Another week, another edition of the RAB Mailbag. This week we’re going to cover the Cy Young Award debate, Mariano Rivera benefiting from his reputation, Pat White, and a potential Colby Rasmus trade. If you ever want to submit a question, just use the Submit a Tip box under The Montero Watch in the sidebar.
Andreas asks: During the recent Cy Young discussions I asked myself if the run support (and therefore maybe the wins of a pitcher) changes the whole stats of pitcher: Take CC Sabathia for example, who normally gets a good run support (or just for the sake of the argument we assume that he gets it). Isn’t this changing the way he is pitching? For example trying to throw a lot more strikes, trying to avoid the big inning, getting lifted after 6 or 7 innings to keep his workload down, etc. Where on the other hand pitchers like Greinke who have to be perfect all time to grind out a one run victory for their team have a different approach pitching? At least in the later innings? So the question is: Do you think that the different approaches of pitching with a big lead compared to a close game affects a pitcher’s statistics?
This is the “pitching to the score” argument, which I’ve always found silly (that’s not directed at Andreas, just saying in general). Theoretically, a pitcher should always pitch the same way and try to give up as few runs as possible, but we know that doesn’t happen all the time. Like you said, guys will change their approach depending on what kind of lead they’re working with, and that will absolutely impact their statistics in some form. The question is how much, and I’m not sure that’s something we can quantify. For all we know, it might be completely negligible.
Let’s use Sabathia and Felix Hernandez as examples, since they seem to be the front runners for this year’s Cy. The Yankees have scored a total of 173 runs in Sabathia’s 30 starts, but the Mariners have scored just 95 runs in Felix Hernandez’s 30 starts. CC has gotten more starts with 6+ runs of support (14) than Felix has with 4+ runs of support (13). Just six times have the Yanks scored two or fewer runs for their ace, but the Mariners did it seven times in a row to Felix from mid-July to mid-August, and 13 times overall. Clearly, CC has had some more wiggle room to work with, enabling him to just throw strike after strike and not worry that every little baserunner might cost him the game.
So to answer the question, yes, I do think “pitching to the score” affects a pitcher’s statistics, though I just don’t know how much. If we can’t measure it, I don’t see the benefit of guessing at it’s impact and letting it affect judgments about awards, Hall of Fame votes, etc.
Anonymous asks: Does Mo benefit from his reputation these days when facing younger hitters? Obviously he still has great stuff so it’s not like he needs the help, but I was watching him against Travis Snider (the other day) and I thought that Snider must be thinking “I’m facing Mariano frickin’ Rivera, I have no chance here!”. How much does a pitchers reputation come in to play during at-bats?
Oh sure, a guy’s reputation definitely comes into play. Aside from the intimidation factor, there’s also pretty strong evidence that a guy like Mariano Rivera will get the benefit of the doubt on borderline strikes. Umpires favor the veterans for whatever reason, that’s why guys like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were able to work with a 22-inch plate later in their careers. It does work both ways though, if Barry Bonds didn’t swing at a pitch late in his career, then it was a ball dang it, because Barry knew the strike zone better than anyone including the umpire.
I’m not saying it’s fair, because it’s obviously not, but that’s the way it goes.
Matt asks: Hey just wondering if the Yankees still own the rights to Pat White? The Dolphins cut him :) if not, would he be a baseball free agent or enter the draft again? Also, what position does he play? Got a scouting report and upside?
The Yanks drafted White in the 48th round of the 2009 draft and it was a bit of a surprise because he hadn’t played baseball in so long. White was a big time prospect coming out of high school, but instead went the football route and never played baseball at West Virginia. It’s hard to argue with his decision, he got a deal worth $4.5M with $2.4M guaranteed from the Dolphins when they made him a second round pick two years ago. White wouldn’t see $2.4M in baseball until he reached the big leagues and probably hit arbitration for the first time.
