Mailbag: Laird, Cano, Waivers, PitchFX

The Great What-If Scenario
Javy and the Red Sox

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.

The Great What-If Scenario
Javy and the Red Sox
  • JohnnyC

    The paucity of position player prospects at the upper levels (Montero notwithstanding)really stings for Yankees fans as Brandon Laird has been crafting his breakout season. He plays or could play positions which are blocked on the major league roster so that his best-case scenario is to be a twice-a-week super-sub. I think we all are disappointed that someone who seems to have a major league-ready bat will most likely be shopped actively this off-season.

    • Ross in Jersey

      I think you are overrating Laird a bit.

      As fans I think we have to keep in mind that having a prospect come up and instantly stick on a major league team is usually a very rare occurrence. There is no Jason Heyward in the Yankee system being stifled because his position on the major league club is blocked. Laird is having a great year, no doubt, but he’s also been in AAA for less than a week so I don’t see how you could say his bat is “major league ready”.

      We all like to think everyone having a good year in the minors could come up and contribute on the major league club, but that just isn’t the case. Will Laird’s value ever be higher than it is now? Then why not shop him?

  • pat

    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.

    Our cleanup hitting, gold glove CF was no slouch either.

    • Tom Zig

      Yeah it really is more of a core five. But since that doesn’t rhyme we have to brainstorm for something that fits.

      • Johan Iz My Brohan

        the ‘five jive’

        you heard it here first.

      • Chris

        Bernie was a little bit earlier, though. Bernie’s debut was in 1991. Derek, Jorge, Andy and Mo all debuted in 1995. How ridiculous is it that 4 potential HOFers all debuted in the same season with the same team?

  • Chris

    Cano’s career UZR at second is -30.5

    That number is somewhat misleading because he had a -21.5 UZR in his rookie season – so 2/3 of his negative rating came from one season 5 years ago.

    • tommydee2000

      I also don’t think that difference holds up in the next 5 years with Cano’s arm and range. He turns DP’s that nobody else does because he can “arm” the ball accurately. And I defy anyone to prove that Pedroia could have made that play going across 2B that Robbie did in Baltimore.

      Oh, but he “plays the game the right way”, the opposite of “lazy”.

      • Tom Zig

        I could be making this up but Pedroia unnecessarily dives for everything.

        • Stephen Dedalus

          Well, he’s not exactly blessed in the height department.

        • B-Rando

          You just can’t teach that kind of grit.

          • JoeC

            I totally agree. Not sure if UZR takes this into account, but Pedoria dives for everything, neccessary or not. He’s also 5’4 so he has to take more steps to his left and right to get to balls than a “normal” sized ballplayer. I still can’t comprehend how Pedoria’s agent let Theo offer him a contract at about 60% of what Cano was set to make.

      • Januz

        I happen to think that right now, Pedroia is the better player (And Chase Utley may be better than both). But you never know, it could end up being a repeat of the Jeter, Arod, Garciaparra, Tejada discussion of who is the best shortstop? As everyone knows, one is out of baseball, another is a platoon player, another will end up playing more games at a different position (And thus will end up elected to Cooperstown at that position), and of course, the last Shortstop standing is the one who will be elected as a Shortstop with 3,000 + hits & at least 5 Championship Rings.

        • Chris

          I think that all comes down to how you define ‘right now’. Cano is clearly having the best season of the three. Other the last couple years, Utley has proven to be the best. Looking forward to the next couple of years, it would come down to Cano or Pedroia (mainly because Utley is 4-5 years older).

        • Guest

          I think this raises an interesting question: Who had the better SS career, Arod or Jeter?

          By all accounts, Arod was the better defensive SS. Most likely, Arod will finish is career with more HRs as a SS than Jeter. Jeter will have played more games as a SS, had more hits, runs, etc. and of course is not likely to have been implicated with roids.

          But I think b/c of Arods extreme advantages in power and defense, the question of who had a better career as a SS between Arod and Jeter is still surprisingly close.

          Of course when you add in what Arod has done as a 3B AFTER being a SS, the question of who had a better overall career is not even close. (Now, you can choose to discount everything/a lot of what A-Rod did because of the PED stuff, but if you choose not to do that, A-Rod’s career performance >>>>>>> Jeter).

          • CS Yankee

            Arod WAR & talents >>> Jeter’s WAR & talents


            Jeter’s career >>> Arod’s career*
            *= professionalism, rings, women, grit, role model, etc.

            Arod will likely be the all time leader in dingers, salary, incentives, hookers (less Tiger), tabloid pictures, bad quotes, and children saved from traffic but I believe that most people (less this site of course) would favor Jeter.


            • Guest

              Hence why I wrote ARod’s career performance, emphasis on the performance.

              I personally believe that this means that Arod had a better career, but I know rings and perceptions of clutchitude mean way more to others than they do to me when it comes to judging an individual player. To say nothing of the roid thing. Consequently, I no doubt believe that the vast majority of people will believe Jeter had a better career than Arod.

              BUT the question who performed better over his career as a baseball player is not really in doubt. Jeter is an all -time great; but Arod has him beat on the career performance metric. By miles.

