Second-half storylines

Game 87: No Sweat
Saturday Night Open Thread

Mercifully, the All-Star break is over and Yankee baseball is back.  It has been a tumultuous season so far, featuring serious injuries to several important contributors and maddening underperformance with runners in scoring position, but also plenty of pleasant surprises.  Despite everything that has gone poorly for the Yankees this season, they are in great position to make a playoff run.  At 53-33, the Yankees own the best record in the majors, despite playing in a division where no team is below .500, and they are eight games up on their nearest competitor.  They lead the league in home runs and wRC+, though they are only 6th in runs scored.  Despite injuries to Michael Pineda, Andy Pettitte, and CC Sabathia, they are 2nd in the league with a 3.71 xFIP, largely driven by the pitching staff’s 8.45 strikeouts per 9 innings.  With this strong first half in the books, I figured I would take a look at some of the storylines to watch for the second half, which will play an important role in determining if the Yankees can hold on to their division lead.

MVP candidate Cano

Robinson Cano is having a monster season for the Yankees so far, and is well on pace to eclipse his career highs in a number of offensive categories.  He has slugged 20 home runs with a wRC+ of 150, and his fielding is significantly improved according to UZR (small sample size warnings apply).  All this combines to make Cano the 7th in the majors with 4.3 fWAR at the midway point.  If the season were to end today, Cano would be a strong candidate for AL MVP, along with usual suspects Josh Hamilton and David Ortiz, and rookie phenom Mike Trout.  Cano’s 2012 production has been very impressive, and it will be interesting to see if he can sustain this form going forward.  Recent history suggests that it is difficult for a Yankee player to win the award unless he is far superior statistically to his competition, and right now, Cano is not in that position.  Nonetheless, if Cano continues to mash and some of his competition begins to fall off (such as Trout) or get hurt (Hamilton), Robbie would be in good position to win his first MVP.

Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova: for real?

Coming into the season, significant questions abounded about Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, and whether they would be able to stick in the rotation as consistent contributors.  Michael Pineda’s Spring Training shoulder injury weakened the Yankees’ rotation depth, and put increased pressure at least one of the Hughes-Nova duo to emerge as a solid mid-rotation starter.  Hughes got off to a poor start to the season, and both players have had serious problems surrendering the long ball, but of late, both have settled in.  They’ve shown the ability to strike batters out (8.31/9 for Hughes, 8.16 for Nova) and limit walks (2.08 for Hughes, 2.69 for Nova) a combination that limits the numbers of runners on base when the inevitable longball comes.  Both have been able to pitch deep into the game, which is important for keeping the Yankee bullpen well-rested and effective.  Hughes and Nova have shown that they can pitch in the low-4 ERA range, and with the Yankee offense, they will win a lot of games.  However, it remains to be seen if they can improve their statistics by cutting down on the home runs.  They were surrendering them at an unsustainable pace earlier in the year, but have improved in that area recently (particularly Hughes).  While both have looked very good of late, Hughes in particular has teased Yankee fans throughout his career with strong performances only to regress significantly, and hopefully he can avoid that outcome.

What will Joba bring to the table?

While most of us gave up on Joba Chamberlain being a 2012 contributor after his awful trampoline-related ankle injury, his impressively quick recovery has him in position to return to the Yankees sometime in August.  Chamberlain, looking noticeably svelte, was recently clocked as high as 97 in his first outing in the Gulf Coast League, a sign that his velocity has returned following Tommy John Surgery.  The velocity bodes well for his ability to be a successful bullpen contributor this year, but command could be a big question.  Joba never had pinpoint control to start with, and it is often said that command is the last thing that comes back to a pitcher who has had Tommy John.  Joba’s willingness and ability to use his devastating slider is another question that he will have to answer.  The pitch is his primary 2-strike weapon to earn strikeouts, but often pitchers who have Tommy John will cut down on their slider usage, to avoid putting additional strain on their elbow.  If Joba does have to throw fewer sliders, he may need to have another offering to flash so hitters can’t just sit on the fastball.    I don’t expect Joba to be back to his old self right away, but the good news is that in a bullpen with Rafael Soriano and David Robertson, he won’t be relied upon to pitch in high-leverage situations immediately.  If he earns those innings with his performance, great, but if he has some struggles as expected, they will hopefully be in fairly low-pressure situations.

Is Russell Martin this bad?

