Sep
20

Baseball Prospectus on the 1996 Yankees

By

Going back to a time when this happened a bit more frequently. (Photo via SI.com)

The fine folks at Baseball Prospect put their entire 1996 Annual online over the weekend, and it’s free for all to see. You don’t need a subscription to see the 28 team sections (no Devil Rays or Diamondbacks yet!), complete with overviews, player comments, and projections for the 1996 season. I think it goes without saying that it’s amazing to look back and see what was being written about some of these guys, even moreso when you consider everything we know now. Hindsight can be an amazing thing.

Given his recent historical accomplishments, I think it’s only fair that we start with Mariano Rivera, who was just a 26-year-old kid with a 5.51 ERA in 67 career innings at the time …

Skinny swingman who has good control of the corners of the strike zone. His K rate seemed to jump up a little as of late, and if that’s development rather than a fluke, this kid could really be something special. Looks way too skinny to be durable, but you never know.

Unfortunately the annual did not provide a projection for Rivera, but I highly doubt it would have come close to what he actually did that year, a 2.09 ERA with 130 strikeouts and just 34 walks in 107.2 relief innings. He’s still way too skinny, but the durability thing proved to be a complete non-issue.

Of course, Mo was not even the most highly touted Rivera in the organization at the time. Ruben Rivera, Mariano’s cousin, had just been ranked as the third best prospect in the game by Baseball America before the season (behind Andruw Jones and Paul Wilson), and BP loved him just as much as BA…

I don’t know anyone that doesn’t think this guy’s going to be nearly as good as the hype. You may include me in that bunch. Steady improvement, 22 this year, will take a walk, and hits the snot out of the ball.

The projection suggested immediate impact, a .269/.333/.440 batting line with 20 homers and 26 steals (in 31 attempts) in 561 at-bats as a 22-year-old. Rivera actually beat the triple-slash projection (.284/.381/.443), but he only got 106 plate appearances across two stints with the big league team. He was traded to the Padres in the Hideki Irabu swap after the season, and famously flamed out without ever delivering on that promise.

What about Derek Jeter, then  a lanky 21-year-old that only got the full-time shortstop job because Tony Fernandez got hurt in Spring Training?

… most definitely the real thing. Does everything well except walk, and he’s shown flashes of doing that for a few weeks at a time. Will win an AL batting title right around the turn of the century or so, and twenty years from now, people will be arguing over whether or not he or Rodriguez was a better player.

Jeter never won a batting title, but he came damn close a number of times. He blew his projection (.301/.355/.396 in 515 at-bats) right out of the water (.314/.370/.430) en route to the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Now let’s look at this Rodriguez character they mentioned in Jeter’s write-up…

The Natural. Piniella should just put him out there and leave him alone. If he does, this kid will hit like a banshee, be amazing in the field and the mainstream media will praise Piniella for giving him seasoning during 1995 … I can’t advise Seattle fans to hire a sniper if Felix Fermin or one of his clones is run out to SS next year that would be wrong.

I like that they listed A-Rod’s position as “SS/Deity.” His projection: .282/.335/.450 with 21 doubles and 24 homers in 588 at-bats. His actual production that year: .358/.414/.631 with 36 homers and a league-leading 54 doubles as a 20-year-old. Twenty! Alex would have won the RoY in a landslide if he hadn’t racked up too many at-bats the year before. Don’t take this as a knock on the projection system, A-Rod really is that damn good.

Of course, they didn’t like everyone in the annual. Check out Jorge Posada’s capsule…

There are worse catching prospects…in front of him on the depth chart.

Ouch. This was still two years before Posada took over as the full-time catcher, displacing Joe Girardi. The same Joe Girardi that got trashed a few pages prior…

When I spellchecked this document, one of the potential replacements for Girardi was “giardia”, an infection often caused by the accidental ingestion of bacteria from beaver feces. But anyway this organization has the chutzpah to lose Mike Stanley, arguably one of the top two or three catchers in the AL, replace him with this out with a pulse, and call it “improvement behind the plate.” On some level, you have to admire the gall. A truly execrable hitter.

