Mailbag: Sabathia, Phillips, 2B, Robertson

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Five questions and four answers this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything, especially mailbag questions.

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

John asks: Hey guys, I wanted to ask if you are worried about CC Sabathia? I watched his start [on Wednesday] and am worried about his fastball (his change and slider looked fab), his velocity is down to 90 – 91. It seemed to me that he was throwing a cut fastball – is this something he is trying to do or a flaw?

I wouldn’t worry about the velocity, Sabathia always starts the year a little slow before cranking it up once it gets a little warmer out. Here are the PitchFX start-by-start plots. Plus, I suspect he was taking a little something off the other night in an attempt to improve his command, which has been awful. I didn’t see much of a cut fastball, though Sabathia has been saying he throws one for a few years now. The manually classified PitchFX data disagrees, but if the guy says he throws it, he probably throws it.

Like you said, the changeup and especially the slider have been sharp so far, CC just can’t seem to get his heat under control. I do wonder if it’s a weight thing, because he had the same issue early last season before everything clicked during that ridiculous mid-summer run. Perhaps losing 30-something points during the winter is the best thing for him physically but a bad thing for his command. Maybe it speeds up his delivery just enough to throw him off. Who knows, just a cracked theory. I wouldn’t worry about Sabathia until we get a few weeks into the season and we start seeing more upper-80s than low-90s.

Suchin asks: Could you add Brandon Phillips to the Kinsler:Cano graph? With both those deals manageable for Cano, would be instructive, so long as the Yankees don’t overpay.

Here you go…

Source: FanGraphsBrandon Phillips, Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler

You can also see the data plotted cumulatively and by season.

I don’t love WAR — FanGraphs or otherwise — because I don’t have enough faith in the defensive component, but it is useful for comparing players like this. Cano is the best of the three, both in terms of overall production and medical history. That last part is very important, because these guys won’t give you anything if they’re on the DL. Stuff like RBI totals and finishes in the MVP voting will factor into Cano’s next contract as well, and he blows Kinsler and Phillips away in both categories.

As I’ve said before, I fully expect the Yankees to re-sign Cano to something outrageous after next season. I just hope the Kinsler (five years, $75M) and Phillips (six years, $77.5M) extensions have established the market and help keep it in the six-year, $100M range.

Brian asks: Are there any prospective 2B that the Yankees could target if they decide to let Robinson Cano walk because of money, contract length, and doubts about decline years? Similar to how they gave up a young prospect (Jesus Montero) from a position with depth for a young prospect (Michael Pineda) from a position of need. Obviously, not necessarily of that magnitude.

Legit second base prospects are very rare only because most big league second basemen are failed shortstops. Off the top of my head, the only big leaguers that came up through the minors as second basemen are Dan Uggla, Orlando Hudson, and Howie Kendrick. That would be the place to start, looking at shortstops who could slide over.

There’s actually a shortage of quality middle infield prospects in baseball around the moment, especially beyond the big two of Manny Machado and Jurickson Profar. Someone like Nick Franklin of the Mariners could fit the bill with Dustin Ackley ahead of him, though his ability to remain at the middle of the diamond is in question. Jean Segura of the Angels is another possibility, but they might need him with Erick Aybar due to become a free agent soon.

Remember, the Montero-Pineda trade was a big time anomaly. You just don’t see trades like that — a true baseball trade filling needs involving young players going each way — made every day, so I wouldn’t expect anything like that again should the Yankees let Cano walk and need a replace second baseman. Even on a smaller scale, prospect for prospect trades are rare because everyone loves their kids more than everyone else.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

Paul asks: What’s the deal with Robertson’s pitch selection? Is PitchFX classifying differently or is he making his best case for ‘heir to Mariano’ by throwing exclusively cutters?

Tucker asks: Here’s a question for all Yankee fans: would you be comfortable with David Robertson as the closer next year?

Might as well lump these two together. Yes, Robertson has been throwing a cutter since the start of last season. He threw it about a quarter of the time last year but nearly 80% of the time this year so far, though that’s probably just a sample size thing. We’ll see more curveballs in due time, remember he’s a little behind other pitchers because he missed three weeks in Spring Training with that foot injury. Robertson definitely throws a cutter though, and it’s a really good pitch for him.

As for being comfortable with him as the next closer … sure. Don’t get me wrong, he makes things very interesting, but he’s better than the vast majority of the relievers out there. Trust me, it’s going to be a total shock to the system when Mo is gone, we’ll all have a newfound appreciation for just how easy he makes it look. I do think you’d rather be the guy who replaces the guy who replaces Rivera though; whoever takes over as closer will be asked to live up to impossible standards. Let Rafael Soriano do that so Robertson could have the clean slate the next year. Anyway, this is begging for a poll…

Would you be comfortable with Robertson closing in 2013?
View Results
Banuelos implodes in win; Austin homers twice
4/13-4/15 Series Preview: Anaheim Angels
  • Robinson Tilapia

    I’d be absolutely fine in avoiding a sloppy rebound relationship, post-Mo, with Soriano. We all know how these end. Walk of shame, “I can’t believe I slept with someone with an ugly mole and three chins,” etc.