Russell Martin’s offensive production has fallen off across the board compared to 2011, and he is currently batting below the Mendoza line with an anemic .181 average.  After being exactly league average in 2011 (100 wRC+), Martin has fallen to being 20% worse than the average hitter (80 wRC+).  Outside of a strong couple of games against the Mets, Martin really hasn’t put together a strong stretch this season that might give hope that he is starting to come out of it.  The unfortunate sign is that Martin’s struggles have actually lasted longer than this season.  He started strong in 2011, but his numbers dipped dramatically after the first two months.  When we see a player struggle for this long, there is always concern about whether the player is in decline or injured.  While the 29 year-old Martin seems too young to be over the hill, the physical toll of catching every day could accelerate this decline.  I am hopeful that Martin can improve, but not optimistic that he will.  If there is any consolation here, it is that his contract is up at the end of the 2012 season, and the Yankees caught a break by having Martin turn down their 3-year extension offer in the offseason.  This also means that the Yankees will likely be in search of a new catcher for the 2013 season.

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Game 87: No Sweat
Saturday Night Open Thread
  • Jose M. Vazquez

    I have to agree with most of what you say. Robinson Cano to me has always been a better than average fielder but he does it with such ease that many consider him lazy. Offensively, he is the best second baseman in the game. I thought that he should have won tthe MVP last year but it is as you say tough for a Yankee to win. He would have to have a Ruthian-like year to win. Martin needs to hit much more to stay with the team.

    • jjyank

      Totally agreed about Cano. I think he’s always gotten a bad rap for his fielding because he’s so smooth that he doesn’t make those tough plays look “flashy”. I would like nothing more than to see him win an MVP for his exceptional play, whether it be this year or in the future. He deserves to win at least one.

      As far as value goes, he’s been carrying this team offensively for awhile now. I really hope he has an even huger second half and wins it.

  • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (formerly Manny’s BanWagon)

    I wonder who advised Martin to turn down the 3/$20 million extension he was offered this spring?

    After his putrid performance this year, unless he picks things up significantly, I think he’d be lucky to get another 1/$4 million deal like the Yankees gave him for 2011.

    • Rich in NJ

      Probably his agent in tandem with his own (over)estimation of his value, perhaps skewed by the contracts that other (far better) catchers had just received, and an overvaluing of his production last season, particularly given his post-April slash line (.225/.313/.368/.681).

      • FIn

        Tbh, if Russell provided what he did last year, that contract would have been perfect. It would have given the Yankees grace time to find out what they have in Romine and time for Sanchez to develop. He still has a chance to put up similar number with a hot month. All that being said, I would love for the Yankees to find an upgrade to him or a platoon partner because maybe with some more rest he would be worth a crap and not contend for the lowest batting average in Yankee history.

        • Rich in NJ

          I disagree. His wildly out of context April skewed his value. With the limitations that will likely be imposed by the $189m budget in 2014, committing $7m to Martin would have been a very poor allocation of resources.

          • Need Pitching (and maybe hitting too)

            If he did what he did last year (league average offense overall, above average defense at C), 7M/year would have been an exceptionally good value. Whether it would be wise to expect him to continue to be a league average offensive player overall, I don’t know. His lower than career average BABIP and walk rates indicated he had room for improvement over last year, but his below league average performances in 2009 and 2010, and his post April fall off (though he did have a big August) were obvious reasons to be skeptical.

            • Rich in NJ

              When you have approximately $75m already committed to three players (A-Rod, Tex, CC), and probably have to renegotiate Jeter’s 2014 option significantly upward, and then give Cano more than $20m per year, and perhaps Granderson $15m or so, giving a catcher with Martin’s limited upside $7m a year would leave very little payroll flexibility to fill out the rest of the roster with quality players.

              • Need Pitching (and maybe hitting too)

                I doubt they will have to renegotiate Jeter’s option, but who knows? As for limited upside, yes that’s true, but with limited resources and several overpaid players, they need to try to find surplus value. 7M for a league average offense and above average defense catcher would provide surplus value (if Martin had able to sustain league average offense).

              • Ted Nelson

                You need to have someone catching, and Martin is still about an average starter even the first half of this year. There are certainly other options worth exploring, but your stance here is pretty ridiculous.

                Where are you coming up with renegotiating Jeter’s contract?

                • Rich in NJ

                  Via Cot’s: 14:$8M player option ($3M buyout)

                  He’s likely not playing for that.

                  Dinner.

                  • Need Pitching (and maybe hitting too)

                    He’s also not likely to be worth that in 2014. With the 189M threshold in place that year (if it actually happens), I think Jeter would realize he would be in a bad negotiating position. The Yankees won’t be in a position where they can keep handing out contracts overpaying players based on their past accomplishments. If you think 7M is too much for them to commit for a league average offense, above average defense catcher, what makes you think the Yankees would pay more than that for a likely then league average (at best) offense SS with significantly below average defense?

