Last week I took a look at how some of the better AAA prospects were doing over the course of the season, but more importantly, how they’d performed over a 10 game sample, their long-term prospects of helping the big club and some things they need to work on. One important thing I learned: for some inexplicable reason, people just love Eduardo Nunez. He’s sort of like Michael Cera to me. Nice potential and has some good strengths but ultimately is overhyped and inconsistent.
Anyway, this week we head down to lovely Trenton, New Jersey to check in with Austin Romine, David Adams, David Phelps, Hector Noesi and D.J. Mitchell. We’re going to leave out Jeremy Bleich, who’s likely getting shoulder surgery, but I’ll simply note here that he’s been a huge disappointment this year. Feel better, Jeremy!
Much has been written about Romine’s hot start. It’s easily one of the best developments of our higher-end players in the system. From what I’ve read, Romine’s defense has already been called “big league ready” and has improved in each of the past three seasons. He has a very strong arm and he’s improved his footwork and receiving skills. This isn’t very shocking – he already had a good defensive reputation, so enough of that. Let’s get to the offense. Romine was considered to be a good-contact hitter with a solid eye but more of a gap power hitter than someone expected to pop over 20 home runs a year. In 2010, he’s increased his contact skills, hitting .323, far above last year’s mark of .273 in Tampa. Unfortunately, his BABip this year is an Austin Jacksonian .392, or close to 90 points higher than last year’s mark. That won’t continue, but there are promising signs. Romine, not fleet of foot, is knocking in a line drive rate of 20% (up from 12.8 last year) and decreased his groundball rate to 38%.
But it would be nice to see Romine bring his walk rate up and his strike out rate further south. On the year he’s striking out 21% of appearances and walking 9% of the time, but overall, it’s hard to have much to complain about Romine’s season. His power is again looking pretty good (.512 slugging percentage) and he’s sprayed 6 doubles in his last 10 games. The Yankees can afford to take things slowly with Romine, and if he hits this well and continues to improve his defense at catcher, we could very well be watching the team’s future backstop sooner than we might expect, perhaps as early as 2012.
AA Season: .323/.386/.512
Last ten games: .308/.341/.462
David Adams, 2B
Aside from Austin Romine, Adams is easily my favorite player to keep tab on in Trenton. According to Mike’s Prospect Profile of Adams, the second baseman was rated as the top prospect in Virginia and the 102nd best overall in the 2008 draft (per Baseball America’s list), eventually signing with the Yankees as their 3rd round pick. He started 2009 off in Charleston, where he hit .290/.385/.393, displaying a good approach at bat but not showing much in the power department. A promotion to Hi-A Tampa quelled power issues – he knocked in 7 home runs in 67 games, posting a slugging percentage of .498.
Interestingly, it seems Adams may have changed his hitting approach with the move up to Tampa (or simply went back to his old approach in Virgina – couldn’t find college splits to see GB/LD/FB numbers). His ground ball rate dropped from 46% to 38%, his line drive rate from 22% to 16% and he knocked fly balls at a 44% rate, which explains the uptick in home run. It looks like he went from a gap-to-gap hitter to a swing with a bit more loft, and it was largely effective. He also maintained a solid walk rate and lessened strikeouts.
In Trenton – a jump that usually weeds out guys who took advantage of less advanced pitchers – it’s been fun seeing Adams continue his success. His power has remained (.510 slugging percentage) and his on-base skills still look good (.395 OBP), though he’s benefited from a high BABip rate of .373 (his career rate is .339). I’m a bit concerned he isn’t hitting line drives at a percentage you’d like to see (it’s at 11% currently) and striking out 21% of his plate appearances against right-handers is a tad high. But it’s still early and these are knit-picky things. Adams is mauling lefties (.400/.489/.650) and might already be prepared for Scranton offensively. The question is if he’s progressed with his defense. Adams should have the defense to stick at 2B, and his contact and on-base skills certainly make him the best middle infielder in the high minors with a good chance to contribute to the (or a) big league club. I’d put him above Kevin Russo, whom he has a higher ceiling than, though less versatility. Adams was recently injured sliding into a base but assuming this is a minor thing, he should be back in no time. He’s struggled a bit of late, but he’s looking every bit the possible 1st round pick he was hyped to be after finishing his sophmore season at UVA.