The projections had Girardi at .258/.301/.327 for 1996, well below the .296/.346/.371 he actually hit that year. In fairness, Joe was a .269/.315/.349 hitter in over 2,000 career plate appearances coming into that season.

As fun as the player capsules are, the team write-up took the team to task for the way it was being run and painted a grim picture for the future…

Of course, all this is just the ceremonial whining before the team threatens to move, extorts the local taxpayers and builds a new stadium/movie theater/tanning booth. So we’ll let that one ride for now. How about personnel moves? “We’re very proud to add Darryl Strawberry and Ruben Sierra to the Yankee Family of Stars.” Do I really need to comment on this? Sierra’s an expensive lump of flesh, sinew, and baldness, and Strawberry, although once a great hitter, is on the bad side of 32, and hasn’t played enough to keep his once formidable skills. But hey, we’re winning, right?

[snip]

Sometimes, organizations are able to overcome their own incompetence. The Yankees have spent several years concentrating on what their prospects can’t do, rather than what they can. Billy Masse sat in favor of Luis Polonia. Dave Silvestri was sent packing to free up shortstop time for Tony Fernandez. Just like a bunch of other organizations, the Yankees have been exceedingly risk-averse, choosing guaranteed dishwater over potential champagne.

Kinda eerie, isn’t? The Yankees eventually got that new stadium thanks to the taxpayers and they continue to be afraid to use their prospects, at least to a certain extent. We’ve talked about this earlier in the year, that vibe of fearing failure, and the annual shows that this is something that dates back long before Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy in 2008. The gloomy but scary accurate team overview is easy to dismiss because hey, the Yankees won the World Series in 1996, but man … the more things change, they more they stay the same, right?

I wasted far too much time digging through the annual last night, and I suspect a few of you will end up doing the same this morning. It’s not often that you get a chance to step in the machine and go back to 15 years, especially in detail with stuff like that. That 1996 team will always be special to me, it was my first championship as a fan, so going back and reading through (electronic version of) the book is like a reunion of sorts.

(h/t to Royals Review)

Categories : Days of Yore

43 Comments»

  1. Tiny Tim says:

    BACK AT THE TRACK…AT THE WALL…WE ARE TIED!!!!!!! That was my first WS too. I was only 12 and remember watching it with my dad who is also a Yankees fan. Hell of a team.

  2. FachoinaNYY says:

    Mo was a 26-year-old kid with a 5.51 ERA in 67 IP?

    Maybe we need to give Hughes a little more time before righting him off. I truly believe we will have a IPK type situation again if we sell low on him.

    Kid is still special.

  3. Frankeee1 says:

    Great heads up. Now I wont be sleeping tonight (or rest of week)

  4. Steve says:

    Another young turk shortstop, and most definitely the real thing. Does everything well except walk, and he’s shown flashes of doing that for a few weeks at a time. Will win an AL batting title right around the turn of the century or so, and twenty years from now, people will be arguing over whether or not he or Rodriguez was a better player. Supposedly has a problem making the long throw from the hole to first, but who cares, and how much of problem is that anyway? I’ve seen him make that throw, and I don’t see an appreciable difference between his arm and a dozen other shortstops.

    holy crow!

  5. p. allen says:

    Pettitte:

    Big Left-Handed Kid [tm] who has decent and improving control, is slowly improving his K rate, and hasn’t been overworked at a young age. Good thing Dallas Green doesn’t have control over this kid, or he’d be proving his manhood by throwing 180 pitches for a few starts, and then licking a cheese grater real hard or something. This is a very good prospect, and he will probably become a multimillionaire in this game.

  6. Steve says:

    Got to love the Randy Johnson breakdown: “Can pitch a little.”

  7. MattG says:

    Why did they write Bob Wickman was the voice of Lionel Hutz? I don’t get it.

    • YanksFan77 says:

      I think we’ll never know for sure.

      But I’m going with, the writer is just not funny (comedy has changed in 17 years, no?) Lionel Hutz was voiced by the late, great Phil Hartman. Perhaps the similarity of their names Bob Wickman/Phil Hartman was the punch line.

  8. bgeary says:

    Refreshing to see that even in 1996, BP knew that saves were useless.