Anyway, the Yanks do not still own his rights. Because he was out of college eligibility, they held his rights for a full year after drafting him, but they lost those rights at this year’s draft. White is now a free agent, able to sign with any team. He’s been away from baseball so long that it’s tough to imagine him making a successful comeback, but stranger things have happened. Here’s a snippet of Baseball America’s scouting report from 2004, when White was coming out of high school…
He has emerged this spring as the best athlete in the prep class. White is an explosive runner whose quick hands at the plate and power potential evoke Devon White comparisons, and his power/speed combination is unmatched in the state. He hit .487-12-48 with 26 stolen bases this spring. To see White’s power, scouts have to watch him take batting practice; his approach means it’s usually absent during games. He’s shown more polish than expected in center field, and may not make it out of the third round.
I’m sure that’s changed a whole bunch over the years, but that gives you an idea of what he once was.
Pablo and many, many more asked: I’d be interested to know how much you’d give up for Colby Rasmus, if you would trade for him at all. Personally, I would give the Cardinals the option of picking any three of Betances, Banuelos, Brackman, Romine, Heathcott. Is that too much in your view?
A dozen people must have sent this question or some variation of it in this week, and understandably so. Rasmus is one of the best young players in all of baseball, and that’s before you consider last night’s 4-for-4, two homer game that raised his season batting line to .276/.360/.514 (.370 wOBA). He and Tony LaRussa apparently had some kind of falling out that led to Rasmus requesting a trade and getting called out by Albert Pujols. Imagine if Alex Rodriguez did something like that. But I digress.
It looks like the two sides are headed for a divorce in one way or another. LaRussa and Pujols might not appreciate Rasmus’ abilities, but I’m sure GM John Mozeliak and the rest of the front office do, so I don’t expect them to just give him away to resolve the clubhouse conflict. The only absolute negatives in his game at the moment are his strikeout rate (32.3%, fourth highest in baseball) and his platoon split (.386 wOBA vs. RHP, .327 vs. LHP). It’s worth noting that Rasmus’ strikeout rate in the minors (22.6%) was tolerable, and that he showed a much less pronounced platoon split (.860 OPS vs. RHP, .826 vs. LHP). His struggles in those departments probably have more to do with him being a 24-year-old in the big leagues than anything else.
I’m not sure letting them pick any three of those five prospects would work, because I know I’d want a more established player in return for a guy like Rasmus. Would I do it? Yes, though I might ask them to take two pitchers tops, just for depth reasons. A Jesus Montero for Rasmus trade doesn’t appear to make sense for the Cards since they have Yadier Molina at the plate and Pujols at first, though maybe they go for it if they don’t believe they can re-sign Pujols after next season. That seems extremely unlikely though.
Both Erik Manning and Peter Hjort, people much smarter than I, ran some numbers on Rasmus, and came up with trade values of $40.6M and $48.1M, respectively. Let’s split the difference and call it $44.4M for simplicity’s sake. In terms of prospects, that’s equivalent to a boatload according to Victor Wang’s research, basically three players ranked on the back half of a top 100 list. So yes, the proposed three of five package does fit the bill, but like I said, I’d want established players, not unproven prospects for a guy like Rasmus.
Let’s start a package around Brett Gardner, since the Yanks would need to displace an outfielder if they acquired Rasmus and because he seems like a LaRussa kind of guy. I pegged his trade value at $53.3M a few weeks ago, but I was using different dollar values than Manning and Hjort. They used roughly $4.5M per win, mine was closer to $4.8. I probably overshot Gardner’s value a bit (in fact, I know I did), but just looking at it subjectively, you have two outstanding defenders in center (by reputation, UZR isn’t a fan of Rasmus in a relatively small sample) that both profile as high OBP lefthanded hitters. The difference is that one player uses his speed to steal bases, the other hits homeruns. Homers are far, far more valuable than stolen bases.
Frankly, if Gardner’s the starting point for a Rasmus deal and the Cards are open to it, I don’t see how the Yanks could pass. Rasmus is three full years younger than Gardner, and how much room for growth is there in Brett’s game? It’s very possible that what he is right now is what he’ll be for the next five years, and not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s easy to see how a player with Rasmus’ ability can be more valuable down the road. Even if they have to include someone like Ivan Nova, that’s a fine deal. He’s expendable the Yanks given their upper level pitching depth.
I will qualify this answer by saying that I fully expect this year’s outfield to return next season, and that Rasmus will be traded somewhere, just not to the Yanks. If I had to put money on it, I’d guess either the Red Sox or Rays get in on the action. We can still dream, though.