AA Trenton this year: .311/.395/.510
Last 10 games: .212/.366/.333
Not considered one of the team’s high-impact pitchers down the farm, Phelps has continued to throw up really impressive numbers. A groundball-inducing extraordinaire, Phelps isn’t afraid to throw any of his pitches in any count, keeping hitters off balance, according to a scouting report at Yanks Daily. He doesn’t give many walks, issuing only 11 in 42 innings, and has pretty good strikeout rates for a finesse pitcher with 37 in 41.2 innings. A 14th round pick out of Notre Dame in 2008, Phelps has been one of the best players of the class (a class that includes Jeremy Bleich, David Adams, Corban Joseph, Kyle Higashioka and Brett Marshall), and 2010 is no different.
Hitters have been stymied by an FIP of 2.80 (and a corresponding ERA of 1.73), a groundball rate of 46.5%, and as already mentioned, an improved K-rate. Unfortunately, Phelps is outpeforming some of his peripherals. Hitters are unlikely to continue hitting only 2.8% of flyballs for home runs and his .256 BABip is significantly lower than last year’s mark of .317, though there’s certainly a correlation with his grounball rate from a year ago being 52%, compared to this year’s 46.5%. Phelps will need to work on his off-speed pitches to compliment his low-90′s fastball and some of his peripherals seem unustainable, but he’s been a very good find and hasn’t had any problem with AA hitters.
AA Trenton this year:
41.2 IP, 1.73 ERA, 29 hits, 37 K, 11 BB, 1.34 GO/AA
Last two starts: 12 IP, 3.00 ERA, 9 hits, 9 K, 5 BB
[Update: Phelps pitched today and threw 7 innings while giving up 6 earned runs. He had 5 strikeouts and 2 walks.]
Hector Noesi, SP
After blowing through Hi-A Tampa in eight starts this year, the brass decided to jump Noesi to Trenton, where he’s received one start. Noesi definitely has the stuff to succeed; the question has always been about his health. He’s been sidelined by injury a few times but rebounded to slice up Sally League hitters with a SO/BB rate of 7.09. He then hit Tampa and worked in an eye-popping 10.00 SO/BB rate and an FIP of 2.69. Frankie Pilliere, scout for AOL Fanhouse thinks Noesi has the chance to be a #3 in the big leagues, noting that Noesi had an improved curveball that could develop as a true out pitch. He’ll still need to work on his changeup and stay healthy, but he’s an unheralded guy with good upside (although he’s a bit old even for AA at 23).
His first start in Trenton wasn’t fantastic (he gave up 5 runs in 6 innings), but Noesi may move quickly if he resembles the guy we’ve seen in 2009 and 2010. There’s not a whole lot of data I can pore through that will really expose issues Noesi has had this year or last. His peripherals were all very encouraging, his BABip wasn’t freakishly low, his FIP and ERA were reasonable. He was just really good, though his HR/FB rate was low at 4.9%. So, instead, I’ll simply stress that the key to Noesi will be working on his off-speed pitches and not injuring himself. Otherwise, he could be a good edition to the team sometime in 2011 or 2012, probably the bullpen if he can’t develop a changeup that will keep big league hitters honest. His command and good-but-not-great stuff would be quite welcomed in such a role.
Hi-A Season: 43 IP, 2.72 ERA, 35 hits, 53 K, 6BB, 1.08 GA/AA
AA Season: 6 IP, 7.50, 7 hits, 4 K, 2 BB, .075 GA/AA
Mitchell was one of the arms the Yankees took in the 2008 draft out of Clemson University. While Mitchell can certainly hold righties’ heads below the water, he gets decimated by left-handers. They hit .287/.381/.316 against Mitchell last year and took 20 walks in 58 innings. D.J. didn’t get enough strikeouts on lefties to limit the damage, either, knocking 5.59 per nine down on strikes. So here’s where it gets weird. Remember how I just said that Mitchell can’t get lefties out but he’s really good with righties? You should, it was mere lines ago. Here’s a fun one, guess which side Mitchell has thrown this line against: 19.1 IP, 2.79 ERA, 15 hits. Ok, how about this one: 22.0 IP, 7.36 ERA, 32 hits. The former is against left-handers, the latter against righties. I don’t understand. It’s just…what? Anyway, his numbers against lefties aren’t really that fantastic beyond the surface. He’s issued 11 walks to them with 9 strike outs and not a single fly ball has gone for a home run. So there’s no reason to get too optimistic – he won’t be a LOOGY out of the bullpen.