                    • RetroRob

                      Jeter is no going to opt-out of his contract, although it wouldn’t surprise me if he tried to negotiate perhaps another two-year deal after 2013. I just don’t see the Yankees going gor it.

                      Jeter’s option is to play for the Yankees in 2014 and make a very nice $8 million a year, and then see what 2015 brings. He could try and negotiate a new two-year deal after 2013, but there’s really no reason for the Yankees to do that.

                      Frankly, Jeter has very little leverage now. He’s past 3,000 hits and is a long way off from 4,000. He’s an aging icon playing a position meant for younger men, and it’s a postion he has no desire to move from. $8 million a year is probably going to be more than he’s worth come 2014.

                      Jeter, fortunately, has not turned into quite the player we feared in early 2011, but looking at his overall stat lines 2008 forward, and it’s clear that outside of his click up in 2009, he is a player in decline. He’s aging as gracefully as a player can in that he hasn’t collapsed, but all his stats are down, including OBP and SLG. His speed is down. His walk rate down. His defense seems to be ticking back again after stabalizing for a few seasons.

                      I’m happy he’s still around and productive, but he’s a long way from the player he was, and he better realize that, because the Yankees do.

                  • FIn

                    Hes likely not playing for the Yankees then. I cant see the Yankees giving him more money. THey will have over paid him (performance wise, maybe not what hes worth to them) for 3 years and likely the 8m will be an overpay by the time hes 40. There arent going to be alot of teams lining up to pay a 40yr old more than 8m to be the worst defensive ss in the league or be a below average hitter in the outfield or DH.

                  • RetroRob

                    The Yankees can basically tell him they negotiated that deal up front and they have no intention of paying him more than $8M. He has the choice of continuing to play for the Yankees and make $8M, or taking the $3M and retiring, or taking the $3M and signing with another team.

                    What do you think he’s going to do?

                    • DM

                      Jeter already said what he’s going to do at the press conference announcing the deal.

                • FIn

                  I doubt very seriously he is an above average starter. The man is hitting .180 and most of that and his power numbers were done before June. I dont give a fuck if you dont think offense isnt important at the catchers position, some of us do, and would rather have a catcher who is at least league average at the plate when the bar is set so low in the first place. Just becuase alot of catchers suck, doesnt somehow make Martin any better. He sucks too. Again, he is on pace to have the worst season at the plate in Yankee history and you are on here every day defending him, and now you are saying he is an above average starter. The only thing we think he does well is frame pitches. He has looked bad at blocking balls this year, inconsistent throwing and awful hitting. I dont see how in the hell hes an above average starter right now.

                  • Need Pitching (and maybe hitting too)

                    In fairness, he said “about an average starter”, not above average.
                    Otherwise I mostly agree. He’s been a huge disappointment offensively and defensively this season.

                    • FIn

                      My apoligies Ted, I read it as an above average starter. I still disagree with him being about average. Not to mention since when is about average good enough for any playoff team let alone the Yankees. They should be looking for an upgrade to the worst position player on the team, I cant see any argument that hes not the worst position player or that you should upgrade your worst player if possible. Whether they can find someone is a different story.

                    • Ted Nelson

                      Fin,

                      He’s close to average. That’s not my opinion. It’s just what it is.

                      I would love a better hitting C or Martin to step it up. I hope the Yankees are trying to get maximum value at the C spot going forward.

                      My point is that most other Cs can’t hit either. Not that Martin is great. Good luck getting a better one at a semi-reasonable price. I hope it happens, I just don’t see it as likely. And people love to suggest getting one that was hot for half a season, which is far from a home run to continue going forward. They might be able to buy low on a Soto or someone, but there’s no guarantee he rebounds.

                • Bubba

                  You’re very liberal with the term “about.” Out of the 23 Cs with at least 200 PAs Martin ranks 16 in wOBA and 17 in wRC+. With respect to SLG, you can number the Cs on one hand that are worse than him. With respect to AVG, again one hand just this time the hand was in an industrial accident. The only thing he’s “about” average in is OBP (14 out of 23).

          • Ted Nelson

            That’s good for you. He would have easily gotten that on the open market, though.

            Confirmation bias and hindsight are fun!

            • Rich in NJ

              Not nearly as much fun as learning from what Martin has done since 2008.

