rule of thumb is the longer you hide the ball, the better.