The utter collapse against right-handers is perhaps more interesting. He’s helped his strikeout rate against them a bit with 18 in 22 IP, but the walks are still persistent. He’s issued 11 to righties, and they’re hitting him for an average of .344. Good news is the BABip is .423 and that will almost assuredly go down, plus the stats are skewed a bit by one really poor outing (4.1 IP, 9 earned runs and five walks). He’s still getting guys to hit the ball on the ground at a very impressive rate (60%) and he’s limited the big fly. Armed with a fastball that sinks more than Derek Bell’s houseboat, a Nardi-fied curveball and a poor changeup, with only four years of total pitching experience, Mitchell has had a very strange season, full of great luck and terrible luck. How he does against left-handers with his changeup will be very interesting to watch as the season progresses.
AA Season: 41.1 IP, 5.23 ERA, 47 hits, 27 K, 22 BB, 2.07 GA/AA
Last two starts: 10.1 IP, 5.80 ERA, 17 hits, 8 K, 6 BB
It’s difficult to come up with too many criticisms of an offense that’s put up a .363 wOBA – best in all of baseball – which is all the more amazing considering the team has seen a number of starters miss significant time due to injury. Unfortunately, as we saw in last night’s game and in Tampa, the team, even with a high-scoring offense, seems to strand runners in critical situations. A team with great on-base skills and featuring some of the top hitters in baseball will see a lot of situations with men in scoring position. Of course, the more opportunities the team has with runners in scoring position, the more often we’ll see them fail. It’s just a numbers game. But considering the talk of how last year’s team “was so clutch”, it might be interesting to see how the players on this year’s roster are doing.
In 2009, the team hit .272/.370/.433 with RISP. They overall hit well with bases occupied, almost regardless of how many outs there were, and .316/.403/.542 in late and close situations also looks great.
In 2010, with runners in scoring position, the team is hitting .279/.380/.458. Hmm…well that overall doesn’t seem to be a problem. Ok, what about 2 outs and RiSP? .286/.381/.418. Again, it’s not that. Well gee whiz, that’s pretty good. What about high-leverage situations? .283/.370/.473. The numbers say the 2010 Yankees are a fairly balanced offensive team. They hit well in tie games, ahead and behind. They hit with bases loaded, they hit well with no outs, kill teams the second and third time through the lineup, hit with RiSP and actually do well in what are considered “high leverage” situations. So maybe this whole notion that the team just isn’t “clutch” without Matsui and Smooth Johnny is frankly, bull crap.
Look again and you’ll find the team seems to have issues with runners on second and third and in late and close situations. The team, with men on second and third, are hitting only .184/.353/.237 this year, with Posada, Jeter, A-Rod having hit one run in (via sac fly) combined over 17 plate appearances. And although the team is bashing pitchers in innings 4-6, too many players are dropping like flies in innings 7-9. Derek Jeter, Winn, Swisher and Teixiera have all had varying struggles in those innings. Add the Bullpen Adventures and you see a nasty witches brew in the cauldron.
The second issue is in “late and close” situations, where the team is hitting .223/.315/.392. When we’re in the 7th-9th and it’s close, Swisher, Winn and Teixiera have just killed their team’s chances of coming out ahead. Teix is hitting a paltry .056/.150/.056, Winn checks in at .125/.125/.125 and Swisher is staring at .143/.143/.143. In fact, if not for Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada and Marcus “The river giveth, the river taketh” Thames, the team would be entirely dreadful across the board in such situations.
As we can see, Randy Winn – possibly the most hated Yankee on the roster (high five, Boone!) – has struggled enormously. It seems that every time a key situation is brewing late in the game, he’s up. And the rally is over after he’s late on an average fastball. Well, the numbers seem to bear it out. On the year, Winn is striking out 25% of his at bats but over 30% of his PA’s late in the game.
Nick Swisher is hitting very well in high-leverage situations at .450/.500/.900(!), but isn’t doing so when it’s late and the game is on the line. He’s hitting .238/.304/.310 in innings 7-9 and has struck out in 5 of his 14 late and close PA’s. Jeter, whom I’m sure we’re all hoping is just greatly slumping and not declining as a player, is hitting .180/.212/.300 in innings 7-9 and .222/.263/.444 late and clutch.Teixiera might be the most interesting player to study. His slow starts have been well documented. But this start in particular is fairly awful and he just hasn’t been there when called upon. Your #4 hitter can only be so futile for so long in those spots before it costs the team ball games.