    While 2011 is a ridiculously high bar to set, a second year of dominance and badassness from Robertson would be enough for me in his earning the job next year. The usual gang on impatient fans will be there, but I would hope most intelligent fans know that closing required an adjustment and some growing pains.

  • Annie Oakley

    Robertson should absolutely be the closer. Either that or they go to no closer and just bring in the best relivers(Robertson and Soriano) in the highest leverage situations even if it’s not the 8th or 9th inning. Knowing Joe he’ll make Soriano the closer because he has closer experience, Robertson the 8th inning guy, Joba the 7th inning guy, and Wade the 6th inning guy.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I wouldn’t throw a tantrum is Soriano was, in fact, givn the Mo-rebound closer spot. From what we see right now, I just don’t think it’s necessary.

    • Slugger27

      im actually quite fine with that setup

  • DM

    “The manually classified PitchFX data disagrees, but if the guy says he throws it, he probably throws it.”

    Probably, huh? The all knowing PitchFX disagrees with you CC, so fess up. After all, what’s reality compared to “manually classified” data?

    • Jim Is Bored

      Just because someone thinks they’re throwing something doesn’t mean it’s working. I can tell you I’m throwing a curveball, but no matter how much I believe it, if it doesn’t curve, it isn’t a curveball.

      He may think he’s throwing a cutter, but if it isn’t cutting, it isn’t a cutter.

      • Dan

        I am wondering if CC is classifying what Pitch f/x might be classifying as additional sliders as cutters. I have not watched his starts close enough to see if this might be what is happening. However, his cutter might just be viewed as a tighter and faster slider. It’s just a thought and it might be completely off-base.

        • Slugger27

          i completely agree with this. it seems he has a strikeout slider that comes down and in to righties thats a little faster than his pitch to lefties, and he just calls it “cutter” even though its really a slider

        • jscape2000

          Dan, you’re dead on. He grips the ball like a cutter, so to him it’s a cutter. How it actually moves is another story.

          I remember reading that Al Leiter’s cutter was really Sparky Lyle’s slider.

          It goes like this: Lyle taught his slider to Ron Guidry, Guidry has one of the best seasons ever. So Guidry shows his slider to Dave Righetti and it makes him a great closer. Righetti tries to teach the slider to Al Leiter, but Leiter can’t figure out how to throw it with big break without slowing down his arm action. So Leiter just overthrows the slider- it breaks less than a slider and people call it a cutter. But Leiter is throwing it with a slider grip.

          I know there are other odd ones: Francisco Rodriguez’s slider broke straight down so that people thought it was a split finger fastball, and of course Moose threw 3 different curves.

          • JohnnyC

            It’s not a slider. It’s a curveball.

            “It’s a hard curveball,” K-Rod said. “I turn it over, spin it with the same arm speed as my fastball. People think it’s a slider, because I throw it so hard. But it’s a curveball.

            “I have two different curveballs–one I like to throw to left-handed hitters fight over the top and one I throw to right-handers. It has a different break, a little more like the slider, coming down and away from them. That one’s a little harder.”

      • DM

        Yeah, either CC keeps throwing cutters that aren’t cutting at all — or maybe PitchFX has trouble distinguishing pitches? Like cutters and sliders — various slower sliders and curves — and slower spot 2-seam fastballs with change-ups. Pitching is more nuanced than their categories. Your theory makes less sense to me than PitchFX shoving a cutter into the slider category.

        • thenamestsam

          You’re right that there are a lot of subtleties between pitches that it’s hard for pitch f/x to pick up on. What it looks like to me (disclaimer: I’m no scout) is that CC’s ball has some natural run on it. Even when he throws a 4-seamer his ball tends to run to his hand side a bit like a 2-seamer. So I think he throws a sinker that has a lot of run and downward movement, a fastball that still shows some of that same movement, and a “cutter”. He throws it like a cutter, and it does cut relative to his natural movement, making it essentially straight overall. Whether you want to consider that a cutter or not is probably up to you, but by my eye test he doesn’t throw anything like the traditional lefty cutter.