          • bexarama

            Jeter, IMO. WAR also backs me up. Of course, A-Rod’s had the better career, no question, and if he’d stayed at SS we might be talking about the greatest shortstop of all time (sorry, Honus Wagner). But he didn’t, so he’s just, you know, one of the best players in the history of the game as opposed to the best SS ever.

  • bottom line

    Laird’s value is not just as potential “super-sub.” He is the best option we now have if A-Rod goes down within nexct couple of years. I think this is likely. His diminished performance this year sugggests the hip is a factor and may–despite disclaimers -require further surgery. Good to have someone around who at least offers hope of packing some punch if A-Rod goes down. Who was the the last internally produced third baseman of Laird’s calibre Yanks have produced?

    We saw in last few weeks how hard it is to get a utilty infielder (or competent middle reliever) in trade. Really good to have young players under control as potential back-ups.

    • billbybob

      Laird may be able to get you something more valuable than a back up infielder. If his position is blocked then the Yankees would be wise to see what the can get for him when his value is at its zenith.

    • Mike Axisa

      Who was the the last internally produced third baseman of Laird’s calibre Yanks have produced?

      Drew Henson, who was far better than Laird. Don’t count your chickens…

      • CS Yankee

        Wasn’t it Eric Duncan?

        Whoever it was, they tried to move to 1B after Arod arrived to improve the Giambi shell-of-the-glove and they finally gave up on him & release him (this year?).

        • Mike Axisa

          Nah, Duncan never hit above A-ball.

          • CS Yankee

            Wasn’t he rated as the Yankees #1 prospect at one point though (maybe like in ’05)?

            What is Liard rated in the system, like 6th…or so?

            • Mike Axisa

              Yeah, BA had Duncan at #1 in I think 2005. Might have been 2004. I don’t think Laird was ever in the top 20, and I’m pretty sure he was off the list all together before this season.

          • Chris

            Looking at the stats, it doesn’t look like Henson did either. His best season above A ball was a .786 OPS in half a season at AA in 2000 (not counting his 5 games at AA in 2001).

            For his minor league career Henson had a .728 OPS while Duncan was at .722.

            I didn’t really follow them at the time, but looking back it seems like they’re not really that different.

      • vin

        According to B-R, Baseball America had Drew Henson as the 9th ranked prospect in baseball prior to 2002. As a 21 year old, he played 71 games in AAA in 2001. Here was his line:

        .222 .249 .367 .616

        281 ABs, 6 2bs, 11 hrs, 10 bb, 85 k’s.

        How could that qualify him as the 9th best prospect? Was there that much of a void in the minors across baseball back then? Or did BA completely buy into the hype? It’s not like he was crushing the lower levels, then hit a little lull like Montero.

        • CS Yankee

          He owned Tampa in 2000!

          …unless you don’t like SSS of 5 games

      • bottom line

        Really, Mike? Ridiculous to suggest Henson was “better” than Laird. Based on what. His QB rating?

        As I recall, Henson had one good minor league season and then quickly began to deteriorate. Yes, he was regarded as a comer early on, but he never showed the consistency of performance that Laird has.

        Besides, I’ve seen both of them hit and Laird simply has a much better swing. Why not suggest Bam-Bam Muelens while you’re out making outlandish comparisons. Yes, many thought Bam Bam was a potential star but they ignored his scarky K totals. Laird has always made pretty good contact. His walk rate should improve with thime. If Laird’s desfense is close to average, he’s going to be a very valuable player– especially as A-Rod works down the last seven years of his pension.

  • bexarama

    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.

    Yup. The Yankees could tank and finish last every year, therefore finishing first in the draft, and they’d probably never have something like the Core Four (and as someone pointed out, it’s really the Core Five) again. It’s not just high draft picks, it’s luck. For example, in the Tino deal prior to 1996, Seattle wanted Sterling Hitchcock, not Andy Pettitte.

    Now who knows, maybe if they trade Pettitte instead of Hitchcock, Hitchcock blossoms under the pitching coaches in NY while Pettitte never does much of anything or whatever. But the point is, luck plays an incredible part. That’s why I don’t get people whining about trades when a player traded for has an unexpectedly bad year. Sometimes luck works for you in baseball, and sometimes it works against you. The Yankees probably wouldn’t be where they are right now without the MASSIVE luck involved with the whole Core Five thing.

  • Mattchu12

    I have always envisioned Cano, Montero, Hughes, and Joba being a pretty impressive “Core Four” of the future.

    Cano and Jeter are great offensive, if average at best defense, middle infielders.

    Montero and Posada are known for their bats, not for their glove, catchers.

    Hughes could be a top of the rotation guy that leads us to multiple championships.

    Joba will never be Mo, but I used to think he’d be a good closer assuming that the Yankees never give him a shot at the rotation again.

    Overall, I’m not sure it will be as good of a Core Four. But I’ll be pretty happy if they were nearly as good.

  • Real World

    Cano a -30 UZR. That really does show how useless defensive metrics can sometimes be.

  • goterpsgo

    I’ve seem this claim a few times here and Google is mum on this question so I’ll ask it here… So why is a hit (single) is always better than a walk? If you get something more than a single or hit with a man or three on, sure – but wouldn’t a single (handled cleanly) with no one on have the same result as a walk? Now if you said a hit in general is always better based on the other potential benefits I can see that.