Luckily, possibly other than Winn, the talent level suggests these players will certainly be hitting well in no time. There’s no magic “clutch” concoction we can give these players. As they compile more plate appearances in such situations, they’ll start to produce. The 2009 team wasn’t some amazing mix of heart, guts and clutch-itity that separated them from all teams before and after them. They hit well enough to be called “the comeback kids” and had some good fortune (which some might call an anomaly). That’s it. Less than 20 plate appearances (in some cases) is by no means a good number by which we should judge a player’s aptitude in any given situation. All this says is that thus far, the team has had some players slumping at the most inopportune of times. It happens to every team. As we move closer to the dog days of summer, we should expect some of those numbers to improve. And for a team currently featuring a number of AAA players and bench players in their starting lineup due to injury, that’s a scary spot for the rest of the league.
Mike does a great job compiling all of the stats and happenings across the Yankees’ minor league system in his nightly Down on the Farm series. From Staten Island to Scranton, we have a pretty good sense about how our players did, even if we mostly only care about Montero, Romine, ManBan, Ramirez, Warren, Z-Mac, Stoneburner and a handful of other players.
But after a while we sometimes get “stuck” in the numbers — we forget how the guy that’s just gone 0-5 with 4 K’s during last night’s game is very often the same guy that went 4-5 with two home runs the night before. So I’m going to be doing a recap of how some of the AAA farmhands have performed thus far, all of which came from milb.com or minorleaguesplits.com. Many of the players on this list are on Mike’s Preseason Prospect List, where you can get a better look at their long term prospects. In this AAA installment I chose to recap players that are actual prospects, most of which will likely (if they haven’t already) see major league action this year. Not too many are interested in seeing Amaury Sanit’s progress, though I’m betting we’d all love to find out if Kei Igawa sleeps with those awesome sunglasses on (I’ll do some digging and try to find out for you all).
Next week we’ll take a look at how some of the AA guys are looking. Also, because there’s a Montero Watch present in the sidebar and most DotF are comprised of MonteroTalk, we’re going to leave him out on this one.
AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre
Kevin Russo, 2B: With the big league club having apparently suffering a pandemic of Mets-itus, a few AAA players have seen some promotions. Chief among them, and for good reason, is utility player Kevin Russo. Russo, a former 20th round draft pick out of Baylor in 2006, had hit .302/.383/.425 as Scranton’s second basemen before jumping to Massachusetts after Robinson Cano was hit by a Josh Beckett fastball. He got only two plate appearances but Russo’s versatility – he can at least play three infield spots and man the corner outfield positions – defensively, his solid on-base skills, and good contact ability make him a good candidate to stick in the big leagues for a long time. With Ramiro Pena‘s mounting struggles with the bat (which was inevitable, really), Russo may take him over as a super-utility guy at some point. He’ll have to show he can at least play SS passably, though, and there’s no guarantee of that. Bonus: if there are minors fantasy leagues that exist (I’m hoping they do), he’ll soon have CF eligibility, too. He’s played there of late.
Season line in AAA: .301/.388/.416
Last ten games: .310/.383/.405
Time in New York: .000/.000/.000
Eduardo Nunez, SS: Most people saw this coming. Nunez got off to a torrid pace, as Greg Fertel and even RAB’s own Mike Axisa have noted in his DotF postings. Consequently, Nunez has really tailed off, displaying why we shouldn’t fall in love with early season small sample sizes. With a few middle infielders ahead of him in the pecking order and poor defensive skills (albeit with a great arm), Nunez is unlikely to see any big league action this year. If he does it will because of ghastly circumstances. Poor defense, weak power, unrefined on-base skills with very good contact ability, plus speed and a wonderful arm. That may translate to some modicum of minor league success, but I don’t see it happening on the major league level for a middle infielder (and really one in name only).