          • FIn

            I think that an above average defensive catcher who provides better than league average hitting is worth 7m to the Yankees. We are seeing what happens when you have a player performing like Martin is now at the catchers position. There is no one to get during the season to replace him and probably no one during the offseason. He could end up with the worst Yankee season at the plate in history and still be the starting catcher next year. That is how bad the state of catching is, and what makes what Martin did last year, worth at least 7m per.

  • forensic

    Uh oh, another piece including Martin being terrible. Time for Ted to show up and defend him again…

    • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula (former Manny’s BanWagon)

      You have a strange definition of the word “terrible.” One good game and he’d be league average.

      • FIn

        Doesnt that apply to every terrible offensive catcher?

        • Ted Nelson

          No. A terrible offensive C would not be close to average. Like Stewart, for example.

          You need to differetiate between terrible offensive player and C. Comparing Martin to guys who can’t catch is useless. They can’t replace him.

  • pat

    I apologize for being off topic, but I think we all need to take a second and revel in the fact that the Sox are starting Brent Lillibridge at 1B tonight.LOOOOOOOL

    • forensic

      I haven’t been following. Does Gonzalez still have the tummyache that started Saturday or Sunday?

      • FIn

        Back spasms now.

        • RetroRob

          Someone referred to him as a tuesday, but he’s not sure what that means and his feeling are hurt, so he’s pouting, and is also still upset that the Red Sox sometimes have to play night games on Sundays.

          • Need Pitching (and maybe hitting too)

            lmao

  • http://www.yankeeanalysts.com Mike E

    Martin’s xBABIP is .318, which is consistent with the rest of his career. His current BABIP is .193. He’s gonna have a monster second half.

    • Will (the other one)

      I hope you’re right. To get even league-average production out of him in the second half, coupled with the numbers the rest of the offense is putting up at the moment, would be fantastic indeed.

    • FIn

      It could be just observational bias, but I dont remember Martin hitting a bunch of line drives that are being turned into outs, rather I recall a bunch of weak grounders being turned into outs.

    • Need Pitching (and maybe hitting too)

      I’m not too familiar with xBABIP, but it doesn’t seem like it in anyway takes into account quality of contact. For example, a hard ground ball would more likely end up as a hit than a weak ground ball, I would think. Seems like Russ has been making a whole lot of weak contact this year, which probably is impacting his BABIP more than just completely bad luck. I fully expect Russ to be better in the second half, but unless he starts hitting into Chris Stewart level luck, I wouldn’t expect a monster second half. Hell, I’d be satisfied with league average.

      • http://www.yankeeanalysts.com Mike E

        It takes into account GB/FB, LD%, GB%, FB%, IFFB%, HR/FB, IFH%, BUH%.

        • Need Pitching (and maybe hitting too)

          Right. Which is why I wouldn’t expect a monster second half just because of his xBABIP. He needs to start making quality, hard contact on a consistent basis before I would expect a big turnaround. He should improve some just from more of the weak contact finding holes a la Chris Stewart, but that alone isn’t likely to make a major difference in his performance.

          • Ted Nelson

            Given how low his BABIP is, weak hits finding holes would likely make a pretty bog impact on his performce. Getting his BA to even like .220 would be a big improvement.

            • Need Pitching (and maybe hitting too)

              By major difference, I was referring to Mike E.’s prediction of a “monster second half”. I wouldn’t consider improving BABIP to .220 to be indicative of a monster anything. Of course any improvement from Martin could be big, considering his starting point.

              • Ted Nelson

                Monster is pretty subjective, but it was just maybe a month ago his wOBA was .340. I was saying a BA of even .220 would be a big improvement over .180 or whatever. .250 or .275 could be a pretty monster second half for a C coupled with his usual production elsewhere: power and walks and baserunning and defense. BABIP could definitely fuel that. An IF single counts just as much as a rocket single to the OF

  • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

    Martin was negotiating in Spring Training and there were rumors that they were close on a 3/$30M deal.

    What stopped it dead in its tracks was Yadier Molina signing a 5-year deal with AAV around $12M. A good agent will do what they do and advise their client that the market has been reset and it would be wise to wait because the 3 at $30 became a short sell.

    Unfortunately, Martin picked a bad time to regress. If he had even a marginal season, a 4-year deal would’ve been in play by someone in the market come November.

    RE Cano MVP candidacy: Unfortunately we already learner that Hamilton will win the MVP in a year where he only plays 120 games to Cano’s 162. Happened already. Unfortunately writers don’t view health as a skill (which it is). You’re 100% correct : for a Yankee to win, they have to blow competition out of the water…..or be a gritty white guy playing in Boston.