    • MattG says:

      Re: Wetteland’s synopsis. How about suggesting Wetteland be used as a 100 inning fireman, which is of course exactly what Rivera turned out to be?

  9. Andy In Sunny Daytona says:

    Who knew that Bill Masse and Dave Silvestri were “potential champagne” compared to the “GUARANTEED dishwater” of Luis Polonia and Tony Fernandez.

  10. Ted Nelson says:

    “they continue to be afraid to use their prospects, at least to a certain extent.”

    That’s a joke… They didn’t play Silvestri and Masse. Why? Because those guys sucked balls. The Yankees were right in both cases, and yet you criticize them for being right that those guys sucked? When the Yankees got Tony Fernandez he was a place holder to Jeter who had averaged a wOBA over .335 and 2.45 fWAR the previous two seasons… Silvestri’s career high went on to be 0.4 fWAR. Polonia gave the Yankees a .352 wOBA in 1994, while Masse never played an MLB game and was somewhat of a poor-man’s Jorge Vazquez.

    They used veterans from whom they knew they could expect a baseline level of production, instead of low ceiling prospects who didn’t have much shot at outproducing those veterans but did have a good chance at under-performing them. This is exactly what you want to do. Think of it in terms of investing (which is what building an MLB team is… building a portfolio of investments). You want the potential reward to justify the risk. With semi-prospects like Silvestri and Masse and Greg Golson you don’t have the potential reward to justify taking the risk, when the alternative is a far less risky investment with a similar reward… especially because if that investment doesn’t work out you’ve still got the Masse, Silvestri, or Golson sitting in AAA. If a company is insolvent and in an industry where it has little chance of being profitable in the future, it can’t borrow money at the same rate as a large established corporation with low growth but steady profits.

    On the other hand, the Yankees have given chances to their prospects with potential that justified them over a proven veteran. Jeter, Posada, Mo, Pettitte, Wang, Cano, Gardner, Hughes, Kennedy, Joba… all these guys have gotten chances. This is what you want to do. Venture capitalists fund extremely risky companies because they have a chance to hit it big. They don’t put money in your floundering local bodega (Silvestri) that might turn a small profit if the owner’s nephew stops stealing from the register, they put it in the tech start-up (Jeter) that has a chance to be the next Google.
    At times the Yankees employ a hedging strategy like Tony Fernandez or Tony Womack… but again that is the right thing to do. For a small investment you have a recourse if the asset you just invested in busts.

    It makes me laugh, Mike, that you criticize the Yankees both for not being more like Atlanta: rushing the crap out of their prospects, handing them jobs at very young ages without competition… and at the same time criticize them for not being more like Tampa: going extremely slow with their prospects to the point of leaving them in minors for longer than they might need so that they’re really ready when you call them up and you can capture more of their productive years under cheap team control. The two approaches are mutually exclusive, yet you constantly beat up the Yankees for not following both.

    It also makes me laugh that you are so complementary of Tampa Bay’s organization yet don’t seem to have much grasp on basic financial concepts like risk/reward and hedging.

      • Ted Nelson says:

        Seriously? I go into detail explaining the risk/reward trade off the Yankees have to consider in promoting prospects vs. signing veterans, the hedging strategies they use, and the contradiction between criticizing the Yankees at various times both for not being more like Tampa and Atlanta… and you tell me to grow up?

        How about contributing something to the discussion rather than making a “personal attack” comment? The irony in you telling me to grow up is striking.

        • Ted Nelson says:

          Here’s are my points, expressed less confrontationally:

          Venture capitalists fund extremely risky companies (like teams count on risky prospects) because they have a chance to hit it big. They don’t put money in your floundering local bodega (Silvestri) that might turn a small profit if the owner’s nephew stops stealing from the register, they put it in the tech start-up (Jeter) that has a chance to be the next Google.

          At times the Yankees employ a hedging strategy like Tony Fernandez or Tony Womack… which is the right thing to do. For a small investment you have a recourse if the asset you just invested in busts.