Season in AAA: .321/.371/.400
Last ten games: .244/.262/.268
Juan Miranda, 1B: Miranda was a big-money IFA signing of the Yanks from Cuba back in 2006. You may remember he was once considered the future first baseman of the Yanks. While that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, Miranda, in his final option year, is playing for a contract for a big league club next year. The book on him was that though he really nails right handers, he struggles with lefties and his defensive play is by no means great, even for a first baseman. Last year he took positive steps in correcting those problems, hitting lefties with a triple slash of .291/.367/.507. So far, in AAA, he’s continued that pace, hitting .313/.389/.563 in 33 plate appearances (note: this is according to minorleaguesplits.com, which is a bit behind in their stats). Oddly, he’s struggled against righties, hitting .222/.354/.364 in 66 plate appearances. He’s been in New York for a few games, and with Nick Johnson possibly out for a few months, Miranda may stay in New York as a DH. Considering Johnson’s injury history, the team couldn’t be caught too surprised by that. This may be make or break for Miranda.
Season line in AAA: .260/.371/.438
Last ten games in AAA:.250/.357/.417
Time in New York: .143/.250/.286
Ivan Nova, SP
Nova’s rocketed up Yankee top prospect lists over the last two years as he’s finally started to harness his very good stuff. He’s been up in New York after the injury bug hit and he’s largely impressed, though he’s probably the guy sent back down with Park coming back from the DL. In his first appearance, Nova, signed by the Yanks and returned after being selected as a Rule V from the Padres, came in and threw two scoreless innings and in today’s game he again looked fairly good. With a likely ceiling as a back-end starter in the AL East (which really isn’t all that bad when you think about it), Nova is very likely to be the first guy up again with another injury, first because he’s already on the 40-man roster, and second because a groundball pitcher with good stuff is always a valuable commodity. He also has an outside shot at a rotation spot next year depending on how things shake out.
AAA season: 37 IP, 2.43 ERA, 35 hits, 32 K, 12 BB, 1.78 GO/AA
Last two starts: 13 IP, 3.84 ERA, 17 hits, 7 K, 4 BB
Time in New York: 3 innings, 0.00 ERA, 4 hits, 1 K, 0 BB
Zack McAllister, SP
Z-Mac has had an up-and-down in his first run at AAA. Arguably the Yankees’ top pitching prospect, McAllister ran into some issues in late April, early May, giving up over 6 runs in two of three starts. Still, he’s sprinkled in some good games and has strung two consecutive 7-inning performances of good ball. A polished groundball pitcher, McAllister may wind up trade bait or perhaps in the rotation as early as next year. He, like Nova, has back rotation or possibly #3 starter potential, but he’s going to need to get that groundball rate up again. A 34% GB ratio is not going to work at the big league level for a guy with his skill set. It wouldn’t hurt to develop a true out pitch, either.
Season in AAA: 45 IP, 4.40 ERA, 52 hits, 32 K, 9 BB, 0.52 GO/AA
Last two starts: 14 IP, 2.14 ERA, 14 hits, 8K, 1 BB
Romulo Sanchez, SP/RP
The last of the famed “Fat Sanchezes,” Romulo has been very impressive in his time in Pennsylvania and also in New York. Sanchez has a great fastball, occasionally hitting the high 90′s with his 4-seamer, but he likely profiles best as a reliever in the future due to his erratic control and fringe-average off-speed pitches (a changeup and slider). If he can locate that big fastball and keep hitters off balance with one of the off speed offerings, he could definitely stick with the big club over the year. His numbers in Scranton are a bit misleading. In April he gave up 10 earned runs in only 2.1 innings. Otherwise, he’s been among the better pitchers in the upper minors.
AAA season: 32 IP, 5.34 ERA, 30 hits, 32 K, 16 BB, 1.22 GO/AA
Last 2 starts: 14 IP, 1.42 ERA, 9 hits, 17 K, 2 BB
In New York: 3.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1 hit, 3 K, 1 BB
Mark Melancon, RP
The final name on our list, Melancon entered last season with high expectations and didn’t live up to them in limited action. I recall his propensity for hitting opposing batters (along with old favorite Mike Dunn). It was probably just jitters because he returned to AAA and fell right back where he’d been before his callup. He came back up again briefly and showed signs of life, causing many of us to think he’d be up in the Bronx to start the year. Well, hasn’t happened yet but it seems like just a matter of time. Melancon has again been very good in Pennsylvania in 2010. A look at his splits reveals some quirks, though. You might look at his numbers against righties and say, “Wait a second, this doesn’t look right.” And to some extent, you’d be right. But aha! Along with a BABip against righties of .462, he’s also giving up a line drive rate of 26.2%, yet checking in with an FIP of 3.05. Look a bit further over and you see why. He’s striking out 16.55 righties per nine innings this year. Wow, that’s strange data. Against lefties he’s getting lots of groundouts, another promising sign. I’d be fairly shocked if we don’t see Melancon in the Bronx very soon.