          • DM

            But isn’t that the whole issue? Pitching doesn’t fit nice and tidy into PitchFX slots. Yet many here run right to that data like it’s the final word on what was thrown. Most of CC’s pitches bore in on right-handers (or away from left-handers) but it isn’t up to me to consider renaming them if he explicitly distinguishes between those pitches himself. You mention a traditional left cutter — how does PitchFX distinguish an Andy P cutter from a Rivera cutter. One sweeps from the moment it’s thrown, the latter breaks slightly at the hitting zone. And even the velocity issue is tainted b/c it doesn’t take into account the intentional reductions a pitcher might employ. If Pineda throws his slower slider variant more often this year — and that drops his average PitchFX slider mph for the year — some will say his slider isn’t as hard as it used to be — as if every slider is being thrown at top speed — same for fastballs. You can use PitchFX as some tool to color an opinion — but I see too many here use it for a final verdict.

        • Havok9120

          You’re a bit biased though, considering you’ve never thought much of PitchFX.

          • DM

            I think less of PitchFX than others — but only after doing some spot checking and reading their disclaimer. I didn’t go in with any bias. And I only brought it up b/c for some reason Mike (and others) seem to think PitchFX might know more about what CC is throwing than he does. He grips the ball; he uses his wrist and applies the pressure with his finger; he throws the pitch — but he’s mistaken in what he calls it b/c PitchFX disagrees? Look at the comments above. The doubt seems more directed at the pitcher than the outside analysis. That sounds like bias against the pitcher’s knowledge of his own pitch. Does that make sense?

            • Havok9120

              If it isn’t behaving as a cutter is supposed to behave, then it isn’t a cutter, no matter what he calls it. Unless PitchFX is not tracking the ball properly and the data is thus flawed, then its quite possible CC is wrong.

              I completely understand what you’re saying, but most of them aren’t arguing that PitchFX says he’s wrong, therefore he’s wrong. That WOULD be stupid. They’re arguing that his “cutter” doesn’t act like a cutter, therefore it isn’t and he’s wrong. And they’re right about that, at least in theory. He could call it anything he likes, but if it doesn’t behave like a cutter, then it isn’t a cutter.

              • DM

                Or, like I stated before, it actually is cutter that’s been mislabeled a slider by PitchFX — rather than something he’s been throwing for years that doesn’t cut but he’s decided to call it a “cutter” anyway(?!)

                • Havok9120

                  I’m not even talking about PitchFX labels. I thought I made that clear. I’m talking about how the ball moves. If it moves more like a slider than a cutter, then its a slider no matter what he calls it. I have no idea if that’s the case, but it would certainly explain the discrepancy.

                  • DM

                    How would you contrast the movement of Andy P’s cutter versus Rivera’s? Is Andy’s closer to a sweeping slider? There’s a type of slider and a type of cutter (think Jon Lester) where the two get close in how they move. Rivera’s cutter and Pineda’s hard slider are at the other ends of that comparison spectrum.

                    You say it’s not about PitchFX labels — but it is. CC says he throws a cutter; PitchFX says no you don’t. Some think CC must be wrong then since PitchFX said so. I’m saying their criteria for distinguishing different pitches is flawed — based on this and other examples. That’s all.

                    Here’s their disclaimer…

                    “All Pitch IDs have been manually assigned by the THT Staff by using a variety of techniques. Errors or issues should be reported on the forums.”

                    “We make no specific claims about the accuracy or validity of any chart or table on this page, except to say that they’re amazingly cool.”

                    I agree.

  • leo

    man, i’m a huge fan of robertson and i think the results with him as a closer will be more than fine but probably will be costing me ten years of my life

    • Robinson Tilapia

      This is where “There will never be another Mo” happens.

  • Erica

    What are you all talking about? Mo is immortal.


    (I’d vote Robertson to be Mo’s replacement any day of the week.)

  • Tim

    I don’t see anyway Cano signs for anything in the ballpark of 6 for $100. With teams getting carried away and looking at his past few years I think he easily gets an offer for $140 million+. Whether it’s the Dodgers as a complement to Kemp or someone else. He’s a 3 hole hitter for the Yankees and comparables or not it shouldn’t be that hard for Boras to get a market for him. He got $126 mill for Werth and $214 mill for Fielder, Cano will probably settle somewhere in the middle. And for that price I think looking in another direction would be a good move. I don’t know what that direction is but I don’t think they should sign Cano just because he is in prime and we don’t have a replacement. What will happen in 3-4 years when we are still paying Tex, CC, Arod and Cano a combined $100 mill and they are shells of their former selves?

    • JohnnyC

      Stan Kasten, the Dodgers’ new GM, doesn’t spend on big free agents…not with the Braves and not with the Nats (Rizzo is the big spender). I don’t see the Dodgers making a play for Cano. They’ll sew up Kershaw but he’s home grown.

  • Rob Garnsey

    There is no way the Yankees do not sign Cano. He is arguably the best player on that team and by far the best 2nd baseman in the game. He has an amazing fluid swing that reminds me of Griffey Jr in his prime that is tailor made for Yankee stadium. They will sign him to a long term deal similar in the range of 90-100 Million and he will be worth every penny.