          The Braves and Rays have development strategies that at their core are mutually exclusive. Mike criticizes the Yankees both for not being like the Braves–handing very young prospects spots without competition–and the Rays–taking development very slowly to capture as much productivity as possible under team control, playing mediocre veterans over more promising prospects like Desmond Jennings. It seems hard to criticize for both.

          The Rays hired a banker rather than baseball man to run their player personnel. If one envies that team, one might want to think of a baseball team more as a portfolio of investments, and consider common investment strategies when evaluating personnel decisions. Concepts involving risk/reward and hedging are prevalent in both disciplines.

  11. Brian Cashman is Watching says:

    The Don Mattingly entry is almost insulting. I know he was on his way out, but a drag on the team with a .350 projected OBP and .400 SLG? Again, on his way out, no way elite or even all star, but a drag? Besides, hadn’t he retired at this point?

    “I won’t even get into five bonus years of Don “Albatross” Mattingly. At least not yet. Perhaps I’ll mention him in the player section below. In fact, I think I’d bet on it.

    [snip]

    Back injuries. Has become a drag on the team, and has been for years. Everyone, myself included, would love to see him get a ring, but if he gets one now, it won’t be as a starter, and probably not as a Yankee. Yankee fans don’t want to hear this, but he probably wasn’t ever the best player on his own team. Overrated, but a class act.

    Despite the above, which is all true, Mattingly was a joy to watch for years. He remained above the late ’80s/early ’90s morass that was Yankee baseball, and even when the back injuries had taken away most of his ability, gave fans like me a reason to come to the Stadium. Thanks for the memories, Don.–ed. “

    • V says:

      In this on-line iteration, they included comments by the writers that did not make the actual edition. As you can see from the ‘Despite the above [...] -ed’ (the editor’s note), not all writers agreed.

      • Ted Nelson says:

        The editors note does not disagree with the (incorrect) statements above it. It merely says that he was fun to watch, and actually agrees that back injuries took most of his abilities without including the crucial clarification that he was still about a league average 1B even without most of his abilities until 1995 with the exception of 1990… not “a drag” “for years.”

    • Ted Nelson says:

      The author(s) seems to have no appreciation for subtly whatsoever. Either someone is the greatest player ever, or they’re awful.

      He was the best player on the Yankees several years in the mid-80s in terms of fWAR, and saying he had been a drag for years was really “what have you done lately” since outside of 1990 he didn’t fall off a cliff totally until 1995 (12th best fWAR among 1B in 92 & 93, and 13th in 94).

    • JohnnyC says:

      Considering he had HOFers Winfield and Henderson on his team, the “not the best player on his own team” comment is way over the edge. Come on, that’s just a stupid thing to say.

  12. Bavarian Yankee says:

    the projection for Pettitte is pretty nice: “This is a very good prospect, and he will probably become a multimillionaire in this game.”

    I guess they were right ;)

  13. gc says:

    I might be overstating this a bit, but reading that stuff makes it pretty clear to me where a lot of the main writers of RAB get their douchebaggery from. I like coming here, and there are many times (most times actually) when the contributions from the main writers is incredibly reasonable and well researched and thought out and even harshly critical in the most fair sense of the word. At its best moments, RAB is far and away the best baseball (and Yankees) site I know of. And then those same writers have this uncanny ability to throw all of that out the window and just be douchebags — criticism based more on snark and faux psychological analysis and the more reactionary sensationalism one would expect from a much lesser site. It’s the single biggest thing that pisses me off about this site because the contrast is so glaring to me. When it sinks to that level, at that point, I’m not interested in any numbers that are thrown at me. Not when the personal editorializing becomes the focus of the criticism. My main thoughts when reading all that stuff from ’96 was how ultimately worthless it all was. Writers trying desperately to be clever and to see how snarky they can be. Douchebags, one and all.

    • MattG says:

      The writers, when they comment, can be douchebaggy (but this is pretty symptomatic of commentors). Mike in particular has ruffled me with his snark at times.

      I don’t share your opinion with regards to the articles themselves.

    • What does Baseball Prospectus’ 1996 analysis that come across as snarky but weren’t penned by us have to do with our allegedly douchebaggery though? I’d love to hear some concrete examples of this “criticism based more on snark and faux psychological analysis and the more reactionary sensationalism.”