AAA Season: 23 IP, 2.74 ERA, 21 hits, 31 K, 8 BB, 1.71 GO/AA
Last 4 appearances: 5.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 4 hits, 13 K, 2 BB
Note: This was written prior to Marte’s appearance against Thome this afternoon. Sure, he was able to get Thome out, but he still made a few mistakes that ended up not hurting him. That’s baseball! I’m hesitant to say “Marte is back” as a result, though he did look improved.
With all the issues the Yankees are currently facing, the bullpen is relatively low on the list of major concerns for the team. Joba has looked great of late, Mariano is Mariano, Park and Aceves should be returning shortly, and our AAA callups Ivan Nova and Romulo Sanchez impressed in their short stints. With major and minor injuries throughout the roster, the struggles of Damaso Marte, David Robertson and Boone Logan aren’t going to be front page news in Yankeeland. After all, two of the three are just lefty specialists (one likely to be sent down when Park returns) and Robertson could be sent to AAA to work on his issues. Whatevs. But make no mistake, all is not well on the left-turn front.
Let’s take a look at last night’s game. Marte entered with a man on second and Joe Mauer at the plate. Marte misses on a first pitch slider outside. He returns with a fastball for a called first strike. It had good velocity but ended up nowhere near where Cervelli set up. At this point, I’m fairly worried. If there’s a short list of guys you absolutely do not want to miss on pitches, Mauer is on it. Then, for some reason, Damaso leaves a slider without much movement in the center of the plate, about belt high. Against Joe Mauer he’s fairly fortunate the ball was only smoked for a single, scoring Denard Span from second. Unfortunately, Brett Gardner attempted to nail Span at the plate and his throw was way up the line. Why he did that is a mystery to me.
Herein lies the problem: Marte was brought in as an expensive reliever (the contract extension still seems a bit of a blunder as of this writing) with the one goal – to get out tough lefties. He hasn’t done it with much regularity a a Yankee and while Burnett had command issues (and certainly not helped by a pygmy-sized strike zone), wouldn’t you rather have the better pitcher face the better hitters? Mauer’s no slouch against lefties, either. He hits them to the tune of .313/.376/.417. I understand why Joe made the decision and it’s much easier to second guess the Yankee manager from the comfort of my garden apartment, but I’d argue you’d rather have the better pitcher in against the better pitcher, especially if neither has much of a platoon split. All of Burnett’s pitches are better than Marte’s offerings.
Back to the action. So Mauer moves up to second and Morneau is now the batter. Morneau hasn’t been phenomenal against left-handers throughout his career, but as Mike noted in last night’s recap, why let their only really dangerous hitters beat you? With first base open, you’d think they’d not give Morneau anything to hit, if not walk him altogether, right? On the sixth pitch of the at bat, Morneau slams another high slider with little break. Boom! Double! Mauer scores. With the lead gone, Girardi then intentionally walks Michael Cuddyer (a righty) to get to Jason Kubel (a lefty, who has managed to do virtually nothing but walk and strike out all year). He flies out to Marcus Thames, inning over. But the damage was done. If not for A-Rod‘s heroics, Marte likely becomes the game’s goat, though true to form, Randy Winn would have given him a good run at it.
Damaso has some alarming peripherals this year. Now bear in mind, he hasn’t had many innings to accumulate a definitive sample size, but the numbers etch out many of his struggles. Let’s first take a look at plate discipline:
On the year, Marte is eliciting an O-Swing % of 16.2%, which basically says that his stuff doesn’t have a lot of movement where hitters bite at balls slicing out of the zone. In fact, batters are only swinging at a total of 31.6% of Marte’s pitches, about 15 points lower than league average. It gets worse. Only 40.4% of Marte’s pitches find themselves in the strike zone, but hitters are hitting 92% of them. I don’t need to tell you that’s a bad combination.
His velocity is is about 1 mph slower than it had been in 2009 and 2 mph slower than 2008, the year he was traded to the Yankeees. He’s getting older and it’s still very early, so that might go up as he finds himself further removed from shoulder surgery. Maybe more alarming is his PitchFX data. As a Pirate in 2007, his fastball had good vertical rise – moving 9.5”. Today it moves almost 2 ” lower, but a bit more in on left-handers. In 2007 his slider was a also a different looking offering. It was quicker and tighter than it is today – the pitch had a horizontal break of 1.0 inches and a vertical break of -4.6 inches. Now, in 2010, strictly as a LOOGY, Marte’s horizontal break is -7.6 inches and it moves vertically -2.1 inches. Essentially, his new slider is a larger, sweeping pitch that moves across the plate significantly more. We can’t gather any truly damning evidence, as Marte has been injured but this far he’s shown to be a different pitcher.
Unfortunately, that pitcher is also walking close to a career high at 6.14/9 while striking out a career low at 7.36/9. Girardi’s continually given Marte high-leverage situations, even as he has allowed inherited runners to score at an alarming rate (half of his 8 inherited runners have scored), and has issued far too many walks to yield good reults. A look at his shutdowns/meltdowns paints another grim picture. Marte has four meltdowns and not a single shutdown, which accompanies his team-low “clutch” score at -0.59.
Damaso Marte‘s career sample suggests he should at least be an excellent option to get lefties out, if not more. This isn’t just some guy pulled from the stands. He’d been a closer – and an effective one at that – and we like to defer to the greater sample if we can. In his case, his track record is very, very good. But he hasn’t done much good this year and with the exception of last year’s playoffs, has overall been an unmitigated disaster in New York. It’s still very early in the season and I’m optimistic he can return to form, but given the volatility of relievers, Marte’s lesser stuff and his injury history, it’s not crazy to think Marte could find himself DFA’d at some point, contract and all.
There don’t appear to be better lefty specialist options (*cough* Boone Logan) in house, so Girardi surely wants to give Marte every opportunity possible to come in and be a reliable specialist. At this point in the season it’s understandable. But at what point do you say enough is enough? If his appearances continue to resemble last night’s, we may be looking at a new slew of matchups quicker than we think.
If the byline looks a bit unfamiliar, that’s because we’ve brought aboard a couple of guys to help out on weekends. Welcome JMK from Mystique and Aura and also the RAB comments.
It’s never too early to speculate on whom the Yankees will target during the free agency period. Popular logic suggests Cliff Lee will be among the bigger names this winter, and for good reason. With only three rotation spots filled next year – who can tell what role Joba Chamberlain will find himself in next year or Pettitte’s retirement status or if Javy figures it out and returns – Lee might just fit the bill as the perfect #2 starter in 2011.
With the extensions of Josh Beckett, Matt Cain, Roy Halladay and Felix Hernandez, the next best options in the FA pool are Brandon Webb, Ben Sheets and Javy Vazquez. With fewer elite pitchers entering free agency these days than ever, the chance to lock up one of the best pitchers to be available for the foreseeable future, coupled with the likely impending need in the rotation, seem to indicate that Lee in pinstripes next year is as good a guess as any.
Though Mr. Lee is undoubtedly one of the best pitchers in the game right now and the Yankees are likely to have a spot needing to be filled, he’s not without questions. The Arkansas native has only really been an “elite” starting pitcher since 2008; he’d also likely sign somewhere around the range of a 4 or 5-year, $80-100 million contract, which at the tail end would mean the Yankees’ top 3 starters will be in their mid-30′s, all making around $20 million each. That’s generally something you’d like to avoid, particularly as many of the key members of the team are already on the wrong side of 30, with long contracts limiting flexibility.
His injury history, too, isn’t spectacular, though nothing suggests chronic problems or elbow concerns. His eye-popping numbers of late are also a bit skewed by his high LOB%, which is very unlikely to sustain itself. They’ll level off at around 70% (they’re currently in the high 70′s), which will increase his ERA. His strikeout rate, while good, isn’t fantastic, either.
Now, for the good news — Cliff Lee is really, really, really good. I can’t stress that enough. I was even reaching looking to find noticeable flaws in Lee’s game. Cliff Lee may not be Nolan Ryan, but his strikeout rate — around 7 per 9 — doesn’t make him John Lannan. It’s not a concern. And despite some of the minute issues I may have, he’s easily the top free agent available and I think has demonstrated that he’s likely to be worth every penny, provided he’s blessed with good health.