    • YanksFan77 says:

      Why do you limit douchebaggery to only writers. Our entire culture produces douchebags like Hostess produces Twinkies. You can’t condemn this site because they pander to the majority of the population…it’s just good business.

    • The Lazzeri Scooter says:

      IETC!!!

      BP, and to lesser extent RAB, do come across as elitist jerks in their anaylsis from time to time. Damn, this 1996 prospectus is downright vicious in particular with Mattingly, Posada and Girardi.

      Just because a player has negatives doesn’t mean you should be nasty and insulting. BP, I would hope, have come a long way in their treatment of prospects, stars and veterans alike.

  14. Kevin Ocala, Fl says:

    The “impossible” happened. A young reliever pitched over a hundred innings yet 15 years later he’s still mowing them down. Some pitchers have the body for pitching, and some don’t. This “Verducci Effect” and the endless coddling of young pitchers is idiotic. If a pitcher has starter stuff pitch him until he shows that his body can’t recover from throwing a lot of pitches, then see if he can relieve.

    This coddling of pitchers that has evolved over the last 10 years or so is nothing more than CYA.

    • MattG says:

      Hurray for the exception that proves the rule!

      Boo for the boversimplification of a single data point!

      The Verducci Effect has been discredited (like it needed to be–the guy is a writer, not a doctor or mathematician). We are on to more relevant studies now, none of which I can name, unfortunately.

      • Plus, the idea behind the Verducci Effect is sound. It’s when he tried to make it a specific # that applied generally to ALL pitchers, that’s when it got fuzzy.

        “Hey, I can run 5k’s, lets go run a marathon” is a bad idea, much the same as “I pitched 50 innings last year, lets through 150 this year!”.

    • Anchen says:

      Mariano was a starter as a minor leaguer and even in 1995 the Yankees ran him out as a starter not as a reliever. He threw 130 innings in 1994. So the innings and Verducci effect basically don’t even apply here. Unless you don’t even understand what the “Verducci” effect was.

      As for throwing a lot of innings (and appearances) as a reliever, well Mariano seemed particularly well suited to it given his basic only pitch was a fastball and he had a very easy velocity and repeatable motion. Let’s see how Venters and Kimbrel do going forward, or look back at scott proctor for examples of running relievers into the ground possibly.

  15. Hall and Nokes says:

    It is kind of funny that the 1996 Yankees were still being viewed through the prism of the late-80′s Yanks (i.e., as a failing organization that had to trot out aging free agents to generate interest). One thing that’s easy to forget nowadays is that the Yanks were actually 7th in the American League in attendance in 1996, even with a team that broke its playoff drought the year before and led the AL East from late April on.

  16. V28 says:

    The snippet below Bernie Williams which says a 21-22 year old that can hit major league pitching well is signable to a 7 year 1 million a year contract looks well suited (inflation adjusted) for Jesus Montero…

  17. IB6 UB9 says:

    I stopped reading Baseball Prospectus when they slapped a stat on defense and essentially refuted everything they’d published before (i.e. high OPS guys at every position, defense be damned).

    They mocked ‘baseball men’ for valuing good defense because it was based on commonsense rather than a stat. Once Billy Beane found his next ‘market inefficiency’ a new slew of stats were invented and appreciating defense became cutting edge.

  18. MannyGeee says:

    Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

    Make sure Cashman gets a copy of this…

    • Ted Nelson says:

      What are you implying he should take away from one publication’s preview of a team he was in his 10th year working for at the time?

      • Ted Nelson says:

        That wasn’t meant to be snarky at all, by the way, an honest question. I certainly agree that we need to look at history, I’m just wondering what you want Cashman to take away from this… is there something in particular you’re implying he’s going to repeat or just a general comment?

  19. RCA says:

    Great post and like the author 1996 was my first championship I saw as a Yankee fan. Seeing the blurb about Girardi is hilarious. But with hindsight, that triple he hit off Maddux in Game 6 with his arms pumping like twin pistons still brings a smile to my face to this day. I would love to read their outlooks for current shitty teams like the Pirates and Marlins/Padres.

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