Don’t get me wrong — it’s hard not to like AJ Burnett, but his Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde act makes him a better fit as a #3 starter. You’d really prefer more consistency out of your #2 starter, especially on a team that makes the playoffs as often as the Yankees. In contrast to Burnett, Cliff Lee doesn’t have such eccentricities. In 2008 and 2009 Lee threw up a combined 13.8 WAR and he was amazingly consistent as well, throwing 10 complete games within that span and generally suffocating opposing offenses. For a sense of perspective, Roy Halladay has a WAR of 14.7 within the same time period. Clearly Halladay is a better pitcher with a longer track record, but the age, similarities in performance and stuff, and likely contract demands make the two a fairly good comp. Again, he’s really good.
On top of that, just like Halladay, the Yankees have also expressed interest in acquiring the 31-year-old lefty before, at the trade deadline in 2009. When asked to surrender Joba or Hughes and more, the Yankees understandably balked. Now, with Hughes seemingly firmly entrenched in the rotation and Lee almost certain to test the market, the strategy to not surrender prized young arms seems to have been the right one.
To boot, Lee is likely to age well as he starts to leave his peak. With a repertoire of four pitches – the best is said to be a nasty circle changeup – all of which are refined options he can command well, he shouldn’t have much trouble adjusting, even if his fastball drops a bit. I also haven’t seen worries about his pitching mechanics, although they’re a bit unorthodox. Larry LaRue, beat writer for The News Tribune had a little preview on Lee’s arsenal earlier this year.
“As for pitches. Lee relies on a fastball that sits around 89-92. He’s doesn’t throw exceptionally hard, but his fastball moves and when he’s right he can keep put it on the corners whenever he wants. Lee also throws a cut fastball that is usually around 85-87. It rides in on right-hander hitters and if he’s throwing it well you’ll see him break plenty of bats. Lee also has a curveball that’s more of an overhand variety. It isn’t quite as nasty as Erik Bedard’s curveball, but Lee’s can be effective, particularly to lefties.
And of course there’s the changeup which Adam Moore called “filthy” and “borderline unfair.” It’s a circle change (you can see the grip in the photo at the top) that has plenty of downward movement. And because of Lee’s simple and consistent mechanics and arm motion, it’s nearly impossible to pick up early. You will see several guys making that lunging swing for balls tonight. But it isn’t just about swings and misses with that pitch. You’ll often see plenty of swings where guys are out on their front foot and rolling over on the change up for easy ground balls.”
I’ve talked about how different Lee has been since his masterful Cy Young season in 2008, but how did he improve so much from earlier? Is it even sustainable or are we likely to see him fall back to his awful, injury-plagued 2007 or his good and mediocre years that preceded it? The team’s been burned before by throwing big money on long deals to inconsistent guys past 30. Considering the construction of the team and the money at stake, this isn’t a guy you can whiff on. So is Lee just a flash in the pan likely to drop off a few years into the deal or implode entirely?
Having looked at the data, I think he’s the real deal. His GB rate improved from the mid 30′s to the low-to-mid 40′s, and he also saw his HR/FB rate drop from the range of 8-12% to 5-6% the last few seasons. Much of this can be attributed to the addition of the cut fastball, better velocity on his 4-seamer and a curveball that is effective against lefties. He’s been able to elicit more swings on balls outside the zone over the past few years than earlier in his career, a harbinger moving forward. In fact, even in his mediocre-to-good seasons in the mid-00′s, he was close to or below average in O-Swing %. That’s definitely something he’s put behind him, which is even more impressive considering his walk rates are microscopic these days. Don’t get me wrong — ideally you’d like more than two seasons on which to hold your hat on, but his peripherals are trending positively and he hasn’t had flukey BABip luck in that span.
Obviously there are a myriad of factors that could make this potential pairing more or less likely to happen. Maybe Javy turns it around, dominates and re-signs at the conclusion of the season. The team could also place “the starter in the bullpen” Joba back in the rotation, filling a potential hole. Maybe Andy comes back again. Hell, at this rate Phil Hughes might become a #2 starter by the end of the year, negating some of the need for a big FA starting pitching acquisition. The M’s could also fall out of the AL West race and end up trading Lee; who knows, he may even sign a long-term deal if the suitor is right. The Yankees could instead target Carl Crawford and fill left field for years. (I’d be highly surprised if the team could retain Jeter, Rivera and sign Lee and Crawford in the same off-season.)
Basically, there are too many variables to play out. But in the end, Cliff Lee, even depite a relatively short track record as an elite pitcher on the wrong side of 30, with some injury hiccups, and likely to have big contract demands, should be the guy to sign next year if he keeps this up and he’s available.